May 16, 2020

From the Book of Isolation and Seclusion

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah on the authority of al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali that Ahmad ibn Yunus said:

       I heard Sufyan al Thawri say: "The best thing for a person is a burrow to retreat into."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah on the authority of Ishaq ibn Ibrahim that Muhammad ibn Abi ‘Adiyy was told by Yunus on the authority of al-Hasan that

       The Messenger of God, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said:
"For hermitages, Muslims have their homes."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah on the authority of Ishaq ibn Isma‘il, that Waki‘ was told by Isma‘il ibn Abi Khalid on the authority of Qays that

       Talha ibn ‘Ubayd Allah said: "The most blameless thing a man can do is sit in his home."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah on the authority of Ishaq ibn Ibrahim that Yahya ibn Sa‘id  was told by Thawr ibn Yazid  that Sulaym ibn ‘Amir said:

       Abu 'l-Darda’ said: "An excellent hermitage for a Muslim man is his home. He curbs his tongue, his sex, and his gaze. Beware of social gatherings and markets, with their frivolity and nonsense."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah that Muhammad ibn Abi Hatim al-Azdi said: I heard ‘Abd Allah ibn Dawud mention that al-Awzai reported that

       Makhul al-Shami said: "If society is where one gains distinction, then peace is gained in isolation."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah on the authority of Hamza ibn al-'Abbas al-Marwazi that 'Abdan ibn 'Uthman said: It was reported to us by 'Abd Allah ibn Mubarak that Ibn Lahi'a said: This is what I was told by Bakr ibn Sawada: 

       Abu 'l-Darda’ encountered a man who had withdrawn from humanity and lived completely by himself. "God be implored," he exclaimed, "on your behalf! Whatever induced you to withdraw from human society?"
      "My terror lest my faith be stripped from me, without me knowing," said the man.
       Abu 'l-Darda’ said, "In all the host of Muslims, are there a hundred who fear like you?" He went on [repeating the question, each time] lowering the number until he got to ten. At this, the man said:
      "There is one man, in Syria." That man was Shurahbil ibn al-Simt.

From the Book of Isolation and Seclusion by Ibn Abi 'l-Dunya

May 6, 2020

Week Seven

It is said that Rabi‘a fasted for seven nights and days without sleeping, engrossed in prayers all night long. Her hunger had passed all limits, when through the door of her house came someone with a dish of food. Rabi‘a accepted the dish and went to get a lamp. When she came back, the cat had spilled the dish. "I'll go get a jug," she said, "and break my fast [with water]." But when she came back with the jug, the lamp was out. Her next intention was to drink water in the dark. Then the jug slipped from her hand and broke.
      Rabi‘a let out such a groan that it was feared lest fire would consume half the house. She said: "Dear God, in my helplessness, what are you doing with me?"
      Into her hearing came a voice: "Beware! lest you wish Me to confer the world's blessings on you, and empty your heart of desperate care for Me. Desperate care and worldly blessings can never come together in the same heart. You, O Rabi‘a, have your will, and I have Mine, and in one heart your will and I can never come together."
      Rabi‘a said: "On hearing these words pronounced, I cut short my hopes, and turned my heart so far from this world that, for thirty years, I have carried out each prayer as if I knew it were my last. And ever since that day, I have cut my head off from Creation, for fear lest someone come to distract me from Him.
     "I said: 'God, be You my occupation, that I may be occupied by no one else.'"

From the Memorial of the Saints of Farid al-Din ‘Attar

April 22, 2020

Asceticism of the Shelter People

We are informed by Abu Muhammad b. Hayyan that ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Salm was informed by Hannad b. al-Sari that Abu Mu‘awiya narrated on the authority of Hisham that al-Hasan said:

The Messenger of God, upon whom be God's blessings and peace, called on the People of the Shelter. "How are you this morning?" he asked. They replied that they were fine. "Today you are fine." he said. "In the future, you'll each take one dish in the morning and another at night, and you will drape your homes in fabrics like the Ka‘ba."
     "Will we stay true to the faith, O Messenger of God, when all this comes to us?" they asked.
     "Yes," he said.
     "Then on that day we will be fine indeed. We will give alms, and pay for slaves to be emancipated!"
     "On the contrary," said God's Messenger, God's blessings and peace be upon him. "You are better off today, for on that day you'll all fall prey to envy and resentment, and will be parted from each other."

Abu Mu‘awiya's narration is incompletely sourced, [lacking as it does an informer between al-Hasan (d. 50/670) and Hisham (b. 61/680),] but we are informed by Abd Allah b. Muhammad that Abu Yahya al-Razi said that Hannad b. al-Sari was informed by Yunus b. Bukayr that Sinan b. Saysan al-Hanafi reported that al-Hasan said:

I constructed a shaded portico for indigent Muslims. Other Muslims began contributing whatever they could for their benefit, and God's Messenger, God's blessings and peace be upon him, used to visit them. "Peace be upon you, O People of the Shelter!" he would say. "And upon you be peace, O Messenger of God!" they would reply.
     "How are you this morning?" the Prophet asked. "We're fine, O Messenger of God!" they said.
      He said, "Today you are better off than that day when each of you will take one dish in the morning and another at night, and you will wear one garment in the morning and a different one that night, and you will drape your homes in fabrics like the Ka‘ba."
     "We will indeed be fine that day!" they said. "God be thanked for what He gives us."
     "On the contrary," said God's Messenger, God's blessings and peace be upon him. "You are better off today."

The Shelter had different numbers of people living there as conditions varied throughout the year. When Medina was visited by fewer strangers in need of hospitality, their numbers would disperse and dwindle. But as delegations increased, and more visitors showed up in town, some would go to the Shelter and swell the numbers of its people.
      Their fame was for their most distinguishing characteristic, namely, the total poverty they elected and accepted as their inheritance. Not one owned more than a single garment, nor ate but the simplest foods. This we know from hadith:

We are informed by Abu Bakr b. Malik that Abd Allah, the son of Ahmad b. Hanbal, was told by his father that Waki‘ was informed by Fudayl b. Ghazwan that Abu Hazm reported that Abu Hurayra said: 

I saw seventy People of the Shelter making their prayers, each clad in single robes, some reaching no lower than their knees, and each of them clutched his robe as he bowed in prayer, for fear of exposing his privates.

From The Ornament of God's Friends by Abu Nu‘aym al-Isbahani

April 1, 2020

Ten+ Days of DJ Screw

The giant ‘Uj ibn ‘Anaq, as seen in a MS of Qazwini’s
Aja’ib al-makhluqat (The Wonders of Creation)
from a workshop of Palestine in the 2nd half of the 18th c.
Bavarian State Library Cod. arab. 463, fol. 295v (30 x 20.5 cm)

March 24, 2020

Stay inside

One springtime, Rabi‘a was in her house with her head bowed low. Her servant said to her: "Come out, my lady, and look what God created!"
    Rabi‘a said: "Why don't you come inside to see the Creator, instead? My job is to observe Him, not scrutinize His creation."

From the Memorial of the Saints of Farid al-Din ‘Attar

March 15, 2020

At Wadi ‘Abqar

‘Abqar means "hail," which is the fall of frozen water from a cloud. They say that ‘Abqar is a land inhabited by demonic spirits (jinn), as in the proverbial expression "like the jinns of ‘Abqar."
    Al-Marrār al-‘Adawī said (meter: ramal):

    Do you recognize the abode, or do you not know it
        between Tibrāk and the stonefields of ‘Abaqurr?

It is explained [by al-Azharī that the place-name in this verse is altered]: The vowel after the b in ‘Abqar is inserted for metrical reasons, and the final is redoubled for these same reasons. The vocalic shift of a > u in the last syllable is to avoid the form *‘Abaqarr, which corresponds to no existing morphological template in Arabic. So the poet devised an analogy to words like qarabūs (the pommel of a saddle), which poets are licensed to shorten to qarabus; and the redoubled r is a fine compensation for this imaginary shortening of the vowel.
    Al-A‘shā (sic) said (meter: ṭawīl):

    ...young and old fighting men, like jinns of ‘Abqar

And Imru’ al-Qays said (meter: ṭawīl):

    The sound of the gravel kicked up [by my camel]
        is like the clink of coins subject to scrutiny at ‘Abqar

And Kuthayyir said (meter: ṭawīl):

    May your stars repay your kindness to your friend with a happy life.
        May my Lord rank you with His highest and His nearest.
    On whatever day you come upon [a certain foe]
        you'll find their ingrained quality superior to other people's.
    They are like the wild jinn haunting the sands
        at ‘Abqar, who, when confronted, do not disappear.

Commentators on these verses say that ‘Abqar is a place in Yemen, which would make it an inhabited area, known apparently for its money-changers. And where there are money-changers, there must be people involved in other trades. Perhaps it was an ancient town, since destroyed, and colorful textiles of unknown make have subsequently been attributed to the jinn of the place? God knows best.
    Genealogists say that Hind bt. Mālik b. Ghāfiq b. al-Shāhid b. ‘Akk was married to Anmār b. Arāsh b. ‘Amr b. al-Ghawth b. Nabat b. Mālik b. Zayd b. Kahlān b. Sabā’ b. Yashjub b. Ya‘rub b. Qahṭān, and bore him a son named Aftal, who came to be called Khath‘am. Khath‘am went on to marry Bajīla bt. Ṣa‘b b. Sa‘d, and the son she bore him was named Sa‘d - but was nicknamed ‘Abqar, because he was born near a mountain called ‘Abqar, somewhere in Arabia where patterned cloth was woven.
    ‘Abqar is also said to be a location in central Arabia. Those who say it is a land of jinns point to the verse by Zuhayr (meter: ṭawīl):

    On horses ridden by ‘Abqarī demons, they are
        prepared to seize the day of battle, and overcome.

    One opinion has it that ‘Abqarī is, at bottom, a descriptor for anything the describer is fascinated by. It derives from ‘Abqar, where carpets and other things were once woven, and consequently any well-made thing was said to be from there. Al-Farrā’ said: ‘Abqarī is a kind of velveteen with a thick pile. Mujāhid said: ‘Abqarī is brocade. Qatāda said: ‘Abqarī is carpet for lying down on, and Sa‘īd b. Jubayr concurs, adding that it is carpet of ancient make. Not one of these definitions is in reference to a particular place. But God knows best.

From The Dictionary of Countries by Yāqūt

March 6, 2020

October memories

Barkhamsted, CT, 2019. Music by Windhand

February 16, 2020

What the parakeet said

The peacock minded the jasmine, lamenting the lengths his crime had driven him, when along came the parakeet, virginal and green, saying:
     "Fie on the peacock of the birds! The only good peacock is on a plate served. O fugitive peacock, outcast, reject! Your bad interior is betrayed by your conduct. But outer appearance is not that which God, Who sees into hearts, looks at.
     "How come you among us, the picture of a bride—when the meaning of the picture is a widow inside? Why not quit your parks and gardens and tend elsewhere to your distress, and shed your pride and fancy dress, that God might pardon your past offense? You were expelled from the Garden along with Adam, and shared his sorrow. So join him in repentance and the forgiveness that follows! You might make it back there. Adam will, in spite of his Antagonist's guile and envy and bile, return to the happy state he was forced out of, after reaping at the end of days what he sowed in their beginning.
     "Humanity, O peacock, is in my view the noblest of animated beings, on whom the Lord's honor and favor are impressed, and for whom He created everything in existence. And their talkative blue-eyed fellow am I! Fellowship with the blessed is no reason to cry.
     "Praise be to Him Whose hand holds the Good, for bringing together human and bird. I'm not a strong flyer, and I don't vie for power with humanity. But silence is praised in everyone but me."
     [Then the parakeet said (meter: majzū’ al-ramal):]

     Unseen, but Present in the secret.
          Breaker of the hard, and its Resetter.
     So great my dread of His reproach is
          that my heart is sent aflutter.
     What I boast of is the Beloved.
          You would out-boast me? Then step up.
     My quality is essential
          and a gemstone was my mold.
     I am the parakeet! I know how high
          my worth is when I'm sold.

From the Discourse of the Birds of Ibn al-Wardi

January 16, 2020

A wise man of Basra

It was in the palace known as his Ja‘fari Palace that the caliph al-Mutawakkil received a visit from Abu 'l-‘Ayna’. This was in the year 246 (860 CE). He asked him, "What do you say about my house?"
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "People have constructed houses in this world, but you have constructed a world in your house." The caliph appreciated this remark, and said, "How would you like an alcoholic beverage?"
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "Against a small amount, I am powerless, and a large amount gives me away."
     "Cut it out and drink with us," said the caliph.
     "I am a blind man," Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "and the blind are prone to flailing gestures and moving off in the wrong direction. When the attention of others is distracted from a sightless man, it is by something he cannot see. And while all your courtiers are at your service, I lack anyone to assist me.
     "What's more," he continued, "I can never be sure if your approving demeanor masks an angry heart, or if an angry demeanor masks your approval. Failing to tell these apart could get me killed! Rather than expose myself to such hazard, I prefer to beg your pardon."
     "Your reproofs have been reported to me before," al-Mutawakkil said.
     "O Commander of the Faithful," Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "God, be He Exalted, is a dispenser of both praise and blame. In one place, hallowed be His mention, He says: "What an excellent servant! ever returning," and in another: "The backbiter, who goes about with slander." There is no evil in reproof when it is not [indiscriminate,] like a scorpion that would sting a prophet as soon as it would sting a dhimmi. A poet said (meter: ṭawīl):

     If I were devoid of trustworthy knowledge,
        or insensible of blameworthy fault,
     to what purpose would I know the words good and bad?
        To what purpose would God give me ears and a mouth?"

     "Where are you from?" asked al-Mutawakkil. "From Basra," he said. "What do you have to say about it?" the caliph asked.
      Abu 'l-‘Ayna’ said, "Its water is caustic, and its heat is torment. Basra will turn pleasant when Hell does."

From The Meadows of Gold of al-Mas‘udi
cf. The Passings of Eminent Men by Ibn Khallikan

January 6, 2020

Some Palmettes V

Some Palmettes V sm
From a terracotta neck-amphora (ca. 330-300 BCE) attributed to
the APZ Painter. Metropolitan Museum of Art (06.1021.231).

December 8, 2019

Merchants and weavers

Sayf al-Dawla found fault with verses 22 and 23 of the poem al-Mutanabbi delivered in his honor (meter: ṭawīl):

   To stand your ground was certain death, and there you stood,
      as if your doom were asleep with your foot in its eye.
   Wounded and sullen, [defeated] warriors filed past you.
      Your face was bright and your grin was toothy.

His objection was that its hemistichs were mismatched "Here's how it should go," Sayf al-Dawla said:

   To stand your ground was certain death, and there you stood.
      Your face was bright and your grin was toothy.
   Wounded and sullen, [defeated] warriors filed past you,
      as if your doom were asleep with your foot in its eye.

"Otherwise," he said, "it's as bad as [verses 37 and 38 of the poem] where Imru’ al-Qays says" (meter: ṭawīl):

   As if I never mounted a courser for sport
      or went belly to belly with a total babe, her ankles jingling!
   As if I weren't the buyer of wine by the skinful,
      nor told my horse, "Attack!" after wheeling about!

"Connoisseurs of poetry will agree that these hemistichs are reversed. The part about the courser goes with the bit about the horse, and the wine belongs with the buxom lass."
        Al-Mutanabbi said, "May God perpetuate the dignity of our master Sayf al-Dawla! If the one who finds fault with Imru’ al-Qays knows more about poetry than he, then Imru’ al-Qays and I are both in error. But our master well knows that in matters of fabric, the expertise of the fabric merchant and the expertise of the weaver are not the same. The merchant knows it as a finished piece, and so does the weaver - but the weaver, who transforms spun filaments into fabric, knows how the finished piece was put together.
       "What Imru’ al-Qays does here is to match his delight in women to the joys of the mounted hunt, and to match his supply of wine for the guest to his bravery in attacking the foe. Now in the first of my own verses, when I mention death, it is fitting that I go on to mention doom. And by way of describing the defeated champions, whose faces cannot but frown and weep, I say: 'Your face was bright and your grin was toothy,' which, through antithesis, gets both meanings across."
        Sayf al-Dawla was pleased with this explanation, and added a bonus of fifty dinars to the reward of five hundred he had paid al-Mutanabbi for the poem.

From al-Wahidi's Commentary on the Diwan of al-Mutanabbi

November 21, 2019

Cretensis mare

Ὁ Κρὴς τὴν θάλασσαν: "A Cretan to the sea," i.e., unfamiliar with the sea or fearful of it. Strabo gives this proverb in Geography, book 10, explaining that in ancient times, the people of Crete were unsurpassed in navigation and other maritime matters through their long experience. And so "The Cretan knows nothing of the sea" became proverbial for people who feign ignorance of something they know extremely well. For Cretans are islanders. The sea girds them on every side. How could they be ignorant of it?

An alternate form of this expression is Ὁ Κρὴς [δὴ] τὸν πόντον. Aristides uses it in regard to Pericles, and Zenodotus (sic) writes that it is somewhere in Alcaeus. An analogous expression is found in Horace's epistle to Octavian: "I, when I claim not to be composing verses, / am more deceptive than a Parthian in my designs." This is because the Parthians would launch their fiercest attacks by pretending to run away.

Erasmus, Adages