December 25, 2010

Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya MS 21620 ب, fol. 4r

...that al-Lahabi said: "Muhammad ibn al-Mukandar related that according to Jabir ibn 'Abd Allah, the Prophet (God's blessings and peace be upon him) ordered his followers to keep a white rooster." But al-Bayhaqi says this chain of transmission is to be rejected, being related by al-Lahabi only, and that a similar tradition with a discontinuous chain of transmission is also related. Al-Bayhaqi goes on to report that Abu Ahmad 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn [al-]Hasan al-Mahrajani related on the authority of Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Isma'il that on the authority of Yahya ibn Yahya, Ibrahim ibn 'Ali al-Dhuhli said: "Ibn Isma'il ibn 'Ayyash related that on the authority of 'Abd Allah, son of 'Umar ibn al-Khattab (may God Exalted be pleased with him), 'Amr ibn Muhammad ibn Zayd reported that the Prophet (God's blessings and peace be upon him) said: 'Roosters sound the call to prayer, and whoever keeps a white one enjoys threefold protection from the harm of every devil, sorcerer and soothsayer.' "

In his Middle Compilation, al-Tabarani says that Ahmad ibn 'Ali al-Abar related on the authority of Mu'al[lal that] Muhammad b. Mihsan heard from Ibrahim ibn Abi 'Abla that Anas ibn Malik said: "The Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said: 'Take for yourselves a white rooster, for no devil nor any sorcerer will approach a house with a rooster in it, nor the houses surrounding it.' " And in the collection entitled al-Firdaws, al-Daylami says: "We are informed by Abu Talib al-Husayn that Mansur [ibn Wamish] heard Yusuf ibn ['Umar] ibn Masrur say: 'Muhammad ibn Makhlad said' 'Under the tutelage of Muhammad ibn Makhlad I recited a report by Sa'id ibn 'Abd Allah ibn 'Ajib that Wahb ibn Hafs related on the authority of 'Uthman ibn 'Abd al-Rahman that 'Anbasa heard from Muhammad ibn Zadan that Umm Muhammad bint Zayd ibn Thabit said: "The Prophet, God’s blessings and peace be upon him, said: 'There are three voices that God loves: the voice of a rooster, the voice of someone reciting the Qur'an, and the voice of those who pray for forgiveness in the hour before daybreak.' " ' "

Al-Bukhari and Muslim narrate on Masruq's authority that he asked 'A'isha: "At what times did the Prophet pray, God’s blessings and peace be upon him?" She said: "Whenever he heard al-sārikh, he would stand up and pray.” Al-Nawawi said: "The consensus of the learned is that al-sārikh here means the rooster, so called by the frequency of its crowing at night." And Ibn 'Adiyy relates on the authority of Ibn 'Umar that the Prophet (God’s blessings and peace be upon him) forbade castration of the rooster, along with the goat and the horse.

Abu 'l-Shaykh said: "Ahmad ibn Ruh reported on the authority of Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah ibn Yazid that al-Fadl ibn Dawud al-Wasiti said: 'I heard 'Abd Allah ibn Salih al-'Ijli enumerate ten [sic] characteristics of the rooster: "Of all birds, it is the most beloved by God, be He exalted and Magnified. Its voice carries the furthest, it is the most jealous, the fiercest in battle, and the most magnanimous. It is best-informed about the times of prayer, and keeps watch over its neighborhood. Of all the birds, it is the best, and mates more frequently than any other." ' And Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn al-Salt said: 'Wahb ibn Baqiya related on the authority of Khalid that Humayd reported that a man of Muzayna said: "I heard a rooster praising God."'

"Ja'far ibn Ahmad related on the authority of 'Ali ibn Bishr that 'Abd al-Rahim reported that Hammād ibn ['Amr] quoted 'Abd al-Hamīd ibn Yusuf as saying: 'A rooster crowed in the presence of Solomon son of David, blessings and peace be upon them both. He asked: "Do you know what it is saying?" "No," his companions said. "It says: 'Remember God, O heedless ones!" ' And on the authority of Ahmad al-Dawraqi, Ahmad ibn al-Hasan [al-Hadda'] related that Ibrahim ibn 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Mahdi heard from Mujalid ibn 'Ubayd Allah that al-Hasan ibn Dhakwan heard the story from Farqad al-Sabkhi: 'Solomon the son of David (blessings and peace be upon them both) passed by a nightingale that had alighted in a tree, wagging its head and dipping its tail. He said to his companions: "Do you know what this one is saying?" They said: "God and His prophet know best." He said: "It is saying: 'I have eaten half a piece of fruit, so let the world go to its ruin!' " Then he passed by a rooster that was crowing, and said: "Do you know..." ' "

From In Praise of the Rooster by Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti

December 11, 2010

Names of the Sun

Among the names of the sun are al-Ilāha and al-Alāha ("The Goddess"). Ibn ‘Abbās recited [Sūrat al-A‘rāf 7:127 with the words] wa-ilāhataka ["your goddess," in place of the dominant reading wa-ālihataka "your gods" in the question to Pharaoh: "Will you allow Moses and his people to spread corruption in the land, and leave you and your gods behind?"]. And a poet said (meter: kāmil):

    We spent the afternoon fanning ourselves at al-La‘bā’,
        speeding along al-Ilāha in her setting.

The "orbit" around the heavens' axis is called al-falak. God, be He exalted and magified, says [in Sūrat al-Anbiyā’ 21:33]: "All are in a falak swimming."
        The phenomenon called "devil's snot" [mukhāṭ al-shayṭān], which occurs when dust and cobwebs come together [and float in the air], is also called "sun snot" [mukhāṭ al-shams].
        The ‘ab or ‘abb of the sun is its illumination and its beauty. ‘Abba Shams, however, is a metathesis of the name ‘Abd Shams ("Servant of the Sun"). As a group name [for the Banū ‘Abd Shams, a clan of Quraysh], it is shortened to ‘Aba Shams, and is altogether undeclined, as in the verse:

    When ‘Aba Shams saw the sun in its brisk rise
        over their people, with al-Julhimī at their head...

Al-Dihh ("The Glare") is the sun. Dhu 'l-Rumma said:

    You see its hills blaze in the glare of al-Dihh,
        abetted by winds hot like sparks on dry tinder.

Al-ayā is the illumination and beauty of the sun, and is also applied to the beauty of plants in bloom. Al-iyā’ is heard with the same meaning, as in the verse:

    Two colors - red and dusty black - are in competition
        in the iyā’ of the sun whose going down you see.

Also said for the sun's brilliance is al-iyāh, as in the verse by Ṭarafa:

    [So bright were her teeth, it was as if] she had sipped the sun's iyāh,
                except for her gums
        which were painted with kohl she took pains not to smudge
                with the work of her teeth.

[...] After the sun has set, it is called Barāḥi ("The Departer"). Birāḥi too is heard. A poet said (meter: rajaz):

    Here stood the two feet of Rabāḥ
    who journeyed until the setting of Barāḥi."

"O you," they say when the sun has ceased shining, "Barāḥi has gone down."

From The Book of Seasons and Invocation in the Time before Islam
    by Abū ‘Alī Muḥammad al-Mustanīr, known as Quṭrub

December 10, 2010

Agriculture in Ancient Egypt

Oleiferous plants. The Egyptians devoted a lot of care to pressing oils from different plants, as required by their cuisine, the blending of their ointments, perfumes and drugs, and their need for illumination. In Arabic, the word for "oil" [zayt] is primarily applied to the oil of the olive [zaytūn], whose Coptic name is dʒi:t. Oils were also pressed from seeds of flax and safflower, juniper berries, and the nuts of the thorn tree, cedar, castor plant and Egyptian willow.

Medicinal plants. Although the advancement of ancient Egyptian botanical learning is best appreciated from their use of plants in fighting disease - most importantly anise (Arabic yansūn, Egyptian ytkwn), cumin, dill, thistle, peppermint, boxthorn, poppy, juniper, henbane, pomegranate, fig, onion, garlic, coriander, the milk of the sycamore and the various oils - space does not permit the mention of all the medical uses listed in the various papyri.

Fibrous plants. Flax was known in Egypt since the earliest times, and fragments of linen cloth have been discovered in the [Neolithic-era] graves of Merimde and Maadi. The stages in the production of linen are represented on the walls of the Beni Hasan tombs, from maceration, pounding and combing to its spinning, weaving and dyeing. The flax seeds preserved in the Fouad I Agricultural Museum and the Egyptian Museum of Berlin attest to the nobility of the ancient species.
        The special importance of papyrus was not limited to writing surfaces, as it was also used to line the bottoms of boats.

Garlands and bouquets. Flowers were of the highest importance in Egypt for their use in religious and funerary ceremonies. The flowers of the papyrus, lotus, acacia, and willow were bundled into garlands and bouquets, along with shoots of sycamore, celery and artemisia and sprays of camomile and saffron.

Timber. The most widespread of the big trees in Egypt were the sycamore, which was held sacred, and the acacia. The wood of the acacia was used in boat-building, its fruit (known in Arabic as qarad) was used in medicine and tanning hides, and its flower (called fotna) was woven into garlands for the dead. Most agricultural tools were made from acacia wood and from the tamarisk (known in Arabic by its ancient Egyptian name of athl). The leaves of the weeping willow were used in funeral garlands, and knife handles made from its wood have been found to pre-date the Dynastic period. And pieces made from henna wood were among the finds of Schweinfurth.
        When the timber reserves of Egypt were no longer sufficient, trade with Lebanon was established in order to import lumber in pieces large enough for building their sarcophagi, ships and funerary and domestic furniture. Egypt's ebony came from Sudan, and myrrh was imported from the Somali land of Punt.

Peasant Life in Ancient Egypt. We end our account with a tale out of old Egypt. It comes from a story about the life of two brothers, tillers of the earth named Anubis and Bata. According to this story [here begins an abridged passage from The Literature of Ancient Egypt (Cairo, 1945), ed. & tr. by Selim Hassan]:
        Bata was a skilled farmer who made clothes for his brother and pastured his brother's herds. He broke the soil for his brother and harvested his brother's crops, and was filled to overflowing with a god's breath, which increased his stature. Every day he went out with the herds to pasture, and every evening he returned to his brother's house with a load of milk and greens and dry kindling, and rendered them unto his older brother, bringing him pleasure as he sat with his wife. After eating and drinking his rations, Bata made his bed in the corral to watch over the cattle. At night's end, the new day's dawn found him preparing his older brother's meal. Then he would set it before him, and set off for pasture with his own, driving the cattle to lead him to the fertile fields. And the cattle grew fat, and their offspring were stout and numerous.
        When the time for plowing had come, the older brother said to Bata: "Yoke a pair of oxen to the plow, for the earth is no longer saturated, but ready for the plow. Prepare also the grain for sowing, and we will break ground in early morning." And the younger brother was delighted at all he commanded. At the new day's dawn, they went into the field, and took their place behind the bulls with firm resolve: and gladness filled their hearts, for they had begun the task of the new year. But their grain ran out before all the ground was seeded, and the older brother sent the younger to the farm after another load of grain.
        The young man entered the house "at a time of distraction of its folk", and found his brother's wife combing her hair. When he came out of the granary bearing his load, "she in whose house he was sought to seduce him," saying: " 'Come on, you,' " and promising him finer clothes and a better station. When he scorned her, she contrived to accuse him to his brother, and played the liar after the fashion of the well-known story of our master Joseph, peace be upon him.

From al-Filāha (a publication of the Agricultural Club), vol. 28 no. 1 (Jan.-Feb. 1948), 28-30.

December 6, 2010

Veterinary Medicine in Ancient Egypt

Enclosed within the temple complexes of ancient Egypt (among them the temple of Memphis which predates 3000 BCE) were structures called "Houses of Life," where teachers and students were trained in the life sciences. Dissection and anatomy, chemistry, diagnosis of diseases and their remedies, the principles of mummification - the Houses of Life presented an ideal opportunity for study in all these fields, thanks to the embalming process which required the cutting open of human cadavers and animal carcasses, and the removal of their innards in preparation for mummification. This was the job of the medical diviners, who also tended to the sacred animals and to the animals fattened for slaughter, whether as offerings to their gods or for human consumption.

Animal care flourished in ancient Egypt, and livestock wealth increased among peasants and the landowners who kept big herds of cattle, sheep, goats and other ungulates. For horses and asses great care was also taken. They used to set up canopies in the fields, so that the animals might find rest and tranquility in their shade. Meanwhile, the herdsmen sat in the shade of trees, from where they would watch over them and apportion their feed - a scene that appears in the [tomb paintings representing the] fields of Ti, ca. 2550 BCE. In these settings, this class of herdsmen gained experience in the care and husbandry of animals, and in tending to the pregnant and supervising their delivery, seeing to their milking and the nursing of their calves, and isolation of the ailing and their cure.

mastaba of ti
Mastaba of Ti, Saqqara. Detail from a photo by Richard T. Mortel

As the care of sick animals was left up to shepherds with experience and knowledge of cures, it was from their ranks that the veterinary doctor emerged, as affirmed by the English scholar Wilkinson in his book of 1878.

Since the floruit of the traveler Khuf Har is dated to the Sixth Dynasty, it was 2350 years before Christ that he made his famous journey to the upper regions of Nubia in search of incense and ivory. For transport and communication outside the country he used 300 asses, and that same season he brought them all back, loaded down with wonderful treasures. This reflects the level of the ancient Egyptians' ability and their skill in tending animals.

In 1889, the English archaeologist Flinders Petrie discovered a Twelfth-Dynasty papyrus on veterinary medicine, whose date goes back to 2000 BCE, in the Ilahun subdistrict of the province of Fayyum. This papyrus indicates remedies for bulls that suffered from tear duct infections, as well as taurine depression and sadness, and for dogs afflicted with internal parasites.

From Veterinary Medicine Between Past, Present and Future,
a 1990 publication of the Egyptian Veterinarians Syndicate.

December 2, 2010

Avicenna on the same

The rainbow is an atmospheric phenomenon that occurs during conditions of humidity, in no position other than standing upright. At its height, it traverses the sphere of [sublunar frigidity called] al-zamharīr, while its extremities hang just above the surface of the earth. Its appearance is limited chiefly to the beginning and end of the day, opposite the rising or the setting of the sun. The visible share of the rainbow amounts to no more than half a circle, and is always a lesser segment unless the sun is on the horizon. In that case, a semicircular rainbow is seen, such that a ray emerging from the center of the sun will graze the surface of the earth until it meets the geometric center of the rainbow standing on the opposite horizon. With any elevation of the sun above the horizon, less than half a circle's worth of rainbow will be seen. Since the area occupied by the rainbow is defined inversely by the sun's position, its height and length decrease according to the increase in the solar elevation angle.

Know that between the apex of the rainbow and the circular area of the solar halo (mentioned earlier in our treatise) there is a certain equivalence. They have the same cause, which is the impact of sunshine on particles of humid vapor that are present, and its reflection back in the direction of the sun.

The visible hues are four. These correspond to the four qualities which are heat, humidity, cold and dryness; and also to the elements which are fire, air, water and earth; and also to the seasons which are summer, autumn, winter and spring. And also to the four humors - which are the black and yellow bile, the phlegm, and blood - do they bear a similarity. To the colors of the flowers of plants and trees they bear a formal analogy, for when the seven colors of the rainbow come out it is a sign of the air's humidity, the proliferation of rain, and the increase of the grasses, orchard fruits and grain crops. Its appearance is as a joyful proclamation which nature presents to animals and humans, announcing the fecundity of the season.

As for those vulgar interpretations of the rainbow which read indications of the coming year into the relative intensity of its colors - with predominance of red for the spilling of blood, yellow for victims of illness, blue for war and green for fertility - these are altogether a matter for omen-readers.

From his treatise On the Cosmos

November 30, 2010

Views of May 26

November 26, 2010

On rainbows

Al-Khalil said: "The 'Bow of Quzah' is a band that comes together in the sky during the rainy season." "Do not call it 'Quzah's Bow,' " we are told in a hadith reported by Ibn 'Abbas, "for 'Quzah' is a demon's name. Call it instead the 'Bow of God,' be He Exalted and Magnified." But Abu Ruqaysh said: "Quzah are the bands contained within the rainbow, sg. quzaha. And al-taqzih is the branching of a tree or a plant such that it takes the shape of a dog's foot." Another hadith forbids praying behind a tree so formed. And in the verse of al-A'sha, "Quzah" is a man's name:

    "Huddled in a flock that had given up hope
        in the welcome appearance of Quzah's companions..."

[...] The rainbow is called al-dah ["The Gewgaw"], as in the proverbial expression: "He doesn't know al-mah from al-dah." Al-mah is an egg yolk, and al-dah is a name for the rainbow. Al-dah also names the celestial halo seen mostly at night, and less frequently during the rising and setting of the sun. All such halos are caused when the light of a heavenly body meets a large quantity of wet vapor in the air, and is bent and turned round in the air by that vapor. And that is how you come to see the halo effect.

It has been observed that rainbows are fleeting occurrences, seen mostly in late afternoon and early evening, and never in the morning. In the autumn they are most frequent, and in summer they do not occur. The double rainbow you might see is caused by the reflection of the sun's rays on a barrier of moist vapor, after the fashion of light in water, and its subsequent retroflection. And a rainbow may be seen at night (though rarely) when the light of the full moon is at its height.

The turbidity or clarity of the rainbow depends on the humidity of the air, which (prior to the air's turbidity or clarity) determines the clarity and brightness of its colors. This is analogous to the color of fire, which is red and turbid when the wood is damp, and clear yellow when the wood is dry. And so it is with the colors of the rainbow.

From The Book of Seasons and Places
by Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Marzuqi (d. 1030 AD), ch. 33.

November 20, 2010

News of Solomon's horses

The Prophet David was a passionate lover of horses. Never could he hear a horse praised for its pedigree or nobility, its beauty or its swiftness without commanding it be brought to him, until he had assembled 1,000 horses unmatched at that time by any others on the earth. When God took David to Himself, and Solomon had inherited his possessions and taken his father's seat, he said: "My father bequeathed nothing dearer to me than these horses," and saw to their care and feeding.

There are people of learning who say that God, be He exalted, produced 100 winged horses from the sea, and that these horses were called al-Khayr [his "Goods"], and that Solomon used to race them against each other, and that in his sight there was no greater marvel.

It is said that one day Solomon called for his horses, saying: "Show them to me, that I may know their markings, names and genealogies." The show commenced upon completion of his afternoon prayers. As the hour for evening prayers approached, a noble steed was in command of his attention, and horses kept him from his prayers until the sun was fully absent, having "disappeared behind the curtain" (38:32) - whereupon Solomon came to his senses. Reminded of his prayers, he begged God's pardon, saying: "There is no 'good' in wealth that distracts from prayer and remembrance of God!" Up to this point, 900 of his horses had been shown, with 100 still to go, but at Solomon's command the 900 were brought back and "he fell to striking their legs" (38:33) in atonement for letting the evening prayer slip past him. There remained 100 horses which had not been shown him, of which he said: "These hundred are dearer to me than the nine hundred that strayed me from remembrance of God." Thus does God say: "To David We gave Solomon, most excellent of worshipers. Staunch was he in his return [to Us]" (38:30). And Solomon's enthusiasm for horses did not cease until God took him to Himself.

[My father] Muhammad ibn al-Sa'ib al-Kalbi related on the authority of Abu Salih that Ibn 'Abbas said: "The Arabs first learned of these horses upon Solomon's marriage to Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, when a deputation of Azd came from Oman before the son of David. They questioned him about religious and mundane obligations until their curiosity was satisfied, and they were anxious to return home. 'O Prophet of God,' they said, 'our country is very far away, and we have exhausted our stock of provisions. Provision us with what will last us until we get there.' So Solomon gave them one of his horses, saying: 'This is your provision: when you set up camp, set a man on his back and give him a spear. You are to gather no wood and strike no fire unless he comes back with the spoils of the chase.' The Azdites did so, mounting a man on the horse and putting a spear in his hand every time they set up camp. But wood was always gathered and fire was struck, for it was never long before he came back with a gazelle or onager he had hunted. And for the whole length of their journey they had enough to sustain and satisfy them, and then some. The Azdites said: 'What shall we name our horse, if not Zad al-Rakib ["Provision of the Rider"]?' And that was the first that Solomon's horses were known to the Arabs."

From the Genealogies of Horses by Ibn al-Kalbi

November 12, 2010

News of Qalam

Muhammad ibn Mazid ibn Abi 'l-Azhar informed me that the singer Radhdhadh Abu 'l-Fadl (a courtier of al-Mutawakkil) was told by Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn Hisham:

"Qalam al-Salihiyya belonged to Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, and was one of the most skilled and famous singers of her day. A poem of Muhammad ibn Kunasa that she had set to music was sung in front of al-Wathiq:

    'I am pervaded by cringing and shame, ever since
        I surrendered to my private nature
    in the company of noble, upstanding folk,
        and was shameless in saying the things I said.'

" 'Whose composition is this?' asked the caliph. 'It is by Qalam al-Salihiyya,' he was told , 'the slave of Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab,' So he sent for [his vizier] Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Malik al-Zayyat, who soon appeared. 'Woe unto you,' the caliph said, '[if you can't tell me:] who is this Salih ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab?' Ibn al-Zayyat told him. 'Where is he?' said the caliph. 'Have him sent for, and his singing-girl along with him.' The two were brought before the caliph, and Qalam went into his chamber. At his command she sang for him, and the caliph was so pleased that he commanded she be sold to him. 'I will sell her," said Salih, for the governorship of Egypt plus 100,000 dinars.' Al-Wathiq waxed wroth at this, and returned a scathing answer.

"Some time later at al-Wathiq's court, Zurzur the Elder sang a song with lyrics by Salih's brother Ahmad ibn al-Wahhab, set to a tune by Qalam. It went like this:

    'The abode of lovers does not show itself clearly.
        A skeptical view is the truest you'll get.
    Whoever loves Layla is in for soul-rending:
        a predator's pounce, and no gratification.'

" 'Whose song is this?' asked al-Wathiq. 'It is by Qalam,' he was told, 'the slave of Salih.' So he commanded Ibn al-Zayyat to summon Salih and al-Qalam along with him. When they were brought before the caliph and Qalam had gone into his chamber, al-Wathiq ordered her to sing the song, which she did. 'This is your own composition?' he asked her. 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,' said Qalam. 'May God bless you and him who raised you,' said the caliph, and summoned Salih.

"Salih appeared and said: 'Since the Commander of the Faithful is struck with longing for her, it is unthinkable for me to retain possession of her. She is my gift to the Commander of the Faithful. My decision is to transfer her ownership to you, and may God bless you for it.' 'I accept,' said al-Wathiq, and ordered Ibn al-Zayyat to pay him 5,000 dinars. And he gave to Qalam ['Pen'] the name of Ihtiyat ['Prudence'].

"But Ibn al-Zayyat did not hand over the money, and forebore its payment. And Salih made this known to Qalam. So one day when al-Wathiq had greeted the morning with a drink, she regaled him with a song. 'May God bless you and him who raised you!' he said. She replied: 'Sire, he who raised me has received nothing for it but for weariness and loss on my account, and the result to him is zero.' 'Did I not order 5,000 dinars to be paid him?' the caliph asked. She said: 'But Ibn al-Zayyat has not given him anything.' So he called a trusted servant, and imposed on Ibn al-Zayyat the delivery of 5,000 dinars plus 5,000 more on top of that.

"Salih said: 'When I went to al-Zayyat with the servant and the message, he brought me close and said: "As for the first 5,000 dinars, here they are, take them. The other 5,000 I will pay you after Friday." So I left, and thereupon he pretended to forget he knew me. When I wrote to him of his debt, he sent me this message: "Write me out a receipt, and get the money from me after Friday." I was loath to do so as I had received none of it, and I declined to appear at my friend's house while he was there. When it dawned on him that I could not be found, Ibn al-Zayyat feared that I would complain of him to al-Wathiq. So he sent me the money in exchange for the receipt. Some after that the servant came to me and said: "The Commander of the Faithful commands me to ply you with this question: did you receive the money?" "Yes I did," I said. And with the money I bought an estate, and made it my haunt and home, and from that time forward I kept away from government work nor put myself in its way for any reason.' "

From the Book of Songs of Abu 'l-Faraj al-Iṣbahani

November 6, 2010

On the subject of handwriting

Among what poets have said on the subject of handwriting are the verses transmitted by Hisham ibn al-Kalbi, who said:

Al-Muqanna' al-Kindi praised al-Walid ibn Yazid in a poem, saying (meter: kāmil):

    Like letters in the books of a young scrivener, [his deeds are]
        precise and indelible, and with his pen he is unerring:
    a pen like a pigeon's downward-pointing beak,
        safe depositor of the sage’s knowledge,
    it marks the letters where he wishes to establish
        their clarity with diacritic strokes
    lifted from the blackened wick of ink,
        whose wool is tinted by the charcoal discharge.
    The nib is clipped closely, for it splits from much writing,
        like the clipping one trims from a fingernail’s edge,
    and the crack in its nib is repaired and made even,
        and watered with ink, which enhances its mending.
    It is silent, though eloquent in all that
        a tongue has to say, without speaking,
    for it has interpreters with tongues of their own
        whose translation into speech brings clarity.
    But his scribes do not write a single line
        that reveals what he wants to keep secret.
    To name him, the scrivener sets down a qaf, then a lam
        with mim hung from its bottom. [This spells 'pen.']

[In the same poem,] he goes on to say:

    A little gazelle said to her neighbor
        on glimpsing al-Muqanna' through his veil:
    'Fair was his face, but possessed of mixed aspect
        for paleness was countered by darkness of eye.'
    How many can boast of a herd of such camels
        - nimble-shanked Mahris one year past their teething -
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and halter?
        Whose saddles and halters are equal to his?
    Whose colts just past teething are so battle-ready,
        their girth-straps filled out by mare's milk in abundance,
    as al-Walid furnished with saddle and rein?
        And whose reins and saddles are equal to his?
    To al-Walid, al-Muqanna' sends a poem
        like a sword honed on the blade of his own sword.
    His are the noblest of deeds of Quraysh,
        and so, on the death of Hisham, is the throne."

From The Book of Animals of al-Jahiz

November 3, 2010

A description of the locust

The locust has six legs, with two arms set in its chest, two legs in its middle and two at its rear. Both of its hind legs end in a saw. It is one of those animals that follow a leader, for it is organized in military fashion: after the first of them takes flight or makes a landing, all the others do the same. Its saliva acts on plants as a slow poison. Every plant it lands on is destroyed.

On the authority of Abu Hurayra, al-Bukhari relates that the Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said: "The prophet Job, God's blessings and peace be upon him, was bathing nude when he was showered by a flock of locusts all of gold, and began gathering them into his robe. Then God, be He exalted, called to him: 'Have I not kept you free of need for what you see?' 'Yes, my Lord,' said Job, 'and yet I still have need of your blessings.'" On this hadith, al-Shafi'i commented: "It is right that honest wealth should go to honest worshipers."

Al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi relate on the authority of Shu'ba that Abu Zuhayr al-Namiri said: "Do not kill locusts, for they are God's most numerous jund."* I say: If authentic, this hadith only applies when crops and the like are not exposed to ruin. Otherwise it is lawful to attack them. A jund is a "troop" (pl. ajnād and junūd), as in the hadith: "Souls are junūd mujannada," i.e. troops collected together, [a redoubled phrase] which is like ulūf mu'allafa ["thousands upon thousands"] or qanātir muqantara ["riches that are richly heaped"].

To Ibn 'Umar (may God be pleased with him and his father) is attributed the hadith in which a locust landed in the hands of the Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him. On its wings was an inscription in Hebrew, reading: "We are God's largest troop, laying 99 eggs, and if we were to lay 100 we would devour the whole world and everything in it." The Prophet, God's blessings and peace be upon him, said: "Dear God! destroy the locust. Kill the old ones, bring death to the little ones, and cause their eggs to miscarry. Avert their mouths from the crops and livelihoods of Muslims, You who hear my prayer." At this, Gabriel appeared and said: "Your prayer has been answered, but only in part." This hadith is also related by al-Hakim in The History of Nishapur.**

Al-Tabarani also relates that Hasan the son of 'Ali (may God be pleased with them both) said: "I was eating at a table with Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya and my cousins 'Abd Allah, Qatham and al-Fadl (the sons of my uncle 'Abbas), when a locust landed on the table. 'Abd Allah seized it and said: 'What is written on this creature?' I said: 'I asked the father of the Commander of the Faithful about that, and he said, "When I asked the Prophet about it, God's blessings and peace be upon him, he said: 'This is what is written on it: "I am God, there is no God but I: Lord of the locust and its provider. I send them to people as a provision and as a plague as it is My will." ' " ' " The commentary of Ibn 'Abbas: "This is hidden science."***

Editor's notes (by Ahmad 'Abd al-Basit Hamid):
*In his Assembly of Unique Narrations, al-Haythami says: "This hadith's chain of transmission includes Muhammad ibn Isma'il ibn 'Ayyash, who is a weak narrator."

**As related by al-Bayhaqi in The Branches of Faith, this hadith's chain of transmission includes one Muhammad ibn 'Uthman al-Qaysi. "This man is unknown," says al-Bayhaqi, "and the hadith is denied, though God knows best."

***This hadith appears in The Branches of Faith and in The Scattered Pearls of al-Suyuti, but in the three collections of al-Tabarani it cannot be found.

From Attainment of what is wished for in the field of locust lore
by 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Mallah. (Cf.)

October 31, 2010

A description of the rain

Abu Hatim tells us that Abu 'Ubayda said:
One day Al-Nu'man sallied forth after a rainstorm. On meeting with a mounted desert Arab on his camel, he hailed him, and the Arab obeyed his summons. Al-Nu'mān said: "How is the land that you have left behind you?" "Wide and spacious," said the Arab. "With easy lowlands, rugged hills and mountains firmly rooted, it is a capable sustainer of what sits on it." Al-Nu'mān said: "But I was asking you about the sky."

"It is high and free-standing," the Arab said, "without the aid of poles or tent-cords. Its day and night are clearly separated, and its sun and moon follow each other in succession." Al-Nu'mān said: "That's not what I’m asking you about!" "So ask what’s on your mind," the Arab said. Al-Nu'mān said: "Has rain been falling there, and if so can you describe it?" "Yes," the Arab said.

"The sky rained on our land for three long stretches without budging. It soaked it, left it swampy and then left it ankle-deep. Then I went forth from my people, and searched the land and found no part as far as Tish'ār that was spared. The clouds boomed out to one another on every side, and heavily the flow drave on, erasing the roads and filling the hollows, and digging the trees out at their roots. All souls kept to their shelters, and no traveler could depart until the sky left off harming us with its blessings. When solid land had re-emerged, and pathways through the fields could be descried, I came out to observe the sky and every quarter of its rim. No refuge could I find except for caverns in the hills, for the jarr al-dabu'* had been disgorged: the lowlands were like seas of slapping waves, the rugged hills were wrapped in flotsam, and carcasses of wild animals were flung in all directions. And I did not leave off treading the sky’s residue and wading its water until I reached your land."

*Abu Bakr said: The meaning of jārr al-dabu' ["The Hyena Driver"] is that it forces the hyena out of its underground lair.

Abu Bakr ibn Durayd, The Book of the Description of Rain and Clouds, ch. 14.

October 28, 2010

Al-Kindi on the rain, and why it seldom falls in Egypt

You ask (may God illuminate your pathway to the truth!) what causes some places to get hardly any rain. If the cause for abundance of rain in some places were to be made plain to you (may God guide you aright!), you might also appreciate (may God reveal to you all that is hidden!) the cause for a prevailing lack of rain in other places, since contraries are known together.

[...] All bodies undergo contraction when chilled, after which they need a smaller place than the one they occupied before their chilling. When heated, they undergo expansion, and need a larger place than the one they occupied before their heating. Therefore does air flow from a hot, expanded location toward one that is cold and contracted, and this flow is what we call the wind (for our usage gives the name of "wind" to the flow of air and "wave" to the flow of water). This explains why the wind is greatest when the sun's heat is shed along its southern inclination: expanded by that heat, air from the south flows north to where the air has been chilled by its remoteness from the sun.

When the sun is in its northern inclination it heats the areas to the north, and those in the south become chilled. The northern air then expands and flows in the direction of the south, due to the cold-induced contraction of the air there. For this reason, most summer winds are northerly winds, and most winter winds come from the south – except for winds which arise (in some cases all at once, in others little by little) from such sublunar factors as the course of rivers, the occurrence of floods, [and the influence of] stagnant waters, open meadows, the sun’s reflection on the tops of stony mountains, irrigation, agriculture, woods and wetlands. These factors (and others like them) contribute to the flow of vapor in different directions, which the various winds distribute according to the disposition of the earth’s territories (high places and low, caverns and open places), the influence of any fires burning therein, and so on.

The vapor made to flow across the face of the earth by the sun’s alternation between north and south was likened by ancient Greek sages to a freshwater sea of alternating tides, and they called it Okeanos, the earth-encircling sea.

When vapor ends up in a place whose distance from the sun’s path chills the air to the point that the vapor’s volume is reduced, the vapor becomes thick and dense and is converted into water by the air around it, which releases it in the form of rain upon the earth (along with any particles of earth taken up as earth-vapor). Meanwhile, these vapors crowd the air with their weight and set it moving, turning it into wind (which is the flow of air).

Vapor attains its maximum degree of density when it flows into caves or between mountains where its flow is hampered by the cold, or checked by an opposing flow of air, in the way that vapors have of being redirected by sublunar factors (as we have already described). But if vapor winds up in a location devoid of what reduces its volume and chills it, it spreads beyond that location until it encounters what we have defined as cold, condensing factors -- whether or not the land itself accumulates much standing water. For vapor is raised from the earth every day the sun casts it heat, and after it sets even more moisture may be released in the form of dew, having been attracted in the form of vapor that flows in from elsewhere, as happens daily in all forests.

As for those locations (be they in the south or elsewhere) whose moisture falls short, devoid as they are of any means of containing the vapor flowing into them from the south (due to the lack of high encircling mountains to the north) and furnished as they are with continual air currents (either by the influence of great quantities of moving water or the nearness of a body of water at its northern end), – locations in which the flow of vapor is diverted elsewhere due to some stronger flow prevailing against its wonted northward course – the presence of rain in those locations is very small. So it is in the country of Egypt, whose air on the north side lacks high mountains, and where most of the vapor flowing south to north (from the Sea of Abyssinia) is deflected by the mountains of the Beja (such as al-Muqattam and the mountains near it), so that the Sea of Abyssinia’s vapors flow towards Iraq.

From the treatise On why some places almost never get any rain

October 11, 2010

By the author of Aristotle Among the Arabs

I came into this world by chance, and by chance I will depart it. One proof of this is that if my father had not stooped to recover a blown sheet of paper that drifted to the ground one October day in 1913, he would have lost his life. On the evening of that day, an assassin hired by one of his enemies came near his seat in the mayoral house and fired a round of bullets at him. At that very moment, the sheet of paper he was reviewing (which was a brief from the shari'a court) took flight - and at the moment he bent over to retrieve it, the bullets buried themselves in the door behind him, grazing only the edge of his turban. "Is God alive?" he shouted, and fell silent. The assassin, believing he had dealt my father a fatal shot, took off running for his benefactor's house. My father recovered instantly, however, and ran off after him, keenly surmising that he would be led to the house of a wicked adversary called Gado Zarad. Along the way he called out for people to join him on the trail, and in half an hour they had Gado's house surrounded. Half the village turned out and stormed the house, and when they did not find the perpetrator one of their number led an attack on an unroofed house next door where he had fled. The man was found hiding in a corner and was seized and bound with ropes, as was the man who hired him. And my father sent word to the police in Fariskor (some 80 km from Sharabass), who came and took the men into custody and drove them back to the station in Fariskor. My birth took place 40 months later, on February 4, 1918.

If you examine the life of any person, you will find that a kind of chance is what gives rise to his or her birth, i.e. the chance encounter between the spermatazoa of a man and the egg cell in a woman. Whoever concludes from this that there is order or intentionality or a plan is just a dreamer. All that's at work are causes, operating in competition with each other, engendering whoever is engendered and annihilating whoever is annihilated.

'Abdel Rahman Badawi, The Story of My Life, v. 1, ch. 1.

June 28, 2010

How rain is known as line and circle

One of the internal perceptive faculties that are proper to the living animal is fantasy [Gk. phantasia], which is the “common sense.” Its place is in the first chamber of the brain, where it receives into itself all that is conveyed to it from the totality of forms impressed on the five senses. Another faculty is positioned in the rear part of this chamber: this is the imagination [Ar. al-khayyāl], which is the form-producing faculty. It preserves what the common sense presents to it from the five individual senses, out of what remains there after the sensible objects are no longer present. It is well known that reception and preservation are the work of separate faculties. Think of water, which has the capacity to receive an imprint or an inscription and to take on any shape, but lacks the capacity to retain them (in a way that we will clarify later).

If you want to know the difference between the action of external sense generally, the action of the common sense, and the action of [the form-producing capacity of] the imagination, consider how you see the falling drop of rain as a straight line, and how you see the end-point of that cylindrical straight line as a circle. A thing cannot be perceived as a line or a circle until it has been looked into multiple times. External sense is unable to see it at two [separate] times, but sees it rather as it happens to be.
What is impressed on the common sense and passes away is perceived by the external sense as it happens to be. After it is effaced, its form remains in the common sense, which perceives it as if it were still there, just as when it happened to occur. The form-producing faculty sees an extended body which is spherical or straight, and this is something that can in no way be attributed to the external sense. The form-producing faculty perceives both matters, and gives form to them both, even when the thing itself no longer exists or is absent.

Then there is the faculty called "post-imaginative" with respect to the animal soul, and "cogitative" with respect to the human soul. This faculty is positioned in the central chamber of the brain, at the cerebellar vermis. Its characteristic function is that it combines and separates the contents of the imagination as it will. Then there is the estimative faculty, positioned at one end of the brain’s middle chamber, where it perceives the meanings [Ar. ma'ānī] which are not perceived through particular sensations. Such is the [above-mentioned] faculty present in the sheep, which determines that this wolf is to be fled from and that this lamb is to be cared for. It seems that this faculty is also what effects changes in imaginary objects, combining and dividing among them. Then there is the retentive, recollective faculty located in the hindmost chamber of the brain, which retains what the estimative faculty perceives in the way of meanings unperceived through particular sensations. The relationship of the retentive faculty to the estimative faculty is like the imagination’s relationship to the senses, and the relation of that faculty [the estimative] to the ma'ānī is like the relation of this faculty [the imaginative] to the sensible forms. These are the internal perceptive faculties of the animal soul.

On the soul (The Cure: Physics, book 6) I.5

Avicenna on extra-sensory perception

Reminder. The common sense is a tablet. When its surface is occupied by an impression, that impression is also made in the judgment of the beholder. Sometimes when the sensible object withdraws from the senses, its form remains for a while in the common sense and in the perceiver’s judgment, in isolation from the imagination. In this connection, you should recall what was said to you about the rain that falls in a straight line, and the circular impressions left by its scattered droplets. When, on the tablet of the common sense, the likeness of a form is produced, that form is then perceived, whether it is at the beginning of its state of being impressed from without, or persisting along with a persisting sensation, or as something fixed after that sensation has ceased. Alternately, [a form] might occur in the soul in a way that owes nothing to sensation.

Pointer. Forms that are present and available to external sense may be perceived by unwell and bilious sorts in isolation from the external sense-objects themselves, impressed on the soul through an internal cause which may or may not be influenced by some other cause. The common sense may also be stamped by a "wandering" form that strikes the seat of imagination and estimation; likewise, imagination and estimation may receive an impression from the tablet of the common sense. It is something like what happens between two mirrors that face each other.

Reminder. There are two causes that distract from this sort of impression. One is sensory and external; the other is produced internally by the intellect or the estimative faculty. In the former case, the tablet of the common sense is occupied by some other impression made upon it, effectively usurping [the attention] and wresting it away from the imaginary entity. In the latter case, the activity of the imagination is checked as the intellect or the estimation intervenes in what is occupying the soul, and the imagination is made compliant to it, and loses its power over the common sense. The imagination is no longer capable of making an impression on the common sense, for its movement is weak – something which follows, but is not itself followed.

If either of these two distracting faculties is stilled, the other one remains. It may happen that the remaining faculty is unable to check the imagination; in these cases, the imagination regains its power over the common sense, which is then taken over by signs of forms [such as are] beheld by the senses.

Pointers and Reminders 10.12-14

June 10, 2010

Avicenna on that helium

Reminder. From what has gone before, you know that the particulars are stamped on the intellectual world in their universal aspect. After that, you were led to notice that heavenly bodies are endowed with souls that have particular perceptions and desires proceeding from their particular point of view. There is no bar to their forming concepts of the particular concomitants that arise from their particular movements in the elemental world.

If this observation, concealed as it is from all but those whose intellect is stanched in elevated wisdom, is in fact true -- namely, that after the separated intelligences which are theirs as a matter of principle, they have a rational soul which takes in no material impression, and that furthermore these retain a certain connection, as between mortal souls and bodies, through which they are empowered to obtain a certain perfection; -- If this is true, then heavenly bodies are provided with a supplement, meaning that they present both a universal view and another view particular to them. What you should gather from these remarks is that the particulars do make an impression on the intellectual world in the form of a universal figure, and in the world of the soul the impression they make is time-sensitive and takes the form of a particular figure.

Pointers and Reminders 10.9

April 22, 2010

Al-Jahiz on inarticulateness

Animals are divided into “articulate” and “inarticulate,” though not in the sense those words are generally used in Arabic. They are so called in the way that “silent” is said without misunderstanding for what is not at all silent, and “speaking” is said for what never raises its voice. Whereas people speak with each other when they come together, animals use bellowing, bleating, braying, neighing, yodeling, mooing, whooping, howling, barking, crowing, meowing, grunting, screeching, hissing, yelping, clucking, croaking, roaring, razzing, rattling and hissing.

There are other instances [of words, like "inarticulate," that have more than one antithesis], such as dhukūr which means “males” as opposed to females, like the merchants’ caravan [in its separation] from the women’s caravan. Dhikr [pl. dhukūr] is furthermore what we call “the upper-handed” of any two parties that come face to face or take [their leave?] of one another.

The articulate animal is the human being. Inarticulate is every animal whose voice is only understood by other members of its genus. We, I aver, understand many of the desires, needs and aims of the horse and the ass, the dog and the cat and the camel, just as we understand the desire of the baby in his cradle, knowing (and it is an exalted form of knowledge) that its crying signifies something different from what is signified by its laughter. Also we understand that the horse’s whinnying when it sees its feed-bag is different from its whinnying when it sees a mare, and that the cat’s call to the tomcat is different from her call to her young. And examples of this are many.

Human beings are articulate, even if they express themselves in the language of Persia or India or Greece. The Greek understands clear Arabic no better than an Arab understands the Greek's outlandish speech. In this sense, all people may be said to be “articulate.” When they say “inarticulate,” distinguishing it not from “articulate” but from “Arab,” they do not have this meaning in mind. Rather, they mean that the “inarticulate” man does not speak Arabic, and that an Arab cannot understand him. And Kuthayyir says:

   Fa-būrika mā a'ta 'bnu Laylā bi-niyyatin
      wa-sāmitu mā a'ta 'bnu Laylā wa-nātiquhu

   In what Ibn Laylā gives off there is no way for you to learn his intention.
      What Ibn Laylā gives out is of two kinds: silent, and vocal.

When they say: “He came bringing what is loud and what is silent,” the “silent” refers to [inanimate goods] like gold and silver, and the “loud” refers to any animal. Here it means he spoke, and fell silent. “Silent” refers to anything [in the way of capital] excluding live animals.

Considering what is in the world, we find its existence to be [the product of God’s] sagacity, and of [the products of] that sagacity we find two kinds: the thing that has no concept of sagacity or what it entails, and the thing that does conceive of sagacity and what it entails. The thing that conceives and the thing that has no concept are equally signs of [God’s] sagacity, but they are different from the standpoint that one is a sign that lacks the power of inference, and the other is a sign that has that power. As signs which lack the power of inference, animals (with the exception of people) are aligned with inanimate matter. To be a sign that also has the power to infer from signs was given to people. A connector was then made to be their guide to the various aspects of inference from signs and what results from inference. And that is what they call “intelligibility” [al-bayān].

The Book of Animals I 31-33

January 5, 2010

Avicenna on writing, speech, and psychic trace

"Human beings are endowed with a perceptive faculty on which the forms of external matters are impressed. From there the forms are conveyed to the soul, where a second impression is made, one which persists even when those forms are no longer present to the senses. Now matters may be impressed on the soul in other ways which resemble the conveyance of the senses, as when an impression is made on the sense, and its sensible form is subsequently converted into an abstraction; alternately, impressions may come along another route which it is not the job of logic to explain.

"Matters have an existence in themselves and an existence in the soul, which leaves traces there.

"Out of its need for association and community, human nature is dependent on communication, and was motivated to contrive a means to it. [To that end] there is nothing swifter than the action of the voice, which is especially well adapted given the voice's evanescence and impermanence, and its lack of simultaneous plurality. In addition to its swiftness, it has the benefit of enabling semiosis, along with its effacement when the need for signifying has passed (lest it be construed as a signifier after this). Therefore nature inclines toward use of the voice, and is outfitted by grace of its Creator with the instruments for articulating phonemes and arranging them so that the traces in the soul are signified.

"After that there follows a second need, and that is for a path to knowledge of what is currently inapparent or still to come in the future. What is learned in the future can be added to the record of things already known, for the benefit and completion of humankind’s wisdom through mutual association. Most of the arts are only brought to completion by the development of the ideas they contain, and the discovery of their laws, with the latecomers assisted by the predecessors in whose footsteps they follow, and this is to the benefit of those still to come. Even what is not currently needful may prove useful. Some other path to knowledge besides speech was therefore needed, so the various forms of writing were contrived, all by divine guidance and inspiration."

"The signification of real-life matters within the soul is a natural mode which does not vary as to its signifier or signified, as does the utterance's signification of the psychic trace (in which the signifier does vary although the signified does not), nor is it like writing's signification of the utterance and writing (in which signifier and signified alike may vary).

"As for the process by which the soul imagines the forms of real-life matters and what sets that process in motion, and what it is that attends to the forms when they are inside the soul, and what attends to them when they are outside, and what the causal agent is that rouses the imaginative faculty to actuality -- these questions do not pertain to logic but to another field of knowledge. Likewise, the arbitrariness of speech and writing may be debated by linguists and scribes, but the logician speaks of it only in passing. The aspects of utterance which the logician does need to know about are the conditions by which simple and composite meanings are indicated, in order thereby to gain insight into meanings themselves, the better to gain insight from them into the unknown. For this is the logician’s job."

From On interpretation (The Cure: Logic, book 3), I.1