July 9, 2020

The asceticism of Dawud al-Ta’i

I am informed by my father that ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Ya‘qub related on the authority of Abu Hatim that Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn ‘Umar was informed by Muhammad ibn Bashir that Hafs ibn ‘Umar al-Ja‘fi said:

Dawud al-Ta’i inherited nearly four hundred dirhams from his mother, and lived on them for thirty years. When this fund was exhausted, he began dismantling his house, and sold off its bricks and timbers and woven floor-mats until a fragment of the roof was all that remained. The wall surrounding his house was of the same ‘Azrami brickwork as the market of Kunasa, and the door in it was low and irregularly-shaped.
       A young man came to Dawud's house by leaping over the wall. "Give these building materials to me," he said, "for my friend and I to sell on your behalf. The proceeds could be helpful to you." He kept this up until Dawud let him have them. But after thinking it over, Dawud went out after evening prayers to confront him. "Give them back to me," he said. "But why, brother?" the young man asked. "I fear their sale will be fraught with unlawful gain," said Dawud, and took them back.


We are informed by ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad [ibn Ja‘far?] that ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-‘Abbas was informed by Salama ibn Shabib that Sahl ibn ‘Asim reported that ‘Uthman ibn Zufar said:

I was told by a cousin of Dawud al-Ta’i that he inherited twenty dinars from his father, which he spent on food and almsgiving at the rate of one dinar per year for twenty years. And he inherited a house, whose maintenance he disregarded. When one part of it fell in, he would move to another, until a corner of the house was all that remained.

We are informed by Abu Muhammad ibn Hayyan that Ishaq ibn Abi Hassan reported on the authority of Ahmad ibn Abi 'l-Hawari that Abu Sulayman al-Darani said:

Dawud al-Ta’i inherited from his mother a sum of money and a house, and he moved from room to room inside it as they fell apart around him, paying no heed to their maintenance, until every room in the house was used up. Of the money he inherited from his father, he spent all but one dinar, which paid for his winding sheet.

We are informed by Ibrahim ibn ‘Abd Allah that Muhammad ibn Ishaq said: I heard Muhammad ibn Zakariya say: I have heard it said by one of our companions that

Dawud al-Ta’i inherited twenty dinars from a patroness of his, which sufficed him until his death twenty years later.

We are informed by Ahmad ibn Ishaq that Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Mandah reported that

‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Amr said: I was asked by Muhammad ibn ‘Amir whether he ought to abandon the merchant's trade. Muhammad ibn Nu‘man and I advised that it would be better for him not to. He then wrote to his brother in Baghdad, telling him of our advice. His brother wrote back, saying:
      "Your confrères have advised you poorly. When Dawud al-Ta’i sold a piece of property that belonged to him, he was told: 'If you invested the proceeds in commerce, then something would accrue to you.' Dawud declined, saying: 'The income would run out before I do, or my life would run out before it.' So he spent the money dinar by dinar, and at his death just one dinar was left, which paid for his winding sheet."

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad that Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Hadhdha’ was informed by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Dawraqi that 

‘Abd Allah ibn Salih ibn Muslim al-‘Ijli said: I paid a call on Dawud al-Ta’i as he was suffering from the illness he died of, and in his house was nothing but an earthenware crock lined with pitch, containing some dry bread. He had another vessel for his ablutions, and lying in the dust was a large brick of Shahanjani mud. This was his cushion and his pillow, and in his house was not one woven mat of any size.

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

June 18, 2020

Public Service Announcement

القناع من سيما الرّؤساء

"The face mask is a badge of superb people."


June 10, 2020

Qual nave smarrita

We are informed by ‘Abd Allah that his father was informed by ‘Abd Allah ibn Numayr that al-A‘mash was told by Khaythama and Hamza that Shahr ibn Hawshab said:

The Angel of Death paid a call on Solomon. During his visit, he fell to staring at a man of Solomon's court. After he left, the man asked, "Who was that?"
    "That," said Solomon, "was the Angel of Death, peace be upon him."
    "He seemed to be staring, as if it were me he sought!"
    "What do you desire, then?" asked Solomon.
    "I want the wind to carry me away and set me down in India!" he said. So Solomon called for a wind to whirl the man there.
     [A little later,] the Angel of Death came back to Solomon, peace be upon him. Solomon said to him: "You sure were staring at one of my courtiers!"
     The Angel of Death said, "But I was surprised at seeing him here with you! when I was on my way to snatch his soul from him, in India."

 From The Book of Asceticism by Ahmad ibn Hanbal (cf.)

June 3, 2020

Quiet is the howl

We are informed by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn ‘Asim that al-Zubayr ibn ‘Abd al-Wahid reported that al-Rabi‘ ibn Sulayman said: I heard al-Shafi‘i recite these verses (meter: basīṭ):

     I wish I had dogs for neighbors
         instead of everyone I see.
     Dogs in their packs accept guidance.
         Human badness will never be tamed.
     Tend your soul and keep it secluded.
         Life in seclusion can only be praised.

An eminent jurist of our age says something similar, God have mercy on him (meter: basīṭ):

     From predations of wild beasts there is refuge.
         From human predation, nowhere to flee.
     Wild beasts don't bother most people.
         From human harm, no mortal is free.

       Al-Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad said: "If you see a lion, don't let it alarm you. If you see a son of Adam, hike up your robes and flee."

We report these words on Qubaysa's authority, and also that al-Shafi‘i said: "What do our times resemble, if not the verse by Ta’abbata Sharran (sic)?" (meter: ṭawīl)

     When the wolf howls, my feelings are friendly.
         What startle me are human voices.

‘Ubayd ibn Ayyub al-‘Anbari said something similar after he was pursued by the law for a capital crime he had committed, and fled until he reached a territory unknown to him (meter: ṭawīl):

      I was so awake to danger that when a dove flew by,
         I said, "Is that a single enemy, or a scouting party?"
     If I hear: "It gets better," I say: "It's a trick!"
         If I hear: "It gets worse," I say "True! Better get ready!"

I have it on al-Aburi's authority that the jurist Mansur ibn Isma‘il said (meter: mujtathth):

     People are the deep sea
         Distance from them is a boat
     I advise you to look
         After your miserable soul

From The Book of Isolation by Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi

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 marketplaces, 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 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 know it not
        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