Zayd b. Rifa‘a

Al-Tawhldl’s proposals on sadaqa and related matters sparked Ibn Rifa‘a’s interest to the extent that he presented them to an influential person like Ibn Sa‘dan. Their importance to Ibn Rifa ‘a is also shown by the deep impact his report had on Ibn Sa‘dan. Information about Ibn Rifa‘a’s intellectual and religious affiliations and his relation to Ibn Sa‘dan could help in explaining this further.

Valuable information about Ibn Rifa ‘a can be obtained from al-Tawh-d-. He is reported by al-Tawh. -d- to have lived in Bas. ra for a long time where he joined a group of scholars who called themselves the Ikhwan al-Safa’ (the Brethren of Purity).20 Apart from this account, there are various sources that mention Ibn Rifa‘a independently of the Basra group.21 In his history of Baghdad, al-Khat-b al-Baghdad- (d. 463/1071) provides various accounts on Ibn Rifa ‘a by people who met him.22 One of these accounts is by the qad- Abti al-Qasim al-Tanukh- (d. in Basra 342/953)23 in which he mentions that Ibn Rifa‘a was in charge of representing Muhammad b. ‘Umar al-‘Alaw- (d. 390/999) in some areas.24 Muhammad b. ‘Umar al-‘Alaw- was the head of the Talibids of his time, thus this report by al-Tanukh- provides an important clue for Ibn Rifa‘a’s connection to Sh-‘ism. Similarly, al-Safad- (d. 764/1363) reports Yaqut to have said that Ibn Rifa‘a “believed in the doctrine of the philosophers.”25 He also had knowledge of adab.26

For Ibn Rifa ‘a, assuming his affiliation with the Basra group as reported by al-Tawhldl, friendship (sadaqa) and intimacy (ulfa) are important themes. Al-Tawhldl says, “this group was knit together by companionship and purified [their souls] by friendship towards each other (tasafat bi'l-sadaqa). They had resolved upon holiness (al-quds), purity, advice”.27 Thus, sadaqa is fundamental to how the Brethren of Purity thought men should relate to one another, and it is considered a condition for the whole community’s survival.28 This may explain Ibn Rifa‘a’s interest in al-Tawhidi’s proposals on sadaqa and may highlight their social significance to the Brethren of Purity. Furthermore, Ibn Rifa‘a, who, according to al-Tawhldl, appears to be a friend of both al-Tawhldl and Ibn Sa‘dan, and who formed part of Ibn Sa‘dan’s entourage after he moved to Baghdad,29 may well have seen these proposals as necessary for the education of Ibn Sa‘dan, who in the previous quotation is said to have found friendship helpful.30

According to a conversation between al-Tawhldl and Ibn Sa‘dan, Ibn Rifa‘a enjoyed a close brotherhood (ukhuwwa) with the latter. He seems to have tried to persuade Ibn Sa‘dan to accept his doctrine (madhhab), which included a kind of science of letters.31 In his response about Ibn Rifa‘a’s madhhab, al-Tawhldl points out Ibn Rifa ‘a’s unique and eclectic system:

He is not related to any [school], and is not known [for belonging] to a particular group, because of his enthusiasm for every [subject], his eagerness for every field and the diversity of the breadth of his talent and the might of eloquence that he exhibits.32

This shows al-Tawhldl himself to be familiar with Ibn Rifa ‘a’s madhhab.33 Through the words of Ibn Sa‘dan, al-Tawhldl reveals that he used to frequent the company of Ibn Rifa ‘a and act as a copyist for him and exchange humorous anecdotes with him.34

Moreover, al-Tawhldl’s admiration of Ibn Rifa ‘a becomes evident from his portrait of the latter:

He has an exceptional brightness, glowing intelligence, and sharp wit. [He has produced] witticisms of equally high quality and has a vast command of all manner of prose and verse. His writing, in rhetoric and arithmetic, is marvellous. He has memorised the anecdotes of people, and has [attended] hearings of treatises. He has an insight into ideas and religions35 and is versatile in every subject.36

These reports establish al-Tawhldl’s familiarity with and admiration of Ibn Rifa‘a’s teaching and a common interest in the concept of sadaqa among them.37 Some scholars accept a link between al-Tawhldl and the Brethren of Purity.38 In fact, Genequand argues that al-Tawhldl makes extensive use of the Brethren’s Rasa ’ il although their name is rarely cited.39 Thus, it could be concluded that Ibn Rifa‘a’s concern with the epistle indicates its intellectual value, and its social significance, especially for the Brethren of Purity, assuming that Ibn Rifa ‘a is affiliated with them.

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