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Home arrow Religion arrow Ethics in Islam: Friendship in the Political Thought of al-Taw??d? and his Contemporaries

Ibn Sa‘dan

As mentioned above, after hearing about al-Tawhldl’s lectures on friendship from Ibn Rifa ‘a, Ibn Sa‘dan requested the composition of the epistle. Thus a discussion of Ibn Sa‘dan’s own circumstances and the dynamic of his relationship with al-Tawhldl would help in explaining al-Tawhidl’s reasons for the composition of the epistle, and his purpose.

The shift in political allegiances created an opportunity for new men to enter court circles in Baghdad, among them al-Tawhldl.40 Explaining some of these events is crucial to understanding the political rationale behind Ibn Sa‘dan’s choice of al-Tawhldl. This in turn will elaborate the historical contexts by which to understand the epistle on sadaqa, and some of the central intellectual, personal and social motivations that led al-Tawhldl to produce the work.

The period of Ibn Sa‘dan’s rule as vizier was characterised by external threats, internal dissent, and conspiracy,41 inflation that made him unpopular,42 and rivalries among Buyid rulers and viziers after the death of ‘Adud al-Dawla in 3 73/983.43 Ibn Sa‘dan’s policy was to mitigate the rivalry among the successors of ‘Adud al-Dawla.44 In 374/985, Ibn Sa‘dan, acting on behalf of Samsam al-Dawla, attempted to establish an agreement with Fakhr al-Dawla, in order to dissolve his dangerous alliance with Sharaf al-Dawla.45 At this time, he made overtures to Fakhr al-Dawla’s vizier, Ibn ‘Abba-d and exchanged diplomatic letters with him.46 For these reasons, Ibn Sa‘dan was very eager to learn about Ibn ‘Abbad, and seems to have encouraged al-Tawhldl to tell him more about the latter: his morals, doctrine, habits, and the extent of his knowledge:

I do not think I will ever find anybody who is as capable as you in informing [me] about him, and in describing him (fama azunnu ann- ajidu mithlaka f- l-ikhbari ‘anhu wa-l wasfi lahu).47

Thus, it is probable that al-Tawhidl’s intimate knowledge of Ibn ‘Abbad and the court of Rayy did play some role in his rise with Ibn Sa‘dan as well as in al-Tawhldl’s authorship of Akhlaq al-Waz-rayn (The Morals of the Two Viziers). Ibn Sa‘dan invited al-Tawhldl to converse with him in private sessions as his nightly confidant. In one nightly gathering, al-Tawhldl informed Ibn Sa‘dan that he had already composed a work about the morals of the two viziers of Rayy, Ibn ‘Abbad and Abu al-Fadl b. al-‘AmId.48 According to al-Tanjl, al-Tawhldl started writing his Akhlaq al-Waz-rayn about his experiences at the court of Rayy during 367-370/978-981 while he was still there and upon his return to Baghdad in 370/981.49 Yet al-Tawhldl kept the content of the book secret, in order to avoid the consequences of the book being published.50 Around 373/984, al-Tawhldl showed fragments of the work to Ibn Sa‘dan, who assured him that he would keep the book private and that no one would see it or talk about it, thereby encouraging him to complete it.51

Al-Tawhldl says that Ibn Sa‘dan sent him one letter after another, insisting that al-Tawhldl should compose the work and compile all the anecdotes about Ibn ‘Abbad and Ibn al-‘AmId, both those which he had heard about from others and those he himself had experienced through personal contact with the viziers since 3 50/961.52 Al-Tawhldl’s rhetorical capacities and penetrating moral vision allowed him to describe the court of Ibn al-Amld and Ibn ‘Abbad uniquely, revealing all of its most intimate affairs. Thus, Akhlaq al-Wazlrayn may well have been an important source of information about the court of Rayy and the character of Rayy’s vizier, Ibn ‘Abbad, for Ibn Sa‘dan as he negotiated a successful agreement of co-operation with Ibn ‘Abba-d in 373/984.53

Akhlaq al-Waz-rayn is an attack on Abu al-Fadl b. al-Amld and Ibn ‘Abba- d who were not models of the perfectly enlightened ruler, but according to al-Tawhldl, were ignorant, flawed men who had been morally corrupted by power and were only concerned with personal glory. Some of these images may be designed to portray the kind of ruler that Ibn Sa‘dan should not be, and in turn justify the emphasis on the reverse theme: the example of a good generous ruler or a ‘ruler-friend’ portrayed throughout al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q.54

The work conveys strong human emotions, reflecting al-Tawhldl’s personal experience at the court of Rayy, his deep feeling of humiliation at the hands of the viziers, and his lack of any friend or support.55 This friend is sought after in al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q, which could be seen as a therapy for himself and compensation for his experiences at the court:

Speaking at length in this manner is a cure for chests; it lightens sorrows, relieves inflammation, removes frustration, cools down burning thirst, and diverts the soul. And there is no harm in bringing together properly everything that is appropriate to it, and falls within its compass, even if its end cannot be reached, and its goal cannot be obtained.56

In circumstances of possible conspiracy against himself and his attempts to establish concord with Ibn ‘Abbad, Fakhr al-Dawla’s vizier, the subject of friendship and helpful comradeship was very useful for Ibn Sa‘dan. Therefore, al-Tawhldl addresses in his epistle the notion of unavoidable friendship with an enemy.57 It was a common practice, in the Buyid period, to befriend an enemy since relationships were changeable and built upon self-interest. There are quotations that address how one should treat an enemy-friend.

Friendship with an enemy keeps their danger under control,58 protecting one from harm.59 The enemy might sometimes be helpful in terms of picking out one’s faults, leading to improvement of moral qualities. A leader is, in the words of ‘Isa b. Farrukhanshah, “he who does not take as a companion anyone but the one whose morals are tolerable, and his manners are appreciated”.60 Al-Tawhidi adds: “The only way a king can be refined is through himself, his ministers, and through enemies who confront him, and so he sees the need to correct himself because of them.”61 These were particularly edifying themes for Ibn Sa‘dan and may be seen as intellectual instructions that could guide him during the course of his negotiations with Ibn ‘Abbad to promote unity between Fakhr al-Dawla and Samsam al-Dawla to avoid “involvement in anything which infringes concord”.62

Whether Akhlaq al-Wazlrayn was indeed completed in a draft form before al-Tawhidl’s meeting with Ibn Sa‘dan as the former claimed, or whether it was still maturing in his mind at the same time during which he started developing, in a first draft, his themes on friendship as requested by Ibn Sa‘dan,63 it may well be that al-Tawhldl conceived, or came to conceive of Akhlaq al-Waz-rayn and al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadiq as a pair that complemented each other perfectly for the instruction of the ruler (Ibn Sa‘dan). Akhlaq al-Wazmyn provides criticism of morally corrupted rulers, and of the struggle for power and personal glory, while al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q sets out al-Tawhidl’s vision of a moral form of ruling, one that is able to save the community and to establish social harmony. Therefore it is worth comparing the two works to see if the occasional warnings about bad rulers and vices in al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadiq have counterparts in the Akhlaq al-Wazwayn.

It may be that al-Tawhldl came to trust Ibn Sa‘dan enough to show him fragments of Akhlaq al-Wazwayn after Ibn Sa‘dan had made his request for the work al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q. He knew that he needed to link what he says about friendship to what others had said previously about it, setting his epistle within the wider genre of intellectual enquiry in order further to gain Ibn Sa‘dan’s approval.64 It could thus be said that Ibn Sa‘dan’s interest in al-Tawhidl’s proposals was not for their value as a literary amusement but was determined by the contemporary political situation and social context. The motivations for the composition of the epistle intertwined with politics in the midst of the power struggles of different Buyid emirs.

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