The preface in the context of the letter to Abu Sahl

It would appear that there are similarities of content between the preface of al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadlq and the letter to the qad-. These similarities, in addition to the closeness of date, allow one to use the information given in the letter to Abu Sahl to further construct the social situation of al-Tawhldl when he re-edited al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadq in 400/1011.

The similarities between the letter and the preface are noteworthy in terms of references to the similar social conditions of al-Tawhldl. It is unclear whether such similarities are due to the generic conventions and form of the genre of Risala or whether they are due to being written within months of each other. Therefore the value of the social context is crucial to understanding al-Tawhldl’s motives and situation when he re-edited the epistle.

In both the letter to the qad- and the preface, al-Tawhldl moves in a logical sequence, showing a level of control over his material, although there is also some overlapping and digression. After setting out the general context and the purpose of both, he writes lugubriously about his situation, his broken strength, and desperation, giving details in similar moving passages.

In his letter to Abu Sahl, one of the reasons al-Tawhldl provides for the burning of his books is his loss of friends and his disappointment in the people among whom he has lived for twenty years:

Among the factors which increased my determination to act and removed the barriers was that I lost a noble son, an intimate friend, a close companion, a learned follower, and a generous leader. Therefore, it was


painful for me to leave them [the books] to people who would toy with them, and impugn my honour when they examined them.102

He further adds:

How could I leave them [my books] for people with whom I lived as a neighbour for twenty years, and none of whom ever proved true in his affection towards me, nor did any man among them ever display any care for me?103

Anticipating a question of the addressee, he declares his reasons for his low opinion of people, highlighting his lack of trust in them:

Indeed, I was forced, in many instances, [while living] among them after [my] fame and recognition [were past] to eat herbs in the desert and to beg in disgrace from both the elite and commoners, to sell religion and virtue, to engage in hypocrisy through deceit and disrepute, and to [do] that which is very shameful for a free man to describe with the pen, and which spreads pain in its author’s heart.104

These paragraphs appear to imply a comparison between two periods of al-Tawhidl’s life: his current situation among people with whom he lived for twenty years but who mistreated him and failed to value his learning, and his previous situation when he enjoyed fame, knowledge, and recognition, among the dear friends, close associates, and a generous leader whom he lost. This period of twenty years approximately equals the period between the dates when al-Tawhldl left Baghdad after the death of Ibn Sa‘dan in 375/985 until he appeared again in Shiraz in 400/1011 when al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadlq was finally edited.105 Thus, the people who mistreated him may well refer specifically to the people of Shiraz rather than anywhere else. Further, the period of fame and knowledge may in turn refer to al-Tawhldi’s time at the majlis of Ibn Sa‘dan, and different philosophical and intellectual circles in Baghdad, the only time when al-Tawhldl enjoyed influence and voiced his ideas.106

In the preface, al-Tawh. -id-i also mentions the loss of friends and his disappointment in people and his current state: [1]

stranger, strange in speech, strange in religious affiliation, strange in moral character, accustomed to solitude, satisfied with loneliness, habituated to silence, and inclined to confusion.107

Whether these complaints reflected al-Tawhidi’s true situation or were part of his rhetorical style in order to appeal for patronage, the reference to similar contexts suggests that they refer to a similar situation. Furthermore, since the letter to Abu- Sahl and the preface were written a few months apart from each other, al-Tawhidi’s comments on his life as a stranger and his disappointment in people, made both in the preface and the letter, should be understood to refer to specific people in a specific period of his life, namely to the people of Shiraz and not to the people of Baghdad as suggested by Margoliouth.108 As a result, one could suggest that the epistle on al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q was finally edited in Sh-ira-z.

In this context, the term stranger (ghar-b) in the preface seems to refer to a physical sense of alienation, when al-Tawhidi was resident in Shiraz away from his friends and colleagues whom he lost in Iraq and elsewhere as specified in his letter to the qad-: “Those whose closeness was a delight for the soul, a blessing for the eye, I lost them in Iraq, al-Hijaz, al-Jabal, and Rayy”.109 But this experience of being a stranger included a feeling of intellectual and social alienation since the people of Shiraz, unlike his associates in Iraq, did not understand or value his learning. Al-Tawhidi’s feeling of desolation (wahsha) contrasted with his feeling of being protected when he was among his old friends in Baghdad. Therefore, he takes comfort in the theme of sadaqa.

In both the letter to the qad- and the preface, al-Tawhidi also described his unbearable poverty which diminished his strength, weakened his resolve, and made him sorrowful.110 The amount of pessimism and the number of complaints about lack of friends in the preface contradict many examples given in al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadlq (which was mainly drafted in Baghdad).111 However, al-Tawhidi’s complaints should not be taken to reflect an entrenched pessimism and spirit of permanent complaint, as held by some scholars.112 They may have been the result of great difficulties in his immediate situation towards the end of his life that caused him to burn his books a few months later.113 Moreover, these complaints in the preface and the letter may have also been an appeal for patronage of his work. In any case, it is significant that although al-Tawhidi had been contemplating burning his books, he still finished al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadiq before doing so, which might indicate the great importance that he placed upon this work.

In both the letter and the preface, complaints about old age and diminishing strength were apologetically extended to the addressee to derive his sympathy. Al-Tawhidi was in his ninth decade, as stated in the letter to Abu Sahl: “I am in my ninth decade and have I, after old age and infirmity, any expectations of a sweet life or hope for a new condition?”114 Similar remarks occur in the preface: “The sun of my life is on the descent, and the water of life is drained away, the stars are about to set, and the shade afforded by lingering is about to disappear”.115

Similar apologetic phrases were used in the letter to the qad- and in both the preface and the conclusion of al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q.116 For example:

However, if you had known the circumstances under which I did what I did, what sickness I had experienced and the privation and need I had, you would have understood many times more excuses than those I made evident.117

In the conclusion to al-Sadaqa wa al-Sad-q, a similar phrase occurs.118 There is a parallel concern, namely that both works should please the addressee. Thereby, materials in the preface and the conclusion at the end of al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadlq attempt to increase the sympathy of the addressee, and to convince him of the importance of the work, so that he accepts it despite its length and defects.

In a similarly apologetic tone in both works, al-Tawhldl seems confident that the addressee was more likely to accept his excuse than anyone else. Almost the same phrase is used: “moreover, if you know in what situation I did what I did”. This shows a certain familiarity with the addressee and his awareness of al-Tawhldl’s situation in the second period of composition.119

Two main remarks can be made. First, certain traits are strongly similar between the letter to Abu- Sahl and the preface, so much so that it can be argued that they were addressed to the same person. The closeness of date, content and tone towards the addressee allows one to assume that the addressee is more likely to be the same person, meaning al-Qadl Abu Sahl ‘All b. Muh. ammad. Second, references to the sympathy of the addressee cannot be arbitrary. The full trust in the addressee (supposedly Abu- Sahl) might indicate a level of interest on his part in al-Tawhldl’s welfare and scholarship, and he probably offered him patronage long after the death of Ibn Sa‘dan. Thus the letter in its present form is more likely to be a reworked version for Abu- Sahl of a text previously intended for Ibn Sa‘dan. As such, the work is also intended for a person of religious authority, presumably the qad-. Therefore central questions can be asked here: What does al-Tawhldl think that Abu Sahl should do with the letter? What is the new purpose of the letter?

In both the letter and the preface, al-Tawhldl brings to the attention of Abu Sahl the issue of the sheer diversity of his sources, thus highlighting its universality. In the preface, for instance, al-Tawhldl informs the judge of the three epistemological foundations on which he bases his discourse on sadaqa: his own reasoning and observations, sources of a philosophical nature (“the sayings of the people of excellence and wisdom”), and sources of a religious nature (“the possessors of piety and virtue”).120 In the letter, al-Tawhldl, after explaining to Abu Sahl that knowledge (‘ilm) is sought after and is intended for action (‘amal), which is intended for salvation and not otherwise, he presents two types of evidence which equally validate his point.121 The first is a religious one, the example of the righteous ancestors (al-salaf al-salih) who became the most profoundly religious through pious action and purity in doctrine.122 The second is the example of the ancient Greek sages who reached the greatest happiness through living their lives in moderation, cultivating contentment and giving away willingly what exceeded their requir- ments to the poor and the needy.123 It is possible to suggest that, in both the preface and the letter, al-Tawhldl may have deliberately wanted to promote the moral value of philosophical knowledge directly to Abu- Sahl.

Furthermore, towards the beginning of the preface, al-Tawhld- provides a description, which occupies a large part of the preface, of the friendship between his teacher, the philosopher Abu- Sulayman Muhammad b. Tahir al-Sijistanl, and the judge Ibn Sayyar.124 This is a good example of a friendship between two men who belong to different professions and different intellectual disciplines, one interested in religious issues, the other in philosophy.

Al-Tawhldl’s decision to present this example to Abu Sahl as his starting point in explaining sadaqa should not be seen as arbitrary. In the process of the final editing of the work, al-Tawhldl was not deprived of ‘authorial creativity’, for he arranged and selected his material to serve his purpose and express his beliefs.

In his discussion with al-Sijistanl about this relationship, al-Tawhldl shows, in the re-edited version of the epistle, an inclination more to philosophy and logic (mantiq) than to traditional religious knowledge, offering a philosophical explanation of friendship.125 Further, the work in its edited form for Abu Sahl the qad- can be seen as an attempt to justify and convince the qad- of the value of philosophy as a path to salvation alongside, and complementary to, religious knowledge.

Towards the end of his second paragraph of the preface, al-Tawhldl makes clear his desire to produce “a complete epistle from which benefit could be derived in this life and the next (f- al-ma‘ad wa al-ma‘‘ash)”.126 The epistle is then intended to be put into action and to lead to salvation in this life and the hereafter. This is how noble knowledge must be, according to al-Tawhldl.127 Al-Tawhldl’s epistle on al-Sadaqa, based on his own reasoning, religious traditions as well as philosophical discussions on the topic that he heard and delivered in philosophical circles in Baghdad, is designed to promote good conduct.128 It was directed to al-Tawhldl’s audience - Ibn Sa‘dan the cultivated ruler and the judge Abu Sahl - in order to persuade and instruct them and people in positions of authority in general.

The phrase “form a complete epistle from which benefit could be derived in this life and the next (f- al-ma‘ad wa al-ma‘ash)” is particularly important. Al-Jahiz (160-255/776-868) composed a letter with the title This Life and the Next (al-Maad wa al-Ma‘ash).129 This letter, according to ‘Abd al-Salam Harun, was dedicated to Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abi Du’ad (d. 239/852), who was the chief judge and the head of the judiciary and a close associate of the caliphal administration.130 This reference establishes a link between al-Jahiz and al-Tawhldl, and thus reminds the addressee of a similar context with which he can identify himself.131 In his authorial remarks, al-Jahiz expresses his intention to compile a letter for the judge Ibn Abl Du’ad which sets forth ethics, drawing on knowledge about this life and the next. He also offers his patron many explanations of aspects of how the world works and the moral qualities which all cultures agree to be best.132 Al-Jahiz asserts the value of obedience to God, and of knowledge and the exercise of reason (which is given by God) that makes one sound in religion and virtue.133 Thus, in making this reference to al-Jahiz’s letter, al-TawhIdI directs his recipients (people of authority, especially the judge Abu Sahl, and through them the rest of society) to his purpose of offering them a form of education. These were the public purposes for compiling and editing the epistle, but there were also private reasons.

It is noticeable that al-TawhIdI seems to have attempted to convey an implicit message to the qad- in the preface. More precisely, the example of the strong friendship between the philosopher (al-Sijistanl) and the qad- (Ibn Sayyar) can be seen as part of al-TawhIdl’s larger, socially driven and ideologically motivated, rhetorical strategies of persuasion. In providing a detailed discussion of a unique friendship between the persona of a qad- and the persona of an intellectual (a philosopher) who were also from two different places (a point which al-TawhIdI highlights since he is from a different place and milieu than Abu Sahl) - one was from Sijsitan (al-Sijistanl), the other was from al-Saymara (Ibn Sayyar) - al-TawhIdI reminds the qad- Abu Sahl (and Ibn Sa‘dan before) of the possibility as well as the necessity of the existence of such a friendship.134 In demonstrating this paradigmatic relationship, he attempts to convince his audience of the necessity of friendship with an intellectual - this he does by showing what such an important judge like Ibn Sayyar thought of the necessity of friendship.

Ibn Sayyar was a respected judge, whose speech was noble, and a follower of the HanafI School of jurisprudence.135 He served as judge in al-Ahwaz where al-TanukhI was his public notary.136 As an eminent judge, Ibn Sayyar is reported to have played an active political role in his society. He acted as emissary to Abu ‘All Muhammad b. Ilyas when the caliph sent a banner to him.137 He was also made judge for the East Side of Baghdad later on 27 RabI‘ 1 357/31 March 968, and his authority was extended to Harlm Dar al-Sultan until he was removed from this office in 360/971. In 359/970, during the civil disorders in Baghdad and the Byzantine invasion, Ibn Sayyar was a member of the delegation that tried to warn Bakhtiyar, the Buyid emir, of the danger of the situation.138

Al-SijistanI was a prominent philosopher who lived in Baghdad and whose interests went beyond logic or subjects of strictly philosophical concern.139 Although he did not have a direct involvement in political activities, he expressed an interest in theoretical and practical aspects of ruling.140 Al-Sijistanl was associated during his lifetime with two outstanding rulers - Abu Ja‘far of Sijistan (d. 352/963) and ‘Adud al-Dawla (d. 371/983) - whose policy was aimed at reducing social tensions and improving relations with the Fatimids.141

Thus, a report about an important judge like Ibn Sayyar, who found the friendship with a philosopher useful, is important for al-Tawhldl to make his case, “for being reminded of a report urges [one] to be mindful of it, and being urged thereto is one of the paths to it as a lifestyle”.142 Therefore, by implication, al-Tawhldl attempts to create parallels between this friendship and the relationship he wanted to exist between him and the judge Abu- Sahl when he wrote the second edition of the epistle, and previously between him and the vizier Ibn Sa‘dan when he first drafted the epistle. He also wanted his audience to come to conceive of such relationships, providing the opportunity for a similar friendship to exist between him and them.

Al-Tawhld- also goes on to emphasise how important a shared intellectual outlook is in friendship.143 He divulges the secret of this friendship, denounces the vices of his time, and presents it as an alternative form of loyalty among these two people, a judge and an intellectual, from different milieus. Thus in disseminating his understanding of friendship and specifically through this example, al-Tawhldl appears to achieve two things: a means whereby one might educate people in authority (the qad- or the vizier), and a way to attain professional recognition, self-promotion and a position of influence.144

  • [1] continue to suffer from deprivation and need which have diminished mystrength, weakened my resolve, destroyed my life, allied me with sorrow,and prevented me from sharing my thoughts with others, because I lostevery fellow companion, compassionate, and supportive. And, by God,sometimes I would pray in the mosque, and would not see anyone at myside praying with me: but if there were someone, then he would be agrocer, or a grape-presser, or a cotton carder or a butcher, or someonewho, if he were to stand by me, would make me woozy because of hisstench, and make me dizzy because of his odour. Thus I became a
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