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

Tools for governance: A model to be imitated

In the body of the epistle, several poetic and prose quotations serving as textual evidence (shawahid) and sets of reports (akhbar) that contain comprehensive portraits of friendship have implications for the moral practice and tools through which sadaqa may be adopted as a form of governance that can maintain the community’s survival. While treating the exclusion of kings from the category of friendship,152 al-Tawhldi includes a series of akhbar that demonstrate how friendship was conducted in the past. This material shows a comprehensive inclusion of reports, sayings, deeds, and stories of holy and religiously authoritative figures of the Arabo-Islamic culture, particularly the Prophet “who came to acquire a normative value that is to be regarded as a model for the right behaviour and policy”.153 These sayings offer a ruler a practical model of the tools and techniques for organising society in accordance with God’s commandments.

Equality seems the first key to implementing sadaqa. Al-Tawhidi gives the example of the Prophet (the leader of the community) who is reported as setting himself as equal to members of his community in every respect. Al-Tawhidi says: “It is reported that the Prophet was eating dates and someone was sitting with him. When the Prophet saw a rotten one, he set it aside. Then his companion said to him: ‘O messenger of God, give me the rotten one so that I may eat it.’ He [the Prophet] said: ‘I would not wish for my companion (jalisi) anything which I would not wish for myself.’”154 Al-Tawhldi offers here a slightly different version from the usual version of had-th, which says: “None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself”.155 Al-Tawhidi replaces ‘believers’ in the original (which according to the commentary on the haddh is strictly connected with a Muslim context) with ‘companion’.156 It shows that al-Tawhidi would shift the emphasis away from religious exclusivity, even in a somewhat well-known hadUh, to further his idea of equality which maintains social unity, based in part on friendship. The way in which al-Tawhidi reports this saying, by attaching to it the incident of eating a date with a companion, seems to reflect an attempt to convey a deeper sense of a universal brotherhood to the extent that it encompasses every member of society, both Muslim and non-Muslim. According to Berge, that the Prophet wishes for his companion what he wishes for himself is close to the Aristotelian meaning of the friend as a second self.157 This manifests al-Tawh. -id-i’s endeavour to prove the universality of his discourse on friendship by drawing not only on philosophy but also on religious authority, through presenting it as a quality embraced by the Prophet himself.158

Befriending people is another technique for the implementation of sadaqa. In another place, al-Tawhidi reports the Prophet as saying: “treating people in a morally correct manner is charity (mudarat al-nas sadaqa)”.159Al-Tawhidi, by connecting befriending with sadaqa, may indicate that it is an essential constituent of one of the pillars of Islam, and the Prophetic sunna is the best representation of this. This description of the Prophet’s moral conduct portrays the best means by which a head of community can ensure the goodness of his subjects. This is what al-Tawhldl offers as an alternative model to kingship, which was run on the basis of power, oppression, and passion,160 or the moral depravity of Ibn ‘Abbad.161

Directly after reporting the Prophet’s saying, al-TawhIdI quotes the sayings of many other holy figures.162 These sayings reflect the cultural attitudes of the past and show how early Muslims valued friendship. The saying of ‘All b. Abi Talib, “praying over his grave is only a small [thing to do] for a friend”,163 and those of Ja‘far b. Muhammad, “companionship for twenty days is kinship”,164 clearly demonstrate friendship as a strong bond of loyalty. The example of the Prophet’s Christian Companion, Qays b. ‘Ubada, is also particularly important in giving precedence to friendship over greed or other interests.165

This series of shawahid implies a comparison between the current morally ill society, injustice, and oppression which al-TawhIdI condemns, and how the Prophet and members of the nascent Islamic community assigned priority to norms that fostered social interactions. This provides edifying qualities and a religious dimension to al-TawhIdI’s sadaqa as a condition for the survival of society. Thus bringing in these akhbar and shawahid can be seen as a way of referring back to the past as a model for reform, and reflects how al-TawhIdI’s understanding of the implementation of sadaqa is influenced by his spiritual commitment to the example of the Prophet and the righteous Companions as worthy of imitation. This, as discussed before, reflects elements of the teaching of the Shafi‘iyya, which al-TawhIdI received from his teacher Abu Hamid al-Marwarrudhl, and which has, as Khalidi says, “a more pronounced interest in the qualification and conditions of just government”.166 Al-TawhIdI refers to people’s lack of justice in their friendships, quoting MarwarrudhI, who says that the best friendship that ever existed was that between Abu- Bakr and ‘Umar, which was based on religion and reason.167 By insisting on the moral validity of the behaviour of the Prophet and his righteous Companions and stressing both religion and reason as essential for any moral behaviour, a link between the moral nature of friendship and juridical teaching could be established.

Other techniques through which a ruler can achieve perfection and implement friendship are, as quoted by al-TawhIdI on the authority of al-Asma‘I from ‘Abd Allah b. Ja‘far, “keeping the companionship of the people of opinion and virtue, treating people in a morally correct manner, and being frugal without being miserly [towards those of] the tribe”.168 “The company of the people of religion removes the rustiness of sins from the heart, while the company of the people of virtue indicates noble characteristics, and the company of the people of knowledge nurtures the soul.”169 These three components - religion, morals, and knowledge - which are the epitome of the purification of a person, embody al-Tawh. -Id-I’s theoretical foundations that shaped his views of how a good society could be structured.170

Al-Tawh. -Id-I further provides, contrary to the example of kings, a series of reports concerning previous key Muslim caliphs who acknowledged friendship as a basis for right rulership. For example, the Umayyad ruler ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwan (d. 86/705), al-Ma’mun (d. 218/833), Abu Ja‘far al-MansUr

(d. 158/775) and ‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘AzIz (d. 101/720) are all reported as emphasising the value of sadaqa.171 The example of al-Ma’mun, whom al-Tawhld! held as the most generous and skilled leader, is particularly important.172 Al-Tawhld- reports from Yahya b. Aktham that al-Ma’mun used to meet annually, over the course of many years, with a Sheikh from Khurasan. Al-Ma’mun expressed his trust, pleasure and comfort in the company of this Sheikh, and his sorrow upon his absence. He added:

I used to receive from him advice that helped [me] in setting the matters of the kingdom, and in satisfying God in managing the affairs of people. The last thing that he said to me at his departure was: “O commander of the faithful, if that which is between you and God dries up, you should water it.” I [al-Ma’mun] said: “How, O possessor of goodness?” He [the Sheikh] said: “By following His example in acting charitably towards His servants, for He [God] loves goodness for His servants just as you love your entourage to be charitable to your son. By God, the only reason that God has given you power over them is to intensify your charity towards them by thanking them for their charitable act and forgiving their sins. Nothing is more rewarding for you before God than that your days are days of justice, fairness, charity, help, piety and mercy”. O Yahya, who is ever going to be such an advocate for me, and where else could I find someone who reminds me of that to which I must tend?173

It is remarkable how this important ruler acknowledges the necessity for friendship-like qualities.174 Three points could be highlighted: (a) a recognition of the intrinsic role of the intellectual and of wisdom, without which the community falls into ruin; (b) the religious dimension of friendship, which leads to salvation through God’s satisfaction; and (c) the spiritual aspect of man’s relationship to man, which is modelled on God’s relationship to man. Central to sadaqa is thus the two divine forms of love mentioned in this example: God’s love for man, which is the principal axis between Him and man;175 and man’s love for God, which is manifested in being charitable to his fellow-humans.

The element of the spiritual understanding of God’s divine love for man is expressed in doing good works and acting charitably towards His servants. In return, man’s love for God appears as God’s request, or moreover His com- mandment.176 It is expressed through imitation of God’s qualities of generosity, justice, mercy and friendship towards His subjects.177 In this sense, the conceptual field of sadaqa also includes the notion of communication that is a divine beneficence (generosity), which appears as a condition of belief in an Islamic context (through the hadith).178 Thus, friendship is intended to function as the basis of social relationships. It occurs as a socio-political and ethical standard that judges and communicates the relations between God and a person, and between a person and society. As a result, sadaqa takes on the character of justice in the way in which friends treat each other. As such, a leader will not prove to be one unless he runs the affairs of the populace justly and “plants love (mahabba) in [people’s] hearts, and leads [their] tongues to [express] gratitude”.179 Thus, the relationship between a ruler and people is essential for the stability of society.

It could be argued that, in quoting this example, al-Tawhidi touches upon an important theme: the relationship of a ruler to God, which always has been a central issue concerning the nature of Islamic polity.180 This seems to be a reminder to his recipient, the Buyid vizier Ibn Sa‘dan, of his human responsibility to follow God’s example towards his creatures in order to do His work and keep order on earth. This should be the motive for the exercise of a ruler’s power. It is only then that the political order can be maintained and assured an Islamic legitimacy. Thus al-Tawhidi seems to envision a more engaging form of polity that is organically connected to society (unlike the superiority of Ibn ‘Abbad), providing salvation for its subjects by inviting them to identify with its rule, unlike the weakened caliphate, or the Buyids, who made no claim of salvation and did not invite their subjects to identify with them.181 These reports from the past bestow on friendship an incontrovertible authority to be transmitted to the present. Al-Tawh. -id-i evokes a yearning to live an idealised life which reintroduces certain practical norms and values that foster community cohesion. It promotes the Prophet’s example as worthy of imitation and Arabo-Islamic values in order to bring forth socio-political changes.

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