Many of the poetic verses and anecdotes in the letter stress the importance of forgiveness as a moral practice among friends. Forgiveness is an important act for the ruler-friend, just as it is for anyone else; without it man is at risk of living a solitary life. It is a means to reducing hatred, purifying one’s soul.191 Thus forgiveness associated with friendship, in the context of the Buyids, is the way to reduce conflicts and social tensions between different groups, as Ibn Sa‘dan had hoped to achieve through concord with Ibn ‘Abbad. In many places, al-Tawh-d- reminded the vizier of the necessity of forgiving the populace’s faults.192 He quotes a Bedouin saying that the most generous companion among people is the one who forgives someone’s fault even if he is unjustly treated, and who extends excuses for others.193 For al-Tawh-d-, forgiveness offers moral sympathy that nourishes the soul.194

Offering help

Among the themes that strongly predominate in the letter is the emphasis on mutual services and aid as the essential behaviour of a friend, and thus a ruler-friend. By quoting various anecdotes and ethical sayings, al-Tawh-dI highlights to his recipients that the disposition to come to the other’s assistance is a principal sign of friendship. Quoting Muhammad al-Baqir, the fourth Imam to the Isma‘Ill ShI‘Is, he clarifies to his audience that a friend will offer material help:

“Does anyone of you put his hand in his brethren’s sleeves and take what he needs of darahim and dinars?” They said: “No.” Then he said: “Then you are not brethren.”195

It would appear that the failure to provide help to a friend, especially in times of hardship, is a breach of friendship and an indication of a lack of the goodwill of one friend to another. In this sense, al-Tawhldl thinks that it is necessary for people to receive services from worthy men and to offer services in an enduring form of support that is essential to achieve salvation and reform society. Quoting Musa b. Ja‘far, the seventh Imam to the Twelver ShI‘Is, al-Tawhldl says:

The best of your brethren is the one whose support for you endures forever, and the worst of them is the one whose friendship for you lasts a day to fulfill a need of his.196

Al-Tawhldl wants to get across a message that criticises all short-lived forms of loyalties that are based on hypocrisy, false sentiments or owing people favours. He promotes here a form of performative ethics: a man’s character is made apparent through his action, and through his moral duty towards his friend. What counts is what one does for a friend, for that is the firm evidence of devotion. This help can be of two kinds: of spiritual and moral support, and financial support, depending on different needs.197 This meaning is clear from the many reports of al-Tawhldl’s conversations with many of his contemporaries. Al-Nabawl, in his answer to al-Tawhldl’s question about whom he would like to be his friend, said:

It is he who lifts me if I stumble, sets me on the right path if I veer off, guides me if I go astray, has patience for me if I complain, and provides for me that which I do not know and that which I know.198

Al-Tawhldl quotes the sayings of Abu Bakr and Abu al-‘Atahiya in which they stress that readiness to offer help to a friend is a testimony to friendship. A friend should be helped in terms of keeping his secret, being empathetic towards him in hard times, regarding his offence as if not committed, and to be given knowledge in case of ignorance.199

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