Friendship and love as paths to spiritual perfection
Urging one’s soul to carry out its duty is conceived as an act of generosity.1
The previous chapter has already looked at al-Tawhidi’s views on the nature of sadaqa, its components, types and purpose. The soul was identified as a main component of al-Tawhidi’s sadaqa. This chapter will explore further the link between sadaqa and virtue, namely the cultivation of ethical behaviour and the purification of the soul. It treats this issue as part of a wider discourse or system of beliefs, and contextualises al-Tawhidi’s activities within the intellectual generation that investigated similar concepts. The Brethren of Purity, Miskawayh, and Yahya b. ‘Adi, with whom al-Tawhidi had direct contact, introduced similar concepts such as ukhuwwa (brotherhood), mahabba (love) and insaniyya (humanity) respectively. Members of the school of Abu Sulayman al-Sijistani also discussed friendship.
A strongly social aspect to their ethical vision can be identified in their discussion of these concepts, and in their interest in the ethical cultivation of social behaviours and cooperation (ta‘awun), for which they see friendship and love as necessary paths. To explain humanity’s need for social cooperation, the philosophers described two ways in which human beings are not selfsufficient: (a) the inability to secure all their needs, and (b) the inability to reach moral perfection or to purify their soul alone.
This chapter will assess the thinkers’ use of friendship, love, and brotherhood to highlight the process which a person goes through to achieve perfection of the soul. It will also address how these bonds between human beings relate to the philosophers’ understanding of virtue. The discussion will show how these authors made their own synthesis of the conditions that promote harmonious living, using both religious components and Greek philosophical heritage. They incorporated Qur’anic quotations, Sufi language, a form of the good life connected to the Platonic idea of eros (the God of love), and the Aristotelian idea of phillia (friendship) to present new norms of moral action to cultivate the inner self and spiritual progress. These goals will be shown to offer a form of practical moral philosophy, which they taught as conditions for a community’s survival and welfare in Buyid society.
Rather than applying pre-set categories to these thinkers and their concepts, or assuming that they are reproductions of previous ones, the aim is to analyse the key moral terms that these philosophers employed in their historical context and to identify conceptual changes (if any) and the ways in which they are applied. This will also illustrate the forms of social action they aimed to communicate. To appreciate what the fourth/tenth century authors wanted to say through their introduction of concepts such as friendship, love and brotherhood, or whatever types of knowledge they wanted to communicate, we should judge them by considering their perspectives and the range of issues they aimed to address within the context of their society, which was burdened by substantial social strife and political struggle.2 Also, if one accepts that rhetoric provokes social action, through which the rhetorician wishes to bring about a change in the existing social conditions, then the philosophers’ constant reminder of the need for social cooperation has a practical moral function in response to a particular situation. These philosophers knew that although it was essential for human beings to cooperate together in a society, differences between people are inevitable because people have different natures, strong desires, and passions.3 The human soul does not always desire the common good and therefore needs some forms of restraint. People can become morally corrupted, deficient, ruthlessly following their own interest, and engaged in constant rivalry and strife.4 Al-Tawhidi says: “Indeed, man has become a difficult problem for man (inna al-insan qad ashkala ‘alayhi al-insan).”5 People are thus in urgent need of calming and pleasant discourse, and strong invocations, until they refine their deficiencies and their hearts may be brought back to harmony.6 Similarly, Yahya b. ‘Adi, The Brethren of Purity, and Miskawayh thought that people must be reminded of the actions and moral conduct which enable people to live together. It is in this context that concepts such as love and brotherhood were introduced.