IV) Morals and Behaviour


56. Take care to have a reputation of being a man of good intention. Beware of gaining reputation of being devious or people will avoid you more and more and you will finish by being harmed or even lost.

57. Train yourself to think about the things that frighten you. If they come to pass, you will not be so worried by them. You will not lose anything by growing accustomed to the thought of them, and your pleasure will be greater or even doubled if something nice or unexpected happens.

58. When worries multiply, they will all fall to the ground. [A way out will be found.]

59. A deceitful man may occasionally keep his word to a lucky man, and a faithful man may occasionally betray an unlucky man.[1] Happy is he who in this world is not obliged by fate to put his friends to the test.

60. Do not worry about a man who wishes you ill. If fortune favours you he is lost and your luck will protect you. If fortune does not favour you then anyone can harm you.

61. Blessed is the man who knows his own faults better than others know them.

62. Patience in the face of others’ insolence is of three kinds: patience with someone who has power over you when you have none over him; patience with someone you have power over when he has none over you; finally patience with someone when neither of you has power over the other. The first kind is humiliating and degrading; it is not a virtue. The advice for someone who is afraid of such an intolerable situation would be to abandon everything and run away. The second kind is a virtue, it is charitable, it is the true meekness which characterizes virtuous souls. The third sort consists of two kinds. The insolence may arise from a misunderstanding or from fear, and the one at fault may realize the ugliness of his act and regret it. To be patient with him would be a virtue and an obligation; this is true magnanimity. But with a person who overestimates his own value and is proud and arrogant and feels no regret for his action, to tolerate this is humiliating, it encourages the wrongdoer in his wrongdoing, because he will act even more violently and it would be stupid to respond in the same way. The wisest course of action is to let him know that you could fight back but that you are refraining from doing so because he is beneath contempt and unworthy of your attention. No more is necessary. As for the insolent behaviour of the lower classes, the only remedy is to punish it.

63. Anyone who mingles with the crowd is never short of worries to pain him, or sins to regret on the day when he will return to God, or anger to give him a pain in the liver [heart],[2] or humiliation to make him hang his head. Then what shall I say about someone who is intimate with people and always in their company? Solitude is where you will find dignity, repose, happiness and security. You should treat company like a fire: warm yourself but do not fall in. [You may draw near but without going right in.]

64. If the company of the people had only two following faults, that would be enough to keep us away: the first is letting out vital secrets during a friendly meeting, secrets which otherwise would never have been revealed. The second is showing off, putting our immortality in mortal peril. There is no other escape from these two trials than to withdraw into absolute solitude, far from people altogether.

65. Do not put off to tomorrow what you can do today. If you recognize this obligation you will make haste to do today even very small preparations for tomorrow, for if a small number of tasks are left to mount up they become a great number. In fact they have become too many to do and the whole enterprise will be wrecked.

66. Do not despise any of the actions that you hope to see counted in your favour on the Day of Resurrection. By doing them now, even in small measure, these actions will eventually outweigh the number of your sins which would otherwise add up to sufficient reason to throw you into hellfire.

67. With depression, poverty, misfortune and fear, the pain is only felt by the sufferer. People looking at them from the outside have no idea what they are like. On the other hand, with false judgment, shame and sin, only the onlooker sees how horrible they are! The person who is sunk deep in them does not perceive this.

68. Security, health and wealth are only appreciated by a person who does not have them. Anyone who has them does not appreciate them. On the other hand, a sound judgment and virtue, working towards eternity, their value is known only to those who share in them. Anyone who has no share in them has no knowledge of what they are like.

69. The first person to break with a deceiver is the one who the deceiver has deceived. The first person to detest a false witness is the person whom the false witness supported. The first person to despise an adulterous woman is the man who caused her to commit adultery.

70. As far as we know, nothing can be degraded and then resume its natural state without a great trouble and difficulty. What can we say about the man whose head is poisoned by intoxication every night. Indeed, a mind which drives its master towards its own deprivation every night must be a mind condemned.

71. The highway [or a long journey] is fatiguing, a quiet retreat is restorative. Too much wealth makes for greed. A small fortune makes for contentment.

72. The plans of an intelligent man may go wrong. The plans of a stupid man never go right.

73. Nothing is more harmful to a governor than to be surrounded by a great number of unemployed people. A prudent ruler knows how to keep them busy without being unfair to them, otherwise they will overwhelm him with petty matters.

Anyone who invites his enemies to come closer to him is suicidal.

74. Anyone who sees an important person too often regards him as less eminent and less important.

75. Parading, putting on, for example, a severe and discontented air, this is the veil with which ignorant people who have risen in the world try to cover their ignorance.

76. A wise man should not delude himself about friendship which started when he was in power, because everyone was his friend then.

77. The best person to help you in your affairs is someone with equal interest in their success. Do not get anyone to help you who would be just as well off elsewhere.

78. Do not respond to talk which is brought by someone on the part of a third person, unless you are sure that the latter did say it, because the one who brought lies to you will go away carrying the truth [the unpleasant truth which you will have told him and which he will hawk around].

79. Put your trust in a pious man, even if the religion that he practises is a different one from your own. Do not put your trust in anyone who scorns sacred things, even if he claims to belong to your own religion. As for a man who defies the commandments of the Almighty, do not ever trust him with anything you care greatly about.

80. I have noticed that people are more generous with their opinions than with their pennies. In my long study of this matter, this has never been disproved despite of countless observations. Since I cannot understand the cause of this, I suppose it must be innate in human nature.

81. It is the height of injustice to deny to habitual wrongdoer the opportunity of doing an occasional good deed.

82. When you get rid of one enemy you see a great many others advancing.

83. I have never seen anything more lifelike than the shadow-theatre with its little actors mounted on wooden handles that are turned rapidly so that some disappear and others appear.[3]

84. For a long time I have been thinking about death. I had certain dear friends, as closely bound to me by the bonds of sincere affection as the soul is bound to the body. After they died, some of them appeared to me in dreams. Others did not. While one of the latter was alive, we had each promised to visit the other in a dream after we had died, if at all possible. But I have not seen him at all since he preceded me into the other world. I do not know whether he has forgotten or been engaged.

85. The oblivion of the soul who forgets the state it was in in the world of temptation [its first abode] while waiting for the resurrection of the body [to enter the body] is like the oblivion of someone who has fallen into mud and has sunk [all his promises] together with everything which he knew before and which was familiar to him. I have also reflected for a long time about this matter, and it seems to be that there is another possible explanation in addition to the one just mentioned. I have studied a sleeping person at the moment when his soul leaves his body, and his senses sharpen to the point of being able to see the unseen; the soul forgets completely, absolutely, the state which it was in just a moment before falling asleep, although it was so recent.

The soul knows other states in which it is endowed with memory and feelings, it can be pleased, it can be hurt. The joys of sleep are felt even during the sleep, for the sleeper feels happy, he dreams, he is afraid, he is sad even in his sleep.

86. The soul is not happy except in the company of a soul. The body is heavy and wearying. This is proved by the haste with which one buries the body of a loved one when the soul has departed from it, and by the sorrow caused by the disappearance of the soul although the corpse is still there.

87. I have never seen Satan use a worse trick, or an uglier or a more foolish one, than when he puts two phrases onto the tongues of those who follow him. The first is when someone excuses his own evil deed by alleging that someone has done the same to him. The second is when someone makes light of doing evil today because he did evil yesterday, or he does wrong in one sense because he has already done it in another. These two phrases excuse and facilitate evil-doing; they bring it into the arena of what is acceptable, tolerable and not to be criticized.

88. Be mistrustful if you are able to be sufficiently careful and cautious, but if you cannot check on them you will have to trust people. This will bring you peace of mind.

89. The definition of generosity, the supreme objective of generosity, is to give away the entire surplus of your possessions in charitable works. The best charitable work is to bring relief to a neighbour in need, a poor relation, a man who has lost his own possessions and is close to ruin. Anyone who holds on to this superfluous money without spending it in one of these ways is an example of miserliness. And he should be praised and criticized in proportion to whether he is more or less generous in this way. Anything given to causes which are not these charitable ones is squandered, and the action is blameworthy. It is virtuous to give to someone in greater need part of what you need to keep alive; this is a nobler act of self sacrifice than plain generosity is. To keep what you need is neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy but simply fair. To carry out one’s obligations is a duty; to give away surplus food is generosity. To forget yourself and to give away food as long as you will not starve yourself is a virtue. To hinder anyone against performing his duty is against the Law. To refuse to give away the leftovers of our food is greedy and extremely miserly. To refuse to deprive yourself in order to give away part of your food which you need is excusable. To deprive yourself of food, and to deprive your family to any extent, is ignoble, vile and criminal. To be generous with property which you have acquired by unfair means is to aggravate the evil already committed, and it should be rewarded with criticism, not praise, since you are in fact giving away someone else’s property, not your own. To give people their rightful part of your possessions is not generosity; it is a duty.

90. The definition of courage is to fight to the death in defense of religion, in defense of womanhood, of ill treated neighbours, of the oppressed who seek protection, or in defense of a lost fortune, honour which has been attacked, and other rights, against all adversaries, whether they be few or many. To do less than this would be cowardliness and weakness. To use up one’s courage in fighting for the vanities of the world would be stupid recklessness. But it is even more stupid to devote your courage to fighting against right and duty, either in your own interest or for others. And even more stupid than all these, there are men whom I have seen who do not know to what cause to devote themselves; sometimes they fight Zayd on Amr’s account, and sometimes they fight Amr on Zayd’s account, sometimes both in the same day, exposing themselves needlessly to danger, hurtling towards hellfire or running towards dishonour. About such people the Messenger of Allh (peace be upon him) has warned: There will come a time for men when the one who kills will not know why he has killed, and his victim will not know why he was killed.

91. The definition of continence is to turn away one’s glance and all one’s organs of sense from forbidden objects. Everything other than this is debauchery. Anyone who goes further, and forbids himself what the Almighty has made lawful, is weak and powerless.

92. The definition of justice is to give spontaneously what is due and to know how to take what is your right. The definition of injustice is to take one’s due and not to give others their due. The definition of nobility of soul is to give spontaneously and with a good heart what is due to others, and to allow them their rights willingly; this is also virtue. All generosity is noble and virtuous, but not every noble act and every virtue is generous. Virtue is a more general term; generosity is more specific. Magnanimity is a virtue without being generosity. Virtue is a general prescription to which one adds a specific action.

93. One hour of neglect can undo a year of pious effort.

94. In the course of affairs, a mistake made by an individual is better than a just policy followed by the whole assembly of Muslims if they are not grouped under the leadership of one man. This is because the individual’s mistake can be put right, but the correct views of the Muslim assembly will lead them to ignore something that may have been wrong, and they will be lost because of it.

95. In times of civil war, the blossom does not set fruit.

96. I myself had faults, and I tried continually to correct them, by discipline, by studying the words of the Prophets (may they be blessed) and also the words of the most virtuous sages among the ancients who are more advanced in morality and self-discipline, until God helped me overcome most of my faults, thanks to His guidance and grace.

It is an act of perfect virtue, of self-discipline, a sign that one controls the truth, to confess such faults in order that one day someone may learn from them, if God wills.

97. One of my faults was that I tended to an extreme of self-satisfaction when I was in the right and an extreme bad temper when I was in the wrong. Ever seeking to cure myself of this, I decided that I would never again display any irritations in my remarks, my actions or my discussions. I renounced every kind of triumph that is not permitted, and I suffered under the heavy burden of this decision. I had enough patience to bear a dreadful affliction which nearly made me sick and an invalid. But I was not capable of overcoming my passion always to be in the right. It almost seemed that I did not really think this a fault, that I did not really think I should give up this attitude.

98. Another fault I had was an ungovernable propensity for sarcasm. What I decided to do about this was to refrain from anything that might irritate the person I was talking to. But I did allow myself to crack jokes, feeling that not to do so would have been narrow-minded and almost arrogant.

99. Another fault: extreme pride. My mind wrangled with my soul, knowing my defects, and argued so long and so successfully that my pride vanished completely, leaving no trace, thanks be to God. Moreover, I set myself to despise myself absolutely and to be a model of humility.

100. Another of my defects was that I suffered from trembling caused by my youthfulness and the weakness of my limbs. I forced myself to make it stop, and it disappeared.

101. Another fault: a love of great fame and glory. To deal with this defect. I decided to renounce everything which is forbidden by religion, God helping with the rest, since if the soul remains under the control of reason even its irritability can become a virtue and be regarded as a praiseworthy disposition.

102. I used to feel extreme repugnance for the company of women on any occasion, and this made me difficult to get on with. I seem to have been struggling for ever against this immoderate feeling, which I know to be bad from the problems it has caused me. God help me.

103. I had two faults which the Almighty has kept private and helped me to fight and overcome by His goodness. One has completely disappeared, all praise to Him for this. In this case, good luck seems to have been on my side: as soon as this fault rears its head I hasten to stifle it. But the other fault has tormented me for a long time. When its waves came sweeping over me, my veins would throb and this fault would be on the point of reappearing; but God has allowed me to hold back by one of the manifestations of His goodness and it has now disappeared.

104. I used to persist in bearing extreme grudges; I have been enabled to conceal and hide this with the help of the Almighty and to avoid the manifestation of all its effects. But I have never been able to stamp it out completely, nor have I ever found it possible to make friends with anyone who has acted in a truly hostile way towards me.

105. Mistrust itself is regarded by some as an absolute fault. This is not so, unless it leads the person who feels it to commit deeds not allowed by religion, or to adopt behaviour which is unsocial. In other cases mistrust can be steadfastness, and steadfastness is a virtue.

106. As for the reproach made to me by ignorant adversaries who say that I put no value on anyone who disagrees with me when I believe that I am in the right, and that I would never act in concert with the ones I contradict even if they amounted to the entire human population on the face of the earth, and that I place no value on conforming with the people of my country in many of the customs or costume which they have adopted for no particular reason[4] – this independence is a quality which I regard as one of my most important virtues. There is nothing equal to it, and, upon my life, if I did not possess it (God forbid), it would be this that I most longed for, and hoped for, and prayed for to God Almighty. In fact, my advice to all who may hear my words is to behave in the same way. There is no benefit to be had from copying other people if their actions are vain and pointless. By doing so one annoys the Almighty, and disappoints one’s mind [deludes oneself], causes suffering to one’s soul and body, and takes upon one’s shoulders an unnecessary yoke.

107. A man who knows nothing of the truth has reproached me for not caring about wrongs done to me, or even wrongs done to my friends, so that I do not even get annoyed if they are wronged in my presence.

108. My reply would be that anyone who has described me like that was speaking too hastily and needs to be more precise. When one speaks hastily one slips into using language that makes the bad not so bad and the good not so good: for example, So-and-so is sleeping with his sister, would be an abominable thing to say and would horrify everyone who heard it, but if you explained that it is a matter of his sister in Islm, it would be clear that it was hasty speaking that created the indecent and ugly aspect of the matter.

109. For myself, if I pretended not to feel hurt when I am attacked by someone, I should not be telling the truth, for it is natural to feel hurt in such a case, it is only human. But I have forced myself to show neither anger nor bad temper nor fury. I manage to hold back an angry answer by preparing myself in advance, then I do so, thanks to the strength and power of Almighty God. But if I have no time to prepare myself, I restrict myself to retaliating with cutting phrases, but not insults, and I attempt to say only what is true, and to express myself without anger or cruelty. I detest doing even this, except when it is absolutely necessary, for example when I wish to stop the spread of a false rumour, for most people love to pass on, to anyone who will listen, hateful tidbits of gossip (which they attribute to a third person), and nothing will stop them so effectively as this course of action. It stops them touting around calumnies which they attribute to others, and which serve no purpose except to corrupt consciences and to spread slander only.

110. Furthermore, as for the man who is wronging me, there are two possibilities and two only. Either he is lying or telling the truth. If he is lying, then God will surely make haste to allow me to refute him by his own tongue, for this man will go the way of all liars and will draw attention to my merit by falsely imputing bad things to me - for, late or soon, this will become clear to most of those who listen to him. If he is telling the truth, there are three possibilities and only one can be true. Perhaps I had been his associate in some business and had confided in him as one does with someone one relies on and trusts, and he would then be the most despicable sneak: I hardly need say more about such base villainy. Or, perhaps he may be criticizing in me something which he regards as a fault and which in fact is not. His ignorance is enough to make this oblivious; it is he who should be accused, and not the one who he has criticized. Or, finally, he may be accusing me of a fault which I really do have. Having perceived one of my faults, he has let his tongue wag about it. If he is telling the truth, I deserve more blame than he does. In that case, I should be angry with myself, not with my critic, who is justified in his criticism.

111. As for my friends, I have not forbidden myself to defend them. But I do it gently, contenting myself with persuading the person who has slandered them in my presence to repent, urging him to reproach himself, to apologize, to feel ashamed, to take back what he said. I achieve this my following the method which consists of blaming the slanderers and telling them that it would be better to mind their own business and put their own houses in order rather than track down the faults of others; I go to recall the merits of my friend, reproaching the critic for limiting himself to recalling his faults without mentioning his virtues, and saying to him, He would never speak like that about you. He has a more generous spirit than you, and that is what you would not accept, or something similar. As for attacking the speaker, annoying him, irritating him, making him angry, in this way pushing him to increase the insults to my friend which I so dislike, this would make me guilty towards my friend because it would expose him to coarse and repeated insults which would be spread to the ears of those who had not heard them before and would give rise to further slander. Perhaps this would make me just as guilty towards myself, which would not suit my friend, because I should suffer insult and injury. For myself, I would not want my friend to defend me beyond the limits I have outlined. If he goes further, to attack him, or even my father, my mother and his own parents, depending on how insolent and impudent the one who started it is. They might even come to blows, I should scorn him, because he had brought this upon me; I certainly would not be grateful to him. On the contrary I should be extremely cross with him. God help us!

112. A man of prejudice who never stops to think has accused me of squandering my fortune. This is more hasty talk, which I would explain as follows: I only squander the portion which it would be against my religion to keep or would cast aspersion on my honour or would fatigue me. I consider that what I avoid of these three evils, however small, far outweighs the amount of fortune lost, even if it amounted to everything that the sun shines on.

113. The best gift that God can give His servant is to endow him with justice and a love of justice, with truth and a love of truth [equity] above all else. To stamp out my evil tendencies, to do everything which is good according to religion and to the world, I have done only what I could. There is no strength and power except in God the Almighty. On the other hand, a man who has a natural tendency towards injustice and who finds it easy to act unjustly, a man who has tendency to transgress and enjoys doing it, let him despair of ever improving or of amending his nature. Let him realize that he will not succeed, either in religion or in good conduct.

114. As for vanity, envy, falsehood and treachery, I have absolutely no experience of them from my nature. It seems that I have no merit for avoiding them since all my being spurns them. Thanks for this be rendered to God, Lord of the Worlds.

115. One of the defects of the love of renown is that it cancels out the value of good deeds, if the man performing them likes them to be spoken of. This makes him almost impious because he is working for something other than for God. This defect removes all the value from virtues because the man affected by it is hardly trying at all to do good for the sake of good, but for love of renown.

116. There is no worse blame than that of a man who praises a quality in you that you do not have, thereby drawing closer to its absence.

117. There is no better praise than that of a man who reproaches you for a fault that you do not have, thereby drawing attention to your merit, and he gives you your revenge on him by exposing himself to rebuttal and the reproach of having slandered you.

118. If one knew one’s imperfections one would be perfect. Since no creature is exempt from faults, happy the man whose defects are few and unimportant.

119. The thing that happens most often is something unexpected. Steadfastness consists of preparing yourself for as much as can be foreseen. Glory be to the One who has so arranged it in order to show to mankind man’s powerlessness and his need for his Creator, the Almighty.



[1] French translation is too free here. It misunderstands the Arabic word majdd as mahdd.

[2] Ibn Hazm’s text states clearly that he has been told that the spleen is the seat of both good and bad temper. He may have this idea from reading the works of Ibn Qutayba (died 276 AH, 889 CE), who reported it from Wahb Ibn Munabbih, who in his turn ascribed it to the Torah. God created man from the four elements water, earth, fire and air; wet, dry, hot and cold. God then gave him a mind in his head, covetousness in his kidneys, anger is his liver, determination in his heart, fear and terror in his lungs, emotions, laughter and tears in his spleen, his happiness and sadness in his face, and in the human body he made 360 joints. This is a medical matter which may be true but it is for doctors to say. See Ab Muhammad Abd Allh Ibn Muslim Ibn Qutayba, ‘Uyn al Akhbr, (Cairo, al-Mu’asasa al-Misriya al-‘Ama lil Ta’lif n.d.) vol.2, p.62.

Maintainer’s note: I think it would be feasible to quote a athar (narration) of ‘Al ibn Ab Tlib as I think it is a more accurate stance on this matter: ‘Ayyd ibn Khalfah said that, during the battle of Siffn, he heard ‘Al (R) say, Indeed, the intellect is in the heart, mercy in the liver, pity in the spleen, and the soul/self in the lungs. [Reported by Bukhr in Adab ul Mufrad (Hadth # 547)]

[3] This is an important historical reference to shadow-theatres in al-Andalus in the time of Ibn Hazm. c.f. Ibn Hazm, al-Fisal, vol.1, p.110 and vol.5, p.6; also al-Thir Makk’s note on the above passage.

[4] Nothing in the French translation about costume.

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