IX) Treatment of Corrupt Character

 

223. A man who is subject to pride should think of his faults. If he is proud of his virtues, he should seek out what is mean in his character. And if his faults are so well hidden from him that he thinks he has none, let him know that his misfortune will last for ever, that he is the worst of men, that he has the worst faults of all and is the least perceptive.

224. In the first place, he is weak in mind and ignorant. No fault is worse then these two, for a wise man is one who sees his own faults, fights against them and tries to overcome them. A fool ignores them because he has little knowledge and discernment and his thoughts are feeble, possibly because he takes his faults to be good qualities, and there is nothing on earth worse than this.

225. There are many who boast of having committed adultery, homosexuality [acts of child abuse], theft, and other sins, and are proud of these stains and of the aptitudes that they deployed in these shameful acts.

226. Know well nobody upon earth is free of all faults except the Prophets, may God bless them.

227. A man who does not see his own faults is a fallen being; he comes to be so from baseness, turpitude, stupidity and feebleness of intelligence, lack of discernment and understanding, to such a point that he is no different from vile men and it is not possible to drop lower into degradation than he has. Let him save his soul by seeking out his own faults and turning attention upon them instead of his pride and the faults of others, the doing of which harms him neither in this world or the next.

228. I do not know of any benefit to be drawn from hearing about the faults of other people except that he who hears about them may learn the lesson, avoid them and seek to cure himself of them with God’s assistance and might.

229. To speak of the faults of others is a serious shame which is absolutely not acceptable. One should avoid doing it except when one wishes to advise someone whom one fears to fall into the clutches of the person who is criticising or when one only wishes to reprimand a boastful person, which should be done to his face and not behind his back.

230. Then you should say to the boastful man, Turn round and look at yourself. When you have perceived your own faults you will have found the cure for your pride. Do not compare yourself with someone who has more faults than you do *so that you find it easy to commit faults and to imitate wicked people* [Do not allow yourself to commit vile things and to imitate wicked people]. We have already criticized people who imitate good actions slavishly, what should we say of people who imitate evil actions slavishly? On the contrary, you should compare yourself with someone who is more virtuous than you, then your pride will fade away. Then you will be cured of this hateful disease which gave birth in you to scorn of other people when there are doubtless better people then you among them. If you scorn them with no cause, they will have cause to scorn you, for the Almighty says [To condone an evil is to commit the same evil.] (Qur’n 42:20) The reward of an evil is an evil like it. So you will expose yourself to scorn, even to deserved disdain, and the anger of God and the loss of every trace of virtue that there may have been in you.

231. If you are proud of your intelligence, remember all the bad thoughts that come into your mind, the deceitful hopes which assail you, then you will realize how feeble your intelligence is.

232. If you are proud of your personal ideas remember your mistakes, keep them in your memory, do not forget them: think of all the times you have believed yourself right and you have been right and you have been wrong. If you do this, you will see that in most cases you have been wrong about as often as right. The score will come out about equal. But it is more likely that your mistakes will be more numerous because this is the case with every human being except the Prophets, the peace of God be upon them!

233. If you are proud of your good works, remember your times of rebellion, your faults, your life in all its aspects. Ah, by God, then you will find that they outnumber your good works and it will make your good deeds forgotten. So you should worry about this for a long time and replace your pride with self-disdain.

234. If you are proud of your knowledge, you should know that it is no credit to you, it is a pure gift that God has granted you. Do not receive it in a way that would anger the Almighty because He might wipe it from you by subjecting you to an illness which would make you forget all that you have learned and stored in your memory. I have been told that this happened to ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Tarif [d.400 AH, 1009 CE], who was a scholar, intelligent, moderate, exact in his researches, who had been allotted by fate such a prodigious memory that virtually nothing reached his ears that had to be said to him twice. Now he undertook a journey by ship and experienced such a terrible storm at sea that he lost the memory of most of what he had learnt and suffered considerable upset to his mind. He never recovered his full intelligence. I myself have been struck by illness. When I got up from it I had forgotten all my knowledge except for a few ideas of little value. I did not recover it until several years later.

235. You should also know that there are many people greedy for knowledge, who devote themselves to reading, to study and to research but do not reap any benefit from it. A scholar should realize that it is enough to pursue knowledge, many others will rank higher than him. Knowledge is truly a gift from God. So what place is there for pride? One can only feel humble, give thanks to God Almighty and beg Him to increase His gifts not to withhold them.

236.You should also remember that everything that remains hidden from you, everything that you do not know of the different branches of knowledge, the aspects that you have specialized in, and that you are proud to have penetrated [nevertheless what you do not know] is greater than what you do know. You should therefore replace your pride with scorn and self disdain, that would be better. Think of those who are more knowledgeable than you – you will find that there are many of them – and may your spirit be humble in your own sight.

237. You should also remember that you may be deceived by knowledge, for if you do not put into practice what you know your knowledge will be a testimony against you and it would have been better for you if you had never been a scholar. For you should remember that an ignorant man is wiser than you, he is in a better position, he is more excusable. May your pride then completely disappear.

238. Moreover, the knowledge that you are so proud of having penetrated is perhaps one of the less important branches of knowledge, of no great value, such as poetry or suchlike. You should then remember the man whose branch of study is more noble than yours on the scale of this world and the next, and your soul should become humble in your own sight.

239. If you are proud of your courage, remember those who are more valiant than you. Then examine what you do with your courage that God has granted you. If you waste it in rebellion against God, you are a fool for you are losing your soul by committing acts of no value to it. If you use your courage in obedience to God, you are spoiling it by your pride. You should also remember that your courage will fall away as you grow old and if you live so long you will become dependent, as weak as a baby.

240. It is true that I have never seen less pride than among the brave, and to my mind that proves the purity, greatness and majesty of their spirits.

241. If you are vain because you are strong remember those who may rise against you, your peers, your equals, men who may be perverse, feeble and vile. But you should remember that they are equal to you in strength you possess even if you would be ashamed to be like them because of their extreme baseness, ignominy of the souls, their morals, their origins. You should despise any honours which make you the colleague of such men as I have just described, even if you owned the whole world and you had no opponent[1] – something that is far from likely, since no one has ever heard tell of one man owning the whole inhabited world, even when it was still small and of limited dimensions compared with the uninhabited areas. And just think how tiny it is compared with the celestial sphere that surrounds the universe!

242. Remember what was said by Ibn al Sammk [Ab al-‘Abbs Muhammad Ibn Subayh, d. 183 AH; 799 CE] to al-Rashd when the latter asked to be brought a cup of drinking water: Commander of the faithful, if this drink were refused you, how much would you offer to get it? My entire kingdom, replied al-Rashd. Commander of the faithful, continues the other, if you found that you could not pass water from you body, how much would you sacrifice to able to do so? My entire kingdom. O lord of the Believers, how can you boast of a kingdom which is not worth as much as a little urine and a few mouthfuls of water?[2] Ibn al-Sammk was right, Allh grant him peace.

243. If you were king of all the Muslims, you should remember that the king of Sudan, a disreputable black man, an ignorant man who does not cover his private parts, has a larger kingdom than yours. If you say, I have taken it by right, [no], upon my life, you have not taken it by right if it is a source of arrogance in you and you do not use your position to bring justice. You should be ashamed of your position; it is a state of turpitude, not a state to feel proud of.

244. If you take pride in your wealth, that is the worse degree of pride. Think of all the vile and debauched men who are richer than you and do not take pride in something in which they outdo you. You should realize that it is stupid to take pride in possessions; riches are burdens which bring no benefit until you dispose of them and spend them according to the law. Wealth is also ephemeral and fleeing. It can escape, and you can find it again anywhere, perhaps in someone else’s hands, perhaps in the hands of your enemy.[3] To take pride in your wealth is stupid, to put your trust in good fortune is a trap and a weakness.

245. If you take pride in your beauty, think of the harm it gives rise to, which we would be ashamed to put into words. You yourself will be ashamed of it when your beauty disappears with age. But in saying this we have said enough.

246. If the praises heaped on you by your friends make you vain, think of the criticism that your enemies direct at you. Then your pride will melt away. And if you have no enemies than you have no good in you at all, for there is nothing lower on the scale of values than the man who has no enemies. That position is reserved for people who have not received from God a single favour worth envying (God preserve us from being in this position!) If you think that your faults are slight, imagine someone else looking at them and think what he would say about them. Then you will feel shame and will know the measure of your faults, if you have the slightest discernment.

247. If you study the laws that regulate human nature and the development of different characters according to the mixture of elements rooted in their souls, you will surely become convinced that you have no merit from your own virtues, that they are only gifts from the Almighty, which, if He had granted to another, would have made him just like you, and you will realize that, left to your own devices, you would collapse and die. You would replace your pride that you take in your virtues with acts of grace towards the One who gave them to you, and with the fear of losing them, for even the most admirable characters can be altered by illness, poverty, fear, anger or the decrepitude of old age. Show compassion towards those who lack the gifts that you have received, and do not risk losing them by seeking to raise yourself above the One who gave them by claiming merit for yourself or rights in what He has granted to you, or by thinking that you can dispense with His protection, for without it you would perish at once and for ever.

248. [For example,] I once suffered a severe illness that caused enlargement of the spleen. I became anguished, peevish, impatient and touchy, and I reproached myself for this, not being willing to face the fact that my character had changed. I was extremely surprised that I had lost my good characteristics. In this way I had good proof that the spleen is the centre of good temper, and that when it is diseased bad temper is the result.

249. If you take pride in your ancestry, that is even worse than everything we have mentioned so far, since it is pride in something that has no real usefulness for you in this world or the next. Just ask yourself whether your ancestry protects you against hunger, or dishonour, or whether it does you any good in the next world.

250. Next, consider those who are equally well descended, or even better, those who are descended from the Prophets [peace be upon them] or their successors, from the virtuous companions of Muhammad or from scholars; then remember those who are descended from non-Arab kings, the Khosrau[4] and Caesars, those who are descended from the Tubba’ and the various kings of Islm. Consider what remains of them and what has survived. Observe those who boast of their ancestry as you do of yours, and you will that most of them are as ignoble as dogs. You will find that they are low, extremely vile, unreliable; you will find that they are adorned with the very worst characteristics.

251. Therefore, you should not boast of something in which such people are your equals or even superior to you. The ancestors which make you so proud may have been debauched, drunken, licentious, frivolous and stupid. Circumstances allowed them to become despots and tyrants; they left an infamous record which will perpetuate their shame for ever. Their crime is immense and their repentance shall be immense on the day of the Last Judgment. Since this is the case, remember that you are taking pride in something that shares in vice, ignominy, shame and dishonour; it is not something to be admired.

252. If you are proud of your descent from virtuous ancestors, how empty their virtue will leave your hands if you yourself are not virtuous! How little pride your ancestors will have in you in this world and the next if you do no good! Al men are children of Adam whom God created by His own Hand, giving him Paradise for a dwelling place and letting His angels bow down before him. But how little is the advantage they have since all the vices dwell in mankind and all the wicked impious people in the world are among their number.

253. When the wise men considers that the virtues of his ancestors do not bring him any closer to his Lord the Almighty and do not win him any favour which he could not have gained by luck in a competition or by his own virtue, not by his wealth, what sense is there in taking pride in a descent which is of no use to him? Someone who feels proud of it, is he not like someone who feels proud of his neighbour’s wealth, or a third person’s glory, or another’s horse because it once wore a bridle that had been his property? It is, as people say, like eunuch who takes pride in his father’s potency.

254. If your pride leads you to boast, you will be doubly guilty, because your intelligence will have shown that it is incapable of controlling your pride.

255. This would be true if you had a good reason to boast, so imagine what it is like if you have no good reason. Noah’s son, Abraham’s father, and Ab Lahab, the uncle of the Prophet – may God grant him blessings, as also to Noah and Abraham – these were the closest relations of God’s most virtuous creatures out of all the sons of Adam. To achieve nobility it would have been enough to follow in their footsteps. But they drew no benefit from it.

256. Among those who have been born illegitimate, some have risen to the highest positions in control of the world’s affairs, for example Ziyd [ibn Abihi d. 53 AH; 672 CE] and Ab Muslim al-Kurasn [d.129 AH; 746 CE]. There have been others who have attained supreme virtue, like those whom we respect too highly to name them in this context. We come nearer to God if we love them and model our lives on their glorious achievements.

257. If you take pride in your physical strength, remember that the mule, the donkey, and the bull are stronger than you, and better suited to carrying heavy loads. If you feel vain about the lightness of your running style, remember that the dog and hare surpass you in this field. It is extremely curious that rational beings feel proud of something in which they are surpassed by dumb animals.

258. You should know that a man who has pride or a feeling of superiority buried deep in his soul should measure how well he tolerates anxieties, adversity, pain, toil or the worries and misfortunes which plague him. If he realizes that he tolerates them with a bad grace, he should remember that all those who are subjected to trials, those who are starving and have nothing to eat for example, all those who suffer patiently, they have more merit than he does, despite their weaker understanding. However, if he finds that he is capable of endurance, let him remember that this makes him no more exceptional that those we have just mentioned; he may be inferior to them, or their equal, but he is not their superior.

259. Next, let him consider his conduct. Does he act fairly or unfairly when he makes use of the gifts which God has granted him, money, power, slaves, health or fame? If he finds that he has failed in his obligation to feel grateful towards the Almighty Benefactor, if he finds that he is at the extreme edge of fairness, bordering on injustice, he should remember that people who are just and grateful and honest have been more favoured then he and are more virtuous than he. If he considers that he does love justice let him remember that a just man if far from proud because he knows the real importance of things, the real value of characters, and he loves the happy medium which is the balance between two bad extremes; on the contrary, he must incline towards one of these bad extremes.

260. You should remember that if you oppress or maltreat beings whose fate has been entrusted to you by God as slaves or subjects, this shows that you have an ignoble soul, a vile spirit, a weak intelligence. Indeed, a wise man with his noble spirit, his elevated thoughts, fights only against people as strong as himself, his peers in potency; but to attack those who cannot defend themselves is the sign of a vile nature, a depraved soul and character, it shows you to be incapable and dishonorable. A man who behaved like this would descend to the level of someone who was pleased to have killed a rat, to have exterminated a flea or to have squashed a louse. There is nothing more base or vile.

261. Remember that it is harder to tame the self than to tame wild beasts. In fact, when wild beasts are shut inside cages ordered for them by kings, they cannot harm you. But the self, even if it were put in a prison, could not be guaranteed to do you no harm.

262. Pride is like a tree trunk; its branches are complacency, presumptuousness, haughtiness, arrogance and superiority. These terms refer to concepts that are very similar to each other and hard for most people to tell apart. A proud man becomes proud because of an obvious merit: one man may be vain about his own scholarship, and be haughty and scornful towards others another may be vain about his man is proud of his own judgment and becomes arrogant; another is self-satisfied and becomes complacent. Another, full of his own reputation and high standing, becomes self-important and haughty.

263. The lowest degree of pride is when you refrain from laughing when laughter is not out of place; you avoid quick movements and responses except when it is unavoidable in daily life. However, such a fault is very serious. To behave in this way in order to get on with one’s work and to avoid timewasting nonsense would even be a praiseworthy virtue. But these people only behave like this out of disdain for others and from pride in themselves, and so they deserve only blame, for deeds are of value according to the intentions of the doer, and every being shall be rewarded according to what he intended to do.[5]

264. Next, a more serious case is when you are not clever enough to keep pride within its rightful limits, when your spirit is too weak, and you reach the point of showing disdain and scorn towards other people by your words and deeds. Then, going even further, when your sense and your spirit are even weaker, you reach the point of desiring to harm people with words and with blows, to give them orders, to commit abuses, to tyrannise them to exact where possible, obedience and submission from them. When he is unable to do this, the proud man sings his own praises and contents himself with criticizing other people and mocking them.

265. Pride can also exist for no good reason and where there is no merit in the proud person; this is the strangest thing about it. The popular phrase for it is Mutamandil discernment.[6] It is often found in women or in men who has absolutely no good quality: neither knowledge, nor courage, not high social standing, nor noble descent, nor fortune, which might give him abusive authority. And, what is more, such a man knows that he is a nonentity in every way, for even the idiot that has stones thrown at him knows this. The only person who can deceive himself is one who has a small part of some good qualities. For example, a man who is endowed with a little brain might imagine himself to have reached the extreme limits of intelligence; someone with a little scientific knowledge might imagine himself to be a perfect expert. Someone whose genealogy has [obscure] bad origins and whose ancestors were not even great tyrants is more infatuated with himself than if he were the sons of the [mighty] Pharaoh of the forces.[7] If he has some value as a warrior he thinks he can put ‘Al [ibn Ab Tlib] to flight, capture al-Zubayr [ibn al-‘Awwm] and slay Khlid [ibn al-Wald]. If he is at all notorious, he holds Alexander the Great in small esteem. If he is capable of gaining a little money and to obtain a little more than the absolute necessities of life, he is as proud of it as if he had got hold of the sun by its horns. However, pride among such men, even if they are admirable fellows, is not common. However, if it is common among those who have a iota of knowledge, nobility, fortune, reputation or courage. They are dragged along by others, and they trample on those who are weaker than themselves. Although they are perfectly aware that they themselves are lacking in all good qualities and have none whatsoever, they are still haughty and insolent.

266. I took the opportunity of asking one such man – gently and tactfully – what was the cause of his sense of superiority and his disdain of others. The only answer I could get was this: I am a free man, he said, I am nobody’s slave.

I replied Most people that one meets share this same quality with you. Like you, they are free men, except for a certain number of slaves who are more generous than you and who give orders to you and to many other free men. I could not get anything else out of him.

267. I returned to consideration of their case, going into the matter deeply. I thought about it for years on end, trying to find the reasons which drove them to pride that was so unjustified. I searched the recesses of their souls incessantly, on the basis of what their words reflected of their situation and their intentions. I came to the conclusion that they imagined themselves to have a superior intelligence and perception and a good sense of judgment. [They believed that] if fate had allowed them to make use of these talents, they would have had immense possibilities, they would have known how to direct powerful kingdoms and their merit would have appeared superior to that of other men. If they had had a fortune they would have been very good at spending it. And this is the angle by which vanity has taken possession of them and pride has penetrated their souls.

268. Here one might make curious digressions and [point out] certain paradoxes. It is a fact that no virtue except that of intelligence and perception allows one to believe that one is a past master in it, and the more one is completely sure that one has attained perfection in it, the more one lacks it.

This is so much the case that one will see a raving lunatic or an inveterate sot making fun of a sane man. A mentally deficient person will mock men who are wise, virtuous and knowledgeable. Little boys shout after grown men. Men who are stupid and insolent disdain men who are intelligent and reserved. Even the weakest women think that the spirit and opinions of great men lack vigour. In sum, the weaker the intelligence the more the man imagines himself well endowed and in possession of excellent powers of perception. This is not at all the case with other qualities: someone who has none of them knows that he lacks them. Error only arises in a man who has a small portion, even if it is tiny, because he then imagines, if he has limited powers of perception, that he possesses this quality to the highest degree.

269. The cures for pride among such people are poverty and obscurity; there is nothing more effective, for if not awed they are bad and a considerable nuisance to other men. You find them doing nothing but discrediting people, attacking their reputations, mocking at everybody, scorning all rights and permitting themselves every indiscretion. They go to the limit, to the point of risking injury to themselves, and entering into dispute, they even come to blows and punches for the most futile cause that presents itself.

270. It can happen that pride lies hidden in the depths of a man’s heart and does not appear until he meets with some success or acquires some fortune and his good sense can neither control nor conceal this feeling.

271. Something that I have seen that is very curious, among certain weak creatures, is that they are so dominated by a deep love for their grandchild or their wife that they describe them in public as extremely intelligent. They go as far as to say, She is more intelligent than me and I regard her advice as a blessing. They praise her beauty, her charm, her vivacity – this often happens with very feeble men – and do it so much and so well that if they wished to find her a husband they need say nothing more in order to make someone desire her from their description. Such behaviour is only found among souls which are weak and lacking in all self-esteem.

272. Take care not to boast, because nobody will believe you, even if you are telling the truth. On the contrary, they will take everything that you have said when boasting about yourself and use it as the basis of their criticism of you.

273. Take care not to praise someone to his face; this would be to behave like a vile flatterer.

274. Also take care no to pretend to be poor. You will not gain anything except to be treated as a liar or to be scorned by anyone who listens to you. You will have no benefit from it except that you will fail to recognize the gifts you have from the Lord, and if you complain about it to anyone they will have no pity on you.

276. You should also take care not to display your wealth for all that you will achieve is that those who hear you will covet what you possess.

277. Be content to offer thanks to the Almighty, to confide your needs to Him, and to take notice of those who are inferior to Him. In this way you will keep your dignity, and those who envy you will leave you alone.

278. A wise man is one who does not neglect the duties imposed upon him by intelligence.

279. Anyone who tempts others with his riches has no choice but to share them out – and there would be no end to this – or to refuse them which would make him seem mean and would attract universal hostility. If you wish to give something to somebody, do it of your own initiative and before he asks for it; this is more noble, more disinterested and more worthy of praise.

280. Something peculiar about envy is when you hear a jealous person say, when someone has done original work in some branch of science, What a silly person! Nobody has ever put forward that hypothesis before and nobody has ever believed that. But if the same person hears someone expound an idea which is not new, he exclaims. What a silly person! This is not a new idea! This sort of person is harmful because he is bent of obstructing the path of knowledge and turning people away from it in order to increase the number of his own sort, the ignorant.

281. The wisdom of the wise man brings him no profit in the eyes of a wicked man; the latter thinks that he is as wicked as himself. Thus I have seen vile creatures imagine in their vile souls that everybody was like themselves; they would never believe that it was possible, in one way or another, not to have their faults. There is no character more corrupt, there is none more remote from being virtuous and good. Anyone who is in this state cannot hope to be cured at all. Allh help us in all matters.

282. Justice is a fortress in which all who are frightened take refuge. In fact, if a tyrant feels oppressed, does he not call for justice and scorn and condemn injustice? But you never see the opposite, someone condemning justice. Therefore a man who is equitable by nature can rest at peace in this impregnable fortress.

283. Scorn is a variety of treachery, for someone can be disloyal towards you without scorning you, but if he scorns you he is betraying the impartiality he should show towards you. Therefore every scornful man is disloyal, but not every disloyal man is scornful.

284. If you scorn a thing it shows that you scorn the man who possesses it.

285. There are two circumstances in which it is good to do something which would otherwise be bad: it is when one wishes to reproach someone or to present excuses to someone. In these two cases, it is permissible to list past benefits and recall gifts. In all cases except these two it would be in the worst possible taste.

286. We should not criticise someone who has a natural tendency towards a vice – even if it were the worst possible fault, the greatest of vices – as long as he does not let it appear in anything he says or does. He would almost deserve more commendation than someone who naturally inclines towards virtue, for it takes a strong and virtuous mind to control a corrupt natural inclination.

287. To attack a man’s conjugal honour is worse than to attack his life.

288. To a well-born man, honour is dearer than gold. A well-born man should use his gold to protect his body, his body to protect his soul, his soul to protect his honour, and his honour to defend his religion. But he must never sacrifice his religion his defense of anything whatsoever.

289. To attack a man’s honour is less serious than to steal from his property. The proof of this is that almost nobody, not even the most virtuous, can say that he has never attacked anyone’s honour, though it may have been only rarely. But to have stolen someone’s property, whether on a small scale or a large scale, is definitely the deed of a vile person and far from virtue.

290. Drawing analogies between different situations is mostly deceptive and it can be quite false. This form of argument is not acceptable in problems which concern religion.

291. A man who blindly follows another slavishly is asking to be cheated out of his own thoughts when he would consider it the greatest crimes to be cheated out of his money. He is equally wrong in both cases.

292. A man who considers it hateful to be tricked out of his fortune, and regards it as the worst of crimes, must have an ignoble character, a mean spirit, and a soul worthy of disdain.

293. Anyone who does not know where to find virtue should rely on the commandments of God and His Prophet – peace of Allh be upon him. All the virtues are contained in these commandments.

294. It is possible to bring about something dangerous by trying to guard against it. It is possible to let out a secret by trying to hard to keep it. Sometimes it is better to avoid a subject to raise doubts by dwelling on it. In each of these cases the harm comes from overdoing it and going beyond the boundaries of the happy medium.

295. Virtue is the medium between the two extremes [the too much and the too little]. These two extremes are to be criticised – and virtue, lying between them, is to be praised – except when it is a question of intelligence, and then there can be no excess.

296. It is better to sin by being too strict than by being too soft.

297. It is astonishing to see that virtue is regarded as lovely but difficult, and vice as awful but easy to commit.

298. A person who wishes to be fair should put himself in his adversary’s position. He will then see the unfairness of his own behaviour.

299. The definition of strictness consists of being able to distinguish a friend from an enemy. The height of stupidity and weakness is the inability to distinguish one’s enemy from one’s friend.

300. Do not deliver your enemy to an oppressor, and do not oppress him yourself. Treat him as you would treat your friend, except for trusting him. Be careful not to mix with him or help him rise socially; that would be the behaviour of a fool. Anyone who treats his enemy as equal to his friend in closeness and in promoting his position only succeeds in making people avoid his friendship and they find it just as easy to be his enemies. He will only win the disrespect of his enemy by handing him his vulnerable places, and he will lose his friend, since the latter will join the ranks of his adversaries.

301. The greatest of good deeds is to refrain from punishing your enemy and from handing him over to an oppressor. As for mixing with him, that is the mark of fools who will soon be lost.

302. The worst evil is to oppress your friend. As for keeping him away from yourself, that would be the action of a man without spirit and destined to misfortune.

303. Magnanimity consists not of mingling with our enemies but of showing mercy to them while still not trusting them.

304. How many men have we not seen take pride in their possessions and so be lost! Guard against this attitude, it is really harmful and completely useless. How man men we have seen lost because of something they said. But we have never heard of anyone being lost because he kept silent. Therefore you should speak only to please your Creator; and if you fear that what you say will be abused, then keep silent.

305. I have rarely seen a lost opportunity ever reoccur.

306. A man undergoes many trials during his life, but the worst are those inflicted by his fellow man. The harm done by man to man is worse than the harm done by furious beasts and poisoned vipers for you cannot protect yourself at all against the human race.

307. Hypocrisy is the thing which is most widespread among people and it is amazing to see that, despite this, people only like those who treat them hypocritically.

308. If we said that characters are round like a globe because their extremes meet, we should not be far from the truth. Indeed we see that the consequences of the two cries for sorrow; too much love makes one commit as many successive faults as excessive hatred does, and can cause estrangement if the loved one lacks patience and fairness.

309. If a man is dominated by a natural passion, then, however firm and sensible he is in other ways, he can be overcome if you attack this weak point.

310. An over-suspicious mind learns to tell lies: since he often needs to excuse himself by lying he is practised in it and finds it easy.

311. The most impartial witness against a man who is given to sincerity is his face; it clouds over as soon as he tells a lie or is about to do so.

312. The most implacable witness against a liar is his own tongue; it gets twisted and contradicts itself.

313. It is a greater catastrophe to have an unfaithful friend than to lose him.

314. Those who show most horror when speaking out loud of shameful acts are those who are most apt to commit them. This can clearly be seen in the insolence offered by guttersnipes and the insults of vile men who have reached the nadir of vileness in practising vile professions. For example, those men and women who earn a living by playing the flute, sweeping out farmyards, workings as servants in abattoirs, those who frequent the [drinking houses] brothel authorized as meeting places of people of the lowest class or stable boys. Nobody abuses them more than they abuse themselves. More than anybody else they cry scandal when they wallow in it in the first place and have acquired the worst of reputations by it.

315. Meetings make grudges melt away.[8] One would think that when glances meet, hearts grow peaceful. Do not torture yourself if your friend meets your enemy, for the meeting will lessen the latter’s hatred towards you.

316. The worst misfortunes that can come upon men are fear, anxiety, sickness and poverty. But the thing that makes the soul suffer most cruelty is the anxiety of losing what one loves and to see something happen that one hates. After this comes sickness, then fear, then poverty. The proof of this is that people would willingly accept poverty to avoid the pains of illness. For a man quests ardently after health and does not count what he spends to recover it when he fears death. When his end is certain he would like to be able to give his entire fortune to be saved and cured. Fear is bearable when it drives off anxiety, for a man seeks with all his soul to drive away anxiety. The worst of all illnesses is pain that persists in one organ, always the same.

317. But to be a well born spirit, humiliation is less bearable than all the misfortunes we have described. On the other hand, it is the one that knavish spirits fear the least.[9]

 

Notes:

[1] French translation and there were no Caliph above you. The word mukhlif is translated Caliph. In the Arabic text used by the French translation the word appears as Khalfa, but in a footnote the translator writes that LQQ [p. 67] has mukhlif, which agrees with the edition of al-Thir Makk (p. 207). I believe that the latter reading is correct and also more fitting in the context.

[2] See Ibn Khallikn, Wafayt, vol. 2, p. 296.

[3] This passage reminds us of Plato’s words: Do not amass gold and silver because the [future] husbands of your [widowed] wives, who will gloat over your demise and ridicule you, will inherit it, while the guilty conscience remains yours alone. [See Mukhtr min Kalm al-Hukam’ al-Arba‘a al Akbir in Dimitri Gutas, Greek wisdom literature in Arabic translation, A study of the Graeco-Arabic Gnomologia, (New Haven, American Oriental Society, 1975) p. 129.

[4] Khosrau or Chosroes is a designation of the ancient Persian kings in general.

[5] This is a part of a hadth reported by ‘Umar ibn al-Khattb and related by al-Bukhr and Muslim.

[6] The French translation has Mutamandil. Makk supplies a long footnote about the colloquial term current among the Andalusians. He thinks that it may go back to classical Arabic Taraka - abandon, leave, forget, (pp. 220F).

But we feel that it may mean talking too much about something one lacks, as a miser might speak of generosity etc.

[7] This is a Qur’nic expression, [Qur’n 89:10]

[8] This is a part of hadth.

[9] It should be noted that Ibn Hazm’s stanza on morality in Makk’s text (pp. 239F) has been placed elsewhere according to the order of the French translation (see p. 66 and F.N.1).

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