OF THE VIRTUE OF CONTINENCE
THE finest quality that a man can display in Love is continence: to abstain from sin and all indecency. For so he will prove himself to be not indifferent to the heavenly reward, that eternal bliss reserved by God for those who dwell in His everlasting kingdom, neither will he disobey his Master Who has been so gracious to him, in appointing him to be a creature worthy to receive His commandments and prohibitions, Who sent unto him His Messengers, and caused His Word to be immovably established with him-all this as a mark of His care for us, and His benevolence towards us.
The man whose heart is distraught and his mind preoccupied, whose yearning waxes so violent that it overmasters him, whose passion desires to conquer his reason, and whose lust would vanquish his religion such a man, if he sets up self-reproach to be his strong tower of defence, is aware that the soul indeed " commands ' unto evil " (Koran XII 53). He therefore reminds his soul of the punishment of God, and meditates upon his boldness towards his Creator, Who sees all that he does; he warns his soul of the day when it must return to Allah, and stand before the mighty King terrible in vengeance, yet compassionate and merciful, Who requires no proof of His Being. He will consider with his inward eye that day when he stands alone, with none to defend him, in the presence of Him " Who knoweth all secrets " (Koran V io8), " the day when neither wealth nor offspring shall be of avail, except a man cometh unto God with a pure heart " (Koran XXVI 88-89); " the day when the earth shall be changed, and the heavens "(Koran XIV 49)," the day when every soul shall find the good that it has done summoned before him, and the evil it has done, and shall wish that there lay between itself and that thing a far distance" (Koran III 28) ; "the day when all faces shall be turned towards the Living, the Everlasting, and he shall fail who is laden with wickedness " (Koran XX I Io) ; " the day whereon they shall find all that they have done present before them, and thy Lord shall do no man wrong " (Koran XVIII 48) ; the day of " the greatest calamity, the day when a man shall remember all that he has laboured, and Hell shall come forth unto all that have eyes to see ; as for him who has committed iniquity, and preferred the life of this world, Hell shall be his resort ; but as for him who feared the Majesty of his Lord, and denied the soul' its desires, Paradise shall be his resort " (Koran LXXIX 34-41); that day of which Allah says, "And to the neck of every man We shall attach his fate, and We shall bring forth unto him on the Day of Resurrection a book, which he shall find outspread Read thy book, to-day thou art a sufficient reckoner against thyself" (Koran XVII 14) ; then shall the disobedient say, " Woe is me, what manner of thing is this book, that leaves aside neither small offence nor great but numbers all?" (Koran XVIII 47).
How then shall it be with a man whose breast enfolds a passion hotter than blazing tamarisk, whose flanks convulse with a rage keener than the edge of a sword, who has swallowed the draughts of patience more bitter than colocynth, and converted his, soul by force from grasping at the things it desired and was sure it could reach, for which it was well prepared, and there was no obstacle preventing its attainment of them? Surely he is worthy to rejoice tomorrow on the Day of Resurrection, and to stand among those brought near to God's throne in the abode of recompense and the world of everlasting life; surely he has right to be secure from the terrors of the Great Uprising, and the awful dread of the Last Judgement, and that Allah shall compensate him on the Day of Resurrection with peace, for the anguish he suffers here below!
I was informed of the following story by Abu Musa Harun Ibn Musa the Physician. "I saw a handsome youth, a Cordovan, who had lived a devout life, having rejected the world. He had a brother in God, and the two had dropped all formalities and reserve in their relations together. He visited him one evening, and was invited to pass the night with him. The master of the house chanced to require to betake himself to an acquaintance living at some distance, and he rose up and hastily departed
thither. The youth remained to lodge in his house, together with his friend's wife who was exceedingly beautiful, and of a like age with the young guest. The master of the household prolonged his sojourn with that acquaintance until the watch was on the streets, and he could not depart to his own dwelling. When the wife realized that the time was now past and that her husband could not return that night, her soul yearned after the youth; she came out to him, and summoned him to join her, where no third person should be with them, saving Almighty God. The youth was tempted to consort with her, but then his reason returned to him; thinking upon Almighty God, he laid his forefinger against the lamp until it was scorched, and said, O my soul, taste thou this: and what is this to compare with the fire of Hell? ' The woman was deeply moved by this spectacle; but she solicited him once more, and that lust which is innate in every man revisited him; but he acted again as on the first occasion. Then dawn broke; and lo! his finger was all maimed with the fire. Now think you the youth would have come to this pass in his struggle, with his soul, but for the inordinate raging of lust within him? Or do you suppose that Allah will suffer him to lase the reward of a stand so firm? By no means; Allah is far too gracious and knowing."
A woman in whom I have every confidence informed me that she was loved by a youth her equal in comeliness, and whose attachment she reciprocated. Their romance became the subject of malicious gossip everywhere. One day they were met together privily, and he said, " Come, let us prove what is being said concerning us." But she answered, "No, by Allah! This can never be, so long as I read the words of God, `Upon that day friends shall be enemies one to another, except for the god fearing' (Koran XLIII 67)." The woman added that not long after they were united in lawful wedlock.
A trustworthy friend of mane informed me that one day he was alone with a maiden whose youth exactly matched his. She made a certain proposal to him,' but he answered her, " No! I owe it to God in gratitude for His favour, which permitted me to be, united with you, that was my fondest and seemed my remotest hope, to abstain from desiring you, in obedience to His command." By my life, such behaviour was sufficiently rare in the days gone by; how much' more uncommon it is in times like these, when good is all departed, and evil is all triumphant.
When I consider the foregoing stories, which are entirely authentic, I can find only two undoubted explanations of them. On the one hand we must be dealing with a character that has inclined after other occupations being possessed of a sure and certain knowledge that the things it seeks after are superior to those it rejects; therefore it will not respond to the solicitations of coquetry, be they expressed but in a single word or two words, and upon a single day or two days. If those so tried had been put long to the test, surely their instincts would have complied, and they would have obeyed the voice of temptation; but Allah granted them immunity by eliminating the motivating cause of sin, having regard for them and knowing how in their hearts they implored His protection from wickedness and prayed for right guidance; there is no God but Allah! This is the first explanation; the second is that in the very hour of temptation some inward eye was opened in the heart, some thought of renunciation filled the mind, so that the surge of lust was subdued, Allah desiring some better thing for His servant. May Allah set us likewise among those who fear Him, and place all their hopes in Him, Amen!
I was told by Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn `Umar Ibn Mada', who derived his information from certain trustworthy men, members of the House of Marwan, relying upon Abu l-Abbas al-Walid Ibn Ghanim, that Imam Abd al-Rahman Ibn al-Hakam, being absent for several months upon an expedition, entrusted his palace to his son and successor in the Caliphate, Muhammad. He appointed a place for him upon the roof, where he should sleep by night and be seated through the day, not permitting him to leave that post at all. He likewise appointed for him every night a vizier to keep him company, and one of the chief palace-guards, to pass the hours of darkness with him on the roof. Abu l-Abbas continued that Muhammad remained thus a long while, during which he saw nothing of the other members of his family; he was at that time twenty or thereabouts. His own turn to act as watch- coincided with the posting of a young and particularly handsome guard; and he related that he said within himself, " I am afraid this ' night for Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Rahman, that he may perish before the onslaught of sin, and the blandishments of Beelzebub and his crew." Abu 'l-`Abbas went on, " Then I took my bed on the outer roof, while Muhammad was on the inner roof overlooking the Caliph's harem; the young guard was on the other side, close to the stairway. I remained watching him, without relaxing my vigilance for a moment, while he for his part thought that I was asleep, and was unconscious that I was observing all his movements. When some portion of the night was gone by, I noticed that he had risen from his bed and was seated upright upon it for a brief space of time; then he took refuge, with Allah against the temptations of Satan, and fell asleep again. After a while he arose once more, slipped on his tunic, and made ready to leap from his bed; then he took off his tunic and returned to his slumbers. Presently he got up a third time, put on his tunic, dangled his feet over the side of the bed, and continued in this posture for some while; then he called the youth by his name, and the youth answered. He said to him, Descend from the roof, and remain in the enclosure below. The youth rose up as bidden; and when he had gone down Muhammad jumped out of bed and bolted the door from the inside; then he returned to his couch. I knew from that time", Abu 'I-Abbas concluded, " that Allah purposed his good."
Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn al-Jasur informed me on the authority of Ahmad Ibn Mutarrif, transmitting from 'Ubaid Allah Ibn Yahya, from his father, from Malik Ibn Habib, from `Abd al-Rahman al-Ansari, from Hafs Ibn 'Asim, from Abu Huraira that the Prophet of Allah said, " There are seven sorts of men whom Allah shall shelter in His shadow, on the day when there is no shadow but His shadow': a just imam a youth who has been brought up in the service of God; a man whose heart is attached to the mosque, from the moment he goes out of it until he returns to it; two men who love each other in God, and who meet together and part in that spirit only a man who remembers God when he is alone, so that his eyes overflow with tears; a man who is solicited by a woman of rank and beauty, and replies, I fear Allah; and a man who bestows alms on the poor, and conceals his charity, so that his left hand knows not what his right hand is expending."
I remember that I was once invited to a, party, at which there was to be present one whose form was a delight to look upon, and whose manners gladdened the heart; it was a joy to converse and consort with him, no unseemly or improper thought or act ever marring the proceedings. I hastened to accept the invitation. It was morning; and after I had prayed the matutinal prayer and robed myself for the occasion a thought came into my- mind, and I found myself inspired to poetry. I had with me a companion, who said to me, " Why this silence and lowered head? " I did not reply to him until I had finished my verses; then I wrote them down and passed them over to him, refraining thereafter from going whither I had intended. The following are some of the stanzas from that poem.
Say, does a beauty charm thee so
Whose absence robs thee of thy sleep,
The coolness in those arms to creep
Whose secret sets thy heart aglow?
Is it such comfort to thy heart
To dwell so nigh, so presently
To sunder, which proximity
Alone condemned thee so to part?
Delights it thee, such sweets to taste
As bitter colocynth thereon
Succeeds, such ease to lie upon
By what distress to be displaced?
Even were there no reckoning hereafter, no punishment and no reward in the world to come, yet would it be incumbent upon us to use up all our lives, to weary our bodies, to put forth all our powers, to consume all our means, and to expend all our strength in grateful thanks to the Creator, Who from the beginning was gracious unto us before ever we deserved His favours; Who bestowed on us the great gift of reason whereby we have known Him, and imparted to us the perception of the senses, learning, knowledge, and skill in the subtle mysteries of the arts ; Who ordained the heavens to flow upon us with all its benefactions, and disposed us in such fashion that had we ourselves the power to create ourselves, we had never discovered so wise and wonderful provision, neither would we have managed for ourselves as He has done with such loving care ; Who promoted us above the most part of His creation, making us to be the repository of His Word and the abode of His religion ; Who created for us Paradise, without that we deserved it, and then permitted His servants not to enter therein save in accordance with their works, that it might be a recompense due to them for their virtue, for Allah has said, "As a reward for that they did " (Koran XXXII 17) ; Who guided our steps into its path, and opened our eyes to behold the direction of its shadow, appointing Paradise to be the crown of His goodness and favour towards us, a right that we might claim of Him, and a debt binding upon Himself ; for that He is grateful to us for that obedience which He himself gave us, and bestowed on us the power to practise it, rewarding us of His bounty for that wherein He was bountiful. This is a generosity, which indeed surpasses the reach of the intelligence; neither can the reason conceive of its magnitude. What man knoweth his Lord, and the full measure of His pleasure and His wrath, to him all transient joys and ephemeral vanities are of small account;
how indeed should it be otherwise, seeing that Allah has threatened him with such torments the very hearing of which maketh the flesh to creep, and the soul to melt within him? For He hath revealed to us such dire descriptions of His chastisement as transcend the furthest range of the anxious imagination. Whither then should we depart from obedience to this generous King, or how shall we desire fleeting pleasures accompanied only by regret, and bringing in their train everlasting punishment, and eternal shame to him who indulges therein? How long shall we continue in our heedless folly, seeing that the warning voice has sounded in our ears, and we are being urged as it were by the chant of the cameleer unto that abode wherein we shall dwell hereafter, whether it be Paradise or Hell? Truly, to linger and tarry where we now are is manifest error. In this sense I have composed the following verses.
From pleasures and amusements he refrained,
His appetite for love and liquor reined,
Devoted not his energies to wine,
To hunt gazelles made not his only line.
For it was time the heart arose from sleep,
Not evermore its shrouding veil to keep;
The fearful day that shall all secrets prove
Diverted him from his accustomed love.
Be strong, my soul ! Thy labours do not spend
Pursuing passion to its bitter end.
Make haste to thy salvation ; purpose still
To win deliverance from passion's ill.
Perchance, triumphant in my holiest aim,
I shall escape the torment and the flame.
O trifler, Fate is grimly purposing
Thy ruin: dread'st thou not misfortune's sting?
It should suffice thee, for all counsel taught,
To look upon the wonders Time has wrought.
Leave that abode whose splendour soon must fade,
That task which ever with the toiler played,
That jousting-yard where never knight struck blow
But that his sword rebounded to his woe;
What man knows Allah as He should be known
Withdraws, and lives unto Himself alone.
Not one is watered piety with pure,
The temporal realm with that which doth endure;
Not like the sinner and the godly wise,
The word of truth and circumstantial lies.
For though we were secure from chastisement
Nor feared the wrath of God may not relent,
Did we not dread that hell, prepared for each
Who perpetrates the crime of lying speech,
Yet would it be our duty to obey
His will, and send lust's embassy away,
Sincerely to renounce this life below,
Condemning all who yet delay to go.
For we have witnessed how Time serves her own
Like flaming sparks among the brushwood blown;
Some wearying their hearts to serve the Lord
And find repose in what they most abhorred,
Some labouring to gather this world's bloom
And be diverted from their quest by doom.
And some have reached the hope they fondly nursed
To fall into the pit they dreaded worst,
And some have diligently sought their goal
And only gained destruction of the soul.
Anon some mighty monarch thou wilt see
Flung down from triumph into misery,
As springing wheat is trampled into dust
When from its stalk the swelling ears upthrust.
How many struggle to their souls' despite
In chase of luck that presses more its flight
Surely a lesson wonderful is there
To school the wise to wisdom yet more fair!
Still more, with Hell the ultimate abode
Of all who leave the straight and narrow road,
When Allah, on the day of reckoning,
Their shameful secrets to the light shall bring.
What then of him, whom Allah has pursued
With mercy, and augmenting grace renewed,
But in his folly turns the gifts conferred
To purposes forbidden by God's Word?
Deserves he not the most, of all men born,
God's chastisement on resurrection's morn?
Then thank the Lord, Whose gracious potency
Is nigh to us as our heart's artery,
Who feedeth all the peoples known to Time,
Be Barbary or Arabia their clime
Praise be to God, Whose bounty is so great,
Who overmasters all the tricks of Fate,
And to our service earth and heaven turns,
All vapours of the air, each star that burns.
Give ear, and leave the sinner to his sin
For none shall bear but what he gathers in.
I also composed this poem.
This mortal world, whose gifts to men
Are loans demanded back again,
A life of ease has lent to thee
Whose green fades all too suddenly;
And shall the prudent man aspire
To such brief comfort, or desire
A life so quickly out of breath,
So surely visited by death?
How can the contemplative eye,
Long tutored to take warning by
The passing show, one-hour delight
To sleep, and shut it out of sight?
How can the soul be pleased so well
In this so transient world to dwell,
When it is sure and satisfied
It shall not ever here abide?
Can it a moment's thought bestow
Upon this fleeting earth below,
Not knowing, when it comes to die,
In what last lodging it shall lie?
What, is it not sufficient care
To labour for salvation there,
And to be anxiously intent
To flee eternal chastisement?
For many spirits, led astray
By a brief hour of trifling play,
Have stumbled in that furnace dire
Of unextinguishable fire
The cameleer with urgent song
Sped them enticingly along
To bring them home, at journeys end,
Whither they never thought to wend.
There is a purpose for the soul,
But it pursues another goal,
A journey to a blest abode,
But it prefers a different road.
What, hastens it along a way
That on the resurrection day
Shall bring it ruin, though it knows
Its target is eternal woes?
It spurns the feast to it assigned,
Content its wretched scrap to find,
Condemned to misery immense
By pride and disobedience.
It is complacent to remain
In what shall prove its direst pain,
And flees in horror from the thing
That would its sweetest triumph bring;
Turning its back upon the Lord,
Who calls to virtue and reward,
It takes this world to be its friend,
To be deserted in the end.
Then, O deluded one, relent
Thy folly! With all speed repent
God has prepared a place of ire
Whose awful flames shall ne'er expire.
Choose not the joy that mortal is
In lieu of everlasting bliss
The choice of pleasures men elect
Proves well their power of intellect.
Knowest thou, truth is found the best
In what thou most abandonest,
And that the path that is thy aim
Abounds in base and secret shame?
Leaving the white and shining way
As if resolved to go astray,
Thou stridest on that path of gloom
Where stumbling brings to certain doom.
On foolish sports thy heart is set
That have no issue but regret,
Amusements over soon, for sure,
Whose consequences aye endure.
For pleasures all are quickly done,
Joys ended almost ere begun,
But folly's wages, sin's disgrace
Outreach the bounds of time and space.
But thou, poor silly dupe, art thou
In truth awake? Already now
The secrets of those dire events
Stand forth revealed, God's evidence.
Rise up betimes, and hasten to
The pleasure of thy Lord: eschew
The things He has forbidden thee,
Whose warning light shines brilliantly.
Thou art a counter in Time's play
That flings thee carelessly away;
The world allures thee with her guile,
But there is malice in her smile.
How many peoples, long ere we
Were born to trouble, Destiny
Deceived, for us in turn to stare
Upon their dwellings empty, bare!
Remember them, and ponder o'er
The things that were, and are no more;
For pondering; as thou wilt find,
Is a fine sharpener of the mind.
Adventurer and tyrant vied
To scale those summits fortified
Possessing which, as men suppose,
Secures a monarch from his foes;
But now their heights are overthrown,
Their battlements in ruin strewn,
And that they had on loan at last
Again to its true owner passed.
Many have slumbered all t heir days
Unwary of the fate that slays,
Unheeding Destiny, loin-girt
And ready to their instant hurt.
And many, terrible and strong,
Have lifted up their hands to wrong,
Too arrogant to be aware
God would avenge their victims' prayer.
I see thee eager to pursue
The would, that thou aspirest to
Although thou seest clear as day
Too languid to obey His will
Who would forgive thee all they ill,
To dilatory to produce
An even passable excuse;
I see thee anxious and afraid
Of sorrows that shall swiftly fade,
Oblivious to that great care
It is thy duty to beware.
Methinks I see thee, in the hour
The fates in their majestic power
Strike, as they must, thy heart imbued
With impotent disquietude,
When men lament, "Ah, who will give
Me back again those years to live,
Those precious moments to dispose
As once, precisely as I chose?"
Bethink thee of that day of fear
Whose shadow draws already near,
That dreadful day thy soul shall be
Assailed by its last agony;
Deserted and disowned by those
Whose friendship was thy heart's repose,
Thou watchest all thy edifice
Of hopes crash down to the abyss;
Thy bones shall be deposited
In the dark quarters of the dead,
A narrow and a dusty room
To those who see thee to thy tomb.
Then thou shalt hear a voice proclaim,
But wilt not know who calls thy name,
And see in that deserted place
The veil is lifted from life's face;
Thou shalt be summoned to a day
Of, awful terror and dismay,
That famous hour of mustering
When all shall rise to meet their King.
Then every beast from den and lair
Shall spring, to be assembled there;
And all the pages of our sin
About our heads shall whirl and spin;
And Paradise shall be displayed
In fair and intimate parade,
The raging fires of Hell below
Be stoked to an intenser glow.
The sun, that fills the noon with light,
Shall darken, as if wrapped in night;
The stars, so radiant on high,
Shall scatter swiftly from the sky,
And as by heavenly command
Arrayed in order due they stand,
So at the word celestial
In wide dispersion they shall fall.
And then shall every mountain range
Be shaken, and earth's contours change;
The dromedaries great with child
Shall roam deserted through the wild.
Then every man shall be endued
With infinite beatitude,
Or to imprisonment assigned
Whose chains are never to unbind.
Before a mighty, gracious Lord
Just in reprisal and reward
The trespasses of men shall all
Be reckoned up, both great and small;
And those who were of small offence
Shall save themselves by penitence,
And those whose sins were great shall be
Condemned to all eternity.
What joy their bodies shall obtain
Whose souls are brought to life again,
When secret thought, put to the test,
Proves one with action manifest!
Encompassed in that dreadful place
By God's forgiveness and His grace
They shall be made at last to dwell
Where wine is lawful, and all well;
Which happiness licentious men
Shall win in equal measure, when
The donkey and the noble horse
Are judged joint winners in the course.
The world lings all shall flee away
With their loved world in dire dismay,
Whose transient pleasures seemed so true,
Reserved to the so favoured few.
The world's a mother, whom her son
Best honours, strickliest to shun,
And whom to save from mortal hurt
Is most devoutly to desert;
None wins abiding pleasure there
Except that he despises her,
And they who cultivate her charms
Go down to ruin in her arms.
Suitor to suitor doth succeed
Pursuing her with breathless greed,
Though to the wise experiment
Has proved long since her ill intent.
Live tranquil, and untroubled be
By fortune's fluctuating sea;
Plunge not into the tumbling wave
That waits to suck thee to thy grave.
Be not deceived or led astray
By luck's illusory display;
The touchstone of unclouded wit
Reveals the falsity of it.
I have observed how worldly kings
Desired the pomp that power brings,
Those pleasures of the appetite
Whose tasting is such sweet delight;
They wandered far from rectitude
To grasp the glitter they pursued,
As with her trail of lambs the ewe
Will quest for pastures ever new;
Yet all their struggle and their strife
Was to attain a span of life
Which those who for salvation make
Do find most easy to forsake.
For what is glory, but to keep
The honour from ambition's steep,
And what is honour, but the will
To stifle every thought of ill?
And who shall final profit find
Except the man with heart resigned,
Rich in contentment of the soul,
Majestic in his self-control?
But those promoted to great power
In fear and trepidation cower,
Unequal to support the cares
That by high privilege are theirs.
All this we plainly see; and yet
Are by such drunkenness beset
That, with the fumes of folly blind,
We cannot grasp the truth to mind.
Reflect on Him Who o'er the earth
Raised up yon roof of massive girth,
Within Whose knowledge are embraced
The fertile field, the arid waste;
Who holds the stars in His wide hand,
And earth, obeying His command,
Without foundations keeps her place
In the vast firmament of space.
He did determine and devise
According to His purpose wise
This ordered world, wherever new
Night follows day in sequence due.
He loosed the flooding waters, so
That over all the land they flow,
Providing nourishment to root
Of swelling grain and shining fruit.
He fashioned all the hues revealed
By all the lilies of the field,
The gold that in the tulip glows,
The crimson glory of the rose,
The ferns so delicately green
That hold enchantment in their sheen,
The jacarandas that amaze
The vision with their fiery blaze.
He channeled out with utmost ease
The rivers running to the seas,
So that the fountains' sudden shock
Split through the hard and granite rock.
Who gave the sun its ball of light
That in the morning shineth white,
But when the day is nigh to close
In golden emanation glows?
Who made the spinning spheres to run
On their far orbits, every one
So firmly on its axis set
That all rotate serenely yet?
And when calamities do vex
And try the wisest intellects,
What living thing but He is there
To whom the needy may repair?
Each creature, as thou canst discern,
To its Creator doth return,
Whose sovereign, eternal sway
All things submissively obey.
And through His prophets He has shown
His wondrous signs, which they have known,
Who formerly were powerless,
To master in new blessedness.
He opened mouths that they might preach
The wisdom He would have them teach,
In toothless infancy as sage
As uninhibited by age.
Out of the stony rock hewed He
A camel, shaped so cunningly
That with no instant of delay
Its bellow echoed far away,
That many through that miracle
Might win to faith; some, infidel,
Led by the sin Qudar there wrought,
Were unto dire perdition brought.
He likewise clove the mighty seas
For Moses with amazing ease,
So that the waves before his rod
Rolled back, to prove the power of God,
And Abram, whom He called His friend,
He rescued from the fiery end
That Nimrod plotted, and the flame
Was impotent his flesh to maim.
And He delivered from the Flood
His servant Noah, of whose blood
A righteous progeny was spared
The ruin all those sinners shared.
And David, and his son beside,
With mighty gifts He fortified,
According them, as He might please,
In all their difficulties ease;
The mighty tyrant of the land
Bowed to King Solomon's command,
And he was taught the airy speech
Of birds, and how each calls to each.
But on Mohammed's people He
Bestowed, His greatest grace to be,
The Holy Book, and power to ride
Through all the countries far and wide;
He clove for him the shining moon
In heaven, and for special boon
Revealed to him those verses true
Whose strength no shaking can undo;
Its sacred truth delivered us
When unbelief most ruinous
Possessed our minds, and every man
Upon the pole of ruin span.
Alas for us! Then why do we
Forsake not our stupidity,
To save our souls from that dread fire
Whose leaping sparks draw ever nigher?
Here ends-may Allah exalt you! -all that I have brought to mind in answer to your request, in pursuit of your pleasure, and in obedience to your command. I have not refrained from setting down in this epistle things which the poets love to mention and constantly to repeat, all being exposed in full according to their various aspects, and detailed under their several headings; I have furnished them likewise with ample commentaries. Such themes these are as the poet's exaggerated description of the lover's wasting, his likening of tears to falling rains that slake thirsty eyelashes, the total loss of sleep, and the eschewing of all nourishment. These things are all without reality they are all unfounded lies. Every thing has its bound, and God has assigned a measure to all matters. Wasting may sometimes become very serious; but if it proceeded to the point which poets allege, the lover would shrink to the stature of an ant or less, and the phenomenon would transcend the bounds of reason. Sleeplessness may sometimes continue for several nights on end; if a man were deprived of all nourishment for a fortnight he would surely perish. We have taken the view that loss of sleep is harder to endure than lack of food: this is because sleep is the nourishment of the soul, whereas food is the nourishment of the body, though it is true that soul and body share alike in both: what we have related however applies to the majority of cases. As for the question of drinking, I have myself seen Maisur the mason, our neighbour in Cordova; do without water for a fortnight in the very heat of midsummer, contenting himself with what moisture he could find in his ordinary nourishment. The cadi Abu Abd al-Rahman Ibn Jahhaf informed me that he knew of a man who drank no water for a month. But I have confined myself in this essay to known facts, beyond which it is absolutely impossible for anything to exist; apart, that is, from setting down a sufficient number of things belonging to the categories mentioned above, so as not to depart from the custom and usage of poets.
Many of our friends will see in this treatise anecdotes relating to themselves. In every instance I have referred to them under pseudonyms, as we proposed at the beginning. I beg Allah's forgiveness for whatever the recording angels may note down, and the guardian angels enumerate against me, of this and the like; and I entreat His pardon as one who knows that his words shall be reckoned even as his deeds. If what I have said is not mere idle talk, for which no man shall be taken to task, yet my observations, God willing, shall prove to be pardonable peccadilloes; in any case they are hardly likely to rank as grave offences and abominations incurring Divine chastisement, nor do they count among those deadly sins specified in Holy Writ.
I am aware that certain of my fanatical enemies will be shocked by my having composed a book of this kind. They will say, " He has acted contrary to his professions, and deviated from his chosen path." But I permit no man the privilege of ascribing to me motives, which were never mine. Allah has said, " O ye who believe, abstain from many suspicions, for some suspicions are a sin (Koran XLIX 12). Ahmad Ibn Muhammad Ibn al Jasur informed me on the authority of Ibn Abi Dulaim, transmitting from Ibn Waddah, from Yahya, from Malik Ibn Anas, from Abu 'I-Zubair al-Makki, from Abu Shuraih al-Ka'bi, that the Messenger of Allah declared, "Beware of suspicion, for it is the falsest of falsehoods." I have also received a Tradition from the same chain of authorities as far as Malik, who transmitted from Sa'id Ibn Abi Sa'id al-Maqbari, from al-A'raj, from Abu Huraira, that the. Prophet of Allah said, " Whosoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him speak good, or be silent." My friend Abu Bakr Muhammad Ibn Ishaq related to me on the authority of `Abd Allah Ibn Yusuf al-Azdi, transmitting from Yahya Ibn 'A'idh, from Abu 'Adi `Abd al-'Aziz Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ishaq Ibn al-Faraj the Imam in Egypt, from Abu `Ali al-Hasan Ibn Qasim Ibn Duhaim al-Misri, from Muhammad Ibn Zakariya' al-'Allani, from Abu 'l-`Abbas, from Abu Bakr, from Qatada, from Sa'id Ibn al-Musaiyib, that `Umar Ibn al-Khattab (God be well pleased with him) invented eighteen wise maxims for the people, among them the following : " Put thy brother's affairs in the best light, that he may not act towards thee in a manner obliging thee to take a contrary opinion. Think not evil of any word that has proceeded out of the mouth of a Moslem, if thou art able to find a good construction for it." Such-may Allah exalt you-is the manner of conduct enjoined by Allah, the Messenger of Allah, and the Commander of the Faithful.
In brief, I neither hold by hypocrisy, nor follow the Persian fashion of rigorous austerity. Whosoever performs the religious duties all are commanded to observe, and eschews those forbidden things prohibited by Allah, and forgets not to be noble and generous in his dealings with other men, to that man truly belongs the attribute of benevolence. As for the rest, I beg you to spare me
God is my sufficiency.
To speak on matters such as these requires a breast unencumbered by cares, and a heart free from anxieties. To remember anything at all, to preserve a faint trace of former joys, to recollect happy events long past, is indeed a miracle for a mind like mine, considering all that has happened, and the heavy calamities that have befallen me. You know how restless my brain is, and how broken my spirit, on account of the situation in which we now are: remote from our loved habitations, exiled far from our motherland, assailed by the treacheries of time and the cruel wrongs of authority, betrayed by the fickleness of friends, oppressed by malignant circumstances, by change of fortune and loss of plenty, by deprivation of patrimony and personal winnings, by confiscation of earnings of fathers and grandfathers, a stranger in a strange land, robbed alike of wealth and position, beset by anxious thoughts to protect my family and children, despairing ever to return to the bosom of my people, condemned to struggle against fate, and awaiting the further blows of destiny. Nevertheless I pray that Allah may so grant that we shall never complain, save only unto Him: may He restore us yet to the best that we have ever known. Verily, what He has spared to us is more than what He has taken away, and that which He has left to us is greater than that He has deprived us of. Infinite are the gifts of God that encompass us, unbounded the graces of God that overwhelm us words can never express, thanks equal to His benefactions. All these things spring from His abounding generosity. We have no authority over ourselves, for from Him we come and to Him we return: every loan must revert to the lender. Praise be to Him first and last, at the ending as at the beginning.
Lo, I have made despair
My tower and shield to be
I ever scorned to wear
The garb of tyranny.
More than the rallying
Of all men, to my mind,
Is this so little thing
That saved me from mankind.
If my belief is true
And my repute is fair,
For what is past and through
I do not have a care.
Since yesterday is gone,
Tomorrow naught I know
If I shall look upon,
Why should I trouble so?
May Allah count us and you among the steadfast, the thankful, those who praise Him and extol His Name, Amen, Amen. Thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and may His blessings and His peace rest upon our Master Mohammed, and upon his family and companions, forever and ever.
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