In the name of Allâh the Most Merciful and Clement: [O Allâh I implore Your assistance, O Allâh bless Muhammad and his family and grant them peace.]
Abû Muhammad ‘Alî Ibn Ahmad Ibn Sa’îd Ibn Hazm [the Andalusian jurist]. Allâh may be pleased with him has said:
1. Praise be to Allâh for His great gifts. May Allâh bless [our master] Muhammad, His servant, the seal of His Prophets and Messengers; may He grant them eternal blessings. I rely on Him for any ability and strength I may have, and I seek His aid and protection against all the various terrors and ills of this world. And may He deliver me from all horror and suffering in the next world.
2. Now, I have gathered together in this book numerous ideas which Allâh, the provider of intellect, has enabled me to profit from as day succeeded day, [and year succeeded year] and circumstances altered, permitting me to understand the vicissitudes of fate and to control its fluctuations, to the extent that I have devoted the larger part of my life to it. I have chosen to master these problems by study and contemplation, rather than throw myself into the various sensual pleasures which attract most souls on this earth, and rather than amass unnecessary wealth. I have gathered together all my observations into this book in the hope that the Almighty may allow it to benefit whichever of His servants He wishes who has access to [is capable of understanding] my book, in the matters over which I have slaved, devoting all my efforts to them and reflecting at length upon them. I hope that it will be well received, and I present it with good intentions and blessings [with a good heart].
This book will benefit a person more than financial treasures and possessions of property, if he meditates upon it, and if Allâh enables him to make good use of it. As for myself, my hope in this enterprise is to win the greatest reward from Allâh, since my intention is to help His servants, to remedy whatever is corrupt in their character, and to heal the sickness of their souls. I beseech the assistance of Allâh [Almighty, we wish only for God, the best of defenders].
I) The Treatment to be given to Souls, and the Reform of Vicious Characters
3. The pleasure which a prudent man has from his own good sense, a scholar from his knowledge, a wise man from his wisdom, the pleasure of anyone who works hard in ways pleasing to Almighty God, is greater than the pleasure which the gourmet has from his food, a drinking man from his tipple, a lover from the act of love, a conqueror from his conquest, a reveller from his amusements [the player from his game] or a commander from giving orders. The proof of this is that the wise man, the prudent man, the scholar, the practising Muslim and all those that we have mentioned are capable of enjoying these pleasures as much as the man who indulges in them. They have the same feelings, desires as those who hasten to satisfy them. But they have deliberately refrained and turned away from them, preferring to seek after moral excellence. None can judge these two [kinds of pleasure] except someone who has known both, not someone who has known one and not the other.
4. [As things happen one after the other] If you look deeply into worldly matters you will become melancholy and will end by reflecting upon the ephemeral nature of everything here below, and the fact that truth lies only in striving for the hereafter, since every ambition to which you might cling will end in tears; either the goal is snatched from you, or you have to give the attempt up before you reach it. One of these two endings is inevitable except in the search for God the Almighty and Powerful. Then the result is always joy, both immediate and eternal. The immediate joy is because you stop worrying about the things which usually worry people; this leads to an increase in the respect paid to you by friends and enemies alike. The eternal joy is the joy of Paradise.
5. I have tried to find one goal which everyone would agree to be excellent and worthy of being striven after. I have found one only: to be free from anxiety. When I reflected upon it, I realized that not only do all agree in valuing it and desiring it, but I also perceived that, despite their many different passions and aspirations and preoccupations and desires, they never make the slightest gesture unless it is designed to drive anxiety far away. One man loses his way, another comes close to going wrong, finally another is successful - but he is a rare man, and success is rare, [O, all-knowing God].
Dispelling anxiety is a goal upon which all nations agree from the time when the Almighty created the world until the day when this world will pass away and be followed by the Day of Judgment - and their actions are directed to this goal alone. In the case of every other objective there will always be some people who do not desire it.
For example, some people are not religious and do not take eternity into account.
There are some who by nature and inclination prefer obscurity to fame [the obscurity of satisfied passion].
There are some who have no interest in amassing a fortune, preferring abstinence to ownership; this was the case with many of the Prophets. God’s peace be upon them - and those who followed their example, ascetics and philosophers. There are some who by nature dislike sensual pleasures and scorn those who seek after them, such as those men we have just mentioned, and who prefer to lose a fortune rather than gain one. Some prefer ignorance to knowledge, in fact most of the people that you see in the street are like this. These are the objectives of people who have no other aim in life. Nobody in the whole world, from the time of its creation until its end, would deliberately choose anxiety, and would not desire to drive it far away.
6. When I had arrived at this great piece of wisdom, when I had discovered this amazing secret, when Allâh the Almighty had opened the eyes of my mind [spirit] to see this great pleasure, I began to search for the way which would truly enable me to dispel anxiety, that precious goal desired by every kind of person, whether ignorant or scholarly, good or evil. I found it in one place alone, in the action of turning towards God the Almighty and Powerful, in pious works performed with an eye to eternity.
7. Thus the only reason that someone chases after riches is to dispel the anguish of poverty. The only reason that someone seeks fame is to dispel the anxiety of seeing someone else outdo him. The only reason that someone chases after pleasures is to dispel the anxiety of missing them. The only reason someone chases after knowledge is to dispel the anxiety of being ignorant about something.
People enjoy listening to other people’s conversation and gossip only because it dispels the anxiety of being alone and isolated. People eat, drink, make love, wear clothes, play games, build a shelter, mount a horse, go for a walk, only in order to avoid the reverse of all these actions and every other kind of anxiety.
8. In all the actions listed here, anyone who pauses to reflect will see that anxieties inevitably occur, such as problems which arise in the course of the action, the impossibility of performing the impossible, the fleeting nature of any achievements, and the inability to enjoy something because of some difficulty. There are also bad consequences which arise from every success: fear of one’s rival, attacks by the jealous, theft by covetous, loss to an enemy, not to mention criticism, sin and such things. On the other hand, I have found that actions performed with an eye on eternity are free from * every kind of * fault, free from every stain, and a true means of dispelling anxiety. I have found that the man who is striving for eternity may be sorely tested by bad fortune on his way but does not worry; on the contrary, he is glad, because the trial to which he is subjected gives rise to hope, which aids him in his endeavour and sets him the more firmly on the path towards his true desire. I have found that, when he finds his way blocked by an obstacle, he does not worry, because it is not his fault, and he did not choose the actions that he will have to answer for. I have seen such a man be glad, when others have wished evil upon him, and be glad when has undergone some trial, and be glad, always [living] in a permanent state of joy while others are permanently the opposite. You should therefore understand that there is only one objective to strive for, it is to dispel anxiety; and only one path leads to this, and that is the service of the Most High God. Everything else is misguided and absurd.
9. Do not use your energy except for a cause more noble than yourself. Such a cause cannot be found except in * Almighty * God Himself: to preach the truth, to defend womanhood, to repel humiliation which your Creator has not imposed upon you, to help the oppressed. Anyone who uses his energy for the sake of the vanities of the world is like someone who exchanges gemstones for gravel.
10. There is no nobility in anyone who lacks faith.
11. The wise man knows that the only fitting price for his soul is a place in Paradise.
12. Satan sets his traps, under the cover of finding fault with hypocrisy. It can happen that someone refrains from doing a good deed for fear of being thought a hypocrite. [If Satan whispers such an idea in your ear, take no notice; that will frustrate him.]
II) The Mind and Repose
Do not listen to what other people say. Listen only to the Words of the Creator. That is the way to a completely sound mind and to perfect repose.
13. Anyone who believes himself safe from all criticism and reproach is out of his mind.
14. Anyone who studies deeply and disciplines his soul not to rest until it has found the truth, even if it is painful at first, will take more pleasure in criticism than in praise. Indeed, if he hears people praise him, even if it is well-deserved, he will become proud, and his virtue will be corrupted.
If he hears people praise him and the praise is undeserved, he will be pleased, but wrongly so, and this is a serious fault. On the other hand, if he hears people criticize him and it is deserved, he might be led to correct the behaviour that led to it. This criticism would be a piece of considerable good luck that only a fool would ignore. If someone is criticized unjustly and he controls himself, he will gain merit by his meekness and patience. Furthermore, all the good works ever done by his critic will be credited to him, and he will gain the benefit of them on Judgment Day when they will stand him in very good stead when he needs them, although they were not a result of his own efforts. And this is a supreme piece of good luck which it would be mad to disdain. If he does not hear people’s praise, what they say or do not say makes no difference to him. But it is a different matter with their criticism, he wins either way, whether he hears their criticism or does not hear it.
15. If it were not for the words of the Prophet (may Allâh be pleased with him) about “good praise” which “brings to the believers the express good news of the happiness which has been promised”, it might have been a sign of wisdom to prefer being criticized even unjustly to being praised with good reason. But these words were spoken. The promised happiness “will always arise from merit, not from absence of merit; it will reward only the object of praise, not merely the fact that praises were uttered”.
16. There is no difference between the virtues and the vices, between the acts of devotion and acts of rebellion, except in as far as the soul feels attracted or repelled. Happy the man whose soul finds pleasure in virtue and good deeds, fleeing vice and rebellion. And unhappy the man whose soul finds pleasure in vice and rebellion, fleeing virtue and good deeds. This is nothing less than the sacred order of things ordained by the providence of Almighty Allâh.
17. Anyone who strives after eternity is on the side of the angels. Anyone who strives after evil is on the side of the demons. Anyone who seeks fame and victory is on the side of the tigers. Anyone who seeks sensual pleasures is on the side of the [dumb] beasts. Anyone who seeks money for its own sake, not for spending on pious obligations and praiseworthy acts of charity, is too base, too vile to be compared with a beast. He resembles rather the waters which gather in caves in inaccessible places: no animal profits at all from them, [except now and then a bird; then the wind and the sun dry up what is left. And the same thing happens to possessions which are not consecrated to pious works].
18. A wise man has no satisfaction is a quality which sets him below tigers, dumb beasts and inanimate objects. He rejoices only in his progress in that virtue by which Allâh distinguishes him from these same tigers, dumb beasts and inanimate objects: this is the virtue of intelligence which he shares with the angels.
19. Anyone who feels proud of courage which is not applied in its normal directions, the service of the Almighty God, let him understand that the tiger is braver than him, that the lion, the wolf and the elephant are braver than him.
20. Anyone who glories in his own physical strength, let it be known to him that the mule, the ox and the elephant are physically stronger than him.
21. Anyone who glories is his ability to carry heavy weights, let it be known to him that the donkey can carry greater weights.
22. Anyone who glories in his ability to run, let it be known to him that the dog and the hare are faster runners than he.
23. Anyone who glories in the sound of his voice, let it be known to him that many of the birds have sweeter voices than he, and the sound of the flutes is more exquisite and charming than the sound of his voice.
How can anyone take pride or satisfaction in qualities in which these animals are superior?
24. But a man whose intellect is strong, whose knowledge is extensive and whose deeds are good, he should rejoice because only the angels and the best of men are superior to him in these matters.
25. Allâh says “Anyone who fears the majesty of God, and controls himself against passion, he shall have Paradise for his refuge.” [79:40] These words encapsulate all virtue: to control oneself against passion means in fact to turn away from one’s natural tendency towards anger and lust, things which are both under the dictates of passion. Then all that is left for the soul to use is the intellect which God has given it, the good sense which distinguishes it from the beasts, from insects or vermin and from tigers.
26. “Never lose your temper,” as Allâh’s Prophet (peace be upon him) said to a man asking advice, and, as he also said commanding him, “Do as you would be done by”, together encapsulate the whole of virtue. Indeed, the fact that the Prophet forbade all anger implies that although the soul has been given the ability to be angry, it should refrain from this passion, and the [Prophet’s] commandment to do as you would be done implies that the souls should turn away from the strong force of greed and lust and should uphold the authority or the means of justice which springs from the rationality which is part of the reasonable soul.
27. I have seen the majority of people - except those who God the Almighty has protected, and they are few - throw themselves into the miseries, the worries and fatigues of this world, and pile up a mountain of sin which will mean that they enter hellfire in the Hereafter and will have no advantage from the perfidious intentions which they nurse so carefully, such as wishing for an inflation of prices which would bring disaster upon the children, the innocent, or wishing the worst trials upon those they hate. They know very well that these bad intentions will not necessarily bring about what they desire or guarantee its advent, and if they clarified and improved their intentions they would hasten the repose of their spirits. They would then have the time to devote themselves to their own business and would thus profit a great deal in addition to the return of their souls to God, and all this without having at all hastened or delayed the realization of their desires. Is there any worse deception than the attitude which we warn against here, and is there any greater happiness than the one which we are promoting?
28. When we contemplate the duration of this universe, we see it limited to the present moment, which is nothing but the point which separates too infinities of time. The past and the future are as meaningless as if they did not exist. Is anyone more misguided than the man who barters an eternal future for a moment which passes quicker than the blink of an eye?
29. When a man is asleep, he leaves the world and forgets all joy and all sorrow. If he kept his spirit in the same state on waking, he would know perfect happiness.
30. A man who harms his family and his neighbors is viler than them. Anyone who returns evil for evil is as bad as them. Anyone who refrains from returning evil is their master, their superior and the most virtuous among them.
31. If knowledge had no other merit than to make the ignorant fear and respect you, and scholars love and honour you, this would be good enough reason to seek after it. Let alone all its other merits in this world and the next!
32. If ignorance had no other fault than to make the ignorant man jealous of knowledgeable men and jubilant at seeing more people like himself, this by itself would be a reason enough to oblige us to flee it. Let alone the other bad results of this evil in this world and the next!
33. If knowledge and the action of devoting oneself to it had no purpose except to free the man who seeks it from the exhausting anxieties and many worries which afflict the mind, that alone would certainly be enough to drive us to seek knowledge. But what should we say of the other benefits too numerous to list, the least of which are the above-mentioned, and all of which accrue to the knowledgeable man. In search of benefits as small as these the petty kings have worn themselves out in seeking distraction from their anxieties in game of chess, dicing, wine, song, hunting expeditions and other pastimes which bring nothing but harm in this world and the next and absolutely no benefit.
34. If the scholar who has spent long peaceful hours [at his studies] stopped to think how his knowledge has protected him against humiliation at the hands of the ignorant, and against anxiety about unknown truths, and what joy it has brought him by enabling him to solve problems which others find insoluble, he would certainly increase his expressions of gratitude to Allâh and rejoice more in the knowledge that he has and desire even more to add to it.
35. Anyone who spends his time studying something inferior, abandoning higher studies of which he is capable, is like someone who sows corn in a field capable of growing wheat, or who plants bushes in a soil which could support palm trees and olives.
36. To spread knowledge among those incapable of understanding it would be as harmful as giving honey and sugary confections to someone with a fever, or giving musk and amber to someone with a migraine caused by an excess of bile.
37. A man who is a miser with his knowledge is worse than a man who is a miser with his money, for the money-miser is afraid of using up what he possesses but the knowledge-miser is being mean with something which does not get used up and is not lost when it is given away.
38. Anyone who has a natural inclination towards a branch of knowledge, even if it is inferior to other branches, should not abandon it, or he would be like someone who plants coconuts in al-Andalus or olive trees in India where neither would produce fruit.
39. The most noble branches of knowledge are those which bring you close to the Creator and help you to be pleasing to Him.
40. When you compare yourself with others in matters of wealth, position, and health, you should look at people less favoured than yourself. When you compare yourself with others in matters of religion, knowledge and virtue, look at people who are better than yourself.
41. The mysterious branches of knowledge are like a strong drug which benefits a strong body but damages a weak one. In the same way, the esoteric branches of knowledge enrich a strong mind, and refine it, purifying it of its flaws, but destroy a weak mind.
42. If a madman threw himself as deeply into good sense as he throws himself as deeply into madness, he would surely be wiser than al-Hasan al-Basrî, Plato of Athens and Vuzurgmihr the Persian.
43. Intelligence has its limits; it is useless unless it is based upon the guidance of religion or on good fortune in this world.
44. Do not harm your soul by experimenting with corrupt views in order to demonstrate their corruption to someone who has consulted you, otherwise you will lose your soul. If you shield yourself from acting in a detestable way, any criticism that can be thrown at you by a man of corrupt beliefs because you disagree with him is better than his respect and better than the bad effect on both of you if you committed these detestable acts.
45. Guard against taking pleasure in any way that will harm your soul and is not required of you by the religious law nor by virtue.
46. Knowledge no longer exists if one has ignored the attributes of the Almighty Great Creator.
47. There is no worse calamity for knowledge and for scholars than when outsiders intrude. They are ignorant and think they are knowledgeable; they ruin everything and believe that they are helping.
48. Anyone who is seeking happiness in the Hereafter, wisdom in this world, the best way to behave, the sum of all moral qualities, the practice of all the virtues, should take as his model Muhammad, the Prophet of God – God grant him blessings and peace – and emulate as far as possible the Prophet’s morals and behaviour. May God help us to take him as an example, by His grace, amen [amen]!
49. The ignorant have annoyed me on two occasions in my lifetime. First, when they spoke of things they did not know, at a time when I was equally ignorant; the second time when they kept silent in my presence [in the days when I had learnt something]. In the same way they were always silent about matters which would have benefited them to speak about, and spoke about matters which brought them no benefit.
50. Scholars have brought me pleasure on two occasions in my lifetime: first, they taught me when I was ignorant; the second time was when they conversed with me after I had been taught.
51. One of the merits of religious knowledge and asceticism in this world is that Almighty God does not put it within the reach of anyone except those who are worthy of it and deserve it. One of the disadvantages of the great things of this world, wealth and fame, is that they mostly fall to the lot of people who are unworthy of them and do not deserve them.