We turn now to the wisdom of those who are able to extricate themselves from the ensnaring brambles of theological thickets. The scholar and theologian Abd Al Rahman Ibn Al Jawzi, or more commonly Ibn Al Jawzi (ابن الجوزي), was born in Baghdad around 1115, and died there in 1201.Continue reading
The mystic Yunus Ibn Yusuf Ibn Musaed was born around 1132 into the Mukharik family, of the tribe of Shaiban (بنو شيبان). The subdivisions of this tribe occupied an area called the Jazira, a region covering what is now eastern Syria and upper Mesopotamia. He would later found an order of dervishes that came to be called, according to his biographer Ibn Khallikan, the Yunusiya.
In his short biography of the poet Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson makes the following comment:
The jurist, poet, and scholar Baha Al-Din Ibn Shaddad (بهاء الدين ابن شداد) was born in the city of Mosul, Iraq in 1145. He was a close friend of the famed commander and statesman Saladin, and wrote a highly valued biography of that eminent conqueror. He served for a time as the qadi (judge) of Aleppo, and in this capacity had much opportunity to acquaint himself to the realities of human behavior; it seems that, no matter the country or culture, career lawyers and judges make remarkably astute observers. Ibn Shaddad’s biographer Ibn Khallikan says that the judge often liked to quote this line of verse from the poet Ibn Al-Fadl (known as Surr-Durr):
The Iberian peninsula’s uniqueness derives from the fact that its shores have been washed by successive cultural waves: Roman, Gothic, Arab, and then indigenous Christian. No other region of Europe has acted as a similar crossroad, or has stimulated a comparable fermentation. Each of these civilizational tides altered the terrain as it flowed in, and then receded. We now turn, once again, to the world of medieval Arabic scholarship, and attempt to pry open its chests of mysterious treasures.
The writer and scholar Yamut Ibn Al-Muzarra’ (يموت ابن المزرع) was a native of Basra, Iraq. In the words of his biographer Ibn Khallikan, he was known as “an accomplished literary scholar, and well-versed in history.” His name (Yamut) was a source of some consternation for him as a young man, for it is the third-person active form of the Arabic verb “to die” (مات). He apparently never fulfilled his obligation of visiting the sick in hospitals, for fear that his name would bring misfortune upon patients confined to bed. “The name,” he said, “which l received from my father has been a great annoyance to me. So when I go to visit the sick and am asked my name, I answer, ‘The son of Al-Muzarra,’ and suppress my real name.”
Ibn Sabir Al-Manjaniki’s full name was Abu Yusuf Ibn Sabir Ibn Hauthara Al-Manjaniki; we note it here for completeness, and will not repeat it again. He was also known in some circles by the surname Najm Al-Din, which means “star of religion.” He was born in Baghdad in January 1159, and spent his early life there. He is nearly unique in having achieved enduring fame in two completely separate disciplines: military engineering and poetry.
Yacub Ibn Al-Laith Al-Saffar (يعقوب بن الليث الصفار) lived from A.D. 840 to 879, and is credited as the founder of the Saffarid dynasty of Sistan. Sistan is the geographic area now known as eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan; its capital was the city of Zaranj. The word saffar in Arabic means “brass founder,” an artisan working in brass; but Yacub was said to be a coppersmith. His biographer Ibn Khallikan credits Yacub with this wise saying:
The birthdate of the philologist and grammarian Yacub Ibn Al-Sikkit (ابو يوسف يعقوب ابن السكيت) is not known with certainty, but 800 A.D. is a reliable estimate. His father enjoyed notoriety and prestige in court circles, and may have conferred on his son some access to the corridors of power. The sobriquet “Al-Sikkit” was given to him because of his taciturnity, for the Arabic verb sakata (سكت) means “to be silent.” However, as the reader will soon discover, he was evidently not silent enough.
We all know that the ability to think on one’s feet is an important skill. There may even be times when this ability makes the difference between survival and execution. The amusing anecdote that follows appears in Ibn Khallikan’s biographical sketch (IV.200) of a government official and administrator (مولى) named Yazid Ibn Abi Muslim, who served under an Umayyad governor of Iraq named Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (c. 661—714 A.D.).