Removing The Veils Of False Modesty: The Life-Affirming Philosophy Of Al-Salami

The name Muhammad al-Salami (A.D. 948–1003) is nearly unknown in the West, but occupies a prominent position in medieval Arabic poetry.  The genius of his metaphors, the richness of his turns of phrase, and the elegance of his diction can be felt even through the fog of translation; and we will do our best to pay him homage here.  The anthologist Abu Mansur al-Tha’alibi called him:

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The Wisdom Of Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli And Abu Bakr al-Khowarizmi

The writer and scholar Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli lived from 1104 to about 1170.  The cognomen al-Siqilli (“the Sicilian”) was given to him because he was born on the island of Sicily.  There are a number of important works credited to his name, the most famous of which is a book of ethical and political philosophy called Consolation for the Master Who Suffers From the Hatred of His Servants (the brilliant Arabic title, written in the rhyming prose typical of Arabic literature, is سلوان المطاع في عدوان الأتباع‎).  In English, this work is often referred to simply as the Sulwan al-Mutaa’.  The book was composed in 1159, during the time of the second Norman king of Sicily, William the Bad.  Sicily (Sakalliya) had been an Arab emirate from A.D. 831 to 1091.

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On Meetings And Separations: The Wisdom Of Two Scholars Of Al-Andalus

We have paid a price for the media age.  Yes, it is true that we have access to huge volumes of information (or mindless trash, depending on your perspective); but the average person is now so deluged with tsunamis of inanity that it is a full-time responsibility just to sift out what is of value from what is not.  Some people are not able to do this–or do not want to do it–and swim in mental sewage.  Others are able to do it, and can ascend to the loftiest heights of knowledge and perception.  Every man makes his own choice as to which world he prefers to inhabit.

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Sometimes One Must Speak In An Indirect Way

There are times when one’s communications must be protected from the unwelcome attentions of third parties.  The richness of a language’s vocabulary, and its embedded metaphors and cultural allusions, are powerful assistants to this end.  I was recently reminded of this when reading an anecdote related by that most colorful of biographers, Ibn Khallikan.  We have related many of his stories and wise sayings here in past articles.  The story I am about to relate here is linguistically oriented; it can tell us much about the power of speech in the hands of those who can deliver it with nuanced subtlety.  It will be of interest to any enthusiast of language, philology, and culture.

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The Wisdom Of Ibn Al-Sammak

The biographical encyclopedia of Ibn Khallikan–that deep well of collective anecdotal wisdom–has an interesting entry for one Abu Al-Abbas Muhammad Ibn Sabih.  His surname was Al Mazkur, but like many famous figures it is his nickname that posterity recalls best.  This nickname is Ibn Al-Sammak, which literally means “son of a fish-monger” in Arabic (the word for fish is samak, سمك).  It is not clear where this name came from; perhaps he had a fish-merchant as an ancestor.

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Some Wise Sayings Of The Philosopher Al-Turtushi

Abu Bakr Al Turtushi (ابو بكر محمد بن الوليد الطرطوشي‎‎‎) was a political philosopher and doctor of the Malikite sect.  He was but one of that avalanche of philosophers, poets, writers, scientists, and theologians produced by the energy and brilliance of Andalusian Spain in the medieval period.  Many–probably most–of these Andalusian writers are completely unknown today in the West, a fact that I have made efforts to change in previous articles here.

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The Wisdom Of Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi

Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1210) was a Persian theologian and philosopher whose fecundity was only surpassed by his depth of understanding of various disciplines.  He is credited with over one hundred works, although it is likely that this number was considerably higher.  Learned in astronomy, philosophy, theology, chemistry, and a variety of other subjects, he was also said to have been a man of great humanity and understanding.  His inclinations were rationalist and scientific; for this reason he found more to his liking in the natural sciences than in airy theological speculations.

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