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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Sometimes It Is Not Advisable To Question Authority Or Tradition

While it may be good in some instances to question inherited tradition and authority, there are many times when one should not.  Free-thinking individualism has its place, but there is an equally valid place for respecting the power of authority and tradition.  This point is amusingly illustrated in the two anecdotes presented below.  They are related in De Slane’s edition of Ibn Khallikan’s encyclopedia, but the first tale is originally found in the Egyptian historian Al Maqrizi.

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Using Your Ingenuity To Accomplish Your Goals

Those who are resourceful will find ways of carrying out their purposes.  They will not be deterred by momentary setbacks or obstacles.  The lazy man or the dullard will take refuge behind the natural obstructions that life places in his path and, using such problems as excuses to avoid work, take comfort in his failures.  In his mind, failure was inevitable.  This way of thinking can be found in many people; they never advance far in life because they are not willing to hunt for creative solutions to problems.  Obstacles must be bypassed, smashed through, vaulted over, or avoided altogether.

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How Al Fadl Al-Barmaki Learned Bluntness And Generosity

Al Fadl Ibn Yahya al-Barmaki (A.D. 766—808) was a government official who served the most famous of all the Abbasid caliphs, the great but mercurial Harun al-Rashid.  Besides serving in several administrative posts (such as governor of Khurasan), he was also trusted enough to tutor Harun’s young son and heir al-Amin.  Although he later fell out of favor with the caliph, many stories are told of his generosity and kindness.

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