The philosopher Philo of Alexandria, in the second book of his treatise On Dreams (II.18.123), relates a story about a despotic governor of Egypt. “It is only a very short time ago,” he says, “that I knew a man of very high rank, one who was prefect and governor of Egypt, who, after he had taken it in his head to change our national institutions and customs…was compelling us to obey him, and to do other things contrary to our established custom.”Continue reading
In this podcast we discuss some life advice offered by the medieval Arabic political theorist and philosopher Ibn Zafar in his treatise, Consolation of the Ruler Amid the Hostility of His Subjects. I’ve written several articles before about him that can be found on this site (use the search box in the upper right corner), and wanted to do a podcast about some of his life advice.
One of the primary virtues that Ibn Zafar believes a good leader should possess is the virtue of self-denial. In Arabic this word is زهد, or “renunciation” of worldly things. What he means by this is that no leader–or any other person, for that matter–can ever become truly great until he learns how to subordinate his desires in the face of higher purposes.
Ibn Zafar’s well of wisdom provides us with another fable to ponder. How the reader relates it to his or her own life experience, or to the world’s current events, will be up to him or her to decide. While the narrative below is my own, I have also included some of Ibn Zafar’s quotes (as translated by J. Kechichian and R. Dekmejian–with minor variations by me–in their excellent edition of the Sulwan Al-Muta’) as they appear at relevant points in the story.
The following tale is told by Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli (“The Sicilian”) in his political and ethical treatise سلوان المطاع في عدوان الأتباع (The Consolation of the Ruler in Dealing with His Subjects’ Hostility). The story’s purpose is to emphasize the importance that faith and endurance play in the fates of princes. We should note that Ibn Zafar does not advocate a passive resignation or inaction in the face of hardship. Instead he counsels us to do all we can to resolve our problems; but once one has exhausted his actionable remedies, he must submit himself to the workings of Fate. In this he is very much like the Stoic sages who preceded him by so many centuries.
A careful reading of Ibn Zafar al-Siqilli’s (“The Sicilian”) masterpiece of political philosophy Sulwan al-Muta’ (سلوان المطاع في عدوان الأتباع, or The Consolation of the Ruler in Dealing with the Hostility of His Subjects) shows an emergent theory of political revolutions. In a previous article here we have discussed the fundamentals of the subtle Sicilian’s treatise. We will now give the details of his ideas on how revolutions are born and take hold in a nation.
We have previously mentioned the political philosopher Ibn Zafar Al-Siqilli (“The Sicilian”), who lived from 1104 to about 1171. Very little is known of his early life; his entry in Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary reveals little more than a few sad anecdotes. We do know that he was born under the Norman rule of Sicily, and received a good education in Mecca in Arabia. A period of wandering followed, which ended around 1150 when he secured a teaching position in Aleppo, Syria. When war broke out in Syria, Ibn Zafar moved back to Sicily; some years later he moved back to Syria, ultimately residing in Hama, where he died around 1172.