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168 168 Mirror for Princes (and Others): Passages from Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ’s Right Conduct439 Al-Adab al-kabīr (The Large [treatise] on Good Conduct) by Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ, is, like Kalīlah wa-Dimnah, a work of practical rather than religious or ethical wisdom, not addressed to “princes” or rulers only. The sections following the present selection, for example, are about how one ought to behave toward one’s superiors and one’s equals. The present selection is a translation of the Introduction and the first section: a “mirror for princes.” ʿAbd Allāh Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ says: We have found that people before us had larger bodies. In addition to this they had greater understanding, were stronger, were more expert in their affairs and, by their greater strength, lived longer, and, through their long lives, were more experienced in everything. Their men of religion reached a higher degree of religiosity, both in terms of knowledge and practice , than do the men of religion in our own time; and their men of the world too reached similar levels of eloquence and virtue. We have found that they were not content merely with the merits they acquired for themselves, but also wanted to have us share with them the knowledge they had attained of this world and the next. They therefore wrote books that last, they coined apposite proverbs, and spared us the effort involved in experience and insight. They were very preoccupied with this, to the extent that, whenever one of them was in an uninhabited region and a door of knowledge opened to him, or he hit upon a word of wisdom, he would write it on some rocks before death overtook him, since he was unwilling to let it be lost to those that came after him. In this they acted just as an affectionate , compassionate, and devoted father acts toward his children, amassing wealth and property for them because he wants to save them the trouble of having to seek it for themselves, and because he fears that they will be unable to do so if they seek it. In our time, the utmost a scholar can know is by drawing on their knowledge, the most beneficent deeds that a benefactor may do is by emulating their conduct, and the best speech that a speaker among us can find is by looking in their writings , so that he appears to be conversing with them and listening to them. 169 169 169 169 Ibn al-Muqaffa However, what we find in their books are merely a selection of their views and their choice sayings. We discover that they have left nothing for an eloquent speaker who wants to describe something, which they have not said first—neither in the glorification of God Almighty and in making people desirous of His favor, nor in belittling this world and making them renounce it; neither in documenting the various branches of knowledge, their classification and subdivision of their parts, the clarification of their methods, and the exposition of various topics, nor in describing the several types of proper conduct440 and different kinds of ethics. There is nothing, after them, left to be said on any lofty subject. All that remains are a few things: insignificant441 matters that might suggest themes for lesser intellects , things deriving from the great instances of wisdom and sayings of the ancients . This is part of what I intend to write in this treatise of mine, on the various types of proper conduct of which people are in need. Chapter describing the principles of proper conduct in religion and other things You who seek after proper conduct: learn the principles, then learn the details. Many people look for the details while ignoring the principles, and so achieve nothing. He who secures the principles has no need, consequently, of the details. If, later, he hits upon a detail, having secured the principle, all the better. In the matter of religion, the principle is that you hold fast to a correct belief, avoid major sins, and fulfill the religious obligations. Hold fast to this, as something indispensable at every moment, like someone who knows he will perish if he is deprived of it. If, after that, you are able to go beyond this by deepening your knowledge of religion and of worship, then all the better. In the matter of preserving one’s physical wellbeing, the principle is not to burden the body with too much food...


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