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195 195 Essayistic Prose: Al-Tawḥīdī on the Superiority of the Arabs500 Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī’s al-Imtāʿ wal-muʾānasah (Enjoyment and Geniality ) presents discussions conducted in Baghdad at the court of the vizier Ibn Saʿdān al-ʿĀriḍ, who was executed in 374/984 after a short period in office. They are wide ranging, dealing with philosophy, religion, poetry, language, and various other topics. The following text illustrates the debates and polemics regarding the movement called Shuʿūbiyyah, which claimed cultural equality or superiority for the Persians over the Arabs.501 It is unknown whether al-Tawḥīdī (who died at an advanced age after 400/1010, perhaps as late as 414/1023) was himself ethnically an Arab or a Persian, but culturally he was thoroughly Arabic. His polished prose mostly avoids sajʿ and, with its balanced phrases, its long series of near-synonyms, and often long periods—the result of cumulative addition rather than intricate syntax—emulates al-Jāḥiẓ. Normally a translation into English would omit many such near-synonymous words and phrases, but in order to give a taste of the style most of it has been kept. The present translation omits a number of passages, as indicated. I was in his presence on another night, when he opened the session by asking, “Do you think the Arabs are superior to the non-Arabs, or vice versa?”502 “Scholars recognize four (civilized) nations,” I answered, “the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Persians, and the Indians. Three of these are non-Arab. It is difficult to say that the Arabs, on their own, are better than all these three, what with all they have in common and in what ways they differ.” The vizier said, “I meant the Persians only.” “Before giving my own judgement,” I said, “I shall relate the words of Ibn alMuqaffa ʿ;503 he was a full-blood Persian, with a wholly non-Arab ancestry, highly esteemed by people of merit. He is the author of al-Yatīmah; and he said: ‘With this book I leave the writers of epistles in the shallows!’” The vizier said, “Let us hear it, with God’s blessing and assistance!” So I explained: 196 196 196 196 Prose “Shabīb ibn Shaybah504 said: We were standing in the middle of al-Mirbad,505 a place where nobles and ordinary people often meet; a number of leading personages were present. Then Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ arrived. We all smiled at him and wanted to ask him things: we were pleased to see him. He said, ‘Why are you sitting on your animals here in this place? By God, if the caliph were to send people all over the earth to find men like you he would find nobody but you! How about going to Ibn Burthun’s house?506 It has “shade stretching,”507 it is protected from the sun, it faces the north, and it will refresh the animals and the servants. We will make the earth our cradle,508 which is the best and most comfortable carpet, and we will listen to one another. That is a better way of sitting together and we will have a better conversation.’ “We readily agreed. We dismounted at Ibn Burthun’s place and were breathing in the north wind when Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ turned to us and asked, ‘Which is the most intelligent people?’ “We thought he must mean the Persians, so, wanting to seek his favor and to flatter him, we said, ‘The Persians are the most intelligent people!’ “But he said, ‘No, they do not deserve to be called thus because they aren’t. They are people who have been taught and who have learned; they have been given examples which they copied and imitated. Others started things for them and they followed them; but they did not originate or invent anything.’ “So we said, ‘The Byzantines!’ “But he replied, ‘Not them either. They have strong bodies, they are good at building and at geometry but know nothing besides these two things and are good at nothing else.’ “We said, ‘The Chinese then!’ “He said, ‘They are good at handicraft and making artefacts; they have no deep thought or reflection.’ “We said, ‘Well then, the Turks!’ “He said, ‘They are wild animals that can be made to fight.’ “We said, ‘The Indians?’ “He said, ‘People of delusion, humbug, and conjurer’s tricks.’ “We said, ‘The Africans!’509 “He said, ‘Dumb beasts to be...


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