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Tricia Pethic
Dr. Michot

r Survey

n oI the Scroll, Luqma

n of the Qurᵓa

Wisdom Traditions in Conversation with Tafasi


odest the rophet uh ammad was reported to have said ‘can onl bring about good.
When this saying was told by ᶜmra

n b. usan d. a ompanion of the rophet
another ompanion us ayr b. Kaᶜb countered with a different saing from another source: t
is written in the hikma that ‘modest is partl gravit and partl imperturbabilit. ᶜmra

replied in irritation ‘ am telling ou about the essenger of God and ou are telling me about
your scroll!”

The above quote demonstrates the tension that existed, and continues to exist, between
the acceptance of wisdom traditions, and the revelation or inspired words of prophets. Do the
latter render the former obsolete? ᶜImra

n‟s discomfort with consulting a scroll while a prophet
lived among his people, seems at odds with the fact that the Qurᵓa

n, in giving a nod to Luqma

appears to lend credence to the already-known Luqma

nian wisdom that then circulated, just as it
did for other well-known figures such as al-Khidr. The Companions‟ readiness to hear non-

nic inIormation about Luqma

n may surprise segments of the Muslim community who are
closer perhaps to ᶜImra

n‟s point oI view, than Bus ayr‟s. But Bus ayr was not alone, as we shall
see Irom Suwayd Ibn S a

mit and other Companions. While some figures are mentioned in the

n by name, the identities of others are further elucidated in the aha

dith, while the identities
of others are left entirely vague in both sources. The taIsi

r literature is a valuable resource that
provides an indication of what sources were turned to throughout the ages in order to resolve

Dimitri Gutas, “Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature: Nature and Scope,” Journal of the American Oriental Society,
101, No. 1( Jan-Mar 1981): 49.

questions about the text, be it aha

dith, an intertextual approach, or wisdom traditions as
demonstrated here.

n, According to God and His Messenger

Compared to the wisdom traditions oI the Middle East regarding Luqma

n, what comes
down to us from the Qurᵓa

n and aha

dith of the Prophet is comparatively small. The modern
commentator, Mawdu

di, (d.1979) relates from Ibn Hisha

m‟s (d. 833) Si

rah an encounter between
the Prophet and Suwayd Ibn S a

mit, who compared his speech to that of Luqma

n‟s scroll which
was in his possession. The Prophet (unIamiliar with Luqma

n?) asked to hear its contents. He
approved of them, but then recited from the Qurᵓa

n, saying that what he had was better. In
another narrative, the Prophet appears Iamiliar with Luqma

n. Ibn Kathi

r (d.1373) notes, “Ima

Ah mad recorded that Ibn ᶜUmar said, "The Messenger of Allah said, „Luqma

n the Wise used to
say: when something is entrusted to the care of Allah, He protects it.‟”
It may be useful for
Iurther studies to determine when the verses oI Luqma

n were revealed in relation to the above
anecdote to reveal whether the Prophet‟s Iirst exposure to Luqma

n was through Suwayd Ibn
S a

mit, or through the verses oI Luqma

n revealed to him. I will now turn to a brief exploration of
these verses.



“nd remember when uqma

n said unto his son, when he was exhorting him: O my
dear son! Ascribe no partners unto Allah. Lo! to ascribe partners (unto Him) is a tremendous
wrong (13) And We have enjoined upon man concerning his partners - His mother beareth him
in weakness upon weakness, and his weaning is in two years - Give thanks unto Me and unto thy
parents. Unto Me is the journeying. (14) But if they strive with thee to make thee ascribe unto Me
as partner that of which thou hast no knowledge, then obey them not. Consort with them in the
world kindly, and follow the path of him who repenteth unto Me. Then unto Me will be your
return, and I shall tell you what ye used to do (15) O my dear son! Lo! though it be but the


weight of a grain of mustard-seed, and though it be in a rock, or in the heavens, or in the earth,
Allah will bring it forth. Lo! Allah is Subtle, Aware. (16) O my dear son! Establish worship and
enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity, and persevere whatever may befall thee. Lo! that is of the
steadfast heart of things. (17) Turn not thy cheek in scorn toward folk, nor walk with pertness in
the land. Lo! Allah loveth not each braggart boaster. (18) Be modest in thy bearing and subdue
thy voice. Lo! the harshest of all voices is the voice of the ass. 19” [31:13-19, Pickthall]

In verse 13, Luqma

n admonishes his son. However, in a concept called iltiIa

t, the Qurᵓa

often changes point of view and in verses 14-15, the speaker is God. The fact that verses 14-15
are spoken by God is not only borne out by the text itself, but also in the hadith literature.
Several commentators say that these verses, which enjoin unto mankind (insan) duty towards
parents, are in fact descending with regard to S aᶜd Ibn Abi Waqqas, a companion. This is the
opinion oI the unknown author oI Tanwi

r al Miqba

s [Ibn ᶜAbba

s (d. 68/687) or Muh ammad ibn
Yaᵓqub al-Fairouzaba

di (d. 817/1414)].
It is also the opinion of Ibn Kathi

r (d.1373) who derives
from al-Tabara

ni the story oI S aᵓd‟s mother who took up a hunger strike in hopes that her son
would abandon Islam. Here he is counseled to continue his good treatment, but not to heed her
demands. The Qurᵓa

n, however, does not mention S aᵓd by name, and opens this advice to anyone
in similar circumstances. Then the Iocus changes back to Luqma

n who finishes his advice to his
son in verses 16-19. This is the entirety of the Qurᵓa

n‟s speech concerning Luqma


n, According to Popular Lore




di (d.1979) also informs us that the pre-Islamic poetry of ᶜImrᵓ al-Qays, Labi

d, al-
Aᵓsha, and T arafa made reIerence to Luqma

. The modern commentator Muh ammad Asad (d.
1992) also points to reIerences to Luqma

n in the poetry oI Ziya

d Ibn Muᶜawiyah (also known as

bighah adh-Dhubya

ni) in the sixth century just prior to the Prophet.
But these were all
references to a certain Luqma

n from the tribe of ᶜA d who lived a long life, second only to al-
Khidr. These tales often echoed, and would continue to echo aIter the advent oI Isla

m, takes of
Aesop and Ahiqar, Greek and Hebrew figures respectively.

The Qurᵓa

n assumes the audience has prior knowledge of Luqma

n. This is the case since
no further mention is given of his identity, occupation, or where he lived. These verses appear to
have prompted discussion among the companions who apparently had no qualms about sharing
the accumulated cultural knowledge oI Luqma

n; notably, their speculations concerning him are
rarely attributed to the Prophet.
Ibn Kathi

r (d.1373) notes,
“It was narrated that As-Sa

ri bin Yah ya said: "Luqma

n said to his son: `Wisdom puts the poor in
the company of kings.''' It was also narrated that ᶜAwn bin ᶜAbdullah said: "Luqma

n said to his
son: `O my son! When you come to a gathering oI people, greet them with Sala

m, then sit at the
edge of the group, and do not speak until you see that they have finished speaking. Then if they
remember Allah, join them, but if they speak of anything else, then leave them and go to another

First, there are his origins; was he an Ethiopian slave or a Nubian? Ja

bir bin ᶜAbdullah
holds he is the latter, as does Saᶜi

d ibn al Musayyib, who once invoked Luqma

n as a positive role
model for dark-skinned people,

Zafar Ishaq Ansari, Ed. Towards Understanding the Quran, Vol. 8 (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 2007): 129.
Muhammad Asad.,The Message of the Quran, (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1980), 628.
B. Heller, “Lukman,” in Vol. V, Encyclopedia of Islam, Ed. C.E. Bosworth, E. Van Donzel, B. Lewis, and Ch.
Pellat. (Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1986): 812-813

“ Al-ᶜAwza

ᶜi said, "ᶜAbdur-Rahma

n bin Harmalah told me; `A black man came to Saᶜi

d bin Al-
Musayyib to ask him a question, and Saᶜi

d bin Al-Musayyib said to him: "Do not be upset
because you are black, Ior among the best oI people were three who were black: Bila

l, Mahjaᶜ
the freed slave of ᶜUmar bin Al-Khat a

b, and Luqma

n the Wise, who was a black Nubian with
thick lips.''

Ibn Kathi

r further notes that “SuIya

n Ath-Thawri said, narrating from Al-Ashᶜath, from ᶜIkrimah,
from Ibn ᶜAbbas,” that he |Ibn ᶜAbbas| was oI the opinion that Luqma

n was an Ethiopian. Kha

ar-Ribaᶜi concurred and even shared a lengthy anecdote,
“Ibn Jari

r recorded that Kha

lid Ar-Raba

ᶜi said: "Luqma

n was an Ethiopian slave who was a
carpenter. His master said to him, `Slaughter this sheep for us,' so he slaughtered it. [His master]
said: `Bring the best two pieces from it,' so he brought out the tongue and the heart. Then time
passed, as much as Allah willed, and [his master] said: `Slaughter this sheep for us,' so he
slaughtered it. [His master] said, `Bring the worst two morsels from it,' so he brought out the
tongue and the heart. His master said to him, `I told you to bring out the best two pieces, and you
brought these, then I told you to bring out the worst two pieces, and you brought these!' Luqma

said, `There is nothing better than these if they are good, and there is nothing worse than these if
they are bad.'''

The companions also pondered his spiritual status; was he a prophet or a merely a wise
man? Ibn Kathi

r invokes Ibn ᶜAbba

s, Ja

bir bin ᶜAbdullah, Saᶜid Ibn al Musayyib and Muja

hid as
part of the clear majority who view him as a righteous man. It was ᶜIkrima alone who thought
him to be a prophet.

Although he appears to have drawn inIormation Irom Heller‟s article in Encyclopedia oI

m, the aIorementioned commentator Mawdu

di attacks the same Orientalists whom he says
provide fabricated stories in order to show the Qurᵓa

n‟s divergence (or borrowing?) Irom them.

In a somewhat contradictory fashion, he acknowledges that Derenbourg‟s Fables de Loqman le
Sage was merely a translation of a work compiled in the thirteenth century and was not of

Heller. 812.
Ansari. 130-131.

Derenbourg‟s own fabrication. For Mawdu

di, wisdom traditions seem threatening; they are not
seen as conIirming and elucidating upon what is revealed about Luqma

n in the Qurᵓa


n and al-Khidr: Wisdom of the Ages Or Limitation of the Sages?
Another briefly mentioned Qurᵓa

nic Iigure is al-Khidr. Like Luqma

n, his existence points
to the promise of lofty spiritual attainment for non-prophets; this is perhaps what causes the Sufis
in particular to draw upon these figures at length, despite their brief treatment in the Qurᵓa

Some shared qualities of both sages emerge from the tafsir and popular traditions. Both are
sages, who occasionally converse with prophets, who live extraordinarily long lives, and who are
both symbolically connected to green/vegetation.
The allusion to green as a symbol of imperishable wisdom is borne out by Muh ammad
Asad (d.1992) who considers al-Khidr as an allegorical figure:
“In the Tradition on the authority of Ubayy ibn Kaᶜb, this mysterious Sage is spoken of as Al-
Khadir or Al-Khidr, meaning "the Green One". Apparently this is an epithet rather than a name,
implying (according to popular legend) that his wisdom was ever-fresh ("green") and
imperishable: a notion which bears out the assumption that we have here an allegoric figure
symbolizing the utmost depth of mystic insight accessible to man.”

We must turn to a Shiᶜi commentary by Ayatullah Agha Mahdi Pooya (d. 1973) to find a
description oI Luqma

n that seems to overlap with the descriptions of al-Khidr as the travelling
sage who is affiliated with things fresh and green:

n, it is said, was not a prophet oI Allah but was blessed with wisdom. He was the nephew
oI prophet Ayyu

b. He lived Ior one thousand years, Irom the time oI Dawu

d to the time oI Yu

Once, when he was asleep, angels came and asked if he would like to be Allah's deputy on the
earth. To this, he replied that if it was a command from Allah, he would accept it, however, if
Allah had asked his desire he would like to be excused because it was a great responsibility to
dispense justice among men, and he could not bear the burden.

Another saying about Luqma

n is that he was an Ethiopian carpenter whom the Greek called
Aesop.…It is said that whenever he passed over any vegetation they used to disclose their
respective properties latent in them. He used to visit Dawu

d and discuss with him complicated
issues to Iind out their solution….”

This Shiᶜi commentator provides several new claims about Luqma

n, from undisclosed sources.
These sources appear to have been Irom the genre oI qis as al-anbiya

ᵓ, such as al-Thaᶜlabi.
these stories, Luqma

n refuses the offer of prophethood and he also advises Dawu


n and al-Khidr also converge in the type of knowledge bestowed upon them.
Regarding verse 18:68, in which al-Khidr alludes to something which Mu

sa has no
comprehensive knowledge about (khabran), Asad translates this as experience and preIers al-

zi‟s understanding that even Mu

sa did not “Iully comprehend the inner reality oI things (al

ᵓiq al-ashya

ᵓ kama

hiya).” This would seem to describe the joining oI the two seas that Mu

longs for in previous verses as two forms of knowledge, that of the outward (dha

hir) and inward

t in). His experiences with al-Khidr show him that “appearance and reality do not always
coincide,” and because there is a knowledge beyond our perception, Asad says that Allah‟s usage
of an allegory is apt here.
The motif of two forms of knowledge is repeated in Ibn al-ᶜArabi‟s treatment oI Luqma

in his Bezels of Wisdom. He highlights Luqma

n‟s description oI God as,
which means knowing by experience, as in His saying, We will surely test you
until We know, indicating knowledge by immediate experience….Here God is distinguishing
between knowledge acquired by direct [sensory] experience and absolute knowledge, direct
experience being restricted to the Iaculties.”

Heller, 812.
R.W.J Austin, Trans. Bezels of Wisdom, (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 238.

Mustansir Mir argues that the verses oI Luqma

n “seem| | to be arguing that Luqma

wisdom (h ikma) led him to discover insights essentially similar to some of those furnished by
prophetic revelation. In other words, reason, if used properly, brings one to the threshold of
revelation and points to the same broad conclusions the revelation presents and conIirms.”

This, indeed, is wisdom for the ages.
But Mir‟s cautious use oI the term “to the threshold oI revelation” points to an underlying
danger inherent in the argument (thus, the limitation of the sages). Dimitri Gutas‟ inquiry into
whether the maxims oI Luqma

n constituted a written body of wisdom literature (as the scrolls oI
Bus ayr b. Kaᶜb and Suwayd Ibn S a

mit seem to suggest), is useful here:
“Now the early Muslim commentators on the Qurᵓa

n did not acknowledge the
applicability oI the meaning oI „maxim‟ to the Qurᵓa

nic use oI h ikma, apparently in order to
avoid according any authority to collections of maxims. If God—as the argument in favor of
maxims would run—grants worthy mortals collections of maxims, which can be used, as
discussed above, to guide proper conduct, then any collection of established respectability, such
as that oI Luqma

n, could be considered as God-given and hence equally authoritative with the

n. In fact there are indications that such arguments were used.”

The sages must be limited because theirs was not a revelation, although their wisdom
was God-given. The failure to emphasize this fact opens the way to wisdom literature, with its
long and difficult-to-verify past, devaluing revelation. Additionally, Gutas cites a detractor of the
Prophet, Na

dr b. Ha

rith, as evidence of a hidden body of written maxim literature; he accused the
Prophet of doing nothing more than he did in having his scribes write extant ancient tales on
scrolls. If this is the case, that writing down maxims was commonplace, this explains the matter-

John Renard, Ed. Windows on the House oI Isla

m: Muslim Sources on Spirituality and Religious Life. (Los
Angeles, University of California Press, 1998), 145.
Gutas. 53

of-fact way in which some of the Companions resorted to such scrolls to understand the more
vague references in the Qurᵓa

That some form of scrolls with Luqma

n‟s sayings were passed around is also proven in
the Coptic Christian tradition. Mark Swanson notes the extensive usage oI Luqma

nian wisdom in
a seventeenth century manuscript of Coptic sermons, as well as among the Syrian Melkite
The Christians themselves quite possibly passed down tales oI Luqma

n from the
Jews, perhaps best symbolized by “the convert to Islam Irom Judaism and transmitter oI pre-
Islamic materials Wahb Ibn Munabbih (d. c. 730)….He is said to have read ten thousand ba

chapters? headings?—oI Luqma

n‟s h ikmah.”

It is clear that whenever the Qurᶜa

n mentioned a figure that the Companions were
unfamiliar with, they received whatever the Prophet offered them in the way of explanation.
However, they were also content to draw upon a large corpus of stories that were either oral or
written, or both. This practice continues in the taIsi

r where one can find additional sayings that
are not attributable to the Qurᶜa

n or to the Prophet. The significance of this is that the Qurᶜa

appeared to have confirmed the integrity of certain figures who were at the time looked to for
wisdom and inspiration. However, there was a limit to how much stock could be taken in these
wisdom traditions, whose origins were geographically widespread. There was also a danger that
consulting these “wisdom scrolls” could lead to people becoming more concerned with searching
out and disseminating their contents, rather than acts that for many people would be deemed
more beneficial, for example, the memorization and dissemination of the Qurᶜa

n with its
confirmed revelatory status. ThereIore, it is not the case that the taIsi

r tradition is hermetically

Mark N Swanson, “Common Wisdom: Luqma

n the Wise,” Currents in Theology and Mission, (Vol. 33. No. 3.
June 2006): 246.
Ibid. 249.

sealed off from the larger body of wisdom literature, in many cases it perpetuated it and allowed
such wisdom traditions to live on, albeit in a more cautionary fashion.


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Accessed May 15, 2011.

ri, ZaIar Isha

q. Ed. Towards Understanding the Qurᵓa

n. Vol. 8, The Isla

mic Foundation:
Leicester), 2007.
Asad, Muh ammad. The Message of the Qurᵓa

n. Da

r al-Andalus. Gibraltar: 1980.
Austin, R.W.J. Trans. Bezels of Wisdom. Paulist Press: New York, 1980.
Gutas, Dimitri. “Classical Arabic Wisdom Literature: Nature and Scope.” Journal of the
American Oriental Society, (Vol. 101, No. 1 Jan-Mar 1981): 49-86.
Heller, B. “Lukman.” Encyclopedia of Islam.Vol. V. E.J. Brill: Netherlands, 1986.
Renard, John. Ed. Windows on the House oI Isla

m: Muslim Sources on Spirituality and
Religious Life. University of California Press: Los Angeles, 1998.
Swanson, Mark N. “Common Wisdom: Luqma

n the Wise,” Currents in Theology and Mission,
(Vol. 33. No. 3. June 2006): 246-252.