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Man versus Society in Medieval Islam

Brill Classics in Islam

volume 7

The titles published in this series are listed at

(Above) Yusuf in prison and (below) Zuleikha as an old woman before Yusuf. Mid-17th century
Safavid period. Ink on paper H: 19.8 W: 10.4 cm. Iran.
(freer gallery of art, smithsonian institution, washington, d.c.:
purchase, fi953.37)
Man versus Society
in Medieval Islam

Franz Rosenthal

Edited by

Dimitri Gutas

leiden | boston
Cover illustration: Dioscurides, Materia medica. Codex medicus Graecus 1, f. 167v, dating from 532ad.
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.
Image of κάνναβις ἥμερος (cannabis sativa), transliterated in Arabic in upper right and, in Hebrew, in lower
left corner, and translated into Arabic as qinnab bustānī, garden cannabis, in the left margin, for the benefit
of the illustrator of the Arabic translation. See below, p. 155.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rosenthal, Franz, 1914-2003, author.

[Works. Selections]
Man versus society in medieval Islam / by Franz Rosenthal ; edited by Dimitri Gutas.
volumes cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 978-90-04-27088-6 (hardback : alk. paper) – ISBN 978-90-04-27089-3 (e-book) 1. Islamic civilization.
2. Islamic Empire–Social life and customs. I. Gutas, Dimitri, editor. II. Title.

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Foreword ix
Dimitri Gutas
Major Reviews of the Reprinted Works xv
Note on the Layout of the Volume xviii
List of Original Publications and Acknowledgments xix

I. Introduction: The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History:

Approaches and Methods 1

II. The Muslim Concept of Freedom Prior to the Nineteenth Century 21

III. The Herb: Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society 131

IV. Gambling in Islam 335

V. “Sweeter than Hope”: Complaint and Hope in Medieval Islam 517

VI. The Individual and Society

1 “I am you”—Individual Piety and Society in Islam 697
2 Gifts and Bribes: The Muslim View 729
3 Cannabis and Alcohol: The Green and the Red 746
4 The Stranger in Medieval Islam 754
5 On Suicide in Islam 797

VII. Sexuality, Gender, and the Family

6 Fiction and Reality: Sources for the Role of Sex in Medieval Muslim
Society 839
7 Male and Female: Described and Compared 862
8 Reflections on Love in Paradise 892
9 Muslim Social Values and Literary Criticism: Reflections on the
Ḥadīth of Umm Zarʿ 909
10 Child Psychology in Islam 941
viii contents

VIII. Science and Learning in Society

11 Materials for an Appraisal of Knowledge as a Societal Force 967
12 Al-Asṭurlābī and as-Samawʾal on Scientific Progress 1001
13 The Defense of Medicine in the Medieval Muslim World 1011
14 The Physician in Medieval Muslim Society 1026
15 Significant Uses of Arabic Writing 1043
16 “Of Making Many Books There Is No End”: The Classical Muslim
View 1066

Index of Selected Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Words 1089

Index of Some Terms in Other Languages 1106
Indx of Proper Names and Places 1108
Index of Subjects 1133
Index of Qurʾān Citations 1157

The remarkable scholarly career of the most brilliant representative of the

heroic and final stage of classical Orientalism, Franz Rosenthal (1914–2003),1
was crowned by a series of studies on the “historical sociology” of pre-modern
Islamic civilization.2 In book after book and article after article for over fifty
years, he studied what he called “the tensions and conflicts that existed be-
tween individuals and society in medieval Islam,” a subject to which he gave
the title Man versus Society in Islam. Rosenthal had initially intended to treat
the subject in a single large work, but the great variety of topics that were
to be treated as well as the vastness and complexity of the available material
made him realize that it would not “be possible for [him] to bring to a satis-
factory conclusion a comprehensive work such as [he] had envisaged,” and he
decided to publish his various studies independently, though he cautioned the
reader that the “outlook and emphasis” of each study “may become clearer if
viewed against the background from which it originated.”3 Though each one
of his studies on these topics is itself a highly original, thorough, and authori-
tative treatment, the full force and significance of the unitary project he orig-
inally conceived, the “background” he speaks about which gives meaning to
the whole—the panorama of pre-modern Muslim social history—cannot be
properly perceived and appreciated unless it is read in juxtaposition with the
others. To that end, but also to provide easy access to these scattered studies
and to stimulate further research, they are here reprinted collectively in a sin-
gle publication, thereby realizing Rosenthal’s original comprehensive work and
fulfilling a desideratum expressed by others.4
The studies that form part of this projected work and are reprinted in this
collection are, first, four monographs, presented in chronological order: The

1 As I called him in my introductory essay to the reprint of his Knowledge Triumphant, Leiden:
Brill, 2007, p. xiii. Franz Rosenthal was Sterling Professor of Arabic and Semitic Studies at
Yale University (1956–1985). For his biographical memoir see my obituary in Proceedings of the
American Philosophical Society 149.3 (2005) 441–446, and, in greater detail, David C. Reisman’s
“In Memoriam: Franz Rosenthal. August 31, 1914–April 8, 2003,” Aleph 3 (2003) 329–342. A
bibliography of his works can be found in Oriens 36 (2001) xiii–xxxiv.
2 “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History” p. 1; below, p. 3.
3 Foreword to The Muslim Concept of Freedom, p. viii; below, p. 24.
4 E.g., by Ernest Gellner in his review of The Muslim Concept of Freedom in Philosophy, 39.147
(1964) 86.
x foreword

Muslim Concept of Freedom Prior to the Nineteenth Century (1960), originally

intended to be the first chapter of the comprehensive work, followed by The
Herb. Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society (1971), Gambling in Islam (1975),
and “Sweeter than Hope”. Complaint and Hope in Medieval Islam (1983). These
are followed by fifteen articles written at different times, clustered under three
headings of my own, “The Individual and Society,” “Sexuality, Gender, and the
Family,” and “Science and Learning in Society.” Exceptionally included under
this last heading, because of its direct relevance, is the final section in Rosen-
thal’s Knowledge Triumphant (Chapter VIII,4), “Materials for an Appraisal of
Knowledge as a Societal Force,” which discusses, along with the other articles
there, society’s management of the production and dissemination of knowl-
edge by individual scientists, philosophers, and scholars. They are all intro-
duced, as orientation, by the single article Rosenthal wrote on the method of
his project, “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History: Approaches
and Methods.”
Rosenthal’s core conception and starting point for his enterprise was the
age-old notion—truism, really—, perhaps best expressed by Aristotle, that
man is a social animal (ζῷον πολιτικόν), according to which man and society
constitute a whole with two correlative entities, one necessitating the other,
one existing only through, and being incomprehensible without, the other. But
man is also an individual with the self-consciousness of an individual, with all
that that implies, making the symbiotic relationship adversarial, one of strug-
gle: it is “the struggle between the manifestations of the human constant and
the religious norms devised to tame them somehow for the good of society,”5
and hence Rosenthal’s title, “Man versus Society.”
The essence of the adversarial relationship hinges on, or is identical with, the
correlative concept of freedom: man is free from something or free to do some-
thing, this something being at each instant determined through the relation-
ship. Rosenthal accordingly starts on his project with a discussion of freedom,
being well aware of “the relative character of the concept”6 and its centrality
in his research. Indeed the concept of freedom was a pivotal concept in Exis-
tentialist philosophy which dominated mid-twentieth century intellectual life
in Europe and its extension, or transfer, in the United States. The Existentialist
quest for a freedom that would be beyond its correlative definition, an abso-
lute freedom, leads to the concept of the absurd, and is, in the end, “absolutely

5 “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History” p. 6; below, p. 10; emphasis added.
6 The Muslim Concept of Freedom, p. 2; below, p. 26.
foreword xi

incomprehensible,” as Karl Jaspers, whom Rosenthal cites, declared.7 These dis-

cussions percolated into the popular press also in the United States; in a brief
article introducing “French Existentialism” in the weekly magazine The Nation,
Jaspers’ former student and subsequent lifelong friend, Hannah Arendt, stated
succinctly the issue that is at the heart of Rosenthal’s project:

The French Existentialists … are united on two main lines of rebellion:

first, the rigorous repudiation of what they call the esprit sérieux;8 and
second, the angry refusal to accept the world as it is as the natural,
predestined milieu of man.9 L’esprit sérieux, which is the original sin
according to the new philosophy, may be equated with respectability. The
“serious” man is one who thinks of himself as president of his business, as
a member of the Legion of Honor, as a member of the faculty, but also as
father, as husband, or as any other half-natural, half social function. For
by so doing he agrees to the identification of himself with an arbitrary
function which society has bestowed. L’esprit sérieux is the very negation
of freedom, because it leads man to agree to and accept the necessary
deformation which every human being must undergo when he is fitted into

This concept of freedom, where the individual struggles against being defined
only in terms of the correlative relationship with society, “against the society
which is his creature, his savior, and his oppressor” (as Rosenthal eloquently
put it11), crops up in the writings of many peoples and is certainly not restricted
to the Existentialists,12 but it is they who discussed it most vehemently and
brought out its various shades in mid-twentieth century. Rosenthal’s project
and the problématique in which it is conceived falls within this broader intellec-
tual context (even if it is irrelevant whether he read the French existentialists or

7 Ibid. p. 3; below, p. 27.

8 I.e., spirit of seriousness, a notion elaborated upon mostly by Simone de Beauvoir, though
the views presented here were common to the major French Existentialists.
9 I.e., in the context of our discussion, the fact that man is a social animal and has meaning
only in this correlative relationship.
10 The Nation, February 23, 1946, p. 226. All italics are Arendt’s except for the last sentence
which I emphasize.
11 The Herb, p. 2; below, p. 135.
12 As in Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), to take an example from nineteenth
century American literature, who “would prefer not to” be a scrivener. Both Camus and
Sartre admired the American author, on whom they both wrote essays.
xii foreword

not13), and he sought to analyze and understand the manifold manifestations

of this perennial and universal struggle in medieval Islamic societies.14
The “human constant” which is pitted against society Rosenthal took from
natural drives and psychological urges and attitudes. To the former belong cer-
tainly the sexual drive and, if one is to follow the almost universally acknowl-
edged, by now, thesis of Johan Huizinga in Homo ludens (1938), the instinct
for play. “Next to the control of sex as the most pressing issue confronting
human society,” Rosenthal begins The Herb, “the control of the instinct and
need for play among men has been a matter of constant concern and consid-
erable experimentation. Man is homo ludens, the playing animal … . Gambling
is the outstanding example of a playful flight away from harsh reality … . The
consumption of stimulants or depressants in solid, liquid, or gaseous form … is
another.” To each of these two forms of play Rosenthal devoted a monograph,
and to sexuality a number of articles (Part VII).
The psychological urges, desires, and attitudes consist of “those intricate
processes of the human mind by which man has tried to gain an understanding
of and thereby at least some degree of control over his inner environment,”
including, for example, “the specifically human ability to remember and reflect
upon the past and to look ahead toward the future and speculate on it,”15 the
theme of the complaint about the times which he investigated at length in
his monograph on Complaint and Hope; or, “one of mankind’s strongest urges,”
“mobility, the need or desire to move over short or long distances,” which he
studied in the article on “The Stranger” (Part VI, no. 4); or “the individual’s
yearning for other-identification [which] reflects the search for an alternative
to social organization as man’s best hope for increased personal power,” the
theme he presented in the highly original article “I am you” (Part VI, no. 1);
or man’s natural desire to know (to borrow Aristotle’s opening line in the

13 Though he did read Jaspers, as already noted. And one may wonder whether it is com-
pletely accidental that Rosenthal’s very first article in this project, “On Suicide in Islam”
(1946; below, pp. 797–836), and his very last, “The Stranger in Medieval Islam” (1997; below,
pp. 754–796), happen to be, respectively, the subject of Albert Camus’ classic essay, Le
Mythe de Sisyphe (1942), and the title and subject of his equally classic novel, L’Étranger.
14 It is thus quite clear that it is not “en raison de la valeur assumée par la notion de liberté
dans les sociétés modernes qu’ il [Rosenthal] cherche à analyser cette dernière dans le
monde de l’ Islam,” as D. Sourdel suggested in the review of The Muslim Concept of Freedom,
Arabica 9 (1962) 91. Rosenthal was well aware of the perils of importing modern value
systems in the study of historical societies, against which he guarded himself meticulously,
as will be discussed next.
15 “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History” p. 7; below, p. 11.
foreword xiii

Metaphysics), the social context and management of which he investigated in

the studies in Part VIII.
The method Rosenthal followed in the execution of his project was basic as
it was arduous. Given the novelty of the subject in Arabic and Islamic studies
and the almost complete lack of previous scholarship, “the most immediate
and needed task,” he decided, was “to provide information on what medieval
Muslims knew about, and how they looked at” all these themes that were part
of the project.16 This involved combing and examining the entire written record
in pre-modern Arabic sources. As he described his method,

The only possible approach open to us is the collection of whatever infor-

mation the sources can be made to yield, combined with the cautious
evaluation of that information on the basis of quantitative and qualita-
tive indications. The main weight of the investigation has to be carried by
the sheer accumulation of evidence. … It may be contended that the fol-
lowing discussion is too much oriented toward verbal usage, words plain
and simple, and that too little attention is paid to implicit evidence …
where … the thought processes underlying them can be presumed to be
present. … [I]t is hardly true that … it makes no difference which words
are used once the intended meaning is understood. Meanings become
clear to us only after we have painstakingly connected them with certain
words. It is the words, each one of them with multiple shades of meaning,
that, slogan-like, have a life of their own and exercise a powerful influence
upon emotions and attitudes. Therefore, our preference for words serves
the valuable purpose of bringing us as close as possible to developing a
feeling for seeing things as the people of the past themselves did. It helps
us to avoid as much as possible speculation about what existed and was
active only subconsciously and is perceived by us as existing only as the
result of our substituting our own ways of thinking.17

The result is the presentation in this volume of a vast amount of material,

expertly collected and judiciously translated to reflect the meaning it had at
its time, thereby enabling a historically accurate understanding of medieval
Islamic societies and deflecting the importation in our interpretations of
modern views, tendencies, and ideological agenda. As Rosenthal noted, “the
developing of interpretational generalities” was not his aim for “[i]t is not the

16 The Herb, p. 3; below, p. 136.

17 “Sweeter than Hope”, pp. viii–ix; below, pp. 521–522; emphasis added.
xiv foreword

generalities but the details that count … . It is more important to explain and
preserve the information provided by the indigenous sources on their own
terms, in the hope that the mosaic thus put together will form a meaningful
picture.”18 In particular, he warned, “a dogmatic hankering for general conclu-
sions may merely compromise any true gains.”19
This mosaic of a work is to be studied as much for the meaningful picture
of medieval Islamic societies which the arrangement of the pieces in this col-
lection depicts as for the brilliance of each individual piece, and as much for
its contents as for its method. Especially significant are the many discussions
of terminology, the via regia to a historical understanding of events and con-
cepts, but also of feelings and emotions; they make this reprint “a standard
work of reference, to be consulted on technical terms” for the various subjects
treated.20 The indices of terms and of names and selected topics in the origi-
nal monographs have accordingly been unified, and entries from the articles,
not indexed before, have been incorporated. This new whole, which reflects,
I trust, the comprehensive work originally envisaged by Rosenthal and com-
memorates the centennial of his birth, is more than the sum of its parts and
will provide new impetus and an abundant wealth of material to the study of
the social history of the medieval Islamic world.

Dimitri Gutas
Yale University
December 2013

18 The Herb, pp. 3–4; below, p. 136.

19 “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History” p. 11; below, p. 20. This lecture,
which was delivered in 1980, is Rosenthal’s only essay on methodology, brief discussions
in the introductions to some of his monographs apart, and it constitutes, it would seem,
his direct response both to charges that the Orientalist approach “essentializes” or “rei-
fies” Islam (Edward Said’s Orientalism appeared in 1978) and to its misapplication by
Orientalists—Said’s target—who actually did that. He restated this understanding of the
golden mean in method in the concluding paragraph of “Sweeter than Hope”, p. 150; below,
pp. 693–694. But Rosenthal had already delivered, thirty years before Said, a scathing
critique of culturally biased, unreflective, and, in the end, ignorant Orientalists in the
Introduction to his The Technique and Approach of Muslim Scholarship (Rome: Pontifi-
cium Institutum Biblicum, 1947, pp. 2–5), where he decried, among other failures, their
“misconceptions … which viewed the political history of Islam as a monotonous succes-
sion of despots, its cultural history as an even more monotonous repetition of the identical
forms and ideas, and its religious history as a petrified fossil carefully handed down from
generation to generation.”
20 As astutely noted by R.B. Serjeant in his review of Gambling in Islam in Bulletin of the School
of Oriental and African Studies, 40.3 (1977) 617.
Major Reviews of the Reprinted Works

II The Muslim Concept of Freedom Prior to the Nineteenth Century.

Reviewed by:

Elmer H. Douglas, Middle East Journal, 15.4 (1961) 470–472.

Ernest Gellner, Philosophy, 39.147 (1964) 85–86.
Ann K.S. Lambton, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 25.1/3 (1962)
D. Sourdel, Arabica, 9 (1962) 91–93.

III The Herb. Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society. Reviewed by:

Lenn Evan Goodman, Middle East Journal, 28.1 (1974) 86–87.

Sami Hamarneh, Pharmacy in History, 15.2 (1973) 98.
Fritz Meier, Oriens, 25/26 (1976) 368–370.
R.B. Serjeant, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 35.3 (1972) 633–636.
Jerry Stannard, Isis, 63.4 (1972) 580–581.

IV Gambling in Islam. Reviewed by:

R.B. Serjeant, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 40.3 (1977) 617.
Reinhard Wieber, Die Welt des Islams, 18.1/2 (1977) 145–148.

V “Sweeter than Hope”. Complaint and Hope in Medieval Islam.

Reviewed by:

M. Arkoun, Arabica, 34.3 (1987) 387–388.

J. Janssens, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 47.4 (1985) 663.
xvi major reviews of the reprinted works

VI.1 “‘I am you’—Individual Piety and Society in Islam,” in:

Individualism and Conformity in Classical Islam, ed. by A. Banani
and S. Vryonis Jr. Reviewed by:

Josef van Ess, Die Welt des Islams, 19.1/4 (1979) 227–228.
J. Wansbrough, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 41.3 (1978) 595.

VII.6 “Fiction and Reality: Sources for the Role of Sex in Medieval
Muslim Society,” in: Society and the Sexes in Medieval Islam, ed. by
A. Lutfi al-Sayyid Marsot. Reviewed by:

C.E. Bosworth, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1 (1981)
Valerie J. Hoffman, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 41.4 (1982) 315–316.
G.H.A. Juynboll, Journal of Arabic Literature, 12 (1981) 161–163.
Albert Perdue, Journal of Asian History, 14.2 (1980) 149–150.

VII.8 “Male and Female: Described and Compared,” in: Homoeroticism in

Classical Arabic Literature, ed. by J.J. Wright and E.K. Rowson.
Reviewed by:

Amila Buturovic, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 31.2 (1999) 291–293.
Miriam Cooke, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 34.1 (2000) 95–96.
Sabine Schmidtke, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 62.2 (1999)
Seth Ward, South Atlantic Review, 64.1 (1999) 173–176.

VIII.15 “Significant Uses of Arabic Writing,” Ars Orientalis 4 (1961) 15–23,

repr. in his Four Essays on Art and Literature in Islam. Reviewed by:

Yolande Crowe, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 2 (1973)
Richard Ettinghausen, Artibus Asiae, 34.4 (1972) 353–354.
Géza Fehérvári, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 35.3 (1972) 687.
M.J. Zwettler, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 95.3 (1975) 488–490.
major reviews of the reprinted works xvii

VIII.16 “‘Of Making Many Books There Is no End:’ The Classical Muslim
View,” in: The Book in the Islamic World. The Written Word and
Communication in the Middle East, ed. by G.N. Atiyeh. Reviewed by:

James M. Dening, Middle East Studies Association Bulletin, 30.1 (1996) 78–79.
Tammy Lynn Johnson, The Library Quarterly, 66.4 (1996) 476–478.
James E. Montgomery, Journal of Arabic Literature, 27.3 (1996) 272–273.
William Smyth, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 117.3 (1997) 588–589.
Paul Starkey, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 25.2 (1998) 329–330.
Roberto Tottoli, Oriente Moderno, 16 (77), No. 1 (1997) 133–134.
Note on the Layout of the Volume

All works reprinted in this volume have been typeset anew from the original
publications whose text they reproduce exactly. Minor misprints have been
tacitly corrected. The occasional references and remarks whose addition in the
notes was indispensable are placed in square brackets and signed as “Ed[itor].”
The numbering of footnotes, wherever it was continuous within a chap-
ter or article in the original publication, was also reproduced exactly. In the
three cases where the numbering of the footnotes in the original publication
resumed anew on each page (in works III, VIII.11 and VIII.15), the numbering
in this reprint was changed to continuous, but the original number of the note
was also included in small superscript numbers just before the note. In the case
of VIII.11, the original numbers given in superscript are those of the first edition
of the work (1970); in the 2007 reprint, however, the numbers were changed to
continuous, but these were necessarily omitted.
Each reprinted monograph bears a Roman numeral, and each reprinted
article a Roman numeral followed by an Arabic numeral, as listed in the Table
of Contents. The page numbers of the original publications are entered in the
margins of this reprint to help identify earlier references.
The original indexes to each separate monograph have been combined in
this reprint, together with new entries from the articles which had not been
indexed. They have been edited for accuracy in this combined format, to help
identify individuals with similar names and locate the significant terms dis-
cussed, but also for concision, to avoid expansion beyond measure in an already
bulky volume: all material in the body of the text has been included in the
appropriate index, but references in the footnotes to reference works (Brock-
elmann, Sezgin, EI, etc.,) have not been included, while mere citations in the
footnotes, without discussion, to secondary literature and to primary source
books (historical and biographical works, poetic collections, etc.) have been
included only selectively. In the Index of Proper Names personalities are listed
according to the most commonly used part of their name and cross references
to the other parts have been kept to a minimum. The transliteration system of
the Encyclopaedia of Islam Three was used in the indexes, given the variation
in the original transliteration of Arabic names, inevitable in works published
over half a century in publications with varying transliteration conventions and
guidelines; it is hoped that this will present no problems to the reader.

List of Original Publications and Acknowledgments

The publishers and I gratefully acknowledge permission to reprint the works

which originally appeared in the following publications:

I [Introduction]. “The Study of Muslim Intellectual and Social History: Ap-

proaches and Methods” (The Third Annual United Arab Emirates Lecture
in Islamic Studies, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, October 9,
1980), Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1981. 14pp.
II The Muslim Concept of Freedom Prior to the Nineteenth Century, Leiden:
Brill, 1960. 133pp.
III The Herb. Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society, Leiden: Brill, 1971.
IV Gambling in Islam, Leiden: Brill, 1975. 192pp.
V “Sweeter than Hope”. Complaint and Hope in Medieval Islam, Leiden: Brill,
1983. 160pp.

VI. The Individual and Society

1 “‘I am you’—Individual Piety and Society in Islam,” in: Individualism

and Conformity in Classical Islam, ed. by A. Banani and S. Vryonis Jr.
(Fifth Giorgio Levi della Vida Biennial Conference), Wiesbaden: Otto
Harrassowitz, 1977, 33–60.
2 “Gifts and Bribes: The Muslim View,” Proceedings of the American Philo-
sophical Sociery 108 (1964) 135–144.
3 “Cannabis and Alcohol: The Green and the Red,” in: Marihuana biological
effects, ed. by G.G. Nahas and Sir W.D.M. Patton, Oxford; New York: Perga-
mon Press, 1979, 739–745.
4 “The Stranger in Medieval Islam,” Arabica 44 (1997) 35–75.
5 “On Suicide in Islam,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 66 (1946)

VII. Sexuality, Gender, and the Family

6 “Fiction and Reality: Sources for the Role of Sex in Medieval Muslim
Society,” in: Society and the Sexes in Medieval Islam, ed. A. Lutfi al-Sayyid–
xx list of original publications and acknowledgments

Marsot (Sixth Giorgio Levi della Vida Biennial Conference), Malibu, Cal-
ifornia: Undena Publications, 1979, 3–22.
7 “Male and Female: Described and Compared,” in: Homoeroticism in Clas-
sical Arabic Literature, ed. J.W. Wright Jr. and Everett K. Rowson, N.Y.:
Columbia University Press, 1997, 24–54.
8 “Reflections on Love in Paradise,” in: Love and Death in the Ancient Near
East: Essays in Honor of M.H. Pope, ed. by John H. Marks and Robert
M. Good, Guilford, Connecticut, and Los Angeles: Four Quarters Pub. Co.,
1987, 247–254.
9 “Muslim Social Values and Literary Criticism: Reflections on the Ḥadīth
of Umm Zarʿ,” Oriens 34 (1994) 31–56.
10 “Child Psychology in Islam,” Islamic Culture 26 (1952) 1–22.

VIII. Science and Learning in Society

11 “Materials for an Appraisal of Knowledge as a Societal Force,” from Knowl-

edge Triumphant, Leiden: Brill, 1970, Chapter VII.4, pp. 298–333.
12 “Al-Asṭurlābī and as-Samawʾal on Scientific Progress,” Osiris 9 (1950) 555–
13 “The Defense of Medicine in the Medieval Muslim World,” Bulletin of the
History of Medicine 43 (1969) 519–532.
14 “The Physician in Medieval Muslim Society,” Bulletin of the History of
Medicine 52 (1978) 475–491.
15 “Significant Uses of Arabic Writing,” Ars Orientalis 4 (1961) 15–23, repr. in
his Four Essays on Art and Literature in Islam (The L.A. Mayer Memo-
rial Studies in Islamic Art and Archeology, vol. II), Leiden: Brill, 1971, 50–
16 “‘Of Making Many Books There Is no End:’ The Classical Muslim View,”
in: The Book in the Islamic World: the Written Word and Communication in
the Middle East, ed. G.N. Atiyeh (Papers presented at a conference held
Nov. 8–9, 1989, at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.), Albany, N.Y.:
State University of New York Press, 1995, 33–55.

We would also like to acknowledge our gratitude to the Österreichische Nation-

albibliothek in Vienna and to the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for
permission to reproduce the cover image and the frontispiece, respectively.
A personal and warm word of thanks is due to Koninklijke Brill NV for the
realization of this project. I am particularly indebted to Joed Elich and Kathy
van Vliet, who eagerly embraced my idea to bring Rosenthal’s envisaged work
list of original publications and acknowledgments xxi

on Man versus Society to actuality by reprinting all the related works in one
volume and supported it throughout, and to Renee Otto, Ellen Girmscheid and
their team of type-setters and indexer who saw it through the process and
brought it to fruition with expertise and professionalism.

Dimitri Gutas

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi: 10.1163/9789004270893_003

The Study of Muslim Intellectual and 1

Social History: Approaches and Methods

I want to speak here about a complex of subjects that has reached the status of a
“science” only in this century. It was not defined and studied before as a widely
cultivated coherent body of knowledge set apart from other sciences. Although
it may lay claim roughly to the name of “historical sociology,” it remains rather
amorphous. With respect to the past history of Islam, its principal concern
is with the interaction and effect of intellectual, psychological, and societal
phenomena. My topic here, which I approach with due hesitation, deals with
some of the directions which Islamicists have shown themselves familiar with
in their work but might do well to follow with increased seriousness in years to
The modern history of this research had, of course, no sudden beginning
at any one given moment. Like any other intellectual endeavor, it developed
slowly over several centuries. Even in Islamic studies, a relative newcomer
in Western scholarly activity, occasional research along what can be called
sociological lines was done already in the seventeenth century. It continued
to find attention when Islamic studies started their forward march around the
second half of the nineteenth century. While their development since then has
been tremendous, it has, on the whole, been quite haphazard. This is nothing
to be astonished, chagrined, or indignant about. Islam as an object of research
is after all an enormously vast expanse for scholarship to roam in, one much
larger than most, and certainly not smaller than any other, fields of research.
Thinking of “Islam” as the common denominator for scholarship is in itself a
sort of hubris or, perhaps more accurately, an admission of ignorance. Thus,
whatever research has been done could not help being partial and incomplete.
It need hardly be said that many undiscovered or underutilized areas of study
exist and are still to be staked out.
For a long time now, the key word that governs any worthwhile scholarly
activity has been “progress.” Intellectual work of any description might just as
well be left undone if it cannot be viewed as somehow constituting progress.
The meaning of what we call “progress” was not left entirely undebated in Islam.
Understandably it was submerged there under the more obvious phenomenon
of change. Temporal change was commonly seen as cyclical, but thinkers such
as Ibn Khaldûn—and he was not alone—felt that there was a slow accumula-
tion of material and intellectual growth in the historical process, constituting a
sort of, as we might put it, intermittent progress. The nature of progress has
4 i. [introduction]

recently become again a subject of much forceful discussion. In the natural

sciences, it is basically understood as the process of accumulating more and
more knowledge unavailable before. This appears also to be the easiest way
to define progress in the humanities. Here, however, the newness of any work
done is much harder to assess, since research in the history of the past is in
the first place a process of recovery. It is always a legitimate question whether
the recovered material constitutes progress in that it not merely adds useful
information to existing knowledge but influences, if ever so little, its total com-
plexion. A scientist may very well complain about the “unrelievedly deplorable
story” of earlier medicine1 and contend that there was, practically speaking,
no medical knowledge before the later nineteenth century. If this were so, we
2 humanists might very well ask ourselves what could be the point in | publishing
long forgotten medical works. The simple answer must be that every recov-
ered bit of the past has at least the potential of stimulating an expansion of
knowledge and insight and thereby contributing to progress. In a more pro-
found and, indeed, fundamental sense, it has sometimes been contended in
recent years that the very idea of progress is, at best, an illusion and, at worst,
mankind’s shorcut to extinction and that there are limits and verities discov-
ered long ago but distorted and abandoned that determine how far mankind
can prudently go in its quest for intellectual and material betterment. If there
is anything to these contentions, which I find hard to believe, it might perhaps
be assumed that the truth as always lies somewhere in the middle. Progress is
possible and necessary, but it is not straightforward and often leads into dark
and polluted blind alleys. As far as the mere accumulation of knowledge as a
means of progress is concerned, it can happen that quantity increases at times
too rapidly at the expense of quality and, even worse, may reach a stage where
it becomes overpowering. There is little doubt in my mind that the enormous
growth of knowledge during the early centuries of Islam played an important
role in producing the much discussed relative stagnation of intellectual life in
later centuries, which impresses us as failure, even if it possessed all the out-
ward appearances of increasing subtlety and sophistication. There simply was
so much knowledge to be preserved with very restricted means of preserva-
tion that scholars were kept busy with devising ways of preserving it. They
could justly be proud of and satisfied with the skilful mastery of their great
heritage and be deceived, they themselves as well as their audience, into for-
getting the need for going beyond formality and accumulation—the need for

1 Cf. Lewis Thomas, in Daedalus, 106, 3 (summer 1977), 163.

the study of muslim intellectual and social history 5

One of the most successful approaches to producing not only an illusion

of progress but, with skill and luck, some reality of it was the classification
of knowledge. Its starting point, the specialization of human activity, is coex-
tensive with human development and observable in the earliest times. As a
conscious means of influencing intellectual development, the classification of
knowledge made its appearance in Greek civilization. Aristotle’s name and
work were the outstanding symbol for its power and steady growth. It was
naturally taken over but then refined to an unprecedented degree by Muslim
scholars, secular and religious thinkers alike. Through it all, the unity of all
knowledge remained a concept that was defended in epistemology as well as
metaphysics. It held a strong attraction in a world view that was fundamentally
unitarian. The philosophical and religious underpinning of the classification
of knowledge in Islam customarily was the unity of all knowledge, and the
interdependence of all sciences was always stressed. Knowledge is one and
desirable, even though its individual manifestations differ in value. The ubiq-
uity and variety of classification schemes indicates that they were the ruling
force in Muslim scholarship. A noticeable tendency to come up with more and
more subdivisons can be discerned in the course of time. More and more sci-
ences in their own right were built into the system until their number reached
into the hundreds. The more important a subject matter was in Muslim eyes,
the greater was the number of disciplines to which it gave rise. For instance,
scholars would outdo themselves in ascribing innumerable subdivisions to the
Qurʾânic sciences. Their effort also shows how deeply ingrained was the dan-
gerous assumption that subdivision and classification constituted an avenue
toward understanding. If, the unspoken argument went, you devote special-
ized attention, a specialized, quasi-independent science, to each letter of the
Holy Book, you stood a better chance to fathom its mysteries and understand
it | better—a fallacy if ever there was one. The independence of most of these 3
disciplines was, of course, not absolute. They continued to be cultivated in
close dependence upon the major fields of knowledge to which they origi-
nally belonged. Yet, an impressive framework for expansion and progress was
created. Not unexpectedly, the fields of knowledge most relevant to Muslim
society continued to receive by far the greatest share of attention, as attested by
the mountains of books devoted to them. The natural sciences were unable to
keep up and compete with them. The humanities and societal sciences, always
strong, were the greatest beneficiaries.
The same process of subdivision with a view toward autonomy for newly
established fields of research has dominated the development of intellectual
activity in Europe. It has now taken on greater dimensions than ever before.
Our modern university organization is the most obvious beneficiary, and
6 i. [introduction]

victim, of the process. The idea of effecting progress through setting up special
kinds of knowledge as disciplines in their own right has taken hold and appears
to be here to stay. The unity of all knowledge is still viewed with awe by some as
the ultimate truth, one, however, that is infinitely remote from the normal life
and work of scholars whose vision of potential progress is necessarily restricted
to their respective disciplines.
Historians of the past must not, even if they could, disregard the concerns of
the present, if their efforts are to achieve their full measure of effectiveness.
This means trying to keep in touch with conceptual progress made. In our
particular case, it means becoming involved with methods and approaches
that become visible in new disciplines, provided they are arguably more than
passing fashions. In this endeavor, in which Islamic historians have become
involved in recent years, an indispensable precondition is concern for the
preservation of the integrity of the past. In studying, for instance, the economic
factors in society, we must not forget that the very fact that they commanded
limited attention in Muslim sources indicates that they were viewed as much
less central than we are inclined to view them and that, therefore, they are
indeed less central for an understanding of Muslim society. The vast majority of
Muslim thinkers stressed the obvious material basis of human life but beyond
that cared little for material factors as building blocks of society and history. For
them, these factors were less significant, and while we may regret the resulting
relative scarcity of available data, it is the decisive point. Still, there are those
areas of research, particularly of a sociological and psychological nature, which
in modern times tend to be considered as independent sciences, something
they were not in the past. Giving them their proper due in our research is a
task that to a large part lies still ahead of us.
The source situation must be our first and foremost consideration. Ulti-
mately, any historical research is determined by the sources that are, or may
become, available. Straying all too far afield is counterproductive. Jurispru-
dence, theology, poetry, philology, philosophy—these, in approximately de-
scending order, are the most productive sources for the Islamicist’s labors. They
present us, moreover, with large, well-established and highly developed sets of
constantly discussed problems. Since the particular information we are look-
ing for here does not belong into this mainstream, it cannot be expected to
be as plentiful and as easily accessible. It is, on the contrary, widely scattered
and requires a painstaking and often frustrating effort of collecting, piecing
together, and fighting, against great odds, for some acceptable synthesis. Given
the inevitable scarcity of information, if measured against the geographical and
4 historical | sweep of the Muslim world, we will always have to be satisfied with
suggestive fragmentary sketches rather than complete and coherent pictures.
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 7

The realization that full success will never be within our grasp should be no
deterrent. After all, this is more or less the fate of all historical research. Even if
we shall never be able to ascertain, for instance, the precise amount of money
spent anywhere in the past on drugs such as hashish, this does not mean that
we should not raise the question of the economic importance of hashish con-
sumption for Muslim society or refrain from speculation about the existing pos-
sibilities, no matter how uncertain and in the end presumably inconclusive it
may be. The important thing is to find enough source material to justify raising
the problem, regardless of the likelihood or unlikelihood of finding a solution.
Where, we may ask, do we have the best chance of success when we look for
information on societal problems of obvious concern to us but not important
enough for medieval Muslims most of the time to have received their undivided
attention? Fortunately, their curiosity and powers of observation were varied
enough to have left many traces and clues. The search for universal traits
in the human psyche as well as in human social organization has produced,
among other things, the vast collection of miscellaneous but not unconnected
topics called adab literature. If these adab works are addressed with the right
questions—that, of course, being the questions we wish to find answers for—,
they will inevitably yield some information and, moreover, often indicate the
most promising directions for our search to take.
Adab essays and encyclopaedias nearly always place heavy reliance upon
poetical quotations. While this reflects literary style and tradition, it has its
intrinsic justification. Poetry, more than anything else, served to express basic
human feelings and attitudes, and these were also often feelings and attitudes
officially frowned upon by society and thus given short shrift as if they were
non-existing. It was the poets who were allowed to talk freely about drinking
wine or about sexual behavior in a manner that would have been unaccept-
able in serious discussion and was therefore included in scholarly literature
only under special circumstances and rather rarely. The correlation between
feelings and attitudes poetically expressed and societal reality and practice is
clearly a matter of speculation, but in Muslim creative writing, the world of
imagination has a truth of its own which is more revealing than the knowledge
whether or not a given poet did live up to his bacchantic ecstasies and frivolous
Linguistic conventions in all their variety, the working capital of Arabic
poetry and artistic prose, may also be illuminating. For example, in Islam where
“play” was banned from serious consideration by adults as it largely was, the
poets’ constant striving for recalling and modifying inherited metaphors that
made use of “play,” or even inventing new ones, is remarkable for those in
our time who suspect that a fundamental insight lies in the view of man as
8 i. [introduction]

homo ludens, the playful animal. Valuable indications from linguistic usage
are, of course, not restricted to poetry and artistic prose but may be found
everywhere in a civilization distinguished by its great reverence for language.
Specialized linguistic works are useful by the way they define words and by
the attempts to establish subtle distinctions in their meanings. And, although
it is a risky enterprise and the necessary qualifications for it are nowadays
no longer commonly found among Islamicists, the implications of etymology
derived principally from the comparative study of the Semitic languages are
not without heuristic value.
While adab literature, popular literature, and poetry are the main treasure
5 troves | of information, some, often a good deal, of it may be found nearly
everywhere one looks. Jurisprudence had much contact with the realities of
life, no matter how much weight it put upon traditional formulation. The
comparatively rare collections of actual, not just theoretical, fatwâs remain to
be explored. The law books can also teach us a lot by what they chose to discuss
seldom or disregarded entirely. The abundance of historical and biographical
works still awaits analysis of the data they more conceal than exhibit in the way
of evidence for economics, societal organization, social attitudes, and the like.
Needless to say, there is, in fact, no document of the past that might not yield
valuable bits of information for our quest. Material relics and, in particular,
works of art such as paintings can also be extremely useful for our purposes;
even the lack of them or their failure to provide an answer to a question
addressed to them may be meaningful.
Since the building blocks for our work are not found together but have to
be collected from many potential sources, which are almost overwhelming
in number and size, this is the kind of research for which technical assis-
tance seems highly desirable and may even turn out to be indispensable. A
strong case can be made for computerization. Some obviously useful first steps
have been taken in this direction in other fields of Islamic studies, such as,
for instance, with respect to the indexing of proper names in the large and
important French-sponsored project, Onomasticon Arabicum. Lexicographical
studies are next in line as in the attempt just begun in Germany under the
leadership of G. Endress to work up comparative Graeco-Arabic word lists and
dictionaries. In our particular context, the first task would seem to be the index-
ing of a large number of adab works of all descriptions, in order to get at the
often incidental information they contain. As I once tried to demonstrate for
a couple of pages of one of them,2 nearly every page of this literature pro-

2 Cf. Oriens, 20 (1967), 240.

the study of muslim intellectual and social history 9

vides details on all sorts of topics of sometimes major, usually, of course, minor,
importance for social and intellectual historians. Only when all the relevant
details are collected as comprehensively as possible will it be possible to ana-
lyze them and assess their significance. This is a task which unaided human
power can accomplish at best only to a very limited extent. It will be necessary
to enlist the mechanical devices available for it. This will inevitably happen,
but the time to begin with it, perhaps first with one of the adab encyclopae-
dias or, say, one of the essays of al-Jâḥiẓ, appears to have come. Initially, and
most importantly, it will be necessary to define the topics for which evidence
should be identified and registered. The choice will naturally vary according
to the prevailing conditions of intellectual life in a given period. If a scholar
had approached the task a century ago, his choice of topics would no doubt
have been different from what it is likely to be today, and today’s choice will no
doubt be criticized by future generations. But it is imperative to try to gain clar-
ity at least in outline about the areas which can be expected to enrich future
treatment of Islamic intellectual and social history.
Economics would clearly seem to be one of them. Muslim biographical
information is extraordinarily rich, but an understanding of how, for instance,
scholars and civilian officials, to name only the best documented segment of
the population, provided for their livelihood and how much they earned is
still limited to general observations. In Mamlûk times, a young student from a
merchant family (Ibn Ḥajar) would travel with a caravan ostensibly on business
but, in fact, use the opportunity as a sort of travel and study grant. A scholar
with a large family to support (Ibn Quṭlûbughâ) would have to | rely on legal 6
work of some sort and occasional grants to make ends meet. Such stray items we
have, but details and figures are still missing. The biographical literature did pay
some but not much attention to such matters, as they were considered trivial
and, any way, self-evident. It remains for us to dig up all the evidence we can.3
Modern scholarly interest in economic matters has expectedly been great and
much important work has been done, helped by the fortunate circumstance
that at least some documentary material is also available. But much remains
to be learned from the scattered references, for instance, in histories about
administrative and military expenditures or about the effects of inflation and
taxation, and many other related subjects. All of it involves a still greater and
concerted effort.

3 For some studies of the biographical literature for quantitative purposes, cf. F.M. Douglas, in
Studia Islamica 51 (1980), 138, n. 2.
10 i. [introduction]

A part of economics, if you will, but something probably even more impor-
tant for the general historian is quantitative population research. The sporadic
efforts made so far to establish the facts and effects of population density have
laid the groundwork but with uneven results. The relative numerical strength of
the urban and rural population and its changes over shorter and longer periods
of time, the question, for instance, of the ratio of physicians to population,4 the
vexing problem of numerical strength and distribution in the armed forces, the
old irritant of round and exaggerated figures—all these matters require much
further research. What answers will be forthcoming and how satisfactory they
will be, depends on the individual subject and is difficult to foresee, but the
attempt to exhaust the evidence hidden in the sources will have to be made.
Another aspect of population research of a qualitative nature must also be stud-
ied much more intensively. It largely concerns the organization of classes in
society. Continued efforts must be made to clarify our understanding of social
stratification in Muslim society and the conflict of Islamic ideals in this respect
with inherited non-Islamic theories and the given reality. The great variety of
crafts, professions, and groups at the fringes of society can, as has been shown,
be profiled much more sharply from the sources now available.
There is hope that contemporary documents, which are needed to flesh out
whatever can be gathered from literary sources, will become available in larger
numbers when an intensified search is made for them. Every medievalist is
by now aware of the documents from the Jewish Geniza in Egypt masterfully
exploited by S.D. Goitein with great benefit for Islamic studies. We must admit,
though, that documentary evidence gives the students of the European Middle
Ages their one great advantage over their Islamicist colleagues. It is safe to say
that no matter how much more documentary material will be discovered in the
Near East, it will not come close in quantity, and often also in quality, to what
has been preserved from medieval Europe.
By contrast, we are fully competitive, if not actually at an advantage, with
respect to the study of the changing, or unchanging, attitudes that existed
toward society and religion, toward beliefs and institutions. The struggle be-
tween the manifestations of the human constant and the religious norms
devised to tame them somehow for the good of society has left many clear
traces in the sources. One has only to follow them in order to discover situa-
tions not only of significance for the study of Muslim society but also of general
applicability to the human condition. The problems of man and society were
often clearly revealed in official attitudes and not infrequently discussed widely

4 Cf. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 52 (1978), 479 f. [See article VIII.14, p. 1026 below. Ed.]
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 11

and in depth. It remains for us to study the relationship of action and fact
to these attitudes. The difficulties and potential rewards are quite similar to
those well-known | to the students of Muslim jurisprudence. As has already 7
been mentioned, the legal norms are expounded in a massive literature, but
how they were applied, or not applied, in life is a matter of debate. For this,
there exists no extensive source literature, but it has to be ascertained by the
slow and devious collection and study of widely scattered clues. Hardly more
than a beginning has been made with the careful investigation of the many
areas in which the known or presumed official attitudes and rules remained in
painful conflict with reality, or of the rarer areas in which they did not conflict
but on the contrary succeeded in shaping reality in their image, at least to some
degree. As an example each for the two situations, we might refer to the socially
important attitudes toward suicide and the use of certain drugs. In the former
case, it appears that official Muslim attitudes largely asserted themselves. In
the second, they were by and large ineffective.
A subdivision within this large field is the study of themes that we know, or at
least believe we know, determine in a most decisive manner the way in which
society functions in the long run. Their universal human character makes it
unlikely that they would have remained unnoticed in Islam where intellectu-
als have always been highly sensitive and observant in probing psychological
phenomena. Those intricate processes of the human mind by which man has
tried to gain an understanding of and thereby at least some degree of control
over his inner environment have naturally always been operative, even when
limitations of a technical nature curtailed systematic expression. It admits of
little doubt that the general mood created by them has the power, commen-
surate in each case to its intensity, to influence the workings of society and
thus indirectly the course of history. The kind of attitude, for instance, that is
taken toward change and progress, clearly determines action to a large extent.
The political climate created by views on the respective rights of government
and individual is beyond a doubt the most powerful agent of history and with
respect to Islam deserves more study than has been devoted to it so far. A fun-
damental determinant of individual and societal behavior and of the proper
utilization of the opportunities of the present derives from the specifically
human ability to remember and reflect upon the past and to look ahead toward
the future and speculate on it. The manner in which this ability was viewed in
Muslim civilization and analyzed by Muslim thinkers has many aspects also
found elsewhere, but also some of its own. It has seemed to me worthwhile in
recent years to see how much can be found about this subject.
Thus, the theme of the complaint about the times winds its path through
Muslim literature. It includes views on the good old days, on the enjoyment
12 i. [introduction]

of the present, on the problems of an independently active or manmade fate.

On the whole, it leaves us with the impression of the predominance of a rather
pessimistic mood. How pervasive this mood really was and in which way and
to what extent it determined action—these are the real questions. They are
more easily raised than answered. Indeed, they call forth generalizations and
apodictic conclusions which are to be approached with the greatest caution.
The view of the future is possibly determinative of human behavior, individ-
ual and collective, to an even greater degree than the view of the past. With
regard to the future, the word “hope”—which happens to have sharply defined
Arabic equivalents—is the operative concept. In Islam, “hope” was rightly seen
as intimately connected with many other concepts such as wishing, desiring,
8 expecting, and so on, and with its opposites | such as fearing and despair-
ing. The aspects of “hope” attested in the sources are manifold. Among other
things they show a clash between the religious and secular points of view and
a marked tension between Islam and the pre-lslamic Arabian heritage. Here,
for once, our sources are comparatively plentiful as well as explicit, and I feel
confident that the available material will eventually enable us to learn about
and clarify attitudes that had a definite measure of historical import.5
Another relevant theme is that of the role of competitiveness in Muslim
society on which I would like to make a few suggestions here. Clearly, the
strength of the competitive drive and the forms it takes in a given society shape
the lives of individuals in relation to their fellow human beings and to their
Little as we know about pre-lslamic Arabian society, it seems rather certain
that it was imbued with a highly competitive spirit. The famous “boasting”
and love of contests, indicated by the term mufâkharah and tafâkhur, was
apparently much more than the literary topic as which it is so prominently
attested. It is the expression of a competitive spirit so deeply rooted in society
that it came to be enshrined in intellectual activity. The very existence of the
qâtala/taqâtala formation may be seen as having significance in this context.
From a social point of view, it seems to be indicative of a strong tendency to
stress the competitive nexus between an individual’s feelings and actions and
his position in society. This impression is in a way strengthened and, perhaps,
confirmed by the unprecedented expansion this verbal formation enjoyed in
Muslim times, which went far beyond the requirements of simple linguistic

5 More on the subject of complaint and hope will be said in an essay soon to be completed.
[Work V, pp. 517–694 below. Ed.]
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 13

The predilection shown for comparisons to establish the most poetic of

poets or the most admirably poetic verse of poetry has the same psychological
background. Such comparisons are very much in the nature of literary life, or, at
least, so it seems to us who are conditioned by long tradition to consider it natu-
ral to ask whether Homer or Hesiod was the greater poet.6 What is remarkable,
is their long preservation and constant repetition all through Muslim literature
as if these comparisons touched upon something more basic than mere poetic
The popularity of afʿal proverbs shows the same desire to establish a com-
petitive rank order. A tenth-century littérateur tells us that some people had
succeeded in being acknowledged as most outstanding in some respect. The
connection in which this statement is made is amusing but perhaps also in a
way significant. It should be considered noteworthy, our author says, that such
afʿal proverbs existed for everything except reason. No aʿqal-min “more intelli-
gent than” proverb was supposedly coined by the Arabs. He confesses to be puz-
zled. Perhaps, he says, they did not consider anyone’s reason and intelligence
to be perfect. A Bedouin who was asked to define “reason” replied: “How could I
define it when I have never seen it perfect in anybody?”7 In fact, though, it may
be argued that these proverbs were neither coined nor used as exemplars for
the discussion of superlative perfection but they embodied a wide awareness of
the competitive component in human activity. By the time of our author reason
was well established in its pivotal position in Muslim intellectual speculation
and was felt to be a gift outside of the competitive struggle of human beings.
The competition of poets in the ashʿar-min spirit continued in Islamic times.
The new class of writers and littérateurs saw it personified in the figure of the
hostile and malicious critic. Fault can be found in every bit of poetry,8 and
critics are mostly untalented competitors whose motives are often in no way
connected with literature but | conditioned by the never-ending competition 9
for a patron’s favor. Al-Jâḥiẓ comes first to mind in this connection as the
author of the most memorable statements expressing such sentiments. Al-Jâḥiẓ
can also be cited as witness to the fact that the idea of competitiveness was
intimately bound up with the concept called ḥasad “envy.” In the Jâḥiẓian
spirit, Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî asked for protection of his work from the eyes
of censorious enviers and competitive spoilers (al-mufsidîn al-munâfisîn),9 and

6 Cf. Gnomologium Vaticanum, ed. L. Sternbach, no. 514 (reprint Berlin 1963).
7 Cf. Abû Hilâl al-ʿAskarî, Dîwân al-maʿânî, I, 142 (Cairo 1352).
8 Cf. Abû l-Faraj al-lṣfahânî, Kitâb al-Aghânî, II, 46, 48 (Bûlâq 1285), Aghânî3, II, 165, 169.
9 Cf. Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Kitâb al-Imtâʿ wa-l-muʾânasah, ed. Aḥmad Amîn and Aḥmad
az-Zayn, II, 1 (Cairo 1939–1944).
14 i. [introduction]

a later saying would speak of a person as “moulded from the clay of envy
(ḥasad) and competition (munâfasah).”10 “Envy” had a long pre-lslamic history
as a quality with a strongly negative connotation. In the Muslim political
struggle, it was seen as the root of evil competition.11 In the ethics of Islam,
later on reinforced by the Hellenistic tradition, it continued its deserved pariah
existence in the realm of ethical values. It was the primeval sin practiced at
least since man was created; in accordance with the Qurʾân, Iblîs is always
referred to as the first individual to be affected by it.12 An exception to the
understanding of “envy” as always bad appears already in the old and often
quoted ḥadîth that exempts taḥâsud from opprobrium if it takes the form
of competition with respect to virtue. The two basic examples are envy with
respect to property that could be spent for good purposes and envy with respect
to the assiduous recitation of the Qurʾân—that is, envy of another’s charity and
piety. The ancient Greeks, it may be noted, had also conceived of praiseworthy
aspects of envy. In fact, most of the Muslim views of envy have their parallels
in Greek literature.13
Taḥâsud was associated with tanâfus already in the ancient ḥadîth.14 Tanâ-
fus appears to be the Arabic term closest to our “competition.” The idea is also
expressed by other terms such as tasâbaqa, tabâhâ, tabârâ, etc.,15 which in a

10 Cf. al-Ḥusrî, Zahr al-âdâb, ed. ʿAlî M. al-Bijâwî, I, 203 (Cairo 1389/1969). Since both com-
petition and envy are not material but psychological qualities, someone like Abû Ḥayyân
at-Tawḥîdî might easily have been dissatisfied with the saying. For him, “man’s laziness
comes from his clay (ṭîn), while his active energy comes from his soul. Now, clay is more
forceful than soul.” Cf. lmtâʿ, II, 194.
11 A particularly good and probably quite old, if fictitious, example is the brief letter of
Muʿâwiyah to ʿAlî, beginning with “Give up envy” and ending with a reference to Qurʾân
113:5, cf. Naṣr b. Muzâḥim al-Minqarî, Waqʿat Ṣiffîn, ed. ʿAbd-as-Salâm M. Hârûn, 123 (Cairo
12 Envy is rarely found ascribed to Satan in medieval Europe, where it was one of the seven
cardinal sins, cf. Morton W. Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins, 419, n. 239 (reprint Michigan
State University 1967).
13 Cf. the large selection of passages in the chapter on envy (phthonos) in the florilegium of
Stobaeus, ed. C. Wachsmuth and O. Hense, III, 708–721 (reprint Berlin 1958). Hippias (5th
century bc) distinguished between just and unjust envy, the one directed against bad men,
the other against good men.
14 Cf. A.J. Wensinck, et al., Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, VI, 506b35
(Leiden 1936–1969).
15 These terms were already mentioned together by al-Muḥâsibî, Riʿâyah, ed. Margaret
Smith, 305 f. (London 1940, E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series, N. S. 1 5), ed. ʿAbd-al-Qâdir Aḥmad
ʿAṭâ, 570 f. (Cairo 1390/1970).
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 15

sense were more specialized originally as they referred to particular areas of

competition but were then employed quite generally. Munâfasah was even-
tually defined as “the greatest possible desire for something by way of com-
petition with others” (ghâyat ar-raghbah fî ash-shayʾ ʿalâ wajh al-mubârâh li-
ghayrika).16 It so happens that tanâfasa occurs in the Holy Qurʾân, and this
occurrence set much of the tone for the future discussion. Sûrah 83:26 says:
wa-fî dhâlika fal-yatanâfas-i-l-mutanâfisûna “To this (just described Paradisia-
cal bliss) let everybody aspire.” English “aspire”, incidentally, fits the possible
if debated etymology of tanâfasa,17 but it leaves unexpressed the connota-
tion of competition inherent in the verbal formation. Here, as in other uses of
the taqâtala conjugation, this connotation might have been weakened. It was,
however, certainly seen as present by the later commentators on the passage.
The intended competition is one for bliss in Paradise, but the commentators,
and well-attested general usage, do not leave us in doubt that competition as
commonly practiced by human beings was to gain material advantages and a
greater share in the world’s alleged goods.18 The divine commandment is meant
to counteract this common human failure and to channel competition, which
is ingrained in human nature, into the proper direction. It is to be a competi-
tion for values approved as true and lasting—the good which, the Qurʾân using
the root s-b-q reminds us, should be the goal of man’s every effort.

16 Cf. aṣ-Ṣafadî, Tamâm al-mutûn fî sharḥ Risâlat Ibn Zaydûn, ed. Muḥammad Abû l-Faḍl
Ibrâhim, 281 (Cairo 1389/1969).
17 Although no proof is possible, it seems that the meanings of valuable and envious in the
root n-f-s may go back to the emotional and physical effort expanded that leads to attach
value to something and to be envious of it. Cf. the relationship of roots denoting “zeal,”
“effort” to “envy,” as in Syriac ṭ-n-n, and below, n. 28.
18 When the Qurʾân was translated in the West, this implication of 83:26 escaped L. Marracci,
who translated: “et ad hoc aspirent aspirantes ad felicitatem” (Marracci’s italics). The
italicized addition was preserved by C. Sale and M. Pickthall (and no doubt others). The
bliss aspired to is expressly stated in fî dhâlika “ad hoc,” and Marracci was probably misled
by commentators who went into some detail as to the meritorious work the tanâfus should
consist of. “Aspiration/competition” was held to be, clearly already in the Qurʾân, normally
the common human concern with worldly matters.
Most of the translations I have checked unidiomatically reproduce the Arabic way of
expressing an indefinite subject, as, for instance, A.J. Arberry’s “let the strivers strive.” An
accurate if inelegant translation is the one by N.J. Dawood (Penguin Classics, London 1956,
p. 49): “For this let all men emulously strive.”
It may be noticed that among the designations for the Last Day we find yawm al-
musâbaqah, yawm al-munâqashah, and yawm al-munâfasah, cf. al-Ghazzâlî, Ihyâʾ, IV, 439,
I. 2 (Cairo 1352/1933).
16 i. [introduction]

The identification of ḥasad and munâfasah was discussed in a significant

manner already in the ninth century by al-Muḥâsibî.19 On the basis of the
Qurʾânic passage, he distinguished between the forbidden categories of “envy”
(ḥasad) and the permissible categories of “competition” (munâfasah). In order
to be permissible, competition should take place with respect to “what is
10 good”—that is, ethically good—“in this world and | the other world.”20 It is
permissible to be envious of the niʿam, the benefits bestowed by God upon
one’s fellow men, and to try to become equally worthy of them and use them
properly. There can also be competition for high moral aims as when broth-
ers compete for the love of their parents.21 It is not permissible to compete for
supposed niʿam that are sinful and used for forbidden purposes, and it is abom-
inable ḥasad plain and simple to wish that someone be deprived of the niʿam
he enjoys and suffer misfortune.22 Most important, however, is al-Muḥâsibî’s
firm acknowledgement of the necessity of competition. It always exists and is
strongest where individuals of similar concerns and stations in life are in con-
tact with one another. Thus, scholars are interested in competing with scholars,
merchants with merchants, heroes with heroes23—as Hesiod (Erga 26) had
already observed, “beggars with beggars, bards with bards”—and there can be
no envy of strangers. In general, human beings innately possess “a dislike of
being unable to attain someone else’s station and a liking for equality and keep-
ing up with others.”24 Their competitive aspirations should be tempered by the
absence of wishing ill to those others with whom they compete, but the spirit
and practice of competition are ineradicable.
It seems that for more than two centuries al-Muḥâsibî’s discussion did not
have much of an echo, but it was resumed in its entirety by al-Ghazzâlî in the
Iḥyâʾ.25 Al-Ghazzâlî’s own contribution was merely formal. His presentation is,

19 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 305–323, ed. ʿAṭâ, 570–605.

20 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 314 f., ed. ʿAṭâ, 590. Cf. the verse of Manṣûr al-Faqîh, in Ibn Abî l-Ḥadîd,
Sharḥ Nahj al-balâghah, I, 256 (Beirut 1963): “The munâfasah of a young man with respect
to what is passing indicates deficiency in his ambition (himmah).”
21 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 312 f., ed. ʿAṭâ, 585.
22 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 310, ed. ʿAṭâ, 579.
23 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 311, 313f., ed. ʿAṭâ, 581 f., 587f. In order to forestall a misunderstanding,
let me make it clear that the reference to Hesiod is an addition of mine. It is not found in
al-Muḥâsibî or the other authors who make the same point that ḥasad is strongest where
there is personal contact, as, for instance, Ibn Qutaybah, ʿUyûn al-akhbâr, III, 10, 11. 16f.
(reprint Cairo 1963–1964).
24 Riʿâyah, ed. Smith, 307, ed. ʿAṭâ, 574: Karâhat at-taqṣîr ʿan manzilat ghayrih wa-maḥabbat
al-musâwâh wa-l-luḥûq bih.
25 Cf. al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, III, 162 ff.
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 17

as usual, better organized and, one might say, more precise in its prolixness. He
would thus refer to the legal categories of necessary, recommendable, and per-
missible in his discussion of permitted competition. It was, however, through
al-Ghazzâlî that these views on competition found no doubt a wide distribu-
tion giving them a sort of official status.
The moralizing approach toward competition also found acceptance in the
popular philosophical segment of Muslim civilization. Thus, a saying ascribed
to Socrates in Graeco-Arabic wisdom literature warns against envy but recom-
mends munâfasah, provided it aims at things lasting and enduring.26 Since
competition was so strongly at work in society, it was felt necessary to put reli-
gious restraints on it. However, awareness and acceptance of the Arabian com-
petitive spirit continued. The literary concern with the ancient mufâkharah
and poetical competition continued unabated, despite religions objections to
it. Verses that praised being the object of envy as a sure measure of success and
a clear indication of excellence remained popular.

I am envied. May God increase the envy of me!

May nobody live one day without being envied!
A man is envied for his virtues:
Knowledge and wit, courage and generosity.27

And, it was said, being pitied is much worse than being envied; indeed, it shows
the extent of a man’s misfortune that those who once envied him now pity

26 Cf. al-Mubashshir, Mukhtâr al-ḥikam, ed. ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân Badawî, 116, 11. 9f. (Madrid
27 Cf. al-Ḥuṣrî, Zahr al-âdâb, I, 203. The poet is said to have been the eighth-century Maʿn b.
Zâʾidah. Later poets provided their own numerous variations on the subject.
There were many “may you not cease (lâ zilta) being envied” verses, cf. ar-Râghib
al-Iṣfahânî, Muḥâḍarât al-udabâʾ, I, 162 (Bûlâq 1286–1287), and even al-Ghazzâlî includes
one in his discussion in Iḥyâʾ, III, 171, which states that “only he who is envied is perfect.”
The relevant verses are also cited, for instance, by Ibn ʿAbd-al-Barr, Bahjat al-majâlis, ed.
M. Mursî al-Khûlî and ʿAbd-al-Qâdir Quṭṭ, I, 406 ff., in the chapter on envy (Cairo, n. y.).
One might even speak of “the pleasure of the envied man” (ladhdhat al-maḥsûd), as did
ʿUmârah al-Yamanî, ed. H. Derenbourg, I, 214 (Paris 1897–1904, Publ. de L’École des Langues
Or. Vivantes, IV, 10–11).
28 Cf. Ibn Qutaybah, ʿUyûn, II, 9, III, 60; al-Marzubânî, Muʿjam ash-shuʿarâʾ, ed. ʿAbd-as-
Sattâr Aḥmad Farrâj, 357 (Cairo 1379/1960); al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 73 (Cairo, n. y.) ed. Cairo
1385/1966, I, 357 (note that this and the other verses loosely attached to al-Qushayrî’s chap-
ter on ḥasad also occur in that of Ibn Qutaybah); ar-Râghib al-lṣfahânî, Muḥâḍarât, I, 161;
18 i. [introduction]

Today, we are pitied by those who envied us.

Today, we follow those who were our followers.29

And if one wishes for a telling characterization of radically worsened circum-

stances, it would be expressed in Arabic in four words: “We spent the night
being envied and, in the morning, came to be pitied” (bitnâ nuḥsadu wa-
aṣbaḥnâ nurḥamu).30

aṣ-Ṣafadî, Tamâm al-mutûn, 24, 121, 279f. The verse is from one of the elegies of Muḥam-
mad b. ʿUbaydallâh al-ʿUtbî (d. 228/842–843, cf. Fuat Sezgin, GAS, I, 371f.) on his sons. They
are said to have been six so handsome that “they made the eyes of enviers pop out.” Accord-
ing to al-Marzubânî, op. cit., they died during the pest in al-Baṣrah “in 229 or before,” but
al-Marzubânî himself (unless it is a later addition) stated in another of his works that
al-ʿUtbî died in the year 228, cf. Nûr al-Qabas, ed. R. Sellheim, Die Gelehrtenbiographien
des Abû ʿUbaidallâh al-Marzubânî, 195 (Wiesbaden 1964, Bibliotheca Islamica 23a). The
common jeu d’ esprit of turning an idea around was also practiced here. Thus, aṣ-Ṣafadî,
Tamâm, 280, concludes praise of a benefactor with this verse: “Mankind were pitying me
before, but you made them later my enviers.”
The contrasting in the above verse of the roots ḥ-s-d and r-ḥ-m calls to mind the fre-
quent pairing of ḥesed and raḥamîm in the Hebrew Bible. The posibility of an etymolog-
ical connection of Hebrew ḥesed and Arabic ḥasad has been much discussed, cf., most
recently, Katharine D. Sakenfeld, The Meaning of Hesed in the Hebrew Bible, 16–19 (Mis-
soula, Montana, 1978, Harvard Semitic Monographs 17), who comes out in favor of it. It is
very well possible that some emotional process originally indicated by the root ḥ-s-d took
a strongly positive connotation (and occasional negative connotation) in one place and
a strongly and exclusively negative connotation in another. In the same vein, it should be
observed that the comparatively close agreement in meaning between Arabic ḥasad and
our “envy” is not something to be taken for granted but is, on the contrary, rather excep-
tional as internal psychological processes rarely are defined linguistically in identical ways
in different languages. It is not impossible that Greek phthonos influenced pre-lslamic
Oriental thought no less than it influenced Latin invidia and our envy and that this had
something to do with the situation we encounter with respect to Arabic ḥasad. For the
situation in the Near East before it became part of Hellenistic civilization, it is significant
that the Greek word phthonos does not occur in the Greek translation of the preserved
Hebrew Bible (cf. Hatch’s concordance of the LXX). The Hebrew terms, which under cer-
tain circumstances suggest “envy” to us, were rightly considered as not truly corresponding
to phthonos. The usual translation chosen for them was zêlos “zeal.” Even the Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by G. Kittel (trans. G.W. Bromiley [Grand Rapids,
Michigan, 1964]), disregards phthonos and discusses “envy” in the entry zêlos.
29 Cf. al-Jâḥiẓ, Risâlat faṣl mâ bayn al-ʿadâwah wa-l-ḥasad, ed. P. Kraus and M. Ṭâhâ al-Ḥâjirî,
Majmûʿ Rasâʾil al-Jâḥiẓ, 123 (Cairo 1943).
30 Cf. al-Jâḥiẓ, loc. cit.
the study of muslim intellectual and social history 19

With the growth of scholarly and scientific activity, competition found an 11

even wider scope. The production of something that others had not done or
thought of before was its most important aim. It was quite generally contended
that “competition was the custom among men of excellence” (… munâfasah
jarat al-ʿâdah bi-mithlihâ bayn al-fuḍalâʾ),31 and it was taken for granted that
competition in scholarship was a good thing.32
The alleged pagan unrestraint and furor of competition were put on the
defensive by the religion of Islam, but even the new religious norms had to
recognize the fact of competition. Moreover, no matter how ethical and high-
minded these norms were, they contained in their own way a strong incentive
to competition as useful social behavior.
This brief and incomplete digression into a specific topic illustrates some of
the problems of our approach. We must somehow try to transcend the limita-
tions imposed by our sources but never so much as to substitute untrammeled
imagination for missing information. This may mean not infrequently that we
have to admit ignorance—not a bad thing for any historian to do. It may also
mean that we have to take the risk of disappointing certain justified but possi-
bly unfulfillable expectations not only of specialists but even more so of gen-
eralists in intellectual history. It will, however, be a gain for Islamic studies, if
these efforts make it clear to the generalists that topics deemed important by
them were not disregarded in Muslim civilization and that their Islamic aspects
deserve attention, and not the customary neglect.
The problem of historical sequence and development within Islam is anoth-
er difficulty we have to cope with as best as we can. As in the case of competi-
tion, pre-Islamic conditions can rather easily be compared with later Muslim
attitudes to show changes that took place within a large time frame and to
allow us to gauge the influence of Islam, although even here, there are pitfalls to
be avoided. Within Islam, the situation is very clouded. Much of the principal
source material belongs to a stock that was preserved by constant repetition.
It seems that wherever we are able to check its history, we find ourselves back
in rather early periods of Islam. But the very frequency of repetition, especially

31 Cf. aṣ-Ṣafadî, Wâfî, Vol. XII, ed. Ramaḍân ʿAbd-al-Tawwâb, 75 (Wiesbaden 1979, Bibliotheca
Islamica 61), with reference to Abû l-Faraj al-Iṣfahânî and as-Sîrâfî. Ibn Khallikân, Wafayât,
ed. Iḥsân ʿAbbâs, II, 79 (Beirut 1972), also has the reference to “custom.” Others, such as
Yâqût, Irshâd al-arîb, ed. A.F. Rifâʿî, VIII, 148 (Cairo 1357/1938), and as-Suyûṭî, Bughyah,
222 (Cairo 1326), do not. (The cited text of the Bughyah has the homograph tanâqush
for tanâfus). It is possible but uncertain that Ibn Khallikân was the one to formulate the
statement in the form quoted above.
32 Cf. Ibn Bassâm, Dhakhîrah, I, i, 112, I. 4 (Cairo 1358/1939). See also p. 114, II. 11f.
20 i. [introduction]

if someday it can be more accurately computed, gives at least a valid indica-

tion of the extent to which the repeated ideas were adopted. Thus, if we cannot
trace a direct and convincing line of development, we can measure to some
degree the width and depth occupied by such ideas in society. With refined
techniques allowing scholars to recover and quantify the available evidence,
the slow emergence of a better sense of historical development of a large vari-
ety of intellectual currents can be expected to result eventually.
The most delicate problem is how to develop generalizations from the in-
sights gained. It will, I am afraid, always be with us and require the most judi-
cious handling. Theories based mainly on defective information, such as the
once famous uncompromising “fatalism” of Islam, have fortunately become
curious relics of a scholarly past that by now is rather remote, but the very
fact that they once were possible and popular should warn us that the most
cautious approach to generalization is necessary. For instance, it will not do
to maintain, on the basis of the information discussed here, that Islam was an
unusually competitive society always and everywhere and that its history could
and should be explained largely from this angle. The possibility seems to be
there, but a dogmatic hankering for general conclusions may merely compro-
mise any true gains.
12 When I spoke in the beginning of future directions for Islamic research, I
did not mean to detract from the importance of a steady continuation and,
indeed, acceleration of work in the traditional fields where so much remains to
be done. Perhaps I also should not have presumed to speak of the future when I
have done hardly anything more here than retraced some of the lines of work I
have attempted to follow for many years. Be this as it may—Abû lʿAtâhiyah was
neither the first nor the only Muslim poet to define man as dhû amal “the owner
of hope,”33 the hopeful animal being distinguished by the capacity to hope
from all other animals, one who could always gain strength from an optimistic
anticipation of the future. There is hope and, more than that, the well-founded
expectation that additional windows will open up into a great past that needs
to be viewed in much greater detail and much more comprehensively than it
has been so far.

33 Cf. Abû l-ʿAtâhiyah, Ashʿâruh wa-akhbâruh, ed. Shukrî Fayṣal, 319 (Damascus 1384/1964),
and my forthcoming essay (above, n. 5).
The Muslim Concept of Freedom
Prior to the Nineteenth Century

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi: 10.1163/9789004270893_004


Foreword 24 [vii]

I. The Problem 26 [1]

II. The Linguistic Terminology 31 [7]

III. Definitions of Freedom 37 [14]

IV. Legal and Sociological Aspects of the Concept of Freedom 51 [29]

a. Slavery 51 [29]
b. Deprivations of Freedom 55 [34]
Imprisonment 55 [35]
Forced Labor 90 [77]

V. Philosophical Views on Freedom 94 [81]

a. Freedom as an Ethical Concept 94 [81]
b. Freedom in Political Theory 110 [98]
c. Freedom in Metaphysical Speculation 117 [105]

VI. Concluding Remark 129 [120]

VII Foreword

Most authors who have something of importance to say are involved in the
problem of freedom. Even if they are not expressly concerned with it, their atti-
tude toward freedom can be reconstructed from their works. This applies also
to authors writing within the boundaries of Muslim civilization. In particular,
philosophers, theologians, historians, jurists, poets, and littérateurs have ample
occasion to refer to situations and attitudes concerned with freedom. Works in
these fields constitute the bulk of Muslim literature. The task of disentangling
the thought of major Muslim authors on the subject of freedom from the mass
of their preserved works is an important and formidable one. It has not been
attempted in the following discussion.
The questions of free will and of the attitude toward freedom from or depen-
dence upon tradition (ijtihâd/taqlîd) call for a study of Muslim theology in its
entirety and, with it, of the basis of all Muslim intellectual life. On a smaller
scale, a detailed discussion of free will, for instance, might also necessitate a
complete investigation of the running battle between the defenders and the
opponents of astrology. This little book does not aim at anything remotely as
Instead, the much more modest course of collecting explicit statements on
the concept of freedom, found scattered here and there in Muslim literature,
has been followed. No completeness, of course, has been achieved. Of necessity,
much important material, and very many minor illustrations of individual
topics, must have escaped me. However, I hope that a useful beginning for the
study of the subject has been made.
VIII Some of the material discussed may not seem to belong under | the heading
of explicit statements on freedom. The presence of such material has, in part,
its reason in the fact that the discussion of freedom was originally intended to
be the first chapter of a large work dealing with Man versus Society in Islam,
that is, with the tensions and conflicts that existed between individuals and
society in medieval Islam (as they do, in some form or other, in any society).
The various topics that were to be treated in that work are not difficult to guess.
Some material has been collected by me, and the one or other of the relevant
topics will, perhaps, be treated by me in the course of time. It is certainly hoped
that other scholars will work on them. But I do not think that it will be possible
for me to bring to a satisfactory conclusion a comprehensive work such as I
had envisaged. I have, therefore, decided to publish this introductory chapter,
which I feel can stand on its own feet. Its outlook and emphasis may become
clearer if viewed against the background from which it originated.
foreword 25

The jacket design of this volume1 is taken from a pencil drawing attributed to
Riza Abbasi, first published in F. Sarre and E. Mittwoch, Zeichnungen von Riza
Abbasi (Munich, 1914), pl. 26, and now in the Freer Gallery of Art (Photograph:
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Freer Gallery of Art, Washington,
D.C.). R. Ettinghausen, who called my attention to the drawing, describes it as
(above) Yûsuf in prison and (below) Zulaykhah as an old woman before Yûsuf.

1 [The drawing on the jacket of the original publication of The Muslim Concept of Freedom
(1960) is now reproduced as the frontispiece in this reprint volume. Ed.]

1 The Problem

… auto de touto ho ti esti to eleutheron einai ê ho ti to douleuein, ouk isasin.

dio chrysostomus, Orat., XIV, 1

It is in prehistoric times and in the legal sphere that we must seek the origin
of the concept of freedom. The free man was legally different from the slave
who belonged to him. Wherever the institution of slavery existed, the definition
of freedom presented no difficulties. It was the legal status of free men as
opposed to that of slaves. In fact, this definition of freedom was so clear-cut
and commonly accepted that it required a considerable intellectual effort to get
away from it and to give a new and vastly enlarged meaning to the old concept.
The Greeks, as far as we know, were the first to succeed in doing just that, and
so launched freedom on its way to becoming one of the ideas that determined
the course of world history. Looking back from the particular point in history
at which we are halting at the present moment, we may even go as far as to say
that the concept of freedom has been the most important agent of history the
world has ever known.
Along its course through history, freedom freed itself from the fetters of def-
inition. It developed into one of those powerful abstract terms that have no
concrete, definable existence unless it be given to them by the human mind.
While it could no longer be objectively defined, it became the object of numer-
ous definitions. Needless to say, it also became the subject of a vast and wonder-
ful literature. The efforts to define this freedom of ours have been technically
unsuccessful, and they will always be so. They tell more about the men and
the times that produce them, than they do about freedom itself. Nevertheless,
2 like undefinable | freedom, they have been tremendously significant and their
influence has been, and will remain, immense.
There are a few things about freedom which despite the absence of general
agreement can be confidently assumed to be incontestable. One is the relative
character of the concept, or, as it has been put by a modern philosopher, “it
is only because there is restraint in one respect that there can be freedom in
another.”1 Another positive statement that can be made about freedom con-
cerns the need for a distinction between different kinds of freedom. Freedom

1 P. Weiss, Man’s Freedom (New Haven, 1950), 29.

the problem 27

has different “levels,” as they might be called, which can be kept separate. How-
ever, it must be understood that the distinction is not an absolute one. On the
contrary, wherever the concept was effective as an historical force, there was,
of necessity, an interaction between the various “levels” of freedom.
Basically, two levels can be distinguished.2 One of them is the philosophi-
cal/ontological, to which Islam and other religious societies add the theologi-
cal/metaphysical speculation concerning freedom; the other is the sociological
level. Muslims, in general, were disposed toward maintaining a strict separa-
tion between the two levels. In Islam, the concept of free will and freedom of
choice is expressed by a word different from that used for social freedom, as
will be discussed later on. This difference in linguistic terminology is signifi-
The two basic levels can be subdivided again and again if it is a question
of determining the relevance of freedom to particular practical situations and
theoretical problems. The German writer, K. Jaspers, thus admits “on the soci-
ological level, a distinction of personal, civil, and political freedom; the per-
sonal freedom of handling one’s own affairs which, given sufficient economic
means, may exist side by side with a lack of civil and political | freedom (as, 3
for instance, in czarist Russia); the civil freedom which can develop in the
guise of security under law side by side with a lack of political freedom (as,
for instance, in imperial Germany); and the political freedom where every cit-
izen has a voice in deciding who is to lead him (as, for instance, in the United
Attempts to define freedom in absolute terms have met with the expected
disaster, beginning with the definition ascribed to Archytas who gave to the
eleutheron separate existence as the mean between the relative terms of mas-
ter and slave.4 They may admittedly leave the problem where they find it, and
appropriate the term “freedom” arbitrarily to designate something to which any
other term, even including “slavery,” could be applied as well. Thus, for Jaspers,
the final fulfillment of the concept of freedom, existential freedom, is some-
thing “absolutely incomprehensible (schlechthin unbegreiflich).” “Freedom can-
not be recognized and can in no way be understood by objective thought pro-
cesses. I am certain of it for myself, not in my thinking but in my existence; not
in my speculating about and searching for an understanding of freedom but in

2 Cf. D. Fosdick’s introduction to her edition of J.S. Mill, On Social Freedom (New York, 1941), 23.
3 K. Jaspers, Philosophie, 2nd ed. (Berlin-Göttingen-Heidelberg, 1948), 437.
4 Cf. Simplicius, In Categorias, ed. K. Kalbfleisch (Berlin, 1907. Comm. in Aristotelem Graeca,
VIII), 384, l. 9.
28 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

living (it); all statements about freedom are, in fact, a means of communication
that is always subject to misunderstanding and always provides only indirect
It has also been possible for some thinkers to remove the concept of freedom
from the realm of the individual where it properly belongs, and to proclaim as
freedom the subjection of the individual human being to some higher order
4 that is considered more truly human than the individual. For instance, H. von |
Treitschke, dreaming the fantastic dream of a state conceived as the true repos-
itory of individual liberty, came out for “the freedom of man in a free state.”6
In a brilliant study, a modern anthropologist substituted the somewhat more
concrete notion of “cultural system” to Treitschke’s nebulous state. He said that
“freedom can be defined as the conditions necessary and sufficient for the for-
mation of a purpose, its translation into effective action through organized
cultural instrumentalities, and the full enjoyment of the results of such activ-
ity. The concept of freedom therefore can only be defined with reference to
human beings organized and endowed with cultural motives, implements and
values, which ipso facto implies the existence of law, an economic system and
political organization—in short, a cultural system.”7 And again: “Metaphori-
cally, freedom in its essence is the acceptance of the chains which suit you and
for which you are suited, and of the harness in which you pull towards an end
chosen and valued by yourself, and not imposed.”8 Clearly, this is Treitschke’s
idea transferred to a society whose existence means unfreedom for the individ-
Then, there is the concept of freedom as the submission of the individual
to a divine law and order. This idea is of immediate concern to us since it
can obviously be applied to the situation prevailing in Islam. In fact, this has
been done. According to L. Gardet, “for all their differences, the Christian and
5 Muslim ideas of freedom have one thing in common: they are | equally opposed
to an unconditional quest for a false and merely nominal freedom. …The
Christian, like the Mohammedan, has no sense of freedom unless he is in

5 Op. cit., 453 f.

6 Treitschke’s Die Freiheit was first published in 1861 and is cited here after an undated edition
of the Insel-Verlag (Leipzig), 57.
7 B. Malinowski, Freedom and Civilization (London, 1947), 25.
8 Op. cit., 242.
In the instructive collection of articles on Freedom, Its Meaning, ed. R.N. Anshen (New
York, 1940), 21, J.T. Shotwell says: “Freedom is clearly not what it seems to be, the attribute
of the individual. It is a social, economic, and political fact and is another name for the
equilibrium we call justice.”
the problem 29

harmony with himself and with a higher order.”9 Agreeing with Gardet, another
author, writing in the same volume, states that in Islam “freedom is linked with
submission,” and he asks himself “whether this strange antithesis (freedom by
way of acquiescence) does not actually describe the paradox of freedom … for
Islam, as for any other spiritual tradition.”10
It may be remarked in passing that the idea of freedom as submission to and
dependence on the divine is not of recent origin. It could not fail to develop
in the monotheistic environment at an early date.10a Thus, the Babylonian
Rabbi, Aḥâ bar Yaʿaqôḇ, who lived around 300ad, suggested that the tables of
the Law were beyond the power of foreign nations and tongues because the
word “graven” (ḥārûṯ), in Ex. 32.16, was to be understood as “freedom” (ḥêrûṯ).11
Consequently, the Law is freedom, and submission to the Law is freedom. The
Jewish miḏrâsh takes the same verse of the Bible to mean that “the only free
man in the world is he who fulfills the words of the tables of the Law.”12 In Islam,
the mystics and the pious often express the same idea in a variety of forms.13
It has found its most striking expression in the story about the Ṣûfî, Luqmân
as-Sarakhsî, who asked for freedom from the service of God, from his status of
slave with respect to God. The freedom granted was insanity.14
These few remarks on the modern discussion of the problem of freedom14a 6
will have served their purpose if they have made it clear beyond a doubt that
the concept of freedom is, in the first place, immeasurably complex and, in the
second place, has become so as an expression of the sum total of the aspirations
of the modern Western world, as a justification for its very existence. A similar
extension of the role of “freedom” cannot a priori be expected to have existed
elsewhere. Conversely, if it had existed in any other civilization, that civilization
would have developed along lines that would have made it indistinguishable
from our own.

9 In Christianity and Freedom, ed. G. Thibon (London, 1955), 60.

10 Op. cit., 35 (N. Bammate).
10a It may, however, be noted that in Greek thinking, we also encounter the idea of a freedom
conceived as the result of man’s agreement with the gods.
11 Talmûd Bâḇlî, ʿÊrûḇîn, 54a.
12 Miḏrâsh Rabbâ to Exodus 32.16, ed. M. Margulies (Jerusalem, 1956), 688.
13 Cf. below, p. 108ff.
14 H. Ritter, Das Meer der Seele (Leiden, 1955), 167.
14a A recent, very voluminous collection of views and opinions on freedom is the work of
M.J. Adler, The Idea of Freedom (New York, 1958). More recent works on freedom, which
could not be consulted, include H.J. Muller, Issues of Freedom, and J.T. Shotwell, The Long
Way to Freedom.
30 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Nevertheless, medieval Muslims were aware, if dimly, of the challenge of

freedom. It makes itself felt here and there in the literature as well as in the
social fabric. The task at hand is to collect and evaluate references to the idea
of freedom. This will eventually give us the means to attempt an assessment of
its impact or lack of impact, without incurring the danger of merely expressing
subjective generalizations.

The Linguistic Terminology 7

Terminology and definition were favored subjects of discussion among Mus-

lim scholars brought up in the strict disciplines of Arabic linguistics and Aris-
totelian philosophy. As applied to freedom, they played a role of paramount
significance for the history of freedom in the West. They were also important
in Islam, if in a different and minor way.
The Arabic word for “free,” ḥurr, has its exact correspondence in Hebrew
*ḥôr14b and Syriac ḥêr. The form of the latter resulted from a slight transfor-
mation under the influence of analogy.15 Jewish Aramaic used the same forma-
tion as is found in Hebrew. Palmyrenian and Nabataean inscriptions frequently
show the composite formation *bar ḥ-rîn, *baṯ ḥ-rîn (always fol|lowed by a 8
depending genitive), meaning “freedman” and “freedwoman,” respectively. The
vocalization of the first syllable of *ḥ-rîn remains doubtful; at least, the use of
long ê is not expressly indicated.
The evidence here cited justifies the assumption that the word existed in
Northwest Semitic.15a Its occurrence in other Semitic languages has not yet

14b Other biblical words for “freedom” (ḥop̄ shîṯ, derôr) and Akkadian durâru, andurâru are
strictly legal terms, cf., for instance, J. Lewy, The biblical institution of derôr in the light of
Akkadian documents, in Eretz-Israel, V (1958), 21*–31*.
15 C. Brockelmann explained ḥêr a resulting from analogy with rêsh, since “the free” (the
nobles) and “the heads” (the chiefs) are often mentioned together, cf. Zeitschrift der
Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, LXVII (1913), 108. The vocalization of the Pal-
myrenian and Nabataean forms is not directly attested, and we cannot, therefore, be sure
whether the Syriac form already existed in earlier Aramaic. The fact that Jewish Aramaic
uses the form ḥêrûṯ may be an indication of the existence of an older general Aramaic
form with ê. Note, however, that the vocalization of the word on the Jewish coins referred
to below, n. 20, is again uncertain. The existence of a pre-Syriac Aramaic ḥêr would not
invalidate Brockelmann’s explanation. Two other possibilities may be considered. There
may have been a process of dissimilation starting with the abstract formation (*hôrûṯâ >
ḥêrûṯâ), or, less likely, the word may have been influenced by some other root such as, for
instance, the root kh-y-r represented in Arabic and meaning “choice, good.”
In the Elephantine papyri, ḥr is used in the same way as in Hebrew (ḥry Yhwd[ yʾ]).
The Aḥîqar papyrus has br ḥrn, and it is possible that the word also occurs in the Behistun
inscription. Cf. A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. (Oxford, 1923), index,
s.v. ḥr.
15a However, it may be noted that E. Kautzsch, Die Aramaismen im Alten Testament (Halle,
32 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

been confirmed. Ethiopic ḥarrâ, with the adjective ḥarrâwî, is sometimes cited,
but its connection with the word meaning “freedom” is highly uncertain.
As to the word formation apparent in ḥurr, it has been noted that adjectival
formations of the type ḥurr are rare.16 This would favor the assumption that
ḥurr is not derived from a primary root ḥ-r-r. The fact that there exists a com-
mon primary root ḥ-r-r meaning “to be hot” also points in the same direction.
Some medieval scholars,17 and even some of their modern colleagues,18 have
attempted to combine ḥurr “free” with the root meaning “to be hot.” However,
these attempts carry little conviction. The etymology of ḥurr “free” remains in
the dark.19
The abstract ḥurrîyah “freedom” is not a primary noun formation but is
derived from the adjective by means of the abstract ending. The same applies
to the Syriac word for “freedom,” ḥêrûṯâ. This Syriac-Aramaic formation seems
to be quite old. The occurrence of the word on Jewish coins of the second
9 revolt, | furthermore, shows that use of the abstract noun as a political term was
fully accepted.20 In this case, influence from the Graeco-Roman world, where
libertas had its particular history as a coin legend, is not excluded and, in fact,
is quite probable.
In Arabic, the history of the term is not altogether clear. It is very possible,
and indeed likely, that ḥurrîyah, in the abstract meaning of “freedom,” was cur-
rent among pre-Islamic Arabs, but express and genuine proof for this would
be welcome. In a verse by Dhû r-Rummah (around 700), ḥurrîyah was used in
the meaning of “nobles,”21 and the use of ḥurr in the metaphoric meaning of
“noble, good” was common in early Arabic speech.22 Ḥurrîyah “freedom” may
have existed in Arabic at an early date, especially for expressing the opposite
of the legal term “slavery,” but it does not seem improbable that it started to be

1902), 32 ff., argued that Hebrew *ḥôr was an Aramaic loan word. This seems unlikely, but
the word may, in fact, have originated as a localized term. Only future finds of texts in
which the word occurs, or the elucidation of its etymology can decide the problem.
16 Cf. T. Nöldeke, in Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, LVII (1903), 416,
n. 3.
17 Cf. below, n. 53.
18 Cf. the Hebrew-Aramaic dictionary of Gesenius-Buhl, 16th ed. (Leipzig, 1915), s.v. ḥ-r-r II.
19 No truly satisfactory etymology has as yet been discovered for Greek eleutheros either,
according to M. Pohlenz, Griechische Freiheit (Heidelberg, 1955), 189.
20 Cf. A. Reifenberg, Ancient Jewish Coins, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem, 1947), 58 (dating from the first
revolt), 60 ff.
21 Dîwân, ed. C.H.H. Macartney (Cambridge, 1919), 449. The verse is also cited in Lisân
al-ʿArab (Bûlâq, 1300–1308), V, 255, s.v. ḥ-r-r.
22 Cf. the Arabic dictionaries, among them the Lisân al-ʿArab, loc. cit.
the linguistic terminology 33

used more widely when Islam came into contact with the philosophical think-
ing of the Mediterranean world that had known speculation about freedom for
many centuries. Like other abstract formations ending in -îyah, the word was
decidedly unpoetic and shunned by true poets.22a
The metaphoric usage of ḥurr just referred to raises another problem. The
Hebrew equivalent of the word already had the meaning of “nobles, nobility,”
referring to the leading members of a certain group or society.23 In Arabic
literature, the most | frequent use of ḥurr is as a qualitative term implying 10
outstanding value. Ḥurr al-kalâm, for instance, does not refer to “free speech”
but to speech of a high literary quality,24 and so on. The feminine ḥurrah
may simply mean “lady,” and, occasionally, ḥurr has all the connotations of
“gentleman.” In order to stress the moral meaning of ḥurr, it is frequently paired
with karîm “noble, generous” and similar terms. Al-ḥurr al-karîm is the true
This usage of ḥurr had its origin in the general human inclination to ascribe
all bad qualities to the slave and his miserable lot, and all good qualities to those
who were legally free men. Thus, the phenomenon occurs not only among the
Arabs but also elsewhere. It appears to have developed independently under
the impact of the institution of slavery, and it certainly played an important
role in the general history of freedom. However, as a consequence, we are faced
with the problem of determining in each case where ḥurr or ḥurrîyah is used,
whether the information in question is relevant to the discussion of freedom,
or whether it belongs to a hazy, ill-defined region within the realm of ethics. To
Muslim writers themselves, the distinction was not always fully clear.25
Wherever ḥurr “freeman” appears in opposition to ʿabd “slave,” we can rest
assured of its meaning; in such cases, if any other connotations of ḥurr were
intended, they were additional and remained beneath the surface. In all other

22a ʿUbûdîyah “slavery” was used in a tenth-century verse complaining about the slavery of
love (hawâ), cf. ath-Thaʿâlibî, Yatîmat ad-dahr (Damascus, 1304), I, 396. Ḥurrîyah occurs
in the Dîwân of Tamîm b. al-Muʿizz (Cairo, 1377/1957), 155, l. 3, and in a poem by Sibṭ
Ibn at-Taʿâwîdhî (d. 583/1187, or 584), cited by aṣ-Ṣafadî, Wâfî, ed. S. Dedering (Damascus-
Wiesbaden, 1959. Bibliotheca Islamica, VId), IV, 13.
23 The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses eleutheros to translate *ḥôr in 1Kings 21.8,
11, and in Nehemiah 13.17. In six other passages of the Book of Nehemiah, the Greek word
entimos is used. For the Hebrew usage of the term in the Elephantine papyri (nos. 30.19
and 31.18 of Cowley’s publication), cf. above, n. 15.
24 For instance, Ibn Bassâm, Dhakhîrah (Cairo 1358–/1939–), I, 1, 182, l. 4, and 315, l. 18, or
ath-Thaʿâlibî, Yatîmah, IV, 248 f., as well as the idioms cited by the lexicographers.
25 Cf., for instance, below, n. 361.
34 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

cases, a certain element of doubt cannot be completely eliminated. Some

11 stirring statements seemingly in praise of freedom must, therefore, be | treated
with reserve, such as the verse of Muslim b. ʿAqîl b. Abî Ṭâlib who did not want
to surrender without a fight:

I swear, I shall not be killed except as a free man,

Even though I consider dying difficult.

The alternative here is not between liberty and death, but rather between dying
as befits a noble man and an ignoble death.25a
The very fact that ḥurr, in its semantic history, went beyond the sphere of
“freedom” is meaningful. Outside legal usage, “free” became a vague term of
approval, one among many in the language. It may thus be said that Arabic
did not possess a truly workable term to express the full force of the concept
of “freedom” until, in modern times, Western influence gave a new meaning to
old ḥurrîyah.26
There are, of course, many other words in Arabic that can express the idea
of being free, such as being set loose, being unfettered, being cut off, or being
pure in the sense of being free from something.26a The last mentioned idea is
contained in the root kh-l-ṣ that is commonly used to paraphrase the meaning
of ḥurr.27 A technical term of particular significance is ikhtiyâr “choice, free
will.” In the discussion of the problem of free will, irâdah “will” is also frequently
used, but ikhtiyâr, defined as irâdah preceded by reflection and discretion,28 is
12 on a distinctly | higher level.29 Here, the tremendous relevance of language to
the subject of freedom shows itself in full force. In Western languages, and, for
instance, also in Syriac, “free will” is expressed, at least in part, by the same word

25a Aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, ed. M.J. de Goeje and others (Leiden, 1879–1901), II, 262, anno 60; Abû
l-Faraj al-Iṣfahânî, Maqâtil aṭ-Ṭâlibîyîn, ed. A. Ṣaqr (Cairo, 1368/1949), 104.
26 It would be interesting to find out whether anywhere in nineteenth-century literature
there exist passages marking a state of transition from the traditional to the modern usage
of ḥurrîyah. Cf. also B. Lewis, in Cahiers d’ Histoire Mondiale, I (1953–1954), 107.
For the relationship between terms and concepts, cf. also below, p. 98.
26a Cf. also below, n. 315a.
27 Cf. below, nn. 51 and 65.
28 Al-Kindi, Fî ḥudûd al-ashyâʾ wa-rusûmihâ, in Rasâʾil al-Kindî al-falsafîyah, ed. M. ʿAbd-
al-Hâdî Abû Rîdah (Cairo, 1369–1372/1950–1953), I, 167, and id., Fî ṣ-ṣinâʿah al-ʿuẓmâ, Ms.
Istanbul, Aya Sofya 4830, fol. 55a. Cf. also below, n. 49.
29 Cf., for instance, al-Ashʿarî, Maqâlât al-Islâmîyîn, ed. H. Ritter (Istanbul-Leipzig, 1929–1933.
Bibliotheca Islamica, I), 419f.; al-Fârâbî (putative author), Masâʾil mutafarriqah (Hyder-
abad, 1344), 18.
the linguistic terminology 35

that denotes freedom in general.30 As a result, the specific theological problem

to which the discussion of free will has been largely confined in monotheistic
speculation could be linked easily with other problems involving the idea of
freedom. In Islam, ikhtiyâr was never seen together with ḥurrîyah, nor was it
felt as one aspect of the complex structure of freedom. It remained a limited
term. In addition, it was deprived of its potential vigor by the direction Muslim
theological speculation eventually took concerning free will. Human freedom
of will was largely restricted to the ability of making a choice with regard to
individual situations.31
This development, it may be added, had its roots in pre-Islamic times and
began before the theological discussions of Muslim scholars attempted to
shape Near Eastern intellectual history. Fatalism, the supreme negation of
human free will, was the most noticeable metaphysical concept embraced by
pre-Islamic Arabs. For this reason, pre-Islamic fatalism has been the subject of
a comparatively large modern scholarly literature. Never once does this litera-
ture refer to the concept of freedom.32
In addition to the Arabic term or terms for “freedom,” there exist different 13
words in Muslim languages other than Arabic. The Persian âzâd, for instance,
has remained in common use in Persian. It can tell us something about the
pre-Islamic Persian concept of freedom. It means that a free man was “born
into” one of the proper social strata. A rigidly fixed stratification of society was
considered by Muslims the hallmark of pre-Islamic Persian social organization
and constrasted by them with the situation prevailing in Islam where every-
body regardless of his birth could attain whatever social position was within
the reach of his ability. However, the usage of âzâd also shows a certain influ-
ence exercised by the connotations of Arabic ḥurr upon the Persian concept.32a

30 Aristotle did not yet use eleutheros for the concept of free will, according to R. Hirzel,
Themis (Leipzig, 1907), 261, n. 4.
31 Cf. Miskawayh’s discussion of ikhtiyâr as quoted below.
32 The most recent works on the subject, which also include the Muslim period, are by
H. Ringgren, Fatalism in Persian Epics (Uppsala Universitets Årsskrift, 1952, XIII), and
Studies in Arabian Fatalism (ibid., 1955, II). Older studies are T. Nöldeke, Vorstellungen
der Araber vom Schicksal, in Zeitschrift für Völkerpsychologie und Sprachwissenschaft, III
(1865), 130–134; W.L. Schrameier, Über den Fatalismus der vorislamischen Araber (Bonn,
1881); O. Rescher, Über fatalistische Tendenzen in den Anschauungen der Araber, in Der
Islam, II (1911), 337–344; W. Caskel, Das Schicksal in der altarabischen Poesie (Leipzig, 1926).
32a If it is correct that ʾzt (âzât) meaning “free” already occurs in an Aramaic papyrus of
the fifth century bc from Egypt with reference to the manumission of a slave woman
(I. Gershevitch, in Journal of the R. Asiatic Society, 1954, 126; É. Benveniste, in Journal Asi-
36 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Moreover, the Arabic terminology not only influenced non-Arabic terms for
“freedom,” but became preponderant everywhere and the Arabic words were
used. We may assume that whatever concepts of freedom may have existed
in non-Arab nations before their conversion to Islam, they were largely sub-
merged, or completely obliterated, by the Muslim attitude toward freedom,
relying for its expression mainly upon Arabic terminology.

atique, CCXLII, 1954, 297 ff.), the semantic development of the Persian term must go back
to very early times. This would disprove the opinion expressed by E. Herzfeld, Altper-
sische Inschriften (Berlin, 1938), 56, who, commenting upon an alleged but non-existent
occurrence of the word in an Old Persian inscription, ascribed that development to the
influence of Arabic ḥurr. It remains, however, true that in the Muslim period, the use of
âzâd agrees with that of ḥurr so closely that the former must be under the influence of the
Addendum: A Christian translation from the Syriac uses ḥurrîyat al-mashîʾah for “free
will,” cf. G. Levi Della Vida, La dottrina … di Stomathalassa, in Mem. Acc. Naz. Lincei, 1951,

Definitions of Freedom 14

Definitions of freedom appear in a variety of places and reflect different cur-

rents of Muslim thought. They are, perhaps, not as frequent as one might wish,
and one looks for them in vain in certain places where one would expect to find
them. For instance, al-Kindî, in his collection of definitions,33 has nothing on
ḥurrîyah, nor is the word found in other lists of definitions compiled by Muslim
philosophers. Jurists, in their works on the principles of jurisprudence, include
lists of definitions,34 but it is hardly surprising that ḥurrîyah does not occur in
them, as it was not a fundamental technical term.
The oldest definition of “freedom” from the Islamic Near East does not come
from Muslim circles and is not expressed in Arabic. It is to be found in a
Syriac work on definitions, ascribed to a certain Michael or Bâzûḏ, which was
composed around 800ad. Following upon a definition of “will,” it reads:

Freedom is the unconstrained power of the rational natures, both those

concerned with the senses and those concerned with intellectual percep-

This definition represents the result, rather poorly expressed, of the discussion
of the problem of free will by theologians of the Eastern church. For many
centuries, Eastern religious thinkers | had wrestled with this problem which 15
they rightly considered as one of central importance for moral man. The great
Aphrem ecstatically described freedom as a gift of God,36 presented to Adam as

33 Op. cit. (above, n. 28).

M. Pohlenz, in comparing a work by al-Kindî with Epictetus, found that the Arabic
philosopher was not interested in the idea of freedom that was central to Epictetus’
thinking, cf. Göttingische Gelehrte Anzeigen, 1938, 415.
34 Cf., for instance, the list of definitions in Ibn Ḥazm, Iḥkâm (Cairo, 1345–1348), I, 35ff.
35 Ḥêrûṯâ îṯêh mshallṭûṯâ lâ qṭîrâytâ ḏaḵyânê mlîlê, hânaw meṯragshânê ḵêṯ wmeṯyaḏʿânê. Cf.
G. Furlani, “Il libro delle definizioni e divisioni” di Michele l’Interprete, in Memorie della
R. Accad. Naz. dei Lincei, Cl. di scienze mor., stor. e filol., VI, 2 (1926), text, 71; trans., 121; notes,
36 J.J. Overbeck, S. Ephraemi Syri … Opera Selecta (Oxford, 1865), 45, l. 5; trans. C.W. Mitchell,
S. Ephraim’s Prose Refutations of Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan (London-Oxford, 1912–
1921), I, xviii.
38 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

his most promising endowment,37 and praised it as the image of God without
which the universe would collapse.38 Its antithesis is “nature,”39 which means
slavery, while freedom finds its expression in man in the form of “habit.”40
Freedom exists in order to be used and to be restrained by man’s will, and it
may be subjected to constraint by God41 and the divine law.42 Satan would like
to keep it impounded but cannot do it.43 Its very name indicates that it is a
16 freeman and not a slave, that it | has power and is not enslaved, that it is loose
and is not bound, that it is will and not nature.44

37 E. Beck, Ephraems Reden über den Glauben (Rome, 1953), 65:

Behold Adam, if he had persevered

In the Law, he would have become king …
For God had made him, when He created him,
A created God
By giving him freedom
To behave according to his own will.

38 Cf. T.J. Lamy, S. Ephraem Syri Hymni et Sermones (Mechlin, 1882–1902), II, 783f.; Beck, op.
cit., 66. Cf. the statement of Gregory of Nyssa that freedom makes man godlike, referred
to by J. Gaïth, La conception de la liberté chez Grégoire de Nysse (Paris, 1953), 70.
39 Overbeck, 46, l. 16; Mitchell, xix.
For the incompatibility of ikhtiyâr and nature, cf. Pseudo-Plato, Kitâb ar-Rawâbîʿ, ed.
ʿA. Badawî, Neoplatonici apud Arabes (Cairo, 1955. Islamica, XIX), 123.
40 Lamy, III, 670f.
41 Beck, op. cit., 64:

There are the reins of the will,

And there are the reins of constraint.
The reins of your will are in your hand,
To restrain the impetuosity of your freedom.
Those of constraint are in the hands of your Lord.

42 Overbeck, 43, l. 21 f.; Mitchell, xvii.

43 Overbeck, 95, l. 10.
44 Overbeck, 44, ll. 17–20; Mitchell, xviii. Cf. also Overbeck, 46, l. 17f.; Mitchell, xix.
From the Syriac Sayings of Theano, ed. E. Sachau, Inedita Syriaca (Vienna, 1870), 72f.,
we may add here the following statement:

It is one of the good things that man has power over his freedom (free will, ḥêrûṯeh),
so that he can live as he wishes. By living intelligently, human beings are all right
and do not need a law, finding their law in their own good habits.
definitions of freedom 39

About two centuries after Aphrem, another Eastern bishop, Aḥûḏemmeh,

discussed the problem of free will, providing the basis for the afore-mentioned
definition of Michael (Bâzûḏ). Freedom is no longer depicted in the glowing
colors used by Aphrem. Freedom is a servant of the will. Control of the soul’s
intellectual faculties by the will and the consequent control of the actions
demanded by human desires and passions are what is meant by freedom.45 In
the centuries between Aphrem and Michael (Bâzûḏ), the term “freedom” had
thus lost a good deal of its forcefulness and general applicability. Theological
discussion had finally led to the restriction of its meaning to some sort of
abstract technicality.
Considering the close relationship between Christian and Muslim theology,
we are not surprised to meet again the same bloodless image in the Muslim
concept of ikhtiyâr, where it became further weakened by linguistic dichotomy.
The Christian discussion had started out by stressing the all-embracing power
and | glory of freedom. The Muslim debate of the problem of free will was never 17
more than a half-hearted attempt to secure a very small niche in the scheme of
things for a freedom that was always felt to constitute an infringement upon the
omnipotence of a God whose own possession of free will could be doubted.46
Even during the heyday of the Muʿtazilah, the ikhtiyâr of the Muslims was more
limited in its application than the ḥêrûṯâ of the Syrians ever was.47
In order to illustrate the similarities and differences that exist between the
Muslim discussion of ikhtiyâr and the Syriac speculations on freedom, one of
the numerous Muslim statements on ikhtiyâr may find a place here. It reflects
the thinking of the famous circle of philosophers and writers which in the late
tenth and early eleventh centuries attempted brilliant and eloquent solutions
for central intellectual problems. The statement is quoted in full in spite of its

45 Cf. F. Nau’s edition of Aḥûḏemmeh’s work on the composition of man, in Patrologia Orien-
talis, III (Paris, 1909), 106 f. A manuscript said to contain a different recension of the work
is preserved in the Near East, cf. J. Vosté, Catalogue de la Bibliothèque Syro-Chaldéenne du
Couvent de Notre-Dame des Semences (Rome-Paris, 1929), 27f., reprinted from Angelicum,
V (1928). It is not known whether our passage is affected by the differences in the recen-
Michael’s and Theodore bar Kônay’s discussions of freedom were cited by G. Furlani, La
psicologia di Ahudhemmeh, in Atti della R. Accad. delle Scienze di Torino, LXI (1925–1926),
817, 841 f.
46 Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Muqâbasât (Cairo, 1348/1929), 149ff., no. 10.
47 The process of giving choice (prohairesis) predominance over freedom (eleutheria) was
accomplished in the philosophy of Epictetus who declared that both freedom and slavery
were the works of prohairesis, and nobody possessing freedom of prohairesis was a slave.
Cf. Stobaeus, Florilegium, III, 1, 155 (ed. Wachsmuth-Hense, III, 106).
40 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

considerable length and at the risk of interrupting the argument. Even though
it may be called an expression of “liberal” opinion, it will show, I think, that the
discussion of free will in Islam was not conducted in a way that could either
promote or stifle the general growth of the concept of freedom.
Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî (d. after 1009) had directed an inquiry concerning
the meaning of compulsion ( jabr) and choice (free will, ikhtiyâr) to his younger
contemporary, Miskawayh (d. 1030). This is the answer he received:48

18 From man proceed many motions and actions that are not alike. He may
produce actions inasmuch as he is a natural body, in which case he is
related to minerals. Or he may produce actions inasmuch as he is vege-
tative in addition to being a natural body, and through these actions he
is related to plants. Or he may produce actions inasmuch as he possesses
a sentient soul, and through these actions he is related to animals. And
again, he may produce actions inasmuch as he is rational and discern-
ing, and through these actions he is related to the angels. Each one of
these actions and motions that proceed from man may occur in various
forms and have its special motives and causes. They also may be viewed
from different angles. They are affected by many hindrances and various
obstacles, some natural, some accidental, and some coercive. As long as
the person who studies the problem of (compulsion and choice) does not
make a distinction between these types of action and does not look at
them from all the possible angles, he will be confused about the (differ-
ent) aspects (to be considered) and miss the proper method of studying
them. As a result, he will be beset and bewildered by many misconcep-
tions and doubts.
We are now going to explain these motions and establish (the neces-
sary) distinctions between them. Then, we shall discuss the real meaning
of compulsion and choice. For, God willing, the matter will then be very
simple and easy to understand and will no longer be complicated. I say:
Notwithstanding their different types and distinct aspects, actions need
four things in order to materialize: (1) The agent who produces them.
(2) The matter in which they come about. (3) The purpose toward which
they are directed. And (4) the form which is known beforehand to the

48 Miskawayh and Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, al-Hawâmil wa-sh-shawâmil, ed. A. Amîn and A.
Ṣaqr (Cairo, 1370/1951), 220–226.
For another authoritative discussion of ikhtiyâr, which also documents the complete
separation of the term from ḥurrîyah, cf. al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ (Cairo, 1352/1933), IV, 219f. Cf., in
general, W. Montgomery Watt, Free Will and Predestination in Early Islam (London, 1948).
definitions of freedom 41

agent who by his action intends to superimpose the form upon the mat-
ter; frequently, the form is identical with the action. These four things are
necessary in order that an action may exist and materialize. Instruments,
time, and a healthy body are also wanted, but they are not necessary for
every action. But since your question is about human actions that are con-
nected with choice, these things, too, had to be mentioned.
Now, each one of the things that are necessary for the existence of
actions falls into two parts. It may be proximate or remote. The proximate
agent is, for instance, the hired hand who carries the instruments needed
for building a mansion. The remote agent in this case is the man who
designs the mansion, orders its construction, and is aware beforehand of
all instruments needed in connection with | it. The proximate matter is 19
the brick for the wall and the timber for the door. The remote matter is
to be sought in the primary elements. The proximate perfection is the
readiness of the mansion for occupancy. The remote perfection is (the
ability of the mansion) to protect furniture and to ward off any damage
that may arise from the heat and the cold, and so on.
The afore-mentioned various types of action differ in accordance with
the various types of active powers in man. Each one of the concupiscent,
irascible, and rational powers has its special action that can proceed only
from it. Causes and motives are partly desire and appetite, and partly
thinking and reflection, or they may be composite. The afore-mentioned
hindrances are partly accidental, partly coercive, and partly natural. An
accidental hindrance, for instance, is found in the case of someone who
leaves to visit a friend and meets an enemy whom he did not mean
to meet, and the enemy prevents him from completing his action. Or,
someone gets up to do something, and stumbles and falls into a well.
Coercive hindrances may be exemplified by the case of someone whose
hands are tied by thieves and who is thus prevented from using them, or
by the case of someone who is put in fetters by the ruler in order to prevent
him from doing something or from escaping. Natural hindrances are, for
instance, paralysis and apoplexy, and so on.
There is one other aspect of action that requires study and must be
mentioned here. We often look at actions, not as they are essentially but
as they are with reference to something else. For instance, we may look at
Zayd’s actions inasmuch as they are acts of obedience or disobedience to
someone else, or inasmuch as ʿAmr likes them and Khâlid dislikes them,
or from the point of view of their being detrimental to Bakr and useful for
ʿAbdallâh. Such way of looking at actions is not concerned with what they
are essentially but with what they are with reference to something else.
42 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Having investigated what actions are, as well as their various types

and the angles from which they must be viewed, and having stated that
they must fulfill certain conditions enumerated by us so that they can
materialize and exist, we are in a position to investigate what choice is.
We say: Ikhtiyâr ‘choice’ is derived etymologically from khayr ‘good, best.’
It is the infinitive of the eighth conjugation of this root. Saying, ‘Someone
chose something,’ is about the same as saying, ‘He did what was good for
him,’ that is, good either in reality or in his opinion even if it was not
20 good for him in reality.49 This is the | point of contact that marks the
connection between human actions and human beings. Actions are what
proceeds from a human being as the result of thinking and the application
of reasoning to something, in the expectation that it may turn out to be
useful for him. Now, it is well known that a human being does not think
or apply his reasoning to something that is necessary or impossible. He
thinks and applies his reasoning only to something that is possible. By
possible we mean something that is not impossible and that does not lead
to an absurdity if its existence is posited.
This angle among all those from which actions must be viewed is
the one connected with choice, which is something that is restricted to
human actions. But in order to bring about complete existence of a given
action, fulfillment of the afore-mentioned conditions is also required.
Consequently, the study of the particular aspect connected with choice
may entail errors and lead to confusion with those other aspects of actions
that are not connected with man and do not have their origin in him. It

49 Cf. the confrontation of irâdah and ikhtiyâr in Abû Hilâl al-ʿAskarî, al-Furûq al-lughawîyah
(Cairo, 1353), 101:

Ikhtiyâr is wanting (irâdah) a thing in place of something else. It cannot happen

when the thing chosen (mukhtâr) as well as something else is in one’s mind; it
means wanting (irâdah) to do something when there is nothing else in the mind.
Ikhtiyâr is derived from khayr ‘good, best.’ The one who makes a choice (mukhtâr)
is the one who wants (murîd) the best (khayr) of two things, that is, the best either
in reality or what in his opinion is the best of two things, without being in any way
forced to make a choice. If someone were forced to want something, he would not
be called one who chooses that particular thing, because making a choice is the
opposite of being forced.

The many references in al-ʿAskarî’s work to irâdah can also serve as an excellent illustra-
tion of the fact that the term had practically no relation to freedom and free will. Cf. also
above, p. 11.
definitions of freedom 43

may happen that one studies an action from some aspect and omits to
study it from all the others. Then, one draws conclusions as to human
actions in accordance with (the observations made from) that particular
aspect. This would be the same as studying an action from the point
of view of the particular matter which it must have in order to be able
to materialize, while disregarding all the other aspects that are likewise
necessary for its existence. For instance, the person who studies the action
of a scribe from the point of view of the paper he uses, may notice that he
has difficulties with the paper. This may lead the observer to the highly
conjectural conclusion that from this point of view, the scribe is unable
to write and, on account of it, finds it impossible to act. In fact, however,
this is an aspect that has no connection with the man inasmuch as he
is a scribe and may choose (mukhtâr) to write. The same applies to cases
where he lacks a pen or a healthy limb or any other of the things that may | 21
be a condition for the existence of a given human action. A person who
looks at actions from one particular angle may come to the conclusion
that man is subjected to compulsion and prevented from exercizing free
choice. The same would be the case with someone who studies human
actions inasmuch as man is able to choose. If he studies this particular
aspect and disregards all the other aspects that are also necessary for
actions to materialize, he may come to the conclusion that man is an
agent possessing power (to act), and not subjected to any compulsion.
The same is generally the case with every composite thing. He who studies
something composite from the point of view of one of its components
and neglects the other component parts will be beset by many doubts
originating with the remaining component parts which he neglected to
study. Human actions may be designated by one word, but their existence
is connected with many things without which they cannot materialize.
The student of human actions who considers only one of these things and
neglects to consider the others will be beset by many doubts stemming
from the things he neglected.
The correct method is to study each one of them, to consider action as
being related to all, to see in every aspect part of a given action, and not to
assume that human actions are entirely the result of choice and entirely
the result of delegation.50 It has been said in this sense, ‘The way (dîn)

50 “Delegation” (tafwîḍ) means delegation of the divine will to a person, giving him the right
to choose and thus making him responsible for his actions, cf. as-Sarakhsî, Uṣûl (Cairo,
1372), I, 122. Delegation is more or less a synonym of choice, and not its opposite which
44 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

of God lies between too much and too little.’ For he who assumes that for
human actions to come into existence it suffices that the person who does
them takes charge of the power that acts by choice, assumes too much in
that he neglects material things, coercive causes, and the hindrances as
enumerated above. This then causes him to assume delegation. Likewise,
he who assumes that for human actions to come into existence it suffices
that those hindrances are removed and the material things available,
assumes too little in that he neglects the power that acts by choice. This
then causes him to assume compulsion.
If things are as we have briefly explained, the true theory will have
become apparent. This then answers your question about compulsion
and choice.
It is to be understood that a man who finds it impossible to act because
he lacks one of the things that are necessary if his action is to material-
22 ize, or which are accidental, coercive, or incidental to it, | is referred to
(as being unable to act) from this particular point of view. For instance,
if he finds it impossible to act because he lacks the necessary matter or
any other of the four necessary things, he is incapable (to act). If he finds
it impossible to act because of a coercive or accidental hindrance, (his
failure to act) is considered excusable from this point of view and in accor-
dance with it and corresponding to the size (of the obstacle). But let us
assume the case of a person who has at his disposal the power that acts
by choice. No hindrances exist; thus, any disability, which might other-
wise result from the existence of hindrances, is eliminated. Furthermore,
the action in question is considered as one undertaken with respect to
others, as an act of obedience to someone who must be obeyed, as an act
of support for someone who must be supported, or as any other kind of
obligatory action undertaken with respect to someone else. In this case, if
he finds it impossible to act, he is considered blameworthy and (his fail-
ure to act) is not considered excusable, because he is able to act and has
the power to act. Therefore, his own conscience may cause him to regret
(his failure to act), or he may be punished by others, or he may be blamed
and reproached.
This particular aspect—the one aspect connected with thinking and
with the application of reasoning by choice that is restricted to human
beings—is the fruit and product of the intellect. Without it, the existence

one would expect here. A few lines below, the word is used correctly for choice. Possibly,
“choice” is a mistake for “compulsion.” Cf. also Watt, op. cit., in particular, 52, 96, 118, 159.
definitions of freedom 45

of the intellect would be useless. In fact, its existence would be a frivolous

joke. Now, we are certain that the intellect is the most majestic of the
existentia and the most noble of God’s gifts to man. We are furthermore
certain that the lowest possible of the existentia is the one the existence
of which is useless and meaningless, comparable to a frivolous joke. It
would follow that the most majestic of the existentia is at the same time
the lowest of them. This is a contradiction that cannot be. Therefore, such
a conclusion is not true. Its opposite must be true (namely, that there is
action by choice, as the noblest action possible and as the reason for the
existence of the intellect).

Thus, at the end of the long discussion, it turns out, somewhat to our surprise,
that ikhtiyâr holds a very high rank indeed in the scale of values of the philoso-
phers. It remains, however, a term that must be treated gingerly as soon as one
approaches reality, and it is far removed from an all-embracing freedom. On the
other hand, no theory of ikhtiyâr which would have denied a certain human
freedom of action except on the metaphysical level ever found wide accep-
Turning now to definitions by Muslim authors of ḥurr and | ḥurrîyah, we 23
may in the first place refer to the lexicographers. Most of them, it seems,
were satisfied with defining ḥurr as the opposite of ʿabd “slave.”51 An etymo-
logical explanation was offered by al-Wâḥidî—apparently, the grammarian
and Qurʾân scholar, ʿAlî b. Aḥmad al-Wâḥidî, who died in 468/1075–1076.52 Al-
Wâḥidî’s statement was quoted by Ibn al-Mulaqqin (723–804/1323–1401) in his
notes to an-Nawawî’s Minhâj:

The etymologists say that ḥurr is derived from ḥarr which is the opposite
of cold, because the free man possesses a pride and warm zeal that causes
him to seek noble character qualities, in contrast to the slave.53

51 Cf., for instance, Ibn Durayd, Jamharah (Hyderabad, 1344–1352/1925–1933), I. 58, or Lisân
al-ʿArab, V, 253. Cf. also aṣ-Ṣûlî, Adab al-kuttâb (Cairo, 1341), 156f., where ḥurr is explained
as a negative quality (kh-l-ṣ, “free from something”); thus, “to become free” means to
become free from slavery, “a free man” means a man free from blemishes, and “free clay”
means clay free from sand. Cf. below, n. 65.
52 GAL, I, 411 f., GAL2, I, 524, and GAL, Suppl., I, 730f. From a quotation in Yâqût’s Irshâd, ed.
D.S. Margoliouth (Leiden-London, 1907–1927. E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series, VI), V, 99f.; ed.
A.F. Rifâʿî (Cairo, n.y. [1355–1357]), XII, 263ff., we learn that al-Wâḥidî reported about his
lexicographic and grammatical studies in one of his works.
53 Ibn al-Mulaqqin, al-Ishârât ilâ mâ waqaʿa fî l-Minhâj min al-asmâʾ wa-l-amâkin wa-l-
46 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Thus, freedom was conceived here as an ethical quality, in agreement with

the connotations that had belonged to ḥurr since pre-Islamic days.
Another definition, also by a lexicographer, attempted a clear-cut distinction
24 between the legal and the ethical meanings of ḥur|rîyah. In his Qurʾân dictio-
nary, ar-Râghib al-Iṣfahânî (ca. 1100) first defined ḥurr as the opposite of ʿabd,
and then he distinguished

two kinds of ḥurrîyah, the one referring to the person who is not subject to
any authority, and the other to the person who is not dominated by such
ugly qualities as greed and the desire for worldly possessions.54

For the first meaning, the author referred to Qurʾân 2.178/173 (al-ḥurr bi-l-ḥurr)
and to the Qurʾânic use of taḥrîr, as, for instance, in 4.92/94. For the second
meaning, he ventured to propose an interpretation of muḥarrar in Qurʾân
3.35/31 (where the mother of Moses is said to have dedicated the child in her
womb to God muḥarraran) as “free from worldly desires.”
A philosophical definition of freedom appears in one of the numerous and
important works of Fakhr-ad-dîn ar-Râzî (d. 606/1209). It is concerned with
“freedom of the soul,” and it is connected with the ethical tradition linking
ḥurrîyah with sôphrosynê and eleutheriotês.55 According to ar-Râzî, freedom of
the soul means that

the soul either does not hanker by nature after bodily matters, or it
does. The condition of the soul that does not hanker after bodily matters
has been called by us ‘freedom’, because, linguistically, ‘freedom’ is used
to indicate something that is opposed to slavery. It is well known that

lughât, Ms. ar. Yale University L-560 (Catalogue Nemoy, no. 1007), fol. 59a–b. Ibn al-Mulaq-
qin drafted this work while he was very young, in 743/1342–1343. It was published a number
of years later, in 758/1357. Cf. GAL, II, 92 f., GAL2, II, 113 (where the date of Ibn al-Mulaqqin’s
birth is wrong), and GAL, Suppl., II, 109 f.
The first to draw attention to this passage was young I. Goldziher in his Beiträge zur
Geschichte der Sprachgelehrsamkeit bei den Arabern, in Sitzungsberichte d. Akad. d. Wiss.
in Wien, phil.-hist. Kl., LXVII (1871), 229. Goldziher used a manuscript that erroneously
ascribed the work to al-Fîrûzâbâdî.
54 Ar-Râghib al-Iṣfahânî, al-Mufradât fî gharîb al-Qurʾân (Cairo, 1324), I, 109f.
For the opposite of ḥurr in the second meaning, ar-Râghib al-Iṣfahânî refers to the
Prophetic tradition: “Let the slave of the dirham perish. Let the slave of the dînâr perish.”
In this connection, he also quotes the verse mentioned below, n. 265.
55 Cf. below, pp. 88 and 96 f.
definitions of freedom 47

desires enslave. The person who hankers after bodily matters, whether
he leaves them alone or not, cannot be free. In fact, the person who
hankers after bodily matters and leaves them alone is worse off than the
one who satisfies his desires of the moment; for hankering coupled with
frustration distracts the soul and prevents it from acquiring the virtues. In
the long run, however, he may be better off, because the fact that he does
not satisfy his desires of the | moment and occupies himself with other 25
things may cause his hankering to disappear. Our remarks indicate that
freedom is a kind of natural modesty (ʿiffah, sôphrosynê) of the soul, not
one that comes through habit and instruction, although the latter kind of
modesty is also a virtue. This is meant by Aristotle’s statement, ‘Freedom
is a habit of the soul that guards the soul essentially, not artificially.’56 In
general, whenever the bodily connection of the soul is the weaker, and
the intellectual one the stronger, the soul possesses more freedom, and
vice versa. Plato hinted at this fact in his statement, ‘The wicked souls are
in the orbit of nature, and the virtuous souls in the orbit and light of the

Ṣûfî definitions of freedom appear in the section devoted to ḥurrîyah in the

Risâlah of al-Qushayrî (376–465/986–1072). This section is not confined to
mere definitions but aims at giving a coherent exposition of the Ṣûfî attitude
toward the concept of freedom. It will be dealt with in extenso later on.58
At the final stages of medieval Muslim civilization, the Ṣûfî interpretation
of ḥurrîyah became decidedly popular and was widely adopted. It seemed
to thoughtful persons of that age that this interpretation brought out the
most significant meaning of “freedom.” In his Book of Definitions, al-Jurjânî
(d. 816/1413) admittedly restricted himself to the Ṣûfî usage when defining
ḥurrîyah. He did the same in his brief definition of ʿubûdîyah “slavery,” a term
that was most often used to denote the relationship of man to God. The legal
aspect of the problem breaks through in his definition of riqq, the technical
legal term for “slavery.”59 His Ṣûfî definition of ḥurrîyah reads:

56 Cf. below, n. 247. Cf. also below, n. 242.

57 Fakhr-ad-dîn ar-Râzî, al-Mabâḥith al-mashriqîyah (Hyderabad, 1343), II, 413ff.
58 Cf. below, pp. 108–113.
59 Al-Jurjânî, Taʿrîfât, ed. G. Flügel (Leipzig, 1845), 112. Starting from the meaning “weakness”
ascribed to the root r-q-q, al-Jurjânî explained that slavery (riqq) meant

a debility theoretically produced by law (ʿajz ḥukmî), which originally was a penalty
for unbelief. ‘Debility,’ because a slave does not possess the right to give testimony,
48 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

26 In the technical terminology of the people of true reality (i.e., the Ṣûfîs),
freedom means leaving the slavery of the essentia and abandoning all ties
and changes. It has several degrees. There is the freedom of the common
mass from the slavery of animal desires; the freedom of the elite from the
slavery of anything willed because of annihilation of the will in the will
of the Truth; and, finally, the freedom of the special elite from the slavery
of marks and traces,60 because they are absorbed in the revelation of the
Light of Lights.61

The very high level of meaning that the term “freedom” has attained in Ṣûfî
usage is indeed remarkable, but it should not be forgotten that ḥurrîyah is only
one of the many terms that Ṣûfism has filled with deep meaning, and not an
especially prominent one at that.
In compiling his vast dictionary of technical terms, the eighteenth-century
Indian scholar, at-Tahânawî, relied on two earlier works for his long definition
of ḥurrîyah. The brief and formal legal definition was borrowed from the Jâmiʿ
ar-rumûz of Shams-ad-dîn al-Kûhistânî,62 and the long Arabic-Persian Ṣûfî def-
27 inition from a work entitled Majmaʿ as-sulûk.63 The | latter provides an inter-
esting contrast to the definition offered by al-Jurjânî. This is what at-Tahânawî,
at the end of many centuries of sporadic study of the problems presented by
the term ḥurrîyah, had to say:64

to be a judge, and so on. ‘Theoretically produced by law,’ because a slave is usually

stronger and better able to do hard work than a free man, according to observation.

Cf. also at-Tahânawî, Kashshâf iṣṭilâḥât al-funûn (Calcutta, 1854–1862. Bibliotheca Indica),
582, s.v. riqq; Zayn-ad-dîn al-Marghînânî (GAL, I, 382), Fatâwî fuṣûl al-iḥkâm fî uṣûl al-
aḥkâm (Calcutta, 1827), 1336. Cf. also below, n. 82, and the discussion of Bryson, below,
n. 285.
60 That is, the religious and social obligations.
61 Al-Jurjânî, op. cit., 90 f.
62 He lived in the first half of the sixteenth century, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 648. His work is a
frequently printed supercommentary on the Hidâyah of Burhân-ad-dîn al-Marghînânî
(d. 593/1197). The definition of freedom appears in the chapter on manumission (kitâb
al-ʿatâq), ed. Constantinople, 1299–1300, I, 360.
63 This work seems to be identical with the Majmaʿ as-sulûk fî t-taṣawwuf by Saʿd-ad-dîn al-
Khayrâbâdî, who is said to have died in 882/1477, cf. the continuation of Ḥâjjî Khalîfah by
Ismâʿîl Pasha al-Baghdâdî (Istanbul, 1945–1947), II, 434. Whether the Majmaʿ as-sulûkayn
by a certain Khayr-ad-dîn b. Muḥammad az-Zâhid an-Naqshbandî, mentioned in GAL,
Suppl., II, 1004, is the same work, remains to be investigated.
64 At-Tahânawî, op. cit., 291 f.
definitions of freedom 49

Ḥarr, linguistically, means ‘being pure, unmixed, unsoiled (khulûṣ).’65

Legally, it means a kind of judicial ‘purity’ that appears in a human being
as the result of the fact that he has been relieved66 of any claims that
others might make on him. Ḥurrîyah is the same. Ḥurr is derived from
ḥarr; its opposite is raqîq ‘slave.’ The opposite of ḥarr and ḥurrîyah is riqq
‘slavery.’ This has been stated in the Jâmiʿ ar-rumûz.
According to the Majmaʿ as-sulûk, ḥurrîyah, in Ṣûfî usage, means com-
plete relief of the mind from attachment to anything but God. Man arrives
at the station of freedom when he no longer has any worldly purpose to
follow and does not care for either this world or the hereafter because as
you are in the captivity (band) of the one, so you are the slave (bandah) of
the other. The perfect man called free is the one who has developed eight
things to perfection: Words, actions, knowledge, good character qualities,
renunciation (tark), isolation (ʿuzlet), contentment (qanâʿet), and leisure
( farâghet). Someone possessing only the first four must be called ‘excel-
lent’ (mature, bâligh), but he cannot be called ‘free.’66a
The free fall into two categories. Some choose obscurity and avoid mix-
ing with the people of this world and accepting their gifts; they know that
keeping company with the people of this world increases separatedness
(from the divine). Others observe acquiescence (in) and | acceptance (of 28
the world); they know that at times things happen to human beings that
turn out to be useful although they (at first) appeared to be harmful. ‘You
may perhaps dislike something which is good for you (Qurʾân 2.216/213).’
In their opinion, mixing and not mixing with the people of this world are
the same thing, as are accepting or rejecting a gift.
Since some heretics say that he who arrives at the station of freedom
ceases to be a slave—and this is heresy because no one ever ceases to be a
slave of the Prophet—, who else (but a heretic) would want to occupy that

65 The common Semitic root kh-l-ṣ has the basic meaning of “to be free from attachments,”
such as some different matter, impurities, clothes, possessions, unsatisfactory circum-
stances. In its transitive form, it can best be rendered “to extricate.” In Arabic, it lacks all
the positive connotations of ḥurrîyah, although in the form ikhlâṣ, it became a widely used
positive religious term (cf. C. van Arendonk, in EI, s.v. ikhlâṣ). Cf. also above, n. 51.
66 Lit, “cut off.”
66a The thirteenth-century Persian mystic an-Nasafî included a chapter on bulûgh u ḥurrîyet
in his Kitâb al-Insân al-kâmil, according to F. Meier, Die Schriften des ʿAzîz-i Nasafî, in
Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes, LII (1953–1955), 151. Cf. also the verse
quoted there on p. 167, where an-Nasafî speaks of the necessary freedom ( fârigh) from
both worlds.
50 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

place? No! When a human being arrives at the station (of freedom), he is
no longer a slave of himself, that is, he does not follow the commands of
his own soul. Rather, he becomes the owner of his soul. The soul becomes
subservient and obedient to him. He no longer feels that divine worship
is a troublesome obligation. He sees in it his joy and relaxation, and he
joyfully performs it.
Freedom is the end of slavery (ʿubûdîyah),67 which68 is the proper
guidance given to man (al-ʿabd) when he is first created. Thus the Majmaʿ
as-sulûk fî bayân aṭ-ṭarîq.

The foregoing citations of Muslim definitions of freedom constitute a good

cross-section of the varied thought on the problem from different fields of cul-
tural endeavor. They include some material which does not properly fall under
the heading of “definition,” and they are comparatively few in number. Much
of what they intimate will be found repeated and expanded in the following
pages which deal with the concept of freedom on the legal/sociological and
philosophical/metaphysical levels.

67 This statement was repeated by at-Tahânawî, op. cit., 948, s.v. ʿubûdîyah.
68 The pronoun refers to slavery, and not to freedom.

Legal and Sociological Aspects 29

of the Concept of Freedom

a Slavery

The outlook of jurists, and of all those who dealt with the legal aspects of slavery,
was determined by the fact that slavery was an accepted institution in Islam.
There was the presumption of a divinely ordained distinction between the
unfree and the free. Freedom was a precious gift, and those to whom it was
given by birth were admonished to guard it jealously.69 However, there were
those whose lot it was to be unfree, and, of course, human beings could never
be sure of the vicissitudes of fate; thus, a simple Bedouin woman may be heard
to reflect in a poem about having “seen today a free man who was not free
The furthest jurists could go toward criticizing slavery was for them to look
at the status quo with the uncomfortable feeling that its moral basis was shaky.
In fact, this is what happened occasionally.
The disqualifications of slaves were numerous, in particular, as far as their
eligibility for high office and the exercise of civic duties were concerned.71

69 “God made you a free man; so, do not become someone else’s slave (by accepting benefac-
tions from any source except God).” This statement is included among the exhortations
which ʿAlî is alleged to have addressed to his son, al-Ḥasan, according to al-Mâwardî,
Adab ad-dunyâ wa-d-dîn (Cairo, 1315), 220. Cf. in this connection the statement cited by
al-Mâwardî, op. cit., 118, that generosity may make a slave out of a free man. Cf. also Abû
Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Fî ṣ-Ṣadâqah wa-ṣ-ṣadîq (Constantinople, 1301), 175, and below n. 301.
70 Al-Mâwardî, op. cit., 197.
71 The status of freeman was, for instance, a condition for becoming caliph in orthodox
Islam; for being appointed to the “delegated wazirate,” though not for the “executive
wazirate”; for holding the office of administrator of the charity tax, etc. Cf. al-Mâwardî,
al-Aḥkâm as-sulṭânîyah (Cairo, 1298), 62, 26, 109. From this, it would follow, for example,
that officials employed by judges and sulṭâns had to be freemen. Cf. al-Qalqashandî,
Ṣubḥ al-aʿshâ (Cairo, 1331–1338/1913–1919), I, 65. Or it could be argued that a slave who
was appointed judge by the ruler became automatically free. Cf. al-Kâfiyajî, ad-Durrah
al-ghâliyah, Ms. Cairo, majâmîʿ 395, fols. 46a ff. Cf. also Abû Yaʿlâ, al-Aḥkâm as-sulṭânîyah
(Cairo, 1356–1357/1938), 4, 44 f., 225.
The grave handicap of slaves of not being admitted as witnesses has already been
52 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

30 Their inequality in the eyes of the law | was burdensome. In criminal cases it
occasionally worked to their advantage, and they were exempted from such a
demanding duty as the performance of the pilgrimage. The handicaps encoun-
tered by slaves were somewhat counteracted by the firm belief that all Mus-
lims were brothers and that, according to the Prophetic tradition, all men and
women were slaves of God only. Nobody had the right to address a man or a
woman as his “slave,” but he was to say, “my boy, my maid,” or “my young man,
my young woman.”72 In contrast to medieval Christianity, Islam, surprisingly
enough, was not bothered by the awesome authority of Aristotle and his views
on slavery. Aristotle’s tortuous defense of the proposition that there are peo-
ple who are slaves by nature, had to be refuted constantly by Christians on the
31 basis of | Christian principles.73 It remained unnoticed, and, indeed, unknown

mentioned, above, n. 59. For their different treatment with regard to ḥadd penalties, cf.
also, for instance, Abû Yûsuf, Kitâb al-Kharâj (Cairo, 1352), 159.
During certain periods of Muslim history, slaves could attain the highest positions
in the government. On this basis, it has been contended by Western scholars that slav-
ery “carried with it scarcely any social inferiority” (H.A.R. Gibb and H. Bowen, Islamic
Society and the West [Oxford University Press, 1950], I, 43), or, at least, that it was “nicht
unbedingt und immer ein stand von unterdrückten parias” (H. Ritter, Das Meer der Seele,
362 f.). However, regardless of their actual position and the social advantages derived
from it, the unfree status of individuals as such was always considered a personal dis-
grace. And it should be noted that it is often the point of stories showing slaves in a
good light that good things or noble deeds could be found even in the persons of lowly
72 Cf., for instance, Muslim, Ṣaḥîḥ (Calcutta, 1265), II, 397f.; A.J. Wensinck and others, Con-
cordance et Indices de la tradition musulmane (Leiden, 1933–), I, 121b, l. 32f.
73 Aristotle, Politics, I, 3 ff., and, in particular, 1253b 21f. versus 1255a 1f. In the Greek environ-
ment, the principle that “God let everybody be free, nature made nobody a slave,” was
first pronounced, as far as we know, by Alcidamas near the middle of the fourth cen-
tury bc, cf. R. Hirzel, op. cit. (above, n. 30), 261, n. 1; M. Pohlenz, op. cit. (above, n. 19),
For the ancient and medieval Christian attitude, cf., for instance, F. Schaub, Studien
zur Geschichte der Sklaverei im Frühmittelalter (Leipzig, 1913. Abhandlungen zur mittleren
und neueren Geschichte, XLIV); M. Grabmann, Die mittelalterlichen Kommentare zur Politik
des Aristoteles, in Sitzungsberichte d. Bayerischen Akad. d. Wiss., philos.-hist. Abt., 1941,
2, no. X, 22, 35, 38, 70; C. Verlinden, L’ esclavage dans l’Europe médiévale, I: Péninsule
Ibérique-France (Bruges, 1955. Rijksuniversiteit te Gent, Werken uitgegeven door de Fac. van
de Letteren en Wijsbegeerte, CXIX), 34, 793; S.J.T. Miller, The Position of the King in Bracton
and Beaumanoir, in Speculum, XXXI (1956), 288 f.; L. Hanke, Aristotle and the American
Indians (Chicago, 1959).
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 53

in Islam, at least, in its original form.74 Thus, there was no opposition to the
general principle that it was not the natural destiny of man to be a slave,
even if slavery had come into being as the result of historical developments
and human | sinfulness and then continued to exist.75 For Muslim jurists, “the 32
basic principle for all children of Adam—or, as is occasionally added: as far as
Muslims are concerned—is freedom.”76

74 References to “slaves by nature” and the natural role of the free man as the master occur
in the tenth-century, Kitâb as-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd by Abû l-Ḥasan b. Abî Dharr (Wiesbaden,
1957–1958), 188, 363. The editor of the work, M. Minovi, equates the author with Abû
l-Ḥasan al-ʿÂmirî (below, n. 240). For the work, cf. also A.J. Arberry, in The Islamic Quarterly,
II (1955), 9–22. For further echoes of the theory of the born slave, cf. below, n. 285.
For the Politics of Aristotle among the Muslims, cf. R. Walzer, Arisṭûṭâlîs, in EI2, I, 631a.
Only the very detailed list of Aristotle’s works by Ptolemy mentions the Politics among
the writings of the philosopher, cf. al-Qifṭî, ed. A. Müller-J. Lippert (Leipzig, 1903), 44,
l. 15. The other bibliographies do not refer to it, nor is the Politics included in al-Fârâbî’s
presentation of the canon of Aristotelian writings, from a still unpublished section of the
Taḥṣîl as-saʿâdah. A dubious reference to the Politics may be found in al-Fârâbî’s Iḥṣâʾ
al-ʿulûm, according to the edition by A. Gonzalez Palencia (Madrid, 1932), text 55; trans.
70, and Ibn Sînâ has a vague reference to “the book of Plato and Aristotle on politics” in
his Fî aqsâm al-ʿulûm, in Tisʿ Rasâʾil (Cairo, 1326/1908), 108.
There have always been attempts to find traces of the Politics among the Muslims.
Silvestre de Sacy was a bit rash in attributing to the genuine Politics a reference to “Aristotle
on politics ( fî s-siyâsah)” by ʿAbd-al-Laṭîf, cf. his Relation de l’Egypte (Paris, 1810), 204, 291.
However, as S. Pines has pointed out, al-Kindî mentioned the Politics in his treatise Fî
kammîyat kutub Arisṭûṭâlîs, in Rasâʾil al-Kindî al-falsafîyah (above, n. 28), I, 384, cf. S. Pines,
in Archives d’histoire doctrinale et littéraire du Moyen Âge, 1956, 36, n. 2. Traces of Muslim
knowledge of the Politics may show up in the future, cf. Pines, in ʿIyyûn, VIII (5717/1957), 65.
75 D. Santillana, Istituzioni di diritto musulmano malichita (Rome, n. y. [1938]), I, 13, corre-
sponding to p. 10 of the first edition of vol. I (Rome, 1926). (The second ed. was, in fact,
not published in 1938 but in 1943, cf. G. Levi Della Vida, Aneddoti e svaghi [Milan-Naples,
1959], 227, n. 7).
This corresponds almost exactly to the theory of the thirteenth-century Christian
jurist, Beaumanoir, cf. Miller, loc. cit. Beaumanoir, like most Muslims, considered the
manumission of slaves a highly meritorious act.
76 As-Sarakhsî, Sharḥ as-siyar al-kabîr (Hyderabad, 1336), IV, 71, and idem, Uṣûl (Cairo, 1372–
1373), II, 222; Zayn-ad-dîn al-Marghînânî, Fatâwî (above, n. 59), 1338ff. Cf. R. Brunschvig,
ʿAbd, in EI2, I, 26a.
In interpreting Qurʾân 43.32/31 (below, p. 77), an early authority had to remind himself
that the idea that all men were children of Adam could exist side by side with the
institution of slavery (aṭ-Ṭabarî, Tafsîr [Cairo, 1321], XXV, 37).
An article entitled al-Ḥurrîyah wa-s-salâm wa-l-ḥukm fî l-Islâm was published by M.
al-Qâḍî in Majallat al-Majmaʿ al-ʿIlmî al-ʿIrâqî of 1954, pp. 1–15 (cf. Revue des Études
Islamiques, 1956 [1957], 108). I have not been able to obtain a copy of it.
54 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

There was much discussion of the question whether in cases where a man’s
status was not clearly established, preference should be given to the presump-
tion of freedom or to that of an unfree status. Opinion varies but, in agreement
with the maxim cited, there seems to have been a general tendency toward the
presumption of freedom.77 Difficulties could arise in criminal cases where the
victim of a crime whose personal status was not established might claim to be
a free man, while the defendant maintained that this was not so. Since the dis-
position of the case was affected by the conflicting claims, it was not enough,
33 even | for liberal legal opinion, to refer to the basic assumption of freedom for
all children of Adam but proof for the individual’s status as a free man had to
be brought.78
Another related problem is connected with passages in the Qurʾân in which
Muḥammad addressed his contemporaries in general terms such as “man” or
the like. The question was whether or not slaves were to be included here so
that any law derived from these passages would or would not be applicable
to them. Also, was a distinction between freemen and slaves to be made in
these cases or only where this was expressly indicated? Ibn Ḥazm, in keeping
with his general principles, was definitely against making such a distinction
where the Qurʾân used non-specific terms, and he condemned it strongly.79
On the other hand, a tenth-century Mâlikite, Ibn Khuwêzmandâd, contra-
dicted general legal opinion by arguing that slaves were not included in these
cases.80 Again, it may be assumed that most jurists preferred the more lib-
eral attitude, as an expression of their doubts about the institution of slav-
However, it must be admitted that the problem of freedom found little posi-
tive attention in legal works. The Muslim juridical literature is immense and as
yet imperfectly known, and further study may reveal the one or other author
who showed a more articulate and sustained interest in that problem and its
many ramifications, but, to all appearances, this is rather unlikely. We can-
not discern any tendency among jurists to go beyond technicalities and to see

77 Santillana, loc. cit., says that when in doubt, one must always presume freedom.
For Shâfiʿite vacillation with regard to the problem, cf. as-Subkî, Ṭabaqât ash-Shâfiʿîyah
(Cairo, 1324), III, 21.
78 As-Sarakhsî, Uṣûl, II, 221 f.
79 Op. cit. (above, n. 34), III, 86–88.
80 Aṣ-Ṣafadî, Wâfî, ed. S. Dedering (Istanbul, 1949. Bibliotheca Islamica, VIb), II, 52.
81 The Muslim aversion for slave merchants is well known, cf., for instance, A. Mez, Die
Renaissance des Islâms (Heidelberg, 1922), 156. However, it can hardly be interpreted as
an expression of sentiment against slavery as such.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 55

freedom and slavery as something more than | legal facts. Muslim jurists may 34
occasionally suggest a wider meaning for freedom and even equate freedom
with life itself. For the Qurʾân characterizes unbelief as death (6.122/122). Unbe-
lief is the cause of the existence of slavery.82 Slavery, therefore, is death and
perdition. It follows that the opposite of slavery, freedom, must be life.83 It is
doubtful, however, whether the consequences were ever drawn and freedom
acknowledged as the most basic human attribute.

b Deprivations of Freedom

The attitude that prevailed toward individual freedom among jurists and all
other classes of the population is not spelled out for us with sufficient clarity
in legal works. Something more may be learned about it from the approach
taken toward the various ways in which individuals could be deprived of their
liberty by legal or political authorities. These included, in the first place, impris-
onment, and, to a lesser degree, forced labor. Both subjects again lead us into a
very intricate and endlessly varied portion of the social fabric. Neither impris-
onment nor forced labor was, in many respects, governed by hard and fast rules,
and even where the law took a hand in the matter, it often was as arbitrary and
depending on men and circumstances as is its nature to be. A reasonably clear
picture of the situation in Islam in all its variable aspects could be obtained only
from a collection of the relevant references from all possible sources. The fol-
lowing remarks are, of necessity, selective. It should also be kept in mind that
whatever seeming generalizations suggest themselves, they always had their
exceptions somewhere in Muslim history. No attempt has been made to pro-
ceed systematically and | to discover historical developments, regional trends, 35
and legal school characteristics. Thus, much remains to be done beyond these
timid steps into territory not yet explored in detail.

The Qurʾân shows itself familiar with the institution of prisons. This is obvious
from the story of Joseph in the twelfth sûrah. The word for prison used in
that sûrah is sijn. A verbal derivation of it appears again in 26.29/28 where
Pharaoh threatens Moses with imprisonment. Since sijn occurs in the Qurʾân

82 Cf. above, n. 59.

83 As-Sarakhsî, Uṣûl, I, 173 f.
For ethical judgments on slaves and slavery, cf. below, p. 90ff.
56 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

only in connection with Egypt, it has been suggested, but without convincing
evidence, that the origin of the word be sought in Egypt.84
The root ḥ-b-s, used to express detention in prison in various Semitic lan-
guages (cf., in particular, Syriac), is used in the Qurʾân only in the sense of
“to detain” without the implication of imprisonment (cf. sûrah 5.106/105). In
later literature, the specific meaning of ḥ-b-s in a certain context occasionally
36 re|quired comment. Thus, it was important for a jurist to argue that ḥabs, in
the usage of the time of the Prophet, did not refer to a real prison but merely
to detention, which justified the use of the word asîr “one bound in fetters” for
prisoner.85 And, to descend from legal speculation to medical facts, a verse on
the death of Ibn Sînâ, saying that he had died bi-l-ḥabs, required the comment
that ḥabs here did not refer to imprisonment but to the “obstruction” caused
by Ibn Sînâ’s fatal colic.86
Detention (m-s-k) in their houses for women convicted of fornication is
prescribed in Qurʾân 4.15f./19f., a punishment which, jurists point out,87 was
later abrogated and replaced by flogging (24.2/2). However, such detention at
home, while it constitutes a deprivation of liberty, can hardly be considered
comparable to imprisonment.
At any rate, prisons were known in the Arabia of the Prophet. They had been
in existence in pre-Islamic times everywhere,88 and we may safely assume that

84 A.A. Bevan, in A Volume of Oriental Studies presented to Edward G. Browne (Cambridge,

1922), 71, referred to the occurrence of sìgnon in a late Byzantine Graeco-Coptic papyrus
(Greek Papyri in the British Museum, ed. H.I. Bell, [London, 1917], V, no. 1708, l. 88) and in
some Coptic ostraca in the alleged meaning of prison. No mention of all this was made by
W.E. Crum in his Coptic Dictionary (Oxford, 1939). The assumption of an Egyptian origin
for the word is also complicated by the fact that it does occur in pre-Islamic poetry (ʿAdî b.
Zayd, cf. Kitâb al-Aghânî [Bûlâq, 1285], II, 25 f.; [Cairo, 1345–], II, 111, 114). It may, however,
be argued that either the verses are not genuine or the use of s-j-n in them is not original.
For the time being, it would seem preferable to combine sijn with the common Semitic
root s-g-r “to lock up”, and possibly with Akkadian shigaru. The final n of sijn, for the r of
s-g-r, may be due to conflation with the root sh-k-n, sakana, Syriac sheḵnâ “residence.”
Later Islam, as we would expect, knew quite a few additional words for prison, cf., for
instance, below, n. 331. The ḥaṣîr of Qurʾân 17.8/8, something prepared for unbelievers in
Hell, is usually interpreted as “prison.”
85 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, aṭ-Ṭuruq al-ḥukmîyah fî s-siyâsah ash-sharʿîyah (Cairo, 1372/1953),
102. Cf. also below, n. 89.
86 Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, ʿUyûn al-anbâʾ, ed. A. Müller (Cairo-Königsberg, 1882–1884), II, 9, l. 14.
87 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Risâlah (Cairo, 1312), 37 f.
88 For some examples that were within the ken of the Arabs of the Peninsula, cf. the story,
known to Muslim historians, that the Persians used an army of prisoners, released for that
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 57

the larger settlements in Arabia, such as the cities of Mecca and Medina, had
their jails. However, in the Bedouin environment, imprisonment was a highly
impractical and almost impossible procedure. As a punishment at least (in
contrast to its use as a precautionary measure), it was, and still is, an extremely
dubious device that could be more | burdensome to those who applied it than 37
to those subjected to it. It can be considered as certain that among Bedouins,
imprisonment was not widely practiced, and the same can probably be said
about the smaller settlements of central Arabia.
This attitude is reflected in the attitude of Muḥammad and, as a conse-
quence, in the theory of later Muslim law. The ḥadîth mentions that the Prophet
detained someone upon suspicion.89 This tradition became a source of consid-
erable concern for those jurists who had to find equitable laws to regulate the
commitment to prison of debtors and accused or potential criminals, as will be
discussed soon. In order to forestall excesses, which human beings are only too
prone to commit, it was argued that the Prophet did not have a prison in which
he could have held contesting parties, but only when the number of Muslims
increased greatly in the time of ʿUmar, this caliph bought a house in Mecca
and converted it into a prison; this, then, constituted the legal justification for
the maintenance of prisons by the established authorities (called imâm in Ara-
bic).90 A seemingly reliable picture of the situation with regard to prisons in
ʿUmar’s time is painted in a story reported by the historian, al-Balâdhurî. | A 38
certain Kûfan, Maʿn b. Zâʾidah, was accused of forging the caliphal seal and

purpose, to conquer the Yemen, cf. al-Masʿûdî, Murûj (Cairo, 1346), I, 282. Or the famous
story of ʿAdî b. Zayd and an-Nuʿmân of al-Ḥîrah, as reported, for instance, by al-Bayhaqî,
Maḥâsin (below, n. 204), or Nashwân al-Ḥimyarî (below, n. 192).
The “first” to imprison people was believed to have been the legendary aḍ-Ḍaḥḥâk,
who was equated with Nimrod, cf. al-ʿAskarî, Awâʾil, Ms. Paris ar. 5986, fol. 216a; as-Suyûṭî,
Awâʾil (Baghdâd, 1369), 54.
89 Cf. Wensinck and others, Concordance, I, 411b, 412a; al-Ḥâkim an-Nîsâbûrî, Mustadrak
(Hyderabad, 1334–1342/1915–1923), I, 125. Cf. also below, n. 92.
For ḥadîth references, cf. Concordance, II, 431b, and I, 411b–412a. Most of the examples
indicated in the latter place deal with the root ḥ-b-s and have no connection with the
concept of prison. One of them, reading, “Your brother is constrained by his debt,” does
not refer to the debtors’ prison; “constrained” is to be understood in the sense of being
prevented from entering Paradise! Cf. also above, nn. 85 and 86.
90 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 102f., and al-Bukhârî, Ṣaḥîḥ, ed. L. Krehl (Leiden, 1862–
1908), II, 92 (khuṣûmât 8). The legal-historical survey given by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah can
also be found in al-Maqrîzî, Khiṭaṭ (Bûlâq, 1270), II, 187. But cf. as-Suyûṭî, Awâʾil, 55.
For the meaning of imâm, cf. I. Guidi and D. Santillana, Il “Muḫtaṣar” o Sommario del
diritto Malechita di Ḫalîl Ibn Isḥâq (Milan, 1919), II, 742, n. 430.
58 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

embezzling tax money. The prison in al-Kûfah, to which he was committed,

was a reed hut (qaṣab), from which he escaped without great difficulty. He gave
himself up to ʿUmar who, upon ʿAlî’s advice, had him flogged and imprisoned
(ḥ-b-s) indefinitely.91
The Arabian heritage of Islam, it seems, is primarily responsible for the
fact that imprisonment continued to be looked upon as a rather doubtful
procedure. In its defense, it had to be recalled that imprisonment constituted
the ḥadd penalty for fornication (zinâʾ) in early Islam, that the Prophet sent
someone to prison on suspicion, that ʿAlî made use of two prisons, and so
on, with the most effective (but certainly, to us, least convincing) argument
of all being an interpretation of the term “banishment” ( yunfaw) in Qurʾân
5.33/37, as imprisonment.92 Altogether, this is slim evidence. In the basic ḥadd
punishments, the main class of criminal punishments fixed by the religious
law, imprisonment is not represented. It is also very little in evidence in the
modifications and extensions that of necessity had to be applied to the basic
ḥadd penalties in the course of time.
The famous Risâlah, a brief handbook of Mâlikî jurisprudence composed
by Ibn Abî Zayd al-Qayrawânî in the tenth century, may serve as an example.
Ibn Abî Zayd admitted the following cases of imprisonment: (1) In the case of
39 murder, without intention of robbery, after forgiveness has been obtained, the |
murderer is given one hundred lashes and sentenced to one year in prison. (2)
In cases of highway robbery, punishment may be left to the discretion of the
established authorities (imâm) who may, if they see fit, impose banishment
to some place where the culprit will be kept in prison until he repents. (3)
The thief, once his hands and feet were amputated after four thefts, will, upon
commission of a fifth theft, be punished by flogging and imprisonment. (4) A
debtor, suspected of having the means to repay his debts or part thereof, may
be imprisoned so that his financial condition can be ascertained. But (5) the
wine-bibber must be flogged, and must not be sent to prison.93

91 Al-Balâdhurî, Futûḥ, ed. M.J. de Goeje (Leiden, 1863–1866), 462f.; trans. F.C. Murgotten
(New York, 1924. Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, LXVIII),
257 f. It seems less likely that ʿUmar filled his prison with unauthorized reporters of tradi-
tions, as suggested by Ibn al-ʿArabî al-Ishbîlî, ʿÂriḍat al-aḥwadhî [Comm. on at-Tirmidhî’s
Ṣaḥîḥ] (Cairo, 1353/1934), X, 137.
92 As-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ (Cairo, 1324–1331), XX, 89–91, in connection with the imprisonment
of debtors. For the reference to the Qurʾân, cf., further, op. cit., IX, 45, and XX, 88; for the
reference to the Prophet, cf. op. cit., XXIV, 36, also above, n. 89, and below, n. 119.
93 Cf. L. Bercher’s edition and translation of the Risâlah, 3rd ed. (Algiers, 1949), 242f., 252f.,
258 f., 270 f., and 256 f.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 59

More will soon be said about the imprisonment of debtors. The problem
of how wine drinkers are to be punished is an old one; imprisonment seems
to antedate the generally upheld ḥadd punishment of flogging.94 The other
cases mentioned by Ibn Abî Zayd do not deal with imprisonment as a primary
penalty but as a solution for more complicated situations than were envis-
aged originally. Repeated backsliding was doubtlessly common among thieves
despite the painful punishment prescribed for theft. Obviously, the penalty of
amputation had to stop at some point. The Mâlikite solution, indicated by Ibn
Abî Zayd, was shared by the Shâfiʿites.95 A more humane solution ascribed | to 40
ʿAlî has amputation of the hand for the first theft, amputation of the foot for the
first repetition of the crime, and thereafter imprisonment.96 In Twelver-Shîʿah
law, we consequently find that for the first theft, four fingers of the thief’s right
hand are amputated, for the second, his left foot, and for the third, the thief
was given a life term in prison, with the proviso that if he continued to steal
while in prison, he be killed.97 The more lenient attitude was also adopted by
the Ḥanafites,98 while Ḥanbalite theory was wavering between the two possi-
There were, of course, cases in which the punishment of amputation was
not applicable because of recognized exceptions or because of the insignifi-
cant value of the stolen object. There could then develop cases like this one
discussed by ash-Shâfiʿî. Someone was suspected of having stolen an object
not valuable enough to make amputation mandatory. The man was held in
prison to await establishment of his guilt. Meanwhile, the stolen object rose in
value so much so that its new value would have made amputation mandatory.

94 Cf. the story of Abû Miḥjan, as reported, for instance, by al-Masʿûdî, Murûj, I, 432f.,
or the alleged imprisonment of Abû Nuwâs, for which one may compare ash-Sharîshî,
Sharḥ al-Maqâmât al-Ḥarîrîyah (Cairo, 1306), II, 125, or Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah, trans.
F. Rosenthal (New York, 1958), I, 36.
Shîʿah law required flogging of the wine-bibber, and death for the four-time repeater,
cf. al-ʿAllâmah al-Ḥillî, Tabṣirah (Teheran, 1329/1951), II, 588.
A Muslim wine-seller is to be punished by flogging and imprisonment until it becomes
obvious that he has mended his ways, according to the Fatâwî of the Ḥanafite, Qâḍîkhân
(Calcutta, 1835), IV, 120, 487.
95 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Kitâb al-Umm (Cairo, 1321–1325), VI, 117 f., 138.
96 Abû Yûsuf, Kharâj, 174. The same handling of repeaters was imputed to the caliph ʿUmar
by Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh (Cairo, 1366–1369/1947–1950), III, 210f.
97 Al-ʿAllâmah al-Ḥillî, Tabṣirah, II, 592.
98 As-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, IX, 140 f., 166 ff.
99 Ash-Shaʿrânî, Kitâb al-Mîzân (Cairo, 1275), II, 188.
60 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

According to ash-Shâfiʿî, the value of the object on the day it was stolen is to
be the decisive factor.100 We also hear of a case where a ruler’s servant was
imprisoned for theft, apparently at the whim and discretion of the ruler.101
All the information we have shows clearly that imprisonment was not a pri-
41 mary punishment according to Islamic legal theory.101a | On the contrary, it was
a decidedly unpopular procedure, and it may be said that Muslim law was basi-
cally disinclined to deprive individuals of their liberty. However, prisons of all
kinds and descriptions were indispensable fixtures of every Muslim commu-
nity large enough to maintain them. The references in literature are numerous.
It would not be difficult to duplicate, from Muslim sources, most of the stories
we know about prisons and their inmates from other parts of the world.
The principal legal basis for sending people to prison is to be found in the
word taʿzîr.102 As a technical term, it came to indicate the power of the judge—
and, occasionally, of closely related offices such as that of the muḥtasib, the
market supervisor103—to mete out punishment in cases where ḥadd penalties
did not apply. The types of punishment which could be administered under the
heading of taʿzîr were classified in various ways. According to Shâfiʿite theory,
the taʿzîr punishment could be verbal, that is, a verbal lashing or exhortation.
Then, it could be imprisonment. The next step was banishment, and, finally,
42 there was flogging.104 The various kinds of taʿzîr were occasionally—as, | for
instance, by the twelfth-century Ḥanafite author, al-Kâshânî—conceived as

100 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Umm, VI, 116.

101 Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, al-Ḥawâdith al-jâmiʿah (Baghdâd, 1351), 26. Ibn al-Fuwaṭî’s authorship of
the work has recently been denied by ʿIrâqî historians, cf. ʿAbbâs al-ʿAzzâwî, At-Taʿrîf
bi-l-muʾarrikhîn, I (Baghdâd, 1376/1957), 161; K. ʿAwwâd, in Sumer, XIII (1957), 53f.
101a Cf. G. Bergsträsser-J. Schacht, Grundzüge des islamischen Rechts (Leipzig-Berlin, 1935),
96: “Imprisonment (ḥabs) is not a punishment but rather a means to bring about active
repentance (tawbah).”
102 The root ʿ-z-r does not seem to be represented in other Semitic languages. It appears to be
a variant form of the common root ʿ-dh-r. Its original meaning may have been something
like “to fend off.” On taʿzîr, cf. also N.J. Coulson, in International and Comparative Law
Quarterly, VI (1957), 53 f.
103 Cf. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 240, where the choice of either imprisonment or
flogging is left to the muḥtasib in cases of neglect to pray, and Ṭuruq, 270, where refusal
of business permits for persons who falsify weights is considered a more severe and
appropriate punishment than either flogging or imprisonment. For other cases where the
muḥtasib may send offenders to prison, cf. M. ʿA. Makkî, Aḥkâm as-sûq li-Yaḥyâ b. ʿUmar
al-Andalusî, in Revista del Instituto Egípcio de Estudios Islámicos, IV (1956), 128, 133f., 135,
104 As-Subkî, Ṭabaqât, IV, 300 f. As-Subkî was quoting, indirectly, the Ḥilyah of ash-Shâshî
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 61

applicable to the various strata of society, with imprisonment being reserved

for the commercial middle class, and imprisonment combined with flogging
for the lowest class, the general mass of people.105
There can be no doubt that the taʿzîr is a continuation of the pre-Islamic
judicial power of the government vested in the judge. Wherever it existed, this
power came to be restricted by the Muslim religious law but, in view of the
large areas left uncovered by the latter, had to reassert itself in those areas. The
Muslim judge’s power of taʿzîr largely overlapped with punitive measures taken
by the political authorities directly. A judge could wield the power of taʿzîr
arbitrarily. He could, for instance, commit someone to prison for an alleged
affront to his dignity, for contempt of court, we might call it.106 He could also jail
people for no valid reason whatever but his own whim or personal interest.107
On the other hand, he could refuse to send a debtor to jail upon demand by
the creditor, merely on the strength of a hunch, derived from physiognomy,
that something was wrong in the case.108 There was no orderly process of
appeal that might have restrained a judge bent upon abusing his powers.
However, social and moral pressures made such abuses, generally speaking,
most uncommon. Their occurrence was certainly no more frequent in Islam
than in other comparable societies. The model judge would conscientiously
do his duty as he saw it and send a man to prison only when the circumstances
seemed to demand it. But then, he | could not be swayed by anyone or anything 43
from the decision he had made. When Shurayḥ committed a man because of
debts, and this man, having personal connections with Shurayḥ, would hardly
believe it, Shurayḥ said: “It was not I who sent you to prison; the law (the facts
of the situation, ḥaqq) did it.”109
The choice of the particular taʿzîr penalty to be applied in a given case was
largely left to the discretion of the judge, and so was the length of the prison
term if imprisonment was considered suitable. Such imprisonment could be for

(d. 507/1114, cf. GAL, I, 390 f., GAL, Suppl., I, 674). For Mâlikite theory, cf. Guidi and San-
tillana, op. cit., II, 742.
The three choices, in a slightly different order, were, for instance, left to the decision of
the Ḥanafite judge in the case of persons who behaved immorally in their own houses, cf.
Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, IV, 380.
105 W. Heffening, Taʿzîr, in EI, IV, 710.
106 Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, I, 190 f., 210; III, 308.
107 Cf., for instance, Wakîʿ, op. cit., Ill, 36, 38, 187.
108 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 27; at-Tanûkhî, The Table-Talk of a Mesopotamian Judge,
trans. D.S. Margoliouth, Part II, no. 3 (Hyderabad, n.y., 182f.).
109 Wakîʿ, op. cit., II, 296. Cf. below, n. 166.
62 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

one day, or it could be for an indefinite period.110 The decision was made by the
judge. Presumably, judges were as a rule guided by precedent and local custom.
However, the appropriate length of prison terms was occasionally discussed in
legal literature. We have already seen that the length of the prison term could be
a fixed one in certain ḥadd cases. Life sentences were, for instance, mandatory
in murder cases for the accomplice who had been holding the victim while the
murder was being committed,111 or for a Muslim slave who killed his Christian
master.112 The length of time a bankrupt debtor was supposed to spend in
prison was often discussed.113
Working against fixed prison terms was the custom, based upon passages of
the Qurʾân, of sentencing people to prison to be held there until they would give
proof of repentance, that is, of having reformed their ways.114 But even when
44 someone was | sent to prison not by a judge but by the ruler, he often knew
in advance the length of his prospective stay in prison. Ash-Shâfiʿî discussed
the case of a man who had taken it upon himself to perform the pilgrimage
but was jailed by the government. In this case, the situation differs according
to whether he knows the presumable length of his stay in prison, and thus,
whether he will be able to undertake the pilgrimage in time; or he does not
know the length of his sentence, or he knows that he will have to stay in prison
beyond the season of the pilgrimage.115 In cases with political overtones, the
matter was, of course, very different. A political prisoner was rarely sure how
long he would have to remain in prison. In criminal cases, too, it could happen
that bureaucratic confusion caused a poor fellow to be forgotten and held in
prison well beyond his time. Thus, during the reign of al-Maʾmûn, a man stole a
garment worth two dirhams and was kept in jail for two years until he hit upon
some desperate measure designed to call attention to himself and his plight.116
There was so much paper work in the prison administration of a large city that
it could happen that the documents concerning a man indicted for murder

110 As-Subkî, loc. cit. (above, n. 104), apparently continuing his quotation from ash-Shâshî.
111 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Umm, VII, 300 f.; al-ʿAllâmah al-Ḥillî, Tabṣirah, II, 610. In Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzî-
yah, Ṭuruq, 51, this decision is ascribed to ʿAlî, speaking about a murderer, someone who
held the victim, and an onlooker who did not do anything to prevent the crime.
112 Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 73, in connection with the case he reported, referred to this as
Ḥanbalite and Shâfiʿite practice.
113 Cf. below, p. 51 f.
114 Cf. above, n. 101a, and below, n. 131, or, for instance, as-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, XXIV, 36.
115 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Umm, II, 138 f.
116 Aḥmad b. Abî Ṭâhir Ṭayfûr, Kitâb Baghdâd, ed. H. Keller (Leipzig, 1908), text 24, trans. 11;
(Cairo, 1368/1949), 20.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 63

were lost in the files and the accused himself was forgotten in prison.117 How
frequent such cases | were, we are not in a position to say, but it would seem 45
that prison affairs were entirely orderly and well regulated even with regard to
the length of the terms which the inmates had to serve.118 The very occurrence
of administrative errors such as those cited here presupposes the existence of
a normally smoothly running administrative setup.
Another generally practiced type of imprisonment was the commitment of
someone suspected of a crime until his innocence or guilt was established.
Commitment to prison for this purpose was the right and duty of the judge and,
wherever their particular fields of jurisdiction were concerned, of the muḥtasib
and the police. The example of Muḥammad, who had held people on suspicion,
was invoked to justify the practice.119 Criminals might also be held in prison as
a precautionary measure in order to keep them from escaping and avoiding the
deserved punishment. These things were recognized to be matters that had to
be handled with much circumspection so as to avoid infringing upon the rights
of the accused.120

117 This is the background of an anecdote placed in the time when Isḥâq b. Ibrâḥîm b. Muṣʿab
(d. 235/850) was governor of Baghdâd. It occurs in the twenty-first chapter, dealing with
prisons, of the fürstenspiegel, ash-Shuhub al-lâmiʿah fî s-siyâsah an-nâfiʿah. The author of
the work, Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân, lived under the Merinids and was a contemporary and
friend of Ibn Khaldûn, cf. the Muqaddimah, trans. F. Rosenthal, I, xl; III, 395. Ibn Riḍwân
was briefly characterized as the author of the Kitâb as-Siyâsah by the nineteenth-century
historian, as-Salâwî, Istiqṣâʾ (Cairo, 1312), II, 123. The introduction of the Shuhub speaks
of al-Khilâfah al-ʿalîyah and al-imâmah al-Ibrâhîmîyah; the latter is certainly meant as
an allusion to the rule of Abû Sâlim Ibrâhîm (760–762/1359–1361). Ibn Riḍwân was out
of office during that time and may have written the Shuhub in order to gain Abû Sâlim’s
favor. Cf. GAL, I, 463, GAL, Suppl., I, 837, where the wrong information of earlier scholars
is reproduced.
I have consulted the manuscripts Bodleian ar. 296 (Laud 306), fols. 77b–79b, and
Cambridge Suppl. 821, fols. 126b–129b.
118 Cf. aṭ-Ṭabarî’s reference to prison registers (below, n. 197), cited by R. Levy, The Social
Structure of Islam (Cambridge, 1957), 354.
119 Cf. above, nn. 89 and 92. Abû Yûsuf, Kharâj, 176, referred in passing to “all those under
suspicion who were held in prison” as something entirely routine. Cf. also, for instance,
al-ʿAllâmah al-Ḥillî, Tabṣirah, II, 505, or the case reported by Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 488.
A defaulting debtor was held “on suspicion,” as it was put in O. Houdas and F. Martel, Traité
de droit musulman, La Tohfat d’Ebn Acem (Algiers, 1882), 766f. Cf. also the case reported
by Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, II, 43, and below, n. 120.
120 Cf. the discussion by as-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, IX, 38 f., as to whether detention in a given case
was to be considered iḥtiyâṭ, a precautionary measure, or taʿzîr, a penalty. As-Sarakhsî,
64 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

46 Legal theory, as expounded by the Ḥanafite Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah (691–

751/1292–1350), showed itself hesitant to permit the jailing of debtors who were
suspected of trying to procrastinate repayment of their debts although able
to pay. With regard to crimes such as murder, robbery, theft, and so on, sus-
pects are classified in three categories. A suspect may be innocent and a man
of known reputation, which makes him an unlikely suspect. Or he may be a
man with a criminal record, and thus a prime suspect. Or his standing may
not be known to the political (wâlî) and judicial (qâḍî) authorities. A suspect
with a criminal record can be committed without further ado. A suspect whose
reputation is not known may be jailed until his situation is clarified. This is
the opinion of Muslim religious scholars in general. Most legal authorities,
including the Mâlikites, the Ḥanafites, and a number of competent Ḥanbalites,
state expressly that such a person is to be jailed by the political and judicial
authorities. Ibn Ḥanbal referred in this connection to the famous report that
the Prophet detained someone on suspicion, which he understood as implying
that a suspect should be held until his situation becomes clear to the authori-
In cases where there was no doubt as to the guilt of the suspected crimi-
nal, if no confession could be obtained nor the evidence legally established,
his stay in prison could be very prolonged.122 Jailing a suspected criminal in
order to force a confession out of him was frowned upon. The practice may
have been resorted to by the political authorities rather than the legal ones.
However, the temptation to use force to make a person suspected of a crime
confess must often have been very great and may not always have been resisted
by Muslim law enforcement agencies on the various levels. A tradition ascribed
47 to | ʿUmar, declaring invalid forced confessions obtained, among other means,
through imprisonment, said that “a man who is exposed to starvation, or fright-
ened, or imprisoned, cannot be trusted not to confess that he is guilty.”123
Other abuses could result from the right of the established authorities to hold
someone on the suspicion of alleged wrongdoing. The case of the wealthy
heir whom the government wanted to deprive of his inheritance apparently
falls under this heading. His fate was poetically described by Ibn al-Muʿtazz.

loc. cit., also states that defaulting debtors cannot be imprisoned on suspicion as a precau-
tionary measure, because imprisonment is the most severe form of punishment to which
they can be sentenced if they are found guilty.
121 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 101 ff.
122 Cf. the case of a juvenile murderer, reported by Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 290.
123 Abû Yûsuf, Kharâj, 175.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 65

He was kept in prison and asked to bring proof that he was the son of the
deceased, and it did not help him to declare that his neighbors and all his
acquaintances knew it. Only through bribery was he finally enabled to get out
of prison.124
Potential criminals could be jailed as a precautionary measure in order to
prevent them from committing crimes or from continuing the wrongdoing they
had engaged in previously. Such action was, it seems, outside the duties of the
judge and was the task of the police or the government.125 Thus, when a blind
man and a lame man took a walk together by night, it could happen that the
strange couple was picked up by the night watchman and put behind bars, in
order to prevent any possible mischief.126 This, of course, is a scurrilous tale
based upon an ageless motif, but like others of the same kind, it reflects reality.
A more serious case from thirteenth-century Baghdâd engaging the attention of
the authorities was that of a Ṣûfî, al-Ḥarîrî by name, who continued to associate
with young men and boys | despite official disapproval; he was imprisoned 48
several times in order to restrain him, but to no avail.127
Criminals might also be committed to prison after sentencing but before
execution of the sentence. Thus, flogging as a punishment for drunkenness was
to be postponed if the culprit happened to be ill, and he was to be held in jail
until he recovered from his illness.128 It could, of course, happen that an old bon
vivant died in debtors’ prison,129 and special problems arose when someone
died in prison as the result of actual or alleged maltreatment.130 Imprisonment
could also be tried for a limited time in order to give a convicted criminal a
chance to reform or to recant, which would change the legal situation upon
which his conviction was based. This applied to apostates from Islam. Ash-
Shâfiʿî discussed a tradition ascribed to ʿUmar who recommended a three-day
stay in jail for the culprit, during which attempts were made to make him

124 Ibn al-Muʿtazz, Dîwân (Cairo, 1891), I, 131. Cf. also below, p. 54.
125 Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah, trans. F. Rosenthal, II, 36.
126 Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq, 1285), II, 149 f.; (Cairo, 1345–), II, 405f.; al-Kutubî, Fawât al-Wafayât
(Cairo, 1951), I, 286. The story is placed in the seventh century. Picking up drunks and jailing
them was the customary duty of the night watch, cf., for instance, Kitâb al-Aghânî, I, 165;
VII, 19; IX, 129; (Cairo, 1345–), I, 414; VII, 267; X, 251.
127 Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 235. Cf. the biography of al-Ḥarîrî in al-Kutubî, Fawât, II, 88ff.
128 Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, IV, 119.
129 Al-Kutubî, Fawât, II, 40.
130 Ash-Shâfiʿî, Umm, VI, 76 f.
131 Ibid., I, 228.
66 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

The most widely discussed type of imprisonment is the debtors’ prison. The
hardiness of this institution is already attested in early Islamic times. When
the police prefect of al-Ḥajjâj started to hand out unusually harsh sentences
and did not commit anyone to prison because he considered this too lenient
a punishment, the debtors’ prison was left untouched.132 It was the general
practice for the creditor to apply to the courts to have the debtor sent to
debtors’ prison. The institution is, of course, mentioned not only in legal lit-
49 Once the debtor had established his inability to pay his debts to the satisfac-
tion of the creditor and had been declared bankrupt by the judge, he could be
released from prison, or if he was able to establish bankruptcy before he was
imprisoned, he was to be left free or to be released after a short while.134 The
principle of keeping out of jail debtors whose indigence was established beyond
a doubt was sanctioned by a story ascribed to the companion of the Prophet,
Abû Hurayrah. Abû Hurayah refused to yield to a creditor who insisted upon
having his poor debtor jailed. Instead, he permitted the debtor to go free and
he justified his procedure by saying that in this way the debtor might be able to
earn money for the benefit of the creditor, of himself, and of his family.135
The complications, however, were many. They involved the classification
of debts and the resulting differences in the legal situation,136 and included
such matters as determining how bankruptcy was to be proved and what were
the rights of the creditor and the obligations of the debtor in case the debtor
subsequently came into money. It is instructive to observe how Muslim legal
authorities approached a situation that involved depriving of their liberty indi-
viduals who as a rule were not criminally guilty. A few characteristic passages
from the legal literature may, therefore, find a place here.

132 Ibn Qutaybah, ʿUyûn al-akhbâr (Cairo, 1343–1349/1925–1930), I, 16; ed. C. Brockelmann
(Leipzig, 1900–1908. Leipziger Semitistische Studien, XVIII), 33, quoted by R. Levy, op. cit.
(above, n. 118), 333 f. Cf. Kitâb al-Aghânî, XVI, 41.
133 Cf., for instance, the reported imprisonment for debt of the early Muslim scholar, Ibn
Sîrîn, mentioned by his biographers, among them Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqât, ed. E. Sachau and
others (Leiden, 1905–1940), VII, 1, 144; adh-Dhahabî, Taʾrîkh al-Islâm (Cairo, 1367–), IV, 195;
ad-Damîrî, Ḥayawân (Bûlâq, 1292), I, 293, quoting Ibn Khallikân.
For references from popular literature, cf., for instance, H. Wangelin, Das arabische
Volksbuch vom König aẓẒâhir Baibars (Stuttgart, 1936. Bonner Orientalistische Studien,
XVII), 119 f.
134 Cf. below, p. 51 [p. 68–69. Ed.], and ash-Shâfîʿî, Umm, III, 189.
135 Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, I, 112. Cf. below, p. 63.
136 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 63 f.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 67

Ash-Shâfiʿî, on the problem of the bankrupt debtor who subsequently comes 50

into money:137

Regarding the case of a man who is imprisoned because of a debt and who
has been declared bankrupt by the judge and who trades in prison138 and
manumits slaves or makes some charity contributions or gifts, Abû Ḥanî-
fah used to say, ‘All this is permitted; none of his property is to be sold to
satisfy the old debt, as the declaration of bankruptcy has wiped the slate
clean.139 One knows that a man may be bankrupt today, and obtain prop-
erty tomorrow.’ However, Ibn Abî Laylâ140 used to say, ‘He is not permit-
ted to trade, to manumit slaves, or to make gifts or charity contributions
after he was declared bankrupt; he has to sell his property and satisfy his
creditors.’ Abû Yûsuf141 held the same opinion as Ibn Abî Laylâ, with the
exception of manumitting slaves under guardianship, this matter having
nothing to do with the fact that he had been declared bankrupt. Except
for manumitting slaves, he cannot ever consider any of those things per-
missible until he has paid off his debt.
Ash-Shâfiʿî said: The man is permitted to dispose of his new property
(as he wishes), whether he owes a debt or not, whether he has paid off
his debt or not, until the matter of the debt is brought up against him.
If this is done, and it has been established, or acknowledged by him
that he owns some property, the judge must place him at once under
guardianship and say, ‘I have placed him under guardianship until I am
able to pay off his debt, since I had declared him bankrupt.’ He then makes
an inventory of his property and orders him to set his own valuation (on
the property) and (also) orders someone else to estimate (the value of
the property). The judge then has it sold for the highest estimate and
pays off the debt. If, now, the man is free from all debts, he has him
brought in and revokes the guardianship. The man is again permitted
to do with his property all he had done (and to dispose freely of it),
until the matter of another debt is brought up against him. If any of his
property is lost while he was under guardianship, either through sale, or

137 Umm, VII, 94; cf. also III, 189.

138 Probably, during the period in which he could still be held after his bankruptcy had been
139 Lit., “and there is nothing after the declaration of bankruptcy.”
140 Muḥammad b. ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân. Cf., for instance, Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, III, 129ff.;
J. Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford, 1950), index (p. 345).
141 The great Ḥanafite jurist (d. 798) and author of the Kitâb al-Kharâj.
68 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

51 through | being given away, or through a contribution to charity, or in any

other way, it must be returned.

The twelfth-century Ḥanafite, Qâḍîkhân, on the problem of establishing bank-


When the debtor is faced with imprisonment, the judge does not ask
him whether he owns property, nor does the plaintiff ask whether the
debtor owns property, according to express school tradition. But if the
debtor asks the judge to ask the creditor whether he (the debtor, in the
opinion of the creditor) owns property, the judge asks him, according to
general consensus. If the claimant says that he (the debtor) is indigent, he
(the judge) does not commit him to prison, for if he had acknowledged
his indigence after imprisonment, he would have let him go free. (If his
indigence is established) before imprisonment, he does not imprison
him. If, however, the claimant says that he (the debtor) is wealthy and
able to pay but the debtor himself says that he is indigent, one discusses
the situation.

The same Qâḍîkhân, on the procedure to be followed once bankruptcy has

been established:143

In case the debtor establishes proof of bankruptcy before being commit-

ted to prison, there are two school traditions (that are applicable). The
Shaykh and Imâm, Abû Bakr Muḥammad b. al-Faḍl,144 said that the cor-
rect opinion is that the proof of bankruptcy be accepted. Whereas the
author (Qâḍîkhân) said: The decision must be left to the judge. If the judge
knows that the debtor is a person of bad character, he does not accept his
proof but first commits him to prison. If he knows that the debtor is a
well-behaved man, he accepts his proof. Assuming the debtor establishes
proof of his indigence, and the creditor proof of (the debtor’s) affluence,
with the latter being the more acceptable one, if there is testimony to the

142 Fatâwî, III, 150 f.

143 Fatâwî, III, 151 f.
144 He died on Ramaḍân 24, 381/December 4, 991, according to ʿAbd-al-Qâdir al-Qurashî,
al-Jawâhir al-muḍîyah (Hyderabad, 1332), II, 108, where he is described as having had
personal contact with Qâḍîkhân. The editors of the Jawâhir point out the chronological
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 69

effect that the debtor is affluent and able to pay off his debt, this, then,
is permissible and sufficient (evidence), and no specification of the prop-
erty (said to be in the possession of the debtor) is required.
If the debtor establishes proof of his indigence after being committed
to prison, the express school tradition favors acceptance of the proof only
after the lapse of a certain period of time. Traditions | differ with regard 52
to the length of this period. Muḥammad145 stated on the authority of Abû
Ḥanîfah that it was estimated to be between two and three months. Al-
Ḥasan146 stated on the authority of Abû Ḥanîfah that it was from four to
six months. It is stated on the authority of Abû Jaʿfar aṭ-Ṭaḥâwî147 that it is
estimated to be one month. Shams-al-aʾimmah al-Ḥalwânî148 considered
this to be the most charitable view. Some authorities said that if the pris-
oner is a well-behaved man with a family and if the family complains to
the judge about (their inability to defray their) living expenses, the judge
must follow the opinion of aṭ-Ṭaḥâwî, but if he is a man of bad character
and the judge feels that he is uncooperative, he keeps him in prison for
six months.149 The conclusion is that the decision is left to the judge.150
If the judge has the impression, after six months, that the prisoner is still
uncooperative, he keeps him in prison longer. And if he has the impres-
sion, before the expiration of (but) one month, that he is unable to pay, he
lets him go free. This applies to cases where the affairs of the debtor are
complicated, but if his poverty is obvious, the judge makes speedy inquiry
about him, accepts the proof of bankruptcy, and sets him free in the pres-

145 That is, ash-Shaybânî, cf. GAL, I, 171 ff., GAL, Suppl., I, 288 ff.
146 That is, al-Ḥasan b. Ziyâd al-Luʾluʾî al-Kûfî, who died in 204/819–820, cf., for instance,
al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd (Cairo, 1349/1931), VII, 314–317.
147 Died 321/933, cf. GAL, I, 173 f., GAL, Suppl., I, 293 f.
148 ʿAbd-al-ʿAzîz b. Aḥmad, who died in 448/1056–1057 or 449/1057–1058, cf. ʿAbd-al-Qâdir
al-Qurashî, Jawâhir, I, 318. GAL, Suppl., I, 638, indicates his nisbah as Ḥalwâʾî, and the
same form appears in the text of Qâḍîkhân, but ʿAbd-al-Qâdir al-Qurashî says that it was
Ḥalwânî. Both forms, meaning “seller of sweetmeats,” are possible.
149 The moral character of defendants was often considered by the judge in determining the
sentence. Cf., for instance, Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, IV, 486, where it is said that a person of good
character who makes slanderous accusations against someone else’s social behavior is to
be admonished and not to be imprisoned. A person of a somewhat less good character is
to be flogged ( yuʾaddab), unless he be known as an habitual slanderer, in which case he
must be flogged and imprisoned. Cf. also above, p. 46.
150 Cf. also Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Ṭuruq, 63, who concludes that it constitutes the correct
opinion not to speak about any fixed term, but the decision is to be left to the authorities
70 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

ence of his opponent (the creditor). He inquires about his situation with
his neighbors, friends, and fellow merchants (ahl sûqihî) who are reliable,
not those of bad character. If they say that they have no information about
any property he may own, it is sufficient. …

53 Again, Qâḍîkhân, on who can be committed to prison for a debt, and who
cannot be committed:151

No difference is made, with regard to imprisonment, between free-

man and slave, adults and children, slaves authorized to do business
(maʾdhûn), or relatives and strangers. An exception is made for parents
and male and female direct ancestors. They are not sent to prison for debts
they owe their descendants, except (when it affects the ability of the latter
to provide for) living expenses. All others can be imprisoned for the debts
they owe each other.

There are many such statements and discussions in legal literature. The institu-
tion of the debtors’ prison implied a contradiction in that imprisonment was,
in fact, a punishment and the jailing of debtors was not meant primarily as a
punishment. It was recognized that the only justification for its existence was
that it secured restitution of the property owed if this was at all possible. It was
felt to be the unsatisfactory institution that it actually was, and throughout the
legal discussion a commonsense approach is clearly visible, as well as a con-
siderable reluctance to deprive individuals, especially those of acknowledged
good character, of their liberty if this could be avoided.
The greatest threat to individual freedom resulted from the fact that the
government—that is, the ruler in actual possession of the power—had the
right to exercise judicial power in most cases concerning public order and
safety. The ruler also had the right to imprison people at will whenever he
decided that it was necessary to do so. That this was his right cannot be
denied. It followed from the fact that in Islam, the ruler had jurisdiction over
the whole vast area not covered by the religious law, at least in so far as this
jurisdiction was not ceded to the judiciary.152 His right to imprison people
was never explicitly contested by the legal authorities. The government would
54 send to prison actual | or alleged heretics,153 religious fanatics who took the

151 Fatâwî, III, 153. Cf. also as-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, XX, 88f.
152 Cf. above, p. 41 f.
153 Cf., for instance, al-Bayhaqî, Maḥâsin (below, p. 69). The cases are numerous.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 71

law into their own hands,154 charlatans,155 and, in general, all those guilty of
violating public order in any one of countless ways. But it could also punish
with imprisonment officials who, without a criminal motive, failed to do its
bidding.155a And it could use imprisonment as a means to force people to pay
taxes or other monies, whether it was entitled to such payments or not; this
was a common procedure.156 Protests would come forth usually in general
complaints about an unjust and tyrannical rule. Specific comments, such as
saying that a scientist who was not successful in raising a sunken ship with its
cargo “did not deserve to be jailed” because of his failure, are rare.157
In the early days, judges who were not willing to serve could be put in
jail.158 The reason obviously was that those who were not willing to serve a
given ruler in high positions were hostile to him. There was—in theory—no
obstacle to throwing into prison political enemies of all sorts and descriptions
and holding | them as long as was deemed expedient. The literature, especially 55
historical works, are so crowded with cases of political imprisonment, which
are taken as a matter of course, that no examples need be cited here. Conversely,
historians and political theorists had no use for the word ḥurrîyah which, it
seems, practically never occurs in their works.
No effective law safeguarded the individual against such attacks upon his
liberty. The ruler possessed the presumed right to deprive of their freedom even
completely innocent persons for no cause whatever. He also could threaten
persons with imprisonment unless they committed crimes he wanted them to

154 Such a case was that of the Ṣûfî, Ibrâhîm b. Shaybân, who went into a wine shop and broke
all the vessels there; the owner thought that he was a government official acting upon
official orders, cf. al-Qushayrî, Risâlah (Cairo, 1367/1948), 72. Cases of this sort repeated
each other at frequent intervals, or they occurred in connection with attacks against
minority groups, cf., for instance, GAL, II, 117.
155 For instance, al-Jawbarî, Kashf al-asrâr (Cairo, 1316), 15.
155a Cf. Abû Dulâmah’s humorous complaint in Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq 1285), IX, 129; (Cairo
1345–), X, 252:

I have to go to prison without having committed a crime,

As if I were one of the tax officials.

156 Cf. also above, n. 124.

157 Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, I, 53. The scientist and scholar in question was Abû ṣ-Ṣalt Umayyah Ibn
Abî ṣ-Ṣalt (d. 529/1134).
158 In one case, the same man was sent to prison both for shaṭârah (which may be translated
“disorderly conduct”) and for the refusal to accept a proffered judgeship; this was consid-
ered remarkable. Cf. Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, I, 27 f.; further, ibid., I, 226.
72 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

commit. Since such persons, when they were accused of a crime, often pleaded
lack of responsibility for their actions, the subject of crimes committed under
duress was threshed out at some length by the legal authorities.159 If innocent
56 persons were | held in prison, the reason could also be that the ruler himself was
ignorant of their fate. This may be the background for such Ṣûfî stories as the
one reported by al-Qushayrî. It tells how Sahl b. ʿAbdallâh at-Tustarî was asked
to pray for Yaʿqûb aṣ-Ṣaffâr who was suffering from a disease that baffled his
physicians. He replied, “How could I expect my prayers to be answered, seeing
that innocent persons are held in your prison?,” whereupon Yaʿqûb released all
prison inmates.160 However, the theory, and often the practice, favored such
It is here that we find the least respect for individual liberty in Islam, coupled
with the absence of any idea of the meaning of civic liberty. The legal authori-
ties, as we have seen, showed the proper circumspection and hesitation when
faced with problems involving the deprivation of individuals of their physical
freedom. But the political authorities were restrained from disregarding indi-
vidual liberty only by common sense, ethical considerations, and the interplay
of social forces. This points up the great practical limitations that curtailed the
potential effectiveness of the idea of freedom in Islam.

159 Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, IV, 490: According to Abû Ḥanîfah, force is recognized as a mitigating
circumstance only if exercised by the government (sulṭân), but according to Abû Ḥanîfah’s
two principal pupils, it is so recognized if exercised by anyone having the power to make
good his threats.
Ibid., IV, 492: “Being flogged once, or being imprisoned or chained for one day does not
constitute (a mitigating circumstance resulting from the use of) force.”
Ibid., IV, 500: Being forced to kill someone by the government under the threat of
imprisonment cannot be considered a mitigating circumstance.
Ibid., IV, 501: A woman forced to commit fornication by being threatened with impris-
onment is given the benefit of the doubt and is not punished for fornication.
Ibid., IV, 131: A trustee is held responsible for deposits surrendered by him because he
was threatened by a tyrannical ruler with beatings or a month of imprisonment; he is not
held responsible if he was threatened with mutilation.
If someone was forced to adopt Islam and then became an apostate, he was not to be
killed, but he was to be imprisoned according to Ḥanafite practise stated, for instance, by
al-Bazzâzî (d. 817/1424, cf. GAL, II, 225, GAL, Suppl., II, 316), al-Fatâwî al-Bazzâzîyah, Ms. ar.
Yale University A-166 (Catalogue Nemoy, no. 888), fol. 381a.
160 Al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 121. Cf. also the two anecdotes reported by Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân,
the one referred to above, n. 117, and another about a man from Hamadhân who was held
in prison though he was completely innocent.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 73

The detailed circumstances of prison life also bear investigation as they may
serve as an indication of how highly freedom was valued. Again, the material
is widely scattered and comes to us in small, incidental bits that could be
fitted into a coherent whole only by supplying missing links through conjecture
and imagination. It is worth noting that authors other than legal scholars
who had occasion to refer to imprisonment were usually extremely vague in
their stories. The majority of their cases concerns imprisonment for political
reasons, and what these reasons were is | as a rule apparent from the historical 57
circumstances. But unless the details of a particular case were themselves the
subject of historical notice, detailed reports were rarely given. For all the author
cared, his characters just happened to be in prison,161 or they were held because
of “a simple crime,”162 or “a crime committed by them.”163
Imprisonment could take the most varied forms, from the most comfortable
and luxurious detention in a palace to cruel confinement in filthy dungeons.
This, however, applied mainly to political prisoners, and rarely if ever to ordi-
nary criminals. A good example for the treatment of political prisoners and the
problems they faced is the eyewitness report of the treatment meted out by
the Ṭûlûnid Jaysh b. Khumârawayh to three of his uncles. Their confinement
started out in a most genteel manner, until one of them was locked up in a sep-
arate room and the other two were forced to let him slowly starve to death.
Then, their confinement turned into a nightmare of fear and despair.164 Sto-
ries about the genteel or rough treatment of prominent political prisoners are
numerous. It seems, however, that common people who were held on sedition
charges, or for causing disturbances of the peace and similar political crimes,
were often not treated differently from ordinary criminals.
Prisons were the concern of the ruler, so much so that a fourteenth-century
fürstenspiegel could include a special chapter | on the duties of the ruler with 58
respect to them.165 They were the property of the government. This is well

161 Cf., for instance, the repeated references to imprisonment in al-Jâḥiẓ’s Kitâb al-Bayân
wa-t-tabyîn. It causes no comment if a pious man such as Dhû n-Nûn al-Miṣrî just happens
to be in prison (al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, II, 18).
162 Cf. Aḥmad b. Abî Ṭâhir Ṭayfûr, Kitâb Baghdâd, ed. Keller, text 118, trans. 53; ed. Cairo, 67.
163 Id., Balâghât an-nisâʾ (Cairo, 1326/1908), 68.
164 Ibn ad-Dâyah, Kitâb al-Mukâfaʾah (Cairo, 1332/1914), 102f. The faraj-baʿd-ash-shiddah
works are, of course, a copious source for prison stories. Very often, the fear of what may
happen to them worries prisoners most. It must be stated, though, that they are usually
prominent political prisoners.
165 Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân, Shuhub (see above, n. 117). Already the ninth-century Ibn Qutay-
bah included a brief chapter on imprisonment in the book treating of statecraft in his
74 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

illustrated by a story, told in slightly different versions, of the model judge,

Shurayḥ. Shurayḥ had committed someone to prison, and the ruler of the time
wanted that man released. Shurayḥ refused to release him in these words: “The
prison is your prison, and the janitor is your janitor. I found the man guilty. That
is why I sent him to prison.”166 If high officials maintained their own prisons,167
this would merely be an extension of the government’s power to set up prisons.
Ordinary houses, especially buildings belonging to a judge’s residence, could
be used as prisons, as was the house of Bilâl in al-Kûfah.168 Prisons were known
under various names.169 If one spoke familiarly about “our prison” (meaning
59 the prison of al-Baṣrah),170 it probably indicated the | main prison in town. For
larger cities, such as al-Baṣrah, the existence of more than one prison can be
assumed. Prison buildings were not an attractive or outstanding part of a city’s
scenery and did not rate prominent mention in topographical works, but the
latter occasionally refer to them.171

ʿUyûn, ed. Brockelmann, 102–105; ed. Cairo, I, 79–82. For a prison budget from ca. 900, cf.
aṣ-Ṣâbiʾ, Wuzarâʾ (Cairo, 1958), 26.
166 Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, II, 279, 308. The second version reads: “… and the official is your
official. You give orders, and you are obeyed.” Cf. also above, n. 109.
167 This, probably, is the origin of “the prison of the wazîr” in Baghdâd, mentioned by Ibn
al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 126 f.
168 Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, III, 165. The jurists’ reconstruction of prison history in Islam
(above, n. 90) includes the statement that ʿUmar converted a private house into a jail.
169 As were ʿAlî’s prisons, referred to by as-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, XX, 88ff. Cf. also “the prison of
ʿÂrim,” located, presumably, in aṭ-Ṭâʾif and mentioned in connection with the history of Ibn
az-Zubayr, cf. al-Balâdhurî, Ansâb, ed. M. Schloessinger (Jerusalem, 1938–1940), IVB, 27;
aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, II, 226f.; al-Masʿûdî, Murûj (Cairo, 1346), II, 100; ed. Paris, V, 176; Yâqût,
Muʿjam, ed. Wüstenfeld, III, 585 f.; Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq, 1285), II, 151; VIII, 32f.; (Cairo,
1345–), II, 408; IX, 15 f. Further, al-Maqrîzî (below, n. 171).
170 Wakîʿ, op. cit., I, 27f. The most common way of referring to prisons is to have the word
prison followed by the name of the city or locality where it was situated, such as “the prison
of Damascus,” “the prison of Ḥarrân,” etc. (aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, II, 1877; III, 43).
171 Al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, I, 87, thus refers to “the new prison” in Baghdâd.
His source was Wakîʿ who as a judge was well informed about the prisons of the city. “The
New Prison” was, it seems, a popular designation; there was one also in Damascus, cf. Ibn
Shaddâd, al-Aʿlâq al-khaṭîrah, ed. S. ad-Dahhân (Damascus, 1375/1956), 272.
Al-Maqrîzî, Khiṭaṭ, II, 187ff., has a brief chapter on the prisons of Cairo. Cf. also Khiṭaṭ,
I, 424, 463; II, 213.
Topographical descriptions in geographical works also happen occasionally to refer
to prisons, cf., for instance, al-Yaʿqûbî, Buldân, ed. M.J. de Goeje, 2nd ed. (Leiden, 1892.
Bibliotheca Geographorum Arabicorum, VII), 240, l. 15f., and 260, l. 15f.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 75

There were different kinds of prisons for the various types of criminals.
According to Ibn Ḥazm, as quoted by Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân in the Shuhub

the authorities (imâm) should charge every appointee with maintaining

a maximum security (thaqîf ) prison for incorrigible (dhuʿʿâr) and poten-
tially dangerous criminals, and another one for respectable (mastûr) per-
sons who are being held for debts incurred or for the purpose of corrective
punishment (âdâb), or similar reasons. He should supervise the condi-
tions of all of them in all these matters. He should also maintain a separate
prison for women. It would be good if there could be a special prison for
respectable women who are being held for debts incurred or for the pur-
pose of corrective punishment, which would be separate from the prison
for women held on the suspicion of infamous (qabîḥ) crimes.

The sexes were, of course, always supposed to be kept separate in prison.173 60

That this was allegedly not done by al-Ḥajjâj when he was governor of the ʿIrâq
scandalized authors who wrote many centuries later.174 However, we hear of a
prison in al-Kûfah, not long before the time of al-Ḥajjâj, where both men and
women were held imprisoned together for political reasons.174a
The type of prison meant in a given story was occasionally clarified. For
instance, in a story about the poet, Abû l-ʿAtâhiyah, whose experiences in
prison were discussed frequently, the prison he was sent to is expressly indi-
cated to have been an institution for criminals (sijn al-jarâʾim); it appears to

172 Cf. above, n. 117. Al-Maqrîzî, loc. cit., also speaks about strict and less strict prisons, prisons
for officers and civilian dignitaries and prisons for criminals. One of the prisons listed
by him (cf. also Khiṭaṭ, II, 67, l. 20), that of the Daylam Quarter, was referred to in the
seventeenth century as an institution for criminals (mujrimûn), highway robbers (quṭṭâʿ),
and lawless elements (ʿuṣâh), in al-Mîlawî, Bughyat al-musâmir, Ms. ar. Cambridge 136 (Qq
194), fol. 43a.
Whether there actually existed a special prison building for heretics (zindîqs) at the
time of Abû Nuwâs, as suggested by Kitâb al-Aghânî, XIII, 74, may be doubted.
173 Cf. Ibn ʿAbdûn, trans. É. Lévi-Provençal, Séville musulmane au début du Xlle siècle (Paris
1947), 40. Ibn Shâhîn, Book of Comfort, ed. J. Obermann (New Haven-Paris, 1933. Yale
Oriental Series, Researches, XVII), 3, describes pre-Islamic Jewish conditions.
We hear that Muʿâwiyah kept a woman in the prison of Damascus for two years; in this
connection no mention of separate facilities for women is made, cf. Aḥmad b. Abî Ṭayfûr,
Balâghât an-nisâʾ, 64.
174 Ad-Damîrî, Ḥayawân, I, 192 f.
174a Aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, II, 767.
76 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

have been unusual for a man who had committed no crime but was detained
at the whim of the ruler to be held in this type of prison.175
A debtors’ prison was much more leniently guarded than other prisons.
If it was feared that one of its inmates might escape, the judge could have
him transferred to the thieves’ prison, provided that there existed no hostility
between him and the thieves so that he might suffer no harm from them.176
The evil custom of keeping people imprisoned in madhouses is attested from
thirteenth-century Baghdâd.176a
61 The supervision of prisons was generally recognized to be one of the duties
of the judge.177 Appointments to the position of prison warden could be made
by the judge or the chief of police.178
If prisoners had money, they could provide all kinds of comfort for them-
selves. Thus, when Judge Shurayḥ jailed his own son who had stood surety for
someone else’s defaulted debt, he ordered his servants to carry blankets and
pillows to the prison for his son’s comfort.179 If prisoners had no money, they
were dependent on the public treasury or on charity.180 Actually, the ruler was
supposed to see to it that the prisoners’ needs of food and clothing were taken
care of, that they were protected against the inclemencies of the weather, and
that the prisons were kept clean.181 Medical services were probably obtained
only with considerable difficulty. In the early tenth century, during a year of
much illness, the wazîr, ʿAlî b. ʿÎsâ, ordered the head of Baghdâd’s hospitals,
Sinân b. Thâbit, to take care of the numerous inmates of prisons who “were pre-
vented from looking after themselves and from visiting and consulting physi-

175 At-Tanûkhî, al-Faraj baʿd ash-shiddah (Cairo, 1357/1938), I, 102, ch. 5. The kind of prison is
not indicated in Ibn Qutaybah, loc. cit. (above, n. 165). Cf. also above, n. 172.
176 Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, III, 154.
176a Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 2, 14, 24.
177 Cf., for instance, D. Santillana, op. cit. (above, n. 75), II, 566; al-ʿAllâmah al-Ḥillî, Tabṣirah,
II, 497.
178 Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-quḍâh, I, 253 f. The office was not always a safe one, cf., for instance,
the story from early Medina reported by Ibn Ḥabîb, Muḥabbar, ed. I. Lichtenstädter
(Hyderabad, 1361/1942), 227 f.
A Christian prison warden was considered a possibility for early al-Kûfah, cf. Kitâb
al-Aghânî (Bûlâq, 1285), IV, 186; (Cairo, 1345–), V, 143.
179 Wakîʿ, op. cit., II, 308, 317. Cf. also as-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, XX, 88ff.
180 Cf. R. Levy, op. cit. (above, n. 118), 354. For pious men, there was the additional problem
whether food that had come in contact with prison officials was legally permitted for
consumption, cf. the story of Dhû n-Nûn cited above, n. 161.
181 Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân, op. cit.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 77

cians about their ills.”182 It follows from this report that general arrangements
for regular medical care for prison inmates did not exist even in a very large
and prosperous city. Impecunious prisoners did not | have it easier than other 62
poor people to find competent physicians.
Prison inmates occasionally did work from which the government reaped
the profit, such as weaving belts, and the like.183 Of course, they often continued
to follow the same evil ways that had brought them into jail.184 Prison condi-
tions in twelfth-century Sevilla were described by Ibn ʿAbdûn:185 Prisons were
inspected two or three times each month. Attention was paid to not holding
anyone in prison unnecessarily or for too long a time. Inmates were not to have
much money on them. The warden and the guards were not permitted to shake
them down for money.186 There should not be too many guards as they would
want to live on the charity contributions intended for the upkeep of the prison-
ers. Prisoners were to be chained only when this was absolutely necessary. The
prison had a prayer leader—that is, a prison chaplain—who was to be present
at all prayers and was to be paid from waqf foundations.187 Old and worn car-
pets from the mosque were used as floor coverings in prisons.
Ibn ʿAbdûn’s description was meant to correspond to reality, and prisons
may occasionally have been administrated in such a progressive manner. Vari-
ations in prison conditions can be assumed to have been as numerous as there
were prisons, but | general considerations make it appear likely that prison 63
conditions tended to be bad, despite the best intentions. For fifteenth-century
prosperous Egypt, for instance, a gloomy picture was drawn by al-Maqrîzî, who
appears to have been well informed on the subject.187a

182 Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, I, 221.

183 Cf. below, p. 69. Al-Maqrîzî, Khiṭaṭ, II, 187 (cf. also II, 68, l. 20), referred to the fact that
prisoners were mercilessly exploited for hard and menial labor. In the modern Yemen,
they are said to be used for most of the government chores, cf. J. Heyworth Dunne, in
Middle Eastern Affairs, IX (1958), 56.
184 Cf. above, n. 97, about thieves stealing in prison. For problems resulting from manslaugh-
ter in prison, cf. Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, IV, 448.
185 Op. cit. (above, n. 173), 39 ff., 48.
186 Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân, op. cit., said that it was the duty of the ruler to protect prisoners
against such extortions, and he hinted darkly that terrible things were done in this respect
at various times. Al-Maqrîzî, Khiṭaṭ, II, 187, considered the embezzlement of money
destined for the upkeep of prisoners a widespread custom.
187 According to Ibn Ḥazm, apud Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân, the prison chaplain was to be paid
by the public treasury (bayt mâl al-Muslimîn).
187a Khiṭaṭ, II, 187.
78 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

It was always stressed that prisoners should be allowed to pray in order to

fulfill the requirements of the religious law.188 A joke about prison chaplains
leads us back into the eighth century.189 A moving anecdote is told about
ash-Shâfiʿî’s pupil, al-Buwayṭî (d. 845–846). Every Friday while he was in prison,
al-Buwayṭî washed and perfumed himself and cleaned his clothes. Then, when
he heard the call to prayer, he went to the gate of the prison. There, the guard
told him every time to go back, and he then exclaimed, “O Lord, I responded
to your call, but they prevented me from going.”190 Apparently, there was no
prison chaplain connected with this prison. His inability to worship as the Law
required him to do was considered by al-Buwayṭî as the saddest aspect of his
loss of liberty.
The treatment of imprisoned debtors was lenient, probably much more so
than was that of criminals even under favorable circumstances:

There is a difference of opinion as to whether an imprisoned debtor can

work for a living. Shams-al-aʾimmah as-Sarakhsi191 said, ‘The correct opin-
ion is that he should be prevented from doing so.’ Other authorities said
that he should not be prevented from working, because in this way, he
might be able to provide for his own living expenses and those of his fam-
ily. He should not be permitted to visit the bath but should remove his
body hair in prison. He should not be prevented from having visitors, nor
64 from dressing (as he likes). | Nor should he be prevented from using per-
fume, or from eating and trading. There is nothing wrong with him having
his wife or slave girl visit him when he needs to have intercourse. He must
be together with her in a spot where nobody can watch him. However, it is
the opinion of Abû Yûsuf, on the authority of Abû Ḥanîfah, that he should
be prevented from having sexual intercourse with either free women or
slave girls, because preventing someone from having sexual intercourse
cannot cause his death, but it may give him added annoyance, and this
then might cause him to pay off his debt.192

188 Cf. R. Levy, loc. cit. (above, n. 180).

189 F. Rosenthal, Humor in Early Islam (Leiden, 1956), 50, 63.
190 As-Subkî, Ṭabaqât, I, 276. However, an almost identical story was also told by as-Subkî
about the unorthodox Ibn Karrâm, op. cit., II, 53 f.
191 That is, the author of the Mabsûṭ, who lived in the eleventh century, cf. GAL, I, 373, GAL,
Suppl., I, 638.
192 Qâḍîkhân, Fatâwî, III, 153 f. From pre-Islamic times we hear that the wife of ʿAdî b. Zayd
(above, n. 88) was permitted to visit him in prison, cf. Nashwân al-Ḥimyarî, al-Ḥûr al-ʿîn
(Cairo, 1948), 78 f.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 79

However, no matter how lenient the treatment in prison might have been at
times, the thought of prison was as repulsive to most Muslims as it was and is
to men living in other civilizations. The extreme case of someone committing
suicide on his way to prison was mentioned by Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, who
was deeply interested in the problem of suicide.193 It is especially regrettable in
this instance that the author gives no further details about the circumstances
of the case.
A prolonged stay in prison could produce a strong desire for freedom and
lead people to all sorts of desperate measures.194 Prison breaks appear to have
been common and often dramatic. For example, in 645/1247–1248, three indi-
viduals who were held in the prison (maṭmûrah) of Wâsiṭ, bored a tunnel, lead-
ing to the house of a Jew, and escaped through it. But one of the three went to a
high official and told him that his two fellow prisoners had threatened him with
death and forced him to escape with them. He also told him about the crime for
which he had been jailed. This man was sent back to prison as a formality and
soon | discharged. His two companions were captured and again imprisoned.195 65
Amnesties occurred not infrequently. More often than not, they affected
political prisoners, but criminals whose crimes were light and who did not
face a ḥadd penalty, as well as those languishing in the debtors’ prison, were
not forgotten. Unfortunately, our sources usually do not tell us what kind
of prisoners were released.196 In times of serious disturbances, prisons were
among the targets picked by the mob to express their disgust with prevailing
conditions. They were symbols of political oppression, and when the mob
stormed them and released the prisoners, they probably intended in the first
place to liberate political captives, but it then happened that all the inmates
were set free without discrimination.197

193 Cf. Miskawayh and Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Hawâmil, 152f. For at-Tawḥîdî’s discussion of
suicide in his Muqâbasât, cf. JAOS, LXVI (1946), 249 f. A similar situation, where it was
feared that a prisoner might commit suicide by jumping from a bridge, is mentioned in
aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, II, 1263, anno 94; there, it is a political prisoner who was afraid of what
might happen to him.
194 Cf. above, n. 116, and Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 269 f.
195 Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 217f., also 142 f., 372. Cf., further, Ibn Ḥabîb, Muḥabbar, 191.
196 Cf., for instance, aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, II, 1337; al-Jahshiyârî, Wuzarâʾ, ed. H. von Mžik
(Leipzig, 1926. Bibliothek arabischer Historiker und Geographen, I), 180; Wakîʿ, Akhbâr al-
quḍâh, III, 300 (al-Wâthiq released some of the persons jailed by Ibn Abî Duʾâd after he
had broken with the latter); Ibn al-Fuwaṭî, Ḥawâdith, 47, 164, 177, 194; al-Kutubî, Fawât, I,
162 (Baybars).
197 Aṭ-Ṭabarî, Annales, III, 1510 f., anno 249–863, cf. above, p. 45, n. 118. Cf. also Miskawayh,
in Amedroz and Margoliouth, Eclipse, I, 74; trans., IV, 81, anno 307/919–920; the same
80 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Of particular interest for the understanding of the Muslim attitude toward

the concept of freedom are reflections on prison life coming from the intellec-
tual elite. For political and financial reasons, and sometimes also because of
youthful mistakes later outgrown, a good number of distinguished men had a
taste of prison life in their lives. Princes and statesmen were able to reminisce
about their experiences in prison,198 or, if they did not speak for themselves,
66 the historians, on innumerable oc|casions, spoke for them. Reports on scholars
who wrote scholarly works, sometimes voluminous and important ones, while
in jail, are frequent.199 Poets started their poetic careers in the enforced leisure
of imprisonment,200 or continued with their chosen profession while deprived
of their liberty.201 If they were in a lighter mood, they were not easily shocked
by minor crimes and could treat imprisonment as a joke. This was done, for
instance, by a certain Ibn Kharûf (d. 1207–1208) in that witty combination of
high and low sentiments which was so highly appreciated by Muslim poets and
their audiences. The occasion for the verses was the action of a judge who had
jailed a young friend of the poet for a minor theft:

Judge of the Muslims, you have pronounced a sentence

That made time frown when it came out:
You have sent to prison a handsome boy for a few dirhams.
Yet, you did not jail him for ravishing human souls.202

incident seems to be meant in al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, I, 75f.; G. Le

Strange, Baghdad (Oxford, 1900), 44. Cf. also at-Tanûkhî, Faraj, II, 80.
198 Cf., for instance, above, n. 164.
199 For instance, as-Sarakhsî, the author of the Mabsûṭ, cf. ʿAbd-al-Qâdir al-Qurashî, Jawâhir,
II, 28 f.; GAL, Suppl., I, 638; O. Spies, in Oriens, IX (1956), 357.
Ibn Taymîyah, cf. al-Kutubî, Fawât, I, 71. He also instructed his fellow prisoners in
religious matters.
200 This, for instance, seems to have been the case with the ninth-century poet, Ibn aṭ-Ṭabîb
(al-Kutubî, Fawât, I, 17), or the famous Mutanabbīʾ (GAL, I, 86f.).
201 Thus, Abû Firâs wrote poetry while in a Byzantine prison (GAL, I, 89). Poets in jail often
had an opportunity to use their talents in attempts to influence the man who had sent
them there. Members of the nobility wrote poetry in prison, such as the ninth-century
ʿAlid, Muḥammad b. Ṣâliḥ, or the great-grandson of Ibn ʿAbbâs, ʿAbd-al-Malik b. Ṣâliḥ, who
missed his friends in jail but was proud to have learned through his stay in prison that
he was able to get along without them (al-Kutubî, Fawât, II, 439, 30f.). Cf. Abû Ḥayyân
at-Tawḥîdî, Fî ṣ-Ṣadâqah, 142: “Three have no friends, the dead, the poor, and prisoners.”
202 Ibn Saʿîd (putative author), al-Ghuṣûn al-yâniʿah, ed. I. al-Ibyârî (Cairo, n. y. [the date of the
preface, 1945, should presumably read 1954 or 1955]. Dhakhâʾir al-ʿArab, XIV), 141; al-Kutubî,
Fawât, II, 160.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 81

In view of the commonness of the experience, it is not surprising to find

literary works devoting some pages to imprison|ment and to the reaction of 67
those affected. Ibn al-Buḥturî’s twelfth-century collection of entertaining sto-
ries, compiled as it was by a prisoner for future fellow sufferers, quite naturally
featured a chapter on prison life with many poetical quotations on the sub-
ject.203 An older source is the Kitâb al-Maḥâsin wa-l-masâwî by a certain Bay-
haqî, who wrote in the early decades of the tenth century. The work contains a
long section on “the bad experiences of those who aroused the ire (of the men
in power) and were sent to prison.” A much shorter chapter deals with “the
virtues of imprisonment,” but let it be said at once that only a small part of this
short chapter is devoted to extolling any alleged virtues of prison life.204
Al-Bayhaqî’s chapter on the evil aspects of prison life starts with a reference
to Joseph, the Yûsuf of the Qurʾân. Yûsuf complained about his long imprison-
ment and was informed by a divine revelation that he had brought his mis-
ery upon himself when he said: “I prefer prison to what they want from me
(12.33/33).” He should have said, “I prefer safety (ʿâfiyah),” and it would have
been granted to him.205 Yûsuf is also credited here with initiating, or, at least,
representing at an early date in history, the practice of scribbling messages on
prison walls. He wrote, “This is the habitation of sorrow, the grave of the living,
something that makes one’s enemies rejoice, something that tests (the affec-
tion of) one’s friends.”206

203 Uns al-masjûn wa-râḥat al-maḥzûn, Ms. ar. Brit. Mus. 1097 (add. 19,534), fols. 29b–44b. Cf.
GAL, I, 352.
204 Al-Bayhaqî, al-Maḥâsin wa-l-masâwî, ed. F. Schwally (Giessen, 1902), 556–578 and 578–581.
A good deal of the material, in particular, the two long poems cited below, also appears
in the Kitâb al-Maḥâsin wa-l-aḍdâd, wrongly ascribed to al-Jâḥiẓ (Beirut, n. y. [1955], 44ff.).
The chapter on the virtues of imprisonment is described there more fittingly as the chapter
on “the virtues of patience in the face of imprisonment.”
205 Cf. Ibn Qutaybah, loc. cit. (above, n. 165); al-Mâwardî, Adab ad-dunyâ wa-d-dîn, 210.
206 Cf. Ibn Qutaybah, loc. cit. (above, n. 165), and Ibn al-Buḥturî, Uns al-masjûn, fol. 29b. The
fact that Yûsuf had been imprisoned could serve as a consolation for noble prisoners, as
in the verses of the famous poet, al-Buḥturî, addressed to the future caliph, al-Muʿtazz, cf.
al-Kutubî, Fawât, II, 375. Cf., further, Aḥmad b. Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-Laṭîf ash-Sharjî, Tuḥfat
al-aṣḥâb, Ms. ar. Yale University L-443 (Catalogue Nemoy, no. 471), fol. 17b. [Ash-Sharjî died
in 893/1488, cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 254. His work is mentioned by as-Sakhâwî, Ḍawʾ (Cairo,
1353–1355), I, 214, under the title of Nuzhat al-aḥbâb, cf. also GAL2, II, 243. The entry GAL,
II, 399, no. 3, Suppl., II, 543, is to be deleted, as is the listing of the work under an-Nahrawâlî,
GAL, Suppl., II, 515.]
Another inscription, cited by Ibn al-Buḥturî, fol. 30a, and said to have been found in
the prison of al-Baṣrah, read:
82 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

68 Yûsuf also composed prayers suitable for prison inmates, “which are known
among them to this very day: O Lord, make the hearts of all good men inclined
toward them, and do not conceal from them anything that is going on in the
world.207 For everybody has compassion for them, and they know everything
that goes on in the world.” In this connection, we may mention another prayer
spoken in prison. It was quoted by al-Jâḥiẓ, in his Kitâb al-Bayân wa-t-tabyîn.
It can serve as a good indication of what went through the mind of a prisoner
who was faced with the dangers and discomforts of prison life: “I am asking You
for protection against imprisonment and debts, against abuse and beatings,
against collaring and chaining, and against being tortured and spied upon. I am
asking You for protection against reverses after abundance208 and against the
evil that enemies may cause to my life, my family, and my property. I am asking
69 You for protection against worry and | sleeplessness, against being a fugitive
and being hunted, against having to submit and going into hiding, against
banishment and exile in a foreign country, against (becoming the victim of) lies
and calumny, against being accused and slandered behind my back, and against
the meanness of power and finding myself disgraced in both this world and the
other world. ‘For You have power over everything’ (Qurʾân 3.26/25, etc.).”209
Al-Bayhaqî continued with a story concerning the caliph, al-Mahdî, and an
upstanding heretic who had been imprisoned for his heresy and the political
implications it held. This is followed by the pre-Islamic story of the sad fate
suffered by the poet, ʿAdî b. Zayd, in his relations with the ruler of al-Ḥîrah.210
Then, there are many other stories involving important personalities from the
heyday of the ʿAbbâsid caliphate, all of whom had some trouble that sent them
to prison. However, the fact that they spent time in prison is only incidental to
those stories. Nor can the moral breakdown suffered by many of the individu-
als involved be attributed to their stay in prison as such; rather it resulted from
the strain imposed upon them by the major uncertainties threatening them.
Interspersed among these stories are a few verses and official replies to peti-

Don’t despair of relief!

Those who were here before you left.

Verses by Abû l-ʿAtâhiyah written on the prison wall were quoted by al-Mâwardî, Adab
ad-dunyâ wa-d-dîn, 86.
207 This was quoted by Abû l-Qâsim b. Riḍwân as proof of the ruler’s duty to take care of people
in prison (above, n. 117). Cf. also Ibn Qutaybah, loc. cit. (above, n. 165).
208 This is a quotation from a Prophetic tradition, cf. Lisân al-ʿArab, V, 269.
209 Al-Jâḥiẓ, Bayân (Cairo, 1332), III, 143.
210 Cf. above, nn. 88 and 192.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 83

tions (tawqîʿ), exhorting prisoners to face their predicament with patience. The
great poet and prince, Ibn al-Muʿtazz, is cited as having described his fate in
these words:210a

I learned to weave belts in prison,

I who had been a powerful man before I was imprisoned.
I, who formerly rode noble horses, have been put in chains.
The revolution of the firmament caused my predicament, nothing else.
Surely, you have seen a bird in his element, the air, 70
Almost touch starry heaven.211
When the vicissitudes of time took note of it,
They caused it to fall into the meshes of the hunter’s net.
The bird, from the high mountain, falls prey to hunters,
And from the depth of the ocean, fish are captured.

Freedom, thus, was a gift of fate, like everything else in this world. Man likes it
and wishes to possess it, but it is not different from any other good or bad thing.
Whatever is decreed for one, he must accept patiently.
The poet ʿAlî b. al-Jahm (d. 863) displayed an attitude that was not quite as
simple. He was convinced of the intrinsic superiority of the free and noble man
(ḥurr) who, he said, would find it hard to humiliate himself and beg and make
apologies.212 In the spirit of the little known poet, Shamardal al-Bajalî, who had
once said,

If you find yourself in a prison that permits no escape—

How many free, generous men of parts are in it!213

210a The first two verses (with a different first hemistich of the second verse) were ascribed
to (Ibn?) Bâbak by ath-Thaʿâlibî, Yatîmah, IV, 72 (the same man as the one mentioned
in H. Ritter, Die Geheimnisse der Wortkunst [Asrâr al-balâġa] des ʿAbdalqâhir al-Curcânî
[Wiesbaden, 1959. Bibliotheca Islamica, XIX], 154 f.?).
211 The words translated “starry heaven” are derived from Qurʾân 51.7/7.
212 Dîwân, ed. Khalîl Mardam Bey (Damascus, 1369/1949), 149; al-Masʿûdî, Murûj, II, 388.
213 Al-Âmidî, al-Muʾtalif wa-l-mukhtalif (Cairo, 1350), 139.
The idea that imprisonment is no disgrace for a good man and that it may reveal the
true worth of a person, is the main theme of Ibn al-Jahm’s long poem quoted below and
also occurs repeatedly in Ibn al-Buḥturî’s Uns al-masjûn, cf., for instance,

Imprisonment is the touchstone of the intellect and the test of hope. It tests a free
man’s patience and reveals concealed qualities of intellect and character.

Or, the verses ascribed to ʿUmar b. ash-Shiḥnah al-Mawṣilî:

84 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

71 Ibn al-Jahm considered imprisonment as something that could not touch a

man who was sure of his own worth. But he also considered it as one of the
vicissitudes of fate that might become the lot of human beings as a matter
of course. The long poem he composed on his stay in prison is supposed to
have been the first of its kind on the subject.214 It also provided the only
legitimate material for al-Bayhaqî to use in his chapter on the virtues of prison
life. However, it must be said that the purpose of the poem was the same as
that of many other poems composed in prison, namely, to obtain the poet’s
release; therefore, prison may after all not have seemed to Ibn al-Jahm such a
desirable place to be in. A translation of the poem, following the recent edition
of Ibn al-Jahm’s Dîwân215 which differs from al-Bayhaqî’s quotation mainly in
the sequence of the verses, runs as follows:

She said, “You are in prison,” and I replied: Being in prison

Does me no harm. Where is the good sharp sword that is not put (at times
back) into the scabbard?
Surely, you know that the lion likes to stay in his lair
Proudly, while the low beasts go back and forth.215a
If the sun were not concealed
From your eyes, the star al-Farqad would not seem to be bright.

It is no disgrace for free men to be in prison if they are there

Not because of the commission of a crime. In fact, their imprisonment is an honor
for them.
They may be compared to swords and brilliant pearls imprisoned,
In order to guard them, within scabbards and shells.

The same idea was also used by al-Mutanabbīʾ, cf. ath-Thaʿâlibî, Yatîmah, I, 80, and
ash-Sharjî, loc. cit. (n. 206). Cf. also below, n. 215a.
214 According to al-Masʿûdî, Murûj, II, 387. It is well known that such statements are not
always as exact as one might wish.
215 Pp. 41–47, where references to citations in other works are given. Cf. O. Rescher, Abriss der
arabischen Litteraturgeschichte (Istambul-Stuttgart, 1925–1933), II, 35.
215a Cf. the imitation of these verses by Usâmah b. Munqidh (al-ʿImâd al-Iṣfahânî, Kharîdah
[Syrian poets] [Damascus, 1375/1955], 505; Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth, II, 177; ed. Rifâʿî,
V, 198):

They respect and fear you while you are

In their prison. Thus, swords are respected and feared.
For high-minded men prison is not a disrespectable place.
It is what the lair is for the lion.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 85

The moon reaches the last days of the month, then the days
Go by, and she looks again like new.
Rain is held back in the clouds and is not seen,
But then it starts to fall, with the wind blowing and the rumbling of 72
Fire is hidden in the stone
And is not kindled unless it216 is stirred by steel.
The sections of Zâʿibî spears217 can be straightened
Only with the help of the proper instrument and a hot fire.
The vicissitudes of time come once, come again.
Property is but a loan. It is obtained and exhausted.
Each situation is followed by another one, and occasionally
You find that something praised highly turns out to be unpleasant.
Never despair of seeing the end of (your) sorrow
Because of some matter an unhappy moment throws at you.
How many sick persons were close to death
But recovered while their physicians and the visitors who came to see
them died.
Patience! For patience brings relief eventually.218
No power can match that of the caliph.
Prison, unless one goes there because of a low,
Despicable deed, is a good residence to settle in,
A house that gives new nobility to the noble person,
Where he may receive visitors but does not have to go out and pay visits,
and where he has service.219
If the only advantage of being in prison were that
The slaves (of the ruler) do not humiliate you by not giving you access (to
him, it would be sufficient).
O Aḥmad b. Abî Duʾâd,220 you
Are called upon in connection with every important matter, O Aḥmad.

216 That is, the fire, and not the stone. The latter would be possible grammatically.
217 Zâʿibî supposedly refers to the name of a man or a locality, or is derived from the root zʿb
“to run smoothly,” according to Lisân al-ʿArab, I, 432.
218 Al-Bayhaqî has: “for today is always followed by a tomorrow.”
219 The reading yaḥmadu would yield the meaning, “to show his gratefulness (for visits paid
him),” instead of “where he has service.” However, the poet used the root ḥ-m-d as a rhyme
word before, and he would hardly use it again.
220 Born in 776, he died in 854, cf. K.V. Zetterstéen and C. Pellat, in EI2, s.v., I, 271. Cf. also above,
n. 196.
86 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Inform the caliph, whom (I cannot reach because) the way to him is
By hostile territory and an inexhaustible number of dangers, as follows:
You, the cousins of the Prophet Muḥammad,
73 Possess the best knowledge of his law and religion.
You represent whatever is good.
You are a goodly race nourished in goodly soil.
Is it fair, O cousin of Muḥammad,
To give access to one party only and keep the other party away?
Those who came to you and accused me falsely
Are opposed to the undeniable favors you showed me.
They were present while we were absent, and they passed judgment
Upon us. There is a great difference between being present and being
If the two parties could be together in your presence
At some time, you would recognize the right path.
If I could live eternally but could have but
One day to sit in the presence of the ruler, the caliph,
While my opponent argues his case, and I argue mine,
I would succeed with my arguments, and he, with his strange arguments,
would fail.
God does whatever He means to do with His creation.
Tomorrow all our ways will lead to Him.
When I go, he who tried to detain me
Cannot be expected to last, but we shall meet at the same place.
For what sin was our honor221 allowed to become
A prey for the mean and the lowly to expose?

The impression given by ʿAlî b. al-Jahm’s verses that prison life had its favorable
aspects, was challenged by a certain ʿÂṣim b. Muḥammad al-Kâtib,222 who had

221 Honor was the free Muslim’s most cherished possession, cf., for instance, the words
directed by ʿAbd-al-Malik b. Marwân to the tutor of his sons, as quoted by Usâmah b.
Munqidh, Lubâb al-âdâb (Cairo, 1354/1935), 230:

Prevent them from making aspersions upon the honor of others, for free men have
no substitute for their honor.

Cf. also Bichr Farès, L’ Honneur chez les Arabes avant l’Islam (Paris 1932).
222 He is no doubt identical with the poet listed in al-Marzubânî, Muʿjam ash-shuʿarâʾ (Cairo,
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 87

been imprisoned by one Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAzîz. His reply is also found in


She said, “You are in prison,” and I replied: A nasty business, 74

Visited upon me by fate lying in wait for me.
If I were free, I would be able to do whatever I want.
I would not be held forcibly and put in chains.
Or I would be like the good sharp sword and would not be
Put into the scabbard at a time when painful and disagreeable things
Or I would be like the savage lion when wolves invade
My pasture, and my fire would burn hot.
Whoever says that a prison is a noble house
Must be a hardy person who smiles when he says it.
Prison is a habitation that is vile through and through
And mean and full of an inexhaustible amount of disagreeable things.
If an enemy visits me in prison, he rejoices at my misfortune,
Making a show of grief at times, and (then again) making fun (of me).
If a friend visits me, he feels true grief,
Shedding tears with recurring sighs.
It should be enough for you to know that a prison is a habitation where
you never see
Anyone ever envied for being in it.

1354), 273. According to al-Marzubânî, he was connected with Ibn Abî l-Baghl. There
were two brothers called Ibn Abî l-Baghl, Abû l-Ḥasan and Abû l-Ḥusayn. They were
politicians who achieved prominence during the caliphate of al-Muqtadir. One of them
was Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Yaḥyâ (cf. ʿArîb, Ṭabarî continuatus, ed. M.J. de Goeje, Leiden,
1897, 40). Since the names Aḥmad b. Muḥammad are mentioned near the end of the
poem quoted here, he qualifies as the addressee of the poem. It may, however, be noted
that the names of the two Ibn Abî l-Baghl, (and their relationship) are not quite certain.
Miskawayh (cf. H.F. Amedroz and D.S. Margoliouth, The Eclipse of the ʿAbbasid Caliphate,
Oxford, 1920–1921, I, 21) has Abû l-Ḥasan Aḥmad b. Yaḥyâ and Ibn an-Nadîm, Fihrist (ed.
Flügel, 137; ed. Cairo, 1348, 197), lists Abû l-Ḥusayn Muḥammad b. Yaḥyâ, but at-Tanûkhî,
Table-Talk (above, n. 108), has ʿAlî b. Aḥmad b. Yaḥyâ and Muḥammad b. Aḥmad. [Cf. now
also H. Ritter, Die Geheimnisse der Wortkunst (above, n. 210a), 153f.]
“ʿAbd-al-ʿAzîz” appears to be a mistake, although the occurrence of such a mistake
is hard to explain. Schwally, following Pseudo-Jâḥiẓ (n. 204), suggested that Aḥmad b.
ʿAbd-al-ʿAzîz be identified with Ibn Abî Dulaf (d. 280/893–894); however, there is no basis
for this suggestion.
88 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

For a while, we lived well. Then, the vicissitudes of time

And its constant changes made us stumble.
My steps have became short, not because I have grown old,
But because I lie fettered in iron,
In a dungeon in which day is similar
To night, and in which darkness is constant.
Night after night I feel no desire
For sleep, and what is life if one cannot sleep?
My eye asks me how long it will be kept awake.
75 My heart asks me how long it will feel grief.
I have only water to break my fast.
What kind of a life does he lead whose only food is water?
When I rise to pray during the night,223
The chains drag down my knees, making me prostrate myself.
How long will this trouble go on growing?
How long will this misfortune go on renewing itself constantly?
O Lord, have compassion with my homelessness, and restore me!
I am homeless, isolated, confused.
I have no protector except my master who
Always took care of me. A good master is he!
My life was nourished by gifts
Of his giving and by undeniable benefits (received from him).
For twenty years, I lived under his wing
Like a king, and my situation improved steadily.
When I deviated from the right path, he said to me,
“Go slow! This is the right way.”
And he turned me back gently to where
Lay my well-being, and to the proper path.
To my dismay, I was forced to leave him.
God knows and is my witness for what I say!
My enemy has come to occupy my place in his heart
And has filled it with fiery coals that are never extinguished.
Let us assume that I did wrong, but why were you angry at my wrongdo-
Since I started keeping company with you, I have never once observed you
getting angry.
In fact, you always felt it to be the noble thing to forgive all sins,

223 Leg. tahajjudan.

legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 89

And you always forgave and disregarded the mistakes of others.

Thus, consider it a good deed to forgive the sin of your slave.
Anger is a quality that has no place with you.
Remember my special dignity224 and positions
In the days when you considered praiseworthy whatever I did!
O Aḥmad b. Muḥammad,225 generous man,
Be to me as you were before, O Aḥmad!
Do not give my enemies reason for rejoicing at my misfortunes, and let
me go free,
For the whiteness of your face, as my face is black.

Al-Bayhaqî, finally, quoted a few lines of poetry, ascribed to either Jaʿfar b. 76

Khâlid al-Barmakî or ʿAbdallâh b. Muʿâwiyah b. ʿAbdallâh b. Jaʿfar b. Abî Ṭâlib.226
Far from praising prison life, these verses are another bitter denunciation of the
frustrations suffered by those who were forcibly deprived of their freedom. A
later jurist in fact quoted them to this effect.227

We prefer to complain to God about the misfortune that has befallen us.
It is in His hand to lift distress and tribulation.
We have left the world but still belong to it.
We are neither alive nor dead in this world.
When the prison guard comes in at times for some business,
We are surprised and say, “This one has come from the world.”
We rejoice at our dreams. Most of our talk
In the morning is about our dreams.

224 The variant reading khidmatî “my services” is equally well possible. Both words are used
together in Miskawayh’s historical work, cf. Amedroz and Margoliouth, Eclipse, I, 91; trans.,
IV, 100; Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq 1285), XVIII, 94, l. 7.
225 Cf. above, n. 222.
226 He was a Shîʿah nobleman and famous poet who attempted to foment a rebellion in the
East against the last Umayyad caliph and ran afoul of similar plans of Abû Muslim and
the ʿAbbâsids; Abû Muslim imprisoned and killed him, cf. K.V. Zetterstéen, ʿAbd Allâh
b. Muʿâwiya, in EI2, I, 48 f.; Abû l-Faraj al-Iṣfahânî, Maqâtil aṭ-Ṭâlibîyîn, 161–169. Popular
verses were occasionally ascribed to him, cf. F. Rosenthal, The Technique and Approach of
Muslim Scholarship (Rome, 1947. Analecta Orientalia, XIV), 32, n. 6; Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq,
1285), XI, 66.
227 As-Sarakhsî, Mabsûṭ, IX, 135f., quoting the second and third verses. The first three verses
were cited anonymously by Ibn al-Buḥturî, Uns al-masjûn, fol. 31b. All five appear in Ibn
Qutaybah, loc. cit. (above, n. 165), with some variant readings; al-Qifṭî, Inbâh ar-ruwâh
(Cairo, 1369/1950–), I, 61 f.; Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth, I, 184f.; ed. Rifâʿî, III, 154f.
90 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Good ones are slow in coming.

Bad ones are not looked forward to, but they come quickly.

For sensitive persons, the term “prison,” understandably enough, came to as-
sume, in Islam as elsewhere, the connotation of overpowering unpleasantness.
It could all by itself express the corruption and viciousness of the world.228 The
word “prison” served to suggest the discomfort of an overcrowded room, as in
these verses by Ibn al-Muʿtazz:

Many a house did I visit where I felt

Crowded as if I were in prison.
77 Only a pomegranate knows to jam seeds into its skin
As tightly as we (human beings) do.229

It could be used as a metaphor for the greatest possible state of misery.230 Only
when the alternative was between keeping bad company and being isolated in
prison, a philosopher (but hardly the common man) might come out in favor
of imprisonment.231 Individuals never valued freedom as highly as when they
had lost it.

Forced Labor
Forced labor, sukhrî or taskhîr in Arabic, is another form of curtailment of
human liberty and an ever-present threat to the well-being of human society.
It existed in Islam to some as yet ill-defined extent,231a but was generally
abhorred. There existed no legal basis for, or discussion about it. It is not
entirely superfluous to stress the absence of legal concern with the subject,
for the Qurʾân knows and uses the word that came to denote forced labor. It

228 Cf. below, p. 106 f.

229 Dîwân, II, 117. For the simile employed, cf. also, for instance, al-Juwaynî, Taʾrîkh-i-Jahân-
gushây, trans. J.A. Boyle (Manchester, 1958), 225.
230 Al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, II, 217; III, 309; IV, 369, 422.
231 Al-Mubashshir b. Fâtik, Mukhtâr al-ḥikam, in the chapter of anonymous sayings no. 39
(according to the edition prepared by the writer); p. 327 of the edition recently published
by ʿA. Badawî (Madrid, 1377/1958).
231a In general, it is extremely difficult to determine the occurrence of forced labor from the
terse indications of the sources. It also remains doubtful to what extent conscription for
military service must, in the medieval environment, be considered an infringement upon
individual freedom. Conditions with regard to the corvée as observed in Muslim countries
in modern times give no reliable indication as to the situation in earlier periods.
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 91

usually describes the subjection of the world to man for his use. However, sûrah
43.32/31 refers to the fact that some individuals contribute their labor for the
benefit of others, as part of the divinely ordained social order and as common
practice in Muḥammad’s environment:

We (God) have distributed among them their livelihood in the life of this 78
world, and We have placed some over others in various grades, so that one
may take another as a serf (sukhrîyan).232

This verse could have been used easily to justify the practice of forced labor.
That it was never used in this manner may be taken as an additional indication
of the abhorrence with which forced labor was viewed by all thinking persons.
Forced labor was depicted as one of the perverted practices of pre-Islamic
tyranny. Thus, Pharaoh exacted forced labor from the Israelites. They had to
produce all the materials he needed, and every day, a certain number of them
were hanged, and all of them were constantly beaten, maltreated, and humil-
iated.233 And the Abyssinian, Abraha, humiliated the people of the Yemen by
making them contribute all kinds of forced labor to the construction of a church
in Ṣanʿâʾ. Those who did not come to work before sunrise had their hands cut
In Islam, the introduction of forced labor as an institution was ascribed to
the caliph Muʿâwiyah who supposedly was the first to build imposing edifices
and to use for it forced labor, something that had never been done before.235
This statement involving Muʿawiyah appears in the work of a Shîʿah author
and | serves there the purpose of emphasizing Muʿâwiyah’s alleged vicious- 79
ness. At the same time, it belongs to a long list of supposed “firsts” attributed
to Muʿâwiyah as the ruler who made an end to the apostolic reign of the first

232 The translation of the last clause follows R. Bell, The Qurʾân (Edinburgh, 1937–1939), II,
493. The technical connotation of forced labor, which the word sukhrî acquired, was not
yet applicable. Ibn Khaldûn (Muqaddimah, trans. F. Rosenthal, II, 329) quoted the verse as
evidence for the need of human society for stratification and cooperation. In this respect,
he followed the usual interpretation of the passage by Qurʾân commentators. Cf. also
above, n. 76.
It may be noted that taskhîr, musakhkhar could be used as one of the opposites
of ikhtiyâr, thus giving a more distinctly Islamic flavor to the subject of free will, cf.
al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, IV, 214 ff.
233 Ibn Kathîr, Bidâyah (Cairo, 1351–1358/1932–1939), I, 263.
234 Ibn Kathîr, op. cit., II, 170.
235 Al-Yaʿqûbî, Taʾrîkh, ed. M.T. Houtsma (Leiden, 1883), II, 276; ed. Najaf, 1358/1939, II, 207.
92 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

four caliphs and introduced Islam to the realities of power politics. It is tanta-
mount to saying that since the days of Muʿâwiyah, forced labor had become an
ineradicable institution, in spite of its generally acknowledged objectionable
From near the end of medieval Muslim civilization comes a rationalis-
tic explanation of the destructive results brought about by the use of forced
labor. Forced labor slows down and eventually ruins the economy and with
it the body politic. This is the argument suggested by Ibn Khaldûn writing in
fourteenth-century Northwest Africa.236 Evidently, this opinion resulted from
his personal observation that the rulers he served were greatly inclined toward
resorting to the employment of forced labor. In Mameluke Egypt where Ibn
Khaldûn went soon after, he had ample opportunity, it seems, to observe the
same situation. The Mamelukes always attempted to find forced labor, and it
was considered noteworthy if a major building, such as a mosque, was con-
structed—supposedly—without resorting to it.237 However, despite such state-
ments of the historians and Ibn Khaldûn’s revealing concern with the problem,
the use of forced labor does not appear to have been an established institution
that functioned all the time or could be activated whenever a ruler felt the need
for it. A public works project under al-Muʾayyad, as Ibn Taghrîbirdî described it
on the basis of reliable information, required more labor than was readily avail-
able, and it was only with great difficulty, and the eventual use of threats, that
80 enough people | could be lined up to undertake a task that had to be done for
their own benefit.238
It is possible that the absence of much information on the use of forced
labor throughout Muslim history means that forced labor was commonly prac-
ticed and did not deserve any particular attention except under extraordinary
circumstances. However, forced labor properly speaking was, it seems, not
only abhorred in Islam but also comparatively rarely resorted to. In a civiliza-
tion built around urban life and commerce, any tampering with the economic
equilibrium would almost immediately bring about disturbing consequences.
When any large-scale projects were undertaken in the cities, the lower strata of
the population constituted a pool of manpower that could be readily utilized
for any type of labor required. They were available cheaply, and there was, as a

236 Muqaddimah, trans. F. Rosenthal, II, 108 f.

237 E. Tyan, Institutions du droit public musulman (Paris, 1956), II, 193f.
238 Ibn Taghrîbirdî, ed. W. Popper, VI, 344 ff.; trans. by the same (Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1056),
III, 30 ff. A similar situation appears to be behind the brief report from ninth/tenth-century
Bukhârâ in an-Narshakhî’s History of Bukhârâ, trans. R.N. Frye (Cambridge, Mass., 1954),
legal and sociological aspects of the concept of freedom 93

rule, no need to use undue force.239 Muslim rural economy was nearly every-
where geared to small-scale enterprise and required no unusual manpower
resources. Whatever may have been the practice at certain periods and in cer-
tain parts of the Muslim world, the theory recognized and respected as the basic
right of the free Muslim the freedom to work and earn his own living as he

239 It was probably a much more frequent occurrence that skilled artisans, as individuals
or in groups, were forced against their will to work in the ruler’s service. But a Karaite
weaver who complained that he had to work for the government for two years and could
not get out (cf. S.D. Goitein, Petitions to Fatimid Caliphs from the Cairo Geniza, in Jewish
Quarterly Review, XLV [1954], 32 f.) presumably considered—and, from his point of view,
correctly—as forced labor what for others was a highly desirable job.

81 Philosophical Views on Freedom

Leaving the legal and societal level of the discussion of freedom for that of
philosophical—ethical, political, metaphysical—theory, we find, as we would
expect, an unmistakable predominance of Greek ideas. To a considerable ex-
tent these ideas entered Muslim civilization in the form of brief and pithy say-
ings. They were sayings easy to keep in mind, and they were constantly repeated
and quoted by all educated Muslims. The ideas they proclaimed became inte-
grated in the general pattern of Muslim thought. With regard to their interpre-
tation of freedom, they agreed in certain respects with the old Arab concept of
the free man, the ḥurr. The message they were meant to convey was, therefore,
all the more readily accepted.

a Freedom as an Ethical Concept

Ethics is the subdivision of philosophy to which the discussion of freedom was

most commonly assigned. Freedom is a quality and attitude of the individual.
It is not dependent on social or political conditions. Freedom is indivisible; a
man cannot be half free and half slave in his moral personality.240
Positively defined, ethical freedom means the desire, on the part of man, to
be good:

Freedom means that man serves the good and cultivates it constantly. The
degree of his service determines the extent of his freedom. For he who
does not take hold of the good is not free.241

82 Pythagoras was asked: ‘Who is a free man?’ He replied, ‘He who serves the

240 This was the opinion of the tenth-century philosopher, Abû l-Ḥasan al-ʿÂmirî, cf. F. Rosen-
thal, in The Islamic Quarterly, III (1956), 46. For al-ʿÂmirî and his works, cf. also the impor-
tant notes by M. Minovi, Az khazâʾin-i Turkiye, II, published as an appendix to Majalle-i
Dânish-kade-i Adabîyât, IV, 3 (undated offprint), and above, n. 74.
241 Al-Mubashshir, Socrates no. 245; ed. Badawî, 113.
242 Al-Mubashshir, Pythagoras no. 71; ed. Badawî, 67. Cf. Plotinus, Enneads, VI, viii, 7, which is
philosophical views on freedom 95

It means control of oneself:

He is not counted free who is unable to control himself.243


For self-control is the necessary prerequisite for controlling others.244 Freedom

gives the sage the ability to free himself from the fetters of his natural environ-
ment, from custom and habit. It makes him truly a sage:

The sage who possesses a free soul is the master of the law of nature, while
the sage who does not possess a free soul is a slave to the law of nature.245

Real freedom is possessed only by him who possesses intelligence and truth- 83

Let the intellect be on your right, and truth on your left, and you will be
safe always, and you will always be free.246

remotely comparable. Ibn Abî r-Rabîʿ, Sulûk al-mâlik (Cairo, 1329), 111, speaks about those
who do what is good by nature, which is the characteristic quality of the free.
243 Al-Mubashshir, Pythagoras no. 46; ed. Badawî, 66. This saying is constantly quoted in
Greek florilegia: Oudeis eleutheros heautou mê kratôn. Cf., for instance, Stobaeus, Flori-
legium, III, 6, 56 (ed. Wachsmuth-Hense, III, 300 [Pythagoras?]); Antonius Melissa, in
Migne, Patrologia Graeca, CXXXVI, 1200B; Maximus Confessor, ibid., XCI, 744A; C. Wachs-
muth, Studien zu den griechischen Florilegien (Berlin, 1882), 185f.; H. Schenkl, Pythagoras-
Sprüche in einer Wiener Handschrift, in Wiener Studien, VIII (1886), 275, cf. the Syriac
translation: lâ îthaw bar ḥêrê aynâ ḏnelboḵ nap̄ sheh lâ meshkaḥ, in P. de Lagarde, Analecta
Syriaca (Leipzig, 1858), 198, and J. Gildemeister, in Hermes, IV (1870), 93, where further ref-
erences are given.
244 Cf., for instance, al-Mubashshir, Hermes no. 126; Solon no. 10, quoted by Usâmah b.
Munqidh, Lubâb, 237; Aesop (Ainesios?) no. 23 (ed. Badawî, 26, 37, 279); Ibn ad-Dâyah
(supposed author), al-ʿUhûd al-Yûnânîyah, ed. ʿA. Badawî, Fontes Graecae doctrinarum
politicarum Islamicarum (Cairo, 1954. Islamica, XV), 46; Ibn Hindû, al-Kalim ar-rûḥânîyah
(Cairo, 1318/1900), 9, where Plato is the alleged authority, but since the Plato sayings of
some other florilegium were incorporated in the poor edition of Ibn Hindû’s work, the
source is not quite clear. Cf. also Schenkl, op. cit., 277, a passage which was not taken over
by the Syriac translator.
245 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 39; ed. Badawî, 134 (incomplete). Cf. also E. Zeller, Die Philosophie
der Griechen, 4th ed. (Leipzig, 1909), III, I, 255 f.
246 Ibid., no. 65; ed. Badawî, 138. Cf. as-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd (above, n. 74), 119; Ibn Hindû, 18.
96 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Complete devotion to the truth is what makes a man free and distinguishes
him from the unfree:

The distinction between the free man and the slave is that the free man
always guards the truth essentially, that is, out of love, while the slave
always guards the truth accidentally, that is, out of fear.247

In consequence, it was a condition for the true scholar and scientist to have
been born free. Hippocrates, in his Testament transmitted in Arabic, made
it the first condition for the student of medicine that he be free by birth
( fî jinsihî).248 It is interesting to note that this condition was disregarded
by the great Muslim physician, Ibn Riḍwân, when, following Hippocrates, he
enumerated the necessary qualifications of physicians.249
Putting it negatively, freedom is freedom from obligations, from the encum-
brances of daily life:

Possessions are a master, and he who serves anyone or anything but his
own self is not free.250

Those who love money have no freedom.251


84 Acquire few worldly possessions, and you will live a free man.252

247 Al-Mubashshir, Socrates no. 208; ed. Badawî, 110. Cf. also above, n. 56.
248 Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, I, 26, l. 15.
249 Ibid., II, 102f.; transl. by J. Schacht and M. Meyerhof, The Medico-Philosophical Controversy
between Ibn Butlan of Baghdad and Ibn Ridwan of Cairo (Cairo, 1937. Publications of the
Faculty of Arts of the Egyptian University, XIII), 40.
250 Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, ed. ʿA. Badawî (Cairo, 1952. Islamica, XIII), 212; Ibn Hindû,
251 Abû Sulaymân al-Manṭiqî as-Sijistânî, Ṣiwân al-ḥikmah, according to the later recension
preserved in Ms. Istanbul, Murad Molla 1408, fol. 35b. The sayings of Homer cited here
were recognized by J. Kraemer as belonging to a translation of the Sentences ascribed to
Menander, cf. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, CVI (1956), 305.
252 Al-Mâwardî, Adab ad-dunyâ wa-d-dîn, 73. Faithfulness (wafâʾ) should be welcomed as a
lifelong slavery, according to Ḥammâd ʿAjrad in Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Fî ṣ-Ṣadâqah, 181.
philosophical views on freedom 97

He who is being asked for a favor is free until he makes a promise.253


Such independence from human beings and material needs came to be consid-
ered the good life, as stated, for instance, in a couplet by the poet, Ibn Mawâhib
al-Ḥaẓîrî (d. 1206–1207):

If you want the good life, do not ever be a servant

Of anybody, and do not ever be anybody’s master.
Try to obtain a modest livelihood, and you will escape from the trouble-
some obligations of wealth,
And you will be free from the subservience attendant upon poverty.254

More succinctly, a contemporary of the poet, the scientist Rashîd-ad-dîn Ibn

Khalîfah (1183–1219), said, “Freedom is the good life.”255
Negatively defined, freedom also is freedom from what is evil, from that
which prevents man from achieving the true purpose of his humanity. Avoid-
ance of evil actions, habitually committed by human beings, means freedom:

It is difficult for man to be free while being obedient to evil actions that
come habitually.256

Freedom from stupidity prepares the soul for true freedom: 85

… Thus, the soul gets to be free, freed from the servitude of stupidity and
the slavery of inexperience (ḥadâthah).257

253 Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 112. A versification of the idea by Nâṣir-ad-dîn al-Ḥasan b.
Shâwar Ibn an-Naqîb (d. 687/1288), in aṣ-Ṣafadî, al-Ghayth al-musajjam (Cairo, 1305), II,
254 Ibn Saʿîd, op. cit. (above, n. 202), 76.
255 As quoted by his nephew, Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, II, 254, l. 11. For the different legal concept
that freedom is life, cf. above, n. 83.
256 Al-Mubashshir, Pythagoras no. 31; ed. Badawî, 64. The idea was repeated by Abû Ḥâmid
al-Isfizârî, cf. al-Bayhaqî, Tatimmat Ṣiwân al-ḥikmah, ed. M. Shafîʿ (Lahore, 1935), 76. One
may compare Stobaeus, III, 6, 55, and III, 18, 22 (ed. Wachsmuth-Hense, III, 300 and 518);
Wachsmuth, op. cit. (above, n. 243), 185; Antonius Melissa, loc. cit.: Eleutheron adynaton
einai ton pathesi douleuonta kai hypo pathôn kratoumenon. However, Pythagoras there
refers to the animal desires in particular.
257 Al-Mubashshir, Hermes no. 11; ed. Badawî, 12. Conversely, knowledge saves man from being
98 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Freedom means that a person is not ruled by ignorance and that he does
not do what is not required by the intellect.258

Above all, however, freedom is freedom from desires.259 This may mean that
man should not wish to obtain things that it may be difficult for him to obtain,
since this would force him to search after those things and leave him deprived
of his liberty:

Wealth means being at home, poverty means being in a strange country.

Desire is servitude, despair260 is freedom.261

86 … He who likes to be free must not wish to have what cannot be | his.
Rather, he should flee from it. Otherwise, he will become its slave.262

unfree. The early twelfth-century physician, philosopher, and poet, al-ʿAnṭarî, said (Ibn
Abî Uṣaybiʿah, I, 290, l. 19 f.):

Son, study and acquire knowledge, even if the only advantage you may obtain from
it is that you do not have to depend on those who rightly or wrongly might want to
use you as a slave.

258 Usâmah b. Munqidh, Lubâb, 434. The ascription to Socrates is not quite clear.
259 A modern philosopher takes the opposite view: “Freedom in general may be defined as
the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires” (B. Russell, in Freedom, Its Meaning
[above, n. 8], 251). However, Russell realizes that under this definition no human being
can be completely free. For freedom from desires being the only freedom, cf. Clement of
Alexandria, Stromata, ed. Stählin, II, 192, ll. 20–22; 216, ll. 25–27.
260 That is, resigning oneself to the impossibility of obtaining what one desires.
261 Al-Mubashshir, Hermes no. 125; ed. Badawî, 25. A wazîr of the caliph al-Mahdî, Abû
ʿUbaydallâh Muʿâwiyah b. ʿUbaydallâh b. Yasâr, used to say (al-Jahshiyârî, Wuzarâʾ, ed. von
Mžik, 162):

Despair ( yaʾs) is a free man, hope a slave.

This remark was quoted anonymously by Ibn al-Buḥturî, Uns al-masjûn, fols. 51a and 58a–b.
According to al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, IV, 173, yaʾs means independence (ʿizz). Cf. also the volume
of sermons ascribed to Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî and entitled al-Ishârât al-ilâhîyah, ed.
ʿA. Badawî (Cairo, 1950. Islamica, XII), 249, l. 12.
262 Al-Mubashshir, Hippocrates no. 13; ed. Badawî, 50.
philosophical views on freedom 99

He who wants to be free must not desire to obtain what can be obtained
only through someone else’s willingness.262a

Free and rich is he who withdraws from desires, who is satisfied with the
amount of food necessary to keep alive, and who avoids amusements and
a greek sage

Or, as al-Kindî is said to have phrased the idea:

Slaves are free as long as they are satisfied, and free men are slaves as long
as they desire things.263

Again, Rashîd-ad-dîn Ibn Khalîfah put it more succinctly:

Contentment is the door leading to freedom.264

While an Arab poet said:

The slavery of those who desire things is eternal slavery.265

262a As-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd (above, n. 74), 171 f.

262b Op. cit., 86.
263 Ṣiwân, fol. 60b. Cf. also Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 204; Ibn al-Buḥturî, Uns al-masjûn,
fol. 58a; al-Ibshîhî, Mustaṭraf, ch. X, 2 (Bûlâq, 1268), I, 84, l. 26. The same remark was
attributed to an obscure Ṣûfî, Bunân al-Ḥammâl, who died in Egypt in 316/928 (al-Qu-
shayrî, Risâlah, 24), by as-Suhrawardî, ʿAwârif al-maʿârif (Cairo, 1352/1933, in the margin
of al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ), III, 63. Cf. also Iḥyâʾ, III, 210, to the effect that being satisfied means
freedom and independence (ʿizz); the quotation seems to be part of the ḥadîth cited imme-
diately before, which is not to be found in the canonical collections. Cf. also H. Ritter, Das
Meer der Seele, 221.
A saying attributed to Plato (Ibn Hindû, 46), reads:

A free man must guard his virtue (murûwah) against his imagination and greed
(desire, ḥirṣ).

In his Adab aṣ-ṣaghîr, Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ said that “a free man cannot be greedy” (Rasâʾil al-
bulaghâʾ, ed. M. Kurd ʿAlî, 2nd ed. [Cairo. 1331/1913], 47). Cf., further, Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân
Khiradh, 77; al-Qâlî, Amâlî (Cairo, 1373), II, 28.
264 Ibn Abî Uṣaybiʿah, II, 254, l. 11.
265 Ar-Râghib al-Iṣfahânî, op. cit. (above, n. 54), I, 110. Cf. al-ʿÂmilî, Mikhlâh (Cairo, 1317), 208:
100 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

87 Even the Torah is said to have defined freedom as consisting in the renunci-
ation of desires.265a The Ṣûfî, Abû Bakr Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Warrâq, won-
dered why a slave might contract and work for his manumission while a free
man would not always strive to throw off the yoke of desires.265b And the Per-
sian poet, Saʿdî, at the end of his famous Gulistân, extolled the freedom of the
cypress which does not pass through cycles of bearing fruit and being barren
but is always without fruit and always green, like the free who do not desire the
transitory goods of this world.265c
For the Muslim theologian, “desire” stands for all worldly ambition. “Only the
stupid person loves the world; the free man recoils from it.”266 Human beings,
in general, are prisoners of their worldly ambitions.267 “Prisoners in the jail of
your worldly ambitions, when will you free yourselves?” is the anguished cry of
the moral preacher.268
More than any other desire, it is the desires of the animal nature in man
that make him unfree. His animal desires subject him to a slavery that is more
88 humiliating than physical and legal | slavery.269 The struggle with those desires
and the final victory over them makes man free. Diogenes—or, as is sometimes
said, Socrates—was entitled to show contempt for the world conqueror, the

A sage said: The owner of a thing has control over it. He who loves to be free must
not desire what does not belong to him, or he will become a slave, as indicated by
ʿAlî b. al-Jahm in the verse:

Souls are free but we are slaves.

The slavery of desire is hard slavery.

The verse appears in the edition of the poet’s Dîwân (above, n. 212), 124, but is taken from
al-ʿÂmilî and no other source is indicated.
Cf. also the verse quoted by Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Ishârât, 30, 42:

I obeyed my desires, and they enslaved me.

Had I been satisfied, I would be free.

Or Ibn an-Naqîb (above, n. 253), in aṣ-Ṣafadî, Ghayth, II, 229.

265a As-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd, 166.
265b Op. cit., 167.
265c The passage is quoted at the end of the first chapter of H.D. Thoreau’s Walden.
266 Ibn al-Jawzî, Mudhish (Baghdâd, 1348), 225.
267 Ibid., 412, cf. also 257, 501.
268 Ibid., 538f.
269 Ar-Râghib al-Iṣfahânî, loc. cit.
philosophical views on freedom 101

great Alexander, who was the slave of his slave, for Diogenes had subdued his
animal desires while Alexander was subservient to them.270 It was the ancient
Near Eastern wisdom of Luqmân,271 or of the old Persian sage Ûshahanj,272
which recognized that among the things that go into the making of the religious
individual is the elimination of animal desires so that he can become free.
Socrates seems to have been considered the author of the saying:

Freedom means that an individual gives up being a slave to his animal

desires which are considered blameworthy by the intellect.273

Freedom, understood as freedom from low desires, is a subdivision of the virtue

of sôphrosynê,274 as stated by Miskawayh:

Modesty (ʿiffah, sôphrosynê) is the virtue of the sense that is connected

with the animal desires (al-ḥiss ash-shahwânî). This virtue appears in
man when he uses his animal desires in accordance with his reason-
ing ability (raʾy). That is, by working in harmony with sound discern-
ment, until he is no longer subservient to the animal desires, thus becom-
ing a free man, a man who is no longer a slave to any of his animal

The freedom from desires, finally, is one of the facets of human perfection,
something that raises man to the level of human perfection, something that
raises man to the level of the angels and | that outlasts his physical life.276 The 89
ultimate goal of philosophy, happiness, is achieved when the soul becomes
free in its totality (kamâl).276a For the ordinary man, this aspect, or complex of

270 Al-Mubashshir, in the life of Diogenes; Socrates, nos. 116, 312 (ed. Badawî, 73, 102, 120). The
story was, of course, cited whenever Alexander was discussed in Muslim literature; it could
also be quoted anonymously, cf. al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, IV, 68.
271 Al-Mubashshir, in the chapter dealing with Luqmân; ed. Badawî, 263.
272 Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 7.
273 Usâmah, Lubâb, 434.
274 Cf. below, p. 97.
275 Miskawayh, Tahdhîb al-akhlâq (Cairo, 1322), 7.
276 Al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, III, 245.
276a As-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd, 355, where we also find the chapter heading: “Educated men (adîb)
are free men, and those who are not educated are slaves.” This reminds us of Gorgias 485C
and related passages, among them, in particular, Philo, Quod omnis probus liber sit, 1: pas
ho asteios eleutheros.
102 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

aspects, of freedom was well summarized in the verses of Abû l-Fatḥ al-Bustî,
a contemporary of Miskawayh and representative of the same intellectual

Free in reality is he who liberates himself

From the slavery of his animal desires and from his defects,
Who acquires what cannot be taken away
From him, and eagerly tries to multiply his good (deeds and qualities).277

By an extension of meaning, freedom stands for all the qualities that character-
ize moral man. The free man represents all noble qualities,278 while the slave
90 represents all that is vile and | despicable in human nature.279 This extension
of meaning fits in with the ancient Arabic usage of ḥurr and gives ḥurr the
connotations it usually carries outside the legal sphere. According to the tenth-
century philosopher of Baghdâd, Abû l-Khayr Ḥasan b. Suwâr Khamâr, freedom
understood in this sense, combined with freedom from desires and with gen-
erosity,280 constitutes part of true humanity and is indispensable for those who
claim to be philosophers:

277 Dîwân (Cairo, 1294), 15. For “the prison of desire,” cf. also al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 23; al-
Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, III, 57.
278 Such as honor, cf. above, n. 221; contempt of death if one’s honor is involved, cf. al-
Balâdhurî, Ansâb, ed. S.D. Goitein (Jerusalem, 1936), V, 312, 350; modesty (ḥayâʾ, ʿafâf ),
pride (anaf ), cf. Ibn Qutaybah, ʿUyûn, ed. Brockelmann, 347; ed. Cairo, I, 297; Usâmah,
Lubâb, 286; faithfulness to promises made, according to Aristotle-Alexander, in Ms. Istan-
bul, Fatih 5323 (the pagination of the ms. does not show on my microfilm); willingness to
forgive one’s friends, cf. Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth, I, 379; ed. Rifâʿî, II, 231; patience,
cf. al-Qâlî, Amâlî, I, 168, and aṣ-Ṣafadî, Ghayth, II, 172, l. 13; patriotism that shows itself in
one’s often frustrated desire to find recognition in his own country, cf. ash-Sharîshî, Sharḥ
al-Maqâmât, II, 188; and so on. In fact “free men” may stand in poetry for true human
beings in general (cf. above, p. 10), as in this verse (Ibn al-Jawzî, Mudhish, 186):

Death destined drives the free away from

Their homes, and the birds from their nests,

as well as many other verses by a great many poets. In particular, the idea that invidious
fate most persistently dogs the footsteps of the aḥrâr occurs again and again.
279 The Arabic translation of a Greek verse reads (Ibn Hindû 135):

There is nothing worse than a slave, though he be the best of slaves.

280 Ḥurrîyah here has a wider meaning than mere generosity. A similar ambiguity in the
philosophical views on freedom 103

… He must be modest (ʿafîf, sôphrôn) and not love money …, and he

must be generous because meanness is identical with preferring money
to humanity (insânîyah) and freedom (ḥurrîyah). The philosopher must
not prefer anything to humanity and freedom, because those who lack
freedom and are ready for corrupting animal desires cannot possibly be

According to Plato,

Magnanimous is he who does not enslave his freedom nor humble his
independence (ʿizz).281a

A man’s character marks him as either a free man or a slave; there is no middle
ground.282 A free man is ready to accept | all kinds of onerous tasks and consider 91
it an honor, but when he is asked to relinquish part of his freedom, he would
not hear of it and would not do it.283 When Homer was to be sold into slavery,
he was asked for what he was suited best. He replied, “Freedom.”284 A free man
may have the character of a slave,284a and an actual slave could excel so-called

meaning of ḥurrîyah, as the result of the restriction of the term to generosity (cf. below,
p. 95), shows itself in a remark by Abû l-Ḥasan al-ʿÂmirî, who called “the light of freedom
(ḥurrîyah) a vehicle for those who are generous (dhawû l-jûd),” cf. Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân
Khiradh, 351. Cf., in particular, below, n. 307.
281 Ibn Suwâr, Fî ṣifat ar-rajul al-faylasûf, Ms. Istanbul, Ragib Pasha 1463, fol. 64a.
281a As-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd, 164.
282 Cf. above, n. 240. According to al-Ibshîhî, Mustaṭraf, ch. LVIII, 2 (Bûlâq, 1268, II, 94),
Aktham (b. Ṣayfî?) said:

A free man is a free man, even if he is touched by need.

A slave is a slave, even if he is covered with pearls.

Cf. also the Syriac Apollonius who mentions as one of the most pitiful and unnatural sights
that of “the freeman who serves as a slave,” cf. R. Gottheil, in Zeitschrift der Deutschen
Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, XLVI (1892), 467, 469.
283 Ibn Hindû, 45, in the name of Plato. Further Platonic sayings that use ḥurr in the sense
of “good” appear in Ibn Hindû, 47, 56, 58. Plato’s Exhortation concerning the Education of
Young Men contains the statement that teachers should be “guides for their freedom so
that they become educated through freedom,” cf. Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 271.
284 Al-Mubashshir, in the life of Homer and in the chapter of sayings of miscellaneous sages
no. 8, in the name of Archigenes (ed. Badawî, 30, 297). Cf. the remark of the Spartan
woman, in Stobaeus, III, 13, 58 (ed. Wachsmuth-Hense, III, 466).
284a Kitâb al-Aghânî (Bûlâq, 1285), XVIII, 11.
104 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

free men in noble qualities and then be a slave in name only.285 The black poet,
Suḥaym, a slave of the Banû l-Ḥasḥâs, who died about 660–661, had already

If I am a slave, my soul is free because it is noble,

And if I am black in color, my character is white.286

92 Slavery meant total moral degeneration, and it was for this reason that slaves
were despised or pitied. Al-Jâḥiẓ, musing on the subject that a man should not
divulge his secrets lest he become unfree, lamented the lot of the voluntary
slave in these words:

Who is in a worse spot, in a more hopeless situation, in a more impotent

condition than he who was free, in full control of himself, and made
himself a slave, the property of someone else, choosing slavery without
having been captured or being subjected by force; slaves do not suffer
slavery except when they are captured.287

Even animals show the effects of slavery. Their physical appearance is more
splendid, and their sense faculties are more highly developed, in the state of
freedom than after they have been subdued by man.288
It is thus only natural that the idea of slavery, in metaphorical usage, stood
for the most loathsome condition of mankind, to be avoided at all costs. On

285 Miskawayh, Tahdhîb al-akhlâq, 64. Cf. also stories such as that about the highly edu-
cated slave whom his master was forced to sell and who so greatly impressed the buyer
with his love for his master that he set him free: “My companion asked me, ‘Would any-
one manumit a slave who is so good?’ I retorted, ‘Could anyone own one like him?’”
(ash-Sharîshî, Sharḥ al-Maqâmât, II, 137f.). Cf. also the Sayings of Theano (above, n. 44),
The distinction of three kinds of slaves, slaves by law (ʿabd ar-riqq), slaves of desires
(ʿabd ash-shahwah), and slaves by nature (ʿabd aṭ-ṭabʿ), was introduced into Muslim ethics
through the Oikonomikos of Bryson, and came to be a commonplace; as there were slaves
by nature, there also existed slaves who were by nature free men, cf. M. Plessner, Der
Oikonomikos des Neupythagoreers ‘Bryson’ (Heidelberg, 1928), 164ff., 228f., and passim
(references to citations of Bryson in other works).
286 Cf. Kitâb al-Aghânî, XX, 3; al-Qâlî, Amâlî, II, 86; al-Bakrî, Simṭ al-laʾâlî (Cairo, 1354/1936),
721; al-Kutubî, Fawât, I, 238.
287 Kitmân as-sirr, ed. P. Kraus and M.Ṭ. al-Ḥâjirî, Majmûʿ Rasâʾil al-Jâḥiẓ (Cairo, 1943), 44.
288 Al-Jâḥiẓ, Fî l-jidd wa-l-hazl, ed. Kraus and al-Ḥâjirî, op. cit., 96; Ibn Khaldûn, Muqaddimah,
trans. F. Rosenthal, I, 178 f., 282 f.
philosophical views on freedom 105

the other hand, it is fine flattery for a man to call himself not only someone
else’s slave—which was commonly done—but to insist that such slavery meant

When I am a slave of noble men,

I am free, and fate is my slave.289

But there is a bittersweet undertone to such metaphorical usage | when it is 93

applied to the slavery in which the beloved holds the lover.290

289 Abû l-Fatḥ al-Bustî, Dîwân, 72. Az-zamân “time” could be translated “fate,” as above;
however, the poet may have had in mind the particular time he was living in.
Zayd b. Ḥârithah, we are told, said that he “preferred the humiliation of slavery while
enjoying the company of the Messenger of God to the independence (ʿizz) of freedom
when it meant separation from him” (al-Ibshîhî, Mustaṭraf, ch. LVIII, 1 [Bûlâq, 1268, II,
93]); and a scholar could boast of being “a slave for life of the man with whom he had
studied traditions” (Ibn Jamâʿah, Tadhkirat as-sâmiʿ [Hyderabad, 1353], 90).
290 A few examples must suffice, as, for instance, the verse quoted by Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî,
Baṣâʾir (Cairo, 1373/1953), 153, in the name of a certain Muḥammad b. Yâqût (hardly the
well-known political figure who died in 323/935), and by al-Azdî, ed. A. Mez, Abulḳâsim
ein bagdâder Sittenbild (Heidelberg, 1902), 69, anonymously:

Do not censure me, for I am not the first free man

To become through love a slave of those whom he loves.

Or, the verse of the poet, Abû Ayyûb Sulaymân b. Sulaymân b. Ḥajjâj (d. 338/949–950),
quoted by az-Zubaydî, Ṭabaqât an-naḥwîyîn (Cairo, 1373/1954), 325:

I was free but have become a slave and the property

Of a tyrant from whom I cannot hope to escape.

Or, the verses by Ibn al-Muʿtazz, cited by ash-Shâbushtî, Diyârât, ed. G. ʿAwwâd (Baghdâd,
1951), 51:

Love has captured a prince

Who never was a captive before.
Pity the humiliation of a proud man
Who has become a dependent slave.

Cf. also the verses of the caliph al-Muktafî, cited by al-Kutubî, Fawât, II, 87. As could be
expected, the simile soon became a mere cliché. The lover is thus called “slave of the
beloved, who does not want to be released” (Ṣafî-ad-dîn al-Ḥillî, Dîwân [Damascus, 1297],
106 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Since a wide gulf in moral endowment separates free men from slaves, a
different treatment is indicated for the two groups. Secrets, for instance, should
not be entrusted to anyone, but when entrusted to free men, they are safe,

the hearts of free men are strongholds for secrets.291


Free men were more tolerant of those lower on the social scale than of those
who outranked them:

94 It is one of the character qualities found in a free man that he has more
patience for trying to please those below him than those above him, and
that he can tolerate those below him better than those above him.292

And when others dealt with free men, the high moral standards of the latter
required that they be treated in a much more refined manner than the low mob
of slaves:

A free man likes an additional (kind) word when one talks to him, better
than a large increase in his wages.293

Devoted friendship may likewise be called slavery, as in the verse by Ibrâhîm b. al-ʿAbbâs
aṣ-Ṣûlî (d. 243/857), quoted by aṣ-Ṣûlî, Adab al-kuttâb, 237; Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth,
I, 265; ed. Rifâʿî, I, 174:

If you know me as a free man who is obeyed,

You will find me the slave of the friend.

291 Al-Mubashshir, Ptolemy no. 19; ed. Badawî, 253. Here, and in some of the following quota-
tions from al-Mubashshir’s work, the old Spanish translation rendered ḥurr by bueno. In
this particular case, one manuscript of al-Mubashshir actually has akhyâr for aḥrâr. How-
ever, the latter is the correct reading. Al-ḥurrîyah wa-l-khayrîyah could easily be used next
to each other as almost synonymous expressions, as was done by the wazîr, Ibn al-Furât
(Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth, VII, 256; Rifâʿî, XIX, 296). Cf. also above, n. 283.
For the above saying, cf. also al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 45; al-Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, IV, 214.
292 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 333; ed. Badawî, 168.
293 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 71 (ed. Badawî, 138); Ibn Hindû, 22.
philosophical views on freedom 107

If you treat a free man well, he will feel obliged to do you a good deed in
return, but if you treat a vile man well, he will feel tempted to ask you for
more favors.294

Low people think that previous good deeds done to them are a debt owed
them, while free men think that they are a debt they owe …295

Free men are ashamed to beg and to ask for favors:

The worst thing a person can do is to be stingy toward those who because
of their freedom are unable to ask for favors.296

They are good friends, won and kept by sincerity:

Free men lift up everybody who knows them, while ignoble men lift up
only themselves.297

The allegiance of ignoble men is gained by promises, while the | friendship 95

of free men is gained through strong respect (taʾkîd al-ḥurmah).298

Ignoble men can be gotten rid of by keeping them off, free men by showing
them excessive honor.299

All this is best expressed by the presumably ancient Arabic verse attributed to
various authors, which with many slight variations was quoted over and over

294 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 72 (ed. Badawî, 138); Ibn Hindû, 22.
295 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 118; ed. Badawî, 145. Cf. also the subsequent Platonic sayings in
al-Mubashshir’s work.
296 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 91; ed. Badawî, 140. Cf. also Usâmah b. Munqidh, Lubâb, 307,
citing an unidentified poet.
297 Ibn Hindû, 11.
298 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 297; ed. Badawî, 165.
299 Al-Mubashshir, Plato no. 334 (ed. Badawî, 168); Ibn Hindû, 14.
108 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Slaves are beaten with a stick.

A hint suffices for free men.300

While the meaning of ḥurr on the one hand was extended to include all good
qualities a human being could possess, it was on the other hand restricted to the
quality of generosity. For the ancient Arabs, one of the outstanding character-
istics of the noble man was generosity, and it was obvious that a man claiming
96 to be | “free” (ḥurr) also had to be generous with his material possessions.301

300 For instance, al-Jâḥiẓ, Bayân, III, 17, quoted by al-Âmidî, Muʾtalif, 145. The verse was also
ascribed to Abû l-Aswad ad-Duʾalî and occurs in his Dîwân, ed. M.Ḥ. Âl Yâsîn, Nafâʾis
al-makhṭûṭât (Najaf, 1372–/1953–), II, 31; G.E. von Grunebaum, in Wiener Zeitschrift für die
Kunde des Morgenlandes, LI (1952), 273. Many references have been listed by C. Pellat in
his collection of the fragments of the seventh-century poet, Ibn Mufarrigh al-Ḥimyarî, in
Mélanges L. Massignon (Damascus, 1957), III, 200, 227 [see also H. Ritter, Die Geheimnisse
der Wortkunst (above, n. 210a), 4, n. 1]. Some variations may be listed here, as, for instance,
this verse:

Free men can be censured while the stick belongs to the slave,

cf. al-Jâḥiẓ, Bayân, I, 29; III, 17; idem, Kitmân as-sirr, 48. Cf., further, Aḥmad b. aṭ-Ṭayyib
as-Sarakhsî, Marâḥ ar-rûḥ, quoted in Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî, Baṣâʾir, Ms. phot. Cairo,
adab 9104, IV, 142 f.; Ibn Durayd, Maqṣûrah (Constantinople, 1300), 117, quoted by al-
Qalqashandî, Ṣubḥ, I, 304. A similar thought in a poem by al-Mutanabbīʾ, cf. ath-Thaʿâlibî,
Yatîmah, I, 156.
According to Ibn ad-Dâyah, al-ʿUhûd al-Yûnânîyah, 61, “the free fear being put to shame
as slaves fear a beating.” A verse of Greek poetry translated into Arabic (Ibn Hindû, 135)
says that “for free men it suffices to hear something evil once.”
For the common expression ʿabd al-ʿaṣâ, cf., for instance, al-Jâḥiẓ, Bayân, III, 19.
301 A nice interplay of freedom and generosity may be found in the verses of an anonymous
author addressed to Khâlid b. Yazîd b. Muʿâwiyah (Yâqût, Irshâd, ed. Margoliouth, IV, 166;
ed. Rifâʿî, XI, 37):

I asked munificence and generosity whether they were free.

They replied, “No, we are slaves like others.”
I said, “Who is your master?,” and they, in a condescending tone,
Said to me, “Khâlid b. Yazîd.”

Cf. also the verse by Muḥammad b. al-ʿAbbâs al-Khuwârizmî (ath-Thaʿâlibî, Yatîmah, IV,

Every free man is a slave of your generosity,

And every slave is a free man in the enjoyment of your justice.
philosophical views on freedom 109

However, the Islamic equation of ḥurrîyah “freedom” with “generosity” also

owes a good deal to the fact that the Greek words for generous and generos-
ity (eleutherios, eleutheriotês) were derived from, and almost identical with
the words for free and freedom (eleutheros, eleutheria, cf. Latin libertas “free-
dom,” liberalitas “generosity”).302 As a matter of fact, already in the early years
of Graeco-Muslim translation activity, eleutheriotês “generosity,” in the Aris-
totelian catalogue of the virtues, was translated ḥurrîyah.303 The Arabic transla-
tion of the Golden Verses ascribed to Pythagoras, exhorting the faithful neither
to | spend too much nor to be stingy (mêd’ aneleutheros isthi), reads: 97

Do not be stingy so that you would divest yourself of freedom.304

The same Miskawayh who had defined the free man as the one who was free
from the domination of powerful animal desires305 knew “freedom” as the
virtue of generosity and a subdivision of sôphrosynê. In this connection, he
defined “freedom” (ḥurrîyah) as

Similarly, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Khâlidî, in ath-Thaʿâlibî, Tatimmat al-Yatîmah, ed.

Abbas Eghbal (Tehran, 1934), II, 87; al-Bâkharzî, Dumyah (Aleppo, 1349/1930), 65; al-
ʿImâd al-Iṣfahânî, Kharîdah (Syrian poets) (Damascus, 1375/1955), 60, 326. Cf. also above,
n. 69.
302 For the opposite of both “free” and “generous,” Greek uses the same word, aneleutheros.
It may be added here that one of the definitions of eleutheria to be found in the Platonic
Definitions (412D) explains eleutheria as generosity.
303 The translation of the Nicomachean Ethics is not yet available. Meanwhile, one may
compare al-Kindî, Fî ṣ-ṣinâʿah al-ʿuẓmâ (above, n. 28), fol. 54b, translating a passage to
be found in Theon of Alexandria, Commentary on the Almagest, ed. A. Rome (Città del
Vaticano, 1936. Studi e Testi, LXXIII), 320, l. 21; or the Kitâb as-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd (above,
n. 74), 87 f., 93, 411, also p. 17, where the extended meaning of the term comes through.
304 Miskawayh, Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 227; al-Mubashshir, Pythagoras no. 18; ed. Badawî, 63. Cf.
also below, n. 315a.
For ḥurr corresponding to Greek eleutherios, cf., further, Ibn Durayd, Mujtanâ, in
Orientalia, N. S., XXVII (1958), 40, n. 1, and 169 f. Often, there can be doubt whether ḥurrîyah
in this type of literature is used in its restricted meaning or has wider implications. Cf., for
instance, this saying ascribed to Plato (Ibn Hindû, 46):

The adornments of man are three: Wisdom (ḥilm), friendship (maḥabbah), and
freedom (ḥurrîyah).

Only the Greek original, if found, could answer the question.

305 Cf. above, n. 275.
110 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

a virtue of the soul through which property is acquired and given away
as it should, and which prevents the acquisition of property in a way it
should not be acquired.306

A saying attributed to Aristotle probably reflects a distinction between eleu-

theros and eleutherios made in the Greek original. In Arabic translation, this
distinction has become blurred, and the impression prevails that the author of
the saying speaks about two kinds of generosity:

Every free man (ḥurr) is generous ( jawâd), but not every generous man is
free. A free man is generous by nature. The generous man who is devoid
of freedom is generous only by custom and artifice.307

98 An informant of al-Jâḥiẓ even went so far as to assume that the Rûm did
not have a proper word for generosity ( jûd) in their language. Al-Jâḥiẓ felt
justified to conclude that they were the stingiest people in the world.308 Such an
abuse of misunderstood or incomplete linguistic information for the purpose
of casting aspersions upon the alleged national character of foreign peoples is
not unique and has its numerous parallels elsewhere. In fact, it would be easy
to reverse al-Jâḥiẓ’s accusation and say that the Arabs did not know freedom
because they had no word for it but only one for generosity. This, as we have
seen, would be absurd and a wholly unfair simplification of the actual situation
(but cf. also above, p. 11 [p. 34. Ed.]). However, the fact remains that in Arabic,
the word meaning “freedom” could be restricted in its application to a single
virtue, and a minor one at that. In this way, it became closely identified with
certain less important material aspects of life.

b Freedom in Political Theory

Greek political thought on freedom reached the Muslims in about the same
manner as the ethical ideas just mentioned. Strangely enough, Aristotle’s Poli-
tics failed to find an Arabic translator.309 However, Plato’s Republic was known

306 Miskawayh, Tahdhîb al-akhlâq, 8. Cf. Ibn Abî r-Rabîʿ, op. cit. (above, n. 242), 29, where
ḥurrîyah is defined as “the acquisition (of property) in the way it should be acquired and
the inclination by means of it toward what is good in things.”
307 Al-Mubashshir, Aristotle no. 101; ed. Badawî, 198. Cf. also above, n. 280.
308 Al-Jâḥiẓ, Bukhalâʾ, trans. C. Pellat, Le Livre des avares (Beirut-Paris, 1951), 282.
309 Cf. above, n. 74.
philosophical views on freedom 111

at least in a shortened form, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as well as other

Aristotelian works translated into Arabic contained seminal political ideas.
For Alexander of Aphrodisias, the actions of free men, in politics as well as in
the administration of their own affairs at home, were orderly and purposeful,
whereas slaves acted blindly most of the time. Their only salvation was a small
number of purposeful actions that happened to bind them to their masters. The
latter alone were able to guarantee the well-being and integrity | of their homes 99
and their commonwealth.310 Preserved only in Arabic, Alexander’s statement
found also the approval of Ibn Sînâ.311
In the paraphrase of Plato’s Laws 693A–694A, it is said that “it is most useful
for the lawgiver to adhere to the path of freedom and for a leader be free from
envy, since envy is a character quality of slaves and no slave can achieve a
position of leadership. If the government (al-amr) uses the way of freedom, the
subjects follow and obey eagerly and cheerfully, and it is more likely to be a
stable government.”311a
According to Plato in Ibn Rushd’s Commentary on Plato’s Republic, at the
beginning everybody is convinced that he should be a free man.312 The form
of the state that represents freedom is democracy. There is, however, the pos-
sibility of an excess of freedom which inevitably proves ruinous. A decadent
human being may claim an absolute freedom313 that would entitle him to reject
all moral restraints and to give himself over entirely to indulgence of his desires.
Likewise, the freedom state, through an excess of freedom, can be expected to
lose its identity and change into a different form of government.314 Aristotle’s
enumeration of the various forms of government, to be found in his Rhetoric,
also included democracy as the freedom state, the state whose purpose it is to
provide freedom for all. Improper | use of its freedom transforms the demo- 100
cratic state and causes its citizens to become subservient to a leader, whereby
they exchange their freedom for slavery.315

310 Fî mabâdiʾ al-kull, ed. ʿA. Badawî, Arisṭû ʿinda l-ʿArab (Cairo, 1947. Islamica, IV), 274.
311 Kitâb al-Inṣâf, ed. ʿA. Badawî, op. cit., 33.
311a Al-Fârâbî, Compendium Legum Platonis, ed. F. Gabrieli (London, 1952), text, 20; trans., 16.
312 Cf. the Hebrew translation of Ibn Rushd’s work which was edited and translated by
E.I.J. Rosenthal (Cambridge, 1956), 84, l. 9, and 214, referring to Republic 557B. For the
Arabic paraphrase of this passage of the Republic, cf. as-Saʿâdah wa-l-isʿâd (above, n. 74),
313 Op. cit., 94, l. 10 f., and 231, referring to Republic 558D, where, however, the word “freedom”
does not occur.
314 Op. cit., 95 and 232, referring to Republic 563E–564A.
315 Cf. the Rhetoric from the section on Logic in Ibn Sînâ’s Kitâb ash-Shifâʾ (Cairo, 1373/1954),
63 f., 82f. Cf. Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1360a, 1365b 29 f., 1364a 4ff.; Nicomachean Ethics, 1131a 27ff.
112 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

The idea of democracy as the freedom state was adapted by al-Fârâbî (d.
339/950) to his own political thinking in one of his political writings, the Kitâb
as-Siyâsah (siyâsât) al-madanîyah, presumably a genuine work of the famous
philosopher. According to al-Fârâbî, the forms of government found in this
world are imperfect. They are the result of man’s need for social organization in
order to assure his survival. Among them is the community state (al-madînah
al-jamâʿîyah) whose inhabitants enjoy complete freedom (muṭlaq, mukhallâ bi-
nafsihî).315a It is an egalitarian organization where people are free (aḥrâr) to
do whatever they want. They do not recognize the right of anyone to be their
leader. They are willing to recognize the leadership of those who promise to
give them more freedom (ḥurrîyah) and a greater opportunity to follow their
particular inclinations. Their subordination to political leadership is entirely
voluntary, and the government depends on the will of the people, although a
steady and self-denying leadership would seem best suited to keeping matters
under control. Among all the imperfect states, this state seems to everyone to
possess the most admirable and happy constitution. People from outside flock
to it. This leads to a most desirable kind of racial mixture and cultural diversity,
with a definite promise of the speedy appearance in the state of outstanding
personalities (afâḍil), such as philosophers (ḥukamâʾ), rhetors (khuṭabâʾ), and
poets (shuʿarâʾ). This state is in some respects close to the perfect state and
101 may serve as a preparation | for it. Of all the existing forms of government it
contains the greatest possibilities for good, but also the greatest possibilities
for evil. Thus al-Fârâbî.315b The modern reader can hardly fail to notice that the
Muslim philosopher succeeded in giving a true description of the essentials of
democracy. He also captured the full meaning and significance of the concept
of political freedom for the happiness and development of the individual.
However, interesting as these ideas of changing forms of government and of
freedom’s greatness and vulnerability were to Muslim thinkers, they remained
theoretical speculations and were hardly ever tested on the realities of Muslim
political life. Certain philosophers, such as Ibn Rushd, may have dreamed of,
or even worked at, convincing their rulers of the desirability of a practical test,
but they never got very far.
On a less technical level, Greek political wisdom, as known to Muslims, also
extolled the greatness of freedom. It was clearly stated that it behooved leading

315a In the Golden Verses of Pythagoras, mukhallâ renders eleutheros. Cf. Orientalia, N.S. X
(1941), 115.
315b Ed. Hyderabad, 1346, 58, 69; trans. F. Dieterici and P. Brönnle, Die Staatsleitung von Alfârâbî
(Leiden, 1904), 71, 83. In the same work (ed. Hyd., 62; trans. 76), ḥurrîyah appears in the
meaning of ‘nobility, generosity.’
philosophical views on freedom 113

thinkers and scientists to set a glorious example for others by their love of free-
dom and their willingness to fight tyrannical rulers. Outstanding in this respect
were Zeno of Elea and Hippocrates, who suffered, or were prepared to suffer,
the greatest personal harm in order to regain or to preserve their own political
freedom and that of their countrymen.316 Alexander was counseled by Aristotle
that he would find it difficult to conquer a people like the Khurâsânians, who
among other sturdy qualities could boast of a great love of freedom.317
Even where the form of government is a monarchy, the civil liberties of the 102
subjects must be respected, for the good of the ruler as well as the people, since
it is better for the ruler to rule over free men than to dominate a low mob of
slaves. A saying ascribed to Plato runs:

He is no ruler who rules slaves and the common people, but a ruler is he
who rules free men.318

Aristotle had this valuable bit of advice for Alexander:

People, under a tyrannical form of government (sulṭân al-ghaṣb), are like

slaves, and not like free men. Governing free men is nobler than governing
slaves. A ruler who prefers governing slaves to governing free men is like
a man who prefers guarding animals to ruling human beings.319

Alexander heeded his teacher’s advice when he refused to enslave captive


316 Cf. the life of Zeno in al-Mubashshir, published in Orientalia, N. S., VI (1937), 31f. and 34,
and the Commentary on the Hippocratic Oath ascribed to Galen, published in Bulletin of
the History of Medicine, XXX (1956), 77 ff.
317 Op. cit. (above, n. 278).
318 Ibn Hindû, 22; Usâmah b. Munqidh, Lubâb, 456, who adds “free and virtuous men.”
The great wazîr, ʿAlî b. ʿÎsâ, modified the same idea as follows (Abû Ḥayyân at-Tawḥîdî,
Muqâbasât, 265, no. 66):

The ruler in truth is he who rules over free men with love.

319 Op. cit. (above, n. 278), apparently from as-Siyâsah al-ʿâmmîyah, ascribed to Aristotle;
Ḥunayn (supposed author), Nawâdir al-falâsifah, Ms. ar. Munich, Aumer 651, fol. 69b;
al-Mubashshir, Aristotle no. 153 (ed. Badawî, 205); Usâmah b. Munqidh, Lubâb 49.
“Guarding (r-ʿ-y) … ruling (m-l-k)” is the reading of Ms. Fatih 5323. Ḥunayn, Usâmah,
and one manuscript as well as the Spanish translation of al-Mubashshir have “guarding”
(r-ʿ-y) in both places. The other manuscripts of al-Mubashshir’s work have twice “the
opinion of” (r-ʿ-y).
114 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

Asked why he did not enslave them, he replied, ‘I don’t like to become a
ruler of slaves, being a ruler of free men.’320

103 It is said that one of the things a ruler must always keep in mind | is the fact that
those over whom he is enabled by his position to exercise power are not slaves
but free men.320a
An important element of political liberty and, in fact, of any viable form of
human social organization is freedom of thought. It is the task of the ruler to
see to it that this freedom be not infringed upon:

Thales from Miletus was asked why those who punish human beings pun-
ish them, not for their evil thoughts but only for their actions. He replied,
‘Because the intention is to prevent men from doing the evil that may be
in their thoughts. The intention is not to prevent them from thinking.’321
I am critical of people who say that human beings should all have the
same ideas. It could not and should not be this way. It raises the obvious
question: If all people had the same ideas and there were no one left who
would not want to be a ruler who gives orders and is obeyed, who, then,
would be there to take orders and to obey the ruler, now that all have
become rulers? And if there were no one left who would be satisfied with
anything but being a ruler, who, then, would take care of the ruler’s orders
and execute them? He who has the philosophical view knows that the
preferable arrangement is for the leader to give orders and for the subjects
to obey, as it is the preferable arrangement for the student to study and
for the teacher to teach. Nature (as-sûs) attests to the truth of this.322

While the ruler is supposed to respect the liberty of his subjects, the lat-
ter, in turn, must be constantly concerned with guarding it jealously against
encroachments by the authorities. This is a task requiring a firm character and

320 Ḥunayn, op. cit., fol. 76b; al-Mubashshir, Alexander no. 19 (ed. Badawî, 245).
The existence of free men in it makes a city worthy of being called a city. “Like a
shell without a pearl, or like a large city without a freeman,” is the description used for
someone failing in his destination by Badîʿ-az-zamân al-Hamadhânî (Maqâmât [Beirut,
n. y.], 244 f.).
320a Ṣiwân, fol. 38a, in the name of Ṭîmânâwus (Timaeus, Timotheos?); Ms. Istanbul, Fatih 5323,
near the end, among the sayings of Aristotle.
321 Al-Mubashshir, in the chapter of sayings of miscellaneous sages no. 46; ed. Badawî, 302.
322 Al-Mubashshir, in the same chapter no. 99, in the name of a person who might be Pyrrho;
ed. Badawî, 311 (incomplete).
philosophical views on freedom 115

eternal vigilance. Here again, the example must be set by the intellectual lead-
ers. Aristotle, therefore, resisted Alexander’s offer when he wanted him to par-
ticipate in his grandiose schemes for world conquest. He reasoned that such
an involvement in Alexander’s schemes would entail the loss of his personal

Alexander asked Aristotle to accompany him to Asia, but Aristotle replied, 104
‘Being free, I do not like to subject myself to slavery.’323

Diogenes, as we would expect, preferred poverty to royal servitude:

One of Alexander’s physicians saw Diogenes wash some vegetables he

intended to eat. He said to him, ‘If you went to the king, you would not
be so poor as to be forced to eat those vegetables.’ Diogenes replied, ‘But
you, if you restricted yourself to eating them, you would still be a free man
and you would not have become the king’s slave.’324

Pythagoras is supposed to have suggested that

Human beings must obey their ruler and his army. However, there should
not be absolute obedience. Obedience should go only so far as counte-
nanced by the conditions governing freedom.325

He also remarked that

He who is able to protect his own freedom and the freedom of others so
that he is not subservient to anyone and makes nobody subservient to
himself is the noble man (karîm), the true guardian of freedom.326

Among the Muslims, who had always placed a high value upon indepen-
dence,327 the political thought expressed in the remarks | just cited found its 105

323 Ṣiwân, fol. 21a.

324 Ibn Hindû, 109 f. Cf. also al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 75.
325 Al-Mubashshir, Pythagoras no. 51; ed. Badawî, 66.
326 Ibn Hindû, 98.
327 The famous love of independence of the Bedouin, being entirely unreflective, contributes
little to the understanding of the problem under review here and, therefore, has not been
dealt with.
For related attitudes, cf. the verses by the pre-Islamic poet, al-Muthaqqib al-ʿAbdî,
116 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

echo in the following story involving a high-ranking statesman of Islam’s most

glorious period:

Al-Maʾmûn asked ʿAbdallâh b. Ṭâhir to tell him whose residence was

better, his own or that of ʿAbdallâh. The latter replied that he would not
consider himself the equal of the caliph in any respect. Al-Maʾmûn said
that he had not meant it that way. He had meant to find out how his own
palace and that of ʿAbdallâh compared with each other as far as living
and enjoying life in them were concerned. Whereupon ʿAbdallâh said,
‘My own house, O Commander of the Faithful.’ Asked by al-Maʾmûn to
explain, he said, ‘Because in my own house I am the master, while I am a
slave here (in your palace).’328

A potent warning against the danger of political power encroaching upon indi-
vidual liberty was sounded by al-Ghazzâlî, who followed the classical tradition
in expressing his ideas about the relationship of political power and freedom
in an ethical context. In al-Ghazzâlî’s opinion, political power constituted a
much greater potential threat to freedom than actual slavery. Slavery means
mere physical possession of the slave by those who are stronger economically.
Political power, called “rank” ( jâh) by al-Ghazzâlî, seeks the voluntary submis-
sion of free men to those who possess power. It means enslavement not only of
their bodies but of their hearts and minds.329 Al-Ghazzâlî did not go into the

which have been transmitted with a number of minor variants and may be found in M.Ḥ.
Âl Yâsîn, op. cit. (above, n. 300), VI, 55:

Death is preferable to life for the young man

Who needs someone to guide him in everything he does.
Attempt important undertakings! Do not be
A fainthearted man who only cares to stay at home!

Or, the famous verse by the early ʿAbbâsid poet, Salm al-Khâsir, which was constantly
quoted by Muslim authors, as, for instance, al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, IX,
139 f., or Abû Ṭâlib al-Makkî, Qût al-qulûb (Cairo, 1351/1932), IV, 143:

He who watches others dies of grief.

The daring man gets away with all the pleasures.

328 Al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., IX, 483. The principle of the inviolability of a man’s home
finds expression in a verse of Saʿdî’s Gulistân (beg. of ch. II on akhlâq-i-darvîshân) stating
that a muḥtasib has no business inside the house.
329 Iḥyâʾ, III, 241.
philosophical views on freedom 117

political implications of his ideas, but there can be no doubt that he felt strongly
about the need of the individual to maintain and protect his political freedom.

c Freedom in Metaphysical Speculation

In its metaphysical and ontological aspects, freedom in Islam is concerned with

terms such as ikhtiyâr “choice, free will,” qudrah “power, the ability to act on
one’s own,” and their opposites. It has already been stated that the large amount
of specu|lation done on the subject of free will by Muslim theologians failed to 106
lift that speculation out of the realm of narrow theological theory. Thus, little
can be learned from it about the larger problem of freedom.330
It is an age-old idea, particularly cherished by Gnosticism in all its various
forms, that the human body is a prison for the soul, and the world a prison
for man, that death means liberation from that prison and a consummation
devoutly to be desired by true believers. This idea greatly appealed to religious
Muslims, and it was expressed by them in many places and in a variety of
ways. Its connection with Greek philosophy is evident in the remark ascribed
to Pythagoras when he saw a fat man, “Why are you so greatly concerned with
raising the walls of your prison?”331 “A sage,” runs a quotation in Miskawayh’s
Jâwîdhân Khiradh, “is not a sage unless he knows that life enslaves him and
death liberates him.”332 When the Ikhwân aṣ-ṣafâʾ speak about the human body
as a prison, it is mostly as one for evil souls;333 in general, they avoid the prison
metaphor as unsuited to their system of thought. An Ismâʿîlî author, who died
in 1317, Shams-ad-dîn aṭ-Ṭayyibî (or rather, aṭ-Ṭîbî), said:

In the hand of nature, man (al-fatâ) is a slave.

When his bond is removed, he is free.333a

330 Cf. above, p. 17ff. It may be added here that the view of metaphysics/theology as “the
science (that) is free as it does not serve any other (science) in any way, and everything else
serves it,” is found in the Islamic world in Ṭâshköprüzâdeh, Miftâḥ as-saʿâdah (Hyderabad,
1328–1356), I, 28.
331 Ibn Hindû, 97.
332 Jâwîdhân Khiradh, 192. Cf. Ṭâshköprüzâdeh, op. cit., I, 17.
333 Rasâʾil Ikhwân aṣ-ṣafâʾ (Cairo, 1347/1928), III, 95, 216; IV, 91, 295. Cf. ar-Risâlah al-jâmiʿah, ed.
J. Ṣalîbâ (Damascus, 1368–1371/1948–1951), I, 85 f., 317, 544. Four different words for prison
(ḥabs, sijn, maṭmûrah, muṭbaq) are used in ar-Risâlah al-jâmiʿah, I, 197, in order to describe
the significance of the cities and dwellings on earth for particular souls.
333a Cf. Arbaʿ Rasâʾil Ismâʿîlîyah, ed. ʿÂrif Tâmir (Beirut, 1372/1953), 24.
118 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

107 The sôma-sêma idea of the body being a prison if not a grave came to be
incorporated in the collections of traditions ascribed to the Prophet. He is
believed to have said:

This world is a prison for the believer, but Paradise for the unbeliever.334

Ṣûfîs, of course, embraced it eagerly. On the day Dâwûd aṭ-Ṭâʾî died, a man
dreamed of hearing him say, “Now I am released from prison.”335 Moral preach-
ers harp on the idea in moving tones. The world is a prison in which the lovers
of God are kept so that they cannot be united with Him, and their plaint is
like that of prisoners in the morning.336 Life is made up of a whole series of
prisons: “The first prison is the father’s spine, the second, the mother’s womb,
the third, the infant’s swaddling clothes, the fourth, school, the fifth, the trou-
blesome care for one’s family, the sixth, death, and the seventh, the grave.”337
Poets, too, may sing about the prison of the world, as, for instance, Ibn al-Muʿ-

Censuring you, O life of mine in this world, is praising myself.

You have given me few provisions and have kept me long imprisoned.338

It must be said, however, that though life was considered a prison, and death,
108 liberation, such liberation did not lead to somet|hing that could ordinarily be
associated with the term ḥurrîyah and all its worldly connotations.
The metaphysical meaning of freedom was bound to become a matter of
concern to mystical theory. In fact, al-Qushayrî (986–1072) devoted a special
chapter of his Risâlah to ḥurrîyah. This chapter deserves to be quoted in full:339

334 Cf. Wensinck and others, Concordance, II, 431b; R. Mach, Der Zaddik in Talmud und
Midrasch (Leiden, 1957), 150, n. 8.
335 Al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 13. Further examples may be found, for instance, in al-Muḥâsibî,
Riʿâyah, ed. M. Smith (London, 1940. E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series, N. S., XV), 250f.; al-
Ghazzâlî, Iḥyâʾ, III, 175; IV, 113, 145, 271.
336 Ibn al-Jawzî, Mudhish, 378.
337 Op. cit., 501.
338 Dîwân, II, 138. The verse may contain an allusion to the poet’s term in prison in the form
of the general concept of the world as a prison.
According to the thirteenth-century poet, ʿAbd-al-Wahhâb Khaṭîb an-Nayrab, a long
life was merely a prolonged imprisonment of the spirit in the prison of the body (al-Kutubî,
Fawât, II, 43).
339 Risâlah, 100 f. A collation of the printed text with four manuscripts in the British Museum
philosophical views on freedom 119

God says: ‘And they (the Medinese) prefer (the Meccan emigrants) to
themselves, even though they are indigent (Qurân 59.9/9),’ meaning that
they preferred (them) to themselves because they had divested them-
selves of (the worldly affairs) they had left behind and, by this action, had
preferred others.340
We were informed by ʿAlî b. Aḥmad al-Ahwâzî341 < Aḥmad b. | ʿUbayd 109
al-Baṣrî342 < Ibn Abî Qumâsh343 < Muḥammad b. an-Naṭṭâḥ344 < Nuʿaym

(Or. 8703, dated 504/1110; Or. 8258, dated 582/1186; Or. 3502, dated 718/1318; and Or. 5673,
dated 788/1386) yielded hardly any substantial variant readings. Where the printed text
reads: “The Professor said,” the mss. either add to the phrase or omit it altogether. In Brit.
Mus. Or. 8703, the folio containing the beginning of the chapter on ḥurrîyah is misplaced
so as to appear between the chapters on ʿubûdîyah and irâdah. This would seem a most
suitable place for a chapter on ḥurrîyah. However, the misplacement of the leaf is entirely
340 Cf. the excerpts from the commentary on the Risâlah ascribed to Zakarîyâʾ al-Anṣârî
(around 1500) which are printed in the margin of the edition cited. These excerpts also
include some Ṣûfî definitions of ḥurrîyah, among them:

As will be mentioned later (in the Risâlah), freedom means for a human being not
to be under the yoke of created things. It has also been defined as turning one’s back
to everything and going to Him to Whom everything belongs. It has also been said
that it implies that nobody enter your heart except God.

Cf., further, Natâʾij al-afkâr al-qudsîyah fî bayân maʿânî sharḥ ar-Risâlah al-Qushayrîyah
(Bûlâq, 1290), III, 150–154:

It should be known that the greatest cause of freedom is impatience to reach God
and disinterest in all created beings. The belief that the voluntary agent is none but
God besides Whom there is no agent, establishes a human being’s freedom from all
except God, and at the same time he becomes the true slave of God.

341 He came to Baghdâd in 396/1005–1006, and died in Nîsâbûr in 415/1024. Cf. al-Khaṭîb
al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, XI, 329, and A.J. Arberry, Al-Qushayrî as Traditionalist, in
Studia Orientalia Ioanni Pedersen (Copenhagen, 1953), 13.
342 Known as aṣ-Ṣaffâr, cf. al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., IV, 261; XI, 329; Arberry, loc. cit. He
died in 352/963.
343 In the Kitâb al-Aghânî, XVIII, 168 (cf. the index by I. Guidi and others), the same name
occurs as that of a man who had contact with the poet al-Buḥturî. He could be identical
with the one above.
344 He may be the historian, Muḥammad b. Ṣâliḥ b. Mihrân b. an-Naṭṭâḥ (d. 252/866–867), cf.
GAL, Suppl., I, 216, and F. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography (Leiden, 1952), 79,
120 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

b. Muwarriʿ b. Tawbah344a < Ismâʿîl al-Makkî345 < ʿAmr b. Dînâr346 <

Ṭâwûs347 < (the Prophet’s cousin) Ibn ʿAbbâs, as follows: The Messenger of
God said, ‘Anyone of you can be satisfied with what his own soul considers
as enough. He is going to the four cubits and one span (that is, his grave),
and it all reverts to the question what his (position in the) other world
will be.’348
The Professor (al-Qushayrî) said: Freedom means for a human being
(ʿabd) not to be under the yoke (riqq) of created things and not to be
ruled by things that have come into being. His soundness349 is indicated
by the fact that his heart no longer makes distinctions between things,
with the result that he considers all accidental things and happenings as
110 having the same value. Ḥârithah350 thus said to the | Messenger of God,
‘My soul has turned away from this world, with the result that I consider
the stones of this world and the gold of this world as having the same
I heard Professor Abû ʿAlî ad-Daqqâq351 say: ‘He who enters this world,
and is free from it, will travel to the next world, and be free from it.’

337. Another Muḥammad b. an-Naṭṭâḥ, a brother of the famous poet Bakr b. an-Naṭṭâḥ, is
hardly meant here; he is mentioned in Kitâb al-Aghânî, XIII, 85f.
344a He lived around the second half of the eighth century, cf. Ibn Abî Ḥâtim, Jarḥ (Hyderabad,
1371–1373/1951–1953), IV, 1, 464; Ibn Ḥajar, Lisân (Hyderabad, 1329–1331), VI, 170f.
345 Apparently, Ismâʿîl b. ʿAbd-al-Malik, who lived in the first half of the eighth century,
cf. al-Bukhârî, Taʾrîkh (Hyderabad, 1360–1378), I, 1, 367; Ibn Ḥajar, Tahdhîb (Hyderabad,
1325–1327), I, 316 f.
346 Al-Makkî, who died ca. 125/742–743, or 126/743–744, cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Tahdhîb, VIII, 28ff.
347 Died in or after 106/724–725, cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Tahdhîb, V, 8ff.
348 This tradition apparently does not occur in the canonical collections.
349 That is, the fact that a person possesses freedom to the degree that is good for him.
However, if ṣiḥḥatihî of the mss. and the edition could be corrected to ṣiḥḥatihâ, it would
mean: “its (freedom’s) soundness,” that is, “The right kind of freedom shows itself in the
fact …”
350 Of the many Ḥârithahs who are listed as companions of the Prophet, the one cited here,
and frequently elsewhere in Ṣûfî literature, is no doubt Ḥârithah b. an-Nuʿmân. He is
mentioned as one of the pious Ahl aṣ-ṣuffah by Abû Nuʿaym al-Iṣfahânî, Ḥilyat al-awliyâʾ
(Cairo, 1351–1357/1932–1938), I, 356.
The first clause only of Ḥârithah’s remark was quoted by al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh
Baghdâd, VII, 246; as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât aṣ-Ṣûfîyah (Cairo, 1953), 158.
351 Al-Ḥasan b. ʿAlî, who died in 406/1016, cf. Ibn al-ʿImâd, Shadharât (Cairo, 1350–1351), III,
180 f.; al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., VII, 245, l. 5 f.
philosophical views on freedom 121

I heard Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn352 < Abû Muḥammad al-Maghârî353 <

ad-Duqqî354 < az-Zaqqâq355 say that he (az-Zaqqâq) used to say: ‘He who
is in this world and free from it, will be in the other world and be free from
The Professor (al-Qushayrî) said: Let it be known to you that the real
meaning of freedom lies in the perfection of slavery (ʿubûdîyah). If the
slavery of a human being in relation to God is a true one, his freedom
is relieved from the yoke of changes. Anyone who imagines that it may
be granted to a human being to give up his slavery for a moment and
disregard the commands and prohibitions of the religious law while pos-
sessing discretion and responsibility, has divested himself of Islam. God
said to His Prophet: ‘Worship356 until certainty comes to you (Qurʾân
15.99/99).’ As agreed upon by the commentators, ‘certainty’ here means
the end (of life). What the Ṣûfîs want to express by ‘freedom’ is that a
human being should not place his heart under the yoke of any of the cre-
ated things, either | the accidents of this world or those357 of the other 111
world. He should be completely by himself and should not be enslaved
by any urgent mundane matter, accidental desire, and future wishes, or
by any demand, aspiration, want, and fortune. Ash-Shiblî358 was asked,
‘Do you not know that He is compassionate?,’ and he replied, ‘Yes, but
ever since I have known about His compassion, I have never asked Him

352 This is the famous Ṣûfî author, Abû ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân as-Sulamî (330–412/941–1021), cf. GAL,
I, 200 f., GAL, Suppl., I, 361 f.
353 Unidentified.
354 Abû Bakr Muḥammad b. Dâwûd ad-Dînawarî, known as ad-Duqqî, who died, according
to the Risâlah, 28, after 350/961, and, according to al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., V, 266f.,
in either 359/969–970 or 360/971. For the vocalization ad-Duqqî, cf. as-Samʿânî, Ansâb
(Leiden-London, 1912. E.J.W. Gibb Memorial Series, XX), fol. 227b.
355 Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallâh, Abû Bakr az-Zaqqâq, cf. al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., V, 442f.
He died in 290/902–903, cf. Ibn al-Jawzî, Muntaẓam (Hyderabad, 1357–), VI, 42; L. Mas-
signon, Recueil de textes inédits concernant l’ histoire de la mystique en pays d’Islam (Paris,
1929), 44 f. The form of his name was at times distorted to ad-Daqqâq, as the preceding
Duqqî was misread ar-Raqqî. The mss. have the correct forms of the names.
356 Waʿbud at the same time means, “serve as a slave.”
357 It seems that the edition, Bûlâq, 1284, of the Risâlah as well as two of the manuscripts
consulted by me, read aʿwâḍ, instead of repeating aʿrâḍ. Aʿwâḍ “compensations” may be
the preferable reading.
358 The famous Ṣûfî, Abû Bakr ash-Shiblî, who died in 334/945–946, or 335/946–947, cf. GAL,
I, 199 f., GAL, Suppl., I, 357.
122 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

to show me compassion.’ The station of freedom is one hard to achieve

and rarely achieved (ʿazîz).359
I heard Shaykh Abû ʿAlî (ad-Daqqâq) say that Abû l-ʿAbbâs as-Say-
yârî360 used to say: ‘If a prayer could be performed at all properly without
recitation of the Qurʾân, it would be with the recitation of this verse:
I wish something to happen that is completely impossible for (this)
Namely, for my eyes to behold the face of a free man.’361
Statements of Ṣûfî Shaykhs on freedom:
Al-Ḥusayn b. Manṣûr362 said, ‘He who wants freedom should accept
slavery (ʿubûdîyah).’
When al-Junayd363 was asked about (the status of a person) who has no
worldly goods left to him except as little as a date pit to suck, he replied,
‘The slave who is under contract to purchase his manumission remains a
slave as long as he keeps owing a single dirham.’
I heard Shaykh Abû ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân as-Sulamî < Abû Bakr ar-Râzî364
112 < Abû ʿUmar al-Anmâṭî365 < al-Junayd say: ‘As long as | you have not
achieved completely true slavery (ʿubûdîyah), you will not be able to reach
pure freedom.’
Bishr al-Ḥâfî366 said: ‘He who wants to enjoy the taste of freedom and
rest from slavery (ʿubûdîyah) should cleanse his conscience as between
God and himself.’
Al-Ḥusayn b. Manṣûr said: ‘When a human being has achieved all the
stations of slavery (ʿubûdîyah), he will be free from the drudgery of slavery
and therefore accept slavery without pain or trouble. This is the station of
prophets and righteous men.’ He means that he will be carried along and

359 Cf. Natâʾij, 152: “(ʿAzîz here means) rare because it is a difficult station to achieve since it
is contrary to the natural disposition of the human soul.”
360 Al-Qâsim b. al-Qâsim, who died in 342/953–954, cf. Risâlah, 28; as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât, 440ff.,
where the above story and verse are quoted (p. 446).
361 Here, as well as in the verse quoted later on, ḥurr obviously has the general meaning of
noble man.
362 The famous al-Ḥallâj, who died in 309/922, cf. GAL, I, 199, GAL, Suppl., I, 355.
363 Another celebrated mystic, who died in 298/910, cf. GAL, I, 199, GAL, Suppl., I, 354f.
364 He was Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallâh b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAzîz b. Shâdhân al-Muqriʾ, a frequent authority
of as-Sulamî. He died in 376/986. Cf. as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât, 18f. and index.
365 ʿAlî b. Muḥammad, cf. al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, XII, 73; as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât,
50 and index.
366 Died in 227/841, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 351.
philosophical views on freedom 123

feel no distress in his heart, even if he wears (and displays such distress
outwardly) as an ornament in (fulfilling the obligations of) the religious
The following verses were recited to us by Shaykh Abû ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmân
(as-Sulamî), who said that he heard them from Abû Bakr ar-Râzî, who
said that Manṣûr al-Faqîh368 had recited them to him as verses of his own

No free man remains among human beings.

No free man remains among the jinn either.
The free of both groups are gone.
The sweetness of life has turned into bitterness.

It should be known that the most important aspect of freedom is render-

ing service to the poor (the ascetics and Ṣûfîs, as attested by the following
three quotations).
I heard Shaykh Abû ʿAlî ad-Daqqâq say: ‘God revealed to David this
statement: If you see someone who is seeking Me, be his servant!’
The Prophet said: ‘The lord of the people is their servant.’369
I heard Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn (as-Sulamî) < Muḥammad b. | Ibrâ- 113
hîm b. al-Faḍl370 < Muḥammad b. ar-Rûmî371 < Yaḥyâ b. Muʿâdh372 say:
‘The children of this world are served by male and female slaves. The chil-
dren of the other world are served by the free and the blessed.’

367 The last clause is difficult. Mutaḥalliyan is the correct reading. The suffix in bi-hâ can
refer only to mashaqqah. Natâʾij, 153, paraphrases the clause as follows: “The appearance
of actions through his limbs and their being ascribed to him by virtue of (bi-ḥukm) the
religious law does not contradict his being carried along and helped by virtue of the inner
368 Manṣûr b. Ibrâhîm al-Miṣrî (d. 306/918), a famous poet of moralizing tendency. Cf., for
instance, as-Subkî, Ṭabaqât, II, 317–319.
369 This tradition is apparently not to be found in the canonical collections. It is, however,
commonly quoted. Cf., for instance, Ibn Durayd, Mujtanâ (Hyderabad, 1362), 26f.; as-
Sarakhsî, Sharḥ as-siyar al-kabîr, I, 25.
370 Unidentified. He may have been a son of the judge of Sâmarrâ, who died in 321/933
(al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh Baghdâd, VI, 40), but there is no proof for this assumption.
371 Unidentified. If he was the (twin?) brother of the famous poet (221–283/836–896, or
284/897), who survived him, the following member in the chain of transmitters (n. 370)
must have reached a very advanced age. Cf. R. Guest, Life and Works of Ibn er Rûmî
(London, 1944), 46.
372 He died in 258/872, cf. al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 16; as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât, 107ff.
124 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

I also heard him say: I heard ʿAbdallâh b. ʿUthmân b. Yaḥyâ373 < ʿAlî b.
Muḥammad al-Miṣrî374 < Yûsuf b. Mûsâ375 < Ibn Khubayq376 < Muḥam-
mad b. ʿAbdallâh377 < Ibrâhîm b. Adham378 say: ‘The free and noble person
leaves this world before he leaves it.’
Ibrâhîm b. Adham also said: ‘Keep company only with a free and noble
man who listens and does not talk.’

114 Al-Qushayrî’s influence was far-reaching.379 It seems likely that the introduc-
tion of a special chapter on ḥurrîyah was his own idea.379a Al-Kalâbâdhî, who
died around the time al-Qushayrî was born, wrote a manual of Ṣûfism very sim-

373 Unidentified. Ms. Brit. Mus. Or. 3502 has: “Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallâh …,” which appears to
be a mistake.
374 He appears to be identical with the person mentioned by al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, Taʾrîkh
Baghdâd, XII, 75 f., who lived from 251/865–866 to 338/950.
375 He is mentioned repeatedly in as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât, as a transmitter on Ibn Khubayq’s
authority. The editor of the Ṭabaqât (p. 36) equated him with the person mentioned by
al-Khaṭîb al-Baghdâdî, op. cit., XIV, 308 f., who died in 296/909.
376 He was Abû Muḥammad ʿAbdallâh b. Khubayq, cf. Risâlah, 17f.; as-Sulamî, Ṭabaqât, 141ff.
377 Unidentified.
378 The famous eighth-century ascetic who supposedly was of princely origin. Because of this,
he was especially qualified to speak on the meaning of ḥurr. Cf. also the remark ascribed
to him in al-Kutubî, Fawât, I, 4:

In my sleep, I saw someone who was saying: Is it fitting for a free man (ḥurr) who is
a mystic disciple, to humble himself before slaves, while he can find in God all he

A variant of the statement in the Risâlah was attributed to Yaḥyâ b. Muʿâdh by Ibn al-Jawzî,
Ṣifat aṣ-ṣafwah (Hyderabad, 1355–1356), IV, 77:

The intelligent, infallible person is he who does three things: He leaves the world
before he leaves it …

379 For instance, a short article entitled aṣ-Ṣafwah fî ʿilm at-taṣawwuf which appears in a
collection of treatises mostly by ʿIzz-ad-dîn Muḥammad b. Jamâʿah (d. 819/1416, cf. GAL,
II, 94, GAL, Suppl., II, 111 f.) and was probably written by him, is based upon al-Qushayrî
in the section on ḥurrîyah (Ms. Brit. Mus. Or. 12106, fol. 76b). In general, no later writer on
Ṣûfism was unaware of al-Qushayrî and the ideas he represented.
379a Such a statement is, however, always liable to revision pending the discovery of new mate-
rial. For instance, the works of al-Ḥakîm at-Tirmidhî must be studied in this connection,
cf. below, n. 398a.
philosophical views on freedom 125

ilar in structure and contents to the Risâlah, but he did not give any space to
ḥurrîyah. Thus, we cannot expect to find much information about the term
in authors who preceded al-Qushayrî, but it is worth noting that many of the
later Ṣûfî writers also did by no means pay as much attention to ḥurrîyah as he
The closest al-Muḥâsibî (d. 857), in his Riʿâyah, got to paying any attention
to “freedom” was in the story of the proud rich heir who believed that he was
freeborn. He was disillusioned by a man who came and proved that the proud
heir’s late parents had been his slaves. Thus, the heir’s property in fact belonged
to him. Al-Muḥâsibî used this story as a parable warning against the sin of pride,
pride being branded as an absurdity since no man is free in relation to God.380
In his Iḥyâʾ, al-Ghazzâlî (d. 1111) was obviously reluctant to make much of
ḥurrîyah and ḥurr.381 He did refer to the term in its ethical382 and political383
senses. It is evident that in these connections he valued it highly.
The monistic outlook of Ibn ʿArabî (d. 1240) caused the distinction between 115
master and slave to disappear completely.384 With regard to the idea of free-
dom, this presented considerable difficulties. In a work as large as the Futûḥât
al-Makkîyah, Ibn ʿArabî could not entirely overlook the difficult problem. He
therefore devoted a few pages to it, a very small portion of the immense work.
The principal discussion of ḥurrîyah, in chapters 140 and 141 of the Futûḥât,
comes between the chapters on ḥayâʾ and on dhikr, as it does in al-Qushayrî’s
Risâlah. Ibn ʿArabî was evidently influenced by al-Qushayrî’s work. Neverthe-
less, he was fully justified in claiming—at the end of ch. 140—originality for his
searching penetration into the vexing problem. Ch. 70 of the Futûḥât includes
an evaluation of ḥurrîyah as compared to ʿubûdîyah, leading to a detailed inves-
tigation of two more terms, which, in Ibn ʿArabî’s eyes, are closely related
to the problem of freedom, that is, ghinâ “self-sufficiency” (lit. “wealth”) and
fuqr “need” (lit. “poverty”). Chapters 140 and 141 are devoted to the “stations”
(maqâm) of freedom and of the renunciation of it (tark al-ḥurrîyah), while
ch. 214 deals with the significance of the “state” (ḥâl) of freedom.385

380 Riʿâyah, 252.

381 He occasionally referred to the word in its legal meaning, cf. Iḥyâʾ, I, 198, 220; II, 196, etc. He
also happened to use it in verses, proverbs, and stereotyped expressions, cf. Iḥyâʾ, I, 198; II,
208; III, 227, 229; IV, 214, 288.
382 Cf. above, nn. 263 and 276.
383 Cf. above, n. 329.
384 Cf., for instance, his Fuṣûṣ al-ḥikam, ed. Abû l-ʿAlâʾ ʿAfîfî (Cairo, 1365/1946), passim.
385 Futûḥât (Bûlâq, 1293), I, 724; II, 299 f., 300–302, 660–662.
126 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

“Free,” according to Ibn ʿArabî, “is he who controls all created things, and is
controlled by neither property nor rank.”386 There is no absolute freedom for
human beings. As the term is commonly understood by Ṣûfîs and other peo-
ple, “freedom means that man is a slave only of God, so that he is free from
everything except God, and freedom is true slavery (ʿubûdîyah) with God as
the master.”387 “Freedom from God” is not only impossible but it also “is not
116 sound.”388 Yet, | absolute freedom is also impossible for God qua God. The terms
“mastership and divinity imply a relationship” with those to whom one is mas-
ter and God, and “there is no freedom where there is relationship.”389 However,
lack of freedom, which would be identical with dependence, is unthinkable
in connection with God, as is stated in Qurʾân 3.97/92 and 29.6/5: “He is inde-
pendent (ghanî) of the worlds.” This means that God cannot be reached by
arguments and reasoning, as this would mean usurpation and deprive Him of
freedom and independence.390 “In reality, freedom has no characteristic exis-
tence of its own (wujûd ʿayn)391 … Freedom, in reality, is essential independence
(ghinâ adh-dhât, on the part of God) of the worlds, while at the same time the
world derives from Him on account of His essence alone. Thus, He is indepen-
dent of the worlds. He is free. The world needs Him. The (people of the) world
are slaves. They are never free.”392
There is, however, a certain type of freedom even for them. They cannot
possess the station of freedom as a characteristic of theirs, but they can possess
it as an intellectual achievement (maqâm taḥaqquq lâ maqâm takhalluq). They
must realize that existence is impossible for human beings. They must get rid
of the wish to supply the needs (iftiqâr) inseparable from human potentiality
and recognize that non-existence is their inherent attribute. If they do so, their
dependence (iftiqâr) ceases to be, and they remain free while (their) essence
is unfree in its existence. Their potentiality prepares them to give names to
the phenomena of existence and to attempt to understand them, but “if the
potential stops at its particular being—if a man’s state is his particular being
117 (ʿayn)393—, it is free and admits of no | slavery, whereas if it stops at the
numerous things it is prepared to be, it is a dependent slave.” But again, it must

386 Op. cit., II, 299, l. 18. Cf. also II, 661, l. 26.
387 Op. cit., II, 300, l. 18 f.
388 Op. cit., I, 724, l. 24.
389 Op. cit., II, 299, l. 24. Cf. II, 661, ll. 27–30.
390 Op. cit., II, 300, ll. 13–15.
391 ʿAyn is particularly difficult to translate, cf. S. van den Bergh, ʿAyn, in EI2, I, 784f.
392 Futûḥât, II, 661, ll. 30–33.
393 Op. cit., II, 660, l. 28.
philosophical views on freedom 127

be stressed that there is no absolute freedom for us.394 “How could he who
cannot ever escape from his needs free himself, while his needs pursue him?”395
The obligations resting upon him are numerous, and they are inescapable both
in this world and the next. This makes him realize that freedom is a transitory
accident, and the renunciation of freedom a divine qualification. The degrees
of freedom that may be reached by the various classes of Ṣûfîs are numerous but
all of them together, and even more, belong to those who renounce freedom,396
and choose slavery (ʿubûdîyah) which is preferable to freedom.397
After it had been introduced—it seems, by al-Qushayrî—into mystic litera-
ture, ḥurrîyah, we have seen, could no longer be disregarded, and it continued
to be discussed. However, the connotation of worldly nobility originally inher-
ent in the term did little to recommend its use to Ṣûfîs. Al-Qushayrî already
quoted quite a few examples of the use of ʿubûdîyah as the opposite of ḥur-
rîyah,397a and it is true that in the discussion of the true meaning of ʿubûdîyah
the highest rank is accorded to “voluntary slavery” (ʿubûdîyah ikhtiyârîyah).397b
However, ʿubûdîyah | “slavery” is usually not paired with ḥurrîyah but with 118
rubûbîyah, the status of master. The many Ṣûfî terms that imply abstention,
keeping away from worldly affairs, shunning the company of human beings,
preferring isolation and self-sufficiency, also do not aim at extolling individ-
ual freedom. The freedom from things mundane, according to mysticism, is
the freedom to be ready for complete acceptance of servitude to God. Meta-
physical contact is not meant to bring full liberation to the individual. The
Greek Hermetic philosopher said that everything on earth is unfree, everything

394 Op. cit., II, 300, l. 10 f.

395 Op. cit., II, 300, l. 29.
396 Op. cit., ch. 141, and, in particular, II, 301, l. 31 f., and 302, l. 4ff.
397 Op. cit., I, 724, l. 23f.
397a It could also be contrasted with ikhtiyâr “choice, free will,” cf. al-Qushayrî, Risâlah, 91:

Slavery is giving up freedom of choice with regard to any manifestation of predes-


397b Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîyah, Miftâḥ dâr as-saʿâdah (Cairo, n.y.), I, 5. Cf. also the distinction,
supposedly made by ʿAlî, between three kinds of worship (ʿibâdah) of God, with the
highest being “worship by the free,” in Nahj al-balâghah (Cairo, n.y. [1934?]), II, 189. An
older contemporary of Ibn ʿArabî from the East, Najm-ad-dîn al-Kubrâ, played around
with classifications in an ascending order of merit such as ʿibâdah, ʿubûdîyah, ʿubûdah,
or taʿabbud, ʿubûdîyah, ḥurrîyah, cf. F. Meier, Die Fawâʾiḥ al-ǧamâl (Wiesbaden, 1957), text,
128 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

in heaven free.398 The same thesis was, it seems, defended by the important
ninth-century mystic, al-Ḥakîm at-Tirmidhî; this world, as he put is, is based
upon slavery for its people, and the other world upon freedom.398a However,
this was an idea that was not accepted by the majority of Ṣûfîs. As they saw
it, there can be no freedom from the divine presence, either in this life or in
the hereafter, unless that presence is rejected. Such rejection, however, would
mean the most terrible slavery and lead to the most painful prison of all, Hell
and damnation. Certain Ṣûfîs conceived of the possibility that man, in his pas-
sionate quest for the right path, might think of freedom as freeing himself from
the religious obligations, even of freeing himself from the divine, and might
wish to destroy the ladder with its rungs of duties and obligations, of states and
stations, which served for an upward climb that seemed all too slow. They were
at times inclined to concede that there existed a special freedom for the elect
that entitled them to reject the outward forms of religion and “to drink the wine
119 of the free.”399 As a | rule, the more moderate attitude prevailed. It was assumed
that the search for absolute freedom would lead to absolute disaster, to insanity
for man as an individual, and to heresy and damnation for him as a member of

398 Cf. Stobaeus, ed. Wachsmuth-Hense, I, 276; Corpus Hermeticum, ed. A.-J. Festugière (Paris,
1945–1954), III, 55.
398a Cf. H. Ritter, in Oriens, III (1950), 32; O. Yahya, in Mélanges Louis Massignon (Damascus,
1957), III, 447.
399 Jalâl-ad-dîn Rûmî, Mathnavî, ed. and trans. R.A. Nicholson (London, 1925–1940. E.J.W. Gibb
Memorial Series, N. S., IV), V, 498; VI, 474 (book VI, verse 3922).
400 Cf. above, pp. 5 and 28.

Concluding Remark 120

The preceding discussion has been rather lengthy, and the quotations have
been numerous and detailed. Thus, the impression might be gained that a good
deal of thought was given by medieval Muslims to the problem of freedom in
their civilization. A word of caution would seem in order. Measured against
the vast expanse of Muslim literature, the amount of material here collected
is infinitesimal. The occasions are numerous where freedom might have been
discussed but was not. Moreover, the quality and significance of the references
to freedom must be considered decidedly uneven.
It is clear that Muslims always felt great horror at being deprived of their
individual liberty. There existed a proud insistence upon one’s individual inde-
pendence. Ibn Ḥazm once wondered why there were people proud and con-
ceited who did not have the slightest claim to distinction. He tactfully asked
one of those people to tell him the reason for his conceitedness, but all he was
able to get out of him by way of a reply was the simple statement, “I am a free
man, I am nobody’s slave.” Ibn Ḥazm pointed out to him that most of the people
around him were free men and there were only a few slaves there, who, in fact,
were more powerful than the free men and exercised control over them.400a In
his context, Ibn Ḥazm was right to consider the man’s attitude extremely fool-
ish. However, the statement as such shows the tremendous emotional impact
exercised by the concept of freedom, by the feeling of independence, upon the
average Muslim.
Freedom also happened to be equated with all that was noble | and good in 121
the human character. This contributed greatly to the preservation of the dignity
of the term. The result was that the idea of freedom loomed as an important one
in the Muslim mind, be it consciously or unconsciously. The desire for freedom,
consequently, was respected, within certain limits, by those who exercised
political power and controlled the development of legal thought and practice.
However, despite some warning notes sounded in Graeco-Arabic translation
literature, medieval Muslims failed to understand what a tender growth free-
dom is and how zealously it must be protected against any encroachment lest
it cease to function effectively. And there was the failure to connect the meta-

400a Ibn Ḥazm, Risâlah fî mudâwât an-nufûs, in Rasâʾil Ibn Ḥazm al-Andalusî, ed. Iḥsân R.
ʿAbbâs (Cairo, n. y. [ca. 1954]), 159.
130 ii. the muslim concept of freedom

physical level with the societal level of freedom. It remained at best highly
uncertain whether transitory social freedom was of any real value for the indi-
vidual if the individual was properly adjusted to the permanent metaphysical
establishment. This uncertainty always opened up a convenient loophole for
the conscience of anyone who had to compromise on his freedom in this world.
In a recent discussion of legal liberty and the safeguards that existed for it
in the political and social organization of Muslim civilization, L. Gardet took
the metaphysical point of view. He came to the conclusion that freedom, in the
ideal Muslim state, was, perhaps, not the freedom for which one dies, which
gives life its true value, and which involves the dignity of man as a being created
in the image of God. Its true meaning for Islam had to be found in the relation
of man to the divine.401 More concisely, J.H. Kramers expressed a similar idea.
The position of the individual in Muslim social organization could not be called
“‘civic liberty,’ but it could be called ‘human liberty.’ Man faces man, but nothing
122 is more natural than the most powerful at a given | moment being in command
and even disposing of life and death.”402
As we have seen, there is much more to it. To medieval Muslims, the problem
of freedom did appear in the many-colored light which is natural to it. However,
the stifling acceptance of the division of society into free men and unfree men
made itself always felt. Consciousness of the basic human need for freedom
was not general and not strongly developed. It was not sufficiently strong, for
instance, to produce rebels against societal restraint who might have fought
such restraint openly in the name of individual liberty. Muslim society, as
a completely integrated structure, could have hardly tolerated attempts to
change it in the name of so powerful an idea as that of freedom, which once
unleashed might have endangered the whole structure. Freedom, as an ideal,
was not unknown. As a political force it lacked the support which only a central
position within the political organism and system of thought could give it.

401 L. Gardet, La cité musulmane (Paris, 1954), 69 ff. Cf. also above, p. 4f.
402 J.H. Kramers, Analecta Orientalia (Leiden, 1954–1956), II, 209.
The Herb:
Hashish versus Medieval Muslim Society

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2015 | doi: 10.1163/9789004270893_005


I Introduction 134 [1]

II Monographs on Hashish and Some of the More Important

Sources 138 [5]

III The Use of Hashish 152 [19]

1 The Names of the Drug 152 [19]
2 The History of the Use of Hashish 174 [41]
3 The Preparation of Hashish and the Manner of its Use 189 [56]
4 The Reported Effects of Hashish 205 [71]
5 Habituation to Hashish and its Cure 231 [96]

IV The Legal Discussion 236 [101]

1 The General Attitude 236 [101]
2 Hashish Considered as “Intoxicating” and as “Corruptive” 241
3 The Ritual Cleanliness or Uncleanliness of Hashish 251 [117]
4 Prayer and Divorce 254 [120]
5 The Feeding of Hashish to Animals 257 [123]
6 The Punishment for Drug Use 258 [123]

V Hashish and its Users in Society 265 [131]

1 Economic Aspects 265 [131]
2 The Asocial Character of Drug Use 270 [137]
3 The Addict’s Social Standing 274 [140]
4 Hashish, the Individual, and Society 295 [159]

Appendix A: Some Hashish Poems Translated 298 [163]

1 Al-Isʿirdī’s Rangstreit of Hashish and Wine 298 [163]
2 Poems against Hashish by Ibn Ghānim and an Anonymous
Poet 303 [167]
3 Poems on Hashish from the Dīwān of Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī 307 [171]

Appendix B: The Arabic Text of az-Zarkashī’s Zahr al-ʿarīsh 311 [175]

chapter one

1 Introduction

Next to the control of sex as the most pressing issue confronting human soci-
ety, the control of the instinct and need for play among men has been a matter
of constant concern and considerable experimentation. Man is homo ludens,
the playing animal, and the means by which he has sought to fulfill this side
of his nature have not always been consistent with the best interests of the
group organization necessary for human existence. Gambling is the outstand-
ing example of a playful flight away from harsh reality which at times may lead
rather too far away from it. The consumption of stimulants or depressants in
solid, liquid, or gaseous form, beyond the requirements of nourishment and
without any thought of normal physical need, is another. As it may affect not
only man’s mental state but at times also his physical functioning on a tempo-
rary or permanent basis, it is the kind of play that bears careful watching by
Islam is well known for the strictness of its attitude with respect to what
it considers permissible means of amusement and relaxation for the individ-
ual. The Prophet’s personal experience of the environment he lived in and the
views he formed as a result set the course. Wine and gambling are expressly
interdicted in the Qurʾān. It was easy for the guardians of the Muslim commu-
nity to make the most of these prohibitions and, by and large, to enforce them.
Expectedly, individual rebellions have been numerous in the course of history.
It depended on circumstances of time and locale how strong such rebellions
would become and what forms they would take. The problems of the consump-
tion of alcoholic beverages, in particular, and their use and abuse have been in
the center not only of social life but also of literature. As a result, an almost
uncontrollably large mass of material attesting to the struggle of the individual
against societal restrictions imposed upon him in this connection is available
to us. A detailed and exhaustive treatment of this material would be a tremen-
dously vast undertaking that could not be held within moderate limits. Much
less formidable is the amount of information on gambling and its function in
2 Muslim society, although it, too, is | plentiful and full of unsolved and, perhaps,
unsolvable questions for the historian.
The escape from the drudgery of life by means of various drugs other than
alcohol expected to produce temporary physical euphoria or fleeting sensa-
tions of mental change was not barred by the authority of express statements
creditable to the very highest religious sources. For this reason, attempts to
introduction 135

counteract their consumption, even where it was suspected to be a danger to

the fabric of society, were intermittent and, in the end, halfhearted. Because of
its peculiar nature, the escapist use of drugs was as a rule looked upon with a
certain disdain and a good deal of reticence, even where it surfaced and became
so prominent as to call out for scrutiny. As will become clear in the course of this
investigation, we have no way of knowing accurately how general a problem the
use of drugs may have been in the past, and even for more recent times, we have,
to my limited knowledge, no real hard facts to go by. It would seem very risky to
generalize from the number and pitch of literary utterances or from the impres-
sions gained by outsiders whose preparedness to receive and evaluate them it
is impossible to assess. However, it is clear that Muslim authorities often con-
sidered it necessary to try to curb the use of drugs. As clearly, these attempts did
not pass without arousing individual resistance. They thus produced another
phase of the unceasing struggle of the individual against the society which is
his creature, his savior, and his oppressor. The material presented on the fol-
lowing pages is meant to throw some limited light on this particular phase. If
hashish has been chosen as the basis for discussion, it is because it is the most
representative and, probably, the most widely used of the hallucinatory drugs
employed by medieval Muslims.
Recent years have witnessed a vast outpouring of books and studies on
cannabis intoxication. I have looked at some of them but have come to the
conclusion that it would not be a good investment of my time to read too
intensively in this literature. The knowledge of the history of hashish, especially
in the Islamic period, displayed in it is pitiful and, on occasion, comical. This
does not really come as a surprise, but it raises the somewhat disquieting
spectre of a lack of historical understanding in the formation of views on
a problem intimately concerned with man’s past and future. Since so much
has been written on the subject, it is possible that someone somewhere has
gathered up something more than the few stock | items repeated over and over 3
again. I do not consider this likely, nor do I believe that historians and Near
East experts have written on hashish and used fuller information than usual. If
anything of the sort has escaped me, I have to apologize to the authors of such
works and to the readers of these lines.
The modern literature on the subject stresses the need for a good deal of
refinement in terminology. Thus, it is considered necessary (as was done on
occasion also in the past) to make terminological distinctions between various
hemp products, restricting such terms as hashish and marijuana to particular
preparations made from the plant. Or terms such as addiction and habituation
are broken down according to more closely defined aspects. All this, I feel, is
useful to a certain degree, but it has comparatively little applicability to the
136 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

medieval period and has been disregarded here. “Hashish” serves as the general
term for which nowadays “cannabis” appears to enjoy preference. Terms are
thus used here in the rather vague manner of common speech. To my mind,
this can neither blur the picture nor make things appear more clear-cut than
they are.
It has seemed to me to be the most immediate and needed task to provide
information on what medieval Muslims knew about, and how they looked at,
the use of drugs. To my knowledge, such information is not easily, or not at all,
available elsewhere in the scholarly literature and accessible to those who are
not familiar with Near Eastern languages. This has made my treatment as long
as it has turned out to be, instead of the few pages I had originally meant to
devote to it. While information is primary, interpretation continues to retain
its proper place. In fact, interpretation of some sort or other can never be com-
pletely avoided, as it is inherent in everything we say or write. However, apart
from the general theme explained above that motivates my writing on the sub-
ject and dominates it, the developing of interpretational generalities has not
been my aim. In studying basic drives of human nature, presumed differences
between large civilizational complexes become increasingly more elusive upon
closer acquaintance with the historical situation and upon wider and deeper
probing of the preserved evidence. In the case of hashish, it might be said that
persistent reading of the daily newspapers and some rather superficial knowl-
edge of Islam would suffice for anyone who might wish to do so, to guess at
and describe quite accurately the general situation, the general attitudes, and
4 the general procedures that could be assumed to have prevailed | in medieval
Islam with respect to the drug. This would hardly be a useful exercise. It is not
the generalities but the details that count, and they have been presented here
as clearly and as fully as possible. Observations encountered in the modern lit-
erature, unless they are derived from such properly scientific work as chemical
analysis or controlled experimentation, can often be duplicated from Muslim
sources. It might have been useful to footnote the medieval cases with paral-
lel passages from modern writings. However, anyone interested in this aspect
can do this very easily on his own. It is more important to explain and preserve
the information provided by the indigenous sources on their own terms, in the
hope that the mosaic thus put together will form a meaningful picture.
Much of this study had perforce to be based upon manuscript material. It
should, however, be understood that numerous other works still unpublished
might profitably have been consulted for basic or, mainly, illustrative material.
And much further combing needs to be done of the vast literature available
in print. The manuscripts used are not of the highest quality. This is to some
degree due to the special character of the subject matter, but it is also possible,
introduction 137

and very much to be hoped, that better manuscripts are hidden somewhere
in Eastern and Western libraries. The manuscripts consulted here, directly
or, mostly, in microfilm, are preserved in the great collections of libraries in
Ankara, Berlin, Cambridge, Gotha, Istanbul, Leiden, New Haven (Connecticut),
Paris, Princeton (New Jersey), and Rabat. For the courtesy and generosity with
which they were made available to me, I am deeply grateful.
chapter two

5 Monographs on Hashish and

Some of the More Important Sources

The extent and character of the Muslim occupation with hashish problems
and hashish lore are indicated by the source material at our disposal which
largely determines what the present study can, and cannot, accomplish. It
may thus be advisable to present here, at the outset of our discussion, instead
of waiting for its end, an outline of the literature, in chronological order as
far as possible. Some of the monographs listed are not preserved and known
only through quotations and bibliographical reference. Much may have been
written which never became known beyond the circle of the author and his
We may well suspect that nearly every poet and productive amateur writer of
verse, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, wrote at least some playful
poems on hashish, although these poems might at times have been excluded
from published collections of his work.1 With the exception of al-Isʿirdī’s rep-
resentative and early specimen of the genre, no separate listing of this mate-
rial has been made here. All major, and many minor, legal works can also be
assumed to have rarely been entirely without some references to hashish, but
even though much of a larger size and importance has surely eluded me, most
of such occasional material would not justify special listing in the following
list. The same applies to other lesser and incidental references. They will be
restricted to mention later on in the footnotes.
The information provided by outsiders, that is, European travelers and resi-
dents in Islamic countries, is in part as old as, and on occasion older than, some
of the Oriental sources used here, but it has been left aside. Whatever use of it
has been made later on is so discrete as in no way being able to becloud the
Muslim outlook.

1. Ibn al-Bayṭār, ʿAbdallāh b. Aḥmad al-Mālaqī (d. 646/1248),2 al-Jāmiʿ li-mufra-

dāt al-adwiyah, IV, 39 (Būlāq 1291); French trans. L. Leclerc, in Notices et extraits
6 des manuscrits de la Bibliothèque | Nationale, XXVI (1883), 118–120; German

1 1 On hashish poetry, see below, pp. 72, 141 f., and 163ff.
2 2 Cf. J. Vernet, in EI2, s.v. Ibn al-Bayṭār.
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 139

trans. J. von Sontheimer, II, 327–329 (Stuttgart 1840–1842). Much quoted in later
times, for instance, by az-Zarkashī and al-Maqrīzī.

2. Al-Isʿirdī, Nūr-ad-dīn Muḥammad b. Muḥammad Ibn Rustum (619–656/

1222–1258),3 wrote a Rangstreit poem of hashish and wine, preserved by al-
Kutubī (d. 764/1363) and translated below, pp. 163–166. It was possibly taken
over by al-Kutubī from al-Isʿirdī’s Sulāfat az-zarajūn fī l-khalāʿah wa-l-mujūn.

3. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān (b. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān) b. ʿAbd-al-Malik ash-

Shāṭibī (585–672/1189–1274),4 Zahr al-ʿarīsh fī taḥrīm al-ḥashīsh, is the oldest
monograph on the subject of hashish of which we have knowledge, although it
appears not to have been preserved. The title is mentioned by as-Sakhāwī (831–
902/1427–1497) in his biography of Ibn Ḥajar.5 Another reference is contained
in a biography from a book allegedly entitled az-Zahr al-muḍī (?) fī manā-qib
ash-Shāṭibī, cited by ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb ʿAzzām,6 about which nothing further is
known to me. It was presumably also the source of the third reference, by Baǧ-
datlı Ịsmail Pasha (d. 1339/1920).7 In these two cases, the author is described as
Ibn Abī r-Rabīʿ al-Maʿāfirī. However, aṣ-Ṣafadī distinguishes, and, it seems, cor-
rectly, between Ibn Abī r-Rabīʿ al-Hawwārī8 and our Shāṭibī (al-Maʿāfirī) (both
of whom, he says, died in 673). Since az-Zarkashī (No. 9) uses an almost identi-
cal title (although he may have had originally aḥkām for taḥrīm), it would seem
a fair assumption that he had no knowledge of ash-Shāṭibī’s earlier work, which
he does not mention.

4. Ibn Ghānim, ʿIzz-ad-dīn ʿAbd-as-Salām b. Aḥmad al-Maqdisī | (d. 678/1279– 7

1280),9 Majlis fī dhamm al-ḥashīshah, preserved in Ms. Princeton 2136 (= 1056

3 1 Cf. as-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. H. Ritter, I, 188–192 (Wiesbaden, reprint, 1962, Bibliotheca Islamica 6a);
al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 329–334 (Cairo 1951–1953); GAL, I, 257.
4 2 Cf. al-Yūnīnī, Dhayl Mirʾāt az-zamān, III, 72 (Hyderabad 1374–1380/1954–1961); adh-Dhahabī,
‘Ibar, V, 300 (Kuwait 1960–1966); aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. S. Dedering, III, 127f. (Damascus 1953,
Bibliotheca Islamica 6c); Ibn al-Jazarī, Ghāyat an-nihāyah, II, 149 (Istanbul 1932–1935, reprint).
5 3 Cf. F. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, 2nd ed., 609 (Leiden 1968).
6 4 Fī mazārāt al-Iskandarīyah, in ar-Risālah, VII (1358/1939), No. 338, p. 2332, cited in Saʿīd
al-Afghānī’s edition of az-Zarkashī, Ijābah, 2nd ed., 12, n. 1 (Beirut 1390/1970).
7 5 Cf. Dhayl Kashf aẓ-ẓunūn, I, 618 (Istanbul 1945–1947).
8 6 Ibn Abī r-Rabīʿ al-Hawwārī’s notice from aṣ-Ṣafadī appears in substantially the same form in
al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 421 f., indicating al-Yūnīnī as his source, cf. al-Yūnīnī, Dhayl, III, 71f., anno
9 1 This is the date indicated in GAL, Suppl, I, 808, cf. also H. Ritter, in Oriens, III (1950), 58ff.; Ibn
Kathīr, XIII, 289.
140 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

H). The ms. was written by a certain Ṭalḥah b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm b. Abī
l-Aʿlā al-Ḥanbalī, who is presumably not the person mentioned by as-Sakhāwī,
Ḍawʾ, IV, 9 (Cairo 1353–1355). It is dated on Tuesday, 10 Rabīʿ II 802/Wednes-
day, 10 December 1399.10 The Majlis takes up only the last three pages (not
folios) of the Princeton Ms. The name of the author appears in it as ʿIzz-ad-dīn
ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd-as-Salām b. Ghānim. The last name is written somewhat
indistinctly, but the reading Ghānim corresponds better to the reading of the
ms. than the ʿĀmir of the Princeton Catalogue. GAL, Suppl., I, 768, lists the
work under ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd-as-Salām (ca. 577–660/1181–1262). However,
the name of the grandfather is almost certain evidence for the correct attri-
bution. The confusion is easily understandable.
Another, anonymous ms. of the work is preserved in the Berlin Ms. Wet-
zstein II, 1774 (= Ahlwardt, No. 5488), fols. 102a–103b, with the title Faṣl fī l-
ḥashīshah wa-taḥrīmihā. The Berlin Ms. presents a dating problem. The text
immediately preceding the Faṣl in the ms. is stated to have been copied in
783/1381. Ahlwardt, who lists that text under No. 1675 of his Catalogue, takes this
to be the actual date when the ms. was written. However, strangely enough, he
also assumes that the scribe may have misspelled his own name, the name by
which, he says, he was known and which in the ms. looks somewhat like Khaṭīb
‫󰈌ﻟڡﻠﺺ‬. Unless this should turn out to be the correct form of his name, it may very
well be that the date of 783 belongs to the ms. from which the Berlin Ms. was
The Princeton Ms. does not contain the verses from the Berlin Ms., referred
to below, p. 156, n. 2, or the story following upon them that identifies hashish
with the zaqqūm tree (below, p. 46).
8 For the poem at the end of Ibn Ghānim’s treatise, see below, pp. 167ff. For
other verses possibly attributable to Ibn Ghānim, see below, p. 150.

5. Al-ʿUkbarī, ʿImād-ad-dīn Abū l-Faḍl al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd-ar-Raḥ-

mān Ibn Abī l-Baqāʾ (seventh/thirteenth cent.), Kitāb as-Sawāniḥ al-adabīyah

10 2 The tenth of Rabīʿ II was a Tuesday in 805, but I do not think that the reading “five” is
11 3 Ahlwardt lists another work from the same ms., written by the same hand, under No. 635
of his Catalogue. He dates its author, a certain ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. Munajjā b. Aḥmad al-Ḥalabī,
in the seventh or eighth century of the hijrah, apparently on the strength of the 783
date just mentioned. It would be helpful if it were possible to identify this author, but I
have not yet succeeded in doing so. The other available references to him are all based
upon Ahlwardt, cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 133; K. Vollers, Katalog … Leipzig, 276f., No. 847, II
(Leipzig 1906); ʿIzzat Ḥasan, Fihris makhṭūṭāt Dār al-Kutub aẓ-Ẓāhirīyah, ʿulūm al-Qurʾān,
20 (Damascus 1381/1962).
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 141

fī l-madāʾiḥ12 al-qinnabīyah. The work is first mentioned by Ibn al-Fuwaṭī (642–

723/1244–1323),13 who merely says that it deals with the eating of hashish. Since
it is so far known only from quotations in al-Maqrīzī and al-Badrī,14 it is hard to
say whether it was in fact so uncompromisingly pro-hashish as its title and the
reaction of al-Qasṭallānī (No. 6) would seem to suggest.
Al-ʿUkbarī’s death is placed in the year 690/1291 in the summary entry
No. 5489 of the Berlin Catalogue where Ahlwardt has brought together the titles
of works on hashish known to him. No source is indicated, but the date is plau-
sible and is not contradicted by the statement in al-Maqrīzī allegedly showing
that al-ʿUkbarī was alive in and after 658/1260; al-Maqrīzī’s statement does, in
fact, not refer to al-ʿUkbarī himself as being involved in the interview said to
have taken place in that year (below, p. 51).
Another work by al-ʿUkbarī, entitled Ṭārid al-humūm, is quoted by al-Badrī,
fol. 14a (below, p. 146).

6. Al-Qasṭallānī, Quṭb-ad-dīn Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. ʿAlī b. Muḥam-

mad (Shāfiʿite, 614–686/1218–1287),15 Takrīm al-maʿīshah fī (bi-)taḥrīm al-ḥa-
shīshah. This title is cited by al-Aqfahsī (No. 10) and al-Qalqashandī (756–821/
1355–1418),16 who has fī dhamm. Ḥājjī Khalīfah (1017–1067/1609–1657), 1009,17
states that al-ʿUkbarī’s work gives the impression of having been provoked by
that of al-Qasṭallānī. Al-Qasṭallānī, in turn, upon the appearance of al-ʿUkbarī’s
work, wrote a point by point rejoinder which he entitled Tatmīm at-Takrīm li-
mā fī l-ḥashīsh min at-taḥrīm. For a commentary on al-Qasṭallānī, see below,
No. 14. Not unexpectedly, the biographical sources omit these titles on hashish
in their entries on al-Qasṭallānī.

7. Ibn Taymīyah, Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-Ḥalīm (Ḥanbalite, 661–728/1263–1328),18 9

may have written a monograph on the subject. At least, the Istanbul Ms. Reis
el-küttap 1154, containing a collection of treatises by Ibn Taymīyah, lists one
on hashish in its table of contents. It was to be found on fols. 218–221 of

12 1 Al-Maqrīzī and, in two instances, al-Badrī (fols. 3a and 50a) omit the definite article.
13 2 Talkhīṣ Majmaʿ al-ādāb, IV, ii, 708 (Damascus 1963).
14 3 Cf. below, pp. 50 ff. The quotations in al-Badrī are to be found on fols. 3a (below, pp. 50ff.),
24b (below, p. 78), 30a (below, p. 83, n. 3), and 50b (below, p. 101).
15 4 Cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 809 f.
16 5 Ṣubḥ, II, 146 (Cairo 1331/1913).
17 6 Ḥājjī Khalīfah’s Kashf aẓ-ẓunūn is cited here according to the edition by Ş. Yaltkaya
(Istanbul 1941–1943), unless indicated otherwise.
18 1 Cf. GAL, II, 100 ff., Suppl., II, 119 ff.
142 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

the ms., but, unfortunately, there is a gap extending from fol. 210 to fol. 222.
In the list of his works in al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 81, we find a legal treatise on
declaring hashish forbidden and unclean and necessitating the ḥadd penalty
(Taḥrīm al-ḥashīshah al-mughayyibah wa-l-ḥadd ʿalayhā wa-tanjīsuhā). Further
evidence for a separate legal decision on hashish appears in al-Badrī, fol. 53a,
where Ibn Taymīyah in his “Treatise known as declaration of the illegality of
hashish” (ar-Risālah al-maʿrūfah bi-taḥrīmihā) is quoted. It is possible, how-
ever, that these texts were nothing else but one or more of the fatwās on
hashish that appear in the collected Fatāwī al-kubrā of Ibn Taymīyah, used
here in the recent (1966?) Cairo edition, IV, 301–303, 310 f., 312 f., 322–324, and
324–326. The last two fatwās may also be read in the same collection, I, 128–
130, and II, 252–254. The parallel texts show some slight variants. The last
one, dealing with ghubayrāʾ, is somewhat expanded at the end of the text in
Vol. IV.
Another work by Ibn Taymīyah dealing with hashish is as-Siyāsah ash-
sharʿīyah, ed. M. al-Mubārak, 94–96 (Beirut, n. y. [1966?]); French trans.
H. Laoust, IIIf. (Beirut 1948).

8. Adh-Dhahabī, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad (Shāfiʿite, 673–748/1274–1348),19 has

a section on hashish in the Kitāb al-Kabāʾir, 84f. (Cairo 1385/1965, the fourth
printing of an edition apparently first published in 1355). It turns out to be
an almost literal reproduction of the passage in Ibn Taymīyah’s Siyāsah. There
are some additional verses at the end (below, p. 156). Ibn Taymīyah is not
mentioned as the source. The textual history of the Kitāb al-Kabāʾir in general
would seem to bear investigation. In the introduction of az-Zawājir ʿan iqtirāf
al-kabāʾir, Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (909–974/1504–1567) calls adh-Dhahabī’s work
“attributed” (mansūb) to him. Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī resumes the passage on
hashish in Vol. II, 150f. of the edition, Cairo 1370/1951, Nos. 371–382, with a few
inconsequential comments of his own.

10 9. Az-Zarkashī, Muḥammad (b. ʿAbdallāh) b. Bahādur (Shāfiʿite, | 745–794/1344–

1392),20 Zahr al-ʿarīsh fī aḥkām (or taḥrīm) al-ḥashīsh There are several mss.,
also listed by M. Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm in the introduction of his edition of az-
Zarkashī’s Burhān fī ʿulūm al-Qurʾān, 9 (Cairo 1376–1377/1957–1958). None of
the mss. used here for the edition of the text (below, pp. 175ff.) is particularly
good, but since the work was well known and much considered, it would seem

19 2 Cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 57 ff., Suppl., II, 45 ff.

20 1 Cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 112, Suppl., II, 108.
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 143

likely that older and better ms. material is still in existence somewhere. The
mss. available and the sigla adopted for the apparatus criticus are these:

A Berlin Ms. Wetzstein II, 1809 (= Ahlwardt, No. 5487), fols. 108a–115a, with the
title Ẓill … aḥkām … The text preceding az-Zarkashī in the ms. is dated in
Rabīʿ I 1122/May 1710.
B Berlin Ms. Wetzstein II, 1801 (= Ahlwardt, No. 5486), fols. 37a–46b, with the
title Zahr … taḥrīm …
C Gotha 1451 (= Pertsch, No. 2096), fols. 1a–6a. Fol. 6a is written in a hand dif-
ferent from the preceding pages, and the title is mentioned only at the end,
written by still another hand (Zahr … aḥkām …). The text of this ms. omits all
verses together with the context in which they are embedded. This, it would
seem, was not merely the result of the linguistic incompetence of some ear-
lier copyist but was done intentionally by someone who considered all such
material irrelevant. The omission of the passages referring to ʿAlī al-Ḥarīrī
(below, pp. 99f. and 124) would also seem to have been done on purpose.
The contrary assumption, namely, that these reputed omissions were, in fact,
additions to az-Zarkashī’s original text can be safely ruled out. Among the
omitted verses are those contained in the quotation from al-Qarāfī (below,
pp. 108ff.) which are to be found in al-Qarāfī’s text. Nobody would have gone
back to al-Qarāfī’s text in order to supply them, if az-Zarkashī had not had
them in the first place.
D Berlin Ms. Petermann II, 407 (= Ahlwardt, No. 5487), fols. 216a–221b, with the
title Zahr … aḥkām …, corresponds to Ms. Gotha but has an extremely poor

The section on hashish in the Taʾrīkh al-Khamīs by ad-Diyārbakrī, which was

apparently composed in the first half of the tenth/sixteenth century,21 is based
entirely upon az-Zarkashī, cf. also al-Fanārī (No. 20). Both Qamʿ (No. 16) and
Ibn al-Ḥanbalī (No. 18) refer to az-Zarkashī, who was, of course, also used
by al-Badrī | (No. 13), in particular for the comparatively brief discussion of 11
the legal situation where other authorities are also cited indirectly through
The catalogue of the Ẓāhirīyah in Damascus lists az-Zarkashī’s work as con-
tained in Ms. No. 5896.22 The Catalogue’s very brief description of the contents

21 2 Taʾrīkh al-Khamīs, II, 30 f. (Cairo 1302). For ad-Diyārbakrī, cf. EI2, s.v.
22 1 Cf. ʿAbd-al-Ghanī ad-Daqar, Fihris makhṭūṭāt Dār al-Kutub aẓ-Ẓāhirīyah, al-fiqh ash-Shāfiʿī,
126 (Damascus 1383/1963).
144 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

indicates substantial agreement with az-Zarkashī. However, the Ẓāhirīyah text

is stated to be an urjūzah poem, and not a prose text. It may have been a versi-
fication of az-Zarkashī’s work (by himself?), but this assumption remains to be

10. Al-Aqfahsī, Shihāb-ad-dīn Aḥmad Ibn al-ʿImād (Shāfiʿite, d. 808/1405–

1406),23 Ikrām man yaʿīsh bi-taḥrīm al-khamr wa-l-ḥashīsh. The Princeton Ms.
of the work has bi-jtinābih (clearly written, however, bi-jtinābat), for bi-taḥrīm.
According to the old Cairo Catalogue, VII, 157, the Cairo Ms. of the work
(majāmīʿ 114,2, fols. 71–102) is dated on Friday, 10 Rajab 792/24 June 1390, and
thus was written during the lifetime of the author. As this ms. was not avail-
able, I was able only to make use of the Princeton Ms. 1822 (= 890 H), fols. 1–22b.
The integrity and completeness of its text are dubious and can be ascertained
only with the help of the Cairo Ms. The portion dealing specifically with hashish
extends from fol. 19b to the end, fol. 22b. It is possible that it in particular was
considerably abridged.
Al-Aqfahsī’s work contains only very little beyond the information found in
az-Zarkashī. Az-Zarkashī, however, is not mentioned by name. Ibn Taymīyah’s
Siyāsah is quoted, and so is the Takrīm al-maʿīshah of al-Qasṭallānī. Al-Qasṭal-
lānī may have been a common source for az-Zarkashī and al-Aqfahsī in some
instances, but it would seem rather more likely that az-Zarkashī was widely
used by al-Aqfahsī without acknowledgement. Al-Aqfahsī may have looked
upon the sources quoted by az-Zarkashī so to speak as common property and
therefore have neglected to mention az-Zarkashī’s name, but even this seems
hard to prove.
Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (above, p. 9), Taḥdhīr ath-thiqāt min akl al-kaftah wa-
l-qāt, which he finished on 17 Ṣafar 960/2 February 1553, states that “all the
blameworthy qualities mentioned in connection with hashish are also to be
12 found in qāt,24 with additional | harm” (Yale Ms. L-753 [= Catalogue Nemoy,
No. 1579], fol. 5a). Thus, it is hardly surprising that from fol. 9b of the Yale Ms.
to the end of the treatise, the author reproduces much of the treatise of Ibn al-
ʿImād (al-Aqfahsī). He also makes twice reference to az-Zarkashī and appears
to have used his work directly.
Al-Aqfahsī, fol. 21a, quotes six verses “in refutation of the wicked men who
have declared it permissible to eat hashish.” The first and last of these verses

23 2 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 110 f.

24 3 Cf., for instance, C. Brooke, Khat (Catha Edulis): Its Production and Trade in the Middle East,
in Geographical Journal, CXXVI (1960), 52–59.
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 145

Do not listen to one who praises drinking hashish,

For he is not right in what he says.

Doing something right and good could hardly be expected
From someone who slips from the glorious right path.

(lā tuṣghiyanna li-mādiḥin shurba l-ḥashī-

shi fa-innahū fī l-qawli ghayru musaddadi

hayhāta an yaʾtī (sic) bi-fiʿlin ṣāliḥin
man zalla ʿan sanani r-rashādī l-amjadi).

Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī starts out with five other verses, beginning:

O you whose mark has become the eating of hashish

And whose viciousness and hangover have thus become fully obvious.

( yā man ghadā akla l-ḥashīshi shiʿāruhū

wa-ʿadā [ghadā?] fa-lāḥa ʿuwāruhū wa-khumāruhū).

Then, the six verses of al-Aqfahsī are quoted. They are, however, followed by six
more verses, of which the first and the last read:

Those who have expressed a legal opinion stating it is permissible to drink

it have erred.
It is considered disgraceful (?) by ash-Shāfiʿī and Aḥmad

From a ruler or a scholar or an inspector
Or a good counselor, restrained in what he does.

(qad ḍalla man aftā bi-ḥilli sharābihā

fīhā ʿ-z-y (leg. khazan?) li-sh-Shāfiʿīyi wa-Aḥmadi

min ḥākimin aw ʿālimin aw nāẓirin
aw nāṣiḥin fī fiʿlihī mutazahhidi).

It is possible that all this additional material belonged to al-Aqfahsī’s original

text, as someone familiar with the Cairo Ms. of it may be able to verify or
146 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

11. Al-Maqrīzī, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī (principally a Shāfiʿite, 766–845/ 1364–1442),25

13 Khiṭaṭ, II, 126–129 (Būlāq 1270), has a highly informa|tive section on “the hashish
of the poor (the Ṣūfīs).” It has long been the main text on hashish known in the
West because it was edited and translated with copious notes by A.I. Silvestre de
Sacy in his Chrestomathie arabe, I, 112–132 (text), II, 115–155 (trans.) (Paris 1806);
2nd ed., I, 74–88 (text), 210–283 (trans.) (Paris 1826). Cf. also Jawad al-Muscati,
Hasan bin Sabbah, for an English translation by Abbas H. Hamdani, 113ff.
(Karachi 1958).
When al-Maqrīzī is cited here without any further indication, the reference
is to this passage. In other cases, as, for instance, the poems on hashish in Khiṭaṭ,
II, 25f., volume and page are indicated.

12. Shams-ad-dīn Muḥammad b. an-Najjār (Shāfiʿite), Kitāb Zawājir ar-Raḥmān

fī taḥrīm ḥashīshat ash-Shayṭān, is repeatedly quoted by al-Badrī.26 Ibn an-
Najjār’s lifetime falls into the fifteenth century, as indicated by al-Badrī’s ref-
erences to him as his shaykh and his late shaykh. If al-Badrī, fol. 54b, refers
to the same man as seems likely, his father’s name was ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb. This
would exclude any possibility of identifying him with the muqriʾ, Muḥammad
b. Aḥmad b. Dāwūd (788/1386 to ca. 870/1465–1466).27 The work is mentioned
by Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 1120, as one of the sources of Ibn al-Ḥanbalī (No. 18), without
an indication of the name of its author.

13. Al-Badrī, Abū t-Tuqā Taqī-ad-dīn Abū Bakr b. ʿAbdallāh b. Muḥammad (847–
894/1443–1489),28 Rāḥat al-arwāḥ fī l-ḥashīsh wa-r-rāḥ, preserved in Paris Ms.
ar. 3544. The part devoted to hashish extends from the beginning to fol. 57b;
fols. 58a–142b deal with wine. A brief excerpt exists in the Berlin Ms. Wet-
zstein II, 422,2 (= Ahlwardt 5488), fols. 70b–71a. Reference to the work is made
by Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 829. The apparently very close relationship of al-Bakrī (below,
p. 34, n. 5) to al-Badrī’s work remains to be investigated.
On fol. 57a, al-Badrī states that he was asked to compose his work in 867/
1462–1463 (when he was just twenty years old). According to the Paris Ms.

25 1 Cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 47 ff., Suppl., II, 36 ff.

26 1 Cf. fols. 8b (below, p. 58), 17a–b (below, p. 97, n. 7), and 48a (below, p. 46, n. 2).
27 2 Cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, VI, 308.
28 3 Cf. GAL, II, 132, 2nd ed., II, 164, and Suppl., II, 163. For the correct form Abū t-Tuqā, cf.
as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, XI, 41 f., and the cross reference in Ḍawʾ, XI, 101. The correct form is also
indicated in the Paris Ms., for instance, fol. 17b. According to as-Sakhāwī, the author was
known as Ibn al-Badrī, but in his work he refers to himself as al-Badrī, and this style of
reference has been adopted here.
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 147

(dated itself on Saturday, 22 Jumādā I 1207/5 January 1793), the original ms.
(nuskhat al-aṣl) from which it was copied was | written in 869/1464. This is 14
stated in the colophon. However, a story taking place in the years 869–870 is
told on fols. 29a–30a (below, pp. 133f.). On fol. 22a, Nūr-ad-dīn ʿAlī b. Sūdūn
al-Bashbughawī, who died in 875/1470, is called “the late.” On fol. 83b, we
find a communication made to the author by Aḥmad b. Khalīl as-Sakhāwī (b.
839/1436)29 “after my composition of this book.” Thus, 869/1464 could presum-
ably be the date of the first completion and publication of the work, but if the
Paris Ms. was indeed copied from a manuscript written in that year, that ms.
must have contained later additions and notes by the author which were taken
over into the text. Their incorporation into the text was more likely done by an
intermediate copyist, and not by the one of the Paris Ms. himself. On fol. 47a,
we find a note on the root s-ṭ-l (below, p. 75) introduced by the words, “in his
handwriting, a marginal note.” It is, however, not clear whether this refers to
al-Badrī since we cannot be sure that he himself was the author of the verses
quoted in this connection.30
The work of al-Badrī, by far the most comprehensive exposition of hashish
lore known at present, is surprisingly well arranged. Particular topics are
treated together, although it is only natural, since there is much overlapping,
that information on some topic may also be found in the treatment of another.
The method is loosely associative. Talking about a given topic often leads to
what we would call footnote material. The section on wine contains similar
excursuses on subjects such as fruits, flowers, rivers, the influence of music
on animals and human beings, musical instruments, etc. Speaking about the
predilection of hashish users for sweets, al-Badrī digresses with a large

29 1 Cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, I, 294 f.

30 2 According to C. Rieu’s catalogue, Ms. Brit. Mus. 1422 of al-Badrī’s Ghurrat aṣ-ṣabāḥ was
written in 875/1471 and contains a number of favorable notices for the work dating from
871/1466–1467. According to as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, XI, 41, al-Badrī claimed later in his life
that the work was already written in 865/ 1460–1461, which would make it the work of a
boy of eighteen. The Bodleian Ms. 522,8 of al-Badrī’s Maṭāliʿ al-Badrīyah is supposedly an
autograph copy written in 880/1475 (cf. A. Nicoll’s Catalogue, 298–300, Oxford 1835, where
al-Badrī is correctly called Abū t-Tuqā). The Paris ms. of the Rāḥah has quotations from
both the Ghurrah (fol. 52b) and the Maṭāliʿ (fols. 70a and 88a). Altogether al-Badrī cites in
it no less than nine of his own works (fols. 55b, 86b, 110b, 115b, 122a, and 133a, in addition to
the references just given). This seems too much for a man just twenty years old, and the
general tone of the Rāḥah is that of a mature and accomplished littérateur. Since there is
no reason to doubt the correctness of his birth date, we must be dealing here with a later
148 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

15 collection of material on the subject of sweets (fols. 25a–28a) | whose only

tenuous relation to hashish are very occasional and incidental references to
hashish users and hashish intoxication. The discussion of the relationship of
hashish use and homosexuality (fols. 30a ff.) is greatly expanded by material,
often obscene, which has no immediate bearing upon hashish. On fols. 51b–52b,
we find a discussion of the illegality of homosexuality (below, p. 85). This
is al-Badrī’s way of atoning for the lack of moral scruples exhibited in his
long digression into the subject. The same purpose is to be served by the
strenuous denunciation of hashish at the end of the discussion, which was
mostly favorable to hashish use. It would appear that thereby, the young author
not only saved his soul but also forestalled any attempt by the authorities of
taking a close look into his own affairs. His personal attitude remains entirely
unclear as we would expect (cf. below, p. 151, n. 1).

14. ʿAbd-al-Bāsiṭ b. Khalīl al-Ḥanafī (Ḥanafite, d. 920/1514),31 ad-Durr al-wasīm

fī tawshīḥ Tatmīm at-Takrīm fī taḥrīm al-ḥashīsh wa-waṣfih adh-dhamīm, said
to be a commentary on al-Qasṭallānī (No. 6). Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 470, specifies that
it is a commentary on al-Qasṭallānī’s Takrīm, but the title indicated by Ḥājjī
Khalīfah, 737, suggests rather a commentary on the Tatmīm at-Takrīm.

15. Fuzūlī (Fuḍūlī) (d. 963/1556),32 Benk u bāde, used in the German translation
by Necati H. Lugal and O. Reşer, Des türkischen Dichters Fuzūlī Poem “Laylā-
Meǧnūn” und die gereimte Erzählung “Benk u Bāde” (Haşiş und Wein) nach dem
Druck Istbl. 1326 übersetzt (Istanbul 1943).

16. The strange treatise entitled, Qamʿ al-wāshīn fī dhamm al-barrāshīn, is pre-
served only in the Leiden Ms. or. 814,12. The Leiden Ms. gives the name of its
author as Nūr-ad-dīn ʿAlī b. al-Jazzār. The ms. has no dots for Jazzār, thus mak-
ing the reading somewhat uncertain. In fact, as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, V, 171, lists a
Meccan with almost the same chain of names but not identical with the author
of Qamʿ, who is expressly stated to have been al-Kharrāz. The author of Qamʿ
is described as a Shāfiʿite and the chief shaykh in Egypt, Cairo, and the two
16 Qarāfahs. His kunyah is said to be Abū l-Ḥasan.33 | Qamʿ is quoted by al-Fanārī

31 1 Cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 66, Suppl., II, 52 f. For an owner’s note in the handwriting of ʿAbd-al-
Bāsiṭ in the Istanbul Ms. Köprülü I, 366, cf. M. Weisweiler, Der islamische Bucheinband des
Mittelalters, 151 (Wiesbaden 1962).
32 2 Cf. A. Karahan, in EI2, s.v. Fuḍūlī.
33 3 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 429, 5b; Ḥājjī Khalīfah, IV, 570f., in the edition of G. Flügel (Leipzig and
London 1835–1858), a passage that is not included in Yaltkaya’s edition.
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 149

(No. 20) as the work of Ibn al-Ḥasan al-Bakrī. Ibn al-Ḥasan should possibly
be corrected to Abū l-Ḥasan. It is, of course, quite possible that the author’s
father was also called al-Ḥasan, but Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 360, seems to indicate that
his father’s name was Muḥammad. According to Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 360, another
work by the same author, entitled Taḥṣīn al-manāzil min hawl az-zalāzil, was
written in 984/1576–1577. In any event, the date of the Fanārī ms. places the
composition of Qamʿ before 991/1583.
In the spirit of the times, the author of Qamʿ concludes his work with a
couple of pages devoted to his views on coffee. He praises it and considers its
use legally permissible wherever it agrees with an individual. Rather cryptically,
however, he mentions additives which make the use of coffee fall into the
forbidden category, citing the verse:

I was asked about coffee whether

It is permitted and safe.
I replied: Yes, it is safe.
The only difficulty are those additions to it.34

The allusion is no doubt to drugs put into coffee. Ḥājjī Khalīfah mentions
the fondness of drug addicts for coffee.35 In the following eighteenth century,
al-Idkāwī speaks of spiking coffee with opium and other drugs.36

17. Ibrāhīm b. Bakhshī, known as Dede Khalīfah (d. 973/1565–1566), is credited

with a Risālah on hashish, cf. No. 18.

18. Ibn al-Ḥanbalī, Raḍī-ad-dīn Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm al-Ḥalabī (Ḥanafite,

877–971/1472–1563),37 Ẓill al-ʿarīsh fī manʿ ḥill al-banj wa-l-ḥashīsh. Ḥājjī Khali-
fah, 1120, is our only reference so far. He describes the work as a commentary or
abridgment of the Risālah of Dede Khalīfah (No. 17). He also informs us that Ibn
al-Ḥanbalī used among his sources the Zahr al-ʿarīsh, presumably the | work of 17

34 1 la-qad qīla lī qahwatu l-bunni hal

taḥillu wa-tuʾmanu āfātuhā
fa-qultu naʿam hiya maʾmūnatun
wa-mā ṣ-ṣaʿbu illā muḍāfātuhā.

35 2 Cf. Ḥājjī Khalīfah (Kātib Chelebi), The Balance of Truth, trans. G.L. Lewis, 60 (London 1957).
36 3 Cf. his Ḥusn ad-daʿwah, in Yale Ms. L-55 (= Catalogue Nemoy, No. 1575), fol. 2a, as men-
tioned by L. Nemoy, in Papers in Honor of Andrew Keogh, 46f. (New Haven 1938).
37 4 Cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 483 f., Suppl., II, 495 f.
150 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

az-Zarkashī (No. 9), and the Zawājir ar-Raḥmān fī taḥrīm ḥashīsh ash-Shayṭān
(No. 12).

19. The Berlin Ms. or. 40, 49 (= Ahlwardt, No. 5488), fols. 8a–9a, has a subscrip-
tion naming a certain Maḥmūd al-Muḥammadī al-Ḥanafī as the man who has
collected there the legal arguments for the forbidden character of the use of
hashish. This subscription refers no doubt to the author of what is written
on fol. 8a. This ends with the words, “thus, I say with the help of God,” and
the text on fols. 8b–9a appears to constitute the main body of Maḥmūd’s trea-
tise but is written in a clearly different hand. According to the text on fol. 8a,
the author, being in Egypt and not liking it there, attended the classes of al-
Barhamatūshī38 and heard it said that his late teacher, Shihāb-ad-dīn (sic)39
Aḥmad b. Kamālbāshāh considered ghubayrāʾ (below, pp. 24 f.) legal and per-
mitted it for consumption. The author contends that he himself had never
heard Ibn Kamāl Pāshā (see No. 21) say such a thing and that it was falsely and
maliciously ascribed to him. From these statements it results that this Maḥmūd
lived in the sixteenth century and, apparently, well into the second half of it.

20. Al-Fanārī, Maḥmūd b. Pīr Muḥammad, Risālah fī bayān ḥurmat al-ḥashīsh

wa-l-afyūn, is preserved in the Istanbul Ms. Laleli 3675, fols. 38b–39a. The ms. is
dated in Shaʿbān 991/August–September 1583. The name of the author appears
on top of the page, clearly written in the same hand as the rest. It would be
possible for this Maḥmūd to have been a son of Pīr Muḥammad al-Fanārī
who died in 954/1547 or the following year.40 This, however, is an entirely
unsubstantiated guess.
The short treatise is a pastiche of numerous quotations, many of them
written in the margins. In the text, we find two excerpts from Qamʿ (No. 16), of
which only one is marked as such. Some passages agree with az-Zarkashī whose
name is not mentioned, and al-Fanārī does indeed not quote him directly. In
one case, what seems to be a literal quotation from az-Zarkashī is introduced
by a reference to al-Mawāhib al-ladunīyah and al-Khamīs, biographies of the
18 Prophet | by, respectively, al-Qasṭallānī (d. 923/1517) and ad-Diyārbakrī (above,
No. 9).

38 1 Shams-ad-dīn al-Barhamatūshī is mentioned three times in al-Ghazzī, al-Kawākib as-

sāʾirah, but I know of no obituary notice devoted to him. Barhamatūsh is the vocalization
indicated by A.S. Atiya in his edition of Ibn Mammātī, Qawānīn, 110 (Cairo 1943).
39 2 Ibn Kamāl Pāshā (Kemālpashazādeh) was Shams-ad-dīn.
40 3 Cf. Ṭāshköprüzādeh, ash-Shaqāʾiq an-nuʿmānīyah, II, 15 (Cairo 1310, in the margin of Ibn
Khallikān, Wafayāt).
monographs on hashish and some of the more important sources 151

The marginal notes appear to be in the same hand. Since it is hardly likely
that we have here the original ms. of al-Fanārī—his notes, so to speak, jotted
down for later elaboration—, the material in the margins may have been
taken over from the original work. There is, however, a reference, to a work
entitled Tanwīr al-abṣār. If this means the work by at-Timirtāshī,41 we would
have a serious problem, not because at-Timirtāshī died in 1004/1595, only a
short while after the date of the ms., but because Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 501, states that
at-Timirtāshī’s Tanwīr al-abṣār was composed in al-Muḥarram 995/December
1586, that is, after the date of the Fanārī ms. Thus, either the marginal notes are
later additions, or, possibly, the Tanwīr cited is another work, and not that of

21. An anonymous brief treatise entitled Risālah fī ḥurmat al-banj is preserved

in Ankara, General Library, Eski Eserler 678, fol. 147a. In the ms., the treatise
follows upon another anonymous treatise Fī bayān ṭabīʿat al-afyūn, which is no
doubt the widely distributed work by Ibn Kamāl Pāshā (873–940/1468–1534).42
I did, however, not make sure of this while I was Ankara, and, much to my regret,
I have been unable later on to consult Ibn Kamāl Pāshā’s essay. It may contain
points of interest in connection with hashish.

22. The Gotha Ms. of az-Zarkashī (No. 9) further contains, on fol. 6a–b, a survey
of the history of hashish in Islam and some poems on the drug. Since a com-
mentary by at-Timirtāshī appears to be indicated as the direct source of the
former, we would have to date these notes in the tenth/sixteenth century, but
the material quoted can safely be assumed to go back to the much earlier indi-
rect authorities mentioned.43

41 1 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 427.

42 2 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 668 ff., and Şarkiyat Mecmuası, VI (1966), 71–112, where mss. of the brief
treatise on opium are listed on p. 108.
43 3 Cf. below, pp. 48 f., p. 78, n. 1, and p. 150, n. 4.
chapter three

19 The Use of Hashish

1 The Names of the Drug

Hashish has been singled out for discussion because of its prominence among
the drugs used in medieval Islam. However, it must be realized that as a rule
no distinction was made between the numerous different narcotics known,
and it is often not easy for us to be sure whether cannabis or some other drug
is intended in a given report. Some jurists seem to have been dimly aware of
the problems concealed in the differences of properties and effects of different
drugs, but many of those who tell stories about the use of drugs were unable
to distinguish between them, nor were they particularly interested in doing so.
Moreover, whenever we hear about hashish, some caution is indicated in view
of the ever present possibility that the preparations used were mixtures of a
number of different substances of which hashish may have been merely one
and, perhaps, not the most potent one in its effect.
Ḥashīsh, banj, and afyūn (opium)1 are the terms most frequently used, and
they are also most commonly lumped together without, it seems, any clear idea
of the distinctions that might exist, or should be made, between them. Banj in
particular is a term with a long history, which, in the Muslim world, tended to be
dishonorable. Al-mubannijah “substances having the effect of banj” was used as
a comprehensive term for narcotic drugs.2 The mubannij, who practices tabnīj,
was a sinister figure who made use of his dark art to seduce innocent people or,
even more nefariously, to have it serve as a prelude to murder and robbery.3 As is
20 well known, banj, in its pre-|Islamic history, represented, in fact, “hemp.” But in
the usage of Muslim times, it was commonly the scientific word for “henbane,”4

1 1 In his edition and translation of Maimonides, Sharḥ asmāʾ al-ʿuqqār, 19f. (Cairo 1940, Mém.
de l’ Institut d’Égypte 41), M. Meyerhof states that Maimonides vocalizes ufiyūn and that the
usual vocalization is afiyūn. The reprint of the work, dating from ca. 1966, omits Meyerhof’s
translation and notes, the most valuable part of the publication.
2 2 Cf., for instance, Jābir b. Ḥayyān, Kitāb as-Sumūm, in the edition and translation of A. Siggel,
Das Buch der Gifte des Ğābir Ibn Ḥayyān, fol. 131b, p. 139 (Wiesbaden 1958), cf. also p. 154, n. 2.
Siggel wrongly read “die Erlaubten.”
3 3 Cf., for example, the dramatic story told in Ibn ad-Dāyah, Mukāfaʾah, 158–160 (Cairo 1941), 88f.
(Cairo 1332/1914).
4 1 Cf. M. Meyerhof, in EI2, s.v. bandj.
the use of hashish 153

although we are admittedly at a great disadvantage in any attempts we might

make to clarify the exact meaning of the scholarly references. Physicians and
scientists appear to have been by and large consistent in their use of banj for
henbane. ʿAlī b. Rabban aṭ-Ṭabarī, in the middle of the ninth century, speaks
of three kinds of banj, of which the white one was in use, apparently referring
to henbane.5 The three kinds seem to be characteristic of banj in the meaning
of henbane. It should be noted, however, that one also distinguished, as did,
for instance, Ibn al-Bayṭār, three kinds of hemp; on the other hand, Ibn Jazlah
and Maimonides (1135–1204) list only two kinds of banj.6 When the great Rāzī
(251–313/865–925) discusses deadly poisons in his Ḥāwī, he properly includes
banj “henbane” but makes no mention of hemp.7 Ar-Rāzī’s authorities for the
effects of and remedies for banj are Greek works such as Rufus’ Ilā l-ʿAwwām,8
and comparison of ar-Rāzī with Paul of Aegina whom he quotes shows that banj
is indeed to be understood as henbane (hyoskyamos).9 But it is characteristic
of the general confusion that the author of the Book of Poisons ascribed to Jābir
b. Ḥayyān can speak of opium as the juice of black banj before he mentions
the connection of opium with poppy, and it always remains quite unclear what
substance he has in mind when speaking about banj.10 In sum, as the author
of the Risālah fī ḥurmat al-banj11 put it, “banj is a general term, and ḥashīsh
a specific term.” Any mention of banj in the general literature may actually
refer to hashish. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that a mention of
hashish does not involve something else besides hemp and hemp preparations.
Considering the original meaning of ḥashīsh to be mentioned immediately, it
would certainly not be improper to employ it for any drug derived from plants,
as all these narcotics were.
When the use of hashish became established, and the drug took | on, and 21
in a way retained, the role of plaything for a “select” and quasi-secret frater-
nity, it acquired very many names and nicknames. Hashish could very well have
told the camel and the lion (or whatever else enjoyed the reputation of being
distinguished by an enormous Arabic nomenclature) to hang their heads in
shame, so rich was the choice of words to designate it. The hashish nomencla-

5 2 Cf. aṭ-Ṭabarī, Firdaws al-ḥikmah, ed. M.Z. Siddiqi, 402 (Berlin 1928).
6 3 Cf. al-Maqrīzī and Meyerhof’s ed. and trans., 10 (text), 32f. (trans.).
7 4 Cf. ar-Rāzī, Ḥāwī, XIX, 355 f. (Hyderabad 1374–/1955–).
8 5 Cf. Ḥāwī, XIX, 376.
9 6 Cf. Ḥāwī, XIX, 361, 366, and Paul of Aegina, ed. I.L. Heiberg, II, 31 (Leipzig and Berlin
10 7 Op. cit. (p. 19, n. 2), fol. 47a, p. 57.
11 8 See above, p. 18.
154 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

ture was also of a similar character, consisting largely of descriptive adjectives,

metaphoric usages, kennings, and the like. It did not, of course, find the lov-
ing attention of philologians, and it possessed extremely little staying power,
changing rapidly over the years and differing from locality to locality. It also
included the trade names for certain confections, and it rarely allows for clear
distinctions to be drawn. But its size itself is significant, and it is impressive for
the psychological dimensions it conceals rather than reveals.
In the first place, we must realize that ḥashīsh or ḥashīshah12 is itself a
nickname. The word as such has no specific connection whatever with the
hemp plant. It may mean grass used as fodder,13 herbs used for medicinal or
other purposes, weeds that infest, for instance, a flower garden and must be
weeded out with dispatch by the careful gardener,14 and the like. We cannot be
absolutely sure which of the meanings of ḥashīsh led to its use for the cannabis
drug. It would be possible to see in it a sort of abbreviation of the expression
al-ḥashīsh al-muskir “the intoxicating ḥashīsh.” Most likely, it may be simply
“the herb” as distinguished from all other (medicinal) herbs.15 Again, we cannot
be sure but it seems most likely that the nickname was intended to be of the
22 endearing, rather than the vituperative, | kind.16 At any rate, its use clearly
implies that the drug had become popular and was widely used by the time of
the adoption of this nickname. Conversely, if we were able to determine when
it came into use, we would learn something about the obscure early history
of hashish in the Muslim world.17 Furthermore, since hashish was a nickname

12 1 Ḥashīshah is the nomen unitatis of the collective noun ḥashīsh, but no distinction in
the use of the two forms can be discerned. Grammatically the word may be used as a
masculine if the masculine form of the noun is used, but preferably the feminine is used,
regardless of the grammatical form of the word employed.
13 2 All these meanings are extremely common, and no occurrences need be cited, but for the
meaning of fodder, one may, for instance, refer to Ibn al-Mufarrigh al-Ḥimyarī, a poet of
the seventh century, in the edition of his collected poems by Dāwūd Sallūm, 159 (Baghdād
Ḥashīsh may be legally classified together with firewood as “indifferent things” in
enemy territory, as in the work by Ibn Jamāʿah (639–733/1241–1333) translated into German
by H. Kofler, Handbuch des islamischen Staats- und Verwaltungsrechtes, 95 (Abh. f. d. Kunde
d. Morgenlandes, XXIII, 6, 1938). Kofler, strangely enough, translates “Haschisch.”
14 3 Cf., for instance, the story in al-Ghazzālī, at-Tibr al-masbūk, 75f. (Cairo 1378/1968).
15 4 Cf. already P. Alpin, Medicina Aegyptiorum, 258 (Leiden 1745): “… quasi cannabem hinc
herbam per excellentiam vocant.”
16 1 In American usage, “weed” may be a vituperative term for tobacco. “Grass” is presently a
term of endearment for marijuana. “Weed” as used for marijuana may be, I suppose, either.
17 2 Cf. below, pp. 41 ff.
the use of hashish 155

popularized no doubt at a particular time under particular circumstances, it is

obvious that we cannot expect it to have been employed before that time, and
if cannabis was known and used for hallucinogenic purposes, it must have been
designated differently.
The scientific names for the plant and its products were qinnab (qunnab)
“cannabis” and (waraq, sg. waraqat) ash-shahdānaj “(leaves of) hemp (seed).”
They occur frequently in connection with qualifying adjectives such as hindī
“Indian” and bustānī “garden …,” or “cultivated,” as against barrī “wild.”
A form with retention of the final s of the original Greek, qunbus (this
being the most likely vocalization), is disregarded by the dictionaries but amply
attested.18 Thus, the poem of Ibn ar-Rassām uses ḥashīsha l-qunbusi.19 The same
combination occurs in the first line of a long poem attached to Ibn Ghānim’s
treatise on hashish,20 while Ibn al-Wardī (d. 749/1349) uses al-qunbus by itself.21
In the West, hashish was supposedly nicknamed “daughter of al-qunbus.”22
Dāwūd al-Anṭākī (d. 1008/1599) defines qunbus as the shrub and the seeds of
qinnab, whereas ḥashīshah designated the leaves.23 The Arabic translation of
Dioscurides transliterates qnʾbs.24
The foreign word shahdānaj had a number of slightly different forms. It pre-
sumably meant in Persian something like “royal grain,” but detractors would say
that it meant “queen of insanity” (sulṭānat | al-junūn),25 apparently connecting 23
dānaj with dēwaneh “crazy.” The divergent forms do not merely reflect clerical
uncertainty but they attest to the fact that the word was quite generally known
and used. We find shāhdānaj with a long vowel in the first syllable.26 Final q for
j is not uncommon. The form shādānaq is fancifully credited to an alleged Kitāb
Sūq al-ʿarḍ fī nabāt al-arḍ of the philosopher Muḥammad b. Zakarīyāʾ ar-Rāzī,27

18 3 For Syriac forms, cf. R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, 3459, 3671 (Oxford 1879–1901).
Jewish Hebrew or Aramaic forms also retain the final s. I. Löw, Die Flora der Juden, I,
256 (Vienna and Leipzig 1924–1934, reprint Hildesheim 1967), cites ḳinnab, ḳumbus as the
modern Syrian-Palestinian forms, also (I, 262) ḳunbuz.
19 4 Cf. below, p. 157.
20 5 Cf. below, p. 168. The Princeton Ms. vocalizes al-qanbas.
21 6 Cf. below, p. 75.
22 7 Cf. below, p. 36, and also p. 166, n. 4.
23 8 Cf. Dāwūd al-Anṭākī, Tadhkirah, I, 200 (Cairo 1324).
24 9 Cf. the edition of C.E. Dubler and E. Terés, II, 304 (Barcelona and Tetuán 1952–1959).
25 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 57a.
26 2 Cf. E.W. Lane, An Arabic-English Dictionary, I, iv, 1611c–1612a, who also lists slightly differ-
ent vocalizations.
27 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 5b. Cf. also shādānak in F. Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary, 721b.
156 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

no doubt one of the apocryphal works ascribed to the famous Rāzī. Dāwūd al-
Anṭākī says that the Egyptians call it sharānaq,28 a corruption adopted into the
spoken language rather than a clerical mistake.29
The scientific names have had an uninterrupted history from the earliest
times of Muslim scholarship and literature on to the present. The time of origin
of a nickname cannot be accurately determined, and literary preservation
effectively masks the true time of its falling out of use. In some cases, we may
guess at the particular region where a given nickname was in use, but we cannot
be certain whether it did not in fact spread from there to other places. The
two substantial lists of nicknames which have come down to us (see below,
pp. 34ff.) contain interesting specifications in these respects but again how true
they are to reality is anybody’s guess. The urge to invent picturesque terms can
be assumed to have been well nigh irrestible to addicts and littérateurs alike.
It added some minor intellectual fillip to a game fondly believed to engage the
One of the most common designations of hashish was al-khaḍrāʾ (or, much
less frequently, the masculine al-akhḍar) “the green one,” alluding to its deriva-
24 tion from a highly ornamental green plant. | It has nothing to do with a possible
green sheen of the finished product which may be no more than a figment of
the imagination but which is not infrequently alluded to, as in a poem (by ʿAlī b.
Sūdūn al-Bashbughawī?) referring to “a pill greenish in color.”30 Poets were par-
ticularly taken by the expression “green one,” which they might naturally also
use for other narcotic plants such as the poppy.31 The color imagery to which it
lent itself was endlessly exploited by them with long practiced skill. It may often
have been considered just a poetic metaphor, but it quite clearly was current
as a proper nickname.32

28 4 Loc. cit. (above, p. 22, n. 8).

29 5 Speaking of conditions in Persia, E. Kaempfer, Amoenitatum exoticarum politico-physico-
medicarum fasciculi V, 645–647 (Lemgo 1712), refers to “semen quod Sjadonéh, Pollen
flosculorum quod TSjers, & Folia quae Baeng vocant,” a passage already cited by Silvestre
de Sacy, Mémoire sur la dynastie des Assassins, in Mémoires de l’Institut Royal de France,
Classe d’histoire et de littérature ancienne, IV (1818), 49. TSjers corresponds to Persian chars,
listed by Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary, 391a, as meaning “condensed Indian hemp-
juice.” Charas as well as bangh are well-known terms in India for hemp products. A picture
of “charas, also known as hashish” and the chief profiteer from the drug trade, dubbed,
inevitably, “the Charas King,” appeared under the by-line of S.H. Schanberg in the New
York Times of 6 October 1969, p. 14.
30 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22b: bunduqah fī lawnihā khuḍrah. Cf. also pp. 77, 83, and 137.
31 2 Cf. an-Nuwayrī, Nihāyah, XI, 25 (Cairo 1342—, reprint ca. 1965).
32 3 Cf. also below, pp. 35 and 40.
the use of hashish 157

Another term connected with the vegetable origin of hashish, and, possibly,
also felt to imply a color scheme, was ghubayrāʾ, in its etymological meaning,
probably, “the little dust-colored one.” It is claimed as the slang term for hashish
used in Diyār Bakr.33 Az-Zarkashī mentions it expressly as a nickname for
hashish,34 although he also cites ʿAlāʾ-ad-dīn Ibn al-ʿAṭṭār (d. 724/1324)35 as
speaking of “the ḥashīshah called ghubayrāʾ,” which may, or may not, suggest
that he thought of ghubayrāʾ as something different from cannabis. When a
compound whose admixture to food would infallibly put to sleep anyone eating
it is described as consisting in equal parts of blue banj, opium, ghubayrāʾ, and
castoreum, the meaning of ghubayrāʾ, as well as banj, here is uncertain, but
the entire concoction is anyhow fictitious.36 Ghubayrāʾ occurs in Prophetical
traditions37 and supposedly refers to an alcoholic beverage, but nobody seems
to have known anything concrete about it. Botanists claim it for the service tree
or sorb.38 Ibn Taymīyah refers to it as a ḥashīshah,39 but for him, | as well as for 25
his older contemporary Ibn al-ʿAṭṭār, it might have been something different
from plain hashish. Perhaps, it was a confection made with hashish as its main
ingredient. Or rather, it was transferred from some proper use to serve at times
as a nickname for hashish.
Its vegetable origin was indicated by ibnat al-qunbus (al-qinnab) “daugh-
ter of cannabis,”40 which also rarely appears in the masculine form of ibn al-
qinnab “son of cannabis.”41 The way in which hashish was prepared gave it the
nickname of muḥammaṣ(ah) “the toasted one,” of not infrequent occurrence.

33 4 Cf. below, p. 35.

34 5 Cf. below, p. 176.
35 6 Cf. below, p. 119, n. 3, and p. 187.
36 7 Cf. al-Jawbarī, Kashf al-asrār, 60 (Cairo 1316).
37 8 Cf. A.J. Wensinck and others, Concordance et indices de la tradition musulmane, IV, 458
(Leiden 1936–1969).
38 9 Cf. M. Meyerhof’s ed. and trans, of Maimonides, No. 405, and, for a reference from al-Kindī,
M. Levey, The Medical Formulary, 86, 310 (Madison, Wisc., and London 1966). Al-Aqfahsī,
Ihrām man yaʿīsh, Princeton Ms. 1822 (= 890 H), fols. 2b–3a, quotes authorities such as Abū
ʿUbayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām and Mālik for the identification of ghubayrāʾ with sukurkah (see
below, p. 109, n. 1) and for claiming Abyssinian origin for it. Ash-Shāfiʿī Umm, VI, 175 (also
228 margin) (Cairo 1321–1325), cited the identification from Mālik on the authority of Zayd
b. Aslam (d. 136/754).
39 10 Fatāwī, II, 252 f., IV, 324 f.
40 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 45a, and below, pp. 26 and 36. Wine is “the daughter of the vines” (bint
al-kurūm), cf. al-Badrī, fol. 64b, and the verses cited later on.
41 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 6a, below, p. 59.
158 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Muʿanbar(ah) “amber-scented” was, on the other hand, descriptive rather than

a full-fledged nickname and as such probably quite restricted.42 Kāfūrī, how-
ever, does not refer to an admixture of camphor,43 but we may trust the author-
ities who bring it into connection with the Park of Kāfūr in Cairo.44 Various
words for pill or pellet, such as bunduqah, were also familiarly used for hashish,
as it was taken in pill form.45 Its often lauded easy storage and transportabil-
ity gave rise to the nickname bint al-jirāb “daughter of the bag,” believed to
have been at home in Baghdād.46 The alleged historical origins of hashish use
were honored by the terms Ḥaydarīyah and Qalandarīyah.47 Al-mufarriḥ (“that
which gladdens”) al-Ḥaydarī was a suitable description of hashish.48
The supposed effects of hashish furnished kennings such as hāḍim al-aqwāt
“digester of food” and bāʿithat al-fikr “rouser of thought,”49 the latter being
echoed also in a nickname such as luqaymat al-fikr “morsel of thought.”50 As
much was made by addicts of the ability of hashish to show them “secret mean-
ings,” or, as we might say, to open up for them new levels of mental perception,
26 it is not surprising | to find “secrets” (esrār) as a commonly employed nickname
for hashish among the Turks.51 Medical euphemisms such as maʿjūn “paste,
electuary” or tiryāq “theriac”52 were suitable cover names for all kinds of hallu-
cinogenic drugs, including hashish. Although maʿjūn at least was widely used
this way at a comparatively early date,53 the use of both terms appears to have
been expanded in Ottoman times.

42 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 56a (below, p. 137), and below, p. 154.

43 4 As suggested in Wörterbuch der klassischen arabischen Sprache (letter K), 527b (Wies-
baden 1970), with reference to an-Nuwayrī (see below, p. 106, n. 3).
44 5 See below, pp. 63 and 135.
45 6 Cf. below, pp. 61 f.
46 7 Cf. below, pp. 26 and 35. The prototype is “daughter of the cask” (bint ad-dann or ad-dinān)
for wine, cf. al-Badrī, fols. 65a, 66a.
47 8 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, pp. 50 and 176. Forms such as Qalandarāwī (below, p. 40) or
Qarandalīyah (cf. al-Bakrī [below, p. 34, n. 5]) also occur.
48 9 As in the superscription of verses on hashish in the Dīwān of Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī, see below,
p. 171, n. 6.
49 10 Cf. Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī, see below, p. 172.
50 11 Cf. below, pp. 37 and 92.
51 1 So already in the list, below, p. 35. Modern Turkish dictionaries separate the drug esrar
from esrār “secrets.”
52 2 Also diryāq, see below, p. 38. The tiryaki of the Karagöz theatre may be an opium smoker.
For the common equation diryāq = wine, see, for instance, al-Badrī, fol. 61a.
53 3 When Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 315, reports on a maʿjūn taken customarily by some people
every afternoon before the afternoon prayer, he adds that its effect is to change the mind
the use of hashish 159

Particular popularity was enjoyed by kaff, maʿlūm, zīh, and ṣaḥīḥ. Kaff had
the advantage of permitting easy and varied punning. The word ordinarily
meant “palm (of the hand),” and its verbal homophone meant “to stay.” Thus
a poet, Taqī-ad-dīn al-Mawṣilī, would rhyme:

Stay the hand (kuffa kaffa) of worries with kaff, for kaff
Is a cure for the worried lover—
With the noble daughter of hemp, not with the daughter
Of a vine. Away with the daughter of the vines!54

Kaff could also refer to the constellation of Cassiopeia, inspiring these verses:

When the satan of worries flies away with my thoughts,

Intent upon stealing gaiety away from me, being himself full of emotion,
I promptly proceed to the daughter of the bag,
As from the stars of al-kaff a star has come to it.55

The verbal root kafā in the meaning of being satisfied or enough could be
pressed into service:

Give up wine, and you will be safe 27

From legal punishment and crime.
Be satisfied with kaff instead of wine.
Indeed, kaff is enough.56

(remove the intellect). It could very well have involved hashish. Al-Badrī has repeated
references to maʿjūn.
54 4 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, who also cites other verses containing the same play on words, cf. below,
p. 155. I have no further information on Taqī-ad-dīn al-Mawṣilī.
55 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 10a–b and 12a:

idhā ṭāra shayṭānu l-humūmī bi-fikratī

yarūmu stirāqa l-lahwi minnī wa-yaṭrabu
ʿadaltu ilā binti l-jirābi mubādiran
fa-qad jāʾahū min anjumi l-kaffi kawkabu.

The concluding “it” refers to the bag (for “daughter of the bag,” see above, p. 25); since
jāʾahū is attested twice, a correction to jāʾanī “come to me” would be hard to defend. For
the context of these verses, cf. below, p. 146.
56 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46b:
160 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

When Silvestre de Sacy first encountered the term kaff in the verses cited
by al-Maqrīzī, he suggested that kaff was another form of kayf (kēf ), well
known in Persian and Arabic as a word for narcotic. This is unlikely, although
the existence of the term kayf might possibly have helped kaff on its way to
becoming rather widely used as a nickname for hashish. In the realm of botany,
kaff is usually defined as purslane, and, qualified by a depending genitive, it
was used to designate quite a variety of plants, all on the basis of a presumed
similarity with the human or animal palm or hand. The hemp plant is described
by az-Zarkashī57 as having the size of the fingers of the hand, and Dāwūd
al-Anṭākī58 expressly employs the word kaff and fingers of the hand to describe
the size as well as the shape of hemp leaves. A poet could very well speak of the
palms (akuff ) of hashish.59 There can be little doubt that kaff as a nickname
for hashish represents “palm (of the hand),” as suggested by the leaves of the
hemp plant.
Maʿlūm appears to have been rather widely used.60 Its original meaning is
not quite clear. It appears qualified by “the poor (the Ṣūfīs),” yet it is possible
that it is just an euphemism hinting at hashish as “the known (thing).” Perhaps,
however, it should be understood as “payment, salary,” hashish constituting the
“pay-off” for the rigors of Ṣūfī life and the only real compensation for all of life’s
Zīh is no doubt correctly identified as a nickname at home in Egypt,61 and it is
of frequent occurrence as such in the work of al-Badrī.62 Its correct vocalization
28 is indicated by the fact that it | rhymes with tanzīh (al-Badrī, fol. 10a). It may be
more than a phonetic coincidence that the Coptic dictionary lists sihe (nhīt)

utruk-i-l-khamrata taslam
min ḥudūdin wa-l-jināyah
wa-ktafī bi-l-kaffi ʿanhā
inna fī l-kaffi kifāyah.

The meter (ramal) requires a long ī in wa-ktafī, for wa-ktafi.

57 2 Cf. below, p. 176. “Shape” may be meant as well as “size.”
58 3 Tadhkirah, I, 200.
59 4 Cf. below, p. 60.
60 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 45a–b (below, p. 166, n. 4), 47a–b, 56a–b (below, p. 99), and below, p. 36.
61 6 Cf. below, p. 36.
62 7 It was known already to Silvestre de Sacy from al-Bakrī’s Kawākib. Cf. Biberstein Kaz-
imirski, Dictionnaire arabe-français, II, 470 (Cairo 1875): “Espèce de plante connue en
Égypte, dont on préparait une boisson enivrante.” In a story told by al-Badrī, fol. 17b (cf.
below, p. 98), zīh seems to alternate with ṭībaḥ which would thus qualify as a further nick-
name (?).
the use of hashish 161

with the meaning of “derangement (of mind).”63 We may have here a plausible
etymology of zīh. In analogy to ḥashshāsh, its user could be called zayyāh; this
form appears once in a verse of a long poem by the littérateur, Abū l-Khayr

You can observe the zayyāh using everything sweet,

While the slave of beer is humble and despised.64

In his Tadhkirah, Dāwūd al-Anṭākī mentions an Anatolian (rūmī) kind of hemp,

called az-zkzh, which recalls zīh but is hardly to be connected with it.
Ṣaḥīḥ is claimed as the Syrian nickname for hashish.65 It probably goes back
to the meaning of “sound” or “healthy.” Like kaff, it was eminently suitable for
punning by the initiated. The use of the word in the science of ḥadīth and as the
title of al-Bukhārī’s famous collection brought out the punster in ḥadīth and
legal scholars, as illustrated by the story of Jamāl-ad-dīn al-Malaṭī mentioned
below,66 or by these verses:

The jurist says to me, when he was noting in my eyes

Allusions more obvious than the clearest evidence:
To what special cases do you apply the most remarkable of
The principles of relaxation? I replied: To the ṣaḥīḥ.67

63 1 Cf. W.E. Crum, A Coptic Dictionary, 379b (Oxford 1939).

64 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 17a:

tarā z-zayyāha yahwā kulla ḥulwin

wa-ʿabdu l-mizri fī dhullin wa-shayni.

I have no further information on the poet.

65 3 Cf. below, p. 36.
66 4 Below, p. 104. Al-Badrī, fol. 4b, mystifyingly mentions “al-Bunduqī in his Ṣaḥīḥ, entitled
Ṣaḥīḥ al-ḥuffāẓ,” which may possibly be intended as a purely fictitious work. On fol. 13b,
we hear about a lecturer under the influence of hashish who is said “to have given us a
lecture on hashish from the evidence in his Ṣaḥīḥ.”
67 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 12b:

yaqūlu liya l-faqīhu wa-fī ʿuyūnī

kināyātun adallu min-a-ṣ-ṣarīḥi
uṣūlu l-basṭi awjahahā ʿalā mā
tufarriʿuhū fa-qultu ʿalā ṣ-ṣaḥīḥi.

For the “allusions in the eyes,” see below, p. 77.

162 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

29 “Relaxation” (basṭ) in these verses may also serve the purpose of a | cover
name for hashish. We thus hear about someone receiving a gift to be used for
“all his basṭ,”68 and a destitute addict, scrounging for some little money, “revived
his basṭ (aḥyā basṭah).”69 Whether or not basṭ in these cases directly signifies
hashish, it was so used, according to E.W. Lane,70 in nineteenth-century Egypt.
Ṣaḥīḥ made for easy punning also as a medical term:

I said to one dying of hashish

And going from it to the grave:
Did you really die of hectic fever?
He replied: I died of ṣaḥīḥ (= being healthy).71

And again:

They said: We observe the green one, weak as it is,

Try to overcome us temperamentally, but natural temper is the stronger.72
In breaking it, there is relaxation for the intelligent.
I said to them: This is ṣaḥīḥ well tested.73

68 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 13b (see below, p. 80, for the context).
69 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22b (see below, p. 159, for the context).
70 3 An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, 3rd ed., II, 40 (London
1842), mentions sheera (sheereh) and basṭ as used for different hemp preparations. On
shīreh (of Persian origin) and basṭ, cf. K. Vollers, in ZDMG, L (1896), 623, 644, and E. Graefe,
Einiges über das Ḥašīš-Rauchen, in Der Islam, V (1914), 234f.
71 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 12b:

qultu li-man māta min ḥashīshin

wa-rāḥa minhu ilā ḍ-ḍarīḥi
bi-ʿillati d-diqqi mitta ḥaqqan
fa-qāla lī mittu min ṣaḥīḥi.

72 5 This is an imitation of the beginning of a poem by al-Mutanabbī (Diwān, ed. ʿAbd-al-

Wahhāb ʿAzzām, 464, Cairo 1363/1944): “I try to overcome desire with respect to you, but
desire is the stronger.”
73 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 12b:

wa-qālū narā l-khaḍrāʾa maʿ ḍaʿfi shaʾnihā

tughālibunā bi-ṭ-ṭabʿi wa-ṭ-ṭabʿu aghlabu
wa-fī kasrihā basṭun yaladhdhu li-dhī n-nuhā
fa-qultu lahum hādhā ṣaḥīḥun mujarrabu.
the use of hashish 163

All the preceding terms may be assumed to have served principally as nick-
names for hashish pure and simple. There are other terms where this is by no
means that clear, as well as some which were certainly compound confections.
The role of hashish in them, in preference to other narcotics, is difficult to deter-
mine, and, in general, we have presently not enough material for proper identi-
fication. We thus find kabsh (kabshah, kibāsh),74 which is no doubt | related to 30
shaqfah kabshīyah in a poem by Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī75 and in the verse referring
to “the daughter of al-kabsh having made wine superfluous.”76 It would be futile
to speculate whether this term had anything to do with the common mean-
ing of the word (“ram”), some botanical application,77 a locality in Cairo,77a or
Even more doubt and uncertainty attach to kirshah, kurūsh. It may rather
refer to some kind of cheap food, such as tripe, in which case al-Badrī’s quota-
tions of verses were merely an aside:

I saw a person eat kirshah,

A man of taste and intelligence.
He said: I always love it.
I said: Love of one’s country is part of the faith.78

These verses are attributed to an-Naṣīr al-Ḥammāmī, while Shihāb-ad-dīn

Aḥmad b. Ghānim rhymed:

You who censure me for eating kurūsh

Prepared with the greatest of care,
Do not censure me because of the kurūsh, for my loving
My country belongs to the signs of faith.

74 7 All these forms occur in al-Badrī, fol. 23a, although l is written instead of k in kibāsh.
75 1 Cf. below, p. 151, n. 1.
76 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46b: wa-bintu l-kabshi aghnat ʿan khumūri. The ms. has s, and not sh, in
77 3 Cf., for instance, Wörterbuch der klassischen arabischen Sprache (letter K), 541a
77a 3a Or in Baghdād.
78 4 For these and the following verses, cf. al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 117, and al-Badrī, fol. 24a.
Regrettably, neither furnishes any clear information on kirshah, kurūsh. For Ibn Ghānim,
cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Durar, I, 265–267. He was born in 651 or, more likely, 650/1252, and he died in
737/1336–1337. Al-Ḥammāmī died in 712/1312–1313, cf. al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 604–607. Ibn
Ḥajar, Durar, IV, 393–395, gives 669/1270–1271 as his date of birth but seems to have a
somewhat earlier year for his death.
164 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

The intended relationship of the famous ḥadīth on patriotism might help

to clarify the meaning of the word, but it is not clear to me.79 Al-Badrī cites
these verses à propos a story about a certain ʿAlī al-Qayrawānī who used hashish
constantly and was satisfied with making a meager living as a watchman of
31 sugar cane (fields or | factories) (ḥarāsat al-qaṣab). From his earnings he bought
his daily ration of hashish and the rest he spent on kirshah together with bread.
This would indeed seem to indicate that kirshah is some kind of food unrelated
to hashish, but this is not absolutely necessary, and the problem, if it is one,
must remain unsolved for the time being.
Another word of uncertain significance is lubābah (li/abābah?). A lubābah
was given to the unsuspecting bridegroom and caused him to fall asleep.80
Hashish users are so stingy that they would not even give a lubābah to their
friends.81 Here, it could be some kind of food, but in the first case, it must be a
narcotic (which, it is added, the person in question then continued to use but in
the proper doses). A correction to kabābah “cubeb” seems out of the question.
We might think of connecting lubābah with the kind of honey cake, described
by E.W. Lane82 as follows: “libábeh is composed of broken or crumbled bread,
honey, clarified butter, and a little rosewater: the butter is first put into a
saucepan over the fire, then, the broken bread; and next, the honey.” Perhaps,
lubābah was a sweetmeat to which some narcotic, perhaps hashish, was added.
Again, we hear about a narcotic called k-n/tbābatī, once spelled k-bābatī.
Metrical use shows that there was a long syllable in the beginning, and it sup-
ports the reading -bābatī, although the letters are vouched for only by the
authority of the ms. One of the stories connected with the word speaks of the
experience of ʿAlī b. Sūdūn al-Bashbughawī, who met an amīr just returned
from the Ḥijāz with a number of glass jars (marṭabān, pl. marāṭabīn) dis-
played in front of him. The amīr asked al-Bashbughawī to taste their contents,

79 5 Whether it might be love of one’s stomach? But kirsh may also mean associates, family,
and so on, which could be the meaning applicable in this connection. It is interesting
to note that the Lisān al-ʿArab, VIII, 232, l. 3, refers to alternate forms (thawb) akrāsh or
akbāsh meaning the same thing (a kind of Yemeni garment). In a poem by Ṣarīʿ ad-dilāʾ
(d. 412/1021–1022), a verse clearly referring to “ram” (kabsh) is followed by one saying
that “one who eats al-kirsh unwashed will have that medicine (? ad-dawā) drip on his
moustache” (al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 469). In this scurrilous poem, which also speaks of eating
coal, possibly kirs “dung” is meant (?). For the medical view on the value of kirsh as food,
cf. ar-Rāzī, Ḥāwī, XXI, i, 363.
80 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 16a, and, for the story, again, below, p. 82.
81 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 24a.
82 3 Op. cit. (p. 29, n. 3), II, 307, quoted by Dozy, Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes, s. v.
the use of hashish 165

and he unthinkingly did so. The result was that he got high, his eyes red-
dened, and he became very hungry.83 Again, a combination of k-n/tbābatī with
kabābah “cubeb” would be completely gratuitous, and its supposed composi-
tion remains uncertain.
There can be no doubt that barsh was a compound drug. It is stated, in the
monograph devoted to it,84 to be “an evil paste” (al-maʿjūn al-khabīth). Its user
was called barrāsh. Its locale is indicated to be Egypt, and it could be assumed to
be a comparatively recent invention since it is not mentioned at all by al-Badrī,
were it not for | the fact that its connection with hashish is somewhat doubtful 32
and hashish might have been only an occasional ingredient. Bers is the form
under which it is mentioned in Western literature by P. Alpin, who wrote at
about the same time as the author of Qamʿ.85 The etymology of the term is by
no means clear.86 The indications of modern dictionaries vary considerably
and may not possess much authority as far as the actual meaning of barsh
and its relation, or lack of relation, to hashish is concerned.87 A passage of the

83 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22a, and, for the verses, fol. 47a.
84 5 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 274a.
85 1 Cf. his Medicina Aegyptiorum (above, p. 21, n. 4), 258, quoted by Silvestre de Sacy, Mémoire
sur la dynastie des Assassins, 47, 61. Alpin contrasts bers and other confections with
simple assis, but this would not automatically exclude the possibility that hashish was
an ingredient in those confections.
86 2 It is rather tempting to think of a native Egyptian word. Coptic presents quite a few
possibilities, whether one thinks of the first consonant as part of the word or as the Coptic
definite article. Particularly intriguing is the entry erbisi “hemp” from W.E. Crum’s Coptic
Dictionary, 58a (Oxford 1939), with Crum’s accompanying suggestion that the Coptic form
may be the result of metathesis in view of ebra (53a–b) “seed (of cereals and other plants).”
The Arabic term b-r-sh in the meaning of ḥ-r-th “to plow” attested by al-Maqrīzī (Khiṭaṭ,
I, 101 f., cf. the ed. of G. Wiet, in Mém. de l’ Institut Français d’Archéol. Or. du Caire, XXXIII,
1913, 76) could hardly be brought into connection with barsh. If the drug originated in
other parts of the Muslim world, for instance, in Persia, one could think of connecting
it with parsh “agitation.” The form berǵ listed in J.T. Zenker, Türkisch-arabisch-persisches
Handwörterbuch, 189b (Leipzig 1867–1876), would, as a secondary form of barsh, suggest
Persian origin, but this is probably not so; berǵ may not be barch but merely a conflation
of barsh and banj.
87 3 Zenker, loc. cit., speaks of “Präparat aus Hanfblättern, deren Genuss Heiterkeit erweckt.” A
modern Turkish-English Dictionary (by A. Vahid Moran, Istanbul 1945), s.v. berş, has “elec-
tuary (of hemp leaves, laudanum or opium with syrup).” Hava’s Arabic-English Dictionary
indicates “opium-paste for smoking.” Hava also gives the meaning of Datura stramonium,
thorn-apple or jimsonweed, for barsh, and it should be remembered that daturas include
datura Metel L., the much used narcotic jawz māthil (see below, p. 114). Abrash “speckled”
166 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Arabian Nights speaking of a ḥashshāsh refers to his addiction “to opium and
barsh and his use of the green hashish;”88 the phrasing could be understood to
indicate that barsh had nothing to do with hashish, but this would by no means
be a necessary conclusion. Qamʿ refers, strangely enough, to “a leaf of barsh,”
adding “or ḥashīsh,” and a few lines earlier speaks of the forbidden character of
33 ḥashīsh and that of | barsh, as if he meant to distinguish two different drugs.89
However, he also alludes to the famous story of the introduction of hashish in
the Arab world,90 which would suggest that cannabis played a role in barsh.
Much depends on the interpretation of banj in the Qamʿ ’s description of the
composition of barsh, according to which it consists of pepper ( fulful), opium
(afyūn), saffron (zaʿfarān), pellitory (ʿāqirqarḥā), banj, euphorbia (afarbiyūn),91
and spikenard (sunbul). The initials of the components arranged in order yield
the phrase fāz ʿAbbās, meaning something like “ʿAbbās has achieved bliss,” and
this phrase, we may safely assume, was also a current nickname for the drug.92
In describing the potencies of the ingredients, the author of Qamʿ compares
banj with opium in its effect and indicates that there are two kinds, a poisonous
black species and a desiccative, burning, and destructive species. Banj might
very well be henbane here, and the barsh of fāz ʿAbbās would thus contain no
hemp preparation. However, Qamʿ further speaks of “the accursed ḥāshīshah
and its derivations (tawābiʿ),”93 evidently having in mind preparations of a
similar type; thus, there might have been other recipes for the preparation of
barsh which made use of hashish.
A trade name for a hashish confection widely used for a number of years
in Cairo was ʿuqdah, as al-Maqrīzī informs us. The word has many meanings.

may refer to plants of various colors, but it could be suspected that Hava’s plant name is
secondary to barsh as the designation of a drug. Cf. also the following note.
88 4 Cf. Arabian Nights, ed. W.H. Macnaghten, II, 66 (Calcutta and London 1839–1842), German
trans. E. Littmann, II, 571, cited by Dozy, Supplément I, 71b. Dozy here also defines barsh as
“gomme odorante” of Indian origin also derived from the drug?
89 1 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 276a.
90 2 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 274b, and below, p. 53.
91 3 Meyerhof, in his ed. and trans, of Maimonides, 15, vocalizes afarbiyūn and furbiyūn (as in
Steingass’Persian-English Dictionary). I do not know why it might not have been afurbiyūn.
92 4 The author of Qamʿ, fol. 280a–b, jokes that a better combination of the letters would have
been fasā ʿāzib “a celibate (or widowed) person has farted” or ʿzʾ nfsʾ, which I do not quite
Lane, op. cit. (above, p. 29, n. 3), II, 41 f., speaks of “hellebore, hemp, and opium and
several aromatic drugs,” but it is not quite clear whether barsh is supposed to contain all
or some of these.
93 5 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 274b.
the use of hashish 167

It would seem to mean here “node, knob, lump,” thus being another of the
numerous words referring to the form in which the drug was consumed. A verse
of Abū l-Khayr al-ʿAqqād runs:

Present the one you love with a pill of zīh

And with two ʿuqdahs from the lawful plant.94

We also have a reference to a man who sitting in a corner over the gate of 34
the Manṣūrī Hospital in Cairo, would use a pint of sweets min al-ʿuqdah al-
marshūshah al-mubakhkharah al-mumassakah min ʿind Ibn Qayṣar bi-sittah
wa-thalāthin nuqrah lā yuṭʿim minhā li-aḥad ʿuqdah wa-law jāʾah ṣāḥib al-ḥall
wa-l-ʿaqd, which, I think, means: “an ʿuqdah wetted95 and perfumed with in-
cense and musk from the shop of Ibn Qayṣar for thirty-six nuqrah (dirham);
and he would not give anyone an ʿuqdah of it to eat, even if the ruler him-
self were to come to him.”96 The ʿuqdah mentioned by al-Maqrīzī was intro-
duced by a Persian Ismāʿīlī (min malāḥidat al-ʿajam). It consisted of hashish
mixed with honey and a number of desiccating ingredients such as mandrake
root (ʿirq al-luffāḥ)97 and the like. It had to be sold, so we are told, clandes-
tinely. A story strangely similar but not using the term ʿuqdah occurs in al-
Of the two lists of nicknames for hashish known so far, the longer one
is presented to us as the devil’s own. Al-Badrī, who is our authority for it,
says that it contains about eighty terms, but they are not quite as many. The
seventeenth-century Bakrī also gives the number of eighty or more, no doubt
relying on al-Badrī.99 If he actually quoted them, his text will probably prove

94 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 16b:

wa-hādī man tuḥibbu bi-qurṣi zīhin

wa-min ḥilli n-nabāti bi-ʿuqdatayni.

The meter (wāfir) requires a long ī in ma-hādī, for wa-hādi. It could hardly be something
like haddiʾ “quiet.”
95 1 Cf. below, p. 59.
96 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 28b.
97 3 Luffāḥ is also mentioned by al-Badrī, fol. 48b, among the pernicious offspring of the
zaqqūm tree.
98 4 Cf. below, pp. 133f.
99 5 The list appears in al-Badrī, fol. 9a–b, and may possibly have been derived by al-Badrī
from Ibn an-Najjār’s Zawājir. My knowledge of the Kawākib as-sāʾirah fī akhbār Miṣr
168 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

extremely helpful for the reconstruction of many of the names. As it is, the ms.
of al-Badrī poses quite a few problems of reading and interpretation. The list
breaks down into two parts of unequal length. The first one gives the nicknames
as used in various countries and cities and nations, the second longer one those
used by the various professions, mainly, as we would expect, of the lower and
35 lowest strata of society. The | schematic arrangement does not inspire great
confidence in the list’s truthfulness. The first four items, in particular, strike
us as pure fancy. However, asrār, for instance, is no doubt correctly associated
with the Turks, and there may, in fact, be a goodly number of such correct
associations. We are in no position to pass judgment on this. It would also be a
waste of effort to indulge in too much speculation on the possible vocalization
and interpretation of some of the words. The data are, in fact, “devilishly”
difficult at times, and only further comparative manuscript material and a
wider knowledge of the social conditions reflected in the list can be expected
to be of help.

1. The people of India: as-s-k-y-n-h

2. The people of Sind: as-s-y-w-s-h
3. The people of China: as-s-n-d-s-h
4. The people of Ethiopia: ad-d-r-h (?)100
5. The people of Persia: al-bankā “banj”
6. The people of the Yemen: al-khaḍrāʾ “the green one”
7. The people of Baghdād: bint al-jirāb “daughter of the bag”
8. The Turk people: asrār “esrār”
9.–10. The people of the ʿIrāq: al-kaff and jamāl az-zayn101

wa-l-Qāhirah of Ibn Abī s-Surūr al-Bakrī goes back to Silvestre de Sacy’s Chrestomathie
arabe, 2nd ed., I, 281 f. For al-Bakrī, cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 383f., Suppl., II, 408f.; the intro-
duction of the ed. of his, or his father’s, al-Qawl al-muqtaḍab, ed. I. al-Ibyārī and as-Sayyid
I. Sālim (Cairo, n. y. [1962]); M.A. Enan, Muʾarrikhū Miṣr, 169–176 (Cairo 1388/1969).
No attention has been paid here to modern nicknames not attested in the older
literature. I do not know whether any substantial lists of them have been compiled. An
article by F. Kerim, in L’ Hygiène Mentale, XXV (1930), 95, lists a very few Turkish nicknames
such as nefes “whiff, breath,” minare gölgesi “shade, shadow of the minaret,” and davul tozu
“drum dust.” Note, however, that modern Arabic nafas also means (a draw on the) water
100 1 This might be “durrah,” but the ms. itself indicates an uncertain reading by the addition of
a dot underneath the first letter.
101 2 Hardly to be corrected to Jamāl-ad-dīn “Beauty of the Religion.” Az-zayn may, however,
refer to an individual known as Zayn-ad-dīn.
the use of hashish 169

11. The people of Mosul: ibnat al-ʿ-k-r-m-y102

12. The people of Diyār Bakr: al-ghubayrāʾ
13.–14. The people of Anatolia: al-ʿ-z-k-y (?)103 and aẓ-ẓ-f-r104
15. The Kurds: kh-w-y-n-h105
16. The people of Aleppo: al-k-r-m-w-m106
17. The people of Antioch: ra’s al-qiṭṭ “cat’s head”
18. The people of Hama: al-muḥammaṣah “the toasted one”107
19. The people of Syria: aṣ-ṣaḥīḥ108 36
20. The people of Egypt: az-zīh
21. The people of the West (al-gharb): ibnat al-qunbus “daughter of canna-
22. The people of Homs: al-mubahhijah “the one that cheers”109
23. The people of the Coastal Plains (as-Sawāḥil): maʿdin az-zumurrud
“emerald mine”110
24. shadow players:111 al-b-t-n
25. hermits:112 al-maʿlūm
26. mendicants:113 al-luqaymah “little morsel”

102 3 The reading is uncertain. Whether we might read al-ʿaskarī “daughter of the soldier”??
103 4 Perhaps, what is meant, is al-frky, to be connected somehow with the rubbing or husking
( f-r-k) done in preparing hashish (see below, p. 60).
104 5 Aẓ-ẓufr “fingernail” (cf. below, p. 173), rather than aẓ-ẓafar “victory,” but cf. also the spelling
aṭ-ṭ-f-r-y in al-Badrī, fol. 8b (below, p. 58).
105 6 I. e., khuwaynah or ḥuwaynah “little tavern”??
106 7 The first m might possibly be a hook, but the meaning indicated for kurtūm (“small stones,
stony tract”) in the Wörterbuch der klassischen arabischen Sprache (letter K), 118b, is hardly
applicable. Whether it could be kurkum “saffron, turmeric”?
107 8 The ms. indicates ḍ for ṣ. The indicated reading seems preferable.
108 1 Again, the ms. indicates ḍ for ṣ, but see above, pp. 28 f.
109 2 The reading is not fully clear. Perhaps, rather, al-muhayyijah.
110 3 Al-Badrī, fol. 11b, speaks of maʿādin az-zumurrud wa-l-yāqūt, apparently with reference to
hashish and pomegranates. The use of emerald, for simple green, is common in the poetry
on hashish. Cf. also below, p. 77.
111 4 For mukhāyilīyah, cf. Dozy, Supplément, I, 418b. In fact, a low-class and fraudulent mendi-
cant fraternity may be meant, like those following here. Perhaps, we should read at-tibn
“straw.” Turkish tütün “smoke” seems excluded, in view of the lack of evidence for the smok-
ing of hemp (cf. below, p. 65).
112 5 This is the likely meaning of mutajarrid in this context. For the meaning of maʿlūm, see
above, p. 27.
113 6 For al-jawlaqīyah, cf. Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary, 379a: jōlakhī. For the “little
morsel,” cf. no. 46 and below, p. 92. Ibn Taghrībirdī (below, p. 142, n. 3) speaks of “the little
morsel of the poor, the green one.”
170 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

27. ḥullah wearers (?):114 shajarat aṭ-ṭarab “shrub of emotion”

28. caftan wearers (?):115 shajarat al-fahm “shrub of understanding”
29. bums ( juʿaydīyah):116 maʿlūm al-fuqarāʾ “maʿlūm of the poor (the Ṣū-
37 30.–31. merchants (tujjār): al-wuṣūl “arrival” or “receipt” (?) and rāḥat al-bāl
“peace of mind”
32. lantern bearers:117 ʿashīrah “family” or “girl friend”
33. spongers (ṭufaylīyah): al-muhaḍḍimah “the one that facilitates diges-
34. crossbowmen (bunduqānīyūn): t-r-z-y-d as-s-f-ʾ-q-y
35. Gypsies (zuṭṭ): r-ḍ-w-y “the pleasing one” (?)
36. (Ṣūfī) shaykhs (mashāʾikh): ziyārat al-Khiḍr al-akhḍar “visit of the
green Khiḍr”
37. Ṣūfīs: mūṣilat al-qalb “the one that connects the heart”
38. veterinarians (bayāṭirah): ḥ-n-h118
39. travelers:119 zuwwādah “provisions”
40. barber-surgeons ( jarāʾiḥīyah): lazqah “adhesive bandage”
41. dancers (? rāqiṣah):120 al-ʿuknah “belly wrinkle” (?)

114 7 The interpretation of al-ḥlʾtyyh is a mere guess, suggested by the possible meanings of the
next two professions. It might be “sweetmeat makers,” ordinarily ḥalāwātīyah, or again a
type of beggars.
115 8 Al-muṭaylasah, rather than al-muṭaylisah “caftan makers.” The assumption is that a group
of beggars and frauds distinguished by the type of garment they wore is meant, but this
remains uncertain.
116 9 Cf. Dozy, Supplément, I, 197b; W.M. Brinner, in EI2, s.v. ḥarfūsh. For juʿaydīs as hashish
eaters, cf. the two anecdotes in al-Badrī, fol. 11a–b: (1) A juʿaydī, noticing a lighted candle
in a house, calls “fire,” people come and pour water over the wall of the house until he
finds himself swimming in a puddle of water, shouting, “help, I am drowning.” (2) One of
two juʿaydīs who had eaten hashish and become thirsty leaves the house to fetch water.
Meanwhile, a seller of pizzas (manqūshah) passes by and sells the other juʿaydī a pizza,
which sticks to his face. His companion upon returning thinks that he has turned into
an ʿifrīṭ. “Bum” would seem hardly a very satisfactory translation of juʿaydī in view of the
situations presupposed in these stories, but nothing very specific was presumably meant
by it.
117 1 Or “lantern makers” (al-mashāʿilīyah).
118 2 Ḥannah “wife” (??), or, perhaps, to be corrected to “henna” with which hashish was
compared (below, p. 63)? Presumably, however, a technical term of veterinary medicine
is to be looked for here.
119 3 As-sfʾrh, to be equated with safarah or suffār.
120 4 If “belly wrinkle” is the right interpretation, “dancers” seem to be meant. Rāqiṣ and rāqiṣah
the use of hashish 171

42. leather workers:121 tashmīʿ al-khayṭ “the waxing of the thread”

43. water carriers:122 mishʿal “lantern”
44. cooks (ṭabbākhūn): ḥimmaṣah “chick-pea”
45. songstresses (maghānī): aghṣān as-saʿādah “branches of bliss”
46. philosophers (?):123 luqaymat al-fikr “thought morsel”
47. astrologers (munajjimūn): saʿd b-l-ʿ124
48. rope-makers and porters ( fattālūn and ḥammālūn): al-mukhaffifah
“the one that lightens (the load)”
49. builders (bannāʾūn): dawāʾ “medicine” (?)
50. architects (miʿmārīyah): q-r-b-t-h125
51. misers (bukhalāʾ): al-m-y-l-y-s-h126 38
52. washers of corpses:127 al-quds “Holy Jerusalem”
53. grave diggers (ḥaffārūn): as-sukkarī “sugary” (?)
54. beggars (ḥarāfishah): bunduqah “pill”128
55. brokers (dallālūn): al-malīḥah “the pretty one”
56. druggists (ʿaṭṭārūn): safūf “medicinal powder”129
57. makers of electuaries (maʿājīnīyah): diryāq “theriac”
58. al-kh-m-y-ʾ-t-y-h:130 khuḍārī “wild duck” (with a play on “green”)

are used by al-Badrī (fol. 86a) for male and female dancers, but rāqiṣah is a strange form
for the plural required here. Even “Qarmatians” (no. 60) does not quite permit us to
assume that “extremist sectarians” (rāfiḍah) could be meant. “Mason” (raqqāṣ) is also
121 5 Al-ʾdmy(ūn), from adam “leather” as usual, rather than from udm, idām “condiment,
dessert.” The nickname for hashish would seem to be a technical term used by leather
workers, tanners, or leather merchants.
122 6 This is the likely precise meaning here of suʿāh “runners.”
123 7 The ms. has al-mtgh/flsh, hardly to be connected with the root f-l-s “bankrupt.” The
following “astrologers” invites the correction suggested here to al-mutafalsifah. Cf. no. 26.
124 8 Possibly, saʿd balagh “fortune has arrived,” but there may very well be some other astrolog-
ical allusion concealed here.
125 9 Qarībah “near one” could have been an architectural term. Or is qarīnah “wife” or the like
126 1 Hardly, al-mulaysāʾ “the little one easy to swallow.”
127 2 Mughassilū (ms. mf/ghlsyn) al-amwāt. My inference that the nickname refers to Jerusalem
is somewhat gratuitous. Again, it is possible that some technical use of quds in the
profession is meant.
128 3 Cf. below, pp. 61 f.
129 4 The root s-f-f “to eat dry,” is commonly used in connection with hashish, see below, p. 57,
130 5 Hardly, al-ḥummayātīyah “specialists in the treatment of fevers.” This, and the following
172 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

59. at-t-q/f-ṭ-y-s-h: dhanab aṭ-ṭāʾūs “peacock’s tail”

60. Qarmatians:131 qurrat al-ʿayn “consolation”
61. homosexuals (m-ḥ-ʾ-n-t-h, read makhānithah, makhānīth): ash-shu-
mayʿah “little wax candle”
62. al-ḥ-d-ʾ-y-th-y-h: al-muhanniʾah “the one that causes good appetite”
63. procurers (qawwādūn): mulayyinat aṭ-ṭibāʿ “the one that softens the
64. al-m-ʿ-r-ṣ(ūn):132 jāmiʿat ash-shaml “the one that brings the party to-
65. narcotizers (?):133 malūf “moist”
66. falconers (bazādirah): layānah (?)134
67. importers ( jallābah): al-ʿuwaymilah “the little agent”
68. manufacturers (ṣunnaʿ) of hashish: al-bishbīshah (?)
69. sellers (bāʾiʿūn) of hashish: kuḥl “antimony”
70. Satan and his cohorts: al-mutaṣayyidah “the huntress”

39 The other list appears in connection with an amusing anecdote on the fly-leaf
of an Istanbul ms. of an undetermined date.135 One of the local hashish users
(ḥashshāshīyah, later on also referred to as an ḥashāʾishī) imported and sold
hashish, thus spreading ruin in the city and corrupting the young Muslims
living there. He was often caught and punished, but no punishment had any
deterrent effect on him. He always returned to his evil ways of pushing dope.
Eventually, however, he was brought before the judge and forced to accept an
agreement under oath (qasāmah) that he would no longer import either wine
or hashish or, if he did, he would be liable to a fine of 500 dīnārs. Now, in

profession (where the reading is even more uncertain), may have something to do with
the snaring of fowl.
131 6 Al-qarāmiṭah may be here a nickname for some low-class group held in contempt. See
above, no. 41.
132 7 Steingass, Persian-English Dictionary, 1271a, lists muʿarriḍ as “circumciser of boys,” which
would make good sense here. A correction to muʿris “one who gives wedding parties”
cannot be rejected out of hand.
133 8 Al-marāqid may be the plural of murqid. For “moist,” see below, p. 59.
134 9 The ms. is smudged and the reading is completely uncertain. One should not think of
lubābah (above, p. 31). “The soft one” is not impossible.
135 1 The main texts contained in the Istanbul Ms. Feyzullah 1587 are dated, respectively, in
Rabīʿ I 556/March 1161 (scribe: Muẓaffar b. Asʿad al-ʿImādī) and in 582/1186–1187. The note
is found on fol. 191a. The adab work from which it was no doubt derived remains to be
the use of hashish 173

administering this oath, the judge tried to be very specific and to avoid leaving
any conceivable loopholes. He therefore enumerated by name some twenty
different kinds of hashish. The pusher, quickwitted as he was, immediately
pointed out that he had not the least bit (qirāṭ) of knowledge about any of these
kinds, and he suggested that the judge would do better to administer the oath
to himself—implying, of course, that if the judge knew that much about the
different kinds of hashish and the popular names for them, he must have plenty
of experience and probably be a user himself. The clever comeback pleased all
those present very much. The pusher was given the opportunity to repent of his
evil ways, which he did,136 and he led afterwards a blameless life. The motif of
the defendant turning tables in this manner on the judge is not uncommon.137
In fact, in an almost identical story, the judge shows himself conversant with
all the low-class places in and around Cairo where wine was consumed.138 But
the list of supposed nicknames for hashish is interesting, even if both reading
and interpretation in most cases remain highly doubtful:

1. s-b-y (?)
2. ṣafadī “from Ṣafad”
3. iṣbahānī “from Iṣfahān”
4. ṣihyawnī “from Zion” (Ṣahyūn in Northern Syria) 40
5. qurn “pill” (?)139
6. muʿanbar “amber-scented”140
7. bizr “seed”
8. akhḍar “green”
9. b-s-m-w-q-y (?)141
10. b-s-m-w-t-y (?)
11. kibāsh (of doubtful meaning, see above, pp. 29 f.)
12. q-l-y-ʿ/f-t-y
13. jabalī (probably referring to some mountain or locality)
14. m-h- … (perhaps, miṣrī “Egyptian”?)

136 2 For “repenting” in connection with the use of drugs, cf. below, p. 97.
137 3 Cf. F. Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, 2nd ed., 367 (Leiden 1968), in the
translation of as-Sakhāwī, Iʿlān. The story involves the Ṭabbālah estate, known as a drug
center in Mamlūk Cairo (cf. below, p. 137).
138 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 132a.
139 1 Cf. below, p. 62. Perhaps, quran, pl. of qurnah, is meant (?).
140 2 Cf. above, p. 25.
141 3 Nos. 9, 10, and 12 look like names derived from localities, in the first two cases, Syrian
localities beginning with b- (the shortened form of Aramaic house).
174 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

15. gh-y-r ṣ-ʾ(?) ʾ-l-w-n(?)-y142

16. dubb al-hīsh143
17. tuffāḥī “apple-colored (scented, flavored)”
18. ḥamātī-bayrūtī “from Hama and Beirut”144
19. s-r-ṭ-b-ʾ-w-y (?)
20. qalandarāwī (see above, p. 25, n. 8)
21. ḥ-w-ʾ-l-f/q-y (?)

The preponderance to place names mentioned would suggest a Syrian locale

for the list, uncertain though this must be. The genuineness of the nicknames
should be rated much lower than that of the other list, though, again, this is
merely an impression that cannot be substantiated. It is remarkable that both
lists are totally different, another testimony to the great variety of nicknames
and the constantly changing pattern of their use, or to the inventiveness that
went into thinking them up.
41 All these nicknames served as shibboleths by which the members of an
exclusive club recognized each other. But it should not be forgotten that the
employment of more or less private words is also the common custom of
social outcasts who thereby express their solidarity among themselves and
their feeling of rebellion against restrictions imposed upon them by society.
The nicknames are thus not only of lexical interest. The more we can learn
about them, the better will be our understanding of the attitude of Muslims
toward the use of drugs.

2 The History of the Use of Hashish

Whatever the name under which it was known, certain presumed pharmaco-
logical properties of hemp were known to physicians in the Muslim orbit as

142 4 A combination with ghubayrāʾ seems hardly possible. A checking of the ms. may yield
some better reading.
143 5 The vocalization of hīsh is confirmed by the occurrence of this combination in a zajal,
where it rhymes with ḥashīsh. The author of the poem quoted by al-Badrī, fol. 56b, was
Burhān-ad-dīn al-Miʿmār (cf. below, p. 66, n. 2). It begins: “I repent my use of hashish
as long as I live” (tāyib anā ʿan al-ḥashīsh—ṭūl mā aʿīsh), but much in the poem remains
doubtful, including, in particular, the line referring to dubb hīsh.
144 6 The ms. seems to have an n, for t, in Ḥamātī, but Hama is clearly meant. Possibly, wa-lā
should be supplied between the two words so that we would have here two brands of
the use of hashish 175

early as there was a scientific medicine in Islam. However, then and later, lit-
tle was made of this knowledge by medical writers.145 The quotations brought,
for instance, by Ibn al-Bayṭār and al-Maqrīzī can be considered as quite repre-
sentative. Hashish might also have been used here and there for “pleasure and
enjoyment,” but we have no evidence to this effect from the first four or five
centuries of Islam. Any speculation that the use of the drug for this purpose
might have occurred only in the eastern portions of the Muslim world close to
India could also not be verified at present.
Later jurists never failed to remark on the fact that hashish is not mentioned
in the Qurʾān or the old Prophetic traditions, nor were they able to find any
express reference to it in the name of the founders of the four legal schools.
When such ancient authorities as the Shāfiʿite al-Muzanī (d. 264/878) or the
Ḥanafite aṭ-Ṭaḥāwī (d. 321/933) are cited as having pronounced themselves
against the use of narcotics,146 we can be quite certain that the term ḥashīsh was
not used by them; it is also most probable that they did not employ any other
term specifically denoting hemp preparations, unless it was banj understood
to mean hemp. In connection with a late commentary on the famous legal
compendium of the Ḥanafite al-Qudūrī (d. 428/1037), we hear about ḥashīsh,
but the basic text does | not contain the word.147 In his Mabsūṭ, Khwāharzādeh 42
(d. 483/1090) evidently employed only the ambiguous banj.148 It is tempting
to assume that az-Zarkashī, in his brief reference to a work by Abū Isḥāq
ash-Shīrāzī (d. 476/1083) entitled at-Tadhkirah fī l-khilāf, meant to imply that it
contained an express mention of the word ḥashīsh.149 In this case, ash-Shīrāzī,
who spent his life in Shīrāz and Baghdād, would be our oldest source for the
actual use of the term. Since law books are not known for ready acceptance of
newly coined slang, it could be assumed to have been around for some time and

145 1 Cf. Meyerhof, in his ed. and trans, of Maimonides, 174; M. Levey, in EI2, s.v. ḥāshīsh.
146 2 Cf. Risālah fī ḥurmat al-banj (above, p. 18). In the statement reported to go back to
an-Nasafī (below, p. 48), these references were taken seriously as evidence for the history
of the use of hashish.
147 1 Cf. al-Fanārī and al-Qudūrī, Mukhtaṣar, 73f. (Delhi 1267). The commentator is al-Ḥad-
dād(ī) (d. 800/1397), apparently in his Sirāj al-wahhāj (GAL, Suppl., I, 296).
148 2 Cf. al-Fanārī. See also Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 1580.
149 3 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 181. Az-Zarkashī (below, p. 187) has a reference to the Baḥr
al-madhhab, apparently the work of ar-Rūyānī (d. 502/1108, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 673), possibly
through ar-Rāfiʿī. The term employed in this connection is not indicated. Ar-Rūyānī’s work
is preserved in Cairo, but without consulting it, we can merely guess that the plant may
have been named qinnab or shahdānaj. In a later quotation from ar-Rūyānī (below, p. 196),
banj occurs.
176 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

hashish was already even at that time considered a social and legal problem.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that ash-Shīrāzī employed this or any other specific
term denoting hemp. We still lack the unambiguous reference—just one would
suffice—that could be decisive.
From around 1123 comes the first attestation of the designation Ḥashīshīyah
in connection with the Neo-Ismāʿīlīyah. In the Īqāʿ ṣawāʾiq al-irghām, which
is a reply to Nizārī critics of the Mustaʿlian al-Hidāyah al-Āmirīyah, we find
this term used twice with reference to the Nizārīs.150 Hashish has been much
discussed in Western literature in connection with the Assassins, beginning
with the great discovery by Silvestre de Sacy of the true derivation of their
name. However, very little that might be helpful for the history of the use
of hashish has come of it. It has been pointed out that hashish does not
have the properties that would ordinarily make it a serviceable stimulant for
43 anyone being sent on a dangerous mission of assassi|nation.151 The famous and
widespread story of the paradisiacal garden at Alamut can be brought into
connection with hashish only most vaguely and indirectly;152 nothing in the
story points to hashish in preference to other drugs. The few instances where
use of narcotic drugs is implied for the sectarians may have been the result of
hostile speculation spun out of their name rather than factual occurrences. It
is worthy of note that attacks on the Neo-Ismāʿīlīyah accusing them of being
hashish eaters were apparently not made very often, although this would have
been an effective verbal slur.153
As has been suggested recently, the reason for the choice of the term Ḥashī-
shīyah might have been in the first place the low and disreputable character
attributed to hashish eaters, rather than the sectarians’ devotion to the drug.154

150 4 Cf. the edition by A.A.A. Fyzee, al-Hidayatuʾl-Amiriya, 27, 32 (Oxford University Press 1938,
Islamic Research Association 7), and, for the date, S.M. Stern, in JRAS, 1950, 20–31.
Ash-Shahrastānī, Milal, ed. W. Cureton, 202 (London 1842–1846), trans. T. Haarbrücker,
II, 3 (Halle 1850–1851), mentions ḥashīshīyah as misguided ancient religious thinkers,
among eternalists (materialists), physicists, and metaphysicians. Since ash-Shahrastānī
died in 548/1153, this could be another quite early attestation of the use of the word to
designate hashish eaters, meaning, possibly, confused thinkers. However, the reading may
be incorrect, and ḥiss “sense perception” may be involved.
151 1 Cf. M.G.S. Hodgson, The Order of Assassins, 134 (The Hague 1955).
152 2 See below, p. 93.
153 3 No importance in this respect, I believe, should be attached to the fact that later fifteenth-
century hashish confections were said to have been introduced by Ismāʿīlīs, cf. above, p. 34,
and below, pp. 133 f.
154 4 Cf. B. Lewis, in EI2, s.v. ḥashīshiyya, and idem, The Assassins, 11f. (New York 1968).
the use of hashish 177

Now, if the term was in common use around 1123 so that it could appear in a
kind of official document and required no explanation whatever, this would
indicate that it was by then familiar and had been known for some time. And
if it indeed refers to the use of hashish, it can serve as concrete evidence for
the existence of the drug’s nickname in the early twelfth century. If, moreover,
it was already used at that time metaphorically for low-class rabble, it must
have been well established in general use for some time at least; no modern
means of rapid communication are necessary to give quick currency to a slang
expression, but it may be assumed that in medieval times it took a little while
for such an expression to be widely accepted. There are many ifs here, of which
the most crucial is the one implying doubt as to whether the name of the
Assassins is really to be connected with the meaning “hashish” among the many
possible connotations of the Arabic word. It remains plausible, however, that
this was indeed the case. Thus, the nickname, and with it, the drug’s extended
use, appear to have surfaced during the late eleventh century, and both may
have been promoted by the real or alleged use of cannabis by sectarians who
were engaged in spreading a vast network of open and secret influence over the
Muslim world, extending to the area from Egypt to Iran, and beyond. Assuming
that this is so, the question of the | place of origin, whether it was Syria or Egypt 44
or some more eastern region, is still left unanswered.
Once hashish consumption had become a widespread and debated custom,
there was much discussion among Muslim scholars and other interested par-
ties about its history. This discussion contains nothing to contradict the state-
ments just made. The theories put forward range from the fanciful to the strong
semblance of historical fact. They all add up to the impression that here was
an urgent situation that needed understanding and historical perspective so
that it could be handled intelligently. The samples preserved in literature make
us suspect that there once was much more which went unrecorded and that
the legal and political struggle over the drug was accompanied by arguments
derived from history favoring one side or the other.
It was quite sensibly argued that the properties of hemp had been known
continuously since the most ancient times, indeed, it is said, “since God brought
the world into being. It existed in the time of the Greeks. Proof of that is what
the physicians in their books have to say about the temper of the drug and
its useful as well as harmful properties on the authority of Hippocrates and
Galen.” This statement of al-Maqrīzī begs, however, the question of the use of
hashish for play and pleasure, nor does it say anything about the time it started
to become a social problem in Islam.
The Indian connection of the plant, attested by the descriptive adjective
attached to its name, was utilized in a legend about an Indian shaykh who “lived
178 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

in the time of the Sassanian kings and saw the coming of Islam.”155 His name
appears in al-Maqrīzī as something like Bīr Raṭan, but in al-Badrī, the second r
is replaced by the connected hook (b\t\th\n\y).156 I have no explanation for the
name, unless perhaps, Bīr-, if this is the reading intended, is meant to be Persian
pīr = shaykh. Al-Maqrīzī indicates as his informant a certain Qalandarī shaykh,
Muḥammad ash-Shīrāzī. Al-Badrī is more detailed in his report. It would seem
that the source he claims to follow was a Kitāb Riyāḍ al-ʿārif by a certain
45 Naṣrallāh aṭ-Ṭūsī, whose | identity remains to be established. Al-Badrī, fol. 5a,
also refers in this connection to a Shaykh an-Naṣr (= Naṣr-ad-dīn), who may be
the same person. Moreover, he also cites a History by a certain Manbijī, as well
as “the author of the Kharīdah,” as further authorities,157 and he interrupts his
report by giving details of the phenomenal success of hashish in Egypt.
The avowed purpose of this story is to contradict another story, soon to
be discussed, that attributes the introduction of hashish to a certain Shaykh
Qalandar or to the founder of the Ḥaydarī fraternity, Shaykh Ḥaydar, for it is
prefaced by remarks praising the piety of both these figures who, it is claimed,
never ate hashish in their lives. The use of the drug became common among
Ḥaydar’s followers only years after his death. Therefore, the Khurāsānians
ascribed the introduction of the drug to him who was completely innocent of
According to al-Badrī, the Indian shaykh was from Bengal, and with the
dropping of the final -lah of Bangālah, the drug was called bang.158 Before
his time, the Indians were not acquainted with hashish. Once when he was
worshiping his idol, Satan spoke to him from the interior of the idol and
introduced him to hashish and taught him how to prepare it.159 The use of
hashish spread through India, China, and Ethiopia, and then to the West. In

155 1 The text in al-Maqrīzī adds rather incongruously, “and became a Muslim.” It may not be
a mere coincidence that the (fictitious?) Indian about whom we hear in the thirteenth
century, who claimed to have met the Prophet, was called Shaykh Ratan (with t, not ṭ), cf.
adh-Dhahabī, Mīzān, II, 45 (Cairo 1382/1963); al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 324–327; Ibn Ḥajar, Lisān,
II, 450–455 (Hyderabad 1329–1331).
156 2 In addition to the occurrences on fols. 4a and 5a, al-Badrī refers back to the story on fols. 8b
and 48b.
157 1 Al-Manbijī is quite clearly written, but I do not know who this Manbijī might be. One
might think that the Kharīdah could be the Kharīdat al-ʿajāʾib of Ibn al-Wardī from the
first half of the fifteenth century (GAL, Suppl., II, 162f.), but the text as printed does not
contain any reference to the history of hashish.
158 2 Bangālah and Bang were names of Bengal, cf. A.H. Dani, in EI2, s.v. Bangāla.
159 3 Cf. below, p. 59.
the use of hashish 179

what seems to be another version, conflated by al-Badrī with that of Naṣrallāh

aṭ-Ṭūsī, it is more sensibly claimed that it spread from Iran to the land of the
Turks and the land of the Khiṭā (China). In Iraq, it became known only in
628/1230–1231, and from there spread westward, as is also stated in the report
of al-Maqrīzī.160 Somewhat naively, it is suggested that verses playing with the
term “Indian (maiden)” (hindīyah) for hashish161 could serve as a confirmation
for the historicity of the story, while, in fact, the poets merely drew upon the
known botanical fact of the Indian provenience of the plant.
Turning now to the Muslim views of the history of the drug within | Islam 46
proper, we would consider it almost inconceivable that at some point of the
discussion, Muslim scholars would have foregone the temptation to ascribe
traditions condemning hashish to the Prophet himself. There were quite a few,
and expectedly, they were modeled after certain stereotypes common in ḥadīth
“The greatest destruction at the end of time will result from eating the green
As-Samarqandī on the authority of Maʿmar: “The Prophet said, May God
curse one who seeks intoxication by means of a liquid or a dry (substance).”
ʿAlī: “The Prophet said, Beware of the wine of the non-Arabs (= the Persians),
for it will make you forget the confession of faith. (The Prophet’s statement
attributed it to the Persians, because coming from their country, it then spread
further. It is nothing else but hashish. He called it wine because ‘all wine is
intoxicating, and everything intoxicating is forbidden.’ This tradition makes it
obvious that hashish is intoxicating and forbidden.)”
Abū Hurayrah: “The Prophet said, Beware of the green one, for it is the
greatest wine.”
Ḥudhayfah b. al-Yamān: “I went together with the Prophet into the coun-
tryside. He saw a tree and shook his head. I asked him why he was shaking his
head, and he replied: A time will come upon my nation when they will eat from
the leaves of this tree and get intoxicated, and they will pray while intoxicated.
They are the worst of the worst. They are the birāʾ of my nation, as God has
nothing to do with them (minhum bariʾ).”162
We also find references to the zaqqūm tree from the Qurʾān (37: 62/60, 44:
43/43, 56: 52/52) and the ghubayrāʾ in contexts suggesting that they are a kind

160 4 Cf. below, pp. 52 f.

161 5 Cf. below, p. 153. Al-Badrī adds another poem (see below, p. 57, n. 2) in which hindīyah is
used for hashish, but without any allusion to Indian girls.
162 1 All the foregoing quotations from al-Badrī, fols. 55b and 54b. Which Maʿmar may be meant
is not certain, nor is the identity of the Samarqandī mentioned.
180 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

of cover names for hashish. The Berlin Ms. of Ibn Ghānim, in a passage missing
in the Princeton Ms., treats the reader to a ḥadith reported by Surāqah about a
Bedouin who appeared before the Prophet in rather poor physical condition.
He explained that he had been searching for some camels for five days and
was greatly suffering from hunger when he came across “a ḥashīshah consisting
47 of five and six fingers,163 notched (?) at the top, | smelling clean and having
red-colored wood. I ate some of it, and I swooned, as you can see, staggering
(but) not as the result of some inner commotion (?).”164 The Prophet had the
explanation. It was the zaqqūm tree which does not sate those eating from it,
who can expect to be condemned on the Day of Judgment.165 The ghubayrāʾ
ḥadīth, cited by Maḥmūd al-Muḥammadī,166 has the Prophet state solemnly in
phrases occurring in numerous traditions that “there is a tree called ghubayrāʾ,
an accursed tree. It will appear at the end of time. Those who eat from it do
not belong to us.” The author continues that this tradition can be used as an
argument for the prohibition (of hashish) in three ways, namely, on the strength
of the phrases “accursed tree,” “appearing at the end of time,” and “not being one
of us if one eats from it,” as he is aware of the forbidden character of ghubayrāʾ,
this being documented in a Qurʾān commentary entitled ʿAyn al-maʿānī.167
Scrawled between lines of this passage in the Berlin Ms., we meet with an
expression of strong disapproval: “This is a ḥadīth which is not recognized and
absolutely does not exist in the books. This man made a useless effort trying
to use it as an argument.” Whether the person who wrote these words had a
personal stake in the matter when he got so incensed about the citation of a
dubious anti-hashish tradition?
Serious scholars would, of course, not be taken in by fabrications of this sort.
Even less so would they have been ready to give credence to frauds committed
for the benefit of hashish. In fact, it was hardly more than a mere joke to

163 2 Al-Badrī, fol. 48a–b, who has the same story, has “seven.” Al-Badrī, following the Zawājir of
Ibn an-Najjār, describes the zaqqūm in some fanciful detail and quotes from “al-Ghazzālī
and others” the statement that it is the origin of forty-nine different plants such as
shahdānaj barrī, dāthūrah, and many others, all narcotics and intoxicants.
164 1 The text is somewhat corrupt: fa-laqītu ḥashīshatan wa-hiya bikhamsati aṣābiʿa wa-sittati
aṣābiʿa maḥrūrata (leg. maḥzūzata?) r-raʾsi dhakīyata r-rāʾiḥati ḥamrāʾa l-ʿūdi fa-akaltu
minhā fa-ʿm (leg. fa-ghumiya) ʿalayya kamā tarā amīlu min ghayri hawan. “Swaying without
wind” would be entirely out of place here, unless an allusion to the plant is intended.
165 2 For hashish being described as overpowering the zaqqūm, cf. the poem from the Gotha
Ms., below, p. 171, but see also note 5 to that page.
166 3 See above, p. 17.
167 4 Possibly, the work of as-Sajāwandī (GAL, Suppl., I, 724)?
the use of hashish 181

pretend that the Qurʾān itself indicated that hashish was constantly consumed
by the blessed in Paradise, for what else could the reference to “green” in
Qurʾān 18: 31/30 (“green garments of sundus”) signify? Needless to say, making
such a remark foreshadowed a bad end for the addict who soon found his
brain dried up and who was reduced to beggary (taḥarfasha wa-tasarṭana
wa-tafarwasha).168 It could even happen that a student, | deranged from too 48
much hashish and having exchanged the garment of Ṣūfīs with that of beggars
(ḥarāfishah), would be inspired by Satan to transmit the following statement
as a tradition ascribed to the Almighty Himself: “When God created this plant
and called for it to appear before Him, it went to Him, and He said to it: By my
might, majesty, splendor, and perfection! I have not created a plant nobler and
finer than you are. Nowhere else have I let you dwell but in clean minds and
the clean stomachs of my servants.”
It was also highly unsatisfactory for any Muslim to have to admit that the
primary legal authorities did not furnish sufficient evidence to determine the
proper attitude toward the use of hashish. We have already seen that it was
believed that some general remarks concerning the prohibition of unspeci-
fied narcotics could be credited to al-Muzanī and aṭ-Ṭaḥāwī.169 The Shāfiʿite,
al-Muzanī, was much the older of the two, and this was certainly not very agree-
able to those Ḥanafites who were fighting the use of hashish in their time. It is
in this light that we have to view the sketch of the history of hashish, in the
framework of the legal effort to suppress its use, which appears in the Gotha
Ms.170 A Commentary of at-Timirtāshī is said to be its source. The authority
quoted by that author is Ḥāfiẓ-ad-dīn an-Nasafī (d. 710/1310).171 An-Nasafī, in
turn, reports a reply to a query addressed to Shams-ad-dīn al-Kurdī.172 Now,
this query is unequivocally stated to have concerned “the ḥashīsh, that is, the
leaves of hemp.” The text may be corrupt in the Gotha Ms., but after making
due allowance for textual corruption, it remains principally noteworthy for the

168 5 The quotations in this paragraph are from al-Badrī, fols. 50a and 49a.
The addict in the first case is said to have been al-Khaffāf, apparently identical with
Shihāb-ad-dīn Ahmad al-Khaffāf ad-Dimashqī mentioned by al-Badrī, fol. 12b, below, p. 80.
Cf. also below, p. 59. The reading of the words tasarṭana and tafarwasha is clear. The mean-
ings applicable here escape me. Tasarṭana could hardly be intended as “being affected by
cancer.” Dozy, Supplément, I, 648b, indicates meanings such as “being stupefied.”
169 1 Cf. above, p. 41.
170 2 Cf. above, p. 18.
171 3 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 263.
172 4 I have no identification for him unless he is not al-Kurdī but al-Kardarī (d. 624/1244) (GAL,
Suppl., I, 653 f.).
182 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

unbelievable confusion it exhibits: “No text on hashish being either permit-

ted or forbidden has been reported on the authority of Abū Ḥanīfah and his
colleagues, since it was not yet used in their time. It remained under cover
(mastūr). Thus, it retained its state of being basically permitted like all other
49 plants.173 | Also, no statement of its being either permitted or forbidden has
been transmitted from any of the ancients after their time, till the time of the
Imām al-Muzanī, the disciple of ash-Shāfiʿī. The harmfulness (of the use of
hashish) became first apparent in the Arab and the non-Arab Iraq. The Imām
al-Muzanī was living in Baghdād.174 When the fatwā of the Imām175 declaring
hashish forbidden reached Asad b. ʿAmr, the disciple of Abū Ḥanīfah, who was
living in the non-Arab Iraq, he said that it was permitted. But when the use of
hashish became general and widespread everywhere with all its terrible harm-
ful consequences …176 the Imāms of Transoxania all agreed upon the legal view
expressed by al-Muzanī that eating hashish was illegal and the consumption of
hashish to be declared forbidden. They issued a fatwā calling for the burning of
hashish despite its great value (?) (maʿ khaṭar qīmatih).177 They demanded that
the sellers of hashish be chastised (taʾdīb) and the eaters be severely punished
(taʿzīr) …” The historical view expressed here is that hashish was commonly
used in the Muslim east since the ninth century and already about this time was
dealt with as a great danger to society by both Shāfiʿites and Ḥanafites. Obvi-
ously, all this is pure fancy and dictated by professional self-interest, although
for all we really know it just might have been true in substance.
We come much closer to historical fact with the famous story of the dis-
covery and propagation of the use of hashish by Persian Ṣūfīs. According to
az-Zarkashī, it was widely believed that Ḥaydar, elsewhere with the nisbah az-
Zāwajī, from Zāwah in the province of Nīsābūr, the founder of the Ṣūfī frater-
nity named after him, discovered hashish around the year 550/1155.178 Others,

173 5 Cf. below, p. 112.

174 1 This is quite untrue.
175 2 The context requires that this should be al-Muzanī, but Asad b. ʿAmr lived long before his
time. He died in 188/804, or in 190.
176 3 There is an omission in the ms.
177 4 Or could this mean, “with the loss of its price,” that is, “without re-compensation”? Cf.
below, p. 135.
178 5 Cf. below, p. 176. One ms. has the date 505, but even in 550, Ḥaydar must have still been
very young if he was indeed already born by then. According to al-ʿUkbarī (al-Maqrīzī),
the discovery of hashish took place in 608, ten years prior to Ḥaydar’s death (below, p. 52).
Al-Badrī, fol. 2a, quotes a profusion of further dates from various authorities, but unless
they can be traced back to the original sources, they are quite suspect. He states that
the use of hashish 183

however, az-|Zarkashī adds, connected the introduction of hashish with a cer- 50

tain Aḥmad as-Sāwajī,179 a Qalandarī Ṣūfī apparently originating from a town
called Sāwah.180 We hear about a rather prominent Qalandarī, Jamāl-ad-dīn
as-Sāwajī, who is said to have been in Damascus around 1210 to 1225 and who
thereafter settled in Damiette.181 It is possible that he was supposed to be iden-
tical with the Qalandarī who is credited with the introduction of hashish. With
respect to his relationship to Ḥaydar, the Qalandarī may represent a second
stage of the story, or he may have been put up as a rival to Ḥaydar to satisfy
some particular faction interested in hashish aetiology.
Az-Zarkashī’s version of the Ḥaydar story is brief and thereby invests it with
some kind of quite beautiful and poetic sensitivity: “Ḥaydar went out in a state
of depression because he felt like withdrawing from his companions. He came
across this ḥashīshah and noticed that its branches were swaying although
there was no breeze. He reflected that this must be so because of a secret
contained in it. He picked some of it and ate it. When he returned to his
companions, he told them that (the plant) contained a secret, and he ordered
them to eat it.”182
Az-Zarkashī was not the first to report this story. It was already told at length
by al-ʿUkbarī about a century earlier. Az-Zarkashī may, in fact, have derived

hashish made its appearance around 600 or, according to another source, in 505. He cites
an unnamed author of an Awāʾil work as giving the date as the turn of the sixth century to
the seventh century, “when the Tatar rule made its appearance.” The dates 620, 650, before
700 (read “before the seventh century”?), and the beginning of the 700s (ʿalā ra’s as-sabʿ
miʾah) (!) are attributed to, respectively, the Ḥāfiẓ al-Yaghmūrī, Ibn ʿAsākir, Ibn Kathīr, and
Ibn al-Athīr. On fol. 56a, al-Badrī attributes to Ibn Kathīr the statement that he had said
before derived from an Awāʾil work. Strange as it is, Ibn ʿAsākir could hardly be anyone but
the historian of Damascus who lived before the date indicated, and although there were
other Ibn al-Athīrs and the seven hundreds must be corrected to the six hundreds, the
famous historian appears to be meant and he lived too close to that date to be seriously
considered. The information of al-Bakrī, Kawākib, certainly goes back to al-Badrī. It has
the addition that a Shaykh Qarandal at the beginning of the 600s introduced the drug.
[The “700s” (“500s,” below, p. 53) can hardly mean “seventh (fifth) century.”]
179 1 Note, however, that all the Zarkashī mss. (except B), as well as the quotation from az-
Zarkashī in al-Badrī, fol. 3a, have r for w (al-Badrī: al-Masārijī).
180 2 Yāqūt places the town midway between ar-Rayy and Hamadhān, whereas the first edition
of EI, s.v., locates it at a distance of twenty-two farsakhs from Qazwīn and nine farsakhs
from Qumm.
181 3 Cf. the first edition of EI, s.v. Kalenderiyya, and Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, I, 61ff. The date is given in
H.A.R. Gibb’s translation, I, 37, n. 108, without an indication of its source.
182 4 Cf. below, pp. 176f.
184 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

his information from al-ʿUkbarī, although in his time the story was no doubt
51 circulating in many versions. | Al-ʿUkbarī is cited by al-Maqrīzī and al-Badrī.183
The latter knew al-Maqrīzī’s Khiṭaṭ and quoted them elsewhere in his work
(fol. 4b), but he does not depend on al-Maqrīzī since he inserts, quite plausibly,
a certain Abū Khālid, described as a steward (naqīb) of Shaykh Ḥaydar, between
the latter and the informant of al-ʿUkbarī; no mention is made of this Abū
Khālid by al-Maqrīzī, at least not in the text available in print, which reads in
“In as-Sawāniḥ al-adabīyah fī (l-)madāʾiḥ al-qinnabīyah, al-Ḥasan b. Muḥam-
mad (al-ʿUkbarī) said: I asked Shaykh Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad ash-Shīrāzī in the
city (baldah) of Tustar184 in the year 658/1260 why this drug was discovered and
why it reached the poor (the Ṣūfīs) in particular and then spread to the com-
mon people in general. He (in fact, not Shaykh Jaʿfar but the just mentioned
Abū Khālid) told me that his shaykh, the Master Ḥaydar, practiced much mysti-
cal exercise and exertion and used little food, excelling in asceticism and pious
worship. He was born in Nishāwur in Khurāsān, and he lived on a mountain
between Nishāwur and Zāwāh where he had acquired a small monastery.185 A
number of Ṣūfīs were in his company. He withdrew to a certain spot within
(the monastery) and remained there for over ten years, never leaving it nor
having anyone come in except me to serve him. He continued: The Shaykh
then one day went up into the countryside alone by himself. During midday,
the heat became oppressive, but when he returned, his face radiated energy
and joy, quite a contrast to his usual appearance as we knew it from before.
He let his companions come in and talked to them. When we saw the Shaykh
so sociable after having been withdrawn and alone for such a long time, we
asked him about it, and he said: In my isolation, I suddenly got an urge to go
52 out into the countryside all by myself. When I came out, I noticed that every |

183 1 Although al-Badrī elsewhere in his work correctly identifies the author of the Sawāniḥ
as al-ʿUkbarī, here, apparently through homoioteleuton omission, he makes al-Ḥasan b.
Muḥammad ash-Shīrāzī the author of the work. This, however, does not invalidate the
genuineness of the insertion of Abū Khālid.
184 2 Al-Badrī seems to have a similar but different name.
185 3 Silvestre de Sacy identified the place with Nīsābūr, but the use of the unusual form of the
name here is puzzling. Cf., however, Yāqūt, Muʿjam, s.v. Naysābūr, who gives Na/ishāwūr
as the vulgar form, and the fourteenth-century Meccan scholar, ʿAfīf-ad-dīn an-Nishāwurī
(d. 790/1388, cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Durar, II, 300–302), whose original connection with Nīsābūr is
remembered in Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, VI, 313 (Cairo 1350–1351).
The edition of al-Maqrīzī has Mārmāh, and Silvestre de Sacy, Rāmāh, but al-Badrī’s
Zāwāh (no diacritical dots) = Zāwah would seem to be correct.
the use of hashish 185

plant was completely quiet and showed not the slightest motion because there
was no wind and the summer (heat) was oppressive. But then, I passed by a
plant with leaves and noticed that in this weather it was gently swaying and
moving without any force (being exercised upon it from outside), like some-
one who is inebriated. I started to pick a few of the leaves and eat them. Thus
it happened that I was filled with this restful joy you have observed in me.
Now, let us go, and I shall show you the plant, so that you can recognize its
shape. He continued: We went out into the countryside, and he showed us the
plant. When we saw it, we said that it was the plant known as hemp (qinnab).
He told us to take a leaf and eat it, which we did. Then, we returned to the
monastery, finding in our hearts an irrepressible joy and gladness. When the
Shaykh saw us in this condition, he told us to guard this drug, and he made
us take an oath not to tell anyone of the common people about it. On the
other hand, he exhorted us not to conceal it from the Ṣūfīs. His words were:
‘God has granted you the privilege of knowing the secret of these leaves. Thus,
when you eat it, your dense worries may disappear and your exalted minds may
become polished. Therefore, keep their trust and guard their secret!’ Shaykh
Jaʿfar (read: Abū Khālid) continued: After we had become acquainted with this
secret, I grew hemp in the monastery of Shaykh Ḥaydar while he was alive,
and he told us to plant it around his tomb after his death. Shaykh Ḥaydar lived
for ten years after that. I was in his service all the time, and I never saw him
stop eating it day in and day out. He told us to take little food and (instead)
eat this ḥashīshah. He died in (6)18/1221 in the monastery on the mountain. A
big cupola was built over his tomb. Many votive gifts were offered to it by the
Khurāsānians. They venerated his power, visited his grave, and showed great
respect to his companions. At the time of his death, he exhorted them to show
this drug and its secret to the refined and the great among the Khurāsānians,
and they used it.—He continued: Hashish continued to spread in Khurāsān
and Fārs. The people of Iraq were not acquainted with its use until there came
to them the ruler of Hurmuz and Muḥammad b. Muḥammad, the ruler of al-
Baḥrayn,186 | kings of the shore adjacent to Fārs during the reign of al-Mustanṣir, 53
in 628/1230–1231. Their entourage carried hashish along with them and showed
the people how to eat it. The result was that hashish became known in Iraq.

186 1 According to the Paris Ms. of al-Badrī, Muḥammad was the name of the ruler of Hurmuz.
In fact, the ruler of Hurmuz at the time was Sayf-ad-dīn Abū Naḍar, but no precise
information is readily known to me about these minor rulers in connection with the
incident mentioned here. For the political situation in general, cf. J. Aubin, Les Princes
d’ Ormuz, in J A, CCXLI (1953), 80 ff.
186 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Knowledge of it reached the Syrians, Egyptians, and Anatolians, and they used
Verses quoted by al-Maqrīzī and other authors that refer to hashish as “the
wine of Ḥaydar” and bring it otherwise into connection with him do of course
not confirm the story of Ḥaydar’s discovery of hashish, as medieval authors
were inclined to believe, but they show that it had rapidly become accepted
and was considered to be true. The fine aetiological tale telling how the plant
itself reveals its incredible and beautiful power to the inspired seeker after
spiritual release reflects a highly favorable attitude toward hashish, and it is
therefore somewhat strange to find it repeated with seeming approval by later
scholars such as az-Zarkashī and al-Maqrīzī who had been taught to hold quite
different views concerning the effects of hashish. The character of the Ḥaydar
story as a literary motif underlines its legendary character. However, the use
of hashish by Ṣūfī fraternities and their presumably large role in the spread of
hashish use can be accepted as a fact in view of all the later evidence pointing in
this direction. Ibn Taymīyah’s great concern with the problems of hashish was
certainly connected with its use by Ṣūfīs and largely fostered by his animosity
against them. The author of Qamʿ also probably had in mind the story of the
mystical discovery of hashish and thought of the Ṣūfīs when he remarked
that the accursed ḥashīshah “was originated by some group around the five
hundreds” (aḥdathahā baʿḍ fiʾah fī naḥw qarn al-khams miʾah).188 The word fiʾah
54 “group” is used here for the sake of the rhyme and | thus may very well mean
Ṣūfīs, rather than sectarians or soldiers. However, it is not the inclination of
Ṣūfī organizations toward the use of hashish that is at issue but the precise
data suggested by the Ḥaydarī-Qalandarī report. They can be neither proved
nor disproved. The “discovery” of hashish was certainly not due to these people,

187 1 The quotation, it seems, from al-ʿUkbarī continues: “This was the year in which the (silver)
dirhams appeared in Baghdād (to replace) the qurāḍah (snippets of gold pieces) people
used to spend.” The year meant would seem to be 628, but in fact, as Silvestre de Sacy has
shown, it was 632, cf. also the Ḥawādith al-jāmiʿah (wrongly attributed to Ibn al-Fuwaṭī),
70 f. (Baghdād 1351). There is no apparent connection of this remark with the hashish story.
It seems to have been added as an aside, but why this was done is not stated.
Whether some or much of the following material in al-Maqrīzī was also derived from
al-ʿUkbarī is hard to say. It may be noted that the verses quoted are favorable to hashish
and therefore could easily have been used by al-ʿUkbarī. Furthermore, they also occur in
al-Badrī, whose source quite definitely was not al-Maqrīzī. If Ibn al-Aʿmā (d. 692/1292) was
in fact the poet of some of them (cf. below, p. 154), we would have to assume that al-ʿUkbarī
used material of a contemporary, which, however, is not excluded.
188 2 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 274b. [For “five hundreds,” see p. 49, n. 5.]
the use of hashish 187

but in addition to propagating its use, they might have also found some special
way of preparing it for use that was little known before. By and large, the story
leaves us with the impression that at any rate the general circumstances and
the approximate time are correctly reflected in it.
The Ṣūfīs were not the only group blamed for the destruction caused by
hashish. The fabled Ḥaydar was an older contemporary of Chingiz Khān, and
about the time of Ḥaydar’s death, the Mongols were poised to invade the lands
of Islam. Blaming moral and material ills of any kind upon the machinations
of foreigners and enemies is a common human trait. Thus, the Mongols were
a natural target for those searching for an explanation of what brought about
a social evil assumed to have reached dangerous proportions in their time. It
may be tempting to assume that it was Ibn Taymīyah himself who invented the
Mongols’ guilt concerning the spread of hashish, but it is much more likely that
he merely reiterated something that was a current rumor during the thirteenth
century before his own time. Ibn Taymīyah is rather vague on occasion, saying
that “the eating of hashish originated in the last years of the twelfth century
or about that time,” without any reference to the Mongols.189 Or he would
state that it “made its appearance among the people no earlier than roughly
about the time of (qarīban min naḥw) the appearance of the Tatars (Mongols);
hashish went forth, and with it, there went forth the sword of the Tatars.”190
But he also states flatly that “it was with the Tatars that it originated among the
people,”191 and it is obvious that he meant to make a causal connection between
the appearance of hashish and the Mongol invasion, somehow implying that
hashish was used by the enemy as an additional weapon to bring the Muslims
to their knees. Later authors, such as adh-Dhahabī (?) and az-Zarkashī,192
leave the same impression in a more distinct manner. | Az-Zarkashī cites Ibn 55
Taymīyah as having stated with great precision that hashish “appeared at the
end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth century when
the Tatars came into power,” and he cites another, unidentified source as having
said that “it was an evil restricted to193 Persia, until the Tatars gained control
over its inhabitants. Then, it moved on to Baghdād when the evil effect it had
upon its people was already known.”194

189 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah. Adh-Dhahabī (if he really is the author of the Kabāʾir, see above,
p. 9) omits the date and the reference to the Tatars.
190 2 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 312.
191 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 311.
192 4 Cf. below, p. 177.
193 1 This seems to be the intended meaning.
194 2 Below, p. 177: wa-qad ʿulima mā jarā ʿalā ahlihā min qabīḥi l-athar (var. fatḥ at-Tatar “what
188 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

The apparent sudden increase in the use of hashish at the period indicated
might have been quite unconnected with the coming of the Mongols. In reality
it would seem to antedate that event. However, it could also be that the Mongol
invaders were driving in front of them refugees who took the drug habit along
and spread it westward. Nor can we discount the possibility that in the wake of
the disastrous happenings at the time, the resulting climate of fear and unrest
caused an upsurge in the use of narcotics. All these factors might have existed
and combined to produce the result whose precise cause or causes even an
impartial sociologist living then might have found difficult to trace. The paucity
of our information makes it still more so for us.
An attempt to pinpoint the further westward movement of hashish has been
made by M. al-ʿAbbādī with reference to a statement of Ibn Saʿīd, the well-
known Spanish historian of the thirteenth century.195 Ibn Saʿīd criticized the
prevalence of the use of hashish in Egypt, which aroused his curiosity since, he
says, hashish was not known at the time in his own country. Al-ʿAbbādī com-
bines this statement with the seemingly first occurrence of verses on hashish in
Spain early in the fourteenth century. In particular, he also adduces a passage
from Lisān-ad-dīn Ibn al-Khaṭīb dating to about the year 1360 which described
the widespread use of hashish by the low classes as well as the leading fam-
ilies in Granada in many special hideouts all over the city at the time of the
usurper Abū Saʿīd Bermejo. According to al-ʿAbbādī, all this leads to the neces-
56 sary | conclusion that hashish established itself in the Muslim West only during
the (later) thirteenth century. This may very well have been the case. As an
additional argument in favor of this theory, it may be recalled that about a gen-
eration before Ibn Saʿīd, Ibn al-Bayṭār had this to say: “There is a third kind of
qinnab, called Indian hemp, which I have seen only in Egypt where it grows in
gardens and is also known to Egyptians as ḥashīshah. It is very intoxicating if
someone takes as little of it as a dirham196 or two. Taken in too large doses,
it may lead to lightmindedness (ruʿūnah). Some users were affected by men-
tal disorder and driven into insanity; it may also kill …” Ibn al-Bayṭār again

happened to its people as the result of the Tatar conquest”). I do not think that this
means that it is known what an evil fate befell the people of Baghdad. Rather, by the time
hashish reached Baghdād, it was known how greatly the Persians had suffered from it. In
this passage, “its people” hardly refers to “users of hashish,” although this would not be
195 3 Cf. al-ʿAbbādī, in his edition of Lisān-ad-dīn Ibn al-Khaṭīb, Nufāḍat al-jirāb, intro., 20f.,
text, 183 (Cairo, n. y. [1968?]), Spanish trans, by al-ʿAbbādī, in Revista del Instituto de
Estudios Islámicos en Madrid, XIII (1965–1966 [rather, 1968]), 79.
196 1 For the weight of this unit, cf. below, p. 73, n. 2.
the use of hashish 189

stresses that he himself was personally able to observe the effect of this kind
of hashish and that it was unknown to him from his own country, Spain. It is
true that Ibn al-Bayṭār was probably not older than about twenty years when
he left Spain, and therefore may not have had sufficient information about the
situation there, but it is a likely assumption that when he made a statement
like that he had never seen the particular kind of hemp cultivated in Egypt any-
where else and had not been aware of the use of hemp as a hallucinogenic drug,
he relied upon research as solid as he was able to make it. On the other hand,
the reported occurrence from mid-fourteenth-century Granada is more dubi-
ous evidence. It implies that Bermejo’s chief of police had no knowledge of the
extensive use of hashish in the area under his jurisdiction and had to be made
aware of it by his ruler who thus taught him what as a policeman he should
have known by himself but did not. It might be argued that if the use of hashish
went on without the police knowing of it, scholars such as Ibn Saʿīd and even
Ibn al-Bayṭār might very well have had no information as to the situation in
their native country, but being abroad, they learned about things about which
they had no experience at home. The use of hashish was clearly very open in
Egypt at that time, no doubt much more so than farther west. But it remains
indeed possible that it took some time for it to reach Spain on its westward

3 The Preparation of Hashish and the Manner of its Use

It is quite likely that there once existed short treatises describing in accurate
detail how hashish was prepared and consumed, but such | treatises would 57
have had only a very small chance to survive and to become available to us.
Thus we must be satisfied with the comparatively little and often rather blurred
descriptions that turn up in various sources and contexts.
Ibn al-Bayṭār has some valuable and quite precise information based upon
his own observations in Egypt. He tells us that he “saw himself Ṣūfīs ( fuqarāʾ)
use hemp in various ways. Some thoroughly baked (ṭ-b-kh) the leaves, then
rubbed (d-ʿ-k) them carefully by hand until they formed a paste (ʿ-j-n V), and
rolled them into pills (aqrāṣ). Others dried the leaves slightly, toasted (ḥ-m-ṣ
II) them, husked ( f-r-k)197 them by hand, and mixed them with a little husked
(maqshūr) sesame and sugar, put that dry into the mouth (s-f-f VIII) and
chewed (m-ḍ-gh) it for a long time.”

197 1 Cf. below, p. 60, for the applicable meaning of f-r-k.

190 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Less clear, in particular with respect to the use intended, is al-Maqrīzī’s

quotation of some physician(s) prescribing that “the eater of hemp (seed) or
hemp leaves must eat it together with almonds or pistachios or sugar or honey
or poppy (seeds) and drink afterwards oxymel to ward off the harm that may
be caused by it. Roasted (q-l-w) it is less harmful. Therefore it is customary
to roast it before eating it. When it is eaten unroasted, it is very harmful.
Human tempers differ with regard to (the preferable manner of) eating it.
Some cannot eat it mixed with something else. Others add to it sugar, honey,
and other sweets.” Mixing hashish with honey, in particular, was considered, it
seems, as ordinary as mixing wine with water.198 Already the great Ḥunayn is
credited—unhistorically, no doubt—with the remark that it was best to have
hemp leaves ground with sugar and almonds and to swallow the mixture dry
(s-f-f ).199
Al-Badrī (fols. 8a–9a) gives a good number of additional details, but he
somewhat impairs his credibility by including a scatological recipe, which
was presumably a malicious invention. However, the methods described as
employed in Egypt and Syria may very well be authentic. The method he
considers as close to the one in use in Egypt consists of taking seven parts
of mature leaves of cultivated hemp (waraq ash-shahdānaj al-bustānī) to one
part of leaves of uncultivated (barrī) hemp, (the latter) to serve as a kind of
58 ferment; roasting | (ṣ-l-q) them in water until they boil over the fire; placing
them in large closed clay jars and depositing these in a humid place for about
six weeks until the leaves start to decompose (taʿfīn); leaving them in place for
another week soaked (in water?) (maghmūr); pulverizing them and blending
them thoroughly; then forming the mixture into some kind of pills (k-b-b II)
and leaving them in the shade for the air to dry them and for them to gain
The best method, according to al-Badrī, is that of the Syrians. They let the
hemp leaves dry and toast (ḥ-m-ṣ II) them over the fire in a copper kettle for
about three hours. Then, when they want to form pills, they mix the mass with
honey (or date syrup, dibs).
Some Indians substitute for the uncultivated hemp some other very potent
substance.200 Or they (apparently, still the Indians) use the same combination

198 2 As in a very corrupt verse from a poem cited in al-Badrī, fol. 5a, which, he says, was recited
by “the preacher of Baghdād” to his son, Jamāl-ad-dīn al-Ahwāzī, and he appears to have
derived it from the Kharīdah (above, p. 45, n. 1).
199 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 7a.
200 1 Waraq al-bizr al-hindī adh-dhakar, lit. “the leaves of the male Indian seed (?).”
the use of hashish 191

of leaves of cultivated and uncultivated hemp (as the Egyptians); place them
in stone mortars; pulverize them finely; soak (gh-m-r) them in salted water for
seven days of fermentation; leave the mortars exposed to the sun so that the sun
will cause the humidity to evaporate (ṭ-y-r II) and the mass becomes pungent
and salty; and, when the mass is close to being dry, form pills and pellets from
it ( yukabbibūnahā ṭābāt).
Al-Badrī may have derived the preceding information from Ibn an-Najjar’s
Zawājir. This is not certain but he states so expressly with respect to a method
described as producing the hashish of the Anatolians (Rūm) called ṭ-f-r-y (?):201
“When at the end of autumn and in the winter, one can find only dry leaves
of uncultivated hemp whose properties have weakened because of the evap-
oration of humidity, they add to each nine parts of leaves of cultivated hemp,
which has been kept fermenting (?) (mukhammar) for a while, one part or more
of cow dung to serve as ferment in place of the leaves of uncultivated hemp.
They say: ‘If we put the cow dung in the mass for fermentation, it comes out
light, hot, and very potent (shadīdat as-saṭlah). If it does not contain any dung,
it comes out heavy, crude, and uneven.’ They then ferment it with urine and
soak it in it until it starts to decompose and worms are generated in it. If the
worms are slow in coming, they squeeze out rags202 with menstrual blood, and
if they do not find any, they take spilled blood (dam ṣabīb) and | leave it there 59
for a week until it swarms203 with worms. They then pulverize it for a com-
plete blending of the parts. Then they sift the mass. Others do not sift it but
form it into pills and leave it in the shade until it dries.” Al-Badrī is happy to
report that this was also the method recommended by Satan to the Indian Bīr
Raṭan.204 As an additional Satanic trick, he ordered his son and his cohorts to
put their urine on all intoxicating plants without people seeing them do it so
that hashish was defiled by Satanic human urine openly and by Satanic jinn
urine secretly.
In addition to terms such as ḥammaṣa and ṣalaqa already mentioned, quite
a few others had their place in the production of hashish and its immediate
preparation for use. Ṣ-ḥ-n “to grind” is one of them.205 There is the amusing
story of two hashish eaters, one of them thin and the other thick, and both hav-
ing protuberances in front and in back. Fortified with zīh and pomegranates,

201 2 Cf. above, p. 35, n. 5.

202 3 Apparently, khiraq. The following khrwq may be a mistake for khiraq.
203 1 The reading of the ms. seems to be yabqul.
204 2 See above, p. 44.
205 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 11b and 57a. See also below, p. 100.
192 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

the thin one leaves for the bath. There a jinnī in the form of an elephant appears,
removes both of his protuberances, and affixes them to the wall. The other
ḥashshāsh wants to rid himself of his protuberances in the same manner, but
upon leaving the bath, he ends up with four instead of his former two. At the
time the first ḥashshāsh entered the bath, we are told, he retired to some lonely
spot and began grinding (ṣ-ḥ-n) it (apparently, the hashish) upon the marble
(floor). He left aside the stubble (qashsh) and tended (the hashish) with wetting
(taʿāhadahā bi-r-rashsh).206
Commonly we hear about the “killing” (q-t-l) of hashish, an expression mar-
velously suited for the exercise of poetic ingenuity. Thus, a poet of mawālīyā
(mawwāl), Aḥmad al-Khaffāf, sang:

They said: The medicine?207 I replied: The transplanted son of cannabis.

My rope he has untwisted. As long as I turn away from him, I am twisted.
How many a person killed by him has returned home dragged by force.
It is remarkable how he kills us, being himself “killed.”208

60 The “killing” of hashish is interpreted as a cruel action resented by the mal-

treated hashish, as in these rhymes by ʿAlāʾ-ad-dīn ʿAlī b. Aybak ad-Dimashqī

They have toasted it in the fire till they burned it.

They have “killed” it by chewing till they made it good.

206 4 For the “wetting,” cf. also above, p. 34.

207 5 The dawāʾ “medicine” is suggested but then rejected as the cause of the poor condition of
the person addressed. It is not the disease (dawā) that is inquired about.
208 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 6a:

qālū d-dawā qult ibn al-qinnab al-mashtūl

ḥablī naqaḍ nā ʿannū mā (ʾa)nthanī maftūl
kam lū qatīl ilā baytū rajaʿ maʿtūl
wa-dā ʿajab kayf yaqtulnā wa-hū maqtūl.

Perhaps, in the first line, mastūl = masṭūl “hashish intoxicated” is meant instead of mashtūl
“transplanted” whose precise significance is not quite clear to me. In the second line, the
ms. has nʾ wʿnw. Possible, nā = anā is to be deleted.
The meaning of “untwisted” and “twisted” here is “weak” and “strong.” I have no
information on the poet, unless he is identical with the aforementioned Khaffāf (above,
p. 47, n. 5), which is doubtful.
the use of hashish 193

They have broken it into pieces, enabling it to cause drunkenness to settle

in them.
It strangled them for their having strangled it.209

Thus, hashish takes its revenge. It kills the user as the user before killed it,
according to verses by ʿAlī b. Sūdūn al-Bashbughawī and others.210 And it
was certainly considered very witty to have hashish complaining about being
“killed” with reference to Qurʾān 81: 9/9:

Hashish implored—Its Lord and asked humbly,

Stretching out its palms—“For which sin it was killed.”211

The “breaking” (k-s-r) of hashish appears to be another of the customary pro-

cedures, and the just mentioned removal of the stubble seems also to be meant
by f-r-k “to husk,” mentioned by Ibn al-Bayṭār212 and in this mawālīyā poem by
a certain ʿAlī al-Qayrawānī:

They said: Hashish tires your liver. Give it up!

Why do you always toast and “husk” it?
I replied: It contains meanings which your minds (ordinarily) 61
Cannot perceive, (but) were imagination to push them, it would move

209 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a:

ḥammaṣūhā bi-n-nāri ḥattā (ʾa)ḥraqūhā

qatalūhā bi-ḍ-ḍarsi ḥattā (ʾa)nʿamūhā
shaqqafūhā (?) tumakkinu s-sukra fīhim
khanaqathum bidāla mā khanaqūhā.

For shaqqafūhā, the ms. seems to suggest shaffafūhā, and it is possible that “to thin out”
is the intended meaning. A combination with s-f-f is out of the question. Cf. shaqfah
kabshīyah, above, p. 30.
For Ibn Aybak, whose date of death is also given as 803, cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, V, 194f.
210 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a, and below, p. 91.
211 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a:

inna l-ḥashīsha ḍḍaraʿat—li-Rabbihā wa-btahalat

bāsiṭatan akuffahā—“bi-ayyi dhanbin qutilat.”

212 4 Cf. above, p. 57.

213 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 24b (in connection with his discussion of kirshah):
194 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Popular forms of poetry use a verb lāṭa in connection with hashish, which
may merely refer to the eating of it. However, since “to plaster” is one of the
many meanings associated with this root, it may not be entirely excluded
that it means the preparation of hashish for use by an admixture of some
sort of clay as attested elsewhere (below, p. 83). One of the two available
occurrences is cited below, p. 69, n. 1. The other is to be found in the following

Always enjoy yourself and eat hashish.

“Plaster” (?) it and drink of banj the full bowl.
If someone importunes you for eating your kaff dry, say:
Sir, why do you annoy me so much when I am high?214

The form in which hashish was usually consumed is designated by a variety

of terms, all meaning pill or pellet, such as qurṣ, ṭābah, and, in particular, bun-
62 duqah (originally, “hazelnut”).215 There are such | phrases as bandaqa bunduqah

qālū l-ḥashīshah tutʿib kabdak utrukhā

fa-mā ant dāim tḥammiṣhā wa-tafrukhā
fa-qult fīhā muʿaynī (?) laysa tudrikhā
ʿuqūlkum law lakazhā l-wahmu ḥarrakhā.

The reading of muʿaynī as a diminutive of maʿnā is uncertain. Since the word seems to be
used in the context as a feminine noun, a correction to maʿānī may be considered, but
there may be other explanations. The antedecent of “them” could be the minds but quite
possibly, and perhaps preferably, the meaning(s).
I have no information on ʿAlī al-Qayrawānī.
214 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22a:

dāwim masarrtak dayman wa-l-ḥashīshah kūl

luṭhā wa-shrab min al-bankā malā l-kajkūl
wa-in laḥḥ lāḥḥīk fī saffak li-kaffak qūl
ay sīdī kam tufajjiʿnī wa-(ʾa)nā masṭūl.

Kajkūl, also kashkūl, from Persian kachkūl, is the beggar’s bowl.

215 3 Cf. above, p. 38. Bunduqah is of very frequent occurrence in al-Badrī. Among the verses on
it he quotes on fol. 16a, we have, for instance, those by Badr-ad-dīn Fulayfil (b. ʿAbdallāh
al-Muhtadī) about whom I have no further information, if, indeed, the form of his name
is correctly given here:

Hashish, good youth,

Rises on my eye’s horizon.
the use of hashish 195

“to make a pill”216 or kabbaba ṭābāt.217 The noun kubbah “lump” appears as a
pun in verses by Burhān-ad-dīn al-Miʿmār, addressed to a neighbor who was an
addict and ate hashish even while the plague (kubbah) was raging:

I said to the man occupied with hashish:

Woe unto you! Do you not fear this grain?
People are dying of a plague that has appeared.
He replied: Let me live eating the lump.218

Fūlah “bean” is also clearly used for hashish pills slipped to an unsuspecting
young boy by someone wishing to seduce him,219 and it seems to be used
this way, perhaps as a double entendre, in connection with the stinginess
ascribed to addicts.220 Qurūn (read quran ?) az-zīh, with the singular qurnah
(vocalization?), may also refer to the pill form of hashish, rather than a kind of

Thus leave wine alone as an ill omen

And cast off worries with a bunduqah.

inna l-ḥashīshata yā fatā

fī ufqi ʿaynī mushriqah
fa-daʿi ṭ-ṭilā mutaṭayyiran
wa-rmi l-humūma bi-bunduqah.

The third line may have to be corrected to fa-daʿi ṭ-ṭilāʾa taṭayyuran. I doubt whether
any allusion to “shooting with a crossbow” (qaws bunduq) was intended as an additional
poetical finesse.
216 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. IIb, in the story just cited (above, p. 59).
217 2 Above, p. 56.
218 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 32a:

qultu li-man bi-l-ḥashīshi mushtaghilun

wayka a-lam takhsha hādhihī l-ḥabbah
fa-n-nāsu mātū bi-kubbatin ẓaharat
fa-qāla daʿnī aʿīshu bi-l-kubbah.

The rhyme would seem to indicate the vocalization kabbah, for the kubbah of our dic-
tionaries. A play on the word ḥabbah seems to be intended in verses by al-Miʿmār when
his children want “grains” (= food) from him, and he replies, referring to his destitution,
that he does not own a grain (qālū nurīdu ḥubūban—wa-lastu amliku ḥabbah) (al-Badrī,
fol. 23b).
219 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 30b.
220 5 Cf. below, p. 79, n. 9.
196 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

container for it.221 The same word possibly occurs in the first verse of the long
poem of Abū l-Khayr al-ʿAqqād:

Substitute two pills (?) for wine

And bring down the rain cloud with less than the two bottles.222

63 However, the reading of the Paris Ms. of al-Badrī: qirbatayn “two skins” also
makes sense, indicating that the proper beverage should no longer be wine
but water (from water skins) drunk after the consumption of hashish; the
parallelism with “two bottles” would favor this reading but would not make it
absolutely necessary.
The finished product looked deceptively like henna to the inexperienced
eye, as Ibn Baṭṭūṭah tells us.223 And this is also exactly how al-Bakrī, in the
Kawākib, described it: “They beat the leaves until they are like a salve, then
they soak them in water until they are like henna.” Hashish possessed a dis-
tinctive smell which was poetically described as “exciting and stimulating”224
or as superior to musk and any other perfume, as in these verses of divers attri-

My friend asked me when there emanated from it

A smell that put to shame the smell of perfume:
Is it musk? I replied: It does not come from
Musk but from Kāfūrī hashish.225

221 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 28a–b, in the story of Muslim al-Ḥanafī, below, p. 144. Cf. also above, p. 40.
222 7 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 16b, above, p. 33, n. 6:

taʿawwaḍ ʿan mudāmika qurnatayni

fa-danni l-muzna dūna l-qullatayni.

“The two bottles” constitute the legal separation between purity and impurity in liquids.
If the translation of the second line is right, it would seem to mean that a much smaller
quantity of hashish is needed than that required of beneficial rain producing grapes and
wine (?).
223 1 Cf. Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, II, 351 f., trans. Gibb, II, 467. For the way henna was prepared as a cosmetic,
cf. G.S. Colin, in EI2, s.v. ḥinnāʾ.
224 2 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 25, in a verse by a certain Zayn-ad-dīn Abū ʿAbdallāh Muḥammad b. Abī
Bakr b. ʿAbd-al-Qādir al-Ḥanafī, quoted by al-Maqrīzī from the Ḥāfiẓ al-Yaghmūrī. As in
the following example, the hashish here is Kāfūrī hashish.
225 3 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 25, and al-Badrī, fol. 5a, as well as already an-Nuwayrī, Nihāyah, XI, 30,
the use of hashish 197

For the containers in which hashish was carried by the user a variety of words
were used, such as ḥuqqah “small box.” There was the purse (kīs) for carrying it
around, and this was most important for poets because it enabled them to play
constant minor variations | on the theme that wine required a cup (kaʾs, kās) 64
whereas the kīs made it so much easier to transport hashish. It could be kept
in the pockets ( jayb(ah), pl. jiyab) of one’s dress, in the wide sleeve, or, quite
generally, in garments (thiyāb).226 There always was the handkerchief (mandīl)
to keep it in,227 and it might also be wrapped in paper.228
From all that has been said here, it is apparent that hashish was consumed in
a solid state form. It is almost always described as being “eaten.” In comparison
to wine, it was, for Ibn Taymīyah, like faeces as compared to urine.229 Where the
use of hashish was favored over wine, a poet could wittily remark that the ritual
ablution with sand (tayammum) was obligatory for a person who was unable
to find the necessary water for it.230 When hashish was poetically described as
if it were wine and called, for instance, the wine of Ḥaydar or the wine of the
bankrupt (the Ṣūfis), it does not mean that it was a liquid like wine, but the
tertium comparationis was its quality as an intoxicant. However, Ibn Taymīyah

who, like al-Maqrīzī, has two additional verses. An-Nuwayrī’s quotation is anonymous. Al-
Maqrīzī attributes the verses to Nūr-ad-dīn Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAlī al-Yanbuʿī,
who appears to have lived in the first half of the thirteenth century, since al-Maqrīzī refers
in this context to the historian, Ibn ʿAbd-aẓ-Ẓāhir (d. 692/1293). Although al-Badrī had just
referred to al-Maqrīzī and might be therefore assumed to have derived these verses from
him, he nevertheless attributes them to a certain Shihāb-ad-dīn Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn al-
Miṣrī as-Ṣūfī.
At the beginning of the second half-verse, al-Badrī has a different wording (arajun
yazdarī), a further indication that he probably did not quote the verses from al-Maqrīzī. At
the end of the first half-verse, he has “me” for “it.” But this apparently merely suggests that
the smell of hashish emanated from the poet who carried it; it does not indicate mouth
odor after the consumption of hashish or the like.
Al-Bustān al-Kāfūrī was a park in Cairo named after Kāfūr al-Ikhshīdī and famous or
infamous for the hashish grown there, cf. further below, p. 135.
226 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 49a, in verses by the chief naqīb of the Iraq, Ḥusayn Ibn al-Aqsāsī (d. 645/
1247) (cf. L. Massignon, Cadis et Naqibs Baghdadiens, in WZKM, LI, 1948–1952, 106–115 =
Opera Minora, I, 264 [Beirut 1963]), cf. also below, p. 92, n. 5.
Thiyāb could, however, mean “pieces of cloth,” corresponding to mandīl.
227 2 Cf. al-Isʿirdī, verse 13, below, p. 164, cited by F. Rosenthal, Four Essays on Art and Literature
in Islam, 87 (Leiden 1971, The L.A. Mayer Memorial 2).
228 3 Cf. Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī, below, p. 173.
229 4 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwi, IV, 303.
230 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46b.
198 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

also states expressly that hashish may be dissolved in water and drunk.231
Legally, he considers it important to note that hashish could be consumed in
a solid state as food ( jāmid, maṭʿūm). Yet, he acknowledges that people also
make a distinction between its solid or dry ( jāmid, yābis) form and its liquid
(māʾiʿ) form.232 The process that gives hashish its potency, called “toasting”
65 (taḥmīṣ) and “roasting” (ṣalq), may be compared | to the fermentation of wine
(ghalayān),233 still, it refers to stages in the preparation of hashish for use as a
solid paste.
In our souces, hashish is never described as having been smoked. The proce-
dure of smoking is nowhere explicitly mentioned. The verb “to drink,” which in
more modern times often doubles for “to smoke,” is never applied to hashish in
a way that would suggest smoking.234 The smell of hashish can, of course, not
be understood to be the smell of its smoke. It has been stated that the smoking
of hashish “was practiced in the east before the use of tobacco.”235 If so, any con-
crete evidence for it seems to be still lacking, and it would seem to remain true
that the smoking of hashish was a custom that developed after the introduc-
tion of tobacco and continued side by side with the consumption of hashish
in various solid preparations. In the story from the seventeenth century related
by al-Mīlawī,236 the eating of hashish and the “drinking” of tobacco were done
simultaneously by two men. The point of the story requires smoking, but the

231 6 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah, and adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir.

232 7 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah, and adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir. In Fatāwī, II, 304, while Ibn Taymīyah
speaks expressly of the dry and liquid forms of hashish, it is not quite clear whether he
might not have thought rather of intoxicants in general.
I do not know precisely what kind of drink was sold by the şerbetciyan-i beng-i bāde,
mentioned by Ewliyā Čelebī in the seventeenth century. “Sellers of henbane drink,” as
translated by G. Baer, may be somewhat too narrow, but anyway it appears to have been a
liquid containing the one or other narcotic, cf. Baer, Egyptian Guilds in Modern Times, 36,
174 (Jerusalem 1964, Oriental Notes and Studies 8).
233 1 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 191.
234 2 This no doubt also applies to the verses in al-Aqfahsī which refer to the “drinking” of
hashish without any allusion to wine, cf. above, p. 12.
235 3 Cf. M. Meyerhof, in EI, Supplement, 85a, s.v. ḥashīsh. I wonder whether the negation “not”
might not have been omitted by accident from Meyerhof’s article. B. Laufer, Tobacco and
its Use in Asia, 27 (Chicago 1924, Field Museum of Natural History, Anthropology Leaflet
18), knew of no evidence for the theory that the intricate water pipe pre-existed in Persia
(for smoking hashish) because it made its appearance so soon after the introduction of
tobacco. Cf. also B. Laufer, W.D. Hambly, and R. Linton, Tobacco and its Use in Africa, 13
(Chicago 1930, … Leaflet 29), for the eating of hemp by sixteenth-century Kafirs.
236 4 Cf. below, p. 129.
the use of hashish 199

hashish is eaten, and its consumption is distinguished from the smoking that
was going on at the same time.
The eating of hashish could be accompanied by eating particular foods.
Sweets and fruits were especially favored.237 Pomegranates seem to have had
some specific function in the ritual of hashish consumption.238 The combina-
tion of wine and hashish was quite often attempted, although it must have been
a luxury not accessible to the ordinary addict of the lower classes who chose
hashish because it was cheap.239 A respectable scholar found nothing wrong in
using both wine and hashish on the same occasion.240 The combination was | 66
praised as engendering at the same time “the laziness of hashish and the energy
of wine.”241 Similarly, Ibrāhīm al-Miʿmār (d. 749/1348),242 called in this connec-
tion “master of the craft” (shaykh aṣ-ṣināʿah) (not of architecture, with which he
does not seem to have had anything to do, but of poetry), might wonder about
the extraordinary effect of wine plus hashish:

He mixed hashish with wine

And died of intoxication and became confused.
He became quarrelsome on the spot,
And I asked: What is this unexpected occurrence?
When he was sober (again), he answered me, saying:
Be kind to your brother when he mixes.243

237 5 Cf. below, pp. 78f.

238 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fols, 11b–12a and 15b–16a, cf. above, p. 59, and below, pp. 77 and 95.
239 7 Cf. below, p. 131.
240 8 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 14a–b, below, p. 146.
241 1 Cf. Safī-ad-dīn al-Hillī, below, p. 174.
242 2 Cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 3. Al-Badrī very frequently quotes al-Miʿmār or Burhān-ad-dīn al-
Miʿmār. Whether or not he is identical with Ibrāhīm al-Miʿmār could be decided, perhaps,
on the basis of Ibrāhīm’s preserved Dīwān. O. Rescher, in describing the Istanbul Ms. Fatih
3793, calls him Jamāl-ad-dīn. The epithet “master of the craft” is also applied to Abū Nuwās
(cf. al-Badrī, fol. 119a).
243 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 45b:

khalaṭa l-ḥashīshata bi-n-nabī-

dhi fa-māta sukran fa-khtalaṭ
wa-ghadā yuʿarbidu fī l-makā-
ni fa-qultu mā hādhā l-falaṭ
fa-ajābanī idhā ṣaḥā
sāmiḥ akhāka idhā khalaṭ.
200 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

However, the combination was considered as particularly sinful and there-

fore is often described as being characteristic of the revels of homosexuals.244
It may be a contest between the boy who prefers wine, and his lover who
prefers hashish and finally succeeds in persuading the boy to try hashish. Usu-
ally, though, bad boys try to attract men by tempting them with the combined
use of wine and hashish as the resulting stronger intoxication would help to
overcome any moral scruples.
The locale of hashish use was no doubt often dingy, and the act furtive,
whether it was done in company or by oneself.245 Pro-hashish sentiment loves
to conjure up an idyllic setting at murmuring brooks or “in gardens where grey-
ish pigeons coo.”246 But after all, one of the supposed advantages of hashish was
that it could be taken anywhere, in the open streets247 and even in mosques.
Scurrilous stories happening when one of the worshipers in the mosque was
67 under the | influence of hashish can be suspected to reflect the not uncommon
reality of the presence in the mosque of men in a state of hashish intoxication,
which as a rule might not have been noticeable to the inexperienced, and there-
fore it did not cause any real offence when a hashish eater mingled among the
crowd assembled in prayer.248
The public bath appears to have been a particularly convenient place for
taking hashish.249 In fact, the public bath, one of the most enduring material
legacies of Graeco-Roman Antiquity, offered both privacy and companionship
within its ample facilities. It was nothing unusual for those who had the time
to spend the better part of the day in it. Going there in the morning, a person
might still be found there in the evening.250 It was a place of relaxation where
members of many different social strata could meet and enjoy a certain free-
dom from their daily chores and worries—something to which hashish was
believed by many to be able to make a further contribution. The description
of things that allegedly happened to hashish eaters in public baths furnishes
lively vignettes of this aspect of life in medieval Islam. At times, it reads like the
scenario for a burlesque play, and it may, in fact, have served this very purpose.
Thus we hear of an addict who in the company of his friends entered a bath

244 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 45a–46a, and below, p. 158 (n. 5).
245 5 Cf. below, pp. 137ff.
246 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 5b: bayna r-riyāḍi wa-naghmati l-warqāʾi.
247 7 Cf. Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī, below, p. 173.
248 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 11b, 14b–15a, and 49b, cf. below, pp. 80 and 143.
249 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 11a–12a, 15a–16a, 29a–30a, 32a, and 33b, above, p. 59, and below, p. 134.
250 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 15b–16a, in the story of Aḥmad b. Barakah, below, p. 95.
the use of hashish 201

and “killed” and used hashish in front of them. His friends apparently were
non-users. Upon leaving they met a handsome boy about to go into the bath.
The hashish eater turned around and, claiming that he was following the
dictates of hashish which he was unable to control,251 re-entered the bath
and seated himself opposite the boy. His sexual excitement made itself felt
and started a chain reaction of mischief. One after the other in succession,
the head bath attendant (ballān), a customer, the watchman (ḥāris),252 and,
finally, the bath owner (ḥammāmī) with his cash box (ṣundūq), all came to grief.
The wild disturbance that ensued caused considerable amusement among
those observing what was going on.253 The role of hashish in this farce is
rather limited and could very well have been dispensed | with entirely, but it 68
occupies the center of the stage in another most vivid and entertaining story.
A certain al-Jayshī al-Ḥakwī (?) took hashish and went to the al-Fāḍil Bath at
Bāb Zuwaylah. Sitting in the bath under the influence of the drug, he was told
by someone that he should come out and listen to al-Māzūnī at the wedding
of ash-Sharābī (?).254 Wearing only a bath towel ( fūṭah),255 he left and walked
along. When he reached al-Khurunfish,256 he overheard someone telling his
friend that he should accompany him to the al-Baysarī Bath.257 He followed

251 4 Cf. also below, p. 75, n. 3.

252 5 Some minor functionary, possibly in charge of guarding the bathers’ belongings and
similar tasks, cf. the following story and A. Louis, in EI2, III, 145a, s.v. ḥammām. For the
cash box, cf. Arabian Nights, IV, 482, trans. Littmann, VI, 168. [For the medieval bath, cf.
now H. Grotzfeld (Wiesbaden 1970).]
253 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 32a–b.
254 1 I would guess that al-Māzūnī was a singer performing here at a (wedding) procession
(zaffat ash-Sharābī).
255 2 According to EI2, loc. cit., fūṭah, in modern Tunis, is the loin-cloth, which, as shown here,
accurately describes its use. It was furnished by the bath.
A story of the Hoja Nasreddin leaving the bath naked under the influence of hashish is
one of the few Near Eastern items included in G. Andrews and S. Vinkenoog, The Book of
Grass (New York 1967).
256 3 This is no doubt the nearby street and quarter mentioned by W. Popper, Egypt and Syria
under the Circassian Sultans, 31 and map 9 (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1955, University
of California Publications in Semitic Philology 15). Al-Maqrīzī refers to the al-Khurunfish
Arcade (qabw al-Kh.) in Khiṭaṭ, I, 458, stating that it was formerly known as Bāb at-Tabābīn.
Elsewhere, the printed text of al-Maqrīzī (II, 27 f., 49, 54, 69, 96, 109, 197) has the form
al-Khrshtf, once also al-Khrnshf. It may be “The Arcade” mentioned by as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ,
I, 163, as the haunt of juʿaydīs.
257 4 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, Khiṭaṭ, II, 69. Baysarī, without the definite article, is the usual form of
the name of the amīr, but al-Baysarī is found, for instance, in adh-Dhahabī, ʿIbar, V, 387
202 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

those people in, continued his bathing as if he had never interrupted it, had his
head shaved, and then went to the locker room (maslakh) to look for his clothes.
When he could not find them there (as they were still in the other bath), he
looked for them all over the place. He asked the watchman what might have
happened to them, but then, the bath attendant (ballān) noticed the markings
(aʿlām) of the al-Fāḍil Bath on the towel and wondered about it. People started
shouting, “Bravo, hashish!,” and they all moved in procession to the al-Fāḍil
Bath with al-Jayshī naked, dancing with lascivious gestures (tamakhlaʿa), and

By God, bravo hashish! It258 stirs deep meanings.

Don't pay attention to those who blame it.
Refrain from the daughter of the vines
And do not be stingy with it.
Eat it dry always and live! By God, bravo, hashish!
69 It is above pure wine.
When noble men use it,259
Eat it and agree, young man.
Eating it revives the dead. By God, bravo, hashish!
It gives the stupid, inexperienced, dull person
The cleverness of the straightforward sage.
I don't think I can escape from it.
…260 By God, bravo, hashish!261

(Kuwait 1960–1966), anno 698/1299, the year of Baysarī’s death. Neither bath is mentioned
in al-Maqrīzī’s discussion of public baths in Cairo. Al-Fāḍil may be the Qāḍī al-Fāḍil
al-Baysānī who left a considerable mark on Cairine topography.
258 5 It could hardly be the second person, addressing hashish, as hashish is used here as a
grammatical feminine.
259 1 On lāṭa, see above, p. 61.
260 2 “My load is … a feather” (?), but rīsh has many possible meanings. If the reading is
al-ghazzāl “spinner of cloth,” it may refer to the fact that he is naked, his load of clothing
being light as a feather (?).
261 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 15a–b:

wallāhi ṭayyib yā ḥashīsh—ghawāmiḍa-l-maʿnā tujīsh

daʿ qawla man fihā yalūm
wa-usmu (?) ʿan bint al-kurūm
wa-lā takun ʿanhā laʾūm
wa-staffihā dāʾim wa-ʿish—wallāhi ṭayyib yā ḥashīsh
tasmū ʿalā ṣafw al-mudām
the use of hashish 203

The places where hashish could be eaten were many, and so were no doubt
the ways in which users tried to obtain the desired results. For some, it was a
sort of religious ritual, making the place where it was consumed equivalent to
a mosque. The Ṣūfī poet al-Yanbuʿī said of his enjoyment, in pleasant company,
of hashish that “my salon is a mosque, and my drink is the green one,” meaning
apparently not that he was eating his hashish in a mosque but that he felt
that the sacred act of eating hashish turned his living room into a place of
A highly idealized description of an elaborate hashish eating ritual is pre-
sented to us in al-Badrī (fol. 2a–b) as a fictitious exhortation of an equally fic-
titious “Shaykh Qalandar”: “You must know that it behooves the intelligent,
educated, virtuous, and sophisticated | individual, who wishes to use this drug 70
which has the advantage over wine of being lawful, to cleanse his body of impu-
rity and his garments of stains and to adorn himself with the acquisition of the
virtues and to discard the commission of the vices. He must ask for it someone
who knows its secret and disapproves of keeping it concealed (?),263 and eat it
in his place and not partake of it in the company of non-users. He must hold it
in his right, not in his left, and say:
‘In the name of God, the Lord of the last world and the first, who brought
forth the pasturage (Qurʾān 87: 4/4), created and then formed (87: 2/2), pro-
vided and gave, destined and guided (87: 3/3), and taught the secret and dis-
closed (it). May God pray for Muḥammad, the prophet of right guidance, and
his companions, the leaders in piety! (I know) that You have deposited wis-
dom in Your creatures and created usefulness in the things You have made. You

waqtan yalūṭūhā l-kirām

kulhā wa-wāfiq yā ghulām
fa-l-mayt idhā (ʾa)kalhā yaʿīsh—wallāhi ṭayyib yā ḥashīsh
tuʿṭī l-ghabī l-ghirra l-balīd
nabāhata-l-ḥabri s-sadīd
mā (ʾa)ẓunnu lī ʿanhā maḥīd
ḥ-m-l-y m-n ʾ-l-gh-z-ʾ-l rīsh—wallāhi ṭayyib yā ḥashīsh.

Wa-usmu (ms. w-ʾ-s-m) seems doubtful. An eighth conjugation of s-m-m or sh-m-m yields
no suitable sense here. A correction to wa-shtamir appears excluded by the meter. For
wa-staffihā, the ms. shows different diacritical dots. Ghulām lacks the dot over the gh, but
ʿallām “expert” is unlikely and does not fit the meter. For al-ghzʾl, the dots in the ms. admit
also the reading al-qrʾl.
262 4 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, above, p. 63, n. 3, and also below, p. 148.
263 1 The text is doubtful, possibly wa-yunkir (ms. wa-yskr?) sutratah??
204 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

have shown their specific properties to those with whom You are pleased, and
revealed their secrets to those whom You have chosen. You have managed
this plant with Your wisdom, brought it forth with Your power, and made it a
nourishment for many of Your creatures by Your decision, volition, power, and
will. Thus I am asking You by Your generosity that encompasses264 the elite and
the common people, to let me succeed in using it in obedience to You and with
avoidance of any disobedience to You, that You remove from me the desires
with their hindrances, the doubts with their consequences, and the troubles
with their disturbances, that You let me see the existent things as they really
are, and that You provide me with its benefits and ward off from me its harmful
results, You who has the power over everything and sees every situation!’
He then puts it into his mouth, grinds (s-ḥ-q) it very strongly (with his teeth),
drinks (something to go) with it,265 moves his jaws, and sends it down into
his guts. Then he praises God for His kindness. He cleanses his mouth of its
remnants, washes his face, and raises his voice in song (nagham) for the Creator
of beauty, for (beauty) provokes hashish intoxication (saṭlah) and rest. He rubs
71 antimony on his teeth so that coarser souls (al-akhshān) will not | notice what
the matter is with him, and he braids the hair of his beard. Cheerfulness(?)
does not leave his mind, and he is restful (?)266 in the way he walks and in his
commands and prohibitions. He uses the most delicate food and the noblest
of sweet speech. He gazes at beautiful faces and sits in the most pleasant267
of places. He stays near where water is murmuring, and keeps company with
experienced friends. He turns to reflecting about cause and the thing caused,
about doer and the thing done, about event and result, about speaker and the
thing spoken, and about agent in sweetness (?) and the thing caused by action.
In this condition, (enough) of the eternal knowledge of God and His universal
grace emanates upon him to let him perceive the views and their meanings
and to show him the things with their contents. He notices the hearts with

264 2 The ms. seems to have al-ʿāmm li-l-khāṣṣ wa-l-ʿāmm, but possibly at-tāmm “Your perfect
generosity for …” is meant.
265 3 This would seem to be the intended meaning, provided the reading of the ms. (wa-yashrab
ʿalayh) is correct.
266 1 The word, seemingly ending in -ḥf may possibly be qaṣf (wa-lā yazūl [ yuzawwil?] al-qaṣf
min [read ʿan?] dhihnih). This is followed by wa-yatarannaḥ “and he is unsteady,” which
to my mind would make sense only if the earlier negation were also to apply to it. Perhaps
we should read yatarayyaḥ and translate as suggested above.
267 2 Anzah is to be understood in this sense, and does not mean “most isolated (or the like),”
connecting it with munazzah. Cf. also the passage from al-ʿUkbarī’s Sawāniḥ, below, p. 78,
n. 3.
the use of hashish 205

the eyes and controls the eyes with the hearts. He separates from his idea of
humanity and joins his idea of divinity. The name by which the poor are known
(nisbat al-fuqarāʾ) becomes lawful for him in reality, and he reaches the degree
of divine success (tawfīq).”
“The Shaykh Qalandar” concludes with a warning against the improper use
of hashish and against divulging its benefits to the common people, instead
of sharing it with fellow Ṣūfīs. Remote from reality as it is, the ritual is a good
reflection of the dream world constructed by faithful cultists. Even in this
dream world, dissimulation was considered necessary in order to throw the
uninitiated off the user’s scent, and even in the company recommended as
proper, the user is depicted as withdrawing into himself and into his supposed
lonely communion with the divine.268

4 The Reported Effects of Hashish

It is to be expected that Muslim authors cannot shed very much light on the
“origin” of hashish use. Perhaps, we should also not be greatly disappointed if
we have little concrete data about the technical side of hashish preparation.
We might think, however, that our | sources would be able to give us a good 72
deal of solid information on the effects of the drug. We do indeed hear rather
much about the manifold ways in which hashish affects the user, but truth
and fiction are hard to disentangle. We have no first-hand report of bonafide
hashish eaters setting down their experiences in writing with clinical detach-
ment. Many reports give the impression that their narrators might possibly
have been addicts themselves. It is even possible that some of the authorities
who denounce the use of drugs in the strongest terms were secret addicts or at
least had some actual drug experience that informed their judgment. It is, how-
ever, much more likely that they relied upon second-hand knowledge. They
may have derived their information from the actual observation of users and
from what those men told them. Often, they seem to have based themselves
upon a kind of generalities compounded by fact, rumor, and fantasy in about
equal proportions. The jurists were principally concerned with two aspects, the
temporary effect of intoxication and the alleged mind-changing aspects of drug
use, considered as more or less permanent. Any other detail found attention by
them only if it was giving support to their general outlook on the use of drugs;
fact and experience were of minor interest to them. The poets, whether they

268 3 Cf. also below, pp. 139f.

206 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

were praising or attacking the use of hashish, were not necessarily informed
by experience, as their first loyalty clearly was to literary convention.269 Story-
tellers naturally chose and exaggerated the elements they thought of as most
interesting to their audience. Moreover, they also depended a good deal on con-
ventional motifs which they transformed to apply to hashish. It often makes
no real difference whether the effects sustaining a given anecdote were those
of hashish, or wine, or personal eccentricity, or any similar agent. We merely
learn what was believed to be likely effects of hashish.
Brief but highly interesting remarks on the difficulty encountered in the past
in any attempt to obtain real knowledge about a drug’s effects can be found
at the beginning of Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī’s treatise against the use of qāt:270
Information from experience requires a long time to accumulate. Information
gathered from users is unreliable and indecisive. There are, for instance, contra-
73 dicting statements from users with regard to the simple question of whether |
the use of qāt is harmful or not. Traditional information seems to be the best
guide as to how to handle the problem. From our point of view, we would
heartily disagree—at least, in principle—with Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytami’s attitude.
However, for a Muslim scholar, especially one writing in the waning centuries
of medieval Islam, it was only natural to distrust empiricism and to rely upon
authority and tradition.
There was no real possibility of any sort of controlled experimentation,
even if the idea of using this thoroughly modern technique had ever occurred
to medieval scholars.271 In times past, it would have been completely out of
the question to attempt to measure the relationship between amount and
effectiveness of drugs such as hashish. It was realized that hallucinogenic drugs
could be used in larger or smaller doses and thereby exercised more or less
intensive effects. Some extraordinary feat of consumption might occasionally
be mentioned. Thus it could be stated that someone was able to consume
thirty dirhams weight of nutmeg ( jawzat aṭ-ṭīb), or someone else was described

269 1 Cf. below, p. 151, n. 1. Hashish poetry imitated all the topics of wine poetry, including such
things as poems in which the poet asks for hashish, cf. al-Badrī, fols. 18b–19a, who also
includes a prose letter on the subject.
270 2 See above, p. 11.
271 1 As an example of what was possible in medieval times in this respect, we may refer to
the unhappy story of the scholars at the Niẓāmīyah who wanted to improve their mental
faculties by the use of balād(h)ur (anacardia) and asked a physician how to take it and how
large a dose a human being could stand, cf. Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt, VI, 91 (Cairo 1948), in
the biography of Ibn Shaddād. Among physicians and in medical literature, the general
problem of proper dosage was, of course, realized and much discussed.
the use of hashish 207

as using a daily dose of one ounce (Egyptian) of k-n/tbābatī.272 But hashish

in its various forms and, in particular, when it was taken mixed with other
ingredients, could have had any degree of potency. It would have served no
valid purpose for a medieval author to indicate quantities normally consumed
by addicts.
The effects of cannabis were also described in medical terms273 according
to the rules of humoral pathology. They were assumed to be due to the actions
of natural heat and the reduction of bodily humidity, leading to “hot” diseases
and fevers. But obviously, there was no agreement whether hemp was hot and
dry, or cold and dry, | and to what degree.274 If we can trust az-Zarkashī, the 74
great Rāzī gave this description of the effects of eating cultivated hemp leaves,
in an unnamed work of his: “It causes headache,275 cuts off and dries up the
semen, and generates pensiveness ( fikrah).276 The reason is that the humidity
of bodies being in equilibrium goes hand in hand with the preservation of

272 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 39a and 47a, see also above, p. 31. The dose indicated corresponds to
twelve dirhams or 37.5 grams, somewhat more than an ounce, according to W. Hinz,
Islamische Masse und Gewichte, 35 (Leiden 1955, Handbuch der Orientalistik, ed. B. Spuler,
Ergänzungsband 1). The standard weight of the dirham was 3.125 grams.
273 3 Cf. above, p. 41, and below, pp. 114 f. Cf. also the Report of the Indian Hemp Drugs Commis-
sion 1893–1894, 174 f., 197 f. (reprinted Silver Spring, Maryland, 1969).
274 1 Cf. Ibn Jazlah, as quoted by al-Maqrīzī. Since the Yale Ms. L-740 (Catalogue Nemoy,
No. 1509), stated to contain Ibn Jazlah’s Minhāj, contains nothing on hemp proper, I have
so far been unable to check Silvestre de Sacy’s references to the work and al-Maqrīzī’s
quotations from it.
275 2 Cf. Galen, De alimentorum facultatibus, I, 34 (= VI, 550 Kühn): kephalalgēs. According to
Ibn al-Bayṭār, this was mentioned by Isḥāq b. ʿImrān and by ar-Rāzī, in his Dafʿ maḍārr
al-aghdhiyah. In the Dafʿ, ar-Rāzī further refers to “dimming of the eye,” cf. the Yale Ms.
L-473 (Catalogue Nemoy, No. 1519), fol. 31b.
The medical authorities quoted by Ibn al-Bayṭār hold views quite similar to those cited
here in the name of ar-Rāzī. As they can be easily consulted in the translations of Ibn
al-Bayṭār, no further attention has been paid to them here (but see below, p. 114, n. 7).
Al-Badrī, fols. 5b ff., quotes many ancient and Islamic medical authorities, beyond the
references in al-Maqrīzī, but when they resist identification in the sources or cannot be
traced to the earlier literature, the attributions must be treated with some suspicion.
Ar-Rāzī himself, in the section on simples in the Ḥāwī, XXI, i, 124, refers to shahdānaj
as a medicament for the ear. When consumed in too large quantities, it causes headache
and impotence (q-ṭ-ʿ al-bāh). Its leaves are good against dandruff (ḥazāz) of the head and
the beard. It is not certain whether all this is meant to go back to Ibn Māsawayh, who is
cited for classifying hemp as hot in the second degree (whereas al-Badrī, fol. 6a, says that
Ibn Māsawayh classifies it as hot in the first degree).
276 3 The term here is no doubt meant to have a negative connotation in the direction of
208 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

living beings. Thus, whatever dries up the body’s humidity is harmful and helps
to ruin it. It (apparently, the hemp leaves) generates sudden death, mental
confusion, hectic fever, consumption, dropsy, and effeminacy.”277 The mixture
of medicine and popular beliefs is quite characteristic of the views ascribed
to physicians. Experience and experiment would seem to have played a small
role in it, even in respect to the information inherited from Graeco-Roman
Antiquity. A dubious anecdote knows of evidence for the curative power of
hemp leaves in cases of epilepsy (ṣarʿ).278
75 The principal purpose in using hemp for pleasure was what in present-day
language is described as “getting high.” Arabic has a special term for hashish
intoxication in the root s-ṭ-l (also ṣ-ṭ-l), listed in the dictionaries, often with
the express addition that the meaning “intoxicate” refers to hashish intoxica-
tion.279 Masṭūl, masāṭīl “high on hashish” and the verbal nouns insiṭāl (and
istiṭāl) are common in al-Badrī, in al-Bakrī (according to Silvestre de Sacy), and
elsewhere. Musaṭṭil(ah) is the intoxicating action of hashish as mentioned in
al-Badrī and Qamʿ. A note in al-Badrī, fol. 47a, explains that the root means “feel-
ing the effects of hashish,” and this in connection with a verse in which the
portmanteau saṭlānaj is coined to provide a rhyme word for shahdānaj. The
noun saṭlah (the vowel of the first syllable is, it seems, not assured by express
attestation) is common; in a verse by Ibn Sayyid-an-nās (671–734/1273–1334),
it appears next to sukr among the six alleged bad qualities of Ṣūfīs, obviously
making a distinction between intoxication from wine (sukr) and intoxication
from hashish (saṭlah).280 With no further qualification, masṭūl signifies “being
high on hashish,” for instance, in a verse by Ibn al-Wardī, which is followed by
another verse saying that “qunbus does with me whatever it wants.”281 Maṣṭūl

worrisome thought. Elsewhere in connection with the effects of hashish, it is something

277 4 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 178.
278 5 Al-Badrī, fol. 7b, claims that this effect of the drug is mentioned by ar-Rāzī in the Manṣūrī,
in the chapter on ṣarʾ. This remains to be checked. The anecdote (see also below, p. 152,
n. 2) is subsequently reported in the first person, giving the impression that it is also
derived from the Manṣūrī. However, it deals with a situation from the first half of the
thirteenth century.
279 1 The peculiarity of the meaning once again justifies our asking ourselves what its origin
might have been. No answer is as yet readily available. It would be intriguing to note that
tenth-century Syriac lexicography knows of sʾṭl as an “Indian drug,” were it not for the fact
that Arabic medical literature speaks of shʾṭl, cf. ar-Rāzī, Ḥāwī, XXI, i, 126.
280 2 Quoted by al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 348; al-Maqrīzī, II, 414.
281 3 Cf. Ibn al-Wardī, Dīwān, 283 (Constantinople 1300), quoted anonymously by al-Badrī,
fol. 32a–b. For Ibn al-Wardī’s occupation with hashish, cf., further, below, p. 151, n. 1.
the use of hashish 209

is listed separately from s-ṭ-l with the meaning of “fool” in H. Wehr’s Arabi-
sches Wörterbuch. A modern Turkish-English dictionary has the entry mastor
(mastur) “a drunkard (with hashish), drowsy-headed man.” Disciples of a Ṣūfī,
ʿImād-ad-dīn Aḥmad b. Ibrāhīm al-Maqdisī aṣ-Ṣāliḥī, are described as akalah
saṭalah baṭalah, which supposedly means “eaters, hashish eaters (?), and good-
for-nothings.” However, the form saṭalah in this meaning seems to be most
dubious and unusual, and may not be correct.282 While the proper word for | 76
hashish intoxication existed and was widely known and used, a more precise
and detailed definition of what the hashish “high” was and how it manifested
itself was, regrettably, not given in connection with the root and must be gath-
ered from dispersed indications in the literature.
The effects of hashish are classified as physical, mental, and religious, with
the former two as a rule not sharply distinguished from each other. The anti-
hashish forces were understandably very expansive in cataloguing the mani-
fold ways in which the drug was believed to cause havoc among users. Occa-
sionally they came up with summary condemnations in the form of aphorisms
such as: “There are as many harmful qualities in hashish as there are beneficial
qualities in the toothbrush (siwāk).”283 Or, “The only use of hashish is for dry-
ing out sores of horses (n-sh-f ʿaqr ad-dābbah).”284 But as a rule, they indicate a
variety of details, even if their lists are built around a number of basic data.
The addicts themselves, or rather, those who speak for them and in favor
of their habit, are long on emotional lyricism but quite short on concrete
facts. For them, hashish is a thing of true beauty. It gives them irrepressible

282 4 Cf. adh-Dhahabī, ʿIbar, V, 357. Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, V, 403, in quoting adh-Dhahabī,
omits the crucial word, probably because he did not understand it or considered it
a mere repetition by the scribe of baṭalah. Cf., however, A. von Kremer, Beiträge, in
Sitzungsberichte, Akad. d. Wiss, Wien, phil.-hist. Cl., CIII (1883), 253, where s-ṭ-l is listed in
the meaning of “beggar pretending to be blind.”
283 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 55b, quoting az-Zarkashī (not, apparently, the Zahr); Qamʿ, fol. 276b. On
the authority of al-Aḥnaf b. Qays, it was known even popularly that the siwāk possessed
seventy-two good qualities, cf. Arabian Nights, I, 433 (= trans. Littmann, I, 607).
284 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 55b. Until the source of the statement is discovered somewhere in the
hippiatric literature, it can hardly be determined precisely which disease may be meant
by ʿ-q-r. It could be saddle sores or sores in various parts of the horse, but we also find,
for instance, a chapter heading fī l-ʿaqr al-ʿāriḍ fī l-ʿaynayn in the collection translated
into Arabic under the name of Theomnestus and preserved in the Istanbul Ms. Köprülü I,
959, fol. 26a. This corresponds to Greek peri diakopēs ophthalmōn, presumably, “rupture
(of blood vessels?) in the eyes,” cf. Corpus Hippiatricorum Graecorum, ed. E. Oder and
C. Hoppe, I, 74 (Leipzig 1924–1927). Incidentally, in the same context we hear about the
juice of banj (fol. 26b), translating hyoskyamou chylos (CHG, I, 75, 1. 27).
210 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

joy and repose and provides them with relief from worries and anxiety. It
reveals to them “secrets” and opens up to them new “meanings.” It increases
their understanding and enlarges their imaginative perceptions. It makes them
witty and entertaining company: “By its sublety, it clothes the dull person with
frivolous wit so that he becomes smart and a good companion, in contrast
to wine which is nasty in its effects and causes fear of being unexpectedly
77 caught by the authorities.”285 It is indeed con|stantly stressed that wine causes
quarrelsomeness, and hashish a kind of languid placidity. It is noteworthy
(although the sources themselves rarely comment upon the fact)286 that no
truly violent actions directed against other persons under the influence of
hashish are mentioned in any of our stories. The pro-hashish faction has much
to say along the general lines indicated here, but it never really comes to grips
with the points raised by the attackers. There was no real dialogue, and none
was possible, since either side was as a rule committed to its own position and
the arguments for it.
An outward effect of hashish on the user was changes in his coloring and
complexion. His skin took on a greyish-green complexion, and he looked
pale.287 The most immediate telltale sign of hashish use is the reddening of
the eyes.288 It is an indication that hashish has started to exercise its effect. The
phrase qadaḥat fī ʿayn- “it has hit the eye …” is commonly used in al-Badrī, who
also once (fol. 31a) uses the verb ṭalaʿat “went up to the eye …” The redden-
ing of the eyes was another boon for poets, as it enabled them to play around
with the concept of emerald (green) hashish turning into a red carnelian (ʿaqīq)

285 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 5b (see above, p. 45, n. 5):

taksū l-balīda khalāʿatan min luṭfihā

fa-yaṣīru(a) dhā kaysin wa-ḥusni ikhāʾi
ḍidda sh-sharābi fa-innahū dhū shunʿatin
wa-yukhāfu fīhī (!) kabsatu n-nuqabāʾi.

For the topic of danger from the authorities, cf., for instance, below, p. 164, and for the
quarrelsomeness caused by wine, cf. below, p. 110, etc.
286 1 Cf. al-Qarāfī, below, p. 110.
287 2 Cf. al-Isʿirdī, verse 30, below, p. 165.
288 3 Cf. also, in particular, below, p. 128. In addition to the numerous references from al-Badrī,
cf. also Ibn ʿAbd-aẓ-Ẓāhir, as cited by al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, II, 129, and Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt,
I, 363 (Būlāq 1286–1287, in the margin of ar-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī, Muḥāḍarāt). Wine is
constantly described as making the cheeks red, but Abū Nuwās once also adds the eye,
cf. his Dīwān, 180 (Beirut 1382/1962): ajdathu ḥumratahā fī l-ʿayni wa-l-khaddi.
the use of hashish 211

in the eyes.289 The same precious stones, incidentally, also served to picture
the contrast between green hashish and red wine. With a little greater effort at
originality, it was possible for a man like Ibn al-Kharrāṭ (ca. 777–840/1375(6)-
1436)290 to rhyme:

We have a companion carrying in his hand half a pill

Resembling a pomegranate tree shining green.
We bore with him for a while after he swallowed it.
Then we noticed in his eye its blossom.291

The color changes provoked by the use of hashish also gave rise to a hostile ditty 78
by the “elegant youth,” Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī (660–688/1262–1289), quoted
occasionally in slightly different forms:

Hashish holds no advantage for its eater.

But he is not turned in the right direction.
Yellow in his face, green in his mouth,
Red in his eye, black in his liver.292

It was noted that hashish stimulated the appetite. An idealized picture of the
situation in this respect was painted by al-ʿUkbarī in the Sawāniḥ, as quoted,
with disapproval, by al-Badrī (fol. 24b): “Only intelligent and well-to-do293 peo-

289 4 Cf., for instance, al-Badrī, fols. 17a, 18b, 19a.

290 5 For Zayn-ad-dīn ʿAbd-ar-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad b. Salmān b. al-Kharrāṭ, the head kātib
al-inshāʾ in Egypt, cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, IV, 130 f.
291 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22a:

lanā ṣāḥibun fī kaffihī niṣfu ṭābatin

ḥakat shajara r-rummāni lāḥa khḍirāruhā
ṣabarnā ʿalayhi sāʿatan baʿda balʿihā
fa-bāna lanā fī ʿaynihī jullanāruhā.

An-Nuwayrī, Nihāyah, XI, 101, describes pomegranate blossoms as white, red, or rose-
colored. They are usually orange red.
292 1 Cf. Ibn al-ʿAfīf, Dīwān, 29 (Beirut 1885); Ibn Kathīr, XIII, 315; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, VII,
381; al-Badrī, fol. 7b. In the margin of the Princeton Ms. of al-Aqfahsī, fol. 21a, the verse
reads: “green in his hand, yellow (pale) in his stomach ( jawfih).” The Gotha Ms. (above,
p. 18) makes the yellow face and the red eye exchange places, not unreasonably since the
reddening of the eye is an early sign.
293 2 Min al-akyās wa-dhawī al-akyās, playing on the double meaning of the root.
212 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

ple use hashish. When taking it, a person should consume only the lightest
of foods and the noblest of sweets. He should sit in the most pleasant of
places294 and bring around the most distinguished (?) of friends.295 In the end,
he will talk about something that was and something that was not.296 Then
he will go on (?) and be concerned with thinking about297 sweets and food
and assume that all this is reality whereas in fact, he is asleep.” The reality, al-
Badrī notes, was not always as pleasant, and the stories he tells prove it. We
hear about individuals always eating hashish alternately with chicken298 or
lamb(?).299 A user, picked up by Zayn-ad-dīn Ibn al-Kharrāṭ and his friends
79 in Damascus, eats large | quantities of apricots and then a very substantial
meal.300 When ʿAlī b. Sūdūn al-Bashbughawī ate inadvertently a quantity of
k-n/tbābatī, he got very hungry, described a full-course meal in verse, and was
served it.301
In particular, it is sweets and fruits and the like that addicts crave.302 Those
high on hashish (al-masāṭīl) pounce upon sweets as greedily as does a lover
upon the mouth of the beloved he wishes to kiss, according to a verse by
Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī.303 The messengers of the ḥisbah office in Cairo (rusul
bayt al-ḥisbah) who went to the bank of the Nile, sat there eating hashish
and dates, and finally entered into a lying contest for the last remaining date
(thus bringing down upon them the double condemnation of Qurʾān 5: 42/46:
“hearing lies, eating what is prohibited [suḥt]”), satisfied their hashish-induced
craving for sweet fruit.304 A scurrilous tale of two users who went down to a
sugar cane press (maʿṣirat al-qaṣab) in Damiette and sat opposite each other,
chewing sugar cane and spitting it out with such abandon that finally they

294 3 Cf. above, p. 71, n. 2.

295 4 Wa-yastajlib ʿalī (?) al-ikhwān (?).
296 5 Yataḥaddath bi-shayʾ kān wa-bi-shayʾ lā (!) kān, a phrase repeated by al-Badrī, fol. 57a, and
apparently referring to the hashish eater’s spinning of tales while being high.
297 6 Thumma yasrud wa-yahdus fī dhikr. However, the root s-r-d seems to have some particular
meaning in the hashish ritual.
298 7 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 19b.
299 8 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 21b (kharūf ).
300 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 21b–22a.
301 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22a–b, see above, p. 31.
302 3 This gave al-Badrī an excuse for a long excursus (see above, p. 14). Cf. also, for instance,
above, p. 65.
303 4 Dīwān, 72 (Beirut 1885); aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. S. Dedering, III, 132 (Damascus 1953, Bibliotheca
Islamica 6c).
304 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 24a.
the use of hashish 213

could no longer see each other because of the mountain of sugar cane refuse
between them also illustrates the sweet tooth stimulated by hashish.305 The
gluttony and uncontrollable desire for sweets and fruits could be expensive and
contribute to reducing a user to penuriousness.306 The stinginess attributed
to addicts307 was also thought to have its roots in their craving for expensive
food. Both hunger and stinginess are combined in verses composed by al-Badrī

Once I visited my friends under the influence of zīh

In the morning, and hunger made itself felt in the evening.
One gave me a bean, generously.
And another some dessert, meanly.308

An anecdote told about an originally well-to-do Egyptian addict, no doubt a fig- 80

ment of the imagination of the narrator, combines the supposed characteristics
of stinginess, fondness for sweets, and self-illusion: In a hashish dream, he saw
and heard a voice telling him that his end was near and that he should give some
of his money to his friends among the hashish eaters. He swooned, was carried
home, and when he woke up, ordered the sweetmeats bakers to prepare a lot of
sweets. He had them carried to al-Junaynah309 and had them distributed there
among his friends, reality becoming like a dream. Then he took hashish again.
Now he saw a castle built entirely of various kinds of sweets and other delica-
cies. He was told by the same voice that such a castle was the reward for one
who regaled his friends as he had done. But then he woke up and found that

305 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 23b.

306 7 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 22b, and below, p. 158.
307 8 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 17b.
308 9 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 24a–b:

ṣabbaḥtu fī z-zīhi yawman

khullānī wa-l-jūʿu massā
bi-fūlatin jāda lī dhā
wa-dhā bi-nuqlin wa-khassa.

The ms. has khlʾn, perhaps to be corrected to khullānan, but “my friends” seems preferable.
Since fūlah “bean” may mean a hashish pellet (cf. above, p. 62), the intended meaning
could be that the stingy friends provided the author just with some more hashish and
fruit, the latter in small quantity. It would seem, however, that beans are literally meant as
a cheap and unattractive kind of food.
309 1 See below, p. 95.
214 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

there was nothing there and that his money was all gone. Originally he was a
stingy man. However, his hashish habit impoverished him and finally caused
him to lose his mind together with his money.310
An affinity of the hashish eater to music was occasionally detected. It was
not considered to be as normal and expected as the relationship between wine
and song of which it could be said, for instance: “Between wine and song
there is a relationship under most conditions and a similarity with respect to
praiseworthy qualities common to both.”311 But hashish was beautiful music
to the sense of hearing,312 and listening to music increased the pleasure of it.
Thus al-Khaffāf was under the influence of hashish when he joined a musical
soirée where women on a balcony (manẓarah) were looking down, and hashish
and music combined to loosen his inhibitions.313 A user under the influence of
the drug is deeply moved by a flutist playing at an amīr’s party. He leaves, and
not knowing what he is doing, he enters a mosque, mixes with the assembled
worshipers without first performing the required ablutions, remains prostrated
81 in prayer when the others have finished and are leaving, is awakened | and does
not know where he is but thinks that he is still listening to the flutist.314 We have,
however, only a single statement to the effect that the use of hashish improved
and was indeed necessary for a musician’s performance. The singer in question
was a certain Thaqīlīyah (?).315
Hashish is stated consistently by its adversaries to be something that saps the
user’s energy and ability and willingness to work. Implicitly, this was considered
its greatest danger to the social fabric. With the help of a general Prophetical
tradition, this aspect is usually verbalized by the root f-t-r ( futūr and mufat-

310 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 24b.

311 3 Cf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, I, 230.
312 4 Cf. below, p. 152, n. 5.
313 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 12b–13b, and, for the story, also above, p. 29, n. 1, and below, p. 146, n. 5.
314 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 14b–15a.
315 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 21a–b. The information is said to be derived from al-Ghuzūlī’s Maṭāliʿ,
which, however, does not seem to contain it. A subsequent quotation from al-Ghuzūlī
by al-Badrī, fol. 25b, can be traced to Maṭāliʿ, II, 82. The continuation of the story appears
also in Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt, I, 40, in a shortened version which makes no reference to
hashish and, as printed, calls the man Ibn Naqīlah (Nuqaylah). During a serious illness
brought on by excessive eating, he was asked by Badr-ad-dīn (Aḥmad b.) Muḥammad b.
aṣ-Ṣāḥib (d. 788/1386): “How are you, Thaqīlīyah (Ibn Ḥijjah: How is the Naqīlīyah)?” He
replied: “I am very much afraid that it will get buried with a tooth in it (mā akhwafanī an
takūn madfūnah wa-fīhā nāb).” If the reading and translation are correct, the name may
refer to some dish.
the use of hashish 215

tir)316 as well as the common words for laziness and sluggishness such as kasal
and fashal. Hashish has a numbing effect which causes the excessive sleep-
ing done by addicts and the heaviness in their heads when the drug takes
possession of their brains.317 Addicts stagger about and nod and are drowsy.
The word futūr is in fact also paraphrased as something that causes “numb-
ness (khadar)318 in the extremities,” and the root expressing “numbness” is
employed generally to refer to narcotics (mukhaddir).319 Futūr is not among
the harmful effects of wine; it is an additional evil trait of hashish.320
It is largely in this sense that we must understand the described sexual
effects of hashish. We encounter the statement that use of the drug entails
“the opening of the gate of desire.”321 This, however, | is not meant to refer 82
to increased sexual urges but rather to the presumed addictive character of
the drug.322 On the contrary, it is stated by physicians that “it cuts off the
desire for sexual intercourse,” and was therefore esteemed by ascetic Ṣūfīs.323
“Addicts,” we are told, “may think that it strengthens (the ability for) sexual
intercourse. This may perhaps be so in the beginning, but then it loosens the
sinews because of its cold temper.”324 A theoretical foundation was believed to
exist for the assumption that hashish had a debilitating effect with respect to
sex, for already Galen, as the Muslims knew, attributed to hemp the medicinal
quality of cutting off or drying up the semen.325 On the other hand, according
to al-ʿUkbarī’s Sawāniḥ, hashish enables the user to have splendid sexual expe-
riences (mubāsharat al-manākiḥ al-bahīyah),326 and among the inhibitions it
removes we also find that of sex, as in the story of Abū Jurthūm.327 Constant

316 3 The second conjugation is, I believe, more likely than the fourth, used in Concordance, s.v.
317 4 Cf. al-Fanārī (above, p. 17).
318 5 On the medical use of the term khadar, one may compare the monograph by Qusṭā b.
Lūqā, as quoted by ar-Rāzī, Ḥāwī, I, 42, 51 (Hyderabad 1374ff./ 1955ff.).
319 6 According to as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʿ, II, in, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān az-Zāhid
(d. 819/1416, cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 112) wrote on “Intoxicants, both numbing and intoxicating”
(al-Kalām ʿalā l-muskirāt mukhaddirihā wa-muskirihā). He probably included also hashish
in the former category.
320 7 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 310, and az-Zarkashī, below, p. 186.
321 8 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 310, also IV, 326 (infitāḥ shahwatih, speaking of ghubayrāʾ).
322 1 Cf. below, pp. 96 f.
323 2 Cf. al-Maqrīzī who seems to continue here his quotation from Ibn Jazlah.
324 3 Cf. Dāwūd al-Anṭākī, Tadhkirah, I, 200, also quoted in Leclerc’s translation of Ibn al-Bayṭār.
325 4 Cf. Galen, De simpl. med. VII (= XII, 8 Kühn); Dioscurides, loc. cit. (above, p. 22, n. 9); Paul
of Aegina, ed. Heiberg, II, 220. Galen is cited by al-Maqrīzī.
326 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 30a.
327 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 10a–b and 12a–b, in the story of Abū Jurthūm, cf. below, p. 146.
216 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

drug use is said to have been accompanied by extraordinary sexual activity in

Ibn al-Barīdī,328 but in another story, we hear about a certain Abū l-Khayr al-
ʿAqqād who, on his wedding night, was given a lubābah by a friend to help him
“to relax with his bride,” but the drug merely put him to sleep.329
What was believed to be the most pernicious effect of hashish as far as
the individual was concerned was that it led to effeminacy (takhannuth) or
passive homosexuality (ubnah, maʾbūn).330 As we read in az-Zarkashī,331 it
makes the best of fine young men effeminate. Inevitably, hashish is mentioned
in connection with homosexuality. It is described as breaking down resistance
to sexual advances by its power to intoxicate and to weaken the will.332 Much
83 was made by | al-Badrī (fols. 30a ff.) of the combination of the use of hashish
and homosexuality.333 Under the drug’s influence, addicts go out “hunting”
for young boys. There were special localities, such as Bāb Zuwaylah in Cairo
or suburban Būlāq, where they hung out to make contacts. However, when
drugging is needed for the scabrous custom, called dabīb, of attacking youths
while they are asleep in public places such as caravanserais, the verb used is
bannaja “to drug with banj.”334
Verses on homosexuality and hashish are plentiful,335 from lines of al-
Miʿmār such as

328 7 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 47a, in connection with k-n/tbābatī.

329 8 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 16b–17a, see also above, p. 31.
330 9 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah; adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir; al-Fanārī, from al-Ḥaddād(ī). Also Ibn
Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 326 (= II, 254, speaking of ghubayrāʾ), and the passage ascribed to
ar-Rāzī, quoted above, p. 74 (n. 4), and below, p. 86, n. 5.
331 10 Cf. below, p. 187.
332 11 Cf., for instance, below, pp. 156f., and Fuzūlī, 157.
333 1 Cf. also above, p. 66, etc. In al-Maqrīzī, I, 368, as well as in the verse cited II, 414 (above,
p. 75, n. 2), drug intoxication is a vice immediately followed by keeping company with
beardless boys.
334 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 43a, quoting Ibn Makānis (745–794/1345–1392) (cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 7). For
tabnij, see above, p. 19.
335 3 The subject of homosexuality is introduced by al-Badrī with a quotation from al-ʿUkbarī’s
Sawāniḥ, but how much, if any, of the following material is borrowed from the Sawāniḥ is
hard to say.
Strangely enough, al-Badrī, fol. 42a–b, quotes verses containing a reference to hashish
which seem to be ascribed to Abū Nuwās. If God were to grant him his true wish, he would
ask to have each day

A hand full of hashish, a pound of meat,

A kilo of bread, and the company of a willing boy.
the use of hashish 217

Mix your hashish with the appropriate amount of clay.

Chew (it) upon the bed and “kill” it leisurely.
Eat heavily, for eating is an ornament for you,
And if you get excited sexually, do not have any but anal intercourse,336

and other frankly obscene material to the more sensitive if hardly any more
appealing verses comparing hashish, with its darkish green color, to the first
down (ʿidhār) on a youth’s face. Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī, comparing the locks
(ṣudgh) with hashish and the mouth (mabsim) with wine, furnished the model
for a comparison by Muḥibbad-dīn Ibn al-Athīr al-Ḥalabī of green hashish with
the down and red wine with the mouth.337 There are verses such as those of Ibn

There is a pretty one who says openly: 84

Souls of the people, live338
On my down and my spittle—
My wine and my hashish.339

kaffa ḥashīshin wa-riṭla laḥmin

wa-manna khubzin wa-waṣla ʿilqin.

This could have been invented in imitation of some topic introduced by Abū Nuwās, but
as it stands, it is apocryphal.
336 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 30a:

karbil ḥashīshak wāfiqhā min aṭ-ṭīnah

wa-mḍugh ʿalā l-farsh wa-qtulhā ʿalā ḥīnah
wa-blaʿ thaqīl fa-inna-l-balʿa lak zīnah
wa-(ʾi)n qām ‘alayk fa-lā tankiḥ siwā t-tīnah.

For sh, the ms. has s in al-farsh. The third line refers to the gluttony associated with hashish.
337 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46a. Information on Ibn al-Athīr al-Ḥalabī is not available. Cf. Ibn al-ʿAfīf,
Dīwān, 38 (Beirut 1885).
338 1 “Live” in the sense of “obtain sustenance.”
339 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46a:

wa-malīḥin qāla jahran

yā nufūsa n-nāsi ʿīshī
min ʿidhāri wa-ruḍābī
bayna khamrī wa-ḥashīshī.
218 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Or those by Nūr-ad-dīn ʿAlī b. Bardbak al-Fakhrī (838–872/1434–1468):340

The essential composition of the one I love contains the pleasures of love.
Thus, lovers, take your pleasures and live!
A paste of musk is his mole, his spittle provides
Wine, and his cheeks are hashish.341

Of a different character, and just possibly of some historicity, is a long story con-
cerning ʿAlam-ad-dīn, the son, al-Badrī says (fol. 51a–b), of Ṣafī-ad-dīn ʿAbdal-
lāh b. Shukr, a well-known personality generally referred to as aṣ-Ṣāḥib (548–
622/1153–1225). There can, however, be little doubt that ʿAlam-ad-dīn was in fact
Ibn Shukr’s grandson, Aḥmad b. Yūsuf b. aṣ-Ṣafī (d. 688/1289).342 Anyway, the
story goes that ʿAlam-ad-dīn was appointed by his father as a lecturer (mudar-
ris) in the Mālikite College founded by him.343 His lectures were very well
attended by legal scholars and much appreciated for their high quality. Yet,
ʿAlam-ad-dīn affected a “hippie”-type style of dress and grooming,344 and he
constantly used hashish, in utter disregard of all the conventional and official
85 disap|proval that provoked. When Ṣafī-ad-dīn died, the incumbent chief judge
got the idea of depriving ʿAlam-ad-dīn of the administration and control of the
waqf endowment of the College. To this end, he had an assembly arranged at
which he was ostentatiously to ask ʿAlam-ad-dīn for his legal opinion on the use

340 3 For Ibn Bardbak, cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, V, 196 f.

341 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 46a:

fī dhāti man ahwāhu ladhdhātu l-hawā

fa-taladhdhadhū yā ʿāshiqūna wa-ʿīshū
maʿjūnu miskin khāluhū wa-ruḍābuhū
minhu s-sulāfu wa-ʿāriḍāhu ḥashīshu

Cf., further, below, p. 154.

342 5 Cf., in particular, Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, VII, 378–380. The mix-up between son and
grandson would seem to exclude al-ʿUkbarī as al-Badrī’s source, although he is quoted
immediately before for declaring hashish to be legal. As a contemporary, al-ʿUkbarī is not
likely to have made this mistake.
343 6 For the Madrasah aṣ-Ṣāḥibīyah, cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 371.
344 7 Resentment of such external features is indicated by Ibn Taymīyah’s action, with respect
to a shaykh who appeared before him accused of hashish use and impiety, of ordering his
Ṣūfī garment (dalaq) cut up, the thick growth of the hair on his head shaved, and his nails
and moustache clipped, cf. Ibn Kathīr, XIV, 33, anno 704/1305, referred to by H. Laoust, in
EI2, III, 951b, s.v. Ibn Taymiyya.
the use of hashish 219

of hashish, thereby trapping him into an open admission of his addiction and
of his sentiments in favor of hashish. Now, the judge on his part was suspected
of homosexuality, and it was observed that he was constantly surrounded by
a large retinue of beardless slaves. So it came about that when he addressed
ʿAlam-ad-dīn in the assembly, asking him for his opinion on “eating hashish
which is waraq ash-shahdānaj,” ʿAlam-ad-dīn stared in dramatic silence at the
slaves standing behind the judge long enough for everybody in the audience
to become aware of what he had in mind. Finally he broke his silence and said
that there was no text forbidding the eating of hashish, whereas homosexual-
ity was forbidden by general consensus, and if the judge was out to pick a fight
with him, he in turn was willing to pick a fight with the judge. Thus, the discus-
sion turned to the judge and his slaves, and the judge did not accomplish his
iniquitous purpose, quite to the contrary.
Al-Badrī has this story followed by his catharsis for the large amount of space
given over by him to lewd verses and anecdotes.345 He discusses the forbid-
den character of homosexuality, citing, among other authorities, Ibn Qayyim
al-Jawzīyah (d. 751/1350) and the Taḥrīm al-liwāṭ by al-Ājurrī (d. 360/970).346 A
good deal of the obscene material had been added by al-Badrī for its own sake.
It is without any direct relation to the use of hashish.
The assumption that hashish may cause effeminacy is coupled with remarks
that it may lead to something called diyāthah. Strangely enough, the scribe
of the Fanārī Ms.347 glossed the term in the margin as indicating, generally,
“humbleness, lowliness,” with reference to the lexicographer, al-Jawharī. In
one way or other, humbleness and lowliness are often stated to be one of the
social consequences of the use of hashish, and they are also associated with
the lack of energy considered characteristic of the drug user.348 It is, however,
obvious | that in the hashish context, diyāthah has its ordinary meaning of 86
being a dayyūth “cuckold.”349 We also hear it said that hashish may generate
a loss of jealousy (ghayrah) such as would be intolerable in a real man. It might
easily be suspected that what is really meant here is the fact that an addict

345 1 Cf. above, p. 15.

346 2 For al-Ājurrī, cf. F. Sezgin, GAS, I, 194f. This identification, I believe, is correct, but I have
no reference to a work by him on this subject.
347 3 Above, pp. 17f. However, al-Jawharī, Ṣiḥāḥ, I, 133 (Būlāq 1292), adds the explanation of
dayyūth as lacking jealousy.
348 4 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 310.
349 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah; Fatāwī, IV, 326 (= II, 254, speaking of ghubayrāʾ); adh-Dhahabī,
Kabāʾir; al-Fanārī.
220 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

might not care whether his wife has other men to support her and thus make
it possible for himself to devote all his time to his habit.350 However, those who
spoke of diyāthah might have thought primarily of the drug’s debilitating effect
on will power and sexual desire. It would also seem that “cuckoldry” here was
understood by and large not so much as a sexual phenomenon but as a general
lack of energy and a man’s normal physical desires.
A complete summary of the ravages ascribed to hashish may be found in
az-Zarkashī who followed some unnamed authority.351 In the part of it that
deals specifically with physical harm, which incorporates certain traditional
medical views on cannabis but naturally goes far beyond that, certain person-
ality changes ascribed to the drug are not forgotten. Az-Zarkashī, or his source,
spares no pain to bring together in this one place everything he can think of as
detrimental to human beings: “It destroys the mind (ʿaql), cuts short the repro-
ductive capacity, produces elephantiasis ( judhām), passes on leprosy (baraṣ),
attracts diseases, produces tremulousness (riʿshah),352 makes the mouth smell
foul, dries up the semen, causes the hair of the eyebrows to fall out, burns the
blood, causes cavities in the teeth, brings forth the hidden disease,353 harms the
intestines, makes the limbs inactive, causes a shortage of breath,354 generates
87 strong illusions (hawas), diminishes the powers (of the soul), reduces | mod-
esty (ḥayāʾ),355 makes the complexion (al-alwān) yellow, blackens the teeth,

350 2 According to the lexical sources used by Lane, diyāthah may in fact signify pimping for
one’s wife. Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, Zawājir, II, 150, speaks of the hashish eater’s diyāthah
“against (ʿalā) one’s wife and womenfolk, let alone strange women.” This may have to be
understood to refer to pandering. Cf., further, K. Vollers, in ZDMG, L (1896), 625, and Ibn
Ḥazm, The Dove’s Neck-Ring, trans. A.R. Nykl, 188 (Paris 1931).
351 3 Cf. the Arabic text, below, pp. 178f.
352 4 For the medical understanding of riʿshah, cf. the first volume of the edition of ar-Rāzī’s
Ḥāwī. There ar-Rāzī also quotes aṭ-Ṭabarī, Firdaws, 194f.
353 5 In a brief treatise wrongly ascribed to ar-Rāzī on “The Hidden Disease,” which is preserved
in the General Library in Rabat, the expression is used as a euphemism for ubnah (above,
p. 82, n. 9). For kryphia diseases, cf. K. Deichgräber, Medicus gratiosus, 101f. (Mainz 1970).
354 6 Tuḍayyiq an-nafs could mean “causes anxiety,” but nafas is required by the rhyme word
hawas. Cf., for instance, as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, I, 77, 1. 9: la-ḍāqat al-anfās “(I) would run out of
355 1 A marginal note in the Gotha Ms. of az-Zarkashī calls attention to the fact that the effect
of hashish upon ḥayāʾ was mentioned before as one of the effects that hashish shares with
wine. The scribe tentatively suggests a correction to al-ḥīlah “resourcefulness,” or the like.
This emendation shares with many others in history the fate of being ingenious but hardly
the use of hashish 221

riddles the liver with holes,356 inflames the stomach,357 and leaves in its wake
a bad odor in the mouth as well as a film and diminished vision in the eye and
increased pensiveness in the imagination.358 It359 belongs to the blameworthy
characteristics of hashish that it generates in those who eat it laziness and slug-
gishness. It turns a lion into a beetle360 and makes a proud man humble and a
healthy man sick. If he eats, he cannot get enough. If he is spoken to, he does not
listen.361 It makes the well-spoken person dumb, and the sound person stupid.
It takes away every manly virtue and puts an end to youthful prowess. Further-
more, it destroys the mind ( fikrah), stunts all natural talent, and blunts the
sharpness of the mental endowment. It produces gluttony, making eating (the
addict’s) preoccupation ( fannah) and sleep for him a characteristic situation
(maẓannah). But he is remote from slumber,362 driven out | from Paradise, and 88
threatened with God’s curse unless he gnashes his teeth in repentance and puts
his confidence in God. It has well been said:

The smallest physical harm it causes, and there is plenty of it,

Is immorality, insanity, and mental exhaustion.”363

356 2 N-q-b seems to refer to ulceration (cirrhosis?) of the liver. Ms. A of az-Zarkashī and the
Princeton Ms. of al-Aqfahsī suggest the synonymous th-q-b. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 326
(= II, 254), speaking of the effects of ghubayrāʾ, says that “it makes the liver like a sponge
(sifanj).” According to al-Badrī, fol. 55a, an experiment by one of the sages tested the
pernicious action of hashish by putting some of it on an animal liver and letting it lie there
for a while. It made the liver full of holes (mankhūrah [?] mubakhkhashah) like a sponge.
357 3 “Drying out the moisture of the stomach,” says Ibn al-Bayṭār, citing Galen, De alimentorum
facultatibus, I, 34 (= VI, 550 Kühn). The original Greek is kakostomachos.
358 4 Cf. above, p. 74, n. 3. In his Takrīm al-maʿīshah, al-Qasṭallānī mentioned as the ill effects
of the use of hashish that it causes headache, darkens the sight, causes constipation, and
dries up the semen; it is useful against flatulence and dandruff, cf. al-Aqfahsī, fol. 20a.
359 5 The text, from here to the end of the quotation but with the exclusion of the verses, appears
in Ibn Ghānim (above, pp. 6 f.). Ibn Ghānim and az-Zarkashī presumably used the same
source. On the other hand, al-Aqfahsī, fols. 21b–22a, would seem to have used az-Zarkashī.
360 6 The scribe of the Gotha Ms. has a marginal note referring to the Prophetical tradition
branding juʿal as the creature most contemptible in the eyes of God.
361 7 The last three sentences appear in Qamʿ in a different sequence. Qamʿ, fols. 275b–276a,
adds rather dramatically: “If you say in front of him: ṭāq, he is frightened right away. It is as
if he has been burdened with something that is too much for him to carry (idhā qult bayn
yadayh ṭāq inzaʿaj li-waqtih wa-kaʾannah taḥammal mā lā yuṭāq).”
362 8 The rhyming words apparently are sinah, jannah, and laʿnah. However, the Princeton Ms.
of al-Aqfahsī seems to vocalize sunnah.
363 1 For nishāf, no doubt the correct reading, cf. also below, p. 90. “Dryness” leads, as also
222 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

This long and somewhat disorganized catalogue mainly of the physical evils
of hashish use is preceded by a briefer but no less awesome enumeration of
the effects it has on the user’s religion, that is, his morality and his attitude
toward the religious duties of Islam. These hashish shares with wine, whereas
the physical effects are all its own. Nevertheless, they were particularly objec-
tionable according to the standards of Muslim society. Not infrequently we hear
about the hashish user becoming lax in the fulfillment of his religious duties
such as prayer and fasting and also forgetting the confession of faith in extremis
when it becomes necessary for him to pronounce it.364 The often repeated stan-
dard formula of the legal adversaries of hashish says that habituation to the
drug “bars a person from the remembrance of God and from prayer” (yaṣudd
ʿan dhikr Allāh wa-ʿan aṣ-ṣalāh). Qamʿ alludes to the dire fate that awaits the
drug user in the other world, for he will be unable to remember, when he is on
the point of death, the two sentences of the confession of faith and forget the
89 common formula about taking refuge in God.365 | Az-Zarkashī speaks of “intox-
ication, destruction of the mind ( fikr), forgetfulness (nisyān adh-dhikr) (in this
case, apparently not meaning forgetting to think of God, but forgetfulness in
general), the vulgarization of secrets, the commission of evil actions, the loss

indicated in Steingass’ Persian-English Dictionary, to the further meanings of “dryness in

the mouth from extreme hunger; folly, thoughtlessness,” resulting from the drying out of
the brain.
In al-Badrī, fols. 55b–56a, the verse is ascribed to a certain Shihāb-ad-dīn Aḥmad
ath-Thaqafī (?). It is preceded by two additional verses:

May God curse hashish and those who eat it.

It is as bad as wine is good.
As it (wine) gladdens, it (hashish) saddens, and it (hashish) pains
As it (wine) sustains. Its end is foolishness (?).

laḥā llāhu l-ḥashīsha wa-ākilīhā

la-qad khabuthat kamā ṭāba s-sulāfu
kamā tuṣbī ka-dhā tuḍnī ma-tushqī
kamā tashfi wa-ghāyatuhā l-khirāfu.

The last line, as in az-Zarkashī, was certainly borrowed by the author from a common
source, even if he lived before the time of az-Zarkashī. The same would seem to apply also
in case the ascription of the three verses in al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 9, to Jamāl-ad-dīn Ibrāhīm
b. Sulaymān Ibn an-Najjār (590–651/1194–1253) should happen to be correct.
364 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 55b and 57a. For disrespect toward the month of Ramaḍān, cf. below, p. 128.
365 3 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 276b.
the use of hashish 223

of modesty (ḥayāʾ), great stubbornness, the lack of manly virtue, the suppres-
sion of jealousy, wastefulness, keeping company with the devil, the omission
of prayer, and the falling into unlawful activities.” Nor is this all. Someone else
is quoted as having totaled up the religious and worldly harm done by hashish
and to have come up with no less than 120 items.366 Fortunately, they are not
Other, concise descriptions of the frightful consequences of the use of hash-
ish tend to be eclectic, mentioning the one or other presumed effect of hashish
on the addict’s body, mind, character, and social status. In his large handbook
for government officials, al-Qalqashandī (d. 821/1418) thus informs the reader
that hashish “ruins the temper by producing the effect of desiccation in it and
generating a preponderance of black bile. It ruins the mind (dhihn), forms bad
character qualities, and lowers the user’s standing in the eyes of the people, in
addition to many other blameworthy qualities.”367 Still later, Dāwūd al-Anṭākī,
in his Tadhkirah,368 cuts down the list to reporting that after initially causing
joy, hashish produces narcosis, laziness, stupor, the weakening of sense percep-
tion, foul breath, the debilitation of liver and stomach, dropsy, and the ruina-
tion of color and complexion.
After all these sorry tales of dire calamities connected with the use of hash-
ish, it comes as somewhat of a letdown to find that the comparatively early
poem of al-Isʿirdī points merely to the greenish-gray complexion of the face
as a physical sign of hashish addiction.369 The long poem by the author of
Qamʿ is somewhat more specific but also rather restrained. The physical effects
produced by barsh are the desiccation of the flesh of the face370 and the with-
drawal (?) of the locks (kh-s-f al-aṣdāgh), to which the author adds dryness of
the mouth:

Their heads have dried up. Thus, there is no good in them. 90

The dry elements follow each other all the time in their bodies.
There is no spittle in their mouths and no freshness (?) in it.
Their condition has become a fright.

366 1 Cf. the statement on the siwāk, above, p. 76, n. 1.

367 2 Cf. al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ, II, 146 (Cairo 1331/1913).
368 3 Tadhkirah, I, 200.
369 4 Cf. above, p. 77.
370 5 But note what Dozy, Supplément, II, 673a, has to say about the metaphorical usage of nāshif
(ar-raʾs). Still, I do not believe that in this particular instance, something mental rather
than physical is meant.
224 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Their locks are withdrawn (?), turned down,

Laid bare, eclipsed, sliding (?).371

But he also states that hashish has an emaciating effect, and he remarks upon
the user’s constant drowsiness and apathy:

They stagger but without the emotion derived from drunkenness.

They shrink in size and do not appear tall.
Great God! It is a disease that whenever
It enters the body, you see (it turning into) a dreadful place.
They doze. Thus, step upon their necks
And make their breasts sandals for you.372
They chew on the smelling breath in their mouths.
Thus, get on top of them, if you wish to be well-off.373

371 1 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 282b:

nashifat ruʾūsuhumū fa-lā khayran bihā

wa-n-nāshifātu bi-jismihim tatawālā
lā rīqa fī fīhim wa-lā rīyan (?) bihī
aḥwāluhum qad aṣbaḥat ahwālā
aṣdāghuhum makhsūfatun mankūsatun
makshūfatun maksūfatun tatazāllā (?).

For rīyan, the ms. has something like ʾdbʾ, but adaban “proper behavior” seems unlikely
in the context. For makhsūfatun, the ms. has maḥsūfatun, and the reading of tatazāllā is
uncertain. I do not know what the idiom about the locks means, hardly the thinning of
hair, as this would not go well with the rest of the descriptive terms used. Possibly, it refers
to holding the head low in shame (?).
372 2 Cf. the verse quoted in Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī (above, p. 11):

It (the drug) involves contempt by means of sandals and stick

For the stupid and stubborn immoral person.

fīhā l-ihānatu bi-n-niʿāli wa-bi-l-ʿasā

li-d-dāʿiri l-mahbūli wa-l-mutaʿabbidi.

For mutaʿabbid “stubborn,” cf. Steingass’ Persian-English Dictionary.

373 3 Yatamāyalūna bi-ghayri sukrin muṭribin
yataqāṣarūna wa-lā yurawna ṭiwālā
Allāhu akbaru innahū dāʾun matā
mā ḥalla fī jismin tarāhu mahālā
the use of hashish 225

If the last lines are understood here correctly, the attitude recommended
toward addicts would not just be to show contempt for them but to exploit
their self-induced incapacity for one’s own advantage. After all, users under
the influence of hashish are believed to be amenable to the most bizarre
suggestions since the drug has the | power to break the will. Thus, as Ibn 91
an-Najjār states in his Zawājir,374 if one were to say to one of them, “Piss!,” he
would do so at once.
We have already seen that the great potency of hashish stands compari-
son with killing in its effects, in puns on the term “to kill” used in connection
with the preparation and use of hashish.375 “The murderous hashish eater” (al-
ḥashīshīyu lladhī yaqtulu) was considered a suitable metaphor for the danger-
ous attraction exercised by the beloved’s locks.376 This would not seem to refer
directly to the murderous propensities of the sectarian assassins but rather to
the powerful effects of hashish. It may also embody a play upon the “killing”
of hashish, as is apparently the case in a verse stating that “the green one” is
“a ḥashīshah that makes every man a ḥashīshī (assassin) unbeknown to him-
self.”377 However this may be, there are other verses by Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī,
describing the state of the poor Ṣūfī under the influence of hashish as remote
from the land of the living:

This poor one whom you see

Like as a chick thrown to the ground featherless
Has been killed by hashish intoxication,
Killing being the custom of hashish.378

yatanāwamūna fa-dus ʿalā aʿnāqihim

wa-jʿal ṣudūrahumū ladayka niʿālā
yatamāḍaghūna r-rīḥa fī afwāhihim
fa-qṣid ʿulāhum in aradta nawālā.

For wa-lā yurawna, the ms. has wlyrwn.

374 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 17b, and al-Bakrī, Kawākib. Uninhibited urination under the influence of
hashish is mentioned in the story of Abū Jurthūm, cf. al-Badrī, fol. 10b, and below, p. 146.
On the other hand, al-Badrī, fol. 49b, quotes a poem by Ibrāhīm b. Asʿad al-Irbilī al-Laqānī
which speaks of hashish as eliminating the constant need for urination that comes from
drinking wine.
375 2 Cf. above, pp. 59 f.
376 3 Cf. Ibn al-ʿAfīfat-Tilimsānī, as quoted by aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. S. Dedering, III, 133.
377 4 Cf. an-Nuwayrī, Nihāyah, XI, 29.
378 5 Cf. aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, III, 133. In al-Badrī, the verses seem to be ascribed to the amīr Sayf-
ad-dīn ʿAlī b. ʿUmar al-Mushidd (602–655/1205(6)-1257, cf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, I, 50; Ibn
226 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

The influence of hashish on the mind, its “mind-changing” and personality-

changing quality, is never quite overlooked even in the discussion of its physical
and religious effects. It was the most famous and most frightening and tanta-
lizing aspect of hashish use. The drug was often believed to cause insanity in
92 the habitual user. Such in|sanity might be assumed to be temporary but by and
large was considered to be a permanent personality change. In the most com-
monly used Arabic words, hashish “changes the mind” (tughayyir al-ʿaql), or it
“makes it absent” or “remote” (tughayyib), removing it from reality. Since the
ʿaql is what distinguishes man from irrational animals, the effect of hashish
could in this sense be conceived as turning its users into dumb animals. There
can be no doubt, we are told, that taking hashish has the effect of producing
transgression (taʿaddī) with respect to normal mental processes (intiẓām) of
word and deed that draw their perfection from the legal and customary activ-
ity of the light of the intellect.379 By dissolving the moist elements in the body
and thereby causing vapors to ascend to the brain, the ghubayrāʾ produces per-
nicious fancies (khayālāt), and by weakening the mind, it opens up the gate of
fantasy (khayāl).380 This was the way in which physicians and those hostile to
hashish put it. The self-styled “elite” (al-khāṣṣah) who defended the use of it,
called it “the morsel of thought and remembrance.”381 They extolled the plea-
sure hashish exerted upon the imagination (al-ladhdhah al-wahmīyah) as one

Kathīr, XIII, 197; al-Badrī, above, p. 14, n. 2, wrote a “Mukhtaṣar entitled Naẓārat Dīwān
al-Mushidd”) in this form:

I am the killed one whom you see

Like as a chick thrown to the ground featherless.
They killed the hashish unjustly,
Killing being the custom of hashish.

Here it may be better to translate “being killed,” instead of “killing.” This, however, is hardly
intended in the version of Ibn al-ʿAfīf.
379 1 The text of az-Zarkashī, below, p. 185, shows some variant readings.
380 2 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 325 (= II, 253). Az-Zarkashī’s tabkhīr-hā (tabakhkhur-hā) ( fī)
ad-dimāgh has become taḥayyuz-hā fī d-dimāgh in the indirect quotation in al-Fanārī.
Galen, De alimentorum facultatibus, I, 34 (VI, 550 Kühn), mentions the warm and at the
same time pharmakōdēs vapor hemp sends up to the head. Before, he speaks of crushed
hemp seeds eaten together with other confections. Thus, the “vapor” may possibly allude
to narcotic effects.
381 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 312 and 310. In the latter passage, it is “little morsel,” presum-
ably the more correct reading. Cf. above, pp. 36 f.
the use of hashish 227

of its chief attractions,382 and the fancies (khayāl) it engendered were poeti-
cally described as most soothing and idyllic: “At times, I see the world as castles.
At other times, I see it as lands and gardens around me.”383 The mind-distorting
effect of hashish was elegantly hinted at in the phrase: “It moves unmoving
resolution to the noblest of places,”384 which a poet addicted to k-n/tbābatī
paraphrased in these verses:

In India my heart has developed 93

A longing for those places.
K-n/tbābatī, light of my eye,
You have stirred unmoving (feelings) in me.385

As suggested by Ibn Taymīyah, the phrase was meant to call attention to the
help hashish offered to the pious in their religious devotions, but it no doubt
aimed at the drug’s supposed ability to allow the human mind to go beyond
the limitations of reality. The distortion of the mind was, it seems, a kind of
religious experience for the addicts. At least, they claimed it to be such as in the
verses of al-Isʿirdī speaking of the “secret” of the drug that permits “the spirit to
ascend to the highest points in a heavenly ascension (miʿrāj) of disembodied
understanding.”386 The constant harping upon the increase in understanding
associated with hashish at times naturally provoked a strong reaction, as in
these bitingly humorous verses by Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī when his friends
wanted him to participate in their hashish party:

382 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 30a, from al-ʿUkbarī’s Sawāniḥ.

383 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 49b, in verses by Ibn al-Aqsāsī (above, p. 64, n. 1). These verses are supposed
to be critical of hashish but, except for the concluding line, go all out to list its supposed
good qualities.
384 6 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 312 and 310. In IV, 310, he adds that hashish is considered
“useful for the road.” This could mean that it serves to mitigate the hardships Ṣūfīs have to
suffer in their peregrinations, but it may rather refer to the fact mentioned also elsewhere
that hashish can be consumed in the streets without any further ado, in contrast to wine.
385 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 47a:

fī l-Hindi adhā fuʾādī

yaṣbū li-tilka l-amākin
k-n/tbābatī nūra ʿaynī
ḥarrakti ʿindī sawākin.

The poet may be Fulayfil.

386 2 Cf. below, p. 163, verse 8.
228 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

If hashish were able to give an increase in understanding,

Donkeys would achieve high rank in their understanding.387

The mental changes observable in the addict made him a fool in the eyes of
the common people, someone not to be trusted to react rationally in any way.
The vast majority of the stories told about hashish harp upon this aspect and
the variety of consequences connected with it. The famous report of the Assas-
sins’ conditioning to fanatic devotion through the agency of drugs providing a
foretaste of Paradise probably found so much attention because being the first
circumstantial description of hashish(?)-induced hallucinations, it exalted the
alleged mind-changing powers of the drug.388 The popular appeal of the con-
ceit of almost miraculous mental change is proved, if proof is needed, by the
94 Arabian Nights and the | way the very late stages of the work view hashish. The
question, “Are you a hashish eater” (ant taʾkul al-ḥashīsh), is addressed to some-
one who makes a seemingly incredible statement, suggesting that he is a mere
fool.389 And when the fisherman, Khalīfah, hedges a foolish plan in the mid-
dle of the night, it is said that it must be the hashish he has consumed that is
speaking to him, even though there is otherwise no indication whatever in the
story that he had used the drug.390 The Arabian Nights also speak about the
old roué who had spent all his possessions on beautiful boys and girls. Hashish
was the only real consolation left to him. So one day he went to the public
bath, withdrew to a lonely spot where he could be alone with himself and swal-
lowed a piece of hashish. This provoked in him exciting dreams of glory and sex,
depicted in detail in the continuation of the story and illustrating loss of con-
tact with reality.391 Another very elaborate description of the dreams of hashish
(banj) eaters no longer entered the mainstream tradition of the Arabian Nights,
but is found only among some late manuscript material. This is the story of a
fisherman who is under the influence of the drug and thinks that a street in

387 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 56a, and below, p. 137.

wa-law anna l-ḥashīsha tazīdu fahman

la-nāla bi-fahmihī r-rutaba l-ḥimāru.

388 4 Cf. above, p. 43.

389 1 Cf. Arabian Nights, I, 173, trans. Littmann, I, 257.
390 2 Cf. Arabian Nights, IV, 161, trans. Littmann, V, 516. However, O. Rescher, in his discussion
of hashish in the Arabian Nights, in Der Islam, IX (1919), 85f. points out that the reference
to hashish is not to be found in M. Habicht’s edition, IV, 330.
391 3 Cf. Arabian Nights, I, 692–694, trans. Littmann, II, 193–195.
the use of hashish 229

the moonlight is in reality a river, and a dog on the street a big fish, which he
then attempts to catch. His further adventures involve the town’s judge as a sus-
pected participant in drug revelries, once again an illustration of the popular
tendency to ascribe to the most visible representatives of the law the vices that
they more than anybody else were charged with avoiding and suppressing.392
ʿAlī b. Sūdūn al-Bashbughawī tells about hashish eaters who imagine the ocean
to be sweet syrup, the fish in it peeled bananas, and the nets to catch them in
to be made of pancakes.393 Az-Zarkashī had also already reported that he had
been told that a person befuddled by | hashish thought that the moon was a 95
deep pool of water, and he did not dare to go toward it.394
The loss of contact with reality, the ordinary world of the senses, “existence”
(wujūd), as a result of the action of hashish expressed by the root gh-y-b, may
be partial, with the addict under the influence of the drug merely forgetting
to do what he was supposed to do or doing it wrongly. Thus, we hear about a
singer, Abū ṭ-Ṭayyib Karawīyah (?),395 sent by the littérateur Aḥmad b. Barakah
to buy pomegranates and bring them to the bath. He forgets about his task,
wanders aimlessly from place to place, and returns to the bath only late in the
evening. Or someone, the story goes, went out to buy barley for his mount and
grapes for his wife, then gives the grapes to the animal and the barley to his
wife.396 Complete temporary loss of contact with reality is described in a story
about people noticing a man on a horse who was riding in the countryside not
knowing what he was doing, opening his knapsack, eating, being thrown by
the horse, continuing in his sleep, then waking up, bleeding profusely and not
knowing where he was.397
The user might at times have aspired to this state of unawareness of every-
thing around him and considered it among the most desirable effects of hash-
ish. However, when it became something permanent, it produced an individual

392 4 From Ms. Wortley Montague, according to R. Burton’s translation. It was used by M. Hen-
ning, in his German translation, XXIII, 135–160, and was referred to by O. Rescher, loc.
Under the influence of wine, a drinker may think that a moonlit area is a river, cf. Ibn
ar-Raqīq al-Qayrawānī, Quṭb as-surūr, ed. A. al-Jundī, 391 (Damascus 1389/1969).
393 5 From F. Kern, Neuere ägyptische Humoristen und Satiriker, in Mitt. des Seminars für Or.
Sprachen, Westas. Studien, IX (1906), 34, cited by O. Rescher, loc. cit.
394 1 Cf. below, p. 181, and also, p. 145.
395 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 15b–16a, mentioned above, p. 67, n. 3, and elsewhere. For Ibn Barakah, cf.
as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, I, 248; al-Badrī, fols. 25a and 121b.
396 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 11a.
397 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 11a.
230 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

useless to society and to himself, graphically described in verses by al-Hāʾim

(d. 887/1482):

How many a person killed by hashish is to be found in al-Junaynah

Who would not wake up, not even at the blast of the trumpet.398
Among its effects the green one has given him
The ears of a deaf man and the eye of a blind man.399

96 At al-Junaynah (“The Little Garden”), near Bāb ash-Shaʿrīyah,400 | one could

see derelicts lying around “like hospital patients” (ka-ḍuʿafāʾ al-bīmāristān),401
crazed like the inmates of an asylum and quite oblivious to the world around
Devoted to wine as he was, Abū Nuwās was able to sing:

Give me to drink till you see me

Think that a rooster is a donkey.402

A hashish eater might expect to “see a camel as similar to a gnat.”403 The same
idea was phrased much better and more succinctly by the author of Qamʿ:
Those under the influence of harsh have the illusion that “a gnat is a cow”
(an-nāmūsah gāmūsah).404

398 5 That is, the trumpet of the Day of Judgment.

399 6 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a:

kam bi-l-Junaynati min qatīli ḥashīshatin

lā yastafīqu wa-lā bi-nafkhi ṣ-ṣūri
wahabat lahū l-khaḍrāʾu min afʿālihā
ādhāna uṭrūshin wa-ʿayna ḍarīri.

On al-Hāʾim, who is often cited by al-Badrī, cf. GAL, 2nd ed., II, 22, Suppl., II, 12. Cf. also the
verses quoted below, p. 98.
400 7 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, I, 383. Al-Junaynah is also described by al-Maqrīzī as being located in the
Ṭabbālah estate (below, p. 137). For the Shaʿrīyah Gate, cf. W. Popper, Egypt and Syria under
the Circassian Sultans, 24, 32 ff. Cf. also above, p. 80.
401 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a.
402 2 Cf. Abū Nuwās, Dīwān, 269.
403 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 10a.
404 4 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 275b.
the use of hashish 231

5 Habituation to Hashish and its Cure

It was apparently believed quite generally that the user of hashish acquired a
constant craving for it and was rarely able to break the habit. Addiction was
assumed to grow always more compulsive and eventually lead to complete
physical and mental ruin. In addition to “eating” and the like, a number of words
were employed for the taking of the drug, among them akhadha, tanāwala, or,
most consistently, istaʿmala. Very commonly, however, we also find the term
taʿāṭā associated with it. In a way, it is merely a synonym of the other verbs in the
sense of “to take,” but it also has the approximate meaning of “being concerned
with (something constantly, also, in a professional manner).” In philosophical
usage, it may correspond, for instance, to Greek melein as in taʿāṭī (also muʿānāt
which likewise occurs in connection with hashish) al-mawt for meletē thanatou
“the concern or preoccupation with death.” Taʿāṭā appears to be something like
a technical term suggesting constant concern with some habit. It is used in this
sense also in connection with wine and many other matters as it is with hashish.
A more concrete hint at the tendency toward addictiveness among hashish
users can be seen in the concept of “desire” (shahwah, ishtahā). These unfor-
tunate people “get drunk on (hashish) and desire it as wine drinkers desire
wine.”405 A little wine or a small | quantity of hashish (but not of banj) calls 97
for more,406 thus requiring constantly increased and more frequent doses and,
in any case, a continuation of the habit. The desire for hashish is greater than
that for wine so that hashish eaters become unable to do without it.407 A legal
distinction is made between things forbidden by the religious law but “desired
by the souls,” and things which “the souls do not desire.” Among the latter,
there are, for instance, blood and the meat of animals not ritually slaughtered.
Among the former, we must count drugs that cause pleasure such as hashish,
as do wine and fornication, but, again, not banj the effect of which is of a differ-
ent sort.408 The soul’s “desire” was usually something that man had a hard time
to fight and get rid of, and success, even if he made an honest effort, was rare.
With respect to hashish, the soul’s desire was easily equivalent to addiction, to
a habit hard or impossible to kick.

405 5 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah; adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir.

406 1 Cf. ar-Rāfiʾī, apud az-Zarkashī, below, p. 189. In connection with wine, cf., e. g., as-Sarakhsī,
Mabsūṭ, XXIV, 3, 9 (Cairo 1324–1331).
407 2 Cf. adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir: ḥattā lā yaṣbirū ʿanhā. This phrase does not appear in the text
of Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah.
408 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 304, 312.
232 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

When the early literature on hashish tells us that Shaykh Ḥaydar ate hashish
daily409 or that, according to al-Jawbarī in the early thirteenth century, there
were those who could not stay away from it,410 this no doubt referred to some
kind of addiction. But we also find it stated expressly that the physical and
mental changes caused by the drug were believed to provoke a habitual need
for it: “Among the greatest physical harm (dāʾ) caused by it is the fact that
habitual users (mutaʿāṭī) of it are hardly ever able to repent of it because of
the effect it has upon their temper.”411 The user “cannot separate from it and
leave it alone (lā yufāriq-hā).” “One of the properties of hashish is that its user
cannot give it up.”412 The technical secular term used in this connection is
qaṭaʿa “to cut.” In the religious language of Muslim scholars, it is “to repent”
(tāba) as indicative of every act involving the renunciation of sin. And istatāba
is used in connection with “asking someone to give up” the habit of “eating
mind-changing hashish.”413
98 A very vivid description of the situation is given in Qamʿ: “The user (musta-
ʿmil, of barsh) finds no escape from it and no way whatever to repent and give
it up (at-tawbah minhu), nor is he able to obtain any freedom (infikāk). For
were his spirit to get to the maw and his soul to the throat, he would think that
repentance is what is difficult for him. So he would wish to repair his soul and
his breath by saying to those around him: ‘Bring me the leaf,’ or, ‘Bring me the
box(es) (al-ḥuqq).’”414 This, if I understand the text correctly, means that when
the addict feels miserable because of his craving for the drug, he has no thought
of trying to resist the craving and get off the drug. His only thought is of having
some of it given to him to pacify his compulsive urge.
There were those who used hashish around the clock, “at all the prayer
times,”415 with the result that they were completely lost to reality:

A visitor of zīh for whom its people have unceasingly

Shown humility, prayerful worship, and activity.

409 4 Cf. above, pp. 45 and 52.

410 5 Cf. below, p. 158, further p. 152, n. 2.
411 6 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 179. The statement follows upon the one quoted above, pp. 86f.
Two mss. have muʿāniyahā, for mutaʿāṭiyahā.
412 7 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 17b, perhaps continuing the quotation from Ibn an-Najjar’s Zawājir. Cf.
also al-Bakrī, Kawākib.
413 8 Cf., for instance, Ibn Kathīr, XIV, 33 (above, p. 84, n. 7).
414 1 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 276b.
415 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a, elaborating on this subject.
the use of hashish 233

There is nobody among them but forgetful of existence,

Submerged in the world beyond reality, unceasingly.416

An anecdote tells about an addict who under the influence of hashish boarded
a boat on the shore of the Nile in Cairo and fell asleep. The sailors, ready to
leave, were unable to rouse him. When he eventually woke up, the boat was
well on its way to Upper Egypt. The addict began to miss his zīh and asked the
sailors to set him ashore. He threatened to commit suicide by throwing himself
into the river if they would not do it. Thus, they put him ashore, and once there
he walked back to Cairo in one day and one night.417
For occasional and, presumably, accidental overdoses of cannabis, the med-
ical authorities recommended certain procedures. One of al-Maqrīzī’s sources
(Ibn Jazlah?)418 mentioned his observation that “a person who has eaten hash-
ish and notices that its effect is taking | place and he wants to get rid of it pours 99
into his nostrils some drops of olive oil and eats some sour milk.” He adds that
“swimming in running water breaks and weakens the strength of the drug’s
effect, and sleep stops it.” It is doubtful whether this reported observation was
more accurate and true than another observation immediately preceding it and
ascribed to the same person that “many poisonous animals such as snakes flee
when they smell the smell of hemp.” Ibn al-Bayṭār recommended pumping the
stomach through vomiting induced by butter and hot water as well as sorrel
juice,419 and Dāwūd al-Anṭākī, in his Tadhkirah, also recommended vomiting
and purgation by means of laxatives and fruit juices.
However, the cure of addiction was not to be achieved by such simple means
which, moreover, presupposed willingness on the part of the user. It could
happen at times that lack of means forced the addict to “repent” and give up
his habit, but such “repentance of bankruptcy” (tawbat al-iflās) was no real

416 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 18a:

wa-wāridi zīhin lam yazal fīhi ahluhū

khushūʿan rukūʿan sujjadan dāʾimī l-ʿamal
wa-mā minhumū illā ʿan-i-l-kawni dhāhilun
wa-mustaghriqun fī ʿālami l-ghaybi lam yazal.

Cf. also above, pp. 95 f.

417 4 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 17b.
418 5 It is pure fancy to speak of the great Rāzī, as is done by al-Badrī, fol. 7b, who would thereby
be credited with the use of the word ḥashīshah.
419 1 On sorrel (ḥummāḍ) as a tonic, cf. Meyerhof, in his ed. and trans, of Maimonides, 74.
234 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

cure and as a rule did not last long. There was many a poor Ṣūfī, we are told,
who repented of his hashish habit (taʿāṭī maʿlūmih) but said that if he only
had money, he would not let his friends (and, apparently, himself) go without
food and the opportunity to get high (insiṭāl). The true addict, however, would
not show himself perturbed by the vagaries of fate and would not consider it
enough of an excuse to pretend giving up the habit:

I am satisfied with a morsel of porridge

And a round pill of hashish.
Why should I reproach time from which individual
Destiny proceeds, by complaining about (lack of) means?420

Since hashish was financially within the reach of most, breaking the habit
required some miracle or the intervention of some especially holy man. Az-
100 Zarkashī421 tells us about Shaykh ʿAlī al-Ḥarirī in | Damascus who considered
the habitual use (taʿāṭī) of hashish a greater crime than drinking wine, and he
held the eater of hashish deserving of the ḥadd penalty more than alcoholics.
This Shaykh al-Ḥarīrī was the founder of the fraternity named after him, who
died on 26 Ramaḍān 645/22 January 1248. Religious scholars took the dimmest
view of his orthodoxy in matters of belief and practice. His son, Muḥammad
(d. 651/1253), was praised for repudiating the practices of his father’s follow-
ers.422 All the more so does az-Zarkashī’s testimony to al-Ḥarīrī’s aversion for a
drug much used by Ṣūfīs in his time and environment ring true. “This Ḥarīrī,” az-
Zarkashī further tells us, “was very hard on habitual users of hashish. One of his
followers sent a messenger to him to upbraid him for (his attitude). The Shaykh
said to the messenger: If the man mentioned is one of my followers so that I

420 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 56a–b:

ana rāḍin bi-luqmatin min dashīshah

wa-bi-qurṣin mudawwarin min ḥashīshah
wa-li-mā-dhā uʿātibu d-dahra wa-l-aq-
dāru tajrī minhū bi-dhammi l-maʿishah.

The meter (khafīf ) requires a short second syllable for anā. The poet of the verses is said
to have been a certain al-Jaʿbarī, reacting to those Ṣūfī complaints.
421 3 Cf. below, p. 180. The Ḥarīrī passage was omitted from two of the mss. available, see above,
p. 10.
422 1 Cf. aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. S. Dedering, IV, 183f. (Wiesbaden 1959, Bibliotheca Islamica 6d). Ibn
Kathīr has much information on al-Ḥarīrī and his family.
the use of hashish 235

have to oblige him, let him give up hashish for forty days until his body is free
from it, and forty more days, until he is rested from it after having become free.
Then, let him come to me so that I shall inform him about it.”423 The Shaykh
who exercised a powerful influence over his followers probably thought that his
command would provide the user with the necessary will power to stay away
from the drug for a prolonged period. Thereafter, he would be willing to listen
to the Shaykh enlightening him about the dangers of hashish, and the Shaykh’s
personal influence would succeed in keeping him off the drug for good. Unfor-
tunately, we are not told how effective this procedure proved in this or other
A plain miracle was ascribed to the “ecstatic saint,” ʿAbdallāh al-Miṣrī al-
majdhūb, who died in 937/1530–1531. “He used to grind (ṣ-ḥ-n) hashish amidst
the ruins of the Ezbekīyah district of Cairo. It was a miracle bestowed upon him
by divine grace (karāmah) that whoever took some of the hashish prepared by
him and ate it repented immediately and never went back to it.”424

423 2 For ukhbirahū, read, perhaps, ujīrahū “deliver him from it.”
424 3 Cf. Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, VIII, 221, anno 937, quoting ash-Shaʿrānī.
chapter four

101 The Legal Discussion

1 The General Attitude

There existed no authoritative “text” on the use of hashish.1 How the pro-
hashish faction exploited this acknowledged fact to its advantage was stated
by al-ʿUkbarī in these words: “Know that the pure sharīʿah has not indicated
that the use of drugs that cause joy (al-ʿaqāqīr al-mufarriḥah) such as saffron,
bugloss, and others whose action is similar to that of this drug (hashish) is for-
bidden. No indication has come down from the Prophet to the effect that it is
forbidden as such (taḥrīm ʿaynih) and that a ḥadd punishment has been estab-
lished for eating it. Because there has been no tradition (inqiṭāʿ al-khabar) on
this matter, people have permitted it and have used it.”2 The argument was con-
stantly repeated. Particular favor seems to have been enjoyed by a verse which
even found the attention of stern Ibn Taymīyah, who accepted the claim that it
went back to some unnamed jurist.3 It appears under the name of ʿAlam-ad-dīn
Ibn Shukr, but he may not have been its originator:

Hashish intoxication contains the meaning of my desire,

You dear people of intelligence and understanding.
They have declared it forbidden without any justification on the basis of
reason and tradition.
Declaring forbidden what is not forbidden is forbidden.4

1 1 Cf., for instance, above, pp. 46 ff.

2 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 50b–51a.
3 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 310.
4 4 Cf. Ibn Kathīr, XIII, 314; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, VII, 380; Ibn al-ʿlmād, Shadharāt, V, 404, all
anno 688.
According to al-Badrī, fol. 50a, ʿlmād-ad-dīn Ibn ash-Shammāʿ composed four verses, of
which the first two run:

Hashish intoxication contains a hidden secret

Too subtle for minds to explain.
They have declared it forbidden without any justification on the basis of reason and
Declaring forbidden what is not forbidden is forbidden.
the legal discussion 237

ʿAlam-ad-dīn was, in fact, a legal scholar, but his way of life led to his being 102
rejected by the established authorities.5 The argument, however, had consider-
able force in Muslim society.
This situation naturally was a grave embarrassment for professional jurists.
They had no occasion to talk about hashish unless and until it became a social
problem that required legal attention regardless of the lacking sanction of the
religious law as transmitted. In the brief introductory words of his treatise,
az-Zarkashī hit the nail squarely on the head: “These are points dealing with
hashish that require comment at this time because so many low-class people
are affected by it and because many people hesitate to pronounce themselves
on the legal situation concerning it, having been unable to find a discussion of
it by the ancients.”

fī khumāri l-ḥashīshi sirrun khafīyun

daqqa taʿbīruhū ʿan-i-l-afhāmi.

Obviously, the second verse is here a quotation, as it also probably is in the verses of ʿAlam-ad-
dīn. For Muḥammad b. ʿAbd-al-Karīm b. ash-Shammāʿ (629–676/1231(2)-1277), no doubt the
person meant here, cf. al-Yūnīnī, Dhayl, III, 282 (Hyderabad 1374–1380/1954–1961); aṣ-Ṣafadī,
Wāfī, ed. S. Dedering, III, 281 (Damascus 1953); ʿAbd-al-Qādir, al-Jawāhir al-mudīyah, II, 85
(Hyderabad 1332); G. Wiet, Les Biographies du Manhal Safi, 328 (Cairo 1932, Mém. de l’Institut
d’ Égypte 19). Al-Badrī maliciously remarks that he should not be named ʿImād-ad-dīn but
with inversion of the letters, rather ʿadīm-ad-dīn “lacking religion.” And he approves of the
rejoinder by Ismāʾīl b. al-Maʿarrī, described as the muftī of the Yemen:

Those lie who say it is permitted

Wherever the action is like that of wine.
It has been declared forbidden on the basis of reason, tradition, and religious law.
Declaring permitted what is forbidden is forbidden.

kadhaba l-qāʾilūna inna ḥalālan

kullamā fiʿluhū ka-fiʿli l-mudāmi
ḥarramūhū (!) ʿaqlan wa-naqlan wa-sharʿan
wa-ḥarāmun taḥlīlu shayʾin ḥarāmi.

Both verses appear in the form ascribed by al-Badrī to Ibn ash-Shammāʿ on the title-page of
the Istanbul Ms. Murad Molla 1408 of the Ṣiwān by Abū Sulaymān as-Sijistānī. Their author is
indicated as ʿAlam-ad-dīn, with the remainder not clearly legible on my photostat (“b. Būrī”?)
but Ibn Shukr is probably meant. The scribe of the ms. adds another rejoinder, for which see
below, p. 150, n. 4.
5 1 Cf. above, pp. 84f.
238 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

We can consequently assume that the argumentation of the jurists was

greatly influenced by their own personal feelings about the social and moral
problems involved. Circumstances must often have determined their attitudes.
Political pressures and self-seeking considerations cannot be ruled out as
sometimes having had their share in shaping the legal reasoning.
It comes hardly as a surprise to find that modern scholars have reached the
conclusion that “the attitude of the ʿUlemā towards the use of narcotics was
103 less definite (than that on wine); they disagreed | upon its legality, though most
condemned it.”6 This statement was made for the seventeenth century, and it
is possible that by then there were scholars who did come out for the legality
of hashish in their own legal writings. However, for earlier centuries, it would
be quite difficult to prove that when it came to putting his scholarly reputation
on the line and expressing himself in writing, any jurist would have dared to be
unequivocally in favor of hashish. If this was done, we have no hard evidence
for it in the material at our disposal. It is true that the general climate would not
have been favorable to the preservation of such documents, but it is more likely
that they were never produced, at least not in written form to be preserved
for posterity. Stories told by littérateurs must remain suspect in every single
instance. At most, they prove that unofficially, and as men of general culture,
legal scholars, too, ventured to view a topic of general interest from several
sides. Nevertheless, we may safely assume that some, if not many, seriously
considered the idea that there was no firm legal basis for forbidding the use
of hashish.
Among the known titles of monographs on hashish, only al-ʿUkbarī’s com-
paratively early “Literary Thoughts in Praise of the Qualities of Cannabis” can
be assumed to have been written for the purpose of stressing the advantages of
hashish use, but the Sawāniḥ no doubt was a belletristic work and not a legal
essay. It is also by no means certain whether it was all that one-sided or also
contained much that was unfavorable to hashish, nor do we have any informa-
tion on Al-ʿUkbarī to show that he possessed any standing in the legal circles
of his time. The reply he is said to have provoked from his contemporary al-
Qasṭallānī7 was that of a jurist and presumably informed by religious and social
fervor, but since it is also not preserved, we are still at a loss to gauge the possi-
ble extent and quality of the legal arguments presented by Al-ʿUkbarī; as in the
case of al-Badrī, little space might have been devoted to them.

6 1 Cf. H.A.R. Gibb and H. Bowen, Islamic Society and the West, I, ii, 204 (Oxford University Press
7 2 Cf. above, p. 8.
the legal discussion 239

The writing of treatises against the use of hashish, such as those preserved for
us, is at times described as something made necessary by the claims advanced
by those who declared the drug permissible, among them, quite frequently,
certain Ṣūfīs. “Declaring (hashish) permissible or lawful” is not quite the same
as using it. As we shall | see,8 it was also considered as a grave sin. The decision 104
as to what should be declared lawful and what not was the prerogative of
the legal authorities who alone had the knowledge to make it. Those Ṣūfīs
might at times have had legal training, but it would seem that when they
were involved in the hashish controversy, they did not act as representatives
of the legal establishment but as users and sympathizers who, whatever their
position in society, were presumably hard pressed to attempt justifying the
use of hashish in legal terms as they were the only ones likely to be heard
and to be effective. No strictly legal writing was in all likelihood done by
At one time we hear that a certain highly respected Ḥanafite judge, Jamāl-
ad-dīn Yūsuf b. Mūsā al-Malaṭī, who died, about eighty years old, in 803/1400,
issued a fatwā permitting the use of hashish. He was teased about it by Muḥibb-
ad-dīn b. ash-Shiḥnah (d. 815/1412). Ibn ash-Shiḥnah told al-Malaṭī that he had
composed a couple of verses on some unnamed jurist:

I am surprised to find a shaykh who commands people to be pious

But himself never heeds the Merciful One or shows piety toward Him.
He considers it permissible to eat hashish as well as usury
And (says that) he who studies truly the Ṣaḥīḥ is a heretic.

We are asked to believe that al-Malaṭī did not recognize that he was being
teased, although it was he himself who had adopted what must have been a
rather peculiar attitude toward hashish, usury, and, supposedly, al-Bukhārī’s
Ṣaḥīḥ and thus could hardly have failed to get the point of the poem.9 It is not
explained to us why al-Malaṭī should have declared persistent students of the
Ṣaḥīḥ to be heretics. In fact, we may have here a joke based on ṣaḥīḥ being a
nickname for hashish.10 The verse apparently expresses al-Malaṭī’s disapproval

8 1 See below, p. 126.

9 2 Cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, X, 4 f., 336; idem, Dhayl ʿalā Rafʿ al-iṣr, ed. G. Hilāl and M.M. Ṣubḥ, 409
(Cairo 1966); briefly also in Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, VII, 40. The last half-verse is corrupt.
The transmitted readings samiʿa or yasmaʿ-i (l-wuḥīya) have been corrected by the editors
of as-Sakhāwī’s Dhayl to read yastamiʿ li-l-waḥyi. A more likely reading would be: wa-man
yasmaʿ-i-ṣ-Ṣaḥīḥa ḥaqqan tazandaqa.
10 3 Cf. above, p. 28.
240 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

of over-indulgence (“true study”) in hashish whereas he permitted it in small

quantities. Correspondingly, in a way, we are expressly given to understand
that he did not, of course, permit usury, which would be unthinkable, but only
certain kinds of transactions generally assumed to fall under the heading of
105 usury. | However this might have been, we have no information as to whether
the objectionable legal decision of al-Malaṭī was ever put into writing and
achieved publication in one form or other. This was probably not the case in
this, and all or most instances when hashish was declared permissible with
legal arguments.
At about al-Malaṭī’s time, al-Aqfahsī seems to have harbored some inciden-
tal doubt about the legal situation regarding hashish, to which he is otherwise
strongly opposed. He refers to a comment by Sulaym ar-Rāzī (d. 447/1055),11
from his Taqrīb al-Gharībayn, on the tradition transmitted by Abū Dāwūd that
the Prophet “forbade everything muskir and mufattir,”12 to the effect that this
means that what is muskir is forbidden, and what is mufattir is (merely) disap-
proved of (makrūh). In the view of al-Aqfahsī, this could mean that the analogy
to wine is not applicable and that there should be no punishment (taʿzīr) for
hashish and banj under these circumstances. The difference between wine and
hashish would be that “contrary to wine, (hashish) is used as medicine, it is def-
initely clean, the person eating it is not subject to a ḥadd punishment, it is not
necessary to throw it away, its purchase is not forbidden, and eating a small
quantity of it is not forbidden.”13
In general, however, we can say that the scholarly legal view laid down in
published and preserved writings was against the use of hashish, if in somewhat
different degrees. Between the different legal schools, the condemnation of
it was, it seems, also unanimous, if, again, as is to be expected, with varying

11 1 Cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 730, where the name is vocalized Salīm. The reading Sulaym is indi-
cated by Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, III, 275. Cf. also McG. de Slane’s translation of Ibn Khal-
likān, I, 584 (Paris 1843–1871), and Fuʾād Sayyid’s edition of adh-Dhahabī, ‘Ibar, III, 213. Ibn
Khallikān mentions the author’s Taqrīb, without the qualifying genitive. Regrettably, adh-
Dhahabī’s Taʾrīkh al-Islām which may contain decisive information could not be consulted
as the Yale Ms. L-612 (Catalogue Nemoy, No. 1176) omits a few years, including the year 447.
12 2 Cf. above, p. 81.
13 3 Cf. al-Aqfahsī, fol. 21a–b. For ḥadd and taʿzīr, see below, pp. 123ff.
the legal discussion 241

2 Hashish Considered as “Intoxicating” and as “Corruptive”

One argument appealed most to jurists in their fight against hashish and was
universally cited. That was the argument based upon analogy to khamr “wine,”
whose unlawful character was divinely established. Those licentious persons
who at the time of the | early spread of hashish through the Muslim world did 106
not hesitate to recommend its use occasionally used it together with wine.14
They also praised hashish as a substitute for wine. Thus, ʿAlam-ad-dīn Ibn Shukr
exhorted himself:

O soul, turn to amusement,

For by play does a young man live.
Do not get fed up with daily drunkenness.
If it cannot be wine, let it be hashish.15

“A dirham of hashish is more effective than pints of wine,” ran the praise of
hashish by another littérateur, a certain Jalāl-ad-dīn Abū l-Muʿizz b. Abī l-Ḥasan
b. Aḥmad b. aṣ-Ṣāʾigh al-Maghribī who lived in the first half of the fourteenth
century,16 and indeed, the numerous confrontations of hashish and wine17 are
rather unabashedly based upon a convenient disregard for the unlawfulness of
wine. But the jurists were fully convinced that if hashish could be equated with
wine, its unlawfulness was clearly proved.
It was recognized of course that hashish differed from wine in the raw
material from which it was prepared, in the form or forms of its preparation,
and, above all, by virtue of the fact that wine was exclusively a liquid while
hashish was predominantly used as a solid. These differences played a certain
role in the discussion. It was, however, a very minor role, and it was all but
eliminated by the overriding assumption that hashish and wine were equal in
the effect of either as being “intoxicating” (muskir). In this respect, scholars
had at their disposal the generally attested Prophetical tradition that “every

14 1 Cf. above, pp. 65 f.

15 2 Cf. Ibn Kathīr, XIII, 314; Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, VII, 380.
16 3 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 26, as well as II, 25 (citing the same poet). Al-Maqrīzī’s immediate
source seems to have been the Ḥāfiẓ al-Yaghmūrī. This Ibn aṣ-Ṣāʾigh is not identical with
Shams-ad-dīn Ibn aṣ-Ṣāʾigh who is repeatedly cited by al-Badrī and who appears to be
the author mentioned in GAL, Suppl., II, 2. Before al-Maqrīzī, an-Nuwayrī, Nihāyah, XI, 29,
quoted these verses anonymously.
17 4 Cf., for instance, below, pp. 163ff.
242 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

intoxicant is wine, and every intoxicant is forbidden.”18 Clear-cut as this would

seem to make the matter, there remained certain problems. In the first place,
there is the problem of how “intoxicant” is to be defined and whether the
effects of hashish could be described as intoxicating in the same way as those
107 of wine. Then it must be asked whether intoxicating is to be understood as |
potentially intoxicating or refers only to the actual condition of intoxication;
in other words, it is a problem whether or not a small quantity of a potentially
intoxicating substance not leading to actual intoxication would be permissible,
together with the problem of the possible immunity of certain individuals
to intoxicating effects, which is of less significance in practice. And there is
a further, related problem, which is also discussed in connection with wine,
namely, whether or not under certain special circumstances, such as medical
necessity, moderate use should be adjudged permissible.
Jurists as a rule do not waste time and paper upon discussing why and how
hashish is to be branded as intoxicating. It is merely asserted that it is and
that many legal authorities assume it to be. As is often remarked, this is in
contrast to banj which is definitely not intoxicating,19 although it possesses the
qualities affecting the mind that make its use unlawful. Some attempts were,
however, made to define and clarify what intoxication meant. Thus we read in
az-Zarkashī20 that the effects of hashish agree with the commonly accepted
definition of “intoxicated” as referring to “someone whose orderly speech is
confused and who spills his hidden secret, or someone who does not know
heaven from earth or length from width.” The first alternative, which is in
rhymed form, is claimed already for ash-Shāfiʿī, as an-Nawawī tells us.21 The

18 5 Cf. Concordance, II, 491b43–49, and, for instance, Wakīʿ, Akhbār al-quḍāh, III, 42–45 (Cairo
19 1 It may, however, be noted that the supposed Semitic term for henbane was etymologized
by I. Löw, Die Flora der Juden, III, 359 ff. (reprint Hildesheim 1967), as belonging to the
general root signifying intoxication. For Paul of Aegina, ed. Heiberg, II, 31, the mental effect
(parakopē) of henbane eaten or drunk was similar to that known of the inebriated.
20 2 Cf. below, p. 181.
21 3 Cf. an-Nawawī’s commentary on the Muhadhdhab of Abū Isḥāq ash-Shīrāzī (al-Majmūʿ,
Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab), III, 8 (Cairo, n. y. [1966?]). For the confusion of speech, cf. as-
Sarakhsī, Mabsūṭ, XXIV, 30. These definitions of intoxication are also quoted by al-Aqfahsī,
fol. 13b. The second part appears in al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, II, 63. A definition focusing on the
“disappearance of worries and spilling of hidden secrets” was current in literary circles
according to Ibn ar-Raqīq al-Qayrawānī, Quṭb as-surūr, 388 (ar-Riyāshī), 396 (ar-Raqāshī).
In al-Badrī, fol. 70a, Hārūn ar-Rashīd is credited with it. The famous Muḥammad b. Dāwūd
aẓ-Ẓāhirī (d. 297/310) is described as the inventor of a quite similar formulation, cf. al-
Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Taʾrīkh Baghdād, V, 256 (Cairo 1349/1931). Cf. also Wakīʿ, III, 125.
the legal discussion 243

Qurʾān based description of intoxication as a “covering of the mind” (taghṭiyat

al-ʿaql)22 is not an exclusive definition of intoxication since it is also applicable
to comparable states resulting from other causes.
All the statements of jurists with respect to intoxication share the | descrip- 108
tion of it as something leading to n-sh-w. This commonly used root is hardly
anything but a synonym of the other term for intoxication, s-k-r. It is indeed
difficult to see how n-sh-w could be translated differently. But n-sh-w was also
distinguished as indicating “the beginning and preliminaries” of intoxication
(sukr).23 In this way, it was probably understood to denote in particular the
exhilaration that was the initial emotional effect of wine. The root n-sh-w is
commonly associated with the description of wine as something “desired” (sh-
h-w), meaning the addictive compulsion of wanting more once one has tasted
it.24 Both n-sh-w and sh-h-w are also attributed to hashish and claimed to be
characteristic of it, thus marking it as something intoxicating and therefore for-
However, there were some scholars who denied that hashish could be classi-
fied as intoxicating. They probably were few in number, but it was certainly not
only the Mālikite al-Qarāfī (d. 684/1285) who was the sole exception to the rule,
as az-Zarkashī maintains. Even if he knew of al-Qarāfī’s views, Ibn Taymīyah
had no doubt also others in mind when he argued against the idea of deny-
ing to hashish the effect of intoxication.25 Al-Qarāfī’s argument is found in his
Qawāʿid, as az-Zarkashī calls the work which has been published under the title
of Furūq (Anwār al-burūq).26 While the botanists have stated in their books that
hashish is intoxicating,27 al-Qarāfī on his part had doubts and preferred to think
of it rather as mufsid “corruptive.” He defines still another term, murqid, “nar-
cotic,” as something that stops the functioning of the five senses. If there is no
arrest of sense perception, and the effect is primarily nashwah, joy, and a cer-
tain feeling of strength and confidence in oneself (qūwat an-nafs), then we can
speak of muskir “intoxicating.” If the effect is not of this type, then we are deal-
ing with something that must be described as mufsid “corruptive.” Thus the

22 4 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, pp. 115 and 184.

23 1 Cf. Lisān al-ʿArab, XX, 198 (Būlāq 1300–1308).
24 2 Cf. above, pp. 96 f.
25 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 304.
26 4 I, 261 f., in the edition Tunis 1302, with the chapter heading: al-farq al-arbaʿūn bayn qāʿidat
al-muskirāt wa-qāʿidat al-murqidāt wa-qāʿidat al-mufsidāt. For al-Qarāfī, cf. GAL, Suppl., I,
665 f., and for the text of az-Zarkashī’s quotation, cf. below, pp. 182f.
27 5 This dubious statement appears in az-Zarkashī’s quotation but is not found in al-Qarāfī’s
244 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

classification of “intoxicating” applies to substances that, like wine and other

109 alcoholic beverages made from various substances and commonly | discussed
by the jurists,28 “remove the mind” while at the same time generating nashwah
and joy. “Corruptive” is what befuddles the intellect, without primarily gener-
ating joy, which is the effect of substances such as banj and saykarān.29 The
effect of wine is properly described in the following verse of Ḥassan b. Thābit,
the famous poet of the Prophet’s time:

When we drink it, it leaves us kings

And lions. Battle action does not repel us.30

Intoxicants generate increased bravery and cheerfulness, confidence in oneself,

an inclination toward violent action and taking revenge on one’s enemies, and a
heightened effort to outdo others in generosity and nobility of character. This is
the implication of the verse just cited that describes wine and the winedrinker.
Because this is the well-known effect (maʿnā) of intoxicants, the Mālikite judge,
ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb b. ʿAlī b. Naṣr (362–422/973–1031), said:

Winedrinkers think that wine

Banishes worry and turns away sorrow.
They are right: It has fun with their minds, and they imagine
That it makes their joy complete.
It deprives them of their religion and their minds.
Do you (not rather) think that anyone lacking these two would be sad?

This was Judge ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb’s reply to those who defended the general
assumption that wine generates joy and happiness.
Now, using this distinction between narcotic, intoxicating, and corruptive,
al-Qarāfī suggests that hashish is to be classified as corruptive, and not as
intoxicating, for two reasons. First, hashish is found to stir the juice hidden
in the body, whichever it is. Thereby it creates, for each temper according to
the individual’s particular condition, acuteness in people dominated by the

28 1 Such as mizr made from wheat, bitʿ (or bitaʿ) made from honey, and sukurkah made from
millet. Az-Zarkashī omits mentioning them.
29 2 Al-Qarāfī later adds opium. Az-Zarkashī mentions only banj. Saykarān, also in slightly
different forms, is henbane. Possibly, banj here is meant to refer to hemp (?).
30 3 Cf. Ḥassān’s Dīwān, ed. H. Hirschfeld, 1, No. 1, line 10 (Leiden and London 1910, E.J.W. Gibb
Memorial Series 13), trans. (O. Rescher), Beitraege zur Arabischen Poësie, V, 2 (Stuttgart
1953–1954). Cf. also al-Aqfahsī, fol. 5a.
the legal discussion 245

yellow bile, somnolence and silence for the phlegmatic, weeping and restless-
ness for the melancholy, and cheerfulness for the sanguine. Some are therefore
found to weep very much, and others to be silent. In contrast, almost | every- 110
body devoted to wine and other intoxicating drinks is found to be exhilarated
(nashwān) and joyous and remote from the painful sensations31 of weeping and
silence. In the second place, wine is known to cause a strong tendency toward
quarreling among drinkers.32 They go at each other with weapons and are ready
to do frightful things they would not do when they are sober. This is meant by
Ḥassān b. Thābit’s reference to lions and readiness to do battle. Nothing of the
sort occurs when hashish eaters are together. In no way do they behave like
winedrinkers. On the contrary, they are quiet and somnolent as in a trance. If
one were to take away their things, he would not encounter in them the strong
violent reaction to be expected from winedrinkers in such a case. (Hashish
eaters) are the closest thing to dumb beasts. Therefore, corpses of people who
have died a violent death are frequently discovered among winedrinkers but
not among hashish eaters. For these two reasons, al-Qarāfī concludes, “I believe
that hashish is ‘corruptive,’ and not ‘intoxicating.’ I do not consider the ḥadd
punishment necessary in connection with it, nor do I consider prayer invalid
(for someone who has hashish in his possession); it requires taʿzīr as a deter-
rent so that people do not get mixed up with it.” In brief, al-Qarāfī’s argument
is that the different—and, it would seem to us, by and large more positive—
effects of wine vitiate the classification of hashish as an intoxicant, without,
however, making it any the less forbidden in principle, although the legal con-
sequences are somewhat less severe. This, however, was not the preponderant
attitude which, as has been stated, tended toward the view of ascribing intoxi-
cating properties to hashish.
A question more open to debate was that of the use of small versus large
quantities. This point also had considerable impact on the discussion of wine
for its potential of driving a wedge into the strict attitude toward alcoholic bev-
erages. For someone as strict as the Ḥanbalite Ibn Taymīyah, the quantity made
no difference. The prohibition holds, although, he says, large quantities caus-
ing intoxication are forbidden by general agreement (ittifāq) among | Muslims 111
and must for this reason be viewed more seriously.33 Not only “the last cup”

31 1 The colorless ṣudūr “occurrence” of al-Qarāfī’s text may be a mistake for taḍawwur, as in
az-Zarkashī’s quotation, which could hardly be (with most mss.) taṣawwur “perception.”
32 2 The ʿarbadah of drinkers is illustrated by stories in a special chapter of Ibn ar-Raqīq
al-Qayrawānī’s Quṭb as-surūr, 431–443. The pro-hashish forces often denounce it as one
of the disadvantages of alcohol, cf., for instance, below, p. 164, verse 14.
33 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 311 f.
246 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

of intoxicating beverages such as nabīdh, beer, or kumiss, is forbidden but any

quantity of them,34 and this no doubt also applies to hashish. Ibn Taymīyah
inveighs against the claim made for the Ḥanafites that they considered a non-
intoxicating amount of wine or hashish permissible. With respect to wine and
other intoxicating beverages, save some possible doubts with regard to beer, it
is simply a lie, Ibn Taymīyah contends, to accuse Abū Ḥanīfah of having made
any exceptions (nor would he have made any, had he had occasion to deal with
hashish). There is the much cited tradition—which, however, is not to be found
in al-Bukhārī and Muslim35—that the decisive factor is the potential intoxi-
cating quality: “Where a large quantity causes intoxication, a small quantity is
forbidden.” This, Ibn Taymīyah concludes, decides the question for intoxicating
hashish as it does for intoxicating wine.36
The Shāfiʿite adh-Dhahabī, if it was indeed he, followed Ibn Taymīyah in pro-
hibiting anything potentially intoxicating on the strength of the tradition just
cited.37 However, the famous Nawawī, commenting on Abū Isḥāq ash-Shīrāzī’s
Muhadhdhab,38 relied on the assumption that in contrast to wine, hashish,
being a plant, was not ritually unclean,39 and in this case, a little of it not causing
intoxication could be lawfully consumed. In reporting this view of an-Nawawī,
az-Zarkashī objects to it as being inconsistent with his view that hashish is to
be classified as intoxicating, as this rules out any use of it whatever. However,
az-Zarkashī also quotes the Tanbīh of Abū Isḥāq ash-Shīrāzī to the effect that
“everything clean the consumption of which does not cause any harm may be
eaten,”40 and concludes from it that “a small quantity of (hashish) is clean, and
there is no harm in eating it.” He further discusses the special case of the hypo-
112 thetical individual immune to hashish intoxication; | here the ritual cleanliness
of hashish would make its use permissible, in contrast to wine whose ritual
uncleanliness makes it forbidden even for the individual immune to its intox-
icating effect. In his discussion of the cleanliness or uncleanliness of hashish,
az-Zarkashī also shows himself inclined to assume lawfulness for the consump-
tion of small quantities, and in discussing whether vomiting after swallowing

34 2 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 326 ff.

35 3 Cf. Concordance, II, 491a29–31, and Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah, in making the case for the
soundness of the tradition.
36 4 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 301–303.
37 5 For ash-Shāfiʿī’s own view in connection with wine, cf. Umm, VI, 130f., 175ff.
38 6 The first three volumes of the edition available to me do not yet extend to this passage.
39 7 Cf. below, pp. 117ff.
40 8 Cf. the edition of the Tanbīh by A.W.T. Juynboll, 90 (Leiden 1879). For az-Zarkashī’s text,
see below, p. 192, and cf. also al-Aqfahsī, fol. 20a.
the legal discussion 247

hashish is obligatory as in the case of wine, he adopts a distinction between

intoxicating quantities, which require vomiting, and non-intoxicating quanti-
ties which do not.41
The Mālikite al-Qarāfī considered a small quantity of hashish permissible,
this, as az-Zarkashī explains, on the basis of his belief that it cannot be classified
as intoxicating but must be considered corruptive. Al-Qarāfī specified that
opium, banj, and saykarān are permissible as long as the amount used is not
of such a quantity as to exercise an influence upon the mind and the senses.
Less than that is indeed permissible.
The Ḥanafite approach was mostly in the direction toward greater tolerance,
providing the excuses that addicts were able to use in their own defense.42 This
at least was the way it turned out in practice while the theory was ambivalent.
A brief and somewhat one-sided summary of the attitudes of the four legal
schools toward the consumption of hashish, in analogy to their attitudes to-
ward wine, appears in the Risālah fī ḥurmat al-banj43 in the following form:
According to Abū Ḥanīfah and Abū Yūsuf, the drinking of wine, if it does
not cause intoxication, is permissible because these two Ḥanafite authorities
formulated their legal view with regard to the potential final result, which is
drunkenness. On the other hand, the third great Ḥanafite authority, Muḥam-
mad ash-Shaybānī, as well as Mālik, ash-Shāfiʿī, and Ibn Ḥanbal, held the view
that the forbidden character applied not only to the final result but was gener-
ally applicable to the entire process. For the author of the Risālah, the situation
with respect to hashish is fully analogous. Not having been mentioned by the
ancient authorities, banj and hashish have remained basically lawful (al-ibāḥah
al-aṣlīyah) as all other plants.44 This, for the author, is the crucial flaw in the
legal reasoning about hashish, which needs to be corrected. He | stresses the 113
fact that the view of the Shāfiʿite al-Muzanī and the Ḥanafite aṭ-Ṭaḥāwī45 out-
lawing banj must be considered legally binding as if it had been expressed by
the founders of the legal schools themselves. Consequently, the eating of banj
and hashish, whether in small or large quantities, is forbidden. “Nobody after
their time has ever said that the eating of banj and hashish is permissible, espe-
cially if they are taken pure for the purpose of becoming intoxicated, amused,
or emotionally excited, or because of having eaten too much food (aw li-kathrat
akl aṭ-ṭaʿām). Woe unto him who eats them, whether it be little or much. Again,

41 1 For the question of inducing vomiting, cf. also al-Aqfahsī, fol. 19a–b.
42 2 Cf. also the story of al-Malaṭī, above, p. 104.
43 3 Cf. above, p. 18.
44 4 Cf. above, p. 48.
45 1 Cf. above, p. 48.
248 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

woe unto him who eats them for amusement or emotional excitement or any-
thing of the sort.” Notwithstanding the strong stand taken by the author of the
Risālah, it seems obvious that the problem of quantity could be argued either
way and was so argued by adherents of all the schools without much distinc-
The question of the possible medical use of hashish was answered in a sim-
ilar manner since it involved quantities smaller than those that might ordinar-
ily cause intoxication or some other harm. In the view of jurists, the medical
authorities apparently did not have too much use for hemp products in the cure
of illnesses (see below). Anyhow, the legal authorities spoke mainly of banj in
this connection, but the assumption is that whatever they said of banj applied
equally to hashish. Thus al-Fanārī collected some opinions of his older Ḥanafite
colleagues such as Khwāharzādeh who, according to the Sharḥ al-Mabsūṭ (?),
considered the medical use of banj lawful unless it led to mental disturbance,46
in which case it was forbidden. The same opinion was expressed in the Mab-
sūṭ (that of Khwāharzādeh or, rather, that of as-Sarakhsī?).47 According to the
Ḥanafite Fatāwī al-Khulāṣah, there was nothing wrong with using banj for med-
ication, even if it brought about some mental disorder, but some authorities
limited this to exclude possible intoxication in the process.48 In his collec-
114 tion of Fatāwī, the Ḥanafite al-Bazzāzī | (d. 827/1424) adjudged the situation
similarly.49 Again, his contemporary, al-Qalqashandī, a Shāfiʿite, citing Judge
Ḥusayn al-Marwarrūdhī (d. 462/1069), expressed the same view with respect
to banj, jawz māthil (datura Metel L),50 and opium, if the drug was taken by
mistake or for medical purposes.51 The Shāfiʿite author of Qamʿ argued against
those who claimed for barsh the status of a highly effective medicament (burʾ
sāʿah) and, it seems, demanded on this basis that it be cleared for general use.

46 2 Dhahab, or zāl, al-ʿaql. In the context, some temporary state such as unconsciousness may
be meant, and no lasting deep-seated mental disturbance. However, such a distinction is
not inherent in the phraseology used. A person whose “mind is gone” is insane.
47 3 At least, the statement appears in the Kitāb al-ashribah of as-Sarakhsī’s Mabsūṭ, XXIV, 9.
For ash-Shāfiʿī himself, cf. Umm, V, 235, in connection with the divorce of the drunkard.
48 4 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 190. I have so far been unable to identify the work (identical with
the famous Khulāṣat al-fatāwī?).
49 1 In al-Bazzāzī’s chapter on ashribah, cf. Ms. Yale A-166 (Catalogue Nemoy, No. 888),
fol. 380b. Cf. also below, p. 122.
50 2 Cf. Meyerhof’s edition and translation of Maimonides, 43f. For the use in Arabic of
dāt(h)ūrah, cf. above, p. 46, n. 2, and below, p. 134.
51 3 Cf. al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ, II, 146. For Judge Husayn, as the author of the Taʿlīq(ah) (cf.
below, p. 121) a much cited authority, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 669.
the legal discussion 249

This was, however, he said, a special case, permissible only upon medical pre-
scription for certain diseases under quite restricted conditions. After vigorously
stating that the use of barsh was ruled out by the religious law and by reason,
he had some further thoughts about its medical properties. He contended that
southern people such as the Egyptians must never use it, but it might be good
for the constitution of people living in the northern, snow-bound regions of the
world, not for all of them but probably for some.52 For the author of the Risālah
fī ḥurmat al-banj, it was, or should have been, the general consensus that the
drug must not be used even as a medicine. He realized, however, that others
considered this permissible, and it is not quite clear whether he himself would
not have been willing to make an exception, notwithstanding his strong con-
victions. When he warned against using banj or hashish in the case of “having
eaten too much,”53 this would seem, however, to aim at the lawfulness of their
use as medicines.
The fullest information on this subject is again to be found in az-Zarkashī.
In his chapter on particular legal problems connected with hashish, he speaks
of “the permissibility of its use for medical purposes if it is established that it is
beneficial (as an ingredient) in some medicines. Thus, it has been stated that it
dissolves flatulence and cleans up54 dandruff (ibriyah).55 … The reason for its
effective|ness in this respect is the heat and dryness it contains. It is necessary 115
to decide upon permissibility.56 For saffron, scammony, and other drugs which
in large quantities are deadly can by general agreement be taken, if needed,
in small quantities. I have seen (the Shāfiʿite) ar-Rūyānī (d. 502/1108), in the
Baḥr, state this openly.57 He said: It is permissible to use it for medical purposes,

52 4 Cf. Qamʿ, fols. 276b–277a and 279b–280a.

53 5 Cf. above, p. 113.
54 6 Rather than tanfī “removes.”
55 7 “Flatulence” goes back to Galen, De simpl. med. VII (XII, 8 Kühn): aphysos. “Dandruff” was
mentioned by Isḥāq al-Isrāʾīlī. Both he and Galen were quoted by Ibn al-Bayṭār. Other
beneficial medical uses mentioned by Ibn al-Bayṭār and al-Maqrīzī on the authority of
Galen and others are those of a diuretic, of cleaning the brain, of soothing pain of the ears,
and of being good for digestion (although it also said to be difficult to digest and bad for
the stomach, cf. below, p. 164, n. 5). See above, pp. 73 f.
56 1 Ms. A, in contrast to the other mss., adds a reference to the use of small quantities, which
according to an-Nawawī are forbidden, “if there is an absence of need.” From this, it follows
that in the case of need, the use of small quantities is permissible. The situation is different
with regard to wine. See above, pp. 110 f.
57 2 For the Baḥr, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 673. Again Ms. A has a fuller text, referring to ar-Rūyānī’s
view that the use of small non-intoxicating quantities of wine is permissible for medical
purposes and that the use of plants for medication is absolutely permitted.
250 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

even if it leads to intoxication, whenever it cannot be avoided. He continued:

Something which is not intoxicating by itself but is so in combination with
something else, if it is of no use in another medicine, must not be eaten. If it is
of use, its use as medicine is permissible. Ash-Shāfiʿī has expressly stated that
the theriac made of various snake meats may be eaten only in the case of a
necessity of a kind that would make the consumption of carrion permissible.”
Az-Zarkashī also pays attention to the question of whether hashish may be
eaten in order to still one’s hunger. He decides that this may be done, for in
contrast to wine which does not quench a person’s thirst but rather increases it,
the consumption of hashish does not cause more hunger. This, it may be noted,
contradicts the frequently observed fact that the use of hashish stimulates the
appetite.58 However, az-Zarkashī may be right inasmuch as he starts out with a
situation in which hunger is present, in which case the effect of hashish would
be to alleviate the pangs of hunger. As he puts it, the most hashish does is “to
cover the mind.” In the context, the phrase must clearly be understood in the
sense of hashish being credited with a narcotic effect producing a kind of anaes-
thesia. Anaesthesia produced by drugs is permissible for medical purposes such
116 as the amputation of a gangrenous hand, az-Zarkashī remarks. Consequent|ly
it is lawful to eat hashish in the case of hunger or of medical necessity for the
purpose of preserving life.
Az-Zarkashī sums up his findings with respect to the circumstances under
which the use of hashish could be considered lawful and permissible, stating
that they are five: (1) If it is the question of a small quantity, but this is so only
according to an-Nawawī; (2) if the user is immune to the intoxicating effect
of hashish; (3) if it is consumed for medical purposes; (4) if it is consumed
to produce anaesthesia in connection with an amputation; and (5) if it is
consumed to still great hunger.59 The overriding concern of all legal scholars
was the abuse of hashish for “enjoyment and pleasure.” To this they were
unanimously and irrevocably opposed, as far as our knowledge goes.
It is not only the intoxicating effect of hashish but also, as we have already
seen, its effect upon mental and physical health and upon religious and moral
attitudes that provides the jurists with a strong argument. The law does not
permit self-destruction or causing harm to one’s body in any way,60 and that is
just what hashish is supposed to do. The physical and mental incapacitation,

58 3 Cf. above, p. 78. The view on wine is that of ash-Shāfiʿī, cf. as-Sarakhsī, Mabsūṭ, XXIV, 28.
59 1 Cf. the text, below, p. 195. The concluding words: wa-tajibu in lam nujawwiz al-istislām,
mean: “and they are necessary (and not merely permissible) if we do not consider sub-
mission (to self-destruction) permissible.”
60 2 Cf. M. Rodinson, in EI2, II, 1068b, s.v. ghidhāʾ, with reference to drugs.
the legal discussion 251

rather than the transgression of the law, of the addict is mainly held responsible
for the harm that may come to his religion, adding another, even more fright-
ening aspect to the devastation the addict brings upon himself.61 As stated by
az-Zarkashī,62 there is general agreement among all the religious groups in the
world that the preservation of mental health is imperative, and, as stated by
Ibn Taymīyah63 and others, it is recognized by all Muslim scholars that anything
leading to the destruction of the mind is forbidden. The assumption adopted by
all those who were against the use of drugs was that they corrupt the mind and
the physical constitution, thereby placing them beyond the pale of accepted
custom. If this served only as a second-line argument against hashish, to be
used principally by those who were not clear in their minds about its intoxicat-
ing effect, the reason was that Muslim religious tradition furnished the more
clear-cut legal situation with respect to intoxication, but | the argument from 117
self-destruction existed and was compelling.
The jurists who attempted to stem the use of hashish had powerful weapons
in these two arguments. However, it ought to be realized that theirs was not a
completely impregnable position. It depended neither upon firm authority and
upon precedent of the kind generally admitted nor upon the intrinsic character
of hashish which was a plant and therefore basically permitted for use, but it
had to rely exclusively upon the drug’s presumed effects, and they were hard to
prove objectively.

3 The Ritual Cleanliness or Uncleanliness of Hashish

Muslim law makes much of the distinction between ritual cleanliness and
uncleanliness (ṭāhir-najis), and there is more practical significance to this than
would seem to be the case at first glance. Contact with an object classified
as unclean necessitates ritual washing and failing that would, for instance,
invalidate prayer. Internal use, such as the consumption of hashish, compli-
cated matters. As Ibn Taymīyah saw it, the proper ritual ablution would not
be enough since hashish is like wine which invalidates prayer for a certain

61 3 Cf. above, pp. 88 f.

62 4 Cf. below, p. 185.
63 5 Fatāwī, IV, 310.
64 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 323. In the parallel passage, I, 129, Ibn Taymīyah speaks of
cleansing the mouth.
252 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Quite divergent views were expressed on the status of hashish in this respect.
As a plant, we have seen, hashish clearly falls outside the established categories
of unclean objects. According to Ibn Taymīyah, its uncleanliness in its quality as
an intoxicant most definitely derives from the fact that it acquires its intoxicat-
ing effect already during the process of turning from its non-intoxicating state
into its intoxicating state (bi-l-istiḥālah), as does “raw wine,” i.e., must. Banj,
on the other hand, is, as repeatedly stated, not intoxicating in the proper sense,
and other drugs such as nutmeg become intoxicating only after the completion
of the process.65 In this way, hashish is distinguished from other plant-derived
narcotics and closer to wine with its firmly established unclean character. How-
118 ever, | even Ibn Taymīyah, convinced as he was of the need for considering
hashish as unclean and of the correctness of doing so, had to admit that even
among the Ḥanbalites themselves as well as among the representatives of the
other legal schools there was no unanimity in this respect. There were those
who thought that it could not be regarded as unclean. Others thought of it as
clean in its solid state but as unclean if it was in a liquid state. Others fortu-
nately professed what Ibn Taymīyah considered the right opinion, namely, that
hashish is unclean just as wine is.66
The Shāfiʿite az-Zarkashī graphically shows the vacillation that prevailed on
this point. In the brief fifth chapter of his treatise, he begins by stressing the
uncleanliness of hashish, only to end up, after citing his authorities, by being
not at all sure about the situation. His chapter offers a good illustration of
the difficulties facing the legal authorities in their battle against the drug and
therefore deserves translation here in full:
“The problem of the cleanliness or uncleanliness of hashish must be dis-
cussed on the basis of the earlier discussion of its intoxicating character. Ana-
logical reasoning requires that those who pronounce it intoxicating must also
pronounce it unclean. Aṭ-Ṭūsī67 has expressed himself in this sense in his

65 2 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 304. In connection with nutmeg, Meyerhof states in his edi-
tion and translation of Maimonides, 38f., that it was used as a stimulant in modern Egypt
after the suppression of the traffic in hashish and other narcotics. Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī,
Taḥdhīr ath-thiqāt, fols. 8b–10a, goes into some detail concerning the legal situation with
respect to it, quoting Ibn Daqīq-al-ʿīd.
66 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 311, also IV, 304, and Siyāsah; adh-Dhahabī, Kabāʾir. It may be
noted that in the systematic discussion of uncleanliness in the first volume of his Fatāwī,
Ibn Taymīyah makes no mention of hashish. This is probably due to the fact that in the
traditional treatment of the topic, hashish naturally did not have a place. Addicts are also
unlikely to have consulted a muftī on this problem.
67 2 ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz b. Muḥammad aṭ-Ṭūsī, whose Miṣbāḥ is a commentary on the Ḥāwī of
the legal discussion 253

Miṣbāḥ when he says: Hashish is unclean if it is established that it is intoxicat-

ing. However, Shaykh Muḥyī-ad-dīn (an-Nawawī) said that it was intoxicating
but not unclean, and he did not refer to a contradicting view in this respect. He
is supported by the definite statement that it is clean, made by Taqī-ad-dīn Ibn
Daqīq-al-ʿīd in what he has written on the Furūʿ of Ibn al-Ḥājib.68 He referred
to the general consensus in this respect, saying: Opium, the milk of poppy, is
stronger in its effect than | hashish because a small quantity of it produces 119
strong intoxication, and the same applies to henbane (saykarān) and nutmeg.
Nevertheless, the general consensus considers them as clean. With respect to
the general consensus in this connection to which he lays claim, there is some
discussion, as will be reported on the authority of al-Qarāfī in connection with
the question of prayer.69
In an old commentary on the Wajīz, we find that its author70 said that he had
heard two views reported orally on the uncleanliness of hashish.
Ibn al-ʿAṭṭār71 says: Hesitation has been shown with respect to declaring it
unclean if it is (in its solid state).72 If it is mixed with water and drunk, it is more
properly called unclean in the view of those who pronounce wine unclean.

al-Qazwīnī, died in 706/1306, or 707 as indicated in GAL, Suppl., I, 679. Since I was unable to
consult the work, I am not sure as to how far the quotation extends. It possibly included
the quotation from an-Nawawī but hardly that from his contemporary Ibn Daqīq-al-ʿīd,
although this is not entirely excluded.
68 3 For the legal work of the famous grammarian Ibn al-Ḥājib (d. 646/1249), cf. GAL, Suppl., I,
538. Ibn Daqīq-al-ʿīd (d. 702/1303) is listed in Suppl., II, 66.
69 1 See below, pp. 120 f.
70 2 Al-Badrī, fol. 53a, has the following statement: “If not literally in these words, then at any
rate according to the sense, it was said by al-Adhraʿī (708–783/1308–1381, cf. GAL, Suppl.,
II, 108) in his book, at-Tawassuṭ wa-l-fatḥ bayn ar-Rawḍah wa-sh-Sharḥ: I have seen in
a fragment of Sharḥ al-Wajīz qadīm that hashish is intoxicating, unclean, and its eater
subject to ḥadd.” It would seem that the Wajīz was the famous work by al-Ghazzālī. “Its
author” is obviously the author of the commentary, and not al-Ghazzālī. Al-Ghazzālī
himself states in chapter 1, section 1, of the book on al-ḥalāl wa-l-ḥarām of the Iḥyāʾ, II, 83f.
(Cairo 1352/1933) that plants that cause mental disorder (muzīl al-ʿaql, above, p. 113, n. 2)
such as banj are for this reason unlawful, but only “intoxicating” plants are also unclean.
This excludes, for instance, banj which causes mental disorder but is not intoxicating. The
inherent uncleanliness of intoxicants is an additional deterrent against using them.
71 3 ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm (d. 724/1324), cf. GAL, II, 85, Suppl., II, 100. According to GAL, Suppl., I, 686,
he was the editor of an-Nawawī’s fatwās. The paragraph referring to Ibn al-ʿAṭṭār is to be
found only in Ms. B of az-Zarkashī.
72 4 This renders the drift of the discussion, but the text is not quite clear.
254 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

In his Fawāʾid ar-riḥlah, Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ mentions as transmitted by the author

of the Taqrīb73 an opinion to the effect that a plant is unclean if it is a deadly
poison and that this was objected to on the basis of the text of ash-Shāfiʿī.74 But
analogical reasoning requires cleanliness for hashish. We have no plant what-
ever that is unclean per se, except plants that are watered with uncleanliness.
120 They are unclean per se according to aṣ-Ṣaydalānī.75 They went so far as to say |
about poison that is a plant, that it is clean although it is more harmful than
hashish. The statement that hashish is to be declared unclean is not to be con-
sidered acceptable, even if (hashish) were intoxicating, for proof comes only in
connection with wine, and something other than wine does not correspond to
it in all aspects. It is agreed that it is permissible to consume a small quantity
of hashish. If it were unclean, this would not be permissible.”
Thus, doubts existed, and while those who felt that hashish ought to be
outlawed thought it useful to brand it as unclean with all that this involved, it
seems that the legal situation was not easily reconcilable to such an approach.
The obvious result was another small loophole for the drug.76

4 Prayer and Divorce

At the beginning of az-Zarkashī’s seventh and last chapter, the question is

raised whether carrying hashish on one’s person and having it in possession
during prayer renders his prayer invalid. This is felt to depend on whether
hashish is clean or unclean. Al-Qarāfī reports the answer of an unnamed Egyp-
tian jurist77 that before the hemp is toasted and roasted, it has no effect upon

73 5 The famous ḥadīth scholar Ibn aṣ-Ṣalāḥ died in 643/1245, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 610ff., and
J. Robson, in EI2, s.v. Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ. His “Travel Notes” are listed in Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 1297. The
Taqrīb appears to be the work of the Shāfiʿite Abū Shujāʿ al-Iṣfahānī (d. 593/1196), cf. GAL,
Suppl., I, 676 f.
74 6 Cf. above, p. 115.
75 7 As-Subkī, Ṭabaqāt ash-Shāfiʿīyah, IV, 31 (Cairo 1324), mentions Abū Bakr aṣ-Ṣaydalānī,
apparently the person meant here, a pupil of al-Qaffāl, who thus lived around 1100. He
wrote a commentary on the Mukhtaṣar of al-Muzanī (see Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 1636), cited by
al-Aqfahsī, fol. 14a.
76 1 For the comparison of “dirty” wine with “clean” hashish, cf. below, p. 155. This has nothing
to do with the question of ritual cleanliness and uncleanliness, although it was at times
combined with it.
77 2 Al-Badrī, fols. 53b–54a, says that it is an-Nawawī, and the inquirer is “ash-shaykh,” probably
still an-Nawawī. However, al-Badrī may merely be quoting from az-Zarkashī, in spite of
small textual variants, and his additional data need therefore not be considered.
the legal discussion 255

the validity of prayer because in that state it is nothing but green leaves. Only
after it has gone through that process does it acquire its mind-destroying qual-
ities, and its possession then invalidates prayer. Al-Qarāfī—who still seems to
be meant rather than az-Zarkashī himself—inquired with a group of people
involved with hashish (mim-man yuʿānīhā)78 whether this distinction made
sense to them. He found them divided in their opinion. Some accepted it
as justified. Others, however, claimed that the efficacy of hashish was abso-
lute and that the toasting process merely served the purpose of improving its
taste and producing a better balanced quality. Al-Qarāfī himself, | it will be 121
recalled, considered hashish as “corruptive” and therefore as clean and hav-
ing no effect upon the validity of prayer, as opposed to “intoxicating” sub-
Another question that was raised concerned the functioning of addicts
as prayer leaders. Ibn Taymīyah was convinced that an addict must not be
appointed to the leadership of public prayer if a better person is available.
A prayer performed behind a prayer leader who is “wicked” ( fāsiq) is legally
classified as disliked (makrūh). There is general agreement on this point. On
the other hand, it is more debatable whether a prayer performed under such
circumstances is valid or not, with Abū Ḥanīfah and ash-Shāfiʿī lining up in
favor of validity, and Mālik and Ibn Ḥanbal being according to one tradition
for it, and according to another against it. Appointment of a known addict to
lead the prayer is, at any rate, quite out of the question.79 We do not know how
great the practical need was for dealing with this problem, but it certainly was
something to worry about, even if tales such as the one about a hashish eater
dressed like a legal scholar who was pressed into service as prayer leader and
spoiled the prayer by his irrational behavior throw no real light upon the actual
According to the chapter on the prayer of travelers from the Taʿlīq(ah) of
Judge Ḥusayn al-Marwarrūdhī, a person who missed prayer or fasting while his
mind was affected by banj or other drugs is required to make up for what he
missed after recovery, as is also required of drunkards.81

78 3 Cf. above, p. 96, but here the word may also be meant to include “experts” on the subject
in addition to addicts.
79 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 322–324 (= I, 128–130).
80 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 11b, and above, pp. 66 f.
81 3 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 197. For the general problems of missed prayers for reasons
of temporary insanity and intoxication, cf., for instance, an-Nawawī, Majmūʿ (Sharḥ al-
Muhadhdhab), III, 7 f.
256 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Next to the problems of prayer, those of divorce were closest to the hearts
of medieval Muslim jurists and found the most attention in the law books. As
in the case of wine,82 it was a matter of debate whether a divorce pronounced
under the influence of hashish was binding or not. A basic question here is
whether or not a sin (maʿṣiyah) is involved. According to the Ḥāwī, possibly
that of the Shāfiʿite al-Māwardī (d. 450/1058),83 the law is the same for the
122 drug | user as it is for the winedrinker, according to one view, but according to
another view followed by Abū Ḥanīfah, the divorce is not binding, even though
(the addict) is a sinner. According to the Shāfī of al-Jurjānī,84 drinking wine
voluntarily or drinking banj intentionally for emotional excitement,85 so as to
cause mental disorder, is a sin; consequently, the divorce is binding. According
to the Ḥanafite Fatāwī of al-Marghīnānī (d. 593/1197),86 the actions of a person
intoxicated by banj would not be binding (and this then would include the
declaration of divorce).
Among Ḥanafites expressing their opinion on the problem was az-Zaylaʿī
(d. 743/1342).87 Citing ash-Shaybānī as his authority, he maintains that the
divorce pronounced by a person under the influence of banj is ⟨not?⟩ binding
like that of the winedrinker. Al-Bazzāzī (d. 827/1424)88 quotes ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz
b. Khālid at-Tirmidhī on the authority of Abū Ḥanīfah and ath-Thawrī to the

82 4 Cf., for instance, D. Santillana, Istituzioni di diritto musulmano malichita, I, 258 (Rome, n.
y.). For ash-Shāfiʿī, see Umm, V, 235.
83 5 Al-Māwardī’s name is not mentioned, but since the quotation is preceded by another
from the Baḥr of ar-Rūyānī (d. 502/1108), which is a commentary on al-Māwardī’s Ḥāwī,
it seems likely that his Ḥāwī, rather than that of al-Qazwīnī (d. 665/1266), is meant here. A
perusal of these widely preserved works will bring the decision. For al-Māwardī, ar-Rūyānī,
and al-Qazwīnī, see GAL, Suppl., I, 668, 673, and 679, respectively. The Yale volumes of
al-Māwardī’s Ḥāwī (see below, p. 124, n. 6) do not include this section.
84 1 Ḥājjī Khalīfah, 1023, lists “ash-Shāfī fī furūʿ ash-Shāfiʿīyah by Abū l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b.
Muḥammad al-Jurjānī who died in 482/1089–1090.” A brief obituary notice of this man
which, however, makes no reference to any scholarly activity of his appears in Ibn al-Jawzī,
Muntaẓam, IX, 50 (Hyderabad 1357–1359).
85 2 The reading of the text (below, p. 196) is correct and to be translated as above. Two mss.
have something like thzy’ wa-ṭaraban, seemingly two parallel adverbial accusatives.
86 3 These Fatāwī appear to be the work listed in GAL, Suppl., I; 649, No. III: at-Tajnīs wa-l-mazīd
fī l-fatāwī.
87 4 For ʿUthmān b. ʿAlī az-Zaylaʿī, cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 265. His statement is cited in the margin of
al-Fanārī. The negation seems to have been omitted by mistake, for in his Tabyīn al-ḥaqāʾiq,
VI, 47 (Būlāq 1313–1315), az-Zaylaʿī refers to the ineffectiveness of a divorce declared by a
person asleep and by a person whose mind is affected by banj and kumiss.
88 5 Cf. Ms. Yale A-166 (Catalogue Nemoy, No. 888), fol. 62a.
the legal discussion 257

effect that a divorce pronounced under the influence of banj is binding if the
user when he drank it knew what it was he was taking, but it is not binding
if he did not know. However, al-Bazzāzī himself and Qāḍīkhān (d. 592/1196),
whom he quotes, think that it is not binding under any circumstances.89 Ibn
al-Humām (d. 861/1457),90 however, finds that no sin exists in the case of banj
or opium, as they are | principally used for medical purposes; consequently, 123
the divorce is not binding. But the use of narcotics for pleasure and with the
intent to cause harm changes the situation. In such a case, the divorce is
binding (apparently, because this involves a sin). The author of the Risālah fī
ḥurmat al-banj decides that a divorce declared under the influence of drugs is
binding, as it is in connection with wine, as a deterrent against their use, and
the same view is credited to “our (Ḥanafite) scholars” in a discussion apparently
by at-Timirtāshī.91
The question was presumably one of considerable practical importance. It
may not have been the result intended, but the preference expressed in favor of
the assumption that a divorce declared under the influence of drugs is binding,
while it might have worked hardship on the wife in certain cases, could also
have been for her a means to obtain a divorce from a husband who was an
addict. This would otherwise have been quite difficult for her. Our hashish
stories happen not to talk about divorce, and no reports on actual cases are,
as we must expect, available. Thus, once again, the jurists’ concern serves us as
a reflection of reality. Even if it cannot be corroborated, it appears to be a true

5 The Feeding of Hashish to Animals

Animals must not be made drunk. Likewise they must not be fed hashish.
Az-Zarkashī adds, without indicating his authority, that animals would not
eat hashish.92 Al-Aqfahsī (fol. 20a) adds that if the purpose in feeding hashish
to animals is to increase their appetite and fatten them, it can be considered

89 6 Qāḍīkhān, Fatāwī, II, 33 (Calcutta 1835), makes the same statement as az-Zaylaʿī, cited in
n. 4.
90 7 For Ibn al-Humām, cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 91. His statement is quoted by al-Fanārī.
91 1 According to the Gotha Ms., quoted in part above, p. 48.
92 2 Cf. below, p. 195.
258 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

6 The Punishment for Drug Use

Since the use of hashish was generally adjudged a crime, the proper form
and extent of punishment had to be discussed, even if this discussion had
to be held in the rather vague terms customary in Muslim jurisprudence. As
usual, it revolves around ḥadd, the punishment fixed by the Religious Law,
and taʿzīr, the punishment left to the discretion of the judicial authorities.
Clearly, if it was possible to equate hashish with wine, the ḥadd penalty for
124 wine would apply. Otherwise it would have to be taʿzīr. However, there | were
slight variations. Again it would seem that general considerations concerning
the danger inherent in the use of drugs, to a greater degree than strict reasoning
according to school tradition, determined the individual scholar’s attitude.
The strong feelings of the Ṣūfī Shaykh al-Ḥarīrī against hashish naturally led
to the conviction that the ḥadd punishment was applicable to hashish with
even greater force than to wine.93 Expectedly, Ibn Taymīyah showed himself
adamant in his insistence upon the ḥadd of either eighty or forty stripes for
those who believe that hashish is unlawful, yet take it.94 However, he was faced
with the fact that other jurists did not think the way he did and included
hashish in the category of drugs that were non-intoxicating such as banj, in
which case taʿzīr was indicated.95 We have already seen96 that the Mālikite
al-Qarāfī ranged himself among those. He considers hashish as corruptive
but non-intoxicating and draws the conclusion that in such a case, taʿzīr is
indicated, and only in the case of intoxication (not applicable to hashish) the
ḥadd punishment. In the course of time, a strong tendency seems to have come
to the fore in the direction of moving away from the theory that the ḥadd
punishment should go with hashish.
In the view of the Shāfiʿite colleagues of an-Nawawī, the use of non-liquid
substances and medicines “such as banj and this known ḥashīshah” were for-
bidden like wine but entailed taʿzīr, and not ḥadd, for punishment.97 The
Shāfiʿite az-Zarkashī considered the application of ḥadd obligatory on the basis
of his assumption of an intoxicating character for hashish. What is really deci-
sive for him is the property of giving pleasure and an emotional uplift. Thus
there is no contradiction in the statement of al-Māwardī who required ḥadd for

93 1 Cf. also Ibn Taymīyah, below, pp. 161 f.

94 2 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 312.
95 3 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Siyāsah, and Fatāwī, IV, 310, 312.
96 4 Cf. above, p. 110.
97 5 Cf. an-Nawawī, Majmūʿ (Sharḥ al-Muhadhdhab), III, 9.
the legal discussion 259

the use of plants causing strong emotion,98 and that of ar-|Rāfiʿī who rejected 125
ḥadd in connection with non-intoxicating plants, because the crucial consid-
eration is the effect of emotion. Thus, according to ar-Rāfiʿī, banj does not
require ḥadd because it does not cause pleasure and emotion and, in addi-
tion, is not strictly addictive.99 In az-Zarkashī’s view, since this is different with
hashish, the ḥadd penalty for hashish is also implied in the position taken by
ar-Rāfiʿī.100 Another Shāfiʿite, ʿIzz-ad-dīn, rejected in his Qawāʿid the applica-
bility of ḥadd to the use of non-intoxicating drugs such as banj whose destruc-
tive effect he considered to be of an extremely rare occurrence. He declared it
appropriate in connection with alcoholic beverages such as wine and nabīdh,
for they, he argued, were so very harmful just because of their ability to generate
joy and emotion. Az-Zarkashī made no comment as to whether this included
hashish.101 He might have wanted to leave it to the reader’s judgment as to
how the emotional aspect of the inebriating qualities of alcoholic beverages
could be reconciled with the effects of hashish. The Shāfiʿite judge Ḥusayn al-
Marwarrūdhī would certainly not have used the word hashish in the eleventh
century, but according to al-Qalqashandī’s discussion of hashish,102 he held the
view that intentional drug use was a major sin marking the user as “wicked”
( fāsiq) (as are winedrinkers). Unintentional or medical use did not have this
consequence. This then suggested the conclusion that hashish users are to be
classified as “wicked”; yet, they are not subject to the ḥadd penalty. To conclude
our survey of the Shāfiʿite position, we may quote, again from az-Zarkashī, the
colleagues, presumably Shāfiʿites, of a certain Ẓahīr-ad-dīn at-Tizmantī103 who

98 6 The passage from al-Māwardī’s Ḥāwī appears on fol. 182a of Vol. 23 of the Yale Ms. L-267
(Catalogue Nemoy, No. 1030). Al-Māwardī discusses two other possibilities: Plants like banj
that cause intoxication but do not cause strong emotion, which are forbidden to eat but
do not require the ḥadd penalty and, if necessary, may be used for medical purposes, and
plants like dād(h)ī “Judas tree” which do not cause intoxication by themselves but only in
connection with something else. For dād(h)ī, cf., for instance, M. Meyerhof and G.P. Sobhy,
The Abridged Version of “The Book of Simple Drugs” of … al-Ghāfiqī by Gregorius Abuʾl-Faraǧ
(Barhebraeus), I, 488–490 (Cairo 1938), and for the possibility of intoxication caused only
in connection with other substances, cf. above, p. 115.
99 1 Cf. above, p. 97, n. 1.
100 2 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 189. Ar-Rāfiʿī is better known as the historian of Qazwīn, who
died in 623/1226, cf. GAL, Suppl., I, 678.
101 3 Cf. pp. 190f.; Ibn ʿAbd-as-Salām, Qawāʿid, I, 164 (Cairo, n.y.).
102 4 Cf. al-Qalqashandī, Ṣubḥ, II, 146, and above, p. 114, n. 3.
103 5 This seems to be the correct reading, after Tizmant, a town in Egypt. Ibn Ḥajar, Durar,
II, 61 (Hyderabad 1348–1350), mentions a certain Jaʿfar at-Tizmantī as a law teacher of
al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Sayyid-al-kull (646–739/1248(9)-1338). I do not know whether he was
260 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

acknowledged that they were confronted with three different views. Hashish,
as a plant, may be equated with wine and nabīdh because it involves intoxi-
cation, as this is the crucial point. It may be equated with wine only if it is in
126 liquid form, so as to have complete | correspondence. And it may be equated
with wine only if it can be shown that it produces the same effects as wine, such
as generating energy, bravery, daring, and exhilaration104 in the head. We may
well assume that only in the first case could there be ḥadd punishment, since
hashish was rarely used in liquid form and was not really believed to have the
qualities associated with wine.105
For the Ḥanafites whom az-Zarkashī quotes from the Fatāwī al-Khulāṣah,
medical use, even if it leads to mental derangement, remains exempt from the
ḥadd punishment. However, if the use of a drug (banj was presumably the word
originally used) is intended to produce intoxication, ash-Shaybānī favors ḥadd,
while Abū Ḥanīfah himself and Abū Yūsuf opt for taʿzīr.106 With express ref-
erence to banj, this view is also reported in the marginal notes of al-Fanārī as
having been stated by al-ʿAynī (?).107 Ḥadd punishment is also demanded, for
the use of banj leading to intoxication, by the Tanwīr al-abṣār, az-Zaylaʿī and
the Tātarkhānīyah.108 The authoritative Ḥanafite view with regard to the use
of hashish was evidently the one quoted by al-Fanārī from al-Ḥaddād(ī)’s com-
mentary on al-Qudūrī: “(Hashish) is less strictly forbidden than wine. Eating
a small amount of it does not require the ḥadd penalty, even if intoxication
results. It is like drinking urine and eating faeces. It is forbidden but does not
require the ḥadd penalty but a taʿzīr less severe than ḥadd.”
The user was thus criminally culpable, but he was not condemned as harshly
as was the person who “declared the use of hashish lawful and permissible”
(who, of course, mostly was, but need not always have been, a user himself). At

this Ẓahīr-ad-dīn. The entire passage concerning him occurs only in one-half of the
Zarkashī manuscript tradition.
104 1 This appears to be the meaning of nashāh, apparently from the root n-sh-w. No doubt the
same word occurs in Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 324 (= II, 252) (below, p. 148, n. 4), where
the printed text offers nashʾatuhā or shiyātuhā, neither easily explainable in the context
by its ordinary meaning. Nashāh also appears repeatedly in Ibn Ḥajar al-Haytamī, Taḥdhīr
105 2 Nashāṭ “energy” is mentioned as an effect of hashish in the Ḥaydar story (above, p. 51), but
cf., in particular, al-Qarāfī, above, pp. 109 f.
106 3 Cf. az-Zarkashī, below, p. 190.
107 4 I am not sure whether this is the correct reading and, if so, whether he is the well-known
historian who died in 855/1451.
108 5 For the Fatāwī at-Tātarkhānīyah of Ibn ʿAlāʾ (d. ca. 750/1349), cf. GAL, Suppl., II, 643.
the legal discussion 261

least for Ibn Taymīyah, an individual who thus distorted the intent of the divine
law was an apostate (murtadd) and was to be treated as such. He must be asked
to repent, and failing to do so, he must be killed. His corpse must not be washed,
the funeral prayers must not be performed for him, and he must not | be buried 127
among Muslims.109 We do not have further evidence on this point, but a late
jurist, probably at-Timirtāshī (quoting an-Nasafī?),110 ascribes to “our scholars,”
meaning the Ḥanafites, the view that those who say that eating hashish is lawful
(man qāl bi-ḥill aklih) are not only innovators and “wicked” but also heretics
(zindīq). This may mean that they considered the severe fate awaiting heretics
as reserved also for those people. In the same discussion, users are thought
deserving of severe taʿzīr.
In this connection, we also find an express statement as to what is to be done
legally with those who traffic in hashish. Their punishment is taʾdīb “chastise-
ment,” which is one, or rather some, of the forms the taʿzir punishment could
take.111 Both the growers of hashish and hashish sellers suffered destruction of
their product. This obviously entailed considerable financial loss for them,112
but it was a practical matter which appears to have found little repercussion in
legal theorizing.
What the actual legal practice was as distinct from the theory would be of
particular importance for us to know in our quest to understand hashish as a
social problem, but if we wish to be honest with ourselves, we must admit that
our knowledge in this respect is almost non-existent. Documented information
can be expected to come forth from Ottoman archives and literary sources.
For earlier times, there is little hope that even the most careful sifting of the
preserved material will present us with something like a documented and
coherent picture.
The ḥadd punishment put a severe stigma upon those convicted to it, and
it was generally considered as more stringent than taʿzir. It was in fact held
by the majority of schools that the taʿzīr should not go beyond the extent of
the prescribed ḥadd, but this could be measured unambiguously in the case
of hashish only when the applicable ḥadd consisted of stripes like that for
drinking wine (according to the prevailing theory, even though the practice

109 1 Cf. Ibn Taymīyah, Fatāwī, IV, 302, 310, 312.

110 2 Cf. above, p. 48.
111 3 Cf. above, p. 49, and the anecdote, above, p. 39. Ibn ʿAbd-aẓ-Ẓāhir singled out the grower
of hashish as deserving of chastisement whereas the user should be denounced publicly
(sh-h-r VIII) (which would also qualify as “chastisement”), cf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, II, 129;
Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt, I, 364.
112 4 Cf. below, pp. 133ff.
262 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

often substituted jail for it). Taʿzīr could therefore result in practice in penalties
that hit the culprit harder than ḥadd.
128 Before either ḥadd or taʿzīr could be administered, the difficult hurdle of
providing evidence had to be cleared. Under many, if not most, circumstances
this might not have been possible. The establishment of guilt when a suspected
user was brought before the authorities probably depended as a rule upon
witnesses or the finding of hashish in the suspect’s possession. Some glimpse
at the procedures that might at times have been followed is granted us by
a passage in al-Badrī (fol. 55a). Signs of hashish intoxication are redness and
dullness ( futūr) of the eyes, a sallow pale (“dirty yellow”) complexion of the
face, and difficulties in moving about combined with physical and mental
apathy (kasal, khabāl). These signs are used by the authorities (ḥākim) to prove
the case against a defendant. If the accused denies his guilt, he may be given
sour milk to drink and be ordered to throw up, as the greenness of hashish
would go down (rather, come up?)113 with it. If the accused refuses, he should
be beaten until he complies.
For a judge, regardless of school affiliation, a decision was certainly never
easily arrived at. Defenders of the use of hashish could not only claim that there
was no law against it. Under ordinary circumstances, they could be also fairly
certain that the law would not attempt to reach out for them.114
A special situation existed in the case described by al-Badrī (fol. 57a). On
25 Ramaḍān 867/13 June 1463, shortly before the maghrib prayer, an individual
was apprehended in Damascus with hashish in his hand and ready to eat it.
He confessed that he had obtained it from someone who had ground (ṣ-ḥ-n)
it and that he had meant to eat it at the time of the call to prayer. Both he and
his source were beaten and publicly denounced and then banished. In this case,
the crime of using hashish was combined with an intended desecration, at least
on the part of one of the culprits, of the fast of Ramaḍān. How the punishment
would have turned out under less incriminating circumstances is hard to say.
When the government decided to proceed energetically against the use of
drugs, severe penalties were demanded and apparently also imposed. This
included the death penalty. In the thirteenth century, Baybars prohibited the
consumption of wine and hashish and invoked the sword as the punishment
129 (expressed by the word ḥadd) for it.115 | In the latter part of the fourteenth
century, Sūdūn ash-Shaykhūnī punished people accused of making hashish

113 1 Tanzil, cf. nizāl, below, p. 164, n. 1?

114 2 Cf., for instance, above, p. 76, or below, p. 164, verse 16.
115 3 Cf. below, pp. 135f.
the legal discussion 263

with the extraction of their molars, and many suffered this fate, as al-Maqrīzī
tells us. The seventeenth-century anecdote reported by Ibn al-Wakīl al-Mīlawī
has two old men go to a park in Qaṣr al-ʿAynī, then outside Cairo, in order to
eat hashish and smoke tobacco undisturbed. They were afraid of being found
out by the governor, Ḥusayn Pasha,116 and decided that one of them should
always watch the road. They alternately ate hashish and smoked tobacco, but
the effect of hashish caused the watcher to fall asleep. He woke up only upon
hearing the clatter of the horses of the men of Ḥusayn Pasha. Quickly he
hid the smoking apparatus (dawāh) under the garment on the back of the
other man. When Ḥusayn Pasha came and asked them what they were doing
there, he told him that he was a barber getting ready to shave his companion’s
head. The companion felt the heat of the smoking utensil and squirmed, and
when Ḥusayn Pasha who was aware all the time that they had been smoking,
asked him why the man was squirming, the “barber” blamed the heat of the
razor. Ḥusayn Pasha called his attention to the fact that he had no razor. So
he said that he was squirming because he was afraid of his clumsiness and
inexperience in barbering. Ḥusayn Pasha broke out laughing. All the while,
however, the man suffering from the burning heat accused his companion
in Arabic of having burned his back, only to be told to be quiet and patient
since “the burning of fire was milder than decapitation.” Both naturally thought
that Ḥusayn Pasha did not know Arabic and did not understand them, but he
did. Yet he did not have the men arrested but gave them some gold and silver
coins as a payment, he said, for the barbering, and then left them alone.117 The
prime offence here was not hashish but smoking, which was hotly debated at
the time.118 The death penalty was at stake, but enforcement was evidently
It would seem that the occasions when the government was determined to 130
take drastic steps against hashish (for reasons never stated in satisfactory detail
but at best in generalities such as counteracting moral laxity) were infrequent,
and the action not very successful. One might also suspect that at other times,

116 1 He was Deli Ḥusayn Pasha, who died in 1069/1659 and was governor of Egypt from
1045/1635 to 1047/1637, cf. I. Parmaksizoǧlu, in EI2, s.v. Ḥusayn Pasha. The date of his
governorship in Egypt provides the exact chronological setting for the story.
117 2 Cf. Ibn al-Wakīl al-Mīlawī, Bughyat al-musāmir, in the Cambridge Ms. ar. 136 (Qq 194),
fols. 113b–114a. For the author and the work, cf. F. Rosenthal, in J AOS, LXXXIII (1963), 454.
118 3 The unsuccessful repressive actions against the use of tobacco in the Ottoman Empire are
described, for instance, in Ḥājjī Khalīfah, The Balance of Truth, trans. G.L. Lewis, 50ff. The
little treatise (cf. also above, p. 16, n. 2) presents a good picture of the theoretical and legal
arguments then in vogue.
264 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

the number of individual cases that reached the courts was limited and stood
certainly in no proportion to the number of addicts. The legal theory left some
loopholes, although by and large it was agreed upon the criminal character
of drug use. But it was fighting a losing battle with the reality of the societal
environment and seems to have given up and failed when a strong stand was
sorely needed. At the end, the prevailing attitude in society appears to have
been one of complete resignation.119

119 1 This, at least, is the impression one gains from the just cited work by Ḥājjī Khalīfah for the
first half of the seventeenth century.
chapter five

Hashish and Its Users in Society 131

1 Economic Aspects

With its continued growth, the hashish habit quite naturally came to play a
certain role in economic and commercial life. The extent and character of this
role can be assumed to have varied a good deal from country to country and
from locality to locality, but we do not have the details that would be necessary
to make any precise statements about this situation.
One of the outstanding features about hashish was its comparative inexpen-
siveness. It might have been only under rare conditions that it was beyond the
reach of anybody.1 Hashish was so cheap that it could be said by the historian
Ibn ʿAbd-aẓ-Ẓāhir in the thirteenth century that one dirham of hashish readily
bought as much intoxication as did one dīnār of wine.2 This, of course, is not to
be taken literally, but it gives a good idea of the economics involved. Wine, in
contrast to hashish, was a luxury item that the poorer sections of the popula-
tion were unable to afford, a fact repeatedly commented upon. The production
of hashish also was much less refined and complicated than the cultivation
and the processing of grapes, nor should it be forgotten that hashish was a
much less bulky and more easily handled merchandise than wine. Moreover,
the trade in it did not require the capital and organization that can be assumed
to have been required in the merchandising of wine. Thus, even if hashish had
not been a subject to be treated gingerly and to be bypassed wherever possible,
we could not expect to find for it even a small part of the information that exists
on viticulture and the wine trade. Understandably, the jurists, too, paid much
less attention to it.
Hemp was grown for purposes that were entirely legitimate such | as the 132
production of rope.3 For use as a drug, the wild variety could be used and
was, in fact, recommended for use.4 But primarily, it was cultivated in “gar-

1 1 Cf. above, p. 99.

2 2 Gf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, II, 129; Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt, I, 364. For a similar comparison with
respect to weight, cf. above, p. 106.
European observers in the past always stressed the cheapness of hashish as compared to
other narcotics, cf. Silvestre de Sacy, Mémoire sur la dynastie des Assassins, 48, 50.
3 1 Cf. S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, I, 86, 105 f. (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1967).
4 2 Cf. above, pp. 57f.
266 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

dens,” as already Ibn al-Bayṭār tells us. Quite apart from the possibility that it
often was home-grown in small patches of land, the acreage used for planting
it even commercially was no doubt as a rule small. However, we also hear that
in certain parts of the Delta of the Nile, the major crop sown was hashish, and
the daily consumption of hashish in Cairo amounted to ten thousand nuqrahs
(= dirhams), presumably referring to the monetary value of the hashish con-
sumed.5 There may be considerable exaggeration here, especially with respect
to the statement of hemp being the principal crop in some of Egypt’s most
fertile land, but there is little reason to doubt that hemp as the source of hallu-
cinatory cannabis was not negligible as a factor in agriculture. The cultivation
of hashish was largely forbidden no less than its use. An additional verse to be
found in adh-Dhahabī’s Kabāʾir stresses this point (although it should be noted
that the second line also occurs in connection with wine):6

To eat it and to grow it as something lawful—

These are two calamities for the unfortunate individual.

According to az-Zarkashī,7 growing hashish for use as an intoxicant is forbid-

den, while growing it for medical purposes is permitted. Ibn Taymīyah might
not have made an express pronouncement on the subject since all az-Zarkashī
quotes in this connection as Ibn Taymīyah’s view is a fatwā of his that forbade
the cultivation of a kind of grapes to be found in certain places in Syria which
could not be used as raisins but were good only for wine.
Between the grower and the seller, we find the “maker” or “producer”
( f-ʿ-l, ṣ-n-ʿ) of hashish, evidently the entrepreneur who turned the plant into
133 the product ready for sale and use. At times, | he might of course have been
identical with either the grower or, more likely, the seller, if not both. This
probably depended upon the volume of local demand and the resulting prof-
itableness of any of these activities. When severe punishment was meted out in
connection with the making of hashish,8 it probably affected those involved in
all the stages, from growing to preparation to consumption. And the curse pro-

5 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 4b, where, in spite of the use of “I say,” the statement seems to go back
to the alleged source, al-Bunduqī’s Ṣaḥīḥ (see above, p. 28, n. 4). The Damiette region in
particular seems to be meant for hashish being the major crop there. Although the phrasing is
somewhat strange ( yustaʿmal fīhā kull yawm bi-ʿasharat ālāf nuqrah ḥashīsh), the preposition
bi- suggests that nuqrah cannot be understood as referring to “lumps” of hashish.
6 4 Cf. the Berlin Ms. (but not the Princeton Ms.) of Ibn Ghānim.
7 5 Below, p. 196.
8 1 Cf. above, pp. 128 f.
hashish and its users in society 267

nounced in Qamʿ upon “the maker and consumer of hashish”9 was no doubt
also intended to be all-inclusive. However, the producer of hashish from the
harvested hemp crop was a further link in the economic chain of drug use.
That tax farming (ḍamān) was undertaken in connection with hashish (see
below), in whatever form it might have been, clearly shows that it was a
commercial item of some importance. We do not know anything about the
profits of the sellers marked for chastisement in Transoxania,10 but a local
addict who maintained himself by importing and selling hashish was certainly
not just compelled by his habit to continue in business, but he also found it
lucrative and was not greatly bothered by occasional monetary fines imposed
upon him.11 The hashish seller (bayyāʿ al-ḥashīsh) of the Arabian Nights is
described as selling also preparations with, it seems, no hashish in it.12 However,
his appears to have been an established business, and presumably a profitable
one. The confection called ʿuqdah13 provided its inventor with a flourishing
business, even if it had to be a clandestine operation. A success story paralleling
that of ʿuqdah is reported by al-Badrī (fols. 29a–30a) as having taken place in
his own lifetime, in the years 869–870/1464–1466. A Persian called ash-Sharīf
(but not a descendant of the Prophet, min ghayr shaṭfah khaḍrāʾ) came to
Damascus and set up two tents in which he sold herbs and confections. He had
a good business and soon received a missive from Egypt expressing the desire
of Egyptians for his product and beginning with the verse: “Anyone going to
Damascus underneath its fortress—Please greet the seller of the paste (maʿjūn)
in the tent(s).” He accepted the invitation and set up a candy shop in Cairo
where his employees produced pears, apples, red and green dates, and other
(candied fruits). He was so successful that it was rare to find a | Cairine, man, 134
woman, or child, without candies from ash-Sharīf in the pocket. But then it
happened that the wife of an amīr al-ʿasharāt went to the public bath and
her companion (khushdāshah) gave her one of the dates (bal[a]ḥah) from the
Sharīf establishment to eat. It was her first experience with them, and she
had hardly entered the bath when she lost contact with reality (ghābat ʿan
wujūdihā). Applying a shampoo (nūrah)14 to her head, she felt its pleasant

9 2 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 275b: … al-ḥāshīshah qātal Allāh fāʿilahā wa-mubtaliʿahā.

10 3 Cf. above, p. 49.
11 4 Cf. above, p. 39.
12 5 Cf. the story referred to above, p. 32, n. 4.
13 6 Cf. above, p. 33.
14 1 Lit., “depilatory,” cf. A. Louis, in EI2, III, 145a, s.v. ḥammām, on modern Tunisian ṭfal “fuller’s
clay, dry mud.”
268 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

itch and started to scratch but then was unable to stop until her tresses fell
out. Her husband was shocked when he saw her. He got together with the
muḥtasib, and they accused ash-Sharīf of putting hashish in his confections.
Ash-Sharīf denied it and gave them his recipe. They had it checked out with
a druggist, and it was found that the candies did not contain hashish. There
was disagreement among people as to what could have been the intoxicating
ingredient. Some suggested that it might have been ḥāfir al-ḥimār,15 others
thought of dāt(h)ūrah, and others still of other plants.16 Anyway, when the
amīr al-mushidd17 heard about the matter, he gave ash-Sharīf a large salary
which enabled him to set up a chain of candy stores all over Cairo. If hashish
had been involved or, if it was, could have been proven to be involved, he
probably would have been put out of business, but the story suggests that a
skilful retailer could have done very well with hashish confections, at least for
some time.
The need to keep the hashish trade under cover was no doubt the result of
the legal attitude toward activities of this sort. Az-Zarkashī declared it permis-
sible for the drug to be sold if it was intended to serve useful pharmacological
purposes the same way as was done by scammony and opium, but even in
135 this case only on condition that | it be traded in small quantities only. Sell-
ing hashish to those who were definitely known as addicts was forbidden.18 On

15 2 There is a plant called ḥāfir al-muhr “colchicum” (cf. M. Meyerhof, ed. and trans. of
Maimonides, 134 f.), but there also is a ẓilf al-ḥimār (ẓilf being a synonym of ḥāfir), cf.
H.P. Renaud and G.S. Colin, Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb, 184 (Paris 1934, Publ. de l’Institut des Hautes
Études Marocaines 24). Dioscurides’ reference to ḥawāfīr al-ḥamīr and aẓlāf al-maʿz (II, 42,
44; ed. Wellmann, I, 134; Dubler and Terés, II, 141) is, however, of no help as no plant names
are involved.
16 3 With reference to the zaqqūm legend, above, p. 46, n. 2.
17 4 As in the case of the poet so named (above, p. 91, n. 5), who was a superintendent of
government bureaus, this refers to some high rank in the Mamlūk administration. For the
various possibilities, cf. W. Popper, Egypt and Syria under the Circassian Sultans, 94f. For
the “amīr of ten(s),” cf., for instance, D. Ayalon, Studies on the Structure of the Mamluk Army,
in BSOAS, XVI (1954), 470.
18 1 Az-Zarkashī (below, p. 195) continues: “as it is forbidden to sell grapes to winemakers. The
statement that hashish is intoxicating leads through analogical reasoning to the conclu-
sion that the sale (of it) is invalid, even if it is clean, like musical instruments.” Al-Aqfahsī,
fol. 22b, adds to this the view expressed by Shaykh Abū Ḥāmid that selling grapes to wine-
makers is not forbidden since they might repent. He concludes that this could also be
considered applicable to hashish. Abū Ḥāmid would be the famous Shāfiʿite, Aḥmad b.
Muḥammad al-Isfarāʾinī (344–406/955(6)-1016), cf. al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Taʾrīkh Bagh-
dād, IV, 368–370 (Cairo 1349/1931); as-Subkī, Ṭabaqāt ash-Shāfiʿīyah, III, 24ff.
hashish and its users in society 269

the other hand, if we can take al-Aqfahsī literally, the purchase of hashish was
not unlawful, in contrast to that of wine.19
In order to curb the use of hashish, it was necessary to hit it at the source, that
is, primarily, either the growers or the sellers. Sometimes, urban development
eliminated a popular source of hashish. This happened when the Kāfūr Park in
Cairo was built up in 651/1253. It put an end to the use of the park for cultivating
hashish there.20 The word employed in connection with the destruction of
hashish is “burning.” What was burned is somewhat ambiguous, but we may
assume, with good reason, that it predominantly referred to burning down
the hemp fields (or rather, the cut plants), and only rarely if at all to the
burning of the finished product, the stock of hashish in the hands of dealers.
We have already heard that the Ḥanafites and Shāfiʿites of Transoxania agreed,
presumably at a comparatively early date in the history of hashish, that it was
to be burned with considerable loss to the owners.21 If this loss was due to its
great value, it would seem to mean the destruction of the finished product
held by merchants, but if it resulted from lack of recompensation, it would
also be possible to think of the burning down of the plants in the fields.
When the governor of Cairo, Mūsā b. Yaghmūr (599–663/1202(3)–1265), was
ordered by al-Malik aṣ-Ṣāliḥ Najm-ad-dīn Ayyūb in 643/1245 to prevent the
growing of hashish in the Kāfūr Park, he had a large amount of it collected
and burned, quite obviously, the harvested plants,22 but a slight ambiguity in
this respect attaches to the famous report of the attempt, undertaken in Egypt
under al-Malik aẓ-Ẓāhir Baybars in 665/1266–1267, to proceed against moral
laxity in the population. It involved revocation of the | ḍamān for hashish and 136
the destruction of it by fire as well as the destruction by fire of houses where
intoxicating beverages were available, breaking the wine vessels found there
and pouring out the wine.23 Since the wine was the finished product stored in
taverns ready for consumption, we might think that also the hashish was the
finished drug available from dealers; this, however, is quite obviously uncertain,

19 2 Cf. above, p. 105.

20 3 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 25, and I, 457.
21 4 Cf. above, p. 49.
22 5 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 26.
23 1 Cf. al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 170 (in the life of Baybars), and II, 387 (in the life of Muḥammad
b. Dāniyāl); Ibn Dāniyāl, Ṭayf al-khayāl, cf. G. Jacob, Das Schattentheater, 7 (Berlin 1901);
al-Maqrīzī, I, 106, ed. G. Wiet, in Mém. de l’ Institut Français d’Archéol. Or. du Caire, XXXIII
(1913), 90, and II, 302; Ibn Iyās, Badāʾiʿ, I, 104–107 (Būlāq 1312), anno 665 (not available);
ʿAlī Ṣ. Ḥusayn, Ibn Daqīq-al-ʿid, 40 f. (Cairo i960); S.Y. Labib, Handelsgeschichte Ägyptens
im Spätmittelalter, 249 (Wiesbaden 1965).
270 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

and the burning of hemp plants might rather be meant. Accordingly, the ḍamān
would refer to tax revenues obtained from the growers, rather than from sales of
the finished product purchased by users. When Qudādār (d. 730/1329) became
governor of Cairo in 724/1324, he confiscated much hashish in Bāb al-Lūq and
had it burned at Bāb Zuwaylah where at the same time also large quantities
of confiscated wine were destroyed. Hardly a day went by for an entire month
when this was not done.24 It is difficult to say whether it was processed hashish
or the hemp plants that were uprooted and burned. Certainly, when Sūdūn
ash-Shaykhūnī (d. 798/1396) went after various places in and around Cairo,
such as al-Junaynah,25 Ḥakr Wāṣil in Būlāq, and Bāb al-Lūq, in order to have
those “accursed shrubs” destroyed, there can be little doubt that the growing
plants were meant which were burned in the places where they were growing.26
Whatever it was that was destroyed when action was taken against hashish, it
is clear that people were hurt economically to some degree.
Altogether, hashish provided for or contributed to the livelihood of quite a
number of individuals and had some importance in the economy, at least in
Egypt, practically the only country for which we have some information. This
might have contributed to make the fight against hashish use more difficult, but
to all appearances, it cannot have been a very weighty factor. We may suspect
that the hashish trade made its contribution to the ever present danger of
137 bribery in the judiciary. Our sources, however, contain no examples | for the
use of money derived from the trade to protect its merchants and customers
against legal action.

2 The Asocial Character of Drug Use

As described by al-Maqrīzī, addicts tended to gather in certain sections of town.

In Cairo, Arḍ aṭ-Ṭabbālah and Bāb al-Lūq were known as notorious centers of
vice, certainly also because they were gathering places for hashish eaters. From
a later time, we hear about a bridge then known as Qanṭarat al-Ḥashshāshīn
which had acquired this nickname because it was one of the places where
addicts met.27 There were special hideouts and taverns frequented by them.28

24 2 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 149; Ibn Kathīr, XIV, 113, where Qudādār’s closeness to Ibn Taymīyah is
25 3 Cf. above, p. 95, n. 7.
26 4 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 128.
27 1 Cf. al-Bakrī, Kawākib.
28 2 As in Granada, cf. above, p. 55.
hashish and its users in society 271

We hear about a scholar in Baghdād leaving a “hashish house.”29 But, it seems,

there was nothing really comparable to the winehouses mentioned for the
Cairo of Baybars, let alone anything like the famous monasteries and taverns
we hear about mainly from ʿAbbāsid times.
Hashish parties of a private character were not unusual.30 Thus, at a party
gathered in some pleasant spot (muntazah), people passed hashish around
(adārū), but one of those present, the young poet Ibn al-ʿAfīf at-Tilimsānī,
refused to take any. He was goaded by verses of another participant, called
Jūbān al-Qawwās:

When opportunities show themselves for you, seize them,

For the times for enjoying them are brief.
Get them from something amber-scented, the color
Of myrtle, with a touch of green.
It circulates in the palms, no cup is needed
For it, and its jars are small pockets.
Leave aside anything else if you are afraid of being shamed
As sipping anything else means humiliation and shame.31

Ibn al-ʿAfīf, however, remained steadfast in his refusal. In this case, the hashish 138
eaters were in the company of one, or, presumably, more than one, person who
did not mind their activities but also felt free not to participate in them. We also
hear about individual hashish eaters in a group of people not using the drug.32
Sharing the hashish habit seems to be understood as a bond of friendship in

29 3 See below, p. 145.

30 4 Cf. also below, p. 172, n. 4.
31 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 56a:

idhā furaṣun badat laka fa-ntahizhā

fa-aʿmāru s-surūri bihā qiṣāru
wa-khudhhā min muʿanbaratin bi-lawnin
ka-lawni l-āsi yalḥaquhā khḍirāru
taṭūfu ʿalā l-akuffi bi-ghayri kaʾsin
lahā wa-ḥibābuhā l-jiyabu ṣ-ṣighāru
wa-daʿ ʿan ghayrihā in khifta ʿāran
fa-ḥaswatu ghayrihā dhullun wa-ʿāru.

For Ibn al-ʿAfīf’s reply, see above, p. 93. On Jūbān, see al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 213–219.
32 1 Cf. above, p. 67.
272 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

verses by a certain Muḥammad b. Makkī b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn al-Mashhadī. They

were the favorite poem of an impoverished addict:

The use of hashish is censured by all silly persons

Weak of mind, insensitive.
Really, do not listen, friend,
To the censure coming from stupid and envious individuals.
Share hashish with a goodly young man firm
In the preservation of friendship and appointments.
Is it not a relaxation for the mind? Thus enjoy
It, all you sensible men!
It is the subtle meaning. Which words could accomplish
A description of the centerpiece of the necklace of pearls?
Use it—it is no sin—
To obtain joy and happiness.
Its excellence has emotion and pleasure as witnesses.
Such witnesses are among the best of witnesses.
That this is the right view of it is indicated
By the soul’s joy freed from worry.33
Reveal what it harbors: a secret concealed,
And bring about removal from existence in existence!34

33 2 Ṭarīd could be feminine and refer to an-nafs, but in this case it should have the definite
34 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 22b–23a (in connection with the story of ʿAṭīyah al-Ḥaṣkafī, below, p. 159):

yalūmu ʿalā l-ḥashishati kullu fadmin

sakhīfi r-raʾyi dhī ḥissin balīdi
fa-lā tasmaʿ bi-ḥaqqika yā ḥabībī
malāma min ghabīyin aw ḥasūdi
wa-wāfiq fī l-ḥashishi fatān muqīman
ʿalā ḥifẓi l-mawaddati wa-l-ʿuhūdi
a-mā hiya rāḥatu l-arwāḥi fa-nʿam
bihā yā ṣāḥiba l-ʿaqli r-rashīdi
hiya l-maʿnā l-laṭīfu wa-ayyu lafẓin
yaqūmu bi-waṣfi wāsiṭati l-ʿuqūdi
ʿalayka bihā fa-mā fīhā junāḥun
li-taẓfara bi-s-surūri wa-bi-s-suʿūdi
shawāhidu faḍlihā ṭarabun wa-lahwun
wa-shāhidu dhāka min khayri sh-shuhūdi
yukhabbiru ʿan ṣawābi r-raʾyi fīhā
hashish and its users in society 273

While common need and wishful dreaming thus tended to draw users to- 139
gether, the enjoyment of hashish was by and large considered a lonely, asocial
activity. Because of legal and social objections, it was the better part of wisdom
to keep one’s habit concealed as much as possible. The defiant declaration that
“hashish must be eaten openly, no matter how much one’s friends are against
it,”35 was more easily made in an anonymous poem than in reality. Likewise,
the supreme contempt for the opinions of others expressed in the verses:

Many a hashish user

Gets to be hated by mankind.
When they give him an earful of vilification,
He swallows it and keeps silent,36

constituted an expression of hope as to how things should be, rather than the
ordinary reaction to the demands of the societal environment. The eater was
afraid of being found out, and he would not even mind to seclude himself in a
toilet so as to be able to indulge in his habit unobserved.37

surūru n-nafsi ʿan hammin ṭarīdi

wa-aẓhir mā lahā sirrun khafīyun
fa-ghayyib fī l-wujūdi min-a-l-wujūdi.

Min in the last line should probably be corrected to ʿan.

The poet, al-Mashhadī, is repeatedly quoted by al-Badrī, but I have no further infor-
mation on him. I doubt that he is identical with the man, whose grandfather was named
ʿUthmān, mentioned by Ibn Ḥajar, Durar, IV, 264; J. Sublet, in Bulletin d’Études Or. de l’Inst.
Français de Damas, XX (1967 [1969]), 51, no. 121.
35 1 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 8a:

fa-lā budda min akli l-ḥashīshati jahratan

wa-in asrafū l-ikhwānu minhā wa-aktharū.

Minhā probably should be corrected to fīhā. The crucial understanding of the second line
is, however, doubtful.
36 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 10b and 17b, where the verses are ascribed to al-Hāʾim:

wa-rubba ḥashshāshin ghadat—lahū l-barāyā tamqutu

in asmaʿūhu shatmahū—yablaʿuhā wa-yaskutu.

Shatmatan, not shatmahū, is the reading indicated in the ms. However this may be, the
suffix -hā in the following line refers to hashish (and not to a possible shatmah).
37 3 Cf. the poem by Ibn Ghānim, verse 6, below, p. 169.
274 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Primarily, however, it was the very character of hashish intoxication itself

that made the addict seek privacy even in public places and in the company
of others. He tries to withdraw from the world around him and to be left alone
with his dreams. He does not react to what is going on around him. “If he is
spoken to, he does not listen.”38 Under the influence of the drug, he is as quiet
and somnolent as in a trance.39 He would not want to have anything to do with
140 that | quarrelsome lot of winebibbers whose companionableness often ends
in violent altercations when they are drunk. This is considered an advantage
of sorts for the hashish user,40 but it points up the lonesome character of his
vice. Fuzūlī depicts hashish personified as someone who is convinced of his
uniqueness and who claims that he is everything in the world and nothing else
counts. His attitude, Fuzūli states, represents the most pronounced egoism.41
The clear implication is that hashish, and its user, wants to live in a world of his
own, apart from reality and unconcerned with society.
There is no contradiction between the addict’s need for privacy and his need
for congregating with his fellows. Urban society in Islam tended to segregate
those who by their personal habits did not live up to the expected norm, at
least outwardly. This included the majority of the economically less favorably
placed hashish users. They had to band together in poor and undesirable
neighborhoods in order to pursue their essentially lonely activity.

3 The Addict’s Social Standing

One thing stands out clearly in the entire discussion of hashish. While its use
cut through all layers of the population and, as al-Badrī (fol. 1b) put it, was, like
wine, common to Zayd and ʿAmr, meaning everybody, a certain class distinction
was made between confirmed addicts and the rest of the people. This distinc-
tion was no doubt largely fictitious, yet, it enjoyed the reputation of being true
and definite. Hashish eaters were believed to be low-class people either by
nature or by being reduced to that state through their habit which impaired all

38 4 Cf. above, p. 87.

39 5 Cf. above, p. 110.
40 1 Cf. above, p. 110, n. 2, or the poem of al-Isʿirdī, verse 14, below, p. 164. The hashish eater can
dispense with the company of the drunk (ṣuḥbat al-makhmūr), according to a poem by
a certain Sharaf-ad-dīn Abū l-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. Yūsuf from the first half of the thirteenth
century, cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 26.
41 2 According to Rescher and Lugal in their translation of Fuzūlī, 154.
hashish and its users in society 275

their faculties but in particular those moral and character qualities that deter-
mine the individual’s standing in society. It also threatened impoverishment
and reduction to beggary (ḥarfashah). Briefly put, hashish “generates low social
status (safālah) and a bad moral character (radhālah)” and brings the addict
down to a level where almost nothing human remains in him.42 | As one of the 141
poems against hashish implies, he combines all the qualities that negate the
existence of a well-ordered society and is, in short, a criminal.43
A reaction against the accusation of social inferiority is to be found in the
stress addicts constantly placed on their “elitist” standing. They were distin-
guished from and elevated above the common herd of people by being privy
to the “secrets” resting in the drug. This theme, already developed in the Ḥay-
dar story, always served them, we may assume, to bolster their morale. They
claimed that on the contrary the use of hashish lifted a person above the lowly
state in which life had placed him:

Let me have some green Kāfūrī

Which takes the place of the best of yellow wine.
The poor person who partakes of a dirham’s weight
Of it feels superior to amīrs.
You would think him to be the strongest of men, but when he has none,
We count him among the weak.44

This naturally describes merely a subjective state as seen by users and, perhaps,
by sympathetic observers. In reality, hashish did not improve anyone’s social
status, even in the eyes of those friendly disposed toward hashish use.
The contrast between hashish and wine in this respect is noteworthy. Wine
had had a long and mostly honorable history everywhere in the pre-Islamic
world, including the Arabian peninsula. It seems to have been forbidden by
the Prophet mainly because wine consumption was a luxury which the early

42 3 The concluding portion of this sentence is al-Maqrīzī’s comment on the words in quota-
tion marks, reported by him as a statement made by the brother of his maternal grand-
mother, Tāj-ad-dīn Ismāʿīl b. Aḥmad b. ʿAbd-al-Wahhāb, who died, about eighty years old,
in 803/1400 (cf. as-Sakhāwī, Ḍawʾ, II, 290), on the authority of ʿAlāʾ-ad-dīn Ibn Nafīs. Unless
there is an omission in the text and Ibn Nafīs was not the direct authority of Tāj-ad-
dīn, he could hardly be the famous physician who died in 687/1288. It is not excluded
that some other Ibn Nafīs (whose honorific may or may not have been ʿAlāʾ-ad-dīn) is
43 1 Cf. below, p. 171.
44 2 Cf. al-Maqrīzī, II, 25.
276 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

adherents of the new religion could not afford and therefore should do without.
It remained in a sense a luxury and as such was cherished by the highest strata
of society and their entourage and followers. Most importantly, this involved
the world of belles lettres with its prime representatives, the innumerable
poets whose wine poetry expressed the longings for an unrestrained life for
themselves and for those who felt that their social position placed them above
142 the great mass and | entitled them to disregard for the societal restraints
supposed to apply to all alike. According to all we know, there seems to be
a good measure of truth to the claim advanced by the proponents of wine in
al-Isʿirdī’s poem that no caliph or sultan ever used hashish while many rulers,
probably the vast majority of them, were devoted to wine.45 When al-Maqrīzī
speaks of the rulers of Hurmuz and al-Baḥrayn in connection with the spread
of hashish, it is well to note that he does not say that they themselves were
users but it was their entourage (aṣḥāb) that was reponsible for propagating
the evil habit,46 a point which, however, was not stressed in al-Badrī’s version.
Whatever the actual situation, hashish was believed to be incompatible with
the responsibility for ruling others, at least on the highest levels of power.47
Poets and singers also did not proclaim the glories of hashish as they did
those of wine. Though the frequent quotations of poems here would seem to
suggest that hashish poetry was well cultivated, it is little as compared with
the overabundance of verses on wine that continued to be composed all the
time. Repetitiveness is rampant, and much of the poetry, in addition to being
perfunctory, also was apologetic one way or other.48 There was none of the joy
and exuberance in it that continued to suffuse wine poetry even through its
centuries of decay.
Hashish was believed to be anathema to all members of society of the highest
social standing. We do not hear anything about the attitudes and practices
of the extremely important military component of society. Nor do we have
any information about drug use among the rural population. This, however,
does not mean much since little attention is paid in the literature to peasants,
notwithstanding their large numbers and their importance. Urban craftsmen
and merchants of good standing are not too often described as users but our
stories contain at least some precise statements as well as quite numerous

45 1 See below, p. 166, verse 37.

46 2 Cf. above, pp. 52 f.
47 3 For a highly placed emir, Jānibak at-Tājī (d. 868/1464), being suspected of the use of
hashish, cf. Ibn Taghrībirdī, trans. W. Popper, VII, 103 (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1960,
University of California Publications in Semitic Philology 23).
48 4 Cf. also above, pp. 5 and 72.
hashish and its users in society 277

indications by implication that they were indeed open to the blandishments of

drug use and willingly exposed themselves to its dangers.49 However, hashish
was clearly assumed to have its true home among Ṣūfīs and scholars. Together
they represented | a kind of third estate, having connection with the rulers and 143
the military establishment above and the mass of subjects below. During the
time under consideration here, Ṣūfism and religious scholarship in its various
manifestations were so closely intertwined in the same persons that a clear
distinction can rarely be made. And even where there was open hostility, there
was constant interaction.
Scholars were often quite poor, and Ṣūfīs even more so as a result of their
pretense to economic self-sufficiency. Hashish was cheap and easily accessible.
Its acquisition could be done clandestinely. Its use was more easily concealed
than that of wine and less affected by the inescapable religious odium attaching
to wine, quite apart from the fact that even very small quantities of hashish
were more powerful than wine.50 There was nothing to give away its being used:
“The palm of my hand serves as cup for it, and my pocket is its cask; I never gave
away its secret by a jug.”51 Hashish can claim to be the friend of dervishes and
to be available in the corner of every mosque and among all kinds of scholars.52
If anyone were to enter the largest class in al-Azhar and produce some hashish
or opium or barsh, so the author of Qamʿ informs us,53 nobody would want
to let him do it because righteous scholars are convinced that it would be
unlawful. This may be so but the very idea that somebody could be imagined
to be doing such a thing raises the suspicion that it was not inconceivable in
reality. Indeed, in an earlier age, hashish could be praised for being suitable
for use in every monastery (ribāṭ) and mosque, in contrast to wine, as al-Isʿirdī
maintains.54 And when Ibn ʿAbd-aẓ-Ẓāhir inveighed against hashish, he singled
out masājid and jawāmiʿ as the places that should be cleansed of it.55 More than

49 5 Cf. also below, p. 160.

50 1 Cf. above, p. 106.
51 2 Cf. also, for instance, above, pp. 63f., and below, pp. 172f. The verses referred to above are
from a poem, already mentioned above, p. 45, n. 5, and p. 57, n. 2, in al-Badrī, fol. 5b:

kaffī lahā qadaḥun wa-jaybī dannuhā

lam ulqi ʿanhā sirrahā bi-ināʾi.

52 3 Cf. Fuzūlī, 167.

53 4 Cf. Qamʿ, fol. 276a. The passage was quoted by al-Fanārī.
54 5 Verse 3, below, p. 163.
55 6 Cf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, II, 129; Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt, I, 364. Cf. above, pp. 66f. and 80.
278 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

ordinary people, Ṣūfīs and scholars might have been concerned as they had
particularly close ties with life in religious establishments.
144 Hashish can claim to be the shaykh of scholars, just as wine boasts | of
being the boon companion of rulers.56 Sometimes we are told that the action
of hashish had no influence upon a scholar’s ability to discharge his teaching
duties in an acceptable manner. Thus a shaykh credited with much wit, a cer-
tain Muslim al-Ḥanafī, who was a lecturer in the Barqūqīyah, was able to give
lectures on traditional and intellectual subjects in a state of hashish intoxica-
tion. One day, however, a mishap occurred. His turban fell off, and out came a
few pills (?) of zīh.57 On the lower rungs of scholarship, we hear about a copyist
of Burhān-ad-dīn al-Miʿmār whose poetry he copied and who introduced him
to hashish (muḥammaṣ and kibāsh). He spent all his money on the drug and on
the food, much of it sweets, that he consumed alternately with hashish while
doing his chores as a copyist. Yet, in spite of his drug consumption, he was able
to write a complete quire of paper of a certain size (qaṭʿ kāmil al-baladī) with
thirty-one lines per page without making a mistake.58

56 1 Cf. Fuzūlī, 171.

57 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 28a–b, and above, p. 62, n. 6. The story is quite similar to that of a preacher
who had the same happening to him with banj. It was included in the eighteenth-century
work of J.F. de la Croix, Anecdotes arabes et musulmanes (Paris 1772), under the year 950,
and was quoted by Robert P. Walter, Marihuana, 11 (Philadelphia 1938). The source of
de la Croix was, expectedly, B. d’ Herbelot, Bibliothèque Orientale, 200b, s.v. Benk (Paris
1697). The anticlerical sally at the end and, since it is not in d’Herbelot, the date are
additions by de la Croix. D’ Herbelot states that his source was the Turkish Laṭāʾif of Lāmiʿī
(d. 939/1532–1533, or in the preceding or the following year, cf. Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt,
VIII, 235; T. Menzel, in EI, s.v. Lāmiʿī).
The same Muslim al-Ḥanafī, al-Badrī tells us, once bought a chicken at the Zuwaylah
Gate and ordered it sent home to his house (bayt Muslim) at the Barqūqīyah. The vendor
wondered whether not everybody in the Barqūqīyah was a Muslim, which gave our witty
and somewhat malicious scholar the opening for the reply that he was the only “Muslim”
58 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 23a, and above, p. 29, n. 7, and pp. 78f. Al-Badrī adds the following verses
by al-Miʿmār on this copyist of his:

A copyist whose heart is attached to

The green one with seeds and leaves,
I noticed patches on his garment.
I knew he was really torn up.

wa-nāsikhin qalbuhū muʿallaq

bi-l-akhḍari l-mubazzari l-muwarraq
hashish and its users in society 279

Mostly, however, scholars are depicted as having suffered the same fate 145
as others who fell under the spell of hashish, that is, they lost a good deal
of the dignity that was expected of them. The story of Ibrāhīm Ibn al-Aʿmā
al-Baghdādī (who may have been more of a littérateur than a scholar) contains
many of the popular elements. He spent the evening in the “hashish house,”
reciting bawdy poetry such as the following verses:

This hashish has made my time pleasant.—Its softness (?) is my share of

this world.59
Would you could see me running around inebriated
In the street, swaying like a drunk,
Being myself in his condition, man!

Up seems down to me.—This hashish has made my time pleasant.—Its

softness is my share of this world.
I am, as you know, a beggar and vagabond.
I do not stop being fed hashish,60
Some small tablet without capital provided (??).

On beggary an expert, a muftī.—This hashish has made my time pleas-

ant.—Its softness is my share of the world.61

raʾaytu fī thawbihī riqāʿan

ʿalimtu tamzīqahū muḥaqqaq.

Mubazzar is a likely correction of al-m-b-dh-r “scattered (?)” found in the ms. The allusions
of the second verse escape me. It seems to refer to the copyist’s neglect of his appearance
and poverty caused by his habit, but this is quite uncertain.
For another copyist who praised hashish, cf. below, p. 154.
59 1 Lynwʾ (requiring two long syllables) may be līnū, for līnuhū, to be translated as indicated.
The meaning would seem to be that the user finds the world as soft and easygoing as
hashish. Like that of other passages of this poem, the translation is, however, by no means
60 2 Kaff may have here the double meaning of “hand” and “hashish,” with a probable double
meaning also in maḥshūsh.
61 3 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 14a:

hādhā l-ḥashīsh ṭayyab waqtī—līnū mina-d-dunyā bakhtī

law raytanī asʿā nashwān
fī s-sūqi māʾil ka-s-sakrān
wa-(ʾa)nā bi-ḥālih yā insān
280 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

This no doubt was shockingly unbecoming, but at least it was not out in the
open. But then, Ibn al-Aʿmā remembered his college, the Mustanṣirīyah, and
he left the hashish house to return to it. On the road, he thought that the light
of the moon was water from the Tigris which he believed had overflowed its
146 banks. He took his sandals in | his hand, girded up his clothes, and grabbed his
jarīd62 with his hand. The people he encountered shouted at him and made
him feel ashamed.
A similar story, from the Ṭārid al-humūm of al-ʿUkbarī, tells of the author
walking one night in Mosul (balad al-Mawṣil) when he met with a well-dressed
individual reciting these verses:

I have combined hashish with wine

And become so drunk that I cannot find my way.
You there whoever you are who will show me the way to my College
Will indeed be rewarded for it most generously.

The narrator, ready to help, inquired which College it was he wanted to go to,
and told that it was the Badrīyah, he took him there. It turned out that he was
the imām of the College and a very learned man.63 Strangely enough, the verses
quoted are also ascribed to ʿAlam-ad-dīn Ibn Shukr, who was a contemporary
of al-ʿUkbarī but lived in Egypt.64 If the story does in fact go back to al-ʿUkbarī,
one would have to assume, I believe, that the ascription to ʿAlam-ad-dīn is
not correct and that, perhaps, ʿAlam-ad-dīn recited the verses when he found
himself, in reality or in fiction, in a similar situation. He was, as we have seen,65
also a successful teacher for some time, in spite of his indulgence in hashish.

fawqī takhayyal lī taḥtī—hādhā l-ḥashīsh ṭayyab waqtī—līnū min-a-d-dunyā bakhtī

wa-(ʾa)nā kamā tadrī ḥarfūsh
bi-l-kaffi mā nabraḥ maḥshūsh
luwayḥ bi-lā raʾsin manbūsh (?)
fī l-ḥarfashah ʿālim muftī—hādhā l-ḥashīsh ṭayyab waqtī—līnū min-a-d-dunyā

The doubtful reading luwayḥ (“tablet” in the sense of “pill”) is a correction of lwʿ in the ms.
Reading raʾs as two syllables is another dubious feature, perhaps leg. raʾs māl.
62 1 Even if jarīd were to mean “staff,” this would hardly yield a suitable meaning in the context,
since a staff is naturally carried in the hand. Perhaps, jarīd is some part of the dress or, as
seems most likely, it is a slang variant of jurdān “penis.”
63 2 Cf. al-Badrī, fol. 14a–b.
64 3 Cf. Ibn Kathīr, XIII, 315, with very slight variations.
65 4 Cf. above, p. 84.
hashish and its users in society 281

We also hear about a certain Abū Jurthūm al-Ḥimṣī who taught grammar
to a certain al-Muʿizz Amīn-ad-dīn al-Ḥimṣī, a high official (kātib al-inshāʾ ash-
sharīf ). One day, his student found Abū Jurthūm in a state of great emotional
upset under the influence of hashish, dancing around completely uninhibited,
urinating, holding his penis, shouting aloud, and reciting verses on flowers.66
Naturally, it was also assumed that scholars, like anybody else, could be 147
ruined by their uncontrollable addiction mentally, physically, and socially.67
No matter how much fiction all these stories contain, and they probably are
entirely fictitious or, at best, grossly exaggerated, they also would seem to be a
reflection of an actual situation and an illustration of what was possible and did
occur on occasion. There is one strange and noteworthy fact, though. Promi-
nent scholars, and, for that matter, other successful members of society, are
only rarely accused of hashish use, although this would have been an easy and
effective kind of slander. Ibn Khallikān, the famous biographer, sounded out
a friend about his reputation among Damascenes, and he was told that his
competence as a scholar was generally accepted, but his claim to descent from
the Barmecides was doubted, and it was whispered that he loved boys and ate
hashish. Ibn Khallikān’s reply with respect to the last item is supposed to have
been that if it was inevitable for him to do something forbidden by the law,
he would rather drink wine than eat hashish because it was much more plea-
surable.68 Ibn Khallikān was also a prominent judge and as such traditionally
subject to slanderous rumors. Why, as far as is known, there is no more of the
sort reported in our sources is puzzling. Perhaps the lack of a long established
tradition for hashish as a moral and religious sin is responsible for it.69

66 5 Cf. al-Badrī, fols. 10a–b, 12a–b, and above, pp. 26, n. 5, 82, n. 5, and 91, n. 1. That the
personalities and the historical setting are not quite traceable is due to lack of information,
but it may also be noted that in one version, al-Badrī’s often quoted colleague al-Hāʾim
(d. 887/1482) plays a role in the anecdote, and in the other Ibn Ḥijjah al-Ḥamawī, the
author of the Thamarāt (d. 837/1434). (It may, however, be noted that GAL, Suppl. II, 12,
refers to Ibn al-Hāʾim as Aḥmad b. Muḥammad [b. ʿAlī], whereas al-Badrī calls him Aḥmad
b. ʿAlī, but I believe that the identification is correct. Amīn-ad-dīn al-Ḥimṣī can, however,
not be identified with Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī who died in 800/1397, cf. Ibn
al-ʿImād, Shadharāt, VI, 367.) Some of the flower verses are by Ṣafī-ad-dīn al-Ḥillī, cf. his
Dīwān, 381, 11. 8–10, 12–13, quoted again by al-Badrī, fol. 79a. There may be certain allusions
here. The story of Aḥmad al-Khaffāf (al-Badrī, fols. 12b–13b, above, p. 29, n. 1, and p. 80, n. 5)
centers around flower symbolism, the rose representing wine, and basil (rayḥān) hashish.
67 1 Cf., for instance, above, pp. 47 f.
68 2 Cf. al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 102; Ibn Ḥijjah, Thamarāt, I, 29.
69 3 Just in passing, and in the only express reference to hashish in his section on wine,
al-Badrī, fol. 138b, says of ʿImād-ad-dīn al-Wāsiṭī al-wāʿiẓ, who was the second person
282 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

148 What mainly distinguished the Ṣūfīs from the scholars in their attitude
toward hashish was their quasi-religious devotion to it, the cult and ritual they
made of its use.70 It was this that made some among them fervent missionaries
of the drug while others like ʿAlī al-Ḥarīrī at times bitterly opposed it. But
there can be little doubt that hashish was rather widely employed by them
as a supposed aid for achieving enlargement of the individual’s powers of
sense and, especially, spiritual perceptions. By tasting the “secret” and the
“meanings” of hashish, Ṣūfīs more than others hoped to gain additional mystic
experience. Those who were sympathizers with Ṣūfism rather than avowed
mystics generally saw in hashish a way toward religious uplift. They made, as
attested also by their adversary Ibn Taymīyah,71 the use of the drug “an act
of worship” (ʿibādah), corresponding to the drinking of wine and the gazing
at handsome boys, and they deserved for it the condemnation reserved for
those other practices that were so greatly abhorred by the orthodoxy. Ibn
Taymīyah went into some valuable detail in formulating the query concerning
ghubayrāʾ, which precedes his fatwā concerning it:72 “A query as to young and
old men who are pilgrims, who painstakingly observe the religious obligations

to hold the appointment as preacher at the Tawbah Mosque in Damascus in the early
years after its founding in 632/1234–1235 (cf. Ibn Kathīr, XIII, 143), that he was “fond of
the use of wine and hashish.” Al-Wāsiṭī’s name was Ahmad, according to an-Nuʿaymī,
Dāris, II, 426 f. (Damascus 1367–1370/1948–1951), who, incidentally, refers to the same
story and the same verses as al-Badrī. I do not know whether he is to be identified with
the Wāsiṭī who is cited by al-Badrī, fol. 18b, as the author of verses asking for a gift of

Show your noble generosity to me by giving me a green morsel,

Most generous one of those who walk the earth …

jud lī karaman bi-farmatin (?) khadrāʾi

yā akrama man mashā ʿalā l-ghabrāʾi …

For farmah in the meaning of “small piece,” cf. Dozy and Hava. However, the Paris Ms.
indicates two dots for the first letter, which, though written together, could also indi-
cate one dot each for the first and second letters, but no suitable meaning suggests
itself for q-r-m-h. A correction to q-r-n-h (above, p. 62) would not seem entirely impos-
70 1 Cf. also above, pp. 69 ff.
71 2 Cf. Fatāwī, I, 59, II, 268. For Ibn Taymīyah’s understanding of “religious worship” (ʿibādah),
cf. Fatāwī, II, 361 ff.
72 3 Cf. Fatāwī, II, 252, IV, 324, with variants translated in brackets.
hashish and its users in society 283

incumbent upon them concerning fasting, prayer, and worship, some of whom
are highly regarded and known for their trustworthiness and integrity (in word
and action), who show no outward signs of evil and wickedness. Their minds
(ʿuqūl, adhhān) and view are now determined to insist upon eating ghubayrāʾ.
Their stated belief with respect to ghubayrāʾ now is that it is (a sin and) evil.
Yet, they adduce with regard to their belief the evidence of the Qurʾān where
it is said that ‘good (deeds) make evil ones disappear’ (11: 114/116). They say
that it is forbidden, but (they think that) they perform special prayers (wird)
at night and acts of worship. They think that when the exhilarating effect73 of
ghubayrāʾ goes to their heads, it commands them to do such acts of worship,
and does not command them to do anything evil or | sinful. They assert74 (that 149
it causes no harm to any human being in contrast to fornication, winedrinking,
and theft, and) that it(s eater) does not require any punishment (ḥadd). It is,
however, connected with opposition to a divine command, yet, God shows
forgiveness for whatever takes place between the servant (and His Master).
A truthful person, having been in touch with them, now reports this view of
theirs. He is now in agreement with them regarding the eating of ghubayrāʾ
through their positive assessment of it and the expression of their views and
has adopted all that for himself.”
Needless to say, everything here is terribly erroneous in the view of Ibn
Taymīyah. He considers it worse than certain Christian practices which Chris-
tians believe to be acts of divine worship but which no Muslim in his right mind
would acknowledge as such. What incenses him most is that those men were
ordinary, decent citizens who thought of themselves as good Muslims and out-
wardly were. They were no extremists in their mystic attitudes and beliefs, even
if they were allied to Ṣūfism and were infected by Ṣūfī ideas.
Others, it seems, went considerably farther in their quasi-religious devotion
to hashish. The claims they made for it are described for us by the sixteenth-
century Fuzūlī. His statements are filtered through his poetical imagination,
but this was no doubt also the way in which the intellectual elite among Ṣūfīs
looked at things in actuality. They claimed for hashish to be the master of Ṣūfī
teaching, whereas wine can claim to be only an eager disciple setting the world
afire. The shaykh of love is the very refuge of hashish, whereas wine merely
shows the way to it. Both wine and hashish are considered almost equals as
far as love is concerned, but it is not worldly love, at least not primarily, that is
meant here but the mystic love that is the highest goal of the religious world

73 4 See above, p. 126, n. 1.

74 1 For wa-nasabū or wa-yuthbitūhā (!), read, possibly, wa-athbatū.
284 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

with which hashish is thus connected.75 A mystic disciple in al-Baṣrah became

addicted to hashish (esrār). His understanding shaykh recognized that this
meant that he had reached the ultimate degree of perfection. It was because
of this insight that he ceased giving him further instruction. This proves that
hashish is the perfect being, sought after by mankind with great eagerness. It
may not be the perfect being for everybody, but it most certainly is for the seeker
of mystic experience.76
150 No matter how eloquently vocal exponents of scholarship and | mysticism
defended the possibilities for individual improvement inherent in cannabis,
they were not able to make a convincing case for this being of benefit to
society. The adversaries of the drug also concentrated on the degradation
of the individual but it was very clearly implied and understood by them
that individual degradation was upsetting to the established social structure.
Hashish was generally branded as something inherently dirty and bestial. The
mental deterioration it is assumed to cause turns men into dumb, irrational
beasts.77 The fact that it comes from a plant is constantly stressed to make
it clear that only animals, and people as irrational and inferior as animals,
would care to consume it. Even worse, it was food for the devil, as wine was
the devil’s drink. When Baybars decided to curb the use of wine and hashish,
Judge Nāṣir-ad-dīn Ibn al-Munayyir (620–683/1223–1284)78 rhymed:

Iblīs has no desire to stay with us.

He prefers to make his home elsewhere, and not in the Amīr’s country.
You have prevented him from obtaining both wine and hashish.
You have thus deprived him of his water and his fodder.

Someone else phrased the same idea in similar words:

Aẓ-Ẓāhir has outlawed hashish as well as wine.

In consequence, Iblīs turned his back and left Egypt in a hurry.
He says: Why should I stay in a country
Where I do not have the enjoyment of water and fodder?79

75 2 Cf. Fuzūlī, 171.

76 3 Cf. Fuzūlī, 168 f.
77 1 Cf., for instance, above, pp. 110, 140, and below, p. 168, etc.
78 2 Mālikite of Alexandria, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Manṣūr, cf. al-Yūnīnī, Dhayl Mirʾat az-
zamān, IV, 206–210 (Hyderabad 1374–1380/1954–1961); adh-Dhahabī, ʿIbar, V, 342; Ibn Far-
ḥūn, Dībāj, 71–74 (Cairo 1351/1932).
79 3 Cf. al-Kutubī, Fawāt, I, 170, and above, pp. 135 f.
hashish and its users in society 285

It seems that ʿIzz-ad-dīn ʿAbd-as-Salām (Ibn Ghānim) also branded hashish

as fit only for animals when he replied to those who claimed that it was wrongly
declared unlawful:

It destroys mind and temper alike

With various kinds of craziness and disease.
Those who say that it is permitted speak the truth.
It is indeed permitted but for cattle.80

Since there were animals such as the gazelle that were standard poetical meta- 151
phors for female grace and beauty, the idea could also be turned around, as was
done by Ibn al-Wardī, who meant to be facetious and did not seriously intend
to come out in favor of hashish:

80 4 The text as it appears on the title-page of the Istanbul Ms. Murad Molla 1408 of Abū
Sulaymān as-Sijistānī (cf. above, p. 101, n. 4) reads:

tudhhibu (?) l-ʿaqla wa-l-mizāja jamīʿan

bi-funūni l-junūni wa-l-asqāmi
ṣadaqa l-qāʾilūna bi-l-ḥilli fīhā
hī ḥalālun lākin ʿalā l-anʿāmi.

The crucial last word is unclear and seems rather to be al-anām, but it can hardly be
doubted that the correct reading is as indicated. For the stated author of the verse, see
above, pp. 6 f., and for the verses that provoked this rejoinder, above, p. 101. The first
verse appears also in the Gotha Ms. (above, p. 18) with the variant reading tufsidu, which,
however, could hardly be the word intended in the Ms. Murad Molla. The Gotha Ms.
indicates as the name of the author a certain imām Maḥmūd b. Abī l-Qāsim b. Nadmān
al-Ḥanbalī, whose name remains uncertain pending identification. The Gotha Ms. has
altogether three verses:

The worst intoxication is hashish intoxication, and

Intoxication is forbidden by express statement of the best of men.
It corrupts mind …
Which (read ayyu for fī) view would permit what affects the
Mind and by (the power of) its intoxicating effect shows contempt for wine?

The fact that the first verse here ends in al-anām could be a further argument for elimi-
nating the possibility of reading this word in the Murad Molla Ms.
For hashish “grass” being the proper feed only for cattle, cf. also Ibn Ghānim, below,
p. 168. Al-Badrī, fol. 55b, has another couplet to the same effect, blaming the Ṣūfīs for eating
hashish, by Ibn al-Mushidd (apparently, Sayf-ad-dīn al-Mushidd, above, p. 91, n. 5).
286 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

A pretty girl high on hashish,

When I blame her for what is going on,
Says: Every gazelle
Feeds on green grass.81

There were many other different interpretations of the green color of hashish.
It might suggest the unnatural paleness of the addict’s complexion as against
the rosy hue that appears on the cheeks of winedrinkers.82 It also lent itself
152 to positive evaluation inasmuch as | its green color enabled hashish to claim
the famous al-Khiḍr “the green one” as its patron saint.83 Its “green dress” and
general decorativeness as a plant bespeak the wholesomeness of hashish, as
indicated in the verses of, as usual, disputed ascription but probably, as stated
by al-Maqrīzī, by ʿAlī b. Makkī, a gifted lute and tambourine player in early
thirteenth-century Baghdād:84

81 1 Cf. Ibn al-Wardī, al-Kawākib as-sāriyah ʿalā miʾat jāriyah, in the Istanbul Ms. Topkapusaray,
Ahmet III 2373, fol. 181a:

malīḥatun masṭūlatun—in lumtuhā fī-mā jarā

taqūlu kullu ẓabyatin—tarʿā l-ḥashīsha l-akhḍara.

Ibn al-Wardī’s verses are quoted in al-Badrī, fol. 33a. Ibn al-Wardī, furnishing a good
example for the impossibility to rely upon a poet’s statements as indicative of his personal
views, also expresses himself seemingly against the use of hashish. His many terrible sins,
he says, at least do not include homosexuality, nabīdh, and hashish (Dīwān, 256). Again,
he lists hashish among the five sins with which Iblīs tries in vain to tempt him during his
sleep in the night. However, here the devil has the last word: “Go on sleeping, you are just a
wooden oaf (ḥaṭabah)” (Dīwān, 232). The theme of the nocturnal Satanic temptation goes
back to Abū Nuwās, Dīwān, 554 f. There are other imitations, such as the one by Ṣafī-ad-dīn
al-Ḥillī, Dīwān, 450, where Satan starts out by suggesting a shaqfah kabshīyah (above, p. 30)
to drive off sleeplessness, or the one by al-Badrī, fols. 33b–34a. For pederastic verses using
the image of the grazing gazelle, cf. al-Badrī, fol. 30b.
82 2 Cf. al-Isʿirdī, verse 34, below, p. 166.
83 1 Cf. Fuzūlī, 153, 167.
84 2 The identity of ʿAlī b. Makkī appears to be clarified by an anecdote told by al-Badrī,
fols. 7b–8a, which, in spite of the confused source situation (see above, p. 74, n. 5), may
be credited with historicity as far as the persons mentioned in it are concerned. Makkī
was a poet in the days of an-Nāṣir (1180–1225). His son, ʿAlī b. Makkī, visited the epileptic
Ẓahīr-ad-dīn Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl b. al-Wakīl whose father had been ḥājib dīwān al-majlis
“Chamberlain of the Caliphal Council” in Baghdād, and on this occasion introduced the
reluctant Ẓahīr-ad-dīn to hashish for medication. It cured him completely, but he became
an addict who could not for a moment be without the drug. As appears from G. Gabrieli’s
hashish and its users in society 287

Now drive sadness away from me as well as harm

With the help of a virgin(al being), wedded in its green dress.
It reveals itself to us adorned with brocade.85
No metaphor in verse or prose is strong enough for it.
It appears, filling the eyes with light through its beauty,
A beauty that puts to shame the light86 of meadow and flowers with a
bright sheen(?).
It is a bride whose hidden secret gladdens the soul.
Coming in the evening, it is found in all the senses in the morning.
In its clarity it gives to taste the taste of honey.
Through its odor it gives to smell the choicest scent of musk.
It makes touch dispense with bashful maidens.
Mention of it makes music superfluous for the ear.87
Its color presents sight with the most beautiful diversion.
Sight turns to looking at this color rather than that of any other flower.
It is composed of bright red color88 and white, and it bends
Proudly over the flowers, high of stature. 153
The light of the sun is eclipsed by its red color.
The face of the moon is put to shame by its whiteness.
It ranks high in beauty. It is as if it were
The emerald of a meadow drenched by copious rain.
It appears—and makes hidden feelings appear.
It comes—and turns away the army of my worry and pensiveness.

index of the biographies in aṣ-Ṣafadī’s Wāfī, a certain Abū l-Muẓaffar ʿAlī b. Makkī b.
Muḥammad b. Hubayrah ad-Dūrī has an entry in the Wāfī, but I am unable to check
whether he might be identical with our ʿAlī b. Makkī.
Al-Badrī, fol. 5a, mentions a certain Nūr-ad-dīn al-Iṣfahānī as the author of the verses,
and he seems to suggest that his source was the History of al-Manbijī (see above, p. 45).
85 3 This refers to the silvery and golden glow on the plant when it is covered with dew in the
morning sunlight.
86 4 “Light” seems more likely to be meant than “blossoms.”
87 5 The verse is missing from al-Maqrīzī and found in al-Badrī:

wa-fīhā ghinan bi-l-massi ʿan khurradi sitrin

wa-fī dhikrihā li-s-samʿi mughnin ʿan-i-z-zamri.

It clearly belongs to the original poem.

88 6 For the old Arabian color spectrum, cf. W. Fischer, Farb- und Formbezeichnungen in der
Sprache der altarabischen Dichtung, 237 and passim (Wiesbaden 1965). For the red-colored
wood of the plant, cf. above, p. 47.
288 iii. the herb: hashish versus medieval muslim society

Beautiful of shape, mighty in rank,

It grows high, and high does my verse grow in praise of it.
Thus, rise and banish the army of worry89 and stay the hand of distress
With an Indian (maiden) more effective than white (swords) and brown
With an Indian as to origin, showing people
How to eat it, not an Indian in color like the brown ones.90
Eating it removes the burning worry from us
And gives us enjoyment secretly and openly.

The green color, and possibly also the fact that hashish was cultivated in “gar-
dens” (basātīn), permitted its association with gardens, and the word “garden”
naturally evoked the idea of the garden, Paradise. Although hashish appears
fiery and hot like the fire of Hell, it still is Paradise, as expressed in verses by
al-Isʿirdī,91 or in the following lines of the Syro-Egyptian Muḥammad b. Sharīf
Ibn al-Waḥīd (647–711/1249(50)–1312):

Something green whose action red wine is unable to duplicate,

It rocks the guts and stays put.
It kindles a fire in the guts, although it is a garden.
It brings forth the bitter taste (of wine), although it is a plant.92

89 1 Al-Badrī: “and protect the army of fun.” The “army” of worry is a very common metaphor
in hashish poetry.
90 2 Al-Badrī: “and greenness (?)” (wa-l-khuḍri).
91 3 Verse 6, cf. below, p. 163.
92 4 Cf. aṣ-Ṣafadī, Wāfī, III, 151; al-Kutubī, Fawāt, II, 438; Ibn al-Qāḍī, Durrat al-ḥijāl, as quoted
by al-ʿAbbādī (above, p. 55, n. 3); Ibn Taghrībirdī, Nujūm, VII, 360, anno 688, who does
not know the name of the poet; al-Badrī, fol. 10a, who also omits the poet’s name. For the
aspersions on Ibn al-Waḥīd’s orthodoxy, cf., in addition to the Wāfī, Ibn Ḥajar, Durar, III,
452–456. The translation “bitter taste” follows the reading of aṣ-Ṣafadī, al-Kutubī, and Ibn
Taghrībirdī, as against “pleasant life” in Ibn al-Qāḍī. The second verse reads in al-Badrī: “It
kindles a fire, although in the heart it is a garden. It shows you the taste of wine …” (taʾajjaju
[read tuʾajjiju] nāran wa-hya fī l-qalbi jannatun—wa-tūrīka ṭaʿma l-khamri …). Usually, it is
wine that is said to kindle a fire in the drinker, and the opposition of “fire” and “gardens” is a
topic of wine poetry, cf. al-Ghuzūlī, Maṭāliʿ, I, 166, 168. “Fire” even functions as a nickname
for wine, cf. al-Badrī, fol. 64a, quoting a verse by Ibn Ḥabīb al-Ḥalabī (710–779/1310–1377)
beginning: “Kindle for us the fire which is a garden” (awqid lanā n-nāra llatī hiya jannatun).
The play is, of course, on the double meaning of fire = Hell and garden = Paradise.
According to verses cited by al-Maqrīzī (cf. above, p. 140, n. 1), hashish was like a bride
dressed in green silk:
hashish and its users in society 289

No wonder that in spite of Ibn al-Waḥīd’s talent as a scholar and calligrapher, 154
there were rumors casting doubt on his religious sentiments and suspecting
him of grave sins, such as putting wine or nabīdh in the ink which he used for
copying the Qurʾān.
The defenders of hashish also found it easy to score a point in favor of
hashish as against wine with respect to natural dirtiness. The preparation of
hashish was a cleaner process than that of wine. Also, as we have seen, wine was
proved legally unclean much more easily than hashish, and hashish was never
used for cultic purposes among non-Muslims as was wine. All these aspects
are brought together in verses variously ascribed to the Spaniard Ibn Khamīs
(650–708/1252–1308)93 and the Syro-Egyptian Ibn al-Aʿmā (d. 692/1292):94

Give up wine and drink from the wine of Ḥaydar,

Amber-scented,95 green the color of emerald.
It is presented to you by a Turkish gazelle, slender,
Swaying like a willow bough, delicate.
In his hand, you would think, as he turns it,
It is like the traces of down on a rosy cheek.
The slightest breeze makes it reel,
And it flutters toward the coolness of the continuing breeze.96
The greyish pigeons coo upon its branches in the morning,
And the cadences of the warbling of doves cause it emotion.
It has many meanings the like of which are unknown to wine.
Therefore do not listen with respect to it to the words of the old censor.97

They brought into our (read lanā) bridal chamber a fire, and we thought
A garden had come to us coupled with light.

93 1 Cf. M. Hadj-Sadok, in EI2, s.v. Ibn Khamīs.

94 2 His name is usually given as ʿAlī b. Muḥammad, and not as Muḥammad b. ʿAlī as we find
in al-Maqrīzī and GAL, Suppl., I, 444 f. The Berlin fragment of al-Badrī has Muḥammad b.
al-Mubārak but indicates in the margin that “ʿAlī b.” is to be inserted before Muḥammad.
ʿAlī b. Muḥammad appears in al-Badrī, fol. 3b. Cf. above, p. 53, n. 1.
The text translated here is that of al-Maqrīzī. Ibn Khamīs, as quoted by al-ʿAbbādī from
Ibn al-Qāḍī, adds the last verse and omits the verse before last as well as verses two to five.
The order of the rest is different, to wit: 1, 2, 5, 4, 6–11. The Berlin fragment of al-Badrī breaks
off after verse 5.
95 3 Ibn Khamīs: “A fine draft.”
96 4 Silvestre de Sacy translates: comme chancelle