Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The Vileness of Sinning

Abű Muhammad ‘Alee ibn Ahmad ibn Sa‘eed ibn Hazm 

Excerpted with modifications and deletions from his book, Tawq al-Hamâmah (Ring of the Dove), translated by A.J. Arberry © 1953 Luzac & Co. Ltd.


Thus spoke the author of this book, God have mercy upon him:

Many men obey their carnal souls, and disobey their reasons; they follow after their random desires, rejecting the ordinances of religion, and scouting God’s commandments. For Allâh has put it into all healthy minds to be decent and self-controlled, to abstain from sin and fight against temptation; but they oppose the Lord their God, and take the Devil’s part, assisting him in his evil work by indulging in all deadly lusts; so they commit grievous sins in their amours.

We know that Allâh has implanted in every man two opposed natures. The first of these counsels only good, and incites to what is fair and seemly, so that nothing that is not pleasing to God is conceived therein; this is reason , which is guided and led by justice. The second is opposite to the first, in that it advises solely the gratification of lusts, and leads the way to all that is evil and vicious: this is the [evil] soul , whose guide and mentor is carnal passion. God says, “Verily the soul commands to evil” (Qur’ân - 12:53). Elsewhere Allâh refers to reason, calling it the heart, and says, “Verily therein is a reminder to every man possessing a heart or lending an ear to hear, who beareth witness” (Qur’ân - 50:36). He also says, “And He has made Faith a thing to be loved by you, and has made it comely in your hearts” (Qur’ân - 49:7); in another place He addresses “those that are possessed of minds” (Qur’ân - 39:22).

These two contrary natures are the poles in a man; they are two of the body’s various faculties, by means of which the body acts; they are so to speak a pair of screens, upon which falls the rays emanating from those two wonderful, lofty, sublime substances. Every body has its share in these two natures, according to the decree to which it responds to them, its receptiveness being determined by the eternal will of the One Everlasting God (Holy be His Names), at the time that He created it and gave it shape. The two natures are forever and habitually in opposition and conflict one with the other. When the reason prevails over the soul, a man will refrain, and rein his corrupt impulses; he will seek to be illumined by the will of God, and will follow after justice. But when the soul dominates the reason, his inward eye is so blinded that he cannot truly discriminate between what is seemly and what is vile; great is his confusion, and he falls into the pit of ruin and bottomless abyss of destruction. Therefore are God’s commands and prohibitions most excellent, and obedience to them man’s bounden duty, upon the fulfillment of which depends his fitting reward or punishment, his well-merited recompense.

The spirit unites those contrary natures, and acts as a link and meeting-point between them. To stand always within the confines of obedience is a thing outside the bounds of actuality, except it be achieved by long self-discipline, right knowledge, and penetrating discrimination; and only then may it be attained if a man deliberately avoids exposing himself to seduction, and abstains from human intercourse entirely, sitting not within the tents of temptation. Without a doubt perfect and absolute purity can be secured, if a man were to be castrated and thus have no desire for woman, and no organ can assist him to traffic with them. It was said of old, “He who is preserved from the evil of his clacker, his rumbler and his dangler, is saved from the evil of the whole sublunary world.” The clacker is the tongue, the rumbler is the belly, and the dangler is the privy parts. On the other hand I was told by Abű Hafs the civil secretary, a descendent of Rauh ibn Zinba‘ al-Judhamee, that he asked a notes jurist, who was also an eminent Traditionalist, to explain the foregoing saying to him; and he told him that the word which I have glossed as “belly” actually means “melon”.

Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad informed me, transmitting from Wahb ibn Masarrah and Muhammad ibn Abee Dulaim, from Muhammad ibn Waddah, from Yahya ibn Yahya, from Mâlik ibn Anas, from Zaid ibn Aslam, from ‘Atâ’ ibn Yasar, that the Messenger of Allâh () said (I extract this from a long tradition, “He whom Allâh preserves from the evil of two things shall surely enter Paradise.” When asked to explain his saying, he added, “That which lies between his moustache and beard, and that which lies between his two legs.”

I hear many people say, “Complete subjugation of passions is found only among men, and not among women.” I never ceased to wonder at this assertion. My own unwavering opinion is, that men and women are exactly equal in their inclination towards these two things. The man does not exist who, having been offered the love of a pretty woman for a long time, and there being no obstacle to prevent him, will not fall into Satan’s net, will not be seduced by sin, and will not be excited by desire and led astray by concupiscence. Similarly there is no woman who, if invited by a man in the selfsame circumstances, will not surrender to him in the end; it is absolute law and inescapable decree of destiny.

I have been informed by a most truthful and trustworthy friend – I may add that he has a perfect acquaintance with jurisprudence, scholastic theology and science, and is firm in his observance of the faith – that he once loved a superior and cultured girl of dazzling beauty. “I made a proposal to her”, he told me, “and she refused in horror. I repeated my proposal, and she again declined. So matters went on for a long time, and all the while my love for her waxed stronger; but she was not one of the kind that submits to solicitations. Finally I was so carried away by my excessive passion for her, that being a blind and headstrong youth, I made a vow that if I succeeded in having my way with her, I would thereafter turn to Allâh in true and contrite penitence. As the days and nights went by, after all her stubborn refusal and aversion she at last gave in to me.” I said to my friend, “O father of one who shall be unnamed, did you fulfill your engagement?” “Yes, by Allâh” he replied. Thereupon I laughed, being reminded by his action of a report commonly noised among us, that in the Berber country adjacent to Andalusia fornicators repent of their sins on condition that they attain gratification of their immediate desires. Nothing is done to prevent this curious conduct; on the contrary, they disapprove strongly in that country if any man ventures to utter even one word of protest, saying, “What, would you make it impossible for a Mussulman to repent?” My friend continued, “I recall how she wept, saying, ‘By Allâh, you have brought me to a pass I never in my life thought to come to, nor supposed that I would concede it to any man.’ ”

I do not consider it utterly remote from all possibility that righteousness should exist among men, and women too: God forbid, that I should have any such thoughts! But I have observed that many men err gravely as to the true meaning of the word “righteousness”. Its correct interpretation is as follows. The “righteous” woman is one who, when duly restrained, restrains herself; when temptations are kept out of her way, she keeps herself under control. The “wicked” woman on the other hand is one who, when duly restrained, does not restrain herself, and when barred from all facilities for committing license, nevertheless herself contrives by some ruse or other to discover the means of behaving badly. The “righteous” man is he who has no traffic with adulterers, and does not expose himself to sights exciting passions; who does not raise his eyes to look upon ravishing shapes and forms. The “wicked” man however is he who consorts with depraved people, who allows his gaze to wander freely and stares avidly at beautiful faces, who seek out harmful spectacles and delights in deadly privacies. The “righteous” man and the “righteous” woman are like a fire that lies hidden within the ashes, and does not burn any who is within range of it unless it is stirred into flame. But “wicked” men and women are like a blazing, all-consuming conflagration. As for the abandoned woman and the adventurous man, they are surely doomed to everlasting destruction. For this reason it is forbidden to a Muslim to take delight in listening to a foreign woman sing: “the first glance is for you, the second is against you”. The Messenger of Allâh said () said, “Whoever looks upon a woman when he is fasting, so as to see the bulk of her bones, the same has broken the fast.” The clear texts set down in Holy Writ forbidding the indulgence of passion are surely amply convincing. The wide variety of meanings attached to this word “passion”, and the derivation assigned to it by the Arabs, prove well enough the inclination and the aspiration of the carnal soul towards these situations; and the man who holds himself back from them must needs struggle and fight against his lower self.

I will describe something to you which you may readily enough observe with your own eyes. I have never seen the woman who, happening to be in some place where she senses that a man is looking at her or listening to her voice, does not make some wholly superfluous gesture, remote from her usual habit, or offer some entirely gratuitous remark with which she would otherwise have dispensed, in either case quite at variance with how she was talking or behaving immediately before. I have noticed – and indeed the matter is only too apparent and obvious, and there is no concealing it – that she will take great pains how she articulates her words, and will pay elaborate attention to the manner in which she varies her postures. It is the same with men, as soon as they sense a presence of ladies.[1] As for showing off one’s finery, and studying one’s deportment, and engaging in pleasantries when a woman is approaching a man, or a man passing by a woman, that is more evident than the sun in the heaven, and happens everywhere. Allâh the Almighty says, “Say unto the believers, that they should lower their eyes and conceal their private parts” (Qur’ân - 24:30); He also says, “And let the women not tap with their feet, that their hidden ornaments may be made known” (Qur’ân - 24:31). Were it not that Allâh is aware of the delicate way in which women droop their eyelids when striving to win the affection of men’s hearts, and the subtle ruses they employ in contriving to attract men’s desires, never would He have revealed a notion so infinitely remote and abstruse. This is the limit beyond which one may not prudently expose oneself to danger: how then shall it be with a man if he adventure further?

I tell you that I have penetrated deeply into the secret thoughts of men and women in this matter, for the fact is that I never had a very good opinion of anyone where these things are concerned; besides, I must confess that I am constitutionally a very jealous man. Abű ‘Umar Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad informed me, transmitting from Ahmad, from Muhammad ibn ‘Alee ibn Rafa‘ah, from ‘Alee ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azeez, from Abű ‘Ubaid al-Qâsim ibn Sallam, from his teachers, that the Messenger of Allâh () said, “Jealousy is a part of faith.” That is why I have never ceased to pry into stories about women, and to lay bare their secrets. They have known well my discretion, and have therefore not hesitated to apprise me of their most hidden affairs. But for the fear of exposing their shames – from which may God preserve me! – I would have set down such marvels illustrating their lively awareness of evil, and their cunning in contriving naughtiness, as would confound the most intelligent of men. I know this well, and am perfectly informed of true facts; yet for all that Allâh knows – and it is enough that He should know – that I am a man of spotless innocence, pure, clean and undefiled. I swear most solemnly by Allâh’s name that I have never loosed my girdle to commit unlawful acts; the Lord shall not call me to accound on the Day of Reckoning touch the deadly sin of fornication, not since I became a man even unto the present day. I praise God, and give Him grateful thanks for his past mercies, and I pray that He may continue so to preserve me through all the days I yet shall live.

Judge Abű ‘Abd al-Rahmân ‘Abd Allâh ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmân ibn Jahhaf al-Ma‘afiri informed me – and he is the most excellent qâdee I have ever met – that he was told by Muhammad ibn Ibrâheem al-Tulaitili that the Egyptian qâdee Bakr ibn al-‘Alâ’ interpretated Allâh’s words “And as for the bounty of thy Lord, proclaim it abroad” (Qur’ân - 93:11) as follows, reporting the view held by an ancient authority: the Muslim ought to declare the personal blessings which Allâh has conferred on him in keeping him obedient to the commands of his Lord, which is indeed the greatest of bounties, especially in regard to those matters the avoidance or pursuit of which is a prescription binding upon all Muslims.

Now my reason for speaking of myself as I have is that while the fires of youth were blazing within me, while the ardour of puberty and the reckless folly of early manhood possessed my soul, I was cloistered and enclosed among watchful guardians of both sexes. As soon as I became my own master and could reason for myself, I had the fortune to make friends with Abű ‘Alee al-Husain ibn ‘Alee al-Fâsee, with whom I attended the classes of our teacher and my dear preceptor Abű’l-Qâsim ‘Abd al-Rahmân ibn Abee Yazeed al-Azdee, God be well pleased with him! Abű ‘Alee was most prudent, full of good works and pious learning; he was one who had reached the forefront in righteouness, true devotion, strict abstinence from worldly things, and zealous labours for the heavenly reward. I fancy that he was naturally continent, for there had never been a woman in his life; and indeed I never saw his like altogether, whether in learning, practical charity, religious observance or godliness of life. Allâh gave me great profit of him, for he taught me to know the dire effects of evil conduct, and the beastliness of sin. He died on the Makkah pilgrimage, God rest his soul.

Once I was passing the night in the house of a female acquaintance, a lady renowned for her righteousness, her charity and her prudence. With her was young girl of her own kindred; we had all been brought up together, then I had lost sight of her for many years, having left her when she reached puberty. I found that the waters of youth had flowed like a rushing exuberant river over her countenance; the fountains of grace and charm gushed over her. I was confounded and amazed. Into the firmament of her face the stars of beauty had climbed, to shine and glitter there; in her cheeks the flowers of loveliness had budded, and were now in full bloom. How she appeared before me that memorable evening…

She came of a family in which good looks were hereditary, and had now herself developed into shape that beggared description; the tale of her youthful loveliness ran through Cordova. I passed three successive nights under the same roof with her, and following the customs with persons who have been brought up together she was not veiled from my view. Upon my life, my heart was well-nighed ravished, the passion which I had so rigorously banished almost repossessed my bosom, the forgotten dalliance of youth was within an ace of returning to seduce me. Thereafter I forbade myself to enter that house, for I feared that my mind be too violently excited by the admiration of such beauty. Certainly, she and all the members of the household were ladies upon whose respectability amorous ambitions might not hope to trespass; but…no man is secure from the vexations of Satan.

Allâh has not set down for us the stories of Joseph the son of Jacob, and David the son of Jesse, all prophets of God, save to make us aware of our own shortcomings and the dire need we have of His protection, and to teach us how corrupt and frail is our human constitution. Those two were prophets and messengers of God, the sons of prophets and messengers; they were of a household wherein prophesy and messengership were hereditary; they were wrapped about in God’s safe keeping, immersed in the ocean of His love, encompassed by His tender care, fortified by His mighty protection, so that Satan had no way of coming unto them, and no road was open for his temptations to draw nigh them. Yet for all that Joseph and David came to the pass which Allâh has described for us in His revealed Qur’ân, by reason of that natural disposition within them, that human character and original constitution which were implanted in their souls, and by no means because of any deliberate will and intent on their part to sin; for the prophets are exempt from all that is at variance with obedience to the Divine Will. What passed in them was a natural admiration for lovely forms, common to every human soul; and who among us would be so bold as to claim the mastery of his soul, or who will engage to control its wayward impulses, save with Allâh’s strength and power assisting him? The first blood shed upon the earth was the blood of one of Adam’s sons, all on account of rivalry for the possession of women. The Messenger of Allâh himself says, “Keep a distance between the breaths of men and women.” There was once a Bedouin woman who became pregnant of a kinsman. She was asked, “What is this inside of you, Hind?” She answered, “The fruit of pillows much too near, and of a night too long and drear!”…

I know a young man of the strictest morals who fell madly in love. One of his friends passed him by and found him sitting with his beloved. He invited him to his home and the young man accepted, adding that he would be with him presently. He friend proceeded home, and there waited for him a very long time, but he never came. Some while afterwards the two met, and the friend remonstrated with him and reproached him bitterly for breaking his promise. The young man excused himself, but concealed his real reason. I said to his friend, “I will discover a perfectly valid excuse for him from the Book of God, where it is written, ‘We did not break our engagement with thee, of our own willing, but we were charged with heavy burdens, the ornament of the people.’ (Qur’ân - 20:90).”

All who were present burst out laughing, and I was requested to make a poem on the subject…

[Poem deleted]

I have two poems which I composed, alluding gently, no indeed, but making specific reference to a man of our circle whom we formerly all knew of an earnest student, of great zeal and piety; he passed his nights in prayer, and in all things followed in the footsteps of the ascetics and trod in the paths of the ancient Sűfees, searching and labouring ever after true learning and righteousness. We always abstained from jesting and pleasantries in his presence. But the time came when he gave Satan power over his soul; he who had worn the garb of the godly suddenly kicked over the traces, putting into the Devil’s hands the leading-rein of his spirit. Beelzebub duly deluded him, representing misery and perdition to him in the fairest colours; he who had so long refused yielded him his halter to drag; he who had been so stubborn gave him his forelock to pull; he jogged along amiably after him, completely submissive. After all that I have mentioned above, he became notorious for a certain foul and filthy vice. I reproached him long and rebuked him severely when, not content to hide his sin, he committed his abominations publicly. This had the effect of turning him against  me; his intentions towards me became most malevolent, and he lay in wait to do me an evil turn. One of my friends aided and abetted him, speaking to him in such a way that he took him into his confidence and declared to him his hostility for me. Thus in His good time Allâh revealed his secret, and it was known to all and sundry; so he fell in the estimation of all his fellows, after he had been eagerly sought by scholars and frequented by the learned; he was despised by every one of his former friends – may God deliver us from all evil, and cover us with His sure shield; may He not take away from us the blessings He has showered upon us. Woe and alas for him, who began by following the straight and narrow path, not knowing that Allâh would presently abandon him, and that the Divine protection would be his no more: there is no god but Allâh! How shocking and disgraceful, to be struck down thus by sudden calamity, and smitten by unforeseen disaster; to belong at first to God, and finally to become …of Satan!…

Our aforesaid companion had acquired a perfect mastery of the variant readings of the Qur’ân. He had digested al-Anbaree’s treatise “On Intoning the Scriptures”, and had made of it a fine epitome which won the admiration of all cantors who looked into it. He was constant in the quest and registration of Traditions; he applied the greatest part of his splendid intellect to repeating the information he gathered from the lips of learned Traditionists, to transcribing which he devoted himself with assiduous zeal. But when he was smitten by this affliction – I refer to his association with a boy – he abandoned all that had been his constant care; he sold most of his books; he changed his habits completely. May Allâh preserve us from a like abandonment!…

Abű’l-Husain Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishâq al-Rawandee in his book entitled “Pronunciation and Correction” mentions that Ibrâheem ibn Saiyar al-Nazzam, the head of the Mu‘tazilee sect, for all his eminence in scholastic theology and his supreme mastery of higher knowledge, in order to enjoy forbidden relations with a certain Christian boy whom he loved to madness went so far as to compose a treatise extolling the merits of Trinity over Monotheism. Good Lord, preserve us from machinations of Satan, and suffer us not to be abandoned by Thy loving protection!

Sometimes it happens that the trial becomes so great, and the lusts are so voracious, that abomination seems a mere trifle, and religion proves a poor and feeble thing; in order to achieve his desires a man will then consent to the filthiest and most outrageous acts. Such was the catastrophe which overwhelmed ‘Ubaid Allâh ibn Yahya al-Azdee, better known as Ibn al-Jaziree. He was content to abandon his household, to suffer his harem to be violated, and to expose his family to dishonour, all for the sake of gratifying his amorous whim for a boy. Allâh preserve us from such error! We pray that He may ever encompass us in His safe keeping, so that we shall leave a fair record behind us, and deserve a wholesome reputation. That wretched man became the talk of the town; the rumour of his escapade was the amusement of all gatherings; he was pilloried in popular songs. He was what the Arabs called a daiyűth or cuckold; the term is derived from tadyeeth, a word meaning “to facilitate”, when he has become complacent to such a degree? One speaks of a camel as mudaiyath, meaning that it has been rendered completely abject. By my life, jealousy is an innate instinct even in animals; how much the more should it be in men, seeing that it has the sanction of our religious law. There can be no greater misfortune than what befell Ibn al-Jaziree. I used to know him for a discreet man, until Satan seduced him: we take refuge with Allâh, that He may never so abandon us…

I once heard Ibn al-Jaziree praying in the Cathedral Mosque of Cordova to be delivered from God’s protection, as other men will pray to be delivered from God’s abandonment…

Tha‘lab ibn Műsâ al-Kaladhanee told me the following anecdote which he heard from Sulaimân ibn Ahmad the poet, who added that the woman who related to him was named Hind, and that he had seen her in the East; she had performed pilgrimage five times, and was a pious and zealous old lady. “My dear nephew”, she told Sulaimân, “never have too good an opinion of any woman. I will tell you something about myself, which Allâh knows to be true. I took ship, many years ago now, returning from the pilgrimage, for I had already renounced the world; with me on the same vessel were fourteen other women, all of whom had likewise been to Makkah. We were sailing through the Red Sea. Now one of the crew was a fine upstanding fellow, tall, slim, with broad shoulders and a splendid physique. On the first night out I saw him come up to one of my companions and show off his virility to her. She surrendered to his embraces on the spot. On the following nights each of the rest accepted his advances in turn, until only I was left. I said to myself, ‘I will punish you for this, you scoundrel.’ With that I took a razor, and grasped it firmly in my hand. He came along as usual that evening, and behaved precisely as he had done on the preceding nights. When he approached me I brandished my razor, and he was so scared that he would have run off. I felt sorry for him then, and grasping him with my hands I said, ‘You shall not go until I have had my share of you.’ So”, the old lady concluded, “he got what he wanted, God forgive me!”…

It seem to be indeed that the enmity which divides those who have enjoyed illicit and godless union, following upon their brief intimacy, that turning of backs upon each other soon after they have been loving, the hatred between them that succeeds their fond affection, the bitter rancour and malevolence that now dominate and overmaster their hearts – all this seems to me a terrible revelation and an urgent warning to minds that are sane, to judgements that are penetrating, to purposes that are true. How much more should we then be moved by the contemplation of that dire punishment which Allâh has prepared for those who disobey Him, upon the Day of Reckoning and in the world of retribution; that dreadful unveiling before the faces of all created beings, “upon the day when every suckling mother shall forget her suckled, and every pregnant mother shall cast down the fruit of her womb, and thou shalt see all men reeling as if they are drunk, yet not drunk are they, but he chastisement of God is very terrible” (Qur’ân - 22:2). I pray that Allâh may place us among those who attain His good pleasure, and merit His compassion...


Maintainer s note:

[1] Ibn Hazm’s insight and deep psychological thinking is truly manifested in this paragraph, where he uncovers such a subtle yet obvious point.

Main Page