The ways in which social imaginaries can be transformed through politics
What one encounters in everyday life are images that may have been reduced to the status of cliches, conventions, and opinions. The political act of resistance against such ready-made images thus entails, in one sense, the struggle of an image against an image. There is a relationship between rhetoric, persuasion and communication that proposes new forms of interactions or a new schema and political change.
The book will investigate how al-Tawhldl aimed to introduce to his audience, through his concept of sadaqa, a new moral order that encouraged moral practices such as companionship, help, and generosity, against social vices such as selfishness, hostility, and greed. As such, the book pays attention to the utilitarian nature of al-Tawhldl’s concept of sadaqa that was intended to refine the moral character of his recipients, playing a role in shaping both political and social practices.
The role of the intellectual in society
Gramsci maintained that the notion of intellectuals as a distinct social category independent of class was a myth.127 He identified two types of intellectuals: traditional and organic. Traditional intellectuals are those who regard themselves as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group and are regarded as such by the population at large. They embody an aura of continuity despite any social upheavals that they might have endured.128 The clergy are an example, as are men of letters, philosophers, and professors; these professions are commonly regarded as the realm of intellectuals. Although they tend to consider themselves as independent of ruling groups, this can often be an illusion. They are somewhat conservative, since they are commonly allied to and assist the ruling group in society, and mostly function for its benefit. The second type is the organic intellectual. This group emerges organically within each social group, and is a thinking and organising element. According to Gramsci, each social group that comes into existence creates within itself one or more strata of intellectuals (intellectuals by social function) that give it meaning, that help to bind it together and to function. He gives the example of specialists in political economy, industrial technology, and the organisation of a new culture and legal system, who developed alongside the capitalist entrepreneur.129
Inspired by this distinction, al-Tawatl divides intellectuals in Buyid society into the traditional, including the ‘ulama (religious scholars), who maintained relative independence from the Buyid ruling class, and the organic, who formed a social and literary phenomenon linked to the two dominant social groups, namely the Buyid elite and the amma (the commoners) who became a powerful social force in this period.130 For example, in terms of his background, al-Tawhldl belonged to the ‘amma. Intellectually, however, he moved between different groups, whether religious, philosophical or official Buyid circles, using his knowledge, rhetoric, and affiliation with one to influence another.131 This highlights the role of rhetoric and its power in shaping politics in that period. Rhetoric could be a mechanism of governing used to reinforce the authority of rulers and to extol their power.132 In addition, rhetoric could also be used to persuade rulers to change certain social and political practices. Thus, this book is interested in al-Tawhldl’s use of rhetoric as a form of social action to promote practical wisdom and move rulers to action with argument based on both religious and philosophical sources. His position is based on a strong belief in the role of the intellectual in ensuring the morality of society.
These four points will be applied in conjunction with an attempt to address the deficiencies identified in previous studies on al-Tawhldl, while also noting the particularities of studying ethics in Islamic societies which enables one to analyse al-Tawhldl’s ethical vocabulary, especially sadaqa, in the context of his use of all available knowledge to produce a social imaginary. The book will attempt to explore: (a) What was al-Tawhldl’s concept of sadaqa and why did he propose it? What is its social significance within the socio-political and cultural context of Buyid society? Along with a critical analysis of the complexity of forces, knowledge, and ways of realisation that might have formed al-Tawhidi’s vision, how far was it influenced by Greek philosophy? (b) The social significance of this concept presented by al-Tawhidi with respect to the society of his time. (c) The relationship and relevance of this imaginary to al-Tawhidi himself, as a person. (d) The impact of al-Tawhidi’s social imaginary as an alternative discourse aimed at bringing about change in Buyid society. This will necessitate the identification of similar contemporary discourses, and their role alongside al-Tawhidi’s imaginary, in shaping the ethical discourse of the time.
To discuss these points, the book is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 explores the socio-political and cultural context of Buyid society. It examines the structure of the polity and its effect on society, and the nature of social groups and patterns of human conduct and intellectual concerns of the time. These points will show how al-Tawhidi’s ideas about sadaqa and his social idealism could be applied to the socio-political circumstances and turmoil of his age. Chapter 2 discusses al-Tawhidi’s origins and religious doctrine, and offers a new approach to analyse his ‘sense of the self’, which is seen as developing within the context of different social and political structures with which he came into contact. It also shows how al-Tawhidfs sense of the self shaped his philosophical thought and moral vision. Chapters 3 and 4 discuss the meaning of sadaqa for al-Tawhidi and its social significations. Chapter 3 focuses on understanding al-Tawhidi’s motives and intentions for the composition of his epistle al-Sadaqa wa al-Sadiq (written at the request of the Buyid vizier Ibn Sa‘dan). Chapter 4 analyses the conceptual framework that formed al-Tawhidi’s sadaqa. By analysing the content and the exclusion or inclusion of certain themes by which al-Tawhidi shapes the normative and practical value of sadaqa, variances in its meaning can be highlighted. This can be further understood by looking at the range of questions which his sadaqa attempts to answer, and which in turn will illustrate its intended function in society and the set of practices, ethical norms and links it aimed to establish between different social groups. The last chapter discusses al-Tawhidi’s concept of sadaqa in relation to other related themes, such as ukhuwwa (brotherhood), mahabba (love), and insaniyya (humanity) proposed by al-Tawhidi’s contemporaries, including Yahya b. ‘Adi, Miskawayh as well as the Brethren of Purity. The chapter links the discussion of these concepts to ideas on the purification of the soul, and considers them as part of a wider discourse to promote conditions of harmonious living.