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Comparison between the preface and the Risala ila al-Qiidl Ab- SahP6

An overview of the content of the letter to Abu Sahl

After burning his books, al-Tawh. -Id-I received a letter from a certain judge (qad-) called Abu Sahl ‘AH b. Muhammad, about whom almost nothing is known, rebuking him for his action.97 Al-TawhIdI in his turn responded with a letter addressed to the qad- in an attempt to justify his action.

In the introductory paragraph of his letter to the qad-, al-TawhIdI affirms his friendship with the qad- and his surprise at receiving his letter. Addressing the qad-, he reviews the content of the qad-’s letter:

I thanked God for the blessing it represents to me, and asked him for more such letters in which you describe, after mentioning [your] yearning and fervent longing for me, what has taken hold of your heart and burned in your chest because of the report that had reached you of what I had done in burning my precious books in the fire and washing them with water.98

In the following paragraph, al-Tawh. -Id-I expresses his surprise that his excuse for burning his books did not convince the qad-, since, as the qad- knows well from the Qur’an, nothing is permanent in the world.99 After giving an assurance that he himself is the one who is hurt by his action which he did after a period of hesitation and consultation with God, al-TawhIdI provides the qad- with an argument justifying his action.

In the main body of the letter, al-TawhIdI sets forth his reasons for burning his books. He begins by explaining his position on knowledge and its links to action, asserting that his books contained both private and public kinds of knowledge, but people made no use of either kind of knowledge. Therefore, he burnt his books, proclaiming his submission to God’s will and to his fate. Al-TawhIdI then affirms that the loss of children, friends, followers, and associates sharpened his determination to destroy his books rather than leave them to people whom he mistrusted and thought would mock them and would not learn from them or appreciate their value.

Al-Tawh. -Id-I further explains the circumstances under which he burnt his books: he is old, in his ninth decade with a feeling of hopelessness. Then after citing verses of poetry about the passing of youth and the advent of old age, he states that he should have learned a lesson from the death of brethren and acquaintances in various regions, especially in Iraq, al-Hijaz, al-Jabal and al-Rayy.

After seeking refuge in God, al-Tawhldl provides his addressee with further reasons for destroying his books. In a long paragraph he cites the examples of six scholars who destroyed their books.100 After giving an account of their acts, he again expresses his negative opinion of the deterioration of contemporary society and of people’s morals. He returns to the subject of the relationship between knowledge and action, describing knowledge as one of God’s great blessings. In his discussion, al-Tawhldl gives action a higher status than knowledge.101

In a concluding paragraph, al-Tawhldl apologetically describes his state of poverty and his difficult situation after burning his books, and expresses his hope that this would be sufficient reason for the qad- to excuse him further. Finally, al-Tawhldl addresses the relationship between man and God and expresses his belief in the complete power of God over man, who can do nothing but remain patient until his death. Then al-Tawhldl requests the addressee to respond to his letter and tell him what he thinks of it, promising that he will answer him with another letter if he does.

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