Ibn Hazm, Abu Muhammad ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Sa’id

Ibn Hazm, Abu Muhammad ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Sa’id
   Ibn Hazm was an Andalusian writer, jurist, and Muslim theologian active in the early 11th century. His times were turbulent—he lived through a civil war that ended the Umayyad caliphate as well as destructive wars between Arabs and Berbers. A failed politician, Ibn Hazm became an influential spokesman for strict literalist interpretation of the KORAN, and was also the author of one of the bestknown treatises on sensual love ever written. Ibn Hazm’s father was vizier under the Umayyad caliph at Córdoba, and Ibn Hazm was raised in the harem of the palace ofMadinat al-Zahira, where until the age of 14, he was educated by the women of the harem in the Koran and in poetry. When the Caliph Hisham II fell, Ibn Hazm’s father was deposed and disgraced, and the family moved to Córdoba. But in 1013, their home was destroyed when the Berbers attacked the city, and Ibn Hazm began a wandering existence. He did study history, theology, and law, and he served as vizier at least twice. But he was also persecuted for his support of the Umayyad party, and was imprisoned, banished, and at times forced to flee for his life. Disappointed in the political situation of his time, Ibn Hazm seems to have withdrawn from public life and retired to devote the last 30 years of his life to his writing.
   Ibn Hazm’s most popular text, Tawq al-Hamama (The Dove’s Neckring or Ring of the Dove), was one of his earlier works, written in 1027. The title alludes to the practice among lovers of using pigeons to send messages back and forth. The book was purportedly written at the request of a friend who asked Ibn Hazm to discuss the nature of love. It is a collection of prose passages on various aspects of love, illustrated by short poems and also by fascinating autobiographical details reflecting a good deal about life in Umayyad Córdoba. While the treatment of love was a fairly conventional theme in medieval Arabic literature, one is struck in this text by Ibn Hazm’s psychological insights. Also fascinating are the parallels with the European COURTLY LOVE tradition apparent in this text: Though the object of the male lover’s affections in Ibn Hazm’s text is often a beautiful slave girl (rather than the noble lady of the courtly lover’s songs), the lover still becomes the lady’s servant, and the lover’s nobility was refined by his service to his beloved:
   It is not just to disapprove
   A meek servility in love:
   For Love the proudest men abase
   Themselves, and feel it no disgrace.
   (qtd. in Irwin 1999, 255)
   Ibn Hazm seems to have revised the text of The Ring of the Dove later in his life. The last two sections of the book, “The Vileness of Sinning” and “The Virtue of Continence,” are quite out of keeping with his earlier tales of sensual love. Their tone, however, is consistent with the older Ibn Hazm’s concerns. In his later years he condemned love poetry and claimed it promoted immorality. He also came to support the views of the Zahirites, who believed in a strict literalist interpretation of the Koran.
   It was in this spirit that Ibn Hazm composed his other well-known text, Kitah a’-Fisal fi al-Milal wa al-Ahwa’ al-Nihal (The book of religious and philosophical sects). In legal theory Ibn Hazm thought that all law must conform to a very narrow literalist interpretation of the Scriptures. In this book Ibn Hazm examines—and condemns—all forms of religion that he was aware of. Christianity and Judaism receive especially harsh treatment in the book, but worst of all is Ibn Hazm’s condemnation of any sect of Islam (including Sufis, Shi’ites, and others) that does not follow the true Zahirite principles of scriptural literalism.
   Such a stance put Ibn Hazm at odds with most of the Islamic sects of his time, and many of his later religious texts were publicly burned as heretical. But Ibn Hazm remains famous for his contributions to literature in Arabic. He is said to have written some 400 books, though fewer than 40 are extant. Of these, the youthful work on love that Ibn Hazm rejected has become the work for which he is best remembered.
   ■ Arberry, A. J., trans. The Ring of the Dove. London: Weatherby, 1953.
   ■ Irwin, Robert, ed.Night and Horses and the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1999.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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