In the classical times of the Muslim Empire, scholars were expected to know, think and write about everything and anything, from religion to medicine and love in all of its aspects. Love has been written about from philosophical, medical and even from an erotic viewpoint (see for example “the Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight” by the 15th century Sheikh Al-Nafzawi). Ibn Hazm had also left a noted and lovely contribution to the matter of love.
About Ibn Hazm
Ibn Hazm (994 – 1064 CE) was born in Cordoba, Southern Spain, three centuries after the Muslim rule had established there. He was a scholar, poet, polymath, jurist and philosopher of the Zahiri school of thought (Zahirism was a Sunni school of thought that didn’t survive medieval times). He lived through times of political upheavals, when the Berber tribes gained more political power after the fall of the Ummayads and the Iberian Caliphate broke up in several smaller states. This troubled times saw in parallel a renewal and proliferation of literature, of which this treatise is a famous example.
Ibn Hazm himself seems to have grown up in a house full of women, as he describes:“I was reared in their bosoms, and brought up among them, not knowing any other society. I never sat with men until I was already a youth, and my beard had begun to sprout”. He got married quite young, to a young woman named Naaman, which he seemed to have loved dearly. When she passed away too soon, he stayed in mourning for months afterwards and never remarried.
The Treatise on Love is Filled with Lovely Information
Ibn Hazm’s treatise on Love, whose title is translated in English as “The Necklace of the Dove” or “The Ring of the Dove”, is regarded as one of the great masterpieces of Arabic medieval prose. But what differentiates it from others? One of the answers on this question is its style, personal tone and Andalusian context. Let’s look into its different aspects.
On the literary aspect, Ibn Hazm is noted to have a beautiful poetic prose, which makes his treatise very pleasant to read in its original Arabic. On the subject matter, the treatise treats love as a social phenomenon with real-life examples, love as part of the natural course of human life, and he looks at it through different aspects. Ibn Hazm is trying to understand how and why someone falls in love, what situations encourage it (i.e. a helpful friend conveying messages) and what prevents it (i.e. a jealous third party or even death).
Ibn Hazm also gets intimate: instead of writing about love in a universal or objective manner like many of the scholars of his time. He draws examples from his own life and the life of his contemporaries to explain what happens in the life of the lover. We discover the author’s ambivalent personality, both an admirer of women and retaining a certain degree of distrust towards them. All in all, very human in his faults.
Through this subject of love and these mundane situations – which resonates with the readers of any time and place – we discover some aspects of the lives of the inhabitants of Medieval Spain and their culture. This includes the particular place of the women, who while mostly ruling from “behind the curtains” in their homes, had a noted power in the society … Possibly more than elsewhere is the Islamic world at the time.
His treatise was written as a letter, addressed to a friend of his, complaining about matters of the heart. It is made up of 29 chapters, with such titles as “On Falling in Love at First Sight”, “Of Hitting with the Eyes”, “Of Concealing the Secret”, or the negative aspects on the Lover’s life, like “Of the Slanderer” or “Of Betrayal”. In each of these, he argues his views and thoughts on these manifestations of love with daily-life examples, his own poetry, Quranic verses and Hadiths.
“For my part I consider Love as a conjunction between scattered parts of souls that have become divided in this physical universe, a union effected within the substance of their original sublime element”
The Neo-platonism, a school of philosophy widely accepted by scholars at the time, tendencies in his book don’t go unnoticed either. According to this theory, the world is made up of the ideal domain of the spirit where perfection dwells and to which the soul yearns, and the material domain where imperfection reigns. This is why Ibn Hazm says that “For my part I consider Love as a conjunction between scattered parts of souls that have become divided in this physical universe, a union effected within the substance of their original sublime element”. For him, the lover is only aspiring to reunite with his other half despite the constraints of this world, “his soul is indeed free and aware of where that other is that shared with it in ancient proximity ; his soul is ever seeking for the other, striving after it, searching it out, yearning to encounter it again, drawing it to itself if might be as a magnet draws the iron.”
Let’s end this very short presentation of this beautiful work by a general description of a couple of lovers in the first chapter, “The Signs of Love”, illustrating how curiously close to us a Spanish muslim medieval scene can feel : “When they love each other with equal ardour, and their mutual affection is intensely strong, they will turn against one another without any valid reason, each purposely contradicting the other in whatever he may say ; they quarrel violently over the smallest things, each picking up every word that the other lets fall and wilfully misinterpreting it. All these devices are aimed at testing and proving what each is seeking in the other.”
Written by Louise Gallorini.