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Abu Salif Ahmad Ali al-Adani (tr.): The Secrets of Asceticism.

Abu Salif Ahmad Ali al-Adani (tr.): The Secrets of Asceticism Bristol: Amal Press, 2008, Pb, 143 pp, ISBN: 978-0-9552359-6-2

This is a partial translation of the celebrated Andalusian Qur'an commentator Abu 'Abd Allah al-Qurtubi's (d. 671/1273) manual on simple living entitled "The subduing of greed through abstinence and contentment and the repelling of the humiliation of beggary through handwritten requests and intercession" (Qam al-Hirsi bil-Zuhdi wal-Qana'a wa-Raddu Dhulli al-Su'ali bil-Kutbi wal-Shafa'a), which Maliki-trained South Africa lawyer Ahmad Ali al-Adani renders as "The curbing of covetousness by doing-without and contentment, and repelling the abasement of asking by books and intercession" (p. 3) and which has received several editions in Egypt and Lebanon since the eighties.

The subject brings back memorable reminders into our materialistic world-picture. "It does not befit a person endowed with intellect to be deceived by the World" (p. 32). Imam al-Qurtubi's clarion call reads as fresh today as the verse from the Psalms: "The Fool has said in his heart: 'There is no God.'" Of note, "doing-without" begins with sin. Asked about zuhd, Ibn 'Uyayna replied: "To do without what AllAh has proscribed" (p. 26). In this sense it is noteworthy that zuhd is a categorical personal obligation. Moreover, "zuhd is one of the actions of the heart" (p. 28), which puts it ultimately among the "invisible" good deeds, like fasting. Finally, it is not a formal object but requires constant questioning of one's spiritual state and applies to outwardly halal pursuits and possessions. "Whatever wealth or family connection distracts you away from AllAh is ill-omened for you" (p. 61).

Adani is on the whole meticulous in his transliteration of Arabic names and terms and shows an inquisitive approach to the documentation of hadith. His text is lively. His biographical notes similarly show flair and concision (although lacking sourcing). The style is sometimes turgid ("This format, pellucidly reflected in this work, is the pearlescent construction of the book ..." " ... too obvious to the percipient reader to spend further elucidatory words thereon" p. 2-3 and the whole of p. 69), even pedantic, such as the claim that the correct title of the Arabic lexicon Mukhtar al-SihAh is Mukhtar al-Sahha (p. 20, 99), and the lack of translation for certain Arabic terms (such as dunya) can be irritating. Abu Tahir al-Silafi ("The Cleft-Lipped"), Abu Aswad al-Du'ali and Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya are persistently misspelled "al-Salafi" (15-16), al-Du'ali (p. 38, 92) and "b. al-Hanifah" (p. 100-101). Some readers will rightly take exception to the endnote citing an assessment that the rightly-guided caliph 'Umar (Allah be well-pleased with him) "loved [the world] and was loved by it in return, as attested by the length of his rule and the great expansion it witnessed" (p. 127). We are told al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi's "most controversial opus is Khatm al-Wilayah wa-'aIlal al-Shari'ah" (p. 103) but there are two distinct works here, Khatm al-Wilayah on the hierarchy of saints and 'Ilal al-Shari'ah on the spiritual fiqh of ritual purity, worship and transactions. A long hadith narrated by him through 'Uthman ibn Mazun (p. 76) bears the marks of forgery and is not merely "mursal" (p. 137) as another endnote would have it.

The choice of the catchword "Secrets" in the English title betrays both author and reader in two respects: it bears no resemblance to the original title and it touts something which the book nowhere claims to discuss. Al-Qurtubi wrote mostly in the athari tradition of his eminent predecessors such as Ibn al-MubArak, Ahmad b. Hanbal and al-Bayhaqi, at times briefly discussing fiqh. He adduced reports that cover the themes headlined in the chapters of his book, of which the translator selected thirteen including "Zuhd and its explanation," "States of Those who Practiced Zuhd in this World," "The Prophet's Zuhd," "The Zuhd of the Companions", etc. without the Ghazalian slant. Although extensive enough, the bio-bibliographical introduction in fact lacks a much-needed acknowledgment of the love-and-hate tension with Sufism that pervades al-Qurtubi's works, his Tafsir in particular.

Yet the benefits of this work speak for themselves. Reservations aside, the cover is handsome and the overall treatment delivers, for which both author and publisher deserve congratulations. This is al-Adani's debut to my knowledge but I look forward to seeing more, including his forth-coming--hopefully complete--translation of Shaykh Ahmad al-Zarruq's "The Loftiest Goal in the Elucidation of the Beautiful Names" (al-Maqsad al-Asma fi Sharh AsmA' AllAh al-Husna), also at Amal Press.

Gibril Fouad Haddad

Brunei Darussalam
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Author:Haddad, Gibril Fouad
Publication:Islam & Science
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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