Ibn Zakrī Has to Get His Mother’s Permission

Detail of a woven curtain from Tunisia, 17th or 18th century, postdating the time of Ibn Zakrī but perhaps in the vein of the sort of work he might have undertaken as a weaver in 15th century Tlemcen (Cleveland Museum of Art 1916.1361)

From among them the sign of the age, the shaykh of verification and precision, sea of knowledge, imām of the folk of understanding, Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad bin Zakrī al-Tilimsānī (d. 1492)…. At the beginning of his career he worked in the craft of weaving [in Tlemcen], being an orphan without a father, sending to his mother [earnings] that which would help her to maintain her daily sustenance. Now, there arose a disputed question between Shaykh Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad ibn al-‘Abbās (or Abū ‘Abdallāh Muḥammad bin al-Ḥasan, I am in doubt as to which of the two it was) and his students, and the tumult around it increased and the debated question became so well-known that it began to circulate among the ordinary people. But Ibn Zakrī said, ‘This question that is so occupying the fuqahā’ is really easy to untangle!’ The weavers said to him, ‘How is that?’ So he began to explain it to them. A student overheard him and was impressed by his words, so he related it to the shaykh and he was amazed, so that the shaykh went to the weaving workshop with his students and presented himself before Ibn Zakrī and listened to his words. Then the shaykh said: ‘The like of this one is fit for nothing save the pursuit of knowledge!’ But Ibn Zakrī replied, ‘It’s not possible for me to enter myself into something save with the sanction of my mother.’ So the shaykh went to his mother and said to her: ‘How many dirhams does your son give you each day?’ She told him, and he replied: ‘That much will come to you from my own wealth for as long as you live, God willing! I will ensure that your son can totally devote himself to training in knowledge.’ She replied, ‘What love and generosity oh sīdī!’

Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn b. Miṣbāḥ Ibn ‘Askar, Dawḥat al-nāshir li-maḥāsin man kāna bi al-Maghrib min mashāyikh al-qarn al-ʿāshir (Rabat: Dār al-Maghrib, 1977), 119-120.

Ibn Zakrī would go on to have an illustrious career as a scholar in many different fields, ranging from rhetoric to theology to sufism, and like many pious and ascetic ‘ālims of his day would be venerated as a saint during his lifetime and after his death.



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Shaykh Ṣafī al-Dīn’s Gifts for ‘Īd al-Fiṭr

The following story, from that seemingly inexhaustible source of late medieval hagiography, the Ṣafvat al-ṣafā of Ibn Bazzāz, seemed appropriate to translate and post today given that April 21 and 22 of this year marks ‘Īd al-Fiṭr, the feast at the end of Ramadan, for the world’s Muslim communities. The story below has to do with the festivities- or, more properly, the preparation for them- that continue to be a feature of modern celebrations. As with many of the stories concerning Shaykh Ṣafī al-Dīn, the main subject of the hagiography (though far from the only subject!), it is quite straightforward. The word ‘akhī’ in ‘Akhī Shādī’ (whose name occasions some punning in the Persian) requires some explanation: the akhīs were members of ‘fraternities’ of urban workers, especially workers in various crafts, drawing upon the canons of futuwwa for their identity and practices, sometimes exerting political power in cities of Iran and, especially, Anatolia, in which context they are best known. Akhīs appear not infrequently in Ibn Bazzāz’s work, perhaps as a reflection of his own origins in the world of craftsmanship and the urban marketplace. As is so often the case, scenes of everyday life and activity are preserved, as it were, within the format of a miracle story, giving us a nice glimpse of the practices and relationships of ordinary people in the late medieval Persianate lands.

L'épisode_du_sheïkh_de_Sana an_[...]Haïder_Me zoub_btv1b8415000w_71
In this detail from an early 16th century Safavid miniature, a depiction of a market stall selling bread, such as Akhī Shādī would have been preparing for the ‘Īd festivities (Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Supplément turc 978)

Akhī Shādī of Ardabil said: At the end of Ramadan the Shaykh, may his secret be sanctified, sought for me, so I went. Pīr Ibrāhīm Kurd-i Chust came and took me by the hand and led me to the kitchen. I worked for two days, cooking the bread for ‘Īd [al-Fiṭr]. While cooking that bread my hand was burned. During the night, just before morning, the Shaykh, may his secret be sanctified, came to the kitchen, and I came before him so as to kiss his blessed hand. The Shaykh looked and saw that my hand was burned, so he took my hand in his blessed hand and vigorously rubbed it, and in that very moment it became better, the traces of the burn completely disappearing! I was overjoyed, and in the exuberance of this joy returned home. While performing the morning prayer of the day of ‘Eid, it suddenly entered into my mind: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if the Shaykh sent me a plate of some saffron rice?’ An hour later I saw that a servant was coming, bringing a plate of saffron rice. He said to me, ‘The Shaykh declares that if Akhī Shādī has a friend who is sick he should give him this pilaf.’

I did have a friend who was grievously sick, such that we had all given up hope of his recovery, things reaching a point at which he was no longer eating or drinking, hope for his living becoming cut off. I brought that pilaf before him and said, ‘The Shaykh has sent this, eat it so that you can get better!’ He said, ‘I don’t have the strength [to feed myself], please place a portion of it in my mouth.’ So I put two or three bites of it in his mouth and he ate it, then said, ‘More please!’ So I gave him more, and he ate, saying, ‘Make a bigger portion!’ So I did, and in that moment he sat up and with me ate that plate of pilaf and was completely healed.

Ibn Bazzāz Ardabīlī, Ṣafvat al-ṣafā: dar tarjumah-ʼi aḥvāl va aqvāl va karāmāt-i Shaykh Ṣafī al-Dīn Isḥaq Ardabīlī, ed. Ghulām Riẓā Ṭabāṭabāʼī Majd (Tabriz: G.R. Ṭabāṭabāʼī Majd , 1373 [1994]).

A delivery of food- perhaps pilaf?- in a detail from an illustration for another story from the Ṣafvat al-ṣafā (AKM264 (fol.376r))

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meditations at the K-Pg Boundary, Wahalak, Mississippi

the earth here is an unclosing wound, sedimented silence opening into
stomata gasping old air, the churn of a matrix of memory and bone.
see, in these hands, these eyes, and the strange curve of my thumb
the broken lilt of the words on my tongue and in my head, grasping and wrestling,
the flow and the give, shame and fear, and love, heady and heaving.
continents push and pull and spread, passive margins grow thicker.
repressed and repressing, geological strata come out stark and naked
layed and layered out flat and falling under the same sun, ancient oyster beds,
the lively ancient ooze of life hardened into a blistered substrate.
graves sink into the soft earth, cedars embrace, shadow, shadow, the dark blood
in our veins and coursing over the hard chalk undrunk, settling into
the lowest places. rich, and thick with snakes, the same venom runs in me.
they’ll lay me low in under the overlapping boundaries, thin lines etched
in everything, you cannot escape. there is no escape, even in death,
taphonomic processes come for you too. everything passes on, and everything
passes. sins of your mothers and fathers, tektites embedded in the stone,
the long slow and sudden inevitability of process and time.