The author's Preface to the work, given in A and L, and occupying in the latter nearly thirteen closely printed pages, is here given in abstract. It was not, as will appear, written specially as an introduction to the Hadîqa, but to his collected works.
After an opening section in praise of God, the author introduces the tradition, "When a son of Adam dies, his activity ceases, except in three things; a permanent bequest, and knowledge by which men are benefited, and pious sons who invoke blessings on him after his death." Considering these words one day, and reflecting that none of the three conditions was applicable to himself, he became sorrowful,
and continued for some time in a state of grief and depression. one, day while in this condition, he was visited by his friend Ahmad b. Mas`ûd, who inquired the cause of his sorrow. The author told him that, not fulfilling any one of the above conditions, he was afraid to die; possessing not one of these three advocates at court, he would stand without possessions or adornment in the Presence of the Unity. His friend then began to comfort him, saying, "First let me tell you a story." Sanâ'î replied, "Do so."
Ahmad b. Mas`ûd then related how one day a company of women wished to have audience with Fâtima, Muhammad's daughter. Muhammad gave permission; but Fâtima, weeping, said, "O Father, how long is it since I have had even a little shawl for my head? and that mantle that I had pieced together in so many places with date-leaves is in pledge with Simeon the Jew. How can I receive them?" But Muhammad said, "There is no help; you must go." Fâtima went ashamed to the interview, and came back in sorrow to her father; who was comforting her when the rustle of Gabriel's wings was heard. Gabriel looked at Fâtima and asked, "What is this sorrow? Ask the women, then, what garments they had on, and what thou." Muhammad sent a messenger to the women, who returned, and said, "It was so, at the time when the Mistress of Creation bestowed beauty on that assembly, that the onlookers were astounded; though clothed, they seemed to themselves naked; and among themselves they were asking 'Whence came this fine linen, and from which shop this embroidery? What skilful artificers, what nimble-fingered craftsmen!'" Fâtima said, "O my father, why didst thou not tell me, that I might have been glad?" He answered, "O dear one, thy beauty consisted in that which was concealed inside thyself."
"By my life," continued Ahmad, "such modesty was allowable in Fâtima, brought up in seclusion; but here we have a strong and able man of happy fortune, one who is known as a pattern to others in both practice and theory! Though thou hast considered thyself naked, yet they have clothed thee in a robe from the wardrobe of Eternity. Is it proper for this robe to be concealed, instead of being displayed for the enlightenment of others? " And adverting to the saying, "When a son of Adam dies, his work is cut short, except in three things," he takes the three one by one. First, a continuing
alms; but 'Every kindness is an alms; and it is a kindness that thou meet thy brother with a cheerful countenance, and that thou empty thy bucket into the pots of thy brother;' that is, alms does not wholly consist in spreading food before a glutton, or giving some worthless thing to a pauper; it is a truer alms and a more imperishable hospitality to wear a cheerful countenance before one's friends, " and if others have the outward semblance of alms, thou hast its inward essence; and if they have set forth a table of food before men, thou hast set forth a table of life before their souls; so much for what thou sayest, 'I am excluded from a continuing alms!'"
Ahmad b. Mas`ûd then takes up the second point, knowledge that benefits; and quotes, "We take refuge with God from knowledge which does not benefit" and "Many a wise man is destroyed by his ignorance and his knowledge which does not advantage him." As examples of knowledge that does not benefit he takes the science of metaphysics, a science tied by the leg to desire and notoriety, lying under the opprobrium of "He who learns the science of metaphysics is a heretic, and flys in circles in the air;" as well as of the saying "A science newly born, weak in its credentials"--"I have perfected it for the sake of heresy, and so peace." Then similarly the science of calculation, a veil which diverts attention from the Truth, a curtain in front of the subtilties of religion; and the science of the stars, a science of conjectures and the seed of irreligion, for "Whoso credits a soothsayer has become an infidel." After a tirade against the ordinary type of learned man, he proceeds, "All their falsifyings and terrorizings and imaginings and conjecturings are limited by their own defects; that philosophy of the law is cherished which is notorious over all the quarters and regions of the world; there is your 'knowledge that men benefit by'! From earth to Pleiades who is there sees any benefit in our doctors?" He then tells Sanâ'î that he is master of a more excellent wisdom; "the poets are the chiefs of speech;" "the gift of the poets comes from the piety of the parents;" "verily from poetry comes wisdom;" and will have none of such sayings as "poetry is of the affairs of Satan."
As to the third part of the tradition, and pious descendants to invoke blessings on him after his death, Ahmad says, "The sons which suffice are thy sons; what son born in the way of generation
and begetting is dearer than thy sons, or more honoured? Who has ever seen children like thine, all safe from the vicissitudes of time? The sons of poets are the poets' words, as a former master has said--
'A learned man never desires son or wife
Should the offspring of both these fail, the scholar's offspring would not be cut off.'
A son according to the flesh may be a defilement to a family; but the son of intelligence and wisdom is an ornament to the household. These sons of yours you cannot disown."
He then asks Sanâ'î why he has thus become a recluse, and indolent and languid. This languidness is indeed preferable to a total heedlessness and forgetfulness of God, though Mutanabbi has said--
"I have not seen anything of the faults of men like the failure of those who are able to reach the end."
He asks Sanâ'î not to bring forward the saying, "Laziness is sweeter than honey," but to bestir himself and collect and complete his poetical works.
Sanâ'î tells us that he submitted himself to the advice of his friend, but brought forward the difficulties of house and food, since the work could not be performed friendless and homeless. Ahmad b. Mas`ûd thereupon built him a house, gave him an allowance for his maintenance for one year, and sent also a supply of clothing. He was therefore enabled to complete and arrange his writing's free from all care and anxiety. The preface ends with the praise of his generous friend.