Traces of Ibn Ṭawq

Today brought an exciting find.

Boris Liebrenz had recently told me he found a reader note by Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. That is already exciting when a person so elusive is concerned. But this is actually better, and I could/should have found this years ago. Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās’ (1987) catalogue of those manuscripts held in the Syrian National Library today but having once belonged to the holdings of the Abū ʿUmar or ʿUmariyya Madrasa in the suburb Ṣāliḥiyya is a wonderful catalogue, giving information about ownership notes or attendees records (samāʿāt).

Alas, it has surprisingly few works by Ibn Ṭūlūn, although verifiably he endowed his library at this very institution. At least that left me with some free time and I checked on another person in which I am interested: Ibn Ṭawq’s relative and shaykh (and often enough, employer) Abū Bakr b. ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn (d. 928). On his family, have a look here.

Again, only one of his works remains in (or made its way to) the ʿUmariyya. Yet, it is an interesting find. To be found in MS ʿāmm 3745/Majāmīʿ 8 (pp. 37-42), al-Kanz al-akbar fī al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar (#7) consists of only seven folia but it still excites me, for on the jacket page preceding the text it reads: “This is the book of in the handwriting of al-ʿAllāma Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq” (p. 40).

According to al-Sawwās’ entry, this work was finished in 894/1488-89, which would correspond to an entry in Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq (vol. 2, p. 842: 14.04.894/17.3.1489) which is about the shaykh writing a text of “about one quire in small format (niṣf baladī)” and in which he treats, among other things, “what was mentioned about the invitation to (targhīb) and the intimidation against (tarhīb) [taking up] al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar“.

I cannot yet say for sure whether these two texts are indeed identical (but I sure hope so). Ibn Ṭawq writes explicitly that the shaykh “wrote several copies”, not he himself. Perhaps, he copied it later for his own use?

What is perhaps more important is that this was a chance find. Ibn Ṭawq is often portrayed as a scribe and notary – and occasional copyist. Apart from his own few claims to have copied a book, this manuscript would be the first actual proof for this. Al-Sawwās’ detailed description of all components of the Majāmīʿ makes this possible. Yet, in the indices Ibn Ṭawq cannot be found. Even though this might be a simple one-time lapse, al-Sawwās clearly mentions him as the copyist of this work. so why is he not included in the rather extensive index of copyists the catalogue actually offers? After all, Ibn Ṭawq can even be found in al-Ghazzī’s well-known biographical dictionary, both in his own and in Abū Bakr’s entries.


Addition (12 Jan. 2017):

As it turns out, Ibn Ṭawq did leave other traces than the one mentioned above. In his biographical entry in al-Tamattuʿ bi-l-iqrān bayn tarājim al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, Ibn Ṭūlūn also credits him with the composition of an excerpt from Ibn Kathīr’s history, which, however, I have not been able to identify (Hartmann 1926, 96).


  • Richard Hartmann, “Das Tübinger Fragment der Chronik des Ibn Ṭūlūn”, Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft 3/2 (1926), 87-170.
  • Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq, al-Taʿlīq: Yawmiyyāt Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. Mudhakkirāt kutibat bi-Dimashq fī awākhir al-ʿahd al-Mamlūkī, ed. Shaykh Jaʿfār al- Muhājir, 4 vols, Damascus: IFPO, 2000-2007.
  • Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās, Fihris majāmīʿ al-Madrasa al-ʿUmariyya fī Dār al-Kutub al-Ẓāhirīyya bi-Dimashq, Kuwait: Maʿhad al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿArabiyya, 1987.

On terminology: A sufi polemic against the “mutafaqqihūn” of Damascus

Reading Ignaz Goldziher’s summary (1874) of a sufi’s lament over the corruption of Syrian Islamdom under the Mamluks, I was struck by the sufi’s choice in terminology.

The Maghribī born ʿAlī b. Maymūn attacks current practices of the jurists and sufis of Syria (and Damascus, in particular) but in the title of his work Bayyān ghurbat al-islām bi-wāsiṭa ṣinfai al-mutafaqqiha wa-l-mutafaqqira min ahl Miṣr wa-l-Shām wa-mā yalīhimā min bilād al-aʽjām he does not use the common terms faqīh and ṣūfī. Rather, he refers to them as mutafaqqihūn and mutafaqqirūn. This grammatical form opens up a wide semantic field.

A quick search on shamila shows that these terms are overall uncommon. They only appear ever so often throughout the different Arabic disciplines. Ibn Maymūn seems an exception in using them throughout his work. So what does that mean? Does he use them in a polemic, perhaps even propagandistic way? The use of the form tafaʿʿala is peculiar in itself. Whereas faqīh commonly refers to an accomplished jurist, this form indicates a more abstract notion, describing those people who follow the way or approach of fiqh (jurisprudence) to gain understanding of God, whereas the mutafaqqirūn, in contrast to the accomplished fuqarāʾ, only aspire to gain the same knowledge by a different path (but have not achieved it yet). These might respond to the distinction of two categories of knowledge (ʿilm al-ẓāhir / ʿilm al-bāṭin), Ibn Maymūn uses in an earlier work (Goldziher 1874, p. 301). The grammatical form can further be interpreted as meaning ‘those who pretend to be jurists / sufis’. In the light of the general argument of the work, this seems most plausible.

This notion of the state of Syrian scholarship and sufism becomes clearer in the course of Ibn Maymūn’s argument, which, after starts out with plead for a reconciliation of both approaches, proceeds to outline all the faults of Syrians in both areas. The individual points addressed by Ibn Maymūn (and summarized by Goldziher) are all intriguing on their own account. They offer insight into a number of contemporaneous practices, the Maghribī sufi regarded as wrong and dangerous.

Yet, they seem to only illustrate what he outlines already in the title of the work: His choice in terminology already diminishes the status of both Syrian sufis and jurists a priori, casting them down from full fledged representatives of their respective status groups to mere aspirants to the knowledge, these approaches offer.

Documentary evidence – evidence on documents?

One of the still oft-repeated truisms about Muslim societies before the Ottoman / Early Modern period is that they left no archives of documents behind, precisely because status was negotiated in ways different from, and more informal than, those in contemporaneous Europe. Konrad Hirschler’s discoveries of reused documents in codices are only one example.

Yehoshua Frenkel’s interpretation of Mamluk society as one of a thoroughly contractual nature (Frenkel 2009, p. 150) seems to be closer to the point. In my early readings of Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq, I often stumbled over the technical language he uses in lengthy elaborations on legal cases that he attended in his function as a notary. Their frequency and the space he dedicates to descriptions of even everyday contracts and other legal transactions, clearly betray the role, written and notarized documents played in his time.

The following is an excerpt from that work (vol. 2, pp. 847-848), in which he lists the documents and attestations he had to provide in a dispute other claims to waqf property. After the death of Fāṭima, one of his female relatives, members of several strands of the extended family rushed in to claim their shares of the benefits that formerly went to her and to her mother, who is only known as al-Khātūn (‘the lady’) before her:

I gave the waqfiyya (kitāb waqf) of [the endowment in] Maʿlūlā and the agreement (muṣādaqa) between me and the Banū Nabhān and the wikāla that contains my wikāla, all of it in a white cotton bag, to shaykh Abū al-Faḍl because of the allotment of [the inheritance of] Bint al-Khātūn.

[I added to this:] the proof of my kinship with the endower (thubūt nasabī li-l-wāqif), the proof that Fāṭima [bt. al-khātūn] and my mother had died before her mother, the allotment (ḥiṣṣa) of Bint al-Khātūn; she had a share until her death that her mother had transferred to her in the legal way (bi-l-ṭarīq al-sharʿī), and eleven Fatwas by Egyptians:

1. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
2. Al-Khaṭīb al-wazīrī al-mālikī
3. shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī
4. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
5. Ibn al-Shiḥna al-Ḥanafī
6. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
7. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
8. Ibn al-Dayrī al-Ḥanafī
9. Al-Shīshnī (?) al-Ḥanbalī
10. The Ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Damascus (shām)
11. Qāḍī Kamāl al-Dīn ibn al-Nāsikh al-Mālikī

On the agreement (muṣādaqa) [I added] 5 [fatwas, testimonies?] by:

1. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
2. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
3. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
4. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
5. Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn al-Shāfiʿī
6. Ibn al-Ḥamrā al-Ḥanafī
7. Al-ʿAskarī al-Ḥanbalī

Furthermore, [I added] fatwas in my handwriting on the division into tenths (ʿushr), without writing anything on them, rough drafts in my handwriting on temporary rent (ujrat al-miyal), and fatwas in the handwriting of shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī, which collect what he had written for me, [gap in the text].

All of that was put in the basket in which are the letters/books (kutub).

The camel and the stable

The first entry…
One idea for starting this blog came from my recent discovery of one of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s students: ʿUmar Sulṭān or Ibn Sulṭān. He received a biography in Najm al-Dīn al-Ghazzī’s work al-Kawākib al-Sāʾira, which to a large degree makes him seem an ordinary and decent scholar. Apparently, his private library was of some value and he allowed other readers generous access to it:

He was beneficial to his regular visitors for they could read his books at his [place] and could borrow them. He dictated a number of books. At the end he endowed them.

However, al-Ghazzī also mentions – I am not sure whether he does so critically or sniggering – that ʿUmar was made fun of by many of his contemporaries because of his appearance:

He was tall, had long limbs, wore loose dress and a large beautiful turban. The unemployed or idle (baṭṭālūn) he summoned to study gave him the nickname “the camel”, sometimes even “the camel of the miḥmal”, and he withdrew from the people.

Things got even worse, once ʿUmar decided to lease a village in the Bekaa valley. Among all the villages he selected for himself the one called al-Iṣṭabl (the stable) and thus gave his ridiculers yet more ammunition. While he was there to count the revenue, they lost no opportunity to play the game.

His envious contemporaries would ask then: “Where is the camel?” And they would answer: “In the stable.”