Introducing: Khadija al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya

Returning to a recurrent segment but with a little twist this post’s subject is Khadija bt. Jamal al-Din Abd Allah al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya—and we could add here—al-Misriyya. She did not receive her own biography in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary al-Dhakhaʾir but nonetheless has her voice heard in that same work.

A biographical dictionary is always more than the sum of its parts, or the sum of the people receiving their own biography. The genre acknowledges the complexity of social life in that it usually features a larger cast than just its protagonists. Those are the many people who appear within the biographies and there either interact with a biographee or serve to authorize certain bits of information about the biographee. Khadija fulfills both functions in al-Dhakhaʾir.

We encounter her in the biography of one “Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Qurashī al-Bakrī al-Ṣadīq al-Shāfiʿī al-Miṣrī” (fols. 90a-92a). She was the biographee’s mother and “the niece of his father”. She is further called “the shaykha, the Venerable (jalīla), the Strict in Fasting (ṣawwāma), the Provider/Custodian (qiwāma/qawwāma), She who withdrew to the Ḥaramayn for the Sake of Devotion to God”. Her full name is given as “Umm al-Faḍl Khadīja ibnat Shaykh Jamāl al-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh b. Taqī al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Nāṣir al-Dīn Muḥammad […] al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya”.

Whereas her motherhood suffices to proof her interaction with the biographee, she is introduced in this biography for a different reason—She is the authority on which his birth date is established: “She told me that she gave birth to the biographee while she was in her thirties, after her [other] children had grown up […] and he told me that he was born on Saturday night, 11.05.898 in the town of Fayyūm.”

While this passage is terse and does not constitute a full-fledged biography as the three others presented here earlier, the exchange between the author and Khadija is interesting in itself. According to the text, the author asked her first before referring to the biographee. Thereby, details about Khadija’s life emerge as well as those on her son’s birth date. She had other children before him, who might not have received biographies of their own. One could even say that the success of the biographee was related to him being born last, when his familial network was already in place.

Overall, however, this exchange stands out in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary in its frankness. And this is not by accident, as it was not authored by Ibn Tulun. The entire passage and, possibly, the largest part of this biography was quoted from “the third qism” of “Wāsiṭat al-ʿaqd al-maḥkī fī muʿjam Jār Allāh bin Fahd al-Makkī“, a work by his longtime friend and penpal Jar Allah Ibn Fahd. Otherwise, how could have Ibn Tulun received firsthand information from a family that was firmly based in Egypt? He did not travel very much, in contrast to Jar Allah who repeatedly transversed Egypt and Syria in his life.

Jar Allah’s above-mentioned work is not mentioned as such by either John Meloy or Franz Rosenthal in their respective EI entries. At best, we could guess that Rosenthal’s reference to “a Muʿdjam of his teachers, both scholars and poets” that Jar Allah authored might be this very book. Even if they were identical, the work is apparently lost.

However, judging by the limited content reproduced by Ibn Tulun in his own work, the definition as muʿjam might obscure the originality of the work. As was shown here, the book gives information on people who are not frequently visible in a genre that was thought to consist of lists of teachers. In fact, what Ibn Tulun quotes above is much closer to a biographical dictionary. More importantly still, it is at least as informative of the involvement of women in the transmission of knowledge, both in the center as a “shaykha” and in the margins as a mother.

As far as I can say, the muʿjam genre has not been fully utilized for research on questions of gender, kinship, and household. But it might be a promising field to develop further our understanding of the transmission of knowledge as a ‘family business’.

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Introducing: Khadija al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya", in Damascus Anecdotes, October 6, 2019,

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