Tuluniana 3: Food and Food Consumption

At the very start of doing this blog, I provided two posts on certain thematic clusters within Ibn Tulun’s oeuvre: one on plants and one on animals. There, I mentioned a first cluster in which he heavily relies on Prophetic traditions, food and food consumption. It is time to take a look at this cluster.

As I have said in these earlier posts, the identification of this cluster is more of my own making than the author’s. He did not make a claim that works on these subjects should be grouped together. In any case, this cluster consists of the following 23 works and address the subject from different perspectives, e.g. from legal, ethical, or even historical vantage points. It should also be mentioned that there are some overlaps to the other two clusters.

It therefore seems more fitting to group these works under several labels. The first group consists of works which elaborate on the merits of certain foodstuffs mostly based on Prophetic traditions and/or sayings of later authorities:

  1. al-Iʿlān li-mā warada fī faḍl al-rummān
  2. al-Qawl al-murtajal fīmā warada fī al-safarjal
  3. Haḍm al-Ṭabīkh bi-mā warada fī al-Baṭīkh
  4. Hidāyat al-Nujabā ilā mā warada fī al-Hindibā
  5. Jalab al-inshirāḥ bi-faḍl al-tuffāḥ
  6. Jilwat al-bukkar fīmā warada fī al-sukkar
  7. Laqsh al-ḥanak fīmā warada fī al-samak
  8. Ṣaḥn al-ṣīn fī faḍl al-tīn
  9. Tanwīr al-Ghalas fī-mā warada fī al-ʿAdas
  10. Zubdat al-anmūdhaj fīmā warada fī al-fālūdhaj
  11. ʿArf al-bān fīmā warada fī al-bādhinjān

Titles of this group are characterized by the phrase “fīmā warada fī” and/or the presence of the word “faḍl” (merit). Most of these works revolve a certain fruit (pomegranate, quince, water melon, hibiscus, apple, fig) or vegetable (lentils, aubergine). Only a few are about processed food (sugar, the syrup based sweet fālūdhāj), and only one about an animal (fish). These works are usually informative without making explicit judgments (within the text, that is). In this, they differ from the other groups in this cluster. 

There is something of a hybrid group where the author talks about merits or benefits but compares two different edibles in this regard:

  1. Natījat taqwīm al-asl fī al-mufāḍala bayna al-laban wa-l-ʿasl
  2. Talkhīṣ buhgyat al-ṭalab wa-nihāyat al-arab fī al-munāẓara bayn al-tīn wa-l-ʿanab

The second group revolves around legal/doctrinal questions concerning food. Based on the title alone, it is often difficult to distinguish between this group and the following one on ethical behavior. I have decided to group works under this category if they (1) contain legally valid words and (2) are concerned with foodstuffs, not their consumption.

  1. Abālīj al-sukkar fī al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahī ʿan al-munkar
  2. Ḍawʾ al-shumūgh fī ḥalāwat al-mamnūʿ
  3. Taʿrīf al-munkar min ḥāl al-sukkar

The third group revolves around ethics or etiquette and thereby almost exclusively around the shared meal. The first work seems to be a general introduction to etiquette around the ‘dinner table’; the second one is more specific about the rules of invitation to a meal; the third one warns against eating with one’s left hand; and the final one warns against buying food in the markets.

  1. Taʿlīm al-ahl li-ādāb al-akl
  2. Majmaʿ al-fawāʾid fīmā yūḍiʿu min al-aṭʿima wa-naḥūhā ʿalā al-fawāʾid
  3. al-Qawl al-mubīn li-mashrūʿiyat al-akl bi-l-yamīn
  4. al-Qawl al-masūq li-dhamm al-akl fī al-sūq

This leaves three works which kind of fall out of these categories. Faṣṣ al-khawātim fīmā qīla fī al-walāʾim is a collection containing, often historical, information about the different occasions for a banquet. Ibn Tulun cites earlier authors and then expounds on their classifications of banquets. ʿArf al-Fāghiyya fī al-Firqa al-Nājiyya seems to be about “those who eat slowly”, and I cannot say whether Ibn Tulun thought that this was a good or a bad thing. Finally, Qaṣab al-sukkar wa-maṣṣihī fī ziyādat al-ʿumr wa-naqṣihī appears to be a medical work, discussing the life-prolonging faculties of sugar.

Overall, the presence of writings on sugar is overwhelming. Four works address sugar itself and two more address edibles made with or from sugar. Sure, prior to its mass production and global distribution by the 1700s-1800s, was regarded primarily as medicine. But how does that relate to the focus on sugar in the legal works specifically? Why was sugar controversial?

Or was it? It might just be that my categorization based on titles starts from the wrong assumption. After returning to Taʿrīf al-munkar min ḥāl al-sukkar, I have to readjust its categorization. Only at the very end does it address Ibn Tulun’s own times and even then only in economic terms: he complains that the raṭl of sugar costs much more in his own times than in the times of the Mongols. As it turns out, this text as well is mostly a collection of Prophetic traditions and older works on historiography and Prophetic Medicine. 

The issue is, however, of the majority of these texts nothing but the title has survived. 

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Tuluniana 3: Food and Food Consumption", in Damascus Anecdotes, December 22, 2019, https://thecamel.hypotheses.org/1634.

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