Into Ibn Ṭūlūn’s Endowed Library (Part 2)

Co-authored by Melis Emre

One earlier post has outlined several obstacles in assessing Ibn Ṭūlūn’s book collection in contrast to the books he himself authored. Together with Melis Emre, a master student of Konrad Hirschler, I revisit this question here, complicating the differentiation between books Ibn Ṭūlūn owned and arguably read, and those he endowed. In short, he did not only buy books for himself but also to re-endow them in the ʿUmariyya madrasa, thereby reconstituting certain histocrical corpora.

At the heart of this discussion lies Melis Emre’s paper “Manuskript- und Provenienzforschung im nahöstlichen Kontext: Rekonstruktion der Bibliothek des Damaszener Gelehrten Šams ad-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn ʿAlī Ibn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭūlūn”.{1} She identifies nine manuscripts from the Asad National Library (Damascus), the Arab Academy (Damascus), the Egyptian National Library (Cairo), the Firestone Library (Princeton), and the Staatsbibliothek Berlin, which carry notes that connect them to Ibn Ṭūlūn. 

In total, we can place eleven books in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s hands at one time or other. In addition to three of those manuscripts, one more from the British Library has been mentioned in the post “Into Ibn Tulun’s library”. In this post, we will first discuss the nature of these manuscript notes. The last post did not go into much detail about them but our discussions about this larger sample showed certain pertinent regularities.




Damascus, MS Asad 1032

al-Takhrīj al-ṣaghīr

Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī

Damascus, MS Asad 1051

Kitāb Thulāthiyyāt musnad al-imām Aḥmad

Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī

Damascus, MS Asad 2273

Badāʾiʿ al-fawāʾid

Ibn al-Qayyim

Damascus, MS Asad 3196

Kitāb al-bayān fī badī khalaq al-insān

Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī

Damascus, MS Asad 3859

Kitāb al-riqqa wa-l-bukāʾ

Muwaffaq al-Dīn al-Maqdisī

Damascus, MS MAI 21

Kitāb al-waqfī fī sharḥ al-muntakhab fī uṣūl al-fiqh

Ḥusam al-Dīn al-Saghnāqī

Damascus, MS MAI 70

al-Baḥr al-muḥīṭ fī tafsīr al-qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (vol. 1)

Athīr al-Dīn al-Andalusī al-Gharnāṭī

Cairo, MS Majāmīʿ 748

[composite MS]

Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī

Princeton, MS Garrett 1032H

Kitāb al-ḥabs fī al-tuhma

Saʿd al-Dīn al-Dayrī al-Ḥanafī

London, MS Add. 23293

1. Majmūʿ mubārak yashtamil ʿalā aḥādīth; 2. Mukhtaṣar tārīkh ṣāḥib Ḥamāh


Berlin, MS Mq. 16 (Ahlwardt 4963)

al-Tamhīd fīmā yajib fīhi al-taḥdīd

ʿAbd al-Kāfī al-Subkī

As the table shows, those books fit nicely into a book collection cultivated in Ṣāliḥiyya at the time. In addition to topics such as Qurʾanic exegesis, hadith transmission or jurisprudence, this sample includes also a work on Syrian history and, more importantly, displays a strong preference for local and, at the same time, Ḥanbalī authors. In addition to one manuscript by Ibn Taymiyya’s student Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya and another by a founding member of the Maqdisī family, four manuscripts  had once belonged to Ibn Ṭūlūn’s teacher Yūsuf Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī. 

As Konrad Hirschler shows in his most recent book, Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādi was himself devoted to creating the titular “Monument to Medieval Syrian Book Culture”. That parts of Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī’s corpus were at one point connected with his student Ibn Ṭūlūn attests to the latter’s role in preserving that book culture.{2} Ibn Ṭūlūn did not only purchase those books for his own pleasure and erudition but also to return them to a repository where they would rejoin their respective corpus. In order to understand what motivated him to acquire a certain manuscript, we have to consider the relevant manuscript notes.

The manuscript notes that do connect those manuscripts to Ibn Ṭūlūn fall into two distinct groups: On the one hand, we find notes in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s own distinctive hand which either place a book in his possession (ownership notes) or, at the least, in his grasp (reading notes). In general, they are very neat and spatially contained (see image, Damascus, Asad National Library, MS 3859, fol. 1a, lower left corner). In both cases, they are fairly standardized. Ownership notes either state that “this is a book of Ibn Ṭūlūn” (min kutub …) or that he acquired it from someone for a certain price (“malakahu Muḥammad b. Ṭūlūn min … bi-mablagh miʾatayn, Damascus, Asad National Library, MS 3196, fol. 1a). In contrast, the one reading note in the sample (Berlin, MS Mq. 16) is dated and, as the manuscript does not carry an endowment note, might indicate that Ibn Ṭūlūn only engaged with the manuscript at this particular point in time. 

The title page displays a title statement, table of contents, several notes, and a book stamp;  MS Damascus Asad National Library, 3859, fol. 1a.

On the other hand, we find notes that are concerned with the subsequent legal status of a given manuscript, namely their being endowed to the ʿUmariyya madrasa by Ibn Ṭūlūn (top of MS 3859, fol. 1a, above the title). While they differ in wording between manuscripts, they are never written by Ibn Ṭūlūn. However, they were written in only one or two similar hands (see below), which beckons the question who did write these notes and when? Moreover, whereas both kinds of notes often appear in the same manuscript or even on the same page, in several cases Ibn Ṭūlūn’s endowment is stated without any trace of his own scribal intervention. 

This suggests, if we take the endowment notes at face value, that they were made during Ibn Ṭūlūn’s lifetime, most probably at the point of the endowment or shortly afterwards. Thus, those notes were most probably added in the ʿUmariyya Madrasa itself by an unidentified librarian. And this endowment might have been the same endowment which contained Ibn Ṭūlūn’s own autograph corpus. In this way, we interpret his purchase of Damascus, Asad National Library, MS 1032, which he bought from the author’s son. As it lacks an endowment note, he might simply have immediately returned it to Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī’s book shelf in the ʿUmariyya while he was working as a librarian there.

Identifying more manuscripts that Ibn Ṭūlūn endowed can be time consuming. As information on the ownership and endowment notes is not always included in manuscript catalogues, direct and sustained access to the manuscripts themselves is required. As results are undeterminable in advance, funding for such an endeavor would be difficult to acquire, and thus research into this endowment relies on the cooperation of a larger number of people who scan the title pages of Damascene manuscripts they are examining. In this way, we can reproduce Ibn Ṭūlūn’s efforts of reconstituting an historical corpus, albeit in a digital environment.

Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina and Melis Emre, “Into Ibn Ṭūlūn’s Endowed Library (Part 2)”, Damascus Anecdotes, July 5, 2020,

  1. It was written for Konrad Hirschler’s MA seminar “Provenienzforschung im nahöstlichen Kontext: Die Genese und Entwicklung moderner arabischer Handschriftensammlungen”. []
  2. Hirschler, Monument, 100, 143. []

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.