Tuluniana 1: Animals

Muḥammad Ibn Ṭūlūn (d. 1546), one of the protagonists of this blog, was quite a prolific writer, according to the work list he provided himself in his autobiography al-Fulk al-mashḥūn fī aḥwāl Muḥammad Ibn Ṭūlūn. Judging by the given titles, his complete oeuvre encompasses well above 700 works. Many of those remain only in manuscript–or are regarded as lost.

In the future, I will address groups of these works in thematic clusters. Some of them are based on my own distinctions; for instance the role of women in ḥadīth transmission is not always elaborated upon in separate works (although some biographical dictionaries have their separate chapter / bāb al-nisāʾ); the grouping rather follows categories important to current scholarship.

Another aspect is the distinctions made by the author himself in the titles of his work. As in the case of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works on animals, not many of the works themselves have survived. We know of them through his own book list or those provided in biographies of him, or from cross references in other of his works. Thus, their inclusion in a certain group rests on the presumption that the title actually reflects the topic they deal with. While this is an uncertain method, I would argue that it is one that might have been applied in contemporary libraries and book lists, as well.

I have not always distinguished clearly between both criteria. This blurriness rests on the divergent access to works. Where access to their texts is possible, I have included works that treat a certain topic, even if the title does not give it away. In my opinion, this improves the lists’ value to researchers interested in a topic, especially where extensive use of manuscripts is necessary.

Two recurring themes struck me in particular: animals and plants (also in the context of food, which will both be topics of future posts). Of course, the literary treatment of both topics is well attested in Arabic literature since Abbasid times (in particular, al-Dīnawarī comes to mind). Ibn Ṭūlūn seems to have addressed both topics mostly on the basis of Prophetic traditions and later reports (akhbār).

The recent environmental turn in history and the rise of new subjects such as human-animal relations have recently directed our attention to the non-human actors in history. In Islamic Studies, Sara Tlili’s 2009 dissertation “From an ant’s perspective: The status and nature of animals in the Qur’an” and Alan Mikhail’s monograph “Nature and empire in Ottoman Egypt: an environmental history” (2011) have taken up these tendencies from different perspectives. They could also build on a framework – ‘endemic’ to the field –, one that has been established by seminal studies of Herbert Eisenstein and others.

Among Ibn Ṭūlūn’s corpus, 18 works indicate their treatment of animals in their title. Some of them are dedicated to one animal, others to the comparison of two or several animals; yet others deal with the treatment of animals. However, as far as I can see, nothing has survived of these works except their titles. Animals are also discussed in some other works. I have excluded his chronicle Mufākahat al-khillān and other historical works where animals appear simply to serve a narrative that is essentially about human actors, from this list.

There are four works on different birds:

  • Sharḥ al-ṣudūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr (how to trap animals with snares?)
  • Irshād al-barara ilā mā warada fī al-ṭayra (on female birds?)
  • Ghāyat al-iḥtirām fīmā warada fī al-ḥammām (collection of akhbār on doves)
  • Rafʿ al-Lithām ʿan aḥkām al-ḥammām (opinions on the dove?)
  • al-Tazmīk li-akhbār al-dīk (collection of akhbār on the rooster)

On quadrupeds, including mounts and pack animals, he wrote another three works:

  • Ifādat al-ṣawāb fī ḍarb al-dawāb (on the proper occasions when to beat a pack animal?)
  • Ṭahārat al-dhayl fīmā warada fī al-khayl (collection of akhbār on the horse)
  • Al-ightinām li-raʿy al-aghnām (opinions on the sheep)

Two works are concerned with the distinction of categories of animals; one distinguishes between birds and quadrupeds (literally pack animals), another between birds, wild beasts and domestic animals:

  • Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī manṭaq al-ṭayr wa-l-dawāb (the distinction between birds and pack animals)
  • Al-nujūm al-zāhirāt fī al-riwāya ʿan al-wuḥūsh wa-l-ṭuyūr wa-l-bahāʾim wa-l-ḥasharāt wa-l-sawākin wa-l-jamādāt (collection of ḥadīth on wild beasts, birds, domestic animals)

Other quadruped animals were, at the time, treated separately. Among those which received their own treatises, dogs and mice were treated as a nuisance or even vermin, whereas cats certainly stood apart:

  • Ikhbār al-aṣḥāb bi-akhbār al-kilāb (collection of akhbār on dogs)
  • Iʿlām al-jār bi-mā warada fī al-fār (collection of akhbār on mice)
  • Aẓhār al-sirr fī faḍl al-hirr (on the graciousness / superiority / beneficial qualities of the cat)

The remaining four works concern animals that today are regarded insects. Apart from the bee, the ones discussed would fall under the category of ‘vermin’, as well:

  • Al-Nakhla li-mā warada fī al-naḥla (collection of akhbār on the bee)
  • Ṭarāʾif al-nakhla fī laṭāʾif al-naḥla (collection of witty anecdotes / pleasant stories on the bee)
  • Ṭard al-taghthīth fī aḥwāl al-barāghīth (on the flee)
  • Iṣlāḥ al-fasād fīmā warada fī al-jarād (collection of akhbār on locusts)

I could identify one other work – which has survived – that treats several animals in the context of “the beauties of the world”. The treatise Laṭāʼif al-minnah fī muntazahāt al-jannah is part of MS Garrett 1011H (Princeton, Firestone Library) and collects akhbār on a number of animals, including several birds (nightingale, raven, blackbird, sparrow), the gazelle, as well as dogs and wild cats. Throughout the respective chapter, the treatment of the animals is indicated by remarks in the margins (their names are given). Yet, between the long isnāds, this work has preciously little to say about the animals themselves. It is concerned more with displaying the author’s extensive knowledge on akhbār and ḥadīth in general.

So how should we understand these works on animals? They were certainly no comprehensive attempt at zoography or zoology. Judging from their titles, they were completely immersed within the study of Prophetic traditions. I have no final answer. One possible explanation would be that the writing of such works was indeed part of the education process. An aspiring scholar had to prove his knowledge of the tradition in thematic exams. On the other hand, those works could also attest – to a certain extent – to an entertainment value, and thus everyday relevance, of the science of ḥadīth. While this interpretation can never be completely be distinguished from the serious academic side of the discipline (and its larger implications about the world). This certainly differed from animal to animal, but certainly not every subject could claim a legal or religious relevance?


One thought on “Tuluniana 1: Animals”

Leave a Reply

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