Visualizing Education and Knowledge Organization with Palladio 1

After having looked at Ḥadīth transmission recently, I wondered about the other side of knowledge transmission, namely the wider curriculum of the ʿulamāʾ. Thankfully, Ibn Ṭūlūn talks at length about his own education in his autobio/-bibliography al-Fulk al-mashḥūn. There he lists ḥadīth studies and 25 other disciplines. In total, works relevant to 27 disciplines appear (ʿilm al-qiraʾāt is not listed but works are mentioned).

Ibn Ṭūlūn received their information through 104 named and two unnamed interlocutors (one “shaykh” and “some Nīsabūrīs”). There are 109 works written by 77 different authors and transmitted by 29 teachers (some teachers are also authors).  Yet, I do not want to concern myself here with listing or counting those works, their authors nor the teachers who introduced Ibn Ṭūlūn to those. Other people have done that extensively. You can basically open almost any edition of an Ibn Ṭūlūn work and find that information reproduced there.

Instead, my interest is in the connections that authors and teachers create between those disciplines. Which disciplines were taught by the same person, and which person wrote books in which disciplines? This should give us an interesting window into how disciplines were related to each other in historical practice.

It is my contention that historical practice of knowledge organization (and acquisition) differed from the normative hierarchical order that put Qurʾānic exegesis above history, for example. This already becomes visible in the order in which Ibn Ṭūlūn recounts the disciplines he studied. Presumably, his order follows the impact he made on a certain discipline, as he states at the end of this section that he excluded further disciplines (for instance Music) exactly because of the limited impact he had on those disciplines (al-Fulk, 18).

Thus, following his early education, Ibn Ṭūlūn begins with a lengthy discourse on ʿilm al-ḥadīth, before proceeding to the other disciplines in the following order. It should be understood that this order does not correspond to chronology but is rather guided by his own understanding of his contribution to those different disciplines.

1. ʿIlm al-Kalām 14. ʿilm al-badīʿ
2. ʿIlm uṣūl al-fiqh 15. ʿilm al-ḥisāb
3. ʿIlm uṣūl al-naḥw 16. ʿilm al-farāʾiḍ
4. ʿilm al-taṣrīf 17. ʿilm al-mīqāt
5. ʿilm al-manṭaq 18. ʿilm al-bankamāt [water clocks]
6. ʿilm al-tafsīr 19. ʿilm al-falak
7. ʿilm al-ʿurūḍ 20. ʿilm al-ṭabīʿī
8. ʿilm al-qawāfī 21. ʿilm al-ālihī
9. ʿilm al-ṭibb 22. ʿilm al-tārīkh
10. ʿilm al-hayʾa 23. ʿilm al-lugha
11. ʿilm al-handisa 24. ʿilm al-taṣawwuf
12. ʿilm al-maʿānī 25. ʿilm al-fiqh
13. ʿilm al-bayān

Whereas the position of many disciplines can be considered canon, the positioning of fiqh is somewhat odd, considering that biographers emphasize Ibn Ṭūlūn’s importance in that field. Judging by number of works studied, however, three other disciplines stand out. Unsurprisingly, ḥadīth studies rank highest. More surprisingly, they are immediately followed by Logic (ʿilm al-manṭaq) and Astronomy (ʿilm al-falak).

The centrality of Logic is even clearer when we look at the network that emerges from the connections between works, authors, and teachers. First, let’s look at the full network, first by connecting works to disciplines, and, second, by connecting people to disciplines. It looks a bit messy in both cases but it will become clearer once we go deeper into the network.

Works related to disciplines, full network
People (authors and teachers) related to disciplines, full network

The resulting networks differ from each other in appearance. One reason for that is that I could not find the authors for three works. Another is that people include both authors and teachers, each with possible connections to other disciplines.

Yet, both visualizations agree in one aspect: certain disciplines have no connections to the main cluster. On one hand, that seems to be the case for most grammar related disciplines (al-naḥw, al-ʿurūḍ, al-qawāfī). In the first image, they are close to each other on the left side; in the second one they are more distant from each other, one cluster on the left and one at the top, framing from two sides the edge of the main cluster which contains ʿilm uṣūl al-lugha. On the other hand, a distinct cluster is created by many of those sciences concerned with mathematics in some way or another: ʿilm al-falak / al-mīqāt / al-ḥisāb / al-farāʾiḍ / al-bankamāt.

Whereas the distinction in the latter case is rather pervasive, some grammar related disciplines do connect to the main cluster. They do so, however, at the opposing end of it (ʿilm al-maʿānī / al-taṣrīf / al-badīʿ / al-bayān) where they display their characteristic as auxiliary sciences to Logic and uṣūl al-fiqh.

So how do these separations come to be? With regard to the cluster on mathematical sciences, one could argue that they constituted a distinct field, relevant partly to prayer times and dating, partly to questions of inheritance and administration. The people teaching or writing within this wide field would often engage in several of these disciplines but not beyond the cluster. That is, as far as Ibn Ṭūlūn tells us.

For the grammar related clusters, however, the story seems to be a different one, as has been hinted at. The separate cluster on ʿilm al-naḥw is mostly related to his early education by the late Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Shakm, who died before Ibn Ṭūlūn could reach a certain stage. Otherwise, he might have continued his education with him, bringing the entire cluster into the main network.

The main cluster itself is interesting as well. Although ḥadīth is very prominent in it, the central position is indeed occupied by Logic. It connects the two main sub-clusters, one consisting of ḥadīth, tasawwuf, tārīkh (which links to tafsīr through al-Suyūṭī), and medicine (ṭibb), and the other consisting of fiqh and several grammatical subfields related to it. Whereas Ibn Ṭūlūn’s teacher Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī (read: Ibn al-Mibrad) is essential to the formation of the former subcluster, the author al-Taftāzānī is central to the latter.

Network Person to discipline, cluster Logic

Logic is also the point of departure for disciplines of “natural sciences” such as ʿilm al-hayʾa, ʿilm al-ṭabīʿī or the more supernatural ʿilm al-ālihī. Thus, even though only ten people are involved in writing on or transmitting Logic, compared to 19 involved in ḥadīth, these ten people more often constitute links to other subjects as well.


Cite this article as: Torsten Wollina, "Visualizing Education and Knowledge Organization with Palladio 1", in Damascus Anecdotes, August 26, 2018,

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