Let’s talk survival bias

How many manuscript copies were produced of any given texts? How many were circulating at any given time? When were they lost, discarded or destroyed?  How often are the works penned on their pages cited in other texts by the same or different authors? These questions lie at the very heart of our epistemology and are usually subsumed under the term ‘survival bias’.

Works that survive longer obviously have a greater chance at being read, recited, reproduced, acknowledged. And it is today commonly assumed that the number of manuscript copies of a given work tells us something about its impact in its own time and on the succeeding traditions in which it inscribed itself—or was meant to do.

Samer Akkach, in his Letters of a Sufi Scholar: The Correspondence of ʿAbd Al-Ghanī Al-Nābulusī (1641-1731) [Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2010], gives an interesting statement that relates to the survival of Ibn Ṭūlūn manuscripts:

And by my life, this has been the habit of the people of our town, Dimashq al-Shām: they disregard the ʿulamāʾ and the people of virtue, and they antagonise, slander, and harm them. They abolish their sciences and perfections and allow their disrespectful fools and rejects to pester them. How many works of erudite men of knowledge, of men who grew up among them, have they disregarded and lost, neither respect-ing them nor taking note of their books and writings until they had all disappeared and perished?

And surely there was among them the best man of knowledge and the pride of all ḥadīth scholars, Ibn Ṭūlūn al-Ḥanafī, yet they disregarded him and lost his books and works, of which hardly any are now left; and those that are left are still in his own handwriting, since no-one cared to have them copied. And so they did to Ibn ʿAbd al-Hādī al-Ṣāliḥī: they lost his books and works, and they did the same to Raḍiyy al-Dīn al-Ghazzī… and to his son shaykh Badr al-Dīn al-Ghazzī and to his son shaykh Najm al-Dīn al-Ghazzī, the seal of the ḥadīth scholars (ḥuffāẓ). They disregarded them all and lost their numerous beneficial works […]. (23)

For more than a year now I have been pondering how we should understand al-Nābulusī’s rant. The context of this quote makes it clear that he situates himself and the resistance he faced within a long history of anti-intellectual sentiment in his hometown.

On the one hand, we could therefore take his complaints as a political statement which should serve to change public opinion for a more positive stance towards scholars. On the other hand, his assessment of the survival of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s corpus at least is corroborated by manuscript evidence: my own survey shows that more than three thirds of the roughly two-hundred surviving works remain only as autographs. But even so, this survey is a far shot from “hardly any are now left”. Thus, I would rather not credit this statement as a documentation of a historical reality.

What shall us concern here, however, is the other statement al-Nābulusī makes about Ibn Ṭūlūn’s written legacy: “no-one cared to have them copied”. What would that mean in the light of the introductory questions? Did Ibn Ṭūlūn become outdated in the century between his death and al-Nābulusī’s statement? Was al-Nābulusī even correct in this statement? And why, if so, did two-hundred works survive until today if no one cared to read and preserve them?

In “Women and Ḥadīth Transmission. Two Case Studies From Mamluk Damascus” [Studia Islamica 95 (2002): 71-94], Asma Sayeed writes that samāʿ recitation sessions that their “primary function … was to verify the accuracy of the text being read” and that “students would examine their own copies to ensure that these were identical to the text being read.” (80) Thus, an important author or ḥadīth transmitter could be identified through the number of copies made by their own students, if not later generations of students and copyists.

Ibn Ṭūlūn is credited with having taught uncountable numbers of students by his biographers. Nonetheless, apart from excerpts of some of his works, there is not much manuscript evidence of his samāʿ sessions. The overall survival of much of his corpus could be taken as an indicator that his general importance was still acknowledged but the more interesting question might be, what was actually lost by the time of al-Nabulusī.

Luckily, Ibn Ṭūlūn himself was not shy about recording such acts of transmission. His late biographical dictionary, Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr is full of references to those, as I have alluded to with regard to his transmission of Thulāthiyyāt. He also documents the transmission of some of his own works that utilize or organize ḥadīth and akhbār. And it contains pertinent anecdotes such as his copying two texts by al-Ghazzālī and Ibn Sīnā both known as Risālat al-Ṭayr as well as the Muqaddimat ʿilm al-akhlāq by Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Mūsā al-Irdibīlī from a fellow scholar’s collection who had reached Damascus in 942 (fol. 29b).

Thus, if we compare the number of biographees hearing a certain work with the number of surviving manuscript copies, we could get a better idea of the survival of his works and thereby somewhat reliable numbers to assess the survival bias related to his corpus more generally.

Overall, samāʿ transmission of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s publications is mentioned in fourteen biographies and refers to only twelve different works (numbers in parentheses give the number of mentions):

  1. al-Aḥādīth al-murawiyya fī al-basātīn al-nayrabiyya (1)
  2. al-Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan ʿan Arbaʿīn shaykhan fī Arbaʿīn bāban min al-ʿilm al-sharīf (3)
  3. al-Arbaʿīn / Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan min Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan mufarida bi-l-taṣnīf (3)
  4. al-Tuḥfa al-laṭīfa fī al-masāʾil al-mutaʿayyin (ʿalā al-shāfiʿiyya) fīhā taqlīd Abī Ḥanīfa (2)
  5. Fatḥ al-ʿalīm fī al-musalsalāt bi-ḥarf al-mīm (2)
  6. Manḥ al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām al-Khalīl (1)
  7. Munyat al-aṭfāl wa-bughyat al-rijāl (1)
  8. Qudrat al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām (al-)Khalīl (7)
  9. Risāla fī al-fīl (1)
  10. Sharḥ al-ṣuḍūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr (6)
  11. Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb (4)

Interestingly, the same works are usually transmitted at the same places. Out of the 22 cases where a place is mentioned,  Barza is intricately connected to #8 (all seven transmissions) and #2 (both transmissions), whereas #10 is transmitted in al-Tall four times, #11 twice at Masjid al-Qadam, and only the ḥadīth collection #2 was transmitted also in Ṣāliḥiyya and, more specifically, at the Salīmiyya Mosque.

One possible explanation for the concentrations might be that all biographees participated in the same samāʿ session. In contrast to the place, the time of transmission is not frequently provided by Ibn Ṭūlūn. Altogether, only three dates are mentioned: one transmission of #8 is dated 9.6.949, one for #11 took place on 9.11.936, and the only act of transmission for #7 fell on 19.1.943. Yet, without further circumstantial information, it is not possible to determine whether these dates relate to the other respective transmissions as well.

If Sayeed’s assessment is correct, this short survey would account for at least 29 copies of Ibn Ṭūlūn works being produced, let alone those by other attendants not included in the biographical dictionary. I am doubtful that works like Qudrat al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām al-KhalīlTuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb or even Sharḥ al-ṣuḍūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr were actually copied by every listener, simply because they were first and foremost devotional texts. The first two describe faculties of shrines and that is where they were mostly recited.

In any case, the surviving manuscript evidence is poor for all the works mentioned. In this respect, al-Nābulusī seems to have been correct. For brevity’s sake, I’ll give the numbers of surviving manuscript copies with autograph manuscripts being enumerated separately and underlined in another list:

  1. al-Aḥādīth al-murawiyya fī al-basātīn al-nayrabiyya (0/0)
  2. al-Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan ʿan Arbaʿīn shaykhan fī Arbaʿīn bāban min al-ʿilm al-sharīf (0/0)
  3. al-Arbaʿīn / Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan min Arbaʿīn ḥadīthan mufarida bi-l-taṣnīf (0/1)
  4. al-Tuḥfa al-laṭīfa fī al-masāʾil al-mutaʿayyin (ʿalā al-shāfiʿiyya) fīhā taqlīd Abī Ḥanīfa (0/0)
  5. Fatḥ al-ʿalīm fī al-musalsalāt bi-ḥarf al-mīm (0/0)
  6. Manḥ al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām al-Khalīl (0/0)
  7. Munyat al-aṭfāl wa-bughyat al-rijāl (0/0)
  8. Qudrat al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām (al-)Khalīl (0/0)
  9. Risāla fī al-fīl (2/1)
  10. Sharḥ al-ṣuḍūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr (2/0)
  11. Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb (1/1)

Furthermore, the two copies for titles #9 and #10 were produced only around 1900. That leaves us with one surviving copy out of 29 alleged copies made. Today, it is found in Bursa, Hüseyin Çelebi MS 854/1, fols. 1b-7b. And even that copy contains only excerpts of the work.

It will require further research to understand fully why especially those of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works disappeared that were embedded in the culture of oral/aural transmission, whereas his historiographical works fared much better in terms of preservation. Was just he sidelined in the succeeding traditions or does it bespeak greater historical shifts and changes in transmission and reading interests during the Ottoman period?



Visualizing Ibn Tulun’s manuscript corpus: (1) From Palladio towards Gephi

It has been a while since I presented my first visualizations of Ibn Tuluns manuscript corpus with Palladio. Palladio is an easy-to-learn tool that works in your browser and thus is independent of your operating system. You just put your data in several simple tables and upload them there. Then you create the relevant connections between the tables in the interface. Basically, all you need is one table for the entities to be connected (nodes) and one for the connections between them (edges).

Also, you can add a second table with a different sets of nodes. In my case, I wanted to know which of Ibn Tulun’s works could be found in which manuscripts. As you can find in the first post, I added a second table for those (or actually the other way around). This table has further geographical information so you can plot the data on a world map and see where most of Ibn Tulun’s manuscripts or works are held today. The two variables give different results as one manuscript can contain up to more than thirty individual works.

In the meantime, however, the data sets uploaded in the prior posts have become somewhat outdated. I have discovered new manuscripts through archival visits and by simply cleaning up my data set. I also added more consistently information about when manuscript copies were produced and on which topics Ibn Tulun wrote the most works. Since I can be impatient and want to see results for the repetitive work that is data entry, I initially used Palladio again and I like the results. And this post will only deal with Palladio, its allure and shortcomings.  Number (2) will then move to Gephi.

The first image shows the most central themes in Ibn Tulun’s corpus. Note in the lower left center the big cluster of hadith related topics, including key words such as hadith, isnad, and so on. The bigger a circle is, the more works it is related to. One issue is, however, that this does not work the other way around: The light circles for works get bigger when you apply more keywords to them. That means that the better you know a work and the more effort you spend on defining it through keywords, the more important it appears in the graph.

Ibn Tulun’s works (light) in relation to topics covered (dark).

In a second step, I looked at the temporal distribution of copies of Ibn Tulun’s works. In order to estimate the diachronic relevance of an author, this is an important step and network visualization can actually be a helpful tool in making rhythms of reception apparent. The second graph shows how works (dark) relate to moments of production (light).

Ibn Tulun’s works (dark) by year of manuscript production (light).

The biggest cluster of works (top right) were produced by 950 AH, shortly before Ibn Tulun’s death. This is an oversimplification; I chose this date for most autographs that cannot be dated otherwise. The only exemptions are works not mentioned in Ibn Tulun’s work list. I assume that they were written even closer to his death in 953 AH.

In the lower half you see proof of an evenly distributed albeit low degree of reproduction between the 16th and 19th century. Finally, the cluster in the top left refers to more concentrated copying activities in the early 20th century. They took place exclusively in Egypt and Syria. There is a visible overlap between these four years as well as with the autograph cluster. It might be interesting to run this visualization again but with decades or centuries instead of individual years. It might also be interesting to include photographic reproductions of manuscripts. It would certainly emphasize the importance of that period for our current evaluation of the author.

Continuing in this line of thought, in what were later readers interested when referring to Ibn Tulun’s works? We cannot automatically assume that reading interests remained the same always and everywhere, unless we’d buy into tropes of an “unchanging Orient”. Let’s not do that.

Instead, one way to get an idea of diachronic developments in reading practices could be to look once more at the topics covered. This time, I related them to the type of manuscript: either autograph or copy.

Topics (dark) relating to type of manuscript (light)

We can see three clear clusters of topics emerging: those that are only covered in autographs, those covered only in copies, and those covered in both. The graph also gives away something about the number of manuscripts addressing certain topics: obviously, the most important topics can be found in the shared cluster. A next step could now be to identify those copies that deal with topics not found in the autograph or shared cluster. Whereas those clusters illustrate continuations of interest (through reproduction or preservation), this cluster could also show changes. To substantiate this hypothesis, we need to look at the times and places of the production of those copies.

This approach does, however, not account for the reproduction of individual works. For instance, the keyword “biography” to be found in the shared cluster refers to a rather significant part of Ibn Tulun’s corpus—overall some fifty works, some of which rank among the largest he has written (see e.g. here). If we only look at the three largest ones, al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyyaal-Tamattuʿ bi-l-iqrān bayn tarājim al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, and its Dhayl Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, they show quite divergent patterns of transmission.

The first work, which focuses on Hanafis, was copied only once between the 16th and 17th centuries and is nowadays held in Istanbul (the autograph volumes are held in Cairo and London). It is possible that this copy was deliberately made for the Istanbuli context, whereas the other two works were reproduced in a decidedly Damascene framework. The second one only survives in an excerpt from early 17th-century Damascus (now held in Berlin). The final one exists in a fragmentary autograph and three copies made between the 18th and 20th century (held in Cairo and Gotha), thereby indicating different rhythms of reception. The final work indeed might have provided then influential Damascene families such as the Shuwaykis with social capital.

But I digressed. Let’s get back to Palladio and network visualization more general. Palladio shows itself as an easy tool to play around with your data. I think the graphs above make that clear enough. Yet, it has its limitations. Miriam Posner says that more clearly in her introduction to the topic than I can. Palladio does not allow you to use color schemes for your edges and nodes; it does not show the weight of the edges either. And finally, it gives you no tools for further analysis: which nodes are central in connecting clusters to each other and which have more connections to on another than others?

In order to answer these questions, we have to use a more powerful tool, which could be either Gephi or Cytoscape. But both tools require to enter data in a different way wich reduces the bipartite network described here to a monopartite network. In other words, we have to turn either manuscripts or works from nodes to edge attributes. And that will have to remain for a future post.

Thoughts after Workshop: ‘Colophons and Scribal Cultures across the Early Modern World’

On 2 July, I was attending the workshop ‘Colophons and Scribal Cultures across the Early Modern World’ at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. The workshop was organized by Christopher D. Bahl and Stefan Hanß and brought together ten researchers from the UK and Germany discussing manuscripts and manuscript cultures, and its connections to print cultures.

The workshop took a deliberately transregional perspective, addressing “a variety of languages and regions ranging from Europe to the Middle East, South Asia, and the Americas”. Centered around the colophon, its declared aim was to “reconsider our understanding of the creation of professional scribal identities and the ways in which scribes inserted themselves into larger bookish cultures across the early modern world.”

Olly Ackermann spoke about her field work in an Indian Bora community and the living manuscript tradition centered on this community’s library. Manuscripts are still being copied around the year by the male members of the community’s inner circle. One of the most intriguing points was the use of the phrase “yā kābīkāj” in the manuscripts. Kābīkāj is the name of a bitter plant which was put into manuscripts to keep termites away. The use the phrase has apparently been used to guard this heritage against wider notions of evil.

Christopher D. Bahl (School of Oriental and African Studies/Institute of Historical Research) spoke about the emergence of wider communities of reading and copying of Arabic texts in the 17th-century Indian subcontinent. Surviving manuscripts from this period surpass by far the numbers of Arabic manuscripts from preceding centuries. Christopher connects this phenomenon with the spread of colophons and other paratextual elements that indicate a professionalization of scribes and copyists.

Nur Sobers-Khan (British Library, Lead Curator, South Asian Collections) discussed a related topic. Based on the Delhi manuscript collection at the British Library, she tried to identify scribes who produced the 2,000 volumes this collection contains in Arabic. The star scribe produced at least fifteen different books and is thus identified in notes by other people.

The Delhi collection was also at the heart of Arthur Dudney’s (University of Cambridge, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) presentation. It revolved around the question whether there was a market for education and text books for aspiring bureaucrats. Literacy in Persian and, on higher levels, Persian poetry. Arthur tends to a positive answer, proof for which he sees in the many cheaply produced manuscripts with repeating contents.

On the Europeanist side, Liesbeth Corens (University of Oxford, Faculty of History) introduced us to communal scribal practices among female convent members in Early Modern Northern Europe. Manuscripts often carry different handwriting switching in the middle of one text, often repeatedly. The colophons in those texts do not refer to individual scribes but rather mention the convent or its abbot. It stands in stark contrast to Christopher’s case, where people are emphasized instead of places.

Hanna Murphy (King’s College London, Department of History) explored the interplay of scribal work and print culture. Calligraphy apparently benefited from the pervasiveness of print, and print manuals propagated new styles to be engaged by experienced and aspiring calligraphers both. Hanna rejected the notion that this led to artistic stasis in the field but could rather show the opposite: Calligraphers might have begun by copying the printed examples but would also develop them in very different and original directions in their own work.

Stefan Hanß was likewise concerned with the interpretation of modes of signatures that went beyond the colophon. Bringing together examples from the Early Modern Mediterranean, Europe, and the Americas, he explored their meanings. Stefan argued vehemently for the creativity behind early modern signatures and the extratextual connections they created. They can be interpreted as speech acts or they resemble the corporeality of that which they signify: for instance, a communalist signing of a rebellion might be arranged in a circle, very much like a modern-day sports team comes together to hype themselves up.

Likewise, the two contributions on the Levante addressed alternatives to the colophon. Laurenz Kern (Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of Islamic Studies) spoke about ṭaqrīẓ, a type of text often associated with the modern blurb. It is not simply any endorsement of a work but was a distinct genre, which occasionally even merited its own collective volumes. Its author and subject of endorsement are always identifiable, and it was usually written by an established for an early-career scholar. Still, it remains unknown what its primary function was. Was it a tool for authentication or did it serve a purpose in a text’s distribution?

My own presentation asked which modes of authentication were available when compiling works in the handwriting of others, a recompilation rather than a copying. The presentation revolved around a small composite manuscript probably compiled by the mid-19th century (Cairo, Dār al-Kutub, MS 21201 bāʾ). It contains on 21 folios four autograph works by Ibn Ṭūlūn. The presentation makes use of marginal remarks and titles added in different hands than the author’s to explore the engagement of readers and owners with the autograph and the impact their annotations exert on the organization of the manuscript or even the meaning of its individual textual components. In conclusion, I argued that also colophons have to be studied in conjunction with other paratextual elements to understand its relevance in scribal cultures.

David Zakarian’s (University of Oxford, Faculty of Oriental Studies) presentation on Armenian colophons concluded the day, and it did so in a wonderful way. Armenian colophons are something else, and were apparently the favorite place to place mentions of your family, your neighbors, and yourself. Patrons who issued manuscripts used this place generously. And scribes repeatedly made use of their intermediary position to insert themselves somewhere in there, as well. This function of the colophon even made its way into Armenian language. there, it is known as yištakaran, a place to remember of for remembering, in essence a time capsule that would sustain one’s memory long after one’s death.

An ijāza for Ibn Mufliḥ

Akmal al-Dīn, a scion of the prominent Ḥanbalī Ibn Mufliḥ family, was mentioned here several times before and was probably the most visible of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s students in terms of engagement with his writings. Ibn Mufliḥ copied them, annotated and rubricated them, and also added material to some of them.

Among the evidence of their student-teacher relationship survives an ijāza Ibn Ṭūlūn penned for Ibn Mufliḥ after the latter’s discussion of some chains of transmission he had received from him (for the transcripts, see github). This document survives in the Istanbul manuscript MS Laleli 3747, fols. 192b-193a. Unfortunately, I have no further information about the other contents of this manuscript except that it did not contain any other writings by Ibn Ṭūlūn.

The two folios that I have seen carry a number of textual items. Two are directly concerned with acts of transmission. The ijāza proper documents a session on 9 Shawwāl 941 in the Umayyad Mosque and covers about one and a half pages. It is followed by a shorter ‘update’ of about three lines, which testifies to Ibn Mufliḥ’s discussion of an introductory work (muqaddima) on logic by one al-Sāghūjī about two years later (25 Rabīʿ II 943).

In addition, there are three items to be considered for the history of the document’s own transmission. On the originally empty recto of the first folio (192b) Ibn Mufliḥ added title information:

اجازة كاتبه اكمل 
من الامام محمد بن طولون 
رحمه الله نعم
To its left, a different hand added a note stating the date of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death (13[?] Jum. I 953) and the place of his grave (near the Cave of Abel on the slopes of the Qāsyūn). (I leave aside here a note in pencil that gives Ibn Ṭūlūn’s authoritative name and must be more recent). It is clear from the wording of the title that Ibn Mufliḥ added it after Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death and thus at least a decade after the transmission. Finally, below the end of the text a waqf stamp can be found testifying to the movement of the manuscript to Istanbul. I read the inscription as follows.
Library Stamp, Süleymaniyye Kütüphanesi, MS Laleli 3747, fol. 193a

هذا وقف سلطان الزمان / الغازي سلطان سليم خان / ابن السلطان مصطفى خان / غفى عنهما الرحمان / ١٢١٤

The two names mentioned here refer to Ottoman sultans of the 18th to early 19th centuries. The stipulator of this book endowment was Selīm III, known as a reformer and patron of the arts. As his father, the mentioned Muṣṭafā III, he was buried in the Laleli Mosque in Istanbul, which Muṣṭafā had constructed and where Selīm’s book endowment remained until its transfer to the Süleymaniyye Library. The date on the stamp indicates the addition to the endowment of this manuscript occurred in 1799.

The trajectory emerging from this information suggests that Ibn Mufliḥ acquired the ijāza at some point following the second iteration of transmission or, more probable, following Ibn Ṭūlūn’s death. Whether he took it with him to Istanbul or whether Selīm III bought the manuscript from Damascus cannot be ascertained without an analysis of the entire codex. The identification of the other scribe on fol. 192a might also help to pinpoint the transfer.

Back to the ijāza itself. It stands out among Ibn Ṭūlūn’s documents on transmission in that it starts out with panegyrics whose length is comparable to those of many of his writings. The Hamdallah covers three-and-a-half lines. It is separated from the following by a baʿd which leads into another seven-and-a-half lines of elaboration of Ibn Mufliḥ’s name and pedigree (as well as Ibn Ṭūlūn’s connections to members of that family).

Following this the presentation itself is lauded and finally we learn the subject of the session: the Ḥanbalī legal compendium (mukhtaṣar) of “the shaykh, the imām Abū al-Qāsim ʿUmar b. al-Ḥusayn al-Kharaqī” (d. 334 in Damascus; Onomasticon Arabicum, note ID: 12269). Until today, the importance of this work is overshadowed by that of Muwaffaq al-Dīn al-Maqdisī’s al-Mughnī ʿalā mukhtaṣar al-Kharaqī. Muwaffaq al-Dīn and his brother Abū ʿUmar, founder of the ʿUmariyya Madrasa, also have a part in the chain of transmission given by Ibn Ṭūlūn (fol. 192b).

The rest of the ijāza is concerned with the transmission through several chains (musalsal). One goes through Ḥanbalīs or, more specifically, through those residing in Ṣāliḥiyya or belonging to the Maqdisī family. Another goes through Shafiʿīs and Egyptians. And it obviously these chains which were the reason for documentation. This ijāza was one of riwāya, not teaching. Garrett Davidson describes this expansion of hadith transmission into other fields (Davidson 2014, 209):

The transmission of books through chains of transmission according to the protocols of hadith, has its roots in the idea that, like a hadith, it was only though a chain of transmission of trustworthy transmitters that the attribution of a text to an author could be reliably established. The chains of transmission it would be stated, “are the genealogies of books,” without a chain of transmission, to follow the analogy, a book was like a fatherless child cut off from sources of legitimacy.

This stands in stark contrast to the second, much shorter note following the ijāza proper. It seems to have been written much more hastily and is bare of visual aids to navigate the text—in the ijāza red ink is used to indicate new sections. Even the black ink is not as even. More importantly, this note documents only the subject, place and date of the act of transmission but omits information on its chain.

One possible reason is that this was session on a “muqaddima … fī ʿilm al-manṭaq” was in fact part of a more formal education for jurists. Therefore, its main concern was to record Ibn Mufliḥ’s successful exam on this text. The juxtaposition of both ijāzas could explain the terseness of this record, since all the necessary background information on Ibn Mufliḥ is given on fol. 192b. But the difference in what is recorded in both cases is striking.

Ijāzas or Samāʿāt?

Almost a year ago, I first wrote about Ibn Ṭūlūn’s teaching certificates (ijāzāt) and made a somewhat loose promise:

I could identify five teaching certificates (ijāza) in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s handwriting. The four I have seen are between two and five pages long and were all written between 922/1516 and 943/1536. I hope to present all of them here in the near future.

In the meantime, one more item has received an entry and in March 2018 I finally got my hands on the final one I had not seen yet (I have uploaded the file to github like the others). It is part of a Majmūʿa kept at the library of the Baladiyya of Alexandria which I have already mentioned in a recent entry (“A whole Majmūʿa copied? MS Majāmīʿ 315”).

The inclusion of this new item requires a modification to the above-quoted assessment: Are all of these really ijāzas or are samāʿāt among them? In short, yes there are and they have been misidentified in the catalogues. And I found out, go me!

More precisely, two items are samāʿāt: the one in the Alexandria manuscript (Baladiyya al-Iskandariyya, MS Alex. Fun. 183, fol. 104a) and the second one is actually the first one to have received an entry, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, MS Wetzstein I 134, fols. 30a-b. That means that out of three entries about ijāzas (this one included) only one was actually devoted to ijāzas.

But it makes sense to discuss here how ijāzas and samāʿāt differ from one another, even where such a small corpus is concerned. The length of the text seems to qualify as a criterium in the case of the item from Alexandria which is only half a page/nine lines long. However, it does not hold up in the other case from Berlin, whose 36 lines are equal to those of an ijāza Ibn Ṭūlūn granted to Akmal al-Dīn Ibn Mufliḥ in 943 (Süleymaniyye U Kütüphanesi, MS Laleli 3747, fols. 192a-193a). Yet, as I have explained in the entry on the Berlin manuscript, the text has a lot to say about the context of this act of transmission, which might account for the greater length. This has to be seen against the background that in this case Ibn Ṭūlūn received and did not transmit knowledge.

The second criterium, which is more solid, is the wording in introducing the respective item. The items from Alexandria and Berlin begin with a simple al-ḥamdu li-llāh on a separate line, whereas the other three items are introduced with bi-sm Allāh al-raḥmān al-raḥīm wa-huwa ḥasabī, also on a separate line, followed by the Hamdallah within the text body.

The third criterium is the terminology in the beginning of the text proper. In fact, I should have noticed already a year ago that the item in MS Wetzstein I 134 begins with the word samiʿa. But it took a second instance in the Alexandria manuscript for me to notice it. It might help to restore my credentials that both texts mention the issuing of ijāzas.

The other three items, however, show a different and more active engagement with works that are mentioned in the respective texts. They either recite (qaraʿa) or discuss (ʿaruḍa) them and receive a license for these endeavours. If we connect this to Garrett Davidson’s distinction between transmission for devotional purposes and and as part of structured education (on Davidson’s work, see entries here and here), a clear functional distinction between these samāʿāt and ijāzas emerges.

This distinction is supported by the diverging venues where these reading sessions took place. The ijāzas were issued exclusively in established institutions of learning: the Umayyad Mosque and the Ottoman Salīmiyya Mosque. Compare this to the sites of the Berlin and Alexandria items: the former records a recitation “in a garden (bustān) in Qaṣr al-Labbād, an area in the vicinity of Barza and Qābūn” (see Tuluniana 3: A teaching certificate) and the latter records recitations at the sultan’s maṣṭaba near Qābūn and the Shrine of Abraham (maqām al-khalīl) close to Barza.

The last place, in particular, was integrated in the sacred landscape of Damascus and Ibn Ṭūlūn himself devoted two treatises to it: Qudrat al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām Khalīl and Manḥ al-jalīl fīmā warada fī maqām al-Khalīl.

One aspect that I have not yet addressed is obviously the content of transmission. In both the cases from Berlin and from Alexandria, the content appears more devotional than part of a formal education. The subject of the Berlin samāʿ is “a work elaborating on the merits of Damascus (faḍāʾil)”. The other samāʿ mentions two of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s smaller works. One is the ḥadīth treatise Tuḥfat al-aḥbāb fī manṭaq al-ṭayr wa-l-dawābb, which incidentally begins on the verso of the same folio (fols. 104b-105b). The second work, Sharḥ al-ṣudūr fīmā ruwiya fī al-fakhkh wa-l-ʿuṣfūr, is likewise concerned with animals.

I was recently made aware that this text might even be a rendition of a classic tale. In any case, the contents are another clear indicator that these two documentations were concerned with transmission outside of formal education.