Category Archives: Biographical Readings

Biographical works are one central source genre to my current project. But why so serious? They are among the more entertaining and sometimes surprising genres of premodern Arabic literature. And it is these aspects that I would like to stress here.

Collecting: Where is its place in scholarly biographies?

One thing that has frustrated me for a while now is how most collectors of Arabic manuscripts are portrayed in biographical entries. To be more succinct, while the collections are usually mentioned, this often happens as an afterthought. According to such biographical entries, everything else a collector did in their life was more important / interesting than their collection. This is a common feature shared by articles on Wikipedia, in encyclopedias, and other scholarly publications (with the obvious exceptions from book and library history).

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Of what a biographer approves: The case of Akmal al-Din Ibn Muflih

This short post revolves around a short biography of Akmal al-Din Ibn Muflih, a somewhat elusive figure of early Ottoman Damascus. He was Ibn Tulun’s most visible student; that is, his handwriting is found in many of his teacher’s autographs. Yet, little substantial information can be found on him in the biographical literature. In this and several future posts, we will see that even the most basic facts of his career become uncertain once biographical accounts are compared. But first, this post introduces a rather late description which concentrates rather on Ibn Muflih’s contributions to the Arabic manuscript tradition.

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Teaching and transmission in 16th-century Damascus

The importance of any scholar can be justified with either of three arguments: They wrote many and important works, furthering one or even several disciplines; they taught many students who went on to become themselves important scholars; or people more generally benefited from their dispensation of helpful information. Ideally, a scholar would combine all of the above, which should reflect in them being appointed to influential positions in educational institutions. However, as today, so in the 16th century politics played a role in appointment processes, and often enough the person skillful in those could overcome someone more knowledgeable in the discipline to be taught.

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A horrific crime—at an ominous time

The criminal underworld of medieval Damascus is certainly not my field of expertise. But as for the contemporary audience of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s chronicle Mufākahat al-Khillān, these stories also draw the attention of current readers. This short post relates one such instance from Damascus at the end of the Mamluk period.

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Introducing: Khadija al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya

Returning to a recurrent segment but with a little twist this post’s subject is Khadija bt. Jamal al-Din Abd Allah al-Qurashiyya al-Bakriyya—and we could add here—al-Misriyya. She did not receive her own biography in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary al-Dhakhaʾir but nonetheless has her voice heard in that same work.

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