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?

On terminology: A sufi polemic against the “mutafaqqihūn” of Damascus

Reading Ignaz Goldziher’s summary (1874) of a sufi’s lament over the corruption of Syrian Islamdom under the Mamluks, I was struck by the sufi’s choice in terminology.

The Maghribī born ʿAlī b. Maymūn attacks current practices of the jurists and sufis of Syria (and Damascus, in particular) but in the title of his work Bayyān ghurbat al-islām bi-wāsiṭa ṣinfai al-mutafaqqiha wa-l-mutafaqqira min ahl Miṣr wa-l-Shām wa-mā yalīhimā min bilād al-aʽjām he does not use the common terms faqīh and ṣūfī. Rather, he refers to them as mutafaqqihūn and mutafaqqirūn. This grammatical form opens up a wide semantic field.

A quick search on shamila shows that these terms are overall uncommon. They only appear ever so often throughout the different Arabic disciplines. Ibn Maymūn seems an exception in using them throughout his work. So what does that mean? Does he use them in a polemic, perhaps even propagandistic way? The use of the form tafaʿʿala is peculiar in itself. Whereas faqīh commonly refers to an accomplished jurist, this form indicates a more abstract notion, describing those people who follow the way or approach of fiqh (jurisprudence) to gain understanding of God, whereas the mutafaqqirūn, in contrast to the accomplished fuqarāʾ, only aspire to gain the same knowledge by a different path (but have not achieved it yet). These might respond to the distinction of two categories of knowledge (ʿilm al-ẓāhir / ʿilm al-bāṭin), Ibn Maymūn uses in an earlier work (Goldziher 1874, p. 301). The grammatical form can further be interpreted as meaning ‘those who pretend to be jurists / sufis’. In the light of the general argument of the work, this seems most plausible.

This notion of the state of Syrian scholarship and sufism becomes clearer in the course of Ibn Maymūn’s argument, which, after starts out with plead for a reconciliation of both approaches, proceeds to outline all the faults of Syrians in both areas. The individual points addressed by Ibn Maymūn (and summarized by Goldziher) are all intriguing on their own account. They offer insight into a number of contemporaneous practices, the Maghribī sufi regarded as wrong and dangerous.

Yet, they seem to only illustrate what he outlines already in the title of the work: His choice in terminology already diminishes the status of both Syrian sufis and jurists a priori, casting them down from full fledged representatives of their respective status groups to mere aspirants to the knowledge, these approaches offer.

Digital possibilities for Research on Arabic Literature

The word ‘digital humanities’ is ringing in all our ears these days. And indeed, this umbrella term encompasses a number of original – and sometimes breathtaking – approaches to old corpora. Yet, reality often enough stays far behind expectations, and the Arabic language and script, in particular, cause obstacles for applications in our field.

Thus, many institutions are happy to upload images of manuscripts to a repository and call it a day, often even without providing much needed meta data to situate the item at hand within time and space. One of the most insightful and engaging series on the risks and downsides of this development remains Dagmar Riedel’s blog Islamic Books.

Now, the UK based kitab project promises a remedy to this sorry state. The premises of the project are indeed promising. A large – and growing – corpus that apparently consists of source texts that have been taken from shamela and enhanced for scholarly work are made available for searches for text passages and how they might have been reused by other authors. The project promises that their tools will allow to “discover relationships between these texts and also the profoundly intertextual circulatory systems in which they sit.”

This would be a great step forward. The intertextuality of Arabic literature, and writing in general, has long been acknowledged, but due to the magnitude of the corpora has so far obstructed an overall assessment of the importance of certain authors on later generations.

Until now, the project is restricted to closed community of users, a beta version so to speak. Unfortunately, the website offers no detailed information on how the available corpus is composed. Whereas I am confident that the ‘classical period’ is well-represented, I wonder in how far that applies to the Middle Periods, especially towards the end of the period covered (750-1500).

The project organizers can certainly not be blamed that large parts of the literature of the later centuries have not even been edited yet. On the contrary, they even urge scholars to add new texts to the corpus. But the risk remains that such a handy tool as the kitab project offers, might reinforce earlier survival, edition, and digitization biases. The already vast amount of 4,500 individual texts it allows to access and analyze easily, might be too tempting as to consult other works which are only available in some obscure collection overseas.

It should be our shared interest as researchers that this issue is addressed and that the kitab project (as well as other DH projects) rather lead to the opposite direction. That they proliferate the research on unedited manuscripts by easing the access to those sources, which have been canonized through different stages of scholarly engagement (again, the editorial and digitizing practices play a role here). In sharing our own work within the framework of kitab might be a better way reinsert those texts into the assessment of scholarly traditions than simple provision of digital images.

AMENDMENT: More detailed information on the composition of the corpus used by kitab can be found on the github page of the Leipzig based OpenArabic Project. And indeed, there is a clear bias towards the earlier centuries and the ‘classical period’ in particular. Under the thematic rubric ‘biographies’, the 14th century appears as the heyday whereas the 15th and 16th centuries seem all but void of that sort of literature (under biographical works, the number drops from 24 titles for the 14th to 7 for the 15th century). Chronicles are rather absent from the corpus in general, with the highest peak (again in the 14th century) only reaching a number of 6. For the whole 15th century, only two chronicles are included and none for the 1500s.

Documentary evidence – evidence on documents?

One of the still oft-repeated truisms about Muslim societies before the Ottoman / Early Modern period is that they left no archives of documents behind, precisely because status was negotiated in ways different from, and more informal than, those in contemporaneous Europe. Konrad Hirschler’s discoveries of reused documents in codices are only one example.

Yehoshua Frenkel’s interpretation of Mamluk society as one of a thoroughly contractual nature (Frenkel 2009, p. 150) seems to be closer to the point. In my early readings of Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq, I often stumbled over the technical language he uses in lengthy elaborations on legal cases that he attended in his function as a notary. Their frequency and the space he dedicates to descriptions of even everyday contracts and other legal transactions, clearly betray the role, written and notarized documents played in his time.

The following is an excerpt from that work (vol. 2, pp. 847-848), in which he lists the documents and attestations he had to provide in a dispute other claims to waqf property. After the death of Fāṭima, one of his female relatives, members of several strands of the extended family rushed in to claim their shares of the benefits that formerly went to her and to her mother, who is only known as al-Khātūn (‘the lady’) before her:

I gave the waqfiyya (kitāb waqf) of [the endowment in] Maʿlūlā and the agreement (muṣādaqa) between me and the Banū Nabhān and the wikāla that contains my wikāla, all of it in a white cotton bag, to shaykh Abū al-Faḍl because of the allotment of [the inheritance of] Bint al-Khātūn.

[I added to this:] the proof of my kinship with the endower (thubūt nasabī li-l-wāqif), the proof that Fāṭima [bt. al-khātūn] and my mother had died before her mother, the allotment (ḥiṣṣa) of Bint al-Khātūn; she had a share until her death that her mother had transferred to her in the legal way (bi-l-ṭarīq al-sharʿī), and eleven Fatwas by Egyptians:

1. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
2. Al-Khaṭīb al-wazīrī al-mālikī
3. shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī
4. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
5. Ibn al-Shiḥna al-Ḥanafī
6. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
7. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
8. Ibn al-Dayrī al-Ḥanafī
9. Al-Shīshnī (?) al-Ḥanbalī
10. The Ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Damascus (shām)
11. Qāḍī Kamāl al-Dīn ibn al-Nāsikh al-Mālikī

On the agreement (muṣādaqa) [I added] 5 [fatwas, testimonies?] by:

1. Shaykh Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn al-Ḥanafī
2. Ibn al-Taqī al-Mālikī
3. The ḥanbalī Qāḍī of Cairo
4. Shaykh Zakariyyā al-Shāfiʿī
5. Shaykh Tāj al-Dīn al-Shāfiʿī
6. Ibn al-Ḥamrā al-Ḥanafī
7. Al-ʿAskarī al-Ḥanbalī

Furthermore, [I added] fatwas in my handwriting on the division into tenths (ʿushr), without writing anything on them, rough drafts in my handwriting on temporary rent (ujrat al-miyal), and fatwas in the handwriting of shaykh Burhān al-Dīn b. Abī Sharīf al-Shāfiʿī, which collect what he had written for me, [gap in the text].

All of that was put in the basket in which are the letters/books (kutub).