Teaching ḥadīth: Ibn Ṭūlūn and the Thulāthiyyāt genre

This week I return to Garret Davidson’s dissertation on post-canonical ḥadīth transmission. Davidson offers a wonderful overview of the genres involved in establishing elevated, i.e. short, chains of transmission and the status that these brought for people who had access to them. While these genres could amount to very different scopes and sizes, it is safe to say that in this context small-scale hadith collections occupied a central position. These often would include the most elevated and thus sought-after chains a well-aged transmitter had to offer to the following generations, and at minimal time to be afforded. This impetus became pervasive in other fields of knowledge as well, at least for a lay audience.

Here, I will not give a summary of Davidson’s classification, however. I reckon for that we will have to wait for the reviews once the book is published. But, continuing where I left off in an earlier post, I will connect his general findings to the specific case of Ibn Ṭūlūn. In this post, the Thulāthiyyāt genre of ḥadīth will be at the center.

The term Thulāthiyyāt denotes originally the shortest traditions found in al-Bukhārī’s canonical ḥadīth work al-Ṣaḥīḥ (and to a smaller degree in other canonical compilations), which link al-Bukhārī to the Prophet by only three intermediaries. Starting in the 12th century, they were frequently compiled separately, again putting emphasis on elevated chains of transmission between the author of a compilation and al-Bukhārī:

By compiling a selection of only the collection’s shortest three-link chains of transmission scholars created a conduit that served to connect them to the Prophet through some of the shortest possible and most venerated chains of transmission (Davidson, 261).

The brevity of these compilations was their greatest strength, since they enabled transmission “in a matter of minutes making it a time efficient way for scholars to hear hadith from the most revered collection of the canon through some of the shortest chains of transmission available” and from large numbers of transmitters (ibid.). This would remain a popular mode of transmission until the 20th century.

Our old friend Ibn Ṭūlūn himself authored only one work of this genre, titled al-ʿUqūd al-luʾluʾiyyāt fī al-aḥādīth al-thulāthiyyāt (The arrangement / the half-score of pearls of traditions with only three links between al-Bukhārī and the Prophet), which does not seem to have survived.

Yet, in at least two of his biographical dictionaries, the genre appears frequently in the context of recitation sessions, attesting to the high status of elevated chains Davidson describes. The two titles Thulāthiyyāt al-Bukhārī and Thulāthiyyāt al-Ṣaḥīḥ are used interchangeably. Whereas in al-Ghuraf al-ʿaliyya fī tarājim mutaʾakhkhirī al-ḥanafiyya, Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions it as part of his education, in the second work, Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, he himself is the host or at least the authority in those sessions where the text is read.

I have not yet finished my reading of the former work. It is bulky with some 940 biographies covering mostly the 6th through 10th centuries. And so far, I have come across only one mention of the work. Yet, in unison with the other biographical work, it epitomizes the place the Thulāthiyyāt is granted in biographies. Moreover, in this case I would argue that the recitation was actually part of the author’s education and not purely for the sake of elevated chains of transmission.

The Thulāthiyyāt is mentioned in the biography of one Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad b. Sulaymān (885-916), with whom Ibn Ṭūlūn studied (Istanbul, Süleymaniye Library,  MS Şehid Ali Paşa 1924, fols. 20a-22b). As in the following cases, the text is mentioned in conjunction with al-Musalsal bi-l-awaliyya. As Davidson explains it, it “means literally the hadith of serial first transmission, because it became common for it to be the first hadith an authority would transmit to a student coming to hear hadith from him” (Davidson, 125).

The reading of both texts took place when Ibn Ṭūlūn had already reached maturity. According to his own calculations, he must have been in his late twenties at the time. Moreover, in this instance, he received a qualified license to teach these texts:

I recited before him al-Musalsal bi-l-awaliyya with his conditions (sharṭ), then the Thulāthiyyāt al-ṣaḥīḥ, then I heard in his articulation al-Silsil bi-sūrat al-ṣaff, then al-Ḥadīth min riwāyat Abī Ḥanīfa. Then I extrapolated all of it before him in [several] sessions, the last of which fell on Sunday noon, 27.04.908 in the ḥanafī miḥrab of the [Umayyad Mosque]. He wrote me an ijāza for teaching in his own handwriting.

The joint mention of both texts occurs repeatedly in Ibn Ṭūlūn’s accounts of biographical trajectories of other ḥadīth transmitters. Whereas this makes sense for the Musalsal (since it is defined by being the first one transmitted), the elevated status of the Thulāthiyyāt is emphasized by being a close second. As the quote shows, they are followed by several more ḥadīth works.

This is strong evidence for a teaching context. Even more so since Ibn Ṭūlūn continues to list five more works he studied with Ibrāhīm, receiving another ijāza for giving fatwas on 09.04.911. That indicates a longterm commitment on both sides to this teacher-student relationship (rather taraddud than mulāzama, I guess). The session also coincided with his appointment as imām of the Yūnusiyya Khānqāh in the quarter of Sharaf al-Aʿlā (on 08.04.908).

Turning to the second work, Dhakhāʾir al-qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr, here Ibn Ṭūlūn emphasizes his role as a teacher and authority. This is little surprising since contextual evidence suggests he authored the work during the very last years of his life. It is much smaller in scope than al-Ghuraf with some 160 biographies and a much more decisively local selection of biographees.

In at least 15 biographees, Ibn Ṭūlūn mentions the Thulāthiyyāt al-Bukhārī / al-Ṣaḥīḥ, exclusively when he was the transmitter. In this case, Davidson’s argument that most hadith transmission should not be considered an educational  but a devotional endeavor seems to hold true. Only in one case, an ijāza for teaching is issued and then only after repeated auditions.

This impression is substantiated when we look at the sites of the sessions. The only institution featured in the sample where Ibn Ṭūlūn had a post, is the Ottoman Salīmiyya Mosque (four entries for Ṣafar 942; one for 05.05.949). Admittedly, it is the one site mentioned most often but none of his other teaching posts are at all mentioned. Instead, the second-most important site is the garden of his cousin Burhān al-Dīn Ibn Qindīl (three entries for 13.05.940).

Another case in point is that the account of these recitations is usually immediately followed by a list of which of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works these people heard from him. Since the majority of those recitations took place in villages around Damascus, most importantly a shrine for Abraham in Barza (maqām Khalīl), and since those works were usually hadith compilations, this suggests that also the Thulāthiyyāt were recited in a devotional context.

“Speed reading” of hadith

I have recently been reading Garrett Davidson’s exciting PhD thesis “Carrying on the Tradition: An Intellectual and Social History of Post-Canonical Hadith Transmission“. It attempts – very successfully – a reassessment of the methods, purposes, and underlying logic of hadith transmission once the canon was fixed with the compilation of the canonical six books.

It contains a plethora of points pertinent to Ibn Tulun’s oeuvre, and I will address some more in the future, such as how the devotional character of reciting hadith as well as chains of transmission relate to several of his compilations on animals, plants or food. Even though he is often characterized as a historian, hadith was like the mortar that held the edifice of his written corpus together.

The one point I want to address today is the phenomenon of speed reading (sard) which  preserved the appearance of oral transmission while trying to fit as much text into a restricted period of time (pp. 107-112). Davidson mentions several outstanding examples of that practice when readers went through the entirety of Bukhari’s or other canonical hadith compilations in only a few days.

Interestingly, Ibn Tulun also mentions most of the same feats in his biographical dictionary Dhakhāʾir al-Qaṣr fī Tarājim Nubalāʾ al-ʿAṣr. They appear in the biography of one Muhammad b. Ibrahim b. ʿAlī al-Nābulusī al-Qudsī, who was also known as al-Hijazi (MS Gotha, Orient A 1779, fols. 57a-b). While Garrett cites multiple sources like the Meccan historian al-Fāsī, Ibn Rajab, al-Kattani, or Ibn Hajar himself, Ibn Ṭūlūn combines all this information in this inconspicuous place.

Among those examples is that of Ibn Ḥajar’s “most famous act of speed transmission[…,] his having raced through al-Ṭabarānī’s al-Mu’jam al-saghir, a collection that consisted of more than one thousand five hundred hadith, in a single audition session between the noon and afternoon prayers” and Bukhari’s Sahih in ten sessions (pp. 109-110).  Or, in Ibn Tulun’s own words:

the fastest thing happened to Abū al-Faḍl Ibn Ḥajar on his Syrian journey when he recited the al-Muʿjam al-ṣaghīr by Abū al-Qasim al-Ṭabarānī in one session between the noon and afternoon prayer[ recitation]. This book is a volume which is organized in about 1.500 ḥadīth, because he published one unique ḥadīth for each of his 1.000 shaykhs. And he transmitted the Ṣaḥīḥ in the Khānqāh al-Baybarsiyya in 10 majālis of 4 hours each.

Otherwise, Ibn Tulun says about the biographee that he heard some of Bukhari’s Sahih with him but recited by a member of the al-Shuwaykī family. While this took place in the Takiyya Salimiyya, he also attended shortly Ibn Tulun’s sessions (durus) in the Umariyya madrasa just next door. He also attended the teachings of shaykh Sharaf al-Dīn al-Ḥijāzī al-Ḥanbalī but fell out with him later. Almost half of the biography, however, is an account of feats in speed reading.

The practice seems to have been continued into Ibn Tulun’s own times. The biographee is doubtful that such fast readings could be done at all but Ibn Tulun (obviously) has examples at hand. He himself had seen in the thabat of the khatib Shihab al-Din al-Himsi that he had recited the whole Sahih al-Bukhari in six sessions in Ramadan 882. Ibn Tulun’s teacher had another example in Jamal al-Din al-Askari who went through the whole work in three and a half days at the end of Rabi II 880.

Ibn Tulun himself seems to have endorsed speed reading. The former’s cousin Zayn al-Din al-Askari recited the Sahih before Ibn Tulun in five days and Abu al-Abbas Ahmad b. Ahmad al-Sufi’s work named here only as al-Mu’taqad before him in three days, “the last of which was 15 Ayyār 1806 according to the Alexandrian and Roman (rumi) calendar, which is one of the longest days of the year”. So while Ibn Tulun did believe in the benefits of speed reading, he was also aware that certain extrinsic conditions could be favorable in doing such feats.

Finally, speed reading appears to have had a pervasive function in communal devotional contexts at the time. In 873 (1468-69), Damascenes suffered through a drought and, thus, a dearth in food prices. The price for wheat increased five-fold  to more than 2.000 dirham per sack (ghirara). Ibn Tulun’s near-contemporary Ali al-Busrawi describes in his chronicle that people were so desperate that they gave away their children and themselves resorted to eating “mayta” – carrion or corpses? – just to stay alive.

In reaction to their plight, people convened during the holy nights around Mid-Sha’ban praying for rain. Al-Busrawi also states that in the course of just two nights, they recited the complete Sahihs of both al-Bukhari and Muslim – twice each night! According to the account, those measures proved successful: the very next day, rainfalls began and simultaneously wheat prices plummeted by half.

Initially, I suspected the Sahih recitations (and some other aspects of the account) to be tropes. Yet, there are other explanations, one of them being speed reading. Nonetheless, if we compare this instance with the acclaimed feats mentioned before, the double recitations still seem out of the ordinary (or even the extraordinary). The only explanation I can imagine would be that in this context several reciters worked simultaneously, splitting up the two Sahihs between them. The auditory experience must have been incredible.

Ibn Tulun manuscripts in Leiden

Among other libraries, Leiden University hosts several autographs by Ibn Tulun (for an introduction of the Oriental MS collections, see here). The collection is quite extraordinary among those, since every Ibn Tulun text is bound individually, even though most of them are of modest size. Their page numbers range between single and low double-digits. Judging by my experience that would make them ideal candidates for publication in majmu’as (and I address that issue in an article submitted to the Journal of Islamic Manuscripts).

Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to consult the whole collection in person. So far, I had to rely on the catalogue made by Carlo von Landberg shortly after the acquisition in the 1880s and the Handlist of P. Vorhoove. In both, the Ibn Tulun manuscripts are clustered within a range of about twenty call numbers (132-146 in Landberg, 2503-2520 in the Handlist). While this could be attributed to their common author, it is also possible that this cluster was retained from the collection of the Cairene seller Amin al-Madani and ultimately from their original state in autograph majmu’as.

Be that as it may, Leiden has uploaded one of those manuscripts, MS Or. 2512, which contains the short text Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb fīmā warada fī al-kathīb. This is, in fact, the title as it is given in Ibn Tulun’s own work list, whereas the Leiden catalogue gives a slightly different title that is written on the first recto of the manuscript: Tuḥfat al-ḥabīb bi-akhbār al-kathīb.

This is apparently owed to the author’s phrasing that this text contains “mā akhbaranā shaykhunā al-muḥaddith…” and perhaps also to titling conventions at the time when this title was added (the hand is different and more modern than the author’s). Yet, both titles refer to the same work as Ibn Tulun mentions the “warada” title on the verso of fol. 1.

Initially, I was surprised that the writing already begins on the recto of fol. 1. For Ibn Tulun this is highly unusual, especially since the text appears to be a (very well preserved) fair copy. To elaborate, it contains no other handwriting than the author’s, and that is restricted to an even and regular text block of 23 lines per page. The margins seem wider than I have seen in other, more annotated Ibn Tulun manuscripts.

Getting back to my surprise, a quick check on the verso made sure that the text begins only here. Instead, the writing on the recto, albeit also in Ibn Tulun’s hand, seems to be an audition certificate, giving part of the isnad, some of the attendants and the date of the text’s recitation: 9.11.936/15.07.1530. ّIt also indicates that all attendants received a certificate for transmission (ijāzat riwāya) from the author.

The catalogue gives that date as the date of the text’s completion but I am uncertain whether that conclusion can be so easily made. I am not even sure whether we can assume that this specific manuscript was completed before that date. The clean state of it suggests rather that it might be a fair copy of the original, which would have been in existence by 936/1530.

The text itself is a collection of reports and sayings about Moses (al-kathīb) and his shrine (maqām/ziyāra) near the village Masjid al-Qadam, south of Damascus. The most interesting thing about it – for me – is that it appears in Ibn Tulun’s biographical dictionary Dhakhāʾir al-Qaṣr fī tarājim nubalāʾ al-ʿaṣr.

At least three of the biographees included in this work heard recitations of this work. One of those heard it recited at the “Ziyārat al-Kathīb close to the village Masjid al-Qadam” on the same day as the one given in the samāʿ. This Muḥammad b. Mūsā b. ʿAbduh al-Qubaybātī al-Ḥanbalī known as Ibn Qayṣar went on to write a mulakhkhiṣ of this work, giving a rare proof to Ibn Tulun’s reception through emulation.

 

Tuluniana 2: Works on plants

A while back, I introduced a first cluster of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works (on animals). A second interesting cluster consists of his works which are concerned with plants. More than the earlier one, this is connected to a third cluster, which comprises works on food and food consumption. All these clusters draw heavily on ḥadīth as a source.

The cluster on plants includes 18 works.  Most of those deal with dangers or benefits of consuming certain parts or fruits of plants. These works could be situated either in the legal literature or in the realm of (Prophetic) medicine.

The dependence on ḥadīth and akhbār could also suggest their belonging to Sufi ādāb literature. Even for those works that do not survive, the latter is indicated in their title’s thematic phrase, which is usually introduced with either “li-/fī-mā warada fī” (on what is found about) or “ʿan-/fī-mā qīla fī” (on what is said about). The text of such a title is rarely more than a list of statements by earlier authorities (transmitted directly or in writing) on the subject.

Moreover, this nature of the works reiterates my earlier understanding of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s minor works as “seminar papers”:

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.

This does not mean that Ibn Ṭūlūn penned these works at an early stage of his career. On the contrary, I would say that in their simplicity they betray his intimate knowledge with the scholarly literature of his times.

Therefore, I would argue that he wrote these works for the benefit of his own students. These seem to have been works to be studied early on since they made it easier to arrange the different source items around one subject (a different approach from that described recently by Maxim Romanov for his own classroom use of ḥadīth).

Perhaps this would also explain why animals, plants, or food were used—they were part of everyday life and therefore also an object of legal/moral questions. In any case, the format of the works does preclude their use (or value) as political (e.g. polemical) texts. Their repetitiveness bespeaks their use in educational and devotional settings.

Within the cluster on plants, two general groups can be distinguished. One is concerned with plants, including flowers, and the other with their fruit or produce. The latter is by far the larger group. The first group includes works:

  • Ibtisām al-thughūr ʿammā qīla fī nafʿ al-zuhūr (on the benefits of flowers/blossoms)
  • Tasliyyat al-ḥazīn fīmā qīla fī al-yāsmīn (collection of akhbār/ḥadīth on Jasmin)
  • ʿArf al-nadd fīmā qīla fī al-ward (collection on the rose)
  • Ḥadīqat al-azhār fī faḍl ghars al-ashjār (on the merits of planting trees)
  • Ṭard al-aḥzān fīmā qīla fī al-bān (collection on the moringe)
  • Ẓarāʾif al-naḥla li-mā warada fī al-nakhla (collection on the palm tree)

The second group also includes a number of “mā qīlā“- and “mā warada“-collections:

  • al-Iʿlān li-mā warada fī faḍl al-rummān (on merits of pomegranate)
  • al-Qawl al-murtajal fīmā warada fī al-safarjal (on quinces)
  • Haḍm al-ṭabīkh bi-mā warada fī al-baṭīkh (on melons)
  • Hidāyat al-nujabā ilā mā warada fī al-hindibā (on wild chicoree)
  • Tanwīr al-ghalas fīmā warada fī al-ʿadas (on lentils)
  • ʿArf al-bān fīmā warada fī al-bādhinjān (on aubergines)
  • Jalab al-inshirāḥ bi-faḍl al-tuffāḥ (on the merits of apples)
  • Juzʾ imtithāl li-amr bi-akhbār al-tamr (akhbār on dates)
  • Ṣaḥn al-ṣīn fī faḍl al-tīn (on the merits of figs)

There is, however, also one item which was organized in a different way. The first, Talkhīṣ buhgyat al-ṭalab wa-nihāyat al-arab fī al-munāẓara bayn al-tīn wa-l-ʿanab, seems to be a comparison of the properties of the fig and the grape. The title’s guiding phrase alludes to two works on which this comparison might have been based: Ibn al-ʿAdīm’s (d. 1262) Bughyat al-ṭalab fī tārīkh Ḥalab (Everything desirable about the History of Aleppo) and the encyclopedia Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab (translated both as “The Aim of the Intelligent in the Art of Letters” and as “The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition“) by the Egyptian scholar al-Nuwayrī (d. 1333). The term talkhīṣ indicates that Ibn Ṭūlūn simplified their discussion. Alas, the work has not survived, and therefore the hypothesis cannot be tested.

It should be noted here that, in contrast to Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works on animals, much more of his cluster on plants has indeed survived. All of these manuscripts are today to be found in Egypt, either in Alexandria or the Dār al-Kutub in Cairo (see Conermann 2004).  The work on melons has survived even in two autographs in Cairo.

The one Ibn Ṭūlūn autograph multiple-text manuscript held in Alexandria betrays the close connection between the three clusters mentioned above. Among others (in total 14 titles), it contains Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works on the palm tree and on the benefits of flowers/blossoms, as well as four works on animals (Conermann 2004, 124). In addition, this manuscript begins with a teaching license (ijāza), indicating that these texts were not only taught and transmitted but together.

 

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?