The largest Ibn Tulun majmuʿa in Cairo (and everywhere else)

Rummaging through the catalogues of the Egyptian National Library (Dar al-Kutub), one finds a large number of entries for Ibn Tulun. And a large share of those do point to a manuscript from the collection of Ahmad Taymur: MS Majamiʿ Taymur 759 is said to contain a staggering 33 different texts. Even for Ibn Tulun’s MTMs this is far from ordinary.
In December 2017, I finally had a chance to see the physical Ibn Tulun autograph manuscripts at Dar al-Kutub. In this context, I’d like to thank Konrad Hirschler for letting me tag along, the organizers of a codicology workshop at the IFAO for the invitation to Cairo, and the friendly staff at the Manuscripts Section at Dar al-Kutub, especially the exceptionally helpful and friendly Hamdia Mohamed Mohamed ʿUmar.
MS 759 is real, I mean it is really there in Dar al-Kutub. That is not true for all of the Ibn Tulun multiple-text manuscripts that exist in the catalogue, as I have said before. For example, the MSS Majamiʿ Taymur 373, 374 and Ḥadīth Taymur 546 only exist as microfilms. And once we look at the contents of those four manuscripts (see table), it becomes evident that it could be no other way. Those latter three manuscripts simply do not exist anymore in a physical form.
Distribution of works between manuscripts
As the table shows, there is ample overlap between MS 759 on one hand, and MSS 373, 374, and 546 on the other. And that is because the latter three manuscripts were destroyed at one point after they were photographed in the 1920s. “Destroyed” means here that the individual texts or sometimes quires were extracted from their original codicological context and recompiled into what is now MS 759.
None of these manuscripts was an original compilation by the author, so they do not contain a contents statement at the beginning. However, scrutinizing scholars (or bureaucrats) the creators of the microfilms were, each microfilm carries a date and a numbered list of works included in each of those “Damascene manuscripts”. Together they add up almost completely to the contents of MS 759.
Most probably, the newly formed majmuʿa was offered to the Taymur library at a later point. Whether the owner or librarian knew what exactly was on offer or whether the recompilation was intended to confuse them about exactly that is difficult to say.
In any case, the fragmentary titles from MS 373 (Jawāb al-suʾāl ʿan ḥukm al-dajjāl) and MS 546 (twice Risālat nāqisat al-awwal) might be in that state since they originally were first titles of a bound volume. Together with the contents statement, the first page of these works was lost or binned.
Taking this into account, we can finally make a guess as to which of Ibn Tulun’s works they might actually be. This is difficult if not impossible about the one which relates to hadith. The corpus is simply too large with over one hundred individual titles. It is also difficult since my copy of the text is bad and less than two pages of text remain, much of which is filled with isnad.
For the second text, already the index of the microfilm states “it appears that it deals with the legality of the rulers’ disposal of state revenues (amwāl bayt al-māl)”. The title that comes closest to this is Ibn Tulun’s Tawḍīḥ al-maqāl fī masʾalat al-waqf min bayt al-māl. No copy of this text is recorded.
In some catalogues this text is also titled Risāla fī al-fiqh al-shāfiʿī. While there are several references to al-Shāfiʿī on the first two extant pages, the creator of the microfilm seems to be more informed, since in the following much of the discussion revolves around several wakīls, that of the bayt al-māl, that of the sultan, and others.
Thus, while none of the four manuscripts discussed here can be considered an original compilation, at least it could be established that one more work from Ibn Tulun’s work list can be identified as having survived in part.

Digital Perspectives on hypotheses

Earlier this year, I attended the second instance of the Digital Humanities Institute Beirut (#DHIB2017). It was the second of its kind in the Arab World and, thanks to the generous support by AMICAL it offered participation free of charge (also it included nice gimmicks such as a reusable water bottle which I have since lost, a high-quality tote bag, and a notebook with its own sticky tags and notes).

The DHIB featured, among other workshops, two sessions on markup languages: multimarkdown and TEI XML. Since I am still struggling to understand how to integrate either of those into my own research and publication process, I will not dwell on those – mostly failed – efforts here.

Now, I kind of forgot about this entry for some time and some of it might seem dated by now. Yet, as the first ever digital humanities internship at the Orient-Institut Beirut draws to a close, bringing us that much closer to a publication of our Arabic text editions in a workable html format (besides the classic print and open access PDFs derived from it), it might regain some of its earlier timeliness.

Instead of summarizing the DHIB, it might be a better idea to point out those blogs on hypotheses which are much further in their mastery of digital possibilities and thus offer advise to others who want to stride down this road.

The first one is foxglove which gives you an overview of French DH initiatives. It also introduces workflows for TEI related edition projects for Latin script texts.

In contrast, Freakonometrics is rather concerned with optical character recognition and machine-readability of texts (e.g. PDFs). In general, it is rather about text analysis than text enrichment but it also provides perspectives on the usefulness of markup languages.


Personally, I find the third one, Himanis, the most interesting. Himanis is short for “HIstorical MANuscript Indexing for user-controlled Search“. It speaks to me mostly because it brings together Digital Humanities perspectives and an understanding of books as objects. The notion of books as objects becomes especially important when thinking about their organization in book cases or shelves. How they deal with that in their TEI based edition of royal charters, they explain here.

Obviously, hypotheses has much more to offer which I will not address here at length. And for those who, like me, read French at a snail’s pace, there are also all-English sites. For instance, digilex covers the creation of a digital dictionary of spoken German with TEI and XSLT.

But one of my favorites is certainly The Recipes Project. They again start out from a distinct interest in manuscripts and old texts. In addition to sharing their insights about encoding these texts in a digital format, the blog also provides useful descriptions of manuscript collections, digitization, historical trajectories of books, teaching with manuscripts, and flabbergasting bits and pieces from the history of strawberries. Even though it deals exclusively with European texts, everyone should check it out.


Visualizing Manuscript connections with Palladio

Geographical dispersion of autograph manuscripts of Ibn Ṭūlūn

How do you picture the work in the archives? Dusty pages, creaking in the half-light of old halls of knowledge? Bent-over people shuffling their feet between rows of shelves? The creaking of a microfilm viewer seeming deafening in a silence otherwise interrupted only by occasional coughs? It is probably all happening somewhere and might be a strong impetus behind advocation for the digitization of primary sources.

Yet, the work in the archives is also one of the most intriguing parts of an historian’s work. There you encounter the handwriting of a scholar whose ideas you have followed for so long, and the manuscript closes the gap in time, occasionally bearing traces of its own travels and trajectories through time and space (the result looks a lot like space as well, with stars and planets).

One interesting aspect of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s autograph corpus is that most of what survives are rather small-scale writings. In several cases, these are found within one volume entirely consisting of his own works. Moreover, between these volumes there are occasionally several autographs of the same work. And these – both textual and material items – are today dispersed in libraries in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, England, Ireland, and the United States (more copies in other hands are found elsewhere). In order to make sense of the connections between manuscripts, on one hand, and texts, on the other, as well as their locations today, I have used Palladio.

The present post tries to convey this excitement through the use of visualizations of the dispersion of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s works and codices . I have used Palladio, a network visualization software created at Stanford University. It is platform independent and runs in your browser. It is less powerful than other network analysis and visualization software but it allows you to get results in your first day, which can be very motivational. There is also a good tutorial by Marten Düring, which leads you through the first steps. For the first steps of setting up a Palladio project, you should refer to those sites.

My own project consists of three csv sheets (the full json project file cannot be uploaded here):

Manuscripts Ibn Tulun-Tabelle 1 Works Ibn Tulun-Tabelle 1 Relations-Tabelle 1

Follow Fig. 1 (left to right) in uploading them. The figure also shows the connections (“extension”) you should create between them: Manuscripts should be connected to call number, and key should connect in tables Works and Relations.

Fig. 1: Palladio project start screen

The following visualizations have been created using the graph function. The first image shows the collections which hold Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs and which hold overlapping works. The figure was created by using Place as Source and Place_2 as Target.

Fig. 2: Connections between collections, created through holding of identical works.

The Dār al-Kutub, Cairo, and the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, clearly emerge as the main collections for Ibn Ṭūlūn autographs, with Alexandria, Leiden, and the Staatsbibliothek Berlin trailing.

Fig. 3: Manuscripts held in collections and overlaps in contained works.

Figure 3 makes the interconnections between the holdings of the two main collections even more obvious. Among the manuscripts held by either are several works that can be found in manuscripts of the other as well. The Princeton cluster, which now appears more prominent, contains several fragments or other drafts of texts, held at either Dublin or Cairo, as Kristina Richardson has recently proved. The British Library, London, is connected to this through their one partial autograph, whose remaining volumes are held in Cairo. The size of the Leiden cluster derives from the fact that each text is counted as one manuscript, even though some only count 5 folios.

Fig. 4: Fig. 3: Works held in collections and overlaps through appearing in other manuscripts.

The centrality of the Cairo connection becomes yet clearer if we switch the focus from manuscript codices to individual works. Dār al-Kutub holds the largest number of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s multiple-text manuscripts (MTM), which each contain up to more than ten titles. (I have used reference keys here, since titles are too long to display and Palladio does not allow for proper transliteration. But I am not talking about content here, anyway.) For the same reason, the Alexandria collection (holding only one MTM) draws almost even with the one in Leiden.

Also, the overlap between the Cairo and Dublin collections is now so strong that reading anything becomes difficult (also within the Cairo cluster). Therefore, I have included one last figure. This shifts the focus from the collections to the direct relations between works and manuscripts. In this case, I have used Palladio’s facet filters to consider only those manuscripts held in Cairo, Dublin, and Princeton. Figure 5 is, however, only a limited screenshot which captures the most interesting cases of overlap between – and within – these collections.

Fig. 5: Manuscripts held at Cairo, Dublin, Princeton, containing identical textual items (dark dots are manuscripts, light dots works).

Three out of four MTMs held in Dublin (MS CBL…) have strong overlaps with Cairene manuscripts (MTMs from the Taymur Pasha collection, MS TayMa…). And also within the Taymur collection, the MTMs 759 and 373 share 11 identical items  between them.


Upcoming Panel at the School of Mamluk Studies Conference (Beirut, 11-13 May 2017)

The next annual SMS conference will come to Beirut in May. Together with Christopher Bahl (SOAS, London), I have organized a panel on “The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn“.

Participants include Ahmad Nazir Atassi (Louisisna Tech University), who will speak about the textual transmission of Ibn Saʿd’s biographical dictionary, and Mariam Shaibani (Universtiy of Chicago), whose talk will explore authorship and transmission in Islamic law. Her paper focuses on the magnum opus of ʿIzz al-Dīn Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (d. 660/1262) and its transmission from his lifetime through the 14th century. Christopher Bahl will speak about the transregional transmission of grammar treasises (in particular, across the Indian Ocean basin). My own presentation addresses the surprisingly large-scale survival of Ibn Ṭūlūn’s minor works or transcripts (taʿlīqāt/taʿālīq), the reason for which has to be sought in his bibliographical and archival practices. It differs from the subjects of the other talks in as far as it is, first, a very local case of textual transmission, and, second, because most of the copying was actually done by the author himself.

Here is the abstract (by Christopher Bahl and myself):

The Oral and the Written: Cultures of Transmission across the funūn
organized by Christopher D. Bahl (London) and Torsten Wollina (Beirut)

Scholarly practices in the premodern Islamicate world were geared towards a diverse set of transmissional frameworks and articulated through a variety of social encounters. Scholarship over the years has pointed out the centrality of practices intended to preserve knowledge within everyday life during the Mamluk period (Berkey, 1992; Chamberlain 1994). More recent studies have emphasized writing, particularly the ways in which processes of textualisation played out in different spheres of social life (Hirschler, 2012) or acted as a medium of communication (Bauer, 2013) in the medieval Arab lands. It is well established by now that written transmission did not only complement oral traditions but also transformed and competed with them (Blecher 2013, Burak 2015). Texts were rarely used as simple ‘storage containers’, nor were they intended only for individual use. Rather, texts were embedded in preexisting oral contexts (Blecher 2013, Pfeifer 2015) and were often disseminated along similar networks as oral traditions.
We aim to explore how these developments brought about changes in the transmission of knowledge and the constitution of authority across different fields of scholarly inquiry (ʿilm / fann).  We understand transmission practices across these fields as particular scholarly forms of communication, which we trace through written artefacts from various genres, such as historiography, philology, and law, and their referential presence (e.g. intertextualities) in their circulation across and beyond the Mamluk realm.
Our guiding questions include: What is transmitted in these manuscripts, or what are their multiple textual constituents? How, i.e. through which academic encounters, patronage networks or financial transactions, were the manuscripts or their content transmitted;? And by whom were they circulated, in which social environment and with whose participation? These questions contribute to the broader issue of how and what scholars impart in the process of manuscript transmission in different times and localities.


  • Bauer, Thomas. “‘Ayna hādhā min al-Mutanabbī!’ Toward an Aesthetics of Mamluk Literature”. Mamlūk Studies Review 17 (2013), 5-22. Berkey, Jonathan. The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo. Princeton, 1992.
  • Blecher, Joel. “Ḥadīth Commentary in the Presence of Students, Patrons, and Rivals: Ibn Ḥajar and Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī in Mamluk Cairo”. Oriens 41 (2013): 261-87.
  • Burak, Guy. The Second Formation of Islamic Law: The Hanafi School in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Chamberlain, Michael. Knowledge and Social Practice in Medieval Damascus, 1190-1350. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Hirschler, Konrad. The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands a Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.
  • Pfeifer, Helen. “Encounter After the Conquest: Scholarly Gatherings in 16th-Century Ottoman Damascus.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 47/2 (2015): 219-239.

Traces of Ibn Ṭawq

Today brought an exciting find.

Boris Liebrenz had recently told me he found a reader note by Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. That is already exciting when a person so elusive is concerned. But this is actually better, and I could/should have found this years ago. Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās’ (1987) catalogue of those manuscripts held in the Syrian National Library today but having once belonged to the holdings of the Abū ʿUmar or ʿUmariyya Madrasa in the suburb Ṣāliḥiyya is a wonderful catalogue, giving information about ownership notes or attendees records (samāʿāt).

Alas, it has surprisingly few works by Ibn Ṭūlūn, although verifiably he endowed his library at this very institution. At least that left me with some free time and I checked on another person in which I am interested: Ibn Ṭawq’s relative and shaykh (and often enough, employer) Abū Bakr b. ʿAbd Allāh Ibn Qāḍī ʿAjlūn (d. 928). On his family, have a look here.

Again, only one of his works remains in (or made its way to) the ʿUmariyya. Yet, it is an interesting find. To be found in MS ʿāmm 3745/Majāmīʿ 8 (pp. 37-42), al-Kanz al-akbar fī al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar (#7) consists of only seven folia but it still excites me, for on the jacket page preceding the text it reads: “This is the book of in the handwriting of al-ʿAllāma Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq” (p. 40).

According to al-Sawwās’ entry, this work was finished in 894/1488-89, which would correspond to an entry in Ibn Ṭawq’s Taʿlīq (vol. 2, p. 842: 14.04.894/17.3.1489) which is about the shaykh writing a text of “about one quire in small format (niṣf baladī)” and in which he treats, among other things, “what was mentioned about the invitation to (targhīb) and the intimidation against (tarhīb) [taking up] al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahiy ʿan al-munkar“.

I cannot yet say for sure whether these two texts are indeed identical (but I sure hope so). Ibn Ṭawq writes explicitly that the shaykh “wrote several copies”, not he himself. Perhaps, he copied it later for his own use?

What is perhaps more important is that this was a chance find. Ibn Ṭawq is often portrayed as a scribe and notary – and occasional copyist. Apart from his own few claims to have copied a book, this manuscript would be the first actual proof for this. Al-Sawwās’ detailed description of all components of the Majāmīʿ makes this possible. Yet, in the indices Ibn Ṭawq cannot be found. Even though this might be a simple one-time lapse, al-Sawwās clearly mentions him as the copyist of this work. so why is he not included in the rather extensive index of copyists the catalogue actually offers? After all, Ibn Ṭawq can even be found in al-Ghazzī’s well-known biographical dictionary, both in his own and in Abū Bakr’s entries.


Addition (12 Jan. 2017):

As it turns out, Ibn Ṭawq did leave other traces than the one mentioned above. In his biographical entry in al-Tamattuʿ bi-l-iqrān bayn tarājim al-shuyūkh wa-l-aqrān, Ibn Ṭūlūn also credits him with the composition of an excerpt from Ibn Kathīr’s history, which, however, I have not been able to identify (Hartmann 1926, 96).


  • Richard Hartmann, “Das Tübinger Fragment der Chronik des Ibn Ṭūlūn”, Schriften der Königsberger Gelehrten Gesellschaft 3/2 (1926), 87-170.
  • Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq, al-Taʿlīq: Yawmiyyāt Shihāb al-Dīn Aḥmad Ibn Ṭawq. Mudhakkirāt kutibat bi-Dimashq fī awākhir al-ʿahd al-Mamlūkī, ed. Shaykh Jaʿfār al- Muhājir, 4 vols, Damascus: IFPO, 2000-2007.
  • Yāsīn Muḥammad al-Sawwās, Fihris majāmīʿ al-Madrasa al-ʿUmariyya fī Dār al-Kutub al-Ẓāhirīyya bi-Dimashq, Kuwait: Maʿhad al-Makhṭūṭāt al-ʿArabiyya, 1987.