Late Muslim Historians
|Figure 1. An artistic impression of Ibn Khaldun (Image from www.muslimheritage.com).|
This short article is taken from the full article (by Dr. Salah Zaimeche) which is available here as 18 page PDF file.
The study of history has received a great deal of attention from Muslims over the centuries, from the time of the Prophet to modernity. This article details some of the Muslim historians and their work after the 15th Century. The historians considered in this short article are but a few names in a multitude of Muslim writers on history. For further reading on the subject of early and later Muslim historians please follow the pdf link or through the linked resources below for the full article.
A later historian of Islam is Ibn Khaldun (d.1406). Entries under his name exist in every encyclopaedia or dictionary, some of them quite original as in the case of the universal biography published in French. Ibn Khaldun' major work: The Muqquadimma (The Introduction) is a gigantic endeavour, being a discourse on universal history in six chapters. There is already plenty on Ibn Khaldun in the entry on Tunis in MuslimHeritage.com to warrant more space here, except the point he makes in relation to truth. The criterion of truth is correspondence—i.e. with what actually happens. Therefore it is necessary to examine if the alleged fact is possible. This is more important and comes before justifying the transmitters. The conclusion follows:
"If this is so, then the rule or criterion in distinguishing truth from falsehood in historical narratives on the basis of possibility and absurdity is that we should consider the society of mankind which is civilisation, and distinguish which conditions belong to [civilisation] essentially and in conformity with its nature, and which are accidental and need not be reckoned with, and which cannot possibly happen in it (lit, for it). When we have done that, we have a canon or criterion for distinguishing the true from the false, truth from lies, by a demonstrative method which does not admit of doubt. So then when we have heard of any case of the conditions occurring in civilisation, we know what we are to judge worthy of acceptance, what worthy of rejection as false. We have thus a true touchstone (mi'yar), by which historians may pursue the path of truth and right in what they report. This is the aim of this first hook (i.e. the Muqaddima) of our work."
Ibn Ishaq (d.768) and Ibn Hisham (d. 218/833)Early Muslim historical writing was primarily concerned with the biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) (Sirat Rasul Allah) and the first wars of Islam (Al-Maghazi). Muhammad Ibn Ishaq related the first known biography (Sira) of the Prophet (pbuh). This work no longer exists in its original form, but has been preserved in at least two recensions, one of these recensions being authored by Ibn Hisham, thus Ibn Hisham's work represents one of the best existing authorities on the life of the Prophet (pbuh). The Arabic text was published at Gottingen in three volumes by F. Wustenfeld, 1858-60, and a German translation by G. Weil, The Historian of the Caliphate, appeared at Stuttgart in 1864. It is this latter work which is perhaps better known in the West, and is now more conveniently read in the English translation of the late A. Guilaume.
|Figure 2. An artistic impression of Muhammad Ibn Ishaq (Image from www.faithfreedom.org)|
Alfred Guillaume also provided an English translation of an attempted reconstruction of Ibn Ishaq's work. This was produced largely by translating what Ibn Hisham reports from Ibn Ishaq, adding quotations from the latter that are included by al-Tabari (mainly the material that Ibn Hisham omitted) and placing Ibn Hisham's comments on Ibn Ishaq's work at the end of the translation in a section called "Ibn Hisham's Notes" (pp. 691-798). The page numbers suggest that Ibn Hisham's comments constitute about 15% of his recessions of Ibn Ishaq's work.
Ibn Hisham's (d.833) work contains information concerning the creation of the world, Biblical Prophets, and the advent of Islam. The actions and deeds of the Prophet (pbuh) are meticulously noted, and his battles described in great detail. Ibn Hisham's Sirat Muhammad rasul Allah is considered by Dunlop as one of the best existing authorities on the life of the Prophet (pbuh).
According Ibn Khalikan (see entry on Damascus at Muslimheritage.com), the History produced by at-Tabari, the work which Europeans usually refer to as the Annals of Al-Tabari and of which the original title was Ta'rikh ar-Rusul wa'l-Muluk (history of the Apostles and Kings), was the soundest and most reliable work of its kind.
Al-Tabari was born at Amul, north of the Elburz range in the coastal lowlands of the Caspian Sea then called Tabaristan, and died in Baghdad. He was a precocious student who was, as he himself states, a hafiz (a person who has successfully memorised the entire Qur'an) by the age of seven, qualified as an Imam or leader of the Muslim worship aged eight and studied the Prophetic traditions aged nine (it seems well-authenticated that he left home aged twelve). After several years spent as a poor wandering scholar in Arabia, Syria, and Egypt, he settled down as a jurist in Baghdad. He was now able to follow a multiplicity of branches in search of expanding his knowledge. His acquisition of knowledge was to embrace not only history, Qur'an exegesis, Hadith and Fiqh, but he also possibly wrote in the field of ethics and had an educated person's interest in Arabic poetry. In Ta'rikh ar-Rusul wa'l-Muluk, (a work to which the Europeans refer to as The Annals) a work that took forty years to complete, Al Tabari looks at Antiquity and the Islamic period up to 915. As an objective historian, he hardly expresses any judgment, and keeps a global vision of history. What survives fills fifteen large volumes; we are told that the original was ten times as long. His method is chronological, describing events year by year, and usually traditional-tracing the narratives through one or more chains of Hadith to an eyewitness or contemporary of the incident, and his method has the virtue of stating sources carefully. Indeed, his principal authorities for history are not, in general, any of the books, but chains of tradition going back wherever possible to eye-witnesses of the various occurrences. This was the method already employed in Al-Tabari's time by the experts in the science of Hadith. The method was applied with rigour by the best of these experts (muhaddithun), who had employed strict criteria for estimating the value of the different traditions, with which Al-Tabari as a distinguished student of the religious sciences was perfectly familiar (his Tafsir or Qur'an Commentary has been as highly regarded by Muslims as his History, as well as his extensive work Tahdhib al-Athar on Hadith). The application of this method on the widest scale might seem to give an almost irrefragable guarantee of truth to a historical narrative. This was no doubt a paramount reason for its adoption by Al-Tabari. On the whole, according to Dunlop, with the exception of Ibn al-Athir (whose great work Al-kamil, had not been translated in its entirety by the time Dunlop was writing, i.e. in the early 1970s into any Western language) the Annals of al-Tabari is the best work in Arabic for information concerning the historical development of Islam and the Caliphate.
|Figure 3. Bal'ami's 14th century Persian version of Universal History by al-Tabari (Image from www.wikipedia.org)|
His comfortable, if not luxurious, financial and economic circumstances were curbed by his habit of eating temperately, dressing modestly and generally to avoiding excess in all things. Anecdotal evidence suggests that he never accepted any official employment (such as that of judge, for which he would have been abundantly equipped), although his post as tutor to the son of a vizier would doubtless have given him the entrée to such a career had he wished. These stories stress his high moral standards and his great probity, with a reluctance to accept costly gifts in return for services which he did not feel he had earned or for which he could not give equally valuable presents in return.
Al-Maqrizi (d.1442) is the most famed of medieval Egyptian historians. A man of the law, and teacher in Cairo, he collected his material, much of which absolutely unique, to compile his major work: Kitab al-Khitat. Al-Khitat deals with topography and archaeology as much as history. Its full title is Kitab al-Mawaiz wa'l-Itibar fi Dhikr al-Khitat wa'l-Athar (Book of Exhortations and Consideration, or Mention, of the Settlements and Monuments). It is concerned with Egypt in general and al-Fustat and Cairo in particular. The interest in the first settlements of the Muslims in Egypt is even more prominent. Al-Maqrizi clearly cast his net widely: it was shown a long time ago by the Hungarian Arabist Ignas Goldziher that he had, for example, made use of one of the works of the Spaniard Ibn Hazm, which were undoubtedly little known in the East. The Khitat remained for a long time available only in a two-volume edition printed at Bulaq in 1270/1853, but there is now a modern edition from a Lebanese press, not critical, but which at least presents something like al-Maqrizi's original text.
Al-Maqrizi also compiled Kitab al-Suluk li Ma'rifat Duwal al Muluk (Book of Entrance to the Knowledge of the Dynasties of the Kings), of which the Frenchman Quatremere made a translation of a large portion, and also an edition of the Arabic version up to 1354. It is a history of Egypt from the accession of Salah Al-Din in 564/1169, with some introductory remarks on pre-Islamic times, to the Prophet, then the first four rightly guided Caliphs, then the Umayyads, ‘Abbasids, Buwayhids and Seljuqs, becoming regular annals from about 568/1172 and ending in 844/1440-1, after which it is continued by Ibn Taghribirdi (see following). It is thus in effect a complete history of two Egyptian dynasties, the Ayyubids (i.e. Salah al-Din and his successors) and the Bahri Mamluks, and a partial history of a third, the Burji Mamluks (mostly Circassians). A considerable portion of this was translated into French by Quatremére, and the Arabic text is now available as far as the end of 755/1354 (i.e. well down in the Bahri Mamluk period), in a well-printed critical edition by Mubammad M. Ziyada.
by: FSTC Limited, Fri 19 January, 2007