Kairouan Capital of Political Power and Learning in the Ifriqiya

by Najwa Othman Published on: 29th January 2010

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The following article presents a survey on some glorious pages of the history of Kairouan, the ancient capital of the Islamic Ifriqiya (present day Tunisia). Founded in 670 by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi', the Arab general in command of the Muslim conquest of North Africa, Kairouan flourished under the Aghlabid dynasty in the 9th century and was an important urban center of the Islamic west, with a rich architectural heritage and a thriving tradition of learning.


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Foundation and Expansion of the City

3. The Mosque of ‘Uqba

4. Intellectual Life

5. Ibn Abī Zayd al- Qayrawānī

6. Medical Studies

6.1. Constantine the African

6.2. Ibn al-Jazzar

7. Decline of Kairouan


Note of the editor

This article was published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in December 2002. It is republished with revisions and new illustrations. Copyright: © FSTC Limited, 2002-2010. We dedicate it to the memory of the late Dr Najwa Othman from Aleppo (1954-2009), who was an historian, architect and civil engineer. She wrote a book on The Mosques of Kairouan in Arabic for the production of which spent a long time in the ancient capital of Ifriqiya. The book was published as Masajid al-Qirawan (Damascus, 2002). Dr Najwa Othman is the author of the following article published on www.MuslimHeritage.com in 23 June, 2005: Islamic Citadel in Busra.


1. Introduction

Kairouan, known also as Al-Qayrawan, Qairawan and Kairwan, flourished under the Aghlabid dynasty in the 9th century. Despite the transfer of the political capital to Tunis in the 12th century, it remained the Maghrib’s principal holy city, with a rich architectural heritage and a thriving tradition of learning.

Situated in north-west Tunisia, the city is now the capital of the Kairouan Governorate. For a long period, it functioned as the capital of the province of Ifriqiya (roughly equivalent to modern Tunisia) during the early Islamic period. Kairouan was founded in 670 by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’, the Arab general in command of the Muslim conquest of North Africa, during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Mu’awiya. Its original name was derived from Arabic kairuwân, which is in turn derived from the Persian Kâravân, meaning “military/civilian camp” or “resting place”. After its establishment in the 7th century, Kairouan became an important center for Islamic learning, and thus attracted a large number of students and scholars from various parts of the world.

Kairouan lies 112 miles south of Tunis and 40 miles west of Susa, and is 250 feet above sea level in the middle of a great plain traversed by the Wadi Zarud and the Wadi Merguellil, both of which ultimately disappear into a salt lake. These rivers are subject to sudden floods, which sometimes turn the environs of the city into a lake, and when the rains have been sufficiently abundant, the soil yields a rich harvest. The Andalusian geographer Al-Bakri (1014–1094) tells how in the western part the grain sown sometimes yields a hundredfold [1].

Figure 1: Page from a Manuscript of the Qur’an, probably from Kairouan, dating from the early 10th century. The Nasli M. Heeramaneck Collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Source).

The testimony about Kairouan by the geographer Al-Idrisi is quite edifying as to the perception Islamic medieval scholars had of it. He said: “Kairouan is mother of cities and capital of the land, it is the greatest city in the Islamic West, the most populated, prosperous and thriving with the most perfect buildings” [2].

Al-Idrisi’s eulogy for Kairouan testifies to the special status of the city. Out of nothing, from the sand and bareness of pre-Islamic times, Kairouan rose as one of the most vibrant centres of civilisation of the Middle Ages. The city was not only a capital of political power, but a dynamic site of learning whose influence covered North Africa and the Western Mediterranean region. However, unlike other cities in the region, such as Fes in Morocco, the prosperity of Kairouan knew a progressive decline from the 11th century after the intervention of the Banu Hilal.

2. Foundation and Expansion of the City

The year 670 CE is the symbolic year of the foundation of Kairouan. Before to this date, the Muslim armies had already defeated the Byzantines gathered around the Patriarch Gregory at Sbeitla and as a result secured a powerful Muslim presence in the region [3]. The first foundations of the city were laid by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’. He first built a mosque, the palace of government, then houses for his soldiers as well as a wall 2750 yards long. Kairouan became the capital of Muslim Africa, known as Ifriqiya, and the residence of the Muslim governors [4].

The Muslim army penetrated the Maghrib by the region of Qastiliya, from where they attempted to reach the centre and the north, avoiding the coastal route and the shore on the east, which was dangerous for conquering forces, and the mountains on the west, which were well suited for ambushes and surprise attacks. By choosing this route, the Muslim soldiers had no alternative but to use the corridor which ended naturally in the region of Qammūniya, not far from where Kairouan would be founded. This town, which was first of all a military base, owed its origin to the strategy dictated by the relief of the country and from the fighting tactics of the Arab conquering army. Traditionally, the foundation of Kairouan is attributed to ‘Uqba b. Nāfi’, but in fact it took place in stages and several military leaders contributed to it.

The battle of Sufetula (27 H/647-8) had practically delivered Byzacena (the region of modern Sousse) to ‘Abd Allāh b. Sa’d b. abī Sarh, the Byzantines being driven back behind their second line of fortification. It is neither impossible nor improbable that the conquerors pushed their raids on this occasion right into the region of Kairouan. The historian Ibn Nājī al-Tanukhi (d. after 839 H/1435) points out that at Kairouan there is a mosque dedicated to Ibn abī Sarh which in some way commemorates his memory [5].

Later, Mu’āwiya b. Hudayj led three campaigns in succession to Ifrīqiya, in 34 H/654-5, 41 H/661-2, and 45 H/665. In fact, he made use of the same route as his predecessors three times and ended in the region of Kairouan, where he set up his camp. In 34 H/654-5, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam declares, Ibn Hudayj “seized several fortresses and took considerable booty. He set up a garrison camp (qayrawān) near al-Qarn” [6]. He reappears, still established at al-Qarn, in 41/661-2, as we learn from Al-Bayan al-Mughrib on the history of the Maghreb and Iberia written in 1312 by by Ibn Idhari [7]. Finally, in 45 H/665, the governor Ibn Hudayj reappears yet again at al-Qarn [8]. In this connection Al-Mālikī notes: “Ibn Hudayj had laid the foundations of a town at al-Qarn (ikhtatta madīnatan ‘ind al-Qarn) before ‘Uqba had founded (ta’sīs) Kairouan, and he settled there during the period that he spent in Ifrīqiya”. Ibn Nāji states for his part that “on his return to Qammūniya, Ibn Hudayj built dwellings in the region of al-Qarn to which he gave the name of Qayrawān, when the site of [the actual] Kairouan was not yet either inhabited or urbanised (ghayr maskūn wa-lā ma’mūr) [9]. The site named al-Qarn (hill, peak) owes its name obviously to its relief. It probably refers to the 171 m high hill called Batn al-Qarn today, and which is situated in a region 12 km north-west of the actual town of Kairouan [10].

The primary reason for the foundation of Kairouan was its elevated position, which gave it protection from surprise attacks and floods. The city founded by Ibn Hudayj did not maintain its rôle as capital of Ifrīqiya but it was never destroyed again; however, when it ceased to be the capital it no longer bore the name of al-Qarn. In 124/742 the Kharijite ‘Ukāsha was beaten there by Hanzala b. Safwān, governor of the Ifrīqiya province. Al-Qarn is mentioned again at the end of the 2nd H/beginning of the 8th century, but afterwards all trace of it disappears [11].

Figure 2a-b: Two panoramic views of Kairouan. (Source 1Source 2).

In 50 H/670, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, Mu’āwiya, while keeping Ibn Hudayj as the governor of Egypt, took Ifrīqiya from him and entrusted it to ‘Uqba b. Nāfi’. On rejoining his post, Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam reports, ‘Uqba was not very satisfied with Kairouan which was built before his time by Mu’āwiya b. Hudayj [12]. The sources, however, tell us forcefully the details (verging on the miraculous) of how ‘Uqba b. Nāfi’, followed by his most illustrious companions, was left to search for a new site. His choice fell on part of a plain which was then covered with vegetation, the haunt of reptiles and wild beasts. There the new Kairouan was founded. ‘Uqba immediately donated two institutions indispensable for its spiritual and temporal progress, that is a mosque and a government house (dār al-imāra), built opposite each other. He spent the five years of his first governorship watching over this building without undertaking any other expedition [13].

Abū ‘l-Muhājir Dīnār who succeeded him greatly disliked the idea of settling where ‘Uqba b. Nāfi’ had built. Various sources tell that he set fire to the foundations of his predecessor and moved the capital two miles further along the road to Tunis, to a region inhabited by the Berbers [14]. The new capital, of which the remains have recently been located, received the name Taqirwan [15]. The choice of this Berber-sounding name as well as the town’s position were all part of a government programme begun by Abū ‘l-Muhājir to encourage a policy of rapprochement with the indigenous leaders. This policy did not please the caliphate. ‘Uqba took the road to Ifrīqiya again in 62/682, and his first action was to move the capital back to the site which he had already previously chosen. After this, Kairouan did not change its location again [16].

Several historical testimonies and the modern archeological excavations show that this place had formerly been occupied by Roman or Byzantine buildings, which, like many others in the period of the Muslim conquest, had fallen into ruins. As a result, the first buildings erected by the Islamic builders certainly benefited from the re-use of building materials from the abandoned on site. Various materials of greater or lesser importance can still be seen, not only in the monuments but also in modest dwellings [17].

There remains the question of the choice of the site. No-one suggests that this choice was unfortunate, but why should this unfavourable part of the plain have been chosen for the economic development of a great capital? Ibn Khaldūn sets the tone of the debate when he says he believes that the Arabs are poor town planners. To support his opinion he cites the examples of Basra, Kūfa and of Kairouan as badly chosen sites [18]. In fact, the site of Kairouan was not as badly chosen as one might think [19]. It should be remembered that an ancient town had prospered there because the site was not as barren when the town was founded as it subsequently became. Although there was no sudden change of climate, settlers accomplished a considerable transformation [20]. The soil was certainly rich, thanks to the “fertilising silt” of the Merguellil and the Zéroud rivers [21].

Therefore, all that really needed to be done was to resolve the problem of a water supply, a problem which had already been solved once by the Romans and was later solved again by the Arabs. A few miles south of the site chosen for the foundation of Kairouan they found a hydraulic construction system which they named Qasr al-Mā’ (the water castle). This system was fed from an aqueduct which gathered the waters of the Mams rivers, 33 km to the west, today called Hanshīr Dwīmīs [22]. ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’ stopped there on his return to Damascus in 55/675, and afterwards the place became an assembly point for caravans heading east [23]. The Arabs lifted the region out of its ruined state and gave it back prosperity by pursuing and extending the irrigation policy of their predecessors. The wells and cisterns with which all the mosques and houses were provided, made an appreciable contribution to the great works for which the Aglabids are justly famed. Hence until the middle of the 5th/11th century, all the geographers boast of the fertility of that region. In short, the area chosen for the foundation of Kairouan, apart from the strategic advantages it offered, was amenable to development and to the provision of an economic infrastructure necessary for the development of a large town.

Figure 3: Extent of the Aghlabid kingdom in the Western Mediterranean and North Africa between 800 and 909. (Source).

Under the Aghlabids (800-909) Kairouan underwent considerable expansion and reached the zenith of its prosperity; its historical legacy dates from its Aghlabid period. The Aghlabid rulers vied with each other in endowing the city with rich monuments and multiplied the works of public utility. Ibrahim Ibn Ahmad (876-7) built a palace celebrated for the purity of its air, a castle around which grew up an important town with bazaars, baths, and large parks and gardens. The Aghlabids, most importantly, left great engineering works, such as the huge water storage basins, a number of aqueducts and bridges, various water works, and the complex sewage system [24]. One such remarkable work was the reservoirs, one of which al-Bakri describes:

“is circular in form and of enormous size. In the centre rises an octagonal tower covered by a pavilion with four doors. A long series of arcades of arches resting one upon the other ends on the south side of the reservoir [25].”

These reservoirs are by far some of the most original ever to be erected, and by the lengthy account of them by the French historian Marcel Solignac they were done some justice [26]. In fact, Solignac corrects a great fallacy about these reservoirs. Because of their high aesthetics and remarkable engineering skills, and despite all evidence [27], they were attributed, like many other Islamic achievements, to both Phoenicians [28] and Romans [29], as if their sophisticated construction made them too advanced to be an Islamic achievement. Such erroneous views were adopted by a number of scholars until modern archaeological excavations and advanced studies proved the Islamic origin of such structures [30]. These reservoirs have two basins, one used for decantation, one as a reserve, and at times a third one for drawing water out of it [31]. As well as their impressive numbers, over two hundred and fifty in the region, such reservoirs also offer a great attraction in their form and structure. The Reservoir of the Aghlabids built in the 9th century by Abu Ibrahim Ahmed reveals that it was indeed a sort of temple of water which is still preserved in its majesty.

3. The Mosque of ‘Uqba

One of the glories of Kairouan is the Great Mosque, also known as Jami’ ‘Uqba. The foundations of the mosque were laid dow sometime between 670 and 680 by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’, the founder of the city [32]. It is the first mosque in the Maghrib, rebuilt several times and lavishly embellished over the course of centuries [33]. There is a very large and very instructive account on the building as well as of the city of Kairouan in the excellent study by Saladin dating from early in the 20th century [34]. The great mosque could rival the most famous monuments of the East [35]. And once more, it was under the Aghlabid that it witnessed its glory, the mosque being rebuilt by Zyadat Allah, who set up in the prayer hall the multitude of splendid columns, rich panelling of glazed tiles and ornamentations of sculptured wood [36].

The first mosque on the site was begun immediately after the Arab conquest and consisted of a square enclosure containing a courtyard and prayer hall or sanctuary. This first building was made of mud brick and had to be restored in 695. There was another major reconstruction in 724-43 when a minaret was added. The present minaret was added by the Aghlabids in 836. It is a giant three-tier structure built of baked bricks on a base of reused ashlar blocks. At present, the minaret stands on the north wall of the courtyard but in the 9th century it would have been outside the mosque courtyard in a manner similar to that of the contemporary Abbasid mosque of Samarra.

The mosque took its present form during the major rebuilding which took place under the Aghlabids, completed in 862. The present mosque enclosure forms a large rectangle measuring 125 by 85 m. The prayer hall is one third of the mosque area and comprises seventeen aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall, with another aisle parallel to the wall. Aghlabid modifications included the present mihrab (the niche), the dome in front of the mihrab and the minbar (pulpit). The mihrab niche is lined with perforated marble panels decorated with vegetal designs.

Figure 4: The Great Mosque of Kairouan, known as the Mosque of ‘Uqba. Built by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’ from 50 H/670 CE at the founding of the city, the mosque extends over a surface area of 9,000 square metres and is considered to be the oldest place of worship in the western Islamic world, as well as a model for all later mosques in the Maghrib. In addition to its spiritual prestige, the mosque is universally reputed as a masterpiece of both architecture and Islamic art. © Sacred Sites / Martin Gray. (Source).

Surrounding the mihrab are a series of polychrome lustre tiles which are believed to have been imported from Baghdad. The dome covering the area in front of the mihrab is built of stone and rests on a drum supported by large shell-shaped squinches. The dome has a gadrooned form which internally takes the form of thin radiating ribs. The interior of the drum is circular and decorated with a series of sixteen blind niches and eight arched windows. The minbar is the oldest in existence and consists of a high staircase with a series of intricately carved panels on the side, decorated with geometric and stylized vegetal designs. The present maqsura (a wooden enclosure near the mihrab) was added during 11th century restorations. Further restorations were carried out in 1294 when the arches of the arcades were remodelled and the projecting portal of Bab Lalla Rayhana was added [37].

4. Intellectual Life

Malik, who died in 795, considered Kairouan, together with Kufa and Medina, the three capitals of Muslim sciences and learning. Yahia Ibn Salam al-Basri (745-815) composed and taught there his tafsir (exegesis of the Qur’an); there also Asad Ibn al-Furat (759-828) made a synthesis of teachings of all his masters [38]. The city was a great centre of learning, where the study of Maliki law was particularly honoured; and it had celebrated professors like Asad b. Al-Furat, Ibn Rashid, and Sahnun (ca.777-854) [39]. But it was, once more, under the Aghlabids, in the early 9th century, that Kairouan became one of the main cultural centres of the Islamic world, attracting students from all parts, including Muslim Spain.

At the end of the 9th century, still under Aghlabid rule, a Bayt al-Hikmah (House of Wisdom) was established there rivalling its counterpart in Baghdad in the study of medicine, astronomy, engineering and translation [40]. As in the rest of the Muslim world, intellectual debate raged at Kairouan, mostly around religious and issues of jurisprudence [41]. Public education at Kairouan was developed and women actively participated in the pursuit of learning; scholars, reigning monarchs and men from all walks of life seem to have eagerly supported the library of their town’s grand mosque [42]. Long before al-Tabari, Yahya b. Sallam al-Basri (741-815) was writing there and taught his Tafsir, which has been partially preserved. Just as at the Zaytuna, at Kairouan university, the Qur’an and jurisprudence were taught alongside grammar, mathematics, astronomy and medicine [43]. The study of medicine was well represented by Ziad ibn Khalfun, Ishaq ibn Imran and Ishaq ibn Sulayman. Their works were translated by Constantine the African in the 11th and were taught in Salerno, which subsequently became one of the first European universities, with a specialisation in the study of medicine.

The rich collection of manuscripts assembled in Kairouan mosque date from this period [44]. During his investigation at Kairouan Mosque, Shabuh unearthed a catalogue which was compiled in 693 AH /1293 CE, and which describes in detail the contents of the mosque library [45]. The Great Mosque has preserved some of the remnants of its great intellectual apogee and memory of its scholars through books and documents they wrote in their own hands, or that they assigned others to write [46].

Figure 5a-b: Two views of the Great Mosque of Kairouan: (a) Southern side of the courtyard; (b): 5b: Cupola above the main entrance of the prayer hall added in 863. (Source).

These documents, which included unique cultural data, formed part of the curriculum taught at the great mosque then. The collection in the ancient library of Kairouan is in large part written on parchment, and is the largest and best known collection in the Arab Islamic world [47]. The library, of course, contained a greater number of books on religion, jurisprudence and language, but it also included large numbers of scientific works. Abd al-Wahab located at the Kairouan Library (al-maktaba al-‘atiqa) an Arabic translation of Tarikh al-‘umam al-qadima (history of Ancient Nations), which was written by Saint Gerome sometime prior to his death in 420 [48]. Also, in the same mosque library. This scholar also states that the same mosque library holds works such as Pliny’s text on botany which was translated from Latin [49].

A venerated sanctuary and capital of a powerful state, Kairouan was also a great commercial city; the shops of the merchants stood on either side of a covered street about two miles in length [50]. The city was greatly reputed for its carpets woven by its women on about a thousand handlooms [51]. The typical carpet of Kairouan was made of a large border formed of parallel stripes, each made of a highly geometrical repetitive floral pattern. Within this border is a large rectangle whose middle is occupied by a hexagon, the qamra, whose four angles release further motifs. The wools used for such carpets are dyed with natural colourings. The Kairouan carpet has remained, according to tradition, a product made solely by women’s hands [52].

From Kairouan, the Aghlabids organised expeditions to expanded their territories in the islands of the Mediterranean islands, particularly towards Sicily. Ziyadat Allah I (817-38) pursued a policy that gained his kingdom the leading role in the geopolitics of the western Mediterranean [53]. In 827, a mounted expedition succeeded in establishing a long term foothold in Sicily [54]. From their base in Mazara, on the west coast, the Aghlabid force of ten thousand men moved forward. Palermo fell in 831, Messina in 843, Enna in 859; putting thus the island under their effective control. The expeditionary force was described by modern scholars as “an infinitely mixed lot of Arabs, Berbers, Spaniards and Sudanese [55].”

To emphasise the religious character of the endeavour, Ziyadat Allah appointed the reputed theologian of Kairouan Asad Ibn al-Furat as the supreme commander of the expeditionary forces [56].

5. Ibn Abī Zayd al- Qayrawānī

Among the notable scholars of Kairouan, Abū Muhammad ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Zayd ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Qayrawānī (310-86/922-96) was the head of the Mālikī school of Kairouan. He has been called “Mālik the Younger”, in reference to Malik ibn Anas, the founder and leader of the Maliki school of Islamic law (fiqh). With al-Abharī, Ibn abi Zayd al-Qayrawani ranks among the chief exponents of Mālikism.

He came of a family from Nafzawa and studied at Kairouan, his birthplace, where his knowledge, his literary gifts, his piety and his wealth very soon earned him considerable prestige throughout the Muslim world. He came under the influence of Ash’arism, which had a large following in Kairouan at that time, and also that of mysticism, against whose excesses, and especially that of miracle-working, he fought. By teaching, delivering innumerable fatwās and editing numerous works, he set in order, systematized and above all spread Mālikism among the people, and the triumph of Mālikism, made final by the rupture between the Zīrids and the Fātimids under Al-Mu’izz b. Bādīs, is due primarily to his activities and to those of his emulators and disciples, the most prominent of whom in continuing his work was Al-Qābisī.

Several works of Al-Qayrawani are extant, such as al-‘Aqīda aw jumla mukhtasara min wājib umūr al-diyāna, a summary of Islamic dogma and liturgy, a poem (qasīda) on the resurrection (MS Paris, Bibl. Nat. no. 5675), a poem in honour of the Prophet (MS Brit. Mus. no. 1617), a collection of traditions (MS Brit. Mus. ii, 888). But the most famous of his works is the Risāla, which he composed in 327/938. This synopsis of Mālikism was the counterpart of the Da’ā’im al-Islām of the famous Qādī Abū Hanīfa al-Nu’mān. It has been from that time been the subject of continual study and commentary [57].

Figure 6a-b: Photographs of the Aghlabid basins or cisterns on the edge of Kairouan: (a) early 20th century (Source) and (b) present day photograph (Source 1Source 2). The two Aghlabid basins were constructed between 859 and 863 CE. They are 950 m from the ‘Door of Tunis’ (Bab Tunus) and extend over an area of 11000m2. Abu Ibrahim Ahmed Ibn Al-Aghlab (856-863 CE) completed the most famous of these facilities. See The Aghlabid Basins.

However, the main work of Ibn abi Zayd, and the summation of his knowledge, was the Kitāb al-Nawādir wa ‘l-ziyādāt ‘ala ‘l-Mudawwana, an epitome of Mālikī fiqh of great interest. His own abridgement of it is Mukhtasar of the Mudawwana which was highly esteemed [58].

6. Medical Studies

Under the Aghlabids, Kairouan came to the forefront in respect of one of the great institutions of the Islamic society, the hospital. Prince Ziyadat Allah I (817-838) built a hospital in the city in 830, one of the pioneers of its type, called the ad-Dimnah hospital, being built in the ad-Dimnah quarter near the great mosque of Kairouan. Consequently other hospitals which were erected thereafter in Tunisia were likewise called ad-Dimnah. The construction of ad-Dimnah in Kairouan was simple but adequate and the halls were well organized to include waiting rooms for visitors, a mosque for prayers and teaching, and a bath [59].

The halls were well organised indicating waiting rooms for the visitors, and a sign of a great breakthrough, for the first time female nurses, from the Sudan, were used in the hospital [60]. In addition to regular physicians who attended the sick, there were the Fuqaha al-Badan, a group of imams who practised medicine as well, a token of the early scholastic movement especially in the peripheral states of the Islamic world [61]. Their medical services included bloodletting, bone setting, and cauterisation [62]. Another great sign of innovation, at a time when elsewhere leprosy was deemed a sign of evil, was the building a special ward for the lepers, dar al-judhama in Kairouan near the hospital itself [63].

Just like other hospitals in Tunisia, the hospital was supported from the state treasury by the rulers of the various dynasties and by other rich people who gave generously to boost hospital income so that the best care could be provided [64].

The combination of the city’s intellectual abilities, the enlightened spirit of its Aghlabid rulers, and the leading place given to the study of medicine in Kairouan had a lasting effect on the field of medical learning. Several Kairourani scholars specialised in medicine, such Ishaq Ibn ‘Imran at the court of Ziyadat Allah I and II, also Ishaq ibn Suleiman at the court of Ziyadat Allah III [65]. The latter had his seven works translated by Constantine the African and these were published at Leiden in 1515 under the title Opera Isaci [66]. This is only one part of Constantine’s contribution, for his translation included much more than this, and was to revolutionise the whole of learning in the West because of the medical learning of Kairouan he took with him to Europe.

6.1. Constantine the African

Constantine the African, known in Latin as Constantinus Africanus, was born in Carthage (Tunisia) in 1065 and he died at Monte Casino (Italy) in 1085. He is among the first figures to have transmitted Muslim learning to Europe. He is behind the flourishing of the city of Salerno, where he travelled taking with him works and skills he acquired from Kairouan.

Soon after Constantine’s translations, Salerno became the first major centre of learning in Europe; its medical school the inspiration for the development of university learning. Constantine’s translations included a partial translation of the Kitab al-Maliki (the Pantegni) of Ali al-Majusi. He also translated several other works by the doctors of Kairouan on diets, the stomach, melancholy, forgetfulness and sexual intercourse, such as Al-Maqala fi ‘l malikhuliya (De melancholia) of Ishaq Ibn Imran (d. before 907), Kitab al-bawl (De urines), Kitab al-humayyat (De febrilus) and Kitab al-Aghdiya (De dietis) all of Ishaq al-Israili (d. 995), and Kitab I’timad al-adwiya al-mufrada (De Gradibus) of Ibn al-Jazzar (d. 1004) [67].

Constantine also translated the same authoris famous work Zad al-musafir (or the Guide for the traveller going to distant countries), which is the most accessible introduction to pathology, translated into Latin as the Viaticum. This Latin version exerted a considerable impact in the West [68]. Other texts on the stomach, forgetfulness, sexual intercourse, also translated by Constantine, could also be attributed to Ibn al-Jazzar [69]. Eight of his translations are included in the Opera Isaaci (published in Lyon in 1515), whilst a collected edition of his works appeared in Basel in two volumes (1536-39) [70]. Charles Singer has given a good account on how Constantine brought the art of Medicine to the West [71]. But Constantine was not alone; his translation work was continued by his pupil, Joannes Afflacious, himself also of Muslim origin. Born about 1040 and died in or after 1103, he is also known as Joannes Saracenus (John the Saracen) [72]. He was physician from Salerno, disciple of Constantine, author of treatises on urology and on fevers, in the best tradition of the Kairouan doctors, and he also completed the translation of the surgical part of Ali ibn ‘Abbas Al-Majusi’s Liber Regalis began by Constantine [73].

Constantine was aware of the debt he owed to Kairouan’s doctors and he valued highly their worth. About the treatise on urine by Ishaq Ibn Suleyman, he said: “having found no work which gave good and reliable information on this subject, I sought in works written Arabic, where I found some excellent information, which I have translated into Latin [74].”

On the work on fevers by the same author, Constantine wrote: “Affected by your tears, oh my son John, I Constantine, have not refused to write after all I saw and knew that is useful in medicine. I have translated this work from Arabic [75].”

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Figure 7: The colophon of the manuscript of Tibb al-fuqarā’ wa-‘l-masākīn (Medicine for the poor and destitute) by Ibn al-Jazzār dated of 8 Rabi’ I 1058 (2 April 1648). MS A 92, item 1 in US National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland. (Source).

The treatise on the stomach is dedicated to Alfanus, the Archbishop of Salerno Alfanus, who often complained to Constantine about his stomach troubles. Constantine is surprised not to have found anything on the matter in the works of Greeks. He says he derived his own work from the elegant conclusions reached by the diverse authors of Kairouan [76].

6.2. Ibn al-Jazzar

However, the work of Ibn al-Jazzar, known in Latin as Algizar, gives a better idea of the sort of medical learning available at Kairouan and which was transmitted to medieval Europe, where his writings earned him great fame and made him very influential. Abu Ja’far Ahmad ibn Ibrahim ibn abi Khalid Ibn al-Jazzar flourished in Kairouan and died in 1009 [77]. As part of his medical practice, he received and examined his patients during the hours of consultation. His servant Rashiq would then administer to them the required medicine, free of charge [78]. When he died, Ibn al-Jazzar left 24,000 dinars and twenty five quintars (one quintar= 45 kgs) weight of books on medicine and other subjects [79].

Of his many writings, the most important, because of its enormous popularity, was his “Traveller’s Provision” (Zad al-musafir) which was translated into Latin by Constantinus Africanus as Viaticum peregrinantis, into Greek by Synesios and into Hebrew as Zedat al-derachim [80].

Ibn al-Jazar also wrote on the coryza and on the causes of the plague in Egypt. Details on his works can be found in a number of works other than those cited here [81]. The best survey of Ibn al-Jazzar’s work remains that by F. Sezgin [82]. Just as with the bulk of Islamic scientific manuscripts, most of the works by Ibn al-Jazzar remain unpublished to this day. One such work was thought to have been lost until discovered by Dunlop in a unique manuscript in Lisbon [83].

Zad al-musafir, Ibn al-Jazzar’s most important work, contains remarkable descriptions of smallpox and measles. The title apparently refers to recipes of a guide for the traveller, but the contents of the book present rather a systematic and comprehensive medical work [84]. The treatise consists of seven books, which discuss the different diseases and their treatment from head to toe. Though comprehensive, the style is concise so that it can be taken on a journey and consulted if no physician is available. The work is still voluminous, covering 303 folios [85]. At the beginning of the 11th century it had already been translated into Greek, and widely distributed [86]. It was also repeatedly translated into Hebrew and into Latin as previously mentioned, and was commented upon by the doctors of Salerno, this work being one of the most influential in Europe [87]. Being accepted into the so-called Articella or Ars medicinae, a compendium of medical textbooks, it was widely used in medical schools and universities at Salerno, Montpellier, Bologna, Paris and Oxford [88].

One of the afflictions Ibn Al-Jazzar deals with is forgetfulness. Noting how forgetfulness is prevalent among old people in cold and moist countries, he endeavoured to devote a specific treatment to it in Zad al-musafir. For Ibn al-Jazzar, a good memory indicates a solid and balanced substance of the posterior part of the brain. Much forgetfulness, however, little understanding, slowness of mind, and much carelessness indicate that its substance is not solid [89]. In the same work, Ibn al-Jazzar states that superfluous cold moisture dominating the posterior part of the brain causes so much forgetfulness that someone suffering from it will not remember what has been told him recently, will yawn very much and neglect his interests [90].

Ibn al-Jazzar’s treatise on women’s diseases and their treatment is worthy of greater interest, being a subject little known about [91]. The section on women’s diseases was the major source for one of the Tortula treatises on gynaecology produced in Salerno in the 12th century, namely the Cum Auctor [92]. These women’s diseases are discussed in chapters 9 to 18 of the sixth book of Zad al-musafir. According to Ibn al-Jazzar, menstruation plays a central role in maintaining women’s health and in causing women’s diseases; he therefore discusses this topic first. Some Western medical treatises such as the Lilium medicinae of Bernard of Gordon (fl. 1283-1308) follow a similar pattern to Ibn al-Jazzar, starting their discussion of women’s diseases with the subject of menstrual retention [93].

In Chapter 10, Ibn al-Jazzar discusses an excessive blood loss occurring to women (Hypermenorhoea). He concludes this chapter by prescribing a variety of decoctions, electuaries, pills, pessaries, suppositories and powders [94]. In Chapter 12, he discusses the occurrence of tumours in the uterus, whilst in chapter 13 he discusses the occurrences of ulcers in the same part and their treatment. His treatments touch upon the problem of the examination and treatment of the patient, an issue which has also been debated by Ibn Khaldun and Ibn Hanbal, the prevailing idea being that the physician should only take an active part in the treatment of women’s diseases when it is impossible for the midwife alone to do so, as for instance, in the case of some operations [95].

image alt text

Figure 8: Front cover of Ibn al-Jazzar et l’école médicale de Kairouan by Sleim Ammar (Tunis, Auto-Editions, 1990, reprinted 1994).

In Chapter 15, Ibn al-Jazzar discusses the regimen which is good for pregnant women, he suggests some general rules to prevent the pregnant woman from getting upset during this phase, and he suggests ointments and poultices to be applied in order to strengthen the connection of the foetus with the uterus, and for the end of pregnancy, he recommends bathing, ointments and relaxing food [96].

It is this medical heritage which was passed on to the West by Constantine the African via Salerno, who transmitted this legacy soon after the high civilisation of Tunisia in general, and that of Kairouan in particular, suffered its demise.

7. Decline of Kairouan

The expeditions of the Banu Hilal in the Maghrib in the 11th century had a major influence on the peaceful history of Kairouan.

Banu Hilal were a confederation of Bedouin tribes that migrated from Upper Egypt into North Africa in the 11th century, having been sent by the Fatimids to punish the Zirids for abandoning Shiism. Other authors suggest that the tribes left the grasslands on the upper Nile because of environmental degradation accompanying the Medieval Warm Period [97]. The Banu Hilal quickly defeated the Zirids and seriously weakened the neighboring Hammadids in Tunisia and Algeria. Their influx was a major factor in the linguistic and cultural Arabization of the Maghreb.

Figure 9a-b: Two views of a 13th-century manuscript of the Viaticum peregrinorum (National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, collection De Ricci, MS M12.) This is the Latin translation by Constantine the African of Ibn al-Jazzar’s Kitab Zad al-musafir wa-qut al-hadir. The Viaticum was printed in 1510 in Lyon as Breviarum Constantini dietum Viaticum, and has been reprinted many times since then. (Source).

Ibn Khaldun classified the Banu Hilal expeditions as invasions and judged them severely, as he deemed them enormously destructive. He noted that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert. He even paralleled the destructions inflicted by Banu Hilal in the Maghrib with those later caused by the Mongols in Western Asia. Ibn Khaldun used archeological evidence (the ruins that covered the region) to show that the Maghrib had had a populous and flourishing civilization before the Banu Hilal raid [98].

Some historical sources attest that the Fatimid Caliph said to the Banu Hilal tribes in Egypt on the eve of their raids: “I give you the Maghrib with all its riches.” And to emphasize his word, he gave each warrior who crossed the western frontier of Egypt a dinar and a cloth of honour [99]. This spelled ruin and devastation for Ifriqya. In wave after wave, the warriors followed by their families and herds, swept over the Cyrenaica and Tripolitania into southern Tunisia, drawing others behind them, pilfering, burning, and destroying everything on their way [100]. The invaders spread havoc, towns and cities were burnt down; the whole of Ifriqya now was turned from its prosperous condition into a vast empty and arid zone, land fit only for herds, nomads, and shepherds [101].

The Hilâli invasions of the mid-11th century ended Tunisia’s role as an entrepôt. Andalusi families doing business there transferred their operations eastwards [102]. The Banu Hilal entered Kairouan and wrought the most frightful havoc on it in 1057 [103]. Ibn Khaldun tells: “They destroyed all the beauty and all the splendour of the monuments of Kairouan. Nothing that the Sanhadji princes had left in their palaces escaped the greed of the brigands. All that there was in the town was carried off or destroyed [104].” Kairouan, residence of the caliph’s governors, the spiritual and intellectual metropolis of the Muslim West in the days of the Aghlabids and the Zirids, was thoroughly devastated by the Banu Hilal. The population was scattered in all directions, some went to Egypt, others to Sicily and Spain; a considerable body to Fes [105].

The capital of Ifriqya never recovered from this disaster. Writing in the 16th century, Leo Africanus, who visited Kairouan in 1516, tells: “The inhabitants are at present all poor artisans, of whom some are curriers of the skins of sheep and goats, the others furriers whose handiwork is sold in the cities of Numidia, where no European cloth is to be had. But all of these traders, there is none who is able to make a good livelihood and those who follow them live a miserable existence and are in very great poverty [106].”

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Figure 10: Frontispiece of a medieval manuscript showing Constantine the African lecturing to the school. From De Conservanda Bona Valetudine opusculum Scholae Salernitanae… (Francofurti, Apud Christianum Egenolphum, 1545). The book is a collection of medical recipes and advices known usually as Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum (The Health Rules of Salerno), a booklet containing the essential principles of the Salerno medical school. (Source).

Like a sort of obituary, the road to decline is well traced by Fontaine and Gresser, who tell how from a camp founded by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’, to become the centre of the spread of Islam westward, then the capital of the governors of Ifriqyia, then the zenith of its glory and history under the Aghlabids, just to begin its phase of decline under the Fatimids, before the Banu Hilal dealt it the mortal blow [107]. Talbi gives an even more vivid account of Kairouan’s decline:

“On the eve of the Banu Hilal invasion, Kairouan had already lost much of its brilliance of Aghlabid times, the Banu Hilal invasion was the coup de grace, which ended its brilliant history. On the first day of Ramadhan of 1057, they began their destruction and devastation. This half of the century symbolised not just the end of Kairouan, but also the end of the whole brilliance of the Maghrib. It was the end of a prestigious period of civilisation. Urban life and urbanity retreated in front of the advance of the nomadic hordes, the Bedouinisation of the country spread down to the 19th century. In this era of decadence, Kairouan, once a great metropolis, turned into a miserable town lost in the steppes. Deserted by the major part of its population, it continued to shrink. Ten years after the Banu Hilal invasion, only a crumbling wall surrounded the Great Mosque, and whatever was left of the quarters to the west of the city. When al-Idrisi wrote in the middle of the 12th century, that is just prior to the arrival of the Almohads, Kairouan was only ruins, only subsiding walls of earth, in the hand of tribes who severely taxed an already impoverished population [108].”

Once Kairouan was destroyed, the organisation of government was dislocated; the authority of the Zirid emir was reduced to al-Mahdiya and the narrow coastal strip, whereas the rest of the country is split into numerous city states under continuously changing local chieftains [109]. After the Banu Hilal devastation, despite signs of renewal in following centuries, the city never recovered its illustrious Aghlabid past.


[1] G. Iver, “Kairawan”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, first series, vol. 4, pp. 646-9, and M. Talbi, “al-Kayrawān.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, vol. 4, p. 824 (Brill online, 06 January 2010).

[2] Al-Idrisi, Nuzhat al-Mushtaq, quoted by M. al-Rammah, “The Ancient Library of Kairaouan and its Methods of Conservation”, in The Conservation and Preservation of Islamic Manuscripts, Proceedings of the Third Conference of Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, 1995, pp. 29-47; p. 29.

[3] J. Fontaine and P. Gresser, Le Guide de la Tunisie, Editions La Manufacture, Besançon, 1992, p. 52.

[4] On the foundation of Kairouan, see the informative account by John Anthony The Fourth Holy City, Saudi Aramco World, January/February 1967, pp. 30-36.

[5] Ibn Naji, Ma’alim al-iman fi ma’rifat ahl Qayrawan, Tunis 1320/1902, vol. 1, p. 30; reprinted Tunis, Librairie al-Atiqa, 1968.

[6] Ibn Abd al-Hakam, Kitab Futuh Misr wa-‘l-Maghrib wa-‘l-Andalus, partially edited and translated by A. Gateau, Algiers, 1948, p. 57. See the English translation by Torrey of a portion of this 9th century work covering the period: “The Muhammedan Conquest of Egypt and North Africa in the Years 643-705 A.D., translated from the Original Arabic of Ibn ‘Abd-el Hakem'”, Biblical and Semitic Studies vol. 1 (1901), 279-330.

[7] Abū al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Idhāri al-Marrākushi, Al-Bayan al-Mughrib fî akhbar muluk al-andalus wa-‘l-maghrib, ed. Colin and Lévi-Provençal, Leiden 1948, vol. 1, p. 15 (reprinted Paris, Armand Colin, 1945-1960, 2 vols.)

[8] Abu-Bakr al-Maliki (d. ca 453-474/1061-1081), Riyadh al-Nufus fi tabaqat ‘ulama’ al-Qayrawan wa-Ifriqiya, edited by Husayn Mu’nis, Cairo, 1951, vol. 1, pp. 17-18; Ibn ‘Idhārī, Al-Bayān, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 16; Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 39-40.

[9] Ibn Naji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 41.

[10] M. Solignac, “Recherches sur les installations hydrauliques de Kairaouan et des steppes tunisiennes du VIIème au XIème siècle”, Annales de l’Institut des Etudes Orientales, Algiers, X (1952), pp. 5-273.

[11] Abū ‘l-‘Arab, Tabaqat ‘Ulama’ Ifriqiya, edition and translation by Ben Cheneb, Paris, 1915, p. 67; al-Mālikī, Riyādh, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 18. Neither al-Bakrī nor al-Idrīsī cite it, and for Yāqūt (Mu’jam al-buldān, Beirut 1957, vol. 4, p. 333) al-Qarn was no more than a mountain in Ifrīqiya.

[12] Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Kitab futūh, op. cit., p. 65.

[13] Ibid, pp. 64-6; al-Mālikī, Riyādh, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 6-7, 19; Ibn ‘Ishārī, Al-Bayān, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 19-20; Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 7-9.

[14] Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futūh, op. cit., pp. 68-69; Ibn ‘Ishārī, Al-Bayān, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 22; Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 42-3.

[15] Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 43.

[16] M. Talbi, “al-Kayrawān”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, vol. 4, op. cit.

[17] The Arabic sources plainly affirm that Kairouan was raised on the ruins of an ancient town named Qūniya or Qamūniya. There is no reason at all to doubt their suggestions, which are amply borne out by modern archaeological evidence. See Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futūh, op. cit., pp. 58, 74; Al-Mālikī, Riyādh op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 12-21; Al-Bakrī, El-Bekri, Description de l’Afrique septentrionale [extrait de Description géographique du monde connu], éd. et trad. en français par William Mac Guckin de Slane, Alger, 1858-1859 (Journal asiatique, 12-14) ; nouv. éd. Paris, 1913 (online here); repr. Paris, 1965, pp. 52-53, 75; Yāqūt, Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 39-41.

[18] Ibn Khaldun, Les Prolégomènes d’Ebn Khaldoun, traduction française de W. M. de Slane, 3 vol., Paris, 1863, p. 647. Modern authors share this view (J. Despois, Kairouan. Origine et évolution d’une ancienne capitale musulmane, in Annales de Géographie, vol. 39, 1930, p. 161; P. Sebag, Kairouan, Zürich 1963, p. 16.

[19] M. Talbi, “al-Kayrawān”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, vol. 4, op. cit.

[20] Ibn ‘Idhārī (Al-Bayān, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 20) states that ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’, to build the city, gave the order to deforest the area (an yaqta’ū al-shajar). In the 4th/10th century, Al-Bakrī reveals (Masālik, op. cit, 26/61) that the forest of olive-trees at Kairouan was sufficient by itself to furnish the town with all the wood it needed without suffering the least damage.

[21] J. Despois, “Kairouan: Origine et évolution d’une ancienne capitale musulmane”, op. cit.

[22] M. Solignac, “Recherches sur les installations hydrauliques”, op. cit.

[23] Ibn ‘Abd al-Hakam, Futūh, op. cit., pp. 68-69; Abū ‘l-‘Arab, Tabaqāt, op. cit., p. 25; al-Mālikī, Riyādh, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 30, 69-70; Ibn Nāji, Ma’ālim, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 52, 147; Ibn ‘Idhārī, Al-Bayāni, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 32, 44, 259.

[24] S. and N. Ronart: Concise encyclopaedia of Arabic civilization; The Arab West; Djambatan; Amsterdam; 1966. pp, 37-8.

[25] Al-Bakri quoted by G. Iver: Kairawan; op. cit., p. 647.

[26] M. Solignac, “Recherches sur les installations hydrauliques”, op. cit.

[27] M. Shaw, Voyages de Shaw MD dans plusieurs provinces de la Barbarie et du Levant, 2 vols., La haye, 1743; vol. 2, pp. 257-9; E. Pelissier, Description de la Régence de Tunis: Exploration scientifique de l’Algérie pendant les années 1840-41-42, Paris, 1853, pp. 279-80.

[28] A. Daux, Recherches sur l’originalite et l’emplacement des emporia Pheniciennes dans le Zeugis et le Byzacium, Paris, 1849.

[29] H. Saladin, Enquêtes sur les installations hydrauliques romaines en Tunisie, published by Direction des Antiquites et Beaux Arts et La Régence de Tunisie, Tunis, 1890-1912; R. Thouvenot, “Les traveaux hydrauliques des Romains en Afrique du Nord”, Réalités marocaines. Hydraulique, Eléctricité, Casablanca, 1951.

[30] M. Solignac, “Recherches sur les installations hydrauliques”, op. cit.

[31] Ibid.

[32] H. Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, Librairie Renouard, Paris, 1908. p. 100.

[33] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 368.

[34] H. Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, op. cit., p. 98 ff.

[35] G. Iver, Kairawan, op. cit., p. 647.

[36] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., pp. 37-8.

[37] Andrew Petersen, Dictionary of Islamic Architecture, Routledge, London and New York, 1996, pp. 235-236 (online here). The Kairouan great mosque is the subject of several studies: see Ahmad Fikri, L’art islamique de Tunisie: la Grande mosquée de Kairouan, Henri Laurens, Paris, 1934; Néji Djelloul, Kairouan: la Grande mosquée, Contraste, Sousse, 2000; Noureddine Harrazi, Chapiteaux de la Grande mosquée de Kairouan, 2 vols., Institut national d’archéologie et d’art, Tunis, 1982; Georges Marçais, Coupole et plafonds de la Grande mosquée de Kairouan, Tournier, Paris, 1925; G. Marçais, Les faïences à reflets métalliques de la Grande mosquée de Kairouan, Geuthner, Paris, 1928; Henri Saladin, La mosquée de Sidi Okba à Kairouan, Ernest Leroux, Paris, 1899; Paul Sebag, La Grande mosquée de Kairouan, Delpire, Paris, 1963.

[38] J. Fontaine and P. Gresser, Le Guide de la Tunisie, op. cit., p.309.

[39] G. Iver, Kairawan, op. cit., p. 647.

[40] M. Al-Rammah, “The Ancient Library”, op. cit., p. 29.

[41] H. Djait et al., Histoire de la Tunisie: Le Moyen Age, Société Tunisienne de Difusion, Tunis, 1960.

[42] M.M. Sibai; Mosque Libraries: An Historical Study; Mansell Publishing Limited: London and New York: 1987, P. 58.

[43] H. Djait et al., Histoire de la Tunisie, op. cit., p. 378.

[44] S. and N. Ronart: Concise Encyclopaedia; op. cit., pp. 37-8.

[45] Ibrahim Shabuh, “Sijil qadim li-Maktabat Jami’ al-Qayrawan” [Ancient catalogue of the library of Kairouan mosque], Majallat Ma’had al-Makhtutat al-‘Arabiya, vol. 2 (November 1956), pp. 339-72. The article contains excellent photographs of original calligraphy and inscriptions.

[46] M. Al-Rammah, “The Ancient Library”, op. cit., p. 31.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Hassan Husni Abd al-Wahab, “Bait al-Hikma al-Tunusi: Bahth tarikhi fi awwal mu’assasa ‘ilmiya jami’iya fi al-bilad al-ifriqiya”, Majallat Majma’ al-Lugha al-Arabiya (Cairo), vol. 30 (1963-4), p. 128.

[49] H. Djait et al., Histoire, op. cit., p. 193.

[50] G. Iver, Kairawan, op. cit., p. 647.

[51] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 368.

[52] J. Fontaine and P. Gresser, Le Guide de la Tunisie, op. cit., p. 308.

[53] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 38.

[54] A. L. Udovitch, “Islamic Sicily”, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, edited by J.R. Strayer, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1980-, vol. 11, p. 261.

[55] J. D. Breckenridge, “The two Sicilies”, Islam and the Medieval West, edited by S. Feber, catalogue of exhibition: A Loan Exhibition at the University Art Gallery, State University of New York (April 6 – May 4, 1975), p. 43.

[56] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 38. For more information on the “Islamic Sicily”, see the following articles published on www.MuslimHeritage.com: Sicily under Islamic Rule; Norman Sicily, start of the post Islamic period; The Role of Sicily in the transfer of Islamic Science to the West; Muslims in Norman Sicily.

[57] The Risala was published several times in Cairo, notably in 1323; text and partial English translation by A. D. Russell and Abdullah al-Mamun Suhrawardy, First steps in Muslim jurisprudence, London 1906; French translation by E. Fagnan, Paris 1914; Arabic text and French translation by L. Bercher, Algiers 1945, 1948, 1949.

[58] H.R. Idris, Idris, H.R. “Ibn Abī Zayd al- ?ayrawānī”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, online version, Brill, 2010; print version: vol. 3, p. 695; Ibn Nājī, Ma’ālim al-īmān, Tunis 1320, vol. 3, pp. 135-52; H. R. Idris, Deux juristes kairouanais de l’époque zīrīde: Ibn Abī Zayd et al-Qābisī, in Annales de l’Institut des Etudes Orientales d’Alger, 1954, pp. 121-98; idem, La Berbérie Orientale sous les Zīrīdes, 2 vols., Paris 1962.

[59] S. Hamarneh, Health Sciences in Early Islam, Noor Foundation and Zahra Publications, Texas, 1983, p. 102.

[60] M. I. H. I. Surty, Muslim Contribution to the Development of Hospitals, Quranic Arabic Foundation, Birmingham, 1996, p. 66.

[61] S. Hamarneh, Health Sciences, op. cit., p. 102.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Hassan Abd al-Wahab, “Al-Tib al-‘arabi fi Ifriqiya”, Al-Fikr; 1985; vol 3; no 10; pp. 907-16.

[64] S. Hamarneh, Health Sciences, op. cit., p. 102.

[65] H. Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, op. cit., p. 118.

[66] Ibid, p. 119, note 1.

[67] F. Micheau, “La Transmisison à l’Occident Chrétien: Les traductions médiévales de l’Arabe au Latiné; in Etats, Sociétés et Cultures, edited by J. C. Garcin et al., vol. 2: Etats, Sociétés et Cultures du monde musulman médiéval, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 2000, pp. 399-420; p. 404.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

[70] G. Sarton, Introduction to the History of Science, The Carnegie Institute, Washington, 1927, vol. 1, p. 769.

[71] Charles Singer, “A Legend of Salerno: How Constantine Brought the Art of Medicine to the Christians”, Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, vol. 28, 1917, pp. 64-9.

[72] G. Sarton, Introduction, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 769.

[73] Ibid.

[74] N. L. Leclerc, Histoire de la médecine arabe, 2 vols., Paris, 1876; vol. 2, p. 363.

[75] Ibid, pp. 363-4.

[76] N.L. Leclerc: Histoire de la medecine; p. 365. On Ibn al-Jazzar see the following articles published on www.MuslimHeritage.com: Salerno and Constantine the African; Arabic Medicine in the Mediterranean; Medical Sciences in the Islamic Civilization: Scholars, Fields of Expertise and Institutions.

[77] G. Sarton, Introduction, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 682.

[78] G. Bos, “Ibn al-Jazzar on Women’s Diseases and their Treatment”, Medical History, vol. 37, 1993, pp. 296-312 (online here); p. 296.

[79] Ibid.

[80] G. Sarton, Introduction; op. cit., vol. 1, p. 682.

[81] F. Wustenfeld, Geschichte der arabischen Aerzte und Naturforscher, Göttingen, 1840; Th.Puschmann, Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin, 2 vols., Max Neuburger und Julius Pagel (Herausgeber), Verlag von Gustav Fischer, Jena, 1902-03; M. Steinschneider, Die europäischen Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen bis Mitte des 17. Jahrhunderts, Abhandlungen der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, (149), Wien 1904.

[82] F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums, vol. 3: Medizin-Pharmazie-Zoologie, Leiden, Brill, 1970, pp. 304-7. See also G. Bos, “Ibn al-Gazzar’s Risala fi an-nisyan and Constantine’s Liber de Oblivione“, in Constantine the African and Ali Ibn Abbas al-Majusi, edited by C. Burnett and D. Jacqart, Leiden, 1994, pp. 203-37; p. 203.

[83] D. M. Dunlop, “The Arabic Manuscripts of the Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa”, Actas del primer congreso de estudios arabes e islamicos (Cordoba, 1962), Madrid, 1964, p. 287.

[84] Ibid.

[85] Zad al-Musafir comprises an introduction and 20 chapters, divided into sections dealing with the sexual ailments of men (chapters 1-8) and women (chapters 9-18), as well as sciatica (chapter 19) and gout (chapter 20). The available extant manuscripts of Zad al-Musafir are held in Berlin, Dresden, Oxford’s Bodleian Library, Huntington, Teheran-Malik, Copenhagen, Paris, London, The Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, and the Tarim al-Ahqaf Library. See Ibn al-Jazzar on Sexual Diseases and their Treatment, translated and edited by Gerrit Bos, London and New York: Kegan Paul International, 1997.

[86] See C. Daremberg, “Recherches sur un ouvrage qui a pour titre Zad al-Mucafir en arabe, Ephodes en grec, Viatique en latin, et qui est attribué, dans les textes arabes et grecs, à Abou Djafar, et, dans le texte latin, à Constantin”, Archives des missions scientifiques et littéraires, vol. 2, 1851, pp. 490-527.

[87] G.Bos, “Ibn al-Jazzar’s on Women’s Diseases”, op. cit., p. 297.

[88] H. Schipperges, Die Arabische Medizin im lateinischen Mittelalater, Springer Verlag, 1976, pp. 106-8.

[89] Gerrit Bos, “Ibn al-Gazzar’s Risala fi an-nisyan and Constantine’s Liber de Oblivione“, op. cit., p. 208.

[90] Ibid, p. 210.

[91] Gerrit Bos devoted several works to this book. Besides his excellent article quoted above (“Ibn al-Jazzar on Women’s Diseases”, op. cit), see also his recent book Ibn Al-Jazzar on Sexual Diseases and Their Treatment: A Critical Edition of Zad Al-Musafir Wa-Qut Al-Hadir: Provisions for the Traveller and Nourishment for the Sedentary (Islamic Philosophy, Theology & Science), London, Kegan Paul, 1997, paperback. This publication is a critical edition and translation of the sixth book of Ibn al-Jazzar’s Zad al-musafir dealing with sexual diseases affecting men and women, and is of major importance in studies on the history of sexuality.

[92] This has been shown by M. H. Geen in her pioneering study The Transmission of Ancient Theories of Female Physiology and Disease through the Early Middle Ages, PhD thesis, Princeton University, 1985, pp. 278-90.

[93] G. Bos, “Ibn al-Jazzar on Women Diseases”, op. cit., p. 299, note 21.

[94] Ibid, p. 302.

[95] Ibid, p. 305.

[96] Ibid, p. 308. On the work of Ibn al-Jazzar, see Ahmed Ben Miled, Ibn Al Jazzar et Constantin l’Africain (Salambo editions, Tunis, 1987) and Histoire de la médecine arabe en Tunisie, Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, Beirut, 1999.

[97] For these two hypotheses, see respectively Bernard G. Weiss & Arnold H. Green, A Survey of Arab History? American University in Cairo Press, Cairo, 1987, p. 129; and Jean-Louis Ballais, “Conquests and land degradation in the eastern Maghreb”, in Barker, Graeme and Gilbertson, David (2000) The Archaeology of Drylands: Living at the Margin Routledge, London, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 125-136; p. 134.

[98] Claire Russell and W.M.S. Russell, Population Crises and Population Cycles. 3. North Africa and Western Asia, March 1996 (retrieved 10.01.2010).

[99] H. Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, op. cit., pp. 106-107.

[100] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 398.

[101] H. Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, op. cit., p. 107.

[102] T. Glick, Islamic and Christian Spain, Princeton, 1979, p. 131.

[103] G. Iver, Kairawan, op. cit., p. 648.

[104] Ibn Khaldoun, Histoire des Berbères et des dynasties musulmanes de l’Afrique septentrionale, French translation by William MacGuckin Slane, vol. 1, Imprimerie du Gouvernement, Alger, 1852, p. 37.

[105] Abd al-Wahid al-Marrakushi, Al-Mu’jib fi tarikh akhbar al-Maghrib, edited by R. Dozy, vol. 2, p. 259.

[106] Quoted in ibid.

[107] J. Fontaine and P. Gresser, Le Guide de la Tunisie, op. cit., p. 306.

[108] Ibid, p. 310.

[109] S. and N. Ronart, Concise Encyclopaedia, op. cit., p. 371.

*The original article was produced by Salah Zaimeche and Lamaan Ball and Salim Al-Hassani. The members of the new FSTC Research Team have re-edited and revised this new version. The team now comprises of Mohammed Abattouy, Salim Al-Hassani, Mohammed El-Gomati, Salim Ayduz, Savas Konur, Cem Nizamoglu, Anne-Maria Brennan, Maurice Coles, Ian Fenn, Amar Nazir and Margaret Morris.

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