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Baghdad schools are a challenging topic, involving several different facets of history. These include cartography to identify the location of each school, biographical studies to identify their teachers, preachers, jurists and administrators, along with their chronology. As such, schools were – and remain – inextricably linked to life’s numerous domains.1 Cultural continuity invites us to look further back into the scholarly traditions in the schools of Baghdad. Arabs and Muslims paid attention to knowledge from an early age, and during every stage of their lives. Knowledge, scholars and students were awarded unparalleled, unique status.2...
Mustansiriya Madrasa (After the Restorations), Baghdad, Iraq – Constructed between 1227 and 1234 by the Abbasid Caliph al-Mustansir (1226-1242) – Photo: Hans Munk Hanse (Source)
Prof. Nabila A. Dawood, Head of the Centre for Reviving Arabic Scientific Heritage, University of Baghdad, Iraq
When Islam was founded, more emphasis was given to the importance of knowledge. The Qur’ān, addressed people in a terminology they understood, making reference to much of what they knew. The Qur’ān encouraged people to learn to write. Numerous mentions are made of writing, its etiquettes and tools, learning, knowledge and intellect. It encouraged people to use their intellect to contemplate. It praised those who upheld these characteristics.3
Emphasis on learning to read and write began during the Prophet Muhammad’s time. He paid due care to this and considered it a vital matter. Muslims took him as their role model. He invited people to knowledge, and participated in applying this himself. It was valued to such an extent that teaching was accepted as a form of ransom to free prisoners of war.4
Islam was unlike preceding religions; it came to organise the affairs of this world through working for this life and the hereafter. Arabs and Muslims, through Islamic and worldly education together, aimed to apply the Qur’ānic verse: “But seek, through that which God has given you, the home of the hereafter, and [yet], do not forget your share of the present world…”.5 Attaining this goal motivated people to delve into many fields. They encouraged people to learn and developed, and maintained, schools that taught religious sciences and sharī’ah (Islamic law).6
With this increasing priority and growing experience, the features of the sciences began to take shape, and their methodologies began to be defined. For each field of study, there came to be a methodology defined by its tools, and a curriculum based on the imminent fundamental topic was formulated. During the first stage of formulating a methodological basis for scientific research, people revised books on Prophetic narrations, and compiled comprehensive works. These later came to be known as the authentic (ṣaḥīḥ) compilations.7
With the expansion of the Islamic domain, there arose a need to develop society, expand intellectual horizons, and grow scientific capital. People found they needed to study further sciences, turning their attention to fields such as linguistics, history, geography, chemistry, physics, medicine, engineering and astronomy.8
Owing to this comprehensive culture, Muslims were able to build a tremendous civilisation, contributing unparalleled intellectual and scientific heritage to the world. Moreover, exceeding the bounds of imagination in quantity and scope.9
This intense demand for knowledge and learning created the need for schools. Mosques acted as the first schools. Then arose adjoining or adjacent Qur’ānic schools (katātīb). This education movement was set in motion by other institutions such as assemblies (majālis) of the ruling elite, their palaces, ‘houses of knowledge’ (dūr al-‘ilm), papermakers’ shops, and libraries. Each of these establishments played its part, but there is no space to go into further detail here.10
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Due to the rise in the number of these houses, the role of the teacher gained prominence, and the importance of education became apparent. To quote al-Māwardi, there arose the profession of teaching ‘for a living’11. Arab and Muslim scholars laid out the basis of the science of education, its procedures, etiquettes and rules. They described beginners’ education as the primary stage of a progressive study of knowledge. They clarified issues relating to teachers, their selection and duties, teaching methods, cost-free education, teacher-parent relationships, mixed education, reprimands, weekends, and even learning foreign scripts.12
Education traditionally took place in non-dedicated locations. This was until the surge in knowledge and its complexity warranting an increase the number of sub-disciplines. Hence, the need for a dedicated place to cultivate science and spread culture arose. Schools (madāris) started to appear. In the Abbasid period, numerous schools were founded, especially in Iraq. Baghdad, the heart of the Abbasid Caliphate, provided science and scholars with the largest number. Books of history, historiography and biographies mention around 30 schools in Baghdad alone before the establishment of the Mustanṣiria.13
Perhaps the oldest school (madrasa) in the technical sense of the word was the Niẓāmia. As confirmed by consensus of historic sources, it was built by the Seljuk minister Niẓām-ul-Mulk in 462 AH (1069 CE).14 The Niẓāmia had its etiquettes, formalities and traditions, involving scholars, learners, endowments and student accommodation. Advancements which took place in the Niẓāmia, particularly in teaching methods, were a result of Niẓām-ul-Mulk’s exertion of state control on schools. This condition continued with schools established after his reign. Niẓām-ul-Mulk took care to ensure remuneration for students, teachers and maintenance of schools. He abolished tuition fees that had previously been imposed on students, transferring responsibility to the state.
Dr Imad Abd al-Salam states: “Linking the education system with the state during that period was, in the view of some who championed freedom of seeking knowledge, a great catastrophe for proper educational methods.” 15 In that vein, Hājī Khalīfa (Katip Çelebi), mentions that the scholars of Transoxania grieved at the news of the emergence in Baghdad of tuition free schools that allocated salaries for teachers and learners. They said:
“Those who sought knowledge for its honour, and for their own wholesomeness, were highly motivated and sincere. Hence there arose high calibre scholars and knowledge. However, if knowledge is awarded a wage, the degenerate and the lazy would descend upon it”.16
Courtyard before restoration, Southwest side, detail of triple arch of prayer hall viewed from roof, Early 20th century (Source)
However, this attitude did not persist for long. The school proved its reputation with benefits for both student and teacher. Some scholars even switched their school of thought to attain a teaching post within it.17 Schools in Baghdad increased in number after the Niẓāmia. Ibn Jubayr, during his visit in 580 AH (1184 CE), counted 30 schools. He is reported to have said:
“It had around 30 schools all located in the east, every one of them magnificent to behold. The greatest and most famous is the Niẓāmia, commissioned by Niẓām-ul-Mulk, and later renovated in 504 AH (1110 CE). These schools possess great endowments with huge properties to provide funding for their jurists and teachers, and stipends for students. These schools and hospitals (māristan-at) are a source of great honour and lasting pride. May God have mercy on those who established them, and those who followed in that fine tradition!”18
All of these developments preceded the founding of the Mustanṣiria and provided it with a vast repository of traditions. From its onset, the Arabic-Islamic education movement operated within the framework of specific traditions. These traditions were constrained by the needs, circumstances and historical background of society at that time.
Such were the features and objectives of the education movement, and the creation of schools during the Abbasid period; the golden age of culture and diverse intellectual systems. Abbasid caliphs played a major role in this regard. The author of ‘al-nubdhah fi-l-tārīkh’ (A Historic Sketch) on Abbasid history writes:
“It was a blessed state, from which emerged scholars and jurists, and within which specialists were accredited to pass down ḥadīth (a collection of traditions containing sayings of Prophet Muhammad which, with accounts of his daily life (the Sunnah), constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims after the Qur’ān). As per the wishes of its elite, literature and writers flourished.”19
Even during periods of foreign intrusion and the caliphate’s weakness, most Abbasid caliphs had an enthusiasm and almost obsessive love for knowledge which permeated the ages.. Perhaps the most telling evidence for this is the establishment of the Mustanṣiria. The Mustanṣiria was chosen as a model, as within it, scholarly traditions became prominent and established. This was in terms of teaching, pedagogical and administrative systems, as well as other traditions.
Mustansiriya School before restoration (Source)
The Founding of the Mustanṣiria
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Concurrent with the Mogul invasions, the Mustanṣiria was the first major Islamic “university” (jāmi’a) in Baghdad during the late Abbasid period.. All four schools of Islamic thought (madhāhib) were taught within it. What is more, it was the first Arabic Islamic university concerned with the study of the Qur’ān and Sunnah, the jurisprudential madhāhib, the Arabic language, mathematics, medicine, healthcare and physical fitness.20
It was named the Mustanṣiria after the Abbasid caliph al-Mustanṣir Billāh, Mansūr bin Muḥammad al-Dhāhir (588-640 AH) (1192-1242 CE), who rose to power in 623 AH (1226 CE). The books of history and biographical studies (tabaqāt) agree that he was an eminent personality. Even his grandfather, al-Nasir, called him ‘the judge’ (al-qādhi) for his sound intellect.21
Perhaps the most famous of his exploits was his love for knowledge and scholars, along with his patronage of them. He crowned this devotion by establishing the Mustanṣiria. He seemed to have built it not to seek a lasting legacy, but rather out of genuine love for knowledge and learning. This is evidenced by his frequent visits and supervision of many of its affairs. 22
Opposite the palace of the caliphate, the Mustanṣiria was built in the eastern side of Baghdad on the bank of the Tigris.. Its construction began in 625 AH (1227 CE), it was completed in 630 AH (1232 CE) and it was inaugurated in 631 AH (1233 CE).23 Historians elaborated in describing the elegance of its construction; Sibt Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 654 AH/1256 CE) said: “Never in the world has such a structure been erected, it was built in the most elegant fashion, in terms of appearance, facilities, halls, ornaments and number of jurists, and endowments”.24 Ibn al-Tiqtaqa (d. 709 AH/1309 CE) describes it as being “greater than one could describe, its fame enough of a testament.”25 Al-Arbali (d. 717 AH/1317 CE) describes it by saying: “it was soundly constructed, vast in dimensions, outstanding in appearance, and incredibly well-planned”.26 Ibn Kathīr (d. 774 AH/1372 CE) states: “no such school was built before it.”27
Inaugural Ceremony of the Mustanṣiria
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Inauguration of schools involved etiquettes and traditions demonstrating the caliphs’ commitment and patronage of learning. The Mustanṣiria’s inaugural ceremony was elaborate to such an extent that it had set an example for future schools.
Books of history present elaborate descriptions of the school’s inauguration. Its inauguration day was “a public spectacle”. It was inaugurated after its construction was completed on 5th Rajab 631 AH (6th April 1234 CE). The inauguration was attended by minister Nasīr-ud-Dīn Ibn-al-Nāqid as well as bureaucrats, administrators, judges, notables, preachers, ascetics, poets, dignitaries, eminent merchants, Sufis, Sages, and teachers and their assistants from other schools. The inauguration commenced with the distribution of “academic” robes to the builders, craftsmen and their associates, as well as to librarians and their assistants.28 The architect, master craftsmen, housekeepers, and orderlies were also robed and seated in a special guest house attached to the school.29
As part of the ceremony, an extensive feast was prepared. Historians including Ibn al-Fūti (d. 732 AH/1331 CE), al-Dhahabi (d. 748 AH/1347 CE), Ibn Kathīr and al-Ghassāni (d. 803 AH/1400 CE) describe it at length.30 A great tablecloth was spread across the school courtyard or in the neighbouring guesthouse, holding many kinds of food and drink, and innumerable types of sweets. The jurists’ dined lavishly.31 Ibn Kathīr states that the feast was so large that after all those who attended had eaten, leftovers were carried throughout Baghdad’s streets to the houses of notables and the public.32
After that, sixty-two students were chosen for each school of thought. Two rectors were appointed and two vice-rectors.33 The rectors were:
Each of the rectors was robed in a black gown (jubbah), indigo scarf, and provided with a mule featuring intricate saddlery and full kitting.34 The two vice-rectors were:
Each of the vice rectors was dressed with a finely woven shirt and a long embroidered turban.35 Muḥyi-dīn ibn al-Jawzi was away, so his son Jamāl-ud-dīn ‘Abd-ur-Rahmān taught in his place.36 Ibn al-Jazari (d. 739 AH/1338 CE) mentions that on the inauguration day, each of the 16 fellows was robed; granted a plain thobe, and an embroidered head cap. Each jurist was also robed, with a damiettan shirt and head cap.37 Ibn al-Fūti mentions that as part of the inauguration, the two rectors ascended separate teaching platforms and stood beneath them.38
Later that day, the school was divided into four quarters. The quarter to the right of the qibla was given to the Shāfi’īs. The second, to the left of the qibla, was given to the Ḥanafīs. The third, to the right as one enters, was given to the Ḥanbalīs. The fourth quarter, to the left as one enters, was given to the Mālikīs.39 The lodgings and rooms were then occupied.
On the inauguration day, poets recited verse. One of them included Abul-Ma’āli al-Qāsim bin Abul-Ḥadīd al-Mada’ini who said:
None has laid eyes upon such a great structure
on Earth before the reign of Al-Mustansir
ما مثل هذا الفلك العظيم لمبصر في الارض قبل اياله المستنصر
This is a building expressive of its status,
its foundations raised by a pure man
هذا بناء معرب عن قـــــــــــدره رفعت قواعده بفعل مطهـــــــــر
On the eastern bank, which is
the Mount Sinai of every great speaker.
بالجانب الشرقي بالشاطىء الذي هو طور سينا كل صاحب منبـر
ما حق دجلة ان تفوه بلفظــــــــه فهرت واي مساجل لم يقهـــــــــر
وضع الامام بها اساس بنائــــــه والمعوج بين مجمجم ومزمجــــر
قصرا ومدرسة لمن طلب الغنى اورام شنأ والعالم المتبحــــــــــــر
قد كانت الفقهاء قبل بنائهــــــــــا في كل قطر واحد لـــم يذكـــــــــر
فاليوم قد جمعت امور الدين فـي ارجائها وازيل عذرا المقصـــــر(40)
One poem41 recited during its inauguration is by an unknown author. It was presented before al-Mustanṣir by the ministry (dīwān), on 20 Rajab 631 AH/Friday 21st April, 1234 CE. It begins:
I sleep without concern for my youngsters,
placing my trust in Al-Mustansir, the king
ابيت فلا اقيم علـــــى الصغـــــار وبالمستنصر الملك انتصـــــــاري
It also includes these verses:
You have built a house of knowledge,
The Lion’s lair
All schools pale in comparison when one sets eye on it.
وقد انشأت دارالعلم قلنـــــــــــــــا عرين الليث جل عن الوجــــــــار
تضاءلت المدارس اذ رأتهـــــــــا وباتت بالمذلة والصغـــــــــــــــار
Endowments of the Mustanṣiria
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Education was previously conducted in disparate locations; mosques, scholars homes, and houses of knowledge. It had thus incurred no such expenses as to warrant the charting of day-to-day finances.
As influential and affluent individuals’ zeal for knowledge grew in to a fascination, it motivated them to disseminate knowledge for the masses. Thus emerged a new concept; endowing money and land. Endowments were recorded as a means to retain a dependable resource. In order to to disseminate knowledge and learning, these endowments funded each house of knowledge throughout the benefactor’s lifetime and beyond . Dr Ahmed Shalabi indicates that al-Ma’mūn was a leading figure in this regard; his era was a cultural golden age. He took great care in allocating generous provisions for scholars, from the yields of dedicated endowments.42
This principle continued to develop, until founding an institute or cultural establishment came to inherently entail a fixed endowment for its expenses.43 Endowments of wealth became a firm tradition of schools, particularly funding those working to serve knowledge within mosques. This was apparent at the founding of the Niẓāmia in Baghdad. Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH/1200 CE) mentions in the chronicles of 462 AH/1069 CE: “The governor Al-A’meed Abu-Nasr gathered notables, the chief judge and witnesses to the Niẓāmia. Endowment records for the school, books within it, as well as land, property, and a market built at its gate, were read before him, and before the sons of Niẓām-ul-Mulk, with the conditions set out within it.”44
School endowments became so vast that the traveller Ibn-Jubayr, whilst passing through Baghdad, said: “These schools – the schools of Baghdad – have great endowments, and protected properties, controlled by the jurists and teachers. With it, they support the students and their needs”.45 Thus, endowments came to be a firm tradition in founding schools. Accordingly, sources confirm that when al-Mustanṣir built his Mustanṣiria, he allocated it vast endowments.
However, it seems that most historians had no chance to read the Mustanṣiria’s endowment records, saying only that they were extensive, despite their detailed descriptions of other aspects of the school. Al-Ghassani says: “He allocated a majestic endowment”,46 and al-Qaramani (d. 1019 AH/1610 CE) says: “nothing on Earth was built more magnificent, or extensive in endowments”.47 The only historian who describes the Mustanṣiria’s endowments in detail was al-Dhahabi. He mentioned that he had seen a copy of its endowment records in five volumes. He said that they included several quarters and shops in Baghdad, and villages large and small, amounting to a value of 900 thousand dinars.48 Commenting on this, he says: “There is no endowment in the world that approaches its assets, except that of the mosque of Damascus, though its (i.e. the Mustanṣiria’s) are possibly more extensive.”49 He then lists its endowments as follows:[i]
“Those living off this school’s endowments, as far as I know, are around five hundred people, teachers and juniors. I have heard that the hay of the endowment is enough for the group, and the harvest of these villages remains with the land rental, [considered to be] extraneous. Such is there righteousness”.52
Al-Dhahabi also remarks elsewhere: “the endowments of the Mustanṣiria, in some years, exceeded seventy thousand mithqāls of gold.[ii] The next in size and endowments is the Mustanṣiria of Cairo.” He then expands on this, saying that what came to the Mustanṣiria in his day was far less than but a tenth of this.”53
Al-Dhahabi’s account of the decline of the Mustanṣiria’s endowment suggests much of it had fallen prey to foreign intruders during that period. This is confirmed by Muḥammad bin Shākir al-Kutubi (d. 764 AH/1362 CE) in the chronicles of 684 AH, which describe the state of the Mustanṣiria. Its jurists were told: “Who will make do with bread alone? If not, we have nothing else.” He narrates a poem by Taqi-ud-dīn Ali bin Abd-ul-Azīz al-Maghrabi al-Baghdādi (d. 684 AH/1285 CE) which laments the state of the Mustanṣiria in 684 AH/1285 CE. It reads54:
Mustansiriya School’s main gate (Source)
What an unfitting state for the Lady of all schools,
Those within it [are an example to behold?].
Mustanṣiria, finely crafted,
You were at your prime.
How could you decline,
After such greatness and honour.
Today you have become a travesty,
Your palms were bombarded,
Till their soft fruits were no more.
Nothing remained in your wounds,
But anguish and dry fibres.
I reminisce; a fine moment we spent together,
Recalled by the storytellers of Baghdad.
Every meaning reveals,
From one fine tale, another.
Oh, lady, so many were your visitors,
How empty is your bed since that night,
When crowds surrounded Al-Baqillani,
Now all survive on bread (?).
حاشا لــــــــست المدارس ومن بها يضرب المثـــــــــــلد
مستنصريــــة سبيكــــــــة قد كنت في عصر الصبــــــــا
تهون من بعـــــــــــد ذاك التعظيم والتشريـــــــــــــــــف
واليوم قد صرت بهـــرج مزيفـــــــــة تزييــــــــــــــــف
ما زال نخلك يرجـــــــــم حتى فني الرطب الجنــــــــــي
وما بقى في قراحـــــــــك غير الكرب والليـــــــــــــــــف
ذكرت بيتا ظريــــــــــــف من كان وكان البغـــــــــــــاددة
وكل معنى يـــــــــــبـــــدر من الظريف ظريــــــــــــــــف
أي ست ما اكثر زبونــــك ما اخلى فراشك من العشــــــي
ذي زحمة الباقلانــــــــــي وكلهـــــــــــــــــم برغيــــــــف
As affirmed by Ibn al-Sā’ī in the chronicles of 595 AH/1198 CE, these schools’ endowments held great importance. These school and public endowments were assigned to the chief judge.55
As a tool for the growth and development of its capabilities, this precedent clearly indicated society’s attention to the school as a prime method for safeguarding the ummah’s distinct spiritual and cultural identity.56
Scholarly Systems of the Mustanṣiria
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The Mustanṣiria was “one of the grandest schools of Baghdad, the city of peace”.57 From its foundation, it had an elaborate system defining its scholarly divisions, teaching staff, the number of administrative and general service staff, and their allocations in terms of salaries and allowances, monetary and otherwise. This system and these divisions were applied as per the conditions of its benefactor, al-Mustanṣir.58
The Mustanṣiria was the first university in Iraq, and the first Islamic university to combine the four schools of thought within one building.59 In addition to the magnitude of its scholarly divisions, it provided a full board so that each of its affairs attained elaborate management and diverse services.
Scholarly Divisions of the Mustanṣiria
Amongst the most important scholarly divisions of the Mustanṣiria were:
The House of Qur’ān
Al-Mustanṣir conditioned that his school contain it, specifying the following:
The House of Ḥadīth
Its conditions included:
The School of Medicine
One condition set out by al-Mustanṣir for his school was that it included a senior scholar (shaykh) of medicine.65 Other conditions included:
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Ibn al-Fūti narrates that this medical school was constructed two years after the Mustanṣiria, and that it entered operation after the completion of the īwān opposite the Mustanṣiria, and the suffa in which the physician would sit, along with his group of practitioners and the patients.
As it was the catalyst for the flourishing of medical studies in Baghdad, this medical school held significant importance.69 Its prominence was such that the caliph himself would issue a signature appointing the teacher of medicine. Upon appointment, the teacher was then issued with teaching robes in a special ceremony held at the ministry house (dār al-wizārah). This ceremony was attended by the senior officer, administrators, judges, notables, all teachers from other schools and jurists. Whilst sitting on the teaching platform, the teacher would present his research to those present and place a symbolic school scarf upon his turban. This official attire could only be worn whilst holding this post.70
Witness to the importance of this medical school, Ibn al-Fūti describes the physicians’ examinations upon the arrival of “physician Majd-ud-dīn Ibn al-Sabbagh al-Baghdādi in 688 AH (1289 CE), with a decree to examine the physicians and pharmacists of Iraq. Whoever he deems satisfactory, he approves his work, and whoever he deems unsatisfactory, he replaces with another whom he deems capable of practice, providing treatment and preservation of health and humour”.
It appears that this medical school did not teach theoretical knowledge alone, rather practical application was encouraged, also. Teachers of medicine, upon desiring students to perform practical application, moved them from the school to the neighbouring hospital. This was in the hope that students would be encouraged to apply their theoretical knowledge on hospital patients.71
Mustansiriya Madrasa (After the Restorations) (Source)
As conditioned by its benefactor, additional fields taught in the school included grammar, literature and inheritance. The Mustanṣiria had a shaykh of Arabic grammar and literature, yet no allocated place or school for those two fields. Rather, they were taught in the gallery of the Mustanṣiria.72 Teaching grammar was subject to the following conditions:
In addition to the aforementioned scholarly divisions, other fields such as inheritance, mathematics and all that relates to religious studies were also taught in the Mustanṣiria. However, it seems that these were not assigned a formal location, also. Some historians make reference to the existence of these fields in its curricula, and some, including inheritance and mathematics, were mentioned to have been part of its endowment conditions.
Al-Arbali says of the Mustanṣiria: “It is [as] the Ka’ba for people, the qibla for Islam… comprising collections and study of poetry… and distribution of inheritance and bequests, and study of mathematics and areas[iii], and study of medicine, and benefits of animals, and preservation of vitality of health and soundness of body.”74
Ibn al-Fūti states: “Al-Mustanṣir conditioned that it includes someone to teach mathematics and inheritance”.75 Ibn al-Jazari confirms this, saying that al-Faraḍi – one of the jurists – had, to his knowledge, more than 13 carats of gold.76
Along with their staff, salaries and food allowances, the preceding were the most important scholarly divisions within the Mustanṣiria. Allowances for all staff were increased during Ramadan.77
It is also of note that the Mustanṣiria had its own dedicated mosque to perform prayers, with an imam (prayer leader), khatīb (sermon deliverer) and preacher. In his chronicles of 654 AH/1256 CE, the presence of this mosque is indicated by Ibn al-Fūti. He mentions that when a flood struck Baghdad, causing many of its houses and shops to collapse, the situation necessitated several Friday congregational prayers at the Mustanṣiria’s mosque to accommodate the people.78
Al-Ghassāni narrates, speaking on the Mustanṣiria’s scholarly system and its staff and students of jurisprudence, that every sect had an imām to lead its prayer, a reciter for the seven qirā’at (recitations) of the Qur’ān, and a preacher, each of which was given ten carats per month in addition to his monthly salary. He also mentioned that it contained a muezzin (to perform the call to prayer).79
The Library of the Mustanṣiria
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Books are the ‘instrument of knowledge’. For this reason, people were concerned with gathering and preserving them. Libraries were built as the classical means of spreading knowledge. Due to their prohibitive cost, it was unfeasible for all but the wealthy to own books, so those who wished to educate the masses would make libraries containing book collections, and open their doors to the public.80 These libraries developed and became an essential tradition to accompany the founding of any school. This is manifest in the book stores of the Niẓāmia school, which Ibn al-Jawzi describes:
“I viewed the vault of books endowed within the Niẓāmia school, and found it to contain six thousand volumes. When al-Mustanṣir founded the Mustanṣiria school, he paid great attention to its library, filling its stores with books.”81
“Due to God granting him an inclination to the [various] fields of knowledge, he consistently – from the beginning of his times and life – concerned himself with religious and literary knowledge, working to copy books with commitment and consistency, elegant in handwriting, accurate in style. His love for knowledge drove him to construct a book store82, in which he collected [books on] many fields of knowledge; diverse, contrasting and complementary. Thus, the book store – the most important scholarly division of the Mustanṣiria – became famous beyond description, due to the valuable books it contained.”
On the day it opened, al-Mustanṣir had “the noble quarters[iv] and valuable books containing religious and literary knowledge, carried by 160 men, placed within the book store”.83 This was in addition to the books endowed by al-Mustanṣir. He endowed book stores unprecedented in quantity, beauty, and production quality of the books within.84 Ibn ‘Inaba relates that al-Mustanṣir placed 80 thousand volumes within his store in the Mustanṣiria, such that it became a library unrivalled the world over.85
In order to maximise their benefit, it appears that the sheer quantity of books held within the Mustanṣiria’s book store motivated their organisation and categorisation. Ibn al-Fūti describes how al-Mustanṣir, after moving the books from his personal stores to the Mustanṣiria, approached Shaykh Abdul-Azīz, head of the women’s quarters in the school, to proofread the books.86 He delegated responsibility87 for the books to his able son, Dia-ud-dīn Ahmad. The keeper of the caliph’s palace book store was also brought in, and he tended to the books and arranged them well, in detail and by art, so as to facilitate access for the reader.88
The increasing number of books in the Mustanṣiria’s book stores in the years following its inauguration led to the construction of a [separate] ‘house of books’ within it, containing many valuable [volumes]. This building was inaugurated in 644 AH/1246 CE89 and its inauguration was a spectacle. Muwaffaq-ud-dīn Abul-Qāsim Ibn Abul-Hadīd described it in verse90:
With books, brilliant in appearance
I have seen the store adorned.
Their names [so many], they eluded you
to compile them; the compiler did not lie.
In it, a collection as the sea, except
it is so lavish it has no coast.
In it, refinement of your excellence,
Sufficient yet generous.
In it is the means for what we seek,
and in it is our end and perfection.
رأيت الخزانة قد زينـــــــت بكتب لها المنظر الهائــــــل
تمثلت اسماءها منكـــــــــــم على النقل ما كذب الناقــــل
بها مجمع البحر لكنــــــــــه من الجود ليس له ساحـــــل
وفيها المهذب من فضلكــــم ومغن ولكنه نائــــــــــــــــل
وفيها الوسيط بما نرتجيــــه وفيها النهاية والكامــــــــــل
The book store in the Mustanṣiria was of crucial importance, disseminating knowledge for many years through its valuable and rare contents. Hājī Khalīfa (Katip Celebi) mentions in 14 volumes and his original handwriting, it contained a complete copy of the history of al-Khatīb al-Baghdādi 91.
Professor Abbas al–Azzawi on the topic of Jalayirid poetry (738-864 AH/1337-1459 CE) says: “… How could poetry have died, or the literary spirit have extinguished, when the store of the Mustanṣiria was still standing, offering reference to its artefacts? … It was an instructor for when a teacher was unavailable, and a guide for the seeker of literature. It was, for [the visitor], an ember to [ignite] the love of poetry”.92
This store had a dedicated system in place. It was run by a number of staff to manage its daily affairs, and facilitate its benefits for students, including:
The duties of these staff members indicate the presence of systems and traditions, upheld in the establishment of these libraries. As illustrated by the size of its book store and the respect warranted to knowledge and scholars by its benefactor, the Mustanṣiria was integral within this spirit . Al-Mustanṣir took all means to alleviate difficulties facing those benefitting from it. This is supported by al-Mundhiri’s description: “He was a driven philanthropist, striving through numerous good works. … He constructed his famous school, and arranged its affairs, surveying scholars and students conditions, considering their comfort and dealing with any difficulties they may face.”97
There is no service nobler than to present books to people of knowledge and its seekers. Al-Mustanṣir did this, concerning himself with their affairs, and tending to those who served their needs. He allocated library employees monetary salaries and non-monetary allowances. The salary of the store-keeper was 3 dinars monthly, and he was given 10 pounds of bread and 4 pounds of meat daily, with its accompaniments, vegetables and firewood.98 Librarians were salaried 2 dinars per month, and 4 pounds of bread and a ladle of stew per day.99 These salaries were increased during Ramadan.100
The Scholarly Committee of the Mustanṣiria
Book Cover 8
Al-Mustanṣir conditioned his school to contain 248 men, 62 from each denomination. Each denomination would have a teacher, 4 fellows, a senior scholar of Qur’ān, another scholar of ḥadīth, a third scholar for medicine, a fourth for science of inheritance, mathematics and bequests, and a fifth for the arts and grammar.101
Each of these were expected to have the personal qualities necessary to undertake the most critical, noble profession – teaching. In this regard, there were etiquettes and formalities associated with learning and teaching, celebrated in the Arabic tradition. It is enough of an honour that the Prophet was narrated to say: “God did not send me to compel [people], rather He sent me as a teacher to ease things.”
The teacher has personal qualities agreed upon by books on pedagogy and education, the same qualities nurtured in the Mustanṣiria. The teacher as outlined in books on pedagogy102 must:
As well as numerous other qualities, a complementary set for the student was also outlined.
The Mustanṣiria was the ideal place to apply pedagogical traditions and values. Al-Mustanṣir’s love for knowledge and science helped establish these. He loved his school to such an extent that he would sit in the neighbouring garden to view it, observing its conditions, supervising its jurists and inspecting their circumstances.103
Except for some mentions by Ibn Battuta during his visit to Baghdad, we do not have texts indicating teaching methods. He mentioned that the teacher in a state of serenity and dignity, would sit within a small wooden dome upon a chair adorned with carpets, wearing [plain?] black. To his right and left were fellows, revising all that he mentioned. Thus was the arrangement of every session (majlis) at the school.104
There are plentiful references to scholars who taught or learnt at the Mustanṣiria, their academic status, and their veneration by caliphs.105
The fellow, al-Subki (d. 771 AH) states: “his role surpassed listening to the lesson, [to include] clarifying it to the students, benefiting them, and doing what is implied by the term iʻādah[v]. Else, he would be [in] the same [capacity] as the jurist (i.e. the student).”106
One tradition upheld by the Mustanṣiria was student selection. It was stringent in accepting students, choosing only those who were intelligent, renowned for compiling books and teaching. The student was also expected to have purified his heart from adverse traits, so as to be suited to receive knowledge and preserve it.107 The student was expected to have sincere intentions in seeking knowledge.108 As for the teaching hours, we know of no fixed times for them.109
The teaching process began by reciting some Qur’ān. Methodologies differed from teacher to teacher, but the most important methods were lectures, discussions, dictation and instruction – particularly the latter two. When the number of lessons increased, priority was given to topics ‘in order of nobility and importance’, i.e. Qur’ānic exegesis (tafsīr), followed by prophetic narrations (ḥadīth), then religious fundamentals (’usul), jurisprudential tradition (madhab), differences of opinion (khilāf) or grammar and rhetoric.110
Upon completion of education, the student was awarded a licence (ijāza). The learner could [alternatively] become certified – awarded a shahāda – without attending lessons.
Teachers’ salaries at the Mustanṣiria were allotted as conditioned by the benefactor of its endowment:
Peculiarly, the teacher was granted a mule, along with saddlery and full kitting.114
Administration and Public Services at the Mustanṣiria
Book Cover 9
The Mustanṣiria was established to be a boarding school, and enrolled students and teachers who enjoyed generous patronage by the caliph who took care of their expenses.115
Dr Naji Ma’rouf mentions that al-Mustanṣir worked hard to afford students unprecedented luxuries so that they may dedicate themselves to knowledge, undistracted by life’s problems. He provided them sufficient food and drink as well as monthly salaries.116
Due to the size of the school, and its numerous specialisms, a committee was required for its management, and another for its service and administration. Thus, its teaching staff were complemented by an administrative committee, consisting of a dean (nāẓir), a supervisor (mushrif), and an official (kātib).
There is no information that indicates the nature of their work, but there are mentions of their salaries and allowances. It appears that the governor (wāli) held the highest position, followed by the supervisor, and finally the official. It also appears that the Mustanṣiria’s governors and deans were chosen from amongst those of outstanding knowledge.117
In addition to these positions, there was a large number of staff, reflecting the Mustanṣiria’s size. What is more, its high standards of service were telling of its advanced cultural setting. These staff included:
These numerous roles reveal the advanced services this school enjoyed, state patronage of knowledge and those working to attain it.
As for their salaries, they were allocated as follows:
Other staff, according to the author of al-‘asjad[vi] say that they were allocated bread and salaries, “all at the specification of the benefactor”.122 No mention of their wages is made in any source; it seems they were all quite low and consistent between roles.
Attention was paid to institute regulations requiring students and teachers to preserve the school’s furnishings, books and equipment.
Thus, the Mustanṣiria was a point of pride for Arab-Islamic culture, and a centre of knowledge and culture. It was a school of knowledge and life; an effective instrument of societal service. From its galleries, many who had studied there graduated, and many continued to teach. It produced great names which passed down knowledge through the generations, including al-‘Aqūli, and al-Jawzi. Historians such as ibn al-Sā’ī, ibn al-Najjār (the historian of Baghdad), and ibn al-Fūti. Jurists innumerable. Famous physicians, mathematicians, geographers, astronomers, calligraphers, exegetes, auditors, and travellers such as ibn Faḍlān.
It was also the destination of many scholars who set out to attain scholarly licenses from its senior scholars. The Mustanṣiria was an instrument for serving society, sharing in its ease and hardship. It hosted festive receptions for Baghdad’s guests of honour, as well as funeral ceremonies. Within it were held assemblies to discuss grievances, and disputes were resolved. It stood boldly, a lofty tower, affirming the greatness of Arabic-Islamic culture. It was renowned as the best of all schools and the subject of many proverbs.
* ذكر محققو تاريخ الاسلام انهم لم يستطيعوا التعرف على هذه القرى فاكتفوا بضبطها بالشكل كما وردت عند الذهبي لان النسخة التي اعتمدوها للتحقيق بخط الذهبي .
52- تاريخ الاسلام ص47 .
53- المصدر نفسه ص431.
54- وردت القصيدة عند : محمد بن احمد بن شاكر الكتبي (ت764هـ) : عيون التواريخ20، تحقيق نبيلة عبدالمنعم داود ود. فيصل السامر ، بغداد دار الشؤون الثقافية 1984 ، ج20، ص369 ، محمد بن شاكر الكتبي : فوات الوفيات تحقيق د.احسان عباس ، بيروت ، دار صادر ، ج3،ص33.
55- علي بن انجب الساعي (ت674هـ) : الجامع المختصر في عيون التواريخ واعين السير ،ج9،ص30 : تحقيق د.مصطفى جواد ، بغداد 1934.
56- د.عماد عبدالسلام : ملامح من نظم مدارس العراق ابان العصر العباسي (ضمن الوقائع الكاملة لندوة مكانة الاستاذ في التراث ) مركز التراث – جامعة بغداد 1988 .
57- شهاب الدين احمد بن علي بن حجر (ت852هـ) : الدرر الكامنة في اعيان المائة الثامنة ، بيروت ، دار الجيل ، ج2، ص5 .
58- انظر : الحوادث الجامعة ص58-59 ، المختار من تاريخ ابن الجزري ص151 ، تاريخ الاسلام للذهبي ص6 ، ابو الفدا ج4،ص171 ، البداية والنهاية ج13،ص139 ، العسجد المسبوك 458 .
59- د.ناجي معروف : تاريخ علماء المستنصرية ، بغداد ، مطبعة العاني 1959، ج1،ص42.
60- يذكر صاحب العسجد المسبوك ص459 ان لشيخ القرآن في كل يوم (5) ارطال خبز وغرفان طبيخ وفي الشهر 3دنانير وللمعيد في كل يوم (4) ارطال خبز وغرف طبيخ وفي كل شهر دينار وعشرة قراريط ولكل صبي من المتلقين في كل يوم 3أرطال خبز وغرف طبيخ وفي كل شهر 13 قيراط وجبة .
61- الحوادث الجامعة ص51 ، العسجد المسبوك ص459 ، اما ابن الجزري ص151 فيقول لشيخ التلقين 30 درهما وللصبي في الشهر نصف دينار وشيء وثلاث ارطال خبز وطعام .
62- الحوادث الجامعة ص58 .
63- العسجد المسبوك ص459 .
64- المصدر نفسه ث459 .
65- تاريخ الاسلام للذهبي ص6 ، المختار من تاريخ ابن الجزري ص150 ، الحوادث الجامعة ص58 ، العسجد المسبوك ص460 ، ناهدة عبدالفتاح ، ايوان الطب ، بحث في مهرجان المستنصرية الاول 1985 .
66- الحوادث الجامعة 58 .
67- الحوادث الجامعة ص58 .
68- العسجد المسبوك 460 .
69- ناهدة عبدالفتاح : ايوان الطب ، د.محمد حسين الزبيدي : المستنصرية وملحقاتها ، مهرجان المستنصرية الاول 1985 .
70- د. ناجي معروف : التوقيعات التدريسية ، بغداد .
71- التربية عبر التاريخ ص162 .
72- محمد بن رافع السلامي (ت774هـ) ، منتخب المختار في تاريخ علماء بغداد ، تحقيق المحامي عباس العزاوي ، بغداد ص228 ، ويرى القرماني ان هذه المستشفى جزء من المدرسة ، آثار الاول ، ص180 .
73- العسجد المسبوك ص459 .
74- خلاصة الذهب المسبوك ص287 .
75- الحوادث الجامعة ص58 .
76- المختار من تاريخ ابن الجزري ص151.
77- المصدر نفسه ص151.
78- الحوادث الجامعة 318.
79- العسجد المسبوك ص460 .
80- تاريخ التربية الاسلامية ص115.
81- ابو الفرج عبدالرحمن بن الجوزي : صيد الخاطر ، بغداد ص366-367 .
82- خلاصة الذهب المسبوك ص286.
83- انظر الحوادث الجامعة ص53، العسجد المسبوك ص458
84- البداية والنهاية ج13 ، ص140 .
85- احمد بن علي بن الحسين ابن عنبة (ت828هـ) : عمدة الطالب في انساب آل ابي طالب ، النجف 1961 ، ص206.
86- اثبات الكتب فهرستها .
87- اعتبارها ، تسجيلها والتأكد من صحتها.
88- الحوادث الجامعة ص54.
89- المصدر نفسه ص210 .
90- المصدر نفسه ص210.
91- مصطفى بن عبدالله حاجي خليفة (ت1067هـ) : كشف الظنون ، بغداد ، مكتبة المثنى 1/171 .
92- المحامي عباس العزاوي : تاريخ الادب العربي في العراق ، بغداد ، الطبعة الاولى ، ج1،ص322.
93- عبدالوهاب بن تقي الين السبكي (ت 771هـ) : معيد النعم ومبيد النقم ، القاهرة،ص111 . ومن اشهر خزنة المستنصرية المؤرخ المشهور ابن الساعي (ت674هـ) وابن الفوطي (ت723هـ) .
94- معيد النعم ومبيد النقم ص131.
95- تاريخ التربية الاسلامية ص143، د.حسين امين : المدرسة المستنصرية 58 .
96- المرجع نفسه ص143، د.حسين امين : المدرسة المستنصرية 58.
97- التكملة لوفيات النقلة ج3 ص607 .
98- العسجد المسبوك ص459 .
99- المصدر نفسه ص459 .
100- المصدر نفسه ص459 .
101- المختار من تاريخ ابن الجزري ص151، العسج المسبوك ص458.
102- بدر الدين ابراهيم بن جماعة (ت733هـ) : تذكرة السامع والمتكلم ، طبع مع كتاب آداب المعلمين ، بيروت 1967،ص175-204 ، السبكي : معيد النعم ومبيد النقم ص105 .
103- ابن العبري ص442.
104- ابن بطوطة : رحلة ابن بطوطة ، ج1 ،ص141.
105- د. ناجي معروف : تاريخ علماء المستنصرية .
106- معيد النعم ومبيد النقم ص108.
107- تذكرة السامع والمتكلم ص75-77 .
108- ملامح عن مدارس بغداد : د.عماد عبدالسلام .
109- المرجع نفسه .
110- تذكرة السامع والمتكلم ص38 .
111- المختار من تاريخ ابن الجزري ص150 .
112- المصدر نفسه ص151.
113- المصدر نفسه ص150 .
114- الحوادث الجامعة ص54.
115- تاريخ التربية ص329 .
116- تاريخ علماء المستنصرية ج1ص17 .
117- الحوادث الجامعة ص59 .
118- العسجد المسبوك ص460 .
119- المصدر نفسه ص460 .
120-المصدر نفسه ص460 .
121- المصدر نفسه ص460 .
122- المصدر نفسه ص460 .
[i] Some of these villages’ names were recorded, despite their locations being lost to history.
[ii] Translators note: i.e. around 300 thousand grams. At £10/gram, this would be equivalent to £3 million.
[iii] Translators note: ‘the study of areas’ is often used to mean Geography.
[iv] Translators note: The written Qur’ān was split into four huge volumes, known as the quarters (rub‘āt)
[v] Translators note: The Mu‘īd practiced i‘adah, literally ‘repetition’. Today it refers to a teaching assistant.
[vi] al-‘asjad al-masbook, by Ismāʻīl ibn al-ʿAbbās al-Ghassāni