Professor Devin Stewart: The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadīm and the Transmission of Knowledge in the Islamic World

by News Desk Published on: 5th May 2015

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On Wednesday 22nd April, a public lecture exploring “The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadeem and the Transmission of Knowledge in the Islamic World” was presented by Professor Devin Stewart at the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation.

Keynote speaker, Professor Devin Stewart, is a Winship Distinguished Research Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Emory University and his lecture entitled, “The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadeem seemed to be very well received.

During his lecture, Professor Stewart provided an insightful overview of the historical and scientific importance of the Fihrist.  The Firhist, Professor Stewart articulated, included a most pertinent systematic taxonomy of human knowledge, which had been presented and recorded up until the work’s composition in the 4th century A.H. / 10th century C.E. Thus, listing it as much more than solely a catalogue of various book titles and sciences alongside a bibliographical survey of writing in Arabic in the main scholarly fields of the time.

Professor Stewart also drew attention to the Fihrist being:

  • A crucial resource for the investigation of a wide array of topics in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of the Late Antiquity and early Islamic periods.
  • A crucial document which highlights the transmission of knowledge and of the translation movement centred in Abbasid Baghdad,
  • An indicator of the rise and development of the Islamic religious sciences, as well as many other fields.- One of the pioneering works in the sphere of surveying the intellectual movement in the Muslim world, preserving titles and descriptions of many hundreds of lost works. Hence, making the Fihrist a work far greater than a mere reference for book titles.
  • A pertinent document recording the historical transmission of knowledge in the Islamic world.

Subsequently, Professor Stewart discussed the main editions of the Fihrist published so far, suggesting that the most superlative and complete to date edition is that compiled by Dr Ayman Fuad Sayyid, and published by Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation (2009, 2014).

(From Left) Professor Devin Stewart, Mr Sali Shahsivari and Mr Sharaf Yamani

Among the striking features of the new (2nd edition) of the Fihrist by Dr Ayman Fuad Sayyid, Professor Stewart mentioned the following:

  • Substantial introductory monograph on Ibn al-Nadim and the Fihrist
  • Numerous and comprehensive indices
  • Correct procedure for the establishment of the text
  • Evidence pertaining that the two manuscripts are indeed the halves of a single manuscript
  • Filling the gap, or restoring the Mu’tazilis
  • Emendations and corrections of the text, etc.

Mr Sali Shahsivari, Al-Furqān’s Managing Director

Professor Stewart concluded the lecture by stating, despite all great efforts spent so far on the Fihrist, it still remains a book full of mysteries, and an open source for further study, especially, that according to him, there are still few unresolved problems, such as:

  • The chronology of Greek doctors
  • Translators from Sanskrit into Arabic and Indian Astronomers
  • Peoples of Africa
  • Technical terms in Greek, Persian, etc.
  • The numerical alphabet from India, etc.

The lecture was followed by several questions from the specialised and distinguished audience regarding various aspects covered by Professor Stewart in the lecture.

Mr Sharaf Yamani, Board Member of Al-Furqan Heritage Foundation.

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