The Islamic Historical Literature

by Salah Zaimeche Published on: 11th November 2001

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The narration of historical events and the reflexion upon their causes are old scholarly concerns since ancient times. In Islamic culture, a specific Arabic historiographical tradition emerged very early, since the late 7th century, to account for the history of Islam and the development of its civilisation. The following article presents a general outline on the Islamic historical literature, from the first biographies of the Prophet to the great endeavour of Ibn Khaldun who, in the Muqaddima, laid the foundation of a philosophy of history based on sociology and material factors for the explanation of human and social events.

FSTC Research Team*

Table of contents

1. The Birth of the Islamic Science of History
2. The Reinforcement of History Writing in the 9th Century
3. Historians from Muslim Spain
4. Writing the History of the Crusades
5. Lives and Deeds of Scholars
6. Historians from Egypt
7. Historical Writings from North Africa
8. The Writings of Ottoman Historians
9. Ibn Khaldun: The Culminant Point
10. Bibliography
11. Notes

Note of the editor

This article has been published on in November 2001 in PDF format. We present it to our readers in a new editing in HTML, with illustrations.

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1. The birth of the Islamic science of history

The literature on Muslim writings on history is extensively varied and abundant. It is in the form of original manuscripts, possibly thousands of them, scores of treatises by individual historians, many secondary works in the form of articles, and other larger works, some very bulky in size and contents.

Figure 1: Map of the expansion of the Islamic territories during the age of the Caliphs. (Source).

To form an idea of such richness, nothing better than starting with some useful references. As with much else, works in German dominate, above all Wustenfeld’s Geschichtsschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke [1], and Carl Brockelmann’s Geschichteder arabischen Literatur [2], both crucial to any avid seeker of knowledge of Muslim historiography. Also necessary to look into, and much more recent, but still in German, is Sezgin’s Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums [3]. There are some works in French, but not as rich as in geography. In English, there is Rosenthal’s [4] A History of Muslim Historiography, and Dunlop’s section on the subject in his Arab Civilization to AD 1500 [5]. Humphrey’s summary in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages presents good information on the Ottomans and Ibn Khaldun [6]. There are also scores of articles and entries on the subject in dictionaries, lexicons and encyclopaedias. An important source in English, however, and by far, remains Sarton’s Introduction to the History of Science, that is the appropriate sections in each volume. Sarton literally enlightens on each and every Muslim historian, East and West, and gives the bibliography related to each. He passes little judgment as far as the ideology of the scholar is concerned, and, above all, keeps away from the usual Orientalist practice of seeing good and excellence in every Islamic dissention, or source of dissention.

History is the teacher of life reminds us De Somogyi [7]. Everything that exists, he holds, can only be correctly understood by its past. Therefore, history is no abstract study but provides the key to the right appreciation of everything that is part of our own present. Consequently, the precise and true recording of past events is of great significance for the understanding of the present. That is why historical interest is one of ‘the oldest mental activities of mankind, which can be found even in the remotest periods of religious, national, or any other type of human society’ [8]. For Al-Jahiz, history is a ‘Royal science’. Ibn Khaldun was to make it so centuries later, setting patterns for others to follow.

Figure 2a-b: Two recent Arabic editions of Al-Sira al-nabawiya (the biography of the Prophet) by Ibn Hisham.

Wahb Ibn Munabbih (d. 728) a Yemenite author, is amongst the earliest historians of Islam. He reported on legends and reflected on the people of the book, as well as on oral traditions [9]. He was also well acquainted with Biblical texts. His book Al-Mubtada (The beginning) is lost, but fragments can be found in Ibn Qutayba and Al-Tabari. Although Ibn Munabbih cannot be considered as a reliable historian [10], yet he exerted a certain influence on his followers. On the whole, early Muslim historical writings were primarily concerned with the biography of Prophet Muhammad (the genre known as Sirat Rasul Allah) and the first wars of Islam (Al-maghazi). Both genres started under the Ummayads. Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 768) related the first known Sira or biography of the Prophet, much of which was incorporated by Ibn Hisham (d. 833) in his well known work. In Ibn Hisham’s work can also be found much on the creation of the of the world, Biblical prophets, and the advent of Islam. He corrects hadiths, and also rids his accounts of unreliable legends and poetry. The actions and deeds of the Prophet are scrupulously noted, and his battles described in great detail [11]. Ibn Hisham’s Sirat Muhammad rasul Allah is considered by Dunlop one of the best existing authorities on the life of the Prophet of Islam [12]. The Arabic text of Ibn Hisham, in three volumes, was published at Göttingen by Wustenfeld, whilst a German translation was made by Weil, and an English translation by A. Guillaume. Al-Waqidi (d. 823), the author of Maghazi (battles of the Prophet), is even more rigorous and methodical than Wahb ibn Munabbih. He indicates his sources clearly, and describes facts as accurately as possible, eliminating legends [13]. Other than Kitab al-maghazi, Al-Waqidi produced many other works, twenty eight books listed by The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim amongst which are Futuh al-Sham, Futuh al-Iraq, etc.

Figure 3: Front cover of a recent Arabic publication of Tarikh al-umam wa-‘l-muluk (Annals of the nations and kings) by Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari (839-923) (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-‘ilmiya, 1999, 6 vols., 3790 pp.) This detailed chronicle is by common consent the most important universal history produced in the world of Islam.

With Ibn Sa’d (d. 845), a pupil and secretary of Al-Waqidi, begins the genre of biographies of Tabaqats (classes). His treatise Kitab al-tabaqat al-Kabir (the great book of classes), first deals with the biographies of the Prophet, his companions and later dignitaries of Islam till 845. Ibn Sa’d elaborates on the qualities of the Prophet and the main traits of his mission. Taking into account the works of his predecessors, Ibn Sa’d gives a larger focus to the embassies sent to the Prophet or sent by him. It is the first major example of religious biography, universal in scope, trying to include all the religiously relevant persons of Islamic history, comprising 4,250 entries, 600 of them women [14]. Ibn Sa’d’s work can be found in a Sachau edition and in others [15].

A third type, between Sira and Maghazi literature, is noted by De Somogyi [16], that is the historical monograph which deals with general historical events, but confined to a certain event or period. The founder of this type Abu Mihnaf (fl. 7th century) to whom many works are ascribed.

2. The Reinforcement of History Writing in the 9th Century

Influenced very much by Ibn Sa’d and Al-Waqidi is Al-Baladhuri (d. 892). He covers Islamic history from its origins until the Abbasids. His works include Kitab Futuh al-buldan and Kitab ansab al-ashraf, the first of these making his reputation [17]. It is also considered an indispensable reading in the matter of the early Muslim conquests (Futuhat). It goes on from Arabia to Syria, and Mesopotamia and progresses both in a geographical and chronological order. The author takes his information from people, scholars and officials, relying on a vast correspondence and making investigations for accurate information. All details matter to him: culture, economy, politics, social acts, but he chooses very strictly and observes a critical approach, seeking to remain objective as much as possible [18]. Al-Baladhuri also gives a very interesting account on the Muslim presence in southern Italy, a twenty or thirty year history, about which nothing else would be known if it was not for al-Baladhuri [19]. According to al-Mas’udi, ‘we know no better book on the conquests of the lands than al-Baladhuri’s’ [20]. As for Kitab Ansab al-ashraf (book of the Genealogies of the Nobles), it is a work of at least twelve volumes, details of which are given by Brockelman [21]. Various parts of the work were translated and edited in multiple languages, such as in Italian by Olga Pinto and Levi della Vida.

Figure 4: A 14th-century Persian depiction of the February 1258 sack of Baghdad by the Mongol army conducting a siege on Baghdad walls. From Rachid al-Din Fazl-Ullah Hamadâni, Djâme al-tavârikh, illustrated by Sayf al-Dîn Naqqâsh Esfahânî Vâhedî. Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS Suppl. Persan 1113, dated ca. 1430, folio 180v-181r. (Source).

Although al-Masu’di and his Muruj al-Dahab ranks high in the field, it is Al-Tabari who, by far, remains the greatest of all amongst Muslim pre-Ibn Khaldun historians. Al-Tabari (d. 923) was born at Amul, north of the Elburz range in the coastal lowlands of the Caspian sea, then called Tabaristan. He died in Baghdad. He is the author of a monumental work in many volumes Tarikh al-rusul wa-‘l-muluk, (History of the Apostles and the Kings), to which the Europeans refer as The Annals [22]. In this work, Al-Tabbari looks at Antiquity and the Islamic period up to 915. Known as a commentator of the Quran, he applies a critical methodology of hadith. He undertakes a series of travels through Iraq, Syria and Egypt, taking witnesses from his contemporaries. As an objective historian, he hardly expresses any judgement and keeps a global vision of history [23]. His book is a major source of information for scholars, which according to Ibn Khallikan is the soundest and most reliable of its kind [24].

For the history of Islam the Annals is no doubt the best single narrative work [25], at least for its scope (fifteen volumes in the Leiden edition of De Goeje) [26]. On the whole, according to Dunlop, with the exception of Ibn al-Athir, whose great history Al-Kamil, has not been translated in its entirety (by the time Dunlop was writing, in the early 1970s) into any western language [27], the Annals of Al-Tabari is the best work in Arabic for information about the historical development of Islam and the Caliphate, the most characteristic institution to which the new religion gave rise [28]. Rosenthal considered that Al-Tabari brought to his work the scrupulousness and indefatigable long¬ windedness of the theologian, the accuracy and love of order of the scholarly jurist, and the insight into political affairs of the practicing lawyer-politician [29]. It was, thus, only natural that his work never ceased to exercise a considerable influence upon future historians, serving as a model of how history ought to be written [30].

3. Historians from Muslim Spain

Muslim Spain produced an excellent crop of historians. Abu Bakr al-Razi (no relation to the physicist and chemist with the same name) flourished in Spain around 936-7. He is the earliest whose work has been transmitted to us, and is called by the Spaniards ‘El cronista por excellencia’ (the Chronicler per excellence) [31]. His Arabic text is lost, but there exist a Castilian version, itself derived from a Portuguese translation [32]. Ibn al-Qutiyya (d. 977), son of a Gothic woman who was a member of the former ruling dynasty in Wisigothic Spain, is the author of Tarikh iftitah al-Andalus. Sâ’id Al-Andalusi (d. 1034), a judge at Toledo, was the author of Tabaqat al-umam. In it he gives a wide spectrum on civilization up to his time [33]. He studies the people and nations that cultivate science and ranks amongst them the Arabs, Hindus, Iranians, Greeks and Jews, showing their contribution to scientific progress. He was subsequently heavily relied upon by Ibn al-Qifti, Ibn abi Usaybi’a and others.

Figure 5: The Mongol Emperor Timur on his throne, after an Indian miniature by Rembrandt van Rijn. © Musée du Louvre/Bridgeman Art Library. In 1400, at the age of 67 or 68, Ibn Khaldun (1322-1406) was compelled by the Mamluk sultan al-Nasir to travel to Damascus in an effort to convince Timur to spare the city. But the talks failed, and Damascus was mercilessly attacked. (Source).

Ibn Hayyan (d. 1076) composed Kitab al-Muqtabis fi tarikh al¬-Andalus [34] and Kitab al-matîn (the Solid Book), describing the main events around him [35]. He sought to remain objective in his writing throughout, despite the upheavals affecting Muslim Spain, then, not disregarding even those events that pained him. Ibn Hayyan’s Kitab al-matîn, which according to Ibn Sa’id contained nearly sixty volumes, was believed at one time to be held at the Zaytuna in Tunisia [36]. Whether still there remains to be clarified.

Al-Humaydi (d. 1095), who came from the city of Majorca, was a student of Ibn Hazm. He emigrated to the Orient because of troubles in Spain (the beginning of the Spanish Christian reconquest), and established himself in Baghdad. His work Jawdat al-muqtabis [37] is about the history of Spanish scholars. It includes many volumes and gives in alphabetical order the biographies of the main traditionalists, jurists, political figures, army generals, etc., in nearly a thousand entries. Al-Humaydi was to become a major source of reference for Al-Maqqari and Ibn Khallikan. Other than these Spanish historians, more followed, with the main ones published in the series founded by Francisco Codera, Bibiotheca Arabico-Hispana, from 1882 onwards [38].

4. Writing the History of the Crusades

The history of the crusades, two centuries of warfare (1098-1291), although generally set aside by Western writers when dealing with Muslim historians, is well documented by a large number of historians. Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233) from al-Jazira, north of Baghdad, is one such historians. He belongs to a family of learned brothers, and is the author of Kitab al-¬kamil fi ‘l-tarikh (the perfect in history). This work has been edited by the Danish orientalist C.J. Tornberg [39]. According to Dunlop, it is, with the Annals of Al-Tabari, one of the most highly valued and reliable sources of Islamic history. It has been much studied by scholars of the West, Brocklemann making the relationship of the Kamil and the Annals the subject of his doctoral thesis [40], whilst Sir William Muir uses him as his chief guide after al-Tabari [41]. In the book, amongst other events, he described the capture of Antioch by the crusaders in 1098, a crusade the author sees as part of a three pronged attack by the Christian world against Islam: in Spain, in Sicily, and now in the Holy land [42]. Qadi al-Fadil al-Baysani (d. 1200), some time prior to Ibn al-Athir, was concerned with more events of the Crusades, notably Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi’s naval expeditions to Aylah and other military operations [43].

Figure 6a-b: Front cover of the first complete English translation of Ibn Khaldun’s Al-Muqaddima by Franz Rosenthal published in 3 volumes in 1958. The Muqaddima, often translated as “Introduction” or “Prolegomenon,” is the most important Islamic history of the premodern world. Written by Ibn Khaldun, this monumental work laid down the foundations of several fields of knowledge, including philosophy of history, sociology, ethnography, and economics.

Another historian of great repute was Usama ibn Munqidh (fl. 1138-1188), born in the castle of Shayzar in the Valley of the Orontes, fifteen miles north of Hamma, but who spent his life mostly in Damascus. Ibn Munqidh lived in the times of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi, witnessing the first decades of Crusader onslaught and settlement in the Muslim lands, and was himself involved in fighting them. At an old age, he composed Kitab al-I’tibar (learning by example), a book which contains many anecdotes on the customs of the Franks, their inhumanity at peace and at war, and deriding their inferior medical practice. Editions and translations of Ibn Munqidh’s work have been done by Derenbourg [44] in French, Shuman [45] in German and Porter [46] in English. On the basis of an Escorial (Spain) manuscript [47], Philip Hitti [48] delivered by far the best work of the lot in English.

Ibn al-Furat, unlike Ibn Munqidh, gave accounts of the later stages of Frankish presence, of the time they were being finally driven out by Baybars (about a century after Salah al-Din). Ibn al-Furat was born in Cairo and lived between the years 1334-1405. He wrote his book Tarikh al-duwwal wa-‘l-muluk thus some time after the event itself, yet it is a work of great wonder in every sense. This treatise survives, incomplete, in the National Library of Vienna, whilst a section from it, unknown, has long been preserved in the Vatican Library until discovered by the French historian Le Strange. It was he who described this part in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society [49].

Parts of Ibn al-Furat’s work has been selected and translated by U and M.C. Lyons [50]. They gave those extracts in two volumes, the first of which being the Arabic text, the second its translation. From those extracts can be gleaned some very interesting events of the later stages of the Crusades’ presence in Muslim land such as the recovery of Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ascalon and other places from the crusaders. Most of all, Ibn al-Furat describes the rise of and campaigns of Baybars and his crushing of Mongols, Crusaders and Armenians.

5. Lives and Deeds of Scholars

So many Muslim historians wrote on the lives and deeds of eminent personalities of Islam. Ibn Asakir [51] (d. 1176) distinguished himself with his great Tarikh Dimashq (History of Damascus). He Lived in Damascus, and taught tradition at the Umayyad Mosque then in a college. Throughout, he maintained good relations with Ayyubid sultans. The first two volumes of his treatise are devoted to Damascus and its monuments, and the two others, by alphabetical order, consist in entries on main figures of the city: princes, governors, judges, poets, and so on.

Figure 7: Modern view of Abd Al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun, the founder of a modern approach to the study of history and sociology, imagined by an Arab artist. (Source).

Ibn Khalikan [52], born in 1211 at Irbil, Jazirah, east of the Tigris, received his first training from his father. He spent most of his working life in Syria where he exerted as Qadi and where he taught. His only work, Kitab wafayat al-a’yan wa-anba’ abna’ al-zaman (the death of great personages and histories of the leading people of the time), is a dictionary of the great men of Islam containing 865 biographies. In it, he takes considerable pains to give accurate information, tracing genealogies, spelling names correctly, giving the main traits of each personality, adding anecdotes, and fixing dates of birth and death; and when insure about a detail, he omits the entry altogether. The holograph manuscript of the Wafayat is deposed at the British Museum, and the manuscript itself has been repeatedly edited by Wustenfeld [53] and De Slane [54], on top of the excellent translation by de Slane in English [55]. Entries on Ibn Khalikan can also be gleaned in every sort of compendia or encyclopaedias.

The rich value of such Islamic works is raised by De Somogyi [56], who points out that although many biographies of European rulers or autographies from the Middle Ages exist, ‘we do not know of any such comprehensive and chronologically arranged collections of biographies or such extensive and alphabetically arranged biographical dictionaries as have survived by the score in Arabic literature.’ Such works constitute a rich repository of information from which precious data may be drawn by Islamic scholars and students of general history alike. And such information can be used for comparison with, or, and supplementation to the other pertinent sources of Arabic historiography [57].

Works on the lives and deeds of Muslim scholars and scientists have also been considerable in numbers and size. We have just to mention the contributions of Ibn al-Nadim, Yaqut al-Hamawi, Ibn al-Akfani and Hadji Khalifa, authors of biographical dictionaries which were throughout Islamic studies, valuable sources to scholars from all horizons. We present in the following outlines of those by Ibn al-Qifti and Ibn Abi Usaybi’a, both of whom focused on the physicians of Islam.

Ibn al-Qifti was born in Qift, in upper Egypt in 1172-73. He flourished in Cairo, then Jerusalem, and finally Aleppo [58]. He was many times minister for the Ayyubid rulers, and was extremely well learned, his library valued after his death at 60,000 dinars, which was considerable at the time. Much of Ibn al-Qifti’s work is lost to us. It only survives in abbreviated form, but is still being one of the most important sources on Muslim physicians, men of sciences and philosophers.

Ibn abi ‘Usaybi’a, born in Damascus in 1203-4 in a medical family, studied in Damascus and worked in the al-Nasiri Hospital in Cairo. He compiled a collection of medical observations, now lost. His main historical work was Kitab ‘uyun al-anba’ fi tabaqat al-atibba’ (sources of information on the classes of physicians), a series of bio-bibliographies of the most eminent physicians from the earliest times until his era. It is and remains the main source for the history of Muslim medicine, dealing with about 400 Muslim physicians. The work is divided in fifteen chapters, evolving from the origins of medicine, and its development, to the physicians of Islam in every country. Because Muslim physicians also excelled in other sciences, the book informs on such scientific activities as well [59]. Wustenfeld derives much of his information from Ibn abi Usaybi’a, but it is Muller’s edition in German which is most informative, including 162 additional pages, a preface, corrections, and a complete index [60]. Ibn abi Usaybi’a became the authority dealing with Muslim scientists for Wustenfeld and for Lucien Leclerc in his Histoire de la médecine arabe (History of Arabian medicine) [61], a two volumes (over a thousand pages) unique source of reference on the subject.

6. Historians from Egypt

The history of Egypt, so important in many respects, is handled by Ibn Taghribidi (d. 1469) who wrote An-Nujum az-Zahira fi Muluk Misr wa-‘l-Qahira (the Brilliant Stars in the Kings of Egypt and Cairo). It gives excellent accounts of events from the time of the Muslim arrival until 1468, that is to the eve of the author’s death. It is divided into seven volumes of annals. Juynboll, Matthes, and Popper all worked on the edition of parts of the work.

Figure 8: Painting of the battleground of Timur and the Egyptian King, conserved in Golestan Palace, Tehran, by Kamaleddin Behzad (dated around 1515). © Tehran Museum of contemporary art. (Source).

Also considerable in length and importance is Al-Maqrizi’s (d. 1442) work. A man of the law and teacher in Cairo, he collected his material, much of which absolutely unique, to compile his major work: Kitab al-Khitat [62]. In it, all that happened in Egypt throughout the centuries preceding him is extensively described: places, towns, events, daily life, culture, archaeology, economy and finance. Al-Maqrizi also compiled Kitab al-Suluk li-Ma’rifat Duwwal al-Muluk (book of Entrance to the knowledge of the dynasties of the Kings), which is a history of Egypt from the time of Salah al-Din (1169) to 1440-1. It is thus a history of two dynasties, the Ayyubids and the Mameluks. The French historian Quatremère made a translation of a large portion of this work, and also an edition of the Arabic version up to 1354 [63].

7. Historical Writings from North Africa

In North Africa, flourished at the end of the 13th century Ibn al-Idhari al-Marrakushi [64]. He wrote a history of Africa and Spain, Kitab al-bayan al-mughrib, which includes the most detailed account of the Umayyads of Cordova. Dozy turned the work into French [65], and a partial translation was made in Spanish by Francisco Fernandez Gonzalez [66]. Also from North Africa, but belonging to a later era, was Al-Maqqari: (d. 1632). Born in Tlemcen, Western Algeria, he established himself in Cairo. He compiled a whole literary and historical encyclopaedia of Muslim Spain entitled: Nafh al-Tib [67]. The work is divided in two parts, one dealing with the history of Spain, and the other about the life of Lisan al-Din Ibn al-Khatib, the historian and minister who was contemporary of Ibn Khaldun.

Figure 9: Map of the Crusader States in the Islamic Middle East around 1100. Adapted from Muir’s Historical Atlas: Medieval and Modern (London: 1911). (Source).

Unlike many who preferred to dwell on the romantic poetry side of Ibn al-Khatib, De Gayangos went for the more stimulating and highly informative history of Muslim Spain [68]. The edition by De Gayangos is over 2000 pages long, divided into many books, evolving from the pre-Islamic Spain, to the conquest of that country, the description of life and culture of the Muslims, their cities, Cordova, most of all, the wars between Muslims and Christian, the arrival of the Almoravid and Almohad armies to fight off the Christian onslaught, the divisions and conflicts between the Muslims, the Christian re-conquest of the country, the fall of Grenada, and in the end, the final expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Muslims from the country.

De Gayangos states in the preface that he fixed his interest upon Al-Maqqari because he was to his knowledge the one authority presenting a continuous history of the Muslim presence in Spain from the beginning and through the centuries. It also offers a vast store of knowledge derived from other historians, which helps form a critical history of the country [69]. Al-Maqqari transmits the extracts and fragments taken from other works, in most instances giving the titles as well as the names of their authors, thus presenting the original text of ancient historians whose writings were most probably lost [70].

8. The writings of Ottoman Historians

The historical literature of the Ottomans is one of the richest histories, stretching from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, and stretches over a large extent of land from Eastern Europe to the western Islamic world. To outline the general features of this large literature, it would require a whole, voluminous encyclopaedia to give it justice. Yet, those centuries and immense vastness, so rich in events of all sorts, most of which are crucial to our understanding of world history, received few interest in the scholarship until now.

Figure 10: Map of the Ottoman Empire at its greatest extent in 1683 (See: list of territories). (Source). Self drawn by Atilim Gunes Baydin, mainly based on Robert Mantran (ed.), Histoire de l’Empire Ottoman, Paris: Fayard (1989).

In the best of cases, some scholars had a selective treatment of this treasure of historiography, sometimes managing to turn obscure figures and events into major landmarks of history. Humphreys [71], a little more than others, gave one or two glimpses of Turkish history, spelling out one or two comments and some names. He observes that the earliest historical writing in Ottoman Turkish (mid-15th century) seems to represent a distinct and independent tradition; that it is almost “folkloric in its narrative patterns”, relying on a colloquial style. One example of such is the chronicle of Ottoman history by Ashiq Pasha Zade (fl. 1485). With the Tevarih-i Al-i Osman of Kemalpasha-zade (fl. 1500), however, he adds, Ottoman historians began to adopt `the ornate courtly style used in contemporary Persian historiography.’

From the mid-16th century on, Ottoman writers began to show some concern for the deeds of sultans and viziers, and also for the principles which govern the rise and fall of states. This concern, he explains, being the result of growing consciousness of decadence and decline, as seen in the writing of such imposing figures as Mustafa Ali (d. 1600), Katib Chelebi (d. 1657), and Na’ima (d. 1716). The latter two were particularly impressed by Ibn Khaldun in this specific area, and sought to apply them to the developments observed within the Ottoman polity. Obviously Humphrey’s short entry dismisses the matter all too quickly. At this point it will be too difficult to expand on the whole variety of Ottoman historiography, but a subsequent return to the subject is most needed. Here suffices it to add one or two other very useful pointers in relation to Turkish history.

For a good description of Algeria in Turkish times, prior to the French arrival (1830), there is Ali Riza Pasha’s Mir’at al-Cezayir (a View of Algeria) [72]. Khayreddin Barbarossa, known in Western circles as a corsair, and who fought the Spanish onslaught on Algeria, also left first accounts of his military campaigns, and overall description of the condition of the Muslims in Spain. His Gazavat-I Hayreddin Pasa (British Museum, MS Or. 2798), is the main source for such events. There are also other versions of this manuscript, as in Italian by A. Gallota [73], or by the Spaniard Francisco Lopez de Gomara [74]. Khayreddin was also directly involved in carrying Muslim exiles from Spain during their expulsion, to other Islamic lands. In his work he particularly resents the loss of those exiles of their children who were kept behind to be raised as Christians [75].

9. Ibn Khaldun: The Culminant Point

Nothing better to finish this summary than with Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406), who was one of the greatest minds that ever lived in pre-modern times. In Arabic as well as in Western modern scholarship, he is widely recognised as a genius figure, from whose work sprang our modern sociology, history, political and economic theory. There are literally thousands of works that have been devoted to Ibn Khaldun, long and short, as well as conferences, classes and seminars, besides entries under his name in every encyclopaedia or dictionary, some of them quite original as that in the universal biography published in French in the 19th century [76].

Figure 11: The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II enters Constantinople by Fausto Zonaro, (1854-1929). The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 cemented the status of the Ottoman Empire as the preeminent power in south-eastern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. (Source).

Ibn Khaldun’s major work The Muqquadimma [77] (The Introduction or Prolegomenon) is a gigantic endeavour, a discourse on universal history in six chapters. Chapter one deals with geography, physical and humane. Chapter two deals with urban and rural life. Chapter three is on the state and its working. Chapter four describes cities, their prosperity and fall. Chapter five deals with economics, whilst the final chapter covers sciences, their classifications and their development. Ibn Khaldun also discusses the history of the Arabs, the Jews, the Caliphs, the passage from family to tribe, their confederation, the rise of empires, their natural limits, duration and their fall. He expands on administration, government, the law, religion, finance, taxes, war, trade, urban and rural life, arts, sciences, architecture and music.

In his work, Ibn Khaldun does not just describe events, but also looked at their sources and causes, and elaborated upon them. He criticises some of his predecessors, arguing that information has to be supported by facts, repeatedly, warning on the pitfalls that can induce historians into errors. He rejects partiality, always making thoroughly certain of facts; thus giving a new scientific dimension to the social sciences. In economic theory, four centuries before A. Smith, De Somogyi holds [78], Ibn Khaldun had already concluded that labour was the source of prosperity. He had also distinguished between the direct source of income in agriculture, industry and commerce, and the indirect source of income of civil servants and private employees. In respect to universal historiography, he was the first to lay the foundation of the pragmatic method and make social evolution the object of historical research [79].

Humphrey explains that Ibn Khaldun was also the first to argue that history was a true science based on philosophical principles [80]. History involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, ‘subtle’ explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and a deep knowledge of the how and why of events. Historical knowledge, thus, is not the same as factual data about the past, but consists ‘of the principles of human society’ which are elicited from these data in a complex process of induction and deduction [81]. Mere piling up of facts is not the object of historical study, if these facts cannot be determined correctly, there is no basis for historical knowledge in the true sense. Following a long held Muslim tradition, and along with most Muslim historians, Ibn Khaldun agreed that facts depended on the authorities who had transmitted stories about the past, and that these transmitters should be men widely recognized for their erudition and probity.

Ibn Khaldun advises that historians rely on the past for understanding the present, that they use their own experience to understand the underlying conditions of their society and the principles governing them. In studying the past, they must discover the underlying conditions of those times and decide whether and how far the apparent principles of their own age are applicable. The understanding of the past, thus, becoming the tool by which to evaluate the present. Ultimately, once they fully understand the laws of human society, they can apply them directly to any new body of historical information they confront [82], which exactly fits in with the opening statement made at the start of the essay by De Somogyi. With the latter, it must be concluded that if the degree of evolution of any social type is to be measured by the development of its historiography, “a prominent place is due to Islam among the cultures of mankind” [83].

10. Bibliography

  • Al-Andalusi: Tabaqat al-Umam, French translation by R. Blachère, Paris, 1935.
  • Ibn al-Athir: Kitab al-kamil fi ‘l-tarikh (the perfect in history). Edited by J. Tornberg, Leiden, 1851-1876.
  • Ali Riza Pasha, Mir’at al-Cezayir (A View of Algeria), translated into Turkish by Ali Sevki, Istanbul, 1876.
  • Al-Baladhuri: Kitab Futuh al-Buldan, Edited by de Goeje, Brill; english translation by P. K. Hitti; and German trans of O. Rescher, 2 vols.
  • Biographie Universelle: New Edition, published under the direction of M. Michaud, Paris, 1857, vol. XX, pp. 268¬-70.
  • C. Bouamrane – L. Gardet: Panorama de la Pensée Islamique, Sindbad, Paris, 1984, chapter 12, “Histoire”, pp. 252-66.
  • Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, rev. ed., 5 vols., Leiden, Brill, 1937-1949.
  • H. Derenbourg: Ousama ibn Mounkidh, 2 vols., Publications de l’Ecole des Langues Orientales, Paris, 1886.
  • H. Derenbourg: Anthologie de textes arabes inédits par Ousama et sur Ousama, Paris, 1893.
  • H. Derenbourg: Souvenir historiques et récits de chasse, Paris 1895 (French version of Kitab al-I’tibar).
  • Baron Mac-Guckin De Slane: Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary, Paris, 1842-1871, 4 vols.
  • A. Dozy: Histoire de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne intitulée “Al-bayano ‘l Moghrib par ibn Adhari, Leiden, 1848-1851, 2 vols.
  • D.M. Dunlop: Arab Civilization to AD 1500, Longmann, London, 1971.
  • A. Gallota: “Le Gazawat di Hayreddin Barbarossa”, Studi Magrebini 3 (1970): 79-160.
  • P. De Gayangos: The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain. Extracted from Nafh al-Tib by al-Maqqari, The Oriental Translation Fund, London, 1840-3, 2 vols.
  • F. L. de Gomara: “Cronica de los Barbarojas”, in Memorial historico espanol, vol. 6, Madrid 1853.
  • F. F. Gonzales: Historia de al-Andalus, vol. 1, Granada 1860.
  • A. C. Hess: The Forgotten Frontier, The University of Chicago Press, 1978.
  • Philip. K. Hitti: An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades. Memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh, Columbia University , New York, 1929.
  • R. S. Humphreys: “Muslim Historiography”, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Charles Scribners and Sons, New York, vol. 6, pp. 250-5.
  • Ibn Khaldun: The Muqqaddimah, tr. F. Rosenthal, 3 vols., New York, 1958.
  • L. Leclerc: Histoirede la Médecine Arabe, 2 vols., Burt Franklin, New York, reprint, 1971.
  • U. and M.C. Lyons: Ayyubids, Mamluks and Crusaders, selection from the Tarikh al-Duwal wal Muluk of Ibn al-Furat; 2 vols., W. Heffer and Sons, Cambridge, 1971.
  • Al-Maqqari Nafh al-Tib, ed. Muhammad M. Abd al-Hamid, 10 vols., Cairo, 1949.
  • Al-Maqrizi, Ahmad Ibn Ali, Al-Mawa’iz wa-‘l-I’tibar fi dhikr al-Khitat wa-‘l-athar. Edited by Ahmed Ali al-Mulaiji, 3 vols. Beirut: Dar al-Urfan. 1959.
  • Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Khitat, ed. Bulaq; partial French tr. by U. Bouriant and P. Casanova, Description topographique et historique de l’Egypte, Paris, 1895-1900; Cairo, 1906-20.
  • S. Al-Munajjad, A’lam al-tarikh, Beirut, 2 vols.
  • A. G. Palencia: Historia de la literatura arabiga-espanola, Madrid, 1945.
  • George R. Porter: The Autobiography of Ousama ibn Munqidh, London, 1929.
  • Franz Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography (1952, 2nd rev. ed. 1968).
  • Ibn Sa’ad: Kitab al-tabaqat al-Kabir (the great book of classes), Leiden, Brill, 9 vols., 1904-28.
  • G. Sarton: Introduction to the History of Science, The Carnegie Institute, Baltimore, 1927-48.
  • F. Sezgin: Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums, Leide, vol. I, 1967.
  • J. De Somogyi: “The Development of Arab Historiography”, in The Journal of Semitic Studies, vol. 3, pp. 373-87.
  • G. Shumann, translation of Kitab a-itibar, Innsbruck, 1905.
  • Al-Tabari: Tarikh al-Rusul wa’l Muluk (History of the Apostles and the Kings), Edit cairo, 10 vols.; Fr transl., reedited Sindbad, Paris, 1979-1984, 6 vols.
  • Ibn Abi ‘Usaybia: Kitab ‘uyun al-anba’ fi tabaqat al-atibba’ (sources of information on the classes of physicians), edited by A. Muller, 2 vols., Konigsberg, 1884.
  • F. Wustenfeld’s Geschichtsschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke (GAW) (1882).

11. Notes

[1] F. Wustenfeld, Geschichtsschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke (GAW), Göttingen, 1882 (reprinted New York : Burt Franklin, 1964).

[2] Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der arabischen (GAL) Literatur, rev. ed. in 5 vols., Leiden, Brill, 1937-1949.

[3] F. Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schriftums (GAS), Leiden, Brill, 12 vols. (1967-2002); vol. I (1967).

[4] Franz Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, Leiden, Brill, 1952, 2nd rev. ed. 1968.

[5] D. M. Dunlop, Arab Civilization to AD 1500, Longmann, London, 1971, pp. 70-149.

[6] R. S. Humphreys, “Muslim Historiography”, Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Charles Scribners and Sons, New York, vol. 6, pp. 250-5.

[7] J. De Somogyi: “The Development of Arab Historiography”, in The Journal of Semitic Studies, vol. 3, pp. 373-387; p. 373.

[8] Ibid.

[9] C. Bouamrane-L. Gardet, Panorama de la pensée Islamique, Paris, Sindbad, 1984, chapter 12: “History”, Pp. 252-66; at p. 253.

[10] A. al-Duri, Baht fi nash’at al-tarikh, pp. 25-7, quoted in Bouamrane-Gardet, Panorama, op. cit.

[11] C. Bouamrane-L. Gardet: Panorama, op. cit., p. 252.

[12] D. M. Dunlop, Arab Civilization, op. cit., p. 72.

[13] C. Bouamrane-Gardet, Panorama, op. cit., p. 253.

[14] R. S. Humphreys: Historiography, op. cit., p. 253.

[15] Eduard Sachau (1845-1930), the first general editor of Ibn Sa’d’s Kitab al-Tabaqat: Muhammad Ibn Sa’d [168-230 H], Kitab al-tabaqat al-kabir, 8 vols. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1904-1940). See the new edition by Ihsan ‘Abbas (Beirut, 1957-1968).

[16] J. De Somogyi: “The Development”, op. cit., p. 376.

[17] Edited by de Goeje, Brill, and the edition published in Cairo; English translation by P.K. Hitti; and the German translation of O. Rescher, 2 vols.

[18] S. Al-Munajjad, A’lam al-tarikh, Beirut, 2 vols., quoted in Bouamrane-Gardet, Panorama, op. cit.

[19] D.M. Dunlop, Arab Civilization, op. cit., pp. 85-6.

[20] Ibid, p. 84.

[21] C. Brockelman, GAL, op. cit., suppl. I, p. 216.

[22] Edition Cairo, 10 vols.; French translation reedited in Sindbad, Paris, 1979-1984, 6 vols.

[23] Bouamrane-Gardet, Panorama, op. cit., p. 255.

[24] Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-a’yan, ed. De Slane, I, 640.

[25] D. M. Dunlop, Arab Civilization, op. cit. p. 89.

[26] Leiden, 1879-1901 (reprinted Leiden 1964), including two volumes of Introduction and notes.

[27] By the time Dunlop was making such a statement, a UNESCO project was under way to produce a complete English translation of the work.

[28] D. M. Dunlop: Arab Civilization, op. cit., p. 92.

[29] F. Rosenthal: History, op. cit., pp. 134-135.

[30] Ibid, p.135.

[31] G. Sarton, Introduction to History of Science, Baltimore, Wilkins, 1927, vol. 1, p. 643.

[32] Ibid, p.643.

[33] Edit Beirut and Cairo; French translation by R. Blachère, Paris, 1935.

[34] Ibn Hayyan al-Qurtubi, Al-Muqtabis fi akhbar balad al-andalus, edited by Muhammad Ali Makki, Beirut, vol. 1, 1965, vol. 2, 1973.

[35] Quoted by Al-Maqqari, in Nafh al-Tib, edition Cairo, vol. 4, p. 172 (ed. Leiden, ii, 122).

[36] C.Brockelmann, GAL, i.338.

[37] A. Gonzales Palencia, Historia de la literatura arabiga-espanola (Barcelona 1928; reprint Barcelona/Madrid, 1945); Arabic translation by Husayn Mu’nis, Cairo, 1955.

[38] For details see Brockelmann’s GAL.

[39] Edited by J. Tornberg, Leiden, 1851-1876.

[40] C. Brockelmann, GAL, I, 346.

[41] Sir William Muir, The Caliphate, preface to the 2nd edition.

[42] Ibn al-Athir, Al-kamil, X, p. 112 in F. Rosenthal, History, op. cit., p. 147.

[43] In F. Rosenthal, History, op. cit., p. 175.

[44] H. Derenbourg, Ousama ibn Mounkidh, 2 vols, publications de l’Ecole des Langues Orientales, Paris 1886-1893; H. Derenbourg, Anthologie de textes arabes inédits par Ousama et sur Ousama, Paris, 1893; H. Derenbourg, Souvenirs historiques et récits de chasse, Paris 1895 (French version of Kitab al-i’tibar).

[45] G. Shumann, translation of Kitab al-I’tibar, Innsbruck 1905.

[46] George R. Porter, The Autobiography of Ousama ibn Munqidh, London, 1929.

[47] G. Sarton, Introduction, op. cit., vol ii, at pp 446-7.

[48] Philip K. Hitti, An Arab-Syrian gentleman and warrior in the period of the Crusades. Memoirs of Usamah ibn Munqidh, Columbia University , New York, 1929;

[49] Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 32, 1900, p. 295.

[50] U. and M.C. Lyons: Ayyubids, Mamluks and Crusaders: Selection from the Tarikh al-Duwal wal Muluk of Ibn al-Furat, 2 vols., W. Heffer and Sons, Cambridge, 1971.

[51] In Bouamrane-Gardet, Panorama, op. cit., p. 257.

[52] See an excellent summary of his life and work in George Sarton, Introduction, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 1120-1.

[53] Ibn Khallikan (died 1282), Wafayat al-a’yan (Vitae illustrium virorum), ed. F. Wustenfeld, 12 parts, Göttingen, 1835-1850.

[54] Kitab wafayat al-a’yan: Vies des hommes illustres de l’islamisme en arabe by Ibn Khallikan, publie´es d’apre`s les manuscrits de la Bibliothe`que du roi et d’autres bibliothe`ques, published in 1842, Paris, Typ. de Firmin Didot fre`res (Paris), translated by William Mac Guckin, baron de Slane (1801-1878).

[55] Baron Mac-Guckin de Slane: Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary, 4 vols., Paris, 1842-171.

[56] J. De Somogyi, “The Development”, op. cit., p.385

[57] Ibid.

[58] G. Sarton, Introduction, vol. 2, pp. 684-5.

[59] For more on Ibn Abi Usaybi’a see Sarton, Introduction, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 685-6.

[60] A. Muller, 2 vols., Konigsberg, 1884.

[61] L. Leclerc, Histoire de la médicine arabe, 2 vols., reprinted in Burt Franklin, New York, 1971.

[62] Al-Maqrizi, Ahmad Ibn Ali, Al-Mawa’iz wa ‘l-i’tibar fi dhikr al-khitat wa-‘l-athar. Edited by Ahmed Ali al-Mulaiji, 3 vols., Beirut: Dar al-Urfan, 1959; Al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Khitat, ed. Bulaq; partial French translation by U. Bouriant and P. Casanova, Description topographique et historique de l’Egypte, Paris, 1895-1900; Cairo, 1906-20.

[63] Cairo, 1956-8, 6 vols.

[64] From G.S arton: Introduction, vol. 2, pp. 1118-9.

[65] A. Dozy, Histoire de l’Afrique du Nord et de l’Espagne intitulée “Al-bayano ‘l-Moghrib” par ibn Adhari, 2 vols., Leiden, 1848-1851.

[66] F.F. Gonzales, Historia de al-Andalus, Granada, 1860, vol. 1.

[67] Al-Maqqari, Nafhal-Tib, ed. Muhammad M. Abd al-hamid, 10 vols., Cairo, 1949.

[68] P. De Gayangos, The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain. Extracted from Nafh Al-Tib by al-Maqqari, The Oriental Translation Fund, London, 1840-3, 2 vols.

[69] Ibid, preface, p. xiii.

[70] Ibid, preface, p. xv.

[71] R. Humphreys, Muslim Historiography, op. cit., p. 251.

[72] Translated by Ali Sevki, Istanbul, 1876.

[73] A.Gallota, “Le Gazawat di Hayreddin Barbarossa”, Studi Magrebini vol. 3 (1970): pp. 79-160.

[74] F.L. de Gomara, “Cronica de los Barbarojas”, in Memorial historico espanol, vol. 6, Madrid 1853.

[75] Ghazavat, op. cit., fol. 29b, 30b. For sources on this particular event, and other points of Turkish history, see A.C. Hess, The Forgotten Frontier, The University of Chicago press, 1978, chapter 7, “Islam Expelled”.

[76] Biographie Universelle, New Edition, published under the direction of M. Michaud, Paris, 1857, vol. 20, pp. 268-70.

[77] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqqaddimah, translated by F. Rosenthal, 3 vols., New York, 1958.

[78] J. de Somogyi, “The Development”, op. cit., p. 385.

[79] Ibid, p. 387.

[80] R. Humphreys, Muslim Historiography, op. cit., p. 254.

[81] Ibid.

[82] Mostly derived from the summary by Humphreys, Muslim Historiography, op. cit., p. 254.

[83] Somogyi, “The Development”, op. cit., p. 373.

* The original article was produced by Salah Zaimeche, Salim Al-Hassani, Talip Alp and Ahmed Salem. © FSTC 2002-2009. The members of the new FSTC Research Team have re-edited and revis

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