The Path of the Vexed Towards Achievement


This manuscript is a qasidah (poem) of eight pages by Zayn al-Din Sha’ban ibn Muhammad al-Athari (1364−1425) praising the Prophet Muhammad. The poet lists the perfections of the Prophet and his stature above all of God’s creatures. He then proceeds to the miracle of the Isra and Miraj, Muhammad’s night journey to heaven. He addresses the Prophet directly, asking him to “take him by the hand.” He exalts ahl al-bayt (the family of the Prophet) and declares that prayers are “blocked and nugatory” if they do not include Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn. The first four caliphs are also eulogized, with emphasis on ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. The poet concludes with personal reflections upon his unworthiness. The manuscript is undated and has no colophon. Although al-Athari was recognized as a calligrapher, this copy, perhaps written in the 19th century, is in a workaday hand of no particular distinction. Al-Athari was a scholar of repute. He left many works of religious commentary, Arabic grammar, and calligraphy. Born in Mosul, Iraq, he moved to Cairo to study with leading scholars and penmen. Like many intellectuals, he traveled widely. At one time or another he lived in Damascus, Medina, and Mecca. Several of his writings, including The Path of the Vexed Towards Achievement, have been published in modern editions. He is claimed by Mosul as a native son, and a graduate thesis on his contributions as a grammarian was written at the University of Mosul. This manuscript is bound with two other titles, Curiosity Abated by Wonders of Old Related by al-Suyuti, and Fundamentals and Rules by al-Nawawi. Also bound in the same volume is the first page of a manuscript ascribed to the Sufi saint ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (died 1166).

Last updated: August 24, 2016