Commentary on Witnesses: Ibn ‘Aqil’s Commentary on “al-Alfiyah” of Ibn Malik


This manuscript is a copy of the commentary by Ibn ‘Aqil (circa 1294–1367) on Ibn Malik’s famous al-Alfiyah, a 1,000-line poem on the principles of Arabic grammar. Both al-Alfiyah and the commentary are standard texts in the traditional Islamic curriculum. The title of the commentary, “Witnesses,” refers to the search by scholars for ancient and dependable shawahid (witnesses) on whom to rely for authentication of the grammar and lexicon of Arabic. Ibn Malik (died 1274) intended his poem as a teaching tool rather than a work of research. The fact that students were to memorize the 1,000 lines has led to controversy in modern times regarding the role of rote memorization and the proliferation of commentary in medieval pedagogy. Not much is known about the commentator, Ibn ‘Aqil. He seems to have been something of a bon vivant, who died in debt. The manuscript is in North African script with numerous annotations. It is incomplete, lacking the first and last pages. Some pages are stained and the marginalia have been badly damaged in binding. Frequent smudging obscures the text in places. The content differs significantly from the first printed edition of the Bulaq Press in Cairo. The manuscript is bound with three other works: Treatise and Notes on Prayers; Commentary on Grammatical Distinctions by al-Fakihi; and a fragment of a treatise on “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful.”

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Title in Original Language

شرح على شواهد ابن عقيل

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  1. Kate Fleet, Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, and Everett Rowson, editors, Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden: Brill, 2007− ).
  2. Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

Last updated: August 24, 2016