Dawn for the Blind in the Craft of Composition


Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá (Dawn for the blind), as this encyclopedic masterpiece is commonly known, was compiled by medieval Egyptian scholar Ahmad al-Qalqashandi (1355 or 1356−1418) for the secretaries in the chancery of the sultans of Egypt. Scholars have long mined the work for the information it contains on a wide variety of cultural and literary topics, for example the histories of Egypt and Syria, non-Muslim populations in the Muslim world, state formation and administration, calligraphy, libraries, and even codes and cyphers. Scholars have also produced many critical analyses of the structure and sources of the work itself. Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá has been praised for its convenient organization. Although it contains no general index in the modern sense, its plentiful headings and subheadings make the work easy to navigate. It is not a literary anthology, but it gathers together poetry and, especially, prose writing from the early period of Islam to the author’s own day. Surprisingly little is known about the author. He was born in the Egyptian delta town of Qalqashandah into a family distinguished for its Arabian tribal origins. He received a classic education from teachers in Alexandria and Cairo. In middle age he was appointed secretary at the court of the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Barquq (died 1399). For this reason, al-Qalqashandi is often considered more an administrative official than an historian or literary authority. He was a close analyst of the skills and knowledge necessary for the successful bureaucrat. He worked in the service of Barquq for ten years, and devoted a decade to compiling Ṣubḥ al-aʻshá, presumably both during his working life and in his retirement. The work was printed in Cairo between 1913 and 1922 under the supervision of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rasul Ibrahim, chief literary editor of the government press (al-Matba’ah al-Amiriyah), who provided a brief comment on the book’s importance and organization as well as a short biography of the author. This edition runs to 14 volumes.

Last updated: April 9, 2015