The Boat of the Wader into the Science of Inheritance Shares


The versification of complex subjects to make them more understandable to students and readers used to be a common practice among Arab authors. From mathematics to grammar to jurisprudence, versification was used to make it easier to remember the rules governing a certain subject or to explain scientific concepts by taking advantage of the popularity of poetry in Arabic intellectual life. In practice, however, the use of versification posed certain challenges. While it helped bring the subject to a wider audience, substantive details sometimes were lost or not sufficiently explained due to the need of the versifier to choose words adhering to the strict meters of traditional Arabic poetry. To mitigate this problem, versifiers almost always chose to compose in the meter (or sea) of rajaz, sometimes dubbed the “donkey of poets” for being the easiest to “ride” among the 16 major meters in traditional Arabic prosody. The poems written in rajaz are called arajiz (singular urjuzah). As a result, many arajiz became the subject of commentaries. Shown here is Zawraq al-khāʻiḍ fī ʻilm al-farāʻiḍ (The boat of the wader into the science of inheritance shares), a commentary by Ahmad ibn Anjak, a Senegalese Muslim scholar about whom little is known. He was a contemporary of the Fez-based judge Muhammad ibn al-‘Arabi al-‘Alawi (1880‒1964). The commentary is presented together with the text of the original urjuzah, composed by Muhammad ibn al-Mukhtar ibn Hamid al-Qalawi, another scholar of Maghrebi descent about whom not much is known. According to an afterword by the publisher, the commentary was first published as a lithograph in Fez, probably several years before the second edition of 1926 shown here, and received praise from judge al-‘Alawi and other readers. When the original versification was composed is not known. Both the poem and the commentary stand out as examples of the scholastic ties between North and Sub-Saharan Africa. The copy of the book presented here is from the collections of the Law Library of the Library of Congress.

Last updated: May 9, 2016