November 8, 2011

The Dictionary of Countries

Yaqut Al- Hamawi (from Hamah, Syria, 1179–1229 AD, 574–626 AH) was an Arab geographer of Greek origins. Born in Byzantium (the ancient Greek city also known as Constantinople, or present-day Istanbul), he was captured in war and enslaved. He was purchased by a Baghdad merchant, who gave him a good education and ultimately freed him. Yaqut traveled extensively in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Persia (present-day Iran). His Mu'jam al-Buldan (Dictionary of countries) is a vast geographical encyclopedia, which summarizes nearly all medieval knowledge of the globe. The information in the dictionary is wide ranging, and includes archaeology, ethnography, history, anthropology, natural sciences, geography, and the coordinates of places listed. The work gives the various names by which towns and cities were known and describes their monuments and wealth, history, population, and leading figures. The book is a primary source widely used in Arabic scholarship.

The Beginning for the Studious and the End for the Selective

Muhammad ibn Ahmed ibn Rushd (also known by the Latinized version of his name, Averroes, 1126–98 AD; 520–95AH) was a Muslim polymath and the preeminent philosopher of Arab Spain. He was born in Cordoba to a well-respected family that was known for its public service. Although best known in the West for his commentaries on Aristotelian philosophy, Ibn Rushd wrote works on a wide range of subjects, from astronomy to Islamic jurisprudence to music theory. He defended reason and philosophy against disparaging religious scholars such as Al-Ghazali, arguing that religion and philosophy are reconcilable; that both can lead to the truth. He died in Marrakesh, Morocco. Bidāyat al-Mujtahid wa Nihāyat al-Muqtaṣid (The beginning for the studious and the end for the selective) is perhaps his major work in the field of jurisprudence, particularly in the Maliki school of religious law and thought within Sunni Islam to which he belonged.

The Golden Encyclopedia of Islamic Sciences

Born in Cairo and educated in Egypt, the United States, and Great Britain, Dr. Fatima Mahjoub is a historian, linguist, and author specializing in encyclopedias. Al-mawsoo’a al-thahabiya lil ‘aloom al-Islamiya (The golden encyclopedia of Islamic sciences) is one of three encyclopedias she has written. Organized according to the Arabic alphabet and published in nine volumes, the work covers nine branches or fields of Islamic scholarship in religious studies, such as Quran exegesis, Islamic doctrine, and Islamic jurisprudence. The encyclopedia also includes entries on sciences in which Muslim scholars excelled, fields that include, among others, geography, history, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry, and Islamic architecture.

Book of Poetry and Poets

Abdullah ibn Muslim ibn Qutaibah (828–85 AD, 213–76) was an Arab literary historian and critic and an Islamic jurist and scholar. He was born in Kufa, in present-day Iraq, and spent much of his life in Baghdad, where he died. His Al-shiir wal shuaraa (Book of poetry and poets) is considered a major classic of Arabic literature and a pioneering work of literary criticism. It is a biographical encyclopedia of more than 200 leading Arab poets, spanning the pre-Islamic period to the early Abbasid era (the sixth century through the ninth century AD). The book covers the poets of these times, their tribal origins, their life histories, their tabaqat (artistic class and prowess), and what their critics said about them. It also includes sections that classify poetry by quality and genre.

Critical Study of What India Says, Whether Accepted by Reason Or Refuted

Abu al-Rayhan al-Biruni (also known by the Latinized version of his name, Alberonius, 973–1048 AD; 363–439 AH) was an 11th-century Muslim polymath whose works and scholarly interests spanned the physical and natural sciences, mathematics, astronomy, geography, history, chronology, and linguistics. Al-Biruni was born in Kath, Khuwarazm, in present-day Uzbekistan, and died in Ghazni, in what is today east-central Afghanistan. He wrote more than 120 works and is considered the founder of Indology for his detailed description of 11th-century India. The crater Al-Biruni on the moon is named after him. Tahqig ma lilhind min maqoolah maqboolah lilaql aw marthoolah (literally, Critical study of what India says, whether accepted by reason or refused, but also known as the Indica) is a critical, sincere, and concise view of Hinduism and Indian culture. It came about after al-Biruni’s trip to India as a court astrologer in the expedition of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni (died 1030 AD), and after studying with Indian sages and collecting Indian books.

Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary, Volumes 1 and 2

Abu-l ‘Abbas Ahmad Ibn Khallikan (1211–82 AD, 608–81 AH) was a Kurdish Muslim jurist who lived in present-day Iraq, Syria, and Egypt. Wafayat al-a’yan wa-anba abna az-zaman (Obituaries of eminent men and history of the contemporaries), better known as Ibn Khallikan’s biographical dictionary, is the book on which its author’s fame rests. Considered a work of the highest importance for the civil and literary history of the Muslim people, it occupied Ibn Khallikan from 1256 until 1274.  The dictionary is of enormous scope—the English translation, made by Irishman William MacGuckin (also known as Baron de Slane) in the mid-19th century, comprises more than 2,700 pages. It is not surprising, therefore, that later Arabic historians filled their pages with extracts from Ibn Khallikan’s work and that Arabic rhetoricians, grammarians, and compilers of anecdotes have used choice passages from the dictionary.