The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, A Tenth-century survey of Muslim culture

Bayard Dodge


In the name of Allāh, the Merciful, the Compassionate, who is sufficient for us, upon whom we depend and whose aid we invoke


The First Section of the First Chapter


with a description of the languages cf the Arabs and foreign peoples, the characteristics of their ways of writing, their types of script and forms of calligraphy. [1]  




Remarks on Arabic Writing

   Men have differed concerning who first originated the Arabic script. Hishām al-Kalbī said that the first to form it was a group of Bedouin Arabs encamped with ‘Adnān ibn Udd. Their names were Abū Jād, Hawwāz, Huṭṭī, Kalamūn, Ṣa‘faḍ, and Qurusa’āt. [2]


There is this from [what is written in] the handwriting of Ibn al-Kūfī in the following way: 

The Arabs originated writing for their names and then discovered other letters not in their names: tā’, kha , dhāl, zā’, shīn, ghayn, which they called al-rawādif. [3] It is said that these men were kings of Midian, whose destruction was on the Day of the Cloud, at the time of Shu‘ayb the Prophet, for whom may there be peace. [4]



1. Cf. Khaldūn, Muqaddimah (Rosenthal), II, 381 ff.; III, 282. See Flügel’s article in ZDMG, XIII (1859), 559.


2. Ṭabarī, Annales, I, 203, spells these names differently but gives them as legendary giant kings.


3. This word means “palm sprouts,” the “back parts,” or the layers of fat on the rear of a camel’s hump. Another form of the plural means one who rides behind on a camel.


4. See Qur’ān 7:85–93; 9:84–95; 15:80–84; 26:176–89; 29:36–37.





Kalamūn’s elegy was composed by his sister:

Kalamūn my support has been stricken down,

The central post of the encampment has been destroyed.

To him chief of the people

Has death come in the midst of a cloud.

Over them has a fire been kindled,

As nought has become their place of dwelling.

I have read what was written in the handwriting of Ibn Abī Sa‘d in the following form and construction: Abjād, Hāwar, Ḥāṭā, Kalammān, Ṣā‘, Faḍ, Qarasat. They say that they were foreign peoples who, while camping with ‘Adnān ibn Iyād and the like, became Arabized and formed the Arabic writing, but it is Allāh who knows. [5]


Ka‘b said, and before Allāh I am not responsible for his statement, that the first to originate the Arabic and Persian scripts and other forms of writing was Adam, for whom be peace. Three hundred years before his death he wrote on clay which he baked so that it kept safe even when the Flood overflowed the earth. Then each people found its script and wrote with it.


Ibn ‘Abbās said: 

The first persons to write Arabic were three men of Bawlān, a tribe inhabiting al-Anbār, [6] who came together and originated letters, both separated and joined. They were Murāmir ibn Murwah, Aslam ibn Sidrah, and ‘Āmir ibn Ḥidrah; [the first and the third were] also called Murrah and Ḥidlah. Murāmir originated the forms, Aslam the separations and connections, and ‘Āmir the diacritical points.

When the people of al-Ḥīrah [7] were asked, “From whom did you derive Arabic?” they replied, “From the inhabitants of al-Anbār.” It is also said that Allāh, Blessed and Almighty, caused Isma‘īl (Ishmael) to speak clear Arabic when he was twenty-four years old.



5. The tribal names in this list and the one in the preceding paragraph evidently belong to foreign tribes which came from the north as protégés of ‘Irāqī Bedouin peoples, whom they taught how to write. These names do not appear in Durayd, Geneal., and Qutaybah, Ma‘ārif. ‘Adnān ibn Iyād was a subtribe of Ma‘add in ‘Irāq, rather than the original ‘Adnān. See “Iyād,” Enc. Islam, II, 565.


6. For the tribe of Banū Bawlān, see Durayd, Ishtiqāq, p. 397; Durayd, Geneal., p. 237. Al-Anbār is a city on the Euphrates northwest of Baghdād.


7. Al-Ḥīrah was near Babylon, the center of Christian tribes attached to the Sāsānid dynasty.





Thus saith Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq [al-Nadīm]: What is near to the truth, acceptable to the mind, and recorded by a reliable authority is that the Arabic speech was the language of Ḥimyar, Ṭasm, Jadīs, Aram, and Ḥawayl, of Arab Bedouin stock. [8] Then when Ismā‘īl arrived at the Haram [shrine of Makkah], grew up, and matured, he married into the Jurham clan [9] of Mu‘āwiyah ibn Muḍāḍ al-Jurhumī, and his children learned their speech from these uncles. As time passed on, the descendants of Ismā‘īl derived one word after another, forming names for many objects as phenomena turned up and appeared.


After speech had been developed, good literary poetry appeared among the people of ‘Adnān, increasing in quantity after the time of Ma‘add ibn ‘Adnān. Thus, though each one of the Arab tribes had a dialect by which it was distinguished and which it made use of, at the beginning they shared in common. It is said that the Arabs were prevented from [further] amplifying their language because of the mission of the Prophet, for whom may there be peace, in revealing the Qur’ān.


One thing which confirms all of this is the quotation of Makḥūl from his men that the earliest innovators of Arabic writing were the Nafīs, the Naḍr, the Taymā’, and the Dūmah, [10] descendants of Ismā‘īl, who developed it in detail, and then it was made distinctive by Qādūr and Nabt ibn Hamaysa‘ ibn Qādūr. [11]


It has been said that in ancient times a group of the people of al-Anbār formed the letters alif, bā’, ta, thā’, [12] which the Arabs borrowed. Moreover, I have read in a book of Makkah, written by ‘Umar ibn Shabbah in his own handwriting, that “A group of the scholars of Muḍar informed me that the person who wrote this



8. Aram refers to the Aramaeans and Ḥimyar to the ancient kingdom of southern Arabia. For the other names see Durayd, Ishtiqāq, pp. 362, 524, 526.


9. Jurham was a well-known tribe which settled at Makkah; see “Djurhum,” Enc. Islam, I, 1066.


10. The Nafīs, the Taymā’, and the Dūmah were ancient tribes called in Gen. 25:14-15 the Naphish, the Tema, and the Dūmah. The Naḍr ibn Kinānah was a well-known tribe which employed the Quraysh as guides. See Ṭabarī, Annales, I, 1094, 1103, 1104, 1739.


11. The Beatty MS corrects Flügel’s imperfect text in connection with Nabt ibn Hamaysa‘.


12. This is equivalent to saying in English, a, b, c, d.





Arabic was al-Jazm, a man of the tribe of Mukhallad ibn al-Naḍr ibn Kinānah, after which the Arabs themselves wrote.”


From another source: “The person who brought writing to the Quraysh at Makkah was Abū Qays ibn ‘Abd Manāf ibn Zuhrah.” It is also said that it was Ḥarb ibn Umayyah. It is related that when the Quraysh demolished the Ka‘bah, they found in one of its supports a stone on which was inscribed, “Al-Siluf ibn ‘Abuqar conveys to his lord a salutation.” It was three thousand years old.


There was in the library of al-Ma’mūn something written on hide in the handwriting of ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim mentioning the claim of ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib ibn Hāshim of Makkah against so-and-so, the son of so-and-so, the Ḥimyarite of the Warl Tribe [13] of Ṣan‘ā’ for a thousand silver coins (s., dirham) measured by iron. When he called upon him for this, he proffered the witness of Allāh and the two angels. It is said that the handwriting was like that of women.


One of the Arab writers was Usayd ibn Abī al-‘Īṣ. When a flood stream drained off from the ground at the Masjid al-Sūr (Mosque of the Wall) by the tomb of al-Murratūn, there was found a stone upon which there was inscribed, “I, Usayd ibn Abī al-‘Īs, may Allāh show mercy to the sons of ‘Abd Manaf” [But] was an Arab called by this name?


From what was written in the handwriting of Ibn Abī Sa‘d

They record that when Ibrāhīm (Abraham), for whom may there be peace, saw the children of Isma‘īl (Ishmael) with their maternal Jurhum uncles he said, “Oh, Ismā‘īl, who are these?” He replied, “My children with their Jurhum uncles.” Then Ibrāhīm said to him in the tongue with which he used to speak, which was the ancient Syriac, ‘“Urub” Thus he said to him, “Mingle them together.”

But it is Allāh who knows [the truth].



Remarks about the Ḥimyarite Script

   A reliable authority asserts that he heard some Yamanite chiefs say that Ḥimyar used to write with the Musnad script, with varied forms of alif, bā’, tā’. I myself have seen a passage in the library of



13. In the Beatty MS the word seems to be warl. It could be wazl. It may be an ancient Ḥimyarite tribe or a misprint. Perhaps, however, it is a variation of the old name of the city Azāl; see Yāqūt, Geog., III, 421.





al-Ma’mūn which I have translated, “What the Commander of the Faithful ‘Abd Allāh al-Ma’mūn, may Allāh honor him, ordered the translators to transcribe.” [14] It contained Ḥimyarite script and I give you an exact reproduction of what was in the transcription [Example 1]



Example 1


Thus saith Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq [al-Nadīm]: The first of the Arab scripts was the script of Makkah, the next of al-Madīnah, then of al-Baṣrah, and then of al-Kūfah. For the alifs of the scripts of Makkah and al-Madīnah there is a turning of the hand to the right and lengthening of the strokes, one form having a slight slant. [15] This is an Example of it [Example 2]


Example 2



Scripts of Copies of the Qur’ān

   Those of Makkah, the people of al-Madīnah, the Nīm, [16] the Muthallath, and the Mudawwar. Also those of al-Kūfah and



14. Evidently al-Nadīm translated only the title of the passage, not the whole of it.


15. The Arabic phrase translated as “lengthening of the strokes” is literally “raising of the fingers.” See Abbott in Ars Islamica, VIII, Nos. 1 and 2 (1941), 71. The article deals with other scripts, too. See also Abbott, Rise of the North Arabic Script; Pope, Survey of Persian Art, II, 1707 ff; Jeffery in Muslim World, XXX, No. 2 (April 1940), 191-98.


Professor Arberry in Islamic Research Association Miscellany, I (1948), 24, thinks that a contribution of Professor Minovi in Pope, Survey of Persian Art, II, 1710, is correct. It explains that the Beatty MS is more nearly correct than the Flügel edition and that the words of the script illustrated in the text, “in the name of Allāh, the Merciful, the Compassionate,” are an example of the Makkah-Madīnah scripts.


16. Flügel has al-Ta’im.





al-Baṣrah, and the Mashq, the Tajāwīd, the Siṭawati, the Masnū‘, the Munābadh, the Murāṣaf, [17] the Iṣbahānī, the Sijillī, and the Firāmūz, [18] which is derived and read by the Persians. It is a recent development in two forms, the Nāṣarī and the Mudawwar.


Thus saith Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq [al-Nadīm]: The man who at the beginning [of Islām] first wrote copies of the Qur’ān, being honored for the beauty of his penmanship, was Khālid ibn Abī al-Hayyāj; I have seen a copy transcribed in his handwriting. Sa‘d [19] singled him out to write copies of the Qur’ān, poems, and reports for al-Walīd [I] ibn ‘Abd al-Mālik, and it was he who wrote in gold the inscription in the prayer niche (al-qiblah) of the Mosque of the Prophet, may Allāh bless him and give him peace, from “And the sun and its brighrness” to the end of the Qur’ān. [20]


It is reported that ‘Umar [II] ibn ‘Abd al-’Azīz said, “I want you to transcribe a Qur’ān for me like this model.” So he [Khālid ibn Abī al-Hayyāj] made a copy of the Qur’ān for him, exercising great care. ‘Umar started to look it over and admire it, but when he found the price to be excessive, he returned it to him.


Mālik ibn Dīnār, a protégé of Sāmah ibn Luwa’ī ibn Ghālib, who was called Abū Yaḥyā, used to transcribe copies of the Qur’ān for pay. He died in the year one hundred and thirty [A.D. 747/48]. It is said that he was Mālik ibn Dīnār ibn Dād Bahār ibn Hashīsh ibn Rāzī. [21]



Some of the Transcribers of the Copies of the Qur’ān

   Khashnām of al-Baṣrah and al-Mahdī of al-Kūfah lived during the days of al-Rashīd. We have not seen their equals even as late as our own time. Khashnām used to write long alifs, striking with the pen.



17. Some of these names are taken from the Beatty MS, which does not make the spelling clear.


18. See Pope, Survey of Persian Art, II, 1717.


19. It has not been possible to identify this man, although he must have been someone of importance at Damascus during the early eighth century.


20. In other words, the inscription which Khālid ibn Abī al-Hayyāj wrote was a quotation from the Qur’ān which began with the phrase “And the sun and its brightness” and continued until the end of the Qur’ān. The quotation is from the Qur’ān 91:1. The Mosque of the Prophet is at al-Madīnah.


21. This sentence appears in the Beatty MS. The names are not written clearly enough for one to be sure of their spelling.





Among them [the transcribers] there was Abū Juday, who used to write the elegant copies of the Qur’ān at the time of al-Mu‘taṣim and was one of the great, skillful Cūfic writers. Following these there were in the group of writers of the Cūfic [script]: Ibn Umm Shaybān, al-Masḥūr, Abū Khamīrah, Ibn Ḥumayrah, and in our own time Abū al-Faraj.


Then among the transcribers who wrote copies of the Qur’ān with the Muḥaqqaq, Mashq, and similar scripts, there were Ibn Abī Ḥassān, Ibn al-Ḥaḍramī, Ibn Zayd, al-Quryānī, Ibn Abī Fāṭimah, Ibn Mujālid, Sharāshīr the Egyptian, Ibn Sayr, Ibn al-Ḥasan al-Malīḥ, al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ni’ālī, [22] Ibn Ḥadīdah, Abū ‘Aqil, Abū Muḥammad al-Iṣbahānī, Abū Bakr Aḥmad ibn Naṣr, and his son Abū al-Ḥusayn, both of whom I have seen.



A Copy Transcribed from What Was Written in the Handwriting of Abū al-‘Abbās ibn Thawābah

   Quṭbah was the first transcriber during the period of the Banū Umayyah. He developed the four forms of writing, deriving one from the other, for Quṭbah was the best Arabic penman on earth.


Al-Ḍaḥḥāk ibn ‘Ajlān, the scribe, followed him at the beginning of the caliphate of the Banū al-‘Abbās. He added to what Quṭbah did, and next to him was the best calligrapher in the world. After him, during the caliphates of al-Manṣūr and al-Mahdī, there was Isḥāq ibn Ḥammād, the scribe, who augmented what was accomplished by al-Ḍaḥhāḳ.


Then there were a number of pupils of Isḥāq ibn Ḥammād, among whom was Yūsuf, the scribe, nicknamed Laqwah the Poet, who was the best penman among the people. Among them there were also Ibrāhīm ibn al-Mujashshir, who improved on Yūsuf, as well as Shuqayr the Servant, a slave of Ibn Qayyūmā, who was the tutor of al-Qasim ibn al-Manṣūr. One of them was Thanā’, the woman scribe, who was a slave girl of Ibn Qayyūmā, and among them was ‘Abd al-Jabbār al-Rumī. Among them there were also al-Sha‘rānī; al-Abrash; Sulaym the servant-scribe, a servant of Ja‘far ibn Yaḥyā; ‘Amr ibn Mas‘adah; Aḥmad ibn Abī Khālid; Aḥmad al-Kalbī, a



22. Al-Quryānī and Sharāshīr are not clearly written in the Beatty MS, and al-Ni‘ālī is also a guess.





scribe of al-Ma’mūn; ‘Abd Allāh ibn Shaddād; ‘Uthmān ibn Ziyād al-‘Ābid; Muḥammad ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh, nicknamed al-Madanī; and Abū al-Faḍl Ṣāliḥ ibn ‘Abd al-Malik al-Tamīmī of al-Khurāsān. It was these who wrote the original measured scripts, never since equaled.



Naming of the Measured Scripts and a Description of What Is Written with Each of These Scripts Which None Can Equal [23]

   Among them is the Jalīl script, which is the father of all scripts and which no one can emulate except with rigorous training. Yūsuf



23. The pages were measured with animal hairs (sha‘r al-birdhawn), probably the hairs of donkeys. The full-size page produced in a paper factory was the ṭūmār, 24 hairs in width. The next size was the thuluthayn, 16 hairs, then the niṣf 12 hairs, and finally the thuluth, 8 hairs. The scripts were measured to fit these different-size pages and named accordingly. For a different theory, see Abbott, Rise of the North Arabic Script, p. 32. Qalqashāndī, Ṣubḥ al-A‘shā, III, 52, presents several theories about how the scripts were named. He does not make it clear whether by qalam he means “pen” or “style of writing,” so that his descriptions are not conclusive. For a description of the measured scripts and their names, see ibid., pp. 27 ff.; Abbott in Ars Islamica, VIII, Nos. 1 and 2 (1941), 90, and Abbott, Rise of the North Arabic Script, pp. 1730; Durustūyah, Kitāb al-Kuttāb, pp. 6574; and Ṭībī, Jāmi‘ Maḥāsin Katābat al-Kuttāb.


Ibn Thawābah gives two lists of twelve scripts each. It seems reasonable to suppose that the lists should be arranged as follows:


First List

Second List




Al-Ṭūmār al-Kabīr

Al-Thuluthayn al-Ṣaghīr (al-Khirfāj)





Amthāl al-Niṣf (light and open)





Al-Khirfāj al-Thaqīl (Khafīf al-Ṭūmār al-Kābīr)

Al-Khirfāj al-Khafīf



Al-Mudawwar al-Kabīr (al-Ri’āsī)

Al-Mudawwar al-Ṣaghīr

Khafīf al-Thuluth al-Kabīr


Mufattaḥ al-Niṣf



Two other scripts are mentioned in the summary and evidently taken for granted as being offshoots from the Jalīl. They are the Thuluth al-Kabīr al-Thaqīl (big, heavy, third-size) and Niṣf al-Thaqīl (heavy, half-size). A number of the scripts in the list are developments from these two.





Laqwah says that “the Jalīl script vexes the loins of the scribe.” There are written with it the genuine documents sent by the caliphs to the kings of the earth, and derived from it there are two scripts, the Sijillāt and the Dībāj. From the medium Sijillāt script [al-Awsiṭ] are derived two scripts, the Sumay‘ī and the Ashrīyah scripts.


With the Dībāj script are written the official documents and from it is derived the Ṭūmār al-Kabīr script, also used for documents, and an outgrowth of the Dībāj. From it is derived the Khirfāj or the Thuluthayn al-Ṣaghīr al-Thaqīl script, which is derived from the Ṭūmār and with which are written communications from the caliphs to the agents and emirs in the outlying regions. From it are derived three scripts: the Zanbūr script, which grows out of the Thuluthayn and is used for writing on the half-size sheets of paper (inṣāf) and from which nothing is derived — the Mufattaḥ script is derived from it; [24] the Ḥaram script, which is written on the half-sheets sent to the kings, derived from the Thaqīl; the Mu’āmarāt script, derived from the Thuluthayn — with it are written the half-sheets [exchanged] between the kings.


Four other scripts spring from these two scripts, that is, from the Ḥaram script and the Mu’āmarāt script: the ‘Uhūd script, an out-growth from the Ḥaram, used for writing on the two-thirds-size sheets, from which nothing is derived; the Amthāl al-Niṣf script, from which are developed two scripts, light (khafīf) and open (mufattaḥ); the Qiṣāṣ script growing out of the Ḥaram and the Mu’āmarāt script, written on the half-size sheet and from which nothing was derived; and the Ajwibah script, derived from the Ḥaram and the Mu’āmarāt script, used for writing on the third-size sheets of paper (al-ithlāth), nothing being derived from it. These are twelve scripts from which twelve other scripts are derived.


Among them is the Khirfāj al-Thaqīl script, which is the light form of the Ṭūmār al-Kabīr and developed from it. With it are written official documents and from it is derived the Khirfāj al-Khafīf script. There is also the Sumay‘ī script, which resembles the Sijillāt handwriting and springs from the Sijillāt al-Awsaṭ. With it are written official documents and other comrnunications.



24. Probably the Mufattah was derived from the Zanbūr.





Among them there is also a script called the Ashrīyah script, derived from the Sijillāt al-Awsaṭ handwriting. With it are written emancipations of slaves and sales of land and houses and other things. Among them is a script called the Mufattaḥ, sprung from the Thaqīl al-Niṣf. The Mumsak script, with which they write on the half-size sheets, is derived from it. Three scripts grow out of it: a script called the Mudawwar al-Kabīr, which the scribes of this period call the Ri’āsī and which is written on the half-size sheets; also derived from it is a script called the Mudawwar al-Ṣaghīr, a general-utility script with which are written records, traditions, and poems; and a script called Khafīf al-Thuluth al-Kabīr. It is written on the half-size sheets, being derived from Khafīf al-Niṣf al-Thaqīl. From it there springs a script called the Riqā‘, which is derived from Khafīfal-Thuluth al-Kabīr and with which are written signed edicts and similar things.


Among them is a script called the Mufattaḥ al-Niṣf, derived from al-Niṣf al-Thaqīl, and among them also is the Narjis script, written on the third-size sheets and derived from Khafīf al-Niṣf.


These are twenty-four scripts, all of which are derived from four scripts: the Jalīl script, the Ṭūmār al-Kabīr script, the Niṣf al-Thaqīl script, and the Thuluth al-Kabīr al-Thaqīl script. The derivation of these four scripts is from the Jalīl, which is the father of the scripts.



From [Sources] Other than the Handwriting of lbn Thawābah

   People continued to write according to the forms of the ancient script which we have mentioned until the beginning of the ‘Abbāsid rule, and at the time when the Hāshimites [25] appeared, the copies of the Qur’ān were written specifically with these forms [scripts].


Then there developed a handwriting called the ‘Irāqī, which was the Muḥaqqaq known as Warrāqī. Elaboration and improvement continued until it culminated for al-Ma’mūn, whose companions and scribes undertook to beautify their calligraphy, concerning which the people vied with one another.



25. The Banū al-‘Abbās, or caliphs of the ‘Abbāsid dynasty.





Then there appeared a man known as al-Aḥwal al-Muḥarrir, a craftsman of the Barmakids, [26] who was acquainted with the significations and forms of writing. He spoke about its forms and rules, dividing it into categories. This man used to write the communications dispatched by the sultan to the kings of the distant regions in the official documents. He was in the depths of misfortune and filth, as well as coarse, not fit for anything. [27] When he classified the scripts, he gave precedence to the heavy scripts. The finest among these is the Ṭūmār script, which is written on the full-size page (al-ṭūmār), either with a piece of palm or perhaps it is written with a pen. With it they transmit letters to the kings.


Among the scripts there are the Thuluthayn script, the Sijillāt script, the ‘Uhūd script, the Mu’āmarāt script, the Amānāt script, the Dībāj script, the Mudabbaj script, the Muraṣṣa‘ script, and the Tashājī script.


When Dhū al-Ri’āsatayn al-Faḍl ibn Sahl arose, he invented a script which was the best of the scripts and known as the Ri’āsī. It branched into a number of scripts, among which there are: the Ri’āsī al-Kabīr script, the Niṣf script from the Ri’āsī, the Thuluth script, the Ṣaghīr al-Niṣf script, the Khafīf al-Thuluth script, the Muḥaqqaq script, the Manthūr script, the Washī script, the Riqā‘ script, the Mukātabāt script, the Ghubār al-Ḥilyah script, the Narjis script, and the Biyāḍ script.



Account of al-Barbarī al-Muḥarrar and His Son

   This point of the book requires that we mention him. He was Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Ṣubbāh ibn Bishr ibn Suwayd al-Aswad al-Tamīmī and subsequently al-Sa‘dī. [28] Ibrāhīm was squint-eyed, but Isḥāq taught al-Muqtadir and his children. He was nicknamed Abū al-Ḥusayn, and this Abū al-Ḥusayn wrote an



26. See Glossary, Barmak family.


27. Although the Beatty MS is quite clear, this sentence does not seem to suit the rest of the passage. It is possible that al-Aḥwal was a Ṣūfī and therefore poor and dirty; or the passage may be garbled, and al-Aḥwal may have been Abū Khālid al-Aḥwal, vizier of al-Ma’mūn.


28. This means “fortunate” and may have been given as a nickname after Isḥāq had become tutor to the caliph.





epistle about penmanship and writing entitled The Precious Object of the Lover.


No one else appeared during his time who was a more skillful penman or better acquainted with writing. His brother, Abū al-Ḥasan, was like him, walking in his footsteps. His son was Abū al-Qāsim Ismā‘īl ibn Isḥāq ibn Ibrāhīm, whose son, Abū Muḥammad, was al-Qāsim ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Isḥāq. Among his children there was also Abū al-‘Abbās ‘Abd Allāh ibn Abī Isḥāq. These men were preeminent for their beauty of penmanship and knowledge of writing.


Before the time of Isḥāq there was a man known as Ibn Ma‘dān, whom Isḥāq drew upon for information. Among the young men of Ibn Ma‘dān there was Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm al-Nims. Among the writers there were also the sons of Wajh al-Na‘jah, in addition to Ibn Munīr, al-Zanfalaṭī, and al-Zawā’idī.


Thus saith Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq [al-Nadīm]: Among the viziers and secretaries who wrote with ink [29] there were Abū Aḥmad al-‘Abbās ibn al-Ḥasan and Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn ‘Īsā [ibn Dā’ūd] and Abū ‘Alī Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muqlah, whose birth was after the afternoon prayer on Thursday, nine nights before the end of Shawwāl, in the year two hundred and seventy-two [A.D. 885/86], and who died on Sunday when ten nights of Shawwāl had gone by during the year three hundred and twenty-eight [A.D. 939/40]. [30] His brother, Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī [ibn Muqlah], also wrote with ink. He was born at daybreak on Wednesday at the end of the month of Ramadān during the year two hundred and seventy-eight [A.D. 891/92] and died in the month of Rabī‘ al-Ākhir during the year three hundred and thirty-eight [A.D. 949/50]. The like of these two men has not been known in the past, or even as late as our own time. They wrote according to the calligraphy of their [grand] father Muqlah. The real name of Muqlah was ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Abd Allāh, Muqlah being a nickname.



29. The Beatty MS has “and secretaries,” evidently referring to members of the government secretariat who were not viziers. Two words are used for “ink”: al-midād is used here, and al-ḥibr in the sentence following. See Flügel, p. 9 n.


30. The system of dividing the lunar month into halves and counting the days and nights of the first half forward and the last half backwards is explained in Durustūyah, Kitāb al-Kuttāb, p. 80. Roughly, 30 sun years are similar to 31 moon years.





Some of their kinsmen and children wrote during their lifetime and afterward, but they did not maintain their standards. One of these [kinsmen] might excel in connection with one letter following another or one word after another, but it was Abū ‘Alī and Abū ‘Abd Allāh who achieved perfection as a whole.


Those of their children who were penmen were Abū Muḥammad ‘Abd Allāh, Abū al-Ḥasan ibn Abī ‘Alī, Abū Aḥmad Sulaymān ibn Abī al-Ḥasan, and Abū al-Ḥusayn ibn Abī ‘Alī. I have read a copy of the Qur’ān written in the handwriting of their grandfather Muqlah.



The Names of Persons Who Wrote Copies of the Qur’ān in Gold  and Who Are Remembered

   Al-Yaqṭīnī, Ibrāhīm al-Ṣaghīr, Abū Mūsā ibn ‘Ammār, Ibn al-Saqaṭī, Muḥammad [al-Khuzaymī], and Ibn Muḥammad Abū ‘Abd Allāh al-Khuzaymī and his son of our own time. [31]



Names of the Bookbinders Who Are Remembered

   Ibn Abī al-Ḥarīsh, who used to bind books in the Treasury of Knowledge of al-Ma’mūn, [32] Shafah al-Miqrāḍ, al-‘Ujayfī, Abū ‘Īsā ibn Shayrān, Dimyānah al-Ā‘sar ibn al-Ḥajjām, Ibrāhīm and his son Muḥammad, and al-Ḥusayn ibn al-Ṣaffār.



Remarks about the Excellence of the Pen

   Al-‘Attābī said, “Pens are the beasts of burden of understanding.” Ibn Abī Duwād said, “The pen is the ambassador of the mind, its apostle, its furthest reaching tongue, and its best interpreter.” Ṭurayḥ ibn Ismā‘īl al-Thaqafī said, “Men’s minds are under the nibs of their pens.” Aristotle (Arisṭāṭālīs) said, “The pen is the active cause, the ink the material one, script is the principle of form, and style is the cause of perfection.”


Al-‘Attābī said, “Books smile as pens shed tears.” Al-Kindī said, “The pen (al-qlm) has the same value as ‘usefulness’ (nfā‘), for



31. As only a few vowel signs are given in the Arabic text, the names in this and the following list may not be entirely correct.


32. Khizānat al-Ḥikmah; the library attached to the Bayt al-Ḥikmah or research center established by al-Ma’mūn, A.D. 830, at Baghdād.





f = 80, n = 50, ā = 1, and = 70, which totals 201. A = 1, l = 30, q = 100, l = 30, m = 40, which totals 201. ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd said, “The pen is a tree, the fruits of which are words, and contemplation is a sea, whose pearl is wisdom, wherein is quenching of mental thirst.”



Remarks on the Excellencies of Penmanship and Praise of Arabic Speech

   Sahl ibn Hārūn, who was the director of the Bayt al-Ḥikmah [33] and known as Ibn Rahyūn al-Kātib (the Secretary), said, “The number of Arabic letters is twenty-eight, like the number of the stations of the moon. The greatest number of them which a word with its extra letters can contain is seven, corresponding to the seven heavenly bodies.”


He also said, “The letters which are added are twelve, like the twelve signs of the zodiac.” Then he said, “The letters which are elided with the lām (l) of the article are fourteen, like the hidden stations of the moon under the earth, while the fourteen manifest letters which do not elide are like the visible stations remaining. Three movements form the declensions; al-raf‘ [nominative], al-naṣb [accusative], and al-khafad [dative], for the movements of nature are three: motion from the center like that of fire, motion to the center like that of the earth, and motion on a center like that of the heavens.” Beautiful is this coincidence and beautiful the interpretation! [34]


Al-Kindī said, “I do not know of any other form of writing in which the letters undergo so much beautifying and refining as they do in Arabic writing. It also makes possible greater speed than can be attained in other forms of writing.”


Plato (Aflāṭūn) said, “Handwriting is the shackle of the rnind.”


Euclid (Aqlīdus) said, “Handwriting is a spiritual designing, even though it appears by means of a material instrument.” Abū Dulaf said, “Handwriting is the garden of the sciences.” Al-Naẓẓām



33. MS 1135 says he was director of the books at Bayt al-Ḥikmah.


34. For an explanation of the stations of the moon, see “Astrology,” Enc. Islam, I, 496. In the last sentence in this paragraph, one or both adjectives may be “novel” instead of “beautiful”;  the Beatty MS is not clear. It is not clear whether this sentence is part of the quotation or was inserted by the author.





said, “Handwriting is rooted in the spirit, even though it appears by means of bodily senses.”



Remarks about Ugliness of Handwriting

   It is said that bad penmanship is one of the two chronic diseases. It is also said that bad handwriting is, in connection with culture, a disease. It is further said that ugly penmanship is sterility of culture.



Remarks about the Excellencies of Books

   Someone said to Socrates (Suqrāṭ), “Are you not afraid that you will injure your eyes by continually looking into books?” He replied, “If I save my insight, I don’t attend to weakness of eyesight.” Mahbūd [35] said, “If books had not bound together the experiences of former generations, the shackles of later generations in their forgetfulness would not have been loosed.”


Buzurjmihr said, “Books are the shells of wisdom, which are split open for the pearls of character.” Another has said, “These sciences are camel stallions — use books to line them up; these couplets are runaways — use books for them as halters.”


By Kulthūm ibn ‘Amr al-‘Attābī

We have comrades of whose conversation we never weary;

Confiding and trustworthy whether absent or present,

They give us the benefit of their knowledge, a knowledge of what has passed,

With wise opinion, discipline, and instruction well-guided,

Without cause to be dreaded or fear of suspicion.

Neither their fingers nor their hands shall we fear;

If you say they are living it is no lie,

Or if you say they are dead you will not be held in error.

Naṭṭāḥah has said, and his name is Aḥmad ibn Ismā‘īl, surnamed Abū ‘Alī, a more complete account of whom will follow when telling about the secretaries, “The book, he is a companion who does not bother you at the time of your work, nor call you away when you are preoccupied, nor demand that you treat him with courtesy. The book, he is the comrade who does not flatter you too rnuch,



35. The third consonant in this word is uncertain and the name cannot be clearly identified.





the friend who does not tempt you, the companion who does not weary you, the counselor who does not mislead you.”


Al-Sarī ibn Aḥmad al-Kindī recited one of his own compositions to me, saying, “I wrote on the back of a piece of a composition, which I gave to a friend of mine and which I bound with black leather:

A black object unveils its opposite,

As night the uncovering of the dawn.

I have sent you this, and though dumb

It holds conversation with the eyes about that with which it is entrusted.

Silent it is if its veil be clasped;

Sparkling when it is opened for enjoyment.

A cover encompassing its light

Goes back and forth (opens and shuts) containing it.

By means of it souls find enjoyment

While worries are cast down abased.

Rank nothing with it for enjoyment,

For all that you desire it contains.”

 Abū Bakr al-Zuhayrī recited to me [some verses] of Ibn Ṭabāṭabā about the volumes (dafātir):

 By the favor of Allāh have these brethren attained their glory,

And by their association and fidelity I am exalted (made greater).

They speak without visible tongues,

Searching are they for hidden secrets.

If I seek knowledge of some past happening from Arab or Persian,

About it the books give me information,

As though I were an eyewitness living in their time,

Even though generations have come and gone.

If oratory I seek, orators arise,

My hand sufficing as a pulpit for the volumes.

How often have I tested men with them!

For the mind of a youth is tested by a book of knowledge.

How often have I defeated a companion by means of them,

When even an army could not have put him to flight!

Thus saith Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq [al-Nadīm]: I have dealt with this subject and similar ones in the chapter on writing and its instruments in a book which I have composed about descriptions and comparisons (al-awṣāf wa-al-tashbīhāt).





Remarks about the Syriac Script

   Theodore (Tiyādūrus) the Commentator recorded in his commentary on the first book of the Torah that “God, Blessed and Exalted, addressed Adam in the Nabataean dialect, which was purer than the Syriac one. The people of Bābil also used to speak it. Then when God made a babel of tongues, the nations being scattered to their districts and localities, the language of the people of Bābil was unchanged, but the Nabataean spoken by the villagers became a broken Syriac incorrectly pronounced.”


Another person said, “The language used for books and reading, that is the literary form (al-faṣīḥ), is the dialect of the people of Syria and Ḥarrān. From it the scholars derived the Syriac script, coming to an agreement about it. So it was with the other written forms.”


Another said, “In one of the Gospels or some other Christian book, an angel called Saymūrus [36] taught Adam the Syriac writing as it exists in the hands of the Christians of our own day.”


The Syrians (al-Surīyāniyūn) have three scripts: al-Maftūḥ, which is called the Estrangelo (al-Asṭrangālā) and is the fmest and best — it is spoken of as the Thaqīl script, resembling the Masāḥif [Qur’ānic] script and the Taḥrīr; al-Muḥaqqaq, called Scholastic (Askulthīyā) and spoken of as the Mudawwar (round) form, similar to the script of al-warraqūn; al-Serto (al-Sarṭā), with which they write missives and which resembles the Arabic Riqā‘ script.


Here are designs of the Syriac script. [37]



Remarks about the Persian Script

   It is said that the first person to speak Persian was Gayumarth (Gayo Mareta), whom the Persians call al-Gil Shāh, which means King of Clay. He was their Adarn, father of mankind. It is said, the first person to write Persian was Bīwarasp (Bīwārasb), the son of Wandāsab known as al-Ḍaḥḥāk, the master of al-Ajdahāq. [38]



36. Saymūrus may be confused with the symbol of heaven, portrayed by the samayyā or semeion. Refer to Ingholt in Memoirs, Connecticut Academy of Arts & Sciences, XII (July 1954), 17-22, 25, 43-46.


37. The designs do not appear in either Flügel or the Beatty MS. For the Syrian scripts, see Abbott, Rise of the North Arabic Script, pp. 17-21.


38. For the Persian scripts, see Browne, Literary History of Persia, I, 76; and Pope, Survey of Persian Art, II, 1707. Al-Ajdahāq was Azhi Dahāka, a legendary dragon.





It is said that Ferīdūn, son (descendant) of al-Kayān, when he divided the earth among his sons Salm, Tūr, and Īraj, gave as a share to each one of them a third of the inhabited land and wrote a deed for them. Amād the Priest told me that the deed is with the King of China, carried away with the Persian treasures at the time of Yazdigird; it is Allāh who knows.


It is said that the first person to write was Jamshīd, the son of Hūshang, [39] who lived in the royal courts of the regions of Tustar. The Persians supposed that when he ruled the world and the jinn and men submitted to him, there yielded to him also the Devil (Iblīs), whom he commanded to make manifest what was in his consciousness, whereupon he [the Devil] taught him [Jamshīd] writing.


I have read what was written in the handwriting of Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Abdūs al-Jahshiyārī in the Book of Viziers, which he wrote, that “There were few books and epistles before the regime of Gushtāsp the son of Luhrāsp, [40] the people lacking the ability to speak plainly and to bring forth their inner intentions by clearness of expression.”


One of the things preserved and recorded from the sayings of Jamshīd: “From Jamshīd son of Hushāng to Adarbādhānī, [41] I have commanded thee to administer the seven regions; accomplish this and establish the regime which I have ordered for you.”


From those [the sayings] of Ferīdūn, son of Nazakā and Anqayān: “From Ferīdūn, son of Anqayān, to ---------: I have presented you with a land in which is Damāwand. [42] Receive this and accept a throne of silver gilded with gold.”


Among [the records] there was from Kai Kāūs: “From Kai Kāūs son of Kai Kubād to Rustam: Verily I have set thee free from



39. Flügel gives Hūshang, the Beatty MS gives Awījhān, but the word in Arabic is usually written as Ushhanj.


40. In Arabic, Kustāsb ibn Luhrāsb.


41. This is a form for the Persian name Athravan, a legendary form of Magi. The word later became contaminated and connected with the provincial name of Ādharbayjān. See Firdawsī, Shahnama, I, 56. For Hūshang, see n. 39.


42. Feridūn’s mother was Faranūk and his ancestor al-Kayān. The names given in the text may be the Persian forms of these two names. Demavend, which is Damāwand in Arabic, is the great rnountain north of Tihrān where Ḍaḥḥāk was chained so that Feridūn could rule.





the bondage of slavery and made thee to rule over Sijistān. Yoke no one to servitude and rule Sijistān as I have commanded thee.”


When Gushtāsp became king, writing was used more extensively. Then there appeared Zoroaster, son of Spitama, lord of the law of the Magi. With the divulging of his wonderful book in all languages, the people themselves began to learn penmanship and writing with more general use and greater skill.


‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Muqaffa‘ said, “The languages of the Persians are the Pahlāwī, the Derī, the Parsī, the Khuzistānī, and the Syriac. [43] The Pahlāwī (al-Fahlawīyah) is related to Pahlav (Fahlah), a region which includes five cities: Iṣbahān, Rayy, Hamadhān, Mah Nahāwand, [44] and Ādharbayjān. The Dērī (al-Durīyah) was the language of the cities of al-Madā’in, spoken at the king’s court. It was derived from presence at the court (al-bāb), coming chiefly from the language of the people of Khurāsān and the East, the speech of the people of Balkh. Priests, scholars, and their like speak Parsī (al-Farsīyah), the speech of the people of Fars. The kings and nobles used to speak the Khuzistānī (al-Khūzīyah) in privacy, in places of play and amusement, and with their retinues. The people of al-Sawād [45] used to speak Syriac (al-Suriyānīyah), writing in one form of Persian Syriac.


Ibn al-Muqaffa‘ said, “There are seven types of handwriting in Persia.” One of them is the form of writing for religion called Dīn Dafīrīyah [46] with which the religious devotees [47] write, and of which the following is an example.


Another form of writing is called Watsh Dabīrīyah, [48] which has three hundred and sixty-five letters. They use it to write about physiognomy, divination, gurgling of water, ringing of the ears,



43. The Arabic names are given in parentheses in the sentences which follow.


44. See Yāqūt, Geog., IV, 846.


45. See Glossary.


46. The correct form is Dabīrīyah.


47. “Religious devotees” is a translation of al-wastā, a term used for those among the Zoroastrians who called upon God. In the Beatty MS the word is clearly written as al-wastāq, but as no such word seems to exist, it may be meant to be either al-wastā, as above, or Ahl al-Rustāq (People of al-Rustāq). See Yāqūt, Geog., II, 778. The example referred to in the text is missing.


48. Watsh means “small.” In the Beatty MS the word is not clear, but Dabīriyah is written with a b in a clear way.





beckonings of the eyes, nodding, winking, and the like. This script has not been handed down to anyone, so that none of the sons of Persia write with it today. When I asked Amād the Priest about it, he said, “It is going the way of translation, being translated into Arabic writing.”


Another form of writing is called the Kushtaḥ, [49] which has twenty-eight letters. With it they write contracts, inheritance assignments, [50] and land transactions. The rings in Persia are inscribed with this script, and also decorations for garments and rugs, as well as dies for silver coins(s., dirham); this is an example of it [Example 3]. [51]


Example 3


Another form of writing is called Nīm Kushtaḥ, [52] which has twenty-eight letters and is used for medicine and philosophy. This is an example of it [Example 4].


Example 4


Another form of writing is called the Shāh Dabīrīyah, with which the Persian kings used to carry on their own correspondence, apart from the populace. The other people of the kingdom were prevented from using it, as a precaution, lest somebody related to the king might discover the king’s secrets. It has not been preserved for us.



49. The letters for Kushtah are clear in the Beatty MS, but as the consonant marks are often omitted, it might also be interpreted as “Kushtaj.”


50. The word translated as “inheritance assignments” is not correct in the Flügel edition or clear in the Beatty MS. It may be a form meaning “weighings.”


51. Flügel gives “. . . dies for gold coins (s., dīnār) and silver coins (s., dirham) . . . .” Flügel adds extra lines to this example, and to the two examples which follow, which are not found in either the Beatty MS or MS 1135.


52. Nīm means “half.”





The Rasā’il form of writing is just as the tongue speaks, without dots. Some of it is written in the first Syriac dialect spoken by the people of Bābil, being read as Persian. The number of letters is thirty-three, and it is called both Nāmah Dabīrīyah and Hām Dabīrīyah. [53] It is used by all classes of the kingdom, with the one exception of the kings. This is an example of it [Example 5].


Example 5


Another form of writing is called Zār Saharayah, [54] with which the kings correspond about confidential matters with whatsoever nations they wish. It has forty letters and vocal sounds, with a definite character for each letter and sound. It does not contain anything of the Nabataean tongue; here are examples of it. [55]


They have another form of writing, called Rās Saharayah, used for logic and philosophy, with twenty-four letters and also dots. It has not been preserved for us.


They have a form of spelling called Rawārashn, with which they write both the connected and unconnected letters. There are about a thousand words with which to determine things that are similar. An example of this is that anyone who wishes to write kusht, which is ‘‘meat” in Arabic, writes it basarā, but reads it kusht, [56] according to this example [Example 6].


Example 6


Or if he wishes to write nān, which is “bread” in Arabic, it is read as nān but written lahumā, according to this example [Example 7].”



53. Rasā’il means “missives”;  dots refer to the diacritics to mark consonants. Nāmah means “book” and hām, “chiefs.”


54. This could be Dār Shahrayah; the texts are not clear.


55. The example is missing.


56. The Beatty MS gives the consonants r w ar sh n, but instead of r, the letter might be z or d. The word kusht is equivalent to the Persian gosht. Basarā is like the Hebrew bāsār (“flesh”). See Browne, Literary History of Persia, I, 76.


57. Nān is a Persian word for “bread.” Lahumā is similar to the Hebrew lechem, which also means bread.




Example 7


So it is for whatever they wish to write, except for such things as need no substitution, being written as pronounced.



Remarks about the Hebrew Script

   I have read in some of the ancient books that the first person to write Hebrew was ‘Ābar ibn Shālikh (Eber son of Shelah), who instituted it among his people, so that they wrote with it. Theodorus (Theodore) mentions that Hebrew was derived from Syriac, but so called because Ibrāhīm (Abraham) crossed the Euphrates seeking Damascus, when fleeing from Nīmrūd (Nimrod), the son of Kūs (Cush), the son of Kan‘ān (Canaan). [58]


In connection with writing, the Jews and Christians suppose, [59] without any dispute between them, that the Hebrew writing was on two tables of stone and that Allāh, may His name be glorified, handed them over to him [Moses], who when he descended from the mountain and found that they [the Israelites] had been worshipping the idol, became angry with them, in fact so much wrought up that he broke the two tables. He [Theodorus] said, “After that, he [Moses] repented, and Allāh, may His name be glorified, ordered him to write on two other tables, so as to inscribe them with the original writing.”


One of the more excellent of the Jews recorded that Hebrew writing was not like the present form, which has been corrupted and altered. Some reliable Jews have said that Yūsuf [Joseph], upon whom be peace, when he was the vizier of the ruler of Egypt, used figures and signs for the affairs of the kingdom which he recorded. [60] Here is a design of the Hebrew letters [Example 8].



58. In other words, the ancient text claims that the word “Hebrew” (‘Ibrānī in Arabic) comes from the verb “to cross” (‘abar), referring to Abraham crossing the Euphrates.


59. The Beatty MS lacks the material in the text from here until Chap. I, sect. 3, near n. 59. MS 1135 is intact with regards to this passage, but it is not as authentic as the Beatty MS.


60. MS 1135 is followed in this paragraph instead of Flügel.





Example 8



Remarks about the Greek Script

   I have read in some of the old histories that in early times the Greeks did not know how to write until two men, one of whom was called Cadmus (Qatmus) and the other Aghanūn, [61] came from Egypt bringing sixteen letters with which the Greeks wrote. Then one of these two men derived four other letters, also used for writing. Later, another man named Simonides (Simūnidus) derived four additional ones, making twenty-four. It was in those days that Socrates (Suqrātīs) appeared, according to what Isḥāq al-Rāhib (Isaac the Monk) records in his history.


I questioned one of the Greeks who had opinions about his language and noted that he had advanced as far as what is called “etymology,” which is Greek syntax. He said: 

There are three scripts generally known and used by the Greeks in the City of Peace [Baghdād]. The first of these scripts is called Lepton. The Arabic script which it resernbles is the script of al-warrāqūn, with which


61. Probably Agenor, the father of Cadmus.




they write Qur’ānic manuscripts. They [the Greeks], too, write their scriptures with it. It is known as Īriyā, for the Greek [word meaning] “sacred.”

This is an example of it.


“They also have a script called Boustrophedon, the equivalent of which among the Arabic scripts is the Thuluth script, with a share of both the Muḥaqqaq and the Mushil.” This is an example of it.


“They have a script called Surīṭūn, which is the Mukhaffaf (light) script of the scribes. Its equivalent with us is the Tarasal al-Dīwānī (official correspondence) script with the letters contracted.” This is an example of it. [62]


They have a script known as the Sāmīyā, [63] which does not resemble anything of ours, for a single one of its letters combines many ideas and abbreviates a number of words. Galen (Jālīnūs) has mentioned it in his book Phoenix. The meaning of the name is “fixing of writings.” Galen said: 

In a public session I gave a comprehensive account of anatomy. When a friend met me some days later, he said to me, “A certain man has recorded that you said thus and thus in your public session.” Then he repeated my exact words. I said to him, “From where did you get this?” He replied, “I met a scribe skilled in the Sāmīyā, who kept abreast of you in writing down your words.”

This script is learned by the kings and most eminent scribes. The rest of the people are prevented from using it because of its great significance. In the year forty-eight [A.D. 959] a man practicing medicine came to us from Baalbek. [64] As he asserted that he could write the Sāmīyā, we tested what he said. We found that if we spoke ten words, he would pay attention to them and then write down



62. The quotation probably ends here, after the three scripts used in Baghdād have been mentioned. The Examples are lacking. The scripts were very likely the following: (1) Lepton, (delicate). It was called “sacred,” . (2) Boustrophedon, badly written in MS 1135; it must be . This was an early Greek style of writing used for Solon’s laws. (3) ‘Suriṭūn; it has very likely been garbled, but is possibly from the Greek word .


63. Sārnīyā must come from the Greek word for “fix,” . The Greek shorthand writer was the , and the shorthand notes falsely ascribed to Xenophon were the . See Greek dictionaries and “Shorthand,” Enc. Brit., XXIV, 1007-8.


64. The original form is “Ba‘labakk.”





one. When we asked him to repeat [the words], he did repeat them as we had rendered them.


Ja‘far ibn al-Muktafī said: 

The reason the Greeks write from left to right is that they believe that it is fitting for a person seated to meet the sunrise in all of its phases. So if he faces the sunrise, the north will be on his left, in which case the left gives way to the right. Thus, the method for a scribe is to go from the north toward the south.

He also said: 

The Greeks have rules for handwriting, with forms among which are the designated [65] letters among the twenty-four letters. These are gamma, delta, kappa, sigma, tau, and chi. They also have letters called “sonants,” which are alpha, ayi (epsilon), eta, iota, ūa (upsilon), smaller wāw (omicron), and the larger wāw (omega). [66] The feminine letters are four, alpha, the smaller wāw (omicron), and the great wāw (omega). The masculine letters are ayi (epsilon), eta, iota, and (upsilon).

Declension does not affect any of the Greek letters, except the seven sonant letters, which are known as lagayn and tlagayn. [67] The Greek tongue dispenses with six of the letters of the Arabic language: ḥa, dhāl, ḍāḍ, ‘ayn, hā, and lām-alif.



Script of the Langobardi and Saxons

   These are a people between the Greeks and the Franks, close to the ruler of al-Andalus. [68] Their writing has twenty-two letteirs and their script is called the Apostolic. [69] They start writing from the left toward the right, but their reason for doing so is different from that of the Greeks. They say it is so that the dipping of the ink will be away from the beating of the heart and not toward it, for writing



65. For the word which has been translated here as “designated,” MS 1135 suggests muta ‘āfīyah, (“restored from illness”). Flügel gives muta ‘āqibah (“successive,” “coupled”).


66. MS 1135 omits the smaller wāw and after the larger wāw has “and it is al-awṭūmayghā,” probably garbled for “omega.” Evidently one of the feminine letters has been omitted, or else there were only three. Perhaps the fourth was a diphthong.


67. These two words might be (“to say”) and , probably meaning “how to say.”


68. The Langobardi were Lombards. When Al-Fihrist was written, the Saxons had become a Christian group on the German frontier. Andalus was southern Spain, under Muslim rule.


69. Flügel gives “Afīsṭolīqī” and MS 1135 a garbled form.





from the right is from the liver towards the heart. This is an example of it. [70]



The Script of China

   As Chinese writing resembles inscription, even a clever and skillful scribe becomes weary over it. It is said that even a person with a light touch cannot write more than two or three leaves a day. They write their religious and scientific books with it on fans, a number of which I have seen. Most of them [the Chinese] are dualists and sun worshippers, [71] about whom I will speak in detail later on.


In China there is a form of writing called Collective Writing. That is, for every word written with three or more letters, there is a single character, and each word with an augmented design of characters signifies a great deal. If they wish, they can write the contents of one hundred leaves with this script on only one page.


Muḥammad ibn Zakarīyā’ al-Rāzī said: 

A man from China came to seek me and dwelt with me for about a year. In five months of this time he learned Arabic, both spoken and written, becoming proficient in style, as well as expert and rapid in writing. When he desired to return to his country, he said to me a month in advance, “I am about to set forth and wish that you would dictate to me the sixteen books of Galen, so that I can write them down.” I said, “Your time is short and the length of your stay will be sufficient for you to copy only a small part of it.” Then the young man said, “I ask you to devote yourself to me for the length of my stay and to dictate to me as fast as you can. I will keep up with you in writing.” I proposed to some of my students that they join in this project with us, but we did not have faith in the man, until there was a chance for comparison and he showed us everything he had written.


I questioned him about the matter and he said, “We have a form of writing known as Collective, which is what you see. If we wish to write a great deal in a short time, we write it with this script. Then later on, if we wish, we transcribe it with a script which is familiar and not abbreviated.” He thought that a man who was quick in learning and understanding could not learn it in less than twenty years.


 70. The example is missing.


71. MS 1135 has Shamsīyah, whereas Flügel is uncertain about the name. This sect is dealt with at the end of Chap. IX of Al-Fihrist.





The Chinese have an ink which they compound from a mixture and which resembles Chinese paint. I have seen some of it in the form of tablets, on which was stamped the image of the king. A piece of it suffices for a long period of constant writing. This is an example of their script [Example 9].


Example 9



Remarks about the Manichaean Script

   The Manichaean script is derived from Persian and Syriac. Mānī derived it. The cult is a combination of the Magi system and Christianity. Its letters are more numerous than the Arabic ones. With this script they write their gospels and books of their laws. The inhabitants of Mā Warā’ al-Nahr (the Region beyond the River, Transoxiana) and Samarqand write religious books with this script, so that it is called the Script of Religion.


The Marcionites also have a script by which they are distinguished. A reliable person has told me that he has seen it. He said, “It resembles the Manichaean, but is different.” [72]


These are the Manichaean letters [Example 10].


Example 10



72. For the Manichaeans and Marcionites, see Chap. IX, sect. 1.





They also have a form with different letters, for they write [Example 11]:


Example 11



Remarks about the Script of al-Ṣughd

   A reliable person has said, “I entered the land of al-Ṣughd, which is the territory beyond the river. [73] Ṣughd is called Upper Irān and is an abode of the Turks. Its principal city is Tūnkath. [74] He also said, “Its people are dualists and Christians. In their language they call the dualists Aḥārkaf.” [75] This is an example of their writing [Example 12].


Example 12



73. Sogdiana in Transoxiana; see Yāqūt, Geog., III, 394.


74. Probably the capital of the Īlāq region southeast of Tāshkand; ibid, I, 900.


75. This name does not appear in books written by Ṭabarī, Yāqūt, Marco Polo, or the Arab travelers.





Remarks about al-Sind [76]

   The people there have different languages and religions as well as numerous scripts. Some of the people who travel in their country said to me, “They have about two hundred scripts.” I once saw at the court of the sultan a yellow idol, said to be an image of the Buddha (al-Budd). [77] It is a figure on a seat, grasping three fingers with his hand. On the seat there is an inscription of which this is a likeness [Example 13].


Example 13


This man mentioned above stated that they usually write with nine letters in this form [Example 14].


Example 14


The start is with alif, bā’, jīm, dāl, hā’, wāw, zāy, ḥā’, and ṭā’. Then after reaching ṭā’ they repeat each of the original letters with dots as in this example [Example 15].


Example 15



76. The lower valley and delta of the Indus in what is today part of West Pakistan. It was conquered by the Muslims, A.D. 712.


77. This was probably a typical image, with a Buddha seated on a lotus leaf, holding with one hand three fingers of the other hand. The Arabic text has “thirty,” but this must be an error. See Grüinwedel, Buddhist Art in India, pp. 130, 134, 173, 202.





Thus they become yā’, kāf, lām, mīm, nūn, sīn, ‘ayn, fā’, and sād, making eighteen. [78] If they reach ṣād they write as in the following Example, placing two dots under each letter in this way [Example 16].


Example 16


Thus they become qāf, rā’, shīn, tā’, thā’, khā’, dhāl, and ẓā’. When they reach ẓā’ they write the original letter alif with three dots under it [Example 17]. [79] Thus they account for all of the


Example 17


letters of the alphabet and write whatever they please.



Remarks about the Negroes

   The races of Negroes are the Nubians, the Bijah (Beja), the Zaghāwah, the Murāwah (Meroe), the Istān, [80] the Barbar (Berbers), and the types of blacks like the Indians. [81] They write like the Indians because of their proximity, but have no known script or writing of their own.


Al-Jāḥiẓ mentioned in his book Al-Bayān that the Negroes have an oratory and eloquence belonging to their own cult and language. A person who saw and witnessed this [custom] said to me, “If



78. The texts have ‘asharah ‘asharah (“twenty”) but thamānī ‘asharah (“eighteen”) must be the words meant, as there are two groups of nine letters each.


79. MS 1135 differs; it has “they write the original letter like this” and then shows the design of an alif with the maddah or “long” sign over it and three dots under it.


80. See Mas‘ūdī, III, i ff.; cf. Khaldūn, Muqaddimah (Rosenthal), I, 120, and also, I 110, with map, for the geographical regions. Istān may refer to the Negroes of southern ‘Irāq, famous for the Zanj Rebellion of A.D. 869.


81. “Al-Sind” is translated as “the Indians,” as it seems to refer to the people instead of the area. “Blacks like the Indians” probably signifies other people in southeast Asia.





affairs perplex them and difficulties hard press them, their speaker sits raised above the ground and, looking down, speaks in a way that resembles growling and muttering, but which the rest of them understand.” He also said, “When there appears in the speech the counsel they are seeking, they act upon it.” It is Allāh who knows.


Some travelers have told me that the Bijah have a script and form of writing, but it has not reached us. Those who go about mention that for religious purposes the Nubians write in Syriac, Greek, and Coptic. The Abyssinians have a script like the Ḥimyarite letters, going from left to right. They separate each of the words by means of three dots, dotted like a triangle between the letters of the two words. This is an example of the letters, which I copied from the library of al-Ma’mūn, but not with the same handwriting [Example 18].


Example 18


The letters tā’ and thā’ are one; the letters ḥā’ and khā’ are one; the letters ‘ayn and ghayn are one; and the letters ṭā’ and ẓā’ are one.



Remarks about the Turks and Those Related to Them

   The Turks, the Bulgar, the Blaghā’, the Burghaz, the Khazar, the Llān, and the types with small eyes and extreme blondness have





no script, except that the Bulgarians and the Tibetans write with Chinese and Manichaean, whereas the Khazar write Hebrew. [82]


My information about the Turks is what Abū al-Ḥasan Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Ashnās related to me. He said: 

Ḥamūd Ḥarār, the Turk, al-Maklī from al-Tūrūnīyah, [83] who was one of those who left his country because of haughtiness and rage, told me that the great Turkish king, if he desired to write to a lesser king, summoned his vizier and ordered the splitting of an arrow. Then the vizier traced on it characters understood by the Turkish nobility and indicating the meaning intended by the king and comprehended by the person to whom it was sent.

He supposed that this scant design represented many ideas and that it was used for truces and peace treaties, as well as at the times of their wars. He mentioned that they carefully guard an arrow inscribed in this way and fulfill their engagements for its sake. It is Allāh who knows.




   A man whose word I trust told me that one of the kings of Mount al-Qabq (the Caucasus) sent him to the king of Russia. He believes that they have writing inscribed on wood, and he showed me a piece of white wood with an inscription on it. The following is an example, but I do not know whether these are words or single letters [Example 19].


Example 19



82. The Bulgar are Bulgarians. The Blaghā’ were the Vlachs or Blakia, the Walachia of Rumania. Burghaz is a part of Bulgaria, and probably an old tribal name. The Khazar were on both sides of the Itil, or Volga. The Llān or ‘Allān were situated next to Armenia, near the Khazar. See “Vlachs,” Enc. Brit., XXVIII, 166-68; “Bulgaria” (Burghaz), IV, 768; “Khazars,” XV, 774. See also Yāqūt, Geog., II, 436, for Khazar; IV, 343, for Llān; I, 817, for Tibet. See also Mas‘ūdī, Vol. II, Chap. 17, beginning p. 1.


83. This may mean from Turunt, the lower Dvina region of Russia, or from Tawwaz. See Yāqūt, Geog., I, 894.





The Franks

   Their writing resembles the Greek script, but is more even; we may have seen it on the Frankish swords. The queen of the Franks wrote to al-Muktafī a letter on white silk, dispatched by a servant who happened into her country from the direction of North Africa. It courted the friendship of al-Muktafī and asked him to marry her. The servant’s name was ‘Albā. He was one of the employees of Ibn al-Aghlab. This is an example of their writing. [84]



The Armenians and Others

   The Armenians as a rule write in Greek and Arabic, because of proximity to those cultures. Thus their gospels were written in Greek and their script resembles Greek writing, though it is not Greek. [85]


The kings of the Caucasus and its slopes, which are Llakz, Shirwān, and Zawzan, have no script. [86] Although there is a common language in the region, each group has its own dialect and expressions differ. We shall speak in detail about them in the proper place in the book.



Remarks about Sharpening Pens

   Nations use different ways of sharpening their pens. The Hebrew way of sharpening is with an extreme angle. The Syriac trirn is with an angle to the left, or maybe to the right, or perhaps they turn the pen on its back, or split the reed in two, sharpening one half which they call ṣulb and use for writing.


The Greek trim is a very oblique deviation to the right, because they write from the left to the right. The Persian trim is with the nib of the pen fringed. The scribe separates it either against the floor or with his teeth, so as to embellish the penmanship. Sometimes they write with the lower end of an unsharpened reed, calling



84. The Example is lacking. Al-Muktafī was the caliph A.D. 902–908. Ibn al- Aghlab must have been Ziyādat Allāh, the last ruler of the Aghlab dynasty in what is today Tunisia. He reigned A.D. 903–909.


85. This last phrase occurs in MS 1135, but not in Flügel.


86. The Caucasus region is called Mount al-Qabd. For Llakz, Shirwān, and Zawzan, see Yāqūt, Geog., I, 220; II, 957. The consonants of the last name are clearly written in the MS 1135 as  z r z q,  but this must be an error and meant to indicate Zawzan, which lies between Armenia and Ādharbayjān.





this reed khām. With it they write ilhamāh dīnāt, which are books of religious inspirations, dowries, and other things. [87]


The Chinese write with hairs which they fit into the heads of reeds as painters do. The Arabs write with various kinds of pens and [have various] ways of trimming them. The custom is to have a slant to the right, but the scribes trim pens without an angle.



Remarks about Types of Paper

   It is said that first of all Adam wrote on clay. Then for a period after that the peoples wrote on copper and stone for the sake of durability. This was before the Flood. To meet the needs of the moment they also wrote on wood and the leaves of trees, as well as on the tūz, [88] bark with which their bows were mounted to make them last long. We have discussed this matter in detail in the chapter on philosophy.


Later on they tanned hides upon which people wrote. The Egyptians wrote on Egyptian paper made from the papyrus reed. It is said that the first person to do this was the prophet Yūsuf (Joseph), for whom be peace.


The Greeks write on white silk, parchment, and other things, as well as on Egyptian scrolls and al-fulḥān, [89] which is the skin of wild asses. The Persians used to write on the skins of water buffaloes, cows, and sheep. The Arabs write on the shoulder blades of the camel and [on] likhāf, which are thin white stones, and on ‘usb or palm stems; the Chinese on Chinese paper made of ḥashīsh, [90] which is the most important product of the land; the Indians on brass and stone, also on white silk.


Then there is the Khurāsānī paper made of flax, which some say appeared in the days of the Banū Umayyah, while others say it was during the ‘Abbāsid regime. Some say that it was an ancient product and others say that it is recent. It is stated that craftsmen from China



87. The khām was a white reed pen used by the Persians. Ilhām means “inspirations” and dīnāt is from the word for “religion.” “Dowries” is siyāq.


88. Tūz, or toz, was the inner bark of a tree used by the Persians to wrap their bows and also as a writing material. See Fück in Ambix, IV, Nos. 3 and 4 (February 1951), 113 n. 16.


89. This word seems to be a form derived from pulḥānā. Ibid., p. 90.


90. This may mean “herbs,” but more likely refers to “hemp.”





made it in Khurāsān like the form of Chinese paper. Its types are the Sulaymānī, the Ṭalḥī, the Nūḥī, the Fir‘awnī, the Ja‘farī, and the Ṭāhirī.


For a number of years the people of Baghdād wrote on erased sheets. The registers spoiled at the time of Muḥammad ibn Zubaydah [91] were parchments, which after being erased were once more written upon.


It is said that books used to be made of parchment tanned with nawrah [92] and exceedingly dry. Later the Cūfic tanning was with dates, giving flexibility.



The end of the First Section of the First Chapter of the book Al-Fihrist, with accounts of the learned men. To Allāh alone is the praise.




91. He is better known as al-Amīn, the elder son of Hārūn al-Rashīd, who engaged in a civil war with his brother during the early years of the ninth century.


92. Lime mixed with arsenic, used to remove hair from the body before prayer and also by women in the baths. For further information about paper see Mez, Renaissance of Islam, pp. 467-69; Khaldūn, Muqaddimah (Rosenthal), II, 391, 392.


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