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

Bayard Dodge

 

Kitab al-Fihrist

 

The Composition of

Abū al-Faraj Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq al-Warrāq,

known as Ibn Abī Ya‘qūb al-Nadīm [1]

  

In the name of Allāh, the Merciful, the Compassionate; I rely upon Allāh, the Unique, the Victorious; may Allāh lengthen the life of the excellent master. Lord by Thy mercy make it easy for [2] persons accepting conclusions without premises and resting upon the intended purpose without a lengthening of explanations, for we are abridging our statements at the beginning of this book of ours, so as to form a guide to show how we plan to compose it, if Allāh so wills. It is said, “Upon Allāh we rely,” and from Him also do we invoke a benediction for all of His prophets and worshippers who are sincere in obeying Him, for there is no strength and no power except with Allāh, the Exalted, the Almighty. [3]

 

 

This is a catalogue of the books of all peoples, Arab and foreign, existing in the language of the Arabs, as well as of their scripts, dealing with various sciences, with accounts of those who composed

 

 

1. The title is taken from MS 1135. Kitāb means “book” and al-fihrist means “the catalogue” or “the index.” A warrāq is a man who sells paper and manuscripts, which are often transcribed by his own hand. A nadīm is a court companion of some high official. These terms and many others are explained in the Glossary. The author of Al-Fihrist was known by the nickname “al-Nadīm,” and is listed by this name in the Biog. Index.

 

2. In the Beatty MS these words, “Lord . . . for,” are omitted and the word for “persons” is garbled. In the Flügel edition also, some words are omitted. The translation, therefore, follows MS 1135.

 

3. For the title page of the Beatty MS see the Introduction. Compare this passage with Mez, Renaissance of Islam, p. 170.

 

 

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them and the categories of their authors, together with their relationships and records of their times of birth, length of life, and times of death, and also of the localities of their cities, their virtues and faults, from the beginning of the formation of each science to this our own time, which is the year three hundred and seventy-seven after the Hijrah [A.D. 987/88].

 

 

Summary of What the Book Contains in Ten Chapters [4]

 

 

The First Chapter, in three sections.

 

The First Section, describing the languages of the peoples, Arab and foreign, the characteristics of their methods of writing, [5] their types of script and forms of calligraphy.

 

The Second Section, about titles of the books of the laws revealed to the sects of the Muslims and the sects of [other] peoples. [6]

 

The Third Section, describing the Book which has nothing false in front of it or behind it, a revelation from the All Wise and All Praised, with the names of the books composed about its sciences and accounts of the readers [of the Qur’ān], with the names of those who quoted them and the digressions from their forms of reading.

 

 

The Second Chapter, with three sections, about the grammarians and language scholars.

 

The First Section, about the beginning of grammar, [7] with accounts of the grammarians of al-Baṣrah and the Arabians who were masters of literary style, with the titles of their books.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of the grammarians and language scholars of al-Kūfah and the titles of their books.

 

The Third Section, mentioning a group of grammarians connected with both schools [8] and the titles of their books.

 

 

4. In the Beatty MS this table of contents is written on horizontal lines without any special arrangements for the headings. The Arabic word translated as “chapter” is al-maqālah.

 

5. Several extra words are in the Beatty MS, but they are not clear enough to read.

 

6. The Beatty MS varies slightly from the Flügel, but neither of them make the meaning entirely clear.

 

7. Here the word al-naḥw seems to mean “grammar” rather than “syntax,” the usual translation.

 

8. The two schools of al-Baṣrah and al-Kūfah.

 

 

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The Third Chapter, in three sections, about historical traditions, literary pursuits, biographies, and genealogies.

 

The First Section, with accounts of the historians, narrators of traditions, genealogists, and authors of biographies and anecdotes, with the titles of their books.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of the kings, secretaries, writers of correspondence, administrators of the revenue, and keepers of registers, [9] with the titles of their books.

 

The Third Section, with accounts of the court companions, associates, singers, literary men, buffoons, persons who take slaps good-naturedly, and jesters, with the names of their books. [10]

 

 

The Fourth Chapter, in two sections, about poetry and the poets.

 

The First Section, about the groups of poets who were Pre-Islāmic, or else Islāmic surviving the Pre-Islāmic period, with the composers of their anthologies and the names of those quoting them.

 

The Second Section, about groups of the Islāmic poets and the recent poets coming down to this our own time.

 

 

The Fifth Chapter, with five sections, about theology and the theologians.

 

The First Section, about the beginning of the theological movement and the theologians of the Mu‘tazilah and the Murji’ah, with the titles of their books.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of the theologians of the Shī‘ah, the Imāmīyah, and the Zaydīyah, as well as of others among the Ghulāt (Ghulāh) and the Ismā‘īlīyah, with the titles of their books.

 

The Third Section, with accounts of the theologians of the Mujbirah and the Ḥashawīyah, and the titles of their books.

 

The Fourth Section, with accounts of the theologians of the Khawārij, their types, and the titles of their books.

 

The Fifth Section, with accounts of the pilgrims, the ascetics, the devotees, those adopting the Ṣūfī practices, and students of a

 

 

9. The Beatty MS omits the word “kings.” For the word translated as “registers,” the Beatty MS gives dafātir and the others give dawāwīn. Both words have the same meaning.

 

10. Only the Beatty MS includes the word udabā’ (“literary men”). For these three kinds of court clowns, see “jesters” in Glossary. Consult Glossary also for the names of the sects which follow.

 

 

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theology based on hallucinations and aberrations, with the titles of their books.

 

 

The Sixth Chapter, with eight sections, about the law and the legal authorities, including the recent ones.

 

The First Section, with accounts of Mālik [ibn Anas] and his adherents (aṣḥāb), with the titles of their books.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of Abū Ḥanīfah and his adherents, with the titles of their books.

 

The Third Section, with accounts of al-Shāfī‘ī and his adherents, with the titles of their books.

 

The Fourth Section, with accounts of Dā’ūd [ibn ‘Ah] and his adherents, with the titles of their books.

 

The Fifth Section, with accounts of the legal authorities of the Shī‘ah, with the titles of their books.

 

The Sixth Section, with accounts of the legal authorities who are scholars of the Ḥadīth, including the recent ones, with the titles of their books.

 

The Seventh Section, with accounts of Abū Ja‘far al-Ṭabarī and his adherents, with the titles of their books.

 

The Eighth Section, with accounts of the legal authorities of the Shurāt (Shurāh) and the titles of their books.

 

 

The Seventh Chapter, three sections, about philosophy and the ancient sciences.

 

The First Section, with accounts of philosophers of natural science and logic, [11] with the titles of their books, the translations, and the commentaries on them; which ones are extant, which are recorded but no longer extant, and which ones used to exist but later disappeared.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of the possessors of learning; the geometricians, arithmeticians, musicians, calculators, astronomers, makers of instruments, and those acquainted with mechanics and dynamics. [12]

 

The Third Section, about the beginning of medicine, with accounts of ancient and recent physicians, with the titles of their books and the translations and commentaries.

 

 

11. This could also be translated as “the natural and logical sciences.”

 

12. Flügel gives a somewhat different interpretation, as he inserts the word “and” before “the geometricians.”

 

 

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The Eighth Chapter, with three sections, about evening recountals, fables, exorcisms, magic, and juggling.

 

The First Section, with accounts of those who tell stories at night, tellers of fables, and contrivers of illustrations, with the titles of the books of stories and fables which have been composed.

 

The Second Section, with accounts of the exorcists, jugglers, and magicians, with the titles of their books.

 

The Third Section, about books composed on various subjects, the compilers and authors being unknown.

 

 

The Ninth Chapter, with two sections, about schools of thought [sects] and doctrines.

 

The First Section, describing the schools of thought of the Chaldaeans of Ḥarrān, known in our time as the Ṣābians, and of the dualist sects of the Manichaeans, the Dayṣānīyah, the Khurramīyah, Marcionites, Mazdakites, and others, with the titles of their books.

 

The Second Section, with a description of the foreign and rare schools of thought, such as the sects of India, China, and other countries.

 

 

The Tenth Chapter, including accounts of the alchemists and the workers of the Art [alchemy], among the ancient and recent philosophers.

 

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