Encyclopaedic Activities in the Pre-Eighteenth Century Muslim World
 


Encyclopaedic Activities in the Pre-Eighteenth Century Muslim World

Conference Abstracts

Professor Josef van Ess, Reflections on the Concept of Encyclopaedias

In my presentation I only want to ask questions, without offering answers. How are we to define an "encyclopaedia", by its size, by its logical order, by its completeness, by its practicality? Is our usage of the term not too inflationary? What was the purpose of an "encyclopaedia" in classical Islam as compared to our present time? Who wrote them, and where did they come up, in which area and in which milieu? For whom were they written and in which spirit? How did their authors organise their work, in a team, with unnamed collaborators, or just by themselves? Why were they considered as necessary? How was knowledge valued and according to which hierarchy of values? Was Islam an "encyclopaedic culture", like ancient China and in contrast to modern Europe (or the West)? Etc.

Professor Dimitri Gutas, The Greek Background of Arabic Encyclopaedism

Early Arabic encyclopaedism found expression in three genres of writings: (a) classifications and discussions of the sciences as a whole; (b) mirrors for princes; (c) adab works. The first (a) is derived from the schemata of classification of Aristotle's works that were current in late antiquity in the Greek philosophical school of Alexandria, which themselves ultimately go back to the first edition of Aristotle's works by Andronicus of Rhodes in the first century BC, an edition that followed the division of the sciences stipulated by Aristotle himself. The second (b) has apparently a twin origin both in the spurious correspondence beteen Aristotle and Alexander the Great that developed in Roman imperial times and in late antiquity, and in Persian Sasanian models of proper rulership. Writings of both kinds were translated into Arabic and culminated in the classic Mirror for Princes in Arabic known as the "Secret of Secrets" (Sirr al-asrar). The third (c) is derived primarily from Arabic translations of Persian Sasanian collections of wisdom literature known as andarz, to which were added Arabic translations of the extensive Greek collections containing sayings by the great philosophers of the past.

Dr Gerhard Endress, The Cycle of Knowledge: Intellectual Traditions and Encyclopaedias of the Sciences in Islamic Hellenism

The civilisation of Islam was born into the living and manifold intellectual culture of Near Eastern Hellenism. The rise of Islam gave new incentives to professional practice and the renewal of teaching traditions in the rational sciences and fostered new interpretation and innovation from within. The variety of intellectual traditions corresponds to the diversity of professional activity and individual lines of transmission. Not 'the' science, nor 'the' philosophy of the Ancients reached the Arabs, but concurring and competing schools and systems of the transmitters, emerging from manifold foundations in theory and practice, and molded by their fields of activity between market and madrasa, between institutions of science and of administration - the paradigmatic science of Pythagoreanist and Platonist mathematicians, the Platonic ethics of knowledge in early Islamic philosophy and medicine, and the Aristotelian science of demonstration: and while such traditions merged with the teaching of Islam, in the adab of Islamic administration, in philosophers' interpretation of the religious community and in the curricula of the late medieval madrasa, they resulted in new systems of knowledge management, documenting constructions of identity in the schools of knowledge, developing from classifications of the sciences to comprehensive encyclopedias.

Peter Adamson, The Place of Metaphysics in the Arabic Philosophical Sciences: the Case of the Eternity of the World Debate

The nature of metaphysics was a controversial issue in the first few centuries of the Arabic philosophical tradition. In this paper I will make some opening comments about the extent to which we might be able to use this issue to delineate two separate philosophical traditions in Arabic philosophy: first, a Neoplatonic "Kindian" tradition, which theologizes metaphysics, and second, a Peripatetic "Farabian" tradition, which does not. (Here I will be drawing on Dimitri Gutas' discussion of this in his Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition.) I will then go on to consider the specific example of the eternity of the world debate. Here I argue that attitudes towards this debate are an indicator of Neoplatonic vs. Peripatetic allegiance: roughly, Greek Peripatetics believe that the science of Physics decides whether or not the world is eternal, whereas Neoplatonists think that this is settled in Metaphysics or theology. After showing briefly that this is the case in the Greek tradition, I discuss in more detail how the Neoplatonic position on this issue became the standard position in Arabic philosophy, touching here especially on al-Kindi, Thabit b. Qurra, and al-Razi. In closing I will say something about how this might modify our understanding of attitudes towards metaphysics in Arabic.

Syrinx von Hees, Adja 'ib al-makhluqat: A Cosmography or an Encyclopaedia on Natural Science

The classification of the Arabic monograph by the Persian scholar Zalariyya al-Qazwini (1202- 1283) Adja'ib al-makhluqat wa-ghara'ib al-mawdjudat (Wonders of Creations and Peculiarities of Beings) is the source of recent debate. A number of scholars designate this work as a 'cosmography'. They consider cosmography to be a distinct literary genre within Arabic and Persian literature. However, their argument for such a literary genre remains somewhat vague and unconvincing. Other scholars mention in passing that Qazwini's work is an encyclopaedia. This last classification was not based on a closed reading of the concerned work. In my study of Adja'ib, its sources and the world-view it transmits, I clearly argued that the work in question should be classified as an encyclopaedia on natural science.In my current presentation, I will add a new perspective, which might aid in finding a clear-cut classification of the work. Bernard Ribemont's definition of encyclopaedias in medieval Europe will be used to re-examine Qazwaini's work. I will be focusing on the introduction of the book, its stated purposes, intended readership, method, form, divisions and contents. Qazwini's own words and perceptions of his work will not be ignored. Further insights will be gained by comparing the work to those of his Persian and Arab predecessors.

Elaheh Kheirandish, The 'Mixed' Sciences in Early Classifications

The 'mixed' sciences, addressed by Aristotle with reference to optics, mechanics, astronomy and harmonics as "the more physical of the mathematical sciences", and formulated in the Arabic scientific literature in terms of various combinations of the so-called "mathematical" and "natural" entities, though devoid of a standard or explicit expressions, have a prominent place in both the Arabic and Persian science classifications of the Islamic Middle Ages. This paper focuses on the early classification of the 'mixed sciences' (an expression coined recently and applied specifically for astronomy), with special attention to optics and mechanics, the two sciences with the closest associations and most distinct applications of the "mathematical" and "natural"  mix, here discussed in the context of their historical divisions and respective transmissions, all through a close examination of three early Arabic classifications:  a short Discourse (Kalam)  on the subject by Qusta ibn Luqa (d. ca. 300/ 912/13), The Enumeration of the Sciences (Ihsa al-ulum) of Abu Nasr Farabi (d. ca. 339/950) and Keys to the Sciences (Mafatih al-ulum) of al-Katib al- Khwarazmi (composed. ca. 367/977).

Rasul Jafarian, Encyclopaedic Aspect of Bihar al-Anwar

The tradition of compiling encyclopaedias or, terminologically, multi-field books in the Islamic Iranian scientific centres was very common. This tradition lasted till the Safavid reign (1500-1723/905-1135). One of the most famous authors in this regard was Amuliy, one of the most educated in philosophy and Shiism, who wrote his detailed book of Nafayis al-Funoun which was compiled in the second half of the eighth century Hijri.During the Safavid reign, several books were written in this field. Two samples that have not been so far printed are Riyaz al-Abrar by Aqili Rustamdari (compiled in 979/1571) and Lisan al-Khawass by Agha Razi Qazvini (died in 1095/1684). The concepts chosen by the author have been the very concepts that are currently used by the compilers of encyclopaedias. The likes of the aforesaid encyclopaedias were compiled in the field of the traditional philosophy-theology in Iran commonly. In this tradition, knowledge had its own meaning.During the Safavid reign, an intellectual modification occurred. In the past, reason was preferred to the divine revelation, while during this reign; the divine revelation was preferred to reason. In the new perspective, the sacred texts, including the Holy Quran and Hadith, were regarded as the original source of knowledge, all items needed by human beings could be found in them.The movement of interest in the Hadith resulted in the recording and compilation of encyclopaedias, the most famous of which is the book under discussion in this essay.The paper will argue for why the work can be considered encyclopaedic. The author and his intellectual context will be considered and reasons for its compilation, its arrangement, sources and methodology will be discussed. Finally, the reception of the work in subsequent generations will be examined.

Mokdad Arfa, Ikhwan al-Safa: Philosophical Encyclopaedia

What new understanding can we bring to the study of Ikhwan as-Safa', since all the available sources, which are very few, have been already explored. No new material that may improve our knowledge in the field has been made available in recent years. However, scholars continue to engage in the historical and interpretative study of the philosophy of Ikhwan as-Safa', or a part of it.Ikhwan as-Safa' wa-Khillan al-Wafa' (the Brethren of Purity and the Loyal Friends) lived mainly in Basra in the 4th/ 10th c. They founded a philosophic and religious corporation, disseminated secretly their doctrines and produced their famous Epistles. Scholars still face difficulties in identifying them, and do not even know how many they were.We aim in our presentation to concentrate on both facts and interpretations in order to describe parts of their doctrine, explain their purpose and the way they ask others to follow in this enterprise. We will, at the same time, comment on relevant parts of the Epistles with the aim to demonstrate the role that these parts have played in disseminating the Ikhwan's message.

Naila Silini-Radhoui, Reflections on Ibn Nadeem

The paper deals with Ibn an-Nadim's encyclopedic work, the Fihrist. Our aim will be as follows. (a) To analyze how Ibn an-Nadim had given "full" description of the disciplines that represented the core of Muslim knowledge at his time. Due attention will be paid to some disciplines that vanished after the 4th / 10th c. and were be replaced by other "sciences". (b) To focus on one critical discipline in the Fihrist, that is the history of the Qur'an. The purpose will be to demonstrate how encyclopedic thinking may allow one to reshape his/her outlook about religious disciplines such us the Qur'anic Sciences ('Ulûm al-Qur'an)

Ridwan Al-Sayyid, Encyclopaedic Activities in Fiqh (abstract not available)

Abdesselam Cheddadi, Encyclopaedic Activities in Historiography

One can underline two dimensions of encyclopaedic trends in Islam. The first is a global one, which concerns the whole knowledge, and which flourished especially from the second to the fourth century of Hijra when Islamic culture opened up to foreign sciences through a wide movement of translation and also through the creation of original works; second, a sectorial one which concerned particular branches of knowledge or particular sciences such as history. The encyclopaedic orientation in history began very early as a kind of passion for collecting information of all kinds and on all subjects. Thereafter, it took two different forms, especially in relation with adab literature. In my presentation, I will examine two examples of encyclopaedic orientation in history from two different periods; one illustrated by Ibn Qutayba and al-Mas'udi and the other one by Ibn Khaldun.

Wadad Kadi, Comprehensive Biographical Dictionaries

Modern scholars working on Arabic Islamic biographical dictionaries disagree on several points but agree on two: that biographical dictionaries are a branch of historical writing, and that they are an indigenous creation of the Muslim community. The latter idea was put forward by Gibb and was accepted by others, and the former was not only repeated frequently in modern scholarship but was also stated clearly by several Muslim authors of biographical dictionaries, some of whom were themselves historians. Despite the nature of the relationship between history and biographical  dictionaries has only been touched upon by Humpheries ("...chronicles and biographical dictionaries ...are very distinct genres as to sources, methods, and subject matter, and they convey very different kinds of information"), and the reasons for the creation of the biographical dictionaries in Islamic civilization was only touched on by Rosenthal (the politico-religious experience of the Muslim community, the practical aspect of the chroniclers' lives, the mentality of the Muslims, and the claim that "under the influence of theology, even the history of the various branches of learning was conceived as a collection of biographies of the outstanding scholars").

What I would like to do in the present paper is to suggest that biographical dictionaries were created by scholars of the Muslim community for the purpose of writing the history of that community, since the chroniclers - the accepted historians of the community - made their works histories of the Islamic state rather than of the Muslim community. I plan to begin by comparing the two forms of historical writings in Islam, the chronicle and the biographical dictionary, as their communal historical alternative for the largely political chronicle. This creation entailed some assumptions by the scholars about knowledge which posed some historicization problems for them regarding two issues: exclusiveness and continuity. The complex ways in which they overcame these problems through biographical dictionaries betray their understanding of the production and organization of knowledge in society, and these ways are all expressed in the Arabic Islamic biographical dictionaries: their scope, their range, their structure, their style. Furthermore, their recognition of the importance of permitting society to have access to knowledge influenced the later structure. The analysis shall end with a return to the chronicle/biographical dictionary dichotomy, and will conclude with some remarks on the positive and negative consequences of organizing knowledge through biographical dictionaries in pre-modern Islamic civilization.