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Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani’s Biography of Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406)

The following is my own translation of the biography of the renowned Andalusī-North African historian ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Khaldūn (d. 808/1406) which was written by Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī (d. 856/1449) in the early 15th century. Ibn Ḥajar was a leading 15th-century Shāfi’ī scholar who authored dozens of works about Islamic law, theology, history, and biography. In addition, he was an important official of state in Mamluk Egypt, holding the post of Chief Justice (qādī) several times. This biography of Ibn Khaldūn, whom he met when he was a young man, is drawn from Raf‘ al-Iṣr ‘an Qudāt Miṣr, his biographical work about the various individuals appointed to the office of judge in medieval Egypt.

Decidedly hostile, the account reflects Ibn Ḥajar’s strong opinions about Ibn Khaldūn, whose polarizing personality and actions had earned him many enemies in North Africa and Egypt, including many of Ibn Ḥajar’s own teachers. Far from being recognized as an outstanding scholar and brilliant intellectual, Ibn Ḥajar’s account illustrates that Ibn Khaldūn was not particularly highly esteemed by certain portions of the scholarly establishment. Despite the polemical nature of the text, it is an important source since it does serve as an important counterbalance to more favorable and panegyrical biographical narratives of Ibn Khaldūn provided by his students, such as Taqī al-Dīn al-Maqrīzī (d. 845/1442), or his own autobiography. It gives historians some important insight into Ibn Khaldūn’s legacy among a particular group of leading scholars (al-Bishbīshī, Ibn Ḥajar, al-Sakhawī and their students/colleagues) in 15th-century Egypt.  Moreover, the text also alllows scholars to better appreciate the manner in which hostility and prejudice towards particular individuals could be transmitted from teacher to student, which is abundantly clear in the particular case of Ibn Ḥajar, whose views on Ibn Khaldūn would heavily shape the manner in which his own student, Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Sakhāwī (d. 902/1497). The final section of the biography, in which Ibn Ḥajar, rather bizarrely, accuses Ibn Khaldūn of legitimizing Fatimid genealogical claims as part of a broader scheme to delegitimize the Family of the Prophet reflects most clearly Ibn Ḥajar’s deep-seated hostility towards Ibn Khaldūn. While keeping in mind the particular socio-political, personal and intellectual context that informed Ibn Ḥajar’s opinions, his biography of the historian remains among the most important contemporary sources for Ibn Khaldūn’s life.

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Michael Kritovolous of Imbros (d. 1470) on the Fall of Constantinople (1453)

The Ottoman Turks were originally based in western Anatolia and had risen to prominence as a frontier principality on the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire during the thirteenth and fourteenth century. By the mid-fifteenth century, the Ottoman sultanate had conquered much of Anatolia, Greece, Thrace, and the Slavic-speaking regions south of the Danube; in effect, they had replaced the Byzantine Empire as the dominant power in the Balkans and the Aegean. The culmination of Ottoman expansion in southeastern Europe was the conquest of Constantinople on May 29th 1453, which was accomplished after a fifty-four-day siege by Sultan Mehmed II (r.1451–1481), known as “the Conqueror” following his capture of the Byzantine capital.

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Translating #Cervantes400 into Arabic

Arabic Literature (in English)

Just as the world will mark the 400th year since the death of Shakespeare, so we also mark the same the number of years since the death of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra:

By Shadi Rohana

cervantesNot only did the two authors mark world literature forever, but they also died on the same day in 1616, if on different calendars. Shakespeare died on “April 23rd” before Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar. For the Catholic world, which adopted the Gregorian calendar immediately in 1582, Shakespeare died on May 3rd — that is, 10 days after the death of Cervantes.

While it’s uncertain whether Cervantes knew of Shakespeare, Shakespeare certainly knew him. The title of one of Shakespeare’s lost plays — The History of Cardenio — clearly shows it. But what of Cervantes in Arabic?

Cervantes is the author of many novels, stories, poems and plays. However, in the Arabic language, Cervantes’ name is almost a synonym for that…

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Bibliography of Translated Texts from Medieval/Early Modern Iberia and North Africa

This post is a non-exhaustive list of texts and documents from medieval/early modern Iberia and North Africa (covering roughly the period 500-1700) that have been translated into English. The list will be updated regularly with additional titles and is intended to serve as a resource for those interested in learning more about medieval Iberia but who may lack the necessary languages to access the original sources. Please let me know if you have any recommendations to add to the list. (more…)

‘Ayn al-Qudat Hamadhani: Intellectual, Mystic and Martyr

One of the many overlooked figures of the pre-modern Islamic tradition is Abū al-Ma’ālī ‘Abd Allāh b. Abī Bakr (d. 525/1131), better known as ‘Ayn al-Quḍāt Ḥamadhānī. Born in Hamadhan in Seljuk Iran around 490/1098 to a family of prominent Shāfi’ī scholars, by the age of 20 he had mastered Arabic, Persian, jurisprudence, ḥadīth, Qur’ān, poetry, kalām (dialectical theology), philosophy and various strands of mystical thought. A student of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 520/1126), the brother of the great theologian Abū Hāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī), he became an eminent scholar and mystic in his own right, composing various works in both Persian and Arabic, the most important of which were Tamhīdāt and the Zubdat al-Haqāʾiq fī Kashf al-Khalāʾiq. Much of his mystical philosophy was focused on the concept of divine love.

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Can the Past Save the Future? Arab Intellectuals On the Eve of the Great War

The Adabist

Rockefeller Center The entrance to New York’s Rockefeller Center, with an Art Deco-style frieze depicting God from William Blake’s “Book of Urizen” and a quote from Isaiah 33:6: “Wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.”

George Santayana famously wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. But is the opposite also true? Will those who cherish their political, intellectual and cultural heritage ultimately be saved by it? For Arab intellectuals a century ago, the answer is a resounding yes. In our current era of the liberal arts as a favorite whipping boy among public officials, it’s hard to imagine that only a few years after Santayana relinquished his post at Harvard, a small group of impassioned Arab educators, thinkers and poets were staking the future of a war-torn Middle East on how well it could remember its past.

For these “Neoclassical” authors as they’re…

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20 Influential Medieval/Early Modern Muslim Women

This is the second part of a previous post on the subject (https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15-important-muslim-women-in-history/), which sought to highlight the important role of women in the influencing the political, social, intellectual and military developments in the Islamic world during the medieval and early modern era. This post, like the previous one, is an attempt to introduce readers to the names of a few women who made their mark in Islamic (and world) history while providing a few sources for those interested in learning more about each.  (more…)