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H.B. was one of the most prominent scholars of Damascus in his time, renowned for his command of the sciences of the Arabic language as well as his comprehensive knowledge of Arabic literature and history. He was acquainted with a number of high-ranking Ottoman scholars and dignitaries, and a careful observer of the regional politics and local affairs of his time.

H.B.’s attributive derives from his father’s home village of Burin, near Nablus. He was born, however, in his mother’s village of Saffuriyyah in the sancaq of Safad in 963/1556, and started his education there by learning the Qur’an. In the year 973/1565-6, his family moved to Damascus. His father was an upholsterer (munajjid) by profession and later a perfumist (attar). He rented a room for his son at the Umariyyah College in the Salihiyyah suburb of Damascus, where H.B. began to attend classes. By the year 988/1580-81, H.B. was teaching Shafii fiqh himself at a “spot” (buqa) in the Umayyad mosque. In this capacity, he came to the attention of the retired judge Abdurrahman al-Furfuri (d. 992/1585), who seems to have acted as his patron.

He received his first formal teaching position at the newly established Darwishiyyah mosque in 993/1585. Seven years later, his teacher and father-in-law Ahmad al-Itawi (d. 1025/1616) granted him a license to issue fatwas. By the time of his death (1024/1615), H.B. had held teaching positions in several colleges in Damascus. Considering the particularly bitter dispute amongst local scholars concerning their distribution, these positions must have been the source for considerable revenue. H.B.’s income towards the end of his life must therefore have been substantial, and his father is reported to have retired from his profession to live off his son’s income. The father’s somewhat lowly status was something that his rivals could and sometimes did highlight, and H.B.’s life is very much an illustration of how a gifted son of a small-town artisan could, by means of his education, rise to social and economic prominence in one of the major cities of the Ottoman Empire.

Though formally a Shafii mufti, H.B. was not deemed by contemporary scholars to have been a specialist in Islamic law. Rather, he was renowned for his erudition in the sciences of the Arabic language (i.e., grammar and rhetoric) and his knowledge of poetry and historical anecdotes that allowed him to play a prominent role in the scholarly gatherings of his time. Having learned Persian from a Tabrizi immigrant to Damascus, H.B. later also acquired some knowledge of Turkish, though as a later source noted “he was better in Persian”. H.B.’s literary interests meant that he cultivated the friendship of people outside the class of the ulema, such as poets and scribes, many of whom are included in his biographical dictionary. Indeed H.B. was himself a poet as well as a scholar, and was allocated an entry in the poetic anthology of his younger Egyptian contemporary Ahmad al-Khafaji (d. 1059/1659).

Tarajim al-ayan min abna’ al-zaman

H.B. started writing his biographical dictionary of contemporaries, Tarajim al-ayan min abna’ al-zaman (The Biographies of Notables from the People of the Times) in the year 1009/1601 with the encouragement of Muhammad Amin al-Ajami (d. 1019/1610), the treasurer (defterdar) of Damascus. He seems to have presented a copy of the work to al-Ajami, and later another copy to Muhammad b. Manjak (d. 1032/1623), a prominent military notable of Damascus. However, he was still adding passages to the work in the year of his death, 1024/1615, and there is nothing to suggest that he ever “completed” it.

In the introduction to his work, H.B. expressed his desire to produce a work of history in the tradition of the great historians of the past, such as Ibn Katir (d. 774/1373), Ibn al-Atir (d. 620/1223), Ibn Khallikan (d. 681/1282), Ibn Shaddad (d. 632/1235), and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d. 852/1449). Yet, H.B.’s work differs significantly from those penned by the aforementioned historians, as it is mainly a biographical dictionary of notables that the author had met personally, and people tend to be included in the dictionary to the extent that they enter into the author’s circle of acquaintances. With very few exceptions, the only non-Damascene notables who are accorded entries in the work are those H.B. met during trips to Tripoli in 1009/1600, Aleppo in 1017/1608, and the Hijaz in 1021/1611. It is thus H.B. who in a sense holds the work together, and he often appears in it, meeting the protagonists, exchanging poetry with them, teaching them or being taught by them. Accordingly, many passages of the work are in the first-person. H.B. also relies almost exclusively on oral sources. It is noteworthy that none of the historians mentioned above composed a similar work. The precursors of H.B.’s conception of a biographical dictionary of contemporaries are rather to be found in the works of the prominent Mamluk belle-lettrist Salahuddin al-Safadi (d. 765/1363) and, closer to H.B.’s time and place, the Damascene scholar Ibn Tulun (d. 953/1546).

H.B.’s work is an important historical source for the political history of Syria in his lifetime. He lived through a period in which Ottoman central authority over the region was weakened and local leaders rose to prominence, often bolstered by roaming mercenaries (sekban) who sold their services to the highest bidder. These local notables often squabbled and fought with each other, and sometimes ignored or defied imperial orders. H.B. lived through the siege of Damascus and the looting of its extra-mural suburbs in 1015/1606 by the troops of Ali Janbulad (d. 1020/1611), the renegade governor of Aleppo, and Fakhruddin al-Mani (d. 1045/1635), the Druze Emir of Mt. Lebanon. He viewed this development from the standpoint of loyalty to the Ottoman state, though his descriptions tend to be nuanced and balanced rather than merely partisan. He was also often careful to distinguish between mere hear-say and information obtained from what he considered more trustworthy and informed sources. The value of his observations is enhanced by the fact that he “used to frequent the state a lot,” to quote a contemporary source. Many of his informants include Damascene military notables and Ottoman dignitaries who participated in some capacity in the major political and military events of the time. H.B.’s close relations with the political-military elite were not to the liking of some of his contemporary scholars who thought close relations with the temporal authorities to be morally corrupting. However, it made him an informed observer of the major political and military events of his time.

H.B.’s biographical dictionary is also informative on intellectual, cultural and literary life in Damascus in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Despite his stated intention of only mentioning positive attributes of the people he was writing about, he often recorded bitter disputes and rivalries between notables, his own unfavorable impressions of people, the occurrence of inflation and plague, and stories of crimes and sexual misdemeanors. His work also provides information on the lives of (mainly Arab but also some Persian and Turkish) poets, scribes, saints and “holy fools” (majadhib).

The extant manuscripts indicate that H.B. regularly rewrote, deleted from, and added to his biographical dictionary and this process of revision seems to have gone on until the author’s death. Certain passages have an almost diary-like feel, with passages in the same entry obviously written at different times. Other passages are more polished and written in rhymed prose. On occasion, an entry will read very differently in different extant manuscripts. As such, one cannot hope to edit H.B.’s work with the assumption that there is an ideal autograph to be reconstructed once scribal “errors,” “omissions,” and “additions” have been peeled away. Given the existence of significant variants in the extant manuscripts with an equal claim to authorial authority, a thorough comparison of manuscripts would offer a fascinating insight into the way in which an Ottoman historian worked.

Almost half a century after H.B.’s death, the Damascene scholar Fadlullah al-Muhibbi (d. 1082/1671), the father of the more famous historian Muhammad Amin al-Muhibbi (d. 1111/1699), prepared an edition of Tarajim al-ayan at the request of the Ottoman scholar and judge Mehmed İzzeti (d. 1092/1681). The edition was completed in 1078/1667-68. Four of the six extant manuscripts today are based on Muhibbi’s edition (see below ‘Manuscripts’: B, DK, CB, AH), though, puzzlingly, some of these differ substantially amongst themselves. Two other extant manuscripts are independent of Muhibbi’s recension (see below ‘Manuscripts’: AS, V).

In 1959, the first volume of an edition of H.B.’s Tarajim al-ayan appeared in print. The editor was Salahuddin al-Munajjid, who introduced the volume with a lengthy and valuable introduction on the life of H.B., based on a number of then unpublished sources. He also described the four manuscripts available to him at the time, namely, AH, B, DK, and AS. He discounted DK as derivative of AH. He also judged that AH represented a later version of H.B.’s work, as close as possible to the version of the work when its author died. He therefore made AH the base text of his edition, though he noted variants from B and AS in his apparatus. In 1963, the second volume of the work appeared, covering entries up to and including the letter fa’. Sadly, the remaining parts of the work have never been published.

Some of Munajjid’s editorial decisions, however, are questionable. One problem is that he simply took at face value the colophons of manuscripts AH and B – which only give the date on which Muhibbi completed his edition and no indication of a date on which they were copied from that edition – and accordingly concluded that both manuscripts were by the hand of Fadlullah al-Muhibbi himself (despite the fact that it is highly unlikely that the two manuscripts were completed on the same date). Munajjid also noted the anomaly that the two manuscripts, with the same colophon and, in his opinion, same handwriting, in fact disagreed substantially in entire passages as well as in the ordering of biographical entries. Indeed, manuscript B was adjudged by Munajjid to be closer to manuscript AS, which is independent of Muhibbi’s edition, than to manuscript AH. It should also be noted that Ahlwardt, in his magisterial Verzeichniss of Arabic manuscripts in Berlin, judged B to have been copied in the 18th century. He thus did not simply assume that the colophon meant that the manuscript was by the hand of Muhibbi. Yet another reason to doubt that manuscripts AH and B are actually by Muhibbi is that, as Munajjid noted, the passages of Persian and Turkish poetry in H.B.’s work are corrupt in all three manuscripts that he used, whereas Fadlullah al-Muhibbi, who, according to his son Muhammad Amin, was knowledgeable in both languages, could hardly have dedicated a copy with such corruptions to an Ottoman-Turkish scholar and judge.

The fact that Munajjid did not make use of manuscripts CB and V is also a drawback. CB is definitely not by the hand of Muhibbi, but may yet be older than both AH and B. Having been based on Muhibbi’s autograph edition, it should at the very least be useful in throwing light on the puzzling differences between AH and B. Manuscript V is valuable as one of two extant manuscripts that are independent of Muhibbi’s edition. Its text is closer to B and AS than to the apparently anomalous AH that Munajjid chose as his base text.

A revised and complete edition based on all extant manuscripts (minus the derivative DK) is very much a desideratum. Modern text-processing programs should allow for an edition that will reproduce, where necessary, major differences between the manuscripts in parallel columns.

What follows is an outline of the list of biographical entries of the part of the Vienna manuscript covering the letters qaf through ya’, corresponding to the part that was not published by Munajjid:

Fol. 125r: Kamaluddin b. Muhammad b. Ajlan; Karimuddin al-Tayrani. Fol. 126r: Kamaluddin Muhammad b. Ahmad. Fol. 126v: Lutfi Çelebi b. Yahya. Fol. 128r: Lutfi b. Muhammad b. Yunus. Fol. 128v: Lutfullah al-Balkhi; Muhammad Efendi b. Burhanuddin al-Hamidi; Muhammad b. al-Amir Manjak. Fol. 129v: Muhammad Amin al-Daftari al-Ajami al-Abhari. Fol. 131v: Muhammad al-Baghdadi. Fol. 132r: Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Da’ud al-Mufti al-Maqdisi. Fol. 133r: Muhammad b. al-Salihi al-Hilali. Fol. 134r: Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Qasim al-Rumi. Fol. 134v: Muhammad b. Fawwaz. Fol. 135v: Muhammad b. Ala’uddin al-Bali. Fol. 136r: Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Abdurrahman. Fol. 136v: Muhammad al-Sharif. Fol. 138v: Muhammad al-Alami al-Maqdisi. Fol. 139r: Muhammad al-Alami. Fol. 139v: Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Ali al-Harastani; Muhammad al-Tannuri; Muhammad b. Ajlan. Fol. 140r: Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Zughbi. Fol. 140v: Muhammad b. Khalil b. Qaysar. Fol. 141r: Muhammad al-Halabi al-Qurashi; Muhammad b. Jalaluddin. Fol. 141v: Muhammad al-Hijazi. Fol. 143r: Muhibbuddin al-Hamawi. Fol. 144r: Mustafa al-Akkari. Fol. 144v: Mahmud b. Muhammad Ibn Abdulhamid; Maradis. Fol. 145r: Mansur b. Abdurrahman; Mu’min Pasha. Fol. 145v: Musa b. Jamil al-Sipahi; Muhammad al-Tarabulusi. Fol. 146r: Nuruddin al-Baqani. Fol. 146v: Najmuddin b. al-Badr al-Ghazzi. Fol. 147v: Najibuddin al-Saydawi; Nuruddin Ali al-Husayni. Fol. 148r: Niẓamuddin al-Sindi; Nahid b. Abdulqadir al-Bali. Fol. 149r: Wafa’ b. Ahmad al-Hawzani; Wafa’ b. Shaykh al-Islam al-Faradi; Yusuf b. Sayfa. Fol. 152v: Yusuf b. Abilfath. Fol. 153v: Yusuf b. Naja’ al-Tarabulusi. Fol. 154v: Yahya al-Halabi al- Faradi; Yahya b. al-Shams b. al-Minqar. Fol. 155r: Yahya b. Isa min Karak al-Shawbak.

Apart from the Tarajim al-ayan, the work for which H.B. became best known in his own day was his commentary on the Diwan of the famous mystical poet Ibn al-Farid (d. 632/1235), a commentary that, to the chagrin of the later mystical commentator Abdulghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1143/1731), confined itself to the level of exoteric meaning and linguistic analysis. His Diwan is also extant.


(1) Tarajim al-ayan min abna’ al-zaman 
Manuscripts: (1) B: Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Wetzstein II 29; 189 fols., [TBC]. The colophon states that the editor Fadlullah al-Muhibbi completed his work in “the beginnings of Rajab in the year 1078.” (W. Ahlwardt. Verzeichniss der arabischen Handschriften der königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin, 1887-99), no. 9889). (2) DK: Cairo, Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 576 Tarikh; 198 fols. (or 396 pages), [TBC]. Undated. Copied by the hand of a certain Ahmad b. Ahmad al-Jaza’iri. According to the catalogue (Fihris al-kutub al-arabiyyah al-mawjudah bi’l-dar li-ghayat shahr December sanat 1928, vol. 5, 133-134), the manuscript was copied from a manuscript in the Aref Hikmat Library in Medina, i.e., from AH. (3) AS: Calcutta, Library of the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, no. D 22 (previously, no. 624); 235 fols., [TBC]. No indication of the copyist or date. Ostensibly made from two autograph drafts (musawwadatayn) of H.B.’s work, prepared for Muhammad Amin al-Daftari and Muhammad b. Manjak, respectively. (Mirza Ashraf Ali. Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Calcutta, 1899), 54). (4) CB: Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, Arabic 3219. H.B.’s work takes up the first 184 folios of the manuscript, [TBC]. Dated 21 Rajab 1105/18 March 1694 and is ostensibly copied from Fadlullah al-Muhibbi’s autograph edition. (A.J. Arberry. Hand-List of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Chester Beatty Library (Dublin, 1955-66), no. 3219). (5) AH: Medina, Aref Hikmat Library, 42 Tarikh; approximately 150 unnumbered fols., [TBC]. The colophon matches that of manuscript B, i.e., it states that the editor, Fadlullah al-Muhibbi, completed his work in “the beginnings of Rajab in the year 1078.” (Umar Rida Kahhalah. Al-Muntakhab min makhtutat al-Madina al-Munawwara (Damascus, 1973), 81). (6) V: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Mxt. 346; 155 fols., 39 lines, nash. Copied in 1185/1771 by the Damascene scholar Mustafa b. Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Kanji. (G. Flügel. Die arabischen, persischen und türkischen Handschriften der kaiserlich-königlichen Hofbibliothek zu Wien (Vienna, 1865-1867), no. 1190).

Editions: (1) Salahuddin al-Munajjid. Tarajim al-ayan min abna’ al-zaman (Damascus, 1959-63). [2 vols. only, covering up to and including biographical entries under the letter fa’]. (2) Adnan al-Bakhit. “Ahdat bilad Tarabulus al-Sham.” Majallat Majma al-Lugha al-Arabiyya al-Urduni, 1 (1978), 191-206. [Reproduces the entry on Yusuf Sayfa from the Vienna manuscript].

General bibliography
Muhammad Amin al-Muhibbi. Khulasat al-atar fi tarajim ahl al-qarn al-hadi ashar (Cairo, 1284/1867-68), vol. 2, 51-62. Salahuddin al-Munajjid. “Introduction” to Tarajim al-ayan min abna’ al-zaman (Damascus, 1959). Carl Brockelmann. Geschichte der arabischen Literatur (Leiden, 1937-1949), vol. 2, 374-5; Supplement, vol. 2, 401. Carl Brockelmann. “al-Burini, al-Hasan.” Encyclopedia of Islam2 (Leiden, 1960-2002), vol. 1, 1332. Ibn Ayyub al-Ansari. Al-Rawd al-atir fima tayassara min akhbar al-qarn al-sabi ila khitam al-qarn al-ashir. Ed. by A. Güneş (Berlin, 1981), 45-50. Najmuddin Muhammad al-Ghazzi. Lutf al-samar wa qatf al-tamar min tarajim ayan al-tabaqah al-ula min al-qarn al-hadi ashar. Ed. by M. al-Shaykh (Damascus, 1981-82), vol. 1, 355-390.

Khaled El-Rouayheb
September 2008