Though not among the most memorable intellectuals of the 18th century in terms of his contributions to scholarly discussions of doctrinal, legal, or spiritual matters, I.K.’s written legacy, biographical (even auto-biographical) in nature, caught the attention of modern scholars, particularly of cultural historians. I.K.’s works, more specifically his chronicle and topographies, have been utilized to detect new cultural patterns in the 18th century, including those related to education, to new sociabilities, and to the construction of early modern subjectivities.
This entry focuses on I.K.’s historical and geographical works, the spatial-temporal aspects of which reveal a deeper dynamic than assumed by generic categorizations of history versus geography: a chronicle of the events of Damascus (al- Hawadit al-yawmiyya); a topography of the entire Levant with specific focus on Damascus (al-Mawakib al-islamiyya); and a topography of al-Salihiyya (al-Muruj al-sundusiyya), a suburb of Damascus where I.K. resided.
I.K.’s chronicle is not just about the passage of time in Damascus, but also about the spatial connection of Damascus to the Ottoman imperial domain and its cultural and administrative center, Istanbul. Conversely, I.K.’s topographies are not singular moments of spatial mapping of beloved geographies, but constitute decided attempts at historicization and simultaneous possession of these places. Taken collectively, therefore, these works reveal complex representations by, and desires of, a Damascene citizen and Ottoman subject. On the one hand, they expose how provincial subjects willfully integrated their region firmly into the Ottoman domain. On the other hand, they reveal the existence of a civic discourse, through which subjects negotiated with the powers that be for a place in the social space of the city.
At the juncture of time and space in I.K.’s works is the author’s own persona. His unusually loquacious chronicle, and to a limited extent his topography of al-Salihiyya, are exercises in unabashed exhibition of the social self. Propelling I.K.’s narrative is not only the apparent will to self-immortalization, but also a relentless ambition of a practical and urgent nature, namely the acquisition of an academic position at a local madrasa. This ambition not only informs I.K.’s chronicle and topography of al-Salihiyya, but also constitutes, quite literally, the intention behind his topography of the Levant, which was dedicated to the provincial governor and was composed as a “gift,” in which I.K. requested the academic position he so desired and ultimately received towards the end of his life.
In the chapter enumerating the original inhabitants of the Damascene suburb of al-Salihiyya, I.K. places his family, the “Kannanis,” at the top of the list of the suburb’s trading families, which included the most illustrious households of the city (such as the ʿAsakirs, the Baqillanis, the Khallikans, and the Tulunis). In addition to a distinguished pedigree and evident wealth, I.K.’s family also occupied the prestigious position of the leadership of the Khalwatiyya Sufi order in Damascus. While it is not clear whether I.K. himself was a merchant on the side, he obviously received the full training of a scholar and studied with the most reputable ʿulama’ of the time, including ʿAbd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi (d. 1143/1731) and Ibrahim al-Kurani (d. 1101/1690). By choosing knowledge as a career, and thus adding scholarship and erudition to venerability of descent, old wealth, and spiritual authority, I.K. seems to have aimed to achieve nothing less than absolute notability.
Despite his impeccable credentials, however, I.K. is accorded a surprisingly modest entry in Muhammad Khalil al-Muradi’s (d. 1206/1792) Silk al-durar, the most important biographical dictionary of the 18th century, wherein he is described simply as “one of the pious, righteous, and practicing ʿulama’.” This is despite the fact that I.K.’s chronicle, by the admission of al-Muradi himself, was an important source for the compilation of the latter’s biographical dictionary. Considering that I.K. spent much of his life attempting to secure a permanent teaching position in Hanafi jurisprudence at the Khadijiyya-Murshidiyya madrasa, the brevity of al-Muradi’s biographical entry on I.K. as well as his omission of I.K.’s teaching position can be regarded as an ex-post facto reflection of the latter’s career frustrations. While I.K.’s life seems representative of the thwarted ambitions that often characterized the early modern period of Ottoman history, his relentless employment of an assortment of strategies to get the position that he so coveted is also demonstrative of 17th - and 18th century politicking by provincial aspirants for a position in the Ottoman system.
Although I.K. mentions having first taught at the Khadijiyya-Murshidiyya madrasa in 1102/1690, it is not clear what subject he taught and in what capacity. However, it seems that his first official appointment to that madrasa happened eighteen years later, in 1120/1708, when I.K. mentions specifically that he was appointed to teach Hanafi fiqh there. In the next few years, I.K mentions that he taught at the same madrasa several times. In 1130/1717, nine years after his official appointment, however, I.K. concludes his otherwise usual listing of madrasas and their appointees by stating, with a noticeable tone of disappointment, that he continued his teaching career at home. It appears that for the following twenty-one years, aside from a one year replacement appointment at the Muqadimiyya madrasa, I.K. had to content himself with teaching at home (and once even outdoors, for he loved picnics). It was not until 1151/1738, only a couple of years before he died, when I.K. finally got the permanent appointment he desired. A court record from Damascus bearing a date with the year of I.K.’s death testifies that the author’s veritable reward occurred only posthumously when his children “inherited” his teaching position. As such, I.K. appears to have managed to inaugurate a family monopoly over a madrasa position, a practice shared by other prominent Damascene scholarly families.
Still, I.K.’s ultimate success was not a fortunate coincidence, but a result of twenty-one years of relentless maneuvering and strategizing. To begin with, he was born a Hanbali, a definite disadvantage in a city whose teaching positions were over-whelmingly designated for, and staffed by, Shafiʿis and Hanafis, the latter being the Ottoman state’s official legal rite. The logical strategy for I.K. to follow was to employ the usual trick of madhhab-switching, at which Damascene professorial aspirants were adept. Based on I.K.’s work on the biographies of the companions of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855), the eponymous founder of the Hanbali school, and on al-Muradi’s identification of I.K. as a Hanbali in biographical dictionary, some modern scholars have insisted that I.K. remained a Hanbali. While I.K. does not mention having switched to Hanafism in his chronicle, in a Berlin autograph copy of his topography of Damascus, he adds the sobriquet “Hanafi” to his name, a fact that did not escape the attention of the editor of the manuscript.
I.K.’s bold move of madhhab-switching, however, seems not to have worked. Thus, forced to employ the strategy of gratuitously offering the powerful a piece of his mind, and with a sentiment akin to that found in Nasihatname (mirrors for princes) literature, I.K. instructed the new Mufti of Damascus to look after the affairs of the teachers and ensure their placement in their proper positions. When his self-serving advice went unheeded, however, I.K. finally got the idea, purportedly in a dream, to approach none other than Sulayman Pasha al-ʿAzm (r. 1146-1151/1733-1738), the governor himself. In realization of his vision, I.K. dedicated to Sulayman Pasha his topography of the Levant, al-Mawakib al-islamiyya, praised the governor, and asked him to intercede with the imperial authorities in Istanbul to get him reinstated at the Khadijiyya-Murshidiyya madrasa.
The dedication of the book to Sulayman Pasha must have taken place around the year 1150/1737, during which I.K. mentions meeting with the governor for whom he composed two panegyric poems. In 1151/1738, an order came from Istanbul “instructing teachers to go to their schools” upon which I.K. started teaching at the Hanafi Khadijiyya-Murshidiyya in al-Salihiyya. I.K. finally prevailed.
Works attributed to I.K. range in number from fifteen to twenty-eight and include books on topics including history, geography, poetry, rhetoric, Sufism, jurisprudence, biography, Hadith, medicine, botany, and zoology. In al-Hawadit al-yawmiyya, I.K. mentions only three of his other works: an epistle on rhetoric which was praised and copied by other scholars al-Risala al-mushtamila ʿala anwaʿ al-badiʿ fi al-basmala; a work on Arabic grammar the excellence of which a colleague of I.K.’s certified in rhymed prose al-Shamʿa al-mudiyya fi ʿilm al-lugha al-ʿarabiyya; and a commentary on al-Qasida al-munfarija, a poem on Arabic grammar which I.K. read with fellow scholars at one of their outings. The modern editor of al-Hawadit al-yawmiyya has doubted I.K.’s authorship of the topographies of the Levant and al-Salihiyya (al-Mawakib al-islamiyya and al-Muruj al-sundusiyya, respectively) as these were not mentioned by I.K. himself in his chronicle. The existence in Berlin of two autograph copies of al-Mawakib al-islamiyya, however, proves that the editor’s suspicion is unfounded. Besides, the subject matter of al-Muruj al-sundusiyya, namely the topography of al-Salihiyya, is completely harmonious with I.K.’s interest in the history of his neighborhood which is apparent in his chronicle. Moreover, I.K.’s approach in al-Muruj al-sundusiyya, as it will be seen below, is strikingly similar to that in al-Mawakib al-islamiyya. Thus, we can safely assume that, in addition to those works mentioned by the author himself, at least the historical works, the chronicle and two topographies, were indeed authored by I.K.
A chronicle of events between 1111-1153/1699-1740, in which I.K. maintains a strictly chronological approach by never deviating from the annalistic, and within it a monthly, arrangement. In other words, the work is not driven by events, but systematically by time. The importance of this will become clear below.
In terms of content, the chronicle contains the standard repertoire of political, social, and natural occurrences. In addition to an expected interest in appointments, depositions, arrivals and departures of officials, and conflicts in and around the provincial capital, I.K. keeps an eye out for significant political developments in Istanbul and jealously reports the empire’s military exploits and defeats, thus coming across as a truly loyal Ottoman subject. Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the work is I.K.’s obsessive interest in the judicial-academic hierarchy, and the news of its staffers, practitioners, and employees. This content-related aspect of the chronicle is intimately connected to its form and its strict temporal organization as evidenced by the following.
I.K. starts the first year and every year of his chronicle by naming the incumbent political and religious authorities beginning with the Sultan himself, the religious and jurisprudential functionaries in Istanbul, the corresponding officials in Damascus, and ending with the teachers in his city. By reiterating the clearly demarcated hierarchy of authorities, I.K. establishes the chain of authority that links the province of Damascus to the imperial center, thereby revealing the “circulation system” of the judicial-academic institution that connected the parts of the empire. It is only after he has introduced the community of Damascene teachers, and thereby located himself in the hierarchy of the empire, that he goes on to record the year’s events.
The intersection of content and form in this particular chronicle adds a spatial dimension to an otherwise temporally defined genre. As such, I.K.’s work not only demarcates the geographical borders of the Sultan’s domains, but also, perhaps more importantly, provides a continuous and repetitive spatial link between Damascus and Istanbul.
I.K.’s chronicle reveals another interesting juncture between content and form. As a narrative starting in 1111/1699 and continuing until 1153/1740, shortly before I.K.’s death. al-Hawadit al-yawmiyya is a contemporary history par excellence dealing exclusively with the events that occur during its author’s lifetime. The significance of the contemporariness afforded by the genre is that it allows the author to insert himself in his own narrative (i.e., to become the content) rendering the history a sort of “ego-document”. I.K. takes full advantage of the open capacity of the genre to employ it as a vehicle of unabashed exhibition of the social self to expose his sociability. The reader is inundated with vivid reports about the dinner and circumcision parties, weddings, funerals, picnics, literary salons, and Sufi soirees I.K. attended. I.K.’s chronicle thus serves as a display of his social and cultural credentials wherein the author also emphasizes the respect that he commanded among his contemporaries.
It was these same scholars and social elites who constituted the audience for I.K.’s chronicle, parts of which were read out to a group of colleagues, as the author himself reports in the very same composition. What is striking, however, is that this reading event took place outdoors, bringing us to the last content-related aspect of the chronicle that warrants discussion, namely I.K.’s sharp focus on nature, on which modern scholars have commented and from which they drew new conclusions regarding 18th century sociabilities.
I.K. loved the gardens and the parks of Damascus, and it was there, particularly towards the end of his life, that he spent most of his springs and summers. He composed poetry in praise of the beauty of Damascus’ rivers. His enchantment with nature is illustrated not only by his interest in botany but also in the fact that he sometimes marked time according to the seasonal fruits and flowers. I.K.’s outings functioned as scholarly salons within the context of which I.K. and his fellow teachers exchanged knowledge and discussed topics outside their teaching curricula. This dimension of I.K.’s sociability colored his reconstruction of his city, which he described as a verdant Garden of Eden.
al-Salihiyya suburb of Damascus, which was first colonized by Muslim refugees fleeing the Crusader occupation of Jerusalem, is probably the only neighborhood (as opposed to a city) to which belongs a historical-topographical tradition. I.K.’s topography of the city quarter is an effort of compilation, collation, abbreviation, and updating, in which are preserved earlier histories and topographies that are now entirely lost or partially missing.
The value of this work, however, is not limited to its preservative aspect. Constituting a combination of the genres of fada’il (religious virtues), mahasin (beauties), history, and biography, al-Muruj al-sundusiyya is divided into twenty-four sections, which include what is expected of a topography: a survey of natural landmarks (e.g., rivers, gardens) and man-made monuments (e.g., mosques, madrasas, bathhouses) as well as the accustomed narratives and lore of sacred places and spaces (e.g., the various caves and pilgrimage sites on Mount Qasyun). Above and beyond the sacred topography, however, the compilation significantly offers a deeply historicized narrative, which foregrounds the processes of colonization and Islamization of al-Salihiyya.
The very first section of the book starts with the phrase “Know, that the history of Islamic Salihiyya” and proceeds to offer the various reports about the stories of the first Muslim refugee-settlers of the area (who, having fled the war-torn Jerusalem, were not particularly welcomed in Damascus and moved up the hill to Mount Qasyun) and the structures they built. The second section entitled “fi ma kana qabla wadʿiha min al-athar” (“concerning the traces/ruins before its [i.e., al- Salihiyya’s] establishment”), returns to al- Salihiyya’s “pre-history” and tells, among other places, the story of a Christian monastery. Thus, the first two sections constitute a strikingly realistic or “historicized” history, a straightforward story of refugees seeking a new home and of a series of events taking place in historical time, which is almost devoid of the triumphalism and/or mythology usually found in foundational narratives.
Another interesting formal aspect of I.K.’s topography is the bricolage of methodologies that it evinces. As a mostly verbatim compilation of previous works, the book proffers different notions of authority with regards to the transmission of information. Reminiscent of classical historical works, contradictory reports of the same event are juxtaposed without any clear indication of authorial preference with regard to veracity. In contrast, when I.K. himself is surveying a site or structure, he relies entirely on his own authority and refers to the structures themselves.
I.K.’s role, thus, was not limited to keeping and investigating an archive consisting of works on the history and topography of his neighborhood. Since he also engaged in fieldwork, observation, and comparison in the manner of an archeologist, his topography can be classified as a truly “early modern” work (with emphasis on both terms). I.K.’s work continues and preserves a medieval literary tradition and practice, namely, topography and abridgement, respectively. However, in as much as I.K. allows himself the authority to observe, compare, and pass judgment, he arrogates for himself the final word and thus emerges as an author in the modern sense of the term.
Ignati Ulianovich Krachkovski, the historian of Arabic geography, characterized this remarkable work of six chapters as superior to the general geographical output of the period. One of the more striking aspects of this composition is that it unusually provides a bibliography of approximately fifty “works cited” at the beginning of the book, including works of history, geography, medicine, Quranic exegesis, language, horticulture, and even travelogues. The variety of topics in the list reflects the unusual content of I.K.’s creatively hybrid “topography,” which, like his work on al-Salihiyya, combines the methodology of compilation from older historical and geographical works with direct observation.
The title of the book, which includes three elements (namely, processions, Levantine provinces, and beauties) is accurately reflected in the content, albeit with unequal emphasis. In the section on “Levantine Provinces,” which constitutes about 21% of the book, I.K. specifies the limits of the administrative divisions of all Levantine provinces, districts, and sub-districts. He enumerates the official positions attached to these divisions, lists the official processions, and mentions the participants and the procession routes. As a topographical work, therefore, al-Mawakib al-islamiyya acknowledges the political presence and administrative will of the Ottoman state, while simultaneously positing the Levant as a political unit.
Deliberately or not, I.K. commits what seems to be a faux pas by providing the delimitations of the Mamluk, not Ottoman, state as even the most basic provincial divisions do not correspond to Ottoman realities. Although I.K. attempts to offer an updated topography, his efforts are not geographical but temporal. Rather than providing the accurate Ottoman delimitations of the Levant, I.K. infuses the topography with events, not spaces, Ottoman. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to conjecture that I.K. had used one or more Mamluk texts as stencils for his topography as he had intentionally done in his topography of al-Salihiyya.
The section on “processions,” which makes up about a mere two percent of the composition, focuses on official processions, such as the “Pasha’s Procession” and “the Qadi’s Procession.” Though treated rather concisely, the description of these rituals, in terms of participants and spaces traversed by the parades, is significant. Given the importance of processions as displays of power and establishment of order, I.K.’s exposition efficiently captures imperial signs of authority and their concurrent acceptance by the author. Thus, this section on the rituals of officialdom can be seen as, yet again, an attestation of Ottoman political presence. Gaffs and brevity notwithstanding, both sections discussed above have a strong political message in that they function as endorsements of Ottoman rule. This is especially important since the book under discussion was dedicated and presented to the highest-ranking Ottoman representative in the Levant, the governor of Damascus.
It is the “beauties” element of the book that constitutes the largest part of I.K.’s composition and consists of two interrelated parts. The first offers the customary topography of Damascus and focuses on the city’s history and structure (the description and history of the main congregational mosque; the enumeration of its public buildings such as mosques, madrasas, hammams, Sufi lodges, and bazaars; and its natural resources such as rivers and creeks), while paying disproportionate attention to what may be regarded as the city’s best-kept secrets, namely its gardens, orchards, parks, and promenades. Indeed, compared to the first topography of the city by ʿAli Abu al-Qasim Ibn ʿAsakir (d. 571/1176), whose attention is overwhelmingly focused on religious structures and especially the Umayyad Mosque, I.K.’s account is devoted primarily to the city’s natural diversions and pleasures. As such, this part of the book is in essence no longer a work of geography, but a guidebook to, and an advertisement of, picnic spots in the city.
In an effort to complement this topography of beauty and pleasure, I.K. supplements the geography with nothing less than an entire horticultural survey of the city’s gifts: its trees, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. In this part, which occupies almost all of the second volume of the printed edition, I.K. enumerates the Damascene flora, describes its physical and medicinal attributes, cites relevant verses, and, only infrequently, offers rough angular visual illustrations.
By the time I.K. produced al-Mawakib al-islamiyya, such a composition on the “beauties” of a city was not new. Damascus had already enjoyed an earlier treatment of the sort by Abu al-Baqa’ ʿAbd Allah al-Badri (d. 902/1489), who, in his Nuzhat al-anam fi mahasin al-Sham depended heavily on Ibn ʿAsakir’s predominantly religious topography to produce an overwhelmingly secular rendition. Including both a picnic guide and a horticultural survey, al-Badri’s work may have not only inaugurated a new genre of urban mahasin but also facilitated a civic and secular discourse evincing the ownership of the city by its inhabitants.
Given this background, I.K.’s composition appears even bolder generically and politically. By combining political and religious processions, administrative boundaries and positions, historical anecdotes and updates, topography, religious virtues, and horticulture, I.K. produces a holistic unified Ottoman Levant that is legible politically, geographically, historically, and culturally.
By having composed a work which may have served the function of a manual or guide for the newcomer, and by offering this gift to Sulayman Pasha, then, I.K. was harnessing his local and academic knowledge in the service of the new state representative. At the risk of reading too much politics into the history of the production of I.K.’s unique text, one could suggest that al-Mawakib al-islamiyya may be regarded as a sort of Description de l’Egypte of Napoleon’s scientific team (published in Paris, 1809). Its production is intimately linked to the facilitation of governance, but a pre-modern one at that.
As a gift to the new governor in exchange for a teaching position by the author, al-Mawakib al-islamiyya is an act in politics par excellence. By utilizing his ʿilm, his experience of and in Damascus, I.K. managed to be installed into the Ottoman judicial-academic institution and achieved the kind of notability he desired, even though some of his politicking towards that end took unusual routes, through the verdant promenades and gardens of his beloved Damascus.
1) al-Hawadit al-yawmiyya
Manuscripts: (1) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Orientabteilung, 9479; 187 fol., 21 lines, naskh. (2) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Orientabteilung, 9480; 189 fol., 21 lines, naskh. Autograph.
Editions: (1) Yawmiyyat Shamiyya. Ed. Akram Ahmad al-ʿUlabi (Damascus, 1994). The editor sadly omitted most of the poetry included in the manuscript.
(2) al-Muruj al-sundusiyya
Manuscripts: (1) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Orientabteilung, 9789; 79 fol., 36 lines, naskh. Autograph. (2) Dublin, Chester Beatty, Arabic Collection 3548 (Part 3 of 5 compositions by the same author); fol. 60-138, 23, naskh.
Editions: (1) I.K., al-Muruj al-sundusiyya al-fasiha fi talkhis al-Salihiyya. Ed. Muhammad Ahmad Dahman (Damascus, 1947). Based on a microfilm copy of a now lost manuscript, which the editor suspects is actually the Berlin manuscript. However, the editor of the next work, Hikmat Ismaʿil who uses the same microfilm, which includes more than one work by I.K. concludes that the microfilm is of the Chester Beatty manuscripts.
(3) al-Mawakib al-islamiyya
Manuscripts: (1) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Orientabteilung, 6088 we-1116; fol. 64, 37-40 lines, naskh. Autograph. (2) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Orientabteilung, 6088 we-1962; fol. 24, 21-27 lines, naskh. Autograph. (The editor of the printed edition believes that this is a clean but incomplete copy of the previous manuscript, which may have functioned as a rough draft. (3) Dublin, Chester Beatty, Arabic Collection 3548 (Part 4 of 5 compositions by the same author); fol. 140-230, 23, naskh.
Editions: (1) I.K., al-Mawakib al-islamiyya fi al-mamalik wa al-mahasin al-Shamiyya (2 vols.). Ed. Hikmat Ismaʿil (Damascus, 1992).
Abu al-Fadl Muhammad Khalil b. ʿAli al-Muradi. Silk al-Durar fi aʿyan al-qarn al-Thani ʿAshar. 4 vols. (Cairo, n. d.), vol. 3, 84-86. Ignati Ulianovich Krachkovski. Tarikh al-adab al-jughrafi al-ʿArabi. 2 vols. Trans. Salahaddin ʿUthman Hashim (Cairo, 1963-1965), vol. 2, 756-757. John Voll. “The Madhhab of Ibn Kannan, The Damascene Historian.” al-Abhath, vol. 24 (1971), 83-85. Madeline Zilfi. “Diary of a Müderris: A New Source for Ottoman Biography.” Journal of Turkish Studies, vol. 1 (1977), 157-174. Sayyid ʿAli Al Davud. “Ibn-Kannan.” Da’irat al-maʿarif-e bozorg-e islami, vol. 4 (1991), 527-528. Moshe Maʿoz. “Changes in the Position and the Role of the ʿUlama’ in the 18th and 19th Century.” The Syrian Land in the 18th and 19th Century: The Common and the Specific in the Historical Experience, ed. Thomas Philipp (Stuttgart, 1992), 109-119. Stephen Tamari. Teaching and Learning in 18th Century Damascus: Localism and Ottomanism in an Early Modern Arab Society. Ph.D. Dissertation (Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., 1998), 180-219. Osman Çetin. “Ibn Kennan.” Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, vol. 20 (1999), 129-130. Dana Sajdi. Peripheral Visions: The Worlds ad Worldviews of Ottoman Commoner Chroniclers in the 18th Century Levant (New York, 2002), 90-112. Astrid Meier. “Perceptions of a New Era? Historical Writing in Early Ottoman Damascus.” Arabica, vol. 51.4 (2004), 419-434. Muhannad Ahmad Salim. Ahl al-qa-lam wa dawru-hum fi al-hayah al-Thaqafiyya fi madinat Dimashq, 1121/1708-1172/ 1758 (Damascus, 2005). Samer Akkach. “The Wine of Babel: Landscape, Gender and Poetry in Early Modern Damascus.” Literature and Aesthetics, vol. 17.1 (2007), 107-124.