Arabic biographies of Mohammed – Brockelmann’s bibliography

More than a month ago I obtained paper copies of Brockelmann’s great but flawed reference volumes on Arabic literature.  Seeing only a page or two on the Arabic biographers of Mohammed, I was moved to try to scan these, and then turn them into English. 

Well, it’s been one heck of a fight!  The abbreviations were incomprehensible, and the material so densely packed that even Brockelmann himself got confused about his number sequences (I have seen two cases so far where his numeration of works by an author gets out of sync), and his text was evidently unreadable to his typesetters as well.  Worse yet, there is no obvious way to merge the data in the “supplement” with the main text. 

But I did it.  And the material is now online, here.  Enjoy, if you can!

It’s not quite finished.  That’s because I simply couldn’t understand some parts of it.  My German is weak, and my knowledge of Arabic literature and the bibliography for it is non-existent.  But I did what I could.


Arabic sources for Mohammed – from 1854

Brockelmann’s History of Arabic literature does list English translations known in 1940.  One of these was by Alfred von Kramer, from 1854, and was a translation of al-Wakidi’s biography of Mohammed.  It was published in British India at Calcutta as the History of Muhammad’s Campaigns by Aboo Abd Ollah Mohammad bin Omar al Wakidy, by the Baptist Mission Press. 

Copies are uncommon.  I was wondering how on earth I would get hold of one, when I luckily stumbled across a copy on Google books here.  Some of the introductory remarks seemed well worth bringing into the light.  From p.2:

Three works on the biography of Mohammad, from which the whole stock of information regarding the establishment and development of the Islam may be derived, have come down to our days, and are existing in different libraries.

I. The first is Ibn Hishâm’s biography of Mohammad known commonly by the title of “Syrat-Ibn-Hishâm.” Its author died A. H. 213 (A. D. 828) or according to others A. H. 218 (A. D. 833) and his work is an extract from the chronicle of Ibn Ishâk who died about A. H. 151 (A. D. 768). Thus, through Ibn Hishâm’s médium, we get access to Ibn Ishâk’s work, though in some instances Ibn Hishâm seems to have made some pious alterations tending to cover up many of the prophet’s weaknesses and deficiencies *. A complete copy of Ibn Hishâm’s work is in the imperial library at Paris. An abridgment of Ibn Hishâm’s book was made at Damascus A. H. 707 (A. D. 1307,) by Ahmad Ibn Ibrahym, Ibn Abd-ar-Rahman-al-Wâsity, of which a copy is preserved in the Asiatic Society’s Library at Calcutta.

II. The second work is Mohammad Ibn Sa’d’s work, commonly called Tabakât or annals. Some volumes of “the Tabakât are in the ducal library of Gotha;” Mr. Wüstenfeld has given a notice of their contents in the fourth and seventh volumes of the Journal of the German Asiatic Society. Another volume of the Tabakât containing the biography of Mohammad is in Dr. Sprenger’s hands, whose indefatigable researches were recompensed by the discovery of this volume in a library belonging to Mozaffar Khân at Cawnpoor, and who has recently discovered some other volumes in Damascus.

* Consult on this question the excellent dissertation on “the original sources for the biography of Mohammad” inserted in the Calcutta Review No. XXXVII. for March, 1853.

Ibn Sa’d, who was Wâkidy’s secretary, acquired great knowledge of historical and traditional matters from his master, after whose death he condensed in his “Tabakât-al-Kabyr,” a work consisting of fifteen volumes, the results of Wâkidy’s historical researches, which were scattered through this author’s numerous works. Such at least is Ibn Khillikân’s opinion, and it seems that Ibn Sa’d, without much trouble of his own, gathered the fruits of his master’s untiring studies.

III. The third standard-work is Tabary’s history. Aboo Ja’far Ibn Jaryr-al-Tabary was born A, H. 224 (A. D. 838-9) at Amool in Tabaristân and died at Baghdad A. H. 310 (A. D, 923). He was considered by his contemporaries, as the greatest authority in historical and traditional matters. His great work on the history of the Islam, some volumes of which exist in several libraries, seems to justify the high consideration in which he is held by all subsequent Arabic historians. His work is written with great conscientiousness, he always indicates the names of the persons, on whose testimony a fact is narrated, and a cursory perusal of his book will convince every reader, that Tabary wrote with the sincere intention of composing a true and impartial history.

Though these three chief works reflect, however troubled this mirror’s surface may be, the great outlines of the early history of the Islam, yet they are far from enabling us to get a clear view and to form a just idea of those remote ages. Not one of these authors ever thought of submitting to a critical inquiry the authenticity of the traditions, which had been collected by his predecessors, not one of them dared to question the veracity of the most extravagant stories told about their prophet’s miracles, and Ibn Hishâm, as has been observed already, did not hesitate to commit some pious alterations in Ibn Ishâk’s text tending to cover some of Mohammad’s errors.* Ibn Sa’d, whose works are mere extracts from the writings of his master, must be considered as a second-hand writer, and probably would lose every authority, if his master’s works had not perished.

* Consult on Ibn Hishâm Dr. Sprenger’s Life of Mohammad, p. 70.

Tabary is doubtless a scholar superior in knowledge and trust, worthiness to both Ibn Hishâm and Ibn Sa’d, but unfortunately he lived at an epoch too remote from the foundation of the Islam. At his time the fertile imagination of the Arabs had veiled the origin of their religion and their prophet’s rising in such a cloud of poetical legends, that it was utterly impossible for any Mohammadan writer to discern the true from the false.

These remarks are sufficient to show how desirable it is for the historian to get access to the works of Wâkidy who being coeval with Ibn Ishâk, whose works have been lost, and anterior to Ibn Hishâm, and Ibn Sa’d, who were mere compilers, certainly deserves the title of “Father of Arabic history.”

Aboo Abd Allah Mohammad Ibn O’mar Ibn Wâkid-al-Wâkidy was born at Madynah A. H. 130 (777) ; he was a manumitted of the Banoo Hâshim and professed the Shy’ah doctrines, From Madynah he migrated to Baghdad, where at first he obtained the post of Kadhy in the eastern suburb, afterwards the Kalyfe Mamoon conferred upon him the same dignity in O’skaral-Mahdy another suburb of Baghdad, which at Ibn Khillikân’s time was commonly called Rossâfah. Mamoon held him in the greatest esteem. At his death he left a library of six hundred chests full of books, which were sold for two thousand dynârs. Wâkidy always kept two slaves, who were continually busy in copying manuscripts for his library. He is author of thirty-two works ; it suffices to indicate here only those, which appear to be the most important.* (1) The campaigns of Mohammad (Kitâb al-Maghazy). (2) The history of the apostates, having for its subject the history of those, who after the death of Mohammad, apostatized from the Islam and relapsed into idolatry. (3) History of the wars of Mohammad’s companions against Tobayhat Ibn Khowaylid-al-Azdy, Aswad-al-A’nsy and Mosaylamat-al Kaddâb. (4) History of Makkah. (5) History of the Conquest of Syria. (6) History of the Conquest of I’râk. (7) On the battle of the Camel. (8) On the battle of Siffyn. (9) On the battles of the Banoo Aws and Khazraj. (10) On the death of Mohammad. (11) Biography of Aboo-Bakr.* This séries of works is quite sufficient to prove the high literary character of our author. Wâkidy died at the age of seventy-seven years in Baghdad.

* See Hammer-Purgstall’s Literaturgeschichte III. p. 403.

It is the first named work of this eminent scholar which is contained in this volume: viz. the Kitab-al-Maghâzy, or History of the military campaigns of the prophet.

The original manuscript was discovered by the editor at Damascus in 1851, and as no other copy of this work is known to exist in any library, it is presumed to be the only one of Wâkidy’s works, which has escaped the all-destroying tooth of time.

That is quite a nice English-language summary.  After struggling with Brockelmann, it is pleasant to see something outlined so clearly!  Brockelmann states, however, that this translation is only partial.


Extracts from Brockelmann’s “History of Arabic literature” – 1

For the last week or so, I’ve been reading sections of vol. 1 of the 2nd edition of Carl Brockelmann’s History of Arabic Literature.  I’m starting to get some idea of what exists, which is the object.  I thought that it might be useful to give some extracts in English here.  Let’s look at some material from the introduction, starting on p.2.  I’ve added links to the books where I could find them online, but if you can find more of them, do let me know!

II. Sources and earlier manuals on the history of Arabic literature.

The most important sources for biography and bibliography for the whole subject, leaving to one side monographs on particular subjects that will be given in their place, are the following:

1. Biographical works.

b. Ḫall. = Ibn Ḫallikān (S. 326), Wafayāt al-A`yān, Būlāq 1299 1) Vitae illustrium virorum, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Gottingae 1835-40. [vol.1, vol. 15 – there are other vols online] Ibn Khallikans biographical Dictionary translated from the Arabic, by Mac Guckin de Slane, 4 vols. Paris-London 1843—71. [vol.1, vol.2, vol.3, vol.4 I could not find]

Fawāt = M. b. Šākir al-Kutubī (II, 48), Fawāt al-wafayāt, 2 vols. Būlāq 1299.

2. Bibliographical works.

Fihr. = Kitāb al-Fihrist, ed. by G. Flügel, after his death continued by J. Rödiger and A. Müller, 2 vols. Leipzig 1871/2. [I couldn’t find this online]

HḪ = Lexicon bibliographicum et encyclopaedicum a Mustapha ben Abdallah Katib Jelebi dicto et nomine Haji Khalfa celebrato compositum, ed. latine vertit et commentario indicibusque instruxit G. Flügel, Leipzig-London 1835-58, 7 vols.  [I could not find vols 1 or 2, vols.3-4, vol. 4, vols.5-6, vol. 6]  Kesf el-Zunun, Birinci Cilt, Katib Celebi elde mevcut yazma ve basma nüshalari ve zeyilleri gözden gecirilerek, müellifin elyazisiyle olan nüshaya göre fazlalari cikarilmak, eksikleri tamamlanmak suretiyle Maarif Vekilligin karari üzerine Istanbul Üniversitesinde Ord. Prof. Serefettin Yaltkaya ile Lektor Kilisli Rifat Bilge tarafindan hazirlanmistir, Maarif Matbaasi 1941.

This is followed by others, of no obvious special use, and then a list of catalogues of manuscripts.  There is a footnote on Ibn Khallikan:

1. As this volume will be cited mainly using the numerals of the Lives, here is a short concordance with that of Wüstenfeld: W. 1-75 = K. 1-75.  Missing in K. are: W. 76, 78, 133, 147, 149, 150, 154, 186-199, 201, 202 (= Fawat I, 145), 213, 214 (= Fawat I, 149), 217, 277, 278 (= Fawat I, 171), 288, 291, 292, 293, 294, 303, 317, 318, 337-347, 364, 380, 381, 528, generally only a single line, occasionally with date of death.  On the other hand 297 K. is missing in W.; 357 was skipped by W. in the count of numbers; 405 W. gives as an appendix to 404 = 367 K. and not separately ennumerated. In the following Lives K. is more detailed than W.: 220 K. = 233 W.; 223 K. = 236 W.; 230 K = 243 233 K. = 246 W.; 248 K. = 261 W.; in the other direction only 242 W. is more detailed than 229 K. On the other hand 181 K. = 186 W.   Because W. reverses the sequence Ha’-Wäw in K., note the following: W. 778-90 = K. 745-57 and W. 791-96 = K. 739-44.

Not that “Wüstenfeld” has been mentioned yet — sloppy editing, this — but fortunately for me I started at the histories, and this was defined at the top of the section, in the middle of p.140, which gave these general sources:

F. Wüstenfeld, Die Geschichtschreiber der Araber und ihre Werke, Abh. d. Kgl. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Göttingen, vols. 28 and 29, 1882/3, (cited as “Wüst.”).

E. Sachau, Studien zur ältesten Geschichtsüberlieferung der Araber, MSOS VII Westas. St. 154/96.  [I could not find this online by title, although it dates to 1905][PS. it’s here]

A curiosity appears on p.6, after a long list of catalogues of Arabic manuscripts:

2.  The first attempt to present a complete history of Arabic literature was made by J. Hammer-Purgstall.1)  The shortcomings of this book are so familiar that we may simply ignore it in what follows.  The same is true of Arbuthnot’s work.2)  The short sketch by A. von Kremer 3), however, is masterful and we acknowledge our debt to it.

1. Literaturgeschichte der Araber, von ihrem Beginne bis zu Ende des zwölften Jahrhunderts der Hidschret, 7 vols, Wien 1850-56.  [At Google books: vol.1, vol.2, vol.3, vol.4, vol. 5, vol.6, vol.7]
2. Arabic authors, a Manual of Arabian History and Literature, London, 1890.
3. Kulturgeschichte des Orients unter den Chalifen, vol. II, Wien 1877, p. 341-484.

That’s enough of this highly condensed information for now, I think. All these reference works were very, very rare.  How delighted and excited Dr Brockelmann would have been, to see links to them accessible at the touch of a key!