Pick of the Week – Al Maqrizi by GF Haddad

by GF Haddad

Ahmad ibn `Ali ibn `Abd al-Qadir ibn Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Muhammad ibn Tamim ibn `Abd al-Samad Taqi al-Din al-Ba`li al-Misri al-Maqrizi (766-845) “the Sufi” (Ibn Rafi`), “the Reliance of Historians” (Ibn `Imad), “our rafiq and sahib” (Ibn Hajar), Allah Most high have mercy on him. This great specialist of Egyptian history grew up as a Hanafi then chose the Shafi`i school in his twenties. His family originated in Ba`labakk in
Among his teachers were his grandfather the major erudite muhaddith Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn al-Sa’igh al-Hanafi; al-Burhan al-Nashawari; al-Burhan al-Amidi; al-`Izz ibn al-Kuwayk; al-Najm ibn Razin; al-Shams ibn al-Khashshab; al-Tanukhi; Ibn Abi al-Shaykha; Ibn Abi al-Majd; al-Siraj al-Bulqini; al-Zayn al-`Iraqi; al-Haythami; al-Farasisi; al-Shams Ibn Sukkar; al-Amyuti; Qadi Abu al-Fadl al-Nuwayri; Sa`d al-Din al-Isfarayini; Abu al-`Abbas ibn `Abd al-Mu`ti, and others. He received certificates of transmission from al-Shihab al-Adhru`i, al-Jamal al-Isnawi, Abu al-Baqa’ al-Subki, `Ali ibn Yusuf al-Zarandi, and others.Al-Sakhawi says “I have read in his hand-writing that his works exceeded 200 large volumes and that his teachers numbered 600” but he dismisses al-Maqrizi’s claim of having heard from Ibn Kathir the “pattern-chained hadith of firstness” as “hardly true.”

Al-Maqrizi’s greatness lies in his writing of geographical history, “particularly that of
Egypt” (Ibn Hajar). He founded the genre of urban topography in which he left his encyclopedic Khitat – which al-Sakhawi said is indebted to his coming into possession of the large Khitat Misr wal-Qahira by the Egyptian historian Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn `Abd Allah al-Awhadi (761-811) – among other lasting and numerous contributions in universal, metropolitan, political, Prophetic, genealogical, and biographical history such as:

o Al-Bayan wal-I`rab `amma fi Ardi Misra min al-A`rab
o Al-Durar al-Mudiyya fi Tarikh al-Dawlat al-Islamiyya
o Durar al-`Uqud al-Farida fi Tarajim al-A`yan al-Mufida, chronicling
contemporaries from his birthday to his death.
al-Ilmam fi man Ta’akhkhara bi-Ardi al-Habasha min Muluk al-Islam
o `Iqd Jawahir al-Asfat fi Muluk Misr wal-Fustat.
o Imta` al-Asma` bi-ma lil-Rasuli `alayhi al-Salatu wal-Salamu min
al-Abna’ wal-Am/hwal wal-Hafadati wal-Mata` in 6 volumes.
o Itti`az/Iqaz al-Hunafa bi-Akhbar al-Fatimiyyin al-Khulafa, in which he
argues for the Fatimi lineage of the `Ubaydis, from which he said he
o al-Khabar `ani al-Bashar, in five volumes on Arab tribes and the
Prophetic lineage.
o Majma` al-Fara’id wa-Manba` al-Fawa’id, of which he finished between
80 and 100 volumes, “on the two sciences of reason and transmission in
earnest and in jest.”
o al-Mawa`iz wal-I`tibar bi-Dhikr al-Khutati wal-Athar, his masterpiece,
of which a Turkish translation was made in 969 for the Emir Ibrahim
o Muntakhab al-Tadhkira
o al-Suluk li-Ma`rifati Duwal al-Muluk in many volumes chronicling
events up to the author’s death, which his student Ibn Tughriburda began
to continue, he said “in the author’s lifetime from the year 840,”
naming the continuation “Hawadith al-Duhur fi Mada al-Ayyam wal-Shuhur.”
o al-Tarikh al-Kabir al-Muqaffa in 16 volumes, which he said would have
reached 80 if he could have finished it.

Al-Maqrizi also wrote more specialized monographs such as:

o al-Awzan wal-Akyal al-Shar`iyya
o Daw’ al-Sari fi Ma`rifati Khabar Tamim al-Dari
o al-Dhahab al-Masbuk fi Dhikri man Hajja min al-Muluk
o Husul al-In`am wal-Mayr fi Su’al Khatimat al-Khayr
o Ighathat al-Umma bi-Kashf al-Ghumma
o al-Isharatu wal-I`lam bi-Bina’i al-Ka`bati Bayt Allah al-Haram
o al-Isharatu wal-Ima’ ila Halli Lughz al-Ma’
o al-Maqasid al-Saniyya li-Ma`rifati al-Ajsad al-Ma`daniyya
o Ma`rifatu Ma Yajibu li-Al al-Bayt al-Naawi min al-Haqqi `ala man
`Adahum, a work on the immense precedential merit of the Prophetic
Household in which he cites in full a nine-page passage from the Futuhat
al-Makkiyya which he introduces with the words, “The gnostic (al-`arif)
Muhyi al-Din Abu `Abd Allah Muhammad Ibn `Arabi said….” I had the
honor of reading this book in full with al-Sayyid `Abd al-Maqsud Faris
al-Idrisi al-Hasani of the Ulema of al-Azhar, the rector of Madrasat
al-Junid in
o al-Tanazu` wal-Takhasum fi-ma bayna Bani Umayya wa-Bani Hashim, a book
against the Banu Umayya edited and published by a Rafidi.
o Shudhur al-`Uqud fi Dhikr al-Nuqud, on Islamic mintage.
o Tajrid al-Tawhid al-Mufid.
o al-Turfat al-Ghariba min Akhbari Hadramawt al-`Ajiba

He preached, sat as judge, and taught hadith at various points but his employment was mostly in financial administration (hisba) until he retired from public life and devoted himself completely to writing.

Ibn Hajar casts doubt over al-Maqrizi’s `Ubaydi lineage in Inba’ al-Ghumr (year 845), for which the latter’s only proof is that his father took him into al-Hakim’s mosque in Cairo and told him: “This is your grandfather’ s mosque!” while al-Sakhawi in al-Daw’ al-Lami` comments on his unreliability when it came to the early history of Islam, biography, and hadith narrators, adding: “How excellent is someone’s comment that ‘some of what is in it gives pause.'” He also says it would be “foolhardiness” (mujazafa) to call him a hafiz in the technical hadith sense, as he only had “a little knowledge” of fiqh, hadith, and nahw. Accordingly only the Cairene historian al-Jabarti (1167-1237) calls him a hafiz in `Aja’ib al-Athar and Nafh al-Tib while Ibn Qadi Shuhba (779-851) does not mention him in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya.

In his biographical notice on Ibn Khaldun (732-808) al-Shawkani writes:

<<The hafiz Abu al-Hasan [Nur al-Din] al-Haythami used to disparage Ibn Khaldun a lot. The hafiz Ibn Hajar said: “When I asked him about the reason, he replied that the news reached him that he had said about al-Husayn the Prophetic grandson, Allah be well-pleased with him, that ‘he was killed with his grandfather’ s sword’ and after he mentioned that, weeping, he cursed Ibn Khaldun.” Ibn Hajar continued: “This statement is not found in the Tarikh in existence nowadays and it seems that it was found in the version from which he recanted.” Then he said: “What is astonishing is that our friend al-Maqrizi was so excessive in praising Ibn Khaldun because the latter positively affirmed the authenticity of the [Fatimi] lineage of the Banu `Ubayd, the caliphs in
Egypt, opposing others [who considered it spurious] and dismissing what is related from the Imams that disputes such lineage. He would say: ‘They only recorded such [aspersions] to please the `Abbasi caliph.’  Al-Maqrizi himself claimed he descended from the Fatimis, as we already said, so he loved Ibn Khaldun for having affirmed their lineage and was ignorant of Ibn Khaldun’s intent, as the latter hated the `Alawis so much that he affirmed the `Ubaydis descended from them because their loathsome beliefs had become well-known, as some of them were propagandists of heresy and some claimed divinity, such as al-Hakim, so Ibn Khaldun wanted such [a lineage] to provide an avenue for aspersions [against `Alawis].” Thus did al-Sakhawi relate it from Ibn Hajar, and Allah knows best about the truth. For, if Ibn Khaldun ever said such a statement, then {Allah sent him astray purposely} (45:23).>>The Encyclopedia of Islam mentions that “[al-Maqrizi’ s] contemporaries were somewhat critical of his scholarship” and that “he seems to have had professional and perhaps personal difficulties with his fellow historians” such as al-`Ayni and Ibn Hajar. Indeed, his close student Ibn Tughriburda in al-Nujum al-Zahira relies on al-Maqrizi but nevertheless does not spare his criticism of his sharp tongue, and mentions his “fumbling in the dark” (takhbit) at one point while Ibn Qutlubagha and al-Sakhawi accuse him of plagiarism and Al-`Ayni accuses him of having been engrossed with geomancy (raml). Al-Sakhawi says he “looked up Ibn Khaldun’s horoscope to the point it is related he pinpointed a day for his appointment to some office and it came to be as he had predicted… . Yet, the eminent personalities honored him, either to placate him out of fear of his pen or because his conversation was pleasant.” Ibn `Imad al-Hanbali states “he was fanatically anti-Hanafi and other than them due to his leaning to theschool of
Zahirism” of which, Ibn Hajar says, “he actually knew nothing.” The French historian of Mamluk intellectual history Eric Geoffroy considers him a Taymiyyan qadi inimical to ill-educated Sufis but highlights his meticulousness in not blaming Ibn `Arabi for doctrines of which he is innocent.
In doctrine it appears that al-Maqrizi indirectly imputed anthropomorphism to the Hanbali school of anthropomorphism for their opposition to the Ash`ari school when he (reportedly, in the Khitat 4:184-5) says:

<<The reality of the school of al-Ash`ari, may Allah have mercy upon him, is that he followed a way between the negation of attributes, that being the Mu`tazili school, and the affirmation thereof, that being the school of the anthropomorphists. … there remains no school today that opposes the Ash`ari school, with the exception of the school of the Hanbalis, the followers of Imam Abu `Abdullah Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal, may Allah be well-pleased with him. For they are upon what the Salaf were upon, that is, to avoid allegorical interpretation of texts pertaining to attributes.>>

By describing the Hanbalis as opposing the way which he himself defined as “a way between the negation of attributes and the affirmation thereof, the latter being the school of the anthropomorphists, ” al-Maqrizi, either deliberately or otherwise, confirmed the fact that whatever the anti-Ash`aris Hanbalis characterize, with regard to affirming the attributes, as “the school of the Salaf,” is actually the way of the anthropomorphists.

Accordingly, in order to reflect this witting or unwitting authorial distance between the letter of the Hanbali self-identification as the *school of the Salaf* and its actual meaning under al-Maqrizi’s pen – and as Imam Ibn `Abd al-Salam had warned in his treatise (al-Mulha) when he flayed the camouflaging (tasattur) of the deviant Hanbalis of his time – quotation marks should be inserted both in the last sentence above and in the sentence where he refers to Ibn Taymiyya thus:

<<For ‘they [Hanbalis] are upon what the Salaf were upon’….>>

<<He [Ahmad ibn Taymiyya] undertook to champion ‘the school of the Salaf’ and did his utmost to refute the Ash’aris.>>

However, even if we should doubt that al-Maqrizi had mastered, like al-Dhahabi, the art of subtle allusion, it remains that his interpretation of the historico-doctrinal dynamics of the spread of the Ash`ari School and its subsequent opposition by Ahmad ibn Taymiyya is unreliable because of the judgments of the scholars concerning him and, at best, superficial. In the words of a perceptive student of history:

<<The historical contextualisation of events such as the rise of the Ash`ari school, which ostensibly limits its appeal to the effects of political patronage, could be applied to any event in Islamic history (in order to undermine its authenticity, as many anti-Islam Orientalists have done over the centuries).. .. All of our scholarship could be argued away on this basis.>>

And Allah knows best.

Sources: Ibn Tughriburda, al-Nujum al-Zahira (year 841); Ibn Hajar, Inba’ al-Ghumr (year 845); al-Sakhawi, al-Daw’ al-Lami` (2:21-25); Ibn `Imad, Shadharat al-Dhahab (year 845); al-Shawkani, al-Badr al-Tali` (p.338); `Abd al-`Alim Khudr, al-Muslimun wa-Kitabat al-Tarikh (IIIT,1993); Eric Geoffroy, Le Soufisme en Egypte et en Syrie sour les derniers Mamelouks et les premiers Ottomans (IFEAD, p. 470-471, 481).

GF Haddad


2 thoughts on “Pick of the Week – Al Maqrizi by GF Haddad”

  1. Salaam All,

    Jazak Allahu Khair for all your comments, but I do not wish to foster an environment of debate on this blog, so please do not get offended if I remove some of the comments that have been made on this Post.

    I love both Sayyidi Gibril and Imam Suhaib and all the other brothers and sisters of sound knowledge and do not want brothers arguing or debating in any manner.

    May Allah bless you all


  2. This is not a reply to the above, but just a comment Shaykh Gibril posted in Sunnah Principles e-mail group:

    Salam alaikum,

    Shaikh Gibreel, I just want to say that this was fascinating. Jazakum Allah. Not every attempt at contextualizing the adoption of ideas in Islam is aimed at discrediting them – nonetheless that does seem to be the inevitable end of that road. One wonders where the proper balance it is. Obviously this is not a concern for the non-Muslim, but the pattern amongst Muslim historians from the beginning to today seems to be to attribute the popularity of ideas which the author dislikes to external factors, and the popularity of one’s own beliefs to the acceptance of self-evident truth. Since there is at least one defender and one detractor for every viewpoint under the sun, we end up with a cynical explanation for every trend in Islamic thought, with no need for help from Orientalists. What is the proper way to avoid this trap, while still having a meaningful discussion about the history of Islamic belief and ideas? Or is such a discussion essentially useless and all that matters is polemic?

    Abdul Ghani


    Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah:

    In his landmark essay on “The Discourse of history” the late French
    critic Roland Barthes argued the essential subjectivity of historical
    discourse. We need to contextualize the contextualizer.

    Part of the “contextualization ad infinitum” is to try and see through
    the eyes of the historian weaving the craft of history while allowing
    that even our own critical hindsight evolves in a context, not some
    sterilized vacuum of objectivity. Even such grand expressions as
    “the reality of the matter” should be tempered, at least implicitly,
    with a humble proviso, e.g. “in X’s opinion” – if not by the careful
    writer, then by the careful reader.

    Between naively accepting any given rendering of events and ideas as
    *the* would-be Record on the one hand, and, on the other, the jaded,
    centerless deconstruction of everything as a lie of art and politics,
    we should be humble detectives trying to reconstruct the puzzle of
    things past.

    The Umma is human and so not immune to polemics, but blessed, and
    therefore ultimately protected against the mortal strains of falsehood
    which a history fraught with polemics tends to nurture.

    Quite a few of the great Awliya scholars of the Ash`ari school on
    their deathbeds taught us to remember we were and are striving to
    please Allah Most High in any case, whether we did it the best way or
    not. He knows best.


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