The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadīm and the Transmission of Knowledge in the Islamic World

London, UK
Lectures Manuscript Centre
Share this:

In the series of its London lectures, the Centre for the Study of Islamic Manuscripts at Al-Furqan, on Wednesday 22nd April 2015, organised a public lecture at its headquarters.

Mr Sharaf Yamani spoke briefly before the lecture

The keynote speaker at this public event was Professor Devin Stewart, Winship Distinguished Research Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Emory University, USA . His lecture on “The Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadīm and the Transmission of Knowledge in the Islamic World” was very well received.

In his lecture, Professor Stewart gave an insight into the historical and scientific importance of the ‘Fihrist’, a book which is not a simple catalogue of enumerating book titles and sciences, nor a simple bibliographical survey of writing in Arabic in the main scholarly fields of the time when it was written, but rather a systematic taxonomy of human knowledge, as it has been presented and recorded up until the work’s composition in the 4th century A.H. / 10th century A.D.

Furthermore, he highlighted the fact that the ‘Fihrist’ is a crucial resource for the investigation of a wide array of topics in the intellectual, cultural and religious history of the Late Antique and early Islamic periods. Also, it is a crucial document of the transmission of knowledge and a very important source of information on the translation movement centred in Abbasid Baghdad, the rise and development of the Islamic religious sciences, as well as many other fields. Moreover, it is one of the pioneering works in the sphere of surveying the intellectual movement in the Islamic world, preserving titles and descriptions of hundreds of lost works. Thus, this work is far more than a reference work for book titles. It is a crucial document recording the historical transmission of knowledge in the Islamic world.

Professor Devin Stewart explaining a slide from Ibn al-Nadeem's Fihrist

Professor Stewart spoke about the main editions of the ‘Fihrist’ completed so far, highlighting the fact that the best edition and the most complete to date is the edition produced by Dr Ayman Fuad Sayyid, and published by Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation (2009, 2014).

Among the outstanding features of the new (2nd edition) of the Fihrist by Dr Ayman Fuad Sayyid, Prof Stewart mentioned the following:

- Substantial introductory monograph on Ibn al-Nadīm and the Fihrist

- Numerous and comprehensive indices - Correct procedure for the establishment of the text

- Proof that the two manuscripts are indeed the two halves of a single manuscript

- Filling the gap, or restoring the Mu’tazilis

- Emendations and corrections of the text, etc.

Professor Devin Stewart delivering his lecture

Professor Stewart concluded his lecture by saying that, despite all great efforts spent so far on the ‘Fihrist’, it still remains a book full of mysteries, and an open source for further studies, especially as, according to him, there are still some unresolved problems, such as:

- The chronology of Greek doctors

- Translators from Sanskrit into Arabic and Indian Astronomers

- Peoples of Africa

- Technical terms in Greek, Persian, etc.

- The numerical alphabet from India, etc.

The lecture was followed by several questions from the specialised and distinguished audience regarding various aspects covered by Professor Stewart.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

Back to Top