Islamic philosophical manuscripts

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Mehdi Mohaghghegh

A unique double album page from the Mughal Empire library during the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb, featuring scenes from the life of the Sufi Sheikh Majd al-Din al-Baghdadi. Herat, 16th century, with Deccani and Mughal additions in the second half of the 17th century.

It was the translation movement in Islamic civilization which made the works of Greek scholars available to the Muslims.1 But not only did translators put the various works of Aristotle, Plato, Galen, and other philosophers into Arabic; the works of the Greek philosophers were also classified and catalogued, in which context mention should be made of two works by Abū Naṣr al-Fārābī, in one of which he presented the works of Plato, and in the other the works of Aristotle.2 Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq in his letter to ʿAli b. Yaḥyā mentioned individually 129 books that his co-workers had  translated with him, and he gives a detailed description of how he obtained the manuscripts and how he compared the manuscripts with each other in order to arrive at correct and complete texts.3 Islamic scholars always took every opportunity and expended every effort to obtain manuscripts of the works of previous scholars. Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrῡnī wrote in one of his books that for some forty odd years he had been ‘raging with the fire of ardent desire’ to find the book Sifr al-asrār of Mānī which Muḥammad Zakarīyā al-Razī had been so affected by in writing his al-ʿIlm al-ilāhī, until a courier from Ḥamadān to Khwārazm brought him some books, among which was the one he sought, the Sifr al-asrār.4 Abū Ali b. Sīnā wrote that he had read Aristotle’s Metaphysics forty times without understanding it, until, one day in a bookbinder’s shop, someone offered him a book for three dirhams. Since the owner was needy, Ibn Sīnā wrote, he bought it from him, and, without much hope, saw that it was Plato’s Aims of the metaphysics which he could use to overcome the difficulties of the Metaphysics.5 Ḥunayn b. Isḥāq wrote that he searched all over the Jazīra, Shām, Egypt,and Palestine for a copy of Galen’s book on syllogistic proof (al-Burḥān), not even being able to find it in Alexandria, till he found half of the book in Damascus.6 One Islamic scholar who above all others expended his efforts to the end of making known manuscripts of scientific and philosophical texts was Ibn Nadīm (d. after 350/961), who described the manuscripts in various sciences extant in his time. Mention must then be made of persons subsequent to him such as Ibn al-Qiftī (d. 646/1248) in his Akhbār al- ḥukamāʾ , and Ibn Abiʾ Uṣaybiʿah (d. 668/1270) in his ʿUyῡn al-anbāʾ, and al- Shahrazῡrī (d. after 687/1288) in his Nuzhat al-arwāḥ.

The Islamic intellectual sciences, especially philosophy, theology, logic, and their subdivisions, have, during a thousand-year period of transformation and development, contributed their share to raising the level of human thought and ideas, but of all the material that previous generations have left us we are not aware of even one fifth. Contemporary scholars of Islam have the obligation to make known all these works in their various locations, using all the effort and diligence that they can muster, and to produce a single, comprehensive catalogue of them so as to facilitate access to them for the purposes of editing, publication, analysis, research, and so as to derive as much as possible from their contents. In Iran, not only do there exist hundreds of books, treatises, and volumes of collected texts in the field of philosophy in the large libraries for which catalogues already exist, such as Tehran University Central Library, the Āstān-i Quds-i Razavī Library in Mashhad, and the National Libraries in Tehran, but there are also a great many precious and rare manuscripts in private libraries which have only recently become known, and many of which have been catalogued thanks to the efforts of scholars such as Muḥammad Taqī Dānishpazhῡh.

It is not possible here to discuss all the philosophy manuscripts in the collection of even one library, let alone all the works of one philosopher, there is only enough space for the writer to indicate in summary form a few of the manuscripts with which he is personally acquainted.

First of all it should be mentioned that Islamic philosophers, theologians, and logicians composed four different kinds of works. First, there are extensive and comprehensive works which cover various categories of science, or contain various chapters on a particular science, such as Ibn Sīnāʾs Al-Shifàʾ, which contains sections on all the branches of philosophy, mathematics, the natural sciences, and logic,7 or the Epistles of the Brethren of Purity (Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-Ṣafā), which contains fifty-two treatises on contemporary sciences and arts, or Fakhr al-Din al-Rāzīʾs AI-Ḥāwī in Arabic and the Dhakhīrat-i Khwārazm-shāhī in Persian, which cover all medical topics as well as all the diseases of the body from the head to the toe.

Secondly, there are monographs on some particular subject, and these can be subdivided into two groups: detailed and extensive, for teachers and experts; or summary and concise, for students and beginners; these were referred to as kabīr and ṣaghīr respectively. In this category are Rāzī’s books Al-Nafs al-kabīr and Al-Hayῡlā al-ṣaghīr.8

Thirdly, there are the commentaries (sharḥs) which scholars have written on other scholars' works, and these have either been in a form separated from the text where the text is introduced by the words ʿhe said … .ʾ and the commentary by the words ‘I say ... .’,or in a form mixed with the text, in which case they are called ‘compressed’ (muzjan) commentaries. One of the most celebrated series of commentaries in philosophy in Islam are the commentaries on Al-Ishārāt wa-al-tanbīhāt of Ibn Sīnā, written firstly by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209), and secondly by Naṣīr al-Dīn al-Ṭῡsī (d. 672/1274). Others are the commentaries on the Hikmat al-ishrāq of Shihāb al-Din al-Suhrawārdī (martyred 587/1191), the first being that of Quṭb al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 776/1374), and the commentary on Al-Shawāhid al- rubῡbiyyah of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī (d. 1051/1641) by Hājjī Mullā Hādī al-Sabzawārī (d. 1289/1872). The scholar of the last century wrote commentaries on his own Manῡmah, the first on the section on logic which he called the Sharḥ al-Laʾāliʾ al-muntaẓimah, and the second on the metaphysics which he called the Sharḥ Ghurar al-farāʾid.9

Fourthly, there are the glosses (taʿlīqāt), or notes which scholars wrote on works by their predecessors, among which can be mentioned the glosses of Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Shīrāzī on Ibn Sīnā’s Al-Shifāʾ. In the contemporary period there are the glosses of Mirzā Mahdi Āshtiyānī (d. 1372/1953) on al- Sabzawarī’s Sharḥ Manẓῡmah-yi ḥikmat, i.e. on the above mentioned Sharḥ Ghurar al-farāʾid.10 One point should also be added, which is that sometimes short monographs by a single scholar may be collected together in compendiums, or short monographs by various scholars on one or several topics.

This paper will give details of several philosophical, theological, and logical works, some of which have been preserved in integral form and others in volumes of collected texts, some of which have been printed and published and others which are still in manuscript form. Among the volumes of collected texts in manuscript form there are two which deserve mention; one is in the British Library and the other in Tehran University Central Library.

The first appears in the British Library catalogue as number Add.7473, under the rubric of ‘Scientific Treatises’, and it is a collection of some twenty monographs by various authors dated 639/1241. The first monograph in this collection is Al-Sīrah al-falsafiyyah of Muḥammad b. Zakarīyā al- Rāzī, which was printed zith a French translation by Paul Kraus in Orientalia, IV, 300—34, and subsequently printed in 1939 by Cairo University Press under the title Opera Philosophica.11 The third monograph in this collection, the Kisar al-manṭiq, by an unknown author by the name of Abῡ Najā al-Fāriḍ, which is a critique of Aristotelian logic, has also been published, edited by ʿAbd al-Jawād Falāturī of Cologne University.12 The importance of this manuscript lies in the fact that it pre-dates Ibn Taymīya’s Al-Radd ʿalā al-mantiqīyīn and possibly marks one of the first steps in the movement against Aristotelian logic. Another monograph from this collection, the Qawl al-Ḥasan b. Sahl b. al-Shamḥ b. Ghālib fī al-akhbār allatī yukhbiru bi-hā kathīrun which concerns the criteria of evaluation and the validity in proof of mutawātir traditions, was first published by M. Bernard Baladi ,13 and then a second time by Muḥammad Taqī Dānishpazhῡh in Tehran in Ilāhīyāt va maʿārif-i Islāmī. Although most of the remaining monographs concern mathematics, astronomy, and even Arabic literature, there are several monographs on philosophical subjects which deserve the attention of scholars, and which should be edited, published, and studied. Among these are the Dalīl mῡjaz ʿalā ḥadath al- ʿālam by Abῡ al-Ḥasan ʿAli b. Riḍwān, the Risālat al-Raʾīs Abī ʿAli b. Sīnā fī-mā taqarrara ʿinda-hu fi ḥujaj al-muthbatayn lil-māḍī mabdaʾ zamāniyā wa-taḥlīlu-hā ilā al-qiyāsāt by Ibn Sīnā, the Siyāsat al-nufus by Sinnā b. Thābit b. Qurrah al-Ḥarrānī, and finally Al-Masāʾil allatī ṣaʾala ʿan-hā Abū Mῡsā ʿĪsā b. Asad Abī al-Ḥasan Thābit b. Qurrah al-Ḥarrānī, in which, among philosophical topics, Godʾs knowledge of particulars, the number of categories, and the meaning of numbers are discussed.

The second collection of texts, that in Tehran University Central Library, bears the catalogue number 5469, and was copied in the years 556-7 AH. Like the previous collection it contains both philosophical and scientific texts. From this manuscript the present author published the monograph Faṣl fī-mā-hiyya ṣināʾat al-manṭiq wa-fī-mā-dhā yuntafaʿu bi-hā in Collected Texts and Papers on Logic and Linguistics, and the monograph Risālat Ibn al-Samaḥ fī ghāyat al-falsafah in the Henry Corbin Festschrift in 1977. Another of the monographs was published by Peter Bachman in 1966 in Göttingen with a German translation from a more defective manuscript under the title Kitāb Jālīnῡs fi anna-hu yajibu an yakῡna al-ṭabīb al-fīḍil faylasῡf.14 One of the distinctions of this collection is that it contains a number of monographs by al-Bīrῡnī, below which appear the words: ‘I copied this from the writing of Abῡ Rayḥān’, and among these is the historical table of physicians which Ishāq b. Ḥunayn copied from Yaḥyā al- Naḥwī.15 This table appears in al-Bīrῡnīʾs monograph in a defective form which is corrected by this manuscript. There are other important monographs in this collection which scholars should edit and investigate, and which have not been edited to date: the Risālat Arisṭāṭālīs ilā al-Iskandar fī al-ʿālam, the Maqālat Qustā b. Luqā al-Baʿlabakkī fi al-isṭiqsāt Faṣl min kalām al-falāsifah, and al-Ibānah ʿan al-ʿillah al-qarībah al-faʿilah lil-kawn wa-al-fasād fi al-kāʾināt al-fāsidāt.

A complete and integral philosophical text. an excellent manuscript of which has been preserved in Tehran University Central Library under catalogue number 257, is the Bayān al-ḥaqq bi-ḍamān al- ṣidq of Abῡ al- ʿAbbās al-Lawkarī, a pupil of Bahmanyār b. Marzubān, himself a pupil of Ibn Sīnā. He says at the beginning of the book that some philosophical texts were so detailed that students were incapable of understanding them, and some were so summary as to provide only general matters, and so he had written his book on the basis of Ibn Sīnā and al-Fārābī, steering between the opposites of superfluity and insufficiency, so that searchers might easily find out what matters it dealt with. The importance and effect of al-Lawkarīʾs book was such that the author of the Tatimmat şiwān al-Ḥikmaḥ said: ‘It was through the learned Abū al- ʿAbbās al-Lawkarī that the philosophical sciences spread throughout Khurāsān’16 and a century and a half later Ḥasanῡn Ṭabīb al-Rahāwī (d. 629/1232) always carried a copy of it around with him, and Ibn al- ʿIbrī said: ‘Most of his study was of al-Lawkarīʾs book on philosophy.’ 17 Fortunately the section of this book concerning logic was printed by Ibrāhīm Dībājī, and, having already published a commentary on al-Lawkarī’s philosophical poem Asrār al-Ḥikmaḥ,18 he intends to publish section on theological philosophy.

Among philosophical texts written on particular subjects, mention sbould be made of Farīd al-Dīn al-Ghaylānī’s Ithbāt ḥuduth al- ʿālam, which is catalogued under the number 1314 in Tehran University Central Library. He wrote this work as a critique of Ibn Sīnā, and refuted his monograph in the British Museum Journal under the title Al-Ḥukῡmah fĪ ḥujaj al-muthbatayn lil-māḍī mabdaʾ zamāniya. Farīd al-Dīn al-Ghaylānī is the same person whom Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī described as right-minded and of a pleasant disposition, but deficient in intellect and disinclined to speculative thought and debate, and with whom, he said, people in Samarkand read his Mulakhkhaṣ, his Sharḥ al-Ishārāt, and his Al-Mabāḥith al-mashriqiyyah.19 In the book mentioned above, he severely criticizes Ibn Sīnā, and at times shows the weakness of al-Fārabī’s thinking on the question of the creation of the universe. Also, when proving his own ideas, he cites the words of opponents such as al-Ghazzālī and Sharaf al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Masʿῡdī. In the same book he recalls how be began the study of the philosophical sciences in the year 523/1129 in the Niāmiyyah Madrasah in Baghdād, then how, in the following year, he came to Nīshāpῡr to teach logic, having previously studied arithmetic and algebra in Balkh. This work is to be published soon by Muḥammad Taqī Dānishpazhῡh and the present author.

In the realm of scientific and philosophical dispute, the bock Al-asʾilah wa-al-ajwibah is of considerable importance. This book consists of the questions which al-Bīrunī sent from Khwārazm to Ibn Sīnā, in which he found fault with Aristotle in some of the philosophical and cosmological matters in the latter’s On the Heavens, and to which Ibn Sīnā replied. Although this work was published in 1335/1917 in Cairo in a collection called Jāmiʿ al-badāʾiʿ, and in 1953 in Istanbul as one of the Rasāʾil Ibn Sīnā, there exist two manuscripts in Kitābkhānah-yi Majlis-i Shῡrā-yi Islāmī-yi Īrān, under catalogue numbers 599 and 1968 which, while they were mentioned in the printed editions, also contain replies to Ibn Sīnā by al- Bīrunī and defences of Ibn Sīnā by Abū Saʿīd Aḥmad b. ʿAli. This Abῡ Saʿīd Aḥmad b. ʿAli is apparently Abῡ Saʾīd al-Maʾṣῡmī, the well-known pupil of Ibn Sīnā, who is mentioned in Ibn Sīnā’s own autobiography. In view of the importance of these two parts of the book, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and the present author edited the work on the basis of the two manuscripts in the Kitābkhānah-yi Majlis-i Shῡrā-yi Islāmī-yi Īrān and published it in 1352 sh/1973 in Tehran. In 1974, a second edition of Al-Asʾilah wa-al-ajwbah was printed in Istanbul in a collection called Armaghān-i Bīrῡnī, and our additional printed material was mentioned.20 This book is to be reprinted soon by the Institute of Islamic Studies of McGill University, Tehran Branch, with a new and extended introduction in Persian by the present author, and an English translation of the text has appeared as the doctoral these is of Hasan Jamshīdīpur in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science of London University.

It should be mentioned here that while discussing philosophical manuscripts attention should also be paid to medical manuscripts, which contain discussions of philosophical and scientific matters, because physicians were in the habit of prefacing their medical works with philosophical introductions. This fact can be observed in a complete form in the first parts of the Firdaws al-Ḥikmaḥ of ʿAli b. Raban al-Ṭabarī, a third- century scholar, and Al-Muʿālajāt al-Buqrāṭiyyah of Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ṭabarī, a fourth-century scholar, and the reason for it is that early physicians understood medicine and philosophy to be interconnected studies, it even being said that philosophy was the medicine of the spirit and medicine the philosophy of the body. The previous mentioned book by Galen, known under the title Kitāb Jālīnῡs fī anna-hu yajibu an yakῡna al-ṭabīb al-fāḍil faylasuf, underlines this point, and perhaps the reason that Ibn Sīnā entitled his medical work the Qānῡn and his philosophical work the Shifīʾ was this very interconnection of the two sciences. Having said this, two manuscripts can now be mentioned. The first is Al-Shukῡk ʿalā Jālīnῡs al-ḥakīm by Muḥammad b. Zakarīya al-Rāzī.21 Two manuscripts of this work survive in Turkish libraries, but the best manuscript is that to be found in the Kitābkhānah-yi Millī-yi Mulk in Iran in a well-preserved collection, number 2124. Al-Rāzī criticizes and refutes a number of Galen’s medical works in this book, but the first book of his which he scrutinizes is his al-Burhān, and the first question which he broaches is that of the genesis of the universe, where al-Rāzī says that what Galen has to say is self-contradicting because in this book he upholds the eternity of the universe while elsewhere in his writings he upholds the temporality of the universe. The interesting point here is that al-GhazzāIī mentions al-Rāzī’s criticism of Galen in the matter of the eternity of the universe in his Tahāfut al-falāsifah, although he does not say from where he is narrating it.22 It should be mentioned that, despite the fact that many books were written against al-Rāzīʾs Al-Shukῡk by such scholars as Ibn Abī Ṣādiq al-Nīshāpῡrī, a fifth-century scholar, Ibn Rīḍwān al-Miṣrī (d. 453/1061), and Maimonides (d. 601/1205), only the refutatıon by Ibn Zuhar al-Andalusī, Avenzoar to the West, (d. 456/1064) survives, and  that in a unique manuscript entitled al-Bayān wa-al-tabyīn fi al-intisār li- Jālīnῡ kept in the Navāb Madrasah in Mashhad. The present writer has the intention of soon publishing an edition of al-Rāzī’s al-Shukῡk based on three manuscripts and containing selected parts of the refutation of Ibn al-Zuhar.

Another work in which philosophy and medicine come together is the Bustān al-aibbā’ wa-rawat al-alibbā’ by Saʿd b. al-Yās b. al-Maṭrān (d. 587/1191), the physician of Salāḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyubī, which is preserved in the public library attached to the Āstan-i Quds-i Razavī in Mashhad under catalogue number 4210. Circumstantial evidence points to the manuscript either being in the author’s own handwriting or having been approved by the author. In this book Ibn al-Maṭrān discusses a variety of matters connected with medicine and the history of medicine, and drugs and medicaments, and the majority of the philosophical topics in the book are to do with the natural realm: the elemental composition of man and the relation of this to the world, together with the various natural effects the world has on bodily and spiritual existence. This book was used and transmitted by scholars after Ibn al-Maṭrān such as ʿAbd al-Laṭtīf al-Baghdādī and Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿah. The present author published this book in the form of a photographic reproduction with an introduction and summary of the contents in Persian together with several indices in Tehran in 1367 AH.

Among philosophical manuscripts of later centuries, mention can be made of the Shar al-llāhiyāt min Kitāb al-Shifāʾ by Mullā Mahdi al-Narāqī (d. 1209/1794). He wrote this ‘compressed’ commentary which reached the beginning of second Faṣl of the second maqālah. It was on the basis of a manuscript of this work in the handwriting of the author himself which was in the possession of Ḥasan Narāqī, a descendant of the author, and which was compared with a manuscript written by the author himself in 1203/1789, that the present writer published an edition of the text, together with the notes of Mīrzā Ṭāhir Tunakābunī in 1986. In this manuscript is written: ‘I saw this manuscript in Kāshān, and the author has made extremely exact observations on the Shaykhʾs [Ibn Sīnā’s] text’. Mīrāz Ṭāhir Tunkābunī was himself much given to copying and editing manuscripts, as is testified by these words on the verso of the first page of a manuscript of the Shaykh al-Mufid’s Awāʾil al-maqālāt ‘I was in the library of Muḥammad Tāhir Tabrisī in Jumādaʾ al-Ukhrā 1355, and while studying it compared it with a sound manuscript.’

Among surviving manuscripts from nearer to our times in the author’s own hand, there are two books by Mīrzā Afḍal Allāh Shaykh al-Islām al- Zanjānī (d. 1302/1885).  These are the Tārīkh al-Shīʿah and Al-Firaq al- Islāmiyyah, which the author composed in a compressed form and supported with editorial comments. One of the virtues of these two books is that the author used many of the sources which were at that time in manuscript from his comprehensive, large, and rich personal library, among which were the works of al-Ashʿarī, the Muʿtazilite Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, and the Shīʾite Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. Both these works are now being printed under the direction of the present writer.

As a result of his own enthusiasm for philosophical and theological manuscripts, Shaykh al-Islām al-Zanjānī gave instructions for the copying of several texts. Accordingly, in the Kitābkhānah-yi Shῡrā-yi Islāmī-yi Īrān in Tehran there is a manuscript of the Shaykh al-Mufidʾs Awāʾil al-maqālāt together with his al-Masāʾil al-mukabbariyyah, catalogue number 1332, at the end of which are the words: ‘[Copied] at -the blessed behest of his gracious eminence, the learned authority, the adept, the distinguished, Shaykh al-Islām al-Zanjānī, long may his exalted shadow continue.’

Since up to now it is Arabic manuscripts that have retained our attention, it is fitting that the rest of this paper should be devoted to manuscripts in the Persian language.

Among these is the Commentary on the Rubāʿīyāt of Jalāl al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Dawwānī, the ninth-century philosopher and theologian. This Slim volume was copied by Ghiyāth al-Dīn b. Maḥmud b. Muḥammad Bāqir in 983 AH, and the same scribe made a copy of al-Ḥawāshī al- jamāliyyah in the same year in Herat in the Malik Barzgar Madrasah.23

The author quotes a rubāʿī, then proceeds to give a word-by-word commentary, and then explains its meaning and its mystical and philosophical connotations. For example under the following rubāʿī concerning the Eternal Archetypes:

The Forms, which are the locus of sanctity of the sovereign of sempiternity,

Are in one respect existent, and in another non-existence.

While in their own essence they are less than nothing, They are also the Alexandrian heliostat and Jamshīdʾs Cup.

he says: ‘The Eternal Archetypes, which, according to this group are the a divine epistemic forms, are sempiternal in terms of the epistemic eternity of God, and in so far as their attributes are existentially manifest they are existents; but in so far as their essences remain in their own inexistence they are non-existent and nothing, both epistemically and in reality. They are thus the mirror of real existence, for the reason that has been explained.’

Another Persian language philosophical manuscript, no bigger than a monograph, is the Risālah Shaḥ Maqāmāt al-ʿārifīn by al-Abharī (Sipahsālār Library, Tehran). At the beginning of the book the author draws the readerʾs attention to the ninth namt of Ibn Sīnā’s Kitāb al-Ishārāt, which is quoted in the Maqāmāt al-ʿārifīn, and says: ‘Know that Salāmān is a metaphor for you, and that Absāl is a metaphor for your spiritual degree; if you are one of his people, then decipher the allusion, if you are able.’ Then, at the behest of his close and dear friend, he proceeds to set forth the interpretation and decipher the allusions of the elements of this story. By way of illustration, here is a quotation from the book: ‘When he says "Forty daily mansions", he means that in man there are forty modes fixed through divine wisdom; however much the possessor travels, he seeks to master these forty stations, and to familiarize himself with those forty wisdoms which God had brought together in the modes.’

In conclusion, it should be said that the purpose of this paper was to demonstrate that more attention and care should be given to manuscripts of the Islamic intellectual sciences, which are of distinct kinds from the point of view of size and quality, and which contain much valuable material. Since a great many of these manuscripts have not been made known or researched, it is a requirement that a comprehensive catalogue be prepared of extant books and monographs in philosophy, theology, and logic throughout the world, with accompanying annotation concerning their scientific value, and that such a catalogue should then be distributed to universities and centres of learning around the world, that through conferences and seminars scholars should discuss these works and their value. As a result a great many matters would be recovered from the pages of the scientific heritage of the past which would then be at the disposal of human civilization for the advancement and improvement of man’s condition.

Source note:
This article was published in the following book:
The Significance of Islamic Manuscripts: Proceedings of the inaugural conference of Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 30th November_ 1st December 1991_ English version, 1992, Al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, London, UK, pp. 145-157.

Please note that some of the images used in this online version of this article might not be part of the published version of this article within the respective book
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