Historians in North Africa and Spain
Many historians flourished in Marrakech, most living in the surrounding of Caliphs, such as Abu Bakr al-Sanhadji, who wrote extensively on the Almohads, and whose works were traced by Levi Provencal to the Spanish collection at the Escurial. As observed from very close, the events he describes bear the best of authenticity on the Almohad movement in history.
Al-Marrakushi also flourished in North Africa at the end of the thirteenth century. Abd al-Wahid Al-Marrakushi was Born in Marrakech on the eighth of July 1185. When nine years of age, he left his native place for Fez, a city renowned for its learned men, where he studied the Qur'an and was the pupil of many eminent doctors, well skilled in grammar and the reading of the sacred Book. In 1199 he met the great physician Abu-Bekr ibn Zuhr (Avenzoar) (see entry on Seville at Muslimheritage.com) who at that time was far advanced in years, but treated Abd al-Wahid, a youth of fourteen, with great kindness, and in the year (1206-7) he met the son of the celebrated philosopher Ibn Tofail. In the beginning of this same year, he crossed over to Spain, where he studied under a great number of learned men, well versed in every branch of science, and later studied polite literature at Cordova, under the direction of al-Himyari (died in H. 610), a Professor who he praises very much and with who he remained for two years. In 1217 Al-Marrakushi left Seville for Egypt, then like every scholar of the era, he made his pilgrimage to Mecca in the year 1221. In 1224 he completed a history of the Almohad dynasty, preceded by a summary of Spanish history from the Muslim conquest to 1087 (Kitab al-mujib fi talkhis akhbar ahl al-Maghrib). (There is a French translation by Fagnan. Extracts can be found in Wustenfeld, and Levi Provencal. The text has been edited by R.P. A. Dozy). Al-Marrakushi was very keen on historical truthfulness:
"I have put down nothing but what I have found true, borrowing it from books [in the historical introduction], or having heard it from trust-worthy persons, or having seen it myself: with the firm purpose of telling the truth and of being just, as it has been my utmost care not to conceal a single good quality, which the persons I haven spoken of possessed, nor to bestow upon them the slightest encomium they did not deserve."
Dozy insists that in his History of the Almohads, the readers will find that the information Al-Marrakushi gives is really invaluable, as everywhere, almost at every page, he quotes contemporary witnesses of the events he relates, and amongst these not only the names of the highest officers of the state but of Princes themselves. He himself tells us that he derived the greatest part of his narrative from a highly respectable authority, namely, from Yaqub the grandson of the founder of the dynasty, and as he could consult no book on the history of the Almohads, his information was original.
Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi wrote in 1312 a history of Africa and Spain, Kitab al-bayan al-mughrib, which includes the most detailed account of the Ummayads of Cordova. (Dozy translated the work into French). His work, or more particularly the third volume, is a most useful source, because it offers the most detailed narrative of the events of the civil wars. Ibn Idhari al-Marrakushi did not see himself as a hahith (researcher) but as a jami' (compiler). He says in the introduction to his history that "I have collected in this book notices and anecdotes taken from the histories and accounts, which I have reunited and have chosen points of interest, uniting what is old with what is new." He also quotes the sources he has used: among the twenty six books actually mentioned are included the Muqtabis, the Dhakhira of Ibn Bassam, and the Alkhbar al-Dawlat al-amiriya of Ibn Hayyan. There is no mention of the Matin but it is probable that he had access to information from the Ta'rikh al-kabir, even if second-hand. The Bayan, at least in its first three volumes which describe the events from 2I AH to the arrival of the Almoravids, is a ta'rikh ‘ala s-sinin majmu'a, a carefully selected collection of data from earlier writers, and its importance lies in the nature of that data, much of which would otherwise be unavailable today.
Muslim Spain produced a number of historians and chroniclers of the first order. The beginning of a long development of historical writing was made with the works of Ibn Habib (d. in Cordova 239/854),Yahya al-Ghazal (d. 864) who was the author of an urjuza, i.e. a poem in the rajaz metre, on the Muslim conquest of Spain, lbn Muzayn (d 872-3), Tamim b. Amir b. Alqama (d.896) author of an urjuza on Spanish Muslim history down to time end of the reign of Abd ar-Rahman II (i.e 852) and most important of all, Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Razi called at-Tarikhi (The historian) (274/887-344/955) a member of a family of historians whose works included an extensive Akhbar Muluk al-Andalus wa-Khadamatihim wa-Ghazawatihim wa-Nakabatihim (Accounts of the Kings of Spain, their Servitors, their Wars and Misadventures) and a Sifat Qurtuba wa-Khitatiha wa-Manazil al-Uzam' biha (Description of Cordova and its Settlements and the Houses of the Great therein).
(For further information about these early Spanish historical works, which for the most part are lost or if they survive do so only fragmentarily, ought to be consulted the Ensayo Bio-bibliografico sobre los Historiadores y Geógrafos Arabigo-Españoles of Francisco Pons Boigues).
We still have al-Iqd al-Farid (The Precious Necklace) of Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (born in Cordova in 246/860, died 328/940), which includes among a multiplicity of matters of its numerous books are (each named after a precious stone, and thought of as the jewels which form the ‘Necklace') a history of the Umayyads of Spain, culminating with a rajaz poem on the military expeditions under Abd ar-Rabman III an-Nassir. Ibn Abd Rabbihi whose forte was adab and who wrote much poetry is not esteemed highly as a historian but this part of his work possesses some interest, in view of its being contemporary with the events it claims to portray. Two other remarkable works were produced in the fourth/tenth century, the Akhbar Majmüa fi Fath al-Andalus (Collected Notices on the Conquest of al-Andalus), by an unknown author who lived in the notable reign of Abd ar-Rabman III an-Nasir, founder of the Spanish Caliphate
(300/912—350/961), and the Ta'rikh Iftitah al-Andalus (History of the Conquest of al-Andalus) of Ibn al-Qutiya (d. 367/977). Both these books have been known in the West at least since the nineteenth century.
The author of the Tarikh Iftitah al-Andalus is specially interesting as a descendant of the former ruling dynasty in Visigothic Spain before the coming of the Muslims, and the name Ibn al-Qutiyya, ‘son of the Gothic woman', no doubt refers to Sarah the Goth, a descendant of Witiza, the last member of the dynasty who actually reigned (701-710). Ibn al-Qutiyya himself was a typical Muslim scholar, and highly regarded for his historical knowledge. He wrote about the early Umayyad Caliphs of Spain, and many subsequent and even modern writers have used his work. Amongst these is Reinaud who composed his `Invasion des sarrazins,' and above all Dozy who wrote his `Histoire des Musulmans d'Espagne (History of Muslim Spain). (The work of Ibn Quttiyya is available only in one manuscript, No 1867 at the Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris. Another copy was kept in Constantine, Algeria, in the rich collection of Si Hamouda, but the vagaries of history (and the violent history of French Algeria) have destroyed this collection. Cherbonneau has used the Ms 1867 to publish translations of two extracts the first and the shortest relating to the rule of al-Hakam ben Hisham (i.e Hakam I). The second, longer version relates to the Muslim conquest of Spain).
Said Al-Andalusi (d.1034) a judge at Toledo, was the author of Tabaqat al-Umam. In it he gives a wide spectrum on civilisation up to his time. He studies the people and nations that cultivate science and ranks amongst them the Arabs, Hindus, Iranians, Greeks, and Jews, showing their contribution to scientific progress.
Al-Humaydi (d.1095) who came from the city of Majorqa was a student of Ibn Haitham. He emigrated to the Orient because of troubles in Spain, and established himself in Baghdad. He wrote Jadh'watu-i-muktabis (The Sparkle of Fire) from the Muktabis or an abridgment of the above work, which is in the Bodl. Lib., Hunt. Its contents are the lives of eminent Spanish Muslems, divided into ten parts, and preceded by a valuable historical introduction. It gives in alphabetical order the biographies of the main traditionalists, jurists, political figures, army generals etc. nearly a thousand entries in total.
Ibn Hayyan (d.1076) of Cordova is without doubt the greatest historian of the whole Middle Ages. His father was secretary to the great last ruler of Muslim Spain before the Reyes of the taifas, Ibn Abi Amir al-Mansur (d. 1003). This certainly had a great influence on Ibn Hayyan's education and knowledge of history. He also had renowned teachers including the traditionist Abu Hafs Umar B. Husayn. B. Nabil. Those writers who used Ibn Hayyan's works are Ibn Haitham, Al-Humaydi, al-Dabbi, Ibn Bashkuwal, Ibn al-Abbar, Ibn Bassam, Abd Al-Wahid al-Marrakushi, Ibn Said, Ibn idhari, Ibn al-Khatib, and al-Maqqari. They ascribe seven titles to Ibn Hayyan:1. Tarikh fuqaha Cordova. 2. Al-Kitab al ladi jama'a fihi bayna kitbay al-Qubbashi wa Ibn Afif.3. Intijab al-Jamil li Ma'athir Banu Khatab.4. Al-Akhbar fi'l dawla al-Amiriya (in 100 volumes).5. al-Batsha al-Kubra (in ten volumes).6. al-Muqtabis fi Tarikh al-Andalus (in ten volumes).7. Kitab al-matin.
Ibn Hayyan was virulent in his writings of numerous personalities of his time. His bitterness towards the divisions and anarchy in the kingdoms of the tawaif and also at the scantiness of the sources at his disposal when he was writing the history of the fitna are also evident. Among the works attributed with greater or less certainty to Ibn Hayyan, two titles stand out: Kitab al-Muqtabis fi tarikh al-Andalus (Book of Him Who Seeks Knowledge about the History of al-Andalus) in ten volumes, and Kitab al matin (the Solid Book), describing the main events around him. Ibn Hayyan is mentioned as one of the glories of his country in the famous Risala in praise of Spanish Islam by ash-Shaqundi whose surviving work shows breadth of treatment and conscientious accuracy as to the facts. He sought to remain objective in his writing throughout despite the upheavals affecting Muslim Spain, not disregarding even those events that pained him. On the Muktabis, Levi Provencal says:
"Whenever one considers any particular aspect of Hispano-Umayyad history, one is nearly always obliged to revert to Ibn Hayyan. Without his Muktabis, we should have no quotations from the two Razis, nor from two other chroniclers of the 10th century. Without Ibn Hayyan, Dozy's history would have been impossible."
Ibn Hayyan's original work, the most important in the whole Muslim historiography of the Peninsula is the Matin, which covers the history of his own times, namely, nearly the whole of the 5th/11th century, with an admirable attention to detail and an exactitude which are highlighted by a rare political understanding of events. Kitab al-matin, according to Ibn Sa'id contained nearly sixty volumes, and was believed at one time to be held at the Zaytuna in Tunisia.
Although all the volumes of the Matin are lost, Ibn Hayyan's great admirer, the Spanish scholar, The Kitab al-Dhakhira fi mahasin ahl al-jaziira of Ibn Bassam, now edited in eight volumes by Ihsan ‘Abbas is a mammoth work, written in rhymed prose and dedicated to the literati of the peninsula the kutab (scribes), mu'arrikh (historians) and the shu'ara (poets). Written in the 12th century, many of its biographies are recent or contemporary and are filled out with details taken from the Matin of Ibn Hayyan. Fortunately for us, the extracts taken from the Ta'rikh al-kabir are easily distinguishable, because Ibn Bassam is careful to give notice when he is quoting from the Cordoban historian: he prefixes the words qala Ibn Hayyan ("Ibn Hayyan says") and concludes the extract with intaha kalam Ibn Hayyan ("here ends lbn Hayyan's words"). Most of the information relevant to the fitna is contained in the first volume and includes material not to be found elsewhere.
Figure (top). Map showing the extent of the Almoravid Empire.
Figure (bottom). A portrait of Ibn Hayyan (Image from www.wikipedia.org).
by: FSTC Limited, Mon 15 January, 2007