Make your own free website on Tripod.com

HISTORIOGRAPHY


The desire to preserve the records of human achievement is a very primitive one and dates back to the earliest known civilization. Such records were laid down on stupas, stone slabs, wood and leather pieces, and are still preserved in the great museums of the world. The oldest book, written in Egypt, also relates to history, but the profound development of historiography and its elevation to the status of a science owes much to the genius of Muslirn historians. Writing in the History of Muslim Historiography Franz Rosenthal admits that 'Muslim historiography has at all times been united by the closest ties with the general development of scholarship in Islam, and the position of historical knowledge in MusIim education has exercised a decisive influence upon the intellectual level of historicai writing....The Muslims achieved a definite advance beyond previous historical writing in the sociological understanding of history and the systematisation of historiography. The development of modern historical writing seems to have gained considerably in speed and substance through the utilization of a Muslim Literature which enabled western historians, from the seventeenth century on, to see a large section of the world through foreign eyes. The Muslim historiography helped indirectly and modestly to shape present day historical thinking."

The sciences and arts which have beell cultivated under diverse civilizations may be traced to even earlier periods for their initial growth. Arguments and reasoning were used since time immemorial, but it was Aristotle who systematized the art of reasoning and gave it the name of logic. So it was with historiography. People always took pride in relating the achievements and exploits of their ancestors, but the Arabs, always had a particular attachment for their forebearers. The lineage of each dan was sacredly guarded against being forgotten by their progeny. Even the lineage of horses and camels were preserved by the Arabs.

The advent of Islam paved the way for the growth of historiography in Arabia. The abundance of historical data in the Holy Quran provided the followers of Islam with an incentive to study history. The learned discourses of the Holy Prophet of Islam were always punctuated with historical references to the past, which awakened an interest hitherto unknown, for historiography, among the adherents of the new faith. In the initial stages, historical events were mostly committed to memory which led to differences in the reports of the same speeches and events. The well known oration of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, on his first entry into Kufa has been differently reported by various historians. But later on, with the appearance of celebrated historians like Waqidi, Balazuri, Dinawari and Tabari large volumes of history were compiled. The works of some of these great historical minds have been translated into European languages. "The main task of mankind was accomplished by Muslims," says George Sarton. "The greatest philosopher, Al-Farabi was a Muslim; the greatest mathematicians Abul Kamil and Ibrahim Ibn Sinan were Muslims: the greatest geographer and encyclopaedist Al-Masudi was a Muslim; the greatest historian, AlTabari was still a Muslim."'

History has always been considered as the most important subject in the educational curriculum of Muslims. A thorough knowledge of history was essential for princes, ministers and scholars alike. No education was considered to be complete without a detailed background of history. Even the soldiers were taught the history of the rise and fall of different nations especially that of the Muslim powers.


Early Historians
The anxiety to know the minutest details about the life of the Holy Prophet and his gifted associates led to great efforts on the part of Muslims to acquire an authentic version of the facts and to preserve them for posterity. The traditions of the Holy Prophet collected by some of the celebrated historians of Islam formed the greatest biographical history that had ever been compiled. Arab traditionalists and historians devised many means of ascertaining the authenticity of the facts. The reports were obtained and compiled through a chain of reporters and transmitters whose trustworthiness and origin were fully investigated. This necessitated a knowledge of the history of the transmitters which ultimately led to the development of geography and biography among the Arabs. In the beginning the source of information was confined to oral reports only. One device adopted by the early historians of Islam in recording the facts was dating them by year, month and even by day. According to the historian Buckla,'this practice was not adopted in Europe before 1597 A. D.' Another method, that of historical research and criticism originated by the celebrated historian Ibn Khaldun and practised by the later historians both in the East and the West could not be surpassed even during modern times.

History provides one of the most copious sections of Arabic literature. A western orientalist WusTenfeld collected more than 590 historical works written in Arabic during the first thousand years of the Islamic era. The writing of history commenced during the Omayyad period and was developed during the Abbasid Rule. The author of Kashfuz Zunun gives a list of 1,300 history books written in Arabic during the first few centuries of Islam. Only a few historical works of the Omayyad period have survived. The early historians depended on the continuity of the chain of reports, more particularly on the authenticity and the integrity of the reporters while recording the facts and did not exercise much power of analysis, criticism, comparison or inference. The early historical compositions were mostly based on legends, traditions, biographies, genealogies and narratives obtained through a chain of intermediate oral reporters each of whom passed on the original report to his successor.

The composition of the real books of Islamic history started in the second century A. H. "In historical research" says Ameer Ali, "The Muslims have not been behind any other nation, ancient or modern....Archaeology, geography and ethnology were included in history....Between the simple work of Ibn Ishaq to the universal history of Ibn Khaldun there is a great difference, but the intervening space is occupied ·by a host of writers."'

Awanah bin al-Hakam, was among the transmitters of knowledge, who lived before the advent of books. He was a man of humble origin, his father being a slave tailor. He died either in 147 or 158 A. H. He was a great source of information for early Arab historians and is considered an authority on the Arab conquests.

Among early Arab historians, Ali bin Muhammad bin Abdulla Madaini occupies an outstanding place. He was a copious writer who was born in 135 A. H. and died in 225 A. H. He toured Basrah, Madain and later settled in Baghdad where he was patronised by the celebrated musician Ishaq al-Mausili. He had divided his works into groups of books--the first dealing with the records of the Prophet, the second with records of Quraish, the third with the marriage of nobles and the records of women, the fourth with records of the Caliphs from Hazrat Abu Bakr to Mutasim, the fifth with historical events in Islam, the sixth with Islamic conquest, the seventh with the records of the Arabs and the eighth with petical history. Madaini is cited as an authority by later historians. Yaqut in his historical dictionary of authors, gives a list of kutub muallafah, said to be written by Madaini. Abu Mikhnaf and Madaini are according to Brunnow well informed and impartial. The writing of Madaini influenced a number of writers including the Spanish Ibn Abd Rabbihi, whose collection of the speeches of Hazrat Ali has been preserved. His collection of the correspondence of Hazrat Ali, Muawiyah and others is considered to be very reliable.

Hisham bin Muhammad bin al-Sayyib al-Kalbi of Kufa was another historian who was much influenced by Madaini and adopted his method of approach as well as his subject matter. His list of works exceeded 150 and he is considered an authority on genealogies. One of his works Kilab-al-Asham has been printed. His books dealt with details on varied subjects relating to Arab life such as archaeology, religion, judges, kalzins and jinns. Of his 129 works listed by al Fihrist of Nadim, only three have survived. His other works were extensively quoted by later historians including Tabari and Yaqut. The oldest extant Arabic history is the biography of the Prophet written by Ibn Ishaq at the behest of the Abbasid Caliph Mansur. Ibn Ishaq died in 151 A. H.

Muhammad bin Omar al-Waqidi (130--207 A. H.) was the most outstanding historian of the second century of the Islamic era. He was a more serious writer than Madaini or Kalbi and was a pupil of Hazrat Sufian Sauri. He is considered an authority on tradition, Islamic jurisprudence and history. He possessed a big library which was loaded on 120 camels when it was moved from one part of Baghdad to the other. He was a prolific writer on varied subjects. His special attention to chronology has been commended by western writers. He wrote Maghazi which dealt with the conquests of Uqabah in West Africa. His secretary, Ibn Said wrote the first classified biography dealing with the life of the Holy Prophet of Islam and his companions.

As the record of events were mostly based on the verbal reports of eye-witnesses or persons connected with them, writers had to undertake extensive tours of distant lands, which led to the growth of travel, geographical and other literature connected with the various regions. History has always been popular among Muslims and during the second century, people became particularly interested in this subject.


Third Century
The third century of the Islamic era was a period of great intellectual attainments in the history of the Arabs. It was in this period that some of the brightest luminaries appeared on the horizon of Arab learning, whose light guided later writers in different branches of knowledge.

One of the earliest historians of the third century was Ahmad bin Yahya Balazuri, who died in 279 A. H. Like Tabari, he travelled extensively in quest of historical knowledge. His two extant historical works are Futuh-al-Buldan and Ansab-al-Ashraf. I;utuh-al-Buldan deals with the record of Muslim conquests and also describes the subsequent history of the countries concerned. His other book Ansabal-Ashraf (book of lineage of nobles) which was originally printed in 40 volumes is still in existence in Constantinople. The method followed in this book was to collect narratives dealing with particular events. The division of history into episodes makes the author go backward as well as forward in time. This work forms a link between the separate narratives of Madaini and the continuous history of Tabari.

Abu Hanifa Dinawari was an authority on astronomy and botany and also left behind valuable works on mathematics, geography, philosophy, literature and history. He wrote a work in 13 volumes on the Quran. Yaqut in his dictionary of authors gives a long list of books written by Dinawari on diverse subjects. His Al-Akhbar-al-Tiwal (Long narratives) is a universal history up to the period of Mutasim.

Another historian of this period Abdulla bin Muslim bin Qutaibah (213--270.A. H.) was the Kazi of Dinawar. He wrote several important treatises on literary subjects including Adab al-Katib which is one of the three authoritative works on literature, the other two being Kamil of Mubarrad and Bayan of Jahiz. His historical work entitled Kitab al-Ma'arif (Book of Knowledge) is a storehouse of information about the Holy Prophet and Arab genealogical table. He also wrote Book of Sovereignty and Government dealing with the history of the Islamic Empire upto the time of Harun-ar-Rashid.

Ahmad bin Ishaq bin Jafar Yaqubi, a great admirer of the house of the Prophet, devoted much space to their wise sayings. His arrangement of facts by reigns is a more modern system, than that used by Tabari who arranged his events chronologicaly.

Muhammad Ibn Jarir Abu Jafar al-Tabari (838 923 A. D.) is recognised as the father of Islamic history and as one of the world's greatest historians. Born in Tabaristan, the mountainous district of Persia situated alongside the Caspian Sea coast,Tabari is said to have learnt the Quran by heart at the age of seven. He received his education at Rayy, Baghdad, Wasit, Basrah, Kufa and Fustat (Cairo). He made extensive study tours of Persia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt in quest of knowledge and to collect data for his historical works.

On one occasion he had to sell the sleeves of his shirt to buy bread. According to Yaqut (Volume VI, page 424) for forty years Tabari wrote 40 pages daily, Yaqut says that Tabari was contemplating the writing of two books - a history and a commentary on the Holy Qur'an of 30 thousand pages each, but his friends advised him that humanlife would not be sufficient to: write as well as to read through such gigantic works. Hence, Tabari reduced the two books to:l/lO, i.e., 3,000 pages each. Tabari lived for 85 years, died in 923 A. D. and was buried in Baghdad. among his pupils was Ahamd bin Kamil, the person to whom Miskawayh owes his guidance on history.

Among his works on diverse subjects, the two most outstanding which influenced later writers are the exhaustive commentary on the Quran and his universal history. His commentary on the Quran comprising about 3,000 pages is a standard book; and includes the largest collection of exegetical traditions. His monumental work is the universal history, which according to George Sarton is 'remarkably elaborate and accurate.'"All the books were eclipsed by the Annals of Tabari, whose fame lasts up to the present time The value of this bobk is very great--The author's selection of traditions is usually happy and the most important episodes were treated with most fulness of details." Several translated and abridged editions of the Annals of Tabari have been published. One of these in 13 volumes was published in Leyden. His history begins with the creation of the world and continues up to 302 A.H. (915, A.D.). This was the first elaborate and complete historical work in the Arabic language and was the chief source of information and guidance for later historians including Abul Fida, Tbn Athir, Miskawayh and Lbn Kamil. He arranged the events chronologically and, his annalistic method was followed ByAlWaqidi, Miskawayh, Ibn Athiiand Abul Fida. It is said that his original work on history was 10 times more voluminous than the surviving one. His other works include his voluminous legal treatise Ikhtilaf comprising 3,000 leaves, Tahdhibul Athar dealing with the traditions of the Prophet and Al-Baist, a jurist treatise.

Abul Faraj al-Isfahani (897--967 A.D.) wrote kitab al-dghani, a store-house of information on Arabic poetry, music and archaeology. It is an invaluable work on Arab antiquity, which has been called the "Register of Arabs" by Ibn Khaldun.

Arabic historical composition reached its highest point in Tabari and Masudi. Abul Hasan Ali al-Masudi (912-957 A. D.) known as the'Herodotus and Pliny' of the Arabs introduced the critical study of historical events and instead of grouping his events around years he grouped them around dynasties-a treatment which was later elaborated by Ibn Khaldun. He was very broad-minded, and had a profound knowledge of the rise and fall of the innumerable dynasties of the world. "He was also one of the first to make good use of the historical anecdotes." Masudi made an extensive study tour and wandered throughout the Islamic world in quest of first hand knowledge which enabled him to write his memorable work in 30 volumes known as Muruj al-Dhahab wa Madinal Jawahir (Meadows of gold and mines of gems). "In this encyclopaedic historio-geographical work," says Philip K. Hitti, "the author, with catholicity and scientific curiosity, carried his researches beyond the typically Muslim subjects into Indo Persian, Roman and Jewish history."' His other notable work al-Tanbih wal Ishraf outlines his philosophy of Nature and his theory regarding evolution.


Fourth century
The fourth century of the Islamic era, was also a period of great intellectual activity, which witnessed therise of the Buwayhids, who were great patrons of learned men.

Ibn Miskawayh who died in 1030 A D. is distinguished for treating history as an organic whole, displaying its human and instructive aspects. Miskawayh who held a high office in the court of the greatest of the Buwayhid, Abdul al-Daulah, is indebted for his historical knowledge to Ibn Kamil. the bio-grapher and disciple of Tabari. He was a philosopher and physician, and ranks among the leading Muslim historians. His universal history (979-80) known as Tajarib al-Umam deals with the period from earliest times to 980 A. D., and the last two volumes, according to a western critic, "contain original material and show him a writer of great talents." Miskawayh wrote copiously and informatively on the economy, taxation and military matters of the states. "He is singularly outspoken in his judgments and free from partisanship. Unlike Tabari, who is a theologian, he exhibits little religious partisanship", says a European writer.

The number of historical and biographical works written during the fourth century A. H. and after was very large. The most outstanding historians of this period were Masudi, Miskawayh, Beruni, Ibn Athir, Abul Faraj Isfahani, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Khalikan, Asakir and Suyuti. Beruni (973--1048, A.D.), the celebrated luminary of the court of Mahmud of Ghazna, wrote kitab-al-Hind which gives the most authoritative account of ancient India. The kitab al-yamini (history' of Mahmud of Ghazna) written by Utbi (d/1036) set an example of rhetorical composition in history which was followed by Imamud-Din (d/1201) in his historical works about Saladin, and the Saljuq dynasty.

Ibn Athir (1160-1234 A.D.) is the celebrated author of al-KamilJi al-Tarikh (The complete book of chronicles) which may be compared favourably with the best historical works of Europe. Another work composed by Ibn Athir known as Asad al-Ghabah (The lions of the thicket) is a collection of the biographies of the 7,500: companions of the prophet of Islam.

Ali bin al-HasanIbnAsakir (499-571 A. H.) who died in1177 A.D., was a great biographer. He travelled extensively like Khatib, another earlier historian. His-greatest work is al-Tarikh al-Kabir dealing with the life of the great men of Damascus. Originafly it was in 80 uolumes but at present it exists in 30 volumes only.

Another notable historian was Al-Jauzi (11861257 A.D.) a contemporary of Ibn Athir. He wrote Mirat al-Zaman fi Tarikh .al-Ayynm, a universal history starting from the beginning of the world upto 1256A.D. Taqiuddin Ahmad al-Maqrizi, a contemporary of Ibn Khaldun wrote-a monumental work on Egypt detailing the political, religious, social, commercial, archaeological and administrative conditions of that country. It is a mine of information on Egyptian antiquities and exhibits Jalaluddin Suyuti was a prolific writer, who wrote 560 works on theology, history and philosophy. His Tarikhul Khulafa is a popular history book on the subject.

The greatest historian of the later Abbasid period was Zbn Khalikan (1282 A.D.) the chief judge of Syria. His great biographical dictionary has earned international fame. Even before him Yaqut had written a dictionary of literati and Ibn Asakir had composed the life of the distinguished men of Damascus. But the biographical dictionary of Ibn Khalikan has earned a reputation for graphic description of personalities and clarity of vision hitherto unsurpassed.


Spanish Historians
Muslim Spain, which was the cradle of European civilization, has produced a number of well known historians. The history of Spain known as Al-Matin was written by Abu Maruan of Cordova in sixty volumes.

Abu Obaid Abdulla al-Bakri who flourished in Cordova and died in 1094 At D., was a renowned geographer whose Book on Roads and Provinces is a geographical compilation containing historical and ethnographical informations. He also wrote a dictionary of ancient Arabia. Abu-al-Walid Abdulla al-Earadi (1332--1406 A. D.) was the foremost biographer of Spain who wrote Tarikh Ulema Andalus.
Ibn Said al-qurtabi (1029--1070 A. D.) was a well known Muslim historian and astronomer of Spain who flourished in Toledo. In 1067-68, he wrote kitab al-tarif li tabaqat al-uman, on universal history. In another work, he dealt with the life and achievements of learned men--both Muslims and non-Muslims. Science received much attention in his historical work.

Lisan-al-din ibn al-Khatib (1313--1374 A.D.) was a contemporary of Ibn Khaldun. He held a high position under the Nasrid Sultan Yusuf Abul Hajjaj (1334-54 AD.) and his son. He was a victim of private intrigues. He was a versatile writer, who left behind him 60 works. The most important of these was his history of Granada.

Ibn Khaldun (1332--1406 A.D.) the talented Muslim philosopher of history and the greatest intellect of his age is one of the most outstanding thinkers that the world has ever produced. Being the founder of the science of sociology, Ibn Khaldun had the unique distinction of treating history as a science by supporting his facts with reasoning. "There is nothing in the Christian literature of the Middle ages," says a celebrated western critic, "worthy of being compared with it (Khaldun's history) and no christian wrote a version with such clearness and precision on any Muslim State."'

Born in Tunis (North Africa) Ibn Khaldun had a chequered career during his early life, taking active part in the intriguing power politics of the small North African principalities, enjoying alternately the favour as well as disfavour of the rulers and at times taking refuge in the distant Granada. His revolutionary spirit, being fed up with the dirty politics of those times, was obliged to take a short respite of about four years in the suburbs of Tunis, where he completed his immortal Prolegomena in 1377 A. D. Thereafter he shifted to Tunis to finish his masterly work Kitab al-Ibar (World History). Here he could take advantage of the reference books available in the Imperial Library.

Ibn Khaldun has acquired world wide reputation and occupies the outstanding place amongst the galaxy of the world's historical philosophers. He is distinguished from the rest of the historians, because he treated history as a science and not merely as a narrative. He wrote history in the light of his new method of explanation and reasoning and developed it as a social philosophy. Explaining the art of writing history, Ibn Khaldun says in Prolegomena, "It is only by an attentive examination and well sustained application that we can discover the truth, and guard ourselves against errors and mistakes. In fact, if we were merely to satisfy ourselves by reproducing the records transmitted by tradition without consulting the rules furnished by experience, the fundamental principles of the art of Government, the Nature, even, of the particular civilization, or the circumstances which characterise the human society; if we are not to judge the wants which occurred in the distant times by those which are occurring under our eyes, if we are not to -compare the past with the present, we can hardly escape from falling into errors and losing the way of truth."' He being the originator of sociology, philosophical history and political economy, his works possess striking originality, recording a new system in the understanding and explaining the social phenomena as well as an understanding, criticising and analysing history.' He has divided his historical work into three parts. The first part known as his. famous Prolegomena deals with society and its origin, sovereignty, the birth of towns and villages, trades, means of livelihood and sciences. This is the: best part of the book, in which the writer ascends. the summits of creativeness, reviewing the diverse subjects like political economy, sociology and history with striking originality and brilliance. The statement of Farabi about the origin of towns and villages is only theoretical, while Khaldun has viewed it from a social point of view. The third chapter of the book deals with the state and sovereignty. In it the learned author has propounded his advanced political theories which were later incorporated in the works of such celebrated political thinkers as Machiavelli and Vice. Machiavelli's Prince, written in the stormy days of Italy,a century later, bears a close resemblance to Prolegonoena and it is probable that the celebrated Italian borrowed some of his ideas from the works of Ibn Khaldun. "At any rate", says Prof. Gumplowicz, "the priority must rightly be attributed to the Arab sociologist, as regards those counsels which Machiavelli, a century later gave to the rulers in his Prince

The third part of his great historical work, Kitabal-lbar which comprises two volumes, deals elaborately with the history of the Berbers and other neighbouring tribes. It also contains the autobiography of the author, known as Al-Taarif. Before him autobiographies were written in diary form, events having no connection with each other. Ibn Khaldun was the first to write a long systematic autobiography. The Al-Taarif may favourably be compared with the autobiography of Benvenuti Cellini the well-known Italian artist. Both have an air off rankness in them. "Ibn Khaldun" writes De. Beer, "is undoubtedly the first who tried to explain fully the evolution and progress or society, as being caused by certain causes and factors, and to explain the characteristics of race, climate, the means of production, etc., and their effects on the formation of man's mind and sentiment, as well as the formation of society. In the march of civilization he· perceives an organised internal harmony"."

Paying glowing tributes to Khaldun's genius and achievements, Philip K. Hitti writes, "As one who endeavoured to formulate laws of national progress and decay, Ibn Khaldun may be considered the discoverer as he himself claimed of the true scope and nature of history or at least the real founder of the science of sociology. No Arab writer, inded no European, had ever taken a view of history at once so comprehensive and philosophic. By the consensus of all critical opinion, Ibn Khaldun was the greatest historical philosopher Islam produced and one of the greatest of all time".' "Not only is he the greatest historian of the Middle ages", says George Sarton, "towering like a giant over a tribe of pygmies, but one of the first philosophers of history, a forerunner of Machiavelli, Bodin, Vice, Comte and Cournot"."

There was no dearth of Arabic historians and biographers after Ibn Khaldun. During the Ayyubid and Mamluk periods a number of cornprehensive histories and biographies were written in Egypt. A number of brilliant historical works and chronicles were written during the Mughal period in India including Ain-e-Akbari of Abul Fatal and Tozak-eJahangiri, written by Emperor Jehangir. Mulla Badayuni and Ziauddin Barni were celebrated historians of the Muslim period in India.

Historiography has always been the favourite subject of study in Muslim Societies both high and low. Its unique growth under Muslim patronage may be due to certain causes. "Historiography was instrumental," explains Franz Rosenthal, "in firmly planting into the hearts of a large number of Muslims the ideals and aspirations of Islam. Historiography also served to keep alive the memory of the significance of their distinctive national heritage for the various nations of Islam...... It always maintained a position in which it was able to stimulate a certain interest in valuable aspects of cultural activity which were in danger to be entirely eliminated from Muslim life. Besides in its close association with biography, historiography was the only effective vehicle in Islam for concrete self-expression and for the factual observation of life, for looking at life as it was and for analysing man and his aspirations as the sole source of cultural developments".l

Thus Muslims, being highly politically minded and immensely attached to their ancestral traditions have made great contributions to the development of historiography in the world.

Copied from 'THE ISLAMIC SCHOLAR'