Ibn Khallikan

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al Maarri


Abu Nuwas Ibn Hani

Zu ‘r-Rumma


Yakut al-Hamawi

Abu Bakr Ibn Baki

Ibn at-Tathriya

Yakub Ibn Killis

Ibn Sabir al-Manjaniki




  Abu-l ‘Abbas Ahmad ibn Khallikan (1211-1282 CE) was born at Arbela, Iraq. By his talents and his writings he received the title of the  most learned man and the ablest historian of that city. He studied jurisprudence at Mosul and after a brief stay at Damascus, settled in Cairo, where he gained pre-eminence as a jurist, a theologian, and a grammarian. He married in 1252 CE. He left  Cairo to become judge (kadi) of Damascus in 1269 CE. When he was  removed later, he returned to Cairo to take up a professorship  and to act as deputy to the chief judge.  He returned to Damascus to a triumphant welcome to become kadi again, a post he relinquished in 1281 CE, one year before his death.


Ibn Khallikan’s most famous work is The Obituaries of Eminent Men, often referred to as The Biographical Dictionary. It has always been considered as a work of highest importance for the civil and literary history of the Muslim people.  It is of enormous scope—the English translation by Mac Guckin de Slane occupies over 2,700 pages— and it is not surprising that later Arabic historians filled their pages with extracts from his work, and that Arabic rhetoricians, grammarians, and compilers of anecdotes have taken choice passages from it. 


Khallikan restricted his coverage to those persons who held a conspicuous place in the Muslim world. The pages are full of accounts of individuals who have risen to or fallen from power by intrigue or force, of leaders of military campaigns, of learned men, and of poets. Some historians have in fact criticized him for his concision in recounting the lives of men eminent for the learning in religious law compared with the many pages he might devote to a poet or a literary man. It is also noticeable that he prefers to relate anecdotes illustrating the humanistic character of his subjects rather than describing their lives in full. It is these features that make his work of wider interest to the world outside of Islam. The short extracts presented here rely chiefly on Khallikan’s lives of the poets. The very long Arabic names included contain the genealogy of the person named, and are thus important in a biographical work.



1  al-Maarri

Abu ‘l-Ala al-Maarri was a celebrated philologer and poet, profoundly learned in all the various branches of polite literature. He studied grammar and philology under his father at Maarra, and Muhammanad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Saad the grammarian at Aleppo; his numerous works are well known, and his epistles have been carefully preserved; the Luzum, or poetical pieces, composed by him on a more complex principle than is required by the usual rules of prosody, are numerous and fill nearly five books; he composed also the Failing Spark of Tinder, with a commentary by himself, and entitled by him, Light of the Spark Which Falls. I have been told that he is also author of a book on belles-lettres, called The Forest and the Branches, in about one hundred parts; and I have been informed by a person who happened to read the one hundred and first, that he did not know what could be wanting on the subject after he had read the volume.

Abu l’Ala was the most learned man of the age and had, among other pupils, Abfi ‘l-Kasim Ali at-Tanukhi and the khatib Abu Zakariya at-Tabrizi.

He was born at Maarra about sunset on Friday the 27th of the first Rabi, A. H. 363 (December, CE 973); about the beginning of the year 367, he lost his sight from the small­pox, a white film having covered his right eye, while the left had disappeared completely.

He went to Baghdad in the year 398 (CE 1007-8), and a second time in 399, when he remained there a year and seven months; after which, he returned to Maarra and, confining himself to his house, and began to compose his works. Numbers then frequented his lessons; pupils came to him from every region; and learned men, vizirs, and persons of rank became his correspondents. He called himself the doubly imprisoned captive in allusion to his voluntary confinement, and the loss of his sight. During forty-five years he abstained from flesh through a religious motive, as he followed the opinion of those ancient philosophers who refused to eat flesh, to avoid causing the death of any animal; for in killing it, pain is inflicted; and they held it as a positive principle, that no hurt should be done to any living creature.

       Abu  ‘l-Ala died on Friday, 3rd of the first Rabi, some say the 13th, A. H. 449 (May, CE 1057), and I have been told that, in his will, he ordered the following verse to be written on his tomb:


I owe this to the fault of my father;

None owes the like to me.


2  Jamil

Abu Amr Jamil, the celebrated poet and the lover of Buthaina, was son of Abd Allah Ibn Mamar Ibn Subah Ibn Zabyan Ibn Hunn Ibn Rabia Ibn Haram lbn Dubba Ibn Abd Ibn Kathir Ibn Ozra Ibn Saad Ibn Hudaim Ibn Zaid Ibn Laith Ibn Sud Ibn Aslam Ibn Alhaf Ibn Kudaa. Jamil was one of the famous Arabian lovers: his passion for Buthaina commenced when he was a boy; on attaining manhood he sought her hand in marriage, but met with a refusal. He then composed verses in her honor and visited her secretly at Wadi ‘l-Kura, where she resided. His poetical compositions are so well known, that it is needless to quote any of them.

       Ibn Asakir relates, in his history of Damascus, that a person said to Jamil: “If you read the Koran, it would be more profitable for you than composing poetry;” to which Jamil replied: “There is Aris Ibn Malik who tells me that the Blessed Prophet said: ‘Wisdom comes certainly from some poetry.’”

       Jamil and Buthaina, who was surnamed Omm Abd al-Malik, both belonged to the tribe of Ozra; beauty and true love abounded in that tribe: it was said to an Arab of the Desert, a member of the tribe of Ozra: “What is the matter with your hearts? They are as the hearts of birds, and dissolve away like salt in water. Why have you not more firmness?” To this the other replied: “We see eyes of which you do not see the like.” Another Arab being asked to what family he belonged, made this answer: “I am of a people who, when they are in love, die.”

       A girl, who heard him say this, exclaimed: “By the Lord of the Kaaba! This man belongs to the Tribe of Ozra.”

       The following lines are by Jamil:


     My friends you told me that when summer comes

       Taima would be where my loved one lived.

        But now the summer months are gone;

        Why is my love still far from me?


        Buthaina, you bind me in state of torment,

        The turtle-dove would sympathize were I

        To accompany its complaints with mine

        In the ardor of my passion.

        The jealousy of gossips merely fires my love,

        And prohibitions simply make me persevere.

        Distance has not crushed my feeling,

        In weary nights I’ve not renounced you,

        You whose lips are my sweet source.

        Do you not grasp that I grow weak with thirst

        On days I do not see your face?

        Often I fear death will catch me unawares

        While my soul needs you, as still it does.

       Kuthaiyr, the lover of Azza, related the following anecdote:
      “Would you like me to go,” I said, “to the camp of her tribe and recite as if by chance some verses in which I may hint at this circumstance, in case I find it impossible to speak to her in private?”
“Yes,” replied Jamil, “ that is a good plan.”
        I then set out and made my camel kneel down in their camp, and her father said to me:
        “ Son of my brother, what brings you back ?”
“There are some verses,” I replied, “which I have just happened to compose, and I wish to tell them to you.”—
 “ Let us have them,” he said.
        I then recited these verses in Buthaina’s hearing:

I said to her: “O Azza! I send my friend to you—

And he is a trusty messenger—

So that you may fix a place where we may meet,

So that you tell me what I am to do.

The last time I met you was in Wadi ‘d-Daum,

When clothes were being washed.”

    “Then Buthaina struck the curtain behind which she stood, and said: “Go away! go away!”
“What is the matter, Buthaina?” said her father.
“It is a dog,” she replied, “which has come to me from behind the hill, now that the people are asleep.”
She then said to her girl: “Let us go to the palm-trees  and gather wood to cook a sheep for Kuthaiyr.”
“No,” I said, “I am in too much of a hurry to wait.” I then rode back to Jamil and told him what had happened, and he said: “The place of meeting is at the palm-trees.”
Then Buthaina went out with her women friends to the palm-trees, and I went to them with Jamil: the lovers did not separate till morning dawned, and I never saw a more virtuous meeting, nor two persons who knew so well what passed in each other’s hearts; I do not know which of the two was the more discerning.


3  Abu Nuwas Ibn Hani

Abu Ali al-Hasan lbn Hani Ibn Abd al-Awwal Ibn as-Sabah al-Hakami, surnamed Abu Nuwas, was a poet of great celebrity. His great grandfather was an enfranchised slave and client of al-Jarrah lbn Abd Allah al-Hakami, governor of Khorasan, and for this reason he bore the title of al-Hakami. Muhammad Ibn Dawud Ibn al-Jarrah relates, in his Kitab al-Warakat, that Abu Nuwas was born and brought up at Basra, and that he accompanied Waliba lbn al-Hubab to Kufa, and from thence went to Baghdad.

Another historian says that he was born at al-Ahwaz, and was taken from there at the age of two. His mother Julaban was of that city; his father, who was a native of Damascus and a soldier in the service of Marwan Ibn Muhammad, the last of the Omaiyide dynasty, had been sent to keep garrison at al-Ahwaz, and he married Julaban there, by whom he had many children and, amongst the rest, Abu Muad and Ab Nuwas. The latter was apprenticed by his mother to a druggist, where he was seen by Ab Osama Waliba, who being pleased with his disposition said to him: “I see in you the signs of future success which, I am sure, you will not prove to be false. You will cultivate poetry; therefore become my disciple; I will conduct you to eminence.”
    “And who are you ?” said Abu Nuwas.
    “I am Abu Osama Waliba Ibn al-Hubab”.
    “I accept,” said Abfi Nuwas; “I had already the intention of going to Kufa that I might receive instruction from you and learn from you your poetical works.” He then accompanied him to Baghdad.
    Abu Nuwas was a boy when he composed these, his first and well-known verses:


He who bears the weight of love is soon fatigued;

He is agitated with joy, but tears would suit him more;

His occupation is not a trifling sport.

And you, my fair mistress, laugh in wantonness

Whilst your lover sighs; you marvel at my illness,

But my health would be more strange.


Al-Khasib, the chief of the revenue-office in Egypt, once asked Abu Nuwas from what family he came; “My talents,” replied Abu Nuwus, “stand me in stead of noble birth.” Al-Khasib asked him no more questions after that.

Ismail Ibn Nubakht said: “I never saw a man of more extensive learning than Abu Nuwas, nor one who, with a memory so richly furnished, possessed so few books; after his decease we searched his house, and could only find one book cover, containing a quire of paper, in which was a collection of rare expressions and grammatical observations.”

 I read in some book that al-Mamun said: “Were fortune to describe herself, she could not produce a description equal to the following by Abu Nuwas:


Is not each living creature mortal,

And sprung from a mortal?

Is not its family tree

Deeply rooted in the dead?

When Fortune wishes to prove the sage,

It  appears to him as an enemy

In the disguise of a friend.


4  Zu ‘r-Rumma

Zu ‘r-Rumma, was a poet of the first rank and enjoyed great celebrity. It is related that as he was reciting his verses in the camel-market he said to al-Farazdak who stopped to hear him: “Well, Abu Firas, what do you  think of that which you have just heard ?” and that al-Farazdak replied: “What you have uttered is really admirable.”
    “Why then,” said the other, “is my name not mentioned with those of the first-rate poets?”
    “You have been prevented from attaining their eminence,” answered al-Farazdak, “by your threnodies for dunghills and your rhapsodies on cattle pens and cattle shit.”

He was one of the celebrated Arabian lovers, and his beloved, Maiya, was the daughter of Mukatil Ibn Talaba Ibn Kais Ibn Aasim al-Minkari.
    For a long time Maiya had been hearing the verses of Zu ‘r-Rumma but had never seen him. She therefore vowed to sacrifice a camel on the day she cast her eyes upon him. But when she did see him, she found him an ugly swarthy man, whilst she herself possessed great beauty: “O how ugly, how horrid!” she exclaimed. And to this Zu ‘r-Rumma replied with the following lines:


On Maiya’s face is a varnish of beauty,

But be assured her dress conceals her ugliness.

Do you not know that the taste of water may be bad,

And yet its color is clear and pure?

How completely thrown away was that poetry,

So long continued, always ending in Maiya’s praise.

But then I could not control my heart.

Zu ‘r-Rumma celebrated also the charms of Kharka, a member of the tribe of Bakka Ibn Aamir Ibn Sasaa. The cause of his praising her beauty arose when, being on a journey, he passed near some Bedouin Arabs, and Kharka came out from a tent. He looked at her, and she left an immediate impression on his heart. He therefore tore his water-skins and, approaching her that he might taste of her discourse, said: “I am a man in the midst of travel, and my water-skins have been torn; so mend them for me.”  
By Allah!” she exclaimed, “that’s a fancy occupation for me, the one who is the kharka.”  
The kharka is a woman who is allowed to do no work on account of the fondness which her family bear her.
 From that time Zu ‘r-Rumma extolled her beauty and called her Kharka, and it is she he means in the following verses, which are extremely emphatic:

The water-carrier wishes to pour from

Kharka’s two water-skins,

Worn and weak in the seams,

But gets not a single drop from them.

They are even more retentive of their contents

Than your eyes are of their tears,

When you think of a vernal dwelling

Or a camp site where a tribe sojourns.


5  al-Farazdak

This celebrated poet, Abu Firas Hammam of the tribe of Tamin, was generally known by the name al-Farazdak and by his fellowship with Jarir.
       Here is one of the pieces which he composed during his residence at Medina.

Two women lowered me down, from a height of eighty feet.

I descended like a falcon, stooping down its dark head.

When my legs took solid footing on the ground, they asked

“Is he alive, so that he may give hopes of being seen again,

or is he killed, that we must fear the consequences ?”

I said: “Draw up the ropes before we are discovered”.

And I went away more promptly than last shades of night.

I feared two door-keepers who had been set to watch them,

and I dreaded a black door of teak, with its creaking nails.

When Jarir heard these verses, he composed a long poem in which he said:

The mother of al-Farazdak brought into the world

A reprobate, a short-winged buzzard.

When night spreads her shades around,

He forms two ropes into a ladder,

By which he may mount to the rooms

Of female neighbors.

Adulterer! you were lowered down

From a height of eighty feet,

But you could never attain to any height

In glory or in honor.

People of Medina! That man is impurity itself;

Be on your guard and shut all entrances

By which may pass a wretch so foul,

A wretch so versed in lewdness!

The inhabitants of Medina, having heard the first of these pieces, met together and went to Marwan Ibn al-Hakam the Omaiyide, who then governed the city in the name of his relative, Moawia Ibn Abi Sofyan. “It is not fit,” they said, “that a poem such as this should be recited in a place where the widows of the Prophet are residing. Besides, the author has incurred the penalty of corporal correction.”
    Marwan replied that he would not inflict that punishment, but would write to a person who would do so. He then ordered al-Farazdak to quit the city within three days.

Farazdak one day recited to the Omaiyide (khalif), Sulaiman Ibn Abd al-Malik, a poem rhyming in m and containing the following passage:  


Three girls and two make five;

The sixth was of a color which inclined to black.

They passed the night lying at my sides,

And I passed it in breaking open the seals.

It seemed as if my heart were in it

and as if they were sitting on burning coals.

When he pronounced these lines, Sulaiman said to him: “I am a magistrate (khalif) and yet you acknowledge in my presence that you committed fornication; you must therefore undergo the corporal punishment fixed by law.”  
        “Commander of the faithful!” said al-Farazdak, “how can I have incurred such a chastisement?  
        Sulaiman answered: “The Almighty has said He and she who commit fornication—scourge each of them with one hundred lashes.”  

A1-Farazdak replied: “The book of Allah averts that punishment from me, by virtue of these words: “And the poets—none follow them but the misguided. See you not how they roam through every valley of the imagination, and that they say things which they do not perform. I also said what I did not perform.”  
        Sulaimam said to him, in smiling: “Go away, you reprobate.”


6  Yakut al-Hamawi

Abu Abd Allah Yakut lbn Abd Allah, an Asian Greek  by origin and by birth, received the surname of al-Hamawi because he was freed from slavery at Hamat; he obtained that of al-Baghdadi because he resided in the city of Baghdad. He bore the honorary title of Shihab al-Din.

When a child, he was carried off a captive from his native place and sold at Baghdad to a merchant named Askar lbn Abi Nasr lbn Ibrahim al-Hamawi. His master sent him to school with the intention of deriving profit from him later—in making him keep the ac­counts of his commercial transactions. This Askar could not write correctly and knew nothing except commerce.

Yakut inhabited Baghdad, got married there and had a number of children. When he was grown up and had acquired some knowledge of grammar and literature, he was employed by his patron as a traveling clerk and, in that capacity, he went back and forward from Syria to Kis, Oman and the neighboring countries. His master was then under the necessity of enfranchising him, and threw him out in consequence of a disagreement which took place between them. This happened in the year 596 (1199-1200CE).

Of Khorasan, in Persia [Iran], Yakut wrote:  


It was a country beautiful in all its parts, charming in all its regions; a fertile garden enjoying an air pure and languishing, in which the trees inclined their branches with delight at the singing of birds. In it the rivulets shed tears whilst each flower smiled at the other: the breath of the zephyr was sweet and the temperature of the climate wholesome. Never shall I forget those delightful arbors and those trees sinking under their foliage. The southern gales bore to that place its wine-skins filled with the liquor of the clouds; the meadows drank the wine of the dew, and on the flowers were formed drops like pearls fallen from the string. When the thirst of its groves was quenched with that liquor, their odor was the intoxicating breath of the west wind. The trees drew near to each other, even closer than friend to friend, and embraced even more tenderly than lovers. In the gaps were seen anemones whose colors were mixed with that of the love-sick wooer, and which resembled the lips of two young women who draw near to each other to give and receive an affectionate kiss. Their aspect sometimes deceived the most intelligent, so that he took them for burning coals  on which drops of water were poured successively in order to extinguish them.

There you saw the oxeye flourish so brilliantly that the eye of the spectator was exalted at the sight, whilst its blossoms glittered like little cymbals of gold or like coins of that metal. Among them appeared the white flowers of anthemis, shining like the teeth of the beloved when she bites the cheek of the lover. How rich that land in prospects which delight the eye and of which the colors are charming. It is, in a word, and without exaggeration, a copy of paradise: there was to be found all the heart could wish for, all that could enchant the sight. Encircled with its noble endowments, it offered, throughout all its tracts, a profusion of riches to the world.   


7  Abu Bakr Ibn Baki    

Abu Bakr Yahya Ibn Muhammad Ibn Abd ar-Rahman Ibn Baki, a celebrated poet and a native of Cordova in Spain, was the author of stanzas and sonnets which are much admired. Al-Fath Ibn Muhammad Ibn Obaid Allah al-Kaisi  speaks of him in these terms, in his Matmah al-Anfus:

“He was expert in verse and prose, firm and regular in the texture of his style; he possessed great qualities and, by the beauties of his productions, he embellished the morning and the evening. In the pursuit of perfection, he sped on and reached his goal, building edifices of information on the most solid columns. But fortune refused him her favors, cut and severed the cord to his enjoyments of life; she allowed him to accomplish none of his projects, neither did she shed on him one drop of prosperity. She granted him not one just share of respect, and established him not in the fertility of a rich pasture-ground.

“He therefore became a crosser of mountains, a traverser of deserts; never halting for a single day and never finding people with whom he had a right to be pleased. And moreover, his mistrustful imagination was not to be overcome by assurances of safety; his mind was  unstable, like the pearls of a broken necklace.

Yahya Ibn Ali Ibn al­ Kasim  snatched him out of that vacillation, granted him the means of subsistence, raised him to the heaven which he himself enjoyed, watered him with the stream of his bounty, furnished him with a retreat under the shelter of his patronage, and prepared for him a path of comfort in which he might write as he liked. 

“Ibn Baki lavished on him therefore the finest of his sayings and, in return for many gifts, ennobled him in his rhymes, bestowed on him exclusively the most precious pearls of poetry and adorned his breast with the necklaces of brilliant verses.”

The same author speaks of him again in the Kalaid al-Ikiyan and says: “It was he who bore aloft the standard of poetry, who possessed the talent  of open declaration and indirect allusion; it was he who established the rules of that art and revealed its beauties; the intractable became obedient to his will. When he drew up verses, he put to shame the row of pearls on a necklace, and produced a poem more beautiful than robes of flowered silk; and yet his evil fortune domineered over him, and the days of his existence never brightened up.”

The following piece is attributed to Abu Bakr, but I do not find it given by al-Fath in either of the above mentioned works. It is, however, a very fine poem, one of the best composed by the author and the most generally known:


Dearer to me than the life of my father

Is that gazelle whom my eyes saw with admiration,

Between al-Ozaib and the banks of the river Barik.

I asked her to let me gaze yet longer

And thus allay the thirst of my passion,

And she answered by a promise soon to be fulfilled.

We passed the night in darkness,

Under a canopy adorned with brilliant stars,

And, whilst the night swept on, I handed to her a drink,

Dark as musk and, like it, fragrant of smell.

I held her to me as the warrior grasps his sword;

Her two long ringlets hung like a sword-belt,

         around my neck.

At length, drowsiness overcame her and I moved her

A little from me whilst she clasped me in her arms.

I placed her at a distance from the heart which loved her,

So that her head might not have a palpitating pillow.

When I saw the night drawing towards its end,

Its dark locks and crown turning gray,

I bade farewell to my beloved and said, with a sigh:

Give me the pain of seeing you depart.


8  Ibn at-Tathriya

“Abu ‘l-Makshuh Yazid Ibn Salama Ibn Samura Ibn Salama tal-Khair Ibn Kushair Ibn Kaab lbn Rabia lbn Aamir Ibn Sasaa, generally known by the surname of Ibn at-Tathriya and a celebrated poet.” It is thus that Abu Amr as-Shaibani traces his genealogy. The appellation of al-Khair (the good) was given to his great-grand-father because Kushair had another son who was called Salama tas-Sharr (Salama the bad, whom we shall not discuss).

According to Abu ‘l-Hasan Ali Ibn Abd Allah at-Tusi,  in the introduction to Ibn at-Tathriya’s Collected Poetical Works (of which compilation he was the author), “Ibn at-Tathriya was a poet by nature, intelligent, elegant in language, well-educated and of a noble, manly disposition; never did he incur either reproach or blame. He was liberal and brave, and held—by the nobleness of his family and character—a high rank in his tribe, which was that of Kushair. The Omaiyides had him for one of their poets and treated him with great favor.”

Another author says: “Yazid lbn at-Tathriya was surnamed al-Muwaddik (the exciter) on account of his handsome face, the beauty of his poetry and the sweetness of his discourse. People used to say that, when he sat in the company of women, he excited them to love. . . .He frequented the company of females and liked conversing with them. It is said that he was impotent, incapable of having intercourse with a woman or of begetting children.”

      At-Tusi gives the following verses as his:  


Many hope for a thing and cannot obtain it,

Whilst it comes to others who do no more than sit.

One man toils for a favor; another receives it.

He to whom it comes had given hope when it came.  


The same author extracts this passage from a piece of verse composed by our poet:  


I persist in turning from her, though much against my will;

And when she is absent, I avoid listening

To those who saw her or heard from her.

Love for her came to me before I knew what love was,

And it found a lasting abode in a heart till then empty.  



9  Yakub Ibn Killis

Abu ‘l-Faraj Yakub Ibn Yusuf Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Harun Ibn Dawud Ibn Killis, was vizir to al-Aziz Nizar, son of al-Moizz al-Obaidi, and sovereign of Egypt. In the first part of his life he professed the Jewish religion and pretended that he drew his descent from Harun (Aaron), the son of Imran and the brother of Musa (Moses). According to another statement, he gave himself out for a descendant of the Jew Samauwel Ibn Asdya, the lord of the castle called al-Ablak, him who acquired such renown for his good faith. The history of his conduct towards Amro’l-Kais al-Kindi and of the fidelity with which he preserved the objects confided to his care by that celebrated poet, is well known to men of learning

Yakub was born at Baghdad and there he passed his youth. His residence was situated near the gate called Bab al-Kazz. When he had learned writing and arithmetic, his father took him to Syria and sent him from there to Egypt, in the year 331 (942-3 CE). Yakub then paid assiduous court to an officer in the service of the governor Kafur al-Ikhshidi, and was chosen by the latter to direct the furnishing of his palace. He subsequently became Kafur’s chamberlain and acted, in that capacity, with great honor, discernment, probity, intelligence and disinterestedness. His master did not fail to notice his conduct and, having admitted him into his intimacy, he appointed him to a seat in the privy council. Yakub’s duty being then to wait in Kafur’s presence, receive his orders and control the public accounts, every affair passed through his bands.

He rose to such a height in Kafur’s favor that all the chamberlains and nobles stood up when he entered and showed him the deepest respect. He had no desire of gaining money; when his master sent him any, he always returned it and accepted nothing more than his regular emoluments. Kafur then sent positive orders to all the boards of administration that not a dinar should be paid without a written authorization from Yakub, and thus placed all the public expenses under his control. A part of his modest emoluments Yakub employed in acts of beneficence, and yet he continued to profess his religion. On Monday, the 18th of Shaban, 356 (29th July, 967 CE), he became a convert to the Moslem faith and applied himself to the practice of prayer and the study of the Koran. 


10  Ibn Sabir al-Manjaniki  

Abu Yusuf Yakub Ibn Sabir Ibn Barakat Ibn Ammar Ibn Ali Ibn al-Husain Ibn Ali Ibn Hauthara al-Manjaniki, surnamed Najm ad-Din, belonged to a family of Harran, but was by birth and by residence a native of Baghdad.

 “This Yakub,” says Ibn ad-Dubaithi, “was at the head of those who practiced his art,”—the writer means ballistics and the matters relating to that branch of science—"he was a man of merit and could extemporize poetry. Some traditions were learned by him from the lips of Abu ‘l-Muzaffar as-Samarkandi and of Abu Mansur as-Shatranji. I wrote down some pieces of his poetry which were dictated to me by himself. The following lines were recited to me by Abu Yusuf Yakub Ibn Sabir as being of his own composing:


I kissed her cheek and she, in her confusion,

turned away her neck and inclined her pliant waist.

From her cheeks trickled down upon her breast

drops of perspiration like the dew upon the myrtle.

It was as if the breath of my sighs had obliged

the rose of her cheeks to shed its dew-drops.

I asked him the date of his birth, and he replied that it was on Monday morning, the 4th of Muharram, 554. (26th January, 1159 CE).”

He composed a book entitled The Signpost Marking the Paths Leading to the Government of  Kingdoms. This fine work, which remains unfinished, treats of every thing relating to war, orders of battle, taking fortresses, building castles, horsemanship, engineering, blockading strongholds, sieges, equestrian exercises, war­ horses, the management of all sorts of arms, the construction of military engines, close fighting, the different sorts of cavalry and the qualities of horses.

He was an elderly, good-humored man, well-looking, pleasant and lively; agreeable in his conversation, noble-minded and modest; in his manners conciliatory, kind and tranquil. He was, besides a prolific poet, gifted with original thoughts. He composing not only occasional pieces but also extended poems. His poetical works were united by him in a compendium to which he gave the title The Abodes Where Striking Thoughts Abound.

Ibn Adlan communicated to me the following piece, which the poet had composed on a dark-colored Abyssinian girl with whom he was in love:


From her eyelids the daughter of the Abyssinians,

Shot at me glances at once powerful and languishing.

I loved her with the impulse of youth,

Although my sufferings had turned my hair gray,

A thing I had no desire for.

So, when I reproached her with her blackness,

She reproached me with my grayness.

There was at Baghdad a man called Ibn Bishran, who was always spreading about stories and rumors. Being forbidden to do so, he took his seat at the road side and set up as an astrologer. On this, Ibn Sabir said:

Ibn Bisbran turned astrologer through fear of the sultan,

And I blame him not.

That unlucky creature was born to be loquacious and,

Not being allowed to speak of what passes on earth,

He talks to us of the heavens.


Adapted from Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary, translated by Bn Mac Guckin de Slane, Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland,  London, 1842-1871. Reprinted, 1961, Johnson reprint Corporation, New York. 4 volumes.

                 Adaptation and selection Copyright © Rex Pay 2000