A Medieval Shiʿi Encyclopedia from Jabal ʿĀmil

There is no doubt that the post-classical period of Islamic intellectual and religious history witnessed the most thriving epochs of scholarly production. In the centuries after the demise of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111), the learned of traditions of Islam entered something like a golden age, especially the rational disciplines of falsafah and kalām. We are now a long distant away from the hackneyed claims of decline and intellectual inactivity. That the post-classical period represents the best of Muslim intellectualism is attested in the hundreds of yet unexplored Arabic Islamic manuscripts shelved in Iranian and Turkish libraries (and to a lesser extent in the unchartered territories of the Iraqi collections).

Of relevance to the above is the discovery of the Ḥadīqat al-nufūs, a little-known work by the medieval Lebanese Shiʿi thinker and famed littérateur Taqī al-Dīn Ibrāhīm b. ʿAlī al-ʿĀmilī al-Kafʿamī (d. 1499). A fair bunch of al-Kafʿamī’s writings have been edited and published (available in PDF format here). These include his al-Maqām al-asnā, a work of Shiʿi tafsīr, and the Muḥasabat al-nafs, a work of theology and spiritual psychology. Perhaps the best known work of al-Kafʿamī is the widely popular Miṣbāḥ given its focus on devotional piety and supplicatory prayers.

Modern scholarship knows virtually nothing about the Ḥadīqat al-nufūs, however. We have known about the work for a long while, thanks to the standard biographies of al-Kafʿamī (perhaps the lengthiest treatment is that of al-Ḥurr al-ʿĀmilī in his Amal al-āmil fī ʿulamāʾ Jabal al-ʿĀmil). It was only in recent times, however, that the manuscript of the Ḥadīqat al-nufūs has become available for study. To the best of my knowledge — and I could be wrong, of course — the work is extant in unicum at the Süleymaniye Kütüphanesi in Istanbul (MS 897). As far as I know the work has not been edited.

So what is the Ḥadīqat al-nufūs about? Luckily I am now in possession of the complete manuscript which I suspect is quite early, and which was probably copied during the author’s lifetime. In fact, the Istanbul MS could very well be the personal copy of al-Kafʿamī himself, given that a small note on the front matter explicitly suggests the ex libris attributed to al-Kafʿmī is a holograph of our author. The work is a wonderful hodgepodge of everything and anything in Islamic studies, close to being a mixture between an encyclopaedia and compendium of learned traditions. There are over 150 chapters (the total number of folios is more than 800). It includes chapters on the following:

  • Kalām principles
  • Wisdom literature
  • Devotional prayers
  • Lengthy tafsīr of various quranic passages
  • Moral aphorisms
  • Lengthy quotations of Shiʿi ḥadīth texts such as the Ghurar al-ḥikam
  • Geographical information
  • Local histories (such as the local history of Basra)
  • Legal dictums
  • Numerology
  • Abridgements of known works of Arabic literature, such as the Nuzhat al-albāʾ fī ṭabaqat al-udabāʾ by Abū l-Barakāt al-Anbārī (d. 1181)
  • Theodicy
  • Animal fables
  • Philosophical anthropology
  • The classification of the sciences
  • Astrology
  • On canals and wells
  • On plagues
  • The tools of tafsīr
  • Gemstones
  • Celestial movement
  • Human anatomy
  • Arabic adorations
  • Biographies and bibliographies of famed Shiʿi scholars
  • On the nature of speech
  • On the means of arriving at a legal decision in Islam
  • On the soul

These are but representative examples from the variegated chapter headings of the Ḥadīqat al-nufūs. I enclose a few images of the manuscript penned in a beautiful hand with plenty of rubrications.

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