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Controversy in a tradition of commentary: the academic legacy of Al-Sakkaki's Miftah Al-Ulum.


THE SCHOLARSHIP OF THE ISLAMIC Middle Ages presents an imposing edifice of texts and formats of presentation. The basic books of the traditional curriculum are numerous enough, but they are overwhelmed by the works written about them. One need only page through a medieval catalogue, such as Hajji Khalifa's (d. 1057 A.H./1657 A.D.) Kashf al-Zunun or a modern one, such as Carl Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Literatur to realize the prevalence of commentary after the classical period.(1) While there is, to be sure, some formal diversity to this literature, the predominance of commentaries in the medieval bibliography has suggested to many that the Islamic intellectual environment was moribund after 1200. Accordingly, it is generally held that the abundance of commentaries in the later medieval period is a symptom of Islamic decline.

As a number of authors have shown,(2) however, education in the medieval Islamic world was not quite so lifeless. The traditional scholar may have written mostly about other works, but this did not spare his efforts the close and sometimes aggressive scrutiny of his colleagues. Academic rivalries developed in this milieu, and as G. Makdisi has described it, the pedagogical ideals of the madrasa worked to encourage dispute rather than forbid it.(3)

What I would like to consider in this essay is the role that academic commentary played in this environment. I will argue that the format of commentary not only allowed debate, but served to emphasize and "remember" differences of opinion in a way that was particularly characteristic of the Muslim tradition. As my example I will use the tradition of commentaries based on Muhammad al-Sakkaki's (d. 626/1229) Miftah al-Ulum (The Key to the Disciplines).


Al-Sakkaki composed the Miftah as a pandect based ultimately on Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani's (d. 471/1078) two works on rhetoric, namely, Dalail al-Ijaz (The Proofs for the Inimitability of Quranic Style) and Asrar al-Balagha (The Secrets of Eloquence). Within his work al-Sakkaki organized al-Jurjani's ideas into the disciplines of ilm al-bayan (figurative usage) and ilm al-maani (syntax) and he located these stylistic concerns within a wider context that included grammar, logic, and prosody. Accordingly, the Miftah represented not only a rhetorical textbook, but a complete handbook on expression in Arabic.(4)

Al-Sakkaki's work proved a popular textbook between 1300 and 1500. It attracted not only two commentaries (sharh, pl. shuruh) on its complete contents, but twenty-five on the third section of the Miftah, where al-Sakkaki considered rhetorical topics. In addition to shuruh we find other "formats" of commentary in which the author's aim was not so much to explicate, as to facilitate in some way the students' acquisition of material. One commentator, for instance, restricted his discussion to the examples from poetry (shawahid) that al-Sakkaki cited. Two addressed specific issues from the Miftah and so composed treatises (risala, pl. rasail) limited to certain topics. The Ottoman polymath Kamal Pasha (d. 940/1533) proposed a rearrangement (taghyir) of the Miftah in much the same way that al-Sakkaki had rearranged al-Jurjani's ideas in the first place. Finally, three authors wrote abridgements (mukhtasarat/talkhisat) of the Miftah.(5)

The subsuming of all these works under the general category of commentary requires some comment. Although the sharh format derives from the Quranic commentary (tafsir), the fact that different terms are used for each reflects an important distinction. The formal and conceptual integrity of the Quran is sacrosanct, and so the Quran commentator's range of response is limited; he may neither challenge his original nor alter its form in any way. Someone who bases his comments on the Quran may only interpret.

For the academic commentator, however, the basic text is an argument of human composition. As such, it is valued but not inviolable, and this increases the scope of the commentator's response. At the same time the fact that the academic text is a pedagogical tool serves to shape the form of his response, and it is this aspect of pedagogical utility that makes all of the formats named above part of the commentary activity. The sharh--and subsequently the hashiya (supercommentary)--mimics the interaction between student and teacher by explaining the original author's argument and anticipating questions on it; the shawahid and rasail works are more particular instances of the same function. The talkhis, mukhtasar and tanzim (versification), on the other hand, recall another purpose of class time, namely, memorization, insofar as they shorten or rearrange the text in order to make it easier to learn by heart. All of these activities are appropriate to the transmission of human knowledge. All are commentary, and this process differs substantially from explicating the sacred text, where only the most faithful efforts to interpret are appropriate.


It was about one hundred years after al-Sakkaki that a Syrian scholar, Khatib Dimashq al-Qazwini (d. 724/1338), wrote an abridgement of Miftah al-Ulum and named it, quite humbly, Talkhis al-Miftah (The Summary of the Miftah). In his introduction to the work al-Qazwini offers general praise for al-Sakkaki, but criticizes some aspects of his presentation.

The third section of Miftah al-Ulum, composed by the consummate scholar (al-fadl al-alamah), Abu Yaqub Yusuf al-Sakkaki, is the most useful of the famous works |on rhetoric~ because it is the best arranged, the most completely organized (atammaha tahriran) and brings together the greatest number of basic principles (usul). But |the Miftah~ is not free (masun) from extraneous comments (hashw), prolixity (tatwil) and obscurity (taqid); it admits abridgement and requires clarification and editing (tajrid). I have |therefore~ composed an abridgement (mukhtasar) which includes the |necessary~ rules (qawaid) |of the subject~ and is comprised of the requisite examples and citations from poetry.(6)

Al-Qazwini is particularly critical of what he considers to be prolixity in al-Sakkaki's presentation, and on this basis he makes the Talkhis extremely brief. Al-Qazwini's concision, however, demands its own explication, and to this end the author follows the Talkhis with a commentary on his own work, entitled al-Idah (The Clarification). In the introduction to this latter work al-Qazwini explains again the way in which he will approach al-Sakkaki's ideas from the Miftah.

I have arranged |al-Idah~ according to my abridgement which I called Talkhis al-Miftah, and have elaborated in it (basattu fihi al-qawl) so that it (i.e., al-Idah) would be like a commentary on the |Talkhis~. Accordingly, I made the problematic topics clear and I put topics that had been placed together into separate chapters (fassaltu al-maani al-mujmala). I relied on |topics~ which the Miftah includes, |while~ the Talkhis does not, as well as |elements of~ al-Shaykh al-Imam Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani's discussion--may God have mercy on him--in his two works, Dalail al-Ijaz and Asrar al-Balagha, which the Miftah does not have.(7)

Many of the comments in these two passages are commonplaces of composition in the medieval milieu. It was quite standard, for instance, to cite the obscurity or prolixity of an earlier work as a motivation for writing.(8) The reference to al-Jurjani in the foreword to al-Idah seems, however, to be particularly significant because al-Qazwini announces thereby that his basic text, the Miftah, is itself the restatement of earlier ideas. Al-Qazwini specifies here that his own works--although commentaries--will hold al-Sakkaki accountable for representing al-Jurjani's ideas correctly. Accordingly, there is the clear message that al-Qazwini is not simply summarizing or abridging the Miftah, but evaluating it at the same time. In this way he signals at the outset a potential conflict between text and commentary.

The Talkhis goes far beyond the editing process that al-Qazwini described when introducing the work. The author ignores al-Sakkaki's effort to frame the rhetorical arts within grammar and logic. Accordingly, he reduces the scope of the Talkhis to the relatively specialized usage normally associated with rhetoric. In addition, al-Qazwini rearranges his topics in such a way as to bring the focus of his presentation closer to literature (adab) than the more grammatical focus of the Miftah. He gives the figures of speech (badi), which were closely associated with poetry, a more prominent place than al-Sakkaki and introduces topics like plagiarism (sariqa), which had more to do with poetic composition than hermeneutics.(9)

It is not surprising on this account that subsequent authors thought of al-Qazwini's work as different and even separate from that of his predecessor. Both the Talkhis and the Idah spawned their own commentary traditions with the former work, eventually attracting more attention than the Miftah itself. In Kashf al-Zunun, for instance, Hajji Khalifa lists both works under separate entries, although he usually lists abridgements and summaries with the text on which they are based. The Talkhis formed the basis for twenty-four commentaries, three abridgements and six versifications, while the Idah drew eight supercommentaries. We find a particularly explicit acknowledgement of al-Qazwini's independent position in the sentiments of the fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar, Baha al-Din al-Subki (d. 772/1372), who went so far as to criticize the Khatib for the misleading title of his work. The Talkhis, al-Subki argued, was no mere summary.(10)

But why did later writers distinguish so clearly between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini? The fact that al-Qazwini had reduced the scope of the Talkhis would not seem to have been a very important factor. As we noted above, twenty-five of the twenty-seven commentaries based on the Miftah also limited their remarks to the sections of the work that discuss rhetoric.(11) Nor does the later author's rearrangement of al-Sakkaki's presentation seem to have been a major consideration, insofar as the medieval commentators made few references to the overall structure of the Talkhis.(12)

What did interest these writers was the frequent objections al-Qazwini made to individual points in al-Sakkaki's argument. This was a prominent feature of the Talkhis and was even more evident in the Idah. For the most part these objections are brief and concern minute grammatical points, but in one section of the Talkhis, al-Qazwini devoted an entire chapter (fasl) to refuting elements of al-Sakkaki's definition of metaphor (istiara). His systematic rejection of four specific points from the discussion in the Miftah is paraphrased below.

1) Al-Sakkaki defines metaphor as literal usage that requires interpretation (tawil); we reject this because it is not reasonable to say that linguistic convention (wad al-lugha) varies according to interpretation. 2) He makes simile (tamthil) a kind of metaphor, and we reject this because metaphor involves single words and simile involves groups of words. 3) Al-Sakkaki confuses the literal and the figurative elements in a metaphor like "the hand of the north wind," and we reject this. 4) He also confuses the same elements in explaining how verbs work metaphorically (istiara tabiya), and we reject this.(13)

It was not unusual for a commentator to refute specific points made by other authors--including the author of the text on which his commentary was based. This section is, however, particularly interesting because of the consistent antagonistic relationship between text and summary that it sets up. The actual significance (or insignificance) of the issues involved is not so important as the notion of conflict between the Miftah and the Talkhis that is established here. Al-Qazwini used the Idah to elaborate on many of his objections, and so emphasized his role as debating partner to al-Sakkaki rather than someone who simply summarized an earlier author's arguments. In this way the disagreement between the two works became a topic in itself and the conflict between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini became a sort of "sub-field" for the study of rhetoric.

It is not surprising that we see frequent references to al-Sakkaki in commentaries based on the Talkhis and to al-Qazwini in commentaries based on the Miftah. For most authors it was simply a part of this literature to address at some point the conflict between the two authors. Indeed, for some, the perceived debate between al-Qazwini and al-Sakkaki was important enough to warrant special attention. The Iranian author, Imad al-Din al-Kashi (d. 744/1343), for instance, focused on the objections to al-Sakkaki's presentation in a special section of his commentary on the Miftah. In explaining the arrangement of his work al-Kashi explains,

I cited first the |statement's~ individual words, its syntax and lines of poetry. Second, |I considered~ what is related to clarifying its meaning. . . . Third, |I considered other authors'~ relevant comments (tawjih), and fourth, |I considered~ the objections (itiradat) to |al-Sakkaki's argument~ that have been made and the response to them.(14)

It becomes clear in the course of the commentary that the objections to which al-Kashi refers are those of al-Qazwini, whose name comes up again and again. Al-Kashi went on to address the perceived debate between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini more directly in another work, Hall al-Itiradat (literally, "The Solution to the Objections") where he limited himself to the debate between the two authors.(15) About three centuries later the Egyptian scholar Taj al-Sharia (d. 795/1657) came to the same issues and used a similar method to present them in Dhayl Kitab al-Wishah (The Appendix to the Ornamented Belt).

. . . and this |work~ is Dhayl Kitab al-Wishah which |contains~ replies to the allegations (iradat) made in the Talkhis and the Idah against the Miftah. . . .(16)

The work was arranged so as to list first al-Sakkaki's position and then that of al-Qazwini, who is identified, interestingly enough, as the author of the Idah (sahib al-Idah) rather than the Talkhis. After presenting both authors' explanations, Taj al-Sharia went on to make his own comments (wa ana aqul. . . .),(17) taking the side of al-Sakkaki. Al-Qazwini, it seems, was without a defender.

Although not all commentators were as concerned with the conflict between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini as were al-Kashi and Taj al-Sharia, they were all forced by the commentary format to consider the presentation in the Talkhis in light of the Miftah. An eighteenth-century writer, for instance, could not skip over the section on metaphor in the Talkhis and simply summarize al-Qazwini's position. He had to consider the accounts in both works no matter how far removed he was from the controversy and regardless of the extent to which it may have been resolved by his time. In this way the sense of reverence toward the basic text that the commentary genre derives from Quranic exegesis actually works to preserve a sense of disputation. This helped to institutionalize the "attitude" of debate even after the actual substance of the dispute (in this case the nuances of defining figurative usage) may have become insignificant.

The abridgements and versifications that were based on the Talkhis show the extent to which this was true. Al-Qazwini's work was, of course, itself an abridgement, even if the author did make considerable changes in the text he claimed to shorten. The authors who abridged the Talkhis, on the other hand, were not so ambitious, and so the pedagogical utility of their works is more plain. Later abridgements were intended simply to facilitate the memorization of material in the Talkhis--not to add new form to its argument--and we find an explicit statement to this effect in the opening passage from al-Mufti al-Amasi's (d. 1051/1651) Unbub al-Balagha fi Yanbu al-Fasaha (The Conduit of Expression Concerning the Font of Eloquence).

After my son . . . and the rest of my students had memorized Kitab al-Shafiya and Kitab al-Kafiya . . . of Ibn al-Hajib . . . they wished to memorize something like these two works on the subject of rhetoric from an abridgement (mukhtasar) covering all the rules of hermeneutics (al-qawaid al-bayaniya). They could not find what they desired in the |available~ abridgements, so they asked me to compose a work on these issues. I did not think it appropriate to turn them away . . . so I made it incumbent upon myself to answer their request, trusting in God that |the work~ would benefit all who would memorize it.(18)

Since the Talkhis was itself quite concise, the abridgements based on it offered the ultimate in brief, almost "telegraphic" presentation. The same may be said for the six versifications in which the device of rhyme provided an additional element to the more obvious mnemonic utility of shortening the material. It should be noticed that no matter how short the presentation in these abridgements and versifications became, the section in which al-Qazwini takes al-Sakkaki to task for his definition of metaphor was never left out.(19) This shows the extent to which scholars considered the conflict between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini essential to the study of rhetoric. The perceived dispute between the two authors was not simply an interesting point to which the teacher might allude in class, but a topic which students were obliged to memorize along with everything else.


By the end of the fourteenth century, Timur (d. 807/1405) had sacked Delhi, defeated the rising Ottoman leader, Bayezid, and made his capital at Samarqand into a center for art and learning. Among the scholars drawn to Timur's orbit were the noted polymaths Sad al-Din al-Taftazani (d. 792/1390) and al-Sayyid al-Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 816/1413). Both were prodigious authors whose scholarly efforts were of a magnitude somehow appropriate to the brutal vitality of Timur's conquests and rule.

Al-Taftazani had actually been instrumental in bringing the younger al-Jurjani to Samarqand. He came eventually to regret his hospitality, however, when the two became rivals in the rarified disputations of Islamic academia. Al-Jurjani arrived at Timur's court in 1387 and began immediately to establish a place for himself as an authority on various subjects, particularly the so-called "foreign sciences." The biographers suggest that al-Jurjani was exceptionally bright and a quicker learner than al-Taftazani, who was remembered as a thorough, but somewhat plodding scholar. It is not difficult to recognize the lines of conflict that were drawn between the two, and the ensuing rivalry finally took the form of a court debate in which the two scholars took opposing positions on the interpretation of a Quranic verse. In the presence of Timur himself, the Mutazili Qadi, Numan al-Din al-Khwarazmi, declared al-Jurjani the winner. Shortly thereafter al-Taftazani left court and retired to his home where, according to the biographers, he died of sadness two years later.(20)

Along with everything else, al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani were interested in rhetoric and devoted a portion of their opera to commentary on the Miftah and Talkhis.(21) The former composed the so-called "Long Commentary" (al-Mutawwal) on al-Qazwini's work, which he later supplemented with the "Abridged Commentary" (al-Mukhtasar) on the Talkhis, as well as another commentary based directly on the Miftah.(22) Al-Jurjani, for his part, wrote a super-commentary on his colleague's Mutawwal and then wrote his own commentary on the Miftah, entitled al-Misbah (The Lamp).(23)

The rivalry that is so prominent in the biographies manifests itself in the pattern in which al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani's works appear. We can make out a sort of dialogue between the two authors in the order and types of work that each wrote. Al-Taftazani, the elder scholar, began the process with the Mutawwal, an extensive gloss on the Talkhis that probably commanded a certain authority on the basis of its size alone.(24) Sometime later, al-Jurjani composed a super-commentary on the Mutawwal in which he took issue with various details of al-Taftazani's explanations. Al-Jurjani's subsequent decision to compose a direct commentary on the Miftah does not seem to represent a preference for al-Sakkaki over al-Qazwini,(25) but rather an effort to extend the debate with his older colleague into the "context" of another text. Al-Taftazani eventually responded to the challenge by composing his own commentary on the Miftah almost forty years after producing the Mutawwal and not long before his death.(26)

The agonistic relationship between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani also comes across in the texts themselves. The younger author, in particular, seems to have relished the opportunity afforded by the commentaries and super-commentaries to attack al-Taftazani. Al-Jurjani claimed, for instance, in his introduction to the Misbah, that he was surprised to find students in Transoxiana so badly misled by the poor commentaries available on rhetoric.

. . . until at the end of my life I endured the travails of travel |in order to reach~ Transoxiana. I found there flocks thirsting for substance as they flitted around the book Miftah al- Ulum, and could not find a path to their destination. . . . In order to fathom |the Miftah's~ organization (hall tarakibihi) and reveal the fine points of its style (nukat asalibihi) they made use of commentaries most of which were overly antagonistic (juruh) and even best of them was open to challenge (madkhul) and heavily criticized (majruh).(27)

Al-Jurjani made no direct reference to al-Taftazani, but the attack is evident enough, given the senior scholar's prominence in Transoxiana. Super-commentaries on the Misbah, for instance, had no trouble identifying al-Taftazani's work as the basis for these comments.(28) In the main body of the work al-Jurjani did not refrain from naming his elder colleague, and in his super-commentary on the Mutawwal he actually began his attack with the very first subject, namely, al-Qazwini's term muqaddima. Al-Taftazani had warned the student that the muqaddima to the Talkhis was not a proper prolegomenon (muqaddimat al- ilm), but simply the opening section of the work (muqaddimat al-kitab). The remarks seem to have irritated al-Jurjani, who claimed that "muqaddimat al- ilm" was not a recognized term, and so should not have been used.

The comments on the muqaddima are typical of this literature, most of which is concerned with minute variations in technical terminology. This discussion does not indicate any substantial difference between al-Taftazani's and al-Jurjani's conception of rhetoric,(29) but did set a clearly combative tone that echoed the antagonism between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini that we considered above. For al-Jurjani, especially, the commentaries and super-commentaries were a sort of "transcription" of his court disputations insofar as they afforded a close approximation of a debate. In this way the format of textual explication served to represent--or "remember"--an actual event within its own discursive mode. Or to put this conversely: the "event" of the debate between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani served to animate the discourse of commentary.


The relationship between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani has a great deal more "presence" than the one between al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini. The earlier authors never, of course, had anything to do with each other, and the rivalry between them was an artificial one imposed on the study of rhetoric by later writers. For al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani, however, a real, human relationship did in fact exist, and it is interesting to consider the subsequent study of ilm al-balagha in light of this.

As we noted above, most works on rhetoric took the form of commentary on either the Miftah or the Talkhis. Before the death of al-Jurjani scholars seem to have been evenly split between the two works insofar as we can date twenty-one works from this period based on al-Sakkaki and another twenty based on al-Qazwini. Around 1400, however, interest in the Miftah and Talkhis waned, and scholars turned their attention instead to the Mutawwal, the Mukhtasar, and the Misbah. While there were forty super-commentaries written on al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani's works in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there were only nine written on those of al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini. After 1600 the disparity is even more pronounced. From the seventeenth century until the present we find forty super-commentaries based on the later two authors, while there are only four based on the earlier two.

It is fairly clear that interest in commentaries on the Miftah and Talkhis displaced interest in the works themselves. What I would like to argue here is that the rivalry between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani had something to do with this. I would like to suggest that the greater human presence in the relationship between these later authors lent a certain spark or vitality to the study of their works. It was this quality of presence that encouraged scholars to adopt al-Taftazani's and al-Jurjani's texts for teaching rhetoric and to base their own super-commentaries upon them. Choosing a text in this environment meant something like taking sides, and the competitive element must surely have added life to what was a difficult and abstruse curriculum.

For the first two centuries there seems to have been equal interest in al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani. We can date thirty-one super-commentaries on the Misbah before 1600, while there are twenty on the Mutawwal and nine on the Mukhtasar in the same period. Although al-Jurjani held a small early lead over his elder colleague, interest in his work seems to have fallen off after the fifteenth century. In the next one hundred years, eight authors wrote super-commentaries on the Misbah, while twenty-five considered either the Mutawwal or Mukhtasar. After 1700, al-Jurjani's work was completely ignored by commentators, while we find an additional seventeen works based on al-Taftazani. Thus, at least in terms of student and teacher interest, the elder scholar seems to have bested his younger rival in the end.

The disputes between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani may not have provided the study of rhetoric with real dynamism, but they did give it a certain structure of presentation and study. Kamal Pasha, for instance, introduced a gloss on his Taghyir of the Miftah by identifying al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani and so implying that they were the discipline's main authorities (Dar al-Kutub, Talat Collection, no. 362). Kamal Pasha went on to arrange his own comments around those of his predecessors, and this demonstrates the extent to which al-Taftazani's and al-Jurjani's works had become "frames" within which to present the issues of rhetoric. There is a nice example of the way this works in a super-commentary on the Mutawwal by Abu Layth al-Samarqandi (d. 888/1483). After introducing his work with a conventional paean to his subject--namely, ilm al-balagha--al-Samarqandi went on to provide a thumbnail sketch of both al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani.

The "chief of the composers" (rais al-musannifin) al-Taftazani . . . composed his commentary |on the Talkhis~ . . . and this was |as welcome as~ sweet water amidst the salty sea. . . . Then the great scholar . . . al-Sayyid al-Sharif |al-Jurjani~ applied to it super-commentaries that encompassed the |most~ singular and arcane |facts~ that had ever come to |anyone's~ ears (gharaib al-faraid ma wasal al-adhan), and they were composed of the most amazing points that had ever reached |men's~ ears (ajaib awaid ma qara al-adhan.)(30)

We can see from this passage that the choice between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani was not arbitrary, but reflected the two authors' different approaches to the subject. Although the short description of al-Taftazani's style--"sweet water amidst the salty sea"--was a bit vague, it was obviously positive, while the description of al-Jurjani's is not. From his reference to the "arcane" and "amazing," al-Samarqandi would seem to consider al-Sayyid al-Sharif's comments especially recherche. Kamal Pasha echoed these sentiments when he identified al-Jurjani as al-mudaqqiq ("the detail man"), an implication that al-Sayyid al-Sharif was erudite, but took this perhaps to the point of obfuscation.(31)

These characterizations agree generally with the portraits of al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani in the biographical literature. As we indicated above, al-Taftazani comes across in the biographies as a methodical, traditional scholar, while al-Jurjani appears as a quicker thinker with a greater interest in the unconventional.(32) In this way the real, human qualities of these two authors inform their academic method, and given the Islamic world's great interest in the biographies of scholars, it is quite likely that later writers appreciated this connection. The recognition of a link between personality and methodology lent flesh to the bones of medieval scholasticism and certainly worked to motivate study within the context of a commentary tradition.


The tradition of commentaries based ultimately on Miftah al- Ulum possesses what we might call a "bibliographical taxonomy." This is to say that the more than three hundred texts that concern themselves in some way with al-Sakkaki's work do not form some amorphous collection of sterile and static repetition. Rather, we can make out here a structure in which five important or "primary" texts (al-Miftah, al-Talkhis, al-Mutawwal, al-Mukhtasar and al-Misbah) serve as bases for the subsequent works that cluster around them. Al-Sakkaki, al-Qazwini, al-Taftazani, and al-Jurjani represented not only a choice of authority for the medieval professor, but also a structure that lends shape and definition to the tradition.

In terms of the conceptual issues of rhetoric this structure is perhaps not of great consequence. It did, however, serve an important function in the commentary activity inasmuch as it adumbrated the relationships between the various authors involved. This connected commentary to real (e.g., al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani) and perceived (al-Sakkaki and al-Qazwini) human interaction. It provided life to what might otherwise have seemed a dry and lifeless product.

If we judge academic commentary only as a means for discovering broad, new truths, we cannot help but be disappointed. We should rather consider the format of textual explication as a performative dimension for scholarly method. The commentary form is like a forum that--unlike Timur's court--knows no time or place; it remains open to all through the constant efforts of copyists and university instructors. Viewed from this perspective, commentary seems a particularly true reflection of the medieval Islamic mentality. It is in a way the discursive embodiment of history.

1 What I mean by "medieval" here is really traditional, which is to say scholarship that is done in the traditional, Islamic fashion and does not use modern Western critical techniques. Classical and post-classical, on the other hand, depend properly on the aspect of Islamic civilization under consideration, and for my purposes the conventional watershed of Baghdad's destruction by the Mongols (1258) will serve well enough.

2 Consider, for instance, various articles by G. Makdisi, including the monograph, The Rise of Colleges (Edinburgh, 1981). On disputation itself see J. van Ess'"Disputations-praxis in der islamischen Theologie: Eine vorlaufige Skizze" (Revue des Etudes Islamiques 44:23-60) and on the works in question in this paper, R. Sellheim's Arabische Handschriften: Materialien zur arabischen Literaturgeschichte (Teil 1, Vol. xvii, A.1 of Verzeichnis der orientalischen Handschriften in Deutschland |Wiesbaden, 1976~, 299-317, passim). My own consideration of these issues has been aided by Jane McAuliffe and Devin Stewart of Emory University as well as Michael Carter of New York University, who have read versions of this paper.

3 Debate was actually essential to traditional education in the madrasa. On this point particularly, see Makdisi's description of the munazarah, a method of examination through debate (Colleges, 128-40).

4 Al-Sakkaki is in C. Brockelmann's Geschichte der arabischen Literatur (Leiden, 1937-1949) (hereafter GAL), GI, 352-56; SI, 515-19. Al-Jurjani is in GAL, GI, 341-42; SI, 503-4.

5 These numbers and those cited below are based on six sources: GAL; Hajji Khalifa's Kashf al-Zunun (Istanbul, 1941), 2 vols.; W. Ahlwardt's Verzeichnis der arabischen Handschriften der Koniglichen Bibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin, 1887); R. Sellheim's Arabische Handschriften; A. Matlub's Al-Qazwini wa Shuruh al-Talkhis (Cairo, 1964); and my own research in the manuscript collections at Hayat al-Kitab al-Misriya (often known by the name of its old location, Dar al-Kutub) in 1987 and 1988. This work was supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities administered through the American Research Center in Egypt for which I am grateful.

6 Al-Talkhis fi Miftah al-Ulum, ed. Abd al-Rahman Barquq (Cairo, repr. 1982), 21-23. Khatib Dimashq al-Qazwini is in GAL GII, 26-27; SII, 15-16. The part of this passage that I have omitted describes the use of rhetoric in understanding ijaz al-quran, the doctrine that the Arabic style of the Quran is more beautiful than any text of human composition.

7 Al-Idah fi Ulum al-Balagha, ed. M. Khafaji (Beirut, 1985), 70-71. The reference to maani mujmala may be a pun. Mujmal can mean obscure, but the fact that it is used here with fassaltu suggests that al-Qazwini has in mind its more literal meaning, namely, "that which is brought together."

8 This is one of the topoi that P. Freimark discusses in Das Vorwort als literarisches Form in der arabischen Literatur (Munchen, 1967). Hajji Khalifa expressed similar sentiments 300 years after al-Sakkaki when he outlined the conditions under which an author ought to treat a subject that has already been discussed (Kashf al-Zunun, 1:35).

9 Most important, al-Qazwini begins the Talkhis by defining eloquence (balagha), whereas al-Sakkaki began the Miftah by defining linguistic expression. A. Matlub notices this, and I offer further analysis in "The Making of a Textbook" (Studia Islamica, forthcoming).

10 Baha al-Din al-Subki, Arus al-Afrah, printed with commentaries in Shuruh al-Talkhis (Cairo, n.d.), 63.

11 Hajji Khalifa, Matlub, and Sellheim all cite references to complete commentaries on the Miftah by Qutb al-Din al-Buwayhi (776/1375) and Muhammad al-Mu adhdhini (742/1341), but Sellheim argues that the attribution is problematic (op. cit., 305). The tripartite formulation of ilm al-balagha goes back most likely to al-Qazwini's fellow Damascene, Ibn Malik (686/1237; GAL, GI, 363), whose Misbah (not to be confused with the work of the same name by al-Sayyid al-Sharif al-Jurjani) uses the same system.

12 Of the eight commentaries on the Talkhis I have been able to examine, none consider the work's overall structure, or why al-Qazwini included what he did. It is worth noting that the composition and contents of the Miftah, on the other hand, are an important topic for its commentators.

13 I have paraphrased this passage because it is too long and in many places too technical to quote in full. It is, however, important to capture the flavor of al-Qazwini's sustained criticism of al-Sakkaki in some way. The relevant section is Miftah al- Ulum, ed. Nuaym Zarzur (Beirut, 1983), 369-402.

14 Dar al-Kutub, Hayat al-Kitab al-Misriya (Manuscript Division), Talat Collection, no. 208. Imad al-Din Ibn Ahmad al-Kashi, also called al-Kashani, is in GAL, GII, 273; SII, 295. I have indicated an omission where the text of the manuscript was not clear.

15 This is Dar al-Kutub, no. 196.

16 There is no reference in the catalogues to this writer. He is the author of MS 165 in the Taymur collection of Dar al-Kutub, and is referred to as Abd Allah ibn Masud ibn Taj al-Sharia, who died in 795/1657.

17 Hajji Khalifa describes the three ways in which a commentary may cite the basic text. The commentator may either say, "he says . . ., and I say . . .," or "his statement is . . ., and mine is . . .," or he may refer to single words in the main text and explain them one by one (Kashf al-Zunun, 1:36).

18 Al-Amasi's (GAL, GII, 557; SII, 631) work is in Dar al-Kutub, no. 6. Ibn al-Hajib (646/1249) is a famous grammarian (GAL, GI, 367-73; SII, 531-39), and his works cited here drew even more commentaries than the Miftah.

19 Of the nine abridgements of the Talkhis referred to in the sources, I was able to look at four, and all of these included the refutation of al-Sakkaki's definition for istiara.

20 The dispute between al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani is briefly described in E. G. Browne's Literary History of Persia, rpt. ed. (Cambridge, 1952), 3:353-54.

21 Although some authors continued to compose works that did not use the maani-bayan-badi format that al-Sakkaki had established, these were particularly rare in Central Asia. The standard approach to the subject was to compose a commentary on either al-Sakkaki or al-Qazwini, and it is to this activity that al-Taftazani and al-Jurjani devoted their efforts. The predominance of commentaries based on the Miftah shows up most clearly in the overview of works in Sellheim's Geschichte (pp. 299-301). Of the roughly 75 works referred to only four ("andere Systeme," p. 301) are not related to the Miftah.

22 Al-Taftazani's (GAL, GII, 278-80; SII, 301-4) works are al-Mutawwal (Cairo, 1330), al-Mukhtasar (printed in four volumes with a number of other commentaries and super-commentaries in Shuruh al-Talkhis |Cairo, 1342~), and his commentary on the Miftah (Dar al-Kutub, no. 35).

23 Al-Jurjani's (GAL, GII, 280-81; SII, 305-6) works are al-Misbah (Dar al-Kutub, Talat Collection) and his commentary on the Mutawwal, which is printed with al-Taftazani's work in the edition listed above. There is a printed text of the Misbah, but I was not able to use it. One must be careful not to confuse al-Sayyid al-Sharif with Abd al-Qahir, but one must also be careful not to mistake al-Jurjani's Misbah for Ibn Malik's al-Misbah fi Ikhtisar al-Miftah (The Lamp Concerning the Abridgement of the Miftah), which is an abridgement of the Miftah. One must also be careful not to confuse these works with Ibn Malik's more famous Misbah considered in note 9, which is not based on al-Sakkaki. Distinguishing between works and authors is one of the joys of examining the scholastic period.

24 The biography in al-Askari's Shadharat al-Dhahab fi Akhbar man Dhahab (v. 4, p. 319) lists the years of composition for many of al-Taftazani's works, including the three with which we are here concerned.

25 Neither scholar expressed a preference for al-Sakkaki or al-Qazwini. When reviewing problematic passages (e.g., discussion of metaphor) they cited both authors' positions, but did not pick one or the other.

26 It is worth noting that according to al-Askari, al-Taftazani was working on a commentary on al-Zamakhshari's (d. 538/1144) Kashshaf when he died. The Kashshaf is cited often in this literature, and al-Jurjani composed a commentary on it as well. The "commentary debates" of these two authors were not limited to rhetoric and hermeneutics, but extended to other fields as well.

27 The exact meanings of jarh, majruh, and madkhul are not completely clear, but it does seem safe to say that they are intended negatively. Musannifak al-Bistami (876/1470 GAL, GII, 304; SII, 329) defines the jarh in opposition to the sharh, claiming that the intention of the latter is to elucidate, while the effect (if not intention) of the former is to obfuscate (Hashiyat Musannifak ala al-Misbah, Dar al-Kutub, no. 187). Madkhul, on the other hand, is described by Muhammad b. Musa al-Busnawi (1041/1631) as a work that is particularly liable to challenge and repudiation (Hashiyah ala al-Misbah, Dar al-Kutub, no. 297).

28 The same al-Busnawi mentioned in the note above claimed that this discussion referred to al-Mutawwal because it had been subject to the frequent challenges of al-Jurjani.

29 Al-Jurjani is probably best known for the Ta rifat, a dictionary of academic terminology. Matlub has noticed that the author's inclination towards the subtle issues of specialized terms is evident in his writing on rhetoric.

30 Al-Samarqandi's (GAL, GII, 247; SII, 269) work is in Dar al-Kutub, Talat Collection, no. 314. The author is best known for his presentation of istiara in the appropriately named work, al-Samarqandiyat. The reference to "sweet water amidst the salty sea" is based most likely on Surat Fatir (35), 12, which describes the waters that God created: "Nor are the two bodies of flowing water alike--the one palatable, sweet and pleasant to drink, and the other, salty and bitter" (tr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali |Brentwood, 1989~).

31 Kamal Pasha identified al-Taftazani as "al-sharih al-muhaqqiq" and al-Jurjani as al-sharih al-mudaqqiq," a distinction that a number of other authors follow as well. It is interesting to see that this is roughly the reverse of the characterization of the two authors in the super-commentaries on the Misbah considered in note 28, where it was al-Taftazani that was described as overly obscure. Obviously, picayune remarks were a recognized problem in this literature, but just as obviously there was a difference of opinion on which authors were guilty.

32 One notices a clear difference between their oeuvres. That of al-Taftazani tends more towards fiqh and the ulum al-din, while that of al-Jurjani leans more in the direction of philosophy and the foreign sciences. Accordingly, it is not surprising that al-Jurjani would engage more than his colleague in the kind of academic speculation that invited casuistic debate. This was something for which the Islamic East, in particular, was well known.
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Author:Smyth, William
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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