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An Early Islamic Family from Oman: Al-Awtabi's Account of the Muhallabids.

This monograph of the late Professor Hinds consists of a translation of a small part of the much larger work by the little-known Umani historian and genealogist Abu al-Mundhir Salama b. Muslim al-Awtabi al-Suhari, who appears to have flourished around 500 A.H., or the beginning of the 12th century C.E. Hinds' work is far more than a translation, however, for he has also included a valuable introduction, index, and, most important, copious notes that amount to a third to a half of the text itself. In doing so, he has made a useful contribution to the study of early Muslim history.

The work of al-Awtabi in question is Kitab al-ansab, a genealogically organized book similar to al-Baladhuri's Ansab al-ashraf in plan but unlike it in concentrating on the Yaman or Qahtan tribal grouping, especially its Azdi branches, prominent in Uman. Although al-Awtabi appears to have used Ibn al-Kalbi's great Kitab nasab Maadd wa al-Yaman al-kabir, the father of most Arabic genealogical works focusing on the early period, he also seems to have relied on sources, possibly local ones, having information not found in Ibn al-Kalbi. This is evident from the lists of the children of Abu Sufra and of al-Muhallab. Like al-Baladhuri's work, al-Awtabi's contains not only genealogical material but extensive historical narratives as well, which greatly enhance the book's value. Very frequently al-Awtabi's accounts have no parallel in other sources, as Hinds has pointed out in many instances in his notes.

Al-Awtabi's entire work was published in the original Arabic in Uman in 1981-84.(1) Hinds points out the deficiencies of the printed text as well as the problems of editing Arabic manuscripts in general. He does this through a second set of notes appearing in a special register on each page, in addition to the historical notes, and dealing only with the criticism of the text. By this means, he has in effect produced a critical edition of this section of al-Awtabi. The Umani printed text, which is uncritical, seems to be based on one or more manuscripts found in Uman. Hinds did not use this MS, but rather the printed text as a representative of it. Then he did yeoman work in ferreting out four other MSS; these came from libraries scattered in Cairo, Paris, Durham, and Krakow, suggesting the odd corners where relevant or unique information may be found. Hinds' work shows that printed texts, especially uncritical ones, cannot be trusted to be anything like final editions until they are painstakingly verified by a comparison of all the relevant manuscripts.

Although Hinds' work comprises only a small part of the original, by giving so complete a critical apparatus it will give scholars an idea of the value of the whole work and enable them to compare it critically with parallel texts in better-known works, such as those of al-Tabari and al-Baladhuri. The uniqueness of much of the material in al-Awtabi shows how crucial it is that scholars not neglect obscure, later works, lest data be missed. It also indicates how vital local histories are in completing our historical information, for they often represent traditions that were lost, suppressed, or simply did not exist in the main centers of the caliphate.

In this particular instance, our information about the Muhallabids is greatly augmented. While there are no startling new revelations, the role of a great provincial noble family comes out in far more detail and in a continuous narrative. Especially useful are the career of Abu Sufra from his Umani roots, the Muhallabids' connections with Uman, and their connections with the nearby parts of Iran across the Gulf.

Professor Hinds' posthumous monograph is an exciting and splendid scholarly endeavor. One can only wish that his life had been extended so that he might have left us with more of his fine work.

1 Some rather large omissions are noted by Hinds, however. Salama b. Muslim al-Awtabi al-Suhari, al-Ansab, Uman: Wizarat al-Turath al-Qawmiya al-Thaqafa, 1402-4/1981-84, 2 vols.
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Author:Blankinship, Khalid Yahya
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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