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  • Bergen Studies on the Middle East and Africa : 2

    Herbjørn Jenssen:

    The Subtleties and Secrets of the Arabic Language

    Preliminary Investigations into al-Qazwini's Talkhis al-miftah

    Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman al-Qazwini (d. 1398), while a qadi in Baghdad, was also a scholar on the Arabic language. This study of one of his major works sees him as a product of the madrasa system of the period, and views the relations between meaning (ma'ani) and rhetoric (balagha), together with a discussion of Western scholarship on balagha.

    Al-Qazwini's Life and Works

    Three modern scholars give biographical information on al-Qazwini: Carl Brockelmann in his Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur; [1] Seeger Bonebakker, in a biographical article in the second edition of Encyclopaedia of Islam; [2] and Ahmad Matlub in his monumental dissertation al-Qazwini wa-shuruh al-Talkhis (al-Qazwini and the commentaries on the Talkhis). The account of al-Qazwini's life given by Brockelmann is based on few and relatively late sources, and should be considered as superseded by that given by the two later writers. Bonebakker has made use of Matlub, checking the latter's information against the sources. His article should therefore be the most reliable of the three. The sources used by Matlub and Bonebakker are the biographical dictionaries and chronicles dealing with the 7th/13th and 8th/14th centuries. Among these, the entry in al-Safadi's Wafi bi'l-wafayat, should be considered of special value, since al-Safadi knew al-Qazwini personally and received an ijaza from him. [3]

    Bonebakker and Brockelmann agree on 666 AH as the year of his birth, Brockelmann implies that al-Qazwini was born early in the year, giving the AD date 1267, whereas Bonebakker gives 1268. Matlub gives the more precise date of Sha'ban 666, which brings us well into 1268.

    The name Abu 'l-Ma'ali, which Brockelmann attributes to our author, seems to have belonged to his brother Imam al-Din. [4] Bonebakker gives the name as Jalal al-Din Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Umar, which corresponds to the name given by Matlub except that the latter continues the line back to Abu Dulaf al-'Ijli, from whom al-Qazwini claimed to be descended. [5] The claim is discussed in Matlub, [6] but as Bonebakker points out, it cannot be proven. From this it follows that the question of whether al-Qazwini's ancestry was Arab or Persian is still unresolved.

    More often than not, later authors refer to him by the title khatib Dimashq, which is sometimes given in the form al-khatib al-Dimashqi or transformed into the nisba al-Khatibi. Bonebakker reports not to have found it in any of the biographies known to him, and it would seem probable that it is of late origin. Al-Qazwini did however hold the office of khatib in the Umayyad mosque in Damascus from 703/1303-4 onwards. [7] The title was therefore not necessarily bestowed in praise of his eloquence, as Bonebakker suggests. Since the name Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman, under which biographical dictionaries such as the Wafi places our author, is less than unusual, the laqab may well be used merely to distinguish him from other al-Qazwinis, such as al-Qazwini al-Katibi.

    His place of birth is usually given as Mosul, that of his brother Imam al-Din was Tabriz. Practically nothing can be said with any certainty about his life before he came to Damascus 'in or before 689/1290'. [8] His career after this date was that of a distinguished faqih. Al-Safadi reports that he had held a position as qadi somewhere in Asia Minor (Rum), 'when he was less than twenty years of age. At any rate, he must already have had quite a good education when he arrived in Damascus where he, according to al-Safadi, continued to study fiqh, but also took part in disputes, and took students. [9] In 693/1294, we find him lecturing.

    In the twenty-second day of Sha'ban (18 July 1294) the qadi Jalal al-Din al-Qazwini, the brother of Imam al-Din, taught in the Masruriyya, and his brother, the chief qadi Shihab al-Din b. al-Khuwayyi, and the Shaykh Taqi al-Din ibn Taymiyya attended. It was a well attended (hafil) lesson. [10]
    In 694/1295 al-Qazwini replaced his brother Imam al-Din as professor of the Zahiriyya al-Barraniyya, and in 696/1296-7 he deputized for him as qadi of Damascus. [11] After this, he held several teaching positions, deputized as qadi of Damascus again, this time for Najm al-Din b. Sasra, [12] was appointed imam and khatib of the Umayyad mosque in Damascus in 706/1307 and chief qadi and qadi of the army in Syria in 724/1324. His career culminated with his appointment as chief qadi of Cairo in 727/1327. Because of his somewhat unruly sons, the sultan al-Nasir, over whom he is said to have had considerable influence, was in the end compelled to send him back to Damascus, where he was chief qadi a brief period before he died in 739/1338.

    This study will focus on al-Qazwini's work as a scholar, about which, unfortunately, we have much less information than we have about his official career. The only one of his teachers who may be said to be well-known is 'Alam al-Din al-Birzali. [13] His education comprised fiqh, hadith, logic and the 'ilm al-awa`il. [14] When Bonebakker concludes from this that 'there is no indication that Kazwini owed his interest in rhetoric to any of [his teachers]', [15] it may be added that there are no counterindications either. On the contrary, a close relationship between fiqh, logic and what Nicholas Rescher calls grammatical-rhetorical studies was about to become fairly typical at just this time. [16] Bonebakker also mentions some examples of al-Qazwini's 'talents as a man of letters': He 'encouraged the study of adab through his lectures' and possibly also 'composed an anthology of the poetry of Arrajani'. [17] One cannot fail, however, to feel that Bonebakker is somewhat puzzled by the dearth of truly 'literary' activities in al-Qazwini's scholarly career.

    Al-Qazwini is known to have taught in several madrasas in Damascus - Matlub mentions the Masruriyya, the Zahiriyya al-Barraniyya, the Aminiyya, the 'Adiliyya and the Ghazaliyya. [18] On the whole, al-Qazwini's career as a scholar must be said to be strongly connected with the institution of the madrasa. He finished his education in the madrasas of Damascus, got his first job in this city in a madrasa, and continued to teach in institutions of this type even at the height of his career as a jurist and adviser to the sultan. In addition, he is said to have had his own halqas in 'the mosques and institutions of learning'. [19] His main subject would seem to have been hadith, and only two of the twelve students of his mentioned by Matlub are expressly said to have studied balagha under him. These are 'Umar b. Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Futuh (died 769/1367-8) and Baha` al-Din al-Subki, who received his ijaza for the Talkhis and wrote a commentary on it called 'Arus al-afrah. [20]

    The only books of al-Qazwini that have survived into our days are the Talkhis and his enlarged version of the same work, the Idah. [21] According to Matlub, there is a manuscript of the Idah in the Ma'had al-makhtutat al-'Arabiyya of the Arab League in Cairo carrying the date 724/1324. [22] This would mean that the Talkhis was compiled before this date, probably some time before it, too, as the need for an enlarged version would hardly be felt before the work had achieved a certain circulation.

    Al-Qazwini himself described the background and purposes of his work thus:

    As to what follows: The science of balagha and that which appends to balagha (tawabi'uha) is among the more sublime sciences in rank, and the more subtle in its secrets, for through it the subtleties and secrets of the Arabic language are known, and through it the veils are lifted from the various aspects (wujuh) of the inimitability of the syntactic organization (nazm) of the Qur`an.
    The third part of the Miftah al-'ulum ['The Key to the Sciences'], which the eminent and erudite Abu Ya'qub Yusuf al-Sakkaki compiled, is the most useful among the well-known books compiled on this science, because it is the best arranged and the most accurately written, as well as the one drawing upon the greatest number of sources (aktharaha li'l-usuli jam'an). But it is not free from unnecessary detail (hashw), lengthiness and intricacy, it admits abridgement and needs to be clarified and stripped down (tajrid).

    I have abridged it while retaining all its principles (qawa'id) and including all the examples (amthila) and shawahid it needs, and I have not spared any effort in verifying or rectifying it. I have given it an arrangement closer at hand than the original, and not overdone the abridgement of its words while making it easier to grasp and seeking to make it easier to understand for those studying it. To this, I have added some useful things which I came across in some of the books of other scholars (fi ba'di kutubi 'l-qawm), and some additional matter which I have not found, explicit or implicit, in anyone else's utterances.

    I have called it the Talkhis al-Miftah ('The Abridgement of the Key'), and I ask God (exalted be He) out of His grace to help it as He helped its source, for He is capable of that, and He is sufficient, and He is the most excellent protector. [23]

    In the preface to the Idah, which is even shorter than that of the Talkhis, al-Qazwini also mentions 'the two books of the Imam 'Abd al-Qahir al-Jurjani', stating that he has 'betaken himself to that which the Miftah missed' from these two books (the Asrar al-balagha and the Dala`il al-i'jaz). [24] It is obvious, of course, that these three were not the only works used (in the sense 'quoted', verbatim or otherwise) by al-Qazwini. Matlub, basing himself, it would seem, on references found in the many commentaries he has described, has identified some, and probably all the more important, of al-Qazwini's sources. These will thus not be detailed here, reference being made to Matlub's work.

    Whatever the relative importance of al-Qazwini's various sources were, there can be no doubt that he himself gave the 'ilm al-balagha its final form. The subdivisions he created are still those normally used in works on this science even today. [25]


    1. Carl Brockelmann, Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur (GAL), Leiden 1937-49, II, 22 and Supplement (S), II, 15-16. [*]

    2. . Seeger Adrianus Bonebakker, 'al-Kazwini' in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New edn (EI2), Leiden 1960 - .[*]

    3. . Bonebakker, 'Kazwini', 863. Bonebakker also refers to a poem in praise of al-Qazwini, quoted in Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi'iyya, which is supposed to be by al-Safadi.[*]

    4. Ahmad Matlub, al-Qazwini wa-shuruh at-talkhis, Baghdad 1967, 102.[*]

    5. The full name as given by Matlub (Qazwini, 98) is Jalal al-Din Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Umar b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Karim b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. Ibrahim b. 'Ali b. Ahmad b. Dulaf b. Abi Dulaf al-'Ijli, to which he adds the nisbas al-Qazwini al-Dimashqi al-Shafi'i. He also records some variants, the most important being Ibn 'Abd al-Rahim for Ibn 'Abd al-Rahman.[*]

    6. Matlub, Qazwini, 99-102[*]

    7. Al-Hafiz b. Kathir Abu 'l-Fida`, al-Bidaya wa'l-nihaya, XIII, Beirut/Riyad 1966, 185.[*]

    8. Bonebakker, 'Kazwini', 863.[*]

    9. Salah al-Din Khalil b. Aybak al-Safadi, Kitab al-Wafi bi'l-wafayat, ed. S. Dedering, 2nd edn, Wiesbaden 1981, II, 242.[*]

    10. Abu 'l-Fida`, Bidaya, quoted from Matlub, Qazwini, 124-5. [*]

    11. Matlub, Qazwini, 125 and al-Safadi, Wafi, II, 242.[*]

    12. Bonebakker, 'Kazwini'. [*]

    13. For this historian and hadith scholar, see F. Rosenthal, 'al-Birzali', EI2. [*]

    14. Probably here in the sense of 'the learning or science of the Ancients' i.e. the Greeks (George Makdisi, The Rise of Colleges: Institutions of learning in Islam and in the West, Edinburgh 1981, 79). For the literature on the awa`il in the sense 'the originators of customs and ideas', the first to do something, which would probably be called a ma'rifa rather than a 'ilm, consult the EI2 s.v. 'Awa`il.'[*]

    15. Bonebakker, 'Kazwini', 863.[*]

    16. Nicholas Rescher, The Development of Arabic Logic, Pittsburgh 1964, Chapter 6, especially pp. 77-8. See also Josef van Ess, Die Erkenntnislehre des 'Adudaddin al-Ici; ~bersetzung und Kommentar des ersten Buches seiner Mawaqif, Wiesbaden 1966, 4-7.[*]

    17. Bonebakker, 'Kazwini', 863.[*]

    18. Matlub, Qazwini, 124-7.[*]

    19. Matlub, Qazwini, 120.[*]

    20. Matlub, Qazwini, 120-1.[*]

    21. The two words Talkhis and Idah seem to be the only fixed elements in the titles of these books. The Talkhis is commonly referred to as Talkhis al-miftah, but is also called al-Talkhis fi 'ulum al-balagha and al-Talkhis fi 'l-ma'ani wa'l-bayan wa'l-badi'. The Idah may be referred to as Idah al-talkhis or al-Idah fi 'ulum al-balagha, etc. Here they are referred to simply as the Talkhis and the Idah.[*]

    22. Matlub, Qazwini, 164. Bonebakker, 'Kazwini', quotes this as if it concerned a manuscript of the Talkhis, probably as the result of a printing mistake.[*]

    23. al-Qazwini, Talkhis [Talkhis al-miftah fi 'l-ma'ani wa'l-bayan wa'l-badi'], Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi 1358/1938, 5-9.[*]

    24. al-Qazwini, Idah [al-Idah fi 'ulum al-balagha, al-ma'ani wa'l-bayan wa'l-badi'], Beirut: Dar al-Jil, n.d., 3.[*]

    25. As an example, I should like to mention a work by Dr. Fawzi al-Sayyid 'Abd Rabbihi, a scholar at al-Azhar, entitled 'The Rhetorical Standards of al-Jahiz in al-Bayan wa'l-Tabyin'. Large sections of the list of contents of this work, which was published in 1983, reads like a list of contents of the Talkhis. See especially the various headings of the second fasl of the third bab'; al-Maqayis al-balaghiyya 'inda 'l-Jahiz fi 'l-Bayan wa'l-tabyin, Cairo: Dar al-Thaqafa li'l-nashr wa'l-tawzi' 1983, 172. [*]

    (From Chapter 1)

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