al-Fihrist: A 10th Century AD Survey of Islamic Culture


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The Catalog (Kitab al-fihrist) by Ibn al-Nadim (d. 995 AD) is an index of all books written in Arabic either by Arabs or non-Arabs and contains ten discourses. The first six of them deal with books on Islamic subjects: 1. the Scriptures of Muslims, Jews and Christians with emphasis on the Quran and Quranic sciences; 2. grammar and philology; 3. history, biography, genealogy and related subjects; 4. poetry; 5. scholastic theology (kalam); 6. law and tradition. The last four discourses deal with non-Islamic subjects. 7. philosophy and the ancient sciences; 8. legends, fables, magic, conjuring Inc; 9. the doctrines of the non-monotheistic creeds; 10. alchemy. The author, a bookseller, often mentions the size of a book and the number of pages so buyers would not be cheated by copyists creating shorter versions. He refers often to copies written by famous calligraphers, bibliographies and other libraries and speaks of an auction and of the trade in books. In the opening section he deals with the alphabets of 14 people (Arabs and non-Arabs) and their manner of writing and also with the writing-pen, paper and its different varieties. Reviewed on NPR’s program, All Things Considered.


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