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A Maqāma on Secretaryship: Al-Qalqashandī's Al-Kawākib Al-Durriyya Fī'l-Manāqib Al-Badriyya

  • C. E. Bosworth


The maqāma genre has had a place in Arabic literature for nearly a thousand years. With the maqāmāt of Badī' al-Zamān al-Hamadhānī (357–98/969–1007), it appears as a fully developed, independent literary form, although precursors of it have been traced back beyond al-Hamadhānī to the argot and cant of thieves and beggars as displayed, for instance, in the Kitāb al-bukhalā’ of al-Jāḥiẓ and the qaṣīda al-sāsāniyya of Abū Dulaf Mis'ar b. Muhalhil, and possibly back to the model of a lost Kitdb al-arba'īn of the philologist and lexicographer Ibn Duraid. The history of the maqāma in its classical form closes only with the productions in the last century of such writers as the Baghdādī scholar Shihāb al-Dīn Maḥmūd al-Alūsī (1217–70/1802–54) and the Lebanese Christian Nāṣīf al-Yāzijī (1800–71). It is true that in the early decades of our own century, such Egyptian writers as Muḥammad Ibrāhīm al-Muwailḥī and the poet Muḥammad Ḥāfiẓ Ibrāhīm used a very free adaptation of the maqāma form for the entirely novel purpose of social criticism; but with the disappearance to-day of the florid and artificial style of Arabic writing, it is unlikely that anyone will ever resuscitate the classical maqāma and we may safely conclude that it has died out.



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1 cf. Gibb, H. A. R., ‘Studies in contemporary Arabic literature, IV. The Egyptian novel’, BSOS, VII, 1, 1933, 47 = Studies on the civilization of Islam, London, 1962, 289–91.

2 A chess maqāma in the John Rylands Library’, BJRL, XXXVI, 1, 1953, 111–27.

3 On the genre in general, see the introduction of Chenery, T. to his translation, The assemblies of Al Harîri, I, London, 1867, 1102; Nicholson, , Literary history of the Arabs, second ed., Cambridge, 1953, 328–36; Brockelmann, El, first ed., art. ‘Maḳāma’; some interesting remarks in von Grunebaum, G. E., ‘The spirit of Islam as shown in its literature’, Islam, essays in the nature and growth of a cultural tradition, London, 1955, 104–9 (originally in Studia Islamica, I, 1953, 114–19). O. Rescher has made extensive contributions to the study of this form in his Beiträge zur Maqāmen-Litteratur (several parts, variously published in Germany and Istanbul in the second decade of this century), containing many texts and translations.

4 The same preoccupation with order and formalism is observable in the field of Islamic art; Ettinghausen, R. has called that of the Mamluks ‘the most rigidly composed art of the Islamic world’ (Arabic painting, 1962, 143).

5 See Björkman's, W. indispensable analysis of the Ṣubḥ al-a'shā, Beiträge zur Geschichle der Staatskanzlei im islamischen Ägypten (Hamburgische Universität. Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiet der Auslandskunde, Bd. XXVIII, Reihe B, Bd. xvi), 1928, esp. 31 ff.

6 Muḥammad 'Abd al-Rasūl, Director of the Maṭba'a al-Amīriyya and supervisor of the edition of the Ṣubḥ al-a‘shā, prefixed to the last volume of this a short biography of al-Qalqashandī and a list of his works. In this he quotes the brief biographical notices of al-Sakhāwī in his al-Ḍau' al-lāmi' fī a'yān al-qarn al-tasi' and of al-Ḥanbalī, Ibn al-'Imād in his Shajarat al-dhahab fī akhbār man dhahab (Ṣubḥ, XIV, 1420, tr. in Gaudefroy-Demombynes, M., La Syrie à l'époque des Mamelouks d'après les auteurs arabes, Paris, 1923, introd., vi-ix. For the expression kātib al-darj, see below, p. 298, n. 19.

7 cf. Wiet, G., ‘Lea secrétaires de la Chancellerie (Kuttâb-el-Sirr) en Égypte sous les Mamlouks circassiens (784–922/1382–1517)’, Mélanges René Basset, études nord-africaines et orientates, Paris, 19231925, I, 271–5, and Björkman, op. cit., 69; and on the Banū Faḍdlallāh in general, Hartmann, R., ‘Politische Geographie des Mamlūkenreichs. Kapitel 5 und 6 des Staatshandbuchs Ibn Faḍlallāh al-‘Omarī’s’, ZDMG, LXX, 1916, 17.

8 Ṣubḥ, VIII, 62.

9 Ṣubḥ, I, 56–7, xiv, 116–17.

10 cf. the biography in Ibn Khallikān, tr. de Slane (Paris, 1842–70), II, 490–6.

11 For the elucidation of this reference and of others in these two passages, see the notes of Chenery to his translation, I, 475–8.

12 For the awārij/awāraj (<Persian āvāra ‘carried, brought over’), see al-Khwārizmī, , Mafātīḥ al-'ulūm, ed. van Vloten, G., Leiden, 1895, 54–5, 78, and Hinz, W., ‘Das Rechnungswesen orientalischer Reichsfinanzämter im Mittelalter’, Der Islam, xxix, 2, 1950, 120–2.

13 Text (Cairo, 1326/1908), 213–16, tr. Chenery, I, 230–2.

14 A parallel list of the books useful for a secretary is given in Ṣubḥ, I, 467–78, and this has now been translated and annotated byWiet, G., ‘Les classiques du scribe égyptien au xve siècle’, Studia Islamica, XVIII, 1963, 4180.

15 I am grateful to Dr. P. J. E. Cachia for help with this passage.

16 The intervention of an unseen voice, the Hātif al-ghaib, as a deus ex machina in situations of perplexity and distress, is a cliche of Islamic literature, as is its bombardment of the narrator with Qur'anic and poetic quotations.

17 In his very elaborate forty-sixth maqāma, that of Ḥimṣ, al-Ḥarīrī inserts a poem containing the words in the language spelt with ẓā' and in Ṣubḥ, III, 222–6, al-Qalqashandī himself gives a list; the orthographic distinction between ḍād and ẓā' continues, of course, to baffle many Arabs at the present day.

18 On the title al-Maqarr ‘Excellency, Exalted Presence’, literally ‘resting-place’, which seems to be peculiar to Mamluk usage, see Ṣubḥ, vi, 126–7, 130–3, 146–8, 154–5, 161, cf. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, , La Syrie à l'époque des Mamelouks, introd., lxxxii, lxxxv f., quoting also Ibn Shīth and Ibn Faḍlallāh. Ibn Shīth states that till the time of Sultan al-Manṣūr Saif al-Dīn Qalā'ūn (678–89/1280–90), it was a royal title only. However,al-Bāshā, Ḥasan has shown in his recent, useful study, al-Alqāb al-islāmiyya fi'l-ta'rīhh wa'l-wathā'iq wa'l-āthār Cairo, 1958, 489–94, on the evidence of coins and inscriptions, that the title was used at the very outset of the Mamluk empire for great men of state as well as for the sultans.

19 The distinction in the Mamluk administration between the kuttāb al-dast and the kuttāb al-darj is stressed in the sources of the period, and it is possible that its origins are to be found in Fāṭimid times. The kuttāb al-dast probably derived their name from the dais (dast) of the sultan, for according to Ibn Faḍlallāh and al-Qalqashandī, this group of secretaries accompanied the chief secretary (kātib al-sirr) when he sat with the sultan for the public dispensation of justice. These secretaries affixed the sultan's tauqī‘ to executive decisions, and were thus also called muwaqqi‘ūn. The kuttāb al-darj were considerably more numerous. Their name came from the large sheets of paper used for official purposes (durūj), each composed of a series of smaller pieces (auṣaī). This group of secretaries copied out official documents and edicts, although al-Qalqashandī says that in his own time, the kuttāb al-dast had taken over the task of writing out the most important of the sultan's orders. The kuttāb al-darj now dealt only with orders of secondary importance, and their status had accordingly fallen: ‘The leading position of this office declined and its prestige fell, until the only people who were content with it were those who were not in fact fit for it’ (Ṣubḥ, I, 137–9; cf. Quatremère, , Histoire des sultans Mamlouks de l'Égypte, Paris, 1837, I, ii, 175–6, I, II, 221–3, 236–41, and Gaudefroy-Demombynes, op. cit., introd., lxix–lxxi).


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