Abu Hilal al-Askari

Abū Hilāl al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAbdallāh b. Sahl al-ʿAskarī (d. c. 400 AH/1010 CE), known also by the epithet al-adīb ('littérateur'), was an Arabic-language lexicographer and literatus of Persian origin, noted for composing a wide range of works enabling Persian-speakers like himself to develop refined and literary Arabic usage and so gain preferment under Arab rule.[1] He is best known for his Kitāb al-ṣināʽatayn, Dīwān al-maʽāni, and the Jamharat al-amthāl. However, he composed at least twenty-five works, many of which survive at least in part.[2]


Abū Hilāl's epithet al-ʿAskarī indicates that he came from ʿAskar Mukram in the Persian province of Khūzistān. He was taught by his father and the similarly named Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥasan ibn ʿAbdallāh ibn Saʿīd al-ʿAskarī (with whom later scholars sometimes confused him). He was a cloth merchant, and his journeying enabled him to develop a wide knowledge of Arabic-language culture.[1]

Among his poetry are works addressed to the Būyid wazīr al-Ṣāḥib ibn ʿAbbād (d. 385/995); he criticised al-Mutanabbī (d. 354/965). What seems to be his last work, Jamharat al-amthāl, indicates that his previous work, al-Awāʾil, was completed in 395 AH/1005 CE. Al-Suyūṭī reckoned that al-ʿAskarī died around 400 AH/1010 CE.[1]

The preface to al-ʿAskarī's Sharḥ Dīwān Abī Miḥjan al-Thaqafī indicates that this was the first of several planned commentaries on minor poets, but it seems that al-ʿAskarī completed no more of these.[1]

In some of his poetry, al-ʿAskarī complained that his scholarship was not shown the respect it deserved, but medieval biographers characterised his treatise Furūq as ḥasan ('good'), his al-Ṣināʿatayn as mufīd jiddan ('very useful') and badīʿ ('innovative'), and work as a whole fī ghāyat al-jawda ('totally excellent').[1]

In the assessment of Beatrice Gruendler,

Writing in Khūzistān, partly for native speakers of Persian, Abū Hilāl impressed upon them the need to master elevated (ʿulwī), as opposed to colloquial (ʿāmmī), Arabic speech and Arabic writing, for use in poetry, sermons, and epistles ... With his manuals, which are structured systematically, with detailed tables of contents in the prefaces (a format adhered to throughout his books) so that any item can be easily located, he offers aspiring udabāʾ an opportunity to shine in literary and scholarly majālis. Abū Hilāl expected his books to be memorised and cited in learned conversation, with the purpose of social advancement in the reigning Arabic literary culture, fostered by the second generation of Būyid amīrs and their wazīrs.[1]



  • al-Talkhīṣ fī maʿrifat asmāʾ al-ashyāʾ.[3] A thematically arranged thesaurus.[1]
  • al-Furūq fī l-lugha (a.k.a. al-Furūq al-lughawiyya).[4] Al-ʿAskarī presents this work as a step to attaining the level of Arabic needed for religious study and a full appreciation of the Qur'an. It disagrees with the claim of previous authorities (such as Sībawayh [d. c. 796 CE], al-Aṣmaʿī [d. 828 CE], and al-Rummānī [d. 994]) that complete synonymity (tarāduf) could exist between words within a single dialect of Arabic. It deploys around 1,200 examples. The work focuses on the speech of fuqahāʾ and mutakallimūn, alongside more common usages. The text was abridged and edited into a question-and-answer format under the title al-Lumaʿ min al-Furūq.[5] Under the title Muʿjam al-furūq al-lughawiyya, the work was also arranged alphabetically and supplemented from the eighteenth-century Nūr al-Dīn al-Jazāʾirī's Furūq al-lughāt.[6][1]
  • al-Muʿjam fī baqāyā l-ashyāʾ maʿa dhayl asmāʾ baqiyyat al-ashyāʾ.[7] A collection of terms denoting different kinds of remainders, aimed at an audience of fuqahāʾ and muḥaddithūn.[1]


Al-ʿAskarī composed poetry of his own, which is partially preserved through citations in al-ʿAskarī's own works and by others in biographical literature; this has been gathered by Muḥsin Ghayyāḍ and George Kanazi.[1][8]

Al-ʿAskarī also wrote a number of treatises on poetics:

  • Kitāb al-Ṣināʿatayn al-kitāba wa-l-shiʿr (originally named Ṣanʿat al-kalām).[9] This was al-ʿAskarī's most influential piece, influencing Ibn al-Athīr's al-Mathal al-sāʾir and abridged by Muwaffaq al-Dīn al-Baghdādī (d. 628/1230) around the thirteenth century CE, and influencing Ibn Ḥijja al-Ḥamawī's Khizānat al-adab in the fifteenth. In the assessment of Beatrice Gruendler, it was 'a foundational text for the state of rhetoric at the close of the fourth/tenth century ... Abū Hilāl was more a perceptive practical critic than a theorist, and his merit is that of assembling the accepted rules and principles of literary criticism in a more coherent, detailed, and comprehensive way than ever before ... Nonetheless, he placed prose and poetry on a par for the first time, and he expanded Ibn al-Muʾtazz's list of seventeen tropes (five badīʾ figures and twelve maḥāsin al-kalām) to twenty-nine, some of which he claimed to have invented himself. His most original chapter, even if inspired by the ʿIyār al-shiʿr of Ibn Ṭabāṭabāʾ (d. 322/934), is the one on literary borrowing (sariqa, akhdh, ittibāʿ), which he considered successful so long as the second author concealed the theft by a transfer across genres or between prose and poetry, or if he enriched the wording, the meaning, or both.' The work drew on al-Jāḥiẓ, Qudāma ibn Ja'far and Ibn al-Muʿtazz, along with (without acknowledgement) Ibn Qutayba, Ibn Ṭabāṭabāʾ, and al-Rummānī.[1]
  • Dīwān al-maʿānī.[10] A catalogue of literary conceits and motifs — the first maʿānī written in Arabic from the perspective of literary criticism rather than lexicography. Al-ʿAskarī reproduced this text in individual fascicles, each on a specific theme, for ease of reference.[1] The text is also noted as an early source of poetic Arabic riddles.[11]
  • Sharḥ Dīwān Abī Miḥjan al-Thaqafī.[12]
  • al-Risāla al-māssa fīmā lam yuḍbaṭ min al-Ḥamāsa (a.k.a. al-Risāla fī ḍabṭ wa-taḥrīr mawāḍiʿ min dīwān al-Ḥamāsa li-Abī Tammām).[13]


  • al-Awāʿil.[14] The first monograph in Arabic on inventions and their inventors in Arabic cultural history (adab).[1]
  • Jamharat al-amthāl.[15] An alphabetised collection of turns of phrase (muḥāwarāt), parables, adages, and proverbs — the most comprehensive in Arabic up to that time.
  • al-Kuramāʾ (Faḍl al-ʿaṭāʾ ʿalā l-ʿusr).[16][1]
  • al-Ḥathth ʿalā ṭalab al-ʿilm.[17] This excursus on learning reveals much about al-ʿAskarī's pedagogical conception of his writings, focusing on methods of memorisation and learning, and on the purpose of knowledge.[1]
  • Kitāb mā iḥtakama bi-hi al-khulafā’ ilā al-quḍāt.[18] In this short book, the author relates a series of cases in which caliphs submitted to a qadi's judgement.

Further readingEdit

  • Enayatollah Fatehi-nezhad and Farzin Negahban, 'Abū Aḥmad al-ʿAskarī', in Encyclopaedia Islamica, ed. by Wilferd Madelung and Farhad Daftary, doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_0035.
  • Badawī Ṭabāna, Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī wa-maqāyīsuhu al-balāghiyya wa-l-naqdiyya (Beirut, 1401/1981).
  • George Kanazi, Studies in the Kitāb al-Ṣināʾatayn of Abū Hilāl al-ʾAskarī (Leiden, 1989).
  • Beatrice Gruendler, 'Motif vs. genre. Reflections on the Dīwān al-maʿānī of Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskarī', in Thomas Bauer and Angelika Neuwirth (eds.), Ghazal as world literature 1. Transformations of a literary genre (Beirut and Stuttgart, 2005), 57–85.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Gruendler, Beatrice (2007). "Al-ʿAskarī, Abū Hilāl". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE. Brill Online. ISSN 1873-9830.
  2. ^ George Kanazi, 'The Works of Abū Hilāl al-ʽAskarī', Arabica, 22.1 (Feb., 1975), 61-70.
  3. ^ Ed. by ʿIzzat Ḥasan, 2 vols (Damascus, 1389–90/1969–70).
  4. ^ Anonymous edn (Cairo, 1353/1934-5); ed. by ʿĀdil Nuwayhiḍ (Beirut, 1393/1973); ed. by Ahmad Salīm al-Ḥimṣī (Tripoli [Lebanon], 1415/1994).
  5. ^ Anonymous edn (Būlāq, 1322/1904-5); anonymous edn (Cairo, 1345 AH/1926-27 CE).
  6. ^ Anonymus edn (Qum, 1412 AH).
  7. ^ Ed. by Oskar Rescher, Seminar für Orientalischen Sprachen, Universität Berlin. Mitteilungen Abt. 2 Jahrgang (Berlin, 1915 CE), 16:103–30; ed. by Ibrāhīm al-Abyārī and ʿAbd al-Ḥafīẓ Shalabī (Cairo, 1934 CE); ed. by ʿAḥmad Abd al-Tawwāb ʿAwaḍ (Cairo 1998 CE).
  8. ^ Shiʿr Abī Hilāl al-ʿAskarī, ed. by Muḥsin Ghayyāḍ (Beirut 1975); ed. by Jūrj Qanāzi [George Kanazi] (Damascus, 1400 AH/1979 CE).
  9. ^ Ed. by Alī al-Bijāwī and Muḥammad Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm (Cairo, 1952 [repr. 1971]).
  10. ^ ʾImām ʾAbī Hilāl ʾal-ʿAskarī, Dīwān al-maʿānī, 2 vols in 1 (Cairo: Maktabat ʾal-Qudsī, 1352 AH/1933–34 CE) [reprinted as أبو هلال الحسن بن عبد الله بن سهل بن سعيد بن يحيى بن مهران العسكري, ديوان المعاني, 1 volume in 2 parts (Beirut: دار الجيل [Dār al-Jīl])] [a lacuna in this edition is filled from another manuscript by Aḥmad Salīm Ghānim, Journal of Arabic Manuscripts 47.11 (2003), 117–63]; Abū Hilāl al-ʿAskari, Dīwān al-maʿāni, ed. Ahmad Salim Ghānim, 2 vols (Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmi, 1424 AH/2003 CE). The latter is a critical edition, drawing on several manuscripts, and fully indexed.
  11. ^ Carl Brockelmann, History of the Arabic Written Tradition, trans. by Joep Lameer, Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1 The Near and Middle East, 117, 5 vols in 6 (Leiden: Brill, 2016-19), III (=Supplement Volume 1) p. 88; ISBN 978-90-04-33462-5 [trans. from Geschichte der Arabischen Litteratur, [2nd edn], 2 vols (Leiden: Brill, 1943-49); Geschichte der arabischen Litteratur. Supplementband, 3 vols (Leiden: Brill, 1937-42)], citing ʾImām ʾAbī Hilāl ʾal-ʿAskarī, Dīwān al-maʿānī, 2 vols in 1 (Cairo: Maktabat ʾal-Qudsī, 1352AH [1933CE]), II 208-14 [i.e. ch 12, section entitled Arabic: فصل في تعمية الأشعار [reprinted as أبو هلال الحسن بن عبد الله بن سهل بن سعيد بن يحيى بن مهران العسكري, ديوان المعاني, 1 volume in 2 parts (Beirut: دار الجيل [Dār al-Jīl])].
  12. ^ Ed. by Carlo Landberg, Primeurs arabes (Leiden, 1886 CE), facs., 1:57–75; ed. by Salāḥ al-Dīn al-Munajjid (Beirut, 1389 AH/1970 CE).
  13. ^ Ed. by George Kanazi, JSAI, 2 (1980 CE), 97–163 [repr. in Haifa and Nazareth, 1991 CE]).
  14. ^ Ed. by Muḥammad al-Sayyid Wakīl (Medina and Tangier, 1966 CE); ed. by Walīd Qaṣṣāb and Muḥammad al-Miṣrī, 2 vols (Damascus, 1975 CE [repr. Riyadh 1401 AH/1981-82 CE).
  15. ^ Ed. by Muḥammad Abū l-Faḍl Ibrāhīm and ʿAbd al-Majīd Qaṭāmish, 2 vols (Cairo 1384 AH/1964 CE); ed. by Aḥmad ʿAbd al-Salām and Muḥammad Saīd Zaghlūl, 2 vols (Beirut 1408 AH/1988 CE).
  16. ^ Ed. by Maḥmūd al-Jabālī (Cairo, 1326 AH/1908 CE); ed. by Maḥmūd Muḥammad Shākir (Cairo, 1353 AH/1934 CE).
  17. ^ Ed. Marwān Qabbānī (Beirut and Damascus, 1406 AH/1986 CE).
  18. ^ ʻAskarī, Abū Hilāl al-Ḥasan ibn ʻAbd Allāh.; عسكري، ابو هلال الحسن بن عبد الله. (2011). Le Livre des califes qui s'en remirent au jugement d'un cadi. Le Caire. ISBN 978-2-7247-0554-6. OCLC 731682619.