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Muḥammad ibn Ishāq al-Nadīm (Arabic: ابوالفرج محمد بن إسحاق النديم‎) known as Abū al-Faraj Muḥammad ibn Abī Ya'qūb Ishāq ibn Muḥammad ibn Ishāq al-Warrāq (d. 17 September 995 or 998 CE) was a Muslim scholar and bibliographer[1]

Al-Nadīm was the tenth century bibliophile who compiled the encyclopedic catalogue known as 'Kitāb al-Fihrist'. This important source of medieval Islāmic culture and scholarship, from his own and various ancient civilizations, preserves many names of authors, book titles and accounts that would otherwise be entirely lost. Al-Fihrist evidences Al-Nadīm's voracious thirst and curiosity for all forms of knowledge and learning, and captures a glimpse into an exciting sophisticated milieu of Baghdad's intellectual elite. In the preface Al-Nadīm describes his book as;

- a catalogue of the books of all peoples, Arab and foreign, existing in the language of the Arabs, as well as their scripts, dealing with various sciences, with accounts of those who composed them and the categories of their authors, together with their relationships, their times of birth, length of life, and times of death, the localities of their cities, their virtues and faults, from the beginning of the formation of science to this our own time (377 /987).[2] [3]



Much of what is known of al-Nadīm is deduced from his epithets. The name 'al-Nadim' means 'the Court Companion' and 'al-Warrāq (الورّاق) means 'the Copyist of MSS.'. He was probably born in Baghdad ca. 320/932 and died there on Wednesday, 20 Šaʿbān 380/12 November 990. Some have suggested he was Persian.[4][5]

From the age of six al-Nadīm would have attended a 'madrasa' (school attached to a mosque). Clearly al-Nadīm received a quality comprehensive education in Islamic studies, history, geography, comparative religion and the sciences. He would have studied Arabic grammar, rhetoric and Qur'ānic commentary. Ibrahīm al-Abyārī, author of Turāth al-Insaniyah says al-Nadīm studied with al-Hasan ibn Sawwār, a logician and translator of science books; Yūnus al-Qass, translator of classical mathematical texts; and Abū al-Hasan Muhammad ibn Yūsuf al-Nāqit, scholar in Greek science.[6] An inscription, in an early copy of al-Fihrist, probably by the historian al-Maqrīzī, relates that al-Nadīm was a pupil of the jurist Abū Sa'īd al-Sīrāfī (d.978/9), the poet Abū al-Faraj al-Isbahānī, and the historian Abū 'Abd Allāh al-Marzubānī and others. Al-Maqrīzī's phrase 'but no one quoted him', would imply al-Nadīm himself did not teach. [7] While attending lectures of some of the leading scholars of the tenth century, he served an apprenticeship in his father's profession, the book trade. His father, a 'warrāq' (bookdealer) and owner of a prosperous bookstore, commissioned al-Nadīm to buy manuscripts from dealers. Al-Nadim, with the other calligrapher scribes employed, would then copy these for the customers. The bookshop, customarily on an upper floor, would have been a popular hangout for intellectuals.[8]

He probably visited the intellectual centers at al-Baṣrah and al-Kūfah in search of scholarly material. He may have visited Aleppo, a center of literature and culture under the rule of Sayf al-Dawlah. In Mosul he discovered a fragment of a book by Euclid in one of its libraries, and works of poetry. The city was ruled by Nāṣir al-Dawlah, a Hamdanid and a lover of learning and al-Nadīm may have served him as 'Court Companion'. [9] The author came from a highly educated family so he, or one of his ancestors, may have been a 'member of the Round Table of the prince'. The Buyid Khalif Aḍud-ad-Daula (r. 356-367 H), was the great friend of a arts and sciences, loved poets and scholars, gave them salaries, and founded a significant library.[10] More probably service at the court of Mu'izz al-Dawlah, and later his son Izz al-Dawlah's, in Baghdad, earned him the title. He mentions meeting someone in Dār al-Rūm in 988 AD, about the period of the book's compilation.[11] However it is probable that, here, 'Dār al-Rūm' refers to the Greek Orthodox sector of Baghdad rather than Constantinople.[12]

Others among his wide circle of elites were Ali ibn Harun ibn al-Munajjim (d.963), of the Banu Munajjim and the Christian philosopher Ibn al-Khammar. He admired Abu Sulayman al-Mantiqi, son of 'Ali b. 'Isa the "Good Vizier" of the Banu al-Jarrah, for his knowledge of philosophy, logic and the Greek, Persian and Indian sciences, especially Aristotle. The physician Ibn Abī Usaybi'ah (d.1273), mentions al-Nadīm thirteen times and calls him a kātib, a writer, or perhaps a government secretary[13]. Al-Nadīm's surname 'Abu al-Faraj' indicates he was married, with at least one son and a home in Baghdad.


Ibn Hajar claimed al-Nadīm was Shī'a.[14] Al-Nadīm uses the term al-khassī (i.e. 'elite'), for the Shī'ah, and the term al-'āmmī (i.e. 'ignorant') for non-Shī'ite. He also uses the pejorative term Ḥashawīyya for Sunnites and calls the Hanbali school Ahl al-Hadith ("People of the Hadith") instead of Ahl al-Sunna ("People of the Tradition"). Al-Nadīm attaches the Prophets' eulogy, or 'durood', i.e. alaihi al-salam (Peace Be With Him), to the names of Shia Imams and the Ahl al-Bayt (Descendants of Muhammad). He refers to Shia imam Ali ar-Rida,as 'mawlana' ('lord', or 'master'), claims al-Waqidi concealed being a Shi'ite by 'taqiyya' (dissimulation), and claims most of the (orthodox) 'traditionalists' were 'Zaydiyya'. Ibn Hajar also claims that al-Nadīm was a member of the heretical sect, the Mu'tazila. Much of chapter five of al-Fihrist discusses this sect, described as Ahl al-'Adl (People of Justice). The Ash'arites being called al-mujbira, harsh criticism of Sab'iyya doctrine and history, and an allusion to a certain Shafi'i scholar as a 'secret Twelver', suggest al-Nadīm's possible Twelver religious affiliation. Others among his circle were the Shia theologian, Ibn al-Mu'allim, the da'i Ibn Hamdan, the author Khushkunanadh, and the Jacobite philosopher, Yahya ibn 'Adi (d. 363/973) who instructed 'Isa b. 'Ali and who was also a copyist and bookseller (p. t64, 8). The claim that al-Nadīm was Ismā'īlī, on the grounds that he met an Ismā'īlī leader and attended a meeting, is not borne out.[15]


The Fihrist ('Index', or 'Directory'), testifies to the great wealth of knowledge disseminated in the literature of the Islamic Golden Age, ranging in breadth, historically and geographically, from the modern to the ancient civilisations of Syria, Greece, India, Rome and Persia. Sadly little survives of the Persian books listed by Ibn al-Nadim. The Fihrist's preface, sets out its purpose as an index of all books written in Arabic, whether by Arabs or others. Biographies of poets (tabaqat) had existed so an index was not a new literary form. The Fihrist was published in 987; it exists in two manuscript traditions, or "editions": the more complete edition contains ten "discourses" (maqalat). The first six of them are detailed bibliographies of books on Islamic subjects:

Islamic Literature

 Chapter 1 Qur'an
 1.1 Language and Calligraphy
 1.2 The Torah, the Gospel
 1.3 The Qur'an
 Chapter 2 Grammar
 2.1 Grammarians of al-Baṣrah
 2.1 Grammarians of al-Kūfah
 2.3 Grammarians of Both Schools
 Chapter 3 Hadīth
 3.1 Historians and Genealogists
 3.2 Official Government Authors
 3.3 Court Companions, Singers, and Jesters
 Chapter 4 Poetry
 4.1 Pre-Islāmic and Umayyad-Era Poets
 4.2 'Abbāsid-Era Poets
 Chapter 5 Theology & Dogma
 5.1 Muslim Sects; the Mu'tazilah
 5.2 The Shī'ah, Imāmīyah, and Zaydīyah
 5.3 The Mujbirah (Determinists) and al-Ḥashawīyah
 5.4 The Khawārij
 5.5 Ascetics
 Chapter 6 Law 
 6.1  Mālik ibn Anas
 6.2  Abū Hanīfa
 6.3  Al-Shāfi'i
 6.4  Dā'ūd ibn 'Alī
 6.5  Legal Authorities (Shī'a and Ismā'īlīyah)
 6.6  Jurists of Ḥadīth
 6.7  Al-Ṭabarī
 6.8  Jurists of Shurāt

non-Islamic Literature

 Chapter 7 Philosophy and 'Ancient Sciences'
 7.1  Philosophy; Greek Philosophers, Al-Kindī et al. 
 7.2  Mathematics and Astronomy
 7.3  Medicine; Greek and Islāmic
 Chapter 8 Entertainment Literature
 8.1  Storytellers and Legends, 
 8.2  Exorcists, Jugglers, Conjurers and Magicians
 8.3  Fables and Other Topics
 Chapter 9 Religious Doctrines 
 9.1  The Ṣābians, (Manichaeans, Dayṣānīyah, Khurramīyah, Marcionites, and Other Sects
 9.2  Doctrines  (Maqalat) of Hindus, Buddhists and the Chinese);
 Chapter 10 Alchemy.

He gives the titles only of those books which he had seen himself or whose existence was vouchsafed by a trustworthy person.

The shorter edition contains (besides the preface and the first section of the first discourse on the scripts and the different alphabets) only the last four discourses, in other words, the Arabic translations from Greek, Syriac and other languages, together with Arabic books composed on the model of these translations. Perhaps it was the first draft and the longer edition (which is the one that is generally printed) was an extension.

Ibn al-Nadim often mentions the size of a book and the number of pages, so that buyers would not be cheated by copyists passing off shorter versions. Compare the Stichometry of Nicephorus. He refers often to copies written by famous calligraphers, to bibliophiles and libraries, and speaks of a book auction and of the trade in books. In the opening section he deals with the alphabets of 14 peoples and their manner of writing and also with the writing-pen, paper and its different varieties. His discourses contain sections on the origins of philosophy, on the lives of Plato and Aristotle, the origin of One Thousand and One Nights, thoughts on the pyramids, his opinions on magic, sorcery, superstition, and alchemy etc. The chapter devoted to what the author rather dismissively calls "bed-time stories" and "fables" contains a large amount of Persian material.

In the chapter on anonymous works of assorted content there is a section on "Persian, Indian, Byzantine, and Arab books on sexual intercourse in the form of titillating stories", but the Persian works are not separated from the others; the list includes a "Book of Bahrām-doḵt on intercourse." This is followed by books of Persians, Indians, etc. on fortune telling, books of "all nations" on horsemanship and the arts of war, then on horse doctoring and on falconry, some of them specifically attributed to the Persians. Then we have books of wisdom and admonition by the Persians and others, including many examples of Persian andarz literature, e.g. various books attributed to Persian emperors Khosrau I, Ardashir I, etc.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "FEHREST – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  2. ^ B. Dodge The Fihrst of al-Nadīm, vol.1 pp.1-2
  3. ^ Nicholson, Reynold Alleyne (1907). A literary history of the Arabs. T.F. Unwin. p. 362. Retrieved 19 June 2010. 
  4. ^ Reynold A. Nicholson A Literary History of the Arabs, p362
  5. ^ Gray, Louis H., Iranian material in the Fihrist, p.24
  6. ^ Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol.1, p.xvii
  7. ^ Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol.1, p.xxvi
  8. ^ The Fihrist of al-Nadim, Bayard Dodge, ed. and transl. Columbia University Press, 1970, vol.1 p.xviii
  9. ^ Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol.1, p.xx
  10. ^ Fück, Johann Wilhelm. Eine arabische Literaturgeschichte aus dem 10. Jahrhundert n. Chr. p.117. 
  11. ^ Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol.1, p.xxi
  12. ^ name="Nallino1911">Nallino, Carlo Alfonso. Ilm al-falak: Tarikhuhu ind al-Arab fi al-qurun al-wusta (Astronomy: the history of Arabic Writers of the Middle Ages). 
  13. ^ Usaybi'ah, Part I, p.57
  14. ^ Hajar, Lisān al-Mīzān, pt.5, p.72
  15. ^ Bayard Dodge, The Fihrist of al-Nadīm, vol.1, p.xviii


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