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Making Books Talk: The Material Evidence of Manuscripts of the Kitab al-Shifa by Qadi Iyad (d.1149) for the Reception of an Andalusian Biography of the Prophet between 1100 and 1900

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MASHQI (Making Books Talk: The Material Evidence of Manuscripts of the Kitab al-Shifa by Qadi Iyad (d.1149) for the Reception of an Andalusian Biography of the Prophet between 1100 and 1900)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2019-01-31

"The project explored the transformation of a twelfth-century Arabic treatise on Islamic dogma (Ar. ʿaqīda) from al-Andalus into a work of pious literature that today is studied by Sunni Muslims all over the world. The ""Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf huqūq al-Muṣṭafā"" (“Book of healing concerning the recognition of the true facts about the Chosen One”) was composed by ʿIyāḍ b. Mūsā al-Yaḥṣubī (1083–1149 CE), known as Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ. Serving as a judge (Ar. qāḍī) in Ceuta and Granada, Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ was a celebrated jurist of the Maliki school of law with a particular interest in historical accounts (Ar. ḥadīth “tradition”) about Muḥammad (d. 632).

SOCIETAL RELEVANCE. The Shifāʾ is associated with Iberia before 1500 when Jews, Christians and Muslims were still living, mostly peacefully, next to each other. Using a comparative approach the project situated the Shifāʾ, as a biography of Muḥammad, in interdenominational discussions about false and true prophets, because the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam agree that prophecy is a means of divine revelation. At the same time, the project traced the Shifāʾ’s diffusion from the twelfth century to the present. The long-term perspective on the work’s reception allowed the project to refute the widely repeated claim of Islam’s essentially unchanging and unchangeable “medieval nature,” commonly adduced as the reason as to why Islam and modernity are irreconcilable, by documenting how over time Muslim readers changed their approaches to and their understanding of the Shifāʾ.

OBJECTIVE. Taking as a starting point the observation that the Shifāʾ is effectively invisible in scholarship as a work in its own right, the project adopted a change of perspective. The work’s rich manuscript tradition was approached as a hitherto neglected opportunity to review established notions about the work and its author. On its most general level, the project was designed as a proof-of-concept study. Its over-arching objective was to demonstrate that even for a well-known work like the Shifāʾ the examination of accessible manuscripts will generate fresh insights which, in turn, significantly advance our understanding of the intellectual and cultural history of the Islamic civilization, since they challenge, and often outright refute, received opinion. In addition, the project highlights that manuscripts of popular works in accessible collections in Europe and North America are an underused “hidden” resource with great research potential.


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SCHOLARLY RELEVANCE. The Shifāʾ is an important source for the history of the Islamic West, during the political transition from the Almoravids (1061–1147) to the Almohads (1130–1269). Moreover, the work never dropped out of circulation. But while Malikis continue to teach the Shifāʾ as a theological treatise, it has also transcended its Andalusi origins and became a much beloved biography of the Prophet in the Islamic East.

STATE OF THE ART. The Shifāʾ’s enduring popularity outside al-Andalus had not yet received any attention from Middle East historians. On the one hand, the Shifāʾ is a comparatively late addition to the already substantial corpus of literature about the life of the prophet (Ar. sīra), of which the oldest known works were compiled soon after his death. As the Islamic civilization between the thirteenth and nineteenth centuries is still perceived as a middling period, characterized by cultural stagnation and intellectual decline, it attracts fewer scholars and less is known about it. On the other hand, popularity is often mistaken as an indication that a literary work has already been comprehensively studied. But so far, the Shifāʾ has been primarily valued as a source, which seems so well-known that nothing really new or original could be said about it.

WORK AND DISSEMINATION. The Experienced Researcher (ER) and her mentor worked on the project. In consultation with the Digital.CSIC the ER wrote a cataloguing template and a DMP to organize and standardize the manuscript descriptions for a future online database, which will supplement the project’s publications about the Shifāʾ. In collaboration with a Spanish colleague, the ER organized in Madrid a two-day international workshop about the comparative study of Jewish, Christian and Muslim literatures about prophets and saints from Iberia between 600 and 1600. A monograph with articles based on selected presentations at the workshop, co-edited by the ER and her colleague, is prepared for publication in 2020. The ER examined Shifāʾ manuscripts in Spanish, German, American, Dutch and British libraries. She participated in six conferences in Spain, Germany and the USA; in four workshops in Germany, Spain and the Netherlands; in two seminars in Spain and the USA; and in one panel discussion in Germany. As regards outreach and dissemination, the ER wrote about the project on her research blog, and selected posts are available in the Digital.CSIC and the Academic Commons of Columbia University (USA). She completed one article about the Shifāʾ in Ottoman book culture, which is in press and will be published later this year, and is currently completing three more articles; all articles will be made available in Green Open-Access (OA).
CONTRIBUTIONS. The project’s methodological approach was based on the hermeneutic principle that historical facts about a work’s origins cannot be deduced from historical evidence for its later circulation, as composition and reception are different stages in a work’s life cycle. But historical facts about a work’s circulation can, in a second step, support conjectures about its origins, thereby opening new avenues for further research. With regard to the Kitāb al-shifāʾ, the project confronted two diametrically opposed challenges: on the one hand, the complete lack of internal or external evidence for the concrete circumstances in which Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ wrote the Kitāb al-shifāʾ in the first half of the twelfth century, and, on the other hand, a rich manuscript tradition for the work’s diffusion from the thirteenth century onwards. In order to address both challenges simultaneously, the project combined the methodologies of Manuscript Studies and Book History with Digital Humanities (DH) approaches. New facts for the Shifāʾ’s diffusion were gleaned through the hands-on examination of its manuscripts, in particular dates and places for the production of manuscripts, or proper names and places for its owners or readers. Book History and DH provided cataloguing template and Data Management Plan (DMP), respectively, to transform diverse historical facts, gathered from Shifāʾ manuscripts, into “data” that can be preserved in online repositories and analyzed with computational tools.

The project yielded significant new insights into the evolution of pious literature, reading practice and religious education in connection with the veneration of the prophet Muḥammad from the twelfth-century onwards. The Shifāʾ’s diffusion was plurilinear, since the work can accommodate orthodox Maliki as well as more fluid Sufi readings. The general Sunni reverence for the Shifāʾ, which is so richly documented from the fifteenth century onwards, was independent from the work’s Maliki origins in al-Andalus.

The project’s publications provide concrete historical context for the current debates on religious diversity and Islamophobia in western societies.
Workshop of Prophets and Saints
Practicing knowledge in Islamic Societies and their Neighbours