Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

An Unknown Manuscript of the Kitab Al-Fawa-Id

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

An Unknown Manuscript of the Kitab Al-Fawa-Id

Article excerpt

The book Kitab al-Fawa-id fi usul ilm al-bahr wa'l-qawa id is the most important and best known of the works by the famous navigator Ahmad ibn Majid al-Sa di al-Najdi.(1) It is also his only prose composition (dated 895/1490) and the only one to have been translated into English.(2) It has been known to exist in only two copies, in ms 2292 (de Slane) at the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris and in another in the Library of the -Arab Academy in Damascus (the Zahiriya Library). In both instances the copies of the Fawa id make only part of a larger manuscript, containing a number of other compositions by Ahmad ibn Majid on navigational science (in verse or a mixture of prose and verse).

The Paris manuscript was published by Gabriel Ferrand in a facsimile edition in 1921.(3) Gerald R. Tibbets carefully compared the two texts using a microfilm of the Damascus manuscript, and came to the conclusion that the latter was a copy of the Paris text,(4) which he then used for his translation. The existence of the Damascus copy became known only in 1921, when a short notice of the Zahiriya manuscript was published by Sa id al-Karmi in the Journal of the Arab Academy.(5) It was then copied for a French owner; in the intervening decades it somehow made its way into China and became the property of the Manchurian Railroad. After World War II it passed into U.S. ownership as part of the Manchurian Railroad book collection (no. 21812). At present, the uncatalogued manuscript is at the Library of Congress (SM 53, NE 137). The manuscript has now been microfilmed. Meanwhile, the Zahiriya copy has been transferred with the other manuscripts to the new Asad Library in Damascus.

By 1921, the League of Nations had handed the Syrian mandate over to France. Within a few years, through the initiative or influence of a French officer, Commandant Malinjoud, the Damascus manuscript was copied by Najm al-Din Bey, a professor at the Ecole Superieure d'Arabe at Damascus. The completion of the copy is dated 7 Dhu'l-Hijja 1344/29 June 1925. The name of the first owner is unknown; Tibbets mentions that Ferrand had obtained a copy of the Damascus manuscript.(6) I am not familiar with Ferrand's handwriting and unable to ascertain whether this is still another copy or, indeed, the one made for him. The history of the copy is written in the owner's hand on the flyleaf which forms an extension of a double-width guard leaf with the title page, which follows two blank guard leaves inserted between the cardboard of the binding and folio 1r of the volume. The story is followed by two more paragraphs of notes in French containing a competent, and so far the only, description of the Damascus manuscript; for this reason I have translated it here in full:

Note. This ms has been copied by Najm al-Din Bey, professor at the Damascus Higher School of Arabic, upon the instructions of Commandant Malinjoud, Director of the School, to whom I owe this copy. This copy has been made from the one at the Arab Academy of Damascus, which is itself a copy.

The Damascus ms is rather antiquated; the binding, in untooled calf, is damaged. No ornamentation. Handwriting of the eastern style,(7) legible (see the photos which I owe to the untiring courtesy of Commandant Malinjoud). No pagination. Paper thick, coarse, in good condition; some leaves are as thick as cardboard.

287 x 60; 173 folios plus 2 guard leaves at the beginning and two more at the end; 23 lines per page.

The binding of the Library of Congress copy is red "Morocco" leather in good condition. The spine bears the stamp of the Manchurian Railroad. The copyist had intended to follow precisely the Damascus ms format; thus there are 174 folios plus 3 guard leaves at the beginning (including one with the Note) and at the end. Page size varies slightly: about 275 mm x 150-160 mm. Text in double frames, inside dimensions 202-212 mm x 98-101 mm, 23 lines per page. Pagination by the copyist, in Arabic numerals in the upper outside comer, follows page rather than folio numbers and is occasionally interrupted. …

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