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Jamāl al-Dīn al-Asnawī

(190 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Jamāl al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Raḥīm ibn al-Ḥasan al-Umawī l-Qurashī l-Asnawī Date of Birth: 1304/5 Place of Birth: Asna Date of Death: September 1370 Place of Death: Cairo Biography Al-Asnawī was a fairly prolific though generally unremarkable writer. He moved from his native town of Asna (Isna) in Upper Egypt to Cairo in 1321/22, where he excelled in his studies, and he soon became a renowned teacher at various mosques in the city. He then moved into the admi…

Roger II of Sicily

(581 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Biography Roger was a member of the ruling dynasty of Normans who had conquered much of southern Italy and Sicily during the late 11th century. On the death of his brother, Simon de Hauteville, in 1105, Roger became Count of Sicily, ruling independently upon his maturity in 1112, as well as claiming Calabria. On the death of the Norman ruler of Apulia in 1127, Roger claimed that as part of his territory as well, although his attempts to unify Sicily and Apulia were resisted by both the pope, who declared a crusade aga…

John of Joinville

(418 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Jean de Joinville Date of Birth: Probably early 1225 Place of Birth: Joinville, Champagne, France Date of Death: 1317 Place of Death: Joinville Biography John of Joinville came from a relatively important family from the Champagne region of France. Born in the 1220s, he became the seneschal of the county upon his father’s death in 1233, as the family had held this position for generations, and he also became squire to count Thibaut IV of Champagne in 1241, thus receiving a knightly education. Joinville’s family had a s…

 Dialogus disputationis inter Christianum et Sarracenum

(175 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
'Dialogue of a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim' Dionysius the Carthusian Date: Mid-15th century Original Language: Latin Description This tract is an (almost certainly fictitious) account of a dispute between a Christian and a Muslim. In style it follows quite closely earlier Eastern Christian works in the genre of ‘the monk in the emir’s majlis’, although it transposes the debate to Europe. As might be expected, the Muslim eventually acknowledges the correctness of Christianity. Significance The style of this tract shows how Eastern Christian responses to Islam…


(401 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad ibn ʿAlī ibn ʿUmar ibn Muḥammad al-Ṭamīmī l-Māzarī Date of Birth: Probably 1061 Place of Birth: Unknown; though it has been convincingly argued that it was in Ifrīqiya Date of Death: 1141 Place of Death: Al-Mahdiyya, modern Tunisia Biography Despite his laqab, which refers to the town of Māzar on the southern coast of Sicily, it seems al-Māzarī was born in Ifrīqiya to a father who had emigrated from the island before the Norman conquest. He pursued his studies in Sfax and either Mahdiyya or Sūs, and became the…

 Ta’rīkh Mayyāfāriqīn wa-Āmid

(958 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Ta’rīkh MayyāfāriqīnThe history of Mayyafariqin and Āmid, History of Mayyafariqin Ibn al-Azraq Date: 1164-65 and 1176-77 Original Language: Arabic Description The Taʾrīkh Mayyāfāriqīn is a chronicle which, while generally focused on the area around Mayyāfāriqīn and Āmid in Diyār Bakr, includes discourses which are wide-ranging both geographically and historically. The chronicle probably originally started with the life of Muḥammad, as there are a number of missing folios at the beginning of MS BL Or. 5803, before the…

 Contra perfidiam Mahometi

(338 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
‘Against the perfidy of Muḥammad’ Dionysius the Carthusian Date: Around 1452 Original Language: Latin Description This work was commissioned as part of a preaching tour conducted by Nicholas of Cusa (q.v.) across Germany in the early 1450s in an attempt to raise support for a crusade…

Orderic Vitalis

(659 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Biography Orderic was born in Mercia in 1075 to a Norman father and English mother. His father was a clerk in the retinue of Roger of Montgomery, later the earl of Shrewsbury. Orderic was given a rudimentary education at a newly-built local abbey, before his father sent him away at the age of ten to the abbey of St Evroul, never to see him again. Despite his importance as a historian, little is known of Orderic except a few details that can be gleaned from his own work, so his life at the abbey is something of a mystery. His studies at St Evroul probably last…


(2,234 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
‘Travels’ Ibn Jubayr Date: Sometime between 1185 and 1217 Original Language: Arabic Description Ibn Jubayr’s Riḥla details the ḥajj and subsequent travels he undertook from his Andalusian homeland in 1183-85. His route took him from Granada to Ceuta, and thence by ship to Sardinia and Alexandria. Once there, he travelled south through Egypt to the pilgrim port of Aydhab on the Red Sea, and from there crossed to Mecca, where he performed the obligatory devotions. He did not then go straight back to al-Andalus, but…

 Historia ecclesiastica

(1,540 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Ecclesiastical history Orderic Vitalis Date: Mainly between 1123 and 1137, with additions until 1142 Original Language: Latin Description The Ecclesiastical history was written, at the request of the abbot of St Evroul, as an historical record of the abbey, but it soon grew to become a much wider historical work. Starting with the life of Christ, the Apostles and subsequent popes in Books 1 and 2, it describes the events in a chronological framework that adds little to previous writings. It is with Book 3 that the …


(377 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Legal opinion Al-Māzarī Date: First half of the 12th century Original Language: Arabic Description This fatwa is contained in al-Wansharīsī’s (q.v.) Asnā l-matājir, the later scholar using it as a foil for his own opposing opinion concerning the permissibility of remaining in territory that has been conquered by non-Muslim forces and is now dār al-ḥarb. The fatwa discusses the two related questions of whether it is permitted to remain in formerly Muslim territory, and whether the opinions of judges who have been appointed by infidel rulers are valid. In answer to the first question…

Ibn al-Jawzī

(560 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Abū l-Faraj ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Jawzī Date of Birth: 1116 Place of Birth: Unknown Date of Death: 1200 Place of Death: Baghdad Biography Ibn al-Jawzī was known as a historian, qāḍī, and preacher of the Ḥanbalī legal school. He started his career as a preacher in the Baghdad house of the Ḥanbalī leader Ibn Hubayra, and his stature quickly grew to the point where he was asked by the Caliph al-Mustanjid (r. 1160-70) to preach sermons in the palace mosque, denouncing schismatics, among others. He then became a…

 Al-kalimāt al-muhimma fī mubāsharat ahl al-dhimma

(648 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
‘Important words about the treatment of the People of protection’ Jamāl al-Dīn al-Asnawī Date: After 1349; possibly between 1354 and 1359 Original Language: Arabic Description This tract is one of a large number of anti-Christian polemics written in Mamluk Egypt during the 13th and 14th centuries. It has a number of titles in the different manuscripts. The British Library version is entitled Al-kalimāt al-muhimma fī mubāsharat ahl al-dhimma, while the Tunis version has Risāla fī ʿadam istikhdām ahl al-dhimma wa-ʿadam tawliyatihim al-Muslimīn (‘Treatise on not employing the p…

William of Tyre

(1,029 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Willelmus Tyrensis, Guillaume de Tyr Date of Birth: about 1130 Place of Birth: Jerusalem Date of Death: 29 September, 1184, 1185, or 1186 Place of Death: Unknown, though almost certainly somewhere in the Kingdom of Jerusalem Biography William was born in Jerusalem, the crusader capital, around the year 1130, probably to a non-noble family of burgess stock. When he was about 15, he went to western Europe to be educated, and studied liberal arts, theology, and canon and civil law at Paris, Orleans, and Bologna. He returned to the Hol…

Abū l-Maʿālī

(200 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Abū l-Maʿālī Muḥammad ibn ʿUbayd Allāh Date of Birth: Unknown; probably mid-11th century Place of Birth: Unknown; probably Iran or further east Date of Death: Unknown; probably early 12th century Place of Death: Unknown; possibly Ghazna Biography What little we know of Abū l-Maʿālī is gained from snippets in the introduction to his Bayān al-adyān, as there is no mention of him in biographical or bibliographical dictionaries. He seems to have been a civil servant in the court of Ghazna, and he was well educated, although we know of only one work by …

 Kitāb al-i‘tibār

(941 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Instructions Usāma ibn Munqidh Date: 1183 Original Language: Arabic Description The Kitāb al-i‘tibār is an autobiographical work, dictated by Usāma when he was almost 90, and  its contents reveal to the reader aspects of medieval Islamic society rarely seen in other writings. There are other autobiographies, but they do not have the same richness or appeal of material as Usāma’s work. Through a number …

 Unknown title; possibly Gesta orientalium principum

(281 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Gesta orientalium principumThe deeds of the rulers of the East William of Tyre Date: About 1180 Original Language: Latin Description This work was a history of the Muslim world written by William after, he claims, a request by King Amalric, and covering the period from Muḥammad to his own day. Copies of it circulated in Europe in the medieval period, but no extant manuscript is known, and our knowledge of its existence and our evidence for it come solely from references to it in the Chronicon, which William was writing simultaneously. The only explicitly named source William used was the Annal…

 Talbīs Iblīs

(785 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
The devil’s deception Ibn al-Jawzī Date: Late 1190s Original Language: Arabic Description This work is a lengthy discussion about the numerous ways in which Ibn al-Jawzī believes Satan deceives the members of various sects, those who practice rituals, and various types of people, including the intelligent, the ignorant, observant Muslims, Shīʿīs, and followers of other religions. The number of people covered is deliberately so wide in order to ensure that no-one is omitted – that Satan deceives everybody. H…

 Radd ʿalā ahl al-dhimma wa-man tabiʿahum

(497 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
‘Refutation of the dhimmis and those who follow them’ Ghāzī ibn al-Wāsiṭī Date: 1290-93 Original Language: Arabic Description Radd ʿalā ahl al-dhimma wa-man tabiʿahum is a vicious attack on Coptic Christians (and, less often, Jews), which consists almost entirely of anecdotes describing their supposed duplicity. It was one of a number of anti-Christian treatises written in the jihād atmosphere of the Mamluk empire with the aim of inciting popular antagonism against Christians, and a tone of bitterness runs throughout. The main criticism within the piece is that Christians …

Ibn Jubayr

(274 words)

Author(s): Mallett, Alex
Abū l-Ḥusayn Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad ibn Jubayr Date of Birth: 1145 Place of Birth: Valencia Date of Death: 29 November 1217 Place of Death: Alexandria Biography Ibn Jubayr was born in Valencia to a father who was a civil servant in the town, and into a family that had come to al-Andalus in 740, only a few years after the Islamic conquest. He gained an education in religious studies and adab, before himself becoming a civil servant in the court of Granada. It was here that his t…
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