Major Arabic Sources for the Study of History and Biography

15 Jun

History is seen by many social scientists as the king of the branches of learning due to the number of sciences upon which it draws. The following are the major references for studying Islamic history and biography. It is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of each work, as well as objectivity. Generally, each work is best suited to describing contemporary events and personalities going back a century or so.

150. Ibn Ishaq of al-Madinah and later Baghdad (major source for Ibn Hisham)

207. al-Waqidi of al-Madinah: al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi and Futuh al-Sham (covering the Prophetic battles and the early Islamic conquests, though his hadiths are almost universally rejected)

213. Ibn Hisham of Basra and later Egypt (the main source for Sirah – refined from Sirat Ibn Ishaq, whereby he removes much of the Isra’iliyat and adds some details in language and lineage. It thus gained the pleasure of the majority of scholars as no author after Ibn Hisham is free from depending on him. The truth is that the general picture one gains approaches pretty much what is related in the sound narrations, as stated by Shaykh Akram al-‘Umari)

230. Ibn Sa’d of Baghdad, the scribe of al-Waqidi: al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (highly regarded biographies of the Companions and early generations. The first two volumes are specifically about the Sirah. Ibn Sa’d is trustworthy in investigating much of what he narrates, as stated by Khatib al-Baghdadi and Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, except that he narrates from weak narrators such as al-Waqidi, from whom he relates so much that Ibn al-Nadim accused him of plagiarism. His three strongest sources are ‘Affan b. Muslim, ‘Abd Allah b. Musa, and Fadl b. Dakin, all of whom are from the trustworthy hadith scholars. )

240. Khalifah b. Khayat: Tarikh (He was a trustworthy narrator and one of the shaykhs of al-Bukhari in his Sahih)

248. al-Ya’qubi of Khurasan and later North Africa – pre-Islamic and early Islamic history

257. Ibn Abd al-Hakam of Cairo: Futuh Misr wa al-Maghrib wa al-Andalus (on the Islamic conquests of North Africa and Spain)

279. al-Baladhuri of Baghdad: Futuh al-Buldan and Ansab al-Ashraf (major reference on the early Islamic conquests, considered weak by Ibn Hajar in Lisan al-Mizan)

279. Ibn Abi Khaythama: Akhbar al-Makkiyin (a reliable source according to al-Dhahabi, published only in part)

283. al-Dinarawi of Persia: al-Akhbar wa al-Tiwal (up to his own time)

310. al-Tabari of Baghdad: Tarikh al-Umum wa al-Muluk (covers the first three centuries of Islamic history – he usually does not criticise narrators but does include chains for readers to research and investigate)

310. Ibn Fadlan of Baghdad: al-Rihla (important description of the Germanic and Slavic peoples during his diplomatic mission in East Europe)

346. al-Mas’udi of Baghdad: Muruj al-Dhahab (covers universal pre-Islamic history up to the late Abbasid Caliphate)

363. al-Qadi al-Nu’man: Iftitah al-Daw’ah (official history of the rise of the Fatimids)

367. Ibn al-Qutiyyah: Tarikh Iftitah al-Andalus (one of the earliest sources on the Islamic conquest of Spain)

430. Abu Nu’aym of Asfahan: Hilyat al-Awliya (biographies of saintly figures up to his time)

463. al-Khatib al-Baghdadi: Tarikh Baghdad (covers the major figures to have visited Baghdad up to his time)

463. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr: al-Durur fi Ikhtisar al-Maghazi wa al-Siyar ()

468. Ibn Hayyan: al-Muqtabis fi Tarikh al-Andalus (a major history of al-Andalus up to the fall of the Umayyads, which he laments)

560. al-Baydhaq: al-Muqtabis (on the rise of the Almohads)

571. Ibn ‘Asakir: Tarikh Dimashq (covers the major figures to have visited Damascus up to his time)

584. Ibn Munqidh: al-I’tibar (vital source of the Crusades)

630. Ibn al-Athir of Mosul: al-Kamil fi Tarikh (one of the major sources for the Crusades and Mongol Invasions, considered one of the great and trustworthy historians)

632. Ibn Shaddad: al-Nawadir al-Sultaniyyah (the most important contemporary biography of Salah al-Din and the Second Crusade)

681. Ibn Khallikan of Mosul, Damascus, and Cairo: Wafiyat al-A’yun (biographies of major figures up to 600)

712. Ibn ‘Idhari: Bayan al-Mahgrib (valuable of the Almoravids (al-Murabitun) and Almohads (al-Muwahidun))

734. Ibn Sayyid al-Nas: ‘Uyun al-Athar (a trustworthy hadith scholar according to al-Dhahabi and Ibn Kathir, and a disciple of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, his book is one of the classic hadith-based sirah works)

748. al-Dhahabi of Damascus: Tarikh al-Islam, Siyar A’lam al-Nubula (biographies and history up to the 8th C, including a highly regarded sirah in the beginning of the first book)

751. Ibn al-Qayyim: Zad al-Ma’ad (one of the classics of shama’il and fiqh al-sirah)

774. Ibn Kathir of Damascus: al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah (highly regarded history and biography on the methodology of hadith scholars up to 8th C)

779. Ibn Battutah: al-Rihla (description of the medieval Old World)

808. Ibn Khaldun of North Africa: al-Tarikh (universal historiography, excellent for 7th-8th C)

832. Taqi al-Din al-Fasi: al-‘Iqd al-Thamin (the great histoty of Makkah)

841. Burhan al-Din al-Halabi: al-Sirat al-Halabiyyah (very popular work but includes Isra’iliyat and deleted chains, though explains difficult words and adds valuable observations and notes)

845. al-Maqrizi of Cairo: al-Mawa’iz wa al-I’tibar (masterpiece), al-Itti’az (main reference for Fatimids), al-Suluk li Ma’rifat Duwal al-Muluk (on the Ayyubids and Mamluks)

852. Ibn Hajar of Cairo: al-Durar al-Kaminah (8th C)

902. al-Sakhawi of Cairo: al-Law’ al-Lami’ (9th C)

923. al-Qastallani of Cairo: al-Mawahib al-Laduniyyah (one of the major shama’il works, with a massive commentary by al-Zurqani [d.1122])

942. Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Salihi al-Dimashqi al-Shami: Subul al-Huda wa al-Rushad (possibly the largest sirah ever written, compiled from more than 300 sources)

1089. Ibn al-‘Imad: Shadharat al-Dhahab (up to 1000)

1111. al-Muhibbi: Khulasat al-Athar (11th C)

1250. al-Shawkani: al-Badr al-Tali’ (from 7th C, picking up from al-Dhahabi)


Posted by on June 15, 2015 in Books, History


6 responses to “Major Arabic Sources for the Study of History and Biography

  1. Waleed\

    June 15, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    Some tahqeeq on the book that is today considered as futuh al sham of al Waqidi, which has been erroneously ascribed to him. Original is mafqud

    • Al-Asiri

      June 16, 2015 at 12:04 pm

      Masha’Allah thanks for bringing that to light.

  2. mzaman36

    August 30, 2015 at 6:42 pm

    Masha Allah, an informative and well written list. May Allah accept your efforts.

    While reading your list, I jotted down a few suggested ammendments. If you send me your email, I can forward them to you. Otherwise, I can post them here. I avoided the second option because they are relatively lengthy.

    • Al-Asiri

      August 31, 2015 at 8:26 am

      Please do add them here for our benefit.

  3. mzaman36

    September 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    The following are a few observations I noted while reading your list. These consist of typos, possible mistakes, and suggestions. You are at liberty to disagree with anything I wrote. Please inform me if I overlooked something.

    230. The name should be al-Fadl b. Dukayn

    279. Under [Ahmad ibn Yahyā] al-Balādhurī, you wrote that Ibn Hajar considered him weak in Lisān al-Mīzān. But after consulting his entry in Lisān al-Mīzān (vol.1, pp.693-694, no.904, Beirut: Dar al-Basha’ir), I was unable to locate any statement of Ibn Hajar that indicates al-Balādhurī’s weakness. Did you come across any explicit remark elsewhere in his book? Or did you base this on the fact that he mentioned his name in the book? There are examples of trustworthy narrators who were mentioned by Ibn Hajar in Lisān al-Mīzān for a reasons besides criticism, such as clarifying a possible misunderstanding (see vol.9, p.26, no.8772) or defending them from undue criticism (see vol.1, p.165, no.1230)

    283. The name should be al-Dīnawari

    363. The title should be Iftitāh al-Da’wah

    463. I noticed that you left the description of Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s al-Durar blank. Perhaps you are already aware that his book is concerning the Sīrah genre, primarily relying on Mūsā ibn ‘Uqbah’s book on Maghāzī and Ibn Ishāq’s book on Sīrah among other sources (see his introduction to al-Durar, p.29, Cairo: Ihya’ al-Turath al-Islami)

    468. In al-Silah, Ibn Bashkuwāl writes that Ibn Hayyān passed away in the year 469 AH (vol.1, p.151, Cairo: al-Khanijī)

    681. The title of Ibn Khallikān’s book is Wafayāt al-A‘yān

    712. Ibn ‘Idhārī’s book is al-Bayān al-Mughrib fī Ikhtisār Akhbār Mulūk al-Andalus wa al-Maghrib as mentioned by the author himself in his introduction (vol.1, p.3, Beirut: Dār al-Thaqāfah)

    831. The great history

    841. I think two different Halabīs are being confused here. One is Burhān al-Dīn Ibrāhīm ibn Muhammad al-Halabī (753-841 AH) better known as Sibt ibn al-‘Ajamī, who authored Nihāyat al-Sūl and has marginal notes on al-Kāshif of Shams al-Dīn al-Dhahabī (see al-Sakhāwī, al-Daw’ al-Lāmi‘, vol.1, p.138, Beirut: Maktabat al-Hayah). The second is ‘Alī ibn Burhān al-Dīn al-Halabī (975-1044 AH) the author of Insān al-‘Yuūn fī Sīrat al-Amīn al-Ma’mūn, better known as al-Sīrah al-Halabiyyah. In the introduction, he clearly mentions that his name is, “’Alī ibn Burhān al-Dīn al-Halabī al-Shāfi‘ī…” (See al-Kattānī, Fihirs al-Faharis, vol.1, p.344, Beirut: Dar al-Gharb; cf. al-Zirikli, al-A‘lam, vol.8, p.284, Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li al-Malayin)

    902. The title should be al-Daw’ al-Lāmi‘

    923. I think the second part of the title should be al-Ladunniyyah. This is taken from the Arabic word “Ladunnī.”

    – Seeing that you mentioned brief remarks on the status of some the historians on the list, perhaps you can also add a brief note on the status of Muhammad ibn Ishāq. In ‘Uyūn al-Athar (pp.54-67,Madinah: Dar al-Turath), Ibn Sayyid al-Nās collected an impressive amount of criticisms and praises of him and then preferred what he felt was correct. To date, the most detailed discussion I have come across on the status of Ibn Ishāq was written by Shaykh Ahmad Ma‘bad in his edition of Ibn Sayyid al-Nās’s commentary on Jāmi‘ al-Tirmidhī entitled al-Nafh al-Shadhī (Footnotes on pp.697-792, Riyadh: Dar al-‘Asimah) in roughly 100 pages.

    Other historians on the list are known for their corrupt ideologies, such as ‘Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Mas’udi’s Shi’i beliefs (see Ibn Hajar, Lisan al-Mizan, vol.5, pp.531-532, no.5376), but since their beliefs are apparent in their writings, I guess that is why you did not bother alluding to it.

    – A few suggestions on books that you can consider adding on to your list:

    581. Abū al-Qāsim al-Suhaylī’s al-Rawd al-Unuf

    762. Al-Mughultāy ibn Qalīj’s al-Zahr al-Bāsim fī Sīrat Abī al-Qāsim

    764. Salāh al-Dīn al-Safadī’s al-Wāfī bi al-Wafayāt

    842. Ibn Nāsir al-Dīn al-Dimashqī’s Jāmi‘ al-Āthār fī Mawlid al-Nabī al-Mukhtār

    1123. Mustafā ibn Fathallāh’s Fawā’id al-Irtihāl wa Natā’j al-Safar

    1341. ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Hasanī’s Nuzhat al-Khawātir wa Bahjat al-Masāmi‘ wa al-Nawāżir

    1396. Khayr al-Dīn al-Ziriklī’s al-A‘lām

    • Al-Asiri

      September 2, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Al-Salamu alaykum,

      Ma sha Allah you are sharp. This is much appreciated. I am presently in a flux with travel and work. When I get time after Hajj in sha Allah I will investigate further in my references and respond accordingly.


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