4. Translation as a Source of Knowledge
“Apart from private collections of foreign manuscripts, there were also public libraries founded during the 2nd-4th century AH /8th-10th century CE, which were designated by the following terms: Bayt al-Hikmah, Khizanat al-Hikmah, or Dar al-Hikmah, or Dar al- ‘ilm, Dar al-Kutub, Khizanat al-Kutub and Bayt al-Kutub. The Bayt al-Hikmah (also known as Khizanat al-Hikmah), according to Shalabi, was founded in Baghdad by Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Others maintain, however, that caliph al-Ma'mun established it. At the time of Ali ibn Yahya al-Munajjim (d. 275/888), there flourished an institution known as Khizanat al-Kutub and Khizanat al-Hikmah . Since the 9th century CE, many more libraries housed books of foreign sciences. Some of these libraries were privately owned, while others were established by Caliphs, Amirs (governors), Sultans and Wazirs. For instance, in Abbasid Mawsil (Mosul) there existed a large library called Khizanat al-Kutub. Similarly, a wealthy textile trader, Ali b. Muhammad al-Bazzaz (d. 323/942), was said to have possessed a Bayt al-‘ilm (library; lit. house of science or knowledge). Sabur bin Ardashir (d. 416/ 991) bought a house, Dar al-‘ilm, in which he kept ten thousand volumes of manuscripts on all subjects. By the 4th century AH/10th century, there was a proliferation of libraries and institutions, which had been founded in Basrah, Isfahan, Nishapur, Ramhurmuz, Rayy and Cairo . Some of the books in similar libraries were listed by Ibn al-Nadim in his bibliographical compilation al-Fihrist and in Ibn al-Qifti's biographies of scientists and philosophers, Ta'rikh al-Hukama', Ibn Abi Usaybiyah's ‘Uyun al-Anba' fi-Tabaqat al-Atibba' and, for Muslim Spain, by Ibn Juljul's Tabaqat al-Atibba' wa'l-Hukama'. These works provide biographical and bibliographical information about Muslim scientists and philosophers of all ethnic backgrounds up to the 13th century CE. Modern historians and bibliographers of Islamic science, including George Sarton, Carl Brockelmann and Fuat Sezgin, have identified and described manuscripts and printed books on the history of Islamic science”.
This post is part of our series of lecture reading excerpts from Sanad Foundation's 2018 course 'Islamic Scholarly Tradition' taught by Sidi Mohamed Acharki in Melbourne.