Unsewn Textblocks in Ibāḍī MSS | مخطوطات إباضية غير مخيطة

This post is the first in what I hope to make a series on Ibāḍī manuscript binding structures. A handful of important works have been published in the last few years on Islamic manuscripts and their bindings and these have been leading toward typologies for bindings, sewing, and other related components [1]. My hope is that in the near future, with more complete catalogs of Ibāḍī manuscripts (and many many more photographs!), this subset of the Islamic manuscript tradition will be better understood.

In many respects, North African Ibāḍī manuscripts share binding features with other manuscripts in the region. The vast majority of these communities’ extant manuscripts date from the 15th century forward, with a large number dating to the 17th-19th centuries [2]. As such, they are often ‘traditional’ Islamic style bindings with full or partial-leather covers, well-known embossed pendant designs on there covers, envelop flaps, link-stitch sewing, chevron pattern endbands, and so forth.

This post highlights one less-common feature in the Islamic manuscript tradition that has shown up several times in my research on Ibāḍī prosopographical manuscripts: the unsewn textblock. The example shown here, along with  the other unsewn Ibadi manuscripts I have examined so far [3], comes from a private library in the Mzab valley in Algeria [4]. Also significant is that the unsewn manuscripts all appear to date to the 19th and 20th centuries.

The example manuscript comes from the private library of Āl Yaddar (آل يدر) in Benisguen, shelf-mark no.79 in the collection. The manuscript is a copy of the well-known Ibadi prosopographical work Kitāb siyar al-Shammākhī, dated 29 Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1283 [11 August 1866]. While the binding shares all the features of a traditional Islamic binding structure including the characteristic envelope flap, the interior of the spine shows no signs of having had a textblock adhered to it (see photo above). Of course, it’s possible that the interior was recovered but having examining it in person I believe the lining to be original to the binding. (Even if it has been re-purposed, it is noteworthy that it was clearly prepared to protect a collection of unsewn quires). Secondly, the textblock appears to have been held together at some point with connective leather strips, rather than sewn (see photo). While the straps are no longer there, traces can be seen on the spine of the unsewn block. The manuscript shares this feature with other early-modern Islamic manuscripts in Leiden, recently studied by K. Scheper. [5]

Scheper has also summarized some of the possible explanations for unsewn blocks, including economical reasons and preparation of manuscripts by a bookseller who left it up to the customer to have the work bound [6]. Equally plausible is that the work was actually distributed among students for either study or copying or that libraries would lend portions of manuscripts to patrons [7]. In the case of this and other Ibadi manuscripts, it is noteworthy that those unsewn manuscripts I have seen so far all date from the early 19th through the 20th century in the Mzab and that I have yet to examine an unsewn manuscript from Tunisia or Libya. Although the sample size is far from large enough to make any categorical statements, this may point to a regional preference among Ibadi scholars of the 19th and 20th century in the Mzab for unsewn works. If such a preference were the case, it might also be connected to binding practices in the broader Saharan region. (wa-Allāhu aʿlam!)

خلال السنوات الأخيرة قد صدرت مصادر جديدة لتحليل طرق تسفير المخطوطات الإسلامية وتجليدها [1]. في السنوات القادمة، أتمنّى أنّ المختصين في التاريخ الإباضي سيركّزون على هذا الجانب المادي من تاريخ المخطوطات الإباضية ونظرا لحركة رقمنية المخطوطات الإباضية فستكون الفرص كثيرة لهذا النوع من التحليل حتى وإن كان من بعيد
من ناحية فنية وبنائية، تشترك المخطوطات الإباضية وأغلفتها العديد من الميزات مع المخطوطات “الإسلامية” الأخرى (فيما يتعلق بالتسفير بالجلد ووجود “اللسان” وطريقة التسفير والزخرفة) . ترجع أكثرية المخطوطات الإباضية في المغرب العربي إلى ما بعد القرن الخامس عشر ومعظمها تعود إلى الفترة ما بين القرنين السابع عشر والتاسع عشر [2]. هذه المداخلة في المدونة تركّز على ميزة نادرة نسبيا في المخطوطات الإسلامية ألا وهي المخطوطات غير المخيّطة. يأتي النموذج الحالي مثل معظم النماذج الأخرى التي رأيتها في بحثي [3] من مكتبة خاصة في وادي المزاب في الجزائر [4]. الجدير بذكر أيضا أنّ أغلبية النماذج من المخطوطات غير المخيّطة تعود إلى القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين
يأتي النموذج هذا من مكتبة آل يدر في بني يزقن في الجزائر: رقم ٧٠ في المكتبة وهي نسخة من كتاب سير الشماخي مؤرخة ربيع الأول عام ١٢٨٣ الموافق بـ ١١ أوت ١٨٦٦. للمخطوط كل الميزات العادية والمتوقعة من التسفير الإسلامي التقليدي ولكن داخلية الغلاف تفتقر إلى أية إشارة إلى اللصاق أو التسفير، أي “خياطة الكرارس” (انظر الصورة). طبعا، يمكن أن داخلية الغلاف عبارة عن نتيجة الترميم والتصليح وكلنّني شخصيا لا أعتقد هكذا. ثانيا، آثار شرائط من الجلد واضحة على طرف الكرارس. يشترك المخطوط هذه الميزة مع عدة مخطوطات من نفس العصر في مكتبة ليدن محللة في دراسة “شابر” الجديدة. [5] ـ
كما تفسّر شابر في دراستها، توجد أسباب عديدة لوجود هذه المخطوطات غير المخيطة من ضمنها سبب التقشف عند بائع الكتب الذي خلّى الزبائن مسؤولين عن تسفير الكتب فيما بعد. [6] ومن المعقول أيضا أنّ كرارس المخطوطات توزعت بين الطلبة للنسخ أو الاستعار [7]. الجدير بذكر أنّي لم أر مخطوطا غير مخيط من تونس أو ليبيا وكل النماذج حتى الآن تأتي من المزاب وتعود إلى القرنين التاسع عشر والعشرين. مع أنّ عدد النماذج لا يكفي للتأكيد من أية أطروحة ثابتة، فإنّ الميزة هذه قد تشير إلى تفضيل للمخطوطات غير المخيطة في وادي المزاب في تلك الفترة. بالإضافة إلى ذلك، قد تشير إلى عادات التسفير والجليد يشتركها الإباضية مع المجتمعات الأخرى في منطقة الصحراء. والله أعلم


References | مصادر

[1] The standard references are: Deroche et. al, Islamic Codicology: An Introduction to the Study of Manuscripts in Arabic Script [English trans.] (Al-Furqān, 2015) and Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts: A Vademecum for Readers (Brill, 2009); Most recently, Scheper, The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding: Methods, Materials, and Regional Varieties (Brill, 2015), presents a fascinating study of Islamic binding structures from across the Islamic world based on the collections at the UBL in Leiden.

[2] This statement is based on my observation to date of about 120 Ibāḍī manuscripts from private and public libraries in Europe and North Africa, most of which are prosopographical texts relating to my dissertation research. The earliest dated or easily dated texts (using watermarks), are from the late 15th/early 16th century.

[3] I have personally examined 13 manuscripts like this during the process of my survey, with the earliest dated manuscript having been copied in 1803 and the latest in 1924. Full details of the survey are forthcoming in my dissertation.

[4] Unsewn manuscripts represent just under 10% of the manuscripts I have examined. Many thanks to the owners and caretakers of different libraries in the Mzab valley, especially in Ghardaia, Benisguen, and Ateuf, for allowing me to examine these manuscripts. There is some truly remarkable work being done by Mzabi historians and codicologists themselves and I hope to have the opportunity to collaborate with them in the future.

[5] See K. Scheper, The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding, 91-2 (illustrations on p.92); 281-3

[6] Ibid, 93

[7] In addition to the explanation in Scheper (91-2; 281-3), I have M. Mohamed al-Bannānī of the Beit al-Bannānī in Tunis, Tunisia to thank for the first explanation and Professor Adam Gacek of McGill for the second explanation.

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