WikiJournal of Humanities/Abū al-Faraj ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn al-Iṣfahānī, the Author of the Kitāb al-Aghānī

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Abū al-Faraj ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. al-Ḥaytham al-Umawī al-Iṣfahānī (died after 356AH/967CE[a]) was a litterateur, genealogist, poet, musicologist, scribe, and boon companion in the tenth century, mainly based in Baghdad. He is best known as the author of Kitāb al-Aghānī (“The Book of Songs”), a unique work which includes abundant information about the earliest attested periods of Arabic music (from the seventh to the ninth centuries) and the lives of poets and musicians from the pre-Islamic period to al-Iṣfahānī’s time. Given his contribution to the documentation of the history of Arabic music, al-Iṣfahānī is characterised by Sawa as “a true prophet of modern ethnomusicology”.[1]


The commonly accepted dates of al-Iṣfahānī’s birth and death are 284/897–8 and 356/967.[b] However, the credibility of these dates is to be treated with discretion. The dates are given by al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī (392–463/1002–1071), who bases his information on the testimony of al-Iṣfahānī’s student, Muḥammad b. Abī al-Fawāris (338–412/950–1022).[4] The death date given by al-Khaṭīb is irreconcilable with a reference in the Kitāb Adab al-ghurabāʾ (“The Book of the Etiquettes of Strangers”), attributed to al-Iṣfahānī, to his being in the prime of youth (fī ayyām al-shabība wa-l-ṣibā) in 356/967.[5][6] If we accept al-Iṣfahānī’s authorship of the Adab al-ghurabāʾ and the authenticity of all the accounts in it, none of the above dates makes sense.[c] However, it is possible to calculate the approximate dates of his birth and death through the lifespans of his students and his direct informants. Muḥammad b. Abī al-Fawāris — the youngest to have transmitted from him[14] — was born in 338/950.[15] If we assume that Muḥammad started to attend al-Iṣfahānī’s lectures at the age of ten, then we may suggest that al-Iṣfahānī was still active in 348/960 onwards or a little later. Among his direct informants, the one who died earliest is Yaḥyā b. ʿAlī b. Yaḥyā al-Munajjim, who lived from 241/855 to 300/912.[16] Again, if we postulate that al-Iṣfahānī transmitted from Yaḥyā when he was at least ten years old, we can infer that he was born before 290/902. Therefore, al-Iṣfahānī’s intellectual activity took place in the first six decades of the tenth century, from about 290/902 to 348/960. It should be noted that no source places his death earlier than 356/967.



 The Members of the Iṣfahānī Family

The epithet, al-Iṣfahānī,[d] refers to the city, Isfahan, on the Iranian plateau. Instead of indicating al-Iṣfahānī’s birthplace,[18][19][20][21][e] this epithet seems to be common to al-Iṣfahānī’s family. Every reference al-Iṣfahānī makes to his paternal relatives includes the attributive, al-Iṣfahānī.[23][24] According to Ibn Ḥazm (384–456/994–1064), some descendants of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwān b. Muḥammad (72–132/691–750), al-Iṣfahānī’s forefather,[f] settled in Isfahan.[29] However, it has to be borne in mind that the earliest information we have regarding al-Iṣfahānī’s family history only dates to the generation of his great-grandfather, Aḥmad b. al-Ḥaytham, who settled in Sāmarrāʾ sometime between 221/835–6 and 232/847.[30]

Based on al-Iṣfahānī’s references in the Kitāb al-Aghānī (hereafter, the Aghānī), Aḥmad b. al-Ḥaytham seems to have led a privileged life in Sāmarrāʾ, while his sons were well-connected with the elite of the ʿAbbāsid capital at that time.[g] His son, ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Aḥmad, was “one of the high ranking scribes in the days of al-Mutawakkil (r. 232–247/847–861) (min kibār al-kuttāb fī ayyām al-Mutawakkil)”.[29] Another son, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad (viz. al-Iṣfahānī’s grandfather), was associated with the ʿAbbāsid officials, the vizier Ibn al-Zayyāt (d. 233/847), the scribe Ibrāhīm b. al-ʿAbbās al-Ṣūlī (176–243/792–857), and the vizier ʿUbaydallāh b. Sulaymān (d. 288/901), besides the Ṭālibid notables,[32] above all, al-Ḥusayn b. al-Ḥusayn b. Zayd, who was the leader of the Banū Hāshim of his time.[33] The close ties with the ʿAbbāsid court continued in the generation of Muḥammad’s sons, al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn (al-Iṣfahānī’s father).[34]

In various places in the Aghānī, al-Iṣfahānī refers to Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad b. Thawāba (from the Āl Thawāba) as his grandfather on his mother’s side.[35][h] It is often suggested that the family of Thawāba, being Shīʿī,[i] bequeathed their sectarian inclination to al-Iṣfahānī.[40][j] However, the identification of the Thawāba family as Shīʿīs is only found in a late source, Yāqūt’s (574–626/1178–1225) work.[43] Although it is not implausible for the family of Thawāba to have been Shīʿī-inclined in one way or another, since many elite families working under the ʿAbbāsid caliphate during this period of time indeed allied with ʿAlids or their partisans,[44] there is no evidence that members of the Thawāba family embraced an extreme form of Shīʿism.[45]

In short, al-Iṣfahānī came from a family well-entrenched in the networks of the ʿAbbāsid elite, which included the officials and the ʿAlids. Despite the epithet, al-Iṣfahānī, it does not seem that the Iṣfahānī family has much to do with the city, Isfahan. Rather, the family was mainly based in Sāmarrāʾ, from the generation of Aḥmad b. al-Ḥaytham, and then Baghdad.[46] In the seats of the caliphate, a few members of this family worked as scribes, while maintaining friendship or alliance with other scribes, viziers, and notables.[47] Like many of the court elite, al-Iṣfahānī’s family maintained an amicable relationship with the offspring of ʿAlī and allied with families, such as the Thawāba family,[k] sharing their veneration of ʿAlī and ʿAlids. However, it is hard to pinpoint such a reverential attitude towards ʿAlids in terms of sectarian alignment, given the scanty information about al-Iṣfahānī’s family and the fluidity of sectarian identities at the time.

Education and Career

The Iṣfahānī family’s extensive social outreach is reflected in al-Iṣfahānī’s sources. Among the direct informants whom al-Iṣfahānī cites in his works, one finds the members of his own family, who were further connected to other notable families, as mentioned above,[47][49] the Āl Thawāba,[l] the Banū Munajjim,[m] the Yazīdīs,[n] the Ṣūlīs,[o] the Banū Ḥamdūn,[p] the Ṭāhirids,[q] the Banū al-Marzubān,[r] and the Ṭālibids.[s]

Given that al-Iṣfahānī and his family very likely settled in Baghdad around the beginning of the tenth century,[t] it is no surprise that he transmitted from a considerable number of the inhabitants of or visitors to that city, such as, to name just a few: Jaḥẓa (d. 324/936),[71] al-Khaffāf,[72] ʿAlī b. Sulaymān al-Akhfash (d. 315/927 or 316/928),[73] and Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (d. 310/922).[74] Like other scholars of his time, al-Iṣfahānī travelled in pursuit of knowledge. Although the details are not sufficient for us to establish the dates of his journeys, based on the chains of transmission (asānīd, sing. isnād) al-Iṣfahānī cites consistently and meticulously in every report, it is certain that he transmitted from ʿAbd al-Malik b. Maslama and ʿĀṣim b. Muḥammad in Antakya;[75] ʿAbdallāh b. Muḥammad b. Isḥāq in Ahwāz;[76] and Yaḥyā b. Aḥmad b. al-Jawn in Raqqa.[77] If we accept the ascription of the Kitāb Adab al-ghurabāʾ to al-Iṣfahānī, then he once visited Baṣra besides other towns such as Ḥiṣn Mahdī, Mattūth, and Bājistrā.[78][79] Yet, none of these cities seems to have left as tremendous an impact upon al-Iṣfahānī as Kūfa and Baghdad did. While al-Iṣfahānī’s Baghdādī informants were wide-ranging in their expertise as well as sectarian and theological tendencies, his Kūfan sources, to a certain degree, can be characterised as either Shīʿī or keen on preserving and disseminating memory that favours ʿAlī and his family. For example, Ibn ʿUqda (d. 333/944), mentioned in both the Aghānī and the Maqātil, is invariably cited for the reports about the ʿAlids and their merits.[80][81][82][u]

The journey in search for knowledge taken by al-Iṣfahānī may not be particularly outstanding by the standard of his time,[v] but the diversity of his sources’ occupations and fortes is beyond doubt impressive. His informants can be assigned into one or more of the following categories:[w] philologists and grammarians;[85] singers and musicians;[86] booksellers and copyists (ṣaḥḥāfūn or warrāqūn, sing. ṣaḥḥāf or warrāq);[87] boon companions;[88][x] tutors (muʾaddibūn, sing. muʾaddib);[89] scribes (kuttāb, sing. kātib);[90] imams or preachers (khuṭabāʾ, sing. khaṭīb); [91][92] religious scholars (of the ḥadīth, the Qurʾānic recitations and exegeses, or jurisprudence) and judges;[93] poets;[94] and akhbārīs (transmitters of reports of all sorts, including genealogical, historical, and anecdotal reports).[95] The variety of the narrators and their narrations enriched al-Iṣfahānī’s literary output, which covers a wide range of topics from amusing tales to the accounts of the ʿAlids’ martyrdom.[y] His erudition is best illustrated by Abū ʿAlī al-Muḥassin al-Tanūkhī’s (329–384/941–994) comment:

With his encyclopaedic knowledge of music, musicians, poetry, poets, genealogy, history, and other subjects, al-Iṣfahānī established himself as a learned scholar and teacher.[98][99][100][101]

He was also a scribe and this is not surprising, given his families’ scribal connections, but the details of his kātib activities are rather opaque.[aa] Although both al-Tanūkhī and al-Baghdādī refer to al-Iṣfahānī with the attribute, kātib, they mention nothing of where he worked or for whom.[26][102][103] The details of his job as a scribe only come later, with Yāqūt, many of whose reports about al-Iṣfahānī prove problematic. For instance, a report from Yāqūt claims that al-Iṣfahānī was the scribe of Rukn al-Dawla (d. 366/976) and mentions his resentment at Abū al-Faḍl b. al-ʿAmīd (d. 360/970).[104] However, the very same report is mentioned by Abū Ḥayyān al-Tawḥīdī (active fourth/tenth century[105]) in his Akhlāq al-wazīrayn, where the aforementioned scribe of Rukn al-Dawla is identified as Abū al-Faraj Ḥamd b. Muḥammad, not Abū al-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī.[106][107]

Thus, it is hard to know with certainty how and where al-Iṣfahānī was engaged in his capacity as a kātib. Nevertheless, al-Iṣfahānī’s association with the vizier, Abū Muḥammad al-Muhallabī (291–352/903–963), is well-documented. The friendship between the two began before al-Muhallabī’s vizierate in 339/950.[108][ab] The firm relationship between them is supported by al-Iṣfahānī’s poetry collected by al-Thaʿālibī (350–429/961–1038): half of the fourteen poems are panegyrics dedicated to al-Muhallabī.[110] In addition, al-Iṣfahānī’s own work, al-Imāʾ al-shawāʿir (“Enslaved Women Who Composed Poetry”), refers to the vizier — presumably, al-Muhallabī — as his dedicatee.[111] His no longer surviving Manājīb al-khiṣyān (“The Noble Eunuchs”), which addresses two castrated male singers owned by al-Muhallabī, was composed for him.[112] His magnum opus, the Aghānī, was very likely intended for him, as well.[ac] As a return for his literary efforts, according to al-Tanūkhī, al-Iṣfahānī frequently received rewards from the vizier.[113] Furthermore, for the sake of their long-term friendship and out of his respect for al-Iṣfahānī’s genius, al-Muhallabī exceptionally tolerated al-Iṣfahānī’s uncouth manners and poor personal hygiene.[114] The sources say nothing about al-Iṣfahānī’s fate, after al-Muhallabī’s death. In his last years, according to his student, Muḥammad b. Abī al-Fawāris, he suffered from senility (khallaṭa).[115][ad]

Personality, Preferences, and Beliefs

As a boon companion, al-Iṣfahānī was unconventional in the sense that he does not seem to have been bothered to observe the social decorum of his time, as noted by a late biographical source: with his uncleanliness and gluttony, he presented a counterexample to elegance (ẓarf), as defined by one of his teachers, Abū al-Ṭayyib al-Washshāʾ (d. 325/937).[ae] His unconformity to the social norms did not hinder him from being part of al-Muhallabī’s entourage or participation in the literary assemblies, but, inevitably, it resulted in frictions with other scholars and detraction from his enemies.[119][120] Although al-Iṣfahānī appeared eccentric to his human associates, he was a caring owner to his cat, named Yaqaq (white): he treated Yaqaq’s colic (qulanj) with an enema (al-ḥuqna).[121][af]

In contrast to his uncomely modus vivendi, al-Iṣfahānī’s prose style is lucid, “in clear and simple language, with unusual sincerity and frankness”.[123][ag] Al-Iṣfahānī’s capacity as a litterateur is well illustrated by Abū Deeb, who depicts al-Iṣfahānī as “one of the finest writers of Arabic prose in his time, with a remarkable ability to relate widely different types of aḵbār in a rich, lucid, rhythmic, and precise style, only occasionally exploiting such formal effects as saǰʿ (rhyming prose). He was also a fine poet with an opulent imagination. His poetry displays preoccupations similar to those of other urban poets of his time”.[126] His pinpoint documentation of asānīd[ah] and meticulous verification of information,[128][129] provided in all his works, embody a truly scholarly character. Usually, in his treatment of a subject or an event, al-Iṣfahānī lets his sources speak, but, occasionally, he voices his evaluation of poems and songs, as well as their creators.[130] When dealing with conflicting reports, al-Iṣfahānī either leaves his readers to decide or issues his judgment as to the most credible account.[131] Yet, he frankly condemns sources whom he holds to be unreliable, for instance, Ibn Khurdādhbih on musicological information and Ibn al-Kalbī on genealogy.[132][133] Indeed, al-Iṣfahānī assesses his source material with a critical eye, while striving to present a more balanced view on his biographees, by focusing on their merits instead of elaborating on their flaws.[134][135]

That said, al-Iṣfahānī’s personal preferences and sectarian partisanship are not absent from his works. In terms of music and songs, al-Iṣfahānī is a fan of Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm al-Mawṣilī (155–235/772–850). In al-Iṣfahānī’s view, Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm was a multi-talented man, who excelled in a number of subjects, but, most importantly, music.[136] Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm, as a collector of the reports about poets and singers, is an important source in his Aghānī.[137] Besides being a mine of information, Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm’s terminology for the description of the melodic modes is preferred over that of his opponent, Ibrāhīm b. al-Mahdī (162–224/778–839), and adopted by al-Iṣfahānī in his Aghānī.[138][ai] Furthermore, al-Iṣfahānī embarked on the compilation of the Aghānī because he was commissioned by his patron to reconstruct the list of the exquisite songs selected by Isḥāq.[140][aj] In other words, the raison d’etre of the Aghānī is partly related to al-Iṣfahānī’s idol, Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm, and its information about singers, songs and performance owes a tremendous amount to him.[141] Al-Iṣfahānī’s admiration for scholars or men of letters can be detected from time to time, usually in the passing comments in the chains of transmission.[142][143] Yet al-Iṣfahānī outspokenly expresses his admiration, in some cases, such as that of Ibn al-Muʿtazz (247–296/862–909).[144][145][146]

As an Umayyad by ancestry, al-Iṣfahānī’s later biographers mention his Shīʿī affiliation with surprise.[ak] Yet, in the light of the history of the family’s connections with the ʿAbbāsid elite of Shīʿī inclination and the Ṭālibids, and of his learning experience in Kūfa, his Shīʿī conviction is understandable. Al-Ṭūsī (385–460/995–1067) is the only early source specifying the exact sect to which he pertains in the fluid Shīʿī world: al-Iṣfahānī is a Zaydī.[152] Although al-Ṭūsī’s view is widely accepted, its veracity is not beyond doubt.[153][8][154][155][156] Al-Iṣfahānī does not seem to have been informed of the latest Zaydī movements in Yemen and Ṭabaristān of his time, while his association with the Kūfan Zaydī community, which to some degree became less distinguishable from the Sunnīs, is yet to be studied in depth.[157][158] It is clear, based on examination of how al-Iṣfahānī redacts the reports at his disposal, that he does honour ʿAlī, who plays a far more prominent role in his works than the first three caliphs, and some of his descendants, including Zaydī Shīʿism’s eponym, Zayd b. ʿAlī (75–122/694–740), by presenting them positively, while, in some cases, leaving their enemies’ rectitude in question.[159] In spite of that, al-Iṣfahānī is neither keen to identify the imams in the past, nor articulate as to the qualities of an imam.[160][al] As a matter of fact, he hardly uses the word, not even applying it to Zayd b. ʿAlī.[164] Furthermore, he does not unconditionally approve any ʿAlid revolt and seems somewhat lukewarm towards the group he refers to as Zaydīs.[165] Taken together, al-Iṣfahānī’s Shīʿī conviction is better characterised as moderate love for ʿAlī without impugning the dignity of the caliphs before him.


Al-Iṣfahānī authored a number of works, but only a few survive. Three of them are preserved through the quotations: al-Qiyān (“The Singing Girls Enslaved by Men”), al-Diyārāt (“The Monasteries”), and Mujarrad al-aghānī (“The Abridgement of the Book of Songs”).[166] A fragment of the Mujarrad al-aghānī can be found in Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa’s ʿUyūn al-anbāʾ fī ṭabaqāt al-aṭibbāʾ, which quotes a poem by the caliph, al-Maʾmūn (r. 198–218/813–833), which was arranged as a song by Mutayyam.[167] The first two have been reconstructed and published by al-ʿAtiyya, who collects and collates the passages from later works that quote from al-Iṣfahānī.[168][169] The former, al-Qiyān, is a collection of the biographies of the enslaved singing girls. In it, al-Iṣfahānī provides the basic information about the biographical subjects, the men who enslaved them, and their interaction with poets, notables such as caliphs, and their admirers, with illustration of their poetic and/or musical talents. The latter, al-Diyārāt, provides information related to monasteries, with the indication of their geographical locations and, sometimes, history and topographical characteristics. However, it is questionable to what extent the reconstructed editions can represent the original texts, since the passages, which quote al-Iṣfahānī as a source for the given subject and are thus included by the editor, seldom identify the titles of the works.[167]

Four works survive in manuscripts and have been edited and published: Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn (“The Ṭālibid Martyrs”), Kitāb al-Aghānī (“The Book of the Songs”), Adab al-ghurabāʾ (“The Etiquettes of the Strangers”), and al-Imāʿ al-shawāʿir (“The Enslaved Women Who Composed Poetry”).[167] As noted above, al-Iṣfahānī’s authorship of the Adab al-ghurabāʾ is disputed.[am] The author, whoever he may have been, mentions in the preface his sufferings from the hardship of time and vicissitude of fate, and the solace which he seeks through the stories of bygone people.[170] Hence, he collects in the Adab al-ghurabāʾ the reports about the experiences of strangers — those away from their homes or their beloved ones. Some of the stories centre on the hardship which strangers, anonymous or not, encountered in their journey or exile, usually shown in the epigrams written on monuments, rocks, or walls. [an] Others relate excursions to the monasteries for drinking.[172]

The al-Imāʾ al-shawāʿir was composed at the order of the vizier al-Muhallabī, al-Iṣfahānī’s patron, who demanded collection of the reports about the enslaved women who composed poetry from the Umayyad to the ʿAbbāsid periods.[111] Al-Iṣfahānī confesses that he could not find any noteworthy poetess in the Umayyad period, because the people at that time were not impressed with the verses featuring tenderness and softness. Thus, he only records the ʿAbbāsid poetesses, with mention of the relevant fine verses or the pleasant tales, and arranges them in chronological order.[111] There are 31 sections, addressing 32 poetesses, most of which are short and usually begin with al-Iṣfahānī’s summary of the subject.[173]

The Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn is a historical-biographical compilation concerning the descendants of Abū Ṭālib, who died under the following circumstances: being killed, poisoned to death in a treacherous way, on the run from the rulers’ persecution, or confined until death.[174][175] The Maqātil literature was rather common, amongst Shīʿīs particularly, before al-Iṣfahānī and he used many works of this genre as sources for the Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn.[176] Al-Iṣfahānī does not explain the motivation behind this compilation nor mention any dedicatee, but, according to the preface of this work, he sets out as a condition to recount the reports about the Ṭālibids who were “praiseworthy in their conduct and rightly guided in their belief (maḥmūd al-ṭarīqa wa-sadīd al-madhhab)”.[177] Like the al-Imāʾ, the work is structured in chronological order, beginning with the first Ṭālibī martyr, Jaʿfar b. Abī Ṭālib, and ends in the year of its compilation — Jumādā I 313/August 925.[178] For each biographical entry, al-Iṣfahānī gives the full name, the lineage (sometimes adding the maternal side). Less often, he additionally gives the virtues and personal traits of the subject and other material he thinks noteworthy, for example the prophetic ḥadīth about, or transmitted by, the subject of the biography in question. Then, al-Iṣfahānī gives the account of the death, which more often than not constitutes the end of the entry. Sometimes poetry for or by the subject is attached.[179][175] The Maqātil was adduced by many Shīʿī and non-Shīʿī compilers of the following centuries.[175][8]

The Kitāb al-Aghānī, al-Iṣfahānī’s best known work, is an immense compilation, including songs provided with musical indications (melodic modes and meters of songs), the biographies of poets and musicians of different periods in addition to historical material. As noted above, al-Iṣfahānī embarks on compiling the Aghānī first under the command of a patron, whom he calls raʾīs (chief), to reconstruct the list of one hundred fine songs, selected by Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm.[ao] Due to an obscure report in Yāqūt’s Muʿjam, this raʾīs is often assumed to be Sayf al-Dawla al-Ḥamdānī (r. 333–356/945–967),[180][ap] but recent studies suggest that a more plausible candidate for the dedicatee of the Aghānī is the vizier al-Muhallabī.[182][183] The Aghānī is divided into three parts: first, The Hundred Songs (al-miʾa al-ṣawt  al-mukhtāra) and other song collections; second, the songs of the caliphs and of their children and grandchildren (aghānī al-khulafāʾ wa-awlādihim wa-awlād awlādihim); third, al-Iṣfahānī’s selection of songs. The articles in each part are arranged based on different patterns, but it is mostly the song which introduces the articles on biographies or events.[184] The Kitāb al-Aghānī is not the first book or collection of songs in Arabic, but one can assert that it is the most important one, for it “is a unique mine of information not only on hundreds of song texts with their modes and meters, but also on the lives of their poets and composers, and on the social context of music making in early Islam and at the courts of the caliphs in Damascus and Baghdad”.[185] Because of al-Iṣfahānī’s pedantic documentation of his sources, the Kitāb al-Aghānī can also be used to reconstruct earlier books of songs or biographical dictionaries on musicians that are otherwise lost.[185]

As for the works that did not survive, based on their contents, as implied by their titles, they can be divided into the following categories:[186]

The genealogical works: Nasab Banī ʿAbd Shams (“The Genealogy of the Banū ʿAbd Shams”), Jamharat al-nasab (“The Compendium of Genealogies”), Nasab Banī Shaybān (“The Genealogy of the Banū Shaybān”), and Nasab al-Mahāliba (“The Genealogy of the Muhallabids”), this last probably dedicated to his patron, the vizier al-Muhallabī.

The reports about specified or unspecified topics, such as Kitāb al-Khammārīn wa-l-khammārāt (“The Book of Tavern-Keepers, Male and Female”), Akhbār al-ṭufaylīyīn (“Reports about Party Crashers”), al-Akhbār wa-l-nawādir (“The Reports and Rare Tales”), and Ayyām al-ʿarab (“The Battle-Days of the Arabs”), which mentions 1700 days of the pre-Islamic tribal battles and was in circulation only in Andalusia.[aq]

The reports about music, musicians and singers: the aforementioned Manājīb al-khiṣyān (“The Noble Eunuchs”), Akhbār Jaḥẓa al-Barmakī (“The Reports concerning Jaḥẓa al-Barmakī”), al-Mamālīk al-shuʿarāʾ (“The Slave Poets”), Adab al-samāʿ (“The Etiquettes of Listening to Music”), and Risāla fī ʿilal al-nagham (“The Treatise on the Rules of Tones”).

There are two works, only mentioned by al-Ṭūsī: Kitāb mā nazala min al-Qurʾān fī amīr al-muʾminīn wa-ahl baytih ʿalayhim al-salām (“The Book about the Qurʾānic Verses Revealed regarding the Commander of the Faithful and the People of His Family, Peace upon Them”) and Kitāb fīhi kalām Fāṭima ʿalayhā al-salām fī Fadak (“The Book concerning the Statements of Fāṭima, Peace upon Her, regarding Fadak”).[188] Should the attribution of these two works to al-Iṣfahānī be correct, together with the Maqātil al-Ṭālibīyīn, they reveal al-Iṣfahānī’s Shīʿī partisanship.


  1. See below, the section on Dates
  2. Other dates of death are in the 360s/970s and 357/967–68, suggested respectively by Ibn al-Nadīm (d. 385/995 or 388/998) and Abū Nuʿaym al-Iṣfahānī (336–430/948–1038)[2][3]
  3. The attribution of Adab al-ghurabāʾ to al-Iṣfahānī is much disputed in current scholarship. The scholars who affirm al-Iṣfahānī as the author of Adab al-ghurabāʾ include:[7][8][9][10][11] On the opposite side are:[12][13]
  4. Another spelling, al-Iṣbahānī, is also used in secondary literature. Although al-Iṣbahānī is found in the oldest biographical sources and manuscripts, al-Iṣfahānī will be used in this article.[17]
  5. This misconception, according to Azarnoosh,[22] was first disseminated by Ṭāshkubrīzādah (d. 968/1560) and was thereafter followed by modern scholars.
  6. While most of the sources agree that al-Iṣfahānī was amongst the offspring of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwān b. Muḥammad, Ibn al-Nadīm alone claimed that he was a descendant of Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik (72–125/691–743).[25] The majority opinion:[26][27][28]
  7. A report in the Aghānī mentions Aḥmad b. al-Ḥaytham’s possession of slaves, which may indicate his being wealthy.[31]
  8. For the identity of Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad b. Thawāba and other members of the Āl Thawāba,see: [36][37]
  9. The term, Shīʿī, is used in its broadest sense in this article and comprises various still evolving groups, including Imāmī Shīʿīs, Zaydīs, Ghulāt, and mild or soft Shīʿīs (as per van Ess and Crone), as well as those who straddle several sectarian alignments. Such inclusiveness is necessitated by the lack of clear-cut sectarian delineation (as in the case of the Āl Thawāba, discussed here) in the early period.[38][39]
  10. Both Kilpatrick and Azarnoosh follow Khalafallāh’s argument as to the Āl Thawāba’s impact upon al-Iṣfahānī’s Shīʿī conviction.[41][42]
  11. Besides the Āl Thawāba, one may count among the pro-ʿAlid or Shīʿī families the Banū Furāt and Banū Nawbakht.[48]
  12. Al-Iṣfahānī’s sources are al-ʿAbbās b. Aḥmad b. Thawāba and Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad b. Thawāba, al-Iṣfahānī’s grandfather from the maternal side, who is cited indirectly.[50]
  13. 13.0 13.1 Al-Iṣfahānī has three informants from the Banū Munajjim, whose members were associated with the ʿAbbāsid court as boon companions, scholars, or astrologists: Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā b. ʿAlī (262–327/876–940); ʿAlī b. Hārūn b. ʿAlī (277–352/890–963); and Yaḥyā b. ʿAlī b. Yaḥyā (241–300/855–912).[51] About the Banū Munajjim; see:[52]
  14. The Yazīdīs were famed for its members’ mastery of poetry, the Qurʾānic readings, the ḥadīth, and philology. Muḥammad b. al-ʿAbbās al-Yazīdī (d. c. 228–310/842–922) was the tutor of the children of the caliph, al-Muqtadir (r. 295–320/908–932), and transmitted Abū ʿUbayda’s Naqāʾiḍ, Thaʿlab’s Majālis, and the works of his family; many of his narrations are preserved in the Aghānī.[53][54]
  15. 15.0 15.1 The association with the Ṣūlīs likely began in the generation of al-Iṣfahānī’s grandfather, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad, who was close to Ibrāhīm b. al-ʿAbbās al-Ṣūlī; see above, the section on Family. Al-Iṣfahānī’s direct sources from this family are the famous al-Ṣūlī, Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā (d. 335/946 or 336/947), who was the boon companion of a number of the caliphs and a phenomenal chess player; his son, Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad al-Ṣūlī; and al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī, known as Ibn Burd al-Khiyār. See:[55][56] See also:[57][58]
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Banū Ḥamdūn were known for their boon companionship at the ʿAbbāsid court in the ninth century; al-Iṣfahānī’s informant is ʿAbdallāh b. Aḥmad b. Ḥamdūn;[59] about the Banū Ḥamdūn; see:[60][61]
  17. Yaḥyā b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh b. Ṭāhir, identified by al-Iṣfahānī as the nephew of ʿUbaydallāh b. ʿAbdallāh b. Ṭāhir (d. 300/913), is the son of Muḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh b. Ṭāhir (d. 296/908–9), the governor of Khurāsān.[62][63] See also:[64][65]
  18. Al-Iṣfahānī mentions a conversation between his father and Muḥammad b. Khalaf b. al-Marzubānī and notes the long-term friendship and marital tie between the two families; see:[66] I owe this reference to: [67] Muḥammad b. Khalaf b. al-Marzubān is a ubiquitous informant in the Aghānī; see:[68]
  19. The Ṭālibid informants of al-Iṣfahānī comprise: ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Ḥamza; ʿAlī b. Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad; ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar; Jaʿfar b. Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar; Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Ḥamza; see: [69]
  20. al-Iṣfahānī’s uncle, al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad, mentioned in the Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, either settled in Baghdad with him or at least active for some time there; see:[46][70]
  21. About Ibn ʿUqd, see also:[83]
  22. Compare, for instance, his teacher, al-Ṭabarī.[84]
  23. It has to be kept in mind that the categorisation is based on the attributives given by al-Iṣfahānī. Just as al-Iṣfahānī was not a local Iṣfahānī, the subjects discussed here do not necessarily engage with the professions their nisbas indicate.
  24. See also the footnotes above: [m][o][p]
  25. See Legacy, below
  26. It is noteworthy that the first sentence of this quote is written differently from the works given here in al-Khaṭīb’s Tārīkh.[97]
  27. For the few references by al-Iṣfahānī to his administrative tasks, see:[79]
  28. Among the frequently cited sources in the Aghānī is Ḥabīb b. Naṣr al-Muhallabī (d. 307/919), presumably from the Muhallabid family, but it is not clear how this informant relates to Abū Muḥammad al-Muhallabī; see:[109]
  29. See discussion below, the section on Legacy
  30. See also: [116]
  31. Al-Washshāʾ says: “It is not permissible for the people of elegance and etiquette to wear dirty clothes with clean ones, or clean ones with new ones,” and they should eat with small morsels, while avoiding gluttony. Al-Iṣfahānī never washed his clothes and shoes and only replaced them when they became too shabby to put on.[117] [118]
  32. For the discussion of colic and its treatment by enema; see:[122]
  33. See also:[124][125]
  34. Al-Iṣfahānī specifies not only his sources (the identities of his informants, or the titles of the written material used by him) but also the methods by which he acquired the reports. Now and then, he mentions the occasions on which he received the given information; see:[127]
  35. See also:[139]
  36. See the section below on al-Iṣfahānī’s works.
  37. The earliest mention of the Umayyad-Shīʿī combination in the biographical sources is perhaps:[115][147] This is then repeated in later sources; see [27][148] [149][150][151]
  38. The Zaydī writings in the late ninth and early tenth centuries more or less devote discussion to the role and qualities of imam; see, for example: [161][162] al-Ḥādī ilā al-Ḥaqq also singled out a line of the Zaydī imams up till his time in his Kitāb al-Aḥkām; see:[163]
  39. See above, the section on Dates
  40. For an example, see: [171]
  41. See the section on Personalities, Preferences and Beliefs, above.
  42. The misconception that al-Iṣfahānī gave his Aghānī to Sayf al-Dawla came from a misreading of the text in Muʿjam al-udabāʾ; the original initially mentioned that Abū al-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī al-Maghribī made an abridgement of the Aghānī and gave it to Sayf al-Dawla Abū al-Ḥasan Ṣadaqa Fakhr al-Dīn b. Bahāʾ al-Dawla, whom Yāqūt mistook for the Ḥamdānid, Sayf al-Dawla. This account is then followed by a comment from al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād and a dialogue between al-Muhallabī and al-Iṣfahānī and then returns to the words of Abū al-Qāsim, who states that he only made one copy of this work in his life and that that is the one given to Sayf al-Dawla. See also:[181] Although Khalafallāh admits that his reading is conjectural, he rightly points out the obscurities in this text.
  43. This and the Nasab ʿAbd Shams seem to have been only available in the Iberian Peninsula; see:[187]


  1. Sawa 1989, p. 29.
  2. Abū Nuʿaym, Akhbār, vol. 2, p. 22.
  3. Ibn al-Nadīm, al-Fihrist, p. 128.
  4. al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 13, p. 338; vol. 2, p. 213 (On Ibn Abī al-Fawāris).
  5. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 95–97.
  6. al-Iṣfahānī, Adab al-ghurabāʾ, p. 83–86.
  7. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 733.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Günther 2007.
  9. al-Munajjid 1972, p. 10–16.
  10. Kilpatrick 2004, p. 230–242.
  11. Kilpatrick 1978, p. 127–135.
  12. Hoyland 2006, p. 36–39.
  13. Crone & Moreh 2000, p. 128–143.
  14. al-Aṣmaʿī 1951, p. 81–85.
  15. al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 2, p. 213–214.
  16. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 68–69.
  17. Kilpatrick 2003, p. vii.
  18. al-Ziriklī 2002, vol. 4, p. 278.
  19. Rotter 1977, p. 7.
  20. Amīn 2009, p. 248–249.
  21. Sallūm 1969, p. 9.
  22. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 719.
  23. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 23–25.
  24. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 720.
  25. Ibn al-Nadīm, al-Fihrist, p. 127.
  26. 26.0 26.1 al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 13, p. 337.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 al-Dhahabī, Siyar, p. 2774.
  28. 28.0 28.1 al-Qifṭī, Inbāh, vol. 2, p. 251.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Ibn Ḥazm, Jamharat ansāb al-ʿarab, p. 107.
  30. Su 2018a, p. 421–422.
  31. Su 2018a, p. 422–423.
  32. Su 2018a, p. 424–426.
  33. al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil, p. 547.
  34. Su 2018a, p. 426–430.
  35. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 12, p. 29; vol. 14, p. 113, 157; vol. 16, p. 317–318; vol. 19, p. 35, 49; vol. 20, p. 116.
  36. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 52–58.
  37. Ibn al-Nadīm, al-Fihrist, p. 143–144.
  38. van Ess 2017, vol. 1, p. 236.
  39. Crone 2005, p. 72, 99.
  40. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 58.
  41. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 15.
  42. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 728.
  43. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 4, p. 147–149.
  44. Su 2018a, p. 433–441.
  45. Su 2018a, p. 431–432.
  46. 46.0 46.1 al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 23, p. 21.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Su 2018a, p. 421–432.
  48. Su 2018a, p. 429–430.
  49. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 41–51.
  50. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 29, 133.
  51. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 38, 40, 68–69.
  52. Fleischhammer 2012.
  53. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 54–56.
  54. Sellheim 2012.
  55. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 32, 64–65.
  56. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 9, p. 229.
  57. Ibn al-Nadīm, al-Fihrist, p. 167.
  58. Leder 2012.
  59. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 30.
  60. Ibn al-Nadīm, al-Fihrist, p. 161.
  61. Vadet 2012.
  62. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 69.
  63. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 21, p. 48.
  64. Zetterstéen 2012.
  65. Bosworth, Marín & Smith 2012.
  66. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 24, p. 37.
  67. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 17.
  68. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 58–59.
  69. Günther 1991, p. 140–141; 141–144; 150; 161–162; 190–191.
  70. al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 8, p. 440.
  71. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 34–35.
  72. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 46–47.
  73. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 41–42.
  74. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 58.
  75. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 13, p. 25; vol. 14, p. 46–50.
  76. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 17, p. 157.
  77. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 24, p. 67.
  78. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 721.
  79. 79.0 79.1 Kilpatrick 2003, p. 18.
  80. Günther 1991, p. 127–131.
  81. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 36–37.
  82. Su 2016, p. 204–209.
  83. Brown 2008, p. 55–58.
  84. Bosworth 2012.
  85. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 41–42 (al-Akhfash); 60–61 (Ibn Durayd); 32 (Ibn Rustam); 30 (ʿAbd al-Malik al-Ḍarīr).
  86. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 42 (Dhukāʾ Wajh al-Ruzza); 34 (Jaḥẓa).
  87. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 52–53 (ʿĪsā b. al-Ḥusayn al-Warrāq); 40 (ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn al-Warrāq); 37 (Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Ṣaḥḥāf); 31 (ʿAbd al-Wahhāb b. ʿUbayd al-Ṣaḥḥāf); 65 (Muḥammad b. Zakariyyā al-Ṣaḥḥāf).
  88. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 32 (Abū al-Qāsim al-Shīrbābakī).
  89. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 32 (Aḥmad b. al-ʿAbbās al-Muʾaddib); 35 (Aḥmad b. ʿImrān al-Muʾaddib); 61–62 (Muḥammad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Muʾaddib); 62 (Muḥammad b. ʿImrān al-Muʾaddib).
  90. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 43–44 (Jaʿfar b. Qudāma al-Kātib); 50–51 (al-Ḥusayn b. al-Qāsim al-Kawkabī al-Kātib); 53 (Isḥāq b. al-Ḍaḥḥāk al-Kātib); 41 (ʿAlī b. Ṣāliḥ al-Kātib); 39 (ʿAlī b. al-ʿAbbās al-Ṭalḥī al-Kātib); 39–40 (ʿAlī b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Kātib); 49 (al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad al-Kātib); 57 (Muḥammad b. Baḥr al-Iṣfahānī al-Kātib).
  91. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 61 (Muḥammad b. Ḥusayn al-Kindī was al-Iṣfahānī’s tutor and the preacher at the congregational mosque in Qādisiyya); 40–41 (ʿAlī b. Muḥammad, an imam of a Kūfan mosque).
  92. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 15, p. 255; vol. 19, p. 38; vol. 20, p. 163; vol. 21, p. 158.
  93. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 30 (ʿAbdallāh b. Abī Dāwūd al-Sijistānī); 36–37 (Ibn ʿUqda); 58 (Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī); 59–60 (Muḥammad b. Khalaf Wakīʿ).
  94. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 42 (ʿĀṣim b. Muḥammad al-Shāʿir); 49 (al-Ḥasan b. Muḥammad al-Shāʿir).
  95. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 37 (Aḥmad b. Sulaymān al-Ṭūsī); 37–38 (Ibn ʿAmmār); 42–43 (Abū Khalīfa al-Jumaḥī); 45–46 (al-Ḥaramī b. Abī al-ʿAlāʾ).
  96. Ibn Khallikān, Wafayāt, vol. 3, p. 307.
  97. al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 13, p. 339.
  98. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 129–130.
  99. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 168–169.
  100. al-Aṣmaʿī 1951, p. 73–85.
  101. ʿĀṣī 1993, p. 24–30.
  102. al-Tanūkhī, al-Faraj, vol. 2, p. 334.
  103. al-Tanūkhī, Nishwār, vol. 1, p. 18.
  104. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 110–111.
  105. Stern 2012.
  106. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 726–727.
  107. al-Tawḥīdī, Akhlāq al‑wazīrayn, p. 421–422.
  108. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 105.
  109. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 44.
  110. al-Thaʿālibī, Yatīmat, vol. 3, p. 127–131.
  111. 111.0 111.1 111.2 al-Iṣfahānī, al-Imāʿ al-shawāʿir, p. 23.
  112. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 100.
  113. al-Tanūkhī, Nishwār, vol. 1, p. 74.
  114. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 101–103.
  115. 115.0 115.1 al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Madīnat al-Salām, vol. 13, p. 340.
  116. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 19.
  117. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 101–102, 107–108.
  118. al-Washshāʾ, al-Muwashshā, p. 161 (quotation), 167.
  119. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 17–18.
  120. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 730–731.
  121. al-Hamawī, Muʿjam al-udabāʾ, vol. 13, p. 104–105.
  122. Nezhad 2015, p. 29–40.
  123. Azarnoosh 1992, p. 731.
  124. Jabrī 1965, p. 27–29.
  125. Sallūm 1969, p. 56–69.
  126. Abū Deeb.
  127. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 94–104.
  128. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 40–46, 60–63, 115–119.
  129. Sallūm 1969, p. 38–55, 101–118.
  130. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 46–47,66–69.
  131. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 111–119.
  132. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 112–113.
  133. Sallūm 1969, p. 85–89.
  134. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 46–47, 68–69, 114–115.
  135. Jabrī 1965, p. 19–20, 25–26.
  136. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 5, p. 190.
  137. Fleischhammer 2004, p. 89–91.
  138. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 1, p. 15–16.
  139. Sawa 2002, p. 384–385.
  140. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 1, p. 16.
  141. Su 2018b, p. 275–289.
  142. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 111–112.
  143. Khalafallāh 1962, p. 66–84.
  144. Su 2016, p. 175­–179.
  145. al-Iṣfahānī, Kitāb al-Aghānī, vol. 10, p. 228–229.
  146. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 83–84.
  147. al-Qifṭī, Inbāh, vol. 2, p. 253.
  148. al-Dhahabī, Mīzān, vol. 5, p. 151.
  149. Ibn Ḥajar, Lisān al-mīzān, vol. 5, p. 526.
  150. Ibn al-ʿImād, Shadharāt al-dhahab fī akhbār man dhahaba, vol. 4, p. 292.
  151. Ibn Al‑Athīr, al‑Kāmil 1987, vol. 7, p. 302.
  152. al-Ṭūsī, al-Fihrist, p. 192.
  153. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 14–16.
  154. Haider 2011, p. 197.
  155. Haider 2008, p. 459–475.
  156. Crone 2005, p. 100, footnote 4.
  157. Madelung 1965, p. 223–228.
  158. Su 2016, p. 72–90.
  159. Su 2016, p. 183–265.
  160. Su 2016, p. 253–260.
  161. al-Qāsim, Majmūʿ kutub, vol. 2, p. 169–193.
  162. Yaḥyā, Majmūʿ Rasāʾil, p. 431–432.
  163. Strothmann 1990, p. 360.
  164. Su 2016, p. 253.
  165. Su 2016, p. 87–89.
  166. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 24–25.
  167. 167.0 167.1 167.2 Kilpatrick 2003, p. 25.
  168. al-Iṣfahānī, al-Qiyān.
  169. al-Iṣfahānī, al-Diyārāt.
  170. al-Iṣfahānī, Adab al-ghurabāʾ, p. 20–21.
  171. al-Iṣfahānī, Adab al-ghurabāʾ, p. 25–26, 29–31.
  172. al-Iṣfahānī, Adab al-ghurabāʾ, p. 34–36.
  173. Kilpatrick 2003, p. 26.
  174. al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil, p. 24.
  175. 175.0 175.1 175.2 Bahramian 1992, p. 734–735.
  176. Günther 1994, p. 200–205.
  177. al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil, p. 24–25.
  178. al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil, p. 24–25, 565.
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Works Cited