Al‑fann al‑rābi‘ fī ’l-falāḥa

Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyá al-Waṭwāṭ (also known as Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm al-Kutubī ibn Yahyá al-Warrāq, Jamāl al‑Dīn al-Waṭwāṭ, Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyá al-Anṣārī, and Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Yaḥyá ibn ‘Alī al-Kutubī), was born, according to Al-‘Asqalānī, in AH 632/AD 1235, died AH 718/AD 1318, living all his life in Mamluk Egypt (Attié 1969). What can be said, asks Attié, about the 86 names, forenames, surnames, titles, nisbas, kunyas and personalities that the copyists give him? Unlike other writers of his era, he did not belong to the circle of the Mamluk administration but was a wealthy bookseller (hence his names Al-Kutubī, ‘the Bookseller’, and Al-Warrāq, ‘the Paper-seller’) and a celebrated compiler. According to his contemporary Al-Safdi (d. 1363), “he had a great knowledge of books and their value”.

Al-Waṭwāṭ’s best-known work, the Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al-ibar, ‘The joys of ideas and the methods of giving lessons’, is an encyclopaedia of natural sciences and geography in which topographical and scientific observations are accompanied by poetical and literary quotations. The Mabāhij is divided into four main fann or sections dealing with astronomy, geography, zoology and botany. Each of these sections is further divided into nine abwāb or chapters. From an agronomical point of view the most important section is that called Al‑fann al‑rābi fī ‘l-falāa, an anthology of texts which treats of cultivated plants. This is normally said to be the fourth (al‑rābi‘) section of the Mabāhij, though some copyists say it is the third or the second. Al-Waṭwāṭ’s Mabāhij had a major influence on later encyclopaedic treatises: Al‑Nuwayri (1278-1332), a prolific Egyptian historian who was a younger contemporary of Al-Waṭwāṭ, used the Mabāhij as a model for his monumental Nihāyat al-arab fī funūn al-adab (Samiuddin & Singh 2003, p. 716).  

Published Editions & Translations

  • Waṭwaṭ, Jamal al-Dīn al- (1981). [min] Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al-ibar, edited by ‘Abd-al-‘Āl ‘Abd-al-Mun‘im ash-Šhāmī, Kuwait : Qism al-turath (partial edition). In Arabic.
  • Waṭwaṭ, Jamal al-Dīn al- (1990). Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al-ibar: encyclopaedia of four natural sciences by Jamal al-Din al-Watwat Muhammad ibn Ibrahim ibn Yahya al-Kutubi, d. 1318, Reproduced from MS 4116 Fatih Collection, Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul, edited by F. Sezgin and M. Amawi, Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Institute for the history of Arabic-Islamic science, 2. vol. In Arabic.
  • Waṭwaṭ, Jamal al-Dīn al- (2000). Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al-ibar, edited by ‘Abd al-Razzaq Ahmad al-Harbi, Beyrouth: al-Dar al-‘Arabiyah lil-Mawsu‘at. In Arabic.
  • Dr. H. M. Al-Naboodah of the United Arab Emirates University at Al ‘Ain is preparing an edition of Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al-ibar.


“Concerning the scholarly reference work Manāhij al-fikar wa mabāhij al-ibar [sic] by Jamāl al-Dīn, Muḥammad bin Ibrāhīm bin Yaḥyā al-Warrāq, al-Waṭwāṭ, d. 718 AH,” says Ṣālihīyya (1984, p. 575), “It has suffered more than any other manuscript from transcribers corrupting it, from other books appropriating it, and from spurious claims to its authorship. Parts of it have been broken up, particularly the section of the fourth ‘science’. It has had papers added to the introduction and has been plagiarized. One of these authors commented that “The great scope of this book is quoted at the fingertips of the humble”. Moreover, some of the copyists of the work attribute it to Ibn al-‘Awwām, such machinations misleading those compiling library indexes to list the manuscripts as such without going to the trouble of discovering the true nature of the book.”

a) Some existing manuscripts of Al‑fann al‑rābi‘ fī l-falāa

According to Attié (1969), multiple copies of the fourth section of the Mabāhij were made and every important library has one or two, but unfortunately, most are anonymous or carry the names of apocryphal authors; a few, nevertheless carry the name of the author Al-Kutubī. He lists the following 11 manuscript copies:

  • Oxford, Bodleian Library: no. 907 (Uri, 1787). Apocryphal author.
  • Oxford, Bodleian Library: no. 507 (Uri, 1787).
    • This ms. is anonymous according to Uri, and from Ibn Waḥshīya following Brockelmann, G. I. p. 242, but we have read there the name of the author, Al-Kutubī (Attié, 1969)
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale: no. 2809 (F. S. 884). Anonymous.
    • Clément-Mullet knew a mutilated Al-fann ar-rābi’: “Ms. no. 884 F.S. has a particular appearance; it appears to be more modern in origin”. The copyist of this ms. has left an inscription: “Cited in the prototype of this blessed copy are numerous verses which I have omitted, for the metre of the rhymes is worthless and they are only the invention of the author” (Attié, 1969).
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale: no. 6745.
    • “The copyist has omitted most of the traditional words, but he has kept the poems and has left the inscription that is the origin of the attribution of some copies to Abū ’l-Khayr: “And Abū ’l-Khayr has cited numerous yutu‘at which we have omitted” (Attié, 1969). Note: this attribution is refuted by Millás Vallicrosa, 1955.
  • Berlin State Library: no. 6208 (Ahlwardt). Apocryphal author.
  • Berlin State Library: no. 6207 (Ahlwardt). With the name of the author.
    • “Copy no. 6207 in the National Library in Berlin goes under the title of ‘Kitāb fi ilm al-filāa’ by Yūsuf Effendi bin al-Shaykh al-Jalīl al-Makridi, and while the handwriting is fair enough, the transcriber often jumps lines, making careless mistakes. However, comparison with the reference work ‘Mubāhij al-fikr’ confirms that manuscript no. 6207 is indeed another copy of the Mubāhij” (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 576).
  • Leyden: no. 1288 (C. C. O.). With the name of the author.
  • Biblioteca de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid: no. 19. Anonymous.
  • Cairo: nos. 85 and 237 ?Anonymous.
  • Tunis, Zaytuna Mosque: no. 5298. Anonymous.
In addition Ṣālihīyya (1984) lists the following manuscripts:

  • Dublin, Chester Beatty Library:  no. 4020 (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 575).
    • “Ms. no. 4020 held in the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin goes under the title ‘al-Filāḥa fī al-Arḍayn’ but on perusal and comparison with Ibn al-‘Awwām’s well known work no correspondence is to be found between them. It becomes apparent that it is ‘Al‑Fann al‑Rābi‘ min Mabāhij al-Fikr’, in other words, the agricultural section of Al-Waṭwāṭ’s reference work. I found the following inscription on this copy:
      Els. NO. 1698
      M.97 الفلاحة   للشيزري
      مخرج ١١١٦

      which may be useful in narrowing down the original place it was held before being transferred to Dublin” (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 575).
  • Sohag, Egypt, Faculty of Agriculture: no. 18 zirāat (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 576).
    • “Inscribed ‘This book is on the methods of agriculture and things related to it, names of trees etc.’. It was the property of Al-Khazānat al-Malikīyya, but was later given to the Sohag Faculty of Agriculture. On examination it is found to be another copy of ‘Al-Fann al-Rābi’ (the agricultural section) of Waṭwāṭ’s reference work.” (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 576).
  • Istanbul, Suleymaniye Library: no. 1990 (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 576).
    • “Entitled ‘Falaḥa al-Nabātiyya’, and recorded as being anonymous. On reading and comparing with ‘Al-Fann al-Rābi‘ of Mubāhij al-Fikr’, it is found to be another copy of it, and not ‘Falaḥa al-Nabātiyya’.” (Ṣālihīyya, 1984, p. 576).
b) Some existing manuscripts of the Mabāhij al-fikar (complete copies or sections other than Al-fann al‑rābifī ‘l-falāḥa):

  • Cambridge (UK), Cambridge University Library: Add. 3187 (Browne, 1900, p. 193).
    • This is the second chapter of the Mabāhij al-fikar wa manāhij al ibar by Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhim ibn Yaḥyā ibn ‘Alī al-Kutubī (d. AH 718). See H. Kh. No. 11311; B.M.A.C.1, pp. 183-184. This volume contains the 9 chapters of Part II - الفن لثانى فى ذكرالارض - enumerated by Rieu, loc. cit. [Ff. 161 of 20.0 x 14.5 c. and 17 ll.; good, clear naskh; rubrications, chapter-headings in yellow outlined with black. Appears to have been transcribed from the author’s autograph (عن خطّ مصنّفه ومؤلّفه) dated A.H. 1013.]
  • Aleppo, Maronite Library: complete manuscript of the Mabāhij.
  • Cairo, Egyptian National Library: copy of the manuscript kept in Aleppo’s Maronite Library.
  • Cairo, Taimuriya Library: manuscript written in 1357 containing the first and second chapters of the Mabāhij.
  • Istanbul: incomplete copy of the Mabāhij.   
  • Istanbul, Library Ahmed III: abridgement of the Mabāhij signed by Mansur bin Mohamed al-‘Abadi.


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Attié, B. (1969). ‘Les manuscrits agricoles arabes de la Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris’. Hespéris‑Tamuda 10 (3),  pp. 241-261.
Brockelmann, C. (1943-49). Geschichte der arabischen Literatur. Volume II. 2nd Edition. Leiden: Brill, 1943, p. 55
Brockelmann, C. (1937-42). Geschichte der arabischen Literatur, Supplement. Volume II. Leiden: Brill, 1938, p. 53   
Browne, E.G. (1900). A Hand-List of the Muhammadan Manuscripts, Including All Those Written in the Arabic Character, Preserved in the Library of the University of Cambridge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 193.
Millás Vallicrosa, J.M. (1955a). ‘Aportaciones para el estudio de la obra agronómica de Ibn Haŷŷāŷ y de Abū l-Jayr’. Al-Andalus 20, pp. 87‑105. Reprinted (1987) in: Estudios sobre historia de la ciencia española, vol. 2, pp. 153‑81. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas.
Ṣālihīyya, M.‘I. (1984). ‘Mulāḥazāt ‘alā makhṭūṭāt al-filāḥa: al-taṭbīqīya al-maḥfūza fī ‘l-maktabāt al-‘arabīya wa’l-ajnabīya’. Majallāt Mujmaal-Lugha al-Arabīya (Revue de l'Académie Arabe de Damas) 59 (3), pp. 566‑586.
Samiuddin, A. & Singh, N.K. (eds.) (2003). Encyclopaedic Historiography of the Muslim World. Delhi: Global Vision Publishing House.
Sezgin, Fuat (ed.) (1994). Studies on al-Watwat (d. 1318), ad-Dimashqi (d. 1327), Ibn al-Wardi (d. c. 1446) and al-Bakuwi (15th cent.) [Islamic Geography 205]. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Institute for the history of Arabic-Islamic science.
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Uri, J. (1787). Bibliothecae Bodleianae codicum manuscriptorum orientalium ... catalogus. Pars prima. Oxford. (Contains descriptions in Latin of 105 Christian Arabic and 1,219 Islamic Arabic manuscripts; author index only)