Ibn Kannān

Risālat al bayān wa al ṣarāḥah bi-talkhīṣ kitāb al-malāḥah fī ‘ilm al-filāḥah

Mohammad Ibn Kannān (1663/4 ‑ 1740/1), whose full name is given as Muḥammad ibn ʻĪsá ibn Maḥmūd ibn Kannān al‑Ṣāliḥī al‑Dimashqī al-Khalwatī, was a Damascene chronicler, geographer, teacher of jurisprudence, and writer on a number of subjects, who was born, raised, and lived his entire life in Damascus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. Enumerating the original inhabitants of Ṣāliḥīyah, the Damascene suburb where he was born, Ibn Kannān places his family, the Kannānis, at the top of the list of the suburb’s trading families, which included the most illustrious households of Damascus. In addition to a distinguished pedigree and evident wealth, Ibn Kannān’s family also occupied the prestigious position of the leadership of the Khalwatīyah sufī order in Damascus. Because of his family’s wealth and prestige, Ibn Kannān had the opportunity to study under the most reputable ‘ulama’ of the time, including Ibrāhīm al‑Kūrānī (1615 ‑ 1690) and ‘Abd al‑Ghanī al‑Nābulusī (1641 - 1731). However, his career path was evidently quite frustrating, as he spent much of his life attempting to secure a permanent teaching post in Ḥanafī jurisprudence at the Khadijīyah-Murshidīyah madrasah, where he taught at various times. It was only in 1151/1738, a couple of years before his death, that Ibn Kannān finally achieved his ambition and secured a permanent appointment at the madrasah.

Some 15 to 28 works on various topics, including history, topography, poetry, rhetoric, sufism, jurisprudence, biography, ḥadīth, medicine, botany and zoology, are attributed to Ibn Kannān. His al‑Ḥawādith alyawmīyah min tārīkh aḥad ʻashar waalf wa‑mīyah, a chronicle of events of Damascus between 1111/1699 and 1153/1740, was used as a source by later scholars such as Muḥammad Khalīl al-Murādī (1759/60 ‑ 1791/2) for his Silk al-durar fī aʻyān al-qarn al-thānī ʻashar, the renowned biographical dictionary of the notable men and scholars of the 12th century of the ḥijrah (18th century). Interestingly, Ibn Kannān’s topographical works on Damascus in particular, and the Levant in general, display a marked attention to the beauties of nature. He loved the rivers, gardens, orchards, parks and promenades of Damascus, and it was here, particularly towards the end of his life, that he spent most of his springs and summers. His enchantment with nature is confirmed not only by his interest in botany and agriculture but also by the fact that he sometimes marked time according to the seasonal fruits and flowers. Ibn Kannān loved picnics, and his outings functioned as scholarly salons where he and his colleagues exchanged knowledge and discussed topics outside their teaching curricula. (Sajdi, 2009)

We know little about Ibn Kannān’s only agricultural work, Risālat al‑bayān wa al‑ṣarāḥah bi-talkhīṣ kitāb al-malāḥah fī ‘ilm al-filāḥah, ‘Explanation and summary of the book of elegance in the science of agriculture’, except that it is an explanation and summary of the Jāmi‘ farā’id al-malāḥah fī jawāmi‘ fawā’id al-filāḥah, a large 16th century treatise on agriculture by the Damascene Raḍī al-Dīn al-Ghazzī al‑‘Amirī (1457/8‑1528/9). According to I. A. Maalouff (1923, p. 362), two other authors also wrote summaries of Raḍī al-Ghazzī al‑‘Amirī’s work: ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nābulusī (1641-1731), who was one of Ibn Kannān’s teachers, and ‘Abd al‑Qādir al-Khalāṣī (d. 1785/6?).

Published Editions

It appears that Ibn Kannān’s agricultural treatise has not yet been edited or published


There are two extant manuscripts of the Risālat al‑bayān wa al‑ṣarāḥah bi-talkhīṣ kitāb al-malāḥah fī ʿilm al-filāḥah, according to Ṣālihīyya, 1984:

  • Berlin, Berlin National Library, No. 6211
  • Cairo, Egyptian National Archives (Dār al-kutub wal-wathā’iq al-qawmīyah), no. 104 زراعة طلعت
Ṣālihīyya notes that Risālat al-bayān waṣ-ṣarāḥat bi-talkhīṣ kitāb al-milaḥat fī ‘ilm al-filāḥat, by Muḥammad bin ʻĪsá bin Maḥmūd bin Kunnān, held in the National Library in Berlin, reference 6211 We 1740 is exactly the same as the anonymous manuscript entitled Nabdha ‘ilm al-milāḥat fī ‘ilm al-filāḥat held at Dār al-kutub wal-wathā’iq al-qawmīyah in Cairo, reference 104 zirā‘at ṭala‘at - and this manuscript is therefore another copy of Muḥammad bin ʻĪsa bin Kunnān’s work.


Brockelmann, C. (1949). Geschichte der arabischen Literatur Supplementband, Volume II. Leiden:  Brill, p. 367.
Maalouff, I. A. (1923). ‘Les Manuscripts rares de la bibliotèque Taïmouria du Caire’, Revue de l’Académie Arabe de Damas (Majallat Majma‘ al-Lugha al‑‘Arabīyah bi‑Dimashq) 3, pp. 360-366. (in Arabic).
Sajdi, Dana (2009). ‘Ibn Kannān’, in: Historians of the Ottoman Empire.
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. 567-568.   
Ziriklī, Khayr al-Din (1970). al-A‘lam: Qamus tarajim li-ashhar al-rijal wa-al-nisa’ min al-‘arab wa-al-musta‘ribin wa-al-mustashriqin. Beirut.