Yacub Ibn Al-Laith Al-Saffar (يعقوب بن الليث الصفار) lived from A.D. 840 to 879, and is credited as the founder of the Saffarid dynasty of Sistan. Sistan is the geographic area now known as eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan; its capital was the city of Zaranj. The word saffar in Arabic means “brass founder,” an artisan working in brass; but Yacub was said to be a coppersmith. His biographer Ibn Khallikan credits Yacub with this wise saying:Continue reading
The birthdate of the philologist and grammarian Yacub Ibn Al-Sikkit (ابو يوسف يعقوب ابن السكيت) is not known with certainty, but 800 A.D. is a reliable estimate. His father enjoyed notoriety and prestige in court circles, and may have conferred on his son some access to the corridors of power. The sobriquet “Al-Sikkit” was given to him because of his taciturnity, for the Arabic verb sakata (سكت) means “to be silent.” However, as the reader will soon discover, he was evidently not silent enough.
We all know that the ability to think on one’s feet is an important skill. There may even be times when this ability makes the difference between survival and execution. The amusing anecdote that follows appears in Ibn Khallikan’s biographical sketch (IV.200) of a government official and administrator (مولى) named Yazid Ibn Abi Muslim, who served under an Umayyad governor of Iraq named Al-Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf (c. 661—714 A.D.).
Abu Talib Ibn Zabada was born in Baghdad in 1128 and lived his early life there, although his biographer Ibn Khallikan says his family was based in Wasit. He is described as a poet, jurisprudent, and administrator of exceptional talent and wit; his letters were said to be singularly refined. “His epistles,” says Ibn Khallikan, “are remarkable for the graces of their style, the elegance of their thoughts, the beauty of their ornaments and the delicacy of their allusions. In drawing up dispatches, he paid more attention to the ideas than to the cadence; his letters are elegant, his thoughts just, his poetry good and his merits are so conspicuous that they need not be described.”
Yahya Ibn Khalid (يحيى بن خالد) was an influential figure during the tenure of Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Rashid. We do not know the precise date of his birth, but he was the son of Khalid Ibn Barmak, a member of the powerful Persian family known as the Barmakids. The third Abbasid caliph, Al-Mahdi, tasked Yahya Ibn Khalid around 778 A.D. with the education of his son Harun. Yahya must have perceived the seeds of greatness in the young Harun, for he tried to convince the fourth Abbasid caliph Al-Hadi to elevate Harun to a high position of leadership. This was a mistake. Al-Hadi had his own son in mind for the position, and so tossed Yahya into prison; but Fate would eventually smile on Yahya.
In some recent researches I have discovered one of the more interesting travelers and scholars of the medieval Islamic world. I have been encouraged to review what sources are available; and the more we learn, the more impressive his story becomes. His name is Yakut Al-Hamawi, and his career and achievements tell us much about the geographical and social mobility of the age in which he lived. His career also confirms the truth of the adage that a man of ability will always find a way to rise to the top, regardless of the obstacles placed in his path.
Abu Zakariyya Yahya Ibn Ziyad is one of the more famous of the early Arabic grammarians. Known to history by his moniker Al-Farra, he was born in the city of Kufa around A.D. 761 and received an intensive education there in rhetoric, law, and theology. His biographer Ibn Khallikan calls him “the most eminent of all the doctors of Kufa and also the most distinguished by his knowledge of grammar, philology and the various branches of literature.”