Biographies, Chronicles and Travel Reports

أدب الرحلات

Apart from the first biographies of Muhammad, the first major biographer to deepen characters rather than limit himself to writing hymns of praise was al-Baladhuri who, with his Kitab ansab al-ashraf or “Book of genealogies of nobles” , presents a real collection of biographies. Another important biographical dictionary was started by ibn Khallikan and then completed by al-Safadi. Finally Kitab al-I’tibar, which tells us about the life of Usamah ibn Munqidh and his experience of the battles of the crusades, was one of the first important autobiographies.

Ibn Khurradadhbih, apparently a postal official at the time, wrote one of the very first travel guides. The form later became popular in Arabic literature through the works of ibn Hawqal, ibn Fadlan, al-Istakhri, al-Muqaddasi, al-Idrisi as well as those of Ibn Battûta including the journeys remained memorable. These works gave a fascinating vision of the many cultures of the vast Islamic world and also offered prospects for the conversion of non-Muslim peoples at the ends of the empire. They also publicized the extent to which Muslims had become a leading trading power.

Most often, these works took the form of reports teeming with geographic and historical details. They gave birth to a full-fledged literary genre which is called in Arabic: rihla (which translates means “journey”.) Some writers focused on history in general, such as al-Ya’qubi and al-Tabari , while others focused on specific periods and places, such as ibn al-Azraq which relates the history of Mecca or ibn Abi Tahir Tayfur which wrote that of Baghdad. Among Arab historians, ibn Khaldun is considered to be the greatest thinker. His column Muqaddima, which takes the object of studying society, is a founding text of sociology and the Arab economy.