Monday, October 1, 2007

Jalaluddin al-Suyuti and the Number Seven

Assalamu 'alaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh

There is absolutely no doubt that Jalaluddin al-Suyuti was an accomplished scholar who, because of his vast knowledge and independent thinking in a vast array of subjects, has reached the level of a mujtahid (a scholar who, because of his independent thinking in the field of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, is in a position to open his own school of Islamic law and established his own madh-hab). He, however, continued to be a follower of the Shafi'i school of law. When he was a little baby he was taken to Hafith Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (who both lived in Egypt), and this event kindled in al-Suyiti the desire to be like the grand master of hadith. There is almost not a single Islamic or Arabic science unless he has written something about it, and a prolific writer he was. For me personally that are three things that stand out about him:

(1) his uncanny ability to import organisational systems and methodologies used in one area of study into other areas of studies in which they have hitherto not been used - a type of methodological cross-pollination; instances of this will follow shortly, insha Allah.

(2) the great ease with which he was able to commit almost anything and everything to verse; a case in point is that I remember him to mention at the end of his thousand verse didactic poem on Hadith Nomenclature and Methodology (one of many such poems that he has composed on different topics) that he had composed it in 5 days; let me see if I can find the part in his al-alfiyyah (on Mustalah al-Hadith) where he says so; here you go verse 988:

نَظَمْتُهَا فِيْ خَمْسَةِ الأَيَّامِ * بِقًدْرَةِ الْمُهَيْمِنِ الْعَلاَّمِ
(I composed it in verse form in five days, with the Power of the All-Knowing Supreme Guardian)

(3) his quest for excellence and setting himself the challenge to always improve on how something has been done before him; a case in point is the famous al-Muqaddimah al-Ajurrumiyyah which is most probably one of the shortest if not the shortest text written on Arabic grammar; whilst living in Amman I stumbled on a grammar text written by al-Suyuti called the "al-Sham'ah al-Mudiyyah" (the shining candle) which was almost ten times more shorter than the al-Ajurrumiyyah, and of course much easier to memorise.

There are of course many other great things about this truly versatile scholar of which I have only singled out three that I find particularly amazing. Anyhow, much has been written about al-Suyuti. In fact, he wrote an autobiography so as to save later authors of biographical dictionaries the trouble of having to investigate and research everything about him. Some of those who do not find al-Suyuti impressive as a scholar has often charged him with being a mere compiler not writing anything original. However, anyone who reads his works with honesty and fairness will realise that this charge is completely unfounded. While he did often quote extensively from other works at the same time his works are not shorn of his own genius and originality. The idea with the quotations could be seen as trying to bring as many of the original and classical voices to bear on the particular topic of discourse, only then to let himself enter the discourse as a worthy participant at which point he would conclude with the words after having heard everything that has been said before "now, I say that ...".

Now, for the topic at hand "Jalaluddin al-Suyuti and the Number Seven". What is so special about the number seven for Jalaluddin al-Suyuti. Well, it goes back to the famous Tajuddin al-Subki, son of the equally famous Taqiyyuddin al-Subki, as they are popularly known, who wrote many books, two of which are of special importance to us: (1) the جمع الجوامع (jam' al-jawami') on Usul al-Fiqh, followed by his own sharh or commentary entitled "منع الموانع" (man' al-mawani') and (2) الأشباه والنظائر on qawa'id al-Fiqh (Legal Maxims).

Later, al-Suyuti came around and wrote his جمع الجوامع together with his own sharh entitled همع الهوامع on the subject of Nahw (and Sarf). He wrote this following the same organisation of al-Subki's جمع الجوامع which is composed of a number of introductory paragraphs, followed by seven chapters or books, and then concluding with a conclusion. Al-Suyuti followed the same scheme not only in the جمع الجوامع but also in two other books on (a) الأشباه والنظائر في النحو which deals with grammatical maxims; this was after al-Suyuti wrote a book on Shafi'i legal maxims with the same title الأشباه والنظائر ; often these 2 books are confused as the latter is more popular, so you end up find the book on grammatical maxims in the legal section of bookstores, (b) الاقتراح في علم أصول النحو a primer on Usul al-Nahw which is to Nahw as Usul al-Fiqh is to Fiqh. In this book, al-Suyuti follows the same organisational principle of a number of introductory points, followed by seven books, and then followed by a conclusion.

In his introduction to the همع الهوامع على جمع الجوامع he writes that he has arranged this book in a way not done before, following therein the books on Usul, and in making it seven he sees it as being appropriate because of a hadith narrated by Ibn Hibban et al:
"إن الله وتر، يحب الوتر، أما ترى السموات سبعاً، والأيام سبعاً، والطواف سبعاً" [Allah is One and its an odd number, and He loves odd numbers. Do you not see the heavens to be seven, the days to be seven, and tawaf (circumambulation around the al-Ka'bah) to be seven?]

So from this we see how al-Suyuti import systems and organisational principles from field other than Nahw, into Nahw. This is definitely a type of interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary approach to the Islamic and Arabic sciences.

Later on, insha Allah, I would like to elaborate on the specific methodology and organisation used in the aforementioned books based on al-Suyuti's introductions or khuatbahs to these books.

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