The Role of Paratextual Elements in Shaping Reading Sensibilities: Preliminary Observations from a 17th-Century Manuscript and 19th-Century Lithograph of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s (d.436/1044) Ghurar wa-Durar

March 5, 2021

Mehreen Zahra Jiwan is a Fellow and Research Assistant at the Berkeley Institute for Islamic Studies. She is currently an MA student at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion. She obtained her Honors BA in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

Despite the influence of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī, the paratextual features of its manuscript copies are seldom discussed. This paper compares such features in two 17th and 19th-century manuscripts.



A number of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s (d.436/1044) al-Amālī are available to us today, yet little attention is paid to the paratextual elements unique to each manuscript. This paper compares paratextual features of two copies of the Amālī that were produced in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries respectively. It is hoped that this analysis offers some insights into how we approach discontinuous commentary traditions.

The brevity of this study limits this analysis to a preliminary exploration of the front and end matter, some stylistic and linguistic features within the body of the text, as well as some of the marginal notes scattered across the folios. It is hoped that the observations made in this paper map-out future research agendas and opportunities for further analysis of sources which have thus far received little attention from the academe. The broader aims of this project seek to engage with some of the research questions that Asad Q. Ahmed and Margaret Larkin outline in their overview of the academic treatment of ḥāshiyah (glosses, usually in the margins of a text). In order to develop emic approaches to understanding Islamic commentary on its own terms, Ahmed and Larkin provide us with numerous avenues of inquiry. Relevant to this study are the following questions: Why was the commentary a useful scholarly genre? What need did it fulfill? Can one speak of a form and format for the genre? Can we find innovation in the commentaries and via what process does such innovation emerge? For the purpose of this study, I consider the aforementioned paratextual elements of the two sources under examination as discontinuous forms of commentary. I posit that this ‘commentary’, albeit not in the form of a stand-alone treatise or sharḥ, negotiates between maintaining the plurality of form and content characteristic of the amālī genre and adapting the amālī for pedagogical purposes beyond the context of the majlis (dictation session)

The amālī or imlāʾ genre by virtue of its name alone (dictation), combines both orality and literacy as modes of knowledge transmission since the words of the speaker are transcribed most often in verbatim as they are being uttered in the majlis. The majlis of imlāʾ is thus one of speaking, listening and writing — all of which simultaneously take place in real time. Yet how are these dynamics of the amālī’s original production translated into reproductions for use in later periods? Once an amālī has been transcribed and compiled into a monograph of its own, what purposes can it serve? How do changes and additions in the paratextual elements of subsequent copies define and redefine these purposes? Undergirding these questions is a broader question of how textual traditions deeply entrenched in the oral performance of knowledge transmission adapt to new forms of transmission in order to remain relevant. 

My decision to examine a selection of the marginalia and the front and end matter of my sources stems from Eric Van Lit’s discussion of ‘commentary tradition’. Van Lit describes a pair of texts as the ‘hypotext’ and ‘hypertext’, borrowing elements of this model from Gerard Genette. The hypotext (Text A) is historically prior to the hypertext (Text B) and might be understood as the equivalent of the Arabic matn. The hypertext is not authored by the same author as the hypotext but it must correspond with something in the hypotext. Marginal notes can be understood as a hypertext since they appear in the margin of a hypotext, usually “close to the passage it discusses…” A gloss is a set of marginal notes by a single author on a single hypotext. Each of the two sources under study contain multiple glosses. For the sake of brevity and to limit the scope of this analysis, I will limit my examination to one gloss in each source. I have identified a single author for each gloss based on uniformity in size, placement, and style of the script. These glosses primarily consist of subheadings or keywords rather than complete passages. Van Lit explains that,  “…even a single marginal note in a manuscript of a hypotext [i.e. the ruled section of the folio]…is part of this set [of commentaries on the hypotext]” because it operates in some way or another, on the hypotext.

I thus argue that even the single-phrase remarks in the margins construct a commentary of their own although not necessarily seeking to expound or explain the hypotext. Rather, I seek to demonstrate how marginal notes can produce new sociabilities and thus new reading experiences. This project thus attempts to trace new ways of interacting with a text.  My assumption in using ‘new’ as a qualifier draws from Khaled El-Rouayheb’s argument for the rise of deep reading in the Ottoman world during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. El-Rouayheb posits that the shift from personal, oral-based knowledge transmission to a more impersonal, textual model results from the sixteenth century Ottoman education reform and the rise of instrumental and rational sciences. Although we cannot establish an Ottoman provenance for the manuscript and lithograph under study, the cultural flows and exchange that characterize the periods of their production suggest that these phenomena were also at play in the Safavid and Qajar world. 

Sharīf al-Murtaḍā

Abū al-Qāsim ʿAli b. Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī, more widely known as Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, was born in Baghdād in the year 965. His father, Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥusayn b. Mūsā (d. 1009) held a prominent political role in public life during the reign of the Būyids, who were originally affiliated with Zaydī Shīʿism but held Imāmī Shīʿī sympathies. The period of Būyid rule in Baghdād ushered in what Marshall Hodgson calls the Shīʿī century in the Muslim world since the royal family expressed leniency to the Shīʿī community. This was perhaps to leverage their own status as a religious minority vis a vis the (Sunnī) religious and political identity of the Islamicate lands they ruled over. Nevertheless, the Shīʿī ʿUlamāʾ received significant respect and loyalty from the Buyids — especially Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s family, owing to their lineage and relation to Mūsā al-Kāẓim (d. 183/799), a descendant of the Prophet Muḥammad and Imām among the Shīʿa. 

Hussein Abdulsater notes that during the Būyid rule, social relations were shaped around categories of loyalty based on sectarian bonds, religious affiliation, and profession. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s father, Abū Aḥmad al-Ḥusayn b. Mūsā (d.1009) served as the naqīb or chief syndic of the Ṭālibiyyīn; the ʿAlid and ʿAbbāsid descendants from the Banū Hāshim. By the tenth century, the Ṭalibiyyīn had grown to such an extent that it had become a social class of its own. Thus, the position of the naqīb was indeed quite an influential one. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and his brother Muḥammad, better known as Sharīf al-Raḍī, were appointed as deputies to their father as the chief naqīb. The two brothers became icons of intellectual and scholarly prestige in Baghdād due to their political connections with viziers and notables in the Būyid court as well as their own intellectual association with some of the most prominent scholars in the Islamic world. After his brother Sharīf al-Raḍī died, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā became the chief naqīb. However, as the student of Shaykh al-Mufīd (d.413/1022); one of the most famous scholars in Baghdād at the time and among the founders of the Imāmī Shīʿīsm’s rationalist school of theology, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā soon became the leader of the Shīʿa in Baghdad after the passing of his teacher. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā thus held a significant political and intellectual position of leadership and was involved in wide-scale negotiations between the Buyids and various social groups including turkish generals, as well as quelling local sectarian strife in Karkh, Baghdad.

As a result of the relative freedom and loyalty that Sharīf al-Murtaḍā enjoyed from the ruling elite, he was able to use his wealth to grow his personal library to approximately eighty-thousand volumes. He also administered the Dār al-ʿIlm (abode of knowledge) and it is assumed that his classes and majālis were likely held here and at his own residence. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā was also able to secure a regular stipend for students, which consequently allowed the Shīʿī community to take advantage of this period of relatively greater religious freedom and produce a class of Shīʿī scholars (whom I will mention shortly), which contributed to the spread of Shīʿīsm and Imāmī theology in the Levant. 


Largely as a result of the religious and political circles he was deeply involved with, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā had access to some of the most influential scholars in various fields of knowledge. In terms of adab and poetry, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā studied rhetoric under the famous poet Ibn Nubāta al-Saʿdī (d. 1014), poetry and literature under Marzūbānī (d. 994), grammar with the Muʿtazilī al-Rummānī (d. 994) and held ties (although not always positive) with Abū al-ʿAlā al-Maʿarrī (d.1057). With regard to the Islamic sciences, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā studied ḥadīth with Ḥusayn b. ʿAli b. Bābawayh and al-Mufīd, who also taught him and his brother jurisprudence and theology. Many of these figures and their literary and scholarly productions figure heavily in Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī. In this sense, the Amālī constellates Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s educational biography in a very unique way. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā made substantial contributions to the fields of theology, jurisprudence, law, and literature. The influence and reach of his students are perhaps the strongest testament to this fact. Among his students was Muḥammad b. Ḥasan al-Ṭūsī (d.1067), who would later be lauded in biographical dictionaries as the leader of the Shīʿī sect with the title Shaykh al-Ṭāʾifa due to his contributions to Shīʿī thought. His other students include Sallār al-Daylamī (d.1071), Abū Ṣalāḥ al-Ḥalabī (d.1055-56), who was active in Aleppo, al-Karājukī (d.1057) who was active in Syria and Palestine, and Ibn Barrāj al-Ṭarābulsī who was active in Tripoli (d.1088).

Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī: Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid

While Sharīf al-Murtaḍā was in many ways a jack of all trades, his expertise in literary criticism and his command of poetry displayed in his Ghurar wa durar, later known as his Amālī, is truly remarkable. It is said that Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s only flaw in poetry was being the brother of al-Raḍī, whose poetry was considered a magnum opus in the world of classical poetry. According to the nineteenth century Shīʿī biographical scholar al-Khwansārī, no work by an Imāmī scholar ever received more praise from the pens of non-Imāmīs than Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī.

Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid [The exalted benefits and the pearls of verses]; is a compendium of dictations or oral teachings known as imlāʾ or amāli. The amāli genre consists of works that record the sayings and teachings of a master (shaykh) in writing by students and listeners. For this reason, in later bibliographies, this work is listed as the Amālī of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. It is not known when the sessions began, but the last dictation (imlāʿ) occurred on Thursday, Jumāda al-Awwal 28, 413 A.H (August 29, 1022). This date is mentioned by Abu Yaʿlah Muḥammad b. Ḥasan b. Ḥamza al-Jaʿfarī (d. 463/1071) in his last copied entry. 

According to the editor of the 1954 critical edition of this work, Muḥammad Abū-l Faḍl Ibrāhīm, it appears that the majālis (sessions) were held in Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s home, where he dictated these sessions to his students. We have no further information about the history of these majālis beyond the date of their completion. The Ghurar wa durar consists of eighty majālis and an addendum called the takmila. The takmila seems to be an addition which Sharīf al-Murtaḍā himself requested his students to add to the Ghurar wa durar as an addendum. This addition contains a series of questions posed to Sharīf al-Murtaḍā with his responses. It is likely that they were added to this work because the methodology and structure which Sharīf al-Murtaḍā uses to answer the questions match that of the eighty majālis. 

In these majālis, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā seeks to address verses of the Quran and aḥādīth that may seem confusing, contradictory, or problematic from linguistic and theological perspectives. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s general methodology first identifies such a verse or ḥadīth, then outlines the existing views of various scholars on the issues related to the verse or ḥadīth and finally proceeds to provide his own solution, explanation and exegesis. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā attempts to remedy these areas of controversy and confusion by adopting a strategy that is entrenched in linguistic and literary analysis. He constructs his solutions through a careful analysis of classical poetry and literature and sometimes even includes a brief biography of their authors. Embedded within his work are responses and refutations against various theological views circulating in the Islamic world, particularly those belonging to the Muʿtazila.  He also provides scholarly and literary criticism of some of the most prominent Sunnī scholars between the ninth and eleventh centuries including Ibn Jinnī (d.1001) , Ibn ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Ibn Qutayba (d.889) and Ibn al-ʿAnbarī (d.977).

Sharīf al-Murtaḍā discusses concepts related to the possibility of seeing God, the creation of humans’ actions, and God willing good and evil. Ghurar wa durar therefore produces a web of intersecting genres. It is an exegetical work (tafsīr), a philological study, a series of philosophical and theological treatises (al-kalām), and an anthology of both classical and badīʿ poetry. According to Abū-l Faḍl Ibrāhīm, Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī is not just a significant source for studies in kalām and Quran, but it is viewed as an ultimate authority (ḥujjah) among scholars of literature (al-udabāʾ). He also notes that this source sheds a unique light on the exegetical opinions of the Muʿtazila whose views are most often represented and accessible through the polemical works of their opponents, which makes their study quite challenging.

The Imlāʾ or Amālī Genre 

Imlāʾ or dictation was a central medium for the transmission and interpretation of significant source texts- primarily the Quran and ḥadīth

In his chapter on imlāʾ as collective authorship, Abdessamad Belhaj argues that the majlis or council of the imlāʾ should be understood as a collaboration of voices rather than the production of a unitary author.  The individual to whom the book is attributed (the primary author) shares authorship with the other actors in the majlis including the audience, the transcribers and in some cases, the dictation assistant(s). The imlāʾ derives its character from the dynamic circumstances and situation in which it is produced. Thus, it is “…not a linear piece of work. Rather, it is a body of knowledge transmitted and coloured by the mood of a majlis.” One of the most familiar works on the imlāʾ to Western scholarship is ʿAbd al-Karīm b. Muḥammad al-Samʿānī’s (d. 1167) Adab al-imlāʾ wa-l-istimlāʾ, which details the ideal etiquette of the dictation of aḥādīth in specific. While Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī contains many of the characteristics outlined in this work, Samʿānī seems to imagine a more general audience for the dictation sessions. He therefore warns the dictatee against speaking about controversial issues related to theology and politics and instead advises to adjust his content to the “…receptivity of the audience rather than focusing on the accomplishment of an objective task.” 

Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s work, both in form and content however clearly demonstrates an explicit set of goals and a rather systematic and highly structured methodology. At the same time, it reflects what Belhaj describes as the ‘hybridity of the amālī’ which is inherent in Samʿānī’s idealized dictation. The hybrid amālī considers the dictatee to intertwine aphorisms, poetry, and aḥādīth into the dictations to entertain his listeners and keep them engaged. Undergirding this ideal amālī is its adab (literary) character. The hybrid amālī obscures the boundaries between various genres, structures, and themes. Belhaj suggests that this hybridity is a result of the amālī primarily functioning in the domain of orality. While assessing the accuracy of this hypothesis is beyond the scope of this paper, Belhaj posits that the earlier the dictation, the more inclusive and hybrid it will be because of its greater dependence on oral transmission. It is with this understanding that we might approach Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s Amālī as a juxtaposition of hybridity in terms of content and genres, with a relatively singular purpose: to dispel areas of confusion in the traditional Islamic sources — the Quran and Ḥadīth

The Sources Under Study

Princeton Manuscript

The Yahuda section of Princeton University Library’s Garrett Collection of Arabic Manuscripts holds three manuscript copies of the Ghurar wa-durar. This study examines the second manuscript copy (volume no.2380, Mach Catalogue no. 514). This is a complete copy which includes the takmila and is composed of 269 folios. The five colophons within this volume describe the copier as a certain ʿAlī al-Marwānī al-ʿĀmilī. They also suggest that the entire manuscript was copied over the course of just over one year (between 1039-1040/1630-31).

Harvard Lithograph

The 19th-century lithograph copy of Ghurar wa-Durar housed in the Harvard College Library contains a colophon on the last page of the final majlis before the table of contents (p. 420). The colophon states that the lithograph was transcribed from a manuscript copy that was kept in the house of the Qajar prince-governor Farhād Mīrzā and was subsequently taken to the Dār al-Ṭabāʿa (the printing house) of the ustād (teacher) Ḥajjī ʿAbd al-Muḥammad,  to be lithographed under the supervision of a certain Shaykh Mūsā in 1272 /1855-56. We can thus assume that the manuscript was produced and published in Iran. It constitutes one volume encased in painted front and back covers bearing a floral design. The first page (p.3) is a title page similar to those in western monographs, which states: 

hādha al-kitāb al-mustaṭāb 

This is the blessed book

Ghurar wa-durar li Sayyid al-Murtaḍā

Ghurar wa-durar of Sayyid Murtaḍā

ʿalam al-hudā

The flag of guidance

Raḥimahullahu Taʿāla

May the mercy of Allāh, the exalted be upon him

The Style and Structure of the Manuscript and Lithograph

Both the manuscript and lithograph copies follow the same general pattern in terms of the structure of each majlis. Based on the 1954 critical edition of Ghurar wa durar, it seems that almost all manuscript copies of this text that are available to us follow this structure. 

Style and Structure of the First Majlis

The first majlis begins with the statement:

qāla al-sharīf al-Imām al-ajall al-marḍī ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn b. Mūsā al-Mūsawī raḍī Allāhu ʿanhu: “qāla Allāhu Jalla man qāʾil…qulnā

Al-Sharīf, the glorious Imām (leader) whom God is pleased with, ʿAlī the son of Ḥusayn the son of Mūsā al-Mūsawī, may Allāh be pleased with him said, “ Allāh, who is the most glorious speaker said:

‘And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction.’…we say…”

In the manuscript copy (fig 1), the first word qāla appears in a larger font and in a different colour ink. The words ‘taʾwīl’ or ‘interpretation’ and qulnā or ‘we said’ also appear in the same style. While qāla and qulnā are part of the introductory statement of main text, taʾwīl cannot be a part of the sentence from a grammatical perspective. This seems to function as a subheading despite its placement within the ruled lines of the text. The majālis in this volume are littered with such subheadings in the same format to mark out sections that provide interpretations of verses and akhbār or ḥadīth-reports.

In the lithograph (fig.2), a similar subheading appears also in a larger font as ‘taʾwīl āyatun’ which means, ‘the interpretation of a verse’. The words qāla and qulnā however, are not highlighted or distinguished from the main text in any way. 

Style and Structure of the Remaining Majālis

The remaining seventy-nine majālis in both copies follow a slightly different format from the first. Each majlis is prefaced with a heading within the text similar to the subheading mentioned above, which states ‘majlis ākhir’ or ‘next majlis’. Following this heading is the phrase ‘in saʾala saʾil’ , which means ‘if the inquirer asks’, that prefaces the verse or ḥadīth to be explained as well as the questions pertaining to it. Thereafter, the term ‘al-jawāb’, meaning ‘the response’ appears in the same subheading format outlined above. The only significant difference between the two sources under study is that the lithograph copy sometimes includes two additional subheadings after the heading ‘majlis ākhir’: the majlis number and either ‘taʿwīl āya’ or ‘taʾwīl khabar’ to specify if the content seeks to explain a verse of the Quran or a ḥadīth. In the manuscript copy, the majlis number usually appears in the margin of the ruled text in a different script front, which suggests that it was added at a later date and most likely by a different copyist. 

Consider the following example of the third majlis in both sources:

In the manuscript copy (fig. 3) , the majlis begins with the term ‘majlis ākhir’ (next majlis) with the words ‘al-majlis al-thālith’ or ‘the third majlis’ in the margins hanging off the same line where the majlis begins. Following this, the main text states,  

If an inquirer asks, “what do you say about His, the Blessed and Exalted’s [tabāraka wa taʿālā] words recounting the story of Moses, peace be upon him: ‘So he (Moses) cast down his staff and behold! It was a serpent [thuʿbān] plain for all to see.’ and His, the Exalted’s words in another place: ‘ And saying: ‘Cast down your staff.’ So when he saw it moving as if it were a snake [jānn], he turned back, retreating.’…”

The text continues to pose a number of questions pertaining to the contradiction (al-tanāquḍ) in the type of serpent mentioned in the two verses of the Quran: the serpent (thuʿbān) mentioned in the first verse is a large and vicious viper (ḥayyah) while the snake (jānn) mentioned in the second verse that recounts the same incident is a small and harmless serpent. How is it possible for the staff to have these opposing descriptions in one situation?

At this point, the answer is provided and marked with the term ‘al-jawāb’. A stroke in the same colour as the subheading appears over this term and the final letter bāʾ is elongated. 

In the lithograph copy (fig. 4) , the majlis also begins with the term ‘majlis ākhir’ (next majlis) and the word ‘thālith’ or ‘third’ and ‘taʾwīl āya’ in the same script and colour following it on the same line. The main body of text generally matches that of the manuscript copy with the exception of the praises that follow the references to Allāh in introducing the verses of Quran. In the lithograph, the first section reads, “…what do you say about His, the Exalted’s words…”, thereby omitting the word ‘tabāraka’ or ‘the Blessed’. When introducing the second verse of the Quran, all praises are omitted and the line simple reads “…and in another place, His words…” This is the version that appears in the 1954 critical edition and the editor Abul-Faḍl Ibrāhim makes no mention of alternative readings of this section in the other manuscripts he consulted. We might then instead conclude that the extra laudatory statements were added in the first manuscript rather than having been necessarily omitted in the lithograph. However, this remains merely an assumption until a closer survey of the various manuscript copies of Ghurar wa-durar is conducted. 

The answer in the lithograph is also marked with ‘al-jawāb’ in a larger and stacked font, once again serving stylistically as a subheading that can easily be identified when quickly visually scanning the page. 

The pages that follow, I provide some brief observations of the front matter, colophons, end matter, headings, and subheadings in both sources. 

Front Matter

Princeton Manuscript

The first folio (fig. 5) of the manuscript contains the basmala at the top of the ruled section. Thereafter the main text of the first majlis begins. At the bottom of this section on the same folio, an encased statement reads:

This is the book Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾīd, known as al-Amālī of Sayyid al-Murtaḍā, may his soul be sanctified.

Harvard Lithograph

The first folio (fig. 6) of the lithograph bears a patterned illustration of a floral niche with the following text:

This is the book Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid from the compilation of the virtuous and perfect one, the master and honourable one (from the family of Muḥammad), the one ascribed with the title, ‘the flag of guidance’ by his grandfather ʿAlī al-Murtaḍā, may praise and fātiḥa be upon him.

Thereafter, the ruled page begins with the basmala and the first majlis as outlined in the previous section. Along the top and right border of this folio, the following is written (I have only included sections of the translation below):

ّIbn Khallikān said, “He is Abū-l Qāsim ʿAlī b. al-Ṭāhir, the owner of virtues (dhī manāqib) Abī Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn b. Mūsā al-Kāẓim b. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq b. Muḥammad al-Bāqir b. ʿAlī Zayn al-ʿĀbidīn b. al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, blessings and peace of Allāh be upon them.”

And he said, “He (Sharīf al-Murtaḍā) was a leader in the science of kalām and adab (literature) and poetry. And he was the naqīb (syndic) of the Ṭālibids’. He also said, ‘he has a book that is called al-Durar wa-ghurar , which are majālis (sessions) that he dictated which include the literary arts which discuss grammar and the language and other fields….”

And Ibn Bassām al-Andalūsī mentions him (Sharīf al-Murtaḍā) towards the end of his book al-Dhakhīra saying, “This noble man was a leader among the leaders of Iraq to solve disagreements and agreements and Iraq’s scholars sought refuge in him and the greats took from his works. He was the master of its schools (madārisuhā) and gathered its wanderers (the confused) and gave them company and refuge from among those who received his reports (aḥādīth) and were familiar with his poetry….”

His birth was in the year 355 and he passed away on Sunday, the twenty-fifth of Rabīʿ al-Awwal in the year 436 and he was buried in his home on that day.

The front matter of this lithograph is particularly fascinating because it is itself a site of rich intertextuality. The laudatory biographical information that borders the first page of this source create linkages between the original Ghurar wa-durar composed in the eleventh century, the biographical dictionaries of Ibn Bassām (d.1147)  and Ibn Khallikān (d.1282)  in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, and the present nineteenth century lithograph. These linkages map a particular Islamic intellectual history in a number of interesting and nuanced ways. While the limited scope of this paper does not allow a thorough elaboration of these dynamics, it suffices to highlight them here with the hopes that they can soon be revisited and studied thoroughly. 

First, neither Ibn Khallikān nor Ibn Bassām al-Andalusī subscribed to Shīʿism. Their praise for one of Imāmī Shīʿism’s founding theologians and his oeuvre thus serves as a testament to the unanimous uncontested eminence of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. In this sense, these entries along the border establish the authority of the author and the manuscript they introduce. This authorizing function extends beyond the lines of sectarian difference between the author and the scholars who praise him; it places the Ghurar wa-durar within a broader trajectory of classical adab (literature) in the Islamic world. Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s mention in Ibn Bassām’s biographical dictionary al-Dhakhīra is particularly interesting because the author intended it as a regional biographical compendium that prioritizes Andalusians and their contributions to the Islamic tradition over the contributions of the East. The fact that Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, a Baghdādī scholar of the Islamic East, appears in a work aimed at bringing to fame the scholars of Andalusia, speaks volumes. 

Furthermore, Ibn Khallikān’s entry for Sharīf al-Murtaḍā in his great Wafāyat al-aʿyān is not only significant in light of the scholar’s prominence among the intellectual and legal circles of Egypt and Shām, but also due to the popularity of his biographical dictionary in its afterlife. In the centuries following its composition, the entries in Ibn Khallikān’s corpus were often duplicated in subsequent biographical dictionaries. Moreover, his work is considered a general biographical dictionary as it is not limited to a specific class of society or region. In fact, there is some discussion about whether his Wafāyat is the very same al-Tārīkh al-kabīr, since he introduces his compendium as a concise work in the field of history. Thus, including Ibn Khallikān’s entry on Sharīf al-Murtaḍā and his Amālī also places this text within the intellectual arena of historical studies. 

The copyist’s or publishing house’s decision to create this border as the preface of the lithograph therefore inserts the text into a broader intellectual and historical trajectory that formed much after the time of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. The construction of authority and the forging of these intellectual linkages might be understood as a commentary of Ghurar wa-durar in and of itself. The authors of the paratextual material can employ the surface of a folio to bring multiple texts from varying historical periods into a shared dialogic space. This may also reveal the ways in which classical texts are employed and invoked in the intellectual and literary world of the Qajars. It is somewhat surprising that despite being copied from a manuscript belonging to a Qajar prince, there is no evidence of praise for the dynasty or its patronage.


Princeton Manuscript

The Princeton manuscript comprises five colophons in total. Their details are outlined below:

Colophon of First Volume

The first colophon (fig. 7) is located two-thirds down the ruled section of the verso of ff. 82. It does not mention a name for the copyist or a date of the transcription. It does not appear in a V-shape. However, the bottom of the follio bears four letter mīm’s. It is possible that this is a variation of the sequence of five letter mīm’s often used at the completion of a text. This seems to be an acronym for the formula:

 مَنْ مَنَّ مِنْ مَنٍّ مُنَّ مِنَ الْمَنَّانِ 

man manna min mannun munna min al-mannān

 (whoever bestows the bestowals will be bestowed upon by the Bestower (God)

The text of the colophon reads:

The first volume (juzuʾ) is complete and it is the first of four and with the will of Allāh it will be followed by the second volume on the interpretation (taʾwīl) of the tradition (khabar), if the inquirer asks about the tradition narrated from ʿAbdillāh b. ʿUmar  who said, “I heard the Prophet say….” And praise be to Allāh the Lord of the Worlds and blessings be upon Muḥammad and his entire progeny. 

The next folio (verso of ff.83) begins with the basmala and continues with the majlis.

Colophon of the Second Volume

The colophon that marks the end of the second volume is located at the end of the thirty-third majlis on the verso of ff. 122. It appears in the V-shape and includes the name of the copyist as well as the date of the volume’s completion. The four mīm-letter sequence appears at the tip of the V. 

The text of the colophon reads:

The second volume (al-mujallada al-thāniya) of Ghurar wa durar of al-Murtaḍā, ʿalam al-hudā may Allāh be pleased with him, is complete. And it is followed by the third volume on the interpretation (taʾwīl) of His, the Exalted’s words retelling the story of Yūsuf, may peace be upon our Prophet and him, ‘And certainly she made for him, and he would have made for her’ Sufficient for us is Allāh the best guardian, the best master, and the best supporter. This was written in the hand of ʿAlī b. Rakīn/Rukayn al-Marwānī al-ʿĀmilī — may Allāh reward his efforts and increase his blessings. Indeed He is generous and honourable, forgiving and merciful — on the forenoon of Sunday, the fifth of the month of Dhūl Qaʿd 1039/1630 (hijrI).

The next folio (verso of ff.123) begins with the basmala and the thirty-fourth majlis which is marked in the margin. Beside the basmala is a supplication that states: “Lord give success to complete this, O honourable one. “

Colophon of the Third Volume

The colophon of the third volume  marks the end of the fifty-second majlis. However, it does not mention a name for the copyist or a date of the transcription. It does not appear in a V-shape. However, the bottom of the follio bears the four letter mīm’s. It is located on the recto of ff. 178.

The text of the colophon reads:

The third volume (juzuʿ) is complete from the book Ghurar wa-l durar with the praise of Allāh and His blessed support. The fourth volume will follow this with the interpretation (taʾwīl) of the words of Allāh, And ask those of Our messengers whom We sent before you: Did We ever appoint gods to be worshipped besides the Beneficent Allah? 

The next folio (verso of ff. 178) begins with the fifty-third majlis, which is marked in the margin. The ruled section of the folio begins with the basmala and the statement “wa bihi thiqati” or “And on Him (Allāh) I rely.

Colophon of the Fourth Volume

The colophon that marks the end of the fourth volume (fig. 8) is located right before the takmila on the verso of ff. 233. It appears in the V-shape and includes the name of the copyist as well as the date of the volume’s completion. A three mīm letter sequence appears at the tip of the V. 

The text of the colophon reads:

This is the last majlis dictated by Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, the flag of guidance (ʿalam al-hudā), the owner of two glories (dhū-l majdayn) Abū-l Qāsim ʿAlī b. al-Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī, may Allāh be pleased with him. Then he became occupied with the affairs of Ḥajj. Praise be to Allāh, the Lord of the Worlds and Blessings be upon the most noble of the messengers, Muḥammad and his pure progeny. 

Written diagonally along the left side of the V is:

This was written by the (mere) mortal hand (yad al-fāniya) of the most insignificant of creations, ʿAlī al-Marwānī al-ʿĀmilī. This last entry was copied on Friday, the eleventh of Rabīʿ al-Awwal in the year 1040/1630 of the prophetic hijra… 

…followed by a series of praises.

Below the V-shape colophon is a passage that seems to be in the same script as the main text, but in a different pigment. This passage states that the copies of the volumes were collated (qūbilat) into a bundle (ṭāqah) by the copyist (ʿalā yad kātibuhu) on Sunday, the tenth of the blessed month of Allāh, the month of Ramaḍān in 1040/1631. 

Based on this colophon we might assume that the copyist completed the first two volumes in the month of Dhu-l Qa’d 1039, he then completed the next two volumes five months later in Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1040. He may have then compiled these four volumes (presumably four booklets or large quires) six months later in Ramaḍān 1040.  Alternatively, it is possible that the copyist copied the takmila between Rabīʿ al-Awwal and Ramāḍān and then proceeded to stitch all five volumes together. This suggests that the entire manuscript was composed over the course of approximately one year and a half; assuming that the first two volumes were copied at the same rate as the second two, which is about five months. 

The takmila begins on the verso of ff. 234. It begins with the basmala and continues with the main text.

Final Colophon: 

The final colophon (fig. 9) appears at the end of the manuscript on the verso of ff.268. It bears a V-shape but mentions no copyist or date of completion. It does include the four mīm sequence. The script differs slightly from the rest of the manuscript.

The colophon reads:

This is the last entry found from what Sharīf al-Murtaḍā selected to be added to his book known as Ghurar al-fawāʾid wa durar al-qalāʾid  and also known as the Amālī (dictations) and the majālis. 

The book is complete and praise be to Allāh for its perfect completion and blessings be upon Muḥammad and his progeny.

There still remains a question pertaining to the second colophon of the fourth volume (in the different pigment): why is this colophon added to the end of the fourth volume rather than the end of the entire manuscript (after the takmila)? While my hypothesis remains purely speculative, it is worth noting that the final two pages of the manuscript, which consist of the last page of the takmila and the final (i.e. fifth) colophon, are written in a different script. Considering the fact that there is no name or date in the final colophon, it is possible that the entire takmila or a portion of it was written by another individual. This is also supported by the fact that the colophon of the fourth volume contains conclusory statements related to the copyist ʿAlī al-Marwānī, his humble efforts, and his request for God’s reward , while the final colophon mentions no date or copyist. 

At the same time, the majority of the takmila seems to be copied in the same script and ink as the preceding four volumes, which suggests that ʿAlī al-Marwānī did indeed copy the takmila albeit at a later date. The colophon at the end of the first volume states that the entire manuscript comprises four volumes in total and thus the takmila volume was not included in the count. In light of this observation, it is quite likely that the takmila was added later by the copyist.  With this in mind, it may be possible that the final two pages of the manuscript were lost or damaged and then subsequently replaced by a different copyist. This may explain the difference in script font, but the reason for the placement of the collation statement at the end of the four volumes rather than at the end of the takmila, and thus the entire manuscript, remains to be determined.

Also noteworthy in this regard is the fact that the first and third colophon describe themselves as ‘juzuʾ ‘while the second volume describes itself as a ‘mujallada’. There could be no particular reason for the discrepancy between these highly interchangeable terms, however the two volumes that are described as ‘juzuʾ’  are also absent of copyist names and dates. Furthermore, the colophon describing the collation of the volumes uses the term ‘mujallad’. Thus, there may be evidence to assume that the first two volumes were composed together as a set in Dhū-l Qa’d 1039/1630 and thereafter, the second two volumes were composed together five months later in Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1040. These two sets were then collated in Ramaḍan 1040/1631. ‘Mujallad’ would in this case refer to the collation of folios or booklets while ‘juzuʾ’ may only refer to a section of a collated booklet. Further research is required to make any decisive conclusions based on these observations.

Harvard Lithograph

Although there is no colophon before the takmila on p.366, the takmila does have an introduction of its own that begins with the basmala and the following supplication:

 rabbī yassir wa lā taʿassir 

My lord, make this easy and not difficult.

The takmila then begins with the following statement:

Qāla al-Sharīf al-ajall al-Murtaḍā ʿalam al-hudā Dhū-al Majdayn Abū-l Qāsim ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī raḍī Allāhu ‘anhu…

The honourable, glorious, al-Murtaḍā, the flag of guidance, the owner of the two glories, Abū-l Qāsim ʿAlī b. Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī, may Allāh be pleased with him, said…

The title “Dhū-al Majdayn” or “the Owner of the Two Glories” seems to come from a decree of the Būyid king Bahāʾ al-Dawla in 1006 CE, wherein he bestowed this title to Sharīf al-Murtaḍā due to his ancestry from Prophet Muḥammad and ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib and his own personal virtue. 

The Lithograph Colophon

The lithograph contains only one colophon which reads: 

“This is the final gathering (majlis) that was dictated by Sayyid al-Murtaḍā, the owner of the two glories, may Allāh sanctify his soul. Then he occupied himself with the affairs of Ḥajj and praise be to Allāh the Lord of the worlds and blessings be upon His prophet Muḥammad and his pure progeny.”

The text continues to explain that the text was  transcribed from a manuscript copy that was kept in the house of the Qajar prince Farhād Mīrzā and was subsequently taken to the Dār al-Ṭabāʿa (the printing house) of the ustād (teacher) Ḥajjī ʿAbd al-Muḥammad to be lithographed under the supervision of a certain Shaykh Mūsā 1272/1855-6).


Both the manuscript and the lithograph contain a statement about Sharīf al-Murtaḍā’s last majlis after which he became occupied with the affairs of Ḥajj (i.e. to prepare the means for his Ḥajj trip). In the lithograph, this statement appears at the end of the entire volume including the takmila. Whereas in the manuscript, this statement occurs at the end of the fourth volume before the beginning of the takmila. Based on the fact that that takmila was not a part of the majālis but was later added at the request of Sharīf al-Murtaḍā, it is fair to conclude that the location of this statement in the manuscript rather than in the lithograph is more historically accurate. Yet, it is also possible that the takmila was added between Jumada al-Awwal 1022 CE, when the last majlis was transcribed and Dhul Ḥijjah 1022 CE,  before Sharīf al-Murtaḍā left for Ḥajj. In any case, a systematic review of other manuscript copies is required to further clarify this matter. 

The supplicatory statements in both sources may be understood in two ways. They might reveal the actual struggles of copying a manuscript suffered by the copyist who thus seeks the help of God. However, they might also reveal a convention in the production of manuscripts that inserts the copyist into the text through the first-person voice. For example, in the manuscript, the supplications state “O Lord help me” and “and on Him I rely.” Such statements reinforce the role of the copyist as a secondary author of the text. The colophons in the manuscript further elaborate this by providing a name of the copyist and the dates and history of the manuscript’s production.

Table of Contents in the Lithograph Copy

On the last two pages of the lithograph copy, a gridded table appears that loosely functions as a table of contents (fig. 10). It seems that each row of the table is ordered from right to left and roughly (although not exactly) corresponds with the title headings scattered throughout the lithograph. The text within each box of each row follows the same direction. However, the text direction of each row alternates, although not in a strict pattern. The first three rows of the table appear at the bottom of p. 420 after the colophon as can be observed in figure 10.

In the table provided, I outline some of the corresponding headings within the manuscript.

It is evident that the table does not mark out each new majlis, but instead highlights key topics and themes addressed in each majlis. This would be a useful way to organize the content for the reader in light of the polythematic nature of the majlis. While not all of the entries in the table correspond with a visible heading, they do identify key topics that are embedded within the main text. Some of the entries appear as abbreviations or modifications of the longer verse or ḥadīth, but they are still discernible. For example, in box D1, the text is an abbreviation of the heading on p.10 since it excludes the end of the ḥadīth “to don the garment of poverty”. Additionally, in box F3, the text mentions the repetition of verses in Sūra al-Kāfirūn however, the heading which corresponds with this box (p. 48) uses a different name for this chapter; “Sūra al-Juḥd” and also mentions Sūra al-Raḥmān.  Although I am unable to read all of the entries; particularly those which do not correspond with a heading in the main text, there are clearly some headings which are not mentioned in the table. Thus, it is fair to say that there is no one-to-one indexical relationship between the headings and the table.

The scholarship on these tabular features is quite limited as are examples of such tables in the manuscripts available to us, particularly concerning imlāʾ works. However, Denise Aigle’s survey of the historical taqwīm, particularly those of the Ottoman world, provides some greater insight on the function of such features. She notes that taqwīm or the organization of text into tables was originally adopted at an early stage for zīj or astronomical manuals. They were employed in historical texts around the 13th-14th century whereby historical narrative, often composed in prose, was organized in tables of biographical data. The taqwīm appears in biographical dictionaries during this period as a reference guide for the various individuals whose history the chronicles and dictionaries sought to expound. Aigle notes that the motivation behind adopting the taqwīm in historical works was the author’s perceived need to “rationalize information to make it more directly accessible.”

While Ghurar wa durar is not a history, authors’ concerns for accessibility and education that undergird employing the taqwīm in their histories would naturally be shared by authors and copyists of equally exhaustive and detailed works such as the Amālī. Aigle also mentions the intersection of Persian and Turkish literary and linguistic sensibilities in the Ottoman writer, Kātib Chelebī’s Taqwīm al-tawārīkh produced in 1058/1648. Although the content of the text pertains to Ottoman notables and their biographical data, the influence of this chronological taqwīm on other Ottoman authors deemed this source a prototype for creating accessibility for readers. Aigle explains that Kātib Chelebī “presumably wished to assist readers of his prose universal history in Arabic [titled Fadhalakat al-tawārīkh] by providing them with a sort of index, drawn up in the form of tables.” The taqwīm was likely attractive to so many of Chelebi’s contemporaries because it could effectively simplify complex and overwhelming amounts of information in a summary that readers can easily consult.

It is perhaps useful to think about the table in the lithograph under study along the same lines as the taqwīm. Even if classifying this table as a taqwīm requires further substantiation that exceeds the boundaries of this paper, the taqwīm’s primary function of creating accessibility for the purpose of education is quite informative. Considering the fluidity of the amālī genre more generally, as well as the plurality of sciences, themes, and sources that Ghurar wa-durar in particular speaks to, this taqwīm-like feature seems a suitable method for simplifying and making accessible its contents.

Headings & Subheadings

Both the manuscript and lithograph contain a number of headings and subheadings beyond demarcating the beginning or end of each majlis. The lithograph has headings at the top of various pages throughout the volume as well as marginal subheadings. The manuscript however, only has marginal subheadings and they are much fewer in number. There does not seem to be any significant correlation between the specific content of these headings in the lithograph and manuscript. However, they do appear to mark out key topics and figures discussed within the majālis. In the section that follows, I will outline a number of examples in both the manuscript and lithograph respectively.

Princeton Manuscript

The majority of the marginal notes in the manuscript are corrections to the main text. However, some marginal notes appear in the same script and colour as the margin headings which demarcate the majlis number. These headings tend to note key figures mentioned in the main text. These include Ibn Abī-l ʿAwjāʾ (ff. 34), Bashshār b. Burd (ff.34) (fig. 11), Muṭīʿ b. Iyās (al-Kinānī) (ff.35) and al-Muʿammar b. al-Aṣbaʿ (ff. 64).

There are a number of subheadings which also mark particular themes or topics addressed in some of the majālis. For example, “kalām ʿalā-l qaḍāʾ wa-l qadar” or “a discussion on predestination and predetermination” (ff.37) and “kalām fī-l ʿadl” or “a discussion on justice (of God)” (ff. 45). A few headings written in a darker and larger script also appear in the margins which seem to be more qualifying headings such as “duʿāʾ maʾthūr” or “inherited (from traditions) supplication” (ff. 40), “ḥikāyatun laṭīfa” or “a delicate story” (ff. 46), “ḥikāyatun ḥasana” or “beautiful story” (ff. 76), and “waṣiyyatun ḥasana” or “a beautiful will” (ff. 54).

Harvard Lithograph

The lithograph copy is filled with both headings located at the top of some folios as well as marginal subheadings. The marginal subheadings function in a way that is quite similar to those in the manuscript. Interestingly, the names of historical figures highlighted in the manuscript are not highlighted in the lithograph and vice-versa. 

The figures mentioned in the marginal subheadings seem to be almost exclusively poets and literary figures. These include al-Būḥturī (p. 286), Farazdaq (p. 29). , al-Khansāʾ (p. 42), Abū Dahbal al-Jumaḥī (p.47), Ibn Muqaffaʿ (p.54), and Aʿshāʾ Qays b. Thaʿlaba (p. 12). It is curious that the majālis discuss a number of poets who are not mentioned in these subheadings. For example, in the section where Aʿshāʾ b. Qays is mentioned, he is compared with Labīd b. Rabīʿa, the famous pre-Islāmic poet. However, there is no subheading that mentions Labīd. This may suggest that whoever authored this gloss had a specific aim in mind that led him/her to include and exclude certain individuals from these subheadings. 

Some subheadings also demarcate literary themes and other miscellaneous topics. For example, we find notes marking “naṣīb al-shīʿr” or the introductory section of the classical qaṣīda (p.27), “al-iltifāt” or voice-switching (p. 341), “fī tashbīh al-shayʾ bi-l shayʾ aw al-ashyāʾ bi-l ashyāʾ” or “drawing similes between one thing and another or between many things” (p.330), “fī ḥaṣr wa inqiṭāʿ al-kalām” or “faltering and stuttering in speech” (p.290). We also find notes highlighting topics such as “ikhtilāf al-qurrāʾ fī qirāʾat al-āyāt” or “the differences between reciters in the recitation of certain verses”, “fī nafī al-ruʾya bi-l abṣār” or “negating the possibility of seeing (God) with eyes” (p. 13), “fī waṣf al-taʿawwud al-ḍiyāfa” or “regarding the description of hospitality” (p. 298), “maʿnā al-raḥma” or “the meaning of mercy” (p. 31), and “taḥqīq al-āya al-wārida fī istikhrāj dhuriyyat Ādam min ẓahrihi” or “correcting the (view) about the verse regarding the progeny of Adam being brought out from his back” (p. 15). 

The headings in the lithograph appear within the ruled section of the text but remain paratextual elements in relation to the content of Ghurar wa-durar. It is most probable that the copyist or the publication house added these headings to somewhat correspond with the table at the end of the lithograph. These headings are located at the top of some pages in a larger script compared to the main text. They typically outline the verses or aḥādīth (akhbār) under discussion. In some cases, they describe an important topic. When the discussion of a verse, ḥadīth, or topic begins halfway through a page, the heading will appear either on the preceding or following page. For example, in the third majlīs mentioned above, the discussion of the verses concerning the staff of Mūsā begins at the bottom of p.13 however, the heading appears at the top of the following page (fig. 12):

“Aspects of the problems in the two verses about the story of Mūsā and his staff and the answers to them”

The headings describing ḥadīth reports specify this with the word “khabar” or “report” within the line (fig. 13). Sometimes this is replaced or supplemented with “taʾwīl” or “interpretation”.

Heading of page 10 of the lithograph reading: “Regarding the report ‘Whoever loves us the Ahl al-Bayt should be prepared to don the garment poverty”

The headings describing verses of the Quran specify this with “qawluhu taʿālā” or “His, the Exalted’s words” within the line (fig. 14):

Heading of page 360 of the lithograph reading “His, the Exalted’s words, ‘And when the buried infant is asked.’”

Based on my survey of both the lithograph and manuscript, the following preliminary conclusions can be drawn:

With regard to the manuscript copy, the light-pigment (grey) headings in the margin which include both the on-going majālis count as well as subheadings similar to the ones described above stylistically match additional marginalia which appear as corrections to the main text (marked with صح).  It is likely that all of this material was added at a later date by a copy editor (taḥqīq) who may have been consulting the manuscript for particular theological and literary sources and thus marked out the location of theological arguments and the names of both theologians and poets perhaps relevant to his/her own research. 

The few dark and large subheadings in the margins were likely added by yet another individual. These seem to mark out prosaic passages such as stories and lyrical accounts. It is difficult to determine if there was any particular purpose in the insertion of these subheadings, but based on what is observable throughout the manuscript, I posit that the author of these comments did not necessarily engage with the source with a particular research goal in mind. 

With regard to the lithograph copy, the headings and subheadings reflect a much more focused purpose. The subheadings in the margins are almost exclusively related to literary figures and themes, including names of poets, literary devices (i.e iltifāt and tashbīh), philological discussions (i.e. the meaning of mercy), as well as passages of poetry and prose describing a particular topic or theme (such a hospitality). The headings however, seem to be primarily concerned with identifying the verses of the Quran and aḥādīth that Sharīf al-Murtaḍā seeks to explain and expound. These headings have a much stronger correlation with the indexical table at the end of the manuscript. For this reason, we may conclude that subheadings in the margins were perhaps added for a study or survey of the literary (rather than theological or exegetical) features of Ghurar wa-durar. In this sense, these comments reflect an explicitly literary engagement with the source; reading the amālī as a work of adab first and foremost. The headings in contrast, most likely added by the original copyist or the printing house, foreground the amālī’s exegetical and theological project. 

Hence, these paratextual elements work together to effectively negotiate the polythematic and multigeneric nature of the Amālī. Each set of subheadings or headings function as a gloss to the main text and in doing so, act as a lens through which the reader can focus on a particular genre or theme that is woven throughout the various majālis in the Amālī. The marginal headings bring to the foreground, the topics relevant to the reader while pushing others topics to the background. 

The Role of Paratextual Elements in the Production of Reading Sensibilities

The paratextual elements found in both the manuscript and lithograph reflect a shift from person-centred knowledge acquisition toward deep, personal reading (muṭālaʿa). El-Rouayheb describes how the concern for textual criticism, comparing manuscript copies, corrections, vocalizations, and alternative readings are characteristic of ideal standards of reading and engaging with the materiality of a text. While these elements are also apparent in the margins of the folios as corrective glosses, I argue that these headings and subheadings also produce similar reading sensibilities.

In Muneccimbasi’s work on the ādāb or proprieties of muṭālaʿa  (deep reading), he states that an intermediate student who uses muṭālaʿa to engage with a text seeks, among other things, the ability “to call to mind at will” the evidence for specific scholarly propositions and to deepen this evidentiary knowledge through acquaintance with familiar texts and exposure to unknown texts. If we consider how the headings, subheadings, and table of contents, function together, they sustain many of these reading goals. The tables and headings facilitate what might be called a modern reading sensibility that allows readers to engage in a selective reading activity. By simply scanning the margins of a majlis in both sources, or the table at the end of the lithograph, the reader can identify what topics the sources generally discuss. Should the reader choose to closely examine a subject further, s/he may then proceed to locate the entire discussion within the main text. This is similar to how readers typically engage with indexes and tables of contents in modern monographs. This marks a broader shift in how readers may approach scholarly sources. 

The ability to peruse through information and search for particular content within the text produces a new direction of reading. In a linear reading of a text, each page reveals new information whose location the reader would not have necessarily been aware of until s/he in fact reached that page. Without the paratextual features outlined in this study, it would be difficult for a reader to avoid reading the entire book from beginning to end. These headings and tables allow for a much more dynamic and research-focused method of reading the text. The reader can access different parts of the text without having to read the first majlis to the last. This is particularly significant to sources belonging in the amālī genre precisely because of the non-linear nature of their composition and content. Unlike many ḥadīth sources for example, there are no chapter titles which the ḥadīth scholar creates to organize the aḥādīth he collects. This amālī is also not strictly a tafsīr work that can be organized into chapters or verses of the Quran. Rather, the amālī text takes on the character of the majlis of imlāʾ and thus these paratextual elements alter readers’ engagement with the sources.

The headings and subheadings of the manuscript and lithograph also allow for knowledge recall and the identification of important sources and figures since they appear as short phrases which may function as memory queues. Therefore, these paratextual elements not only provide a guided reading of the text, they also allow for personal study activities and repeated use. 

The colophons and front matter of the sources reveal a great deal of information about the history of the manuscript’s and lithograph’s composition, compilation, and production. However, they also play a role in shaping the way readers engage with Ghurar wa-durar.  Here, I build upon Harold Love’s position that authorship is inherently social and thus, “attributing different declarative authors’ names to a work changes its meaning by changing its context. The first-person voice of the copyist’s supplicatory statements in both sources, and in the case of the manuscript, the name and dates of the copyist, effectively brings the copyist into the family of authors of the text, including Sharīf al-Murtaḍā. In the case of the lithograph, the colophon places the circulation of the text within a Qajar royal intellectual circle. The front matter situates the text in a literary history of medieval ‘greats’ like Ibn Khallikān and Ibn Bassām. In short, the colophons and front matter also play a role in shifting how the text is read and engaged with by contextualizing and recontextualizing both its material and intellectual history. 

It is hoped that the observations and preliminary conclusions presented in this paper make inroads in developing new ways of thinking about the paratextual elements of texts and how they shape — and are simultaneously shaped by — their producers and readers. 


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Mehreen Zahra Jiwan

Mehreen Zahra Jiwan is a Fellow and Research Assistant at the Berkeley Institute for Islamic Studies. She is currently an MA student at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion. She obtained her Honors BA in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Peace, Conflict & Justice Studies with the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
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