The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo

The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo: A Social History of Islamic Education

JONATHAN PORTER BERKEY
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 250
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvxj4
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    The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo
    Book Description:

    In rich detail Jonathan Berkey interprets the social and cultural consequences of Islam's regard for knowledge, showing how education in the Middle Ages played a central part in the religious experience of nearly all Muslims. Focusing on Cairo, which under Mamluk rule (1250-1517) was a vital intellectual center with a complex social system, the author describes the transmission of religious knowledge there as a highly personal process, one dependent on the relationships between individual scholars and students. The great variety of institutional structures, he argues, supported educational efforts without ever becoming essential to them. By not being locked into formal channels, religious education was never exclusively for the elite but was open to all. Berkey explores the varying educational opportunities offered to the full run of the Muslim population--including Mamluks, women, and the "common people." Drawing on medieval chronicles, biographical dictionaries, and treatises on education, as well as the deeds of endowment that established many of Cairo's schools, he explains how education drew groups of outsiders into the cultural center and forged a common Muslim cultural identity.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6258-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. NOTE ON TRANSLITERATION, NAMES, AND DATES
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. I INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-20)

    Seek knowledge, even as far away as China.” So goes a famous in junction of the Prophet Muhammad to the men and women of the Islamic community. Relatively few would actually travel to what was, for medieval Muslims, quite literally the ends of the earth, but the “journey in search of knowledge” became almost a trope of the biographies of merchants and princes as well as religious scholars. Whether or not the attribution of the tradition to the Prophet is genuine, it accurately reflects a principle generally held in the Islamic world, and which formed a common theme of medieval...

  6. II INSTRUCTION
    (pp. 21-43)

    Medieval muslim scholars, like intellectuals in any time and place, cannot be faulted for their humility. In this Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī, a prominent Egyptian teacher and jurist of the late fifteenth century, differed little from his peers, although perhaps his claims were somewhat more controversial. In his autobiography, al-Suyūṭī set forth his own very generous reckoning of his achievements in different fields of intellectual endeavor. At the bottom of his list, along with medicine, al-Suyūṭī mentioned the science of the variant versions of reading and reciting the Quran (qirā’āt). This subject, al-Suyūṭī confessed, he did not presume to teach, because...

  7. III INSTITUTIONS
    (pp. 44-94)

    The personal and informal system described in the previous chapter characterized Islamic education from its inception through the end of the Middle Ages, and in fact survived intact into the twentieth century. Built upon the personal authority of the shaykh, channeled through relationships established between students and teachers, certified by the ijāza, and regulated by the contacts and networks that shaped the educated elite into a coherent social group, the transmission of religious knowledge never came to rely on an institutional structure or a formal system of degrees. Its very informality, as we shall see, guaranteed its vigor, and imparted...

  8. IV PROFESSORS AND PATRONS: CAREERS IN THE ACADEMIC WORLD
    (pp. 95-127)

    Muḥammad ibn al-ḥājj, a jurist who died in 1336, composed a treatise that, in the words of his biographer, “exposed the vices and heretical innovations” in which the Muslim population of Cairo indulged. Always a fierce critic of contemporary standards and practices, he deplored what he perceived to be the increasing concern of the ulama for wealth and worldly status. Ibn al-ḥājj summed up his criticism with the pithy observation that “whereas before, a man spent his money in order to acquire knowledge, now he acquires money through his knowledge.”¹ Modern secular academics in the West, too, anxious to maintain...

  9. V RELIGIOUS EDUCATION AND THE MILITARY ELITE
    (pp. 128-160)

    In one sense, the world of higher religious education in late medieval Cairo was utterly dependent on the rambunctious, mostly Turkish-speaking, dubiously Muslim Mamluk soldiers who monopolized political and military power. Mamluk sultans and amirs, between them, were responsible for the creation and endowment of most institutions of higher religious education, and perhaps inevitably so, since they controlled a disproportionate share of income-producing property.¹ Given the absence of an organized church and anything resembling ecclesiastical corporations as known in the West, scholars and religious functionaries, as well as the wider Muslim society that they served, relied heavily on individual members...

  10. VI WOMEN AND EDUCATION
    (pp. 161-181)

    The seeking of knowledge is a duty of every Muslim,” went a popular ḥadīth of the Prophet. The historian and traditionist al-Sakhāwī, in his compilation of well-known traditions, warned that a number of copyists had added to the end of the hadīth the wordswa-muslima,so as to make the search for knowledge the “duty of every male and female Muslim.” Accuracy in the transmission of the Prophet’s words of course commanded a premium, and al-Sakhāwī felt constrained to warn his readers that the addition was not supported by the best authorities. It is nonetheless a matter ofhistoricalinterest...

  11. VII BEYOND THE ELITE: EDUCATION AND URBAN SOCIETY
    (pp. 182-218)

    In a long passage in his treatiseMadkhal al-shar’ al-sharīf,Ibn al-Ḥājj (d. 1336) scathingly criticized the educated elite of Cairo of his day for their proclivity for dressing in ostentatious garments. “It is well known to those who are insightful,” he wrote, that many scholars—literally, “those who are linked to [religious] knowledge”—ignore a warning of the Prophet and have tailored for themselves garments that are wasteful in their use of cloth, since “from them could be tailored an [entire] garment for another.” Some went so far as to wear silk, a fabric denied to men by Islamic...

  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 219-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-238)