Mujir al-Din Sources and Dependants Open this page in a new tab

Sources for the 749 CE Sabbatical Year Quakes

Elad (1995:2) reproduced Mujir ad-Din's Introduction which discusses some of his sources and shows why this text, despite being late, may contain reliable information.

What motivated me to write this [i.e. book] is that the majority of cities in the Islamic world gained the interest of the scholars, who wrote about matters related to their history, helpful things that are instructive of their true events in olden times. Though with respect to Jerusalem, I did not come across any writing of this kind about it, devoted only to it ... I saw (therefore) that people yearn for something of this type, an example of which I turned to do; for a few for one] of the scholars wrote something connected to praise [of Jerusalem] only; several of them deal with a description of `Umar's conquest and the construction of the Umayyads; a few of them note Salah al-Din's conquest, found it sufficient, and did not mention what occurred after it; and some of them wrote a history in which they discussed some distinguished Jerusalemites, which is not of much use.

And lo, I wish to gather all the notations on the construction, the praise, the conquests and the biographies of the esteemed persons and to mention some of the famous events in order to construct a complete history.4


Mujir al-Din, vol. I (Amman ed.), p. 5 (Bulaq's ed., vol. I, p. 6); mentioned by Goitein, "Jerusalem During the Arabic Period," p. 7.

Elad (1995:2) notes that Mujir al-Din's sources for Umayyad and possibly early Abbasid periods relies on the "Literature in Praise of Jerusalem". Elad (1995:6-7, 10-11) describes this literature as follows:
The "Literature in Praise of Jerusalem" upon which Mujir al-Din based most of the first part of his book, which discusses the early period of the city, is mainly from the 12th to 15th centuries. This literature is predated by earlier writings which the later authors copied. Among these are the books by Abu Bakr al-Wasiti (beginning of the 11th century), Fada'il al-Bayt al-Muqaddas and by al-Musharraf b. al-Murajja (middle of the 11th century), Fada'il Bayt al-Maqdis wa-al-Sham wa-'l-Khalil, which is the largest and most important of the In-Praise-of-Jerusalem literature. A number of scholars used Ibn al-Murajja's manuscript for their research.

The "Literature of Praise" (Fada'il) is considered a part of the hadith literature. This literature is usually regarded as reflecting trends and developments in the early Muslim state in the 1st/7th and 2nd/8th centuries. The classic approach of the important hadith scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries was to examine the hadith chiefly through the matn, i.e., internal and external analysis and examination of the content of the hadith. This type of analysis provides historical, religious, social, economic, etc. data incorporated into the hadith. Sometimes it is possible to point precisely to trends of a specific hadith (though less possible to give an exact date of its creation) by comparing it with known historic processes or events. As noted, with the exception of single instances, just on the basis of the criterion for examining the matn alone, it is very difficult to establish an exact chronology or to date the creation of the tradition before the end of the 1st/7th century. During the last twenty years extensive progress has been made in the study of early Muslim historiography, especially in the broad field of hadith literature. More and more emphasis is being given to the study of the isnad, i.e., to the chain of transmitters. Efforts are being made in these studies to develop a method and establish criteria that will aid in finding data, particularly chronological (though also others) about the hadith.
Elad (1995:13-20) suggested that In-Praise-of-Jerusalem literature contained a number of traditions that came from the Umayyad period.
Research on Jerusalem in the early Muslim period in general and on the In-Praise-of-Jerusalem literature in particular took a decisive turn following Kister's studies. He further developed the method Goldziher used in studying the hadith and clearly showed that a great number of the traditions of the Praise literature are very old and were created in the Umayyad period, or in his own words:
We can say with certainty that they were well known and widely circulated as early as the beginning of the second century after the hijra.... Jerusalem Praise Literature emerged in the second half of the first century of the hijra (the end of the seventh century C.E.) and was put into writing in the first half of the second century of the hijra (eight century C.E.).
Recently, Juynboll has argued, basing his argument on other methods, that this literary type (the Fada'il) as a whole (not just the "Literature in Praise of Jerusalem") is among the older types of hadith, if not the oldest, and was already circulated from the middle to the end of the 1st/7th century. 38 Other scholars reached identical conclusions through analysis and treatment of another type of hadith literature, al-Fitan wa-'l-Malahim (events and wars of the "End of Days")."

I rely to a great extent in this book on Jerusalem Praise Literature and in particular on two compositions that Le Strange did not see, namely, that of al-Wasiti and of Ibn al-Murajja (beginning to the middle of the 11th century). The years these authors lived and when they died date their compositions to pre-Crusader times. The assumption of other scholars that a large part of the In-Praise-of-Jerusalem literature was composed after the Crusader period is mistaken. Analysis of the historic background (the Umayyad period) which was conducive to the creation of the Praise literature and the conclusions of the studies quoted above lead to the conclusion that most of the traditions in the Jerusalem Praise compositions are from the Umayyad period. They can, therefore, be traced back to the end of the 1st/7th century or the beginning to middle of the 2nd/8th century. The collection of the old Praise-of-Jerusalem traditions that appear in the books of al-Wasiti and Ibn al-Murajja served the later authors of the 12th to the 15th centuries; the latter copied what lay before them. If they added anything, they usually noted it; sometimes they deleted material. Comparison of tens of traditions in the books of al-Wasiti and Ibn-al-Murajja, that were accurately copied by later authors is proof of this. Evidently, the reason for the caution and relative preciseness in copying these traditions was because they were part of the hadith literature. This is one of the basic characteristics of the hadith literature and also of Muslim history: ancient compositions and traditions can "disappear" for hundreds of years and reappear in later compositions....

Other arguments can lead to the attribution of an early date to the Praise-of-Jerusalem Traditions:
  1. Many traditions with an identical isnad exist in early hadith collections or early exegesis of the Qur'an as well as in Fada'il works. (There is a large body of evidence of this type, hence it would be superfluous to discuss it here.)
  2. A great number of traditions (sometimes many scores) were transmitted at a certain stage by one transmitter, one isnad chain going back from him to the alleged originator of the report. One of these transmitters, al-Walid b. Hammad al-Ramli, who wrote in the mid-9th century, has been discussed elsewhere. The fact that each different transmitter, some living in the 9th-10th centuries, had an accumulation of so many traditions makes it likely that they already possessed a book or big collection of "Traditions in Praise of Jerusalem".
  3. Juynboll argues that during the last two decades of the 1st century of the hijra (700-720), interest was awakened in hadith literature in the different centres of the Caliphate, and he adds:
    I have come to recognize that the vast majority of isnads, as far as their three oldest transmitters are concerned, can be considered as being particular to one centre. At a somewhat later stage, say, during the first few decades of the second century (the 720's-750's A.D.), contacts do seem to have been established between centres and witness the emergence of isnads that can be labelled as being particular to more than one centre.
    An analysis of the isnad of a great many traditions in Praise-of-Jerusalem shows that at least the first three scholars, beginning from the Successors onwards, lived in Palestine or in the towns of southern Syria. This is particularly evident in the traditions dealing with or providing information on the topography of Jerusalem (and not merely from a geographico-historical point of view). I shall insist and comment on this point many times during my discussion. It has important demographic and cultural implications, and a special study needs to be devoted to this in the future.
  4. The place the tradition was transmitted or heard is often given in the isnad itself, and sometimes even the date of transmission. There are many such testimonies in the "Traditions in Praise of Jerusalem" in Ibn al-Murajja's work. The dates are generally from the 9th century onwards, although some are earlier
  5. Many key traditions, often those with the greatest historical value for the history of Jerusalem during the Umayyad period and later, were transmitted by a chain of transmitters from one Jerusalem family. Such a family, the Salama b. Qaysar, with all its branches, has been discussed elsewhere. 48.
    Another very important family is that of `Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Mansur b. Thabit of Jerusalem. Eight traditions transmitted by members of this family are found in al-Wasiti's work. 49
    1. Abd al-Rahman lived in the mid-9th century. He transmitted all eight traditions mentioned above to al-Walid b. Hammad al-Ramli (mid-late 9th century).
    2. His father, Muhammad b. Mansur, was active in the last quarter of the 8th century and early 9th century. He was active at least during the reign of Caliph al-Mahdi (reigned 775-785), since he tells of the church which al-Mahdi ordered al-Fadl b. Salih (b. `Ali b. `Abdallah b.`Abbas) to renovate and construct. This renovation may have been carried out during al-Madhi's visit to Jerusalem in the year 163/780. From another source it is learned that Salih b. `Ali was in al-Mahdi's retinue when he came to Jerusalem in the year already mentioned. Another tradition tells that the Muhammad b. al-Mansur in question lived in the period of Muqatil b. Sulayman (d. 150/767-8) and even heard [hadith] and transcribed from him on the Haram.
    3. Mansur b. Thabit. Nothing more is known about him.
    4. Thabit b. Istanibiyadh, al-Firisi al Khumsi lived during al-Mahdi's reign. He reports on al-Mahdi's visit to Jerusalem in 780 in an important tradition. In another he reports from Raja' b. Haywa (d. 112/730) on the building of the Dome of the Rock. And in yet another, he reports on the earthquake which occurred in 130/747. The members of this family are discussed in detail since the information they provide in their traditions is of the greatest importance for the history of Jerusalem in the early Islamic period. At least in connection with the "Traditions in Praise of Jerusalem" which were examined, it is concluded that the family traditions are an extremely important source. This differs from Schacht, who almost totally negates such traditions in the field of legal hadith.
  6. The isnad in many "Traditions in Praise of Jerusalem" does not "originate" with the Prophet or with one of the Companions of the Prophet (Sahaba), but with a Successor or the Successor of a Successor, who generally lived in the first or second half of the 8th century. In this respect the words of Schacht should be noted, that "isnads have a tendency to grow backwards," or that:
    In the course of polemical discussions . . . traditions from Successors become traditions from Companions and traditions from Companions become traditions from the Prophet.... We must as a rule ... consider the opinions of the Successors as the starting point, and the traditions from the Companions and from the Prophet as secondary development, intended to provide a higher authority for the doctrine in question.
    In another place he says:
    Generally speaking, we say that the most perfect and complete isnads are the latest.
    Juynboll develops this basic idea of Schacht's as follows:
    • Where did a specific hadith originate? Probably in the region where the traditionist mentioned at the Successor's level in its isnad operated.
    • When did a specific hadith originate? ... at the earliest sometime during the life of the Successor of the isnad .
    • Who may be held responsible for bringing a tradition into circulation? ... It is again in most cases the Successor who can be held responsible as the earliest likely candidate ... but the class of so-called Successors of Successors are even more likely candidates.
    It can be said with certainty that traditions concluding with a Successor or Successor of a Successor were widespread during the Umayyad period, at least at the time when the last transmitter lived.
  7. In many traditions of this kind, the earliest personality signing the isnad was a scholar living in one of the cities of Palestine or at least a Syrian scholar, with close ties to Palestine and its scholars. The information they transmitted was thus of great importance; it is often unique historical or historico-topographical information. Traditions of this kind were transmitted by mu'adhdhiniin of Jerusalem, but mainly by religious scholars, some who served in administrative posts during the Umayyad reign. Such men included
    • Khalid b. Ma`dan (d, 103 or 104/721 or 722), who was both a transmitter of traditions and chief of the "police" (sahib al-shurfa) of Caliph Yazid b. Mu`awiya (reigned 60/680-63/683)
    • or the famous scholar, Raja' b. Haywa (d. 112/730), born in Beit Shean in Palestine, who was in charge of the construction of the Dome of the Rock, and served the Umayyad caliphs from `Abd al-Malik (reigned 65/685—86/705) to ` Umar b. `Abd al-'Aziz (reigned 99/717-101/720)
    • or Ibrahim b. Abi `Abla (d. 152/769-770 or 153/770), who lived in Ramla, and was in close contact with the Caliphs
      • al-Walid b. `Abd al-Malik (reigned 86/705-96/715)
      • Sulayman b. `Abd al-Malik (reigned 96/715-99/717)
      • `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz
      • Hisham b. `Abd al-Malik (reigned 99/724-125/743)
      • and Marwan b. Muhammad (reigned 125/744-132/749)
    Al-Walid b. `Abd al-Malik used to send him from Damascus to Jerusalem to distribute the pensions which the government gave to the Arabs there (`ata').

    In another tradition, Ibrahim testifies that al-Walid b. `Abd al-Malik used to send gold bands with him to be distributed among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. In another place his explanation of a verse of the Qur'an is transmitted with an early, very important topographical identification. Ibrahim served as secretary to Hisham and was in charge of diwan al-khritam during Marwan b. Muhammad's reign. There are many other such examples. One further unique example is the last tradition in al-Wasiti's book. The isnad concludes with Damara b. Rabi`a al-Ramli (d. 202/817), the pupil of Ibrahim b. Abi `Abla, from Khalid b. Hazim, who recounts in the first person that Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri, the famous scholar (d. 124/ 742), came to Jerusalem:
    and I began to go around with him in these (holy places) so that he could pray there. He said:
    I said here is [a]shaykh, who recites from the holy books (inna hahuna shaykhan yuhaddithu 'ani ''-kutubi), called `Uqba b. Abi Zaynab. What do you think of sitting in his company?

    He said:
    And we sat by him and he began to transmit traditions in praise of Jerusalem. And since he dwelt at length (on these), al-Zuhri said, oh shaykh, you will never reach the level reached by Allah.
    He said:
    Glory to (Allah) who did take his Servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts we did bless.
    And he (the shaykh) was angered and said:
    The resurrection of the dead will not come to pass until the bones of Muhammad, may Allah pray for him and save him, are transferred to Jerusalem.
    From this tradition one learns of the early ziyara to holy places in Jerusalem during the Umayyad period; of the study of non-Muslim religious literature on the Haram by Muslims; of the identification of Jerusalem with the well known Qur'an verse of the Prophet's Isra; of the activity of al-Zuhri, the important scholar, and of two early Jerusalem scholars, mentioned by name. This is in fact an historical tradition, with isnad, of course. Many traditions of this kind are to be found in the collections of the Fada'il.

    In light of all of the above, and based on my understanding of the traditions of the "Literature of Praise", I attempt to trace the earliest historical and topographical processes in the Muslim period in Jerusalem. This brings us back to the Umayyad period, in which great efforts were made by the rulers to exalt Syria (including Palestine: al-Sham), and in which Jerusalem received a special status within the framework of these efforts.


Mujir al-Din's writings are quoted extensively in the works of 19th century Orientalists and 20th and 21st century scholars alike. It is particularly valuable for what it reveals about the topography and social life of 15th century Jerusalem. A number of copies of manuscripts of al-Uns al-Jalil are kept in libraries in Paris, London and Vienna. El Wahby, a Cairo-based publishing house printed his work in full. A French translation of excerpts of his work with a foreword by Henry Sauvaire was published under the title, Histoire de Jérusalem et d'Hébron depuis Abraham jusqu'à la fin du XVe siècle de J.-C. : fragments de la Chronique de Moudjir-ed-dyn (1876). This compilation was made up of excerpts of his work translated from a manuscript procured in Jerusalem and from the Egyptian edition.

Translated excerpts of al-Uns al Jalil can be found in the work of Joseph Toussaint Reinaud and Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. Guy Le Strange references the work of Mujir al-Din throughout his book Palestine Under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500 (1890), drawing upon his descriptions of various monuments to determine their state, appearance, and measurements at his time of writing.