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The Heritage of Scholars: A Review of Agha Buzurg al-Tehrani’s al-Dhariʿah

Muḥammad Muḥsin b. ʿAlī al-Munzawī al-Ṭihrānī known as Āghā Buzurg al-Tihrānī  (b.1293/1876- d.1389/1970) was a twelver Shi’a faqih and bibliographer and the author of al-Dhari’a ila tasanif al-Shi’a, an encyclopedia about Shi’a books, and Tabaghat a’lam al-shi’a, an encyclopedia about Shi’a scholars from 4/10 to 14/20 century.

One way of uncovering the intellectual depth of a community is to look at the scholarly works that community has produced since its inception. In the following detailed synopsis, Dr. Aun Hasan Ali explores a renowned work in bibliographical studies, al-Dharīʿah ilā Taṣānīf al-Shiʿah, by Aqā Buzurg Tihrānī, a unique and indispensable work that provides us a glimpse into the vast intellectual legacy of Shiʿi scholarship.

Aqā Buzurg was born in 1293 A.H./1875 C.E. to a scholarly family in Tehran, Iran, and studied in Tehran, Najaf, and Samarrā under the most eminent scholars of his time, including Mīrzā Husayn Nūrī, Ākhūnd Muḥammad Kāẓim al-Khurāsānī, and Muḥammad Taqī al-Shīrāzī, all students of the famous Mīrzā Shīrāzī. He died in the year 1389 A.H./1970 C.E., and is buried in his personal library in Najaf.

Al-Dharīʿah ilā Taṣānīf al-Shīʿah by Muḥammad Muḥsin, known as Āqā Buzurg Tihrānī (d. 1970), is a comprehensive bibliographical study of Imāmī Shiʿi works written before its composition in 1958. The Beirut edition (1983) is comprised of 25 parts in 28 volumes. It contains 53,510 entries on a broad range of subjects, including Qurʾanic exegesis, hadith, law, theology, science, history, poetry, and belles lettres. Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu titles are listed in alphabetical order.

But al-Dharīʿah is more than just a list of works. Āqā Buzurg added informative introductions to major topics and also discussed the history and transmission of texts. Works that are known by more than one title are cross-referenced, and the sources of references to works that are no longer extant are mentioned. Individual entries range in length from just a few lines to several pages. Many entries include a summary of the contents of the book and a list of manuscripts and printed editions. Volumes 9/1 to 9/4 contain material on poetry. Volume 16 and onward contain author indexes. A separate index of authors called Muʿjam Muʾallifī al-Shīʿah by ʿAlī al-Fāḍil al-Qāʾīnī was published in 1984. Volumes 17 onwards include titles of Ismāʿīlī works listed in Ismāʿīl b. ʿAbd al-Rasūl’s (d. 1769 or 70) Fihrist al-Kutub wa-l-Rasāʾil, on which W. Ivanow based his A Guide to Ismaili Literature. In cases where the identity of an author is not clear, Āqā Buzurg reviews the evidence and at times offers his own valued opinion. However, some people have criticized the attribution of particular works. Āqā Buzurg’s son ʿAlī Naqī Munzavī has noted these criticisms in the entry on his father in Ṭabaqāt Aʿlām al-Shīʿah.

Al-Dharīʿah is said to have been written in response to Taʾrīkh Ādāb al-Lughat al-ʿArabīyah by Jurjī Zaydān (d. 1914), which slighted the contribution of Shīʿīs to Arabic literature. Āqā Buzurg began working on it in 1911 in Sāmarrā in Iraq. At the time of his death, twenty-four volumes had been published. Volume 25 was published in 1978, and a supplement entitled Mustadrakāt al-Muʾallif was published in 1985. With the exception of volumes thirteen and fourteen, which were edited by Muḥammad Ṣādiq Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, the entire work was edited by Āqā Buzurg’s sons, ʿAlī Naqī and Aḥmad Munzavī. The contents of al-Dharīʿah are based on Āqā Buzurg’s own research, his visits to private and public libraries all over the Middle East, and the catalogues of libraries in Europe, Turkey, and South Asia.

There are a number of mistakes in the published edition. Much of the responsibility for these mistakes falls on the shoulders of the editors, who made changes to the original manuscript. Recently, several scholars have undertaken the task of correcting these mistakes. Al-Sayyid ʿAbd al-Azīz al-Ṭabāṭabāʾī al-Yazdī (d. 1995) wrote a supplement to al-Dharīʿah that has been published; al-Sayyid Saʿīd Akhtar al-Riḍawī al-Hindī (d. 2002) wrote Takmilat al-Dharīʿah,[1] which includes works written after 1958, particularly works by South Asian ʿulamāʾ; al-Sayyid al-Riḍawī also wrote al-Taʿlīqāt ʿalā al-Dharīʿah[2] in which he corrected several titles and biographical details; and al-Sayyid Aḥmad al-Ḥusaynī al-Ishkawarī made a number of corrections in ʿAlā Hāmish al-Dharīʿah.[3]

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References

[1] Nuskhah Paẓūhī, 2 (1426 A.H.): 537-93

[2] Nuskhah Paẓūhī 3 (1427 A.H.): 627-82

[3] Nuskhah Paẓūhī, 3 (1427 A.H.): 597-661.

source: al-sidrah

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