Abū al-Shaykh al-Iṣbahānī: ʿAẓamat Allāh wa-makhlūqātihi, ed. Al-Mubārakfūrī, R. A M. I, vol. i— , Riyadh 1408/1988— . Is NOT our Kitāb al-Aẓama.

Apocalypse of Paul, in: Apocrypha anecdota. A collection of thirteen apocryphal books and fragments, ed. and trans. James, M. R. (Contributions to biblical and patristic literature, texts and studies, 2/3), Cambridge 1893, i, 11–42. Online: ;

Ardā wirāz nāmag: the Iranian ‘Divina commedia’, ed., trans. and commt.Vahman, F. (Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies monograph series, 53), London/Malmö 1986. An older, less good translation of the whole text is available online: ;

ʿAẓama, Abu Deeb = Abū Dīb, K.: Al-adab al-ʿajāʾibī wa’l-ʿālam al-gharāʾibī fī Kitāb al-ʿAẓama wa-fann al-sard al-ʿarabī = Abu Deeb, K.: The imagination unbound: al-adab al-ʿajaʾibi and the literature of the fantastic. With a critical edition of Kitab al-Azama, Beirut 2007;

Heinen, A.: Islamic cosmology. A study of as-Suyūṭī’s al-Hayʾa as-sanīya fī l-hayʾa as-sunnīya, Beirut 1982;

Ibn Abī al-Dunyā: Ṣifat al-nār, ed. Yūsuf, M. K. R., Beirut 1997 [not seen];

Ibn Isḥāq: [Sīra] = Das Leben Muhammed’s nach Muhammed Ibn Ishâk bearbeitet von Abd el-Malik Ibn Hischâm, ed. Wüstenfeld, F., Göttingen 1858–60; trans. Guillaume, A.: The life of Muhammad. A translation of Isḥāq’s [sic!] Sīrat Rasūl Allāh, Oxford 1955;

Al-Kisāʾī, Muḥammad ibn ʿAbdallāh, [Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ] Vita prophetarum: ed. Eisenberg, I., Leiden 1923; trans. Thackston Jr., W. M.: Tales of the prophets (Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ), Chicago 1997;

The legends of the Jews, ed. Ginzberg, L., 6 vols., Philadelphia 1955. Online ;

The Qur’an. A modern English version, trans. Fakhry, M., Reading 1997;

Raven, W.: A Kitāb al-ʿAẓama: on cosmology, hell and paradise, in Miscellanea Arabica et Islamica. Dissertationes in Academia Ultratrajectina prolatae, ed. De Jong, F. (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 53), Leuven 1993, 135–142. Online: ;

Sezgin, F.: Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, vols. i–ix Leiden 1967–1984, vol. x–xv Frankfurt 2000–10;

Al-Thaʿlabī: Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyāʾ al-musammā ʿArāʾis al-majālis, Beirut (Dār al-fikr) 2004, 354–62; trans. Brinner, W. M.: Lives of the prophets, Leiden 2002.

Azama, Hell A-Version, study

My study of the Hell-section of Kitāb al-ʿAẓama is: ‘Hell in popular Muslim imagination: The anonymous Kitāb al-ʿAẓama,’ in: Chr. Lange (ed.), Locating hell in Islamic traditions, Leiden 2015, 144–62. It is already available online here, click Open Access, click Chapters (16), click 7 Hell in popular Muslim imagination, click Read.

About this project         To  the Arabic text        To the Translation        Back to Table of Contents

Introductory chapter

Which Kitab al-Azama, which author? Disambiguation

There are several books with this title, all of which have as their subject the majesty of God as apparent in his creation. Anton F. Heinen, Islamic Cosmology. A Study etc., Beirut 1982, 48­–49, mentions some of them and describes also the text under consideration in the present pages. F. Sezgin, GAS i, 191 and 201 mixes up several works of the same title.
The Kitāb al-ʿAzama by Abū al-Shaykh that is mentioned by Heinen, o.c., 38–42 was edited by Riḍā Allāh, Riyad etc. And I have an incomplete scan of a Kitāb al-ʿAzama by Ibn Ḥibbān Abū al-Shaykh al-Iṣbahānī, edited by Muṣtafā ʿĀshūr and Majdī al-Sayyid Ibrāhīm, Cairo [1991].

The version outlined by Heinen is ascribed to Ibn Abī ad-Dunyā. But the text has also been ascribed to Ibn Ḥibbān, who was identified by one diligent copyist as Ibn Ḥibbān al-Bustī (Sezgin, GAS i, 189–191). Other MSS mention a certain Abu Ḥayyān, the form of which name in Arabic script is close to Ibn Ḥibbān. One MS even mentions Abū al-Shaykh as the author, but ‘our’ text  is manifestly different from the one outlined by Heinen under that name. It would be wiser to consider our ʿAzama an anonymous text.

How old is al-Azama

This remains an unanswerable question yet. The text has older and younger layers and was overworked several times. Shall we say tentatively: the core is about thousand years old? Or eight hundred.

The manuscripts of the Azama

There are two text types. I will first concentrate on Type A. Arguments for this will be given in the pages on textual criticism. I have copies of the following manuscripts, but some more do exist.

Type A:

ك Kitāb al-ʿAẓama, wa-huwa fī ṣifat ʿajāʾib al-makhlūqāt wa-ʿajāʾib al-araḍīn wal-samawāt wa-ʿajāʾib al-abḥur al-zākhirāṭ wa-ṣifat al-janna wal-nār wa-mā fī dhāʿika min al-ʿajāʾib wal-gharāʾib li-Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, Wien, Staatsarchiv 422, dated according to Katalog: 919 AH [= 1513 AD].
Albrecht Krafft, Die arabischen, Persischen und Türkischen Handschriften der K.K. Orientalischen Akademie zu Wien, Wien 1842, p. 162. Bib FFM Ab 3/5900.

ڤ [Kitāb al-ʿAẓama], Vatican VIDA 1480, dated 20 Djumādā II 972 [= January 23th, 1565], fols. 36a–85b.
GAS I, 201.
Giorgio Levi della Vida, Elenco dei manoscritti islamici della Biblioteca Vaticana. Vaticani Barberiniani Borgiani Rossiani، Città del Vaticano 1935 (Studi e Testi 67), p. 236, no. 1480. (I have a copy of this page.)

ظ Oxford, Bodleian Hunt 323@@

پ Kitāb al-ʿAẓama min kutub al-dafā’in min kutub Dāniyāl ʿalayhi al-salām …, Princeton 778, dated 1068/1048?@, fol. 4a–118a GAS @@

ى Kitāb al-ʿAẓama lil-shaykh al-imām al-fāḍil Ibn abī al-Dunyā, Istanbul, Carullah 400, 50 fols., 19 lines per fol., clear naskhī writing. Mentioned in the undated handwritten catalogue of the Carullah Library Daftar Kutubkhāneh Carullāh, 14.
Name of an owner with the year 1143 [AH] of the title page. At the end of the text no date.

ل Kitāb ʿajā’ib al-makhlūqāt lil-ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥibbān yashtamilu ʿalā ʿaẓamat allāh wa-makhlūqātihi and much more, Berlin 6159, 37 ff., dated 1149 AH, GAS I, 201.

Two versions, a mixed version and various extras


Edition possible and desirable?


Textual criticism

I am well aware of the exigencies of textual criticism, but in this case I do not intend to apply them in full. In view of the careless transmission of this sloppy text, in two ‘floating’ versions plus an in-between version, there seems to be no point in meticulous editing techniques. Instead of wasting time in obtaining MSS from places like Çorum or Medina, I will set out to make a semi-critical edition on the basis of the MSS of which I have copies at my disposal. 

Among other things, in the apparatus I will not take into account:
– Variations in the eulogies : ta‘ālā, ‘azza wa-jalla etc..
– Obvious mistakes.
– Readings that are only represented in one Ms. against the five others.
– Differences in orthography. I neither try to correct the text into classical Arabic, as some MSS and Kamal Abu deeb did, nor do I aim at being consequent in Middle Arabic, if there is such a thing. You will get something in the middle.
– Variations in numbers. In a text like this, the difference between a million and a billion is insignificant. Every copyist added alf alfs to his taste. As a rule, I tend to stick to the smaller numbers.

I decided to take the mss. گ and ی as the base for my edition of the A-Version and to present their text also in case where this is obviously sloppy and other mss. are ‘better’, i.e. more readable. 

Azama about itself: A-version, outline

According to the ʿAẓama itself, the original book was revealed to Ādam, who wrote it down on clay tablets, baked them and deposited them in a cave in Sarandīb, in India. This cave was opened each year on ʿAshūrāʾ day only.
The prophet Daniyāl (Daniel) brought forty scribes and had them copy down as much as they could in that one day. After his death the book was made public on copper sheets.
ʿAbdallāh ibn Salām, a converted Jew from the time of the Prophet, read it to caliph ʿUthmān, who was moved to tears by it. There is a spurious isnād that goes back to al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī.

To the full translated text