A Misidentified Ancient Arabic Mansucript by Ishaq al-Bosti مخطوطة مصنفة خطأ: تفسير إسحق البستي

Ancient manuscripts provide a fascinating link to the past. Working with manuscripts is often like detective work: knowing who the author is, who the scribe is, what the book is about, whether it is authentic or not, and eventually publishing the work in a critical edition is an often both a daunting and fullfilling task.Memories from almost a quarter century ago came rushing to me when I read that on September 26, 2004, an will be held in the Library of Alexandria, discussing Arabic manuscripts that are 1,000 Hejira (lunar) years or older.One of the manuscripts that is almost sure to be mentioned in this conference resides in the Library of the Municipality of Alexandria مكتبة بلدية الاسكندرية in the Moharram Bey محرم بك district in Alexandria, Egypt.This manuscript is classified as the Sahih book of Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj al-Qushayri al-Nisaburi أبو الحسين مسلم بن الحجاج القشيري النيسابوري (b. 204 - d. 261 A.H./875 C.E.). His book is a collection of hadith, and considered the second most authentic compilation.In the catalog of the Institute of Arabic Manuscripts معهد المخطوطات العربية, Salah El Din El Menagged صلاح الدين المنجد mentions this manuscript as one of the most ancient Arabic manuscripts.Dr. Youssef Zeidan د يوسف زيدان in his very interesting and useful web sites, also mentions this manuscript, and says:

الجَامِعُ الصَّحيحُ، للإمام مسلم بن الحجاج النيسابورى، كتبها خلف ابن حكيم، بقلم كوفى، سنة 368 هجرية، وتقع فى 233 ورقة، وهى أقدم مخطوطة بالمكتبة.

The only correct part in the above, is that this manuscript is indeed ancient, having been written more than a 1,000 lunar years ago. What adds to the importance of this manuscript is that it represents a previously unknown work of a little known author.Although I took notes at the time, those notes are long lost after almost a quarter of a century. What follows is the best I could make from recollection.In the early 1980s, when I was an undergraduate student of pharmacy, I used to visit the Municipal library and read some pages off the manuscripts there. After being a fixture of the library for a few months, the staff agreed to show me the above ancient manuscript, stating that they normally do so for specialists or post-graduate students only.A brief examination of the manuscript showed that it is misidentified for sure. Some centuries ago, someone glued a new title page to the first folio in this book. The new title was written on a different type of paper (much lighter color), and in a different script that the rest of the manuscriptin a different script (Nashk نسخ), and indeed states, erroneously, that this is the Sahih of Muslim.Holding the first page to a bright light shows that this page is clearly glued over, and obliterates, the first page in the manuscript. I also vaguely recall that the original writing under the new title page says تفسير إسحاق البستي.The book is classified into sections, each dealing with exegesis تفسير of certain chapters of the Quran. It starts with Surat al-Kahf (18) سورة الكهف and ends with Surat al-Najm (53) النجم. In style, it is similar to the exegesis of al-Tabari تفسير الطبري where he narrates with isnad all the hadiths related to the verse being commented on, and the sayings of the companions الصحابة and the early generations. The material in it is not original and most probably all of it in other exegetical and hadith works. I started looking up biographical references of this period to find out who this Ishaq al-Bosti is. His name can also be spelled in English as al-Busti. It turns out that he is أبو محمد إسحاق بن إبراهيم البستي and held the position of Qadi (Judge). He was not famous and his biographies were always a few lines with not much details.Bost, or Bust, بُسْت is a city in what today is Afghanistan. It lies at Longitude 64° 22' 0" E and Latitude 31° 33' 0" N. Being on the ancient Silk Road, it was a trading center, and many of its inhabitants travelled east to Baghdad, Damascus and other centers or learning. Other famous people from Bost are Ibn Hibban al-Bosti إبن حبان البستي, Abu Hatim al-Bosti أبو حاتم البستي and Ibn Abi Hatim al-Bosti إبن أبي حاتم البستي (his son), Abu Solaiman Al Khattabi al-Bosti أبو سليمان الخطابي البستي all of whom specialized in hadith, as well as Abu al-Fath al-Bosti أبو الفتح البستي who was a poet and author.It is staisfying to see that eventually the manuscript was published twice in two dissertations in Saudi Arabia, from a photographic copy there. It is most likely that the photo was made on the basis that this manuscript is of the Sahih of Muslim.The dissertation summary does not mention that this is a misidentified manuscript. Now you know that it is.

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