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THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LIBRARY OF ALEXANDRIA BY THE ARABS: THE ACCOUNT OF THE EGYPTIAN HISTORIAN AL-MAQRIZI

October 6, 2017

In three previous articles (here, here and here) we have seen the accounts of three writers (al-Qifti, Bar Hebraeus and al-Baghdadi) on the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by the Arabs on direct commandment by the Muslim Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (643 – 644 AD). Now, we shall look at the account of the Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi.

Al-Maqrizi (1364–1442)[1] lived during the Burji Mamuluks who ruled Egypt from 1371 to 1517. Al-Maqrizi was a prolific writer but his fame is due mainly to his voluminous book al mawaiz wa al-‘i’tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-‘athar otherwise known as al-Khitat al-maqrizia.

In al-Khitat al-maqrizia, Maqrizi talks in a long section about what the Arabs call ‘amoud al-sawari (عمود السواري) by which they mean ‘Pompey’s Pillar’. One passage of the section reads:

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And here is its translation:

“It is to be mentioned that this pillar was one of pillars that used to support the hallway of Aristotle who used to teach wisdom in it. It was a house of learning, and khizanat al-kotob (خزانة الكتب)[the Library of Alexandria], which ‘Amr ibn al-‘As burned on the commandment of Umar ibn al-Khattab, May Allah be pleased with him, was in it.”[2]

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[1] His full name is: Taqi al-Din Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn ‘Abd al-Qadir ibn Muhammad al-Maqrizi (تقى الدين أحمد بن على بن عبد القادر بن محمد المقريزى).

[2] al mawaiz wa al-‘i’tibar bi dhikr al-khitat wa al-‘athar otherwise known as al-Khitat al-maqrizia by Taqi al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Maqrizi; edited by Muhammad Zainhom; Volume I (Cairo, Maktabat Madbouli, 1998); p. 447.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Déborah L'Abeille permalink
    October 7, 2017 3:58 pm

    The iconoclasm of the Arab Muslim Empire, resulting in the destruction of ancient ethnic cultures is not discussed nearly enough here in the West. I had never even heard of this. I didn’t even know that the LIbrary of Alexandria was burned on the commands of the Caliph; I just thought that the fire was accidental. Appalling! Keep sharing these resources.

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