Thanks to the thirteenth-century historian Ibn al-Qifti we know that Mubashir Ibn Ahmad al-Razi was born in Baghdad in 530 AH/1135-36 AD where he grew up and spent most of his life working under the patronage of several Abbasid caliphs; gifted with arithmetic, the number theory and algebra, as well as astronomy and jurisprudence, he curated the library of the madrasa Nizamiyya and had a large group of followers and students. He died during an ambassadorial mission on behalf of Nasir li-Din Allah (r.1180-1225 AD) to the Ayyubid sultan al-Malik al-Adil in 589 AH/1193 AD in Nasibin or Dunaysir, in Anatolia.
The present work is not mentioned in Ibn al-Qifti’s biographical notice on al-Razi. Indeed al-Razi’s interest in mathematics was previously evident only from a treatise in about 60 folios on various aspects of arithmetic, number theory and geometry, extant in a unique manuscript preserved in Bursa (Ms. Haraccizade heyet ve Hikmet 17.1). The titles of the chapters in the Bursa manuscript indicate that the contents constitute some kind of abridgment of the present work. Al-Razi is otherwise known only for a non-scientific work entitled al-Risala al-Aminiyya fi’l tanbih ‘ala al-sa’ada al-haqiqiyya, extant in Ms. Leiden 1495.
The author of the original text on which al-Razi wrote the commentary is best known under the name Ibn Hubayra. He lived from 1105-6/1165 AD and was the vizier for sixteen years to the Abbasid Caliph al-Muktafi and al-Mustanjid. He was a staunch adherent to the Hanbali school of law, whose forces triumphed in Baghdad in the twelfth century and his main work is an extensive commentary on the Hadith (al-Ifsah ‘an ma’ani al-Hadith al-Suhah).
We do not have much information about his life but we get a glimpse of what might have started his interest in mathematics from an account of Ibn Rajab (d.1392). Ibn Rajab reports that Ibn Hubayra started commenting on mathematics and geometry further to a specific Hadith concerned with the relative value of prayer performed in a group compared with an individual prayer. Interestingly Ibn Hubayra soon leaves the religious aspect aside and moves to more practical matters and deals with arithmetic, multiplication, multiplication of compound numbers, fractions, factors, practical units, conversion between units, proportions, multiplication with fractions, roots, financial transactions, division of wealth among partners, war booty, geometry (and specifically finding the areas of quadrilaterals, triangles and circles as well as the volumes of solids) and algebra.
The text in the present manuscript appears to be in different hands, the title page and the first part (ff.1-10) as well as the last part and the colophon (ff.69-102) being in a lighter brown naskh while the middle part in a darker, nearly black ink, always in naskh but sometimes slightly chunkier. The black ink ends on the middle of the last line of f.68a, where the original lighter brown naskh starts again. At least the first and last parts of the manuscript were copied by Abd al-Aziz Ibn Dulaf Ibn Abi Talib in the month of Safar 576 AH (June 1180AD) and a note of the colophon states that the text was checked against the original, which was in the hand of the author.
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