This work is part of what is known as literature of veneration, djafr, which developed from the belief that the descendants of Fatima inherited certain privileges, such as insight into the future and/or the unknown, inherent to Prophethood. By extension, it became a literary genre, still of esoteric nature, but accessible to the wise whatever their origin. Although largely part of this tradition, this manuscript appears to be a unique copy of an otherwise unknown text (neither Brocklemann nor Sezgin mention the author or title) and thus it adds a significant insight into this branch of Arabic literature.
Interestingly, the author gives a variety of references found throughout the text. These range from the Western world to India, they are religious and literary and from the Hellenistic period to some of his more contemporary authors. Al-Bakri mentions Indian letters, the Bible, and sayings of various religious figures including Moses, 'Ali, and Abu Bakr Siddiq. The main literary references are listed at the end of the manuscript on f.104b. Among them is the Arab author al-Buni (d.1225 AD), one of the most celebrated writers in the field of literature of veneration, and possibly the most influential to al-Bakri. Indeed the latter notes at least three of al-Buni's works including his most important text, the Shams al-ma'arif wa lata'if which, like the present text, includes chapters dedicated to the mysteries of letters and their magical use as well as that of numbers and the names of God. Al-Buni's other works listed in the present text include his 'Ilm al-huda wa asrar al-ihtida fi sharh al-isma Allah alhusna, and his Lata'if al-isharat fi'l-huruf wa al-'uluwivvat.
Further listed works are Aristotle's Kunuz al-mu'zimin, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi's Al-Sirr al-maqtum, and the Rasa'il ikhwan al-safa which, interestingly, appears to be noted as the work of 'al-Mukhriti'. Although a well-known and celebrated text, the date and authorship of the Rasa'il ikhwan al-safa are still in dispute. Y Marquet, in his entry on the lkhwan al-Safa (Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol.III), discusses these issues of date and authorship but can only conclude that what "seems indisputable [is] that the Epistles [Rasa'il lkhwan al-Safa] represent the state of lsma'ili doctrine at the time of their composition", thus failing to draw any precise conclusion. The reference to 'al-Mukhriti', therefore, will possibly cast new light on the Rasa'il ikhwan al-safa.
The author calls himself al-Bakri al-Murjani. The latter part 'al-Murjani' is likely to refer to his association with the Khan Murjan in Baghdad built in the fourteenth century. This building became the reputed dwelling place of many university scholars and it is very possible that Al-Bakri was one of the scholars still inhabiting the Khan Murjan in the fifteenth century. Another suggestion, however, may be that the author originally came from Murjan, a town in western Persia, south of Shiraz in the western part of the Fars province. Both western Persia and Iraq were under one same rule in the second half of the fifteenth century, the Qara Qoyunlu and later the Aq Qoyunlu. Furthermore, both Baghdad and the province of Fars were then important cultural and academic centres. Thus, whether the author was from Baghdad or Murjan, the context of this manuscript remains very similar.
The manuscript is very clearly presented, composed of various sections punctuated by many diagrams. It is divided into four main sections (qism) and each qism is composed of two or three chapters (bab) as follows:
1.The alphabet, its true nature and secrets
On letters, their characteristics and numerical value (this chapter in seven parts 'fasala')
On letter combinations, the planets and the horoscope (this chapter in five parts)
2.The alphabet and sentences
On the Bismillah (this chapter in ten parts)
On words (this chapter in eighteen parts)
3.The names of Allah
Single names (this chapter in ten parts)
Names when paired (this chapter in ten parts)
The names when assembled in three (this chapter in ten parts)
4.The notion of time, the times of reading
On the number seven, the seven days of the week (this chapter in six parts)
On the months and the movement of stars and planets (this chapter in six parts)
On stones and their relation to stars/planets (this chapter in four parts)
Most leaves display at least one diagram or table. Among these is a rare diagram (see catalogue illustration) showing the Bismillah written in the shape of the human body. The author mentions that he achieved the formation of this diagram after seven years of research.
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