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Summary for lecture to be given at the Warburg Institute, May 1, 2013: Magic and the Occult Islam: Amad

b. Al al-Bn (d. 622/1225?) and the Shams al-marif. by Saiyad Nizamuddin Ahmad Magic and the occult were far from being a subterranean phenomenon, or merely an aspect of the popular culture and folklore of Islam. Indeed, they were far more central to Islamic civilization than has been heretofore realized or even acknowledged, even though they were somewhat hidden (after all that is what occult means!). It was the actual detailed knowledge of such esoteric technologies that remained relatively hidden from the non-initiate, but there was nevertheless quite a widespread awareness of the occult sciences and it was an unquestioned assumption of Islamic society that magic and the occult were real. An important distinction must be drawn, however, between magic (sir) and what we shall call for now, non-magic. The practice of the former is universally condemned by scholars of the sacred law of Islam (shara) as being forbidden (arm). However, its study but not its practice was permitted so long as such knowledge was used to protect oneself and others from the infernal effects of magic. What of non-magic? By this we mean all the occult sciences which do not resort to demonic means. To elaborate, Muslim scholars have always distinguished between the infernal resort to supernatural meanswhich is characterised by the term sir and may accurately be referred to in English by the term magicand the supernal or celestial resort to supernatural means based on the ritual use of the Qurn, thus non-magic. The precise nature of the ritual use of the latter is the subject of the second part of the paper devoted to al-Bn as the prime example of both practitioner and theorist of Islamic occultism. Our immediate concern however, is to disitinguish such rituals completely from sir. Let us begin by suggesting a new term for such rituals: Qurnic theurgy. Of course, the latter term is of conspicuously Greek origin yet it is unusually well-suited to our context, in as much as the original Arabic texts often use the term amal work or working for such rituals and theurgy literally means God-work. It should not be forgotten that in Semitic languages cognate to Arabic, such as Hebrew and Syriac the terms for worship (i.e. to serve God) and work were derived from the same roots.1 In addition to Qurnic theurgy, non-magic would include what we consider to be the subsidiary occult sciences of astronomy/astrology (ilm al-haya, ilm al-tanjm, ilm akm al-nujm), the royal art of alchemy (al-kmiy) , the science of sand geomancy (ilm al-raml), and nally the most quintessentially Islamic of the occult sciences: ilm al-jafr, or the science of the symbolism of the Arabic letters in their ideophonic (oral/aural symbolism), ideographic (visual symbolism) and arithmological (numerical symbolism) dimensions.2 The latter is the very pith and marrow of Qurnic theurgy as well as being thoroughly integrated with all of the other aforementioned subsidiary occult sciences. All of these sciences are best exemplied in the life and writings of Amad al-Bn. Unfortunately, very little is known of his life other than that he was from Bna, present day al-Annba, in north-eastern coastal Algeria, that he ourished in Egypt and died there most likely in 622 H/1225 CE or even several years thereafter.3 Although I be-

1. See F. Brown, S. R. Driver and Ch. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an
Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic based on the Lexicon of Willaim Gesinius as translated by Edward Robinson, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951?, 713714 , and R. Payne Smith, Thesaurus Syriacus, 2 vols., Oxford: Clarendon Press, vol. 1, 1879, vol.2, 1901; 2:27652774 !"# .

2. I have borrowed these three terms from Jean Canteins, The Hidden Sciences in Islam, Islamic
Spirituality: Manifestations, Seyyed Hossein Nasr (Ed.), New York: Crossroads, 2001, pp. 447468 at 451.

3. See John D. Martin III, Theurgy in the Medieval Islamic World: Conceptions of Cosmology in al-Bns
Doctrine of the Divine Names. MA diss., American University in Cairo, Dec. 2011, 33; and Noah Gardiner,

lieve there is evidence to suggest that he lived sometime thereafter, we simply cannot say with certainty.4 What we can say with certainty, is that he authored a number of works of theurgic praxis based on the Divine Names and verses of the Qurn. The most siginicant of these texts is known as the Sun of Knowledge Shams al-marif.5 This work may be likened to the Three Books of Occult Philosophy of Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (d. 1535 CE)6 in its scope and subject matter. The Shams al-marif continues to be the text of choice for modern occultists in the Muslim world and I have seen translations in Urdu, modern Turkish and Indonesian. It was this work and not the socalled Picatrix (Ghyat al-akm) of pseudo-Majr7 that has held pride of place in Islamic occultism since the 6th and 7th century of the Hijra. We will examine how al-Bns Qurnic theurgy was employed in the construction of talismans. The use of talismans was not mere restricted to the uneducated but was resorted to by even the highest levels of society, namely by rulers. Much light has been shed on this dimension of Islamic society since the pioneering studies of Cornell Fleischer8 and his school, namely by scholars such as Kathryn Babyan,9 I. Evrim Binba,10 and Matthew S. MelvinKoushki.11 All of these studies have examined gures and events that bear an intimate connection

Forbidden Knowledge? Notes on the Production, Transmission, and reception of the Major Works of Amad al-Bn, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 12 (2012): 8994.

4. Noah Gardiner, Ibid. 5. The various recensions of this work and the relationship they bear to the larger Corpus Bunianum have been
dealt with by us in another study: Navigating the Corpus Bunianum. A Survey and Analysis of Key MSS ascribed to Amad al-Bn (d. 622/1225), to be published (pending peer review, submitted on Jan. 22, 2013,) in the next issue of Journal of Islamic Manuscripts.

6. See Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Trans by James Freake,
Ed. and annotated by Donald Tyson (Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn, 2010). It is said that he also authored a fourth book as well, but to my knowledge experts in the field reject this ascription. See Henry Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy, Trans by Robert Turner, Ed. and annotated by Donald Tyson, Woodbury (MN: Llewellyn, 2009).

7. See Pseudo-Mar das Ziel des Weisen, Herausgegeben von Hellmut Rittter, Studien der Bibliothek
Warburg Herausgegeben von Fritz Saxl, (Leipzig und Berlin: B. G. Teubner, 1933).

8. Cornell Fleischer, The Lawgiver as Messiah: The Making of the Imperial Image in the Reign of
Sleyman in Sleyman the Magnicent and his Time Ed. by Gilles Veinstein, Acts of the Parisian Conference, Galeries nationales du Grande Palais, 7-10 March, 1990, Paris: Documentation franaise, 1992; Seer to the Sultan: Remmal Haydar and Sultan Sleyman in Cultural Horizons: A Festschrift in Honor of Talat S. Halman, v. 1, Ed. by Jane Warner Istanbul and Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001; Shadows of Shadows: Prophecy in Politics in 1530s Istanbul, International Journal of Turkish Studies 13 (2007); Ancient Wisdom and New Sciences: Prophecies at the Ottoman Court in the Fifteenth and Early Sixteenth Centuries, M. Farhad and S. Bagci (Eds.), Falnama: The Book of Omens (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2009): 231244.

9. Kathryn Babyan, Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs. Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran,
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002; The Cosmological Order of Things in Early Modern Safavid Iran, M. Farhad and S. Bagci (Eds.), Falnama: The Book of Omens (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2009): 245255.

10. I. Evrim Binba, Sharaf al-Din Al Yazd (ca. 770s858/ca. 1370s1454): Prophecy, Politics, and
Historiography in Late Medieval Islamic History, Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 2009.

11. Matthew S. Melvin-Koushki, The Quest for an Universal Science: The Occult Philosophy of in al-Dn
Turka Ifahn (13691432)and Intellectual Millenerism in Early Timurid Iran, Ph.D. diss., Yale University,

with the occult ouvre of Amad b. Al al-Bn particularly the text known as the Shams al-marif wa laif al-awrif,.12 The importance of occult knowledge especially as the basis for the occult technology involved in the construction of talismans,13 talismanic shirts,14 and other processes of a telestic nature15 was not only seen as pivotal for prognostication and prophecy but also for the preservation and propagation of political power. This was a truism not only for the so-called gunpowder empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals but also for earlier Islamicate dynasties, such as the Mamluks. Interestingly, it seems that al-Bn himself was associated with the Ayyubid Prince who would become al-Malik al-li Najm al-Dn Ayyb b. Kmil Muammad (rg. 637-647).16 However, none of the above-mentioned studies has shed any light on the cosmological ideas behind such talismans and what went into constructing them. Al-Bn speaks at length of his cosmology in the Shams although he does not go into too much detail about how to construct these talismans. It is nevertheless possible to get a very good idea of how this was done through a careful reading of what he does tell us in the Shams and other works and thus reverse engineer the process. We will demonstrate this using selected talismans from the opening section of the Shams relying exclusively on manuscripts we have studied.17


12. On the various recensions of this work and the relationship the bear to the larger Corpus Bunianum have
been dealt with by us in another study, Navigating the Corpus Bunianum. A Survey and Analysis of Key MSS ascribed to Amad al-Bn (d. 622/1225), to be published (pending peer review, submitted on Jan. 22, 2013,) in the next issue of Journal of Islamic Manuscripts.

13. See Tawk Canaan, The Decipherment of Arabic Talismans, Berytus 4 (Beirut 1937): 69110; 5 (Beirut
1938): 141151; reprinted in Emilie Savage-Smith, Magic and Divination in Early Islam, Aldershot: Ashgate: 2004, 125177. On Canaan seeVera Tamari, Tawk CanaanCollectionneur par excellence: The Story Behind the Palestinian Amulet Collection at Birzeit University, in S. Mejcher-Atassi and J. P. Schwartz (Eds.), Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World, Aldershot: Ashgate: 2008, 7190.

14. See Hlya Tezcan, Topkap Saray Mzesi Koleksiyonundan Tlsmli Gmlekler, stanbul: Tima, 2011. 15. From the Greek telestike . A term from late Platonism referring to theurgy and hieratic rituals
especially the animation of statues. The latter is akin to the empowerment of a talisman and thus I have borrowed this term. See Algis Udavinys, Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth, Wiltshire: Prometheus Trust, 2008, 320.

16. John D. Martin III, Theurgy in the Medieval Islamic World, 45. 17. A detailed list of our manuscripts, fifteen in all, appears in our Navigating the Corpus Bunianum cited