This article examines the relationship between history and the occult science of letters and names (ʿilm al-ḥurūf wa-l-asmāʾ) in ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Bisṭāmī’s Naẓm al-sulūk fī musāmarat al-mulūk, a work completed in Bursa in 833/1429–1430. Al-Bisṭāmī was one of the most important writers on lettrism in the period, due to his role in popularizing it at the Ottoman court and elsewhere; his talents also extended to a range of other topics and genres, from the religious to the belletristic. Naẓm al-sulūk is his contribution to the well-known genre of the universal chronicle, though in both structure and content it is deeply influenced by his interest in Sufi, occult, and millenarian discourses, as well as in the Rasāʾil Ikhwān al-ṣafāʾ. This article focuses on his comments and hints on the history of lettrism, its role in the human drama qua Heilsgeschichte, and its immediate relevance to his own age—which, for him and many of his contemporaries, stood indubitably in the shadow of the end of time.
The Ifrīqiyan cum Cairene Sufi Aḥmad al-Būnī (d. ca 622/1225 or 630/1232-1233) is a key figure in the history of the Islamicate occult sciences, particularly with regard to the “science of letters and names” (ʿilm al-ḥurūf wa-l-asmāʾ). Drawing on textual and manuscript evidence, this paper examines the role of esotericism—religious secrecy and exclusivity—in al-Būnī’s thought and in the promulgation and early circulation of his works in Egypt and environs. It is argued that al-Būnī intended his works only for elite Sufi initiates, and that, in the century or so after his death, they indeed circulated primarily in “esotericist reading communities,” groups of learned Sufis who guarded their contents from those outside their own circles. This tendency toward esotericism, and the eventual exposure of al-Būnī’s texts to a wider readership, are contextualized in relation to broader developments in late-medieval Mediterranean culture.
The article describes the recent discovery by Noah Gardiner of the holograph fair copy of the third volume of al-Maqrīzī’s Khiṭaṭ (‘description of Egypt’) in the Library of Michigan University (Michigan Islamic MS 605). It is the only known Maqrīzī holograph in the Americas. The manuscript was copied well after 818 A.H. (1415) and was finished shortly after 831 A.H. (1427), when the author may have written his last additions in it. A full codicological description of the manuscript is given. The place of the manuscript in the Maqrizian corpus is determined. Its provenance is traced to one of the collections of Abraham Shalom Yahuda (d. 1951).