Licit Magic: The Life and Letters of al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād (d. 385/995)


In Licit Magic: The Life and Letters of al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād (d. 385/995) Maurice A. Pomerantz explores the biography and literary output of a major tenth-century Muslim statesman, literary patron, and intellectual. His nearly two-decade reign as vizier on behalf of two Buyid amirs was an important period for the flowering of Arabic letters, Muʿtazilī theology and Shīʿism in Western Iran. Making use of Ibn ʿAbbād’s large corpus of letters ( rasāʾil), Pomerantz explores the role that eloquence played in the conduct of administration, the maintenance of social networks of elites, and persuasion. Licit Magic argues that the eloquent expression that Ibn ʿAbbād displayed in his letters was central to his exercise of power.
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Biographical Note

Maurice A. Pomerantz, Ph.D. (2010), University of Chicago, is Assistant Professor of Literature at New York University, Abu Dhabi. He is the editor of The Heritage of Arabo-Islamic Learning (Brill, 2016).

Table of contents


1 An Introduction to Ibn ʿAbbād and His Letters
 A Letter of Longing for an Absent Friend
 al-Ṣāḥib Ibn ʿAbbād: Finding a Context
 Ibn ʿAbbād and Arabo-Islamic Epistolography
 Ibn ʿAbbād Inside and Outside His Letters
 Ibn ʿAbbād in His Own Words?
 Plan of the Book

A Buyid Politician, Polymath and Patron

2 A Life in Politics
 Birth, Family, and Early Education of Ismāʿīl b. ʿAbbād
 Ibn ʿAbbād’s Studies in Rayy with Abū l-Faḍl Ibn al-ʿAmīd
 Scribe and Scholar in Baghdad
 Rivalry with Abū l-Fatḥ for Succession to the Vizierate of Rayy
 Ibn ʿAbbād Becomes Vizier in Rayy
 Ibn ʿAbbād and the Rise of ʿAḍud al-Dawla
 Vizier for Fakhr al-Dawla: 373–85/983–95
 The End of an Era

3 A Muʿtazilī Polymath
 Dialectical Theology (kalām)
 Legal Schools (madhāhib) and the Imamate
 Lexicography (al-lugha)
 History (tārīkh)
 Poetry (shiʿr)
 Poetic Criticism (naqd al-shiʿr)
 Qurʾānic Interpretation
 Ḥadīth and its Criticism
 Grammar (naḥw)
 Foreign Sciences (ʿulūm al-awāʾil)
 Ibn ʿAbbād as a Scholar in the Fourth/Tenth Century

4 A Patron and Social Networker
 Ibn ʿAbbād’s Patronage System
 Ibn ʿAbbād’s Court
 The Library of Ibn ʿAbbād
 The Patron at Court
 Ibn ʿAbbād as a Social Networker
 Ibn ʿAbbād as a Courtly Intellectual

An Epistolographer and Adīb

5 A Letter Writer and His Letters
 The Vizier as an Epistolographer
 The Letters of Ibn ʿAbbād
 FA = al-Fuṣūl al-adabiyya wa-l-murāsalāt al-ʿabbādiyya (The literary excerpts and the ʿAbbādian correspondence)
 KB = Kamāl al-balāgha (The perfection in rhetoric)
 YD = Yatīmat al-dahr fī maḥāsin ahl al-ʿaṣr (The unique pearl of time concerning the excellencies of the poets of the age)
 The Transmission of Individual Letters

6 Sulṭāniyyāt: Governmental and Administrative Letters
 Government Proclamations, Edicts, and Other Formal Documents
 Government Correspondence
 Sulṭāniyyāt: Two Discourses of Power

7 Letters of Friendship (Ikhwāniyyāt)
 Formal Ikhwāniyyāt and the Rhetoric of Courtly Friendship
 Letters to Boon Companions (nudamāʾ)
 Letters of Jesting (mudāʿabāt)
 Letters of Congratulation
 Letters of Condolence (taʿāzī)
 Letters of Intercession and Patronage
 Letters to Muʿtazilī Scholars
 Letters to ʿAlid Sharīfs
 Ikhwāniyyāt: Between Elites and Community

8 Ibn ʿAbbād as Epistolographer
 The Structure of Individual Letters in the Collection of Ibn ʿAbbād
 Sajʿ: Rhymed and Rythmic Prose
 Iqtibās: Quotations from the Qurʾān
 Erudite Allusion in Letters
 Poetic Allusion in the Letters
 Poetry into Prose: Varieties of Ḥall al-Naẓm in Ibn ʿAbbād’s Rasāʾil

9 Conclusion

Appendix 1: Translation of a Letter of Conquest
Appendix 2: A Guide to the Extant Letters of Ibn ʿAbbād
Index of Arabic Terms
Index of Proper Names


All interested in the history of Muslim statecraft, and the history of the tenth-century, and anyone interested in the office of the vizier, and the political, social and literary dimension of letters ( rasāʾil).