Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahim
Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahim
Traveling Scholar . Ahmad ibn ‘Abd al-Rahim, known as Ibn al-lraqi, was born in Cairo in 1360 into a prominent intellectual family. His father, also known as Ibn al-’Iraqi, took an early hand in his son’s education and, before the boy was three years of age, took him before some of the best-known teachers in Cairo. At age three, Ahmad made his first journey of “learning” with his father, traveling to Damascus and Jerusalem, where he visited the leading scholars and hadith transmitters of the time, hearing their lessons and hadiths firsthand. Although it seems doubtful that he would remember much of anything from these encounters, his father was able to secure ijazahs that later gave his son the distinction of having connections to a previous generation of transmitters. Ahmad’s education in Cairo focused on law, grammar, and hadiths, and he received fellowships in several different madrasahs. He undertook at least two more study tours as a youth, traveling with his father to Makkah and Madinah to study hadiths and stopping on the return journey in Syria to hear hadiths again from the next generation of transmitters.
Teacher . While still in his twenties, Ahmad assumed his father’s teaching posts in several Cairo madrasahs after his father was appointed a judge in Makkah and “inherited” the posts permanently on the death of his father. As Ahmad became known as an important legal scholar and transmitter of hadiths, the number of those who studied with him increased dramatically. In fact, there were few top students from any Islamic school of law who had not studied with him. He also was appointed a judge in an Islamic court. In 1422 he resigned his judgeship and outside teaching posts, retiring to his house where he taught and wrote until he died a year later.
A Typical Scholar . Many elements of Ahmad’s life seem typical for a prominent scholar, including the care that was taken with his education under the watchful eye of his father, who then passed on his teaching posts to his son. His scholarly career was further fostered by his connections to and contacts with other prominent intellectuals, who provided him with the certificates as well as substantive learning. Ultimately, however, Ahmad’s success as a teacher and scholar was based on his own reputation and his ability to attract students.
Jonathan Berkey, The Transmission of Knowledge in Medieval Cairo (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).