Jurist and writer
Biographer . Ibn Khallikan was the author of one of the best-known Arabic biographical dictionaries, an important source of information on notable Muslims who are not mentioned in other collections. The book also includes much interesting information about Muslim life during the medieval period.
Early Life . Ibn Khallikan was born in 1211 to a prominent family in Irbil, Iraq. His father was a teacher at the local college, where Ibn Khallikan’s studies began, and he traveled during the course of his education to Mosul, Aleppo, and Damascus. He made the acquaintance of several important Muslim historians, including Ibn al-Athir, and served for several years as deputy to the head judge of Egypt.
Career . In 1261 the Mamluk sultan Baybars appointed Ibn Khallikan the head judge of Damascus, where he administered justice over the whole of Syria. He lost this post in 1266 during a reorganization of the office but was called back by Baybars’s successor and received with great honor, only to be dismissed again during a revolt, recalled again, and dismissed for a third time. Despite his political ups and downs, Ibn Khallikan gained a reputation as a just man who was knowledgeable about the law. In his writings, he displayed a sharp mind and acute observation of character. As a sociable and witty personality, he was well suited to collecting information on well-known people in Islamic history. His biographical dictionary, Waf ayat al-ayan wa anba abna al-zaman, is arranged alphabetically. It omits the Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet), the hadith transmitters, and the khalifahs—all of whom were covered elsewhere—and included scientists, philosophers, and other figures of the past, as well as some of his own contemporaries. His information is considered invaluable, because he relied on sources that have been lost or not published and included people who are not mentioned elsewhere in other biographical dictionaries. He began his book in 1256 at Cairo and completed there in 1274, after much editing and re-arranging. He died at Damascus in 1284.
J. W. Fuch, “Ibn Khallikan,” in Encyclopedia of Islam, CD-ROM version (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Ibn Khallikan, Biographical Dictionary, 4 volumes, translated by Bn Mac Guckin de Slane (Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, 1843-1871).