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Early Arabic Sources for the History of Islam: People

Digitized primary sources in Arabic for the study of Islamic history and civilization. Includes historical, geographical, and biographical texts.

On this page

This page is devoted to biographical dictionaries, a genre of literature that flourished in the Arabic-Islamic tradition from the very beginnings of its formation. Texts on this page are arranged in chronological order, by death date of author, given in Gregorian (CE)/Hijri (AH).

Ibn Sa'd : Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr
ابن سعد : كتاب الطبقات الكبير

A biographical dictionary of important political and religious figures in early Islam by Ibn Sa'd (d. 845/230), arranged according to generation, documenting the first centuries of Islam.

  • Leiden 1904-1940 Edition. An authoritative edition of the Arabic text, published as Kitāb al-Ṭabaqāt al-kabīr [Biographien Muhammeds, seiner Gefährten und der Späteren Träger des Islams]. Ed. Eduard Sachau et al. 16 parts in 9 vols. Leiden: Brill, 1904-1940. 

Volume 1, Part 1 -- Muhammad's Life up to the Hijra 

Volume 1, Part 2 -- Muhammad's Life in Medina

Volume 2, Part 1 -- Muhammad's Campaigns

Volume 2, Part 2 -- Muhammad's Last Days and Death

Volume 3, Parts 1 and 2 -- Muhammad's Companions in the Battle of Badr

Volume 4, Parts 1 and 2 -- Pt 1: The Muhajirun and Ansar; Pt 2: Willing Converts to Islam

Volume 5  -- Muhammad's Successors and Companions in Medina and Arabia

Volume 6  -- The Kufans

Volume 7, Parts 1 and 2  -- The Basrans and Hadith Folk in Other Lands

Volume 8 -- Biographies of Women

Volume 9, Part 1  -- Index of Persons

Volume 9, Part 2  -- Indices of Places, Tribes, Hadith, Poetry, and Qur'an Verses

Jumaḥī : Ṭabaqāt al-Shu‘arā’
الجمحي : طبقات الشعراء

A biographical dictionary of Arabic poets by Iraqi poet and hadith scholar Abū ‘Abd-Allāh Muḥammad ibn Sallām al-Jumaḥī (d. 845-846/231-232). The preferred edition of the text is the Cairo 1973-1974 edition edited by Maḥmūd Muḥammad Shākir (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Leiden 1916 Edition. A good early edition of the Arabic text. Published as Ṭabaqāt al-Shu‘arā’ [Die Klassen der Dichter]. Leiden: Brill, 1916. NOTE: Because of the problematic nature of the source text itself, this edition should be consulted with the introduction to the Cairo edition mentioned above. 

Complete Book

Iṣfahānī : Kitāb al-Aghānī
اصفهاني : كتاب الاغاني

An unfinished masterpiece of cultural history documenting the lives of singers, songwriters, poets and their milieu from pre-Islamic times up to the Abbasid period by Abū al-Faraj ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Iṣfahānī (d. after 971/360 AH). Arranged according to lists of favorite songs. The preferred critical edition was published by Maṭbaʻat Dār al-Kutub al-Miṣriyya from 1927-1974. (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Cairo 1905 Edition. This edition is a reprint of the original standard edition published at Būlāq, Cairo in 1285 [1868] with some amendments and missing information. It is still used. Published as Kitāb al-Aghānī. Ed. Aḥmad al-Shinqīṭī. 21 vols. Cairo: Maṭba‘at al-taqaddum, 1905. The indices to the original 1868 edition by Ignazio Guidi (Leiden ,1900) were updated and translated to Arabic as Fihrist al-Aghānī. Trans. and ed. Muḥammad Mas‘ūd. Cairo: Maṭba‘at al-Jumhūr, 1905

Volumes 1-21 (Hathi Trust)

Index Vol. 1 (Internet Archive) -- Poets' Names, End Rhymes, and People's names from letter alif through zaay

Index Vol. 2 (Internet Archive) -- People's Names from letter sin through waw, Geographical index

  • Beirut 1955-1964 Edition. This edition expands on the work that came before but is marred by a number of printing errors (Source: Kilpatrick, Making the Great Book of Songs). Published as Kitāb al-Aghānī. Ed. ‘Abd-Allāh al-‘Alā’ilī et al. 25 vols. Beirut: Dār al-Thaqāfa, 1955-1964. NOTE: Only volumes 1-23 available online).

Volume 1  *For vols. 2-23 click "View Related Titles" at top of left sidebar

Ibn ‘Asākir : Ta’rīkh Madīnat Dimashq
ابن عساكر : تاريخ مدينة دمشق

A biographical dictionary of notable people who lived in and around Damascus by Damascene scholar Thiqat al-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim ‘Alī ibn Abī Muḥammad, known by his family name Ibn al-‘Asākir (d. 1176/571 AH). Arranged alphabetically. The preferred version of this text is the edition published in 80 vols. by Dār Fikr, Beirut from 1995–2001 (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Damascus 1911-1932 Edition. Published as Al-Tārīkh al-kabīr. Ed. ‘Abd al-Qādir Badrān. 7 vols. Damascus: Maṭba‘at Rawḍat al-Shām, 1911-1932. This edition only covers the entries up to the letter ‘ayn.

Volume 1 (Arabic Collections Online) 

Volume 2 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 3 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 4 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 5 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 6 (Arabic Collections Online)

Volume 7 (Arabic Collections Online) 

Ibn al-Anbārī : Nuzhat al-alibbā’ fī ṭabaqāt al-udabā’
ابن الانباري : نزهة الالبّاء في طبقات الادباء

A biographical dictionary of literary figures by Baghdadi historian and philologist ‘Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Anbārī (d. 1181/577 AH).

  • Baghdad 1970 Edition. Authoritative edition of the Arabic text published as Nuzhat al-alibbāʼ fī ṭabaqāt al-udabāʼ. Ed. Ibrāhīm al-Sāmarrāʼī. Baghdad: Maktabat al-Andalus [1970]. 

Complete Book (Arabic Collections Online)

Ibn Khallikān : Wafayāt al-a‘yān
ابن خلكان : وفيات الاعيان

A biographical dictionary giving information on the lives of important figures in Islamic history, arranged alphabetically by name. The author, Ibn Khallikān (d. 1282/681 AH), was born in Irbil, Iraq, but lived and worked in Damascus and Cairo under the Mamluks. The preferred edition of this work is that edited by Iḥsān ‘Abbās and published by Dār Ṣādir, Beirut, 1968-1972 (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Cairo 1882 Edition. Early printing of the Arabic text. 2 vols. Cairo: Maṭba‘at al-Bulāq, 1882. Can be used in a pinch.

Complete Book (Hathi Trust)

  • English Translation (1843-1871). Translated by Baron William Mac Guckin de Slane as Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary. 4 vols. Paris: 1843-1871.  

Complete Book (Hathi Trust)

Dhahabī : Ta’rīkh al-Islām
الذهبي : تاريخ الاسلام

A work combining historical chronicle and biography, giving the history of a decade first and then a number of obituaries of famous persons who died during that decade at the end of the section. By Shams al-Dīn Abū ‘Abd-Allāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Uthmān al-Dhahabī (d. 1348/748 AH or 1352-3/753 AH). The standard scholarly edition of this text is edited ‘Umar Tadmurī, and published by Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, Beirut, 1988-2003  (Find a Copy on Worldcat).

  • Cairo 1947-1950 Edition: An incomplete edition of the Arabic text based on a manuscripts in the Dar al-Kutub of Egypt and in Cambridge to the year 160 AH (776-777 CE) is available in digital form. Published as Tārīkh al-Islām wa-ṭabaqāt al-mashāhir wa’l-a‘lām. Cairo: Maktabat al-Qudsi, 1367-1369 [1947-1950]. 

Volume 1 (Arabic Collections Online) *For vols. 2-6 click "View Related Titles" at top of left sidebar

Ṣafadī : al-Wāfī bi’l-wafiyāt
صفدي : الوافي بالوفيات

Biographical dictionary of historical figures up to the lifetime of the author, Salāḥ al-Dīn Khalīl ibn Aybak al-Ṣafadī (d. 1363/764 AH). Organized alphabetically by name.

  • Istanbul and Wiesbaden 1931-2003 Edition. An authoritative edition of the Arabic text was spearheaded by Helmut Ritter for the Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft in 1931. Since the publication of the first volume, 30 volumes have appeared edited by various scholars. Published as Kitāb al-Wāfī bi’l-wafayāt. Ed. Helumut Ritter, Sven Dedering et al. 30 vols. Istanbul: Maṭba‘at al-Dawla for the DMG, 1931-2003 (Since 1962, Wiesbaden: F. Steiner for the DMG).

Volume 1 (Arabic Collections Online) *For vols. 2-30, click "View Related Titles" at top of left sidebar

Sakhāwī : Al-Ḍaw’ al-Lāmi’
السخاوي : الضوء اللامع قي اعيان القرن التاسع

Encyclopedic biographical dictionary of the ninth hijri century (fifteenth CE) by Shams al-Din Abū al-Khayr Muḥmmad ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sakhāwī (d. 1497/902 AH).

  • Cairo 1934-1936 Edition. Authoritative edition of the Arabic text. Published as al-Ḍaw’ al-lāmi’ fī ahl al-qarn al-tāsi’. Ed. Ḥusām al-Dīn al-Qudsī. 12 vols. Cairo: Maktabat al-Qudsī, 1353-1355 [1934-1936]. Available through Arabic Collections Online.

Volumes 1-2 (Arabic Collections Online) *For vols. 3-12, click "View Related Titles" at top of left sidebar

A Modern Biographical Dictionary

In the early twentieth century, the historian and literary scholar Khayr al-Dīn Ziriklī (d. 1976) compiled a broad survey of Arabic authors and their works titled al-A‘lām. This work is a valuable tool for brief, modern biographies of individuals that can serve as a supplement for larger modern sources like Encyclopedia of Islam or Fuat Sezgin’s Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums. The first edition of the book (3 vols., Cairo: al-Maṭba‘a al-‘Arabiyya, 1927-1928) has been digitized and is available on Arabic Collections Online:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3