Colophon Lesson 19 - Dr. Dorrit van Dalen

Colophon is our word for the information written down by a scribe or copyist in the Arabic tradition at the end of a text. In its simplest form it indicates where a work ends, with a short expression of praise for God or the Prophet, and with a year in which the copy was finished, if you are lucky. The oldest colophons often give no more than this information. Considering that many texts have not been preserved entirely, and that others were (and still are) part of collective volumes, even this is more important than it may seem at first sight.

Over time colophons would give more information. Scribes began adding their own name and the place where they finished their work - always writing in the third person. Later colophons also came to include the title of the work, its author and eulogies for the author and information about the exemplar (model) from which a book was copied.

Rosemarie Quiring-Zoche notes that, remarkably, there was no term for the colophon, (khātima, the seal of the text, rather referring to a conclusion) although clear conventions developed about what a colophon should be like. The beginning of colophons is usually marked by a word meaning to finish, end, complete (for instance فرغ , كمل , تم ) From early on, the first line of it was often visually indicated by indentations on both sides of it. And since the eighth/fourteenth century the text below that line was arranged in a downward triangle with a mīm (for tamma, to end) delineating a perfect point on the bottom.

Double colophon
When a work with a colophon was copied, this first colophon could either be copied ("transferred" نُقل) with it, as part of the text, after which the copyist added his own colophon; or the "present" copyist could add to his own colophon that his exemplar had been copied by so-and-so, so that the earlier date is found later in the text.

(For further study of the details of colophons, go to Lesson 26)

About this manuscript

Title: Al-adilla al-ḥisān fī bayān tahrīm shurb al-dukhān (Valid proofs to proclaim smoking forbidden.)

Classmark: Or. 8362

Subject: Smoking tobacco

Author: Muḥammad al-Wālī b. Sulaymān b. Abī Muḥammad al-Wālī al-Fulānī al-Baghirmāwī al-Barnāwī

Copyist: See Question 1

Format: Codex

Extent: 23 ff, height 220 mm, width 160 mm. (Binding by Leiden University Libraries)

Date of creation: See Question 1

Language(s): Arabic

Script: Naskh

Plaatje pijp
Pipe for smoking tobacco, Nigeria.

This manuscript is the only surviving copy of a text against smoking tobacco by a seventeenth-century scholar, Muḥammad al-Wālī, who worked in Baghirmi and Bornu, sultanates in today’s Chad and Nigeria. Tobacco had been introduced there, as elsewhere on this side of the Atlantic, early in the seventeenth century. It provoked fierce debates everywhere, in Europe, Africa and the Middle East, in which identity, religion, law, medicine and more were all tied together. The second part of Al-adilla al-ḥisān is a direct response to a fatwa by a Mālikī shaykh from al-Azhar who condoned smoking. Al-Wālī fought it in every way he could, using fiqh and logic, but also folklore, in the first part of this work. He wrote the treatise in the second half of the seventeenth century.

The manuscript received its binding in Leiden after 1950. Originally it was unbound, but thanks to the catchwords (taʿqibāt) on the bottom of each verso side of a folio, there could be no confusion.

Further reading:
Rosemarie Quiring-Zoche, The Colophon in Arabic Manuscripts. A Phenomenon without a Name. Journal of Islamic Manuscripts 4 (2013), 49-81.
Dorrit van Dalen, 'This Filthy Plant', Islamic Africa 3, 2 (2012): 227-247.

For further study of the details of colophons, go to Lesson 26


  1. Read f 23v.
    a) Where does the colophon begin? Compare the lay-out of the colophon with what Rosemarie Quiring-Zoche noted about the lay-out of many colophons since the fourteenth century.

    b) Who was the copyist of this manuscript and when did he finish his work? How long after the original creation of the text was this? Use this tool to find the corresponding date Common Era.


  1. The colophon tells you when, but not where the copy was made. As a whole, however, the manuscript does give information about the region where it was produced. What can you say about it? Compare the script in the viewer with that of this fragment of a folktale about tobacco from al-Wālī's native region (Baghirmi, Bornu). What does this suggest about the scope of the treatise's impact?