Lecture marks in a legal manual Lesson 8 - Dr. Dorrit van Dalen

In the manuscript age, writers and readers had to develop particular techniques to make the content of books accessible. Pre-modern Arabic books could be truly enormous, some numbering dozens of volumes, no books had indexes, only few were equipped with tables of contents, and since Arabic has no paragraphing or punctuation, pages appear as contiguous blocks of text which make scanning for information difficult.

To structure texts, the authors of classical Arabic books could divide them into abwāb and fuṣūl: chapters and sections. To enable readers to navigate the text, scribes and copyists designed the text layout, using coloured ink or larger characters for headings of the chapters, sections and keywords, and they also added other marks, ornaments and page-markers. Finally, readers also marked places in a text for their own use. They could do so in between lines or in the margin. Between these three hands, the information within texts could be visually represented and key information highlighted for ease of future reference.

Qif zonder text

This symbol was often used in the margin or to overline words the reader wished to emphasize or be able to locate quickly when picking up the codex. It is thought to represent the word قف “stop”, which is short for قف وتعمله “stop and consider this” or “nota bene”. (See also the manuscript of Ibn Sīna’s Qanūn fī’l-ṭibb in lesson 16, where readers used this way of overlining extensively.)

Sometimes, however, the word قف was used in a slightly different way.

About this manuscript

Title: al-Mukhtaṣar fī’l-fiqh

Classmark: Or. 14.078

Subject: jurisprudence (fiqh)

Author: Khalīl ibn Ishāq al-Jundi (d. 776/1374)

Copyist: Various anonymi

Format: Codex

Extent: 143 folia; 105 x 75 mm

Date of creation: 1123 AH/ 1711 CE (Tuesday, after the afternoon prayer on 29 shaʿbān 1123)

Language(s): Arabic

Script: Maghribi

Ever since the fifteenth century "Khalīl's" Mukhtaṣar fī’l-fiqh has been the most authoritative abridgement of Maliki law in Islamic Africa. It starts with six chapters on religious law and continues with fiftyfive chapters on civil law, regarding for instance marriage and divorce, war, defamation, legacies, trade or partnership. The text is very concise and therefore not always unambiguous. Nevertheless, the Mukhtaṣar was and is the handbook for African qāḍī's. It is also one of the core texts taught to advanced students of law. A shaykh would read aloud a portion to students, and then explain it in the local language - or in Arabic for the most advanced students, and after his explanations, he would continue to the next section. For each portion the teacher would also discuss some of the numerous comments that were written about Khalīl’s Mukhtaṣar.

Sardien kiep

This copy shows that the physical codex was both designed and used as a handbook. First of all, it is very small, slightly smaller even than a tin of sardines. Together with its leather envelope (see lesson 7), it weighs less than 150 grams and easily fits in a pocket – the pocket of a qāḍī’s garment. The handwriting of the principal copyists is tiny, but even and remarkably clear. The leather cover testifies of the book’s intensive use. In the middle, where it was once adorned by a blind-tooled medaillon or mandorla, it is worn by generations of thumbs.

The table of contents is given on the first leaves, in a tabular format with each section of the book, written in oblique writing in each cell (see lesson 22). The original first part of the index must have been lost, and it was replaced on the verso side of a new leaf (f 1v), with a slightly broader pen.

This codex was made by several copyists. Not only the handwriting of various parts is different, but also the style of marking chapters and sections. In the margins we find a modest number of notes of various kinds. Many of them were written by one of the copyists himself, that is not by a reader. On f 3r for instance, where the author asks God’s blessing for anyone who may copy or teach or study his book, the copyist has added words in the margin he accidentally forgot in the main text. These words التضرع الخشوع وخطاب التذلل والخضوع are placed at a right angle to the lines of the main text, beginning exactly after the word bi-lisān which they specify. (The author asks “in a tone of supplication and humility, in submission and with respect” that his work may find approval.) Two symbols for “correct” (صح , ṣaḥḥ) confirm that the omission has thus been repaired.

A note on f 3v is not a correction but a reference to the opinion of a certain shaykh al-Tijanī about the reading of the word مصطكى

Just like other copies of the text, this one is divided in abwāb and fuṣūl. The words bāb (chapter) and faṣl (lesson, section) are written in red or green ink and are slightly larger than the rest of the text.

In the margins of this codex we also find the word qif, stop, for “stop and consider this” or “nota bene”. Here they serve as a specific type of reading mark, or rather as lecture marks: they mark the portion of the text a scholar would discuss in a single lecture for his students.

The numerals (also in the index) are Ghubār numerals which were used in North Africa. (see Gacek 2009, 112)

More about this manuscript: lesson 7, Damage and protection.

Further reading:
A printed version of the Mukhtaṣar: Khalīl b, Ishāq, Mukhtaṣar fī’l-fiqh ʿalā maḏhab al-imām Mālik b. Anas al-Aṣbaḥī. Paris, 1900.
About overlining and "qif": Adam Gacek, Arabic Manuscripts. A Vademecum for Readers. Brill, 2009.


  1. Leaf through the manuscript. What do the “stop” marks reveal about the user(s) or owner(s)?


  1. Had the first page been preserved, where consecutive owners may have written their names and dates of acquisition, it might have been possible to know how long this codex has been used by jurisconsults. Now we can only guess, based on the number of people who have been involved with it. How many different individuals have worked on or with this codex, as copyist, annotator or engaged reader? On what page(s) does a new copyist take over writing the main text?

  2. How do we know that, in this particular manuscript, the qif-signs are lecture marks? Clue: note that they are numbered throughout the booklet, and read the marginal note adjacent to the colophon.