30. The craft of book production.
Formerly, (people) were concerned with scholarly writings and (official) records. These were copied, bound, and corrected with the help of a transmission technique 204 and with accuracy. The reason for this was the importance of the (ruling) dynasty and the existence of the things that depend on sedentary culture. All that has disappeared at the present time as the result of the disappearance of the dynasties and the decrease of civilization. In Islam it had formerly reached tremendous proportions in the 'Iraq and in Spain. All of it depends on civilization, on the extent of the (ruling) dynasties, and on the demand existing in (the dynasties) 205 for it. Thus, scholarly works and writings were (formerly) numerous. People were desirous of transmitting them everywhere and at any time. They were copied and bound. The craft of book producers, thus, made its appearance. (They are the craftsmen) concerned with copying, correcting, and binding books, and with all the other matters pertaining to books and writings. The craft of book production was restricted to cities of a large civilization.
Originally, copies of scholarly works, government correspondence, letters of enfeoffment, and diplomas 206 were written on parchment especially prepared from animal skins by craftsmen, because there was great prosperity at the beginning of Islam and the works that were written were few, as we shall mention. 207 In addition, government documents and diplomas were few in number. Therefore, (the early Muslims) restricted themselves to writing on parchment. This was an expression of respect for what was to be written down, and of desire that it should be correct and accurate. The production of books and writings then developed greatly. Government documents and diplomas increased in number. There was not enough parchment for all that. Therefore, alFadl b. Yahya 208 suggested the manufacture of paper. Thus, paper was used for government documents and diplomas. Afterwards, people used paper in sheets for government and scholarly writings, and the manufacture of (paper) reached a considerable degree of excellence.
The concern of scholars and the interest of government people then concentrated on accuracy in scholarly writings and the establishment of their correctness with the help of a chain of transmitters leading back to their writers and authors, because that is the most important element in establishing a correct and accurate (text). Statements are thus led back to those who made them, and decisions (in legal questions, fatwa) are led back to the persons who decided in accordance with them and were able to pronounce them by means of independent judgment. Wherever the correctness of a text is not established by a chain of transmitters going back to the person who wrote that particular text, the statement or decision in question cannot properly be ascribed to its (alleged author). This has been the procedure of scholars and experts in (all matters of religious knowledge) in all times, races, and regions, so much so that the usefulness of the craft connected with the transmission of traditions came to be restricted to this aspect (of the process of transmission). The main fruit of (the craft concerned with the transmission of traditions) is the knowledge of which traditions are "sound," which are "good," which "go back in an uninterrupted chain of transmitters to the Prophet" (musnad), which have a chain of transmitters that "skips the first transmitter on the authority of Muhammad" (mursal), which have a chain that "stops with one of the men of the second generation" (magtu), and which have a chain that "stops with one of the men around Muhammad" (mawquf), in order to be able to distinguish (such traditions) from spurious ones 209 This is no longer (a subject of investigation). The cream of it has been churned in the principal collections (of traditions) that have found general acceptance by all Muslims. It would, thus, be a superfluous activity to attempt (to investigate the matter anew). Therefore, the only remaining result to be gained from the process of transmission and occupation with it is that it can serve to establish a correct text of the principal collections of traditions and other books on jurisprudence used for legal decisions,210 as well as for other writings and scholarly works. (It also serves) to establish uninterrupted connection with their respective authors, so that transmission on their authority or ascription to them is sound. Both in the East and in Spain, this method has been the tried and true path. We find that the copies made in (former) times in those regions are the most exact, well done, and correct. People everywhere at this time possess old copies attesting to the perfection previously reached in this respect. The inhabitants of the various regions have handed them down (and preserved) them to the present, and they do not like to part with them.
At the present time, this method has altogether disappeared in the Maghrib and among Maghribis, because the craft of writing, accuracy, and the transmission technique were cut off there as the result of the destruction of the civilization of (the Maghrib) and its basic 211 desert attitude. The principal collections and writings were copied in Bedouin script. They were copied by Berber students in such a bad handwriting and with so much corruption and so many clerical errors that they cannot be understood. They remain incomprehensible to those who examine them critically. Only very rarely are they of any use.
Furthermore, this (situation) has caused disintegration in the field of legal decisions (fatwa). Most statements ascribed to the school authorities are not (orally) transmitted but are taken from the writings as they are found there. This has also affected the attempts of some religious leaders to write books. They know little of the technical side of (authorship) and lack the crafts necessary for realizing the purposes of (authorship). Some slight remnant of this institution has remained in Spain. It is about to disappear. (Religious) scholarship has almost completely stopped in the Maghrib.
"God has the power to execute His commands." 212
We now hear that the craft of transmission (technique) still exists in the East. The sciences and crafts are in demand there, as we shall mention later on, 213 and, therefore, those who want to, find it easy to establish the correct text of writings. However, the script for good copying surviving there is that of the non-Arabs, and found in their manuscripts.
The copying (of books) has deteriorated in Egypt as it has in the Maghrib, and even more so. "God has the power to execute His commands."