This presentation was published in May 25, 1936 to announce the appearance of the first volume of the work
Did the Moroccan spirit produce, since the advent of Islam, an intellectual legacy likely to perpetuate its past and enable our country to mention on its history's register the course of its political, social and cultural evolution? Did it leave traces of the levels it reached in other fields of knowledge that the majority of the civilized nations take care of in order to document and emphasize the key moments of their historical process, as a sign that they attacha great importance to their most projecting aspects?
It is natural that the answer to these two questions can surely be positive. One needs only to throw a rapid glance in the National Bibliothek to realize that its shelters abound in works which testify that the past of these countries is extremely fertile of men as well as of events and currents of thoughts. Their past is also fertile in all fields of research which keep the spirit constantly worried and in perpetual movement. But this positive answer will remain dependant on a tangible argument to persuade those who did not have the opportunity to visit this bibliothek.
The printing works, which is the most effective tool of the modern civilization, did not show much interest for the past of Morocco, to substract it from those places where the books are piled up the ones on the others in order to make it available for those who are avid to learn and do not know how to get access to certain documents. This is a problem of great perplexity for them, as they remain in front of the questions we have started this article with, and to which some intellectuals do not hesitate to give negative answers.
Science has lost its elitist character. It is not any more the prerogative of some privileged people. It is nowadays coveted by the popular masses as a whole. Knowledge becomes thus a common good. Each person is allowed to take advantage of the right of culture and education. Each individual has now the possibility to get informed about the past of his country, so that he can express his ideas whithout fear to endure the attacks of the privileged happy few who think that science is a private hunting ground reserved for them and does not offer any access possibility to the others who must remain beyond the limits of their sphere. Science is from now on accessible to all and treats everybody, rich and poor, exactly alike. Its doors are now open in front of all the spirits avid for knowledge.
The rising generations have thus the duty to prepare themselves for the rediscovery of their country's past. A real scientific study of the history of Morocco is not an easy matter to achieve; it is much more difficult of access than to take part an adventurous voyage to discover unexplored areas in the close Sahara. The young people are the children of this country. It is up to them to give the proof of the necessary ability of their power of penetration so that to raise the veil on this prestigious past, whose history is depository of unsuspected wonders kept hidden since times immemorial in the private and public bibliotheks as well in Morocco as in the western world.
It is our duty to publish these treasures laid down asleep under the cobwebs, in order to facilitate the task to the researchers and enable them to subject the past of Morocco to the criteria of objective criticism, to clean it and remove it from the rust which ended up covering it with the flow of time. Our youth must display great initiative in publishing such books. It is their duty since they know a great deal about the history of other nations and are totally unaware of that of their own country.
The rising generations realize how immense is the effort provided by the intellectual classes of these nations to revivify, develop and preserve the memory of their country. Thanks to a great perseverance in the effort, these intellectual classes could reconstitute the history of their nation with great eclat by riding it from all the spines drawn up between the present and the past, reinforcing the bonds between the ancient generations and the present ones.
If a small minority among our young people followed the way traced by the intellectual classes of the other nations, it would achieve a national duty, encourage other intellectuals to do the same, but in the condition of accomodating with serenity the critiques that well informed advisers could make to them in their first steps in this field , knowing that such a criticism aims to keep their work in constant progress if necessary.
The majority of the old authors, in the east as in the west, are more interested in the political aspect of the nations' life than in any other aspect. Most of their publications recorded only the political events, the fatal wars and the destructive revolutions. As for the social aspect, in its peaceful finality, its hardly perceptible evolution and its tendencies which are at the origin of the great upheavals, the ancient authors seldom granted it the interest as required by the modern scientific research and contemporary historical methodologies.
What emerges more when we carry out a research in an old publication is a tiresome enumeration of the succeeding governments, an avalanch of disorders and odd historical quirks in the life of the nation that are not explicable for the human being who asks himself a lot of questions on their subject to penetrate the secrets of the ebbs and flows in his nation's history. But, he does not find anybody to answer his call, except some essays which have been nowadays undertaken by a class of careful researchers. But to arrive at this stage, we need to carry out the publication of our works so that our fellow citizens may have access to them.
The book I am intending to present to you does not contain an exhaustive biography of the sovereigns and princes who successively reigned over the country, or a major study of the dynasties which succeeded to one another to the Moroccan throne. It is, like the majority of the old works, a repertory including a long enumeration presented by Ibn Abi Zaraa, but with all the probity of the meticulous historian. It is now up to us to extract from this old work the maximum of teachings and to separate the seed from the ryegrass.
It won't last long until the research would lead to a complete study of all his writings and to a subjection of their slightest details to a scientific analysis which does not leave room for any doubt. At that point, we would see that our author was right and we would recognize the importance of his contribution to the historical culture. We would also see during the research process how it is possible to deduce a series of events and divergent opinions between Ibn Abi Zaraa and his contemporaries, The person in charge of this edition has surely succeeded in carrying out a part of this orientation. which he largely confirmed by the commentaries he made on the margin of almost all the topics which required an explanation or a warning,
Ibn Abi Zaraa published this book under the summarized title "Al qirtas" which means "Cahiers/Notebooks". under the Merinid era, considered as the golden age during which the scientific, literary and artistic movements opened out and gave their fruits which did not last to come to maturity. He was not, so far this judgement is trustful, a scientist in linguistics, but he could gather several essays in the same work and has thus rendered an immense service to our history since the majority of his essays disappeared after having been printed separately in various publications.
His style of writing is very unequal. Certain paragraphs are written in an elegant and distinguished style, others in a rather improvised manner of writing, of unstable balance and feverish construction, using cantilever expressions which distance them from the purity of the traditional style. He mentioned in his work that the books of reference on which he had been founded to conclude his research tasks are the historical handbooks whose credibility did not suffer any doubt, the accounts of the historians, the conservatives and the writers as well as all what he could notice here and there while listening to the most plausible tales of the narrators and the credible witnesses.
It is highly regrettable that there is nowhere any trace of the other works to which the author of "Al qirtas" frequently returns the reader. Ibn Abi Zaraa has entitled these works "The flowery anecdotes garden of the remote past and questions of the course of events at the universal scale". It seems that this work embraced the events worldwide or, more exactly, on the level of the Islamic nations, not including the Moroccan empire, But, who knows? This unvaluable work is perhaps vegetating in a corner of a private bibliothek in Morocco, and the housemaster has no idea of its real value.
It is remarkable to note that the majority of the works which abound in unimportant characters do not quote the biography of this great historian. The only books where he is mentioned let us learn that he was a notary in Fes, but they were mistaken in the restitution of his real name, the ones calling him Abou Mohamed Salah Ibn Abdelhalim of Grenade, and others Ibn Abi Zaraa of Fes. We do not know which of these two names is the real one. If the books devoted to biographies could throw a certain lightning on the life and the work of the author, we would be in a position to define his personality and much better appreciate the forces and the weaknesses of his work.
But the imperfection of his style does not prevent us from appreciating the work at ita real value which was at the origin of its celebrity as well in the Moroccan milieus since it was published for the first time until now, as in the orientalist milieus who are interested in the Moroccan and Andalusian history since two and a half centuries. The publication is a mine of historical informations, and deserves a detailed study. It is an obliged reference for almost all the manuals of Moroccan history,
The book starts with the first Moslem dynasty which settled in Morocco and founded the monarchy in this country: the dynasty of the Idrissids. The monarchical system was preserved by all the dynasties which succeeded to one another during more than a millenium. These dynasties were considered as forming an integral part of North Africa and contributed to reinforce the bases of the Moroccan state whose sovereignty was extended eastward to the border of Egypt and northward to Andalusia; and later, when it lost its influence, it returned to the initial borders of the Kingdom of Morocco such as they are presented to-day.
The author did not approach the history of Morocco when the country was ruled by a governor of the Khalifat of Damas or Baghdad. He began his study with the advent of the Idrissid dynasty. Then, he moved to the era of Maghraouas and Bani Yafran. He detailed somewhat the Almoravid dynasty and described with even more details the era of the Almohads. He finished his work with the Merinid dynasty, in the shade of which he lived, and granted its history with a wealth of details and a precision which indicate a great control of the historical facts and a major knowledge of the psychology of the men who were the protagonists of all the related events.
The style of the author was not that of a chronicler like the majority of the Moslem authors who had preceded him. His method was to render a full account of the succeeding States history.
His research initially took him back to the founder of the Idrissid dynasty. He traced his biography, analyzed the circumstances which contributed to the failure of the preceding dynasty and allowed him to seize the power and to keep it as a lifelong monarch, unless he is dethroned or abdicates according to his free will. He reviewed the kings who succeeded to one another, delivered a great deal of informations on each one of them, wrote their biography and described their activities and moral qualities, without forgetting their ministers, secretaries, judges and doctors. He finished the book with Abou Saad Othman Al Marini who reigned from 710 to 731 of the Hegira (A.D. 1310 - 1330). He gave lots of details on the events which marked the year 726 H (A.D. 1326).
The work embraces five centuries and a half of the history of Morocco. The author did not neglect the obituary of the most famous personalities which lived under such or such dynasty. He also gave an outline on their biography and mentioned some of their activities or publications. Then, he approached the history of the social facts which enabled us to extrapolate the causes of the most significant political evolutions.
"Alqirtas" was regarded as the bedside's book of the historians of Morocco. It was the reference work on which they relied to check the events of the past. Some reproduced large extracts of it. It was taught to the students of the University of Fes. But we do not know with precision when the European orientalists took note of it.
All what we know is that it was translated for the first time into French by Betis de Lacroix on November 28, 1693. A second translation in German was carried out at the end of the eighteenth century by the Austrian Frantz von Dombou in the city of "Zograbiae". A Portuguese translation with many comments, made by Erjoze de Santo Antonio, was published in Lisbon in 1828. The part of the work devoted to Andalusia was translated into Spanish by Conde.
In 1834, the Swedish orientalist G. Tornberg has published a part of the work; and between 1843 and 1846, he published the integral text together with a latin translation and many comments in 4 volumes. He specified in his foreword that he consulted for this edition and the translation of the work 9 manuscripts of the book and that he had the worst difficulties in deciphering a certain number of illegible passages in the original text which contains, moreover, several errors, in particular with regard to the names of the great men and the symbols which are frequently quoted in the book.
The manuscripts on which the Swedish orientalist based his researches are to be found in the following European bibliotheks:
The first manuscript is conserved in the library of Uppsala in Sweden. It was established in 908 of the Hegira (A.D. 1502). According to the copyist, it would have been written by Ahmed Ben Hassan El Jazouli, then by Al Afrani of Timbuctu.
The second manuscript is to be seen in Warsaw and carries the title "Books on the wonders of Fes".
The 3rd manuscript is deposited in the bibliothek of Leyden's University in the Netherlands. Its transcription was achieved in 989 of the Hegira (A.D. 1581).
The 4th manuscript is to be found in the National Bibliothek in Paris. Its transcription by Moussa Jbari for the account of Zacharia Ben Abou Bakr was completed in 971 of the Hegira (A.D. 1563).
The 5th manuscript is in a private bibliothek in Paris
the 6th manuscript - summary of the work - was established by Issa Ibn Abderrahman El Hajji. Its transcription was completed in 975 of the Hegira (A.D. 1567).
The 7th manuscript is deposited in the bibliothek of Oxford University, bearing on its back the title "Books relating to the history of the town of Fes - Summary of the charming company of the news of Morocco".
The 8th manuscript is also in Oxford. The editor presents the document in these terms: "the learned scientist and credible historian Abou Al Hassan Ibn Abdallah Ibn Abou Zaraa of Fes, city where he lived and his eternal residence".
In 1860, it was retranslated into French by Baumier, Vice General Consul of France in Rabat-Sale.
As for Morocco, the work was printed there in 4 issues in the lithographic workshops of Fes, introduced by a foreword of 10 pages. The first impression in lithography goes back to the year 1303 of the Hegira (A.D. 1885).