AL-NUSHU’ ABU SHAKIR IBN AL-RAHIB (ca. 1210-ca. 1290).
Encyclopedist, historian, theologian, scholar of Coptic. The Coptic polymath Nushu’ al-Khilafa Abu Shakir, known as Ibn al-Rahib (“Son of the Monk”), was the son of al-Shaykh al-Sana’ Abu al-Majd, a high-ranking civil servant who became a monk and who provided leadership to the Coptic Orthodox Church during the two-decade interregnum between the patriarchates of John VI (74th, 1189-1216) and Cyril III ibn Laqlaq (75th, 1235-1243). Ibn al-Rahib was a civil servant like his father, but remained a layman (although a deacon at the Mo‘allaqa Church in Old Cairo). The ongoing research of Adel Sidarus (see the bibliography) is revealing the breadth, creativity, and impact of Ibn al-Rahib’s scholarship, which may especially be seen in four major works composed between 1257 and 1271, perhaps after being dismissed from government service (under the Mamluks).
His Kitab al-Tawarikh (Chronology) deals at length with astronomical and chronological matters before turning to world and ecclesiastical history; it was used by later Christian (Coptic and Ethiopian) and Muslim scholars. In the area of linguistics, Ibn al-Rahib compiled a (now lost) Coptic-Arabic lexicon that apparently surpassed previous attempts both in the range of vocabulary included and in its systematic presentation; it was prefaced by a highly original (and extant) introduction to Coptic grammar.
His Kitab al-Shifa-fi kashf ma-statara min lahut al-Masih wa-khtafa (The Book of Healing: Of What Is Veiled and Hidden of Christ’s Divinity, Revealing) is an exegetical florilegium that preserves patristic and medieval Arabic commentary on biblical passages of Christological importance, while the encyclopedic Kitab al-Burhan (The Book of the Demonstration) deals with a wide range of theological, moral, and liturgical issues in its 50 “questions” or chapters.
Ibn al-Rahib’s intellectual openness is everywhere evident: Kitab al-Shifa quotes freely from the great 11th-century scholar of the (Nestorian) Church of the East, Abu al-Faraj ‘Abdallah ibn al-Tayyib, while the treatment of theodicy in Kitab al-Burhan is conversant with the well-known Muslim mutakallim Fakhr al-Din al-Razi.