Mu’taman Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ibn Al-‘Assal


Apparently the third and youngest brother of al-As‘ad Abu al-Faraj Hibat-Allah ibn al-‘Assal, the second being al-Safi Abu al Fadail ibn al-‘Assal (Safi al-Dawlah). He lived in the first half of the thirteenth century, though no precise date could be assigned to him from the sources.

Mallon (1907) ascribes to him two works that appear under al- As‘ad in Kahhala’s dictionary based on Cheikho’s catalog of Christian Arabic manuscripts. They are Majmu Usul al- wa- Masmu‘ Mahsal al-Yaqin (Records of Foundations of Religion), and Al-Tabsirah al-Mukhtasarah (Abridged Contemplation).

Other works by Abu quoted by Mallon include Adab al- Kanisah (ecclesiastical usages) and Khutab al-A‘yad al-Sayyidiyyah (festal homilies).

But his major and enduring contribution lies in the field of philological studies, specifically his famous scala under the Arabic title Al-Sullam al-Muqaffa wa-al-Dhahab al-Musaffa. Several attempts were made before Abu to present a lexical compilation of Coptic vocabulary into Arabic, but most of them were confused and hardly usable except perhaps the work of Anba Yu’annis, bishop of Samannud, who made his selection from works, the Gospels, and Theotokia. Abu used the work of Anba Yu’annis and improved on it by filling lacunae and by alphabetizing entries.

He also profited from the knowledge of eminent contemporaries, notably the priest Abu-al-‘Izz Mukhallis, al-Wajih Yuhanna of Qalyub, and the shaykh al-Tuqa ibn al-Dahiri. For the first time, it could be said that a definitive and reliable Coptic sullam was achieved; this was the text that Kircher presented in his famous Lingua Aegyptiaca Restituta.

Apart from the three Awlad al-‘Assal already cited in this article, two others are worthy of mention. One was their father, Abu al-Fadl ibn ibn Abi Sahl ibn Abi Yusr Yuhanna ibn al-‘Assal, known as Fakr al-Dawlah (al-Katib al-Misri, the Egyptian scribe). The other personality is that of al-Amjad Abu ibn al-‘Assal, a Ayyubid functionary who lacked the literary glamor of the three older brothers, but who served as the eminent financier of the distinguished family.


  • Kircher, A. Lingua Aegyptiaca Restituta. Rome, 1648.
  • Mallon, A. de la Faculté Orientale, Vol. 2, pp. 260-63. Beirut, 1907.
  • ‘Umar Rida Kahhalah. Mu’jam al-Mu’allifin, 15 vols. Damascus, 1957-1961.