Bukhara History - Part 8

Science and Culture in the Samanid period

Many advantages attracted scientists and artisans to Bukhara: its privileged status as the capital, a rich and gorgeous royal court, the large number of high officials who patronized art and science - as the Samanid emirs did. Bukhara of the Samanid period was rightly considered to be an "abode of glory, a meeting place for eminent people of the epoch". Dozens of poets who wrote in Arabic enhanced the creative life of Bukhara in the reign of the Samanids. Accomplishments in Tadjik-Persian poetry are associated with the great Rudaki, who enjoyed the patronage and bounties of the Samanid vazir Balami. Rudaki was the best but not the only poet in Bukhara who wrote verses in Persian.

Among the numerous scholars who lived in the Samanid capital, the most eminent one was Abu Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna), a great physician and philosopher, a native of a village near Bukhara.

In the epoch of the Samanids, studies were published to illuminate the past of Bukhara. Some of them were lost, perhaps, for ever. Fortunately, History of Bukhara has survived. This book was written for the Samanid Mukh ibn Mansur (943-954) by the native of Narshakhi, Abu Bakr Mohammed ibn Djafar Narshakhi. This work enjoyed great popularity and was reprinted, added to, and rewritten many times (up to the nineteenth century). In 963 Mukhammad Balami, vizir of Abdulmalik ibn Nukh wrote his voluminous universal history, rewritten later by the Arabian-speaking author, Tabari. There is important data in the Bala-mi's book, which the edition of the Tabari's work does not contain.

Another vizir of the Samanid dynasty, Mukhammad Djaykhani, who ruled the state during the childhood of Nasr ibn Akhmad, left us works on all the sciences. He is famous mostly as the author of a work on geography which was, according to a saying of his contemporary Masudi, "the book that describes the world and contains stories about the world with its rarities, cities, capitals, seas, rivers, peoples, their dwellings, and also other amazing and interesting stories." Regrettably, this work did not survive.

As one can see from all of the above, the state high officials were not merely patrons of science and art, but participated themselves in creative life of Bukhara. Bukhara comprised scholars and literati from all over the Samanid state as well as from other countries. Mohammed ibn Salikh al-Kakhtani, lawyer and expert in khadises ( tales about actions and sayings of Mukhammad the Prophet), left his native country (Spain) and travelled much around many countries, discontent with the knowledge he has got in Egypt, Mecca, Syria, Iraq, Khamadan, Isphahan, Hishapur and Merv. Finally, his craving for knowledge led him to Samarkand, and from there to Bukhara where he settled until his death in the late tenth century.

Perhaps, it was in this city that Mukhammad al-Kakhtani found such a concentration of knowledge about Islam like nowhere else in the world.

Under the Samanids, Bukhara appeared to be the center of religious sciences and a glorious pillar of Islam. It was the city where Mukhammad ibn Ismail al-Bukhari was born. He was a famous ninth century expert in khadises who glorified the very name of Bukhara all over the Islamic world. Many Samanids paid their due to studies of khadises: from Ismail. Akhmad himself to his father and grandfather; and also their officials, for instance, Faik28. The Samanid emirs esteemed religious authorities so highly that they were the only subjects granted the right not to kiss the ground in the face of a king. It was in Bukhara that the Fardjek Madrasah (institution of higher ecclesiastical education) was established in the tenth century. This Madrassah, destroyed by fire in 937, was the first such educational institution in the entire Islamic world.

To comprehend what Bukhara symbolized for people of that time, it is helpful to hear a fable included in a book of either the late tenth or the early eleventh centuries.

"Having lost a donkey, some citizen of Bukhara betook himself to look for his animal. So, having crossed the Djeykhun, he continued to search at every inn and bazaar all over Khorasan, Tabaristan and Iraq. On completing his difficult homecoming and fruitless roaming, he looked in his stable and, suddenly, found his lost animal". The moral of this fable is that there is no sense in wandering abroad, far from home, if goodness is near at hand. The fable is meant to apply especially to Bukhara: to abandon Bukhara in searches of either worldly profit or knowledge - or anything else - is a ridiculous action, just like to look for one's donkey at the end of the world. Interestingly, the fable was included in a book written by Abu Bakr Khamadine, who did not come from Bukhara and had not ever been to Maverannakhr or even to Central Asia as far as we know.