Taj al-Din as-Subki

The Subkis, as these notes on the lives of the different members show, were a most remarkable family. At least a dozen of them were famous for their learning and excellence of character. They held the highest civil positions of the Moslem world as head qadis of Cairo and Damascus, preachers at the great mosque in Damascus and professors of the great schools of learning in both cities. Of most lasting fame however among all the Subkis are Taqi al-Din and his son Taj al-Din, our author. Taj al-Din is perhaps second to his father as a practical scholar and teacher, but as an author he excels even his father in lasting fame, especially on account of his two famous works Jam` al-Jawami` and al-Tabakat.


The author, Taj al-Din Abu Nasr `Abd al-Wahhab al-Subki, according to Ibn Ayyub, al-Ghazzi, and Ibn Shuhba was born in Cairo. Mubarak and al-Suyuti use the indefinite term, al-Misri, the Egyptian, and Ibn Hajar omits the place of birth altogether. The native biographers also disagree in regard to the year of his birth. Ibn Ayyub, Ibn Hajar, and al-Ghazzi give the year 727 A.H., Ibn Shuhba gives the same year but remarks that “others say 728.” Mubarak and al-­Suyuti give 729 A.H. as the year of the birth of Taj al-Din. Most authorities agree, however, that he was 44 years of age when he died, and as his death occurred 771, the year 727 is most likely to be regarded as the year of his birth.

Taj al-Din received his first education in Cairo. The native biographers always put his own father in the first place as the teacher of his son. A long list of teachers with whom Taj al-Din studied at Cairo is given: Yunus al-Dabusi, `Ali Yahya ibn Yusuf al-Misri, `Abd al-Muhsin al-Sabuni, Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn `Abd al-`Aziz al-Sa`bi, Fath al-Din ibn Sayyid al-Nas, Salih ibn Muhaqar, `Abd al-Qadi ibn al-Mutuk, and the qadi `Abd al-Ghaffar al-Sa`di.

Taj al-Din, however, received his higher education in Damascus, where he followed his father in the year 739 A.H., being then a boy of some 12 years of age. In Damascus he continued to study with his father, but he also studied with other famous teachers in that city. Thus he studied traditions and Arabic grammar with Jamal al-Din al-Mizzi (654-742 A.H.), the greatest traditionist of his time, also famous as jurisconsultant and philologian, for 23 years and a half professor and head of the tradition school al-Ashrafiyya in Damascus. He also studied with the great historian, theologian, and writer Shams al-Din Abu `Abdullah al-Dhahabi (673-748 A.H.), professor in traditions at the chapel Umm al-Salih in Damascus. Ibn Hajar adds Zainab bint al-Kamal and Ibn al-Yarr, and al-Ghazzi adds Taqi al-Din Ibn Rafi`, al-Najm al-Qahafazi and al-Hajjar to the list of teachers in Damascus. But next to his father the teacher that seems to have had the greatest influence over Taj al-Din and who apparently put a great deal of confidence both in his character and ability was the famous jurisconsultant Shams al-Din ibn al-Naqib, 662-745 A.H., professor at al-Shamiyya al-Barraniyya in Damascus. Under him he did not only study but also began to teach himself, as al-Naqib entrusted him with part of his own work as teacher and legal counsellor. Yet Taj al-Din was only 18 years of age when al-Naqib died.

Besides hearing lectures and receiving instruction from those eminent teachers he also carried on investigations of his own, and as the biographers put it “he studied by him­self” and perfected himself in the knowledge and mastery of the different branches of learning “until he was skilled in the knowledge of jurisprudence, traditions, grammar and poetry.”

Then began, his public career as a jurisconsultant, teacher and writer. “He began to teach, gave decisions on legal questions, traditioned, carried on researches and occupied himself with literary compositions.”

Taj al-Din, before he held any public office, taught for some years in the higher schools of learning in Damascus, as al-Taqwiyya, al-Dimaghiyya, al-Nafa`siyya, al-Qimariyya, the tradition school al-‘Ashrafiyya, al-`Aziziyya, al-Shamiyya al-Barraniyya, al-`Adiliyya, and al-Masruriyya.

In the year 754 A. H., Taj al-Din held the office of Muwaqqi al-Dast, which seems to be his first public office. The same year he supplied the office of head qadi for his father, taking the place of his brother Jamal al-Din, who died that year.

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