Tīfāshī [Aḥmad ibn Yūsuf], al-
- Owen Wright
(b Qafṣa, Tunisia, 1184; d ?Cairo, 1253). Arab scholar. He studied first in Tunisia and then in Egypt. He travelled in Syria and eventually settled in Cairo. The little of his voluminous output that survives testifies to his wide-ranging interests. In addition to erotic subject-matter it includes an important and well-known gemmological treatise, Azhār al-afkār fī jawāhir al-aḥjār (‘Flowering thoughts on gem-stones’). His other major extant work, part 41 of a huge encyclopedia, Faṣl al-khiṭāb fī madārik al-ḥawāss al-khams li-ulī al-albāb (‘Eloquent disquisition on the perception of the five senses’), is concerned with music. Literary rather than scientific in orientation, it concentrates on history, anecdote and human behaviour and preserves a number of song texts. It is of particular interest for its inclusion of a section on dance, a subject rarely discussed elsewhere, for its succinct but broadly convincing historical account of musical developments in Muslim Spain and North Africa, and for the light it sheds on some of the features differentiating the western and eastern Islamic art-music traditions in the 13th century. Given his background, al-Tīfāshī was familiar with both, and was able not only to point to modal and formal distinctions but also to attempt a characterization of differences in melodic style, that of Spain being deemed the most complex and difficult....