Youssef Ziedan (Arabic: يوسف زيدان) (born June 30, 1958) is an Egyptian scholar who specializes in Arabic and Islamic studies. He works as director of the Manuscript Center and Museum affiliated to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. He is a university professor, a public lecturer, a columnist and a prolific author of more than 50 books.
The study of Arabic and Islamic manuscripts has been his primary interest, and cataloguing, editing and publishing these manuscripts constitute the bulk of his work. He has worked as a consultant in the field of Arabic heritage preservation and conservation in a number of international institutions, including UNESCO, ESCWA and the Arab League, and has directed a number of projects aimed at the delimitation and preservation of Arabic manuscript heritage.
Ziedan was born in Sohag in 1958. He moved with his grandfather to Alexandria when he was still a child and was raised and taught in this Mediterranean metropolis. He joined the philosophy department at the University of Alexandria and graduated summa cum laude. His postgraduate studies focused on Sufism and its philosophical underpinnings. He obtained his PhD degree in 1989 for his dissertation on The Qadiri Sufi Order, with a study and edition of the poetical works of Abdul Qadir al-Jilani or Abdul-Qadir Gilani. He lives in Alexandria, and has a son and two daughters.
Ziedan’s work on Sufism underscores not just the mystic introspective lineaments of Islamic Sufism, but more importantly its philosophical underpinnings. He has placed consistent emphasis on the study of Ibn Arabi and Abdul Karim al-Jili, regarded as two of the most important figures of philosophical Sufism in the history of Islam. His work on Abdul Karim al-Jili is seen by many as the most authoritative work in the field.
The most distinctive feature in Ziedan’s study of Islamic philosophy is his attempt to uncover the origins of a strand of Islamic philosophical thought that, in his view, had not been influenced by Hellenistic philosophy. He thinks that the parable of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan, for instance, with its many versions and interpretations by such important figures as Avicenna, Ibn Tufayl, al-Suhrawardi and Ibn al-Nafis, is a source of Islamic philosophical thought for understanding Islamic philosophy on its own terms. This view forms the basis of his re-editing of the complete philosophical parable of Hayy Ibn Yaqzan in his Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: the Four Texts and their Authors.
Ziedan's work as a public intellectual is reflected in several of his later works including Arabic Theology and Rationals Behind Religious Violence اللاهوت العربي وأصول العنف الديني which examines the dynamics behind the key ideas the shaped Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and their primary links to each other and to the geography of the region.
History of Islamic medicine
Another dimension to Ziedan’s work is his study of the history of Islamic medicine, which draws him into the scientific realms of medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and related topics. The emphasis here is on the immense scientific heritage left by the Arabs throughout history. His contribution, however, is particularly visible in medicine. He is, as evidenced in his studies, very much preoccupied with the Arabic translations, commentaries and annotations on Hippocrates and Galen. On the other hand, his studies on Ibn al-Nafis and his critical edition of his grand medical encyclopedia (30 volumes) al-Shamil fil Sina’a al-Tibbiyya catapulted him as an Ibn al-Nafis scholar.
Arabic manuscript preservation
Ziedan sees cataloguing as an ars maior, that has not received the attention it deserves. According to him, cataloguing is the key to have a panoramic view of a particular manuscript heritage. With this in mind, Ziedan produced some 20 manuscript catalogues using detailed descriptive cataloguing techniques rather than skimpy uninformative bibliographic records. His catalogues are mostly thematic, i.e. they are not general catalogues, they handle each theme of knowledge separately.
Ziedan has also written fiction. His novel Zil al-Af’a ("Shadow of the Serpent") treats the notion of the sacred female through a contemporary setting with humdrum personae in the first part; in the second part, letter fragments from a female anthropologist to her daughter, the heroine of the first part, explain how the role of the female has been misshapen, abused and diabolically transformed throughout history. The novel has been criticized for its abnormal structure and superfluous intellectualism.
Ziedan's second novel is the historico-theological work Azazeel (عزازيل), which won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction (the so-called "Arabic Booker"). According to the book, it is written as a translation of scrolls that had been discovered in the ruins of a monastery northwest of Aleppo, in Syria. An Egyptian monk called “Hypa” wrote the original manuscript as an autobiography in the Aramaic language in first half of the fifth century AD. This was a time of great internal turmoil in Eastern Christianity. His other novels are The Nabatian (النبطي) in 2005, Places (محال) in 2013 and its sequel, Guantanamo (جونتنامو) in 2013. His novels were translated to French, Italian and Russian among other languages.
Awards and honours
- 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, Azazeel 
- 2013 Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation won by Jonathan Wright for his translation into English of Azazeel.
N.B. This is not an exhaustive bibliography of Ziedan’s works. A complete and exhaustive list of publications can be found at www.ziedan.com.
- Anonymous Sufi Poets
- Al-Mutawaliyat: studies in Sufism
- Sufi Orders and al-Qadiriyya in Egypt
- A Prologue to Sufism by al-Sulami: a study and a critical edition
- The Poetical Works of Abdul Qadir al-Jilani
- Islamic Philosophy
- Hayy Ibn Yaqzan: the four texts and their authors
- Al-Lahut al-'Arabi: and the roots of religious violence
- History of Arabic Medicine
- A Commentary on the Hippocratic Aphorisms
- Treatises on Body Parts by Ibn al-Nafis
- Rediscovering ‘Alaa al-Din (Ibn al-Nafis) al-Qarashi
- Treatise on Gout by Rhazes
- Al-Shamil fil al-Sina’a al-Tibbiyya in 30 volumes
- Manuscript Cataloguing
- Rare manuscripts in the Alexandria Municipality Collection
- Catalogue of the Alexandria University Manuscript Collection
- Catalogue of the Escorial Monastery Manuscript Collection
- Catalogue of the Religious Institute of Sumuha
- Literary Criticism and Fiction
- Iltiqa’ al-Bahrin: essays in literary criticism
- The Shadow of the Serpent
- The Nabatean
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