The treatise by al-Qazwīnī titled ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing) is the most well-known example of a genre of classical Islamic literature that was concerned with 'mirabilia' or wonders of creation. The genre was generally known as ‘ajā’ib or ‘jā’ib al-makhlūqāt literature, that is 'wonders' or 'wonders of creation'. The literature was concerned with cosmographical and geographical topics that challenged understanding. These could include aspects of God's creation that inspire awe, such as human anatomy or the variety of plants. These could also include the great monuments of pre-Islamic times or natural phenomena or marvels recounted in folkloric literature, including the achievements of Solomon and Alexander the Great. The treatise covered all the wonders of the world, and the variety of the subject matter (humans and their anatomy, plants, animals, strange creatures at the edges of the inhabited world, constellations of stars, zodiacal signs, angels, and demons) provided great scope for the artist.
Elements of the genre are to be found also in Muḥammad ibn Mūsá al-Damīrī's (d. 1405/808) Ḥayāt al-ḥayawān (Life of Animals), of which NLM also has a copy. (MS A 19) But it was al-Qazwīnī's treatise that was by far the most popular and representative of this type of literature.
For the ‘aja'ib genre in general, see L. Richter-Bernburg, ‘jā’ib literature' in Encyclopedia of Arabic Literature, ed. by Julie Scott Meisami and Paul Starkey (London: Routledge, 1998), vol. 1, pp. 65-6; and C.W. Bosworth and I. Afshar, ‘jā’ib al-makluqat' in EncIr, vol. 1, pp. 695-9.
Born in the Persian town of Qazwīn, Zakarīyā’ ibn Muḥammad al-Qazwīnī served as legal expert and judge (qadi) in several different localities in Persia and Iraq. He travelled in Mesopotamia, Syria and Iraq and finally entered the circle patronized by the governor of Baghdad, ‘Ata-Malik Juwayni (d. 1283/682). It was to the latter that al-Qazwīnī dedicated his Arabic-language treatise titled ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing). This treatise, frequently illustrated, was immensely popular and was translated into Persian and Turkish.
It is preserved today in many copies, in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish. The National Library of Medicine has four copies of the Persian translation, three of them (MS P 1, MS P 2, and MS P 3) are highly illustrated products of Indian workshops, the earliest being made in 1546 in a provincial Mughal workshop and the other two of the 17th and 18th centuries. The fourth copy at NLM (MS P 29) has fewer illustrations but is distinguished in having an illuminated opening and a nearly full-page portrait of the scribe, Sayyid Ḥusayn Yazdī, who worked before 1546, when an owner placed a dated stamp in the volume.
The treatise was edited and translated into German by F.Wüstenfeld, Zakarija ben Muhammed ben Mahmud al-Cazwini's Kosmographie, 2 vols. (Göttingen: Verlag der Dieterichschen Buchhanlung, 1848-9), and a partial German translation was published by A. Giese, al-Qazwīnī, Die Wunder des Himmels und der Erde (Stuttgart and Vienna, 1986). A more recent edition of the Arabic text has been made by Farug Sad, ‘Ajā’ib al-makhlūqāt wa-gharā’ib al-mawjūdāt (Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadidah 1973).