From 988 to 990 Muhammad ib Ishaq (Abu al Faraj) called Ibn Abi al-Nadiim (Abi Ya'qub Ishaq al-Warraq al-Baghdadi), a bookseller, stationer and "court companion" of Baghdad, published Al- Fihrist, an annotated index of the books of all nations extant in the Arabic language and script.
The English translator of al-Nadim's work, Bayard Dodge, suggested that Al-Nadim, working in his father's bookshop, "wished to assemble a catalogue to show customers and to help in the procuring and copying of manuscripts to be sold to scholars and book collectors" (Dodge p. xxiii). This was the earliest universal bibliography.
"It is reasonable to believe that when al-Nadim died the original copy of his manuscript was placed in the royal library at Baghdad, while other copies made by scribes about the time of his death were assigned to his family bookstore, where some of them were probably sold to customers who came to purchase interesting books. Farmer says: ' Yagut (d. 626/1299) averred that he used a copy of the Fihrist in the handwriting of al-Nadim himself. The lexicographer al-Saghani (650/1252) made a similar claim. Either of these autograph copies may have been in the Caliph's library, which was destroyed utterly in the sacking of Baghdad in 656/1258)' "(Dodge p. xxii).
This work did not appear in print until an edition of the Arabic text was issued by orientalist Gustav Flügel in Leipzig, 1871-72.
The text was first edited from the earliest manuscripts and translated into English by Bayard Dodge as The Fihrist of al-Nadim. A Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture, 2 vols., New York, 1970. For the translation of part one Dodge used MS 3315 in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin:
"We know nothing about the history of the manuscript until it was placed in the library of the great mosque at 'Akka, when the notorious Ahmad Pasha-al-Jazzar was ruler there at the time of Napoleon Bonaparte. After the fall of Ahmad Pasha, the manuscript was evidently stolen from the mosque. It was probably at this time that it became divided, as the Beatty Manuscript includes on the first half of Al-Fihrist. In the course of time the dealer Yahudah sold his first half to Sir Chester Beatty, who placed it in his library at Dublin" (Dodge p. xxviii).
For the translation of part two Dodge used MS 1934 which "forms part of the Shahid 'Ali Pasha collection which is now cared for in the library adjacent to the Sulaymaniyah (Süleymaniye) Mosque at Istanbul. In the library catalogue it is described as 'Suleymaniye G. Kutuphanesi kismi Shetit Ali Pasha 1934" (Dodge p. xxx).
Dodge indicated that he believed that each separate portion represents half of the same manuscript made shortly after the death of al-Nadim.