As pointed out by Zuhayr al-Bābā (1990, no page), the fact that the geographical settings used to determine the best times for planting and sowing correspond to those used in Syria while most of the places, stories and plants mentioned or alluded to clearly point towards Syria lead to the conclusion that the author of this treatise is most likely a Syrian author who lived in the first half of the eighth hijri century (1300-1350), which is also the conclusion drawn by the publishers of the critical edition, Muḥammad ‘Īsā Ṣāliḥīyah and Dr. Iḥsān Ṣidqī Al-‘Amad.
Furthermore, a thorough investigation of the seven known manuscripts of this treatise, four of which are found in European libraries while three are located in Egypt, at the hands of the editors revealed that the manuscript Berlin 6208 is not only the best copy “with regard to style and accuracy, the harmony between its scientific subject matter and the nature of its title, and the beauty of its script” (as quoted in Zuhayr al-Bābā, 1990, no page), but also that it alone mentions the name of an author, namely al-Shaykh al-Imām al-‘Ālim Abū ‘Abd Allāh Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Waḥshīyah.
Although Al-Dimashqī (1256/7–1327) is known by virtually the same name (Shams al-Dīn Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad al-Dimashqī), and Ibn Waḥshīyah must surely be a copyist’s error in confusing the anonymous author with the early 10th C. Ibn Waḥshīyah, author of the well-known ‘Book of Nabataean agriculture’, who is quoted extensively within the text, Ṣāliḥīyah and Al-‘Amad prefer not to identify the author of the present work with Al-Dimashqī since he is not mentioned anywhere as author of any work on agriculture except Al-Durr al-multaqiṭ. In addition, the contents of the latter work differ from the contents of Miftāḥ al-rāḥah, which in the editors’ opinion speaks against the equivalence of the authors. However, Zuhayr al-Bābā dismisses this argument and claims that the contents of the two treatises rather supplement each other.
Zuhayr al-Bābā notes the result of the editors’ comparison between known source texts of agriculture and Miftāḥ al-Rāḥah, which reveals that the latter work is similar to Al-Durr al-Multaqiṭ in its exclusive reliance on borrowings, quotations and summaries of other works and its lack of individual contributions based on personal experience. This confirms in Zuhayr al-Bābā’s opinion that Al-Dimashqī is the author of both works, which he probably completed in Cairo where he “spent the years of his maturity” and gained access to Andalusi reference works on agriculture that had become known in Egypt but were not available in Syria. (Cf. Zuhayr al-Bābā, 1990, no page)The fact that this treatise follows the same method for the classification of plants as Al-Dimashqī in Al-Durr al-multaqiṭ is another indicator for the authors’ identity. Among other sources, this treatise contains eleven quotations from Greek works, e.g. Aristotle and Democritos, seventeen quotations from Abū Ḥanīfah al-Dīnawarī, and the different writings of Ibn Waḥshīyah, especially his ‘Nabataean agriculture’, are quoted ninety-six times. Among the Andalusi sources Ibn Baṣṣāl is referred to thirty-one times and Abū al-Khayr al-Ishbīlī ten times. According to Carabaza and García (1998, p. 396) our anonymous author may have had a complete work of the Andalusi agronomist Ibn Baṣṣāl at hand since his quotations from Ibn Baṣṣāl are often more extensive and clearer than those in the summarized version of Ibn Baṣṣāl that has survived.
Miftāḥ al-Rāḥah consists of ten chapters and a foreword, which, following the basmalah, begins with: “All praise be to God, who cleaved the seed and the kernel, (who) made serviceable the rivers and rains for the watering of all that requires its thirst to be quenched, and (who) by His power caused various things to exist in the two states of weakness and strength” (Al-ḥamdu li-llāhi lladhī falaqa al-ḥabba wa-al-nawà, wa-sakhkhara al-anhāra wa-al-amṭāra li-saqyi mā iḥtāja ilà al-irtiwāʾ, wa-awjada bi-qudratihī mukhtalifātin li-ḥālatay ḍuʿfin wa-quwà).
Thereafter the author discusses the possibility of transferring specific characteristics from one species to another “through God’s inspiring some of those who possess intellects” by way of taking certain steps or composting. Thus, according to the treatise, if human hair is decomposed in moist earth, something that resembles snakes will emerge from it. Likewise, radishes will emerge from turnips, dornel from wheat, mint from aromatic plants. The author claims that even animals may possibly originate from plants, quoting the example of a tree “in the region of Askūsyā, at the side of the sea of the land of Falamank (Flanders, Holland) … from which an animal like a worm is brought forth, which grows and increases in size until it become like a goose. And (this animal) is abundant in that region and is hunted and eaten.” (Cf. Zuhayr al-Bābā, 1990, no page)
This introductory discussion is followed and to some extent continued by chapter one, which deals with how plants came to be and their number. Here he quotes e.g. the historian Al-Mas‘ūdī’s (died 346/956-7) report that Adam, when he was expelled from Paradise and sent down to earth, had with him thirty twigs bearing different types of fruits, of which ten had shells, ten kernels, and ten neither shell nor kernel.
Chapter two discusses the types of soil and manures that are agreeable to plants while chapter three is concerned with the cultivation of grains and legumes and chapter four with the cultivation of herbs. Chapters five, six and seven deal with “cultivating plants the fruits of which possess a shell”, “cultivating plants the fruits of which possess a kernel”, and “cultivating plants the fruits of which have neither shell nor kernel” respectively. The eighth chapter discusses “growing different types of aromatic plants”. Chapters nine and ten are concerned inter alia with rubber trees, salt, poetry and “the spiritual language of the flowers”, lisān ḥāl al-azhār. (For the contents see Zuhayr al-Bābā, 1990, no page; Aḥmad Bik, 1944, p. 112)