Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
|Born||839 CE (224 AH)|
|Died||923 CE (310 AH) (aged 86)|
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate
|Jurisprudence||Founded the Jariri madh'hab|
|Notable work(s)||Tafsir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, Tahdhib al-Athar, Ikhtilaf al-Fuqaha' (Disagreement of the Jurists)|
Al-Tabari  (; Persian: ? ? ?, Arabic: ? ? ? ? ) (839-923 CE; 224-310 AH) was an influential Persian scholar, historian and commentator on the Qur'an from Amol, Tabaristan (modern Mazandaran Province of Iran), who composed all his works in Arabic. Today, he is best known for his expertise in Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir) and Historiography but he has been described as "an impressively prolific polymath. He wrote on such subjects as world history, poetry, lexicography, grammar, ethics, mathematics, and medicine."
His most influential and best known works are his Qur'anic commentary known in Arabic as Tafsir al-Tabari and his historical chronicle History of the Prophets and Kings (Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk), often referred to Tarikh al-Tabari.
Al-Tabari followed the Shafi'i madhhab for nearly a decade before he developed his own interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence. His understanding of fiqh was both sophisticated and remarkably fluid and, as such, he continued to develop his ideas and thoughts on juristic matters right to the end of his life.
Tabari was born in Amol, Tabaristan (some 20 km south of the Caspian Sea) in the winter of 838-9.He memorized the Qur'an at seven, was a qualified prayer leader at eight and began to study the prophetic traditions at nine. He left home to study in 236 AH (850/1 AD) when he was twelve. He retained close ties to his home town. He returned at least twice, the second time in 290 AH (903 AD) when his outspokenness caused some uneasiness and led to his quick departure.
He first went to Ray (Rhages), where he remained for some five years. A major teacher in Rayy was Abu Abdillah Muhammad ibn Humayd al-Razi, who had earlier taught in Baghdad but was now in his seventies While in Ray, he also studied Muslim jurisprudence according to the Hanafi school. Among other material, ibn Humayd taught Jarir Tabari the historical works of ibn Ishaq, especially al-Sirah, his life of Muhammad. Tabari was thus introduced in youth to pre-Islamic and early Islamic history. Tabari quotes ibn Humayd frequently, but little is known about Tabari's other teachers in Rayy.
Tabari then travelled to study in Baghdad under Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who, however, had recently died (in late 855 or early 856). Tabari possibly made a pilgrimage prior to his first arrival in Baghdad. He left Baghdad probably in 242 AH (856/7 AD) to travel through the southern cities of Basra, Kufah and Wasit. There, he met a number of eminent and venerable scholars. In addition to his previous study of Hanafi law, Tabari also studied the Shafi'i, Maliki and Zahiri rites. Tabari's study of the latter school was with the founder, Dawud al-Zahiri, and Tabari hand-copied and transmitted many of his teacher's works. Tabari was, then, well-versed in four of the five remaining Sunni legal schools before founding his own independent, yet eventually extinct, school. His debates with his former teachers and classmates were known, and served as a demonstration of said independence. Notably missing from this list is the Hanbali school, the fourth largest legal school within Sunni Islam in the present era. Tabari's view of Ibn Hanbal, the school's founder, became decidedly negative later in life. Tabari did not give Ibn Hanbal's dissenting opinion any weight at all when considering the various views of jurists, stating that Ibn Hanbal had not even been a jurist at all but merely a recorder of Hadith.
On his return to Baghdad, he took a tutoring position from the vizier, Ubaydallah ibn Yahya ibn Khaqan. This would have been before A.H. 244 (858) since the vizier was out of office and in exile from 244 to 248 (858-9 to 862).There is an anecdote told that Tabari had agreed to tutor for ten dinars a month, but his teaching was so effective and the boy's writing so impressive that the teacher was offered a tray of dinars and dirhams. The ever-ethical Tabari declined the offer saying he had undertaken to do his work at the specified amount and could not honourably take more. That is one of a number of narrative about him declining gifts or giving gifts of equal or greater amount in return.
In his late twenties, he travelled to Syria, Palestine, India and Egypt. In Beirut, he made the highly significant connection of al-Abbas ibn al-Walid ibn Mazyad al-'Udhri al-Bayruti (c.169-270/785-6 to 883-4). Al-Abbas instructed Tabari in the Syrian school's variant readings of the Qur'an and transmitted through his father al-Walid the legal views of al-Awza'i, Beirut's prominent jurist from a century earlier.
Tabari arrived in Egypt in 253 AH (867 AD), and, some time after 256/870, he returned to Baghdad, possibly making a pilgrimage on the way. If so, he did not stay long in the Hijaz. Tabari had a private income from his father while he was still living and then the inheritance. He took money for teaching. Among Tabari's students was Ibn al-Mughallis, who was also a student of Tabari's own teacher Muhammad bin Dawud al-Zahiri; Ibn al-Mughallis lavished Tabari with almost excessive praise. He never took a government or a judicial position.
Tabari was some fifty years old when al-Mu'tadid became caliph. He was well past seventy in the year his History was published. During the intervening years, he was famous, if somewhat controversial, personality. Among the figures of his age, he had access to sources of information equal to anyone, except, perhaps, those who were directly connected with decision making within the government. Most, if not all, the materials for the histories of al-Mu'tadid, al-Muktafi, and the early years of al-Muqtadir were collected by him about the time the reported events took place. His accounts are as authentic as one can expect from that period. Tabari final years were marked by conflict with the Hanbalite followers of Al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Barbahari, a student of the students of Ibn Hanbal. Tabari was known for his view that Hanbalism was not a legitimate school of thought, as Ibn Hanbal was a compiler of traditions and not a proper jurist. The Hanbalites of Baghdad would often stone Tabari's house, escalating the persecution to the point where Abbasid authorities had to subdue them by force. The Baghdad chief of police tried to organize a debate between Tabari and the Hanbalites to settle their differences. While Tabari accepted, the Hanbalites did not show up but instead came later to pelt his house with stones again. The constant threat of violence from the Hanbalites hung over Tabari's head for the rest of his life.
Tabari finally died on 17 February 923. Some sources suggest that Abbasid authorities buried Tabari at night in secret as they feared mob violence by the Hanbalites, but these reports are uncertain, and other sources agree that he was buried in the morning after his death. Regardless, Tabari was remembered positively by contemporaries such as Ibn Duraid, and the Hanbalites were condemned by Abbasid authorities in their entirety for persecuting opponents, roughly a decade later. They even prevented people from meeting with him, and Ibn Jarir remained trapped in his home until he died. The period in which Tabari lived was full of religious differences and political unrest, which was characterized by the stigmatisation and accusation of individuals.
He is described as having a dark complexion, large eyes and a long beard. He was tall and slender and his hair and beard remained black until he was very old. He was attentive to his health, avoiding red meat, fats and other foods he deemed unhealthy. He was seldom sick before his last decade when he suffered from bouts of pleurisy. When he was ill, he treated himself (to the approval of physicians). He had a sense of humour, though serious subjects he treated seriously. He had studied poetry when young and enjoyed writing, reciting and participating in poetic exchanges. It is said that he was asked in Egypt about al-Tirimmah and was able to recite this 7th century poet's work for Egyptians who had merely heard al-Tirimmah's name.Ali ibn al-Athir, in his memoirs, he confirmed these features. He was witty and urbane, clean and well mannered. He avoided coarse speech, instead displaying refined eloquence. He had a good grounding in grammar, lexicography and philology. Such were considered essential for Qur'anic commentary. He knew Persian and was acquainted with the origins of various foreign loan words in Arabic from a number of other languages.
Al-Tabari was very humble to his companions, visitors and students, without being proud of his position, condescending with his knowledge, or being domineering towards others. He did not bear hatred against anyone, and he had a satisfied soul, excusing those who had wronged him, and forgiving those who offended him.
His ijtihad (independent judgement) led to criticism from the Zahiris and some fanatic Hanbali followers. Though his conflict with the leaders of the Z?hiriyya was resolved, the Hanbalites literally besieged him in his own home. Apparently, al-Tabari did not think much of Ibn Hanbal as a jurist (faqih), but mainly saw him as a traditionist (muhaddith), and this was enough to incite the Hanbalites against him. Al-Tabari was suddenly accused of being a Jahmite heretic, while his respect for 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, the fourth rightly guided caliph, exposed him to accusations of Shi'ite sympathies. At the same time, he incurred the wrath of the Shi'ites by defending the previous three caliphs.
In Baghdad, three Hanbalites, who do not seem further identifiable, asked al-Tabari about his views on a tradition attributed to Mujahid concerning the explanation of the verse 79 from Surat al-Isra' in the Qur'an about the Praiseworthy Station of the Prophet Muhammad, known as "al-Maqam al-Mahmud".
The verse is: "And some part of the night, awake for it (this would be) an optional prayer (or spiritual profit) for you; it may be that your Lord will exalt you to a Praiseworthy Station."[Quran 17:79 (Translated by Nurettin Uzuno?lu)]
In the books of Tafsir (interpretation of the Qur'an), authors indicated that the Praiseworthy Station (al-Maqam al-Mahmud) mentioned in the above verse is the most highest place in Paradise, which will be granted to the Prophet Muhammad and none else, and the position of intercession (Shafa'a) will be giving to him by permission of Allah/God on behalf of the believers on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet Muhammad will intercede on their behalf so that Allah/God will relieve them of the suffering of such a situation.
However, the Hanbalites interpreted the Praiseworthy Station as the seating of the Prophet Muhammad by Allah/God on the Throne, despite the overall weakness of the narrations supporting it.
Al-Tabari is said to have declared bluntly that it was absurd. Moreover, he recited:
|Exalted/Glorified be the One (Allah), Who has no comrade||nor companion sitting on His Throne|
Upon hearing this, the fanatic Hanbali followers attacked him fiercely, and stoned his residence and caused a serious disturbance which had to be subdued by force. Trouble with the Hanbalites that took a similar form is also reported at the time of al-Tabari's death. In connection with it, Nazuk is mentioned as chief of police. He was appointed to this position only in 310/922, the year al-Tabari died, but he appears to have held high positions in the police before and may already have been in charge of al-Tabari's protection against potential Hanbalite violence.
In 309/921, the wazir 'Ali b. 'Isa had offered al-Tabari the opportunity to debate the matter with the Hanbalites in his residence. Al-Tabari agreed, but the Hanbalites did not show up. However, shortly before his death, Hanbalite rioters supposedly pelted his house with stones so numerous that they formed a large wall in front of it.
According to Franz Rosenthal, "The role of Hanbalite hostility, though real, seems to have been exaggerated in connection with his death as it was in his life." He further adds that "Those who knew Tabari best always played down the inconveniences he suffered from the Hanbalites."
His legal texts, commentaries and Qur'anic exegesis, and history, produced respectively, were published throughout his lifetime. Biographers stress his reverence for scholarship, objectivity and independent judgement (ijtihad). He rates the credibility of his sources from a theological rather than an historical standpoint, yet he opposed religious innovation. - in one anecdote Abu Kamil suggested when he was near death, to forgive his enemies, which he agreed to, apart from one who called him an innovator. Tabari was generally conciliatory, moderate, and affable.
Initially, Tabari belonged to the Shafi'ite madhhab (school) of fiqh (Islamic law), and was welcomed by them. He established his own madhhab, usually designated the Jariri madhhab after his patronymic. His school failed to endure in the competitive atmosphere of the times. As a youth in Baghdad he had applied to the Hanbalite's but received a hostile rejection.
Al-Tabari's jurisprudence belongs to a type which Christopher Melchert has called "Rationalism", largely associated with the Shafi'i madhhab. It was characterized by strong scripturalist tendencies. He appears, like Dawud al-Zahiri, to restrict consensus historically, defining it as the transmission by many authorities of reports on which the Sahaba agreed unanimously. Like Dawud al-Zahiri, he also held that consensus must be tied to a text and cannot be based on legal analogy.
While we still lack a satisfactory scholarly biography of this remarkable scholar, interested readers now have access to a meticulous and well-annotated translation of the sections from al-Tabari's chronicle, which constitute the most important primary source for the history of his reign. Anyone familiar with al-Tabari's chronicle knows what a formidable challenge it poses for a translator, especially for one attempting to make it accessible to an audience that includes non-specialists. There is first of all the obstacle of al-Tabari's Arabic prose, which varies greatly in style and complexity according to the source he is using (and apparently quoting verbatim). The sections in the McAuliffe translation, drawn mostly from al-Mada'ini and 'Umar ibn Shabba, do not represent the most obscure passages to be found in al-Tabari, but they are nonetheless full of linguistic ambiguities and difficulties for the translator.
He wrote extensively; his voluminous corpus containing three main titles:
The first of the two large works, generally known as the Annals (Arabic Tarikh al-Tabari). This is a universal history from the time of Qur'anic Creation to 915, and is renowned for its detail and accuracy concerning Muslim and Middle Eastern history. Tabari's work is one of the major primary sources for historians. The History commenced with the Creation, followed by accounts regarding the patriarchs, prophets, and rulers of antiquity. The history of the Sasanian Empire came next. For the period of the Prophet's life, al-?abar? drew upon the extensive researches of 8th-century Medinan scholars. Although pre-Islamic influences are evident in their works, the Medinan perspective of Muslim history evolved as a theocentric (god-centred) universal history of prophecy culminating in the career of Muhammad and not as a continuum of tribal wars and values. The sources for al-?abar?'s History covering the years from the Prophet's death to the fall of the Umayyad dynasty (661-750 CE) were short monographs, each treating a major event or the circumstances attending the death of an important person. Al-?abar? supplemented this material with historical reports embodied in works on genealogy, poetry, and tribal affairs. Further, details of the early ?Abb?sid period were available to him in a few histories of the caliphs that unfortunately have come down only in the fragments preserved by al-?abar?. Almost all of these accounts reflected an Iraqi perspective of the community; coupled with this is al-?abar?'s scant attention to affairs in Egypt, North Africa, and Muslim Spain, so that his History does not have the secular "universal" outlook sometimes attributed to it. From the beginning of the Muslim era (dated from 622, the date of the hijrah--the Prophet Muhammad's migration from Mecca to Medina), the History is arranged as a set of annals according to the years after the hijrah. It terminates in the year 915.
His second great work was the commentary on the Qur'an, (Arabic Tafsir al-Tabari), which was marked by the same fullness of detail as the Annals. Abul-Qaasim Ibn 'Aqil Al-Warraq says: " Im?m Ibn Jarir once said to his students: "Are you all ready to write down my lesson on the commentary of the entire Holy Quran?" They enquired as to how lengthy it would be. "30 000 pages"! he replied. They said: "This would take a long time and cannot be completed in one lifetime. He therefore made it concise and kept it to 3000 pages (note, this was in reference to the old days when they used ink and hard-paper which was a bit long format today). It took him seven years to finish it from the year 283 until 290.
It is said that it is the most voluminous Athari Tafsir (i.e., based on hadith not intellect) existent today so well received by the Ummah that it survived to this day intact due to its popularity and widely printed copies available worldwide. Scholars such as Baghawi and Suyuti used it largely. It was used in compiling the Tafsir ibn Kathir which is often referred to as Mukhtasar Tafsir at-Tabari.
A perusal of Tabari shows that he in fact relied on a variety of historians and other authors such as Abu Mihnaf, Sayf b. 'Umar, Ibn al-Kalbi, 'Awana ibn al-Hakam, Nasr b. Muzahim, al-Mada'ini, 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr, al-Zuhri, Ibn Ishaq, Waqidi, Wahb b. Munabbih, Ka'b al-Ahbar, Ibn al-Matni, al Haggag b. al-Minhal, Hisham b. 'Urwa, al-Zubayr b. Bakkar and so forth, in addition to oral accounts that were circulating at the time. In recounting his history, Tabari used numerous channels to give accounts. These are both channels that are given by the same author in a work, such as for example three different accounts that start with the isnad al-Harita.
Tabari although no subject history, recitation of the Quran and its interpretation, poetry, grammar and vocabulary, ethics, mathematics, and theology remained untouched, he is primarily known as the author and author of history.
This book has been translated a lot so far. Less than fifty years after the author's death, the history of the Prophet and the Kings has been translated into Persian by Muhammad Bal'ami, the minister of science of Nuh II, in 352 AH.
Dutch orientalist Michael Jan de Goeje, in several volumes, translated Tabari's history book into Dutch, The book was later translated into English and republished in 1998 by State University of New York Press and Paris Diderot University. Hermann Zotenberg, published the history of Tabari in French Language in four volumes in Paris. His book on the nativities and history was translated into Latin by Giovanni da Siviglia and published in Venice in 1503. Franz Rosenthal in 1989 did translated Tabari history book of three volumes, with title "History of the Middle East".
Clifford Edmund Bosworth, published the book History of Tabari in three volumes with an introduction by Ehsan Yarshater in 1999 in the United States, Albania and France. Planning for the translation of this great chronicle book into English began in 1971 in forty volumes, led by Ehsan Yarshater as General Editor and assisted by an Editorial Board Ihsan Abbas, American University of Beirut, Clifford Edmund Bosworth University of Manchester, Jacob Lassner Wayne State University, as Supervising Editor and Franz Rosenthal in Yale University. Estelle Whelan at the Columbia Center for Iranian Studies served as Editorial Coordinator.
Ignác Goldziher Hungarian scholar, in 1920 wrote a book focusing on Tabari, entitled German "Die Richtungen der islamischen Koranauslegung" was published by Brill Publishers.Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary also published the complete History of the Prophets and Kings in 17 volumes in his center.W. Montgomery Watt researched the history of Tabari and from 1987 to 1999 published the book History of Tabari entitled "Muhammad at Mecca". Also Manuscripts Tabari history, Tabari interpretation and translation of Tabari history stored in Central Library of Astan Quds Razavi.
Moshe Pearlman, Ismail Poonawala, Fred Donner, Hugh N. Kennedy, Khalid Yahya Blankinship, R. Stephen Humphreys, Michael G. Morony, G. R. Hawting, Martin Hinds, Carole Hillenbrand, George Saliba and Yohanan Friedmann authors and researchers were prominent, they published a collection of books on the history of Tabari with different titles.
It is an extremely early witness to the reception of al-Tabari's text-indeed much earlier than the sources that are customarily pressed into service to improve our understanding of the Tarikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, e.g., Miskawayh, Ibn Asakir, Ibn al-Athir, and Ibn Khallikan. Second, since al-Azdi was writing in the decades following al-Tabari, his Tarikh can say something about the reception of al-Tabari Tarikh among those who immediately followed the great master. That al-Tabari's history was immensely significant we can all agree; but as to precisely how he became so significant there is no clear consensus.8 Third-and returning to Forand's insight-al-Azdi frequently drew on the same authorities tapped by al-Tabari, but whose works are for the most part now lost, such as Abu Ma'shar (170/786), Abu Mikhnaf (157/774), al-Haytham ibn 'Adi (207/822), al-Madaini (around 228/843), and 'Umar ibn Shabba (262/878).
Realistic depictions alternate with formalized and archetypal narrative. Tabari is careful to give his reports of these conquests a religious frame (expressions such as "Nu'aym wrote to 'Umar about the victory that God had given him" [pp. 25-26] abound), though it is worth noting that Tabari describes the initiation of the campaign in pragmatic rather than ideological terms. He states that 'Umar's decision to invade came as a result of his realization Yazdegerd was making war on him every year and when it was suggested to him that he would continue to do this until he was driven out of his kingdom" (p. 2). The religious frame in Tabari's account is therefore not inflexible or exclusive.
The English translator Marmaduke Pickthall described the commentary of Tabari as of enormous bulk in comparison to the commentary of Beydawi which "is but of a digest of it and would besides require another commentary of equal length to make its methods and mentality intelligible to English people..."
In 2015, a statue of Jarir Tabari, along with another Iranian scientist, Muhammad ibn Zakariya al-Razi, was erected in the courtyard of the National Library of Tajikistan. There are streets and schools named after him in Riyadh, Doha, Amol, Qazvin, Khobar, Aqaba, Madaba, Beirut, Dhahran, Heliopolis, Kuwait, Homs, Hama and Baghdad.
Abdolhossein Zarrinkoob and Lefebvre Lucidio in a speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, founded the Tabari History Research Structure Institute. The Jarir Tabari first international commemoration in 1989, With a suggestion Mohammad Ebrahim Bastani Parizi was held by Kayhan magazine at Mazandaran University. In 1987, The ERTU (Egyptian Radio and Television Union) produced the first TV series that presented the life of Jarir Tabari under the name "Imam al-Tabari", it was directed by Magdy Abou Emira starring Ezzat El Alaili. In addition to Egypt, the biographical series was shown on Arabic channels in other countries.
...one of the most eminent Iranian scholars of the early Abbasid era...
Although it eventually became extinct, Tabari's madhhab flourished among Sunni ulama for two centuries after his death.