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Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari

Muhammad Ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Born 839 CE (224AH)
Amol, Tabaristan, Abbasid Caliphate
Died Monday, 28 Shawwal, 310 A.H/ Feb 17, 923 CE (Julian Calendar) (aged 86)
Era Medieval era
Religion Islam
Denomination Sunni
Notable idea(s) Jariri

Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (; Persian: محمد بن جریر طبری‎‎, Arabic: أبو جعفر محمد بن جرير بن يزيد الطبري‎) (224–310 AH; 839–923 CE) was a prominent and influential Persian[1] scholar, historian and exegete of the Qur'an from Tabaristan, modern Mazandaran in Iran. Today, he is best known for his expertise in Islamic sciences (Qur'anic commentary and law) or history, but he has been described as "an impressively prolific polymath. He wrote on such subjects as poetry, lexicography, grammar, ethics, mathematics, and medicine."[2]

His most influential and best known works are his Qur'anic commentary known as Tafsir al-Tabari and his historical chronicle Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk (History of the Prophets and Kings), often referred to Tarikh al-Tabari. Al-Tabari founded his own madhhab which is usually designated by the name Jariri.


  • Biography 1
  • Personal characteristics 2
  • Works 3
  • Texts relating to Al-Tabari 4
  • Early Islam scholars 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


Tabari was born in Amol, Tabaristan (some twenty kilometres south of the Caspian Sea) in the winter of 838–9.[3] He memorized the Qur'an at seven, was a qualified religious leader at eight and began to study the prophetic traditions at nine. He left home to study in A.H. 236[4] (850–1) when he was twelve. He retained close ties to his home town. He returned at least twice, the last time in A.H. 290 (903) when his outspokenness caused some uneasiness and led to his quick departure.[5]

He first went to Ray (Rhages), where he remained for some five years.[6] 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.[7] While in Ray, he also studied Muslim jurisprudence according to the Hanafi school.[8] Among other material, ibn Humayd taught Jarir Tabari the historical works of ibn Ishaq, especially al-Sirah, his life of Muhammad.[9] Tabari was thus introduced in youth to pre-Islamic and early Islamic history. Tabari quotes ibn Humayd frequently. We know little about Tabari's other teachers in Rayy.[7]

Tabari then travelled to study in Baghdad under ibn Hanbal, who, however, had recently died (in late 855 or early 856).[10] Tabari possibly made a pilgrimage prior to his first arrival in Baghdad.[10] He left Baghdad probably in 242 A.H. (856–7)[11] to travel through the southern cities of Basra, Kufah and Wasit.[10] There he met a number of eminent and venerable scholars.[11] In addition to his previous study of Hanafi law, Tabari also studied the Shafi'i, Maliki and Zahiri rites.[12] Tabari's study of the latter school was with the founder, Dawud al-Zahiri,[13] and Tabari hand-copied and transmitted many of his teacher's works.[14] 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.[15] 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.[16]

On his return to Baghdad, he took a tutoring position from the vizier Ubaydallah ibn Yahya ibn Khaqan.[17] 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).[17] 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.[18] This is one of a number of stories about him declining gifts or giving gifts of equal or greater amount in return.[18]

In his late twenties he travelled to Syria, Palestine and Egypt.[19] In Beirut he made the highly significant connection of al-Abbas b. al-Walid b. 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 253H (867),[20] and some time after 256/870 returned to Baghdad,[21] 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.[22] 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.[23][24] He never took a government or a judicial position.[25]

Quran Tabari

Tabari was some fifty years old when al-Mu'tadid became caliph. He was well past seventy in the year his History, as we know it, 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.[26]

Tabari's final years were marked by conflict with the Hanbalite followers of

External links

  • Bosworth, C. E., "Al-Tabari, Abu Djafar Muhammad b. Djarir b. Yazid" in P. J. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C. E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W. P. Heinrichs et al., Encyclopædia of Islam, 2nd Edition. (Leiden: E. J. Brill) 12 Vols. published between 1960 and 2005.
  • Ehsan Yar-Shater, ed., The History of al-Ţabarī (State University of New York Press) 40 Vols. published between 1989 and 2007 ISBN 0-88706-563-5.
  • Mårtensson, Ulrika, al-Tabari, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014.
  • Rosenthal, Franz, trans., The History of al-Ţabarī (State University of New York Press, 1989), Volume 1.


  1. ^ Gaston Wiet, etc, "The Great Medieval Civilizations: cultural and scientific development. Volume 3. The great medieval civilizations. Part 1", Published by Allen and Unwin, 1975. pg 722:In the meantime another author, Tabari, Persian by origin, had been unobtrusively at work on two monumental pieces of writing, a commentary on the Koran ..
  2. ^ Lindsay Jones (ed.), Encyclopedia of religion, volume 13, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, p. 8943
  3. ^ Franz Rosenthal, trans., The History of al-Ţabarī (State University of New York Press, 1989), Volume 1, pp. 10–11
  4. ^ Rosenthal, pp. 15–16
  5. ^ Rosenthal, p. 11
  6. ^ Rosenthal, p. 16
  7. ^ a b Rosenthal, p. 17
  8. ^ Devin J. Stewart, "Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari's al-Bayan 'an Usul al-Ahkam and the Genre of Usul al-Fiqh in Ninth Century Baghdad," pg. 325. Taken from Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of Abbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6–10 January 2002. Edited by James Montgomery. Leuven: Peeters Publishers and the Department of Oriental Studies, 2004.
  9. ^ Rosenthal, p. 18
  10. ^ a b c Rosenthal, p. 19
  11. ^ a b Rosenthal, p. 20
  12. ^ Ibn al-Nadim, al-Fihrist, pg. 291. Ed. Rida Tajaddud. Tehran: Dar al-Masirah, 1988.
  13. ^ Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law: 9th–10th Centuries C.E., pg. 185. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1997.
  14. ^ Yaqut al-Hamawi, Irshad, vol. 18, pg. 78.
  15. ^ Stewart, Tabari, pg. 326.
  16. ^ al-Hamawi, vol. 18, pg. 57–58.
  17. ^ a b Rosenthal, p. 21
  18. ^ a b Rosenthal, p. 22
  19. ^ Rosenthal, p. 23
  20. ^ Rosenthal, p. 27
  21. ^ Rosenthal, p. 31
  22. ^ Rosenthal, p. 14
  23. ^ History of the Prophets and Kings, trans. Franz Rosenthal. Vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, pg. 52. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
  24. ^ Boaz Shoshan, Poetics of Islamic Historiography: Deconstructing Ṭabarī's History, introductio, pg. xxvi. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2004. ISBN 9004137939
  25. ^ Rosenthal, p. 36
  26. ^ Saliba, George. The History of Al-Ṭabarī = Taʻrīkh Al-rusul Waʻl-mulūk. Vol. XXXVIII. New York: State University of New York, 1985. Print.
  27. ^ Yaqut al-Hamawi, Irshad, vol. 18, pg. 57-58.
  28. ^ History of the Prophets and Kings, General Introduction, And, From the Creation to the Flood, pg. 73. Trsn. Franz Rosenthal. SUNY Press, 1989. ISBN 9781438417837
  29. ^ a b c History, trns. Franz Rosenthal, pg. 78.
  30. ^ Joel L. Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival During the Buyid Age, pg. 61. Volume 7 of Studies in Islamic culture and history. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1992. ISBN 9789004097360
  31. ^ Joel L. Kraemer, pg. 62.
  32. ^ Rosenthal, p. 40
  33. ^ The History of al-Tabari Vol. 1, p. 46
  34. ^ Rosenthal, p. 41
  35. ^ Rosenthal, p. 4o
  36. ^ Rosenthal, p. 78
  37. ^ Rosenthal, p. 55
  38. ^ Rosenthal, p. 61
  39. ^ Rosenthal, p. 56
  40. ^ Rosenthal, p. 63
  41. ^ Rosenthal, p. 64
  42. ^ Rosenthal, p. 66
  43. ^ The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-Rusul Walmuluk). Vol. XXVIII: Abbasid Authority Affirmed, the Early Years of al-Mansur A.D. 753-763/A.H. 136–145 by Al-Tabari (Abu Jafar Muhammad Ibn Jarir); Jane Dammen McAuliffe, Review by: Elton L. Daniel, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 29, No. 2 (May 1997), pp. 287–289, Published by: Cambridge University Press, Article Stable URL:
  44. ^ Osman, Ghada. "ORAL VS. WRITTEN TRANSMISSION: THE CASE OF ṬABARĪ AND IBN SAʿD." Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 15 May 2012.
  45. ^ A Local Historian's Debt to al-Ṭabarī: The Case of al-Azdī's "Ta'rīkh al-Mawṣil", Chase F. Robinson, Journal of the American Oriental Society , Vol. 126, No. 4 (October – December 2006), pp. 521–535, Published by: American Oriental Society, Article Stable URL:
  46. ^ Ṭabarī's Exegesis of the Qur'ānic Term al-Kitāb, Herbert Berg, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 63, No. 4 (Winter 1995), pp. 761–774, Published by: Oxford University Press, Article Stable URL:
  47. ^ The Succession to the Caliph Mūsā al-Hādī, Richard Kimber, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 121, No. 3 (July – September 2001), pp. 428–448, Published by: American Oriental Society, Article Stable URL:
  48. ^ Tarikh al-Rusul Wa-l-Muluk (History of Prophets and Kings), the History of al-Tabari, vol. XVII, the First Civil War by Abu Jafar Jarir Ibn Muhammad al-Tabari; G. R. Hawting, Review by: George Saliba, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 30, No. 1 (February 1998), pp. 125–127, Published by: Cambridge University Press, Article Stable URL:
  49. ^ The History of al-Tabari (Tarikh al-Rusul Wal-Muluk). Vol. XIV: The Conquest of Iran by Al-Tabari; G. Rex Smith, Review by: Hassan I. Mneimneh, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (May 1996), pp. 262–264, Published by: Cambridge University Press, Article Stable URL:
  50. ^ The Quran
  51. ^ The Great Fiqh
  52. ^ Al-Muwatta'
  53. ^ Sahih al-Bukhari
  54. ^ Sahih Muslim
  55. ^ Jami` at-Tirmidhi
  56. ^ Mishkât Al-Anwar
  57. ^ The Niche for Lights
  58. ^ Women in Islam: An Indonesian Perspective by Syafiq Hasyim. Page 67
  59. ^ ulama,
  60. ^ 1.Proof & Historiography - The Islamic Evidence.
  61. ^ Atlas Al-sīrah Al-Nabawīyah. Darussalam, 2004. Pg 270
  62. ^ Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz by Imam Abu Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Hakam died 829


See also

Early Islam scholars

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 cUmar's decision to invade came as a result of his realization "that Yazdajird 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.[49]

After so many exchanges of recrimination with his own men, and after various attempts to regroup what was becoming a progressively disorderly army, 'Ali is reported by Tabari in a most revealing passage to have explained his acceptance of the arbitration as such: "It is no sin but only a failure of judgment." Nothing sums up the moral and religious complexity of the situation better than this sentence. The group that made a big issue of 'Ali's dilemma were the Kharijites, who for reasons of their own could see clearly the religious and political issues involved, who agreed neither with 'Ali nor with his opponent but were in turn incapable of administering a polity of their own. Tabari's account also brings that out very clearly when he relates (p. 115) how the assembled Kharijites, who were quite willing to expound the reasons for their recession from 'Ali's forces, would one by one refuse to take the leadership of their own group, a situation quite characteristic of religious purists when confronted with "dirty" politics.[48]

Al-Tabari reports that al-Mahdi was just about to promote Harun as heir apparent ahead of Musa when he died, and adds by way of corroboration another report that al-Mahdi set off for Masabadhan in a great hurry (34). However, it may be doubted that al-Mahdi at the time shared the reporter's subsequent knowledge of his imminent demise there, and none of the other reported circumstances of his death suggest that he was in a hurry to go anywhere. On the contrary, the sources in general make it clear that he had gone to Masabadhan for recreation, and they occasionally say so explicitly. Al-Tabari does say explicitly that envoys were sent to the provinces, where they obtained the oath of allegiance not only to al-Hadi as caliph but also to Harun as heir apparent (wall al-'ahd) (38). This was probably the first occasion on which Harfin was so acknowledged. Harin himself, with the advice of al-Rabic, sent out these envoys, and all of this must have been presented to his brother on his return as a fait accompli.[47]

In 78.29 the Qur'an says "each thing we enumerate as [or in] a kitab, " and al-Tabari appends to the verse by way of elaboration "its number, its amount, and its extent-the knowledge of (any) thing does not escape us" (XXX: 10). This might suggest that al-Tabari considered kitab merely as a metaphor for Allah's knowledge. However, from al-Tabari's comments elsewhere on Allah's knowledge it is quite evident that he is not speaking metaphorically. For example, in 35.11 where the Qur'an states that the length or shortness of a person's life is in a kitab is explained by al-Tabari as "it is in a kitab with Allah, written (maktab) which he computes and knows" (XXII: 71-2).[46]

It is thus an extremely early witness to the reception of al-Tabarl's text-indeed much earlier than the sources that are customarily pressed into service to improve our understanding of the Ta'rikh al-rusul wa'l-muluik, e.g., Miskawayh, Ibn 'Asakir, Ibn al-Athir, and Ibn Khallikan.7 Second, since al-Azdi was writing in the decades following al-Tabarl, his Ta'rikh can say something about the reception of al-Tabari's Ta'rikh 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 Abui Ma'shar (170/786), Abiu Mikhnaf (157/774), al-Haytham ibn 'Adi (207/822), al-Madalini (around 228/843), and 'Umar ibn Shabba (262/878).[45]

Texts relating to Al-Tabari

A persual of Tabari shows that in fact he relied on a variety of historians and other authors such as Abu Mihnaf, Sayf b. 'Umar, Ibn al-Kalbi, 'Awana b. 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.[44]

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 (رحمه الله) says: " Imām Ibn Jarir (رحمه الله) once said to his students: “Are you'll ready to write down my lesson on the Tafsir (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.

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.

He wrote extensively; his voluminous corpus containing two main titles:

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.[43]

Initially he identified as a Shafi'ite in Fiqh law and Shafi'ites were happy to have him so considered. He was later seen as having established his own school. Although he had come to Baghdad in youth to study from Hanbal, he incurred the vehement wrath of the Hanbalites.[40] Tabari's madhhab is usually designated by the name Jariri after his patronymic.[41] However, in the keenly competitive atmosphere of the times, his school failed to endure.[42]

[39] In general Tabari's approach was conciliatory and moderate, seeking harmonious agreement between conflicting opinions.[38] He did not hesitate to express his independent judgement (

Al-Tabari wrote history, theology and Qur'anic commentary. His legal writings were published first and then continued to appear throughout his life. Next were his commentaries on the Qur'an. Lastly, his history was published. Despite a style that makes it seem he drew largely on oral sources, written material (both published and unpublished) provided him with the bulk of his information. His biographers stress his reverence for scholarship and his keen intent to offer his readers hard fact.


Bal'ami's 14th century Persian version of Universal History by Tabari

He died in Baghdad on February 17, 923.[36]

He is described as having a dark complexion, large eyes and a long beard. He was tall and slender[32] 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. [33] He was witty and urbane, clean and well mannered.[34] He avoided coarse speech, instead displaying refined eloquence.[35] 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.

Personal characteristics

Tabari finally died on Monday, February 17, 923.[29] Abbasid authorities actually buried Tabari in secret due to fears of mob violence by the Hanbalites.[30] Regardless, Tabari was remembered positively by contemporaries such as Ibn Duraid,[29] and the Hanbalites were condemned by Abbasid authorities in their entirety due to persecution of opponents roughly a decade later.[31]


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