Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari


Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari

Bal'ami's 14th century Persian version of Universal History by Tabari
Full name Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari
Born 838 (224AH)
Amol, Tapuria, Iran
Died 923 (310AH)
Era Medieval era
Region Persian scholar
School Jariri

Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (Persian: محمد بن جریر طبری; Muḥammad b.Ǧarīr aṭ-Ṭabarī, Arabic: أبو جعفر محمد بن جرير بن يزيد الطبري‎; Abū Ǧaʿfar Muḥammad b.Ǧarīr b.Yazīd aṭ-Ṭabarī) (838–923) (224 – 310 AH) was a prominent and influential Sunni scholar and exegete of the Qur'an from Persia. His most influential and best known works are his (تاريخ الرسل والملوك) Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk (often shortened to "Tarikh al-Tabari") and Tafsir al-Tabari.

Contents

Biography

Tabari was born in Amol, Tabaristan (some twenty kilometres south of the Caspian Sea) in the winter of 838–9.[1] 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[2] (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.[3]

He first went to Ray (Rages), where he remained for some five years.[4] 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.[5] Among other material, ibn Humayd taught Jarir Tabari the historical works of ibn Ishaq, especially al-Sirah, his life of Muhammad.[6] 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).[8] Tabari possibly made a pilgrimage prior to his first arrival in Baghdad.[9] He left Baghdad probably in 242 A.H. (856–7)[10] to travel through the southern cities of Basra, Kufah and Wasit.[11] There he met a number of eminent and venerable scholars.[12]

On his return to Baghdad, he took a tutoring position from the vizier Ubaydallah b. Yahya b. Khaqan.[13] 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).[14] 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.[15] This is one of a number of stories about him declining gifts or giving gifts of equal or greater amount in return.[16]

In his late twenties he travelled to Syria, Palestine and Egypt.[17] 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),[18] and some time after 256/870 returned to Baghdad,[19] 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.[20] He took money for teaching. He never took a government or a judicial position.[21]

Personal Characteristics

He is described as having a dark complexion, large eyes and a long beard. He was tall and slender[22] and his hair and beard remained black until he was very old. He was attentive to his health, avoiding red meat, fats and other unhealthy foods. He was seldom sick before his last decade when he suffered from bouts of pleurisy. When he was ill, he could treat 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 seventh century poet's work for Egyptians who had merely heard al-Tirimmah's name.

He was witty and urbane, clean and well mannered.[23] He avoided coarse speech, instead displaying refined eloquence.[24] 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.

Tabari never married.[25] There is a description of his normal day: rising early for prayer, studying till early afternoon, publicly praying the afternoon prayer, reciting Qur'an and teaching Qur'an, and then teaching law, etc. until late.

He died in Baghdad on February 17, 923.[26]

Works

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.

He didn't hesitate to express his independent judgement (ijtihad).[27] He stated his assessment as to which of the sources he cited was accurate. This was more understandably an aspect of his theology than of his history. This does not mean he saw himself as innovative. On the contrary, he was very much opposed to religious innovation. The story goes that when he was near death ibn Kamil suggested he forgive his enemies. He said he was willing to do so, except for the person who had described him as an innovator.[28] In general Tabari's approach was conciliatory and moderate, seeking harmonious agreement between conflicting opinions.[29]

Initially he identified as a Shafi'ite in Fiqh law and Shafi'ites were happy to have him so considered. He later was seen as one establishing his own school. Although he had come to Baghdad in youth to study from Hanbal, he incurred the vehement wrath of the Hanbalites.[30] Tabari's madhhab is usually designated by the name Jariri after his patronymic.[31] However, in the keenly competitive atmosphere of the times, his school failed to endure.[32]

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

  • History of the Prophets and Kings – (Arabic: تاريخ الرسل والملوك or Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk or Tarikh al-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 AD 915, and is renowned for its detail and accuracy concerning Muslim and Middle Eastern history. Tabari's work is a major primary source for the Zanj Revolt.

  • The Commentary on the Qur'an – (Arabic: al-musamma Jami al-bayan fi ta'wil al-Qur'an, commonly called Tafsir al-Tabari)

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 7 years to finish it from the year 283 till 290. It is said its 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.

See also

References

  1. ^ Franz Rosenthal, trans., The History of al-Ţabarī (State University of New York Press, 1989), Volume 1, pp. 10-11
  2. ^ Rosenthal, pp. 15–16
  3. ^ Rosenthal, p. 11
  4. ^ Rosenthal, p. 16
  5. ^ Rosenthal, p. 17
  6. ^ Rosenthal, p. 18
  7. ^ Rosenthal, p. 17
  8. ^ Rosenthal, p. 19
  9. ^ Rosenthal, p. 19
  10. ^ Rosenthal, p. 20
  11. ^ Rosenthal, p. 19
  12. ^ Rosenthal, p. 20
  13. ^ Rosenthal, p. 21
  14. ^ Rosenthal, p. 21
  15. ^ Rosenthal, p. 22
  16. ^ Rosenthal, p. 22
  17. ^ Rosenthal, p. 23
  18. ^ Rosenthal, p. 27
  19. ^ Rosenthal, p. 31
  20. ^ Rosenthal, p. 14
  21. ^ Rosenthal, p. 36
  22. ^ Rosenthal, p. 40
  23. ^ Rosenthal, p. 41
  24. ^ Rosenthal, p. 4o
  25. ^ Rosenthal, p. 33
  26. ^ Rosenthal, p. 78
  27. ^ Rosenthal, p. 55
  28. ^ Rosenthal, p. 61
  29. ^ Rosenthal, p. 56
  30. ^ Rosenthal, p. 63
  31. ^ Rosenthal, p. 64
  32. ^ Rosenthal, p. 66

Bibliography

  • 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.
  • Rosenthal, Franz, trans., The History of al-Ţabarī (State University of New York Press, 1989), Volume 1.

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