Ibn Qutayba

by Dr. G.F. Haddad

‘Abd Allāh ibn Muslim ibn Qutayba, Abū Muh.ammad al-Dīnawarī al-Marwazī (213-276) the h.adīth Master, foremost philologist, linguist, and man of letters. Judgments on Ibn Qutayba differed. Al-Khat.īb, al-Qift.ī, al-Silafī, al-Suyūt.ī, and others declared him a trustworthy and eminent Scholar of knowledge. Al-Bayhaqī considers him one of the Karrāmiyya and his teacher, al-H.ākim, claims the consensus of the Community on declar­ing him a liar, an extreme exaggera­tion. Al-Dhahabī in the Mīzān reports from the Rāfid.ī-leaning Sibt. Ibn al-Jawzī’s Mir’āt al-Zamān al-Dāraqut.nī’s supposed judgment without chain that Ibn Qutayba leaned towards anthropomorphism and showed hostility to the Family of the Prophet e while Ibn Taymiyya labels him the spoke­sman of Ahl al-Sunna. Al-Dhahabī objected: “The man is not an authority in h.adīth.” In the latter part of his life Ibn Qutayba re­gretted his kalām days and wished he had steered completely clear of it.

When some students came asking Ibn Qutayba to narrate to them from Ish.āq ibn Rāhūyah, he said: “I do not narrate. In Baghdād, there are eight hundred muh.addiths, each one of them like my teachers [status]. Therefore, I shall not narrate anything.”

Among Ibn Qutayba’s teachers are his father; Ah.mad ibn Sa‘īd al-Lih.yānī the colleague of Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim ibn Sallām; the littérateur and historian of poetry Muh.ammad ibn Sallām al-Jumah.ī; Ish.āq ibn Ibrāhīm ibn Makhlad, known as Ibn Rāhūyah the h.adīth Master; the grammarian Abū Ish.āq Ibrāhīm ibn Sufyān al-Ziyādī; the martyred philologist and historian Abū al-Fad.l al-‘Abbās ibn al-Faraj al-Riyāshi al-Bas.rī; the canonist and gram­marian Abū H.ātim Sahl ibn Muh.ammad ibn ‘Uthmān al-Sijistānī; and al-As.ma‘ī’s nephew ‘Abd al-Rah.mān ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Qurayb al-Bas.rī.

Among his students: His son the Qād.ī al-qud.āt of Cairo, Abū Ja‘far Ah.mad ibn Muslim who narrated all his father’s books meticulously; the Mālikī muh.addith and qād.ī Abū Bakr Ah.mad ibn Marwān al-Dīnawarī, author of al-Mujālasa wa Jawāhir al-‘Ilm, who transmitted Ta’wīl Mukh­talif al-H.adīth; Abū Bakr Muh.ammad ibn Khalaf ibn al-Marzubān al-Ājurrī (d. 309), the author of al-Sharī‘a; Abū al-Qāsim Ibrāhīm ibn Muh.ammad ibn Ayyūb al-S.ā’igh who narrated all Ibn Qutayba’s books; the Imām and h.adīth Master of Andalus Abū Muh.ammad Qāsim ibn As.bagh al-Qurt.ubī; and ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ja‘far ibn Durustūyah al-Fārisī.

In his Tafsīr for the verse [And there is none of the People of the Scripture but he will certainly believe in him before his death, and on the Day of Resurrection he will be a witness against them] (4:159), Ibn al-Jawzī states, concerning the pronoun “his” in before his death:

One explanation is that the pronoun refers to the person who believes... ‘Ikrima narrated: The soul of the Kitabee does not leave him except he bears witness to the prophethood of Muh.ammad (s). Another explanation is that the pronoun refers to ‘Īsā. Ibn ‘Abbās said that at the time he descends there shall not remain on the face of the earth any Kitabee or anyone that worships other than Allāh, all believing in ‘Īsā and following him as the spirit from Allāh and His Word, His servant and Messenger. This is the position of Qatāda, Ibn Zayd, and Ibn Qutayba, and Ibn Jarīr al-T.abārī chose it.[1]

The books al-Imāma wal-Siyāsa and Tārīkh al-Khulafā’ are spuriously attributed to Ibn Qutayba by the Shī‘īs. Ibn Qutayba counts the Shī‘īs among the misguided sects and compared Shī‘ism to Zoroastrianism.

Among Ibn Qutayba’s authentic works:

¨        Adab al-Kitāb.

¨        al-Akhbār al-T.iwāl.

¨        al-Amwāl.

¨        al-Anwā’.

¨        al-‘Arab wa ‘Ulūmuhā on Arab intellectual history.

¨        al-Ashriba on alcoholic beverages.

¨        Dalā’il al-Nubuwwa or A‘lām al-Nubuwwa on the Proofs of Prophethood.

¨        Fad.l al-‘Arab ‘alā al-‘Ajam in praise of the Arabs.

¨        Gharīb al-Qur’ān also known as Mushkil al-Qur’ān, on its lexical difficulties.

¨        I‘rāb al-Qur’ān, a philological commentary.

¨        al-Ikhtilāf fī al-Lafz. wa al-Radd ‘alā al-Jahmiyya wal-Mushabbiha, a refutation of both the Allegorizers and the Anthropomorphists. This slim volume received editions in Egypt.

¨        al-Ishtiqāq.

¨        Is.h. Ghalat. Abī ‘Ubayd, corrections on al-Qāsim ibn Salām’s Gharīb al-H.adīth.

¨        Jāmi‘ al-Fiqh in jurisprudence, dispraised as unreliable by al-T.abarī and Ibn Surayj, as was Ibn Qutayba’s al-Amwāl.

¨        Jāmi‘ al-Nah.w al-Kabīr and Jāmi‘ al-Nah.w al-S.aghīr.

¨        al-Jarāthīm in linguistics.

¨        al-Jawābāt al-H.ād.ira.

¨        al-Ma‘ānī al-Kabīr.

¨        al-Ma‘ārif, a slim volume that manages to cover topics from the beginning of creation and facts about the Jāhiliyya to the names of the Companions and famous jurists and h.adīth Masters.

¨        al-Masā’il wal-Ajwiba.

¨        al-Maysar wal-Qidāh. on dice and lots.

¨        al-Na‘m wal-Bahā’im on cattle and livestock.

¨        al-Nabāt in botany.

¨        al-Qirā’āt in the canonical readings.

¨        al-Radd ‘alā al-Qā’il bi Khalq al-Qur’ān, against those who assert the created­ness of the Qur’an.

¨        al-Radd ‘alā al-Shu‘aybiyya, a refutation of a sub-sect of the ‘Ajārida ‘At.awiyya, itself a sub-sect of the Khawārij.

¨        al-Rah.l wal-Manzil.

¨        al-Shi‘r wal-Shu‘arā’.

¨        Ta’wīl Mukhtalif al-H.adīth (“The Interpretation of Conflicting Narra­tions”), one of the earliest books on the subject of the apparent mutual contradiction of proof-texts (ta‘ārud. al-adilla) along with Ibn Fūrak’s Mushkil al-H.adīth and the fore­most Sharh. Mushkil al-Āthār of Imām al-T.ah.āwī. Of the scholars of h.adīth who collect narrations without pausing to understand what they write Ibn Qutayba says: “Some have called them the H.ashwiyya” – a term that literally means “crammers” and is traditionally used for anthropomorphists. He also refutes the enemies of Ahl al-Sunna who used rational arguments in order to disauthenticate the h.adīth or divest it of any real meaning in the manner of modern-day opponents of the Sunna both inside and outside the Muslim Community. For example, he explains the mention of the “baring of the shank” (sāq) in the Qur’ān and Sunna as a metonymy for the travails in which one hitches up one’s lower garments, baring one’s legs, due to their intensity.[2] Ibn Qutayba also mocks the endless divisions of the proponents of non-Sunnī kalām into sub-sects such as the Abū al-Hudhayl al-‘Allāf (d. 230), the chief Mu‘tazilī of Bas.ra who disagrees with his colleague al-Naz.z.ām (d. ~220-230); the Mu‘tazilī al-Najjār who disagrees with both of them; the Shī‘ī anthropomorphist Hishām ibn al-H.akam (d. 148) who disagrees with al-Najjār; the Mu‘tazilī Thumāma ibn Ashras who disagrees with Ibn al-H.akam; etc.

¨        Ta‘bīr al-Ru’yā on the interpretation of dreams.

¨        Talqīn al-Muta‘allim min al-Nah.w in grammar.

¨        ‘Uyūn al-Akhbār in history.

¨        ‘Uyūn al-Shi‘r in poetry.

      Main source: al-Dhahabī, Siyar 10:625-628 #2356.


[1]Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād al-Masīr (2:247-248).

[2]Cf. Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf‘ Shubah al-Tashbīh (Saqqāf ed. p. 118-119).