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Ibn Bābawayhi


IBN BĀBAWAYHI or Ibn Bābūyah (ah 306?381/918?991 ce), Abu Jaʿfar Muammad ibn ʿAlī, known as al-adūq ("the veracious"), was a Twelver Shīʿī jurist and traditionist. Very little is known of his life. According to popular belief, he was born after his father, a leading figure in the Twelver community of Qom, had asked the Hidden Imam to pray that he be granted a son. The father had a decisive influence on Ibn Bābawayhi's early upbringing and education. Following the custom of his day, Ibn Bābawayhi traveled widely in search of knowledge. He came to Baghdad in 963 ce and, after a stay of more than a year, proceeded to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage before returning to Baghdad via Kufa in 966.

Ibn Bābawayhi was a frequent visitor to Nishapur and other Khorasani cities and was regarded by many as the leading light of Khorasani Twelver Shiism. His travels took him as far as Transoxiana, which he visited in 979. At some point in his career he established contacts with the western Iranian city of Rayy. These contacts were reinforced around 983, when Rukn al-Dawlah, the Buyid ruler of Rayy, asked him to take up residence at the court. Rukn al-Dawlah became Ibn Bābawayhi's patron, and in return Ibn Bābawayhi provided answers to questions that his benefactor put to him on matters of doctrine. Ibn Bābawayhi was highly esteemed in Rayy, although his influence seems to have waned somewhat toward the end of his life. He died and was buried in Rayy, where a domed shrine was erected over his tomb.

Ibn Bābawayhi was a prolific writer, although fewer than twenty of some three hundred works ascribed to him have survived. Even so, the surviving works are greater in number than those of any other older or contemporary Twelver author, and their impact on subsequent generations has been considerable. Man lā yauruhu al-faqīh (Every man his own lawyer) is Ibn Bābawayhi's best-known work. As the title suggests, the need for such a work arose after the disappearance of the twelfth imamthe so-called greater occultation (ghaybah ), which began in 941who was no longer available to answer questions on religious practice. This work was completed in 979 and became one of the four standard legal textbooks of Twelver Shiism. Shorter legal compilations are Al-hidāyah (Guidance) and Al-muqniʿ fī al-fiqh (Sufficiency in jurisprudence).

Ibn Bābawayhi's mastery of Twelver traditions also comes to the fore in works such as the Thawāb al-aʿmāl and ʿIqāb al-aʿmāl, which include traditions on the reward and punishment, respectively, for praiseworthy or evil actions; the ʿIlal al-sharāʾiʿ, in which many traditions are adduced in explication of the reasons underlying various religious obligations; and the Kitāb al-khiāl, where traditions describing myriad qualities and actions are grouped in order of increasing numbers, from one to one million. Ibn Bābawayhi's ʿUyūn akhbār al-Riā is an invaluable mine of information on the life and times of the eighth imam, ʿAlī al-Riā (d. 818), while Ikmāl al-dīn wa-itmām al-niʿmah (The perfection of religion and completion of blessing, a title harking back to sūrah 5:3 of the Qurʾān) is one of the earliest and most exhaustive expositions of the doctrine of the twelfth imam, his occultation, and his future reappearance as the Mahdi (Messiah).

Ibn Bābawayhi's interest in questions of dogma led him to compose the Risālat al-iʿtiqādāt, the earliest extant Twelver creed. The views that he upholds there are in general agreement with those of earlier Twelver thinkers, yet they are at times less deterministic and anthropomorphic. He thus holds that the will of God encompasses everything, including evil deeds, but then defines this will as foreknowledge. In contrast to some Twelver traditionists, he denies the possibility that God may be seen in the hereafter. Because of his declared opposition to theological disputation (kalām ), Ibn Bābawayhi, in the creed and elsewhere, relies almost totally on traditions of the imams, to the exclusion of reasoning. For this he was criticized by his renowned pupil Shaykh al-Mufīd (d. 1022) in the latter's Taīh al-iʿtiqād (Correction of the Creed). Al-Mufīd also attacked Ibn Bābawayhi's position on some specific matters, such as his contention that the immunity (ʿimah) of prophets and imams from sin and error did not preclude the possibility of inadvertent mistakes, which God might induce in them to show that they were merely human. In his later years Ibn Bābawayhi was obliged to modify his anti-kalām views in the face of attacks by the Muʿtazilah, whose rationalist theology came increasingly to dominate Twelver thinking. This change is particularly evident in his Kitāb al-tawīd (The book of the unity of God).

As the example of al-Mufīd shows, Ibn Bābawayhi was not without his critics, whose main complaint was that he relied on traditions of dubious authenticity. It is perhaps to counter such complaints that the honorary appellation al-adūq was conferred on him. later generations of Twelver scholars are virtually unanimous in viewing Ibn Bābawayhi as one of the pillars of Twelver Shiism. His work may in fact be regarded as adumbrating the full-fledged Twelver literature of the eleventh century.


The most detailed account available of Ibn Bābawayhi's life and works is by A. A. Fyzee in the introduction to A Shīʿite Creed (London, 1942), a translation of Ibn Bābawayhi's Risālat al-iʿtiqādāt. A shorter version is provided by Fyzee in the article on Ibn Bābawayhi that he wrote for the new edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960), where further literature is cited. Ibn Bābawayhi's position on major dogmatic and juristic issues is discussed by Wilferd Madelung in "Imamism and Muʿtazilite Theology," published in Le shīʿisme imāmite, edited by Toufic Fahd et al. (Paris, 1970), pp. 1330, at pp. 1720, and by Martin J. McDermott in The Theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufīd (Beirut, 1978), particularly in part 2 (see also the index).

Etan Kohlberg (1987)

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