Nazzam, Al- (782–C. 840)

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NAZZAM, AL- (782–C. 840)

Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Sayyar al-Nazzam was an early Mu˓tazilite thinker. He was born in 782 c.e. and grew up in Basra, was trained by his maternal uncle Abu 'l-Hudhayl al-˓Allaf, and took part in scholarly debates there in his early youth. He moved to Baghdad in the early 820s, where he received the support of the Abbasid caliphs until his death sometime between 835 and 845. He taught many Mu˓tazilite scholars of the ninth century, among whom was his follower al-Jahiz.

In addition to his skills as a poet, Nazzam was interested in Greek philosophy and ancient Iranian culture. Though he had various discussions with Muslim scholars, most of his work was directed against Christians, Jews, dualists, and naturalists. He wrote many books (estimated at thirty-nine), all of which are lost with the exception of some fragments, mostly relating to scientific or philosophical issues, including a refutation of Aristotelian logic.

Nazzam disagreed with Abu 'l-Hudayl's atomist theory of physics by rejecting the existence of isolated particles within the created bodies, and their change through accidents. Changes occur in bodies, according to Nazzam, with the appearance of hidden (kumun) interior components by a leap of motions (tafra). Acting bodies are subjected to infinite divisions by their created nature (khilqa), though not all motions are perceptible. Nazzam did not focus on the attributes of God in his theological system. Regarding the protection of Qur˒anic revelation, he developed the theory of its being prevented (sarfa) from challenges of unbelievers by God rather than earlier theories about the linguistic impossibility (i˓jaz) of its being imitated. He also recommended a critical approach toward the acceptance of transmitted reports and traditions (akhbar). The original views of Nazzam gained support and elicited reactions both inside and outside of his school. Thus, he created an intellectual liveliness in the Muslim scholarship of that era.

See alsoKalam ; Mu˓tazilites ; Mu˓tazila .


Dhanani, Alnoor. The Physical Theory of Kalam: Atoms, Space, and Void in Basrian Mu˓tazili Theology. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1994.

Ess, Josef van. Theology and Science: The Case of Abu Ishaq al-Nazzam. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, 1978.

Frank, Richard M. Being and Their Attributes: The Teachings ofBasrian School of the Mu˓tazila in the Classical Period. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1978.

M. Sait Özervarli