Tabari, Al- (839–923)

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TABARI, AL- (839–923)

Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari was an important jurisprudent, Qur˒an commentator, and historian (in descending order among tenth-century Muslims; in ascending order among modern scholars). Born in Amul, Tabaristan (by the Caspian Sea), Tabari memorized the Qur˒an at eight and left home to study under more distant masters at twelve. He finally settled in Baghdad, always mainly supported by remittances from his landowning family in Tabaristan.

In theology, he advocated the moderate Sunni tendency, accepting such tenets as the uncreatedness of the Qur˒an (against the Mu˓tazila, among others) and recognition of ˓Ali as fourth caliph and fourth-best Companion (against the Shi˓a) but arguing rationally in their defense. Likewise, he inferred the law chiefly from the prophetic sunna but gave reason considerable freedom to manipulate the revealed texts. Extremist Sunnis were sufficiently offended to blockade his house near the end of his life.

Tabari's jurisprudential works were massive, and during the tenth century, a Jariri school of law vied with the Shafi˓i, Hanafi, and other schools for the attention of Sunni Muslims; however, the Jariri school then died out, and most of the works are now lost. His massive Qur˒an commentary was the first to deal systematically with every verse in succession. Tabari quotes many alternative interpretations from past authorities but he normally gives his own preference at the end, often appealing to grammar to establish the meaning. The author's voice is most faintly heard in his world history, likewise a succession of quotations; however, the grand scheme that emerges agrees with what else is known of Tabari's theology.

See alsoHistorical Writing ; Qur˒an .


Gilliot, Claude. Exégèse, langue et théologie en Islam—L'Exégèse de Tabarî. Paris: J. Vrin, 1990.

Rosenthal, Franz. The History of al-Tabari, Vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

Christopher Melchert