Wahb Ibn Munabbih

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WAHB IBN MUNABBIH (d. ca. 110/728), Yemenite scholar and ascetic, probably of Jewish origin. Wahb was one of the most important conduits of Isrāʾīliyyāt or biblical materials (both Jewish and Christian), including "Tales of the Prophets" (Arabic: qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā ʾ) into Islamic tradition; in his days the gates were still wide open. He claimed to have read the "books" (kutub) of the famous Jewish converts to Islam, ʿAbdallāh ibn Salām and *Kʿab al-Aḥbār. According to one of Wahb's contemporaries, who was critical of his immodesty, he boasted that he commanded the combined knowledge of these two scholars. Wahb was born in *Sanʿa or in Dhimār south of Sanʿa. His mother was of the aristocratic tribe of Ḥimyar. As to his father, the least prestigious, and hence the most trustworthy, version has it that he was a mawlā or client of the Abnāʾ, i.e. the descendants of the Sassanian warriors who conquered the *Yemen in the sixth century c.e. Other versions have it that his father was of the Abnāʾ themselves, or even a descendant of one of the Sassanian emperors. After converting to Islam, his father became a disciple of *Muhammad's Companion Muʿādh ibn Jabal who was one of Muhammad's envoys to the Yemen. There were many scholars among Wahb's relatives and direct descendantṣ. His brother Hammām (d. 101/719 or 102/720), for example, left a collection of *ḥadīths, i.e., sayings and accounts ascribed or related to Muhammad and his Companions.

Under the caliph ʿAbd al-Malik, Wahb officiated as a salaried preacher (qāṣṣ, until 75/694). He was an expert reader of the *Koran, besides being one of the earliest compilers in Islam; his biography of Muhammad, which is replete with miracles, reveals a Shīʿite bias. Wahb's traditions are often quoted in Koran exegesis, and many of them deal with the merits of Jerusalem and Palestine (or Syria; Arabic: Shām). Under the caliph Omar ii, the former salaried preacher was appointed qadī or judge of Sanʿa, an office he also held at the beginning of Yazīd ibn ʿAbd al-Malik's caliphate (more precisely until 103/721). His appointment was frowned upon by those who deplored any form of cooperation with the government. Also under Omar ii, probably in conjunction with his judgeship, Wahb was in charge of the treasury (probably in Sanʿa). Taking the government's side, Wahb engaged in polemics against rebellious Khārijites who argued that it was illegitimate to pay taxes to oppressive rulerṣ. Still, under the caliph Hishām ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, Wahb was jailed and died as a result of flogging ordered by the governor of the Yemen. Wahb's adherence to the doctrine of qadar or free will was probably behind his chastisement, since there is in this context a reference to an ordeal he underwent (umtuḥina). In addition to human informants, Wahb relied on written materials: his brother Hammām is said to have bought for him "books." A prominent Yemenite scholar figuratively warned a pupil of his against the "saddle-bag" of Wahb and another scholar, since they were "owners of books, i.e. they transmitted from leaves." Wahb is rarely quoted in the canonical collections of ḥadīth, although most experts on the quality of ḥadīth transmitters considered him trustworthy.


Entry on Wahb, in Ibn ʿAsākir, Taʾrīkh madīnat Dimashq, ed. al-ʿAmrawī, 53:366–403; al-Rāzī, Kitāb taʾrīkh madīnat Ṣanʿāʾ2, ed. Ḥusayn ibn ʿAbdallāh al-ʿAmrī (1981); J. Horovitz, "Wahb b. Munabbih", in: eis s.v., 1084a–1085b; R.G. Khoury, "Wahb b. Munabbih," in: eis2 and the bibliography cited there; J. van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra: Eine Geschichte des religiösen Denkens im fruehen Islam (1991), 702–6.

[Michael Lecker (2nd ed.)]