The Imam of Tafsir Ibn Jarir At-Tabari
The Fanatics of Baghdad
Historically, people have always been treated unjustly and oppressed by their contemporaries along with their sightless followers. Allah has a method of testing His slaves with trials and suffering to strengthen their faith to elevate their status in this World, or in the next.
The righteous scholars, who carry Allah’s Word and His Prophet (ﷺ)’s Sunnah and defend them will be afflicted in this life from the ill-mannered fools in their society or by global campaigns lead by gangs. Among those in history badly affected by fools and fanatics was a great scholar named:
“Muhammad ibn Jarir ibn Yazeed ibn Katheer”
He is mentioned more often as Abu Ja’far At-Tabari or Ibn Jarir. Ibn Jarir was an erudite of Quranic sciences and the Sunnah, something that is widely recognized is his book,
Khateeb Al-Baghdadi said:
“Ibn Jarir was an Imam among the Imams of Islam. His speech and opinions are reference points.”
Abu Ja’far was so widely read that he collected knowledge and information that no one else did during his lifetime. He had extensive knowledge about the Quran, the Sunnah and its chains of narration, which placed him on rank able to distinguish between the Sahih and weak Ahadeeth, along with their abrogated reports. Also, Ibn Jarir was educated about the speech of the Sahabah and the Tabee’een.
He was also a noted historian, who authored a book titled,
“Akhbar Al-umam wa Tarikhahum”
His most noted works are his Tafsir and Tahtheebul Athar, and both books are unique in their field.
Imam Ath-Thahabibi said:
“Ibn Jarir At-Tabari was trustworthy, honest and a Hafith. He was a leader in Tafsir and an Imam in Fiqh, with knowledge about the issues of Ijma and the differing opinions. Moreover, this imam was a historian with deep insight about the various Quran recitations and Arabic language”.
Ahmed ibn Abee Tahir said:
“If a person travelled to China in search of Tafseer At-Tabari that wouldn’t be considered extreme.”
Ibn Jarir moved and remained Baghdad in the latter part of his life. When he went there he began to spread his books and assemble everything he learned during his journey and path of seeking knowledge. He remained firm with his views after having the opportunity to meet various scholars. These judgments of his became known as:
“ Mathab Al-Jariri”
Which was an independent school of jurisprudence in Baghdad, and this caused some disturbances amongst the people there. The countless fanatical followers of Imam Ahmed’s Mathab rebelled against Ibn Jarir and assailed him with foul names and brutal physical attacks. The main reasons they behaved in this fashion towards this Imam were;
Reasons of bad behaviors of fanatics:
- After Ibn Jarir researched and examined issues he came to the conclusion that Imam Ahmed was a Hafith and scholar of Hadith, but not a Faqeeh. For that reason when he wrote, “Ikhtalaf Al-Fuqaha” and he passed over Imam Ahmed’s opinions.
He supported this decision since he presumed that Imam Ahlus Sunnah didn’t write any books about Fiqh, but focused more of his attention on the Hadith sciences. In view of that Imam Ibn Jarir didn’t mention any of Imam Ahmed’s legal opinions ,with the Fatawa of the scholars ,and the Fuqaha in his book ,so The Hanabala asked him:
“Why didn’t you cite our Imam in your book? Abu Ja’far replied: “He wasn’t a Faqeeh, but only a Muhaddith.”
They didn’t appreciate that answer and there were so many followers of the Hanabala Jurisprudence in Baghdad at that time, so they turned against Ibn Jarir and said whatever they felt like about him without thought ,or concern of his status in knowledge.
As time went on the Hanabala of Baghdad raged such a storm against Imam At-Tabari, he couldn’t come out of his house, and when he did they would throw rocks at him. This rebellion against Imam At-Tabari escalated to the point that one day the police came to his house along with thousands of soldiers, and a regular crowd of people who were part of this chaos were already there. They instigated the officers present to go against Imam Ibn Jarir, so much so
Ibn Al-Khuzaymah said:
“The Hanabala have oppressed Ibn Jarir.”
- Ibn Jarir wrote a book refuting the Hanabala ,and their leading Imam at that time who was Abu Bakr ibn Abee Dawud (Imam Abu Dawud’s son, author of Sunnan Abee Dawud).
Imam Ath-Thahabi said:
“The Hanabala were a faction of followers loyal to Abu Bakr ibn Abee Dawud. Abu Bakr stirred up major turmoil against Ibn Jarir until he was unable to leave his house. I seek refuge in Allah from desires.”
Al-Hafith Ibn Al-Atheer said:
“The Hanabala prevent people from going to learn from Ibn Jarir ”
Ibn Kathir said:
“From their ignorance they accused Ibn Jarir of being an atheist, and may Allah forbid that this imam.”
Abu Bakr Muhammed ibn Dawud Ath-Thahiri a great scholar of Quran and Sunnah accused At-Tabari of terrible things such as being. This is partially due to fact that At-Tabari was one of his students in the beginning, but then later on had his own study circle. Both of these scholars used to write books back and forth refuting each. Abu Bakr Muhammad Ath-Thahiri died [297H] and that was the end of that 1st chapter of drama and fitnah. Then Abu Bakr Abdullah ibn Sulayman, became the new ringleader for the hardships that Imam At-Tabari encountered. Abdullah ibn Abi Dawud and Ibn Jarir were considered contemporary amongst each other and this is part of the dispute that lead to this problem. Other reasons were Abu Bakr denied the hadith of Ghadir Khumm and Imam At-Tabari wrote a two volume book saying it was authentic. Also Ibn Jarir wrote a book about the virtues of the Quran and likewise Abu Bakr authored one. For these reasons mentioned Imam At-Tabari was accused of being an apostate, Raafidha, a Shia, and even a Mu’tazliah in some areas. Despite all of these accusations and hostility Imam At-Tabari remained firm in his Aqeedah and legal opinions. Sometimes he would try to explain his position about their leaders to please them; however they weren’t trying hearing it, so his clarification was met with malicious acts and fell on deaf ears. Imam Ibn Jarir wrote a book trying to bring reconciliation with the Hanabala by apologizing to them not because he was weak, but to explain the reason he had that opinion. Nonetheless, the Hanabala remained adamant towards Imam At-Tabari until he died in his house. He was buried inside of his home out of fear from the Hanabala’s physical attacks. After his death people from around the world would pass by his home and offer salah over his grave.
Reflections & Minhaj Lessons from the Story:
- A poet once said:
They are more frightened than a fox
Amazing how tonight is identical to last night
Abu Al-Fadl Al-Maydan explained the meaning of this poem is some people will resemble others in their evil and deceit and last night is used to show how close they are.
As Muslims trying to follow the Salaf we need to pay attention our history; as history has a way of repeating itself. What we call Fitnah, discord and splitting is probably something we don’t truly understand since we haven’t taken lessons from the times gone and recorded in the history books. And Allah knows best.
- The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“The religion is naseehah (sincere advice).” We said, “To whom?” He (ﷺ) said, “To Allah, His Book, His Messenger, to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.”
This hadith plays an important role in maintaining the rights of Muslims and protecting them from harm. After reaching an elevated level scholarship Imam At-Tabari came to conclusion based on his scholarly judgments that Imam Ahmed wasn’t a Faqeeh,but only a Muhaddith, and this was an erroneous conclusion. Nevertheless, look at how he was treated for that error.
Was he given advice from the Hanabala scholars, who claimed to be adherents to Imam Ahlus Sunnah Jurisprudence?
Did that position warrant such hostility since he didn’t accept to place Imam Ahmed’s positions in his books?
This is what we witness today and have been experiencing over the last decade that when 1 scholar Ijtihad isn’t accepted a person is shunned, rejected, boycotted and in some cases mentally and physically harmed.-Allah’s Help is sought.
- Imam Ahmed was a Faqeeh as stated by the numerous scholars during his era and after. He did write one book about a Salah, which was a Fiqh topic. He didn’t like his legal opinions of Fiqh topics to be recorded, as much as his Hadith.
- The fanatics asked Ibn Jarir why he didn’t include Imam Ahmed in his book and he gave a Fatwa based on his research, and they didn’t like his answer. This is similar to 2000-2017 when a person says something that they don’t like then a position is automatically taken against him. Regardless of the man’s academic level or authority in Islam, or even being from the common-folk; he will be treated unpleasant and cold, because they didn’t give the desired answer.
- Jealousy between peers is a common issue among scholars.
- Scholars who were oppressed during their lifetime then Allah allows their work to spread after their death, and perhaps this is better for them, as it helps them in Iman , teaches them to remain firm during oppression, and helps safeguards them from being conceited.
- Sometimes people will just follow the crowd and oppress great people of knowledge.
- Sometimes the knowledge of a scholar isn’t truly circulated during his lifetime among people.
- Ignorant people oppress people of knowledge and prevent others from learning from them, simply because they aren’t satisfied with that scholar’s stance of their leader.
- Those people who were against Ibn Jarir prevented travellers to Baghdad from narrating and meeting him, and if person went to meet he faced a difficult time getting there. Similarly today, people will prevent others from visiting scholars even if they come to their own city.
- Ibn Jarir faced turmoil and strife from two scholars both named Abu Bakr. The 1st was Abu Bakr ibn Dawud At-Thahiri and the 2nd was Abu Bakr ibn Abee Dawud [May Allah have mercy on them all]
- You notice with ringleaders of fitnah that they are overzealous, and sometimes just plain out right evil.
- Ibn Al-Jawzi said: “There are no gangs in Islam like this despicable gang.” i.e the Hanabala who oppressed Ibn Jarir.
Correction : previous I thought the narrations in the books of Jarh wa Tadil were authentic about ibn abi Dawud being deemed a liar by his dad but this proved to be untrue:
 Tarikh Al-Baghdad(2/163)
 Siyr (11/292)
At-Taj Al-Muklal bio of Ibn Jarir by Sadiq Hasan Khan.
Al-Kamil , vol 7/ pg 8-9
 (Bukhari and Muslim)
 المنتظم” (ج13، ص217) bio of Ibn Jarir.