مــحـــــــمـــــد بـــــن جـــــریـــــر الطـــــبـــــری
The Imaam of Quran Interpreters and the Grand Historian
He is one of the greatest most renowned, prominent and influential early Persian Muslim scholars of the third Hijri century, historian and exegete of the Qur'an from Tabaristan, modern Mazandaran in Persia/Iran.
He was known for his deep knowledge. He was an outstanding jurist, the Imaam of Quran interpreters, and a historian who wrote one of the most famous books on Islamic history that was ever written. He is the great scholar, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (Arabic: أبو جعفر محمد بن جرير بن يزيد الطبري)
Birth and Early Years
Abu Ja'far Muhammad Ibn Jareer At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) was born in a town called Aamol, Tuberstan, Iran in 224 A.H. 839 A.C. He was brought up in a well-off family and his father was keen to teach him. He memorized the Glorious Quran when he was seven years old and started to write down Prophetic Hadeeths when he was only nine.
A picture of a mountain in Tabaristan, modern Mazandaran in Persia/Iran:
Ibn Jareer At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) had an ardent desire for knowledge ever since he was a child. In his early years, he realized that he could not achieve his scientific ambitions in his hometown so he left his town seeking knowledge when he was only twelve years old. He traveled to Rey, modern day Iran, and visited some of its cities where he met scholars and acquired religious knowledge from Ahmad Ibn Hammaad Ad-Dulaabi and Ibn Humayd Ar-Raazi, who were great Hadeeth scholars.
Travel to Cultural Centers
At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) was not satisfied with what he learnt in Rey.
He traveled to Kufa which had numerous mosques wherein all types of religious and linguistic knowledge were taught.
He learnt the different ways of reciting the Glorious Quran at the hands of Sulaymaan Ibn Khallaad At-Talhi. His teacher in Prophetic Hadeeth was the well-known scholar, Abu Kurayb Muhammad Ibn Al-'Alaa' Al-Hamadaani. Noticing his early genius and ardent desire to seek knowledge, Al-Hamdaani paid extra attention to At-Tabari and made him one of his close students. From Al-Hamdaani, At-Tabari learnt more than one hundred thousand Hadeeths.
Later, At-Tabari left for Baghdad, the capital of the 'Abbasid caliphate and the center of Arabic culture at that time. He devoted himself to acquiring knowledge and he studied the Shafi'ee Juristic school. Again he moved to Syria and then to Egypt on 253 A.H. when he was thirty years old after a long and tedious trip acquiring knowledge.
In Egypt, he met great scholars and learnt from people like Abu Al-Hasan As-Sarraaj Al-Misri, Yoonus Ibn 'Abdul-A'laa As-Safadi who was the Imaam of the Quran Reciters, and Ar-Rabee' Ibn Sulaymaan who was the most outstanding jurist in Egypt at that time, and the student of Imaam Ash-Shafi'ee. All these scholars held examinations for At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) and they all testified to his deep knowledge and extensive background.
Back to Baghdad
After this hard journey in acquiring knowledge and learning at the hands of scholars, At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) returned to Baghdad and settled there. He built a house and completely dedicated himself to acquiring knowledge and teaching.
He divided his time between acts of worship, teaching, and writing. At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) was very active in writing to the extent that he used to write down forty pages a day.
He continued to do this for forty years without being distracted by earning a living because he was already rich. At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) added voluminous and significant books to Islamic literature. Until now, people still read his books and benefit from them.
Imaam At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) Searches For Knowledge:
Imaam At-Tabari (rahimahullaah) was well-versed in many branches of Islamic knowledge such as Tafseer (interpretation of the Glorious Quran), Hadeeth, history, jurisprudence, ways of Quranic recitation, language, and literature. Yet, he mastered and specialized in three branches: Tafseer, history, and jurisprudence. He wrote two of the most important and voluminous Islamic books in Arabic. They are:
- Jaami' Al-Bayaan fi Tafseer Al-Quran (The All-Comprehensive Book on the Interpretation of the Glorious Quran): It is known, in short, as Tafseer At-Tabari (تفسير الطبري). It is one of the most famous and voluminous Tafseer books; it is a reference for whoever wants to understand the meanings of the Glorious Quran. At-Tabari dictated it to his students and it took him eight years to finish it. He started in 283 A.H. and finished in 290 A.H. The book is printed in thirty volumes and is widespread among students of knowledge all over the world. It is available in academic institutions, public libraries, and universities. This Tafsir was used by famous scholars like Ibn Kathir (rahimahullaah), Imaam Suyuti (rahimahullaah) and others in their own Tafsirs.
Abu Haamid al-Isfaraayini (rahimahullaah) said in Tabaqaat al-Mufassireen by al-Dawoodi, 2/106.:
If a traveller were to travel to China in order to obtain it, that would not be too much.
Ibn Khuzaymah (rahimahullaah) said in Siyar A'laam al-Nubala', 14/273:
I have read it from beginning to end and I do not know of anyone on the face of the earth who is more knowledgeable than Ibn Jareer.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (rahimahullaah) said in Majmoo' al-Fataawa, 13/358:
With regard to the Tafseers that are in circulation among the people, the most sound of them is the Tafseer of Muhammad ibn Jareer al-Tabari, for he mentions the views of the salaf with proven isnaads, and there is no bid'ah (innovation) in it, and he does not transmit reports from dubious sources such as Muqaatil ibn Bukayr and al-Kalbi.
He also said in Muqaddimah fi Usool al-Tafseer (p. 35), concerning the Tafseer of Ibn Jareer:
It is one of the best and greatest of Tafseers.
He relied on the views of three generations of mufassireen among the salaf, namely the Sahaabah, the Taabi'een, and the followers of the Taabi'een, and he quotes their opinions with isnaads going back to them. This is an important feature of his book which is not present in many of the books of Tafseer that are in circulation among us. But this feature does not matter to many ordinary Muslims who are not able to research isnaads and distinguish sound isnaads from weak ones; all they want is to know whether an isnaad is sound or weak by means of a clear and brief statement to that effect.
When he has finished quoting their opinions, he states which he thinks is most likely to be correct, then he describes how he reached that conclusion.
Nothing like the Tafseer of Ibn Jareer (al-Tabari) has been written since. It is essential for scholars and seekers of knowledge, but it is not appropriate for ordinary people because they are not qualified to understand it properly. The Tafseer of Ibn Katheer is more appropriate for the ordinary people, and there is much in it from which scholars and seekers of knowledge can benefit.
Many editions of this Tafsir are available. One of the editions presented below is by Mahmud Muhammad Shakir, an Egyptian Arabic literature famous for his research in early Islamic books. This is in Arabic:
By Mahmud Ahmed Shakir: 15 volumes - Download from Archive.org
- Taareekh Al-Umam wa Al-Mulook (The History of Nations and Kings): It is also known as Taareekh At-Tabari. It covers history from the origin of creation and the descent of Aadam to the earth. It also covers the stories of the Prophets and Messengers and the previous nations. In addition, it features the history of Islaam from the mission of the Prophet, sallallaahu álayhi wa sallam, until the year 203 A.H. The book is printed in ten volumes and has been translated into several languages. It is one of the most important references for researchers and students of Islamic history in the first three Hijri centuries. All authors on Islamic history – until now - benefited and benefit from this book.
The Character of Imaam At-Tabari:
Imaam At-Tabari was known for his commitment, studiousness, and seriousness whether in acquiring knowledge or writing. He visited many countries for the purpose of acquiring knowledge although he was still young.
He used to write down forty pages a day, which explains the voluminous nature of the books he wrote.
Apart from being studious in acquiring knowledge, At-Tabari was kind, gentle, and friendly with his fellow Muslims, and he used to ask about their welfare. He used to pay attention to the way he looks and he was outstandingly clean and handsome. He also used to deal with his students in a tender and loving way and he was fair with them in the way he taught.
He is described as having a dark complexion, large eyes and a long beard. He was tall and slender and his hair and beard remained black until he was very old. He was attentive to his health, avoiding red meat, fats and other unhealthy foods.
He had a sense of humour, though serious subjects he treated seriously. He had studied poetry when young and enjoyed writing, reciting and participating in poetic exchanges.
He was witty and urbane, clean and well mannered. He avoided coarse speech, instead displaying refined eloquence. He had a good grounding in grammar, lexicography and philology. Such were considered essential for Qur'anic commentary. He knew Persian and was acquainted with the origins of various foreign loan words in Arabic from a number of other languages.
There is a description of his normal day: rising early for prayer, studying until early afternoon, publicly praying the afternoon prayer, reciting Qur'an and teaching Qur'an, and then teaching law until late.
Ibn Jareer At-Tabari stayed in Baghdad concentrating on nothing except teaching and writing. He was highly appreciated by the caliphs and rulers of his time until he died in Shawwaal 310 A.H at the age of eighty-six, in the region of Tabaristan. A Large numbers of people were present for his funeral procession and they buried him while feelings of sadness and mourning overwhelmed them.
Ibn Jareer At-Tabari in Brief:
- At-Tabari was born in Aamol, Tuberstan in 224 A.H.
- At-Tabari had an ardent desire for knowledge ever since he was a child and he memorized the Quran and Prophetic Hadeeths.
- When he was twelve years old, he started a long journey seeking knowledge and he traveled to Rey, Baghdad, Kufa, old Syria, and Egypt.
- He settled in Baghdad and devoted himself to writing and teaching.
- At-Tabari was well-versed in many branches of Islamic knowledge such as Tafseer, Hadeeth, and jurisprudence.
- At-Tabari left many books on Tafseer, history, jurisprudence, and modes of reciting the Glorious Quran.
- The most famous of his books are Tafseer At-Tabari and Taareekh At-Tabari.
- He died in Baghdad in 310 AH.