Introduction In the first session, we looked briefly at the development of early Islamic historical writing In this session, I want to explore one of our most important writers Imam Abu Jafar Muhammad ibn Jarir al- Tabari Generally known as al-Tabari
Session Plan 1.Why al-Tabari? 2.The Life and Works of al-Tabari 3.Exploring the History of Prophets & Kings
Section I: Why al-Tabari?
Why al-Tabari? Important for a number of reasons… An early universal history (i.e. from Creation to his own time) Very popular in the Islamic world A voluminous writer Works of law, history and an important Exegesis of the Quran Founder of the (no longer extant) Jariri school of law And, the library holds a complete copy of his important historical work We will be using the Leiden edition of the History, which has recently been translated by a number of scholars Edited by Ehsan Yarshater, the English translation stands at some 30 odd volumes
Section II: The Life & Works of al-Tabari
Background al-Tabari born in Amul Capital city of Tabaristan, in what is now northern Iran Born in 839CE/224AH A member of a moderately wealthy provincial family Tabaristan very mixed Non-Muslim Zoroastrians Muslim groups: Shia, Khawarij, Mutazila and Sunni Tabari seems to have been deeply connected to his homeland Remained unmarried
Education Tabari seems to have been a very talented individual from a young age Seems to have left Amul for Rayy (near modern day Tehran) to begin his studies at about 12 His studies included Quranic exegesis (tafsir), Prophetic Traditions (hadith), history (including Prophetic biography), logic, Islamic law, etc Arrived in Baghdad shortly after the death of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (a famous scholar and founder of one of the four schools of law) After studying in Baghdad, he went to Egypt (stopping in Syria and Palestine on the way) Although his route unclear, he cites authorities from places such as Hims, Ramla (Ramallah) and Asqalan (Ashkelon)
Education In Egypt, Tabari seems to have furthered his study of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) Especially according to the Shafii School of law He was also exposed to the Maliki schools teachings In essence, by the time he returned to Baghdad (c. 256AH/870CE) he had been exposed to the most important religious and intellectual ideas of the day
The Writings of al-Tabari Tabaris academic career seems to have spanned some 50 years A later historian, al-Farghinani, estimated that Tabari wrote some 14 folios every day (from puberty to age 86) In other words, a total of 350,000 folios! This seems a fantastic number, but in any case, Tabari was an immensely productive scholar His works were based in three main areas: 1.Jurisprudence (fiqh) 2.Quranic Exegesis (tafsir) 3.History (tarikh)
The Writings of al-Tabari Not all of Tabaris writings have survived His Quran commentary survives (and has been translated into English) A fair amount of his legal writings survive He founded his own legal school (known as the Jariri school), though it did not long survive him His main work, and our present subject, was his History of Prophets & Kings Lets explore this work a little more closely now
A Brief Pause Turn to the person next to you and spend a couple of minutes summarising the lecture thus far. Questions?
Section III: Exploring the History of Prophets & Kings
Key Features Al-Tabari is a Traditionist (Muhaddith) by training and inclination This has a number of implications… History = the accurate transmission and criticism of eye witness accounts Throughout the History, Tabari places different accounts side-by-side: Example These accounts could be quite short, as here… –…on the authority of Ibn Jurayj - `Amr b. Dinar – Abu Ja`far, who said: Fatimah died three months after the Prophet … According to Ibn Jurayj – al-Zuhri - `Urwah: Fatimah died six months after the Prophet… (I.1869)
Key Features Or, they could be very lengthy passages These accounts placed next to each, often without a clear idea of which one Tabari prefers However, his opinion shows through in his very selection: a very wide range of material in circulation at this time This style of historical writing can be confusing at first, but it is the dominant approach Moreover, when reading certain passages one can often get a strong sense of déjà vu
Key Features This hadith style has structural implications… There is far more material on the Prophets life and subsequent history than there is for earlier pre-Islamic periods In other words, he has access to more reliable sources for these periods There are also ideological factors behind this approach As a universal history, Tabaris work surveys the entire sweep of human history (as he understood it) For Tabari, universal history was pre-destined to culminate with the coming of Muhammad However the Tarikh is a key source for understanding Persian history (particularly during the Sassanid age) He also has some useful insights into Byzantine affairs