EBN QOTAYBA, ABŪ MOḤAMMAD ʿABD-ALLĀH b. Moslem DĪNAVARĪ, (213-276/828-889), important early philologist in the widest sense of the term and author of numerous works on what is known as the “Arab sciences,” including the religious sciences dealing with the Koran and Hadith.

Of the nesbas ascribed to him, only Dīnavarī appears to occur in self-reference, namely at the beginning of the ʿOyūnal-aḵbār and the Maʿānī al-šeʿr (this may, however, merely be a scribal addition) and even more uncertain, in the transmission history of his al-Masāʾel wa’l-ajweba. It is supposed to go back to his long-term judgeship in Dīnavar (Bīrūnī, Āṯār, p. 238, refers to him as al-Jabalī). Other nesbas such as Marvazī or Kūfī reflect a search for biographical data. In later literature, he is sometimes cited as Qotabī or Qotaybī.

The dates for his lifetime show minor variants but are generally accepted as indicated. Although he is listed in all relevant and general biographical works, practically no biographical information is available, except for the circumstances of his death. The reason may be that the collection of data of scholarly biography in or close to a humanist’s lifetime was not yet as routine as it soon became. Oral authorities for his biography from his lifetime are very few; anecdotes involving him are almost non-existent. He appears to have been born in Kūfa rather than Baghdad, where he spent most of his life except for the years of his judgeship in Dīnavar and a doubtful brief maẓālem appointment to Baṣra (Ḏahabī). No legal maḏhab is indicated for him. He seems to have been inclined to Malekism. His son Aḥmad (whose son ʿAbd-al-Wāḥed is also recorded) held the Malekite judgeship in Egypt for three months before his death in Rabīʿ I, 322/February-March 934. Aḥmad functioned as the premier transmitter of his father’s works.

Ebn Qotayba’s views on past and contemporary intellectual conditions can be partly reconstructed from his works. Those views no doubt contributed to some early negative opinions on him. He appears in full agreement with what was later known as the orthodoxy of Ebn Ḥanbal, his elder by only one generation. He was clearly opposed to kalām and Muʿtazilite thought. Yet, he was very much his own man and cannot be pigeonholed into categories which in his time were not as firmly set as they were later thought to have been.

A most remarkable passage occurs in his work on Šoʿūbīya tendencies, published in part as Ketāb al-ʿArab in the Rasāʾel al-bolaḡāʾ (ed. M. Kord ʿAlī, Cairo, 1331/1913, p. 278). The work’s title is given variously, as fixed titles were unusual in Ebn Qotayba’s time (see Bīrūnī, Āṯār, p. 238 ). In it, he seems to refer, if the text is correctly understood, to his ownPersian (ʿajam) descent and declares himself to be by nature not prejudiced for or against either Arabs or Persians. His father or family seems, indeed, to have come from Marv (hence the nesba Marvazī). He himself was, however, an eloquent spokesman for Arab civilization and in intellectual makeup was totally committed and assimilated to it. He often quotes the “Books of the Persians” for historical information as well as wisdom sayings and stories, occasionally using more precise titles such as Sīar al-ʿAjam, Ketāb al-āʾīn (see ĀʾĪN-NĀMA), or Ketāb al-tāj. They were available to him in their Arabic recensions, and such quotations were nothing extraordinary in his time and environment. The same applies to his limited use of Persian words. There is no indication that he was more familiar with Persian than his contemporaries in Iraq, but we have to assume that he knew the language and was able to communicate in it. He expressed more positive or neutral than negative attitudes toward things Persian; occasionally, he would associate the ʿAjam with something he basically disliked such as philosophy (falsafa, see the beginning of Ketāb al-anwāʾ, where he no doubt understood ʿAjam as Persians, not Greeks). His pronounced interest in cultural interaction, as also exemplified, for instance, by his many quotations from Jewish and Christian Scriptures (cf. H. Lazarus-Yafeh, Intertwined Worlds, Princeton, 1992, pp. 79f.), is generally imbued with fairness.

The laudatory epithet ṣāḥeb al-taṣānīf “author of (many well-known) works” is characteristically applied to him in biographical notices. His writings, rich in insights and information, are preserved to a large extent and, while often not the first to deal in detail with their subjects, they have had lasting influence as early sources. Many of them have programmatic introductions that give some insight into their author’s thinking. His handbook for government officials on linguistic skill, Adab al-kāteb, was considered a model of its genre (one of the four basic works in the field of literature according to Ebn Ḵaldūn) and extensively commented upon. Its introduction discusses the right approach to knowledge in general and to the secretary’s profession, while the main text, as was no doubt considered appropriate by the author, is concerned exclusively with lexicography arranged according to subject matter, orthography, and noun and verbal formations in their relation to meaning. The Ketāb al-šeʿr wa’l-šoʿarāʾ (ed. A. Šāker, 2 vols., Cairo, 1364-69/1945-50), listing biographies and poems of individual poets, has found much attention for its lengthy introduction which rejects the dogma of the superiority of ancient over modern poetry, elaborates on the limitations of literary criticism, and calls for impartiality in its exercise (for a brief overview of the debate on the meaning of the introduction, see S. A. Bonebakker, “Poets and Critics in the Third Century A. H.,” in G. E. von Grunebaum, ed., Logic in Classical Islamic Culture, Wiesbaden, 1970, pp. 86-111). The introduction of the large adab encyclopedia ʿOyūn al-aḵbār (ed. A. Zakī ʿAdawī, Cairo, 1343-48/1925-30) makes the point that the work is addressed to all kinds of readers, and it contains a plea for ethics and politics having their proper places in the entertaining literature just as stories and amusing material (cf. G. Lecomte’s tr. in Mélanges à la mémoire de Philippe Marçais, Paris, 1985, pp. 171-80).

The topics recurring in poetry are exhaustively assembled and discussed in the Ketāb al-maʿānī al-šeʿr (2 vols., Hyderabad, 1368/1949). Important essays on wine drinking (Ketāb al-ašreba, ed. M. Kord ʿAlī, Damascus, 1366/1947) and, especially, the ancient Arabian lottery game (Ketāb al-mayser wa’l-qedāḥ, ed. M. Ḵaṭīb, Cairo, 1343/1924), while carefully dealing with the religious prohibitions, principally present the relevant information from poetry and anecdotes. The Ketāb al-anwāʾ (ed. M. Hamidullah and Ch. Pellat, Hyderabad, 1956)studies the astral terminology of the ancient Arabs as well as atmospheric phenomena mainly as enshrined in poetry (P. Kunitzsch, in Dictionary of Scientific Biography XI, pp. 246 f.).

His large lexicographical works on the Koran and Hadith are likewise to be understood as works of philology but foreshadowing his growing interest in a more profound penetration into their subject matter. This process culminated in the Taʾwīl eḵtelāf (moḵtalef) al-ḥadīṯ, which undertakes the defense of Hadith scholars against attacks based upon supposedly contradictory traditions and other conflicts in the religious writings.

A concise survey of world history, Ketāb al-maʿāref (ed. Ṯ. ʿOkāša, Cairo, 1960) is rather singular in the Ebn Qotayba canon, but it also enjoyed tremendous popularity. Its treatment of Persian material, especially in the concluding chapter on the Persian kings, is too brief to support the assumption that the information it offers is in any way unusual.

Some of the works circulating under his name have been recognized as not being by him. Most prominent among them is the much reprinted Ketāb al-sīāsa wa’l-emāma of unknown authorship (cf. Ketāb talqīn al-motaʿallem al-naḥw; see Mélanges de l’Institut Dominicain d’Études Orientales 20, 1991, p. 325).

See also ADAB.


Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)

The watershed in modern Ebn Qotayba studies is marked by the many fundamental books and articles of Gérard Lecomte, especially Ibn Qutayba. L’homme, son šuvre, ses idées, Damascus, 1965. See also his translation of the Eḵtelāf as Le traité des divergences du Ḥadīṯ, Damascus, 1962, and his article “Ibn Ḳutayba” in EI ² III, pp. 844-47. Of now obsolete treatments, we may mention Brockelmann, GAL, S I, pp. 184-87; I. M. Huseini, The Life and Works of Ibn Qutayba,Beirut, 1950; and the introduction of A. Ṣaqr’s ed. of Taʾwīl moškel al-Qorʾān,Cairo, 1373/1954, repr. 1393/1973.

Biographical notices printed after Lecomte are again little productive: cf. Ḏahabī, Taʾrīḵ al-Eslām, ed. ʿO. ʿAbd-al-Salām Tadmorī, Cairo, 1412/1992, XXIV, pp. 381-83; Ṣafadī, Wāfī, ed. D. Krawulsky, Wiesbaden, 1402/1982, XVII, pp. 607-09.

Texts newly edited, translated, discussed (excluding the frequent reprints): Ebn Qotayba, Ḡarīb al-ḥadīṯ, ed. ʿA. Jabbūrī, Baghdad, 1977.

M. J. Kister, “The Interpretation of Dreams, an Unknown Manuscript of Ibn Qutayba’s ʿIbārat al-ruʾyā,Israel Oriental Studies 4, 1974, pp. 67-103.

G. Lecomte, “Le ‘Kitāb Iṣlāḥ al-Ghalaṭ’ d’Ibn Qutayba” in Mélanges de l’Université St. Joseph 44, 1968, pp. 155-236.

J. Sadan, “Nouveaux documents sur scribes et copistes,” Revue des études islamiques 45/1, 1977, pp. 41-87 (on al-ḵaṭṭ wa’l-qalam connected to Ebn Qotayba).

For some general works on Ebn Qotayba, see M. R. Jarbī, Ebn Qotayba wa maqāyīsoh al-balāḡīya wa’l-naqdīya, Tripoli, 1393/1984, and the discussion and reprinting of al-Eḵtelāf fi’l-lafẓ wa’l-radd ʿala’l- Jahmīya wa’l-Mošabbeha, by K. Ḵoṭayṭ, Beirut, 1990.

Cf., further, Sezgin, GAS, indexes of all volumes published so far and, in particular, III, p. 376; IV, p. 344; VII, pp. 350 f.; VIII, pp. 161-65; IX, pp. 154-58, p. 246.

(Franz Rosenthal)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 45-47