Some of the Famous Muslim Ulama
Compiled By: Syed Ali Shahbaz
The Hanbali narrator of hadith, Abu Bakr Ibn Noqtah
On 22nd of the Islamic month of Safar in 629 AH, the Sunni Hanbali narrator of hadith, Abu Bakr Ibn Noqtah, died in Baghdad. He travelled widely over Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt to gather hadith, and is the author of the book “al-Taqyeed”. Among his students is the well-known religious scholar and historian, Ibn Asaker, the author of the voluminous book History of Damascus, who has recorded in his work the details of 400 ayahs of the holy Qur'an that God revealed to Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) on the merits of his vicegerent, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS).
The mathematician and astronomer, Sabet ibn Qurrah al-Harrani
On 26th of the Islamic month of Safar in 288 AH, the mathematician and astronomer, Sabet ibn Qurrah al-Harrani, died at the age of 77 in Baghdad. He was from Harran, which is presently under the control of Turkey although historically and culturally it is part of Mesopotamia. He belonged to the Sabian creed of star-worshippers, while some say he followed the Mandean creed that considers Prophet Yahya or John the Baptist to be the principal figure and last messenger of God. Sabet was invited to Baghdad by the Iranian scientists, the Banu Musa brothers, and translated scientific texts from Greek and Syriac languages into Arabic, thus significantly contributing to the development of sciences during the heyday of the Islamic civilization. It is not known whether or not he became a Muslim, but his sons became Muslims. His grandson, Ibrahim ibn Sinan, was a mathematician and astronomer who studied geometry and in particular tangents to circles for making sundials. He also made advances in the theory of integration. Sabet ibn Qurrah is said to have translated more than 130 books, and has left behind valuable compilations of his own.
Abu'l-Hassan Ahmad bin Farres, the scholar and lexicographer of Arabic language
On 14th of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 325 AH, Abu'l-Hassan Ahmad bin Farres, the scholar and lexicographer of Arabic language was born near the city of Qazvin in Iran. He traveled widely in Iran and Iraq for higher studies and earned prominence in jurisprudence, hadith, grammar, literature and poetry. He died in Rayy (presently a suburb of Tehran) in 395 AH at the age of 70 and was buried there. He trained many scholars, and among his works, mention could be made of "as-Sahabi fi Fiqh", "Maqayees al-Lugha", and "Asbab al-Ishtehad".
Abdullah bin Lahiyya, the chief judge of Egypt
On 15th of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 174 AH, Abdullah bin Lahiyya, the chief judge of Egypt passed away. He was considered a reliable narrator of hadith by most of the Sunni scholars, and among his narrations are many which expose Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan as a criminal and murderer of Muslims, including the companions of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) such as Hujr ibn Adi, who was martyred near Damascus for being a staunch follower of Imam Ali (AS).
The famous Spanish Muslim Gnostic, Mohammad Ibn Ali Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi
On 22nd of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 638 AH, the famous Spanish Muslim Gnostic, Mohammad Ibn Ali Muhiyuddin Ibn Arabi, passed away in Damascus at the age of 77. Born on 17th Ramadhan, 561 AH in Murcia, Islamic Spain, he was a child prodigy who mastered the sciences of the day in Seville, where his family had settled and where he met the famous philosopher, Ibn Roshd (Averroes).
At the age of 30 he migrated to Fez in Morocco, from where after making several trips to Spain over the next five years to collect his works and other Islamic manuscripts in order to save them from the Christian vandals who were destroying the heritage of mankind, he finally left for the Levant through Egypt. The next half of his life was spent in Mecca, Medina, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and what is now Turkey, before he settled in Damascus in 620 AH.
For the last twenty years of his life his close companion was the Iranian mystic, Awhadoddin Hameed Kirmani, who transmitted to him teachings of many of the great spiritual masters of the East. Ibn Arabi, whose school of mystical thought had a profound impact for several centuries, was a prolific writer and the author of many books and treatises, including "Fusous al-Hekam" (Bezels of Wisdom), and "Futuhaat al-Makkiyya" (The Meccan Illuminations). In Chapter 366 of the voluminous "Futuhaat", he has described the characteristics of the Awaited Saviour of mankind, saying that Imam Mahdi (AS), the namesake and offspring of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA), is from the direct line of descent of the Immaculate, Hazrat Fatema Zahra (SA), and when he reappears the world will be filled with the global government of justice.
The prominent scholar and narrator of hadith, Osman Ibn Ahmad Ibn-e Sammak
On 26th of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 344 AH, the prominent scholar and narrator of hadith, Osman Ibn Ahmad Ibn-e Sammak, died in Baghdad. Among his students was the famous compiler of hadith, Hakem an-Naishabouri, the author of “Mustadrik ala as-Sahihayan”. Among his works mention could be made of the book titled “al-Amaali” and a book on the merits of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt.
The prominent historian of Islamic Spain, Abu Marwan al-Qortobi
On 27th of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 469 AH, the prominent historian of Islamic Spain, Abu Marwan Hayyan ibn Khalaf ibn Hussain al-Qortobi, died in his hometown, Qortoba, or Cordova as it is presently called. He was a prolific writer, and among his works are “al-Akhbar fi'd-Dowlat-al-Amiriya” in 100 volumes, “al-Batsha al-Kubra” in ten volumes, and “al-Muqtabis fi Tarikh al-Andalus” in ten volumes.
The Shafei jurisprudent, al-Mawardi
On 30th of the Islamic month of Rabi al-Awwal in 450 AH, the Shafei jurisprudent, Abu'l-Hassan Ali Ibn Mohammad Ibn Habib al-Mawardi, passed away at the age of 88. Born in Basra and son of a seller of rose-water or Ma' Ward in Arabic, his family became known as "Mawardi".
Appointed as the chief judge of several districts near Naishapour in Khorasan, and Baghdad itself, he also served as a diplomat for the Abbasid usurper caliphs, al-Qa'em and al-Qader, in negotiations with the Buwaiyhid Iranian emirs, who had taken control of Iran and Iraq. A prolific writer with Mu'tazalite (rationalistic) tendencies, he is best known for his writings on government, on public duties and on constitutional law during a time of political turmoil.
Among his books is "al-Ahkaam as-Sultaniyya wa'l-Wilayat ad-Diniyya" (Ordinances of Government), which provides a detailed definition of the functions of government, under the caliphate, which theoretically was an entire politico-religious system, but practically has lost its meaning and purpose because of the tyrannical and immoral life of almost all the caliphs. Hence the emphasis in [The Ordinances] placed on the qualifications, power and duties pertinent to senior officials, in order to facilitate the working arrangement reached by the Buwaiyhids and the Abbasid caliphs, and later followed by the Seljuqs.
Moayyed od-Dowlah, the statesman, warrior and literary figure
On 27th of the Islamic month of Jamadi as-Sani in 448 AH, the statesman, warrior and literary figure, Majd od-Din Osama ibn Murshid ibn Ali ibn Munqidh al-Kinani, titled Moayyed od-Dowlah, was born in Shaizar near Hama in Syria. His life coincided with the rise and fall of several Muslim dynasties, as well as the invasion by the First Crusade and setting up of the illegal crusader states by the European invaders.
He was a nephew of the emir of Shaizar and was a courtier to the Zengids and Ayyubids in Damascus, serving the famous Noor od-Din Zengi, and later Salah od-Din Ayyubi, over a period of almost fifty years. He also served the Fatemid court in Cairo. He often meddled in the politics and was exiled from both Damascus and Cairo.
He wrote many poetry anthologies, such as the "Kitab al-Asa" (Book of the Staff), "Lubab al-Adab" (Kernels of Literature), and "al-Manazil wa'd-Diyar" (Dwellings and Abodes). For modern readers, however, he is most well-known for his "Kitab al-I'bar", which contains lengthy descriptions of the crusaders, whom he visited on many occasions, and some of whom he considered friends, although he generally saw them as European barbarians.
It is sometimes assumed that Osama was a Shi'ite Muslim, because he often writes about and praises Imam Ali (AS). His family cooperated with the Fatemids and other Shi'ite dynasties, and he himself served the Fatemids in Egypt. Researchers are divided, and some think that he had a "secret sympathy" with the Shi'ites, while others believe he was probably Sunni with Shi'ite tendencies. Still others think that his family members were Twelver Shi'ites. He died in Damascus at the age of 96, a year after the liberation of Bayt ol-Moqaddas from the crusaders after 88 years of occupation.
The renowned Muslim worldwide traveler, Ibn Battuta
On 17th of the Islamic month of Rajab in 703 AH, the renowned Muslim worldwide traveler, Shams od-Din Mohammad bin Abdullah, popularly known as Ibn Battuta, was born in the northwest African city of Tangiers, which is now in Morocco. As a young man he started his initial journey to perform the Hajj, but after pilgrimage to Mecca, he kept on travelling, visiting over a period of thirty years, most of the Islamic world as well as many non-Muslim lands in the three continents of Africa, Asia and Europe.
His journeys including trips to North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, and to West Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China, cover a total of 75,000 miles (121,000 km), surpassing by threefold the travels of his near-contemporary Marco Polo of Venice.
In Iraq, he visited the holy shrine in Najaf of the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), and although a Sunni, he has admitted how people from far and near seek intercession with God through the First Infallible Successor of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) and are cured of their ailments. He then travelled all over Iran, and later, after visiting the Byzantine Empire, Europe and Russia, he arrived in India, where he was appointed the Qazi of Delhi by Sultan Mohammad bin Tughlaq. On his return to his homeland Morocco, again served as Qazi. He dictated to scribes the details of his travels in his book titled "ar-Rehla", and died at the age of 66.
Spanish Muslim polymath, Abbas ibn Firnas, who flew by employing glider in the 9th century AD
On May 30, 1912, US inventor and aviator, Wilbur Wright, with his brother Orville, invented the first powered airplane, Flyer, capable of sustained, controlled flight (17 Dec 1903), died at the age of 45 years. Orville made the first flight, airborne for 12 seconds. Wilbur took the second flight, covering 853-ft (260-m) in 59 seconds. By 1905, they had improved the design, built and made several long flights in Flyer III, which was the first fully practical airplane (1905), able to fly up to 38-min and travel 24 miles (39-km).
Their Model A was produced in 1908, capable of flight for over two hours of flight. The history of aviation is as old as Man’s quest to fly since antiquity. The earliest known record are of kite flying from China around 200 BC, when a general flew a kite over enemy territory to calculate the length of tunnel required to enter the region. It is also said, Yuan Huangtou, a Chinese prince, was briefly airborne by tying himself to a kite. In the heyday of Islamic science and civilization, there are records pertaining to the Spanish Muslim polymath, Abbas ibn Firnas, who flew from Jabal al-Arus Hill by employing a rudimentary glider in the 9th century AD.
Some six centuries after Ibn Firnas, the Italian Leonardo da Vinci developed a hang glider design in which the inner parts of the wings are fixed, and some control surfaces are provided towards the tips (as in the gliding flight in birds). In 1783, with the first successful floating of a balloon with a person on board, the aviation industry was born and led to the invention of the airship, the zeppelin and finally the modern aircraft.
The renowned Mu’tazalite Sunni scholar, Ibn Abi’l-Hadeed
On 20th of the Islamic month of Rajab in 656 AH, the renowned Mu’tazalite Sunni scholar, Izz od-Din Abdul-Hamid bin Hibbatollah, popularly known Ibn Abi’l-Hadeed, passed away at the age of 70 years. Captured by the Mongols during the offensive on Baghdad, he was later released upon the mediation by prominent figures. His most important book is a voluminous commentary on the “Nahj al-Balaghah”, the collection of the eloquent sermons, letters and maxims of Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), the First Infallible Successor of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA).
His famous remarks on the Commander of the Faithful read: “The world cannot quote an example other than that of (Imam) Ali of a first class warrior and a marshal who is also a philosopher, a moralist and a great teacher of religious principles and theology. A study of his life shows that his sword was the only help that Islam received during its early days of struggle in its wars of self-defence.
For Islam he was the first and the last line of defence… The other facet of his character is reflected in his sermons, orders, letters and sayings. What high values of morality they teach, what ethics’ they preach, what intricate problems of Unitarianism they elucidate, how rich they are in philosophy; how they imbibe the spirit of righteousness and teach rulers to become kind, good, benevolent and God-fearing rulers, and subjects to be faithful, sincere and law abiding, how they persuade men to be warriors who can fight only for God, truth and justice, and not mercenaries murdering and plundering for wealth and riches; and how they instruct teachers to teach nothing injurious and harmful to mankind. These are but undisputable proofs of his greatness and spiritual superiority. Has history ever produced a more splendid personality incorporating such variegated characteristics of mind and heart?”
The prominent Islamic scientist and lexicographer, “Ibn Sikkit”
On 5th of the Islamic month of Rajab in 244 AH, the prominent Islamic scientist and lexicographer, Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq, popularly known as “Ibn Sikkit” was brutally martyred by the cruel Abbasid caliph, Mutawakkil, who ordered the pulling out of his tongue through the backside of the neck for speaking the truth.
Born in Khuzestan, southwestern Iran, he studied in Baghdad under prominent scholars, and his fame led Mutawakkil to invite him to Samarra where he was appointed as tutor to two of the caliph’s sons. Mutawakkil, who is notorious for his sacrilegious destruction of the shrine of the Martyr of Karbala and his forcing of the Prophet's 10th Infallible Successor, Imam Hadi (AS) to come to Samarra, once asked Ibn Sikkit whether his sons were superior to the Prophet’s two grandsons, Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Husain (AS). The scholar boldly replied that even Qanbar, the slave of Imam Ali (AS), was better than the caliph's sons. The enraged caliph ordered his execution.
"By Allah, if the Omayyads had killed the (grand)son of the Prophet unjustly,
His cousins (the Abbasids) did the same;
Here (in Karbala) is his tomb destroyed!
They felt sorry that they did not participate in killing him,
So they chased him in the grave."
In addition to his poems, Ibn Sikkit has left behind at least twenty books, including “Islah al-Manteq” on lexicography.
The renowned Egyptian Imami theologian, Ibn Barraj Tarabulusi
On 9th of the Islamic month of Sha’ban in 481 AH, the renowned Egyptian Imami theologian, Abu’l-Qassim Abdul-Aziz Ibn Barraj Tarabulusi, passed away. He was born in Fatemid Ismaili Shi'ite Egypt and grew up there. He came to Iraq for higher religious studies and in Baghdad studied under such great scholars as Seyyed Murtaza and after him Abu Ja'far Shaikh at-Tayefa Tusi.
He settled in Tripoli (Tarabulus) in what is now Lebanon and served there as the chief judge for almost thirty years in addition to being the representative of Shaikh Tusi. His views are valued by prominent theologians. He trained many prominent scholars and penned numerous books on theology and Islamic philosophy.
His well-known book is “al-Jawame' al-Faqih”, which is in the form of questions and answers and is considered highly significant till this day. His other works include "al-Kamel" and "al-Mo’jiz".
The Spanish Muslim hadith scholar, botanist, and pharmacist, Ibn Mufarraj an-Nabati
On 8th of the Islamic month of Sha’ban in 561 AH, the Spanish Muslim hadith scholar, botanist, and pharmacist, Abu Abbas Ahmad Ibn Mohammad Ibn Mufarraj an-Nabati was born in Seville. He is often called Ibn Rumiya, since his mother was a Christian lady before her conversion to Islam. Initially, he studied in Andalusia, learning the features of different plant species, and later traveled to different countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and Hijaz, to study plants, while also acquiring the science of Hadith.
He wrote an account of his journey, “Kitab ar-Rehla”, which deals primarily with his observations of plants and medicinal properties. He has left behind numerous books in botany, theology, and hadith. Some of his works are still used by researchers.
The famous Islamic historian and bibliographer, Ibn an-Nadeem
On 20th of the Islamic month of Sha’ban in 385 AH, the famous Islamic historian and bibliographer, Mohammad bin Is'haq Ibn an-Nadeem, passed away. He was a follower of the Prophet's Ahl al-Bayt and the author of the famous encyclopedic work "al-Fehrist".
In his own words, this work is "an Index of the books of all nations, Arabs and non-Arabs alike, which are extant in the Arabic language and script, on every branch of knowledge; comprising information as to their compilers and the classes of their authors, together with the genealogies of those persons, the dates of their birth, the length of their lives, the times of their death, the places to which they belonged, their merits and their faults, since the beginning of every science that has been invented down to the present epoch: namely, the year 377 of the Hijra." Ibn an-Nadeem's choice of the rather rare Persian word "pehrest" (Arabicized as fehrest/fehres) for the title of his masterpiece on Arabic literature is noteworthy.
This work is ample testimony to his knowledge of pre-Islamic, Syriac, Greek, Sanskrit, Latin and Persian books. He gives the titles only of those books which he had seen himself or whose existence was confirmed by a trustworthy person.
The black African Islamic philosopher and Arabic grammarian, al-Wangari
On July 7, 1593 AD, the black African Islamic philosopher and Arabic grammarian, Mohammad Bagayogo as-Sudani al-Wangari, passed away at the age of 70 in Timbuktu in Mali. He was the Sheikh and teacher of the highly esteemed scholar, Ahmed Baba at the Sankore Madrasah, one of three philosophical schools in Mali during West Africa's Islamic golden age (the other two were Sidi Yahya University and Jingaray Ber university).
A significant amount of his writings has been preserved in manuscript form in the Institute Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu. Some of the manuscripts found their way into French museums. A project is under way to digitalise these manuscripts which will lead to better understanding of the Islamic culture that flourished in Mali in the medieval period. Mohammed Bagayogo also has a place in Mali’s political history for his refusal to comply with Moroccan occupiers.
The Muslim historian and historiographer, Ibn Khaldun
On 1st of the Islamic month of Ramadhan in 732 AH, the Muslim historian and historiographer, Abdur-Rahman ibn Mohammad Ibn Khaldun, was born in Tunis into an affluent Spanish Arab family that had settled in North Africa because of Christian onslaughts. He is regarded as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology, and economics.
He travelled widely around Egypt, North Africa and Spain, where the Sultan of Granada sent him on a mission to the Christian King of Castile, Pedro the Cruel. He returned to Egypt, whose Mamluk ruler sent him to negotiate with the fearsome Turkic conqueror, Amir Timur, during the siege of Damascus. In his autobiography, Ibn Khaldun has written on his discussions with Timur, who asked him in detail about North Africa and Spain.
Among his many works is a voluminous universal history, but his fame rests on the "Muqaddemah", which is considered a unique work. He died in Cairo in 808 AH at the age of 76 years.
Hafez Abrou, the famous Iranian historian and geographer
On 3rd of the Islamic month of Shawwal in 833 AH, the Iranian historian and geographer, Shehhab od-Din Abdullah ibn Lotfollah, known popularly as Hafez Abrou, passed away in Zanjan, northwestern Iran. He was a native of Herat, the capital of Khorasan, and after education in Hamadan in western Iran, joined the service of the Central Asian conqueror Amir Timur, accompanying him on many of his campaigns, including those to Iraq, Syria and Anatolia.
As a court historian and eyewitness of many historical accounts, he also served Timur's son and successor, Shah Rukh. He died while returning from Shah Rukh’s second military campaign to Azarbaijan. He is an authority on the history of the later Ilkhanid period and early Timurid era.
Among his major works is the "Majmu'a", which is a collection of three older historical works with annotations by him. His 4-volume "Majma'at-Tawarikh" is a world history covers ancient Iran, the pre-Islamic prophets and events of other lands, with details on the Seljuq and Mongol periods. His history of the Timurid Dynasty titled "Zubdat at-Tawarikh-e Baysunquri" is dedicated to Prince Baysunqur Mirza. He also translated into Persian a geographical work from Arabic, titled Masalek al-Mamalek wa Suwar al-Aqalim", with focus on the various regions of Iran.