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Abul Abbas al-Najashi

Ahmad b. `Ali b. Ahmad b. `Abbas b. Muhammad b. `Abd Allah b. Ibrahim b. Muhammad b. `Abd Allah al-Asadi al-Najashi (d. 450/1058) is considered the oldest and most authentic Shi`i scholar of `ilm al-Rijal, whose book Rijal al-Najashi has been the most reliable source of information about Shi`i `ulama'. His kunya is Abu al-`Abbas. He belonged to a family of eminent scholars.
According to his own account he descended from `Adnan. He writes in his Rijal that his seventh ancestor, in upward order, `Abd Allah al-Najashi was the governor of Ahwaz and Fars during the reign of al-Mansur, the `Abbasi caliph. He was among the companions of al-Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq, and compiled the Imam's answers to his queries under the title Risalat `Abd Allah al-Najashi'.
Abu al-`Abbas's father `Ali b. Ahmad lived in Baghdad and received education under al-Shaykh al-Saduq on his arrival there. He was acclaimed as a faqih and muhaddith. `Ali's father Abu Ya`qub Ahmad b. al-`Abbas was also held in respect as a scholar among the people of Baghdad, from whom Harun b. Musa Tall`ukbari and his own son, father of Abu al-`Abbas, received instruction in religious sciences.
Al-Shaykh al-Tusi in his Rijal, under those who do narrate directly from the Imams, says that he was popularly known as Ibn al-Tayalisi; Tall`ukbari received hadith from him in 335/946 and was given permission to narrate them on his authority; his residence was in Baghdad at Darb al-Baqar; al-Najashi's great grandfather, `Abbas b. Muhammad, was a companion and pupil of al-Imam al-Rida, and narrated hadith on the Imam's authority. Al-Tusi mentioned his name in the list of the companions of al-Imam al-Rida, and says that he was from Kufa.
Al-Najashi also, for being an Asadi who originally came from Kufa, was called Ibn al-Kufa in Baghdad. Another kunya of his was Abu al-Hasan. He was born in 372/982 and died at Matirabad in Jumada al-Awwal 450/1058. Al-Najashi frequently travelled to Najaf, to Kufa - which was his birthplace - to Samarra' and probably to Basra, where he attended classes of renowned scholars of his time. Besides these scholars, he received his education formally in Baghdad. At the age of 28 in 400/1009 he visited al-Najaf al-Ashraf, where he heard hadith from al-Husayn b. Ja`far al-Makhzumi, popularly known as Ibn al-Khumri and was awarded an ijaza by him.
During the same year, he got a similar ijaza from Muhammad b. Shadhan al-Qazwini, who had come to visit Baghdad. During his several visits to Kufa, he heard hadith from Ja`far b. Bashir al-Bajali, Hasan b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Haytham al-`Ijli and Ishaq b. al-Hasan al-Aqra`i.
His teachers included such eminent scholars as al-Shaykh al-Mufid, Ibn `Abdun (Ahmad b. `Abd al-Wahid), Ahmad b. Muhammad b. `Imran, known as Ibn al-Jundi, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Musa b. Harun b. Salt al-Ahwazi, Abu al-`Abbas Ahmad b. Nuh b. `Ali b. al-`Abbas b. Nuh al-Sirafi, Husayn b. `Ubayd Allah al-Ghada'iri, `Ali b. Ahmad b. al-Jayyid al-Qummi, Muhammad b. Ja`far Mu'addab, Adib al-Nahwi, Muhammad b. `Uthman Mu`addal al-Nasibi, Abu al-Faraj Muhammad b. `Ali b. Shadhan al-Qazwini, Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Ghada'iri, Ahmad b. `Ubayd Allah al-Jawhari, al-Hasan b. Ahmad b. Qasim al-Sharif al-`Alawi, `Uthman b. Hatim al-Taghlibi, Muhammad b. `Abd Allah Abu al-Fadl al-Shaybani, Abu Muhammad al-Surani, Abu al-Hasan b. Mahlus al-`Alawi and his own father.
Al-Najashi's main interest was `ilm al-rijal and its allied branches of knowledge. From childhood he took a keen interest in this subject. He not only attended lectures of eminent teachers, but also visited their houses. For instance, he himself narrates in his book on Rijal, under the account of al-Kulayni, that he used to attend the classes of Abu al-Husayn al-Katib al-Kufi at the Mosque of Lu'lu', known as Masjid Naftawayh al-Nahwi. Similarly he recounts his visits to the house of Husayn and Ahmad al-Ghada'iri. Al-Najashi's written work seems to be confined to a few books despite his vast knowledge. He has mentioned his following books in Rijal al-Najashi: Kitab al-Jumu`a, Kitab al-Kufa wa-ma fi-ha min al-athar wa-l-fada'il, Kitab ansab Bani Nasr b. Qu`ayn wa-ayyamuhum wa-ash`aruhum, Kitab mukhtasar al-anwar wa mawadi` al-nujum allati sammatha i-Arab.
The most important work of al-Najashi is on Rijal; it was not given any name by him but gained fame as Rijal al-Najashi. This book was compiled by him after al-Tusi had compiled his Rijal and al-Fihrist. `Ali Dawani maintains on the basis of contemporary evidence that the task of compiling books on Rijal of the Shi`a was taken up by al-Tusi and al-Najashi after the death of al-Sharif al-Murtada (436/1044) and that al-Najashi's Rijal was completed even later, for it has a mention of al-Tusi's al-Fihrist; most probably it was completed in 448/1056.
Though there is no mention of al-Najashi in al-Fihrist of al-Shaykh al-Tusi, which is a very conspicuous absence, al-Najashi's Rijal is generally acclaimed by most of the authorities in this field as the best Shi`i work in this field to this day, even superior to al-Tusi's Rijal and al-Fihrist. Al-Shahid al-Thani acknowledges that Rijal al-Najashi is superior to all other works with regard to the author's meticulousness and labour in ascertaining the authenticity of early Shi`i rijal.
Shaykh `Abd al-Nabi al-Jaza'iri, in al-Hawi, also prefers the book to that of al-Tusi, and adds that all latter scholars accept the authenticity of al-Najashi's work. `Allama Baqir al-Majlisi, in the Fihrist of Bihar al-Anwar, places the book on a par with those of al-Tusi. Abu `Ali al-Ha'iri, Wahid al-Bihbahani and `Allama Bahr al-`Ulum consider al-Najashi as one of the greatest authorities of all time on Rijal, and place his book at the highest place in respect of authenticity.
Ayatullah Burujirdi is of the view that the Shia have only two works on Rijal: those of al-Tusi and al-Najashi. Muhammad Wa`iz Zadeh writes that Ayatullah Burujirdi held the view that Rijal al-Najashi was more reliable than al-Fihrist of al-Tusi, for al-Najashi corrected the lapses and inaccuracies found in the work of al-Tusi.
Allama Bahr al-`Ulum, who considers al-Najashi's book the best in Rijal, bases his assessment on the following six points: Al-Najashi compiled his work after al-Tusi's work was completed, and could remove the latter's lapses. Al-Tusi's varied interests and responsibilities did not leave much time for him to concentrate on the subject of rijal only, while this was al-Najashi's main interest and he had enough time to devote to this work. Al-Najashi's knowledge in history, biography and genealogy was of superior order than that of al-Tusi.
Al-Najashi came from Kufa, which was a centre of narrators of hadith. He was well acquainted with Ahmad b. al-Husayn al-Ghada'iri, the greatest authority on rijal in that period. He had access to various chains of ruwat of hadith and could ascertain a fact in many ways, which al-Tusi could not do. The importance and fame of Rijal al-Najashi eclipsed his other works.
Though small in number, his works in other fields were also held in respect. However, his Rijal paved the way for the latter generations of Shi`i scholars who could rely upon his research in dealing with hadith, fiqh, history, and biography. We do not have any knowledge about the pupils of al-Najashi except one, that is Abu al-Samsam Dhu al-Fiqar b. Muhammad b. Ma`bad al-Hasani al-`Alawi al-Maruzi, through whom Ibn Dawud, an authority on rijal, is related to al-Najashi. When Shaykh Muntajab al-Din al-Razi saw Abu al-Samsam, he was one hundred and fifteen years old.

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