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Abu al-Hasan, ‘Ali Ibn Hamzah al-Asadi (Arabic: أبو الحسن علي بن حمزة الكسائي‎), better known as Al-Kisa'i (born 119 AH, 737 CE in Kufa - died 189 AH, 805 CE in Ranboyeh, near Rey), was one of the transmitters of the seven canonical Qira'at, or methods of reciting the Qur'an.[1] He is also the founder of the Kufi school of Arabic grammar which formed a rivalry with its Basri counterpart founded by Sibawayh.


Of Persian origin,[2][3] he learned Arabic grammar from Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi as well as Yunus ibn Habib.[4] As a result, he gained fame during the reign of Harun al-Rashid, so much that he was entrusted with the instruction of the caliph's son, al-Amin. Some of his notable students were Hisham b. Muawiyah and Yaḥya al-Farā'. The two primary transmitters of his method of recitation were al-Layth and Al-Duri, the latter of whom was also a transmitter for the method of Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala', the namesake of another one of the seven canonical recitations.[1][5]

Al-Kisa'i died in the year 804CE.[6] Of the seven canonical transmitters, Ibn Amir ad-Dimashqi was the oldest and al-Kisa'i was the youngest.[7]


Al-Kisā'i is the author of one of the collections of Stories of the Prophets, which includes information not found in other collections nor repeated in later exegesis.[8] Al-Kisā'i often expanded upon early exegesis by elaborating a fuller narrative storyline and by adding folkloric elements from non-extant oral traditions[8] that often parallel those from Christianity. Al-Kisā'i's collection included Shem and Eleazar as prophets, two figures who would not appear in later literature as prophets. [Readers please note: the above paragraph refers to a different al-Kisa'i, namely, Muhammad ibn Abd Allah al-Kisa'i. See: Noegel and Wheeler, [9]]

One of the more famous incidents of his career was his debate with Sibawayh that had been organized in Baghdad by Abbasid vizier Yahya ibn Khalid.[10] The incident became known as al-Mas'ala al-Zunburīyah, "The Question of the Hornet," because one of the sentences involved translates as "I have always thought that the scorpion was more painful in stinging than the hornet, and sure enough it is."[11] At issue was the form of the last word in the Arabic sentence. Sibawayh proposed:[12]

... fa-'ida huwa hiya (فإذا هو هي), literally ... sure-enough he she

meaning "sure-enough he (the scorpion, masc.) is she (the most painful one, fem.)"; Arabic does not need or use any verb-form like is in such situations. On the other side al-Kisa'i argued for:

... fa-'ida huwa 'iyyaha(فإذا هو إياها), literally ... sure-enough he her

meaning "he is her".[a]

Sibawayh justified his position on theoretical grammatical grounds, arguing that an accusative form cannot be a predicate, but to his dismay al-Kisa'i ushered in four Bedouin who were pretending to have just happened to be waiting at the door; al-Kisa'i had bribed them to support his answer prior to the debate.[11][13] All of them testified that huwa 'iyyaha was the way they always said it and therefore Sibawayh was wrong and he left the court.[12] Later, Sibawayh returned to his country bitter after the debate and died young. Al-Kisa'i was accosted by one of Sibawayh's students after the fact and asked 100 grammatical questions, being proved wrong by the student each time. Upon being told the news about Sibawayh's death, al-Kisa'i approached the Caliph Harun al-Rashid and requested that he be punished for having a share in "killing Sibawayh."[14]


  1. ^ The difference has been compared to that in English between, for example, It is she and It is her, still a point of contention today.


  1. ^ a b Muhammad Ghoniem and MSM Saifullah, The Ten Readers & Their Transmitters. (c) Islamic Awareness. Updated January 8, 2002; accessed April 11, 2016.
  2. ^ Frye, ed. by R.N. (1975). The Cambridge history of Iran (Repr. ed.). London: Cambridge U.P. p. 467. ISBN 978-0-521-20093-6. Of these four were Persians: Asim b. Abi'l-Najiid, whom Ibn al-Nadim lists among the mawali, Nafi', whom the same source considers as having originated in Isfahan, Ibn al-Kathir and Kisa'i, whose full name, 'Ali b. Hamza b. 'Abd- Allah b. Bahman b. Firuz, reveals his Persian origin.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Donzel, E. J. van (1 January 1994). Islamic Desk Reference. BRILL. p. 218. ISBN 90-04-09738-4. al-Kisai *, Abu l-Hasan*: well-known Arab philologist and "reader" of the Quran*, of Persian origin; ca. 737805. He is said to have stayed for some time among the Bedouins in order to become fully conversant in Arabic. He is the real founder of the grammatical school of Kufa. His discussion with Sibawayhi, the prominent grammarian of the school of Basra, has become famous.
  4. ^ Sībawayh, ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān (1988), Hārūn, ʻAbd al-Salām Muḥammad (ed.), Al-Kitāb Kitāb Sībawayh Abī Bishr ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān ibn Qanbar, Introduction (3rd ed.), Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, pp. 9–11
  5. ^ Shady Hekmat Nasser, Ibn Mujahid and the Canonization of the Seven Readings, p. 129. Taken from The Transmission of the Variant Readings of the Qur'an: The Problem of Tawaatur and the Emergence of Shawaadhdh. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2012. ISBN 9789004240810
  6. ^ Shady Nasser, Canonization, pg. 49.
  7. ^ Shady Nasser, Canonization, pg. 38.
  8. ^ a b Wheeler. Historical Dictionary of Prophets in Islam and Judaism, Al-Kisa'i.
  9. ^'i&f=false
  10. ^ Touati, Houari; Cochrane, Lydia G. (2010). Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-226-80877-7.
  11. ^ a b Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pg. 64. Part of the Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. London: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
  12. ^ a b M.G. Carter, Sibawayhi, pg. 13. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004. ISBN 1850436711
  13. ^ Franz Rosenthal, A History of Muslim Historiography, pg. 245. Leiden: Brill Archive, 1952.
  14. ^ al-Qāsim Ibn-ʻAlī al- Ḥarīrī, The Assemblies of Al Ḥarîri: 1: containing the first 26 assemblies, vol. 1, pg. 499. Trns. Thomas Chenery. Williams and Norgate, 1867.