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Al-Kisā’ī (الكسائي)
Other namesAbū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Ḥamzah ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Uthman, (أبو الحسن على بن حمزة بن عبد الله بن عثمان); Bahman ibn Fīrūz (بهمن بن فيروز); Abū ‘Abd Allāh (أبو عبد الله).
Academic background
InfluencesAl-Ru’āsī, Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, Yunus ibn Habib, et al.[1]
Academic work
EraAbbāsid Caliphate
School or traditionGrammarians of Kufa
Main interestsphilology, Arabic language, Bedouin poetry, idioms Quran
InfluencedHisham ibn Muawiyah and Al-Farrā'

Al-Kisā’ī (الكسائي) Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Ḥamzah ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Uthman (أبو الحسن على بن حمزة بن عبد الله بن عثمان), called Bahman ibn Fīrūz (بهمن بن فيروز),[2] surnamed Abū ‘Abd Allāh (أبو عبد الله), and Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Hamzah of al-Kūfah ( d. ca. 804 or 812) was preceptor to the sons of caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd and one of the ‘Seven Readers’ (seven canonical Qira'at)[3] or ‘authorized’ Qur’ānic reader.[4][n 1][5][6] He founded the Kufi school of Arabic grammar, the rival philology school to the Basri school founded by Sibawayh.


A Persian[2][3] native of al-Kūfah, he learned grammar from al-Ru’āsī [n 2] and a group of other scholars. It is said that al-Kisā’ī took this moniker from the particular kind of mantle he wore called a kisā’. [n 3]

Al-Kisā’ī entered the court of the Abbāsid caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd at Baghdād as tutor to the two princes, al-Ma’mūn and al-Amīn. His early biographer Al-Nadim relates Abū al-Ṭayyib's written account that Al-Rashīd held him in highest esteem. [6] When the caliph moved the court to al-Rayy as the capital of Khurāsān, al-Kisā’ī moved there but subsequently became ill and died. During his illness al-Rashīd paid him regular visits and deeply mourned his death. It seems he died in 804 (189 AH) on the day that the hanīfah official of Al-Rashīd, Muḥammad al-Shaybānī[n 4][7] also died. It is also said he shared his date of death with the judge Abū Yūsuf in 812 (197 AH).[8] When al-Kisā’ī died al-Farrā' was elected to teach in his stead, according to the account of Ibn al-Kūfī.[n 5][9]

Rival Schools[edit]

A famous anecdote relates a grammatical contest in Baghdad between the leaders of the two rival schools, with al-Kisā’ī representative of Al-Kufah, and Sibawayh of the Baṣrans. The debate was organized by the Abbasid vizier Yahya ibn Khalid,[10] and became known as al-Mas'ala al-Zunburīyah (The Question of the Hornet). At issue was the Arabic phrase: كنتُ أظن أن العقربَ أشد لسعة من الزنبور فإذا هو هي\هو إياها I always thought that the scorpion is more painful than the hornet in its sting, and so it is (lit. translation).[11] At issue was the correct declension of the last word in the sentence. Sibawayh proposed:[12]

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

meaning "so he (the scorpion, masc.) is she (the most painful one, fem.)"; In Arabic syntax the predicative copula of the verb 'to be' or is has no direct analogue, and instead employs nominal inflexion. Al-Kisa'i argued the correct form is:

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

meaning "he is her".[n 6]

In Sibawayh's theoretical argument the accusative form can never be the predicate. However, when al-Kisa'i was supported in his assertion by four Bedouin -Desert Arab, whom he had supposedly bribed-[11][13] that the correct form was huwa 'iyyaha, his argument won the debate. Such was Sibawayh's bitterness in defeat, he left the court[12] to return to his country where he died sometime later at a young age. 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]


Hishām ibn Mu'āwīyah[n 7] and Yaḥya al-Farrā' were two notable students. The primary transmitters of his recitation method were Abū al-Ḥārith ibn Khālid al-Layth (d.845)[16][17] and Al-Duri [n 8] [n 9]

Al-Naqqāsh[n 10] wrote Al-Kitāb al-Kisā’ī.[21]and Bakkār[n 11] wrote The Reading of al- Kisā’ī.[21]


Among his books there were:

  • Kitāb Ma'ānī al-Qur'an (كتاب معانى القرآن) 'The Meaning of the Qur’an';
  • Kitāb Makhtusir al-Nawh (كتاب مختصر النحو) 'Abridgment of Grammar';
  • Kitāb al-Qirā'āt (كتاب القراءات) '[Qur’ānic] Readings';
  • Kitāb al'Addad (كتاب العدد) 'Numbers';
  • Kitāb al-Nawādir al-Kabīr (كتاب النوادر الكبير) 'The large book, Rare Forms'; [n 12]
  • Kitāb al-Nawādir al-Awsat(كتاب النوادر الاوسطِ) 'The medium-size book, Rare Forms';
  • Kitāb al-Nawādir al-Asghir (كتاب النوادر الاصغر) 'The small book, Rare Forms';
  • Kitāb al-Muqtu' wa-Musulahu (كتاب مقطوع القرآن وموصوله) 'Terminations and Connections in the Qur’ān';
  • Kitāb Ikhtilāf al-'Addad (كتاب اختلاف العدد) 'Disagreement or Discrepancies of Numbers';[23][24]
  • Kitāb al-Huja (كتاب الهجاء) 'Spelling';
  • Kitāb al-Musādir (كتاب المصادر) 'Nouns';
  • Kitāb Ash'ār al-Mu'āyāh wa-Tarā'iqha (كتاب اشعار المعاياة وطرائقها) 'Poems of Contention and Their Forms';
  • Kitāb al-Hā'āt al-Makani biha fi al-Qur'an (كتاب الهاءات المكنى بها في القرآن) 'Forms of Surnames in the Qur’an';
  • Kitāb al-Huruf (كتاب الحروف) 'Letters'.

Al-Kisā’ī composed ten leaves of poetry.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Of the seven canonical transmitters, Ibn Amir ad-Dimashqi was the oldest and al-Kisa'i was the youngest.
  2. ^ Abū Ja'far Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan ibn Abī Sārah al-Nīlī al-Ru’āsī (fl. time of Hārūn al-Rashīd), wrote first book on grammar. See Yāqūt Irshād VI (6), 480; Nadīm (al-), 76, 141-2, 145, 1084.
  3. ^ Probably a short cloak as distinct from a ḥulal or ‘cloak’. Cloaks and mantles differentiated regional styles. see Khallikān, II, 238; Nadīm (al-) 144, n10
  4. ^ Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, Abū ‘Abd Allāh of Wāsiṭ, a judge under Hārūn al-Rashīd who died at Al-Rayy in 804. Enc. Islām IV, 271.
  5. ^ Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn ‘Ubayd ibn al-Zubayr al-Asadī ibn al-Kūfī (ca. 868-960) was a scholar and calligrapher. See Khatib al-Baghdādī XII, § 81, 6489; Yāqūt Irshād, VI (5), 326; Nadīm (al-), pp. 6, 145, 151-8, 162, 173-4, 192, 864, 1033.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Hishām ibn Mu'āwīyah al-Darīr (d.824) a grammarian and Qur'ānic reciter of Kufa who was blind. See Ibn Khallikan [15]
  8. ^ Abū ‘Umar ‘Umar Hafṣ ibn al-‘Aziz ibn Suhbān Al-Durī (d.861) from Baghdad was a popular teacher at Samarra.[18][19]
  9. ^ Al-Duri was a transmitter for the method of Abu 'Amr ibn al-'Ala', the namesake of another one of the seven canonical recitations.[4][20]
  10. ^ Al-Naqqāsh, ‘Alī ibn Murrah, surnamed Abū al-Ḥasan, one of the people of Baghdād, the author also of Kitāb al-Ḥamzah’ and ‘The Eight Readers in Addition to the Seven,’ after Khalaf ibn Hishām al-Bazzār.
  11. ^ Bakkār ibn Aḥmad ibn Bakkār, surnamed Abū ‘Īsā (d. 963), a Qur’ānic reader in Baghdād, author of The Reading of Ḥamzah.
  12. ^ For list of authors of books of this title See Nadīm (al-), Al-Fihrist, p. 191.[22]


  1. ^ Sībawayh, ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān (1988), Hārūn, ʻAbd al-Salām Muḥammad (ed.), Al-Kitāb Kitāb Sībawayh Abī Bishr ʻAmr ibn ʻUthmān ibn Qanbar, vol. Introduction (3rd ed.), Cairo: Maktabat al-Khānjī, pp. 9–11
  2. ^ a b Frye, R.N., ed. (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.
  3. ^ a b 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. ^ a b Muhammad Ghoniem and MSM Saifullah, The Ten Readers & Their Transmitters. (c) Islamic Awareness. Updated January 8, 2002; accessed April 11, 2016.
  5. ^ Shady Nasser, Canonization, pg. 38.
  6. ^ a b Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 143.
  7. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 504.
  8. ^ a b Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 144.
  9. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 158.
  10. ^ Touati, Houari; Cochrane, Lydia G. (2010). Islam and Travel in the Middle Ages. University of Chicago Press. p. 51. ISBN 978-0-226-80877-2.
  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.
  15. ^ Khallikān (Ibn) 1868, p. 612, vol.III.
  16. ^ Flügel 1871, p. 30, n.3.
  17. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, pp. 69, 1035.
  18. ^ Khallikān (Ibn) 1843, p. 401, n.1, I.
  19. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 79-82.
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ a b Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 84.
  22. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 191.
  23. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 79.
  24. ^ Flügel 1872, p. 686, vol.II.
  25. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 361, 365.