Ibn Kathir

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Ismā‘īl ibn Kathīr
ابن كثير.png
Bornc. 1300 / 701 H
Died18 February 1373 / 774 H
EraBahri Mamluk Sultanate Mameluke Flag.svg
Notable work(s)- Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (Tafsir Ibn Kathir), a Quranic exegesis;
- Al-Bidāya wan Nihāya (“The Beginning and the End”), a 14-volume history of Islam;
- Kitāb al-jāmiʿ, a hadith collection.[4]
Muslim leader
Arabic name
Personal (Ism)Ismāʿīl
Patronymic (Nasab)ibn ʿUmar ibn Kaṯīr
بن عمر بن كثير
Teknonymic (Kunya)Abū l-Fidāʾ
أبو الفداء
Epithet (Laqab)ʿImād ud-Dīn
عماد الدين
"pillar of the faith"
Toponymic (Nisba)Ad-Dimashqi

Abu al-Fiḍā ‘Imād Ad-Din Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar ibn Kathīr al-Qurashī Al-Damishqī (إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير القرشي الدمشقي أبو الفداء عماد الدين; c. 1300 – 1373), known as Ibn Kathīr (ابن كثير, was a highly influential Arab historian, exegete and scholar during the Mamluk era in Syria. An expert on Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) and Fiqh (jurisprudence), he wrote several books, including a fourteen-volume universal history titled Al-Bidaya wa'l-Nihaya[7][8]


His full name was Abū l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar ibn Kaṯīr (أبو الفداء إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير) and had the laqab (epithet) of ʿImād ad-Dīn (عماد الدين "pillar of the faith"). His family trace its lineage back to the tribe of Quraysh. He was born in Mijdal, a village on the outskirts of the city of Busra, in the east of Damascus, Syria, around about AH 701 (AD 1300/1).[9] He was taught by Ibn Taymiyya and Al-Dhahabi.

Upon completion of his studies he obtained his first official appointment in 1341, when he joined an inquisitorial commission formed to determine certain questions of heresy.[4]

He married the daughter of Al-Mizzi, one of the foremost Syrian scholars of the period, which gave him access to the scholarly elite. In 1345 he was made preacher (khatib) at a newly built mosque in Mizza, the hometown of his father-in-law. In 1366, he rose to a professorial position at the Great Mosque of Damascus.[4][10]

In later life, he became blind.[8] He attributes his blindness to working late at night on the Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in an attempt to rearrange it topically rather than by narrator. He died in February 1373 (AH 774) in Damascus. He was buried next to his teacher Ibn Taymiyya.[11]


His creed in modern times has been a subject of disagreement between the Ash'aris and the Salafists.

Ash'ari position[edit]

Ash'aris claim him to be their own citing:

  • He belonged to the Shafi'i school of Islamic jurisprudence and was a professor of Hadith at the House of Hadith known as "Dar al-Hadith al-Ashrafiyya" which was exclusively established for those aligned to the Ash'ari school of creed, as mentioned by Taj al-Din al-Subki (d. 771/1370) in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (Comprehensive Biographical dictionary of Shafi'ites) that a condition to teach at the al-Ashrafiyya was to be Ash'ari in 'aqida.[12]
  • Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (d. 852/1449) reported in his al-Durar al-Kaminah (The Hidden Pearls: on the Notables of the Eighth Islamic Century), that a dispute between Ibn Kathir and the son of Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya broke out over teaching position. It seems Ibn Kathir implied that the dislike for him is due to his Ash'ari roots, and once Ibn al-Qayyim's son confronted him about this and said that even if Ibn Kathir swore to high heavens that he wasn't upon the creed of Ibn Taymiyya, people wouldn't believe him, because his sheikh (teacher) is Ibn Taymiyya.[13]

David L. Johnston described him as "the traditionist and Ash'arite Ibn Kathir".[14]

Salafi position[edit]

Ibn Kathir shares many similarities with his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, such as advocating a militant jihad and adhering to the renewal of one singular Islamic ummah.[15] Furthermore, like Ibn Taymiyyah, he counts as an anti-rationalistic, traditionalistic and hadith oriented scholar.[16] In regards of exegesis, he uses methods contrary to former Sunni scholars, and followed largely the methodoloy of ibn Taimiyya.[17] Salafis claims that Ibn Kathir did not interpret the mutashabihat verses and hadiths, but rather he accepted the apparent meanings of the verses, but refrained from asking “How?” and did not liken it to the creation and did not make ta'wil on the verses.

He states that:

People have said a great deal on this topic and this is not the place to expound on what they have said. On this matter, we follow the early Muslims (salaf): Malik, Awza'i, Thawri, Layth ibn Sa'd, Shafi'i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh, and others among the Imams of the Muslims, both ancient and modern that is, to let (the verse in question) pass as it has come, without saying how it is meant (min ghayr takyif), without likening it to created things (wa la tashbih), and without nullifying it (wa la ta'til): The literal meaning (zahir) that occurs to the minds of anthropomorphists (al-mushabbihin) is negated of Allah, for nothing from His creation resembles Him: "There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing" (Qur'an 42:11)[18]



Ibn Kathir wrote a famous commentary on the Qur'an named Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm which linked certain Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and sayings of the sahaba to verses of the Qur'an, in explanation and avoided the use of Isra'iliyyats. Many Sunni Muslims hold his commentary as the best after Tafsir al-Tabari and Tafsir al-Qurtubi and it is highly regarded especially among Salafi school of thought.[19] Although Ibn Kathir claimed to rely on at-Tabari, he introduced new methods and differs in content, in attempt to clear Islam from that he evaluates as Isra'iliyyat. His suspicion on Isra'iliyyat possibly derived from Ibn Taimiyya's influence, who discounted much of the exegetical tradition since then.[20][21]

His tafsir gained widespread popularity in modern times, especially among Western Muslims, probably due to his straightforward approach, but also due to lack of alternative translations of traditional tafsirs.[22]

In academic discourse[edit]

Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm is controversial in western academic circles. Henri Laoust regards it primary as a philological work and "very elementary". Norman Calder describes it as narrow-minded, dogmatic, and skeptical against the intellectual achievements of former exegetes. His concern is limited to rate the Quran by the corpus of Hadith and is the first, who flatly rates Jewish sources as unreliable, while simultaneously using them, just as prophetic hadith, selectively to support his prefabricated opinion. Otherwise, Jane Dammen McAuliffe regards this tafsir as, deliberately and carefully selected, whose interpretation is unique to his own judgment to preserve, that he regards as best among his traditions.[23]


  • Al-Jāmiʿ (الجامع) is a grand collection of Hadith texts intended for encyclopedic use. It is an alphabetical listing of the Companions of the Prophet and the sayings that each transmitted, thus reconstructing the chain of authority for each hadith.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Re-Formers of Islam: The Mas'ud Questions". Ibn Kathir is a scholar of Ahl al-Sunna who was of the Shafi‘i school (according to the first volume of his main work, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, 1.2), while Ibn Taymiya was a scholar whose fiqh remained in the general framework of the Hanbali school.
  2. ^ Younus Y. Mirza (2012). IBN KATHĪR (D. 774/1373): HIS INTELLECTUAL CIRCLE, MAJOR WORKS AND QUR'ĀNIC EXEGESIS. Georgetown University. Ibn Kathīr is often portrayed as the “spokesperson” for Ibn Taymiyya, one who promoted his work and implemented his theories. Ibn Kathīr is more accurately described as a Shāfi‘ī traditionalists or a group of Shāfiʻī ḥadīth scholars who maintained a traditionalist creed.
  3. ^ Mirza, Younus Y. (1 February 2014). "Was Ibn Kathīr the 'Spokesperson' for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 16 (1): 3. doi:10.3366/jqs.2014.0130. ISSN 1465-3591.
  4. ^ a b c d "Ibn Kathir - Muslim scholar". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 26 March 2016.
  5. ^ a b "Scholar of renown: Ibn Katheer". April 2002.
  6. ^ Mirza, Younus Y. (1 February 2014). "Was Ibn Kathīr the 'Spokesperson' for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 16 (1): 3. doi:10.3366/jqs.2014.0130. ISSN 1465-3591. Jane McAullife remarks that ‘certainly the most famous of Ibn Kathīr's teachers, and perhaps the one who influenced him the most, was the Ḥanbalī theologian and jurisconsult Ibn Taymiyyah’.
  7. ^ Mirza, Younus Y. (1 February 2014). "Was Ibn Kathīr the 'spokesperson' for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 16 (1): 1. doi:10.3366/jqs.2014.0130. ISSN 1465-3591.
  8. ^ a b Ludwig W. Adamec (2009), Historical Dictionary of Islam, p.138. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0810861615.
  9. ^ Mirza, Younus Y. (1 September 2016). "Ibn Kathīr, ʿImād al-Dīn". Encyclopaedia of Islam, THREE.
  10. ^ Ibn Kathir I, Le Gassick T (translator), Fareed M (reviewer) (2000). The Life of the Prophet Muhammad : English translation of Ibn Kathir's Al Sira Al Nabawiyya. ISBN 9781859641422.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Mirza, Younus Y. (1 February 2014). "Was Ibn Kathīr the 'Spokesperson' for Ibn Taymiyya? Jonah as a Prophet of Obedience". Journal of Qur'anic Studies. 16 (1): 2. doi:10.3366/jqs.2014.0130. ISSN 1465-3591. Ibn Qāḍī al-Shuhba concludes mentioning that Ibn Kathīr was buried ‘next to his teacher (shaykhihi) Ibn Taymiyya’.
  12. ^ Fawzi al-'Anjari; Hamad al-Sinan. Forewords by Wahba al-Zuhayli; Muhammad Sa'id Ramadan al-Buti; Ali Gomaa; Ali al-Jifri; 'Abd al-Fattah al-Bazm (the Grand Mufti of Damascus); Muhammad Hasan Hitou (eds.). Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah: Shahadat 'Ulama' al-Ummah wa Adillatahum [Ahl al-Sunna: The Ash'aris - The Testimony and Proofs of the Scholars]. almostaneer.com (in Arabic). Sunni Publications. ISBN 9789079294220. Archived from the original on 12 May 2021. الإمام الحافظ المفسر أبو الفداء إسماعيل بن كثير رحمه الله تعالى، صاحب التفسير العظيم والبداية والنهاية وغيرها، فقد نُـقِـلَ عنه أنه صَـرَّحَ بأنه أشعري كما في الدرر الكامنة 1/58، والدارس في تاريخ المدارس للنعيمي 2/89، أضف إلى ذلك أنه ولي مشيخة دار الحديث الأشرفية التي كان شرط واقفها أن لا يلي مشيختها إلا أشعري، وزدْ عليه ما في تفسيره من التنزيه والتقديس والتشديد على من يقول بظواهر المتشابه كما مـرَّ من قوله عند تفسيره لقوله تعالى من سـورة الأعراف ( ثمّ استوي على العرش ) (تفسيره 2/220) إلى غير ذلك من الأمثلة الظاهرة الجلية في كونه من أهل السنة الأشاعـرة.
  13. ^ The Hidden Pearls: concerning the Notables of the Eighth Islamic Century. Google Books. Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya (The House of Scientific Books). January 1997. ISBN 9782745126726. ومن نوادره أنه وقع بينه وبين عماد الدين بن كثير منازعة في تدريس الناس، فقال له ابن كثير: أنت تكرهني لأنني أشعري، فقال له: لو كان من رأسك إلى قدمك شعر ما صدقك الناس في قولك إنك أشعري، وشيخك ابن تيمية.
  14. ^ David L. Johnston (2010). Earth, Empire, and Sacred Text: Muslims and Christians as Trustees of Creation. Equinox Publishing. p. 288. ISBN 9781845532253. The traditionist and Ash'arite Ibn Kathir...
  15. ^ R. Hrair Dekmejian Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World Syracuse University Press 1995 ISBN 978-0-815-62635-0 page 40
  16. ^ Barbara Freyer Stowasser Women in the Qur'an, Traditions, and Interpretation Oxford University Press 1994 ISBN 978-0-199-87969-4
  17. ^ Karen Bauer Gender Hierarchy in the Qur'an: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses Cambridge University Press 2015 ISBN 978-1-316-24005-2 page 115
  18. ^ Spevack, Aaron (9 September 2014). The Archetypal Sunni Scholar: Law, Theology, and Mysticism in the Synthesis of al-Bajuri. SUNY Press. pp. 129–130. ISBN 9781438453712.
  19. ^ Oliver Leaman The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia Taylor & Francis 2006 ISBN 978-0-415-32639-1 page 632
  20. ^ Karen Bauer Gender Hierarchy in the Qur'an: Medieval Interpretations, Modern Responses Cambridge University Press 2015 ISBN 978-1-316-24005-2 page 115
  21. ^ Aysha A. Hidayatullah Feminist Edges of the Qur'an Oxford University Press 2014 ISBN 978-0-199-35957-8 page 25
  22. ^ Andreas Görke and Johanna Pink Tafsir and Islamic Intellectual History Exploring the Boundaries of a Genre Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies London ISBN 978-0-19-870206-1 p. 478
  23. ^ Johanna Pink Sunnitischer Tafs? r in der modernen islamischen Welt: Akademische Traditionen, Popularisierung und nationalstaatliche Interessen BRILL, 11.11.2010 ISBN 9789004185920 p. 40 (German)


  • Norman Calder, 'Tafsir from Tabari to Ibn Kathir, Problems in the description of a genre, illustrated with reference to the story of Abraham', in: G. R. Hawting / Abdul-Kader A. Shareef (eds.): Approaches to the Qur'an, London 1993, pp. 101–140.
  • Jane Dammen-McAuliffe, 'Quranic Hermeneutics, The views of al-Tabari and Ibn Kathir', in: Andrew Rippin (ed.): Approaches to the history of the interpretation of the Qur'an, Oxford 1988, pp.& nbs al hafid ibn kathir is not ash,ai

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