Jahm bin Safwan

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Jahm ibn Ṣafwān (جَهْم بن صَفْوان) was an Islamic theologian who attached himself to Al-Harith ibn Surayj, a dissident in Khurasan towards the end of the Umayyad period, and who was put to death in 746 by Salm b. Aḥwaz.[1]


Of possible Persian[2] descent, he was born in Kufa, but settled down in Khurāsān in Tirmidh. He learned under al-Ja'd b. Dirham. al-Ja'd b. Dirham was a teacher of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, and is described as a Dahrī and Zindīq.[3] He was the first Muslim reported to have spoken about the createdness of the Qurʾān and reject Abraham's friendship with God and Moses' speaking to Him.[4] The name of Jahm b. Ṣafwān would later be ascribed - possibly spuriously - to the theological movement known as the Jahmiyya (see: Jahmites).[5]

Jahm worked as the assistant to Al-Harith ibn Surayj during the latter's revolt against the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar. Jahm was killed during the first attempt to take Merv in 746, though the revolt greatly weakened Umayyad power and indirectly contributed to the success of the Abbasid Revolution.[6]


Establishing the positive content of Jahm's doctrines is difficult, as they are reproduced (in an abbreviated form) only in later polemical works that are impossible to verify. However, it is said that he taught that only a few attributes can be predicated to God, such as creation, divine power and action, whilst others such as speech cannot. Therefore, he believed that it was wrong to talk about the eternal word of the Qur'an, since God (according to Jahm) is not a speaker in the first place.[7]

Jahm was a proponent of extreme determinism, according to which a man acts only metaphorically in the same way in which the sun is said to set: according to Jahm, this is a linguistic convention rather than an accurate description, as it is actually God that makes the sun set.[8]


Jahm's doctrines about God and His attributes were taken up in criticisms of the Mu'tazila, who were sometimes called Jahmites by their adversaries. The Mu'tazila believed that the Qur'ān was created, a tenet which agreed[citation needed] with Jahm's recorded view.

Jahm left no writings, but many Muslim scholars wrote about his doctrines and a few modern scholars have written studies of him.[9][10]


Jahm bin Ṣafwān was heavily criticized by later scholars for his theological teachings. Many Hadith scholars wrote refutations of Jahm bin Ṣafwān's doctrines, particularly Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bukhari, and al-Darimi.[11] The latter also wrote a large refutation of a prominent Jahmite by the name of Bishr ibn Ghiyāth al-Mārisî wherein he declared him a Kafir (an unbeliever).[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam p.83, Leiden 1974
  2. ^ van Ess, Joseph. "JAHM B. ṢAFWĀN – Encyclopaedia Iranica". www.iranicaonline.org. Encyclopedia Iranica. Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  3. ^ Abdus Subhan, al-Jahm bin Safwan and his philosophy p.221 in: Islamic Culture 1937, W. Montgomery Watt, Early Discussions about the Qur'ān p.28 in: The Muslim World 1950, al-Dahabi, Mizan al-I'tidal 1:185
  4. ^ W. Madelung, The Origins on the Controversy concerning the Creation of the Qur'ān p.505 in: Orientalia hispanica sive studia F.M. Pareja octogenario dicata, Leiden 1974
  5. ^ W. Montgomery Watt, Encyclopedia of Islam II, q.v. Djahm b. Ṣafwān
  6. ^ G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750, pg. 108. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 9781134550586
  7. ^ Clinton Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p 126. ISBN 1441138129
  8. ^ P. W. Pestman, Acta Orientalia Neerlandica: Proceedings of the Congress of the Dutch Oriental Society Held in Leiden on the Occasion of Its 50th Anniversary, 8–9 May 1970, p 85.
  9. ^ Sources on the Jahmiyya are largely tendentious, as is the case with all heresiographies of the past. For modern studies see: Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi,[citation needed] Tarikh al-Jahmiyyah wa'l-Mu'tazilah,[citation needed] Yasir Qadhi,[citation needed] and Maqalat al-Jahm ibn Safwan wa Atharuah fi al-Firaq al-Islamiyya.[citation needed]
  10. ^ Richard M. Frank (1965). "The neoplatonism of Ğahm ibn Safwân". Le Muséon (68): 395–424.
  11. ^ They wrote respectively: al-Radd 'alā al-Zanādiqah wa'l-Jahmiyyah, Khaql Af'āl al-'Ibād wa'l-Radd 'alā al-Jahmiyyah wa-Ashāb al-Ta'tîl and al-Radd 'alā'l-Jahmiyyah
  12. ^ Refer to: Naqd 'Uthmān b. Sa'îd 'alā al-Mārisî al-Jahmî al-'Anîd fi Iftirā 'alā Allāh fî al-Tawhîd, Riyad 1999