Sufyan al-Thawri

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Sufyan ath-Thawri ibn Said
Born 716
Died 778 (aged 61–62)/161 hijri
Era Islamic golden age
Region Muslim scholar
School Islam
The Eight Ascetics

Sufyan ath-Thawri ibn Said (Arabic: سفيان بن سعيد الثوري‎) (716–778) was a tabi'i Islamic scholar, Hafiz and jurist, founder of the Thawri madhhab.[1] He was also a hadith compiler, of whom a great number of anecdotes are recorded.


Imam Sufyan ath-Thawri was born in Kufa, Iraq, and in his youth supported the Shi'ites against the dying Umayyad caliphate. By 748 he had moved to Basra, "where he met ['Abdallah] ibn 'Awn and Ayyub [al-Sakhtiyani]. He then abandoned his Shi'i view."[2] It is said that the Umayyads offered him high office positions but that he consistently declined.[3] He even refused to give to the Caliphs moral and religious advice and when asked why, he responded "When the sea overflows, who can dam it up?".[4] He was also quoted to have said to a friend of his "Beware of the rulers, of drawing close to and associating with them. Do not be deceived by being told that you can drive inequity away. All this is the deceit of the devil, which the wicked qurra' have taken as a ladder [to self promotion]."[5]

Ath-Thawri's jurisprudential thought (usul al-fiqh), after his move to Basra, became more closely aligned to that of the Umayyads and of al-Awza'i.[1] He is reported to have regarded the jihad as an obligation only as a defensive war.[6]

Ath-Thawri was one of the 'Eight Ascetics,' who included (usual list) Amir ibn Abd al-Qays, Abu Muslim al-Khawlani, Uways al-Qarani, al-Rabi ibn Khuthaym, al-Aswad ibn Yazid, Masruq ibn al-Ajda', and Hasan al-Basri.

He spent the last year of his life hiding after a dispute between him and the caliph al-Mahdi. On his death the Thawri madhhab was taken up by his students, including Yahya al-Qattan.[1] His school did not survive, but his juridical thought and especially hadith transmission are highly regarded in Islam, and have influenced all the major schools.


Of his books, perhaps best known is his Tafsir of the Qur'an, one of the earliest in the genre. An Indian MSS purports to preserve it up to Q. 52:13, as published by Imtiyâz ʿAlî ʿArshî in 1965; also Tabari's tafsir quotes extensively from the whole text. He also preserved the books of his Umayyad predecessors.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Steven C. Judd, “Competitive hagiography in biographies of al-Awzaʿi and Sufyan al-Thawri”, Journal of the American Oriental Society 122:1 (Jan–March, 2002).
  2. ^ Abu Jafar ibn Jarir al-Tabari, "Biographies of the Prophet's Companions and Their Successors". Translated as an appendix to his History, v. 39, by Ella Landau-Tasseron (SUNY Press, 1998), 258. Ayyub had died by 748 so Sufyan must have moved prior to then.
  3. ^ Fihrist, 225; Abu Nu`aym, V1. 356-93, VH. 3-144; EI, 1v. 500-2
  4. ^ Michael Cook. (2003). Forbidding Wrong in Islam: An Introduction. p. 77. The 'Abbasid rebellion had begun 747 CE, and ended with their victory 750. The coastal metaphor implies a setting in Basra, and besides the Umayyads would hardly have offered a position to a twenty-something Shi'ite.
  5. ^ Muhammad Qasim Zaman. (1997). Religion and Politics Under the Early 'Abbasids: The Emergence of the Proto-Sunni Elite. p. 79.
  6. ^ Angeliki E. Laiou, et al. (2001). The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World. p. 23.
  7. ^ e.g. Andrew Rippin, “al-Zuhri, naskh al-Qur’an and the Problem of Early tafsir Texts”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 47 (1984), 22–43; this ancient and slightly corrupted document has Thawri's name in the isnad.