AʿMAŠ, ABŪ MOḤAMMAD

 

AʿMAŠ, ABŪ MOḤAMMAD SOLAYMĀN B. MEḤRĀN ASADĪ (in some sources, erroneously, Azdī) KĀHELĪ KŪFĪ, 1st-2nd/7th-8th century Shiʿite scholar, traditionist, and Koran reader. He was born between 58/677-78 and 61/680-81 in his father’s native village of Damāvand (Donbāvand) in Ṭabarestān, or in Kūfa, to which the family had moved. Shiʿite biographers state that the date of his birth coincided with Ḥosayn’s martyrdom at Karbalā (10 Moḥarram 61/10 October 680); some claim that his father was a witness to the massacre. In Kūfa Aʿmaš became a mawlā of the Kāhelī branch of the Banū Asad and lived in their quarter, although it is also mentioned that he resided among the ʿAwfī branch of the Banū Saʿd. He is said to have visited Baghdad, but he spent most of his years in Kūfa, where he died between 145/762 and 151/768 (according to many authorities, in Rabīʿ I, 148/765).

As a Koran reader, Aʿmaš generally followed the readings of Ebn Masʿūd; as can be seen from his own codex (moṣḥaf), of which a few examples have survived. His authority was such that people who attended his recitations would sometimes correct their copies of the Koran in accordance with his readings. Abū ʿObayd (d. 224/839) mentions him as one of the five qorrāʾ of Kūfa; later he was included among the Fourteen Readers, generally in the eleventh place.

Aʿmaš was one of the first scholars to engage in evaluating the trustworthiness of transmitters of Hadith (ʿelm al-ṯeqāt). He is often referred to as ṯeqa himself and was even given the honorary appellation moṣḥaf in recognition of his trustworthiness. But he was also accused of tadlīs, on the grounds that in certain cases he falsely claimed direct reception of traditions; in particular, he was accused of claiming to have heard traditions from Anas b. Mālek, while in fact receiving them from Anas’ disciples. The alleged claim would have enhanced his stature by making him a Successor (tābeʿī). Some scholars went so far as to accuse him of having corrupted the Kufan tradition.

Aʿmaš transmitted Ḥeǰāzī, as well as his own Iraqi, material, but had little respect for the Syrian tradition. Zohrī (to whom he is often compared) was reportedly very impressed when he discovered the extent of Aʿmaš’s knowledge. A prolific traditionist, Aʿmaš is said to have transmitted 1,300, or even 4,000, traditions, many of which were included in the sound Sunni collections. Aʿmaš is counted among those scholars who believed that traditions should be memorized and handed down orally rather than committed to paper. He appears, however, to have changed his mind on this subject in his later years: The traditions which he transmitted were recorded by his numerous students; a ṣaḥīfa composed (or dictated) by him became known in the transmission of Wakī b. Jarrāš. Aʿmaš was well-known for his impeccable Arabic, and felt no qualms in correcting faulty Arabic in traditions which he transmitted. He was considered an authority on the laws of inheritance (farāʾeż), but his expertise in other branches of religious law seems to have been more limited. Thus, on the death of Ebrāhīm Naḵaʿī (d. 95/713-14 or 96/714-15), Aʿmaš was chosen as his successor on questions of farāʾeż but not on matters of feqh in general. He was also faulted for transmitting traditions of a legal nature without grasping their full significance. On certain legal issues he had his own opinion; e.g., while most authorities interpreted Koran 2:187 as meaning that during Ramażān the daily fast commences when the light of day spreads in the horizon, Aʿmaš followed a tradition of Ḥoḏayfa b. Yamān that permitted delaying the last meal before the fast (the saḥūr) until just before sunrise. It appears exaggerated, however, to argue (as does one of his biographers) that Aʿmaš had his own maḏhab.

Aʿmaš’s Shiʿite tendencies came to the fore on numerous occasions. He rudely rejected a demand by Hešām b. ʿAbd-al-Malek that he write down for him traditions about ʿOṯmān’s merits and ʿAlī’s defects. In fact, he is an authority for accounts hostile to ʿOmar, ʿOṯmān, and Moʿāwīa. He told the caliph Manṣūr that he knew by heart ten thousand traditions on the merits of ʿAlī; he dictated some of these traditions to Sayyed Ḥemyārī, who then used the material for his poems. When Abū Ḥanīfa came to visit Aʿmaš on his deathbed and urged him to retract some of his pro-ʿAlid traditions, Aʿmaš adamantly refused. He also transmitted traditions on fażāʾel al-Ḥosayn, and induced one of his Kufan neighbors to make a pilgrimage to Ḥosayn’s tomb. Shiʿite interpretations of certain Koranic verses are attributed to him.

The precise nature of Aʿmaš’s Shiʿism is a moot point between Imamite and Zaydī scholars, each side claiming him for itself. He is mentioned in the Ketāb al-reǰāl of Abū Jaʿfar Ṭūsī (d. 460/1067) and in later Imamite works as a disciple of Imam Jaʿfar Ṣādeq (from whom he is known to have transmitted). Yet the fact that Šahīd Ṯānī Zayn-al-dīn b. ʿAlī ʿĀmelī (d. ca. 966/1558) reproaches some Imamite biographers for having failed to mention Aʿmaš in their lists might point to a lack of unanimity among Imamites on Aʿmaš’s position. There are also attempts to absolve him from the taint of waqf (meaning here the belief that Jaʿfar Ṣādeq was the last Imam).

In Zaydī literature, Aʿmaš is mentioned as having recognized the imamate of Zayd b. ʿAlī without actively supporting his rebellion. Together with other scholars and pious men, he gave moral support to the revolt in 145/762-63 of Moḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh al-Nafs al-Zakīya and his brother Ebrāhīm, and he is even reported to have vowed that he would have joined the battle himself but for his blindness. When news reached him of Ebrāhīm’s death in battle, Aʿmaš declared that if he were assured of the support of the Kufan populace he would march on Manṣūr’s palace and wreak vengeance on the ʿAbbasids. Another indication that Aʿmaš accepted the Zaydī tenet of ḵorūǰ can be seen from the fact that he did not consider it a sin for Ḥasan b. Ṣāleḥ (d. 168/784) to preach rebellion.

The available evidence does not allow us to decide whether Aʿmaš was a Zaydī or an Imamite; in any case such distinctions were not always clear-cut at his time. But obviously he was a fervent supporter of the ahl al-bayt and was so regarded by both friend and foe. Thus Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal is said to have warned his followers against reading Karābīsī’s Ketāb al-modallesīn, since it contained pro-Shiʿite pronouncements by Aʿmaš, while Jāḥeẓ referred to him as a rāfeżī who transmitted traditions about ʿAlī of dubious authenticity. Attempts were also made to strengthen anti-Shiʿite arguments by placing them in Aʿmaš’s mouth. For example, Aʿmaš is the authority for a story that those jinn who condemn Abū Bakr and ʿOmar for their treatment of ʿAlī are the followers of Eblīs, or that the worst group among the jinn are the rāfeża.

In theology Aʿmaš belongs to the anti-Murjiʾite, predestinarian tradition which was centered among the Shiʿite of Kūfa and was first anti-Omayyad and later anti-ʿAbbasid. He approvingly quotes Ebrāhīm Naḵaʿī, who declared that the Morǰeʾa were more hateful to him than the ahl al-ketāb. Aʿmaš’s anti-Murjiʾism is connected with his open hostility to Abū Ḥanīfa and the school which bears his name. Aʿmaš’s biographers have recorded various scathing remarks made by Aʿmaš at Abū Ḥanīfa’s expense. These remarks are in line with what we are told about Aʿmaš’s uncouth manners and often coarse sense of humor. Yet Aʿmaš was also scrupulously religious, lived in dire poverty, and believed in refraining from any contact with those in power. He refused to let a physician tend him during his last illness, and asked to be buried without a funeral, since he thought he did not deserve one. It is not surprising that in Sufi literature he is regarded as an ascetic.

 

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(E. Kohlberg)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: August 2, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 9, pp. 926-928