ṢĀḤEB EBN ʿABBĀD, Esmāʿil Kāfi-al-Kofat (938-95), vizier and belletrist.

Ebn ʿAbbād was born on 14 September 938 in the village of Ṭalaqānča located approximately 20 miles south of Isfahan (Ṯaʿālebi, III, p. 237; Tawḥidi, pp. 126-27). His father, Abu’l-Ḥasan ʿAbbād b. ʿAbbās (d. 946), was a prominent local bureaucrat and intellectual, who authored works on Muʿtazili theology. Ebn ʿAbbād served for some time as an administrator for the Buyid emir (Ar. amir), Rokn-al-Dawla (d. 976; see BUYIDS). Following the death of his father, Ebn ʿAbbād became the protégé of the litterateur and philosopher, Abu’l-Fażl b. al-ʿAmid (d. 970), who had succeeded ʿAbbād’s father as the vizier of Rokn-al-Dawla (Yāqut, II, p. 663).

In 958, Abu’l-Fażl selected Ebn ʿAbbād to escort the young Buyid prince Moʾayyad-al-Dawla to Baghdad on the occasion of his marriage to the daughter of Moʿezz-al-Dawla. During this trip Ebn ʿAbbād was introduced to Abu Mohammad Mohallabi and important intellectual figures of his court in Baghdad.  Ebn ʿAbbād (Ruznāmaja, pp. 97-103, cf. Ṯaʿālebi, III, p. 115) wrote an account of his time in Baghdad for Ebn al-ʿAmid, in which he chronicled his interactions with well-known literary and intellectual figures, such the grammarian Abu Saʿid al-Sirāfi (d. 978), the Sufi Ebn Samʿun (d. 997), and the poet ʿAli b. Hārun b. al-Munajjem (d. 963).

Ebn ʿAbbād returned to Rayy in 958. In 966, Moʾayyad-al-Dawla became the ruler of Isfahan and Abu’l-Fażl appointed Ebn ʿAbbād as his vizier. Prior to his own death in 970, Abu’l-Fażl secured the succession of his son, Abu’l-Fatḥ, as vizier for the emir Rokn-al-Dawla. After the death of Rokn-al-Dawla in 976, Ebn ʿAbbād was involved in a complex plot with the Buyid emirs Moʾayyad-al-Dawla and ʿAżod-al-Dawla (d. 983) to imprison and kill Abu’l-Fatḥ (Tawḥidi,  pp. 532-46).

Career as vizier.  Ebn ʿAbbād became vizier on behalf of Moʾayyad-al-Dawla in 976 with the title “kāfi al-kofāt” (lit. the supremely competent). Ebn ʿAbbād’s rule coincided with a period of stability and expansion for the Buyid emirate in Western Iran. Under the direction of Ebn ʿAbbād, Buyid forces defeated Qāvus b. Vošmgir (d. 1012), who was harboring the fugitive Buyid emir Faḵr-al-Dawla (d. 997), thereby causing the two men to flee to Samanid territory. Their counterattack later in the same year, assisted by Samanid forces led by the generals Abu’l-ʿAbbās Tāš and Fāʾeq Ḵaṣṣa was successfully defeated (Ruḏrāvari, pp. 17-18; Ebn al-Aṯir, IX, pp. 10-11). 

Following the death of Moayyad-al-Dawla in 983, Ebn ʿAbbād negotiated for the return of Faḵr-al-Dawla from exile and arranged for his installation as the new emir in Rayy, passing over a son of Moʾayyad-al-Dawla. Although the historian reports that Ebn ʿAbbād considered resigning his post to devote himself to “affairs of the Hereafter,” he appears to have played an even more prominent role in the conduct of political affairs during the reign of Faḵr-al-Dawla than he had under his predecessor. Ruḏrāvari (d. 1095) suggests that Ebn ʿAbbād encouraged Faḵr-al-Dawla’s abortive march on Baghdad in 989. 

Ebn ʿAbbād died on 30 March 995 in Rayy. The historian Helāl b. al-Moḥassen al-Ṣābi (d. 1056) reports that many mourned the vizier’s death. His body was later transported to Isfahan where he was buried (Yāqut, II, p. 703).

Intellectual interests. Ebn ʿAbbād was a polymathic scholar whose interests embraced a wide variety of different fields including Arabic poetry and its criticism, theology (kalām), law, lexicography, grammar, and medicine.

According to Ṯaʿālebi (d. 1037-38), Ebn ʿAbbād’s contemporary fame was based mainly upon his talents as a belletrist (Ṯaʿālebi, III, pp. 188-89). A large number of his letters (Ar. resāla, rasāʾel) have been preserved in various collections. The most important of these is the Ketāb al-moḵtār min rasāʾel kāfi al-kofāt Abu’l-Qāsem b. ʿAbbād which contains 187 epistles mainly written during the period when Ebn ʿAbbād served as the vizier of Moʾayyad-al-Dawla. An earlier collection of letters, composed when the vizier was a scribe for Ebn al-ʿAmid, is al-Foṣul al-adabiya wa’l-morāsalāt al-ʿAbbādiya. Numerous letters are preserved in volumes III and IV of Ṯaʿālebi’s Yatimat al-dahr. Ebn ʿAbbād’s correspondence sheds light on the diverse content of political (solṭāniyāt) and personal (eḵwāniyāt) letters. Their style is marked by a frequent use of rhymed prose (Ar. sajʿ) and a distinctive predilection for rare linguistic usage (Ar. ḡarib) reflecting Ebn ʿAbbād’s interest in lexicography (see below).

Ebn ʿAbbād was also known as a tireless champion of Muʿtazili rationalism of the Baṣran school. He often attempted to demonstrate that lexicographical, rhetorical, grammatical and literary knowledge was of utility in answering theological questions. His works of Muʿtazili kalām appear to have been intended to serve mainly as introductions to school doctrine: al-Ebāna ʿan maḏhab ahl al-ʿadl bi-ḥojaj al-Qorʾān wa’l-ʿaql (Treatise clarifying the tenets of the Muʿtazila with proofs from the Quran and reason); al-Tadkera fi osul al-ḵamsa (Aide mémoire concerning the five principles); and Resāla fi’l-hedaya wa’l-ḍalāla (Letter concerning right guidance and error).

Although not himself a Shiʿite, Ebn ʿAbbād composed verse that suggested his love for the family of the Prophet. During the course of his life, he met three Zaydi imams from the Caspian Sea: al-Mahdi le’Din Allāh (d. 969), al-Moʾayyad be’llāh (d. 1020-21) and al-Nāṭeq be’l-Ḥaqq (d. 1032). In Rayy, Ebn ʿAbbād encouraged the visitation of the shrine of ʿAbd-al-ʿAẓim al-Ḥasani (d. before 868) a companion of the Twelver-Shiʿite imams, Moḥammad al-Jawād (d. 835) and ʿAli al-Hādi (d. 868) in a letter concerning this shrine. Ebn ʿAbbād’s adherence to Muʿtazili principles, however, did put him at odds with the Twelver-Shiʿi traditionalist Ebn Bābawayh (d. 991) whom he allegedly banished from his court along with several other prominent ḥadith scholars (Tawḥidi, p. 167).

Ebn ʿAbbād also had a profound interest in Arabic lexicography, authoring among other works, the comprehensive dictionary al-Moḥiṭ fi'l-loḡa. He also wrote several works on poetry, meter, and poetic criticism, most notably the Resāla f'al-kašf ʿan masāweʾ al-Motanabbi (Treatise revealing Motanabbi’s Faults) which is critical of Abu’l-Ṭayyeb al-Motanabbi (d. 965). The work played an important role in the ongoing debate concerning this famed poet’s merits during the 10th century and later.

Encouragement of letters. Ebn ʿAbbād played an important role in the encouragement of Arabic letters in Western Iran. Contemporary sources mention the names of approximately 200 jurists, scholars, littérateurs, poets and other intellectuals who sought his patronage. In Rayy, Ebn ʿAbbād encouraged the construction of a library that was among the largest collections of books in the Islamic world at the time, holding somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 volumes. The library was partially destroyed in 1029 by the troops of the Ghaznavids. His library was a great source of pride demonstrating his cultural sophistication. He famously boasted of his rejection of the invitation of the Samanid emir Nuḥ b. Manṣur (r. 977-97) to come manage his affairs in Khorasan, stating that on account of the size of his personal library he would need 400 camels to transport its contents (Taʿālebi, III, pp. 192-93). Ebn ʿAbbād also founded libraries in Qom and Isfahan.

His court in Rayy attracted a great number of famed litterateurs, an impression of which can gleaned from reading volume III of al-Ṯaʿalebi’s Yatimat al-dahr. The originator of the maqāmāt genre, Badiʿ al-Zamān al-Hamaḏāni (d. 1008) was one of its residents in 990, and must have benefited from the exposure to Ebn ʿAbbād’s known interest in the poetry of the Banu Sāsān and his love of rhymed prose. However, we owe the court's most elaborate and complex account to Abu Ḥayyān al-Tawḥidi who served there as a scribe from 978 to 980. His Aḵlāq al-wazirayn (Morals of the two viziers), allegedly inspired by the vizier’s ill-treatment of him, portrays Ebn ʿAbbād as a vain, hypocritical, and immoral man who coveted praise and was jealous of the talented littérateurs at his court. 


Moḥammad Ḥasan Āl Yāsin, al-Ṣaheb b. ʿAbbād, Baghdad, 1957.

Aḥmad Bahmānyār, Ṣāheb b. ʿAbbād: Šarḥ-e aḥwāl o āṯār, Tehran, 1965.

C. E. Bosworth, The Mediaeval Islamic Underworld: The Banu Sāsān in Arabic Society and Literature, 2 vols., Leiden, 1976.

Claude Cahen and Charles Pellat, “Ibn ʿAbbād,” EI² III, p. 671. 

Ebn ʿAbbād, Rasāʾel, eds. ʿA. ʿAzzām and Š. Żayf, Cairo, 1947; edition of BNF MS arabe 3314.

Idem, “al-Ebāna ʿan maḏhab ahl al-ʿadl be’ḥojaj al-Qorʾān wa’l-ʿaql” in Nafāʾes al-maḵṭuṭāt, ed. M. Ḥ. Āl Yāsin, Baghdad, vol. I, 1953; repr., Baghdad, 1963, pp. 11-30.

Idem, “ʿOnwān al-maʿāref fi ḏekr al-ḵalāʾef” in Nafāʾes al-maḵṭuṭāt, vol. I, repr., pp. 35-63. 

Idem, “al-Taḏkera fi’l-oṣul al-ḵamsa” in Nafāʾes al-maḵṭuṭāt, ed. M. Ḥ. Āl Yāsin, Baghdad, vol. II, 1954, II, pp. 87-95.

Idem, Resāla fi’l-hedaya wa’l-ḍalāla, ed. M. Maḥfuẓ, Tehran, 1955.

Idem, al-Ruznāmaja, ed. M. Ḥ. Āl Yāsin, Baghdad, 1958.

Idem, “al-Kašf ʿan masāweʾ al-Motanabbi,” in al-ʿAmidi, al-Ebāna ʿan sareqāt al-Motanabbi, ed. Ebrāhim al-Dāsuqi al-Besāṭi,  Cairo, 1961, pp. 221-50.

Idem, Diwān, ed. M. Āl Yāsin, Baghdad, 1965.

Idem, al-Foṣul al-adabiya wa’l-morāsalāt al-ʿabbādiya, ed. M. Āl Yāsin, Damascus, 1982.

Idem, Ketāb al-eqnāʿ fi’l-ʿaruż wa-taḵrij al-qawāfi, ed. Ebrāhim al-Edkāwi, Cairo, 1987.

Idem, al-Moḥiṭ fi'l-loḡa, ed. M. Āl Yāsin, 11 vols., Beirut, 1994.

Ebn al-Aṯir, Kamel fi’l-taʾrʾiḵ, ed. C. J. Tornberg, 15 vols., Leiden, 1851-76; repr., 13 vols., Beirut, 1965-67.

Joel L. Kraemer, Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival during the Buyid Age, Leiden, 1993, esp. pp. 259-72.

Wilferd Madelung, Der Imam al-Qāsim ibn Ibrāhim und die Glaubenslehre der Zaiditen, Berlin, 1965, esp. pp. 177, 186.

Wilferd Madelung, ed., Arabic Texts Concerning the History of the Zaydi Imāms, Beirut, 1987.

Charles Pellat, “Al-Ṣāḥib b. ʿAbbād,” in Abbasid Belles-Lettres, eds. Julia Ashtiany et al., Cambridge, 1990, pp. 96-107.

Moḥammad b. al-Ḥosayn Ruḏrāvari, Ḏayl tajāreb al-omam, Oxford, 1921. 

Abu Ḥayyān Tawḥidi, Aḵlaq al-wazirayn, ed. M. T. al-Tanji, Damascus, 1965.

Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi, Yatimat al-dahr, ed. M. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, Cairo, 1956.

Yāqut al-Ḥamawi, Moʿjam al-odabāʾ, ed. Eḥsān ʿAbbās, 7 vols., Beirut, 1993.

Moḥammad Reżā Zādhuš, “Rāh-namā-ye moṭālaʿa dar bāra-ye Ṣāheb b. ʿAbbād Esfahāni (326-385 A.H.),” in Nosḵa pažuhi, ed. Abu’l-Fażl Bāboli, Qom, 2005, pp. 335-80.

(Maurice Pomerantz)

Last Updated: June 29, 2011

Cite this entry:

Maurice Pomerantz, , “ṢĀḤEB EBN ʿABBĀD, ESMĀʿIL,” Encyclopædia Iranica, online edition, 2011, available at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/ebn-abbad-esmail-al-saheb-kafi (accessed on 30 April 2017).