ESKĀFĪ, ABŪ JAʿFAR MOḤAMMAD b. ʿAbd-Allāh, Muʿtazilite theologian of the 9th century (d. 240/854). His family originated from Samarkand, but had moved to Eskāf Banī Jonayd in Iraq (between Baghdad and Wāseṭ), hence his nesba. He was born into a milieu of poor craftsmen, and it was apparently only thanks to the Muʿtazilite Jaʿfar b. Ḥarb (died 236/850) that he could study theology in Baghdad. But he managed to win the attention of the caliph al-Moʿtaṣem (218-27/833-42), who seems to have thought of using his talents as a preacher and missionary against the so-called Nābeta, i.e., the young intellectual opposition against the state-supported dogma of ḵalq al-Qorʾān. He wrote a book on this topic and demonstrated his dialectical skill in several public disputations: with the jurist Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī Karābīsī (who was close to the Nābeta position), with the emāmī Shiʿite Sakkāk, a pupil of Hešām b. Ḥakam, and with Abū ʿAffān Raqqī, a fellow-Muʿtazilite who belonged to the environment of Jāḥeẓ. The latter event, which may have aroused special interest because of an underlying rivalry inside the school, took place in the salon of the chief-judge Ebn Abī Doʾād and was fixed in proceedings which circulated in the form of a book. Eskāfī seems to have died prematurely from a diarrhoea which he deliberately treated in the wrong way because he did not trust academic medicine.

Eskāfī was a highly productive scholar. Ebn al-Nadīm (ed. Tajaddod, p. 213) mentions twenty-two titles in his bibliography; altogether he was said to have written approximately seventy treatises on theological matters. His ideas are difficult to reconstruct. He had a rather punctilious way of approaching theological problems which fitted well into the kind of scholasticism which gradually became characteristic for Muʿtazite kalām at his time. He largely depended on the systematic outline developed by the Baghdad branch of Muʿtazilites like his teacher Jaʿfar b. Ḥarb, but in some details he came close to scholars of Basra such as Ṣāleḥ Qobba (in atomism) and ʿAbbād b. Solaymān (in his theory of attributes and divine names). Among the disciples of Jaʿfar b. Ḥarb, his main competitor was ʿĪsā b. Hayṯam Ṣūfī (died 245/859) who, however, cultivated the ascetic tradition of the school and therefore seems to have had less relations with the court. Among those who wrote for the “government” it was rather Jāḥeẓ who stood in his way. He criticized Jāḥeẓ for using adab style in theology and therefore valuing rhetorics higher than plain truth. Above all, he refuted his Ketāb al-ʿoṯmānīya point by point (see Jāḥeẓ, pp. 282-343). He did so because of his Zaydī standpoint which he had inherited from Jaʿfar b. Ḥarb and his circle, but he elaborated the arguments to a degree hitherto unknown in Muʿtazilism. Large portions of the book are preserved in Ebn Abi’l-Ḥadīd’s Šarḥ Nahj al-balāḡa. Eskāfī’s son Jaʿfar, who held an influential position in a ministry already under al-MoʿtasÂem, wrote a Ketāb al-meʿyār wa’l-mowāzana fi’l-emāma (or fī tafżīl ʿAlī ʿalā Abī Bakr), which seems to have heavily relied on his father’s political writings (i.e., the Radd ʿalā Ketāb al-ʿoṯmānīya, but also a Ketāb al-maqāmāt fī tafżīl ʿAlī and a Ketāb fażāʾel ʿAlī). The book has recently been published (ed. M.-B. Maḥmūdī, Beirut, 1402/1981; see also Ṭabāṭabāʾī) but the problems of authorship are not yet sufficiently resolved.


Bibliography (for cited works not given in detail, see “Short References”):

Qāżī ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Fażl al-eʿtezāl, ed. F. Sayyed, Tunis, 1393/1974, p. 285.

Ašʿarī, Maqālāt, index, s.v. Ebn Hendū, Meftāḥ al-ṭebb, ed. M. Moḥaqqeq, Tehran, 1368 Š./1989, p. 16.

“Iskāfī,” in EI2 IV, pp. 126-27.

Abū ʿOṭmān ʿAmr b. Baḥr Jāḥeẓ, Ketābal-ʿoṯmānīya, ed. ʿA. M. Hārūn, Cairo, 1374/1955; corrections by Ch. Pellat in Arabica 3, 1956, pp. 312-23.

T. Nagel, Rechtleitung und Kalifat, Bonn, 1975, pp. 453 ff.

Ch. Pellat, “Al-Gāḥiẓ hérésiographe,” Bulletin d’études orientales 30, 1978, pp. 147-58.

ʿA. Ṭabāṭabāʾī, “Ahl al-bayt fi’l-maktaba al-ʿarabīya” Torāṯonā 5/3, 1410/1989, pp. 87-94.

J. van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra, 6 vols., Berlin, 1991 ff., IV, ch. C, VI, pp. 301-12.

M. Zahniser, “Insights from the ʿUthmāniyya of al-Jāḥiẓ into the Religious Policy of al-Maʾmūn,” Muslim World 69, 1979, pp. 8-17.

(Josef van Ess)

Originally Published: December 15, 1998

Last Updated: January 19, 2012

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Vol. VIII, Fasc. 6, pp. 601-602