ABŪ ḤĀTEM RĀZĪ, AḤMAD B. ḤAMDĀN AL-VARSENĀNĪ AL-LAYṮĪ, Ismaʿili dāʿī (missionary) and author of the 4th/10th century. He was born in Pašāpūya, a district south of Ray, and became deputy to Ḡīāṯ, the Ismaʿili dāʿī active there. According to Neẓām-al-molk, Abū Ḥātem forced out the successor of Ḡīāṯ, Abū Jaʿfar Kabīr (who suffered from attacks of melancholy) and himself became the local Ismaʿili leader. Apparently he succeeded in converting the governor of Ray, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī (307-11/919-24). In 313/925-26 or 314/926-27, when Ray was conquered by the Samanids, who were Sunnites, Abū Ḥātem fled to Daylam, the mountainous region southeast of the Caspian Sea. There he lent support to the Gilite leader Asfār b. Šīrōya in his battle against the Zaydī imams of Ṭabarestān. At first the Daylamite prince Mardāvīǰ b. Zīār, who subdued Asfār, apparently tolerated Abū Ḥātem’s influence; his dispute with the philosopher Abū Bakr Moḥammad b. Zakarīyāʾ Rāzī is said to have taken place in Mardāvīǰ’s presence. Abū Ḥātem incurred, however, the disfavor of Mardāvīǰ when his predicted date of the Mahdī’s appearance proved wrong. He had to flee and died in 322/933-34 on the way or in exile in Azerbaijan.

According to a late Ismaʿili source, ʿOyūn al-aḵbār of Edrīs b. Ḥasan (d. 872/1468), Abū Ḥātem recognized the Fatimids as imams and dedicated his book Ketāb al-zīna to their second caliph, Qāʾem (322-34/934-46). This report is doubtful; it is seen from his Ketāb al-eṣlāḥ that he considered his own lifetime as an interim (fatra), i.e., a time without an imam. Like the Qarmaṭīs of Baḥrayn, he seems not to have accepted the Fatimids as true ʿAlids. (Only with Abū Yaʿqūb Seǰestānī did “the Persian school” of Ismaʿilis bend to the Fatimids’ claim.)

Abū Ḥātem’s book al-Jāmeʿ (on feqh), mentioned in the Fehrest, is not extant. His voluminous work Ketāb al-zīna deals unsystematically with Islamic theological terminology. This work seems to be modeled after the lost Ketāb al-bayān of Ḡīāṯ. In his Aʿlām al-nobūwa Abū Ḥātem defends the notion of prophethood against the philosopher Abū Bakr Rāzī. Ketāb al-eṣlāḥ is the oldest remaining Ismaʿili work presenting doctrines of a Neoplatonic sort which developed in “the Persian school” from the beginning of the 4th/10th century. This book, available in several manuscripts, constitutes part of a longer controversy among the Persian Ismaʿilis about the proper form of the new doctrine; Abū Ḥātem corrects numerous points in the Ketāb al-maḥṣūl of his contemporary and fellow dāʿī Nasafī. (In his lost Ketāb al-noṣra Abū Yaʿqūb leveled criticism against Ketāb al-eṣlāḥ, and his book was itself criticized by Ḥamīd-al-dīn Kermānī in Ketāb al-rīāż.) From the disconnected criticisms made of Nasafī’s book, one can reconstruct the basic ideas of Abū Ḥātem’s own doctrine, which has not reached us in any systematic presentation. The Intellect (ʿaql) is God’s first originated being (al-mobdaʿ al-awwal), and from the Intellect the Soul (nafs) proceeds through emanation (enbeʿāṯ). Beneath the Soul, which, together with the Intellect, builds the sublime world (al-ʿālam al-laṭīf), the world of gross matter (al-ʿālam al-kaṯīf) begins. The highest level in this world is occupied by matter and form; these are not emanated from the Soul but rather are mere effects or impressions (āṯār) produced (aẓhara) by it through thought. Following the one creator and his two creations, three kinds of matter are distinguished: The first is purely imagined (wahmīya) and consists of the states of the Soul, namely motion and repose; the second comprises the four elementary qualities (afrād)—dryness and moistness, warmth and cold; the third consists of elements (ommahāt) which are composed of these qualities; as a result of their mingling, the four substances (ǰawāher) arise—minerals, plants, animals, and man.

In his psychology Abū Ḥātem maintains, contrary to Nasafī, that human souls are not parts (aǰzāʾ) of the Universal Soul, but only effects (āṯār), which belong completely to this world and hence are imperfect. It is the goal of the Ismaʿili teachings to provide individual souls with that perfection (tamām) which is characteristic of the Universal Soul by virtue of its essence.

Like other Ismaʿili authors, Abū Ḥātem proclaims a cycle of seven enunciating (nāṭeq) prophets (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Moḥammad, and the Mahdī). Unlike Nasafī and Seǰestānī, he declares that Adam revealed a system of religious law (šarīʿa) which later was abrogated by Noah.


Editions: Aʿlām al-nobūwa, partly edited by P. Kraus, in Opera philosophica, Cairo, 1939, pp. 291-316.

Complete edition by Ṣ. al-Ṣāwī and Ḡ. Aʿwānī, Tehran, 1977.

Ketāb al-zīna, partly edited by H. F. al-Ḥamdānī, 2 vols., Cairo, 1956, 1958.

Sources: Baḡdādī, Farq (Cairo2), p. 283.

Lesān al-mīzān I, p. 164. Fehrest (Tehran), pp. 239, 240.

Ḵᵛāǰa Neẓām-al-molk, Sīāsat-nāma, ed. C. Schefer, Paris, 1891-93, p. 186.

Maqrīzī, Etteʿāẓ al-ḥonafāʾ, ed. al-Šayyāl, Cairo, 1967, p. 186.

W. Ivanow, Studies in Early Persian Ismailism, Bombay, 1955, pp. 87-122.

Idem, Ismaili Literature, Tehran, 1963, pp. 24-26.

S. M. Stern, “Abū Ḥātim al-Rāzī,” EI2 I, p. 125.

Idem, “The Early Ismāʿīlī missionaries in North-West Persia and in Khurāsān and Transoxania,” BSOAS 23, 1960, pp. 56-57.

W. Madelung, “Das Imamat in der frühen ismailitischen Lehre,” Der Islam 37, 1961, pp. 103-06.

I. K. Poonawala, Bibliography of Ismāʿīlī Literature, Malibu, 1977, pp. 36-39.

H. Halm, Kosmologie und Heilslehre der frühen Isamāʿīlīya, Wiesbaden, 1978, index, s.v. Rāzī, Abū Ḥātim.

(H. Halm)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 19, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, p. 315

Cite this entry:

H. Halm, “ABŪ ḤĀTEM RĀZĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, p. 315; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-hatem-razi-ahmad-b (accessed on 30 January 2014).