ABŪ MOSLEM MOḤAMMAD B. BAḤR AL-EṢFAHĀNĪ AL-KĀTEB, secretary, official, man of letters, and Muʿtazilite Koran commentator, b. 254/868, probably in Isfahan. Nothing is known about his teachers. He must have come to Baghdad at an early age, for there he visited the house of the poet Boḥtorī, who left Iraq in 279/892. At a social gathering in the caliphal court, he argued eloquently his claim that his home town Isfahan was the most pleasant spot on earth. In Baghdad he also became personally acquainted with the later ʿAbbasid vizier ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā, who used to express his longing for him and to describe him in complimentary terms. The latter events cannot be dated, and it is uncertain if they occurred during his first stay in Baghdad or a later one (if he ever visited the city again). Some time before 287/900, he became secretary of Moḥammad b. Zayd al-Dāʿī, ʿAlid ruler of Ṭabarestān and Gorgān (270-87/884-900). He is mentioned at the ʿAlid court at Gorgān together with the prominent Muʿtazilite scholar Abu’l-Qāsem Balḵī, whom he may have met in Baghdad and with whom he may even have traveled to Gorgān. It is likely that he was influenced by the theological doctrine of Balḵī.
Few details are known about his later career. In 300/912-13 Abu’l-Ḥosayn b. Abi’l-Baḡl, appointed tax director of Isfahan, wrote him from Baghdad putting him in charge of the office of domains (dīwān al-żīāʿ) and, after his own arrival in the town, confirmed him in the office. In 303/915-16 Abū Moslem was appointed chief accountant (mostawfī) in Šīrāz to the tax collector Moḥammad b. Aḥmad b. Rostam. In 306/918-19 ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā, at the suggestion of Ebn Abi’l-Baḡl, put him jointly with Aḥmad b. Saʿd in charge of taxation in Isfahan and gave them free hand over their predecessor, Ebn Rostam. He is known to have been present in Isfahan in 316/928. In Šawwāl, 321/September/October, 933, when Ebn Rostam died, Abū Moslem was once more entrusted with his position of tax director. A month later ʿAlī b. Būya conquered Isfahan and deposed him. Abū Moslem died toward the end of 322/autumn, 934.
The following titles of his works, none of which is extant, are mentioned in the sources. 1. Ketāb ǰāmeʿ al-taʾwīl le-moḥkam al-tanzīl (or Šarḥ al-taʾwīl), a Koran commentary based on Muʿtazilite doctrine in fourteen volumes, which he used to present in his discussion circle. The book became famous for its elegant style. Šarīf al-Mortażā quoted and discussed some of the interpretations of Koranic verses in his Ḡorar wa’l-dorar. It was praised by Shaikh Abū Jaʿfar Ṭūsī in the introduction of his Koran commentary al-Tebyān and occasionally quoted in Ṭabresī’s Koran commentary Maǰmaʿ al-bayān. More regularly it is quoted in the Koran commentary al-Tahḏīb of the Muʿtazilite Ḥākem Jošamī (extant in manuscript). 2. Ketāb ǰāmeʿ rasāʾeleh, a collection of his epistles. 3. Ketāb al-nāseḵ wa’l-mansūḵ. He is reported to have held that none of the verses of the Koran was abrogated and to have interpreted the verses commonly considered as abrogating or abrogated accordingly. 4. A book about grammar (fi’l-naḥw). Abū Moslem also composed poetry in Arabic and Persian. A few verses of his Arabic poetry are quoted by Yāqūt. Abu’l-Faraǰ Eṣfahānī relates from him in his Aḡanī.
ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Ṭabaqāt al-moʿtazela in Fażl al-eʿtezāl, ed. F. Sayyed, Tunis, 1393/1974, pp. 299, 323.
Aḡanī1 XVIII, p. 160; XX, p. 50.
al-Ḏarīʿa V, pp. 44-45.
Ebn Esfandīār, pp. 251-52.
Ebn al-Mortażā, Ṭabaqāt al-moʿtazela, ed. S. Diwald-Wilzer, Wiesbaden, 1961, p. 91.
Fehrest, pp. 34, 136.
Lesān al-mīzān V, p. 89.
Māfarrūḵī, Maḥāsen Eṣfahān, ed. J. Ḥosaynī Tehrānī, Tehran, 1312 Š./1933, p. 9.
Ebn Meskawayh, Taǰāreb I, p. 60.
Ṣafadī, al-Wāfī II, ed. S. Dedering, Istanbul, 1949, p. 244.
Soyūṭī, Boḡyat al-woʿāt, ed. M. A. Ebrāhīm, Cairo, 1384/1964-65, I, pp. 59-60.
Tanūḵī, Nešwār al-moḥāżara, ed. ʿA. Šālǰī, Beirut, 1391-93/1971-73, IV, p. 107; VIII, pp. 129, 190.
Yāqūt, Odabāʾ VI, pp. 420-22.
H. Bowen, The Life and Times of ʿAlī ibn ʿĪsā, Cambridge, 1928, pp. 41, 310.
I. Goldziher, “Aus der Theologie des Fachr al-dīn al-Rāzī,” Der Islam 3, 1912, p. 215, n. 1.
W. Madelung, Der Imam al-Qāsim ibn Ibrāhīm, Berlin, 1965, pp. 159, 167, 188.
ʿA. Zarzūr, al-Ḥākem al-Jošamī wa manhaǰoh fī tafsīr al-Qorʾān, Beirut, 1388/1968, pp. 135-36.
Sezgin, GAS I, p. 423.
J. van Ess, “Das begrenzte Paradies,” in P. Salmon, ed., Mélanges d’islamogie, Leiden, 1974, p. 114.
Originally Published: December 15, 1983
Last Updated: July 19, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 4, pp. 340-341
Wilferd Madelung, “Abu Moslem Esfahani,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 340-341; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-moslem-mohammad-b (accessed on 30 January 2014).