ABŪ ʿOṮMĀN RABĪʿA B. ABĪ ʿABD-AL-RAḤMĀN FARRŪḴ AL-TAYMĪ, often called RABĪʿAT-AL-RAʾY, important lawyer of the ancient school of Medina and transmitter of Traditions from Companions of the Prophet, died 136/753. Rabīʿa was a native of Medina and lived there most of his life. He was a mawlā of the Āl Monkader.

According to Šaybānī, Rabīʿa was the most prominent Medinese lawyer of his time (Šāfeʿī, Ketāb al-omm VII, Būlāq, 1325/1907, p. 290). The biographical sources support this judgment. His stance as a Muslim lawyer of the ancient school of law of Medina must be understood before his activity, whatever it may have been, as a transmitter of Traditions can be evaluated. Rabīʿa and his colleagues formulated their legal doctrines from the sonna, or usage, of the local community of Muslims as determined by the consensus (eǰmāʿ) of those scholars who were experts. If the sonna of the community did not provide guidance on a particular case, or there were conflicting reports of the practice of the Muslims in that regard, the lawyer expert offered his opinion (raʾy) about what the law should be. In Medina and in other centers in the 2nd/8th century, there sprang up groups of persons referred to as aṣḥāb al-ḥadīṯ, ahl al-ḥadīṯ, or ahl al-aṯār who both opposed the methods of the lawyers and sought to change the law at specific points by citing what they represented as the sonna of the Prophet himself, expressed in a formal report, Hadith, purporting to be his own words or a description by an associate of his action on some occasion. During Rabīʿa’s professional career and for some years thereafter, i.e., during the first half of the 2nd/8th century, the interaction of this movement with the ancient schools contributed fundamentally to the development of legal theory and positive legal doctrine. His disciple, Mālek b. Anas, felt obliged to give at least lip service to the principle that there existed a “sonna of the Prophet” touching specifically on points of law. In practice, however, he showed that he usually considered these to be pious frauds, irrelevant, or of doubtful meaning (see J. Schacht, Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, Oxford, 1950, pp. 22-27).

The legal opinions of Rabīʿa and his older contemporary Zohrī (d. 136/742) represent the earliest stage to which the development of Islamic law in Medina or the Ḥeǰāz can be traced with some historical reliability (Schacht, Origins, p. 246). It is possible that Rabīʿa himself wrote at least one book on law (as Sezgin suggests, GAS I, pp. 406-07, on the basis of a remark in Saḥnūn’s Modawwana I, Cairo, 1323/1905, p. 29 referring to a ketāb of Rabīʿa), a work which was used by jurists of the 3rd/9th century and which was the source for the Mowaṭṭaʾ of Mālek, the Mowaṭṭaʾ of ʿAbdallāh b. Wahb (d. 197/813), and the Modawwana (Sezgin, GAS I, p. 465). His name appears often in the esnād in these works. Because of the master-student relationship between Rabīʿa and Mālek, the previous (and, until now, only certain) explanation for this has been that Rabīʿa’s successors used notes made from his lectures or in fact committed some of the material to memory. Not all references to him are authentic, however (Schacht, Origins, pp. 247-48 with references).

Although the Ahl al-Hadith were the critics and opponents of Rabīʿa in his career as a Medinese jurist, his place as a tābeʿ or Successor, in touch with a number of ṣaḥāba or Companions and older Successors, together with his high reputation as a leading scholar of Medina, led to his being treated by later generations as an important traditionist, in that he was identified in his biographies as an active transmitter. Likewise, later works on law sometimes represent him as agreeing with the assumptions of the Ahl al-Hadith regarding the authority of Traditions from the Prophet. Most of the later reǰāl critics, among them Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, regarded him as a reliable transmitter (ṯeqa; e.g., Ḏahabī, Mīzān al-eʿtedāl II, Cairo, 1352/1933, p. 44, no. 2574). Fourteen of the Companions from whom he is said to have transmitted are named by Abū Noʿaym (Ḥelyat al-awlīāʾ III, Cairo, 1352/1933, p. 262). On the evidence of the particular Traditions of the Prophet with which he is linked in the Ḥelya (III, pp. 263-66) and elsewhere in briefer notices, he seems to be known principally as a transmitter of pious Traditions, and the individual from whom he transmitted the greatest number was Anas b. Mālek, the Companion. Aḵbār reporting his activity as a transmitter do not specify what kind of Traditions he recited. The above information, together with our knowledge that Traditions had not reached the vast totals that they did later, make it seem probable that he passed on a limited number of genuine reports and reminiscences which he had heard concerning the Prophet, Companions, and others. Any implication that he sat nearly daily on a regular basis (as in a report in Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād VII, p. 423) giving Traditions must have been reference to the transmission of legal subject matter, part of which would be reports (Hadith) about the sayings of early Muslims concerning their usage in matters of ritual, business transactions, punishment of crime, and the like.

There is conflicting evidence on the origin of Rabīʿa’s well-known nickname Rabīʿat-al-raʾy. It is possible that it was bestowed as a term of reproach by the Ahl al-Hadith after the time of Šāfeʿī as part of an effort to create a misleading picture of the school of Medina (the view of Schacht, Origins, pp. 114-15). There is no evidence that Rabīʿa relied on reasoning any more or less than his contemporaries of the school of Medina. Even the legal thought of his pupil Mālek still shows extensive reliance upon reason.

Against this theory that the name originated with his critics, it must be observed that the fullest sources on him, Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād and the Ḥelya of Abū Noʿaym, both compiled three centuries after the time of Rabīʿa and 250 years after Šāfeʿī, use this name constantly and in such contexts as would indicate that it was both used and known by his contemporaries during his life-time and employed as a term of affection and respect, referring to the quality of his reasoning, rather than to the frequency with which he used reasoning in reaching opinions on law. These sources contain a number of testimonials to his high intelligence and powerful mind. The name meant that to Ḏahabī also who, writing from a perspective of six centuries, called him moǰtahed, baṣīr be’l-raʾy, “one qualified to employ independent reasoning, perspicacious in his opinions, or reasoning” (Ḥoffāẓ I, Hyderabad, 1388/1968, p. 157). A parallel use of baṣīr be’l-raʾy occurs in Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād (VIII, p. 223), where it is applied by an informant as a term of praise to Abū Moṭīʿ Balḵī, an early judge in Balḵ and a disciple of Abū Ḥanīfa.

The accepted date of Rabīʿa’s death is 136/753, and the accepted place is Anbār in Iraq, Hāšemīya nearby, or Madīna Abi’l-ʿAbbās in Anbār. Abu’l-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ was said to have appointed him as a judge there (Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād VIII, p. 421). This is interesting in view of the anti-Iraqian attitude which Rabīʿa is portrayed as expressing in two reports related by Mālek (Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād VIII, p. 425; Ḥelya II, p. 260), a reflection perhaps of the rivalries that existed between the scholars of Medina and Iraq in this period.


See also: Ebn al-Jawzī, Ṣefat al-ṣafwa II, Hyderabad, 1356/1937, pp. 83-86; cited by ʿA. M. Hārūn in his ed. of Jāḥeẓ, Bayān I, Cairo, 1948, p. 102, n. 11.

Ḏahabī, ʿEbar I, Kuwait, 1960, p. 183. Šīrāzī, Foqahāʾ, Baghdad, 1356/1937, pp. 37-38.

Ebn Ḥaǰar, Tahḏīb III, Hyderabad, 1325/1907, pp. 258-59.

Boḵārī, Taʾrīḵ II/1, Hyderabad, 1382/1963, pp. 286-87.

Ebn Qotayba, Maʿāref, Cairo, 1969, pp. 462, 496.

Ebn al-Aṯīr, Kāmel V, Cairo, 1385/1965, p. 463.

Ḵᵛānsārī, Rawżat al-ǰannāt, Tehran, 1947, p. 282.

Ṭūsī, Eḵtīār maʿrefat al-reǰāl (i.e., Reǰāl al-Kaššī), Mašhad, 1347/1928, p. 153.

ʿAbdallāh Māmaqānī, Tanqīḥ al-maqāl fī aḥwāl al-reǰāl I, Naǰaf, 1349/1930, pp. 427-28.

I. Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien II, Halle, 1890, pp. 79-80.

(L. A. Giffen)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 4, pp. 356-357

Cite this entry:

L. A. Giffen, “ABŪ ʿOṮMĀN RABĪʿA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 356-357; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-oman-rabia-b (accessed on 31 January 2014).