ABU’L-LAYṮ NAṢR B. MOḤAMMAD B. AḤMAD SAMARQANDĪ, productive Hanafite jurist, author of a Koran commentary and of popular paraenetical works; d. Monday night, 10/11 Jomādā II 373/19 November 983, obviously at not very advanced age (Ebn Abi’l-Wafāʾ, al-Jawāher al-możīʾa, Hyderabad, 1332/1913-14, II, p. 196; the exact correspondence of day and date excludes the divergent dates given in later sources). He studied Hadith with his father, feqh with Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad b. ʿAbdallāh Hendovānī at Balḵ (d. Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa, 362/September, 973, aged sixty-two; see Ebn Abi’l-Wafāʾ, II, p. 68) and Abū Saʿīd Ḵalīl b. Aḥmad Seǰzī (called Ebn Jank), who, after traveling all over the Islamic world, had become qāżī in Samarqand (d. Jomādā II, 368/January, 979; see Ebn Abi’l-Wafāʾ, I, pp. 234f.; also Zereklī, Aʿlām II, p. 363; and Kaḥḥāla, IV, p. 113, with wrong date of death).

Abu’l-Layṯ never became a qāżī himself, but he seems to have been appreciated because of his fatwās and his preaching. Like his teachers, he combined solid juridical knowledge with a predilection for propagating popular morality in terms of asceticism; in Transoxania a jurist almost inevitably had to deal with proselytizing among the Turkish tribes. It is therefore characteristic that his Moqaddema fi’l-ṣalāt, a short treatise on prayer, was translated into Turkish several times; a Kipchak version was offered in a splendid manuscript to Qānṣawh Ḡawrī, the last Mamluk sultan in Egypt (ed. A. Zajaczkowski, Le traité arabe Muḳaddima d’Abou-l-laiṯ as-Samarḳandī en version mamelouk-kiptchak, Warsaw, 1962). His Tafsīr, the high acclaim of which is attested by the great number of manuscripts, was translated three times into Ottoman Turkish in roughly the same period: by Aḥmad Dāʿī (d. 820/1417 or after 1421; see W. Björkman in Philologiae Turcicae Fundamenta, Wiesbaden, 1964, II, pp. 419f.); by Ebn ʿArabšāh (d. 854/1450; partial edition in F. Iz, Eski Türk Edebiyatında Nesir, Istanbul, 1964, pp. 13-26); and, on the basis of the latter version, by Abu’l-Fażl Mūsā b. Ḥāǰǰī Ḥosayn Eznīqī (d. 833/1429-30; H. Sohrweide, Türkische Handschriften, VOHD 13/3, Wiesbaden, 1974, pp. 1ff. with further bibliog.). Another text attributed to Abu’l-Layṯ in an Ottoman version, supposedly originally written in Persian, Taḏkerat al-awlīāʾ, is obviously spurious (ed. S. Olcay, Ankara, 1965 [Ankara Dil ve Tarih-Coğrafya Fakültesi Yayinlari no. 162]).

The urban society in Samarqand spoke Persian; during Abu’l-Layṯ’s lifetime the town was one of the intellectual centers of the Samanid empire. It is therefore not astonishing that, when he enumerates examples of formulations which imply unbelief, in the last chapter of his Ḵezānat al-feqh, he quotes them in Persian (ed. Ṣ. Nāhī, Baghdad, 1385/1965, p. 434f.). His famous Tanbīh al-ḡāfelīn, which comes close to the spirit of Iranian andarz literature with its quotations from the Koran, Hadith, and popular zohd, also exists in a Persian translation (ms. Berlin, Pers. 265, etc.). In addition, there is aljamiado version of parts of the same text (Spanish in Arabic script; G. Vajda, Bibliothèque Nationale, Catalogue des manuscrits arabes, deuxième partie, II, Paris, 1978, no. 774, 4); the book was popular and simple enough to become one of the last symbols of religious identity in the dying Muslim society of Spain.

Abu’l-Layṯ was given the same honorific title as Mātorīdī (q.v.), who had lived in Samarqand two generations before him—Emam-al-hodā. But he did not entirely share his outlook. He seems to have avoided complicated kalām problems. The Hanafite simplicity of his catechism, ʿAqīdat al-oṣūl (ed. A. W. Juynboll, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Landen Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch Indië, Ser. IV, vol. 5, 1881, pp. 215ff., 267ff.) secured its high reputation in Indonesian and Malayan Islam, although Hanafite law, which deals only with the basic questions of Muslim belief, did not play an important role in this region. Brought to Java by Chinese merchants, it was afterwards pushed aside by the Šāfeʿī maḏhab (J. Schacht in Stud. Isl. 1, 1953, p. 25). The Hanafite origin of the work is transparent in the “Morǰeʾī” treatment of faith: Faith is indivisible because of its character as a light in the heart and the intellect, in the spirit and body of man. As divine guidance it is uncreated; as an act of assent (taṣdīq) and as an oral confession (eqrār), it is created. Similar statements are found in the last chapters of Abu’l-Layṯ’s Bostān al-ʿārefīn, a manual of basic religious knowledge; here again he avoids difficult theological problems, dialectics, and polemics. He may also have been the author of the Šarḥ al-feqh al-akbar ascribed to Mātorīdī (printed Hyderabad, 1321/1903 and 1367/1948), as was recently suggested by W. M. Watt (The Formative Period of Islamic Thought, Edinburgh, 1973, p. 268) and W. Madelung (Actes do IV Congresso de Estudos Arabes e Islamicos, Leiden, 1971, p. 122, n. 3). He is mentioned in the text (p. 14.9) and on the title pages of some manuscripts of the work (cf. Brockelmann, GAL S. I, p. 285). The hypothesis should, however, be checked against the material collected in GAS I, p. 414. 


See also: Dāwūdī, Ṭabaqāt al-mofasserīn, ed. ʿA. M. ʿOmar, Cairo, 1392/1972, II, p. 345, no. 658.

Zereklī, Aʿlām2 VIII, pp. 348f.

Kaḥḥāla, p. 91 with further references. Sezgin, GAS I, pp. 445-50 with twenty-four titles of books (no. 5, ʿOyūn al-masāʾel, may be supplemented by the new ed. by Ṣ. Nāhī, Baghdad, 1386/1967. No. 12, Qorrat al-ʿoyūn, was edited again, Ṭanṭā, after 1960. No. 17, al-Maʿāref fī šarḥ al-ṣaḥāʾef, seems to belong to a later Samarqandī, Šams-al-dīn Moḥammad b. Ašraf, who died after 688/1289, the year in which he finished the book; cf. van Ess in Welt des Orients 10, 1979, p. 59).

J. Hell, Von Mohammed bis Ghazali, Leipzig, 1915, pp. 63ff. (German tr. of the Ketāb asrār al-waḥy).

Schacht in EI2 I, p. 137.

(J. van Ess)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 21, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, pp. 332-333

Cite this entry:

J. van Ess, “ABU’L-LAYṮ SAMARQANDĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 332-333; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abul-lay-nasr-b (accessed on 31 January 2014).