EBN QEBA, ABŪ JAʿFAR MOḤAMMAD b. ʿAbd-al-Raḥmān Rāzī (d. Ray, before 319/931), one of the most prominent and active Imami theologians. He had a major role in the development of Shiʿite Islam in its formative period during the first century of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam. Little biographical information is available about Ebn Qeba. Starting out as a Muʿtazilite master oftheology (kalām),he converted to Shiʿism and contributed to an early stage of Muʿtazilite influence in Imami theology. Ebn Qeba was actively engaged in continuous oral and written debates with scholars belonging to other schools of Shiʿism, particularly Zaydis. His writings, three of them now in print, dealt with the imamate. The most important of them was the Ketāb al-enṣāf fi’l-emāma, from which some quotations survived in later works. He also wrote the Ketāb al-radd ʿalā Abī ʿAlī Jobbāʾī and al-Masʾala al-mofradafī emāma (Najāšī, p. 290; the three works were printed in 1390/1970 as parts of Ebn Bābawayh’s Kamāl al-dīn; for translation of selections of the above treatises see Modarressi, pp. 109-244).

Ebn Qeba’s most important and lasting contribution to Shiʿism was a refined and powerful theory of Imamate, the main point of which is that not lineage but merit is the sole criterion for the succession to the Prophet and Imams. The successor must be the most pious and learned male member of the Prophet’s family. It is, however, the obligation of the Prophet and the Imams to designate explicitly the most qualified member of the family to the position, because people are not able to determine who is the most qualified and pious one. He also developed a theory rationalizing the occultation of the Twelfth Imam as a natural development in Shiʿite doctrine (Modarressi, pp. 109-70).

Against the Zaydite position he wrote al-Taʿrīf fī mad¨hab al-emāmīya wa fasād mad¨hab al-Zaydīya (Ebn Šahrāšūb, p. 95), which Ṭūsī calls the Ketāb al-taʿrīf ʿala’l-zaydīya and Najāšī refers to as the Ketāb al-radd ʿala’l-Zaydīya. Ebn Qeba also wrote a refutation to the Ketāb al-ašhād of Abū Zayd ʿAlawī, now available in print (in Ebn Šahrāšūb, pp. 169-244). Toward the end of his life he had a running controversy about the imamate with the leading Muʿtazilite Abu’l-Qāsem Balḵī (d. 319/931). A pupil of Abū Sahl Nowbaḵtī named Abu’l-Ḥosayn Moḥammad b. Bešr Sūsanjerdī, after a visit to the Imam ʿAlī al-Reżā’s tomb in Ṭūs, passed on to Balḵ and showed Abu’l-Qāsem the copy of the Ketāb al-enṣāf which he had with him. Abu’l-Qāsem read it and wrote a refutation called al-Mostaršed fi’l-emāma, which the disciple then took to Ebn Qeba in Ray. Ebn Qeba answered it in a book of his own called al-Mostaṯba fi’l-emāma, which the same messenger then brought back to Balḵ, where Abu’l-Qāsem, in turn, rebutted it in the Naqż al-mostaṯbat. Returning to Ray with this latest rejoinder, he found that Ebn Qeba had died (Modarressi, pp. 133-143).


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

Aʿyān al-šīʿa IX, 2nd ed., Beirut, 1406/1987, p. 380.

al-Ḏarīʿa II, p. 196.

Ebn Abi’l-Ḥadīd, Šarḥ Nahj al-balāḡa I, Cairo, 1959, p. 206.

Ebn Bābawayh, Kamāl al-dīnwa tamām al-neʿma fī eṯbāt al-ḡayba wa kašf al-ḥayra, ed. ʿA.-A. Ḡaffārī, Tehran, 1390/1970, which contains three major works of Ebn Qeba.

Ebn Šahrāšūb, Maʿālem al-ʿolamāʾ, Najaf, 1380/1961, p. 95, no. 660.

ʿA. Eqbāl, Ḵānadān-e Nowbaḵtī, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 94-95, 133.

N. Goḏašta, “Ebn-e Qeba” in DMBE IV, p. 446.

H. Modarressi, Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shiʿite Islam. Abū Jaʿfar Ibn Qiba al-Rāzī and His Contribution to Shiʿite Thought, Princeton, 1993.

Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Najāšī, al-Rejāl, Tehran, n.d., p. 290.

Abū Jaʿfar Moḥammad b. Ḥasan Ṭūsī, al-Fehrest, 2nd ed., Najaf, 1380/1961, p. 158.

(Martin McDermott)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 45