EBN RĀVANDĪ (or Rēvandī), ABU’l-ḤOSAYN AḤMAD b. Yaḥyā (d. 298/910?), Muʿtazilite theologian and “heretic” of Ḵorāsānī origin. While still young, he went to Baghdad, where he had relatives. Apparently, he was already an accomplished theologian by then, for in the capital he studied not kalām but grammar. He attended the courses of the philologian Abu’l-ʿAbbās Moḥammad Mobarrad (d. 286/900) and transmitted his Ketāb al-moqtażab (Aʿsam, 1975, p. 181; 1978-79, pp. 464, 468). He joined the ascetic wing of the Muʿtazilites, the circle around Īsā b. Hayṯam Ṣūfī and Abū Ḥafṣ Ḥaddād (Ḵayyāṭ, p. 73). This may have brought him into conflict with Jāḥeẓ, who represented “bourgeois” Muʿtazilism and did not share the Sufi critique of the government. Besides, Ebn Rāvandī was a Shiʿite whereas Jāḥeẓ followed al-Motawakkel’s new policy and attacked the Rāfeża (lit. “dissenters, the unorthodox,” particularly applied to the Shiʿites). Jāḥeẓ had written a book called Fażīlat al-Moʿtazela, where, among other topics, he turned against Hešām b. Ḥakam, a Shiʿite theologian of the previous century, who had a reputation for being especially anti-Sunnite (cf. the text in van Ess, Theologie V, pp. 37 ff., tr. pp. 54-60). Ebn Rāvandī, who had written on Hešām b. Ḥakam’s doctrine, attacked Jāḥeẓ in a book called Fażīḥat al-Moʿtazela, listing points on which the most famous Muʿtazilites had deviated from orthodoxy. The reaction came not from the elderly Jāḥeẓ but from the younger generation. Abu’l-Ḥosayn Ḵayyāṭ in Baghdad wrote his well-known Ketāb al-enteṣār, and Jobbāʾī in Baṣra (or ʿAskar Mokram), who may never have met Ebn Rāvandī, circulated the story that he had died in the house of a Jew named Ben Levi while hiding from the police (Aʿṣam, 1975, pp. 158-59). This story spread rapidly in several contradictory versions. Even Ḵayyāṭ in his Ketāb al-enteṣār (around 269/882-83) assumed that Ebn Rāvandī had already died. In reality, he seems to have secretly returned to Persia, where he lived for several decades. He retained a high reputation with Eastern theologians (a fact that indicates a later date of death) not only with Muʿtazilites such as Abu’l-Qāsem Kaʿbī, but also with Moḥammad Mātorīdī, Abu’l-Yosr Pazdavī, and the Karrāmīya (Ḥākem Jošamī, p. 134).

Ebn Rāvandī was a prolific writer; Ebn al-Nadīm (ed. Tajaddod, pp. 216-17) credits him with more than fifty titles, and Masʿūdī says that he wrote 114 books (Morūj, ed. Pellat, V, p. 23). Ṣāḥeb b. ʿAbbād had his books in his library at Ray (Aʿsam, 1975, p. 81). His Muʿtazilism tinged with Morjeʾism suited the Hanafite milieu of eastern Persia. He wrote a Radd ʿala’l-Moʿtazela fi’l-waʿīd wa’l-manzela bayna’l-manzelatayn, for he held that Muslims remained believers in spite of mortal sin and would not be punished eternally in hell. He equated belief (īmān) with assent (taṣdīq), thus defining it on a purely intellectual level without reference to works. Like several earlier Morjeʾite theologians, he held that the Koranic verses mentioning eternal punishment referred only to unbelievers, finding in this context new criteria to distinguish universal and individual statement (Ašʿarī, Maqālāt, p. 445). He was interested in epistemological questions and seems to have been the first theologian to write about the art of disputation (adab al-jadal; cf. van Ess, 1980). In Iraq, however, he was quickly branded a heretic. This was not due to his attack on the Muʿtazilites, soon to be “unorthodox” themselves, but to a series of dialectical exercises demonstrating that doctrines such as creation in time, prophecy, the inimitability of the Koran, and the justice and retribution of God could not be proven with certainty. Such thought experiments were popular among the Muʿtazilite Sufis of Baghdad, who cultivated a certain anti-intellectualism and who had reservations about the theologians and jurists who defined the Prophet mainly as a “man of this world.” In this Ebn Rāvandī followed the controversial free-thinker Abū ʿĪsā Warrāq, whose views he also tried to refute. Later he refuted even his own writings in order to show their playful and hypothetical character (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 217). This side of the affair was largely overlooked in Iraq; only Persian writers such as Mātorīdī in his Ketāb al-tawḥīd or Shiʿites like Šarīf Mortażā (p. 13) still knew, and did not conceal, Ebn Rāvandī’s original intention. The books he had produced in this spirit (Ketāb al-tāj, Ketāb qażīb al-ḏahab, Ketāb al-dāmeḡ, Ketāb al-zomorroḏ, Ketāb al-marjān, Ketāb al-loʾloʾa, and Ketāb al-farīd) were called the kotob malʿūna (the accursed books) and led Ebn al-Jawzī to class him with Abu’l ʿAlāʾ Maʿarrī and Abū Ḥayyān Tawḥīdī as the archenemies of Islam (Aʿsam, 1975, pp. 167, 170). In reality, he marks the crisis of Muʿtazilite dialects before its final turn to scholasticism; numerous refutations of the kotob malʿūna prove the shock he had caused (cf. van Ess, Theologie VI, chap. XXXV b)

Ebn Rāvandī’s personality is still a matter of discussion. The evaluation given in the Sunnite sources has been taken up by P. Kraus, H. S. Nyberg (pp. 133 ff.), F. Gabrieli (pp. 33 ff.), M. Plessner (pp. 8 ff.), and G. Vajda, and recently by J. L. Kramer (pp. 167ff.) as well as by S. Strouma. The diverging interpretation given above tries to take into account the East Persian theological texts not yet known, especially Mātorīdī’s Ketāb al tawḥīd.


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

Ebn Rāvandī’s works: The fragments in Ḵayyāṭ’s Ketāb al-enteṣār have been collected and translated by ʿA.-A. Aʿsam as Ibn ar-Rīwandī’s Kitab Faḍīḥat al-Muʿtazilah, Beirut and Paris, 1975-77.

P. Kraus, “Beiträge zur islamischen Ketzergeschichte,” Rivista degli studi orientali 14, pp. 93-129, 335-79, collects and translates the fragments of Ebn Rāvandī’s Ketāb al-zomorroḏ.

(For a thorough discussion of Ketāb al-zommoroḏ, see S. Stroumsa,”The Blinding Emerald: Ibn Rāwandī’s Ketāb al-Zomurrud,” JAOS 114/2, 1994, pp. 163-85).

Fragments of the Ketāb al-dāmēḡ, a refutation of the Koran, are collected and tr. by H. Ritter, “Philologika vi,” Der Islam 19, 1931, pp. 1-17, and are discussed in S. Stroumsa, “From Muslim Heresy to Jewish-Muslim Polemics. Ibn al-Rāwāndī’s Kitāb al-Dāmigh,JAOS 107, 1987, pp. 767-72.

For quotations from hisKetāb al-tāj, see Aʿsam, 1975, pp. 184-86.

Primary sources. ʿA.-A. Aʿsam, Taʾrīḵ Ebn al-Rēvandī al-molḥed, Beirut, 1395/1975 (collects fragments relating to Ebn Rāvandī found in sixty-two sources of the 3rd-13th/9-19th centuries.

Idem, Ebn al-Rēwandī fi’l-marājeʿ al-ʿarabīya al-ḥadīṯa, 2 vols., Beirut, 1392 [1398]-1399/1978-79 (contains texts from another twenty-nine sources, in addition to extracts from modern Arabic publications).

ʿAbd-al-Qāder Baḡdādī, Oṣūl al-dīn, Istanbul, 1928, pp. 62, 199, 215.

Ebn Fūrak, Mojarrad maqālāt al-Ašʿarī, ed. D. Gimaret, Beirut, 1987, pp. 310 ff.

Ebn Mattawayh, al-Taḏkera fī aḥkām al-jawāher wa’l-aʿrāż, ed. S. N. Loṭf and F. Badīrʿūn, Cairo, 1975, pp. 108 ff., 170 ff., 190 ff.

Ḥākem Jošamī, Resālat Eblīs elā eḵwānehi al-manākīs, ed. Ḥ. Modarresī, Qom, 1406/1986.

Abu’l-Maʿālī ʿAbd-al-Malek Jovaynī, al-Šāmel fī oṣūl al-dīn, ed. ʿA. Sāmī Naššār, Alexandria, 1969, p. 259.

Moḥammad b. Moḥammad Mātorīdī, Taʾwīlāt ahl al-sonna I, ed. Ebrāhīm and Sayyed ʿEważayn, Cairo, 1391/1971, pp. 38 f., 266 ff.

Nūr-al-Dīn Aḥmad Ṣābūnī, al-Bedāya men al-kefāya, ed. F. Ḵolayf, Cairo, 1969, pp. 110 ff.

Šahrestānī, tr. Gimaret and Monot, index, s.v. Šarīf Mortażā, al-Šāfī fi’l-emāma, lith., Tehran, 1301/1883.

On references in Judeo-Arabic literature, see S. Poznański, in Monatsschrift für die Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 51, 1907, pp. 731 f.

Secondary literature. Brockelmann, GAL, S I, pp. 340-41.

F. Gabrieli, in L’Elaboration de l’Islam, ed. C. Cahen, Paris, 1961, pp. 33 ff.

L. Kramer, in Studies Presented to L. Nemoy, ed. Sh. R. Brunswick, Jerusalem, 1982. P. Kraus and G. Vajda, “Ibn al-Rāwandī” in EI ² III, pp. 905-06.

M. Moḥaqqeq, Bīst goftār, Tehran, 1976, pp. 189-228.

H. S. Nyberg, Classicisme et dèclin culturel dans l’histoire de l’Islam, Paris, 1957.

M. Plessner, in Studies in Memory of Professor Uriel Heyd, ed., G. Baer, Jeruslaem, 1971, pp. 8 ff.

R. Reżāzāda Langrūdī and ʿA. Zaryāb Ḵoʾī, “Ebn-e Rāvandī” in DMBE III, pp. 531-39.

H. Ritter, Das Meer der Seele, Leiden, 1955, p. 160.

Sezgin, GAS I, pp. 620-21.

S. Stroumsa, “The Barāhima in Early Kalām,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 6, 1985, pp. 229-41.

J. van Ess, “Ibn ar-Rēwandī, or the Making of an Image,” al-Abhath 27, 1978-79, pp. 5-26.

Idem, “Al-Fārābī and Ibn al-Rēwandī,” Hamdard Islamicus 3/4, 1980, pp. 3-15.

Idem, ed., Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jh. Hidschra, Berlin, 1991-, IV, chap. C 8.2.2; VI, chap. XXXVb (text).

(Josef van Ess)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

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