SIRĀFI, ABU SAʿID ḤASAN b. ʿAbd-Allāh b. Marzobān (b. Sirāf on the coast of Fārs in 280/893-94; d. Baghdad 2 Rajab 368/3 February 979), 10th century polymath known best for his work as a grammarian. As his full name indicates, Sirāfi’s family had been Zoroastrians until his father converted to Islam and changed his name from Behzād to ʿAbd-Allāh. Abu Saʿid himself spent his life as a Muʿtazilite. He studied jurisprudence in ʿOman as a youth, theology at al-ʿAskar under Moḥammad b. ʿOmar Ṣaymari, and, at Baghdad, grammar under Ebn al-Sarrāj and Mabramān, Koranic sciences under Abu Bakr b. Mojāhed, and lexicography under Ebn Dorayd.
He became a judge in Baghdād under the chief judge (qāżi al-qożāt), Abu Moḥammad b. Maʿrūf, and held this position for fifty years. He taught the Koran, Hadith, jurisprudence, grammar, theology, logic, versification, prosody, division of inheritances, debating, arithmetic, geometry (Euclid) and astronomy (the Almagest), and was consulted by many leading scholars on a wide variety of subjects; for instance, he provided Ebn al-Nadim with much of the information on grammarians that the latter incorporated into his Fehrest. The most noteworthy public displays of his talents were the famous debates that he held before learned audiences with Abu Bešr Mattā b. Yunos in 320/932, and with Abu Ḥasan ʿĀmeri in 364/974-5. In the first of these, Sirāfi ably defended the thesis that grammar is superior to logic as an instrument for deciding between truth and falsehood; an account of the debate was given by Tawḥidi, which was quoted by Yāqut (III, pp.105-25; see Margoliouth, Mahdi, Abderrahmane, Elamrani-Jamal, Endress, and Versteegh). Despite his fame, Sirāfi lived a simple life, earning his living by copying manuscripts.
His most significant writing was in grammar. His Šarḥ Ketāb Sibawayh (Commentary on the book of Sibawayh) was his most important contribution to this field (see Troupeau, for instance). The other surviving book that he devoted to grammar is the Ketāb aḵbār al-naḥwiyin al-baṣriyin (Book of Stories of the Grammarians of Baṣra). Attributed to him also are a Ketāb modḵal elā Ketāb Sibawayh (Introduction to the Book of Sibawayh), a Ketāb al-eqnāʿ fi al-naḥw (Book of Persuasion Concerning Grammar), which was completed by his son Abu Moḥammad Yusof, a Ketāb alefāt al-waṣl wa’l-qaṭʿ (Book of the Alefs of Conjunction and Disjunction) on Koranic philology, a Šarḥ Maqṣurat Ebn Dorayd (Commentaryon the Maqṣura [poem] by Ebn Dorayd), a Šarḥ Jamhara fi al-loḡa (Commentary on [Ebn Dorayd’s] Collection on Language), a dictionary, a Ketāb asmāʾ jebāl al-Tehāma wa makānehā (Book of the Names and the Mountains of Tehāma and their Locations) on geography, a Ketāb jazirat al-ʿarab (Book of the Arabian Peninsula) also on geography, a Ketāb al-waqf wa’l-ebtedāʾ (Book of Stopping and Starting), and a Ketāb ṣanʿat al-šeʿr wa’l-balāḡa (Book of the Art of Poetry and Rhetoric). Unfortunately, little is known about most of these works apart from their titles.
Ḥasan b. ʿAbd-Allāh Sirāfi, Šarḥ Ketāb Sibawayh, excerpts in the edition of the Ketāb Sibawayh, Cairo, 1897.
Idem, Ketāb aḵbār al-naḥwiyin al-baṣriyin, ed. F Krenkow, Beirut-Paris, 1936; ed. M. ʿA. Ḵafāji, Cairo, 1955.
Idem, Šarḥ Jamhara fi al-loḡa, partially ed. F. Krenkow with Ebn Dorayd’s Jamhara, II and III, Hyderabad, 1925-32.
Ebn Ḵallekān, tr. de Slane, I, pp. 377-79.
Ebn al-Nadim, Ketāb al-Fehrest, ed. T. al-Māzandarāni, Tehran, 1988, p. 68.
Ebn al-Qefṭi, Taʾriḵ al-ḥokamāʾ, ed. J. Lippert, Leipzig, 1903, p. 323.
Yāqūt, Odabāʾ III, pt. 1, pp. 84-125.
Brockelmann, GAL I, p. 113 (115), and S I, pp. 174-75.
Humbert, “al-Sīrāfī,” EI ² IX, pp. 668-669.
Sezgin, GAS IX, pp. 98-101. Suter, p. 60 (no. 130).
T. Abderrahmane, “Discussion entre Abū Saʿid al-Sirāfi, le grammarien, et Mattā b. Yūnus, le philosophe,” Arabica 25, 1978, pp. 310-23.
A. Elamrani-Jamal, Logique aristotélicienne et grammaire arabe, Paris 1983, pp. 149-63.
Gerhard Endress ,"Grammatikund Logik: arabische Philologie und griechische Philosophie im Widerstreit,” in Sprachphilosophie in Antike und Mittelalter, ed. B. Mojsisch, Amsterdam, 1986, pp. 163-270.
Muhsin Mahdi, “Language and Logic in Classical Islam,” in Logic in Classical Islamic Culture, ed. Gustave E. von Grunebaum, Wiesbaden, 1970, pp. 51-83.
David Samuel Margoliouth, “The discussion between Abu Bishr Matta and Abu Saʿid al-Sirafi on the Merits of Logic and Grammar,” JRAS, 1905, pp. 97-129.
Gérard Troupeau, “Le commentaire d’al-Sīrāfī sur le chapitre 565 du Kitāb de Sībawayhi,” Arabica 5, 1958, pp. 168-82.
Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, London-New York, 1997, pp. 52-63.
Originally Published: July 20, 2002
Last Updated: July 20, 2002