Posted by: faqir | July 2, 2011

Imam Ibn Kullab – Sunni Theologian From the Salaf

Imam Ibn Kullab

His name:

He is Abu Muhammad Abdallah b. Sa’id b. Muhammad b. Kullab al-Qattan al-Tamimi al-Basri, known as Abdallah b. Sa’id b. Kullab or simply Ibn Kullab.

His Life:

He was one of the major sunni theologians from the era of the salaf. He belonged to the generation of al-Harith al-Muhasibi, Ahmad b. Hanbal and Ishaq b. Rahawayh. His precise year of birth is unknown, but he lived in the period of al-Ma’mun’s Khilafah. He successfully debated and wrote against the Mu’tazilah, the Jahmiyyah and others.

His Books:

He has a number of works that are documented such as Kitab al-Sifat, Khalq Af’al and al-Radd ‘ala al-Mu’tazilah. These books are lost, however remnants of them can be found in other works such as al-Maqalat of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari and in the works of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim. He was also quoted by the early Ash’ari Scholars such as Ibn Furak (d. 406H), and some of his works such as Kitab al-Sifat are mentioned by Ibn an-Nadim (d. 385H) in his ‘Fihrist’ (Catalogue), who referred to him as “From amongst the Hashawi riff raff”. Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani explained this statement in Lisan al-Mizan saying “What he means is that [a Ḥashawī is] whoever is upon the way of the Salaf by abandoning figurative interpretation of the verses and Ḥadīth reports about the Divine attributes; they are also called the people of non-committal [mufawwiḍa]”

The Scholars’ Praise for him:

Imam Al-Taj Al-Subki says in his Tabaqat, “and Ibn Kullab in any case is from Ahl al-Sunna… the father of Imam Razi, Diya al-Din al-Khatib, mentioned Ibn Sa’id (ibn Kullab) in the end of his book Ghayat al-Maram fi ‘Ilm al-Kalam that from the scholastic theologians of Ahl al-Sunna in the days of al-Ma’mun was ‘Abdullah b. Sa’id at-Taymi who destroyed the Mu’tazilites in the gatherings of al-Ma’mun…”

Ibn ‘Asakir in Tibyan writes regarding Ibn Abi Zayd’s epistle to Ibn Isma’il al-Baghdadi al-Mu’tazili, “and you’ve attributed Ibn Kullab to Bida’, and then you didn’t mention anything that would be known as bida’ such that it be called bida’. And what has reached us is that he was a follower of Sunnah and took to refuting the Jahimites and others from the people of bida’h.”

Ibn Qadi Shuhbah writes in his Tabaqat, “He was from the great scholastic theologians and from Ahl al-Sunna, his path and that of Al-Harith al-Muhasibi, Imam Ashari’ followed.”

Jamal al-Din al-Isnawi in Tabaqat al-Shafi’iyah writes, “He was from the great scholastic theologians and from the Ahl al-Sunna…. Al-‘Ibadi mentions him in the Tabaqah (rank in regards to level of students) of Abi Bakr Al-Sayrifi that he said, “He is from our companions the Mutakallimin”.

Imam Dhahabi in Siyar writes, “The man is closest of the scholastics theologians to the Sunnah rather he’s from their Munatharihim”. Shaykh Shu’ayb al-Arnaut writes under Imam Dhahabi’s comments, “He was an Imam of the people of Sunnah in his time and was their source. Imam al-Haramayn described him in al-Irshad as him being from “our companions”.”

‘Allamah Ibn Khuldun writes, “until Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari came on the scene… he was on the path of ‘Abdillah b. Sa’id b. Kullab and Abi al-‘Abbas al-Qalanisi and al-Harith al-Muhasibi from the followers of Salaf and on the path of Sunnah.”

‘Allamah Bayadi writes, “And Imam Abu Muhammed ‘Abdullah b. Sa’id al-Qattan preceded Imam Ashari in defending the madhab of Ahlus Sunnah.”

Imam Abu Mansur ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Baghdadi mentions that “another of the Kalam scholars in the time of Al Ma`mun is Abdullah ibn Sa`id Al Tamimi, who crushed the Mu`tazilah in the assembly of Al Ma`mun, and scandalized them with his eloquent exposure and clarification of their faults.”

The Accusations Against him:

This is summed up in Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s biographical notice on al-Karābisī:

There was a strong friendship between him [al-Karābisī] and Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, but when the former opposed the latter regarding the Qur’ān, their friendship turned into enmity. Both of them would speak badly about the other. This is because Aḥmad used to say: “Whoever says that the Qur’ān is created is a Jahmī; whoever says that the Qur’ān is the speech of Allah but does not say that it is un-created or created is Wāqifī [hesitant]; and whoever says: ‘My pronunciation of the Qur’ān is created’ is an innovator.” Now, al-Karābisī, ‘Abdullāh b. Kullāb, Abū Thawr, Dāwūd b. ‘Alī, and their rank used to say that the Qur’ān spoken by Allah is an attribute among His attributes and can not be created; the recitation of the reader and his speaking with the Qur’ān is his own acquisition and action: that is created and is a ḥikāya [narration] of Allah’s speech…the Ḥanbalī companions of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal abandoned al-Karābisī, declared him an innovator, and spoke badly about both him and all who spoke with his belief in that matter.

Al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr also said in his biographical entry for al-Karābisī:

Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal used to speak negatively about him because of the issue of pronunciation, and he [al-Karābisī] used to speak negatively about Aḥmad as well, and for that reason the people abstained from taking from him [al-Karābisī]. I say: what I have seen from him is that he said: “The speech of Allah is un-created from every angle, except that my pronunciation of the Qur’ān is created. Whoever does not believe that one’s pronunciation of the Qur’ān is created is a disbeliever.” This is also relayed from al-Bukhārī, and Dāwūd b. ‘Alī al-Ẓāhirī. Imām Aḥmad used to shut this door in order to close the discussion regarding the createdness of the Qur’ān.

Imam al-Bukhari said in Khalq Af’al al-Ibad :

‘As for what the two parties from the school of Ahmad have claimed as proof, each for his own position: Much of what they relate is not established as authentic. It is probably they did not comprehend the subteleness of his postion. What is known from Ahmad and the people of knowledge is that Allah’s speech is uncreated and all else besides Him is created. But they hated to discuss and explore obscure matters, avoiding dialectic theologians and their queries and disputations, except in what was a matter of knowledge and which the Prophet [sallallahu alayhi wa sallam] clarified.’

And Imam al-Kawthari has nicely summarised the issue saying:

‘As for Aḥmad’s words against Ibn Kullāb and his companion [al-Muḥāsibī], it was due to his hatred of discussing theological rhetoric and his pious scrupulousness away from it. The truth of the matter is that it is obligatory to discuss it when there is a need – contrary to the view of Aḥmad.’

His Legacy:

Imam al-Shahrastani said in Al-Milal wa al-Nihal

Until the time came upon [the likes of] Abdullah b. Sa’id al-Kullabi [d. 240h], Abu al-Abbas al-Qalanisi [contemporary of al-As’hari], and al-Harith b. Asad al-Muhasibi [d. 243H]. They were from the generality of the Salaf, however, they practised ilm al-kalam (speculative theology), and they aided the beliefs of the Salaf with theological proofs, and rational evidences. Some of them authored [works] and others taught. [Until] there occurred a debate between Abu al-Hasan al-As’hari and his [Mu’tazili] teachers on an issue amongst the issues pertaining to “al-salah wa al-aslah” [an issue pertaining to whether Allaah is obligated or not to do what is best for His servants], so they disputed. And al-Ash’ari united with this camp, so he supported their saying through the methodologies of speculative theological [discourse], and then that became a madhhab for Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama’a, and then the label of “Sifatiyyah (Affimers of the Attributes)” transferred to the Ash’ariyyah.

And, Imam al-Ash’ari was not the only one to take from Ibn Kullab. Great `ulema of Ahl al-Sunna benefited from him. For example, al-Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani says in al-Fath al-Bari [volume 1 page 323]:

Although al-Bukhari in all he reports in commentary of rare words, he reports it from specialists of this subject like Abu ‘Ubayd, an-Nadr ibn Shamil, al-Faraa and others. And concerning matters of Fiqh, he takes most of it from ash-Shafi’i, Abu ‘Ubayd and their like. And concerning matters of Kalam, he takes most of it from al-Karabisi, Ibn Kullab and their likes.

His direct students were also major ‘ulema of Ahl al-Sunna in their own right. Imam Abu Mansur ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi mentions some of them in Usul al-Din:

Among the students of Abdullah ibn Sa`id is Abdul Aziz Al Makki Al Kattani, who scandalized the Mu`tazilah in Al Ma`mun’s assembly. Yet another Kalam scholar was, his student, Al Husayn ibn Al Fadl Al Bajali, the master of Kalam, methodology, Quranic commentary and interpretation. Later scholars relied upon his notes and pointers in interpreting the Quran. He is the one that Abdul Aziz ibn Tahir, the governor of Khurasan <in North East Iran> brought with him to Khurasan, and as a result people said, “He took with him all the knowledge of Iraq to Khurasan.”

Among the students of Abdullah ibn Sa`id is also Al-Junayd, the Shaykh of the Sufis and the Imam of the monotheists. He has an article that is written according to the requirements of the Kalam scholars, but with Sufi expressions.

His death:

He died in 240, or according to some in 241.

May Allah sanctify his secret.

[Amalgamated, with thanks, from the following sources: Khadim al-Ulema blog, Marifah website forum, the following previously available biographies [1] and [2] and also this article on the ulema of kalam.]



  1. […] […]

  2. […] […]

  3. […] باب ما ذكر في ذم الأشعريوأصحابه As you see he defends and praises Imam Ibn Kullab (d. 240 AH) and also Imam al-Ash’ari (d. 324 AH) and even defends his position regarding the […]

  4. […] shutting the door to unnecessary disputation about obscure matters.  This has been clarified HERE and […]

  5. […] His Defense of Imam Ibn Kullab […]

  6. Salamun ‘alaykum . I would like to ask why did Ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdasi deem him as an innovator, or have I confused another personality of the same name.

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