Ismā‘īl ibn Kathīr
|Born||c. 1300 / 701 H|
|Died||18 February 1373 / 774 H|
|Era||Bahri Mamluk Sultanate|
|Notable work(s)||- Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (Tafsir Ibn Kathir), a Quranic exegesis;|
- Al-Bidāya wan Nihāya (“The Beginning and the End”), a 14-volume history of Islam;
- Kitāb al-jāmiʿ, a hadith collection.
|Patronymic (Nasab)||ibn ʿUmar ibn Kaṯīr |
بن عمر بن كثير
|Teknonymic (Kunya)||Abū l-Fidāʾ|
|Epithet (Laqab)||ʿImād ud-Dīn|
"pillar of the faith"
Abu al-Fiḍā ‘Imād Ad-Din Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Umar ibn Kathīr al-Qurashī Al-Damishqī (إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير القرشي الدمشقي أبو الفداء عماد الدين; c. 1300 – 1373), known as Ibn Kathīr (ابن كثير, was a highly influential historian, exegete and scholar during the Mamluk era in Syria. An expert on tafsir (Quranic exegesis) and faqīh (jurisprudence), he wrote several books, including a fourteen-volume universal history.
His full name was Abū l-Fidāʾ Ismāʿīl ibn ʿUmar ibn Kaṯīr (أبو الفداء إسماعيل بن عمر بن كثير) and had the laqab (epithet) of ʿImād ad-Dīn (عماد الدين "pillar of the faith"). His family trace its lineage back to the tribe of Quraysh. He was born in Mijdal, a village on the outskirts of the city of Busra, in the east of Damascus, Syria, around about AH 701 (AD 1300/1). He was taught by Ibn Taymiyya and Al-Dhahabi.
Upon completion of his studies he obtained his first official appointment in 1341, when he joined an inquisitorial commission formed to determine certain questions of heresy.
He married the daughter of Al-Mizzi, one of the foremost Syrian scholars of the period, which gave him access to the scholarly elite. In 1345 he was made preacher (khatib) at a newly built mosque in Mizza, the hometown of his father-in-law. In 1366, he rose to a professorial position at the Great Mosque of Damascus.
In later life, he became blind. He attributes his blindness to working late at night on the Musnad of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in an attempt to rearrange it topically rather than by narrator. He died in February 1373 (AH 774) in Damascus. He was buried next to his teacher Ibn Taymiyya.
Ibn Kathir shares some similarities with his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah, such as advocating a militant jihad and adhering to the renewal of one singular Islamic ummah. Furthermore, like Ibn Taymiyyah, he counts as an anti-rationalistic, traditionalistic and hadith oriented scholar. Ibn Kathir did not interpret the mutashabihat, or 'unapparent in meaning' verses and hadiths in a literal anthropomorphic way. He states that:
People have said a great deal on this topic and this is not the place to expound on what they have said. On this matter, we follow the early Muslims (salaf): Malik, Awza'i, Thawri, Layth ibn Sa'd, Shafi'i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh, and others among the Imams of the Muslims, both ancient and modern that is, to let (the verse in question) pass as it has come, without saying how it is meant (min ghayr takyif), without likening it to created things (wa la tashbih), and without nullifying it (wa la ta'til): The literal meaning (zahir) that occurs to the minds of anthropomorphists (al-mushabbihin) is negated of Allah, for nothing from His creation resembles Him: "There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing" (Qur'an 42:11)
Ibn Kathir wrote a famous commentary on the Qur'an named Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm which linked certain Hadith, or sayings of Muhammad, and sayings of the sahaba to verses of the Qur'an, in explanation and avoided the use of Isra'iliyyats. Many Sunni Muslims hold his commentary as the best after Tafsir al-Tabari and it is highly regarded especially among Salafi school of thought. Although Ibn Kathir claimed to rely on at-Tabari, he introduced new methods and differs in content, in attempt to clear Islam from that he evaluates as Isra'iliyyat. His suspicion on Isra'iliyyat possibly derived from Ibn Taimiyya's influence, who discounted much of the exegetical tradition since then.
Egyptian scholar Ahmad Muhammad Shakir (1892–1958) abridged Ibn Kathir's Tafsīr as ʿUmdat at-Tafsīr in five volumes published during 1956–1958.
His tafsir gained widespread popularity in modern times, especially among Western Muslims, probably due to his straightforward approach, but also due to lack of alternative translations of traditional tafsirs.
Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān (فضائل القرآن) was intended as an annex to the Tafsir. It is a brief textual history of the Quran and its collection after the passing of Muhammad.
Tafsīr al-Qurʾān al-ʿAẓīm is slightly controversial in western academic circles. Henri Laoust regards it primary as a philological work and "very elementary". Norman Calder describes it as narrow-minded, dogmatic, and skeptical against the intellectual achievements of former exegetes. His concern is limited to rate the Quran by the corpus of Hadith and is the first, who flatly rates Jewish sources as unreliable, while simultaneously using them, just as prophetic hadith, selectively to support his prefabricated opinion. Otherwise, Jane Dammen McAuliffe regards this tafsir as, deliberately and carefully selected, whose interpretation is unique to his own judgment to preserve, that he regards as best among his traditions.
Al-ijtihād fī ṭalab al-jihād (الاجتهاد في طلب الجهاد), written by a commission of the Mamluk governor of Damascus, is a defense of armed jihad and ribat against the neighboring Christian powers (remnants of the Crusader States, such as the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia) supported on the evidence of Islamic exegesis.
NOTE: Many books listed here remain unpublished.
Ibn Kathīr is often portrayed as the “spokesperson” for Ibn Taymiyya, one who promoted his work and implemented his theories. Ibn Kathīr is more accurately described as a Shāfi‘ī traditionalists or a group of Shāfiʻī ḥadīth scholars who maintained a traditionalist creed.
Jane McAullife remarks that ‘certainly the most famous of Ibn Kathīr’s teachers, and perhaps the one who influenced him the most, was the Ḥanbalī theologian and jurisconsult Ibn Taymiyyah’.
Ibn Qāḍī al-Shuhba concludes mentioning that Ibn Kathīr was buried ‘next to his teacher (shaykhihi) Ibn Taymiyya’.
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