Ibn al-Rawandi

Ibn Al-Rawandi
Born 827 CE
Greater Khorasan
Died 860 or 911 CE
Occupation Writer

Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishaq al-Rawandi (Persian: ابو الحسن احمد بن یحیی بن اسحاق راوندی, Arabic: أبو الحسن أحمد بن يحيى بن إسحاق الراوندي), commonly known as Ibn al-Rawandi (Persian: ابن راوندی; 827–911 CE[1]), was an early skeptic of Islam and a critic of religion in general. In his early days, he was a Mu'tazilite scholar, but after rejecting the Mu'tazilite doctrine, he adhered to Shia Islam for a brief period before becoming a freethinker who repudiated Islam and revealed religion.[2] Although none of his works have survived, his opinions had been preserved through his critics, Muslim apologists and the surviving books that answered him.[3] His book with the most preserved fragments (through an Ismaili book refuting Al-Rawandi's ideology) is the Kitab al-Zumurrud (The Book of the Emerald).


Abu al-Husayn Ahmad bin Yahya ben Isaac al-Rawandi was born in Greater Khorasan, today located in northwest Afghanistan, about the year 815 CE.[4] According to the Egyptian scholar Abdur Rahman Badawi, Al-Rawandi was born in Basra at the time of the Abbassid Caliph Al-Mamoun.[5] His father, Yahya, was a Jewish scholar and convert to Islam, who schooled Muslims in how to refute the Talmud.[6] Al-Rawandi abandoned Islam for atheism and used his knowledge of Islam, learned from his father, to refute the Quran.

He joined the Mu'tazili of Baghdad, and gained prominence among them. But then he became estranged from his fellow Mu'tazilites, and formed close alliances with Shia Muslims and then with non-Muslims (Manichaeans, Jews and perhaps also Christians). He then became a follower of the Manichaean zindiq Abu Isa al-Warraq in which he wrote several books that criticized revealed religion.[4]


It is generally agreed among Muslims that Ibn al-Rawandi was a heretic, but there is no agreement as to the nature of his heresy. Some look for the roots of his heresy in his connections with Shi'ism, and depict him as a Mu'tazilite. Some regard him as an Aristotelian philosopher, while others see him as a radical atheist, and some stress the political challenge he presented to the Islamic polity.

Scholars also try to account for the more positive view of Ibn al-Rawandi in some Muslim sources. Josef van Ess in particular has suggested an original interpretation that aims at accommodating all the contradictory information. Van Ess notes that the sources which portray Ibn al-Rawandi as a heretic are predominantly Mutazilite and stem from Iraq, whereas in eastern texts he appears in a more positive light. As an explanation for this difference, van Ess suggests "a collision of two different intellectual traditions," i.e., those in Iran and in Iraq. He further suggests that Ibn al-Rawandi's notoriety was the result of the fact that after Ibn al-Rawandi left Baghdad, "his colleagues in Baghdad ... profiting from his absence ... could create a black legend." In other words, van Ess believes that Ibn al-Rawandi, although admittedly eccentric and disputatious, was not a heretic at all.

He rejected the authority of any scriptural or revealed religion. This is borne out by citations from his other writings, besides the Kitab al-Zumurrud and The Futility of (Divine) Wisdom (Abath al-hikma).

Subjects discussed in the Kitab al-Zumurrud

Muslim traditions

According to the Zumurrud, traditions concerning miracles are inevitably problematic. At the time of the performance of a supposed miracle only a small number of people could be close enough to the Prophet to observe his deeds. Reports given by such a small number of people cannot be trusted, for such a small group can easily have conspired to lie. The Muslim tradition thus falls into the category of flimsy traditions, those based on a single authority (khabar al-ahad) rather than on multiple authorities (khabar mutawatir). These religious traditions are lies endorsed by conspiracies.

The Zumurrud points out that Muhammad's own presuppositions (wad) and system (qanun) show that religious traditions are not trustworthy. The Jews and Christians say that Jesus really died, but the Qu'ran contradicts them.

Ibn al-Rawandi also points out specific Muslim traditions, and tries to show that they are laughable. The tradition that the angels rallied round to help Muhammad is not logical, because it implies that the angels of Badr were weaklings, able to kill only seventy of the Prophet's enemies. And if the angels were willing to help Muhammad at Badr, where were they at Uhud, when their help was so badly needed?

Muslim rituals

The Zumurrud criticizes prayer, preoccupation with ritual purity, and the ceremonies of the hajj; throwing stones, circumambulating a house that cannot respond to prayers, running between stones that can neither help nor harm. It goes on to ask why Safa and Marwa are venerated, and what difference there is between them and any other hill in the vicinity of Mecca, for example the hill of Abu Qubays, and why the Kaaba is any better than any other house.

This sketch of the arguments contained in the Zumurrud confirms several of the conclusions presented in previous sections of the present study. It shows the close similarity between the Majalis Muayyadiyya, Maturidi, and the Tathbit, and thus corroborates the claim that they derive from the same source, the Zumurrud. It also strengthens the impression that all three sources summarize rather than quote the Zumurrud. And it shows that none of the three sources relied on either of the other two for its information, since in each one of them we find elements that are lacking in the other two. A comparison of the sources allows us to see that the same arguments are attributed at times to Ibn al-Rawandi, at times to al-Warraq and at times to both of them. A correct understanding of the Zumurrud must allow for the active participation of both Ibn al-Rawandi and al-Warraq in the dialogue, and take into account the heretical convictions of both of them.

From the Encyclopaedia of Islam:

"The plentiful extracts from the K. al-Zumurraudh provide a fairly clear indication of the most heterodox doctrine of Ibn al-Rawandi, that of which posterity has been least willing to forgive him: a biting criticism of prophecy in general and of the prophecy of Muhammad in particular; he maintains in addition that religious dogmas are not acceptable to reason and must, therefore, be rejected; the miracles attributed to the Prophets, persons who may reasonably be compared to sorcerers and magicians, are pure invention, and the greatest of the miracles in the eyes of orthodox Muslims, the Quran, gets no better treatment: it is neither a revealed book nor even an inimitable literary masterpiece. In order to cloak his thesis, which attacks the root of all types of religion, Ibn al-Rawandi used the fiction that they were uttered by Brahmans. His reputation as irreligious iconoclast spread in the 4th/10th century beyond the borders of Muslim literature."[7]

See also


  1. Al-Zandaqa Wal Zanadiqa, by Mohammad Abd-El Hamid Al-Hamad , First edition 1999, Dar Al-Taliaa Al-Jadida, Syria (Arabic)
  2. A History of Natural Philosophy By Edward Grant
  3. Ibn al-Rawandi, by Mehmet Karabela, in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam, edited by Ibrahim Kalin, vol. 1, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
  4. 1 2 Medieval Islamic Civilization By Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach
  5. Min Tareekh Al-Ilhad Fi Al-Islam, From the History of Atheism in Islam by Abd-El Rahman Badawi pages: 87-206, Second edition 1991, Sinaa Lil Nasher Egypt (Arabic)
  6. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Genealogy to Iqbal Page 636
  7. On Ibn al-Rawandi, from the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1971, Volume 3, E J Brill, Leiden, p 905

External links

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