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Ibn al-Nadim

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Ibn al-Nadim
Full Name Muhammad b. Abi Ya'qub Ishaq b. Muhammad b. Ishaq
Kunya Abu l-Faraj
Well-known As Ibn Nadim
Birth early 4th/10th century
Places of Residence BaghdadMosul
Death/Martyrdom ~ 380/991
Professors Abu Sa'id al-Sayrafi • Abu Sulayman al-Mantiqi al-Sajistani • Abu l-faraj al-Isfahani
Works al-Fihristal-Awsaf wa al-tashbihat

Abu l-Faraj Muḥammad b. Abī Yaʿqūb Isḥāq b. Muḥammad b. Isḥāq (Arabic:أبوالفرج محمد بن ابی یعقوب إسحاق بن محمد إسحاق) known as Ibn al-Nadīm (Arabic:ابن الندیم) was a bibliographer, indexer and researcher from Baghdad in the 4th/10th century. His famous work was al-Fihrist. He had a good familiarity with different sciences and was an expert in some fields such as Arabic literature, intellectual sciences, especially philosophy and history of philosophy.

Sources for Research about his Life

The oldest source about the life of Ibn al-Nadim is the brief account of Ibn Shahrashub (d. 588/1192) in Ma'alim al-'ulama'. After him, Yaqut al-Hamawi (d. 626/1229) has given a short biography of Ibn al-Nadim derived from al-Fihrist and has praised him and mentioned that this work shows the author's knowledge in bibliography and different sciences.

In later works, Lisan al-mizan by Ibn Hajar can be mentioned which contains a relatively more comprehensive account of Ibn al-Nadim based on the reports of Ibn al-Najjar and al-Dhahabi and has a critical review of al-Fihrist. Ibn Hajar used to severly criticize the personality of Ibn al-Nadim.


There is no definite information about the lineage and origin of Ibn al-Nadim, but since he has not mentioned his relationship or kinship with any Arab tribe in al-Fihrist, he was probably not Arab. Also, some other evidences including the fact that Ibn al-Nadim did not discuss about Iranian religions in the section regarding religions and denominations in al-Fihrist can strengthen the possibility that he was not Iranian either.

On the other hand, Ibn al-Nadim's interest in sciences and his friendship with Christain scholars from Baghdad and his praiseworthy knowledge about the status of Mesopotamia before Islam can be an evidence about his relationship with tribes living in Mesopotamia before Islam, as the names of his father and his forefather was Ishaq and his kunya and his father's kunya were Abu l-Faraj and Abu Ya'qub which adds to this hypothesis.

Birth and Death

Since in al-Fihrist itself always calls Ibn al-Nadim as Muhammad b. Ishaq al-Nadim and also references in rijal and history call him the same or as Ibn al-Nadim, it can be said that al-Nadim must have been the title of his father, but the cause of giving this title is not clear.

There is no information about the birth place of Ibn al-Nadim. We only know that he lived in Baghdad and a while in Mosul.

About the date of his birth, the report he has given in al-Fihrist about his meeting with the foreigner faqih, Abu Bakr al-Barda'i in 340/951-2 can somehow help. According to the information Ibn al-Nadim has collected about the works and beliefs of al-Barda'i in this meeting, it can be understood that at the time of meeting, he has had scientific maturity and has been 30 to 40 years old.

The time of Ibn al-Nadim's death is unknown. Al-Safdi has mentioned it in 380/991-2 and al-Miqrizi has mentioned it in Baghdad on Sha'ban 20, 380/991. Regarding this date, some contemporary scholars have mentioned the time of his death as the beginning of 5th/11th century.

It is to note that dates after 380/991 mentioned in al-Fihrist would most probably be added later by scribes, especially because the author, in his book, has asked the readers to help him complete his work.


About Ibn al-Nadim's occupation, although Yaqut al-Hamawi guessed that he was a writer ("Warraq") and some other sources regarded as such, but there are different ideas mentioned in al-Fihrist: in some cases, the title "writer" can be attributed with his father and in some other cases with Ibn al-Nadim himself. In any case, there is no definite reason about Ibn al-Nadim's occupation as writer, even with some orientalists such as Dodge and Kramer guessed that both Ibn al-Nadim and his father were writer.

In any case, Ibn al-Nadim has been familiar with writing, since a part of his al-Awsaf wa al-tashbihat was about writing and its means. Apparently, he has learned his knowledge in this field from his father.


There are little information about the education and teachers of Ibn al-Nadim.

Sari b. Ahmad al-Kindi, Abu Ali b. Sawwar Katib, Abu l-Hasan Ali b. Harun b. Ali b. Harun b. Ali b. Yahya of Al Munajjim, Abu l-Fath b. Nahwi, Abu Dalf al-Yanbu'I, Abu l-Khayr b. Khamar and more importantly, Abu Sa'id al-Sayrafi, Abu Sulayman al-Mantiqi al-Sajistani, Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, Abu 'Ubayd Allah Marzbani and possibly Yahya b. 'Uday were among his teachers.

Ibn Hajar also mentioned Isma'il al-Saffar, among hadith scholars in Baghdad among his teachers which is not definite in its source.

Scholarly Personality

Regarding al-Fihrist, it can be found that Ibn al-Nadim had a good familiarity with different sciences and has probably been an expert in some fields such as Arabic literature, sciences, especially in philosophy and history of philosophy.

In fact, if he studied philosophy under Abu Sulayman al-Sajistani, he need to be considered at a high position in this discipline.

Some of the characteristics of Ibn al-Nadim which can be found by studying al-Fihrist are free-mindedness, accuracy in recording, sound intuition, and creativity in scientific issues.

Religious Affiliation

The disagreement regarding the religion of Ibn al-Nadim has roots in the diversity of his opinions in al-Fihrist.

Available evidences in al-Fihrist indicate his interest in Mu'tazilism such as:

  • Quoting opinions of Mu'tazilites about the Prophet (s) as the source of I'tizal;
  • Classifying Mu'tazilites to two groups of sincere ones and those who invented illegitimately;
  • Assigning the title of Ahl al-'Adl wa al-Tawhid (people of justice and unity) for Mu'tazilites and the title of Hashwiyya for Sunni people;
  • Mentioning Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari in the section regarding Mujabbira and Hashwiyya theologians.

Evidences for His Shi'a Tendency

Since he mentioned some Shi'a Imams (a) and their children followed by the phrase عليه السلام [Peace be upon him] and praised the Ahl al-Bayt (a) the same way Shi'a do and did not mention "رضي الله عنه" [Allah is pleased with him] for other caliphs and people like Talha, Zubayr, and A'isha, it can be said that he was Shi'a. It is to note that in some cases in the print version of al-Fihrist, "Rady-Allah-u 'anh" has been used after 'Umar b. Khattab and others which are absent in original manuscripts. Thus, it can be learned that these expressions must have been later added by scribes.

There are other evidences which can support the idea that he was Shi'a such as the ones below:

  • Mentioning "Khassa" (special) for Shi'a and 'Amma (common people) for Sunni people
  • Mentioning a report from al-Waqidi, suggesting that Ali (a) was a miracle of the Prophet (s).
  • Calling al-Waqidi having "good religion" as he calls al-Waqidi Shi'a.
  • Praising Hisham b. al-Hakam who followed imamate of Imam al-Sadiq (a).
  • Sunni experts in rijal always mentioned about Ibn al-Nadim's tendency toward Shi'a and I'tizal and sometimes severely criticized him.

It is to note that even with Twelver Shi'a scholars such as al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Najashi benefitted from al-Fihrist, they did not count him among Twelver Shi'a scholars.

Reasons Supporting His Hanafi Tendency

By studying the part about Abu Hanifa in al-Fihrist, it can be found that Ibn al-Nadim was interested in him and Hanafi school, because he has greatly praised Abu Hanifa.

Elsewhere, he seems to have distorted the report about the famous debate between Abu Hanifa and Mu'min al-Taq which leads to criticism of Abu Hanifa.



This book is not only like an encyclopedia which describes history, culture, literature and religion in different periods before Islam until the time of the author (4th/10th century) and also has bibliographical characteristics. From its short preface, it can be understood that Ibn al-Nadim was determined to provide an index of all works in Arabic written by Arab and non-Arab writers together with biographies of the authors, but studying al-Fihrist shows that it is much broader than what the author primarily promised.

Al-Awsaf wa al-tashbihat

In addition to al-Fihrist, Ibn al-Nadim wrote another book called al-Awsaf wa al-tashbihat about which there is no information available now.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from ابن ندیم in Farsi WikiShia.