Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani

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Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani
Personal Information
Full Name'Ali b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad al-Marwani al-Umawi al-Qurshi
Well-Known AsAbu l-Faraj al-Isfahani
Religious AffiliationZaydi Shi'a
Well-Known RelativesMarwan al-Himar
Place of BirthIsfahan
ResidenceIsfahan, Baghdad
Studied inBaghdad
Death356/967 or 357/968
Burial PlaceBaghdad
Scholarly Information
ProfessorsMuhammad b. Jarir b. Yazid al-Tabari, Ja'far b. Qudama, ...

Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahāni (Arabic:أبو الفرج الأصفهاني) was one of the prominent figures of Zaydi Shi'as in the 3rd/9th and 4th/10 centuries. He is believed to have born in Isfahan and migrated to Baghdad to pursue his educations. In a short time, he turned to one of the leading scholars in various fields of knowledge, such as literature, history, and genealogy.

One of the most well-known works of Abu l-Faraj is Maqatil al-talibiyyin, which contains the history of the descendants of Abu Talib since the time of the Prophet (s) until his own time. His other work al-Aghani is the most comprehensive encyclopedia of Arab music, culture, prose, poetry, and pre-Islamic and early Islamic narrations.

Because of being a Shi'a, some Sunni scholars have considered him unreliable, or, despite admitting his knowledge, have criticized him in other ways.


'Ali b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Haytham al-Marwani al-Umawi al-Qurshi, known as Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani was one of the descendants of the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan b. Muhammad (Marwan al-Himar). He was born reportedly in Isfahan in 284/897-8 during the reign of the Abbasid caliph al-Mu'tadid, though there is some disagreement as to his birth and presence in Isfahan.

He went to Baghdad in his childhood and started his education there under prominent scholars. He was interested from the beginning in the fields of music, history, hadith, and poetry. His talent and hard work made him a leading scholar in various fields of Islamic studies and earned him fame in the Muslim world. He was highly praised by scholars like Yaqut, Ibn Khallikan, al-Tanukhi, al-Tha'alibi and Ibn al-Nadim. For instance, after writing about Abu l-Faraj's expertise in different disciplines, al-Tanukhi states that the expertise of all scholars and the subtlety of all poets are gathered in him.

He was called by al-Mahlabi, the vizier of 'Izz al-Dawla, to Baghdad and became his special companion (nadim). According to some historians, he was also the scribe of Rukn al-Dawla as well.

He passed away on Dhu l-Hijja 356/967 or 357/968 in Baghdad and was buried there.

Religious Affiliation

Many scholars, including Sunni scholars, maintain that Abu l-Faraj was Shi'a. Al-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, however, regarded his Shiite affiliation as strange considering the fact that he was a descendant of Marwan. Ibn al-Jawzi and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi maintained that the hadiths he quoted were unreliable because of his Shiite affiliation.

In his works, especially in al-Aghani and Maqatil al-Talibiyyin, Abu l-Faraj shows great respect for Imam Ali (a) and his children, and in all cases, he calls the Imam (a) "Amir al-Mu'minin. He also uses the formula "peace be upon him" when he mentions the name of an Imam instead of formulas such as "May God be pleased with him" or "May God honor his face," which can be an indication that he was a Shi'a.

Considering some of Abu l-Faraj's remarks in his works, al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-'Allama al-Hilli, have regarded him as a Zaydi Shi'a. Khwansari also doubts his Imami affiliation; he believes that Abu l-Faraj took Shiite positions for political reasons. In Khwansari's viewpoint, being a descendant of Marwan counts as an indication that he was not a Shi'a.

Teachers and Students

Abu l-Faraj studied under many prominent scholars of his time, including Abu Bakr b. Durayd. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi and Yaqut have mentioned some of his teachers. His teachers include:

  • Muhammad b. Jarir b. Yazid al-Tabari
  • Ja'far b. Qudama
  • Abu Bakr b. al-Anbari
  • Fadl b. Hijab al-Jumahi
  • 'Ali b. Sulayman al-Akhfash
  • Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Hadrami
  • Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Qattat
  • Husayn b. 'Amr b. Abi Ahwas al-Thaqafi
  • 'Ali b. 'Abbas al-Muqani'i
  • 'Ali b. Ishaq b. Zatiya
  • ...

Abu Zakariya Yahya, Abu l-Husayn b. Dinar, 'Ali b. Ibrahim al-Duhki, Abu Ishaq al-Tabari, Ibrahim b. Mukhallad, Muhammad b. Abi l-Fawaris, al-Tanukhi and ... are counted as his students.


Abu l-Faraj has various works in different fields, especially in poetry and genealogy. Some scholars have mentioned about thirty works. The most well-known of his available works are Maqatil al-talibiyyin and al-Aghani. Some of his other works are as follows:

  • Nasab Bani 'Abd al-Shams
  • Ayyam al-'Arab
  • Jamharat al-nasab
  • Adab al-ghuraba'
  • Al-Khabar wa l-nawadir

Al-Shaykh al-Tusi mentions two other works by Abu l-Faraj: Ma nazal fi l-Qur'an fi Amir al-Mu'minin wa ahl baytih (What was revealed in the Qur'an on Amir al-Mu'minin and his family) and another book in which the words of Lady Fatima (a) was recorded.

He composed many poems about various topics, which are mentioned in the introductions of al-Aghani.

Maqatil al-talibiyyin

This is a work which contains the biographies of about five-hundred descendants of Abu Talib since the time of the Prophet (s) until the age of the author. The compilation of the book ended in 313/925-6. It contains a detailed account of the tragedy of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions and the captivity of his family.

Because of its thoroughness and accuracy, many scholars, such as al-Shaykh al-Mufid, used it as a major source in their studies.


This book, which is the result of fifty years of work by Abu l-Faraj, is the greatest encyclopedia of music and culture and the most comprehensive collection of Arabic prose, poetry, and narrations of the pre-Islamic and early Islamic era, containing the biographies of musicians and singers of that era. According to some reports, Abu l-Faraj presented this book to Sayf al-Dawla b. Hamdan or the Umayyad ruler of Andalusia and received gifts from them.