Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari al-Saghir

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Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari al-Saghir
Personal Information
TeknonymAbu Ja'far
EpithetAl-Tabari the Third
Religious AffiliationShi'a
BirthSecond half of the 4th/10th century
Place of BirthTabaristan
Studied inBaghdad
DeathFirst half of the 5th/11th century
Scholarly Information
WorksDala'il al-imama, Nawadir al-mu'jizat fi manaqib al-a'immat al-huda

Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī known as al-Tabari al-Saghir or al-Tabari, the Third is a disputed person who some rijal scholars have considered to be the author of Dala'il al-imama. There are arguments among scholars on the historical existence of such a person and each group of scholars proposes their own justifications. Those who have accepted his existence based on the evidences mentioned in Dala'il al-imma have considered him among the scholars contemporary with al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Najashi, most likely has lived in Baghdad.

Dispute over Historical Existence

In history, there are two people among Muslims to have the name Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari.

  1. Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir b. Yazid al-Tabari (d. 310/922-3), a Sunni Muslim, the author of Tafsir al-Tabri and Tarikh al-Tabari.
  2. Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir b. Rustam al-Tabari (d. 329/940-1), a Shia Muslim, contemporary with al-Kulayni, who is the author of al-Mustarshid fi l-imama.

As a rule, to distinguish between the two, the second al-Tabari is called as al-Tabari the Shia. However, the discussion on the author of Dala'il al-imama led to the idea of a third al-Tabari. For some time, Dala'il al-imama was thought to be the work of Muhammad b. Jarir b. Rustam al-Tabari the Shia. But in the book, there are indications that show the work does not belong to al-Tabari the Shia. Hence, they have suggested that it is the work of a third al-Tabari.


'Abd Allah Mamaqani says that al-Shaykh al-Tusi in his book on rijal uses the attribute al-Kabir [The great] when describing al-Tabari the Shia. Mamaqani believes that al-Shaykh al-Tusi has hired this particular attribute to separate al-Tabari the author of al-Mustarshid fi al-imama from the third al-Tabari.

Aqa Buzurg Tihrani also mentions the attribute "al-Kabir" by al-Shaykh al-Tusi in his introduction to al-Mustarshid fi al-imama and suggests that there must have been a third al-Tabari living later than the second one. Later in the 8th volume of al-Dhari'a, when discussing Dala'il al-imama, Aqa Buzurg opens an in-depth discussion proving the existence of a third al-Tabari. He then reviews different evidences and also different generations of the chains of transmitters of hadiths. By his sources of hadiths in Dala'il al-imama and Nawadir al-mu'jizat, he concludes that the third al-Tabari has been contemporary with al-Najashi and al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067). The question which then surfaces is how would al-Najashi, al-Tusi and Muntajab al-Din al-Razi who were very accurate in listing Shia scholars have failed to mention such a person who has been contemporary with them, has narrated hadiths from many of their hadith sources, and even most possibly has been living in Baghdad? Aqa Buzurg answers: "that al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Najashi have not mentioned such a person in their books would not be a good reason to say that he did not exist. Because, they have not mentioned some other scholars contemporary with them either" he then mentions some examples.

Al-Sayyid Abu l-Qasim al-Khoei has supported the existence of a third al-Tabari; however, he has referred the readers of Mu'jam rijal to the Aqa Buzurg Tihrani.

Also some have attributed Dala'ila al-imama to the third al-Tabari. Their proof is that the sources of hadiths in Dala'ila al-imama are older than al-Tabari the Second.


Muhammad Taqi Shushtari believes that the title "al-Kabir" in the words of al-Shaykh al-Tusi cannot justify the existence of a third al-Tabari alone, rather he only aimed to express the Shi'a al-Tabari's position. At the end, Shushrari clearly emphasizes that there has been a person contemporary with al-Shaykh al-Tusi and al-Najashi who has written a book. But that person was not the al-Tabari, author of al-Mustarshid fi al-imama.

Also Fu'ad Sizgin, a non-shia, has only mentioned al-Tabari the Second and while listing his books, he has also mentioned Dala'il al-imama as well which is of course wrong and no one has attributed it to him.

Among other reasons for invalidating the existence of a third al-Tabari are: The title "al-Kabir" has not been recognized by al-Najashi. About not mentioning the name of the third al-Tabari by al-Najashi, the provided explanations is not convincing because the name of al-Tabari has been associated with another person. So mentioning his name, attributes and works would have been necessary. And if al-Najashi was careless about it, then al-Shaykh al-Tusi must have mentioned it. Even if al-Shaykh al-Tusi forgot about it, then Muntajab al-Din al-Razi must have mentioned it somewhere.

Until the 7th/13th century, none of Shia hadith scholars and authors note such a person. Only in 664/1265-6, al-Sayyid b. Tawus has mentioned some of the hadiths of Dala'il al-imama in his works for the first time.

Again after al-Sayyid b. Tawus, for centuries there has been no mention of Dala'il al-imama until al-Sayyid Hashim al-Bahrani (d. 1107/1695-6) has brought its name back to focus and has included some parts of Dala'il al-imama in his Madinat al-ma'ajiz.


Naturally, we would have very limited information about the third al-Tabari's life because of the ambiguity surrounding this person's state of being. But based on references, narrations, and the chains of different generation of narrators of hadith and the reports of the two historical books which are attributed to al-Tabari the Third, the extent of his ideological or intellectual interests and connections can be roughly estimated.


If we accept the famous report and assume the title "al-Kabir" in al-Shaykh al-Tusi's work a reason for the existence of the third al-Tabari and also rely on citations by Ibn Tawus, the name of the author of Dala'il al-imama is "Muhammad b. Jarir b. Rustam". But, Rustam is an Iranian name which suggests that either his ancestors had not been Muslims or they had kept their Iranian name after they became Muslim. But, the name of his father has been Jarir which is an Arabic name and is seen frequently among the Arabs living before and after Islam. His kunya "Abu Ja'far" also suggests that either he has had a son named Ja'far or it is an honorary kunya which has been common among Arabs too.

Place of Living

The two attributes "al-Tabari" and "al-Amuli" which have been mentioned for him, suggest that he was originally from Tabaristan and the city of Amol.

About his place of living, there is no historical report available. But according to his sources in narration, who lived in Baghdad, it would be safe to assume that he must have spent many years of his life in Iraq especially Baghdad.

Date of Death

There is no sign of the exact dates of his birth or death. However, his living period can be approximately guessed. Of course, this would only be possible relying on his sources of narration, assuming that he has heard hadtihs from them directly (sama'), not that he would be narrating from their books (wijada). Aqa Buzurg Tehrani regards al-Tabari the Third among the scholars contemporary with al-Shaykh al-Tusi (d. 460/1067) and al-Najashi, and thus living about a hundred years after al-Tabari the Shi'a. Researchers on Dala'il al-imama have all approved that the three were contemporary with each other. They further believe that he preceded al-Tusi and al-Najashi in both generation and position.

Therefore, it can be said that al-Tabari the Third is among the scholars who has been living since the second half of 4th/10th century until the first decades of 5th/11th century.

Hadith Sources

Researchers on Dala'il al-imama have introduced two groups of his hadith sources:

  • The first group are those al-Tabari the Third attended their classes and received the permission for narrating hadith from them so that he could say "haddathana" [he told us], "haddathani" [he told me] or "akhbarani" [he reported to me] about them. The number of these sources is 19 people among whom are some great Shia and Sunni scholars.
  • The second group are those from whom al-Tabari have narrated through other narrators, or he has benefited from their books and thus upon quoting a hadith from them, he says "rawa" (he narrated) which suggests that the hadith is narrated through someone else. The number of these sources is more than 20 people.


Two books have been attributed to him:

Haji Nuri and Aqa Buzurg Tihrani have attributed the latter to the author of Dala'il al-imama. However, some people have argued that the book is more recent than Dala'il al-imama. They claim that both books have not been written by the same author.