Abu Sahl Isma'il ibn Ali al-Nawbakhti

Ismā’īl ibn ‘Alī, Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī[n 1] was the great scholar of the Imamah, and the uncle of Abu Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti. Abū Sahl died in 923.[1][2][3]

Ismā’īl ibn ‘Alī, Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī
Academic background
Academic work
School or traditionShia Islam
InfluencedAbu Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti


Abū Sahl Ismā’īl ibn ‘Alī ibn Nawbakht was one of the great men of the Shi‘ah. Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Nāshī said that he was his teacher. He was a virtuous and learned theologian, who presided over a group of theologians. He had an idea about the qā’im[n 2] of the family of Muḥammad which no one had before him.[n 3] He used to say: “I say to you the [lawful] imam was Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan[n 4] and, although he died hidden, there has arisen in the cause[n 5] [4] during the concealment his son, and so will his son’s issue be concealed, until God consummates his dominion by causing him to appear.” Abū Ja‘far Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī al-Shalmaghānī, called Ibn Abī al-‘Azāqir (d. 934), summoned him to opposition, promising miracles and supernatural visions. Abū Sahl had a bare spot on his forehead like baldness, so he sent the messenger with this reply: “I ask only one miracle of your master, that he should make hair grow on my forehead; then I can believe him.” The messenger did not return.[n 6]

Al-Nadīm tells a very similar story about Al-Ḥusayn ibn Mansūr al-Hallāj who was in prison when he sent a messenger to appeal for Abū Sahl's help. However the reply came, “I am the head of a sect with thousands of followers, who will follow him if I follow him. So make hair grow on my forehead, for the hair there has disappeared. I want nothing else from him.” The messenger never returned to him. [5]


Al-Fihrist lists the following among his books:[n 7]

The Fulfilment, about the imamate; Warning (Prophecy), about the imamate; Refutation of the Ghulāt; Refutation of Ṭāṭarī, concerning the imamate; Refutation of ‘Īsā ibn Abān, about legal interpretation; [n 8] Refutation of the Epistle of al-Shāfi‘ī; Ideas; Sessions;[n 9] Knowledge; Confirmation of the Epistle (Confirmation of the Prophetic Mission); Refutation of Those Upholding the Attributes; Emergence of the World; [n 10] Refutation of Whoever Speaks of the Created [the Qur’an]; The Word, about man;[n 11] The Vanity of Analogy; [n 12] Narrative and What Is Told; Refutation of the Book, “Arousing Wisdom” (Ba‘th al-Ḥikmah), against Ibn al-Rāwandī; Refutation of “The Crown” (Al-Taj), against Ibn al-Rāwandī—it is known as Kitāb al-Shibk;[n 13] [6] Refutation of Legal Interpretation by Personal Opinion, against [Ibn] al-Rāwandī; Attributes. Abū Sahl al-Nawbakhtī's brother surnamed Abū Ja‘far was a theologian of al-Nawbakhtī's doctrine.[7]


  1. ^ Ṭūsī (p. 57) gives the name Nūbukhtī.
  2. ^ Reference to Shi‘ah belief in the lawful caliph’s direct descent from the Prophet of Islam.
  3. ^ Translation from ambiguous idiomatic Arabic. Alternative interpretation: “which he did not adopt hastily.”
  4. ^ The 12th Shi‘i imam, the son of al-Ḥasan al-‘Askari, was called Muḥammad al-Muntazar (“the Expected”), said to have disappeared at Samarra in 878, but the faithful await his return, which is called “Qā’im al-Zamām.”
  5. ^ Translation that follows take from the Tonk MS of al-Fihrist which is clearer than the other versions.
  6. ^ The Tonk MS of al-Fihrist has “He returned to his master, but did not come back to him,” that is, to Abū Sahl.
  7. ^ Cf. titles in Ṭūsī, pp. 57—58.
  8. ^ Flügel and MS 1934 have al-libās (“clothing”); Ṭūsī is most likely to be correct with al-ijtihād (‘legal interpretation’).
  9. ^ Al-Ṭūsī, pp. 57-58, also includes titles: His Sessions with al-Jubbā’ī and Sessions with Thabit ibn Qurrah.
  10. ^ Even though Flügel has Ḥadath al-‘Ālam (“New Event of the World”), Dodge follows Ṭūsī’s translation, pp. 57-58, Ḥudūth al-‘Ālam (“Emergence of the World”), Al-Ṭūsī, p. 58, notes that the following title refers to the Jabarīyah.
  11. ^ Flügel and MS 1934 have al-insān (“man”), whereas al-Ṭūsī, p. 58, has al-ansāb (“idols”).
  12. ^ The more conservative jurists believed that legal decisions should depend upon the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth, regarding analogy as not truly authoritative.
  13. ^ Al-Ṭūsī, p. 58, explains that the title Kitāb al-Shibk (“The Book of the Whirl or of Entanglement”) probably refers to the constellations, responded to The Book of the Crown (“Kitāb al-Tāj”) about the world and eternity. Flügel has Kitāb al-Sabak, al-sabak, about smelting.


  1. ^ Ṭūsī (al-) 1885, p. 57.
  2. ^ Mas‘ūdī (al-) 1869, p. 233, VIII.
  3. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 439-41, 475.
  4. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 439.
  5. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 475.
  6. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 440.
  7. ^ Nadīm (al-) 1970, p. 441.


  • Nadīm (al-), Abū al-Faraj Muḥammad ibn Isḥāq (1970). Dodge, Bayard (ed.). The Fihrist of al-Nadim; a Tenth-Century Survey of Muslim Culture. Translated by Bayard Dodge. New York & London: Columbia University Press.
  • Ṭūsī (al-), Abū Ja’far Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥasan (1885). Sprenger, Aloys (ed.). "Fihrist al-Ṭūsī (Tusy's list of Shy'ah Books and 'Alam al-Hoda's Notes on Shy'ah Biography)". Bibliotheca Indica. Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, Baptist Mission Press (71, 91, 107).
  • Mas‘ūdī (al-), Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn (1869) [1861]. Kitāb Murūj al-Dhahab wa-Ma'ādin al-Jawhar (Les Prairies d'or ) (in Arabic and French). Translated by Meynard (de), C. Barbier; Courteille (de), Pavet. Paris: Imprimerie impériale.