Ibn al-Rawandi

Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishaq al-Rawandi (Arabic: أبو الحسن أحمد بن يحيى بن إسحاق الراوندي‎), commonly known as Ibn al-Rawandi (Arabic: ابن الراوندي‎;‎ 827–911 CE[2]), was an early Persian scholar and theologian. In his early days, he was a Mu'tazilite scholar, but then rejected the Mu'tazilite doctrine. Afterwards, he became a Shia scholar; there is some debate about whether he stayed a Shia until his death or became a skeptic,[3] though most sources confirm his eventual rejection of all religion and becoming an atheist.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11] Although none of his works have survived, his opinions had been preserved through his critics and the surviving books that answered him.[12] 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).

Ibn Al-Rawandi
Born827 CE
Died911 CE
EraAbbasid Era


Abu al-Husayn Ahmad bin Yahya ben Isaac al-Rawandi was born in 827 CE in Greater Khorasan, modern-day northwest Afghanistan.[13] Al-Rawandi was born in Basra during the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Ma'mun.[14] His father, Yahya, was a Persian Jewish scholar who converted to Islam and schooled Muslims on refuting the Talmud.[15]

He joined the Mu'tazili of Baghdad and gained prominence among them. However, he eventually became estranged from his fellow Mu'tazilites and formed close alliances with Shia Muslims[6][8] and then with non-Muslims (Manichaeans, Jews and perhaps also Christians). Al-Rawandi then became a follower of the Manichaean zindiq Abu Isa al-Warraq before eventually rejecting religion in general, writing several books that criticized all religion, particularly Islam.[16][6][8]


Most sources agree that he spent time as a Mu'tazilite and a Shia before eventually denouncing all religion.[4][5][6] Some sources look for the roots of his views in his connections with Shia Islam and Mu'tazilia, and claim that his heresy was exaggerated by his rivals.[2]

Ibn al-Rawandi spent time as a Mu'tazilite and later a Shia scholar before eventually turning to atheism.[4][5][6][7] Most of his 114 books have been lost, but those with at least some remaining fragments include The Scandal of the Mu'tazilites (Fadihat al-mu'tazila), which presents the arguments of various Mu'tazilite theologians and then makes the case that they are internally inconsistent, The Refutation (ad-Damigh), which attacks the Quran, and The Book of the Emerald (Kitab al-zumurrud) which critiques prophecy and rejects Islam.[17][18] Among his arguments, he critiques dogma as antithetical to reason, argues miracles are fake, that prophets (including Muhammad) are just magicians, and that the Paradise as described by the Quran is not desirable.[19]

Some scholars also try to account for the more positive view of Ibn al-Rawandi in some Muslim sources. Josef van Ess has suggested an original interpretation that aims at accommodating all the contradictory information.[20] He 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 eccentric and disputatious, was not a heretic at all. However, these views are discounted by most scholars given the weight of evidence to the contrary.[21]

Subjects discussed in the Kitab al-ZumurrudEdit

Muslim traditionsEdit

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?

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.

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.[22]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Stroumsa, Sarah (1999). Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn al-Rāwandī, Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, and Their Impact on Islamic Thought. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-11374-9.


  1. ^ Sarah Stroumsa, The Blinding Emerald: Ibn al-Rāwandī's Kitāb al-Zumurrud
  2. ^ a b Al-Zandaqa Wal Zanadiqa, by Mohammad Abd-El Hamid Al-Hamad, First edition 1999, Dar Al-Taliaa Al-Jadida, Syria (Arabic)
  3. ^ Mirzaay, Abas (Spring 2014). "Ibn Rawandi's Defense of Kufan Shi'ism". Islamic Theology Studies. 2.
  4. ^ a b c Inati, Shams C (2000). Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York NY: Routledge. p. 377. ISBN 0-415-22364-4. ... Ibn ar-Rawandi wavered between a number of Islamic sects and then abandoned all of them in favour of atheism.
  5. ^ a b c al-A'sam, A. (1975). History of Ibn Ar-Riwandi the Heretic. Beirut: dar al-afaq al-Jadida.
  6. ^ a b c d e Groff, Peter (2007). Islamic Philosophy A-Z. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-7486-2089-0. A protean freethinker who experimented with Mu'tazilism and Shi'ism before finally embracing atheism, Ibn al-Rawandi was condemned by most Muslims as a dangerous heretic.
  7. ^ a b Stroumsa, Sarah (1999). Freethinkers of Medieval Islam: Ibn Al-Rāwandī, Abū Bakr Al-Rāzī, and Their Impact on Islamic Thought. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 978-9004315471.
  8. ^ a b c Grant, Edward (2007). A History of Natural Philosophy: From the Ancient World to the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–87. ISBN 9780511292101. Retrieved 8 March 2021. Early in his life, Ibn al-Rawandi was a Mutazilite scholar, who, like all Mutazilite scholars sought to apply Greek philosophy to explicate Islamic theology. After rejecting Mutazilism, he turned for a while to Shi'ism. At some point, however, and for reasons that are apparently unknown, al-Rawnadi became a free thinker and repudiated Islam and revealed religion.
  9. ^ Karabela, Mehmet (2014). Kalin, Ibrahim (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Science, and Technology in Islam. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199812578. Abū al-Ḥusayn Aḥmad b. Yaḥyā Ibn al-Rāwandī(815–860 or 910), perhaps one of the most controversial figures in early Islamic history, is frequently called the “arch-heretic”...both Muslims and non-Muslims (especially Jews) wrote polemics against Ibn al-Rāwandī in which they acknowledged the serious threat his work posed not only to Islam, but also to Judaism and all Abrahamic religions.
  10. ^ Stroumsa, Sarah (1994). "The Blinding Emerald: Ibn Al Rawandi's Kitab Al-Zumurrud". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 114 (2): 163–185. doi:10.2307/603315. Retrieved 8 March 2021. Ibn al-Rawandi was indeed a heretic who denied the possibility of prophecy, and the K. al-Zumurrud was written in order to expound his heretical views
  11. ^ Inati, Shams. "Ibn ar-Rawandi". MuslimPhilosophy.com. Routledge. Retrieved 6 March 2021. A highly enigmatic and controversial figure in the history of Islamic thought, Ibn ar-Rawandi wavered between a number of Islamic sects and then abandoned all of them in favour of atheism. As an atheist, he used reason to destroy religious beliefs, especially those of Islam. He compared prophets to unnecessary magicians, God to a human being in terms of knowledge and emotion, and the Qur'an to an ordinary book. Contrary to Islamic belief, he advocated that the world is without a beginning and that heaven is nothing special.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Medieval Islamic Civilization By Josef W. Meri, Jere L. Bacharach
  14. ^ 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)
  15. ^ Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Genealogy to Iqbal Page 636
  16. ^ Stroumsa, Sarah (2006). Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (eds.). Medieval Islamic Civilization. He became estranged from his former colleagues, perhaps due to his association with his mentor, the Manichaean Abu 'Isa al-Warraq. From that point on Ibn al-Rawandi is depicted by most (though not all) of our sources as a heretic who maliciously scoffs at all religions, particularly Islam...He spared no religion, but his most severe criticism was directed against Islam.
  17. ^ Groff, Peter (2007). Islamic Philosophy A-Z. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-7486-2089-0. Of the 114 books he composed only a few fragments remain, preserved through the refutations of subsequent authors. Of these, the most important are The Scandal of the Mu'tazilites (Fadihat al-mu'tazila), which attempts to refute the major Mu'tazilite theologians, The Refutation (al-Damigh), which attacks the Qur'an, and The Book of the Diamond (Kitab al-zumurrud), which offers up a scathing critique of prophecy.
  18. ^ Inati, Shams. "Ibn ar-Rawandi". MuslimPhilosophy.com. Routledge. Retrieved 6 March 2021.
  19. ^ Groff, Peter (2007). Islamic Philosophy A-Z. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd. pp. 86–87. ISBN 978-0-7486-2089-0. In these works alone, he (1) rejects all religious dogmas as unacceptable to reason, (2) argues that prophets - Muhammad included - are like sorcerers and magicians, and that their miracles are entirely fictitious, (3) questions the necessity of prophecy and revelation if God is indeed all-powerful, (4) denies that the Qur'an is the revealed word of God and that it has any unique aesthetic value, (5) maintains that the God of the Quran is ultimately all-too-human and imperfect (i.e. lacking in knowledge and wisdom, easily angered, quick to punish, excessive, arbitrary, and unjust), (6) argues that the world is eternal and we are by no means compelled to posit a first divine cause, and (7) points out that Paradise as described in the Qur'an does not seem particularly desirable.
  20. ^ Calder, Norman (1994). "The Barāhima: Literary Construct and Historical Reality". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 57 (1): 40–51. Retrieved 8 March 2021.
  21. ^ Stroumsa, Sarah (2006). Meri, Josef W.; Bacharach, Jere L. (eds.). Medieval Islamic Civilization. Although one can see this image as a distorted picture composed by his opponents (as suggested by Josef van Ess), the accumulated information provided by the texts suggests that the image had a firm base in reality, and that Ibn al-Rawandi had indeed out-stepped the boundaries of Islam.
  22. ^ On Ibn al-Rawandi, from the Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1971, Volume 3, E J Brill, Leiden, p 905

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