Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati

Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati
Born1256 CE / 654 AH
Died1344 (aged 87–88) / 745 AH
EraIslamic Golden Age
Main interest(s)Tafsīr, Arabic
Muslim leader
Arabic name
Personal (Ism)Muḥammad
Patronymic (Nasab)ibn Yūsuf bin ‘Alī ibn Yūsuf ibn Hayyān an-Nifzī al-Barbarī
بن يوسف بن علي بن يوسف بن حيان
Teknonymic (Kunya)Abū Ḥayyān
أبو حيان
Epithet (Laqab)Athīr al-Dīn
أثير الدين
Toponymic (Nisba)al-Gharānaṭī; Al-Andalusi; al-Jayyāni

Abū Ḥayyān Athīr ad-Dīn al-Gharnāṭī (Arabic: أَبُو حَيَّان أَثِير ٱلدِّين ٱلْغَرْنَاطِيّ‎, November 1256 – July 1344 CE / 654 - 745 AH), whose full name is Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf bin ‘Alī ibn Yūsuf ibn Hayyān (Arabic: مُحَمَّد ٱبْن يُوسُف ٱبْن عَلِيّ ٱبْن يُوسُف ٱبْن حَيَّان‎), sometimes called Ibn Hayyan,[3] was a celebrated commentator on the Quran and foremost Arabic grammarian of his era.[4][5] His magnum opus Tafsir al-Bahr al-Muhit (Explanation of the Ocean) is the most important reference on Qur'anic expressions and the issues of grammar, vocabulary, etymology and the transcriber-copyists of the Holy Qur'an. Quite exceptionally for a linguist of Arabic of his day was his strong interest in non-Arabic languages. He wrote several works of comparative linguistics for Arabic speakers, and gives extensive comparative grammatical analysis and explanation.[6]


Early life

He was born in Spain in November of 1256[4][7] to a family of Berber origins,[8][9] from the Berber tribe of Nifza.[10] Historians variously cite Gharnati's place of birth as both Jaén and Granada; his appellation "Gharnati" derives from this latter.[11] At the time Jaén was a dependency of Granada, and the appellation conflict may only be apparent.

Abu Hayyan was said to be generally handsome, tall and long haired, which, along with his beard, turned grey in old age.[11]


At a young age, Abu Hayyan left Spain and traveled extensively for the sake of his studies.[4][11] Within Spain, he traveled to Málaga, Almería before moving on through Ceuta, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Damietta, Minya, Kush and ‘Aydhab in Africa.[3][11] Eventually, he reached Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage and visited Medina before returning to Alexandria. It is said he memorized the corpus of Sibawayh's al-Kitab ('The Book') - several volumes of the foundational Arabic grammar that, for some, held revered authority on the Arabic language approaching that of the Hadith in Islamic law.[12]

Abu Hayyan was a student of Ibn al-Nafis, viewed as a redeeming quality in favor of Ibn al-Nafis by traditionalists such as Al-Dhahabi, who esteemed Abu Hayyan.[13]


On reaching Mamluk Egypt, Abu Hayyan was appointed lecturer of the science of Qur'anic exegesis at the college named after the sultan of Egypt, Al-Mansur Qalawun, in Alexandria.[14] Later, he spent a period teaching tafsir in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo.[4][12]

Abu Hayyan won favor at the court of an-Nasir Muhammad; the scholar Fatḥ al-Din Ibn Sayyid al-Nās and he, often judged the poetry contests held during al-Nasir's reign.[15] When Abu Hayyan's daughter, Nudhar, died, he received permission to inter her body at his family's property instead of at a cemetery.[11] Such permissions were not typical, and it seems the request was granted due to his high standing with the royal court. Abu Hayyan was deeply affected by daughter's death and he composed an elegy in praise of her standing among intellectual circles.[16]


Abu Hayyan died on a Saturday in July in the year 1344 at his home in Cairo,[4][7] just after the last evening prayer.[17] He was buried the next day in the cemetery of Bab al-Nasr in Islamic Cairo. When news of his death reached Damascus, the population mourned his death.[17]


Abu Hayyan adhered to the Zahiri madhhab of Sunni Islam.[18] When asked toward the end of his life about a claim he had switched to the Shafi'i madhhab, or some other school, he responded that, anyone who had known the Ẓāhirī school could never leave it.[19][20]

He regarded the Sufism and metaphysics of ibn Arabi, Mansur Al-Hallaj, Ibn al-Farid, Ibn Sab'in and Abu al-Hasan al-Shushtari, as heretical.[5]

On the Arabic language, Abu Hayyan shared the views of his fellow Ẓāhirī Andalusian, Ibn Maḍāʾ. Absolute belief in the divine mover led them to reject the concept of linguistic causality. For them the 'cause' of all things, including language, is attributable solely to God.[21] Thus on theological grounds, he was suspicious of the so-called "eastern grammarian" supporters of 'linguistic causality'.

When Abu Hayyan arrived in Egypt the Mamluk Sultan was ruler. Although Abu Hayyan held the Turkic languages of Mamluk Egypt superior to the Kipchak and Turkmen languages with which he was familiar,[22] he also wrote grammars of Amharic, Middle Mongol, the Berber languages and the Turkic. Other Arabic-language linguists of his day had little regard for foreign languages.[6][23] Abu Hayyan often illuminated Arabic grammatical concepts with quotes from various language.[12]


Abu Hayyan, the so-called 'king of grammar', was celebrated as the unrivalled linguistic scholar and religious expert of hadith, historiography and Sharia.[11] He is referred to alternately as Abu Hayyan "al-Gharnati" ('the Granadian') and Abu Hayyan "al-Nahwi" ('the grammarian').

Abu Hayyan's studies of grammar were governed by overarching principles he laid out such as "one must base rules of Arabic on frequency of occurrence" and "analogous formations that contradict genuine data found in good speech are not permitted."[12] His approach to grammar has been described by Brill's Encyclopaedia of Islam as remarkably modern, and Abu Hayyan's respect for facts and unusual objectivity have also been noted.[12]


Only 15 of the 65 works attributed to Abu Hayyan Athir al-Din Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Gharnati survive.[12]

  • Tafsīr al-Baḥr al-Muḥīt (اتفسير البحر المحيط); 'The Explanation Ocean' (Bayrūt, Dār al-Fikr, 1992); archive.org (12 vols., in Arabic); commentary on the linguistic meanings of Quran, composed in collaboration with al-Mansur, late in Gharnati's life.[24] Some of the extraordinary rich non-canonical qira'at, or variant Qur'anic readings, appear first in this, his most famous work of commentary.[25]
  • Kitāb Manhaj al-sālik fī al-kalām 'alá Alfīyyat Ibn Mālik (منهج السالك في الكلام على ألفية ابن مالك) - 'Commentary to the Alfiyya of Ibn Mālik'; several grammarians composed commentaries on ibn Malik's Alfiya,[7][26] a seminal work in the field of Arabic grammar. archive.org (in Arabic; ed., Glazer, Sidney, 1947)
  • Kitab al-'idrak li-lisan al-'atrak (كتاب الإدراك للسان الأتراك) -'Aspects of the Turkish language' archive (in Arabic) [27]
  • al-Mubdiʻ fī al-taṣrīf (كتاب المبدع في التصريف) (in Arabic; Ṣafāt, al-Kuwayt, Maktabat Dār al-ʻUrūbah, 1982); on Arabic language word formation.
  • Une Grammaire turque du huitième siècle de l'Hégire; "La Pénétration dans la langue des Turcs" d'Aboû Ḥayyân al-Gharnaṭî. (ed., Bouvat, Lucien; 1907).
  • Dīwān Abī Ḥayyān al-Andalusī (ديوان أبي حيان الأندلسي) archive.org
  • Tuhfat al'Arib bima fi al-Quran min al-Gharib (تحفة الأريب بما في القرآن من الغريب) archive.org (in Arabic)
  • Tadhkirat al-nuḥāh (تذكرة النحاة) 'Concerning Grammarians'; (Bayrūt, Muʼassasat al-Risālah, 1986)
  • Irtishaf ad-ḍarab min lisan al-'Arab (ارتشاف الضرب من لسان العرب) 'Sipping from the Arab Tongue'; archive.org (in Arabic); a comprehensive grammatical treatise.
  • Al-Tadhyil wa't-Takmil fi sharh kitab at-Tashil (التذييل والتكميل في شرح كتاب التسهيل) archive.org (in Arabic, 15 vols.); commentary on ibn mālik’s Tashīl.
  • Sharḥ al-Lamḥah al-Badrīyah fī ʻilm al-lughah al-ʻArabīyah (شرح اللمحة البدرية في علم اللغة العربية) 'The Badriyah explanation in Arabic linguistics' (ed., Dr. Hadi Nahr, University Press, Baghdad, 1997) archive.org (in Arabic)
  • Al-Nukat al-ḥisān fī sharḥ ghāyat al-iḥsān (النكت الحسان في شرح غاية الإحسان) 'Beautiful Anecdotes on Explanation of the Utmost Good' (Beirut, Muʼassasat al-Risālah, 1985) archive.org (in Arabic)
  • Taqrīb al-muqarrib (تقريب المقرب); a summary of ibn ʿUṣfūr's Muqarrib
  • Al-Tadrīb fī tamṯīl al-taqrīb (التدريب في تمثيل التقريب); a commentary on his Taqrīb al-muqarrib.


  1. ^ Alois Richard Nykl, Hispano-Arabic Poetry and Its Relations with the Old Provençal Troubadours, pg. 358. Slatkine, 1946.
  2. ^ Consuelo Lopez-Morillas, The Quran in Sixteenth-Century Spain, pg. 49. Volume 82 of Támesis: Serie A, Monografías. Tamesis, 1982. ISBN 9780729301213
  3. ^ a b "Names of Zahiri Scholars". Archived from the original on 2013-01-11.
  4. ^ a b c d e S. Glazer, Abu Ḥayyān At̲h̲īr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-G̲h̲arnāṭī. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2012. Reference. 29 December 2012.
  5. ^ a b Alexander D. Knysh, Ibn Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition. Pg. 168. State University of New York Press: Albany, 1999.
  6. ^ a b Kees Versteegh, The Arabic Linguistic Tradition, pgs. 10 and 164. Part of Landmarks in Linguistic Thought series, vol. 3. New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 9780415157575
  7. ^ a b c Versteegh, Arabic, pg. 168.
  8. ^ The Berbers and the Islamic state: the Marīnid experience in pre-protectorate Morocco, pg. 9. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2000. ISBN 9781558762244
  9. ^ Robert Irwin, Night and horses and the desert: an anthology of classical Arabian literature, pg. 352. Westminster: Penguin Books, 1999.
  10. ^ Fatehi-nezhad, Enayatollah; Gholami, Rahim. "Abū Ḥayyān al-Gharnāṭī". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. volume 2. Brill. ISBN 9789004178595. |volume= has extra text
  11. ^ a b c d e f "The History of the Mohammedan Dynasties in Spain," taken from Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari's Nafhut Tibb min Ghusn al-Andalus al-Ratib wa Tarikh Lisan ad-Din Ibn al-Khatib. Translated by Pascual de Gayangos y Arce from copies in the British Museum. Pg. 424. London: The Orientalist Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. Sold by W. H. Allen Ltd and M. Duprat.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. I, A-B, pg. 126. Eds. Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb, J.H. Kramers, Évariste Lévi-Provençal and Joseph Schacht. Assisted by Bernard Lewis and Charles Pellat. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 1979. Print edition.
  13. ^ Fancy, Nahyan A. G. (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Nafīs (died 1288)", Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame, pg. 147-148
  14. ^ Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, trs. Pascual de Gayangos y Arce, pg. 423.
  15. ^ Devin J. Stewart, "Ibn Hijjah al-Hamawi." Taken from Essays in Arabic Literary Biography: 1350-1850, pg. 143. Eds. Malcolm Lowry and Devin J. Stewart. Volume 2 of Essays in Arabic Literary Biography. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009. ISBN 9783447059336
  16. ^ Extraordinary Women of Al-Andalus. Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain. Unity Productions Foundation: 2007.
  17. ^ a b Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, trns. by Pascual de Gayangos y Arce. Pg. 425.
  18. ^ al-Maqrizi, al-Muqni al-Kabir, vol. 7, pg. 505.
  19. ^ Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Durar al-Kamina, vol. 4, pg. 304.
  20. ^ Michael Carer, "The Andalusian Grammarians: Are they different?" Taken from In the Shadow of Arabic: The Centrality of Language to Arab Culture, Pg. 34. Ed. Bilal Orfali. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2011. Print. ISBN 9789004215375
  21. ^ Michael Carter, "The Andalusian Grammarians," pg. 39.
  22. ^ Versteegh, Arabic, pg. 169.
  23. ^ Versteegh, Arabic, pg. 106.
  24. ^ Abdulmageed Falah, Grammatical Opinions of Abu Hayyan Andalusi between Theory and Practice. Arab Journal for the Humanities. Academic Publication Council, Kuwait University: Vol. 29, Issue 116. 2011.
  25. ^ Theodor Nöldeke, Gotthelf Bergsträsser, Friedrich Schwally and Otto Pretzl, The History of the Qur'an, pg. 578. Ed. Wolfgang H. Behn. Leiden: Brill Publishers, 2013. ISBN 9789004228795
  26. ^ Aryeh Levin, Arabic Linguistic Thought and Dialectology. Pg. 347. The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation/Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Jerusalem, 1998. Printed by Academon Press.
  27. ^ Davidson, Alan (1983). Food in Motion. Oxford Symposium. pp. 13. ISBN 9780907325154.

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