Home / Muslim Scholars / Biographies / Abū Muḥammad Faḍl b. Shādhān b. Khalīl al-Azdī al-Nīshābūrī

Abū Muḥammad Faḍl b. Shādhān b. Khalīl al-Azdī al-Nīshābūrī

Abū Muḥammad Faḍl b. Shādhān b. Khalīl al-Azdī al-Nīshābūrī, (d. 260/873) was an Imami scholar of kalam and fiqh. In his al-Rijal, al-Shaykh al-Tusi mentioned Ibn Shadhan as a companion of Imam al-Hadi (a).

He learned from masters such as Muhammad b. Abi ‘Umayr (d. 217/832) in Baghdad and met Hasan b. ‘Ali b. Faddal there. He then went to Kufa and learned from masters such as Hasan b. Mahbub, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Abi Nasr al-Bazanti, Safwan b. Yahya, and Nasr b. Muzahim al-Minqari. His most perspicuous scholarly achievement was his theology, as al-Shaykh al-Tusi has referred to him as a high-ranking theologian.

Born and Family

There is no exact date of his birth, but it is thought to be around 180/796. And there is no exact information about Ibn Shadhan’s personal life, and it is difficult to reconcile the contradictory information available to us about his life. It seems that he was originally from Nishapur, but his lineage goes back to the Arabian tribe of Azd. His father, Shadhan b. Khalil was an Imami muhaddith.

Education

According to al-Kashshi’s account, Fadl and his father moved to Baghdad after the death of Harun al-‘Abbasi (193/808). Before his puberty, he started to learn the Quran from a reciter of the Quran, Isma’il b. ‘Abbad in Qati’at al-Rabi’ in Baghdad.

In Baghdad, Ibn Shadhan learned from masters such as Muhammad b. Abi ‘Umayr (d. 217/832) and met Hasan b. Ali b. Faddal. He then moved to Kufa where he learned from masters such as Hasan b. Mahbub, Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Abi Nasr, Safwan b. Yahya, and Nasr b. Muzahim al-Minqari.

Deportation from Nishapur

After a while, Ibn Shadhan returned to Nishapur and resided there. During the government of ‘Abd Allah b. Tahir in Khorasan (214/829-230/844), he went under inquisitions because of his belief in Shiism and was then deported from there. According to another account, he lived in Bayhaq late in his life. He finally became ill in late 259/873 and died in early 260/873. His grave is located in Nishapur.

Relations with the Imams (a)

Imam al-Hadi (a)

In his al-Rijal, al-Shaykh al-Tusi has mentioned Ibn Shadhan as a companion of Imam al-Hadi (a). Since Ibn Shadhan lived in Iraq in the first quarter of the 3rd/9th century, it is probable that he could directly transmit hadiths from Imam al-Hadi (a). However, it is strange to find hadiths in the work of Ibn Babawayh in which Ibn Shadhan directly heard hadiths from Imam al-Rida (a), and it is sometimes stated that he heard the hadiths from him for a relatively long time. In the period of Imam al-Hasan al-‘Askari (a), Ibn Shadhan was one of the most reliable Imami scholars in Khorasan. According to al-Kashshi, there was a distant relationship between him and the Imam (a) then.

Imam al-Hasan al-‘Askari (a)

There are two sorts of hadiths regarding his relationship with Imam al-Hasan al-‘Askari (a): according to one of these, the Imam (a) reproached him, and according to others, he was praised and admired by the Imam (a).

Scholarly Significance

The most perspicuous scholarly aspect of Ibn Shadhan was theology. He was mentioned by al-Shaykh al-Tusi as a high-ranking theologian.

Fiqh

Ibn Shadhan is also known as a faqih. Al-Muhaqqiq al-Hilli considered him as a prime scholar of the Imami fiqh. However, little is remaining from his work on fiqh. Part of his fiqh is available in his book, al-‘Ilal, which is in line with the views of the majority of Imami views. This book is limited to the issues of the worships only.

As Ibn Babawayh implies and al-Sayyid al-Murtada makes it explicit, Ibn Shadhan believed in the reliability of the sort of qiyas (analogy) which is known as “mustanbat al-‘ila” (the one with an inferred cause). His causalist approach to the jurisprudential rulings in his al-‘Ilal is evidence for this.

Hadith

Ibn Shadhan was a transmitter of many Imami hadiths, and al-Najashi affirmed his reliability. In many cases, al-Kashshi has appealed to remarks by Ibn Shadhan to show the reliability or unreliability of other transmitters of hadiths.

Beliefs and Theology

On the basis of little information available to us, the foundation of Ibn Shadhan’s theological teachings was first the Shahadatayn and then the testimony for God’s Hujja (or Imam) and the testimony for whatever came from God (“ma ja’a min ‘ind Allah”, ماجاء من عندالله). He believed in raj’a, and with respect to the problem of ‘Umar b. Khattab’s marriage with Umm Kulthum, the daughter of Imam ‘Ali (a), he believed it was another Umm Kulthum, other than the Imam’s (a) daughter, who was married to ‘Umar.

Belief in Imamate

His belief regarding imamate is in line with the Imami beliefs, because he believes that imamate goes to someone only by way of nass (explicit text from the Prophet (s)), that it is obligatory to obey the Imam, and that it is impossible for there to be more than two Imams on Earth at the same time. However, he allegedly held peculiar views concerning some problems of imamate. He did not believe, for instance, that the Imams (a) possessed the Knowledge of the Unseen, holding that the Prophet (s) had brought the whole religion completely, and the Imams (a) after him got their knowledge from him without being directly connected to the divine knowledge. It is said that Ibn Shadhan considered the prophet Ibrahim’s successor to be superior to the Prophet Muhammad’s (s) successor, which means that he took Prophets to be superior to the Imams (a). However, one of his contemporary friends rejected the attribution of such a belief to him.

The Proof of Imam ‘Ali’s (a) Imamate

In his book, al-‘Ilal and in debates transmitted from him, Ibn Shadhan provided his arguments for the proof of Imam ‘Ali’s (a) imamate and the rejection of the imamate of Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa and ‘Umar b. Khattab, and some other problems of imamate.

Testimony to whatever came from God

Ibn Shadhan is very well-known and significant in kalam. For example, according to al-Kashshi’s account, he took the Quranic verses regarding God’s sitting on the Throne (al-‘Arsh) at face value and, thus, believed in a sort of “tajsim” (anthropomorphism). However, he took divine attributes to have notions different from their ordinary ones when they apply to human beings, emphasizing that no creature is similar to God.

There are doubts about whether transmitters have fully understood Ibn Shadhan’s remarks, but the attribution of such remarks to him is not totally unfounded, in particular, because Ibn Shadhan has introduced himself as a successor of Hisham b. Hakam, Yunus b. ‘Abd al-Rahman, and al-Sakkaki. However, one should be careful about the notion of tajsim in their beliefs. In general, Ibn Shadhan’s belief about divine attributes is very close to that of Sunni Salafis.

Relationship with Other Imami Denominations

In Iraq, Ibn Shadhan had close relationships with prominent Fatahi and Waqifi masters. He attended the debates of Ibn Faddal, the prominent Fatahi figure, and was respected by him.

His masters also include other Fatahis, such as ‘Ali b. Asbat. His Waqifi masters include Sayf b. ‘Amira, ‘Uthman b. ‘Isa, ‘Abd Allah b. Qasim al-Hadrami, and ‘Abd Allah b. Jabala.

Work

His works are said to be over 180 books and essays, some of which are concerned with kalam and fiqh. Some of them are mentioned in al-Najashi’s al-Rijal and al-Shaykh al-Tusi’s al-Fihrist, including:

  • Ithbat al-raj’a, selections of which are published in the journal, Turathuna, by Basim al-Musawi.
  • Al-Talaq, parts of which are cited by al-Kulayni.
  • Ilal al-shara’i concerning the causes of worships, mentioned by al-Najashi and al-Tusi.
  • Al-Fara’id al-kabir
  • Al-Fara’id al-awsat
  • Al-Fara’id al-saghir
  • Masa’il al-bildan mentioned by al-Najashi. Part of it is cited by al-Shaykh al-Tusi in some of his works.
  • Al-Yawm wa l-layla which is said to be endorsed by Imam al-Hasan al-‘Askari (a).
  • It is noteworthy that a book called al-Idah was published in Tehran in 1972 and it was attributed to Fadl b. Shadhan as its author. It was later reprinted in Beirut in 1982. None of the early scholars have attributed such a book to Fadl b. Shadhan. The first person who attributed such a book to Ibn Shadhan was al-Fayd al-Kashani in the 11th/17th century. The author of al-Idah tries to reject the views of opponents of Imamiyya, and in particular, the views of Mu’tazila, Jahamiyya, Murji’a, Khawarij, and People of Hadith. In his introduction to the book, Jalal al-Din Muhaddith tries to cite evidence for the attribution of the book to Ibn Shadhan.

Rejections

The bibliography of Ibn Shadhan provided by al-Najashi and al-Shaykh al-Tusi shows that he engaged himself with debates with different religious and theological sects and wrote rejections for their beliefs. They include Mu’tazila, Mu’attila, Murji’a, Khawarij, and Ghulat (those who exaggerate about the place of the Imams). His rejections of Karramiyya, whose founder died in 255/869, and in particular, his rejections of Qaramita who emerged just before 264/877, are especially noteworthy.

Demise

Ibn Shadhan died in 260/873 in Nishapur, Iran and was buried there.

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