Is the “History of Tabari” reliable?


I read the “History of Tabari” and found that it contains many negative things about the companions of the Prophet صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم? Why is it so?

A Brother

Hyderabad, India

Wa alaikum us salam wa Rahmatullah

The history of the age of companions رضی اللہ عنہم (11-110H/633-729CE) was not written at their times as Arabs did not have any habit of writing books. The Quran was the first compiled book of Arabic. Paper was imported in Arab and it was very expensive, so people used it only for writing personal memories. When the Muslims learnt the process of paper manufacturing from Chinese around 140/758, its cost of production reduced and people started writing books by documenting the available information in memories of people. Such information about Hadith, Quranic Exegesis, Jurisprudence, Islamic History, Arabic literature etc. was compiled in form of books. Tabari (224-310/838-923) penned a monumental work in which he recorded whatever information was available to him in chronological order. He did not distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources but gave their full reference, so that any critic can evaluate the authenticity of each piece of information recorded by him.

Tabari included thousands of reports portraying a positive picture of companions رضی اللہ عنہم but a few narratives (may be 2-3% of his book) contain defamatory information about them. If we collect all such negative reports, we find that they are reported by four persons who are regarded as highly unreliable because they were biased against certain companions. They are:

1.     Muhammad Ibn U’mar Al-Waqidi (130-207/747-823): He was one of the biggest historians of his time but he used to collect whatever information available to him regardless of it source. Famous experts of biographical studies like Ahmed Ibn Hanbal, Ibn Al-Madyani, Abu Hatim, Nisai and Dar Qutni consider him as highly unreliable source of information. He is the prime source of reports containing negative information about Caliph ‘Ali رضی اللہ عنہ. (Dhahbi, Meezan ul ‘Itidaal, Person No. 7999)

2.     Abu Mikhnaf Lut Ibn Yahya (d. 157/774): He is the most famous historian of the second century Hijra. 90% of the reports containing negative information about Caliph ‘Uthman, Mu’awiya, Talha and Zubair رضی اللہ عنہم are reported by him. Ibn Habban, an expert of biographical studies reported that he used to abuse the companions. His grandfather Mikhnaf was part of the army that attacked on Mu’awiyah رضی اللہ عنہ. (Dhahbi, Meezan ul ‘Itidaal, Person No. 6998)

3.     Hisham Ibn Muhammad Al-Kalabi (d. 204/819): He was a disciple of Abu Mikhnaf and contained the same bias against the companions. Most of his reports are the same as those of Abu Mikhnaf but he describes some reports on behalf of other sources. (Dhahbi, Meezan ul ‘Itidaal, Person No. 9245)

4.     Saif Ibn ‘Umar At-Tamimi (d. c. 185/800): He is another famous narrator who is regarded as highly unreliable by famous biographical experts like Yahya Ibn Mu’een, Ibn Habban, Abu Hatim etc. His reports portray a negative picture of companions especially during the age of Caliph Abu Bakr and ‘Uthman رضی اللہ عنہما. (Dhahbi, Meezan ul ‘Itidaal, Person No. 3642)

Therefore, we can conclude that the history compiled by Tabari is reliable except the reports described on behalf of the above-mentioned persons. 99% of the reports containing defamatory information about the companions are described by these four persons, so we should be very careful while reading the History of Tabari.

In Ahadith, the Mohadisin (Hadith experts) established very strong criteria to evaluate the Ahadith. In such case, it is quite natural that limited amount of information will be available. For loose criteria, you can find much detail, which may be authentic or unauthentic. Moreover, the focus of Mohadisin was those reports that contain Ahkaam. Insha Allah, you will find answers to all these questions in much detail in my upcoming book on the history of companions’ age.



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Is the “History of Tabari” reliable?
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