Abu Hayyan al-Gharnati

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Abû Hayyân Al-Gharnâti
Personal Details
Born 1256
Died 1344 (aged 87–88)
Ethnicity Berber[1][2]
Era Islamic Golden Age
Region Islamic Spain
Religion Islam
Jurisprudence Ẓāhirī
Creed Ash'ari
Main interest(s) Tafsîr, Arabic Language
Arabic name
Personal (Ism) Muḥammad
Patronymic (Nasab) bin Yûsuf bin ‘Alî bin Yûsuf bin Hayyân an-Nifzî al-Barbari
بن يوسف بن علي بن يوسف بن حيان
Teknonymic (Kunya) Abū Ḥayyān
أبو حيان
Epithet (Laqab) Aṯīr al-Dīn
أثير الدين
Toponymic (Nisba) Al-Gharnati; Al-Andalusi; al-Jayyâni

Muhammad bin Yûsuf bin ‘Alî bin Yûsuf bin Hayyân an-Nifzî al-Barbari Athîr ad-Dîn Abû Hayyân al-Jayyâni al-Gharânatî al-Andalusî,[3] better known as Abû Hayyân Al Gharnâti was a Muslim commentator on the Quran. He has earned near universal recognition as the foremost Arabic grammarian of his era.[4][5] He is also notable as the only known Arabic linguist to have taken a strong interest in languages other than Arabic, authoring a number of works both on comparative linguistics and extensively analyzing and explaining the grammars of other languages for native speakers of Arabic.[6]


Early life

He was born in Spain in November of 1256,[4][7] to a family of Berber origins.[8][9] Gharnati's place of birth has been a matter of dispute, with historians having placed it both as Jaén and Granada, from which his appellation "Gharnati" was taken.[10] Because Jaén was a dependency of Granada at the time, it is possible that there is no conflict between the two appellations.

Gharnati was considered tall, and he kept his hair long. In old age, his beard and hair turned grey but he was generally described with handsome features.[10]


At a young age, Gharnati left Spain and traveled extensively for the sake of his studies.[4][10] Within Spain, he traveled to Málaga, Almería before moving on through Ceuta, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, Damietta, Minya, Kush and ‘Aydhab in Africa.[3][10] Eventually, he reached Mecca for the sake of the Muslim pilgrimage and visited Medina before returning to Alexandria. Gharnati memorized the entirety of the famous Kitab of Sibawayh by heart; it was the first treatise ever written on Arabic grammar, and Gharnati held is as much an authority within the Arabic language as are Hadith, or the recorded statements of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, in Islamic law.[11]

Gharnati 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 held positive views of Gharnati.[12]


After traveling to Mamluk Egypt, Gharnati was appointed as a lecturer of the science of Qur'anic exegesis at the college named after Mamluk Sultan Al Mansur Qalawun in Alexandria.[13] Later, he also spent a period teaching the same subject in the Mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo.[4][11]

Gharnati was also favored in the court of Al-Nasir Muhammad; he and Fatḥ al-Din Ibn Sayyid al-Nās were often the presiding "judges" during poetic contests during al-Nasir's reign.[14] When Gharnati's daughter Nudhar died, he received special permission for her body to be interred at his family's property rather than a formal cemetery.[10] Permission for such burials were not typically granted, though Gharnati's standing with the royal court allowed the bereaved father his request. Gharnati composed an elegy praising his daughter's standing among the era's intellectual circles,[15] indicating the extent that her death affected him.


Gharnati died on a Saturday in July in the year 1344 in his home in Cairo,[4][7] just after the last evening prayer.[16] He was buried the next day in the cemetery of Ban al-Nasr in Islamic Cairo. When news of his death reached Damascus, the general public mourned his death due to his renown.[16]


Gharnati was known for his preference for the Zahirite rite within Sunni Islam,[17] though it has also been claimed that he later switched over to the Shafi'ites.[18] Gharnati himself denied switching to the Shafi'ite or any other view when asked toward the end of his life in Egypt, claiming that anyone who had known the Zahirite school could never leave it.[19]

He was known as a critic of Sufism, especially of Sufi metaphysics such as Ibn Arabi, Hallaj, Ibn al-Farid, Ibn Sab'in and Shushtari, all of whom Gharnati regarded as impious heretics.[5] Gharnati saw his criticism of Sufism as a defense of laymen Muslims who might unwittingly follow it, a position with which most of the Muslim scholars of Andalus agreed.[20]

In regard to the Arabic language, Gharnati was fond of the views of fellow Zahirite and Andalusian Ibn Maḍāʾ. Like Ibn Mada, Gharnati denied the existence of linguistic causality, instead holding the view that language, like all other things, is caused by God.[21] His suspicion of Arabic grammarians was from a theological standpoint, just as those "eastern grammarians" supported linguistic causality from their own opposing, yet still Muslim, standpoints.

In regard to the Turkish language, Gharnati entered Egypt under the rule of Mamluks and regarded their dialect as the most superior form of the language. He was apparently also familiar with the Kipchak and Turkmen varieties, but considered them inferior to the primary dialect as it had evolved in Mamluk Egypt.[22]


Gharnati's prowess in both the religious and linguistic fields has been noted. He was referred to as the king of his age in grammar, having known no rival during his lifetime.[10] For that reason, historians have alternated between referring to him as Abu Hayyan "al-Gharnati" (the man from Granada) and Abu Hayyan "al-Nahwi" (the grammarian). Additionally, he was considered an expert in the fields of Prophetic tradition, historiography and Islamic law.

Gharnati'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."[11] His approach to grammar has been described by Brill's Encyclopedia of Islam as remarkably modern, and Gharnati's respect for facts and unusual objectivity have also been noted.[11]


The total number of works attributed to Gharnati was 65, though today only 15 of those survive.[11] Gharnati is famous for his book in explaining the linguistic meanings of Quran, called "al-Bahr al-Muheet," which was composed toward the end of his life.[23] The voluminous book's composition was aided by Al Mansur. The work is extraordinarily rich in non-canonical Qira'at or variant readings of the Qur'an, some of which were not contained in any prior commentaries.[24]

Gharnati was also one of several grammarians to compose a commentary on Ibn Malik's Alfiya,[7][25] a seminal work in the field of Arabic grammar. Gharnati was also distinguished among Arab linguists by his interest in other languages, having also authored works on the grammars of Amharic, Berber, Mongolian and Turkish.[6] Aside from him, virtually all other well-known linguists of the Arabic language showed almost no interest in other languages, and in many cases considered all other languages inferior.[26] Gharnati would often illuminate Arabic grammatical concepts by quoting from other languages.[11] He wrote Kitab al-Idrak li-Lisan al-Atrak[27] a book on the Turkish language.


  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. 3.0 3.1 "Names of Zahiri Scholars".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 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. 5.0 5.1 Alexander D. Knysh, Ibn Arabi in the Later Islamic Tradition. Pg. 168. State University of New York Press: Albany, 1999.
  6. 6.0 6.1 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. 7.0 7.1 7.2 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. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 "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.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 Encyclopedia 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.
  12. 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
  13. Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, trs. Pascual de Gayangos y Arce, pg. 423.
  14. 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
  15. Extraordinary Women of Al-Andalus. Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain. Unity Productions Foundation: 2007.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Ahmed Mohammed al-Maqqari, trns. by Pascual de Gayangos y Arce. Pg. 425.
  17. al-Maqrizi, al-Muqni al-Kabir, vol. 7, pg. 505.
  18. 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
  19. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, al-Durar al-Kamina, vol. 4, pg. 304.
  20. Knysh, pg. 169.
  21. Michael Carter, "The Andalusian Grammarians," pg. 39.
  22. Versteegh, Arabic, pg. 169.
  23. 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.
  24. 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
  25. Aryeh Levin, Arabic Linguistic Thought and Dialectology. Pg. 347. The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation/Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Jerusalem, 1998. Printed by Academon Press.
  26. Versteegh, Arabic, pg. 106.
  27. Davidson, Alan (1983). Food in Motion. Oxford Symposium. p. 13. ISBN 9780907325154.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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