Abū Ṭālib Imaam 'Abd al-Muṭṭalib (c.549 - c.619) MP

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Nicknames: "أبو طالب بن عبد المطلب"
Birthplace: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Death: Died in Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Cause of death: Old Age
Managed by: Ali Kazim Gardezi
Last Updated:

About Abū Ṭālib Imaam 'Abd al-Muṭṭalib

Abū Ṭālib (ʿImrān) b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib (d. ten years after the advent of Islam, December 619 or January 620) was the father of Imam ʿAlī and the paternal uncle of the Prophet Muḥammad. He was a defender of the Prophet in the early years following the advent of the prophetic mission (biʿtha).

Most of what the extant narratives say about Abū Ṭālib's life has been a constant subject of debate and controversy. A major part of the dispute arises from the fact that Abū Ṭālib, as the father of ʿAlī and as the great forefather of all the Ṭālibids, was given a special place in the prolonged propaganda campaign conducted against the ʿAlids in the early centuries of Islam. In particular, the ʿAbbāsids, having assumed the caliphate, diligently followed a specific plan in order to legitimise their rule. This was because unlike Abū Ṭālib's household, their own forefathers had not played a distinguished role in the foundation of Islam as a faith and as a state (for further explanations q.v. ʿAlī b. ʿAbd Allāh b. al-ʿAbbās). Through raising questions about the formal status of his ‘faith’ (īmān) and by propagating certain favoured reports, the ʿAbbāsids sought to tarnish Abū Ṭālib's reputation and diminish the significance of the assistance that he gave ¶ the Prophet. Most of the theological discussions about the faith of Abū Ṭālib in subsequent centuries revolved around these same accounts (see below).

Abū Ṭālib was a son of ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, who was the leading elder of the Hāshimid branch of the Quraysh in Mecca. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib seems to have had more affection for Abū Ṭālib than for his other sons (Ibn Isḥāq, 33). His brother was ʿAbd Allāh, the father of the Prophet Muḥammad, and their mother Fāṭima bint ʿAmr b. ʿĀʾidh was also a descendant of Hāshim (Ibn Isḥāq, 33, 69, 150; see also al-Zubayrī, 17; Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, 455). He is thus held to be the first person whose parents were both Hāshimids (Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, 262).

According to some early accounts, Abū Ṭālib's name was ʿAbd Manāf (Ibn Isḥāq, 69; al-Zubayrī, 17; Ibn al-Kalbī, 28; al-Sadūsī, 15; Ibn Ḥabīb, ‘Kunā al-shuʿarāʾ’, 281) though in some less well-known ones, he is called ʿImrān or Shayba (Ibn Taymiyya, 3/404; al-Baghdādī, 2/75). However, some of the early accounts emphasised that Abū Ṭālib was his actual name and not his kunya (al-Ḥākim al-Nīsābūrī, 184). The fact that Manāf was also the name of a famous idol has been also been linked to the theological issue of the faith of the Prophet's household and his forefathers who, according to the Shiʿis, were all monotheists, even before the advent of the Prophetic mission (e.g. see al-Mufīd, Awāʾil al-maqālāt, 8). It was therefore always stressed that the kunya of Abū Ṭālib was also his name (al-Majlisī, 40/162), or that he was called ʿImrān (for further discussion, see Qazwīnī Rāzī, 516, 518; Ibn ʿInaba, 20; see also al-Masʿūdī, 2/109, 283). At the same time, at the end of a pact drawn up during the time of the Prophet's mission and thought to have been written by ʿAlī, the latter's signature appears—contrary to grammatical rules—as ʿAlī b. Abū Ṭālib, whereas it should have been ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (see ¶ al-Balādhurī, Futūḥ al-buldān, 60). This gave rise to debates about whether ‘Abū Ṭālib’ was a name or a kunya, since if it was the kunya it should have appeared as ‘ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib’. Al-Zamakhsharī (p. 12), however, upheld this form for the signature in grammatical terms (see also Ibn Shahrāshūb, 1/325; cf. Ibn ʿAsākir, 60, ‘Ḥāshiya’ D, where, on the same grounds, he expressed doubts about the authenticity of the pact; regarding certain codices attributed to ʿAlī with the same signature see Ibn ʿInaba, 20; cf. al-Majlisī, 48/309; for the connection between this issue and the styles of kūfic script, see al-Majlisī, 35/138). It should also be said that Abū Ṭālib is thought to have had a son by the name of Ṭālib who left no progeny (Ibn al-Kalbī, 30; Ibn Saʿd, 1/121–122; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/295; Ibn Qutayba, 120). However, what the sources say about Ṭālib's situation is complex and highly ambiguous and his destiny appears very vague (Ibn Saʿd, 1/122; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/296–297; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/439). Given the contentious nature of the reports concerning the question of Abū Ṭālib's sons, one is justified in being suspicious of this report, particularly in light of the fact that in a narrative transmitted on the authority of Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq about Abū Ṭālib's sons no mention is made of one called Ṭālib (al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/296). The report of Ṭālib's forced presence—like that of al-ʿAbbās—among the disbelievers at the battle of Badr, and the poem attributed to him on the same subject is likewise highly dubious (Ibn Hishām, 2/258–259; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/439).

It is clear that with rare exceptions, the information on Abū Ṭālib derives from the biographies of the Prophet (the sīra literature) concerning the periods before and after the initiation of Muḥammad's mission. After ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib's death, Abū Ṭālib looked after Muḥammad, who was under ten years old (al-Zuhrī, 40; Ibn Isḥāq, 70; al-Yaʿqūbī, 2/14). He ¶ was so fond of Muḥammad that he never parted from him (Ibn Saʿd, 1/119), and according to some narratives he even took him with him in a commercial caravan bound for al-Shām (Ibn Isḥāq, 70, 73; Ibn Saʿd, 1/153; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/277; see also al-Zuhrī, 40). He also, by some accounts, broached the subject of marriage to Khadīja on Muḥammad's behalf (Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, 78; for the speech attributed to him, see al-Yaʿqūbī, 2/20; al-Kulaynī, 5/374; al-Mufīd, Risāla fī al-mahr, 29). Abū Ṭālib's support for Muḥammad increased after he declared his Prophetic mission, and on a number of occasions he confronted the Quraysh in the Prophet's defence (Ibn Isḥāq, 147–152; Ibn Hishām, 1/287; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/288; see also al-Sadūsī, 15). His assistance was at times also extended to those who had recently converted to Islam (Ibn Isḥāq, 146; Ibn Hishām, 2/8, 10–11). There are even accounts that say he encouraged the Prophet to persevere in spreading Islam (Ibn Isḥāq, 154; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/326). In addition, Abū Ṭālib's sons ʿAlī and Jaʿfar were amongst the first converts to Islam.

After the disbelievers prohibited the Prophet and his Muslim followers from having any contact with the other Meccans, they declared the articles of their boycott and fixed a signed document of it to the walls of the Kaʿba. Seeking to prevent any aggression against his nephew, Abū Ṭālib gathered the Muslims together, along with a number of others from ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib's household, in a place near the Masjid al-Ḥarām called Shiʿb which was apparently associated with him (Ibn Isḥāq, 159; Ibn Hishām, 1/376; Mūsā b. ʿUqba, 81–82; for the location of Shiʿb see Qāḍī ʿAskar, 149 ff.; Qāʾidān, 99–100). Fearing an attempt on Muḥammad's life, Abū Ṭālib ordered one of his sons or one of the Prophet's paternal cousins to sleep in his bed (ʿUrwa b. Zubayr, 114; Mūsā b. ʿUqba, 82). After a period of great hard-¶ ship, reported to have lasted three years, the Prophet said to Abū Ṭālib: ‘I have been informed by Heaven that the [original scroll] of the Quraysh agreement has been eaten up by termites and no writing has been left on it except the name of God.’ After this event, Abū Ṭālib emphasised his nephew's veracity and sincerity (ʿUrwa b. Zubayr, 115; Ibn Saʿd, 1/209–210). According to Ibn Isḥāq, Abū Ṭālib said to the Prophet: ‘Your Lord is indeed the true God, and I bear witness that you speak the truth’ (p. 161: ‘inna rabbak al-ḥaqq wa anā ashhadu annaka ṣādiq’). Abū Ṭālib died some time later, most probably in Ramaḍān or Shawwāl, ten years after the start of the Prophetic mission (December 619 or January 620), during the ‘Year of Sorrow’. It was said that he was over eighty years old at the time of his death (al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/289; Ibn Saʿd, 1/125; al-Baghdādī, 2/76; for various reports concerning his death and its date, see Ibn Isḥāq, 254; Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, 11; al-Yaʿqūbī, 2/35; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/343; al-Kulaynī, 1/440). His body was laid to rest in the cemetery in Mecca at the foot of Mount al-Ḥajūn (al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/289; for further information see Qāʾidān, 113, 116). According to various pieces of historical evidence, before its destruction by the Wahhābis (see Haykal, 223), his tomb was in a separate shrine (buqʿa) and a burial chamber (ḍarīḥ) (Ḥusām al-Salṭana, 126; Muḥammad Walī Mīrzā, 260; Muʿtamid al-Dawla, 218; Nāʾib al-Ṣadr Shīrāzī, 157; for a precise description of his burial chamber, see Mīrzā Dāwūd, 147–148).

Abū Ṭālib held a special place among the Qurayshīs (al-Balādhurī, 2/288; see also al-Sadūsī, 15) and was known as one of the ḥukkām, or leading figures of the Quraysh (Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Muḥabbar, 132). Some of the sources say that he made a living selling perfumes and wheat (Ibn Qutayba, 575), and as mentioned above, he undertook commercial ventures to al-Shām. However, ¶ according to other accounts, his situation was penurious (Ibn Saʿd, 1/119; see also al-Yaʿqūbī, 2/14), and he was forced to borrow money for two years from his brother al-ʿAbbās in order to meet his responsibility for siqāya, that is, providing drinking water for pilgrims at the Kaʿba. Eventually he handed over this responsibility to his brother in exchange for cancelling his debt (al-Maqdisī, 4/129; for further information see Thaʿlab, 1/29–30), and according to other reports, he put some of his children in the care of others on account of his poverty (Ibn Hishām, 1/263; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/313). However, given that in his letter to Muḥammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya in around 145/762, the ʿAbbāsid al-Manṣūr explicitly raises the subject of Abū Ṭālib's poverty and the help that al-ʿAbbās gave him (see al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 7/571), it is unclear to what degree these stories of Abū Ṭālib's penury are in fact related to the propaganda war between the ʿAbbāsids and the Ṭālibids concerning their respective ancestries.

An important theological issue has developed around the status of the faith of Abū Ṭālib. This is rooted in numerous narratives that have significant differences of detail. The fact that these narratives pertain to the earliest period of Islam demonstrates the long history of the subject of Abū Ṭālib's faith. According to the majority of these accounts, even as his death approached, Abū Ṭālib not only did not convert to Islam but insistently upheld the beliefs of his forefathers (e.g. see Ibn Isḥāq, 237–238; Ibn Hishām, 1/264; Ibn Saʿd, 1/123). Even the saying of Abū Jahl, in which he evades professing Islam (see al-Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, 23/149–150; al-Ṭūsī, 8/543), has been attributed to Abū Ṭālib in a narrative attributed to Ibn al-ʿAbbās (Abū Yaʿlā, 4/455–456). In a few of these dubious narratives about Abū Ṭālib's lack of faith, a particular role is given to al-ʿAbbās who, it should be remembered, only converted after the conquest of Mecca ¶ (for further information q.v. ‘al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib’; Ibn Isḥāq, 238; Ibn Hishām, 2/59; Ibn Saʿd, 1/124; Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, 1/206; Muslim, 1/194–195). Some of the narratives on this subject even refer to verses in the Qurʾān which they say deny Abū Ṭālib had any faith in Islam and prohibit the Prophet from asking God to forgive him (Ibn Isḥāq, 238; al-Bukhārī, 2/98, 5/208, 8/18; Ibn Saʿd, 1/124; Muslim, 1/54; al-Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, 2/325; idem, Tafsīr, 7/228; al-Wāḥidī, 228; al-Suyūṭī, 3/282, 5/134; cf. al-Khunayzī, 303 ff.). Some of these narratives mitigate Abū Ṭālib's punishment in view of his efforts to help the Prophet (see, for example, Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, 1/290, 3/9, 50, 55; Ibn Abī Shayba, 8/94; Abū Yaʿlā, 12/53). According to other unreliable accounts, ʿAlī was reluctant to bury his father and was eventually ordered to do so by the Prophet (Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, 1/103, 131; Ibn Abī Shayba, 3/155, 228; see also Ibn Saʿd, 1/124; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/228). Unsurprisingly, a number of these fabricated narratives were narrated by the ʿAbbāsid transmitters (rijāl) such as ʿAbd Allāh b. al-Ḥārith b. Nawfal (Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, 1/206; Muslim, 1/194–195; Ibn Saʿd, 1/124; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/290), and as illustrated by Ibn al-Muʿtazz's boast in a verse of poetry (see Ibn Shākir, 4/165; Ibn Ḥajar, 4/115), the ʿAbbāsids sought to place the ranks of their forefathers high above Abū Ṭālib. Some of these narratives were also the result of Umayyad hostility, specifically towards ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (Zaryāb, 178–179; see also al-ʿĀmilī, 4/62). It must not be forgotten that both the text and the transmission chains of some of these narratives were the subject of intense technical criticism in the medieval Islamic period (al-Dhahabī, 232, 236). Although the issue of the faith of Abū Ṭālib at first had political dimensions, there was theological discussion on the matter between different schools of thought throughout the centuries. Despite ¶ accepting the validity of his efforts to defend the Prophet, some people either refused to accept his faith or had doubts about it (for further information see Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, 14/65 ff.; see also al-Jāḥiẓ, al-ʿUthmāniyya, 304). It is also worth noting that in a narrative that seeks to prove that Abū Ṭālib never became a Muslim, a role was given to Abū Bakr. It is claimed that the latter's father, Abū Quḥāfa, died a Muslim (Ibn Isḥāq, 233). Ibn Taymiyya (8/245) did not accept the claim that Abū Ṭālib became a Muslim. This report insisted that Abū Quḥāfa took precedence over Abū Ṭālib and implied that the latter's support of the Prophet was purely born of family ties (Ibn Taymiyya, 7/384, 8/500; for similar opinions by contemporary authors see Muʾnis, 291; Watt, 119). Shiʿi sources, in contrast, transmit narratives from Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (e.g. see al-Kulaynī, 1/448, 449; Ibn Bābawayh, 286) and severely criticise some of the doubtful narratives while presenting alternative arguments (see below); in so doing, they present a strong affirmation of Abū Ṭālib's faith in Islam (al-Mufīd, Risāla fī al-mahr, 29; Qazwīnī Rāzī, 512–513; al-Ṭabrisī, 7/448; see also Aḥmad Nāṣir, 199–200). The confirmation of the faith of Abū Ṭālib has even been the subject of treatises by Imāmī scholars throughout the centuries (for a list of these works see Āqā Buzurg, 2/512–514). Over forty treatises have been identified on this subject (see Qurbānī Zarrīn, 53–58), with the most well known among them being Īmān Abī Ṭālib (Qumm, 1413/1992) by al-Shaykh al-Mufīd and al-Ḥujja ʿalā al-dhāhib ilā takfīr Abī Ṭālib (Najaf, 1351/1932) by al-Fakhkhār b. Maʿadd al-Mūsawī (d. 630/1233) (for references to other treatises on this by Imāmī scholars, see Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, 14/83; Ibn Ḥajar, 4/115). Among contemporary works it is important to mention ʿAbd Allāh al-Khunayzī's work entitled Abū Ṭālib muʾmin Quraysh.

Among other important facts about Abū Ṭālib are the many poems attrib-¶ uted to him regarding the events both before and after the prophetic mission. These verses are extensively cited in Ibn Isḥāq's early accounts (see Ibn Isḥāq, 35, 76, 77, 78, 148–149, 153, 157, 163; see also Ibn Hishām, 2/11). Examples of his poetry are also cited in other early sources (e.g. see al-Sadūsī, 15; Mūsā b. ʿUqba, 84–85; Ibn Ḥabīb, al-Munammaq, 371; al-Balādhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, 2/288, 291, 292–293; Abū al-Faraj, 9/63; for his poem composed during the battle of Badr, see al-Wāqidī, 1/69–70; Abū al-Faraj, 4/192). Many of these verses bear witness to Abū Ṭālib's faith, and this is one of the main reasons why they are extensively cited in the sources (al-Kulaynī, 1/448–449; Ibn Sharāshūb, 1/22, 51, 55, 59, 60 et passim; Qazwīnī Rāzī, 510–511; al-Karājakī, 75; see also Aḥmad Nāṣir, 197, 198–199, 215; Ibn Abī al-Ḥadīd, 14/71–78). These verses attributed to Abū Ṭālib are also occasionally cited in literary and grammatical discussions (e.g. see Sībawayh, 1/111, 3/260–261; al-Jāḥiẓ, al-Bayān, 3/22). The authenticity of the attribution of these poems to Abū Ṭālib has been the subject of some debate. For instance, Ibn Sallām al-Jumaḥī refers to Abū Ṭālib as a poet of beautiful words but, while praising his famous Lāmiyya ode (qaṣīda) in praise of the Prophet, he claims that some of its verses were added later (p. 60; see also ʿAlī, 9/700; Sezgin, II/273–274; for a discussion of the verses attributed to him, see Sprenger, 289; Nöldeke, 223). Nevertheless, there are enough verses attributed to Abū Ṭālib for some writers to have compiled them in collections. Abū Hiffān al-Mihzamī, a well-known transmitter of poetry in the middle of the 3rd/9th century, is known to have collected these verses in a book entitled Shiʿr Abī Ṭālib (for a description of an early MS of this work in Leipzig, see Nöldeke, 220). Over a century later, ʿAlī b. Ḥamza al-Baṣrī (d. 375/985) began collecting poetry attributed to Abū Ṭālib, mainly with the intention of proving his faith ¶ (al-Baghdādī, 2/76). Abū Ṭālib's poetry was first published in Najaf (1356/1937) under the title of Dīwān shaykh al-abāṭiḥ Abī Ṭālib. The verses attributed to him in various works were also compiled and published with a comprehensive introduction about Abū Ṭālib by Bāqir Qurbānī Zarrīn entitled al-Durra al-gharrāʾ fī shiʿr shaykh al-baṭḥāʾ (Tehran, 1374 Sh./1995).

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Citation Bahramian, Ali; Negahban, Farzin. " Abū Ṭālib (ʿImrān) b. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib." Encyclopaedia Islamica. Editors-in-Chief: Wilferd Madelung and, Farhad Daftary. Brill Online , 2013. Reference. Jim Harlow. 15 January 2013 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopaedia-islamica/abu-talib-imran-b-abd-al-muttalib-SIM_0219>

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Abū Ṭālib (ʿImrān) bin Imaam 'Abd al-Muṭṭalib's Timeline

Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Age 39
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Age 39
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Age 41
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
October 23, 598
Age 49
Mecca, Arabia
March 17, 599
Age 50
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Age 70
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Age 70
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Mecca, Saudi Arabia