Abu Abdillah Ibrahim bin Muhammad bin 'Urfah bin Sulaiman bin al-Mughira bin Habib bin al-Muhallab bin Abi Sufra al-Azdi (Arabic: أبو عبد الله إبراهيم بن محمّد بن عرفة العَتَكيّ الأزديّ) better known as Niftawayh, was a Medieval Muslim scholar. He was considered to be the best writer of his time,[1] in addition to an expert in Muslim prophetic tradition and comparative readings of the Qur'an.[2]

TitleThe Grammarian
Born858 or 864
Died935 (aged 76–77)
Resting placeKufa
Main interest(s)Arabic grammar, Arabic literature
OccupationLinguist, Poet, Historian
Muslim leader
Influenced by


Niftawayh was born in Wasit in what is now Iraq.[3] His date of birth is most commonly held to be 858, though the year 864 has been suggested as well.[4] He spent most of his life in Baghdad, where he died on a Wednesday in the month of Safar just an hour after sunrise in the year 935.[5] He was buried at the gate of Kufa the next day.[4] His date of death carries some dispute as well, with some historians suggesting that he died in the year 936 on the same day as Abu Bakr Ibn Mujāhid.

He taught lexicography while in Baghdad.[5][6] He wrote a history book which, according to his student Al-Masudi, was considered to be one of the most useful of the time.[1]

Ibn Khalawayh holds that Niftawayh was the only Muslim scholar with the first name Ibrahim who had a son named Abdullah.[4] According to Tha'ālibī, Niftawayh was called for two reasons. First, his knowledge of the Arabic language was unparalleled in his time, as was Sibawayh's during his. Niftawayh possessed an intense interest in Sibawayh's works in grammar, to the point where the former was even referred to as the latter's son.[4] Second, his complexion was of a very dark color and his appearance was compared to asphalt, known as "nift."[2] Thus, the words "nift" and "wayh" were combined and he was known as "Niftawayh al-Nahwi," or Niftawayh the grammarian.


Niftawayh was a follower of the Zahirite rite of Muslim jurisprudence, having been a student of Dawud al-Zahiri.[7] He rejected analogical reason not only as a means for deriving religious verdicts, but also as a poetic device.[8] None of his works on religious topics are known to have survived to the modern era. Alongside Muhammad bin Dawud al-Zahiri, the son of his teacher in jurisprudence, Niftawayh was also a student of the canonical Qur'an reciter Al-Duri.[9]

Niftawayh held very positive views of the fifth Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid.[10] Niftawayh remarked on the caliph's support of theologians and artists, though he also noted that the caliph later regretted much of his own extravagance in regard to his court's spending. In contrast, he clashed with his contemporary Ibn Duraid, who had written the second dictionary of the Arabic language ever.[11] Niftawayh accused Ibn Duraid of merely plagiarizing the work of Al-Khalil ibn Ahmad al-Farahidi, who had written the first Arabic dictionary, Kitab al-'Ayn.[12][13]


Niftawayh was intensely disliked by the Mu'tazila, an ancient sect of Islam active during his life. While Sunnis and Mu'tazila were hostile to each other in general, Niftawayh's Zahirite views along with his methods in teaching grammar were, in the view of the Mu'tazila, of the "utmost ignorance."[14]



Abu Ali al-Kali quotes some verses which Niftawayh had written for an anonymous woman in Kali's own book al-Amali:[4]

My heart fixed on thee, is more tender than thy cheeks;
My strength is less than the power of thine eyes!
Why wilt thou not pity him whose soul is unjustly tortured,
and whom love inclineth towards thee with affection?


  1. ^ a b Al-Masudi's The Meadows of Gold, translated by Aloys Sprenger. Vol. 1, pg. 20. Printed for the Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. Sold by W.H. Allen and Co. (now Virgin Books), Leadenhall Street, and B. Duprat, Paris. Bibliotheca Regia Monacensis. London: Garrison and Co. Printers, St Martin's Lane.
  2. ^ a b Bencheikh, Omar. Nifṭawayh. Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Brill Online, 2013. Reference. Accessed 1 January 2013.
  3. ^ Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, translated by William McGuckin de Slane. Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland. Sold by Institut de France and Royal Library of Belgium. Vol. 1, pg. 26.
  4. ^ a b c d e Ibn Khallikan, vol. 1, pg. 27
  5. ^ a b Devin J. Stewart, "Muhammad b. Dawud al-Zahiri's Manual of Jurisprudence." Taken from Studies in Islamic Law and Society Volume 15: Studies in Islamic Legal Theory. Edited by Bernard G. Weiss. Pg. 114. Leiden: 2002. Brill Publishers.
  6. ^ John A Haywood, Arabic Lexicography. Leiden: 1965. Page 57. Brill Publishers.
  7. ^ Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Lisan al-Mizan. Vol. 5, pg. 173. Hyderabad: 1911.
  8. ^ Joseph Norment Bell, Love Theory in Later Hanbalite Islam. Pg. 27. SUNY Press. Albany: 1979
  9. ^ Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, trans. Franz Rosenthal. Vol. 1: General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, pg. 58. Albany: SUNY Press, 1989.
  10. ^ Arabian Nights, Vol. X. Pg. 121. Translated by Richard Francis Burton. Cosimo, Inc. New York: 2008.
  11. ^ John A. Haywood, "Arabic Lexicography." Taken from Dictionaries: An International Encyclopedia of Lexicography, pg. 2,441. Ed. Franz Josef Hausmann. Volume 5 of Handbooks of Linguistics & Communication Science, #5/3. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991. ISBN 9783110124217
  12. ^ Ramzi Baalbaki, "Kitab al-ayn and Jamharat al-lugha". Taken from Early Medieval Arabic: Studies on Al-Khalīl Ibn Ahmad, pg. 44. Ed. Karin C. Ryding. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998. ISBN 9780878406630
  13. ^ M.G. Carter, "Arabic Lexicography." Taken from Religion, Learning and Science in the 'Abbasid Period, pg. 112. Eds. M. J. L. Young, J. D. Latham and R. B. Serjeant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 9780521028875
  14. ^ Christopher Melchert, The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law, 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Introduction pg. xiv. Brill Publishers. Leiden: 1997.