Ahl al-Qur’ān: A Look at the Remarkable Imāms That Brought Us the Qur’ān

The Ten Imams and their Transmitters

by Dr Abu Zayd

Imām Ibn ‘Āmir al-Shāmī (d 118H): Abū ‘Imrān ‘Abdullah b. ‘Āmir b. Yazīd b. Tamīm al-Yaḥṣabī was born in the northern region of Jordan in the year 8H (in the lifetime of the Prophet) and migrated with his family at the age of ten to Syria, one of the promising new Muslim lands. He lived his entire live in Damascus, the Muslim capitol, where he learned from and was trained by the wealth of Companions who flooded those lands, including Mu‘āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān, al-Nu‘mān b. Bashīr, Abu’l-Dardā’ and others. He excelled in the knowledge of the Qurʼān and became the Imām of the Umayyad Mosque during the time of ‘Umar b. ‘Abdu’l-‘Azīz and later the chief judge (Qāḍī) of the capitol. Among the Imāms of recitation, he has the highest chain of narrators to the Prophet. The scholar Ibn Mujāhid who first documented the seven readings wrote that the reading of Ibn ‘Āmir was the dominant one in Syria and the Arabian peninsula in his day. Ibn al-Jazarī confirmed that the people of Syria remained exclusively upon this reading until the sixth century. He died in Damascus in the year 118 on the day of ‘Āshūrā at the age of 110. Today his reading lives on in portions of Yemen.

Hishām (d. 245H): Abu’l-Walīd Hishām b. ‘Ammār b. Naṣīr b. Maysarah al-Damishqī al-Sulamī was born in 153H and was a notable scholar of Qurʼān, ḥadīth and fiqh in Syria. He had many notable teachers and narrated ḥadīth from Imām Mālik and Sufyān b. ‘Uyaynah among others. He students included Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim b. al-Salām and al-Tirmidhī among others. His narrations are accepted by al-Bukhārī and most authors of the canonical texts of ḥadīth. He died in Damascus in 245H.

Ibn Dhakwān (d 242H): Abū ‘Amr ‘Abdullah b. Aḥmad b. Bishr b. Dhakwān al-Qurashī al-Fahrī was born in 173H and was the Imām of the Umayyad Mosque in his time. His teachers included Imām al-Kisā’ī and his students who transmitted his reading included his son Aḥmad among others. He died in Damascus in 242H.

Imām Ibn Kathīr al-Makkī (d 120H): Abū Ma‘bad ‘Abdullah b. Kathīr b. ‘Umar al-Makkī al-Dārī was born in Makkah in 45H and met a number of the Companions, including Ibn al-Zubayr, Abū Ayyūb al-Anṣārī, and Anas b. Mālik. It is said he was from the same southern Arabian tribe as the Companion Tamīm al-Dārī. He learned the Qurʼān from ‘Abdullah b. al-Sā’ib the student of Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Mujāhid b. Jabr and Darbās the servant and student of Ibn ‘Abbās. He was known to be extremely eloquent and proficient in the Arabic language. Imām Abū ‘Amr al-Baṣrī(d 154H) recited to Ibn Kathīr after he finished reciting to Mujāhid and remarked that he found Ibn Kathīr to be more proficient in Arabic than Mujāhid. He was described as being tall, having blue eyes and a full white beard. He was considered the undisputed Imām of recitation in Makkah until his death in 120H. His funeral was witnessed by many, including his student Sufyān b. ‘Uyaynah. Imām al-Shāfi‘ī used to recite the reading of Ibn Kathīr.

Al-Buzzī (d 250H): Abu’l-Ḥasan Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. Abdullah b. al-Qāsim b. Nāfi‘ b. Abū Buzzah al-Makkī was born in 170H and was the mu’adhdhin of Masjid al-Ḥaram in Makkah and the leading recitor of Makkah during his time. His teachers included his father among many others. It should be noted that he was not a direct student of Ibn Kathīr but was nonetheless identified as on the two transmitters of his reading by Ibn Mujāhid and others. He was one of the narrators of the ḥadīth that mentions the practice of reciting takbīr (Allah akbar) in the ending chapters of the Qurʼān beginning with al-Ḍuḥā. He died in Makkah at the age of eighty in the year 250H.

Qunbul (d 291H): Abū ‘Amr Muḥammad b. ‘Abdu’l-Raḥmān b. Khālid al-Makhzumī al-Makkī was born in 195H and became known as a leading recitor of the Ḥijāz and was among the teachers of Ibn Mujāhid (d 324H). He also was not a direct student of Ibn Kathīr but is considered one of his transmitters. He became the leading authority in Qurʼān in the Ḥijāz during his lifetime and became extremely popular and well-renowned. He stopped teaching seven years before his death due to old age and illness. He died at the age of 96 in the year 291H in Makkah.

Imām Abū ‘Amr al-Baṣrī (d 154H): Abū ‘Amr Zabbān b. al-‘Ulā’ b. al-‘Uryān b. ‘Abdillah al-Tamīmī al-Māzinī al-Baṣrī was the great Imām and renowned authority in Arabic language and Qurʼānic recitation, born in Makkah in the year 68 and raised in Baṣrah. He began his studies at a young age and studied in Makkah, Madīnah, Kūfah and Baṣrah from a large number of teachers, including the Companion Anas b. Mālik, the Followers Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, Abu’l-‘Āliyah and Sa‘īd b. Jubayr, the Imāms of Qirā’ah ‘Āṣim b. Abu’l-Najūd and Ibn Kathīr al-Makkī, as well as many others. He was a man of learning who delved deeply into many fields, including qirā’āt, Arabic language, poetry, and genealogy, and his library of books and personal notes filled his house to the ceiling. Once Ḥasan al-Baṣrī passed by his teaching circle, flooded by students, and remarked, “Lā ilaha illallah! The scholars have almost become like gods today. Indeed every great person, if not fortified through knowledge, is reduced to a state of degradation.” He spent most of his time teaching Qurʼān in the main masjid of Baṣrah. Yūnus b. Ḥabīb said of him, “If there is anyone who deserves that his opinion be accepted in all matters, it would be Abū ‘Amr b. al-‘Ulā’.” He was devoted to worship as well, and for a long period of his life continually completed the recitation of the Qurʼān every three days. His ring contained an engraving of a verse of poetry- If the greatest concern for a man be this world, he has gripped the rope of delusion. The great Imām of Qirā’ah Shu‘bah b. ‘Ayyāsh advised a student to hold onto to the Qirā’ah of Abū ‘Amr predicting that it would become predominant among the people. Centuries later, Ibn al-Jazarī confirmed that the prediction of Shu‘bah had materalized, with the predominant mode of reading in the bulk of the Muslim world at Ibn al-Jazarī’s time, including Arabia, Yemen, Syria and Egypt was the Qirā’ah of Abū ‘Amr. His students were many, and included the grammarian al-Sībawayh. He died in 154H in Kūfah. Upon his death, Yūnus b. Ḥabīb remarked, “We express our condolences for the passing of the one we will not see his likeness until the end of time. By Allah, if the knowledge and zuhd of Abū ‘Amr were to distributed among a hundred men, each of them would be full scholars and worshippers. If the Prophet were to see Abū ‘Amr he would be well pleased with him.”

Al-Dūrī (d 246H): Abū ‘Amr Ḥafṣ b. ‘Umar b. ‘Abdu’l-‘Azīz al-Dūrī (derived from a place near Baghdād) was born in 195H and despite being blind, excelled in the knowledge of Qurʼān. He learned from Ismā‘īl b. Ja‘far, a student of Imām Nāfi‘; Ismā‘īl’s brother Ya ‘qūb b. Ja‘far, a student of Ibn Jimāz who in turn was a student of Imām Abū Ja‘far; Abū Bakr al-Shu‘bah the student of Imām ‘Āṣim; and others. He is a transmitter of the reading of Abū ‘Amr through his student Yaḥyā b. al-Mubārak al-Yazīdī.

Al-Sūsī (d 261H): Abū Shu‘ayb Ṣāliḥ b. Ziyād b. ‘Abdullah al-Sūsī was born in 171H and was among the teachers of Imām al-Nasā’ī. He died close to seventy years of age in 261H. He is also a transmitter of the reading of Abū ‘Amr through his student Yaḥyā b. al-Mubārak al-Yazīdī.

Imām Nāfi‘ al-Madanī (d 169H): Originally from Isfahān, Abū Abdu’l-Raḥmān Nāfi‘b. Abdu’l-Raḥmān b. Abī Na‘īm al-Laythī al-Madanī was a prominent Qurʼānic scholar and native of Madīnah who was a student of over seventy Successors, and the teacher of a greater number of illustrious personalities, including his two main transmitters Qālūn and Warsh and Imām Mālik b. Anas. He took his reading from the Successor Abū Ja‘far Yazīd b. al-Qa‘qā‘ who received it from Abū Hurayrah who took from Ubayy b. Ka‘b who took from the Prophet T. His reading became the predominant one in Madīnah. In fact, Imām Mālik would say that the recitation of the people of Madīnah is a Sunnah, and when asked if he meant the Qirā’ah of Imām Nāfi‘ he would reply in the affirmative. It was reported that this was Imām Aḥmad’s preferred reading as well. He taught Qurʼān exclusively for seventy odd years in Madīnah, including leading prayers in the Prophet’s Masjid for sixty years, and became known as the leading authority in Qirā’ah in Madīnah. He was described as being extremely handsome in appearance, with intensely black skin, of noble character with a sense of humor, and diligent in worship. When he spoke he would exhume the fragrance of musk from his mouth, and when questioned about that, replied that he saw the Prophet in a dream reciting Qurʼān into his mouth and from that point on he began to use fragrance. He was deemed reliable as a transmitter of ḥadīth, though he was not in the habit of doing so, such that there is not a single ḥadīth narrated from him in the six canonical works. He died in 169 or 170H in Madīnah having lived a lengthy and blessed life of devotion to the Qurʼān.

Imām Warsh (d 197H): Abū Sa‘īd ‘Uthmān b. Sa‘īd b. Abdullah al-Miṣrī, given the title Warsh by Imām Nāfi‘ due to his pale color, was born in Egypt in 110H, traveled to Madīnah to learn the Qurʼān from Nāfi‘ in 155H- with whom he completed several readings- and returned to become the leading authority in Qirā’ah in Egypt until his death in 197H.

Imām al-Azraq (d 240H): Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf b. ‘Amr Yasār al-Madanī al-Miṣrī was the leading student of Imām Warsh, with whom he spent many years and completed the Qurʼān some twenty times, and inherited the mantle of leadership upon his teacher’s demise.

Imām Qālūn (d 220H): Abū Mūsā ‘Īsā b. Mīnā b. Wardān b. ‘Īsā al-Zarqī, of Eastern European heritage, was a prominent student of Imām Nāfi‘ in Madīnah- spending more than twenty years with him- who gave him the title Qālūn due to his excellent recitation and would refer students to study with him in his own lifetime. He was also known for his knowledge of the Arabic language. His other teachers included ‘Īsā b. Wardān, one of the narrators of Imām Abū Ja‘far al-Madanī. His students included his two sons Ibrāhīm and Aḥmad as well as many others. He was described as being deaf to a great degree but could only hear the Qurʼān, and would be able to discern mistakes from the lips of his students. He died in Madīnah in the year 220H.

Imām ‘Āṣim al-Kūfī (d 127H): Abū Bakr ‘Āṣim b. Abi’l-Nujūd al-Asadī al-Kūfī was a prominent Successor (Tābi‘ī) and student of Abū Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sulamī (d 75H), Zirr b. Ḥubaysh (d 83H) and Abū ‘Amr al-Shaybānī. He relates that he would learn the Qurʼān from al-Sulamī and review it with Zirr b. Ḥubaysh, just as al-Sulamī would learn from ‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān and then review it with ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. His student Shu‘bah observed the astuteness of Imām ‘Āṣim in this practice since Zirr was in turn the student of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib and Ibn Mas‘ūd, and all of them the students of the Messenger of Allah T. Imām ‘Āṣim inherited the mantle of leadership in Qurʼānic recitation in Kūfah after the demise of al-Sulamī and became the Imām in his masjid. His students were many— including none other than Imām Abū Ḥanīfah (d 150H), al-A‘mash, Abū ‘Amr b. al-‘Alā’, and Ḥammād b. Zayd— but his two most prominent students were Shu‘bah b. ‘Ayyāsh and Ḥafṣ b. Sulaymān. He was known for his adherence to the Sunnah, his mastery of the Qurʼān and his eloquence and mastery over language. He was a trustworthy narrator of ḥadīth, and his narrations are found among the six canonical works. When ‘Abdullah the son of Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal asked his father about him, he replied, “He was a man who was pious, trustworthy and to be relied upon for his opinions.” When Imām Aḥmad was further asked which reading of the Qurʼān was dearest to him he replied, “The reading of the people of Madīnah, followed by the reading of ‘Āṣim.” He died in 127 H, and his last spoken words were verse 62 of Sūrah al-An‘ām— Then are men returned unto Allah, their protector, the (only) reality.

Imām Shu‘bah b. ‘Ayyāsh (d193H): Abū Bakr b. ‘Ayyāsh b. Sālim al-Asadī al-Kūfī was born in 95H and was a seller of wheat by trade. He was a devoted student of Imām ‘Āṣim, reciting to him three times. Those who narrated ḥadīth from him included Abū Dāwūd and Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal. He was an avid worshipper and was known to devote himself to the Qurʼān nightly for much of his life. On his deathbed, he consoled his weeping sister, “Do not grieve, for in this room I have finished the Qurʼān 18,000 times.” He stopped teaching Qurʼān seven years before he died in 193H in Kūfah.

Ḥafṣ (d 180H): Abū ‘Amr Ḥafṣ b. Sulaymān b. al-Mughīrah al-Asadī al-Kūfī was the main student of Imām ‘Āṣim (who happened to be his stepfather) and taught mostly in Kūfah but also in Makkah. He taught for a long period of his life and had numerous students, including ‘Amr b. al-Ṣabāḥ and ‘Ubayd b. al-Ṣabāḥ. He died close to 90 years old.

Imām Ḥamzah al-Kūfī (d 156H): Abū ‘Amārah Ḥamzah b. Ḥabīb b. ‘Amārah al-Zayyāt al-Kūfī al-Taymī was born 80H in the era of the Companions and in all likelihood must have seen a number of them. He became a renowned scholar in his lifetime with countless students and admirers, and the classical biographical and historical works are full of praise for him. His teachers included al-A‘mash, Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq and others. He was a merchant by trade, exporting oil from Kūfah to Ḥalwān and importing cheese and walnuts, but his business never impeded his knowledge and teaching but rather assisted him and strengthened his resolve. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah (d 150H) admitted to him, “There are two things you have overpowered us in, without dispute— that is the Qurʼān and the knowledge of rulings (al-farā’iḍ).” Serious students of knowledge would race to learn his Qirā’ah due to its precision and accuracy. Shu‘ayb b. Ḥarb would say to his students, “Why don’t you ask me about the pearl? It is the Qirā’ah of Ḥamzah. His teacher al-A‘mash would remark upon seeing him, “This is a scholar of the Qurʼān.” He was an extremely patient teacher and would teach Qurʼān to his students until they were satisfied as long as it took, and then he would begin to pray.  His students included Ibrāhīm b. Adham, Sufyān al-Thawrī, Shu‘ayb b. Ḥarb and Imām ‘Alī b. Ḥamzah al-Kisā’ī. His piety was legendary even during his lifetime, and Ibn Fuḍayl said of him, “In my estimation the only reason Allah has withheld tribulations from the people of Kūfah is due to Ḥamzah.” He died in 156H in Ḥalwān.

Khalaf (d. 229H): See biography below, since he also transmitted a reading of his own.

Khallād (d. 220H): Abū ‘Īsā Khallād b. Khālid al-Shaybānī al-Kūfī was a noted scholar of the Qurʼān who had many teachers and even more students. He died in Kūfah in 220H.

Imām al-Kisā’ī (d 189H): Abu’l-Ḥasan ‘Alī b. Ḥamzah b. ‘Abdullah b. Bahman b. Fayrūz al-Asadī al-Kisā’ī was of Persian descent born in rural ‘Irāq. His many teachers included Ḥamzah al-Kūfī, with whom he reviewed the Qurʼān four times, Muḥammad b. Abī Laylā, and ‘Īsā b. ‘Umar al-Hamdānī, all of whom were his primary teachers. He also learned portions of the readings from others including Abū Bakr b. ‘Ayyāsh and Qutaybah b. Mahrān. His students were many and included Abū ‘Ubayd al-Qāsim b. Sallām, Qutaybah b. Mahrān and his own son Abū Iyyās Hārūn b. ‘Alī. It should be noted that Qutaybah b. Mahrān was counted among his teachers as well as his students due to the fact that he was his companion for over fifty years, and both of them learned Qurʼān from each other. He excelled in the knowledge of Qurʼān as well as grammar. In fact, he is considered a foremost authority in Arabic grammar and Imām al-Shāfi‘ī remarked, “Whoever want to delve deep into grammar is dependent upon al-Kisā’ī.” His students were so numerous, he would often be forced to change his teaching style. He would gather them, sit on a chair and recite the entire Qurʼān from beginning to end, and they in turn would listen attentively and record every detail, down to the places where he stopped and began verses. He was also a companion of the Caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd, who held him in esteem and would often consult him and even recite to him. He even traveled to Syria to teach Qurʼān, where Ibn Dhakwān spent four months with him learning the Qurʼān. He was also a prolific author who wrote a number of beneficial works on the Qurʼān and other topics. He died in the year 189H at the age of seventy in the village of Aranbūyah.

al-Layth (d 240H): Abu’l-Ḥārith al-Layth b. Khālid al-Baghdādī was the primary student of Imām al-Kisā’ī.

al-Dūrī (d 246H): He was also the student of Abū ‘Amr [see previous bio].

Imām Abū Ja‘far al-Madanī (d 130H): Abū Ja‘far Yazīd b. al-Qa‘qā‘ al-Makhzūmī al-Madanī. He was a noted Successor who learned the Qurʼān from ‘Abdullah b. ‘Ayyāsh, Ibn ‘Abbās and Abū Hurayrah. When he was a child, he was brought to Umm Salamah who rubbed his head and supplicated for him. He went on to become an Imām of recitation in Madīnah. His students included Imām Nāfi‘ and Abū ‘Amr, his two sons Ismā‘īl and Ya‘qūb, and his daughter Maymūnah. He was devoted to worship and would fast on alternate days, and pray during the night with long chapters of the Qurʼān. At the conclusion of his nightly prayers, he would supplicate for himself and the Muslims, and especially for his students and all those who would recite by his reading before him and after him. Upon his death, his son-in-law Shu‘bah uncovered Abū Ja‘far to reveal to his family and students an image of a white compass upon his chest, and stated, “That is the light of the Qurʼān.” Another witness reported seeing an image of a page of the muṣḥaf upon his chest. He died in Madīnah in the year 130 during the reign of Marwān.

‘Īsā b. Wardān (d 160H): Abu’l-Ḥārith ‘Īsā b. Wardān al-Madanī was a student of Imām Abū Ja‘far as well as Nāfi‘ and a teacher of Qālūn among others. He died in Madīnah around the year 160H.

Sulaymān b. Jammāz (d 170H):Abu’l-Rabī‘Sulaymān b. Muslim b. Jammāz al-Zahrī al-Madanī was also a student of Imām Abū Ja‘far and Nāfi‘ and died in Madīnah after 170H.

Imām Ya‘qūb al-Baṣrī (d 205H): Abū Yūsuf Ya‘qūb b. Isḥāq b. Zayd al-Ḥaḍramī al-Baṣrī, he became the leader of Qurʼānic recitation in Baṣrah after the death of Abū ‘Amr. His chain reaches the Prophet through Abū Mūsā al-Ash‘arī. He read the Qurʼān to many teachers, including Mujāhid  and Imām Hamzah and al-Kisā’ī. He became an authority in Arab dialects, grammar and prose. He was originally considered to be among the seven Imāms of recitation until Ibn Mujāhid substituted his name for al-Kisā’ī. His piety and devotion were renowned. Once his cloak was stolen from his shoulders while in prayer and he did not notice, nor did he notice when it was later returned. His students included his nephew Zayd, Rūḥ, Ruways He died at the age of 88 (incidentally both his father and grandfather lived to 88 years) in the year 205H.

Ruways (d 238H): Abū ‘Abdullah Muḥammad b. al-Mutawakkil al-Lu’lu’ī al-Baṣrī was one of the primary students of Imām Ya‘qūb, completing the Qurʼān with him a number of times. He died in Baṣrah in 238H.

Rūḥ (d 235H): Abu’l-Ḥasan Rūḥ b. ‘Abdu’l-Mu’min al-Hadhlī al-Baṣrī was among the main students of Imām Ya‘qūb as well as learning from some of the students of Imām Abū ‘Amr. He had many students, including al-Bukhārī (d 256H). He died in 234 or 235H.

Imām Khalaf (d 229H): Abū Muḥammad Khalaf b. Hishām b. Tha‘lab b. Khalaf al-Asadī al-Baghdādī, born in 150H as a bright child who memorized the Qurʼān by the age of 10 and began pursuing advanced Islamic studies at the age of 13. He was a diligent and dedicated student and teacher. He used to employ scribes in his study to write manuscripts for him. He took the Qurʼān from many teachers, many of whom were students of the major Imāms of recitation. He is one of the narrators from Imām Hamzah through Sulaym, but also transmitted a reading of his own and is also known as Khalaf al-‘Āshir. He died in Baghdād in 229H.

Isḥāq (d 286H): Abū Ya‘qūb Isḥāq b. Ibrāhīm b. ‘Uthmān b. ‘Abdullah al-Marwazī al-Baghdādī was one of the scribes as well as student of Imām Hamzah.

Idrīs (d 292H): Abu’l-Ḥasan Idrīs b. Abdu’l-Karīm al-Ḥaddād al-Baghdādī was a student of Khalaf and a teacher of many, including Ibn Mujāhid. He died on the greatest day of the year- ‘Īd al-Aḍḥā, in 292H.

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