Jahm bin Safwan

Jahm ibn Safwān (جهم بن صفوان) was an Islamic theologian who attached himself to Al-Harith ibn Surayj, a dissident in Khurasan towards the end of the Umayyad period, and who was put to death in 746 by Salim b. Ahwaz.[1]


He was born in Kufah, but settled down in Khurasān in Tirmidh. His birthyear is unknown, but he probably was born in the first century (hijrah). He learned under al-Ja'd b. Dirham, a theologian from Harran in Syria. al-Ja'd b. Dirham was a teacher of the last Umayyad Caliph, Marwan II, and is described as a Dahrî and Zindîq.[2] He was the first Muslim who spoke about the createdness of the Qur'ân, the rejection of Abraham's friendship to God and Moses' speaking to Him.[3] From al-Ja'd Jahm b. Safwān inherited some doctrines and would become the founder of the Jahmiyyah (see: Jahmites).[4]

Jahm eventually took work as the assistant of Al-Harith ibn Surayj during the latter's revolt against the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar. During the first attempt to take Merv in 746, Jahm was killed though the revolt greatly weakened Umayyad power and indirectly contributed to the success of the Abbasid Revolution.[5]


According to Jahm ibn Safwan only a few attributes can be predicated to God, such as creation, divine power and action whilst others such as speech cannot. Therefore, he believed that it was wrong to talk about the eternal word of the Qur'an, since God (according to Jahm) is not a speaker in the first place.[6]

Jahm had been an exponent of extreme determinism according to which a man acts only metaphorically in the same way in which the sun acts or does something when it sets.[7]


See also: Jahmi

Jahm's doctrines about God and His Attributes found a lot of adherence among the Mu'tazilah, who were named Jahmites by their adversaries. The Mu'tazilah are known because of their belief that the Qur'ān is created, a tenet wherein they agreed with Jahm. They were also characterized by their adversaries as deniers of God's Attributes in contradistinction of the affirmers from among the Sunnis.[7]


Jahm b. Safwān was heavily criticized and declared an unbeliever by the ahl al hadith, who were increasingly becoming affiliated to the Umayyad, and later on, Abbassid authorities . Early on, many scholars of Hadith wrote refutations of Jahm bin Safwan's doctrines, particularly Ahmad ibn Hanbal, al-Bukhari, and al-Darimi.[8] The latter also wrote a large refutation of a prominent Jahmite by the name of Bishr b. Ghiyāt al-Mārisî wherein he declared him a Kafir (an unbeliever).[9]

See also

Jahm left no writings, but many Muslim scholars of the past wrote about his doctrines and a few modern scholars wrote studies of him.[10] For Internet resources about him and his doctrines:


  1. Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam p.83, Leiden 1974
  2. Abdus Subhan, al-Jahm bin Safwan and his philosophy p.221 in: Islamic Culture 1937, W. Montgomery Watt, Early Discussions about the Qur'ān p.28 in: The Muslim World 1950, al-Dahabi, Mizan al-I'tidal 1:185
  3. W. Madelung, The Origins on the Controversy concerning the Creation of the Qur'ān p.505 in: Orientalia hispanica sive studia F.M. Pareja octogenario dicata, Leiden 1974
  4. al-Bukhāri, Khalq Af'āl al-'Ibād no.4, Kuwait 1985
  5. G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750, pg. 108. London: Routledge, 2002. ISBN 9781134550586
  6. Clinton Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p 126. ISBN 1441138129
  7. 1 2 P. W. Pestman, Acta Orientalia Neerlandica: Proceedings of the Congress of the Dutch Oriental Society Held in Leiden on the Occasion of Its 50th Anniversary, 8–9 May 1970, p 85.
  8. They wrote respectively: al-Radd 'alā al-Zanādiqah wa'l-Jahmiyyah, Khaql Af'āl al-'Ibād wa'l-Radd 'alā al-Jahmiyyah wa-Ashāb al-Ta'tîl and al-Radd 'alā'l-Jahmiyyah
  9. Refer to: Naqd 'Uthmān b. Sa'îd 'alā al-Mārisî al-Jahmî al-'Anîd fi Iftirā 'alā Allāh fî al-Tawhîd, Riyad 1999
  10. This makes the sources we have about Jahmiyyah tendentious and biased, as is the case with all heresiographies of the past. For modern studies see: Jamal al-Din al-Qasimi, Tarikh al-Jahmiyyah wa'l-Mu'tazilah, Yasir Qadhi, Maqalat al-Jahm b. Safwan wa Atharuah fi al-Firaq al-Islamiyya, and R.M. Frank, The neoplatonism of Ğahm ibn Safwân in: Le Museon 1965 p.395ff
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