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Story 70: Abu Is’haq, The Sabian

Abu Is’haq Sabi is considered to be among the most learned people and famous writers of the fourth century after Hijrah. He was at the court of both the Abbasid Caliphs and Izu Dullah Bakhtiar (of the descendants of Buyeh) for some time.

Abu Is’haq was a follower of the Sabian religion. The Sabians were monotheist, but they did not believe in Prophethood. Izu Dullah tried to convince Abu Is’haq to embrace Islam, but did not succeed.

Nevertheless, in the month of Ramazan, Abu Is’haq used to fast out of respect to Muslims. He knew many verses of the Holy Qur’an by heart, which he frequently quoted in his letters and writings. He was an erudite man, a writer, a man of letters, and a poet, as well as a great friend of Sayid al-Sharif al-Radi (the compiler of Nahj al-Balaghah), who was also a scholar and literary man of genius.

Abu Is’haq passed away in the year 384 after Hijrah. Sayid al-Sharif al-Radi composed a eulogy for his funeral of which the following are three couplets:

“Did you see what personage had been carried on the sticks of his coffin? And how the light of the assembly had been distinguished?
Down broke a mountain; had it fallen in the sea, the sea’s surface would have been agitated and foamed.
I was not of the belief the soil would embrace you; the earth would entomb the great mountains.”

Afterwards, certain narrow-minded people reproached Sayid al-Radi and denounced him, claiming that it was not advisable for such a man like him, who was a descendant of the Holy Prophet (S), to recite a eulogy and to express sorrow for a Sabian who had refused to embrace Islam.

Sayid al-Radi said in reply, “I recited the eulogy for his knowledge and talent. It was his knowledge and pre-eminence which I had praised.”1

  • 1. Wafayat al-A’yan, Ibn Khalakan, v. 1, p. 36 and Al-Kuna wa al-Alqab, Muhaddith al-Qummi, v. 2, p. 365 under the title of “Al-Sabi”.