Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Yahya ibn Ishaq al-Rawandi (Arabic: ? ? ), commonly known as Ibn al-Rawandi (Arabic: ; 827-911 CE), was an early Persian scholar and theologian. In his early days, he was a Mu'tazilite scholar, but then rejected the Mu'tazilite doctrine. Afterwards, he became a Shia scholar, though there is debate about whether he stayed a Shia until his death or became a skeptic.Although none of his works have survived, his opinions had been preserved through his critics and the surviving books that answered him. His book with the most preserved fragments (through an Ismaili book refuting Al-Rawandi's ideology) is the Kitab al-Zumurrud (The Book of the Emerald).
Abu al-Husayn Ahmad bin Yahya ben Isaac al-Rawandi was born in Greater Khorasan, today located in northwest Afghanistan, about the year 827 CE. According to the Egyptian scholar Abdur Rahman Badawi, Al-Rawandi was born in Basra at the time of the Abbassid Caliph Al-Mamoun. His father, Yahya, was a Jewish scholar and convert to Islam, who schooled Muslims in how to refute the Talmud. Al-Rawandi abandoned Islam and used his knowledge of Islam, learned from his father, to refute the Quran.
He joined the Mu'tazili of Baghdad, and gained prominence among them. But then he became estranged from his fellow Mu'tazilites, and formed close alliances with Shia Muslimsand then with non-Muslims (Manichaeans, Jews and perhaps also Christians). He then became a follower of the Manichaean zindiq Abu Isa al-Warraq in which he wrote several books that criticized revealed religion.
There is no agreement as to the nature of his views. Some look for the roots of his views in his connections with Shi'ia Islam, and depict him as a Mu'tazilite. Some regard him as an Aristotelian philosopher, while others see him as a radical atheist, and some stress the political challenge he presented to the Islamic polity.
Scholars also try to account for the more positive view of Ibn al-Rawandi in some Muslim sources. Josef van Ess in particular has suggested an original interpretation that aims at accommodating all the contradictory information. Van Ess notes that the sources which portray Ibn al-Rawandi as a heretic are predominantly Mutazilite and stem from Iraq, whereas in eastern texts he appears in a more positive light. As an explanation for this difference, van Ess suggests "a collision of two different intellectual traditions," i.e., those in Iran and in Iraq. He further suggests that Ibn al-Rawandi's notoriety was the result of the fact that after Ibn al-Rawandi left Baghdad, "his colleagues in Baghdad ... profiting from his absence ... could create a black legend." In other words, van Ess believes that Ibn al-Rawandi, although admittedly eccentric and disputatious, was not a heretic at all.
According to the Zumurrud, traditions concerning miracles are inevitably problematic. At the time of the performance of a supposed miracle only a small number of people could be close enough to the Prophet to observe his deeds. Reports given by such a small number of people cannot be trusted, for such a small group can easily have conspired to lie. The Muslim tradition thus falls into the category of flimsy traditions, those based on a single authority (khabar al-ahad) rather than on multiple authorities (khabar mutawatir). These religious traditions are lies endorsed by conspiracies.
The Zumurrud points out that Muhammad's own presuppositions (wad) and system (qanun) show that religious traditions are not trustworthy. The Jews and Christians say that Jesus really died, but the Qu'ran contradicts them.
Ibn al-Rawandi also points out specific Muslim traditions, and tries to show that they are laughable. The tradition that the angels rallied round to help Muhammad is not logical, because it implies that the angels of Badr were weaklings, able to kill only seventy of the Prophet's enemies. And if the angels were willing to help Muhammad at Badr, where were they at Uhud, when their help was so badly needed?
The Zumurrud criticizes prayer, preoccupation with ritual purity, and the ceremonies of the hajj; throwing stones, circumambulating a house that cannot respond to prayers, running between stones that can neither help nor harm. It goes on to ask why Safa and Marwa are venerated, and what difference there is between them and any other hill in the vicinity of Mecca, for example the hill of Abu Qubays, and why the Kaaba is any better than any other house.
From the Encyclopaedia of Islam:
The plentiful extracts from the K. al-Zumurraudh provide a fairly clear indication of the most heterodox doctrine of Ibn al-Rawandi, that of which posterity has been least willing to forgive him: a biting criticism of prophecy in general and of the prophecy of Muhammad in particular; he maintains in addition that religious dogmas are not acceptable to reason and must, therefore, be rejected; the miracles attributed to the Prophets, persons who may reasonably be compared to sorcerers and magicians, are pure invention, and the greatest of the miracles in the eyes of orthodox Muslims, the Quran, gets no better treatment: it is neither a revealed book nor even an inimitable literary masterpiece. In order to cloak his thesis, which attacks the root of all types of religion, Ibn al-Rawandi used the fiction that they were uttered by Brahmans. His reputation as irreligious iconoclast spread in the 4th/10th century beyond the borders of Muslim literature.