IBN FURAK, Abu Bakr Muhammad b. al-Hasan b. Furak al-Ansari al-Isbahani, Ash'arite theologian and traditionist, was born about 330/941, perhaps in Ispahan. In 'Iraq, both at Basra and at Baghdad, he studied Ash'arite kalam under Abu 'l-Hasan al-Bahili along with al-Baqillani [q.v.] and al-Isfara'ini [q.v.], and also traditions under 'Abd Allah b. Dja'far al-Isbahani. From 'Iraq he went to Rayy, then to Nishapur, where a madrasa was built for him beside the Khanqah of the sufi al-Bushandji. He was in Nishapur before the death of the sufi Abu 'Uthman al-Maghribi in 373/983, and probably remained there until shortly before his|own death in 406/1015, when he was summoned to óhazna by the sultan Mahmud. This was probably at the instance of members of the Karramiyya sect, against whom he had been disputing in Nishapur. They tried to prove to sultan Mahmud that he was a heretic, but he seems to have defended himself successfully, and to 
have been poisoned by the Karramis on his way back to Nishapur. The version according to which Mahmud was responsible for poisoning him, is improbable.


His main work in the eyes of later generations was Kitab Mushkil al-hadith wa-bayanihi (with many variants of the title). This attempts to explain difficult phrases in such a way as to avoid both anthropomorphism and a Mu'tazili view (extracts with German translation, Raimund Köbert, Analecta Orientalia 22, Rome 1941; full Arabic text, Hyderabad 1362/1943; cf. R. Arnaldez, Grammaire et theologie chez Ibn Hazm de Cordoue, Paris 1956, 30 f.). The titles of other extant works and stray references in heresiographers (Ibn Hazm, Fisal, iv, 209, 214, 215, 224; al-Baghdadi, Usul al-din, 253; Abu 'Udhba, al-Rawda al-bahiyya, 14, 44) show that he took a part in contemporary theological discussions on such questions as: the use of the istithna" in respect of one's faith; whether a saint may know he is a saint (cf. also Hudhwiri, Kashf al-mahdhub, tr. R. A. Nicholson, 214); the application of atomistic conceptions to man; the sinlessness of prophets; the relation of God's attributes and names to human attributes. Much of his disputation was against Karramis in Nishapur and Ghazna; but his views differed slightly at certain points from other Ash'arites. He was a Shafi'i, but wrote a book on Hanafi fiqh, and on the strength of this receives a brief notice (no. 185) in Ibn Kutlubugha's Tadh al-taradhim.


It seems improbable that al-Ash'ari was a mere eponym (as suggested by J. Schacht, in Stud. Isl., i, 33-5), but the early development of Ash'arite theology is obscure. A lost work by Ibn Furak entitled Tabaqat al-mutakallimin is the main source for our knowledge of al-Ash'ari and his writings, and was extensively used by Ibn 'Asakir in his Tabyin kadhib al-muftari (esp. 123; cf. also R. J. McCarthy, The theology of al-Ash'ari, Beirut 1953, index). Since Ibn Furak's master al-Bahili was a pupil of al-Ash'ari, and since Ibn 'Asakir has other early sources, it would seem that Ibn Furak's material can be relied on. At Nishapur Ibn Furak seems to have played a part in securing the adoption of Ash'arite theology by a group of mystics (cf. L. Massignon, Essai2, 315), which included al-Maghribi and al-DaKKak; the famous Kushayri [q.v.] was a pupil.
(W. Montgomery Watt)

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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands