1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abu Ubaida

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131121911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1 — Abu UbaidaGriffithes Wheeler Thatcher

ABŪ UBAIDA [Maʽmar ibn ul-Muthanna] (728–825), Arabian scholar, was born a slave of Jewish Persian parents in Baṣra, and in his youth was a pupil of AbūʽAmr ibn ul-ʽAlā. In 803 he was called to Bagdad by Harūn al-Rashīd. He died in Baṣra. He was one of the most learned and authoritative scholars of his time in all matters pertaining to the Arabic language, antiquities and stories, and is constantly cited by later authors and compilers. Jāhiz held him to be the most learned scholar in all branches of human knowledge, and Ibn Hishām accepted his interpretation even of passages in the Koran. The titles of 105 of his works are mentioned in the Fihrist, and his Book of Days is the basis of parts of the history of Ibn al-Athīr and of the Book of Songs (see Abulfaraj), but nothing of his (except a song) seems to exist now in an independent form. He is often described as a Kharijite. This, however, is true only in so far as he denied the privileged position of the Arab people before God. He was, however, a strong supporter of the Shuʽūbite movement, i.e. the movement which protested against the idea of the superiority of the Arab race over all others. This is especially seen in his satires on Arabs (which made him so hated that no man followed his bier when he died). He delighted in showing that words, fables, customs, &c., which the Arabs believed to be peculiarly their own, were derived from the Persians. In these matters he was the great rival of Asmaʽī (q.v.).

See Life in Ibn Khallikān’s Biographical Dictionary, trans. by M‘G. de Slane (Paris and London, 1842), vol. iii. pp. 388-398; also I. Goldziher’s Muhammedanische Studien (Halle, 1888), vol. i. pp. 194-206.  (G. W. T.)