Born in 838 AD of very poor parents in Tabaristan near the Caspian Sea. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. In his childhood, he studied the Persian language and literature, and Persia 's history, and then left for Iraq to study the Arabic language and literature, philosophy, logic and geology in Baghdad, at that time the centre of learning of the world.
While studying in Baghdad, he developed a great attraction for the Qur'an, tafsir and hadith literature. Later he went to Makka to specialise in the study of Qur'an and hadith, while associating himself with the great ?ulama' of the time who were living in Makka. Then he visited Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Persia, etc. to widen his knowledge even further by seeking the company of Muslim scholars in those countries. During this long period he faced serious economic hardship and had to spend days and weeks at a time in a state of semi-starvation.
In later life he settled down in Baghdad and wrote his world-famous history and his Qur'an tafsir. He was a follower of Imam Abu Hanifa, and in his personal life, he was a very modest, religious and a self-respecting person. In those days, the Muslim writers dedicated their lives and everything they had to write books and histories of Islam. Their dedication and sacrifice knew no bounds. At-Tabari was the doyen of all these dedicated writers. The extent of his dedication and desire to pass on his knowledge can be guaged from the fact that he wrote a minimum of forty pages every day continuously for forty years.
He wrote down this famous history analyzing the events of the world through the ages. He based his narration by taking the Hijri era as the turning point in human history. Starting from the pre-historic era, he narrated world events one after another in different ages and centuries until 302 AH (his age), that is, 915 AD. From each event he made an observation which he thought was fitting to that age. He wrote history to enable his readers to derive lessons from history.
At-Tabari is famous among the Muslims for his great tafsir entitled Jami'fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, and it is available in thirty volumes in the libraries of the Muslim world. At-Tabari has used hadiths to the maximum extent in explaining the Qur'an. It is for this reason that his tafsir is so popular. This tafsir has given him an assured place as a great scholar and thinker of Islam.