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The three principles in the development; first religious questionings; Murji’ites, Kharijites, Qadarites; influence of Christianity; the Umayyads and Abbasids; the Mu‘tazilites; the Qualities of God; the Vision of God; the creation of the Qur’an.
BEFORE entering upon a consideration of the development of the theology of Islam, it will be well to mark clearly the three principles which run continuously through that development, which conditioned it for evil and for good and which are still working in it. In dealing with jurisprudence and with the theory of the state, we have already seen abundantly how false is the current idea that Islam has ceased to grow and has no hope of future development. The organism of Islam, like every other organism, has periods of rest when it appears to have reached a cul de sac and to have outlived its life. But after these periods come others of renewed quickening and its vital energy pours itself forth again alter et idem. In the state, we saw how the old realms passed into decrepitude and decay, but new ones rose to take their places. The despotism by the grace of God of
formal Islam was tempered by the sacred right of insurrection and revolution, and the People of Muhammad, in spite of kings and princes, asserted, from time to time, its unquenchable vitality.
In theology the spirit breathes through single chosen men more than through the masses; and, in consequence, our treatment of it will take biographical form wherever our knowledge renders that possible.
But whether we have men or naked movements, the begetters of which are names to us or less, three threads are woven distinctly through the web of Muslim religious thought. There is tradition (naql); there is reason (aql) and there is the unveiling of the mystic (kashf). They were in the tissue of Muhammad's brain and they have been in his church since he died. Now one would be most prominent, now another, according to the thinker of the time; but all were present to some degree. Tradition in its strictest form lives now only with the Wahhabites and the Brotherhood of as-Sanusi; reason has become a scholastic hand-maid of theology except among the modern Indian Mu‘tazilites, whom orthodox Islam would no more accept as Muslims than a Trinitarian of the Westminster confession would give the name of Christian to a Unitarian of the left wing; the inner light of the mystic has assumed many forms, running from plainest pantheism to mere devout ecstasy.
But in the church of Muhammad they are all working still; and the catholicity of Islam, in spite of zealots, persecutions and counter-persecutions, has attained here, too, as in law, a liberty of variety in unity.
[paragraph continues] Two of the principles we have met already in the students of hadith and of speculative law. The Hanbalites maintained in theology their devotion to tradition; they fought for centuries all independent thinking which sought to rise above what the fathers had told; they fought even scholastic theology of the strictest type and would be content with nothing but the rehearsal of the old dogmas in the old forms; they fought, too, the mystical life in all its phases. On the other hand, Abu Hanifa was tinged with rationalism and speculation in theology as in law, and his followers have walked in his path. Even the mystical light has been touched in our view of the theory of the state. It has flourished most among the Shi‘ites, who are driven to seek and to find an inner meaning under the plain word of the Qur’an, and whose devotion to Ali and his house and to their divine mission has kept alive the thought of a continuous speaking of God to mankind and of an exalting of mankind into the presence of God. It is for the student, then, to watch and hold fast these three guiding threads.
The development of Muslim theology, like that of jurisprudence, could not begin till after the death of Muhammad. So long as he lived and received infallible revelations in solution of all questions of faith or usage that might come up, it is obvious that no system of theology could be formed or even thought of. Traditions, too, which have reached us, even show him setting his face against all discussions of dogma and repeating again and again, in answer to metaphysical and theological questions, the crude
anthropomorphisms of the Qur’an. But these questions and answers are probably forgeries of the later traditional school, shadows of future warfare thrown back upon the screen of the patriarchal age. Again, in the first twenty or thirty years after Muhammad's death, the Muslims were too much occupied with the propagation of their faith to think what that faith exactly was. Thus, it seems that the questioning spirit in this direction was aroused comparatively late and remained for some time on what might be called a private basis. Individual men had their individual views, but sects did not quickly arise, and when they did were vague and hard to define in their positions. It may be said, broadly, that everything which has reached us about the early Muslim heresies is uncertain, confused and unsatisfactory. Names, slates, influences and doctrines are all seen through a haze, and nothing more than an approximation to an outline can be attempted. Vague stories are handed down of the early questionings and disputings of certain ahl-al-ahwa, "people of wandering desires," a name singularly descriptive of the always flighty and sceptical Arabs; of how they compared Scripture with Scripture and got up theological debates, splitting points and defining issues, to great scandal and troubling of spirit among the simpler-minded pious. These were not yet heretics; they were the first investigators and systematizers.
Yet two sects loom up through the mist and their existence can be tolerably conditioned through the historical facts and philosophical necessities of the time. The one is that of the Murji’ites, and the other
of the Qadarites. A Murji’ite is literally "one who defers or postpones," in this case postpones judgment until it is pronounced by God on the Day of Judgment. They arose as a sect during and out of the civil war between the Shi‘ites, the Kharijites and the Umayyads. All these parties claimed to be Muslims, and most of them claimed that they were the only true Muslims and that the others were unbelievers. This was especially the attitude of the Shi‘ites and Kharijites toward the Umayyads; to them, the Umayyads, as we have seen already, were godless heathen who professed Islam, but oppressed and slaughtered the true saints of God. The Murji’ites, on the other hand, worked out a view on which they could still support the Umayyads without homologating all their actions and condemning all their opponents. The Umayyads, they held, were de facto the rulers of the Muslim state; fealty had been sworn to them and they confessed the Unity of God and the apostleship of the Prophet. Thus, they were not polytheists, and there is no sin that can possibly be compared with the sin of polytheism (shirk). It was, therefore, the duty of all Muslims to acknowledge their sovereignty and to postpone until the secrets of the Last Day all judgment or condemnation of any sins they might have committed. Sins less than polytheism could justify no one in rising in revolt against them and in breaking the oath of fealty.
Such seems to have been the origin of the Murji’ites, and it was the origin also of the theory of the accomplished fact in the state, of which we have had to take account several times. Thus, between the fanatical
venerators of the canon law, to whom all the Khalifas, after the first four, were an abomination, and the purely worldly lawyers of the court party, there came a group of pious theologians who taught that the good of the Muslim community required obedience to the ruler of the time, even though his personal unworthiness were plain. As a consequence, success can legitimate anything in the Muslim state.
But with the passing away of the situation which gave rise to Murji’ism, it itself changed from politics to theology. As a political party it had opposed the political puritanism of the Kharijites; it now came to oppose the uncompromising spirit in which these damned all who differed from them even in details and brandished the terrors of the wrath of God over their opponents. It is true that this came natural to Islam. The earlier Muslims seem in general to have been oppressed by a singularly gloomy fatalism. To use modern theological language, they labored under a terrible consciousness of sin. They viewed the world as an evil temptress, seducing men from heavenly things. Their lives were hedged about with sins, great and little, and each deserved the eternal wrath of God. The recollection of their latter end they kept ever before them and the terrors that it would bring, for they felt that no amount of faith in God and His Prophet could save them in the judgment to come. The roots of this run far back. Before the time of Muhammad and at his time there were among the Arab tribes, scattered here and there, many men who felt a profound dissatisfaction with heathenism, its doctrines and religious rites. The
conception of God and the burden of life pressed heavily upon them. They saw men pass away and descend into the grave, and they asked whither they had gone and what had become of them. The thought of this fleeting, transitory life and of the ocean of darkness and mystery that lies around it, drove them away to seek truth in solitude and the deserts. They were called Hanifs--the word is of very doubtful derivation--and Muhammad himself, in the early part of his career, reckoned himself one of them. But we have evidence from heathen Arab poetry that these Hanifs were regarded as much the same as Christian monks, and that the term hanif was used as a synonym for rahib, monk.
And, in truth, the very soul of Islam sprang from these solitary hermits, scattered here and there throughout the desert, consecrating their lives to God, and fleeing from the wrath to come. Even in pre-Islamic Arabic poetry we feel how strong was the impression made on the Arab mind by the gaunt, weird men with their endless watchings and night prayers. Again and again there is allusion to the lamp of the hermit shining through the darkness, and we have pictures of the caravan or of the solitary traveller on the night journey cheered and guided by its glimmer. These Christian hermits and the long deserted ruins telling of old, forgotten tribes--judged and overthrown by God, as the Arabs held and hold--that lie throughout the Syrian waste and along the caravan routes were the two things that most stirred the imagination of Muhammad and went to form his faith. To Muhammad, and to the Semite always, the
whole of life was but a long procession from the great deep to the great deep again. Where are the kings and rulers of the earth? Where are the peoples that were mighty in their day? The hand of God smote them and they are not. There is naught real in the world but God. From Him we are, and unto Him we return. There is nothing for man but to fear and worship. The world is deceitful and makes sport of them that trust it.
Such is the oversong of all Muslim thought, the faith to which the Semite ever returns in the end. To this the later Murji’ites opposed a doctrine of Faith, which was Pauline in its sweep. Faith, they declared, saved, and Faith alone. If the sinner believed in God and His Prophet he would not remain in the fire. The Kharijites, on the other hand, held that the sinner who died unrepentant would remain therein eternally, even though he had confessed Islam with his lips. The unrepentant sinner, they considered, could not be a believer in the true sense. This is still the Ibadite position, and from it developed one of the most important controversies of Islam as to the precise nature of faith. Some extreme Murji’ites held that faith (iman) was a confession in the heart, private intercourse with God, as opposed to Islam, public confession with the lips. Thus, one could be a believer (mu’min), and outwardly confess Judaism or Christianity; to be a professed Muslim was not necessary. This is like the doctrine of the Imamites, called taqiya, that it is allowable in time of stress to dissemble one's religious views; and it is worth noticing that Jahm ibn Safwan (killed, 131?),
one of these extreme Murji’ites, was a Persian proselyte in rebellion against the Arab rule, and of the loosest religious conduct. But these Antinomians were no more Muslims than the Anabaptists of Munster had a claim to be Christians. The other wing of the Murji’ites is represented by Abu Hanifa, who held that faith (iman) is acknowledgment with the tongue as well as the heart and that works are a necessary supplement. This is little different from the orthodox position which grew up, that persuasion, confession, and works made up faith. When Murji’ism dropped out of existence as a sect it left as its contribution to Islam a distinction between great and little sins (kabiras, saghiras), and the position that even great sins, if not involving polytheism (shirk), would not exclude the believer forever from the Garden.
The second sect, that of Qadarites, had its origin in a philosophical necessity of the human mind. A perception of the contradiction between man's consciousness of freedom and responsibility, on the one hand, and the absolute rule and predestination of God, on the other, is the usual beginning of the thinking life, both in individuals and in races. It was so in Islam. In theology as in law, Muhammad had been an opportunist pure and simple. On the one hand, his Allah is the absolute Semitic despot who guides aright and leads astray, who seals up the hearts of men and opens them again, who is mighty over all. On the other hand, men are exhorted to repentance, and punishment is threatened against them if they remain hardened in their unbelief. All these phases of a wandering and intensely subjective
mind, which lived only in the perception of the moment, appear in the Qur’an. Muhammad was a poet rather than a theologian just as he was a prophet rather than a legislator. As soon, then, as the Muslims paused in their career of conquest and began to think at all, they thought of this. Naturally, so long as they were fighting in the Path of God, it was the conception of God's absolute sovereignty which most appealed to them; by it their fates were fixed, and they charged without fear the ranks of the unbelievers. In these earliest times, the fatalistic passages bore most stress and the others were explained away. This helped, at least, to bring it about that the party which in time came to profess the freedom of man's will, began and ended as an heretical sect. But it only helped, and we must never loge sight of the fact that the eventual victory in Islam of the absolute doctrine of God's eternal decree was the victory of the more fundamental of Muhammad's conflicting conceptions. The other had been much more a campaigning expedient.
This sect of Qadarites, whose origin we have been conditioning, derived its name from their position that a man possessed qadar, or power, over his actions. One of the first of them was a certain Ma‘bad al-Juhani, who paid for his heresy with his life in A.H. 80. Historians tell that he with Ata ibn Yassar, another of similar opinions, came one day to the celebrated ascetic, al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110), and said, "O Abu Said, those kings shed the blood of the Muslims, and do grievous things and say that their works are by the decree of God." To
this al-Hasan replied, "The enemies of God lie." The story is only important as showing how the times and their changes were widening men's thoughts. Very soon, now, we come from these drifting tendencies to a formal sect with a formal secession and a fixed name. The Murji’ites and the Qadarites melt from the scene, some of their tenets pass into orthodox Islam; some into the new sect.
The story of its founding again connects with the outstanding figure of al-Hasan al-Basri. He seems to have been the chief centre of the religious life and movements of his time; his pupils appear and his influence shows itself in all the later schools. Someone came to him as he sat among his pupils and asked what his view was between the conflicting Murji’ites and Wa‘idites, the first holding that the committer of a great sin, if he had faith, was not an unbeliever, was to be accepted as a Muslim and his case left in the hands of God; the other laying more stress upon the threats (wa‘id) in the Book of God and teaching that the committer of a great sin could not be a believer, that he had, ipso facto, abandoned the true faith, must go into the Fire and abide there. Before the master could reply, one of his pupils--some say Amr ibn Ubayd (d. circ. 141), others, Wasil ibn Ata (d. 131)--broke in with the assertion of an intermediate position. Such an one was neither a believer nor an unbeliever. Then he left the circle which sat round the master, went to another part of the mosque and began to develop his view to those who gathered round him. The name believer
[paragraph continues] (mu’min), he taught, was a term of praise, and an evil-doer was not worthy of praise and could not have that name applied to him. But he was not an unbeliever, either, for he assented to the faith. If he, then, died unrepentant, he must abide forever in the Fire--for there are only two divisions in the next world, heaven and hell--but his torments would be mitigated on account of his faith. The position to which orthodox Islam eventually came was that a believer could commit a great sin. If he did so, and died unrepentant, he went to hell; but after a time would be permitted to enter heaven. Thus, hell became for believers a sort of purgatory. On this secession, al-Hasan only said "I‘tazala anna"--He has seceded from us. So the new party was called the Mu‘tazila, the Secession. That, at least, is the story, which may be taken for what it is worth. The fixed facts are the rise at the beginning of the second century after the Hijra of a tolerably definite school of dissenters from the traditional ideas, and their application of reason to the dogmas of the Qur’an.
We have noted already the influence of Christianity on Muhammad through the hermits of the desert. From it sprang the asceticism of Islam and that asceticism grew and developed into quietism and thence into mysticism. The last step was still in the future, but already at this time there were wandering monks who imitated their Christian brethren in the wearing of a coarse woollen frock and were thence called Sufis, from suf, wool. It was not long before Sufi came to mean mystic, and the third of the
three great threads was definitely woven into the fabric of Muslim thought. But that was not the limit of Christian influence. Those anchorites in their caves and huts had little training in the theology of the schools; the dogmas of their faith were of a practical simplicity. But in the development of the Murji’ites and Qadarites it is impossible to mistake the workings of the dialectic refinements of Greek theology as developed in the Byzantine and Syrian schools. It is worth notice, too, that, while the political heresies of the Shi‘ites and Kharijites held sway mostly in Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Persia, these more religious heresies seem to have arisen in Syria first and especially at Damascus, the seat of the Umayyads.
The Umayyad dynasty, we should remember, was in many ways a return to pre-Muslim times and to an easy enjoyment of worldly things; it was a rejection of the yoke of Muhammad in all but form and name. The fear of the wrath of God had small part with the most of them; sometimes it appeared in the form of an insane rebellion and defiance. Further, as Muslim governments always have done, they sought aid in their task of governing from their non-Muslim subjects. So it came about that Sergius, the father of Johannes Damascenus, was treasurer under them and that after his death, this John of Damascus himself, the last great doctor of the Greek Church and the man under whose hands its theology assumed final form, became wazir and held that post until he withdrew from the world and turned to the contemplative life. In his writings and in those of
his pupil, Theodorus Abucara (d. A.D. 826), there are polemic treatises on Islam, cast in the form of discussions between Christians and Muslims. These represent, there can be little doubt, a characteristic of the time. The close agreement of Murji’ite and Qadarite ideas with those formulated and defended by John of Damascus and by the Greek Church generally can only be so explained. The Murji’ite rejection of eternal punishment and emphasis on the goodness of God and His love for His creatures, the Qadarite doctrine of free-will and responsibility, are to be explained in the same way as we have already explained the presence of sentences in the Muslim fiqh which seem to be taken bodily from the Roman codes. In this case, also, we are not to think of the Muslim divines as studying the writings of the Greek fathers, but as picking up ideas from them in practical intercourse and controversy. The very form of the tract of John of Damascus is significant, "When the Saracen says to you such and such, then you will reply. . . ." This, as a whole, is a subject which calls for investigation, but so far it is clear that the influence of Greek theology on Islam can hardly be overestimated. The one outstanding fact of the enormous emphasis laid by' both on the doctrine of the nature of God and His attributes is enough. It may even be conjectured that the harsher views developed by western Muslims, and especially by the theologians of Spain, were due, on the other hand, to Augustinian and Roman influence. It is, to say the least, a curious coincidence that Spanish Islam never took kindly to metaphysical or scholastic
theology, in the exact sense, but gave almost all its energy to canon law.
But there were other influences to come. With the fall of the Umayyads and the rise of the Abbasids, the intellectual centre of the empire moved to the basin of the Euphrates and the Tigris. The story of the founding of Baghdad there, in 145, we have already heard. We have seen, too, that the victory of the Abbasids was, in a sense, a conquest of the Arabs by the Persians. Græcia capta and the rest came true here; the battles of al-Qadisiya and Nahawand were avenged; Persian ideas and Persian religion began slowly to work on the faith of Muhammad. At the court of the earliest Abbasids it was fashionable to affect a little free thought. People were becoming enlightened and played with philosophy and science. Greek philosophy, Zoroastrianism, Manichæism, the old heathenism of Harran, Judaism, Christianity--all were in the air and making themselves felt. So long as the adherents and teachers of these took them in a purely academic way, were good subjects and made no trouble, the earlier Abbasids encouraged their efforts, gathered in the scientific harvest, paid well for translations, instruments, and investigations, and generally posed as patrons of progress.
But a line had to be drawn somewhere and drawn tightly. The victory of the Abbasids had raised high hopes among the Persian nationalists. They had thought that they were rallying to the overthrow of the Arabs, and found, when all was done, that they had got only another Arab dynasty. So revolts
had begun to break out afresh, and now, curiously enough, they were of a marked religious character. They were an expression of religious sects, Buddhistic, Zoroastrian, Manichean, and parties with prophetic leaders of their own; all are swept together by Muslim writers as Zinadiqs, probably literally, "initiates," originally Manichæans, thereafter, practically non-Muslims concealing their unbelief. For when not in open revolt they must needs profess Islam. In 167, we find al-Mahdi, who was also, it is true, much more strict than his father, al-Mansur, appointing a grand inquisitor to deal with such heretics. Al-Mansur, however, had contented himself with crushing actual rebellion; and Christian, Jew, Zoroastrian, and heathen of Harran were tolerated so long as they brought to him the fruits of Greek science and philosophy.
That they did willingly, and so, through three intermediaries, science came to the Arabs. There was a heathen Syrian source with its centre at Harran, of which we know comparatively little. There was a Christian Syrian source working from the multitudinous monasteries scattered over the country. There was a Persian source by which natural science, and medicine especially, were passed on. Already in the fifth century A.D. an academy of medicine and philosophy had been founded at Gondeshapur in Khuzistan. One of the directors of this institution was summoned, in 148, to prescribe for al-Mansur, and from that time on it furnished court physicians to the Abbasids. On these three paths, then, Aristotle and Plato, Euclid and Ptolemy, Galen and Hippocrates reached the Muslim peoples.
The first hundred years of the Abbasid Khalifate was the golden age of Muslim science, the period of growth and development for the People of Muhammad fairly as a whole. Intellectual life did not cease with the close of that period, but the Khalifate ceased to aid in carrying the torch. Thereafter, learning was protected and fostered by individual rulers here and there, and individual investigators and scholars still went on their own quiet paths. But free intellectual life among the people was checked, and such learning as still generally flourished fell more and more between fixed bounds. Scholasticism, with its formal methods and systems, its subtle deductions and endless ramifications of proof and counter-proof, drew away attention from the facts of nature. The oriental brain studied itself and its own workings to the point of dizziness, and then turned and clung fast to the certainties of revelation. Under this spell heresy and orthodoxy proved alike sterile.
We return, now, to the beginnings of the Mu‘tazilites. These served themselves heirs upon the Qadarites and denied that God predestined the actions of men. Death and life, sickness, health, and external vicissitudes came, they admitted, by God's qadar, but it was unthinkable that man should be punished for actions not in his control. The freedom of the will is an a priori certainty, and man possesses qadar over his own actions. This was the position of Wasil ibn Ata, of whom we have already heard. But to it he added a second doctrine, the origin of which is obscure, although suggestive of discussions with Greek theologians. The Qur’an describes God as
willing, knowing, decreeing, etc.--strictly as the Willing One, the Knowing One, the Decreeing One, etc.--and the orthodox hold that such expressions could only mean that God possesses as Qualities (sifat) Will, Knowledge, Power, Life, etc. To this Wasil raised objections. God was One, and such Qualities would be separate Beings. Thus, his party and the Mu‘tazilites always called themselves the People of Unity and Justice (Ahl-at-tawhid wal‘adl); the Unity being of the divine nature, the Justice consisting in that they opposed God's qadar over men and held that He must do for the creature that which was best for it. Orthodox Islam held and holds that there can be no necessity upon God, even to do justice; He is absolutely free, and what He does man must accept. It flatly opposes the position held by the Mu‘tazilites in general, that good and evil can be perceived and distinguished by the intellect (aql). Good and evil have their nature by God's will, and man can learn to know them only by God's teachings and commands. Thus, except through revelation, there can be neither theology nor ethics.
The next great advance was made by Abu Hudhayl Muhammad al-Allaf (d. circa 226), a disciple of the second generation from Wasil. At his hands the doctrine of God's qualities assumed a more definite form. Wasil had reduced God to a vague unity, a kind of eternal oneness. Abu Hudhayl taught that the qualities were not in His essence, and thus separable from it, thinkable apart from it, but that they were His essence. Thus, God was omnipotent by His omnipotence, but it was His essence and not an
[paragraph continues] His essence. He was omniscient by His omniscience and it was His essence. Further, he held that these qualities must be either negations or relations. Nothing positive can be asserted of them, for that would mean that there was in God the complexity of subject and predicate, being and quality; and God is absolute Unity. This view the Muslim theologians regard as a close approximation to the Christian Trinity; for them, the persons of the Trinity have always been personified qualities, and such seems really to have been the view of John of Damascus. Further, God's Will, according to Abu Hudhayl, as expressed in His Creative Word, did not necessarily exist in a subject (fi mahall, in subiecto). When God said, "Be!" creatively, there was no subject. Again, he endeavored--and in this he was followed by most of the Mu‘tazilites to cut down the number of God's attributes. His will, he said, was a form of His knowledge; He knew that there was good in an action, and that knowledge was His will.
His position on the qadar question was peculiar. With regard to this world, be was a Qadarite; but in the next world, both in heaven and in hell, he thought that all changes were by divine necessity. Otherwise, that is, if men were free, there would be obligation to observe a law (taklif); but there is no such obligation in the other world. Thus, whatever happened there happened by God's decree. Further, he taught that, eventually, nothing would happen there; that there would be no changes, but only an endless stillness in which those in heaven had all its joys and those in hell all its pains. This is a close
approximation to the view of Jahm ibn Safwan, who held that after the judgment both heaven and hell would pass away and God remain alone as He was in the beginning. To these doctrines Abu Hudhayl seems to have been led by two considerations, both significant for the drift of the Mu‘tazilites. First, there was about their reasonings a grimness of logic touched with utilitarianism. Thus, from their position that man could come by the light of his reason to the knowledge of God and of virtue, they drew the conclusion that it was man's duty so to attain, and that God would damn eternally every man who did not. Their utilitarianism, again, comes out strikingly in their view of heaven and hell. These, at present, were serving no useful purpose because they had no inhabitants; therefore, at present they did not exist. But this made difficulties for Abu Hudhayl. What has a beginning must have an end. So he explained the end as the ceasing of all changes. Second, he shows clear evidence of influence from Greek philosophy. The Qur’an teaches that the world has been created in time; Aristotle, that it is from eternity and to eternity. The creation, Abu Hudhayl applied to changes; before that, the world was, but in eternal rest. Hereafter, all changes will cease; rest will again enter and endure to all eternity. We shall see how largely this doctrine was advanced and developed by his successors.
But there were further complications in the doctrine of man's actions and into some of these we must enter, on account of their later importance. Not everything that comes from the action of a man is by
his action. God has a creative part in it, apparently as regards the effects. Especially, knowledge in the mind of a pupil does not come from the teacher, but from God. The idea seems to be that they teacher may teach, but that the being taught in the pupil is a divine working. Similarly, he distinguished motions in the mind, which he held were not altogether due to the man, and external motions which were. There is given, too, to a man at the time of his performing an action an ability to perform the action, which is a special accident in him apart from any mere soundness of health or limb.
In these ways, Abu Hudhayl recognized God's working through man. Another of his positions had a similar basis and was a curious combination of historical criticism and mysticism, a combination which we shall find later in al-Ghazzali, a much greater man. The evidence of tradition for things dealing with the Unseen World (al-ghayb) he rejected. Twenty witnesses might hand on the tradition in question, but it was not to be received unless among them there was one, at least, of the People of Paradise. At all times, he taught, there were in the world these Friends of God (awliya Allah, sing. wali), who were protected against all greater sins and could not lie. It is the word of these that is the basis for belief, and the tradition is merely a statement of what they have said. This shows clearly how far the doctrine of the ecstatic life and of knowledge gained through direct intercourse between the believer and God had already advanced.
But Abu Hudhayl was only one in a group of daring
and absolutely free-minded speculators. They were applying to the ideas of the Qur’an the keen solvent of Greek dialectic, and the results which they obtained were of the most fantastically original character. Thrown into the wide sea and utter freedom of Greek thought, their ideas had expanded to the bursting point and, more than even a German metaphysician, they had lost touch of the ground of ordinary life, with its reasonable probabilities, and were swinging loose on a wild hunt after ultimate truth, wielding as their weapons definitions and syllogisms. The lyric fervors of Muhammad in the Qur’an gave scope enough of strange ideas from which to start, or which had to be explained away. Their belief in the powers of the science of logic was unfailing, and, armed with Aristotle's "Analytics," they felt sure that certainty was within their reach. It was at the court and under the protection of al-Ma’mun that they especially flourished, and some account of the leading spirits among them will be necessary before we describe how they reached their utmost pride of power and how they fell.
An-Nazzam (d. 231) has the credit among later historians of having made use, to a high degree, of the doctrines of the Greek philosophers. He was one of the Satans of the Qadarites, say they; he read the books of the philosophers and mingled their teachings with the doctrines of the Mu‘tazilites. He taught, in the most absolute way, that God could do nothing to a creature, either in this world or in the next, that was not for the creature's good and in accordance with strict justice. It was not only that
[paragraph continues] God would not do it; He had not the power to do anything evil. Evidently the personality of God was fast vanishing behind an absolute law of right. To this, orthodox Islam opposed the doctrine that God could do anything; He could forgive whom He willed, and punish whom He willed. Further, he taught that God's willing a thing meant only that He did it in accordance with His knowledge; and when He willed the action of a creature that meant only that He commanded it. This is evidently to evade phrases in the Qur’an. Man, again, he taught, was spirit (ruh), and the body (badan) was only an instrument. But this spirit was a fine substance which flowed in the body like the essential oil in a rose, or butter in milk. In a universe determined by strict law, man alone was undetermined. He could throw a stone into the air, and by his action the stone went up; but when the force of his throw was exhausted it came again under law and fell. If he had only asked himself how it came to fall, strange things might have happened. But he, and all his fellows, were only playing with words like counters. Further, he taught that God had created all created things at once, but that He kept them in concealment until it was time for them to enter on the stage of visible being and do their part. All things that ever will exist are thus existing now, but, in a sense, in retentis. This seems to be another attempt to solve the problem of creation in time, and it had important. consequences. Further, the Qur’an was no miracle (mu‘jiz) to him. The only miraculous elements in it are the narratives about the Unseen World, and past things and things
to come, and the fact that God deprived the Arabs of the power of writing anything like it. But for that, they could easily have surpassed it as literature. As a high Imamite he rejected utterly agreement and analogy. Only the divinely appointed Imam had the right to supplement the teaching of Muhammad. We pass over some of his metaphysical views, odd as they are. The Muslim writers on theological history have classified him rightly as more of a physicist than a metaphysician. He had a concrete mind and that fondness for playing with metaphysical paradoxes which often goes with it.
Another of the group was Bishr ibn al-Mu’tamir. His principal contribution was the doctrine of tawlid and tawallud, begetting and deriving. It is the transmission of a single action through a series of objects; the agent meant to affect the first object only; the effect on the others followed. Thus, he moves his hand, and the ring on his finger is moved. What relation of responsibility, then, does he bear to these derived effects? Generally, how are we to view a complex of causes acting together and across one another? The answer of later orthodox Islam is worth giving at this point. God creates in the man the will to move his hand; He creates the movement of the hand and also the movement of the ring. All is by God's direct creation at the time. Further, could God punish an infant or one who had no knowledge of the faith? Bishr's reply on the first point was simply a bit of logical jugglery to avoid saying frankly that there was anything that God could not do. His answer on the second was that
[paragraph continues] God could have made a different and much better world than this, a world in which all men might have been saved. But He was not bound to make a better world--in this Bishr separates from the other Mu‘tazilites--He was only bound to give man free-will and, then, either revelation to guide him to salvation or reason to show him natural law.
With Ma‘mar ibn Abbad, the philosophies wax faster and more furious. He succeeded in reducing the conception of God to a bare, indefinable something. We could not say that God had knowledge. For it must be of something in Himself or outside of Himself. If the first, then there was a union of knower and known, and that is impossible; or a duality in the divine nature, and that was equally impossible. Here Ma‘mar was evidently on the road to Hegel. If the second, then His knowledge depended on the existence of something other than Himself, and that did away with His absoluteness. Similarly, he dealt with God's Will. Nor could He be described as qadim, prior to all things, for that word, in Arabic, suggested sequence and time. By all this, he evidently meant that our conceptions cannot be applied to God; that God is unthinkable by us. On creation, he developed the ideas of an-Nazzam. Substances (jisms) only were created by God, and by "substances" he seems to mean matter as a whole; all changes in them, or it, come either of necessity: its nature, as when fire burns, the sin warms; or of free-will, as always in the animal world. God has no part in these things. He has given the material and has nothing to do with the coming and going of
separate bodies; such are simple changes, forms of existence, and proceed from the matter itself. Man is an incorporeal substance. The soul is the man and his body is but a cover. This true man can only know and will; the body perceives and does.
The last of this group whose views we need consider, is Thumama ibn Ashras. He was of very dubious morals; was imprisoned as a heretic by Harun ar-Rashid, but highly favored by al-Ma’mun, in whose Khalifate he died, A.H. 213. He held that actions produced through tawallud had no agent, either God or man. That knowledge of good and evil could be produced by tawallud through speculation, and is, therefore, an action without an agent, and required even before revelation. That Jews, Christians, Magians will be turned into dust in the next world and will not enter either Paradise or Hell; the same will be the fate of cattle and children. That any one of the unbelievers who does not know his Creator is excusable. That all knowledge is a priori. That the only action which men possess is will; everything besides that is a production without a producer. That the world is the act of God by His nature, i.e., it is an act which His nature compels Him to produce; is, therefore, from eternity and to eternity with Him. It may be doubted how far Thumama was a professional theologian and how far he was a free-thinking, easy-living man of letters.
In all this, the influence of Greek theology and of Aristotle can be clearly traced. With Aristotle had come to them the idea of the world as law, an eternal construction subsisting and developing on fixed principles.
[paragraph continues] This conception of law shows itself in their thought frankly at strife with Muhammad's conception of God as will, as the sovereign over all. Hence, the crudities and devices by which they strove to make good their footing on strange ground and keep a right to the name of Muslim, while changing the essence of their faith. The anthropomorphic God of Muhammad, who has face and hands, is seen in Paradise by the believer and settles Himself firmly upon His throne, becomes a spirit, and a spirit, too; of the vaguest kind.
It remains now only to touch upon one or two points common to all the Mu‘tazilites. First, the Beatific Vision of God in Paradise. It was a fixed agreement of the early Muslim Church, based on texts of the Qur’an and on tradition, that some believers, at least, would see and gaze upon God in the other world; this was the highest delight held out to them. But the Mu‘tazilites perceived that vision involved a directing of the eyes on the part of the seer and position on the part of the seen. God must, therefore, be in a place and thus limited. So they were compelled to reject the agreement and the traditions in question and to explain away the passages in the Qur’an. Similarly, in Qur’an vii. 52, we read that God settled Himself firmly upon His throne. This, with other anthropomorphisms of hands and feet and eyes, the Mu‘tazilites had to explain away in a more or less cumbrous fashion.
With one other detail of this class we must deal at greater length. It was destined to be the vital point of the whole Mu‘tazilite controversy and the test
by which theologians were tried and had their places assigned. It had a weighty part also in bringing about the fall of the Mu‘tazilites. There had grown up very early in the Muslim community an unbounded reverence and awe in the presence of the Qur’an. In it God speaks, addressing His servant, the Prophet; the words, with few exceptions, are direct words of God. It is, therefore, easily intelligible that it came to be called the word of God (kalam Allah). But Muslim piety went further and held that it was uncreated and had existed from all eternity with God. Whatever proofs of this doctrine may have been brought forward later from the Qur’an itself, we can have no difficulty in recognizing that it is plainly derived from the Christian Logos and that the Greek Church, perhaps through John of Damascus, has again played a formative part. So, in correspondence with the heavenly and uncreated Logos in the bosom of the Father, there stands this uncreated and eternal Word of God; to the earthly manifestation in Jesus corresponds the Qur’an, the Word of God which we read and recite. The one is not the same as the other, but the idea to be gained from the expressions of the one is equivalent to the idea which we would gain from the other, if the veil of the flesh were removed from us and the spiritual world revealed.
That this view grew up very early among the Muslims is evident from the fact that it is opposed by Jahm ibn Safwan, who was killed toward the end of the Umayyad period. It seems to have originated by a kind of transfusion of ideas from
[paragraph continues] Christianity and not as a result of controversy or dialectic about the teachings of the Qur’an. We find the orthodox party vehemently opposing discussion on the subject, as indeed they did on all theological subjects. "Our fathers have told us; it is the faith received from the Companions;" was their argument from the earliest time we can trace. Malik ibn Anas used to cut off all discussions with "Bila kayfa" (Believe without asking how); and he held strongly that the Qur’an was uncreated. The same word kalam which we have found applied to the Word of God--both the eternal, uncreated Logos and its manifestation in the Qur’an--was used by them most confusingly for "disputation;" "he disputed" was takallam and "one who disputed" was mutakallim. All that was anathema to the pious, and it is amusing to see the origin of what became later the technical terms for scholastic theology and its students in their shuddering repulsion to all "talking about" the sacred mysteries.
This opposition appeared in two forms. First, they refused to go an inch beyond the statements in the Qur’an and tradition and to draw consequences, however near the surface these consequences might seem to lie. A story is told of al-Bukhari, (d. 257), late as he is, which shows how far this went and how long it lasted. An inquisition was got up against him out of envy by one of his fellow-teachers. The point of attack was the orthodoxy of his position on the lafz (utterance) of the Qur’an; was it created or uncreated? He said readily that the Qur’an was uncreated and was obstinately silent as to the utterance
of it by men. At last, persistent questioning drove him to an outburst. "The Qur’an is the Word of God and is uncreated. The speech of man is created and inquisition (imtihan) is an innovation (bid‘a)." But beyond that he would not go, even to draw the conclusion of the syllogism which he had indicated. Some, as we may gather from this story, had felt themselves driven to hold that not only the Qur’an in itself but also the utterance of it by the lips of men and the writing of it by men's hands--all between the boards, as they said--was uncreated. Others were coming to deny absolutely the existence of the eternal Logos and that this revealed Qur’an was uncreated in any sense. But others, as al-Bukhari, while holding tenaciously that the Qur’an was uncreated, refused to make any statement as to its utterance by men. There was nothing said about that in Qur’an or tradition.
The second form of opposition was to any upholding of their belief by arguments, except of the simplest and most apparent. That was an invasion by reason (aql) of the realm of traditional faith (naql). When the pious were eventually driven to dialectic weapons, their arguments show that these were snatched up to defend already occupied positions. They ring artificial and forced. Thus, in the Qur’an itself, the Qur’an is called "knowledge from God." It is, then, inseparable from God's quality of knowledge. But that is eternal and uncreated; therefore, so too, the Qur’an. Again, God created everything by the word, "Be." But this word cannot have been created, otherwise a created word would be a creator.
[paragraph continues] Therefore, God's word is uncreated. Again, there stands in the Qur’an (vii, 52), "Are not the creation and the command His?" The command here is evidently different from the creation, i.e., not created. Further, God's command creates; therefore it cannot be created. But it is God's word in command. It will be noticed here how completely God's word is hypostatized. This appears still more strongly in the following argument. God said to Moses, (Qur. vii, 141), "I have chosen thee over mankind with my apostolate and my word." God, therefore, has a word. But, again (Qur. iv, 162), He addresses Moses with this word (kallama-llahu Musa taklima, evidently regarded as meaning that God's word addressed Moses) and said, "Lo, I am thy Lord." This argument is supposed to put the opponent in a dilemma. Either he rejects the fact of Moses being so addressed, which is rejecting what God has said, and is, therefore, unbelief; or he holds that the kalam which so addresses Moses is a created thing. Then, a created thing asserts that it is Moses' Lord. Therefore, God's kalam with which He addresses the prophets, or which addresses the prophets, is eternal, uncreated.
But if this doctrine grew up early in Islam, op-position to it was not slow in appearing, and that on different sides. Literary vanity, national pride, and philosophical scruples all made themselves felt. Even in Muhammad's lifetime, according to the legend of the poet Labid and the verses which he put up in challenge on the Ka‘ba, the Qur’an had taken rank as inimitable poetry. At all points it was the Word of
[paragraph continues] God and perfect in every detail. But, among the Arabs, a jealous and vain people, if there was one thing on which each was more jealous and vain than another, it was skill in working with words. The superiority of Muhammad as a Prophet of God they might endure, though often with a bad grace; but Muhammad as a rival and unapproachable literary artist they could not away with. So we find satire of the weaknesses of the Qur’an appearing here and there, and it came to be a sign of emancipation and freedom from prejudice to examine it in detail and balance it against other products of the Arab genius. The rival productions of Musaylima, the False Prophet, long enjoyed a semi-contraband existence, and Abu Ubayda (d. 208) found it necessary to write a treatise in defence of the metaphors of the Qur’an. Among the Persians this was still more the case. To them, Muhammad might be a prophet, but he was also an Arab; and while they accepted his mission, accepting his books in a literary way was too much for them. As a prophet, he was a man; as a literary artist, he was an Arab. So Jahm ibn Safwan may have felt; so, certainly, others felt later. The poet Bashshar ibn Burd (killed for satire, in 167), a companion of Wasil ibn Ata and a Persian of very dubious orthodoxy, used to amuse himself by comparing poems by himself and others with passages in the Qur’an, to the disadvantage of the latter. And Ibn al-Muqaffa (killed about 140), the translator of "Kalila and Dimna" and many other books into Arabic, and a Persian nationalist, is said to have planned an imitation of the Qur’an.
Added to all this came the influence of the Mu‘tazilite theologians. They had a double ground for their opposition. The doctrine of an absolutely divine and perfect book limited them too much in their intellectual freedom. They were willing to respect and use the Qur’an, but not to accept its ipsissima verba. Regarded as the production of Muhammad under divine influence, it could have a human and a divine side, and things which needed to be dropped or changed in it could be ascribed to the human side. But that was not possible with a miraculous book come down from heaven. In a word, they were meeting the difficulty which has been met by Christianity in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The least they could do was to deny that the Qur’an was uncreated.
But they had a still more vital, if not more important, philosophical base of objection. We have seen already how they viewed the doctrine of God's qualities (sifat) and tried to limit them in every way. These qualities ran danger, they held, of being hypostatized into separate persons like those in the Christian Trinity, and we have just seen how near that danger really lay in the case of God's kalam. In orthodox Islam it has become a plain Logos.
The position in this of an-Nazzam has been given above. It is interesting as showing that the Qur’an, even then, was given as a probative miracle (mu‘jiz) because it deprived all men of power (i‘jaz) to imitate it. That is, its æsthetic perfection was raised to the miraculous degree and then regarded as a proof of its divine origin. But al-Muzdar, a pupil of Bishr
ibn al Mu’tamir and an ascetic of high rank, called the Monk of the Mu‘tazilites, went still further than an-Nazzam. He flatly damned as unbelievers all who held the eternity of the Qur’an; they had taken unto themselves two Gods. Further, he asserted that men were quite capable of producing a work even finer than the Qur’an in point of style. But the force of this opinion is somewhat diminished by the liberality with which he denounced his opponents in general as unbelievers. Stories are told of him very much like those in circulation with us about those who hold that few will be saved, and it is worth noticing that upon this point of salvability the Mu‘tazilites were even narrower than the orthodox.