The rise of orthodox kalam; al-Ash‘ari; decline of the Mu‘tazilites; passing of heresy into unbelief; development of scholastic theology by Ash‘arites; rise of Zahirite kalam; Ibn Hazm; persecution of Ash‘arites; final assimilation of kalam.
As we have already seen, the traditionalist party at first refused to enter upon any discussion of sacred things. Malik ibn Anas used to say, "God's istiwa (settling Himself firmly upon His throne) is known; how it is done is unknown; it must be believed; questions about it are an innovation (bid‘a)." But such a position could not be held for any length of time. The world cannot be cut in two and half assigned to faith and half to reason. So, as time went on, there arose on the orthodox side men who, little by little, were prepared to give a reason for the faith that was in them. They thus came to use kalam in order to meet the kalam of the Mu‘tazilites; they became mutakallims, and the scholastic theology of Islam was founded. It is the history of this transfer of method which we have now to consider.
Its beginnings are wrapped in a natural obscurity. It was at first a gradual, unconscious drift, and people did not recognize its existence. Afterward, when they looked back upon it, the tendency of the human mind to ascribe broad movements to single men asserted itself and the whole was put under the name
of al-Ash‘ari. It is true that with him, in a sense, the change suddenly leaped to self-consciousness, but it had already been long in progress. As we have seen, al-Junayd discussed the unity of God, but it was behind closed doors. Ash-Shafi‘i held that there should be a certain number of men trained thus to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people. Al-Muhasibi, a contemporary of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, was suspected, and rightly, of defending his faith with argument, and thereby incurred Ahmad's displeasure. Another contemporary of Ahmad's, al-Karabisi (d. 345), incurred the same displeasure, and the list might easily be extended. But the most significant fact of all is that the movement came to the surface and showed itself openly at the same time in the most widely separated lands of Islam. In Mesopotamia there was al-Ash‘ari, who died after 320; in Egypt there was at-Tahawi, who died in 331; in Samarqand there was al-Mataridi, who died in 333. Of these at-Tahawi is now little more than a name; al-Mataridi's star has paled before that of al-Ash‘ari; al-Ash‘ari has come in popular view to be the solitary hero before whom the Mu‘tazilite system went down. It will perhaps be sufficient if we take his life and experiences as our guide in this period of change; the others must have followed very much in the same path.
He was born at al-Basra in 260, the year in which al-Kindi died and Muhammad al-Muntazar vanished from the sight of men. He came into a world full of intellectual ferment; Alids of different camps were
active in their claim to be possessors of an infallible Imam; Zaydites and Qarmatians were in revolt; the decree of 234 that the Qur’an was uncreated had had little effect, so far, in silencing the Mu‘tazilites; in 261 the Sufi pantheist, Abu Yazid, died. Al-Ash‘ari himself was of the best blood of the desert and of a highly orthodox family which had borne a distinguished part in Muslim history. Through some accident he came in early youth into the care of al-Jubba‘i, the Mu‘tazilite, who, according to one story, had married al-Ash‘ari's mother; was brought up by him and remained a stanch Mu‘tazilite, writing and speaking on that side, till he was forty years old.
Then a strange thing happened. One day he mounted the pulpit of the mosque in al-Basra and cried aloud, "He who knows me, knows me; and he who knows me not, let him know that I am so and so, the son of so and so. I have maintained the creation of the Qur’an and that God will not be seen in the world to come with the eyes, and that the creatures create their actions. Lo, I repent that I have, been a Mu‘tazilite and turn to opposition to them." It was a voice full of omen. It told that the intellectual supremacy of the Mu‘tazilites had publicly passed and that, hereafter, they would be met with their own weapons. What led to this change of mind is strictly unknown; only legends have reached us. One, full of psychological truth, runs that one Ramadan, the fasting month, when he was worn with prayer and hunger, the Prophet appeared to him three times in his sleep, and commanded him to turn from his vain kalam and seek certainty in the traditions and the Qur’an. If
he would but give himself to that study, God would make clear the difficulties and enable him to solve all the puzzles. He did so, and his mind seemed to be opened; the old contradictions and absurdities had fled, and he cursed the Mu‘tazilites and all their works.
It can easily be seen that in some such way as this the blood of the race may have led him back to the God of his fathers, the God of the desert, whose word must be accepted as its own proof. The gossips of the time told strange tales of rich relatives and family pressure; we can leave these aside. When he had changed he was terribly in earnest. He met his old teacher, al-Jubba‘i, in public discussions again and again till the old man withdrew. One of these discussions legend has handed down in varying forms. None of them may be exactly true, but they are significant of the change of attitude. He came to al-Jubba‘i and said, "Suppose the case of three brothers; one being God-fearing, another godless and a third dies as a child. What of them in the world to come?
Al-Jubba‘i replied, "The first will be rewarded in Paradise; the second punished in Hell, and the third will be neither rewarded nor punished." Al-Ash‘ari continued, "But if the third said, 'Lord, Thou mightest have granted me life, and then I would have been pious and entered Paradise like my brother,' what then? "Al-Jubba‘i replied, "God would say, 'I knew that if thou wert granted life thou wouldst be godless and unbelieving and enter Hell.'" Then al-Ash‘ari drew his noose, "But what if the second said, 'Lord, why didst Thou not. make me die as a
child? Then had I escaped Hell.'" Al-Jubba‘i was silenced, and Al-Ash‘ari went away in triumph. Three years after his pupil had left him the old man died. The tellers of this story regard it as disproving the Mu‘tazilite doctrine of "the best"--al-aslah--namely, that God is constrained to do that which may be best and happiest for His creatures. Orthodox Islam, as we have seen, holds that God is under no such constraint, and is free to do good or evil as He chooses.
But the story has also another and somewhat broader significance. It is a protest against the religious rationalism of the Mu‘tazilites, which held that the mysteries of the universe could be expressed and met in terms of human thought. In this way it represents the essence of al-Ash‘ari's position, a recoil from the impossible task of raising a system of purely rationalistic theology to reliance upon the Word of God, and the tradition (hadith) and usage (sunna) of the Prophet and the pattern of the early church (salaf).
The stories told above represent the change as sudden. According to the evidence of his books that was not so. In his return there were two stages. In the first of these he upheld the seven rational Qualities (sifat aqliya) of God, Life, Knowledge, Power, Will, Hearing, Seeing, Speech: but explained away the Qur’anic anthropomorphisms of God's face, hands, feet, etc. In the second stage, which fell, apparently, after he had moved to Baghdad and come under the strong Hanbalite influences there, he explained away nothing, but contented himself
with the position that the anthropomorphisms were to be taken, bila kayfa wala tashbih, without asking how and without drawing any comparison. The first phrase is directed against the Mu‘tazilites, who inquired persistently into the nature and possibility of such things in God; the second, against the anthropomorphists (mushabbihs, comparers; mujassims, corporealizers), mostly ultra Hanbalites and Karramites, who said that these things in God were like the corresponding things in men. At all stages, however, he was prepared to defend his conclusions and assail those of his adversaries by dint of argument.
The details of his system will be best understood by reading his creed and the creed of al-Fudali, which is essentially Ash‘arite. Both are in the Appendix of Translated Creeds. Here, it is necessary to draw attention to two, only, of the obscurer points. On the vexed question, "What is a thing?" he anticipated Kant. The early theologians, orthodox and theoretical, and those later ones also who did not follow him, regarded, as we have seen, existence (wujud) as only one of the qualities belonging to an existing thing (mawjud). It was there all the time, but it lacked the quality of "existence"; then that quality was added to its other qualities and it became existent. But al-Ash‘ari and his followers held that existence was the "self" (ayn) of the entity and not a quality or state, however personal or necessary. See, on the whole, Appendix of Creeds.
On the other vexed question of free-will, or, rather, as the Muslims chose to express it, on the ability of men to produce actions, he took up a mediating position.
[paragraph continues] The old orthodox position was absolutely fatalistic; the Mu‘tazilites, following their principle of Justice, gave to man an initiative power. Al-Ash‘ari struck a middle path. Man cannot create anything; God is the only creator. Nor does man's power produce any effect on his actions at all. God creates in His creature power (qudra) and choice (ikhtiyar). Then He creates in him his action corresponding to the power and choice thus created. So the action of the creature is created by God as to initiative and as to production; but it is acquired by the creature. By acquisition (kasb) is meant that it corresponds to the creature's power and choice, previously created in him, without his having had the slightest effect on the action. He was only the locus or subject of the action. In this way al-Ash‘ari is supposed to have accounted for free-will and entailed responsibility upon men. It may be doubted whether the second point occupied him much. It was open to his God to do good or evil as He chose; the Justice of the Mu‘tazilites was left behind. He may have intended only to explain the consciousness of freedom, as some have done more recently. The closeness with which al-Ash‘ari in this comes to the pre-established harmony of Leibnitz and to the Kantian conception of existence shows how high a rank he must take as an original thinker. His abandoning of the Mu‘tazilites was due to no mere wave of sentiment but to a perception that their speculations were on too narrow a basis and of a too barren scholastic type. He died after 320 with a curse on them and their methods as his last words.
A few words only need be given to al-Mataridi. The creed of an-Nasafi in the Appendix of Creeds, pp. 308-315 belongs to his school. He and at-Tahawi were followers of the broad-minded Abu Hanifa, who was more than suspected of Mu‘tazilite and Murji’ite leanings. Muslim theologians usually reckon, up some thirteen points of difference between al-Mataridi and al-Ash‘ari and admit that seven of these are not much more than combats of words. Those which occur in an-Nasafi's creed are marked with a star.
We are now in a position to finish shortly with the Mu‘tazilites. Their work, as a constructive force, is done. From this time on there is kalam among the orthodox, and the term mutakallim denotes nothing but a scholastic theologian, whether of one wing or another. And so, like any other organ which has done its part and for the existence of which there is no longer any object, they gradually and quietly dropped into the background. They had still, sometimes, to suffer persecution, and for hundreds of years there were men who continued to call themselves Mu‘tazilites; but their heresies came to be heresies of the schools and not burning questions in the eyes of the masses. We need now draw attention to only a few incidents and figures in this dying movement. The Muslim historians lay much stress on the orthodox zeal of the Khalifa al-Qadir, who reigned 381-422, and narrate how he persecuted the Mu‘tazilites, Shi‘ites and other heretics and compelled them, under oath, to conform.
But there are several difficulties in the way of this
persecution, which make it probable that it was more nominal than otherwise. Al-Qadir was bitterly orthodox; he had written a treatise on theology and compelled his unhappy courtiers to listen to a public reading of it every week. But he enjoyed, outside of his palace, next to no power. He was in the control of the Shi‘ite Buwayhids, who, as we have seen, ruled Baghdad and the Khalifate from 320 to 447. These dubious persecutions are said to have fallen in 408 and 420. Again, a Muslim pilgrim from Spain visited Baghdad about 390 and has left us a record of the state of religious things there. He found in session what may perhaps best be described as a Parliament of Religions. It seems to have been a free debate between Muslims of all sects, orthodox and heretical, Parsees and atheists, Jews and Christians--unbelievers of every kind. Each party had a spokesman, and at the beginning of the proceedings the rule was rehearsed that no one might appeal to the sacred books of his creed but might only adduce arguments founded upon reason. The pious Spanish Muslim went to two meetings but did not peril his soul by any further visits. In his narrative we recognize the horror with which the orthodox of Spain viewed such proceedings--Spain, Muslim and Christian, has always favored the straitest sect; but when such a thing was permitted in Baghdad, religious liberty there at least must have been tolerably broad. Possibly it was sittings of the Ikhwan as-safa upon which this scandalized Spaniard stumbled. He himself speaks of them as meetings of mutakallims.
But if the mixture of Sunnite and Shi‘ite authority
in Baghdad gave all the miscellaneous heretics a chance for life, it was different in the growing dominions of Mahmud of Ghazna. That iconoclastic monarch had embraced the anthropomorphic faith of the Karramites, the most literal-minded of all the Muslim sects. In consequence, all forms of Mu‘tazilism and all kinds of mutakallims were an abomination to him, and it was a very real persecution which they met at his hands. That al-Qadir, his spiritual suzerain, urged him on is very probable; it is also possible that respect for the growing power of Mahmud may have protected al-Qadir to some extent from the Buwayhids. In 420 Mahmud took from them Ispahan and held there a grand inquisition on Shi‘ites and heretics of all kinds.
To proceed with the Mu‘tazilites; when we come to al-Ghazzali and his times we shall find that they have ceased to be a crying danger to the faith. Though their views might, that doctor held, be erroneous in some respects, they were not to be considered as damnable. Again, in 538, there died az-Zamakhshari, the great grammarian, who is often called the last of the Mu‘tazilites. He was not that by any means, but his heresies were either mild or were regarded mildly. A single point will show this, His commentary on the Qur’an, the Kashshaf, was revised and expurgated in the orthodox interest by al-Baydawi (d. 688) and in that form is now the most popular and respected of all expositions. The Kashshaf itself, in its original, unmodified form, has been printed several times at Cairo. Again, Ibn Rushd, the Aristotelian, who died in 595, when he is
combating the arguments of the mutakallims, makes little difference between the Mu‘tazilites and the others. They are only, to him, another variety of scholastic theologian, with a rather better idea, perhaps, of logic and argument. He considered, as we shall find later, all the mutakallims as sadly to seek in such matters. Since then, and into quite modern times, there have been sporadic cases of theologians called Mu‘tazilites by themselves or others. Practically, they have been scholastics of eccentric views. Finally, the use of this name for themselves by the present-day broad school Muslims of India is absolutely unhistorical and highly misleading.
We turn now to suggest, rather than to trace, some of the non-theological consequences of the preceding theology.
Increasingly, from this time on, it is not heresy which has to be met so much as simple unbelief, more or less frank. It is evident that the heretics of the earlier period are now dividing in two directions, one part inclining toward milder forms of heresy and the other toward doubt in the largest sense, passing over to Aristotelian + neo-Platonic philosophy, and thence dividing into materialists, deists, and theists. Thus we have seen earlier the workings of al-Farabi and of the Ikhwan as-safa. The teachings of the latter pass on to the Isma‘ilians who developed them in the mountain fortresses, the centres of their power, scattered from Persia to Syria. These were otherwise called Assassins; otherwise Batinites in the narrower sense--in the broader that term meant only those who found under the letter of the Qur’an a
hidden, esoteric meaning; otherwise Ta‘limites or claimers of a ta‘lim, a secret teaching by a divinely instructed Imam, and with them we shall have much to do later. It is sufficient here to notice how the peaceful and rather watery philosophy of the "Sincere Brethren" was transmuted through ambition and fanaticism into belligerent politics at the hands and daggers of these fierce sectaries. Into this period, too, fall some well-known names of dubious and more than dubious orthodoxy. Al-Beruni (d. 440) even at the court of Mahmud of Ghazna managed to keep his footing and his head. Yet it may be doubted how far he was a Karramite or even a Muslim. He was certainly the first scientific student of India and Indica and of chronology and calendars, a man whose attainments and results show that our so-called modern methods are as old as genius. On religion, he maintained a prudent silence, but earned the favor of Mahmud by an unsparing exposure of the weakness in the Fatimid genealogy. In this sketch he has a place as a man of science who went his own way without treading on the religious toes of other people.
His contemporary Ibn Sina (d. 428), for us Avicenna, was of a different nature, and his lines were cast in different places. He was a wanderer through the courts of northern Persia. The orthodox and stringent Mahmud he carefully avoided; the Buwayhids and those of their ilk took such heresies as his more easily. Endowed with a gigantic memory and an insatiable intellectual appetite, he was the encyclopædist of his age, and his scientific work, and especially that in medicine, went further than anything
else to put the Muslim East and mediæval Europe in the strait waistcoat from which the first has not yet emerged and the second only shook itself free in the seventeenth century. He was a student of Aristotle and a mystic, as all Muslim students of Aristotle have been. How far his mysticism enabled him to square the Qur’an with his philosophy is not clear; such men seldom said exactly what they meant and all that they thought. He was also a diligent student and reader of the Qur’an and faithful in his public religious duties. Yet the Muslim world asserts that he left behind him a testamentary tractate (wasiya) defending dissimulation as to the religion of the country in which we might be; that it was not wrong for the philosopher to go through religious rites which for him had no meaning. He, too, is significant for his time, and, if our interest were philosophy, would call for lengthened treatment. As it is, he marks for us the accomplished separation between students of theology and students of philosophy.
An equally well known and by us much better loved name is that of Umar al-Khayyam, who died later, about 515, but who may fitly be grouped with Ibn Sina. He, too, was a bon vivant, but of a deeper, more melancholy strain. His wine meant more than friendly cups; it was a way of escape from the world and its burden. His science, too, went deeper. He was not a gatherer and arranger of the wisdom of the past; his reformed calendar is more perfect than that which we even now use. His faith is a riddle to us, as it was to his comrades. But it was because he had no certain truth to proclaim that Umar did not
speak out clearly. His last words were almost those of Rabelais, "I go to meet the great Perhaps." Anecdotage connects his name with that of al-Ghazzali. Neither had escaped the pall of universal scepticism which must have descended upon their time. But al-Ghazzali, by God's grace, as he himself reverently says, was enabled to escape. Umar died under it.
A very different man was Abu-l-Ala al-Ma‘arri, the blind poet and singer of intellectual freedom. In Arabic literature there is no other voice like his, clear and confident. He was a man of letters; no philosopher nor theologian nor scientist, though at one time he seems to have come in contact with a circle like that of Ikhwan as-safa, perhaps the same; and his spirit was like that of one of the heroic poets of the old desert life, whose hand was taught to keep his head, whose tongue spared nothing from heaven to earth, and who lived his own life out in his own way, undaunted. In his darkness he nourished great thoughts and flung out a sœva indignatio on hypocrisy and subservience which reminds of Lessing. But Abu-l-Ala was a great poet, and his scorn of priests and courtiers and their lies, his pity for suffering humanity and his confidence in the light of reason are thrown into scraps of burning, echoing verse without their like in Arabic. He died at the town of his birth, Ma‘arrat an-Nu‘man, in northern Syria, in 449. The problem is how he was suffered to live out his long life of eighty-six years.
We can now return to the development of scholastic theology in the orthodox church at the hands of
the followers of al-Ash‘ari. They had to fight their way against many and most differing opponents. At the one extreme were the dwindling Mu‘tazilites, passing slowly into comparatively innocuous heretics, and the growing party of unbelievers, philosophical and otherwise, open and secret. At the other extreme was the mob of Hanbalites, belonging to the only legal school which laid theological burdens on its adherents. The theologians, in this case, certainly varied as to the weight of their own anathemas against all kalam, but were at one in that they carried the bulk of the multitude with them and could enforce their conclusions with the cudgels of rioters. In the midst were the rival orthodox (pace the Hanbalites) developers of kalam, among whom the Mataridites probably held the most important place. Thus, the Ash‘arite school was the nursling as well as the child of controversy.
It was, then, fitting that the name joined, at least in tradition, with the final form of that system, should be that of a controversialist. But this man, Abu Bakr al-Baqilani the Qadi, was more than a mere controversialist. It is his glory to have contributed most important elements to and put into fixed form what is, perhaps, the most fantastic and daring metaphysical scheme, and almost certainly the most thorough theological scheme, ever thought out. On the one hand, the Lucretian atoms raining down through the empty void, the self-developing monads of Leibnitz, pre-established harmony and all, the Kantian "things in themselves" are lame and impotent in their consistency beside the parallel Ash‘arite doctrines;
and, on the other, not even the rigors of Calvin, as developed in the Dutch confessions, can compete with the unflinching exactitude of the Muslim conclusions.
First, as to ontology. The object of the Ash‘arites was that of Kant, to fix the relation of knowledge to the thing in itself. Thus, al-Baqilani defined knowledge (ilm) as cognition (ma‘rifa) of a thing as it is in itself. But in reaching that "thing in itself" they were much more thorough than Kant. Only two of the Aristotelian categories survived their attack, substance and quality. The others, quantity, place, time and the rest, were only relationships (i‘tibars) existing subjectively in the mind of the knower, and not things. But a relationship, they argued, if real, must exist in something, and a quality cannot exist in another quality, only in a substance. Yet it could not exist in either of the two things which it brought together; for example, in the cause or the effect. It must be in a third thing. But to bring this third thing and the first two together, other relationships would be needed and other things for these relationships to exist in. Thus we would be led back in an infinite sequence, and they had taken over from Aristotle the position that such an infinite series backward (tasalsal) is inadmissible. Relationships, then, had no real existence but were mere phantoms, subjective nonentities. Further, the Aristotelian view of matter was now impossible for them. All the categories had gone except substance and quality; and among them, passion. Matter, then, could not have the possibility of suffering the impress of form. A possibility
is neither an entity nor a non-entity, but a subjectivity purely. But with the suffering matter, the active form and all causes must also go. They, too, are mere subjectivities. Again, qualities, for these thinkers, became mere accidents. The fleeting character of appearances drove them to the conclusion that there was no such thing as a quality planted in the nature of a thing; that the idea "nature" did not exist. Then this drove them further. Substances exist only with qualities, i.e., accidents. These qualities may be positive or they may be negative; the ascription to things of negative qualities is one of their most fruitful conceptions. When, then, the qualities fall out of existence, the substances themselves must also cease to exist. Substance as well as quality is fleeting, has only a moment's duration.
But when they rejected the Aristotelian view of matter as the possibility of receiving form, their path of necessity led them straight to the atomists. So atomists they became, and, as always, after their own fashion. Their atoms are not of space only, but also of time. The basis of all the manifestation, mental and physical, of the world in place and time, is a multitude of monads. Each has certain qualities but has extension neither in space nor time. They have simply position, not bulk, and do not touch one another. Between them is absolute void. Similarly as to time. The time-atoms, if the expression may be permitted, are equally unextended and have also absolute void--of time--between them. Just as space is only in a series of atoms, so time is only in a succession of untouching moments and leaps across
the void from one to the other with the jerk of the hand of a clock. Time, in this view, is in grains and can exist only in connection with change. The monads differ from those of Leibnitz in having no nature in themselves, no possibility of development along certain lines. The Muslim monads are, and again are not, all change and action in the world are produced by their entering into existence and dropping out again, not by any change in themselves.
But this most simple view of the world left its holders in precisely the same difficulty, only in a far higher degree, as that of Leibnitz. He was compelled to fall back on a pre-established harmony to bring his monads into orderly relations with one another; the Muslim theologians, on their side, fell back upon God and found in His will the ground of all things.
We here pass from their ontology to their theology, and as they were thorough-going metaphysicians, so now they are thorough-going theologians. Being was all in the one case; now it is God that is all. In truth, their philosophy is in its essence a scepticism which destroys the possibility of a philosophy in order to drive men back to God and His revelations and compel them to see in Him the one grand fact of the universe. So, when a darwish shouts in his ecstasy, "Huwa-l-haqq," he does not mean, "He is the Truth," in our Western sense of Verity, or our New Testament sense of "The Way, the Truth, and the Life," but simply, "He is the Fact"--the one Reality.
To return: from their ontology they derived an
argument for the necessity of a God. That their monads came so and not otherwise must have a cause; without it there could be no harmony or connection between them. And this cause must be one with no cause behind it; otherwise we would have the endless chain. This cause, then, they found in the absolutely free will of God, working without any matter beside it and unaffected by any laws or necessities. It creates and annihilates the atoms and their qualities and, by that means, brings to pass all the motion and change of the world. These, in our sense, do not exist. When a thing seems to us to be moved, that really means that God has annihilated--or permitted to drop out of existence, by not continuing to uphold, as another view held--the atoms making up that thing in its original position, and has created them again and again along the line over which it moves. Similarly of what we regard as cause and effect. A man writes with a pen and a piece of paper. God creates in his mind the will to write; at the same moment he gives him the power to write and brings about the apparent motion of the hand, of the pen and the appearance on the paper. No one of these is the cause of the other. God has brought about by creation and annihilation of atoms the requisite combination to produce these appearances. Thus we see that free-will for the Muslim scholastics is simply the presence, in the mind of the man, of this choice created there by God. This may not seem to us to be very real, but it has, certainly, as much reality as anything else in their world. Further, it will be observed how completely this annihilates the machinery
of the universe. There is no such thing as law, and the world is sustained by a constant, ever-repeated miracle. Miracles and what we regard as the ordinary operations of nature are on the same level. The world and the things in it could have been quite different. The only limitation upon God is that He cannot produce a contradiction. A thing cannot be and not be at the same time. There is no such thing as a secondary cause; when there is the appearance of such, it is only illusional. God is producing it as well as the ultimate appearance of effect. There is no nature belonging to things. Fire does not burn and a knife does not cut. God creates in a substance a being burned when the fire touches it and a being cut when the knife approaches it.
In this scheme there are certainly grave difficulties, philosophical and ethical. It establishes a relationship between God and the atoms; but we have already seen that relationships are subjective illusions. That, however, was in the case of the things of the world, perceived by the senses--contingent being, as they would put it. It does not hold of necessary being. God possesses a quality called Difference from originated things (al-mukhalafa lil-hawadith). He is not a natural cause, but a free cause; and the existence of a free cause they were compelled by their principles to admit. The ethical difficulty is perhaps greater. If there is no order of nature and no certainty, or nexus, as to causes and effects; if there is no regular development in the life, mental, moral, and physical of a man--only a series of isolated moments; how can there be any
responsibility, any moral claim or duty? This difficulty seems to have been recognized more clearly than the philosophical one. It was met formally by the assertion of a certain order and regularity in the will of God. He sees to it that a man's life is a unity, and, for details, that the will to eat and the action always coincide. But such an answer must have been felt to be inadequate and to involve grave moral dangers for the common mind. Therefore, as we have seen, the study of kalam was hedged about with difficulties and restrictions. Theologians recognized its trap-falls and doubts, even for themselves, and lamented that they were compelled by their profession to study it. The public discussion of its questions was regarded as a breach of professional etiquette. Theologians and philosophers alike strove to keep these deeper mysteries hidden from the multitude. The gap between the highly educated and the great mass--that fundamental error and greatest danger in Muslim society--comes here again to view. Further, even among theologians, there was some difference in degree of insight, and books and phrases could be read by different men in very different ways. To one, they would suggest ordinary, Qur’anic doctrines; another would see under and behind them a trail of metaphysical consequences bristling with blasphemous possibilities. Thus, Muslim science has been always of the school; it has never learned the vitalizing and disinfecting value of the fresh air of the market-place. This applies to philosophers even more than to theologians. The crowning accusation which Ibn Rushd, the great
[paragraph continues] Aristotelian commentator, brought against al-Ghazzali was that he discussed such subtilties in popular books.
This, then, was the system which seems to have reached tolerably complete form at the hands of al-Baqilani, who died in 403. But with the completion of the system there went by no means its universal or even wide-spread acceptance in the Muslim world. That of al-Mataridi held its own for long, and, even yet, the Mataridite creed of an-Nasafi is used largely in the Turkish schools. In the fifth century it was considered remarkable that Abu Dharr (d. 434), a theologian of Herat, should be an Ash‘arite rather than, apparently, a Mataridite. It was not till al-Ghazzali (d. 505) that the Ash‘arite system came to the orthodox hegemony in the East, and it was only as the result of the work of Ibn Tumart, the Mahdi of the Muwahhids (d. 524), that it conquered the West. For long its path was darkened by suspicion and persecution. This came almost entirely from the Hanbalites. The Mu‘tazilites had no force behind them, and while the views of deists and materialists were steadily making way in secret, their public efforts appeared only in very occasional disputes between theologians and philosophers. As we have seen, Muslim philosophy has always practised an economy of teaching.
The Hanbalite crisis seems to have come to a head toward the close of the reign of Tughril Beg, the first Great Saljuq. In 429, as we have seen, the Saljuqs had taken Merv and Samarqand, and in 447 Tughril Beg had entered Baghdad and freed the Khalifa from
the Shi‘ite domination of the Buwayhids who had so long enforced toleration. It was natural that he, a theologically unschooled Turk, should be captured by the simplicity and concreteness of the Hanbalite doctrines.
Added to this political factor there was a theological movement at work which was deeply hostile to the Ash‘arites as they had developed. An important point in the method of al-Ash‘ari himself, and, after him, of his followers, was to put forth a creed, expressed in the old-fashioned terms and containing the old-fashioned doctrines as nearly as was at all possible, and to accompany it with a spiritualizing interpretation which was, naturally, accessible to the professional student only. Accordingly what had at first seemed a weapon against the Mu‘tazilites came to be viewed with more and more suspicion by the holders to the old, unquestioning orthodoxy. The duty also of religious investigation and speculation (nazr) came to have more and more stress laid upon it. The bila kayfa dropped into the background. A Muslim must have a reason for the faith that was in him, they said; otherwise, he was no true Muslim, was in fact an unbeliever. Of course, they limited carefully the extent to which he should go. For the ordinary man a series of very simple proofs would be prepared; the student, on the other hand, when carefully led, could work his way through the system sketched above. All this, naturally, was anathema to the party of tradition.
It is significant that at this time the Zahirite school of law (fiqh) developed into a school of kalam and applied its literal principles unflinchingly to its new
victim. The leader in this was Ibn Hazm, a theologian of Spain. He died in 456, after a stormy life filled with controversy. The remorseless sting of his vituperative style coupled him, in popular proverb, with al-Hajjaj, the blood-thirsty lieutenant of the Umayyads in al-Iraq. "The sword of al-Hajjaj and the tongue of Ibn Hazm," they said. But for all his violence of language and real weight of character and brain, he made little way for his views in his lifetime. It was almost one hundred years after his death before they came into any prominence. The theologians and lawyers around him in the West were devoted to the study of fiqh in the narrowest and most technical sense. They labored over the systems and treatises of their predecessors and neglected the great original sources of the Qur’an and the traditions. The immediate study of tradition (hadith) had died out. Ibn Hazm, on the other hand, went straight back to hadith. Taqlid he absolutely rejected, each man must draw from the sacred texts his own views. So the whole system of the canon lawyers came down with a crash and they, naturally, did not like it. Analogy (qiyas), their principal instrument, he swept away. It had no place either in law or theology. Even on the principle of agreement (ijma) he threw a shadow of doubt.
But it was in theology rather than in law that Ibn Hazm's originality lay. Strictly, his Zahirite principles when applied there should have led him to anthropomorphism (tajsim). The literal meaning of the Qur’an, as we have seen, assigns to God hands and feet, sitting on and descending from His throne. But
to Ibn Hazm, anthropomorphism was an abomination only less than the speculative arguments with which the Ash‘arites tried to avoid it. His own method was purely grammatical and lexicographical. He hunted in his dictionary until he found some other meaning for "hand" or "foot," or whatever the stumbling-block might be.
But the most original point in his system is his doctrine of the names of God, and his basing of that doctrine upon God's qualities. The Ash‘arites, he contended with justice, had been guilty of a grave inconsistency in saying that God was different in nature, qualities, and actions from all created things, and yet that the human qualities could be predicated of God, and that men could reason about God's nature. He accepted the doctrine of God's difference (mukhalafa) on highly logical, but, for us, rather startling grounds. The Qur’an applies to Him the words, "The Most Merciful of those that show mercy," but God, evidently, is not merciful. He tortures children with all manner of painful diseases, with hunger and terror. Mercy, in our human sense, which is high praise applied to a man, cannot be predicated of God. What then does the Qur’an mean by those words? Simply that they--arhamu-rrahimin--are one of God's names, applied to Him by Himself and that we have no right to take them as descriptive of a quality, mercy, and to use them to throw light on God's nature. They form one of the Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names (al-asma al-husna) of which the Prophet has spoken in a tradition. Similarly, we may call God the Living One
[paragraph continues] (al hayy), because He has given us that as one of His names, not because of any reasoning on our part. Do we not say that His life is different from that of all other living beings? These names then, are limited to ninety-nine and no more should be formed, however full of praise such might be for God, or however directly based on His actions. He has called Himself al-Wahib, the Giver, and so we may use that term of Him. But He has not called Himself al-Wahhab the Bountiful Giver, so we may not use that term of Him, though it is one of praise. Of course, you may describe His action and say that He is the guider of His saints. But you must not make from that a name, and call Him simply the Guider. Further, if we regard these names as expressing qualities in God, we involve multiplicity in God's nature; there is the quality and the thing qualified. Here we are back at the old Mu‘tazilite difficulty and it is intelligible that Ibn Hazm dealt more gently with the Mu‘tazilites than with the Ash‘arites. The one party were Muslims and sinned in ignorance--invincible ignorance, a Roman Catholic would call it; the others were unbelievers. They had turned wilfully from the way. The Mu‘tazilites had tried to limit the qualities as much as possible. At the best they had said that they were God's essence and not in His essence. Al-Ash‘ari and his school had fairly revelled in qualities and had mapped out the nature of God with the detail--and daring--of a phrenological chart.
Naturally, Ibn Hazm made his ethical basis the will of God only. God has willed that this should be a sin and that a good deed. Lying, he concedes,
is always saying what does not agree with the truth. But, still, God may pronounce that one lie is a sin, and one not. Muslim ethics, it is true, have never branded lying as sinful in itself.
For the Shi‘ites and their doctrine of an infallible Imam, Ibn Hazm cannot find strong enough expressions of contempt.
In Ibn Hazm's time, and he praises God for it, there were but few Ash‘arites in the West. Theology generally did not find many students. So things went on till long after his death. To this fiery controversialist the worst blow of all would have been if he could have known that the men who were at last to bring his system, in part and for a time, into public acceptance and repute, were also to complete the conquest of Islam for the Ash‘arite school. That was still far in the future, and we must return to the persecution,
The accounts of the persecution which set in are singularly conflicting. Some assign it to Hanbalite influence; others tell of a Mu‘tazilite wazir of Tughril Beg. That the traditionalist party was the main force in it seems certain. In all probability, however, all the other anti-Ash‘arite sects, from the Mu‘tazilites on, took their own parts. The Ash‘arite party represented a via media and would be set upon with zest by all the extremes. They were solemnly cursed from the pulpits and, what added peculiar insult to it, the Rafidites, an extreme Kharijite sect, were joined in the same anathema. Al-Juwayni, the greatest theologian of the time, fled to the Hijaz and gained the title of Imam of the two Harams
[paragraph continues] (Imam al-Haramayn), by living for four years between Mecca and al-Madina. Al-Qushayri, the author of a celebrated treatise on Sufiism, was thrown into prison. The Ash‘arite doctors generally were scattered to the winds. Only with the death of Tughril Beg in 455 did the cloud pass. His successor, Alp-Arslan, and especially the great wazir, Nizam al-Mulk, favored the Ash‘arites. In 459 the latter founded the Nizamite Academy at Baghdad to be a defence of Ash‘arite doctrines. This may fairly be regarded as the turning-point of the whole controversy. The Hanbalite mob of Baghdad still continued to make itself felt, but its excesses were promptly suppressed. In 510 ash-Shahrastani was well received there by the people, and in 516 the Khalifa himself attended Ash‘arite lectures.
It is needless to spend more time over the other theologians who were links in the chain between al-Ash‘ari and the Imam al-Haramayn. Their views wavered, this way and that, only the rationalizing tendency became stronger and stronger. There was danger that the orthodox system would fossilize and lose touch with life as that of the Mu‘tazilites had done. It is true that Sufiism still held its ground. All theologians practically were touched by it in its simpler form; and the cause of the higher Sufiism of ecstasy, wonders by saints (karamat) and communion of the individual soul with God had been eloquently and effectively urged by al-Qushayri (d. 465) in his Risala. But in spite of the labors of so many men of high ability, the religious outlook was growing ever darker. Keen observers recognized that
some change was bound to come. That it might be an inflowing of new life by a new al-Ash‘ari was their prayer. It is more than dubious whether even the keenest mind of the time could have recognized what form the new life must take. They had not the perspective and could only feel a vague need. But from what has gone before it will be plain that Islam had again to assimilate to itself something from without or perish. Such had been its manner of progress up till now. New opinions had arisen; had become heresies; conflict had followed; part of the new thought had been absorbed into the orthodox church; part had been rejected; through it all the life of the church had gone on in fuller and richer measure, being always, in spite of everything, the main stream; the heresy itself had slowly dwindled out of sight. So it had been with Murji’ism; so with Mu‘tazilism. With the orthodox, tradition (naql) still stood fast, but reason (aql) had taken a place beside it. Kalam, in spite of Hanbalite clamors, had become fairly a part of their system. What was to be the new element, and who was to be its champion?