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3. Al-Ash‘arī

Among the Shāfi‘ī School of Baghdad, Māturīdī's con-temporary al-Ash‘arī (died A.H. 324/A.D. 935) played the same role Māturīdī had among the Ḥanafīs of Samarqand, and of the two men al-Ash‘arī has become the better known. While there were certain disputed questions between the two schools they founded, their aims were basically the same: to refute Mu‘tazilī theology and reaffirm the doctrines of the Old Believer Sunnīs with the aid of logical demonstration and philosophic concepts.

Neither Ash‘arī nor Māturīdī was the first to thus seek a medial position in the quarrel of the traditionalists and the rationalists: al-Muḥāsibī the mystic had attempted it in the second century A.H. and had been roundly denounced for it by his contemporary Ibn Ḥanbal. But while Muḥāsibī's attempt had been abortive, by the fourth century long debates had helped to prepare a party who would accept a middle way. The core of the fundamentalists, the Ḥanbalīs, remained hostile to this new rationalism and cursed al-Ash‘arī, not for his conclusions but for his innovating method.

Nevertheless, with time and official patronage, kalām (dialectic theology) became an accepted formulation of Islamic doctrine.

Al-Ash‘arī had himself been a Mu‘tazilī, the pupil of al-Jubbā'ī, chief of the Baṡra Mu‘tazila. In A.H. 300/A.D. 913, it is said, Ash‘arī became convinced that Mu‘tazilism could not be reconciled with the sayings of the Prophet, and left the Mu‘tazila for the fundamentalists.

Where the Mu‘tazila had denied the eternal attributes of God, and had explained as metaphors the references

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to His face, hands and eyes, and where the Old Believers had insisted that these be taken literally, Ash‘arī insisted that God has all these things, but not as men have them; the Qur’ānic references must be accepted, but not in a crudely anthropomorphic sense. The Qur’ān for him is God's uncreated Word, but the writing or sounds by which men have access to it are created things. Man's acts, too, are created by God--but man "acquires" them, by moral responsibility.

In popular legend, al-Ash‘arī is usually given credit for "defeating the Mu‘tazila." Far from it; the next century was to see gains for them, due to the sympathy of the dictators of the House of Buwayh, who themselves were Shī‘īs. Still, al-Ash‘arī had founded a school and a method, and with the Saljūq restoration, his school triumphed. The Mu‘tazila passed from the scene and their books were burned, but their doctrines have been preserved to a considerable degree among the Shī‘ī sects.


To begin with, there are many deviators from the truth among the Mu‘tazila and the ahl al-qadar [exponents of free will, who believe that men have "power" (qadr), to act], whose straying desires have inclined them to the acceptance of the principles (taqlīd) of their leaders and their departed forebears; so that they interpret the Qur’ān according to their opinions with an interpretation for which God has neither revealed authority nor shown proof, and which they have not derived from the Apostle of the Lord of the Worlds or from the ancients of the past; and, as a result, they oppose the traditions of the Companions, related on the authority of the Prophet of God, concerning God's visibility to sight, although with regard to it the traditions come from various sources, and the ḥadīth upon it have been continuous, and (information) has come down in steady succession.

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[paragraph continues] (1) They deny the intercession of the Apostle of God for sinners, and reject the traditions concerning it that are related on the authority of the ancients of the past. (2) They gainsay the punishment of the grave and the doctrine that the infidels are punished in their graves although the Companions and the Successors have agreed upon this matter unanimously. (3) They maintain the createdness of the Qur’ān; thereby approximating the belief of their brethren among the polytheists, who said, "It is merely the word of a mortal"; and so they think that the Qur’ān is like the word of a mortal. (4) They assert and are convinced that human beings create evil; thereby approximating the belief of the Magians, who assert that there are two creators, one of them creating good and the other creating evil (for the Qadarīya think that God creates good and that Satan creates evil). (5) They think that God may wish what is not, and what He does not wish may be; in disagreement with that upon which the Muslims have unanimously agreed, namely, that what God wishes is, and what He does not wish is not; and contrarily to the words of God "But ye shall not wish except God wish"--He says that we shall not wish a thing unless God has wished that we wish it--and to His words, "If God had wished, they would not have wrangled," and His words, "Had We wished, We had certainly given to every soul its guidance," and His words, "Doer of what He wills," and His statement with reference to Shū‘ayb, that he said, "Nor can we return it, except God our Lord wish; our Lord embraceth all things in His ken." Therefore the Apostle of God called them "the Magians [Zoroastrians] of this Community" [according to a spurious ḥadīth--ED.] because they have adopted the religion of the Magians and copied their tenets, and think that there are two creators, the one for good and the other for evil, just as the Magians think, and that there are evils God does not wish, as the Magians believe. (6) They think that they, and not God, have control over what is hurtful and what is helpful to them, contrarily to the words of God to His Prophet, "Say: I have no control over what may be helpful or hurtful to me, but as God wisheth," and in opposition to the Qur’ān and to that upon which the people of Islam

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have unanimously agreed. (7) They think that they alone, and not their Lord, have power over their works, and assert that they are independent of God, and attribute to themselves power over that over which they do not attribute power to God, just as the Magians assert that Satan has power over evil that they do not assert God has. Hence they are "the Magians of this Community," since they have adopted the religion of the Magians, hold fast to their beliefs, incline to their errors, cause men to despair of God's mercy and lose their hope of His spirit, and have condemned the disobedient to Hell forever, in disagreement with God's words, "But other than this will He forgive to whom He wishes." (8) They think that he who enters Hell will not come forth from it, in disagreement with the tradition, related on the authority of the Apostle of God, that God will bring forth people out of Hell after they have burned in it and become ashes. (9) They deny that God has a face, notwithstanding His words, "But the face of thy Lord shall abide resplendent with majesty and glory." They deny that He has two hands, notwithstanding His words, "Before him whom I have created with My two hands." They deny that God has an eye, notwithstanding His words, "Under Our eyes it floated on," and His words "That thou mightest be reared in Mine eye." They deny that God has knowledge, notwithstanding His words, "In His knowledge He sent it down." They deny that God has power, notwithstanding His words, "Possessed of might, the Unshaken." (10) They reject the tradition, related on the authority of the Prophet, that God descends each night to the lower heaven, and other traditions among those that the trustworthy have handed down on the authority of God's Apostle. Of like fashion are all the innovators--the Jahmīya, the Murji’a--deviators in their innovations, who dissent from the Book and the Sunna, and that upon which the Prophet and his Companions take their stand and the Community have unanimously agreed, as do the Qadarīya, Mu‘tazila. . . . 4


The rational proof of the creation of men's acts is our experience that unbelief is bad, false, vain, inconsistent, and

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of a certain contrariness, whereas faith is good, toilsome, and painful.

Such being the case, unbelief must have a producer who intentionally produces it as unbelief, vain and bad. And its producer can never be the unbeliever, who desires that unbelief be good, right, and true, whereas it is the contrary of that. Likewise faith must have a producer who produces it as it really is, toilsome, painful, and vexatious, and who is not the believer, who, though he strive that faith be contrary to its actual painfulness, toilsomeness, and vexatiousness, has no way to effect that. So if the one who produces unbelief as it really is cannot be the unbeliever, and if the one who produces faith as it really is cannot be the believer, then the intentional producer of both must be God Most High, Lord of the Worlds. For no body can produce them, since bodies can effect nothing in things distinct from themselves.


Question: Why is it that the occurrence of the act which is an acquisition does not prove that it has no agent save God, just as it proves that it has no creator save God?

Answer: That is exactly what we say.


Question: Then why does it not prove that there is no one with power over it save God?

Answer: It has no agent who makes it as it really is save God, and no one with power over it so that it will be as it really is, in the sense that he creates it, save God. 5


Question: Is God free to inflict pain on infants in the next life?

Answer: God is free to do that, and in doing it He would be just. Likewise, whenever He inflicts an infinite punishment for a finite sin, and subordinates some living beings to others, God is gracious to some and not to others, and creates men knowing well that they will disbelieve--all that is justice on His part. And it would not be evil on the part of God to create them in the painful punishment and to make it perpetual. Nor would it be evil on His part to punish the believers and to introduce the unbelievers into the Gardens. Our only reason for saying that He will not do that is that

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[paragraph continues] He has informed us that He will punish the unbelievers--and He cannot lie when He gives information.


The proof that He is free to do whatever He does is that He is the Supreme Monarch, subject to no one, with no superior over Him who can permit, or command, or chide, or forbid, or prescribe what He shall do and fix bounds for Him. This being so, nothing can be evil on the part of God. For a thing is evil on our part only because we transgress the limit and bound set for us and do what we have no right to do. But since the Creator is subject to no one and bound by no command, nothing can be evil on His part.


Objection: Then lying is evil only because God has declared it to be evil.

Answer: Certainly. And if He declared it to be good, it would be good; and if He commanded it, no one could gainsay Him. 6


193:4 p. 249 W. Klein, trans., Kitāb al-Ibāna ‘an Usul al-Diyāna (New Haven, 1940), pp. 47-49.

193:5 R. J. McCarthy S.J., trans., Kitāb al-Luma‘ (Beirut, 1953), pp. 55, 56.

193:6 Ibid., pp. 99, 100.

Next: 4. Al-Juwaynī