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The adherents of the Muʿtazili school, known as Muʿtazilites, are best known for denying the status of the Qur'an as uncreated and co-eternal with God, asserting that if the Quran is the word of God, He logically "must have preceded his own speech".
The philosophical speculation of the Muʿtazilites centred on the concepts of divine justice and divine unity. The school worked to resolve the theological "problem of evil": how to reconcile the justice of an all-powerful God with the reality of evil in the world. It believed that since God is just and wise, He cannot command what is contrary to reason or act with disregard for the welfare of His creatures.
Muʿtazilites believed that good and evil were not determined by revealed scripture or interpretation of scripture, but they were rational categories that could be "established through unaided reason"; because knowledge was derived from reason, reason was the "final arbiter" in distinguishing right from wrong.
The Muʿtazili school of Kalam considered the injunctions of God to be accessible to rational thought and inquiry and that reason, not "sacred precedent", is the effective means to determine what is just and religiously obligatory.
The movement emerged during the Umayyad Caliphate and reached its height during the Abbasid Caliphate. After the 10th century, the movement declined. It is viewed as heretical by some scholars in modern mainstream Islamic theology for its tendency to deny the Qur'an being eternal.
In contemporary jihadism, the epithet or supposed allegations of being a Muʿtazilite have been used between rival groups as a means of denouncing their credibility.
The name is derived from the founder's "withdrawal" from the study circle of Hasan of Basra over a theological disagreement: Wāṣil ibn ʿAṭā' asked about the legal state of a sinner: is a person who has committed a serious sin a believer or an unbeliever? Hasan answered the person remains a Muslim. Wasil dissented, suggesting that a sinner was neither a believer nor an unbeliever and withdrew from the study circle. Others followed to form a new circle, including ʿAmr ibn ʿUbayd. Hasan's remark, "Wāṣil has withdrawn from us", is said to be the origin of the movement's name.
The group later referred to themselves as Ahl al-Tawḥīd wa l-ʿAdl (اهل التوحيد و العدل, "people of monotheism and justice", and the name muʿtazili was first used by its opponents.
The verb iʿtizal is also used to designate a neutral party in a dispute (as in "withdrawing" from a dispute between two factions). According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "The name [Mutazilah] first appears in early Islāmic history in the dispute over ʿAlī's leadership of the Muslim community after the murder of the third caliph, ʿUthmān (656). Those who would neither condemn nor sanction ʿAlī or his opponents but took a middle position were termed the Muʿtazilah." Nallino (1916) argued that the theological Mu'tazilism of Wasil and his successors was merely a continuation of this initial political Mu'tazilism.
Muʿtazili theology originated in the eighth century in Basra (now in Iraq) when Wāṣil ibn ʿAṭā' (d. 131 AH/748 AD) left the teaching lessons of Hasan al-Basri after a theological dispute regarding the issue of al-Manzilah bayna al-Manzilatayn (a position between two positions).
Though Muʿtazilis later relied on logic and different aspects of early Islamic philosophy, ancient Greek philosophy, and Indian philosophy, the basics of Islam were their starting point and ultimate reference. The accusations leveled against them by rival schools of theology that they gave absolute authority to extra-Islamic paradigms reflect more the fierce polemics between various schools of theology than any objective reality. For instance, Muʿtazilis adopted unanimously the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, contrary to certain Muslim philosophers who, with the exception of al-Kindi, believed in the eternity of the world in some form or another. It was usually Muslim philosophers, not the Muslim theologians generally speaking, who took Greek, Indian, and Hellenistic philosophy as a starting point and master conceptual framework for analyzing and investigating reality.
This school of thought emerged as a reaction to political tyranny; it brought answers to political questions, or questions raised by current political circumstances. The philosophical and metaphysical elements, and influence of the Greek philosophy were added afterward during the Abbasid Caliphate. The founders of the Abbasid dynasty strategically supported this school to bring political revolution against the Umayyad Caliphate. Once their authority was established, they also turned against this school of thought.
Like all other schools, Muʿtazilism developed over an extensive period of time. Abu al-Hudhayl al-'Allaf (d. 235 AH/849 AD), who came a couple of generations after Wāṣil ibn ʿAtāʾ (واصل بن عطاء) and ʿAmr ibn ʿUbayd, is considered the theologian who systematized and formalized Muʿtazilism in Basra. Another branch of the school found a home in Baghdad under the direction of Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir (d. 210 AH/825 AD); the instigators thought it was the Caliph's own scheme: under Ma`mun the Great (813-833), "Muʿtazilism became the established faith. The Muʿtazilites maintained, like the Qadarites of the later Omayyad period, man's free will, also that justice and reason must form the foundation of the action God takes toward men, both of which doctrines were repudiated by the later orthodox school of the Ashʿarites."
The persecution campaign, nonetheless, cost them their theology and generally, the sympathy of the Muslim masses. As the number of Muslims increased throughout the Islamic empire, and in reaction to the excesses of this newly imposed rationalism, theologians began to lose ground. The problem was exacerbated by the Mihna, the inquisition launched under the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun (d. 218 AH/833 AD). Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Muslim jurist and founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence was a victim of Ma'mun's Mihna. Due to his rejection of Ma'mun's demand to accept and propagate the Muʿtazila creed, ibn Hanbal was imprisoned and tortured by the Abbasid rulers. Under Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847-861), "who sought to reestablish the traditional Moslem faith" (intentionally wanted to restore his legitimacy due to backlash towards Ahmad Ibn Hanbal's persecution under previous Caliphs), Muʿtazilite doctrines were repudiated; their professors persecuted; Shi’ites, Jews, and Christians were also persecuted."
In response to the attacks, Muʿtazili theologians refined and made their idea system more coherent and systematic. Jackson (2002) argued against the "fiction" of that there was a strict traditionalist vs. rationalist dichotomy between the theological mainstream and Muʿtazilah, asserting that much rather that traditionalism and rationalism, in the Islamic context, should be regarded as "different traditions of reason."
In Basra, this task was accomplished by the father and son team, al-Jubba'i (d. 303 AH/915 AD) and Abu Hashim al-Jubba'i (d. 321 AH/933 AD). The two differed on several issues and it was Abu Hashim who was to have the greatest influence on later scholars in Basra, including the prominent Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad, who became the most celebrated proponent of Mu'tazilism in the late tenth and early eleventh century. Muʿtazilism did not disappear from the Islamic intellectual life after the demise of ʿAbd al-Jabbar, but it declined steadily and significantly. By the end of the 15th century, Muʿtazilism had largely faded into obscurity within Sunni circles and was rarely maintained openly as theological position, though Muʿtazilite positions remained an integral aspect of Imami and Zaidi Shi'ite theological doctrines up until the present day and Muʿtazilism itself has even seen a gradual revival in modern times in spite of deeply ingrained prejudices within the contemporary Muslim world.
1Jahmi; 2Karramiyya; 3Alawites & Qizilbash
4Sevener-Qarmatians, Assassins & Druzes
5Ajardi, Azariqa, Bayhasiyya, Najdat & Sūfrī
6Nūkkārī; 7Bahshamiyya & Ikhshîdiyya
8Alevism, Bektashi Order & Qalandariyya
The Five Principles
According to a "leading Muʿtazilite authority" of the end of the ninth century (Al-Khayyat), and "clearly enunciated for the first time by Abu al-Hudhayl", five basic tenets make up the Mu'tazilite creed:
- justice and unity (monotheism),
- the inevitability of the threats and promises of God (or "the warning and the promise"),
- the intermediary position (i.e. Muslims who die without repentance after committing a grave sin are neither mu'mineen (believers), nor kuffar (non-believers), but in an intermediate position),
- the injunction of right, and
- the prohibition of wrong.
Tawhid التوحيد – monotheism
Muʿtazilis believed in the absolute unity of God, or tawhid (التوحيد). In this regard, they are no different from the overwhelming majority of Muslims. However, the schools of theology have differed as to how to uphold divine unity in a way that is consistent with the dictates of both scripture and sound reasoning — a task that is extremely sophisticated given that God is ontologically different and categorically distinct from nature, humans and material causality. All attempts to talk about the divine face the severe, perhaps utterly insurmountable, barrier of using limited human language to conceptualize the Transcendent.
All Muslim schools of theology faced the dilemma of affirming divine transcendence and divine attributes, without falling into anthropomorphism on the one hand or emptying scriptural references to those attributes of all concrete meaning. The Muʿtazili denied the existence of attributes distinct from the divine essence. In other words, God is, for instance, omniscient, but He knows through His essence rather than by having separate knowledge apart from Him. This assertion was to avoid the multiplicity of coeternals — something that may impugn the absolute unity and oneness of God according to Mu'tazilis. In addition, they resorted to the esoteric interpretation of the Quran and prophetic reports that seemingly contained anthropomorphic content. Many other Muslim theologians did likewise. Others opted for either abstaining from making judgments concerning these texts, or to affirm them "without knowing how."
The doctrine of tawhid, in the words of the prominent Muʿtazili scholar Chief Justice Qadi Abd al-Jabbar (d. 415 AH/1025 AD), is:
the knowledge that God, being unique, has attributes that no creature shares with Him. This is explained by the fact that you know that the world has a creator who created it and that: He existed eternally in the past and He cannot perish while we exist after being non-existent and we can perish. And you know that He was and is eternally all-powerful and that impotence is not possible for Him. And you know that He is omniscient of the past and present and that ignorance is not possible for Him. And you know that He knows everything that was, everything that is, and how things that are not would be if they were. And you know that He is eternally in the past and future living, and that calamities and pain are not possible for Him. And you know that He sees visible things, and perceives perceptibles, and that He does not have need of sense organs. And you know that He is eternally past and in future sufficient and it is not possible for Him to be in need. And you know that He is not like physical bodies, and that it is not possible for Him to get up or down, move about, change, be composite, have a form, limbs and body members. And you know that He is not like the accidents of motion, rest, color, food or smells. And you know that He is One throughout eternity and there is no second beside Him, and that everything other than He is contingent, made, dependent, structured, and governed by someone/thing else. Thus, if you know all of that you know the oneness of God.
Al-'adl العدل – divine justice
Facing the problem of existence of evil in the world, the Muʿtazilis pointed at the free will of human beings, so that evil was defined as something that stems from the errors in human acts. God does nothing ultimately evil, and He demands not from any human to perform any evil act. If man's evil acts had been from the will of God, then punishment would have been meaningless, as man performed the will of God no matter what he did. Muʿtazilis did not deny the existence of suffering that goes beyond human abuse and misuse of their free will granted to them by God. In order to explain this type of "apparent" evil, Muʿtazilis relied on the Islamic doctrine of taklif — "God does not order/give the soul of any of his creation, that which is beyond its capacity." [Qur'an 2:286] This entailed the existence of an "act of god" to serve a greater good, or the existence of evil acts to prevent a far greater evil. In conclusion, it comprised life is an ultimate "fair test" of coherent and rational choices, having a supremely just accountability in one's current state, as well as the hereafter.
Humans are required to have belief, iman, secure faith and conviction in and about God, and do good works, amal saleh, to have iman reflected in their moral choices, deeds, and relationship with God, fellow humans, and all of the creation in this world. If everyone is healthy and wealthy, then there will be no meaning for the obligations imposed on humans to, for example, be generous, help the needy, and have compassion for the deprived and trivialized. The inequalities in human fortunes and the calamities that befell them are, thus, an integral part of the test of life. Everyone is being tested. The powerful, the rich, and the healthy are required to use all their powers and privileges to help those who suffer and to alleviate their suffering. In the Qiyamah (Judgment Day), they will be questioned about their response to Divine blessings and bounties they enjoyed in their lives. The less fortunate are required to patiently persevere and are promised a compensation for their suffering that, as the Qur'an puts it in 39:10, and as translated by Muhammad Asad, is "beyond all reckoning".
The test of life is specifically for adults in full possession of their mental faculties. Children may suffer, and are observed to suffer, given the nature of life but they are believed to be completely free from sin and liability. Divine justice is affirmed through the theory of compensation. All sufferers will be compensated. This includes non-believers and, more importantly, children, who are destined to go to Paradise.
The doctrine of 'Adl in the words of ʿAbd al-Jabbar: It is the knowledge that God is removed from all that is morally wrong (qabih) and that all His acts are morally good (hasana). This is explained by the fact that you know that all human acts of injustice (zulm), transgression (jawr), and the like cannot be of His creation (min khalqihi). Whoever attributes that to Him has ascribed to Him injustice and insolence (safah) and thus strays from the doctrine of justice. And you know that God does not impose faith upon the unbeliever without giving him the power (al-qudra) for it, nor does He impose upon a human what he is unable to do, but He only gives to the unbeliever to choose unbelief on his own part, not on the part of God. And you know that God does not will, desire or want disobedience. Rather, He loathes and despises it and only wills obedience, which He wants and chooses and loves. And you know that He does not punish the children of polytheists (al-mushrikin) in Hellfire because of their fathers' sin, for He has said: "Each soul earns but its own due" (Qur'an 6:164); and He does not punish anyone for someone else's sin because that would be morally wrong (qabih), and God is far removed from such. And you know that He does not transgress His rule (hukm) and that He only causes sickness and illness in order to turn them to advantage. Whoever says otherwise has allowed that God is iniquitous and has imputed insolence to Him. And you know that, for their sakes, He does the best for all of His creatures, upon whom He imposes moral and religious obligations (yukallifuhum), and that He has indicated to them what He has imposed upon them and clarified the path of truth so that we could pursue it, and He has clarified the path of falsehood (tariq l-batil) so that we could avoid it. So, whoever perishes does so only after all this has been made clear. And you know that every benefit we have is from God; as He has said: "And you have no good thing that is not from Allah" (Qur'an 16:53); it either comes to us from Him or from elsewhere. Thus, when you know all of this you become knowledgeable about justice from God.
Al-wa'd wa al-wa'id الوعد و الوعيد – the promise and the warning
This comprised questions of the Last day, or in Arabic, the Qiyamah (Day of Judgment). According to 'Abd al-Jabbar, The doctrine of irreversible Divine promises and warnings, is fashioned out the Islamic philosophy of human existence. Humans, (or insan in Arabic) are created with an innate need in their essence to submit themselves to something. Also, it is seen as an innate need of all humans to pursue an inner peace and contentment within the struggles of an imperfect world. Knowledge of God, truth, and choices, in relation to one's innate need of submission is seen in Islam as the promise and recompense of God (al-thawab) to those who follow. His warning is looked at as a conscious decision by a human submitting themselves, and choosing a varying principle which He had given a clear warning to. He will not go back on His word, nor can He act contrary to His promise and warning, nor lie in what He reports, in contrast to what the Postponers (Murjites) hold.
Al-manzilah bayna al-manzilatayn المنزلة بين المنزلتين – the intermediate position
That is, Muslims who commit grave sins and die without repentance are not considered as mu'mins (believers), nor are they considered kafirs (non-believers), but in an intermediate position between the two. The reason behind this is that a mu'min is, by definition, a person who has faith and conviction in and about God, and who has his/her faith reflected in his/her deeds and moral choices. Any shortcoming on any of these two fronts makes one, by definition, not a mu'min. On the other hand, one does not become a kafir (i.e. rejecter; non-believer), for this entails, inter alia, denying the Creator — something not necessarily done by a committer of a grave sin. The fate of those who commit grave sins and die without repentance is Hell. Hell is not considered a monolithic state of affairs but as encompassing many degrees to accommodate the wide spectrum of human works and choices, and the lack of comprehension associated to The Ultimate Judge (one of the other names in Islam of God.) Consequently, those in the intermediate position, though in Hell, would have a lesser punishment because of their belief and other good deeds. Muʿtazilites adopted this position as a middle ground between Kharijites and Murjites. In the words of ʿAbd al-Jabbar, the doctrine of the intermediate position is the knowledge that whoever murders, or fornicates (zina), or commits serious sins is a grave sinner (fasiq) and not a believer, nor is his case the same that of believers with respect to praise and attributing greatness, since he is to be cursed and disregarded. Nonetheless, he is not an unbeliever who cannot be buried in our Muslim cemetery, or be prayed for, or marry a Muslim. Rather, he has an intermediate position, in contrast to the Seceders (Kharijites) who say that he is an unbeliever, or the Murjites who say that he is a believer.
Al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-n-nahy ʿani-l-munkar الأمر بالمَعْرُوف والنَهي عن المُنْكَر – the enjoining of right and prohibition of wrong
These two tenets, like the "intermediate position" follow logically (according to scholar Majid Fakhry) from the basic Muʿtazilite concepts of divine unity, justice and free will, of which they are the logical conclusion. Even though they are accepted by most Muslims, Muʿtazilites give them a specific interpretation in the sense that, even though God enjoins what is right and prohibits what is wrong, the use of reason allows a Muslim in most cases to identify for himself what is right and what is wrong, even without the help of revelation. Only for some acts is the revelation necessary to determine whether a certain act is right or wrong. This is discussed in further details below.
The use of reasoning and logic
Muʿtazilites based the analysis of all religious texts and doctrines to be analysed by sane mind and solid logic and if there is a discrepancy then the texts or doctrines should be rejected. This part alone made them the enemy of state and orthodox Muslims who conservatively follow the Hadith and Tafsirs. Fragments of Ketab e Zummorud indicate that during and after Abbasid rule many of these thinkers were executed under their heresy laws.
Theory of interpretation
Muʿtazilah relied on a synthesis between reason and revelation. That is, their rationalism operated in the service of scripture and Islamic theological framework. They, as the majority of Muslim jurist-theologians, validated allegorical readings of scripture whenever necessary. Justice ʿAbd al-Jabbar (935-1025) said in his Sharh al-Usul al-Khamsa (The Explication of the Five Principles):
إن الكلام متى لم يمكن حمله على ظاهره و حقيقته، و هناك مجازان أحدهما أقرب و الآخر أبعد، فإن الواجب حمله على المجاز الأقرب دون الأبعد، لأن المجاز الأبعد من الأقرب كالمجاز مع الحقيقة، و كما لا يجوز فى خطاب الله تعالى أن يحمل على المجاز مع إمكان حمله على الحقيقة، فكذلك لا يحمل على المجاز الأبعد و هناك ما هو أقرب منه
(When a text cannot be interpreted according to its truth and apparent meaning, and when (in this case) two metaphoric interpretations are possible, one being proximal and the other being distal; then, in this case, we are obligated to interpret the text according to the proximal metaphoric interpretation and not the distal, for (the relationship between) the distal to the proximal is like unto (the relationship between) the metaphor to the truth, and in the same way that it is not permissible, when dealing with the word of God, to prefer a metaphoric interpretation when a discernment of the truth is possible, it is also not permissible to prefer the distal interpretation over the proximal interpretation)
The hermeneutic methodology proceeds as follows: if the literal meaning of an ayah (verse) is consistent with the rest of scripture, the main themes of the Qur'an, the basic tenets of the Islamic creed, and the well-known facts, then interpretation, in the sense of moving away from the literal meaning, is not justified. If a contradiction results from adopting the literal meaning, such as a literal understanding of the "hand" of God that contravenes His transcendence and the Qur'anic mention of His categorical difference from all other things, then an interpretation is warranted. In the above quote, Justice 'Abd al-Jabbar emphatically mentioned that if there are two possible interpretations, both capable of resolving the apparent contradiction created by literal understanding of a verse, then the interpretation closer to the literal meaning should take precedence, for the relationship between the interpretations, close and distant, becomes the same as the literal understanding and the interpretation.
The first obligation
Muʿtazilis believed that the first obligation on humans, specifically adults in full possession of their mental faculties, is to use their intellectual power to ascertain the existence of God, and to become knowledgeable of His attributes. One must wonder about the whole existence, that is, about why something exists rather than nothing. If one comes to know that there is a being who caused this universe to exist, not reliant on anything else and absolutely free from any type of need, then one realizes that this being is all-wise and morally perfect. If this being is all-wise, then his very act of creation cannot be haphazard or in vain. One must then be motivated to ascertain what this being wants from humans, for one may harm oneself by simply ignoring the whole mystery of existence and, consequently, the plan of the Creator. This paradigm is known in Islamic theology as wujub al-nazar, i.e., the obligation to use one's speculative reasoning to attain ontological truths. About the "first duty," ʿAbd al-Jabbar said it is "speculative reasoning (al-nazar) which leads to knowledge of God, because He is not known by the way of necessity (daruratan) nor by the senses (bi l-mushahada). Thus, He must be known by reflection and speculation."
The difference between Muʿtazilis and other Muslim theologians is that Muʿtazilis consider al-nazar an obligation even if one does not encounter a fellow human being claiming to be a messenger from the Creator, and even if one does not have access to any alleged God-inspired or God-revealed scripture. On the other hand, the obligation of nazar to other Muslim theologians materializes upon encountering prophets or scripture.
Reason and revelation
The Muʿtazilis had a nuanced theory regarding reason, Divine revelation, and the relationship between them. They celebrated power of reason and human intellectual power. To them, it is the human intellect that guides a human to know God, His attributes, and the very basics of morality. Once this foundational knowledge is attained and one ascertains the truth of Islam and the Divine origins of the Qur'an, the intellect then interacts with scripture such that both reason and revelation come together to be the main source of guidance and knowledge for Muslims. Harun Nasution in the Muʿtazila and Rational Philosophy, translated in Martin (1997), commented on Muʿtazili extensive use of rationality in the development of their religious views saying: "It is not surprising that opponents of the Muʿtazila often charge the Muʿtazila with the view that humanity does not need revelation, that everything can be known through reason, that there is a conflict between reason and revelation, that they cling to reason and put revelation aside, and even that the Muʿtazila do not believe in revelation. But is it true that the Muʿtazila are of the opinion that everything can be known through reason and therefore that revelation is unnecessary? The writings of the Muʿtazila give exactly the opposite portrait. In their opinion, human reason is not sufficiently powerful to know everything and for this reason humans need revelation in order to reach conclusions concerning what is good and what is bad for them."
The Muʿtazili position on the roles of reason and revelation is well captured by what Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (d. 324 AH/935 AD), the eponym of the Ashʿari school of theology, attributed to the Mu'tazili scholar Ibrahim an-Nazzam (d. 231 AH/845 AD) (1969):
كل معصية كان يجوز أن يأمر الله سبحانه بها فهي قبيحة للنهي، وكل معصية كان لا يجوز أن يبيحها الله سبحانه فهي قبيحة لنفسها كالجهل به والاعتقاد بخلافه، وكذلك كل ما جاز أن لا يأمر الله سبحانه فهو حسن للأمر به وكل ما لم يجز إلا أن يأمر به فهو حسن لنفسه
No sin may be ordered by God as it is wrong and forbidden, and no sin shall be permitted by God, as they are wrong by themselves. To know about it and believe otherwise, and all that God commands is good for the ordered and all that it is not permissible except to order it is good for himself
That is, there are three classes of acts. The first is what the intellect is competent on its own to discover its morality. For instance, the intellect, according to Muʿtazilis, can know, independently of revelation, that justice and telling the truth (sidq) are morally good. God is under an ethical obligation to order humanity to abide by these. The second class of deeds is what the intellect can discover their inherent evil and ugliness (qubh), such as injustice, mendacity, or, according to al-Nazzam as reported in the above quote, being in a state of ignorance of the Creator. God cannot but prohibit these. The third class comprises the acts that the human intellect is incapable of assigning moral values to them. These are only known through revelation and they become known to be morally good if God orders them, or morally wrong if God forbids them. In short, the human intellect is capable of knowing what is right and what is wrong in a very general sense. Revelation comes from God to detail what the intellect summarizes, and to elaborate on the broad essentials. Revelation and reason complement each other and cannot dispense with one another.
In the above formulation, a problem emerged, which is rendering something obligatory on the Divine being — something that seems to directly conflict with Divine omnipotence. The Muʿtazili argument is predicated on absolute Divine power and self-sufficiency, however. Replying to a hypothetical question as to why God does not do that which is ethically wrong (la yaf`alu al-qabih), 'Abd al-Jabbar replied: Because He knows the immorality of all unethical acts and that He is self-sufficient without them…For one of us who knows the immorality of injustice and lying, if he knows that he is self-sufficient without them and has no need of them, it would be impossible for him to choose them, insofar as he knows of their immorality and his sufficiency without them. Therefore, if God is sufficient without need of any unethical thing it necessarily follows that He would not choose the unethical based on His knowledge of its immorality. Thus every immoral thing that happens in the world must be a human act, for God transcends doing immoral acts. Indeed, God has distanced Himself from that with His saying: "But Allah wills no injustice to His servants" (Qur'an 40:31), and His saying: "Verily Allah will not deal unjustly with humankind in anything" (Qur'an 10:44).
The thrust of ʿAbd al-Jabbar's argument is that acting immorally or unwisely stems from need and deficiency. One acts in a repugnant way when one does not know the ugliness of one's deeds, i.e., because of lack of knowledge, or when one knows but one has some need, material, psychological, or otherwise. Since God is absolutely self-sufficient (a result from the cosmological "proof" of His existence), all-knowing, and all-powerful, He is categorically free from any type of need and, consequently, He never does anything that is ridiculous, unwise, ugly, or evil.
The conflict between Muʿtazilis and Ashʿaris concerning this point was a matter of the focus of obsession. Muʿtazilis were obsessed with Divine justice, whereas the Ashʿaris were obsessed with Divine omnipotence. Nevertheless, Divine self-restraint in Muʿtazili discourse is because of, not a negation of, Divine omnipotence.
Validity of hadith
In the Islamic sciences, hadith are classified into two types regarding their authenticity. The first type is diffusely recurrent (mutawatir) reports — those that have come down to later generations through a large number of chains of narration, involving diverse transmitters such that it is virtually impossible that all these people, living in different localities and espousing different views, would come together, fabricate exactly the same lie and attribute it to the Prophet of Islam or any other authority. A large number of narrators is not a sufficient criterion for authenticating a report because people belonging to some sect or party may have an interest in fabricating reports that promote their agendas. The power of this mode of transmission, tawatur, rests on both the number and diversity of narrators at each stage of transmission. On the other hand, the authority of the second type of reports, ahaad, those which do not meet the criteria for tawatur, is considered speculative by the Mu'tazilah.
ʿAbd al-Jabbar commented on the issue of reports saying Muʿtazilis declare as true all that is established by mutawatir reports, by which we know what the Messenger of God has said. And that which was narrated by one or two transmitters only, or by one for whom error was possible, such reports are unacceptable in religions (al-diyanat) but they are acceptable in the proceedings of positive law (furu` l-fiqh), as long as the narrator is trustworthy, competent, just, and he has not contradicted what is narrated in the Qur'an.
Thus, the non-mutawatir reports are accepted by Muʿtazilis, according to ʿAbd al-Jabbar, when it comes to the details or branches of law. When it comes to basic tenets, these reports are not considered authentic enough to establish a belief central to the Islamic faith. That is, the Mu'tazilis' main issue is with reports of speculative authenticity that have a theological, rather than legal, content, when these seem to contravene the definitives of the Qur'an and rational proof. Since the doctrines that Mu'tazilis hated most were anthropomorphism and unqualified predestination, it were reports supporting these and resisting all hermeneutical attempts at harmonizing and reconciliation that were criticized and rejected by Muʿtazilis.
A few schools of Muʿtazila are know to have existed, among them the Bahshamiyya school in Basra, the teachings of which were based primarily on the earlier teaching of Abu Hashim al-Jubba'i, the Ikhshîdiyya school in Bagdad, and the Bishriyya school in Bagdad, that followed the teachings of Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir. Although these schools shared the main Muʿtazili beliefs introduced above, each had their own views on some of their detailed interpretation, such as on free will.
Muʿtazilism today – Neo-Muʿtazilism
Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), even though he does not seem to have called himself a Muʿtazilite, was one of the key founding figures of Islamic Modernism that contributed to a revival of Muʿtazilite thought. After he was appointed Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1899, he attempted to adapt Islam to the modern times and to introduce changes in its teaching, in particular at Al-Azhar University. His reforms met with much opposition from the traditional establishment but, even though his immediate successors, such as Rashid Rida (1865-1935), did not follow in his steps, he was a source of inspiration for later modernist and reformist scholars and philosophers such as Fazlur Rahman (1919-1988), Farid Esack (born 1959), and in particular Harun Nasution (1919-1998) and Nasr Abu Zayd (1943-2010), who openly espoused Muʿtazilite views. However, this Neo-Muʿtazilism is still far from a structured movement or an organized school of Islamic theology.
However, the Association for the Renaissance of Mu'tazilite Islam (French: Association pour la renaissance de l’Islam mutazilite, ARIM) was founded in France in February 2017. For the ARIM, a modern reliance on the principles of Mu’tazilism, including the use reason, the importance of free will and divine justice, and its rejection of literal interpretation of the sacred texts (taqlid), can be one way to modernize Islam and meet the challenges of the 21st Century. In the view of the ARIM, Mu’tazilism should be seen as a mindset whereby critical and independent reasoning should combine with faith to interpret the history, practices and texts of Islam. Muslims should have the freedom to think for themselves in order to develop their spiritual life, and independent reasoning (ijtihad) should not be reserved to the traditional Muslim scholars.
- Abu'l Husayn al-Basri
- Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad
- Abu 'Ali Muhammad al-Jubba'i
- Ibrahim an-Nazzam
- Fazlur Rahman Malik
- Harun Nasution
- Nasr Abu Zayd
- Islamic schools and branches
- Jahm bin Safwan
- Jewish Kalam
- Karaite Judaism
- Punishment of the Grave
- Zaidiyyah, a similar school of thought
- "Mutazilah", Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- Ash'ariyya and Mu'tazila| muslimphilosophy.com | NEAL ROBINSON | 1998
- Abdullah Saeed. The Qur'an: an introduction. 2008, page 203
- Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. p. 77. ISBN 9780099523277.
- Fakhry, Majid (1983). A History of Islamic Philosophy (second ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 46.
Almost all authorities agree that the speculation of the Muʿtazilah centered around the two crucial concepts of divine justice and unity, of which they claimed to be the exclusive, genuine exponents.
- Fakhry, Majid (1983). A History of Islamic Philosophy (second ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 47.
The early Muslim theologians had naturally been unanimous in denying that God could be unjust, but the problem of reconciling the justice of God and the glaring reality of evil in the world does not appear to have disturbed them particularly. And it was precisely this problem that became, from Wasil's time on the crucial issue with which the Muʿtazilah and their adversaries grappled.... [According to the Muʿtazila,] good and evil are not conventional or arbitrary concepts whose validity is rooted in the dictates of God, as the Traditionists and later the Ashʿarites held, but are rational categories which can be established through unaided reason
- Al-Shahrastani, al-Milal, pp.31 f
- Al-Baghdadi, Usul al Din, pp.150f
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- Oussama Arabi. Studies in modern Islamic law and jurisprudence. page 27-8
- The North African "Institute for the Faith Brigades" denounced Bin Laden's "misguided errors" and accused Abu Hafs al Mawritani, a leading figure in Al-Qaeda's juridicial committee, of being a Muʿtazilite. B. Liam 'Strategist and doctrinarian jihadis' in: Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures, ed. Assaf Moghadam, Brian Fishman, Publisher Taylor & Francis, 2011, page 81, ISBN 1136710582, 9781136710582
- For example, Quran 18:16, 19:48 and 4:90). According to Sarah Siroumsa, "The verb i'tazala means "to withdraw", and in its most common use, as given in the dictionaries and attested in Hadith literature, it denotes some sort of abstinence from sexual activity, from worldly pleasures, or, more generally, from sin. Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-'Arab, s.v oy.':/ : wensirck, Concordance a indices de la tradition musulmatle, vol Iv, p. 11)7. 'Amr taught his followers to be "the party which abstains" (i.e., from evil: al-firqa al-muʿtazila), asceticism was their most striking characteristic. They were given the name "Mu'tazila" in reference to their pious asceticism, and they were content with this name," http://pluto.huji.ac.il/~stroums/files/MuTazila_Reconsidered.pdf
- Dhanani, Alnoor (1994). The physical theory of Kalām : atoms, space, and void in Basrian Muʻtazilī cosmology. Leiden: Brill. p. 7. ISBN 978-9004098312.
- Martin 1997, p. ?.
- Mutazilah at the Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed 13 March 2014. Some of the Companions of Muhammad such as Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas and Abdullah ibn Umar were neutral in the dispute between ʿAlī and his opponents (Muawiyah I). Encyclopaedia of Islam s.v. "Mu'tazila", Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands (1999): "It is an explanation of this kind which today, in particular as a result of the studies undertaken by Nallino ("Sull'origine del nome dei Mu'taziliti", in RSO, vii ), is generally accepted: i'tizal would designate a position of neutrality in the face of opposing factions. Nallino drew support for the argument from the fact that at the time of the first civil war, some of the Companions ('Abd Allah b. 'Umar, Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, etc.), who had chosen to side neither with ʿAli nor with his adversaries, were for that reason called muʿtazila. He even drew the conclusion that the theological Mu'tazilism of Wasil and his successors was merely a continuation of this initial political Mu'tazilism; in reality, there does not seem to have been the least connection between one and the other. But, in its principle, this explanation is probably valid."
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- Fakhry, Majid (1983). A History of Islamic Philosophy (second ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. p. 46.
Thus according to a leading Mu'talite authority of the end of the ninth century, five basic tenets make up the strict Mu'tazilite creed: justice and unity, the inevitability of the threats and promises of God, the intermediary position, the injunction of right and the prohibition of wrong.
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- For al-Ghazali's argument see The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Translated by Michael E. Marmura. 2nd ed, Provo Utah, 2000, pp.116-7.
- For Ibn Rushd's response, see Khalid, Muhammad A. ed. Medieval Islamic Philosophical Writings, Cambridge UK, 2005, p.162)
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