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“One key theological around which these schools offered their different responses was that of the status of the Qur’an- what is it, exactly? Was it, itself something created or uncreated…..”
Mu‘tazilites and the Ash‘arites are two Islamic groups that have different theological stances. Mu’tazilah is an Islamic school founded by the Mu’tazilites who affirm that the ideal unity and everlasting nature of God makes possible for the creation of the Quran as it couldn’t be co-everlasting with God. The name Mu’tazili originated from the 8th century as an Arabic translation, meaning one who separated. It originated from Basra and Baghdad. The Mu’tazillite school was started in Iraq by Wasil b. ‘Ata, an apprentice of the renowned academic, Hasn al-Basri.
They were the first group of Muslim to lift up the flag of prudence in the Islamic society. They were the ones who raised the banner of revolution – independent and then continued to reflect the nature and the relationship between the two things separately. The school thrived through until the 11th century when the school in Basrs faced invasion and later forced the Mu’tazilite become a distinct movement. The Mu’tazilite doctrine is today regarded as heretical by the Sunnis people as it continues to be influential among those Shi’ites in Persia and the Zaydis in Yemen (Binyāmîn & Qāsim 1996).
On the other hand, the Ash’ari theology school was founded by a theologian, Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari. Al-Ashari was the leading theological school in Sunni Islam. The formation of Ashari theology school was as a result of its founder Abu al-Hasan’s (who was once the head of the Basran school) denouncement of being a member of the Mu’tazillite and was now focused on opposing the Mu’tazilah. Those who attend the school are referred to as Ash’arites. The goals set to be accomplished by the two schools were the same to this was to ascertain the transcendence and unity of God. Although this is the case, they differed in their doctrines. Each school had its own separate doctrine; the Ash’arites, are known to have supported an Islamic occassionalist doctrine while the Mu’tazilite supported the Islamic philosophy of being which was influenced by Aristotelianism and Neoplantonism.
Mu’tazilites’ theological stance
Mutazilism is founded on five basic principles: first, the “Divine unity, al-tawhid in Arabic; secondly, the Divine justice, al-adl; thirdly, the Divine promise and threat, al-wad wa-al-waid; fourthly, the place between the two places, al-manzilah bayn al-manzilatayn; and lastly, commanding the good and prohibiting the evil, al-amr bi al-maruf wa-al-nahy an al-munkar” (Yasir 2008).
The Mu’tazilites believed in the principal of upholding morality. They believe in the objectivity of moral values regardless as to whether there was an existence of prophets or not. They believed that ethics existed and that it had its own autonomous significance. In other words, according to them every individual has the power to reason and decide what is morally good or what is morally wrong and to them, however, God is the one who is responsible of giving the affirmation verdict of reason. According to the Mu’tazilites, rational good and wrong acts are not necessary derived from all the apparent things but also reasonableness can be based on experience too.
The Mu’tazilites did not view the concept of causality as a simple scheme instead to them the scheme was rather a difficult fact in regards to the relationship they had upon their vision on atomism and their set position on qadr. They had strong advocates of free will that is why they opposed the fact that God had anything to do with the creation of mans actions. The Mu’tazilites’ were in support of the principle that man was “responsible of creating his own actions based on the power God had given him. In the Islamic world, there it is very clear that there is no Islamic sect that regards justice as one of the divine attributes” (Yasir 2008).
According to Mu’tazilites, it is reasonably possible to judge actions as either being evil or good. They use this as way through which they would be able to understand qadr. The Mu’tazilites believe that it would be unfair and act of injustice if God would be responsible of creating people’s actions and in the same scenario be the one responsible of punishing the them because of the action that he himself created while denying him the free will. The Mu’tazilites emphasized on Gods justice while the Ashrites gave supremacy to God’s omnipotence. Hence God should not be seen as the one responsible for the creation of mans deeds/actions. The Mu’zilites use the Sacred Law for their affirmation of the fact that the intellect have already been judged.
According to the Mu’tazilites, anything that had no meaning related to inherent of a being and had no extraneous essence was considered as an accident. Further explanations given by Al-Qāḍī ‘Abd al-Jabbār state that “once God is considered to have any power then it would imply that God was body since power can only reside on a body and then it would mean that accidents resided within God” (Binyāmîn & Qāsim 1996). This would clearly be reasoned out that if God were a body, then God was created. Thus, the Mu’tazilite doctrine was majorly concerned with how best they would put Gods attributes and capabilities like “‘God knows with His essence’, or ‘God knows with a knowing that is Himself’, or ‘God’s knowing implies that He is not ignorant’, and so forth” (Ghaffarian 2008).
Ash’arites theological stance
In theological implications of atomism, the Ash’arites beliefs are based upon the cosmological point of view in that an accident cannot last two possible instances in a given time. That is, once there has been an accident or there occurs an accident, then the accident stops to exist. According to the Ash’arites, under all means there can neither be an association of one event in time with another nor a perpetuity of two moments. That is to say that “if a given object was to remain on the same position of rest, then there has to be a way in which the accident of rest can be created continuously and recreated after each successive instant so that an object can remain in the same position” (Binyāmîn & Qāsim 1996).
Also according to them, only God has the power to create accidents to occur each day on individual persons during each instant time, meaning the Ash’arites believe that God controls everything in specific instances. Ash’arites affirmed that God had not at all changing attributes of life which include seeing, power, and ability to interpret other figurative attributes, hearing and any type of motion.
In regards to predestination, the Ash’arites held that the actions of a servant are directly created by God himself. God is responsible for the actions that a servant is engaged in without necessarily the servant rooting the acts. But the servant is the one who then faces the consequences of either being rewarded or punished for his action. Hence to them, free will is only an illusion because all actions are as a result of Gods will (Randall 1998). The theory was written by the founder of the theological school al-Ash’arī himself. The concept is commonly referred to as the “theory of acquisition” or “kasb”. The theory is based on Ash’arite’s belief that God is responsible for creating and recreating accidents each and every time. It is also because of the atomism factor that made the Ash’arites deny both ordinary fundamentality and the possibility of a human free will.
The Ash’arites believe that God does not favor evil deeds but only favors good deeds. Thus, to them there would be no acts that “would be judged as either being neither good nor evil in terms of the roles played by human intellect and rationality because to them there is no action that is intrinsically just or unjust. For the Ash’arites, unless it is stated by God himself, there is no act that is neither good nor wrong.
Furthermore, they believe that God is not responsible for punishing any individual upon doing a certain action but any gift from him is a reward and any form of punishment is said to be his way of showing evenhandedness and there is nothing that is obligated to him” (Groff & Leaman 2007). This is what the Ash’arites use to define what is evil. For them, it is evil to deny a man free will and be the one to punish him for participating in actions which God created. Their reasoning was that man did not have the capacity to determine what was good and what was evil only God had that power to decide.
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The Al-Ashari and Mu’tazilites concepts compare and differ on various theological stances. On the comparison, Mutazilites just like the Asharites understand and state that God is almighty with His power, “Allah qadir bi-qudratih” (Groff & Leaman 2007). On the contrast, the Ash’arites beliefs are based upon the cosmological point of view in that an accident cannot last two possible instances in a given time. That is, once there has been an accident or there occurs an accident, then the accident stops to exist. On the contrary, Mu’tazilites described an accident as an unnecessary fundamental nature of material. According to the Mu’tazilites anything that had no meaning related to inherent of a being and had no extraneous essence was considered as an accident.
Another differentiating aspect is on the rational morality concept. The Mu’tazilites believe in the principal of upholding morality and on the objectivity of moral values regardless as to whether there was an existence of prophets or not and every person has the power to determine what is right and wrong. However, the Ashárites believe that it is only God who has power to determine what was right and wrong.
Asharites differ with the Mutazilites, in that the Mutazilites advocate the opinion that God will plead the grave sinners and take them out from the Hell once they have finished their retribution in Hell. The Asharites believe that once one is gone to hell their life is destine there and there is no hopes of going back to God. On the third tenet of the Mutazilites, the Asharites opposed them arguing that the Mutazilites had obliged God to accomplish His pledges and to undertake His warnings. On the other hand the Mutazilites argued that the Asharites believed that God Himself enforces on Himself to keep all His pledges and to undertake all His threats, or else He could be seen as phony. However because it is unimaginable even to hint that God is a fake, He will for sure keep all his pledges and impositions. Thus, people cannot allege that God does not keep His pledges.
Binyāmîn, A. & Qāsim, I. (1996). Anthropomorphism and interpretation of the Qurān in the theology of al-Qāsim ibn Ibrāhīm: Kitāb al-Mustarshid Volume 26. Boston, MA: Publisher Brill.
Ghaffarian, M. (2008). I’m a Neo-Mu’tazilite: An interview with Abdulkarim Soroush. drsorough.com. Web.
Groff, P. & Leaman, O. (2007). Islamic philosophy A-Z Philosophy A-Z series. London: Edinburgh University Press
Randall, C. (1998). The sociology of philosophies: a global theory of intellectual change Belknap Press Series. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Yasir, Q. (2008). The Role of Atomism in the Groups of Kalam. muslimmatters.org. Web.