Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī
A depiction of Baghdad from 1808, taken from the print collection in Travels in Asia and Africa, etc. (ed. J. P. Berjew, British Library); al-Ashʿarī spent his entire life in this city in the twelfth-century
Champion of Islam
Imām of the Scholastic Theologians
Imām of the Sunnis
|Venerated in||Sunni Islam|
|Major shrine||Tomb of al-Ashʿarī, Baghdad, Iraq|
Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī
Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī in Arabic calligraphy
|Title||Imām al-mutakallimūn, Imām ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʿah|
|Born||AH 260 (873/874)|
|Died||AH 324 (935/936) (aged 64)|
|Era||Islamic golden age|
|Creed||Early Ashari theology|
|Main interest(s)||Islamic theology|
|Notable work(s)||Maqalat al-Islamiyyin wa Ikhtilaf al-Musallin (The Treatises of the Islamic Schools), al-Luma' fi al-Rad 'ala Ahl al-Ziyagh wa al-Bida' (Refutation to Heresy), Al-Ibanah 'an Usul al-Diyanah, Risalah ila Ahl al-Thaghr|
Al-Ashʿarī (الأشعري; full name: Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Ismāʿīl ibn Isḥāq al-Ashʿarī; c. 874–936 (AH 260–324), reverentially Imām al-Ashʿarī) was an Arab Sunni Muslim scholastic theologian and eponymous founder of Ashʿarism or Asharite theology, which would go on to become "the most important theological school in Sunni Islam".
According to scholar Jonathan A.C. Brown, although "the Ash'ari school of theology is often called the Sunni 'orthodoxy,'" "the original ahl al-hadith, early Sunni creed from which Ash'arism evolved has continued to thrive alongside it as a rival Sunni 'orthodoxy' as well." According to Brown this competing orthodoxy exists in the form of the "Hanbali/über-Sunni orthodoxy".
Al-Ashʿarī was notable for taking an intermediary position between the two diametrically opposed schools of theological thought prevalent at the time: He opposed both the Muʿtazilites, who advocated the extreme use of reason in theological debate, and the Zahirites, Mujassimites and Muhaddithin, who were entirely opposed to the use of reason or kalam, and condemned any theological debate altogether.
Al-Ashʿari's school eventually won "wide acceptance within Sunni Islam, the official theological creed of which came largely to be defined by Ashʿarī principles." Due to his efforts, Al-Ashʿarī came to be revered by Sunni Muslims for having successfully "integrated the rationalist methodology of the speculative theologians into the framework of orthodox Islam." He continues to be honored by the epithets Imām al-mutakallimūn ("Leader of the Scholastic Theologians") and Imām ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʿah ("Leader of the Sunnis").
Al-Ash'ari was born in Basra, Iraq, and was a descendant of the famous companion of Muhammad, Abu Musa al-Ashari; as a young man he studied under al-Jubba'i, a renowned teacher of Muʿtazilite theology and philosophy. He remained a Muʿtazalite until his fortieth year and he abandoned al-Jubba'i's doctrines in his fortieth year after asking him a question al-Jubba'i failed to resolve over the issue of the supposed divine obligation to abandon the good for the sake of the better (al-sâlih wa al-aslah). At that time he adopted the doctrines of the sifatiyya, those of Ahlu-s-Sunnah, he left Basra and came to Baghdad, taking fiqh from the Shafi`i jurist Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi (d. 340). He devoted the next twenty-four years to the refutation of "the Mu`tazila, the Rafida, the Jahmiyya, the Khawarij, and the rest of the various kinds of innovators" in the words of al-Khatib, his student Bundar related that his yearly expenditure was a meagre seventeen dirhams. His three best-known disciples were al-Bāhilī, aṣ-Ṣuʿlūkī, and Ibn Mujāhid, all of whom transmitted the doctrines of their master to what later became the flourishing school of Khorāsān. After al-Ashʿarī died, his disciples slowly disentangled the main lines of doctrine that eventually became the stamp of the Ashʿarite school.
Al-Ash'ari saw Muhammad in a dream 3 times in Ramadan; the first time, Muhammad told him to support what was related from himself, that is, the traditions (hadiths). Al-Ash'ari became worried as he had numerous strong proofs contradictory to the traditions. After 10 days, he saw Muhammad again: Muhammad reiterated that he should support the traditions. So Al-Ash'ari forsook Kalam and started following the traditions alone. On the 27th night of Ramadan, he saw Muhammad for the last time. Muhammad told him that he had not commanded him to forsake Kalam, he had only told him to support the traditions narrated from him (Muhammad). Thereupon Al-Ash'ari started to advocate the Hadith, finding proofs for these that he said he had not read in any books.
After this experience, he left the Muʿtazalites and became one of its most distinguished opponents, using the philosophical methods he had learned. Al-Ash'ari then spent the remaining years of his life engaged in developing his views and in composing polemics and arguments against his former Muʿtazalite colleagues, he is said to have written up to three hundred works, of which only four or five are known to be extant.
After leaving the Muʿtazili school, and joining the side of Traditionalist theologians al-Ash'ari formulated the theology of Sunni Islam, he was followed in this by a large number of distinguished scholars, most of whom belonged to the Shafi'i school of law. The most famous of these are Abul-Hassan Al-Bahili, Abu Bakr Al-Baqillani, al-Juwayni, Al-Razi and Al-Ghazali, thus Al-Ash'ari's school became, together with the Maturidi, the main schools reflecting the beliefs of the Sunnah.
In line with Sunni tradition, al-Ash'ari held the view that a Muslim should not be considered an unbeliever on account of a sin even if it were an enormity such as drinking wine or theft; this opposed the position held by the Khawarij.
Al-Ash'ari also believed it impermissible to violently oppose a leader even if he were openly disobedient to the commands of the sacred law.
Al-Ash'ari spent much of his works opposing the views of the Muʿtazili school. In particular, he rebutted them for believing that the Qur'an was created and that deeds are done by people of their own accord, he also rebutted the Muʿtazili school for denying that Allah can hear, see and has speech. Al-Ash’ari confirmed all these attributes stating that they differ from the hearing, seeing and speech of creatures, including man.
The 18th century Islamic scholar Shah Waliullah stated:
- A Mujadid appears at the end of every century: The Mujadid of the first century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah, Umar bin Abdul Aziz. The Mujadid of the second century was Imam of Ahlul Sunnah Muhammad Idrees Shaafi; the Mujadid of the third century was the Imam of Ahlul Sunnah, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari. The Mujadid of the fourth century was Abu Abdullah Hakim Nishapuri.
The Ashari scholar Ibn Furak numbers Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari's works at 300, and the biographer Ibn Khallikan at 55; Ibn Asāker gives the titles of 93 of them, but only a handful of these works, in the fields of heresiography and theology, have survived; the three main ones are:
- Maqalat al-Islamiyyin wa Ikhtilfa al-Musallin ("The Discourses of the Proponents of Islam and the Differences Among the Worshippers"), an encyclopaedia of deviated Islamic sects., it comprises not only an account of the Islamic sects but also an examination of problems in kalām, or scholastic theology, and the Names and Attributes of Allah; the greater part of this works seems to have been completed before his conversion from the Muʿtaziltes.
- Al-Luma` fi-r-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bida` ("The Sparks: A Refutation of Heretics and Innovators"), a slim volume.
- Al-Luma` al-Kabir ("The Major Book of Sparks"), a preliminary to Idah al-Burhan and, together with the Luma` al-Saghir, the last work composed by al-Ash`ari according to Shaykh `Isa al-Humyari.
- Al-Luma` as-Saghir ("The Minor Book of Sparks"), a preliminary to al-Luma` al-Kabir.
- Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna,. The authenticity of this book has been called into question. For example, Richard McCarthy, in his Theology of Ash'ari, writes, "...I am unable to subscribe wholeheartedly to the proposition that the ibāna, in the form in which we have it, is a genuine work of al-Ash'ari," comparing the creed in that book to the creed found in al-Ash'ari's Maqālāt.
Other titles are:
- Adab al-Jadal ("The Etiquette of Disputation").
- Al-Asma' wa al-Ahkam ("The Names and the Rulings"), which describes the divergences in the terminology of the scholars and their understanding of the general and the particular.
- Al-Dafi` li al-Muhadhdhab ("The Repelling of `The Emendation'"), a refutation of al-Khalidi's book by that title.
- Al-Funun ("The Disciplines"), a refutation of atheists. A second book bearing that title was also written, on the disciplines of kalâm.
- Al-Fusul ("The Sub-Headings") in twelve volumes, a refutation of the philosophers, perennialists, and members of various religions such as Brahmans, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. It contains a refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi's claim that the world exists without beginning.
- Idah al-Burhan fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Tughyan ("The Clarification of the Proof in the Refutation of Heretics"), a preliminary to al-Mujaz.
- Al-Idrak ("The Awareness"), on the disciplines that address the subtleties of dialectic theology.
- Al-Istita`a ("Potency"), a refutation of the Mu`tazila.
- Al-Jawabat fi al-Sifat `an Masa'il Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Shubuhat ("The Replies Pertaining to the Attributes On the Questions and Sophistries of Heretics"), al-Ash`ari's largest work, a refutation of all the Mu`tazili doctrines he had upheld previously.
- Al-Jawhar fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Munkar ("The Essence: Refutation of the People of Heresy and Transgression").
- Al-Jism ("The Body"), a proof of the Mu`tazila's inability to answer essential questions that pertain to corporeality, contrary to Ahl al-Sunna.
- Jumal al-Maqalat ("The Sum of Sayings"), which lists the positions of atheists and the positions of monotheists.
- Khalq al-A`mal ("The Creation of Deeds"), a refutation of the doctrine of the Mu`tazila and Qadariyya whereby man creates his own deeds.
- Maqalat al-Falasifa ("The Sayings of Philosophers").
- Al-Masa'il `ala Ahl al-Tathniya ("The Questions in Refutation of the Dualists").
- Al-Mujaz ("The Concise") in twelve volumes, which identifies and describes the various Islamic sects. It contains a refutation of the Shi`i doctrines of the questioning of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq's ( imamate and of the infallibility of the Imam in every era.
- Al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tawhid wa al-Qadar ("The Abridgment: On the Doctrine of Oneness and Foreordained Destiny"), a review of the different doctrinal issues which the opponents of Ahl al-Sunna are unable to address.
- Al-Mukhtazan ("The Safekeeping"), on the questions which opponents did not bring up but which pertain to their doctrines.
- Al-Muntakhal ("The Sifted"), a response to questions from the scholars of Basra.
- Naqd al-Balkhi fi Usul al-Mu`tazila ("Critique of al-Balkhi and the Principles of the Mu`tazila"), a refutation of the book of the Mu`tazili scholar al-Balkhi entitled Naqd Ta'wil al-Adilla ("Critique of the Interpretation of the Textual Proofs").
- Al-Nawadir fi Daqa'iq al-Kalam ("The Rarities Concerning the Minutiae of Dialectic Theology").
- Al-Qami` li Kitab al-Khalidi fi al-Irada ("The Subduer: A Refutation of al-Khalidi's Book on the Will"), a refutation of a-Khalidi's doctrine whereby Allah creates His own will.
- Ar-Radd `ala Ibn al-Rawandi ("Refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi") concerning the Divine Attributes and the Qur'an.
- Ar-Radd `ala Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubba'i, an extensive refutation of a Mu`tazili scholar and of his book al-Usul ("The Principles").
- Al-Radd `ala al-Mujassima ("Refutation of the Anthropomorphist").
- A refutation of `Abbad ibn Sulayman in the minutiae of kalâm.
- A refutation of a book by `Ali ibn `Isa.
- A refutation of al-Balkhi's book in which the latter claimed he had rectified Ibn al-Rawandi's error in his disputation.
- A refutation of al-Iskafi's book entitled al-Latif ("The Subtle").
- A refutation of al-Jubba'i on the principles and conditions of scholarly investigation and the derivation of rulings.
- A Refutation of al-Jubba'i's objections to al-Ash`ari on the vision of Allah in the hereafter as reported by Muhammad ibn `Umar al-Saymari.
- A refutation of al-Khalidi's book on the denial of the vision of Allah in the hereafter.
- A refutation of al-Khalidi's book on the denial of the creation of the deeds of human beings by Allah Almighty and Exalted according to His decision.
- The refutation of the philosophers, especially the Perennialist Ibn Qays al-Dahri and Aristotle's books "On the Heavens" and "On the World."
- Al-Ru'ya ("The Vision"), which affirms the vision of Allah by the believers in the hereafter, contrary to the Mu`tazili doctrine which denies the possibility of such a vision.
- Al-Sharh wa al-Tafsil fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Ifk wa al-Tadlil ("The Detailed Explanation in Refutation of the People of Perdition"), a manual for beginners and students to read before al-Luma`.
- Al-Sifat ("The Attributes"), a description of the doctrines of the Mu`tazila, Jahmiyya, and other sects that differ from Ahl al-Sunna on the topic of the Divine Attributes. It contains a refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl, Ma`mar, al-Nazzam, al-Futi, and al-Nashi, and an affirmation that the Creator possesses a face and hands.
- Tafsir al-Qur'an wa al-Radd `ala man Khalafa al-Bayan min Ahl al-Ifki wa al-Buhtan ("A Commentary on the Qur'an and Refutation of Those Who Contradicted it Among the People of Perdition and Calumny") which Ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki says numbered 500 volumes. Ibn al-Subki reports from al-Dhahabi that this Tafsir was written at a time al-Ash`ari was still a Mu`tazili.
- Various epistles in response to questions from the scholars of Tabaristan, Khurasan, Arrujan, Sayraf, Amman, Jurjan, Damascus, Wasit, Ramahramuz, Baghdad, Egypt, and Persia.
- Ziyadat al-Nawadir ("Addenda to `The Rarities'").
- Af`al al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam ("The Acts of the Prophet - )
- Al-Akhbar ("The Reports").
- Bayan Madhhab al-Nasara ("Exposition of the Doctrine of Christians")
- Hikayat Madhahib al-Mujassima ("The Tales of the Schools of the Anthropomorphists"), a refutation of the proofs they adduce.
- Al-Ihtijaj ("The Adducing of the Proofs").
- Al-Imama ("The Doctrine of the Imam").
- Ithbat al-Qiyas ("The Upholding of the Principle of Analogy").
- Sessions around the lone-narrator report (al-khabar al-wâhid).
- Mutashabih al-Qur'an ("The Ambiguities in the Qur'an"), in which he brought together the stands of the Mu`tazila and the atheists in their invalidations of the ambiguities in the hadith.
- Naqd Ibn al-Rawandi `ala Ibtal al-Tawatur ("The Critique of Ibn al-Rawandi's Denial of Mass-Narrated Hadiths"), which contains an affirmation of the principle of Consensus (ijmâ`).
- Naqd al-Mudahat ("Critique of `The Similarity'"), a refutation of al-Iskafi on the term qadar.
- Naqd al-Taj `ala al-Rawandi ("The Diadem: Critique of Ibn al-Rawandi").
- On questions put to al-Jubba'i concerning names and rulings.
- A refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl on the limitlessness of the foreknowledge and decisions of Allah Almighty and Exalted and another on motions.
- A refutation of Harith al-Warraq on the Attributes.
- A refutation of the logicians.
- A refutation of the proponents of metempsychosis and reincarnation.
- Al-`Umad ("The Supports") on the vision of Allah in the hereafter.
- Al-Wuquf wa al-`Umum ("The Abeyance of Rights and the Public at Large").
- Al-Hathth `ala al-Bahth ("The Encouragement to Research").
- Risala al-Iman, an epistle on Belief which discusses whether it is permissible to say that belief is created. Ibn Hajar heard it from Abu Ishaq al-Tannukhi with the latter's chain of transmission back to al-Ash`ari, through the latter's student Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miqsam al-Muqri' al-Baghdadi.
- Risala ila Ahl al-Thughar ("Epistle to the People of al-Thughar"), a definition on the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunnah.
Istihsan al-Khawd fi `Ilm al-Kalam (ambiguous because he most likely wrote it - provided he actually authored it - before his conversion, since it is ostensibly directed against the Hanbalis and uses markedly Mu`tazili terminology such as "divine Oneness and Justice" (al-tawhîd wa al-`adl) in reference to the fundamentals of belief, and Allah knows best)
However, George Makdisi and Ignác Goldziher consider this work as genuine, and Salafists maintain that the book marks al-Ash'ari's late repentance and his return to the beliefs of the salaf. Salafists expound that the book was written after he recanted his earlier beliefs and accepted Athari beliefs, following his encounter with the Hanbalite scholar Al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Barbahari, and was primarily an attempt to call his previous followers back to Islam. Professor Sherman Jackson recounts that Ibn Taymiyyah, citing the Ash'ari Historian Ibn `Asakir, presented Al-Ashari's words in the Ibāna as a defense during his trial on charges of anthropomorphism.
Early Islam scholars
Early Islamic scholars
- Anvari, Mohammad Javad and Koushki, Matthew Melvin, “al-Ashʿarī”, in: Encyclopaedia Islamica, Editors-in-Chief: Wilferd Madelung and, Farhad Daftary.
- Brown, Jonathan A.C. (2009). Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oneworld Publications (Kindle edition). p. 180.
- Brown, Jonathan (2007). The Canonization of al‐Bukhārī and Muslim: The Formation and Function of the Sunnī Ḥadīth Canon. Leiden and Boston: Brill. pp. Pg 137. ISBN 9789004158399.
- M. Abdul Hye,Ash’arism, Philosophia Islamica.
- Michel Adrien Allard, "Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī," Encyclopædia Britannica.
- John L. Esposito, The Islamic World: Abbasid-Historian, p 54. ISBN 0195165209
- I.M.N. Al-Jubouri, History of Islamic Philosophy: With View of Greek Philosophy and Early History of Islam, p 182. ISBN 0755210115
- Marshall Cavendish Reference, Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World, p 87. ISBN 0761479295
- William Montgomery Watt, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, p 84. ISBN 0202362728
- Shaykh Rami Al Rifai. "Significance of the Ash'ari Aqeedah".
- Ibn ‘Asakir. Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Nusiba ila al-Imam Abu’l Hasan al- Ash’ari. pp. 51–52.
- I. M. Al-Jubouri, Islamic Thought: From Mohammed to September 11, 2001, p 177. ISBN 1453595856
- Anjum, Ovamir (2012). Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought. Cambrdige University Press. p. 108. Retrieved 14 July 2016.
- John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, p 280. ISBN 0199880417
- Jeffry R. Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and Political Sunnism, p 77. ISBN 0230106587
- Ash'ari - A History of Muslim Philosophy
- Izalat al-Khafa, p. 77, part 7.
- Fatwa No. 8001. Who are the Ash'arites? - Dar al-Ifta' al-Misriyyah
- Beirut, III, p.286, tr. de Slaine, II, p.228
- ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1929-30
- ed. and tr. R.C. McCarthy, Beirut, 1953
- tr. W.C. Klein, New Haven, 1940
- McCarthy, Richard J. (1953). The Theology of Al-Ashari. Imprimerie Catholique. p. 232.
- Makdisi, George. 1962. Ash’ari and the Asharites and Islamic history I. Studia Islamica 17: 37–80
- Ignaz Goldziher, Vorlesungen uber den Islam, 2nd ed. Franz Babinger (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1925), 121;
- Richard M. Frank, Early Islamic Theology: The Mu'tazilites and al-Ash'ari, Texts and studies on the development and history of kalām, vol. 2, pg. 172. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2007. ISBN 9780860789789
- Jackson, Sherman A. “Ibn Taymiyyah on Trial in Damascus.” Journal of Semitic Studies 39 (Spring 1994): 41–85.
- Imam Abu‘l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari by Shaykh Gibril Haddad
- Imam Ash’ari Repudiating Asha’rism? by Shaykh Nuh Keller
- Thatcher, Griffithes Wheeler (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (11th ed.). p. 729. .