Quranic createdness

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Createdness refers to the doctrinal position that the Qur’an is created. The issue of whether the Qur’an is eternal or created became a significant point of contention in early Islam. Mu’tazilite doctrine holds that the Qur’an is the created divine word while the dominant varieties of Muslim theology consider the Quran to be co-eternal with God and hence, uncreated. Sufi philosophers view the question as artificial or wrongly framed.[1] While this controversy between theologians might otherwise have languished in obscurity, in 827 CE, Abassid Caliph Abd Allah al-Ma’mun publicly adopted the doctrine of createdness, instituting a mihna (test) to “ensure acquiescence in this doctrine” in 833 CE.[2] Scholars such as John A. Nawas and Walter M. Patton, have advanced various hypotheses in an attempt to account for the caliph’s actions. These hypotheses have tended to follow a somewhat secularist narrative, alternately foregrounding either al-Ma’mun’s religious motivations or his political aspirations, implying that a clear distinction might be made between the two. Patton for instance, claims that while partisans might have made political capital out of the public adoption of the doctrine, al-Ma’mun’s intention was “primarily to effect a religious reform.” [3] Nawas on the other hand, argues that the doctrine of createdness was a “pseudo-issue,” insisting that its promulgation was unlikely an end in itself since the primary sources attached so little significance to its declaration.[4]

The significance of hadith[edit]

That the question of the createdness of the Qur’an is, among other things, a hermeneutical issue is reflected in the variety of arguments and issues that associate with it – whether the Qur’an or the traditions assert the Qur’an’s createdness, what “created” means, and whether and how this affects the standing of these texts as authoritative and as a consequence, the status of those who study them. Where the Qur’an is understood as the word of God, and the words and example of the Prophet transmitted through hadith also attain to divine significance, if the Qur’an cannot be taken to assert its own createdness, for the doctrine of createdness to be true the traditions would have to support it. Indeed to admit the insufficiency of the hadith corpus to adjudicate what with the institution of the mihna becomes such a visible dispute would necessarily marginalize the authority of traditions. Thus it is not by accident that al-Ma’mun decides to administer the test on religious scholars. The test of the mihna was applied neither universally nor arbitrarily. In fact, the letter that Al-Ma’mun sent to his lieutenant in Baghdad instituting the mihna stipulated that the test be administered to qadis and traditionists (muhaddithin). Both of these groups regard hadith as central to Qur’anic interpretation and to matters of Islamic jurisprudence. In particular, the rhetorical force of muhaddithin acceptance of the doctrine is then to concede that either or both of the Qur’an and the hadith corpus attest to the doctrine, simultaneously validating the caliph’s theological position and legitimizing his claim to hermeneutical authority with regard to the sacred texts.

The case of Ahmad ibn Hanbal[edit]

The role of Muslim scholar and muhaddith, Ahmad ibn Hanbal in the mihna has garnered significant attention in later historiography. It is said that ibn Hanbal was tested during the minha. Though imprisoned and later scourged, he refused to accept the doctrine of createdness and Patton presents him as a stalwart of orthodoxy, claiming that he did more than any other to strengthen the position of orthodoxy.[5] The significance of ibn Hanbal’s stand for orthodoxy is constituted in his refusal to engage in kalam during his interrogation. He was willing to “argue” but only on the basis of the Qur’an or the traditions and their “literal” meaning.[6] While this distinction itself is difficult to make in practice, its value is in part rhetorical, for the assertion marks his orthodox identity as one who stands by the absolute authority of the sacred texts over-above those who make use of reason.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Henry Corbin, History of Islamic Philosophy (London: Kegan Paul International, 1993): 10.
  2. ^ John A. Nawas, “A Reexamination of Three Current Explanations for al-Ma’mun’s Introduction of the Mihna.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 26.4 (Nov., 1994): 615.
  3. ^ Walter Melville Patton, Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal and the Miḥna: A Biography of the Imâm including an Account of the Moḥammadan Inquisition Called the Miḥna: 218-234 A.H. (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1897): 54.
  4. ^ Nawas, 1994: 623-624.
  5. ^ Patton, 1897: 2.
  6. ^ Patton, 1897: 106.