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Muʿtazilah (Arabic: المعتزلة) is an Islamic school of theology based on reason and rational thought that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are best known for their having asserted that, because of the perfect unity and eternal nature of Allah, the Qur'an must therefore have been created, as it could not be co-eternal with God. From this premise, the Mu'tazili school of Kalam proceeded to posit that the injunctions of God are accessible to rational thought and inquiry: because knowledge is derived from reason, reason is the "final arbiter" in distinguishing right from wrong. It follows, in Mu'tazili reasoning, that "sacred precedent" is not an effective means of determining what is just, as what is obligatory in religion is only obligatory "by virtue of reason."
The movement emerged in the Umayyad Era, and reached its height in the Abbasid period. Scholarship on the movement stagnated for centuries owing to an absence of sympathetic accounts of the movement (and an abundance of hostile accounts) until the latter part of the 20th century, when the 11th-century texts of Abd al-Jabbar al-Qadi were unearthed in Yemen.
It is still adopted by some Muslim scholars and intellectuals today. 
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Beliefs
- 3.1 The Five Principles
- 3.1.1 (1) Al-Tawhid التوحيد – divine unity
- 3.1.2 (2) Al-'Adl العدل – divine justice
- 3.1.3 (3) Al-Wa'd wa al-Wa'id الوعد و الوعيد – the promise and the warning
- 3.1.4 (4) Al-Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn المنزلة بين المنزلتين – the intermediate position
- 3.1.5 (5) Al-amr bil ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al munkar الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر – advocating the good and forbidding the evil
- 3.2 Theory of interpretation
- 3.3 The first obligation
- 3.4 Reason and revelation
- 3.5 Validity of hadith
- 3.1 The Five Principles
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The name Mu'tazili is thought to originate from the reflexive Stem VIII (stem افتعل ifta`ala) of the Arabic triconsonantal root ع-ز-ل (ʿ-Z-L) dealing with isolation or separation, i.e. the word اعتزل (iʿtazala) meaning "to separate (oneself)", "to withdraw" from (as in Quran 18:16, 19:48 and 4:90). The term is rooted in a disagreement over how to classify a person who has committed a major sin.
As he sat in a circle in a mosque with al-Hasan al-Basri, Wasil ibn 'Ata inquired as to the place of a sinning Muslim, if he was to be considered a believer or an unbeliever. Upon the response that the individual was nonetheless a Muslim, Wasil dissented, suggesting that the sinner was neither a believer nor an unbeliever. With that, Wasil withdrew from the circle of al-Hasan al-Basri, and was followed by 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd and others. Al-Hasan's remark, "Wasil has withdrawn from us", is believed to be the origin of the movement's name.
Mu'tazili theology originated in the 8th century in Basra (Iraq) when Wasil ibn Ata (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 (described below); thus he, and his followers, including Amr ibn Ubayd (d. 144 AH/ 761 AD), were labelled Mu'tazili. Later, Mu'tazilis called themselves Ahl al-Tawhid wa al-'Adl ("People of Divine Unity and Justice") based on the theology they advocated, which sought to ground Islamic creedal system in reason.
Though Mu'tazilis later relied on logic and different aspects of early Islamic philosophy, Greek philosophy, and Hellenistic philosophy, the truths 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, Mu'tazilis 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 and Hellenistic philosophy as a starting point and master conceptual framework for analyzing and investigating reality.
From early days of Islamic civilization, and because of both internal factors including intra-Muslim conflicts and external factors including interfaith debates, several questions were being debated by Muslim theologians, such as whether the Qur'an was created or eternal, whether evil was created by God, the issue of predestination versus free will, whether God's attributes in the Qur'an were to be interpreted allegorically or literally, etc. Mu'tazili thought attempted to address all these issues.
Muhammad and his early companions, the Sahabah, always insisted on the concept of the Sovereignty of Allah, and the freedom of human will, based on the doctrine that man would be judged by his actions. These teachings were uppermost in the subsequent early Islamic empire.
However, according to one view, due to public hatred after the tragedy of the Battle of Karbala, the sack of Medina, and many political blunders committed by the Umayyad Caliphate, Muslims were in need of a theory of Predestination (see Predestination in Islam ), fatalism (jabr), that "a man is not responsible for his actions which proceed from God". So with their help a school of thought emerged and was called "jabaria". The founder of this school of thought was Jahm bin Safwan. He maintained "that man is not responsible for any of his actions which proceed entirely from God" According to Al-Shahrastani, the Jabarias were divided into three sects, 1, the Jahmia, 2, the Najjaria, and 3, the Zirdria. The Arabs of pre-Islamic days also believed in this concept, so it was easy for them to accept these ideas.
This concept was challenged by Ma'bad al-Juhani, Eunas al-Aswari, and Gilan Dimishki, and there emerged a school of thought known in the history of Muslim philosophy as "qadaria" who believed in "Qader", i.e., Fate - the theory of freedom of human will, based on the doctrine that man would be judged by his actions alone. These persons were put to death by the Umayyad Caliphate for heresy. After them there would prove to be many followers of this doctrine. The founder of Mu'tazili, Abu Huzaifa Wasil ibn Ata al-Ghazzal, is believed to have labeled these believers as Mu'tazilites[clarification needed].
It is also said that this school emerged as a reaction against the Kharijites on the one hand, and the Shia on the other hand. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the term "mu'tazila| first appears in early Islāmic history in the dispute over ʿAlī’s leadership of the Muslim community after the murder of the third caliph, Uthmān. Those who would neither condemn nor sanction Alī or his opponents but took a middle position were termed the Muʿtazilah.
It is also maintained that Mu'taziltes descend from the followers of some of the Companions; Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas, `Abd Allah ibn `Umar, and others who were neutral in the dispute between Alī and his opponents (Muawiyah I). "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 this 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 'Ali nor with his adversaries, were for this reason called mu'tazila. 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."
According to Sarah Slroumsa "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. 'Amr taught his followers to be "the party which abstains" (i.e., from evil: al-firqa al-mu'tazila), 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,"
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 Umayyad Caliphate. Once their authority established, they also turned against this school of thought.
Like all other schools, Mu'tazilism developed over an extensive period of time. Abu al-Hudhayl al-'Allaf (d. 235 AH/849 AD), who came a couple of generations after Wasil ibn 'Ata' and 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd, is considered the theologian who systematized and formalized Mu'tazilism in Basra (Martin et al., 1997). Another branch of the school found a home in Baghdad under the direction of Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir (d. 210 AH/825 AD).
As the number of Muslims increased throughout the Islamic empire, and in reaction to the excesses of so-called 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). Mu'tazilis have been accused of being the instigators though it was the Caliph's own scheme (Nawas, 1994; Nawas, 1996; Cooperson 2005; Ess, 2006). The persecution campaign, regardless, cost them and theology in general the sympathy of the Muslim masses. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, a Muslim jurist and founder of the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence was a victim of Ma'mun's Minha. Due to his rejection of Ma'mun's demand to accept and propagate the Mu'tazila creed, ibn Hanbal was imprisoned and tortured by the Abbasid rulers.
By the end of the fifteenth century, Mu'tazilis were subjected to vehement attacks from the traditionalists on one hand, and from the atheists, deists, philosophers, non-Muslim thinkers, etc., on the other. It is important to note that the traditionalists, as opposed to Mu'tazili rationalists, were not irrationalists. Both groups operated on the basis of some synthesis between reason and revelation. (See below for Mu'tazili view of the role and interaction of reason and revelation.) Jackson (2002) argued against the "fiction" of a strict traditionalist/rationalist dichotomy, and asserted instead that traditionalism and rationalism, in the Islamic context, should be regarded as "different traditions of reason."
In response to the attacks, Mu'tazili theologians refined and made more coherent and systematic their idea system. In Basra, this task was accomplished by the father and son team, Abu 'Ali 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 Ahmed who became the most celebrated proponent of Mu'tazilism in the late tenth and early eleventh century (Martin et al., 1997). Mu'tazilism did not disappear from the Islamic intellectual life after the demise of 'Abd al-Jabbar, but it declined steadily and significantly. Many of the Mu'tazili doctrines and methodologies, nonetheless, survived in the other Islamic schools.
The Five Principles
Mu'tazili tenets focus on the five principles:
(1) Al-Tawhid التوحيد – divine unity
Mu'tazilis believed in the absolute unity and oneness of God. In this regard, they are no different from the overwhelming majority of Muslims. Nevertheless, the different Muslim 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.
One example: 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 Divine attributes, mentioned in scripture, of any concrete meaning on the other. The Mu'tazili way of doing this was to deny the existence of attributes distinct from 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 co-eternals — something that may impugn the absolute unity and oneness of God, according to Mu'tazilis. In addition, they resorted to metaphorical interpretations of Qur'anic verses or Prophetic reports with seemingly 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 Mu’tazili prominent scholar, chief justice Abd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmed (d. 415 AH/1025 AD), in an original Mu’tazili work translated in Martin et al. (1997): It 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 (sani`) who created it and that: He existed eternally in the past and He cannot perish (fana'), while we exist after being non-existent, and we can perish. And you know that He was and is eternally all-powerful (qadir) and that impotence (al-`ajz) is not possible for Him. And you know that He is omniscient of the past and present and that ignorance (jahl) 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 (hayy), and that calamities and pain are not possible for Him. And you know that He sees visible things (mar'iyat), 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 (ghani) 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 (muhtaj), structured (mudabbar), and governed by someone/thing else. Thus, if you know all of that you know God's oneness.
(2) Al-'Adl العدل – divine justice
Facing the problem of existence of evil in the world, the Mu'tazilis 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 God's will no matter what he did. Mu'tazilis 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, Mu'tazilis 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 'Abd 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 God's justice.
(3) 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 (Martin et al., 1997): 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 God's promise and recompense (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.
(4) Al-Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn المنزلة بين المنزلتين – the intermediate position
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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 God's other names in Islam.) Consequently, those in the intermediate position, though in Hell, would have a lesser punishment because of their belief and other good deeds. Mu'tazilites adopted this position as a middle ground between Kharijites and Murjites. In the words of 'Abd al-Jabbar, the doctrine of the intermediate position is (Martin et al., 1997): the knowledge that whoever murders, or fornicates (zana), 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.
(5) Al-amr bil ma'ruf wa al-nahy 'an al munkar الأمر بالمعروف و النهي عن المنكر – advocating the good and forbidding the evil
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Commanding the good is of two types. One of them is obligatory, which is commanding religious duties (al-fara'id) when someone neglects them (dayya`aha), and the other is supererogatory (al-nafila), which is commanding supererogatory acts of devotion when someone omits to do them (tarakaha). As for prohibiting evil, all of it is obligatory because all evil is ethically wrong (qabih). It is necessary, if possible, to reach a point where evil (al-munkar) does not occur in the easiest of circumstances or lead to something worse, for the goal is for evil simply not to happen. And, if it is possible to reach the point where good (al-ma`ruf) occurs in the easiest of circumstances, then preferring the difficult circumstances would be impermissible. Similarly, God has said: “If two parties among the believers fall into a quarrel, make peace between them; but if one of them transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then fight against the one who transgresses until he complies with the command of Allah; then, if he complies, make peace between them with justice, and be fair: for Allah loves those who act fairly” (Qur'an 49:9). Thus, prohibiting evil is obligatory only if the view does not prevail that prohibiting a particular evil would lead to an increase in disobedience, and if a preference for what was harmful were not predominant. If such a view does prevail, prohibiting evil would not be obligatory, and avoiding it would be more appropriate.
Theory of interpretation
Mu'tazilah 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 'Abd al-Jabbar (1965) 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 God's word, 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.
Note: Sharh al-Usul al-Khamsah may be a paraphrase or supercommentary made by Abd al-Jabbar's student Mankdim (Gimaret, 1979).
The first obligation
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Mu'tazilis 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," 'Abd al-Jabbar said (Martin et al., 1997): 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 Mu'tazilis and other Muslim theologians is that Mu'tazilis 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
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The Mu'tazilis 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 Mu'tazila and Rational Philosophy, translated in Martin (1997), commented on Mu'tazili extensive use of rationality in the development of their religious views saying: "It is not surprising that opponents of the Mu'tazila often charge the Mu'tazila 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 Mu'tazila do not believe in revelation. But is it true that the Mu'tazila are of the opinion that everything can be known through reason and therefore that revelation is unnecessary? The writings of the Mu`tazila 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 Mu'tazili 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 Ash'ari 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 Mu'tazilis, 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 Mu'tazili 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 (as translated in Martin et al., 1997): 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 `Abd 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 Mu'tazilis and Ash'aris concerning this point was a matter of the focus of obsession. Mu'tazilis were obsessed with Divine justice, whereas the Ash'aris were obsessed with Divine omnipotence. Nevertheless, Divine self-restraint in Mu'tazili 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.
'Abd al-Jabbar commented on the issue of reports saying (Martin et al., 1997): Mu'tazilis 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 Mu'tazilis, according to 'Abd 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 (Ess, 2006), it were reports supporting these and resisting all hermeneutical attempts at harmonizing and reconciliation that were criticized and rejected by Mu'tazilis.
- Islamic schools and branches
- Jahm bin Safwan
- Jewish Kalam
- Karaite Judaism
- Punishment of the Grave
- Zaidiyyah, a similar school of thought
- Abdullah Saeed. The Qurʼan: an introduction. 2008, page 203
- Oussama Arabi. Studies in modern Islamic law and jurisprudence. page 27-8
- Julie Scott Meisami, Paul Starkey. Encyclopedia of Arabic literature, Volume 2. 1998, page 626
- "Fault Lines in Global Jihad: Organizational, Strategic, and Ideological Fissures", by Assaf Moghadam, Brian Fishman, Publisher Taylor & Francis, 2011, page 81, ISBN 1136710582, 9781136710582
- Alnoor Dhanani. The Physical theory of kalām. page 7
- Martin et al., 1997
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