Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari

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Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī
Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī in Islamic calligraphy
TitleImām al-Mutakallimūn, Imām Ahl as-Sunnah wa l-Jamāʿah
BornAH 260 (873/874)
DiedAH 324 (935/936) (aged 64)
EraIslamic golden age
CreedKullābi, which then developed into the Ashʿarī creed.
Main interest(s)Creed (ʿaqīdah),[1] Islamic scholastic theology (kalām)[2]
Notable work(s)Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn wa Ikhtilaf al-Musallīn ("Doctrines of the Muslims"),[1] Kitāb al-Lumaʻ fī al-Radd ʻalá Ahl al-Zaygh wa-al-Bidaʻ ("The Book of Light on the Refutation to Heresy"),[1] al-Ibānah 'an Usūl ad-Diyānah ("Elucidation concerning the Principles of Religion"),[1] Risālat ilā Ahl al-Thaghr ("Epistle to the People of the Frontier")
Muslim leader
Influenced by

Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (الأشعري; full name: Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Ismāʿīl ibn Isḥāq al-Ashʿarī; c. 874–936 CE/260–324 AH), often reverently referred to as Imām al-Ashʿarī by Sunnī Muslims, was an Arab Muslim scholar of Maliki jurisprudence, scriptural exegete, reformer (mujaddid), and scholastic theologian (mutakallim), renowned for being the eponymous founder of the Ashʿarite school of Islamic theology.[1][2][3][4][5]

Al-Ashʿarī was notable for taking an intermediary position between the two diametrically opposed schools of Islamic theology prevalent at the time: Aṯharī and Muʿtazila.[1][2][4] He primarily opposed the Muʿtazilite theologians, who advocated the use of rationalism in theological debate and believed that the Quran was created (makhlūq), as opposed to it being uncreated.[1][4] On the other hand, the Ḥanbalites and Muḥaddithīn exclusively relied upon the strict adherence to literalism and the outward (ẓāhir) meaning of expressions in the Quran and ḥadīth literature, were opposed to the use of philosophy or kalām (dialectical theology), and condemned any theological debate altogether.[1][4][6]

Al-Ashʿarī established a middle way between the doctrines of the aforementioned schools, based both on reliance on the sacred scriptures of Islam and theological rationalism concerning the agency and attributes of God.[1][2][4][7] The Ashʿarite school of Islamic theology eventually became the predominant school of theological thought within Sunnī Islam.[3][4][8][9][10] By contrast, Shīʿa Muslim scholars don't accept his theological beliefs, as al-Ashʿarī's works also involved refuting Shīʿīsm. Al-Ashʿarī wrote more than 90 works during his lifetime, many of which have survived to the present day.[1]


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 tenth-century

Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī was born in Basra,[11] Iraq, and was a descendant of Abū Mūsa al-Ashʿarī, who belonged to the first generation of Muhammad's closest companions (ṣaḥāba).[12] As a young man he studied under al-Jubba'i, a renowned teacher of Muʿtazilite theology and philosophy.[13][14]

According to the traditional account, al-Ashʿarī remained a Muʿtazilite theologian until his 40th year, when he allegedly saw the Islamic prophet Muhammad in his dreams three times during the month of Ramaḍān. The first time, Muhammad told him to support what was narrated from himself, that is, the prophetic traditions (ḥadīth).[15][16][17] Al-Ashʿarī became worried, as he had numerous strong proofs contradictory to the prophetic traditions. After 10 days, he saw Muhammad again: Muhammad reiterated that he should support the ḥadīth.[16][17] Subsequently, al-Ashʿarī forsook kalām (dialectical theology) and started following the ḥadīth alone. On the 27th night of Ramaḍān, he saw Muhammad for the last time. Muhammad told him that he had not commanded him to forsake kalām, but only to support the traditions narrated from himself. Thereupon, al-Ashʿarī started to advocate in favor of the authority of the ḥadīth reports, finding proofs for these that he said he had not read in any books.[16][17]

After this experience, he left the Muʿtazilite school and became one of its most distinguished opponents, using the philosophical methods he had learned from them in order to refute their theological doctrine.[11] Then, al-Ashʿarī spent the remaining years of his life engaged in developing his views and in composing polemics and arguments against his former Muʿtazilite colleagues. Al-Ashʿarī wrote more than 90 works during his lifetime, many of which have survived to the present day.[1]


After leaving the Muʿtazila school, and joining the side of traditionalist theologians[18] al-Ash'ari formulated the theology of Sunni Islam through Kalam, following in the footsteps of Ibn Kullab a century earlier.[19] He was followed in this by a large number of distinguished scholars of Sunni Islam, many of whom belonged to the Shafi'i school of law.[20] 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.[20]

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.[21]

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.[21]

Al-Ash'ari spent much of his works opposing the views of the Muʿtazila 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.[20] 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.[20]

He was also noted for his teachings on atomism.[22] The Salafis argue that he had accepted the Salafi theology before his death.[23]


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.[24]

Earlier major scholars also held positive views of al-Ash'ari and his efforts, among them Qadi Iyad and Taj al-Din al-Subki.[25]

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."[26] According to Brown this competing orthodoxy exists in the form of the "Hanbali über-Sunni orthodoxy".[27]


The Ashari scholar Ibn Furak numbers Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari's works at 300, and the biographer Ibn Khallikan at 55;[28] 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.[29] 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`
  1. Al-Luma` fi-r-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bida` ("The Sparks: A Refutation of Heretics and Innovators"), a slim volume.
  2. 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.
  3. Al-Luma` as-Saghir ("The Minor Book of Sparks"), a preliminary to al-Luma` al-Kabir.[30]
  • Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna,[31] though the authenticity of this book has been disputed by several scholars.[32][33][34][35][36]

See also[edit]

Early Islam scholars[edit]

Muhammad (570–632 the Constitution of Medina, taught the Quran, and advised his companions
Abdullah ibn Masud (died 653) taughtAli (607–661) fourth caliph taughtAisha, Muhammad's wife and Abu Bakr's daughter taughtAbd Allah ibn Abbas (618–687) taughtZayd ibn Thabit (610–660) taughtUmar (579–644) second caliph taughtAbu Hurairah (603–681) taught
Alqama ibn Qays (died 681) taughtHusayn ibn Ali (626–680) taughtQasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (657–725) taught and raised by AishaUrwah ibn Zubayr (died 713) taught by Aisha, he then taughtSaid ibn al-Musayyib (637–715) taughtAbdullah ibn Umar (614–693) taughtAbd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (624–692) taught by Aisha, he then taught
Ibrahim al-Nakha’i taughtAli ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin (659–712) taughtHisham ibn Urwah (667–772) taughtIbn Shihab al-Zuhri (died 741) taughtSalim ibn Abd-Allah ibn Umar taughtUmar ibn Abdul Aziz (682–720) raised and taught by Abdullah ibn Umar
Hammad bin ibi Sulman taughtMuhammad al-Baqir (676–733) taughtFarwah bint al-Qasim Jafar's mother
Abu Hanifa (699–767) wrote Al Fiqh Al Akbar and Kitab Al-Athar, jurisprudence followed by Sunni, Sunni Sufi, Barelvi, Deobandi, Zaidiyyah and originally by the Fatimid and taughtZayd ibn Ali (695–740)Ja'far bin Muhammad Al-Baqir (702–765) Muhammad and Ali's great great grand son, jurisprudence followed by Shia, he taughtMalik ibn Anas (711–795) wrote Muwatta, jurisprudence from early Medina period now mostly followed by Sunni in Africa and taughtAl-Waqidi (748–822) wrote history books like Kitab al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi, student of Malik ibn AnasAbu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Abdul Hakam (died 829) wrote biographies and history books, student of Malik ibn Anas
Abu Yusuf (729–798) wrote Usul al-fiqhMuhammad al-Shaybani (749–805)Al-Shafi‘i (767–820) wrote Al-Risala, jurisprudence followed by Sunni and taughtIsmail ibn IbrahimAli ibn al-Madini (778–849) wrote The Book of Knowledge of the CompanionsIbn Hisham (died 833) wrote early history and As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, Muhammad's biography
Isma'il ibn Ja'far (719–775)Musa al-Kadhim (745–799)Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855) wrote Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal jurisprudence followed by Sunni and hadith booksMuhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) wrote Sahih al-Bukhari hadith booksMuslim ibn al-Hajjaj (815–875) wrote Sahih Muslim hadith booksDawud al-Zahiri (815–883/4) founded the Zahiri schoolMuhammad ibn Isa at-Tirmidhi (824–892) wrote Jami` at-Tirmidhi hadith booksAl-Baladhuri (died 892) wrote early history Futuh al-Buldan, Genealogies of the Nobles
Ibn Majah (824–887) wrote Sunan ibn Majah hadith bookAbu Dawood (817–889) wrote Sunan Abu Dawood Hadith Book
Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (864- 941) wrote Kitab al-Kafi hadith book followed by Twelver ShiaMuhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923) wrote History of the Prophets and Kings, Tafsir al-TabariAbu Hasan al-Ash'ari (874–936) wrote Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn, Kitāb al-luma, Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna
Ibn Babawayh (923–991) wrote Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih jurisprudence followed by Twelver ShiaSharif Razi (930–977) wrote Nahj al-Balagha followed by Twelver ShiaNasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) wrote jurisprudence books followed by Ismaili and Twelver ShiaAl-Ghazali (1058–1111) wrote The Niche for Lights, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, The Alchemy of Happiness on SufismRumi (1207–1273) wrote Masnavi, Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi on Sufism
Key: Some of Muhammad's CompanionsKey: Taught in MedinaKey: Taught in IraqKey: Worked in SyriaKey: Travelled extensively collecting the sayings of Muhammad and compiled books of hadithKey: Worked in Persia


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