Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari

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Imam al-Ashʿarī
PARSONS(1808) p008 View of Bagdad on the Persian side of the Tigris.jpg
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
Great Articulator of Orthodox Theology
Champion of Islam
Venerated in Sunni Islam, but his theology has been controversial among those latter-day Sunnis who follow the Athari creed
Major shrine Tomb of al-Ashʿarī, Baghdad, Iraq
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari
Title Imam al-Mutakallimin, Imam Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama'ah
Born AH 260 (873/874)
Died AH 324 (935/936) (aged 64)
Ethnicity Arab
Era Islamic golden age
Religion Islam
Jurisprudence Sunni
Creed Sunni Shafi'i
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

Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Ismāʿīl b. Isḥāq al-Ashʿarī (Arabic: أبو الحسن الأشعري‎‎; c. 260–324 AH/874–936 CE), often known as Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī or al-Ashʿarī for short, or reverentially as Imam al-Ashʿarī by Sunni Muslims, was a medieval Sunni Muslim scholastic theologian and eponymous founder of "the most important theological school in Sunni Islam," known as Asharism or Asharite theology.[1] The principal feature of this school was its use of rational or logical argumentation to defend the positions of Sunni Islam against all other opposing theologies, such as those of the Kharijites, the Mutazilites, the Jahmites, and others.[1] Al-Ash'ari's school eventually won "wide acceptance within Sunni Islam, the official theological creed of which came largely to be defined by Ash'ari principles."[1] Alongside the theological school of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), the Ash'ari school is sometimes defined in mainstream Sunni Islam as one of the two principal "orthodox theologies" of the faith, despite the fact that the more textualist school of Hanbali theology has survived alongside both of them.[1]

Due to his role in combating the other splinter groups of theology, al-Ash'ari is honored in Sunni tradition by the epithets Imām al-mutakallimūn (Leader of the Theologians) and Imām ahl as-sunnah wa l-jamāʿah (Leader of the Sunnis).[1]


Al-Ash'ari was born in Basra,[2] Iraq, and was a descendant of the famous companion of Muhammad, Abu Musa al-Ashari.[3] As a young man he studied under al-Jubba'i, a renowned teacher of Mu'tazilite theology and philosophy.[4] He remained a Mutazalite until his fortieth year when al-Ash'ari saw Muhammad in a dream 3 times in Ramadan. Muhammad told him to support what was related from himself, that is, the traditions (hadiths).[5] After this experience, he left the Mu'tazalites and became one of its most distinguished opponents, using the philosophical methods he had learned.[2] 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 Mutazalite colleagues. He is said to have written up to three hundred works, of which only four or five are known to be extant.[6]


After leaving the Mu'tazili school, and joining the side of Traditionalist theologians[7] al-Ash'ari formulated the theology of Sunni Islam.[8] He was followed in this by a large number of distinguished scholars, most of whom belonged to the Shafi'i school of law.[9] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[10]

Al-Ash'ari spent much of his works opposing the views of the Mu'tazili 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.[9] He also rebutted the Mu'tazili 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.[9]


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.[11]

Earlier major scholars also held positive views of al-Ash'ari and his efforts, among them Qadi Iyad and Taj al-Din al-Subki.[12]


The Ashari scholar Ibn Furak numbers Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari's works at 300, and the biographer Ibn Khallikan at 55;[13] 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:

  • Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn,[14] 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 Mutaziltes.
  • Kitāb al-luma[15]
  • Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna,[16] is according to his disciples and a few modern Western scholars, a forgery[17] attributed to Al-Ashari; a supposed exposition of his developed theological views and arguments against Mutazilite doctrines where he recanted his previous beliefs. 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-Asha'ri," comparing the creed in that book to the creed found in al-Ash'ari's Maqālāt.[18] But the Salafists generally claim that it marks his late repentance et his return to the beliefs of the "salaf". The book was written after he repented from his orthodox Ahlus Sunnah beliefs to Athari beliefs following his encounter with the extreme sectarian outlaw Al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-Barbahari and was primarily an attempt to call his previous followers back to Islam.[19]

Early Islam scholars[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Anvari, Mohammad Javad and Koushki, Matthew Melvin, “al-Ashʿarī”, in: Encyclopaedia Islamica, Editors-in-Chief: Wilferd Madelung and, Farhad Daftary.
  2. ^ a b John L. Esposito, The Islamic World: Abbasid-Historian, p 54. ISBN 0195165209
  3. ^ I.M.N. Al-Jubouri, History of Islamic Philosophy: With View of Greek Philosophy and Early History of Islam, p 182. ISBN 0755210115
  4. ^ Marshall Cavendish Reference, Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World, p 87. ISBN 0761479295
  5. ^ William Montgomery Watt, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, p 84. ISBN 0202362728
  6. ^ I. M. Al-Jubouri, Islamic Thought: From Mohammed to September 11, 2001, p 177. ISBN 1453595856
  7. ^ Anjum, Ovamir (2012). Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought. Cambrdige University Press. p. 108. Retrieved 14 July 2016. 
  8. ^ John L. Esposito, The Oxford History of Islam, p 280. ISBN 0199880417
  9. ^ a b c d http://www.arabnews.com/node/211921
  10. ^ a b Jeffry R. Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and Political Sunnism, p 77. ISBN 0230106587
  11. ^ Izalat al-Khafa, p. 77, part 7.
  12. ^ Fatwa No. 8001. Who are the Ash'arites? - Dar al-Ifta' al-Misriyyah
  13. ^ Beirut, III, p.286, tr. de Slaine, II, p.228
  14. ^ ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1929-30
  15. ^ ed. and tr. R.C. McCarthy, Beirut, 1953
  16. ^ tr. W.C. Klein, New Haven, 1940
  17. ^ http://www.darultahqiq.com/problems-with-al-ibana-of-imam-al-ashari-by-shaykh-wahbi-ibn-sulayman-ghawiji/
  18. ^ McCarthy, Richard J. (1953). The Theology of Al-Ashari. Imprimerie Catholique. p. 232. 
  19. ^ 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

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