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Ash'arism or Ashʿari theology (//; Arabic: الأشعرية al-Asha`riyya or الأشاعرة al-Ashā`irah) is an early theological school of Islam (Sunni in particular) founded by Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (d. 324 AH / 936 AD). The disciples of the school are known as Ash'arites, and the school is also referred to as the Ash'arite school.
Ash'arism is considered to be a key school of Sunni Islam. The scholar Al-Saffarini (d. 1188) gave the following definition of the three Sunni schools in his Lawami al-Anwar:
"Ahl al-Sunnah consist of three groups: the textualists (al-Athariyya), whose Imam is Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the Ash'aris, whose Imam is Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari, and the Maturidis, whose Imam is Abu Mansur al-Maturidi and they are all one sect, the saved sect, and they are Ahl al-Hadith."
The school arose mainly as a response to the Mu'tazila school of thought and some of their beliefs, which to some Muslims seemed strange and against previously-held opinions. For example, the Mu'tazila believed the Quran to be created, whereas Ash'arites believe that it is uncreated.
On the other hand, the new movement made a big shift for Islam. This new school became a base in educating Islam as a religion, as it depended on rationalism in understanding Islam from the Quran and the Hadith. Ash'arites state that Islamic faith is based on using the mind. With the prevalence of globalization, it became noticed that Ash'arism is rejected and attacked by Salafis, who reject the concept of depending on the mind as a basic way for understanding the Quran.
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The Ash'arite view holds that:
- Interpreting the Quran (Tafsir) and the Hadith should keep developing with the aid of older interpretations.
- Knowledge of God comes from studying the holy names and attributes in addition to studying the Quran and the Hadith of Muhammed.
- The unique nature and attributes of God cannot be understood fully by human reasoning and the senses.
- Although humans possess free will (or, more accurately, freedom of intention), they have no power to create anything in the material world as only God can. This doctrine is now known in Western philosophy as occasionalism.
- Knowledge of moral truths must be taught by means of revelation and is not known a priori or by deduction from a priori propositions or by sheer observation of the world. It is permissible for a Muslim to believe and accept that a proposition is a moral truth based solely on the authority of a consensus of authorised religious scholars (ulama).
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari was noted for his teachings on atomism, among the earliest Islamic philosophies, and for al-Ash'ari this was the basis for propagating the view that Allah created every moment in time and every particle of matter. He nonetheless believed in free will, elaborating the thoughts of Dirar ibn Amr' and Abu Hanifa into a "dual agent" or "acquisition" (iktisab) account of free will.
While al-Ash'ari opposed the views of the Mu'tazili school for its over-emphasis on reason, he was also opposed to the views of certain schools such as the Zahiri (literalist), Mujassimite (anthropotheist) and Muhaddithin (traditionalist) schools for their over-emphasis on taqlid (imitation) in his Istihsan al‑Khaud:
"A section of the people (i.e., the Zahirites and others) made capital out of their own ignorance; discussions and rational thinking about matters of faith became a heavy burden for them, and, therefore, they became inclined to blind faith and blind following (taqlid). They condemned those who tried to rationalize the principles of religion as `innovators.' They considered discussion about motion, rest, body, accident, colour, space, atom, the leaping of atoms, and Attributes of God, to be an innovation and a sin. They said that had such discussions been the right thing, the Prophet and his Companions would have definitely done so; they further pointed out that the Prophet, before his death, discussed and fully explained all those matters which were necessary from the religious point of view, leaving none of them to be discussed by his followers; and since he did not discuss the problems mentioned above, it was evident that to discuss them must be regarded as an innovation."
Change and development over time
Ash'arism became the main school of early Islamic philosophy whereby it was originally based on the foundations laid down by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari who founded the school in the 10th century based on the methodology taught to him by his teacher Abdullah ibn Sa'eed ibn Kullaab. However, the school underwent many changes throughout history resulting in the term Ash’ari, in modern usage, being extremely broad. For example, Abu’l Hasan al-Ash’ari of al-Lum’a differs from the Ash’arism of the Abu’l Hasan al-Ash’ari of al-Ibana, Ibn Fawrak differs from al-Bayhaqi.
For example, the Asharite view was that comprehension of the unique nature and characteristics of God were beyond human capability. The solution proposed by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari to solve the problems of tashbih and ta'til concedes that the Divine Being possesses in a real sense the attributes and Names mentioned in the Quran. Insofar as these names and attributes have a positive reality, they are distinct from the essence, but nevertheless they do not have either existence or reality apart from it. The inspiration of al-Ash'ari in this matter was on the one hand to distinguish essence and attribute as concepts, and on the other hand to see that the duality between essence and attribute should be situated not on the quantitative but on the qualitative level — something which Mu'tazili thinking had failed to grasp.
- Ash'arism started to face huge criticism by some modern scholars, who think that the time of developing understanding of Islam is finished, as Islam's best days were in the past (Islam as a state and as a knowledge). Ash'arites believe that understanding Islam should develop as time goes on and explain each age of time by understanding the Quran.
However, those Salafists see a similarity with the Mu'tazila, but the Ash'arites consider it entirely different and that comparing them to Mu'tazila is "outrageous".
- German orientalist Eduard Sachau blamed the theology of Ash'ari and its biggest defender, Ghazali, specifically for the decline of Islamic science starting in the tenth century, and stated that the two clerics were the only obstacle to the Muslim world becoming a nation of "Galileos, Keplers and Newtons." In terms of theology, the Ash'arites exceeded the Mu'tazila in terms of sinking to low levels during polemical debate, to the point that it was said that intellectual debates replaced the five daily prayers for them.
- Others, however, argue that the Ash'arites not only accepted scientific methods but even promoted them. Ziauddin Sardar points out that some of the greatest Muslim scientists, such as Ibn al-Haytham and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, who were pioneers of the scientific method, were themselves followers of the Ash'ari school of Islamic theology. Like other Ash'arites who believed that faith or taqlid should apply only to Islam and not to any ancient Hellenistic authorities, Ibn al-Haytham's view that taqlid should apply only to prophets of Islam and not to any other authorities formed the basis for much of his scientific skepticism and criticism against Ptolemy and other ancient authorities in his Doubts Concerning Ptolemy and Book of Optics.
Prominent Ash'ari scholars and leaders
- Abu Jafar Al-Tahawi - Al-Aqeedah Al-Tahawiyyah: "Allah is supremely clear of all boundaries, extremes, sides, organs, and instruments. The six directions do not contain Him, for these are attributed to all created things". Imam Al-Tahawi explicitly stated that Allah is clear of being contained by the six directions. The six directions are above, below, ahead, behind, right, and left.
- Abu Mansur Al-Maturidi
- Ibn Furak
- Abu Mansur Al-Baghdadi
- Abu Ishaq Al-Shirazi
- Ibn Hibban
- Qadi Ayyad
- Al-Khatib Al-Baghdadi
- Abu Al-Walid Al-Baji
- Dhul-Nun Al-Misri
- Ahmed Al-Rifa'i
- Abu Madyan Shu'ayb Al-Ghawth
- Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi
- Sayf Al-Din Al-Amidi
- Badr Al-Din Ibn Jama'a
- Mehmed the Conqueror
- Izz Al-Din ibn 'Abd Al-Salam
- Ibn 'Asakir
- Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani
- Abu Bakr Al-Aydarus
- Jalaladdin Davani
- Ibn Arafa
- Mahmoud Al-Nasafi
- Nizam Al-Din Nishapuri
- Abu Hayyan Al-Gharnati
- Ibn Daqiq Al-Eid
- Jalal Al-Din Al-Mahalli
- Jalal Al-Din Al-Suyuti
- Zakariyya Al-Ansari
- Taqi Al-Din Al-Subki
- Taj Al-Din Al-Subki
- Ibn Hajar Al-Haytami
- Siraj Al-Din Al-Bulqini
- Jalal Al-Din Al-Bulqini
- Ibn Abidin
- Ibn Al-Jazari
- Abu Al-Qasim Al-Rafi'i
- Ibn 'Ata' Allah Al-Iskandari (or Al-Sakandari)
- Shams Al-Din Al-Ramli
- Shihab Al-Din Al-Ramli
- 'Ala' Al-Din Al-Bukhari who said that anyone that gives Ibn Taymiyya the title Shaykh al-Islam is a disbeliever.
- Shams Al-Din Al-Sakhawi
- Ahmad Zarruq
- Ahmad Sirhindi
- Ahmad Al-Dardir
- Ahmad Zaini Dahlan
- Muhammad Al-Ahmadi Al-Zawahiri
- 'Abdullah Ibn 'Alawi Al-Haddad
- Murtada Al-Zabidi
- Ahmed Mohammed Al-Maqqari
- Muhammad Mayyara
- Muhammad Al-Arabi Al-Darqawi
- Muhammad Al-Faqih al-Muqaddam
- Ahmad Ibn Ajiba
- Muhammad Rashid Reda 
- Bediüzzaman Said Nursî
- Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari
- Muhammad Al-Tahir Ibn 'Ashur
- Muhammad Abu Zahra
- Muhammad Metwally El-Shaarawy
- Mustafa Mahmoud
- Mohamed Said Ramadan Al-Bouti
- Abdullah Al-Harari
- Ahmed El-Tayeb
- Ali Gomaa
- Ahmed Karima Professor of Islamic Law and Comparative Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University
- Saad El-Din El-Helaly Prof. Dr. Saad al-Din al-Helaly is currently Head of Comparative Jurisprudence, Faculty of Sharia and Law at Al-Azhar University
- Nurettin Uzunoğlu
- Ali Ünal
- Habib Ali Al-Jifri
- Said Foudah
- Early Islamic philosophy
- Islamic philosophy
- Islamization of knowledge
- Islamic schools and branches
- "al-Ashʿari". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
- Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Nussiba ila al-Imam al-Ash`ari (Ibn 'Asakir)
- Hamad al-Sanan, Fawziy al-'Anjariy, Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah, pp.248-258. Dar al-Diya'.
- Muslim Matters: "Islamic Theologies of Ahl al-Sunna: Theological Indoctrination or Education?" by Moutasem Atiya February 6, 2015
- Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.
- M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, Ash’arism, Philosophia Islamica.
- Corbin (1993), pp. 115 and 116
- Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam, pg. 120. From the Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion Series. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 9780313335761
- Rashid Ahmad Jullundhry, Quranic Exegesis in Classical Literature, pg. 53. New Westminster: The Other Press, 2010. ISBN 9789675062551
- Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 2008-02-03
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- Correct Islamic Doctrine/Islamic Doctrine by Ibn Khafif
- See Tafsir Al-Manar [Exegesis of the judicious Quran, widely known as “Tafsir Al-Manar”], on Q2:115.
- Frank, Richard M. Classical Islamic Theology: The Ash'arites. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalam. Vol. III. Edited by Dimitri Gutas (Aldershot, Ashgate Variorum, 2008) (Variorum Collected Studies Series).
- Who are the Ash'arites? Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- The Ash'ari's School of Theology Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- The Creed of Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jama'ah Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- Attacking the Azhari methodology, ideology and its scholars Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- The correct Meaning of the term “Ahlus-Sunnah Wal-Jama'ah” Hidaya Research
- Ashariyys - The Knights of Knowledge and the Pioneers of Success www.sunna.info
- Allah Exists Without a Place Darulfatwa - Islamic High Council of Australia
- Islamic Beliefs alsunna.org