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Ash'arism or Ashʿari theology (/æʃəˈr/;[1] Arabic: الأشعريةal-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).[2] The disciples of the school are known as Ash'arites, and the school is also referred to as the Ash'arite school.

Amongst the most famous Ash'arites: Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Nawawi, Al-Ghazali, Izz al-Din ibn 'Abd al-Salam, Al-Suyuti, Ibn 'Asakir, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Al-Qurtubi and Al-Subki.[3]


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."[4]

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.


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).

The school holds that human reason, in and by itself, is not capable of establishing with absolute certainty any truth with respect to morality, the physical world or metaphysics.

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari[edit]

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.[5]

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:[6]

"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[edit]

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.[7][8]

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.[9]


  • 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).[citation needed] Ash'arites believe that understanding Islam should develop as time goes on and explain each age of time by understanding the Quran.

This mentality is not restricted to modern Ash'arism. For example, Al-Qaeda's Osama bin Laden once tried in one of his speeches to explain what is happening to the Muslims by referring to some Quranic verses.[10]

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."[11] 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.[12]

Prominent Ash'ari scholars and leaders[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "al-Ashʿari". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Nussiba ila al-Imam al-Ash`ari (Ibn 'Asakir)
  3. ^ Hamad al-Sanan, Fawziy al-'Anjariy, Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah, pp.248-258. Dar al-Diya'.
  4. ^ Muslim Matters: "Islamic Theologies of Ahl al-Sunna: Theological Indoctrination or Education?" by Moutasem Atiya February 6, 2015
  5. ^ Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.
  6. ^ M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, Ash’arism, Philosophia Islamica.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 115 and 116
  10. ^ Bin Laden speech uploaded on YouTube
  11. ^ Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam, pg. 120. From the Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion Series. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 9780313335761
  12. ^ Rashid Ahmad Jullundhry, Quranic Exegesis in Classical Literature, pg. 53. New Westminster: The Other Press, 2010. ISBN 9789675062551
  13. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 2008-02-03 
  14. ^ Anwar, Sabieh (October 2008), "Is Ghazālī really the Halagu of Science in Islam?", Monthly Renaissance 18 (10), retrieved 2008-10-14 
  15. ^ Rashed, Roshdi (2007), "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy (Cambridge University Press) 17 (01): 7–55 [11], doi:10.1017/S0957423907000355 
  16. ^ 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).

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