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Ash'arism or Ashʿari theology (//; Arabic: أشعرية al-ʾAšʿarīyah or ٱلْأَشَاعِرَة al-ʾAšāʿirah) is the foremost theological school of Sunni Islam which established an orthodox dogmatic guideline based on scriptural authority, rationality and semi-rationalism, founded by the Arab theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari (d. 936 / AH 324). The disciples of the school are known as Ashʿarites, and the school is also referred to as the Ashʿarite school, which became the dominant theological school within Sunni Islam. It is considered one of the orthodox schools of theology in Sunni Islam, alongside the Maturidi school and Athari school of theology.
Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari was noted for his teachings on atomism, among the earliest Islamic philosophies, and for al-Ashʿari this was the basis for propagating the view that God 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.[page needed]
While al-Ashʿari opposed the views of the rival Mu'tazili school, he was also opposed to the view which rejected all debate, held by 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.
Ashʿarism became the main school of early Islamic philosophy whereby it was originally based on the foundations laid down by Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari 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 Ashʿari, in modern usage, being extremely broad, e.g. differences between Ibn Furak (d. AH 406) and al-Bayhaqi (d. AH 384).
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-Ashʿari 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-Ashʿari 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'aris were referred to as the muthbita (those who make firm) by the Mutazilites.
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The Ashʿarite view holds that:
- God is all-powerful, therefore all Good and Evil is what God commands or forbids. What God does or commands – as revealed in the Quran and hadiths – is by definition just. What He prohibits is by definition unjust. Right and wrong are not objective realities.
- Insisting – as the opposing Muʿtazila did – that because God is just He cannot do/command something unjust (such as condemn someone to hell over something beyond their control) is an error because this limits His power. Some divine acts/commands might seem unfair/unjust to human beings, but ...[clarification needed]
- The unique nature and attributes of God cannot be understood fully by human reasoning and the senses.
- Reason is God-given and must be employed judge over source of knowledge.[clarification needed]
- Intellectual inquiry is decreed by the Qur'an and by Muhammad, thus interpretations of the Quran (Tafsir) and the Hadith should keep developing with the aid of older interpretations.
- Only God knows the heart and knows who belongs to the faithful and who does not.
- God may forgive the sins of those in Hell.
- Support of kalam.
- Although humans possess free will (or, more accurately, freedom of intention), they have no power to create anything, thus simply decide between God's given possibilities. This doctrine is now known in Western philosophy as occasionalism. According to the doctrine of kasb (acquisition), any and all human acts, even the raising of a finger, are created by God, but the human being who performs the act is responsible for it, because they have "acquired" the act.
- The Quran is the uncreated word of God in essence; however, it is created when it takes on a form in letters or sound.
- Knowledge of God comes from studying the holy names and attributes in addition to studying the Quran and the Hadith of Muhammad.
- Muslims must believe in the Five pillars of Islam;
- in all the Prophets of Islam from Adam to Muhammad;
- and in angels.
Ash'aris also have beliefs about Allah's attributes that are unique to them such as:
- Permanence without beginning
- Endurance without end
- Absoluteness and independence
- Dissimilarity to created things
- Allah is all powerful, willful, knowing, living, seeing, hearing and speaking (signifying attributes)
Ibn Taymiyyah criticised Ashari thought as (in the words of one historian, Jonathan A. C. Brown) "a Greek solution to Greek problems" that should "never" have concerned Muslims. Both Shah Wali Allah and Ibn Taymiyyah rejected the lack of literalism in Ashʿari "speculative theology" and advocated "straightforward acceptance of God's description of Himself".
German scholar Eduard Sachau says the theology of Ashʿari and its biggest defender, al-Ghazali, was responsible 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". Joseph E. B. Lumbard offered a different view, claiming that there is no historical evidence to substantiate such a claim, and that science continued to prosper. He asserts that this viewpoint originates from a poor reading of Ghazali warning against the abuse of new technology and how it can disrupt and harm society if not properly implemented, similar to how nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence and stem cell research today are restricted to a degree for ethical reasons.
Ziauddin Sardar says 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 Ashʿari school of Islamic theology. Like other Ashʿarites 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.
Some authors have questioned the spiritual value of discussion methods employed by the Ashʿarites and other dialectical theologians. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, himself a leading figure of the Ashʿari school, said at the end of his life: "I employed all the methods which philosophy and dialectic had provided, but in the end I realised that these methods neither could bring solace to the weary heart nor quench the thirst of the thirsty. The best method and the nearest one to reality was the method provided by the Qur'an."[self-published source]
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