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Ash'arism or Ashʿari theology (//; Arabic: الأشعرية al-ʾAshʿarīyya or الأشاعرة al-ʾAshāʿira) is an early theological school of Sunni Islam based on clerical authority and rejection of cause and effect reasoning. It was 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. It is considered one of the orthodox schools of theology in Sunni Islam, alongside the Maturidi school of theology and the Athari (non-theological) school.
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 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-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."
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.
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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 Prophet Muhammad.
- 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).
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."
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.
Some authors have questioned the spiritual value of discussion methods employed by the Ash'aris and other dialectical theologians. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, himself a leading figure of the Ash'ari 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."
List of prominent Ash'aris
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- Who are the Ash'arites? Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- The Ash'ari's School of Theology Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
- Ashariyys - The Knights of Knowledge and the Pioneers of Success www.sunna.info