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Ash'arism or Ash?ari theology (;[1] Arabic: al-?Aar?yah or ? al-?Airah) is the foremost theological school of Sunni Islam which established an orthodox dogmatic guideline[2] based on scriptural authority[], rationality,[3][4] and semi-rationalism,[3][5][6][7] founded by the Arab theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash?ari (d. 936 / AH 324).[8] The disciples of the school are known as Ash?arites,[3] and the school is also referred to as the Ash?arite school,[3] which became the dominant theological school within Sunni Islam.[9][10] It is considered one of the orthodox schools of theology in Sunni Islam,[11] alongside the Maturidi and Athari schools of theology.[12][13]

Amongst the most famous Ash?arites are Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Ghazali, al-Suyuti, Izz al-Din ibn 'Abd al-Salam, Ibn 'Asakir, and al-Subki.[14]



Abu al-Hasan al-Ash?ari was noted for his teachings on atomism,[15] 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.[16][page needed]

While al-Ash?ari 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:[17]

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, e.g. differences between Ibn Furak (d. AH 406) and al-Bayhaqi (d. AH 384).[18][19]

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.[20]

Ash'aris were referred to as the muthbita (those who make firm) by the Mutazilites.[21]


The Ash?arite view holds that:

  • God is all-powerful, therefore Good is what God commands and Evil is what God forbids.[22] What God does or commands - as revealed in the Quran and hadith - is by definition just. What He prohibits is by definition unjust.[22] Right and wrong are not objective realities.[23]
  • It is an error to insist-as did the opposing Mu?tazila-that, because God is just He cannot do/command something unjust (such as condemn someone to hell over something beyond their control), as this would limit His power and he is all-powerful. Some divine acts/commands might seem unfair/unjust to human beings, but this only demonstrates human error.[23]
  • The unique nature and attributes of God cannot be understood fully by human reasoning and the senses.[22]
  • Reason is God-given and must be employed judge over source of knowledge.[clarification needed][13]
  • 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.[24]
  • Only God knows the heart and knows who belongs to the faithful and who does not.[25]
  • God may forgive the sins of those in Hell.[26]
  • 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.[13] 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.[27]
  • The Quran is the uncreated word of God in essence; however, it is created when it takes on a form in letters or sound.[27]
  • 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

Ash'aris also have beliefs about Allah's attributes that are unique to them such as:[28]

  • Existence
  • Permanence without beginning
  • Endurance without end
  • Absoluteness and independence
  • Dissimilarity to created things
  • Oneness
  • Allah is all powerful, willful, knowing, living, seeing, hearing and speaking (signifying attributes)

Later Ash?ari

Nicholas Heer writes that later Ash'arite theologians -- from about the 6th AH/12th CE century onwards -- "increasingly attempted to rationalize Islamic doctrine". Theologians such as al-Taft?z?n? [29] and al-Jurj?n? [30] argued that Islamic scripture -- the Qur'an and ?ad?th, "must be proven to be true by rational arguments" before being "accepted as the basis of the religion". Educated Muslim "must be convinced on the basis of rational arguments" and not revelation that Islam is true.[31] A series of rational proofs were developed by these Ash'arite theologians including proofs for "the following doctrines or propositions":

  1. the universe is originated;
  2. the universe has an originator or creator;
  3. the creator of the universe is knowing, powerful and willing;
  4. prophecy is possible;
  5. miracles are possible;
  6. miracles indicate the truthfulness of one who claims to be a prophet;
  7. Muhammad claimed to be a prophet and performed miracles.[31]


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.[32] Both Shah Wali Allah and Ibn Taymiyyah rejected the lack of literalism in Ash?ari "speculative theology" and advocated "straightforward acceptance of God's description of Himself".[33]

In contrast, German scholar Eduard Sachau says the theology of Ash?ari and its biggest defender, al-Ghazali, was too literal and responsible for the decline of Islamic science starting in the tenth century. Sachau stated that the two clerics were the only obstacle to the Muslim world becoming a nation of "Galileos, Keplers and Newtons".[34] 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.[35]

Ziauddin Sardar says that some of the greatest Muslim scientists, such as Ibn al-Haytham and Ab? Rayh?n al-B?r?n?, who were pioneers of the scientific method, were themselves followers of the Ash?ari school of Islamic theology.[36] Like other Ash?arites who believed that faith or taqlid should apply only to Islam and not to any ancient Hellenistic authorities,[37] 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.[38]

Some authors have questioned the spiritual value of discussion methods employed by the Ash?arites 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."[39][self-published source]

See also


  1. ^ "al-Ash?ari". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Cyril Glassé, Huston Smith The New Encyclopedia of Islam Rowman Altamira 2003 ISBN 978-0-759-10190-6 page 63
  3. ^ a b c d Halverson 2010, pp. 14-15.
  4. ^ Weeks, Douglas. "The Ideology of Al Muhajiroun." Al Muhajiroun. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020. 103-140.
  5. ^ Gyekye, Kwame. "Theology and Law in Islam." (1976): 304-306.
  6. ^ Fah?r?, Mad. Ethical theories in Islam. Vol. 8. Brill, 1991.
  7. ^ Hashas, Mohammed. "Is European Islam Experiencing an Ontological Revolution for an Epistemological Awakening?." American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 31: 4 (2014): 14.
  8. ^ Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Nussiba ila al-Imam al-Ash`ari (Ibn 'Asakir)
  9. ^ a b c d Abdullah Saeed Islamic Thought: An Introduction Routledge 2006 ISBN 978-1-134-22564-4 chapter 5
  10. ^ Juan Eduardo Campo Encyclopedia of Islam New York, NY 2009 ISBN 978-1-438-12696-8 page 66
  11. ^ Pall, Zoltan (31 January 2013). Lebanese Salafis Between the Gulf and Europe. Amsterdam University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9789089644510. Retrieved 2016.
  12. ^ Halverson 2010, p. 9.
  13. ^ a b c Hughes 2013, pp. 193-194.
  14. ^ Hamad al-Sanan, Fawziy al-'Anjariy, Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah, pp.248-258. Dar al-Diya'.
  15. ^ Ash'ari - A History of Muslim Philosophy
  16. ^ Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.
  17. ^ M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, Ash'arism, Philosophia Islamica.
  18. ^ "Imam Bayhaqi".
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-16. Retrieved .CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 115 and 116
  21. ^ "Fatawa - Who are the Ash'arites?". Dar al-Ifta al Misriyyah. Retrieved .
  22. ^ a b c John L. Esposito The Oxford History of Islam Oxford University Press 2000 ISBN 978-0-199-88041-6 p. 281
  23. ^ a b Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 53. ISBN 978-1780744209. Retrieved 2018.
  24. ^ Alexander Knysh Islam in Historical Perspective Taylor & Francis 2016 ISBN 978-1-317-27339-4 page 163
  25. ^ Ron Geaves Islam Today: An Introduction A&C Black 2010 ISBN 978-1-847-06478-3 page 21
  26. ^ Ian Richard Netton Encyclopaedia of Islam Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-135-17960-1 page 183
  27. ^ a b Cyril Glassé, Huston Smith The New Encyclopedia of Islam Rowman Altamira 2003 ISBN 978-0-759-10190-6 page 62-3
  28. ^ Al Numan ibn Thabit, Abu Hanifa. Al-Fiqh-Al-Akbar-An-Accurate-Translation. pp. 43-44.
  29. ^ see the article "al-Taft?z?n?" by W. Madelung in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. X, pp. 88-89
  30. ^ see the article "al-Djurdj?n?" by A.S. Tritton in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. II, pp. 602-603
  31. ^ a b Heer, Nicholas (n.d.). "A LECTURE ON ISLAMIC THEOLOGY" (PDF). University of Washington Faculty. p. 10-11. Retrieved 2021.
  32. ^ Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 62. ISBN 978-1780744209. Retrieved 2018.
  33. ^ Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 65. ISBN 978-1780744209. Retrieved 2018.
  34. ^ Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam, p. 120. From the Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion Series. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 9780313335761
  35. ^ Lumbard, Joseph. "Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ab? mid al-Ghaz?l?, and the Decline of Science in the Islamic World". Retrieved 2019.
  36. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved
  37. ^ Anwar, Sabieh (October 2008), "Is Ghaz?l? really the Halagu of Science in Islam?", Monthly Renaissance, 18 (10), retrieved
  38. ^ Rashed, Roshdi (2007), "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 17 (1): 7-55 [11], doi:10.1017/S0957423907000355
  39. ^ Rashid Ahmad Jullundhry, Quranic Exegesis in Classical Literature, pp. 53-54. Islamic Book Trust/The Other Press, 2010. ISBN 9789675062551


External links

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