Syed Ameer Ali.

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The Caliph Ali was one day asked the meaning of Kazd (Ui )
and Radar < j±* ) \ he replied, "The first means obedience
to the commandments of God and avoidance of sin ; the latter,
the ability to live a holy life, and to do that which brings one
nearer to God and to shun that which throws him away from

1 Ibid. p. 136. » Nahj ul-Baldghat, p. 170.

3 Evidences of Tabrasi, a collection of traditions by the Shaikh ut-Tabrasi.


His perfection. . . . Say not that man is compelled, for that is
attribution of tyranny to God ; nor say that man has absolute
discretion, 1 — rather that we are furthered by His help and
grace in our endeavours to act righteously, and we transgress
because of our neglect (of His commands)." One of his inter-
locutors, 'Utba ibn Rabi'a Asadi, asked him once as to the
meaning of the words " there is no power nor help but from
God," jtjjo y, ij$ J| ) Jja> 51 . "It means," said the Caliph,
" that I am not afraid of God's anger, but I am afraid of his
purity ; nor have I the power to observe His commandment,
but my strength is in His assistance." 2 . . . God has placed
us on earth to try each according to his endowments. Referring
to the following and other passages of the Koran, the Caliph
went on to say, " God says, ' We will try you to see who are the
strivers ^^'sr*) [after truth and purity], and who are the
forbearing and patient, and We will test your actions.' . . .
and ' We will help you by degrees to attain what ye know
not.' 3 . . . These verses prove the liberty of human volition." 4
Explaining the verse of the Koran, " God directs him whom
He chooses, and leads astray him whom He chooses," the Caliph
said that this does not mean that He compels men to evil or
good, that He either gives direction or refuses it according
to His caprice, for this would do away with all responsibility
for human action ; it means, on the contrary, that God points
out the road to truth, and lets men choose as they will. 5

Arabian philosophy, nurtured afterwards in other cradles,
drew its first breath in the school of Medina. The freedom of
human will, based on the doctrine that man would be judged by
the use he had made of his reason, was inculcated in the teach-
ings of the Master, along with an earnest belief in a Supreme
Power ruling the universe. The idea assumed a more definite
shape in the words of the Disciple, and grew into a philosophy.
From Medina it was carried to Damascus, Kufa, Basra, and

1 I.e. to decide what is right and what is wrong.

* Ihtijdj nt-Tabrasi, p. 236.

* Ibid, p. 237. 5 Ibid.


Bagdad, where it gave birth to the eclectic schools, which shed
such lustre on the reigns of the early Abbasides.

The butchery of Kerbela and the sack of Medina had led to
the closing of the lecture-room of the Imams. With the
appearance of Jaafar as-Sadik as the head of Mohammed's
descendants, it acquired a new life. Extremely liberal and
rationalistic in his views, — a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher,
apparently well read in some of the foreign languages, — in
constant contact with cultured Christians, Jews, and Zoro-
astrians, with whom metaphysical disputations were frequent,
— he impressed a distinct philosophical character on the
Medinite school. Some of his views respecting predestination
deserve to be mentioned. Speaking of the doctrine of Jabr
(compulsion or predestinarianism) , which had about this period
made its appearance in Damascus, he expressed the following
opinion : " Those who uphold Jabr make out God to be a
participator in every sin they commit, and a tyrant for punish-
ing those sins which they are impelled to commit by the
compulsion of their being : this is infidelity." Then (giving
the analogy of a servant sent by his master to the market to
purchase something which he, the master, knows well that he
cannot bring, not possessing the wherewithal to buy it, and,
nevertheless, the master punishes him) the Imam adds, " the
doctrine of Jabr converts God into an unjust Master." x As
regards the opposite doctrine of absolute liberty (Tajwiz, delega-
tion oj authority)— meaning not the freedom of human will, but
unqualified discretion in the choice of wrong and right, he
declared that to affirm such a principle would destroy all the
foundations of morality, and give to all human beings absolute
licence in the indulgence of their animal propensities ; for if
each individual is vested with a discretion to choose what is
right or wrong, no sanction, no law can have any force. 2 Ikhtidr
(jUi^i )i is therefore different from Tajwiz 'uejj&i), " God
has endowed each human being with the capacity to under-
stand His commands and to obey them. They who exert
themselves to live purely and truly, them He helps : they are
those who please Him ; whilst they who disobey Him are
sinners." These views are repeated with greater emphasis by

1 Ihtijdj nt-Tabrasi, p. 236. 2 Ibid. p. 235.


the eighth Imam, Ali ar-Riza, who denounced Jabr (pre-
destinarianism) and Tashbih (anthropomorphism) as absolute
infidelity, 1 and declared the upholders of those doctrines to be
" the enemies of the Faith." He openly charged the advocates
of Jabr and Tashbih with the fabrication of traditions. At the
same time he warned his followers against the doctrine of
discretion or Tafwiz. He laid down in broad terms, " God has
pointed out to you the two paths, one of which leads you to
Him, the other takes you far away from His perfection ; you
are at liberty to take the one or the other ; pain or joy,
reward or punishment, depend upon your own conduct. But
man has not the capacity of turning evil into good, or sin
into virtue."

The Ommeyyades, many of whom remained pagans at heart
even after the profession of Islam, were, like their forefathers,
fatalists. Under them arose a school which purported to derive
its doctrines from the " ancients," the Sola/, a body of primitive
Moslems. All of them were dead ; it was consequently easy
to fabricate any tradition and pass it as handed down by one
or other of them. Jahm bin Safwan was the founder of this
school, which was called Jabria. The Jabrias 2 rivalled
Calvin in the absolute denial of free-will to man. They main-
tained " that man is not responsible for any of his actions
which proceed entirely from God ; 3 that he has no determining
power to do any act, nor does he possess the capacity of free
volition ; that he is the subject of absolute Divine sovereignty
in his actions, without ability on his part, or will or power of
choice ; and that God absolutely creates actions within him
just as He produces activity in all inanimate things ; . . . and
that reward and punishment are subject to absolute Divine
sovereignty in human actions." The Jabrias maintained
certain views regarding Divine attributes which have no

1 He who believes in Jabr is a Kafir ; Ihtijdj ut-Tabrasi, p. 214.

2 Shahristani divides the Jabrias into two branches, one being Jabrias
pure and simple, and the other more moderate. The first maintained that
neither action nor the ability to act belongs in any sense to man
()Lel lUa>| c ^Lc *)o5 )jj KjJ 4>ax]J o-vl>) i the latter held that man has an

ability which is not at all efficacious ( &Lc\ ijiyoj^ a'.jj ,xjjOJ oj^) •


particular significance. 1 According to Shahristani, the Jabrias
were divided into three sects, viz. : the Jahmia, the Najjdn'a,
and the Zirdria, differing from each other on minor points ;
but, so far as the doctrine of predestination was concerned, all
of them were agreed in denying free agency. The Najj arias,
who, after undergoing several transformations, developed two
centuries later into the Asha'rias, maintained that God creates
the conduct of His creatures, good and bad, virtuous and
vicious, while man appropriates the same. The Jabria
doctrines found favour with the Ommeyyade rulers, and soon
spread among the people.

The uncompromising fatalism of the Jabrias occasioned
among the thinking classes a revolt, which was headed by
Ma'bad al-Juhani, Yunus al-Aswari, and Ghailan Dimishki (i.e.
of Damascus), who had evidently derived many of their ideas
from the Fatimides. They boldly asserted in the capital of the
Ommeyyades, in the very stronghold of predestinarianism, the
free agency of man. 2 But in the assertion of human liberty
they sometimes verged on the doctrine of Tafwiz. From
Damascus the dispute was carried to Basra, and there the
differences of the two parties waxed high. The Jabrias
merged into a new sect, called the Sijdtias, 3 who, with pre-
destinarianism, combined the affirmation of certain attributes
in the Deity as distinct from His Essence, which the Jabrias
denied. The Sifdtias claimed to be the direct representatives
of the Salaf. According to Shahristani, these followers of the
Salaf " maintained that certain eternal attributes pertain to
God, namely, knowledge, power, life, will, hearing, sight,
speech, majesty, magnanimity, bounty, beneficence, glory, and
greatness,— making no distinction between attributes of essence
and attributes of action. . . . They also assert certain de-
scriptive attributes ( ^j^ otiL; as, for example, hands and
face, without any other explanation than to say that these
attributes enter into the revealed representation of the Deity,
and that, accordingly, they had given them the name of
descriptive attributes." Like the Jabrias, they adhered to
the doctrine of predestination in all its gloominess and intensity.

1 Shahristani, part i. p. 59. 2 Shahristani, part i. pp. 59-63.

s Lit. Attributists.


From the Sif alias sprang the Mushabbihas, " who likened the
Divine attributes to the attributes of created things," * and
turned God into a similitude of their own selves. 2 At this
period one of the most noted professors belonging to the anti-
predestinarian party was Imam Hasan, surnamed al-Basri
(from his place of residence). He was a Medinite by birth,
and had actually sat at the feet of " the Philosophers of the
family of Mohammed." He had imbibed their liberal and
rationalistic ideas, and, on settling at Basra, had started a
lecture-room, which was soon thronged by the students of Irak.
Here he discoursed on the metaphysical questions of the day
in the spirit of his masters.

One of his most prominent pupils was Abu Huzaifa Wasil
bin 'Ata al-Ghazzal, 3 a man of great mental powers, thoroughly
versed in the sciences and traditions, who had also studied in
the lecture-room of Medina. He differed from the Imam on
a question of religious dogma, and was made to withdraw from
the lecture-room. He thereupon founded a school of his own.
His followers have, from this fact, been called Mu'tazilas, or
Ahl-ul-I'tizal, Dissenters. 4 He soon rivalled the fame of his
master, whose school before long practically merged in that
of the pupil. In his antagonism against intellectual tyranny
he often overstepped the bounds of moderation, and gave
utterance to views, especially on the controversy raised by
Mu'awiyah, which were in conflict with those entertained at
Medina. Yet the general rationalism of his school rallied the
strongest and most liberal minds round his standard. Proceed-
ing upon the lines of the Fatimide philosophers, and appropriating

2 Shahristani draws a distinction between the Sifdtia anthropomorphists
and those who came into existence later. " Ata later period certain persons
went beyond what had been professed by any who held to the primitive faith,
and said that undoubtedly those expressions (denoting the attributes) are
used in the literal sense, and are to be interpreted just as they stand, without
resort to figurative interpretation, and at the same time, without insisting
upon the literal sense alone, whereby they fell into pure anthropomorphism

( i^jj&}\ &x&>J\) in violation of the primitive Moslem faith."

3 J t)*^ ^* ^ <J'* , J AftJ^ >?!• He lived in the days of Abd ul-Malik,
Walid and Hisham. He was born in 83 a.h. (699-700 a. c.) and died in 131
a.h. (748-9 a. a).

4 Shahristani, p. 31 ; Gouhar-i-Murad {vide post). Mu'tazala spelt with a
fatha (a) in the third syllable in the Ghyds-ul-lughat and the Farhang (Lucknow,

1889). See Appendix III.


the principles which they had laid down and the ideas to which
they had often given forcible expression, he formulated into
theses the doctrines which constitute the basis of his difference
from the predestinarian schools and from Patristicism generally.
For several centuries his school dominated over the intellects
of men, and with the support of the enlightened rulers who
during this period held the reins of government, it gave an
impetus to the development of national and intellectual life
among the Saracens such as had never been witnessed before.
Distinguished scholars, prominent physicists, mathematicians,
historians — all the world of intellect in fact, including the
Caliphs, belonged to the Mu'tazilite school. 1

Men like Abu'l Huzail Hamdan, 2 Ibrahim ibn Sayyar an-
Nazzam, 3 Ahmed ibn Hait, Fazl al-Hadasi, and Abu Ali
Mohammed al-Jubbai, 4 well read in Greek philosophy and
logic, amalgamated many ideas borrowed from those sources
with the Medinite conceptions, and impressed a new feature
on the philosophical notions of the Moslems. The study of
Aristotle, Porphyry, and other Greek and Alexandrian writers
gave birth to a new science among the Mu'tazilas, which was
called Ilm-ul-Kaldm, " the science of reason " (Kaldm, logos), 5
with which they fought both against the external as well as the
internal enemies of the Faith, — the non-Moslems who assailed
the teachings of Islam from outside, and the patristic Moslems
who aimed at its degradation from within. The extreme views
of Wasil on the political questions which had agitated the
Caliphate of Ali were before long abandoned, with the result
that moderate Mu'tazilaism became substantially amalgamated
with the rationalism of the Fatimide school, whence it had
sprung. It is a well-known fact that the chief doctors of the
Mu'tazilite school were educated under the Fatimides, and
there can hardly be any doubt that moderate Mu'tazilaism

1 We may mention here two or three prominent Mutazilas whose names
are still famous, e.g. Imam Zamakhshari, the author of the Kashshdf, admittedly
the best and most erudite commentary on the Koran; Mas'udi, "Imam,
historian, and philosopher " ; the famous Al-Hazen, Abu'l Wafa, and Mirk-

2 Died a.h. 235 (a.c. 849-850), in the beginning of al-Mutawakkil's Caliphate.

3 A nephew of Abu'l Huzail. * Bom in 861 ; died in 933.
'■ Shahristani, p. 18 ; Ibn-Khaldun in loco.


represented the views of the Caliph Ali and the most liberal of
his early descendants, and probably of Mohammed himself.
A careful comparison of the Mu'tazilite doctrines will show
that they were either word for word the same as were taught
by the early Fatimides, or were modifications of those doctrines
induced by the requirements of a progressive society, and
partly, perhaps, by the study of Greek and Alexandrian

The Caliph Ali had condemned in emphatic language all
anthropomorphic and anthropopathic conceptions of the Deity.
" God was not like any object that the human mind can con-
ceive ; no attribute can be ascribed to Him which bore the least
resemblance to any quality of which human beings have
perception from their knowledge of material objects. The
perfection of piety consists in knowing God ; the perfection of
knowledge is the affirmation of His verity ; and the perfection
of verity is to acknowledge His unity in all sincerity ; and the
perfection of sincerity is to deny all attributes to the Deity . . .
' &x* lA^J| ^a-> *J o^UjIf JUS ; He who refers an attribute to
God believes the attribute to be God, and he who so believes an
attribute to be God, regards God as two or part of one. . . .
He who asks where God is, assimilates Him with some object.
God is the Creator, not because He Himself is created ; God is
existent, not because He was non-existent. He is with every
object, not from resemblance or nearness ; He is outside of every-
thing not from separation. He is the Primary Cause (Ucli),
not in the meaning of motion or action ; He is the Seer, but no
sight can see Him. He has no relation to place, time, or
measure. 1 . . . God is Omniscient, because knowledge is His
Essence ; Mighty, because Power is His Essence ; Loving,
because Love is His Essence . . . not because these are attributes
apart from His Essence. . . . The conditions of time or space
were wholly inapplicable to Him." . . . 2 Takdir {j**& ),
construed by the followers of the Salaf to mean predestination,
meant " weighing," " probation," " trial."

Let us see now what Mu'tazilaism is. On many minor and
subsidiary points the prominent Mu'tazilite doctors differed

1 Nahj-ul-Baldghat ; see the comment of Ibn-i-Abi'l Hadid, the Mu'tazilite.

2 From the Imam Ja'far as-Sadik, ibid.


among themselves ; but I shall give here a sketch of the
doctrines on which they were in accord. According to Shahri-
stani, the Mu'tazilas 1 declare that " eternity is the distinguish-
ing attribute of the Divine Being ; that God is Eternal, for
Eternity is the peculiar property of His Essence ; they
unanimously deny the existence of eternal (Divine) qualities
( «*j«>&Jj o'i-ft'i ) [as distinct from His being], and maintain
that He is Omniscient as to His being ; Living as to His being ;
Almighty as to His being ; but not through any knowledge,
power, or life existing in Him as eternal attributes ; for know-
ledge, power, and life are part of His Essence. Otherwise, if
they are to be looked upon as eternal attributes of the Deity
(separate from His Essence), it would tend to the affirmation
of a multiplicity of eternal entities. . . . They also maintain
that the Word of God is created, and when created, is
expressed in letters and sounds. ... In like manner they
unanimously denied that willing, hearing, and seeing are ideas
subsistent in the Divine Being, though differing as to the modes
of their existence and their metaphysical grounds." 2 " They
deny unanimously that God can be beheld in the Ddr-ul-Kardr
(in the Abode of Rest) with the corporeal sight. They forbid
the describing of God by any quality belonging to material
objects, either by way of direction, or location, or appearance,
or body, or change, or cessation of action, or dissolution ; and
they have explained the passages of the Koran in which expres-
sions implying these qualities have been used, by asserting that
the expressions are used figuratively and not literally. And this
doctrine they call Tauhid, ' assertion of Divine unity.' . . .

1 " The Mu'tazilas called themselves," says Shahristani, " Ashdb-al-'adl
wa't-tauhid, ' people of justice and unity,' and sometimes Kadarias." As
a matter of fact, however, the designation of Kadaria was never applied by
the Mu'tazilas to themselves ; it was applied by their enemies to the extreme
Mu'tazilas who maintained the doctrine of Tafwiz, and which was condemned
by the Fatimide Imams. They always repudiated that designation, and
applied it to the predestinarians, who asserted that God is the Creator of every
human action. Shahristani admits this, and says : —

^U5 SM\ wljZj lj^ )M Jj&j y* ^ J'Jxj Aj^I Lki \j!i3j

But he tries to refute the applicability of the word Kadaria to the pre-
destinarians. " How can it apply to those who trust in God " ; Shahristani,
P- 30.

2 Shahristani, p. 30.

s.i. 2 D


They also agree in believing that man is the creative efficient
of his actions, good and bad f^l^atf i*3\ o' "V*j ,A ^ ^^ V)
and gets reward and punishment in the future world by merit
for what he does ; and that no moral evil, or iniquity of action,
or unbelief, or disobedience, can be referred to God, because,
if He had caused unrighteousness to be, He would be
Himself unrighteous {UKfi'otf fU£J\ Jliyatf ) . . . They also
unanimously maintain that the All-wise does only that which
is beneficial and good ( jt± } \ > r $*aJ\ Sli J*»j SO. and that a
regard in the light of wisdom ( iU^i ^^ ±/° ) for the good
of humanity ( *^ e^* ) is incumbent upon Him, though
they differed as to His being obligated to secure the highest good,
and to bestow grace ( (**»** oJli *>y*>j ^'J uUai; ' J £ U ^ Ul J )■
And this doctrine they call the doctrine of 'adl, or justice."

They further hold that there is no eternal law as regards
human actions ; that the Divine ordinances which regulate
the conduct of men are the result of growth and development ;
that God has commanded and forbidden by a law which grew
gradually. At the same time, they say that he who works
righteousness merits rewards, and he who works evil deserves
punishment ; and this, they say, is consonant with reason.
The Mu'tazilas also say that all knowledge is attained through
reason, and must necessarily be so obtained. They hold that
the cognition of good and evil is also within the province of
reason ; that nothing is known to be wrong or right until reason
has enlightened us as to the distinction ; and that thankfulness
for the blessings of the Benefactor is made obligatory by reason,
even before the promulgation of any law on the subject. They
maintain that the knowledge of God is within the province of
reason ; and, with the exception of Himself, everything else is
liable to change or to suffer extinction. " They also maintain
that the Almighty has sent His Prophets to explain to mankind
His commandments. . . . They differ among themselves as to
the question of the Imamate ; some maintaining that it
descended by appointment, others holding to the right of the
people to elect." The Mu'tazilas are, therefore, the direct
antitheses of the Sifdtias, for " these and all other Ahl-us-
Sunnat hold that God does whatever He pleases, for He is the


Sovereign Lord of His dominions, and whatever He wishes
He orders . . . and this is 'adl (justice) according to them.
According to the Ahl-ul-I'tizal, what accords with Reason and
Wisdom only is justice {'adl), and the doing of acts for
(or according to) the good and well-being [of mankind],
is^'i; w^i^ju^ • The Ahl-ul-'adl say that God has
commanded and forbidden by created words. According to
the Ahl-us-Sunnat (the Sifatias), all that is obligatory is known
from hearsay (£*<*) ; (secular) knowledge only is attained by
reason ; Reason cannot tell us what is good, or what is bad,
or what is obligatory. The Ahl-ul-'adl say (on the contrary)
that all knowledge comes through reason. 1 They referred
that term of tradition ' pre-destination ' to trial and deliverance,
adversity and prosperity, sickness and health, death and life,
and other doings of God, exclusive of moral good and evil,
virtue and vice, regarding men as responsible for the latter,

and it is in the same sense that the whole community of the
Mu'tazila employ that term."

Thus far we have given the views of the school as a body ;
but there were certain opinions held by the prominent doctors
individually, which, though not accepted beyond the immediate
circle of their particular disciples, are yet deserving of notice.
For example Abu-Huzail Hamdan maintained that the Creator
is knowing by virtue of knowledge, but that His knowledge is
His Essence ; powerful by virtue of power, but that His power
is His Essence ; living by virtue of life, but that His life is His
Essence. " A view," says Shahristani, " adopted from the
Philosophers," but really taken from the Medinite school. He
also affirmed that free will ( icAUi ) is an accident ( ^j>j s )i
additional to perfection of development and soundness
^ i^a^l y Ibrahim ibn Sayyar an-Nazzam, " a diligent student
of the books of the Philosophers," maintained " that without
a revelation, man is capable, by reflection, of recognising the
Creator, and of distinguishing between virtue and vice . . .
and that the Doer of Righteousness possessed not the capacity
to do wrong." Mu'ammar ibn Abbad as-Sulami advanced

1 Shahristani, p. 31.


the Platonic theory of " archetypes." He maintained that
accidents are permanent in the several species of things to
which they belong (^li^iu 4 ^ ). and that every

Online LibrarySyed Ameer AliThe spirit of Islâm : a history of the evolution and ideals of Islâm → online text (page 45 of 55)