FRIDAY, 01 JULY 2005 05:32 ADIS DUDERIJA HITS: 1570
Throughout the 1st and 2nd centuries of the Islamic calendar, as we tried to demonstrate in the first part of the paper theological issues , to use Van Ess’ terminology , were “loaded with political and revolutionary overetones.”
One of the earliest theological disputes resulting in further schisms in Muslim community came into the foreground during the caliph Marwan’s ( d.86 AH) reign elicited by the various positions on the question of free will and pre-destination.This theological dispute is commonly referred to in Islamic literature as qadar or khalq al-af’al.
Ringer in his Studies In Arabian Fatalism showed that in the pre-Qur’anic Arabia proto-pre-destinarian elements were prevalent in beduin Arabs’ worldview. The “cultural predisposition” of Arabs towards pre-destinarianism, however, does not alone explain the dynamics and the final result of this controversy in the form of ahl-sunnah wa jama’ah’s adoption of pre-destinerian/predetrministic position. Again ,politics had to do with it as much as theology did.
1. Qadariyya and Jabriyya
The Syrian origins, at the time the seat of the caliphate, of the pre-destinarian doctrine , according to Van Ess were not incidental .Pre-destinarian views as espoused, sponsored and propagated by the Umayyad rulers are to be seen in the larger context them seeking justification for their rule.The doctrine of God’s pre-destination of human acts( jabr) ,may they be evil or otherwise, in opposition to the doctrine of human resposibility for own acts(qadr) is one of many examples of what we may refer to as theological pragmatism Muslim rulers adopted to validate their claims to political legitimacy of their rulership or to invalidate those of their political adversaries.
One of the earliest forms of Qadarite doctrine ( meaning human responsibility for their own acts in opposition to jabr -see above) focuses on Gos’s call(du’a) to humans to be faithful to the guidance (huda) as manifested by the Prophets.Humans are , according to this view, free to heed this call or not as they are able to perform ( qadara) , initiate and be in control of their own actions (van Ess in “Anfaenge muslimmische Theologie”-Beginnings/Genesis of Muslim Theology p.12 ff).Watt lists the following characterisitics of Qadarite thought /doctrine from the viewpoint of later Ash’arite-Sunnism :
Â· Righteous (hasanat) actions and actions of goodness (khayrat) can be attributed to God whilst evil or base actions cannot( i.e. humans are solely responsible for own wickedness).
Â· Muwaffida, a section of Qadariyya, believe that God delegated the power (tawfid) , entrusted (mawakkal) and empowered/enabled ( yaqdiruna) human beings to act freetly (istita’a) and be responsible for their own actions.
Â· Human beings are themselves able to believe or disbelieve independent of God’s inteference.
Â· Shabibiyya, a subsect of Qadariyya, unlike later Asha’ri -Sunnism , also maintained that God’s forknowledge and omnipotence do not amount to one’s predetermination of acts by God.
At the time of the Qadariyya, analogous to the general pattern outlined in the first part of the paper, theology was still in its infancy. The issue of predestination,a s Van Ess asserts, was largely framed in the context of contemporary politics and was seen “as a guarantee for the established social order agaisnt the onslaught of the underprivilaged”. Qadariyya ,namely, manitianed that whoever subscribed to the idea og God being able to compel someone to perform acts of tyranny (i.e. jabr- the doctrinal antonym of qadar) was a Jabriyya which in political terms connoted the ‘tyranny’ of the Umayyad dynasty from the time of caliph Abd al-Malik (65-86 A.H) onward.In theological terms, as we already mentioned, it amounted to ascribing of evil acts of humans to God and people’s inability to be fully capable of performing actions independent of God’s Will.
Just like in the case of Muji’ism, Qadarism enjoyed a substantial following of many authorities belonging to the “general religious movement” , to use Watt’s phrase, for the first hundred years after the prophet’s death but by the end of the second century of Hijrah became reprehensible in the eyes of the majority of religious scholars under the flood of predominanatly pre-destinarian literature, mainly clad in the mantle of pre-destinarian ahadith( majority of ahadith are pre-destinarian inn nature althogh there are few which imply human resposibility).
At the beginning of the last quarter of second century of Hijrah with the change in the political masters of the Muslim ummah, the Abbasids, and the increased sophisitication in the argumentation and forming of theological doctrine , the Qadarite views were embraced and further developed by another prominent group within Islamic thought , that of Mu’tazilah . Their doctrines are to be examined in the context of the below listed theological contoversies which have been hotly debated ever since the end of the fist century of Hijra dividing the Muslim community into numerous other factions.These contorversal issues can be classified under the following :
a.) question of free will and determinism ( later form of pre-destination)
b.) nature and existence of God’s Attributes (sifaat Allah) , especially those pertaining to God’s Speech, Intention , Justice and Unity
c.) as an extention of b.) question of createdness or uncreatedness of Qur’an ( kahlq wa-l- makhluq)
d.) definition of iman
e.) nature of ethical value and source of ethical knowledge( i.e. place of reason and revelation in moral epistemology)
One of the most widely applicable definition of Mu’tazilah are those who withdraw( from I’tazala – to withdraw from society ). Its political connotations especially with reference to the Ali-Mu’awiyah dispute and its subsequent implications in temrs of definition of iman , according to Nallino, are to be interpreted as those who remained “neutral and not participating in neither of two contradictory factions (Non-Khawarij and Khawarij ). Watt cites An-Nawbakhti who narrated that upon Uthman’s death three parties emerged. Apart from those siding with Ali and their opponents a group of people withdrew (I’tazalat) from Ali not participating in armed conflict with him prior and after pleading alligiance to him, believing that it would not be lawful to either fight with or against him.
One of the five distinguishing features of their thought is the belief in the intermediate position ( manzila baina -l’manzilatain) between belief and unbeleif of those who committed grave sins ( i.e. between Murji’ism and Khawarijism) , being a state of hypocracy. A person who committs these grave sinns is a sinner (fasiq) rather than a Muslim or a Kafir. Thus , they intorduced a third , independent category pertaining to the status of a person with regards to their belief .A majority of Mu’tazilah defined iman- with regards to its inner structure explained in the first part of paper- primarily in terms of ‘amal and religious duties in contrast to Murji’a who , as we stated earlier, emphasised the knowledge ( ma’arifah) and to a lesser verbal ( iqrar) elements of belief.
Another fundamental postulate of the Mu’tazilah doctrine that will aid us in understanding their position with regards to the theological predicament of free-will /determinism(qadar) as well as the nature and existenece of God’s attributes is their doctrine of God’s Absolute Unity , Justice and Intention for humankind’s ultimate felicity.
Theological speculations on the question of determinism -qadar- that we are familiar with and is found in current literature ( in contrast to predestination as understood by Qadariyya) and its systematic development is ascribed to Jahm b. Safwan who was considered the first Mu’tazilah. In the minds of the Mu’tazilah God must be just not only in the sense of Divine Justice uncomprehensible to human beings but also in its definition as a concet comprehensible and relevant to human experience.This doctrine of necessity ( wujub) “imposed upon God by humans” is coupled with the principle of al-aslah , according to which, God’s Intention and Laws are there for the purposes of good for humankind. As a corollary to this principle Mu’tazilah , in simplest terms, maintained that if humans were not able to act freely and be responsible for their own actions God would be unjust in punishing them for something they were not in control of. It is only with freedom to act on own accord and choose between good and evil that humans can be held rsponsible for their actions. Any other view of this question would amount to undermining of God’s Justice as understood by Mu’tazilah.
On the question of nature and existenece of God’s Attributes Mu’tazilah were trying to find the answer to the question, in words of Goldziher, “whether it was possible to ascribe attributes to God without tarnishing belief in God’s immutable, indivisible Unity(tawhid)?”
According to Mu’tazilah’s understanding of tawhid , all God’s attributes are inseperable of His Unitary Essence and none of His Attributes are eternal , additional or inherent to it.To maintain otherwiese, they claim, would amount to multiplicity of God and therefore to undermining of the principle of tawhid. Since the Qur’an , based on a literal hermeneutic/interpretation, would sanction an antropomorphic (i.e. ascribing to God human qualities such as God having hands , ears , eyes like humans do) understanding of God’s Attributes , Mutazilah engaged into what is , from the point of view of Wahhabo-Salafi “Sunni” viewpoint , known as tahreef or distortion or figurative explaining away of God’s Attributes as found in Qur’an. A famous and a very controversial example of this metaphorical explanation /interpretation indulged by the Mu’tazilah pertains to the question of understanding the verses in the Qur’an which talk about the God’s ascending to the throne. We will reproduce here just one of them: Indeed, your Lord is Allah, Who created the heaves and the earth in six days and than he rose over (istawa) the Throne (7:54). The notion of God moving from one place to another , if this verse is to be taken literally and without asking how , (bi-la kaifa,i.e without interpretation ) as Wahhabo-Salafi “Sunni” method of interpretation insists as evident in writings of Ahmen ibn Hanbal or Ibn taymiyya , was totally repungant to Mu’tazilah’s concept of Omnipresent God who , in their view, could not be limited neither spacially nor temporally.
Apart from controversises surronding tahreef , there are another two point that were hotly debated at the time giving rise to sects within the Muslim community that are worthy of mention. Ta’teeel or negation of God’s Attributes and tamtheel/tashbeeh or likening and comparing of God to His creation . The first point gave rise to the sect of Jahmiyya and the second to that of Hashwiyya/Mushabbiha. Jahmiyya , a sub-sect of Mu’tazilah, held strongly anti-antropomorphistic views and were strongly condemned by literally minded authority figures such as ibn Hanbal. That Jahmiyya had a wide appeal in the Muslim community can be deduced from the fact that ibn Hanbal accuses followers of Abu Hanifa of espousing doctrines characteristic of Jahmiyya. Muteshabbiha /Hashwiyya based on their literal hermeneutic of both hadith and Qur’an espoused gross antropomorphism.
An attribute of God attracting a great amount of attention of both the lay Muslim as well as theologians was that of the nature of God’s Speech ( kalaam) , especially how it is to be understood in the context to the written text of the Qur’an and its recitation by Muslims. The question of createdness or uncreatedness of Qur’an is an extension of the debates on the nature of attribute of God. For , if one assumes, as Mu’tazilah did, that God’s attributes are an inseperable,indistinguishable part of God’s unitary essence and not co-existent with it ( co-existence was adopted later in the mainstream Sunni doctrine) than God’s kalaam, such as Qur’an, is something created in time and space.
Just like many other theological controversies we dealth with so far, the doctrnie of un/createdness of Qur’an had also political ramifications. Namely custodians of religious knowledge had a vested interst in espousing the doctrine of the Qur’an ‘s uncreatedness as this would increase the importance of their position in the larger Muslim community and government as maintainers and interpreters of the actual , eternal Word of God , rather than something , although divine in origin, but still spatio-temporaly contingent.
Pehaps worthy of mention here are two “intrmediate” positions of Lafziyya and Waqiyya. The former maintained that while Qur’an is uncreated, person’s utterance of it is created while the latteer suspended their judgment (waqf)on this matter.
Before we give a fuller account of later Mu’tazilah doctrine we would like to very briefly allude to the role of reason in Mutazilah thought. They considered reason to be a legitimate source of moral /ethical and legal knowledge/epistemology assigning it a prominent role in legal theory(fiqh) and development of positive law ( usul fiqh) independent of revelation.This is a marked deviation from later developed sunni doctrine and Wahhabo-Salafi’s view of role of reason as being entirely superflous and subservient to relevation and relevation -derived body of knowledge (i.e. epistemology).
An apt summanry of Mu’tazilah doctrine, which also fulfills the function of recapping of the content we death with so far is given by Rahman :
Â· God is a unique being , unlike any other creature, possessing activity but no substantiative attribute ;Thus, God lives but has no substantiative attribute of life; God knowns but has no substantiative attribute of knowledge etc. Because they denied the attribute of Speech, Mu’tazilah declared that Qur’an -as God’s speech, was not an eteernal attribute of God but something created (makhluq) in contradistinction to later develpod “Sunni” doctrine .
Â· The humankind is endowned with freewill and has the rsposibility ot create autonomous actions. God neither wills nor creates evil.Therefore , the evil that materialises occurs without and despite his will (also at odds with later “Sunni” doctrine)
Â· Muslim who commits a grave wrong ceases to have faith (iman) but does not become an infidel ( like Khawarij insisted )and occupies a middle position of a fasiq( in opposition to Murji’a to consider him/her still a beleiver) unless he or she repents. Deeds are therefore part of iman (whilst this is not case for Murji’a)
Â· God’s activity is for the sake of good (maslaha) of his creation , therefore laws that God has ordained for human kind have an underlying purpose ,the good of humanity.
Â· Good and wrong are discoverable by human reason unaided by revelation but that ritual institutions of religioin such as prayers and fasting , cannot be known by pure reason( but whose institution can be appreciated by it ) and are known only through revelation.
Development of Sunnism:
So far we have briefly examined some of the forces which have lead to the phenomenon of creation of schisms in the Muslim community. There were, however, silmutaneous processes taking place , especially from the second half of the second century A.H. which served as strong trends towards doctrinal homogenity and catholicity in Islamic thought. In this part of the paper we would like to outline main events that lead to a more uniform understanding and conceptualisation of Islamic doctrine.
The push towards uniformity was taking place on several levels, namely in terms of legal theory, theology and politics. We will here only briefly touch upon the developments in legal theory as we have dealt with this subject in length elsewhere, and focus on the politico-theological dynamics that have contributed towards to an increase in catholic tendencies in Islamic thought.
Shafi’i’s (d.204)efforts to systematise and create a more coherent model of legal theory by making ahadith the cornerstone and an anchoring point of Qur’ano-Sunnahic understanding/interpretation resulted in further consolidation of personal schools of law ( madhahib) which until then largely absorbed the heterogenous nature of Islamic thought we described above. Shafi’i’s hierarchical legel theory was put in place to bring a larger degree of uniformity to development of legal thought by stipulating the methodological tools and sources of knowledge ( ie. epistemology) for derivation of positive law. This theory, apart from hadith -based Qur’an intperetation and Hadith-based view of Sunnah , was founded on concensus of scholars(ijma’) and analogy(qiyas). The structure of this entirely textual method of interpretation(i.e. hermeneutic based completely on Qur’an and Ahadith) meant that atextual sources such as use of reason and notion of objective nature ethico-moral values were given either derivative functions ( e.g. qiyas- as reason based within constrains of the text) or were considered alien to tradition based on revelation and revelation derived sources as in the case of the concept of objective nature ethico-moral values ( i.e. humans are able to know what is morally /ethically good /bad without having to exclusively rely on revelation).Due to the nature of the Qur’anic Revelation and Hadith-based view of Sunnah , however, there were still differences in interpretations. In order to restrict the interpretational scope even further the principle of infallibility of consensus /ijma’ of rightous authorities in the past ( usually the first three generations of Muslims including the founders of four madhahib in Sunnism) was formulated being binding on the subsequent generations of Muslims. These developmetns tried and to a certain extent succedded to introduce a measure of uniformity within the discipline of usul-ul-fiqh . A number of other factors such as consolidation of Qur’anic sciences ( e.g. tafsir, qira’at) as well as more prominantly featuring Sufi tradition were bringining an increased self-awareness, to use Watt’s terminology, to a forming of the Sunnite community in the course of the latter part of second and third centuries of Hijra.
The theologico-political dynamics of the period in question also contributed to a more uniform representation of Islamic thought. Our earlier politico-theological investigations ended with a summary of Mu’tazilite thought and its relationship to the earlier political and theological disagreements. One of these was the question of un/createdness of the Qur’an. Mu’tazilite sponsored concept of createdness of Qur’an proved to be going in favour of those non-Arab civil servants supporting the absolutist form of government of the early Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad while the Arab populus and the “religious-communal element” subscribed and were the proponenets of the Qur’an’s uncreatedness. The tensions between the two grew so high that under the 7th Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun (813-833 AC) an inquisition (mihna) was institutied requiring qadis (judges) and prominent people to publically declare their adherence to the doctrine of the Qur’an’s createdness. A majority of them yielded to these demands ( traditionalist Ahmed ibn Hanbal objected to this and was put in prison ).
The designation of Ali al-Rida , a descenedent of Ali’s second son Husayn, as athe heir to the caliphate by Ma’mun was a way in which the Abbasid caliph was trying to gain support by the emerging proto-shi’a elements in the community termed Zaydis. In contrast to Rafidites, whoese doctrines we listed in the first part of the paper and who did not recognise the legitimacy of the first two caliphs, Zaydis espoused the doctrine of Ali’s superiority over other Companions in combination to that of fully accepting the rules of Abu Bakr and Umar. They also considered that, although imamat is restricted to Hasanids and Husaynids , any man having certain qualities of presonality and intellect claiming to be an imam is to be followed. Zaydisim, based on this evolving theory of imamism, from this perspective than also supported the absolutist form of government in form of an imam. For this reason a degree of sympathy between them and the caliph Ma’mum existed. A degree of competability between Zaydisim , which was primarily but not exclusively a socio-political movement , and Mu’tazilism emerged. This was particalarly evident in their common reliance on more rationalistic methods in the realms of theology distinct from those of their proto-Sunnite opponets who were increasingly restriced by the textual , literal and anti-rationalistic methodology of interpretation of Qur’ano-Sunahic Message.
The politico-theological dynamics , however, took a dramatic turn with the changes in the government’s policy from the doctrine of the Qur’an’s createdness to that of its uncreatedness, a shift that materialised under the auspicies of the 10th Abbasid caliph Mu’tawakkil( 847-861 AC). How did it come to this ?
Theology (kalam) in the second and the thrid centuries AH was not restriced to Mu’tazilites. Another three major groups existed with reference to it . They were the falasafa or the philosophers, non-Mu’tazilah theologians and the traditionalist whose contemporary inheriters are the Wahhabo- Salalafi Sunnis or what author refers to as Neo-Traditional Salafis(NTS). The traditionalists adopted largely a rigid view of opposing to engage into theological argumentation alltogether whilst falasafa, which looked at theology through the bigger lens of philosophy, argues Watt “was cultivated by men who were almost entirely cut off from the mainstream Sunni thought “, thus did not have a significant contribution in formation of early islamic thought ( as such their ideas are not of a direct concenr to our article). The non-Mu’tazilah theologians , who were increasingly bound by the above decscribed catholic tendencies to the interpretation of Qur’ano-Sunahic teachings , encouraged by the socio-political environment under Mu’tawakkil, started to engage the Mu’tazilah by using their rationalists methods to defend their reason-exclusive doctrines of the catholic movement . They played a major role information of is currently Aa Sunni theology of Ahs’ari-Maturidism and we shall have to say more about them in what follows.
The traditions, being a priori accepted by the Non-Mutazilah theologians as genuine teachings of the Qur’ano-Sunnahic worldview, largely in form of ahadith offered a wealth of material on issues regarding eschatology , qadarism and sifaat Allah etc whose literal , decontextualised and fragmental interpretation as based on the larger entirely textual hermeneutic we described above, resulted in antropomorphisic concept of God, adoption of pre-destinarian /deterministic views and notion of Qur’an’s uncreatedness just to name a few. These views were repungant to rationally minded Mu’tazilah.
Non-Mutazilah theologist Ashari and its later refinning version of Maturidi-Asha’ri theology tried to bridge the enormous theological gap between Mutazilah and the traditionalsits. Ash’ari(d.935 AC) studied Mu’tazilite theology but for reasons not sufficiently known adopted a traditionalist approach to Qur’ano-Sunnahic method of interpretation and therefore accepted predominantly anti-rationalsic and antropomorphistic views on theological questions discussed above.
One of Ash’ari’s most widely known theories adopted by mainstream Sunnism, examplifiyng this mediating tendency , refers to the qadar controvercy. While Mu’tazilah maintained that humans are solely capable (qadar) and have the power (qudrat) to initiate and execute their own actions the traditionalist movement under the flood of pre-destinarian /deterministic ahadith , along with their understanding of God’s attribute of omnipotence as being irreconciable and mutually exculsive with the theory of the belief in human free will , developed a pre-deterministic outlook on this question. Asha’ri maintained that humans merely aquire ( kasb) acts together with aquiring responsibility for them. Acts are however not their own . The uultimate Cause of all acts is God and humans have no actual , tangible effect on it. According to Ash’arism power and will of humans is not directed at the act itself but at the process of acquisition. Acts are in other words created by God and aquiried by humans.As much as this view is morally problematic and is ultimately pre-deterministic in its essence it became the “official” doctrine of mainstream “Sunnism”( apart form Hanafiyya who were Maturidi-Asha’riyya-see below).
Another theologian who was influencial in shaping early Islamic theological thought (especially the Hanafi Madhhab) is Ash’ari’s student Maturidi ( d.944 AC). Watt lists four chief differences between Ash’ariyya and Maturidiyya three of which we shall briefly mantion here.( the forth diffeence refers to the question of qadar but is very subtel and outside the scope of this article) . Firstly in their definition of iman , it is limited to word only ( tasdiq and iqrar) while Ash’arism added the ‘amal to it as well. Secondly, in the context of punishment of sins Maturidiyya hold the view of Murji’a ascribed to Abu Hanifa that iman is not suspended during commission of sins ( on contrary to a famous hadith ) ;that it does not increase or decrease ( as many ahadith imply) and that every Muslim will eventually go to heaven while Ash’arism maintained that some Muslims might be destined to hell forever if God so willed.
Lastely in the context of Allah’s attributes Maturidiyya asserted that both types of attributes ( i.e. essential and active) are eternal whilst Asha’riyya by implication consider them active but not eternal.
The reason why we went to such an extent in bringing out these differences is that despite the emergence of uniformity in Islamic thought in the tenth and eleventh centuries a considerable number of various opinions on a number of issues in the sphere of politics, theology and law existed , although these were much more prominent , diverse during the 8th and the 9th century. Given the above how appropriate is it tio talk about a distinct Sunni doctrine and what form did it take?
The word Sunnism is of course most frequently used as an antonym to the established Shi’a doctrine of imamism.To understand its full meaning and significance we thus need to very briefly track the major doctrinal developments within the (proto)-shi’a elements in the Muslim community during its formative period( Part one of this article needs to be kept in mind in order to understand the context)
At the time of the Abbasid caliphate ( end of first Hijra century) the vaguely defined and general proto-shi’a element within the broader Muslim society that was present throughout the Umayyad era was experiencing , like other groups in early Muslim community, gradual transformation. Over the period of next two hundred years or so doctrines of Shi’a eschatology, spiritual and political imamate and a more radically different readings of historical events ( with regards to the later Sunni view) during the time of the first four caliphs were consolidating and taking a more definite form. This manifested itself in proliferation of canonical Shi’a body of hadith literature ( there is also Khawarij hadith body of literature distinct from both Sunni and Sh’ia ) , Shi’a theology , Shi’a tafsir and Shi’a fiqh. The ultimate and most important distinction between the two in terms of fine-tunning and maintaining of established practices of respective worldviews lies in the fact that whilst the doctrine of infallibility of community of beleivers ( i.e. ijma’) was Sunnism’s ultimate foudation politically, jurisprudentially and theologically in Shi’ism those functions , at least in theory, was assumed by the charismatic imam.
The event that is associated with what is usually refered to as the establishemnet “Sunni doctrine” is the death of Ash’ari (313 A.H./935 AC.) . According to Watt the foundational conturs of Islamic thought and its core basis was seen to have come to an end. Professor Wensinck identified 3 creeds as indicative of Sunni “orthodoxy ” in chronological order Fiqh Akbar I , Wasiya and Fiqh Akbar II. Fiqh Akbar II is traditionally ascribed to Ash’ari. Although Prof. Wensinck has strong doubts that Asha’ri authored this creed it is reasonable to maintain that ” the time of Ash’ari is the terminus quo for the dating of the document (i.e. Fiqh Akbar II )
Although subsequent intellectual contributions of presonalisties such as Ghazali (d. 467 A.H./1099 AC) and many others (e.g. Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rush etc..)revived the religious sciences the interpretational parameters of Islamic thought remained largely in place up until the mid 19th century AC when the advent of modernity and modern taught (along with colonialism) resulted in more frequent and more radical calls for reform .