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9/12/2014

Abul' Hassan al-Ashari

Imam Abul-Hasan al-Ashari


by Dr. G. F. Haddad

Ali ibn Ismail ibn Abi Bishr Ishaq ibn Salim, Abu al-Hasan
al-Ashari al-Yamani al-Basri al-Baghdadi (260-324), a
descendent of the Yemeni Companion Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, was
in the first half of his scholarly career a disciple of the Mu`tazili
teacher Abu `Ali al-Jubbai, whose doctrines he abandoned in his
fortieth year after asking him a question al-Jubbai failed to
resolve over the issue of the supposed divine obligation to
abandon the good for the sake of the better (al-slih wa alaslah). At that time he adopted the doctrines of the sifatiyya,
those of Ahl al-Sunna who assert that the divine Attributes are
obligatorily characterized by perfection, unchanging, and without
beginning, but He is under no obligation whatsoever to abandon
the good for the sake of the better. He left Basra and came to
Baghdad, and took fiqh from the Shafi`i jurist Abu Ishaq alMarwazi (d. 340). He devoted the next twenty-four years to the
refutation of "the Mu`tazila, the Rafida, the Jahmiyya, the
Khawarij, and the rest of the various kinds of innovators" in the
words of al-Khatib. His student Bundar related that his yearly
expenditure was a meager seventeen dirhams.
Among al-Ash`aris books up to the year 320 as listed by himself
in al-`Umad ("The Supports"):
Adab al-Jadal ("The Etiquette of Disputation").
Al-Asma wa al-Ahkam ("The Names and the Rulings"),
which describes the divergences in the terminology of
the scholars and their understanding of the general and
the particular.
Al-Dafi` li al-Muhadhdhab ("The Repelling of `The
Emendation"), a refutation of al-Khalidis book by that
title.
Al-Funun ("The Disciplines"), a refutation of atheists. A
second book bearing that title was also written, on the
disciplines of kalm.
Al-Fusul ("The Sub-Headings") in twelve volumes, a
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refutation of the philosophers, perennialists, and


members of various religions such as Brahmans, Jews,
Christians, and Zoroastrians. It contains a refutation of
Ibn al-Rawandis claim that the world exists without
beginning.
Idah al-Burhan fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa alTughyan ("The Clarification of the Proof in the Refutation
of Heretics"), a preliminary to al-Mujaz.
Al-Idrak ("The Awareness"), on the disciplines that
address the subtleties of dialectic theology.
Al-Istita`a ("Potency"), a refutation of the Mu`tazila.
Al-Jawabat fi al-Sifat `an Masail Ahl al-Zaygh wa alShubuhat ("The Replies Pertaining to the Attributes On
the Questions and Sophistries of Heretics"), al-Ash`aris
largest work, a refutation of all the Mu`tazili doctrines
he had upheld previously.
Al-Jawhar fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Munkar
("The Essence: Refutation of the People of Heresy and
Transgression").
Al-Jism ("The Body"), a proof of the Mu`tazilas inability
to answer essential questions that pertain to
corporeality, contrary to Ahl al-Sunna.
Jumal al-Maqalat ("The Sum of Sayings"), which lists the
positions of atheists and the positions of monotheists.
Khalq al-A`mal ("The Creation of Deeds"), a refutation
of the doctrine of the Mu`tazila and Qadariyya whereby
man creates his own deeds.
Al-Luma` fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bida` ("The
Sparks: A Refutation of Heretics and Innovators"), a
slim volume.
Al-Luma` al-Kabir ("The Major Book of Sparks"), a
preliminary to Idah al-Burhan and, together with the
Luma` al-Saghir, the last work composed by al-Ash`ari
according to our Shaykh `Isa al-Humyari.
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Al-Luma` al-Saghir ("The Minor Book of Sparks"), a


preliminary to al-Luma` al-Kabir.
Maqalat al-Falasifa ("The Sayings of Philosophers").
Maqalat al-Islamiyyin wa Ikhtilfa al-Musallin ("The
Discourses of the Proponents of Islam and the
Differences Among the Worshippers"), an encyclopedia
of Islamic sects.
Al-Masail `ala Ahl al-Tathniya ("The Questions in
Refutation of the Dualists").
al-Mujaz ("The Concise") in twelve volumes, which
identifies and describes the various Islamic sects. It
contains a refutation of the Shi`i doctrines of the
questioning of Abu Bakr al-Siddiqs imamate and of the
infallibility of the Imam in every era.
Al-Mukhtasar fi al-Tawhid wa al-Qadar ("The
Abridgment: On the Doctrine of Oneness and
Foreordained Destiny"), a review of the different
doctrinal issues which the opponents of Ahl al-Sunna are
unable to address.
Al-Mukhtazan ("The Safekeeping"), on the questions
which opponents did not bring up but which pertain to
their doctrines.
Al-Muntakhal ("The Sifted"), a response to questions
from the scholars of Basra.
Naqd al-Balkhi fi Usul al-Mu`tazila ("Critique of al-Balkhi
and the Principles of the Mu`tazila"), a refutation of the
book of the Mu`tazili scholar al-Balkhi entitled Naqd
Tawil al-Adilla ("Critique of the Interpretation of the
Textual Proofs").
Al-Nawadir fi Daqaiq al-Kalam ("The Rarities Concerning
the Minutiae of Dialectic Theology").
Al-Qami` li Kitab al-Khalidi fi al-Irada ("The Subduer: A
Refutation of al-Khalidis Book on the Will"), a refutation
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of a-Khalidis doctrine whereby Allah creates His own


will.
Al-Radd `ala Ibn al-Rawandi ("Refutation of Ibn alRawandi") concerning the Divine Attributes and the
Quran.
Al-Radd `ala Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubbai,
an extensive refutation of a Mu`tazili scholar and of his
book al-Usul ("The Principles").
Al-Radd `ala al-Mujassima ("Refutation of the
Anthropomorphists").
A refutation of `Abbad ibn Sulayman in the minutiae of
kalm.
A refutation of a book by `Ali ibn `Isa.
A refutation of al-Balkhis book in which the latter
claimed he had rectified Ibn al-Rawandis error in his
disputation.
A refutation of al-Iskafis book entitled al-Latif ("The
Subtle").
A refutation of al-Jubbai on the principles and conditions
of scholarly investigation and the derivation of rulings.
A Refutation of al-Jubbais objections to al-Ash`ari on
the vision of Allah in the hereafter as reported by
Muhammad ibn `Umar al-Saymari.
A refutation of al-Khalidis book on the denial of the
vision of Allah in the hereafter.
A refutation of al-Khalidis book on the denial of the
creation of the deeds of human beings by Allah Almighty
and Exalted according to His decision.
The refutation of the philosophers, especially the
Perennialist Ibn Qays al-Dahri and Aristotles books "On
the Heavens" and "On the World."
Al-Ruya ("The Vision"), which affirms the vision of Allah
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by the believers in the hereafter, contrary to the


Mu`tazili doctrine which denies the possibility of such a
vision.
Al-Sharh wa al-Tafsil fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Ifk wa alTadlil ("The Detailed Explanation in Refutation of the
People of Perdition"), a manual for beginners and
students to read before al-Luma`.
Al-Sifat ("The Attributes"), a description of the doctrines
of the Mu`tazila, Jahmiyya, and other sects that differ
from Ahl al-Sunna on the topic of the Divine Attributes.
It contains a refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl, Ma`mar, alNazzam, al-Futi, and al-Nashi, and an affirmation that
the Creator possesses a face and hands.
Tafsir al-Quran wa al-Radd `ala man Khalafa al-Bayan
min Ahl al-Ifki wa al-Buhtan ("A Commentary on the
Quran and Refutation of Those Who Contradicted it
Among the People of Perdition and Calumny") which Ibn
al-`Arabi al-Maliki says numbered 500 volumes. Ibn alSubki reports from al-Dhahabi that this Tafsir was
written at a time al-Ash`ari was still a Mu`tazili.
Various epistles in response to questions from the
scholars of Tabaristan, Khurasan, Arrujan, Sayraf,
Amman, Jurjan, Damascus, Wasit, Ramahramuz,
Baghdad, Egypt, and Persia.
Ziyadat al-Nawadir ("Addenda to `The Rarities").
Among al-Ash`aris books between the year 320 and his death in
324 as listed by Ibn Furak:
Af`al al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam ("The Acts of
the Prophet Allah bless and greet him").
Al-Akhbar ("The Reports").
Bayan Madhhab al-Nasara ("Exposition of the Doctrine
of Christians")
Hikayat Madhahib al-Mujassima ("The Tales of the
Schools of the Anthropomorphists"), a refutation of the
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proofs they adduce.


Al-Ihtijaj ("The Adducing of the Proofs").
Al-Imama ("The Doctrine of the Imam").
Ithbat al-Qiyas ("The Upholding of the Principle of
Analogy").
Sessions around the lone-narrator report (al-khabar alwhid).
Mutashabih al-Quran ("The Ambiguities in the Quran"),
in which he brought together the stands of the Mu`tazila
and the atheists in their invalidations of the ambiguities
in the hadith.
Naqd Ibn al-Rawandi `ala Ibtal al-Tawatur ("The
Critique of Ibn al-Rawandis Denial of Mass-Narrated
Hadiths"), which contains an affirmation of the principle
of Consensus (ijm`).
Naqd al-Mudahat ("Critique of `The Similarity"), a
refutation of al-Iskafi on the term qadar.
Naqd al-Taj `ala al-Rawandi ("The Diadem: Critique of
Ibn al-Rawandi").
On questions put to al-Jubbai concerning names and
rulings.
A refutation of Abu al-Hudhayl on the limitlessness of
the foreknowledge and decisions of Allah Almighty and
Exalted and another on motions.
A refutation of Harith al-Warraq on the Attributes.
A refutation of the logicians.
A refutation of the proponents of metempsychosis and
reincarnation.
al-`Umad ("The Supports") on the vision of Allah in the
hereafter.

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Al-Wuquf wa al-`Umum ("The Abeyance of Rights and


the Public at Large").
After listing the above titles, Ibn `Asakir says: "I have seen other
works not mentioned by Ibn Furak in his list." He then proceeds
to list the following:
Al-Hathth `ala al-Bahth ("The Encouragement to
Research").
Risala al-Iman, an epistle on Belief which discusses
whether it is permissible to say that belief is created.
Ibn Hajar heard it from Abu Ishaq al-Tannukhi with the
latters chain of transmission back to al-Ash`ari, through
the latters student Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Muhammad
ibn Miqsam al-Muqri al-Baghdadi.
Risala ila Ahl al-Thughar ("Epistle to the People of alThughar"), a definition on the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunna.
Ibn `Asakir then mentions that al-Ash`aris works number over
two or three hundred books. As for the epistle entitled Istihsan
al-Khawd fi `Ilm al-Kalam, al-Ash`ari most likely wrote it
provided he actually authored it before his conversion, since it
is ostensibly directed against the Hanbalis and uses markedly
Mu`tazili terminology such as "divine Oneness and Justice" (altawhd wa al-`adl) in reference to the fundamentals of belief.
The Corrupt Text of al-Ash`aris al-Ibana
The above lists exclude al-Ash`aris al-Ibana `an Usul al-Diyana
but Ibn `Asakir explicitly attributes it to him in the first few
pages of Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, an attribution confirmed by alBayhaqi, Abu al-`Abbas al-`Iraqi, Abu `Uthman al-Sabuni, and
other hadith masters. The book dates from the beginnings of alAsh`aris Sunni career according to a report narrated by Ibn Abi
Ya`la in Tabaqat al-Hanabila and adduced by al-Dhahabi in the
Siyar. The report is phrased rather oddly since it depicts a
fawning Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari visiting the Hanbali Abu
Muhammad
al-Barbahari
upon
entering
Baghdad
and
enumerating before him his refutations of the Mu`tazila and
defense of Ahl al-Sunna in order to win his approval, to which alBarbahari coolly responds: "We only know what Ahmad ibn
Hanbal said." "Whereupon," the report continues, "al-Ash`ari
went out and wrote al-Ibana but they [the Hanbalis] did not
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accept it from him." Al-Dhahabi cites this report at the opening of


his biographical notice on al-Barbahari in the Siyar directly
following the extremely brief notice on Imam al-Ash`ari. Apart
from its obviously Hanbali-biased terms, the report clearly shows
that al-Ash`ari composed the Ibana upon first coming to
Baghdad or shortly thereafter. Shaykh Wahbi Ghawiji cites a
statement explicitly confirming this date from Imam Abu alHasan `Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Muqri (Ibn Matar) who died in the year
306: "Imam al-Ash`ari composed it in Baghdad upon entering it."
However, despite the authenticity of al-Ash`aris authorship, the
text of the Ibana itself has undoubtedly not reached us in its
original authentic form but in a corrupted version which
comprises interpolations along two main ideological slants:
(1) the anthropomorphist interpretation of the divine Attributes
and
(2) the apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding,
with the Jahmiyya, that the Quran was created.
Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawiji has shown in his analysis of the
work entitled Nazra `Ilmiyya fi Nisba Kitab al-Ibana Jami`ihi ila
al-Imam al-Ash`ari ("A Scientific Look at the Attribution of alIbana in Its Entirety to Imam al-Ash`ari") that these two stances
are contradicted by what is known of al-Ash`aris authentic
positions in his and his students works.

1. The anthropomorphist interpretation of the divine

Attributesis illustrated by the following examples:


The passage: "[Our position is] that He has two eyes
(`aynayn) without saying how; just as He stated: That
ran under Our eyes (a`yunin) (54:14)." Ibn `Asakirs
citation of the same passage in the Tabyin states: "[Our
position is] that He has an eye (`aynan) without saying
how." A recent edition of the Ibana consequently
amended its own tradition to follow the text cited by Ibn
`Asakir since the evidence of the Quran and the Sunna
mentions My Eye (`ayn) (20:39) in the singular and
Our Eyes (52:48, 54:14) in the plural but never two

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eyes in the dual. Further down in all versions of the


Ibana the text states: "Allah Almighty and Exalted has
said that He possesses a face and an eye which is
neither given modality nor defined."
The passage: "When supplicating, the Muslims raise
their hands toward the sky, because Allah Almighty and
Exalted is established (mustawin) over the Throne which
is above the heavens The Muslims all say: `O Dweller
of the Throne (y skin al-`arsh)!" This kind of faulty
reasoning can hardly come from al-Ash`ari for the
following reasons:
The Attributes are divinely ordained (tawqfiyya) and alAsh`ari considers it impermissible to make up or derive
new terms such as mustawin and skin al-`arsh if there
is no verse or authentic hadith transmitting them
verbatim: "My method in the acceptance of the Names
of Allah is Law-based authorization without regard to
lexical analogy."
The argument of supplication on the basis of location
leads to placing Allah Almighty and Exalted inside the
Ka`ba according to the same logic, an absurd
impossibility.
The claim that "the Muslims all say: `O Dweller of the
Throne" is unheard of. Yet Ibn Taymiyya cites it and
attempts to justify it with the narration: "Allah created
seven heavens then chose the uppermost and dwelt in
it," adducing a condemned report to support an invented
phrase!
Three editions of the Ibana have, "O Dweller of the
heaven (y skin al-`sam)" which further casts doubt
on the integrity of the text in addition to being equally
anthropomorphist.
The passage: "If we are asked: `Do you say that Allah
has two hands? The answer is: We do say that, without
saying `how. It is indicated by the saying of Allah
Almighty and Exalted The Hand of Allah is above
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their hands (48:10) and His saying that which I have


created with both My hands (38:75). It was also
narrated from the Prophet Allah bless and greet him
that he said: `Allah created Adam with His hand then He
wiped his back with His hand and brought out of it his
offspring. So it is established that He has two hands
without saying how. And the transmitted report reached
us from the Prophet Allah bless and greet him that
`Allah created Adam with Hand, created the Garden of
`Adn with His hand, wrote the Torah with His hand, and
planted the tree of Tuba with His hand, that is: with
the hand of His power (ay biyadi qudratih)." The last
clause contradicts the entire reasoning that precedes
and follows, and is actually suppressed from the latest
edition of the Ibana! The text further states: "They say:
`the hands (al-ayd) are the strength (al-quwwa), so the
meaning of with both My hands has to be `with My
power (bi qudrat). The answer to them is: That
interpretation is wrong." Al-Ash`aris actual position on
the Attribute of hand according to Ibn `Asakir is: "AlAsh`ari took the middle road [between the Mu`tazila
and the anthropomorphists] and said: His hand is an
Attribute and His face is an Attribute, just like His
hearing and His sight."
The following passage is missing from two of the
editions of al-Ibana but is found in two others: "And [we
believe] that He established Himself over the Throne in
the sense that He said and the meaning that He wills in
a way that transcends touch, settlement, fixity,
immanence, and displacement. The Throne does not
carry him, rather the Throne and its carriers are carried
by the subtleness of His power, subdued under His grip.
He is above the Throne and the Heavens and above
everything to the limits of the earth with an aboveness
which does not bring Him nearer to the Throne and the
Heavens, just as it does not make Him further from the
earth. Rather, He is Highly Exalted above the Throne
and the Heavens, just as He is Highly Exalted above the
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earth. Nevertheless, He is near to every entity and is


(nearer to [the worshipper] than his jugular vein) and
He witnesses everything."

2. The apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding,

with the Jahmiyya, that the Quran was created. Imam al-Tahawi
stated that Abu Hanifa held the opposite position in his Mu`taqad
Abi Hanifa or "Abu Hanifas Creed," also known as the `Aqida
Tahawiyya. Nor did al-Ash`ari mention Abu Hanifa in the chapter
on those who held the Quran was created in his Maqalat alIslamiyyin. Al-Ash`ari lived in Baghdad the seat of the
Caliphate and home of the Hanafi school at a time the Hanafi
school had long been the state creed and would probably have
been executed or exiled for making such a charge. Furthermore,
al-Bayhaqi stated that "al-Ash`ari used to defend the positions of
the past Imams such as Abu Hanifa and Sufyan al-Thawri among
the Kufans." The charge of the Ibana is therefore almost certainly
a later interpolation, as enmity against the Imam al-A`zam and
his school and followers typifies fanatic Hanbalis and their "Salafi"
successors.
There are also blatant errors which al-Ash`ari the heresiographer
and former Mu`tazili would never commit, such as the attribution
to the Mu`tazila as a whole of the belief that Allah Almighty and
Exalted is everywhere, when he himself reports in his Maqalat
that the vast majority of the Mu`tazila said, like Ahl al-Sunna,
that it was the controlling disposal (tadbr) of Allah Almighty and
Exalted that was everywhere. Furthermore, there is apparently
no known chain of transmission for the Ibana from the Imam
despite its ostensible fame and the abundance of his students,
nor do any of his first or second-generation students such as
Ibn Furak make any mention of it. Finally, Imam al-Qushayris
Shikaya Ahl al-Sunna bi Hikaya Ma Nalahum Min al-Mihna
provides an additional external sign that the tampering of alAsh`aris Ibana took place possibly as early as the fifth century:
They have attributed despicable positions to al-Ash`ari
and claimed he had said certain things of which there is
not one iota in his books. Nor can such sayings be found
reported in any of the books of the scholars of kalm
who either supported him or opposed him, from the
earliest times to our own whether directly quoted or
paraphrased. All of that is misrepresentation, forgery,
and unmitigated calumny!
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In conclusion it is possible to say with a fair degree of certainty


that the Ibana attributed to al-Ash`ari today is actually the
anonymous, chainless rewriting of an anti-Ash`ari, anti-Hanafi
literalist with clear anthropomorphist leanings and a willingness
to adduce Israelite reports typical of the works of
anthropomorphist doctrine while the unaltered version known to
Ibn `Asakir, Abu `Uthman al-Sabuni, and other Ash`aris did not
reach us. It is a telling confirmation of this conclusion that the
early anthropomorphists used to reject the Ibana while those of
later centuries quote it without reservation. And Allah knows
best.

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