Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari (Allah be well-pleased with him)

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

`Ali ibn Isma`il ibn Abi Bishr Ishaq ibn Salim, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari al-Yamani al-Basri al-Baghdadi (260-324),1 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-Jubba’i, whose doctrines he abandoned in his fortieth year after asking him a question al-Jubba’i  failed to resolve over the issue of the supposed divine obligation to abandon the good for the sake of the better (al-sâlih wa al-aslah). 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.2 He left Basra and came to Baghdad, taking fiqh from the Shafi`i jurist Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi (d. 340).3 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.

His Works

Among al-Ash`ari’s 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-Khalidi’s 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 kalâm.

Al-Fusul (“The Sub-Headings”) in twelve volumes, a refutation of the philosophers, perennialists, and members of various religions such as Brahmans, Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians. It contains a refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi’s4 claim that the world exists without beginning.

* Idah al-Burhan fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Tughyan (“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 Masa’il Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Shubuhat (“The Replies Pertaining to the Attributes On the Questions and Sophistries of Heretics”), al-Ash`ari’s 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`tazila’s 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.5

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-Masa’il `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-Siddiq’s ( 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 Ta’wil al-Adilla (“Critique of the Interpretation of the Textual Proofs”).

Al-Nawadir fi Daqa’iq 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-Khalidi’s Book on the Will”), a refutation of al-Khalidi’s doctrine whereby Allah creates His own will.

Al-Radd `ala Ibn al-Rawandi (“Refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi”) concerning the Divine Attributes and the Qur’an.

Al-Radd `ala Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Jubba’i, 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 kalâm.

* A refutation of a book by `Ali ibn `Isa.

* A refutation of al-Balkhi’s book in which the latter claimed he had rectified Ibn al-Rawandi’s error in his disputation.

* A refutation of al-Iskafi’s book entitled al-Latif (“The Subtle”).

* A refutation of al-Jubba’i on the principles and conditions of scholarly investigation and the derivation of rulings.

* A Refutation of al-Jubba’i's 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-Khalidi’s book on the denial of the vision of Allah in the hereafter.

* A refutation of al-Khalidi’s 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 Aristotle’s books “On the Heavens” and “On the World.”

Al-Ru’ya (“The Vision”), which affirms the vision of Allah 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 al-Tadlil (“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, al-Nazzam, al-Futi, and al-Nashi, and an affirmation that the Creator possesses a face and hands.

Tafsir al-Qur’an wa al-Radd `ala man Khalafa al-Bayan min Ahl al-Ifki wa al-Buhtan (“A Commentary on the Qur’an and Refutation of Those Who Contradicted it Among the People of Perdition and Calumny”) which Ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki says numbered 500 volumes.6 Ibn al-Subki reports from al-Dhahabi that this Tafsir was written at a time al-Ash`ari was still a Mu`tazili.7

* 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`ari’s 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 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 al-wâhid).

* Mutashabih al-Qur’an (“The Ambiguities in the Qur’an”), 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-Rawandi’s Denial of Mass-Narrated Hadiths”), which contains an affirmation of the principle of Consensus (ijmâ`).

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-Jubba’i 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.

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 latter’s chain of transmission back to al-Ash`ari, through the latter’s student Abu al-Hasan Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Miqsam al-Muqri’ al-Baghdadi.8

Risala ila Ahl al-Thughar (“Epistle to the People of al-Thughar”), a definition on the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunna.

Ibn `Asakir then mentions that al-Ash`ari’s works number over two or three hundred books.9 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” (al-tawhîd wa al-`adl) in reference to the fundamentals of belief, and Allah knows best.

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions


© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America

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