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

The Corrupt Text of al-Ash`ari’s al-Ibana

The above lists exclude al-Ash`ari’s 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 al-Bayhaqi, Abu al-`Abbas al-`Iraqi, Abu `Uthman al-Sabuni, and other hadith masters.10 The book dates from the beginnings of al-Ash`ari’s 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 refutations11 of the Mu`tazila and defense of Ahl al-Sunna in order to win his approval, to which al-Barbahari 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 accept it from him.”12 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.13 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 al-Hasan `Ali ibn Ibrahim al-Muqri (Ibn Matar) who died in the year 306: “Imam al-Ash`ari composed it in Baghdad upon entering it.”14

However, despite the authenticity of al-Ash`ari’s 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 Qur’an 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 al-Ibana in Its Entirety to Imam al-Ash`ari”) that these two stances are contradicted by what is known of al-Ash`ari’s authentic positions in his and his students’ works.15

(1) The anthropomorphist interpretation of the Divine Attributes is 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`yuninâ)} (54:14).”16 Ibn `Asakir’s citation of the same passage in the Tabyin states: “[Our position is] that He has an eye (`aynan) without saying how.”17 A recent edition of the Ibana consequently amended its own tradition to follow the text cited by Ibn `Asakir18 since the evidence of the Qur’an and the Sunna mentions {My Eye (`aynî)} (20:39) in the singular and {Our Eyes} (52:48, 54:14) in the plural but never two eyes in the dual.19 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.”20

* 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…21 The Muslims all say: ‘O Dweller of the Throne’ (yâ sâkin al-`arsh)!”22 This kind of faulty reasoning can hardly come from al-Ash`ari for the following reasons:

- The Attributes are Divinely-ordained (tawqîfiyya) and al-Ash`ari considers it impermissible to make up or derive new terms such as mustawin and sâkin 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.”23 – 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.

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