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

`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.

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