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Ashʿarism or Ashʿari theology (/æʃəˈr/;[1] Arabic: الأشعريةal-ʾAšʿarīyya or الأشاعرة al-ʾAšāʿira) is an early theological school of Sunni Islam based on clerical authority and rejection of cause and effect reasoning. It was founded by Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari (d. AD 936 / AH 324).[2] The disciples of the school are known as Ashʿarites, and the school is also referred to as the Ashʿarite school. It is considered one of the orthodox schools of theology in Sunni Islam,[3] alongside the Maturidi school of theology.[4]

Amongst the most famous Ashʿarites are Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Nawawi, Al-Ghazali, Izz al-Din ibn 'Abd al-Salam, Al-Suyuti, Ibn 'Asakir, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Al-Qurtubi and Al-Subki.[5]



Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari was noted for his teachings on atomism, among the earliest Islamic philosophies, and for al-Ashʿari this was the basis for propagating the view that God created every moment in time and every particle of matter. He nonetheless believed in free will, elaborating the thoughts of Dirar ibn 'Amr and Abu Hanifa into a "dual agent" or "acquisition" (iktisab) account of free will.[6][page needed]

While al-Ashʿari opposed the views of the Mu'tazili school for its over-emphasis on reason, he was also opposed to the view which rejected all debate, held by certain schools such as the Zahiri ("literalist"), Mujassimite ("anthropotheist") and Muhaddithin ("traditionalist") schools for their over-emphasis on taqlid (imitation) in his Istihsan al‑Khaud:[7]

"A section of the people (i.e., the Zahirites and others) made capital out of their own ignorance; discussions and rational thinking about matters of faith became a heavy burden for them, and, therefore, they became inclined to blind faith and blind following (taqlid). They condemned those who tried to rationalize the principles of religion as 'innovators.' They considered discussion about motion, rest, body, accident, colour, space, atom, the leaping of atoms, and Attributes of God, to be an innovation and a sin. They said that had such discussions been the right thing, the Prophet and his Companions would have definitely done so; they further pointed out that the Prophet, before his death, discussed and fully explained all those matters which were necessary from the religious point of view, leaving none of them to be discussed by his followers; and since he did not discuss the problems mentioned above, it was evident that to discuss them must be regarded as an innovation."


Ashʿarism became the main school of early Islamic philosophy whereby it was originally based on the foundations laid down by Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari who founded the school in the 10th century based on the methodology taught to him by his teacher Abdullah ibn Sa'eed ibn Kullaab. However, the school underwent many changes throughout history resulting in the term Ashʿari, in modern usage, being extremely broad, e.g. differences between Ibn Fawrak (d. AH 406) and al-Bayhaqi (d. AH 384).[8][9]

For example, the Asharite view was that comprehension of the unique nature and characteristics of God were beyond human capability. The solution proposed by Abu al-Hasan al-Ashʿari to solve the problems of tashbih and ta'til concedes that the Divine Being possesses in a real sense the attributes and Names mentioned in the Quran. Insofar as these names and attributes have a positive reality, they are distinct from the essence, but nevertheless they do not have either existence or reality apart from it. The inspiration of al-Ashʿari in this matter was on the one hand to distinguish essence and attribute as concepts, and on the other hand to see that the duality between essence and attribute should be situated not on the quantitative but on the qualitative level — something which Mu'tazili thinking had failed to grasp.[10]


The Ashʿarite view holds that:

  • Interpreting the Quran (Tafsir) and the Hadith should keep developing with the aid of older interpretations.
  • Knowledge of God comes from studying the holy names and attributes in addition to studying the Quran and the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad.
  • The unique nature and attributes of God cannot be understood fully by human reasoning and the senses.
  • Although humans possess free will (or, more accurately, freedom of intention), they have no power to create anything in the material world as only God can. This doctrine is now known in Western philosophy as occasionalism.
  • Knowledge of moral truths must be taught by means of revelation and is not known a priori or by deduction from a priori propositions or by sheer observation of the world. It is permissible for a Muslim to believe and accept that a proposition is a moral truth based solely on the authority of a consensus of authorised religious scholars (ulama).

The school holds that human reason, in and by itself, is not capable of establishing with absolute certainty any truth with respect to morality, the physical world or metaphysics.


German orientalist Eduard Sachau blamed the theology of Ashʿari and its biggest defender, al-Ghazali, specifically for the decline of Islamic science starting in the tenth century, and stated that the two clerics were the only obstacle to the Muslim world becoming a nation of "Galileos, Keplers and Newtons."[11]

Others, however, argue that the Ashʿarites not only accepted scientific methods but even promoted them. Ziauddin Sardar points out that some of the greatest Muslim scientists, such as Ibn al-Haytham and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, who were pioneers of the scientific method, were themselves followers of the Ashʿari school of Islamic theology.[12] Like other Ashʿarites who believed that faith or taqlid should apply only to Islam and not to any ancient Hellenistic authorities,[13] Ibn al-Haytham's view that taqlid should apply only to prophets of Islam and not to any other authorities formed the basis for much of his scientific skepticism and criticism against Ptolemy and other ancient authorities in his Doubts Concerning Ptolemy and Book of Optics.[14]

Some authors have questioned the spiritual value of discussion methods employed by the Ashʿarites and other dialectical theologians. Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, himself a leading figure of the Ashʿari school, said at the end of his life: "I employed all the methods which philosophy and dialectic had provided, but in the end I realised that these methods neither could bring solace to the weary heart nor quench the thirst of the thirsty. The best method and the nearest one to reality was the method provided by the Qur'an."[15]

See also


  1. ^ "al-Ashʿari". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari fima Nussiba ila al-Imam al-Ash`ari (Ibn 'Asakir)
  3. ^ Pall, Zoltan. Lebanese Salafis Between the Gulf and Europe. Amsterdam University Press. p. 18. Retrieved 12 July 2016. 
  4. ^ Halverson, J. Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam. Springer. p. 9. Retrieved 12 July 2016. 
  5. ^ Hamad al-Sanan, Fawziy al-'Anjariy, Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah, pp.248-258. Dar al-Diya'.
  6. ^ Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.
  7. ^ M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, Ash’arism, Philosophia Islamica.
  8. ^ "Imam Bayhaqi". 
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-02-13. 
  10. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 115 and 116
  11. ^ Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam, pg. 120. From the Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion Series. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 9780313335761
  12. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 2008-02-03 
  13. ^ Anwar, Sabieh (October 2008), "Is Ghazālī really the Halagu of Science in Islam?", Monthly Renaissance, 18 (10), retrieved 2008-10-14 
  14. ^ Rashed, Roshdi (2007), "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 17 (01): 7–55 [11], doi:10.1017/S0957423907000355 
  15. ^ Rashid Ahmad Jullundhry, Quranic Exegesis in Classical Literature, pg. 53-54. Islamic Book Trust/The Other Press, 2010. ISBN 9789675062551


  • Frank, Richard M. Classical Islamic Theology: The Ash`arites. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalam. Vol. III. Edited by Dimitri Gutas (Aldershot, Ashgate Variorum, 2008) (Variorum Collected Studies Series).

External links

  • Who are the Ash'arites? Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
  • The Ash'ari's School of Theology Dar al-Iftaa Al-Missriyyah
  • Ashariyys - The Knights of Knowledge and the Pioneers of Success
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