ibn Isma‘il ibn Abi Bishr Ishaq ibn Salim,
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari 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-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. He left Basra and came to Baghdad, and took fiqh
from the Shafi`i jurist Abu Ishaq al-Marwazi (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
al-Ash`ari’s books up to the year 320 as listed by himself in al-`Umad
al-Jadal ("The Etiquette of Disputation").
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.
li al-Muhadhdhab ("The Repelling of `The Emendation’"),
a refutation of al-Khalidi’s book by that title.
("The Disciplines"), a refutation of atheists. A second
book bearing that title was also written, on the disciplines of kalâm.
("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’s claim that the world exists without
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.
("The Awareness"), on the disciplines that address the subtleties
of dialectic theology.
("Potency"), a refutation of the Mu`tazila.
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.
fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Munkar ("The Essence:
Refutation of the People of Heresy and Transgression").
("The Body"), a proof of the Mu`tazila’s inability
to answer essential questions that pertain to corporeality, contrary
to Ahl al-Sunna.
al-Maqalat ("The Sum of Sayings"), which lists the positions
of atheists and the positions of monotheists.
al-A`mal ("The Creation of Deeds"), a refutation of
the doctrine of the Mu`tazila and Qadariyya whereby
man creates his own deeds.
fi al-Radd `ala Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bida` ("The Sparks: A
Refutation of Heretics and Innovators"), a slim volume.
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-Saghir ("The Minor Book of Sparks"), a preliminary
to al-Luma` al-Kabir.
al-Falasifa ("The Sayings of Philosophers").
al-Islamiyyin wa Ikhtilfa al-Musallin ("The Discourses of
the Proponents of Islam and the Differences Among the Worshippers"),
an encyclopedia of Islamic sects.
`ala Ahl al-Tathniya ("The Questions in Refutation of the
("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.
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
("The Safekeeping"), on the questions which opponents did
not bring up but which pertain to their doctrines.
("The Sifted"), a response to questions from the scholars
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").
fi Daqa’iq al-Kalam ("The Rarities Concerning the Minutiae
of Dialectic Theology").
li Kitab al-Khalidi fi al-Irada ("The Subduer: A Refutation
of al-Khalidi’s Book on the Will"), a refutation of a-Khalidi’s
doctrine whereby Allah creates His own will.
`ala Ibn al-Rawandi ("Refutation of Ibn al-Rawandi")
concerning the Divine Attributes and the Qur’an.
`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").
`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.
refutation of the philosophers, especially the Perennialist Ibn Qays
al-Dahri and Aristotle’s books "On the Heavens" and "On
("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.
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`.
("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.
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. Ibn al-Subki
reports from al-Dhahabi that this Tafsir was written at a time
al-Ash`ari was still a Mu`tazili.
epistles in response to questions from the scholars of Tabaristan,
Khurasan, Arrujan, Sayraf, Amman, Jurjan, Damascus, Wasit, Ramahramuz,
Baghdad, Egypt, and Persia.
al-Nawadir ("Addenda to `The Rarities’").
al-Ash`ari’s books between the year 320 and his death in 324 as listed
by Ibn Furak:
al-Nabi Sallallahu `Alayhi wa Sallam ("The Acts of the Prophet
– Allah bless and greet him").
Madhhab al-Nasara ("Exposition of the Doctrine of Christians")
Madhahib al-Mujassima ("The Tales of the Schools of the Anthropomorphists"),
a refutation of the proofs they adduce.
("The Adducing of the Proofs").
("The Doctrine of the Imam").
al-Qiyas ("The Upholding of the Principle of Analogy").
around the lone-narrator report (al-khabar al-wâhid).
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.
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`).
al-Mudahat ("Critique of `The Similarity’"), a refutation
of al-Iskafi on the term qadar.
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.
("The Supports") on the vision of Allah in the hereafter.
wa al-`Umum ("The Abeyance of Rights and the Public at Large").
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
`ala al-Bahth ("The Encouragement to Research").
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’
ila Ahl al-Thughar ("Epistle to the People of al-Thughar"),
a definition on the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunna.
`Asakir then mentions that al-Ash`ari’s 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" (al-tawhîd wa al-`adl) in reference
to the fundamentals of belief.
Corrupt Text of al-Ash`ari’s al-Ibana
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.
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 refutations 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." 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 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."
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
the anthropomorphist interpretation of the divine Attributes and
the apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding, with the Jahmiyya,
that the Qur’an was created.
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’
- The anthropomorphist
interpretation of the divine Attributesis illustrated by the following
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)." Ibn `Asakir’s 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
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.
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."
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’ (yâ sâkin al-`arsh)!"
This kind of faulty reasoning can hardly come from al-Ash`ari for
the following reasons:
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."
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.
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!
editions of the Ibana have, "O Dweller of the heaven (yâ
sâkin al-`samâ’)" which further casts doubt on
the integrity of the text in addition to being equally anthropomorphist.
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 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
qudratî). The answer to them is: That interpretation is
wrong." Al-Ash`ari’s actual position on the Attribute of hand
according to Ibn `Asakir is: "Al-Ash`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."
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 earth. Nevertheless, He is near to every entity and is (nearer
to [the worshipper] than his jugular vein) and He witnesses everything."
apostatizing of Imam Abu Hanifa for supposedly holding, with the Jahmiyya,
that the Qur’an was created. Imam al-Tahawi stated that Abu Hanifa held
the opposite position in his Mu`taqad Abi Hanifa or "Abu Hanifa’s
Creed," also known as the `Aqida Tahawiyya. Nor did al-Ash`ari
mention Abu Hanifa in the chapter on those who held the Qur’an was created
in his Maqalat al-Islamiyyin. 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"
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 (tadbîr) 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-Qushayri’s
Shikaya Ahl al-Sunna bi Hikaya Ma Nalahum Min al-Mihna provides
an additional external sign that the tampering of al-Ash`ari’s Ibana
took place possibly as early as the fifth century:
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 kalâm 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
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.