Splendid Pearls

Biography of Imam Abul Hasan al-Ash`ari – The Mutakallim

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Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari – The Mutakallim (d. 324AH/935CE), from Basra. 

His name was ‘Ali ibn Isma’il ibn Abi Bishr ibn Ishaq ibn Abi ar-Rabi’ Salim ibn Isma’il ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Musa ibn Bilal ibn Abi Burda, son of Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, the companion of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace.”

Muhammad ibn Musa ibn ‘Imran mentioned in his treatise that he was a Maliki. He said, “One of the Shafi’ites mentioned to me that he was a Shafi’i until I met the excellent shaykh and faqih, al-Hammal ash-Shafi’i. He mentioned to me from his shaykhs that Abu al-Hasan was a Maliki.”

He said, “The school of Malik was widespread in its time in Iraq in the day of Isma’il ibn Ishaq.”

He wrote books for the people of the Sunna and established proofs of the affirmation of the Sunna and what the people of innovations rejected about the Attributes of Allah Almighty and vision of Him, the out-of-timeness of His words, and His power, and matters of oral transmission which have come regarding the Sirat, the Balance, Intercession, the Basin, and the trial of the grave which the Mu’tazilites rejected, as well as the position of the people of the Sunna as well as clear intellectual proofs. He refuted the doubts of the innovators and those of the atheists and the Rafidites after them. He wrote detailed books on that by which Allah helped the community. He debated the Mu’tazilites, and he himself would go to them for debate.

People spoke to him about. It was said to him, “How can you mix with the people of innovations when you have commanded (that one should) part company with them?” Their business in that moment was widespread and their word was dominant. He answered, “They are the people of leadership and the ruler and the Qadi are among them. Due to leadership, they will not come down to me. If we did not go to them, how could the truth appear and be known to its people, helped by the proof?” Most of his debates were with al-Jubba’i the Mu’tazilite. There were many assemblies in which Abu al-Hasan overcame him.

When he had many books and there was benefit in his words and his defence of the Sunna and the deen was clear to the people of hadith and fiqh, the people of the Sunna became attached to his books, took knowledge from him and studied with him and grasped his method. He had many students and followers who learned those methods in the defence of the Sunna and how to expound the proofs and vindications to help the religion. They called themselves by his name [Ash’ari]. Their followers and students followed them, so they were known by that name. Before that, they had been known as al-Muthbita, the mark by which the Mu’tazilites knew them since they confirmed (athabata) in the Sunna and the Shari’a what they (the Mu’tazilites) rejected.

The leaders of the defence of the Sunna among the people of hadith like al-Muhasibi, Ibn Kullab, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn ‘Abd al-Malik al-Makki and al-Karrasi were first known by this name until Abu al-Hasan arrived and became famous. His students and those who worked with him were related to his lineage in their knowledge, just as the companions of ash-Shafi’i were related to his lineage and as was the case with the companions of Malik, Abu Hanifa, and other Imams. They were related to the name of their Imams whose books they studied and whose paths they learned in the Shari’a. They did not relate what was not part of it in it.

It was like that with Abu al-Hasan. The people of the Sunna from the people of the east and the west used his proofs, and went along with his method. More than one of them praised him and they praised his school and his position.

The opposite of that came from some of the people of the companions of Abu Hanifa who held the Mu’tazilite positions in the fundamentals like ‘Abd al-Jabbar, the Qadi of Rayy, at-Tanukhi, and their likes of the extreme Mu’tazilites and their propagandists as well as some of the people who were ascribed to the school of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. They went to extremes in leaving interpretation until they fell into anthropomorphism. Most of them did not have a method of knowledge, but that was by their affiliation to Sunna and hadith. The common people accepted their words and did not keep clear of them to avoid those other ones. It was confirmed with the common people that he was an innovator and they ascribed statements to him which he never made in his life to deny the speaker and to declare him astray.

The one who was the ugliest towards him in Andalusia was ‘Ali ibn Hazm ad-Dawudi. He filled his book against him and against the imams of his companions with lies and invalid horrid things. That was in his book called Counsels and Scandals.

He praised him in his book al-Fisal and counted him among the mutakallimun of the people of hadith and one whose words pleased the Maliki and Shafi’i imams.

The chiefs of the people of hadith were pleased with him, deriving [his methods] from him. A group of them studied with him and his companions until they became imams in his school and wrote books on the method of this method and his books.

Abu al-Hasan al-Qabisi praised him. He had a treatise about him for the one who questioned him about his school in which he praised him and considered him just.

Abu al-Hasan said (and he mentioned an answer of his in a question of one of the scholars of whom he approved.) “If Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari had been asked about this question, I do not think that he would have answered more than this,” being pleased with his worth.

Abu Muhammad ibn Abi Zayd mentioned him in one of his books. Muhammad ibn Abi Zayd and other Imams of the Muslims praised him.

Abu al-Hasan has many famous books on which the people of the Sunna relied, like: the Book of the Summary, the Book of Tawhid and the Decree, the Great Book of the Roots, the Great Book of the creation of actions, the Book of the Attributes, the Book of Capacity, the Book of the Vision, the Book of Names and Judgements, the Elite and the Common, the Book of the Clarification of the proof, the Book of the Investigation of Investigation, the Refutation of al-Balkhi, the Refutation of al-“‘, the Refutation of Ibn ar-Rawandi, the Refutation of al-Khalidi, the Book of the Irrefutable, the Adab of the Debate, the Answers of the Tabaris, the Answers of the Omanis, the Answers of the Jurjanis, the Khorasani Answers, the Answers of the Ascetics, the Answers of the Shirazis, the Anecdotes, the Refutation of the Philosophers, the Refutation of the Book of al-Iskafi, the Book of Ijtihad, the Book of Recognitions, the Refutation of the Dahrites, the Refutation of the Astrologers, the Islamic Treatises, the Great Treatises, the Refutation of the Book of the Crown, the Book of the Recitations, the Great Book of the Gleam, the Lesser Gleam, the Book of Commentary and Details, and the Book of the Clarification into the Roots of the Deen.

He has a book entitled the Treasury on the Sciences of the Qur’an, a very great book. In it, he got as far as Surat al-Kahf (18). It ended in 100 sections. I heard one of our shaykhs relate that it is much more than this. Whoever came across his books saw that Allah had supported him with His success.

It is related that at the beginning of his business he was a Mu’tazili. Then he returned to this school. This, if it is correct, does not detract from him. Those who were better than him had been unbelievers and then became Muslims. Rather, it indicates the firmness of his position, the soundness of his certainty in clinging to the Sunna since he did not cling to it because he was raised in it and he only believed it by guidance. He protected it with his concern and help.

Abu ‘Abdullah al-Azdi said, “He was a Mu’tazili at first. He studied with ash-Shahham and al-‘Atawi. He was had pre-eminence in that over his peers. Then he returned to the truth and the school of the people of the Sunna and many wondered at that.”

He was asked about that. He said, “I was asleep one night in the month of Ramadan. I saw the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It was as if he was shackled to my foot. He said, ‘Abu al-Hasan! Do you write hadith?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. He asked, ‘And did you write in what you wrote that I said, “Allah the Majestic and Exalted will be seen in the Next World with the eyes”?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied. So why don’t you say that?’ he asked, I replied, ‘The proofs of the intellect establish that the beyond-time cannot be seen with the eyes as that is impossible, so I took the tradition by interpretation and I could not take it literally. He said to me, ‘Do you find any logical proof that He is seen with the eyes?’ ‘No,’ I replied.’ He said, ‘Seek! You will find that different to what you believe?’

“In the morning, I felt grief and I removed kalam from in front of me and I occupied myself with hadith, the Qur’an, and its tafsir. On the second ten days I saw him. He inquired, ‘What is your situation with the questions which I desired from you?’ I replied, ‘I removed kalam from in front of me, and I have occupied myself with your hadith and tafsir of the Qur’an.’

“He was angry and said, ‘I tell you something and then you do something else? Who directed you to do that? Who commanded you to do it? I told you: “Seek the science of kalam and act on the question of the Vision.” I did not tell you to abandon kalam!’

“When I woke up, I was even more grieved than the first time. I said, ‘By Allah, I do not know what to do. How can I abandon the confirmed schools by dreams? Woe to me if I believe differently to what I followed from Allah Almighty! Woe to me from the condemnation of the Mu’tazilites if I say that to which the dream has called me!’ I remained reflecting on that without enjoying any food or drink until the night of the 27th.

“The people of Basra gathered as was their custom to stand and perform tahajjud prayers in the mosque until morning, to weep, to supplicate and to entreat. I went for that. When I began the prayer, a sleep like death fell upon me which nothing could repel, I got up weeping, repenting what I had missed of that. When I entered the room, I went to sleep. I saw the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. He asked me, ‘What have you done about what I told you.’

“I replied, ‘Messenger of Allah, how can I leave a school which I have helped for forty years and on which I have written and made firm. People will say, ‘This is a bewitched man who abandons schools for dreams.'”‘

“He became very angry indeed. He said, ‘This is what they used to say of me: “Bewitched, possessed.” I did not neglect the right of Allah for the words of people. You count this among the dreams? I have come to you three times in the month and then you tell me that it is a dream! All these excuses are worthless. Leave them. Do not turn to them. Look into these questions about the Vision, the Qur’an being uncreated, the Decree and the Determination, and that Allah has the power to do anything. Allah will inspire you to the proofs in that. Beware lest you write with inadequacy in that. Move to help what I said to you with the Book and the Sunna and the proofs of the intellects. It is true and correct. I will not come to you again about this!’ Through these long words, I understood it and I remembered it. I arose and helped this path.”

Allah expanded his breast for that and helped him with His support. What is well-known and famous came from him in that.

One of the companions of Abu al-Hasan mentioned that he was present with him in a diligent session on a group of innovators. He took a good position in it for Allah and shattered their arguments. When he left, I said to him, ‘May Allah repay you well?’ ‘Why is that?’ he asked.

“I said, ‘My brother, we were tested with evil rulers who displayed the innovations of the opponents and have helped them. Therefore we must arise for Allah and defend His deen as much as we can. So it is one question of the recognition of Your Lord by which you obey Him and by which you come near to Him is more advantageous for you than this.'”

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari died in 334 according to what I read in one of the sources of Shaykh Abu al-‘Abbas ad-Dani – and I saw it in his handwriting or the handwriting of Abu ‘Abdullah al-Humaydi.

Source: Tartīb al-Madārik by Qādhī ‘Iyādh al-Mālikī [d. 
Taken from: Shaykha `Aisha Bewley’s website

Historical Notes

al-Jubbā’i Abu ‘Ali Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Wahhab, one of the most celebrated of the Mu’tazila, a student of ash-Shahham. He died in 303/915-6.

Ibn Kullāb: Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Sa’id ibn Muhammad ibn Kullab al-Qattan al-Basrim an early opponent of the Mu’tazilites who debated them with their intelletual methods. He died about 241/855.

Al-Muhāsibī: the famous Sufi of Basra who died in 243/857 who also used the method of the Mu’tazilites to debate them

ash-Shahhām: one of the leaders of the Mu’tazila of Basra of his time, a pupil of Abu al-Hudhyal.

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