ABU 'l-HUDHAYL al-'ALLAF, Muhammad b. al-Hudhayl b. 'Ubayd Allah b. Makhul,
with the nisba of al-'Abdi (being a mawla of 'Abd al-qays), the first speculative theologian of the
Mu'tazila. He was born in Basra, where he lived in the quarter of the 'allafun, or foragers (whence
his surname); the date of his birth is uncertain: 135/75t-3 or 134/751-t or even 131/748-9. In
t03/818-9 he settled in Baghdad and died, at a great age, in tt6/840-1, or according to
another tradition, in the reign of al-Wathiq (tt7-3t/84t-7), or, on the authority of others, in
t35/849-50, under al-Mutawakkil. He was indirectly a disciple of Wasil b. 'Ata', through the
intermediary of one of Wasil's companions, 'Uthman al-tawil. Like Wasil, he was lettered; his
profound knowledge of poetry was especially celebrated. Some hadiths also are quoted under his

The theology which he inherited from the school of Wasil was still rudimentary. Essentially
polemical, it opposed--in a rather unsystematic fashion, it seems--the anthropomorphism of
popular Islam and of the traditionists, the doctrine of determinism favoured for political reasons
by the Umayyads, and the divinization of 'Ali preached by the extreme Shi'ites. While
continuing this polemic, Abu 'l-Hudhayl was the first to engage in the speculative struggles of
the epoch, a task for which he was exceptionally well equipped by his philosophical mind, his
sagacity and his eloquence. He became the apologist of Islam against other religions and
against the great currents of thought of the preceding epoch:qthe dualists, represented by the
Zoroastrians, the Manichaeans and other Gnostics; the philosophers of Greek inspiration, the
dahriyya, mainly represented by the champions of the natural sciences; finally against the
increasingly numerous Muslims who were influenced by these foreign ideas: crypto-Manichaean
poets like Ďalih b. 'Abd al-quddus, the theologians of the 'modern' type who had adopted
certain gnostic and philosophical doctrines, etc. It seems that it was only at a mature age that
he made himself acquainted with philosophy. On the occasion of his pilgrimage (the date of
which is unknown) he met in Mecca the Shi'ite theologian Hisham b. al-Hakam and disputed
with him concerning his anthropomorphist doctrines, which show a gnostic influence; and it
was only then that he began to study the books of the dahriyya. Later historians observe certain
similarities between his doctrine of the divine attributes and the philosophy of
Pseudo-Empedocles, forged by the Neo-Platonists and natural scientists of late antiquity; in
effect his philosophical sources must have been of such a kind, which are represented in general
by medieval Aristotelianism. These philosophers attracted, as well as repelled, him; while
combatting them, he adopted their methods and their manner of looking at problems. Naive as
a thinker, and having no scholastic tradition, he approached speculative problems with a daring
which did not even recoil from the absurd. Hence all the prematurity and the lack of balance
which characterize his theology, but also the freshness of his attempts. He was the first to set
many of the fundamental problems at which the whole of the later Mu'tazila was to labour.

The unity, the spirituality and the transcendence of God are carried in the theology of Abu
'l-Hudhayl to the highest degree of abstraction. God is one; he does not resemble his creatures in
any respect; he is not a body (against Hisham b. al-Hakam); has no figure (hay'a), form (sura) or
limit. God is knowing with a knowledge, is powerful with a power, alive with a life, eternal with
an eternality, seeing with a faculty of sight, etc. (against the Shi'ites who asserted that God is
knowledge, etc.), but this knowledge, power, etc. are identical with himself (against popular
theology which regarded the divine attributes as entities added to essence): provisional formulas
of compromise which did not satisfy later generations. God is omnipresent in the sense that he
directs everything and his direction is exercised in every place. God is invisible in the other
world; the believers will see him with their hearts. The knowledge of God is unlimited, as to
what concerns his knowledge of himself; as for his knowledge of the world, it is circumscribed by
the limits of his creation, which forms a limited totality (if it were not limited, it would not be
totality). The same applies to the divine power. Abu 'l-Hudhayl strove to reconcile the qur'anic
doctrine of creation ex nihilo with the Aristotelian cosmology, according to which the world, set
in motion by God, is eternal, movement being co-eternal with the prime mover himself. While
accepting movement as the principle of the universal process, he declared it to be created in the
qur'anic sense; in consequence, movement also will reach its end and will cease. This end is
placed by him in the other world, after the last day: movement having ceased, paradise and hell
will come to a standstill and their inhabitants will be fixed in a state of immobility, the blessed
enjoying for eternity the highest pleasures and the damned enduring the most cruel torments.
This bizarreqdoctrine, which, according to tradition, he himself revoked, is unanimously
rejected by all the Muslim theologians, Mu'tazilites or not; nor have its grave consequences for
the doctrine of God's omniscience and omnipotence escaped them. In regard to theodicy, Abu
'l-Hudhayl taught that God has the power to do evil and injustice, but he does not do it, because
of his goodness and wisdom. God admits the evil actions of man, but he is not their author. Man
has the power to commit them, he is responsible for them, and responsible even for the
involuntary consequences resulting from his actions (theory of tawallud, first developed by Abu
'l-Hudhayl). The responsible being is man in his entirety, his ruh together with his visible body. It
was Abu 'l-Hudhayl who introduced into Mu'tazilite speculation the concept of the accidents
(a'rad) of bodies, and that of the atom, which he called dhawhar. These concepts, which originally
had a purely physical relevance, were made by him to serve as the basis for theology proper,
cosmology, anthropology and ethics. This is his most original innovation, as well as the most
heavy with consequences; it was this which gave to Mu'tazili theology its mechanical character.
Life, soul, spirit, the five senses, are accidents and therefore not enduring; even spirit (ruh) will
not endure. Human actions can be divided into two phases, both of them movements: the first is
the approach ('I shall do'), the second the accomplished action ('I have done'). Man having
free will, the first movement can be suspended in the second phase, so that the action remains
unaccomplished; it is only the accomplished action which counts. Divine activity is interpreted
in the light of the doctrine of accidents: the whole process of the world consists in an incessant
creation of accidents, which descend into the bodies. Some accidents, however, are not be found
in a place or in a body; e.g. time and divine will (irada). The latter is identical with the eternal
creating word kun; it is distinct from its object (al-murad) and also from the divine order (amr),
which man can either obey or disobey (while the effect of the creating word kun is absolute: kun
fa-yakunu, qur'an ii, 111, etc.). Those who are not acquainted with the qur'anic revelation, but
have nevertheless accomplished laudable acts prescribed by the qur'an, have obeyed God
without having the intention to do so (theory of ta'a la yuradu'llahu biha, otherwise attributed to the
kharidhites). The qur'an is an accident created by God; being written, recited or committed to
memory, it is at the same time in various places.--In the question of the manzila bayn
al-manzilatayn Abu 'l-Hudhayl took up a position which was in conformity with the political
situation of his time: he did not reject any of the combatants round 'Ali, yet preferred 'Ali to
'Uthman. He enjoyed the favour of al-Ma'mun, who often invited him to the court for
theological disputes.--All the writings of Abu 'l-Hudhayl are lost.

During his long life, Abu 'l-Hudhayl had an enormous influence on the development of theology
and he collected round him a large number of disciples of different generations. The best known
amongst them is al-Nazzam, though he quarrelled with his master because of his destructive
theories concerning the atom; Abu 'l-Hudhayl condemned him and composed several treatises
against him. Among his disciples are named Yahya b. Bishr al-Arradhani, al-Shahham, and others.
His school continued to exist for a long time; even al-Dhubba'i still avowed his indebtedness to
Abu 'l-Hudhayl'sqtheology, in spite of the numerous points on which he differed from
him.--Unfortunately, the theology of Abu 'l-Hudhayl was exposed to the malevolence of a
renegade from Mu'tazilism, the famous Ibn al-Rawandi, who, in his Fadihat al-Mu'tazila grossly
misrepresented it, by submitting it to an often too cheap criticism; this caricature has been
faithfully reproduced by al-Baghdadi in his Farq and often recurs in the resumes of the Mu'tazila.
It is only with the help of al-Intisar, by al-khayyat, the severe critic of Ibn al-Rawandi, that we are
able to unmask the latter's procedure and gain an exact idea of true motives of Abu 'l-Hudhayl's
speculation. Al-Ash'ari, in his Maqalat, reproduced his theses with admirable impartiality, after
the school tradition of the Mu'tazila. Al-Shahrastani based his expose on the later Mu'tazilite
tradition, especially, it seems, on al-Ka'bi.
(H.S. Nyberg)


al-khatib al-Baghdadi, Ta'rikh Baghdad, iii, 366-70

Mas'udi, Murudh, index

Ibn khallikan, no. 617

Ibn al-Murtada (T. W. Arnold, The Mu'tazila), index

Ibn qutayba, Ta'wil Mukhtalaf al-Hadith, Cairo 13t6, 53-5

khayyat, Intisar (Nyberg), index

Ash'ari, Maqalat (Ritter), index

Baghdadi, Farq, index

Ibn Hazm, Fisal, ii, 193, 487, iv, 83 ff., 19t ff., etc.

Mutahhar al-Maqdisi, al-Bad' wa 'l-Ta'rikh (Huart), index of transl.

Shahrastani, 34-7

Ďa'id al-Andalusi, tabaqat al-Umam (Cheikho), t1 f.

Maqrizi, khitat, ii, 346

S. Pines, Beitraege zur islamischen Atomlehre, Berlin 1936

A. S. Tritton, Muslim Theology, London 1947

L. Gardet and M. M. Anawati, Introduction a la theologie musulmane, Paris 1948

A. N. Nadir, Falsafat al-Mu'tazila, Alexandria 1950-1.

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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --© 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands