DAHRIYYA, holders of materialistic opinions of various kinds, often only vaguely defined.
This collective noun denotes them as a whole, as a firqa, sect, according to the Dictionary of the
Technical Terms, and stands beside the plural dahriyyun formed from the same singular dahri, the
relative noun of dahr, a qur'anic word meaning a long period of time. In certain editions of the
qur'an it gives its name to sura LXXVI, generally called the sura of Man; but its use in XLV, 24
where it occurs in connexion with the infidels, or rather the ungodly, erring and blinded,
appears to have had a decisive influence on its semantic evolution which has given it a
philosophical meaning far removed from its original sense. These ungodly men said: 'There is
nothing save our life in this world; we die and we live, and only a period of time (or: the course
of time, dahr) makes us perish'. The word has as yet no philosophical specification; according to
the commentaries of al-Baydawi and the "alalayn, it signifies 'the passage of time' (murur
al-zaman), according to al-Zamakhshari 'a period of time which passes' (dahr yamurru) in XLV, 24,
and an interval of time of considerable length in LXXVI, 1. The idea of a long period of time
became increasingly dominant, and finally reached the point of signifying a period without limit
or end, to such an extent that certain authors used al-dahr as a divine name, a practice of which
others strongly disapproved (Lane, s.v. dahr; see also Dictionary of the Technical Terms, i, 480). The
vocalization given in the new edition of the Rasa'il Ikhwan al-safa', Beirut 1376/1957, iii, fasc. 9,
455, is duhriyya; this had already been attested by linguists who consideredqit to be in conformity
with the transformation which vowels often undergo in the nisbas (Sibawayhi, ed. Derenbourg, ii,
64, 19-21). Al-"urdjani, Ta'rifat, s.v., emphasizes the perenniality and defines al-dahr as 'the
permanent moment which is the extension of the divine majesty and is the innermost part (batin)
of time, in which eternity in the past and eternity in the future are united'.

According to the explanation given by al-Baydawi, a semantic link with the material world must
be understood, for dahr, he says, basically denotes the space of time in which this world is living,
overcoming the course of time. The doctrine of the dahriyya was subsequently denoted by the
same term, and in this way al-ghazali, among others, speaks of 'professing the dahr', al-qawl bi
'l-dahr (Tahafut, ed. Bouyges, 19). The translation 'fatalists', sometimes used, cannot be justified.
The relative dahri will therefore have two philosophical connotations. It denotes, firstly, the man
who believes in the eternity of the world whether in the past or in the future, denying, as a result
of this opinion, resurrection and a future life in another world; secondly, the mulhid, the man
who deviates from the true faith (Lane, s.v. dahri; cf. for the first meaning given, Pococke, Notae
miscellanae, Leipzig 1705, 239-240, under the transcription Dahriani). To place the whole of
human life in this world is to lead swiftly to a hedonistic morality, and it is in this sense that the
first literary use of the word has been noted, in the Kitab al-Hayawan by al-"ahiz (Cairo
1325-6/1906-7) in which, in an over-wide generalization no doubt made under the influence of
sura XLV, 24, dahri denotes the man who 'denies the Lord', creation, reward and punishment,
all religion and all law, listens only to his own desires and sees evil only in what conflicts with
them; he recognizes no difference between man, the domestic animal and the wild beast. For
him it is a question only of pleasure or pain; good is merely what serves his interests, even
though it may cost the lives of a thousand men (vii, 5-6). It follows from the principles accepted
by the dahriyyun that they reject popular superstitions, the existence of angels and demons, the
significance of dreams and the powers of sorcerers (al-"ahiz, ibid., ii, 50). Some of them,
however, on the basis of rationalist analogies, apparently admitted the metamorphosis of men
into animals (maskh, ibid., iv, 24).

The dahriyya are defined in the Mafatih al-'ulum (ed. Van Vloten, Leyden 1895, 35) as 'those who
believe in the eternity of the course of time'; the Ikhwan al-safa' call them the azaliyya, those who
believe in the eternity of the cosmos, as opposed to those who attribute to it a creator and a
cause (ed. Bombay 1306, iv, 39; ed. Beirut 1376/1957, iii, 455). In this respect the Mutakallimun
are opposed to them, affirming the beginning in time of bodies and of the world created by God,
and to this adding an affirmation of the divine attributes, God being alone eternal and alone
powerful (ibid. Bombay 39-40 and Beirut 456). Like the Mutakallimun in general, the Judaeo-Arab
theologian S¨'adya (d. 942) refutes their doctrine, first in his commentary on S¿fer Yesirah (ed.
Lambert, Paris 1891), and later in the first book of his Kitab al-Amanat wa 'l-I'tiqadat (ed. Landauer,
Leyden 1880), in three pages (63-5) on the doctrine known by the name al-dahr, which regards
not only matter as eternal but the beings of the world which we see as invariable; this sect limits
knowledge to the perceptible: 'no knowledge save of what is accessible to the senses' (64, l. 13).
His trans-qlation of Job also alludes to it, for he renders Ùrah 'Ùlam by madhahib al-dahriyyin; cf. also
several passages in his commentary on Proverbs (B. Heller, in REJ, xxxvii (1898), 229).

Abu Mansur 'Abd al-qahir b. Tahir al-Baghdadi does not mention them among the sects, in the
Kitab al-farq bayn al-firaq, but he refers to them several times among the unbelievers, particularly
the philosophers who looked on the heavens and stars as a fifth element escaping corruption
and destruction, and who even believed in the eternity of the world (ed. Badr, Cairo 1328/1910,
102, 106 with typogr. error, 206, 346). He also compares them with the Christians, without any
explanation, 157.

AAl-ghazali for his part also looked on the dahriyya rather as an order of philosophers who
throughout the centuries expressed a certain current of thought which was never without some
representative. He does not always regard them in the same way. In the Munqidh min al-4alal (ch.
III, Cairo 1955, 96-97), he speaks of them as forming the first category (sinf) in chronological
order. They were then a 'sect (ta'ifa) of the ancients', denying a Creator who governs the world
and the existence of a future world, professing that the world has always been what it is, of itself,
and that it will be so eternally. He likens them to the zanadiqa, who also included another, and
more numerous, branch, the tabi'iyyun, naturalists. The dahriyya seem to make the perenniality of
the world the centre of their doctrine, whilst the tabi'iyyun insist upon the properties of
temperaments and deny, not creation but paradise, hell, resurrection and judgement. Against
these two categories there stands a third, the deists, ilahiyyun, who came later and included
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. They refuted the errors of the first two groups, but they were not
always followed by the Muslim philosophers, such as Ibn Sina and al-Farabi. Both were
particularly singled out in the Tahafut al-Falasifa by al-ghazali (ed. Bouyges, Beirut 1927, 9) who
with reference to them demonstrates the 'Incoherence of the philosophers' (according to the
translation preferred by M. Bouyges to 'Destruction' of the philosophers), at the same time
proving the incapacity (ta'djiz) of the adversaries. For the two Muslims strove against those who
denied the Divinity, though not without avoiding theories which led them to be classed by
al-ghazali among the dahriyya. To the latter, who are also given the name dahriyyun, are
attributed the following theses: they deny a Cause which might be 'causative of causes' (65, l.
3-4); the world is eternal and has neither cause nor creator; new things alone have a cause (133,
l. 6 and 206, l. 5). Here there are only two groups of philosophers and not three, that of the
'followers of truth' (ahl al-haqq) and one other, that of the dahriyya (133, l. 6). Now there are
philosophers who believe that the world is eternal and, nevertheless, demonstrate that it is the
work of a Creator (sani'), a reasoning which al-ghazali declares to be contradictory (133, l. 6 ff.).
In fact, Ibn Sina returns to this subject on many occasions, and he was clearly persuaded of the
force of his reasoning. Al-ghazali, apparently not convinced, compares the falasifa with the
dahriyya (95, l. 6) on account of the ambiguity in a reasoning which allows that the work may be
God's, provided that he had not planned to carry it out but had acted from necessity. This was
very much what Ibn Sina maintained, believing that if God made some plan, his action would
be determined by some external factor, which is inadmissible. Al-ghazaliqalso finds fault with
the theses which hold that from One only One can emerge (95-132), that matter is eternal,
with the four elements on one hand, on the other the fifth, incorruptible element which forms
the celestial bodies; all of these are reasons for classing those who hold these theories with the
dahriyya (206, l. 5 ff.). In the Tahafut al-Tahafut (ed. Bouyges 1930), Ibn Rushd does not make the
same strictures as al-ghazali; he does not name the dahriyya (see Index, 654) who only appear
under this denomination in the summary of al-ghazali's theses (414, l. 5), but he uses dahr not
only in the original sense of 'period of time' (95, l. 1 and 120, l. 3) but also in the sense of the
well-known philosophic doctrine wrongly attributed to the falasifa (415).

The dahriyya appear as a sect, properly speaking, in the definitions of Ibn Hazm and
al-Shahrastani. The former ascribes to the dahriyya the doctrine of the eternity of the world, and
the corollary that nothing rules it, whilst all the other groups think that there was a beginning
and that it was created, muhdath (Kitab al-Fisal, Cairo 1317, i, 9). He starts by giving the five
arguments of the dahriyya who are called (11, l. 9) 'those who profess the dahr', al-qa'ilun bi
'l-dahr. These may be summed up as follows: 1. 'We have seen nothing which was newly
produced (hadatha) unless it arose from a thing or in a thing'.-2. What produces (muhdith) bodies
is, incontestably, substances and accidents, that is to say, everything that exists in the world.-3.
If there exists a muhdith of bodies, it is either totally similar to them or totally different, or similar
in certain respects and different in others. Now a total difference is inconceivable, since nothing
can produce something contrary or opposite to itself, thus fire does not produce cold.-4. If the
world had a Creator (fa'il), he would act with a view to obtaining some benefit, of redressing
some wrong, which is to act like the beings of this world, or else by nature, which would render
his act eternal.-5. If bodies were created, it would be necessary that their muhdith, before
producing them, should act in order to negate them, negation which itself would be either a
body or an accident, which implies that bodies and accidents are eternal (10-11). After refuting
these arguments in turn, Ibn Hazm gives five counter-arguments of his own, continuing the
discussion (11-23) into the following chapter which is devoted to 'those who say that the world
is eternal and that, nevertheless, it has an eternal Creator'.

Al-Shahrastani begins the second part of his Kitabal-Milal wa 'l-Nihal, in which the philosophical
sects are enumerated, with those who 'are not of the opinion' that there is 'a world beyond the
perceptible world', al-tabi'iyyun al-dahriyyun, 'the naturalists who believe in dahr, who do not
eexpound an intelligible [world]', la yuthbitun ma'qulan, this last word being in the singular (ed.
Cureton, 201, l. 7). A second passage, 'sometimes, on the other hand, ... they also admit the
intelligible, (ed. Cureton, 202, l. 15)' seems to apply not to the naturalists who believe in dahr
but to the falasifa dahriyya, that is to say, very probably to Ibn Sina and al-Farabi, contrasting
them with the naturalists; this fits well with the position of the two philosophers who, for their
part, strenuously affirm that an intelligible world exists. Thus the dahriyya, while having features
in common, on the one hand with the naturalists, and on the other with the philosophers,
could not be identified withqeither. The passage, however, remains obscure. In the Kitab Nihayat
al-iqdam (ed. Guillaume, Oxford 1931, with partial translation) al-Shahrastani records several
discussions between the dahriyya (trans. materialists) and their adversaries (29, l. 1; 30, l. 15, 123,
l. 10, 126, l. 9), on the origin of the world, including the theory of atoms moving about in
primal disorder. The mode of reasoning of the dahriyya appears sophistical, but the refuters who
rely on the movements of Saturn adduce no proof. The origin of the world through the
fortuitous encounter of atoms wandering in space is an opinion also attributed to the dahriyya by
"amal al-Din al-qazwini, Mufid al-'ulum wa-mubid al-humum, Cairo 1310, 37.

The 19th century brought definition to a word that for so long had been somewhat loosely used.
European natural sciences, penetrating the East, gave rise to a stream of very simplified but
materialistic ideas which were the source of unexpected problems in Islam. (For an Ottoman
ferman of 1798, refuting the Dahri doctrines of the French Revolution, see Amir Haydar Ahmad
Shihab, Ta'rikh AhmadBasha al-"azzar, edd. A. Chibli and I.A. Khalife, Beirut 1956, 125 ff.; cf. B.
Lewis in Journ. World Hist., i, 1953, 121-2). The question of materialism was raised in an
extremely acute form in India. After the Mutiny of 1857-8, Sayyid Ahmad Khan realised that
the Muslims could not challenge the British supremacy until they had assimilated western
science and methods. In 1875 he founded the college of 'AligaÛh [q.v.], later to be a University,
combining English culture with the study of Muslim theology. Deeply impressed by the concepts
of conscience and nature, he took the laws of nature as criteria of religious values. This new
conception spread, giving, with the Arabic termination, the qualifying word naturi, which
became nay´ari, plural nay´ariyyun, from transcription of the English pronunciation; in Persian
nay´eriyye. It was presented as a sort of new religion, appearing in the Census of India, where its
followers were called ne´ari. These events exercised considerable influence on the whole of India,
and made it necessary for orthodox Islam to take position.

"amal al-Din al-Afghani [q.v.] wrote a violent reply in Persian, as early as 1298/1878, with his
Refutation of the Materialists, the translation of which into Urdu was lithographed in Calcutta in
1883; it was translated into Arabic by Muhammad 'Abduh and first published (1st. ed. Beirut
1303/1885) under the title Risala fi ibtal madhhab al-dahriyyin wa-bayan mafasidihim wa-ithbat anna 'l-din
asas al-madaniyya wa 'l-kufr fasad al-'umran, then (2nd. ed., Cairo 1312, 3rd ed., Cairo 1320/1902)
under the title al-Radd 'ala 'l-dahriyyin (French translation A.-M. Goichon, Paris 1942), while the
original title included al-nayshuriyyin, clearly denoting the meaning given to dahri which is
therefore the translation of naturalistic-materialistic. In this short work "amal al-Din traces
back this doctrine to the Greek philosophers in terms recalling those of al-ghazali; he traces its
history, such as he represents it, in the first chapter; it finishes with Darwin. His refutation is,
throughout, superficial.

While materialism was spreading, particularly through Arabic translations of European works
like Büchner's Kraft und Stoff, translated by Shibli Shumayyil (Alexandria 1884), a contrary
movement was taking shape. The history of this struggle between two irreconcilable
conceptions is far from finished; it would require considerable research, but has no place here.
In the various works mentioned above, the terms maddiyya and maddiyyun have, in fact, always
been used as synonyms of dahriyya and dahriyyun; these latter finally disappeared, replaced by the
more exact term. They no longer occur in the contemporary vocabulary in Egypt (information
supplied by R.P. Jomier) and, without being in a position to make the same observation in
respect of other countries, we can nevertheless remark that they are no longer found in certain
publications in Muslim India.
(I. Goldziher*
[A.M. Goichon])


in the text

see also W.L. Schrameier, Über den Fatalismus der vorislamischen Araber, Bonn 1881, 12-22

M. Horten, Die philosophischen Systeme der spekulativen Theologen im Islam, Bonn 1912, index s.v.

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