MU'TAZILA, the name of a religious movement founded at Basra, in the first half of the
2nd/8th century by Wasil b. 'Ata' (d. 131/748 [q.v.]), subsequently becoming one of the most
important theological schools of Islam.
The origin of this term-which has the sense of 'those who separate themselves, who stand
aside'-remains enigmatic. According to a traditional explanation (sometimes acknowledged
by the Mu'tazila themselves), the word would have been applied to Wasil-or to his lieutenant,
'Amr b. 'Ubayd (d. 144/761 [q.v.])-because on the question relating to the definition applicable
to the Muslim guilty of a serious offence, the former (or the second) 'would have separated
himself' from al-Hasan al-Basri (or from qatada) (on this tradition and its variants, see W. M.
Watt, The formative period of Islamic thought, Edinburgh 1973, 209-11). An explanation, more
plainly hostile, propounded notably by Ibn al-Rawandi (according to al-Khayyat, K. al-Intisar, ed.
Nader, Beirut 1957, 118, ll. 2-9, later by al-Ash'ari, K. al-Luma', ed. McCarthy, Beirut 1953,
a 184), is that, on the same question of the name to be given to the sinful Muslim-who should,
according to Wasil, be described by the definition of fasiq, an 'in-qtermediate rank' between
tthat of mu'min and that of kafir-Wasil was opposed to the consensus of the Muslims for whom, in
any circumstances, the sinful Muslim could not be other than 'believing' or 'disbelieving'. To
this, the Mu'tazila replied that, on the contrary, Wasil's intention was in fact to retain only that
which, among Muslims, was the object of a consensus: while they differed as to whether the
sinful Muslim should be termed mu'min or kafir, all, on the other hand, were agreed in defining
him as fasiq (K. al-Intisar, 118, ll. 10-19). In other words, on this question, Wasil was as unwilling
to side with the Murji'a (q.v.; partisans of the first solution) as with the Kharijites (q.v.; partisans
of the second); he chose to 'stand aside' from this debate.
It is an explanation of this kind which today, in particular as a result of the studies undertaken
by Nallino (Sull'origine del nome dei Mu'taziliti, in RSO, vii ), is generally accepted: i'tizal
would designate a position of neutrality in the face of opposing factions. Nallino drew support
for this argument from the fact that at the time of the first civil war, some of the Companions
('Abd Allah b. 'Umar, Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, etc.), who had chosen to side neither with 'Ali nor with
his adversaries, were for this reason called mu'tazila. He even drew the conclusion that the
theological Mu'tazilism of Wasil and his successors was merely a continuation of this initial
political Mu'tazilism; in reality, there does not seem to have been the least connection between
one and the other. But, in its principle, this explanation is probably valid.
Little is known of the origins of the movement. It appears to be established that Wasil, originally
a disciple of al-Hasan al-Basri [q.v.] was indeed the sole founder, and this during the lifetime of
the latter. It was only at the end of a relatively long period, and after the death of al-Hasan
(110/728), that 'Amr b. 'Ubayd-another disciple of al-Hasan, and a particularly eminent
one-decided to join him. After the death of Wasil in 131/748, it was 'Amr who took on the
leadership of the group. It is hardly likely that at this early stage of the movement the Mu'tazili
doctrine, as it was to be formulated several decades later by Abu 'l-Hujayl, was already fully
developed. No doubt the theses defended here were essentially the same as those previously
current in the milieu of the qadariyya [q.v.], to which al-Hasan belonged: rejection of the
doctrine of predestination, affirmation of the absolute responsibility of every individual with
regard to his transgressions which could not be in any sense the work of God. It will be noted
that, on the question of the name to be applied to the sinful Muslim, al-Hasan seems to have
accepted the notion of an 'intermediate rank', although in the event he proposed munafiq
('hypocrite' [q.v.]) in place of fasiq ('malefactor' [q.v.]). Similarly, al-Hasan subscribed to the
principle that every unrepentant sinner will suffer for ever the torments of Hell, an essential
element of what was later to be called 'the promise and the threat' (al-wa'd wa 'l-wa'id).
Did the movement launched by Wasil also have political objectives? Nyberg believed so, on the
basis of a singular interpretation of the i'tizal and of the doctrine of the 'intermediate rank' (cf.
EI1, s.v. Mu'tazila, at III, 787-8). This, according to him, should in fact be interpreted as
denoting a position of a political nature, characterised simultaneously by a declared hostility
with regard to the Umayyads and a cautious attitude towards the Sji'a, at least in consideration
of its more radical elements. Now, Nyberg claimed, this position corresponded exactly to that of
the 'Abbasid movement, to the extent that the doc-qtrine of 'intermediate rank' would be
nothing other than 'the theoretical encapsulation of the political programme of the 'Abbasids
before their accession to power'. This explains why, 'for at least a century', Mu'tazili theology
'remained the official doctrine of the 'Abbasid court'. This would also account for the fact that
Wasil sent envoys to the different countries of the Muslim world; the object was to spread the
propaganda of the 'Abbasids. This interpretation, as proved now, has no validity. Not only did
tthe first Mu'tazila not support the 'Abbasid movement, but a large number of them participated
in the insurrection of Ibrahim b. 'Abd Allah [q.v.] in 145/762 against al-Mansur (cf. J. van Ess,
Une lecture a rebours de l'histoire du mu'tazilisme, 120-1). The 'propaganda' organised by Wasil was,
in all probability, of a purely religious nature (ibid., 104-8). As for the supposed amicable
relations between al-Mansur and 'Amr b. 'Ubayd, this is probably an instance of a legend
invented after the event (ibid., 118-22). It was only on the accession of al-Ma'mun that
Mu'tazilism became, for a brief period, official doctrine.
The author of the present article is not a historian, and therefore will not venture to describe
the history of Mu'tazilism (which extends over a period of approximately five centuries) in detail
and with reference to all its elements, doctrinal, political and social. On this subject, and in
particular on the earliest periods, some very detailed and informative analyses have been
compiled, in recent years, by J. van Ess. While inviting the reader to avail himself of these
sources (see Bibl.), we confine ourselves here to a few succinct references.
The great age of Mu'tazilism is not limited, as is still all too often the general view, to the first
'Abbasid century. The revocation by the caliph al-Mutawakkil, in 234/848, of the decrees
instituting the mihna [q.v.] marks only the end of one period, that during which, for a period of
some thirty years, the Mu'tazili school enjoyed the favour of the caliphs of Bagjdad. In fact, by
the time this reversal took place, the Mu'tazila were established not only in the capital but also in
numerous regions of the Islamic world, especially in Persia, where measures taken in Bagjdad
did not necessarily have an effect. Furthermore, although deprived of the patronage of the
'Abbasid caliphate, they subsequently found other princes or influential persons (under the
Buyids, in particular) to support them. Better still: this first period, which we are quite willing to
term the 'heroic' period, or that of the 'great ancestors', is not-in our view, at least-the
most important. It was only at a later stage that there appeared, from the point of view of
elaboration and systematisation of doctrine, what may be described as the 'classical' period of
Mu'tazilism, lasting approximately from the last quarter of the 3rd/9th century to the middle of
the 5th/11th century (in other words, until the arrival of the Saljuqids). It could almost be said,
mutatis mutandis, that, in relation to persons such as Abu 'Ali and Abu Hashim al-jubba'i, the
Mu'tazila of the first period correspond to the pre-Socratic philosophers in relation to Plato and
This difference between two periods of Mu'tazilism is very clearly felt within the school itself: thus
Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid distinguishes systematically between al-mutaqaddimun (or al-qudama'), 'those of the
earlier period', and al-muta'akjkjirun, 'those of the later period' (cf. SjarhNahj al-balagja, ed. M.
Abu 'l-Fa·l Ibrahim, i, 7-8; iii, 288, l. 19; xi, 119, l. 17-18 and 120, l. 5). Mankdim, for his part,
readily uses, to denote the first, the term salaf: al-salaf min ashabina (Sjarh, 634, l. 10), al-mashayikj
min al-salaf (ibid., 146, l. 11). q
Furthermore, it is known that, very soon, the Mu'tazila constituted two separate schools, 'those
of al-Basra" and 'those of Bagjdad" (terms which, over the course of time, were to
become purely conventional, having no association with specific geographical location). Taking
into account the two periods mentioned above, there is thus a total of four groups of
theologians, clearly distinguished, again, by Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid: the "Basrans of the earlier
period' (qudama' al-basriyyin) and 'those of the later period', the "Bagjdadis of the earlier
period' (qudama' al-bagjdadiyyin) and 'those of the later period'.
Among the "Basrans" of the first period, the most significant figures are 4irar b.
'Amr (d. ca. 200/915 [q.v. in Suppl.]), Abu Bakr al-Asamm (d. 201/816? [q.v. in Suppl.]), Abu
'l-Hujayl (d. 227/841? [q.v.]), al-Nazzam (d. 221/836 [q.v.]), nephew and disciple of the
preceding, Mu'ammar b. 'Abbad (d. 215/830 [q.v.]), Hisham b. 'Amr al-Fuwati (d. between
227/842 and 232/847, cf. Gimaret-Monnot, Shahrastani, Livre des religions et des sectes, i, 249
[q.v.]), the eminent writer al-jahiz (d. 255/869 [q.v.]), a disciple of al-Nazzam, 'Abbad b.
Sulayman (d. ca. 250/864 [q.v.]), a disciple of Hisham al-Fuwati, Abu Ya'qub al-Sjasham (d. after
257/871, cf. Gimaret-Monnot, op. cit., 199), a disciple of Abu 'l-Hujayl. Among the
"Bagjdadis" of the same period, it is appropriate to mention in particular Bishr b.
al-Mu'tamir (d. 210/825 [q.v.]), founder of the school of Bagjdad, øjumama b. Ashras (d.
213/828? [q.v.]) and Abu Musa al-Murdar (d. 226/841 [q.v.]), disciples of Bishr, ja'far b. Harb (d.
236/850 [q.v.]) and ja'far b. Mubashshir (d. 234/848 [q.v.]), disciples of Abu Musa, Abu ja'far
al-Iskafi (d. 240/854 [q.v.]), disciple of ja'far b. Harb.
The most characteristic feature of this first period is the extreme diversity of people and of
doctrines; it is a case of a collection of distinguished individuals, of often 'colourful'
personalities, rather than continuous and homogeneous associations. On the human level,
nothing could be more dissimilar, for example, than the two disciples of Bishr b. al-Mu'tamir:
øjumama, courtier, personal friend of al-Ma'mun, hedonist, and Abu Musa, ascetic, nicknamed
the 'monk' (rahib) of the Mu'tazila, who denounced as infidels all those who sought the favour of
princes. On the doctrinal level, divergencies are no less stark. Thus 4irar b. 'Amr is distinguished
from all the rest of the school by his affirmation that voluntary human acts are created by God,
a thesis which associated him with jahm b. ‘afwan [q.v.] and as a result of which he was to be
disowned by later generations of Mu'tazila (cited as such, among others, by Ibn al-Nadim, he is
explicitly challenged, in his turn, by Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji in his Maqalat; furthermore, he does
not appear in the Tabaqat al-Mu'tazila of the qa·i 'Abd al-jabbar). Al-Nazzam radically rejects the
atomist theory adopted by his uncle and master Abu 'l-Hujayl, and thus is likewise isolated in
relation to all the others. Al-Asamm also rejects the cosmology of Abu 'l-Hujayl, but in his case,
on a different point: he absolutely denies the existence of accidents, another fundamental
element of this cosmology. The same al-Asamm also rejected the very thing that had
characterised the i'tizal at the outset, this being the thesis of the 'intermediate rank'! Another of
the (theoretically) cardinal principles of Mu'tazilism, that which affirms the reality of the
'threat' (in other words, of Hell in perpetuity for sinners), was rejected by an entire group of
Murji'a Mu'tazila, including Abu Sjimr, Muways b. 'Imran [q.v.] (two contemporaries of Abu
'l-Hujayl), and later Muhammad b. Sjabib [q.v.] (of the followingqgeneration). The thesis
supported by Abu 'l-Hujayl and al-Nazzam, according to which God necessarily does for every
man what is the most advantageous (al-aslah) for him, including that relating to his future life,
was contradicted by Bishr al-Mu'tamir, author of a theory of lutf which he was almost alone in
supporting (with his disciple ja'far b. Harb), and which stated on the contrary that God does
not impart to all men the 'grace' which would assure their well-being; paradoxically, in view of
the fact that Bishr was the founder of the school of Bagjdad, it was specifically the
"Bagjdadis" who, later, were to be seen as partisans of the theory of al-aslah. The
doctrine of 'generation' (tawallud), also supported by Bishr, (and, to a lesser extent, by Abu
'l-Hujayl), according to which a man is capable of producing an act outside himself through
the intermediary of another whom he himself produces, was rejected on the one hand by
al-Nazzam, Mu'ammar, øjumama, al-jahiz, in the name of a concept of 'nature' (tab' or tiba'),
on the other by ‘alih known as qubba [q.v.], in the name of an absolute divine arbitrariness.
Also present in this tableau are figures who adopted more or less eccentric positions. The
asceticism preached by Abu Musa as well as by the two ja'fars, his disciples, clearly takes, in
some cases, the form of ‘ufism: these are the sufiyyat al-Mu'tazila, including such notable figures as
'Isa b. al-Haytjam al-‘ufi (d. 245/860), a disciple of ja'far b. Harb, of whom Ibn al-Nadim
relates that he ultimately 'became delirious' (kjullita), or Abu Sa'id al-Husri, likewise charged
with 'delirium' and 'innovation' by the author of the Fihrist, and whom 'Abd al-jabbar, in his
Tatjbit dala'il al-nubuwwa (ed. 'A. K. 'Utjman, Beirut 1966, i, 129), does not hesitate to place
among the zanadiqa. In the same vein attention may be drawn to two disciples of al-Nazzam,
passed over in tactful silence in the majority of Mu'tazili tabaqat, namely Ahmad b. Khabit (or
Habit [q.v.]) and al-Fa·l al-Hadatji, whose theories (including in particular the affirmation of
transmigration) evoke very directly those of certain Sji'i gjulat. Finally, also to be counted among
the Mu'tazila-although absolutely disowned by them-are the two enigmatic personalities Ibn
al-Rawandi [q.v.], a disciple of 'Isa b. al-Haytjam, and Abu 'Isa al-Warraq [q.v.].
Turning now to the second period, the landscape becomes altogether different. This time,
genuine schools are established, around a coherent body of doctrine which may truly be called a
'system'. On the "Basran" side (in fact, both the persons named below spent
almost their entire lives at 'Askar Mukram, in Khuzistan), appear the two dominant figures of
Abu 'Ali al-jubba'i (d. 303/933 [q.v.]) and of his son Abu Hashim (d. 321/933 [q.v.]), 'the two
shaykjs', whose names appear repeatedly in the works of all the authors who quote their
teaching, to such an extent that it is appropriate to speak of a "jubba'i" school.
Among the very numerous members of this school, worthy of mention are Abu 'Ali Ibn Khallad
[q.v.], a disciple of Abu Hashim; Abu 'Abd Allah al-Basri (d. 369/980 [q.v. in Suppl.]) and Abu
Ishaq b. 'Ayyash, both disciples of Ibn Khallad; the qa·i 'Abd al-jabbar (d. 415/1025 [q.v.]), a
disciple of the two preceding, friend and protege of the ‘ahib Ibn 'Abbad (himself a disciple of
Abu 'Abd Allah al-Basri); Abu Rashid al-Nisaburi [q.v.], Abu 'l-Husayn al-Basri (d. 426/1044, q.v.
in Suppl.), Abu Muhammad Ibn Mattawayh, all three disciples of 'Abd al-jabbar. The
"Bagjdadi" school, for its part, is represented principally by Abu 'l-Husayn
aal-Khayyat (d. ca. 300/913 [q.v.]), described by Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid asqshaykj al-muta'akjkjirin min
al-Bagjdadiyyin (SjarhNahj al-balagja, xi, 120, l. 5); Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji (d. 319/913 [q.v.]), a
disciple of the preceding (although described as a "Bagjdadi" he lived most of his
life in Khurasan); Abu Bakr Ibn al-Ikjshid (d. 326/938 [q.v.]); the grammarian 'Ali b.
'Isa al-Rummani (d. 384/994 [q.v.]), a disciple of the last-named.
The opposition between the two schools is now much more decisive than in the preceding
period. A famous work by Abu Rashid al-Nisaburi, fortunately preserved, reveals, in matters of
cosmology and anthropology, 'The questions on which the Basrans and the Bagjdadis are
opposed' (al-Masa'il fi 'l-kjilaf bayn al-Basriyyin wa 'l-Bagjdadiyyin, ed. M. Ziyada and R. al-Sayyid,
Beirut 1979), where primary attention is given to the theses upheld on the one hand by Abu 'Ali
and (especially) Abu Hashim al-jubba'i, on the other by Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji. It is in
particular the theory of 'states' (ahwal), conceived by Abu Hashim, which was violently attacked
from the "Bagjdadi" side (especially by Ibn al-Ikshid). It is true that, even among
the "Basrans", this thesis was not unanimously accepted, far from it; some opposed
it with the utmost vigour, including Muhammad b. 'Umar al-‘aymari (d. 315/927)-although it
should be said that al-‘aymari was at least as much "Bagjdadi" as
"Basran"-and in particular, Abu 'l-Husayn al-Basri. As a result, there was
constituted in the very midst of the "Basran" school a sub-group of supporters of
Abu Hashim, known as Bahshamiyya (though comprising almost all of the "jubba'is"
The arrival of the Saljuqids marks, in general, the end of this second period (without there
being any genuine relation of cause to effect), and, consequently, of the 'Golden Age' of
Mu'tazilism. Nevertheless, the latter did not disappear.
On the one hand, Mu'tazilis as such continued to exist for a long time. Even in Bagjdad, the
forced recantation of Ibn 'Aqil [q.v.], under pressure from Hanbali circles, should not be invested
with undue significance. Many Hanafis were Mu'tazilis, and, as is known, the Saljuqid sultans
favoured the Hanafi majhab. Consequently, throughout the last two centuries of the 'Abbasid
caliphate, a fair number of qa·is, in Bagjdad as in Rayy, were avowed Mu'tazilis (cf. W.
Madelung, Religious schools and sects in medieval Islam, London 1985, ii, 135-7). Among these,
mention should be made of Abu Ya'qub Yusuf al-Lamgjani (d. 606/1209), who was one of the
masters of Ibn Abi 'l-Hadid (cf. SjarhNahj al-balagja, ix, 192, ll. 10-11). In Khwarazm, where it was
overtly supported by the local princes, Mu'tazilism continued throughout this period as the
dominant ideology (cf. Madelung, op. cit., 115-16), to such an extent that outside this area
kjwarazmi was understood as a synonym of mu'tazili (cf. Yaqut, Udaba', vi, 155, ll. 7-10). Khwarazm
was the birthplace of Mahmud al-Zamakjshari (d. 538/1144 [q.v.]), author of a famous qur'anic
commentary entitled al-Kashshaf; it was also in Khwarazm that the young Fakjr al-Din al-Razi
[q.v.] had such violent arguments with the local Mu'tazilis that he was forced to leave the
country. It appears that by this time the "Bagjdadi" tendency had ceased to exist;
according to al-Razi (I'tiqadat firaq al-Muslimin, ed. 'A. S. al-Nashshar, Cairo 1938, 45) the only
survivors were the supporters of Abu Hashim and those of Abu 'l-Husayn al-Basri. But it was only
after the Mongol conquest that Mu'tazilism as such finally disappeared altogether.
On the other hand, Mu'tazili theses have not remained the exclusive property of the school
bearingqthis name. Other groups, within Islam and even outside Islam, have adopted and
perpetuated them, to such an extent that they could be said to be still current at the present day.
Within Islam, these are the Sji'is, Zaydis and, later, Imamis. Already implicit, to some extent, in
the teaching of al-qasim b. Ibrahim al-Rassi (d. 246/860), Mu'tazilism was decisively adopted as
much by al-Hasan b. Zayd (d. 270/884 [q.v.]), founder of the Zaydi amirate of Tabaristan (his
bbrother and successor, Muhammad, employed as secretaries Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji and Abu
Muslim al-Isfahani, one of the Mu'tazili commentators of the qur'an), as by Yahya b. al-Husayn
al-Hadi ila 'l-Haqq (d. 298/911 [q.v.]), founder of the Zaydi principality of the Yemen. Among
the Yemenis, it is the "Bagjdadi" tendency which prevailed, while among the
Zaydis of the Caspian region, the jubba'i doctrine was followed. The Imam al-Mu'ayyad bi 'llah
(d. 411/1020 [q.v.]) had been the pupil of Abu 'Abd Allah al-Basri and of the qa·i 'Abd al-jabbar.
One of the claimants to his succession, known by the curious name of Mankdim (or Manakdim)
Sjashdiw (d. 425/1034), is the author of the well-known paraphrase of the Sjarh al-usul al-kjamsa
of 'Abd al-jabbar. (On all of the above, cf. W. Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim und die
Glaubenslehre der Zaiditen, Berlin 1965.) This state of affairs had a particularly fortunate
consequence, the preservation of quantities of Mu'tazili writings; it is principally in the Yemen
(the Zaydi amirate of Persia having disappeared at the beginning of the 6th/12th century) that
there have been recovered, in all or in part, the works of 'Abd al-jabbar, Abu Rashid
al-Nisaburi, Ibn Mattawayh, etc.
On the Imami side, Mu'tazilism first made an impact at the end of the 3rd/9th century, with the
Banu Nawbakjt [q.v.]: Abu Sahl al-Nawbakjti (d. 311/924) and his nephew al-Hasan b. Musa (d.
ca. 310/923), the author of the K. Firaq al-Sji'a. It was initially short-lived; the theology of Ibn
Babawayh (d. 381/991 [q.v.]) affirmed, on the contrary, that God creates the actions of men and
wills everything which comes into being (including evil). But Mu'tazili theses prevailed again,
this time definitively, with the disciple of Ibn Babawayh, al-Sjaykj al-Mufid (d. 413/1022 [q.v.]),
upholding the theses of the "Bagjdadis", as is abundantly illustrated by his Awa'il
al-maqalat (cf. M. J. McDermott, The theology of al-Shaikh al-Mufid, Beirut 1978). Then it was the
turn of al-Sjarif al-Murta·a (d. 436/1045 [q.v.]), a disciple of 'Abd al-jabbar, who, for his part,
successfully championed the theses of the "Basrans". The qur'anic commentaries of
Abu ja'far al-Tusi (d. 459/1067 [q.v.]) and of al-Tabarsi (d. ca. 548/1155 [q.v.]) are overtly
Mu'tazili commentaries, even more so than the Kashshaf of al-Zamakjshari, and not their least
interesting feature is the innumerable references made in them to the (now lost) tafsirs of
al-jubba'i and al-Balkji (the same observation applies, moreover, to the qur'anic commentary
of the Zaydi theologian al-Hakim al-jushami (d. 494/1101 [q.v.]).
Finally, outside Islam, Mu'tazili thought has exerted a decisive influence, as is shown by the
studies of G. Vajda, on the Jewish theologians living in Islamic countries: Rabbanites (like
Sa'adya al-Fayyumi, d. 330/942), and especially Karaites, notably Yusuf al-Basir (first third of the
5th/11th century), whose entire theological corpus is directly modelled on the work of 'Abd
al-jabbar (cf. G. Vajda, Le kalam dans la pensee religieuse juive du Moyen Age, in RHR ). The
adoption of Mu'tazili theses by theqKaraites had, moreover, the same beneficial consequence as
that observed among the Zaydis of the Yemen: the preservation (although in rather less
significant proportions) of a quantity of Mu'tazili literature (often transcribed, in this instance, in
Hebrew characters). It is thus, for example, that the Firkovitch Collection in the Public State
Library of Leningrad contains, among others, numerous fragments-as yet unedited-of the
Mugjni and the Muhit of 'Abd al-jabbar (cf. A. úü. Borisov, Mu'tazilitskiye rukopisi Gosudarstvennoy
Publi´noy Biblioteki v Leningrade, in Bibliografi¹ü Vostoka, 8-9, 1935; cf. also H. Ben-Shammai, A note on
some Karaite copies of Mu'tazilite writings, in BSOAS ).
After centuries of suppression or systematic misrepresentation in Sunni Islam, Mu'tazilism has
been 'rediscovered' at the beginning of the 14th/20th century, and since then a significant
trend towards its rehabilitation has been observed, especially in Egypt. In the first instance,
Ahmad Amin, in his 4uha al-Islam (1936), devoted to it a chapter of some two hundred pages,
where he shows that the Mu'tazilis were before all else men of religion, committed to the defence
of Islam, and concludes with this unequivocal statement: 'In my opinion, the demise of
Mu'tazilism was the greatest misfortune to have afflicted Muslims; they have committed a crime
against themselves'. Then, notably, Zuhdi Hasan jar Allah, whose book al-Mu'tazila (Cairo
1947) is an eloquent plea in favour of the school, the author considering its historical
elimination as a 'victory of obscurantism' and the cause of the decadence of the Arabs (cf. R.
Caspar, Le renouveau du mo'tazilisme, in MIDEO ). Again in the present day, because it
affirms the primacy of reason and of free will, many Muslim thinkers continue to see in
Mu'tazilism (sometimes to an exaggerated extent) a symbol of intellectual liberty and modernity
(cf. inter alios, Ch. Bouamrane, Le probleme de la liberte humaine dans la pensee musulmane, solution
mu'tazilite, Paris 1978; 'Adil al-'Awa, al-Mu'tazila wa 'l-fikr al-hurr, Damascus 1987).
This term will be understood here as applying exclusively to the theses characteristic of the
Mu'tazilis, those by which they are recognised as such, and as a result of which their
opponents-Sunni theologians in particular-combatted them. There will thus be no discussion
here of their cosmology, based (except in the case of al-Nazzam) on the principle of atomism [see
juz'] and the distinction between substance and accident; elaborated, in all probability by Abu
'l-Hujayl, this cosmology was to become, in effect, the common doctrine of all the mutakallimun,
Sunni as well as Mu'tazili. Nor will there be reference to their theses regarding the Imamate,
their views on this subject also being (almost without exception) identical to those of the Sunnis
In his time, Abu 'l-Hujayl had believed it possible to propound the distinctive theses of
Mu'tazilism in the form of 'five principles' (al-usul al-kjamsa), these being (cf. among others
al-Mas'udi, Muruj, ed. Pellat, aa 2254-6): 1. uniqueness of God (al-tawhid); 2. justice of God (al-'adl);
3. 'the promise and the threat' (al-wa'd wa 'l-wa'id), by which, it will be recalled, it is understood
that on account of the 'threat' uttered against him in the qur'an, every Muslim guilty of a
serious offence, who dies without repentance, will suffer for eternity the torments of Hell; 4. the
theory of an 'intermediate state' (al-manzila bayna 'l-manzilatayn) formulated by Wasil b. 'Ata',
according to which the same sinful Muslim cannot here on earth be classed either as
'believing'q(mu'min) or as 'disbelieving' (kafir), but belongs to a separate category, that of the
'malefactor' (fasiq); 5. finally, the obligation laid upon every believer (in accordance with
qur'an, iii, 104 and 110; vii, 157; ix, 71, etc.) to 'command the good and forbid the evil' (al-amr
bi-'l-ma'ruf wa 'l-nahy 'an al-munkar), in other words, to intervene in public affairs to uphold the
Law and oppose impiety.
Two centuries after the death of Abu 'l-Hujayl, this scheme was still considered pertinent, since
it constituted the basis of the best 'manual' of Mu'tazili theology currently known, the
paraphrase by Mankdim Sjashdiw (see above) of the Sjarh al-usul al-kjamsa of the qa·i 'Abd
al-jabbar. It is, however, difficult to be entirely satisfied with it. First, while the first four
principles represent, or cover, the characteristic positions of the school, the same cannot be said
of the fifth, particularly in view of the fact that in the course of their history the Mu'tazilis
showed little inclination to put it into practice (except perhaps at the very beginning); the
politico-religious activism which it implies was to a much greater extent the prerogative of the
Kharijites, later of the Hanbalis. Furthermore, there is an evident disproportion between, on
the one hand, the third and fourth principles, which refer to particular, relatively secondary
points of doctrine (the importance given to the theory of an 'intermediate state' consists only in
the fact that historically it was the first formulation) and, on the other, the first and second
principles, which genuinely represent the two major theses of the Mu'tazilis, as illustrated by the
generic term ahl al-'adl wa 'l-tawhid which they themselves gladly embraced. It could even be
considered that the third principle (the reality of the 'promise' and the 'threat') derives in fact
from the second, the justice of God implying, on the one hand, that He rewards those who obey
Him and punishes those who disobey Him, on the other and in parallel, that He accomplishes
that which He has said He will do, since otherwise He would render Himself guilty of an
untruth, which is an evil act. In the Mugjni, furthermore (according to Mankdim, Sjarh, 122, ll.
14-15), 'Abd al-jabbar considered that the whole dogma depends on these two principles of
tawhid and 'adl; following him, Mankdim claims to show that in fact everything which does not
derive from the one necessarily derives from the other (ibid., 123, ll. 5-14). Finally-as is quite
clear from the foregoing-the very terms tawhid and 'adl are not entirely adequate. Under the
first heading (which may be interpreted as meaning quite simply, initially, the affirmation of the
absolute monotheism of Islam, as opposed to dualist theses or the Christian dogma of the
Trinity) there figure a number of conceptions regarding the nature of God-that He is invisible,
that the anthropomorphic expressions applied to Him by the qur'an are to be taken in a
metaphorical sense, etc.-which, in fact, depend on an affirmation of transcendence rather
than of divine uniqueness. As for 'justice', as will be seen, this is to be understood as meaning
not only that God is not 'unjust' in the narrow sense of the word, but that in all things He
necessarily does that which is (morally) good, and is exempt from any act that is (morally) bad.
For these various reasons, the analysis which follows will be partly arranged according to
headings other than the 'five principles' set out above.
I. The nature of God and the divine attributes.
I. The nature of God and the divine attributes.
1. A primary thesis characteristic in this context is what could be called the negation in God of
'substantive attributes'. Like all theologians, the Mu'tazilaqhabitually describe God by means of His
''attributes', or sifat. By this term, following the example of the grammarians, they refer
exclusively, for their part, to ajectives, such as 'powerful' (qadir), 'knowing' ('alim), 'creating'
(kjaliq), 'nourishing' (raziq), etc., the word sifa here being nothing more than a direct synonym of
wasf, or even of ism. But the question is then posed: by virtue of what does God merit such
qualifying ajectives? In the context of what may conveniently be called 'attributes of the act'
(sifat al-fi'l), i.e. ajectives which He merits on account of such-and-such an act accomplished by
Him, such as kjaliq, raziq, mutjib, muhsin, etc., it will be accepted without difficulty that such
ajectives can be applied to Him on account of something which comes into being, an existent
created by Him. But when approaching the 'attributes of the essence' (sifat al-jat or al-nafs), i.e.
ajectives which are applied to him from all eternity, by the very fact of His nature as God, such
as 'alim, qadir, hayy (since it cannot be conceived that God has ever been not knowing, not
powerful, not living), the question may be asked whether these other ajectives do not
themselves imply, according to the same rule, 'existents' which would be their reason for being,
and which, through the fact that God merits these ajectives eternally, would necessarily be
themselves eternal; in other words, God would be knowing from all eternity on account of the
presence in Him of an eternal knowledge, etc. It is known that the Sunni
theologians-following the example, in particular, of Ibn Kullab [q.v. in Suppl.]-explicitly
accepted this conclusion. The Ash'aris, for their part, affirm the existence in God of seven (or
eight) eternal 'entities' (ma'ani): knowledge, power, life, hearing, sight, will, word (and
occasionally, duration), i.e. 'substantives' by virtue of which God merits for all eternity the
corresponding 'ajectives'. It is true that such a doctrine implies the formal acceptance of a
plurality of eternals, which is apparently contrary to the principle of monotheism, of a God who
is the sole uncreated One; the Sunnis seek to avoid this difficulty by stating, following Ibn Kullab
(although this principle had previously been upheld by the Zaydi theologian Sulayman b. jarir
[q.v.]), that these 'entities' are at the same time neither identical to God nor other than Him,
just as between themselves they are neither identical nor other.
Reasoning in this fashion, it may be noted that the Sunni theologians did nothing other than to
apply without restriction two principles which the Mu'tazila also normally held to be true, and
which they had possibly been the first to formulate: on the one hand, the principle that every
ajective has a cause ('illa), a reason for being (such is the primary sense of the word ma'na) which
is nothing other than, precisely, the corresponding substantive; an object is 'mobile' on account
of the presence in it of an entity of 'movement', 'white' on account of the existence in it of an
entity of 'whiteness', etc.; on the other hand, there is the principle of the necessary 'analogy of
the invisible to the visible' (qiyas al-gja'ib 'ala 'l-shahid), by virtue of which that which is true of the
creature is likewise true of God; it is through analogy with man that we know that God is
powerful, knowing and living. Hence, if Zayd is necessarily knowing an account of a knowledge
(by virtue of the first principle), the same must inevitably apply to God (by virtue of the second
principle). Such is the reasoning explicitly invoked, for example, by al-Baqillani (Tamhid, ed.
McCarthy, Beirut 1957, a 335).
And such indeed was, apparently, the reasoning ofqAbu 'l-Hujayl who, for his part, accepted
the statement that God is 'knowing through a knowledge', 'powerful through a power', etc.
With, however, a significant difference; with the evident object of avoiding the conclusion to
which adherents of this thesis habitually find themselves drawn, i.e. the admission of a plurality
of eternals-in other words as an advocate of the principle of tawhid-he maintained that this
knowledge by virtue of which God is knowing is nothing other than God himself. 'God', he
said, 'is knowing through a knowledge identical to Himself (huwa 'alimun bi-'ilmin huwa huwa),
powerful through a power identical to Himself, living through a life identical to Himself, and
likewise he spoke of His hearing, His sight ... and of all the attributes of His essence' (al-Ash'ari,
Maqalat, 165, ll. 5-7). This is a paradoxical thesis, which has the effect of simultaneously asserting
and refuting the first of the two principles enunciated above, since, while basing each divine
qualificative on the corresponding substantive, it removes all reality from this substantive by
identifying it each time with the divine essence. This is no doubt the reason why this thesis did
not have a following and why, instead of taking this artificial detour by way of entities that do
not exist, the majority of the later Mu'tazila, equally concerned to maintain the principle of
divine uniqueness, preferred to declare directly that God is 'knowing, powerful, living through
Himself (bi-nafsihi), and not through a knowledge, a power and a life' (Maqalat, 164, ll. 13-14; cf.
also al-Sjahrastani, K. al-Milal, ed. Badran, Cairo 1947-55, 62, ll. 2-3). Such would also be the
point of view of al-jubba'i (cf. Sjarh, 182, ll. 13-14; Milal, 122, ll. 3-4).
Between Mu'tazilis and Sunnis, there are not only differing points of view, there is also a
difference in vocabulary. As has been observed, for the Mu'tazila, the word sifat, used in reference
to God, could denote nothing other than the ajectives ('powerful', 'knowing', etc.) which are
applied to Him. The Sunnis, curiously (although the Imami theologian Hisham b. al-Hakam
[q.v.] had previously used the term in this sense, cf. Maqalat, 222, ll. 1-5 and 369, ll. 1-3),
normally understand by sifat not the ajectives (for which they tend to reserve the term awsaf) but
the corresponding substantives, in other words, those eternal 'entities' from which God derives
the said ajectives. Whence, on the part of the Sunnis, the assertion, astonishing at first sight,
according to which the Mu'tazila, since they deny the existence in God of such entities, 'deny
the sifat (op. cit., 483, ll. 2-7), whereas the Sunnis, for their part 'affirm the sifat' (ibid., 170, l. 12)
and call themselves ashab al-sifat (ibid., 171, ll. 12 and 16) or sifatiyya) (cf. Milal, 145, ll. 4-12).
The truth is that the simple solution proposed, among others, by al-jubba'i did not eliminate
all the problems. If the reason that God is, for all eternity, powerful, knowing, living, is nothing
other than His very essence, then how is it to be explained that a unique, undifferentiated
essence can give rise to distinct qualificatives? It is for this reason that Abu Hashim, son of
al-jubba'i, was to propose a solution of compromise between pure and simple negation of the
substantive attributes and their affirmation: the ajectives applied to God are not simple words
applied directly to a pure and plain essence, they are each the expression of something other
than the essence itself, which is a 'state' (hal) of this essence; there is in God, for all eternity, a
'fact-of-being-powerful' (kawnuhu qadiran), a 'fact-of-being-knowing', etc., which legitimise the
corresponding ajectives. With-qout being veritable 'existents' (this with the object of
preserving the principle of divine uniqueness), these 'states' are nevertheless ontologically 'real'
(tjabita), and are thus capable of founding objectively, and independently of one another, the
ajectives which express them [see hal in Suppl.]. But this thesis, as has been observed, was far
from being a factor of unanimity among the Mu'tazila, even among those of the
"jubba'i" line; while 'Abd al-jabbar accepted it, Abu 'l-Husayn al-Basri, on the
other hand, vigorously opposed it.
Among these eternal essences, linked to the divine essence, the existence of which is affirmed by
the Sunni theologians, there are also the word of God and His will. Regarding the word, the
Mu'tazila do indeed uphold the doctrine of the created qur'an [see kalam and qur'an]. For the
majority of them, the qur'an is, in the technical sense of the term, an accident ('ara·); like every
word, it is made up of 'letters serially arranged and sounds separately articulated' (huruf manzuma
wa-aswat muqatta'a), which God creates in one or other corporeal framework (mahall). Regarding
the will, the jubba'is propound a singular thesis; according to them, God wishes through wills
that He creates and which are, again, in the nature of accidents, but which He could not
create, they say, either in Himself (since God cannot be 'a receptacle of casuals') nor in any
body (since, henceforward, it is the body that would be wishing on account of these wills), and
which therefore exist-in a manner contrary to the normal rule, concerning accidents-la fi
mahall (cf. Gimaret-Monnot, 265, n. 3). It might be thought that the same conclusion would
apply to the word: once God has created a word in a certain body, it is this body that would be
speaking as a result; but the jubba'is reply to this that a 'speaker' is not 'he in whom the word
resides' (man qama bihi 'l-kalam) but 'he who produces the word' (man fa'ala 'l-kalam) (cf. ibid., 267,
and no. 13-14). As for Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji, following al-Nazzam, he unequivocally denied the
existence of a divine will in the sense of a specific entity; when we say that God 'wills' His own
acts, this simply means that He creates them; when we say that He 'wills' the acts of men, this
means that He commands them (ibid., 262-3).
3. As much as the absolute uniqueness of God, the Mu'tazila stress His absolute transcendence.
By this it is to be understood fundamentally that, for them, God is not a body, and therefore is
not to be attributed with any of the properties of a body, such as being localised, moving about,
having a form, etc. Two principal consequences are entailed. The first is that all
anthropomorphic representations of God are to be rejected; furthermore, any qur'anic
expression of this kind-the 'hands' of God, His 'eyes', His 'face', His 'side'-is to be
understood only in a figurative sense: by the 'hand' of God, His blessing (ni'ma) is meant, by His
'eye', His knowledge (cf. Maqalat, 165, ll. 12-13; 195, ll. 13-15), by His 'side', His command
(amr) (ibid., 218, ll. 46), by His 'face', His very essence (ibid., 521, l. 16). The second consequence
is that God cannot be seen, in the literal sense of the term, either in this world or in the other,
since only a body can be seen, all vision operating through contact between a ray (shu'a') emitted
by the eye and the object that is seen (cf. 'Abd al-jabbar, al-Mugjni, iv, 57, ll. 10-11; al-juwayni,
al-Irshad, ed. Luciani, Paris 1938, 96, ll. 2-13). The qur'an, moreover, states explicitly of God that
'vision does not comprehend Him' (la tudrikuhu 'l-absaru, vi, 103). It is true that it says elsewhere,
regarding the elect on the Day of Resurrection: 'faces, that day, will be resplen-qdent, looking
at their Lord (ila rabbiha naziratun)', LXXV, 22-3); but for the Mu'tazila this second formula is to
be interpreted as previously proposed by Mujahid (cf. the commentary of al-Tabari): on the one
hand, nazara here signifies not 'to look at' but 'to wait'; on the other, the proper complement of
naziratun is not rabbiha, but a word implied, this being tjawabi, so that the true meaning of the
formula is: 'waiting for the reward of their Lord' (cf. Sjarh, 245, ll. 4-5; al-Ash'ari, Luma', a 78). As
for the haditj according to which the Prophet said to his Companions: 'On the day of
resurrection, you will see (sa-tarawna) your Lord as you see the moon, on a night of full moon', if
the haditj is authentic, which is doubtful (cf. Gimaret-Monnot, 418, n. 40) the verb 'to see' (ra'a)
is to be understood here in a figurative sense (a type of which the qur'an provides many
examples), that is, as a synonym of 'to be acquainted with' ('alima) (cf. Mugjni, iv, 231, ll. 4-17;
Sjarh 270, ll. 10-17).
It is necessary, however, to observe closely in what sense the Mu'tazila understand this divine
transcendence. Certainly, they adhere as firmly as members of any other school to the letter of
the qur'anic formula stating that 'nothing is of His likeness' (XLII, 11). But what they basically
understand by this, once more, is that God can have none of the characteristics of a body as
such; that He has neither form, nor colour, nor length, nor breadth, nor height, that He
cannot be said to be either mobile or immobile, that He has neither parts, nor members, etc. (cf.
Maqalat, 155-6). This does not mean that there is no resemblance, in any respect, between Him
and His creatures. If such were the case, we would be unable to say anything of Him and we
could only describe Him negatively. Now God, because He is just (cf. below), has made it
possible for us to know Him, with a positive knowledge which, here below, is accessible to us
only through reasoning. Consequently, it is on account of our experience of creatures, and on
account of a necessary 'analogy of the invisible to the visible' (haml al-gja'ib 'ala 'l-shahid) that we
can know, first, that God exists (because we know that here below everything which comes into
being implies that someone makes it come into being), subsequently that He merits certain
ajectives: 'powerful', because every agent (and God is known to us first as such, as creator) is
necessarily powerful; 'knowing', because He performs acts 'skilfully executed' (af'al muhkama), or
whoever is capable of producing such acts is necessarily knowing; and so forth. All the ajectives
which we apply to God, we first become aware of them in this visible world (fÌ 'l-shahid), and it is
in the same sense that we apply them to God as to man; just as what is proof for us is likewise
proof for Him (cf. Gimaret, Theories de l'acte humain en theologie musulmane, Paris 1980, 281-2).
II. Concerning the justice of God, and the doctrine that He wills and does only
that which is good.
The principle of the necessary justice of God is not only one of the characteristic dogmas of
Mu'tazila, it may be said without exaggeration to be their fundamental dogma. Even more than
ahl al-'adl wa 'l-tawhid, they are and they call themselves, in brief, ahl al-'adl (cf. Mugjni, iv, 139, l. 4;
vii, 3, l. 15; viii, 3, l. 4; xiii, 4. l. 17: Milal, 57, l. 7).
While no Muslim theologian, of whatever persuasion, has ever asserted the contrary and
described God as 'unjust', it is the manner in which the Mu'tazila conceive this necessary justice
of God that characterises them. For one such as al-Ash'ari, God is necessarily just whatever He
does; He would be soqeven if He acted in a contrary fashion. God, according to al-Ash'ari, is not
subject to any rule; rules are applied only to us, on account of the Law which God has imposed
upon us. For the Mu'tazila, on the other hand (and here again there is a form of 'analogy of the
invisible to the visible'), God is subject, in this respect, to the same laws which apply to man;
that which is just or unjust for us-i.e., that which our reason, for its part, tells us to be so-is the
same for God. This is why, from the Mu'tazili point of view, the necessary justice of God is not
only fact, it is for Him a permanent obligation; in the name of His justice, God is required to act
in such-and-such a fashion, since otherwise He would be unjust. Whence arises the question
which the Mu'tazila were constantly debating (a question which, for al-Ash'ari, would be quite
meaningless), which is whether God has the power to be unjust, or, in a broader sense, to act
badly; this is a question with no satisfactory answer, since, whether the answer be affirmative or
negative, either the justice of God, or his omnipotence, will be compromised.
The necessary justice of God first of all excludes any notion of predestination; it would be unjust
on the part of God, say the Mu'tazila, to decide in advance the fate of every man in the
Hereafter and to ordain that one will be saved and another damned, without either having
merited this by his actions. It is for humans to decide their future lot, according to whether they
choose to believe or not to believe, to obey or to disobey the Law. God would be unjust if He
Himself were to determine faith or disbelief, the fact that some are 'well guided' and others
'astray'. It is true that the qur'an states that God 'leads astray (yu·illu) whom He wills and
guides (yahdi) whom He wills' (XIV, 4; XVI, 93, etc.). But these terms can be interpreted
otherwise than envisaged by the proponents of predestination. Either, by 'to guide' it is to be
understood that God 'shows and makes clearly seen' where the truth is, in which case it will be
said that He 'guides' all men equally (otherwise He would be unjust). Or, if His 'guidance'
applies only to the believers, given that it can only intervene following the free choice which the
latter have taken to believe, this could signify either that God 'says and judges' that they are
'well guided', or indeed (the interpretation preferred by al-jubba'i) that in the other world,
God will 'guide' them on the road to Paradise, hada having, in this context, the sense of 'to
reward' (cf. Maqalat, 260 ll. 9-10). Conversely, when the qur'an says that God 'leads astray', this
can only concern those who, of their own accord, have chosen 'to go astray', and this means
either that God 'says and judges' that they are 'astray' (op. cit., 261, ll. 10-11) or (again the
preference of al-jubba'i) that in the Hereafter, he will 'lead them astray' far from the road to
Paradise in order to lead them to Hell, a·alla consequently having the sense of 'to punish' (ibid.,
262, ll. 1-4). As for those other qur'anic formulae where it is said that God has 'set a seal'
(kjatama, taba'a) on the hearts of the unbelievers, al-jubba'i, for his part, took this quite literally,
in the sense of a 'mark' (sima, 'alama) made by God on the hearts in question, so that on the Last
Day the angels will be capable of distinguishing unbelievers from believers.
Not only must God leave to men the freedom of choosing between belief and disbelief, and thus
deciding their future lot, but it is further necessary that He gives to all the same means of
believing, that He offers them all the same 'aid'. Curiously, it was a Mu'tazili, Bishr b.
al-Mu'tamir, who expressed theqcontrary notion that God, if He wished, could make all men
believe (but He does not do so); that 'He has available to Him a grace (lutf) such that, if He
produced it in one whom He knows ought not to believe, the latter would believe' (Maqalat, 246,
ll. 3-4 and 573, ll. 9-11). This thesis, which only ja'far b. Harb subsequently took seriously, was
rejected-quite logically-by all the rest of the school (ibid., 247, ll. 3-14 and 574, ll. 4-7). The
jubba'is did, indeed, retain the term, but distorted the sense. There does exist, according to
them, a divine 'grace', or rather 'graces' of all kinds, such that, through them, men are led, or
helped, to believe (thus the intelligence that God gives them, the 'clear proofs' by which He
makes Himself known to them, the prophets whom He sends to them, etc.); but there can be no
question, as implied by the thesis of Bishr, of seeing here a pure favour which God, arbitrarily,
would grant to some and withhold from others; God, in the name of His justice, is bound to
grant these 'graces' to all equally, since otherwise it would have to be admitted that He
deliberately wills the perdition (fasad) of those to whom He denies them, a notion that cannot be
conceived (cf. Mugjni, xiii, 116 ff.).
This same justice of God likewise implies that men have control over their voluntary acts, in
other words, they are themselves the producers of them; this principle contradicts the thesis of
the 'coercionists' (al-mujbira), according to which these acts are created in them by God. Only
such an autonomy of the human agent can justify the fact that in this world God imposes a law
upon him, and that in the next he will be rewarded or punished according to whether he has
observed it or not. Obligation and sanction can only be understood in reference to a responsible
being; now, according to Mu'tazili thinking, the only one authentically responsible for an act is
the one who is the author of it in the full sense of the term, who, therefore, 'makes it to be'
(yuhditjuhu, yujiduhu). To claim-as do the adherents of the theory of kasb [q.v.]-that man can be
in some way the agent, or the one responsible for an act, without causing it to be, is
While God does not create the voluntary human act, He does at least create in the man the
power (qudra, istita'a) corresponding to this act. But it could not be the case, as thought by these
same adherents of kasb, of a power which only comes into being when the act is put into effect,
which God would create simultaneously with this act. For the Mu'tazila, the notion of power is
linked to that of free choice (ikjtiyar), itself implied, once again, by the principle of divine justice.
One who has power is recognised by the faculty which he has of 'not choosing that for which
he has power' (Mugjni, viii, 188, l. 10). A typical formula of al-jubba'i, as of his son Abu Hashim,
was that 'whoever has the power of a thing can equally well do it or not do it' (min haqqi 'l-qadir
'ala 'l-shay' an yasihha an yaf'alahu wa-an la yaf'alahu, ibid., ix, 73, ll. 8-10). In other words, every power
is equally the power of an act and of its opposite (qudratun 'alayh wa-'ala ·iddih, Maqalat, 230, ll.
12-13). Hence, the power cannot be other than prior to the act; if it were concomitant with it,
owing to the fact that it is at the same time the power of an act and of its opposite, its coming
into being would entail the simultaneous realisation of opposites, which cannot be. On this
question of the priority (or non-priority) of the power in relation to the act, Mu'tazila and Sunnis
are opposed, the qur'an itself being invoked in support of both arguments (cf., for example,
Luma', ch. vi).
Naturally, it is the duty of God to create in us the powers necessary for the fulfilment of acts
which Hisqlaw imposes upon us. Any form of obligation to the impossible (taklif ma la yutaq) would
be contrary to His justice. The powers in question are specifically among those 'graces' which
He is required to grant to all those subject to the Law.
Finally, in the next world, God must of necessity reward those who have merited His reward,
and punish those who have merited His punishment. There is no doubt that He has the ability
to pardon; the qur'an states that He 'pardons whom He wills and punishes whom He wills (II,
284; III, 129, etc.). In fact, there is no possibility that He will pardon anyone who has not
merited His pardon; pardon is only conceivable where there has previously been repentance on
the part of the unbeliever or the sinner (inna 'l-magjfira bi-sharti 'l-tawba, says 'Abd al-jabbar,
Mutashabih al-qur'an, ed. 'A. Zarzur, Cairo 1969, 596, l. 13). Similarly, only sinners who have
already repented will be able, on the Day of Judgment, to benefit from the intercession of the
Prophet (Sjarh, 688, l. 3). Conversely, God is required to pardon the man who repents;
'accepting repentance', so long as it is sincere, is for Him an obligation (qabul al-tawba wajib; cf.
Mugjni, xiv, 377, ll. 6 ff.). It is likewise out of the question that God will punish those who have
not merited it, since 'to punish someone when there has not been an offence (on his part) is
injustice' (Sjarh, 477, ll. 15-16). This applies in particular to young children (atfal), irresponsible
beings; it is inconceivable that God would punish the children of idolaters (atfal al-mushrikin) for
the sins of their fathers (ibid., 477, l. 8). All suffering inflicted by God, in this world or in the next,
must be merited; if such is not the case (thus in particular the sufferings experienced in this
world by children and animals) God will be obliged to grant, either here below, or in the next
world, a compensation ('iwa·) commensurate with the suffering experienced (cf.
Such are the manifold implications of the Mu'tazili principle of divine 'justice', interpreted stricto
sensu. But the Mu'tazila, as already indicated, also understand this term in a much wider sense, as
meaning that God only wills or does that which is (morally) good (hasan), and He is necessarily
exempt from any act which is (morally) bad (munazzah 'an kull qabih). These notions of good and
bad are interpreted in the same way as the notion of 'justice' in the narrow sense; it is always a
question, for the Mu'tazila, of that which we ourselves judge to be so, God, here too, being
subject to the same rules which apply to us. There exists objective good and bad, acknowledged
as such by every being endowed with reason. Thus, our reason makes us spontaneously
recognise as acts bad in themselves injustice, deceit, ingratitude; all the more so is God aware of
evil, since, by nature, He is omniscient. Moreover it cannot be imagined that He has the need
to commit such acts, since, also by nature, He is devoid of need (gjani). We are thus assured,
according to al-jubba'i, that God is incapable of doing evil, by virtue of the principle that
anyone who recognises an act as bad, and does not need to commit it (and knows that he does
not need, which is also the case), necessarily does not commit it (cf. Mugjni, vi/a, 207. ll. 1-7). It
is true that according to the same principle, it could be supposed that God does not do good
either, since He does not need to do it! Against such an objection, al-jubba'i and his successors
set out to show that a good act, even on the part of man, can be performed for the sake of its
own goodness (li-husnih faqat), without need on the part of its agent (op. cit., 223, ll. 17 ff.).
The fact that God is exempt from any evil act im-qplies in particular that He is 'wise' (hakim)
and not 'foolish' (safih). This means essentially that, of necessity, He acts for a certain motive,
towards a certain end, since otherwise His action would be a 'vain act' ('abatj); now the vain act
is, in itself, among the morally evil acts spontaneously acknowledged as such (op. cit., 61, 9).
Consequently, if God has created men and imposed a Law upon them, it is because He had a
reason to do so, and the next task is to show, as is done by, among others, 'Abd al-jabbar, how
God has been 'wise' in creating His creatures (wajh al-hikma fi 'btida'ihi 'l-kjalq), then in imposing
obligation upon them (wajh al-hikma fi 'l-taklif) (Mugjni, xi, 58, l. 16 and 134, l. 1). What then is
this end? It cannot be self-interest, since in this case too God is devoid of need. Nor could it be
conceived that God has created men and imposed a Law upon them with the sole object of
tormenting them, which would be pure injustice. Consequently, the only motive which could, in
this respect, determine divine action is the benefit, the good (salah) of creatures. 'All the
Mu'tazila", according to al-Ash'ari, 'agree in saying that God has created men for their
advantage (li-yanfa'ahum)' (Maqalat, 251, l. 4). Similarly, it is for their good that He has imposed a
Law upon them, with the object of enabling them thereby to accede to the sublime form of
happiness, which is the reward consecutive upon a pain endured (cf. Mugjni, xi, 387, l. 10 and
393, l. 2). Some Mu'tazilis even considered that, from all points of view and in all circumstances,
God does for men what is to their greatest advantage (al-aslah lahum) (otherwise, if He were to
deny them any advantage, this would imply that He is 'avaricious', and avarice is a sin); thus
Abu 'l-Hujayl, al-Nazzam, and subsequently and in particular Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji and the
"Bagjdadis", for whom God is obliged to do for men that which is to their greatest
advantage both 'in their future life and their terrestrial life' (fi dinihim wa-dunyahum), a principle
applying to the poor as to the rich, to the sick as to the healthy (cf. al-Mufid, Awa'il al-maqalat,
Najaf 1393/1973, 64, ll. 4-5; al-juwayni, Irshad, 165, 1, ll. 12-14). The jubba'is do not go so
far, and oppose on this point the theses of the ashabal-aslah (cf. Mugjni, xiv, 56 ff.). But they agree
with them as regards life in the Hereafter: for all Mu'tazilis-with the minor exception of Bishr
b. al-Mu'tamir and his few supporters-God necessarily does (i.e. has an obligation to do) for
men al-aslah lahum fi dinihim; it cannot be conceived that He does not grant to them all that they
need in order to fulfil the obligations which He imposes on them, in other words, all the
'graces' (altaf) which He can bestow on them (cf. Maqalat, 247, ll. 5-8 and 248, ll. 1-3). God, in
any event, could not will their 'perdition'. For this same reason, al-jubba'i went so far as to
say that God is obliged to keep an unbeliever alive, if He knows that, in this case, the latter will
become a believer (cf. especially the commentary of Abu ja'far al-Tusi on qur'an, VI, 27; it was
on this last point, with regard to the notorious problem of the 'three brothers', that al-Ash'ari,
originally a disciple of al-jubba'i, broke with him; cf. Gimaret-Monnot, 313).
Finally, because He cannot will the perdition of men, it is not possible that God should will of
them that which leads them thither, i.e. their disbelief and their sins. God wills of men only
their good acts. (On the debate between Mu'tazilis and Sunnis on this issue, cf. Gimaret, in SI, xl
III. The definition of faith and the lot of the sinful Muslim.
The point hardly needs stressing, since the Mu'tazila are clearly distinguished from the
otherqschools only by the definition which, following Wasil b. 'Ata', they apply to the sinful
Muslim (i.e. guilty of a serious offence, sahib al-kabira). For them, as for the Hanbalis and other
ashab al-haditj, faith is not only adherence to the dogma of Islam but includes 'works'; they most
often define it as 'the totality of acts of obedience (to God)' (jami' al-ta'at), the only point of
disagreement between them being as to whether acts which are simply recommended (nawafil)
constitute a part of this or not (cf. Maqalat, 266-9). This is why, according to them, if it is
inappropriate to describe the sinful Muslim as kafir (since this can only be said of one whose
beliefs contradict the dogma of Islam, one, for example, who maintains that God is 'the third of
three'), it is likewise inappropriate to describe him as mu'min, all the more so, according to
al-jubba'i, since on account of the Revelation, mu'min has become a laudatory term (ism
al-madh), whereas the sinner, on account of his sin, deserves only censure (cf. Sjarh, 701, ll. 17ff.).
This does not mean that, in the Hereafter, the sinful Muslim will not deserve just as much as the
unbeliever to dwell for eternity in Hell (except that his punishment there will be less severe). As a
result of this, it is said, al-Ash'ari regarded the Mu'tazila as 'effeminate Kharijites"
(makjanitj al-kjawarij), because, like the Kharijites, they consign the sinful Muslim to eternal
Hell, without daring however, like them, to describe him explicitly as 'unbelieving'. (In fact, as
has been observed, not all were of this opinion; there were also, even during the 'second
period', Murji'a Mu'tazila for whom the possibility existed that the punishment of sinners might
not be permanent.)
IV. Mu'tazili rationalism.
It is quite legitimate to consider the Mu'tazila as 'rationalists'. It is, however, necessary to show
precisely what is to be understood by this term, and in what respect their rationalism is specific.
They are clearly not rationalists in the sense of those who claim to formulate a system solely by
the exercise of reason, independent of all revelation. As has been well underlined by A. Amin,
the Mu'tazila are not philosophers (even though, in many regards, their speculations touch on
philosophy), but theologians. Intimately involved in the internal debates of Islam, they reckon
(just as their adversaries do!) to represent the true orthodoxy, in other words, what they
consider, as Muslims, to be the correct interpretation of the qur'anic revelation.
But the Mu'tazila are incontestably rationalists, in the true sense of the term, in that they
consider that certain awarenesses are accessible to man by means of his intelligence alone, in
the absence of, or prior to, any revelation. First, in the strictly theological domain, they say that
God can be known to us through reasoning; it is, furthermore, only in this fashion that here
below we can know Him (and this is why, according to them, the first of the obligations laid
upon man is specifically reasoning to know God). Not only does reason enable us to establish
that God exists, in the capacity of a creator (since this world has begun to exist, and everything
which begins to exist implies that someone has brought it into being), it also informs us
concerning His nature: that He is powerful (because every agent is necessarily powerful), wise (in
that He is the author of acts 'skilfully executed'), living (because one who is powerful and wise is
necessarily so), endowed with hearing and sight (because every living being free of disabilities is
capable of perceiving); that He is not a body; that He is self-sufficient (gjani); that He is just and
cannot do or will anything other than what is good; etc. It is onlyqonce it has been shown-by
reasoning, again-that Muhammad is authentically the Messenger of God (in that his
credentials are proved by miracles), that the qur'anic revelation can be taken into account. This
revelation can, in fact, only confirm that which reason has established; there can be no
contradictions between one and the other. Such contradictions as there are are only apparent,
and can be resolved by an appropriate interpretation (ta'wil) of the revealed text: this applies, as
has been observed, to all the qur'anic formulae which could give the impression that God has a
body similar to ours, that He is situated in a certain direction, that He can move from place to
place, or that He can be seen, and to anything which apparently challenges the principle of
divine justice. It is not, of course, the case that the revelation teaches us nothing that our reason
has not already discovered: it is through the revelation that we know that God has imposed a
Law upon men, that He will resurrect them, that He will reward and punish others. It remains
true that all these facts, not demonstrable initially, must themselves correspond, according to
their modalities, to the exigencies of reason, especially where the principle of 'adl is involved.
But the truth is that, on this point, the Mu'tazila do not differ fundamentally from the rival
theological schools. All, essentially, proceed in the same fashion, and it is in fact the entirety of
kalam (i.e. the theology of the mutakallimun) which should, by this reckoning, be termed
'rationalist'. The Mu'tazila simply gave the example, opened the way (whether theology as a
science was really born with them, as they claim, is a point which remains open to discussion).
The Sunni theologians also considered that the existence of God is known to us through
reasoning, and by no other means. Thus the well-known argument first devised, it is said, by
Abu 'l-Hujayl (according to Sjarh, 95, ll. 9-12), demonstrating the existence of God by means of
the principle of the 'adventitiousness' of substances (hudutj al-jawahir), itself demonstrated by the
adventitiousness of accidents, was adopted with alacrity by all Ash'ari and Maturidi theologians.
Just like the Mu'tazila, the Sunni theologians are at pains to interpret the qur'an in their own
fashion, such that it accords with their doctrinal positions. It may certainly be reckoned that in
a number of cases the Mu'tazila do greater violence to the letter of the qur'anic text (for example
in the interpretation of huda and i·lal), but this is simply because the qur'an, in its literality, is in
general supportive of Sunni theses.
Something else which may legitimately be seen as an element of 'rationalism' is the
formulation by the Mu'tazila of a substantial system for explaining the world and mankind
which, essentially, owes nothing to the qur'an, but much-initially-to fragments of Greek
philosophy, and later, and more significantly, to their own speculations: the conception of
bodies as agglomerates of atoms, the distinction between substance and accident, the
explanation of all phenomena belonging to the physical world through the inherence of
accidents in the atoms of which bodies are constituted; then, in this context, the genuinely
'philosophical' project seeking to define, for example, location and movement; to establish the
cause of the immobility of the earth, the nature of fire, or whether such a thing as a void exists
in the universe; to understand the modalities of perception through the eye and through the
ear; to consider how to define man (insan); what is to be understood by ruh and nafs; what are the
different forms of will, and whether desire and hope should be included amongqthem; etc. For
modern tastes, it is here, without doubt, that Mu'tazili literature appears at its most interesting
and most original. But in this case also, such considerations have not remained exclusively
characteristic of this school; the Sunni theologians, as already mentioned, adopted them as a
wwhole for their own purposes, and this may furthermore be seen as a characteristic of kalam in
general. Possibly such matters simply hold, for the Mu'tazila, a more important status; there
seems little likelihood in finding, in all Sunni theological literature, a work exclusively devoted to
the 'rules of substances and accidents', as is the case with the Tajkira fi ahkam al-jawahir wa
'l-a'ra· of Ibn Mattawayh (partial, and seriously flawed edition by S. N. Lutf and F. B. 'Awn,
Cairo 1975). But it is sufficient to glance, for example, at what remains of the Sjamil of
al-juwayni to gain an impression of the interest taken by the latter in these issues.
On this point, as on the preceding, the rift is not between Mu'tazila and Sunnis taken as
homogeneous wholes, but between those who accept the methods, problems and vocabulary of
the 'ilm al-kalam and those who reject them, such as the Hanbalis in the first instance (which is
not however true for the qa·i Abu Ya'la' Ibn al-Farra' [q.v.], as consummate a mutakallim as
al-juwayni) or those who, in the very midst of the Ash'ari school (including for example Abu
Bakr al-Bayhaqi [q.v.]), maintain loyalty to the inspiration of the ashab al-haditj.
Where there is a rationalism exclusive to the Mu'tazila, it is in the sphere of ethics. For them, as
has been observed, man is also capable of knowing by his reason alone that which is morally
good or evil. Spontaneously, they say, he recognises as evil acts injustice, deceit, ingratitude; and
recognises as obligatory the deed of repaying a debt, keeping himself clear of harm (daf' al-·arar
'an nafsihi), or showing thankfulness towards a benefactor (whereby all are obliged to adore God,
the supreme Benefactor, adoration representing the highest form of thankfulness). In this
context also, the revelation can only confirm that which our reason tells us. Of course, the latter
is not sufficient to make us aware of everything that is evil (i.e. forbidden), nor everything that is
obligatory; only the revealed Law can inform us that it is obligatory, for example, to perform a
prayer to God, according to a certain ritual, five times a day, or that it is forbidden to eat and
drink during the days of Rama·an. It could even be supposed that there is a contradiction here
between revelation and reason, bearing in mind that, spontaneously, reason makes us recognise
as evil (because arduous, therefore harmful) the exercise of the rituals of prayer, and conversely
obligatory (because it removes harm) the act of eating and drinking when one is hungry or
thirsty. But, in fact, reason understands without difficulty the necessity to undergo a minor
harm, as a means of avoiding the major harm which is the punishment promised by God to
those who disobey Him. In this manner, even the prescriptions of the Law have a rational basis;
if our reason were capable of knowing by itself that the fulfilment or non-fulfilment of a certain
act would earn the torments of Hell for all eternity, it would necessarily know, by itself, that the
act in question is either evil or obligatory (cf. Gimaret-Monnot, 270-1).
On this last point, the Mu'tazila are, for once, very clearly in disagreement with the Ash'ari
theologians. For al-Ash'ari, the sole foundation of good and evil, in all respects, is the revealed
Law; that which God commands is obligatory, that which He permits good, that which He
forbids evil. If deceit is morally evil, itqis because God has declared it so; if He had declared it
good, it would be good (cf. Luma', a 171). However, not all Sunnis shared this opinion; in this
respect, al-Maturidi and a large number of his supporters maintained a position comparable to
that of the Mu'tazila (see al-Maturidi, K. al-Tawhid, ed. F. Kholeif, Beirut 1970, 178, l. 16;
al-Pazdawi, K. Usul al-din, ed. H. Linss, Cairo 1383/1963, 207, ll. 9-13).
Over the past thirty years, with a quantity of new sources becoming available, studies relating
to Mu'tazilism have progressed considerably, and given rise to a large number of publications,
which cannot possibly be listed here in an exhaustive manner. A number of important
references have already been indicated in the course of the article.
There does not yet exist a comprehensive study, taking account of recent gains in knowledge,
of the history and doctrines of Mu'tazilism, with the exception of the substantial article by J.
van Ess in The Encyclopedia of Religion, New York 1987, x, 220-9. The works of Z. jar Allah
(al-Mu'tazila, Cairo 1947) and A.N. Nader (Le systeme philosophique des mu'tazila, Beirut 1956) are
out of date. The books by J. van Ess, Une lecture a rebours de l'histoire du mu'tazilisme, Paris 1984,
and Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra, Berlin-New York 1991, relate
only to the 'first period' (as far as Ibn al-Rawandi), and is in the form of a simple outline of
what the author expects to develop, and eventually correct, in his Geschichte der frühen
The most important sources concerning the history of Mu'tazilism are the works of
tabaqat' devoted to this school. The Tabaqat al-Mu'tazila' drawn from the K. al-Munya wa 'l-amal
of the Zaydi Imam Ahmad b. Yahya b. al-Murta·a (d. 840/1437) and published by S.
Diwald-Wilzer (Beirut-Wiesbaden 1961) are a recasting (sometimes flawed) of those which
figure in the K. Sjarh al-'uyun of al-Hakim al-jushami, themselves derived from a work of
'Abd al-jabbar entitled Fa·l al-i'tizal wa-tabaqat al-mu'tazila. F. Sayyid published
(posthumously) in Tunis in 1393/1974, under the same title, a volume comprising: 1. the
chapter of the Maqalat al-Islamiyyin of Abu 'l-qasim al-Balkji which concerns the Mu'tazila
2. the entire text of the book of 'Abd al-jabbar (or the first ten tabaqat)
and 3. the section of the Sjarh al-'uyun of al-jushami dealing with the later period (or tabaqat
11 and 12).
The very valuable chapter of the Fihrist of Ibn al-Nadim on the Mu'tazila is almost entirely
missing in the Flügel edition
it is to be found in the more recent edition of R. Tajaddud, Tehran 1971.
Regarding the study of doctrines, a fundamental source (for the 'first period') remains the
Maqalat al-Islamiyyin of al-Ash'ari (2nd ed. Ritter, Wiesbaden 1963). The chapter of the
Maqalat of al-Balkji, mentioned above, is remarkably succinct in this respect. The information
given in the K. al-Milal wa 'l-nihal of al-Sjahrastani is the object of substantial critical
annotation in D. Gimaret and G. Monnot, Shahrastani, Livre des religions et des sectes, i,
Louvain-Paris 1986 (see especially pp. 177-289).
On jubba'i's theses, the most accessible source is the compendium already mentioned (and to
which the present article refers under the abbreviation Sjarh) by the Zaydi Imam Mankdim
Sjashdiw, which is a collection of lecture notes (ta'liq) on the Sjarh al-usul al-kjamsa of the qa·i
this work, published under the same title of Sjarh al-qusul al-kjamsa by 'A. K. 'Utjman, Cairo
1965, was erroneously attributed by the latter to 'Abd al-jabbar himself (on this faulty
attribution, see Gimaret, in Annales Islamologiques, xv ). Of the enormous theological
corpus of 'Abd al-jabbar, al-Mughni fi abwab al-tawhid wa 'l-'adl, not all has been preserved
of the twenty volumes which it comprised, only fourteen figure in the Cairo edition (1960-5).
For the missing sections, a substitute may be found in al-Majmu' fË 'l-Muhit bi 'l-taklif by Ibn
Mattawayh, a paraphrase of the Muhit of 'Abd al-jabbar (two volumes published, Beirut
1965 and 1981).
Among the works concerning 'Abd al-jabbar or the jubba'i school in general, three
deserve particular attention: G.F. Hourani, Islamic rationalism, the ethics of 'Abd al-Jabbar, Oxford
J.R.T.M. Peters, God's created speech, a study in the speculative theology of the Mu'tazili Qa·i l-Qu·at
Abu l-Hasan 'Abd al-Jabbar bn Ahmad al-Hamadani, Leiden 1976
R.M. Frank, Beings and their attributes, the teaching of the Basrian school of the Mu'tazila in the classical
period, Albany 1978.
It may be noted in conclusion that, as a result of the progress of studies since the inception of
the new Encyclopaedia of Islam, some of the articles published in the earliest instalments are no
longer up to date, and therefore it is recommended that, for the authors concerned, the more
recent Encyclopedia Iranica (London 1985-) should also be consulted. This applies in particular
to 'Abd al-jabbar and Abu 'l-Kasim al-Balkji.
al-MANZILA BAYN al-MANZILATAYN, a theological term used by Wasil b. 'Ata' [q.v.]
and the later Mu'tazila [q.v.] for designating the salvational status of the mortal sinner (fasiq
[q.v.]). The word manzila alone is attested, in the technical sense of 'salvational status', in Haditj
(cf. Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-'ummal, i, 28, no. 519) and, later than Wasil, in the K. al-'Alim wa
'l-muta'allim which was probably composed by Abu Hanifa's pupil Abu Muqatil Hafs b. Salm
al-Samarqandi in the second half of the 2nd century (cf. ed. Hyderabad 1349, 20, 11. 4 ff. and
Schacht, in Oriens, xvii , 111). It was used together with, and perhaps derived from the
corresponding verb anzala (cf. a story told in Murji'i circles at Kufa where Nafi' b. al-Azraq asks
somebody: 'Where do you locate [ayna tunzilu] the unbelievers in the Hereafter?' and gets the
answer: 'In Hell'; Abu Hanifa, Risala ila 'Utjman al-Batti, ed. Kawtjari, Cairo 1368/1949, 38 n.).
The dual al-manzilatani is used, with respect to Paradise and Hell, in a haditj preserved by Ibn
Hanbal (Musnad, iv, 438, 1. 7 from bottom; for the context, cf. Van Ess, Zwischen Hadit und
Theologie, 47 ff.). The idea of a manzila bayn al-manzilatayn is prepared in a saying attributed to the
Basran ascetic Yazid al-Raqashi (d. between 110/729 and 120/738): laysa bayn al-janna wa 'l-nar
manzila (in the presence of 'Umar II; cf. Ibn 'Abd al-Hakam, Sirat 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, ed. Ahmad
'Ubayd, Damascus 1374/1953, 90, 1. 9). The Mu'tazili phrase appears for the first time in the
title of one of Wasil's books (cf. Ibn al-Nadim, Fihrist, ed. R. Tajaddud, Tehran2 1393/1973,
203, 1. 5). But whether he coined it for the purpose of his own theology must remain doubtful,
for all the reports which we possess agree that, in reality, he did not dissociate from two
positions only, namely those who regarded the fasiq as a 'believer' and those who called him an
'unbeliever', but from three, he equally rejecting Hasan al-Basri's definition of the fasiq as a
'hypocrite' (munafiq) which was taken over by numerous Basran ascetics and especially by the
so-called Bakriyya, the adherents of Bakr b. Ukjt 'Abd al-Wahid b. Zayd (fl. probably in the
second third of the 2nd century). It is possible that this third standpoint did not become
relevant, and also vexing, through explicit opposition, for the early Mu'tazila, until the Bakriyya
entered the scene, for even they-and a fortiori Hasan al-Basri-ultimately considered the munafiq
as a 'believer', though as a believer who will be eternally punished in Hell (cf. al-Ash'ari, Maqalat
al-Islamiyyin, 286, 11. 2 ff.).
The discussion about the different manzils had always been connected with an attempt to specify
the juridical or theological consequences attached to them. This is how the Mu'tazili position is
proven in most of our testimonies (which are all much later than Wasil: cf. al-jahiz, Risala fi
'l-hakamayn, in Mashriq, lii (1958), 460, 11. 5 ff.; al-Khayyat, Intisar, ed.qNader, 118, 11. 2 ff.;
Pseudo-qasim b. Ibrahim, K. al-'Adl wa 'l-tawhid, in Rasa'il al-'Adl wa 'l-tawhid, ed. Muhammad
'Imara, i, Cairo 1971, 125, 11. 4 ff.): the unbeliever must be fought and cannot be inherited
from, the believer is loved by God, the munafiq should be summoned to do penance or otherwise
be executed; all this cannot be said about the fasiq. Therefore, since these juridical regulations
(ahkam) cannot be applied to him, the corresponding designations (asma') are not valid in his case
either. In this presentation of the problem which became common in the future, the term
manzila was replaced by ism; thus it slowly lost its significance for the theological vocabulary.
4irar b. 'Amr (2nd century [q.v.]) and Bishr. b. al-Mu'tamir (d. 210/825 [q.v.]) still wrote treatises
about the manzila bayn al-manzilatayn (cf. Fihrist, 215, 1. 13 and 205, 11. 23 f.). Abu 'l-Hujayl
included it among the usul al-kjamsa; Ibn al-R¿wandi [q.v.] refuted the Mu'tazila in this point (cf.
Fihrist, 217, 1. 10). The terms ism and hukm are already found, though perhaps not yet
systematically linked with each other, in Abu Hanifa's Risala ila 'Utjman al-Batti (ed. Kawtjari, 35,
1. 16 and 36, 11. 12 f.). The disputation between Wasil and 'Amr b. 'Ubayd preserved by al-Sjarif
al-Murta·a (Amali, ed. Muhammad Abu 'l-Fa·l Ibrahim, Cairo 1373/1954, i, 165, 11. 8 ff.) where
Wasil uses ism but not hukm, is apparently a retrojection or a recast possibly taken from the K.
Ma jara baynahu [sc. bayna Wasil] wa-bayna 'Amr b. 'Ubayd (cf. Fihrist, 203, n. 1) which may have
been composed in the second half of the 2nd century; nevertheless, it remains our oldest
testimony for the Mu'tazili position and shows archaic features in part of its argumentation.
Similarities with Christian speculations about penitence have been pointed out by E. Graef (in
OLZ, iv , 397; cf. also R. Strothmann, in Isl., xiv , 215). There is, however, to date
no proof for any influence.
(J. van Ess)
Given in the article. Cf. also W. Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim und die Glaubenslehre
der Zaiditen, Berlin 1965, 10 ff.
W. M. Watt, The formative period of Islamic thought, Edinburgh 1973, 213
J. van Ess, in REI, xlvii (1979), 51 ff.
M. Cook, Early Muslim dogma, Cambridge 1981, 94. See also fasiq and mu'tazila.
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