What is Ash'arism?

Ash'arism is a group and theological school founded by Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari (260-324H, 873-935 AD), it is also known as Asha'irah or Ash'ariyyah. Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari was one of the proponents of the idea that the attributes of Allah should be interpreted figuratively.

This sect is characterized by its emphasis on speculative theology (Kalam). Because of this, the followers of this group (ash'arites or ash'aris) believe that the attributes of Allah are figurative, not literal.

Ash'arism has many similarities with the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah in terms of understanding the attributes of Allah. This is because they all interpret the attributes of Allah in a symbolic way.

While some consider that the Ash'arites are more lenient with the use of Kalam (speculative theology) than the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah, the use of figuritive interpretation remains a common feature of these three groups.

Background of Ash'arianism

The group was founded by Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari, who was originally an adherent of the Mu'tazilah sect.

Groups like the Mu'tazilah and Jahmiyyah were introduced to Greek philosophy, resulting in the two groups beginning to interpret Allah's attributes figuratively.

Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari was originally an adherent of the teachings of the Mu'tazilah, but later distanced himself from this and instead embraced the teachings of Ibn Kullab. Although he rejected the teachings of the Mu'tazilah, he continued to interpret many of Allah's attributes figuratively.

Ash'arism: Distinction and Spread

Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari distinguished himself from the Mu'tazilah by introducing the concept of Tafwidh, which means that some attributes of Allah are not given any meaning.

This is in contrast to the teaching of the Mu'tazilah, which stated that all the attributes of Allah are to be interpreted. Tafwidh is thus an important and distinctive part of Ash'arite theology.

Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari wrote several books to spread and defend this teaching, including his famous work 'Al-Ibanah'. Through these books and the efforts of al-Ash'ari and his followers, the Ash'arite teachings survived and spread to different parts of the world.

Aqeedah of Ash'arism

Speculative theology and symbolism is favored by the Ash'arites when it comes to the Attributes of Allah. They see taking His attributes literally as comparing it to the creation (Tashbih).

Because the Ash'aris reject the concept of taking Allah's Attributes literally, they declare anyone who takes His attributes literally as Mushabih, ie an anthropomorphist: one who attributes human characteristics to Allah.

Within Ash'arism it is a heinous act to give Allah's Attributes the literal meaning, because they see this as anthropomorphism.

Ash'aris on the Attributes of Allah

Within Ash'arism it is a foundation to leave the Attributes of Allah meaningless or to interpret them figuratively.

For example: His Hand is understood as an Attribute whose meaning is not literally a hand. Or His Istiwa (resurrection) is interpreted as high in power.

The Essential Attributes of Allah

The Essential Attributes of Allah is called 'Sifaat Dhaatiyyah' in Arabic. Here is where the Ash'arites often omit the meaning of rather than interpreting it figuratively.

Within Ash'arism, Attributes such as: Hands, Eyes, Fingers or Feet are figuratively interpreted or left out in a literal sense in the hope of being closer to Sunnism, while Sunnism goes against this belief of Ash'arism.

The Attributes of Allah in Deeds

This form of Attributes is called "Sifaat Fi'liyyah" in Arabic. Ash'aris often tend to interpret this form of Attributes figuratively.

Creed of Ash'aris on His Deeds:

Attributes such as the Descent (Nuzoul), Resurrection (Istiwa), Speech and others are interpreted symbolically.

What Ash'aris say about this:
  • "Speech is not literal speech, but a symbolic communication that Allah has with His creation."
  • "Nuzool is not understood as a literal descent of Allah, but rather it means that His Mercy and Angels descend."
  • "Istiwa does not mean a literal elevation, because Allah does not move. Rather, it means that He is separate from His creation by being the most High."

Ash'arism and the Quran

Ash'arism claims that the Quran that we see on earth is not the Speech of Allah, but rather a quotation of the real Quran which is with Allah.

Ash'aris believe that Allah Speaks without letters or sound. Because of this, they do not believe that the Quran is the true Speech of Allah.

Ash'arism and the concept of Iman

The Ash'arites believe that Iman (belief) is only believing in the heart. This is in line with what the Murjiah believe on the matter of Iman.

Among the Murjiah are those who believe that Iman is in the heart and on the tongue (rather than just in the heart). So believing and accepting Islam is enough for the Ash'arites to be seen as believers by Allah.

Ash'ari scholars

There are many well-known names among the Ash'arites that are widely followed by the people. The most famous Ash'ari scholars lived many years ago.

The first Ash'ari scholars arrived around the beginning of the 3rd century of Islam (912 AD). The founder of Ash'arism (Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari) then started writing books to spread his beliefs. Through the influence of his books and his students, more people began to follow his creed.

Ash'ari geleerden:
  • Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari (founder)
  • Abu Nu'aym al Asbahani
  • Ibn Abi Ya`la
  • Ibn 'Asakir
  • Khatib al-Baghdadi
  • Abu 'Uthman al-Sabouni
  • Ibn Qudamah
  • Bayhaqi
  • Qurtubi
  • Ibn al-Jawzi
  • Al-Ghazali
  • Ibn Rushd
  • Nawawi
  • Ibn Hajar
  • Ibn Kathir
  • Suyuti

Countries where Ash'arism is followed

The school of Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari is mainly known in parts of North Africa and Middle East. This school was founded in Baghdad Iraq and soon spread to other areas inside and outside Iraq.

Countries where Ash'arism is widespread:
  • Morocco
  • Algeria
  • Tunisia
  • Egypt
  • Iraq

These countries adhere to Ash'arism because it is an important part of their history. Many of the Ash'ari scholars persuaded the inhabitants to attend this school.

Abu Athari writes about basic principles within Islam. He uses his critical and well-researched way to spread knowledge of the first three Muslim generations.

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