The Era of Abu Hanifa

Abu Hanifa was born in 80 AH when ‘Abdu’l-Malik ibn Marwan was khalif. He lived until 150, thus, as we said, experienced both the strength and weakness of the Umayyads and the rise and consolidation of the Abbasids. He lived longer under the rule of the Umayyads than the Abbasids, passing fifty-two years of his life under Umayyad rule, which was the time of his education and when he reached the peak of his knowledge and full intellectual maturity. He only lived through twelve years of Abbasid rule. At such a mature age, this would not involve a reversal of his intellectual methods and customs. At that point, his output was great and input only a little. We cannot say that he absorbed nothing because the human intellect is always seeking knowledge and is constantly learning and scholars are always seeking increase in knowledge.

In fact, the difference between the end of the Umayyad era and the beginning of the Abbasid era was not great in respect of scholarly spirit, especially on the religious side, because the Abbasid period grew out of what existed under the Umayyads. In the fields of scholarship and social development, one was the result of the other, like a continuous river in which various waters clash, differing slightly in taste and colour but deviating little from the main flow. The scholarly and social spirit which dominated the Umayyads came from the larger community, not from the government.

As well as the legacy of the knowledge of the Companions, there was also the legacy of the civilisations and sciences of the conquered nations. They amplified the Arabic tradition with some of the inherited knowledge of those nations which was translated from Persian and other languages. The process of translation began in the Umayyad era. It is enough to remark that the author of Kalila wa Dimna, and other writers lived most of their lives in the Umayyad era. We find religious knowledge growing in Abbasid times and translation spreading and being supported. That was a natural and continuing development.

We will begin our survey with the political scene. The first phenomenon can be found in the rise of the Umayyad state which was established after the governance of the first four khalifs. Until then, the khalif had been chosen from amongst prominent Qurayshi Muslims, either upon the indication of the preceding khalif, as happened with ‘Umar, or without such indication, as was the case with Abu Bakr and ‘Ali, or by consultation, as was the case with ‘Uthman. When the Umayyads were established, the khalifate became an hereditary monarchy.

Its founder of the dynasty enjoined the support of a large group of Muslims whereas the rest of the Umayyads assumed the title through inheritance, maintaining that they alone had the right to it without the rest of the Muslims having any choice in the matter. This opinion led to disturbances and rebellions throughout the Umayyad period. Even at times when people were outwardly quiescent, their hearts were still seething with resentment. The Ansar rebelled against Yazid I, and Madina was plundered by an army which devastated it and did not observe its sanctity. Al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali refused to give allegiance, cosidering that to do so was contrary to the principles of Islamic law, and he rebelled against the Umayyad ruler. He was slain by Yazid’s men, and his
sisters, the daughters of Fatima, were taken as captives to Yazid. Zayd ibn ‘Ali was killed as was his son Yahya. ‘Abdullah ibn Yahya was also killed. That did not engender love for the Umayyads in people’s hearts.

The Umayyads had a strong Arab bias. They revived a lot of the pre-Islamic Arab tradition, some of which was praiseworthy in itself, but they were excessive in doing it to the point that it became outright racism and prejudice against non-Arabs and sanctioned violation of their rights, even though, in the Shari‘a, all Muslims are equal and Arab has no superiority over non-Arab. Muslim lands suffered waves of unrest and waves of evil because of what happened. Even when things were outwardly calm, the fire still simmered there under the surface and movements continued to operate covertly.

Abu Hanifa witnessed the harshest aspects of Umayyad rule which were epitomised by the governorship of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf ath-Thaqafi, who died when Abu Hanifa was about fifteen, an age at which people are capable of discernment and understanding. So he had first-hand experience of the harshest manifestation of Umayyad rule and that must have had an effect on him as a young man and coloured his appraisal of the government. His discontent could only have increased when he saw the oppression, imprisonment and torture to which the family of the Prophet was subjected.

When the Abbasid state was established, Abu Hanifa hoped that it would be more merciful because of their kinship to the family of ‘Ali and because it came to power after much severity and tribulation. Therefore he offered his allegiance to as-Saffah willingly and was the spokesman for the fuqaha’ as we have mentioned. When, however, al-Mansur came to power and began to consolidate the state with force and ruthless determination, not gentleness and clemency, and he began to persecute the family of the Prophet, throwing their old men into the dungeons and shedding the blood of the ‘Alawites without the pretext of war, he saw the rule of al-Mansur as an extension of the oppression experienced under the Umayyads, even though the names had changed.

Abu Hanifa was born in Iraq, and there he grew up, lived and studied. At the end of the Umayyad and beginning of the Abbasid periods, the cities of Iraq were teeming with different races: Persians, Greeks, Indians and Arabs. Such a society is full of social upheaval since the various elements interact and each incident demands a ruling in the Shari‘a. Thus the milieu provided many issues which expanded the mind of the faqih in the extrapolation of questions, theory, conception and analogy. In addition to this mixed social environment, Iraq had another intellectual characteristic: it was the home of many different religions and sects. It contained the moderate and extreme Shi‘ites, the Mu‘tazilites, the Jahmites, the Qadariya, the Murji’ites and others.

From ancient times, Iraq had been the locus of conflicting intellectual trends. Ibn Abi’l-Hadid said in his commentary on the Nahj al-Balagha when discussing why the extreme Shi‘ite sects appeared in Iraq: “Part of what produced such sects (the Rafidites) after the time of the Messenger of Allah was that they were from Iraq and lived in Kufa. Iraq continued to produce schismatics and people with extraordinary religions and schools. They existed in the time of Khusrau in the form of those founded by Mani, Daysan, Mazdak and others. The Hijaz was not like this and the minds of the people of the Hijaz were not like their minds.”

Added to that intellectual diversity, there was another intellectual movement which began under the Umayyads and continued and bore fruit under the Abbasids: the movement connected to Greek philosophy. Ibn Khallikan said, “Khalid ibn Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya was one of the most knowledgeable men of Quraysh in the sciences and discussed chemistry and medicine and knew these two sciences well. He had treatises which indicate his knowledge and skill. He learned the craft from a monk called Maryanus the Greek and wrote three treatises on it.”

This connection grew with the increase in translation of Greek, Persian and Hindi manuscripts in the Abbasid era. All of this had an effect on Islamic thought and the effect varied according to the strength of intellect and religion of the one who learned this philosophy. Some people had proper thoughts and true faith and so they controlled these ideas and benefited from them in their thinking and perceptions and intellectual discipline. Others were not strong enough for it and so their minds became confused by it and hence they deviated intellectually.

As well as that, there were zindiqs who openly espoused distorted views designed to corrupt the Muslim Community and destroy Islam and undermine its people. Some of them wanted to oust Muslim rule and revive ancient Persian rule as is seen in the case of al-Muqanna‘ who rebelled against the Abbasids in the reign of al-Mahdi. This intellectual upheaval took place in the religious sciences as well. It was also the period when scholars began to rely more heavily on recording their knowledge in writing so that individual areas of knowledge within the deen and Arabic began to take on a distinct form and scholars began to specialise in particular fields. The Shi‘ite fuqaha’ also recorded their views and, by the time of Abu Hanifa, the Shi‘ites and Zaydites had known views.

It was also a time of argumentation and debate. The debates between the various groups tended to become very heated and boisterous. Scholars also travelled to take part in these debates, as we see when Abu Hanifa travelled to Basra to debate with the sects there. The people of Basra also travelled to Kufa for the same purpose. The debates which took place in the Hijaz during the hajj enabled scholars to meet and exchange views. Debates also involved a sort of partisanship for one’s own land. The people of Basra fanatically supported their scholars and the people of Kufa supported theirs with equal fervour. This may be a contributory factor for the intensity of argument between the people of the Hijaz and the people of Iraq. The disagreement between scholars was intense and their criticism of one another sharp at times. Even with the Tabi‘un, when their methods differed, their criticism of each other could sometimes become bitter. There was also great disagreement regarding complicated problems which led to each person impugning his opponent’s integrity.

Abu Hanifa had a deep grasp of the spirit of his time and the reasoning of its scholars and he understood the direction of their thinking while maintaining his own individual thought. One of the issues that the fuqaha’ of the time debated and over which they had disputes about methodology was the fatwas of the Companions and Tabi‘un. We will briefly mention the religious and political sects because Abu Hanifa had to deal with them throughout the course of his life.

The Sunna and Opinion

From the death of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, until the time of ash-Shafi‘i there were basically two groups of fuqaha’, one of which was famous for opinion and the other for transmission. Among the Companions some were famous for opinion and some for hadith and transmission. Such was the case with the Tabi‘un and the generation after them and then the mujtahid Imams: Abu Hanifa, Malik and the fuqaha’ of the various cities. Some were famous for opinion and some for hadith. We will now briefly explain this.

Ash-Shahrastani said in al-Milal wa’n-Nihal, “The situations which arise out of acts of worship and daily life are endless and we know absolutely that there is not a text for every situation, nor is that conceivable. Because the texts are limited and situations are not, ijtihad and analogy must be considered in order that every situation may be brought within the compass of the Shari‘a. After the death of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, the Companions were faced with innumerable new situations. They had the Book of Allah Almighty and the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah.

“So in regard to the events which befell them they had recourse to the Book, and, if they found a clear ruling, they carried it out. If there was no judgement in the Book, they resorted to the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah, and consulted the memories of his Companions to ascertain the ruling of the Prophet in similar cases. If there was no one who knew anything they exercised ijtihad in their opinions. So they proceeded to examine the case in the light of the Book, then the Sunna, and then opinion. ‘Umar stated in a letter to Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari: ‘Understanding is something which reverberates in your breast which is not in the Book or Sunna. Learn similarities and likenesses, and form analogies on that basis.’

“The Companions used opinion but disagreed as to how much it should be used. Some used it more often than others and some hesitated if there were no text from the Book or a followed sunna. “They were in agreeement about relying on the Book and a known sunna if one existed but if they did not find a known sunna, the famous fuqaha’ used opinion. If any of them were unsure about their recollection of a hadith of the Messenger of Allah or of his fatwa about a matter, they preferred not to relate it but to give a decision by opinion, fearing that relating it might involve lies against the Messenger of Allah. It is reported that ‘Imran ibn Husayn used to say, ‘By Allah, I think that if I had wished, I could have related from the Messenger of Allah for two consecutive days; but I was deterred from doing so by men of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah who had heard what I heard and had seen what I saw, and who relate hadiths which are not exactly as they tell them. I fear that I might be confused like them.’”

Abu ‘Umar ash-Shaybani said, “I sat with Ibn Mas‘ud and a year would go by without him saying, ‘The Messenger of Allah said.’ When he did say, ‘The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said,’ he trembled and said, ‘like that, or close to it.’” ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud thus preferred to give a decision according to his own opinion and to bear the responsibility for it if he was wrong, rather than possibly lie about something the Messenger of Allah said or did. He said, after deciding a problem according to his opinion, “I say this from my own opinion. If it is right, it is from Allah. If it is wrong, it is from me and from Shaytan.” He used to be elated when his opinion accorded with a hadith which one of the Companions transmitted. A second group criticised those who gave fatwa based on their opinion, saying that they gave fatwa in the Deen of Allah without authority from the Book or the Sunna.

The truth is that the Companions found themselves in an impossible quandary resulting from the strength of their religious feelings. On the one hand, they might memorise a lot of hadiths from the Messenger of Allah in order to learn the judgements from them, but then they feared that they might be inaccurate about what he said. As we read in Hujjatullah al-Baligha by Shah Waliyullah ad-Dihlawi: “When ‘Umar sent a group to Kufa, he told them: ‘You are going to a people who are confused about the Qur’an, so they will ask you about hadith. Do not give them too many.’” On the other hand, they could give fatwa by their own opinions and be in danger of making things lawful and unlawful without proper justification. Some of them preferred hadiths from the Messenger of Allah and some of them chose opinion when there was no clear precedent. If they subsequently learned of a clear sunna, they retracted their opinion. That was related of many of the Companions, including ‘Umar.

After the Companions came their students, the Tabi‘un, and two problems arose in their time. One was that the Muslims divided into parties and groups. The level of disagreement became intense and impassioned. They were severe with one another and started to accuse one another of disbelief, iniquity and rebellion, and to threaten one another and to unsheathe the sword. The Community divided into the Kharijites, Shi‘ites, Umayyads and those who were quiescent in the face of the afflictions which occurred and remained far from sedition, refusing to become involved in it.

The Kharijites formed different sects: the Azraqites, Ibadites, Najdites and others. The Shi‘a formed into disparate groups, some of whom had bizarre opinions which took them outside of Islam, even though they pretended to follow Islam in order to corrupt people. They were not concerned with establishing the Deen, but rather with destroying its basis to restore their old religion and its power and authority – or at least to shatter Muslim cohesion or to make the Muslims live with intense seditions, and to extinguish the Light of Allah. The second problem was that Madina lost the unique authority which it enjoyed in the time of the Companions, especially in the time of ‘Umar which is considered the Golden Age of legal ijtihad. It was the home of the scholars and fuqaha’ of the Com-panions. They did not leave it without maintaining a scholarly connection with it. They corresponded regarding problems which arose, because the sunna of ‘Umar was to ensure that the Com-panions of Quraysh were kept within the confines of the Hijaz. The great Muhajirun and Ansar never left the boundaries of Madina without his permission and he watched over them.

When ‘Umar died, they left for outlying regions. Each group of them became the source of a legal school which was connected to them and which the people of the places to which they emigrated followed. In the time of the Tabi‘un, there were students of those fuqaha’ who lived in Madina or other places. Each city had its fuqaha’ and their views grew apart as the cities were far apart, each adapting to the customs of his region and having to deal with the particular problems which troubled it. So people followed the path of those Companions who were in that region and transmitted the hadiths which they reported and which therefore became current among them. In this way various methods of legal thought appeared in different places, all derived from the Qur’an and the Sunna of the Prophet.

As we have seen, in the time of the Companions there were basically two schools. In one of them, opinion dominated and transmission played a lesser role, though, if a clear sunna emerged, opinion would be abandoned in favour of it. The other relied almost totally on transmission and preferred not to give a fatwa when there was no transmission, rather than risk contravening the Deen of Allah by opinion. In the time of the Tabi‘un, the gap between the two widened and those who preferred transmission increased their adherence to this path, considering it to be a protection from the seditions which had now become severe. They found safety only in holding to the Sunna.

The others normally had much less recourse to the Sunna, which had in any case become subject to falsification in outlying areas, and because of the new situations that arose and required rulings, they tended to rely far more on opinion. In addition, new ideas assailed them through contact with new cultures in lands conquered by Islam and many of the Tabi‘un were non-Arabs, heirs to the ancient civilisations of their ancestors. So the gap widened between the schools and they grew further apart than they had been before when it had been difficult to distinguish between them. The basis of the disagreement was not about whether the authority of the Sunna should be accepted or not. It lay in two matters: the extent of the use of opinion, and secondary questions deduced through its use. The adherents of tradition only used opinion when absolutely necessary, rather in the way that a Muslim may eat pork if no other possibility exists.

They did not look into secondary questions or extrapolate judgements for speculative situations which had not arisen. They only gave fatwas for problems which had actually occurred and did not look into hypothetical situations, whereas the people of opinion gave many fatwas based on opinion whenever they had no sound hadith on the subject. They did not confine themselves in their studies to the deduction of rulings on actual problems but also posed hypothetical questions and gave judgement on them on the basis of their opinions. Most of the adherents of hadith were in the Hijaz, even though there was some fiqh of opinion there. This was because it was the home of the first Companions and the place of Revelation and because many of the Tabi‘un who resided there were trained by the Companions who made little use of opinion – although a few were students of a Companion who used opinion a lot and transmitted his opinions. Most of the adherents of opinion were in Iraq because they trained with ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud, who refrained from transmitting from the Prophet out of fear of making a mistake but did not refrain from exercising his opinion. If there was a sound hadith on the subject, he referred to the hadith. There were also old philosophies and sciences in Iraq as well as the classical texts of Greece and Rome. Those who were influenced by this were comfortable with ijtihad by opinion, especially when there were not many hadiths among them to be consulted.

This process continued and in the time of the Tabi‘i’t-Tabi‘in and the mujtahids with madhhabs, the gap became very wide indeed and disagreements became intense. When the two groups met, each borrowed from the other. The people of hadith abandoned their former hesitation and were compelled to use opinion in some cases; and when the people of opinion saw the Sunna and traditions, some wrote them down and began to examine them, supporting their opinions with hadiths or leaving opinion aside if they had a sound hadith which they had not known about previously. This was the period in which fiqh developed. Lies about the Prophet proliferated in this period because various groups defended their positions unscrupulously with words which led to the spread of forged hadiths which they espoused and which then spread among the Muslims. This upsurge in lies led to two things. Hadith scholars started to devote themselves to the investigation of truthful transmission and to the method of distinguishing the true from the false. To this end they studied the transmitters of hadiths, investigated their circumstances, learned those who were truthful and ranked them according to their truthfulness.

They then studied the hadiths and compared them with unquestioned elements of the Deen. Eventually, some scholars began to record the sound hadiths. Among them were Malik with his Muwatta’, al-Jawami‘ of Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna, and al-Jami‘ al-Kabir of Sufyan ath-Thawri. The second consequence was that people gave fatwa more and more frequently according to opinion, out of fear of lying against the Prophet or depending on something that might well have been forged. This occurred mostly in Iraq because the fuqaha’ there who transmitted from the Tabi‘un and the next generation were known for opinion and often gave fatwa by it.

Shah Waliyullah ad-Dihlawi says in his book, after discussing the adherents of hadith: “Over and against them, in the time of Malik and Sufyan and after them, were people who did not dislike questions and were not afraid to give fatwa, saying that fiqh must be spread on the basis of the Deen but fearing to transmit the hadiths of the Prophet and attribute them to him wrongly. Ash-Sha‘bi said, ‘We prefer anyone to the Prophet (as authority for fiqh).’ Ibrahim said, ‘I prefer to say “‘Abdullah said” and “ ‘Alqama said”.’

“They did not have the hadiths and traditions to deduce the fiqh on the principles which the people of hadith chose, nor were they inspired to look into the words of the scholars of other lands, collect them and investigate them. They believed that their Imams had the highest level of precision and their hearts were the closest to the Companions.

“‘Alqama said, ‘Is there anyone more solid than ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ud?’ Abu Hanifa said, ‘Ibrahim has more fiqh than Salim. If it had not been for the virtue of being a Companion, I would have said that ‘Alqama had more fiqh than Ibn ‘Umar.’ They possessed intelligence and intuition, and their minds swiftly moved from one thing to another, enabling them to derive the answer to problems from statements of the Companions.

“Everyone is given ease in that for which he was created and ‘every party rejoices in what it has’. So they formulated fiqh on the rule of extrapolation. The people of Iraq gave fatwa because they felt that it was their duty and the basis of the Deen; but at the same time they were afraid to report from the Messenger of Allah. They did not accept the statements of the people of other lands, and were partisan towards their shaykhs.”

Whatever the reasons, the Iraqis made much use of opinion but the Hijazis and Syrians used it less. As we indicated before, the adherents of opinion and those of hadith agreed that judgement must be by the Book and sound Sunna but they differed after that. The people of hadith were afraid of opinion but not of transmission from the Messenger, and did not adopt opinion except when forced to do so by the fact that they did not know of any hadith, whereas the people of opinion were afraid of relating hadith but not of giving fatwa on questions which they could later retract if they later came across a hadith. The people of opinion also refused to accept weak hadiths, whereas some of the people of hadith accepted them. Imam Malik, the Imam of the people of Madina, used munqati‘, mursal and mawquf hadiths, and the transmitted practice of the people of Madina before resorting to analogy.

By the end of Abu Hanifa’s life, the schools began to come closer together again because they influenced one another in their discussions and debates. Their motive was the same: to elevate the Shari‘a. To this end, the one group had to study the knowledge of the other. Certainly, Abu Yusuf, one of the companions of Abu Hanifa and the fuqaha’ of opinion, accepted the study and memorisation of hadiths and their use as evidence. If he found that an opinion he had previously held was contrary to the Sunna, he abandoned it for an opinion which agreed with the hadith.

We have briefly explained the difference between the fuqaha’ of opinion and those of the Sunna. But was the ‘opinion’ in question merely legal analogy – which is to relate a matter on which there is no specific ruling to another prescribed matter with a ruling since the same legal reasoning applies to both – or was it more general than that? Anyone who studies the meaning of the word ‘opinion’ (ra’y) in the way it was used during the time of the Companions and the Tabi‘un will find that it is general and did not refer to analogy alone. It included analogy and much more besides. When we deal with the formation of the schools, we also find this general use of the term. When we focus on the time of the schools, we find that each school differs in the explanation of the type of opinion which it is permitted to adopt.

Ibn al-Qayyim explains that the opinion which was transmitted from the Companions and Tabi‘un was what the heart felt was correct after reflection, consideration, and seeking to identify what was correct when there were conflicting indications. The fatwas of the Companions and Tabi‘un and those who followed their path show that the idea of ‘opinion’ includes everything about which a faqih gives a fatwa for which there is no text, relying in his fatwa on what he knows of the deen in a general way, what agrees with its rulings in general, or what resembles another matter for which there is a text when he connects like to like. The word ‘opinion’ in that context includes analogy, istihsan, masalih mursala and custom.

Abu Hanifa and his adherents used analogy, istihsan, and custom, and Malik used istihsan, masalih mursala (considerations of welfare) and custom. He was famous for the use of considerations of welfare. That is why there was flexibility and receptivity for all the affairs of people in different times although it was a school in which analogy was not frequent. Malik said that istihsan was nine-tenths of knowledge but that was only when there was no text or fatwa from a Companion and no precedent practice of the people of Madina.

Ash-Shafi‘i came and founded a systematic method of legal reasoning which ensured that there could be reliable judgements in the event that no appropriate text was available and did not accept the previous latitude in the derivation of judgements. He thought that opinion should only be exercised in the Shari‘a on the basis of strict analogy, only permitting a matter without a text to be connected to the ruling on another matter for which a suitable text existed. In such cases, opinion had to be traced back to a text so that there was no possibility of innovation in the Shari‘a. As for general deduction and justification for judgements without a basis in a text, he considered that to be innovation in the Shari‘a.

That is why ash-Shafi‘i said, “Anyone who uses istihsan has legislated for himself.” He set out rules and criteria for analogy and defended and supported it so precisely that he, in fact, went further than the Hanafis in its formulation and affirmation. Ar-Razi commented, “The extraordinary thing is that Abu Hanifa is accused of relying on analogy, and his opponents used to criticise him for over-reliance on it, when it is not transmitted from him or any of his companions that he wrote at all affirming the principle of analogy or that he responded to the proofs of his opponents in denying analogy. The first to speak on this question and report proofs in it was Imam ash-Shafi‘i.” The fatwas of the Companions and Tabi‘un and the practice of the people of Madina

Both the people of hadith and the people of opinion were inclined to accept the fatwas of the Companions, because following is better than innovating and because the Companions had been present with the Prophet and so their position was more likely to be correct. They are the Imams who are followed. Most of the fuqaha’ preferred their opinions. It is reported that Abu Hanifa used to say, “When I do not find a ruling in the Book of Allah or the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah then I can take the statement of his Companions if I wish and leave those of other people. But I do not disregard their words for the words of anyone else. But when it is a question of Ibrahim an-Nakha‘i, ash-Sha‘bi, al-Hasan, Ibn Sirin, or Sa‘id ibn al-Musayyab, then I can exercise ijtihad in the same way that they did.” Since this was the position of Abu Hanifa, the Imam of the people of Iraq, on the opinions and positions of the Companions, others must have been still more inclined to accept their fatwas and what is reported from them.

Many fatwas of the Companions were transmitted at that time. The minds of the fuqaha’ were focused on these fatwas and they used them as a model when exercising their ijtihad. They followed the same path as the Companions, respected their opinions and relied on them when there was nothing in the Book or Sunna. When the Companions agreed on an opinion, the mujtahids after them were obliged to accept it. If one of them stated an opinion not known to be opposed, the majority of the fuqaha’ accepted it. If there was a disagreement between them, many of the mujtahids chose from their opinions that which agreed with their own inclination, and they did not leave the framework of those opinions for any others. The fuqaha’ in the time of the Tabi‘un and mujtahids acted in the same way, even if they did not consider those fatwas to be an independent principle or a legal rule in the Deen. Perhaps they did so because they saw that the Companions had witnessed the descent of Revelation of the Qur’an to the Messenger and must have derived their opinions from their knowledge of the actions of the Messenger of Allah, and no one is permitted to exercise ijtihad about a matter ascribed to the Messenger. So they did not consider the Companions’ opinion to be mere legal ijtihad: it was closer to the Sunna than to ijtihad. The Companions are followed because they were the first teachers who spread Islamic fiqh in all directions. They were stars shining with the primal light of Islam.

In this period, Abu Hanifa studied with the shaykhs of opinion and some of the people of tradition. He preferred them and put them ahead of his own opinion. Ash-Shafi‘i reported that he used to say about their opinions, “Their opinions are better for us than our opinion for ourselves.” We read in I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in, “Ash-Shafi‘i said in the first version of the Risala, ‘They are above us in every science, ijtihad, scrupulousness and intellect.’”

The Sects

Abu Hanifa met people from various Islamic sects and studied with some of them and examined their opinions as has been mentioned. Hence, it is appropriate to give a brief summary of the sects that existed in his time, in view of the fact that he was aware of their opinions.

The Shi‘ites

The Shi‘a were the oldest of the Islamic sects. They appeared with their political position at the end of the reign of ‘Uthman and grew and flourished in the time of ‘Ali, since, when he mixed with people, that increased their admiration for his gifts, the strength of his deen and knowledge. Shi‘ite agents exploited that admiration and began to disseminate their sect. In the Umayyad period, when injustices were perpetrated against the descendants of ‘Ali and the Umayyads injured them, people’s love and compassion for them increased and they saw ‘Ali and his sons as martyrs to that injustice. So the Shi‘ite school expanded and its supporters increased.

The origin of the sect

The separation of the Shi‘a from the body of the Muslims was political in origin and turned on the matter of how the khalif of the Muslims should have been decided upon. Their difference with the majority was based on two things. Firstly, the khalifate was a matter to be decided, not by the community as a whole, but by specific appointment. The khaliphate is the pillar of the Deen and the rule of Islam and, in their view, it was inconceivable that the Prophet would have ignored it and left it up to the community to decide. The khalifa must have been specified for them and was protected from major and minor wrong actions. Secondly, and following on from that, they maintained that ‘Ali was the khalifa chosen by the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and was the best of the Companions.

Although this was the basis of their position, the Shi‘a were not all the same. Some were excessive in their esteem for ‘Ali and his descendants and some were more balanced. The balanced ones were content to prefer ‘Ali to the other Companions without declaring anyone an unbeliever, whereas the excessive sects of the Shi‘a elevated ‘Ali to the rank of prophethood and some of them even went so far as to deify him. Some of them claimed that God was incarnate in the Imams, ‘Ali and his sons, espousing a doctrine similar to Christian incarnation. Some of them believed that every Imam had divinity incarnate in him which then transmigrated to the next Imam.

Most of the Imami Shi‘ites agree that the last Imam did not die but is still alive and will return and fill the earth with justice as it is now filled with injustice. One group, the Seveners, claimed that ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib is alive and will not die and another group said that Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya1 is alive and being nourished by honey and water. Various groups claimed that certain prominent people were not dead or killed but were still alive.

The Twelvers say that the twelfth Imam, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-‘Askari, called al-Mahdi, entered the cellar of his house and disappeared when he was arrested with his mother. They believe that he is the Mahdi and will emerge at the end of time and fill the earth with justice, and they are still waiting for him. Every night they stand after the Maghrib prayer at the door of this cellar and they bring a mount, call his name, and call on him to come out until the stars appear. For evidence, they adduce the story of the People of the Cave in the Qur’an.

Some extreme Shi‘a combined these views with social ideas in a very corruptive manner. They allowed the consumption of wine and carrion, permitted incestuous marriage, and interpreted the words of Allah, “Those who believe and do right actions are not to blame for what they have eaten provided they are godfearing and believe and do right actions, and then are godfearing and believe, and then are godfearing and do good,” (5:93) to mean that the prohibitions, like carrion, blood and pork, are allusions to people who must be hated, like Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and Mu‘awiya, and that all the obligations and prohibitions of the Qur’an bear metaphorical meanings.

So we see that the Shi‘ites were an amalgam of opinions and confused ideas into which a great number of false concepts from ancient religions crept wearing Islamic guise. European orientalists have posited numerous theories about their origin: Judaism (through the Yemeni Jew, ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’), ancient Persia with its entrenched concept of dynastic succession, or various eastern creeds like Buddhism, Manichaeanism and others. There is no doubt that Shi‘ism, with its sanctification of the family of the House, draws from many ancient Asiatic religions, including the Hindu belief of reincarnation in which the soul moves from one person to another. The concept of divine incarnation comes from the Christians and Brahmanism. Various Messianic
concepts are taken from Judaism. After this brief glance at the basic forms of Shi‘ism, we will mention some of their branches which were active at this time.

The Saba’ites

They were the followers of ‘Abdullah ibn Saba’, a Jew from the people of Hira who made a display of Islam. His mother was a black slave, which is why he is sometimes referred to in sources as Ibn as-Sawda’. He was one of the strongest agitators against ‘Uthman. He was energetic in spreading his ideas and corruption among the Muslims, including many false things about ‘Ali. He began to circulate among people that he had found in the Torah that each Prophet has an heir and that ‘Ali was the heir of Muhammad and that he was the best of heirs as Muhammad was the best of Prophets. Then he mentioned that Muhammad would return to life. He used to remark, “I marvel at those who say that ‘Isa will return but do not say that Muhammad will return.” Then he went further and attributed divinity to ‘Ali.

The Kaysanites

They were the followers of al-Mukhtar ibn ‘Ubayd ath-Thaqafi. He had been a Kharijite and then became one of the partisans of ‘Ali. He came to Kufa when Muslim ibn ‘Uqayl came there from al-Husayn to ascertain its position and report back to him. ‘Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad had al-Mukhtar flogged and then put him in prison until al-Husayn was killed. After this, his sister’s husband, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, interceded for him and he was released provided that he left Kufa. He went to the Hijaz. It is reported that he stated, “By Allah, I will seek revenge for the blood of the wronged martyr, the master of the Muslims and the son of the daughter of the master of the Muslims, al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali! I will kill the number of those who killed Yahya ibn Zakariya to avenge his death!” Then he joined Ibn az-Zubayr and pledged him allegiance on the condition that he should be appointed to high office if he was successful and that he would join him in the fight against the people of Syria. Then he returned to Kufa after Yazid’s death and told people, “The Mahdi has sent me to you as his representative. He has commanded me to kill the heretics and revenge the blood of the people of the House and defend the weak.”

He claimed that he had been sent by Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, because he was the descendant most entitled to revenge al-Husayn and because Muhammad was much loved and esteemed by people owing to his great knowledge and gnosis. Muhammad proclaimed himself free of al-Mukhtar before a gathering of people when he heard about his lies, delusions and hidden aims. The Kaysanite doctrine did not claim that the Imams were divine. It was based on the premise that the Imam was a holy person who was owed absolute obedience and was protected from error. Like the Saba’ites, they believed that the Imam would return – either that he had died and would be resurrected or that he was not dead at all. Another part of their heretical doctrines was that of bada’: that Allah could change His will or decree when circumstances changed. They also believed in the passing of the soul into a new body.

The Zaydites

This is the group of Shi‘ites closest to the Muslim Community. They are not excessive in their dogma and most of them do not proclaim any of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, to be an unbeliever nor raise any of the Imams to the rank of a deity or a Prophet. Imam Zayd ibn ‘Ali rebelled in Kufa against Hisham and was killed. His view was that the Imam is stipulated by description, not by name, and the qualities which the Imam must have to receive people’s allegiance is that he is descended from Fatima, is scrupulous, the possessor of knowledge, generous, and that he summons people to himself. Many Shi‘ites opposed him regarding the precondition of craising his banner. His brother, Muhammad al-Baqir, argued him about that and said, “According to your view, your father was not an Imam because he did not rebel or call for rebellion.”

The Zaydites also held that it is permitted for the less superior to be Imam. So if a superior Imam possesses these qualities and is more entitled but those in authority choose and give allegiance to someone not as good, he is a valid Imam and must be obeyed. This, in their opinion, was the basis for the validity of the khalifate of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and not proclaiming the Companions who gave them allegiance to be unbelievers. Zayd thought that ‘Ali was the best of the Companions, but the khalifate went to Abu Bakr for a benefit which the Companions perceived and in order to preserve the religious principle of suppressing seditions and heartening of the populace. People might still have resented ‘Ali because the blood was not yet dry on his sword which he had wielded against them.

The Zaydis also believed that there could be two Imams in two different areas so that each was an Imam in his region. They further believed that the one who commits a major sin will be in the Fire forever if he does not sincerely repent. They derived this from the Mu‘tazilites because Zayd followed the Mu‘tazilite school as he was connected to their shaykh, Wasil ibn ‘Ata’.

The Imamites

The Imamites are those who state that the imamate was confirmed by stipulation from the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, by a clear text and certainty and that it was a definite and specific appointment. They cite certain traditions from the Prophet, as well as particular events in the life of the Prophet, as evidence for the appointment of ‘Ali. They agree that al-Hasan and then al-Husayn were the Imams after ‘Ali. At this point, however, there is disagreement and they divide into groups, the largest of which are the Ithna ‘asharites (Twelvers) and Isma‘ilis.

The Ithna ‘asharites (Twelvers)

They believed that after al-Husayn, the imamate went to ‘Ali Zayn al-‘Abidin, then Muhammad al-Baqir, followed by Ja‘far as-Sadiq, then his son Musa al-Kadhim, then ‘Ali ar-Rida, then Muhammad al-Jawwad, then ‘Ali al-Hadi, then al-Hasan al-‘Askari and then his son Muhammad, the twelfth Imam. They believe that he has gone into occultation.

The Isma‘ilis

They are a branch of the Imamites who take their name from Isma‘il ibn Ja‘far. They are also called the Batiniya because of their view about the “concealed Imam”. This group believe that Ja‘far designated his son, Isma‘il, as Imam. The result of this is that, even though he died before his father, the imamate continued among his descendants. So the imamate passed to his son Muhammad al-Maktum, the first of the concealed Imams, and then to his son Ja‘far al-Musaddiq and then his son Muhammad al-Habib, the last of the concealed Imams, and then to his son, ‘Abdullah al-Mahdi, who gained control over North Africa and from whom the Fatimid dynasty derives.

The Kharijites

The Kharijites were the most active of the Islamic sects in defending their doctrine. They showed immense zeal for their ideas, intense religiousness in general, and extreme recklessness in defence of their claims and ideas. In their position, they clung to expressions which they took literally, believing that theirs was the pure Deen from which no believer could be permitted to deviate. Anyone who followed a different path was someone whose soul made him incline to lies and moved him to disobedience. Their attention focused on the Qur’anic phrase, “Judgement belongs to Allah alone”, and they took this as their motto. They shouted it in the faces of their opponents and ended every conversation with it.

Whenever they saw ‘Ali speak, they shouted these words at him and it is related that ‘Ali said about them when they kept repeating it, “A true word by which something false is meant. Yes, judgement belongs to Allah alone but those people are saying, ‘Amirate belongs to Allah alone.’ There must be a leader for people whether pious or corruptÉ Through him, booty is collected, the enemy is fought, the roads are made safe and the strong are made to provide for the weak – until the pious leader finds rest or the people find rest from the corrupt leader.”

The Kharijites were carried away by the idea of being free of ‘Uthman, ‘Ali and unjust rulers until that notion overpowered their minds and perceptions and completely prevented them from ascertaining the truth. They sometimes acted with those who declared themselves quit of ‘Uthman. Sometimes, the disagreement was so intense that it led to a split with them. Ibn az-Zubayr rebelled against the Umayyads and the Kharijites helped him and promised to fight on his side. When they learned that he had not declared himself free of his father, Talha, and of ‘Ali and ‘Uthman, they left him.

Although the Kharijites were sincere in their attack on ‘Ali and the Umayyads after him, there were other factors which led them to rebel one of the most significant of which was their intense resentment towards Quraysh for appropriating the khalifate. Most of them were from the tribes of Rabi‘a who had a long-standing enmity towards the tribes of Mudar, of which Quraysh was one. This enmity preceded Islam. Most of the Kharijites were Arabs, and very few clients were to be found among them, even though their tenets should have made the clients eligible for the khalifate. The views of the Kharijites clearly show their thinking, revealing their simplistic minds, superficial views and rancour towards Quraysh and all the tribes of Mudar.

• The first and strongest of their views was that the post of khalifa is to be filled by choosing any free, sane, healthy Muslim man who attends to the welfare of the Muslims. It is not for one group rather than another and someone can only remain as khalif so long as he establishes justice, supports the Shari‘a and is far from error and deviation. If he transgresses, he should be deposed or killed.
• They did not think that any of the families or tribes of the Arabs should be singled out for the khalifate or that the khalifate should be restricted to Quraysh as others stated, or even that it should be for an Arab rather than an non-Arab. In their view all were the same. Indeed, they preferred that the khalif should not be from Quraysh so that it would be easier to depose or kill him if he opposed the Shari‘a or deviated from truth, since then there would be no partisanship to protect him, tribe to defend him, or shelter but the shelter of Allah.
• Najdite Kharijites thought that people did not need a khalif at all. Muslims should be equitable in their mutual dealings. They thought that if that could only be achieved by means of having a khalif to encourage them to uphold the truth and establish it, then it was permitted. But in their view the existence of a khalif was not a necessary obligation but was merely permitted when needed for public welfare.
• The Kharijites thought that people who committed wrong actions were unbelievers. They did not differentiate between a sin which was done with an evil intention and an error of opinion or ijtihad which led to something incorrect. That is why they said that ‘Ali was an unbeliever when he agreed to arbitration although it was not his choice. If, in their opinion, arbitration was not correct, then the fact that they said ‘Ali was an unbeliever indicates that they considered that an error in ijtihad takes a person out of the deen. That was also their view of Talha, az-Zubayr, ‘Uthman and other great Companions who differed from them in minor matters – they held that they were unbelievers. They had various justifications for this which were based on false interpretation of ayats of the Qur’an.

This is the sum of the opinions which most of the Kharijites embraced while they did not agree on other positions, opinions or views. They frequently disagreed on even the smallest of matters. Perhaps this is the secret of the great number of their defeats. They were divided into many groups.

Murji’ites

The Murji‘ites began as a political group but, like the other sects, they began to mix politics with the principles of the deen. The basis of their difference was a negative view of a matter which preoccupied many Muslim minds at the time: the question of the status of someone who commits a major sin. This question animated the Kharijites, Shi‘ites and Mu‘tazilites. However, as they began politically, we consider them to be a political group. The first seed which produced this group was sown in the time of the Companions, at the end of the rule of ‘Uthman when there was unrest about his rule which ultimately culminated in his murder. A group of Companions remained silent and refused to participate in the civil war which shook the Muslims profoundly. They held to the hadith reported by Abu Bakr from the Prophet: “There will be civil strife in which those who sit will be better than those who walk, and those who walk will be better than those who run. When it comes, whoever has camels should stay with his camels; whoever has sheep should stay with his sheep; and whoever has land should cling to his land.” A man said, “Messenger of Allah, what about someone who has neither camels, sheep or land?” He replied, “He should go to his sword and blunt its edge with a stone and then save himself if he can.”

They refused to become involved in the war between the Muslims and did not concern themselves with ascertaining who was in the right. They included Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas, Abu Bakra, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Imran and many others. They refused to make a judgement about either group and left the matter to Allah while other parties were quick to apportion blame. Then, when there was a lot of discussion about people who commit a major sin and the Kharijites claimed that such people were unbelievers and made war on all Muslims, some such people refused to take sides in the argument and withheld (irja’) judgement as they had withheld judgement on other occasions. Hence they were called Murji’ites (“deferrers”). This time the deferment of judgement was not a political one as the first had been but a doctrinal one, implying that belief consists of affirmation, assent, belief, and knowledge, that an act of disobedience does not impair faith, that faith is distinct from action.

So the term “Murji’ite” was applied to two groups: one who refused to take sides in the disagreement between the Companions and which continued into the Umayyad period and a second group who thought that Allah would forgive all sins except disbelief and so an act of disobedience did not harm faith just as an act of obedience was of no benefit without faith. Unfortunately, there were corrupt people within this school who used the position as an open door to evil. That is why Zayd ibn ‘Ali said about this, “I am free of the Murji’ites who appease the profligate by the promise of Allah’s pardon.”

The Mu‘tazilites used the term “Murji’ite” for all those who did not think that someone who committed a major sin would be eternally in the Fire and held the position that such people would be punished for a time and then pardoned by Allah. This is why it was applied to Abu Hanifa and his companions, may Allah be pleased with him. This is why ash-Shahrastani states in al-Milal wa’n-Nihal: “Abu Hanifa and his companions are called ‘Murji’ites of the Sunna’. A number of those who wrote treatises counted him among the Murji’ites. Perhaps the reason for that was that he used to say, ‘Belief is affirmation with the heart; it does not increase or decrease.’É There is another reason for this. He was an opponent of the Qadarites and Mu‘tazilites who appeared early on, and the Mu‘tazilites nicknamed all who opposed them in the question of Qadar ‘Murji’ites.’”

Many others beside Abu Hanifa and his companions are considered Murji’ites by this definition, including al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali, Sa‘id ibn Jubayr, Talq ibn Habib, Muqatil ibn Sulayman, Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman, and others. All of them were Imams of fiqh and hadith who did not say that those who committed major sins were unbelievers or deemed that they would be in the Fire forever.

The Jabarites

During the time of the Companions, may Allah be pleased with them, the question of the Divine Decree and man’s will and power in relation to the will and power of Allah Almighty was a subject discussed by the Muslims but the nature of the Arab mind and soul, close as it was to the natural state, prevented them from going too deeply into the matter and becoming obsessed by it. After their time, however, when the Muslims started to mix with the people of ancient religions and other intellectual traditions, their schools and sects multiplied and their investigations expanded and they followed the methods of the adherents of ancient religions in studying these topics.

One group claimed that man does not create his actions and that no actions whatsoever can be truly ascribed to him. The basic position of this school was to deny that the action of the slave had any reality and to ascribe it to Allah altogether. Since the creature has in reality no ‘capacity’ of his own, it must be that he is compelled in his actions without any power, volition or choice. Allah Almighty creates the actions in him and actions can only be ascribed to him metaphorically in the same way as they are ascribed to inanimates, just as a tree produces fruit, a stone moves, water flows, or the sun rises and sets, and other such things. Reward and punishment are predetermined and so obligation is also predetermined. It is difficult to ascertain who was the first to espouse this position, but the idea was certainly already widespread in Umayyad times so that it became a school of thought.

Although it is difficult to state with certainty who was responsible for the formation of this position as a school, it is usually attributed to al-Jahm ibn Safwan because he was the major proponent of it. He also espoused other views. He claimed that the Garden and the Fire will vanish and that nothing is eternal, and that when “eternity” is mentioned in the Qur’an, it merely means “a long time”. He also stated that faith was only recognition and that disbelief was ignorance, and that the knowledge and speech of Allah are located in time. He went further and stated that Allah cannot be described with any attributes, even life, and that the Qur’an is created.

The Mu‘tazilites

This group originated during the Umayyad period and dominated Islamic thought in the Abbasid era for a long time. Iraq, in the time of the Rightly Guided Khalifs and Umayyads, was home to a number of ethnic and religious groups of different origins. Some were descended from the ancient Chaldean inhabitants of Iraq; others were Persians, Christians, Jews, or Arabs. Most of them became Muslims. Some understood Islam in the light of the ancient teachings of their own traditions. Some took Islam from its pure source and imbibed it without alteration, but even so their feelings and ideas were not purely Islamic.

There was an involuntary inclination towards the past of the kind which psychologists call “unconscious”. That is why, when there was much civil war at the time of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in Iraq, the ancient sects were awakened and appeared in Iraq, gathering around the Kharijites and Shi‘a. It was in the midst of this jumble of opinions and confused sects that the Mu‘tazilites made their appearance. Scholars disagree about when the Mu‘tazilites first appeared. Some think that they began with the people of ‘Ali who withdrew from politics and devoted themselves to the pursuit of knowledge when al-Hasan surrendered the khalifate to Mu‘awiya. At-Tara’ifi states in his book, The People of Sects and Innovations: “They called themselves Mu‘tazilites. When al-Hasan offered his allegiance to Mu‘awiya, they withdrew (i‘tazala) from al-Hasan and Mu‘awiya and all people. They were among the adherents of ‘Ali. They kept to their homes and mosques, saying ‘We are busy with knowledge and worship.’”

Most sources state that the progenitor of the Mu‘tazilites was Wasil ibn ‘Ata’. He was one of those who used to attend the gathering of al-Hasan al-Basri at the time when the question arose which preoccupied the minds of so many people of the period: the question of whether committing a major wrong action makes its perpetrator an unbeliever. Wasil said in opposition to al-Hasan al-Basri, who had refused to become involved in the debate, “I say that the one who commits a major wrong action is neither a believer nor an unbeliever. He is between the two positions.” Then he withdrew (i‘tazala) from al-Hasan’s assembly and set up another in the mosque. From this you see why he and his people were called Mu‘tazilites. Certain orientalists, however, believe that they were called that because they were fearful pious men who withdrew from the pleasures of life as is indicated by their name. In fact, not all the men ascribed to this group conformed to that description. Some were suspected of acts of disobedience and some were godfearing.

The doctrine of the Mu‘tazilites

According to Abu’l-Hasan al-Khayyat in al-Intisar, “No one can properly be called a Mu‘tazilite unless he holds to all five tenets of their school: Tawhid, Justice, the Promise and the Threat, the Position between the Two Positions, and Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong. Only when a man maintains these five, is he, properly speaking, a Mu‘tazilite. These are the tenets of the Mu‘tazilite school.” We will speak briefly about each of them.

Tawhid

A particular understanding of tawhid was at the core of their doctrine. Al-Ash‘ari described their position in his book, Maqalat al-Islamiyyin: Allah is one. There is nothing like Him. He is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing. He is neither body nor spirit. He does not have corporeal form or shape, or flesh or blood. He is not substance or accident. He does not have a colour or taste, smell or tactility, heat, cold, wetness, dryness, height width, or depth. He does not have joining or separation, movement or stillness. He has no parts or components, or limbs or members. He has no directions: no right or left, front or back, above or below. He is not circumscribed by place nor is He subject to time.É He cannot be incarnate in any place. He is not described with any of the attributes of creation which involve contingency nor is He described as being finite or as being limited. He does not beget and is not begotten. No quantity can encompass Him; no veil conceal Him; no sense perceive Him. He cannot be compared to mankind nor does He resemble creation in any wayÉ He was First before events in time and before contingent things, and existed before all creatures. He is Knowing, Powerful, Living and will always remain so. Eyes cannot see Him; sight cannot perceive Him; imagination cannot encompass Him. He is Knowing, Powerful, Living, in a way dissimilar to all others who are knowing, powerful, living. He alone is timeless and there is nothing timeless but Him, no god but Him and He has no partner in His kingdom.

On this basis, the Mu‘tazilites asserted that it was impossible to see Allah on the Day of Resurrection since that would involve corporeality and direction. The Divine Attributes were nothing other than the Essence. The Qur’an was created by Allah since He does not (in their view) have the attribute of speech.

Justice

Al-Mas‘udi explained this in Muruj adh-Dhahab: It is that Allah does not like injustice nor does He create people’s actions. They do what they are commanded or forbidden to do by the power which Allah has created for them and placed in them. He commands only what He wants and forbids only what He dislikes. He takes charge of every good action He has commanded and is free of every evil action He has forbidden. He does not oblige people to do anything they are incapable of and He does not desire of them anything they do not have the power to do. No one has power to withhold or give except by the power of Allah which He has given them and is in their possession. Had He so willed, He could have compelled creation to obey Him and prevented them from disobeying Him, but He did not do that.

The Promise and the Threat

This is that Allah repays all who do good with good and all who do evil with evil. He does not forgive anyone who does major wrong actions if he does not repent.

The “Position between the Two Positions” (concerning belief and unbelief)

Expounding the Mu‘tazilites’ view on the “Intermediate Position”, ash-Shahrastani said, “This position was stated clearly by Wasil when he said that faith designates the qualities of good and when they are combined in a person he is called a believer, which is a name of praise. An impious man does not have all the qualities of good and does not deserve the name of praise. Hence he is not called a believer – but nor is he an unbeliever absolutely, for the shahada and good actions exist in him which cannot be denied. But if he leaves this world having committed a major sin without repenting for it, he is one of the people who will remain in the Fire forever, since in the Next World there are only two groups: one in Paradise and one in Hell. However, the Fire will be alleviated for him and he is above the level of the unbelievers.”

Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong

It is an obligation for all believers to disseminate the call of Islam, guide the misguided, and direct those in error as much as they can by means of both exposition and the sword.

The Mu‘tazilites’ method of deriving their doctrine

In explaining their doctrine the Mu‘tazilites relied on reason and not transmission. They relied on the intellect, restricting its scope only when it was a question of the commands of the Shari‘a. Every question was logically examined and they accepted what was logical and rejected what was not logical. This rationalistic approach was the result of several factors: their residence in Iraq and Persia which were influenced by ancient religions and civilisations, their descent from non-Arabs, their clashes with opponents, the spread of translations of the ancient philosophers in these places, and their mixing with Jews and Christians and others who translated these ideas into Arabic. One of the effects of their reliance on logic was that they judged that things were good or abhorrent by reason. They used to say: “All things are intelligible to the intellect and must be examined by the intellect. Beauty and ugliness are two essential qualities of good and evil.” Al-Jubba’i stated, “Any act of disobedience which Allah can permit to happen is ugly because of its prohibition and any act of disobedience which He never permits is ugly in itself: like ignorance of Him and believing the opposite of that.” They based on this the idea of the existence of the best of all possible worlds. They said that only good issues from Allah.

The Mu‘tazilites’ defence of Islam

Groups of Magians, Sabaeans, Jews and Christians and others entered Islam, their minds still full of the teachings of those religions, and their understanding of Islam necessarily being filtered through them. Some pretended to have faith out of fear of the ruler, concealing their old belief, and began to try to corrupt the Muslims’ deen, to make them doubt their own beliefs, and to introduce ideas and opinions for which Allah had given no authority. The fruits of their efforts appeared: there were anthropomorphists, zindiqs and many other groups. The Mu‘tazilites tried to defend Islam, and their Five Tenets were the result of their sharp debates with their opponents. The tenet of Tawhid was formulated to refute the anthropomorphists; Justice was to refute the Jahmites; the Promise and Threat was to refute the Murji’ites; and the Position between the Two Positions was to refute the Kharijites who said that anyone who commits a sin was unbeliever.

The khalif’s patronage of the Mu‘tazilites

The Mu‘tazilites appeared at the time of the Umayyads but the Umayyads did not oppose them because they did not provoke any discord or declare war. They were a group who took no action beyond thinking, countering evidence with evidence and proof with proof, and analysing matters by sound criteria. They did not involve themselves in politics – their weapons were exposition and proof, not swords. Al-Mas‘udi reported that Yazid II espoused their tenets. When the Abbasids came to power, heresy and the zindiqs had become a flood and the khalif found in the Mu‘tazilites a sword to employ against zindiqs and left them to combat heresy. When al-Ma’mun came to power, he took their side and brought them near to him. He saw that there was a disagreement between them and the fuqaha’, and thought that debates between the two groups would result in the emergence of a single point of view, but he was completely wrong in this.

Al-Ma’mun then sought to use the power of the state to force the fuqaha’ and hadith scholars to adopt the opinion of the Mu‘tazilites on the Qur’an. This is not the proper role of the state. If it is forbidden to force people to embrace the deen, how can they be forced to accept a tenet the denial of which does not constitute disbelief? He tried to force the fuqaha’ to declare that the Qur’an was created. Some of them complied out of taqiyya and fear, not true belief and adherence, while others endured violence, humiliation and long imprisonment and would not say anything other than what they believed.

That inquisition lasted after al-Ma’mun through the khalifates of al-Mu‘tasim and al-Wathiq. Al-Wathiq tried to coerce people to deny that Allah will be seen – another orthodox position denied by the Mu‘tazilites. When al-Mutawakkil came to power, this inquisition stopped, and things were allowed to take their course and opinions to evolve naturally, and people were left to choose their own position regarding these matters. The position of the Mu‘tazilites among their contemporaries The fuqaha’ and hadith scholars attacked the Mu‘tazilites and so they were caught between strong opponents on either side: the zindiqs and those like them on one side, and the fuqaha’ and hadith scholars on the other. One can see in the arguments and discussions of the fuqaha’ that they pilloried the Mu‘tazilites at every opportunity. One hears ash-Shafi‘i, Ibn Hanbal and others criticising the science of kalam and those who took knowledge through the method of the mutakallimun. Why did the fuqaha’ dislike the Mu‘tazilites when both groups were trying to support the deen and did not spare any efforts in its defence? It seems that there were a number of factors which combined to produce such enmity.

The suspicions of the fuqaha’ and hadith scholars

The fuqaha’ and hadith scholars were strong opponents of the Mu‘tazilites and suspected them of deviation. Ash-Shaybani gave a fatwa that anyone who prayed behind a Mu‘tazilite had to repeat the prayer. Imam Abu Yusuf considered them zindiqs. Imam Malik would not accept the testimony of any of them. They were suspected of corruption and committing haram acts. In fact, the Mu‘tazilite school embraced all sorts of individuals.

Disputes of the Mu‘tazilites and the science of kalam

Kalam was used by the Mu‘tazilites when debating with their opponents, whether Rafidites, Magians, dualists, people of other sects, specialists in fiqh and hadith, and others. The whole Islamic community took part in these arguments and debates for about three generations, during which assemblies of rulers, ministers and scholars flourished and opinions were exchanged. Internecine fights between the schools and sects caused reverberations that affected Islamic thought as a whole. Islamic thinking became embellished with Persian, Greek or Hindu ideas. Each faction was distinct in their argument in specific ways, while often they did not differ in their general position in the deen.

The methods of deduction employed by the Mu‘tazilites were different from those of others among the Islamic Community and their deductive premises also differed. There were several distinct characteristics in the way they debated.

• The Mu‘tazilites avoided imitation and were averse to following others without investigation, examination, comparison, proofs and proper criteria. Their respect was for opinions and not names, for the truth and not the speaker. Hence they did not imitate one another. The rule which they followed was that every responsible person is answerable for the principles of the deen to which his ijtihad has led him. Perhaps that is why they split into so many groups.
• They relied on the intellect to establish their articles of faith, finding support for their positions in the Qur’an. They did not have much knowledge of hadiths because they did not use them for doctrine or evidence.
• They took from classical scientific sources which were translated in their time. They borrowed from some of those sciences and used them to support their arguments in clashes with opponents in the field of kalam. They were joined by many Muslims educated in the foreign education and philosophical systems which were nurturing the Arab intellect in that time, which is why there were many distinguished writers and philosophers among them.
• They excelled in language, eloquence and clarity of exposition. Their men included eloquent orators and debaters who were skilled in debate, knew its rules and were experienced in its methods and how to defeat opponents. Their leading figure, Wasil ibn ‘Ata’, was a notable orator.

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