The "Ash'ari theology" (Arabic الأشاعرة "al-asha`irah") is a school of early Muslim speculative theology founded by the theologian
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari(d. 324 AH / 936AD). The disciples of the school are known as Ash'arites, and the school is also referred to as Ash'arite school.
It was instrumental in drastically changing the direction of
Islamic theology, separating its development radically from that of theologyin the Christianworld.
In contrast to the
Mutaziliteschool of theologians, the Asharite view was that comprehension of unique nature and characteristics of Godwere beyond human capability. And that, while man had free will, he had no power to create anything. It was a Taqlid-based view which did not assume that human reasoncould discern morality. A critical spirit of inquirywas far from absent in the Asharite school. Rather, what they lacked, was a trust in reason itself, separate from a moral code, to decide what experiments or what knowledgeto pursue.
Factors affecting the spread of the school of thought include a drastic shift in historical initiative, foreshadowing the later loss of
Muslim Spainand Columbus' landing in the Western Hemisphere- both in 1492. But the decisive influence was most likely that of the new Ottoman Empire, which found the Asharite views politically useful, and were to a degree taking the advantages of Islamic technologies, sciences, and openness for granted. Which, for some centuries after as the Ottomans pushed forth into Europe, they were able to do - losing those advantages gradually up until The Enlightenmentwhen European innovation finally surpassed and eventually overwhelmed that of the Muslims.
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ariwas noted for his teachings on atomism, among the earliest Islamic philosophies, and for al-Ash'ari this was the basis for propagating a deterministicview that Allahcreated every moment in timeand every particle of matter. Thus cause and effect was an illusion. He nonetheless believed in free will, elaborating the thoughts of Dirar ibn Amr'and Abu Hanifainto a "dual agent" or "acquisition" (" iktisab") account of free will. [Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.]
While al-Ash'ari was opposed to the views of the
Mu'tazilischool for its over-emphasis on reason, he was also opposed to the views of certain orthodox schools such as the Zahiri(literalist), Mujassimite (anthropomorphist) and Muhaddithin ( traditionalist) schools for their over-emphasis on taqlid(imitation) in his "Istihsan al‑Khaud": [M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, [http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/hmp/14.htm Ash’arism] , "Philosophia Islamica".]
Despite being named for Ash'ari, the most influential work of this school's thought was "
The Incoherence of the Philosophers", by the Persian polymath al-Ghazali(d. 1111). He laid the groundwork to "shut the door of ijtihad" in the subsequent centuries in all Sunni Muslim statesFact|date=February 2008. It is one of the most influential works ever producedFact|date=February 2008. Ibn Rushd (Averroes), a philosopher, famously responded that "to say that philosophers are incoherent is itself to make an incoherent statement." Ibn Rushd's book, "The Incoherence of the Incoherence", attempted to refute Al-Ghazali's views, though the work was not well received in the Muslim communityFact|date=February 2008.
His book "The Revival of the Religious Sciences in Islam" was the cornerstone of the school's thinkingFact|date=February 2008, and combined
theology, skepticism, mysticism, Islamand other conceptions, discussed in depth in the article on Islamic philosophy.
Ibn al-Haytham(Alhacen) (d. 1039) was an Iraqi Arab polymathwho was a pioneer of the scientific method, modern optics, experimental physics, experimental psychology, psychophysics, phenomenology, scientific skepticism, and visual perception. He was also a critic of Aristotelian physics, Ptolemaic astronomyand the emission theory. His " Book of Optics" is considered one of the most influential books in physics.
1048) was a Persian polymath who was a pioneer of anthropology, geodesy, Indology, experimental astronomy, and experimental mechanics. He was also a critic of Aristotelian physics, the Aristotelian theory of gravityand Ptolemaic astronomy.
Fakhr al-Din Razi(d. 1209) was a Persian mathematician, physicist, physician, philosopher, and a master of kalam. He wrote an encyclopedia of science, which was influential, and a later referent for such modern efforts as the Islamization of knowledge, which have similar intention. He was also a critic of Aristotelian logicand a pioneer of inductive logic.
Ibn Khaldun(d. 1406) was a North African-born Arab Muslim polymath, historian, pedagogueand philosopher who was the pioneer of demography, cultural history, historiography, the philosophy of history, sociology, and the social sciencesin general. His " Muqadimmah" is still referenced today in these fields.
Other works of
universal historyfrom al-Tabari, al-Masudi, Ibn al-Athir, and Ibn Khaldun himself, were quite influential in what we now call archaeologyand ethnology. They worked in a relatively modern style that historians of the present would recognize.
Influence and modern assessment
The influence of the Asharites is still hotly debated today.
Most agree that the Asharites put an end to philosophy as such in the Muslim world, but permitted these methods to continue to be applied to science and technologyFact|date=February 2008. The 12th-to-14th century marked the peak of innovation in Muslim civilization. During this period many remarkable achievements of engineering and social organization were made, and the
ulemabegan to generate a fiqh based on taqlid ("imitation based on authority") rather than on the old ijtihad. Eventually, however, modern historians think that lack of improvements in basic processes and confusion with theology and law degraded methods. The rigorous means by which the Asharites had reached their conclusions were largely forgotten by Muslims before The Renaissance, due in large part to the success of their effort to subordinate inquiry to a prior ethics - and assume ignorance was the norm for humankind.
Modern commentators blame or laud Asharites for curtailing much of the Islamic world's innovation in sciences and technology, then (
12th centuryto 14th century) leading the world. This innovation was not in general revived in the West until The Renaissance, and emergence of scientific method- which was based on traditional Islamic methods of ijtihadand isnad(backing or scientific citation). The Asharites did not reject these, amongst the ulemaor learned, but they stifled these in the mosqueand discouraged their application by the lay public.
The Asharites may have succeeded in laying the groundwork for a stable empire, and for subordinating
philosophyas a process to fixed notions of ethicsderived directly from Islam- perhaps this even improved the quality of lifeof average citizens. But it seems the historical impact was to yield the initiative of Western civilization to Christians in Europe.
Some argue, however, that the Asharites not only did not reject scientific methods, but indeed promoted them.
Ziauddin Sardarpoints out that some of the greatest Muslim scientists, such as Ibn al-Haythamand Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, who were pioneers of the scientific method, were themselves followers of the orthodox Ash'ari school of Islamic theology. [ Ziauddin Sardar, [http://www.cgcu.net/imase/islam_science_philosophy.htm Science in Islamic philosophy] ]
Early Islamic philosophy
Islamization of knowledge
* [http://www.salafimanhaj.com/pdf/SalafiManhaj_AshariCreed.pdf The Ash'aris: In the Scales of Ahl us-Sunnah]
* W. Kayani, [http://www.hawza.org.uk/index2.php?option=content&do_pdf=1&id=90 The Political Factors that brought the Asharite School to a majority] , May 2005.
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