AL-ASHARI (Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Isma‘il ibn Ishaq al-As’ari)—a theologican and philosopher, founder of the theological school of the Asharites, b. 873 in Basra, d. 935 in Baghdad; because of the strong influence of his views, he is called the third reformer of Islam.
Al-Ashari was a disciple of the Mu‘tazila theologian al-Dhubba’i, the director of the school in Basra. He was the first typical representative of the Mu’tazila (called the Moslem scholastics, they primarily used logical and philosophical arguments in theological discussions). His views underwent a change later.
The doctrines of the Mu’tazila, who were founded by Wasil b. 'Ata' (d. 747) were recognized by the caliph Al-Ma‘muna in 827. These doctrines were the cause of twenty years of persecution directed at theologians of the old orthodoxy. The protection of the school of the Mu’tazila ended when in 848 the caliph Al-Mutawakkil promulgated an edict, al- Ma‘muna, which required public officials to profess that the Koran was the created word of God. The characteristic accent in the doctrine of the Mu’tazila was the absolutization of God’s unity to such a degree that they rejected any distinction between God’s essence and his properties. They also fought anthropomorphism in statements about God, and even any comparison of creatures with God. The question of the Koran was the main point of contention in their discussions with conservative Moslem theologians. The Mu’tazila thought that the Koran had been created, while their opponents held that the Koran was co-eternal with God, that the Koran was the model according to which the world came into being. Their respective positions on this question were decisive in whether these theological schools rejected or accepted the scientific heritage of the Greeks. When the conservative theology accepted the thesis that the Koran is eternal, this reduced human knolwedge exclusively to the study of the book and the tradition associated with it.
In 912, Al-Ashari publicly opposed the Mu’tazila as he published a polemical work, and he joined the Mutakallimun. He opposed the excessive rationalism of the Mu’tazila as well as the views of the old orthodox school. He stated that the reason should be subordinate to revelation, that the Koran exists eternally in God and that only its verbal form has been created. He ascribed only two real attributes to God: existence and quality, while he held that other attributes were only constructs of the human mind. In himself, God possesses yet other attributes, but these are unknown and inconceivable to men. When the same attributes are predicated of God and man, they differ not in degree but in essence. Man truly makes decisions and choices, but there depend upon God’s unlimited will, which creates in his creatures both the power and the choice, and the same may be said of the actions that follow upon that power and choice. Since nothing can exist by its own power, i.e., there is no substantial existence, only accidents exist. The world is thus the sum of moments of time and space arbitrarily connected by God. Material bodies are aggregates of powerless atoms, i.e., indivisible particles without magnitude, which by the intervention of God form a whole and are preserved from corruption and annihilation.
The Nizamiya Academy founded in Baghdad in 1068 developed and spread the views of Al-Ashari. The school received his philosophical and theological thought as the foundation of doctrine. The most important thinkers among the later Asharites were Al-Gazali and Fakhr al-Din Al-Razi.
Mediaeval Europe learned of Al-Ashari’s views and those of his school in Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed.
The works of Al-Ashari are published in Maqalat al-islamiyyin (Dogmas of Islam), ed. H. Ritten, Wies 19632
S. Pines, Beiträge zur Islaischen Atomlehre, B 1936; M. Horten, Die philosophischen Systeme der spekulativen theologie in Islam, B 1912; L. Gardet and M. M. Anawati, Introduction à la théologie musulmane. Essai de théologie comparée, Pa 1948; A. Mrozek, Średniowieczna filozofia arabska [Mediaeval Arab philosophy], Wwa 1967; G. Hourani, Reason and Tradition in Islamic Ethics, C 1985; Gilson HFS 170; D. Gimaret, La doctrine d’Al-Ashiri, P 1990; R. M. Frank, Elements in the Developmnet of the Teaching of Al-Ashiri, Le Muséon 105 (1991), 141–190;R. Bahlul, Al- Ashiri’s Theological Determinism and the Senses of “Can”, Al-Ashiri’s Discussion of the Problem of Evil, Islamic Quarterly 36 (1992), 75–83.
Lech Szyndler, Reet Otsason