The Qadaris

It was the tension between free will and determinism that gave rise to the first properly theological dispute in Islam. The pre-Islamic Arabs had tended to believe in a predetermined fate (dahr), and hence received the Qur'an in the same spirit. The early caliphs seem also to have upheld this view, particularly Mu'awiya (661-80), 'Abd al-Malik (685-705), and 'Umar II (717-20), in connection with each of whom epistles or traditions of a deterministic hue have been associated. Usually, modern scholars have seen determinism as a position congenial to the rulers, since it logically appears to diminish concern with the morality of their actions and of one's response to their rule. Determinism also naturally brings to the foreground the principle of the absolute, exalted majesty and power of God.

On the other hand, pietists tended to worry about whether their actions were acceptable to God, and whether they could not do better by increasing their efforts to live in a way pleasing to Him. The origins of such pietism in early Islam are obscure; however, it is quite certain that there were considerable numbers of individuals passionately concerned about their own conduct, and determined to conform their lives to God's will. This tendency is first notably attested at Basra, a city with large concentrations of Kharijites, and of Ibadis in particular. The foundation of this pietistic school in Basra is associated with the name of al-Hasan al-Basri (646-728), a non-Arab Muslim (mawla), who was born in Medina but moved to Basra after 663. Al-Hasan criticised the Umayyad governors of Iraq, and, despite his opposition to violent rebellion in the Kharijite mode, was forced into hiding between the years 705 and 714. Connected to his political dissent was his rigorist view of sin. With his leading disciple Qatada ibn Di'ama (d. 735), he denied that a sinner could exculpate himself by claiming that God was the source of all human actions. In an epistle dated to the final years of the seventh century addressed to the caliph 'Abd al-Malik, al-Hasan cites numerous qur'anic verses which indicate that humans are responsible for their actions. For him, God creates only good, and evil comes either from humans or from the devil. The human agent chooses freely whether or not to sin, and although God has foreknowledge of that person's choice, it is not a predetermining knowledge.

Shortly after al-Hasan's death, a group of Basran Kharijites led by Shabab al-Najrana proposed a more thoroughgoing doctrine of free will, in which God neither knows in advance nor decrees human actions. This idea, with its apparent diminution of divine authority over creation, was attacked in an epistle attributed to the caliph 'Umar II. Himself strongly determinist in his convictions, the caliph nonetheless regarded al-Hasan's type of moderate Qadarism as acceptable. Qadari dissent became more active with Ghaylan al-Dimashq! (d. between 731 and 735), a government secretary of Coptic origin, who launched a revolutionary campaign against the Umayyad caliph Hishaam (r. 724-43). The movement gained momentum only after Ghaylaan's death, and culminated in the coup of Yazid III against al-Walid II in 744, which led to a brief implementation of the Qadaral political agenda, including a limited caliphate in which Yazid agreed to step down if he failed to uphold the programme. This sat well with Qadari ideas of free will;the caliph was fully responsible for his actions and thus had to remove himself or be removed if he fell into grave sin. However, the political failure of the movement sent Qadarism into a period of eclipse.

The Qadaris subsequently continued in two forms: a pietistic trend that was eventually re-absorbed by the proto-Sunn! hadith scholars, and a more doctrinally defined alignment that eventually joined Mu'tazi-lism. The distinction made between the two was marked by the trad-itionists' subsequent appropriation of al-Hasan al-Basri and Qatada as exemplars of early Muslim piety, and by a condemnation of the hardline Qadaris who had attempted to revolt against the government: Ma'bad al-Juhan! (d. 699), and Ghaylan.


The stronghold of ongoing loyalty to the memory of 'All was his former capital, the Iraqi city of Kufa. The Shi'a were convinced that the tragic dissensions among the Muslims following the Prophet's death were the result of a sinful abandonment of the Prophet's own family. All would be well if a divinely chosen, rightly guided imam from the Prophet's house took the reins of power in place of the corrupt and worldly dynasts of the time. In time, this early ''philo-'Alism'' developed into messianic expectations and an adulation of those who, being descendants of 'All, were thought to be the designated leaders of the righteous community.

The catalyst for this process was the traumatic massacre of 'All's son al-Husayn (626-80) with his family at Karbala' in Iraq. Shortly thereafter, a Shi'ite revolt in Kufa (685-7), led in the name of 'All's son Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya by al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, was already replete with messianic expectations and overtones, which persisted even after its failure. This Shi'ite revolt also saw the emergence of extreme doctrines in some circles, which condemned even the caliphates of Abu Bakr and 'Umar I. Divisions within nascent Shi'ism, and the failure of Mukhtar's revolt, ensured that there were no further Shi'ite rebellions until the Umayyad period had almost drawn to a close, when the revolt of Zayd ibn 'Al! in Kufa (740) failed as disastrously as had that of al-Husayn sixty years before. Despite its limited geographical spread, and its political failures, the early Sh!i'a's simple political solution to the problem of Umayyad autocracy gained considerable support, particularly as conditions worsened towards the end of the Umayyad era.

The early Shi'a were heavily subdivided, each group defined by the imam to whom it paid allegiance. These groups differed also in the energy with which they promoted their imam's political leadership, and quiescent groups tended to survive longer. From the point of view of their Sunni opponents, the most moderate group was the Zaydis, descended from Zayd ibn 'Ali, who held that an imam could be elected, and that the imamate of an inferior candidate (mafdul) could be accepted. Such a doctrine readily validated the rule of Abu Bakr and 'Umar I, and thus raised few problems for the rulers and the Sunni majority. They were opposed by the emerging group of the Imimls, also called the Twelvers after the death of their eleventh imam, and the disappearance, or ''occultation'' (ghayba), of their twelfth in 874. A major catalyst in the emergence of Twelver Shi'ite thought was the Kufan Hisham ibn al-Hakam (d. 795 or later). Hishim held that each imam had been designated by his predecessor by a specific appointment (nass). All the imams were infallible, and the imamate was confined to the descendants of 'Ali and Fatima. Thus, every elected imam was a usurper, even when ''acclaimed'' by the troops. Such a hard-line stance necessarily brought the Imamis into conflict with the Abbasid state, which had supplanted the Umayyads in the year 750.

Hisham is also thought to have entertained anthropomorphic ideas that Twelvers later discarded, such as the belief that God is contained in a physical body, since only bodies can have existence. He rejected, however, the extreme anthropomorphism which taught that God had a form like a man, which doubtless was too redolent of Christian belief ever to be acceptable among Muslims. Hisham also seems to have been the first to have described the divine attributes as substantives, a theme later taken up in Sunni discourse. Like proto-Sunni traditionists, Hisham also favoured predestination over free will, although he also assigned to humans responsibility for their actions. Interestingly, most of these early metaphysical views came to be reversed among the Shi'a, whose continuity was assured more by their definitions of political legitimacy than by an abstract theological programme.

A further important subdivision of Shi'ism after 850 was the Isma'ilis, who recognised seven imams culminating in Isma'il ibn Ja'far al-Sidiq (d. by 765). Once politically inactive, and engaged in esoteric speculations whose history is now obscure, they began an intense and well-organised revolutionary activity around 878, and for much of Islamic history the Isma'ilis were the most significant of the many Shi'ite branches. In later times, Abu'l-Hasan al-Nasafi and others brought them the Neoplatonist doctrines which have distinguished them since, but which had little or no influence on other Muslims in the early period.

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