Just as Umayyad rule had provoked the emergence of Shi'ite and Kharijite movements during the Second Civil War, so it galvanised the party of Qurashis descended from the followers of Talha, Zubayr, and 'A'isha, now led by 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (624-692). Centred in Mecca, the Zubayrid party failed to offer the ideological force that propelled the Kharijites and the Shi'a, and was readily dealt with by the Umayyad caliphs. Its political significance collapsed, but its erstwhile followers, descended from many of the Companions of the Prophet who had remained in Arabia, and who constituted the largest reservoir of substantial tradition about the earliest period of Islam, appear to have been particularly active in preserving and transmitting information about that period. They were encouraged in this by the growing thirst of many Muslims from the great cities of the Fertile Crescent and beyond for authentic information about earlier times. Muslims from outside Arabia would frequently encounter these traditionists while fulfilling their pilgrimage obligations. The people of Medina, in particular, began to think of themselves as representing the epitome of Muslim authenticity, an oasis of correct memory and practice in a confused and divided world.
Led mostly by descendants of the Companions, some of whom were descended from Abu Bakr and 'Umar I, the Medinans kept alive the memory of those men as exemplary rulers, against the opinions of the Shi'a and others. They also perpetuated a simple and literal-minded understanding of the verses describing God in the Qur'an. Thus, in interpreting Qur'an 20:5: ''The All-Compassionate is established (istawa) on the throne,'' Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), the eventual systematiser of Medinan legal thought, is said to have commented: ''This establishment is known;but its mode is unknown;belief in it is a duty; but inquiring about it is a [reproved] innovation.''1 Too much metaphysics, for Maalik, was clearly a bad thing. As is indicated by the many deterministic traditions that came to be circulated, even in the earliest major work of such traditions, the Muwatta' of Malik, the Medinans also tended to uphold the predestinarian view that was being endorsed by the Umayyad caliphs.
Despite its small size and the relative homogeneity of its practices, Medina was host to certain divisive controversies. Again, politics lay at the source of these issues. Which of the protagonists of the First and Second Civil Wars had been right? Had 'Uthman been a grave sinner, so that he deserved to be overthrown, or even slain; or was he rather an innocent victim, whose killers were the sinners? The Shi'a and the Khawaarij were already typically hostile to 'Uthmaan, and the Khawaarij extended the hostility to 'Alai as well. On the other hand, the Umayyad authorities ordered 'Alai to be ritually cursed on the pulpits throughout the caliphal realms, but justified 'Uthmaan.
Many Muslims, however, recoiled in distaste from such polemical and partisan behaviour. Some had objected conscientiously to involving themselves in the First Civil War. This group began to teach that it was best to withhold judgement about the more controversial rulers, especially 'Uthmaan and 'Alai. After the Second Civil War, the former Zubayrids gave up their own political claims, and threw in their lot with this anti-polemical movement. They were also joined by al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn 'All (d. c. 718), the son of the discomfited Shi'ite candidate of the Second Civil War, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, becoming the first to issue a declaration proclaiming ''deferment of judgement'' (irja') on 'Uthman and 'All. Adherents of this pietistic solution became known as Murji'a, ''Deferrers'', a term which is related to a word in Qur'an 9:106. The idea of deferring judgement by leaving it to God seemed particularly to support the defeated political activists in Medina. The Murji'a sought to keep Islam united by avoiding the partisan attacks and the cursing of opponents that had characterised the approach of the Kharijites, the Shi'a, and the Umayyad government. Although, like the Umayyads and the proto-Sunni traditionists, they remained largely predestinarian, they upheld the principle that the current rulers should recognise the principles of justice, holding only that those of past times could not be judged in absentia, and in the absence of certain evidence. Present-day wrongdoers, however, could be condemned, not as unbelievers, but as misguided believers (mu'minUn dullal). This was a less harsh judgement than that of the Khaarijites, with their near-universal anathemas. On the basis of their understanding that interior faith rather than external actions was the hallmark of a believer, the Murji'ites developed a celebrated line of thinking in which faith and actions were regarded as separate.
The conciliatory principle of Murji'ism made it popular in cities exhausted by sectarian argument. Even in the metropolis of Kufa, they gained ground at the expense of the Kharijites and Shi'a. Increasing popularity, coupled with their insistence on justice, induced them into greater political activity in opposing the injustices of Umayyad rule, especially with regard to the rights of the non-Arab Muslims (mawali). The Murji'a, holding that the mere confession of belief sufficed for a new Muslim to be acknowledged as a Muslim and indeed as a believer, supported the mawali, even to the point of revolt in the period 728-46, despite the general Murji'ite teaching that a Muslim should not fight another Muslim except in self-defence.
The most radical revolutionary manifestation of the Murji'a in this period is associated with the shadowy figure of Jahm ibn Safwan (d. 746), who was secretary to the rebel al-Hiarith ibn Surayj (d. 746). Their programme called for a return to the Qur'an and the Sunna, which implied opposition to the worldly Umayyad rulers. Jahm apparently taught that faith is merely an internalised knowledge in the heart, without any outward expression at all, thus reducing the Murji'a's minimal requirements for the outward expression of belief still further. He also affirmed an absolute predestination, together, possibly, with the view that heaven and hell are not eternal, and is said to have held that the Qur'an was created by God, although this seems to anticipate a question that was not discussed until after 800. In fact, Jahm's own teachings are obscure, being mentioned only in much later, hostile sources, and no alleged followers of him are heard of for seventy years after his death. Later, the terms Jahmi and Jahmiyya were used mainly by Hanbalites to denounce anyone they accused of Mu'tazilite tendencies;although it is difficult to know if any of the Mu'tazilite positions allegedly anticipated by Jahm, such as the createdness of the Qur'an, were actually held by him; indeed, it is probable that they were not.
On the other hand, the most famous of all scholars associated with the Murji'a, Abu Hanifa (c. 699-767), the eponym of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence and an important scholar of Kui fa, upheld the pacific doctrine of the mainline Murji'a. Several more of Abu Hanifa's doctrines are laid down very succinctly in an early creed called ''al-Fiqh al-Akbar I'', which contains ten points that represent perhaps the earliest surviving elaboration of Muslim creed. In this statement, Abu Hanifa opposes the beliefs of the Kharijites, Qadaris, Shi'ites and Jahmis. The text also contains an assertion of deferral of judgement with regard to 'Uthman and 'Ali, an equal regard and respect for all the Companions of the Prophet, a sentence indicating a form of predestinarian belief, and an apparent reference to God being established on His throne in heaven. The document thus shows how close the Murji'a were to later Sunnism. Only an extreme offshoot of the Murji'a, the Karramiyya, founded by the Iranian Muhammad ibn Karram (c. 806-69), continued to hold that God was a body which touches the ''throne'', although without specific limbs or organs, but this belief was usually condemned by other Muslims.
Later Murji'a went some way in elaborating the earlier doctrines in their debates with the proto-Sunn!i traditionists. The original idea of suspending judgement on 'Uthman and 'All disappeared, as both became no less formally justified in the Sunn! community than Abu Bakr and 'Umar I had been. Instead, there came to be a heavy emphasis on faith being separate from works, and an insistence that faith, being an indivisible and uncountable whole, can neither increase nor decrease. Thus, faith (aman) was conceived as perfect, undoubting belief, as portrayed, for example, in Qur'an 49:15. Later Murji'ites somewhat modified this conception in the light of Qur'an 3:173; 8:2; 9:124; 33:22; 48:4; and 74:31, where it is asserted that faith can increase; but the mainstream Murji'a continued to deny that it could decrease.
Most Murji'ite positions were later adopted as part of the mainstream Sunn! synthesis in some form, even though traditionists of the Hanbal! type tried to exclude them as heretics, perhaps because of their rationalism in contemplating and considering the problem of divine justice. Although the name ''Murji'a'' became a pejorative term that no-one cared to apply to himself, later Sunn!is, with the exception of most Hanbalites, did not regard the Murji'a as lying beyond the Sunn! pale.
THE LATER MURJI'A
As Muslim acquaintance grew with the urban civilisation of the Near East, with its Hellenistic legacy which had deeply shaped the earlier monotheisms, some Muslims began to develop a high form of religious, doctrinal or theological discourse known as kal!m. Many of the earliest of these thinkers are broadly characterised as Murji'a, and they emerged from the same general intellectual environment in southern Iraq which had produced Abu Hanifa. Like the Hanafis, they won favour with some of the early Abbasid caliphs and their ministers. Among the earliest and most important of these was Dirar ibn 'Amr (c. 730-c. 800), a Kufan who migrated to Basra, where he made a considerable contribution to the evolution of a dialectical kalam discourse. Dirar opposed most of the known trends of his day, and so is hard to classify. Although he was not really a Murji'ite, as he critiqued Murji'ite positions, he was loyal to the memory of both 'Uthm!n and 'Al!. A predestinarían opponent of Qadarism, he appears to be the first to have applied the doctrine of the qur'anic verb kasaba (Qur'an 2:286), meaning ''to acquire'', to human actions, as a means of resolving the antinomy between determinism and free will. Thus, like his contemporary, the Sha'i Hisham ibn al-Hakam, he held that God creates all human actions, but human beings ''acquire'' them, together with a sufficient degree of responsibility for them. A human's ability to perform an action exists only because God wills it at the moment the act is performed. Beyond this, Diraar also held that immaterial ''accidents'' (a'rad) could not exist from moment to moment, but rather had to be recreated by God in each moment, a decision which He was free to revoke at any time. This was the origin of the famous theory which came to qualify Sunnai theology, that time consists of a series of individual, indivisible points, and thus is not a continuum.
Diraar also adopted the idea that between the two categories of believer and unbeliever there is a third possibility, ''a state between the two states'' (manzila bayn al-manzilatayn), which is the place of the believer who is an unrepentant mortal sinner. In his view, such a person is beneath believing status, because of his sins and failure to repent. Partly paralleling Khaarijite strictures against mortal sinners, Diraar taught that such would be eternally in hell, a view that Sunnism was to reject. Furthermore, Dir!r rejected the belief in an intermediary punishment of sinners in the grave before resurrection, and did not accept that the believers would apprehend or ''see'' God on the day of judgement in a literal way, but only through a sixth sense. Regarding God's attributes, Diraar taught that these were only to be understood negatively, that is, as denying their opposites. This approach, taken in opposition to a literalist understanding of the sacred texts, considerably deflated the importance of the attributes.
Differing from Dirar was Bishr al-Mans! (c. 760-833), a Murji'ite and hence a predestinarian in creed and of Hanafai tendency in law. An advisor to the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun (r. 813-33), Bishr may have played a major role in inducing that ruler to accept the doctrine that the Qur'an had been created. Other teachings of Bishr resembled those of Dirar, such as his denial of the ''torment of the tomb'', a pre-resurrection punishment for sinners. However, he anticipated later Sunm systematisation by also denying, against Diraar and the Khaarijites, that major sinners among the Muslims would be eternally in hell, basing his view on Qur'an 99:7. He also held that faith consisted only of belief plus its verbal expression, and not other works; thus, bowing to the sun or to an idol could be only an indication of unbelief, and not unbelief itself, since that had to be expressed verbally. He also recognised only four essential attributes of God: will, knowledge, power, and creativity, and considered all other attributes to be figurative. This contribution anticipated the later discussion over the essential versus the active attributes of God.
The most prominent student of Bishr was al-Husayn al-Najjar (d. c. 833-6), who was in most respects more influenced by Dirir, particularly on the subject of determinism, which he elaborated more fully than Diraar had done. Al-Najjaar tended to see God's power as His overriding attribute, just as later Sunnis would do. He specified that the human being's power to act only arose simultaneously with the act itself and did not endure but had to be granted again by God at the time of a second action. This fitted with Diraar's atomistic view of time and also anticipated later Sunni orthodoxy. Al-Najjir's view of faith grew perhaps out of the Hanafi one, in that he taught that faith is only in belief and profession, and thus cannot decrease except through a complete denial, although it can increase. But he appended to his definition of it some qualities which are also ''acts of obedience'' (ti'it), which seems to come closer to the later Sunni majority, which included acts in the definition of faith. Al-Najjar also upheld Dirar's idea of a negative understanding of the divine attributes, but stated that humans seeing God on judgement day would be doing so with the eye which God would imbue with the power of knowing, which seems to be a concession to the Sunni traditionists. Contrary to the Mu'tazila, al-Najjar maintained that God could bestow on human beings unmerited blessing or grace (lutf). He also denied the ''torment of the tomb'', like his two predecessors, and followed Bishr in stating that neither believers nor unbelievers would suffer in hell forever. Thus in many but not all ways, he anticipated the eventual Sunni-Ash'ari discourse against the Mu'tazila.
Mu'tazilism, as already noted, was in significant ways a continuation of Qadarism, the upholding of a doctrine of free will. But it went far beyond the simple free-will ideas of the early Qadariyya, to become the first fully elaborated, quasi-rationalistic defence of the faith.
The Basran Wasil ibn 'Ata' (d. 748), an associate of al-Hasan al-Basri, is traditionally considered the originator of Mu'tazilism, along with 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd (699-761). Slightly later, another Basran, who moved to Baghdad, Abu'l-Hudhayl al-'Allaf (c. 753-841), more thoroughly developed the main early doctrines. Abu'l-Hudhayl was probably the originator of the ''Five Principles'' (al-usul al-khamsa) of Mu'tazilism: (1) God's unity and uniqueness (tawhid);(2) His justice ('adl);(3) the eternity of Paradise for the righteous and hell for sinners (al-wa'd wa'l-wa 'Id, literally ''the promise and the threat''), (4) the intermediate state of the Muslim sinner, between belief and unbelief; and (5) the command to enjoin goodness and to forbid iniquity (al-amr bi'l-ma'rUf wa'l-nahy 'an al-munkar). In general, it is the first two of these principles which define the Mu'tazilite position, which is why the Mu'tazilites called themselves the ''People of [God's] Unity and Justice'' (ahl al-tawhid wa'l-'adl).
For the Mu'tazila, God was unique (Qur'an 42:11), and nothing should be permitted to compromise this uniqueness and unity. Thus they disdained the grossly anthropomorphic explanations that were favoured by some traditionists and early Shl'a, which they saw as insults to God's transcendence. They taught that God was indivisible into parts (Qur'an 114:1-4), and that He could not even have an indivisible body, because such corporeality would also compromise his transcendent totality. Thus the Mu'tazila asserted that any anthropomorphic descriptions of God in the Qur'an must be explained as purely metaphorical or allegorical. To support this concept, a theory of language was elaborated, whereby utterances were divided into literal (haqiqi) and figurative (majizi), using Qur'an 3:7 for textual evidence.
Furthermore, the numerous adjectives and verbs by which God and His actions are qualified in the Qur'an do not point to the separate existence of the things described, any more than verses invoking God's hands (Qur'an 5:64, etc.) mean that God possesses actual hands. Such descriptions can be no more than symbols of his action. This interpretation was easy enough on those points where God was clearly acting to produce something else, as in his roles as creator and provider. But it was less obvious on the issue of those characteristics essential to his own being that produced no necessary outside effects, such as knowing and living. Abu'l-Hudhayl at first insisted that each of these internal attributes (sifat dhitiyya) acted through an entity that was identical with God Himself. That is, God knows through a knowledge that is identical with Him. Such a locution in effect disposed of these attributes. Later Mu'tazilism dropped this claim, holding that God knows through Himself. The Mu'tazilite view was denounced by the Sunni traditionists as a ''denial'' (ta'til) of God's attributes, which many of them thought placed the Mu'tazila beyond the pale of Islam. The Sunnis held rather that the internal attributes were coeternal with God. Perhaps in concession to Sunni criticisms, the later Mu'tazilite, Abu Hashim al-Jubba'i (d. 933) opined that the attributes represented ''states'' (ahwal) that had a real existence and served as the basis for the adjectives describing God. However, this concession did not win the assent even of all the Mu'tazila, and was insufficient to encourage the Sunni trad-itionists to end their anathematisation of the Mu'tazilite school.
One of the internal attributes of God that the Mu'tazila debated with the Sunnis was that of God's speech, as evidenced by the existence of the Qur'an. The Mu'tazila famously insisted that the Qur'an was created by God, while the Sunnis held it to be uncreated. The Mu'tazilites supported their claim with the rational supposition that God's Book was subordinate to God and not coeternal with Him, while their Sunni adversaries adduced a range of hadith in response, to the effect that there could never have been a time when God did not speak and ''know'' the Qur'an, so that it had existence before creation. After the Abbasid caliph al-Ma'mun adopted Mu'tazilism as state doctrine in 827, the religion's scholars were required to conform to it, particularly on this issue. An inquisition (mihna) was instituted to enforce this in 833, the year of his death, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780-855), the leading Sunni traditionist, was arrested. After al-Ma'mui n's death, the new caliph, al-Mu'tasim, attempted to force Ibn Hanbal to acknowledge the createdness of the Qur'an, and unsuccessfully resorted to torture in an attempt to make him submit. Although Mu'tazilism remained the state doctrine until 851, the effort to impose it on the scholars proved counterproductive, and led to a hardening of the emerging Sunni resistance to Mu'tazilism as a principle. Whatever the original theological merits of either position on the qur'anic text, they were soon submerged when each side became embroiled in a partisan struggle with strongly political implications.
Although not so salient in the official ideological struggle, the Mu'tazili doctrine of God's justice was perhaps even more central to the overall system, because of its practical implications. The Mu'tazila stated that God, having declared Himself to be just (Qur'an 6:115; 16:90; 21:47; 57:25), was constrained to follow His own declaration. Therefore, being good, He could will and do only that which is good, a view already embraced by deterministic Murji'a. As developed by Abu'l-Hudhayl, the idea of God's justice led, however, to a rather mechanistic view of how that justice operated. That is, instead of God having the power to consider each case and to be merciful to whomever He would, He was constrained always to judge exactly according to the just deserts of each soul at the judgement, so that there would be no escape for the impenitent sinner. Verses stating that God pardons whom He will and punishes whom He will (2:284) mean only that He will pardon those deserving pardon, in other words, the repentant, and will punish those who deserve punishment. The doctrine of the Prophet's intercession (shafi'a) for sinners, set forth in many hadith, could have no place in this system. While such a vision could have terrifyingly serious implications in one's daily life, as one would want always to avoid having sins unrepented and unatoned for, it also presented God as a kind of cosmic justice machine, rather than a free and conscious being. In other words, Mu'tazilism tended to lean towards portraying God as a dharmic force, rather than as the personal deity most Muslims conceived Him to be.
However, in reducing God to a mechanistic justice device, the Mu'tazila also resoundingly affirmed human free will. However human beings might act, their fate in eternity lies entirely in their own hands, and their acts are their own creations. God only creates in humans the power or ability to act, not the acts themselves. The Mu'tazilites demonstrated this theory by an atomic theory of time which may originate ultimately in Greek philosophy. Thus, God's empowerment precedes the acts rather than operating concurrently with them. Being thus empowered to act, humans do so at a later moment of their own volition. Furthermore, according to a doctrine first stated by Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir (d. between 825 and 840), secondary consequences arise from one's own actions, and one is responsible for these consequences too, as suggested by Qur'an 16:25. The Mu'tazila also held that potentially deterministic verses suggesting that God guides whom He will to the right or the wrong are to be explained as actions God takes after the human concerned has already acted. Thus, they are more like rewards and punishments. God's grace, in this view, consists in His blessings, including His revelations, which may help to guide people if they choose to heed them. A related idea is that such guidance is available to all in equal measure, so that each soul will have an equal chance to achieve Paradise and will have only itself to blame for failing to heed the signs.
Also bound up with the idea of free will and human responsibility was the Mu'tazilite adoption of the ''intermediate degree'' doctrine. Waasil ibn 'Ataa' and early proto-Sunnais are said to have described this as ''deviant'' (fasiq), but the later Mu'tazila followed Dirar in calling it ''a state between the two states''. Sunnai traditionist critics also contended with the Mu'tazila over this issue, insisting that the unrepentant mortal sinner was a believer, while the Khaarijites considered such a person to be an apostate. The Mu'tazilite polemic on this point eventually led some Sunnais to state that the mortal sinner is not a believer while he is committing the act, but afterwards returns to believing status. Thus did inter-group polemic trigger fine adjustments to the creeds of all the contending parties.
Underlying many of their characteristic doctrines was the Mu'tazi-lite introduction of a rational element into their religious discourse. While the early Mu'tazilais cannot be shown to have drawn substantially on Greek learning, and may have taken their logic, terminology and style of argument from evolving Iraqi systematisations of Arabic grammar and law, the mature Mu'tazilite school armed itself with the Hellenistic methodology which became increasingly popular as Abbasid rule progressed. Thus, while most of them were not themselves philosophers, or interested in philosophy as such, the Mu'tazila benefited from the study of logic and physics, and speculated about perception and language, as well as philosophical problematics such as the composition of bodies from atoms, substance versus accident, and the nature of the will. However, those inclined to philosophy itself, such as the earliest major Muslim philosopher, al-Kindi (d. 866), and the philosophically inclined theologian al-Nazzam, upheld many of the key principles of Mu'tazilism.
The later Mu'tazila such as Abu 'All al-Jubba'i (d. 915) tempered the mechanistic understanding of God's justice by adding that God could grant unmerited grace (tafaddul) to whomever He might. Other Sunni concerns were also incorporated into some Mu'tazilite systems, making their God more personal, and although the school declined after the ending of the Abbasid inquisition, it eventually found new followers in both Twelver and Zaydi Shi'ism, which frequently adopted it as their doctrine in place of their own earlier theological views. The only major Shi'ite group which did not substantially engage with Mu'tazilism was the Ismi'ilis, increasingly drawn to Neoplatonist formulations.
SUNNi TRADITIONIST TRIUMPH AND ASH'ARITE
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