1. Mu'tazilism generally: Formative Period, chs 8 and 10,2 (pp.209-50, 297-303); Sezgin, GAS, i.613-24, good bibliography; Albert N. Nader, Le systerne philosophique des Mu'tazila, Beirut 1956 (also in Arabic), presents Mu'tazilite theology as a system without considering historical development; H. S. Nyberg, 'Zum Kampf zwischen Islam und Manichâismus', Orientalische Literatur-Zeit-ung, xxxii (1929), 425-41 ; do., EI\ art. Mu'tazila, now out-of-date in some respects, and the conjecture that the early Mu'tazilites were propagandists for the 'Abbàsids is to be rejected; Josef van Ess, Friihe mu'tazilitische Hâresiographie, Beirut 1971, texts with introduction ,• Watt, Was Wàsil a Khârijite ?' in Islamwissenschaft-liche Abhandlungen (Fritz Meier Festschrift), ed. R. Gramlich, Wiesbaden 1974, 306-11.

2. H. Daiber, Das ùieologisch-philosophische System des Mu'ammar b. 'Abbàdas-Sulami(BeiruterTexteundStudien, 19),Beirut 1975; Anwar G. Cheyne, 'Mu'ammar ibn "Abbâd al-Sulami . . .', Muslim World, li (1961), 311-20; Harry A. Wolfson, 'Mu'ammar's Theory of Ma'nâ', Arabic and Islamic Studies in honour of Hamilton, A. R. Gibb, ed. G. Makdisi, Leiden 1965, 673-88.

3. R. M. Frank, 'The Divine Attributes according to the Teaching of Abul Hudhayl al-'Allâf', Museon, lxxxii (1969), 451-506.

4. J. van Ess, Das Kitâb an-Nakt des Nazzàm, Gôttingen 1972.

5. EI2, art. (al-) Djubbâ'î (L. Gardet); D. Gimaret, 'Matériaux pour une bibliographie des Èubbà'î', Journal Asiatique, 264 (1976), 277-332.

Chapter Nine


In the history of Islamic religion the main feature of the century from 850 to 950 was that it became polarized into definite Sunnite and Shi'ite forms. The Muslim scholarly tradition has no conception of development, and so the Sunnites see Sunnism as having been the belief of Muslims from the beginning. Modem scholars using the concept of development, on the other hand, can show how Sunnism gradually attained a fuller and more precise formulation of its beliefs, as circumstances forced the Muslims to decide between rival interpretations of basic texts.

It was in the aftermath of the Inquisition that Sunnism may be said to have become the official religion of the caliphate. The policy of the Inquisition was abandoned by a series of measures in the first two or three years of the reign of al-Mutawakkil (847-61), and from this time onward Sunnism was the form of religion followed, at least de facto, by the 'Abbasid caliphs. Apart from this political decision, however, various other processes were taking place which together led to the consolidation of Sunnism in something like its final form.1

One of these processes was a clearer formulation of the basic principles or 'roots' of jurisprudence, and a widening area of agreement between jurists.2 Previously each of the main centres of legal thought had tended to go its own way and had merely said, 'The teaching of our school is . . .', or had supported it by reference to a distinguished earlier member of the school. In time, however, some points of law came to be justified by quoting a Hadith about something Muhammad had said or done; this, of course, was in those cases where there was no clear Qur'anic statement, or where the interpretation of the Qur'an was disputed. As a result of the work of the jurisf' ash-Shafi'i (767-820) the methodological superiority of justifying legal principles by Hadith came to be generally recognized and all the schools began to claim that their teachings were in accordance with Qur'an and Hadith as two 'roots' of law (usul al-fiqh). Ash-Shafi'i also introduced other two 'roots', 'analogy' (qiyas) and 'consensus' (ijma'), but not all the schools recognized these. By about 900 the four Sunnite schools or rites (madhahib) which still exist—Hanafites, Hanbalites, Malikites and Shafi'ites—had a fairly definite shape, and there were also some minor schools which subsequently faded away. No new school with a distinctive methodology was founded after this date.

The development of jurisprudence led to advances in the study of Hadith.3 Much care was taken in distinguishing 'sound' Hadith from others by scrutiny of the isnads, and great collections of Hadith were formed for legal purposes. The best known are those of al-Bukhari (d.870) and Muslim (¿875), and in the course of the tenth century these and four others came to be accepted as specially authoritative, and are sometimes described by the occidental term 'canonical'. This was another aspect of the consolidation of Sunnism.

Something similar was happening in Quranic studies.4 The interpretation of the text of the Quran had always received much attention from Muslim scholars, and by about 900 there was wide agreement about the interpretation of many verses. All that was best in the work of the previous two and a half centuries was taken up into the great Qur'an-commentary of at-Tabari (d.923), which faithfully preserves the more important divergent views on questions of interpretation. Another scholar Ibn-Mujahid (d.935) devoted himself to the study of the variants in the Qur'anic text, and as a result of his work seven sets of readings came to be accepted as equally correct.

In the elaboration and formulation of Sunnite dogma there was also a growing measure of agreement. This came about despite the fact that there were two opposing trends in respect of what might be called theological method. Something has already been said about Kalam or rational theology, and an account has been given of the views of men like Dirar and the Mu'tazilites. Vehemently opposed to these Mutakallimun were the Ahl al-Hadith, the 'people of the Hadith', who probably included most of the serious scholars of the period and not merely the specialists in the study of Hadith. The Ahl al-Hadith contained many shades of theological opinion, but the majority of them were in a general sense 'conservative'. Incontrast riiariy of the Mutakallimun, especially the Mu'tazilites, might be called 'liberal' or 'radical'. Earlier Western students of these matters tended to think that all practitioners of Kalam were Mu'tazilites up to the time of al-Ash'ari; but the researches of the last forty years have made it clear that in the ninth century there were Mutakallimun whose dogmatic position was closely akin to that of the 'conservatives' among the Ahl al-Hadith.

The foremost representative of the Ahl al-Hadith in the first half of the ninth century was Ahmad ibn-Hanbal (780-85 5 ).5 From him the Hanbalite legal school took its name, and there was a distinctive Hanbalite theological tradition closely associated with the legal school. His eminence came partly from his outstanding intellectual ability and partly from the fact that in the Inquisition he was one of the few ulema who refused to make a public profession of belief in the createdness of the Qur'an. Several credal statements have been preserved setting out his position (and that of most of the Ahl al-Hadith) on the doctrinal questions which had hitherto been discussed, such as God's determination of events. Some of these credal statements may have been slightly modified by the later Hanbalites who transmitted them, but there is no change of substance. Emphasis was placed on the uncreatedness of the Qur'an, and Ahmad ibn-Hanbal insisted that even the human utterance (lafz) of the Qur'an was uncreated. The close relation of religion and politics in Islam is shown by the fact that there is an article to the effect that 'the best of the community after the Prophet is Abu-Bakr, then Umar, then TJthman, then 'Ali'. Despite earlier questioning of the position of Uthman this became the final Sunnite position.

Throughout the ninth century and later the Sunnite position was also being given fuller formulation by the Hanafites, the followers of Abu-Hanifa in law and, to a great extent, also in theology.6 Though the Hanafites believed in the use of reasoning in legal matters (and are prominent among the Ahl ar-Ra'y, the upholders of individual reasoning in law), not all of them allowed the use of reasoning in questions of doctrine. This did not greatly affect their credal statements, however. These are ascribed to Abu-Hanifa himself, but are clearly later. Thus the creed called the Wasiyya or 'Testament' of Abu-Hanifa appears to date from about 850, whereas that known as Al-fiqh al-akbar II is possibly half a century later, since it expresses a more developed doctrine of the attributes of God. The latter also asserts that man's utterance of the Qur'an is created, whereas the earlier Wasiyya is silent on this point and in general closer to the views of Ahmad ibn-Hanbal. Both have an article about the four caliphs. Perhaps the most important difference between the Hanafites and the Hanbalites is that die Hanbalites maintain that faith increases and decreases, while the Hanafites deny this; the point at issue seems to be whether faith is taken to include activity (acts of obedience) or is thought of primarily as involved in membership of the community.

There were also Mutakallimun during the ninth century whose doctrinal position was not far removed from that of the Hanbalites and Hanafites. The most influential seems to have been Ibn-Kullab, who died shortly after 854, and who was remembered for his elaboration of the doctrine of the attributes [sifat] of God.7 For a time there was a group of Sunnite Mutakallimun known as the Kullabiyya, and it was apparently to this group that al-Ash'ari attached himself when he abandoned the Mu'tazilites (as will be described in the next chapter).

Another group took shape in the eastern provinces in the later ninth century with its centre at Nishapur. These were the Karrâm-ites, the followers of Ibn-Karràm ( d.869 ).8 In the tenth and eleventh centuries they were a political force of some importance and appear in general histories of the region and period. It is difficult to reconstruct Ibn-Karràm's doctrines from the few scattered statements that have been preserved, but he seems on many points to have been close to the Hanafites, though also opposing them on a few.

Despite the cleavage between thé Mutakallimùn or rational theologians of a Sunnite persuasion and the Ahl al-Hadith who objected to 'rational' arguments, there was increasing agreement about the doctrinal or dogmatic statements constitutive of Sunnism. These agreements arose out of the discussions described in previous chapters. Against the Khârijites (and with the Murji'ites) it was agreed that sinners whose intellectual belief was sound were not excluded from the community because of their sin. Against the Shi'ites it was agreed that the first four caliphs were genuine caliphs, and that the chronological order was the order of excellence. Against the Qadar-ites and Mu'tazilites it was agreed that all events are determined by God. It was also agreed that the Quran was the uncreated word or speech of God, though there were differences of opinion about the human utterance of the Qur in.

While there was thus a consolidation by the early tenth century of the main ingredients of Sunnism, it was only somewhat later that the various groups recognized one another as fellow-Sunnites. Part of the difficulty was that there was for long no Arabic term with the precise connotation of the English word 'Sunnites'. The nearest equivalent is the phrase Ahl as-Sunna wa-1-Jamâ'a, 'the people df the Sunna and the community', but it was perhaps only towards n 00 that this was widely accepted as including all those whom we would call Sunnites. At earlier dates when the phrase Ahl as-Sunna or some variant is used it may have a different sense or refer to only one of the groups now included among the Sunnites. The same applies to the adjective surmf. Yet, even if full Sunnite self-awareness and mutual recognition only came about in the later eleventh century, there are good grounds for holding that the essential polarization of Islam into Sunnite and Shi'ite happened in the early tenth century.

While the most important event during this period from a Shi'ite" standpoint was the creation of Imàmite Shï'ism, the other two main branches gained greater definiteness by becoming associated with particular political entities. In 909 an Ismâ'ïlite dynasty, the Fàtimids, managed to establish itself in Tunisia, and then in 969 conquered

Egypt and moved its centre of government to the new city of Cairo. Before the Isma'ilites had their success in Tunisia, the Zaydite form of Shi'ism had become virtually restricted to two small independent states, one to the south of the Caspian Sea and the other in the Yemen. An account of the theological elaboration of Isma'llism and Zaydism will come more appropriately a little later (ch. 16).

The distinctive feature of Imamite Shi'ism is the recognition of a series of twelve imams, and for this reason they are sometimes called 'Twelvers', in Arabic Ithna'ashariyya.9 The earlier imams appear to have been recognized in some sense by those Muslims of Shi'ite sympathies usually called Rafidites by their opponents; but it was argued above that neither the imams themselves nor their followers claimed that they were the rightful rulers of the whole Islamic empire. The followers were in fact divided into many rival groups. One Shi'ite writer describes fourteen groups as existing after the death of the Eleventh Imam, and another as many as twenty. Some seventy years later, however, virtually all these rival factions had been welded together into a single Imamite sect. It is for this remarkable fact that we now seek an explanation.

The following are the twelve imams eventually recognized:

4. 'AllZaynal-'Abidin(d.714)

5. Muhammad al-Baqir (d.733)


9. Muhammad Jawad at-Taqi {d.835)

12. Muhammad al-Qa'im (in occultation).

In each case son follows father, except that al-Husayn followed his brother al-Hasan.

Al-Hasan al-'Askari died on or about 1 January 874, apparently leaving a son Muhammad who mysteriously disappeared either .r about that time or a year or two later. The details are obscure and much disputed. What is certain is that before long a group of the followers of the imams asserted that the Twelfth Imam had gone voluntarily into concealment or occultation (ghayba), that he was no longer subject to mortality, and that at the appropriate time he would return as the Mahdi to right all wrongs. They also asserted that he was represented on earth by a wakil or 'agent', one of their number, who was possibly held to be in contact with the imam. There were disputes as to who was wakil at a given time, but it came to be generally accepted that the fourth wakll in the series died in or about 940 and was not replaced by a fifth. This marks the beginning of the greater occultation (al-ghayba al-kubia) which still continues, during which period there is no wakll. The previous period, during which there was a wakll, is known as that of the lesser occultation.

The public declaration of the lesser occultation was a deliberate political act which had several advantages for those responsible. It put an end to the bickering between rival claimants to the imamate and their supporters, and so offered the possibility of a united movement. It removed the control of this movement from the imams, whose political competence was slight, into the hands of men with experience of public affairs and considerable political skill. It cleared these men of the suspicion of plotting against the 'Abbâsids, and yet permitted them to be critical of 'Abbâsid policies. The fact that the' Imàmites referred to themselves as 'the élite' ( al-khâssa) and to the ; Sunnites as 'the common people' is in keeping with the further fact that the establishment of Imâmism is known to have been the work of a few wealthy and influential families. Prominent among these was the Â1 Nawbakht, from whom came the second wakll and also the man credited with the intellectual formulation of Imâmite beliefs, Abu-Sahl an-Nawbakhti (d.923), as well as the author of an important work on The Sects of the Shi'a', al-Hasan ibn-Mûsà an-Nawbakht! ( d.c. 922 ).

The passage from the lesser to the greater occultation, which is linked with the death of the fourth wakll in or about 940, is also, it would seem, a deliberate political act. Because of the date it is presumably connected with the final loss of political power by the 'Abbâsid dynasty. For over a century governors of distant provinces had been asserting a degree of autonomy and insisting that the caliph nominate their sons (or other relatives) to succeed them. In due course governors of less distant provinces followed, and finally in 9 3 6 the caliph of the day was unable to avoid nominating one Ibn-RI'iq, governor of Basra, as 'chief emir' ( amir al-umarâ' ) to be in charge of the army, police and civil administration at the centre of the caliphate. In 945 he was followed, as effective ruler of the central Islamic lands, by the Buwayhid ( or Buyid ) dynasty of emirs. There was still an 'Abbâsid caliph (until 1258), but he had no political power, only certain ceremonial and spiritual functions.

One result of proclaiming the greater occultation was to put an end to the office of wakll, and this was presumably intended. Rivalries for the position of wakll had certainly hindered the unification of the various potentially Imâmite groups. It may also be that the office of wakll had proved less influential in practice than had originally been hoped for, perhaps because of the decline of caliphal power and the increase of that of military commanders. Many of the leading

Imâmites were financiers who had been involved in the money affairs of the 'Abbâsids, and they may have been adversely affected by the financial breakdown which accompanied the decline of 'Abbâsid power. All in all it looks as if the doctrine of the greater occultation led to the abandonment of an active political role by the Imâmites. There had always been a quietist strain in Shi'ism, as was seen in the application of messianic ideas to 'All and his descendants during the Umayyad period. Now it was possible for Imâmites, while waiting for the hidden Imam, to tolerate and give some support to the actual ruler without becoming deeply involved in politics. This would seem to make of Imâmite religion a personal and private affair.

It may be that the creation of Imâmite Shi'ism by proclaiming the doctrine of the occultation of the Twelfth Imam was in some sense a response to the consolidation of Sunnism as described above. What is certain is that most of the vague and divergent beliefs of a Shi'ite character which had been prevalent up to this time disappeared through being taken up into the unified belief of Imàmism. The Imâmites, to judge from various facts such as their use of the term 'the élite', were not nearly so numerous as the Sunnites. Yet it seems likely that most of the populations of the main provinces of the Islamic empire were either Sunnite or Shi'ite, and thus there is some justification for speaking of polarization.

During the late ninth and early tenth century the sufi ( mystical ) movement experienced a period of advance, and this might appear to constitute a third element in Islamic thought along with Sunnism and Shi'ism.10 This is not so, however. Each sufi certainly had his own theological position; for example, Louis Massignon in his great study of the sufi al-Hallâj ( d.922 ) had a long chapter on his dogmatic theology (ch. 12). In most cases, however, these views of the sùfis were those of one or other of the Sunnite ( or, less frequently, Shi'ite ) groups. Apart from 'mystical theology', which was of no concern to dogmatic theologians, there was no sufficiently coherent body of distinctively sûfi theology to be argued against. Massignon suggests, however, that the theologians' discussions of apologetic miracles, found from the time of al-Bàqillànï (d.1013 ) onwards, were triggered off by the claims of al-Hallâj. The group of sûfis who came nearest to being a school of dogmatic theology were the Sâlimiyya, who came into existence shortly before 900 and can be traced for about two hundred and fifty years. They take their name from Ibn-Sàlim ( 880-967), who was a follower of the sufi Sahl at-Tustari (d.896).11 Their views will be mentioned later.

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