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A Brief Biography of Abu Hasan a-Ash'ari And The Various Stages Of His Life In Relation To His Creed
Posted by Abu.Iyaad, in Scholars
Topics: Abu Hasan Al-Ash'ari Abu Hasan Al-Ash'ari

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His Lineage, Birth and Death

He is Abu al-Hasan Alee bin Ismaa'il bin Abi Bishr Ishaaq, and is lineage traces back to the companion Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (radiallaahu anhu). He was born in 260H and it has also been said, 266H and 270H. He died in 330H according to the strongest of opinions.

The Various Stages of His Life

Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari went through a number of stages in his life, some of them are agreed upon by the Scholars and in others there are some differences of opinion.

The Stage of I'tizaal

Al-Asha'ri was brought up in the household of Abu Alee al-Jubaa'ee and ended up becoming an Imaam for the Mu'tazilah, aiding and arguing for the correctness of their madhhab.

Ibn Asaakir in his "Tabyeen" (p.131) quotes from al-Ash'ari in one of his books that he wrote:

We wrote a large work regarding the Attributes which we called 'Kitaab ul-Jawaabaat Fi as-Sifaat 'an Masaa'il Ahl iz-Zaigh wa ash-Shubuhaat', in which we criticized a (previous) book of ours which we had written a long time ago in which there was a validation of the madhhab of the Mu'tazilah - there not being a book being authored for them like it! Then Allaah, the Sublime, made the truth clear to us, and so we turned back from that (I'tizaal) and we criticized it and made its misguidance clear.

The Imaam, Abu Naasir as-Sijzee (d. 444H) wrote in his Risaalah on al-Harf was-Sawt, quoting from one of the Maalikee fuquhaa that:

Ash'aree remained for forty years upon I'tizaal and then he made tawbah, turning back from the furoo' (subsidiary matters) but remaining established upon the usool (foundational matters), meaning the foundational matters of the Mu'tazilah upon which they built their negation of the Attributes, such as the evidence of al-a'raad (non-essential, incidental attributes of essences) and others.

The Second Stage

There are a number or explanations from the scholars regarding precisely what happened in the stage after I'tizaal and there are a couple of sayings regarding this:

  • That after abandoning I'tizaal al-Ash'ari only had one more stage which was his following of Abdullah bin Sa'eed bin Kullaab, and in this stage he held views that were in between those of the Mu'tazilah and those of the Salaf.

  • That al-Ash'ari desired to reconcile between the fuquhaa (jurists) and the muhadditheen (scholars of hadeeth) (as one group) and the Theologians (Ahl ul-Kalaam) (as another) - on account of the enmity that existed between them. Meaning, between those who affirmed the Attributes and those who negated the Attributes. So when al-Ash'ari saw that (the enmity) he brought his own madhhab in which he took a path in between the Mu'tazilah and the People of Hadeeth.

This view is the supported by Shaykh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah who says that al-Ash'ari remained a Kullaabi (follower of Ibn Kullaab), as well as Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Hazm, and Ibn Abi al-Izz (the explainer of at-Tahawi's creed).

Ibn Taymiyyah said in Majmoo' ul-Fataawaa (16/471):

And al-Ash'ari and his likes are a barzakh (intermediate phase) in between the Salaf and the Jahmiyyah. They took from them (the Salaf) correct, sound speech and from them (the Jahmiyyah) intellectual principles they thought to be correct whereas (in reality) they were corrupt. And amongst the people were those who inclined towards him from the Salafi angle, and amongst the people are those who inclined towards him from the innovatory Jahmite angle, such as Abu Mu'aali [al-Juwaynee] and his followers.

And he also said in Dar' ut-Ta'aarud (2/16):

As for the issue of al-af'aal al-ikhtiyaariyyah (those actions that are tied to will, choice) being performed by Him, then Ibn Kullaab, al-Ash'ari and others negated them, and they built their saying on the issue of the Qur'aan upon this. As a result of this, and other [affairs], the people spoke about them on this subject with what is well-known in the books of the people of knowledge, and they ascribed innovation and the remnants of aspects of I'tizaal to them.

And he also said in Majmoo' ul-Fataawaa (8/424):

And that for which the Imaams of the Sunnah used to (show) rejection against Ibn Kullaab and al-Ash'ari was the remnants of Tajahhum (the madhhab of Jahm Ibn Safwaan) and al-I'tizaal, such as the belief in the correctness of the (the use of the philosophical ideas of) incidental attributes and (a'raad), composition of bodies (tarkeeb ul-ajsaam), and rejecting that Allaah can be described with attributes that He wills and chooses, and whatever is similar to that from those matters that became difficult upon those who were more knowledgeable of the Sunnah, Hadeeth and sayings of the Salaf and the Imaams than al-Ash'ari, such as al-Haarith al-Muhaasibee and Abu Alee ath-Thaqafee, and Abu Bakr bin Ishaaq as-Subghee.

The Scholars Who Spoke of al-Ash'ari's Return To the Truth

Imaam adh-Dhahabee said in Siyar (15/86):

I have seen four works authored on the usool (foundations of the religion) of Abul-Hasan in which mentions the principles of the madhhab of the Salaf with regard to the Attributes ,and he said therein: "They are to be passed on as they have come", then he said, "And this is what I speak with, and which I hold as my religion, and they are not to be interpreted (with ta'weel)".

And he also said in Tadhkirat ul-Huffaad (2/709), when he gave the biography of Zakariyyaa as-Saajee:

And from him (as-Saajee) did Abul Hasan al-Ash'ari al-Usooli take the formulation of the statement of the Ahl ul-Hadeeth and [that of] the Salaf.

And Ibn Taymiyyah also speaks of the influence of as-Saajee upon al-Ash'ari, saying in Majmoo ul-Fataawaa (5/386):

Zakariyyaa bin Yahyaa as-Saajee, Abul Hasan al-Ash'ari took from him whatever he took from him of the foundations of Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Hadeeth, and much of what he quotes in the book "Maqaalaat al-Islaamiyyeen" is from the madhhab of Ahl ul-Hadeeth

Ibn Taymiyyah says in Majmoo ul-Fataawaa (3/288):

And he took the usool of hadeeth from Zakariyyaa as-Saajee in Basrah, and when he went to Baghdaad he took other affairs from the Hanablees of Baghdaad, and that was his final affair as he and his companions have mentioned in their books.

And there are a number of others who have spoken in this regard, including Ibn Katheer, Nu'maan al-Aloosi, Muhibb ud-Deen al-Khateeb. And from the clearest of evidences of what has been said above is al-Ash'aris final book "al-Ibaanah".

And Ibn Asaakir, who is an Ash'ari, went to some exaggeration to state that al-Ash'ari and Imaam Ahmad were in complete agreement. Whilst Ash'ari did adopt the madhhab of Imaam Ahmad at the end of his life, because his knowledge of the madhhab of the Salaf was only in general detail at that point in time, he was not in complete agreement with all the specifics of the madhhab of the Salaf, and thus, there still remained, even in his final stage, signs of the influence of his past.

Ibn Asaakir says in "Tabyeen Kadhib al-Muftaree" (p. 163):

So reflect, may Allaah have mercy upon you, this belief that he clarified and explained, and acknowledge the excellence of this Scholar, Imaam who explained and clarified it ... And make clear the excellence of Abul-Hasan and acknowledge his justice and listen to his description of Ahmad with excellence and his acknowledgement (in that regard) so that you may know that they were in agreement in creed, and undivided in the foundations (usool) of the religion, and the madhhab of the Sunnah.

The Essence of What Happened with Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari

Ibn Taymiyyah said in Majmoo' ul-Fataawaa (12/199), giving an account of what happened with al-Ash'ari:

...rather, he aided many issues well-known to Ahl us-Sunnah, and in which they were opposed by the Mu'tazilah, such as the issue of ar-Ru'yah (seeing Allaah in the Hereafter), and [Allaah's] Speech, and affirmation of the Attributes and other such things. However, his insight into Kalaam (theological philosophy) was detailed whilst his insight into the Sunnah was general, and for this reason he agreed with the Mu'tazilah in some of their foundations (usool) on account of which they remained (adhering to what was) in opposition to the Sunnah. And he believed that it was possible for him to unite between those foundations and between aiding the Sunnah, as he did in the issue of ar-Ru'yah, the Speech (of Allaah), and the Attributes mentioned in the narrations and other such things. And those who opposed him from Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Hadeeth and the Mu'tazilah, and the Philosophers said: He is contradictory, those [affairs] in which he agreed with the Mu'tazilah, contradict those [affairs] in which he agreed with Ahl us-Sunnah ...

Summary

Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari was leader in I'tizaal, and spent forty years upon this. After this he took an intermediate path between I'tizaal and the way of the Salaf but eventually tending in most affairs, to the usool of the madhhab of the Salaf. And he has written works which testify to this.

The contemporary followers of Ash'ari are not true followers of al-Ash'ari, but in fact followers of the second stage of his life in which he adopted the views of Ibn Kullaab. They also follow the influences of the Jahmee and Mu'tazilee school of thought that remained with Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari, and which were then given further support by the Later Ash'aris such as Abu Mu'aali al-Juwaynee with their heavy involvement with Kalaam (theological philosophy). As such today's Ash'aris are better characterised as Kullaabites, or Jahmite Ash'aris - as they DO NOT follow what Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari died upon.

Refer to the book: "at-Tamyeez Fee Bayaan anna Madhhab ul-Ashaa'irah Laysa Alaa Madhhab us-Salaf al-Azeez" of Abu Umar Haaee bin Saalim al-Haaee from which the above was summarized with some adaptation.

The Stance of the Ash'aris in Relation to the Above

Today's Ash'aris take two approaches in attempting to flee from the implications of the above: a) To claim that Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari wrote his last books out taqiyyah (deception) out of fear for his life! And b) To claim that the Hanbalees fabricated things in his books to give the appearance that he was upon their madhhab.

And they go to great lengths - bending over backwards and ending up on all fours - to try to establish the latter claim. But they are not able, and will never be able, to reject Abu Hasan al-Asha'ris repudiation of his Mu'tazilee and Kullaabi past and his abandonment of the ta'weel of the Jahmites. All of this is clearly manifest in his books and as documented historically by the Scholars and Historians.


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