The American Chestnut Tree, The Willow Tree, Jahm Bin Safwan, The Mu'tazilah, Ibn Kullaab and the Early and Later Ash'aris - An Illustration
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Monday, September, 28 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Jahm Bin Safwan Mu'tazilah Ibn Kullaab Early Ash'aris Later Ash'aris Jahm Bin Safwan Mu'tazilah Ibn Kullaab Early Ash'aris Later Ash'aris

Explanation of The Chestnut Tree

Inshaa'Allaah if you have been following all the various articles on the site, the above illustration should be fairly clear. Much of what is explained below is found in many other articles on this site. Here, we want to bring it together, using the above illustration as a framework and we want to:

  • Mention something about each of the factions
  • Give a commentary on the above illustration through the two examples of the creed of the Jahmiyyah that a) the Qur'an not being the uncreated Speech of Allaah and b) Allaah not beeing seen in the Hereafter.

Jahm bin Safwan (ex. 128H) and the Jahmiyyah - The Roots (Beginnings)

Jahm bin Safwan debated the Sumaniyyah (Indian Atheist Philosophers) who were Materialists and also believed in the transmigration of souls (that souls move from one being to another). In many areas where Islam had spread there were found people who were upon and were conversant with the Philosophy of the Greeks and of Aristotle's Metaphysics in particular (learn more about that here). Jahm tried to prove a creator by demonstrating the createdness of the universe through the presence of qualities (sifaat), incidental attributes (a'raad) and occurrences (hawaadith) in bodies (ajsaam). When they said "You can't perceive your Lord, so how can he exist", and "Describe your Lord to us", he got confused, and abandoned the prayer for forty days because he did not know who or what he was worshiping. He then, devised an answer to the Sumaniyyah which was that just like your souls occupy your bodies without you perceiving them with any of the senses, then Allaah is likewise, He is in everything and everywhere but without being perceived by the senses, and nor is He described with anything.

The answer of Jahm bin Safwan contained the following foundations:

  • Allah is in every place and in everything
  • But at the same time not perceived by the senses
  • And not described with anything that the creation is described with (the innovation of ta'teel)
  • Making the intellect decisive over the revealed texts, on the basis that his intellectual proof is the ultimate truth around which all else revolves
  • Explaining away the revealed texts (the innovation of ta'weel) to prevent them clashing with the intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam"

And this innovation of Jahm gave birth to Hulool and Ittihaad on the one hand (Allaah indwelling within His creation) and ta'teel on the other (negating Allaah Names, Attributes and Actions from Allaah) - as well as the innovation of ta'weel (figurative interpretation) in regards to Allaah's Names and Attributes, and considering the intellectual proof to be decisive over the revealed texts.

As a result of this Jahm was forced to take the following positions (amongst others):

  • That Allaah did not speak to Moses - because it would mean an event (haadithah) in Allaah's Essence, and thus making Allaah a body (jism), and thus falsifying his (Jahm's) proof.

  • That Allaah did not take Ibraaheem (alayhis salaam) as his Khaleel, because "khullah" (friendship) is an incidental attribute ('arad), and an occurrence (haadith) - since Ibraaheem has not existed eternally, so if Allaah took Ibraaheem as a Khaleel (an-Nisaa 4:125) it would mean Allah is subject to a'raad (incidental attributes) and occurrences, events (hawaadith) which are the properties of bodies (ajsaam), and thus it would mean Allaah is created, like all other bodies (ajsaam). Therefore they rejected that Allaah indeed took Ibraaheem as His Khaleel.

  • That the Qur'aan is created - because if Allaah spoke it, it would consist of many instances of individual speech and all of these would be occurrences (hawaadith) or incidental attributes (a'raad), thus rendering Allaah a body (jism), and thus falsifying his proof. So the Qur'an is not Allaah's speech its the created speech of Jibreel (alayhis salaam) or the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam).

  • That Allaah will not be seen in the Hereafter - because if He could be seen, it would be in a direction (jihah), as things are only see in direction, and this would make Him a body (jism), thus falsifying his proof.

  • That Allaah is not above the heaven - because this would necessitate direction, and anything in direction must be a body (jism), thus Allaah would be a body, and thus the proof would be falsified - and Jahm took this from al-Ja'd bin Dirham (ex. 124H).

  • That Allaah cannot be described with anything that the creation is described with - because all descriptions that we see are only found in bodies (ajsaam), thus Allaah cannot be described with anything, otherwise it would necessitate that He is a body. He made an exception for certain names that would be unique to Allaah, such as "al-Khaaliq (the Creator)" and "al-Qaadir (the Powerful)" and as a result of this:

  • That the servants actions are forced (al-jabr) - which is that since only Allaah has power (qudrah) and creates (khalq), then it means the servants actions must be forced upon them, so he denied iraadah (will) and qudrah (ability) for the servants and thus spoke with the bid'ah of al-jabr - and this branched off from his ta'teel of the Names and Attributes.

So these are the roots of Jahm bin Safwan and the Jahmiyyah, and they are base and foundation for all the ta'teel in the Ummah thereafter. In addition to this Jahm bin Safwan was also the student of al-Ja'd bin Dirham (ex. 124H) and al-Ja'd took the sayings of the pseudo-Sabean Harranian Philosophers, who spoke of the Creator only through negative affirmations, such as "He is not oppressive, He is not blind, He is not deaf, He does not die ..." and these are called "sifaat salbiyyah" (attributes of negation). So Jahm's speech about the creator began to take on a certain form and this has been document in the early books of aqeedah. And Jahm bin Safwan originated many ta'weels (figurative explanations) for the revealed texts that contradicted his "intellectual proof", and these were transmitted through the Ummah, and later Jahmites such as Bishr al-Mareesee (d. 218H) also had their fair share of ta'weels which were taken up by the later factions. All these ta'weels originated in order to deal with those problematic texts in the Qur'an and the Sunnah that contradicted or invalidated this intellectual proof.

The Mu'tazilah - The Trunk (Consolidation)

From the chiefs of the early Mu'tazilah are the likes of Amr bin Ubayd (d. 144H), and they took much of the deen of the Jahmites and concurred with them, and they made this "intellectual proof" of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" to be ultimate truth upon which the entire religion is based upon, following the Jahmiyyah in that. So the Mu'tazilah refined this proof and they elaborated upon it and incorporated the theory of the Greek Philosopher Democritus (d. 370BC) of "Atomism" into it, and they did much to consolidate this proof. This work of consolidation is what constitutes the trunk in our chestnut tree above.

When they saw that Allaah clearly affirms Names for Himself, they disagreed with the Jahmiyyah, because this would appear clearly as rejection of clear texts of the Qur'aan. So they found a way to reconcile between affirming Names for Allaah and keeping the intellectual proof intact and free of criticism and invalidation.

So they affirmed Allaah's Names, but only as mere labels all of which are synonymous with "Allaah" and none of which represent independent meanings or attributes because this would falsify the proof and necessitate tarkeeb (composition) within Allaah's Essence, thereby making Him a jism (body). Thus Allaah is "ar-Raheem (the Merciful)" but without "rahmah (mercy)", and He is ", "as-Samee' (the All-Hearing)", but without "sam' (hearing)" and so on. And all these Names (ar-Raheem, as-Samee' and so on) are simply labels that refer back to "Allaah".

Therefore, they affirmed the Names (outwardly, on the surface) but rejected all the other attributes, including the sifaat dhaatiyyah (attributes Allaah is always described with) and Sifaat Fi'liyyah (attributes, or actions tied to Allaahs will and which He is not permanently described with).

The Mu'tazilah also took up the issues spoken of by Jahm, such as the Qur'an being created and they put the Ummah to trial by way of them. This is because if the Qur'an was Allaah's Speech, it meant Allaah was subject to occurrences (hawaadith), meaning things occurring in Allaah's Essence after not having occurred - in this case multiple instances of speech - and this to them is proof of something being a body (jism) so they considered the saying that the Qur'aan is Allaah's Speech to be kufr, and this is why those Jahmites who debated with Imaam Ahmad, they charged him with kufr and shirk. Likewise, if Allaah had spoken to Moses direct, and if Allaah had said that He heard the saying of the woman who disputed (the mujaadilah), then this would mean Allaah is subject to occurrences (hawaadith), because Allaah would have spoken these things after the ceation of Moosaa and after the creation of the women who disputed, so this would mean a change has occurred in Allah, and thus, the Qur'an that we recite and memorize cannot be Allaah's speech, it must be created speech, either Jibreel's or Muhammad's and thus they fought for the saying that "the Qur'aan is created", because they considered this saying to be Tawheed.

Likewise, regarding the issue of seeing Allaah in the Hereafter, they rejected it because being seen means something must be in direction (jihah), and direction necessitates place (makaan), and place necessitates Jismiyyah (something being a body), and so they had to reject that too. And on this basis, we can understand many of the other rejections of the Mu'tazilah - they all followed the same course, being nourished by the roots of the Jahmiyyah.

Ibn Kullaab and the Kullaabiyyah - The Branches (Reaching Out)

Then came Ibn Kullaab (d. 240H) and Ibn Kullaab was the Imaam of the Sifaatiyyah amongst the Mutakallimoon, and "Sifaatiyyah" refers to those who affirmed something of the Attributes as opposed to nothing (i.e. unlike the Jahmiyyah and the Mu'tazilah). However, Ibn Kullaab was essentially trying to tread a middle ground between the Mu'tazilah and the People of the Sunnah and he was the originator of many of the views of the Ash'aris. These views are best characterized as attempts to flee from the views of the Mu'tazilah, but not quite reaching the Sunnah, that's if we are being very generous. Outwardly these sayings appeared to agree with the Sunnah, whereas in reality, and in truth, they were nothing but the actual sayings of the Mu'tazilah, clothed with layers of rationalities and sophistries.

Now Ibn Kullaab affirmed the seven attributes (life, power, will, knowledge, speech, hearing, seeing) and he managed to justify why these are necessitated by the intellect but do not falsify the intellectual proof. In addition he also affirmed the sifaat dhaatiyyah such as Face, Hands, Eyes, without ta'weel or tafweed. However, he denied the Sifaat Fi'liyyah (attributes or actions tied to Allaah's will). And this creed is what Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari took from the Kullaabiyyah and it then became known with the label of "Ash'ariyyah" (see further below).

So from the matters spoken of by Ibn Kullaab was that "the Qur'aan is Allaah's speech and it is not created". Now, this appears to agree completely with Ahl us-Sunnah. But it's not. You see Ibn Kullaab spoke of Allaah's speech as being "Kalaam Nafsee", which is that Allaah's speech is really just "a meaning" that has been with Allaah from eternity, and that the Qur'aan, being from Allaah's speech, is from that "kalaam nafsee" - as is the Torah, Injeel and the Zabur,and that this "Kalaam Nafsee" is single and indivisible. So when he says, "The Qur'aan is the speech of Allaah, not created", he is not talking about the written, memorized, recited Qur'aan that we have between two covers, and which we believe Allaah spoke and Jibreel heard, and which Jibreel spoke and Muhammad (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) heard. Rather, he means by the Qur'aan what is part of Allaah's overall speech and which collectively amounts to a "meaning" that has eternally been with Allaah's Self. This is what they actually mean. And the Ash'aris took up this view of "Kalaam Nafsee" and defended it, because it was a way to reconcile between two things, to affirm the Qur'aan being "the speech of Allaah, uncreated" (outwardly), but at the same time, not invalidating that intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam".

So the views of Ibn Kullaab and the Kullaabiyyah are the branches that come from the trunk and which are attempting to reach out to the Sunnah, but not really getting there.

Another example is that of the attributes of "pleasure (ridhaa)" and "anger (ghadab)". Ibn Kullaab tried to do the same with these attributes which to the Mutakallimoon are incidental attributes (a'raad), which means Allaah is not always described with them, and thus if Allaah is described with something after not being described with it, it is an event, an occurrence (haadithah) and only bodies (ajsaam) are subject to events. Thus, these types of attributes had to be dealt with.

And so Ibn Kullaab's saying was, as documented by al-Ash'ari in "Maqaalaat al-Islaamiyyeen":

...that the attributes are established with Allaah, and that Allaah has never ceased to be pleased with one whom He knows will die as a believer, and [never ceased being] angry upon the one whom He knows will die as a disbeliever, and similarly is his saying, regarding al-walaayah (allegiance), and al-adaawah (enmity, disownment), and al-mahabbah (love)

And what this saying means is that Allaah is pleased, from eternity, with whomever He knew, with His eternal knowledge, would die as a believer. And that He is angry, from eternity, with whomever he knew, with His eternal knowledge, would die as a disbeliever. And thereafter, they make Allaah's Pleasure and anger to be synonymous with Allaah's will (iraadah). And this is a vile and corrupt saying and we have dedicated an entire article to it (you can view that here) - but the point being here, is that Ibn Kullaab was an Imaam of the Mutakallimoon who affirmed the Attributes and he devised sayings in which he tried to flee from the positions of the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah, and to adopt positions that outwardly appeared to be in agreement with the Sunnah. So you would think from the above saying that Ibn Kullaab affirms Allaah's Pleasure and anger, but far from it.

So again Ibn Kullaab and the Kullaabiyyah, their views are branches that come off the trunk since their views are mere extensions of the views of the Mu'tazilah, and they tried to tread a middle ground and reach out to the Sunnah in these issues.

So in summary, Ibn Kullaab although affirming some attributes, he had to explain away others which are the attributes tied to Allaah's will ("Sifaat Fi'liyyah" or "af'aal iktiyaariyyah") - because these attributes contradict and conflict completely, with the intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" and there is absolutely no way to reconcile them with the proof and thus, they must be subject to ta'weel.

The Ash'aris - The Twigs and Leaves (Embellishment and Adornment)

When speaking about the Ash'aris, it is important for us to understand that the Early Ash'aris inherited the view of Ibn Kullaab on the subject of Allaah's uluww and some of the sifat dhaatiyyah such as Face, Hands and Eyes. So you will see the Early Ash'aris affirming Allaah is above the Throne, with His Essence, adding to this statements such as "without contact" and "without confinement" and the likes and they refuted the ta'weels of the Mu'tazilah and the Jahmiyyah in this regard. Likewise, with respect to Face, Hands and Eyes, they affirmed these attributes as attributes of the dhaat (Essence) without ta'weel and they refuted the ta'weels of the Mu'tazilah and the Jahmiyyah.The Later Ash'aris, al-Juwaynee (d. 478H), al-Ghazali (d. 505H), ar-Razi (d. 606H) reverted back to the ta'teel and ta'weels of the Mu'tazilah on those issues because they felt these matters could not be reconciled with the intellectual proof. So we should keep this difference in mind between the earlier and the Later Ash'aris.

The Ash'aris then took the bulk of the creed of Ibn Kullaab (d. 240H), and they authored in refutation of the Mu'tazilah on the issues in which they differed with them. And note that the refutations between the Mu'tazilah and Ash'ariyyah are refutations to do with subsidiary issues after they have agreed upon the usool (foundations). The foundational principles of the Ash'aris are in fact the foundational principles of the Mu'tazilah. The Ash'aris simply refuted the Mu'tazilah on the issue of what can and cannot be denied from Allaah in light of whether it will invalidate the intellectual proof or not.

This is the real nature of the dispute between them and in fact between all of the Mutakallimoon (practitioners of ilm ul-kalaam, the Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah, Kullaabiyyah, Ash'ariyyah, Maturidiyyah).

And the Ash'ariyyah affirmed the seven attributes, not because they are in the revealed texts, but because the intellect proves them. So they rationally prove the attributes of life, knowledge, will and power (and to them, the revelation only provides confirmation, tawkeed, of these attributes) and these attributes form the basis for speaking with the miracles occurring to the Prophets, which then establishes the truthfulness of the Prophets and establishes the rational argument in favor of revelation. So what the Ash'aris did is that they developed the intellectual proof further and refined it and developed a theology around it and having inherited the legacy of the Mu'tazilah and the Kullaabiyyah in all of that. They have differences with the Mu'tazilah regarding some of the intricacies of the rational proof, but all of that is really a subsidiary difference.

If you look at the positions of the Ash'aris you can see they are in the same vain as those of Ibn Kullaab.

  • They hold the speech of Allaah is "Kalaam Nafsee" inclusive of the Qur'aan, and in reality their saying is that the Qur'aan we have in between the two covers, which is recited and memorized - that it is created, and what they refer to as the "uncreated Qur'an" is simply the meaning that exists with Allaah's Self from eternity. So in truth, the recited and memorized Qur'aan we have with us is created in their view. This is the reality of their saying, which is the saying of the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah.

  • Likewise, the saying found amongst them that Allaah will be seen in the Hereafter, "but not in a direction", this is sophistry, they are trying to affirm the Ru'yah (to oppose the Mu'tazilah and to avoid rebuke), but then to avoid invalidating their intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" in which they are in agreement with the Mu'tazilah, they say, "but not in a direction", and some of them say "it's a seeing of the heart, not of the eyes".

This is the generality of what you find in the Ash'arite creed, all we are seeing is twigs and leaves, they are following Ibn Kullaab and they are simply trying to tread the middle ground between the Mu'tazilah and the people of the Sunnah, and the twigs and leaves are simply the cover and the embellishment - their sayings outwardly appear to be in agreement with the Sunnah but in reality are simply the actual sayings of the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah, so the leaves conceal all that.

And so the bulk of the Ash'arite polemic and that which is of most concern in their madhhab in terms of speech and authorship is how to rationally defend the intellectual proof, to develop it, to refine it and to hunt for ta'weels to deal with problematic texts in the Book and the Sunnah, or to devise new ones - and all of this is the "ilm ul-kalaam" that they are upon and which the Salaf condemned.

As we have mentioned early, the issue of Allaah being above the Throne is something that does not fit in the Chestnut Tree above, so we have a separate tree for that, its the Willow tree:

Explanation of The Willow Tree

The Early Ash'aris spoke with the saying of Ibn Kullaab on this issue and it was not possible for them to deny something that was so firmly established and known from the likes of Imaam Ahmad, Abu Haneefah, Imaam Malik, Imaam ash-Shaafi'ee and the Imaams of the Salaf that preceded them. And Ibn Kullaab had powerful refutations of the Jahmites and Mu'tazilah in this regard. So the Early Ash'aris affirmed it but added their own qualifications such as "without contact" and "without confinement" in order to avoid invalidating their intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam", and in this they followed the view of Ibn Kullaab that Allaah is above the Throne, with His Essence, but is not a body (jism).

So far so good, we are at the Chestnut Tree still. We are at the branches, twigs and leaves (i.e. the Kullaabiyyah and Early As'ariyyah) - which means (if you recall from the discussion above) that you affirm "Allah is above the Throne, with His Essence", but then add "but not a jism (body)", so this way you are combining between the Sunnah and at the same time, avoiding the invalidation of the intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" (taken from the Mu'tazilah and Jahmiyyah) - so you are trying to combine between the two and this is the Kullaabi manhaj and this is what essentially constitutes the Ash'ari madhhab - so at this point we are at the branches, twigs and leaves. The Early Ash'aris came along and they maintained this position and they embellished it with their own statements:

  • without mumaassah (touch, contact),
  • without spatial occupation (tahayyuz),
  • without confinement, limitation (tahdeed)
  • without adjacency
  • and so on ...

Because they were forced to make these embellishments in order to negate Jismiyyah (something being a body) - whilst affirming that Allaah is above the Throne, with His Essence.

But then along came al-Juwaynee (d. 478H), al-Ghazali (d. 505H) and ar-Razi (d. 606) - the Later Ash'aris - and they considered this to be a problem - you can't claim Allaah is above the Throne and not a body (jism) that is a contradiction because something said to be "above" is direction and direction necessitates place and place necessitates Jismiyyah - and the proof of the intellect is decisive and definitive over the text, so the intellect has got to be correct and the text has to be interpreted - and so they went back into the direction of the Mu'tazilah and the Jahmiyyah, and so they started saying, "Allaah is not inside the universe, nor outside the universe" which is a saying that is derived from the saying of the Jahmiyyah that Allaah is in every place - and we will cover this in a separate article insha'Allaah.

We come, therefore, to our willow tree, which means that those smaller branches, twigs and leaves simply drop back down towards the trunk and the roots in the ground - meaning back in the direction of the Mu'tazilah and the Jahmiyyah. And this is what happened with the Later Ash'aris on the subject of al-uluww and some of the sifaat Dhaatiyyah. So in order to defend the intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" the Later Ash'aris reverted to the viewpoints of the Mu'tazilah and Jahmiyyah on the issue of Allaah's uluww and some of the sifaat dhaatiyyah and this is why you find them using the same ta'weels of the Mu'tazilah and Jahmiyyah for which you find refutations in the books of the early Ash'aris!!

See for example, al-Baqillani, refuting the ta'weels of the Mu'tazilah of the sifaat Dhaatiyyah in this article. And Ibn Mahdi at-Tabari refuting other ta'weels in this article. And al-Ash'ari himself refuting the ta'weel of the Mu'tazilah regarding Allaah's uluww in this article - and you can read more on this in this section here.