Abdul-Kareem Ash-Shahrastani, Sixth Century Ash'ari (d. 548H): Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari Broke the Ijmaa' and Innovated a Third Saying On the Subject of Allaah's Speech and the Qur'an
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Wednesday, December, 09 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Ibn Kullaab Kullaabiyyah Shahrastani Al-Shahrastani Nihaayat Ul-Iqdaam Qur'an Kalaam Nafsee

The Ash'aris reject Allaah's speech is with letter and voice (al-harf was-sawt) and this is something that all factions without exception were united upon (that speech is with letter and voice) despite their different sayings regarding Allaah's speech (whether it is created or not), up until Ibn Kullaab and the Kullaabiyyah came and along and until Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari followed them in that. There was actually no dispute about that at all, there was ijmaa' that speech is letter and voice (al-harf was-sawt), and that Allaah speaks with letter and voice.

Abdul-Kareem ash-Shahrastani (d. 584H), one of the important figures of the Later Ash'aris himself writes that Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari, in this subject of Allaah's speech (Kalaam) and letter and voice (al-harf was-sawt), that he broke the ijmaa' that existed previously and innovated a third saying not known before. In reality, it was Ibn Kullaab and not al-Ash'ari - but we can look at the saying of ash-Shahrastani (d. 584H) in another article in much detail, it is from his book, "Nihaayat ul-Iqdaam", where he says (p. 177), whilst noting that ash-Shahrastani's statements in characterizing the view of the Salaf are not entirely accurate and precise, but there is enough in what he has said that approximates to what is correct:

فأبدع الأشعري قولاً ثالثاً وقضى بحدوث الحروف وهو خرق الإجماع وحكم بأن ما نقرأه كلام الله مجازاً لا حقيقة وهو عين الابتداع فهلا قال ورد السمع بأن ما نقرأه ونكتبه كلام الله تعالى دون أن يتعرض لكيفيته وحقيقته كما ورد السمع بإثبات كثير من الصفات من الوجه واليدين إلى غير ذلك من الصفات الخبرية

So al-Ash'ari innovated a third saying and judged with the emergence of the letters, and this is the destruction of the ijmaa' (concensus) and he judged that what we read is Allaah's speech only metaphorically (majaazan) not in reality (haqeeqatan) - and this is pure innovation. Why did he not (simply) say that the revelation mentions that what we read and write is the Speech of Allaah without (him) delving into its kaifiyyah (how it is) and its haqeeqah (its reality) - just like in the revelation many attributes have been mentioned such as Face, Two Hands and other than them from the sifaat Khabariyyah.

Here he is saying that al-Ash'ari broke the Ijmaa' and innovated a third saying, which is that the Qur'an is said to be Allaah's speech only "metaphorically", since their view was that Allaah's real Kalaam is the "Kalaam Nafsee", and not the letters and words that make up the Qur'an.

And in ascribing this innovation to al-Ash'ari, ash-Shahrastani is in error here because it was Ibn Kullaab and the Kullaabiyyah who originated this view and not al-Ash'ari himself. But this is the subject for a separate article as this quote is part of a longer passage that discusses other relevant issues so we can look at this in a separate article. And also, as mentioned previously, Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani (in Fath ul-Bari, Kitaab ut-Tawheed) rebuts the presumption of tashbeeh (which comes from the Ash'aris) that affirming "voice" (sawt) for Allaah necessitates that it requires what is required for voice amongst the servants of Allaah, Ibn Hajr rebuts this - and this will be documented in a separate article inshaa'Allaah.

Abu Nasr as-Sijzee (d. 444H) said in his book "Risaalah Ilaa Ahl Zubayd" - which is a book written to refute the Jahmite Lafdhiyyah taking the guise of "Ash'arites" - in the opening pages:

اعلموا ـ أرشدنا الله وإياكم ـ أنه لم يكن خلاف بين الخلق على اختلاف نحلهم من أول الزمان إلى الوقت الذي ظهر فيه ابن كلاب والقلانسي والصالحي والأشعري وأقرانهم الذين يتظاهرون بالرد على المعتزلة وهم معهم بل أخس حالاً منهم في الباطن في أن الكلام لا يكون إلا حرفاً وصوتاً ذا تأليف واتساق وإن اختلفت به اللغات

Know - may Allaah guide us and you - that there did not used to be any difference amongst the creation, despite the variance in their creeds, from the first era that Kalaam (speech) is not [anything] but letter (al-harf) and voice (as-sawt) that is composed, harmonious, even with the variation in languages [until] the time in which the likes of Ibn Kullaab, al-Qalaanisee, as-Saalihee and al-Ash'ari appeared, and their associates, those who make an open display of refuting the Mu'tazilah, whilst they are really with them, rather of a more vile condition than them inwardly.

You should note that there are scholars who did not take a liking to Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari and spoke in rather negative terms about him, this includes Scholars like Abu Ismaa'eel al-Harawee (d. 481H) and Ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdisee (d. 620H). What Ibn Taymiyyah has explained to be correct is that after leaving the doctrines of the Mu'tazilah for those of the Kullaabiyyah, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari made a migration towards the madhhab of the people of Hadeeth and this became evident through his books that he wrote towards the end of his life, including al-Maqaalaat and al-Ibaanah. However, because his knowledge of ilm ul-kalaam was detailed and his knowledge of the sunnah was deficient, then he did not complete his migration completely and fully and still retained some influence from his past.

And Ibn Taymiyyah said in "Majmoo ul-Fataawaa" (6/528):

وكما أنه المعروف عند أهل السنة والحديث، فهو قول جماهير فرق الأمة، فإن جماهير الطوائف يقولون: إن الله يتكلم بصوت مع نزاعهم في أن كلامه هل هو مخلوق، أو قائم بنفسه؟ قديم أو حادث؟ أو ما زال يتكلم إذا شاء؟ فإن هذا قول المعتزلة، والكرامية، والشيعة وأكثر المرجئة، والسالمية، وغير هؤلاء من الحنفية والمالكية، والشافعية، والحنبلية، والصوفية.

وليس من طوائف المسلمين من أنكر أن الله يتكلم بصوت إلا ابن كلاب ومن اتبعه

And as this is known with Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Hadeeth, then it is also the saying of all of the sects of the Ummah, for the majority of all of the various factions say: "Allaah speaks with a voice" alongside their dispute(s) regarding whether His speech (Kalaam) is created (or not)? And is it established with His Self (or not)? And whether it is eternal (qadeem) or recent (haadith)? And whether He has never ceased being "one who speaks when He wills" (or not)?

For this (that Allaah speaks with a voice) is the saying of the Mu'tazilah, Karraamiyyah, Shee'ah, most of the Murji'ah, Saalimiyyah, and other than them from the Hanafiyyah, Maalikiyyah, Shaafi'iyyah, Hanbaliyyah and Soofiyyah.

And there is not from the factions of the Muslims anyone who rejected that Allaah speaks with a voice (sawt) except Ibn Kullaab and whoever followed him.

Also understand that the Ash'aris (following the Kullaabiyyah) were forced to reject that speech is with letter and voice (al-harf was-sawt) and to innovate the "Kalaam Nafsee" because they were trying to tread a middle ground between Ahl us-Sunnah and the Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah. So on the one hand they wanted to affirm the truth (Allaah has speech) and at the same time not invalidate their intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam" (anything that is subject to occurrences, events must be created, which in the case of Allaah's Speech is Allaah speaking as and when He wills) - and thus "Kalaam" now became (to them):

  • just the meaning present with the Self of Allaah,
  • a singular indivisible meaning and
  • not tied to Allaah's will and power

These views were innovated in order to protect that intellectual proof of "hudooth ul-ajsaam", which argues that the presence of qualities (sifaat), incidental attributes (a'raad) and actions (af'aal, hawaadith) present in the bodies that make up the universe are a proof of those bodies being created, and thus the universe as a whole is created, and thus there must be a creator. This is actually a false, corrupt proof. But because they made this proof to be the ultimate rational truth upon which the veracity of the religion depends, they had to start fooling around with the revealed texts and innovate sayings in order not to falsify this proof, continuing the legacy of their Imaams in that, the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah.

And these three sayings above in relation to what is Allaah's "Kalaam" are the most evident plain, manifest falsehood which are invalidated, without any shadow of doubt, by the clear texts of the Book of Allaah. And the shrewd ones amongst them knew this full well, which is why Abu al-Mu'aalee al-Juwaynee (d. 478H) innovated another innovation to conceal the previous falsehood the earlier ones were upon. So al-Juwaynee said, as mentioned by Ibn Abi al-Izz in his Sharh of at-Tahaawiyyah, that al-Juwaynee's view was that what is referred to as Allaah's "Kalaam" (speech) is something that shares between a) the meaning that is established with Allaah's self (al-ma'naa al-qaa'imu bidh-dhaat) - which is what the Kullaabis and Early Ash'aris were upon - and b) what Allaah creates in other than Himself of letters, voices (which is what the Mu'tazilah said is Allaah's "Kalaam") - this is because the shrewd ones knew you can't go around saying "Kalaam" is just the singular meaning (al-ma'naa al-waahid) in the self - it can't be sustained, the Qur'an and Sunnah falsify it and it is known, its a matter of ijmaa' that "Kalaam" (speech) is both meaning (ma'naa) and wording (lafdh) - none of this was disputed until the Kullaabiyyah and Ash'ariyyah used an unverified line of poetry of a Christian Poet called al-Akhtal as a basis to argue that speech is the "meaning in the self", and then they went looking in the revealed texts for anything that would support them in this. It's a case of "believe first, and find evidence for it afterwards", which is what they did with "Kalaam Nafsee", they (the Kullaabiyyah) innovated this saying of theirs to reconcile between the deen of the Mu'tazilah and that of Ahl us-Sunnah, and then went looking for evidences for it in the texts.

And what al-Juwaynee has done - seeing the falsehood in that - is to simply combine the deen of the Mu'tazilah, with the deen of Ibn Kullaab by devising a new definition for what is "Kalaamullaah (the speech of Allaah)", and al-Juwaynee took much of the Kullaabi Ash'arite creed in this direction. Ibn Kullaab said Allaah's speech is just the "Kalaam Nafsee" and the Mu'tazilah said, Allaah's speech is what He creates in the servants of speech, and so al-Juwaynee said, why not just combine between them both so we can have the best of both views in trying to defend that intellectual proof called "hudooth ul-ajsaam", so he proposed a hybrid definition and also ascribed it to others from the Ash'arites (refer to his book "al-Irshaad") - and al-Juwaynee was responsible for taking much of the Ash'arite creed back towards the direction of the Mu'tazilah, in this same manner.