ASH'ARIYYA, a theological school, the followers of Abu 'l-Hasan al-Ash'ari [q.v.], sometimes
also called Asha'ira. (The history of the school has been little studied, and some of the statements
in this article must be regarded as provisional).
During the last two decades of his life al-Ash'ari attracted a number of disciples, and thus a
school was founded. The doctrinal position of the new school was open to attack from several
quarters. Apart from members of the Mu'tazila, certain groups of orthodox theologians attacked
them. To the Hanbalis [q.v.] their use of rational arguments was an objectionable innovation.
On the other hand, to the Maturidiyya [q.v.], who also were defending orthodoxy by rational
methods, some of their positions seemed too conservative (cf. the criticisms made by an early
member of that school in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar ascribed to al-Maturidi). Despite such opposition
the Ash'ariyya apparently became the dominant school in the Arabic-speaking parts of the
'Abbasid caliphate (and perhaps also in khurasan). In general they were in alliance with the
legal school of al-Shafi'i (though al-Ash'ari's own school of religious law is not clear), while their
rivals, the Maturidiyya, were almost invariably Hanafis. Towards the middle of the 5th/11th
century, the Ash'ariyya were persecuted by the Buwayhid sultans, who favoured a combination of
the views of the Mu'tazila and Shi'a. But with the coming of the Saldhuqs the tables were turned,
and the Ash'ariyya received official support, especially from the great wazir Nizam al-Mulk. In
return they gave intellectual support to the caliphate against the Fatimids of Cairo. From this
time on, until perhaps the beginning of the 8th/14th century, the teaching of the Ash'ariyya was
almost identical with orthodoxy, and in a sense it has remained so until the present time. The
Hanbali reaction centring in Ibn Taymiyya (d. 7t8/13t7) was of limited influence. From about
the time of the shaykh al-Sanusi (d. 895/1490), however, though al-Ash'ari and the great names
of his school were honoured and accepted, the leading theologians no longer regarded
themselves as belonging to the Ash'ariyya, and were in fact eclectic.
Important members of the Ash'ariyya (see the individual articles): al-Baqillani (d. 403/1013), Ibn
Furak (Abu Bakr Muhammad b. al-Hasan) (d. 406/1015-6), al-Isfara'ini (d. 418/10t7-8),
al-Baghdadi ('Abd al-qahir b. tahir) (d. 4t9/1037-8), al-Sumnani (d. 444/105t), al-Dhuwayni
Imam al-Haramayn (d. 478/1085-6), al-ˇhazali (Abu Hamid Muhammad) (d. 505/1111),
Muhammad b. Tumartq(d.c. 5t5/1030), al-Shahrastani (d. 548/1153), Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d.
606/1t10), al-Idhi (d. 756/1355), al-Dhurdhani (d. 816/1413).
Little is known about the views of the Ash'ariyya in the half-century after the founder's death.
Al-Baqillani is the first person whose work is extant and accessible, and by his time it is
noteworthy that the Ash'ariyya are making use of certain conceptions of the Mu'tazila (notably
Abu Hashim's doctrine of the hal), and have perhaps been influenced by the criticisms of the
Maturidiyya. One point on which the school was beginning to differ from al-Ash'ari himself was
in the interpretation of the corporeal terms applied to God, such as hands, face and sitting on
the throne. Al-Ash'ari had said these were to be taken neither literally nor metaphorically but
bi-la kayf, 'without asking how'; but al-Baghdadi and al-Dhuwayni interpreted 'hand'
metaphorically as 'power', and 'face' as 'essence' or 'existence'; and the attitude of most of
the later Ash'ariyya was similar (cf. Montgomery Watt, Some Muslim Discussions of
Anthropomorphism, in Transactions of the Glasgow University Oriental Society, xiii, 1-10). Again, while
al-Ash'ari had insisted that man's acquiring (kasb) of acts was created, thus emphasizing God's
omnipotence at the expense of man's responsibility, al-Dhuwayni was able to put forward the
view that the doctrine of the Ash'ariyya was a via media.
Towards the middle of the 5th/11th century there was a change in method. Ibn khaldun (tr. de
Slane, iii, 61) speaks of al-Ghazali as the first of the 'moderns', doubtless because of his
enthusiasm for the Aristotelian syllogism, but there are already in al-Dhuwayni traces of
methodological advance (cf. Gardet and Anawati, op. cit. infra, 73). It was al-Ghazali, however,
who steeped himself in the doctrines of Ibn Sina and others of the philosophers until he could
attack them on their own ground with devastating success. Little more was heard of the
philosophers, but from this time onward their Aristotelian logic and much of their Neoplatonic
metaphysics was incorporated in the teaching of the Ash'ariyya. This teaching rapidly became
intellectualised in a bad sense. Sometimes even views of doubtful orthodoxy were taken over,
and the philosophical prolegomena occupied more space and attention than the strictly
theological doctrines (notably in al-Idhi and his commentator al-Dhurdhani). In the end the
school may be said to disappear in a blaze of philosophy.
(W. Montgomery Watt)
(see also bibliographies for al-Ash'ari and individual members of the school): Ibn 'Asakir,
Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, Damascus 1347, (for trs. by McCarthy and Mehren v. art. al-Ash'ari)
M. Schreiner, Zur Geschichte des As'aritentums, in Actes du 8e Congr. des Orient., i A, 79 ff.
Carra de Vaux, Les Penseurs de l'Islam, Paris 19t3, iv, 133-94
L. Gardet and M. M. Anawati, Introduction a la Theologie Musulmane, Paris 1948, esp. 5t-76.
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Source: from the Encyclopedia of Islam --ę 1999 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands