Maha Elkaisy-Friemuth

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Show Summary Details


The Muʼtazilis are of theologians who argued for the importance of reason in religion and theology. Historiographers usually consider the founder of this group to be Wasil Ibn ʻAtaʼ (d. 748), who was a member of the Qadarite group led by al-Hasan al-Basri (d. c. 728). With the rise of the Abbasid dynasty, Muʼtazila became an important school of thought and soon divided into two distinct schools: the Basran school under the leadership of Abu al-Hudhayl al-ʻAllaf (d. 841) and the Baghdadi Muʼtazilite school under the leadership of Bishr b. al-Muʻtamir (d. 825). The two schools had different stances on a number of theological issues, noticeably in their adoption of the Greek atomism theory. According to ʻAbd al-Jabbar, atoms are the smallest constituent components of all bodies. Muʼtazilites also differed in their use of the al-aslah concept, which means that God does what is the best (al-aslah) for every human. At the end of the 10th century the Buhashimiyya school, under the leadership of Abu ʻAbdallah al-Basri and his student al-Qadi ʻAbd al-Jabbar, emerged from the Basran school as a result of the conflict around Abu Hashim’s theory of ahwal (modes). (This was part of an ongoing debate about the ontological status of the divine attributes.) The Muʼtazilites arranged their theological discussion first under their famous five principles (attributed to the 10th–11th century Basran scholar ʻAbd al-Jabbar” divine unity, divine justice, the promise of reward and threat of punishment, the “intermediate [nonjudgmental] position” regarding grave sinners, and the importance of commanding good and prohibiting evil). They dabbled in many other fields, such as cosmology, theodicy, ethics, and refutations of other sects and religions, and in their discussion of Imamates they also touched upon political issues. This can be seen in the encyclopedic work of ʻAbd al-Jabbar al-Mughni. This twenty-volume work was discovered in the 1950s and was published in Egypt between 1960 and 1969, sparking renewed interest in the Muʼtazilis. It is considered the most important surviving work of the Muʼtazila. See also the separate article on theology.

Article.  4877 words. 

Subjects: Islam

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.