Who is Imam al- Māturīdī and Imam al- Ash‘arī, and differences between the two schools of Aqeedah.

1. Who is Imam al- Māturīdī?

2. Who is Imam al- Ash‘arī?

3. What role they played in the formation of the Ahlus Sunnah ?

4. Some differences between the two schools.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

As-salāmu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullāhi wa-barakātuh

Introduction

In the face of the present-day onslaught of varied ideologies and beliefs, and the promotion of unfettered freedom of thought, it is essential for all Muslims to have a firm grasp on their beliefs. A strong building is based on a sturdy foundation. Likewise, the correct understanding and practice of Islām is dependent on holding the correct beliefs (‘aqā’id). If one has incorrect beliefs on basic issues of Islām, this is akin to a defect in the very foundation of a building which makes it vulnerable to collapse.

The systematic study of Islāmic beliefs is termed “‘Ilm al-Tawhīd,” “Usūl al-Dīn,” “‘Ilm al-‘Aqā’id” and “‘Ilm al-Kalām.”

As Islām spread far and wide and the Muslim community grew, many new ideas and foreign concepts found their way into Muslim thinking. The Shī‘ah, Qadariyyah, Khawārij and Murji’ah were early groups that arose within the first few generations of Islām. The Sahābah themselves had to deal with and reply to some members of these groups.[1]

The defence of orthodox Islāmic beliefs carried out in the early period was by means of asserting the authority of the Islāmic scriptures. Any un-Islāmic idea or belief was refuted using the verses of Qur’ān and the hadīths of the Prophet (sallAllāhu ‘alayhi wasallam).[2]

During the early part of the second century of Hijrah, the hearts of the common people began to grow distant from the revealed texts, and people started to trust their logic and reason over the texts. ‘Ilm al-Kalām, or the methodical use of reason and logic to defend points of belief, arose in this climate. Most of the early groups that engaged in ‘Ilm al-Kalām were from deviant groups like the Mu‘tazilah and Jahmiyyah, which is why it was initially condemned by the scholars of the Salaf. However, when the need arose, even the very early scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah did not shy away from using logic and reason to defeat false beliefs.[3]

Thereafter, when more scholars of Ahlus Sunnah engaged in ‘Ilm al-Kalām in order to counter the wrong beliefs of deviant groups, an orthodox form of ‘Ilm ul-Kalām emerged and began to dominate the wrong forms. This process was systematically begun by ‘Abdullāh ibn Sa‘īd ibn Kullāb (d. 240 H), Abū ‘Alī al-Karābīsī (d. 248), Hārith al-Muhāsibī (d. 243) and others from the early part of the third Hijrī century.

Thereafter, two leading lights of Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah, namely, Imām Abū Mansūr al-Māturīdī (238 – 333 H)and Imām Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī (260 – 324 H) , excelled in the field of ‘Ilm ul-Kalām, and they successfully clarified the viewpoints of the Ahlus Sunnah Wa l-Jamā‘ah on matters of belief according to principles of Kalām. As a result of their remarkable achievements, the scholars of the ummah endorsed the beliefs of Islām based on what these two Imāms had enumerated in their works and discourses. Thus emerged the ‘aqīdah schools, “Ash‘arī” and “Maturīdī”.

While these two Imāms, and subsequently the two schools, differed on points of creed, the disagreements were never regarded as being of a fundamental nature leading to heresy or anathematisation, but rather differences in terminology or, at most, minor differences in understanding.[4]

1. The Māturīdīs 

The founder of the Māturīdī school of theology was the great scholar, Muhammad Bin Muhammad ibn Mahmūd, Abū Mansūr Al-Māturīdī. He was born in Māturīd, a district of Samarkand (present day Uzbekistan), around the year 238 and died in 333 H in Samarkand. He was a prominent scholar in the Hanafī school and authored many books on beliefs and jurisprudence.

2) The Ash‘arīs

The founder of the Ash‘arī school of theology was the great scholar, ‘Alī ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Abī Bishr al-Ash‘arī al-Yamānī Al-Basrī. He was born in Basra in the year 260 and died in 324. He was a descendent of the famous Sahābī, Abū Mūsā al-Ash‘arī (radiyAllāhu ‘anhu).                                             

Imām al-Ash‘arī was born at a time when many deviant sects were on the rise. He himself was initially affiliated with the Mu‘tazilah.  At the age of forty he abandoned the Mu‘tazilah, and took to refuting their beliefs as well as the beliefs of other misguided sects in defence of the accepted beliefs of Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah. He expounded the beliefs of Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah in its purest form as transmitted in the Sunnah and as explained by the Salaf(the community of pious predecessors). He authored many books on beliefs.

Imām Abū Mansūr Al-Māturīdī was a contemporary of Imam Ash‘arī and they both worked to establish and defend the beliefs of Ahlus Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah. Adherents of the Hanafī madhhab generally follow the Māturīdī school of theology, while adherents of the Shāfi‘ī and Mālikī madhhabs generally follow the Ash‘arī school of theology.

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Hereunder are some of the differences between the Māturidī and Asharī schools of ‘Aqīdah[5].

1. Takwīn

Takwīn literally means to bring into existence. Allah Ta‘ālā states in the Qur’ān:

بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَإِذَا قَضَىٰ أَمْرًا فَإِنَّمَا يَقُولُ لَهُ كُن فَيَكُونُ

“The Originator of the heavens and the earth. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it: ‘Be!’ – and it is.” (2:117)

Bringing into existence is an attribute of Allāh Ta‘ālā. However, there is a difference of opinion whether this attribute is a qadīm (beginningless) attribute of Allāh or a hādith (originated) attribute of Allāh’s action.

According to the Māturīdīs, the attribute of takwīn is qadīm. Allāh Ta‘ālā has always existed together with His attributes. Takwīn, creation, is an eternal attribute that subsists in Allāh’s being as do all His attributes. Just as Allāh’s will is without beginning but linked to that which is willed at the time of its existence, so too His eternal attribute of creation (takwīn) is without beginning but linked to that which is created at the time of creation.

According to the Ash‘arīs, takwin is not an eternal attribute of Allāh Ta‘āla. Rather, it is originated (hādith). The power (qudrah) and will (irādah) of Allāh are eternal, while the actions that result from these two attributes, like takwīn, are not eternal, but are originated in time.

Many scholars have understood this disagreement to be a difference in terminology as, according to both views, nothing originated subsists in Allāh’s being and nothing beginningless exists outside of Allāh’s being.

2. Speech (Kalam):

According to the Māturīdīs, the speech of Allāh Ta‘ālā cannot be heard. Rather, what is heard is that which indicates to it.  According to Imām al-Māturīdī, only something that connects to the physical sense of hearing (i.e. the ear) can be heard. Since the eternal speech of Allāh cannot connect to the originated sense of hearing, what is heard is not the speech of Allāh per se, but rather what gives an indication to the speech of Allāh. 

According to the Ash‘arīs, the speech of Allāh Ta‘ālā can be heard, as in the famous story of Mūsā (‘alayhissalām). Qādī Abū Bakr Ibn al-Bāqillānī, a great Ash‘arī Mālikī theologian, said: “Allāh’s Speech is not heard in the convention sense. Rather, it is possible for Allāh to allow any of His creation that He wills to hear it without natural means and without the medium of letters and sound.”[6]

This is similar to the vision of Allāh Ta‘ālā that believers will be bestowed with in the Ākhirah. They will see Allāh Ta‘ālā but not in the conventional way of light reflecting off an object from a distance onto the eye. Rather, the vision will be with the eye but with a reality different to the reality of vision in this world. Similarly, hearing the eternal speech of Allāh is not in the conventional way of sound waves travelling to the ears, but with a reality different from the reality of hearing as we know it.

3. How much a person can be legally obligated (taklīf) :

According to the Māturīdīs, it is logically impossible for Allāh to make a person legally accountable for more than he can bear. According to the Ash’aris, while it is logically possible, it will not occur on account of Allāh’s promise.[7]

4. Whether taklīf can be perceived by the intellect:

According to the Māturīdīs, some laws pertaining to legal obligation (taklīf) can be understood by the intellect. The intellect is a tool by which the goodness and evil of some things can be comprehended. The intellect, for example, is a tool by which the obligation of faith is comprehended as well as the necessity of showing gratitude to the Giver of Bounties.  The One Who Makes this known and assigns its obligation is Allāh alone, but He does so through the medium of the intellect.

Imām al-Māturīdī said, “No one is excused for ignorance of his Creator because of what he finds in the creation of the heavens and earth.”  He also said, “Had Allāh not sent a Messenger, even still it would have been obligatory for creation to know Him through their intellects.”

According to the Ash‘arīs, taklīf cannot be comprehended by the intellect alone. Taklīf can only be understood through revelation (wahy). Imam al-Ash‘arī said that nothing is made an obligation or a prohibition except by the Sharī‘ah, not the intellect, even if the intellect is able to comprehend the goodness and evil of some things.[8]

5. Fortune (sa‘ādah) and wretchedness (shaqāwah):

According to Imām al-Māturīdī, sa‘ādah (felicity or fortune) is defined as being Muslim while shaqāwah (wretchedness or misfortune) is defined as disbelief. Hence, according to the Māturīdīs, a wretched person can eventually be fortunate, and a fortunate person can turn out to be wretched.

 According to Imam al-Ash‘arī, sa‘ādah is dying upon Islām and shaqāwah is dying upon disbelief. Hence, according to the Ash‘arīs, fortune and wretchedness are only considered at the time of death.[9]

6. Can disbelief (kufr) be pardoned:

According to the Māturīdīs, it is logically impossible for disbelief to be pardoned. According to the Ash‘arīs, while it is logically possible for disbelief to be forgiven, it is impossible on account of Allāh’s decree and choice.[10]

7. Eternal abode in the Hereafter:

According to the Māturīdīs, it is logically and textually (i.e. on the basis of Quran and Sunnah) impossible for the believers to abide eternally in hellfire and for the disbelievers to abide in paradise. According to the Ash‘arīs, it is logically possible and textually impossible for the believers to abide eternally in hellfire and for the disbelievers to abide in paradise.[11]

8. What the action of a person is termed:

According to the Māturīdīs and Ash‘arīs, the action (fil) of a person is called acquisition (kasb) and not creation. The action of Allah (fil) is called creation (khalq) and not acquisition. Both actions, however, may be termed “fil.”

According to the Ash‘aris, “fil” refers to the action of Allāh bringing something nonexistent into existence, which is exclusive to Him. The action of acquisition by a person is called action (fil) only figuratively (majāzan), not literally. According to the Māturīdīs, the action of a person may also literally be termed an action.

The gist of this disagreement is that Imam al-Ash‘ari held that the word “action” is literal when applied to Allāh since He is the True Doer, and is figurative when applied to creation. Imam al-Mātuīidī on the other hand, held that the word “action” is literal when applied to both Allāh and creation.

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The 8 differences quoted above are of a technical and subtle nature. Despite these slight differences, there was tolerance and understanding of one another.

And Allāh Ta‘āla Knows Best

Mufti Arshad Ali

Darul Iftaa, Jaamia Madinatul Uloom (Trinidad)www.fatwa-tt.com /www.jaamia.net


[1] قال الإمام مسلم في صحيحه: حدثني أبو خيثمة زهير بن حرب، حدثنا وكيع، عن كهمس، عن عبد الله بن بريدة، عن يحيى بن يعمر، ح وحدثنا عبيد الله بن معاذ العنبري – وهذا حديثه – حدثنا أبي، حدثنا كهمس، عن ابن بريدة، عن يحيى بن يعمر، قال: كان أول من قال في القدر بالبصرة معبد الجهني، فانطلقت أنا وحميد بن عبد الرحمن الحميري حاجين – أو معتمرين – فقلنا: لو لقينا أحدا من أصحاب رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، فسألناه عما يقول هؤلاء في القدر، فوفق لنا عبد الله بن عمر بن الخطاب داخلا المسجد، فاكتنفته أنا وصاحبي أحدنا عن يمينه، والآخر عن شماله، فظننت أن صاحبي سيكل الكلام إلي، فقلت [ص:37]: أبا عبد الرحمن إنه قد ظهر قبلنا ناس يقرءون القرآن، ويتقفرون العلم، وذكر من شأنهم، وأنهم يزعمون أن لا قدر، وأن الأمر أنف، قال: «فإذا لقيت أولئك فأخبرهم أني بريء منهم، وأنهم برآء مني»، والذي يحلف به عبد الله بن عمر «لو أن لأحدهم مثل أحد ذهبا، فأنفقه ما قبل الله منه حتى يؤمن بالقدر» ثم قال: حدثني أبي عمر بن الخطاب قال: بينما نحن عند رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم ذات يوم، إذ طلع علينا رجل شديد بياض الثياب، شديد سواد الشعر، لا يرى عليه أثر السفر، ولا يعرفه منا أحد، حتى جلس إلى النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم، فأسند ركبتيه إلى ركبتيه، ووضع كفيه على فخذيه، وقال: يا محمد أخبرني عن الإسلام، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: «الإسلام أن تشهد أن لا إله إلا الله وأن محمدا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم، وتقيم الصلاة، وتؤتي الزكاة، وتصوم رمضان، وتحج البيت إن استطعت إليه سبيلا»، قال: صدقت، قال: فعجبنا له يسأله، ويصدقه، قال: فأخبرني عن الإيمان، قال: «أن تؤمن بالله، وملائكته، وكتبه، ورسله، واليوم الآخر، وتؤمن بالقدر خيره وشره»، قال: صدقت، قال: فأخبرني عن الإحسان، قال: «أن تعبد الله كأنك تراه، فإن لم تكن تراه فإنه يراك»، قال: فأخبرني عن الساعة، قال: «ما المسئول عنها بأعلم من السائل» قال: فأخبرني عن أمارتها، قال: «أن تلد الأمة ربتها، وأن ترى الحفاة العراة العالة رعاء الشاء يتطاولون في البنيان»، قال: ثم انطلق فلبثت مليا، ثم قال لي: «يا عمر أتدري من السائل؟» قلت: الله ورسوله أعلم، قال: «فإنه جبريل أتاكم يعلمكم دينكم»

وقال فيه أيضا: وحدثنا حجاج بن الشاعر، حدثنا الفضل بن دكين، حدثنا أبو عاصم، يعني محمد بن أبي أيوب، قال: حدثني يزيد الفقير، قال: كنت قد شغفني رأي من رأي الخوارج، فخرجنا في عصابة ذوي عدد نريد أن نحج، ثم نخرج على الناس، قال: فمررنا على المدينة، فإذا جابر بن عبد الله يحدث القوم، جالس إلى سارية، عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: فإذا هو قد ذكر الجهنميين، قال: فقلت له: يا صاحب رسول الله، ما هذا الذي تحدثون؟ والله يقول: {إنك من تدخل النار فقد أخزيته} [آل عمران: 192] و {كلما أرادوا أن يخرجوا منها أعيدوا فيها} [السجدة: 20]، فما هذا الذي تقولون؟ قال: فقال: «أتقرأ القرآن؟» قلت: نعم، قال: «فهل سمعت بمقام محمد عليه السلام – يعني الذي يبعثه الله فيه -؟» قلت: نعم، قال: «فإنه مقام محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم المحمود الذي يخرج الله به من يخرج»، قال: ثم نعت وضع الصراط، ومر الناس عليه، – قال: وأخاف أن لا أكون أحفظ ذاك – قال: غير أنه قد زعم أن قوما يخرجون من النار بعد أن يكونوا فيها، قال: – يعني – فيخرجون كأنهم عيدان السماسم، قال: «فيدخلون نهرا من أنهار الجنة، فيغتسلون فيه، فيخرجون كأنهم القراطيس»، فرجعنا قلنا: ويحكم أترون الشيخ يكذب على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم؟ فرجعنا فلا والله ما خرج منا غير رجل واحد

[2] أنظر المثالين السابقين

[3] قال المزي: وقال حماد بن زيد عن حبيب بن الشهيد عن إياس بن معاوية (التابعي المشهور ت ١٢٢ ه): ما خاصمت أحدا من أهل الأهواء بعقلي إلا القدرية. قال: قلت: أخبروني عن الظلم ما هو؟ قالوا: أخذ ما ليس له. قال: قلت: فإن الله تعالى له كل شيء (تهذيب الكمال، مؤسسة الرسالة، ج٣ ص٤١٦)

[4]http://askimam.org/public/question_detail/13173.html

-Al Fiqh Al Akbar- Introduction by Abdur-Rahman ibn Yusuf.

كتاب التوحيد(دار صادر)-

[5] There are more differences according to some Ulama.

(مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 20 دار الفتح)

[6] (مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 27 دار الفتح)

الإعتماد في الإعتقاد ص 183

[7] (مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 39 دار الفتح)

[8] (مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 42 دار الفتح)

الإعتماد في الإعتقاد ص 289

[9] (مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 57 دار الفتح)

[10]الإعتماد في الإعتقاد ص 422

 (مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 59 دار الفتح)

[11] مسائل الاختلافية بين الأشاعرة والماتريدية لابن كمال باشا ص 63 دار الفتح)