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Ashari, Abu al-Hasan al-

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Ashari, Abu al-Hasan al-

    ca. 873–ca. 935 Founder of Ashari school

    Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari was the Muslim theologian who founded the Ashari school of Islamic thought. In doing so, he attempted to bridge the gap between a literal interpretation of the Qur'an and one based on reason. His ideas and those of his followers had a major influence on Sunni Islam for many centuries.

    Born in Basra, a city in southern Iraq, at a time when that region was the center of the Muslim world, al-Ashari received a thorough education. As a young man, he became involved with the Mutazilis, Muslim theologians. Mutazilis taught that the Qur'an was created by God, meaning that it was not a part of God's eternal essence although it expresses God's eternal will. They also held that people have free will to choose between doing good and doing evil. These beliefs ran counter to views of traditionalist theologians, such as Ahmad ibn Hanbal , who founded one of the four schools of Sunni law (Hanbali). Ibn Hanbal maintained that the Qur'an exists eternally and that God has absolute power over all people and events.

    Al-Ashari eventually had a change of heart. He left the Mutazilis and began to attack their views. He insisted that the Qur'an as a revelation is uncreated, but that any physical copy of the scripture is created. In this way, al-Ashari distinguished between essence and existence. In other words, although the Qur'an is uncreated, the words and letters on the pages are themselves created. He also affirmed God's power to create and control all people, objects, and events, including good and evil.

    Al-Ashari's break with the Mutazilis is reflected in his book Kitab al-Luma (Luminous Book). His views, however, differed somewhat from those of the traditionalists, and he relied on reason to defend aspects of belief that seemed to defy rationality. In the end, however, al-Ashari and his followers maintained that the ways of God are beyond the ability of ordinary people to understand. They require faith, not explanation, for acceptance.

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