born 873/874, Basra, Iraq died c. 935, /936, Baghdad Muslim Arab theologian noted for having integrated the rationalist methodology of the speculative theologians into the framework of orthodox Islam. In his Maqalat al-Islamiyin (Theological Opinions of the Muslims), compiled during his early period, al-Ash'ari brought together the varied opinions of scholars on Muslim theological questions. From about 912, he pursued a more orthodox study of theology through the Qur'an (Islamic sacred scripture) and the sunnah (the body of Islamic custom and practice based on Muhammad's words and deeds). He founded a theological school that later claimed as members such celebrated authors as al-Ghazali and Ibn Khaldun. Al-Ash'ari was born in the city of Basra, at that time one of the centres of intellectual ferment in Iraq, which, in turn, was the centre of the Muslim world. It is generally agreed that he belonged to the family of the celebrated Companion of the Prophet Abu Musa al-Ash'ari (d. 662/663), though some theologians opposed to his ideas contest the claim. Since this would have made him by birth a member of the Arab-Muslim aristocracy of the period, he must have received a careful education. A contemporary recorded that the wealth of al-Ash'ari's family permitted him to devote himself entirely to research and study. His works, especially the first part of Maqalat al-Islamiyin, and the accounts of later historians record that al-Ash'ari very early joined the school of the great theologians of that time, the Mu'tazilites. He became the favourite disciple of Abu 'Ali al-Jubba'i, head of the Mu'tazilites of Basra in the final decades of the 3rd century AH (late 9th and early 10th centuries AD), and remained a Mu'tazilite until his 40th year. During that period of his life, he undertook the composition of a work in which he gathered the opinions of the diverse schools on the principal points of Muslim theology. This work, the first volume of the current edition of the Maqalat, is valuable for what it records of Mu'tazilite doctrines. It remains one of the most important sources for retracing the history of the beginnings of Muslim theology. At the age of 40, when he had become a specialist in theology and was well known for his oral controversies and his written works, al-Ash'ari quit his master al-Jubba'i, abandoned Mu'tazilite doctrine, and was converted to a more traditional, or orthodox, Islamic theology. It had become apparent to him that, in his former disputations, the reality of God as well as that of man had become so sterilized and desiccated that it had become little more than matter for rational manipulation. Al-Ash'ari, conscious of the desiccation of Mu'tazilite theology, did not hesitate to proclaim his new faith publicly, and the former Mu'tazilite started combating his colleagues of yesterday. He even attacked his old master, al-Jubba'i, refuting his arguments in speech and writing. It was then, perhaps, that he took up again his first work, the Maqalat, to add to the objective exposition rectifications more conformable to his new beliefs. In this same period, he composed the work that marks clearly his break with the Mu'tazilite school: the Kitab al-Luma' (The Luminous Book). It was not until his former master died at Basra in 915 that al-Ash'ari decided to make Baghdad his centre. Arriving in the capital, he soon became aware of the importance assumed by a group of faithful of the sunnah, the disciples of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Soon after, al-Ash'ari composed, or perhaps put the last touches to, one of his most famous treatises, the Ibanah 'an usul ad-diyanah (Statement on the Principles of the Religion), which contains some passages venerating the memory of Ibn Hanbal. In the years that followed, al-Ash'ari, now installed in Baghdad, began to group around himself his first disciples. Focusing his theological reflection on certain positions of the mystic al-Muhasibi and of two theologians, Ibn Kullab and Qalanisi, al-Ash'ari laid the bases for a new school of theology distinct from both the Mu'tazilites and the Hanbalites. His three best-known disciples were al-Bahili, as-Su'luki, and Ibn Mujahid, all of whom transmitted the doctrines of their master to what later became the flourishing school of Khorasan. After al-Ash'ari died, his disciples slowly disentangled the main lines of doctrine that eventually became the stamp of the Ash'arite school. The Rev. Michel Adrien Allard, S.J. The Editors of the Encyclopdia Britannica Additional reading An indispensable work for those who wish to read al-Ash'ari is Richard J. McCarthy (ed.), The Theology of al-Ash'ari (1953), containing the texts of two of his theological treatises with their English translation. W. Montgomery Watt, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, 2nd ed. (1985), places al-Ash'ari in the chronological development of Muslim thought.
ASH'ARI, ABU AL-HASAN AL-
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