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a. Figures
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Islam / Theology /
Arabic: mu¢taziliyīn

In Islam, theological school. The school of the Mu'tazilis can be dated back to the schism involving Caliph Ali, when Islam divided into three main orientations, Sunni, Shi'i and Khariji.
The name 'mu'tazili' probably comes from the Arabic verb i¢tazala, "to separate from", and was used for a group that fought neither for Ali, nor against him (which was the main issue in the schism). Mu'tazilism, as it is now known, developed in the city of Basra (now Iraq), in the beginning of the 8th century. Under the Caliph, al-Ma'mun, their teaching was elevated to a level of official acceptance, and became the starting point of the Muslim inquisition, called Mihna
The Mu'tazilis were the first Muslims to identify heresy and to challenge non-Muslim thinkers. At first, the opponents of the Mu'tazilis were the traditionalists, who claimed that the only way of understanding Islam was through the literal reading of the Koran and the hadiths, an approach called bilā kayfa, "without questions".
There were 5 fundamental principles for the Mu'tazilis:
  1. The unity of God, (tawhīd). God could not be humanly conceived. The argument here was that āyas, verses in the Koran describing God sitting on a throne were allegorical. The Mu'tazilis argued that the wording of the Koran did not have eternal weight, but was created by God. Ascribing eternal weight to the words of the Koran would destroy the omniscience of God.
  2. Divine justice (¢adl). The issue here was facing the problem of evil in a world in which God is omnipotent. The Mu'tazilis pointed to the free will of human beings, requiring them to understand evil as something stemming from errors of human choice. God does no evil, and he demands none from any human. If human evil had originated in the will of God, then human punishment would have been meaningless, since God's will would ultimately be at fault.
  3. Promise and threat ('al-wa¢d wa-l-wa¢īd). This concern comprised questions about the Last Day and the Day of Judgement.
  4. 'al-manzila bayna l-manzilatayn — the position between the two extremes of Kharijis and Murji'is.
  5. 'al-amru bil-ma¢ruuf wal-nahy ¢ani l-munkar — commanding the good and prohibiting the evil. This involved spreading the message of Islam.
This way of dividing theological questions into 5 groups, was adopted even by the opponents of the Mu'tazilis. But as a theological system, Mu'tazilism officially lost out to Ash'arism. It did, however, survive as a sub-set of categories with theologians up to the present time, and has become somewhat reinstated. Mu'tazilism has had great influence on Shi'i Islam.

By Tore Kjeilen