Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Relationship Between Mu’tazilism and Zaydism / Zaidism

The relationship between Mu’tazili theology and Zaydism has been raised; claims that Zaydism “borrowed” mu’tazilism from Sunni theologians, and claims that Zaid bin Ali was a follower of the mu’tazili school rather than a person who inspired it, are worth discussing and clarifying. A Zaidi scholar has also said it is erroneous to label Zaydism as “Mutazili in theology”, when in fact Zaydism comprises more than just Mu’tazilism, as the Mu’tazili school does not deal with the issue of Imamate.

What is Mu’tazilism?
An Islamic school of speculative theology, often described as rationalist because it states that human reason is more reliable than tradition and prefers speculation over “taqleed” (blind acceptance).
The Mu’tazilis believe that it is speculation and reflection which leads to the knowledge of Allah, particularly Allah’s unity (tawheed), His Justice (adl) , Prophecies (nubuwaat), and what is lawful/unlawful. For Zaydis, knowledge of Imamate is added to this list (see Imam alHaadi’s credal statements on our translations blog).
Non mu’tazilis oppose this notion and state that knowledge is gained through uncritical acceptance of ideas (al ilm bil taqleed), and that there is no need to reflect and speculate.
Early Hanbali credal statements encourage “ acceptance of traditions as they are without questions of “why” and “how”, no interpreting of traditions, and no discussion of predestination and other issues.” Even the Hanafi school has a “Laa kaif” policy on some of the issues Mu’tazilis speculate about.

Is Mu’tazilism based on the Quran?
Mu’tazilis state that the proof that speculation is obligatory is in the Qur’an, e.g. “Speculate about what is in the Heavens and the Earth” (10.101)
Mu’tazilis say that there are systems which are right and others which are wrong, it is impossible that all systems can be wrong, for the truth lies within one of them, and the truth can only be found through speculation, not through other people. Therefore speculation is obligatory, and taqleed is incorrect.
The Wikipedia summary of Mu’tazilism states:
“Mu'tazilis believed that the first obligation on humans, specifically adults in full possession of their mental faculties, is to use their intellectual power to ascertain the existence of God, and to become knowledgeable of His attributes. One must wonder about the whole existence, that is, about why something exists rather than nothing. If one comes to know that there is a being who caused this universe to exist, not reliant on anything else and absolutely free from any type of need, then one realizes that this being is all-wise and morally perfect. If this being is all-wise, then his very act of creation cannot be haphazard or in vain. One must then be motivated to ascertain what this being wants from humans, for one may harm oneself by simply ignoring the whole mystery of existence and, consequently, the plan of the Creator. This paradigm is known as wujub al-nazar, i.e., the obligation to use one's speculative reasoning to attain ontological truths. About the "first duty," 'Abd al-Jabbar said (Martin et al., 1997): It is speculative reasoning (al-nazar) which leads to knowledge of God, because He is not known by the way of necessity (daruratan) nor by the senses (bi l-mushahada). Thus, He must be known by reflection and speculation.”

What came first, Mu’tazilism or Zaydism?
The mu’tazili school got its name (given to it by other theologians) around the same time as Zaid bin Ali was alive, however, some of its principals were being discussed before Zaid’s time, as a result of the Karbala tragedy (e.g. Divine Justice, Reward and Punishment) when people became became disillusioned with the Umayyad leadership. It could be said that Zaydism and Mu’tazilism grew up together, as each of the following issues arose and were dealt with:

1. Al-Manzilah bayna al-Manzilatayn المنزلة بين المنزلتين - the intermediate position. That is, Muslims who commit grave sins and die without repentance are not considered as mu'mins (believers), nor are they considered kafirs (non-believers), but in an intermediate position between the two.
Wasil bin Ataa (died 131 AH) is credited by Western historians as being the first to voice the view “Those who commit major sins are neither believers or unbelievers”, and the one who started a study circle independent his previous study circle (that of Hassan al Basra). This standpoint is known as the position between 2 positions, i.e. between khawaarijism and murjism.
It is said that Zaid bin Ali and Wasil sat in the same circles and agreed on this point. Some say that Wasil was Zaid’s student. According to a sunni source, Wasil ibn Ata (ra) and Imam Zayd ibn Ali (as) were considered "blood brothers" because their views were synonymous on various issues. Then it is no surprise that Zaidis adopt this position.
The 12 Imamer view is similar to the mu’tazili view, except that, in their view, 12 Imamers will have special privileges in regards to entering paradise, compared to other Muslims. This is justified by a narration they attribute to Imam Jaf'ar as Sadiq: "Verily, God has angels who cause sins to fall off the backs of our Shi'ites, like the wind does to leaves in autumn” and also by narrations, attributed to their Imams, saying that the Prophet, 12 Imams and righteous Shi'ites will intercede for the rest of the Shi'a (and presumably not for other Muslims).

2. Al-Tawhid التوحيد - Divine Unity. Mu'tazilis believed in the absolute unity and oneness of God. and denied the existence of attributes distinct from Divine essence, and they used metaphorical interpretations of Qur'anic verses with seemingly anthropomorphic content.
Imam Zaid approved of the metaphorical interpretation (ta’wil) according to this narration:
Ubaidullah ibn al-‘Ula said, I heard Zayd ibn ‘Ali say about the following ayat:
And the Jews say, “God’s hand is shackled; and manacled [by Allah] are their hands because of this their assertion. No, but wide are His hands stretched out... 5: 64
Imam Zayd says that the reference here is to Allah’s magnanimity and generosity. In other verses in the Quran the words speak of Allah: “giving abundantly.” In Arabic discourse when it is said that a person is indebted to another person’s hand it is another way to express how one person extends is helping self to another person.
Allah also says:
And neither allow your hand to remain shackled to your neck...
17: 29
and this, according to Imam Zayd, this means do not withhold your hand from spending in good causes as it would be tantamount to having your hand tied to your neck.
Allah also says:
Said He: “O Iblis! What has kept you from prostrating yourself before that [being] which I have created with My hands?
38: 75
This would mean that “I [God] personally created him [Adam] without parents. This is not a specific reference to human-like “hands” as much as it is a reference to Him as a whole being responsible for Adam’s creation. It could very well be that Allah said to Adam “be” and he was without ever having His “hands” involved in the act of creation.
...and the heavens will be rolled up in His right hand...
39: 67
“right hand” in the above ayat refers to His ability and potency. Likewise:
rolled up in His right hand... would refer to His possession and dominion. It is like saying: If it is in my hand it is mine. Which does not necessarily and literally mean that I have it clenched in my fist. There are examples of this in Arabic poetry.”

In contrast to Zayd bin Ali’s position, his contemporary, Abu Hanifa, said in his book Fiqhul Akbar:
“He (Allah) has a hand, a face and a soul, as Allah mentioned in the Qu'ran, and whatever Allah mentions in the Quran regarding the face the hand and the soul, these are His attributes, and (let there be) no discussion about this (laa kaif). It should not be said that His "hand" signifies His "power" or His "kindness", for that would be cancelling out the attribute, and that is what the Qadariyyah and Mu'tazilah are saying. His hand is (one of) His attributes, with no discussion, (just as) His Anger and His Pleasure are two of His attributes, with no discussion ."
This indicates that Zaid bin Ali had the mu’tazili view on this issue, but his student, Abu Hanifa, did not follow his view in this regard. Zaidis follow Zaid’s position, not Abu Hanifa’s, yet many people desribe Zaydism as “close to Hanafism”.

3. Al-'Adl العدل - Divine Justice. Facing the problem of existence of evil in the world, the Mu'tazilis pointed at the free will of human beings.
Muhammad and his early companions, the Sahabah, always insisted on the theory of Sovereignty of Allah, and the freedom of human will, based on the doctrine that man would be judged by his actions. These teachings were predominant until the Umayyad period.
Due to public hatred after the tragedy of Battle of Karbala, the sack of Medina, and many political blunders committed by theUmayyad Caliphate , they were in need of a theory of Predestination,(see Predestination in Islam ), fatalism, (jabr), that "a man is not responsible for his actions which proceed from God". So with their help a school of thought was emerged and was called "JABRIA", which appealed to many because pre-Islamic values were fatalistic. The mu’tazili school, in response, reaffirmed the “adl” concept, which was not something new, but the original concept held by the first generation of Muslims.
Ash’ari opposed it and created the Kasb standpoint as an alternative. Maturidi created a similar standpoint to Ash’ari. The Hanbali school opposed Ash’ari and the Mu’tazilil and created a position even closer to jabr (compulsion).
The Mutazili became known as “People of Divine Unity and Justice”(ahlul tawhid wal adl) .
Judging by his actions in rebelling against the pro-jabr Umayyad leadership, Zaid had the view of the mu’tazili school on this issue, and the Zaydis have adopted it.
There appear to be differences of opinion in the 12 Imamer camp on the issue of Divine Justice.
The leading Iranian ayatollah, Ja’far Subhani, wrote: “ What God has ordained for man is, precisely, free will, the very feature which distinguishes him from animals; man has been ordained a free agent, capable of choosing to perform or abstain from actions.” This sounds like the mu'tazilil position, but then he adds:
"In other words, although action revolves upon man, it is also dependent upon God; for the action proceeds from the human agent, but since in reality the agent, along with his power, is created by God, how can one consider the action of such an agent to be independent of God?" which sounds like the Maturidi position.
He later mentions that God also has foreknowledge of what people will do, but does not compel them.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq’s view, “The reality is neither pre-destination, nor absolute free will, but something between the two” is a statement of non-committal which does not part with the Ash'ari or Maturidi view.
THE 12 imamers also have a narration they attribute to Imam Ali, saying: “This (doctrine of predestination) is a dark path - do not traverse it; a deep ocean - do not enter it; and a divine mystery - do not try to unveil it.” This statement reminds me of the Hanbali school’s warnings not to discuss predestination at all, and goes against the mu’tazili spirit of speculation in order to gain knowledge.
Therefore, it could be said that the Zaydi math-hab holds a unique position on this issue, which goes right back to the early days of theological discussions.
As for sunnis who agree with the mu'tazili/Zaidi position on adl, they have been disowned by the vast majority of their sunni brethren, especially since the "Mihna" instigated by the caliph Ma'mun.

4. The concept of “commanding good and forbidding evil” was/is another of the mu’tazili tenets. During his lifetime, Imam Zaid put this concept into practice, by rising up against the corrupt leadership. In Yemen, the Zaydi Imam al Haadi (died 300 AH) added the concept of rising up against corrupt leadership as a tenet of Zaydism, and added the knowledge of Imamate (Zaydi imamate) to the mu’tazili list of knowledge that Muslims must speculate about in order to know Allah. This is why Zaydis would say that their theology is more than just mu’tazilism; the Zaydi Imamate doctrine stands alongside the mu’tazili tenets and holds equal importance.

Zaidis believe that the unbroken chain of truth goes from the prophet's family passed down knowledge generation after another. The mu'tazili tenets form part of this unbroken truth, but were not known as "mu'tazili" tenets by the ahlul bait. The name was later given by sunni scholars who perceived their own views as the norm and the ahlul bait's views as somehow unorthodox. Wasil bin Ataa was a student of ahlul bait members, like Muhammad bin al Hanafiyyah and Zaid bin Ali, who became known for separating himself from the main Basran school.


  1. Salaam Sister
    Here is something important you should note down. From Imam Ali's (as) teachings three schools came down, the Sufis, the Shias and the Mutazillas. Wasil ibn Ata (ra) initially studied under Abd-Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah who is a descendant of Imam Ali (as). Therefore, you can see how his teachings are parallel to Imam Zayd ibn Ali's (as) teaching. Also when Imam Zayd ibn Ali (as) came to Kufa they had a discussion on the status of Sahaba. Through Imam Zayd ibn Ali (as) discussions Wasil ibn Ata (ra) adopted the belief that Imam Ali (as) was the most qualified sahabi to lead the Ummah. After that the later generation of Mutazillah also adopted this belief also.

  2. Hmm, interesting comment. The summary of Mu'tazilism and its main tenets, in Wikipedia, doesn't mention anything about Ali or ahlul bait being leaders. Perhaps they regarded this as a political issue rather than a theological one? I'm hoping to hear something from 12 Imamers about their Imams' attitudes towards Mu'tazilism so that I can fill in the blanks. Thanks for keeping us informed about the history...

  3. I think that you would benefit more if you looked into some of the resources I suggested instead of being spoon fed answers from me when I don't know if I can do them justice, especially with the time and space limitations I have. However, I will try to give brief answers.

    1. My understanding is that such a person is still a Muslim. There is an abundance of Shi'i ahadith that are absolutely clear that those who have walayah to the Imams will all enter paradise, however it is believed that there are different levels of faith and paradise. Even amongst the moderate Shi'a this is the case and it is believed that as Imam Jaf'ar says: "verily, God has angels who cause sins to fall of the backs of our shi'ites, like the wind does to leaves in autumn." There are more extreme narrations where the Imam says that those who know (ie, about walayah to the Imam) may do as they like, although the more antinomian interpretations of that are usually opposed. Failing all that it is believed that the Prophet and Imams and righteous Shi'ites will intercede for the rest of the Shi'a. A good place to get an idea of the Shi'a perspective on this issue is actually the famous du'a Kumayl where we implore God in regards to his mercy towards those who love and acknowledge HIm. In regards to non-Shi'ites, although they do not call it that, it is basically an intermediate position. God will reward the good and punish the bad. As far as I am aware the Shi'a did not really concern themselves much with what the position of sinful Sunnis, for example, because it wasn't something that really concerned them. Therefore, I don't exactly know what their position would be.

    2. Essentially the same as the Mutazilites.

    3. The Shi'a believe somewhere between the two. Imam al-Sadiq has narrated that the reality is neither predestination, nor absolute freewill, but something between the two. Perhaps it is also worth remembering that Imam Ali said: This (doctrine of predestination) is a dark path - do not traverse it; a deep ocean - do not enter it; and a divine mystery - do not try to unveil it. In any case a quote from Ayatollah Ja'far Subhani may be of benefit:

    For what God has ordained for man is, precisely, free will, the very feature which distinguishes him from animals; man has been ordained a free agent, capable of choosing to perform or abstain from actions. The divine decree in regard to human action is that, once the will and desire to perform an action are established, the action will follow decisively.

    I will let you decide where that fits, but there is certainly no hiding a persons wrongs behind the belief that it was predestined.

    4. I mentioned this elsewhere. It is obligatory if it is likely to be successful and will cause more good than harm.

  4. Salaam Sister
    Again this information is not easy to get from the translated material. I benefited a lot by listening to Imam Al Asi and Syed Ninowy's lectures. They are very fair when they discuss other schools. In fact they go as far and pointing out when Sunnis are wrong and when other schools were closer to the truth.
    Mutazillah have been killed by the later Hanbali/Athari extremist. This news really brought tears into a lot of my eyes, since the expiring of the Mutazilla also meant putting an end to intellectual thinking. On top of that the Abbasids at the same ended the door of ijitihad.
    Therefore, the material we have today only comes mostly from comparative studies. In history sources Wasil ibn Ata (ra) and Imam Zayd ibn Ali (as) are considered blood brothers. Why ? The reason is their views were synonymous on various issues. Also, another important piece of information you should note is where the Mutazilla movement was during the revolt of Imam Nafs-az-Zakiyah (as) (Muhammad ibn Hassan ibn Hassan ibn Ali (as) )

    Then after this revolt failed the Mutazilla became pacifist, whereas the Zaydis continued to support the next set of Zaydi imams.

    Let me know if you when you get caught up with the lectures. I will upload more on youtube on these various subjects.

  5. Also I asked Syed Ninowy's student about the Wasil ibn Ata (ra). Here is what he said.

    Wasil bin Ata was a student, directly and indirectly of Ahlul Bayt. Then he figured that he can do it on his own, and has his own views as well. The Nasibi's love to switch the picture around, and make it as Wasil had the knowledge and the Imams of Ahlul Bayt took from him. Sayyidina Syed Al-Ninowy (dba) said one time, that the dates/years/ don't add up for the claim of the Nasibi's, even if you were to negotiate their silly claim.

    The main important point here is: Adl (just), which is very much a Maturidi view, but not exactly an Ash'ari one, and totally the opposite of the so-called "Ahlul Hadith"/ The Umawi state official opinion. The latter's opinion was Jabr (i.e. that the slave has absolutely no will, and is just a robot that acts Allah's will, period). As you know, Ahlus Sunnah (namely the Maturidi scholars) affirm a will to the creation, a will that has actual effects, but yet, not entirely independent from Allah's will.

    Wasil bin Ata and the Mutazillah have a disagreement on the definition of the Sahaba and on the vision, and many other smaller issues.

    Therefore, its seems like the 12rs and Maturidi agree on the issue of Adl but slight differ from the Mutazilla view.

  6. Thanks Devin, I've incorporated your answers into the above post. Sorry for making you do all the hard work, but, after all, it is Ramadan, and I have several mouths to feed! I did try to get access to the books you mentioned online, but they weren't available. If you have any narrations from Muhammad Baqir on these theological issues, please send them. Thanks also to Pro Ahlul bait. Seems you are pro-mu'tazili as well as Pro ahlul bait!

  7. Zaida,

    I think that you may not quite have understood the position on compulsion\freedom. It is not the same as the muatazili position. A further quote from Jaf'ar Subhani:

    In other words, although action revolves upon man, it is also dependent upon God; for the action proceeds from the human agent, but since in reality the agent, along with his power, is created by God, how can one consider the action of such an agent to be independent of God?

    He later mentions that God also has foreknowledge of what people will do, but does not compel them.

  8. Brother Devin
    You state...
    >>>As far as I am aware the Shi'a did not really concern themselves much with what the position of sinful Sunnis, for example, because it wasn't something that really concerned them <<<<
    Actually recently Ammar Nakshawani applied the Mutazilla position on Qari Abdul Basit.
    I mean he applies this toward what Sunni consider a pious Muslim. I don't think anyone wants to know what the 12rs believe about sinful Sunnis. I am sure the answer lies in Al Khoei's fatwa.

  9. Thanks Devin and Pro ahlul bait, I've incorporated both of your answers into the post. Obviously more research needs to be done to determine whether different members of ahlul bait would take different stands on an important theological issue like adl.

  10. Zaida you may want to expand on the position of tawheed which the Mutazilla believed in.


    A particular understanding of tawhid was at the core of their doctrine. Al-Ash‘ari described their position in his book, Maqalat al-Islamiyyin:

    Allah is one. There is nothing like Him. He is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing. He is neither body nor spirit. He does not have corporeal form or shape, or flesh or blood. He is not substance or accident. He does not have a colour or taste, smell or tactility, heat, cold, wetness, dryness, height width, or depth. He does not have joining or separation, movement or stillness. He has no parts or components,
    or limbs or members. He has no directions: no right or left, front or back, above or below. He is not circumscribed by place nor is He subject to time. He cannot be incarnate in any place. He is not described with any of the attributes of creation which involve contingency nor is He described as
    being finite or as being limited. He does not beget and is not begotten. No quantity can encompass
    Him; no veil conceal Him; no sense perceive Him. He cannot be compared to mankind nor does He resemble creation in any wayÉ He was First before events in time and before contingent things, and existed before all creatures. He is Knowing, Powerful, Living and will always remain so. Eyes cannot see Him; sight cannot perceive Him; imagination cannot encompass Him. He is Knowing, Powerful, Living, in a way dissimilar to all others who are knowing, powerful, living. He alone is timeless and
    there is nothing timeless but Him, no god but Him and He has no partner in His kingdom.

    On this basis, the Mu‘tazilites asserted that it was impossible to see Allah on the Day of Resurrection since that would involve corporeality and direction. The Divine Attributes were nothing other than the Essence. The Qur’an was created by Allah since He does not (in their view) have the attribute of speech.

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  12. About Fiqh e Akbar let's see what the Mutazillah said about it.

    "Scholars do not agree about the ascription of this work to Abu Hanifa. When he discusses al-Fiqh al-Akbar, al-Bazzazi says in The Virtues, “If you were to say that Abu Hanifa did not write any book, I would say, ‘That is what the Mu‘tazilites say. They claim that he wrote nothing on the science of kalam. By that they desired to deny that al-Fiqh al-Akbar and the Scholar and the Student were by him because he clearly stated in them most of the principles of the people of the Sunna and Community. They want to advance their claim that he was one of the Mu‘tazilites and that the book was by another Abu Hanifa.’” (Abu Zahra, 49)

    Most Sunnis however seem to disagree. Also Abu Yusuf who introduced the Hanafi madhab to the Abbasids was an anti-Mutazilli. He called them as m zindiqs. This was not the opinion of his master Abu Hanifa.

  13. Here is a comment from Zabara regarding the 12 Imamer differences of opinion on theological issues:
    "the 12ers have fought each other fiercely.during Iran's revolution Khomaini killed many 12er Scholars.

    Zaidism hasn't changed in usul issues. 12ers on the other hand have changed alot. Their old texts claim that allah has a form like a human (Allah forbid such things.) they also used to claim that some people where created from heavenly mud while other from hells mud meaning that allah has chosen whether people would be sinners or pious (allah forbid.)
    They claim that they changed their texts purposely to avoid torture from Abbasid rule. But Zaidis didn't need to change their texts!

  14. Zaida,Can you Provide These Texts Wich Say They Beleived Allah was in The Form of a Human?

    Also why do Zaydis Apply Qiyas?

  15. Salaam anonymous, No, but I'm hoping Zabara can, since he made this comment (under another post), and I copied it onto this post. I think what Zabara meant was that some early 12er texts are similar to the pro-anthropomorphic texts of the Hanbalites. In contrast, early Zaidi texts are similar to the early mu'tazili texts which are not anthropomorphic.
    I'm not sure who said that Zaidis apply qiyas (?) but it wasn't me.

  16. Sorry I didnt see any additions to this post until recently.

    Below is a hadith from their book alkafe. about Allah moving down to earth to visit Imam Hussain grave.

    عبدالله ( عليه السلام ) (1) : هل لك في قبر الحسين ( عليه السلام ) ؟ قلت : وتزوره جعلت فداك ؟ قال : وكيف لا أزوره والله يزوره كل ليلة جمعة يهبط مع الملائكة إليه والانبياء والاوصياء ، ومحمد أفضل الانبياء (2) ، قلت : جعلت فداك فنزوره في كل جمعة (3) ندرك زيارة الرب ، قال : نعم يا صفوان ، الزم ذلك يكتب لك زيارة قبر الحسين ( عليه السلام ) وذلك تفضيل وذلك تفضيل
    الكافي : ج1 ص143

    This is the hadith about Allah creating people from different kind of mud.
    عن عبدالغفار الجازي عن أبي عبدالله : إن الله عز وجل خلق المؤمن من طينة الجنة , والكافر من طينة النار )) أصول الكافي (ج2ص3).

    There are other texts that have these kinds of hints. Even historically their scholars the hishamain and ibn alhakam have been refuted for saying that allah has form, each having a different idea.

    the 12rs have said about these hadiths that:
    either they were done in tugiah
    or their texts are misunderstood and they are talking metaphorically. so they say you have to take each text depending on the situation it was produced from! with all due respect to their views but they do tend to become very confusing, conflicting, and changeable at times.

  17. Thanks for clarifying this, Zabarah. It just shows that some of the 12er material does not originate from the ahlul bait, it's about time the 12 Imamers admitted this and took Zaidism more seriously.

  18. the Day when the Shin shall be laid bare and they shall be called to prostrate , but they shall not be able to do so,
    (surah 68:ayah 42)
    So allah has a leg.what is the metaphorical meaning behind leg?