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The Main Sects

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The Qadariyya, Mu‘tazila, and Shî‘a

by Dr. G. F. Haddad

 These three groups are essentially one and the same in several of their fundamental tenets of doctrine, especially in their annullment of the reality of the Divine Attributes apart from the Essence and their rejection of the Divine foreordainment (al-qadar) of evil as well as good on the rational grounds that “Allah cannot but will good” – in effect setting up as many co-creators for evil as there are rational beings.

 The Prophet (s) said: “Talk about fore­ordained destiny is for the worst of my Community at the end of time.”[1]
Al-Suyuti succintly defined Qadari doctrine as “the claim that evil is created by human beings.”[2]
Ibn Abi Ya‘la relates the following description of the Qadariyya: “They are those who claim that they possess in full the capacity to act (al-istitâ‘a), free will (al-mashî’a), and effec­tive power (al-qudra). They consider that they hold in their grasp the ability to do good and evil, avoid harm and obtain benefit, obey and disobey, and be guided or misguided. They claim that human beings retain full initiative, without any prior status within the will of Allah for their acts, nor even in His knowledge of them. Their doctrine is similar to that of Zoroastrians and Christians. It is the very root of heresy.”[3]

             The Qadariyya or “Libertarians” are little different from the rational­ists known as the Mu‘tazila or “Isolationists.” Both are traced back to the same founders: ‘Amr ibn ‘Ubayd Abu ‘Uthman al-Basri (d. ~144) who left al-Hasan al-Basri’s teaching circle and “isolated” himself, and Ma‘bad al-Juhani (d. 80) “the first who spoke about qadar in al-Basra.[4] Al-Dhahabi in­troduces the former as “the ascetic (al-zâhid), the devout (al-‘âbid), the Qadari, the elder of the Mu‘tazila and the first of them.”[5] However, the name of Qadariyya high­lights the doctrine of qadar, while the name of Mu‘tazila refers to the broader “Five Principles” – tawhîd, ‘adl, thawâb, îmân, and amr bi al-ma‘rûf which al-Ash‘ari and al-Maturidi refuted in whole and in detail in many of their books. Following is a survey of these Five Principles integral to Mu‘tazili doctrine:[6]

        1.         In the chapter of tawhîd, the Mu‘tazila – and the Shi‘a in their wake – held that Allah cannot be seen at all, whether in the world or on the Day of Resurrec­tion as that would necessitate corporeality and direction for Him. In contrast, Ahl al-Sunna held that Allah will most certainly be seen by the believers on the Day of Resurrection without our specifying how. Al-Ash‘ari authored several refutations of the Mu‘tazili and Shi‘i view, and early Hanbalis considered that the belief that Allah will not be seen on the Day of Resurrection entails kufr.[7] Further­more, the Mu‘tazila – and the Shi‘a in their wake – held that the Attributes are none other than the Essence, otherwise, they claimed, there would be a multiplicity of Pre-eternal Entities (qudamâ’); therefore, to them, the Qur’an is created and both they and the Shi‘is deny the reality and pre-existence of the Attribute of Divine Speech. The vast majority of the early Muslims including Ahl al-Bayt reject this fallacious reasoning as summed up by Imam Malik: “The Qur’an is the Speech of Allah, the Speech of Allah comes from Him, and nothing created comes from Allah Most High.”[8] Similarly al-Tahawi said of the Qur’an in his “Creed of Abu Hanifa and his Companions” known as the ‘Aqida Tahawiyya: “It is not created like the speech of creatures.” This is the position of the totality of the Salaf including the Four Imams and their immediate colleagues, in addition to Sufyan al-Thawri, ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Mubarak, al-Awza‘i, Ja‘far ibn Muhammad , Abu Ja‘far al-Tabari, Dawud ibn Khalaf, Zayd ibn ‘Ali and others of Ahl al-Bayt, Ishaq ibn Rahuyah, al-Bukhari and his 1,000 shaykhs by his own verbatim report in Khalq Af‘al al-‘Ibad, and count­less others of the pious Predecessors.[9] Dr. Sa‘id al-Buti wrote:

 The Mu‘tazila denied the existence of the “Attributes of Meanings” (sifât al-ma‘ânî),[10] asserting that Allah is Knower with­out being character­ized by any Attribute of Knowledge (sifa al-‘ilm), and Powerful with­out being characterized by any Attribute of Power (sifa al-qudra). The only reason that made them adopt this position is their notion that to attribute such an essential Attribute (sifa dhâtiyya) to Allah I entailed assent to a multi­plicity of beginningless entities (ta‘addud al-qudamâ’) to the number of these Attributes, which assent constitutes disbelief by unanimous agreement. Therefore, they said that His “being-knower” (‘âlimiyyatuhu) and “being-powerful” (qâdi­riy­yatuhu) are necessarily true of His essence and need not, in order to exist, Knowledge and Power, contrary to the case for human beings. They also said that Allah is perfect and complete in His essence, so that, if we said that His “being-knower” is estab­lished by means of the Attribute of knowl­edge, then His essence would be lacking something since it needs, for its completion, an external means – a position that is unanimously null and void.

 The above are all specious claims to which the Mu‘tazili per­spec­tive gave rise due to their burdening reason with more than its capacity in these matters. This is their well-known method. What is impossible in the multiplicity of beginningless entities is that the be­gin­ningless essences be multiple – not the Attributes of a single es­sence.[11] Now, the “being-knower” of Allah is nothing more than the ascrip­tion of the Attribute of knowledge itself to Allah I. Nowhere in this is there anything “needing” nor anything “needed.” This also tells you that the ascription of the Attribute of knowledge to Him does not entail His being com­pleted by means of something other than Him.

 There is proof enough for us that Allah ascribed to Himself the Attribute of Knowledge in the verse(they encompass nothing of His know­ledge save what He will) (2:255).[12] It is natural that reason cate­gorically assimilate His other Attributes with this one, as­cribing to Him, similarly, the Attributes of life, power, hearing, sight, etc.

 The adduction of this verse as proof is well-established even if we interpret the terms “knowledge” in it to mean “the known” (al-ma‘lûm), although there is no necessity for such interpretation. For if knowl­edge were not firmly established for Allah I
He would not have at­tributed it to Himself nor signified the object of the known by it. Thus the signify­ing of “the known” by “knowledge” is still a branch of the validity of the ascription of Knowledge to Allah Almighty.[13]

        2.         In the chapter of the Divine Justice (al-‘adl), the Mu‘tazila – and the Qadariyya, Shi‘a, and Christians likewise – held that Allah cannot possibly create the evil deeds of His servants, therefore they are in charge of their own destinies and create the latter themselves through a power which Allah deposited in them. This heresy is the core of Qadari belief and was refuted by Imam al-Ash‘ari in his book Khalq al-A‘mal, his student Ibn Khafif in his al-‘Aqida al-Sahiha (§40: “Acts belong to Allah, not to creatures, while earning – al-iktisâb – belongs to creatures, but earning is created by Allah, not by them”) and, before them, by al-Bukhari in his Khalq Af‘al al-‘Ibad.

        3.         In the chapter of Reward and Punishment, the Mu‘tazila held that Allah, of necessity, rewards those who do good and punishes those who do evil. This was refuted by Ibn Khafif who summed up the Sunni position in his al-‘Aqida al-Sahiha (§32-34): “Allah is doer of what He will: Injustice is not attributed to Him, And He rules over His dominion as He will, without [anyone’s entitlement to] objection whatso­ever.” I.e. He rewards and punishes without being obliged to do so by the actions of His servants and He is free to place the disbeliever in Paradise and the believer in Hellfire without any injustice on His part, since He owns all sovereignty over the heavens and the earth, and no one received any share of authority from Him to ob­ject to what He does. The Mu‘tazila denied all this and further held that Allah does not forgive grave sinners unless they repent before death, even if they are Muslims. Al-Maturidi refuted this position in his book Radd Wa‘id al-Fussaq (“The Refutation of the [Doctrine of the] Eternal Damnation of Grave Sinners”). The Mu‘tazila also denied the Prophet’s (s) intercession, since he said: “My intercession is for the grave sinners of My Community.”[14] Al-Hakim stated, after narrating this hadith: “It contains a rebuttal of the inno­vators who differentiated between interces­sion for light and grave sin­ners.”[15] Ibn Hajar similarly adduced this hadith against the Mu‘tazila by saying: “He did not restrict his interces­sion to those who repented.”[16] Ibn Abi ‘Asim even mentioned the apostasy of those who deny the Prophet’s (s) intercession, as it is related through mass transmission (tawâtur).[17]

        4.         In the chapter of îmân the Mu‘tazila held that grave sinners were con­sidered neither believers nor disbelievers and so construed for them a “half-way status” between the two (al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn). They claimed that grave sinners belonged eternally in the Fire – as men­tioned in the previous heading – but in a less harsh situation than pure disbelievers.

        5.         Finally the Mu‘tazila held, as do Ahl al-Sunna and the Shi‘a, that commanding good­ness and forbidding evil was obligatory upon the believers. However, in deriving this and the previous four headings, the Mu‘tazila and Shi‘a gave precedence to reason and reason-based methods over the Sunna, the Sunna-based principles of the Imams of the Salaf, and the Consensus of the Companions and Salaf. They picked and chose whatever verses and narrations suited their views and rejected the rest either through manipulation of the meanings or through flat denial of the authenticity of transmission, as did the rest of the sects with limited or no knowledge of the Sunna and its methodology.

             The status of the Mu‘tazila, Qadaris, and Shi‘is in the eyes of Ahl al-Sunna varied. The majority do not consider them disbelievers, however, Ibn al-Subki spoke of “a difference of opinion concerning the apostasy (takfîr) of the Qadariyya.”[18] Ibn Abi Hatim in the introduction to his al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dil (1:373) relates that Ibn al-Mubarak stopped narrating from ‘Amr ibn ‘Ubayd because “he used to propagate the doctrine of absolute free will.” Al-Dhahabi refuses to call ‘Amr a disbeliever,[19] although some early sources such as Ibn Abi ‘Asim’s (d. 287) al-Sunna, al-Ajurri’s (d. 360) al-Shari‘a and Ibn Batta’s (d. 387) al-Ibana relate that the Qadariyya were held so by Ibn ‘Abbas, Mu­jahid, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, Malik ibn Anas, Ibn al-Mubarak, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal among others.


            The fact is that Sufyan al-Thawri, Ibn al-Mubarak, and Ahmad all nar­rated from Qadaris, such as Thawr ibn Yazid, Dawud ibn al-Husayn, Zakariyya ibn Ishaq, Dawud al-Dastuwa’i and others, all of which are also among al-Bukhari and Muslim’s narrators as shown by al-Suyuti’s list of Qadaris in the two books of Sahih in his Tadrib (1:389). These narrators could never have been retained if the Imams had considered them disbeliev­ers. However, the verdict of apostasy is true from Imam Malik who did not narrate from a single Qadari in his Mu­watta’. Malik held that they should be killed unless they repented, and the nar­rations reporting his position of takfîr of the Qadariyya are sound.[20]

             As for the Shi‘is the vast majority of Ahl al-Sunna do not consider them disbelievers although the degree of their acceptance varies from the early forms indistinguishable from Sunnism – such as preferring ‘Ali to ‘Uthman – to the more extreme, apostatizing forms of Râfidi and Ghulât Shi‘ism such as cursing Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and rejecting their Imamate as invalid or fanta­sizing that the real recipient of Prophethood was supposed to be ‘Ali – Allah be well-pleased with all of them.

 Blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and all his Companions.



[1]Narrated from Abu Hurayra by al-Tabarani in al-Awsat, al-Hakim, and al-Bazzar in his Musnad with a sound chain as stated by al-Haythami in Majma‘ al-Zawa’id.

[2]In Tadrib al-Rawi (1:389).

[3] In Tabaqat al-Hanabila (1:32) in the entry of Ahmad ibn Ja‘far al-Istakhri.

[4]Narrated from Yahya ibn Ya‘mar by Muslim, al-Tirmidhi, and Abu Dawud.

[5]Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala’ (6:330 #858). He returned onto the Ahl al-Sunna the label of Qadariyya – in the opposite sense of those who over-emphasize Allah’s Foreor­dained Destiny – in a book entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-Qadariyya.

[6]Adapted from Abu Zahra, Abu Hanifa (p. 129-130).

[7]See Tabaqat al-Hanabila (1:59, 1:161, 1:312) and the past posting, “The Vision of Allah in the World and the Hereafter”.

[8]Narrated by al-Dhahabi in Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala’ (Dar al-Fikr ed. 7:416).

[9]See more in the posting, “The Controversy Over the Pronunciation of the Qur’an.”

[10]On the “Attributes of Meanings” see our translation of Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam’s The Belief of the People of Truth (ASFA), section titled “His Seven Main Attributes.”

[11]Cf. al-Iji, al-Mawaqif (p. 76): “The Mu‘tazila said that the Christians committed apostasy only because they assert three pre-eternal Attributes which they call hypostases (aqânîm)…. What then about those who assert seven of them? The answer is that the Christians committed apostasy only because they asserted these three pre-eternal Attrib­utes to be Essences (dhawât), even if they scrupulously avoided naming them so.”

[12]“What hope can the sciences nourish of encompassing His Essence and Reality? And how can such encompassment even be possible when no space of distance can ever traverse Him in His Might, nor limit (hadd) ever apprehend Him?” Al-Qushayri, Lata’if (1:209). For the anthropomorphist ascription of limit to Allah , see the note on Ibn Hibban’s expulsion from Sijistan in our biographical notice on him.

[13]Al-Buti, Kubra al-Yaqinat al-Kawniyya (p. 119 n. 1).

[14]Narrated from Anas by al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahîh gharîb), Abu Dawud, Ahmad with a sound chain according to al-Zayn in the Musnad (11:120 #13155), Ibn Hibban with a sound chain according to al-Arna’ut (14:387 #6468), Ibn Abi ‘Asim in al-Sunna (p. 385 #831-832), Ibn Khuzayma in al-Tawhid (p. 270), al-Tabarani in al-Saghir (1:272 #448) and al-Kabir (1:258 #749), al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (8:17 #15616, 10:190 #20563), Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi in his Musnad (p. 270 #2026), al-Quda‘i in Musnad al-Shihab (1:166-167 #236-237), and al-Hakim (1:69) who declared it sahîh and was confirmed by al-Bay­haqi as quoted from al-Sakhawi in al-Maqasid al-Hasana (p. 595); also from Jabir by al-Tirmidhi (hasan gharîb), Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban with a sound chain according to Shaykh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut (14:386 #6467), Ibn Khuzayma in al-Tawhid (p. 271), al-Hakim (1:69, 2:382) who declared it sahîh and was confirmed by al-Dhahabi, Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi in his Musnad (p. 233 #1669), and al-Ajurri in al-Shari‘a (p. 338); also from Ibn ‘Umar by Abu Ya‘la in his Musnad with a sound chain accord­ing to al-Haythami (7:5) – a fair one according to al-Albani in Ibn Abi ‘Asim’s al-Sunna (p. 384 #830); also from Ibn ‘Abbas by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (11:189 #11454) with a weak chain according to al-Munawi in Fayd al-Qadir; and from Ka‘b ibn ‘Ajura by al-Khatib in Tarikh Baghdad (3:40) with a fair chain as stated in Zawa’id Tarikh Baghdad (2:274-276 #264) and by al-Ajurri in al-Shari‘a (p. 338).

[15]In al-Mustadrak (1:69). I.e. those who restricted the benefit of the Prophet’s(s) in­ter­cession to light sinners only.

[16]In Fath al-Bari, book of Riqaq ch. 51 (1989 ed. 11:522; 1959 ed. 11:429 #6190). Compare this fundamental doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna to the following statement: “Mercy is only for those who deserve it among the believers. The more the believer fears Allah, the more he is more meritorious in re­ceiving it. It is not as is falsely hoped by some of the cretins (al-mahâbîl) who warble this saying of their poet, al-Busiri: It may be that my Lord’s mercy, when He distributes it, shall match the transgressions in proportion.” Albani, introduction to al-San‘ani’s Raf‘ al-Astar (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1984, p. 24-25).

[17]In al-Sunna (p. 385). However, the Mu‘tazila did concede types of intercession hence they are not disbelievers on this chapter.

[18]Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-Kubra (2:277).

[19]In Mizan al-I‘tidal (3:280).

[20]See Ibn Abi ‘Asim, al-Sunna (p. 87-88 #197-199) and al-Dhahabi, Siyar (7:415).

::  Dr. Gabriel F. Haddad  ::

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