The Ash`aris: The Ash`aris and the Hashwiyya
Dr. Gabriel F. Haddad

The Ash`ari scholars were foremost among those who refuted the Hashwiyya from the time al-Ash`ari first appeared until that of al-Bayhaqi and Ibn `Abd al-Salam. These Ash`ari scholars fought innovators by means of the pen and the tongue until they came to be known as the synonym, or rather the definition of Ahl al-Sunna as described in the words of al-Bayhaqi in his letter to `Amid al-Mulk: "Those of the Hanafis, Malikis, and Shafi`is that do not go the way of divesting Allah of His Attributes (ta`tEEl) as the Mu`tazila do, nor the way of likening Allah to creation (tashbEEh) as the Mujassima do."[54] Just as the Prophet and the Companions embodied the "Middle Community" praised by Allah in His Book (2:143), the Ash`aris embodied the "Saved Group" praised by the Prophet in the hadith of the seventy-three sects. That is, the group that holds a middle ground between the vagaries of different heretical doctrines, as described by Ibn `Asakir:

The Hashwiyya, who liken Allah to creation, said: Allah can be subject to modality and dimension like anything that can be seen. The Mu`tazila, the Jahmiyya, and the Najjariyya[55] said: Allah cannot be seen under any circumstance whatsoever. Al-Ash`ari took the middle road and said: He can be seen without indwelling (min ghayri hulul) and without acquiring limits nor being subject to modality.

The Najjariyya said: Allah is in every place without indwelling nor direction. The Hashwiyya and Mujassima said Allah is materialized (hallun) over the Throne, the Throne is His place, and He sits on it. Al-Ash`ari took the middle road and said: Allah existed before there was place; He then created the Throne and the Foot-Stool, and He was in no need of place. He is, after place was created, exactly as He was before it was created.

The Mu`tazila said: He has a "hand" (yad) but His "hand" is his power (qudra) and favor (ni`ma), while His "face" (wajh) is His existence. The Hashwiyya said: His hand is a limb (jariha), and His face has a form (sura). Al-Ash`ari took the middle road and said: His hand is an attribute and His face is an attribute, just like His hearing and His sight.

The Mu`tazila said: [Allah's] "Descent" (nuzul) is the descent of any given sign of His, or that of His angels, while istiwa'[56] means mastery (istEEla'). The Mushabbiha and Hashwiyya said: Descent is the descent of His person (dhat) through movement (haraka) and displacement (intiqal), and istiwa' is His sitting on the Throne and indwelling on top of it. Al-Ash`ari took the middle road and said: Descent is one of His attributes and istiwa' is one of His attributes and an action He did pertaining to the Throne, called istiwa'.

The Mu`tazila said: Allah's speech is created, invented, and brought into being. The Hashwiyya, who attribute a body to Allah, said: The alphabetical characters (al-huruf al-muqatta`a), the materials on which they are written, the colors in which they are written, and all that is between the two covers [of the volumes of Qur'an] is beginningless and preternal (qadEEma azaliyya). Al-Ash`ari took a middle road between them and said: The Qur'an is Allah's beginningless speech unchanged, uncreated, not of recent origin in time, nor brought into being. As for the alphabetical characters, the materials, the colors, the voices, the elements that are subject to limitations (al-mahdudat), and all that is subject to modality (al-mukayyafat) in the world -- all this is created, brought into being, and invented.[57]

This is the middle doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna which balances between the extremes of complete figurativeness and complete literalism. In his Maqalat al-Islamiyyin ("Sayings of Those Who Profess Islam") al-Ash`ari gave another example of this middle doctrine when He rejected the claims of both those who assert that Allah is in every place rather than in a specific place, and those who claim that He is in a specific place rather than in every place:

I. Those who Deny that He is in one place:

[Among] the statements of those who deny that Allah is in a place is the doctrine whereby Allah is materially in every place, and the doctrine whereby He has no end.[58] Both these sects denied the claim whereby Allah is in a specific place at the exclusion of another.

II. Those Who assert that He is in one place:

a) Others said: Allah is a body uncharacterized by any of the attributes of other bodies. He is neither long nor large and cannot be described by color, taste, and touch, nor by any of the attributes of bodies. He is not in things, nor is He on (`ala) the Throne except in the sense that He is above it (fawqah) without touching it. He is above things and above the Throne, and there is not, between Him and those things, anything other than that He is above them.

b) Hisham ibn al-Hakam said that His Lord was in one specific place exclusively of others, and that that place was the Throne, and that He was in contact with the Throne, and that the Throne contained and circumscribed Him (hawahu wa haddahu).

c) One or more of His colleagues said that the Creator fills the Throne and is in contact with it.

d) One or more of those who profess the science of hadith said that the Throne is not entirely filled by Him, for He will make His Prophet sit with Him on the Throne.[59]

III. Ahl al-Sunna and the specialists of hadith said that Allah is not a body, nor does He resemble things, and He is on the Throne in the way that He said in the verse: "The Merciful is established on the Throne." (20:5) Nor do we venture to speak of its meaning in front of Allah. Rather, we say: istawa bila kayf, He is established without "how".


[54] Narrated with its chain by Ibn `Asakir in Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari (p. 106) and al-Subki in his Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya (3:396).
[55] The Najjariyya were the followers of al-Husayn ibn Muhammad al-Najjar, a third-century Mu`tazili. See biographical notices.
[56] See in further posts, paragraph entitled "HIS ACTS", and Appendix entitled "Istiwa' is a Divine Act."
[57] Ibn `Asakir, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari (p. 150-151).
[58] The trend of attributing limit to Allah was at one time dominant in Khorasan and Sijistan, whence Ibn Hibban (d. 354) was expelled for refusing to assert limits to Allah. Isma`il al-Harawi asked the opinion of Yahya ibn `Ammar about Ibn Hibban as a narrator. Ibn `Ammar said: "He was very learned but had little religion. He came to us and denied that Allah had a limit, so we expelled him from Sijistan." Al-`Ala'i comments: "O wonder, by Allah! Who is more deserving of being expelled and declared an innovator lacking in religion?" and Al-Subki comments: "Look at the ignorance of this critic of hadith scholars! I truly wonder who deserves criticism more: the one who asserts limits for His Lord, or he who denies them?" Quoted in al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya (Halabi ed.) 3:132 and his Qa`ida fi al-jarh wa al-Ta`dil, p. 30-32.
[59] See in further posts, set entitled "The Prophet's Seating on the Throne."

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