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The Ash`aris: Early Heresies - An Introduction

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In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Beneficent. All praise belongs to Allah the Lord of the worlds. Blessings and peace upon the Elect One in all creation, the Beloved Intercessor, our Master Muhammad, and upon his Family and Companions.

Allah has made Islam the Perfect Religion. He said: "Today I have perfected your Religion for you." (5:3) He has decreed that it shall be preserved intact until the end of time: "It is We Who sent down the Remembrance and it is We Who will certainly preserve it." (15:9) To this end He has created for the Seal of Prophets - after whom there is no prophet - a following of rightly-guided successors and truthful inheritors. He has named them: "Those who are firmly established in knowledge" (3:7) and has elevated them in degree above the ignorant and the transgressors by saying: "Are those who know and those who do not know equal?" (39:9) "Allah will exalt those who believe among you, and those who have knowledge, to high ranks." (58:11)


Allah has made those inheritors of Prophetic knowledge the means whereby He guards His Remembrance and His Religion from manipulation and change forever, as the Prophet (saw) said: "There shall not cease to be a group in my Community who shall have the upper hand and stand for truth until the end of time." [1] He declared them invulnerable to the wrong of their enemies when he said, in another narration: "That group shall remain in charge of Allah's Order, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of Allah's order." [2] In the chapter of his "Sahih" in which he cites this hadith, Imam Bukhari states: "These are the People of Knowledge."

Allah proclaimed for His Friends (awliya') protection from fear and grief when He said: "Allah's Friends! Truly no fear shall there be for them, nor shall they grieve." (10:62) The assembly of those Friends of Allah are the elite of the true adherents of Islam in its pristine purity, known today, as in former times, as "Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a" or the "People of the Way of the Prophet (saw) and the Congregation of his Companions (ra)." In their ranks are found the truthful saints (al-siddeeqeen), the martyrs (al-shuhada’), the righteous (al-saliheen), the Substitutes (al-abdal), and the great imams of scholarly endeavor (ijtihad). These are the Victorious Group mentioned by the Prophet in the hadith cited above.

It was the task of these Friends of Allah in every age to repel from His Religion the harm of those who would hijack it by means of innovated beliefs and deviant doctrines, as we were warned that this would happen by the hadith of the Prophet (saw): " My Community shall divide into seventy-three sects, all of them in the Fire except one: those that cling to my Sunna and that of my rightly-guided successors after me." [3] The division he spoke of is in the foundations of belief, not in the branches of the Law, since the latter was described by the authorities as a blessing. [4] This struggle was explicitly mentioned in the hadith: " Verily, Allah has, for every innovation plotted against Islam, a Friend (walee) to defend it and say its proofs." [5]

Thus in the first century, the Companions (ra) of the Prophet (saw) refuted the proponents of determinism, or necessitarianism, or predestinarianism, or fatalism known as the "Jabriyya," then those who indefinitely postponed the affirmation that major sins were punishable, known as "Postponers" or "Murji'a," and the proponents of absolute free will, or libertarianism, known as the "Qadariyya." They also fought those who would remove or add something in the fundamentals of the Religion such as the deniers of the Purification-Tax (al-zakat), the followers of the pseudo-prophet Musaylima, and the multifarious sects of "Separatists" or "Khawarij" who considered themselves the holiest of people and the only true Muslims in creation. [6]

In the following centuries the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna also faced down the innovations of the sect of Jahm ibn Safwan or "Jahmiyya," those of the proponents of rationalism known as the "Isolationists" or "Mu`tazila," both of which groups incorporated the doctrine of pure free will as well as those of the vilifiers of the Companions (ra), who came to be known as the "Rejectionists" or "Rawafid." With those sects came that of the "Visceralists," or "Stuffers," or "Crammers" known as the "Hashwiyya," who attributed corporal attributes to the Lord of the worlds and declared Prophets (as) able to openly and intentionally commit great sins (al-kaba'ir). They are also known as "Those who attribute a body to Allah" or "Mujassima," and "Those who liken Allah to creation" or "Mushabbiha."


[1] Narrated from `Umar (ra) by al-Tabarani in "al-Kabir" with a sound (sahih) chain as indicated by al-Haythami in "Majma` al-Zawa'id." Muslim narrates it from Jabir ibn `Abd Allah thus: "There shall not cease to be a group in my Community who shall fight, standing for truth, and have the upperhand until the end of time."

[2] Narrated from Mu`awiya (ra) by Bukhari and Muslim. The complete narration states: "He for whom Allah desires great good, He grants him the understanding of Religion. I only distribute and it is Allah Who gives. That group shall remain in charge of Allah's Order, unharmed by those who oppose them, until the coming of Allah's order." The scholars have explained that the first order in the hadith is "Allah's Law and Religion," while the

second is the "Day of Resurrection and Judgment."

[3] A sound (sahih) hadith related with various wordings by al-Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban, al-

Hakim, al-Darimi, and others.

[4] As related from al-Qasim ibn Muhammad and `Umar ibn `Abd al-`Aziz (ra) by Bayhaqi in "al-Madkhal," and

from Malik (ra) by Ibn al-Athir in the introduction to his "Jami` al-Usul."

[5] Narrated from Abu Hurayra (ra) by Abu Nu`aym in "Hilya al-Awliya'" (10:434) and Ibn `Asakir in the "Tabyin" (pp. 104-105). Al-`Ajluni cites it in the introduction of "Kashf al-Khafa'" and al-Suyuti indicated that it was a sound (sahih) narration in "al-Jami` al-Saghir." The rest of the hadith states: "Therefore, take advantage of these

gatherings in defending the weak, and rely on Allah, and Allah is enough to rely upon."

[6] See the description of the Khawarij in the biographical notice on `Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra).

© Copyright As-Sunna Foundation of America. All rights reserved.

::  Dr. Gabriel F. Haddad  ::

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