A Broad Outline of the Mu’tazilah Sect



The label “Mu’tazilah” refers to a sect which arose in the early second century hijrah, towards the end of Umayyad dynasty, at the hand of Waasil bin Ataa and ‘Amr bin Ubayd. This sect made reliance upon reason and tooko a purely intellectual approach in studying and corroborating matters of creed and belief. It was heavily influenced by Hellenistic (Greek) philosophy. As a result, their school was largely built upon argumentation, disputation and deduction of rational evidences against their opponents.This sect arose in the city of al-Basrah (Iraq) where Waasil bin Ataa (d. 131H) abandonedthe gathering of the great scholar and Imaam, al-Hasan al-Basree (d. 110H) after discussions pertaining the status and fate of the sinful believer. The two primary doctrines of the Mu’tazilah in the early stages were a) declaring a sinful Muslim (who has not repented prior to death) to be in the Fire eternally, and b) the denial of the Divine Decree (al-Qadar), specifically the denial that Allaah is the one who wills and creates the actions of the servants and that man creates his own actions, outside the domain of Allaah’s will, power and control.

The heads of the Mu’tazilah also adopted the doctrines of the Jahmites in negating the attributes of Allaah, and they carried this to the Ummah through the rest of the century, having formalized formalized their school through outlining their five principles, which are:


  1. al-Tawhid (Monotheism), by which they mean negation of the attributes
  2. al-‘Adl (Justice) by which they mean denial that Allaah creates the actions of the servants
  3. al-Wa’d wal-Wa’eed (Promise and Threat ) by which they mean Allaah must fulfil His threat of punishment (thereby punishing the sinner who died unrepentant with eternal Hellfire)
  4. al-Manzilah bayn al-Manzilatayn (the Position in between Two Positions), by which they mean that the perpetrator of a major sin is in a level between faith and disbelief (in the life of this world).
  5. al-Amr bil-Ma’roof wal-Nahi anil-Munkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil), and part of this was their claim of the obligation of revolting against the ruler when he departs from the truth.

During the Abbasid dynasty, the Mu’tazilah flourished with Bishr al-Mareesee (d. 218H), Thumaamah bin Ashras and Ahmad bin Abi Du’aad carrying their doctrines, the latter playing a prominent role in the tribulation of the creation of the Qur’an doctrine. Their key theologians during this era include Abu al-Hudhayl al-‘Allaaf (d. 226H), Ibraaheem bin Yassar al-Nidhaam (d. 231H), Bishr al-Mu’tamar (d. 226H), Ma’mar bin ‘Abbaad al-Sullamee (d. 220H), Thumaamah bin Ashras al-Numayree (d. 213H), ‘Amr bin Bahr Abu ‘Uthmaan al-Jaahiz (d. 256H), Abu al-Husayn bin Abi Umar al-Khayyaat (d. 300H) and al-Qaadee Abd al-Jabbaar al-Hamaadaannee (d. 414H).As a result of their total reliance on reason, intellect (aql) they were led to numerous positions, from them:


  • That the inherent good and evil of things are known by reason before revelation.
  • Distortion (ta’weel) of the attributes of Allaah because affirming them did not agree with reason.
  • Revilement of the greatest of Companions such as ‘Ali bin Abi Taalib, Ammaar bin Yaasir, al-Hasan, al-Husayn, Abu Ayub al-Ansari, Aa’ishah, al-Zubayr (radiallaahu anhum) and rejecting their testimony upono the claim that at least one faction from those involved in the trials that occurred must have been sinful – and as a result they rejected the testimony (i.e. trustworthiness) of those Companions.

The roots of the doctrines of the Mu’tazilah lie in foreign influences and from them are:


  • Negation of the attributes which came from the Hellenized Sabeans, and Jews andChristians which came to the Ummah through al-Ja’d bin Dirham, al-Jahm bin Safwaan to Waasil bin Ataa and Amr bin Ubayd (and later passed on to the Raafidees, Ash’aris and Maturidis).
  • The innovation of rejecting al-Qadar which to them through Ma’bad al-Juhanee and Gheelaan al-Dimashqee through Abu Yunus Sansuyah (or Sawsan), a Christian.
  • The ideas of John of Damascus, a Christian priest, who denied eternal Attributes for Allaah and spoke of absolute free human will (the same as the core doctrines of the Mu’tazilah).
  • The ideas of Aristotle and the Greek Philosophers who claimed the attributes of Allaah are synonymous with Allaah (and not as independed attributes in addition to the self of Allaah).


Although the Mu’tazilah waned in the 3rd century hijrah, after they were subdued and defeated by Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 241H) who aided the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, their fikr (with respect to the attributes) and rational approach was carried through to the rest of the Ummah at the hands of the Shi’ah, the Ash’arites and the Maturidis. The latter two groups, despite pretending that they are enemies of the Mu’tazilah – were actually operating on the very foundations and premises of theMu’tazilah in formulating their creed especially in the issues of the attributes of Allaah. This becomes very clear by looking at the works of the early Ash’ari authors such as Abu Bakr al-Baqillanee, Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi, and al-Juwaynee (all 4th/5th century theologians). The theology of all of these factions is based upon a proof called “hudooth al-ajsaam,” used to demonstrate the universe is originated. This proof had implications upon the names and attributes of Allaah, so the Jahmiyyah made total rejection in order to validate that proof, the Mu’tazilah denied the attributes, and the Ash’aris and Maturidis (their theology simply being an extension of that of the Jahmiyyah andMu’tazilah in the topic of the attributes) fell into contradiction, and affirmed some attributes whilst rejecting others without any sound principle to distinguish between the two.

It is often claimed that the Mu’tazilah died out and are no longer to be found but this is a fallacy, for the Mu’tazili thought entered the Shi’ah who have carried it through to this day. The Shi’ah are Mu’tazilah, likewise the Ibaadiyyah and they are present in abundance. As for those who have taken on the rationalist approach exemplified by the Mu’tazilah, then they are numerous and from them: In Egypt, Sa’d Zaghlul, Qasim Ameen, Lutfee Sayyid, Taha Hussain and from India, Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Sayyid Ameer Ali. Others include Zaki Naguib Mahmoud, Ahmad Ameen, Muhammad Fathee Uthmaan, Hasan al-Turabi, Fahmi Huwaydee, Muhammad Ammaarah, and others.



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