Early Ibādī Theology, Six kalām texts by ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī

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  • Book Title:
 Early Ibadi Theology
  • Book Author:
Abdulrahman al-SalimWilferd Madelung
  • Total Pages
248
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EARLY IBADI THEOLOGY – Book Sample

Introduction – EARLY IBADI THEOLOGY

In 2003 two Arabic manuscripts containing previously unknown early Ibāḍī theological and legal works were discovered in a private library in Wādī Mzāb in Algeria. Six of the texts could definitely be identified as either written by the renowned Kūfan Ibāḍī scholar Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī or as his responses to questions posed to him by some anonymous Maghribī Ibāḍīs.1

 The questions and issues discussed in the texts cover the whole range of subjects controversially debated in kalām theology around the middle of the 2nd/8th century. Collectively they provide a unique authentic source for the teaching of a prominent early Ibāḍī mutakallim as well as a partisan portrayal of Islamic theological thought at an early stage of its development.

The religious movement of the Ibāḍiyya originated and was at first centred in Baṣra where its widely recognized spiritual leader Abū ʿUbayda Muslim b. Abī Karīma resided and taught in the first half of the 2nd/8th century. The great majority of the Ibāḍiyya in the Maghrib at the time looked to him for religious guidance.

 The teaching activity of ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī among the Maghribīs probably began soon after the death of Abū ʿUbayda sometime between 150/767 and 158/775.2 His upbringing and and religious education evi-dently was Kūfan. It is doubtful whether he ever was a pupil of Abū ʿUbayda in Baṣra, although he acknowledged his authority as the head of of the Ibāḍī com-munity. There is no evidence that al-Fazārī at any time visited the Maghrib. He corresponded with those Maghribīs who sought his theological guidance by letter and answered their questions if they visited him in Kūfa.

In Baṣra, al-Rabīʿ b. Ḥabīb al-Farāhīdī had succeeded to the leadership after Abū ʿUbayda. His authority was mostly accepted in the Maghrib, but not as unconditionally as had been Abū ʿUbayda’s. He was known primarily as an expert in legal ḥadīth and evidently had little training and interest in kalām theology. The Maghribī Ibāḍīs concerned about theological questions and engaged in kalām debates turned to al-Fazārī and to his Kūfan rival theologian ʿĪsā b. ʿUmayr for guidance.

The discord among the Ibāḍiyya in the Maghrib became patent in 168/785 when the Ibāḍī Imam ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Rustam died and the succession of his son ʿAbd al-Wahhāb was disputed. The Maghribīs consulted al-Rabīʿ b. Ḥabīb, who confirmed the legitimacy of the imamate of ʿAbd al-Wahhāb. A substan-tial minority of Maghribī Ibāḍīs, however, dissented under the leadership of Yazīd b. Fandīn and became known the Nukkār (Deniers).

In the Ibāḍī sources, the Nukkār are described as the followers of ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī in theology and of a group of legal scholars who deviated from the teaching of al-Rabīʿ b. Ḥabīb in some points of the religious law. There are no reports as to whether the Nukkār at the time consulted al-Fazārī about the legitimacy of ʿAbd al-Wahhāb’s imamate.

Soon after the accession of the ʿAbbāsid Hārūn al-Rashīd to the caliphate in 169/786, al-Fazārī moved from Kūfa to Baghdad, where he participated in the debates to which the Barmakid Yaḥyā b. Khālid invited prominent kalām theologians and religious leaders. It is uncertain if he still continued his cor-respondence with his followers in the Maghrib. In 179/795 al-Rashīd began to persecute the kalām theologians in Baghdad, and al-Fazārī fled to the Yemen where he found shelter among the local Ibāḍī community.

There he came to be known by the nisba al-Baghdādī and composed some theological works, among them a polemical treatise against the Qadariyya which is extant embedded in a refutation by the Zaydī Imam Aḥmad al-Nāṣir li-Dīn Allāh (d. 322/934).3 The Ibāḍiyya in the Maghrib evidently lost all contact with him, and none of his works written in the Yemen became known among them. The Nukkār, how-ever, have survived as an Ibāḍī sect until the present and continued to adhere to the theological doctrine of ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd al-Fazārī.

The Texts

  1. Kitāb al-Qadar, a treatise in support of divine determinism against the Muʿtazilī doctrine of human free will. The treatise provides a more system-atic treatment of the relevant controversial issues than ʿAbd Allāh b. Yazīd’s later refutation of the Qadariyya written in the Yemen, which is a collection of polemical arguments. His basic thesis is that God, as the creator of everything, may arbitrarily prefer some of His creatures by gifts and favours He withholds from others. No one can assert a just claim against God if he has been less favoured.

In contrast to the more radical opponents of the Muʿtazila, however, he limits the arbitrariness of God by maintaining that God does not punish anyone for what He has created in him or has withheld from him. Thus God will not punish the unbeliever for his lack of faith (īmān), since He has not favoured him with it, but only for his acts of unbelief (kufr) which he has com-mitted voluntarily.

Al-Fazārī then sets forth the standard arguments of the upholders of divine determinism. Faith inevitably depends on God’s initial favour and His granting of help and success (tawfīq). He does not grant them to those whom He created as unbelievers.

The imposition of religious obligations by God on humans and their ability to fulfill them occur at the same moment upon reaching maturity. God does not command anything that is rationally impossible (muḥāl), but He may order something for which He does not grant capability to everybody. Power to act is contemporaneous with the act and does not precede it. God is the provider of all sustenance (rizq) of humans, even if it is stolen, and solely determines their lifespan, even if they are wrongfully killed.

The final section, entitled Bāb al-Makhlūq, is a later addition to the original treatise. Al-Fazārī answers questions of his Maghribī followers who evidently engaged in debates with local Muʿtazilīs. A questioner asks him about the meaning of God’s creation of unbelief and faith. Here al-Fazārī again initially distances himself from the radical opponents of the Qadariyya. He empha-sizes that creation of unbelief and faith are other than unbelief and faith, just as the creation of the heavens and earth are other than the heavens and earth.

Then he explains that God’s creation in respect to unbelief and faith, which are human acts, differs from His creation in respect to the heavens, which are made (ṣunʿ ) by God. God’s creation of unbelief and faith merely mean His determination (taqdīr) in the sense of planning them and naming them good or evil. Al-Fazārī then argues vigourously against those who erroneously hold that God created unbelief and faith in the same way as He created the heavens and creates diseases, life and death, quoting numerous relevant statements of the Qurʾān.

The radical determinists rebuked by him were the forerunners of the Sunnī position of al-Ashʿarī, who held that God creates faith and unbe-lief in the meaning that He is their real agent, just as He is the maker of the heavens and earth, and that humans merely “acquire” God’s acts. Only after this critical explanation, al-Fazārī turns to his refutation of the Qadariyya, who deny that unbelief and faith are created by God.

Thereafter al-Fazārī discusses and refutes the arguments and questions of the Muʿtazila reported to him by his Maghribī followers, instructing them how to counter such specious arguments. The section ends with a broad criticism of the teaching of the Muʿtazila beyond their denial of divine determinism. Al-Fazārī takes issue in particular with their claim that their views represent a consensus of all Muslims while avoiding partisan sectarian positions.

Kitāb fi l-radd ʿalā Ibn ʿUmayr, a letter refuting the teaching of Ibn ʿUmayr. ʿĪsā b. ʿUmayr was a rival of al-Fazārī in seeking to attract the Maghribī Ibāḍiyya to his theological views by letters in which he countered the views of al-Fazārī. He is most likely identical with the Kūfan Qurʾān reader Abū ʿUmar ʿĪsā b. ʿUmayr al-Hamdānī, who is known to have adhered to the Qurʾān reading of the Companion ʿAbd Allāh b. Masʿūd.4 His Maghribī followers became known as the ʿUmayriyya. In the first half of the 3rd/9th century, Abū Ziyād Aḥmad b. al-Ḥusayn al-Aṭrābulusī (d. before 260/875) actively promoted the rationalist theological views of Ibn ʿUmayr in the regions east of Jabal Nafūsa in Libya, while adhering to the teaching of Ibn ʿUlayya (d. 218/833) in jurisprudence.

He composed religious books, among them a doxographical Kitāb al-Maqālāt that is quoted in marginal notes of the present texts. His followers, named the Ḥusayniyya, are known to have survived until the 6th/12th century.

From al-Fazārī’s present letter, it is apparent that the dispute between the two Kūfan scholars had carried on for some time in several previous letters to the Maghribīs. Ibn ʿUmayr, like al-Fazārī, claimed to represent the beliefs of the early Muslims and the doctrine of Abū ʿUbayda. Al-Fazārī accuses him of rather supporting the heretical rationalist views of the Muʿtazila and the radical Shīʿa (Rāfiḍa). He urges the Maghribīs to break their relations with him and then refutes the views put forward by Ibn ʿUmayr in his last letter one by one.5

The first controversial thesis of Ibn ʿUmayr debated at length by al-Fazārī was his assertion that God must verify the claims of His messengers to prophethood by miraculous signs or the testimony of a recognized prophet. Al-Fazārī disputes this and maintains that the message of the true prophet itself is sufficient tes-timony to the truthfulness of his claim with or without external verification.

A further question debated concerned the necessity of the imamate. ʿĪsā b. ʿUmayr held that the Muslims had no need for an imam if they faithfully car-ried out the obligations imposed on them by God. Al-Fazārī insisted that an imam was required to carry out the specific duties reserved for him by the reli-gious law. The theological views upheld by Ibn ʿUmayr reveal a distinct affinity to Donatist Christian theological thought.

They may have been attractive to sections of the Berber population on that account. The text of the letter as preserved in the manuscript is incomplete at the end. It appears that at least one folio of it has been lost.

  • Kitāb al-Radd ʿalā al-Mujassima, refutation of the corporalists. The begin-ning and end of the text are missing, and the title is conjectural. The original of the fragment was found by Abū Zayd al-Zuwārī in a badly corrupted con-dition. The title, which fits the contents, is mentioned in Maghribī Ibāḍī lit-erature. The fragment consists of two sections which originally may have been separately written texts. Both distinctly reflect the thought and arguing style of al-Fazārī.

 The corporalist doctrine primarily criticized in the first sec-tion is evidently that espoused by the contemporary Imāmī Shīʿī theologian Hishām b. al-Ḥakam. Al-Fazārī thus refutes here also the Imāmī Shīʿī doctrine of badāʾ. It is known that al-Fazārī was in Kūfa closely associated with Hishām…..

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