Islam Causality and Freedom. From the Medieval to the Modern Era

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 Islam Causality And Freedom
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Özgür Koca
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Causality in the Early Period Muʿtazilites and the Birtha of Ashʿarite Occasionalism

This chapter focuses on early Muʿtazilite and Ashʿarite theologians. It examines the birth and development of Ashʿarite occasionalism as a response to the Muʿtazilite theological project, which aims to preserve the intelligibility of the world and God and, to this end, is ready to accept the idea of necessity in the world and, even, in God.

The modus operandi of the Ashʿarite theological project in this context remains to preserve the divine will and freedom. This, then, leads to construction of what I call a theology of possibility. It is within the larger context of this debate that occasionalist theory of causality emerges as the cornerstone of Ashʿarite theology of possibility.

There is a very close relationship between the Ashʿarite doctrines of the divine attributes and of causality. This school’s understanding of the divine attributes, in particular will, power, and knowledge, and their relationship to God, informs its theory of the divine and creaturely agency and leads to a theory of causality in which the accentuation of the divine will becomes the most distinctive feature.

 Therefore, I start my investi-gation by examining early Ashʿarite and Muʿtazilite discussions about the relationship of the divine attributes to God. I then show how these discussions led to the emergence of Ashʿarite occasionalism. Finally, I explore how the occasionalist perspective provided the basis for Ashʿar-ite convictions on other important cosmological and theological discussions.[01] Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarı¯(873–935) was the founder of the Ashʿarite school of theology. As a former Muʿtazilite, Ashʿarı¯, as George … Continue reading

the issue of the divine attributes

What is the nature of the relationship between God and the world? This is the fundamental question for any religion due to its implications for one’s individual and communal religious experience. Early Muslim engagement with this question arose out of disputes over the nature of the Qurʾan. If the Qurʾan is the verbatim word of God, then how can the uncreated word of God become part of the created order? This vexing question has prompted uneasy meditations on the nature of the Qurʾan.

Muʿtazilites, who traditionally showed a more rationalistic bent, concluded that the Qurʾan was created (makhlūq). For them, the Qurʾan can be either created or uncreated. If it is uncreated, then it should be coeternal with God. However, this coeternality leads to the problem of “multiplicity of eternals” (taʿaddud al-qudama¯’), which is unacceptable because it undermines the oneness of God (tawh¯ıd), for there cannot be more than one eternal being. Thus, the Qurʾan_must be created.

A question arises here: If there cannot be an eternal thing alongside God, then what is the status of the divine attributes, which are eternally predicated on God? For Muʿtazilites, the divine attributes cannot be thought of as constituting or supporting the divine essence, which is beyond any type of multiplicity or complementarity. To save God from multiplicity or complementarity with coeternal attributes, Muʿtazilites reduced the attributes to God’s absolute and indivisible unity.

Therefore, W¯asil ibn ʿAt¯aʾ (d. 748) rejects the predication of the attributes of power (qudra), will _(ira¯da), knowledge (ʿilm), and life (haya¯), in order to sidestep the issue of the “multiplicity of eternals.” A_bū al-Hudhayl al-ʿAlla¯f (d. 841 or 849), a later Muʿtazilite, thought that essence and attributes were identical. Muʿammar ibn ʿAbbad al-Sulamı¯ (d. 842) refuted the idea that God has will and knowledge in the ordinary sense in order to preserve unity in God’s essence.

Similarly, Abū ʿAli al-Jubb¯aʾı¯ (d. 915) asserted that God possesses knowledge that is identical with God’s essence, not subsisting alongside it. In general, Muʿtazilites believed that God’s attributes and God’s essence are one and the same thing. They expressed this oneness by using such formulas as ʿa¯lim bi-ʿilm huwa huwa (knowing by a knowledge that is Him), qa¯dir bi-qudra hiya huwa (powerful by a power that is Him), hayy bi-haya¯ hiya huwa (living by a life that is Him), and so on.[02] Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarı¯, Maqa¯l ¯at al-Islamiyy¯ın wa Ikhtila¯f al-Mu

Ashʿarite theologians reject the Muʿtazilite position because it allocates reason too much of a role in measuring what is applicable to God and what is not. The Ashʿarite attitude here can be traced to an earlier Hanbalite reaction to Mu’tazilites.

For the Hanbalites, one must accept the existence of the attributes in the real sense on the grounds that the Qurʾanic utterances on the nature of divinity must be accepted “without (asking) how” (bi-la¯ kayfa). Goldziher, Wensinck, Halkin, Makdisi, Abrahamov, and Watt all believe that Ahmad ibn Ḥanbal (780–855) was the first advocate of the principle of “without (asking) how.”3

 Both Joseph Schacht and Wesley Williams, however, draw our attention to the fact that this formula never appears in the creedal statements attributed to Ibn Ḥanbal.4 Regardless of whether this formula can be attributed to Ibn Ḥanbal, bi-la¯ kayfa became a tool for the Hanbalites to repudiate ques-tions on the nature of the Qurʾan and the figurative interpretation of Qurʾanic anthropomorphism (taʾw¯ıl). For the Hanbalites, the anthropo-morphic verses must be taken literally, and the Qurʾan must be accepted as uncreated, “without asking how.”

Ashʿarites differ from the Hanbalite position in that, while acknow-ledging the limits of rational inquiry, they still proceed to elucidate the relationship of the divine attributes and God. Ashʿarites argue against the Muʿtazilite theological position on the createdness of the Qurʾan and concede that, although the linguistic structure – with its grammar, letters, and logic – of the Qurʾanic revelation is created, that does not entail that the Qurʾan itself is created. The divine speech in and of itself is uncreated, but the divine speech as expressed in human language is created.

It may thus be said that the Qurʾan is created from one perspective and uncre-ated from another. According to Ashʿarites, then, in the Qurʾan, the finite and the infinite entangle in a way that defies human cognition.

When Ashʿarites extend this logic to the dispute over other attributes, they conclude that the divine attributes are neither identical to nor separ-ate from the divine essence. They are not marked by otherness (ghayriyya) or nonexistence.5 Thus, later Ashʿarite theologians, such as Abū Bakr Muhammad al-B¯aqilla¯nı¯(940–1013)and ʿAbd al-Malik al-Juwaynı¯ (102_8–1085), assert that these attributes are modes or states that can be categorized neither as created (ha¯dith) nor as eternal, self-subsisting real-ities (qad¯ım). Nor can they be q_ ualified with existence or nonexistence.

This understanding of the attributes is sometimes called the Ashʿarite theory of ahwa¯l. The foremost proponents of this theory among Ashʿar-ites appear _to have been B¯aqilla¯nı¯ and Juwayn¯ı, who claim that there can be certain metaphysical entities that depend on their substrates but that

4 Joseph Schacht, “New Sources for the History of Muhammadan Theology,” Studia

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References / Footnotes

01 Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarı¯(873–935) was the founder of the Ashʿarite school of theology. As a former Muʿtazilite, Ashʿarı¯, as George Makdisi writes, “brings along with him his rationalist weapons and places them in the service of traditionalism.” His followers then
02 Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarı¯, Maqa¯l ¯at al-Islamiyy¯ın wa Ikhtila¯f al-Mu