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The Muʿtazila ( Arabic المعتزلة That settling ') was mainly in Basra and Baghdad represented theological flow of Islam , which flourished between the 9th and 11th centuries, much of the Greek philosophy was influenced and particularly in Kalam , a form of religious disputation with rational arguments. She placed human free will in the foreground of her teaching. Within the Muʿtazila there were different directions of teaching, each named after their main theologian.

The Muʿtazilite theology was further cultivated in Shiite circles, especially among the Zaidites , beyond the 11th century . In the modern age there were some Muslim theologians who revived the ideas of the Muʿtazila. In the Middle Ages, the Muʿtazilite theology also had an impact on Judaism, in particular on Karean theology.

Explanations for the origin of the name

The name Muʿtazila is derived from the active participle of the Arabic verb iʿtazala ("to withdraw [into solitude]"). The posture of the Muʿtazila is referred to as iʿtizāl ("withdrawn") with the associated verbal noun . It is not clear why these terms were used to describe the group. In total, there are three different explanations, none of which are generally accepted:

Iʿtizāl as separation in the doctrine of sin

The Muʿtazilites themselves explained the name in such a way that they would have set themselves apart from the extreme positions of the Kharijites and Murjiʾites in the doctrine of sin . While the Kharijites classified the mortal sinner as an unbeliever and the Murjiʾites regarded him as a believer, the Muʿtazilites believed that he was on the intermediate stage ( al-manzila baina l-manzilatain ) of the fāsiq . The term fāsiq comes from the Koran and often appears there as the opposite of “believing” (cf. eg Sura 32 : 18). Usually the word is translated as “wicked”. The concept of the intermediate stage was not entirely new, however, because al-Hasan al-Basrī had already referred to the mortal sinner as Munāfiq ("hypocrite") and thus also placed him on an intermediate stage between believers and unbelievers. One difference, however, was that Hasan did not grant the mortal sinner the possibility of repentance ( tauba ), whereas such a repentant conversion is possible with fāsiq .

The Basrian scholar Wāsil ibn ʿAtā ' (d. 748) is considered to be the founder of the Muʿtazilite doctrine of the intermediate stage . In Sunni circles it was said that Wāsil was a disciple of al-Hasan al-Basrī and that he responded to his teaching of the intermediate stage by saying: iʿtazala ʿannā Wāsil ibn ʿAtāʾ ("Wāsil ibn ʿAtāʾ has separated from us"). According to this story, the name goes back to the separation of Wāsil from his teacher al-Hasan al-Basrī. In general, however, this explanation is viewed today in research as a later invention, since Wāsil was not actually a student of al-Hasan al-Basrī, but only attended a teaching session with him in Medina once. So far it is not even clear whether this name was already being used for his followers at the time of Wāsil ibn ʿAtāʾ, as there is no contemporary evidence.

Iʿtizāl as political neutrality

Another theory traces the concept of itizāl back to the early days of Islam and describes it as an attitude of political neutrality. For example, the Imamite doxographer al-Qummī explains in his "Book of Teachings and Sects" ( Kitāb al-Maqālāt wa-l-firaq ), written before 905 , that the original Muʿtazila was the group that took part in the camel battle of ʿAlī Ibn Abī Tālib deposed and then fought neither against him nor with him. He attributes Sad ibn Abī Waqqās , ʿAbdallāh, the son of ʿUmar ibn al-Chattāb , Muhammad ibn Maslama al-Ansārī and Usāma ibn Zaid al-Kalbī to this politically neutral camp . They were called the Muʿtazila and thus the predecessors of the later Muʿtazilites. Following on from such reports, Henrik Samuel Nyberg developed the theory that the Muʿtazilites were originally representatives of an attitude of political neutrality between different camps and with this position gave the Abbasids the legitimation for their seizure of power, because they gave them the right to take power during the polarization between the Umayyads and Shiites made it possible to portray themselves as neutral mediators. However, recent studies have shown that the Muʿtazilites did not take sides with the Abbasids, but with the Aliden on several occasions . So this theory is invalid too.

Iʿtizāl as an ascetic posture

Ignaz Goldziher said that the name Muʿtazila is explained by an ascetic attitude: they were "retreating penitents". This thesis was later taken up again by Sarah Stroumsa.

The main representatives of the early Muʿtazila and their teachings

According to al-Qummī, Wāsil ibn ʿAtā ' (d. 748), ʿAmr ibn ʿUbaid (d. 761) and Dirār ibn ʿAmr (d. 815) were the actual founders of the Muʿtazila ( uṣūl al-muʿtazila ). A poem by the poet Safwān al-Ansārī, quoting al-Jāhiz , reports that Wāsil sent missionaries to the various areas of the Islamic empire ( Kufa , Arabian Peninsula, Yemen, Khorasan , Armenia and the Maghreb ) to spread his teaching. The Muʿtazilite mission in the Maghreb fell on particularly fertile ground. It thus became the dominant doctrine in the Tangier and Volubilis area during the early Idrisid period .

Until the end of the 8th century, the Muʿtazila was just one of numerous religious currents in Islam. It only assumed a more central role in the early 9th century. Your most important representatives in Basra at this time were Muʿammar ibn ʿAbbād (d. 830), Abū l-Hudhail (d. 841) and an-Nazzām (d. 835). In addition to this school in Basra, a second center of the Muʿtazila developed in Baghdad around this time . The most important representative of the Baghdad school was Bishop ibn al-Muʿtamir (d. 825).

Muʿammar ibn ʿAbbād is best known for his maʿnā theory. The maʿānī - so the plural of maʿnā - are individuation principles for substances and the real foundation of the appearances of accidents . Every maʿnā has its basis in a preceding maʿnā , which creates an infinite regress, but which ends in a primary cause identified with God, who is thereby the true cause of the accidental outward appearance of the substances.

Abū l-Hudhail was the first Muʿtazilit to develop a teaching on the attributes of God. He emphasized the omnipotence of God with remarkable strength. For him, the proof of God results from the contingency of the world. He also took the view that the Koran was created as the speech of God ( machlūq ). Only God himself is eternal and uncreated in his conception. In return, he emphasized the inimitable quality of the Koran. In the field of physics, Abū l-Hudhail was strongly influenced by atomism . Abū l-Hudhail wrote numerous writings, of which Ibn an-Nadīm gives a list in his Fihrist . However, none of these writings has survived on its own. Most were polemical in character. Among the Muʿtazilites he argued with an-Nazzām particularly often. Six writings alone were directed against him.

What was particularly striking about an-Nazzām was his anti-atomistic theory of movement. After that, movement must take place in the "jump" ( ṭafra ), since with an unlimited divisibility of the space it is inconceivable that the moving body touches every single point. The concept of mind ( rūḥ ) was also of major importance in his teaching system . In connection with the Platonic Pneuma concept , he imagined the spirit as a subtle body that mixes with the body like a gas and penetrates it right down to the fingertips, but at death breaks out of this connection and continues to exist independently. Disciples of an-Nazzām, among them Ahmad ibn Chābit , continued this thought and developed a theory of transmigration of spirits ( tanāsuḫ ) based on it.

The doctrine of tawallud , the "creation" or "triggering" of chains of events through human action, is associated with the name of Bishop ibn al-Muʿtamir . Using this concept, Bishop taught that whatever emerges from a person's action is also his action. In this way man was made a second author of change alongside God. Another central idea in his teaching was the idea of ​​divine grace ( luṭf ). God has unlimited freedom to lead people as believers on the path of salvation or as unbelievers to surrender to calamity. If he leads them on the path of faith, he is doing so solely for a show of grace, not for any other reason.

The Mihna

In the time of the Abbasid caliphs al-Ma'mun (813-833), al-Mu'tasim bi-'llāh (833-842) and al-Wāthiq bi-'llāh (842-847), the Muʿtazila enjoyed the highest ruling protection. Several well-known Muʿtazilites were appointed to the Abbasid court during this period, including Abū l-Hudhail and an-Nazzām. Very soon the Sunni clergy opposed the Mu unvertazilite theology supported by the court, whose main argument was the unchangeable adherence to tradition and its constant imitation.

The rationalist method introduced by the Kalam scholars was viewed by some major Sunni proponents as heresy. Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 855) is one of the best-known of these representatives . In 833 an inquisition ( Mihna in Arabic ) was introduced against them . The quality of the Qur'an taught by Abū l-Hudhail was used as a test ; this was disputed by the traditional scholars who believed that the Qur'an was the uncreated speech of God. Those who disagreed with the teachings of Abu l-Hudhail were punished, including Ahmad ibn Hanbal. For the Muʿtazilites, however, this inquisition procedure was rather counterproductive. From then on, they were seen as accomplices of the injustice regime that was responsible for the Mihna.

Later development

At the turn of the 10th century, the leadership of the Muʿtazilites was Abū ʿAlī al-Jubbā'ī . One of his students was Abū l-Hasan al-Ash Aarī . He turned away from the Muʿtazila, converted to Sunni doctrine and put his rational argumentation in the service of their defense. Conversely, he criticized the Muʿtazilite theology in his "letter to the residents of the border fortress" ( Risāla ilā ahl aṯ-ṯaġr ).

In the second half of the 10th century, however, the Muʿtazila received new rulers at the courts of the Persian Buyids . Important Muʿtazilites of this time were Sāhib Ibn ʿAbbād, the vizier of the Buyid prince of Rey , who wrote theological books in which he explained the Muʿtazilite doctrine, and ʿAbd al-Jabbār ibn Ahmad , who was appointed chief qadi of Rey in 970 . Characteristic of the Muʿtazilite teaching of Ibn ʿAbbād and ʿAbd al-Jabbārs was the fight against predestinianism and the establishment of the Muʿtazila on five basic principles (Arabic al-uṣūl al-ḫamsa ). These goods:

  1. "The absolute unity of God" (at- tauhīd )
  2. "The righteousness of God" (al-ʿadl)
  3. "The promise and the threat" ( al-waʿd wa al-waʿīd , i.e. the actions of man influence entry into paradise)
  4. "The level between the levels" or the "intermediate level" ( al-manzila baina l-manzilatain : whoever commits great sins does not enter either paradise or hell. He is on the intermediate level.)
  5. " Command the right and forbid the reprehensible " ( al-amr bi-ʾl maʿrūf wa-ʾn-nahy ʿan al-munkar )

When the Sunni Seljuks came to power in the middle of the 11th century, the ruling support for the Muʿtazila in Iraq ended. However, there were still individual scholars who had great sympathy for the Muʿtazila, such as the Hanbalit Ibn ʿAqīl . After the Muʿtazilites were driven back in Iraq, the Muʿtazila experienced a final bloom in Khoresmia with the work of al-Zamachshari (d. 1144). However, the Muʿtazilite theology was still pursued by the Yemeni Zaidites and the Twelve Shiites . The Hanbali scholar Ibn Taimīya (d. 1328) wrote his work Minhāǧ as-sunna , which was directed against his Shiite contemporary al-ʿAllāma al-Hillī , also to refute his Muʿtazilite theses.

Evaluation in the modern age

Ahmad Amin assesses the long-term historical development as follows: "The rejection of the Muʿtazila was the greatest misfortune that hit the Muslims. In doing so, they committed a crime against themselves." Modern Muslim scholars who have tried to revive concepts of the Muʿtazila include Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt and Harun Nasution in Indonesia.


  • Camilla Adang, Sabine Schmidtke, David Sklare: A Common Rationality: Mu'tazilism in Islam and Judaism (Istanbul Texts and Studies; 15), Ergon Verlag, Würzburg 2007, ISBN 978-3-89913-587-9 (English).
  • Alnoor Dhanani: The Physical Theory of Kalam. Atoms, Space, and Void in Basrian Mu'tazili Cosmology ( Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science: Texts and Studies ; 14), Brill, Leiden 1994 (also dissertation, University of Cambridge, Mass. 1991).
  • Josef van Ess : Theology and society in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Hijra. A History of Religious Thought in Early Islam . 6 vols. Berlin: De Gruyter 1991–97. ISBN 3-11-012212-X
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  • Daniel Gimaret: Art. "Muʿtazila" in The Encyclopaedia of Islam. New Edition Vol. VII, pp. 783-793.
  • Thomas Hildebrandt: Neo-Mu'tazilism? Intention and context in the modern Arab handling of the rationalist legacy of Islam . Leiden: Brill 2007
  • Wilferd Madelung, Sabine Schmidtke: Rational Theology in Interfaith Communication. Abu l-Husayn al-Basri's Mu'tazili Theology among the Karaites in the Fatimid Age , Brill, Leiden 2006, ISBN 978-90-04-15177-2 (Jerusalem Studies in Religion and Culture; 5).
  • Richard C. Martin, Mark R. Woodward with Dwi S. Atmaja: Defenders of Reason in Islam. Muʿtazilism from Medieval School to Modern Symbol . Oxford: Oneworld Publ. 1997. ISBN 1-85168-147-7 .
  • CA Nallino: "Sull 'origine del nome dei Muʿtaziliti" in Rivista degli Studi Orientali 7 (1916) 429-454.
  • Neal Robinson: Ashariyya and Mutazila . In: Edward Craig (editor of the series), Oliver Leaman (specialist editor): Islamic Philosophy (Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Vol. 1). Routledge, Cambridge, pp. 519-523, ISBN 0-415-18706-0 (English).
  • Sabine Schmidtke: Recent research on the Mu'tazila . In: Arabica. Journal of Arabic and Islamic studies , vol. 45 (1998), pp. 379-408, ISSN  0570-5398 .
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  • W. Montgomery Watt, Michael Marmura: The Islam II. Political developments and theological concepts. Stuttgart u. a. 1985. pp. 211-256.

supporting documents

  1. See H. Wehr: Arabic dictionary for the written language of the present , Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1968, p. 549.
  2. Cf. van Ess TuG II 336.
  3. Cf. van Ess TuG II 260-266.
  4. Cf. van Ess TuG II 335.
  5. See Watt / Marmura p. 214.
  6. See Watt / Marmura 217.
  7. See Saʿd ibn ʿAbdallāh al-Ašʿarī al-Qummī: Kitāb al-Maqālāt wa-l-firaq . Ed. Muḥammad Ǧawād Maškūr. Maṭbaʿat-i Ḥaidarī, Tehran, 1963. p. 4.
  8. Cf. Gimaret 783b-784a.
  9. Cf. van Ess II 248-253, 327-335.
  10. Cf. Gimaret 784a.
  11. See Stroumsa 1990.
  12. So al-Qummī: Kitāb al-Maqālāt wa-l-firaq . P. 10.
  13. Cf. van Ess TuG II 310-316, 382-387, V 183-186.
  14. Cf. Ibn al-Faqīh: Kitāb al-Buldān . Ed. MJ de Goeje. Brill, Leiden, 1885. p. 84.
  15. Cf. van Ess TuG II 233f.
  16. For an overview of the two schools cf. W. Montgomery Watt, Michael Marmura: The Islam II. Political developments and theological concepts. Stuttgart u. a. 1985 (= The religions of mankind . Vol. 25). Pp. 220-227.
  17. See also van Ess TuG III 74-82.
  18. Cf. van Ess TuG III 272-276.
  19. Cf. van Ess TuG III 283-285.
  20. Cf. van Ess TuG III 224-232.
  21. Cf. van Ess TuG III 220-223.
  22. See also van Ess TuG III 310-324.
  23. Cf. van Ess TuG III 369f.
  24. Cf. van Ess TuG III 429-436.
  25. Cf. van Ess TuG III 115-121.
  26. Cf. van Ess TuG III 121-126.
  27. Cf. van Ess TuG III 211f.
  28. Cf. George Makdisi: "Ethics in Islamic Traditionalist Doctrine" in Richard G. Hovannisian (ed.): Ethics in Islam. Malibu, Calif .: Undena Publications 1985. pp. 47-63. P. 55.
  29. See Joel Kraemer: Humanism in the renaissance of Islam. The cultural revival during the buyid age . Leiden 1993. pp. 72ff.
  30. See Watt / Marmura 475f.
  31. This statement from the historical work Ḍuḥā al-Islām , published in 1936, comes from the Egyptian intellectual and professor of Arabic literature Ahmad Amin. Quoted from D. Gimaret: Muʿtazila In: Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Vol. VII, Brill, Leiden 1993, pp. 783–793, therein on p. 786.