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in category Kalam (Theology)

Did political power historically influence Asharite theology?

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Al-Ashari's immediate students, Abu 'l-Hasan al-Bahili, Ibn Mujahid al-Tai and others, were not influential in the history of Asharism. However the following generation, among them Abu Bakr al-Baqillani (d. 1013), Ibn Furak (d. 1015), Abu Ishaq al-Isfaraini (d. 1027) and Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 1037), played a major role in the formation of the school. al-Baqillani, for instance, was regarded as the second founder, due to his contributions in rationalizing the Asharite school through his doctrines of atomism, nonexistence and so on.

Although Asharite scholars suffered for a while from the persecution of Buwayhid sultans and the Seljuq Wazir al-Kunduri in the eleventh century, their conditions rapidly changed shortly after gaining a wide support of the Seljuqs during the time of the famous intellectual wazir Nizam al-Mulk. He established the Nizamiyya madrasa (school) in Nishapur, in which Asharite views were officially taught and then spread to other parts of the Islamic world as far away as North Africa and Muslim Spain. At this time leading Asharite thinkers were Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 1085) and his student Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111), both of whom taught at the Nizamiyya School. Al-Juwayni and al-Ghazali imported some philosophical terms and topics into Asharite kalam and legitimized the use of formal Aristotelian logic in both Islamic theological and legal theories.

In the twelfth century, a philosophical trend dominated among the so-called modern or later theologians (almutaakhkhirun). This trend gained in strength with the works of later independent-minded thinkers of the school, such as Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 1209), Sayf al-Din al-Amidi (d. 1233) and Qadi al-Baydawi (d. 1286). Asharite thought came under the influence of Avicennan Neoplatonist cosmology and mostly absorbed the Islamic philosophical tradition in Sunni theology after a major but ineffective stand by the well-known philosopher Averroes. Thinkers of genius from Central Asia, especially Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 1355) and his students Sad al-Din al-Taftadhani (d. 1389) and Sayyid Sharif al-Jurjani (d. 1413), contributed to the interpretation and expansion of Asharite thought by producing large commentaries throughout the fourteenth century. Ottoman thinkers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, though officially Maturidite, also contributed to this philosophical production by their commentaries and marginal notes on the works of the above-named Central Asian Asharites.

The Asharite school continued to exist in the seventeenth century in the works of the Egyptian al-Lakani and the Indian al-Siyalkuti. After a continuous modernization process in the Muslim world that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Sunnis from both the Asharite and Maturidite traditions, such as Muhammed Abduh of Egypt, Shibli Numani of India and Izmirli Ismail Hakki of Ottoman Turkey, attempted a methodological renovation within Islamic theological thought. During this period of modernity, sectarian concerns and identities weakened among Muslim intellectuals, since they took an eclectic and broader approach in order to satisfy the demands of their age. The contemporary Muslim modernists followed their predecessors in detaching themselves from a strict identification with a particular school of thought. However, Asharism still continues to maintain its existence in Sunni societies today.


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