Did Abu Al-Hasan Al-Ash’ari Change His Aqida?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick

Question

I have come across some new information about Imam Abu al-Hasan al Ash‘ari (may Allah have mercy on him).

I read, that in the final stage of his life, he wrote a book essentially correcting some of his earlier beliefs, and I’m not entirely sure, but I think it was one of the last books he ever authored, “Al-Ibana ‘an Usul Al-Diyana.”

If this is true, does this not mean that the ‘aqida of the Asha‘ira today isn’t the same as he espoused?

Answer

In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to the belief and way of life that is pleasing to Him.

The claim that Imam Abu Al-Hasan Al-Ash‘ari changed or rectified his theology in the final stage of his life is a baseless fabrication against the renowned scholar, and Allah knows best.

The claim has been well refuted in a relatively recently published, scholarly treatise titled Ahl Al-Sunna Al-Ashaʿira (2005) by Shaykh Hamad Al-Sinan and Shaykh Fawzi Al-Anjari. The work was also translated into English by Abdul Aziz Suraqah and titled Ahl Al-Sunna The Ashʿaris – The Testimony and Proofs of the Scholars (2016)

We highly recommend that you refer to the original Arabic work (the translation is good as well). Herewith follows a summary of the claims and the corresponding refutations thereof.

The False Claim

Some claim that Imam Abu Al-Hasan Al-Ash‘ari (may Allah have mercy on him) went through three stages of doctrine in his life:

  1. The period of I’tizal when he was a Muʿtazili
  2. The period he followed ‘Abdullah Ibn Sa‘id Ibn Kullab (may Allah have mercy on him)
  3. The period in which he returned to the doctrine of the Salaf and Ahl Al-Sunna

The false claim contains three premises:

  1. That the Imam went through the above three stages.
  2. That ‘Abdullah Ibn Sa‘id Ibn Kullab was not of the Ahl Al-Sunna wa Al-Jamaʿa.
  3. The book Al-Ibana represents the third stage, signaling his return to the way of the pious predecessors (Salaf).
    [Sinan & Anjari, Ahl Al-Sunna Al-Asha‘ira]

Did Al-Ash‘ari Traverse Three Stages of Doctrine?

The authors argue that historians documented the great Imam’s life meticulously. While the historians recorded the details of the Imam’s retraction from Iʿtizal (being a Muʿtazili) in great detail, not a single historian documents an additional, second transition after that. Instead, the historians are unanimous that after he left the Muʿtazili doctrine, “he embraced the methodology of the pious predecessors and wrote books according to their ways, such as Al-Ibana and other works.” [ibid.]

‘Abdullah Ibn Saʿid Ibn Kullab WAS an Imam of the Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a.

The authors write: “First of all, we concede that after he abandoned the doctrine of the Muʿtazila, Imam Abu Al-Hasan followed the way of ʿAbdullah Ibn Saʿid Ibn Kullab. We agree with the claimants in this part of the premise. However, they differ with us regarding Ibn Kullab’s way. We believe that his path and the path of the Salaf was one in reality because Ibn Kullab was among the Imams of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a, and he followed the path of the pious predecessors.” [ibid.]

The authors, after that, provide an array of evidence in support of the position and doctrine of Ibn Kullab. The evidence includes attestations by renowned scholars and historians such as Taj al-Din Al-Subki, Al-Hafiz Ibn ‘Asakir, Shaykh Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari, Ibn Qadi Shuhba, Jamal Al-Din Al-Isnawi, Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi, and Shaykh Shu‘ayb Al-Arnaut, among others.

Does Al-Ibana Represent a Third Stage in Ash‘ari’s Doctrine?

The authors (may Allah reward them) provide a valuable and detailed case that the book Al-Ibana “itself contradicts the claim of Al-Ash‘ari’s retraction from his path, for he authored it in the manner and method of Ibn Kullab. How can he retract from the path of Ibn Kullab and then author his final book based on his way?

Al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar said: “In his book Al-Ibana, Al-Ash‘ari traversed upon his [Ibn Kullab’s] path.” [ibid.]

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.
[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.