The following elaboration on the Mutazilites and their prominent beliefs has been given in Al-Mawsu`ah al-Muyassarah fi al-Adyan wal Madhahib al-Mu`asirah: “The Mutazilites are people following the Mutazilte religious sect that emerged at the last period of the Ummayad dynasty. It became popular in the reign of the Abbasids.
Due to being affected by imported philosophical ideas, they took reasoning and logic as their basic sources of understanding the Islamic creed. This led them to deviation from the path followed by the Sunnis and the Muslim Ummah.
Its foundation and prominent members:
Actually, the Mutazilite religious sect came into being as a culmination of many historical changes that Islamic thought and creed passed through. This is due to them perceiving creed as something governed by logic and reasoning, rather than the dictates of the official religious texts. Notably, Greek and Indian civilizations and Jewish and Christian beliefs played a great role in giving birth to it.
The establishment of Mutazilite school as an ideological sect by Wasil ibn `Ata’ was preceded by frenzied arguments staged by segments of people. These arguments stand as the main root of this sect.
Here are some of these ideas with their proponents:
1- The notion that man is born absolutely free and that he is the author of his actions was spread by Ma`bad Al- Juhani and also by Ghylan Ad-Dimashqi, who was killed by Hisham ibn `Abdul-Malik in the era of `Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz.
2- Creation of the Qur’an and nullification of Allah’s Attributes that befit mortals: this idea was championed by Al-Jahm ibn Safwan and Al-Ja`d ibn Dirham.
Later, Mutazilites came into being at the hands of Wasil ibn `Ata’, who started as a pupil of Al-Hasan Al-Basri, but soon parted company with him after a disagreement over the fate of a Muslim who commit enormities. Wasil was of the opinion that such a person would neither be considered a believer nor a disbeliever; he stands in between the two, and, failing to repent, will abide in Hell forever.
The Mutazilite sect was subdivided into many groups with separate ideas on many issues, due to their adoption of logic as the main source of understanding Islam. However, despite this disintegration, they never disagreed on the main agenda or fundamental principles.
It’s worth mentioning here that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal happened to be the most popular victim of Mutazilites’ idea of the “creation of the Qur’an”. Refusing to abide by this baseless idea championed by Caliph Ma’mun, Imam Ahmad was subjected to severe torture and imprisonment at the order of Ma’mun’s son, Al-Mu`tasim, who succeeded his father as caliph. He imprisoned Imam Ahmad and released him two and half years later but held him under house arrest for the duration of his caliphate and that of his son, Al-Wathiq.
It was only when Al-Mutawakkil became caliph that the situation improved for the better and Imam Ahmad, as well as other Sunnis, were restored their honor and grace. With full determination to correct the wrong, Al-Mutawakkil put an end to the Mutazilites’ hegemony that had lasted almost 14 years.
During the reign of Shiite Buwayhid dynasty – in 334 AH, in Persia – there was a form of alliance between the Shiites and Mutazilites, and this helped the latter gain ground in that region. Confirming this, Al-Maqrizi says: “The Mutazilite sect became popular during the reign of Buwayhid dynasty in Iraq, Khurasan and the Euphrates.”
But later on, however, the Mutazilite sect almost went into the oblivion save the traces of their ideas adopted by some religious groups like the Shiites.
Principles and beliefs:
These are the five principles adopted by the Mutazilites:
1- Monotheism: Their idea on monotheism is based on the principle that Almighty Allah is Exalted far above mortal descriptions. They evidence this from the Qur’anic verse in which Allah Almighty says : “The Creator of the heavens and the earth. He hath made for you pairs of yourselves, and of the cattle also pairs, whereby He multiplieth you. Naught is as His likeness; and He is the Hearer, the Seer.” (Ash-Shurah: 11)
Therefore, Almighty Allah should not be given any attribute befitting mortals, for He is the Supreme Being. There is nothing like Him and He is unique in His Divine Identity.
If they hadn’t gone beyond this, they would have be plausible. But they expanded this view and related to it many baseless ideas, such as their statement that it is absolutely impossible to behold Allah. This is based on their assumption that Allah’s Attributes befitting mortals are nullified.
This also prompted them to say that the Glorious Qur’an is merely a creation, not words of Allah, for considering it words of Allah will attribute to Him parts of mortal descriptions.
2- Justice: On this, they claim that man’s deeds are not created by Allah. This is based on them falling into the misconception of Allah’s Supreme Will pertaining to the universe and what it comprises of, and His Will pertaining to ordaining things.
3- Reward and punishment: This means that as Allah grants rewards for good deeds, He punishes evil-doers, and He never forgives anyone who commits enormities unless after repenting.
4- Swinging between belief and disbelief: This applies to a person who commits enormities. They claim that such a person’s fate lies between the two: a believer and disbeliever. He should neither be considered a believer nor a disbeliever. This idea is attributed to Wasil ibn `Ata’, the leader of the Mutazilites.
5- Enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong: They see this as a duty enjoined on all believers for the sake of propagating Islam and to guide people to the Right Path. This should be done according to each particular person and according to given cases. That is, to go to war against straying people, which should be done promptly. Based on this, they claim that if a ruler deviates from Islam’s teachings, the citizens have every right to rebel against him.
Moreover, as we’ve known that Mutazilites entirely rely on reasoning in understanding Islam, they claim that this source is the only way to know what is right and what is wrong.
It is mentioned in the book Al-Milal wa an-Nihal written by Ash-Shahrastani: Everything has been predetermined by mind from time immemorial; through mind man came to know his duty of showering praise on the One that gives blessings. This has been known even before sending Messengers to people. So good and bad automatically go in line with what the mind perceives as good and bad.
Based on this idea, they nullified many religious aspects that the Muslim Ummah agreed upon, such as Allah’s Attributes in that He beholds things, He likes and dislike, etc.
Some of their leaders made accusations about the notable Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Concerning the disintegration witnessed by this sect, we can say that this stemmed from them relying on nothing save logic and reasoning, in addition to their rejection of many agreed-upon facts.
They base their dogmas on the following rule: Every responsible person should stick to the dictates of his personal reasoning as regards the fundamentals of the religion. To them, it’s enough for a student to have his own separate sect based on the different opinions he has with his master.
Refuting these ideas spread by the Mutazilites, Muslim scholars have cited many conditions that govern personal reasoning as regards religious matters. They are as follows:
1- Reasoning must not contradict authentic texts.
2- One must not resort to reasoning concerning matters related to the Unseen which are known only through Divine Revelation.
3- Concerning matters whose wisdom is not known to us (which is known as tawqifi matters), religious texts take higher priority over logic or reason.”
Shedding more light on the issue of the “creation of the Qur’an”, we’d like to cite the words of the well-known Islamic thinker, Dr. Muhammad `Imarah who states:
“The people who spread the idea of the creation of the Qur’an based their opinion on the nullification of the idea of having more than one eternal being. This first started when they argued with the Christians who tried to manipulate the statement that Allah is Supreme Eternal by saying: If it is true that Allah is the Supreme Eternal, and so are His words, and in the Qur’an, Jesus is described as “Allah’s Words”, hence, Jesus himself is also eternal, so he is lord and the son of Lord.
For Mutazilites to refute this idea, they nullified the idea that Allah’s Words are eternal; in fact, they maintained that these words are part of Allah’s creation. The Mutazilites did this with aim of closing the door to any pretext which might be taken by others to claim that there are many eternal beings.
Actually, as for Allah’s Words, they are part of His Attributes and were conveyed to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) through Divine Revelation. So, these divine words can neither be described as something invented or created. But as for the Qur’an, in terms of papers comprising chapters and verses recited by people, it is not eternal: it is something created.”
Dr. `Imarah further cites two methods in dealing with such controversial issues.
“The first method is to maintain the status quo relating to different opinions cited by our virtuous predecessors. This means that we revive these different views in addition to evidence cited by each scholar or Imam to defend his opinion. By this, these divergent opinions, said by early Muslims, will be given revival in light of the contemporary Islamic thought.
The second method is to scrutinize all these opinions mentioned by early scholars on any given issue, and try to co-ordinate them with the dictates of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Tradition. Through this method, contemporary scholars can try to deal with the views of the early scholars to know what caused these arguments and compare the evidence cited by scholars in order to arrive at a foremost view that is binding on all Muslims. This will help the contemporary Muslim know the exact ruling governing each case, rather than dealing with complexities of the scholastic arguments of early theologians.”
Adopting the second method, Dr. `Imarah reached the conclusion that there are many points of agreement regarding the essential points of this issue. In brief, none of the two disputing parties said that Allah’s words – when it means the Divine Attribute – is created. Also none of the two disputing parties said that human sounds with the help of which the Qur’an is expressed are eternal. The same applies to the paper on which it is written, the inks and pens with which it is written. Therefore, Allah’s words as part of one of His Attributes and in the sense of the revelation sent down to His Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is unanimously eternal and not created. However, the Qur’an in the sense of the human sounds with which it is recited, the inks with which it is written and the papers on which it is written, cannot be eternal but created.