ʿAbd Al-Jabbār

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ʿABD AL-JABBĀR . Beginning his discussion of the eleventh generation of the Mu'tazilah, the biographer of al-Jushamī al-Bayhaqī (d. 494/1100) states:

Belonging to this generation, and in fact the foremost of them and the leader of them with regards to his excellence, is Chief Judge Abū al-asan ʿAbd al-Jabbār ibn Amad ibn ʿAbd Allāh ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-Hamadhānī. I cannot conceive of any expression which will convey his status regarding his excellence or his elevated rank in [this] discipline [namely kalām ]. He is the one who tore kalām open and spread it out, producing its major works as a result of which kalām spread far and wide reaching the East and the West. In these works, he put down the detailed arguments (daqīq ) as well as the major theses (jalīl ) of kalām in an entirely novel manner. (Shar al-'uyūn, 365)


ʿAbd al-Jabbār (Abū al-asan ʿAbd al-Jabbār ibn Amad al-Hamadhānī, Qāī al-Quāt) was born in the town of Asadābād in the district of Hamadhān around 320/932. He began his study of the adīth (traditions of the Prophet), fiqh (religious law) and other religious sciences with local scholars in Asadābād and Qazwīn. In 340/951 he departed for Hamadhān and five years later went to Isfahan to study there. Soon afterwards he moved to the intellectual center of Basra, where he participated in debates and study-circles as an Ash'arī mutakallim and adherent of the Shāfi'ī legal school. According to al-Jushamī, he subsequently "recognized the truth and was guided," that is to say, he abandoned Ash'arī kalām and embraced Mu'tazilī kalām, becoming a student of Abū Isāq ibn ʿAyyāsh (his dates are not known). He later moved to Baghdad to study under Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Barī (d. 369/979) who, like Abū Isāq ibn ʿAyyāsh had studied under the famous Mu'tazilī master, Abū Hāshim al-Jubbā'ī (d. 321/933), the leader of the Bahshamīya (namely the Mu'tazilīs who inclined towards the views of Abū Hāshim). After several years of study during which he also taught and compiled several works, ʿAbd al-Jabbār took leave of Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Barī in 360/970, departing for Rāmhurmuz where he began to teach and to dictate his magnum opus al-Mughnī fī uūl al-dīn. Soon after, he joined the retinue of the Mu'tazilī-leaning Būyid official al-āib ibn al-'Abbād. In 367/977, al-āib ibn al-'Abbād became vizier to the Būyid ruler Mu'ayyad al-Dawla and then appointed his protégé, ʿAbd al-Jabbār, to the position of Chief Judge (qāī al-quāt ) of Rayy and its environs. Intellectually curious, and himself a poet and scholar, al-āib ibn al-'Abbād had collected a vast library and gathered a distinguished group of philosophers, theologians, and literatteurs to his court in Rayy. ʿAbd al-Jabbār implies at the end of al-Mughnī that he profited from his participation at al-āib ibn al-'Abbād's court gatherings. ʿAbd al-Jabbār held the position of Chief Judge until the death of his patron in 385/995. Subsequently, the Būyid ruler Fakhr al-Dawla seized al-āib's property, dismissed his appointees, and confiscated their properties. Fakhr al-Dawla had ʿAbd al-Jabbār arrested, allegedly because of his refusal to recite the funeral prayer for al-āib ibn ʿAbbād. It is likely that ʿAbd al-Jabbār was released shortly afterwards. After the death of Fakhr al-Dawla in 387/997, Rayy was nominally ruled by his minor son Majd al-Dawla (actual control was wielded by his regent mother al-Sayyida). ʿAbd al-Jabbār was on good terms with Majd al-Dawla and wrote his Kitāb al-Majd for him. In 389/999 he went to Mecca on pilgrimage and was greeted with honor during his passage through Baghdad. This was due not only to his prestige as judge and author but also because ʿAbd al-Jabbār was considered the leader of the Bahshamīya Mu'tazilah after the death of his teacher Abū ʿAbdallāh al-Barī in 369/979. On his return, he taught in Baghdad for some time and also in Qazwīn. During his later years in Rayy, ʿAbd al-Jabbār may have had the opportunity to meet Ibn Sīnā during the philosopher's stay there in 403405/10131015. The majority of historical sources state that ʿAbd al-Jabbār died in 415/1024.

As a result of his longevity, ʿAbd al-Jabbār was a teacher to many students in Rayy and other locations. Some students were Imāmī or Zaydī Shīʿah, indicative of the spread of Mu'tazilism among these Muslim denominations. Among the more prominent of his students were Abū Rashīd al-Nisābūrī (his death year is not known), who studied with him in Rayy and assumed the leadership of the Bahshamīya on ʿAbd al-Jabbār's death; the Shīʿī Imāmī scholar al-Sharīf al-Murtaā (d. 436/1044), who studied ʿAbd al-Jabbār during his stay in Baghdād in 389/999; Abū Muammad al-usayn ibn Amad ibn Mattawayh (dates unknown), Abū al-usayn al-Barı (d. 432/1040), the Zaydī scholar Amad Abū Hāshim al-usaynī also known as Mānakdīm Shishdev (d. 425/1034), and the Zaydī imām al-Mu'ayyad billāh Amad ibn al-usayn al-Āmilī (d. 411/1020)


ʿAbd al-Jabbār scholarship extends over several of the Islamic religious sciences: Qurʾān commentary (tafsīr), prophetic tradition (adīth), biography, theology (kalām), principles of jurisprudence (uul al-fiqh), and law. Most of his works have not survived. As a result of the Zaydī embrace of Mu'tazilism, Mu'tazilī texts continued to be studied in Yemen, where they held sway, resulting in the preservation of some of the works of ʿAbd al-Jabbār and his students. These works were rediscovered in the late 1950s and many of them have been published.

The most significant of these is ʿAbd al-Jabbār's al-Mughnī fī abwāb al-tawīd wa l-'adl, which may be translated as "What one needs to know regarding God's unity and justice." Fourteen of the twenty volumes of al-Mughnī have been recovered. It is the most comprehensive text on classical Mu'tazilī kalām and preserves the doctrines, discussions, and differences of earlier generations, most significantly Abū ʿAlī al-Jubbā'ī and his son Abū Hāshim al-Jubbā'ī. The work is divided into two sections: the first discusses God's unicity (tawīd), namely, a detailed presentation of the argument that the world is temporally created by an eternal Creator-God, the attributes of this Deity, and a refutation of the views of non-monotheists.

The second section treats God's justice (ʿadl ), explaining that God's acts cannot be evil; that the Qurʾān is God's created speech; that persons of sound mind have free will and are under obligation (taklīf) to God to fulfill duties that can generally be known by reason and that, as acts of kindness (luf), God has specified in the guidance He has provided to human beings in revelation through the institution of prophecy and teachings of prophets; that this guidance, as well as the endowment of reason and free will are necessary in order for God to be just; that by fulfilling these obligations human beings have the opportunity to earn a reward, namely Paradise, or by rejecting them to be condemned to Hell; that pain and suffering in the world which is not the result of human action is created purposefully by God in order to remind human beings of their obligations and thereby prevent the extreme harm of being condemned to Hellin this sense they also constitute acts of kindness; and, that God will compensate minors and mentally incompetent individuals, and generally any person who is incapable of fulfilling obligations placed on them.

In the Mughnī, the section on God's justice also includes the remainder of the "five principles of the Mu'tazila," including, "the promise and the threat," "the intermediate position," and the "command to enjoin established and commonly-known virtuous action and to prohibit reprehensible action" which is the basis of the institution of post-prophetic leadership and political authority (imāma ).


The only comprehensive biography of ʿAbd al-Jabbār is ʿAbd al-Karīm ʿUthmān's Qāī l-Quāt ʿAbd al-Jabbār b. Amad al-Hamādhānī. Beirut, 1968. Al-Jushamī's Shar al-'uyūn, a biographical dictionary of the Mu'tazila, is an important source of information about ʿAbd al-Jabbār and his students. Al-Jushamī's text is published in al-Balkhī, Abū l-Qāsim; ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Qāī; al-Jushamī, al-ākim's Fal al-i'tizāl wa abāqāt al-mu'tazila, edited by Fu'ād Sayyid, Tunis, 1974. The intellectual and social environment at the Būyid court is the subject of Joel L. Kraemer's Humanism in the Renaissance of Islam: The Cultural Revival during the Buyid Age, Leiden, 1992. ʿAbd al-Jabbār's short treatise on the five principles of the Mu'tazila (Kitāb uul al-khamsa ) is available in English translation in Richard C. Martin, Mark R. Woodward, and Dwi S. Atmaja's Defenders of Reason in Islam: Mu'tazilism from Medieval School to Modern Symbol, Oxford, 1978. For a general overview of the Basrian Mu'tazilı worldview see Richard M. Frank's "Several Fundamental Assumptions of the Bara School of the Mu'tazila," Studia Islamica 33 (1971): 518. ʿAbd al-Jabbār's rationalist ethics is the subject of George F. Hourani's Islamic Rationalism: the Ethics of ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Oxford, 1971. ʿAbd al-Jabbār's views on the nature of the Qurʾān, namely the Mu'tazilī perspective that it is created rather than eternal, is discussed in J.R.T.M. Peters'sGod's Created Speech: A Study in the Speculative Theology of the Mu'tazilī Qāī l-Quāt Abū 1-asan ʿAbd al-Jabbār ibn Amad al-Hamadhānī, Leiden, 1976. ʿAbd al-Jabbār's epistemology is the subject of Marie Bernard's Le problème de la connaissance d'après le Mugnı du cadi ʿAbd al-Jabbār. Algiers, 1982. ʿAbd al-Jabbār's views on man's obligation, suffering, God's kindness, reward, and compensation are discussed in Margaretha Heemskerk's Suffering in the Mu'tazilite Theology: ʿAbd al-Jabbār's Teaching on Pain and Divine Justice, Leiden, 2000.

Alnoor Dhanani (2005)