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al-Ashʿarī, Abū ʾl-ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Ismāʿīl

al-Ashʿarī, Abū ʾl-Ḥasan ʿAlī ibn Ismāʿīl (873–935 (AH 260–324)). Foremost Muslim theologian, who is often regarded as the founder of kalām. In early life, he was a Muʿtazilite, but he became doubtful about the power of human reason to solve theological problems when he raised the issue of the condemnation of those whom God might have brought to death earlier (thus avoiding the deeds for which they were condemned). He moved more toward the Ḥanbalites and contested the arguments of the Muʿtazilites, while using some of their methods. He insisted that the Qurʾān is uncreated (against the view that anything which appears in or through material form must be created). In affirming attributes of God (e.g. the hand of God), al-Ashʿarī held that they are truly posited (they are not metaphors), but that it is impossible to say in exactly what way they pertain to God—thus producing the famous formula, bilā kaif(a), ‘without knowing how’. He also dealt with the problem of how humans can be accountable for their actions if God determines all things, by developing the doctrine of acquisition (kasb, see QADAR): God creates all possibilities, but humans acquire a particular act in the action itself. Among many works, he wrote al-Ibānah ʿan Uṣūl al-Diyānah (Discourse on the Foundations of Religion) and Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn (The Treatises of the Islamic Schools).

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