Muʿtazilites

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Muʿtazilites (Arab., ʿitazala, ‘separate from’). An early theological school in Islam, which espoused the use of reason in finding a middle way between unbelief and naïve fideism. The ‘intermediate state’ may have political origins, neutrality in the conflict between ʿAlī and his opponents, and separation from it. The founding of the theological school is attributed to Wāṣil b. ‘Aṭā’ and ʿAmr b. ʿUbaid, AH c.105–30. Theologically, the Muʿtazilites were characterized by five principles (uṣūl): (i) Aṣl al-tawḥīd, strict monotheism and repudiation of anthropomorphism; (ii) Aṣl al-ʿadl, the absolute justice of God, which led to emphasis on the freedom and accountability of humans, and to the reality of God's ‘promise and threat’ of heaven and hell (which, on a strong view of qadar, could have no effect on human decisions, because God knows and determines the outcome); hence (iii) Aṣl al-waʿd waʾ l-waʿīd, the promise and the threat, which have real consequence in the forming of belief (īmān); (iv) Aṣl al-manzila baina ʾl-manzilatain, the state between the states (of Sunnis and Shiʿites) in relation to the caliphate (khalīfa); (v) Aṣl al-amr bi ʾl-maʿrūf, commanding the good and forbidding the evil, appropriate action in spreading the faith, and in establishing a Muslim society. The Muʿtazilites were opposed by those who gave primacy to the Qurʾān over reason, especially al-Ashʿarī and al-Māturīdī.