Of all the sects of Islam(their number has been stretched to 73 to fulfill a certain prophecy), only four have gained most success and stayed dominant for a long time .These are Sunnites,Shiites,Mu’tazilites and Batiniites. Among them the last two have become extinct today. Although Mu’tazilites has gone scarce nowadays, they held pre-eminence in Islamic world for a long time. Many prominent authors were born to this sect, famous Caliphs and Sultans proudly adopted this title and many new fields of Islamic Philosophy were initiated by them.
Thus, they themselves might be no more but their memorabilia still persist in Religion, Philosophy, Composition and Literature. Ravages of time have been unable to obliterate these marks. Nonetheless, it is a tragic fact that their History also became extinct along with their demise. Forgetting the tale of such a famous sect can be termed one of the sad incidents of World History. So, I came upon this idea that I should write a short essay about Mu’tazilites, on which some light should be shed on the beginning of this ideology and its propagation, famous Mu’tazilites, Ideas of Itizaal and their review and lastly their impact on other schools of thoughts and such matters thereof. This is the first part of the essay in which a concise history of Itizaal is stated. Other portions will be published in “Tehzeeb ul Ikhlaq” from time to time.
“Itizaal” like other schools of thoughts appeared in the last age of Sahaaba r.a. but its beginning could be traced back to the earlier days of Islam. The truth is that stating a fixed date for the initiation of a sect or school would be very unfair. Either we should establish that in the beginning of Islam i.e. in Prophet S.a.w. and Sahaaba’s time no difference of thought existed or we should state that all of the sects had been initiated by then. Both propositions seem erroneous.
Till the life of our Holy Prophet s.a.w., Islam was in a precise and simple form with no complications. Its main attributes were belief in Tauheed (oneness of God), five Obligatory deeds and simple Holy statutes. This condition persisted in the early era of Righteous Caliphs because right after Prophet’s passing Roman and Persian conquest began and all the faculties of Arabs were directed towards these expeditions. Although the belief of Tauheed stayed to the fore because before every war this issue would have to be raised and settled, but differences about minute details did not and could not surface in such times.
But among Sahaaba r.a. there existed a group which kept busy in educational and philosophical pursuits (here Philosophy denotes Islamic version of it, not the modern Western one).They had little to do with Military expeditions. Therefore, arguments and debates had started about the details of beliefs and seeds of different ideologies could be found in these debates. But such differences in thoughts did not produce any obvious divide. Every one of them was called by the designation of a Muslim. They would offer prayers alongside one another and keep friendly relations.
In Caliph Ali r.a.’s last years (around 37 A.H.), when he made a truce with Amir Muawiya r.a. And agreed to the constitution of a jury, some thousand people separated from his party by stating that decision of a Divine right and wrong cannot be left to the opinion of a jury or an arbiter. This was the first divisive sect that appeared in Islam. As their opinion was not agreeable to the whole polity of Muslims, they separated from all of them. They believed that whoever did not agree with their viewpoint ceased to be a Muslim. Since, they quitted the camp of Caliph Ali r.a., they came to be known as Kharijites (The Outsiders).Because of this unique name and status, this tradition began of giving separate names and titles to every differing school of thought.
Here I would like to point out an important observation. The sudden expansion of Muslim cultural milieu made it inevitable for diversification in Islamic Statutes and new sects were almost the logical conclusion. But the first ever sects in Islamic world were those who had a strong political connection. And these were the ones who endured. Kharijites started this way. Shiite sect was solely a political faction for a long time with not much difference in practices and beliefs from Sunnites. Qadarite School appeared after these two and truly laid the foundation of Itizaal. It was also not devoid of a political aspect.
The first discussion about Qadar (Fate and predestination) was held by Ma’bad Al-juhani. It was Umayyad reign and for state stability atrocities were being committed. News of such rigorous repression kept the whole Islamic country in ferment. Till that time, the free spirit of Arabs had not been subdued yet. They would often remonstrate to the Government officials “why do you put up with such cruel acts despite being Muslim?” They would reply, “We do nothing. Whatever is being done, God wills it so” i.e. good and bad Qadar is only from God. Ma’bad al Juhani was among these critics. One day he came to the presence of Imam Hasan of Basra and asked his opinion on this matter. Imam replied,” Allah’s enemies have stated a blatant lie.”
The first idea of Itezaal which started this ideology was that the sins a man commits are not ordained by God i.e. God does not make a man commit his sins. This idea is called Qadar (predestination is a close word).This is why Mu’tazilah were also termed Qadariites in earlier days. They also liked to style themselves as “Adaliyah” because belief in a Just God implies that a man should be held responsible for his actions and this is what Mutazilites expounded too.
This issue was first published and propagated by Ma’bad Al-juhani who soon became a famous Qadariite.As ideas of Itezaal had a close connection with contemporary politics and Ma’bad used to publicly denounce Umayyad Government, he was executed by Al-Hajjaj under the orders of Abd al Malik ibn Marwan in 80 A.H.. After Ma’bad, Ghaylan of Damascus (who was of Coptic origins) propagated this ideology. He also added further problems or issues to Itezaal ideology. One of them was ‘Amar bil Maroof and Nahi anil Munkar’ i.e. to enjoin good and forbid evil. This was a tricky problem for the Government. Ghaylan would also brazenly pronounce his views. Therefore, Hashaam bin Abd al Malik, upon coronation in 105 A.H. had him brought to Damascus and executed.
Ma’bad and Ghaylan had a shortened life, but in this time Itizaal progressed swiftly. Hundreds and Thousands of men confirmed to this ideology and its main rules were penned down.
During the same time two people, coincidentally born during same year 70 A.H., took the system of Itezaal to new heights. They were Amr ibn Obaid and Wasil ibn Ata. They both were students of Imam Hasan of Basra and would attend his teaching circle in the mosque of Basra. In those days, Khawarij’s decree that whoever commits a major sin becomes and infidel. When this issue came up in Imam Hasan’s company, Wasil said that I propose a third option that a person committing a grave sin will neither be neither a Muslim nor an Infidel. Imam Hasan upon listening to this response expressed strong displeasure. So, Wasil and Amr stood up and established their own circle of teaching in the Mosque.
People upon seeing them separated from Imam Hasan’s circle started calling them Mutazilites (the ones who left) and that was how they acquired their famous appellation.
_ Maulana Shibli Naumani_