Wasil and Obaid were the shining beacons of Itizaal ideology. Wasil Ibn Ata is considered one of the most eloquent orators of Arabic to this date. He suffered from Rohtacism (inability to pronounce ’r’), yet, such was his command over language that his lectures and prose would be usually devoid of the letter ‘r’. He described the early rules of “Ilm Kalam” (the science of Discourse). Allama Abu Hilal Askari in his book has attributed many first rules to him. He also was the first scholar to write a refutation of Atheists. He was the first to describe the four sources of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) to be Quran, Hadith, Ijma’, and Qiya’s. Ibn Khalqan has mentioned many books of him written on a diverse range of subjects.
Amr ibn Obaid, apart from having excellent knowledge, was very God-fearing and always kept busy in prayers. He didn’t care much for worldly affairs. Someone asked Imam Hasan’s opinion about Obaid. He replied, “you have asked my appraisal of a person who learnt obedience from Angels and hard work from Prophets. I haven’t seen a person whose inner soul and outer face are more akin to each other than him”. Many historians have written interesting anecdotes of his days in the court of Abbasid Caliph Al Mansur. They all show his boldness to express his thoughts without caring about any probable backlash. He also holds a unique status in History for writing an elegy of a reigning Caliph.
In short, the genius of Wasil and Obaid expanded the ideology of Itizaal. They added many fine and complex problems to the existing system of Itizaal apart from Adal and Qadar. These new ideas become famous in the whole country and gradually they reached to the avenues of Caliphate. Yazid Ibn Walid Ibn Abd al Malik openly proclaimed this philosophy. When Walid ibn Yazid sat on the throne in 125 AH, he started indulging in debauchery and became the supreme patron of libertines and profligates. Thus, Yazid III rebelled under the banner of Amar Bil Maroof, the fifth tenet of Itizaal, and many Mutazilites supported his cause. Yazid won the campaign and Walid was executed. Itizaal saw its first official boom once it got a hold of the royal throne. In 133 AH the Umayyad Caliphate ceased to exist in the East and Abbasids Banner claimed the Caliphate.
The second Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mansur didn’t want to be known in public as a patron to a certain sect. But he was a childhood friend of Amr Ibn Obaid and both of them were class-mates for a long period of time. Other than this, he also esteemed the unobtrusive Godliness and asceticism of Obaid. Therefore, Itizaal naturally progressed in his time.Wasil ibn Ata sent his disciples to every province of Islamic Country to propagate ideology of Itizaal. He sent Abdullah Ibn Al-Harith to Maghreb (North Africa), Ayub was sent to Al-Jazira (Turkey), Hasan ibn Zakwan to kufa (Iraq), Uthman the lank to Armenia and Hafas ibn Salim to Khurasan (Afghanistan and Western Iran). Hafas debated there with Jahm ibn Safwan, the founder of Jahmites. Jahm was defeated in that debate. In Armenia, huge number of masses converted to this ideology.
Apart from the events described above, in those days a new phenomenon further strengthened the status of Itizaal as a leading intellectual movement. After steadying the affairs of State, Al-Mansur turned his attention to the propagation of Science and Arts. He ordered translation of all the famous Scientific and Philosophical works in Persian, Aramaic, Greek and Indian languages. Due to Government patronage these translations become widely accepted and the whole country started indulging in Philosophical arguments and discussions. Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians living in Muslim provinces paid more attention to these works and soon criticisms started appearing on Islamic tenets and rules. Al-Mansur didn’t deem it proper to stem this fashion with the show of strength. Instead he gave open permission to hold all kinds of debates. In response to the proponents of anti-Islamic ideologies, Islamic Scholars of Hadith and Fiqh brought their arguments. But this Traditionist approach was less effective against those who simply did not believe in those traditions. In the end, Mutazilites entered the fray and claimed that they could prove religion with the help of logical arguments. They were successful in defeating atheists and pagans in many a philosophic battle. They grew in favor among Islamic Intelligentsia by demonstrating that Itizaal can be more effective in defending Islam. Hundreds of thousands converted to this ideology.
After Al-Mansur, Al-Mahdi censored such free-thinking debates. His son, Harun Al Rashid was not well versed in Philosophy and Science himself but he was under the influence of Barmakids, and they were extremely liberal and patrons of such discourses. Itizaal slowly but gradually increased its sphere of influence during this era. In his last years, Harun discovered and quashed Barmakid conspiracy and completely forbade all kinds of debates on the advice of Muslim religious scholars. Mu’tazilah also ceased progressing consequently.
When Mamun was coronated they were more than compensated for this temporary check. Mamun professed this ideology and all great Mutazilites scholars and teachers found favor in his court. Abu Huzail Allaf and Nizam were teachers of Mamun and he respected them a lot. Allaf and Nizam both were renowned teachers of Philosophy and Science of their time. Mamun used to say, “Abu Huzail dominates Ilm Kalam like clouds overshadow a man”.
Harun’s strict sanctions on debates and his open bias towards Islamic religious scholars convinced people from other nationalities that Islam cannot stand logic. This falsity grew to such overwhelming extent that Non-Islamic people started saying openly that Islam spread in the world by mere swords. When Mamun heard of this, he constituted a Grand Debating Council and from every corner of the world, every creed’s leaders were invited. The premier of Manichaeists, Yazdan Bakht, came from the city of Ray, Iran. Every person was allowed to speak with complete freedom. To represent Muslim view point Maun nominated Abu Huzail Allaf. Abu Huzail completely trounced Yazdan Bakht and Muslims won the day.
Mamun instituted debating councils in every district, where people from every country and religion were free to debate and present their arguments. Mutazilites were prominent in all such debates. To be honest, Islam was saved from a big intellectual disaster in those times because of Mutazilites. Abu Huzail, with his beautiful oratory converted some three thousand people to Islam, thus proving the Intellectual authenticity of Islam.
After Mamun, Musta’sim came and Wasiq succeeded Musta’sim. Both of them were Mutazilites and Itizaal gained more power because of them. Qadhi Ahmad Ibn Abi Daud was Chief Justice in the court of Wasiq. He was the master of all state affairs behind the curtains and nothing could be managed without his approval. He was a mutazilite too and held the honor of being a student of Wasil.After Wasiq, Mutawakkil came to power. He forbade every kind of rationalist discussions. By then, this belief has spread to every province of the Country and Mutawakkil’s efforts had little effect.
Thus, till fourth century AH, Itizaal stayed at its zenith. Many prominent orators, scholars and intellectuals professed this belief. Their books are extant till this day. In the end was Al-Jubba’i who died in 303 AH. After him no great Mutazilite scholar was born who could dwarf his academic stature.
Among Islamic provinces, people of Spain held intense aversion to Philosophy and Logic. It went to such a pitch that any person whose name would appear in connection to them, couldn’t dare to step into the public market. Professor Ibn Rushd (Averroes) was exiled because of this crime.
Similar state of affair was prevalent in Syria; therefore it isn’t surprising that Mu’tazilah didn’t spread their roots there. India also held aloof from this ideology. For many centuries no Logical sciences had been able to penetrate the dreamlands of Indus. Logic and Philosophy was introduced here during Timurid (Mughals) rule. But by then Itizaal had gone extinct itself.
The reasons for its mighty fall will be recounted in the succeeding part of the essay.
_Maulana Shibli Naumani_