Assalamu Alaykum Mufti Sb
I have heard about the Ashari and Maturidi schools however i dont know much about them.
Could you please explain these two schools in detail as well as their adherents and the differences between them? Does one need to follow a specific school?
As is the case in fiqh, there have been different opinions in matters of theology throughout Islamic history. There are two schools of theology which are generally regarded as representative of mainstream Sunni Islam: the Ash’ari and Maturidi school.
The Ash‘ari school was founded by Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 324) in Baghdad, and the Maturidi school was founded by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333) in Samarqand. Household names like al-Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani were all Ash‘aris, while the majority of Hanafis are Maturidi. Critically, with the exception of a handful, almost all scholars from our Islamic history were adherents of one of these schools. As such, both schools have a rich history of scholarship, and one is able to study theological primers of these schools to understand the basic tenets of faith.
Colloquially, both schools are often subsumed under the single name of “Ash‘ari.” Nevertheless, there are a few important differences between the two theological schools. The Ottoman jurist, Ibn Kamal Pasha (d. 940), mentions twelve key differences between the schools. As these are theological schools, the differences between the two groups are deeply technical and rely on both rational and textual evidences. For example, they differ on their understanding of Allah’s nature and how his attributes are manifested, free-will and action, and the conditions of Prophethood to name a few. For illustrative purposes, I will describe one or two of these differences here.
A historical debate between the two theological schools’ concerns Allah’s performative attributes: the quality of creating, sustaining, giving life, causing death. When Allah gives life to something, the schools do not disagree that that effect takes place temporally (in a time and place). Though, the schools disagree on the attribute of giving life.
For Maturidis, Allah’s divine attribute of bringing something into being (takwīn) is timeless and eternal. Allah’s divine attribute as the creator, sustainer, the giver of life and death is timeless and eternal; all performative attributes of Allah are eternal and timeless. The effects of these attributes originate in a time and place. For the Ash‘aris, Allah’s divine ability to bring something into being originates in a time and place: thus, the divine attribute of creation and the effect of creating are both temporally originated. This issue is probably one of the most seminal differences between the two schools, and has been debated by its adherents for generations.
Another such example is Allah’s will in relation to disobedience. The Maturidis write that obedience takes place with Allah’s will, intent, judgement, degree, pleasure, love and his command. As for disobedience, it takes place as a consequence of Allah’s will, intent, judgement and decree, though not with his pleasure, love and command. Instead, it takes place with Allah’s anger and his negation. For the Ash’aris, Allah’s intention and pleasure are found in all occurrences – obedience and disobedience.
Undoubtedly, both parties do not approach the view of their interlocutors as relative and equally true. Rather, they have viewed their theological position to be the correct position. Despite this, the theological schools have tolerance and mutual respect for one another. Both schools are considered to be among Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jama‘ah, thereby qualifying as the mainstream orthodox Sunni theology.
As a Sunnī, one would adhere to one of these theological schools, and it is important for Muslims to know their creed. Most importantly, it is very important to learn one’s creed under the guidance of qualified and experienced teachers. Mufti Abdur Rahman has a course on Islamic creed targeted at beginners. If you are interested in this course, see the “Islamic Belief” course by al-Rayyan Institute. https://rayyaninstitute.com/courses/aqd107-fundamental-beliefs-in-the-divine/[He also has a commentary on a classical theology text, which can be found here https://www.whitethreadpress.com/publication/imam-abu-hanifas-al-fiqh-al-akbar-explained/]
 A detailed study, explanation and reconciliation of these twelve differences has been conducted by Sh. Sa‘id Fawda. See: Sa‘id Fawda, Sharh “Masail al-Ikhtilaf Bayn al-Asha‘ira wa l-Maturdiyya”. (Beirut: Dar al-Dhaka’ir, n.d.)
Maulana Ikramul Hoque Miah
Checked & Approved by:
Mufti Abdul Rahman Mangera
Mufti Zubair Patel