Ash’ari creed and the book Al-Ibana

Sep 12, 2021 | Uncategorized


I have a few but closely related questions, so please excuse me for asking them altogether:

1-Is the book Al-Ibana correctly attributed to Imam Al-Ash’ari?
2-How do we respond to the accusation that Imam Al-Ash’ari repented before he died (and accepted Hanbalite/Salafi creed) and apparently those who claim this quote a certain passage I think from the book Al-Ibana if I’m not mistaken
3-Why do the (later) Ash’aris follow Ibn Kullab in their methodology when Imam Ahmad was clearly opposed to Ibn Kullab? It is also
4-Is it said that some earlier Ash’aris like Imam Al-Baqillani and maybe Al-Harith Al-Muhasibi and even a number of the Salaf had Ithbati inclinations unlike the later Ash’aris and that those who came after Al-Juwayni were different to some of the earlier Ash’aris in this.
Some of these points are briefly discussed by Br Mohamed Hijab in the following clip so it would be good if you could listen to it In Sha Allah:
Jazakumullahu Khairan.


1-Is the book Al-Ibana correctly attributed to Imam Al-Ash’ari?
2-How do we respond to the accusation that Imam Al-Ash’ari repented before he died (and accepted Hanbalite/Salafi creed) and apparently those who claim this quote a certain passage I think from the book Al-Ibana if I’m not mistaken.


In responding to these questions there are two aspects that need to be looked at. Did Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari author a book called the Ibanah? If so, is the current edition we have of it that book?

In regard to the first question, then there is little doubt that Imam al-Ash’ari (d. 324) authored a book called the Ibanah. This is mentioned by numerous biographers[1]. There are even sections of the book cited by the likes of Imam Ibn ‘Asakir (d. 579) who affirms his authorship[2]. It was also cited by Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728) in numerous places in his works[3]. Ibn ‘Asakir who cites a large section of the beginning of the book, when compared to the current published edition, then the two texts coincide[4]. There is little reason to doubt that ascription.

Once that point is clarified, is the book that is published and, in our possession, the book of Imam al-Ash’ari. Imam Zahid al-Kawthari was one of the first modern scholars to question the content to the published edition of the Ibanah, but he did not specify which parts of the book were interpolated[5]. Thereafter, the late Wahbi Sulayman al-Ghawiji penned a book discussing the content of the published Ibanah. He takes aim at the chapter of the book which provides reports attributing to Imam Abu Hanifah the belief that the Qur’an was created. Ghawiji questions the historical accuracy of this section being part of Imam al-Ash’ari’s original Ibanah as there is no trace of such an ascription in other books of his, nor did authors like Bayhaqi who had access to the Ibanah ever make such citations despite discussing the topic at length. There are some other passages he also brings into contention[6].

Dr Salih ibn Muqbil al-‘Asimi al-Tamimi, a salafi scholar, has published the Ibanah and has attempted to respond to the previous detractors and their claims[7]. Similar point of contention include the date in which the book was written, with Dr ‘Asimi siding with the view that it was one of his last works[8]. This was the view held by Ibn Taymiyyah and also mentioned by Ibn Kathir, Ibn al-Qayyim and others. This seems to be based on two main evidences. The first is the story that has Imam al-Ash’ari present the Ibanah to the Hanbali al-Barbahari (d. 329) after telling him of all the efforts he had made in refuting the deviant groups. The historical accuracy of this event is questioned by Ibn ‘Asakir[9].

The other evidence, mentioned by Dr ‘Asimi, is a list made by Ibn Furak (d. 406) of the books written by Imam al-Ash’ari before the year 320h. The Ibanah is not mentioned within that list, which means it must have been written near the end of Imam al-Ash’ari’s life. The argument may sound convincing, but the problem is that Ibn Furak also misses out mentioning the book Istihsan al-khawd fī ‘ilm al-kalam (Virtue of engaging in the science of kalam). If we are to accept this line of reasoning, then it would prove that Imam al-Ash’ari advocated kalam near the end of his life.

Dr Fawqiyyah Husayn Mahmud has argued for the text to be considered earlier. As a textual comparison of the Ibanah and Kitab al-luma’ fī al-radd ‘ala ahl al-zaygh wa al-bida’ shows that there is a connection between the two texts. The Ibanah appears to provide the foundation and the Luma’ deals with rational objections[10]. As can be seen, the dating of the book is speculative without any definite evidence on either side. Furthermore, accepting a later date of the book does not necessitate a retraction, unless clear contradiction between his earlier books or an explicit retraction is found. Both of which are absent here.

Returning to the content of the published edition, then it is difficult to ascertain who is correct here, as beyond the section cited by Ibn ‘Asakir and other bits cited by other scholars[11], the rest of the book which we have are based on later manuscripts, the earliest being transcribed in 1000h[12]. The other manuscripts are later in date. A closer study would be required to see if the various manuscripts are independent corroborations, or merely copied from the earliest one. A study of which I have not seen.

Regardless of the accuracy of all the content within the published version, the section cited by Ibn ‘Asakir is sufficient to see the nature of the book. It is a text based on the Athari method of writing creed and Imam al-Ash’ari explicitly states that this creed is that of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Furthermore, the work Ibanah was not seen by Ibn ‘Asakir or those that came before him as a third phase in Imam al-Ash’ari’s life.

The three phases in the life of Imam al-Ash’ari were posited by Ibn Taymiyyah who stated that Imam al-Ash’ari went through his initial phase of being a Mu’tazili. He then retracted and became a kalam based sunni scholar, which later became the school of thought known as Ash’arism. But there was a third phase where he adopted completely the ‘madhhab of the salaf’, which is epitomised in the Ibanah[13].

But Bayhaqi, Ibn ‘Asakir and others were aware of the Ibanah, but did not see the content as being a retraction. Rather the Ibanah represented the core tenants of faith which Ash’arism defends. This is why Ibn ‘Asakir approvingly cites from Abu ‘Uthman al-Sabuni (d. 449)[14] that he was always seen with the book Ibanah[15].

Dr ‘Asimi notes in many places that the Ibanah does not coincide with the way of the salaf (according to his understanding), so objects to certain places in Ibanah[16]. It’s because of this reason that the salafi scholar ‘Abdullah al-Judai’ does not accept Ibanah as a retraction, as it very much coincides with the Ash’ari concept of tafwid[17]. Ibn Hajar (d. 852) also describes the book as holding onto method of tafwid in his entry of Ibn Kullab[18].

Therefore, the Ibanah was not considered by the early Ash’ari scholars who had seen it as being opposed to what Imam al-Ash’ari had said in other texts. Rather he was affirming the attributes and doing tafwid of its meaning, which has always been considered one of the two valid methods of approaching these discussions of creed.

3-Why do the (later) Ash’aris follow Ibn Kullab in their methodology when Imam Ahmad was clearly opposed to Ibn Kullab?


‘Abdullah ibn Sa’id ibn Muhammad ibn Kullab al-Qattan al-Basri (d. 240 approx.) was a scholar who was known for his defence of the creed of the Ahl al-Sunnah against the likes of the Mu’tazilah. His method of defence had him using the science of kalam, hence he was known as the mutakallim ahl al-sunnah[19]. Ibn Hajar cites the fact that Imam Ibn Khuzaymah and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal opposed Ibn Kullab. He states[20]

ونقل الحاكم في تاريخه، عَنِ ابن خزيمة أنه كان يعيب مذهب الكلابية ويذكر عن أحمد بن حنبل أنه كان أشد الناس على عبد الله بن سعيد وأصحابه

The sources are not clear what exactly Imam Ahmad criticised of Ibn Kullab. The apparent reason is his usage of kalam in defending the creed of Ahl al-Sunnah. Imam Ahmad opposed the usage of rational arguments or delving deep into these theological topics, whereas Ibn Kullab and his followers did that. This then is a difference in method, not a difference in core belief. This method of using kalam to defend sunni creed was adopted by Imam al-Ash’ari in his works. Therefore, it is only natural that Ibn Kullab becomes a source for Ash’arism.

4-Is it said that some earlier Ash’aris like Imam Al-Baqillani and maybe Al-Harith Al-Muhasibi and even a number of the Salaf had Ithbati inclinations unlike the later Ash’aris and that those who came after Al-Juwayni were different to some of the earlier Ash’aris in this.


There are two points that need to be clarified. Ash’arism is a school of thought with numerous senior scholars. The scholars were not mere followers (muqallid) of those who came before them. To the contrary, they critically engaged with the scholars of their own school. The very nature of having a school of thought with such giants that we celebrate, like Bayhaqi, Juwayni, Ghazali, Razi, Amidi and the list goes on, is that we expect that there will be a degree of difference amongst them.

Imam al-Ash’ari and his earlier followers, including the likes of Baqillani and Ibn Furak affirmed these verses in which hand (yad), face (wajh) etc. are mentioned as attributes. They also negated from Allah spatial confinement (makan), body (jism), limbs (a’da’) etc. Therefore, the literal meaning of these words which necessitate such things are negated. The real meaning is intrusted to Allah. Once the meaning is not known, then it allows other scholars to look at the context and see what these sifat may imply in the verse.

As Baqillani is mentioned in the question, let’s look at the way he affirms (ithbat) Allah being above the throne. He has a chapter in his book the Tamhid where he discusses this point:

‘If they say: Do you say He is in every place (makan)? It would be said: Allah’s refuge is sought! Rather he is above the throne (mustawin ‘alā al-‘arsh)’, he then cites the relevant verses[21].

This seems to be clear ithbat as well as seemingly affirming Allah being spatially above the throne. But just a few pages later he says:

‘If someone was to say: Where is Allah? It would be said: Where (ayn) is a question regarding space (makan) and he is not from those things which space can encompass, nor can places surround him. Except we say he is on the throne, not in the sense of a body that is touching (mulasaqah) or neighbouring (mujawarah), Allah is far above that!’[22]

In this second passage he negates Allah being in a place, so the affirmation of Allah being above the throne is not in terms of physical placement. So, although ithbat has been done, it is negating the apparent meaning of the verse which necessitates place (makan). Therefore, Allah being above the throne is negating Allah being physically present in the creation, he is above and beyond the creation (which includes makan). He has other places where he negates Allah being a body (jism)[23] and a place where accidents occur (mahallan li al-hawadith)[24]. It was this type of ithbat that Ibn Taymiyyah had a problem with as the meaning is being negated.

Once this point is clarified, we note that these terms like hand and face are affirmed as attributes whilst the apparent meaning and implication negated. Therefore, the word (lafz) alone is affirmed as an attribute. Some later Ash’aris like Juwayni and Razi argued whether these terms should be affirmed as distinct attributes, the way the earlier Ash’aris had done, or should they be subsumed into the agreed attributes such as power and will (also known as sifat ma’ani). Hence, not affirmed as distinct attributes.[25] This should not be confused with being the Mu’tazili position, as they negated Allah having any sifat.

In response to your question, it is correct that Ash’ari scholars did differ on whether these words (alfaz) should be affirmed as distinct attributes or should they be subsumed into the sifat ma’ani. All agree on negating from Allah defects such as body (jism), place (makan) etc. but differ on this detail.

Answered by Mawlana Zeeshan.

Checked & Approved by:
Mufti Abdul Rahman Mangera
Mufti Zubair Patel

[1] See Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī, al-I’tiqād wa al-hidāyah ‘alā sabīl al-rashād, Beirut: Dār al-Āfāq al-Jadīdah, p.107, Shams al-Dīn al-Dhahabī, Siyar a’lām al-nubalā’, Cairo: Dār al-Ḥadīth 11/395, Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī, Ṭabaqāt al-shāfi’iyyah al-kubrā, 1/133 etc.

[2] Ibn ‘Asākir’s Tabyīn kadhib al-muftarī was a lengthy defense written of Imām Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ash’arī against a certain Abū ‘Alī al-Ahwāzī who wrote a scathing critique of al-Ash’arī entitled ‘Mathālib ibn abī bishr’. It is this author who cites the story of al-Ash’arī presenting his al-Ibānah to the Ḥanbalī al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī al-Barbahārī (d. 329) who rejected the work. This story is subsequently cited by the likes of Ibn Abī Ya’la and al-Dhahabī. Ibn ‘Asākir objects to this story, see Ibn ‘Asākir, Tabyīn kadhib al-muftarī fīmā nasab ilā al-imām al-ash’arī, Damascus: Dār al-Taqwā, pp.675-682

[3] Ibn Taymiyyah, al-Fatāwā al-ḥamawiyyah al-kubrā, Riyadh: Dār al-Ṣamī’ī, pp.498-500

[4] Ibn ‘Asākir, Tabyīn kadhib al-muftarī, pp.310-325

[5] This is found in the footnotes of his edition of Ibn ‘Asākir’s Tabyīn, p.35

[6] Wahbī Sulaymān al-Ghāwijī, Naẓrat ‘ilmiyyah fī nisbat kitāb al-ibānah ilā al-imām al-jalīl nāṣir al-sunnah abī al-ḥasan al-ash’arī, Beirut: Dār Ibn Ḥazm, there is an article written by Khālid Zuhrī arguing on similar lines, but I have not been able to gain access to it.

[7] See his intro to al-Ibānah fī uṣūl al-diyānah, Riyadh: Dār al-Muslim

[8] Also see ‘Abdullah Hamid ‘Ali’s discussion on this in The Attributes of God, Amal Press

[9] See earlier footnote.

[10] See introduction to her edition of al-Ibānah published by Dār al-Anṣār, p.78

[11] Further parts of the book have been quoted by Ibn Taymiyyah which coincide with the current published edition, al-Fatāwā al-ḥamawiyyah, p.506

[12] Out of the six manuscripts that Dr al-‘Aṣīmī could get access to, this was the earliest, Ibid pp.143-148, this objection about the manuscripts was made by Dr Hamza Bakrī, see (last accessed 29/03/2023)

[13] Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmū’ al-fatāwā, Medina: Majma’ al-Malik Fahd, 3/288

[14] Abū ‘Uthmān al-Ṣābūnī was a scholar that all schools of sunnī thought praised. He had close relations with a number of senior Ash’arī scholars and even praised them. His own book on creed is very much Atharī, in the sense that he does not move beyond what the Qur’ān, Ḥadīth and the salaf state. He does cite from Ash’arīs approvingly in this book. See Abū ‘Uthmān al-Ṣābūnī, ‘Aqīdat al-salaf wa aṣḥāb al-ḥadīth, Riyadh: Dār al-‘Āṣimah, p.169

[15] Ibn ‘Asākir, Tabyīn, p.678

[16] Refer to the introduction of his edition to al-Ibānah

[17] ‘Abdullāh al-Judai’, al-‘Aqīdat al-salafiyyah fī kalām rabb al-bariyyah, Dār al-Imām Mālik, p.12

[18] Ibn Ḥajar, Lisān al-mīzān, Cairo: Dār al-Bashā’ir al-Islāmiyyah, 4/486

[19] Ibn Asākir, Tabyīn, p.261

[20] Ibn Ḥajar, Lisān al-mīzān, 4/486

[21] Abū Bakr al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-tamhīd, Baghdad: Jāmi’at al-Ḥikmah, p.260

[22] Ibid, p.264

[23] Ibid, p.191 onwards

[24] Ibid, p.238

[25] Abu Ma’ālī al-Juwaynī, Kitāb al-irshād ilā qawāṭi’ al-adillah fī uṣūl al-I’tiqād, Cairo: Maktabat al-Thiqāfah al-Dīniyyah, p.137, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-kabīr, Beirut: Dār Iḥyā’ al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, 12/396