Qadi ‘ABD AL-JABBAR (c. 325–415/ c. 937–1025)

  February 03, 2024   Read time 5 min
Qadi ‘ABD AL-JABBAR (c. 325–415/ c. 937–1025)
‘Abd al-Jabbar b. Ahmad b. Khalil was born in Asadabad, a town in the southwest of Hamadan, probably around 325/937 and died in Rayy in 415/1025. He was one of the last great thinkers of the Mu‘tazilite school.

‘Abd al-Jabbar’s father was a peasant in Asadabad. He began his education in his hometown where, in the traditional way, he first learned to recite the Qur’an. Then he learned hadith from Zubayr b. ‘Abd alWahid, a well-known muhaddith in Asadabad, and from ‘Ali b. Ibrahim al-Qattan in Qazwin. In 339/951 he went to Mecca to perform the hajj. Upon his return, ‘Abd alJabbar continued his studies in Hamadan with ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hamdan al-Jallab and in Isfahan with ‘Abdallah b. Ja‘far b. Faris. All of these scholars were followers of Ash‘ari kalam and Shafi‘i fiqh. This was probably the reason behind the report that early in his life ‘Abd al-Jabbar was a follower of Ash‘arite theology.

Whatever the truth of this report, it is certain that unlike most of the Mu‘tazilite scholars who were the followers of Hanafi fiqh, ‘Abd al-Jabbar was a follower of Shafi‘i fiqh. In 346/958 he went to Basra to continue his studies there. He first studied hadith with Abu Bakr al-Anbari. Then he joined the circle of Ibrahim b. Ayyash, a student of Abu Hashim al-Jubbai, and studied Mu‘tazilite kalam with him. Later he moved to Baghdad where he joined the circle of Abu ‘Abd Allah Husayn b. ‘Ali al-Basri, another student of Abu Hashim. He studied with Abu ‘Abdallah for a long time, and during this time he produced his first works. In 360/970 ‘Abd al-Jabbar went to Ramahurmuz. There he joined the circle of ‘Abdallah b. ‘Abbas Ramahurmuzi, a student of Abu ‘Ali al-Jubba’i, and had lively discussions with the Mu‘tazilite scholars. He also began working on his summa theologica, the Kitab al-Mughni, which he completed twenty years later when he was in Rayy.

During his stay in Ramahurmuz, ‘Abd alJabbar’s reputation gradually spread, and he became a prominent theologian of his time. As a result, he received an invitation from Sahib b. Abbad, an advisor of the Buyid Mu’ayyid al-Dawla. When Ibn Abbad became a vizier of Mu’ayyid al-Dawla in 367/977, he appointed ‘Abd al-Jabbar as qadi al-qudat (chief judge) of Rayy. He continued to hold this office until the death of the vizier in 385/995. Then he was dismissed by Fakhr al-Dawla and his property was confiscated. Apart from a trip to Mecca in 389/999 and a short stay in Qazwin in 409/1018, ‘Abd al-Jabbar lived the rest of his life in Rayy. Besides his official duties, ‘Abd al-Jabbar taught students throughout his life. Among his famous students, Abu’l Qasim al-Busti, Abu Rashid al-Nisaburi, Abu’l Husayn alBasri, Abu Muhammad al-Labbad, Abu Yusuf al-Qazwini, Abu Muhammad b. Mattawayh, Manekdim, and Sharif al-Murtaza are worth mentioning here.

Although he compiled many works in different branches of Islamic sciences, ‘Abd alJabbar is particularly important in the field of theology. He was one of the last great thinkers of the Mu‘tazilite school. His works are among the few Mu‘tazilite sources which come directly from a member of the school. In accordance with the views of the early thinkers, ‘Abd al-Jabbar accepts the five principles of the Mu‘tazila, namely, divine unity, divine justice, the promise and the threat, the intermediate position, and commanding the good and prohibiting evil. The first principle expresses the uniqueness of God and includes discussions of the createdness of the world, its Creator and his attributes. The attributes are classified as essential and active, the first group being eternal and the latter temporal. Divine justice expresses the knowledge that God is free from all that is morally wrong.

Hence, God does not impose upon man that which is unbearable; he does not will disobedience; he causes illness in order to turn it to human advantage; he does the best for his creatures. His sending a prophet is incumbent upon him, because it is of benefit to humanity. Although human reason can find what is good and bad in principle, reason cannot determine the details. The principle of the promise and the threat expresses the idea that God promised reward to the obedient and punishment to the disobedient and that he cannot go against his promise. The intermediate position says that a grave sinner is neither a believer nor an unbeliever. ‘Abd al-Jabbar says that commanding the good is obligatory if it is a religious duty, otherwise it is supererogatory, while prohibiting evil is obligatory without qualification. In explaining the Mu‘tazilite doctrines, ‘Abd al-Jabbar corrects the views that are wrongly attributed to his school by rival schools.

Most of ‘Abd al-Jabbar’s works are not extant. In the Bayan mutashabih al-qur’an (Exposition of the Unclear Verses of the Qur’an), he discusses the verses which are difficult to understand literally and explains them in the light of clear verses and of reason. In the Fadl al-i‘tizal wa tabaqat al-mu‘tazila (Virtue of Separation and the Generations of the Mu‘tazilites), he responds to criticisms that were directed at the Mu‘tazila and gives the biographies of the earlier representatives of the school. In the Al-Mukhtasar fi usul al-din (A Summary on the Principles of Religion), ‘Abd al-Jabbar gives a summary of the topics of his masterpiece, the Al-Mughni fi abwab al-tawhid wa’l-‘adl (Compendium on the Principles of [Divine] Unity and Justice), which is partially available.

‘Abd al-Jabbar lived in an age in which the Mu‘tazilite school was in decline. However, he became one of the great thinkers not only within the Mu‘tazilite school but also within Islamic thought in general. His influence continued in the following generations through a number of students whom he taught and through a number of Mu‘tazilite classics that he produced. His works are among the most important sources of our knowledge of the Mu‘tazila.

Write your comment