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The Emergence of Theological Schools

Four prominent theological schools emerged and spread under the cultural and, eventually, independent Iran. These schools included:

a. The Mo’tazilite School: This school emerged in Basra under the influence of the Iranian culture. The Mo’tazilite school is generally considered as a sagacious school of thought in the history of Islam. The judiciousness of this school can be attributed to the influence of two factors, viz. the impact of Greek rationalism and the legacy of the ancient Persian wisdom. Hasan Basri, the master of Wāsel bin Atā, was of an Iranian origin and was the first theologian to take steps towards the propagation of Islam and the introduction of the principles of theology and Islamic thought. The Mo’tazilite leaders, viz. Wāsel bin Atā, Amro bin Abid, and Abu al-Hazil Allāf, too, were of Iranian origin. The Mo’tazilite school reached the zenith of its glory during the reigns of Ma’mun (ruled 198-218 AH/814-833 AD), Mo’tasem (ruled 218-227 AH), and Wātheq (ruled 227-232 AH/842-847 AD) and the Mo’tazilite school was the official school of thought of the caliphate. The decline of this school began after this period and it faced persecution after Motawakkel (232-247 AH/847-861 AD) gained power during which period its works came to be destroyed. All these developments led to a decline in the study of theology (albeit in its Mo’tazilite form) which, however, came under check following the emergence of the Ash’ari school. On the other hand, the relative freedom and intellectual tolerance enjoyed by the Iranians resulted in the revival of the Mo’tazilite school in Iran and the emergence of prominent scholars from among its followers. One of these scholars was Qāzi Abd al-Jabbār Hamadāni who was formerly an Ash’ari but who had later on accepted the Mo’tazilite school of thought. Hamadāni was supported by Sāheb bin Abbād (326-385 AH/938-992 AD), the Shiite and scholarly-inclined minister of the Āl-e Buyeh court and was invited by him to teach in the Rey Theological Center in the year 360 AH/971 AD. Qāzi, as a scholar, emerged as an exceptional case at a time when the Ashā’arites were at the peak of power in the area of theology. Abu Mohammad Abbās Rāmhormozi, a companion of Abu ‘Ali Jabā’i; Abu Rashid Neishāburi, a companion of Qāzi Abd al-Jabbār as well as his successor in the leadership of the Mo’tazilites; Mahmud bin Omar Khwārazmi Zamakhshari (d. 538 AH/1143 AD), the author of the famous exegesis, the “Kashshāf”; and Ibn Malāhami were all prominent Mo’tazilite scholars from that period.

Khwārazm ranked among the important Mo’tazilite centers of Iran, in the mosques, schools, and even common market places of which theological discussions took place without any bias and prejudice. Fakhr al-Din Rāzi is quoted to have said that he spent three years of his life in Khwārazm and freely and actively participated in these discussions.

b. The Ashā’arite School: This school was established by Abu al-Hasan Ash’ari (d. 324 AH/936 AD) in the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD as a challenge to the Mo’tazilite school. In the year 300 AH/913 AD which marked the beginning of the golden period in the history of Iranian culture, Ash’ari delivered a sermon in the Basra Mosque following a debate with his master, Jabbā’i, in renouncement of the Mo’tazilite faith and declared his new faith that approved the beliefs of the Sunni school and in this manner the trend that had begun during the period of Vātheq manifested itself through a new school of belief. The most prominent Ashā’arite scholars who played a significant role in the evolution and spread of this school were Qāzi Abu Bakr Bāqlāni (d. 403 AH/1012 AD), Abd al-Qāher Baghdādi (d. 429 AH/1038 AD), Abu al-Mozaffar Esfarāyeni (d. 471 AH/1078 AD), Imām al-Haramayn Joveyni (d. 478 AH/1085 AD), Imām Mohammad Ghazāli (d. 505 AH/1111 AD), and finally Fakhr al-Din Rāzi (d. 606 AH/1209 AD).

Trends Favoring and Opposing Logic: From the emergence of Ash’ari until the times of Fakhr al-Din Rāzi, two trends can be identified within the Ashā’arite school:

i. The trend opposing logic and rationalism; and ii) The trend favoring logic and rationalism.

The first trend began with the emergence of Ash’ari, became systematized with the emergence of Bāqlāni, and reached its glory with the emergence of Joveyni. The objective of this trend was to weed out what they believed to be the “un-Islamic elements” that had managed to infiltrate into Islam owing to the rationalistic approach of the Mo’tazilite school. The supporters of this trend began confronting logic - like philosophy - and relied completely on the knowledge transferred through Prophetic Traditions (ahādith) as a means of attaining truth and salvation. The second trend began with the emergence of Ghazāli, was pursued further under the leadership of Shahrestāni, finally reaching its glory under the influence of Fakhr al-Din Rāzi. In this trend, logic came to be employed towards the service of religion while rational-intellectual reasonings were applied in order to explain theological-religious issues and to critically evaluate and reject philosophical issues. Ibn Khaldun has referred to the first trend as belonging to the traditionalists and the second one as belonging to the contemporaries.

c. The Matridiyah School: The Mātridiyah School came into existence following the traditionalist movement of Abu Mansur Mātridi (d. 333 AH/945 AD) in Mesopotamia, which along with such large cities as Bokhārā and Samarqand was a part of the greater Khorāsān and the capital of the Sāmānid rule and also the center of the growth of Dari Persian as well as the cultural revival of Iran. Bokhāra, which was popularly known as Qobbah al-Islam, was not only at par with Baghdad from the viewpoint of culture but it had in fact also come to be considered as the center of thought and rationalism in the world of Islam, in general, and Iran, in particular, following the decline of rationalism in Baghdad.

Mātridi was a follower of Abu Hanifah, both, in jurisprudence (feqh) and in theology, and at the time when Ash’ari rose in defense of tradition in Iraq, he too, began defending tradition in the greater Khorāsān region. There was no major difference between the outcomes of the efforts of Mātridi and Ash’ari since both of them had stood up in defense of the Tradition-based approach as against the rationalistic approach of the Mo’tazilites. Notwithstanding this fact, a number of scholars have also gone on to enumerate about eleven lexical and twelve conceptual differences said to exist between these two schools. The Mātridi school was pursued further on by his students and followers, the most prominent of whom were, Mohammad bin Mohammad Bazdawi (d. 478 AH/1085 AD), Abu Hafs Omar bin Mohammad Nasfi (d. 537 AH/1142 AD), and most importantly, Sa’d al-Din Taftāzāni (d. 792 AH/1390 AD).

d. The Shiite School: The term “Shiite” or “Shi’a” is generally used to refer to those Muslims who believe in the leadership (Imamate) of ‘Ali ibn Abi Tāleb after the demise of the Messenger of Islam. Even though the close proximity between Iran and Shiism gained strength following the establishment of the Safavid rule and the anti-Ottoman nationalistic policies of Shāh Esmā’il (ruled 905-930 AH/1500-1524 AD), a large number of Iranians followed this school even during the Ommayyad period. In other words, a close and irrefutable proximity has always existed between Iran and the Shiite school, right from the emergence of Islam until present times. Notwithstanding the large number of Shiite sects that have been referred to in such books as the “Feraq al-Shi’a” of Nobakht, the most prominent Shiite sects - at least from the context of Iranian history - are the Zaidiyah, the Esmā’iliyah, and the Ithnā Ashariyah.

i. The Zaidiyahs: The Zaidiyahs believe in the Imamate of Zaid, the son of Imām Zayn al-Ābedin (‘a). Zaid was a student of Wāsel bin Atā and it is for this reason that the Zaidis follow the principles of the Mo’tazilite school. From the political angle, two of the Zaidi leaders are important. One of them is Hasan bin Zaid Alawi, also referred to as “Dāi-e Kabir” (d. 270 AH/883 AD), who gained control over the Āmol, Sāri, and Gorgān regions after defeating the Tāherids and established the Alavid government of Tabarestān in around the year 250 AH/864 AD which survived until 316 AH/928 AD. The second leader of prominence was Qāsem Rassi (d. 246 AH/860 AD) who along with his descendents charted out the principles of the Zaidiyah faith.

ii. The Esmā’iliyahs: The Esmā’iliyahs, also referred to as the “Bāteniyah” or the “Ahl al-Da’wah”, believe Esmā’il, the deceased oldest son of Imām Sādeq (148 AH/765 AD), to be the seventh Imām. During the course of history, the Esmā’ilis established two centers of power and propagation; one in Egypt under the name of “Da’wat-e Qadim” and the other in Iran, under the name of “Da’wat-e Jadid”, in Alamut. The Da’wat-e Qadim center came to be established with the emergence of the Fātemid Dynasty. The influence of this center on some Sāmānid rulers and the inclination of the great Iranian poet, Rudaki, and – as claimed by some scholars – also Hakim Ferdowsi, has been noteworthy and speaks volumes of the strong influence of the Esmā’ilis in Iran. Farhād Daftari has reported on the influence of the Esmā’ilis in Rey, Gorgān, Esfahān, Tabarestān, Khorāsān, and Mesopotamia, and especially in the very heart of the Sāmānid rule. Said Nafisi, too, in his book “Rudaki” has also made mention of the influence of the Esmā’ilis during the Sāmānid rule and has even claimed that Nasr bin Ahmad Sāmāni as well as some prominent members of his government like Mos’abi, Bal’ami, and the greatest poet of the Sāmāni court, Rudaki, were all Esmā’ilis. He also mentions that following the downfall of Nasr bin Ahmad in the year 329 AH Rudaki’s eyes were blinded and he was, in all probability, killed while Mos’abi and Bal’ami and other prominent personalities who had Esmā’ili inclinations, too, were all slain after the downfall of Nasr bin Ahmad Sāmāni. However, the influence of the Esmā’ilis prevailed despite the downfall of Nasr bin Ahmad and these massacres since Nāser Khosrow (d. 481 AH/1088 AD) continued to function as the Hojjat of Khorāsān. It was in the wake and continuation of this same influence that Hasan Sabbāh (d. 528 AH/1134 AD) – despite the continuation of the activities of the Da’wat-e Qadim in Egypt – succeeded in gaining hold of the Alamut Fort in the year 483 AH by extending his support to Nazār, the youngest son of the Abbāsid caliph Mostansar, and founded a new Esmā’ili center called the Da’wat-e Jadid. This center continued its activities under the supervision of seven leaders until the year 654 or 655 AH/1256 or 1257 AD and was eventually destroyed by Hulāgu Khān.

From the cultural point of view, the Esmā’ilis of the Alamut Fort had adopted Persian as their official and cultural language and wrote their works in this language. Moreover, the Esmā’ilis extended patronage to scholars and gave them all kinds of opportunities for holding debates and discussions, research, and writing books, mainly in the Persian language. This trend gained strength in the early years of the Mongol invasion of Iran and like India, the Roman Empire, and Fārs, the Esmā’ili Forts, too, gained renown as havens for scholars and thinkers who were seeking refuge and sanctuary following the attack of the Mongols on the cities of Greater Khorāsān which had seen great massacre and destruction.

iii. The Ithnā Ashariyah: The followers of the Ithnā Ashari school believe in the Imamate of ‘Ali bin Abi Tāleb and his eleven descendents. Keeping in view the inclination of the Iranians towards the descendents of the Prophet of Islam, on the one hand, and considering the cultural influence of Iran on the other, it could be concluded that the evolution of the Shiite theology is part and parcel of the theological beliefs in the pre and post-politically independent Iran. Two different ages can be identified in the history of Shiite theology, viz. the age of traditional theology and the age of rational theology.

i. The Age of Traditional Theology: Traditional theology can be said to have evolved during the period of the Shiite Immaculate Imāms. The most important works in the field of theology belong to Ibn Bābweih (or Bābuyah) Qomi and are popularly regarded as works in “traditional theology”. The works of Ibn Bābweih are regarded as the culminated manifestation of the efforts of Imāmiyah theologians for almost four centuries. From among the most prominent Imāmiyah theologians of this period mention can be made of Isā bin Rozah, one of the mawālis and the author of the first book on theology, and especially on the subject of Imamate; Zarāh bin A’yon; Heshām bin Hakam; and Mo’men al-Tāq - all belonging to the 2nd Century AH/8th Century AD – Fazl bin Shāzān Neishāburi; Yunes bin Abd al-Rahman Qomi; Abu Isā Warraq –belonging to the 3rd Century AH/9th Century AD – and Ibn Qobbah Rāzi belonging to the 4th Century AH/10th Century AD.

ii. The Age of Rational Theology: Since the Imāmiyah theologians had learnt how to rationalize through the rationalistic approach of Imām ‘Ali (‘a), on the one hand, and considering that they were in contact with the Mo’tazilites they succeeded in establishing a rationalistic system in their theology. The most prominent theologians from this school belonging to this age were Abu Is’haq Ebrāhim bin Nobakht (4th Century AH); Sheikh Mofid (d. 413 AH/1022 AD); Seyyed Mortezā (d. 436 AH/1044 AD), who was born under the Iranian cultural influence and died in this country; Sheikh Tusi (d. 460 AH/1068 AD); and finally, the greatest theologian of all the Shiite theological schools, Khwājeh Nasir Tusi (d. 672 AH/1079 AD).


* source: Dadbeh , Asghar " Iran Entry " The Great Islamic Encyclopedia . Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.10 , pp.614 - 616

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