Friday, 7 July 2017

Islamic Creed - A talk by Ustadh Ali Ataie

Video also uploaded here

Notes I made from the video presentation
Creed comes from the Latin word Credo (I believe). Arabic word is Aqeeda (meas a set of beliefs which are BINDING on Muslims).

3 areas of Studying Creed:

1. Theology (about God). An obligatory field of study for every Muslims. Muslims should have some level of theological education. Goal of studying theology is to draw nearer to the Divine.

2. Prophetology (nature and function of Prophets)

3. Supra rational transmission. Events known through Naql (Sacred Texts) eg Night journey and ascension of the Prophet or standing on the concourse for the Day of Judgement.

Proto-orthodox: forerunners of orthodoxy

Heterodox: Deviant thinking (heresy)

Orthodox: straight thinking

Kyrigma: early Christian proclamation
Pattern of development of Creeds:

Proclamation (Risalah) – Clarification – Codification (canonisation of /creedal literature)

Creedal language clarifies positions and is responsive

How heterodox groups influenced the codification and canonisation of Islamic formulation of Creedal Literature:

Khwarij (Kharihites) at the time of the end of the first century of the Muslims. They had a very puritanical theology. Ali RA was killed in a mosque in Iraq by a Khwarij in 661 CE

Shia. They came to believe Ali was an infallible imam who was ordained by God to become the Caliph. The largest heterodox sect in Islam today.

Mujassimah (anthropomorphists).

Jabariyah (Determinists). They believe man has no free will and thus they denied the existence of Hell.

Qadariyyah (Dualists). They believed man had absolute free will. God has nothing to do with evil. This was their answer to theodicy.

Mutazilah (rationalists). Mutazilites were the most challenging to orthodoxy. Part of the reason was that they ruled the Caliphate for over 200 years and would persecute proto-orthodox scholars for espousing certain beliefs. Mutazilites believed the Quran is created. Ahmad Bin Hanbal was tortured by Caliph Mamun. Mutazilites denied some other supra-rational events such as punishment in the grave, Prophet travelling physically in the Isra wa al Miraj (sp?), bodily resurrection after death.

They rejected divine attributes, they considered this to be imputing plurality on the Deity. Sunni perspective is that the Divine Attributes weren’t attached or detached from the Deity.

Mutazilites also believed works gave salvation. This is a misnomer even today, many Christian polemicists say Muslims believe in works salvation. The orthodox Sunni position is actually that a person is only saved by the grace of God, not by their deeds. The deeds are a by-product in faith in God.


By the late 3rd and early 4th century of Islam

Great codifiers of creed (3 big names)

d. 944 Abu Mansur al Maturidi. Was from Samarqand (Persian)

d. 936 936 Abu Hasan Al Ashari from Iraq.

These two men worked independently but came to very similar conclusions on creeds. Traditional definition of a Sunni Muslim is somebody who adheres to one of these theological schools of thought or both. Some say there is a third school, the Athari school

Some differences between the two: Asharis believe a woman could have been a Prophet (an opinion amongst the Asharis is that Mary and the wife of the Pharaoh were prophetesses). A bigger difference here, Asharis say intellect must be aided by Revelation to know God (to arrive at true theology) whilst Maturidis believed the intellect was sufficient to know God.

Asharis believe there are four conditions that make it incumbent on someone to become a Muslim:



Sound senses (cannot be blind and death, can be either/or)

A correct Prophetic summons (Dawatu Saheeha) should have reached that person (message to be reached in a good/correct form). They are not responsible to believe in God if this is not the case. [This is unique in the Ashari opinion, however the Maturidis accept the 3 conditions above]

Abu Hasan Al Ashari was a Mutazilite scholar for 30 years and left that movement and became a great Sunni codifier.

d. 933 Abu Jafar At-Tahawi (from Egypt). A contemporary of Imam Ashari and Imam Maturidi. His creedal articulation is considered to be valid by both.As time went on on, his creedal treatise became the most popular.He basically summarized the opinions of the other two. He’s leanings are more towards Maturidi in his aqeedah. His opinions weren’t codified. There could have have been a third school but his teachings weren’t codified. It’s the simplest and most popular creed. The Christian, former Archbishop of Cantebury, Rowan Williams, recommends this treatise to other Christians to help them understand Islamic theology.

These three men refined and systematized the beliefs of their predecessors.

Concluding comments

Islamic creeds did not fall out of the sky. Islamic codified creeds were the product of three centuries of rigorous scholarship in the face of other religious traditions, heterodox understandings as well as sociopolitical factors therefore creedal literature tends to be responsive and polemical in nature.