Sunni school of Islamic theology
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Ashʿarī theology or Ashʿarism[1] (/æʃəˈr/;[2] Arabic: أشعرية: al-ʾAshʿarīyah)[3] is one of the main Sunnī schools of Islamic theology, founded by the Arab Muslim scholar, Shāfiʿī jurist, reformer, and scholastic theologian Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī in the 9th–10th century.[1][3][4] It established an orthodox guideline[5][6] based on scriptural authority,[1][4][7] rationality,[1][7][8][9][10] and theological rationalism.[1][7][9][11][12][13]

Al-Ashʿarī established a middle way between the doctrines of the Aṯharī and Muʿtazila schools of Islamic theology, based both on reliance on the sacred scriptures of Islam and theological rationalism concerning the agency and attributes of God.[1][4][7] Ashʿarism eventually became the predominant school of theological thought within Sunnī Islam,[3][4][14] and is regarded as the single most important school of Islamic theology in the history of Islam.[3]

The disciples of the Ashʿarī school are known as Ashʿarites,[1][4][7][8][9] and the school is also referred to as the Ashʿarite school,[1][4][7][8][9] which became one of the dominant theological schools within Sunnī Islam.[1][3][14][15][16] Ashʿarī theology is considered one of the orthodox creeds of Sunnī Islam,[3][4][14][17] alongside the Aṯharī[18][19] and Māturīdī.[4][14] Amongst the most famous Ashʿarite theologians are Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Ghazali, al-Suyuti, Izz al-Din ibn 'Abd al-Salam, Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Ibn 'Asakir, al-Subki, al-Taftazani, al-Baqillani and al-Bayhaqi.[20] Scholars and scientists who were affiliated with the Ashari school included Al-Biruni, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn al-Nafis and Ibn Khaldun.[21][22]


Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis, one of the most important centers of Islamic learning that contributed to the dissemination of Ashʿarī thought in the Maghreb.[23]


Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī was born in Basra,[24] Iraq, and was a descendant of Abū Mūsa al-Ashʿarī, which belonged to the first generation of Muhammad's closest companions (ṣaḥāba).[25] As a young man he studied under al-Jubba'i, a renowned teacher of Muʿtazilite theology and philosophy.[26][27] He was noted for his teachings on atomism,[28] among the earliest Islamic philosophies, and for al-Ashʿarī this was the basis for propagating the view that God created every moment in time and every particle of matter. He nonetheless believed in free will, elaborating the thoughts of Dirar ibn 'Amr and Abu Hanifa into a "dual agent" or "acquisition" (iktisab) account of free will.[29][page needed]

While al-Ashʿarī opposed the views of the rival Muʿtazilite school, he was also opposed to the view which rejected all debate, held by certain schools such as the Zahiri ("literalist"), Mujassimite ("anthropotheist"), and Muhaddithin ("traditionalist") schools for their over-emphasis on taqlid (imitation) in his Istihsan al‑Khaud:[30]

A section of the people (i.e., the Zahirites and others) made capital out of their own ignorance; discussions and rational thinking about matters of faith became a heavy burden for them, and, therefore, they became inclined to blind faith and blind following (taqlid). They condemned those who tried to rationalize the principles of religion as 'innovators'. They considered discussion about motion, rest, body, accident, colour, space, atom, the leaping of atoms, and Attributes of God, to be an innovation and a sin. They said that had such discussions been the right thing, the Prophet and his Companions would have definitely done so; they further pointed out that the Prophet, before his death, discussed and fully explained all those matters which were necessary from the religious point of view, leaving none of them to be discussed by his followers; and since he did not discuss the problems mentioned above, it was evident that to discuss them must be regarded as an innovation.


Ashʿarism became the main school of early Islamic philosophy whereby it was originally based on the foundations laid down by al-Ashʿarī, who founded the Ashʿarite school in the 10th century based on the methodology taught to him by his teacher Abdullah ibn Sa'eed ibn Kullaab. However, the Ashʿarite school underwent many changes throughout history, resulting in the term Ashʿarī being extremely broad in its modern usage (e.g. differences between Ibn Furak (d. AH 406) and al-Bayhaqi (d. AH 384)).[31][32]

For example, the Ashʿarite view was that comprehension of the unique nature and characteristics of God were beyond human capability. The solution proposed by al-Ashʿarī to solve the problems of tashbih and ta'til concedes that the Supreme Being possesses in a real sense the divine attributes and names mentioned in the Quran. Insofar as these names and attributes have a positive reality, they are distinct from the essence, but nevertheless they don't have either existence or reality apart from it.

The inspiration of al-Ashʿarī in this matter was on the one hand to distinguish essence and attribute as concepts, and on the other hand to see that the duality between essence and attribute should be situated not on the quantitative but on the qualitative level — something which Muʿtazilite thinking had failed to grasp.[33] Ashʿarite theologians were referred to as the muthbita ("those who make firm") by the Muʿtazilites.[34]


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The Ashʿarī school of Islamic theology holds that:

  • God is all-powerful (omnipotent).
    • Therefore, good is what God commands – as revealed in the Quran and the ḥadīth—and is by definition just; evil is what God forbids and is likewise unjust.[35] Right and wrong are in no way determined intuitively or naturally, they are not objective realities.[36]
    • Because of Divine omnipotence, there are no "natural laws" (of things like thermodynamics or gravity), because such laws would put limitations on His actions. There are, however, Divine "customs", whereby "certain so-called 'effects'" usually follow certain "causes" in the natural world.[37]
    • Also because of Divine power, all human acts—even the decision to raise a finger—are created by God. This had caused controversy earlier in Islamic history because human acts are what humans are judged for when being sent to heaven (jannah) or hell (Jahannam). Ashʿaris reconciled the doctrines of free will, justice, and divine omnipotence, with their own doctrine of kasb ("acquisition"), by which human beings "'acquire' responsibility for their actions,[38] although these "actions are willed and created by God".[37] Humans still possess free will (or, more accurately, freedom of intention) under this doctrine, although their freedom is limited to the power to decide between the given possibilities God has created.[19] (This doctrine is now known in Western philosophy as occasionalism.)
  • The Quran is the uncreated word of God, that is, it was not created by God, but like God has always been. It can also be said to be created when it takes on a form in letters or sound.[38]
  • The unique nature and attributes of God cannot be understood fully by human reason and the physical senses.[35]
  • Reason is God-given and must be employed over source of knowledge.[clarification needed][19]
  • Intellectual inquiry is decreed by the Quran and the Islamic prophet Muhammad, therefore the interpretation (tafsīr) of the Quran and the ḥadīth should keep developing with the aid of older interpretations.[39]
  • Only God knows the heart, who belongs to the faithful and who does not.[40]
  • God has "absolute freedom" to "punish or reward as He wills",[37] and so may forgive the sins of those in Hell.[41]
  • Support of kalām (rationalistic Islamic theology).

Ashʿarites further affirm that Muslims must believe:

Ashʿarites also hold beliefs about Allah's attributes that are unique to them, such as:[42]

  • Existence;
  • Permanence without beginning;
  • Endurance without end;
  • Absoluteness and independence;
  • Dissimilarity to created things;
  • Oneness;
  • Allah is all-powerful, willful, knowing, living, seeing, hearing, and speaking (signifying attributes).

Later Ashʿarism

Sa'id Foudah, a contemporary Ashʿarī scholar of kalām (Islamic systematic theology).

Nicholas Heer writes that later Ashʿarite theologians "increasingly attempted to rationalize Islamic doctrine" from about the 12th century onwards. Theologians such as al-Taftāzānī[43] and al-Jurjānī [44] argued that the Islamic sacred scriptures (the Quran and the ḥadīth) "must be proven to be true by rational arguments" before being "accepted as the basis of the religion". Educated Muslims "must be convinced on the basis of rational arguments" and not revelation that Islam is true.[45] A series of rational proofs were developed by these Ashʿarite theologians, including proofs for "the following doctrines or propositions":

  1. the universe is originated;
  2. the universe has an originator or creator;
  3. the creator of the universe is knowing, powerful and willing;
  4. prophecy is possible;
  5. miracles are possible;
  6. miracles indicate the truthfulness of one who claims to be a prophet;
  7. Muhammad claimed to be a prophet and performed miracles.[45]


The medieval Muslim scholar Ibn Taymiyyah criticised the Ashʿarī theology as (in the words of one historian, Jonathan A. C. Brown) "a Greek solution to Greek problems" that should "never" have concerned Muslims.[46] Both Ibn Taymiyyah and Shah Waliullah Dehlawi rejected the lack of literalism in Ashʿarī "speculative theology" and advocated "straightforward acceptance of God's description of Himself".[47]

In contrast, German scholar Eduard Sachau affirms that the Ashʿarī theology and its biggest defender, al-Ghazali, was too literal and responsible for the decline of Islamic science starting in the 10th century. Sachau stated that the two clerics were the only obstacle to the Muslim world becoming a nation of "Galileos, Keplers, and Newtons".[48]

Ziauddin Sardar states that some of the greatest Muslim scientists of the Islamic Golden Age, such as Ibn al-Haytham and Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, who were pioneers of the scientific method, were themselves followers of the Ashʿarī school of Islamic theology.[49] Like other Ashʿarites who believed that faith or taqlid should be applied only to Islam and not to any ancient Hellenistic authorities,[50] Ibn al-Haytham's view that taqlid should be applied only to the prophets and messengers of Islam and not to any other authorities formed the basis for much of his scientific skepticism and criticism against Ptolemy and other ancient authorities in his Doubts Concerning Ptolemy and Book of Optics.[51]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Nasr, Seyyed Hossein (2006). "Part 3: Islamic Philosophy in History – Dimensions of the Islamic Intellectual Tradition: Kalām, Philosophy, and Spirituality". Islamic Philosophy from Its Origin to the Present: Philosophy in the Land of Prophecy. New York: SUNY Press. pp. 124–126. ISBN 978-0-7914-6800-5. LCCN 2005023943.
  2. ^ "al-Ashʿari". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Javad Anvari, Mohammad (2015). "al-Ashʿarī". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Translated by Melvin-Koushki, Matthew. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_0300. ISSN 1875-9823.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Thiele, Jan (2016) [2014]. "Part I: Islamic Theologies during the Formative and the Early Middle period – Between Cordoba and Nīsābūr: The Emergence and Consolidation of Ashʿarism (Fourth–Fifth/Tenth–Eleventh Century)". In Schmidtke, Sabine (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 225–241. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199696703.013.45. ISBN 978-0-19-969670-3. LCCN 2016935488.
  5. ^ Frank, Richard M. (January–March 1989). "Knowledge and Taqlîd: The Foundations of Religious Belief in Classical Ashʿarism". Journal of the American Oriental Society. American Oriental Society. 109 (1): 37–62. doi:10.2307/604336. ISSN 0003-0279. JSTOR 604336. LCCN 12032032.
  6. ^ Glassé, Cyril, ed. (2003) [1989]. "Ashʿarī". The New Encyclopedia of Islam (3rd Revised ed.). California and Maryland: AltaMira Press. pp. 61–63. ISBN 978-0-7591-0190-6. OCLC 1291928025.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Frank, Richard M. (2020) [2007]. "Al-Ashʿarī's conception of the nature and role of speculative reasoning in theology". In Frank, Richard M.; Gutas, Dimitri (eds.). Early Islamic Theology: The Muʿtazilites and al-Ashʿarī. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalām. Vol. II (1st ed.). London and New York: Routledge. pp. 136–154. doi:10.4324/9781003110385. ISBN 978-0-86078-978-9. LCCN 2006935669. S2CID 169898034.
  8. ^ a b c Hoover, John (2020). "Early Mamlūk Ashʿarism against Ibn Taymiyya on the Nonliteral Reinterpretation (taʾwīl) of God's Attributes". In Shihadeh, Ayman; Thiele, Jan (eds.). Philosophical Theology in Islam: Later Ashʿarism East and West. Islamicate Intellectual History. Vol. 5. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. 195–230. doi:10.1163/9789004426610_009. ISBN 978-90-04-42661-0. ISSN 2212-8662. LCCN 2020008682. S2CID 219026357.
  9. ^ a b c d Halverson 2010, pp. 14–15.
  10. ^ Weeks, Douglas. "The Ideology of Al Muhajiroun." Al Muhajiroun. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020. 103-140.
  11. ^ Gyekye, Kwame. "Theology and Law in Islam." (1976): 304-306.
  12. ^ Fah̲rī, Mağīd. Ethical theories in Islam. Vol. 8. Brill, 1991.
  13. ^ Hashas, Mohammed. "Is European Islam Experiencing an Ontological Revolution for an Epistemological Awakening?." American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 31: 4 (2014): 14.
  14. ^ a b c d Henderson, John B. (1998). "The Making of Orthodoxies". The Construction of Orthodoxy and Heresy: Neo-Confucian, Islamic, Jewish, and Early Christian Patterns. New York: SUNY Press. pp. 55–58. ISBN 978-0-7914-3760-5.
  15. ^ a b c Abdullah Saeed Islamic Thought: An Introduction Routledge 2006 ISBN 978-1-134-22564-4 chapter 5
  16. ^ Juan Eduardo Campo Encyclopedia of Islam New York, NY 2009 ISBN 978-1-438-12696-8 page 66
  17. ^ Pall, Zoltan (31 January 2013). Lebanese Salafis Between the Gulf and Europe. Amsterdam University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9789089644510. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  18. ^ Halverson 2010, p. 9.
  19. ^ a b c Hughes 2013, pp. 193–194.
  20. ^ Hamad al-Sanan, Fawziy al-'Anjariy, Ahl al-Sunnah al-Asha'irah, pp.248-258. Dar al-Diya'.
  21. ^ "The Myth of Intellectual Decline: A Response to Shaykh Hamza Yusuf". 27 November 2017. Ibn Khaldun on Philosophy: After clarifying what was meant precisely by philosophy in the Islamic tradition, namely the various schools of peripatetic philosophy represented either by Ibn Rushd or Ibn Sina, it should be clear why Ibn Khaldun was opposed to them. His critique of philosophy is an Ash’ari critique, completely in line with the Ash’aris before him, including Ghazali and Fakhr al-din al-Razi, both of whom Ibn Khaldun recommends for those who wish to learn how to refute the philosophers
  22. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 2008-02-03
  23. ^ Pakatchi, Ahmad (2015). "Ashʿarīs: the dissemination of Ashʿarī theology". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Translated by Waley, Muhammad Isa. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_0301. ISSN 1875-9823.
  24. ^ John L. Esposito, The Islamic World: Abbasid-Historian, p 54. ISBN 0195165209
  25. ^ I.M.N. Al-Jubouri, History of Islamic Philosophy: With View of Greek Philosophy and Early History of Islam, p 182. ISBN 0755210115
  26. ^ Marshall Cavendish Reference, Illustrated Dictionary of the Muslim World, p 87. ISBN 0761479295
  27. ^ Allard, Michel. "Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī, Muslim theologian". Encyclopædia Britannica. Archived from the original on 2020-10-29. Retrieved 2021-04-01.
  28. ^ "Ash'arism". A History of Muslim Philosophy.
  29. ^ Watt, Montgomery. Free-Will and Predestination in Early Islam. Luzac & Co.: London 1948.
  30. ^ M. Abdul Hye, Ph.D, Ash’arism, Philosophia Islamica.
  31. ^ "Imam Bayhaqi".
  32. ^ "Imam Abu Bakr Al-Bayhaqi | Shafii | Shafii Institute". Archived from the original on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2013-02-13.
  33. ^ Corbin (1993), pp. 115 and 116
  34. ^ "Fatawa – Who are the Ash'arites?". Dar al-Ifta al Misriyyah. Retrieved 2020-10-14.
  35. ^ a b John L. Esposito The Oxford History of Islam Oxford University Press 2000 ISBN 978-0-199-88041-6 p. 281
  36. ^ Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 53. ISBN 978-1-78074-420-9. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  37. ^ a b c Gibb, H.A.R. (1953) [1949]. Mohammedanism. Oxford University Press. p. 117.
  38. ^ a b Cyril Glassé, Huston Smith The New Encyclopedia of Islam Rowman Altamira 2003 ISBN 978-0-759-10190-6 page 62-3
  39. ^ Alexander Knysh Islam in Historical Perspective Taylor & Francis 2016 ISBN 978-1-317-27339-4 page 163
  40. ^ Ron Geaves Islam Today: An Introduction A&C Black 2010 ISBN 978-1-847-06478-3 page 21
  41. ^ Ian Richard Netton Encyclopaedia of Islam Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-135-17960-1 page 183
  42. ^ Al Numan ibn Thabit, Abu Hanifa. Al-Fiqh-Al-Akbar-An-Accurate-Translation. pp. 43–44.
  43. ^ See the article “al-Taftāzānī” by W. Madelung in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. X, pp. 88-89
  44. ^ See the article “al-Djurdjānī” by A.S. Tritton in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. II, pp. 602-603
  45. ^ a b Heer, Nicholas (n.d.). "A LECTURE ON ISLAMIC THEOLOGY" (PDF). University of Washington Faculty. pp. 10–11. Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  46. ^ Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-78074-420-9. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  47. ^ Brown, Jonathan A. C. (2014). Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy. Oneworld Publications. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-78074-420-9. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  48. ^ Muzaffar Iqbal, Science and Islam, p. 120. From the Greenwood Guides to Science and Religion Series. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007. ISBN 9780313335761
  49. ^ Sardar, Ziauddin (1998), "Science in Islamic philosophy", Islamic Philosophy, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, retrieved 2008-02-03
  50. ^ Anwar, Sabieh (October 2008), "Is Ghazālī really the Halagu of Science in Islam?", Monthly Renaissance, 18 (10), retrieved 2008-10-14
  51. ^ Rashed, Roshdi (2007), "The Celestial Kinematics of Ibn al-Haytham", Arabic Sciences and Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 17 (1): 7–55 [11], doi:10.1017/S0957423907000355, S2CID 170934544


  • Frank, Richard M. (2016) [2008]. Gutas, Dimitri (ed.). Classical Islamic Theology: The Ash'arites. Texts and Studies on the Development and History of Kalam. Variorum Collected Studies Series. Vol. III. Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-86078-979-6. LCCN 2008927099. Retrieved 1 November 2020.
  • Halverson, Jeffry R. (2010). "The Doctrines of Sunni Theology". Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and Political Sunnism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 12–31. doi:10.1057/9780230106581_2. ISBN 978-0-230-10658-1. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  • Hughes, Aaron W. (2013). "Constituting Identities: Beliefs and Schools". Muslim Identities: An Introduction to Islam. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 183–202. ISBN 978-0-231-53192-4. JSTOR 10.7312/hugh16146.13. Retrieved 1 November 2020.

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