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Maqalat al-Islamiyyin: A Classic Work on Islamic Theology and Sects
Maqalat al-Islamiyyin (The Book of the Views of the Islamic Sects) is a famous work by Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (d. 935 CE), one of the most influential theologians in Islamic history. The book is a comprehensive survey of the beliefs and doctrines of various Islamic sects and groups, such as the Mu'tazilites, the Shi'ites, the Kharijites, the Murji'ites, and others. Al-Ash'ari presents their views with fairness and accuracy, without refuting or endorsing them. He also provides his own opinions on some theological issues, such as divine attributes, free will, predestination, and the nature of faith.
The book is a valuable source of information for anyone interested in learning about the diversity and development of Islamic thought in the early centuries of Islam. It also shows al-Ash'ari's mastery of logic, dialectic, and rhetoric, as well as his familiarity with various sources of knowledge, such as the Quran, the Hadith, and Greek philosophy. The book is considered one of the foundational texts of the Ash'arite school of theology, which became dominant among Sunni Muslims in later times.
The book is available in several editions and translations, but some of them are incomplete or inaccurate. One of the best editions is the one edited by Hellmut Ritter (4th revised edition, Beirut, 2005), which is based on several manuscripts and includes a detailed introduction and notes. The book can be downloaded for free from the website of the Orient-Institut Beirut[^2^]. Another edition is the one by Aduman (Paris, 1929-1933), which can be accessed for free from the Internet Archive[^1^]. A partial English translation by Walter C. Klein was published in 1940 under the title Islamic Sects.
One of the main contributions of Maqalat al-Islamiyyin is that it preserves the views of some Islamic sects and groups that have disappeared or become marginalized in later times. For example, al-Ash'ari gives a detailed account of the doctrines of the Mu'tazilites, who were the main opponents of the Ash'arites in theological debates. The Mu'tazilites were rationalists who emphasized human reason and free will, and denied divine attributes and predestination. They also held controversial views on some Quranic verses and historical events, such as the status of the Quran as created or uncreated, and the fate of the sinners in the hereafter.
Another example is the description of the Shi'ite sects, who differed from the majority of Muslims in their loyalty to Ali and his descendants as the rightful successors of the Prophet Muhammad. Al-Ash'ari mentions various Shi'ite groups, such as the Zaydis, the Imamiyya, the Isma'iliyya, and the Ghulat. He also reports some of their beliefs and practices, such as their reverence for the Imams, their doctrine of taqiyya (dissimulation), their esoteric interpretation of the Quran, and their expectation of the Mahdi (the hidden Imam who will return at the end of times).
A third example is the exposition of the Kharijite sects, who rebelled against Ali and his successors for compromising with their enemies. The Kharijites were extremists who declared anyone who disagreed with them as infidels and apostates. They also advocated violence and rebellion against unjust rulers and corrupt Muslims. Al-Ash'ari lists several Kharijite sub-sects, such as the Azariqa, the Najdiyya, the Ibadiyya, and the Sufriyya. He also explains some of their distinctive doctrines, such as their rejection of arbitration, their denial of intercession, their affirmation of rebaptism, and their belief in paradise for martyrs. a474f39169