The Mu’tazilah were Possibly Influenced by Christian Theology

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

One of the major theological issues discussed by the Mu’tazilah was the Reality and Eternity of the Divine Attributes and their relationship with the Essence of Allah (s.w.t.).  The roots of this issue lie in Judeo-Christian theology.  The belief in the Reality of the Divine Attributes is generated by the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and was discussed by Christian theologians long before the rise of the Mu’tazilah.  Shaykh Yahya ibn ‘Adi, one of the Christian theologians, remarked that the triad of the Trinity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — corresponds to three Attributes of God, namely Life, Wisdom and Power.  However, there are different opinions on the nature of the last two attributes.

Some Christian thinkers believe that they are mere Names or Qualities of God, not real things as such; whereas the Orthodox Christians accept these two Attributes as real things, distinct from God but not independent of Him.  The question is whether these Attributes are Created by God or Co-Eternal with Him.  The Orthodox Christians admit that, as God is Eternally Living, Eternally Omniscient and Eternally Omnipotent, there is no reason for the denial of the Eternity of the Second and Third Attributes.  On the other hand, other Christians reject this claim on the grounds that anything Eternal is to be called God, therefore, if the three Attributes were Eternal, they would be three gods, which is polytheism.

We may conclude that the Christians are divided into two groups: the first group believes in the Reality and Eternity of the three Attributes, and the second rejects this belief and argues for the Unity of God.  The claim that the Mu’tazilah was inspired by Christian theology comes from this similarity between the views of their school and some Christian theologians.  It should be noted, however, that similar influence is seen even in the theological views of the traditionalists.

It could be true that the Mu’tazilah followed Christian heretics in their views, while the traditionalists followed the Orthodox Christians, believing in the Reality and Eternity of the Divine Attributes.  To the traditionalists, the Unity of Allah (s.w.t.) is a relative term; they accept the Eternity of the Attributes, recognising the ontological status of each Attribute as something that really Exists Eternally and is in the Essence of Allah (s.w.t.).  Subsequently, the Essence of Allah (s.w.t.) becomes a container for many eternal, real entities apart from Him; this view accepts the plurality of eternals.

Against this view, the Mu’tazilah explain a new relationship between the Essence of Allah (s.w.t.) and the Attributes by saying that Allah (s.w.t.) does not possess the Attributes and they are not in His Essence, but rather that the Divine Essence and the Attributes are identical and the same.  For example, we cannot say that Allah’s (s.w.t.) Knowledge is something other than Allah (s.w.t.) and is Eternal, or else knowledge will become another independent, eternal being.  In this way, the Mu’tazilah believe in the Unity of Allah (s.w.t.).  This concept of unity is used for two purposes.  It is used in the sense of numerical unity or absolute unity, which is the denial of the existence of more than one Allah (s.w.t.).  This meaning of the unity is in agreement with the Qur’anic notion of monotheism.  And it is used in the sense of internal unity and simplicity, as that Allah’s (s.w.t.) Essence is free from essential plurality and composition.


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