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MAHOMMEDAN RELIGION

rule that the four legal schools of Abū Hanīfa (d. 767), Mālik ibn Anas (d. 795), ash-Shāfi‘ī (d. 819) and Ibn Hanbal (d. 855) came into existence (see Mahommedan Law). As the bases of religion and law were the same, so the methods applied in the treatment of the one affected the other. Abū Hanīfa depended little on tradition, but referred back to the Koran, making use of individual opinion (ra‘y) as controlled by analogy (qīyās) with a written ordinance. Mālik Ibn Anas supplemented the Koran and Sunna by customary law founded largely on the custom (ijmā‘) of Medina, and by what he conceived to be for the public good (istiṣlāh). Shafi‘ī recognized tradition as equal to the Koran, and even as being able to supersede its ordinances, while he also recognized the universal custom (ijmā‘) of the Moslem world as divine and binding. His four bases of religion—Koran, sunna, qiyās and ijmā‘—have been generally accepted in Islam (see above). Ibn Hanbal’s position has been already mentioned. All these four schools are reckoned orthodox, and all orthodox Moslems belong to one or another of them. Another teacher of this time, who founded a school which did not succeed in being recognized as orthodox, was Dā‘ūd uz-Ẓāhirī. Trained as a Shafi‘ite, he became too strict for this school, rejected analogy, restricted ijmā‘ to the agreement or custom of the companions of Mahomet, and accepted the whole of the Koran and tradition in the most literal and external sense. His followers were called Ẓāhirites (i.e. externalists). After Ash‘arī’s time these principles were applied to theology by Ibn Hazm (q.v.) see I. Goldziher, Die Zahiriten, ihr Lehrsystem und ihre Geschichte (Leipzig, 1884).

Before turning to the reform of Ash‘arī and the introduction into orthodox theology of scholastic philosophy it is necessary to notice another phase of religious life which became the common property of orthodox and heretics. This was the introduction of asceticism in religions practice and of mysticism in religious thought. Sufi‘ism (q.v.), which combined these two, is rightly not counted among the sects of Islam. Asceticism seems to have won a certain amount of approval from Mahomet himself, who much respected the Christian monks. The attention paid in early Islam to the joys and punishments of the future life led to self-denial and simple living in this world. An Arabian writer, speaking of the simplicity of manners of the first four caliphs, says that their affairs were conducted with more consideration of the future life than of this world. Many Moslems went even farther than these caliphs, and gave up all concern as far as possible with the affairs of this world and lived in poverty, in wanderings or in retirement (see Dervish). For the historical development of this movement, with its accompanying mysticism, see Sufi‘ism. Ash‘arī (d. before 942) was for forty years a Mu‘tazilite, then became orthodox (see Ash‘arī), and at once applied rational methods for the support and interpretation of the orthodox faith. Before him, reason had not been allowed any scope in orthodox theology. He was not the first to use it; some teachers (as al-Junaid) had employed it in teaching, but only in secret and for the few. The methods of scholastic philosophy were now introduced into Moslem theology. The chief characteristic of his religious teaching was the adoption of the via media between materialistic grossness and the ideas of pure speculative philosophy. Thus he taught, as to the attributes of God, that they exist, but are not to be compared with human attributes; as to His visibility, that He can be seen but without the limitations of human sight. As to the great question of free will, he denied man’s power but asserted his responsibility. So he passed in review the doctrines of God, faith, the Koran, sin, intercession, &c., and for the first time in the history of Islam produced a systematic theology. The teaching of Ash‘arī was taken up and propagated by the Buyids soon after his death, and was developed and perfected by Abū Bekr ul-Bāqilānī, the Cadi (d. 1012), but up to the middle of the 5th century of Islam (c. A.D. 1058) was suspected elsewhere and confounded with Mu‘tazilism. The Ash‘arīte al-Juwainī (known as Imām ul-Haramain) was persecuted under Toghrul Beg (c. 1053) and exiled, but was restored under Alp Arslan by the vizier Niẓām ul-Mulk, who founded an Ash‘arite college (the Niẓāmiyya). In the West, Ibn Hazm (q.v.) fiercely opposed the system, but Ghazālī established its orthodoxy in the East, and it spread from Persia to Syria and Egypt under the Ayyūbites and Mamelukes and thence to the Almohades in Africa under Ibn Tumart (1130). It remains the predominating influence to the present day, its only serious rival being the theological system of al-Matāridī, a Hanifite (d. 945), whose creed as represented in that of an-Nasafī is still used largely by the Turks. Since the 12th century no great theological movement has been made in Islam. The quiet of religious life has twice been broken, once by Wahhābism (q.v.) in Arabia, once by Bābism (q.v.) in Persia.

The Sects

According to an early tradition Mahomet said that Islam would be divided into seventy-three parties (sects),[1] of which seventy-two would perish and one would be saved. The orthodox Arabian writers on heretical sects of Islam feel compelled by this tradition to make up their number to seventy-two, and, as different writers adopt different divisions or are familiar with different parties, the names of sects amount to some hundreds. Each writer, however, adopts certain main classes under which he attempts to group the others. Abū Muṭī‘ Makhūl at the beginning of the 10th century in his “Refutation” (MS. in Bodleian Library) has six such chief classes: Ḥarūrites (i.e. Khārijites), Rāfiḍites (i.e. Shi‘ites), Qadarites, Jabarites, Jahmites and Murjiites. Ibn Hazm (q.v.) adopts four classes: Mu‘tazilites (Motazilites), Murjiites, Shi‘ites and Khārijites. Shahrastānī (q.v.) complains of the want of system in earlier writers, and suggests as bases of classification the position of parties with regard to the doctrines as to (1) the divine attributes, (2) predestination and free-will (3) promises and threats, faith and error, (4) revelation, reason, the imāmate. In one part of his preface he gives as the chief parties the Qadarites, Ṣifātites, Khārijites and Shi‘ites, proposing to divide these classes according to leaders who agreed with the main doctrines of their class but differed in some points. In another place he mentions four opposite pairs of sects: (1) the Qadarites with their doctrine of free-will, and the Jabarites, who are necessitarians; (2) the Ṣifātites, who maintain the eternal nature of the attributes of God, and the Mu‘tazilites, who deny it; (3) the Murjiites, who postpone judgment of actions until the Last Day, and the Wā‘idites, who condemn in this life; (4) the Khārijites, who consider the caliphate a human institution, and the Shi‘ites, who deify their ruler. In his detailed treatment of the sects Shahrastānī arranged them under the headings: Mu‘tazilites, Jabarites, Ṣifātites, Khārijites, Murjiites and Shi‘ites. About the same time as Shahrastānī two other Arabian writers wrote on the sects—Ṭāhir ul-Isfarainī (d. 1078), whose MS. is in the Berlin library, and ‘Abd ul-Qādir ul-Jīlānī (1078-1166) in his Kitāb ul-Ghanīyya li-Tālibī Tarīq il-Haqqi (Cairo, 1871). Both adopt as main classes Rāfiḍites (or Shi‘ites), Qadarites (or Mu‘tazilites), Khārijites, Murjiites, Najjārites, Dirārites, Jahmites, Mushabbiha, to which Ṭāhir adds Bakrites, Karrāmites, and a class including those sects which are not reckoned as Moslem though they have sprung from Islam. Jīlānī adds to the eight the Kilābites.

The following list is not a complete list of names of sects but is founded on that of Shahrastānī.[2]

Afṭaḥites.—Shi‘ites of the Imāmite class, who ascribe the imāmate to ‘Abdallah ul-Afṭaḥi, the son of Ṣādiq.

Ajārida.—Khārijites, followers of Ibn ‘Ajarrad, who agreed for the most part with the Najadāt (below), considered grave sins as equivalent to unbelief, but remained friendly with those who professed Islam but did not fight for it. They rejected sura 7 as a fable. Shahrastānī enumerates seven divisions of this sect.


  1. For the origin and significance of this number see M. Steinschneider, “Die kanonische Zahl der muhammedanischen Secten und die Symbolik der Zahl, 70-73,” in Zeitschr. d. deutschen morgenl. Gesellschaft, iv., 145-170 (1850); and I. Goldziher, “Le Denombrement des sectes mohamétanes” in Revue de l’hist. des religions, xxvi. 129-137 (1892).
  2. The names are given throughout in the anglicized form on the analogy of Shi‘ites, which is recognized in common usage. The strict termination according to the scheme of transliteration adopted in this work is iyya, or iya, e.g. Hishāmiyya for Hishāmites. For information regarding the important sects see separate articles and the preceding portion of this article.