Were the Imamiyyah Influenced by the Mu'tazilah?

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

‎اللَّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلَى مُحَمَّدٍ وَعَلَى آلِ مُحَمَّدٍ

This document tackles the allegation that the Imammiyah sect was influenced by the Mu’tazilah, which is usually presented as an argument against the Imammiyah. The contents of this document comes from research done by Sayyid Ali Abu al-Hasan.

The arguments raised usually take one of the two following paths:

1) The predecessors (salaf) of the Imammiyah were Mujassimah and Mujabbirah (anthropomorphists and predestinationists) and then later on (5th century Hijri and beyond) they were influenced by the Mu’tazilah and rejected the beliefs of Tajseem and Jabr (anthropomorphism and predestinationism), and started to become 'Adliyyah (those who believe Allah only behaves justly) and say that Allah () does not do Qabeeh (that which is detestable) and etc. This change is usually attributed to Sheikh al-Mufid and that he caused the change in the sect while being under influence from the Mu’tazilah.

2) The predecessors (salaf) of the Imammiyah were people of submission and blind following of narrations and did not care to understand, digest and evaluate them while presenting their sect. And later on (5th century Hijri) they changed in their presentation of their sect under influence of the Mu’tazilah.

Both pathways of the argument say that the Imamiyyah were influenced by the Mu’tazilah, but the first one refers to the Aqeedah (beliefs) changing, while the second one refers to the methodology changing.

Note that these accusations by the Mu’tazilah and others on the early Imamis (Tajseem, Jabr, etc.) have been responded to by Sheikh al-Mufid himself in his book al-Hikayyat¹.

The foundation of this argument is based on the following:

  1. Personalities like Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari who lived earlier than the fifth century did not attribute Tawheed as we know it now (Rejection of Tajseem, rejection of seeing Allah, etc…) and 'Adl (justice of Allah) to the early Rafidah, and instead what was known is attribution of Tajseem such as what is attributed to Hisham b. Al Hakam and Hisham b. Salim and al-Sakkak and others, and there was no mention of belief in 'Adl among the early Rafidah. Al-Khayyat al-Mu’tazili presents such an argument in his book al-Intisar as well².

  2. The scholars of the Imammiyah sect in the fifth century Hijri had similar writing styles to the scholars of the Mu’tazilah sect, such that you would read books by a scholar of each sect and would find them similar.

  3. There are narrations in the Imami corpus that can imply Tajseem, and narrations attributed to Hisham b. al-Hakam that imply that he believed in Tajseem³.

  4. Statements of certain Imami scholars that affirm that there were few differences in the belief of Hisham b. Al-Hakam and the belief of al-Imammiyah in general.

What is the purpose of raising this argument?

  1. Analyzing the history of Islamic thought which is usually done by Orientalists, and Orientalists have a biased tendency to need to find influences for changes in Islamic thoughts. An example to show this tendency in Orientalists is the attempt to show that 'ilm al-Kalam was influenced by Christian theology, and that is through comparing familiar set phrases of “If you say .. we say” and “If he asks .. we shall answer” and stating that those phrases were attested at the time of the Church Fathers.

  2. To attempt to show that the Imammiyah sect does not have any basis and has nothing to do with the Prophet () and is a sect that changes views over time and is based on lies. This is also to influence the mindset of the people towards the Imammiyah, that their 'ilm al-Kalam is taken from Mu’tazilah, their 'ilm al-Hadith from the Sunnis, and their Fiqh from Sunnis (Shafi’i in specific). Whether that is based on reality or not, it is raised as a weakness of the Imammiyah sect to turn people away from them.

  3. To attempt to show the strength of the Mu’tazilah sect (as evident by al-Khayyat al-Mu’tazili⁷) and that they are the foundation of it all.

  4. To attempt to weaken the Imammiyah’s arguments against others, such that when an argument is raised by an Imami, these arguments about the suspicion of influence are raised in retaliation to either divert attention from the Imami’s original argument or simply to serve as a response to it.

  5. It is raised as an attempt to attack the Imammiyah sect claiming that it is a sect which intends to harm Islam and slander it. This can be seen in the statements of al-Qadhi Abdul Jabbar in al-Mughni.⁸

Note that when reading the reply of al-Khayyat to Ibn al-Rawindi, he mentions that there are Rawafid who believed in 'Adl (due to influence of the Mu’tazilah). This statement is significant because al-Khayyat died 321H and his statement proves that there were 'Adli Rawafid in the late 2nd to early 3rd century Hijri, which means that the suspicion that Sheikh al-Mufid is the one who caused this change among the Imamiyyah is proven to be false (Of course we do not accept that it is due to influence of the Mu’tazilah).

One of the oldest replies to this argument is by Sheikh al-Saduq in al-Tawhid⁹:

“What made me write this book is that I found a group of people from those who oppose us (Mukhalifeen) attribute to our sect Tashbih and Jabr due to narrations they found in our books that they were ignorant of its interpretation and did not understand its meaning and placed its meaning in other than what is intended, and they did not meet the words in these narrations with the words of the Qur’an, so they made ugly the image of our sect in front of the ignorant …”

Sheikh al-Saduq in al-Tawhid mentions some of these narrations that are misunderstood and clarifies it either through the words of the Qur’an or other narrations or both. For people who have read arguments of the Mukhalifeen, the words of Sheikh al-Saduq ring true and you can see just how many arguments are raised due to false understanding of narrations of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them.

To respond to this argument raised by the Mukhalifeen we have two approaches, the first approach is to show that the foundations which this argument is based on, are false:

  1. We have a large amount of narrations in regards to 'Adl and Tawhid that are present in Hadith books, including ones with Sahih chains and even ones with short chains with few narrators to the Imam, peace be upon him, and to such an extent that al-Kulayni and al-Saduq would narrate the same Hadith but with different chains such that one cannot say it is made up. Taking into account all of that, it would reach the state of Tawattur, and the wording used in the Hadith is completely different than that of the Mu’tazilah such that one cannot raise the objection that it is copied from them. If one would come and say that these are all made up and the original corpus of the Imammiyah is one of Tajseem and Jabr, where did all those so called narrations go to, and how do Tawatur-reaching narrations come to say the opposite? (Books one can take a look at are: al-Kafi chapter of Tawhid¹⁰, Books of Sheikh al-Saduq in general¹¹ and al-Tawhid¹² in specific, Mahasin al-Barqi¹³, and many others)

  2. Shi’i books of Rijal such as al-Najashi’s book are a Fihrist based book, listing the books of the personalities that al-Najashi writes about. Let us take an example: Abdullah b. Jaf’ar al-Himyari is listed to have a book on Tawhid¹⁴, and if we go to Kitab al-Tawhid of Sheikh al-Saduq, we indeed see narrations on Tawhid through al-Himyari (for example, narrations that are against anthropomorphism¹⁵). There are others who share the same case as al-Himyari which tells us that there were books on Tawhid that contained narrations that are against Tajseem/Tashbih/Jabr that are older than al-Kafi and al-Tawhid except that they did not reach us as books, but through individual narrations in other later books.

  3. The argument that Imamis did not engage in 'ilm al-Kalam or 'Aqli methodology except after the effect of the Mu'tazilah is both true and false, false in saying that Imamis were influenced by the Mu’tazilah, and true that the majority of Imamis did not engage in 'ilm al-Kalam. Let us take this into detail: When one is a Mu’tazili, it usually means he is a Scholar of sorts, for you rarely see that someone who is a layman is a Mu’tazili. This is unlike the Imamis, where there are many laymen Imamis as well as Scholar Imamis. The reduction of engagement in 'ilm al-Kalam is due to Hadith forbidding such discussions¹⁶ to avoid confusion occurring between laymen and that certain Kalami discussions caused chaos such as that of the Qur’an createdness¹⁷. But there are Hadiths which make exceptions such as:

“The Imam then said, “O Hisham, you sometimes almost fall but you spring up like a bird on take-off. People like you should speak but be careful of slipping and intercession will follow, Allah willing.”.And the same narration encourages engaging in Kalam under specific conditions “The Imam then said, “O Yunus, why do you not speak to him if you do well in debate?” I said, “I wish I could but, may Allah take my soul in the service for your cause. I have heard that you do not allow debating and say that wayl (a place in hell) is for those who debate. Some of them say, ‘This is accepted and that is not accepted and this is alright to say but that is not alright to say that this we understand and that we do not understand.’ The Imam (a.s.) said, “I said so if they would ignore what I say and follow what they themselves want.” ¹⁸

Therefore, we see that the reason why the majority of Imamis do not engage in Kalam and only those who are well knowledgeable engage in it is not due to any Mu’tazili influence, but rather it stems from narrations from the Imams, peace be upon them.

  1. The argument that Hisham b. al-Hakam believed in Tajseem is not as simple as the Mukhalifeen would like to pretend it is. First as per the above narration Hisham is proven to be considered by the Imam, peace be upon him, as worthy to debate, and as per another narration the Imam teaches Hisham on Tawhid until at the end of the Hadith says the following: “I swear by Allah () that since then no one has been able to defeat me in an argument on the issue of the Oneness of Allah¹⁹.” And per what we established that the correct Tawhid of the Imams, peace be upon them, is against what is attributed to Hisham, one would need to confirm the sources that attribute Tajseem to him. Second, al-Shahrastani in his book²⁰ in a debate between Hisham and al-‘Allaf (a Muta’zili Scholar) writes:

“He obliged al ‘Allaf that as per your beliefs why do you not say that He is a Jism (body) unlike other Jisms and He is an Image unlike other images..?”

If Hisham uses these arguments against others, how does one attribute such beliefs to him? It is a possibility that people thought Hisham believed in those while Hisham was just using them as arguments against others. From the words of al-Shahrastani it seems that he doubted the claims of Tajseem to Hisham b. al-Hakam as well. Third, Sayyid al-Khoei found that all narrations in regards to Hisham believing in Tajseem are weak²¹. Fourth, even if after all of the above we say that Hisham did believe in Tajseem, then that is clear that it is not what the Imams, peace be upon them, nor the sect believes in, and any argument raised against Hisham would be an argument against him personally and not the sect as a whole.

  1. Why is it said that the Imammiyah were influenced by the Mu’tazilah, and not vice versa? One of the oldest Mu’tazili books on Lutf is by al-Jub’aai who died in the year 302 Hijri, while Hisham b. al-Hakam had a book on Lutf²² and he passed away in the year 179 Hijri, over a hundred years before al-Jub’aai! So why isn’t such an argument raised that the Mu’tazilah were influenced by the Imammiyah? Not just on Lutf, even when it comes to Daleel al-Hudooth (the Kalam Cosmological Argument), the Mu’tazilah attribute it to Abu al-Hudhail al-'Allaf who died in the year 235 Hijri, while Hisham b. al-Hakam had a book on Daleel al-Hudooth, as well as that its documented that he had debates with al-'Allaf²³. Moreover, since it is proven that the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them, believed in Tawhid and 'Adl, and the first to the last Imam believed in the same, why is it not said that the Mu’tazilah took their beliefs from the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt and in specific Amir al-Mu’mineen ('Ali b. Abi Talib), peace be upon them? Especially considering that al-Qadhi Abdul Jabbar says in Sharh al-Usool al-Khamsa²⁴: “And it is known from Amir al-Mu’mieen Ali, peace be upon him, and the noteworthy Sahaba that they used to deny seeing Allah (). And if you look into the sermons of Amir al-Mu’mineen, you would find it filled with [statements] denying seeing Allah ()”

  2. Why is it necessary to say one influenced the other, instead of saying both obtain it from the same source? An example of this is that Sunnis believe that the Qur’an is uncreated, yet no one says Ash’aris influenced Maturidis, or Hanbalis influenced Ash’aris, or anything of the sort; rather, they say that this is the belief of Ahl al-Sunnah. Why is it a must that the Mu’tazilah influenced the Imammiyah in Tawhid and 'Adl? From all the above, it seems very likely that both sects obtain their Tawhid and 'Adl from Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them, making them both obtain it from the same source, not one influencing the other. And it is possible that both Imamis and Mu’tazilis obtain it from the Imams, peace be upon them, yet both refine the Aqli arguments further, benefiting from each other.

The second approach is that all of these suspicions of Mu’tazili influence and slander on the salaf of the Imammiyah is simply an attempt to divert attention from the arguments of the Imammiyah in proving their sect to be true, and that only one who has no answer resorts to such petty measures. Sayyid al-Murtadha took by this approach in his book al-Shafi when he replied to the accusations of al-Qadhi Abdul Jabbar²⁵:

“Diversion away from proofs, and into slander, insults and defamation, or using the approach of public ignorance to denigrate the doctrine, insult its people and make it ugly it in the hearts of people, which even if turned out to be true would not not a rebuttal to the original article, nor injurious to the validity of the claim, and this (approach) is rarely used except when the arguments are exhausted, and in a state of helplessness.”

Sayyid al-Murtadha then proceeds to refute the claims of al-Qadhi Abdul Jabbar and defends Hisham b. al-Hakam and other claims.

We hope that we have shown the lack of truth in the argument presented against the Imammiyah, as well as strengthened the position of the Imammiyah and their salaf to have been upon the true Tawhid and 'Adil as presented by the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt, peace be upon them.


1, http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1301_الحكايات-الشيخ-المفيد/الصفحة_67#top

2. https://lakhasly.com/ar/view-summary/OFFvC9pb5S Can find statements of both in this article, Paragraph 9 and Paragraph 183. https://thaqalayn.net/hadith/1/3/11/4
5. https://www3.nd.edu/~reynolds/nehc20624/cook,%20origins%20of%20kalam.pdf Page 33 or 3 in this document6. https://ia800308.us.archive.org/1/items/WAQ94871/msn1.pdf Ibn Taymiyyah in Minhaj Al Sunnah Vol 1 Page 57 and onwards, and page 71 and onwards7. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikisource/ar/a/af/كتاب_الانتصار_والرد_على_ابن_الروندي_الملحد.pdf Page 3 bottom paragraph, the statement of Ibn Al Rawindi and the reply of Al Khayyat. This shows evidence for purpose 2 and 38. https://www.noorlib.ir/view/ar/book/bookview/image/10682 Page 36 bottom paragraph and onward9. http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1136_التوحيد-الشيخ-الصدوق/الصفحة_11 10. https://thaqalayn.net/book/1 11. https://thaqalayn.net/book/10 12. https://thaqalayn.net/book/14 13. http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/1115_المحاسن-أحمد-بن-محمد-بن-خالد-البرقي-ج-١ 14. http://qadatona.org/عربي/الرجال/6766 15. https://thaqalayn.net/hadith/14/2/2/3 & https://thaqalayn.net/hadith/14/2/30/2 16. https://thaqalayn.net/chapter/14/2/67 17. https://thaqalayn.net/chapter/14/2/30 18. https://thaqalayn.net/hadith/1/4/1/4 19. https://thaqalayn.net/hadith/1/3/5/2 20. http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/4499_الملل-والنحل-الشهرستاني-ج-١/الصفحة_185#top 21. https://www.al-khoei.us/books/?id=8032 22. http://qadatona.org/عربي/الرجال/13358 23. https://ar.wikisource.org/wiki/سير_أعلام_النبلاء/هشام_بن_الحكم_الكوفي 24. https://books.rafed.net/view.php?type=c_fbook&b_id=3424&page=11 Page 17925. http://shiaonlinelibrary.com/الكتب/3996_الشافي-في-الامامة-الشريف-المرتضى-ج-١/الصفحة_82