Mohammedan theological sect, founded at the beginning of the tenth century by Abu el-Hasan al-Ash'ari ("the Hairy"). Its aim was to combat doctrines taught by the Rationalists (Motazilites), and at the same time to moderate the uncompromising rigidity of the views of the Orthodox party. The principal points of controversy between the Orthodox and the Motazilites were: (1) the preexistence of the Koran, (2) predestination of human acts, and (3) the divine attributes. While the Motazilites asserted that the Koran was created, the Orthodox held that the Koran existed before the creation of the world (compare the same view held by the Rabbis regarding the Torah Sifre, 'Ekeb. 37; Pes. 54a; Ned. 39b; Gen. R. i; Tan., Naso, 19; Tanna debe Eliyahu i. 31; and Pirḳe R. El. iii.).
The Ash'ariya, as an intermediate party, maintained that if the book, in the form in which it is transmitted, had been created, still its principles must have existed before the world. Again, while the Orthodox, taking the Koran literally, believed that human actions were determined by the will of God, as laid down in an eternal law, the Motazilites, refuting this doctrine as being contrary to the spirit of divine justice, insisted on man's perfect freedom to do either good or evil, which accordingly meets with reward or punishment hereafter. The Ash'ariya, ascribing divine authority to the word of the Koran, could not but give their adhesion to the belief of the Orthodox; but, in order to preserve a semblance of freedom for man, and of justice for God, they conceded to man the benefit of making the first efforts toward the realization of the predestined plans of God for good and evil—a theory declared by Aaron ben Elijah the Karaite ("'Eẓ Ḥayyim") to be unintelligible. In opposition to the Motazilites, the Ash'ariya asserted the existence of attributes distinct from God's essence; still they differed from the Orthodox in admitting that the anthropomorphisms found in the Koran are not to be taken literally.
In discussing the questions of the divine attributes, many Jewish philosophers were influenced by the Ash'ariya (compare Ḥasdai Crescas, "Or Adonai," pp. 22 et seq.), but not so in regard to the freedom of man's will, as they all strove as far as possible to reconcile the omniscience of God with man's absolute freedom of action.
At first the Ash'ariya found few adherents; for while the Orthodox objected to the concessions made to the Motazilites, the more enlightened element felt dissatisfied with the meager results of the compromise. In the course of a century, however, the Ash'ariya triumphed over the Motazilites. Abu Bekr al-Bakillani, as the head of the school, systematized the doctrines of the Ash'ariya, laying the foundation of the new Kalam, or scholastic theology.
Bakillani taught the existence of atoms and of the vacuum—theories which were severely attacked by Maimonides ("Moreh," i. 72, iii. 17). The Ash'ariya likewise proclaimed the real existence of the negative attributes. For instance, according to this sect, weakness is not mere absence of strength, but a positive quality (compare "Torot ha-Nefesh," iii., where BaḦya concurs in this idea, basing it on the Biblical verse, "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil" [Isa. xlv. 7]).
- Shahrastani, pp. 98 et seq.;
- Ibn Khallikan, ed. Slone, i. 678;
- Abu el-Festia, Ṭarik, ed. Constantinople, ii, 95;
- Munk, Mélanges, pp. 324 et seq.;
- Spitta, Zur Gesch. Abu el-Hasan al-Ash'ari, pp. 26 et seq.;
- Franz Delitzsch, 'Eẓ Ḥayyim, pp. 302-307.