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Muʿtazilah is an Islamic school of speculative theology that flourished in the cities of Basra and Baghdad, both in present-day Iraq, during the 8th–10th centuries. It is still adopted by some of Muslim intellectuals today. The adherents of the Mu'tazili school are at odds with other Sunni scholars due to the former's belief that human reason is more reliable than scripture. Because of this belief, Mu'tazilis tend to interpret passages of the Qur'an in a highly metaphorical matter, a practice frowned upon by traditional, orthodox schools.####
Mu'tazili theology originated in the 8th century in Basra (Iraq) when Wasil ibn Ata (d. 131 AH/748 AD) left the teaching lessons of Hasan al-Basri after a theological dispute regarding the issue of Al-Manzilah bayna al-Manzilatayn (described below); thus he, and his followers, including Amr ibn Ubayd (d. 144 AH/ 761 AD), were labelled Mu'tazili. Later, Mu'tazilis called themselves Ahl al-Tawhid wa al-'Adl ("People of Divine Unity and Justice") based on the theology they advocated, which sought to ground Islamic creedal system in reason. Though Mu'tazilis later relied on logic and different aspects of early Islamic philosophy, Greek philosophy, and Hellenistic philosophy, the truths of Islam were their starting point and ultimate reference. The accusations leveled against them by rival schools of theology that they gave absolute authority to extra-Islamic paradigms reflect more the fierce polemics between various schools of theology than any objective reality. For instance, Mu'tazilis adopted unanimously the doctrine of creation, contraries to certain Muslim philosophers who, with the exception of al-Kindi, believed in the eternity of the world in some form or another. It was usually Muslim philosophers, not the Muslim theologians generally speaking, who took Greek and Hellenistic philosophy as a starting point and master conceptual framework for analyzing and investigating reality. From early days of Islamic civilization, and because of both internal factors including intra-Muslim conflicts and external factors including interfaith debates, several questions were being debated by Muslim theologians, such as whether the Qur'an was created or eternal, whether evil was created by God, the issue of predestination versus free will, whether God's attributes in the Qur'an were to be interpreted allegorically or literally, etc. Mu'tazili thought attempted to address all these issues.
Like all other schools, Mu'tazilism developed over an extensive period of time. Abu al-Hudhayl al-'Allaf (d. 235 AH/849 AD), who came a couple of generations after Wasil ibn 'Ata' and 'Amr ibn 'Ubayd, is considered the theologian who systematized and formalized Mu'tazilism in Basra (Martin et al., 1997). Another branch of the school found a home in Baghdad under the direction of Bishr ibn al-Mu'tamir (d. 210 AH/825 AD). As the number of Muslims increased throughout the Muslim empire, and in reaction to the excesses of so-called rationalism, theologians began to lose ground. The problem was exacerbated by the Mihna, the inquisition launched under the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mun (d. 218 AH/833 AD). Mu'tazilis have been accused of being the instigators though it was the Caliph's own scheme (Nawas, 1994; Nawas, 1996; Cooperson 2005; Ess, 2006). The persecution campaign, regardless, cost them and theology in general the sympathy of the Muslim masses. By the end of the fifteenth century, Mu'tazilis were subjected to vehement attacks from the traditionalists on one hand, and from the atheists, deists, philosophers, non-Muslim thinkers, etc. on the other. It is important to note that the traditionalists, as opposed to Mu'tazili rationalists, were not irrationalists. Both groups operated on the basis of some synthesis between reason and revelation.
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