Ib??? Discussions on the Divine Attributes

By Valerie J. Hoffman
Submitted to Session P4725 (Broadening the Narrative: Ibadi Islam in Focus, 2017 Annual Meeting
Rel Stds/Theo
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Ib??? works have generally been overlooked in scholarship on the development of Islamic theology (kal?m). From at least the early 8th century, kal?m has revolved around questions about the divine attributes and their relation to God’s unity. The distinction between the attributes of God’s essence and the attributes of His acts has usually been attributed to the Mu‘tazil? theologians Ab? ’l-Hudhayl (ca. 135/752–ca. 227/842) and al-Na???m (d. between 220/835-230/845), but a recently published text written by Ib??? theologian ‘Abd All?h b. Yaz?d al-Faz?r? soon after the death of Ib??? imam Ab? ‘Ubayda Muslim b. Ab? Kar?ma (d. between 150/767-158/775) employs these terms. This is just one indication of how Ib??? texts can offer new perspectives on the development of Islamic theology. Al-Faz?r? was fully engaged in the theological controversies of Basra and Baghdad until H?r?n al-Rash?d’s persecution of the mutakallim?n in 179/795. He wrote works refuting the ideas of other theological schools, and his ideas were followed and developed among the Maghrib? Ib???s. In Oman, early resistance to kal?m was overcome in the writings of Ab? ’l-Mundhir Bash?r b. Mu?ammad b. Ma?b?b (d. ca. 290/908). Ib??? theology on the attributes and essence of God has generally been similar to that of the Mu‘tazila, although Omani Ib???s only came to accept the doctrine of the creation of the Qur’?n in the late 19th century.

This paper examines Ib??? writings on the divine attributes from the earliest available texts to the twentieth century. Ib??? responses to questions that arose concerning the divine attributes will be compared geographically and chronologically with each other and with the articulations of other schools. In modern Sunni thought, these questions are generally ignored or even deemed irrelevant, but they remained vital much longer to Ib??? scholars, for whom they were central to the definition of the faith. The theological intricacies surrounding these questions received less attention over the course of the twentieth century, but Abdul Aziz bin Baz’s public denunciation of the Ib???s as infidels for their rejection of the eternity of the Qur’an and of the possibility of seeing God led the Mufti of Oman to provide a public—and hence simplified—explanation of Ib??? teachings on these issues. Nonetheless, Omani policy under Sultan Qaboos (r. 1970-present) and current Ib??? attitudes have emphasized pan-Islamic unity, at the expense of specifically Ib??? doctrinal articulations.