The struggle between religious dogma and rational thoughts concerning teachings in the Quran has been rife for the longest period. Throughout the history of Islam different Muslim teachers indicate that dogmatic and rational views have come from all corners in the history. Dogma is a kind of doctrine or a set of doctrines espousing morals and faith which is formally stated and proclaimed by a group of believers. The dogmatic teachings must be in tandem with a specified fundamental set of belief systems and practices which its members generally agree upon. The recent religious practices have welcomed dogmatic religion to a larger extent with independent views coming from the different scholars. On the other hand, rational thought in religion seeks to use scientific approaches to the understanding of religious beliefs. To this end, rational thinking lies in the scientific inquiry that utilizes the approaches in understanding religious beliefs and practices from a critical point of view. In the Islamic teachings, the Mutazilites have dominated the dogmatic teachings involving the prophet and the Quran as the only source of understanding Islam. Al Ashari on the other hand establishes the intermediate linkage between the dogmatic and rational teachings concerning the understanding of the source of Islam. The writer of this paper discusses the extent to which Al Ashari manages to establish the position between dogmatic and rational sources of Islam.
According to Al Ashari’s teachings on the sources of Islam, there is a strong linkage between dogmatic understanding of sources of Islam in terms of the Quran and Prophet and the rational indulgence in the understanding of the sources. One of the fundamental differences that the two approaches to the understanding of the sources of Islam lies in the fact that ideological understanding of dogmatic and rational teachings on the sources of Islam, whether it is the Quran or the Prophet, or even the combination of the two depends largely on the approach that one takes. From a rational point of view, Al Ashari conceives God in all forms of matter from the simple material to unknown and unimaginable figure. In essence, Al Ashari intends to rationalize the understanding of God by using objects such as the stars and the moon. However, his rational conception of a God in terms of the stars comes to an end when the stars and the moon set in the morning thus leaving him with the burden of understanding whether God can set just like the stars and the moon does. In his direct opposition to the teachings of Mutazila which claimed that God did not possess any attributes, al Ashari characteristically manages to opine and even prove that God did actually possess external attributes including the speech, sight, and knowledge which in extension helped him to be all knowing, to see, and to speak to his people. This point of view is among the many points of diversion that the two teachings differ greatly. Similarly, al Ashari has issues with the teachings of Mutazila that maintains that some of the Quranic expressions including the hand and face of God could be interpreted to imply attributes such as grace and essence arguing that even though there could have been nothing physical in the signs used in the Quran he maintained that such signs could actually imply the exact unknown nature of God which are implied in the actual sitting on the throne by God himself.
The dogmatic teachings of the Muzalite concerning the origin of the Quran as the official source of Islam, the views held by the Muzalites were that actually the Quran was created just in the same way man was created. This is definitely a fundamental teaching in the belief and practice of the Islamic faith. However, al Ashari disagrees with this view maintaining that it was the speech from God, which is one of the external attributes that He possesses which led to the origin of the Quran. In other words, the Quran was spoken and thus does not qualify to have been created. Evidently, through his insightful and thoughtful explains, he succeeds in imparting this revelation to the Muslim faithful given the fact that he claims that this is actually revealed to him by the Prophet who appears to him three times in a vision concerning this matter. Similarly, he disagrees with the dogmatic teachings of the Muzalite that God could not be conceived in a physical manner. His rational understanding of the nature of God allows him to assert that actually God could be conceived in a corporeal manner only that it is difficult for human beings with their limited minds to understand when they physical conceive him. In essence, he teaches that Islam is founded in the real conception of a God who is real and who can be physically conceived. However, this possibility is hindered by the fact that the human mind cannot conceive within itself when actually it is having a corporeal conception of God.
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The other intermediate link that Al Ashari brings about concerning the sources of Islam with regard to the Quran and the Prophet is the fact that throughout the Quran, God is presented as being omnipotent who determines all things whether good or evil. The omnipotence of God allows him to create in men to the power to do each act depending on the will that God has willed for them, in which he describes as the doctrine of acquisition. This teaching is in contrast with the teachings of the Muzalites which borders on the dogmatic teachings on the sources of Islam and which places the burden on each man by giving him a responsible to account for their individual actions. Rationally, Al Ashari sees the omnipotence of God as that which inspires men to seek the knowledge about islam from the Prophet and from the Quran as well contrary to what the Muzalite teaches, which would then imply that men have no choice but to resort to the teachings of the Quran without their will. God has willed that men learn about Islam from the sources he himself outlines through his omnipotence nature which allows him to control everything. But at the same time, he gives each person a duty to be responsible to what they learn concerning their faith.
The other point that Al Ashari brings about in the teachings on the sources of Islam concerns the doctrine of al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn which held that sin put a Muslim believer to neither a position of believer nor unbeliever. In retrospect, al Ashari sees a Quran teaching that a sinner will be punishable in fire irrespective of the kind of sin they commit. In other word, al Ashari maintains that the Quran’s teachings about sin are the fundamental standards on the understanding of sin in Islam and must be taken as such with regard to those who commit different sins. In a different view al Ashari takes the dogmatic approach to eschatological features of the bridge, the basin, and the balance and the role the Prophet Muhammad plays in interceding on behalf of those who sins. These teachings are in contrast to what Mutazila taught mainly on the ground that Mutazila took a rational approach to these matters.