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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 March 2013

Mohd Radhi Ibrahim*
Aqida and Religions Studies Programme, Faculty of Leadership and Management Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, 71800, Bandar Baru Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia


Since Ibn Mattawayh and Mānkdīm up until George Hourani and Marie Bernand, there is an unstoppable interest among scholars towards ʿAbd al-Jabbār theory of knowledge. This interest has increased after the publication of the works of the late Muʿtazilites such as Kitāb al-Muʿtamad fī Uṣūl al-Dīn of Ibn al-Malāḥimī and Kitāb Taṣaffuḥ al-Adilla of his teacher Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī. This article seeks to examine ʿAbd al-Jabbār's theory of immediate knowledge based on his Mughnī and other sources from his students and the late Muʿtazilites. I will also examine the implication of ʿAbd al-Jabbār's view on immediate knowledge on his theological arguments. This article is divided into two divisions; firstly, I will study the definition of immediate knowledge according to ʿAbd al-Jabbār and the responses from his successors. Secondly, I will analyze his view on the types of immediate knowledge that closely related to his theological arguments. From this point of view I will indicate that the disagreement about the content of immediate knowledge will lead to the dispute on the theological arguments among Muslim theologians (mutakallimūn).


Depuis Ibn Mattawayh et Mānkdīm jusqu'à George Hourani et Marie Bernand, les spécialistes ont montré un intérêt constant pour la théorie de la connaissance d' ʿAbd al-Jabbār, intérêt plus grand encore depuis la parution des textes de Muʿtazilites tardifs comme le Kitāb al-Muʿtamad fī Uṣūl al-Dīn d'Ibn al-Malāḥimī, et le Kitāb Taṣaffuḥ al-Adilla de son maître Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Baṣrī. Cet article examine la théorie de la connaissance immédiate d' ʿAbd al-Jabbār à partir de son Mughnī, ainsi que de textes écrits par ses élèves ou par des Muʿtazilites tardifs. Est aussi étudié le rapport entre cette théorie et les arguments théologiques d'ʿAbd al-Jabbār. Ce travail est divisé en deux parties: en premier lieu, j'étudie la définition de la connaissance immédiate par ʿAbd al-Jabbār et les réactions de ses successeurs; en second lieu, j'analyse sa conception des types de connaissance immédiate étroitement liés à ses arguments théologiques. Et à partir de là, je montre comment le désaccord à propos du contenu de cette connaissance est à l'origine du débat opposant les théologiens musulmans (mutakallimūn) à propos de la validité de certains arguments théologiques.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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1 For more information on the types of knowledge according to the Mutakallimūn, see Abū Manṣūr ʿAbd al-Qāhir b. Ṭāhir al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-Dīn (Istanbul, 1928), p. 8Google Scholar; al-Bāqillānī, Kitāb al-Tamhīd fī al-Radd ‘alā al-Mulḥida al-Muʿaṭṭila wa-al-Rāfiḍa wa-al-Khawārij wa-al-Muʿtazila, ed. Richard J. McCarthy (Beirut, n.d.), p. 26.

2 For the views of other mutakallimūn on immediate knowledge, see Abrahamov, Binyamin, “Necessary knowledge in Islamic theology”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 20.1 (1993): 2032CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 Mattawayh, Ibn, Majmū‘ al-Muḥīt bi-al-Taklīf, ed. Houben, Jean J. (Beirut, 1962), p. 6.Google Scholar

4 Based on Mānkdīm's report in his (Taʿlīq) Sharḥ, Mānkdīm or Manakdim, Shashdiw, Aḥmad b. Abī Hāshim al-Qazwīnī (ʿAbd al-Jabbār), Sharḥ al-Uṣūl al-Khamsa, ed. ʿAbd al-Karim K. ʿUthman (Cairo, 1965), p. 48Google Scholar.

5 Cf. ʿAbd al-Jabbār, al-Mughnī fī Abwāb al-Tawḥīd wa-al-ʿAdl, ed. Husayn, Taha, 16 vols. (Cairo, 1960–1969), vol. XII, p. 42Google Scholar; Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 48; cf. Peters, Jan R. T. M., God's Created Speech: A Study in The Speculative Theology of The Muʿtazili Qadi l-Qudat Abu l-Hasan ʿAbd al-Jabbar ibn Ahmad al-Hamadhani (Leiden, 1976), p. 54Google Scholar.

6 For his biography, see Heemskerk, Margaretha, Suffering in the Muʿtazilite Theology: ʿAbd al-Jabbār's Teaching on Pain and Divine Justice (Leiden, 2000), pp. 60–2Google Scholar.

7 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 49. Peters in this regards is unable to differentiate between the view of ʿAbd al-Jabbār and that of Mānkdīm. Therefore, he mistakenly considers that it is ʿAbd al-Jabbār who says that “for a correct definition one has to restrict oneself to one of the two”. In fact that was a statement from Mānkdīm. Cf. God's Created Speech, p. 54.

8 Cf. Maḥmūd b. Muḥammad Ibn al-Malāḥimī, Kitāb al-Muʿtamad fī Uṣūl al-Dīn, ed. McDermott, Martin and Madelung, Wilferd (London, 1991), p. 21Google Scholar.

9 Mānkdīm also mentions this definition. Cf. Sharḥ, p. 48.

10 Cf. Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 48; Ibn al-Malāḥimī, Muʿtamad, p. 20. A similar definition adopted by al-Mutawallī but without the inclusion of “idhā infarada”, cf. al-Mutawallī, al-Nīsābūrī, Kitāb al-Mughnī, ed. Bernand, Marie (Cairo, 1986), p. 2Google Scholar.

11 Cf. Ibn al-Malāḥimī, Muʿtamad, p. 20. Abrahamov translates this definition without the inclusion of the words “idhā infarada”. This I believe does not precisely describe the meaning of ʿilm ḍarūrī according to ʿAbd al-Jabbār since it will include acquired knowledge that joined by immediate knowledge. Cf. Abrahamov, “Necessary knowledge”, p. 21.

12 On the theory of knowledge from western perspective see Hamlyn, David W., The Theory of Knowledge (London, 1971), p. 12Google Scholar.

13 Tritton, Arthur, “Theory of knowledge in early Muslim theology”, in Woolner Commemoration Volume (Lahore, 1940), pp. 253–6, p. 253Google Scholar.

14 Van Ess, Josef, “Logical structure of Islamic theology”, in Grunebaum, G. (ed.), Logic in Classical Islamic Culture; Giorgio Levi Della Vida Conference (Los Angeles, 1967), pp. 2150Google Scholar.

15 Hourani, George, Islamic Rationalism: The Ethics of ʿAbd al-Jabbār (Oxford, 1971), p. 20Google Scholar.

16 Al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-Dīn, p. 8; al-Baqillānī, al-Tamhīd, p. 26.

17 Hourani, Islamic Rationalism, p. 20.

18 This translation also has been used by Abrahamov in “Necessary knowledge”, p. 20.

19 Peters, God's Created Speech, p. 54.

20 Ibid., pp. 53–5.

21 Bernand uses both translations ‘immédiat’ and ‘nécessaire’ knowledge, however, she does not present any argument on that, see her Le problème de la connaissance d'après le Muġnī du Cadi ʿAbd al-Ǧabbār (Alger, 1982), pp. 137–41Google Scholar.

22 See Encyclopedia of Philosophy (An), 8 vols. (New York, 1972)Google Scholar.

23 See Encyclopaedia of Theology, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1884–1885)Google Scholar.

24 Lowe, Jonathan, “Necessity, logical”, in Honderich, Ted (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (New York, 1995), pp. 608–9, p. 609.Google Scholar

25 Mughnī, XII, 42; Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 48; Ibn al-Malāḥimī, Mu‘tamad, pp. 28–9; Peters, God's Created Speech, p. 54.

26 Mughnī, XII, 66.

27 I suggest that he already discussed this type of immediate knowledge in the first part of the Mughnī, which is lost.

28 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 50. There is a disagreement among modern scholars on ʿAbd al-Jabbār's type of immediate knowledge. The confusion is possibly due to one's interpretation on the text in the Sharḥ. Hourani in this issue divides ʿAbd al-Jabbār's type of immediate knowledge into two types, meanwhile ʿUthman, divides it into three types. Cf. Hourani, Islamic Rationalism, pp. 20–2; ʿAbd al-Karim ʿUthmān, Naẓariyyat al-taklīf, Āra’ al-Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār al-kalāmiyya (Beirut, 1971), p. 60Google Scholar.

29 Literal meaning of a priori is “from what is prior” and a posteriori is “from what is posterior”. Aristotle explains that A is prior to B in nature if and only if B could not exist without A; A is prior to B in knowledge if and only if we cannot know B without knowing A. Hamlyn, David W., “A priori and a posteriori”, in Edwards, Paul (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York, 1967), vol. 1, pp. 140–4, p. 140Google Scholar.

30 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 51. cf. Peters, God's Created Speech, p. 55.

31 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 51.

32 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 51; cf. Bernand, Le problème, pp. 140–1.

33 Mughnī, XII, 58.

34 ʿUthman, Naẓariyyat al-taklīf, p. 53.

35 Hourani, Islamic Rationalism, pp. 21–2.

36 Mughnī, XII, 66.

37 Ibid. However, Hourani observes that knowledge of the basic ethical rules are a posteriori since it is based on perception (idrāk).

38 Hourani, Islamic Rationalism, p. 22.

39 Cf. Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 51.

40 Mughnī, XII, 59.

41 Mughnī, XII, 61.

42 One knows the existence of others through senses.

43 Ibid. Cf. Peters, God's Created Speech, p. 54. These approach however, suitable for a perceptive knowledge (mudrakat).

44 Mughnī, XII, 65–6.

45 Mughnī, XII, 61. See also, Dhanani, Alnoor, The Physical Theory of Kalām: Atom, Space and Void in Basrian Muʿtazilī Cosmology (Leiden, 1994), pp. 22–5Google Scholar.

46 Mughnī, XII, 66.

48 Ibid., p. 58.

49 Abū ʿAlī al-Jubbāʾī believes that knowledge of the intention is immediate and perceptible. Cf. Mughnī, XII, 63.

50 Mughnī, XII, 64.

51 Mughnī, XII, 60.

52 Ibid., p. 58.

53 This view is equivalent with that of al-Ashʿarī, cf. Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-Dīn, p. 10.

54 Mughnī, XII, 20; Ibn al-Malāḥimī, Muʿtamad, p. 14; Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 46.

55 Mughnī, XII, 58.

56 Ibid., pp. 56–7.

57 Ibid., p. 61; Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 50; Peters, God's Created Speech, p. 54; Abrahamov, “Necessary knowledge”, p. 23.

58 Mānkdīm, Sharḥ, p. 50.

59 ‘Uthman, Naẓariyyat al-taklīf, p. 60.

60 Faḍl al-iʿtizāl wa-ṭabaqāt al-Muʿtazila wa-mubāyanatuhum li-Sāʾir al-Mukhālifīn, ed. Sayyid, Fuad (Tunis, 1974), p. 139Google Scholar.

61 Gimaret, DanielLes Uṣūl al-ḫamsa du Qadi ʿAbd al-Ǧabbār et leurs commentaires”, Annales Islamologiques, 15 (1979):7996, pp. 79–96Google Scholar.

62 Ṭabaqāt, p. 139.

63 Al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-dīn, pp. 8–9.

64 Cf. ibid., p. 25.

65 An important characteristic of this intuitive ethical knowledge as described by Fakhry, is that “it is autonomous and self-validating. It requires neither ‘acquired’ nor ‘deductive’ evidence to support it, not even the warrant of divine revelation (samʿ). Rather the contrary, for unless the grounds of religious or revealed truth, such as the wisdom of God and the truthfulness of the Prophet who bears His message to mankind, are rationally known, the truth of revelation, identified by ʿAbd al-Jabbār with the Qurʾān and Traditions, would remain forever questionable.” Cf. Fakhry, Majid, Ethical Theories in Islam (Leiden, 1994), p. 33Google Scholar.

66 Fakhry, Ethical Theories, p. 49.

67 This type of knowledge is similar to the knowledge provided by the cogito of René Descartes' philosophy. Cf. Descartes, Meditation on First Philosophy, ed. Cottingham, John (Cambridge, 1986), p. 136Google Scholar.

68 Mughnī, IX, 384.

69 Leaman, Oliver, “ʿAbd al-Jabbar and the concept of uselessness”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 41.1 (1980): 129–31, p. 129CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

70 Mughnī, IX, 384–5.

71 al-Faruqi, Ismaʿil R., “The self in Muʿtazilah thought”, International Philosophical Quarterly, 101.3 (1966): 366–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

72 Mughnī, XI, 376.

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