Is the Quran makhluq (something created)? Is it true that some madhhab imams were tortured because of this issue?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

It is necessary to view the Quran in two ways.

a. The material and created aspect of the Quran, which is the paper, ink, cover, voice, articulation point and the case of the Quran that are seen by the eye, heard by the ear and touched by the hand.

b. The spiritual and kalam, which is a divine attribute, aspect of the Quran. From this point of view, the Quran is not created. Since Allah is not created and He is pre-eternal, His attributes are not created, either. One of His attributes is the attribute of kalam (speech). We call the Quran “kalamullah” (speech or word of Allah). Kalamullah is a divine attribute; in this aspect, it is not created. It is a divine attribute and modesty that has become manifest so that we will understand what Allah wants from us.

The Quran is not makhluq (created)

Many statements have been made about whether the Quran is makhluq (created) or not. The role of the Christians who were subordinates of the Umayyad dynasty had a great role in bringing up the issue. The leading one among them was John of Damascus. That person spread ways of debate among the Christian scholars living in the Islamic world that would cast doubts on Muslims related to their religion. For example, according to what is stated in the Quran, Jesus is the word of Allah. He asked questions whether the word of Allah was qadim (pre-eternal) or not. If the Muslims answered no, they would mean the Quran, which is His Word, would be makhluq. If they said that the word of Allah was qadim, they would claim that Hz. Isa (Jesus) was also qadim.

Thereupon some Muslims wanted to reject their trick by saying, “The Quran is makhluq.” For example, Ja’d b. Dirham, Jahm b. Safwan and Mu’tazilites said that the Quran was makhluq and the Caliph Ma’mun also adopted that view.

The Caliph Ma’mun declared the view that the Quran was makhluq as the true sect in the year 212 H. He organized debating assemblies for this purpose and put forward what he accepted as definitive evidence regarding the issue there. However, he left the debate on the issue free and said that people were free in their thoughts.

Nevertheless, in the year 218 H – in which he died – he decided to impose this idea on people. To this end, he wrote some letters and encouraged people to adopt the view that the Quran was makhluq. He wrote the following in his first letter:

“Tell them (the judges/qadis) that they shall not hear the testimony of those who do not accept the view that the Quran is makhluq and that it was created afterwards.”  

However, the issue did not end with that a negative state but it went so far as to cause some people to undergo hard tests. Those people were asked about their views on the Quran; if they did not accept the view put forward by the Caliph, they were tied up and sent to the headquarters of the Caliph. For, it was also ordered in that letter that the fiqh and hadith scholars be tested. Those who did not accept that view were to be shackled and sent to the Caliph and those who adopted that view were to continue to issue fatwas and narrate hadiths.

The deputy of the Caliph in Baghdad immediately took action to fulfill the order given to him. He summoned the fiqh and hadith scholars. Ahmad b. Hanbal was also among them. He threatened them by saying that if they did not do what they were wanted to do, they would be tortured and punished, and that they would be judged according to Ma’mun’s order without any hesitation. The fiqh and hadith scholars fulfilled what they were demanded to do and declared that they adopted that madhhab about the Quran. However, Allah protected the hearts of four people among them. They preserved their belief with courage and persistence. They were Ahmad b. Hanbal, Muhammad b. Nuh, al-Qawariri and Sajjada. They were caught, handcuffed, and shackled by their feet.

The next day, Sajjada accepted the order of Ishaq, the deputy of the Caliph, and was released. The other three insisted on their belief. The next day, the same question was repeated and they were demanded to answer. Al-Qawariri could not put up with it any more. He gave the requested answer and was released. Two people were left. Allah was with them. They were chained and sent to the presence of al-Ma’mun in Tarsus. On the way, Muhammad b. Nuh was martyred. Ahmad b. Hanbal endured torture and persecution for the sake of his belief on his own. However, he was happy with his state. While Ahmad b. Hanbal was on the way, the news of Ma’mun’s death came. Nevertheless, before Ma’mun died, he dictated a will and wanted those to come after him to continue torturing the fiqh and hadith scholars until they stated that the Quran was makhluq.

Therefore, the tribulation Ahmad b. Hanbal and other fiqh and hadith scholars who did not deviate from their belief suffered went on and on. That tribulation did not end with the death of Ma’mun in 218 H; it became even more widespread, and the suffering increased; it became harder and more violent. Among Ma’mun’s requests were forcing people to accept that the Quran was makhluq through violence and pressure and Ahmad b. Abi Duad’s (death 240 H.) remaining in his office. That was the root of the problem. He provoked the Caliph to torture the scholars. He himself wrote the letters on behalf of the Caliph. It was Ahmad b. Abi Duad who dominated Ma’mun’s will when he was in deathbed. The caliph gave those orders and dictated his will under the influence of Ahmad b. Abi Duad.

Ma’mun died while Ahmad b. Hanbal was being taken to him in chains. When the news of his death was announced, Ahmad b. Hanbal was taken back to Baghdad. He remained in the dungeon until a new order was given about him. Later, he was taken to the presence of the Caliph Mu’tasim (d. 227 H). They resorted to every means to frighten and intimidate him but none of them worked. They threatened Ahmad b. Hanbal when he persevered in his belief without heeding anything. They started to whip him regularly. They would not stop unless he passed out. When he passed out and was poked by a sword, he did not feel anything. That operation was repeated at intervals. That torture continued in the dungeon for about twenty-eight months. When they gave up hope, they released him and returned him to his home. However, Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal could not walk due to his long stay in the dungeon, being beaten regularly and wounds on his body. Nevertheless, he was victorious again.

Ahmad b. Hanbal was deprived of giving lessons and teaching hadiths until his wounds healed and he had the opportunity to go to the mosque. When he got better, he started giving fatwa and hadith lessons. The tribulation he suffered made people appreciate him more. They preferred to listen to him and rushed to his lessons. After Mu’tasim, al-Wathiq (death. 232 H) became the caliph. The will of Ma’mun related to torture was still in effect. Therefore, They started to trouble Ahmad b. Hanbal again. However, this time, Ahmad b. Hanbal was not ordered to be whipped as in the period of Mu’tasim because it raised his position in the eyes of the people and prevented the view of the Caliph from spreading. Ideas do not spread by pressure and force. The new challenge Ahmad b. Hanbal faced was being prevented from meeting people, narrating hadiths and giving fatwas. Al-Wathiq addressed him as follows:  

“Nobody will come near you and you will not sit in any place where I am present.”

When al-Mutawakkil (d. 247 H.) became the caliph, he removed that tribulation, behaved warmly toward the fiqh and hadiths scholars and expelled Mu’tazilites from the palace.

In order to speak in accordance with the historical facts, we must say that tribulation was general. It was not specific to Ahmad b. Hanbal. It affected other fiqh and hadith scholars too. Among them was al-Buwayti, a student of Imam Shafii. He was also put into prison for the same reason.

The following question can come to mind here:

- Would it not have been better for that great believer to save his body from torture and not to stop issuing fatwas and narrating hadiths by consenting to their view in appearance and hiding what he believed to be true?

That question can be answered as follows:

In a land of Islam where Islamic decrees are applied, taqiyya (hiding one’s belief because of fear) is against the principle of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil. It is not permissible for a person like Ahmad b. Hanbal, who has a great position in hadith and fatwa, to remain silent; it is his duty to enjoin what is good and to forbid what is evil. It is necessary for him to insist on his opinion for Islam even if he is tortured very severely. Taqiyya is not permissible for the imams whom Muslims follow because it will cause people to go astray. On the other hand, if the imams say things that are contrary to their beliefs, people will naturally not know the inside of their hearts and will follow them; people will think what they say is true and hence evil will become widespread. In our opinion, that is why Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal’s patience in the face of torture was better.

The Views of Ahmad b. Hanbal and Others about Whether the Quran was Maqhluq (Created) or Not

It will be better to stop the issue of tribulation here and to explain the true nature of the views of Mu’tazilites and Ahmad b Hanbal’s view.

Mu’tazilites said that the Quran was makhluq; according to them, the creation of the Quran does not prevent it from being the word of Allah and the miracle of the Prophet because it is Allah who created it and sent it to the Prophet through revelation. He sent the Quran to the Prophet (pbuh) piece by piece in 23 years, as a book beyond human power. If all humanity came together and wanted to write a book similar to it, they could not do it.

The proofs put forward by Mu’tazilites regarding the creation of the Quran are based on the following three principles:

1. Everything other than Allah is makhluq. They were created afterwards. Indeed, since the Quran is something other than Allah, it can only be a makhluq.

2. The Quran consists of letters and words that can be read (pronounced) by people. The Quran cannot exist without those letters and words. It shows that it was created because it is based on letters and words created both while reading and writing.

3. When it is assumed that the Quran is not makhluq, it must be qadim (pre-eternal) because something that was not created has no beginning. Something that has no beginning can only be qadim. If it is accepted that the Quran is qadim, there will be a few qadim beings. It is similar to the view put forward about the Prophet Jesus (Isa) by Christians.

Those are the views of Mu’tazilites regarding the issue. What is Ahmad b. Hanbal’s view regarding the issue?

Allah states the following in the Quran:

«If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah...» (at-Tawba, 9/6) and

«... His is the creation and the command.» (al-A’raf, 7/54)

Thus, He states that both command (amr) and creation belong to Him and that command is something different from creation.

According to the statements in Ahmad b. Hanbal’s letter to the Caliph al-Mutawakkil, Ahmad b. Hanbal shows that there is a difference between creation and command, that the Quran is from Allah’s command, word and knowledge, not from His creation. Accordingly, Ahmad b. Hanbal does not regard the Quran as something created.

The following is also stated in the letter in question:

«According to what is reported from many of our predecessors, they said, “The Quran is the word of Allah; it is not makhluq.” I follow their view; I myself do not say anything. I regard it unnecessary to talk about it. However, I report whatever is in the Book of Allah, the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh), and the news conveyed from the Companions and Tabiun. It is not appropriate to talk about other issues.»

Ahmad b. Hanbal wrote that letter after he got rid of the tribulation and found peace. According to the clear expression in the letter, Ahmad b. Hanbal definitely states that the views of those who say that the Quran is not makhluq are correct.

In order to unite those two views, which are reported to belong to Ahmad b. Hanbal, we need to explain the following two facts:

Although Ahmad b. Hanbal held the view above toward the end of his life, he prohibited discussing the issue. After mentioning many narrations from the Prophet (pbuh) and Companions at the beginning of a letter he sent to al-Ma’mun, he states that the Prophet (pbuh) stated the following:

«Do not argue over the Quran because arguing about it is unbelief. (Abu Dawud, Sunnah, 5)

Ahmad b. Hanbal also states in the letter that Ibn Abbas avoided arguing over the Quran and that when the Leader of the Believers (Hz. Umar) asked him why, he answered as follows:

«O Leader of the Believers! Whenever people start an argument on that issue, everybody claims that they are right; when everybody claims that they are right, they begin to quarrel with one another; when they start to quarrel, they fall into dispute; when they fall into dispute, they start to fight.»

«May Allah mercy your father! By Allah, I was hiding it from people; finally, you have mentioned it.»

Is the Quran qadim (pre-eternal) or not?

We will focus on two aspects of the Quran to answer that question:

1. The meanings of the Quran: They refer to the pre-eternal knowledge of Allah. That is, they are included in the knowledge of Allah. Allah’s knowledge is qadim.

2. The words and letters of the Quran: Allah revealed them to His Prophet through Jibril (Gabriel), who is the Trusted Spirit. Jibril read them to the Prophet (pbuh) and the Prophet (pbuh) also taught them to the Companions by reading. Similarly, the Companions taught them to Tabiun. Thus, the Quran was read and taught through tawatur. In our opinion, the Quran is makhluq in terms of this aspect.

Such an understanding is not contrary to the fact that the Quran was sent from Allah and that it is a miracle of the Prophet (pbuh). The Quran is such a miracle of the Prophet (pbuh) that it challenged all polytheists as follows: If the Quran is a fabricated thing, bring a similar book or ten surahs (chapters) or a single surah of it. However, the polytheists could not do it.

(İslam’da Fıkhi Mezhepler Tarihi, Prof. Muhammed Ebu Zehra, Hisar Yayınevi: 2/383-387)

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