"one of the two foremost Imams of the mutakallimûn of Ahl al-Sunna, known in his time as the Imam of Guidance."

  by Dr. G. F. Haddad 

Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Mahmud Abu Mansur al-Samarqandi al-Maturidi al-Hanafi (d. 333) of Maturid in Samarqand, Shaykh al-Islam, one of the two foremost Imams of the mutakallimûn of Ahl al-Sunna, known in his time as the Imam of Guidance (Imâm al-Hudâ), he studied under Abu Nasr al-`Ayadi and Abu Bakr Ahmad al-Jawzajani. Among his senior students were `Ali ibn Sa`id Abu al-Hasan al-Rustughfani,1 Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Karim ibn Musa ibn `Isa al-Bazdawi, and Abu al-Qasim Ishaq ibn Muhammad al-Hakim al-Samarqandi. He excelled in refuting the Mu`tazila in Transoxiana while his contemporary Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari did the same in Basra and Baghdad. He died in Samarqand where he lived most of his life. The founder of the Egyptian Muniriyya Salafiyya Press, Munir `Abduh Agha wrote:

"There is not much [doctrinal] difference between Ash`aris and Maturidis, hence both groups are now called Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a."2

Al-Maturidi surpasses Imam al-Tahawi as a transmitter and commentator of Imam Abu Hanifa's legacy in kalâm. Both al-Maturidi and al-Tahawi followed Abu Hanifa and his companions in the position that belief (al-îmân) consists in "conviction in the heart and affirmation by the tongue," without adding, as do Malik, al-Shafi`i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal and their schools, "practice with the limbs." Al-Maturidi, as also related from Abu Hanifa, went so far as to declare that the foundation of belief consisted only in conviction in the heart, the tongue's affirmation being a supplementary integral or pillar (rukn zâ'id).3

Among al-Maturidi's works:

* Kitab al-Tawhid on the doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna. In it he states the following:

"The Muslims differ concerning Allah's place. Some have claimed that Allah is described as being 'established over the Throne' (`alâ al-`arshi mustawin), and the Throne for them is a dais (sarîr) carried by the angels and surrounded by them [as in the verses]: {And eight will uphold the Throne of their Lord that day, above them} (69:17) and {And you see the angels thronging round the Throne} (39:75) and {Those who bear the Throne, and all who are round about it} (40:7). They adduced as a proof for that position His saying: {The Merciful established Himself over the Throne} (20:5) and the fact that people raise their hands toward the heaven in their supplications and whatever graces they are hoping for. They also say that He moved there after not being there at first, on the basis of the verse {Then He established Himself over the Throne} (57:4).

"Others say that He is in every place because He said {There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than that or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be} (58:7), and {We are nearer to him than his jugular vein} (50:16) and {And We are nearer unto him than ye are, but ye see not} (56:85) and {And He it is Who in the heaven is God, and in the earth God} (43:84). This group consider that to say that He is in one place at the exclusion of another necessitate a limit for Him, and that every limited object comes short of whatever is greater than it, which would constitute a disgraceful defect. Further, they consider that to be in one place necessitates need to that place together with the necessity of boundaries....

"Others deny the ascription of place to Allah, whether one place or every place, except in the metaphorical senses that He preserves them and causes them to exist.

"Shaykh Abu Mansur [al-Maturidi] - may Allah have mercy on him - says: The sum of all this is that the predication of all things to Him and His predication - may He be exalted! - to them is along the lines of His description in terms of exaltation (`uluw) and loftiness (rif`a), and in terms of extolment (ta`zîm) and majesty (jalâl), as in His saying: {the Sovereignty of the heavens and the earth} (2:107, 3:189, 5:17-18, 5:40 etc.) {Lord of the heavens and the earth} (13:16, 17:102, 18:14, 19:65, etc.), "God of all creation" (ilâh al-khalq), Lord of the worlds (1:2, 5:28, 6:45, 6:162, 7:54, etc.), "above everything" (fawqa kulli shay') and so forth. As for the predication of specific objects to Him, it is along the lines of His specific attribution with generosity (al-karâma), high rank (al-manzila), and immense favor (al-tafdîl) for what is essentially meant to refer to Him, as in His sayings {Lo! Allah is with those who keep their duty unto Him} (16:128), {And the places of worship are only for Allah} (72:18), {The she-camel of Allah} (7:73, 11:64, 91:13), "The House of Allah" (bayt Allâh), and other similar instances. None of these examples is understood in the same way as the predication of created object to one another....

"Abu Mansur - may Allah have mercy on him! - further says: The foundation of this issue is that Allah Almighty was when there was no place, then locations were raised while He remains exactly as He ever was. Therefore, He is as He ever was and He ever was as He is now. Exalted is He beyond any change or transition or movement or cessation! For all these are portents of contingency (hudth) by which the contingent nature of the world can be known, and the proofs of its eventual passing away....

"Furthermore [concerning the claim that Allah is on the Throne], there is not, in the context of spatial elevation, any particular merit to sitting or standing, nor exaltation, nor any quality of magnificence and splendor. For example, someone standing higher than roofs or mountains does not deservedly acquire loftiness over someone who is below him spatially when their essence is identical. Therefore, it is not permissible to interpret away the verse [20:5] in that sense, when it is actually pointing to magnificence and majesty. For He has said {Verily, it is your Lord Who created the heavens and the earth} (7:54, 10:3, 21:56) thereby pointing to the extolment of the Throne, which is something created of light, or a substance [or jewel] the reality of which is beyond the knowledge of creatures. It was narrated that the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - while describing the sun, said: "Gibrîl brings it, in his hand, some of the light of the Throne with which he clothes it just as one of you wears his clothes, and so every day that it rises"; he also mentioned that the moon receives a handful of the light of the Throne.4 Therefore, the predication of istiwâ' to the Throne is along two lines: first, its extolment in the light of all that He said concerning His authority in Lordship and over creatures; second, its specific mention as the greatest and loftiest of all objects in creation, in keeping with the customary predication of magnificent matters to magnificent objects, just as it is said: "So-and-so has achieved sovereignty over such-and-such a country, and has established himself over such-and-such a region." This is not to restrict the meaning of this sovereignty literally, but only to say that it is well-known that whoever owns sovereignty over this, then whatever lies below it is meant a fortiori."5

* Kitab Radd Awa'il al-Adilla, a refutation of the Mu`tazili al-Ka`bi's book entitled Awa'il al-Adilla;

* Radd al-Tahdhib fi al-Jadal, another refutation of al-Ka`bi;6

* Kitab Bayan Awham al-Mu`tazila;

* Kitab Ta'wilat al-Qur'an ("Book of the Interpretations of the Qur'an"), of which Ibn Abi al-Wafa' said: "No book rivals it, indeed no book even comes near it among those who preceded him in this discipline."7 Hajji Khalifa cites it as Ta'wilat Ahl al-Sunna and quotes as follows al-Maturidi's definition of the difference between "explanation" (tafsîr) and "interpretation" (ta'wîl):

"Tafsîr is the categorical conclusion (al-qat`) that the meaning of the term in question is this, and the testimony before Allah Almighty that this is what He meant by the term in question; while ta'wîl is the preferment (tarjîh) of one of several possibilities without categorical conclusion nor testimony."8

* Kitab al-Maqalat;

* Ma'akhidh al-Shara'i` in Usul al-Fiqh;

* Al-Jadal fi Usul al-Fiqh;

* Radd al-Usul al-Khamsa, a refutation of Abu Muhammad al-Bahili's exposition of the Five Principles of the Mu`tazila;9

* Radd al-Imama, a refutation of the Shi`i conception of the office of Imam;

* Al-Radd `ala Usul al-Qaramita;

* Radd Wa`id al-Fussaq, a refutation of the Mu`tazili doctrine that all grave sinners among the Muslims are doomed to eternal Hellfire.

Most of the Hanafi school follows al-Maturidi in doctrine, but he evidently achieved lesser fame than al-Ash`ari because the latter entered into countless debates to defeat the opponents of Ahl al-Sunna while al-Maturidi, as Imam al-Kawthari said, "lived in an environment in which innovators had no power." The absence of a notice on Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi in al-Dhahabi's Siyar is a major omission in that masterpiece of biographical history.


1He narrated from Imam Abu Hanifa the saying: kullu mujtahidin musîbun wa al-haqqu `inda Allâhi wâhid which means "Every scholar who strives [towards truth] is correct [whatever his finding], even if the truth in Allah's presence is one." Accordingly, al-Rustughfani differed with al-Maturidi who considered that the mujtahid is wrong in his ijtihâd if his finding differs from the truth. Ibn Abi al-Wafa', Tabaqat al-Hanafiyya (p. 310, 362-363).

2In Namudhaj min al-A`mal al-Khayriyya (p. 134).

3Al-Tahawi, `Aqida §62: "Belief consists in affirmation by the tongue and acceptance by the heart." See "Ibn Abi al-`Izz," Sharh al-`Aqida al-Tahawiyya (4th ed. p. 373-374, 9th ed. p. 332). See also Risala Abi Hanifa ila `Uthman al-Batti in `Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda, Namadhij (p. 21-28).

4Something similar is narrated - without naming the angel - as part of a very long hadith from Ibn `Abbas by Abu al-Shaykh with a very weak chain in al-`Azama (4:1163-1179). Another hadith states: "The Messenger of Allah - Allah bless and greet him - told me that the sun, the moon, and the stars were created from the light of the Throne." Narrated from Anas by Abu al-Shaykh in al-`Azama (4:1140). See also al-Suyuti's al-Haba'ik fi Akhbar al-Mala'ik.

5Al-Maturidi, Kitab al-Tawhid (p. 72).

6Cf. Hajji Khalifa, Kashf al-Zunun (1:518).

7Ibn Abi al-Wafa', al-Jawahir al-Mudiyya (p. 130).

8In Hajji Khalifa, Kashf al-Zunun (1:334-335).

9The "Five Principles" of the Mu`tazila are:

  1. Tawhîd entailing a denial of the Divine "Attributes of Meanings" (sifât al-ma'ânî) and of the vision of Allah Most High by the believers in the next world - although both tenets are mentioned in the Qur'an;

  2. 'Adl or Divine Justice, entailing the position that Allah Most High cannot possibly create the evil deeds of His servants, therefore they are in charge of their own destinies and create the latter themselves through a power which Allah deposited in them - a denial of the verse {Allah creates you and what you do} (37:95);

  3. Reward and Punishment, entailing the belief that Allah Most High, of necessity, rewards those who do good and punishes those who do evil, and He does not forgive grave sinners unless they repent before death, even if they are Muslims - a denial of the verses that state explicitly that Allah forgives whom He wills and punishes whom He wills and a denial of the intercession of the Prophet - Allah bless and greet him - for grave sinners among the Muslims;

  4. Belief, whereby they held that grave sinners were considered neither believers nor disbelievers and so construed for them a "half-way status" between the two (al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn) in Hellfire;

  5. Commanding good and forbidding evil is obligatory upon the believers, and this is the sole principle in which they are in agreement with the majority of Muslims.

Wallahu ta`ala a`lam wa ahkam.

Main sources:

Al-Lacknawi, al-Fawa'id al-Bahiyya fi Tarajim al-Hanafiyya p. 319-320 #412; Ibn Abi al-Wafa', al-Jawahir al-Mudiyya fi Tabaqat al-Hanafiyya p. 130, 310, 362-363; Al-Kawthari, introduction to al-Bayadi's Isharat al-Maram.

 Allah bless and greet our Master Muhammad, his Family, and all his Companions.