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date: 21 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the origins of the Muʿtazila in the early to mid-eighth century. It begins with a brief overview of the doctrines of the Muʿtazila, showing how the movement became the strongest exponent of ‘rationalism’ in Islamic theology. It then discusses the three angles from which the subject of the origins of the Muʿtazila has been approached: the origin of the name Muʿtazila, what it means, why it was given to this group, the history of the movement and the early figures of Wāṣil b. ʿAṭāʾ (d. 131/748–9) and ʿAmr b. ʿUbayd (d. 144/761); and the extent of intellectual continuity between the period of origins and later Muʿtazilī doctrines. It also considers two key characteristics of the Muʿtazila, learning and worship, and their relationship to a quietist asceticism orientation that is not a principled commitment to political neutrality.

Keywords: Muʿtazila, rationalism, Islamic theology, Wāṣil b. ʿAṭāʾ, ʿAmr b. ʿUbayd, learning, worship, asceticism, political neutrality

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