Lit. “The Separatists.” A sect of Muslims founded by Wasil ibn ‘Ata’, who separated from the school of Hasan al-Basri (A.H. 110). The following are their chief tenets: (1) They entirely reject all eternal attributes of God, to avoid the distinction of persons made by the Christians; saying that eternity is the proper or formal attribute of his essence; that God knows by His essence, and not by his knowledge: and the same they affirm of His other attributes (though all the Mu’tazilahs do not understand these words in one sense), Hence this sect is also named Mu’attili, from their divesting God of His attributes; for they went so far as to say, that to affirm these attributes is the same thing as to make more eternals than one, and that the unity of God is inconsistent with such an opinion. This was the doctrine of Wasil, their master, who declared that whoever asserted an eternal attribute asserted there were two gods. This point of speculation concerning the divine attributes was not ripe at first, but was at length brought to maturity by Wasil’s followers, after they had rend the books of the philosophers. (2) They believe the word of God to have been created in subjecto (as the schoolmen term it.), and to consist of letters and sound; copies thereof being written in books, to express or imitate the original. (3) They also go farther, and affirm that whatever was created in subjecto is also an accident, and hable to perish. They deny absolute predestination holding that God is not the author of evil, but of good only; and that man is a free agent; which is the opinion of the Qadariyah sect. On account of this tenet and the first, the Mu’tazilahs look on themselves as the defenders of the unity and justice of God. (4) They hold that if a professor of the true religion be guilty of it grievous sin, and die without repentance, he will he eternally damned, though his punishment will be lighter than that of the infidels. (5) They deny all .vision of God in Paradise by the corporeal eye, and reject all comparisons or similitudes applied to God.
According to Shahrastani, the Mu’tazila hold:—
“That God is eternal : and that eternity is the peculiar property of his essence; but they deny the existence of any eternal attributes (as distinct from His nature). For they say. He is Omniscient as to His nature; Living to His nature; Almighty as to His nature but not through any knowledge, power or life existing in Him as eternal attributes; for knowledge, power and life are part of His essence, otherwise, if they are to be looked upon as eternal attributes of the Deity, it will give rise to a multiplicity of eternal entities.
“They maintain that the knowledge of God is as much within the province of reason as that of any other entity: that He cannot be beheld with the corporeal sight; and with the exception of Himself, everything else is liable to change or to suffer extinction. They also maintain that Justice is the animating principle of human actions: Justice according to them being the dictates of Reason and the concordance of the ultimate results of this conduct of man with such dictates.
“Again, they hold that there is no eternal law as regards human actions, that the divine ordinances which regulate the conduct of men are the results of growth and development; that God has commanded and forbidden, promised end threatened by a law which grow gradually. At the same time, say they, he who works righteousness merits rewards, and he who works evil deserves punishment. They also say that all knowledge is attained through reason, and must necessarily be so obtained. They hold that the cognition of good and evil is also within the province of reason; that nothing is known to be right or wrong until reason has enlightened us as to the distinction; and that thankfulness for the blessings of the Benefactor is made obligatory by reason, even before the promulgation of any law upon the subject. They also maintain that man has perfect freedom: is the author of his actions both good and evil, and deserves reward or punishment hereafter accordingly.”
During the reigns of the Abbaside Khalifah al-Ma’muh, al-Mu’tasim, and al-Wasiq (A.H. 198—228) at Baghdad, the Mut’azilah were in high favour. Mr. Syed Ameer Ali Moulvi, M.A., L.L.B.. in the preface to his book, The Personal Law of the Mahommedans (W.H. Allen and Co.), claims to belong to “the little known. though not unimportant philosophical and legal school of the Mutazalas,” and he adds, ‘the young generation is tending unconsciously toward the Mutazalite doctrines.”
According to the Sharhu ‘l-Muwaqif, the Mu’tazilah are divided into twenty sects, viz. Wasiliyah, ‘Umariyah, Bashariyah, Mazdariyah, Hishamiyah, Salhiyah, Habitiyah, Hadbiyah, Ma’mariyah, Samamiyah, Khaiyatiyal, Jabiziyah, Ka’biyah, Juba’iyah, and Bushamiyah.
Based on Hughes, Dictionary of Islam