AZAL, Arabic theological term derived from Pahlavi a-sar “without head” and meaning, already in early Muʿtazilite kalām, “eternity a parte ante,” as opposite to abad, “eternity a parte post.” It corresponds to the Greek term ánarchon. The etymology frequently brought up by Arab lexicographers which connects azal with lam yazal “he did not cease (being or doing something)” is certainly wrong (cf., e.g., Aḥmad b. Fāres, Maqāyīs al-loḡa, ed. ʿAbd-al-Salām Moḥammad Hārūn, Cairo, 1366-/1946-, I, p. 97). But the assonance may account for the fact that the early Muslim theologians always circumscribed the eternal existence of God’s attributes, etc., with the verbal expression lam yazal . . . wa-lā yazālo (ʿāleman, qāderan, etc.; cf., among innumerable examples, Ašʿarī, Maqālāt, p. 156, l. 4). Nöldeke proposes to derive the word from Syr. ezal.
See also “Abad” and “Ḳedam” in EI2 (with further references).
For the etymology see G. Monnot, Penseurs musulmans et religions iraniennes, Paris, 1974, p. 152 n. 6; Th. Nöldeke, Belegwörterbuch der klassischen arabischen Sprache, Berlin, 1952, p. 21b; and cf. H. S. Nyberg, A Manual of Pahlavi II, Wiesbaden, 1974, p. 31.
(J. van Ess)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 18, 2011
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