EBN ʿAYYĀŠ, ABŪ ESḤĀQ EBRĀHĪM b. Moḥammad Baṣrī, Muʿtazilite theologian (d. late 10th century), member of the so-called “school of Baṣra” and a partisan of the ideas of Abū Hāšem Jobbāʾī. Although it has been said that in his youth he had met Abū Hāšem, his main teachers were two eminent disciples of the latter, Abū ʿAlī b. Ḵallād and later Abū ʿAbd-Allāh Baṣrī. He was himself the first teacher of the Qāżī ʿAbd-al-Jabbār.

Very little is known about Ebn ʿAyyāš’s life and works. Unlike Abū ʿAbd-Allāh, he never settled at Baghdad but remained in southern Iraq and Ḵūzestān, both at that time dominated by the “school of Baṣra”; he had no fixed residence and at various times taught in Šūštar, ʿAskar Mokram, Ahvāz, Obolla, and Baṣra. According to ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, his writings consisted chiefly of replies to questions and refutations (noqūzµ). The title of one of the latter works is known, his refutation of ʿAšʿarī’s Ketāb īżāḥ al-borhān (Ebn al-Nadīm, ed. Tajaddod, p. 221; British Library, London, anonymous ms. no. Or. 8613, fol. 128b). He is also reported to have written a work on the imamates of Ḥasan and Ḥosayn and their respective merits (ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Fażl al-eʿtezāl, p. 328; Ebn al-Mortażā, p. 107).

On the whole, Ebn ʿAyyāš does not seem to have been very innovative, but rather to have followed his teachers very closely. Nevertheless, a certain number of original views on argumentation or doctrine have been attributed to him. For example, on the question of the divine attributes and the demonstration that God is self-sufficient (ḡanī), i.e., that He has no need and thus no desire (šahwa), Ebn ʿAyyāš rejected Abū Hāšem’s argument that only a body is susceptible to desire or aversion because desire would necessarily imply an increase and aversion a lessening. Instead, he proposed that God can have no desires whatsoever, for none of the causes of such desires could apply (ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Moḡnī IV, p. 25; Mānakdīm, pp. 214-15; Ebn Mattawayh, Majmūʿ I, p. 212).

On the question of divine “justice” and the demonstration that God can perform good acts for the sole reason that they are good, Ebn ʿAyyāš also challenged the arguments invoked by his predecessors and returned to the simple formulation of Abu’l-Hoḏayl ʿAllāf: God is known to perform good acts, and He is devoid of any needs; therefore, He must do good only because of its being good (ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Moḡnī VIa, pp. 211-14; Mānakdīm, p. 307; Ebn Mattawayh, Taḏkera, p. 262).

On the level of doctrine Ebn ʿAyyāš rejected the thesis of Abū ʿAlī and Abū Hāšem that a substance remains a substance even in a state of nonexistence. Since the attribute of a substance is “occupying space” (taḥayyoz), as long as a substance is nonexistent, he said, this attribute is not present, but is “awaited” (montaẓara; Abū Rašīd, p. 37; Ebn Mattawayh, Taḏkera, p. 57).

As concerns accidents, Ebn ʿAyyāš was inclined, even more than Abū Hāšem, to reduce the number of accidents positively recognized as real “entities” (maʿānī). Just as Abū Hāšem had come to think that death is not an entity (laysa be-maʿnā) but only the absence of life, so Ebn ʿAyyāš considered neither unconsciousness (sahw) nor pain (alam) entities. According to him, unconsciousness is merely the absence of knowledge, “the (temporary) cessation of knowing the things that we habitually know” (Ebn Mattawayh, Majmūʿ II, p. 86, ms. fol. 201b; ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Moḡnī VII, p. 44; Abū Rašīd, p. 341). In the same way pain is only the cessation of the bodily equilibrium (eʿtedāl) that is characteristic of a state of health (ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Moḡnī IV, p. 29, IX, p. 59, XIII, p. 261; Ebn Mattawayh, Taḏkera, pp. 307-13).

Lastly, one major innovation by Ebn ʿAyyāš was to have considered that knowledge (ʿolūm) cannot perdure (lā yaṣeḥḥo ʿalayhā al-baqāʾ; ʿAbd-al-Jabbār, Moḡnī XII, p. 136; Abū Rašīd, pp. 261, 340; Ebn Mattawayh, Majmūʿ II, p. 143; idem, ms. no. C.104, fol. 203a).


Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)

ʿAbd al-Jabbār, Fażl al-eʿtezāl, ed. F. Sayyed, Tunis, 1974. Idem, al-Moḡnī, 16 vols., Cairo, 1960-65, IV, pp. 58, 271, 285; VIb, p. 338; VII, p. 161; IX, p. 143; XI, pp. 120, 452, 474; XIII, p. 311; XIV, pp. 199, 248, 258, 274, 282, 291; XV, p. 223; XVII, p. 377).

Abū Rašīd Nīsābūrī, al-Masāʾel fi’l-ḵelāf bayna’l-Baṣrīyīn wa’l-Baḡdādīyīn, eds. M. Zīāda and R. Sayyed, Beirut, 1979 (see pp. 49, 96).

Ebn Mattawayh (Mattūya), al-Majmūʿ fi’l-moḥīṭ be’l-taklīf I, ed. J. J. Houben, Beirut, 1965, pp. 77, 329; II, ed. D. Gimaret, Beirut, 1981.

Idem, al-Taḏkera fī aḥkām al-jawāher wa’l-aʿrāż, ed. S. N. Loṭf and F. B. Badīrʿūn, Cairo, 1975, pp. 118, 175, 188, 214, 341, 487, 490, 516, 557; Bibliotheca Ambrosiana, Milan, MS no. C. 104, fols. 127b, 159b, 165b, 169b, 182a, 189b, 191b, 194a, 200b, 205a.

Ebn al-Mortażā, Ṭabaqāt al-Moʿtazela, ed. S. Diwald-Wilzer, Beirut, 1961.

Abu’l-Maʿālī Jovaynī, al-Šāmel fī oṣūl al-dīn, ed. ʿA. S. Naššār, F. Badīrʿūn, S. M. Moḵtār, Alexandria, 1969, pp. 504, 505.

Mānakdīm b. Šešdīv, Šarḥ al-oṣūl al-ḵamsa, ed. ʿA. K. ʿOṯmān, Cairo, 1965, p. 280.

(Daniel Gimaret)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

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