Introduction to 'Ilm-al-Kalam
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
11. Manzilah Bayna al-Manzilatayn
The Mu’tazilite belief in this matter emerged in the wake of two opposite beliefs in the Muslim world about the faith (‘iman) or infidelity (kufr) of the fasiq. For the first time the Khawarij maintained that committing of any of the capital sins (kaba’ir) was contrary to faith (‘iman) and equal to infidelity. Therefore, the perpetrator of a major sin is a kafir.
As we know, the Khawarij emerged after the incident of arbitration (tahkim) during the Battle of Siffin about the year 37/657-58 during the caliphate of Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (A). As the Nahj al-Balaghah tells us, Amir al-Mu’minin (A) argued with them on this issue and refuted their viewpoint by numerous arguments. The Khawarij, even after ‘Ali (A), were against the caliphs of the period, and staunchly espoused the cause of al-‘amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar, denouncing others for their evil and calling them apostates and infidels. Since most of the caliphs indulged in the capital sins, they were naturally regarded as infidels by the Khawarij. Accordingly, they were adversaries of the current politics.
Another group which emerged (or was produced by the hands of vested political interests) was that of the Murji’ah, whose position with regard to the effect of capital sins was precisely opposite to that of the Khawarij. They held that faith and belief is a matter of the heart. One should remain a Muslim if one’s faith – which is an inner affair of the heart – were intact, evil deeds cannot do any harm. Faith compensates all wickedness.
The opinions of the Murji’ah were to the benefit of the rulers, and tended to cause the people to regard their wickedness and indecencies as unimportant, or to consider them, despite their destructive character, as men worthy of paradise. The Murji’ah stated in unequivocal terms:
“The respectability of the station of the ruler is secure, no matter how much he may sin. Obedience to him is obligatory and prayers performed in his leadership are correct.”
The tyrannical caliphs, therefore, backed them. For the Murji’ah, sin and wickedness, no matter how serious, do not harm one’s faith; the perpetrator of the major sins is a mu’min, not a kafir.
The Mu’tazilah took a middle path in this matter. They maintained that the perpetrator of a major sin is neither a mu’min, nor he is a kafir, but occupies a position between those two extremes. This middle state was termed by the Mu’tazilah “manzilah bayna al-manzilatayn.”
It is said that the first to express this belief was Wasil ibn ‘Ata’, a pupil of al-Hasan al-Basri. One day Wasil was sitting with his teacher, who was asked his opinion about the difference between the Khawarij and the Murji’ah on this issue. Before al-Hasan could say anything, Wasil declared:
“In my opinion the perpetrator of the major sins is a fasiq, not a kafir.”
After this, he left the company, or as is also said, was expelled by al-Hasan al-Basri – and parting his way started propagating his own views. His pupil and brother-in-law ‘Amr ibn ‘Ubayd also joined him. At this point Hasan declared, “‘I’tazala ‘anna“, i.e. “He [Wasil] has departed from us.” According to another version, the people began to say of Wasil and ‘Amr “‘I’tazala qawl al-‘ummah“, i.e. “they have departed from the doctrines held by the ummah,” inventing a third path.