Al-Usul al-Khamsa

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The Five Principles or al-Uṣūl al-Khamsa (Arabic: الأصول الخمسة) refers to the fundamental principles of the Mu'tazila theological school. The Mu'tazila are a group of Sunni Muslim theologians who famously rely on the reason, rather than the transmitted tradition. The five principles consist in monotheism about attributes, justice, wa'd (the divine promise to reward), wa'id (the divine promise to punish), the position between the two positions (al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn), as well as enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong (al-amr bi-l-ma'ruf wa l-nahy 'an al-munkar).


Main article: Mu'tazila

The Mu'tazila are a group of Sunni Muslim theologians who famously rely on the reason, rather than the transmitted tradition. They believed that whatever comes to us through the revelation should be evaluated by the theoretical reason. The principle had consequences in their general intellectual system as well as their religious beliefs, leading to particular conceptions of monotheism and divine justice. Thus, they provided exoteric interpretations (ta'wil) of the religious texts which appear to be contrary to the reason. For instance, they denied the possibility of seeing God which is mentioned in some religious texts and provided an exoteric interpretation of it, since it is not possible to see something without there being a place and a direction, and since God is too exalted to have a place or a direction, it is not possible to see Him neither in this world, nor in the afterlife.

Some Mu'tazili beliefs are obviously contrary to the views agreed upon by other Sunni Muslims and are, instead, close to the views of Imami theologians. The two schools even share some views about some principles of beliefs, such as monotheism and justice. In some historical periods, the Shi'as and the Mu'tazila were very close, and some rationalist Shiite scholars, such as Al-Shaykh al-Mufid and al-Sayyid al-Murtada, were close to the Mu'tazila. However, there have always been significant disagreements between the Shi'as and the Mu'tazila with regard to theological issues. For instance, the Shi'as had different views from those of the Mu'tazila with respect to imamate, the relation between faith and major sins, and enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.


The type of monotheism particularly highlighted by the Mu'tazila is monotheism about attributes (or unity of attributes): they deny there being attributes additional to the essence of God, holding that God's attributes are identical to His essence. Thus, they are sometimes taken to deny divine attributes or to believe that God's essence is surrogate for His attributes. However, it seems that they do not deny the attributes of perfection about God; rather they believe that such attributes are identical to His essence, and thus, they have the same view as the Imamiyya in this regard. This is clearly implied by al-Shaykh al-Mufid in his Awa'il al-maqalat and al-Shahristani in his al-Milal wa l-nihal. It has also been confirmed by the authors of Tarikh-i falsafa dar jahan-i Islami (the history of philosophy in the Islamic world).

The Mu'tazila do not believe in monotheism about actions (unity of actions), because they believe that this type of monotheism implies that it is God who creates all human actions, rather than the human persons themselves, and thus, it implies that the human person is not the genuine agent of his or her actions, and so, he or she cannot be rewarded or punished by the actions, because it would be contrary to the divine justice to reward or punish a person for what they have not done. According to this argument, the Mu'tazila believe in the principle of tafwid (delegation of actions to human persons), that is, they hold that all volitional matters are delegated by God to the human person, without God having any role in them.


Just like the Imamiyya, the Mu'tazila have interpreted the divine justice in terms of rational goodness and badness (al-husn wa l-qubh al-'aqliyyayn). They believe that the human intellect is created in a way that it can recognize the goodness and badness of actions without consulting the transmitted sharia. For example, the human intellect can understand that God never commits injustice and wrong actions.

The Mu'tazila have a different view from that of the Imamiyya with regard to some ancillary issues of the divine justice (such as the human free will), such as their belief in tafwid.

The Imamiyya and the Mu'tazila came to be known as "'Adliyya" because they have interpreted the justice in terms of the rational goodness and badness.

Divine Rewards and Punishments

There is no disagreement between the Mu'tazila and the Imamiyya with regard to the reward (wa'd) and punishment (wa'id) being instances of the principle of kindness (qa'idat al-lutf). They both agree that it is rationally obligatory for God to fulfil His promises to reward people, but the Mu'tazila also believe, contra the Imamiyya, that it is also obligatory for God to fulfil His promises to punish people. Because of the latter belief, the Mu'tazila are also known as "Wa'idiyya". However, those of the Mu'tazila who agree with the Imamiyya in denying that God has the obligation to fulfil his promise to punish people are called "Tafdiliyya".

Position between the Two Positions

The first principle of the Mu'tazila propounded by their leader, Wasil b. 'Ata, is the position between the two positions (al-manzila bayn al-manzilatayn). The problem is whether a person who commits a major sin counts as a believer or an unbeliever. The Mu'tazila believe that if a person commits a major sin, then they should be considered neither as believers, nor as unbelievers. If such a person dies without tawba (repentance), then they will certainly be punished by God forever. According to al-Shaykh al-Mufid, a person counts as Mu'tazili if they agree with the Mu'tazila on this issue, even if they disagree with them on other issues.

Enjoining the Right and Forbidding the Wrong

An essential ruling of Islam is al-amr bi-l-ma'ruf wa l-nahy 'an al-munkar (enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong). There is no Islamic sect which denies the ruling and so, it is not restricted to a particular sect. However, the Mu'tazila have considered it as one of their principles in order to show their particular concern about it. According to al-Zamakhshari, the Mu'tazil believe that it is a collective obligation to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong under certain conditions. The highest form of this obligation is to wage a war, which should be undertaken by the Islamic government.