Imām al-Bayhaqī’s Letter to ‘Amīd al-Mulk on Imām Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī
17 Apr, 2020
In his comprehensive hagio-biography of Imām Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī (260 – 324 H) Tabyīn Kadhib al-Muftarī, Hāfiz Ibn ‘Asākir (499 – 571 H) quotes a lengthy letter written by Imām al-Bayhaqī (384 – 458 H) to the grand vizier of the Seljuk Empire, ‘Amīd al-Mulk (415 – 456 H), on his views about the personality and theology of Imām al-Ash‘arī. Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī reproduces most of the letter in his Tabaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyyah al-Kubrā with his chain via Ibn ‘Asākir.
Below we present a translation of the letter, which demonstrates Imām al-Bayhaqī’s great respect for Imām al-Ash‘arī and his appreciation of the efforts he made to defend the ‘aqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah.
In the middle of the fifth Hijrī century, the Seljuk sultān Togrul Beg, a righteous Sunnī Hanafi unfamiliar with Ash‘arī belief, was manipulated by his vizier ‘Amīd al-Mulk Mansūr ibn Muhammad al-Kundurī, a Rāfidī Mu‘tazilī, to pass a law institutionalising public cursing of the Ash‘arīs along with other groups of innovators. ‘Amīd al-Mulk al-Kundurī accused them of holding beliefs of which they are free. Taking help from Mu‘tazilah who claimed to be Hanafīs, he persuaded the sultān to remove Ash‘arī scholars from their religious posts like delivering Friday sermons, teaching and preaching. This fitnah spread from Khurāsān to Shām, Hijāz, Irāq and other regions, until the Ash‘arīs, including Imam al-Ash‘arī himself, were cursed on the minbars. The fitnah led to Ustādh Abu l-Qāsim al-Qushayrī being publicly humiliated and imprisoned for over a month and Imām al-Haramayn al-Juwaynī going into hiding.
The sultān died shortly after the fitnah and his son Alp Ārslān Abū Shujā‘ ‘Adud al-Dawlah came into power. Kundurī did not live long after this as he was brutally killed. The vizier that followed, Nizām al-Mulk, restored the Ash‘arī scholars to their former positions and lent support to Ash‘arī belief. At the inception of the fitnah, Imām al-Bayhaqī wrote the letter to ‘Amīd al-Mulk al-Kundurī before the latter’s beliefs were clear.
Tāj al-Dīn al-Subkī said after reproducing most of al-Bayhaqī’s letter:
“This letter, whose writer is one you recognise for his memorisation, piety, scrupulousness, awareness, recognition, trustworthiness, integrity and verification, entails that the Sahābah and those who followed them in excellence from the scholars of the ummah, the jurists of them and the muhaddithīn from them, were on the belief of al-Ash‘arī. Rather, al-Ash‘arī was on their belief. He rose to defend it and he fortified its surrounding from being enveloped by the hands of the falsifiers and the distortion of the extremists.” (Tabaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyyah al-Kubrā, p. 399)
Hāfiz Ibn ‘Asākir writes:
Shaykh Abū Bakr Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ahmad ibn Habīb al-‘Āmirī al-Hāfiz reported to us at Baghdād:
Shaykh al-Qudāt Abū ‘Alī Ismā‘īl ibn Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Bayhaqī reported to us:
My father, Imām Abū Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Bayhaqī reported to us, he said:
May the peace, mercy and blessings of Allāh be upon Shaykh al-‘Amīd, and verily I praise Allāh with him, besides Whom there is no deity, He alone, with no partner. I send blessings on His Messenger, Muhammad, and on his progeny.
Indeed Allāh (Great and Majestic is His Praise), by His grace and His generosity, gives sovereignty to whoever He wills from amongst His slaves over whatever He wills from His lands. Then He guides whoever He wills from them to His path and He directs him towards striving for His pleasure, and He appoints for him in that which he is authorised a truthful vizier pointing out to him the good, and encouraging him towards it, and [appoints for him] a true helper inciting him to righteousness and assisting him in it, so that the emir and the vizier both succeed by Allāh’s grace with immense success and they attain from His favour a large share.
The emir (may Allāh extend his rein) was from those Allāh gave dominion and wisdom. Shaykh al-‘Amīd (Allāh extend his sovereignty) was from those Allāh appointed for him as a true vizier: if he forgets he reminds him and if he remembers he supports him, just as our master, the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), told of every emir for whom Allāh wishes goodness. Thus, by the beautiful supervision of the emir (Allāh extend his days) and his wonderful attention and his administration, the lands of Khurāsān returned to prosperity after corruption, and its roads to security after insecurity, until good mention of him spread throughout the horizons, and the earth was illuminated by the light of his justice with complete illumination. This is why our master, the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), said in what was narrated from him: ‘The sultān is the shade of Allāh and His spear on the earth.’ And he said in what was narrated from him (Allāh bless him and grant him peace): ‘A day from the days of a just ruler is better than sixty years of worship.’ And ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Mubārak said: ‘Were it not for the rulers, the roads would not have been safe for us, and our weakest would be the loot of our strongest.’ May Allāh increase him in elevation and support; and may He increase in guidance and exactness the one who supports him in goodness and encourages him towards it.
Further, indeed he (Allāh glorify his victory) directed his lofty aspiration towards supporting the religion of Allāh and suppressing the enemies of Allāh after his excellent belief became established for all based on his decree to the sermonisers of his kingdom to curse those who deserve to be cursed from the people of innovation due to their innovation. The people of deviation despaired of their departure from truth and their swerving from moderation. Thus, they delivered in his ears that in which was a disaster for the generality of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah, and a calamity for them as a whole, from the Hanafīs, Mālikīs and Shāfi‘īs, who did not tend towards the pathways of the Mu‘tazilah in negation (ta‘tīl) [of Allāh’s attributes], nor did they tread the roads of the corporealists (mujassimah) in anthropomorphism (tashbīh) from the eastern and western parts of the earth. [They did this] so that they may take comfort from being equal to them by means of this disaster in their humiliation of being cursed and suppressed in this victorious dominion (Allāh grant it firmness). We wish he discovers what they intend soon and comes to know what they plan so that by Allāh’s (Great and Majestic is He) direction he will immediately make amends with regards to what was delivered to him, and [we wish that] he orders the punishment of those who produced lies to him and disfigured the image of the imāms in his presence.
It appears that the condition of our shaykh, Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī (may the mercy and pleasure of Allāh be upon him), and what is credited to him in terms of noble origins and a great stature in knowledge and virtue and numerous supporters from the Hanafīs, Mālikīs and Shāfi‘īs who took interest in the science of the foundations [of belief] and wished to know the rational proofs are hidden to him.
Shaykh al-‘Amīd (Allāh extend his aptitude) is the worthiest of his friends and the likeliest of them to introduce to him his condition and inform him of his virtue, due to what is credited to him of guidance, comprehension, valour and sufficiency, along with soundness of creed and excellent conduct.
The virtues of Shaykh Abu l-Hasan and his merits are more numerous than their description being possible in this letter due to the fear of boredom in making it lengthy. Nonetheless, I will mention, by the will of Allāh (Exalted is He), something of his nobility through his fathers and ancestors and his excellence in knowledge and his beautiful belief and the greatness of his stature emanating from his numerous supporters which will drive him to defend him and his followers.
Shaykh al-‘Amīd (Allāh extend his sovereignty) should know that Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī (Allāh have mercy on him) is from the descendants of Abū Mūsā al-Ash‘arī (may Allāh be pleased with him), as he is: Abu l-Hasan ‘Alī ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ishāq ibn Sālim ibn Ismā‘īl ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mūsā ibn Bilāl ibn Abī Burdah ibn Abī Mūsā. Abū Mūsā is ‘Abd Allāh ibn Qays ibn Sulaym al-Ash‘arī, attributed to al-Jamāhir ibn al-Ash‘ar, and al-Ash‘ar is from the children of Sabā who were in Yemen. When Allāh (Exalted is He) appointed His Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), Abū Mūsā al-Ash‘arī migrated with his two brothers amongst approximately fifty of his people to the land of Ethiopia and they stayed with Ja‘far ibn Abī Tālib (may Allāh be pleased with him) until they came together to the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) when he conquered Khaybar.
He was granted offspring and descendants with comprehension, transmission and attention which increased his prominence, and their names are recorded in the histories, and knowledge of them is famous amongst the people with knowledge of transmission, until there came the turn of our shaykh, Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī (may Allāh have mercy on him).
He did not bring anything new in the religion of Allāh, nor did he introduce any innovation in it. Rather, he took the statements of the Sahābah, Tābi‘īn and those after them from the imāms on the foundations of religion, and he supported them with extra commentary and explanation, and [showed] that what they said in the fundamentals and what the Sharī‘ah has come with is correct rationally, in opposition to what the people of desires claim of some of it being unsound rationally.
Thus, in his explanation was a consolidation of what the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah has remained upon and support for the statements of those imāms who have passed, like Abū Hanifah and Sufyān al-Thawrī from the people of Kūfah, al-Awzā‘ī and others from the people of Shām, Mālik and al-Shāfi‘ī from the people of Haramayn and those who adopted their way from the people of Hijāz and other places, and like Ahmad ibn Hanbal and other exponents of hadīth, and al-Layth ibn Sa‘d and others, and Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad ibn Ismā‘īl al-Bukhāri and Abu l-Husayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjāj al-Naysābūrī, the two imāms of the people of traditions and the masters of the narrations on which the Shari‘ah revolves (may Allah be pleased with them all).
That is the way of those who have attained prominence from the imāms of this ummah and have become leaders in knowledge from the Ahl al-Sunnah in earlier and recent times. This is what our master, the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), promised his ummah according to what Abū Hurayrah narrated that he (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) said: ‘Verily Allah will send for this ummah at the peak of every hundred years one who will revive for it its religion.’ They are these imāms who in every era from the eras of His ummah undertook to support His Sharī‘ah and those who will undertake [this responsibility] till the Day of Resurrection.
When the saying of Allāh (Glorified and Exalted is He): ‘O you who believe, whoever from amongst you becomes a renegade from his religion, Allāh will soon bring a people whom He loves and who love Him, humble toward believers, stern toward disbelievers, striving in the way of Allāh, and fearing not the blame of any blamer’ (5:54) was revealed, the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) pointed at Abū Mūsā (may Allāh be pleased him), and he said: ‘His people.’ Thus Allāh (Great is His Praise and Glorified is He) promised something contingent on something [else], and the Chosen Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) specified it to the people of Abū Mūsā. Thus, his report was real and the promise of Allāh true. When the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) came out from amongst his ummah and Allāh (Great and Glorious is He) took Him to His mercy, groups of the Arabs apostatised, so Abū Bakr al-Siddīq (may Allāh be pleased with him) fought them with the companions of the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace), amongst whom were Abū Mūsā and his people, until the apostates returned to Islām just as the Lord of Creation promised.
When the innovators proliferated in this ummah, and they abandoned the outward of the Book and Sunnah, and they denied what has been transmitted that it is from the attributes of Allāh (Great and Glorious is He) like life, power, knowledge, will, hearing, seeing and speech, and they denied what they indicate like the Mi‘rāj and the punishment of the grave and the Scale and that Paradise and Hell are created and that the people of faith will come out from the Fire, and that which our Prophet (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) enjoys like the fount and intercession, and what the inhabitants of Paradise will enjoy of a vision [of Allāh], and that the four caliphs were on the truth in what they executed in their reigns, and they asserted that none of this is sound in the intellect and is invalid in [rational] thought, Allāh (Exalted is He) extracted from the lineage of Abū Mūsā al-Ash‘arī (may Allāh be pleased with him) an imām who undertook to support the religion of Allāh and strove with his tongue and his explanation against those who diverted [people] from the path of Allāh, and added in explanation for the people of certainty that whatever the Book and Sunnah have brought and that which the salaf of this ummah were upon is sound in the intellect and valid in [rational] thought, bringing His statement into realisation and causing His Messenger’s (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) specification of the people of Abū Mūsā in His saying: ‘Allāh will soon bring a people whom He loves and who love Him,’ to materialise.[Having said] this, discussion on the science of foundations and the temporality of the universe is an inheritance of Abu l-Hasan al-Ash‘arī from his grandparents and uncles who came to the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) as it is not established according to the people of knowledge of hadīth that a delegation from the delegations came to the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace) and asked him about the science of foundations and the temporality of the universe besides the delegation of the Ash‘arīs from the people of Yemen.
The one who reflects on these hadīths and knows the ideology of our shaykh, Abu l-Hasan (may Allāh be pleased with him), in the science of foundations, and knows his mastery in it, he will see the design of Allāh (Great is His Power) in giving primacy to this noble ancestry for what He kept in store for His slaves in this lofty descendent through whom He revived the Sunnah and caused innovation to die and He made him a true successor of a true predecessor.[Having said] this, the ‘ulamā’ of this ummah from the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah in terms of engagement in knowledge are divided into categories despite agreement in the foundations of religion. Some limit their aspiration to gaining knowledge of jurisprudence in the religion with its evidence and its proofs from exegesis, hadīth, consensus and analogy without mastery in the proofs of foundations. Some limit their aspiration to mastery in proofs of the foundations without mastery in the proofs of jurisprudence. And some are those who made their aspiration in both, as did the Ash‘arīs from the people of Yemen, when they said to the Messenger of Allāh (Allāh bless him and grant him peace): ‘We have come to gain understanding in the religion and to ask you about the beginning of this affair.’
In this is a realisation of what is reported from the Chosen One (Allāh bless him and grant him peace): ‘The divergence of my ummah is a mercy,’ as I heard from Shaykh Imām Abu l-Fath Nāsir ibn al-Hasan al-‘Umarī, he said: I heard Shaykh Imām Abū Bakr al-Qaffāl al-Marwazī (may Allāh have mercy on him) say: ‘Its meaning is that the divergence of their aspirations is a mercy.’ Meaning, the aspiration of one is in jurisprudence and the aspiration of another in Kalām, just as the aspirations of workers differ in their professions, so that each of them can carry out what is in the interests of the people and the lands.
Further, all those who made their aspiration knowing the evidences of jurisprudence and its proofs do not deny in themselves what the scholars of foundations opined. Rather, they adopt their madhhab in beliefs based on the bare minimum of what points them to its authenticity in terms of proofs. However, they consider their occupation in that to be more useful and better. And the one who directs his aspiration towards knowledge of the evidences of foundations and its proofs adopts the madhhab of one of the imāms who we named from the jurists of the towns in the peripheral laws, but he considers his occupation in that at the time of the emergence of innovations more useful and better. The ‘ulamā’ of Sunnah therefore are united, and the Ash‘arīs are from them, because they all agree in the science of foundations.
However, Allāh (Glorious is His Praise) has put the soundness of their conditions in the soundness of their leaders and the safety of their objectives in their leaders’ defence of them. This is what the one who Allāh put truth on his tongue and heart, the leader of the believers, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb (may Allāh be pleased with him), said. That is according to what Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Hāfiz reported to us: Abū ‘Amr al-Sammāk reported to us: Hanbal ibn Ishāq narrated to us: Abū Nu‘aym narrated to us: Mālik ibn Anas narrated to us from Zayd ibn Aslam from his father, he said: ‘Umar (may Allāh be pleased with him) said at the time of his death: ‘Know that the people will remain on goodness so long as their leaders and guides remain upright.’ Abū Hāzim said that which Abū Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Hasan reported to us: Hājib ibn Ahmad reported to us: Muhammad ibn Hammād narrated to us: Abū Damrah Anas ibn ‘Iyād narrated to us: He said: I heard Abū Hāzim [Salamah ibn Dīnār] say: ‘The people will remain upon goodness as long as these desires do not occur in the sultān. They are the ones who defend the people. When they occur in them, who will defend them?’
We ask Allāh to protect the emir and lengthen his stay and cause his blessings to last and extend his ability to revive the Sunnah by bringing its supporters close to his gatherings and suppress innovation by distancing its supporters from his presence, so that the happiness of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l Jamā‘ah from both groups increases about his position, and their righteous supplications for him spread in the eastern and western parts of the earth by his grace, and it is hoped and sought of Allāh (Great and Glorious is He) that He blesses the Muslims with the endurance of Shaykh al-‘Amīd and with making his favour last and extending his success and his protection. Everyone is relying on his excellent belief, correct religion, strong conviction, mature intellect and great stature to rectify what has occurred in this incident, which lowers the landmarks of religion and elevates the marks of innovations. If this calamity continues, and protection is from Allāh, it will enter every town from the towns, and the hearts of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jama‘āh will be apprehensive because of it.
It is not difficult for Allāh to guide Shaykh al-‘Amīd (Allāh lengthen his exactitude) to strive in eliminating this fitnah and struggle in extinguishing this calamity, having certainty of what will follow him in his worldly life of beautiful praise and in his afterlife of great reward, fulfilling the right of this lofty dominion, the administration of which Allāh has appointed to him and the reins of which Allāh has placed in his hands. The endurance of the kingdom is through justice, its soundness is through the soundness of religion, and its sweetness is through what follows it of beautiful praise. May Allāh grant him direction and exactitude and protect him and save him from troubles.
Peace be upon him and the mercy of Allāh and His blessings.
(Tabyīn Kadhib al-Muftarī, al-Maktabah al-Azhariyyah li l-Turāth, pp. 86-91)
 Tabaqāt al-Shāfi‘iyyah al-Kubrā, 3:395-399
 Hāfiz Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ahmad ibn Habīb, Abū Bakr al-‘Āmirī (469 – 530 H), was a learned itinerant Sūfī teacher and orator. Hāfiz Ibn al-Jawzī (d. 597) studied hadīth and tafsīr under him, and praised his oration, which he says was free of the affectation and artificiality of the common sermonisers. Ibn al-Jawzī says, “He had [extensive] knowledge of hadīth and fiqh.” (Al-Muntazam fī Tārīkh al-Mulūk wa l-Umam, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 17:317-8)
 Shaykh al-Qudāt Abū ‘Alī Ismā‘īl ibn Ahmad ibn al-Husayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Mūsā al-Bayhaqī (428 – 507 H) was the son of Hāfiz Abū Bakr al-Bayhaqī, the author of the letter. Imām Abū Sa‘d al-Sam‘ānī (d. 562), who was his student, said: “He was a virtuous scholar, with excellent conduct, a preacher with a handsome face and expansive retention.” (Al-Tahbīr fi l-Mu‘jam al-Kabīr, 1:83-5) Hāfiz Ibn al-Jawzī said: “He was virtuous, with approved conduct.” (Al-Muntazam fī Tārīkh al-Mulūk wa l-Umam, Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 17:134)
 The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “When Allāh wishes goodness for a leader He appoints him a true vizier: if he forgets he reminds him and if he remembers he supports him. When He wishes other than that, He appoints for him a bad vizier: if he forgets he does not remind him and if he remembers he does not support him.” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd)
 At this point, Hāfiz Ibn ‘Asākir omits a portion of the letter saying, “Then he mentioned [some] of the virtues of Abū Mūsā some of which I recounted earlier with its chains, after which he said…”
 Ibn ‘Asākir here says: “Then he mentioned the hadīth of ‘Imrān ibn Husayn when a group of the Banū Tamīm came, and I mentioned it in the first section with its chain…” The hadīth in reference is narrated in Sahīh al-Bukhārī. It states that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “O Banī Tamīm, accept the good news.” They said: “You have given us good news, so give to us.” Then he turned to the people of Yemen and he said: “O people of Yemen, accept the good news as Banū Tamīm has not accepted it.” They said: “We have accepted, O Messenger of Allāh.” They said: “We have come to gain understanding in the religion and to ask you about the beginning of this affair.” He said: “Allāh was and there was nothing besides Him, and His throne was on water, and He wrote everything in the remembrance, and He created the heavens and the earth.”