The Mihna (inquisition or trial) was a period of persecution and ideological conflict in medieval Islamic history, which took place during the 9th and 10th centuries. During this time, the Caliphate was divided and there were several rival factions vying for power.

At stake during the Mihna was the question of whether the Qur’an was created or uncreated. The Mutazilites, who were a influential group of theologians, believed that the Qur’an was created and that this was necessary to maintain the unity and sovereignty of God. They argued that if the Qur’an was uncreated, it would imply that there were two eternal beings (God and the Qur’an) which would violate the principle of divine unity.

On the other hand, the traditionalists (ahl al-hadith) believed that the Qur’an was uncreated and had always existed alongside God. They argued that the Mutazilite belief in the createdness of the Qur’an was a heretical innovation and that it undermined the divine nature of the Qur’an.

The Mihna was essentially a struggle between these two groups, with the traditionalists eventually emerging victorious. The Mutazilite belief in the createdness of the Qur’an was officially condemned and the traditionalist belief in the uncreatedness of the Qur’an became the dominant view within the Islamic world.

  • There is also a political, a well as theological, argument to be had here, as al-Ma’mun was looking to transform the role of Caliph to be authoritative not just on political state matters, but on theological also and he saw himself as the heir of the prophethood and God’s Caliph, which was a far cry from what the Rashidun Caliphs and the Umayyads had proposed, this is explained in more depth in the Nawas reading and around midway of the Watt reading

What I know so far:

  • The Mihna (the Inquisition) was a rigorous doctrinal investigation into the beliefs of the leading scholars of Islam and whether they agreed with the Mutazilite idea that the Quran was created, rather than always existing, as had been the general consensus up until this point (and a core view of the traditionalists)
  • The doctrine of the createdness of the Quran
    • Traditionalist view: like Allah, the Quran is eternal as it is the Word of God and God is eternal as is his word
      • Information on why they believe this is found on pg. 44 of Political Attitudes of Mutazilah
    • Rationalist view: Allah is eternal, but the Quran is his word and as Islam is based on the principle of divine unity, there cannot be another separable part and thus Allah must have created the Quran and therefore it is not divine and is subject to temporal change [A1] 
  • The Mihna was orchestrated by al-Ma’mun in the last year of his reign, and he was accused of either having mu’tazilite sympathies, Shi’ite leanings or otherwise endeavoured to establish the caliph as the supreme authority on all worldly and religious matters
    • This is where the Nawas reading comes in
    • This last point is because the role of the Imam and the role of the caliph were hotly contested topics since the death of Muhammed, but especially since the death of Uthman, as that then caused the whole beef over Ali
  • The main target of the Mihna was Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, a traditionalist scholar who refused to acquiesce to al-Ma’mun and was imprisoned, he was nearly killed for his beliefs but then al-Ma’mun died of illness
  • Traditionalism VS Rationalism
    • Hashun ar-Rashir divided the caliphate into two for his sons, with al-Ma’mun getting the eastern portion (which was predominantly made up of the autocratic bloc) and al-Amin getting the centre (made up predominantly of the constitutionalist bloc – a big part of which were the traditionalists)
  • Subsequent caliphs after al-Ma’mun continued the Mihna until al-Matawwalik(?), who, after having been caliph for a year, stopped the inquisition and restored the previous consensus of the traditionalist view that the Quran was not in fact created, but rather eternal just like Allah

This is not to say that the contents of the Quran changes, as due to transmission and Muhammed watching over its transcribing etc the Quran has stayed the same since it was first written, but that it has to do with cultural context etc?

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