Q: is the Ash'ari'a sect bid'aat (an innovation)? Are its aqeedah (beliefs) not in accordance with the teaching of the Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam?
A: With regards to Aqeeda there emerged two great figures during the third century hijri, viz Imam Abul-Hasan Ash’ari and Imam Abu Mansoor Matureedi. Most of the Ulema after them subscribe to one of the two Schools of Aqeeda espoused by these Scholars, viz the Ash’ari and the Matureedi Schools. The Hanafi scholars favoured the School of Matureedi, while Shaafi Scholars inclined towards the Ash’ari School of Aqeeda. These two great Imams do not differ in the fundamental and basic beliefs of Quran and Sunnah. Instead their differences are confined to either academic definitions or to the secondary level of beliefs that spring from fundamentals. For example, they all believe and accept that Allah has unique and uncreated Attributes, and that these Attributes were with Allah since His existence, which is from forever. However, they will differ as to the definition of these attributes in an academic sense, or in how these attributes of Allah affect human beings.
It must be emphasized that these differences are not based on personal opinion, for aqeeda is never expounded and promoted in such a manner. Instead, the aqeeda that these great Imams expounded were based on Quran, Sunnah, and the fatwas of the Sahaaba and Ulema after them. If any of them adopted a belief different to the other, it would be supported by the above sources of Islamic teaching.
On this basis you will understand that both Ash’ari and Matureedi belong to the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah. The Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah is that group who follow in the footsteps of Rasoolullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and his Sahaaba. The Matureedi and Ash’ari Schools of Aqeeda do not divert from the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger sallallahu alaihi wa sallam and his Sahaaba. The hue and cry with regards to the Aqeedah of Matureedi and Ash’ari and the question of them not belonging to the Ahlus-Sunnah wal Jama’ah, only developed recently with certain ardent and biased followers of Ibni Taymiyyah, especially the Ulema of Saudi Arabia. Before then, for centuries. there has been total and absolute unanimity among all Scholars that the Ash’ari and Matureedi are of the Ahlus-Sunnah.
Mufti Siraj Desai