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Research, Reflections & Commentary

My Academic Blog consists of posts where I share preliminary thoughts about early stage academic research, reflections on theories and methods in the study of religion and Islamic studies, commentaries, summaries and excerpts from primary and secondary sources that are of interest, and short academic essays on topics that serve other scholars and the general public. While none of the posts are peer reviewed academic publications, they cite and comment on others' academic work.

  • Writer's pictureKhalil Andani

Origins of the Created vs. Uncreated Qur’an Debate: A Summary of Madelung

Updated: Aug 8, 2018

This post is a summary of a chapter by Wilferd Madelung titled: “The origins of the controversy concerning the creation of the Koran”, published in Orientalia Hispanica sive studia F.M. Pareja octogenario dicata, edited by J.M. Barral, vol. I/​1. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974), pp. 504-525.

one of most beautiful Safavid Qur'ans from 16th century. It was transcribed by Abdullah b. Muhammad al-Hafiz aš-Širazi in h.980 / 1572-73. Source:

Madelung’s article offers a reconstruction of the theological debates and events that led to the issue of the Created vs. Uncreated Qur’an during the Abbasid Inquisition (mihna) involving Ahmad b. Hanbal. The key questions Madelung seeks to address are:

1. When did the public debate concerning the nature of the Qur’an begin? How long before the mihna?

2. What were the earliest theological positions concerning the nature of the Qur’an?

3. What were the key events and forces that caused the uncreated Qur’an vs. created Qur’an positions to crystalize?

The Earliest Positions:

  • Ja‘d b. Dirham and Jahm b. Safwan (d. 745) based on ninth-tenth (3rd-4th) century reports

  • Jahmiyyah position, per Ahmad b. Hanbal (d. 241/855) and Khushaysh (d. 253/867), is that:

  • God…does not speak, that the Qur’an is created, and that He did not speak to Moses, nor does He ever speak. God created a talk and a speech (khalaqa qawlan wa-kalaman) and his talk and speech struck the ears of the creature whom God wanted (to make hear it). The hearer then transmitted on behalf of God after he had heard it. And he called this talk and speech. God is exalted far above what they say.” (Madelung, 506)

The Early Traditionist Response:

  • The essence of the early Jahmite position is the denial of God as literally speaking. Madelung notes the counter-response to this view from Yazid b. Harun (d. 206/822): “The Qur’an is the Speech of God, may God curse Jahm and whoever says what he has said.

  • Yahya b. Yahya al-Tamimi (d. 226/840): “the Qur’an is the speech of God; whoever doubts or claims that it is created is an infidel.”

  • The refutations of Jahmiyyah invoke God’s face, eyes, hands, throne, etc. and affirm anthropomorphism. Meanwhile the Jahmiyyah perform ta‘til, the denial of anthropomorphic qualities from God mentioned in the Qur’an.

The Mu‘tazili Response:

  • The Mu‘tazilis and other upheld the dictum “everything other than God is created.”

  • They affirmed that God still speaks but that speech is created (makhluq) and temporally generated (muhdath).

  • Early Mu‘tazili theologians: Ja'far b. Harb, Ja'far b. Mubashashir, Abu l-Hudhayl, Ibrahim al-Nazzam, Mu'ammar b. Abbad

The Traditionalist Response

  • Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (d. 765) – “the Qur’an is neither the created nor the creator; it is the speech of God.”

  • Sufyan b. Uyayna (d. 198/813): “God is the creator, and everything else besides Him is created. The Qur’an is the speech of God, from Him it came forth and to Him it shall return.”

  • This tries to give the Qur’an a special proximity or association with God above created things.

Before the Inquisition (Mihna): The Silence Position

  • Madelung says the debate was never centered upon the eternity vs. temporality of the Qur’an – that comes much later. He refers to Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728/1228).

  • The early ‘ulama', as per Madelung, were hesitant to even say the Qur’an was “uncreated” (ghayr makhluq) and instead refer to the Qur’an as the speech of God and add “it is not created” (laysa bi-makhluq).

  • Thus, the pre-mihna traditionist scholar who denied the Qur’an being created was more concerned about the Quran being God’s speech as opposed to its being eternal.

During the Inquisition (Mihna) Lasting from 833-848: The idea of the Qur’an as Uncreated Develops

  • With Ahmad b. Hanbal, we see the first signs of “the Qur’an is uncreated” position: during the Inquisition, he argues that the Qur’an is part of God’s Knowledge (‘ilm) and that God's Knowledge must be co-eternal with God. He also says that the name Allah is uncreated or otherwise God was ignorant. Why did Ibn Hanbal take this position:

  • “The Quran is uncreated and eternal” position takes hold after the mihna as more of a response to the charge from the Mu‘tazilis that if the Qur’an is not created, then it is eternal and this results in co-eternals with God.

  • The traditionists led by Ahmad b. Hanbalwere were forced to offer new arguments concerning the Qur’an. Ahmad b. Hanbal asserts that "God is always a speaker when He willed".

  • With this move, the early traditionalist position – "the Quran is the Speech of God" – shifts to "the Qur’an is the uncreated and eternal speech of God".

  • Ahmad b. Hanbal narrates statements like “the Qur’an is the speech of God, uncreated (ghayr makhluq)” from the early generations of Muslims.

Crystallization of the Qur’an is Uncreated Position

  • Madelung notes that the traditionalists before Ibn Hanbal and the mihna refused to take any position – the Qur’an is created or the Qur’an is uncreated: Abu Bakr b. Ayyash (d. 173); Abu Muawiya al-Darir (d. 195/811) or Abu Usama Hammad (d. 201/817). Abu Yusuf, disciple of Hanifa, forbid praying behind anyone who took either position.

  • Initially Ibn Hanbal and the traditionalists questioned at the mihna refused to take any position; but Ibn Hanbal started to add “uncreated” and explained how he established knowledge of it only later.

After the Inquisition (Mihna): The Qur’an is Uncreated is Popularized

  • After the mihna, and the crystallization of the Qur’an is uncreated position, anyone who says otherwise in silence is now treated like the Jahmites.

  • Numerous reports condemn those who refuse to say the Qur’an is created or uncreated. Hadiths are put into circulation to this effect.

  • It is claimed that hundreds of scholars from the second and third centuries taught that the Qur’an is uncreated and the belief is put into the lips of the Prophet and the early generations.

  • The Uncreated position raises more questions – if the Qur’an is uncreated but spoken, what about the act of speaking in time and its product (the lafz or recitation) – is that uncreated and eternal too? Kullabi and Ash'ari theology tries to address these questions.

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