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Something special today. I found some old notes on the different theological schools existent within Sunni #Islam. Since there's a lot of confusion on this matter, I'll share them with you guys. It's a very brief and very simplified description, so nothing complex really.
There are three main ways to approach the Islamic creed (ʿaqīda):
1) Through literalist textualism
2) Through the bāṭin (inner esoteric meanings)
3) Through speculative rationalism

It's important to note that these three ways mostly coexisted within the Islamic world.
The 1st is used by the school of al-athariyya (from #Arabic أثر - tradition/transmission). They approach the #Islamic creed through a literary reading of the relevatory texts, focusing on its ẓāhir (apparent) meaning. The texts are the sole authorities in matters of belief/law.
The 2nd can generally be applied to a collection of different ṣūfī groups. They approach the Islamic creed through the inner, hidden meanings of the religion, known only to a select group of awliyāʾ (saints). They focus heavily on the esoteric, mystical and spiritual aspects.
The 3rd historically appeared when a group of rationalists called al-Muʿtazila (from #Arabic Iʿtizāl), opposed textualism during the #Abbasid period. Now largely extinct and considered unorthodox, they argued that moral truths could be established through unaided reason alone.
Their rejection or reinterpretation of sacred texts when considered irreconcilable with logic, caused a major rift within Islamic theology. To choose a middle ground between rationalism and textualism, two schools were established, al-Ashʿariyya and al-Māturīdiyya.
These orthodox schools hold the opinion that the human mind/rationalism is a tool used to determine textual moral truths. Reasoning should be the judge and intellectual inquiry is decreed by God. Taʾwīl or metaphorical interpretation is used to explain that which isn't logical.
Case study: the Face of God.

An Atharī will generally argue that #God has a face as one of his physical attributes, cause He describes it in the Qur'an. The modal reality of the face is known to God alone (tafwīḍ al-kayfiyya), but it's lexical reality should be attested.
A Ṣūfī will generally argue that God's face is actually allegorical for His essence (dhāt) and reality (wujūd). Ṣūfī's seek to experience this Face of God in this world through acquiring intimate knowledge of Him. However, they can't grasp its reality, only His self-disclosure.
Ashʿarī's and Māturīdī's will argue that God can't possibly have a physical "face", as any physical attribute entails limit in space, and God can't be limited by that which He created. He meant "direction" or "Himself" when He mentions His face in the Qur'an, not really a face.
To conclude, none of these schools have anything to do with legal schools of jurisprudence (madhāhib). One can be, for example:
- Ḥanbalī Atharī, like Ibn Qudāma al-Maqdisī
- Ḥanbalī Ashʿarī, like Ibn al-Jawzī
- Ḥanbalī Ṣūfī, like ʿAbdullāh Anṣārī
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