Philosophy & Theology

The Doctrine of Kasb According to al-Ashari

The Doctrine of Kasb

according to Imam al-Ash`ari[1]


Imam Abu ’l-Hasan al-Ash`ari:

  • He resided inBasra and Baghdad.
  • He began his career as a Mu`tazilite.
  • He was the famous pupil of `Ali al-Jubba`i.
  • Abandoned the Mu`tazilite doctrines and became the defender of Ahl al-Sunnah.
  • He authored over 300 books.[2]
  • Has the largest doctrinal following throughout Muslim history.
  • Considered the most authoritative reference for orthodox Islamic theological doctrines

The Doctrine of Kasb:

  • In the Ibanah `an Usul al-Diyanah, the term kasb is synonymous with ‘action’ (`aml).[3]
  • In this sense above, kasb is said to suggest moral responsibility on the part of the agent.
  • In the Kitab al-Luma`, the notion of kasb is equated with a ‘created power’.[4]
  • Thus, man’s actions (a`mal) are in fact ‘acquisitions’ (aksab).[5]
  • Allah creates voluntary and involuntary[6] actions.[7]
  • Human beings intrinsically know the difference between a voluntary and an involuntary act.
  • Allah is the Real Agent (fa`il) and really creates (yaf`aluhui `ala haqiqatihi).
  • Man acquires the action by virtue of a mediating originated power created by Allah in him.[8]
  • Hence, man is not an agent (fa`il), i.e. a maker of his own actions.
  • The acquisition of power by man does not, however, relinquish Allah’s real Power over that act.[9]
  • Hence, man can only acquire the act if and when Allah creates that power within him to do so.[10]
  • The power to act is distinct from man and is not an intrinsic part of him otherwise man would have been able to do it essentially and in and of himself.[11]
  • The power to act created by Allah is momentary.[12]
  • The act and the power are concomitant and the power does not chronologically precede it in time or succeed it.[13]
  • Existence of this power to act is a necessary pre-condition and actual antecedent (= metaphysically or logically entails?) for the act to be realised (fi wujudiha wujud maqduriha).[14]

An argument for the reality of kasb:[15]

  1. An action is created by Allah.


2. Because this would strictly undermine the proof that Allah created the world.


3. Because it would become uncertain and doubtful if the power over anything was not delegated to some celestial agent (e.g. an Angel).

4. Therefore, in order to eliminate this possibility, Allah creates actions.

Allah knows best

[1] Based on M. Schwarz’s “Acquisition (kasb) in early Kalam” in Islamic Philosophy and the Classical TraditionEssays presented by his friends and pupils to Richard Walzer on his Seventieth Birthday, ed. S. M. Stern and A. Hourani, pp.373-377 and R. M Frank, “The Structure of Created Causality in al-Ash`ari” in Studia Islamica, pp.13-75.

[2] According to Ibn `Asakir in Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari, pp.129-137.

[3] See al-Ash`ari, al-Ibanah, p.43 and cf. McCarthy, The Theology of al-Ash`ari, p.103. 

[4] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, p.42 and Cf. McCarthy, The Theology of al-Ash`ari, p.60.

[5] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, p.37.

[6] Such as sudden muscle spasms, etc.

[7] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, § 92.

[8] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, §§ 87 and 89.

[9] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, p.43.

[10] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, p.43

[11] See al-Ash`ari, al-Maqalat al-Islamiyyin, p.229.

[12] See al-Ash`ari, al-Maqalat al-Islamiyyin, p.229.

[13] This is also the view of al-Husayn Ibn al-Najjar. Cf. al-Ash`ari, al-Maqalat al-Islamiyyin, pp.283-284 and 566. See also W. M. Watt, Free Will and Pre-destination in Early Islam, pp.106-107.

[14] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, § 123-126.

[15] See al-Ash`ari, Kitab al-Luma`, § 93.


One thought on “The Doctrine of Kasb According to al-Ashari

  1. assalaamu alaykum. What would your response be, if I said, since our intentions are created by Allah, surely then kasb also is created?

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