|The 2nd – 3rd centuries after hijrah was a period of efflorescence of various Islamic sciences including theology, and one that witnessed the formation of a wide spectrum of intellectual schools. The most enduring schools of theology came into being or achieved consolidation during these two hundred years, while a whole host of those which lacked intellectual integrity or social compatibility faded into oblivion. Another feature of the period is the rise of complex theoretical discussions in various branches of Islamic theology which is an indication of the Muslims’ contacts with the scholars of other religions as well as the initiation of the movement of translation of philosophical and religio-philosophical works of the Greek and Alexandrian thinkers. Here, special reference should be made to the discussion of such topics as the divine attributes and the created-ness (khalq) of the Quran – in the early part of the 2nd century – and theologico-philosophical, or exact, subjects like substance (jawhar) and accident (`arad), and atom (juz’ la yatajazza, as opposed to the term jalil) – in the early 3rd century AH.
In terms of the degree of engagement in theological issues, the various sects and schools of the period may be divided into a few main strands. The first group is that of the Mu`tazilites and their branches, who saw themselves as the standard bearers of the science of theology (`ilm al-kalam) and who offered a more or less systematic set of theories on a religious worldview based on a rational outlook. The second group was made up of those whose involvement was mainly one of reaction to the opinions of the first group and who, none the less, ended up giving rise to a set of polemical positions which in themselves comprised a de facto middle-of-the-way school of theology. Finally, there were the long established schools, such as the Muhakkimah who, while hanging on to their fundamental views, got caught up in the theological whirlwind of the 2nd and 3rd centuries and in the course of gravitating towards the conflicting views of one side or another ended up giving birth to eclectic intellectual tendencies.
Based on the above, the conclusion becomes quite inevitable that the discussions of theologico-philosophical, or exact, subjects were the forte of the first and third groups while the second group tried to steer clear of all that appeared alien to what was asserted in religious texts. As significant as a comparative survey of the subjects in Islamic theology with theologies of other religions in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AH is, it, none the less, contributes very little to a thorough understanding of the views which claimed to have had their roots in the Islamic religion. An ad hoc study of the latter concepts may be carried out within the framework of a classification scheme based on the topics, e.g. imamate, irja’, qadar, or the sects and schools, or the geographical territories. However, any brief survey of these theological tendencies would do well to take into account a scheme comprising all these categories, i.e. the thoughts, the schools, and the geographical scopes.