In the end of 846 AD, a motley fool named Ibaadah entered the court of Wathiq and said “May Allah increase the reward of Amir ul Mumineen in hereafter in regards to his favors on Quran when it (the Quran) is still alive”. “What do you mean”, Wathiq asked in obvious confusion, “Do you think Quran is perishable somehow”. The jester explained wearing a solemn look on his face, “O’ Amir of the faithful, every creation is bound to perish and I am afraid how Muslims will observe Taraweeh prayers in Ramadhan after the sudden death of Quran”. Wathiq laughed and kicked him out of the court with some peculiar vocal insults that was the characteristic lingo at that time.
That was the drop scene of the drama that began in the time of Mamun and ended at the time of Wathiq with Mutasam maintaining status quo in between. Reading through the letters of Mamun to Ishaq who was his governor in Baghdad, helped me grasp and analyze the matter more profoundly. The political dimension is the one that keeps coming up in the history books as Ibn Abi Dawood influenced Mamum considerably to use coercive methods against the noble scholars of that time, Ahmed Bin Hanbal being on top of the list. However the theological dimension does not hit the surface so often. An unbiased reader of history might agree if I assert that Mutazilites were not so insincere in their intellectual approach towards the whole matter of creation of Quran.
The theological debates between Mutazilite school with Christian missionaries made them look towards the matter in a different way. They sincerely believed that the idea of Quran not being created would make them closer to canons of Christian belief. It would in a way make the Quran eternal which ultimately means that there are numerous eternals rather then a single one. That seems close to Christian dogma of trinity which is a union of three eternals. A peculiar methodology of dialog by John of Damascus is mentioned in Kitab al-Tiraas which he used to propose to Christian missionaries in their debates with Muslims. The hypothetical dialog as visualised by the author of the book can be concised as follows:
Arab Muslim: What is your belief regarding Jesus Christ?
Christian Missionary: He is the word of God. What does your Quran states about him?
Arab Muslim: [hesitates for a moment and after thinking a lot recites a part of this verse]… “Christ Jesus the son of Mary was a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him…” [al-Quran 4: 171]
Christian Missionary: What is the word of Allah, and what is ‘spirit’ and are these created or not created?
The rest of the exchange is pretty obvious as If the Muslim replies that it is not created, he would himself give a weapon into the hands of missionary of multiple eternal entities. If on the other hand he resorts to the choice of created word of God, debate might continue and missionary can always switch to circular arguments that the all three can’t be created simultaneously.
Such inter-faith theological debates were the common practice among adherents of Mutazilite methodology. They strongly believed that whoever holds the opinion that Quran was not created actually gives the weapon of multiple eternals in the hands of Christians and thus makes their argument stronger. Jahiz while explaining the shrewdness and nefariousness of missionary approach simplifies the whole argument as were seen by fresh Christian converts as well as Muslim skeptics of that era:
The complete word of God is eternal and as Jesus is the word of God, he is also eternal and this ideology seems to be affirmed by Quran.
However this apprehension of Mutazilites moved them to take coercive actions against the scholars who disagreed with them by insisting calmly that word of God should be taken as such and no external ideologies should be mixed into it. Analysis of these discourses is not the subject of this article and should be left to some other time.
Damiri writes in kitab al-haywan that Wathiq discontinued shoving his ideas into the minds of others before his death. A stranger once indulged in a debate with Ibn Abi Dawood regarding creation of Quran in the court of Wathiq few days before his death. He boldly said to Ibn Abi Dawood, “How do you claim to force an ideology which was not forced by the Prophet and neither by the righteous caliphs succeeding him? If the Salaf were familiar with this ideology and chose to keep quiet, you should also do the same. If on the other hand you believe that they did not know it at first place, how can you claim to know the issues of faith better then them”.
It is said that Wathiq jumped up from his seat as if this was a new revelation to him and conciliated his opinion with the opinion of the Salaf. I have a hard time believing in such an undramatic ending but that’s how the sages narrate it.