Ashʿarism, causality, and the cult of saints

Daniel Lav*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Muslim cult of saints is often termed a ‘popular’ form of religion. Nonetheless, a long tradition of Sunnī scholarly apologia for the cult defended it as consistent with Islamic monotheism on the basis of Ashʿarī theological principles. These treatises conceptualize tawḥīd first and foremost as acknowledgement of Allāh’s monopoly on efficient causation, and argue that the practices in question, such as appeal addressed to the Prophet Muḥammad at his tomb, do not gainsay this foundational belief. The apologetic tradition, stretching from Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī (d. 756/1355) to Aḥmad Zaynī Daḥlān (d. 1304/1886), was formulated in response to Ibn Taymiyya’s and later the Wahhābīs’ denunciation of the cult as a form of shirk (polytheism). In contradistinction to the Ashʿarīs, the Taymiyyans’ condemnation of the cult rested on a praxis-centered theology of worship, one that entails a relative affirmation of human agency and a relative decentering of the topic of efficient causation in favor of Allāh’s role as a final cause of human action.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)255-312
Number of pages58
JournalJerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam
Issue number50
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Max Schloessinger Memorial Foundation, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All rights reserved.


  • Al-Nābulusī
  • Ashʿarism
  • Cult of saints
  • Ibn Taymiyya
  • Kasb
  • Taqī al-Dīn al-Subkī
  • Wahhābiyya


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