Harith al-Muhasibi

al-Muḥāsibī (Arabic: المحاسبي‎) was the founder of the Baghdad School of Islamic philosophy, and a teacher of the Sufi masters Junayd al-Baghdadi and Sirri Saqti.

Al-Ḥārith Al-Muhāsibī
Born781 CE
170 AH
Basra, Abbasid Caliphate
Died857 CE (aged 73)
243 AH
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate
EraIslamic Golden Age
RegionAbbasid Caliphate
Main interest(s)Sufism, Aqidah, Kalam (Islamic Theology)
Notable idea(s)Baghdad School of Islamic philosophy, Muhasabah
Notable work(s)Kitab al-Khalwa, Kitab al-Ri`aya li-huquq Allah, Kitab al-Wasaya
Muslim leader

His full name is Abu Abdullah Harith bin Asad bin Abdullah al-Anizi al-Basri hailed from the Arab Anazzah tribe. He was born in Basra in about 781. Muhasibi means self-inspection/audit. It was his characteristic property. He was a founder of Sufi doctrine, and influenced many subsequent theologians, such as al-Ghazali.

The author of approximately 200 works,[3] he wrote about theology and Tasawwuf (Sufism), among them Kitab al-Khalwa and Kitab al-Ri`aya li-huquq Allah ("Obeying God's Permits").


His parents left Basra for Baghdad shortly after his birth, perhaps inclined to the economic opportunities in the new capital. His father became wealthy, though al-Muhasibi refused it. Despite the affluent lifestyle available to him, he retained an ascetic quality from Al-Hasan al-Basri. The Sufis of his time has taken on certain practices, such as wearing woolen clothing, reciting the Qur'an at night, and limiting the kind and quantity of food eaten. He saw that Sufi practices can help control the passions, but can also result in other problems like hypocrisy and pride. When outward piety becomes a part of one's image, it can mask hidden problems with the ego. Both the inner and outward states must be rectified. Constant self-examination (muhasabah) in anticipation of the Day of Judgement was his proposed method for developing awareness of the inner self and purifying the heart.

Al-Muhasibi later joined a group of scholars of theology, led by Abdullah ibn Kullāb (died 855). They criticized the Jahmis, Mu'tazilis, and Anthropomorphists. The Mu'tazilis argued that the Qur'an was created, while Ibn Kullab argued against the createdness of the Qur'an by introducing a distinction between the speech of God (kalam Allah) and its realization: God is eternally speaking (mutakallim), but he can only be mukallim, addressing Himself to somebody, if this addressee exists.

In 848 (or possibly 851), the caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the Mihna, and, two years later, banned the Mu'tazilites' theology.

In al-Khalwa, in a discourse on fear and hope:

Know that the first thing that corrects you and helps you correct others is renouncing this world. For renunciation is attained by realisation, and consideration is attained by reflection. For if you think of this world, you will not find it worth sacrificing your soul and faith for it. But you will find your soul worthier of honour by ridiculing this world. This world is abhorred of God almighty and the messengers. It is an abode of affliction and a station of foolishness. Be on your guard from it.[4]

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  1. ^ a b Yücedoğru, Tevfik. "Ebu’l Abbâs el-Kalânîsî’nin Kelâmî Görüşleri." Review of the Faculty of Theology of Uludag University 20.2 (2011). p.1 "Ibn Kullab al-Basri is the first representative of the new tendency in Islamic theology. Harith b. Asad al-Muhasibi and Abu'l-Abbas al-Qalanisi are the persons who are worth to be mentioned in this context as his followers..."
  2. ^ Van Ess, Josef. "Ibn Kullab et la mihna." Arabica 37.2 (1990): 173-233.
  3. ^ Gavin Picken, Spiritual Purification in Islam: The Life and Works of Al-Muhasibi, Routledge (2011), p. 67
  4. ^ Translated in Suleiman Ali Mourad, Early Islam between myth and history (Brill, 2006), 128; from Khalwa, 24.

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