Createdness refers to the doctrinal position that the Qur’an was created, rather than having always existed and thus being "uncreated". The dispute over which was true became a significant point of contention in early Islam. The Islamic rationalist philosophical school known as the Mu'tazila held that if the Quran is God's word, logically God "must have preceded his own speech". Traditionists, on the other hand, held the numerous hadith support the contention that Qur’an was co-eternal with God and hence, uncreated. In the Muslim world, the doctrine that the Quran is uncreated has been unchallenged among the Sunni Muslims for many centuries, while Shia Twelvers and Zaydi, and the Kharijites believe the Quran is created. Sufi philosophers view the question as artificial or wrongly framed.
The controversy over the doctrine among Sunnis came to a head during the reign of Abassid Caliph Abd Allah al-Ma’mun. In 827 CE, al-Ma’mun publicly adopted the doctrine of createdness, and six year later instituting an inquisition known as the mihna (test) to “ensure acquiescence in this doctrine”. According to Sunni tradition when "tested" Traditionist Ahmad ibn Hanbal refused to accept the doctrine of createdness despite two years imprisonment and being scourged until unconscious. Eventually, thanks at least in part to Hanbal's courage and commitment, a new Caliph ended the mihna, the Mu'tazila fell from favor, and orthodoxy resumed its dominance.
In coming years it was the minority of Muslims who believed in Quranic createdness who were on the receiving end of the sword or lash. 12th century Almoravid jurist Qadi Ayyad, citing the work of Malik ibn Anas, wrote that:
He said about someone who said that the Qur'an is created, "He is an unbeliever, so kill him." He said in the version of Ibn Nafi', "He should be flogged and painfully beaten and imprisoned until he repents." In the version of Bishr ibn Bakr at-Tinnisi we find, "He is killed and his repentance is not accepted."
The significance of hadith
That the question of the createdness of the Qur’an is, among other things, a hermeneutical issue is reflected in the variety of arguments and issues that associate with it – whether the Qur’an or the traditions assert the Qur’an’s createdness, what “created” means, and whether and how this affects the standing of these texts as authoritative and as a consequence, the status of those who study them. Where the Qur’an is understood as the word of God, and the words and example of the Prophet transmitted through hadith also attain to divine significance, if the Qur’an cannot be taken to assert its own createdness, for the doctrine of createdness to be true the traditions would have to support it. Indeed, to admit the insufficiency of the hadith corpus to adjudicate what with the institution of the mihna becomes such a visible dispute would necessarily marginalize the authority of traditions. Thus it is not by accident that al-Ma’mun decides to administer the test on religious scholars. The test of the mihna was applied neither universally nor arbitrarily. In fact, the letter that Al-Ma’mun sent to his lieutenant in Baghdad instituting the mihna stipulated that the test be administered to qadis and traditionists (muhaddithin). Both of these groups regard hadith as central to Qur’anic interpretation and to matters of Islamic jurisprudence. In particular, the rhetorical force of muhaddithin acceptance of the doctrine is then to concede that either or both of the Qur’an and the hadith corpus attest to the doctrine, simultaneously validating the caliph’s theological position and legitimizing his claim to hermeneutical authority with regard to the sacred texts.
The case of Ahmad ibn Hanbal
The significance of ibn Hanbal’s stand for orthodoxy is constituted in his refusal to engage in kalam during his interrogation. He was willing to “argue” but only on the basis of the Qur’an or the traditions and their “literal” meaning. While this distinction itself is difficult to make in practice, its value is in part rhetorical, for the assertion marks his orthodox identity as one who stands by the absolute authority of the sacred texts over-above those who make use of reason. The role of Muslim scholar and muhaddith, Ahmad ibn Hanbal in the mihna has garnered significant attention in later historiography. It is said that ibn Hanbal was tested during the minha. Though imprisoned and later scourged, he refused to accept the doctrine of createdness and Patton presents him as a stalwart of orthodoxy, claiming that he did more than any other to strengthen the position of orthodoxy.
Scholars such as John A. Nawas and Walter M. Patton, have advanced various hypotheses in an attempt to account for the caliph’s actions. Patton for instance, claims that while partisans might have made political capital out of the public adoption of the doctrine, al-Ma’mun’s intention was “primarily to effect a religious reform.” Nawas on the other hand, argues that the doctrine of createdness was a “pseudo-issue,” insisting that its promulgation was unlikely an end in itself since the primary sources attached so little significance to its declaration.