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Censure of T'awil & the matter of Haqiqa and Dhahir
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Below contain the stateemtns of the Imaams of Sunnah in their censure of the use of "t'awil" in these issue of interpreting the Attributes of Allah in the Quraan and Sunnah and the rerality of the manner of Haqiqa and Dhahir (real or literal interpretation and figurative interpretations)
Abu’l-Fadl Abd al-Wahid al-Tamimi (d.410), the Hanbalite jurisprudent and traditionist of Baghdad, authored a treatise in which he tried to present in his own words the doctrinal views of his Imam: Ahmad b. Hanbal. He said in with reference to the Attributes the following:

“The Madhhab of Abu Abdallah Ahmad b. Hanbal, may Allah be pleased with him, is that Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, has a Face unlike the formed forms and the limited substances (a’yn al-mukhattata); rather His Face is ascribed to Him by His saying {Everything shall perish except His Face}. And whosoever changes its meaning then he has deviated from it. And therefore for him the Face is a reality not in a figurative way (fi’l-haqqa dn al-majz). And the Face of Allah stays forever, not disappearing, and a Attribute of Him not extinguishing. And whosoever claims that His Face is His Essence, then he is a heretic; whosoever changes its meaning (ma’n-h) then he has disbelieved. The meaning of Face is not ‘body’ for Him, nor ‘form’ or ‘limit’; whosoever say so has innovated.”
Abu ‘Umar al-Talamanki (d.429), the Imam of the Malikites and author of al-Wusul ila Ma’rifat al-Usul, said:

"Ahl al-Sunnah have agreed upon that He, the Exalted, Ascended upon His Throne in a real sense not figuratively (‘ala’l-haqqa l ‘al’l-majz).”
Abu Nasr al-Sijzi (d.444), the Shafi’ite Scholar from Makkah, said something similar about the doctrines of the Ahl al-Sunnah:

“The Imams have agreed upon the fact that the Attributes are not to be taken but according to Tawqif (i.e. halting were the Qur'an and the Sunnah halts). And likewise, explaining them is not allowed but by way of Tawqif. So the opinion of the Speculative Theologians (al-mutakallimun) in negation of the Attributes, or affirmation by reason only, or carrying them by way of interpretion (ta’wl) which opposes the apparent meaning (aw hamlih ‘ala ta’wl mukhlif lil-dhhir) [is not allowed either].”
 
Maaliki scholar Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr al-Numayri (d.463), the Malikite Hafidh of the Islamic West, said:

“The Ahl al-Sunnah are agreed upon affirming the Attributes that occur in the Book and Sunnah, and to carry them in their real sense not figuratively (‘ala’l-haqqa l ‘al’l-majz), except that they did not inquire about the how-ness of anything of that. As for the Jahmiyyah, the Mu’tazilah and the Khawarij, all of them reject them. They do not carry anything from that upon its real sense (‘ala’l-haqqah). They alleg that whosoever affirms them [upon its real sense] is a anthropomorphist!”
The Qadi Abu Ya’la b. al-Farra’ al-Hanbali (d.458), the Imam of the Hanabilah in Baghdad of his time, said concerning this matter:

“Know that it is not permitted to reject these reports [on the Attributes] as a community of the Mu’tazilah did, nor to preoccupy oneself by interpreting (ta’wl) them as the Ash’ariyyah do! What is obligatory is to take them upon their apparent meanings (‘ala dhhirih); and that they are Attributes of Allah, the Exalted, not resembling the ones which are described from the Creations; and not professing Tashbh in them. Rather [profess in them] how it is transmitted on the authority of our Shaykh and Imam, Abu Abdallah Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Hanbal, and others from the Imams of the Ashab al-Hadith who said concerning these narrations: pass them on as they have come. So they carried them upon their apparent meanings (‘ala dhhirih) with the belief that they are Attributes of Allah, the Exalted, which do not resemble the rest of the ones that are described.”

[Abu Ya’la b. al-Farra’, Ibtal al-Ta’wilat li-Akhbar al-Sifat p.43-44]

Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari (d.324), a theologian to whom many claim affiliation, believes that the Attributes are to be taken – as the Salaf opinioned – upon their literal, real meaning: ‘ala’l-haqqah. And one should profess them as they are, according to its apparent sense: ‘ala dhhir. The meaning of this terminology will reveal itself in the course of documenting the words of scholars who advocated this as their doctrine and that of the Salaf, the pious predecessors. Let us start with this Imam.

Al-Ash’ari said in his book al-Rislah il Ahl al-Thagr, which he wrote to a community, the following under the subtitle ‘The Third Agreement [of the Salaf and the Khalaf from Ahl al-Sunnah]:

“And their agreement necessitates in that matter (i.e. that of affirming the Attributes of Allah) an agreement in the reality of the Living, the Al-Power and the Al-Knower (haqqat al-hayy al-qdir al-‘lim). And their agreement with regard to the reality (or actuality) of that (fi-haqqat dhalik) does not necessitates Tashbh (resemblance) between them. Do you not see that the Creator, the Mighty and Majestic, described that He is existent and described man by that which does not necessitates Tashbh between them? And if it has agreed with regard to the reality of the existence and therefore its necessary that there is Tashbh between them as a consequence of that, then it’s also necessary that there is Tashbh between blackness and whiteness because they are two existents! Since its not necessary that there is Tashbh between them – even if they have agreed upon the reality of existence – then it is [also] not necessary that to describe the Creator, the Mighty and Majestic, that He’s Alive, Knowing and Powerful and describing man likewise is [a form of] Tashbh of them. Even if they have agreed upon that reality of theirs..”

And he, rahimahullah, said in ‘The Fifth Agreement’:

“They have agreed upon that His Attribute, the Mighty and Majestic, is not similar with the attributes of the contingent beings as His Soul is not similar to the souls of the contingent beings. And they have argued concerning that by the fact that if He, the Mighty and Majestic, had not these Attributes than He would not be described (mawsuf) by any thing in reality (fi’l-haqqa), from the point that if one has no ‘life’ than he can not be ‘living’ and one who has no ‘knowledge’ than he can not be ‘knowledgeable’ in reality (fi’l-haqqa), and one who has no ‘power’ than he can’t be ‘powerful’ in reality (fi’l-haqqa); and likewise this condition counts for the rest of the Attributes. Don’t you see that who has no action is not active in reality (fi’l-haqqa)? And one who has no righteousness is not righteous [in reality]? And one who has no speech is not a speaker in reality (fi’l-haqqa)? And one who has no will in reality (fi’l-haqqa) is not a willer? And whoever has been described by something of that with the absence of attributes, which necessitates these attributes to it, may not lay claim on that in reality (la-yakun mustahiqqan li-dhalik fi’l-haqqa). Rather his ascription to it is figuratively or lied (majzan aw kidhban)!”

And he provides more evidence than this concerning the fact that the Attributes of Allah, the Exalted, are to be taken ‘ala’l-haqqa – ending his epistle with:

“And these principles (usl) are the ones which the predecessors went upon, and they followed the judgment of the Book and the Sunnah by it, and the righteous Khalaf followed them in it in their merits.”

[al-Ash’ari, Risalah ila Ahl al-Thagr, edited by Dr. Julaynid]

Al-Ash’ari stated also elsewhere the doctrine of the Salaf and righteous Khalaf concerning the fact that we have to take the Speech of Allah in its apparent sense, namely in his popular book al-Ibnah ‘an Usl al-Diynah which is one of his last books. He said therein:

“The Mighty Qur’an is [to be taken] in its apparent sense (fi dhhirih). It is not for us to understand it not in its apparent sense (‘ala dhhirih), but with proof. Otherwise it is to be understood according to its apparent meaning (‘ala dhhirih).”

[al-Ash’ari in al-Ibanah p.47 in the edition of ‘Abbas Sabbagh]

He also said about the reality of Allah’s Speech, i.e. the Qur’an the following:

“The Qur’an is preserved in our brests in reality (fi’l-haqqa), written in our scripts in reality, recited by our tongues in reality, heard by us in reality.”

From this we understand that Allah Spoke in reality, and that He possesses a Speech in reality.

[al-Ash’ari in al-Ibanah p.86]

And concerning the reality and apparentness of Allah’s Attribute of Two Hands al-Ash'ari says this:

“They (i.e. the Ahl al-Sunnah) have agreed upon the invalidity of the opinion of whoever affirms for Allah [many] ‘Hands’. Since they have agreed upon the invalidity of the opinion of whosoever says that, it is obliged that Allah, the Exalted, mentioned ‘Hands’ which turns to the affirmation of Two Hands, cause the evidence indicates the correctness of the consensus. And if the consensus was correct it is obliged to return from His Saying ‘Hands’ to [the understanding of] Two Hands, cause the Qur’an is to be taken upon its apparent sense (‘ala dhhir). It is not to be taken away from its apparent sense (dhhirih), but with proof. So having found proof we have transferred the reference to ‘Hands’ from its apparentness to another apparent meaning. And it is obliged that the apparentness of the other must be in its real sense (‘ala haqqatihi); it is not [allowed] to depart from it but by proof.”

He said also in the course of this:

“The rule with regard the Speech of Allah, the Exalted, is that it is to be taken according to its apparent meaning and real sense (hukm kalm allhi ta’la an yakun ‘ala dhhirihi wa-haqqatihi). It is not allowed to taken something out from its apparent sense to a figurative sense, but by proof.”

[al-Ash’ari in al-Ibanah p.105-106]

Abu Sulayman al-Khattbi (d.388), the Shafi’ite Scholar said:

“This Hadith (i.e. the narration of the Attribute of al-Nuzl) and what looks similar from the Narrations of the Attributes, then the Madhhab of the Salaf concerning them is to believe (al-imn) in them and to carry them upon their apparent meaning (‘ala dhhirih) and negating the how-ness (al-kayfiyyati) from them.”

[al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma' wa'l-Sifat p.445]

And he said in his Ma’lim al-Sunan, the Commentary of Sunan Abu Dawud:

“The Madhhab of the scholars of the Salaf and the jurisprudents was to leave the likes of these narrations upon their apparent meaning (‘ala al-dhhir) and not to twist their meanings (al-ma’ni), and neither to make Ta’wl (allegorical interpretation) of them because their knowledge was one of limited knowledge, incapable of understanding them..[as some accused unjustly]"

And says later,

“[I say:] And this (i.e. the Attributes) is from the knowledge which we’ve been commanded to believe in according to its apparent sense (bi-dhhir), not to lift up the curtain for [reaching] its hidden meaning. And it is from the ambiguous passages: Allah, the Exalted, mentioned in His Book, for He said {He is it Who revealed upon you the Book, from it the Clear Verses, they are the Mother of the Book, and other the Ambiguous Verses} the rest of the Ayat. The Muhkam of it is to know its real sense and to act [accordingly] (al-‘ilm al-haqqi wa’l-‘amal) and the Mutashabih is to believe it and to have knowledge of its apparent sense (al-imn wa’l-‘ilm al-dhhir) and to entrust its hidden sense (batin) to Allah, the Mighty and Majestic.. and the saying in all of that with the scholars of the Salaf is what we’ve said.”

[al-Khattabi in Ma’alim al-Sunan 4:304 and al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma' wa'l-Sifat p.446]

He said something similar in another – lost – book of him, al-Ghunya ‘an al-Kalam wa-Ahlihi:

“As for what you have asked me concerning the sayings on the Attributes and that which has come in the Book and the authentic Sunan with regards to them, then the Madhhab of the Salaf was to affirm them (ithbt) and take them upon their apparent meanings (‘ala dhhiriha), and to negate Tashbh and how-ness from them.”

[al-Dhahabi in al-‘Uluww, see its Mukhtasar p.207]

Al-Khattabi said also:

“The principle is: every Attribute which the Book has come with or has been authenticated by consecutive reports or is transmitted by a single route, and it has a basis in the Book or it comes from one of its meanings, then we speak by it and take upon its apparent meaning (‘ala dhhiriha) without asking how.”

[al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma' wa'l-Sifat p.364]

Abu Ahmad al-Qassab (d.400) said:

“And we do not describe Him only by what He described Himself with, or by which His Prophet described Him, for it is an Attribute in reality (sifat haqqati) not metaphorically.”

[al-Dhahabi in al-‘Uluww, see its Mukhtasar p.260]

Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d.463) said in a Risalah of his wherein he answers questions concerning the controversy of the Attributes:

“As for the speech with regards the Attributes, then what has been transmitted from it in the authentic Sunan then the Madhhab of the Salaf is: affirming them and leaving them upon their apparent meanings (‘ala dhawhirih), while negating the how-ness and Tashbh from them.”

[al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, in his Risalah fi’l-Kalam ‘an al-Sifat: see also Mukhtasar al-‘Uluww p.272; it has been also quoted with approval by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in Damm al-Ta’wil p.226]

Abu Muhammad al-Baghawi (d.516), author of the Tafsir known as Ma’alim al-Tanzil commented after the verse {Then He Rose over the heaven}:

“The first [what one must do] with regard of this Ayt and what falls in the same category is that a man must believe in its apparent meaning (bi-dhhiriha), and to assign its [inner] knowledge [of the how-ness] to Allah; and [he must] believe that Allah is transcended from temporary things. Upon that the Imams of the Salaf and the Scholars of the Sunnah went before.”

[al-Dhahabi in al-‘Uluww, see its Mukhtasar p.280]

Abu’l-Wafa’ b. ‘Aqil al-Hanbali (d.513), one of the great Hanbalite Scholars, said:

“The Ash’arites spoke by way of the Jahmiyyah with regard to the interpretation (ta’wl) of the ambiguous (al-mutashabih), the carrying of narrations from its apparent meanings (sarf al-ahdith ‘an dhhirih) by way of opinion, and the judging of reason contrary to revelation, and that is a great danger..”

[Ibn ‘Aqil, Radd ‘ala’l-Asha’irah al-‘Uzzal p.69]

And Ibn ‘Aqil said:

“The Madhhab of the Salaf and the Imams of the Khalaf is having faith in the Names and the Attributes by way of Tawqif: not taking them out of their apparent meanings (dhhirih) to an interpretation (ta’wl) through rational evidence and speculative indications..”

[Ibn ‘Aqil, idem.]

Abu’l-Qasim al-Taymi al-Isfahani (d.535) was asked about the Attributes of Allah, the Exalted. So this Shafi'ite Imam answered as follows:

“The Madhhab of Malik, al-Thawri, al-Awza’i, al-Shafi’i, Hammad b. Salamah, Hammad b. Zayd, Ahmad, Yahya b. Sa’id al-Qattan, Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi and Ishaq b. Rahawayh is that the Attributes of Allah, the ones by which he described His Self and by which His Messenger described Him with from the Hearing, the Seeing, the Face, the Two Hands and the rest of His descriptions, than they are to be taken upon their well known and famous apparent meanings (‘ala dhhiriha al-ma’rf al-mashhr), without suggesting an how-ness for them and without Tashbh and Ta’wl. Ibn ‘Uyayna said: Everything by which Allah described Himself with then its recitation is its explanation (tafsir). [Abu’l-Qasim says then commenting upon Ibn ‘Uyayna’s saying] That is according to its apparent sense: it is not allowed to carry her to a figurative meaning (majz) from the sorts of interpretation (ta’wil).”

[al-Dhahabi in al-‘Uluww, see its Mukhtasar p.282]

And he said also:

“What has come concerning the Attributes in the Book of Allah, the Exalted, or what has been narrated by authentic chains of transmission, then the Madhhab of the Salaf, may Allah have mercy upon them, is to affirm them and the take them upon their apparent meanings (‘ala dhhirih) and negating how-ness to them. Cause the speech with regards the Attributes is part of speech concerning the Essence (i.e. Allah); and the affirmation of the Essence is the affirmation of its existence, not its how-ness. Likewise is the affirmation of the Attributes. Upon this the Salaf altogether went before.”

[Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in Damm al-Ta’wil p.237]

Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi (d.620), the Hanbalite Imam, declared in many of his writings the doctrine of the Salaf and the righteous Khalaf, that is: taking the Attributes upon its apparent meaning in reality. He described this as such:

“The Madhhab of the Salaf, may Allah have mercy upon them, is to have faith in the Attributes of Allah, the Exalted, and His Names, the ones which He described Himself with in His Verses and His Revelation or upon the tongue of His Messenger, without addition upon that and neither deletion from that, nor to move them, without explanation (tafsir) for them or interpretation (ta’wil) which would oppose its apparent meaning (dhhirih); and without assimilation (tashbh) of the attributes of the created beings and likeness to the contingent things; rather passing them on as they have come (ammirrh kam j’at).”

[Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in Damm al-Ta’wil p.222]

He said in a creed of his:

“This and what looks like it (he means: the Attributes) what is authentic from its chain of transmission and the reliability of its transmitters we believe in and do not reject, nor deny or interpret by an interpretation which opposes its apparent meaning (dhhirih).”

[Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in al-Lum’at al-I’tiqad p.176]

So from the above sayings of the scholars Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash’ari (d.324), Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi (d.388), Abu Ahmad al-Qassab (d.400), Abu’l-Fadl Abd al-Wahid al-Tamimi (d.410), Abu ‘Umar al-Talamanki (d.429), Abu Nasr al-Sijzi (d.444), Al-Qadi Abu Ya’la al-Farra’ (d.458), Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d.463), Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (d.463), Abu’l-Wafa b. ‘Aqil al-Baghdadi (d.513), Abu Muhammad al-Baghawi (d.516), Abu’l-Qasim al-Taymi (d.535) and Muwaffaq al-Din al-Maqdisi (d.620) we understand that the Madhhab of the Salaf al-Salih is to take the [Names and] Attributes according to their apparent sense and in reality.

 

Imaam as-Saaboonee (d.448H) - rahimahullaah - said:

 

“Indeed, the Ashaabul-Hadeeth (the Scholars of Hadeeth), [those who held fast to the Book and the Sunnah] - may Allaah protect their lives and shower mercy upon those that have died - bear witness to the Tawheed of Allaah and to the Messengership and Prophethood of His Messenger (saw).  They know their Lord - the Mighty and Majestic - by the Attributes which He has spoken of in His Revelation, and by what He has sent down, or testified to, by His Messenger (saw)…They affirm for Allaah - the Mighty and Magnificent - what He affirm for Himself in His Book, or upon the tongue of His Messenger (saw).  They do not believe in tashbeeh (resemblance) to His Attributes from the attributes of the creation.  They say: Indeed, He created Aadam with His own Hands, as He - the Most Perfect - textually stated,

 

“O Iblees!  What prevents you from prostrating to one whom I have created with My Own Hands?” [1]

 

So they do not distort the words from their context, by carrying the meaning of Yadayn (the two Hands of Allaah) to mean ni’matayn (two bounties) or quwwatayn (two powers) - which is the tahreef (distortion) of the Mu’tazilah and the Jahmiyyah - may Allaah destroy them.  They do not ask how the Attributes are, nor do they resemble them to their creation…Allaah - the Most High - protected Ahlus-Sunnah from such tahreef, takyeef and tashbeeh and favoured them with knowledge and understanding.”[2]



[1] Soorah Saad 38:75

[2] ’Aqeedah Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah Ashaabul-Hadeeth wal-A‘immah (no. 3)

 
 

Shaykh ’Abdul-Qaadir al-Jeelaanee (d.561H) - rahimahullaah - said:

 

“It is essential to carry the Attribute of al-Istiwaa (Allaah’s Ascending) by His Dhaat (Essence) over the Throne.  Istiwaa does not mean sitting and touching - as the Mujassimah and Karraamiyyah say; nor does it mean ’uluww (grandeur and highness) - as the Ash’ariyyah say; nor does it mean isteelaa (conquering or dominating over) - as the Mu’tazilah say.  None of this is related in the Sharee’ah.  Neither has this been related from any of the Salafus-Saalih, from the Companions and the Taabi’een, nor from the Ashaabul-Hadeeth (Scholars of Hadeeth).  Rather, it is related from them that they carried al-Istiwaa with its apparent meaning.”[1]


[1] al-Ghunyatut-Taalibeen (1/50) of ’Abdul-Qaadir al-Jeelaanee

 
 

Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d.728H) - rahimahullaah - said:

 

“The Sifaat (Attributes) are just like His Dhaat (Self).  Thus, just as the Dhaat of Allaah is established haqeeqah (in a real sense) - without considering it to be like that of His creation, then likewise His Sifaat are also established haqeeqah - without considering them to be like that of the creation.”[1]



[1] al-Fatwaa al-Hamawiyyatul-Kubraa (p. 66)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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