Q & A: On Ta’teel and Tafwid

Question: The Salafis argue that by giving a figurative interpretation of Allah’s attributes one is doing ta’teel. What is the best way of responding to such comments? My argument is that it is not ta’teel as the interpretation is in accordance with known Arabic grammatical rules etc. and thus not ta’teel.

Answer: What you are saying to them is correct. Ta’teel is to deny an attribute that has been firmly established to be an attribute. Note that an attribute is referred to by a word, such as “ilm” for “knowledge.” Sometimes a word can have more than one meaning. If it established that such a word refers to an attribute, then the next question is what is the meaning that is appropriate? If someone chooses a meaning that is physical, such as a limb, then he has committed tashbih. If he chooses a meaning that befits Allah, then he is someone that believes Allah to be attributed non resemblance to creation. He has understood the aayah in light of another aayah, namely the one affirming that nothing resembles Allah. He must choose a meaning, however, that is in agreement with other texts and ijmaa. If there was another text that makes the choice absolutely clear, or a scholarly ijmaa consensus, and he ignores this, then this is a form of denying the attribute, or ta’teel.

For example, the Mu`tazilah ignored the scholarly ijmaa consensus that Allah is seen by Muslims in the Hereafter without being in a place, at a distance, having a form, or being in a direction. A different seeing than the one we are used to in this life, because Allah does not resemble His creation. They denied the concept of seeing without the seen being at a distance, and said that seeing here means “expecting,” or “knowing,” or the like. This is a ta’wil that has reached the extent of ta’teel, as it breaks ijmaa and assigns another meaning than seeing without it being necessary. The Sunni scholars told them, “Why not simply say that Allah is seen without being in a place, changing or having a limit, just as we say that Allah knows and wills without being in a place, changing or having a limit?”

The mushabbihah agreed with the Mu`tazilites that there is no such thing as seeing without the seen being at a distance, but while the Mu`tazilah made ta’wil to escape from tashbih, or ascribing a limit to Allah, the mushabbihah said that Allah is seen in a direction and at a distance, thus attributing to Him a limit. The doing of the Mu`tazilah was silly and at least a bid`ah, while that of the mushabbihah was plain kufr.

Question: They argue that tawfid is not correct as Allah has obliged us to do zikr on the quran i.e to relect and ponder.

Answer: Tafwid is when one does not assign a specific meaning to an aayah when one is not sure of its meaning. This is simply the safe thing to do as the religion discourages speaking about something without knowledge, especially Allah’s attributes. It is prohibited to speak about the attributes of Allah unless one is certain that one has permission to say what one is saying. I will cover the issues of ta’wil and tafwid in more detail later in shaa’ Allah.

Author: Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji


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