Imam Abdul Qahir Al Baghdadi on the `Ulema of Kalam – Part II

June 15, 2008

The first Sunni of the generation following the companions to engage in Kalaam debates was Umar ibn Abdul Aziz,

The Khalifah and great scholar. He is counted as the fifth righteous Khalifah after the first four. He was born in 61 h. and died in 101 h. – may Allah reward him. He became Khalifah in 99 h., and during his short rule peace and justice quickly spread. He forbade cussing Ali ibn Abi Talib, which had become a habit of speakers in the Masjids of the day. It is said that he died from being poisoned. (Source: Al A`laam.)

he wrote an eloquent letter against the ideas of the Qadariyyah sect. After him came Zayd ibn Ali ibn Al Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib.

Zayd ibn Ali ibn Al Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son of Zayn al Abideen. One of the greatest scholars of all time and grandson of Al Husayn, the Prophet’s grandson. He rebelled against the Umawi king Hisham ibn Abdul Malik, was killed, crucified, beheaded and burned. He was the one that named those Shi’ites that reject Abu Bakr and Umar as “Al Raafidah” – The Rejectors. They came to him offering their support in his rebellion if he would disavow Abu Bakr and Umar, but he said, “Rather I ally myself with them and disavow those who disavow them.” They responded, “Then we refuse you.” From this came the name of the sect. (Source: Al Waafi bi-l-Wafayaat.)

He wrote a book rejecting the Qadariyyah sect based on proofs from the Quran. Then came Al Hasan Al Basri,

Al Hasan Al Basri is one of the greatest of the Taabiˆiin, the students of the Prophet’s companions. He was the leader of the scholars in Basrah. He was eloquent, brave, ascetic and a master of fiqh. (Source: Al A`laam.)

whom the Qadariyyah claimed as one of them. How can that be right, however, when in fact he wrote a letter to Umar ibn Abdul Aziz showing their faults, and chased their leader Wasil away from his teaching sessions when he showed his deviations?

After him came Ash-Sha`bi, who was among the toughest opponents of the Qadariyyah, and then Al Zuhri. The latter was the one that gave Abdul Malik ibn Marwan the fatwa that the blood of the Qadariyyah should be shed.

Following this generation came Ja`far ibn Muhammad Al Saadiq, who authored a book refuting the ideas of the Qadariyyah and another refuting those of the Khawarij. He also wrote an article against the extremists of the Shi’ites. He is the one that said, “The Mu`tazilites wanted to declare the Oneness of Allah, but committed apostasy. They also wanted to declare Allah just, but ended up attributing to Him stinginess.”

Translation and Commentary by Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Imam Abdul Qahir Al Baghdadi on the `Ulema of Kalam – Part I

June 14, 2008

Abdul Qahir ibn Tahir Al Baghdadi Al Tamimi, also known as Abu Mansur, (?-429 AH/ ?-1037 AD) was the head of the scholars of his time. The historian Al Dhahabi(673-748 AH/ 1274-1348 AD) described him in his book Siyar A`laam al Nubalaa’ as: “the great, outstanding, and encyclopedic scholar” …. “He used to teach 17 different subjects and his brilliance became the source for proverbs.” Al Dhahabi said that he would have like to write a separate, more complete article about him, and quoted Abu Uthman Al Sabuni saying: Abu Mansur is by scholarly consensus counted among the heads of the scholars of belief and the methodology of jurisprudence, as well as a front figure of Islam. Abu Uthman Al Sabuni, who said this, is one of the greatest scholars of Islam and among Sunnis he is known as “Shaykh Al Islam” – the Shaykh of Islam. Al Subki, in his “The Levels of the Shafi`i Scholars,” quotes a number of scholars praising Al Sabuni, among them Al Bayhaqi, who knew him and said, “Verily he is in reality the Imam of the Muslims and in truth the Shaykh of Islam. All the people of his time are humbled by his state of religion, leadership, sound beliefs, amount of knowledge, and his commitment to the way of the Salaf generation (the first three generations, or first three centuries of Muslims).”

What follows is a translation of a passage from his book Usul al din. This passage lists the scholars amongst the Salaf who had engaged in Kalam. A small commentary will also be presented, providing greater detail on the `ulema mentioned in this tract. The main text of the tract will be in quotations, and the commentary will be in regular typeset. Since the tract, together with its commentary, is long, it will be presented in parts. Hereunder is the first part:

The first Sunni scholar of Kalam among the companions was Ali ibn Abi Talib, as he debated the Khawarij on the issues of the promise and threat,

He is referring to the Khawarij claim that Allah does not forgive big sins, such as drinking wine, even if the person believes it is a sin (Usul al Din, Al Bazdawi, Al Maktabah Al Azhariah, P. 256.)

and the Qadariyyah on predestination, will, and ability.

The Qadariah claimed that humans create their own actions, while Sunnis say that Allah is the only creator, and that Humans only commit actions. The Sunni stance is unquestionably correct, because claiming that someone did something that Allah has not willed, is equivalent to saying that He either did not know it or was unable to prevent it. This is clearly impossible.

The issues of predestination, will, and ability are the issues related to the Qadariah’s blasphemous claim that humans create their own actions, because they ended up saying that humans are not predestined, that their will is independent of Allah’s, and that the human ability to act is an ability to create. The Muslims said that human will is by Allah’s will, because he knows everything and cannot be overpowered. They also said that human ability does not include creating. Rather, the ability to act is an ability created by Allah and it occurs at the moment of the act itself. The simplest proof of the truth of this, is that a human never knows with complete certainty that he is going to be able to do even a simple intended act, such as standing up after sitting. It could be, for example, that one suddenly fell ill.

Then came Abdullah ibn Umar

A great scholar and companion of the Prophet, the son of Umar ibn Al Khattab.

with his sayings against the Qadariyyah, and his declaration of wanting nothing to do with them or their leader known as Ma`bad Al-Juhani.

The Qadariyyah claimed that Ali was one of them, and that their leader Wasil ibn Ata’ Al Ghazzaal took his sayings from Muhammad

Muhammd ibn Al Hanafiyyah, the son of Ali, one of the greatest scholars of Islam and famous for great physical strength.

and Abdullah, the two sons of Ali – may Allah reward him. This is one of their scandalous lies. It is among the strangest of things how they claim that Ali’s two sons taught them the rejection of Ali’s and Talhah’s

Talhah is one of the greatest companions of the Prophet, and is one of the famous ten that were promised Paradise by the Prophet. See the Biography of the Prophet for more details.

testimonies and doubt in Ali’s trustworthiness. Do you see them teaching him that the testimonies of Talhah and the Prophet’s brother in law are invalid?

Translation and Commentary by Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Q & A: A Few Questions Related to Tasawwuf

June 14, 2008

Someone asked: In the book “Muhammad: The Messenger of Islam” by Hajjah Amina Adil mentions a Hadith thats says Allah created the light of Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallam from HIS OWN LIGHT. What does this mean? This can’t mean that Muhammad, Sallallahu Alayhi Wa Sallim is a part of God or that God took a part of Himself and made His Messenger which is a kufr concept, so what does this hadith really mean?

This hadith is of mysterious origins and not authenticated. To put it mildly: it cannot be used as a proof in Aqidah matters or to interpret plain statements in the Quran or sound hadiths. That being said, the phrase that was translated as “HIS OWN LIGHT” is a genitive (possessive) construction to indicate the importance of that light, like when someone says “Allah’s house” meaning the Ka`bah, not that Allah is in a place, because Allah existed before place and He did not change after it became existent.

Someone asked: And what do you say when some Sufis say that the Arabic words AHAD and AHMED are the same and the only difference is the Arabic letter Meem in AHMED which presents Muhammad, Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallim, so what do they mean by this, isn’t this sort of leading or implying shirk?

Imaginary talk without a linguistic basis.

Someone asked: And how do you make tawassul, what do you say when for example you want to make tawassul through Imam Nawawi for example? Do you raise your hands while calling on Imam Nawawi? Do you say “O Nawawi please ask Allah to cure me of a sickness.” How do you exactly do it?

The phrase: “O Nawawi please ask Allah to cure me of a sickness” is fine, as it is plain in being a mere request for intercession.

Authored by Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Questions to the website

June 14, 2008

For those wondering what happened to their questions, I will do my best to answer them over the next few days. I am sorry for the delay, by a mistake they were not forwarded to me from the site email.

Q & A: Someone asked, “Is there a place for human accountability in Islamic beliefs?

June 12, 2008

Question: in Islamic beliefs, is there a place for human accountability? If so, what does human accountability mean or entail in light of the doctrine of predestination?

Answer: Accountability is connected to the voluntary acts that one performs every day. These acts, however, while performed by us with our bodies and minds, are predestined and created by Allah.

It must be kept in mind that Allah could have created me and you in the Hellfire to begin with, without any actions from our side. This would be mere torture, and not punishment. As a grace to us, He did not do that, but created us in this world and gave us rules to follow. He has willed for some of us to follow and some of us not, as you can observe. Those that follow are rewarded with pleasure in Paradise, while those who do not will be tortured, unless they are forgiven. Being forgiven happens only if one believed prior to death that there is only one god and that Muhammad is his Prophet and Messenger.

Torture in the next life correlating with voluntary acts of disobedience to Allah in this life is called punishment, unlike the imaginary case of someone being created in the Hellfire to begin with, which is just torture, and not punishment. There are many articles on predestination and justice that you can peruse, and I won’t repeat it all here. One article is this one.

Authored by Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Answers regarding the issue of predestination

June 11, 2008

A long answer to several arguments against predestination have been posted as a comment here.

Q & A: If the proof of Allah’s existence is so simple, then why doesn’t the world convert to Islam?

June 11, 2008

Question: If it is that simple, and the proof so clear, why does not the whole world convert to Islam?

Answer: Because obvious proofs do not cause acceptance. You know, I struggled with another version of the proof in “Foundations of the Religion” when I had first converted to Islam. I needed them, because I knew I would be facing a wave of mockery from my own people due to my conversion. I wanted proofs that were based on commonly accepted premises to fight back to show that I was right. I even thought that if I could prove my beliefs logically based on common premises, the whole world would quickly become Muslim, and that is why I was euphoric the first time I learned them. Now I know that humans are far from rational, and the fact that the world didn’t become Muslim was a clear proof for me that no one believes unless Allah has willed it:

“وَاللَّهُ خَلَقَكُمْ وَمَا تَعْمَلُونَ”

Meaning: “Allah created you and what you do.” (As-Saaffaat. 96)

My experience makes it easy to accept that people like Abu Talib or other idolaters like Abu Lahab, knowing the truth by having seen miracles in front of their eyes, still did not accept Islam. It is mentioned in tafsiir books that when this was revealed:

إِنْ هُوَ إِلا ذِكْرٌ لِلْعَالَمِينَ () لِمَنْ شَاءَ مِنْكُمْ أَنْ يَسْتَقِيمَ

Meaning: “Verily this is a warning to the worlds, so the one who wills will take the path of fearing and obeying Allah” (Al-Kawthar, 27-28).

Then the idolaters said, “so it is up to us, if we want, we will.” So Allah revealed:

وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ

Meaning: “You do not will anything unless Allah has willed it.”

The first version I learned of this proof used simple math, and I ventured out to present it when challenged about my conversion. The problem was that I had not understood some of the underlying assumptions of that version and a mathematician had a field day with me due to my ignorance. Bruised and beaten, I set out to understand it properly, and to learn how to present it in a way that anybody can understand, and without having complicated ideas in the argument or underlying the argument.

I had my “revenge,” by the Grace of Allah when I faced a hypocrite that used to attend my lessons pretending to be Muslim for marriage purposes. He had a degree in math and physics. One day I announced, “I can prove that Allah exists, and that the Islamic belief in God is correct.” He said mockingly, “O really…, how so?” He was probably expecting an argument based on design, or contingency, and had his arsenal ready. When I explained to him the proof he made an attempt or two to throw me off, but because the argument is simple and clear, it was easy to silence him, by the Grace of Allah. He stood up and said, “I will think about it, I take it as a challenge!” He never came back to my lessons, and avoided me like the plague after that. Subhan Allah, how can someone with a fragment of good in their heart be annoyed by a proof that shows that the Creator exists?

In another quite different instance I was teaching a person who had converted and was taking classes so that he could marry a Muslim girl. Whenever I receive converts I fear they might not be convinced, but just going along to “get the girl,” or some other reason, so if there is time I will present the above proof. One time I had a gentleman with a Master’s Degree in aeronautical engineering from a prestigious university. When I presented the proof he actually started crying, and even explaining it to others. For the most part however, whenever I use it on a non-Muslim I get a nodding, “yes you are right,” and then…. nothing. As if I had told them something very ordinary, that has no implications. That is why I see these proofs mainly as defense systems, not change agents, because most people change only for emotional reasons, not logical reasons. These proofs are important for preventing deviants to affect Muslims by answering their attacks. They are also important to help someone affected by doubts.

Authored by Shaykh Abu Adam

Q & A: Someone asked, “Is it kufr to say that Allah sees and hears literally?”

June 11, 2008

Question: I’ve a Question after reflecting on that Article and my question is concerning the Tahawiyyah Phrase. “Wa man wasafa Allaha bima’nan min ma’ani al bashar faqad kafar” – “And whoever attributes Allah with an attribute that has a meaning that applies to humans has committed kufr.” Would it be kufr to say Allah literally has a hand but not kufr to say Allah literally sees and hears and if so then why, because the Ma’ana of seeing also applies to Human?

Answer: We must believe that the meaning of the words hearing and seeing are different in meaning when they refer to Allah. This is true about all words referring to Allah’s attributes. In my commentary on the Sanuusiyyah I said regarding the attributes of seeing, hearing and kalam:

Allah is attributed with:


11)     {Hearing (Al-Samˆ/السمع),

12)     and Sight (Al-Başar/البصر), both of which pertain to all that exists,} Allah said in the Quran:

“لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ”
Meaning: “Nothing resembles Him, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.”(Ash-Shuraa, 11)

From this we understand that His Hearing and Seeing is not like our hearing or seeing. They are not by an instrument, such an ear or an eye. They are not dependent on vibrations, light or distance. This is because Allah is One, and does not need anything. His hearing and seeing is also not sequential, because Allah does not change. Things that are seen or heard are sequential, but His hearing
and seeing of them are not.

13)     {Speech (Al-Kalaam/الكلام), without letter or sound, which pertains to whatever His Knowledge pertains to.}

Allah said in the Qur’aan:

“وَكَلَّمَ اللَّهُ مُوسَى تَكْلِيمًا”
Meaning: “And Allah spoke to Moses.” (An-Nisaa’, 164) That is, with His Speech that is not letters or sounds.

Allah’s speech is not resonant, as our speech is, but it is possible that Allah remove our inability to hear His speech so we could hear it and understand from it what He has willed for us to understand.
Beyond this, we are not required to, and in fact cannot, know Allah’s attribute of Speech.

In the hereafter, Muslims will hear Allah’s speech, as Moses did. That is, without His speech being letters, sounds, words, sequential meanings or starting, stopping, or having any other senses of

It must be true that Allah’s Speech is eternal and does not have any beginning, because otherwise it would need a creator to give it existence. It is irrational to say that Allah’s speech is letters or sounds, and then say that it is not created. This is because letters and sounds have a beginning, and anything with a beginning must be brought into existence, and being brought into existence is to be

Muslims will also see Allah without Him being in a direction, place, at a distance or having a form. It was authentically narrated by Imam Al-Bukhari that the Prophet said:

ما مِنْكُمْ من أَحَدٍ إلا سَيُكَلِّمُهُ رَبُّهُ ليس بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَهُ تُرْجُمَانٌ ولا حِجَابٌ يَحْجُبُهُ

Every one of you will be spoken to by His Lord without an intermediary. There will also be no flaw in your sight preventing you from seeing Him <without Him having a shape, or being in a direction or place>.” (Al-Bukhari, 7005).

This is not like hearing or seeing a creation, because Allah said in the Quran that,

“لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ”
Meaning: “Nothing resembles Him.” (Asħ-Sħuuraa,11)

It must be noted regarding Allah’s attributes of Hearing, Seeing and Speech that they absolutely must be true of Him, and are not something that may be. They are attributes of perfection and necessity, not abilities. It is therefore forbidden to say that Allah is able to hear, see or speak, because that implies that He may be hearing, seeing or speaking, which is a blasphemous belief. Thus we say that Allah hears, or Allah sees, or Allah speaks, but one must never say, “Allah can hear,” or “can see,” or “can speak.” In other words, Allah is attributed with hearing, sight, and speech that have neither beginning, nor end, nor are they composed of parts, nor do they have sequence, and have nothing in common with our attributes of hearing, sight, and speech.


The difference between the word “hand” and the words “hearing” and “sight” is that the former tends to bring the idea of a bodypart, instrument or limb to mind immediately upon hearing it. Hearing and sight are not like that. That is why it would be kufr to say that Allah has a hand in the literal sense. In the case of someone saying that Allah “literally hears” or “literally sees” it is not immediately clear what he means. If he means that Allah has hears or eyes or that his hearing or seeing of things are sequential, then it is kufr. It is not kufr, however, if he simply wanted to emphasize that Allah really has those attributes, while believing that His hearing and seeing is not by instruments, and do not have a beginning or and end, and do not change.

Authored by Shaykh Abu Adam

Refutation of “Kalam & Trinity”

June 8, 2008

as salam `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

This is a detailed exposition of the article “Kalam & Trinity” authored by Dawud Israel of

I have attempted here to give as detailed an exposition as possible of the problematic statements he has made in his article.

A few brief comments before diving in:

  • One should always define their terms. Using undefined and vague terms becomes problematic. I refer to the use of the word “Kalam.” He apparently seem to be criticizing the Kalam of the heretics. What else did the Kalam of the Sunnis seek to do if it wasn’t that?
  • One must be careful when saying anything with respect to Allah. Many seemingly harmless statements can be kufr. I’ve pointed out some mistakes of this nature.
  • I think the grammatically correct way of saying it would be “The Trinity” and not simply “Trinity.”

His statements are in bold blue, and mine are in simple black.

Dawud says: Perhaps this is why the Christians stuck to their belief in Trinity; their discomfort with monolithic Islam.

You meant monotheistic. It would be folly to say that Islam is monolithic. Even within the Ahl al Sunnah you have so many variations that it’s impossible to say that even Sunni Islam is “monolithic.” I hope that was a mistake.

Dawud says: But in Islam Allah is simply One and there is no difficulty conceivable with this, unless one forcefully encourages himself to make this simple concept difficult (i.e. Ahlul-Kalam).

First mistake: You didn’t define kalam. First define “kalam,” then define “difficulty” and then connect the two.

You have forced yourself into thinking that kalam makes tawhid difficult when this is not true.

That is not to say that kalam doesn’t deal with difficult topics, but that is a far cry from saying that kalam made Tawhid difficult to understand.

Furthermore, you’re ignoring the different levels at which the human mind operates. Actually, you’ve axed your own foot here. Tawhid is going to be a difficult topic for a Christian, precisely because he is a Christian. On this basis, a Christian needs to be dealt with according to his or her level of understanding, not at the “easy” level of understanding that a normal lay Muslim believer has.

Dawud says: We can understand from the Quran that Trinity was a sort of ‘kalam before kalam’-that is to say that the Christian priests had done something not too dissimilar from what Ahlul-Kalam would do; and this placed them dangerously close to shirk: “They take their rabbis and their monks as gods besides Allah…” (9:31).

Again, I don’t see the link. You’re treading on extremely dangerous grounds. How in the world is the Christian view of things “not too dissimilar” from kalam? Again, a serious lacking in the definition of terms is observable.

This should be a lesson to you. Always define your terms. You can observe this method in absolutely any classical text on absolutely any classical Islamic topic.

Dawud says: As it is obvious the Christians would try to explain the Trinity as a Unity, as being one and would focus on repeating, “They are one” in as many ways as he possibly could. The Muslims would merely say, “But they are still three.”

That, my friend, is the beginning of kalam, vis a vis a Christian. That is the entrance of classical logic into the picture. Again, I must say, you axed your own foot. That is, precisely, what kalam is all about.

Dawud says: Today it’s ironic that when the Christians analogy is refuted by the Muslim that he responds, “Well it’s just an analogy,” as if he knows that a clever analogy can never be enough to bring someone into his faith.

“Axed your own foot” seems to be my favorite idiom. Again, you’ve done it here. A discussion on fallacious analogies is part of classical logic, which incidentally is part of kalam.

Dawud says: We can understand that the Christian mind thinks of the Word as Jesus. In Islam it is interesting to note that this is true to an extent as Jesus was created from the Word of Allah.

I hope you made a mistake here, because if taken literally, that statement is clear kufr. There’s two ways you could read that statement:

  1. The “Word” of Allah is created, and Isa alaihissalam was created from it.
  2. The “Word” of Allah is not created, and Isa alaihissalam was created from it.

The first one is clear kufr, because it assumes that the “Word” of Allah is created. That is the belief of the Mu`tazilis.

The second statement could perhaps as well imply the same type of emanation or hypostaseis that the Christians have used. There is fundamentally no difference between saying that Sayyiduna Isa was created from the “Word” of Allah, and saying that the Father is the uncaused, while the Son is the caused and proceeding. This is extremely close to the belief in the eternality of the world, though that is another topic altogether.

Suffices to say that Sayyiduna Isa alaihissalam was created, that is, from another creation or from nothing.

The laqab of Sayyiduna Isa is “Kalimat-Allah”, or if someone translated it literally: “Word of Allah,” and the value of this title is metaphoric. It refers to the fact that Isa was created by Allah’s decree, like everything else, but without a father.

Dawud says: The spirit however is a somewhat different as the Spirit or Soul (ruh) could be understood in a general sense. The Spirit (ruh) is understood to mean Gabriel (as) and at other times to mean the human soul and its connection to Allah for He “blew His spirit (the soul) in him,” (32:9).

To say that the ruh is connected to Allah is exactly the kufr of the Christians. It is the belief that Allah is physical and therefore “connected.”

Dawud says: O people of the Book! Do not commit excesses in your religion and speak only the truth about Allah. The Messiah Jesus son of Mary was but the Messenger of Allah, His word (the word “Be” that Allah used to create him) that He cast onto Mary and a spirit (or soul) from Him. So believe in Allah and His Messenger and do not say, “Three” (thalath). It will be best for you to desist. Allah is the only One God. He is Pure from having children. To Him belongs what is in the heavens and what is in the Earth. (Quran 4:171)

Linking this back to the comment I made earlier, this is a laqab, not the Attribute. It’s the same as saying Bayt Allah or Habeeb Allah. It’s the nisbat idafiyyah in Arabic. It’s not the “Word” be as you wrongfully imagine, because if that was the case, then everything in creation is the “Word of Allah” because every single thing in creation came about by Aļļaah’s decree.

Your using the word “used” is extremely dangerous. It shows that one believes Allah is like a sorcerer with magical formulas. The meaning of the Quranic “kun fayakuun” is that Allah decreed without a beginning or end that something is to be so and so at such and such a time, or it is a figurative expression meaning that nothing is difficult for Him.

Dawud says: In this verse it is interesting to note a few things. At the start of the ayah there is the phraseology similar to Christian thought of “His Word” and “A spirit from Him” but in the latter part of the ayah there is a clear definition of Tawhid. What is especially important is the turning point in the ayah: “So believe in Allah and His Messenger and do not say, “Three” (thalath).” One thing that we understand from human psychology is that when a person speaks and then says “but”-the listener does not pay attention to what was said before the “but” rather they only pay attention to the latter part. Allah uses the word “and” (wa la takullu) instead of “but” and this serves as the bridge; reminding the Christian of the Injeel but negating shirk.

Try not to be mufassir. Speaking on the ayaat of the Quran without knowledge surely lands one in hellfire, even if one’s tafsir was correct.

Dawud says: Like Harut and Marut these Greek philosophers were nothing more than a test from Allah yet the scholars chose to learn a speech not too distant from shirk.

Again, you have yet to show how kalam is shirk.

Dawud says: Kalam breached the Aqeedah of the believers; for how could man try and understand the nature of Allah; the ant could not understand the nature of Sulyamaan (as) so what chance does man have against His Lord?

What? Kalam tried to understand the nature of Allah? Kalam “breached” the Aqidah of the Believers? The aqaid are mentioned in the books like the Tahawiyyah. Kalam is a rational defense of those beliefs.

Dawud says: Kalam was, for that matter, not known to the Prophet SAAWS or any of the Sahabas nor was it ever mentioned to have any virtue in it or as an encouraged act in the Sunnah and so it takes its place in Islam as little more than a pseudo-science.

Usul al fiqh was not practiced by the Rasul sallallahu alaihi wasallam, nor the ashab. Usul al tafsir wasn’t either. Sunni kalam was merely developed by the Muslims to fight heresies. It’s as simple as that. As such, the first heresies that needed to be fought were the Mu`tazila and the Kharijites. In fact, the ashab refuted the heresies of the Kharijites. That, my friend, is kalam.

Dawud says: Either revelation was flawed or the mind and the Ahlul Kalam made the mistake of choosing mind over revelation.

Again, another false claim, without proof. The key element in the discussion on the attributes is the element of tanzih, or affirming that Allah is completely dissimilar to His creation.

But first, a lesson in Arabic. We know that words in the Arabic language can mean a ton of different things. Hence, the earliest Muslims would not venture to speak on the attributes and simply pass the words as they had received them from the Quran or the Hadiths, not because of a lack of knowledge of what those words might mean, but because they did not want to get into specifics and discuss these issues. Hence, the word “yad”, for example, was left as it is, because in the Arabic language, not as an attribute, it can mean “hand” as well as “power.” Or the word “wajh” which can mean “face” or “countenance,” or other meanings. Allh are meanings from the Arabic language. To understand this is key.

Tafweed is to simply consign the meaning really meant by those words to Allah, while denying it could be a meaning that would mean that Allah resembles created things. It’s really simple to understand. We read the word “yad” in the Quran, applied to Allah. We know, linguistically, it could mean “hand” or it could mean “power.” We also know that it is impossible that Allah should have a hand in the sense of a part or a limb. Tafweed is to affirm that we do not know what the real meaning of yad is, while being firm that it does not mean limb.

Note that there is a permissible tafweed and an impermissible tafweed. The question of permissibility centers around the physical import of certain words as they are applied to Allah.

Let’s take the example of “yad.” If someone says that he believes that “yad” could mean “hand”, as it applies to Allah, then this is clearly impermissible because otherwise we would be contradicting the Quran, which clearly says, “There is nothing like unto Him.” Impermissible tafweed would be to say that we acknowledge that it is possible for the word “yad” to mean anything, including the physical “hand.”

If someone were to say that he wants to consign the meaning of “yad” to Allah, along with denying the physical meaning of a word, then this type of tafweed is permissible. Denying the meaning “hand” is NOT the same as denying the attribute of “yad” itself. Denying one possible meaning does not imply denial of the attribute itself, especially when this denial is based on another statement in the Quran. This denial is important because Allah categorically does NOT resemble anything, as He Himself has stated.

Let’s consider the possibility of acknowledging the meaning of “yad” as hand. So someone says, “I believe that ‘yad’ means ‘hand.’ Since Allah says he has a ‘yad,’ this means he has a ‘hand.’ But I also believe that Allah is completely dissimilar to His creation.” If someone says this, then he has fallen into the SAME trap the Christians fell into. Just like the Christians who affirmed a logical impossibility (3 = 1), this person has affirmed a logical impossibility, namely, that Allah has a “hand” and yet is completely dissimilar to His creation. How in the world can something be completely dissimilar to His creation if it also possess a “hand”? A “hand” is an attribute of creation. A hand is created. If someone says that Allah has a hand, then he has attributed to Allah something that is an attribute of creation. Now, if the affirmation of something is contradictory, its denial simply has to be the right course. In this way we know that denial of the physical import has to accompany any tafweed.

This denial of the physical import is, contrary to popular opinion, present amongst the Salaf. The Tahawiyyah states:

Wa la yashbihuhul anam – And Humans do not resemble Him.


Wa man wasafa Allaha bima’nan min ma’ani al bashar faqad kafar – And whoever attributes Allah with an attribute that has a meaning that applies to humans has committed kufr.

Therefore, both the consignment of the meaning of an attribute to Allah and the denial of its physical meaning is from the Salaf. If Al Tahawi is not from the Salaf, then I don’t know who is.

Now let’s try to understand ta`wil. Ta`wil is simply the affirmation of one meaning of a word, when other possible meanings exist. Therefore, to say that Allah has a “hand,” is effectively ta`wil, because one has confined the meaning of the word “yad” to the word “hand.” The same applies to the word “power.” If someone says that the word “yad” means “power,” he has also made ta`wil. Just like tafweed, ta`wil is permissible and impermissible.

The impermissible ta`wil is where (1) one affirms the physical meaning of a word OR (2) one affirms a non-physical meaning of a word and confines his affirmation to that meaning alone without sufficient proof.

The permissible ta`wil is where one affirms a non-physical meaning of a word, acknowledges the possibility of other non-physical meanings of the word and acknowledges that it is possible that Allah has assigned a meaning to this word of which He has made most humans unaware.

The key is internal consistency. We can’t hold two contradictory beliefs at the same time. Whether we make tafweed or ta’wil it has to be internally consistent. It is for this reason that tanzih is an extremely important principle. If the karramiyyah or the mujassimah hadn’t reared their ugly heads into Islamic history, none of the above would have been necessary and we would have lived as the earliest Muslims lived.

Dawud says: The errors were many and we could go into them but suffice it to say is they decided to see the world and Islam through the eyes of the philosophers and this was the door that the Christians would utilize in driving home the message of the Trinity.

No arguments about what other sects believed. Sunni kalam was merely a defense against them, regardless of whether or not they were influenced by the Greeks.

Dawud says: The classic mistake is obvious: limiting Allah to the confines of human intellect when Allah is truly beyond all that the word ‘infinite’ could mean.

Be clear by what you mean by this. A better way of saying this would be to say that the mind can grasp neither the “dhat” of Allah, nor his “sifat.” (I have used the Arabic “dhat” instead of “essence,” because “essence” does not quite mean “dhat”).

However, using the intellect to (1) establish what our aqidah is in the first place by deriving it from the source texts and (2) to defeat heresies, is fundamentally different from subjecting Allah’s dhat and sifat to the intellect. And that is precisely the basis of my argument in my previous comment, though it might not be quite obvious.

Dawud says: By distorting the meanings of the phrases Life/Spirit and Word/Speech/Knowledge the Christians explained the Trinity in a way not all too different from the Ahlul Kalam.

Again, this is a perhaps reference to the heresies, not to Sunni Kalam. Sunni Kalam is far from junk like this.

Dawud says: One can get a feel that Ahlul Kalam would indeed battle it out and at times do so successfully however, it must be noted that it was a battle that need not fighting.

Then how would you explain the fact that Sayyiduna Rasulallah sallallahu alaihi wasallam readied himself for a debate with the Christians of Najran? Or why does the Quran refute Christian ideas? If it is a battle that needs no fighting then the Rasul would not have done it, and neither would the Quran do it. And what is Kalam if it isn’t using reason and revelation against all heresy?

Dawud says: In a sense, the entire historical exercise was one that would prove to be an intellectual testimony to the brilliance of the Quran; as if Allah is telling us the dangers and weaknesses of the human mind. And in a sense we can understand that kalam failed the Christians because it failed the Muslims (as was discussed in Light upon Light).

I’m surprised to find that your source for this claim is another heretic! How convenient. This is someone who believes that created things have intrinsic properties, which is exactly the belief of the pagans. If that isn’t forbidden Kalam then what is?

If you want I could go into a detailed historical exposition of the beliefs of the pagans, but for now I think I will desist.

Dawud says: But turning to Kalam we can see its dangers easily.

Yes, kalam is dangerous. But not for the reasons you have mentioned. It’s dangerous because not many people can understand the arguments.

As I mentioned before, Sunni kalam battles heresies. The arguments presented by a sect may be convoluted in the first place. Trying to dissect those arguments is an extremely difficult process. So for those who attempt to read such arguments and their refutations prior to proper training, kalam is indeed dangerous.

This is why it’s the domain of the `ulema, not average Joes.

Dawud says: The greatest problem with the people of kalam, the philosophers and the Christians in their explanations is that they try to make the abstract un-abstract: exactly what it is not.

I think you are saying that Allah is at the level of the abstract, and what the Christians did was to make the “abstract concept” of Allah unabstract.

So the crux is this: Christians are saying that Allah is un-abstract. You’re saying that Allah is abstract.

Both statements are problematic.

Something that is un-abstract exists in the realm of our direct sensorial experience. And since Allah is beyond the sensorial realm He subhanahu wa ta’ala is not “un-abstract.” I think that much is clear.

Something that is abstract exists at the level of the mind. The “abstract” is nothing but a generalization of particulars. What we experience in the sensorial realm can be generalized into abstract concepts in the mind. The source of abstractions is our sensorial experience. Thus, how can Allah be “abstract” if we haven’t seen, heard or in any sensorial way, experienced Him? This is precisely against the principle of tanzih as expounded by the ayah: laysaka mithlihi shay’ – there is nothing like unto Him.

For example, take at the color red. In the physical world the color red exists as an attribute of different objects. You never find the color red existing on its own. You will always find the color red existing as an attribute of some object. However, after looking at a number of different objects that are red in color, we can begin to think of red separately, i.e. not as an attribute of any object. However, this “separation” of the color red from its objects only exists in the mind. The red color does not exist on its own. This is an example of an “abstraction.” As is obvious, the source of this abstraction is our senses, that is, that we needed to be able to look at red objects to think of red as a separate idea. The implication here is that if someone says that Allah is “abstract” he must have seen, heard or experienced Allah in a sensorial manner. But we know that this is impossible for Allah. Since we cannot see Allah, (or hear Him or experience Him any sensorial way) we cannot “abstractize” Him, either. Thus it is also wrong to say that “Allah is abstract.” Allah is not abstract and He is not unabstract.

Please be careful of what you say.

Dawud says: One can marvel at the heavens and earth, the concepts of justice, power, hearing and seeing and contemplate on the miraculous nature of these concepts and get a feel of the majesty of Allah; but how can one focus one understand Allah’s Majesty through his imagination and desires?

By the apparent claim of Allah being abstract, you have done precisely what you are admonishing against here. Contradiction, I daresay?

Dawud says: The question that really irks a believer is how do these people plan on meeting Allah? What if Allah is not as they imagined?

Again, Kalam seeks to do just that, that is, to remove our understanding of Him from our feeble “imaginations.” He is Pure from any conception that someone might attribute to Him!

Dawud says: It may be that in order for us to comprehend Allah (in the Akhirah) we will need not 5 but 5000 senses.

Again, you’re just too loose with your words. Allah is beyond the sensorial realm. Even if we had a million senses we still wouldn’t comprehend Him because He does not resemble creation and only creation can be experienced via the senses. As far as seeing Allah in the Aakhira is concerned, it’s not a matter of the number of senses. It’s a matter of Allah creating the ability with human beings for them to be able to see Him without Him being at a distance, in a direction or having a form.

Dawud says: This alienates Islam from the soul to an area of thought alone, a place where Islam is less than a mental exercise than a relief to the soul.

The purpose of kalam is not primarily to soothe. It’s purpose is to defend Islam from heresies. Arabic grammar also does not do much for soothing the soul, but does that make grammar a bad thing, or even make it unimportant?

Dawud says: The key point that one must realize is that the Quran is a book free from errors and therefore is untouchable by Shaytaan.

And this is precisely the reason why the Sunnis say that the Quran cannot contradict itself. And if it cannot contract itself, then any two verses of the Quran cannot have mutually contradictory meanings. And if any two verses cannot have mutually contradictory meanings then those verses that can have more than one meaning either should be left alone or should be interpreted.

Dawud says: The whole aspect of accepting there is something greater than us is to not diminish that greater into lesser and that is why as much as logic can recognize there is something far greater than us; it cannot quantify that greatness as even the simplest logic understands it to be unmatched.

Quantification of Allah is illogical. So please don’t tarnish the good name of logic with your simplistic notions of it.

A special comment from Sheikh Abu Adam:

Dawud Israel says: Ibn Kullab would explain things in an even more difficult way saying, God’s attributes are “of his essence, neither God nor other than him” and so he attempts to imply something similar to that of the Christian explanation of the Trinity placing an aspect of God at equal level as God Himself (or making less of God’s existence)-for this reason the Mutazili refer to Ibn Kullab as a pseudo-Christian. And it was this same phrase of Ibn Kullab that was used by Christians. The classic mistake is obvious: limiting Allah to the confines of human intellect when Allah is truly beyond all that the word ‘infinite’ could mean.

Answer: The meaning of the phrase is that Allah’s attributes are not Him Himself nor are they other than Him, i.e. you cannot say that “Allah is Power,” or “is Knowledge.” Rather we say that Allah is attributed with power and attributed with knowledge. You also do not say that they are other than Him, because they are not separate from Him, because He is one in the absolute sense and not something divisible, or “many”. Rather we say that Allah is One, and that He has attributes that are not other than Him. This is unlike humans, for their attributes are separable. For example, if I lost all of my knowledge, I would still exist. This is not true of Allah, because what has no knowledge is not God. The purpose of this phrase is to refute the accusation of the Mu`tazilah that to say that Allah has attributes is to say that Allah is many. The Mu`tazilah did not accuse Ibn Kullab of being pseudo-Christian for saying “Allah’s attributes are not Him Himself nor are they other than Him” but for saying that Allah has attributes. They accused anyone who says that Allah has attributes, such as knowledge, to be a musħrik. Is it peculiar to sunni Kalam scholars to say that Allah has attributes??? To this accusation Ibn Kullaab answered that saying that Allah has attributes does not mean that Allah is many, rather “we say that Allah’s attributes are not Him Himself nor are they other than Him.”

Authored by Ibn Mazhar. Checking, revision, additions and approval by Sheikh Abu Adam al Naruiji.

Wahhabi Contention: What happens if kalam arguments are undermined rationally?

June 8, 2008

Wahabi contention: What happens if these kalam arguments are undermined rationally? In the West these antiquated arguments have basically been rejected since the time of Kant; isn’t it therefore a terrible mistake for a person to base his faith on them?

Answer: The argument I presented in “The Foundations of the Religion” is not false, and it is not antiquated, and will never be undermined. Formulated by men yes, but solidly agreeing with the scriptures and sensory reality, because all it says is that anything with a beginning needs a Creator, simply based on the existence of events; the changes we see around us. It is a simple and logically sound argument based on premises that no reasonable person would deny. I can tell you that I know of philosophers in this day and age that have been silenced by these types of arguments. A friend of mine has a Phd in math from Berkley, for example, and he converted because some of his students presented such proofs.

Kant, the miserable kaafir, may Allah give him what he deserves along with his ilk, did not bring anything new that the scholars had not already faced. In fact they have faced worse. What you are referring to are the philosophers who deny certainty of any knowledge, or certain types of knowledge. If they were right, then it would mean that scriptures also do not provide certainty of knowledge, so you cannot say that the Kant managed to prove his point without falling out of Islam – but you did not know that about Kant I am sure, so this is not an accusation. The scholars called these people the “I don’t Knowers” and the like. They are of several different kinds. They are very dangerous so please do not go down this path, or even dwell on it. Their sole purpose is to cause doubts, and they are very, very good at it. This is one of the reasons why the scholars considered it haram to read philosophy unless you were doing it to attack them and was highly qualified, and even for this purpose a rather significant number of scholars considered it haram.

You see, the philosophers were and are in general haughty, proud of their intelligence, and showing this was important to them, so they engaged in debates to win, even if it meant denying their own mother, and one of the ways to do that is to simply engage in producing doubts. As a general rule, a debate is won for many reasons, and sometimes the person being right actually loses a debate, because his debating skills were poorer, and fell in traps, or because he was not knowledgeable enough. There are ways to deal with “doubt strategists” like Kant, and I have personally dealt with them, but it is better not to let an opponent raise this issue at all.

I generally avoid anybody taking me on this ride by having them agree with me on every premise and every step of the argument as I present it. I do not continue unless they verbally express agreement. That way it will be much less tempting to employ a doubt-spreading strategy, as it will not benefit their personal image, since they will clearly be contradicting themselves. Instead you will find them simply keeping silent, or saying “I’ll think about it”, or even “you are right” (followed by no action) and then you never see them again. Which is a good thing.

If they have problems with the first premise in the argument in “The Foundations of the Religion” which states, “we are here today,” then one may start what I like to call “current event enlightenment therapy” by kicking the “patient” hard in the shin and see if you can’t have him admit that he was surely kicked in the shin. If you find him resisting the idea that events follow each other, you could apply “serial event enlightenment therapy” and kick him several times, but before you do all this you may need a government license, and make sure that he won’t be able, once enlightened to the existence of series of events, to apply one right back at you, like a lawsuit procedure.

Authored by Sheikh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Q & A: Someone asked, “Is it just for Allah to make one a Muslim and reward him and one a Hindu and punish him?”

June 2, 2008

Rashid wrote: Consider this. A person is born in a purely Islamic environment, he has been taught Islam from the very start of his life and he has been brought up in the same atmosphere. There is another person who is born in a pure Hindu/Christian environment (say in a pandit’s home), he has been taught Hinduism/Christianity from the very start of his life and he has been brought up in the same atmosphere.

Now, there are people who argue that it is in the psychology of a person that it is very difficult for him to deny and take a stand against something he has been believing from his childhood. And it is also a fact that there are greater number of born Muslims than revert Muslims similarly there are a greater number of born Hindus/Christians than converts. If this is the case, the Hindu/Christian is put into hell for eternity and Muslim into Heaven for eternity, if they die with the same faith. Is this justice with both of them? What was the fault of Hindu/Christian for not being born in an Islamic environment and what had the Muslim done for he got such a big prize!

Answer: Al-Bukhari narrated through Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said: “Your deeds will not put you in Paradise.” They asked: “Not even for you, O Messenger of Allah?” He answered: “No, not even for me,
except that Allah will cover me with grace and mercy.” (Şahih Al-Bukhaariy No 5349, 5/2147; `Umdat-al-Qaari 21/227)

What this means is that Allah is not obliged to do anything, and thatyour deeds do not influence Allah. Good deeds do not earn you the right to go to Paradise; it is a grace from Allah to enter. It means also that if you do not do good deeds, then this indicates that Allah has not willed good for you, and this is a sign that you are heading for loss in the Hereafter. For some people He has made it easier to do good than others. For some people he has created the ability to overcome difficult obstacles to do good, others not. Aļļaah has created some people to go to Hell, and some to go to Paradise. This is not injustice, for Allah does not have a creator or a judge that He is accountable to, and what He creates is fully His to do with as He wills. Allah said:

لا يُسْأَلُ عَمَّا يَفْعَلُ وَهُمْ يُسْأَلُون
Meaning: “He is not asked about what He does to creation, but the creation is asked.” (Al-Anbiya, 23).

I have mentioned it elsewhere, but it is useful to recount the debate between Al-Qadi `Abdul Jabbaar of the Mu`tazilite sect, and the great Imam of the Sunnis of the time, Abu Ishaq Al-Isfaraayini . When the two met, `AbdulJabbaar said, “Exalted is Allah, who transcends the obscene.” (While this is a sound expression, what he meant to say was that Allah does not create evil. This is blasphemous, because Muslims must believe that Allah is the only creator, as it is stated in the Quran that He created everything, and that no one wills anything except by His Will.)

Imam Al- Isfaraayini (418 AH) realized what he had implied and responded, “Exalted is Allah, who nothing happens in His dominion but by His Will.” The Mu`tazilite then made another attempt and said, “Does our Lord like to be disobeyed?” Al-Isfaraayini quickly replied, “Could He be disobeyed against His Will?” Upon that `Abdul Jabbaar tried again to defeat his adversary and said, “If God denied me guidance, then ruled that I be destroyed for it, has He treated me fairly?” Al-Isfaraayini calmly answered, “If He denied you something that was yours, then He would have been unfair, but if it was not rightfully yours, then Allah does with His creation what He wills.” `Abdul Jabbaar fell silent, and could not argue further. After all, Allah is the true owner of all creation. (V.4/ P. 261-262. Tabaqaat-al-Shafi`iyyat-al-Kubra).

Authored by Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji

Wahhabi Contention: How are “Ar Rahmanu `alal `arsh istawa” and “Laysaka mithlihi shay`” different?

June 1, 2008

Wahabi contention: “It is very UN-scientific to take the ayah about Allah not resembling creation at face value and NOT take the ayah about istiwaa at face value. Why is one different from the other?”

Sunni Response: It is not clear to me what you mean by “face value”, but at least I will explain the difference between the two.

First of all, the basic principle for understanding the ayahs of the Quran and Hadiths of the Prophet is that they be taken at their most absolute, literal and apparent meanings, unless there is a proof why they shouldn’t. Such proofs would be other ayahs, other hadiths, and ijmaa, while mere preference is not acceptable for this. Sorting out these issues is the main purpose of Usul-al-Fiqh, the methodology for knowing commandments from the Quran and the Sunnah. The rational purpose of this rule of requiring a proof, as mentioned, is to avoid people interpreting the scriptures any way they like, while recognizing that not everything in the Quran can be understood literally, because that would lead to one ayah contradicting another in meaning.

If the rule of requiring proof for saying that an ayah should not be taken literally was not correct, then there would be no purpose in sending a prophet, because his message would have been open to any interpretation desired. For example, one time my non-Muslim friend watched this woman praying as Imam for Jumu`ah prayer in the US. She said, “Well, this is her interpretation,” implying that the woman is free to interpret from the scriptures that a woman can lead Jumu`ah prayer. I told her, “Interpretation has to have rules, if you were allowed to make any interpretation, then what would be the point in sending a prophet?” She could not answer.

In short, one’s understanding of a statement in the Quran should be apparent, unless there is a proof of otherwise from other texts, or ijma.

Having said that, the difference between “He does not resemble anything,” and “istawa” is that the first denies the resemblance of anything to Allah. The latter, on the other hand affirms “istawa”. To be consistent then, we need to affirm istawa without affirming resemblance to something physical, because created things are physical, i.e. limited and quantitative, and therefore in need of Allah to create them. That is why the Salaf said “istawa bi-laa kayf,” “istawa without a how”, but they did not say “He does not resemble His creation – without a how.” The first statement is an affirmation followed by a partial negation, the second statement is clearly nonsense.

This should be enough, but if you want the details……

Understanding “He does not resemble anything”

When we want to understand “He does not resemble anything,” we need to understand what meanings and senses are exclusive to creation. We also need to identify the meanings and senses that are shared in created attributes, so that we do not end up believing that Allah is different from His creation in the same sense as created things are different from each other only. After all, all created things are different from each other in some more or less obvious or subtle senses, even if it be only time or location. If we do not pay attention to this, we will end up saying that the meaning of the ayah is “everything is different from everything else,” and that would be to make it meaningless, which is clearly not allowed. After all, the statement addresses an attribute of Allah.

Before we do this, let it be clear that “He does not resemble anything,” is an attribute that negates something from Allah, which is different from an affirmation, such as “istawa” because we are forbidden from pondering meanings that are affirmed to Allah. We are not forbidden from pondering about creation, however, so there is nothing wrong with identifying what meanings and senses are present in creation that Allah is clearly not attributed with. Such meanings would be those that necessitate having a creator. Such pondering is encouraged in the Quran, such as in:

إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآَيَاتٍ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ
Meaning: “Verily in the creation of the Skies and the Earth, and the differences of night and day there are signs for those who have perceptive minds.” (Aal `Imraan, 190)

أَفَلاَ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَى ٱلإِبْلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ
Meaning: “What, do they not consider how the camel was created?”

Based on this, when we look at creation, we notice that created things have quantities and limits, i.e. they have a physical measure. We also notice that they come in different shapes, types and resemblances in terms of these quantities and limits. They do not necessarily resemble each other in all aspects, for they have different time limits, locations, attributes, etc, but their nature of being limited and quantitative is shared. So a chair, for example, is very different from a human being, but similar in some aspects, such as in having a weight and a volume.

From this observation, we know that Allah is not something limited, not something measurable or quantitative, because Allah is not merely different from creation in the way they are different from each other. He is completely different from creation, and not something measurable, limited or quantitative. Allah’s attributes are greater than that.

Note that even when we use the same word to refer to a created attribute as we use for an attribute of Allah, such as knowledge, then we know that this is completely different in meaning. Allah’s knowledge is not something limited. It is not in a location, such as a brain, unlike ours. It does not increase or decrease, unlike ours. Our knowledge is quantitative an divisible, His is not etc.

We can also say it this way; the world around us is full of entities with size, even though they differ in attributes such as shape, density and taste, etc. The kind, however, things with size, is the same for them all. Since Allah is not the same kind as creation, then He is not something with size, and is not in a place. Further to this, we can also say that since place is a creation, as it is something other than Allah, He is not in it, because He existed before it.

To clarify further the meaning of “He does not resemble anything,” take the proof of Abu Hanifah that you linked, which points out an absurdity to an atheist: “You cannot imagine one ship running without some one looking after its affairs. Yet you think that for this whole world, which runs exactly and precisely, there is no one who looks after it, and no one owns it?” Take also a look at the proof of Allah’s existence that Ash-Shafi`i presented: “The leaves of Toot (berries) are all but one. Each leaf tastes exactly the same. Insects, honey bees, cows, goats, and deer live off of it. After eating these the insects produce silk; bees produce honey; deer give musk (a special kind of scent), cows and goats deliver off-springs.” Maalik said it this way: “Difference in languages, difference in pitches of voice, difference in singing are proof that Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala) exists!”

Such proofs are called arguments based on design, the order of creation, and they are also found in the Quran. The Quran does not have logically flawed proofs, so we can safely assume that they are valid. If you look carefully at these proof, and others like it, then you can detect what it means that Allah does not resemble His creation. This is because when you specify the attributes of creation that makes it so obvious that it needs a creator, then you can know what attributes the Creator does not have. You can know this, because Allah does not have a Creator.

The common denominator of all these proofs is that they give examples of how creations need physical specification for how they are to be. What kind? What location? What volume? What quantity? What size? What shape? How wide? What color? What taste? What temperature? What boundaries and limits? Where? How fast? Etc. All such attributes need specification. So in Abu Hanifah’s, for example, he proposes that the ship has goods (specification needed: what kind? how many? where?) that the ship keeps going back and forth (what direction, what speed? to and from where? what path?), etc.

Clearly such attributes need a creator, because they need to receive specification. This means that they have a beginning, because becoming specified needs a point in time. Clearly then, Allah is not something that physical specification applies to, so He is not a body, and therefore not in a place, because a body is what is in a place. The great scholar of the Salaf At-Tahaawi stated:

{Allah is above} the status of {having limits, extremes, corners, limbs or instruments.}

{The six directions} up, down, front, back, left and right {do not contain Him, like all created things}.

This same thing was stated by the most eloquent of all creation, as narrated by Muslim and Al-Bayhaqi:

اللهم أنت الْأَوَّلُ فَلَيْسَ قَبْلَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الْآخِرُ فَلَيْسَ بَعْدَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الظَّاهِرُ فَلَيْسَ فَوْقَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الْبَاطِنُ فَلَيْسَ دُونَكَ شَيْءٌ
“O Allah, You are the First, so there is nothing before You, and You are the Last so there is nothing after You. You are Al-Thaahir so there is nothing above You. And You are Al-Baatin, so there is nothing below you.” If there is nothing above Him and nothing below Him, then he is not a body or a direction, and He does not have physical specification.

Further to this point, consider what was narrated from Ahmad ibn Hanbal at the link you provided, where he made an example of the egg with a chick in it, saying: “There is an incredibly strong fort, it has no doors, there is no way to get in. In fact, there is not even a hole in it. From outside it glows like the moon and from inside it shimmers like gold. It is sealed from all sides, matter of fact it is air tight. Suddenly one of its doors breaks down, a living thing with eyes and ears, a beautiful looking animal appears yelling and wandering all over. So is not there a creator who made it possible for life to take place in this secured and closed fort? And is not this Creator better than humans? This Creator has no limit.” Note that he concluded based on his proof: “This Creator has no limit.”

Why one cannot say that “He does not resemble anything,” except in that He has a direction

Another difference between “He does not resemble anything,” and “istawa” is that the first is clear in meaning, while the second is not; “istawa” has many possible meanings in Arabic. To get agreement between the two is therefore easy, you understand “He does not resemble anything,” absolutely and literally, and say that the meaning of “istawa” is one of the meanings in Arabic that does not contradict with “He does not resemble anything.” So it does not have the meaning of Allah being in a place or direction, because that would mean He has a physical limit, and that would be to invalidate “He does not resemble anything”, and render it meaningless without a need.

Yet another reason why place or direction cannot be excluded from the literal “He does not resemble anything” is the explicit scriptural text mentioned earlier, namely that the Prophet said:

اللهم أنت الْأَوَّلُ فَلَيْسَ قَبْلَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الْآخِرُ فَلَيْسَ بَعْدَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الظَّاهِرُ فَلَيْسَ فَوْقَكَ شَيْءٌ وَأَنْتَ الْبَاطِنُ فَلَيْسَ دُونَكَ شَيْءٌ
“O Aļļaah, You are the First, so there is nothing before You, and You are the Last so there is nothing after You. You are Al-Thaahir so there is nothing above You. And You are Al-Baatin, so there is nothing below you.”

If there is nothing above Him and nothing below Him, then He is not in a place or direction, so if one believed istawa to have the meaning of Allah literally being in a place or direction, then one would have rendered the perfectly clear “He does not resemble anything” virtually meaningless, as all creation as we know it is in a place and direction by nature of being limited and quantitative. One would also have contradicted the perfectly clear “”You are Al-Thaahir so there is nothing above You. And You are Al-Baatin, so there is nothing below you.”

Note that this hadith is a praise of Aļļaah, and that His names and attributes are attributes of perfection and greatness. Being in a place or direction is not an attribute of perfection; being physically in a high place is not greatness, because if it was, then Tibet would better than Makkah. Moreover, being in a physical direction necessitates having a limit. The Prophet then, made it clear in this ĥadiitħ that Allah’s aboveness mentioned in other texts is not one of direction.

Finally, by claiming that “istawa” means being physically above, one would have affirmed a limit to the creator and thereby claimed it possible for limited things to exist without a creator. By doing this one would have contradicted the proofs for Allah’s existence, because one would no longer be able to say that nothing limited can exist without a creator. One would also have insulted Allah by attributing to Him a limit.

How to deal with the meaning of “istawa”

The best solution then, is that one simply says “istawa” to affirm the attribute and then “without a how” to comply with “He does not resemble anything”. This way one is left with the various possible Arabic meanings of “istawa” that are not physical in meaning, and one has not contradicted these other very clear and specific texts (and a number of others). In other words, one has avoided restricting the literal meaning of “He does not resemble anything” and “O Allah, You are Al-Thaahir so there is nothing above You. And You are Al-Baatin, so there is nothing below you.” Last, but not least, one has also avoided affirming a limit to Allah which would contradict this aayah, among many others:

اللَّهُ لا إِلَهَ إِلا هُوَ لَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَى
Meaning “There is no god but Him, He has the best names.” (Taahaa, 8 )

One does not necessarily, however, assign any specific one of those non-physical meanings to “istawa”, because it is not clear in the Arabic language which one is meant, and the meaning is not well known. For this reason, most of the Salaf left it at saying “istawa without a how,” and usually did not interpret the non-physical meaning left after saying “without a how”. This was for fear of speaking about Allah without a proof, and ending up assigning a meaning that was not meant, thereby denying the one that was actually meant, or ta`tiil, as is it called in Arabic.

Note that when the Salaf said “istawa bi-laa kayf,” they did not mean “without knowing the physical how that is really there,” as some think. Literally, bi-laa kayf means, “bi-(with) laa (categorically no) kayf (how.)” Since they knew Arabic very well, and knew Allah, this was all they needed to say as it made it clear that Allah is not something physical or temporal. This is not the case with most people today. And there is nothing wrong also in detailing what “kayf” means, because the great scholar of the Salaf At-Tahaawiy stated:

{Allah is above} the status of {having limits, extremes, corners, limbs or instruments.}

{The six directions} up, down, front, back, left and right {do not contain Him} because that would make Him {like all created things}.

He also agreed that believing that anything else is an insult to Islam, for he said:

{Whoever attributed to Allah an attribute that has a meaning among the meanings that apply to humans has committed blasphemy.}

Note that he said this after having already pointed out that the six directions apply to all created things, which includes humans.

I hope I have managed to make it clear now that denying istawa to be a physical attribute does not mean denying istawa. If you want more on this, and to prevent this dialogue to degenerate into an explanation of every scripture that might be taken to be physical in meaning, you can look at Ibn Al-Jawzi’s “Daf’ Shubah al-Tashbhi”, which has been translated to English under the name “The Attributes of God”. I haven’t seen the translation myself, but here are a couple of quotes I have translated for you myself from the Arabic version: “And they (the corrupt Hanbalis) made Allah’s aboveness physical, and forgot that physical aboveness can only be for a body, or an indivisible element, and that aboveness can be used for the meaning of high status, for one may say for example, ‘so and so is above so and so’.” In other words, Ibn Al-Jawzi is saying that in no way shape or form is the denial of physical direction and physical aboveness a denial of an aboveness that is not physical. Physical aboveness is refuted, however, as it is a limited aboveness, because it involves at least one physical limit. For example, if someone says that Allah is physically above the `Arsh (throne), then he is saying that Allah has a limit adjacent to the throne.

Then Ibn Al-Jawziyy narrated from Ahmad ibn Hanbal that he said: “istawa is an attribute no doubt, and it does not mean purpose or control,” and that, “Ahmad refuted that Allah should have a direction, because directions cannot be without something other than them,” i.e. something physical to be in a direction. Then Ibn Al-Jawzi said, “Since the claim that Allah has a direction is false, then it is clear that He is not in a place.” Then he clarified this by saying “because Allah is not surrounded by anything, and He does not have attributes with a beginning.”

Note, however, that when some later scholars saw the activities of deviants trying to use the silence of the scholars regarding istawa in order to spread the falsehood that Allah is physical, some of them, or more of them, decided to mention specific non-physical meanings, such as control. This happened also to some extent among the Salaf. This was to calm the minds of the uneducated (who were far from the mindset and linguistic capability of the Companions of the Prophet) so that they would not keep thinking about this issue. They did this because, although most of them felt they had no certain knowledge of the specific meaning of istawa, and that the safest approach is to keep silent when one does not have certain knowledge of such a matter, this was considered a minor concern compared to the danger of having people believing Allah to be something in a place or a direction.

Note also that whether the non-physical meaning of scripture texts that have apparent physical meanings are known or not, is sometimes a matter of disagreement. So for example, many scholars interpreted the literally translated, “He is with you wherever you are,” as “in the sense of knowledge,” I.e. Allah knows about you, and what you do, wherever you are. Clearly this aayah is also not literally meant.

The Quran and hadith texts are full of such figurative expressions, and they are widely known. They did not cause confusion among the Companions, simply because they knew that Allah is not limited, as He does not have a Creator. They knew their Creator in other words, so physical meanings did not even enter their minds, just like when you heard the AT&T commercial “reach out and touch someone,” you knew that it was not literally meant, because you know what a telephone is.

Author: Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji