Q&A about the words “hand” and “face.”

On Wed, Jul 16, 2008 at 11:27 AM, a brother wrote:

Dear Shaykh,

As salaam o alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I read the following fatwa of an Indian Hanafi scholar. At the end of the fatwa the scholar takes the position of tafwid, consigning the meaning of “yad” etc to whatever Allah meant by it. He also states that tawil is valid to assign a meaning suitable to the word. But in the beginning he sort of corroborates the Salafi aqida saying as well. Could you please comment if the fatwa is correct, or if there are mistakes with it, what the mistakes are?

Is the following statement correct?
The belief of the Ahle-Sunnat is this that Allaah Ta`ala does have a Hand but it is unlike the hand of the creation. And Allaah Ta`ala has a Face, which is unlike the face of man or any other creation. These are unique to Allaah Ta`ala alone and their condition and comprehension are beyond the understanding of man. Only Allaah Ta`ala alone knows what these actually are.

Abu Adam’s comment:

This is not very precise. First of all, he translates “yad” as “hand”, and this is very misleading. Who said that the meaning of “yad”, when ascribed to Aļļaah is has the meaning of “hand” in English? What he should have said was “Aļļaah has a yad unlike the yad of the creation.” That would have been more careful. When he translates “yad” as “hand” then he has restricted the possible Arabic meanings of “yad” to the possible meanings of “hand” in English. In other words, he has already engaged in ta’weel, even though he seems to be attempting tafweeđ. Not only that, he has also translated an Arabic word that is ambiguous in meaning when ascribed to Aļļaah into another language. This is not allowed if the translation result is potentially misleading, as it clearly is in this case. The scholars agreed that words used to ascribe attributes to Aļļaah must be verbatim from scripture texts; either the Qur’aan or highly authentic ĥadiitħs. If they are not, such as when translating, then the words used must connotate glorification and not be misleading at all. These conditions are not met here.

Moreover, many sunni scholars said that “yad” refers to Aļļaah’s attribute of Power.

As for wajh, which he has a again translated into a misleading word, namely face, is not said to be an attribute by all sunnis. Many said that wajh means the deeds that are done for Aļļaah’s sake. Other’s said that it refers to Aļļaah Himself, and not an attribute of His. The translation of wajh as face is even worse than the translation of “yad” as “hand”. “Face” has no meaning in English I can think of that befits Aļļaah, whereas “hand” sometimes means “power” or “control” such as in “the decision is not in my hands.”

Add to all this that non-literal meanings of words are interpreted according to context. I.e. the linguistic tool for knowing whether a literal or figurative meaning is meant is to look at the context. So if I say “the guy is a lion,” you know I am speaking figuratively, because a “guy” is a human being, and thus the meaning of “lion” here is something like “fierce” or “brave.” On the other hand, if I said “lions are a type of cat,” you know I am speaking literally. So when one translates “yad” as “hand” then one has strongly implied that the literal meaning of “yad” is meant, by the contextual clue of this translation, and this adds to the danger of being misleading.

Answer (fatwa):
Yes, it is right. The Ahlus Sunnah wal-Jamaah scholars of Hadith and Ulama hold the same belief about the Hands etc. It implies that Allah does have Hands, Face etc but not like His creatures, He is above all these similarities. Allah says:
(لیس کمثلہ شئ (سورة الشوری، ۱۱
There is nothing whatever like unto him. (42/11)
Abu Adam’s comment:

This is very misleading, as I have explained immediately above. I think most people will think this to mean different shape, color, etc, whereas a Muslim must believe that these are words in Arabic (yad, wajh, etc.) that when refer to an attribute of Aļļaah are not limbs, instruments, physical or limited in any sense. They are attributes without modality, time or place.

But, what these words, like Hands and Face, mean? Allah knows best, we only believe in whatever Allah has meant by these words. The scholars of Kalam (Asharia and Maturidiah) are of the opinion that the exact meaning of these words is known only by Allah, but if anyone takes a meaning that is suitable for the high position of Allah (Suhanahu Wa-taala) then it may be allowed e.g. Hand means power and Face means He himself.

Abu Adam’s comment:

He should not have translated yad and wajh as hands and face, for the reasons mentioned earlier.


5 Responses to Q&A about the words “hand” and “face.”

  1. Rashid says:

    Assalam u Alaikum,

    I was having a discussion with someone and he quoted the following:

    In Fiqh al Akbar, Imam Abu Hanifa [Radiy Allahu Anhu] writes this passage;

    God knows, but not as we know; He has power, but not as we have power; He sees, but not as we see; He hears, but not as we hear; and He speaks, but not as we speak. We speak by means of the speech organs and sounds, whereas God Most High speaks with neither organs nor sounds. Sounds are created, and the word of God Most High is uncreated. He is a thing, but unlike other things; by saying “thing,” we intend merely to affirm His reality. He has neither body nor substance, neither accidental property nor limit, neither opposite nor like nor similitude. {He has a hand, a face, and a self (nafs); the mention that God most High has made of these in the Qur’an has the sense that these are among His attributes, and no question can be raised concerning their modality (bila kayf). It cannot be said that His hand represents His power or His bestowal of bounty, because such an interpretation would require a negation of an attribute}

    Kindly explain the words in brackets.

    Jazak ALLAH!


    • The translator apparently did not get to the next page, where Abu Ĥaniifah forbids translating the word “yad” to persian, even it is stated with it “without a modality.” Translating yad as hand, and wajh as face is a calamity. What Abu Ĥaniifa is saying is that the words yad and wajh are words referring to attributes, not like ours, and without modality. That is, they are not something that can be pointed at, as they are not limbs or parts or in a direction or place, or having a shape.


  2. Omar says:

    As-salaamualaikum Shaykh, can you explain how we apply the Qur’anic verse “there is nothing like unto Him” to Allah being All-Seeing and All-Hearing, because some of the creation do see and do hear. I ask this because we use the same verse to (correctly) say Allah does not have a physical “hand” because this is an attribute of some of the creation.

    JazakAllah Khair.

    • Wa3alaykumussalaam,

      It means that we affirm hearing and seeing that are not like ours. As is true of all of Allaah’s attributes, they are attributes that are not in time or space, or changing, or having a beginning, or being limited in some way. As is true all of Allaah’s attributes, their reality cannot be conceived by our minds .


  3. Seeker Of The Sacred Knowledge says:

    بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

    As-salamu alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh Shaykh ,

    I would like to thank you for this blessed work …



    Seeker of the Sacred Knowledge Admin Team

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