Wahabi says: “Disassociating the unknown ‘how’ from Allah’s Attributes is silly. We shall all learn of the ‘how’ of things like the Ru’yah of Allah in Jannah, Insha’allah. Moses learnt of the ‘how’ of Allah’s speech when he talked to Him. Or is all this done without a ‘how’, according to you? Imam Malik said: “Kayf is Majhul” (unknown). He did not say: “Kayf is Ma’dum” (non-existent).
If you mean by its “how” its reality, or “kunh,” then this is agreed. If you mean by “how” a modality, then this is unacceptable.
There are many narrations from Maalik about when asked about the meaning of the istawaa ascribed to Aļļaah. One of them states that he said, “Al-Kayf marfuuˆ”, and yet another “Al-Kayf ghayr maˆquul.” These statements mean that the kayf is impossible, i.e. istawaa cannot have a modality, because Aļļaah’s attributes do not have a modality. These narrations are stronger than the one that says “the kayf is unknown,” and agree with the famous saying of the Salaf “bilaa kayf,” which means “without a how,” i.e. without a modality.
قال القرافي: ومعنى قول مالك الاستواء غير مجهول أن عقولنا دلتنا على الاستواء اللائق بالله وجلاله وعظمته وهو الاستيلاء دون الجلوس ونحوه مما لا يكون إلا في الأجسام. وقوله والكيف غير معقول معناه أن ذات الله لا توصف بما وضعت له العرب لفظ كيف، وهو الأحوال المتنقلة والهيئات الجسمية..فلا يعقل ذلك في حقه لاستحالته في جهة الربوبية (ج.13/ص.242).
Al-Qaraafiyy, who is among the greatest scholars in history, and an expert on the school of Imaam Maalik in particular, said: “The meaning of Maalik’s saying “the istiwaa’ is not unknown” is that our minds guided us to the istiwaa’ that befits Aļļaah and His Majesty and Greatness, which is istiilaa’ (control), and not sitting or the like, which cannot be for other than bodies. As for Maalik’s saying “the kayf is impossible,” it means that Aļļaah Himself is not attributed with what the Arabs used the word “kayf” for, which are temporary states and bodily appearances, and this is impossible, because it is impossible that Aļļaah should be attributed with such meanings (Dħakħiirah, 13/243).”
Note that the word kayf and kayfiyyah later came to be used in the sense of “reality of,” which is synonymous with “kunh,” and does not mean “modality.” Az-Zarkashiyy said in Al-Baĥr Al-Muĥiyţ:
وَأُجِيبُ بِأَنَّ الْمُرَادَ بِالرَّاسِخِينَ في الْعِلْمِ الرَّاسِخُونَ في الْعِلْمِ بِاَللَّهِ وَمَعْرَفَتِهِ وَأَنَّهُ لَا سَبِيلَ لِلْوُقُوفِ على كُنْهِ ذَاتِهِ وَصِفَاتِهِ وَأَفْعَالِهِ بِغَيْرِهِ كما حَكَى عن الصِّدِّيقِ أَنَّهُ قال الْعَجْزُ عن دَرْكِ الْإِدْرَاكِ إدْرَاكٌ وقد قِيلَ:
حَقِيقَةُ الْمَرْءِ ليس الْمَرْءُ يُدْرِكُهَا فَكَيْفَ كَيْفِيَّةُ الْجَبَّارِ في الْقِدَمِ
“The answer is the what is meant by firm in knowledge is the one’s that are firm in knowledge of Aļļaah, and knowing Him, and that there is no way to comprehend the kunh (reality) of His Self, attributes and actions by other than Him, as in the saying of (Abu Bakr) Aş-Şiddiiq “inability to reach comprehension, is comprehension” and it has been said:
The ĥaqiiqah of a person is not comprehended by a person
So how about kayfiyyah of Al-Jabbaar who has beginningless existence (1/368)”
As one can see, Az-Zarkakshiyy uses ĥaqiiqah and kayfiyyah as synonyms to mean reality or “kunh.” Accordingly, whenever a respected scholar says “the kayf is unknown” then we should understand that he means by it this figurative usage, namely “reality,” and not “modality.”
Al-Qaraafiyy. Adħ-Dħakħiirah. 1st ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Gharb Al-Islaamiyy, 1994.
Az-Zaraksħiyy. Al-Baĥr Al-Muĥiiţ. 1st ed. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar Al-Kotob Al-ilmiyah, 2000.