as salam `alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu
This is a detailed exposition of the article “Kalam & Trinity” authored by Dawud Israel of http://www.muslimology.org.
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:
- The “Word” of Allah is created, and Isa alaihissalam was created from it.
- 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.