Descending vs seeing

March 17, 2009

Question: we say that the idea of “real descending unlike our descending” is self-contradictory because descending cannot other than be bodies bound by space and directions. However the wahabi says: “The meaning of Seeing is to interpret information one receives upon lights hitting one’s eyes. Will you now negate that Allah sees? You say descending can not be other than bodies bound by space and directions then seeing cannot be done other than an eye because this is the real meaning of Seeing like you gave the meaning of descending.

Answer: If we were going to accept the notion that the real meaning of seeing is “to interpret information one receives upon lights hitting one’s eyes,” then this is the manner of our seeing, not Aļļaah’s seeing. Aļļaah’s seeing is eternal without a beginning or an end, and does not involve instruments, so we say that His seeing is unlike our seeing. Since Aļļaah’s seeing is without modality (bi laa kayf), we cannot know the reality of His seeing, and we cannot describe it, because all the seeing we have a description of, is seeing with a modality. We can, however, simply say that it is an attribute that clears Aļļaah of its opposite, namely blindness. So we say, Aļļaah sees without an eye and without a beginning or end or change, and its meaning is the opposite of blindness. This way I can know something about Aļļaah’s seeing without ascribing a modality. Since we are not required to know the reality of Aļļaah’s attributes, this is enough.

This does not work with “descending”, because descending is movement. It is a modality, and you cannot have a modality without modality, as that would be self contradictory. You cannot define it as the opposite of its opposite, such as “seeing is the opposite of blindness,” because its opposite is to ascend, as it is a movement in the opposite direction. The opposite of ascending again, is the modality of moving in its the opposite direction.  Thus you cannot get away from the notion of movement. For this reason, you have to either say that nuzuul does not mean that Aļļaah Himself is descending, and then either give a plausible interpretation, or simply affirm the nuzuul while believing it does not mean that Aļļaah is descending.

See also:

The ‘Simple’ Wahabi Belief II: Contradiction versus narration

Q & A: Figures of Speech

Wahhabi Contention: Asharis contradict themselves by affirming some attributes and not affirming other attributes


Q&A: hand versus hearing and tafweed II

March 1, 2009

Question: Doesn’t the faculty of hearing imply the necessity of a specialized sensory organ, just as a hand implies a limb? Isn’t the concept and act of hearing also physical? You hear because of vibrations picked up by the auditory system in your ears, therefore hearing has a [physical] meaning.

Answer: What is heard is physical, i.e. the soundwaves are physical vibrations. The hearing of them, however, is not necessarily physical. This is despite the fact that our hearing has a physical aspect. Our hearing is physical in the sense that we hear through an instrument (our ear) which senses sound by vibrating in reaction to these soundwaves. This is our way of hearing. It is hearing with a kayf, with a modality, i.e. with several steps and elements involved, or a physical description.

Allaah’s hearing, however, is without kayf, without modality, and accordingly, not based on vibrations of an instrument. Note that we say that it must be that Allaah hears everything, and at the same time that it is impossible that Allaah should have ears. It is impossible, because that would mean that He is composed of parts, and something composed needs something to put it together, i.e. it needs a creator. Moreover, Allaah’s hearing cannot be based on a reaction to the vibration of soundwaves, because reaction is imperfection. Furthermore, Allaah’s hearing is not sequential (hearing one thing after another,) because Allaah is not in time (and whenever you have sequences of events, you have time….) The explanation of why this must be so is as follows:

The nature of sequential hearing is that it is possible. That is, if a being hears something, then in the minds eye, the being’s hearing of a subsequent sound is a possibility, and not an intrinsic must. This is because the hearing of the sound did not exist previously, and whatever is not existent and then becomes existent cannot be said to necessarily exist. Rather, it must be brought into existence. In other words, in the case of sequential hearing, hearing the next sound and not hearing it are equally possible in the mind’s eye. This means that the hearing of it needs a reason to become existent, so that the possibility of hearing is no longer equal to not hearing. This again tells us that the hearing of the next sound needs a creator to provide it with existence. Therefore, since Allaah’s hearing is not created, it is not sequential.

If we were to get even deeper into this explanation, I would even contest your claim that our hearing is completely physical. Part of it is about vibration, yes, and there are electrical signals in the brain produced by the vibrations in the ear, but is that our perception of hearing itself? If it was, then a microphone would have hearing, but we do not say that a microphone, or even a recording device hears do we? In fact, a person who sleeps will have vibrations in his ears and electrical signals generated from those in his brain, but if he does not wake up from sounds, we do not say that he is hearing them do we? No, our hearing is more than that, it needs the perception of what is heard in the mind, and this perception is not physical. In fact, we do not know what this perception is exactly. The perception of what is heard itself is not vibrations, nor is it electrical signals, it is something beyond physical. It is still created, however, because it changes, develops and has sequence. Moreover, it needs specification, because we only perceive a very limited number of sounds at any point in time.

Note that it is not the vibrations that create our perception of what we hear. Vibrations do not have such power. The recognition of these sounds is caused by the sounds in the sense that they provide something hearable that vibrates in the ear and then becomes electrical signals. Again, however, our perception of them in ourselves are not these vibrations or electrical signals themselves, but something that belongs to the abstract world of the mind and meaning. These vibrations provide a bridge between our minds and the world outside, but this is a created bridge, because we need Allaah to create for us the perception of them in our minds. Vibrations cannot do that by themselves. The ear then, is not a necessity for hearing, but a normal prerequisite. That is, Allaah has created the ear as a sign for the ability to hear, and as a prerequiste for it, in created beings, but He could have created our perception of hearing without any of them.

Since we do not know excactly what our hearing is, beyond the observation of soundwaves and electrical signals, which are actually just observations of what is heard in different forms, and not hearing itself, which is the perception by our minds, it is no wonder then, that we do not know the reality of Allaah’s hearing. We cannot know what the reality of Allaah’s hearing is, all we can know is that He hears everything without modality, sequence, reaction, or an instrument, and that His hearing is a necessary attribute, and not merely a possibility. That is, Allaah’s hearing is not an act, or an ability, as our hearing is, but a necessary attribute of His. In other words, it absolutely must be that Allaah hears everything without an instrument.

Question: Can you please explain hearing as I have described above in comparison then to your explanation of the rejection of “Yad” as Hand. If “Yad” cannot mean “Hand, unlike anything in creation” because “Hand” still has a meaning then surely as the original questioner asked “Hearing” too has a physical meaning.

Answer: The literal meaning of hand is a limb, which would be equivalent to the concept of ear in the above answer, not hearing itself. You should not translate the original Arabic “yad” as “hand” for this reason. Yad does not necessarily mean limb in Arabic, it could refer to ideas such as care or power.

Question: Doesn’t the faculty of hearing imply the necessity of a specialized sensory organ, just as a hand implies a limb?

No, in fact it must be the case that it is not, because a sensory organ needs a creator to specify how it is to be, and Allaah’s hearing is not created. Note that the word “hand” does not IMPLY a limb, it IS a limb. Hearing, however, is not a limb, the ear is a limb, and the ear is a limb that implies hearing in created things, because that is the rule that Allaah has willed for His creation, not because it is necessarily so in the minds eye, and could not have been any other way.

Question: Shaykh can you please explain why isn’t wrong to say Allah ‘Sees’ unlike our ‘Seeing’? Isn’t this going against the saying of Imam Tahawi who said ‘Whoever attributed to Aļļaah an attribute that has a meaning among the meanings that apply to humans has committed blasphemy.’ I know that Hand is a limb but a ‘Seeing’ is a meaning which applies to humans so how comes this is allowed ? I fail to understand insha Allah you can enlighten me on this question, please.

Answer: Because when we say, “Allaah sees unlike our seeing,” or “Allaah sees everything without an instrument, beginning or sequence,” then we do not imply a need for specification of what is seen, nor for a how (modality) in seeing (such as by an eye,) and whatever does not need specification, and does not have a a beginning, does not have the meaning of being created. This is unlike a limb, such as a hand, because is has a physical specification, and therefore needs someone to specify how it is to be. That is why saying “limb not like the limbs of creation,” is kufr, because a limb needs specification.