Bodies have limits but not Allaah

January 18, 2009

Wahabi contention: “But whatever has no limit is not separate and distinct from the creation and cannot be above the world because all of this is necessitated by the meaning of al-hadd [i.e. limit]”

Comment: Note that they mean by this “whatever has no [physical] limit is not [physically] separate and distinct from the creation and cannot be [physically] above the world.” This statement is based on drawing analogy between creation and the Creator. It assumes that Aļļaah is a body (something with a size), and must therefore, as they say, have a physical boundary. This assumption is made, because they think of Aļļaah in terms of what is true for creation.

The Sunni belief on the one who says Allaah has a limit is that He is a kaafir

Just to remind ourselves of the Sunni belief in this matter, Aţ-Ţaĥaawiyy stated {in brackets}: {This is a detailed remembrance of the belief of the People of the Sunnah and following {the Jamaaˆah}. Later he stated, as part of this remembrance,{Aļļaah 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 in the same remembrance: {Whoever attributed to Aļļaah 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. In other words, the Sunni belief is that attributing a limit to Aļļaah makes one a non-Muslim.

A brief synopsis of the fallacy contained in the argument for a limit

The concepts of physical separation and connection relate to bodies, not to Aļļaah. If they said a body cannot be separate and extinct from another body unless it has a limit, then this is true. It is not true, however, that Aļļaah is a body, so it is not true that He must have a limit. Therefore, it is also not true that Aļļaah is either physically outside or inside the world. This is a fallacy called “false dichotomy,” which is when someone argues and gives you a choice between two things, none of which are true, like if someone said, “the stone is either blind or seeing, which is it?” The problem with this is that a stone is neither said to be blind nor seeing. That is, you neither say, “the stone is blind” nor “the stone is seeing.” So when they say, “Aļļaah is either inside or outside, which is it?” they are using a false dichotomy to trick you into thinking that there is no other alternative. This is not correct, because the two choices a person has about something existent is first, “Is it in a place or not?” If the answer to that choice is “in a place,” then one may ask, “it is inside or outside area so and so?” If the answer is, “not in a place,” however, then the question, “is it inside or outside area so and so?” is pure nonsense. To illustrate in terms of the example of the stone, there was another question before “is the stone seeing or blind?” which was, “does the stone have sight?” Since the answer is “no,” it makes not sense to ask, “is it seeing or blind?”

The stated wahabi contention that “what is not limited cannot be above,” assumes that Aļļaah’s aboveness is physical, but no Muslim says that He is. Muslims believe that Aļļaah is above us in status and power, not in physical location. Being physically above something else can only be for something physical, and there is no greatness in being physically above something anyway. If there was, then Tibet would be better than Makkah. By saying that Aļļaah’s aboveness is one of status and power, we have chosen the most beautiful meaning of “aboveness” and we have avoided attributing a limit to the Creator.

A detailed explanation of why the wahabi argument is invalid

To recap, the wahabi argument in formal terms is that they say:

1) Everything that exists is in a place.

2) Everything that occupies space has a limit.

3) Allaah exists.

4) Therefore (they say) Allaah has a limit, and claiming otherwise is sophistry

While we accept premises 2) and 3), we do not accept premise 1). The reason why we do not accept premise 1), namely that everything that exists is in a place, is:

First, there is no evidence that could be claimed for premise 1) except observation of what we have perceived with our senses in our daily lives. Essentially what they are saying is that “everything I have perceived in my life is physical, therefore everything that exists is physical.” This is clearly not a logical argument, but it is the core of their argument. The underlying trick in this claim is that our imagination is limited to what our five senses have experienced in this life. Our minds record these experiences, and in our minds we are able to manipulate these recordings in different ways as concepts. Our ability to conceptualize is limited to these recordings, and any fact that does not agree with these recordings is difficult to deal with in our minds, and will even often be rejected based on it. It is this limit of our minds that the devil uses to trick people into anthropomorphist belief. He makes them think that what one cannot imagine cannot exist, and makes them ignore the fact that our imagination is based on a limited set of sensory experiences, and it does not cover all that exists in creation, let alone what could have existed, and what must exist.

Second, since there is no actual proof of premise 1) being valid by logic alone, we take guidance from the Quranic fact that Aļļaah does not resemble His creation,

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ

Meaning: “Absolutely nothing resembles Him, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (Al-Sħuuraa, 11) Accordingly, what is necessarily true regarding creation’s existence is not true of His. (For a more complete discussion of the meaning of this aayah, you should read this very important article: Wahhabi Contention: How are “Ar Rahmanu `alal `arsh istawa” and “Laysaka mithlihi shay`” different?)

In light of this we observe that all creation around us are things that occupy space (dead matter and live beings) and attributes of those things that occupy space (like color or love). This is the kind of existence that all creation as we know it has. Based on this, we conclude that Aļļaah is not in a place nor is He an attribute of something in a place, otherwise His existence would be of created kind, and that is contrary to the aayah.

We also take guidance from the Quranic fact that Aļļaah is attributed with absolute pre-existence to everything else:

هُوَ الأَوَّلُ

Meaning: “He is the one that is attributed with absolute precedence.” (Al-Ĥadiid, 03).” We understand from this that He existed before everything else, and that He was not preceded by non-existence or the existence of something else. He existed, and there was nothing with Him and nothing prior to Him. Al-Bukħaariy narrated that the Prophet Muĥammad said:

كان الله ولم يَكُنْ شَيْءٌ غَيْرُهُ

“Aļļaah existed and there was nothing else” (Bukħaariy No. 3019) Aļļaah’s existence then, does not resemble the existence of created things. It is a beginning-less and necessary existence, and is not affected by anything.

This aayah and hadiith are another base then, and we say that while it is true that physical things are either inside or outside something, it is not true of Aļļaah, because He is the creator of all places, all insides and all outsides, as He existed before them.

Consequently, the correct belief is that Aļļaah created all places, and He existed before everything else, including place and time. Since He existed before them, it must be true that He existed without them. In other words, as the scholars say, “Aļļaah existed, and there was no place, and He is now as He was eternally – without a place.”

We also take guidance from other aayahs in the Quran to show that the anthropomorphist’s premise, “everything that exists is in a place,” is false, and that sound reason does not dictate what they claim. One way we can do this is by showing that not everything that exists must be limited, as follows:

First, note that whatever has a physical limit is a creation, because a limit must be specified in terms of size and shape etc. That is, it requires a Creator to exist. If one denies this, then one is no longer able to prove that physical limits require a Creator, such as the human body, or the celestial bodies. That is, the shape of the camel, or the skies would no longer be proofs for Aļļaah’s existence and Power, and this is in contradiction with the Quranic statements, such as:

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 ˆImraan, 190)

أَفَلاَ يَنظُرُونَ إِلَى الإِبْلِ كَيْفَ خُلِقَتْ

Meaning: “What, do they not consider how the camel was created?” (Al-Għasħiyah, 17)

Can anyone ponder these aayahs without pondering the physical boundaries of the skies, earth and camel? Of course not, without boundaries, there is no camel and there is no sky and no earth, because this is the reality of their existence. It is the limits of bodies that make us sure that they are created and enable us to ponder upon them as signs of Aļļaah. In fact, the aayahs are requesting us to ponder the boundaries of the skies, the earth and the camel. If someone claims that Aļļaah has a physical limit, then they are saying that physical limits do not necessarily need a creator, and have thereby invalidated these Quranic proofs.

This is true because a physical limit is a physical limit, and once you claim that one limit does not need a creator, then you cannot prove that another limit necessarily needs a creator. Why? Because a physical limit is conceptually just a connection of dots forming a line or surface. Each dot is connected to the next at one of its sides. The choice of placement of a connected dot to another is for any available space at any angle and from any angle. That’s it. The placement of connected dots form limits, and since the way the dots are placed next to each other needs specification in terms of ‘where,’ all limits need to be specified. This means they need a creator and cannot be eternal, because their existence depends on prior specification. So if someone claims that one such limit does not require a creator, then He can no longer logically prove that another limit does need a creator. This means that he can no longer logically prove that shapes need someone to give them a form. To be able to do that, rather, he must hold on to the premise that all limits need a creator. Since Aļļaah is neither specified, nor created, and is definitely eternal, it must be true that Aļļaah exists without limits and therefore without being in a place.

More simply put: anything that has a limit i.e. boundary has a shape because the limit has to have some shape. Anything that has a certain shape could have had any other shape, because any shape isn’t of higher priority than any other shape, so having a certain shape means that there must be someone who specified it and chose it among all other possibilities.

Similarly, the very state of being in a place needs a specifier. The proof that the state of being in a place needs to be specified, is that once something is in a place, it is conceivable that it could have been in another place, just like what was shown true above regarding connecting dots in a limit. Consequently, once we see something is in a place, we ask how it got there. We ask this, because we know that once something is in a place, then something prior to it has put it there. That is, something prior to it specified its place. So the concepts of being physically inside or outside cannot apply to Aļļaah, because if they did, it would necessitate Him being specified, or influenced or changed. Rather, we must believe that Aļļaah is only attributed with attributes that are eternal, and therefore do not necessitate specification. See also what Al-Qurţubiyy said in this regard at this link.

In conclusion, the first premise of the wahabis is not only unverifiable, but definitely wrong.

Q & A: On Ta’teel and Tafwid

June 22, 2008

Question: The Salafis argue that by giving a figurative interpretation of Allah’s attributes one is doing ta’teel. What is the best way of responding to such comments? My argument is that it is not ta’teel as the interpretation is in accordance with known Arabic grammatical rules etc. and thus not ta’teel.

Answer: What you are saying to them is correct. Ta’teel is to deny an attribute that has been firmly established to be an attribute. Note that an attribute is referred to by a word, such as “ilm” for “knowledge.” Sometimes a word can have more than one meaning. If it established that such a word refers to an attribute, then the next question is what is the meaning that is appropriate? If someone chooses a meaning that is physical, such as a limb, then he has committed tashbih. If he chooses a meaning that befits Allah, then he is someone that believes Allah to be attributed non resemblance to creation. He has understood the aayah in light of another aayah, namely the one affirming that nothing resembles Allah. He must choose a meaning, however, that is in agreement with other texts and ijmaa. If there was another text that makes the choice absolutely clear, or a scholarly ijmaa consensus, and he ignores this, then this is a form of denying the attribute, or ta’teel.

For example, the Mu`tazilah ignored the scholarly ijmaa consensus that Allah is seen by Muslims in the Hereafter without being in a place, at a distance, having a form, or being in a direction. A different seeing than the one we are used to in this life, because Allah does not resemble His creation. They denied the concept of seeing without the seen being at a distance, and said that seeing here means “expecting,” or “knowing,” or the like. This is a ta’wil that has reached the extent of ta’teel, as it breaks ijmaa and assigns another meaning than seeing without it being necessary. The Sunni scholars told them, “Why not simply say that Allah is seen without being in a place, changing or having a limit, just as we say that Allah knows and wills without being in a place, changing or having a limit?”

The mushabbihah agreed with the Mu`tazilites that there is no such thing as seeing without the seen being at a distance, but while the Mu`tazilah made ta’wil to escape from tashbih, or ascribing a limit to Allah, the mushabbihah said that Allah is seen in a direction and at a distance, thus attributing to Him a limit. The doing of the Mu`tazilah was silly and at least a bid`ah, while that of the mushabbihah was plain kufr.

Question: They argue that tawfid is not correct as Allah has obliged us to do zikr on the quran i.e to relect and ponder.

Answer: Tafwid is when one does not assign a specific meaning to an aayah when one is not sure of its meaning. This is simply the safe thing to do as the religion discourages speaking about something without knowledge, especially Allah’s attributes. It is prohibited to speak about the attributes of Allah unless one is certain that one has permission to say what one is saying. I will cover the issues of ta’wil and tafwid in more detail later in shaa’ Allah.

Author: Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji