This post requires some effort from the reader, but I think most people can understand it. If something is not clear, please let me know. This post is extremely important. It points out the essential difference between Sunnism and today’s main anthropomorphist sect, the wahabis, with regards to the attributes of the Creator. This essential difference is yet another self-contradiction, which consists of considering evidences that provide likelihood to be stronger than those that provide certainty.
Some time ago I put a short post called “the ‘simple wahabi belief” which stated as follows:
According to the Wahabies Allah is literally above the throne without ever leaving it, AND literally in the sky of the world in the last third of the night (i.e. always, because the Earth is round, so it is always the last third of the night somewhere.) Anyone see a problem here? Then they say it is blasphemy to say that Allah is inside His creation (even though the sky of the world is below the other six created skies above it)…. Then, seemingly just to add to this mess, some of them also say that He is literally in the seventh sky.
Not only that, they also say He is literally encompassing the world and yet they also say it is kufr to believe He is mixed with it. So in their belief, He is encompassing the world (thus a surface outside creation’s borders), and in the first Sky (deep inside creation, below 6 other skies), and yet it is kufr to say He is mixed with creation or enters it. Perhaps we could call this a “self defeating belief system?” It is certainly no different from the christian belief that 1=3.
On top of this they explain that this mess of contradictory statements represents the simple belief that human nature inclines towards, and is free of complications. Yet when you try to show the contradictions in what they are saying, they shout: “KALAM!! Why do you use your mind?? Why do you engage in Philosophy?! It is Bidˆah. If you do not find all this intuitive, then there is something wrong with your natural inclinations (Fitra)!”
What it boils down to then is that they are exactly like the christian priests who tell their followers, “do not mix faith with reason, follow your heart!” As the scholars say, “Blasphemy is one nation.”
One wahabi posted a comment engaging in a classic wahabi tactic for whenever they are put in the corner, as they were in this case; he tries to change the subject. In this case the main contention was that the Salaf went by the most obvious meaning of the scriptures, were against ta’wiil (interpretation beyond the most apparent meaning), and that is how the wahabis ended up accepting the abovementioned belief system. He did not address the contradictions themselves. This is my general response to that, and I’ll be addressing the wahabi as “you” and pointing out yet another contradiction:
The Wahabi contraction in their approach to proofs
We can discuss the sayings of the Salaf regarding figurative interpretation until we run out of ink, and turn blue ourselves, but we will not get anywhere. What I really want to know is, how is it that you accept to believe in self contradictory beliefs? And do not simply tell me, “because I follow the Salaf,” because if you accept to believe in self-contradictory beliefs, how can you claim to have knowledge of what the Salaf said?
The only way you can claim to know what the Salaf said is by narrations from them. These narrations provide you with information about events and sayings in the past that you claim to be true. You base this claim on the narration being şaĥiiĥ, or authentic, in your evaluation. Being authentic, however, logically means that it is most likely true that the narrators made no mistake or lied. This is the assessment of sound reason, the assessment of the mind’s eye, of an authentic narration, as stated by the scholars of ĥadiitħ science. This assessment is based on the fact that narrators are fallible human beings, and fallible human beings, even if trustworthy, might make mistakes.
The mind’s assessment of a self-contradiction, on the other hand, is that it certainly cannot be true. So if you understand a self-contradictory meaning from a narration, based on it being authentically narrated, and refuse to consider alternative meanings, then you have considered a proof that tells you something is most likely true (authentic narration), to be weightier than a proof showing that this something certainly must be untrue. You have thereby made high likelihood weightier (more likely) than certainty. This means you have invalidated the undeniable order of proofs that we know naturally (by the fiţrah created in us.) After this you no longer have the right to say, “this is a strong proof” or “this is a stronger proof,” including the proof of authentic narration, as you have declared yourself irrational. This is the essence of it, but a more detailed discussion follows immediately below.
Ranking Proofs according to the mind’s eye
Proofs in general are naturally classified in the mind’s eye in four basic categories:
1. Proofs that provide certainty that something is true.
2. Proofs that provide likelihood that something is true.
3. Proofs that provide likelihood that something is untrue.
4. Proofs that provide certainty that something is untrue.
Lets us call the fact we want to prove x. The first and fourth categories of proofs for x are rare. One usually only has such proofs when there is overwhelming information from the senses, or when saying other than x would lead to self contradictions, such as claiming the part of a whole is larger than its whole, or that something inside a thing is outside of it, or the like.
The Ranks of Narrated Information (hadiitħs and scholarly sayings)
With narrated information you usually have some, even slight, possibility of mistake in wording, which means that we are at best dealing with category 2 proofs with regards to the wording being exactly as stated originally. This includes almost all narrations from the prophet as well as the Salaf, because they are rarely, if ever, mutawaatir. A mutawaatir narration is a narration with tawaatur, which means it has been narrated from masses to masses in a way that precludes mistakes, or lies, in the mind’s eye. This is the way the Qur’aan has been narrated, but very little else. This is the only type of narrated information which’s wording would be supported by a category 1 proof and thereby known to be certainly correct (i.e. it would be certainly true that the wording is intact as originally stated).
Even in mutawaatir narrations, however, you could have several possibilities of meanings, because words can often mean more than one thing. Not the least in Arabic, in which it is normal for a word to have 10 meanings or more. This is the nature of narrated information. This means that with mutawaatir narrations we often only have strong category 2 proofs for the meaning of the narration being so and so. We would also get proofs that the meaning is most likely not so and so. Moreover, we would have plenty of proofs that it is certainly not so and so, because all interpretations that do not agree with the scope of the Arabic language are definitely wrong.
In light of all the above, when narrated information reaches us we first analyze the chain of narration. If the chain of narration is acceptable, because the narrators are trustworthy and most likely actually met, we can say that most likely the source of the narration did in fact say the words the narration claims and classify it as authentic. Then we look at the meaning. First we identify the most apparent meaning, the meaning that first comes to mind when we see the phrase. This is the understanding we should have in general, unless there is reason to think otherwise, because the basic rule of speech is to speak in literal terms, not figuratively. The literal meaning is therefore the most likely meaning at the outset, and we cannot incline towards figurative meanings without a proof. That is, the possibility of the literal meaning outweighs the possibility of a figurative meaning at the outset. However, if there is a proof for why it is not literally meant, then this may result in the probability of the figurative meaning being meant outweighing the probability of the literal meaning being meant.
Logically, it follows from this that a figurative interpretation is required whenever a narrated text’s literal meaning contradicts with another text’s literal meaning, or implies something that is absolutely impossible by leading to the affirmation of two or more contradicting ideas. In such cases figurative meanings must be interpreted, otherwise we would end up insulting the scriptures, by claiming that they contradict each other or contain contradictory ideas. After all, if two self contradictions can be true at the same time, then what proof is left that is strong enough to make something certainly untrue?
Yet you wahabis take no heed of this, you take this narrated information you have, assign to it a meaning based on your methodology, and then claim that your understanding is certain truth, without doubt in the mind’s eye, even if it implies something that the mind’s eye rejects absolutely. That is, when your methodology of going by the apparent provides you with self contradictory conclusions in terms of your beliefs, one of which absolutely must be false (because two contradictory ideas cannot be true at the same time), you still decide to accept both ideas. So what you have done then is to consider “most likely true” to outweigh “certainly impossible.” This is the source of the problem, not simply your understanding of ta’wiil versus no ta’wiil; that is just a symptom.
In other words, you claim impossible the possibility of you being wrong based on mere likelihood, then turn around and affirm as certainly true something that is actually impossible, even though this impossibility is not a matter of likelihood, but based on contradictions of terms.
In fact, you go beyond that when you have, in your view, authentic narration from a scholar of the Salaf that you claim supports your understanding of the scriptures. All you have in such a case is a high likelihood that the person said what the narration claims, with the possibility of it being mistakes or lies among narrators in the mind’s eye, because this possibility, however slight, is always present when you have no tawaatur (i.e. a mutawaatir narration, as explained above.) Figurative speech is also a possibility, because this is the nature of language and human communication. Moreover, when you are not dealing with the speech of the prophet, you need to add the possibilities of slips of the tongue, badly phrased ideas, and even plain mistakes in ideas or understanding of the religion. It is only a scholarly saying, and not a revealed scripture. Then you use these narrations to arrive at a methodology of understanding scriptures, and thereby at a self contradictory belief system that in the mind’s eye must be wrong. So you have accepted what must be wrong, in the mind’s eye, based on affirming as true something that could be wrong due to fallible narrators and scholars. This is the essential difference between you and us.
Let’s look at an example:
Wahabi says: If He says He decends to the first heaven, then we believe He has the ability to do so without indwelling or mixing within His creation because we believe in a being called Allah, unlike you heretics ….
Comment: If you believe this descent to mean physically moving from one higher location to a lower location, as you apparently do, because you reject ignorance of the meaning of descent (tafwiiđ) in this scripture, then you have said that He is mixing. Being present in the lowest sky means being below the others in one form or another, which implies mixing; there is no escape from that. You cannot escape from that just by denying the obvious.
You seem to think that this is about ability, but this is not the case. When we speak about being able to do something, let us call it ‘x’, then that ‘x’ has to be something that could be. Something with a real meaning. Words are not important, it is the meaning meant by the words that are. When you define the ‘x’ as moving from higher point ‘a’ to lower point ‘b’ without being inside ‘c’, when ‘a’ is inside ‘c’, then you have not defined ‘x’ meaningfully. Why? Because you have partially defined ‘x’ as being inside ‘c’ without being inside it. The being inside cancels out the not being inside and you are left with no meaning. In other words, the ‘x’ you proposed is nonsense, and has no real meaning. It is like saying, “the baker is able to make perfectly round donuts that are square.” This might fool a wahabi, because it is a grammatically sound statement, but it is actually meaningless, because something cannot be both circular and square.
Likewise, when it is stated in an authentic ĥadiitħ that Aļļaah “yanzil,” which you have translated as “descends,” then we have to look at the meaning of this “yanzil” in a way that is compatible with the belief that Aļļaah is not inside of or mixed with creation. This precludes what you call the “obvious” meaning for the reasons stated above, and we are left with the option to simply believe that this apparent meaning is not meant and go no further (tafwiiđ), or assign a meaning that agrees with Arabic according to the evidences at hand (ta’wiil). This is to avoid saying that the impossible (the contradiction in ‘x’) has become possibly or necessarily true.
Other examples of how ta’wiil must be employed to avoid implying that the scriptures contradict each other in meaning, or imply other self contraditions, are mentioned in these two articles:
Bodies have limits but not Allaah
Wahhabi Contention: How are “Ar Rahmanu `alal `arsh istawa” and “Laysaka mithlihi shay`” different?)