By a member of the MuslimAnswers.net Team
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم
What I wish to do in this and a number of subsequent articles is to write down some notes for the purpose of understanding a number of articles, works, posts, etc., written by the scholars of Islam available on the Internet. It is mostly for me to understand what these Mashaaykh have said, since some of their sayings are quite deep in places, and they need a deeper elucidation in order for them to be properly understood. I hope that the general readership may also benefit from these, since the notes come from a layman like myself and the thought processes may be similar between myself and other common people. If there are any problems in my understanding, I hope for the Shuyuukh to correct me wherever necessary.
I will first deal with a post entitled: ‘Responding to Shaykh Yasir’ , concerning the replies of Shaykh Abu Adam al Naruiji to a certain article written by Yasir al-Qadhi which spoke against Ash’ari theology. In this and in all subsequent notes I make, I will try to disengage from personal atatcks, and just try to understand why the arguments presented are strong or weak, without using labels or the like as much as possible.
o The first objection that is raised is that the people of kalaam (i.e. scholastic Islamic theology) considered proving the existence of Allah to be the main priority above all other priorities. The rebuttal is that this is nothing bad at all, because proving the existence of Allah is the basis for knowing Allah (and subsequently worshipping Him correctly, one cannot be said to be worshipping Allah if he thinks, for example, that Jesus is Allah. So this is important on various levels.) Besides, this is not a verdict in strict sense of the word, so it cannot be said to be legalistically blameworthy.
o Next is the criticism that most of the Qur’an deals with Shirk, not with atheism, and that it would have been better for the Ash’aris to show zeal in dealing with ‘Shirk’ as they do in determining what Allah can and cannot be characterized with. Before writing about the Shaykh’s response, let me personally say that knowing what Allah ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ be characterized with is at the very heart of knowing ‘Tawheed’ and opposing ‘Shirk’. It is not a side question, especially in our day. For if someone imagines that Allah is just like the created existents in the sense of being attributed with dimensional limitations, this is the very definition of Shirk. Because we have to consider the question of what does ‘Shirk’ mean? It means to associate Allah with the creation. Now, the Ash’ari view is that ok, if someone understands Allah the way He should be understood and still decides to bow down or prostrate to others, this is obviously ‘Shirk’, and the person is an idolater without a doubt. But if the person insists that Allah is ontologically similar or equal to the creation, then he is also an associator. The only difference is that in this second case, the person has made up an idol in his mind, in the abstract, and called that idol “Allah” – it is obvious that worship to this idol is invalid. This is the crux of the issue, since Shirk is both with invalid actions of worship, and also invalid concepts about who Allah is.
o And to take the case of the Christians, there is no doubt that they claim to worship one God. But then, they have said that this one ‘God’ is composed of a number of hypostatizations, and that there is a genus called ‘Godhood’ occupied by the 3 persons of the ‘Father’, the ’Son’, and the ‘Holy Ghost’. In fact, it is difficult to find any non-Muslim religion/ideology where there is no serious doctrinal flaw, since these are things that will creep into the doctrines over time if the transmission of the true teaching is not preserved.
o Anyway, ‘Shirk in ontological concepts’ flows through the veins of ‘Shirk in worship’ in almost all cases. Only in the case of almost totally Shaytan-like creatures is there only ‘shirk’ in worship, where the creature has good knowledge of who Allah is and has understood this matter mentally, but his heart insists on following idols other than Allah. Of course, this does not mean that some remnants of “Shaytanism” do not remain with most of those who reject Islam, since they try to present false mental reasons why their current way is correct and why they are not convinced by Islam with respect to the question of Allah and His Attributes. But in here I am saying that there is a correlation between the two types of Shirk, and they are almost never separate.
o The Shaykh’s response is that the Sunnis are indeed concerned with Shirk, and the issue of Allah not being a body is a matter of eliminating ‘Shirk’. The Shaykh says that there is no difference between the Hindu who worships the idol in front of him, and someone who says that Allah is a body but says: “Well I am not sure exactly what shape this body has.” Actually, the Shaykh says that both claim not to know the exact shape of the idol they worship. Al-Qurtubi’s quotation from the Hadeeth scholar Ibn ‘Arabi is presented, where he says that gross anthropomorphists are asked to repent, and if not, they are killed. Allah knows best the intricacies of the matter, but their blasphemy is of such a type that it warrants extreme action. And finally, it is said that the important issue is that the Muslim should actually worship Allah, not just something or an idol he made up and called “Allah”… again we see how close this is to the Christian ideas, where Jesus (Alayhi Salaam) was called Allah, or a specific instantiation of the type “Allah”, and was made an object of worship.
o Next is the statement that proofs from accidents and the belief in atomism are not Qur’anic proofs. From the very little knowledge I have, this seems like a problematic statement to make when phrased like this, because it would lead either to circularity in logical premises, or it would lead to rejection of Ahadeeth wholesale – because there is an unstructured method of approaching the bases of knowledge, and the person doing so just approaches the Qur’an headlong without understanding that even his reading of the Qur’an is underpinned by knowing what meanings are behind the words he uses, how do the letters come together to make words, how words come together to make sentences, paragraphs, and so forth. This is obviously not explicitly in the Qur’an, but it is part of the knowledge that one has to acquire and must be certain of even before reading the Qur’an.
o So the Shaykh’s response is that a valid argument is a proof, regardless of whether it fits into the definition of “Qur’anic” as presented by any person or group. The Shaykh mentions what I pointed to above, that if someone were to reject the mind altogether in giving us proofs, then he would be an extremist empiricist, akin to some of the Hindu (and Persian) philosophers who were extreme empiricists to the point of rejecting everything that was not before their senses. And it must be noted that those who took this view were avowed atheists, so we must keep in mind that this is not a peripheral issue, but in cuts right to the heart of knowledge, conclusions, and so forth; we should not be careless about this in our study of the Usool of Islam.
o Anyway, the belief in ‘atomism’, that is, the existence of things that cannot be divided any further is actually a belief pointed to in the Qur’an itself, such as in Verse 27:75, where it is mentioned that there is nothing in the Heavens or Earth except that it is in a clear Book. And we know that the Book is not infinite in size, so the things it points to (in the Heavens and the Earth) must be of a finite number (similar to this are Verses 34:3 and 78:29). Then we have Verse 72:28, where it is mentioned that Allah knows the number of all things, and this also points directly to finitude, because an exact number cannot be infinite. The quote from at-Tabari is brought, where he says that the number, amount, and value of all things have been recorded, and these cannot be infinite, since then all numbers would be infinity. Not only this, but the belief that there is an indivisible element is against the Ijmaa of this nation, so we must consider this as well before saying anything hasty about this matter.
o There is one issue in the quote above where it was mentioned that the numbers must be finite, otherwise they would all be infinite. From what I understand and Allah knows best if my understanding is correct, it means that there should necessarily be a differentiation between the quantities of different things in one way or the other, for otherwise there would be nothing other than “undifferentiated infinity” and there would be no numbers referring to their values, quantities, etc., while it is clear that such is not the case in the Universe.
o The next claim is that the Qur’an does not make the explicit statement of a “Proof from Accidents”, and that the Prophet (Salla Allahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and the Salaf did not deduce such complex theological proofs. Added to this is the claim that if an argument does not contradict the Qur’an, it does not mean that it is a Qur’anic proof. Again, let me just insert a personal note: It is very strange that there is a recurrent call for an argument to be strictly Qur’anic in order for it to be valid. As we have seen above, this is something that none of the scholars of Islam either from the earlier or the later generations held on to, and to me it smells of the Hadeeth-Rejectors’ religion and of accusing the scholars of Islam of mass apostasy (in the mold of what the Shias claim about the majority of the Ummah as an entity.) And this also has the makings of a neo-Mu’tazili doctrine, where, for example, the primary criteria for checking the validity of the Ahadeeth was whether the content was in accord with what the particular Mu’tazili group thought was in harmony with the Qur’an – and the Sanad (a non-Qur’anic method if we follow a strict definition) was basically discarded in such considerations. But it is obvious that the Ahl-us-Sunnah have followed a methodology based both on adherence to the texts as well as adherence to strong principles of reasoning and knowledge.
o The Shaykh mentions that if a proof is valid, complies with the Qur’an, and proves something stated in the Holy Book, we cannot say it is not Qur’anic. We must note that different people and times are affected by different types of proofs. And in fact, the encouragement to think of proofs for Allah’s existence and His Attributes are in the Qur’an itself, and they should not be restricted only to what is literally mentioned therein. Rather, it may be in the form of encouragement, such as what is mentioned in Surah al-Ghaashiya about considering how the camel was created. We see that the consideration spoken of in this text is general, so it cannot be specified unless there is another scriptural text that would restrict it – which is not found in the Qur’an nor in the Ahadeeth.
o Now, coming to the accidents, which the Shaykh calls incidents, this refers to (1) events that occur on the bodies and also (2) the attributes of such bodies (keep this in mind, since we mostly tend to think only in terms of events, but the incidental characteristics of bodies such as their color, texture, and so forth, also come under the rubric of accidents/incidents.) So, Allah created everything, and we need to consider, does this also not include what happens to bodies, of events and characteristics?
o We see that Verse 3:190 is one of the Verses encouraging us to think of bodies and their transient qualities. For in this case, the Heavens and the Earth and whatever is contained therein are bodies, the night and the day (and all of their changes) are accidents, as are the attributes of the bodies. This shows that contemplating and investigating of Allah’s Existence and the attributes of bodies and events is fully within the Qur’anic realm.
o But most importantly, using the proofs in the Qur’an will lead to the same conclusions as proofs based on the rationality behind the indivisible element; and that is that Allah is unlike the Creation. The reason for this is that all creation is either a body or the attributes of bodies (included within this are the changes that occur to bodies.) And if we can show that Allah exists based on that (by showing that these bodies and accidents need a Creator) then we are showing that Allah is unlike these two categories of existents, due to the deeper reasoning showing that bodies/accidents cannot bring about other bodies/accidents.
o For the example in this Verse 3:190 of the Qur’an, if we accept that the skies and the Earth are ordered in their structure, and that the coming of the night and the day are ordered in their time of coming and going, then we must understand that Allah is neither in time or in space, and that He is not a Being ordered or composed by other Entities [and its accompanying deduction, such as that He is Self-Subsisting, He has no needs, etc.]
o Another objection brought up is that the traditional Sunnis have taken the existence of bodies and accidents as an unquestionable classification of things in this world, and then used such definitions to delineate what Allah’s Attributes are and are not. The claim is then that we have made a quantitative comparison between Allah and His Creation where none should have been made, where we should have only stuck to what the Qur’an said.
o The Shaykh answers that no, if we accept that there is nothing like Him, then we must deny that what is mentioned in the Qur’an of the Attributes of Allah means that He has a ‘like’ (similitude, comparison, etc.). Thus, both concepts are from the Qur’an, the Attributes of Allah, and Him not having a like. Thus, the Ash’aris/Maturidis do not deny Allah’s Attributes, nor do they compare Allah to accidents and bodies. In fact, there is a denial that Allah is like such bodies and accidents, as is very obvious to whoever considers the matter with a sober mind.
o Of course, part of this is to deny that Allah and His Attributes are quantified or limited, and this is a contrast, not a comparison (I will need to ask concerning the appropriateness of using the word ‘contrast’, since it may still have connotations of quantitative comparison in the minds of some.) Thus, when we know that everything is in a time and a place, we know that Allah created all of these dimensional delimitations, and that it is totally incorrect to say that He is also delineated by these dimensions (otherwise He would not be the Creator, but another created body just like the rest – we see in here the direct line between idolatry and atheism.)
o One personal note: What we can see from the above then is a study of what the Universe and its constituents are composed of, so that we understand that Allah is not like that. It is not at all saying that Allah is like the creation. This distinction must be kept in mind, otherwise people might very well fall into the trap of heretic ideas.
o Another claim is that Allah created every substance with intrinsic properties, and that these properties may affect other substances if Allah allows them to. A personal note: This is actually an obvious contradiction.
o The most important question we have to ask is why is it being said that material objects have the intrinsic power to act and become effective causes for subsequent events, unless if prevented by Allah? Let me say that this is more like Deism than Islam. In Deism, they thought of God as a Being who wound up the Universe (as if it was a clock), and then let is run on its own, intervening whenever necessary. It is due to the weakness in this idea that the Western world has gone down the path of atheism, since they started out with the belief that God “steps in only when necessary to produce miracles and the like”, and this is a very short distance away from atheism. I think the main problem in here is that the objector does not understand what his statement actually leads to, perhaps linked to the carelessness of definitions and the application of the rules of reasoning (due to disdain for formal logic), and this is why some of the comments are unfortunately not precise and are instead made casually.
o Anyway, the Shaykh says that it is totally against Islam to hold that substances can act independently of Allah having created the act that they carry out, or that substances act independently unless prevented from doing so by Allah. And this view of the opponent is in contradiction with the Qur’an (Verse 25:2), where Allah says that He created everything and predestined it.
o The Shaykh gives the important example of getting burned by touching fire, and that the Sunni position is that the fire is one creation, the heat of the fire is another creation, and getting burned when one is touched by the fire is yet another creation, and there is no direct material causality in this situation, even if every instance of touching a fire that we observe results in a burn. Thus, the Islamic principle of how things come to pass moves beyond the conclusions one might initially draw from observation, and treats the matter on a more mental level. This distinction between experimental/observational induction and mental deductions is very important.
o It is very important to know then, that every single movement, thought, and change that occurs is created and predestined by Allah. When one understands this, they know that there is no independent “intrinsic power” in any substance to affect things, but it is only a correlation; it appears to be material causality, but it is not so when a little mental effort is expended on this matter.
o Another conceptual issue is that ok, we know that every moment in a growing plant’s progress is created by Allah, with the water, the sun, and other factors, having no effective power over its growth. But this is also the case with the non-growing of plants, the only difference being that Allah created “growth” in the first plant and created “stagnation” or “non-growth” in this second plant. There is no independent movement or stillness except that Allah creates this state in the body.
o There is one more thing, which the Shaykh takes from the objection, which is the apparent saying that Allah wills for certain substances to have effective causality for subsequent events, etc. But this is wrong, since it would mean that Allah wills for there to be a Creator other than Himself for certain acts in the Earth or in the Heavens.
o But this is something logically incoherent, since Allah’s Will does not apply to the bringing of things from non-existence to existence by a substance with delimited dimensional quantifications. Rather, Allah’s Iraadah Takwiniyyah [Creative Will] necessarily relates to Allah (and to no one else) bringing events and things from non-existence to existence and vice-versa, and it is not a matter of “maybe there can be some other Creator who can do the same” or other intrinsic impossibilities.
o There is one objection in the comments section, where a commenter says that the “Ahl-ul-Qadr” say that everything happens to the Creatures is by the Will of Allah, up to the point of saying that their sins, or their laziness with respect to finding a job is by the Will of Allah. According this commenter, such people should be slapped and then told that it is the Will of Allah that they have been slapped.
o What I understand of this issue is that this objector seems to be talking about the Jabriyyah sect. With respect to those who say things like this, we say that from the point of view of saying that all these actions (their sins, their laziness, their getting slapped) are by the Will and Power of Allah, then this is true and there is no denying this fact.
o What the person is confused about in here though is the accountability that the servant has for his actions, and this is related to Allah’s Normative Order related to what He has decreed to be good and bad actions, that which is related to Heaven and Hellfire for the servants, but this does not avert the fact that Allah’s Will and Power are necessarily connected to these acts of the servant. And, we also know the Verse in Surah al-Insaan, where Allah says that the creatures themselves will not will anything except if Allah has willed it. So in fact, the matter is quite straightforward.
o As a final note, I will mention what one commentator said, that we know from observation and sound logic that objects have a boundary and a size. If we consider Verse 13:8, we read that Allah has everything with Him is in due measure, which refers to such realities of Creation. And then we bring it together with Verses such as 42:11, where it is mentioned that there is nothing like unto Allah (and we also know of Surah al-Ikhlaas, which is a great Chapter explaining this matter of Allah’s Nature in very concise Verses that are very deep in meaning and provide huge avenues for exegesis.) So when we consider all these things, we understand that the matter is actually not very difficult to understand at least in a general way, even if the detailed proofs are for the specialists.