Introductory notes on the post ‘Wahhabi Contention: Asharis do not refute Shirk’

(Please read the notice concerning our draft articles and works)

By a member of the Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

Again, these are a few notes on a post on the sunnianswers blog, this time the post ‘Wahhabi Contention: Asharis do not refute Shirk’. The Shaykh had actually partitioned his long initial response to Yasir Qadhi into small posts, and these have the advantage of opening themselves up for further commentary and questions by the readers as needed. I will see what type of comments I can give from my side with respect to this post and the subsequent discussion.

o    So the objection is basically that the Ash’aris do not care about the most important aspect of Tawheed, which is that of countering idolatry, rather than determining what God can and cannot be attributed with. The claim goes on to state that there are only a few Verses in the Qur’an refuting atheism, while there are so many more refuting idolatry and polytheism.

o    What I can say right of the bat is that this is a caricature of the issue, since idolatry and what it entails falls under the purview of things that God cannot be attributed with; so if someone has not studied what God must, may, and cannot be attributed with, then from where will he get the knowledge that an idol in front of him is not God? Also, one must consider that there are different types of idolatry, and people even today come up with surprisingly “interesting” answers in this regard, so we have to do our homework before countering the ideas of such people.

o    And even if we were to say that there are only a few Verses countering atheism, why should there not be a group of the scholars who concentrate on these “few” Verses and what they entail? Do we not have only a handful of Verses concerning inheritance, yet the issue of Meeraath is a major separate topic in the field of jurisprudence? We should not indirectly put down the position that a “few” Verses of the Qur’an may have only because it seems to us that other Verses are more numerous.

o    In any case, as I have mentioned elsewhere, idolatry and atheism are identical twins, so there is nothing that is learned about the refutation of atheism that is irrelevant to the refutation of idolatry. Those who believe the two topics are really so different do not understand the intricacies of Islamic theology as they should be understood. May Allah help us all in this matter.

o     Now, the Shaykh responds that the question of ‘Shirk’ is exactly what the traditional Sunnis are fixated on when they teach that Allah is not a body, since at the end of the day, the difference between the one who worships a visible idol and the one who worships a being he believes to be a body (even if he calls that body ‘Allah’) is really non-existent. And the Shaykh brings up the verdict of one Hadeeth scholar who says that those claiming that Allah is a body are asked to repent and if they do not repent then they are killed – on the basis of blasphemy after belief as far as I understand. The Shaykh concludes by saying that bringing forth an idol and calling it “Allah” does not make one an actual Muslim, and this is after all a serious issue, not a tangential one.

o    One personal comment I can bring to this issue is that it is this sloppiness of definitions and methodology, in denigrating the true study of theology, through which Shaytaan finds an opening for taking people along with him to Hellfire.

o    Because, as an example, what do we think the Christians do? Do we think they believe they are worshipping “three gods”? No, they think their Trinity doctrine has given them the ideological cover for worshipping three instantiations of the genus ‘god’, and that in fact this is only One God. Or in the case of the Hindus, most of them believe in realizing their true unity with the “Absolute” – and this absolute is naturally portrayed as ‘One’, a single concept. How would we know in either case that these two religions are wrong, unless we study the theology of Islam? If one says that the Qur’an proves them wrong, this also needs its own method for determining what a miracle is, how it is manifested, why the Qur’an is a miracle, and so forth. And believe us when we say that this is a matter that needs to be studied, since the English word ‘miracle’ does not map well onto Islamic beliefs. Again, there is danger that by simply going by the English usage of this word, one will really get confused and without proper help may even fall into the abyss of hereticism.

o    Anyway, if someone says that the case of non-Muslims is clear and there is no doubt about their disbelief, yet we say that their disbelief is not only because of rejecting Muhammad , but is also due to their beliefs about Allah. Besides, if we are not rigorous with our Aqeedah, how would we be able to identify those who introduce Christian or Hindu-based ideas into the Muslim milieu, unless if we can distinguish the Muslim theology from the non-Muslim one? This is why the issue is of crucial importance and should be carefully considered without any bias.

o    The comments in this post are somewhat interesting, since one stream present within these comments seems to suggest that the ‘neo-Salafi’ movement are not at all different from the traditional Sunnis when it comes to matters of belief concerning Allah the Exalted, but that their differences are with respect to Taqleed only, or to the celebration of Mawlid or seeking Tawassul through the dead, which are considered to be innovations or ‘Shirk’ according to the neo-Salafis.

o    First, some personal comments: If someone says that Taqleed is not required for ritual performances, they are saying that the evidences in the Qur’an and Sunnah in this regard admit of absolutely no permissible differences of opinion. But we know that this is untrue on two fronts: First of all, not all of the matters of Islam are related to Allah or His Attributes, nor are the primary sources of Islam entirely of the unquestionable (Mutawaatir) type in both textual transmission and meaning. This is important, because when someone says that Taqleed is not there or is not necessary, he is saying that holding on to a certain position is a must; any deviation is deep hereticism or even unbelief (by the way, this is why the matter of Allah and His Attributes is so fiercely fought by the traditional Sunnis, since the room for acceptable divisions really does not exist, and deep problems may come about with only one wrong word or phrase.)

o    And let me be honest about something that I have commented one before as well: If someone uses “Saheeh Ahadeeth” as a weapon to beat people with, this shows their lack of understanding concerning the sources and the usage of the sources within Islamic scholarship. The truth is that there is a difference between a ‘Saheeh Hadeeth’ and an infallibly-transmitted (Mutawaatir) narration. Of course, the methods of Imams al-Bukhaari and Muslim (Rahimahumullah) are good and accepted by the vast majority of Muhaditheen, but it does not mean (for example) that there are no different wordings for any given Hadeeth, or (very crucially) that there are not different acceptable ways of interpreting the Hadeeth using only linguistic and exegetical tools. So those who give out harsh sentences on the belief of others based on a narrow understanding of Ahadeeth should keep this in mind, and should remember that their actions are only hurting Muslims and putting doubts into their hearts, nothing else. 

o    Now concerning Mawlid and Tawassul, these are in fact Fiqhi matters, and they should not be arenas for Takfeer. From what I now, Mawlid itself is not taken as a basis for Takfeer, but Tawassul may be taken as such a basis. But the reasons for this seem weak. Firstly, we all agree that seeking Tawassul through a live person is permissible, yet this is not taken to be ‘Shirk’ at all by anyone. The most that could be said (hypothetically) is that Tawassul through the dead has no efficacy since the dead cannot hear us, or that it is Haraam – but then, this would get difficult when applied to the Prophets (Alayima Salaam), since we know through Saheeh narrations that Prophets are alive in their graves.

o    But another issue is that the evidences forwarded for it being outright ‘Shirk’ are simply not enough, and by that I mean that they are to be considered from a general Fiqhi perspective, the domain of uncertainty and Taqleed. Yes, there are certain types of intercession that are not allowed, or may be originally allowed but then forbidden due to some reason, but this is again a matter for scholars to debate on, not a matter of automatic ‘Shirk’.

o    And what I think is the real problem is that the ‘neo-Salafis’ that support such declarations of Takfeer have a wrong view of how Islam views Allah’s creation of events and bodies, and how ‘Shirk’ is related to this Allah’s creation. It seems that, at least on some level, they feel that if someone asks for Tawassul from the dead, they have attributed material causality where it does not belong, have claimed life for that which is dead, sort of trying to “outflank” Allah the Exalted.

o    I am actually not too sure concerning the last part, but what I can provisionally mention is that the problem is with the view on causality and creation itself. Yes, the ‘neo-Salafists’ would be correct in saying that the dead body has no effective causality, but neither does the live body possess the power to bring about the effects from prevenient material causes. After all, created life, created death and the bodies that manifest them have absolutely no effective role to play in anything that occurs in the Universe. They are simply states and objects created by Allah and they are all subservient to Allah’s Power and Will. To me, this is what seems to be a major, if not the major, issue surrounding the allegation of Tawassul to the dead being unacceptable to the point of ‘Shirk’. Of course, there may be objections to this view and it may be in need of rectification, but this is what I currently know about this matter.

o    So there was also another comment that was more or less all around the place, saying that Ash’aris of today are mostly Sufis who require one to study kalam (the commentator translated it as ‘Greek philosophy’) in order to understand the “Ash’ari version” of Tawheed sciences. What happens, and what the Shaykh rightfully points out is that the definitions we use have to be correct. If I use the term ‘Kalam’ meaning ‘Scholastic Islamic Theology’, and the person across the table uses it with the meaning of ‘Greek Philosophy’, then it is clear that we will never get anywhere in the discussion until and unless we agree on the terms we are using and what they entail. (And the same goes for the term ‘Sufi’, we can understand that there are certain Sufi groups that are not strict in their application of the Sharia or in their understanding of Aqeedah, or that may have even taken on the name ‘Sufi’ while propounding basically non-Muslim ideologies, but making a blanket statement is difficult to uphold, especially if one is unclear as to what Sufism is and what it entails.)

o    The importance of defining terms is a very easy thing to understand at the abstract level, but most people have problems implementing this directive, since there is a lot of work involved in defining terms and making sure that everyone has a common ground for discussion. Or sometimes, there is real shock that the differences between the two groups may be either more or less than previously thought, once the terms start to be systematically spelled out, and this could in some cases lead to the abandonment of this necessary portion of the pre-discussion preparation.

o    The Shaykh moreover mentions one important issue, which is the importance of independently knowing what a discussion is about. In the context of this post, it would seem to be that the objector in his comments simply recycled what other people said about the Ash’ari Aqeedah, without carrying out the research for himself. Whenever this occurs this is a very regrettable situation, since when anyone wishes to discuss an issue at an academic level, he needs to be at the same level as his counterpart in order to engage in discussion. If he is not, then he should either make Taqleed of an expert on the specific matter, or if it is something related to the core beliefs of Islam, he should seek instruction about it until he achieves proficiency in the basic beliefs of Islam and its requisite explanations (There is also one clarification concerning the issue of Tawassul and graves as mentioned by Ibn al-Qayyim, but notes for this will be made at a later time, since that is actually the subject of an independent post.)