Random thoughts and notes: Days 11-12

Salam Alaykum,

o    He was wise who said that we should never dive headlong into finding the answers to the doubts that come to our minds regarding Islam, but rather we should keep a steady state of reading and learning about Islam, and if we do that, surely enough, our doubts will be cleared in due time. It definitely requires a lot of patience in stopping the initial urge to look for quick answers, but the results are definitely much better, since we would have learned a lot just by taking a rigorous approach to learning Islam, rather than looking for answer after answer for any doubt that comes to our minds. I know that even from my side, I am many a times drawn into looking for quick answers to questions about Islam that may come to my mind, but this is definitely not the proper way to go about the matter, if I want to really achieve a good and genuine understanding of Islam. May Allah help me and all other Muslims in pursuing this objective. Ameen.  

o    At times, our opponents say that, how dare we use the rationality of the Greeks (and they mention Aristotle in particular) in building up Islam. They say that Islam needs nothing other than itself in order to be shown true. Now, I know the intention of those who say such sorts of things is noble from one facet at least, but I must say that truth is not only contained in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW). If that had been so, there would have been no way to collect the Qur’an and the Ahadeeth to begin with, since these were collected, codified, and transmitted based on the application of both indubitable and probabilistic rules concerning the level of certainty one can have with regards to the authenticity of recitations, narrations, etc., that reach one’s cognizance.

o    Anyway, it is true that we should not base our religion on Greek, Indian, or Chinese philosophy, but if one closely examines traditional Sunni philosophy, they will see that it differs vastly from all of the above; in fact, the one who disparages the efforts of the ‘Ulaamaa outright is in danger of falling into very wrong beliefs, since the ‘perimeter fence’ around his ‘Aqeedah has been taken down, and he is totally unprotected.

o    And it seems that the modern-day Hadeeth rejecters are just a natural outgrowth of this mentality, since they see from their perspective, that the Ahadeeth have been codified based on mostly fallible means; and due to this, they think this is actually a huge detriment with respect to the science of Hadeeth, so such people go on to reject the Ahadeeth literature in totality. Had we not been in an atmosphere where so many people think that the evidences of the religion are merely circular in the strength of their validity, we would not have this problem…which I personally think will unfortunately only get worse and worse if the underlying skepticism concerning the methods to reach knowledge in Islam is not remedied.

o    Coming back to the work, we see that the foundations of the Madhhab will not be seriously shaken if a certain person finds some things in the books of certain scholars which go against what has been firmly established as being the relied upon point or position; this has relevance to the issue of Imam al-Ash’ari (RA) and his writings, but it has even greater relevance when we consider the Qur’an, and the presence of certain reports construed by certain people to mean that there are mistakes in the Qur’an that we currently have in our hands.

o    So one of the big issues is about some of the books of al-Ash’ari (RA); but we see that in one of his works (Risaalah ila Ahl ath-Thughur) he explicitly mentions that the Universe has One creator who brought it into being from non-Existence, created its objects and the incidental characteristics of these objects, and gave both the objects and the incidents their respective differentiations. And this exposition is in contradiction to those who imagine that there is some type of eternity to the Universe (i.e. Qidam an-Naw’i).

o    Another point is that Allah is unlike His creation; and we have to note that His not being like the creation does not nullify His Existence (as some people think), but rather this shows that the creation is the one being recreated and regenerated. In any case, the way to know Allah’s Existence is through the consideration of His Actions (Creation of objects, events, etc.), and is not necessarily tied with anyone having a Vision of Allah the Exalted.

o    Now, just to mention briefly, those who say that only sensual things (i.e. those that are known through the senses) can be said to exist have basically embraced the material naturalist religion, since this is the way of such naturalists, to say that they cannot see Allah, that they cannot measure Him, etc., so as far as they are concerned He cannot possibly exist – may Allah save us from this belief.

o    And one point I think that I have to mention is that modern science says it is interested chiefly with those propositions that are ‘falsifiable’. This is something which could, in the abstract, be a main reason why many modern scientists simply cannot accept that God exists, or at least not with the Dhaat (Entity) and Attributes we know of in Islam.

o    Thus, if this ‘falsifiable’ supposition were to be applied to Allah, it would mean that ‘Allah’ (or the being that person calls ‘Allah’) is in fact only a possible being, and is not and cannot at all have sempiternal Attributes and Existence. So this seems to be one of the main reasons why many scientists are against the concept of God, and they definitely seem to have problems with the way this is presented in Islam – since it curtails their supposed ‘freedom’ to falsify any assertion that comes in front of them.

o    One more point is said with regards to the Attributes of Allah, that we cannot say that His Attributes are other than Him, since this would mean that they can be separated from Him; but this then would lead to His being created and originated, and this is impossible. Note that this is unlike the case of humans, animals, etc., where the loss of some of our attributes is quite conceivable and possible, since we shift from state to state.

o    We see that there is in the words of al-Ash’ari (RA) a clear rejection of the possibility of ascribing bodies and limits to Allah the Exalted, and there is no confusion about this matter.

o    Even if we consider the creed of At-Tahaawi (RA) [which is known to the modern-day ‘Salafis’ as well] we see the same thing, that the ascription of bodies, limits, locations, sides, etc., to Allah is totally impossible and leads the ascriber to eternal perdition if he dies on that belief.

o      Another quote is concerning ‘limbs’, and here we also have to be careful not to say that a ‘limb’ is a comprehensive term that must be attributed to Allah for the sake of not falling into Ta’teel [negation of Allah’ Attributes].

o    One important sub-point is that the saying that Allah’s ‘Yadah’ are not to be taken as his ‘Ni’mah’ (favors) is not something outside the traditional Sunni belief, as there are many acceptable interpretations one my hold onto after confirming that there should never be ny Tashbeeh at all.

o    Another obvious point is that the Nuzuul mentioned in the Ahadeeth is not connected to movements or stoppages, because Allah is not a body, is not a Jawhar [element], etc.

o    Those who say that Allah is not ‘like this body’ or not ‘like that body’ without saying that He is not a body at all, are basically opening the doors of catastrophe, for the correct thing to say is to deny ascription of bodies to Allah from the root, not to say that Allah only does not resemble certain types of bodies [the inference from this wrong way of presentation being that perhaps there are other bodies He does resemble- but this is disbelief, may Allah protect us from it.]

o    Yet another point concerns the Ridhaa and the Ghadab of Allah; as per what is written in al-Ash’ari’s (RA) works, this refers to the Will of Allah to either grant the servants of His Bounty, or to punish them with His Torment, respectively. It is clear that this is very far removed from what the anthropomorphists say of these two being emergent beginning within the Essence of Allah; and this is something no Muslim should ever say or even think that it might be correct.

o    One aside is mentioned, and I wanted to say something about it: which is that many of the modern-day ‘Salafis’ say that this Imam or that Imam – who were traditional Sunni ‘Ulaamaa all their lives, suddenly changed to the ‘way of the Salaf’. And let me not say that such a characterization is closer to that of the Mujassima, and so forth, but we need to again remember that we are not actually making Taqleed of these Imaams in matters of ‘Aqeedah, but only saying that such luminaries from among the ‘Ulaamaa were the ones who explained the fundamentals of the religion in a good way, so that all the Muslims may understand the issues at hand. But even if one were to imagine that such Imams did leave their teachings and take up some other course in their latter years, this really does not affect the religion of Islam at all, since we are talking in here about Allah and His Attributes, not about those beliefs which are totally based on textual evidence alone, and where the rational mind cannot judge at all concerning any one of the various propositions presented.

o    So the point of contention for certain people is what is found in one tract of Imaam al-Ash’ari’s (RA) work, where he apparently says what could be taken to mean that Allah is over the Heavens of His ‘Arsh, and not on the Earth, and that this is borne out by a number of Verses in the Qur’an. And there is also the statement that His Istiwaa’ is not Istiilaa’ (could be literally translated as ‘appropriation’ or ‘taking possession’ of something), since Allah is the ‘possessor’ or ‘appropriator’ of everything.

o    If we consider this matter carefully, we see that the Imam (RA) considered that Istiwaa’ was something emergent, since it is mentioned that Allah did the Istiwaa’ after the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, while the Istiilaa’ was prior to this. The first thing we have to remember about this is that these ‘emergent actions’ (if we can translate it as such) are not such that they occur in the Entity of Allah, and neither can it point to  ‘sitting on the Throne’ as certain people like to believe. Rather, what was said about Istiwaa’ is that it is one of the Actions of Allah without a modality that He did in relation to the ‘Arsh, just as there is an Action of Allah called Rizq or Ni’mah that He does with respect to His servants. (We need to remember that there is no mention in here of what the view of al-Ash’ari (RA) is with respect to the Actions of Allah and why he has mentioned the actions of Allah as being ‘emergent’, but from what I understand of the issue, this is an allusion to the view that the actions of Allah are defined in the Ash’ari understanding as linkages to the attribute of Omnipotence – maybe I will write something about this after a while so that both myself and others may understand more about this issue).

o    Another explanation that was given for this is that Istiwaa’ is a reference to I’tilaa (literally translated as ascending or towering above), again without reference to sitting or standing, nor physical bordering/adjoining or separation, since all of these are from the qualities of bodies.

o    Also, with regards to the Verse (which may be translated literally as): ‘Have ye taken security from Him Who is in the heaven that He will not cause the earth to swallow you when lo! it is convulsed?’, this has been explained as having the connotation of ‘He who is over it’ with the meaning of rejecting any limits from being attributed to Him, and that we only take what the texts say, without overstepping the texts.

o     Now, some people may ask that why does the word ‘Thumma’ appear in certain of the Verses of the Qur’an, including the Verse mentioning Istiwaa’. This is, in fact, connected to that which is Mustawaa’ Alayhi [i.e. the Heavens and the Earth, upon which the Istiwaa’ has been done.

o    So in synthesis, it seems that Al-Ash’ari (RA) refused to refer to Istiwaa’ as Istiilaa’ due to his disliking of this word ‘Istiwaa’ being given interpretations by many of the latter-day scholars.

o    But of course, the matter of disliking others’ interpretations of this does not mean that he went to the extreme of attributing bodily actions to Allah, so this is something we need to understand as well. And this (i.e. the impossibility for movement, direction, etc., to be attributed to Allah) is something that the Imam (RA) had clearly mentioned earlier in this same work, so there is no way that the opponents can attribute anthropomorphistic beliefs to Al-Ash’ari (RA).

o    We can next consider some of the sayings of the ‘Ulama, such as what al-Baaqilaani (RA) said about ‘Yad’ and ‘Wajh’ (as per the initial question, it was that al-Baaqilaani mention ‘Yadaan’ and ‘Aynaan’) this is with respect to maintaining their existence as attributes that have been reported in the texts, not that they are organs or limbs. And with regards to Ibn al-Mubaarak (RA) and what he is reported to have said about ‘Hadd’ (literally translated as ‘limits’) for Allah, this is taken to mean the limit of our hearing about them in the Qur’an snd the Ahaadeeth. Likewise is the case with Imam al-Bukhaari (RA) concerning ‘Sawt’ (lit. sound), it is taken to mean a sound that Allah created in some of his creation; or that it is a sound (‘Sawt’) of Allah insofar as it is a pointer to His Eternal Speech, just like the Maturidi belief concerning whether one can hear the actual Eternal Speech of Allah the Exalted.

o    Then comes a discussion concerning one Hadeeth, where Imaam at-Tirmidhi (RA) views the report which literally is translated as saying that Allah takes the good charity with His ‘Right Hand’, and that even if it be a date it is made to grow in the ‘Palm of Allah’. The issue is that it was mentioned that with regards to these types of reports, they are firmly established, and they are ‘not believed’, nor is ‘howness’ (modality) associated with them. So there seems to be a problem, that how does one take the narration to be true, while at the same time saying that it is not believed?

o    Well, with regards to the ‘not believing’, it means not believing it with the meaning that comes to the mind of the laity if they were to only apply the customary meaning they attribute to such words. It is thus totally incorrect for a mental image of ‘hands’ or the like to come to one’s mind when dealing with such types of texts, since the only thing people know of ‘hands’ is what they have seen among the creatures, but ‘extrapolations to Allah’ are not permissible. So we need to keep two things in mind: One is the belief in the Nass (the texts), and second, the rejection of any Tashbeeh, Tamtheel, or Ta’teel.

o    And here we can really see the difference between the Muslim attitude towards the Divine and those of other religions. For example, the Hindu says that the ‘Absolute’ is totally ineffable (in fact they even go overboard and say that the ‘Absolute’ is not even an Entity, but that discussion is for another day). But the Hindu says that since most people are simple-minded, they need some aid in order for them to have some understanding about the Absolute, and this aid are the idols, which are supposedly the visible (or sensual) incarnations of the Absolute within our gross earthly sphere. But Islam recognizes that even a mental image will lead to idolatry of one type or the other, so it says that it is not even allowed to have a mental image of what may be translated literally as ‘Hands’ or ‘Face’. So we have to see and understand this very big difference between Islam and other religions.