51. 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 merely say that Allah does not resemble certain specific types of bodies [the inference being that perhaps there are other bodies He does resemble.]
52. A point of importance concerns the Ridha 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 contingencies within the Essence of Allah; this is something no Muslim should ever say or even think of being correct.
53. 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’ before their deaths. In response, we need to remember that we are not actually making Taqleed of these Imaams in matters of ‘Aqeedah, but only saying that such luminaries explained the fundamentals of the Deen in a good way so that all Muslims may understand the issues at hand. But even if one were to imagine that such Imams (RA) did leave their teachings and take up some other course in their later years, this really does not affect the religion of Islam, 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 bare rational mind cannot judge concerning the propositions presented.
54. A 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 that Allah is over the Heavens on 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’ (‘appropriation’ or ‘taking possession’ of something), since Allah is the ‘possessor’ or ‘appropriator’ of everything.
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. Thus, these ‘emergent actions’ (if we can translate it as such) do not 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.
(Must be remembered 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 something will be written about this in the future).
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.
55. 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.
56. Some people may ask why does the word ‘Thumma’ appear in certain 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].
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, as was done by many of the latter-day scholars.
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 physical 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 anthropomorphic beliefs to Al-Ash’ari (RA).
57. We can next look into some of the sayings of the ‘Ulamaa, such as what al-Baaqilaani (RA) said about ‘Yad’ and ‘Wajh’ (as per the query raised, it was that al-Baaqilaani mentioned ‘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 cognition about them as per the Qur’an and the Ahaadeeth. Likewise is the case with Imam al-Bukhaari (RA) concerning ‘Sawt’ (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.
58. There comes a discussion concerning one Hadeeth, where Imaam at-Tirmidhi (RA) views the report which literally translated is 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’. 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, how does one take the narration to be true, while at the same time saying that it is not believed?
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 attributed to such words. It is thus totally incorrect for a mental image of ‘hands’ or limbs 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.
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 the Hindu says that since most people are simple-minded, they need an aid in order to have some understanding about the Absolute, and this aid is the idol, which is supposedly the visible (or sensual) incarnation 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; in this example, two major mistakes were made by the non-Muslim, both of them leading to extremes regarding the Divine.
59. There comes an important point: We should consider the writings of any Imam and see to what audience he was writing. Sometimes it was to Mujjasima oriented people, but at other times it was towards the Mu’tazila or the Jahmiyya. And in the case of what Imam at-Tirmidhi (RA) wrote, the argument seems to be directed against the Jahmiyya.
To understand this issue better, we must consider what the Jahmiyya actually held as their belief. The truth is that the Jahmiyya rejected altogether the narrations that even mentioned ‘Yad’ or ‘Wajh’, and so forth, and said that (for example) if ‘Yad’ is mentioned in the Qur’an, it must necessarily refer to ‘Power’, without any other possibility (in at-Tirmidhi’s presentation, the Jahmis said this with regards to Allah creating Adam (Alayhi Salaam) with His ‘Yad’.)
So from this we can deduce certain things: First of all, the Jahmis rejected even the text of the Ahaadeeth as they have been handed down to us, because apparently, in their view, one had to only consider the literal meaning, and the literal meaning was tending towards clear Tashbeeh. This is different than the position of the traditional Sunnis, who accept the text if its chain is correct, and the meaning may be interpreted in a way that conforms to the fundamentals of the religion (in this case, the necessity of doing Tanzeeh of Allah the Exalted).
So the Jahmis who accepted these texts went to the extent of saying that ‘Yad’ or ‘Ayn’ were absolutely not intended in these texts, even if there was an acknowledgment that these are not organs, limbs, substances. This is in opposition to the traditional Sunnis, who do accept ‘Yad’, ‘Wajh’, and so forth, while clarifying that what must be denied is that these are limbs, organs, etc.
It is also mentioned that one of the problematic issues with the Jahmi sect was not only that they interpreted the texts in one way, but they claimed this interpretation was the only correct one, and closed the doors to any other possibilities with respect to how one should handle such texts.
One thing I wanted to mention here, though I do not know if it will be accepted by all, is that it is precisely this type of religious rigidity which gives rise to the different sects; we see that from one seed of literally reading the texts, two different sects came about, the Mujjasima and the Jahmiyya, both of them at the opposite ends of the ‘extreme rigidity scale’. This is why the path of the traditional Sunnis is always the proper middle way, since it does not swerve from that which combines both the intellect and the texts, in order to gain proper benefit from both facets of human interaction with the world and with the revelation of Allah the Exalted.
60. Some ask that if there were Verses meant to be Mutashaabih (ambiguous) and people would never know the meaning of them, then what was the purpose of revealing them in the first place, if we would not get exact instruction by means of such Verses?
One answer I have come across is that these types of Verses were revealed in order to show the human intellect’s inability to totally grasp the Divine Speech. So this definitely has wisdom behind it, of showing that the Dhat of Allah and His Attributes are beyond what comes to the mind of man.
61. When we want to discuss the matter of ‘freedom of speech’ and how it is opposed by religious dogma, especially Islamic dogma, one matter that is often discarded is the underlying answer to the question: ‘What is the absolute criterion I will be using to judge this matter?’ or the related fundamental question: ‘What is the absolute in here, freedom of speech/freedom of action, or the laws of Allah?’.
It is clear that the first option (absolute freedom) is in contradiction to the second, since the first will deny the existence of Allah as the ‘Lawgiver’, discarding the prerogative of Allah to reveal laws to be followed; as far as how the “absolute freedom” option is often presented, the private-public distinction and its associated laws are determined at any given time by the body-politic of the nation, and changes to this nation/polity determine changes to the laws. So the discussion about ‘Absoluteness’ is crucial, since it is basically from the result of this consideration and its differences that mores, values, and beliefs will be followed or deduced.
It seems that many people do a sort of retroactive answer to this question, thinking that their personal freedoms are natural and absolute, and since this is the case, the existence of God as a Lawgiver must be rejected, as well as any religion that calls for such a description of God. But this is not in fact a rigorous approach, but merely an approach that satisfies the inciting ego (the Nafsul Ammaarah).
62. One issue I personally think we should delve into is that in the ‘academic world’, if one were to doubt the standard narrative concerning evolution, history, etc., he would be branded as someone who is not following the scientific method at all in reaching his conclusions – that is, he is not following the methods appropriate for evolutionary studies, for history, etc. But in the same vein, when talking about Islam as a religion, the ‘academic world’ has often discarded the methods appropriate for studying Islam and called them infantile and baseless, and only after doing this do these ‘academics’ begin to conduct their research. It is small wonder then that they have gone so far off the narrative of Islam that many of them consider the whole history of Islam and the main personalities of Islam to be a collective fabrication of the Muslims. But it is mostly due to the initial rejection of the Muslims’ own methodology and system that things got to this level.
Often, when the believing Muslims tell these ‘academics’ that their methods and results are wrong, they chide us for not ‘thinking outside the box’, and for being too attached to our own supposedly outdated methods and systems. But one wonders why then, we Muslims would not be allowed to think in our own way, outside of the box set up by the ‘academics’ when studying biology, history, and so on. There seems to be an inherent point being made by them in all of this, that only the ‘academic Western person’ is the one who can think rigorously and properly, and all others either have to learn how to think like the ‘academic’, or be shoved to the side of irrelevance. In an age where prejudiced thinking is supposed to have become a thing of the past, I see this type of presentation of affairs as proof that such prejudices are still very much alive, and they have a huge impact on the conclusions and policies made in major centers around the world.
And as a side comment, it would be good for us to consider that we believing Muslims should be willing to build up our knowledge of the natural sciences and of the tools of experimentation within an Islamic framework. Not only do we believe that the ‘modern non-Muslim academicians’ are asking the wrong questions and looking at Islam in an incorrect way, but that even with regards to many of the sciences connected to biology, archeology, history, etc., there is wide scope for new types of questions to be asked and for new perspectives to be sought after, if only we could train ourselves to handle such sciences with the proper mindset. [I know there is a lot to be said about the points above, which hopefully can be discussed in the future].
63. Note that when the scholars (like at-Tirmidhi (RA)) talked about Allah and His Attributes, they denied modality from its roots, and they did not say that the modality exists and we only do not know what its exact form or size is.
And from this we can draw a parallel with how measurement is done in the fields of physics, chemistry, etc. The truth is that in basically every single case of measurement, what we have is an estimate of the actual length or duration of the measured object. And one could theoretically go to a great number of decimal places in accuracy without getting the exact measurement. So in this sense, one can say that the measurement is approximate.
What is striking in some views presented, is the question of whether their concept of “modality being known while its specifics are unknown” is akin to this naturalistic concept of the possibility of improved measurements. It seems like an exaggeration at first, but one should be extremely careful when talking about Allah the Exalted, because the matter is not that “we are not sure about ‘His Measurements’ but we know they are there”, rather the issue is measurement (modality) does not apply to Him to begin with.
64. The Salaf and the Sunni scholars in general said that one could (hypothetically) say that a certain text contains ‘Tashbih’ only if it mentioned something along the lines of ‘Yad like the Yad of humans, or a Wajh like their Wajh, etc.’, but as it truly is, the situation with the texts of the Qur’an and the correct Ahaadeeth is not like that at all.
Thus, one important rule of the Sunnis is that we should never say that the texts in and of themselves report about Tashbeeh between Allah and the creation; rather, Tashbeeh is what comes to the minds of some people when reading these texts. But since the revelation is always concomitant to the truth, and the truth is that there is no similarity between Allah and His creation, the conclusion is that the text of the Qur’an and of the rigorously authentic Ahaadeeth never ever point towards Tashbeeh. This is the main rule, and we can never discard this rule.
65. To reiterate, the root or rule in proper Tanzeeh with respect to Allah is to deny Kayfiyya (modality) outright, not to say there is an unknown but existent Kayfiyya.
66. For the Ash’ari “Madhab”, one method is of generalized interpretation as more or less outlined previously. And, there is also the position of a more detailed interpretation, as is the way of some of the Salaf and a majority of the Khalaf – this method has its own rules and regulations based on the exigencies of the situations confronting the ‘Aqeedah of the Muslim Ummah.
In this vein, we should remember that this great Islamic religion was sent to everyone, to the Salaf and to the Khalaf, and it is not proper Adab (propriety) towards the latter ‘Ulaamaa to discard their work and their sayings simply because they came at a later date, as this kind of thinking would (hypothetically) demolish the binding nature of an Ijma’ (consensus) regardless of the epoch when the Mujtahidun of the Ummah reach such an Ijma’.
67. The books of Ar-Raazi, at-Taftazaani (RA) and others are until now, considered the top books in establishing the pillars of the religion and in answering the opponents of the Sunnis. This is so much so that the knowledge of Usool, logic, rhetoric, etc., as explained by these and other luminaries of Islam may not be encompassed by any one individual in this day and age. And, if these books were to be introduced into the curriculum of universities and other educational institutions, they would give rise to a great intellectual revolution among the students, but the important thing in here is to proceed methodically, so that the prerequisites for these works are well known by the students before embarking on studying these ‘higher texts’, so that the proper benefit may be obtained from these and similar works.
68. A point is brought up with regards to the introductions to the ‘studies of nature’ we find in many books of Kalaam. Such introductions are not to be totally discarded, but rather many of them are quite useful, and many can also be improved through considerations of new information discovered in the natural sciences, and this is in fact an important part of the Kalaam sciences. Moreover, there are considerations surrounding what we can call the ‘philosophy of the natural sciences’ in the introductions and main texts of such works.
69. There is one question regarding why the traditional Sunni Mutakallimun did not expend more efforts in refuting Ibn Taymiyya. The response is that there were some scholars who did specify him by name in the course of their refutations. But for the most part, Ibn Taymiyya obtained most of his ideas from the philosophers and previous thinkers in the Muslim nation, so if the refutation of these earlier peoples was accomplished, there was not an urgent need to specifically tackle Ibn Taymiyya’s ideas. And another issue was that his ideas were not as widespread as some people take them to have been, but rather, throughout most of Islamic history, he was a fringe figure with comparatively little influence, and even his books (especially the Kalaam-related works) were not so easy to find.
70. It is written: Belief in the Jawhar al-Fard is not an essential part of the Islamic religion, as long as the individual believes in all obligatory parts of Islam. The main point of talking about the Jawhar is in order to know what the Universe as a whole is composed of in terms of its basic elements. This is a topic close to the philosophy of science or the philosophy of physics. Other abstract matters, such as the fact that the things in the Universe have length, may be partitioned, etc., are also included in this discussion – thus, it is not a core religious issue (and scholars have differed on this particular term- ‘Jawhar al-Fard’), but rather it is related to the natural studies of the Universe and its relationship to the Deen.
However, we see that some matters cannot be emphatically discussed except if we consider their prerequisites. And it is from the acceptance of the Jawhar we understand that the Universe and its constituents are subject to change, enlargement, decrease, and that they are in need of other than themselves, so this is one step towards establishing the Existence of Allah the Exalted.
Even if the concept of the Jawhar al-Fard is ‘proven’ to be false (by means of newer theories such as ‘superstring theory’), it does not mean that the whole Ash’ari Aqeedah will collapse, and this is a wrong supposition from those who are ignorant about the matter. So the people who oppose this concept, they should deal with it in an academic manner, and not merely in an unruly way.
71. Only some from among the Mu’tazilites said that the Jawaahir (i.e. fundamental elements) were nothing other than ‘A’raad (i.e. accidents/incidents) put together, and this is not generally a statement of the Sunnis.
72. Some of the Sunni scholars have said that if the conversion of energy to matter were to be proven, it could be that ‘matter’ as we know it is not the highest (abstract) category for the appearance of events, and there may be a more fundamental category that includes both the ‘Jawhar’ and the ‘’Aradh’. Or it may be that our understanding of matter becoming energy and vice versa is incorrect, in that it could be that energy is in fact matter in another form [in which case, the supposition that energy is an ‘’Aradh’ was incorrect], or it could be that energy is a type of ‘Arad visible only in subatomic states, or other possible explanations…the point being that this is a subject for give-and-take in discussions and study, not for ridicule and mindless rejection.
73. When we consider the division of Bid’ah, we see that many of the traditional Sunnis accepted the idea of ‘good Bid’ah’. We can say in brief that each type of Bid’ah is acceptable or unacceptable based on the Usool of the religion. But to say that Bid’ah is divided into two types only (religious-based and worldly-based) and the first is totally prohibited while the latter is allowed is quite against the Shariah, because Islam, unlike other religions, has a say in every single endeavor of the human, be it (what is commonly referred to as) ‘religious’ or ‘secular’.
74. One should refute totally only that which has a status to be refuted. Yet not everything that is written in the form of an exposition is fit for refutation, since many works may not be of a respectable character to begin with. So we should use our resources (time, energies) to the optimum degree, and not waste them in going after trivial matters.
75. It is sometimes said that one should stop all these ‘pointless discussions’ with deviant groups, since it stands in the way of unity of the Muslims. There are two things in here: If the deviance is so great that it takes the deviant out of Islam, the Muslims (i.e. the scholars who can do so) should familiarize themselves with their positions, at the very least for the purpose of keeping the laity away from their positions by refuting them, and if Allah guides these deviants back to the correct path, this is very well and good.
And if the deviance is not serious, then there is no problem in us engaging them in conversation so that they may come to the right path, but in here there is nothing preventing us from wishing unity with them. Besides, the scholars of Islam normally try to give the most generous interpretation reasonably possible, so that people are not judged to have fallen out of Islam (it may seem a very hard thing to do, but softness and excuses should be sought out as much as reasonably possible for those who utter the Shahaadatayn).
So the scholars are not just waiting to outwardly condemn this person or that person to death and, even worse, to Hellfire, and it hurts the real people of Allah when all roads for salvation of any person seem to be apparently blocked, and the formal outward judgment leads not only to Tabdee’ but also to Takfeer.