by Shaykh Zameel ur Rahman (Muzammil Husayn)
The following is a translation of Mufti Taqi al-‘Uthmani’s introduction to the book al-Qawl al-Tamam bi Ithbat al-Tafwid Madhhaban li al-Salaf al-Kiram by Shaykh Sayf ibn ‘Ali al-‘Asri, available here.
All praise to Allah, Lord of the Worlds, and blessings and peace be upon His Noble Messenger, and upon his family and all his companions, and upon all who follow them in excellence till the Day of Recompense.
As for what follows:
Knowledge of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) in terms of His existence, His power and His wisdom is from the most evident of a priori truths which is realised by every learned and ignorant person merely by looking at the wonders that were put in this cosmos, and all that was created therein of the signs of His majesty and His beauty, which cause to occur in the mind of [even] the Bedouin from the desert to say: “Camel dung points towards a camel, and footsteps towards a traveller, so the sky full of constellations, and the earth full of ravines, how can it not point towards the Subtle, the Aware?”
Also from the wonders of His power is that in spite of belief in Him (Exalted is He) being from the most evident of a priori truths and the most obvious of manifest realities, detailed perception of the true nature of His essence and His attributes is from the impossibilities which every time a person delves into it, though he be of [high] position in knowledge and intelligence, it only increases him in perplexity and inability and recognition of the limitedness of his intelligence and his understanding. There is no option therefore but to believe in what is immediately obvious or transmitted from Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) and His Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), while restraining the rein of thought from what is external to the perception of a powerless humanity who were not given of knowledge but little.
Whoever frees the rein of his thought in this maze, he will acquire nothing besides confusion and conflict or deviance and misguidance. How wonderful is what the historian and philosopher, ‘Allamah Ibn Khaldun (Allah Exalted is He have mercy on him), said: “Therefore, everyone should be suspicious of the comprehensiveness of his perceptions and the results of his perception, and should follow what the lawgiver commanded him to believe and to do. He is more desirous of your happiness and he knows better what is good for you. His level [of perception] is higher than that of your perception. The territory he covers is wider than the territory of your intelligence. This does not speak against the intellect and intellectual perceptions. The intellect, indeed, is a correct scale. Its indications are completely certain and in no way wrong. However, the intellect should not be used to weigh such matters as the oneness of God, the other world, the truth of prophecy, the real character of the divine attributes, or anything else that lies beyond the level of the intellect. That would mean to desire the impossible. One might compare it with a man who sees a scale in which gold is being weighed, and wants to weigh mountains in it. The [fact that this is impossible] does not prove that the indications of the scale are not true [when it is used for its proper purpose]. However, there is a limit at which the intellect must stop. It cannot go beyond its own level. Thus, it cannot comprehend God and His attributes. It is but one of the atoms of the world of existence which results from Him.” (Muaddimah, Franz Rosenthal Translation, 3:38)
This is precisely what Allah (Exalted and High is He) guided us to in His statement: “He is the One Who shapes you in the wombs as He likes. There is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise. He is the One who has revealed to you the Book. Out of it there are verses that are muhkamat (of established meaning), which are the principal verses of the Book, and some others are mutashabihat (whose definite meanings are unknown). Now those who have perversity in their hearts go after such part of it as is mutashabih, seeking [to create] discord, and searching for its interpretation, while no one knows its interpretation except Allah; and those well-grounded in knowledge say: ‘We believe therein; all is from our Lord.’ Only the men of understanding heed the advice.” (3:6-7)
This verse illuminates the right path which will save people from falling into the mazes which philosophy deprived of lordly guidance has fallen into, and that [path] is to express what is from the most evident of a priori truths, and to believe in what the divine texts have come with as they have come, without delving into His true essence which no intellect or understanding can grasp, no matter the level of knowledge and perception it has reached.
However, those who are ignorant or feign ignorance of this reality, they work their philosophical minds to arrive at the essence of Allah (Exalted is He) and His attributes, and they divided into groups in this, and they ascribed to Allah what He is undoubtedly free from. From them is he who wishes to arrive at the true nature of the essence of Allah (Exalted is He) and measure it by the measure of the intellect alone, so he finds that it leads him to philosophical questions to which he finds no answer, and thus he denies that Allah (Exalted is He) has attributes, and this belief drives him to reject clear authentic texts – this is the madhhab of the negators (mu‘attila).
And from them is he who finds that Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) affirmed for Himself a hand, eye and ascent, and the like of this which are established for creatures and temporal entities, so he affirms for Allah a body and parts like the bodies of temporal entities – Allah is transcendent beyond this, a lofty transcendence – and this is the madhhab of the assimilators (mushabbiha) and corporealists (mujassima).
The word of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah has united on both madhhabs being incorrect and deviating from the truth.
Thereafter, after their agreement on the invalidity of both negation and assimilation, they differed over the exegesis of these verses and texts which have come with respect to affirming the hand, eye, ascent and descent for Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He). They have, in this regard, four methods:
1. The madhhab of the majority of the Salaf is that these texts are from the mutashabihat whose meanings are not known but by Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He), so neutrality and silence is required therein, and there is no need to delve into its interpretation; thus, we believe in them in brief, while having certainty in [Divine] purity and freedom, and the belief that that which necessitates temporality and assimilation was not intended; and thereafter, we are not certain in identifying its meaning, rather we entrust its knowledge to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He).
2. A group of the Salaf held the opinion that we believe that Allah intended thereby their literal meaning, although the literal meaning ascribed to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) is different to the literal meaning ascribed to creatures and temporal entities; thus, Allah (Exalted is He) has a hand in the literal sense as is befitting His station, although it is not like the hand of creatures and temporal entities, because there is nothing like Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He); and as for the true nature of the hand of Allah (Exalted is He), there is no means to know it, so we consign this to Allah (Exalted is He).
The difference between the first and the second madhhabs is that the first is certain of the negation of whatever necessitates temporality and assimilation [for Allah], and moreover, it does not have certainty in identifying its meaning, rather neutrality and consignment is chosen from the very outset; while the second madhhab believes that the literal meaning is intended by these words, and then it consigns the true nature of that meaning to Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He). Although this group believes that they are literal, it nonetheless withdraws by negating all the literal meanings that are commonly recognised with respect to creatures and it does not clarify the literal meaning which it associates with the text with respect to the Creator (Glorified and Exalted is He).
3. Some of the ‘ulama from the Salaf and a group from the Khalaf held the opinion that these texts are figuratively interpreted by that which diverts them from any trace of assimilation and corporealism; thus they hold them to be metaphorical, intending “strength” by “hand,” for example, and “domination” and “power” by “ascent,” for example.
4. There is a group from the ‘ulama who combine between the two matters, and prefer the method of figurative interpretation in the texts which are conducive to interpretation without affectation in accordance with the conversations of the Arabs, and they prefer the first or secondmadhhab in that which is not positively conducive to interpretation.
The reality is that these four madhhabs, after belief in the purity of Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) from assimilation and negation, are all acceptable. There is nothing in the Qur’an and Sunnah which makes the judgement about any of them being in absolute error. The disagreement between them is in reality not a disagreement over creed, since the creed is purity from assimilation and negation, rather it is a difference of opinion on expressing that creed and basing it on the texts. Hence, none of these madhhabs are absolutely false or completely misguided, although the first madhhab is the safest and the preference of the majority of the Salaf.*
Unfortunately, however, debates and arguments which have occurred on this matter have gone beyond bounds until it led to accusing one another of heresy, and accusing them of negation or assimilation. Moreover, these debates caused some of them to not suffice with his originally permissible position, rather to go beyond that to more elaboration and elucidation in a manner that takes him close to the boundaries of one of the rejected madhhabs [of assimilation and negation].
So, for example, the second position was originally close to the first position, which is that the expressions “hand,” “eye” and “ascent,” although they bear the literal meanings, however this literal meaning is completely different to the literal meaning of temporal entities and creatures, and none knows the true reality of this different property besides Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He). However, when arguments became frequent, in their fervour, there proceeded from pens expressions from which the skins crawl as they are suggestive of assimilation and corporealism. At the same time, there arose from them a reprehensible attack not merely of the [third] madhhab of figurative interpretation, but of the [first] madhhabof consignment (tafwid) which is the madhhab of the majority of the Salaf, and it was said that it is worse than figurative interpretation –protection is from Allah, the High, the Great – while it is most in accordance with what Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) said in the opening of Surah Al ‘Imran.
The reality is that engaging in these debates at a time when the forces of the intellectual and physical enemies have conspired together to weaken Islam and Muslims is an unfortunate phenomenon and completely blameworthy. We probably would not be exaggerating if we said that most Muslims today on the face of the earth don’t know the basic fundamentals of religion, and many of them are deprived of the knowledge of the rulings of the pillars of the religion and knowledge of the lawful and the unlawful. And the enemies of Islam spare no effort to spread deviant and destructive ideas amongst all classes of Muslims, and to foster newly arising doubts in the hearts, and to plant the seeds of uncertainty against that which the ummah have agreed upon for centuries. The rekindling of such matters in such conditions and accusing the overwhelming majority of the ‘ulama of this ummah of misguidance and confusing the minds of the laypeople by delving into such subtle matters which human minds are incapable of completely comprehending will not lead but to weakening the cracks that are between the Muslims and dividing their word and splitting their ranks and enabling the enemies to succeed in their conspiracies against Islam and the Muslim ummah. Hence, it is necessary in these circumstances to completely avoid being alarmist in these matters in which different opinions are permissible.
Thus, we are either content with being silent about them or we respect all the opinions of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah. Each [individual] professes whatever is preferred according to him without accusing others of misguidance so long as they are on the road of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah. We restrict discussion about it to academic circles alone without confusing the minds of the laypeople with this. However, this will not be achieved unless the advocates of the four madhhabs whose description has preceded are content [with the fact] that all these madhhabs are tolerable within the parameters of the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah, and none of them are disbelief or heresy, since every one of them aims to purify Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) from all that is unfitting for Him, free from assimilation and negation.
Due to this, the erudite professor, Shaykh Sayf ibn ‘Ali al-‘Asri (Allah preserve him and honour him with His support) wrote his upstanding book al-Qawl al-Tamam bi Ithbat al-Tafwid Madhhaban li al-Salaf al-Kiram. His objective in this book, as he himself clarified in the introduction, is to prove that the majority of the Salaf gave preference to the madhhab of consignment in opposition to what the advocates of the second madhhab claim that their madhhab is the madhhab of the Salaf in their entirety. The truth is that he has established this with manifest proofs and clear quotes from the outstanding imams of religion and the leaders of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama‘ah in such a way that he left no room for the statement that consignment is “from the most evil of the opinions of the apostates and heretics” as appears in one of the statements of Hafiz Ibn Taymiyyah (Allah Exalted is He have mercy on him). There is no doubt that Ibn Taymiyyah was from the exceptional geniuses of whom the ummah boasts, and there is no doubt in his oceanic knowledge and the richness of his beneficial books, but infallibility is from the special qualities of prophets and messengers, and from everyone [some] of his statements are accepted and [some of them] are rejected except the occupant of this grave – the Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) – as the Imam of the Abode of Hijrah, Malik ibn Anas (Allah Exalted is He have mercy on him), said.
Thus, what Ibn Taymiyyah said against the advocates of consignment in the matter of the descriptive attributes is a clear slip from him (Allah Exalted is He have mercy on him and make pleasurable his abode in the Garden). If this [slip] was accepted, as demonstrated with fairness in this book, that will end the tribulation of accusing Muslims of misguidance in this subject.
I was honoured to read most of what was written in this book, and I found the author to have been aided by Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) in exhausting the speech of the Salaf on this subject, treading the path of moderation and fairness, avoiding excess and negligence, far from extremism and bigotry, and good-mannered with the senior ‘ulama who he opposed on this subject, which is proof of his pure thinking and his sober style in disagreements which are open to judgemental variation.
I ask Allah (Glorified and Exalted is He) to widen the benefit of this book, and make it purely for His Noble Countenance, and to safeguard its reader from excess and negligence, and cause it to invite to the unification of the word of the Muslims, and to walking the straight path of the Salaf, and [I ask Allah for] its author to be rewarded with goodness because of it in this world and the next. And Allah (Glorified is He) has charge of [our] guidance.
22 Rabi‘ al-Thani 1431 H (April 2010 CE)
Written by: Muhammad Taqi al-‘Uthmani, Deputy Principal and Jurisconsult of Dar al-‘Ulum Karachi
Al-Qawl al-Tamam bi Ithbat al-Tafwid Madhhaban li al-Salaf al-Kiram, 2nd Edition, pp. 19-25
* The author of the book to which this is an introduction, Shaykh Sayf al-‘Asri makes the same assessment where he says: “The disagreement of Ibn Taymiyyah [who subscribes to the second madhhab] in this matter is a linguistic not creedal disagreement.” (Al-Qawl al-Tamam, p. 64)
THE ISSUE OF THE AMBIGUOUS ATTRIBUTES OF ALLAH
Zuhayr ibn Harb and Ibn Numayr narrated to me: both of them from al-Muqri’. Zuhayr said: from ‘Abdullah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’: he said: Haywah narrated to us: Abu Hani informed me: that he heard Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Hubuli: that he said: ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-’As (Allah be pleased with him) says: that he heard Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) say:
“Verily all the hearts of the children of Adam are between two fingers of the fingers of the Most Merciful like one heart. He disposes of them however He wills.” Then Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “O Allah! Disposer of Hearts, dispose our hearts to Your obedience.” (Sahih Muslim)
His statement “two fingers of the fingers of the Most Merciful”: al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “This is one of the hadiths of attributes and there are two views in regards to them which have just preceded:
“One of them is to believe in them without venturing into ta’wil (interpretation) or trying to understand its meaning. Rather, one believes it is the truth and that its outward purport is not intended. Allah Most High said: ‘Naught is as His likeness’ (42:11).
“And the second is to interpret them in a manner that is befitting. According to this, the intended meaning is figurative. This is just as is said, ‘such and such a person is in my grasp and in my palm’; it is not intended by it that he took up residence in his palm, rather the intent is: he is under my power. It is said, ‘such and such a person is between my two fingers, I turn him however I wish’ i.e. that he is under my control and I will dispose of him how I wish. Thus, the meaning of the hadith is that He (Glorified and High is He) disposes of the hearts of His servants and other hearts besides them however He wills. None of them are thwarted from him, and what He intends does not escape Him, just as what is between the two fingers of man is not thwarted from him. Thus, He addresses the Arabs [in a manner] by which they will understand it and the like of it by [making use of] sensual meanings that give assurance to their souls. If it is said: Allah’s Power is one, and ‘two fingers’ (isba’an) is for duality, the response is that it has preceded that this is figurative and metaphorical, so the simile (tamthil) occurred in accordance to what they are used to without intending thereby duality or plurality. And Allah knows best.”
The weak servant (Allah pardon him) says:
Imam al-Nawawi (Allah Most High have mercy on him) only mentioned two paths (madhhabs) of the‘ulama of Ahl al-Sunnah in the likes of these texts which attribute a finger to Allah (Most High), or a hand, or a palm, and other things besides these.
The first of them is the path of tafwid (relegation) and this is the position of the majority of themuhaddithin (hadith scholars) and predecessors (salaf), and the second is ta’wil (interpretation), and this is the position of most mutakallimin (scholastic theologians).
There is a third path which a group of the predecessors took, and al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi, ‘Allamah Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim (Allah Most High have mercy on them) preferred, and it is that the intended meaning of “finger” is its literal sense (ma’naha l-haqiqiyyah) but it is an attribute of Allah (Most High), is not a limb and is not like the fingers of creation, rather its kayfiyya (modality) is unknown.
‘Allamah Ibn Daqiq al-’Id mentioned a fourth method which was approved by many ‘ulama. He said: “We say about the problematic attributes, it is true and truthful according to the meaning Allah intended. Whoever interprets it, we consider [the interpretation]. If its interpretation is close, in accordance with the language of the Arabs we do not reject it, and if it is distant, we refrain from it and return to affirming [the intended meanings of the attributes] while declaring transcendence. That which is from the attributes whose meaning is apparent and clearly understood from the conversation of the Arabs we understand it in accordance with that, like His statement ‘In that I neglected the side of Allah (janb Allah)’ (39:56), for indeed the intended meaning of it in their popular usage is ‘duty to Allah (haqq Allah)’, so there is no hesitation in understanding it in accordance with this [meaning]. Similar is his statement: ‘Verily, the heart of the son of Adam is between the two fingers of the Most Merciful’, for indeed the intended meaning of it is that the will of the son of Adam’s heart is controlled by Allah’s Power and what He brings down on it.” Al-Hafiz transmitted this in Fath al-Bari (13:383),Kitab al-Tawhid, Bab ma Yudhkaru fi l-Dhati wa l-Nu’ut
All four paths are conceivable (muhtamilah). Multitudes of the verifying scholars have taken every one of them. For indeed the important thing in creed (‘aqidah) is declaring Allah (Most High) beyondtashbih (comparison) and ta’til (negation), and every one of these four paths is firmly convinced of this. The difference between them is not a difference in creed, for indeed the creed is declaring Allah beyond tashbih and ta’til, and it is only a difference of opinion in expressing that creed and basing them on the texts. So not one of these paths is entirely baseless or absolutely misguided, even if theoretical debates and arguments have not ceased to run between them for many centuries. Occasionally browbeating, exaggeration and excess occurred in them from the various sides and occasionally one of them steered in the direction of trespassing the limits of moderation, but the truth is that the basis of the dispute is nothing but an ijtihadi (judgemental) dispute, akin to the differences of the fuqaha (jurists) in juristic matters which are open to interpretation (mujtahad fiha). For this reason, outstanding scholars of the ummah, adherent devotees to the Book and the Sunnah of whose being from the people of truth and from the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jama’ah is not in doubt, took every opinion from these four opinions.
It is apparent that the path of the majority of the predecessors (salaf) was tafwid, and this is the safest, most prudent [path] and most in accordance with His statement (Most High): “no one knows its interpretation except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: we believe therein’” (3:7). We have spoken on this matter in some detail in our writings around Tafsir ‘Uthmaniwhich is from the sum of our Arabic essays. See, for elaboration of all sides of the matter, Kitab al-Asma’ wa l-Sifat by al-Bayhaqi, Daf’ Shubah al-Tashbih by Ibn al-Jawzi, Sharh Hadith al-Nuzul by Ibn Taymiyyah and Bawadir al-Nawadir by Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi (Allah Most High have mercy on them).
(Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim Vol 5. pp. 379-80)