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Allah's Attributes and the Mistake of Changing Their Meanings


Ibn al-Qayyim once wrote that love for a beloved originates in the beauty and perfection of the beloved. Hence, by knowing and becoming familiar with Allah's names, attributes and actions, one will love Him more and his iman will become stronger. [From the Friday Prayer (II), by J. Zarabozo]

When Ibn Taymiyyah explained what the most precious and beneficial knowledge is, the first matter he mentioned was the knowledge of Allah's Names, Attributes, and Actions, which plants in the heart the love, hope, fear and glorification of Him (s.w.t.). No one would deny that knowing the One we worship improves our `ibaadah and that not knowing who Allah is makes our `Ibaadah almost meaningless. Allah (s.w.t.) said Himself "So know that Laa ilaaha ill Allah (there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah)..." [47:19].

To understand Tauheed correctly, we need to have an understanding of Allah's Names and Attributes. The question is, how are we to understand these? Should we rely on our minds and speculative theology, or should we refer to the Qur'aan, Sunnah and the understanding of the early predecessors? Many have strayed based on this point and, if Allah permits, we shall try to clarify some misconceptions related to tahreef (interpretation and changing the meanings) of Allah's Attributes in particular.

The scholars of Ahl us Sunnah wal Jamaa`ah say that the correct Faith in Allah's attributes means believing in them without denying them or their meanings (ta`teel), without interpreting them and changing their meanings (tahreef), without explaining how they are (takyeef) or likening Allah's attributes to those of the creation (tamtheel). Although a few scholars had slightly differred on this point, it is known that the concencus of the predecessors and leaders of this Ummah is as stated above. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence in support of this, but we shall, by Allah's will, quote few renowned scholars who wrote about the matter.

Often, the best way to say what Islaam is (or should be) is by pointing up its contradistinction to what Islaam is not (or should not become). Therefore, if we study beliefs of the misguided sects, our understanding of the Truth will be, by Allah's permission, improved, just like our understanding of Tauheed is greater when accompanied with an understanding of Shirk.

This issue is also a matter of manhaj (program, way) and who we take our knowledge from. A student of knowledge has recently commented that today's Ash`arites are in fact Jahmees, because they still interpret some of Allah's Attributes, which, in fact, leads them to negating the meaning of these Attributes [such as Allah's Istawaa above the `Arsh, His Face, His Hand, His Hearing, His Seeing etc]. We have been warned of the great sin of speaking about Allah that which we do not know.

"Say (O Muhammad): My Lord has only forbidden indecencies, those of them that are apparent as well as those that are concealed, and sin and rebellion without justice, and that you associate with Allah in worship that which He has sent down no authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know." [al-Qur'aan 7:33]

So it is indeed a dangerous matter to explain an Attribute of Allah based on no proof from the Sources.

There is no doubt that all sects have deviated because they did not understand Usool (basic principles of) ud Deen. Therefore, the best way to safeguard one's faith is to gain a solid understanding of the basics, before proceeding to study things that are not of the greatest importance, especially us who are not scholars. Let us all realise the fact that we need to understand `aqeedah, and tauheed in particular, before we proceed to study other matters, such as fiqh. Verily, man has been created impatient, but we need to realise what the priorities are. If we consider the fact that (good) deeds of those who disbelieve are not accepted (see 24:39, for example), we can see the importance of having correct belief. Furthermore, the lack of understanding of the true `aqeedah among Muslims has led to great divisions and it would probably not be untrue to say that ignorance of the `aqeedah is the primary cause of our division today [At least indirectly, because if we knew the correct `aqeedah we would put most differences to the end].

Shall we not stick to the Rope of Allah (i.e. the Qur'aan) and be united? Nowadays, different groups are separating and those that have deviated astray have even started cursing those who speak the truth.

Let it be clear that there is no compromise in the matters of `aqeedah as that is taken from the Qur'aan and Sunnah, as understood by the `ijmaa', and let it also be clear that the concensus among scholars on this issue is very clear. Indeed, those who are close to the tradition (i.e. the Book and Sunnah) differ much less among themselves than those who are far from it. For this reason, it can be seen that the sincere ones who have slight differences in manhaj, but share the same authentic creed are one big step closer to unity [which should be very clear to those who follow the Ummah's affairs]. On the other hand, those whose very foundation is not firm will differ in a great number of issues. Moreover, they are an easy prey for Shaytaan who seeks to misguide such people even further.

To reiterate how Sifaat Allah are to be understood, we shall consider what Ibn Taymeeyah said in his Al-Ikleel Fee Al-Mutashbaabih Wa al-Ta'weel:

"God may be characterized by how He characterizes Himself and by how His Prophet characterized him. The course to be followed [in understanding this doctrine] is that of the predecessors, the people of faith and knowledge, and of the meanings understood from the Book and the Sunnah.

Response [to revelation] ought not to confuse it for such would be a distortion, a disbelief, an abandonment of the Book..."

And at-Tahaawee said in al-`Aqeedah at-Tahaaweeyah:

"To imagine Allah in a certain form is not correct. The safest way for a Muslim is to believe in all the attributes of Allah without adding any interpretation. To negate the attributes of Allah altogether or to compare Him to someone, is a deviation from the right path. Our Lord is unique and without any equal at all."

What is highly ironic is that most of those who call themselves Ash`arites today contradict their own teacher. For, Al-Ash`aree refuted many deviant claims of those who commit tahreef or ta'teel. He wrote in al-Ibaanah `an Usool ad-Diyaanah an arsenal of arguments against different heretics, and here is an example from this book, which represents the `Aqeedah on which he finally settled:

"Whosoever questions us and says, 'Do you believe God has a face?', the answer is: 'We believe it contrarily to the belief of the innovators; and His words 'And the Face of your Lord full of Majesty and Honour will abide forever' [55:27] are a proof of it.'"

He also stated: "If anybody says, 'You do not deny that God's words 'from what Our hands have made' and His words, 'before him whom I have created with My two hands' are metaphorical", the answer is: The rule of the Word of God is that it is to be interpreted literally and truly, and a thing is not transferred from its literal meaning to a metaphorical one, except by proof."

We therefore affirm these attributes of Allah (s.w.t.) and realise that "There is nothing like unto Him" (42:11), that "There is none comparable to Him" (112:4) and that "No vision can grasp Him, but His Grasp is over all vision." (6:103). Can we Muslims settle on these issues and finally move on and do that which Allah has ordered us to do? Or are we (some of us) still going to wonder blindly in following deviations? Are pantheist Soofees going to realise the fallacy of wahdat ul wujood and are some of them going to stop hiding the fact that they approve of it? Are "Ash`arites" going to stick to their creed inspite of what Al-Ash`aree actually said? Are the proponents of the Ash`arite theology in the Shaafi`iyy madh-hab going to stop picking bits and parts from their scholars' books and start taking their teachings as a whole? Will they, for instance, realise how an-Nawawi regarded al-Ibaanah by Al-Ash`aree? Or how ash-Shaafi`ee, Abu Haneefa, Maalik and Ibn Hanbal understood Sifaat Allah? Are they going to realise the words of Al-Juwaynee, al-Ghazaalee's teacher, who also changed his view towards the end of his life and accepted the truth in this matter? He said in Ar-Rasaa'il al-Muniriah:

"I used to fear confirming al-Istiwaa' and that Allah descends (if He will) to avoid limiting Allah, or assimilating Him (with the creation).

However, when I read the evidence from the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger, I find that these evidences confirm these meanings (al-Istiwaa' and descending). I find that the Prophet, sallaAllahu `alaihi wa sallam, unequivocally confirms them, when talking about His Lord and describing Him. I know for sure that his audience contained the knowledgeable and the ignorant, the smart and the slow and the Bedouin and the hard hearted. Yet, I find no quotations, clear or implied, from him, after describing Allah, that explain these meanings with what is not apparent, or what distorts these meanings as some of those philosophers did."

Many had strayed by committing a small innovation, but Shaytaan later led them to further deviation from the truth. Interpreting Allah's Attributes such as His Istawaa (rising over al-`Arsh in a manner that suits His Majesty), or His Face, has led people to deny them and to explain them in what suited their minds, based on no proof. If they only pondered over the words of Naa'im ibn Hammad, al-Bukhaaree's teacher, who was quoted by ibn Katheer in his Tafseer:

"Whoever assimilates Allah with His creation has committed kufr (disbelief). Whoever denies Allah's description of Himself has committed Kufr. Assimilation to (the creation) cannot be understood from the description of Allah by Allah, or His Messenger sallAllahu `alaihi wa sallam. Whoever confirms the Attributes, mentioned in the clear Aayaat (verses of the Qur'aan) and authentic Hadeeths, believing that these Attributes are in a manner befitting to Allah's Majesty, and denying all ill descriptions of Allah; he has followed the way of guidance."

Ibn Katheer, in his tafseer of the verse 20:5, clearly stated that we should follow the understanding of the predecessors and not commit takyeef, tahreef, tashbeeh, ta`teel and tamtheel.

Imaam Al-Barbahaaree said, "Whatever Allah says is just as He says. There is nothing to contradict what He says. He is as He says."

And Allah (s.w.t.) states in the Qur'aan, "Whose word can be truer than Allah's?" [4:122]

Ibn Taymeeyah said, "The early generations of Muslims and their Imams were in complete unanimous agreement that the Lord is separate and distinct from his creation. He is to be described only with that with which He described Himself (i.e. in the Qur'aan) or with which His Prophet (sallaAllahu `alaihi wa sallam) described Him, without distorting, negating, delving into the exact nature of, or believing them to be the same as something known such as human characteristics of the same names. Allah is described with all characteristics of perfection and no characteristics of weakness or imperfection . He knows that there is nothing comparable to Him, nor to His words in any of His characteristics of perfection."

"Say: He is Allah, One. Allah, The Self-Sufficient. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none equal or comparable to Him." [112:1-4]

Ibn Mas`ood and others said: "He is the one who has no cavity. The attribute of One (al-Ahad) means the one to whom there is no one comparable. Thus, the name as-Samad entails all of Allah's attributes of perfection, and negation of any lacks or imperfections, and the name al-Ahad denotes the complete lack of anybody or anything comparable to Allah in His names and characteristics."

Finally, to those who perform interpreting Allah's Names according to their desires and based on no proof, and propagate it to others, we reply with the response given by Shaikh as-Sabt in his book "Ar-Rahmaanu `Alaa-l `Arshi Istawaa":

"This type of writers studied Tauheed and made their own minds as the judge and authority in this matter. They confirmed, of Allah's Names and Attributes, what they thought appropriate, and rejected what they thought wrong. They subjected their worshipped Lord's Names and Attributes to their own logic and understanding. Some of them approved of only seven Attributes and others were more generous to add six more.

This led to their believing in Attributes of Allah that are not the same as in the Qur'aan. To those we say: "Do you know Allah more than Himself?" This type of writers subjected the verses of the Qur'aan and the ahaadeeth of the Prophet, sallAllahu `alaihi wa sallam, to their own minds, changing their meanings. They made their thoughts as the base and changed meanings of the Qur'aan to accommodate their own minds. They ignored the most basic rule of Tauheed, that is, to shape our thoughts and minds to accommodate the Nass (text of the Qur'aan and Sunnah), confirming what the Nass confirms and rejecting what it rejects. These writers did the opposite, they shaped the Nass to accomodate their minds and thoughts. They made their minds as the god they worship. They fell in what they sought to escape from. They worshipped themselves, when they claimed immunity from error for their minds. Worshipping is following and obeying (Allah and His Messenger), is it not?"

By Br. Abdul Wahid Abdul Muntaqim



(courtesy of nidaul Islam magazine)