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The difference between the Salafi and Hanbali creed

Salafi creed is essentially Ibn Taymiyyah’s understanding of the creed of Imam Ahmad and the Salafus Salih, while the Hanbali creed is essentially the creed of Imam Ahmad. One can argue that Ibn Taymiyyah was a Hanbali and thus what he said is part of the Hanbali school, as with any school, all their scholars make up the school, not just the founder. Fair enough, Ibn Taymiyyah followed the Hanbali school in matters of creed but he still differed with Imam Ahmad on particular issues. (1)

Despite Imam Ahmad wanting to be conservative in matters of creed, when he said, “How can I say what was not said before?” Ibn Taymiyyah differed with him in this by saying and attributing things to the Salafus Saleh, they never said, like taking the literal meaning or apparent meaning (dhahir) of the ambiguous statements from the Quran and Sunnah. Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Those who followed the Salaf,…, such as A Khattabi, Abu Bakr Al Khatib and others have stated that the way of the Salaf is to take the verses and hadiths of the Attributes upon their literal or apparent meaning (dhahir) and to state at the same time that they neither know their nature, nor conceive of them on human patterns.” (Majmo al Fatawa 33:176) This is the same position that is taught by most if not all Salafi scholars including Ibn Uthaymeen, Bin Baz and the other leading Salafi scholars, that the verses and hadiths are to be taken literally.

Ibn Rajab Al Hanbali on the creed of Imam Ahmad and the Salafus Salih

Ibn Rajab al Hanbali said, “The correct position in all of this is the position of the Righteous Salaf in their leaving the verses and hadiths concerning the Attributes as they came without explanation, asking how or likening them to creation. There is nothing at all contravening this position that is authentically reported from them, especially Imam Ahmad. Neither is anything reported from them proving that they probed into their meanings or propounded analogies and similitudes for them. This, even though there some who lived close to the time of Ahmad who did do some of this, following the way of Maqqatil, but they are not to be followed in this. Those who should be followed are the Imam of Islam such as ibn al Mubarak, Malik, Thawri, Awza’I, Shafi, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubaid and their likes.” (Fadhl ‘Ilm al-Salaf ‘ala ‘Ilm al-Khalaf )

It is interesting to note in this statement of Ibn Rajab explaining the creed of the Salaf and in particular the creed of Imam Ahmad, he does not mention that their position concerning the unclear verses (ayat) and hadiths (narrations of the Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam) related to Allah’s Attributes, that they are to be taken upon the literal meaning (ala dhahiri), but rather they would simply narrate them as they received them, as in the words of the Salaf themselves, “Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?”

The Creed of Imam Ahmad

Imam Ahmad (d. 241 AH) said, “Allah is not to be described other than in the terms with which He has described Himself, or in which the Messenger of Allah – sallahu alayhi wa salam- has described Him. We do not exceed the Quran and hadtih.” (IbnTaymiyyah Hamawiyya – pg 271-272)(IbnTaymiyya-majmu fatawa – 5:26)

Imam Ahmad also said, “We believe and confirm the hadiths of the Attributes without how and without meaning (wa la kayf wa la ma’na.) (Narrated from Hanbal ibn Ishaq through al Khallal by Ibn Qudamah in Dhamm al Tawil.)

The Creed of Those Who came before Imam Ahmad

Imam Shafi (d. 204 AH) was asked about the Divine Attributes. He said, “It is forbidden for the minds to represent Allah. It is forbidden for the imagination to conceive limits for Him. It is forbidden for speculation to presume anything about Him. It is forbidden for souls to think about His Essence. It is forbidden for consciences to deepen reflection about Him. It is forbidden for thoughts to grasp other than what He described Himself with, as conveyed by His Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam. (Narrated from al Rabi ibnSulayman by IbnQudamah in Dhamm a Tawil g 20-21) Nothing about the literal meaning or apparent meaning…

Imam Shafi also said, “I believe in what comes from Allah in the meaning meant by the Messenger of Allah, sallahu alayhi wa salam.” (Ibn Qudamah in Lam’at al Itiqad) Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning or apparent meaning.

Al-Walid ibn Muslim (d. 194H) said, “I asked Malik, al-Awza’i, Laytb ibn Sa’d and Sufyan al-Thawri, may Allah have mercy upon them, concerning the reports related about the Attributes, so they all said, ‘Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?” (Reported by al-Aajurri in Ash-Sha’ri’ah, p. 314, al-Bayhaqi in Al-Asma was-Sifat, p. 453 and also al-I’tiqad, p. 118 and the chain of narration is hasan.) Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning. .

Al-Awza’i (d.157H) said, “I asked az-Zuhri and Makhul about the ayat pertaining to the Sifat (Attributes of Allah), so they said, ‘Leave them as they are.” (Reported by al-Laalikaa’ee in SharhUsulul-I’tiqad 3/430 and IbnQudamah al-Maqdisi in Dhammut-Ta‘wil, p. 18 and the chain of narration is hasan.) Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning or apparent meaning.

There seems to be a pattern….

In Daf Shubah al Tashbih (Rebuttal of the Insinuations of Anthropomorphism) (2) by Ibn Jawzi al Hanbali, he pleaded with his Hanbali brothers who insisted that the ambiguous verses and hadith are to be taken literally when he said, “Companions! Brothers! You are the People who adhere to the texts and follow them. This was the example of your Imam, the greatest Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, May Allah Exalthed be He, have mercy on him, who under pain of torture, proclaimed, ‘How can I say what was not been said before?’ So, take care not to introduce into his madhab what does not belong in it.”

And Allah knows best.

(1) Despite Imam Ahmad staunch condemnation of speculative theology (Ilm al Kalam), Ibn Taymiyyah was a fervent Mutakallim, or speculative theologian, as one can discover from reading his Majmoo al Fatawa. Some defend him saying, he only engaged in study and language of the speculative theologians in order to refute them, yet this is the exact same argument the Shafis, Hanafis, Malikis use to defend the Asharis and the Maturidis, in that they used Ilm Kalam to refute the Mutazila. Yet, Imam Ahmad said, “Do not sit with the people of kalam, even if they defend the Sunna.” And Allah knows best.

(2) Daf Shubah al Tashbih (Rebuttal of the Insinuations of Anthropomorphism) by Ibn Jawzi has been translated into english with the title “The Attributes of God” by Shaykh Abdullah bin Hamid Ali.

Is Allah Above His Creation, literally?

A brother presented the ‘Where is Allah?’ Hadith to prove that Allah was above His creation literally. And I responded as follows:

This hadith cannot be used to support any point of aqida, although it is authentic, there are two other authentic narrations of the same situation with slightly different wording, which means this hadith cannot be used as a proof to establish certainty. We don’t know exactly what the Prophet, said during this interaction.

Hadith 1) Muawiya ibn al-Hakam came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him, “I am very newly from the Jahiliyya, and now Allah has brought Islam,” and he proceeded to ask about various Jahiliyya practices, until at last he said that he had slapped his slave girl, and asked if he should free her, as was obligatory if she was a believer. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) requested that she be brought, and then asked her, “Where is Allah?” and she said, “In the sky (Fi al-sama)”; whereupon he asked her, “Who am I?” and she said, “You are the Messenger of Allah”; at which he said, Free her, “for she is a believer” (Sahih Muslim, 5 vols. Cairo 1376/1956. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1403/1983, 1.382: 538).

Hadith 2) Ibn Hibban in his Sahih with a well-authenticated (hasan) chain of transmission, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked the slave girl, “‘Who is your Lord?’ and she said, ‘Allah’; whereupon he asked her, ‘Who am I?’ and she said, ‘You are the Messenger of Allah’; at which he said, ‘Free her, for she is a believer’” (al-Ihsan fi taqrib Sahih Ibn Hibban, 18 vols. Beirut: Muassasa al-Risala, 1408/1988, 1.419: 189).

Hadith 3) In another version, related by Abd al-Razzaq with a rigorously authenticated (sahih) chain of transmission, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to her, “Do you testify that there is no god but Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you testify that I am the Messenger of Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you believe in resurrection after death?” and she said yes. He said, “Free her” (al-Musannaf, 11 vols. Beirut: al-Majlis al-Ilmi, 1390/1970, 9.175: 16814).

Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani has said of the various versions of this hadith, “There is great contradiction in the wording” (Talkhis al-habir, 4 vols. in 2. Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya, 1399/1979, 3.250)

When a hadith has numerous conflicting versions, there is a strong possibility that it has been related merely in terms of what one or more narrators understood (riwaya bi al-ma’na), and hence one of the versions is not adequate to establish a point of `aqida.  What is clear concerning the hadith is that the Prophet question a slave girl, and her faith was confirmed and she was freed. What isn’t clear concerning the hadith is what did the Prophet really asked, and how did the slave girl respond.

After this, another brother presented the following verses and hadiths to prove Allah was literally above us:
“And to Allah prostrates whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth of creatures, and the angels [as well], and they are not arrogant.They fear their Lord above them, and they do what they are commanded. (Quran 16:49-50).

Do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allah), will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) has been My Warning? (Quran 67:16-17).

As scholar says among his deeds is the gesture of pointing up with his finger, when addressing the people prophet () in the greatest gathering, on the Day of ‘Arafaah during his Farewell Pilgrimage. He asked the people, “Have I not conveyed the message?” and they said, “Yes!” He asked again, “Have I not conveyed the message?” and they said, “yes!”. He asked a third time, have I not conveyed the message?” and they said “Yes!” Each time, he said: “O Allaah, bear witness!” – pointing up to the sky and then at the people.”

And I responded:

1) Abu Dawud-may Allah have mercy upon him-said in his chapter regarding the Sunnah found in his Sunan (6452) Its chain of transmission being conveyed by Saleem bin Jubair who said: I heard Aboo Hurayrah reciting this verse: “Allah has ordered you all to render back the trusts to those to whom they are due…” to the end of the verse “All-Hearer All-Seer.” (Quran 4:58) He then said: I saw the messenger of Allah place his thumb to his ear then he pointed to his eye.

Yet no one from Ahlus Sunnah believes Allah has one eye and one ear, nor do we believe that Allah has eyes and ears like we do nor do we believe Allah sees and hears like we do.

2) The belief that Allah is literal above us, is refuted when the Messenger of Allah said in a dua, “O Allāh, You are the first: there is nothing before You; and You are the last: there is nothing after You. You are the Manifest (al-Zāhir): there is nothing above You. You are the Hidden (al-Bātin): there is nothing below You. [Sahih Muslim]

There is nothing below Allah. So Allah being above us cannot be understood literally.

3) Believing Allah is literally above us is against the creed of Ahlus Sunnah and the understanding of the Salaf, Imam Tahawi said, “The six directions do not contain Him as they do created things.” (Aqidah Tahawi)

And Allah knows best.

Dancing and Sufi Dancing According to the Shafi Madhab

Dancing is Permissible in the Shafi School

Imam Nawawi said about dancing, ““Dancing is not unlawful, unless it is languid, like the movements of the effeminate. And it is permissible to speak and to sing poetry, unless it satirizes someone, is obscene, or alludes to a particular woman” (Minhaj al-talibin wa ‘umdat al-muttaqin. Cairo 1338/1920. Reprint. Cairo: Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, n.d., 152).’

Imam Muhammad Shirbini in his commentary of Al Minhaj Talibeen comments, “It is not unlawful because it is only motions made while standing or bowing. Furani and others have expressly stated that neither is offensive, but rather is permissible, as is attested to by the hadith related in Sahihs Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Sallahu alayhi wa salam) stood before Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) to screen her from view so that she could observe the Abysinians sporting and dancing) (Mughni al muhtaj ila marifa ma ani alfaz al Minhaj 4/430)

Authentic Hadith for Permissiblity of Dancing

Imam Ahmad relates from Anas (Allah be well pleased with him), with a chain of transmission all of whose narrators are those of Bukhari except Hammad ibn Salama, who is one of the narrators of Muslim, that

The Ethiopians danced in front of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace); dancing and saying [in their language], “Muhammad is a righteous servant.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “What are they saying?” And they said, “‘Muhammad is a righteous servant’” (Musnad al-Imam Ahmad. 6 vols. Cairo 1313/1895. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Sadir, n.d., 3.152).

Shaykh Nuh Keller comments, “Other versions of the hadith clarify that this took place in the mosque in Medina, though in any case, the fact that dancing was done before the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) establishes that it is mubah or “permissible” in the shari‘a, for if it had been otherwise, he would have been obliged to condemn it.”

Shaykh Abdul Qadir Isa comments, “This hadith contains evidence that it is permissible to gather between permissible movements and exaltation of the Messenger of Allah (sallahu alayhi wa salam) it also proves that movement during remembrance is not describe as forbidden dance, rather, it is permissible because it energizes the body for remembrance and assists one in having presence of heart with Allah – if one’s intention is sound – for actions are according to their ends and actions are based on their intentions and every person shall have what he intends. (Haqaiq Tasawwuf)

The Sufi Hadra

It is appropriate to address the issue of the Sufi Hadra , which is dancing, with remembrance (dhikr), and the singing of poetry, since this hadith as Shaykh Abdur Qadir explains, indicates it permissible. We have established that dancing is permissible. Now in regards to the hadra, which Imam Shafi has not spoken about, other Imams such as Imam Ibn Hajar Al Haytami and Imam Suyuti have said it was permissible. Imam Ibn Hajar Al Haytami said, “It is permissible to stand and dance during gatherings of remembrance [of Allah] and audition (sama’) according to a great group of scholars, among them Shaykh al Islam Ibn Abd Salam. [” (Fatawa Hadithiyya pg 298)

Quranic basis for the Sufi Hadra

Imam Jalal al-Din Suyuti has provided more proof for dancing as well as the proof for mixing dhikr with any permissible act, Imam Suyuti was asked for a fatwa or formal legal opinion concerning “a group of Sufis who had gathered for a session of dhikr,” and he replied:

“How can one condemn making dhikr while standing, or standing while making dhikr, when Allah Most High says, “. . . those who invoke Allah standing, sitting, and upon their sides” (Koran 3:191). And ‘A'isha (Allah be well pleased with her) said, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to invoke Allah at all of his times” [Sahih Muslim, 1.282: 373]. And if dancing is added to this standing, it may not be condemned, as it is of the joy of spiritual vision and ecstasy, and the hadith exists [in many sources, such as Musnad al-Imam Ahmad, 1.108, with a sound (hasan) chain of transmission] that Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib danced in front of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) when the Prophet told him, “You resemble me in looks and in character,” dancing from the happiness he felt from being thus addressed, and the Prophet did not condemn him for doing so, this being a basis for the legal acceptability of the Sufis dancing from the joys of the ecstasies they experience.” (1)

(al-Hawi li al-fatawi. 2 vols. Cairo 1352/1933–34. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1403/1983, 2.234)

The Conclusion with regards to Dancing

We have Quran, authentic hadith and sound Islamic scholarship, which support dancing and sufi dancing. So we have four Shafi Imams, who have stated that dancing is permissible, Imam Nawawi, Imam Suyuti, Imam Shirbini, and Imam Ibn Hajar Al Haytami, and two authentic hadiths have been used to validate the position and a Quran basis for the Sufi Hadra provided by Imam Suyuti.

And Allah knows best.

aMuslimForLife

(1) Ali Ibn Abi Talib narrated, “I once visited the Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa salam) with Jafar (Ibn Abi Talib) and Zayd (ibn Haritha). The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa salam) said to Zayd, “You are my freedman, where upon Zayd began to hop one one leg around the Prophet. The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa salam) then said to Jafar, “You resemble me in my form and manners”, where upon Jafar began to hop behind Zayd. The Prophet (sallahu alayhi wa salam) then said to me, “You are part of me and I am part of you” where upon I began to hop around Jafar. (Narrated fron Ali by Ahmad in his Musnad with a sound chain as stated by Shakir (1:537 #857) and by Al Bazzar in his Musnad with a sound chain according Al Haytami in Majma al Zawaid (5:176). Ahmad chain is graded as “Strong” by Al Arna’ut in Sahih Ibn Hibban(15:520 #7046)

Someone asked, “Back to the original topic, some sufis who make it a point to apply shariah to their lives seem to imply that the science of tasawuf is based in the Quran and sunnah, but the tariqahs aren’t really based off of that, they are more based of kashf, isn’t it? So how does that tie together Islamically?”

Excellent question:

Sufism is divided into three parts, ilm (knowledge –practical knowledge), amal (adoring knowledge with action) and hal (spiritual states – the results of spiritual practices, also called the fruits of the path). You asked about the later, hal spiritual states, in particular, kashf or ilham (Unveiling or inspiration), but this also includes other spiritual states, such as increased love for Allah, experiencing Allah’s Divine Love, (this the ultimate aim of the spiritual path –tariqa), and then the secondary states, kashf (spiritual unveiling), Ilham (spiritual inspiration), and miracles.

To kashf, (spiritual unveiling) and ilham (spiritual inspiration).

In short this is direct knowledge from Allah. However there is a distinction between a prophet and a saint (wali), in that a prophet, receives (wahy) revelation from Allah, accompanied by a ruh (spirit) from Allah. Ilham (inspiration) from Allah is accompanied by sakina (tranquility) from Allah. The difference being, Wahy (revelation) is always clear and correct, while ilham (inspiration) may be fractured (unclear) and incomplete (especially in the beginning), which is why Shaykh Abu Hasan Ash Shadhili said, “If your spiritual unveilings contradicts the Book and the Sunna, act upon the book and the sunna and leave off your unveiling and say to yourself, ‘Allah guaranteed infallibility in the Book and the Sunna and has not guaranteed that in spiritual unveiling and inspiration.’”

The basis for Kashf and Ilham in the Quran and Sunnah

Quran

Allah says, So have fear of Allah; and Allah will teach you. (2:282)
Allah says, “He gives wisdom to whomever He will and whoever receives wisdom receives immense good.” (2:269)
Allah says, “Therein lies portents for those who read the signs.” (15:75)
Allah says, “Then found they one of Our Slaves, unto whom We had given mercy from Us, and hand taught him knowledge from Our presence. (18:65)

(NOTE: Al Khidr is regarded as a non-prophet by many scholars including Ibn Taymiyyah, who said, The majority hold that he (al khidr) was not a prophet (al Majmu al Fatawa 4:338)(Al Baghawi stated in his tafsir: (He (Allah) taught him inward (batin) knowledge by inspiration-ilham).

Allah says, “..For surely the eyes do not go blind, but it is the hearts which are in the breasts that go blind.” (22:46)

(NOTE: Basar: refers to physical eyes and basira refers to spiritual eyes, one of the companions Khalid ibn Madan said, Every slave has two eyes in his face by which he sees this world and two eyes in his heart by which he sees the next world. So if Allah desires good for His slave, He opens the two eyes of his heart and he sees what is promised him in the unseen, and they (those eyes) are from the unseen. (Tabari- graded hasan’)

Allah says, “…I call to Allah with spiritual insight (basira), I and those who follow me…” (12:108)

Hadith

The Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam said, “He for whom Allah desires immense good, He grants him (yafaqqihhu/yufqihhu fil din) superlative understanding in the Religion. I only distribute (ie Quran and Sunnah) and it is Allah who gives (ie understanding and wisdom from Him).” (Bukhari and Muslim)

The Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam said, “Beware of inner vision (firasa) of the believer for he sees with the light of Allah.” (Tirmidhi-Sahih authenticated by al Haytami)

The Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam said, “Whoever sees me in a dream has truly seen me, for Shaytaan cannot take on my form, and the believer’s dream vision (ru’ya) is one part of 46 of Prophecy. (Bukhar and Muslim)

The Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam said, ‘When the Hour draws near, almost no dream vision of the believer will be false. The believer’s dream vision is one part of 46 of Prophecy and Prophecy never lies.” (Bukhari)

From the Salafus saleh

Malik said, “Wisdom and knowledge are a light by which Allah guides whomever He pleases, it does not consist in knowing many things.”
Malik said, “Knowledge does not consist in narrating much, knowledge is but a light which Allah places in the heart.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir 3:555)

The great Tabi’i Thabit al Bunani used to pray, “Oh Allah! If You would give anyone the honor of making salat in his gave then give me that honor.” Later on the day of his death, Jubair (another Tabi’i) said, “I swear by Allah Who created me, I put Thabit al Bunani in his grave that day when we buried him and with me was a person named Humaid at Taweel, and when we had finished putting the stones on the grave one of them fell down and I saw Thabit making salat in his grave.” (Recorded by Ibn Abi Shayba (8:317), Bayhaqi (Shu’ab 3;155 #3189) Imam Ahmad in Kitab Zudh – Dhahabi Siyar (5:222)(It is graded sahih)

(Note: This is an interesting narration. for a number of reason. 1) The Tabieen is able to see the dead. 2) The dead is making salat.)

And I want to end it with, something from Ibn Rajab al Hanbali

Wasibah Ibn Mabab said, I came to the Messenger of Allah and he said, You come to ask about birr?’ I said, “Yes.” He sallahu alayhi wa salam said, “Ask your heart for a judgment.” (Hasan hadith Musand Ahmad)

In a commentary of this hadith comments on Ilham, “As for referring back to ambiguous matters back to (see whether they cause) impression on the heart, prophetic texts (hadith) and fatwas of the Companions show that, so how would Imam Ahmad reject it after that?” (The Compendium of Knowledge and Wisdom – Ibn Rajab al Hanbali)

Someone said, “My point was that you don’t have to insert the word ‘literal’ when you mean literal if the meaning is apparent. There is no difference between a hand and a literal hand because it depends on the apparent meaning or context. Likewise, you don’t have to explain a metaphorical hand if the metaphor is apparent (like you used).”So Allah doesn’t say ‘literal hand’ or ‘metaphorical hand’ but that doesn’t matter. The question is what is the apparent meaning when Allah said it?

My Response:

If we knew what was apparent, it wouldn’t be among the ambiguous verses. It is because we don’t know, that we have to remain silent concerning its meaning.

Let’s take for example:

“O Prophet! say to those who are captives in your hands:” (8:70)

Are hands to be taken literal or metaphorically? What is apparent is that it refers to the metaphorical meaning, ie power, control, possession etc, but it does NOT refer to the literal meaning, ie the limb, the body part, part etc. because we know certain things about the Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam. One he is a man, a human being. So we know the true nature and reality of what is a man. It is impossible that the captives would be in the literal hands of the Prophet, sallahu alayhi wa salam.

You take that same verse and change the words to this,

“O Jibriel! say to those who are captives in your hands:”

Are hands to be taken literal or metaphorically? If one is honest, we don’t know, why because, we don’t know the true nature and reality of an angel. It could be literal or metaphorically. So what is apparent isn’t clear, this would be ambiguous. If we liken angels to men, what is apparent is that we would say it is metaphorical.

So with Allah, we cannot really determine what is apparent when dealing with those verses and hadith, because we don’t know the true nature and reality of Allah.

This why tafwid is the safest position with regard to Allah, because Allah says, Say: The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are….and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge. (7:33)

And Allah knows best.

Ibn Rajab al Hanbali on the creed of Imam Ahmad and the Salaf

Ibn Rajab al Hanbali said, “The correct position in all of this is the position of the Righteous Salaf in their leaving the verses and hadiths concerning the Attributes as they came without explanation, asking how or likening them to creation. There is nothing at all contravening this position that is authentically reported from them, especially Imam Ahmad. Neither is anything reported from them proving that they probed into their meanings or propounded analogies and similitudes for them. This, even though there some who lived close to the time of Ahmad who did do some of this, following the way of Maqqatil, but they are not to be followed in this. Those who should be followed are the Imam of Islam such as ibn al Mubarak, Malik, Thawri, Awza’I, Shafi, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubaid and their likes.” (Fadhl ‘Ilm al-Salaf ‘ala ‘Ilm al-Khalaf )

My Thoughts:

It is interesting to note in this statement of Ibn Rajab explaining the creed of the Salaf and in particular the creed of Imam Ahmad, he does not mention that their position concerning the unclear verses (ayat) and hadiths (narrations of the Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam) related to Allah’s Attributes, that they are to be taken upon the literal meaning, but rather they would simply narrate them as they received them, as in the words of the Salaf themselves, “Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?”

The Creed of Imam Ahmad

Imam Ahmad (d. 241 AH) said, “Allah is not to be described other than in the terms with which He has described Himself, or in which the Messenger of Allah – sallahu alayhi wa salam- has described Him. We do not exceed the Quran and hadtih.” (IbnTaymiyyah Hamawiyya – pg 271-272)(IbnTaymiyya-majmu fatawa – 5:26)

Imam Ahmad also said, “We believe and confirm the hadiths of the Attributes without how and without meaning (wa la kayf wa la ma’na.) (Narrated from Hanbal ibn Ishaq through al Khallal by Ibn Qudamah in Dhamm al Tawil.)


The Creed of Those Who came before Imam Ahmad

Imam Shafi (d. 204 AH) was asked about the Divine Attributes. He said, “It is forbidden for the minds to represent Allah. It is forbidden for the imagination to conceive limits for Him. It is forbidden for speculation to presume anything about Him. It is forbidden for souls to think about His Essence. It is forbidden for consciences to deepen reflection about Him. It is forbidden for thoughts to grasp other than what He described Himself with, as conveyed by His Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam. (Narrated from al Rabi ibnSulayman by IbnQudamah in Dhamm a Tawil g 20-21)

Nothing about the literal meaning…

Imam Shafi also said, “I believe in what comes from Allah in the meaning meant by the Messenger of Allah, sallahu alayhi wa salam.” (Ibn Qudamah in Lam’at al Itiqad)

Nothing about the literal meaning…


Al-Walid ibn Muslim
(d. 194H) said, “I asked Malik, al-Awza’i, Laytb ibn Sa’d and Sufyan al-Thawri, may Allah have mercy upon them, concerning the reports related about the Attributes, so they all said, ‘Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?” (Reported by al-Aajurri in Ash-Sha’ri’ah, p. 314, al-Bayhaqi in Al-Asma was-Sifat, p. 453 and also al-I’tiqad, p. 118 and the chain of narration is hasan.)

Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning. .

Al-Awza’i (d.157H) said, “I asked az-Zuhri and Makhul about the ayat pertaining to the Sifat (Attributes of Allah), so they said, ‘Leave them as they are.” (Reported by al-Laalikaa’ee in SharhUsulul-I’tiqad 3/430 and IbnQudamah al-Maqdisi in Dhammut-Ta‘wil, p. 18 and the chain of narration is hasan.)

Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning.

There seems to be a pattern….

Imam Malik on Istiwa

A man asked Imam Malik (d. 179): “How did Allah make istiwa’ on the throne?” Imam Malik inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said: “Istiwa’ is not unknown (ghayru majhul), the modality of it is inconceivable in the mind (al-kayfu minhu ghayru ma`qul); but belief in it is obligatory, and inquiring about it is a heretical innovation. You are an innovator.” And he gave orders for him to be taken out.

My Thoughts:

My methodologically challenged brothers have used this quote from Imam Malik to justify taking the unclear verses related to Allah upon it’s literal meaning (dhahir).  As an Ashari, we are concerned about following the Salafus Saleh, and we regard Imam Malik’s statement and followable, however we don’t understand it in the same way that the Salafis  understand Imam Malik’s statement.

 Imam Malik did not say istiwa is to be taken upon the literal meaning. Nowhere in any of the quotes that I read from Imam Malik, did he say to take istiwa upon its literal meaning.

He merely said, “Istiwa is not unknown.” The way the Asharis understand this is that, Istiwa is not unknown, for it is in the Quran. For example, If you would have said to Imam Malik, “Allahu Qadim”, Imam Malik would have said,” Qadim is unknown,” meaning this wording is not known in the Quran or hadiths. Thus Imam Malik was making tafwid.

That is how we understand that statement from Imam Malik.

“Istiwaa is not unknown” and “Istiwaa is known” are not the same, while the Salafis read it as the same.

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