Archive for the ‘Ashari’ Category

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.


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The Ash’ari and the Maturidi Schools

By Nuh Keller

The tenets of faith of Ahl Al Sunna orthodoxy are given here in the same order as they appear in traditional Ash’ari references such as the Matn al-Sanusiyya and others.  For more than a thousand years, such works have been learned at an early age by virtually all Maliki and Shafi’I scholars, by many Hanafis, particularly in the Near East, and by some Hanbalis – all of whom were taught that attainment of this knowledge was personally obligatory upon every Muslim, and who knew it simply as Islam, not Ash’arism.

The Maturidis mostly followed the Hanafi school of law and predominated in the lands beyond the Oxus in central Asia.  Their tenets have not been given a separate treatment because according to Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki, they do not differ from the Ash’aris except on six questions, which excluding merely verbal differences are;

(1)    Ash’aris believe that if God willed He could in principle punish the obedient and reward the disobedient, since He is free do anything, however He has promised though revelation to reward the obedient and punish the disobedient; while the Maturidis believe that he must in principles reward the obedient and punish the disobedient, and that His doing the opposite is absurd;

(2)    Ash’aris believe that man is responsible to believe in God because of revelation, not merely because he is endowed with human reason, and that he has no responsibility prior to revelation, while Maturidis believe that man is responsible to believe in God even before revelation, by the mere fact of having reason;

(3)    Ash’aris believe that divine attributes of agency such as creation, giviging life, giving death, resurrection the dead and so forth, are temporal; while the Maturidis believe they all are manifestations of a single beginnglessly eternal attribute termed “existentiation” (takwin);

(4)    Ash’aris believe that God’s own beginninglessly eternal speech may be heard, while the Maturidis believe it may not;

(5)    Most Ash’aris believe that in principle God may impose moral obligations that man cannot endure, while Maturidies believe this impossible; though both agree that in practice He never does;

(6)    Ash’aris hold two views about the possibility of prophets committing lesser sins that are not sordid: the first being that they are possiblie for them to absentmindedly commit, while the second it that they are not.  The Maturidis say this is impossible, and that they are divinely protected from both enormities and lesser sins, a position that Taj al-Subki concurs with (Tabaqat al Shafi’iyya al kubra, 3.386-388)

Whoever reflects on these questions can see they are relatively speculative and minor, and they mainly serve to underscore the broader agreement of the two schools on more central issues.  This is why the Imams of Ahl al-Sunna consider both schools together to represent Sunni orthodoxy.  As religious historian R.M. Speight of the Harvard Theological Seminary has noted: “as Sunni theology matured after the tenth century, scholars freely appropriated elements of thought from Maturidi and Ash’ari alike.  No clear-cut lines of distinction between the Ash’ariyya and the Maturidiyya can be discerned in the later history of Muslim thought” (The Encyclopedia of Religion, 9.286)

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Imam Nawawi was an Ashari

Imam Nawawi was an Ashari

Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali said, “Imaam an-Nawawi RH, who was an Ash`ari, learned ahaadith and creed from the nephew of Imaam Muwaffaq ud-Din RH. They had different methodologies, but the foundations were the same and there is no record of anyone rebuking the other.”

A Brother Replied: “Indeed, but Nawawi’s Ash’arism, whatever may be true of it, isn’t the same of Ibn ‘Asakir who was rebuked by an Hanbali, and who rebuked Hanabilah by naming them Hashwiyyah! Al-Nawawi was primarily an scholar on Fiqh and Hadith, and in these he excelled. There’s therefore no reason that they encountered eachother on I’tiqad, thus no reason that they rebuked one another.. (but if you will, and others, I present scholars who rebuked one another and were earlier than these? Or is Imam al-Nawawi your sole argument?)”

Abu Ja`far al-Hanbali replied, “The Ash`ari methodology of Imaam an-Nawawi RH was to negate direction from Allah, interpreting the Attributes in certain instances to mean Power, Favour and other things (Sharh Sahih Muslim. V. 5, pp. 24-26; ), that Allah has no bodily or corporeal form (V. 17, pp. 177-178), that Allah did not have literal hands (V. 17, pp. 127-133) and that Allah does not literally come down from the sky. As far as has been researched, this is the same creedal foundation of Imaams Ibn `Asaakir, as well as Imaams Ibn Hajar, Ibn Daqiq al-`Eid, Jalaal ud-Din as-Suyuti and others. Please remember that most of the later scholars mentioned were either Azharites or had connections to their scholars. Your point that Imaam an-Nawawi RH was not a specialist in creed solicits a few points,

a. It should be remembered that Imaam an-Nawawi RH was touted as Shaikh ul-Islam in his time, a title that has a heavy meaning in the Shari`a. When someone is given this title, it signifies that they have mastered all the 18 sciences of Shari`a and have emerged unscathed. As we know of no one extent in his time that challenged his status, we have to assume its’ continuity as well as its’ acceptance. Thus, he would have had to have been a master of all 18, one of them being creed (Please keep in mind that these same titles were applied to Imaams an-Nawawi, Ibn Daqiq al-`Eid and other high ranking Ash`aris, so the same argument would apply).

b. When he was studying creed from Imaam Shams ud-Din al-Hanbali, indeed creed does enter into it, as the text they studied was Sahih Muslim. As they studied the whole text together, the passages on the attributes would have come up and been discussed. And when being taught by a haafiz as well as a muhaddith, they give the hadith, but also elucidate the meaning.

If there was any wrong in the notes that Shaikh ul-Islam wrote or the scholars used, the Hanbali Imaam would have made sure to correct it. Add to this the other hadith teachers he had who also looked over his notes and graded his understanding before conferring ijaaza. But there was no dispute as the Ash`ari methodology in creed is accepted without problem.

c. The Umawi environment was an Ash`ari one and this would have been evident from the curriculum.

d. The Orthodox, then and now, do not allow people to begin memorisation as well as Asbaab ul-Wurud and other hadith classes until the student has memorised the Qur’an as well as a book or books of creed. Again, being a mostly Ash`ari institution (if not all) the issue of the Attributes would have come up and already been memorised and used.

e. Imaam an-Nawawi was not killed as an apostate for contravening the consensus that the Ash`aris are deviant, nor was he persecuted as a deviant for doing the same.

f. Imaam an-Nawawi’s RH case was not the only one. Imaam Abu Ishaaq ash-Shaatibi RH expressed his Ash`ari creed in front of Imaam `Abdur-Rahmaan al-Battah (the Hanbali) in Spain and wasn’t executed as a kaafir or persecuted as a deviant for violating consensus on the astrayness of the Ash`aris.

Imaam Ibn Hajar RH expressed his Ash`ari creed in front of Imaam Muhammad as-Sa`di (the Hanbali) in Egypt at al-Azhar and was not killed as a kaafir or persecuted as a deviant for his expressing Ash`ari foundations in front of a Hanbali.

But how could he when the whole institution was an Ash`ari one? Shaikh ul-Islam Mansur al-Bahuti, the great Egyptian Azhar Hanbali, did not unsheathe his sword, storm into the al-Azhar staff and lay hands upon every Ash`ari that was violating the consensus on that they were deviant and/or kuffar from the centuries before, nor did he persecute any of his Hanbali-Ash`ari students. One of the more recent Shaikh ul-Azhars, Imaam `Abdul-Latif as-Subki, the great Hanbali Azharite, did not kill all in the faculty and dormitories who were studying the Ash`ari creed as they had violated the consensus of centuries before and stubbornly clung to the Ash`ari creed in the most prestigious university in the Muslim world.

g. Imaam `Abdur-Rahmaan al-Battah RH did not execute the Maalikis in Morocco at the al-Qarawain University for stubbornly and blatantly contravening consensus by teaching Ash`ari creed in the classrooms as well as from textbooks.”

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In the Name of Allah the Compassionate the Most Merciful.

Imam al-Habib Abdallah bin ‘Alawi al-Haddad,(r), said,

If you look with a sound understanding into the those passages relating to the Faith (Aqidah) in the Book and Sunnah and the saying of the virtuous predecessors(Salafus Saleh), whether they be companions or folllowers, you will know for certain that the truth is with the party called the Ashari, named after Shaykh Abu’l Hasan Al Ashari, may Allah have Mercy on him, who systematized the foundations of the creed of the people of truth (Ahlul Haqq), and recorded its earlier version, these being the belief which the Companions and the best among the Followers agreed upon. (the Book of Assistance)

  My Thoughts:  

Imam Al Haddad says it requires sound understanding to see how the Ashari Aqidah has not deviated from transmitted sources (ie the Quran, Sunnah and the way of the Salafus Saleh.)  Sound understanding requires sound reasoning and looking beyond the superficial aspects of the school which make it appear otherwise, such as many of the Ashari text in Aqidah not containing a lot of quotes from the Quran and Sunnah, most of the Ashari scholars being referenced as scholastic theologians (mutaklimeen), Ashari scholars speaking with the language of the philosopher etc.  These are some of the things that I heard which makes one believe that the Ashari School is not based on transmitted sources.

The key to understanding the Ashari school is realizing that it is composed of two parts usul deen and ilm kalam.  Imam Uthman Dan Fodio, may Allah be merciful to him said in his Fat’hu ‘l- Basaa’ir regarding the division of the sciences, “Realize that the science of divine oneness (fann’t-tawheed) is divided into two divisions:

[1] the foundations of the religion (usuul’d-deen); and

[2] the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam).

Usul ‘d-deen is apart of the individual obligations (furuud’l-`ayaan) while the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam) is apart of the collective obligations (furuud’l-kifaaya). . .Strictly speaking, the second division is not called usul ‘d-deen. It is named the science of scholastic theology (`ilm’l-kalaam). When the first division (usul ‘d-deen) is united with the establishment of rational proofs (nasbu’l-adaalat’l-`aqliyyat) along with the elucidating the variants of the teachings of the people of innovation (aqwaal ahli’l-bid`a) and the philosophers – then that is also scholastic theology.  If not, then the science of the foundations of the religion (usul ‘d-deen), its divine, its prophetic and its after-life are well established in the Mighty Qur’an.”

Imam Nawawi said something similar in his Majmo with a different wording,

Concerning Usul Deen: Al Nawawi said, “As for the basic obligation of Islam, and what relates to tenets of faith, it is adequate for one to believe in everything brought by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and to credit it with absolute conviction free of any doubt.”

Concerning Ilm Kalam (Discursive Proofs): Al Nawawi said,  “Whoever does this is not obliged to learn the evidences of the scholastic theologians. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not require of anyone anything but what we have just mentioned, nor did the first four caliphs, the other prophetic Companions, nor others of the early Muslim community who came after them.”

Let’s now take a look at usul deen and ilm kalam from a historical perspective.  Usul deen is the Athari Aqidah, which was best exposited in the famous text Aqidah Tahawi.  This book is universally accepted as the text representing the Aqidah of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah, Asharis, Maturidi, real Hanbalis and even the neo-Salafis who claim to be Hanbalis.  Thus the base aqidah of the Ashari and Maturidi is the Athari Aqidah.  This is also why the Athari Aqidah is never mentioned separately when the scholars of Ahlus Sunnah would say, Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah is the Ashari and Maturidi, and this is because the athari aqidah is part of it. 

 We now need to know how ilm kalam fits into the picture.  Due to the rise the Mutazilah and other deviant groups, the scholars of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah felt it was necessary to address deviants using their language and reasoning, thus making it necessary systematize, rationalize the athari aqidah according to what they were dealing with at that particular time, this gave birth the Ashari and Maturidi schools of Aqidah.  So the Ashari and Maturidi schools of Aqidah are defensive schools of Aqidah, designed to address issues that were not dealt with during the time of the Salafus Saleh. Those who are ignorant of the Ashari Aqidah being a defensive school, think and believe that the Ashari Aqidah has changed over the years. The Aqidah didn’t change, Ahlus Sunnah encountered new deviants and new issue thus re-systemized and re-rationalized the particular points of Aqidah to address the new issue, so the change is only superficial.   

Many people feel that the Ashari and Maturidi deviated way of the Salafus Saleh by simply engaging in Ilm Kalam.  This feeling seems justified from the surface, because many statements from the Salafus Saleh indicate that engaging in kalam is prohibited.  However when one takes a second look and evaluate all the statements of the Salafus Saleh, it is clear that their only fear of utilizing kalam was saying things about Allah which they had no knowledge of, not that it wasn’t a good way to refute deviant. Imam Shafi said, “If I wished, I could produce a book against each one of those who deviated, but dialectic theology (kalam) is none of my business, and I would not like to be attributed any part of it.”  In this one statement we learn several things.  

1.  Imam Shafi was knowledgeable of Ilm Kalam, because he could produce a book refuting them but did not want to engage in Ilm Kalam.

2.  The way to refute deviants is to use their language, but this requires knowing their language and engaging in the things they do.

3.  It could also be understood that Imam Shafi did not feel it was necessary at the time to engage in this methodology of refuting deviants, and was merely telling those who would come after them that this is the means by which to refute them if need be.

So based on Imam Shafi statement it appears that he never completely closed the door on kalam. Shaykh Abdul Wakil Durubi said, “What Imam Shafi meant (by the prohitibition of engaging in kalam) was the the hertical scholoastic theology that proliferated in his time and put rationalistic theories ahead of the Quran and Sunna, not the science of theology (ilm tawhid) by which Ashari and Maturidi scholars have clarified and detailed the tenets of Sunni Islam which is an important part of the Islamic sciences.” 

Based on this what Imam Shafi prohibited is what the Ashris would consider blameworthy kalam placing rational above transmitted sources, which is what the Mutazila did and because this was the main usage of kalam during that time he did not want to be associated with kalam.

 Ibn Hamdan from his Al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti: The blameworthy [type of] `ilm al-kalam is speaking about basic principles of belief [usul al-din] using pure reason or what contradicts a plain, authentic transmissions [from Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)]. If it is spoken about using just transmissions or transmissions and reason that conforms to them – this the basic principles of belief [usul al-din] and the way of Ahl al-Sunna. (Al-Adab al-Shar`iya, 2:276) 

There were some Ashari scholars who deviated in this manner and put rational above transmitted sources.  Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki spoke on this particular issue about some of the scholars placing rational above the Quran and Sunnah. Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki (d. 771/1370) who was himself steeped in kalam theology wrote, “Upon reflection – and no one can tell you like someone who truly knows – I have not found anything more harmful to those of our times or more ruinous to their faith than reading books of kalam written by latter-day scholars after Nasir al-Din al-Tusi and others. If they confined themselves instead to the works of the Qadi Abu Bakr al-Baqillani, the great Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini, the Imam of the Two Sanctuaries Abu al-Ma’ali al-Juwayni, and others of those times, they would have nothing but benefit. But truly I believe that whoever ignores the Qur’an and sunna [defended by these scholars] and instead occupies himself with the debates of Ibn Sina and those of his path – leaving the words of the Muslims: “Abu Bakr and ‘Umar (Allah Most High be well pleased with them) said,” “Shafi’i said,” “Abu Hanifa said,” “Ash’ari said,” “Qadi Abu Bakr said”; and instead saying: “The Sovereign Sage (al-Shaykh al-Ra’is) said” meaning Ibn Sina, or “The Great Master (al-Khawaja) Nasir said,” and so on – that whoever does so should be whipped and paraded through the marketplaces with a crier proclaiming: “This is the punishment of whoever leaves the Qur’an and sunna and busies himself with the words of heretics”” (Mu’id al-ni’am, 79­80).

With that being said Kalam is divided into two parts, praiseworthy and blameworthy.  Praiseworthy kalam does not contradict the transmitted sources. In fact praiseworthy kalam was used to rationalize and systematize the tenets of faith in way that would be personally convincing to common people.  It was also used to refute deviant groups.  Blameworthy kalam is when rational thoughts contradicts transmitted sources.  Both Imam Al Haddad and Imam Uthman Dan Fodio they wrote an Ashari Aqidah text specifically based on transmitted sources.  These text are not necessary in or themselves to establish that the Ashari Aqidah is based on the Quran and Sunnah, sinse Aqidah Tahawi is still taught and used across the Muslim world, but they do indicate that the Ashari Aqida has not changed.

The most important source of me understanding the Ashari Aqidah in light of the Quran and Sunnah has been Shaykh GF Haddad.  And I highly recommend those who are interested in learning the Ashari Aqidah in light of the Quran and Sunnah to delve deeply into what he has written.  May Allah give his the highest place in Jannah for his works.   And Allah knows best.

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