Ibn Taymiyya's Literal Representation of Allah's "Descent"
We understand something of the contemporary scholar's impression of Ibn Taymiyya from the Tuhfat al-nuzzar or "Travels" of Ibn Battuta, who relates:
"When I came to Damascus there was a man called Ibn Taymiyya speaking about religious science, but there was something strange in his mind One day he was giving the Jum`a sermon and he said, ''Our Lord descends to the nearest heaven thus," then he went down two steps on the minbar and he said "like my descending" (kanuzuli hadha)."
This well-known incident is confirmed both internally through Ibn Taymiyya's own writings, and externally as related in Ibn Hajar's Durar:(Najm al-Din Sulayman ibn `Abd al-Qawi) al-Tufi (al-Hanbali) said:
"They ascertained that he had blurted out certain words concerning doctrine which came out of his mouth in the context of his sermons and legal decisions, and they mentioned that he had cited the hadith of Allah's descent, then climbed down two steps from the minbar and said: "Just like this descent of mine" and he was categorized as an anthropomorphist."1
Ibn Taymiyya's conception of Allah's bodily descent is also stated in his own writings, as shown from the following excerpt from his al-Ta'sis fi al-radd `ala asas al-taqdis, written as a refutation of Imam al-Razi who was a fierce enemy of the Karramiyya and other anthropomorphists: The Creator, Glorified and Exalted is He, is above the world and His being above is literal, not in the sense of dignity or rank. It may be said of the precedence of a certain object over another that it is with respect to dignity or rank, or that it is with respect to location. For example, respectively: the precedence of the learned over the ignorant and the precedence of the imam over the one praying behind him. Allah's precedence over the world is not like that, rather, it is a literal precedence (i.e. in time). Similarly the elevation above the world could be said to be with respect to dignity or rank, as for example when it said that the learned is above the ignorant. But Allah's elevation over the world is not like that, rather He is elevated over it literally (i.e. in space). And this is the known elevation and the known precedence2 It should be clear that the above in no way represents the position of Imam Ahmad or his school. As Ibn al-Jawzi reported in his Daf` shubah al-tashbih: `Ali ibn Muhammad ibn `Umar al-Dabbas related to us that Rizq Allah ibn `Abd al-Wahhab al-Tamimi said: "Ahmad ibn Hanbal did not attribute a direction to the Creator." 3
1 Ibn Hajar, al-Durar 1:153.
2 Ibn Taymiyya, al-Ta'sis al-radd `ala asas al-taqdis 1:111.
3 Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` shubah al-tashbih p. 135.
Reproduced with permission from Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani's _The Repudiation of "Salafi" Innovations_ (Kazi, 1996) p. 96-97.Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions