ON THE ANTHROPOMORPHISM OF "SALAFIS"

THE METHOD OF AHL AL-SUNNA TOUCHING ON THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES

It should, by now, be sufficiently clear in what way Ibn Taymiyya deviated from the doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a. Much less can he and those who follow his ideas be properly described as Salafi. This section highlights the method of the true Salaf with regard to interpreting ambiguous verses of the Qur'an, and how the Khalaf or scholars of later generations, applied that method to the needs of their times, expanding its details but retaining its priorities, according to the paramount belief that there is nothing like Allah whatsover. Present-day "Salafis" attack the Khalaf and pretend that we should keep to the way of the Salaf, although "Salafis" are closer in spirit to those whom the Salaf and Khalaf fought, namely, the anthropomorphists. As said earlier, common to all Ahl al-Bid`a groups is their arbitrary reading of texts which admit of some uncertainty with regard to their interpretation. There are, in fact, two types of verses in the Qur'an. On the one hand, we find verses called muhkamat (conveying firm and unequivocal meaning). On the other, we find those called mutashabihat. It is in the interpretation of the latter that Ahl al-Bid`a come to the fore. The Mutashabihat (Ambiguities) In Qur'an and Hadith

Let us begin with the definition of the word mutashabih: a verse or a hadith is called mutashabih if:

  1. it has more than one meaning in Arabic and
  2. its meaning or interpretation is not explicit.

The definition of muhkam is a verse that has one explicit meaning. An example of the mutashabih is the verse:

al-rahmanu `ala al-`arsh istawa. (20:5) which is sometimes translated as "The Merciful is established on the Throne," while the word istawa has over fifteen meanings in Arabic among which are:

  1. to settle (istaqarra), as in verse 11:44: "And the ship came to rest (istawat) upon al-Judi"; the anthropomorphists apply this to verse 20:5, as stated by Ibn Battal and Abu Bakr Ibn al-`Arabi.
  2. to ascend or rise (irtafa`a); al-Baghawi says that it is the meaning of 20:5 according to Ibn `Abbas and most of the commentators of Qur'an.
  3. to rise above or tower above (`ala); this is the meaning given by Mujahid for 20:5 in Sahih al-Bukhari, and Ibn Battal declares it to be "the true position and the saying of Ahl al-Sunna";
  4. to become straight, as in verse 48:29: "And it stands firm (istawa) upon its stalk";
  5. to attain maturity, as in verse 28:14: "And when he reached his full strength and was ripe (istawa)";
  6. to subdue (qahara), conquer (istawla), and prevail or overcome (ghalaba), as in the poet's saying concerning Bishr ibn Marwan's conquest of Iraq: istawa bishrun `ala al-`iraq and that boasting: idha ma `alawna wa istawayna `alayhim ja`alnahum mar`a li nisrin wa ta'irin or: "When we tower over them and overcome them, we shall make them a pasture for eagles and other birds." Ibn Battal and Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi attribute the interpretation of 20:5 as istawla chiefly to the Mu`tazila;
  7. to mount (sa`ida), as in verse 23:28: "And when you are on board (istawayta) the ship" and 43:13: "That they may mount (li yastawu) upon their backs," and with regard to 20:5 this is worse than istaqarra;
  8. to attain the end-point of an act such as growth, as in verse 28:14 already cited, or such as creation (intiha' khalqihi ilayh), as in verse 41:11: "Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke." This is the interpretation of Ibn Hazm who explains istiwa' as "an act pertaining to the Throne, and that is the termination of His creation at the Throne, for there is nothing beyond it." Etc.

"To rise," "ascend," and "rise above" must be understood in the sense of rank and lordship, not in the sense of physical elevation or displacement. Among the least injurious and most befitting meanings of verse 20:5 -- and Allah knows best -- is also "subdue" (qahara) and "conquer" (istawla). By this we understand that Allah praises Himself as the Irresistible (al-qahhar) in declaring that even the greatest of all creations, the Throne, lies subject to Him. This in nowise suggests, as one objection goes, that subduing and conquering suppose prior opposition in the face of the Creator, no more than do the attributes of Irresistible (qahhar) or Omnipotent (qahir) presuppose any resistance or power on anyone's part. This is confirmed by the verses: "He is the Omnipotent (qahir) over His slaves" (6:18, 6:61) and "Allah prevails (ghalib) in His purpose" (12:21) To those who object to istawla on the grounds that it supposes prior opposition, Ibn Hajar remarked that that assumption is discarded by clinging to the verse: "Allah was ever Knower, Wise" (4:17), which the commentators, he says, have explained to mean "He is ever Knower and Wise." Yet again, we never tire of saying "There is nothing like Him whatsoever" (42:11) and that the best explanation is the recitation of the verse as it was revealed and its leaving it unexplained. This was the way of Malik, al-Shafi`i, al-Awza`i, Ahmad, and the rest of the Salaf with regard to this verse. However, in the face of the false suggestions of those who, between the time of the Salaf and ours, have represented the Creator of heaven and earth as a limited body sitting in a confined space, it has been and still is an obligation of Ahl al-Sunna to clarify ambiguities some used to spread falsehood. And this has been the position of Ahl al-Sunna since Bukhari, al-Khattabi, Ibn Battal, and Ibn al-Jawzi, through the time of Nawawi, Subki, and Ibn Hajar, as the present book abundantly makes clear.

Reproduced with permission from Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani's _The Repudiation of "Salafi" Innovations_ (Kazi, 1996) p. 104-107.

Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions