Al-Buti’s Recapitulation part1 of 2

Al-Buti’s Recapitulation part1 of 2


Part 1/2 Al-Buti’s Recapitulation of the Two Methods:The Non-Specific ta’wil of the Salaf, the Specific ta’wil of the Khalaf, and the impermissibility of Imposing One Over the Other In his landmark study of the “Salafi” innovation entitled al-Salafiyya marhalatun zamaniyyatun mubarakatun la madhhabun islami (The Salafiyya is a blessed historical period, not a school of law in Islam).

Dr. Muhammad Sa`id Ramadan al-Buti recapitulates the essential similarity of the respective methods of the Salaf and Khalaf, both centered, as we have established, in the priority of Allah’s transcendence. He shows that both the Salaf and the Khalaf applied figurative interpretation, but the Salaf applied an implicit, non-specific form of figurative interpretation which he calls ta’wil ijmali, while the Khalaf applied an explicit, specific form which he calls ta’wil tafsili:We have already shown that the consensus in place regarding these texts is the refraining from applying to them any meaning which establishes a sameness or likeness between Allah and His creatures, and the refraining from divesting their established lexical tenor.

The obligatory way to proceed is either to explain these words according to their external meanings which conform with Allah’s transcendence above any like or partner, and this includes not explaining them as bodily appendages and other corporeal imagery. Therefore it will be said, for example: He has established Himself over the Throne as He has said, with an establishment which befits His majesty and oneness; and He has a hand as He has said, which befits His divinity and majesty; etc.

Or they can be explained figuratively according to the correct rules of language and in conformity with the customs of speech in their historical context. For example: the establishment is the conquering (istila’) and dominion (tasallut), Allah’s hand is His strength in His saying: “Allah’s hand is over their hand” (48:10) and His generosity in His saying: “Nay, both His hands are spread wide, and He bestows as He wills” (5:64).[Ibn al-Jawzi interpreted the former verse as Allah's favor (ni`ma) and power (qudra), and the latter, according to Hasan al-Basri, as His kindness and goodness.](1)

Now, to proceed to any one of these two types of commentary is not devoid of interpretation (ta’wil) in either case. However, the first type of commentary is a non-specific interpretation, while the second is a specific interpretation.

In the case of the first type of commentary, it is plain to see that the lexical meaning of the hand, face, and eye, is not other than the familiar bodily organs and appendages used by all creatures. Such a meaning is negated for Allah’s Essence in any case and in both types of commentary. This is the non-specific interpretation. This is what they express when they say: “He has a hand which befites His majesty as He has said, and eyes which befit His majesty, as He has said.”

But is it obligatory to stop at this non-specific point of interpretation, as most of the Salaf have tended to do, or is it allowed to go beyond non-specific interpretation and treat aspects of the metaphors, figurative meanings, and other usages which are found in abundance in Allah’s book and the hadith of His Prophet?

The way that we advocate and have made known does not demand from the Muslim researcher a preference for either one of these two methods. What is important is that you not attribute to Allah a bodily appendage in the process of your understanding of the word “hand” which He has attributed to Himself, and that you not divest of its meaning the lexical evidence established by Allah’s own speech in your desire to assert His transcendence and steer clear of the perils of worshiping another together with Him.

That is the question in which those who stubbornly claim for themselves the name of “salafi” differ with us, substituting their purported affiliation with the pious Salaf, to the Method (manhaj) upon whose perfection in every single doctrinal principle and juridical method there is complete and general agreement. The bases of their claim against us are, first, that the Salaf of this Community, who are the best of Muslims, showed no tendency for specific interpretation whatsoever, nor added anything beyond what Allah established for Himself in those texts, together with His transcendence above all that does not befit His lordship and divinity and loftiness above any kind of partner or rival. And the second of their proofs against us is that any inroad one makes into the words whose lexical sense Allah has linked to Himself, any probing of their import as figures, or metaphors, or similitudes, is necessarily, in one way or another, a form of divestiture (ta`til)!

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