al-Khatib al-Baghdadi

‘`Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Ahmad al-Kattani said: “Al-Khatib followed the [doctrinal] school of Abu al-Hasan al-As`h‘ari – Allah have mercy on him.” Al-Dhahabi reports this and comments: “This is true. For al-Khatib explicitly stated, concerning the reports on the Divine Attributes, that they are passed on exactly as they were received, without interpretation.” Ibn al-Subki comments: “This is al-Ash`‘ari’s position, yes. But al-Dhahabi is the victim of his lack of knowledge of Shaykh Abu al-Hasan’’s position just as others were also victims: for al-Ash‘`ari also has another position allowing for figurative interpretation (al-ta’wîl).” Al-Dhahabi does go on to relate al-Khatib’’s precise disowning of both nullification (ta‘tîl) and anthropomorphism (tajsîm) of the Divine Attributes:

Abu Bakr al-Khatib said: “As for what pertains to the divine Attributes, whatever is narrated in the books of sound reports concerning them, the position of the Salaf consists in their affirmation and letting them pass according to their external wordings while negating from them modality (kayfiyya) and likeness to things created (tashbîh). <A certain people have contradicted the Attributes and nullified what Allah (swt)  had affirmed; while another people have declared them real then went beyond this to some kind of likening to creation and ascription of modality. The true objective is none other than to tread a middle path between the two matters. The Religion of Allah (swt) lies between the extremist and the laxist.> The principle to be followed in this matter is that the discourse on the Attributes is a branch of the discourse on the Essence. The path to follow in the former is the same extreme caution as in the latter. When it is understood that the affirmation of the Lord of the Worlds [in His Essence] is only an affirmation of existence and not of modality, it will be similarly understood that the affirmation of His Attributes is only an affirmation of their existence, not an affirmation of definition (tahdîd) nor an ascription of modality. So when we say: Allah (swt) has a Hand, hearing, and sight, they are none other than Attributes Allah (swt) has affirmed for Himself. We should not say that the meaning of ‘hand’ is power (al-qudra) nor that the meaning of ‘hearing’ and ‘sight’ is knowledge (‘`ilm), nor should we say that they are organs (lâ naqûlu innahâ jawârih)! Nor should we liken them to hands, hearings, and sights that are organs and implements of acts. We should say: All that is obligatory is [1] to affirm them because they are stated according to divine prescription (tawqîf), and [2] to negate from them any likeness to created things according to His saying ( There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him) (42:11) ( and there is none like Him) (112:4).”

Our teacher Dr. Nur al-Din ‘Itr comments al-Khatib’’s position thus:

This is a vulnerable spot where feet tread a slippery path. Many are those who fell into likening Allah to His creatures because of it, or into something like it – our refuge is in Allah – while believing that this was the position of the pious Salaf but Allah has exonerated the latter from holding it. … Imam al-Khatib passed the obstacle at which point pens lapsed and illusions flared, for he refuted the M`u‘tazila and their likes who contradict the Divine Attributes, and he understood the position of the Salaf as it truly is by affirming those Attributes with a kind of affirmation that commits to Allah (swt) the knowledge of their reality, not an affirmation of dimensionality and modality (athbata tilka al-sifât ithbâtan yufawwidu ‘`ilma haqîqatihâ ilâ Allâhi ta‘`âlâ lâ ithbâta tahdîd wa takyîf). He thereby asserted the school of the Salaf as it really was, not as some erratic people in our time understand it to be. The latter are in fact arrogant wranglers who cannot tell the difference between the Salaf’’s committal of the actual knowledge of these matters to Allah (swt), their holding His Transcendence above whatever anthropomorphism the terms may suggest, and the anthropomorphism of the ignorant Karramiyya!

Abu al-Faraj al-Isfarayini said: “Al-Khatib was with us in Hajj, and he used to conclude an integral recitation of Qur’an out loud every day. People would gather around him as he was mounted, saying: ‘Narrate hadith to us,’ and he would narrate to them.” ‘`Abd al-Muhsin al-Shihi said: “I was al-Khatib’’s travelling companion from Damascus to Baghdad, and he used to recite the entire Qur’an once every day and night.”

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