Method of the True Salaf Regarding Ambiguities

Method of the True Salaf Regarding Ambiguities


Method of the True Salaf Regarding Ambiguities

The scholars of the true Salaf — that is, the pious Muslims of the first three centuries after the Hijra of the Prophet — used to interpret the mutashabihat in the following way: they refuted the unacceptable interpretations but did not specify which one of the acceptable meanings was the intended meaning of the verse or the hadith.

When Imam Malik, al-Shafi`i, and others were asked about the interpretation of the verse al-rahman `ala al-`arsh istawa in particular, and about similar verses in general, they used to say: “Accept these verses and hadith as they were given without believing that they have meanings which pertain to a manner, such as images, descriptions related to creations, and the like.” Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal said: “Allah mentioned Establishment (al-istiwa’) and Establishment is only what Allah mentioned about it, not what humans imagine about it.”

From these quotations it is clear that the Salaf, including Imam Ahmad, rejected the meanings that imply a mode or manner (kayf) of “establishment” because specifying the manner implies a resemblance to created things.

Thus we see that the way of the Salaf was mere acceptance of expressions on faith without saying how they are meant, and without additions, subtractions, or substituting meanings imagined to be synonyms, while stressing Allah’s absolute transcendence beyond the characteristics of created things in order to preclude likening Him to His creation. To suggest or cite opinions that they added the terms: “sitting” or “in person” (bi al-dhat) or “sitting in person” or “literally” (haqiqatan) is to give the lie to their insistance on rejecting the kayf of Allah’s establishment.

When forwarding their opinions on this subject, “Salafis” are fond of quoting, not the bila kayf (no-modality) opinions of the great Imams of Ahl al-Sunna, but those of the anthropomorphists that lived around them and deviated from their views, although they claimed to follow their schools. We have already mentioned some of them, like the Hanbalis Ibn Ya`la and al-Zaghuni condemned by Ibn al-Jawzi, and the Hanbalis `Abdullah ibn Ahmad, Ibn Sa`id al-Darimi, and Ibn Khuzayma denounced by al-Razi and Kawthari: As we said before, their assertion that the only alternative to the Jahmi belief that “Allah is in every place” is to say that “He is in one place only, above His throne” is just as false as saying He is in every place for Allah exists without place. Yet the belief that He exists in a place is what yesterday’s and today’s anthropomorphists pass as the opinion of the Salaf. However, just because someone lived in the first three centuries, it does not mean that he represented the doctrine of the Salaf. It will be clear from the forthcoming opinions of the Salaf and Khalaf that the correct position of Ahl al-Sunna never adds “in person” or “literally” — which is to specify a modality — to the mention of Allah’s establishment on the Throne, and that to suggest space in the slightest manner is to leave Islam. b) The Methodology of the Khalaf The Khalaf scholars are those who came in succeeding generations after those of the first three Hijri centuries. They are so-named for their successorship of the inheritance of the Prophet (s), acquiring the knowledge and understanding and of religion. An example of their method is in the interpretation of the verse: yad Allahi fawqa aydihim (58:10) translated as: “Allah’s Hand is over their hands.” Khalaf scholars usually give an explicit meaning to such verses. This way is acceptable insofar as there is a fear that people will otherwise interpret them anthropomorphically, likening Allah to his creations (tashbih) and begin to speak of His “Hand” as a literal (haqiqi) attribute, in the manner of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim, and the early Hanbali anthropomorphists decried by Ibn al-Jawzi. Thus the Khalaf scholars here explain the words yad Allah (Allah’s hand) in this verse as referring to `ahd Allah, that is, “the Covenant with Allah. Similarly they interpreted the word yadayy (Allah’s two hands) in the verse lima khalaktu bi yadayy which is literally “for what I created with My two Hands” as “care” (al-`inaya).

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