Ibn Hajar’s Commentary on the Hadith of Descent

In sum it is interpreted in two ways: the first is: His command or His angel descends; the second is: it is a metaphor for His regard for supplicants, His answering them, and so forth.

Abu Bakr ibn Furak has said that some of the masters have read it yunzilu (He sends down) instead of yanzilu (He descends), that is: He sends down an angel. This is strengthened by Nisa’i's narration through al-Aghurr from Abu Hurayra and Abu Sa`id al-Khudri: “Allah waits until the first part of the night is over, then He orders a herald to say: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered?…” There is also the hadith of `Uthman ibn Abi al-`As: “The gates of heaven are opened in the middle of the night and a herald calls out: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered?…” Al-Qurtubi said: “This clears all ambiguity, and there is no interference by the narration of Rufa`at al-Jahni whereby “Allah descends to the nearest heaven and says: No-one other than I asks about My servants” for there is nothing in this which precludes the above-mentioned interpretation.

Al-Baydawi said:

Since it is established with decisive proofs that the Exalted is transcendent above having a body or being circumscribed by boundaries, it is forbidden to attribute to Him descent in the sense of displacement from one place to another place lower than it. What is meant is the light of His mercy: that is, He moves from what is pursuant to the attribute of Majesty entailing wrath and punishment, to what is pursuant to the attribute of Generosity entailing kindness and mercy.

Let us turn to the two footnotes appended by Bin Baz to Ibn Hajar’s words here, because they are indicative of his entire approach to this landmark of Muslim scholarship. It is a remarkable fact that his supposed commentary of Fath al-bari is actually a rampant evisceration of the doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna and its replacement under the same name by that of anthropomorphism. This is particularly flagrant in the aspersions of which most of the “commentary” consists when it comes to hadiths touching on the attributes. For example, when Ibn Hajar mentions that “the vast majority of the scholars” reject the assertion of a direction for Allah, Bin Baz inserts the following footnote:

What he means by “the vast majority of the scholars” is the vast majority of the scholars of kalam. As for Ahl al-Sunna — and these are the Companions and those who followed them in excellence — they assert a direction for Allah, and that is the direction of elevation, believing that the Exalted is above the Throne without giving an example and without entering into modality. The proofs from the Qur’an and the Sunna for this are innumerable, so take heed and beware. And Allah knows best.

We have taken note of this statement and we let the readers decide for themselves whether a single one of the above statements is true, other than that Allah knows best. We also take note of Bin Baz’s indiscriminate expulsion of all kalam scholars from the fold of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a by his separating them into two discrete groups. Kalam scholars include Ash`aris, and we have already shown who they are so that it is clear that their enemies are none other than the enemies of Islam. As to the heresy of those who attribute a direction to Allah, we refer the reader to the section further down where the position of Ahl al-Sunna is stated concerning them.

Bin Baz’s reaction to the quotation of Ibn al-`Arabi’s position (“It is reported that the innovators have rejected these hadiths, the Salaf let them pass as they came, and others interpreted them, and my position is the last one”) is particularly virulent:

This is an obvious mistake which goes against the plain import of the texts that have come to us concerning the descent, and likewise what is cited of Baydawi later is null and void. The correct position is that of the Pious Salaf who believed in the descent and let pass the texts as they came to them, asserting Allah’s descent in the sense that befits Him, without asking how nor giving an example, just as the rest of His attributes. That is the safest, straightest, most knowledgeable, and wisest way. Therefore hold on to it, cling to it stubbornly, and beware what contravenes it so that you may reach safety. And Allah knows best.

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