Al-Buti’s Recapitulation of the Two Methods part 2 of 2

Dr. Saeed Ramadan al-Buti

On the Anthropomorphism of the “Salafis”

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).

An illustration of what I just said was given in what Bayhaqi related from al-Khattabi, after the latter cited the hadith of Anas ibn Malik narrated by Bukhari and Muslim: “The Gehenna will keep asking: is there more? until the Lord of Might places His qadam (lit. “foot”) in it. Then it will say: Enough! Enough! Then it will gather up its parts together. And there will still remain room in Paradise until Allah gives rise to a creation which he will then place in the remainder of Paradise.”

After mentioning what has been said about Allah’s qadam and rijl (lit. “leg”) through different chains of transmission Bayhaqi said:Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi said: “It is likely that those who mentioned al-qadam and al-rijl without attributing it to Allah (i.e. by saying: “Allah’s qadam” etc.) did so because of their great fear, and to avoid misinterpretation in the matter. Abu `Ubayd used to say…(8)

Abu Sulaiman said: “The meaning of the qadam here is possibly a reference to those whom Allah has created of old or “sent forth” for the Fire in order to complete the number of its inhabitants. Everything that is “sent forth” is a qadam, in the same way that the verbal noun of demolishing (hadama) is a hadm or ruin, and that of seizing (qabada) is qabd or a seizure. Likewise Allah said: “They have a sure foundation (qadam sidq) with their Lord” (10:2) with reference to the good works which they have sent forth. This explanation has been transmitted to us from al-Hasan al-Basri.

It is supported by the Prophet’s saying in the aforementioned hadith: “As for Paradise, Allah will create for it a special creation.” Both meanings (i.e. respectively pertaining to the Fire and Paradise) are in agreement with the sense that Paradise and hellfire will be provided with an additional number of dwellers to complete their respective numbers, at which point they will be full.(9)

The reader knows that al-Khattabi (d. 386) is one of the Khalaf who is closest to the Salaf and one of the most attached to them. He is one of the most distinguished scholars of mid-fourth century, and you may ponder his just and objective discourses on this topic, in which he combines his appreciation for the Salaf, his respect and acknowledgement for their merit and precedence, together with appreciation for changing times and the cropping up of unexpected situations that require the mujtahid to act appropriately or, as he puts it: “according to the known meanings of the foundations of the Religion and the schools of the scholars.”

His pursuit of what the situation demands “according to the meanings of the foundations of the Religion” shows clearly his agreement with those who shun ta’wil and assert what Allah has asserted about His essence without interpretation nor modality whenever there is evidence to support it and lack of evidence to support interpretation. It also shows his disagreement with them whenever there is strong evidence to prove that the meaning of the word is different from its outward sense, relying in both cases on his scholarly insight.

An example of his position in the first case is his position regarding the numerous confirmed, authentic hadiths of Allah’s “descent.” He says in his book Ma`alim al-sunan: “This is the kind of knowledge in the outward sense which we have been commanded to believe without attempting to uncover its inner meaning, and it belongs to the mutashabih that Allah has mentioned in His book.”(10)

An example of his position in the second case is what he said in his commentary on the hadith of Abu Dawud narrated by Jubayr ibn Mut`am from his father from his grandfather who said:An Arab came to Allah’s Messenger and said, O Messenger of Allah, people are in distress, the children are hungry, the crops are withered, and the animals are perishing, so Ask Allah to grant us rain, for we seek you as our intercessor with Allah, and Allah as our intercessor with you.” The Prophet said: “Woe to you! Do you know what you are saying?” Then the Prophet declared Allah’s glory and he went on until the effect of his speech showed on the faces of his Companions. He then said: “Woe to you! Allah is not to be sought as intercessor with anyone. Allah’s state is greater than that. Woe to you! Do you know Allah’s greatness? Verily, His Throne is on His Heavens like this” and he formed with his fingers something like a dome over him, “and it groans on account of Him like a saddle groans because of its rider.”” Ibn Bashshar added in his version: “Allah is above His Throne and His Throne is above His Heavens.”(11)

Al-Khattabi comments:If this discourse is taken in its outward sense, then it suggests modality (kayfiyya), which does not apply to Allah and His Attributes. It is therefore understood that the import of the hadith is not to attribute modality to Him or suggest boundaries to Him in this manner. Rather, it consists in words spoken roughly in order to give an idea of the greatness of Allah and make understandable to the questioner what is beyond his level of understanding, for he was an uneducated beduin unversed in the minutiae of language and the sutbleties of speech which elude the mind.In this discourse, we find ellipsis and allusiveness. Thus the meaning of his saying: “Do you know what Allah is?” means: Do you know Allah’s greatness? and his saying: “It groans under him” means that it is unable to carry His Majesty and Greatness. Thus it groans under him for it is known that the reason a camel saddle groans under the rider is because of the weight of what is on it and its inability to carry it. By drawing this kind of similitude he illustrates the meaning of Allah’s Greatness and Might and the height of His Throne in order for it to be known that the holder of lofty rank, mighty status, and exalted name, is not to be made an intercessor with one who lesser in position and below Him in degree.(12)

Notice the difference between Khattabi’s first and second positions regarding the same subject. This is the Mutashabih Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an. This is the very subject which, until today, prompts some people to devise a barrier between the “school” of the Salaf and the “school” of the Khalaf. Then they substitute what they have called “the school of the Salaf” (madhhab al-salaf) to the one and only Method (manhaj) that is agreed upon in understanding these texts and explaining them.

However, the opposite is true in the matter as we have seen in some of the positions taken by this Imam whom we have quoted extensively, and he is, as we have previously stated, closer to the Salaf than to the Khalaf. Despite that, he uses for his guiding light in the positions which he takes on these texts and phrases what he calls “the meanings of the foundations of the Religion and the schools of the scholars.” He did not take for his guide the partial ijtihads made by many of the scholars of the Salaf. Therefore the matter is, as he has put it, dependent upon the situations at hand, changing circumstances, and the methods of teaching which, no doubt, vary greatly between uneducated bedouins and educated researchers examining the issues with the light of the arts of the Arabic language and its standards of eloquence at a time when the scientific methods of knowledge in general and the explanations of texts in particular has reached completion.

We can see the selfsame flexibility even in the positions of the Salaf themseleves, and we have already stated many examples in this regard. Whoever wishes to refer to the Imam al-Tabari’s commentary on the verses of Allah’s attributes will find many more examples in addition to those we have already mentioned.

This concludes our exposition of the fact that the ijtihad of the Salaf and Khalaf in the explanation of the verses of Allah’s Attributes and other of the mutashabihat that may pertain to it is not, in itself, considered a textual evidence or a binding method which all are obliged to follow, whether the purported obligation to abide by the ijtihad of the Salaf be their closeness to the time of the Prophet, or whether to abide by that of the Khalaf be for their involvement in the era of knowledge, culture and literary achievements.


It may be that, based on ijtihad, some disagreement has taken place in the course of conforming to this immutable proof. Such disagreements happened quite often between the scholars of the Salaf as well as those of the Khalaf. As was seen earlier, the scholars of the Salaf were divided into three groups in understanding the meaning of wajh (face) in Allah’s statement: “Everything will perish except His Face” (28:88). One group believed that the meaning was the outward sense without interpretation or modality; another group interpreted the Face as Allah Himself; yet another group interpreted it as the direction, and Ibn Taymiyya, as we said, leans towards the third opinion.[Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri considered baseless and impermissible the interpretation of the Face as meaning Allah Himself due to lack of evidence; however, he considered the face to be “none other than Allah” as elucidated by the verse: “We feed you for the sake of Allah’s face” (76:9) which he comments thus:”It is therefore correct with certainty that they do not intend other than Allah. As for His saying: “Wheresoever you turn there is Allah’s face” (2:115). Its meaning is only: there is Allah with His knowledge and His acceptance for whomever turns towards Him.”(13)

Ibn Taymiyya quotes the following commentaries for wajh: `Ali: Allah’s face is the truth (al-haqq); Mujahid: it is He Himself; al-Dahhak: everything perishes except Allah, Paradise and the Fire; Ibn Kaysan: it is His sovereignty.(14)]

What is important to know is that even if the scholars of the Salaf and the Khalaf were divided among themselves, and even if the former disagreed with the latter in the varying views of their ijtihad in this matter: nevertheless, NO OPINION FROM ANY ONE OF THESE GROUPS FORMS BY ITSELF AND TO THE EXCLUSION OF THE OTHERS, A STANDARD MEASURE OF TRUTH AND FALSEHOOD. It is not permissible, therefore, to consider an opinion based on ijtihad as a pointer to the one true madhhab and turn it into a tool for tearing asunder and dividing the community of Muslims. Muslims are held together by the guidance of Allah’s Book, the clinging to the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger, and the upholding of the firm rules this congregation has agreed upon concerning the principles of the derivations of lexical meanings and the method of knowledge.

What we have said is not contradicted by the possibility that any one of us may, after studying and examining the matter, eventually incline towards the opinion of one of the two groups or to believe a part of what either group says to the exclusion of the other. Indeed, this is the business of ijtihad and the examination of what is dictated by context and coherence as well as the principles of deriving rulings from the evidence — as long as the ijtihad is done within the boundaries of the rules and principles (usul) that have been agreed upon by consensus.

Nor can this difference in ijtihad ever be viewed as a sign of division among Muslims into groups that quarrel and oppose each other on which way is righteous and which way is false. This way of thinking is one of the most dangerous kinds of innovations (ibtida`) in the Religion of Allah… For divergences of opinion that have no right-or-wrong solution do not cause, al-hamdu lillah, misguidance or deviation from the truth to any of the parties involved — if one may call them parties — and do not tear apart their ranks, by Allah’s grace, nor destroy their encompassing unity.(15)

1 Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` shubah al-tahsbih p. 115.

2 The full bibliographic references are given further down

3 Bukhari (Tafsir Sura 59 & Manaqib al-Ansar Ch. 10 #3798) and Bayhaqi in Shu`ab al-iman (3:259 #3478) have: “Allah wondered (`ajiba) or laughed/smiled (dahika)”; Muslim (Ashriba Ch. 32 #172-173): “Allah wondered”; Ibn Abi al-Dunya and Bayhaqi in the Sunan: “Allah laughed/smiled.”

4 Bayhaqi, al-Asma’ wa al-sifat p. 456. Ibn al-Jawzi spoke to this effect in his Daf` shubah al-tashbih (p. 196): “Since you understand that the one who descends towards you is near to you, content yourself with the knowledge that he is near you, and do not think in terms of bodily nearness.”

5 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu`at al-fatawa 2:428.

6 Bayhaqi, al-Asma’ wa al-sifat p. 309.

7 Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari 13:500 (Beirut 1989 ed.); Baghawi, Tafsir Sura 20:4.

8 See the continuation of this passage below, in the section entitled Al-Khattabi on the Priority of Avoiding tashbih For Both the Salaf and the Khalaf.

9 al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-sunan (Hims ed.) 5:95.

10 al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-sunan (Hims ed.) 5:101.

11 Abu Dawud, Sunan, Kitab al-Sunna, ch. 19 (4:232 #4726), al-Bazzar (1:29 #39), Tabari in his Tafsir (3:10), Abu Ya`la in his Musnad, as mentioned by Haythami in Majma` al-zawa’id (10:159), and Ibn Abi `Asim in his Sunna (#252). Abu Dawud adds: “This tradition with the chain of Ahmad ibn Sa`id is sound.” However, the authenticity of the hadith has been questioned. Ibn al-Jawzi mentioned the weakness of two of its narrators and Ibn `Asakir wrote a monograph entiled Bayan al-wahm wa al-takhlit fi hadith al-atit (The exposition of error and confusion in the narration of the groaning). See above, section on `Uthman al-Darimi’s excerpts.

12) al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-sunan (Hims ed.) 5:101.

13 Ibn Hazm, al-Fasl fi al-milal 2:166.

14 Ibn Taymiyya, Majmu`at al-fatawa 2:428.

15 Muhammad S. Ramadan al-Buti, al-Salafiyya marhalatun zamaniyyatun mubarakatun la madhhabun islami (Damascus: dar al-fikr, 1408/1988) p. 132-144>

From _Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations_ p.117-134 Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions