The Sources of Ibn Taymiyya’s Ideas Part 3 of 3

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

On the Anthropomorphism of “Salafis”

by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

`Abd Allah ibn Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 290): He wrote a book which he named Kitab al-sunna, but whose stand in relation to the Sunna and anthropomorphism can be judged by the following excerpts:1 p. 5: “Is istiwaother than by sitting (julus)?” p. 35: “He saw Him on a chair of gold carried by four angels: one in the form of a man, another in the form of a lion, another in that of a bull, and another in that of an eagle, in a green garden, outside of which there was a golden dais.”

This seems taken verbatim from the Bible, Book of Revelation (4:2-7): “There was someone on the Throne… from it issued lightning, voices, and thunder… in its midst and around it stood four angels… the first was like a lion, the second like a young bull, the third has the face of a man, and the fourth is like an eagle in flight.” Kawthari appropriately calls this “the grossest idol-worship (al-wathaniyya al-kharqa’) to which they (“Salafis”) are calling the Umma today.” p. 64: “Allah spoke to Musa with His lips” (mushafahatan), that is: upper lip against lower lip.

Kawthari mentions that the same is found in Abu Ya`la’s Tabaqat in his biography of al-Istakhri, and falsely attributed to Imam Ahmad.p. 68: “Verily Allah did not touch with His hand except Adam, whom He created with His own hand, Paradise, the Torah, which He wrote with His own hand, and a pearl which He wrought with His own hand, then dipped into it a stick to which He said: Stretch thyself as far as I please and bring out what is in thee with My leave, and so it brought out the rivers and the vegetation.” p. 70: “If the Lord sits on the chair or foot-stool (kursi), a kind of groaning is heard similar to that of the new camel saddle.” Ibn Sa`id al-Darimi also endorses this, the previous, and the next view in his book.p. 71: “Allah sits on the kursi and there remains only four spans vacant.”

This is a commonplace of the hashwiyya. Al-Khallal (d. 310), one of Imam Ahmad’s companions, repeats it countlessly in his Kitab al-sunna, attributing it to Mujahid, and declares anyone who denies it to be a jahmi kafir zindiq.2 Ibn al-Qayyim endorses it unreservedly in his Bada’i` al-fawa’id,3 and the grammarian and commentator Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi relates the same about Ibn Taymiyya in his Tafsir al-nahr al-madd min al-bahr al-muhit (The commentary of the river extending from the ocean): “I have read in a book by our contemporary Ahmad ibn Taymiyya written in his own hand and which he entitled Kitab al-`arsh (The Book of the Throne): “Allah the Exalted sits (yajlisu) on the kursi, and He has left a space vacant for the Prophet to sit with Him.” Taj al-Din Muhammad ibn `Ali al-Barnibari tricked him into thinking that he was supporting him until he obtained that book from him and we read this in it.”4

It is related that the commentator of Qur’an and historian al-Tabari (d. 310) was nearly killed for questioning it, as Ibn Hibban was nearly killed for questioning that Allah had a limit. The Hanbalis asked about the purported hadith of the Prophet’s sitting on the Throne next to Allah. This hadith is traced to Layth who is supposed to have related it from Mujahid. In the view of some of the Hanbalis it provided the meaning of the verse: `asa an yab`athaka rabbuka maqaman mahmuda, “Perhaps your Lord shall raise you to an exalted station” (17:79). Tabari replied: “It is absurd” and declaimed: subhana man laysa lahu anis wa la lahu fi `arshihi jalis which means: Glory to Him who has no comrade nor “one-who-sits-next-to-Him” on the Throne. When they heard this they threw their inkwells at him and he withdrew to his house. Suyuti mentions some of this in Tahdhir al-khawass min akadhib al-qussas (The warning of the elect against the lies of story-tellers), and Ibn al-Jawzi relates in Al-muntazamthat Thabit ibn Sinan mentions in his “History”: “I hid the truth about this because the mob had gathered and forbidden the visit of Tabari in the daytime, and said that he was a rejectionist (rafid) and a heretic (mulhid).5

Al-Khallal, Ibn al-Jawzi’s offenders, Ibn Hibban’s and Tabari’s would-be killers, Ibn Qayyim, and Ibn Taymiyya all form the party that maintain that Allah sits on the Throne then places his feet on the kursi as one would on a footstool, and that the Prophet sits on the throne by His side. As a contemporary scholar remarked, all this seems to replicate another passage of the Bible, namely what is found in the Gospel according to Mark (19:16): “Then the Lord [Jesus], after he spoke to them, was raised to the heaven, and sat at the right of Allah.”6 Yet these anthropomorphists claim that their views represent the way of the Salaf, and that to depart from it was to leave Islam. What is clear, on the contrary, is that to follow the views of Ibn Taymiyya and the persecutors of Ahl al-Sunna in ascribing Allah a body is to commit disbelief, while to leave the views of Ibn Taymiyya and the persecutors of Ahl al-Sunna is a sign that one follows the Salaf.p. 149: “He showed part of Himself.”p. 164: “And His other hand was empty without anything in it.”*

Ibn Khuzayma (d. 311): He wrote a large volume which he named Kitab al-tawhid (Book of the declaration of oneness),7 which he later regretted having authored, as established by two reports cited by Bayhaqi with their chains of transmission.8 Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi was so repelled by Ibn Khuzayma’s book that he renamed it: Kitab al-shirk9 (Book of associating partners to Allah) just as Kawthari later renamed `Abd Allah ibn Ahmad’s book: Kitab al-zaygh (Book of aberration).10

Ibn Khuzayma cites, as a proof for establishing that Allah has a foot and other limbs, the verse: “Have they feet wherewith they walk or have they hands wherewith they hold, or have they eyes wherewith they see, or have they ears wherewith they hear?” (7:195). This contravenes the sound position of the Salaf expressed by al-Muqri as related by Abu Dawud in his Sunan: “Allah hears and sees” means: He has the power of hearing and seeing (not the organs).”11

Kawthari points out that Ibn Khuzayma’s understanding is identical to that of the anthropomorphists of Tabaristan and Isfahan mentioned by al-Saksaki in his al-Burhan fi ma`rifat `aqa’id ahl al-adyan (The demonstration concerning the knowledge of the doctrines of the people of religion) who say: “If He does not have eyes, nor ears, nor hand, nor foot, then what we are worshipping is a watermelon!” and they claim in support of their views that Allah in the Qur’an has derided those who lacked limbs by saying: “Have they feet wherewith they walk?”12

Ibn al-Jawzi says the following about him:

I saw that Abu Bakr Ibn Khuzayma compiled a book on Allah’s attributes and divided it into chapters such as: “Chapter of the Asserting of His hand”; “Chapter of His Holding the Heavens on His fingers”; “Chapter of the Asserting of His foot, in spite of the Mu`tazila.” Then he said: Allah said: “Have they feet wherewith they walk or have they hands wherewith they hold, or have they eyes wherewith they see, or have they ears wherewith they hear?” (7:195); then he informs us that he who has no hand and no foot is like cattle.

I say: Verily I wonder at that man, with all his lofty skill in the science of transmission of hadith, saying such a thing, and asserting for Allah what he vilifies the idols for not having, such as a hand that strikes and a foot that walks. He should have asserted the ear also. If he had been granted understanding, he would not have spoken thus, and he would have understood that Allah reviled the idols in comparison to their worshippers (i.e. not to Him). The meaning is: You have hands and feet, how then do you worship what lacks them both?

Ibn `Aqil al-Hanbali (d. 515)13 said:

“Exalted is Allah above having an attribute which occupies space — this is anthropomorphism itself! Nor is Allah divisible and in need of parts with which to do something. Does not His order and His fashioning act upon the fire? How then would He need the help of any part of Himself, or apply Himself to the fire with one of His attributes, while He is the one Who says to it: “Be coolness and peace” (21:69)? What idiotic belief is this, and how far remote it is from the Fashioner of the dominions and the firmaments! Allah gave them the lie in His book when He said: “If these had been gods, they would never have gone down to it” (21:99): how then can they think that the Creator goes down to it? Exalted is Allah above the ignorant pretenses of the mujassima!”14

These, then, are the sources of Ibn Taymiyya’s stand on ascribing a body and a direction to the Creator. As we have seen these sources have little to do with the established position of Imam Ahmad on these questions. On the contrary, we know with certainty that Imam Ahmad irrevocably condemned the slightest ascription of a body to Allah, whether or not the speaker added: “but not like other bodies.” In Manaqib Ahmad, al-Bayhaqi relates that he said:

“A person commits an act of disbelief (kufr) if he says Allah is a body, even if he says: Allah is a body but not like other bodies.” He continues: “The expressions are taken from language and from Islam, and linguists applied “body” to a thing that has length, width, thickness, form, structure and components. The expression has not been handed down in Shari`a. Therefore, it is invalid and cannot be used.”15

Given that the correct followers of the madhhab of Imam Ahmad in the fourth and fifth centuries stand firmly on the side of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a, we should not be astonished that they would reject the proponents of likening Allah to creation (tashbih) both then and later. Indeed, such views were contained and prevented from being disseminated far and wide until Ibn Taymiyya threw the full weight of his learning and skill behind them. In repayment for his efforts he was duly arrested more than once in his career.

1 `Abd Allah ibn Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Kitab al-sunna (Cairo: al-Matba`a al-Salafiya, 1349/1930).

2 al-Khallal, al-Sunna p. 215-216.

3 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya, Bada’i` al-fawa’id (Misr: al-Matba`a al-Muniriya, 1900?) 4:39-40.

4 Abu Hayyan, Tafsir al-nahr al-madd 1:254 (Ayat al-kursi).

5 See the introduction to Ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s Kitab ikhtilaf al-fuqaha’ (The differences among jurists), ed. Frederik Kern, Egypt 1902.

6 Quoted in Saqqa op. cit.

7 Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Khuzayma, Kitab al-tawhid wa-ithbat sifat al-rabb allati wasafa biha nafsahu... (Cairo: idarat al-tiba`a al-muniriyya, 1354/1935).

8 Bayhaqi, al-Asma’ wa al-sifat, ed. Kawthari, p. 267.

9 Razi, al-Tafsir al-kabir 14:27 (#151).

10 Kawthari, Maqalat, p. 355.

11 Abu Dawud, Sunan, Kitab al-Sunna, ch. 19, last hadith.

12 Kawthari, Maqalat, p. 361.

13 One of the great early authorities of the Hanbali school.

14 Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` shubah al-tashbih p. 172-174.

15 al-Bayhaqi, Manaqib Ahmad. Unpublished manuscript.

Reproduced with permission from Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani’s The Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations (Kazi, 1996) p. 90-95.

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions