Ibn Uthaimeen: Important Principles regarding the Names and Attributes of Allaah: The Aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah and a refutation of the opposers

In the name of Allaah, the Most Merciful, the Bestower of Mercy.

Taken from “Lum’atul-I’tiqaad al-Haadee ilaa Sabeelir-Rashaad” (pp. 20-27) by al-Imaam Muwaffiq ad-Deen Abu Muhammad Abdullaah b. Ahmad b. Muhammad Ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdisee (born 541H died 620H, rahimahullaah), famously known as Ibn Qudaamah al-Maqdisee. This book was explained by the illustrious Imaam of the Sunnah and Aqeedah, the Salafi Scholar, Muhammad b. Saalih al-‘Uthaimeen, who died January 10th 2001 (15th Shawwaal 1421H) at the age of 75, rahimahullaah. The following is a translation (slightly adapted for further clarity) of Shaikh Ibn al-Uthaimeen’s introduction to this work in which he explains some of the most important principles of ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah regarding the Names of Attributes of Allaah.

First Principle:

That which is obligatory concerning the texts of the Book and Sunnah as it relates to the Names and Attributes of Allaah: that they must be taken upon their apparent meanings.

It is obligatory to leave the texts of the Book and Sunnah upon their apparent meanings without alteration. This is because Allaah revealed the Qur’aan in the clear Arabic language, and the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wassallam) spoke with the Arabic language. So it is therefore obligatory to leave the indications and meanings of the Speech of Allaah and His Messenger as they are in accordance to this language – and to alter them from their apparent meaning (and give them alternative meanings) is to speak about Allaah without knowledge, and that is forbidden due to the saying of the Most High:

قُلْ إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ رَبِّيَ الْفَوَاحِشَ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَمَا بَطَنَ وَالْإِثْمَ وَالْبَغْيَ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ وَأَن تُشْرِكُوا بِاللَّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ سُلْطَانًا وَأَن تَقُولُوا عَلَى اللَّهِ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

“Say, “My Lord has only forbidden immoralities – what is apparent of them and what is concealed – and sin, and oppression without right, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down authority, and that you say about Allah that which you do not know.” [al-A’raaf: 33]

And example of how this principle is to be understood is as follows: The saying of Allaah, the Most High:

بَلْ يَدَاهُ مَبْسُوطَتَانِ يُنفِقُ كَيْفَ يَشَاءُ

“Rather, both His hands are extended; He spends however He wills.” [al-Maa’idah: 64]

So it is apparent from this verse that Allaah, the Most High, has two real Hands. It is obligatory to affirm them for Him. If a person were to say: “The actual intent of the two Hands is the power of Allaah,” then we say in response: This is to alter the apparent meaning of the verse, and this is something not permitted – and it is not permitted to utter such speech because to do so is to speak about Allaah without knowledge.

The Second Principle: Concerning the Names of Allah:

Under this heading there are four important sub-headings:

1. All of the Names of Allah are Beautiful: Meaning that the Names of Allaah are of the utmost in beauty and excellence. That is because they encompass His perfect Attributes having no deficiency at all from any aspect whatsover. Allaah, the Most High, said: 

“And to Allaah belong the most beautiful names.” (Al-A’raaf: 180)

An example is the name of Allaah, “Ar-Rahmaan” (The Merciful): It is a Name from the Names of Allaah that indicates a tremendous Attribute and that is: The Expansive Mercy of Allaah (Ar-Rahmatul-Waasi`ah).

Furthermore, it can be also concluded that “Ad-Dahr” (The Time) is not from the Names of Allaah due to the fact it does not entail in its meaning the utmost beauty and excellence. As for the saying of the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wassallam): “Do not revile the time (ad-dahr) for verily Allaah is Ad-Dahr (The Time).” [1] 

[1] Reported by Muslim, 2246 from Abu Hurairah. Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajr said in “Al-Fat-h” (10/565): Ahmad reports through another chain from Abu Hurairah with the wording: “Do not revile the time for Allaah said: I am The Time (Ad-Dahr). The days and nights belong to Me. I renew them and I erode them away and I am the One who brings kings after kings.” A benefit from Ibn al-Qayyim (Zaad al-Ma`aad, 2/355): “The one who abuses time is between two affairs, and there is no doubt that he falls into one of them: Either his abuse is directed towards Allaah or he has associated partners with Him (Shirk). So if he believes that Allaah alone is the One who did that thing and thus a person abuses the One who did that, then [by default] he has abused Allaah.”

So the meaning of the hadeeth is that Allaah is the owner of time and He controls it and the proof for that is the saying of Allaah, the Most High, in another narration: “In my Hand are the affairs and I change the night and day.” (Reported by Al-Bukhaaree, 7491. Muslim, 2246, from Abu Hurairah).

2. The Names of Allaah are not limited to a specific number.

This is shown by the hadeeth which is well-known wherein the Messenger (salallaahu `alaihi wassallam) said: “I ask you, O Allaah, by every name that you have named yourself with or that which you have revelealed in your Book or you have taught to one of your creation, or you have held back in the knowledge of Unseen that is with you.” 

(A portion of an authentic hadeeth from Abdullaah Ibn Mas’ood (radiyallaahu `anhu) reported by Ahmad (1/393,452), Ibn Hibbaan (2372 – Mawaarid), Al-Haakim (1/519). Authenticated by Ibn al-Qayyim in Shifaa al-`Aleel (p.274). Authenticated by Shaikh Ahmad Shaakir in his notes on the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad (3721), likewise Al-Albaanee in As-Saheehah (199))

And that which Allaah kept to Himself in the knowledge of the Unseen is not possible to limit or encompass. And to harmonise between this hadeeth and the authentic hadeeth wherein the Prophet (salallaahu ‘alaihi wassallam) stated: “Indeed Allaah has 99 names; whoever learns, memorises and acts in accordance to them will enter Jannah” (Bukhaaree, 6410, Muslim, 2677) Then the meaning of this hadeeth is that from the Names of Allaah there are ninety nine Names and whoever memorises them and understands them and acts in accordance to them will enter Jannah. And the intent is not that Allaah has only ninety nine Names, limited to that number. This is like saying: “I have 100 Dirhams to give in charity.” So this does not negate the fact that you have Dirhams (i.e. coins) other than these 100 for the purpose of other than charity.

3. The Names of Allaah are not established by the intellect – rather they are established by Revelation (The Sharee’ah)

So the Names of Allaah are known only by way of revealed texts (tawqeefiyyah) and one halts at that which is reported by the legislation (the Sharee’ah), not increasing upon that and not decreasing. That is because the intellect cannot possibly reach, comprehend or encompass what Allaah is deserving of in terms of Names. So it is obligatory to withhold from that and cling to the legislation because to name Him with a name that He has not named Himself with or to reject a name that He has named Himself with is a transgression against His right, the Most High – so it obligatory to maintain correct conduct in this matter. The Most High stated: “Do not pursue of that which you have no knowledge.”

 4. Every Name from the Names of Allaah is a proof of the Self/Essense of Allaah Himself (i.e. His Dhaat) and a proof of the Attribute it encompasses and a proof of the effect that results from that if the Name is transitive (i.e. it has an effect upon the creation).

So true Imaam in a Name of Allaah is not complete unless one affirms all of this.

An example of a Name that is not transitive (ghair muta`adee): “Al-`Adheem” The Exalted, The Glorious, The Great: Then one’s belief (imaan) in this Name is not complete until one affirms the Name itself, that it is indeed a Name from the Names of Allaah and that it is a proof of the Essense/Self of Allaah (His Dhaat), the Most High; and that it demonstrates the Attribute of Al-`Udhmah (Glory, Greatness).  

And an example of a Name that is transitive (muta`adee): “Ar-Rahmaan” The Merciful: Then one’s belief is not complete until he believes and affirms the Name itself; that it is a Name from the Names of Allaah – and that it is a proof and indication of the Essense/Self of Allaah (His Dhaat) – and that it demonstrates the Attribute of Mercy (Rahmah); and the effect that results from it which is that He showers His Mercy upon whosoever He wills. 

The Third Principle: Concerning The Attributes of Allaah

Under this heading there are four subheadings.

1. All of the Attributes of Allaah are lofty; They are of the utmost perfection and praiseworthiness. There is not in them any defieciency from any aspect whatsoever: Such as His Living, Knowledge, Ability, Hearing, Seeing, Wisdom, Mercy, Highness, and other than that. This is due to His saying: “And to Allaah belongs the highest description.” (An-Nahl: 60) and because the Lord of Creation is Perfect so that necessitates perfection in His Attributes.

  • If an attribute is deficient not having perfection, then it is not attributed to Him such as: death, ignorance, inability, deafness, blindness, and so on because He will punish those who describe Him with deficiencies – and He freed Himself from that which was ascribed to Him of deficiencies due to the fact that it is not possible that the Lord is deficient.
  • If there is an attribute that is perfect from one aspect and defiecient from another, then such an attribute is not affirmed for Allaah absolutely and not negated from Him absolutely. Rather the affair requires a detailed explanation: such an attribute is affirmed for Allaah from the aspect of perfection and negated from Him from the aspect of deficiency. Examples such as: scheming (al-makr), plotting (al-kayd), deception (al-kihdaa`) and so on – then these attributes are considered as attributes of perfection if they are in response to what is like them because that proves that the doer is not incapable of responding to his enemy in similar ways (i.e. if the enemy uses deception, then he responds with deception which is better than his, showing that he is not incapable), yet possessing these attributes in other than these specific situations would be considered as a deficiency. So these attributes are affirmed for Allaah in the sense of perfection and responding [to evil] and negated from Allaah in situations besides this. Allaah, the Most High, said: “They were plotting and Allaah too was plotting and Allaah is the best of plotters.” (Al-Anfaal: 30) “Verily, they are scheming a plot and I too am scheming a plot.” (At-Taariq: 15-16) “Verily the hypocrites seek to decieve Allaah, but it is He who deceives them.” (An-Nisaa: 142). And there are other examples like this. So if it is said: Is Allaah described with plotting?” Do not say “yes” and do not say “no”, rather say: “He (the Most Hight) plots against those who are deserving of that, and Allaah knows best.”

2. The Attributes of Allaah are divided into two categories: Those which affirm (thubootiyyah) and those which negate (salabiyyah): 

  • Ath-Thubootiyyah (the affirming Attributes): Are those Attributes which Allaah has aiffirmed for Himself such as Life (Al-Hayaat), Knowledge (Al-`Ilm), Ability (Al-Qudrah) and so on. It is necessary to affirm these for Allaah in a manner that befits His Majesty since it is He who has affirmed them for Himself an He is the Most Knowledgeable concerning His Attributes.
  • As-Salbiyyah (the negating Attributes): These are the attributes which Allaah has negated from Himself such as injustice (dhulm), so one must negate these attributes from Him because He (the Most High) has done so. However it is necessary to affirm belief (i’tiqaad) in the opposite of these negated attributes in a most complete and perfect manner. That is because negation of a weak/deficient attribute is not considered as perfection until it includes an affirmation (of its opposite). For example, the saying of Allaah, the Most High: “And your Lord oppresses no one.” (Al-Kahf: 49) So it obligatory to negate from Allaah oppression (dhulm) alongside believing in the affirmation of the utmost perfect Justice (al-`Adl) for Him.

3. The Affirming Attributes (Ath-Thubootiyyah) are further divided into two categories: Dhaatiyyah (Attributes that never cease) and Fi’liyyah (Attributes connected to His Will):

  • Adh-Dhaatiyyah: It is an Attribute that Allaah never ceases to be described with such Hearing (as-Sama`) and Seeing (al-Basr).
  • Al-Fi`liyyah: It is that Attribute that is connected to the Will of Allaah; if He wishes He does it, and if He wishes He does not do it such His Ascending (al-Istiwaa) over His Throne: “The Most Merciful ascended over the throne”, and His Coming (al-Majee) on the Day of Resurrection: “And your Lord comes with the Angels in rows.

It is possible that an Attribute is both Dhaatiyyah and Fi`liyyah in both respects such as His Speech (al-kalaam). So from the aspect of the origin of the Attribute it is Dhaatiyyah because Allaah never ceases to speak. And from the aspect of the actual words that are spoken then it an Attribute that is Fi`liyyah because His Speech is connected to His Will (al-Mashee’ah) as He speaks with what He wills whenever He wills.

4. Every Attribute of Allaah raises three questions:

  • It is real (haqeeqiyyah) – and why? 
  • Is it permissible to ask “how” the Attribute is – and why?
  • Is there likeness between His Attributes and those of the creation – and why?

The answer to the first question: Yes, each Attribute is real because the origin with regard to speech is that it is real (taken upon its apparent meaning) and one does not deviate from its real meaning except with an authentic proof that would would prevent us from taking it upon its real meaning.

The answer to the second question: It is not allowed to ask “how” (perform takyeef) due to the saying of Allaah: “And they will not encompass Him in knowledge.” (Taha: 110) And also because the intellect cannot comprehend “how” with respect to the Attributes of Allaah. So we do not say for example: “How did Allaah ascend?” or “How does He descend?” or “How will He come on the come forth on the Day of the Resurrection?”

The answer to the third question: There is no likeness (or resemblance) between the Attributes of the Creator and the creation due to the saying of Allaah: “There is nothing like unto Him.” (Ash-Shooraa:11) And because Allaah is rightfully deserving of perfection, there is nothing above Him or that can reach His utmost perfection so therefore one cannot compare the creation to Him because the creation is deficient. 

The difference between making “likeness” (tamtheel) for the Attributes and asking “how” (takyeef) the Attributes are is as follows: Making a “likeness” or resemblance is to describe how an Attribute is by restricting it to a particular example (that the one making the resemblance has in mind). And to enter into the “how” (takyeef) is to speak of how an Attribute is without restricting it to a particular example.

Example of tamtheel: That a person says: “The Hand of Allaah is like the hand of a human.”

Example of takyeef: That a person imagines how the Hand of Allaah is without specifically resembling it to the hands of the created beings. This type of imagining is not permitted.

The Fourth Principle

That which is used to refute the deniers and negators of the Attributes of Allaah (i.e. the Mu`attilah)

The Mu`attilah are those who deny anything from the Names of Allaah and His Attributes and they distort (i.e. falsely explain away) the Revealed texts from their clear and apparent meanings and wordings. They are also referred to as the Mu’awwilah (those who falsely explain the texts).  So we refute them and rebut them with a general principle; that we say regarding their speech: 

  • It opposes the apparent meanings and wordings of the texts of the Qur’aan and Sunnah, so they discard the actual meanings and replace them with concocting meanings (e.g. Allaah’s descending to the nearest heavens means, ‘His Mercy descends’ and ‘Allaah’s two Hands are His two bounties or two powers’!)
  • It opposes the path of the early Salaf (who would understand the texts upon their apparent meanings)
  • There no authentic proof that allows for these distortions (and false figurative interpretations or metaphors)


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