The Methodology of Ahl us-Sunnah Towards Allaah’s Names and Attributes
The Names and Attributes of Allaah are from the affairs of the unseen which a person could not possibly know in detail except by way of revelation due to the fact that human beings can never encompass Allaah’s knowledge, just as Allaah has stated:
They cannot encompass Him in knowledge. (Taahaa: 110)
And speech regarding Allaah’s Attributes is a branch of speech regarding Allaah’s Essence (i.e. His Dhaat). So it is not possible for the human intellect to independently attain detailed knowledge, whether in affirmation or negation, of an Attribute or Name.
Whoever claims that this knowledge is attainable without referring to the Revealed texts of the Qur’aan and Sunnah is gravely mistaken and has strayed from Straight Path (as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem).
So it is obligatory upon the servant to withhold and restrict himself to the speech of Allaah and to the speech of his Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wassalam) and to have certain belief in everything that is affirmed in the Revealed texts regarding the Names and Attributes of Allaah.
And likewise one must negate from Allaah whatever Allaah has negated from Himself or what the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wassalam) negated from Him of deficiencies and inadequacies.
And there are many texts in the Qur’aan and Sunnah that affirm the lofty and perfect Attributes for Allaah in detail, so we are obligated to affirm them in a manner that befit His Majesty. Likewise regarding the attributes of deficiency – they are negated from being attributed to Allaah, the Most High, and it is obligatory upon us to negate them and to affirm the perfect opposite of the deficiency for Allaah, the Most Perfect and Most High – and this is the obligatory right regarding the Names and Attributes of Allaah.
So what is the path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah regarding the Names and Attributes of Allaah?
The Names and Attributes of Allaah can be summarised in three main headings as follows:
- 1. The path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah in affirmation (ithbaat) of the Names and Attributes of Allaah
The path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah in affirmation (ithbaat) of the Names and Attributes of Allaah to affirm whatever Allaah has affirmed for Himself in His Book or whatever the Messenger affirmed for Him, without distorting them (tahreef) or negating them (ta’teel), and likewise without saying how they are (takyeef) and making any resemblance and likeness with the creation (tamtheel). So Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah believe that Attributes of Allaah are real (haqeeqee) and not metaphorical – and these real and true Attributes befit His Majesty, High above is He, free from imperfections and His Attributes are not likened to the creation and there is no resemblance.
Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah likewise believe that all of the revealed Names are established by textual evidence, and not invented by the intellect – and we believe that every Name necessitates an Attribute for Allaah. So the name al-‘Azeez (The Most Mighty) includes the attribute of Might (al-‘Izza) for Allaah. So al-‘Azeez is not merely a name without meaning or without an attribute that refers to it. And the name al-Qawiyy (The All-Powerful) includes the attribute of al-Quwwa (Power) and likewise is the case with the rest of the Attributes such as His name ar-Rahmaan (The Most Merciful) which denotes His Attribute of Mercy.
And whatever is affirmed for Allaah of Attributes, then they are Attributes of perfection and He is praised by way of them and glorified by way of them and there is no deficiency in them whatsoever.
- 2. The Path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah in Negation.
Then we negate from Allaah whatever He has negated from Himself in the Qur’aan and whatever the Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wassalam) has negated from His Lord in the pure Sunnah of attributes of deficiency and inadequacy – and it is obligatory to negate them from Allaah completely and it is not permissible to describe Allaah with them at all. And therefore whatever deficiency He has negated from Himself, then we must affirm its complete and perfect opposite.
To make this principle clear: we see that Allaah has negated from Himself oppression (dhulm), so it upon us to negate from Allaah oppression (dhulm) – and at the same time affirm for Allaah its perfect opposite and that is al-‘Adl (perfect justice). Likewise Allaah has negated from Himself exhaustion, fatigue and weariness (al-Lughoob), so it is upon us to negate this from Allaah and at the same time affirm its perfect opposite, and that is al-Quwwa (complete power). And the same is applied to all the attributes of deficiency that Allaah, the Most High, has negated from Himself.
- 3. The Path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah regarding an attribute that is neither affirmed nor negated by the texts
The path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah regarding an attribute that is neither affirmed nor negated by the texts regarding which the people have disputed – such as al-Hayyiz (space and location), al-Jihah (direction) and other than that, then the Path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah is not to utilize these terminologies but rather to withhold – not affirming them absolutely and not negating them absolutely due to the fact that they do not appear in the texts – and as for those who utilize these terminologies then detailed explanations are sought from them. So if the intended meaning is false and opposes the Book and Sunnah, then we reject it and free our Lord, the Most High, from false ascriptions. However, if the intended meaning is in accordance with the Book and Sunnah, then we accept the explanation.
And this is the method that is obligatory and is the middle path between those who negate the attributes from Allaah (ahlut-ta’teel) and those who resemble them to the creation (ahlut-tamtheel) – and this agrees with both the Revelation and the intellect.
As for the intellect, then it cannot affirm nor negate these affairs for Allaah because they are from the matters of the Unseen (al-Ghayb), not known except by Revelation, and it is not possible for the intellect to attain this knowledge for it cannot encompass these matters independently. So the intellect must affirm what Allaah has affirmed, negate what He has negated and remain silent regarding what Allaah, the Most Majestic, has not spoken about.
As for the Revelation, then Allaah, the Most High, has stated in the Qur’aan:
To Allaah belong the most beautiful Names so call upon Him by them! And leave the company of those who deviate in His Names. They will be recompensed for that which they used to do. (al-A’raaf: 180)
Allaah, the Most High, stated in His Book:
There is nothing like unto Him and He is the all-Hearing, the all-Seeing. (ash-Shoorah: 11)
And He, the Mighty and Majestic, said:
And do not pursue of that which you have no knowledge. (al-Israa: 36)
So the first verse proves the obligation of affirming for Allaah, the Most High, what He has affirmed for Himself without false interpretation or distorting the meaning from what is apparent in the text (i.e.tahreef), and also without denying the text or its apparent meaning (i.e. ta’teel) and without making any resemblance of of the Names and Attributes of Allaah with the creation (i.e. tamtheel). And that is because these three affairs are considered to be from deviation (i.e. ilhaad) as mentioned in the verse.
The second verse proves the obligation of rejection and negation of resembling Allaah, the Most Perfect and Most High, with His creation and the verse at the same time obligates the affirms Hearing and Seeing for Allaah in a manner that befits His Majesty.
The third verse proves the obligation of not speaking about how the attributes of Allaah are (i.e. takyeef). This is to say about an Attribute that it is ‘like this’ or ‘like that’. It is also forbidden to ask how about an Attribute of Allaah, such as if a person was to say, ‘How did He ascend over His Throne?’, or, ‘How does He descend to the lowest Heaven in the last third of every night?’
Rather what is affirmed and known from the Qur’aan and Sunnah is that He ascended and He descends, and the words ‘ascending’ and ‘descending’ are known and are carried upon their apparent meaning without asking how. This verse also forbids us from inventing metaphors for the Attributes of Allaah because that is to ascribe to Allaah that which He has not ascribed to Himself.
From that which we must realise and understand is that Ahlu-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah, the Companions of the Prophet and those who came after them, believed that all of the Attributes of Allaah that are affirmed in the Qur’aan and Sunnah are real (haqeeqiyyah) and not metaphorical (majaaziyah).
Al-Haafidh Ibn Abdul-Barr al-Anduloosee al-Maalikee who was born in 368H mentioned the ijmaa’ (consensus) in this affair from the Salaf, in his book At-Tamheed 7/145, he stated:
Ahlus-Sunnah are in agreement upon acknowledging and affirming that all of the Attributes mentioned in the Qur’aan and Sunnah, and belief in them; that they are carried upon their apparent meaning and not metaphorically – [and Ahlus-Sunnah] they do not state how they are at all. As for ahlul-bid’ah, the Jahmiyyah, the Mu’tazilah, the Khawaarij, all of them reject this, and they do not carry any of these Attributes upon their apparent meanings. They claim that the one who affirms them [i.e. the apparent meanings] is an anthropomorphist (mushabbih). And according to those who affirm [the Attributes] these [ahlul-bid’ah] negate the One who is worshiped [due to their negation of His Attributes]. And the truth is what they have said with speech that is in accordance with the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wassalam) – and they are the Imaams of the Jamaa’ah, and all praise is due to Allaah.
And many scholars of the earliest of times have mentioned the ijmaa’ (concensus) in this affair from the Salaf (the Pious Predecessors). The early Scholars took the apparent meanings of the Attributes and understood them to be real and that they befit the Majesty of Allaah, the Most High. So they affirmed the Attribute and its meaning without claiming to be ignorant of that.
It is unheard of for the early scholars to have stated that they were unaware or ignorant of the meanings– as is crystal clear from the statement of Imaam Maalik Ibn Anas (died 179) when he said concerning the Ascension of Allaah over the Throne: “The Ascension (al-Istiwaa of Allaah) is known.” So Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah affirm the Attributes and the meanings such as the word: al-‘Izza (Might) in His saying:
And to Allaah belongs Might (al-‘Izza)…
And its meaning is Ability (al-Qudrah) and Dominance (al-Ghalabah). Likewise with the word: istiwaa (to Ascend) in His saying:
And its meaning is al-‘Uluww (i.e. High above and Ascended above) and we will explain this affair in detail elsewhere, due to the fact that many people have gone astray in this issue.
So this is the path of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah with respect to all of the Attributes, because Allaah has addressed His servants in His Book in the clear Arabic language – and the Prophet addressed hisUmmah in the clear Arabic language. So it incumbent to affirm the real and manifestly clear meanings which the actual Arabic words indicate in the Qur’aan and Sunnah – and this is what true belief and the correct ‘aqeedah necessitates.
Speaking about those narrations which mention the attributes of Allah, Imaam at-Tirmidhee(d. 279H)said in his Sunan (1/128-129):
“It has been stated by more than one person from the People of Knowledge about such narrations, that there is no tashbeeh (resemblance) to the Attributes of Allaah, and our Lord, the Blessed and Most High, descends to the lowest heaven every night. So they say: ‘Affirm these narrations, have Eemaan (faith) in them, do not deny them, nor ask how.’ The likes of this has been related from Maalik ibn Anas, Sufyaan ath-Thawree, Ibn Uyainah and Abdullaah Ibn al-Mubaarak, who all said about such narrations: ‘Leave them as they are, without asking how.’ Such is the saying of the People of Knowledge from Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. However, the Jahmiyyahoppose these narrations and say: ‘This is tashbeeh!’ However, Allaah the Most High, has mentioned in various places in His Book, the Attribute of al-yad (Hand), as-Sama’ (Hearing), and al-Basr (Seeing) – but the Jahmiyyah make ta’weel of these aayaat (verses), explaining them in a way, other than how they are explained by the People of Knowledge. They say: ‘Indeed, Allaah did not create Aadam with His own Hand – they say that Hand means the Power of Allaah’.”
Ishaaq ibn Ibraheem ar-Raahawaih (d. 238H) said:
Tashbeeh is if it is said: Hand like my hand,or similar to my hand,it is said:Hearing like my Hearing,or similar to my hearing,then this is tashbeeh. But if what is being said is what Allah has said: Hand, Hearing Seeing ,and it is not asked how,nor is it said:like my hearing ,or similar to my hearing – then it is not tashbeeh (resemblance). Allaah, the Most Blessed and Most High, said in His Book:“There is none like Unto Him,and he is the all-hearing,the all-Seeing”(Soorah ash-Shooraa 42:11)
From this one realises the falsehood of the doctrine of the Mufawwidhah – those who say:
We believe in the Attributes that have been narrated in the texts, but we do not affirm the meanings that the words indicate – we leave the knowledge of the meanings to Allaah.
This is a newly invented doctrine that came after the first the first three generations. Al-Haafidh adh-Dhahabee said in his book al-‘Uluww, page 532, in the biography of al-Qaadhee Abu Ya’laa:
The late-comers from the people of rhetoric (Ahlul-Kalaam) made statements that were not known to anyone before them. They would say: “These Attributes are taken as they were revealed, they are not to be interpreted; along with the belief that what is apparent from them [in meanings] is not what is intended (!!)”.
And the ‘Allaamah Muhammad Sideeq Hasan Khan said in his book, Qitfuth-Thamar, page 45, after mentioning the doctrine of the Mufawwidhah and the notion that some of them have that Tafweedh (i.e. relegating the knowledge of the meanings of the Attributes to Allaah and claiming ignorance of them) was the way of the earliest generations of Scholars:
And the person who holds this notion is most ignorant of people of the ‘aqeedah of the Salaf, and the most astray from right-guidance. And this notion is an attribution of ignorance to the first and foremost believers from the Muhaajireen and the Ansar and the rest of the Companions and the great Scholars who were the most knowledgeable of the Ummah and the ones who had the most understanding, and the best in deeds and the most precise in following the Messenger. And this notion necessitates that the Messenger spoke with words of which he did not know the meanings – and this is a great error and an ugly impertinence – and we seek Allaah’s refuge from it!
The Salaf were free of such falsehoods. It would be the peak of impertinence and brazenness to claim that Allaah’s Messenger did not know the meanings of the Words of Allaah that he was reciting and teaching to his noble Companions – that he would recite the verses in which Allaah mentions His ‘Ascension’, His ‘Face’, His ‘Eyes’, His ‘Anger’, His ‘Pleasure’ and His ‘Coming’ yet the Prophet was ignorant of the meanings of these clear words!?
We seek Allaah’s refuge from ascribing such matters to the noblest of all of mankind! Indeed the narrations from the Salaf are numerous (mutawaatir) in affirmation of the meanings of the Attributes of Allaah. And yes, they made tafweedh – but only in the kayfiyyah of the Attributes (i.e. saying ‘how’ the Attributes are), which is not known except to Allaah. And this why Imaam Maalik Ibn Anas said:
So what is clear from that which has preceded is that the ‘aqeedah of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah regarding the Names of Allaah and His Attribute in general is:
To believe in everything which Allaah has affirmed for Himself or that which His Messeneger has affirmed for Him from the Names and Attributes. And they are affirmed for Him, the Most Perfect, upon that which befits His Majesty and Greatness – without turning to anything from tahreef (distortion), ta’teel (negation), takyeef (to ask how), tamtheel (resemblance).
To negate that which Allaah has negated from Himself or whatever has been negated from Him by His Messenger Muhammad – and to believe in the perfect opposite for Him, the Most Perfect and Most High.
To believe that all of His Attributes are true and real Attributes, not comparable to or resembling the attributes of the creation.
The meaning of Tahreef: Changing of a word away from the known meaning without any evidence – such as changing the meaning of al-Yadayn (Two Hands) that are ascribed to Allaah to mean Power or Bounty – or to change the meaning of al-istiwaa (The Ascension) of Allaah over the Throne to mean al-Isteelaa (to conquer) – or alter adh-Dhahak (The Laughter) of Allaah to mean ath-Thawaab (the Reward) of Allaah; and other than that from that which the ash’arees fall into.
And the ash’arees claim they do all this to free Allaah from any resemblance to the creation! So they begin by assuming that their is resemblance, then they take the second step which is to explain away, without evidence, that which Allaah has affirmed for Himself! The response of Ahlus-Sunnah is as the great Imaam Ishaaq ibn Ibraheem ar-Raahawaih (died 238H) said:
Tashbeeh (to resemble Allaah with the creation) is if it is said: Hand like my hand, or similar to my hand, it is said:Hearing like my Hearing, or similar to my hearing,then this is tashbeeh. But if what is being said is what Allah has said: Hand, Hearing, Seeing, and it is not asked how, nor is it said: Like my hearing, or similar to my hearing – then it is not tashbeeh (resemblance). Allaah, the Most Blessed and Most High, said in His Book: “There is none like Unto Him,and he is the all-hearing,the all-Seeing.(Soorah ash-Shooraa 42:11)
And the tahreef (distortion) of the misguided sects is from ilhaad (deviation) with respect to the Names of Allaah and His Aayaat – so they interpret (ta’weel) the texts regarding the Attributes upon other than their true interpretation. By by doing so they change the words from their correct meanings to invented meanings, without any evidence.
And they claim that they are changing the meaning from one probable understanding to one that is more probable – without any evidence, except that which is from the opinions and intellects of men, which they regard as decisive evidence!
This is the reality of the affair: mere doubts of the people of rhetoric, giving precedence to their intellects over the Revelations based upon ancient Greek Philosophy; inventing interpretations and metaphors for the Attributes of Allaah that were unheard of amongst the best of generations, i.e. the Companions and those who followed them.
So in reality the ta’weel (interpretation) of the ash’arees of the Attributes of Allaah is tahreef (distortion and changing) of the Speech of Allaah and the speech of His Messenger away from its correct place and understanding.
The meaning of Ta’teel: To negate that which is obligatory to affirm for Allaah from His Names and Attributes, or to deny some of them. So it is of two types:
- Complete ta’teel (negation): This is complete and utter negation such as that of the Jahmiyyahthose who deny the Names and Attributes completely.
- Partial ta’teel (negation): This is like the ta’teel of the ash’arees, who negate some of the Attributes and explain them away with invented interpretations that were unknown in the time of the Sahaabah and those who followed them in goodness.
The first person to be known for ta’teel in this Ummah was Ja’d Ibn Dirham and then his disciple Jahm Ibn Safwaan – and everyone who came after them from the people of ta’teel and followed their path whether partially or wholly is a muqallid (blind-follower) of them.
The meaning of Takyeef: is to mention how an Attribute is, such as someone saying: Allaah’s Hand is like this and like that and Allaah’s Descent to lowest Heaven is like this and like that. So a person may not compare Him to a specific and named created thing but he delves into how he perceives the Attribute to be. This delving is forbidden and how an Attribute is, is not known except to Allaah.
Sometimes a person may even combine this takyeef with resemblance (tamtheel), so he may say for instance: How does Allaah Descend? He Descends like the rain descends. Allaah is Most High and far removed from such ascriptions. So this misguided one has gathered between takyeef and tamtheel (i.e. between saying how and resembling Allaah with the creation).
The meaning of Tamtheel: Affirming a likeness with something, such as if a person was to say: The Hand of Allaah is like the hand of a human – free is Allaah, the Most High, from that.
So the reality of the matter is that Allaah is al-Hayy, the Ever Living; He is Living yet we live also, but our life is not in any way like His Living, as He has stated: There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. Allaah at the end of this affirms for Himself hearing and seeing. And we have hearing and seeing which is created, and limited, and weak, it cannot encompass except short and small distances; our life which is created, short, limited followed by our death – so none of our attributes are comparable with Allaah, the Perfect, the Most Merciful, All-Powerful and All-Knowing Creator, He is just as He has described Himself, the Most High and there is nothing like unto Him.
And all praise is for Allaah, Lord of the worlds, and may the peace and blessings of Allaah be upon the Messenger, his family and his Companions.