The Speech and Voice of Allah: Ibn Kullāb (died 240H) and the Repentance of Al-Ash’ari before his death in 324AH.

Ashari Madhhab

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All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation; may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our noble Prophet Muhammad, his family, his Companions and all those who follow him exactly until the establishment of the Hour.

Shaikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (رحمه الله) stated:

“There is not from the imams and the Salaf anyone who said: ‘Allah does not speak with a voice (صوت).’ Rather, it is established from the Salaf and the imams (leaders in knowledge) that Allah speaks with a voice. And this has been reported in well-known narrations from the Salaf and the imams. The Salaf and the great scholars would make mention of the narrations wherein it is stated that Allah speaks with a voice and no one from them would ever reject that. Indeed, Abdullah Ibn Ahmad said: ‘I said to my father (i.e. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal): ‘There are some people who say that Allah does not speak with a voice?’ He replied: ‘My son! These people are Jahmiyyah, they wish to negate the Attribute.’ He then mentioned some narrations in that regard.

And the position of Imam Al-Bukhari in his Kitāb Khalq Al-Af’āl is clear in stating that Allah speaks with a voice and he makes a distinction between the Voice of Allah and the voices of the creation. Bukhari reported a number of ahādeeth from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). Also, he placed a chapter heading in his Saheeh entitled: The Saying Of Allah (the Most High),

وَلَا تَنفَعُ الشَّفَاعَةُ عِندَهُ إِلَّا لِمَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ ۚ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا فُزِّعَ عَن قُلُوبِهِمْ قَالُوا مَاذَا قَالَ رَبُّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا الْحَقَّ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْكَبِيرُ – 34:23

“Until when fear is banished from their (angels’) hearts, they (angels) say: “What is it that your Lord has said?” They say: “The truth. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.”

Then he narrates ahādeeth which prove that Allah speaks with a voice.” (See Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa of Ibn Taymiyyah 6/527-528 and the footnote 1 for the Arabic)

There has never been a group of Muslims who ever denied that Allah speaks with a voice except for Ibn Kullāb (the founder of the Ash’ari creed) and his followers. Likewise, there has never been a group of Muslims who said: ‘Speech is one essence or a singular entity (معنى واحد) established with the speaker himself’ except for Ibn Kullāb and his followers. (Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa of Ibn Taymiyyah, 6/528)

There has never been from the Muslims anyone who ever said that the letters, that are the ink of the Mushafs, are eternal without beginning. So the affirmation of Letters and Voice for Allah (Al-Harf was-Sawt) with the meaning that the ink used to write the Mushafs and the voices of people who recite the Quran are therefore eternal is a false innovation that none of the Imāms of the religion ever stated. Additionally, the denial of the fact that Allah speaks with a voice and to believe that His Speech is a singular entity (or meaning) present with His Self (معنى واحد قائم بالنفس) is an innovation and a falsehood not mentioned by any of the Salaf or the great Scholars. (Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa of Ibn Taymiyyah, 6/528)

That which the Salaf and the Imams are agreed upon is that the Qur’an is the speech of Allah, revealed, sent down and not created. From Allah, it began, and to Him, it shall return. So the Salaf would say: “From Him, it began.” And that is because the Jahmiyyah among the Mu’tazilah and others would say: “Allah created speech in a location (or situation).” So the scholars of the Salaf responded by saying, “From Him, it began (منه بدأ).” Meaning that He (Allah) is the One who speaks with it (i.e. the Qur’an), so it began from Him and not from one of the created beings. This is proven from the statements of Allah, the Most High:

تَنزِيلُ الْكِتَابِ مِنَ اللَّهِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَكِيمِ – 39:1

“The revelation of this Book (the Quran) is from Allah, the All-Mighty, the All-Wise.”

And:

وَلَٰكِنْ حَقَّ الْقَوْلُ مِنِّي لَأَمْلَأَنَّ جَهَنَّمَ مِنَ الْجِنَّةِ وَالنَّاسِ أَجْمَعِينَ – 32:13

“But the Word from Me concerning evildoers took effect: that I will fill hell with the jinn and mankind together.”

And:

وَيَرَى الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْعِلْمَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ مِن رَّبِّكَ هُوَ الْحَقَّ وَيَهْدِي إِلَىٰ صِرَاطِ الْعَزِيزِ الْحَمِيدِ – 34:6

“And those who have been given knowledge see that what is revealed to you [O Prophet] from your Lord is the truth, and guides to the Path of the Exalted in Might, Owner of all praise.”

And:

قُلْ نَزَّلَهُ رُوحُ الْقُدُسِ مِن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيُثَبِّتَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَهُدًى وَبُشْرَىٰ لِلْمُسْلِمِينَ – 16:102

“Say (O Muhammad): It is the Pure Spirit [Jibreel] who has brought it (the Quran) down from your Lord with truth, that it may make firm and strengthen those who believe and as a guidance and glad tidings to those who have submitted to Allah as Muslims.”

And when the Salaf and the great Scholars said: “And to Him, it (the Qur’an) will return.” It means that will be lifted and raised from the hearts and the scrolls (i.e. from the Mushafs upon which it is written) so that there will not remain in the hearts even a verse (Āyah) from it and nor a letter [in the Mushafs] as is reported in a number of narrations of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). (Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa of Ibn Taymiyyah, 6/528-529)

Who was Abdullah ibn Kullāb (died 240H)? This is where the Ash’aris get their Madhhab.

Imām Adh-Dhahabi (رحمه الله) mentioned him in his Siyar A’lām an-Nubalā (11/174) (summarised): He was the leader of the people of theological rhetoric (mutakallimeen) of Basrah in his time. His name was Abdullah ibn Sa’eed Ibn Kullāb Al-Qattān Al-Basri. He had some writings refuting the Mu’tazilah, and perhaps he [actually] agreed with them [in certain affairs]. Dawood Adh-Dhāhiri learnt kalām (rhetoric) from him as was stated by Abu Tāhir Adh-Dhuhali. It is said that Al-Hārith Al-Muhāsibi studied the sciences of logic and debate from him. He was called Ibn Kullāb, and he was able to draw his opponent to himself through his speech and eloquence. His followers were known as the Kullābiyyah. Some of them consider Abul-Hasan Al-Asha’ri to be among them. Ibn Kullāb would refute the Jahmiyyah. He believed that the Qur’ān was a singular entity established with the Self of Allah, not tied to the Ability and Will of Allah. No one preceded him with this belief at all. He this in order to resist those who said the Qur’ān was created.

Ibn Hajr narrated in Lisān Al-Mizān (4/486) (summarised), from Al-Hākim in his Tāreekh that Ibn Khuzaymah used to criticise the madhhab of the Kullābiyyah (followers of Ibn Kullāb) and he said that Ahmad ibn Hanbal (died 241H) was the severest of people against Abdullah ibn Sa’eed ibn Kullāb and his students. It is said that that he was called Ibn Kullāb because he was able to seize the one he was debating. As for the claim that he was the brother of Yahya ibn Sa’eed Al-Qattān, then that is a mistake and an error.

In the biography of Shaikh Al-Islam Muhammad ibn Ishāq As-Sirāj, the Muhaddith of Khurasān (died 313H), Imam Adh-Dhahabi stated that Abu Sa’eed ibn Abi Bakr said: When the affair of the Kullābiyyah struck the city of Naysaboor, Muhammad ibn Ishāq As-Sirāj started tested to children so that he would not narrate to the children of the Khullābiyyah. So on one occasion, he made me stand up and said: “Say: ‘I free myself in front of Allah (the Most High) from the Kullābiyyah.'” I replied: “If I say that, my father will not give me bread to eat.” So he started laughing and said: “Leave this one alone.”

Ibn Kullāb was not on the ‘aqeedah of Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (رحمه الله) or upon the madhhab of the Imāms of Salaf. Ibrahim ibn Ahmad ibn Shāqalā Al-Hanbali (died 369H) was talking to a person upon the doctrine of Ibn Kullāb called Abu Sulaimān Ad-Dimashqi. So Ibn Shāqalā narrated to Abu Sulaimān the hadeeth of Anas ibn Mālik (رضي الله عنه) wherein the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “Indeed the hearts are between the two Fingers of Allah, and He turns them.” So Abu Sulaimān said: “They (the two Fingers) are His two Bounties.” Ibn Shaqālā responded: “Does the narration state that the two Fingers are two Bounties??” as a rebuke of his false interpretation. He continued: “The two Hands are Attributes of Allah’s Self. And no one preceded you in this false interpretation except Abdullah ibn Kullāb al-Qattān whose madhhab you have embraced. And there no consideration to be given to the interpretation you mention that the hearts of the servants are between the two Bounties from the Bounties of Allah.” He continued: “Your madhhab (belief) is that the Speech of Allah contains no command or prohibition, no ambiguous verses, no abrogating verses and no abrogated verses. You believe that His speech cannot be heard because according to you Allah does not speak with a voice and that Moosā did not hear the speech of Allah with his own hearing (i.e. his ears). You believe that Allah created in Moosā an understanding with which he understood!” So when he (Abu Sulaimān) saw what Ibn Kullāb was upon of repulsive and ugly beliefs, he said: “I hope by opposing Ibn Kullāb al-Qattān in this issue I will have opposed his madhhab [totally].” (See Tabaqāt Al-Hanābilah 2/133-135)

Ibn Kullāb innovated the doctrine of the Speech of Allah as a single entity (a single meaning) established and present with the Self (Adh-Dhāt) without voice or letters (which the Ash’aris-Kullābis refer to as Kalām Nafsi). Ibn al-Qayyim (died 752AH) stated, “He (Ibn Kullāb) broke the ijmā’ of Ahlul-Bid’ah by [innovating] the affair of the Speech established with the Self (Kalām Nafsi) and in that, he [also] opposed the Revelation (an-Naql), the intellect (al-‘aql), the innate nature (al-fitrah), the norms (al-‘urf) and the Arabic language. He came with something that was not known from anyone before him — and with this, he resembled the Christians in the affair of the Trinity.”

Ibn Taymiyyah stated: “Al-Hārith Al-Muhāsibi ascribed himself to the saying of Ibn Kullāb and for this reason, Ahmad ibn Hanbal ordered that Al-Muhāsabi should be boycotted — and Ahmad would warn against Ibn Kullāb and his followers.” (Dar’u Ta’ārad Al-‘Aql wa-Naql, 2/6)

The Rise of Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari, his early I’tizāl, his Repentance and Belief at the End of his Life.

The Ash’ari madhhab follows the doctrine of kalām (theological rhetoric) — it appeared after the first three excellent generations. They ascribe themselves to Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari (died 324AH) and they regard him as their founder. Al-Ash’ari was a staunch Mu’tazili until he reached the age of 40, in around 300 AH. Then he switched to the ideology of the Kullābiyyah which was, as mentioned above, founded by Abdullāh ibn Kullāb (died 240 AH) less than a century before. Ibn Kullāb was from the era of Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (رحمه الله) and Imam Ahmad criticised Ibn Kullāb and his followers severely.

Ibn Taymiyyah said: “The saying that Qur’an is from eternity, not with a voice, not with letters; it is not except a single entity (or meaning) present with the Self of Allah  — it is correct to say that it is the saying of the Ash’ariyyah. But the first to utter this in Islam was Abdullah Ibn Kullāb.

The Salaf and the imāms (scholars) would affirm for Allah (the Most High) what is established with His Self of Attributes and they affirmed Actions that are connected to His Will (Al-Mashee’ah) and His Power. The Jahmiyyah denied both of these. So Ibn Kullāb agreed with the Salaf in the establishment of the Eternal Attributes [of the Self], but he rejected the fact that there are Attributes established with Allah that are connected to His Will and Power.

And then came Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari after him and he was the student of Abu ‘Ali Al-Jubā’ee the Mu’tazili — then he retracted from the sayings of the Mu’tazilah. He explained their contradictions in many places. He went to extreme lengths in opposition of them in the issues of Qadr and Imān, and in al-wa’d (Allah’s promises of reward) and al-wa’eed (Allah’s threats of punishments) until they, due to this, ascribed to Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari the beliefs of the Murji’ah, Al-Jabriyyah and Al-Wāqifah (those who refuse to state a position in the issue of the creation of the Qur’an). And in the arena of the Attributes, he took the path of Ibn Kullāb. So this saying concerning the Qur’an is the saying of Ibn Khullāb in origin and it is the saying of those who followed him such as Al-Ash’ari and others.” (Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa 12/178)

So the Kullābiyyah (and then the Ash’ariyyah) tried to carve out for themselves a niche between Ahlus-Sunnah and the Mu’tazilah. Ibn Taymiyyah, Adh-Dhahabi, Al-Miqreezi and others stated that Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari left the madhhab of the Mu’tazilah and adopted the views of Ibn Kullāb.

Ibn Taymiyyah stated, “The closer a person is to the era of the Salaf, the more knowledgeable he is in comprehending and transmitting [what is correct]. And I affirm this for the Hanbali madhhab and I clarify that Al-Ash’ari was from the students of the Mu’tazilah, then he repented; he was a student of Al-Jubuā’ee the Mu’tazili, however, he left that for the path of Ibn Kullāb. Then he took knowledge of the sciences of Hadeeth from Zakariyyah As-Sāji in Basra. Then, when he arrived in Baghdād, he took knowledge from the Hanbalis in Baghdād in other subjects of Religion. And that was his final affair [that he died upon] as he himself and his companions stated in their books.” (Majmū’ Al-Fatāwa 3/228).

However, the Ash’aris of later times up until today took the doctrine of Al-Ash’ari when he was upon the madhhab of Ibn Kullāb. So in reality, they are Al-Kullābiyyah — in fact, they are far worse in their creed than even Ibn Kullāb (and Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari in his Kullābi phase) since they adopted much of what Ibn Kullāb refuted from the ideologies of the Jahmiyyah and Mu’tazilah!

That is why they do not read (or even acknowledge) the book of Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari (رحمه الله) entitled Al-Ibānah ‘an Usool Ad-Diyānah wherein (page 20) he said, “Our saying with which we speak and our belief upon which we practice our religion is: to hold fast to the Book of our Lord, and to Sunnah of our Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and what is narrated from the trustworthy ones, the Sahābah, the Tābi’ee and the Imāms of Hadeeth — and by that we are protected, and [we hold fast] to whatever was stated by Abu Abdillah Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal (died 241AH), may Allah make his face radiant, raise his rank and reward him abundantly — and those who oppose his speech [in the ‘aqeedah] are to be opposed. That is because he was a virtuous imām, a complete leader through whom Allah made the truth clear, and by whom He repelled misguidance and clarified the Manhaj (Methodology) and bridled [and extinguished] the innovations of the innovators, the deviations of the deviants and the doubts of the doubters — so may Allah have mercy on this foremost imām, a noble and great scholar of deep understanding.”

This retraction shows clearly that he left the Kullābiyyah and adopted the creed and methodology of Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (and his students) especially since it was well-known that Imām Ahmad held a harsh stance towards Abdullah ibn Kullāb and anyone who followed him. And it was for this reason he ordered the abandonment of Al-Hārith Al-Muhāsabi who was a follower of Ibn Kullāb. So it is safe to assume that Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari had drawn close to the understanding and creed of Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal (رحمه الله). This is further proven by his visit to Al-Barbahāri, the imām of Ahlus-Sunnah of his time, where Al-Ash’ari announced his freedom from any connection to Mu’tazilah and others who opposed the ‘aqeedah of Imām Ahmad. (See Adh-Dhahabi in As-Siyar under the biography of Al-Barbahāri).

Having said that, it is correct to conclude that Abul-Hasan Al-Ash’ari did not completely relinquish all of the influences of the Kullābiyyah that he had learned [after his leaving the Mu’tazilah], but, there is no doubt that he came closer to the madhhab of Ahlus-Sunnah as is clear in his final works such as Al-Ibānah ‘an Usool ad-Diyānah. May Allāh have mercy upon him.

More reading.

Footnotes:

[1]

قال شيخ الإسلام ابن تيمية رحمه الله

وليس في الأئمة والسلف من قال: إن الله لا يتكلم بصوت ، بل قد ثبت عن غير واحد من السلف والأئمة : أن الله يتكلم بصوت ، وجاء ذلك في آثار مشهورة عن السلف والأئمة ، وكان السلف والأئمة يذكرون الآثار التي فيها ذكر تكلم الله بالصوت ولا ينكرها منهم أحد ، حتى قال عبد الله بن أحمد : قلت لأبي : إن قوما يقولون : إن الله لا يتكلم بصوت ؟ فقال : يا بني هؤلاء جهمية إنما يدورون على التعطيل . ثم ذكر بعض الآثار المروية في ذلك .
وكلام ” البخاري ” في ” كتاب خلق الأفعال ” صريح في أن الله يتكلم بصوت ، وفرّق بين صوت الله وأصوات العباد ، وذكر في ذلك عدة أحاديث عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم ، وكذلك ترجم في كتاب الصحيح باب في قوله تعالى: (حتى إذا فزع عن قلوبهم قالوا ماذا قال ربكم قالوا الحق وهو العلي الكبير ) وذكر ما دل على أن الله يتكلم بصوت

مجموع الفتاوى 6/527

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