The Issue of the Ambiguous Attributes of Allāh

By Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Translated by Zameelur Rahman

Zuhayr ibn Harb and Ibn Numayr narrated to me: both of them from al-Muqri’. Zuhayr said: from ‘Abdullah ibn Yazid al-Muqri’: he said: Haywah narrated to us: Abu Hani informed me: that he heard Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Hubuli: that he said: ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-’As (Allah be pleased with him) says: that he heard Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) say:

“Verily all the hearts of the children of Adam are between two fingers of the fingers of the Most Merciful like one heart. He disposes of them however He wills.” Then Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said: “O Allah! Disposer of Hearts, dispose our hearts to Your obedience.” (Sahih Muslim)

His statement “two fingers of the fingers of the Most Merciful”: al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “This is one of the hadiths of attributes and there are two views in regards to them which have just preceded:

“One of them is to believe in them without venturing into ta’wil (interpretation) or trying to understand its meaning. Rather, one believes it is the truth and that its outward purport is not intended. Allah Most High said: ‘Naught is as His likeness’ (42:11).

“And the second is to interpret them in a manner that is befitting. According to this, the intended meaning is figurative. This is just as is said, ‘such and such a person is in my grasp and in my palm’; it is not intended by it that he took up residence in his palm, rather the intent is: he is under my power. It is said, ‘such and such a person is between my two fingers, I turn him however I wish’ i.e. that he is under my control and I will dispose of him how I wish. Thus, the meaning of the hadith is that He (Glorified and High is He) disposes of the hearts of His servants and other hearts besides them however He wills. None of them are thwarted from him, and what He intends does not escape Him, just as what is between the two fingers of man is not thwarted from him. Thus, He addresses the Arabs [in a manner] by which they will understand it and the like of it by [making use of] sensual meanings that give assurance to their souls. If it is said: Allah’s Power is one, and ‘two fingers’ (isba’an) is for duality, the response is that it has preceded that this is figurative and metaphorical, so the simile (tamthil) occurred in accordance to what they are used to without intending thereby duality or plurality. And Allah knows best.”

The weak servant (Allah pardon him) says:

Imam al-Nawawi (Allah Most High have mercy on him) only mentioned two paths (madhhabs) of the ‘ulama of Ahl al-Sunnah in the likes of these texts which attribute a finger to Allah (Most High), or a hand, or a palm, and other things besides these.

The first of them is the path of tafwid (relegation) and this is the position of the majority of the muhaddithin (hadith scholars) and predecessors (salaf), and the second is ta’wil (interpretation), and this is the position of most mutakallimin (scholastic theologians).

There is a third path which a group of the predecessors took, and al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi, ‘Allamah Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim (Allah Most High have mercy on them) preferred, and it is that the intended meaning of “finger” is its literal sense (ma’naha l-haqiqiyyah) but it is an attribute of Allah (Most High), is not a limb and is not like the fingers of creation, rather its kayfiyya (modality) is unknown.

‘Allamah Ibn Daqiq al-’Id mentioned a fourth method which was approved by many ‘ulama. He said: “We say about the problematic attributes, it is true and truthful according to the meaning Allah intended. Whoever interprets it, we consider [the interpretation]. If its interpretation is close, in accordance with the language of the Arabs we do not reject it, and if it is distant, we refrain from it and return to affirming [the intended meanings of the attributes] while declaring transcendence. That which is from the attributes whose meaning is apparent and clearly understood from the conversation of the Arabs we understand it in accordance with that, like His statement ‘In that I neglected the side of Allah (janb Allah)’ (39:56), for indeed the intended meaning of it in their popular usage is ‘duty to Allah (haqq Allah)’, so there is no hesitation in understanding it in accordance with this [meaning]. Similar is his statement: ‘Verily, the heart of the son of Adam is between the two fingers of the Most Merciful’, for indeed the intended meaning of it is that the will of the son of Adam’s heart is controlled by Allah’s Power and what He brings down on it.” Al-Hafiz transmitted this in Fath al-Bari (13:383), Kitab al-Tawhid, Bab ma Yudhkaru fi l-Dhati wa l-Nu’ut

All four paths are conceivable (muhtamilah). Multitudes of the verifying scholars have taken every one of them. For indeed the important thing in creed (‘aqidah) is declaring Allah (Most High) beyond tashbih (comparison) and ta’til (negation), and every one of these four paths is firmly convinced of this. The difference between them is not a difference in creed, for indeed the creed is declaring Allah beyond tashbih and ta’til, and it is only a difference of opinion in expressing that creed and basing them on the texts. So not one of these paths is entirely baseless or absolutely misguided, even if theoretical debates and arguments have not ceased to run between them for many centuries. Occasionally browbeating, exaggeration and excess occurred in them from the various sides and occasionally one of them steered in the direction of trespassing the limits of moderation, but the truth is that the basis of the dispute is nothing but an ijtihadi (judgemental) dispute, akin to the differences of the fuqaha (jurists) in juristic matters which are open to interpretation (mujtahad fiha). For this reason, outstanding scholars of the ummah, adherent devotees to the Book and the Sunnah of whose being from the people of truth and from the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jama’ah is not in doubt, took every opinion from these four opinions.

It is apparent that the path of the majority of the predecessors (salaf) was tafwid, and this is the safest, most prudent [path] and most in accordance with His statement (Most High): “no one knows its interpretation except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say: we believe therein’” (3:7). We have spoken on this matter in some detail in our writings around Tafsir ‘Uthmani which is from the sum of our Arabic essays. See, for elaboration of all sides of the matter, Kitab al-Asma’ wa l-Sifat by al-Bayhaqi, Daf’ Shubah al-Tashbih by Ibn al-Jawzi, Sharh Hadith al-Nuzul by Ibn Taymiyyah and Bawadir al-Nawadir by Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi (Allah Most High have mercy on them).

(Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim Vol 5. pp. 379-80)

This article first appeared on Deoband.org and can be found here.

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