Why do we refer to ourselves as Māturīdīs?

By Rustam Mahdi
Translated by Mawlānā Suhail Akubat

The following is a translation of a short and basic Arabic article by Rustam Mahdi entitled “Why do we call ourselves Maturidis?”[1] A brief footnote has been added to clarify one particular issue which Salafis commonly use to claim that Hanafi ‘aqida is different from Maturidi ‘aqida.[2] – The Translator

It saddens us that a statement has begun to circulate amongst people, especially the salafis, that: ‘Why do you call yourselves Maturidis? Is the creed of Abu Hanifah not convincing enough for you that you have turned away from it and have turned towards that which Abu Mansur al-Maturidi was inclined to?’

The problem with many Salafis is that they assume that whatever they present is clear binding proof, and do not notice doors that have been opened which they have no ability to close. It saddens us that we observe attempts at denigration using questions such as these, which are cheap in the marketplace of academia, by those ascribed to learning; although we do not find it surprising that they are widespread on the tongues of uneducated laymen.

Hence I would like to mention – and Tawfiq is from Allah – that it is from a person’s academic character to evaluate substances and not mere terminologies. This is because variation and divergence in terminologies is of no consequence when they point to the same reality. Hence it is fine for a person who believes in the Din of Muhammad (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) to refer to himself as “Muhammadi”, in attribution to him (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), or “Bakri”, in attribution to Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, or “‘Umari” in attribution to ‘Umar b. al-Khattab, or ‘Uthmani in attribution to ‘Uthman b. Affan, or “‘Alawi” in attribution to ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with them). All of these terminologies indicate that the one being attributed is on the Din of these very individuals.

Those who have read about the Hanafis will have realised that the terminology ‘Maturidiyyah’ is a later day terminology that didn’t exist at the time of Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi. The representatives of Hanafi creed were known as “Hanafis” in books belonging to those besides their adversaries – who were dominated by inflexibility and corporealism. In the books of their adversaries however, they were referred to by the term ‘Jahmiyyah’, just as such attacks were extended towards the Jurist of the Religion, Imam Abu Hanifah, himself.

Even after the era of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, for many generations, there was no terminology, ‘Maturidiyyah’. Thus those who professed the Aqidah of the Maturidiyyah were called ‘Hanafiyyah’. So, had Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi been asked about his ‘aqidah, he would have replied that he is a “Hanafi.” This is why we also see the Maturidi Scholars such as al-Nasafi – author of ‘Tabsirat al-Adillah’ – after listing the opinions of various sects – saying: ‘The Hanafis say…’ in order to cite the opinions of the Maturidiyyah. We understand from this that the creed otherwise known as ‘the creed of the Maturidiyyah’ was referred to by the early scholars of the Madhhab as ‘the creed of the Hanafis’.

If this is so, why did the term ‘Maturidiyyah’ emerge amongst Hanafis? Did they turn away from Imam Abu Hanifah and his creed and look for another Imam, until they agreed to take Abu Mansur al-Maturidi as an Imam to the exclusion of Imam Abu Hanifah in order to show their opposition to Abu Hanifah?

The Salafis answer: “Yes! The Maturidis are Maturidis because they have taken Abu Mansur al-Maturidi as their Imam to the exclusion of Abu Hanifah.”

This claim of theirs means that all of the scholars of the Hanafi Madhab who are referred to as Maturidiyyah or hold the same beliefs as the Maturidiyyah have agreed to oppose Abu Hanifah in Aqidah, and they put great thought into finding a way to make their opposition to Imam Abu Hanifah apparent, thus coining the term ‘Maturidiyyah’. This is the implication of what they say.

We will not waste time listing the many statements of the Scholars of the Maturidiyyah – whose books are filled with clear statements attributing themselves towards Imam Abu Hanifah in creedal matters – in an attempt to prove to the Salafis that the Scholars of the Hanafi Madhab did NOT congregate in secrecy in the darkness of the night, conjuring up a plan to initiate the term ‘Maturidiyyah’ to make their opposition clear. Nor will I mention the firm statement of Abu’l Yusr al-Bazdawi al-Maturidi, who clearly mentions in his book, ‘Imam Abu Hanifah is our Imam, in creedal matters and in Fiqh.’ This is because he who has matured intellectually as much as he has matured biologically realises as soon as this claim enters his ears that it is false and will have full conviction that it from the devils’ whisperings to the people.

But I will take note of the true reason for the Hanafis being called ‘Maturidiyya’, and whether this goes against reality or not.

The scholars of the Hanafi Madhab who have a grasp of the creedal sciences will not differ over the fact that Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi is a verifying authority of this area, with firm-grounding in this field. It is likely that he alone surpassed those before him in verifying the creed of Imam Abu Hanifah and his companions. We have not received the works of anyone else, were we to assume that they did something similar. This is why he is the most pivotal station along the line of the pure Hanafi creed.

If we take a glance at the books of Imam Abu Hanifah that discuss his creed, we find that there is clear brevity. They are straightforward in the style of citation and answering. The imam does not answer the adversaries by name, and even if he makes allusions, he does not elaborate. This is not surprising given the early period he was in, wherein authoring books was not so common. This was also the style of letters that were written in a question and answer format.

On the contrary, one who takes a glance at the ‘Kitab al Tawhid’ of al-Maturidi will see something different. It is a book supported by a methodological and coherent format, in which a cohesive dialectical intuition is manifest. The author refutes his adversaries by name and defends his creed using a precise dialectical technique. There is a degree of elaboration in it – as opposed to the books of Abu Hanifah – were it not for which, the like of Imam Abu l-Yusr al-Bazdawi would have sufficed with it, as he stated in his book called Usul al-Din (p. 14).

We understand from all of this that Imam al-Maturidi took up the task of developing the creedal heritage of Imam Abu Hanifah. And it is he who the Hanafis began to attribute themselves towards. By attributing themselves to him, they are saying: “We understand the creedal heritage of Imam Abu Hanifah through the work of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi, who was amongst the most knowledgeable personalities of those belonging to his school, and not from the explanations of anyone else.” This attribution of theirs does not mean that they chose al-Maturidi as their Imam over Abu Hanifah (Allah be pleased with him).

To clarify this matter further, we will give an example. There is no doubt in the fact that the juristic school which was represented by ‘Alqamah, Ibrahim, Hammad and Abu Hanifah is the Juristic school of the people of al-Iraq. Its leader after the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) was ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ud. Will an intelligent man now be tempted to ask,

“Why is it not called The School of Ibn Mas’ud, or ‘Alqamah or Ibrahim or Hammad? Why has it been named ‘Hanafiyyah’?! This means that those who attribute themselves to Abu Hanifah do not regard Hammad, Ibrahim and ‘Alqamah imams in Fiqh!”

Muslims are distributed into four schools of thought. Does that mean that the Hanafis chose Abu Hanifah, the Malikis chose Malik, the Shafi’is chose al-Shafi’i, the Hanbalis chose Ahmed as their imams to the exclusion of the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)? Or does it mean that they understand the Fiqh of the Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) upon the path of these imams, each according to his preference?

Similarly, when we attribute ourselves to Imam al-Maturidi, this means we understand the creed of Imam Abu Hanifah upon the path of Abu Mansur al-Maturidi. This is because he is most knowledgeable with regards to the aqidah of Abu Hanifah as he was described by Imam Abu Mu’in al-Nasafi. He devoted himself to this just as others devoted themselves to Abu Hanifah’s juristic school.

Moreover, who do we believe with regard to the aqidah of Imam Abu Hanifah and on whose understanding should we understand his statements? And who should we make our guide in understanding Abu Hanifah? Should we take al-Kirmani as our leader in understanding the speech of Abu Hanifah, when he is the one who described Imam Abu Hanifah as being misguided, or do we adopt the understanding of those who accused him of being Jahmi, or do we tread the path of Abdullah b. Ahmed in understanding Imam Abu Hanifah, who blackened his book with allegations levelled against Abu Hanifah? Or do we understand Abu Hanifah as Ibn Taymiyyah understood him or do we read what al-Khumayyis has written to understand Abu Hanifah?

If one asks, ‘why do you not refer to yourselves as Hanafi rather than referring to yourselves as Maturidi? Was Imam Abu Hanifah not well-versed in creed?’

We will reply, ‘we call ourselves Hanafi in Aqidah too just as the case was for a long period after Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi.’ We have clarified this previously.

Also, why do you not ask us ‘why we don’t call ourselves Muhammadi? Was the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) not well-versed in Aqidah (al’ iyadhu billah)?’ Or ‘why do you not refer to yourselves as Bakri? Did Abu Bakr not know Aqidah just as well as Abu Hanifah or better?’ Or: ‘Why not attribute yourselves to ‘Umar, as ‘Umaris, or to ‘Uthman, as ‘Uthmanis, or to ‘Ali, so you can be ‘Alawis? Were these personalities not on the same level as Abu Hanifah in Aqidah or even more qualified?’ They have no answer to this that will satisfy the questioner.

The adversaries argue for al-Maturidi’s creed being different from Abu Hanifah by saying that Abu Hanifah didn’t endorse Ta’wil and in fact negated it, whereas Abu Mansur al-Maturidi permitted it.

We will say that these ignoramuses have not comprehended the meaning of ‘Madhhab’. A Madhhab in aqidah is like a Madhhab in Fiqh, nothing more. Those belonging to the madhhabs have differed with the imams of their madhhabs in many juristic issues, but no intelligent person has ever said that these people have come out of the madhhabs on account of those differences.

This is to the point that some of the followers of Maturidi differed with Maturidi in some creedal issues, from amongst which is the issue of the relationship of verbal recognition (iqrar) with iman, and no one says, neither from us nor from the adversaries, that they are not Maturidis on account of those differences.

The matter is simpler than this. For an imam to belong to a madhhab it is enough that he follows its basic foundations. Abu Mansur al-Maturidi took on creedal and theological discussions on the basic foundations of Abu Hanifah. His differences in the peripherals of creed thereafter are irrelevant because he is a verifying authority and isn’t required to follow anyone.

To conclude, this argument is weaker than the web of a spider, even though the ignoramuses may revive it from time to time.

Allahu l-Muwaffiq
Wa l-hamdu lillahi rabbi l-‘alamin

Rustam Mahdi

[1] The original Arabic article by Rustam Mahdi is viewable here: www.ehlirey.com/ar/لماذا-نسمي-أنفسنا-بالماتريدية؟/

[2] Imam Abu Hanifah on “Where is Allah?”

Regarding the quote from Imam Abu Hanifah about the person’s statement, “I don’t know whether Allah is on the earth or in the sky…”, it is recorded in the book al-Fiqh al-Absat. There is some controversy over the authenticity of this book as it is narrated through Abu Muti‘ al-Balkhi who is regarded as controversial. Nonetheless, this very book clarifies the belief of Imam Abu Hanifah on the question of “where is Allah.” It states in al-Fiqh al-Absat:

قلت: أرأيت لو قيل: أين الله؟ فقال: يقال له: كان الله تعالى ولا مكان قبل أن يخلق الخلق، وكان الله تعالى ولم يكن أين ولا خلق ولا شيء، وهو خالق كل شيء

The translation of this passage is as follows:

Abu Muti al-Balkhi said:

“I asked (Abu Hanifah): “What do you say if someone asks: Where is Allah?” Abu Hanifah responded: “It will be said to him: Allah had existed when there was no place, before He created creation. Allah had existed, when there was no “where”, when there was no creation or anything; and He is the Creator of everything.””

In other words, according to Imam Abu Hanifah, the question “where is Allah” is not a valid question, as “where” does not apply to Allah. Allah existed before there was any “where”. Allah created place. This is consistent with what Imam al-Tahawi records in his al-‘Aqidah al-Tahawiyya from Imam Abu Hanifah and his students:

تعالى عن الحدود والغايات والأركان والأعضاء والأدوات، لا تحويه الجهات الست كسائر المبتدعات

“Allah is far beyond limits and boundaries. He is far beyond having body parts, limbs and instruments. He is not contained by the six directions (up, down, front, back, right and left) like all creation.”

In other words, Allah is not limited by the limits of place, or the limits of three-dimensional space. Hence, it makes no sense to ask: “Where is Allah?” if you mean: “What is the location of Allah”, as Allah is far beyond having a location or place.

It is recorded in Hilyat al-Awliya, that one of the early imams Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi (d. 258) was asked “Where is Allah?” He answered: “Allah is in observation (i.e. He is observing His creation).” The person said: “I’m not asking about this.” Yahya ibn Mu‘adh al-Razi replied: “Then what you are asking about is a description of creation (i.e. location). Regarding the attribute of the Creator, I have told you about that.” (Hilyat al-Awliya)

Similar to this is a sound report from al-Hasan al-Basri that the companions asked the Prophet (peace be upon him), “Where is Allah?” This was understood as a question, not of location, but of how near Allah is to a slave in answering his pleas and supplications. Hence, al-Hasan al-Basri continues that the following verse of the Qur’an was revealed in response: “When my slaves ask you concerning Me, then surely I am near: I answer the supplication of the caller when he calls upon Me.” (2:186) (Tafsir al-Tabari)

In brief, the notions of “location”, “place”, and “area” are not befitting Allah, so if this is what is meant by the question “where is Allah?”, it is not a valid question, and the answer is: “There is no such thing as “where” for Allah.” And we have proven this from the statement of Imam Abu Hanifah himself.

Regarding the statement of Imam Abu Hanifah in question, it is recorded in al-Fiqh al-Absat as follows:

من قال: لا أعرف ربي فى السماء أو فى الأرض فقد كفر، وكذا من قال إنه على العرش ولا أدري العرش أفى السماء أو فى الأرض.

The meaning of this statement from al-Fiqh al-Absat is as follows:

“Whoever says: I do not know whether my Rabb is on earth on in the sky, he has committed kufr. And similarly, one who says: My Rabb is on the throne but I don’t know whether the throne is on earth or in the sky.”

What this passage means, as stated by an early commentator Abul Layth al-Samarqandi in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar, is that by making such a statement this person is claiming that Allah is fixed in a location, but he does not know what that location is. Hence, because of fixing Allah to a location, he has committed kufr. As shown from the other passages from Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Abu Hanifah clearly says Allah is not fixed to a location, so you cannot ask “Where is Allah” in its literal meaning of “What is the location of Allah?”, since you cannot limit Allah to a fixed location.

* This article first appeared here, and has been reproduced without any changes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s