Regarding Literalism - Anthropomorphism
by Sh. G. F. Haddad
How can taking the *haqiqi* [literal] and *dhahir* [apparent] meaning of such texts (concerning the sifat [attributes] of Allah (swt)) LEAD TO OTHER THAN TASHBIH??
This is why we either (a) do not at all discuss their meaning but mention them without comment or (b) interpret their meaning figuratively in case there is need to preclude tashbih.
For example, if we take an example not from an ayat/hadith (just to avoid any potential accountable statements), but from a word, say, *face.* Now, from where do we get our understanding of the word face? From where does what comes to your mind when you use or hear the word *face* come from?
From the *literal* and *apparent* meaning as you understand it lexically, surely? Where else??
In Arabic, wajh can have many meanings other than a face, for example it can mean direction. Then there are other lexical meanings that one might correctly call figurative, although this is open to argument. Some, like Ibn Taymiyya, claimed that there are no figurative meanings in the Qur;an but the weakness of this claim needs no demonstration.
So, how then can one affirm such texts in this manner and then claim that they aren't making tashbih? That contradicts the very concept of literal and apparent (doesn't it?)!! It's oxymoronic! To take the literal and apparent meaning, and then suggest that you aren't making tashbih because you aren't saying "how" these attributes are, is precisely to NOT take them at their literal and apparent import?
This stems from the mushabbih's misunderstanding of the rule that "we do not at all discuss their meaning but mention them without comment" for they usually insist on discussing their meaning if only to say: their meaning is exactly literal or other such suspicious "non-comment".
Is that not true, or am I missing a point here? Really Sidi, this has had me flummoxed for ages now! Lol. and no matter which way I look at it when I approach this question *in the shoes of a Salafi*, I can't get away from this dilemma.
Approach it in the shoes of the Salaf and you will sail smoothly over untroubled waters. There is so much sanity and clarity in the concision of the Salaf. If we find them too concise it is because we have problems with our Iman, and find the need to lace their words with spin which we then call the Salafi creed. I have seen no greater lie against the Salaf. For a true Sunni exposition of the concept of Tafwid - committal of the meaning - it is imperative to read Imam al-Nawawi's explanations of the narrations of the attributes in his Sharh Sahih Muslim.
After all, what is the LITERAL and APPARENT meaning of *face,* *hand,* *shin,* etc.? As soon as you remove one aspect of the meaning (e.g. kayfiyyah [howness]) then surely the meaning is no longer that which one conceptualises when one takes the literal and apparent understanding of such words. In other words, it necessitates a *re-defining* of the very concepts of *literal meaning* and *apparent meaning*!
and this is the rational proof that the correct meaning of tafwid is not the committal of howness but the pure, radical, and true-to-the-Salaf committal of meaning. The Salafis are the most obdurate deniers of this lexical reality and they went so far as to attack al-Nawawi, Ibn Hajar, al-Khattabi, Qadi `Iyad and so many others for holding it. They even dare to say that tafwid al-ma`na is nothing but ta`til - nullification of the Attributes- and this lie is a truly satanic subversion of the truth to claim that black is white and vice-versa. It is a measure of the spiritual rank granted to Abu Bakr that he said: Impotence to attain comprehension is comprehension (al-`ajzu `an darki al-idraki idrak). [Cited by al-Munawi in Fayd al-Qadir (6:181) without chain.] This statement is the essence of the committal of the meaning of the Divine Attributes to their Owner and this is precisely what Ahl al-Sunna meant and mean, despite what the wolves in sheep's clothing might claim.
Isn't that why most of the Ulema traditionally did not say *literally,* but merely admitted to affirming the text and then making either tafwid [consigning the meaning to Allah (awj)] or ta'wil [figurative expression]. Because as soon as you say *literally* or *apparently* you have moved into the realms of explaining *how* you are understanding the text.
Correct. and if the Ulema chanced to say *literally*, it was only to swiftly apply tawfid al-ma`na *and* balkafa (saying bila kayf).
Which is - according to our tradition - fine when such an understanding is majazi [metaphorical], in the sense of ta'wil. Or when it is tafwid.
So, in sum, my point is, that when we come across Salafi authors who on the one hand reject allegations of tashbih/tajsim, and on the other hand are comfortable with admitting that they take such texts upon their literal and apparent meanings, then you have - in my unlearned opinion (PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong here, because this is something I just cannot reconcile) - an instance of an oxymoron.
It is stronger than an oxymoron and stronger than a paradox. It is actually a contradiction in addition to being a violation of the directive to "not comment but let the wording pass without addressing the meaning." A contradiction of the fact that by interjecting the expression "literally" and so forth they are reinforcing, instead of defusing, the mind's instant recognition of a meaning that is *not* supposed to apply.
Either that person doesn't realize what they're admitting to, the necessary implications of it, and the inherent contradictions within it, OR, they think that just because they themselves don't conceptualize corporeality for Allah (awj), that admitting to taking the texts in this manner is somehow acceptable, for they themselves are proof that doing so doesn't necessarily lead to tashbih/tajsim.
This is why Dhu al-Nun al-Misri said, as narrated by al-Qushayri in his Risala: "However the mind conceives of Allah, He is otherwise." This is the problem which a foolhardy mind claims to be able to circumvent and, when it tries, it inevitably falls into anthropomorphism. But surely this is like
someone accepting the evidence yet rejecting the definitive and only conclusion which that evidence leads to. In other words, you can't. You can't for example, say, "I believe that the evidence proves that X is the rapist, yet I don't actually admit that X is the rapist." On what basis are you rejecting?
Haven;t you heard of those that say: "He is a body but unlike bodies"? So in terms of your example it is like saying X is a culprit unlike culprits, so the rulings properto culprits cannot apply to him. It is completely illegible because once the "body" part is established, the argument is closed and once the "culprit" part is established, the case is closed. Worse, their spiritual children today add, "He has a body but unlike bodies *made of parts*!"
One might wonder what is wrong with the latter statement if they (i.e. the Salafiyyah) say that they don't enter into discussions of kayfiyyah [howness] regarding it? What is wrong is that their understanding is conditioned by their admittance that they take this statement upon it's literal and apparent meaning, which forces a conclusion of tashbih, doesn't it?
They defend themselves by claiming that the meaning can be literal and apparent and yet dissociated from any created examplar. I.e. they claim to be able to say: literal eyes, face, hands, side, feet, shins, literally up there, on the throne, with limits (sic!) "but not like anything created" whereas stressing the letter of the text says "like nothing but the created". They do not realize that it does not cut it at all to preclude tashbih with a vacuous disclaimer such as "but not like" when their elephantine tashbih bursts through the seams of the rest of their discourse. Tashbih can come in so many other forms and they don;t fail to suggest any of them. This is what "taking the words literally" even for one second amounts to, even if "one denies anthropomorphic intent" for a hundred years. Hence Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad punished with untold harshness whoever even gestured or pointed while mentioning the Divine Attributes. Is it not enough proof that they make up expressions that the Salaf never used and apply them to the Attributes in a way unprecedented among the Salaf? So the very least we might say is that they are innovators in the Islamic creed. What is worse, is that their innovation is at least conducive to or suggestive of, anthropomorphism. The Salaf are innocent and clear of all this. They say:
it is only anthropomorphism if one says that Allah's Attributes are like our attributes, but if we describe Allah in the way that He has described Himself whilst denying any resemblance to the creation, this can never be anthropomorphism.
So the Salafis do admit that "it is only anthropomorphism if one says that Allah's Attributes are like our attributes" but they don;t realize exactly what amounts to saying that His Attributes are like ours. It is evident that they are on the unsafe side of this most dangerous fence and that the Salaf are on the other side. It is the Salaf that "describe Allah in the way that He has described Himself" and the Salaf stopped there, they were not nearly as verbose - or careless - as the Salafis!
Another thing which I wonder about concerning this whole dialectic about the correct position towards such ayaat, is regarding the verses of attributes being of the mutashabihat. I thought that according to the orthodoxy they are considered as such.
By al-Ash`ari who wrote his book Mutashabih al-Qur'an precisely over these verses as indicated by Ibn `Asakir in Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari; al-Maturidi in Kitab al-Tawhid and Ta'wil al-Qur'an; al-Pazdawi and the entire Maturidi School; Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani according to his bibliography by his student al-Sakhawi; al-Nawawi in Sharh Sahih Muslim and al-Majmu`, and the entire Ash`ari School including al-Ghazzali; Imam Malik and Ibn Rushd; the Seven Jurists of Madina; and al-Asma`i among others of the Salaf as reported by `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi in Usul al-Din as well as by al-Khattabi in xxiiMa`alim al-Sunaniixx (Hims ed. 5:101) and al-Qari in xxiial-Asrar al-Marfuaiixx (2nd ed. p. 209-210 #209; 1st ed. p. 126 #478).
Is this subject to ikhtilaf? For obviously the Salafis need to reject that such verses are, if they (i.e. the Salafiyyah) are to be able to argue their case.
Evidently. and they take their cue from... Ibn Taymiyya. When it is a case of IT against the Jumhur, it does not count as Ikhtilaf, as shown by al-Nabahani in Shawahid al-Haqq (p. 251). We stick to the Jumhur and avoid anomalous positions wal-Hamdu lillah. It is the height of piety and the height of tafwid to include those verses among the Mutashabihat and this is precisely why the Salaf ordered to let them pass without probing their meanings! and even if we should take the (non-majority) reading of verse 3:7 as to include "the people of knowledge" among those who know the meanings of the Mutashabihat verses, still, this does not mean that they allowed such meaning to be declared as positive knowledge among the people! Nor did the Salaf allow otherwise, contrary to the inveterate practice of the "Salafis" to discuss this day in and day out from every hill and vale. One proof - from the evidence they themselves adduce - being that even if `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas "affirmed that he was included amongst those who knew the meanings of these verses" yet he never spoke of those meanings anywhere near the way - or obsessive frequency - the Salafis speak of them! In fact, so many different instances of figurative interpretation are reported from Ibn `Abbas. As for the claim made about Mulla al-Qari:
If this were not the case, the scholars of the past would not have said that the meanings of Attributes are known to us, such as Mulla Ali Al-Qari, the Hanafi scholar, in his commentary to Mishkat Al- Masabih (8/251) where he wrote: "So the meanings of the Attributes are known, as far as the 'howness' is concerned, this is not known."
I have two editions of al-Qari's al-Mirqat Sharh al-Mishkat but did not find the above in either of them. In addition, al-Qari is well-known to follow a non-literalist path on the Attributes and this blurb of his taken out of context will not prove otherwise. You can verify this in my translation of his commentary on the Hadith of Descent which is posted on sunnah.org insha Allah. At any rate, here is a detailed discussion from a more authoritative Hanafi reference:
and Allah knows best.
[06 Apr 2001]