Archive for the ‘‘ilm Kalam’ category

Fatwa of the Ulama’ of Al-Azhar on placing a direction to Allah

July 6, 2007

من فتاوى علماء الأزهر الشريف في معتقد الحلول والجهة الحسية .

قال الإمام العلامة المحدث المجدد أبو محمد محمود بن محمد بن أحمد بن خطاب السبكي الأزهري مؤسس الجمعية الشرعية بمصر وصاحب ( المنهل العذب المورود شرح سنن أبي داود ) المتوفى سنة 1352هـ رحمه الله تعالى قال في كتابه [ إتحاف الكائنات ببيان مذهب السلف والخلف في المتشابهات .. ] ص : 2 :

الحمد لله رب العالمين ، المنـزه عن صفات المخلوقين ، كالجهة والجسمية والمكان والفوقية ، والصلاة والسلام على سيدنا محمد ، الذي جاء بمحو الشرك والإلحاد وأمرنا بتنزيه الله تعالى عن صفات العباد ، والنـزل عليه ( قل هو الله أحد ، الله الصمد ، لم يلد ولم يولد ، ولم يكن له كفوا أحد ) وقوله : ( ليس كمثله شيء وهو السميع البصير ) وعلى آله وصحبه ومن اهتدى بهديه إلى يوم الدين . ) أما بعد ) فيقول : محمود بن محمد بن أحمد خطاب السبكي : قد سألني بعض الراغبين في معرفة عقائد الدين ، والوقوف على مذهب السلف والخلف في المتشابه من الآيات والأحاديث بما نصه :

]نص سؤال السائل :  [

ما قول السادة العلماء حفظهم الله تعالى فيمن يعتقد أن الله عز وجل له جهة !! وأنه جالس على العرش في مكان مخصوص !! ويقول : ذلك هو عقيدة السلف !! ويحمل الناس على أن يعتقدوا هذا الاعتقاد ويقول لهم من لم يعتقد ذلك يكون كافرا !! مستدلا بقوله تعالى : ( الرحمن على العرش استوى ) وقوله عز وجل : ( ءأمنتم من في السماء ) أهذا الاعتقاد صحيح أم باطل ؟؟؟ وعلى كونه باطلا أيكفر ذلك القائل باعتقاده المذكور ويبطل كل عمله من صلاة وصيام وغير ذلك من الأعمال الدينية وتبين منه زوجه ؟؟؟ وإن مات على هذه الحال قبل أن يتوب لا يغسل ولا يصلى عليه ولا يدفن في مقابر المسلمين ؟؟؟ وهل مَنْ صَدّقَه في ذلك الاعتقاد يكون كافرا مثله ؟؟ وما قولكم فيما يقوله بعض الناس من أن القول بنفي الجهات الست عن الله تعالى باطل لأنه يلزم عليه نفي وجود الله تعالى ؟؟؟ أفيدونا مأجورين مع بيان مذهب السلف والخلف في هاتين الآيتين ونحوهما من الآيات المتشابهات كـ( إليه يصعد الكلم الطيب ) وأحاديث الصفات كحديث ( ينـزل ربنا إلى السماء الدنيا ) وحديث البجارية بيانا شافيا مع ذكر أقوال علماء التفسير والحديث والفقه والتوحيد مع الإيضاح الكامل لتنقطع ألسنة المجازفين الذين يشبهون الله تعالى بخلقه ويعتقدون أن ما ذهب إليه علماء الخلف من التأويل كفر زاعمين أنه مذهب الجهمية الكفرة ، وأشاعوا ذلك بين العوام !! جزاكم الله تعالى عن الدين وأهله أحسن الجزاء .

] نص جواب الإمام أبي محمد محمود خطاب السبكي رحمه الله :  [

فأجبت بعون الله تعالى فقلت : بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم ، الحمد لله الهادي إلى الصواب ، والصلاة والسلام على من أوتي الحكمة وفصل الخطاب ، وعلى آله وأصحابه الذين هداهم الله ورزقهم التوفيق والسداد ، أما بعد :
فالحكم أن هذا الاعتقاد باطل ومعتقده كافر بإجماع من يعتد به من علماء المسلمين ، والدليل العقلي على ذلك : قدم الله تعالى ومخالفته للحوادث ، والنقلي قال تعالى : ( ليس كمثله شيء وهو السميع البصير ) 

فكل من اعتقد أنه تعالى حل في مكان أو اتصل به أو بشيء من الحوادث كالعرش أوالكرسي أو السماء أو الأرض أو غير ذلك فهو كافر قطعا ، ويبطل جميع عمله من صلاة وصيام وحج وغير ذلك ، وتبين منه زوجه وعليه أن يتوب فورا ، وإذا مات على هذا الاعتقاد ـ والعياذ بالله تعالى ـ لا يغسل ولا يصلى عليه ولا يدفن في مقابر المسلمين ، ومثله في ذلك كله من صدقه في اعتقاده أعاذنا الله تعالى من شرور أنفسنا وسيئات أعمالنا . وأما حمله الناس على أن يعتقدوا هذا الاعتقاد المكفر وقوله لهم من لم يعتقد ذلك يكون كافرا !! فهو كفر وبهتان عظيم ، واستدلاله على زعمه الباطل بهاتين الآيتين ونحوهما أن الله عز وجل يحل في عرشه أو يجلس عليه أو يحل في سماء أو نحو ذلك مما تزعمه تلك الشرذمة ، مع أن كلام الله غير مخلوق وهو من صفات الله تعالى القديمة الموجودة قبل وجود العرش والسماوات ، فالله تعالى موصوف بأنه استوى على العرش قبل وجود العرش ، وهل كان جالسا ـ على زعمهم ـ على العرش المعدوم قبل وجوده ؟؟!! وهل جل جلاله في السماء قبل خلق السماء ؟؟!! هذا مما لا يتوهمه عاقل ، وهل العقل يصدق بحلول القديم في شيء من الحوادث ؟؟!! فإنا لله وإنا إليه راجعون ، وعلى الجملة فهذا القائل المجازف وأمثاله قد ادعوا ما لا يقبل الثبوت لا عقلا ولا نقلا ، وقد كفروا وهم يحسبون أنهم يحسنون  صنعا ، والطامة الكبرى التي نـزلت بهؤلاء دعواهم أنهم ( سلفيون ) !!!!! ، وهم عن سبيل الحق زائغون ، وعلى خيار المسلمين يعيبون ، فلا حول ولا قوة إلا بالله العلي العظيم . وأما مذهب السلف والخلف بالنسبة للآيات والأحاديث المتشابهة فقد اتفق الكل على أن الله تعالى منـزه عن صفات الحوادث ، فليس له عز وجل مكان في العرش ولا في السماء ولا في غيرهما ، ولا يتصف بالحلول في شيء من الحوادث ، ولا بالاتصال بشيء منها ، ولا بالتحول والانتقال ونحوهما من صفات الحوادث ، بل هو سبحانه وتعالى على ما كان عليه قبل خلق العرش والكرسي والسماوات وغيرها من الحوادث ، ( قال الحافظ في الفتح ) : )) اتفق الفقهاء كلهم من المشرق إلى المغرب على الإيمان بالقرآن والأحاديث التي جاءت بها الثقات عن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وعلى آله وسلم في صفة الرب من غير تشبيه ولا تفسير )) اهـ . وإنما اختلفوا في بيان المعنى المراد من هذه الآيات والأحاديث ، فالسلف رضي الله عنهم يؤمنون بها كما وردت معتقدين أنها مصروفة عن ظاهرها لقوله تعالى : ( ليس كمثله شيء وهو السميع البصير ) ويفوضون علم المراد منها إلى الله تعالى لقوله : ( وما يعلم تأويله إلا الله ) فيقولون في آية ( الرحمن على العرش استوى ) استوى استواء يليق به لا يعلمه إلا هو عز وجل ، وفي آية ( ءأمنتم من في السماء ) نؤمن بها على المعنى الذي أراده سبحانه وتعالى مع كمال التنـزيه عن صفات الحوادث والحلول ويقولون في آية ( يد الله فوق أيديهم ) له يد لا كأيدينا ولا يعلمها إلا هو تعالى ، وهكذا في سائر الآيات المتشابهة ، قال الإمام الجليل السلفي ابن كثير في الجزء الثالث من تفسيره صفحة 488 ما نصه : (( وأما قوله تعالى : ( ثم استوى على العرش ) فللناس في هذا المقام مقالات كثيرة جدا ليس هذا موضع بسطها ، وإنما نسلك في هذا المقام مذهب السلف الصالح مالك والأوزاعي والثوري والليث بن سعد والشافعي وأحمد بن حنبل وإسحق بن راهويه وغيرهم من أئمة المسلمين قديما وحديثا وهو إمرارها كما جاءت من غير تكييف ولا تشبيه ولا تعطيل ، والظاهر المتبادر إلى أذهان المشبهين منفي عن الله تعالى ، فإن الله لا يشبهه شيء من خلقه وليس كمثله شيء وهو السميع البصير ، بل الأمر كما قال الأئمة منهم نعيم بن حماد الخزاعي شيخ البخاري قال : من شبه الله بخلقه كفر ومن جحد ما وصف الله به نفسه فقد كفر وليس فيما وصف الله به نفسه ولا رسوله تشبيه ، فمن أثبت لله تعالى ما وردت به الآيات الصريحة والأخبار الصحيحة على الوجه الذي يليق بجلال الله تعالى ونفى عن الله النقائص فقد سلك سبيل الهدى )) اهـ . ونحوه في سائر تفاسير الأئمة المحققين ، ويقولون في حديث ( ينـزول ربنا إلى سماء الدنيا ) ينـزل نزولا يليق به لا يعلمه إلا هو تعالى ، وأما حديث الجارية وهو ما أخرجه مسلم وأبو داود في باب نسخ الكلام في الصلاة من طريق معاوية بن الحكم ، وفيه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال للجارية : ( أين الله ؟ ) قالت : ( في السماء ) قال : ( من أنا ؟ ) قالت : ( أنت رسول الله ) قال أعتقها فإنها مؤمنة ، فيقولون فيه ما قالوه في آية ( ءأمنتم من في السماء ) وهكذا سائر أحاديث الصفات المتشابهة ، واستدلوا على ذلك بقول الله عز وجل ( هو الذي أنزل عليك الكتاب منه آيات محكمات هن أم الكتاب وأخر متشابهات ، فأما الذين في قلوبهم زيغ فيتبعون ما تشابه منه ابتغاء الفتنة وابتغاء تأويله ، وما يعلم تأويله إلا الله ) قالوا الوقف هنا تام ، وأما الراسخون في العلم إلخ فكلام مستأنف لبيان أن أكابر ذوي العلم مصدقون بثبوت المتشابه في القرآن . وأما الخلف رحمهم الله تعالى فيقولون في هذه الآيات والأحاديث هي معروفة المعنى ، فمعنى ( الرحمن على العرش استوى ) استولى بالقهر والتصرف ، ومعنى ( ءأمنتم من في السماء ) من في السماء عذابه أو سلطانه ومصدر أمره ، أو هو كناية عن تعظيم الله تعالى بوصفه بالعلو والعظمة ، وتنـزيهه عن السفل والتحت لا أنه سبحانه وتعالى حال فيها !! لأن الحلول من صفات الأجسام وأمارات الحدوث والله منـزه عن ذلك ، ومعنى ( ينـزل ربنا إلى سماء الدنيا ) ينـزل رسوله أو رحمته ، وأما إقرار الرسول صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم الجارية على إشارتها نحو السماء فاكتفاء منها بما يدل على عدم شركها لتعتق ، لأنه بإشارتها إلى السماء علم أنها ليست ممن يعبد الأصنام التي في الأرض ، وهكذا في سائر الآيات والأحاديث بناء منهم على كون الوقف في الآية الشريفة على قوله تعالى ( والراسخون في العلم ) مستدلين على ذلك بكون القرآن عربيا ، ولغة العرب ناطقة بتلك المعاني ، والفضل الزائد للسلف .

فمن نسب إلى علماء السلف أو الخلف شيئا خلاف ذلك فهو ضال مضل ، ومن قال إن مذهب علماء الخلف هو مذهب الجهمية فهو مفتر كذاب ، فإن الجهمية أتباع جهم بن صفوان الذي قال بالإجبار والاضطرار إلى الأعمال ، وأنكر الاستطاعات كلها ، وزعم أن الجنة والنار تبيدان وتفنيان ، وزعم أن الإيمان هو المعرفة بالله فقط ، وأن الكفر هو الجهل به فقط ، وقال لا فعل ولا عمل لأحد غير الله تعالى ، وإنما تنسب الأعمال إلى المخلوقين على المجاز ، كما يقال زالت الشمس ودارت الرحى من غير أن يكونا فاعلين أو مستطيعين لما وصفتا به ، وزعم أيضا أن علم الله تعالى حادث ، وامتنع من وصف الله تعالى بأنه شيء حي أوعالم أو مريد ، وقال لا أصفه بوصف يجوز إطلاقه على غيره كشيء موجود وحي وعالم ومريد ونحو ذلك ، ووصفه بأنه قادر وموجد وفاعل وخالق ومحيي ومميت ، لأن هذه الأوصاف مختصة به وحده ، وقال بحدوث كلام الله تعالى كما قالته القدرية ، ولم يسم الله تعالى متكلما به ، وأكفره أصحابنا في جميع ضلالاته وأكفرته القدرية في قوله بأن الله تعالى خالق أفعال العباد ، فاتفق أصناف الأمة على تكفيره انتهى من ( الفرق بين الفرق ) للإمام أبي منصور عبدالقاهر بن طاهر البغدادي صفحة تسع وتسعين ومائة ، ومنه تعلم أن علماء الخلف برآء من هذا المذهب ومن أهله .

وأما ما قيل من أنه يلزم من نفي الجهات الست عن الله نفي وجوده !! فهو قول باطل بالبداهة لما هو معلوم من أن الله عز وجل كان موجودا قبل وجود الجهات الست المذكورة ، وهي فوق وتحت وأمام وخلف ويمين وشمال ، بل كان موجودا قبل وجود العالم كله بإجماع السابقين واللاحقين ، فكيف يتوهم من عنده أدنى شائبة عقل أنه يلزم من نفي تلك الجهات عنه سبحانه وتعالى نفي وجوده جل وعلا ؟؟!! وكيف يتصور أن الله عز وجل القديم يتوقف وجوده على وجود بعض الحوادث أو كل الحوادث التي خلقها ؟؟!! سبحانك هذا بهتان عظيم ، كيف وقد قال جمع من السلف والخلف إن من اعتقد أن الله في جهة فهو كافر كما صرح به العراقي ، وبه قال أبو حنيفة ومالك والشافعي وأبو الحسن الأشعري والباقلاني ، ذكره العلامة ملا علي قاري في ( شرح المشكاة ) من الجزء الثاني صفحة 137 ، قال الله تعالى : ( فإنها لا تعمى الأبصار ولكن تعمى القلوب التي في الصدور ) وقال تعالى : ( ومن لم يجعل الله له نورا فما له من نور ) نسأل الله تعالى أن يهدينا جميعا إلى الطريق المستقيم ويحول بيننا وبين نزعات الشيطان الرجيم ، والصلاة والسلام على خاتم النبيين وعلى من كان بهديه من العاملين . هذا وقد عرضت هذه الإجابة على جمع من أفاضل علماء الأزهر فأقروها وكتبوا عليها أسماءهم وهم أصحاب الفضيلة :

الشيخ محمد النجدي شيخ السادة الشافعية ،

والشيخ محمد سبيع الذهبي شيخ السادة الحنابلة ،

 والشيخ محمد العزبي رزق المدرس بالقسم العالي ،

والشيخ عبدالحميد عمار المدرس بالقسم العالي ،  والشيخ علي النحراوي المدرس بالقسم العالي ،  والشيخ دسوقي عبدالله العربي من هيئة كبار العلماء ،  والشيخ علي محفوظ المدرس بقسم التخصص بالأزهر ،  والشيخ إبراهيم عيارة الدلجموني المدرس بقسم التخصص بالأزهر ،  والشيخ محمد عليان من كبار علماء الأزهر ،  والشيخ أحمد مكي المدرس بقسم التخصص بالأزهر ،

 والشيخ محمد حسين حمدان ..

انتهت الفتوى .  

From the Fatwas of the scholars of Azhar regarding the one who believes that Allah enters creations or is in a material direction. 

Introduction

The imam and great scholar, the muhaddith, The Renewer of the Religion, Abu Muhammad, Mahmud Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Khitaab, Al-Subkiyy, Al-Azhariyy, the founder of the Association of Islamic Law in Egypt, the author of Al-Manhal Al-^Athb Al-Mawruud Sharh Sunan Abiy Daawuud (an explanation of Abu Daawuud), who died 1352 h., may God have mercy upon him, said in his book “Ithaf Al-Kaa¡¦inaat bi-Bayaan Mathhab Al-Salaf wa Al-Khalaf Fi Al-Mutashaabihaat”, page 2:

Praise to the Lord of the Worlds, who is clear of the attributes of creation, like direction and body and place and physical highness, and may God raise the rank of Prophet Muhammad, who wiped out shirk and blasphemy and ordered us to believe that Allah is clear of created attributes and revealed to him in the Koran what means that Allah is one, doesn¡¦t have a partner or parts, that He does not need anything or anyone, does not beget and was not begotten and that He has no equal, and also revealed to him what means that Allah does not resemble anything and that He hears and sees everything. May Allah also raise the rank of the Prophet¡¦s companions and all those who imitated his ways.

After that, Mahmud Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Khitaab, Al-Subkiyy says: 

TOP

The question asked:

Some of those who desire knowledge about the beliefs of the religion and to stand firm in the school of the salaf and khalaf with regard to the hadiths and aayaat that do not have a clear or well known meaning (called mutashaabihaat in Arabic) asked as follows:

What is the saying of the scholars, may Allah protect them, regarding the one who believes that God has a physical direction, and that He sits on the throne in a special place and says, ¡§this is the belief of the salaf!¡¨ promotes this idea, and accuses those who deny this of blasphemy. All this while pointing to the 2 aayahs:   الرحمن على العرش استوى   and   ءأمنتم من في السماء “

(If someone translated them literally, they would say ¡§The Merciful established on the throne¡¨ and ¡§Do you feel safe from who is in the sky?¡¨. In the first case one should know that istawa has some 14 different meanings in Arabic (not just to establish), and that the meaning of ^Arsh is something the scholars disagreed upon. The second Aayah is said to refer to the angels, because the sky is their abode. In other words, there is nothing which says that these two Aayas must be taken literally.)  

 TOP  

Is this a valid or an invalid belief? If invalid, does the one who says so commit blasphemy so that all his previous works are annulled, such as prayer, fasting and other religious activities and is his marriage contract invalidated? If he dies in this state, before repenting, is he not washed and prayed for and buried in the graveyards of the muslims? Is the one who believed that what this one is saying is true, also a non-muslim, like him? What is your saying about what some people say that denying that Allah is attributed with the six directions (i.e. up, down, front, back and the two sides) is wrong, and that it entails denying His existence? Let us benefit from your showing of what the mathhab of the salaf and the khalaf in these two aayas, and other aayas, such as

“إليه يصعد الكلم الطيب” (If translated literally, it would say ¡§to Him ascend the good words.¡¨) and the hadith “ينـزل ربنا إلى السماء الدنيا

(If translated literally, it would say ¡§He descends to the sky of the world.¡¨) with a complete and satisfactory explanation.

Include the sayings of the scholars of hadith, Quran-explanation, fiqh and tawheed, and clarify completely, so that the tongues of those who speak thoughtlessly are silenced – those who liken Allah to His creation and believe that what the khalaf scholars did in terms of ta’weel (interpreting figuratively) is blasphemy, while claiming that this is the way of the Jahmiyyah, the blasphemous sect, and spread this rumor among the common people. May Allah reward you! 

TOP

The Answer of The Imam Abu Muhammad Mahmud Khitaab Al-Subkiyy

The answer of the Imam Abu Muhammad Mahmud Khitaab Al-Subkiyy: So I answered, by Allah’s help, and said: In the name of Allah, the one who is merciful to muslims and non-muslims in this life, but only to muslims in the next. Praise to Allah, the Creator of true guidance, and may Allah raise the rank of the one who was given wisdom and clear speech, and of those who support him and his companions, whom Allah guided and gave success and steadfastness. After saying that, the judgment is that this belief is invalid, and the one who believes it is a non-Muslim by the consensus of those who count among the scholars.

The proof in terms of reasoning

The proof of reasoning for this is that Allah’s existence is eternal without a beginning, and does not resemble anything that has a beginning. 

TOP

The proof in terms of Quran and Hadith

In terms of what has been related, the proof is “He does not resemble anything, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (meaning of suurah 42, 11). (What Al-Subkiy has mentioned is enough for the sound minded, because Islam does not teach something contradictory – all its teachings are harmonious in meaning. However, in order to bring Hadiths as well as Quran and logical reasoning, he might have added that Al-Bayhaqiyy, Muslim and others, related the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam: “You are adh-Dhahir,hence there is nothing above You, and You are al-Batin, hence there is nothing underneath You.” Then Al-Bayhaqiyy said (in his book “Al-Asmaa’ wa as-Sifaat”): “If there is nothing above Him and nothing underneath Him, then He is not in a place.”

The consequence of these proofs for the one who believes something contradictory to them

Accordingly, anyone that believes that Allah settled in a place, or was in contact with it or anything else that has a beginning, such as the ^Arsh (sometimes translated as “throne” – it is a creation with 4 legs, and is like the Kaabah for the Angles), or the Kursiyy (sometimes translated as “chair”), or the sky, or the earth, or anything else – he is a blasphemer absolutely and without a doubt. All his religious works are invalid, such as prayer, fasting and Hajj, and his wife is separated, and he must repent immediately. If he dies with this belief, then he is not washed, not prayed for, and he is not buried in the graveyard of the muslims. In addition, all those who believed that his belief is the truth take this same judgment. May Allah protect us from the evils of our selves and the liability of our bad deeds.

 TOP

As for such a person’s encouragement of others to have such blasphemous beliefs, and his telling them that the one who does not have it is a blasphemer; this (activity of his) is (another) blasphemy and an abhorrent lie with the intent to spread deviance. As for him taking as evidence, according to his invalid claim, the two aayas mentioned, and their likes, to show that Allah settles on the ^arsh, or sits on it, or descends in the sky or the like, as this group of people claims… They do this despite the fact that Allah’s attribute of speech (which the revealed book of the Quran refers to) is not created, and it is one of the eternal attributes of Allah that existed before the ^Arsh or the sky, so Allah is attributed with “^ala al-^arsh istawa” before the ^arsh existed. Moreover, was He sitting, according to them, on the non existing ^arsh before it existed???!! Was He (according to them) in the sky before it existed???!!

(The revealed book of the Quran refers to Allah’s attribute of speech (which does not have a beginning, or an end, and does not change – as is true for all of His attributes), just as the word “Allah” refers to the Creator and is not Him Himself. Words, languages, letters and sounds are all obviously created things – if someone is in doubt, let them say “bism-i-llaah-ir-Rahmaan-ir-Rahiim” without a beginning or an end! The word “Quran” in Arabic may refer to Allah’s eternal attribute of speech or to the book. It is kufr to say that the Quran is created if one means Allah’s attribute. It is a sin (but not kufr) to say so if one is referring to the book, because it is inappropriate and a bid^ah.)

These (sorts of claims) are something a rational being does not even hesitate about. Does sound reason accept that something eternal settles in something that has a beginning? Verily we are Allah’s creation and we will return to be judged by Him! In summary, this careless person and his likes have claimed something that cannot be verified; neither by reason, nor by what has been related. They have committed blasphemy, and they think they have done something good! And the greatest calamity that they are struck by is that they claim to be salafis, while they are deviants from the true path, and disgracing the best among the muslims. There is no power or ability other than what Allah creates!

(Subki’s saying that this belief “cannot be verified neither by reason, nor by what has been related” needs some explanation. In terms of reason it is clear, because Allah is eternal, and directions are not, as Subki has already pointed out. For more details, you may read the article Foundations of the Religion. The scholars all agreed that all Hadith and Quran sayings must be understood by their apparent meaning, with two exceptions only:

The first exception is if taking it literally would lead to the absurd, i.e. it is self contradictory, such as saying “a square circle” or “the part is larger than the whole.” Saying that Allah is actually in a geographical direction leads to saying either that directions are eternal or that Allah changed from being without direction to having a direction. This cannot be, because direction is an attribute of space, and space is attributed with change, therefore it must be a creation. Moreover, it cannot be that Allah changes, because that would mean He needs a creator. For more on this, see the above article link. The second exception is if there are other hadiths and Quranic sayings that contradict the literal meaning. In this case there are many texts that contradicts the claim that Allah is in a direction, among them: “He does not resemble anything,” as Subki mentioned.

TOP

The Salaf’s way of dealing with mutashaabihaat

Concerning the way of the salaf (the scholars of the first 3 centuries) and khalaf (scholars after the salaf) in dealing with the aayahs and hadiths that do not have only one possible or well-known meaning: they all agreed that Allah is clear of and above the attributes of whatever has a beginning. Therefore, He does not have a place for Him on the Arsh or the sky or anywhere else. He is also not attributed with settling in or on anything that has a beginning, and not with transformation or movement or the like. Rather, He is as he was before the existence of the Arsh or the Kursi or the skies and other things that have a beginning. The Haafith (ibn Hajar al-Asqalani) said in al-Fath (Fath-ul-Baariy – the explanation of al-Bukhaariy): “the Fuqahaa’ (fiqh scholars) all agreed, from east to west, upon the belief in the Quran and the hadiths that trustworthy people related from the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank) about the attributes of Allah, without likening them to creation or explanation.”

They only disagreed on the matter of explaining the meaning of these aayahs, so the salaf (i.e. most of them) believe in them as they were related and that they are not literally meant, because of the saying of Allah which means, “He does not resemble anything and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing”, and leave the meaning be, due to the saying of Allah that means: “and noone knows their meaning except Allah” (suurah 3, 5 ¡V more details later).

Accordingly, they say regarding the Aayah “Al-Rahman ^alaa al-^Arsh istawa” (if literally translated it would say ¡§He established on the throne¡¨), that He “istawa” in a sense that befits Him, and only He knows it, and regarding the aayah “‘a ‘amintum man fii al-samaa'” (if literally translated it would say: ¡§Do You feel safe from who is in the sky?¡¨) that we believe in it and the meaning that Allah gave it, while clearing Him of the attributes of whatever has a beginning and of settling (in a place.) They also say about the Aayah “yad-ullahi fawqa aydiyhim” (if literally translated it would say: ¡§His hand is above their hands¡¨) that He has a “yad” not like our yad (i.e. our hand), and only Allah knows it. This was their way in dealing with these aayahs that do not have only a single possible meaning or only one famous meaning. 

TOP

A saying of Ibn Kathir and Nu^aym Ibn Hammaad about mutashaabihaat

The great salafi (i.e. that he was like the salaf in his ways, not that this is a mathhab) Imam Ibn Kathiir said: “As for the saying of Allah “thumma istawa ^alaa al-^arsh” (if someone translated it literally he would say “then He ascended the throne”), there are so very many sayings about this that this is not the place to mention them all, and we will rather take the way of the pious salaf, Malik, al-Awzaa^iy, Al-Thawriy, Al-Layth ibn Sa^d, Al-Shaafi3iy, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaaq in Raahwayh and other imams, new and old, which is to pass by them without giving them a how, or a likeness, or deny them. As for the apparent literal meanings that come to the minds of those who liken Allah to His creation; those are rejected, because He does not resemble anything, and there is nothing like Him, and he is All-Seeing, All-Hearing. Rather, it is like what the imams said, among them Nu^aym Ibn Hammaad Al-Khuzaa^iyy, the sheikh of Al-Bukhaariyy: “The one who likens Allah to His creation has committed blasphemy, and the one who denies what Allah has attributed to Himself has also committed blasphemy. There is no (meaning of) likening (to the creation) in any of what Allah has attributed to Himself or what the Prophet attributed to Him. So the one who affirms what has been related in plain aayahs and authentic hadiths in a way that is befitting with Allah’ greatness, and denies that Allah has any flaws; he has taken the path of guidance.” The like of the above is to be found in all tafseer books of the masterful imams.

TOP 

Examples of how the Salaf dealt with mutashaabihaat

They say about the hadith (which if translated literally, would say that) “our Lord descends to the sky of the world,” that this has a meaning that befits Allah, and that only Allah knows it. Then there is another hadith, the Hadith of the slave girl related by Muslim and Abu Daawood where it is mentioned that the Prophet said to her: “aina Allah? and she said “fii as-samaa'” (which if translated literally, would be said to mean “where is Allah” and that she said ” in the sky”) and that he said “who am I?” and she answered “you are the Messenger of Allah.” Then he said “free her, for she is a believer.” This hadith is handled with the same approach as the aayah “‘a ‘amintum man fii as-samaa'” and likewise all other such hadiths and aayahs. They took this approach because of the aayah:

“هو الذي أنزل عليك الكتاب منه آيات محكمات هن أم الكتاب وأخر متشابهات ، فأما الذين في قلوبهم زيغ فيتبعون ما تشابه منه ابتغاء الفتنة وابتغاء تأويله ، وما يعلم تأويله إلا الله والراسخون في العلم يقولون ءامنا به كل من عند ربنا وما يذّكّر إلا أولوا الألباب”

(This Aayah (suurah3, 5) means that: Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad some Aayahs ¡Vcalled muhkamaat (محكمات) – that have only one meaning according to the Arabic language or only one famous meaning, such as those prescribing halaal and haraam, and other aayahs ¡V called mutashaabihaat (متشابهات) – that do not. Those with deviance in their hearts will emphasize the latter kind of aayahs in order to spread deviance (i.e. by contradicting the meaning of the muhkamaat) through pretending that they are only explaining the meaning. Only Allah knows their meaning, and the very knowledgeable say ¡§we believe in them, they are all from Our Lord¡¨, and only the sound minded take heed and ponder this.)

The salaf (i.e. the salaf in general, not all of them) said there is a full stop in the aayah after, “only Allah knows their meaning.” As for the “steadfast in knowledge” mentioned after this in the Quran; this is the beginning of a new sentence (i.e. they do not know the meaning) to show that the great scholars believe in these aayahs, (i.e. without assigning a particular meaning.) 

TOP

The Khalaf’s way of dealing with mutashaabihaat

Regarding the Khalaf (scholars after the 3rd century); they say (i.e. it is more prevalent among them to say) that these aayahs and hadiths have a known meaning, so the meaning of “istawa” is “control”, and the meaning of “man fii as-samaa'” (if literally translated it would say “who is in the sky”) is that it is a figure of speech referring to His punishment, authority and orders, or it is simply a figurative way of praising Allah by attributing to him above-ness and greatness, and clearing him of lowliness or below-ness, NOT that He settles in it. This is because settlement is an attribute of bodies and signifies having a beginning, and Allah is clear of that. (Also, understanding it literally contradicts aayah 93 of surat Maryam, which means: “All those in the heavens and earth must come to Allah as a slave.” It is possible also that the word “who” is referring to the angels, because the sky is their abode. Finally, the sky is below the ^arsh…

The meaning of (literally translated) “descending” in the hadith is that His Messenger or His Mercy descends. (The hadith attributes the so called “descending” to the last 3rd of the night, and since it is always the last 3rd of the night somewhere on earth, we know that the meaning is NOT that Allah is moving from one place to another.) As for the Prophet’s approval of the slave-girl’s hint towards the sky; this was a concise way from her of showing that she was not associating partners with Allah, because it was thereby known that she did not worship the idols on earth. (Also, some scholars said the hadith has weaknesses in its text, because Abd-ur-Razzaaq related it as without any mention of the words “aina?” or “fii as-samaa'”.)

This is the way of the khalaf in all aayahs and hadiths of this kind, based on their saying that the full stop in the aayah about the aayahs that do not have a single possible, or well known, meaning comes after “”only Allah knows their meaning and those steadfast in knowledge,” i.e. the steadfast in knowledge knows their meaning. Their proof is that the Quran is in Arabic, and this Arabic uses these expressions. However, the weightiest opinion is that of the salaf. (Note: he means of course that the majority of the salaf take this approach to this aayah, not absolutely all, since this would be consensus (ijmaa^.))

The one who attributes to the salaf or khalaf other than this is a deviant and a deviator. 

TOP

The Jahmiyyah are very different from the Khalaf

The one who claims that the way of the khalaf is the way of the Jahmiyyah is a transgressor and a liar, because the Jahmiyyah are the followers of Jahm Ibn Safwaan, who said that humans are forced to do what they do and denied all ability to humans, and claimed that Paradise and Hell will end. He also claimed that belief is only knowledge of Allah, whereas blasphemy is not knowing Him. He said that noone does anything except Allah, and that humans are said to have actions only as a figure of speech, in the same way one says that “the sun passed its zenith” or the “mill turned,” without any actual real action or ability from them. He also claimed that Allah¡¦s knowledge has a beginning, and prevented people from saying that Allah is attributed with life, knowledge or will. He said “I don’t attribute to Him an adjective that can be used for others, such as existing, alive, willing and such,” and accepted to say that He has power, brings into existence, acts, creates, gives life and death, because only He has these attributes. He also claimed that Allah’s attribute of speech has a beginning, as the Qadariyyah sect did, and refused to say that Allah speaks. Our companions said he was a blasphemer for all his deviances, and the Qadariyyah said he was an infidel for his claim that Allah creates the acts of humans, so all the nation said that he was a Kaafir. Here ends the quote (i.e. the above description of the Jahmiyyah) from the book “Al-Farq Baina Al-Firaq”, written by the Imam Abu Mansuur ^Abd-ul-Qaadir Ibn Taahir Al-Baghdaadiyy, page 199. From this you know that the scholars of the Khalaf are free from the this sect and its claims. 

TOP

An answer to those that claim that denial of direction is denial of existence

As for the idea that denying that Allah is attributed with any of the six directions is a denial of His existence, this is obviously invalid since Allah existed before they existed, namely up, down, front, back, left and right. Rather, He existed before the world as a whole by consensus of ancient and later scholars. How then does someone that has even a tiny mind picture that clearing Him of being attributed with these 6 directions is the same as denying His existence??!! How can it be imagined that the Eternal Allah’s existence depends on some things that have a beginning, or all of those that He created??!! You (Oh Allah) are clear of all imperfection!

This is a great lie! How (could it not be), when a number of the salaf and the khalaf have plainly stated that the one who believes that Allah is in a direction (i.e. up) is a blasphemer, as was stated by Al-Baghdadiyy. This was also the saying of Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shaafi^iyy, Abu Hasan Al-Ash^ariyy and Al-Baaqillaaniyy, as mentioned by the great scholar Mullaa Aliyy Qaariy in “Sharh al-Mishkaat” in the second volume on page 137. Allah said (what means that) real blindness is not that of the eyes, but that of the heart (suurah 22, 46.) and that if Allah has not created the light of guidance in someone’s heart, then he will never be guided (suurah 24, 40.) We ask Allah to guide us all on the straight path and block the misguidance of the cursed Satan, and to raise the rank of The Last Of The Prophets, and whoever follows him in his works. 

TOP

A list of scholars that signed this fatwa

After writing this, I have shown this answer to a number of honorable scholars of Azhar University, and they have agreed and signed it, and they are the following distinguished companions of ours:

  • Sheikh Muhammad Najdi, the sheikh of the Shaafi^i followers.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Sabii^ Al-Dhahabi, the sheikh of the Hanbaliyy followers.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Al-^Azbi Rizq, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Abd-ul-Hamiid ^Ammaar, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Ali Al-Nahraawi, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Dusuuqi Abdullah Al-Arabi, from the Council of the Great Scholars.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Al-^Azbi Rizq, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Ali Mahfuuth, the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Ibrahim ^Iiaarah Al-Daljamuuni , the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Muhammad ^Alyaan, from great scholars of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Ahmad Makki, the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Husain Hamdaan.

–End of Fatwa–  

Advertisements

The Hadith of Allah’s “DESCENT”

June 15, 2007

THE HADITH OF ALLAH’S “DESCENT”


By Dr. G. F. Haddad

The scholars differed concerning the meaning of Allah’s “descent” in the mass-narrated (mutawatir) hadith:

Our Lord – Blessed and Exalted is He! – descends every night to the lowest heaven in the last third of the night and says: Who is supplicating Me so that I may answer him? Who is asking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him? [1]

Ibn `Asakir said:

The Mu`tazila said: [Allah’s] “Descent” (nuzul) is the descent of any given sign of His, or that of His angels. The Mushabbiha and Hashwiyya said: Descent is the descent of His person (dhat) through movement (haraka) and displacement (intiqal). Al-Ash`ari took the middle road and said: Descent is one of His attributes. [2]

Al-Bayhaqi further reports that Al-Ash`ari said: “What is meant by the descent is an act brought to be by Allah in the nearest heaven every night, which [the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –] has named a descent, without movement nor displacement. Exalted is Allah above the characteristics of creatures!” [3]

Imam al-Haramayn said in his epistle al-Nizamiyya: “Whoever possesses one iota of reason harbors no doubt whatsoever that change, displacement, and removal are among the attributes of bodies.” [4]

Al-Qurtubi said that the hadith is elucidated by that related by al-Nasa’i in his Sunan al-Kubra and `Amal al-Yawm wa al-Layla whereby the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — said:

Allah waits until the first part of the night is over, then He orders a herald (munadiyan) to say: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered, anyone begging for forgiveness so that he may be forgiven, any petitioner so that he may be granted his request? [5]

The above narration is confirmed by the hadith of `Uthman ibn Abi al-`As al-Thaqafi from the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –:

The gates of heaven are opened in the middle of the night and a herald calls out: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered? Is there anyone asking so that he may be granted? Is there anyone afflicted so that he may be delivered? At that time there is no Muslim who invokes for anything except Allah answers him, except the adultress who runs after her pleasure and her intimate companion. [6]

Thus the calling out, in al-Qurtubi’s view, is directly attributed to Allah in Bukhari and Muslim’s narrations in order to highlight His regard and His emphasis, as when one says: “The sultan calls out for this,” whereas it is actually a herald who calls out the sultan’s order as elucidated in the above two versions. This is confirmed by Imam Malik’s statement: “It is our Blessed and Exalted Lord’s command which descends; as for Him, He is eternally the same, He does not move or go to and fro,” [7] although it is established that Malik forbade discourse of any kind about the hadiths of Allah’s attributes, preferring not to interpret the hadiths of descent one way or the other and that he said about them: “Let them pass without entering into modality.” [8]

Nevertheless, not all the Salaf let them pass, as al-Bayhaqi relates from the Tabi`i Hammad ibn Zayd that he interpreted Allah’s descent to the nearest heaven as “His turning to” (nuzuluhu iqbaluhu). [9]

Ibn al-Jawzi cautioned: “Since you understand that the one who descends towards you is near to you, content yourself with the knowledge that He is near you, and do not think in terms of bodily nearness.” [10] Ibn al-Jawzi actually read the verb “descend” in the hadith of Bukhari and Muslim as yunzilu (“He orders down”) instead of yanzilu (“He comes down”). [11] This was also the Ash`ari imam Ibn Furak’s reading according to Ibn Hajar who confirms its soundness in view of al-Nasa’i’s narration. This furthers confirms al-Qurtubi’s reading and the interpretations of Malik and Hammad ibn Zayd.

AL-BAJI’S COMMENTARY

Abu al-Walid al-Baji stated in his commentary of Malik’s Muwatta’:

The Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — saying that our Exalted Lord descends every night to the nearest heaven is to inform us that supplication at that particular time is answered, petitioners are given what they request, and those who ask for forgiveness are forgiven. It warns us as to the great merit of that time and strongly encourages us to make abundant supplication, petition, and contrition at that time. It was narrated from the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — in similar terms that Allah Almighty and Exalted said: “If My servant comes near Me one hand-span I come near him one cubit. If he comes near Me one cubit I come near him an arm’s length. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.” [12] He did not mean by this hadith a coming-near in terms of distance, for such is impossible and inexistent. All he meant was the servant’s coming-near in terms of good works, and Allah’s coming-near in terms of answer and acceptance. In the same sense one says “So-and-so is near So-and-so,” and they say of the leader “He is near his people” if he helps them a lot and welcomes them. This is well-known in the language of the Arabs. [13]

IBN `ABD AL-SALAM’S COMMENTARY

Ibn `Abd al-Salam said:

The meaning of His coming closer to us by descending to the nearest heaven, or by His drawing-near a cubit and an arm’s length, [14] is that He treats us with munificence (ikram) in the manner of the liege-lord that walks towards his servants and condescends to them, turning to them with full attention (muqbilan `alayhim) and examining their needs one by one. That is why He says: “Is there anyone supplicating so that I may answer him? Is there anyone asking so that I may grant him? Is there anyone seeking forgiveness so that I may forgive him?” [15]

IBN HAJAR’S COMMENTARY

Following is the text of Ibn Hajar’s commentary on the hadith of descent:

Those who assert direction for Allah have used this hadith as proof that He is in the direction of aboveness. The vast majority of the scholars reject this, because such a saying leads to establishing boundaries for Him and Allah is exalted above that. [16]

The meaning of “descent” is interpreted differently:

* Some say that the external meaning is meant literally: these are the Mushabbiha and Allah is exalted above what they say.

* Some reject the validity of the hadiths cited in that chapter altogether. These are the Khawarij and the Mu`tazila in their arrogance. What is strange is that they interpret figuratively what is related to this in the Qur’an, but they reject what is in the hadith either out of ignorance or out of obduracy.

* Some have taken them as they have come, believing in them without specificity, declaring Allah to be transcendent above modality (kayfiyya) and likeness to creation (tashbih): these are the vast majority of the Salaf. That position is reported by al-Bayhaqi and others from the Four Imams, Sufyan ibn `Uyayna, Sufyan al-Thawri, Hammad ibn Salama, Hammad ibn Zayd, al-Awza`i, al-Layth, and others.

* Some interpreted them in a way that befits the linguistic usage of the Arabs.

* Some have over-interpreted them to the point that they almost tampered with their text.

* Some have made a difference between a kind of interpretation that is likely and current in the linguistic usage of the Arabs, and another kind which is far-fetched and archaic, interpreting in the former case and committing the meaning to Allah in the latter. This is reported from Malik, and among the Khalaf it is asserted decisively by Ibn Daqiq al-`Id (d. 702). [17]

Al-Bayhaqi said: “The safest method is to believe in them without modality, and to keep silence concerning what is meant except if the explanation is conveyed from the Prophet himself, in which case it is followed.” The proof for this is the agreement of the scholars that the specific interpretation is not obligatory, and that therefore the commitment of meaning to Allah is safest….

Ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki said:

It is reported that the innovators have rejected these hadiths, the Salaf passed them on as they came, and others interpreted them, and my position is the last one. [18] The saying: “He descends” refers to His acts, not His essence. Indeed, it is an expression for His angels who descend with His command and His prohibition. And just as descent can pertain to bodies, it can also pertain to ideas or spiritual notions (ma`ani). If one takes the hadith to refer to a physical occurrence, then descent would be the attribute of the angel sent to carry out an order. If one takes it to refer to a spiritual occurrence, that is, first He did not act, then He acted: this would be called a descent from one rank to another, and this is a sound Arabic meaning.

In sum the hadith is interpreted in two ways: the first is: His command or His angel descends; the second is: it is a metaphor for His regard for supplicants, His answering them, and so forth.

Abu Bakr ibn Furak has said that some of the masters have read it yunzilu – “He sends down” – instead of yanzilu – “He descends” – that is, He sends down an angel. This is strengthened by al-Nasa’i’s narration through al-Aghurr from Abu Hurayra and Abu Sa`id al-Khudri: “Allah waits until the first part of the night is over, then He orders a herald to say: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered?…” [19] There is also the hadith of `Uthman ibn Abi al-`As: “The gates of heaven are opened in the middle of the night and a herald calls out: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may be answered?…” [20] Al-Qurtubi said: “This clears all ambiguity, and there is no interference by the narration of Rifa`a al-Juhani whereby “Allah descends to the nearest heaven and says: I do not ask about My servants anyone besides Myself,” [21] for there is nothing in this which precludes the above-mentioned interpretation.

Al-Baydawi said:

Since it is established with decisive proofs that the Exalted is transcendent above having a body or being circumscribed by boundaries, it is forbidden to attribute to Him descent in the sense of displacement from one place to another place lower than it. What is meant is the light of His mercy: that is, He moves from what is pursuant to the attribute of Majesty entailing wrath and punishment, to what is pursuant to the attribute of Generosity entailing kindness and mercy.” [22]

SOME MISLEADING REPORTS FROM THE SALAF

One of the Jahmi scholars said to Ishaq ibn Rahuyah: “I disbelieve in a Lord that descends from one heaven to another heaven,” whereupon he replied: “I believe in a Lord that does what He wishes.” [23] This response is also narrated from Fudayl ibn `Iyad, Yahya ibn Ma`in, and al-Awza`i. [24] Al-Bayhaqi narrates the incident with a sound chain through al-Hakim from Ishaq ibn Rahuyah, and he identifies the Jahmi scholar as Ibrahim ibn Abi Salih, then comments: “Ishaq ibn Ibrahim al-Hanzali made it clear, in this report, that he considers the descent (al-nuzul) one of the attributes of action (min sifat al-fi`l). Secondly, he spoke of a descent without `how’. This proves he did not hold displacement (al-intiqal) and movement from one place to another (al-zawal) concerning it.” [25]

Beyond disputation or misleading concision, Ahl al-Sunna accept and believe all the authentic reports that came from the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –, including the hadith of Allah’s “descent” to the nearest heaven, and they believe, at the same time, in a Lord that does what He wishes and befits Him. This was elaborated by Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi in his lengthy refutation of Ibn Taymiyya’s belief on Allah’s “direction” (jiha), “aboveness” (fawqiyya), and “descent” (nuzul).

No doubt related to the above is Ibn Taymiyya’s addition from Ibn Rahuyah whereby he said: “He is able to descend without the Throne being vacant of Him” (yaqdiru an yanzila min ghayri an yakhlua al-`arshu minhu)! This is identical with Hammad ibn Zayd’s reported view that “He is in His place and He comes near His servants however He wishes” (huwa fi makanihi yaqrubu min khalqihi kayfa sha’). [26] Ibn Taymiyya also attributes this position to Ibn Mandah [27] – Abu Bakr al-Najjad’s student – who composed a book he named al-Radd `Ala Man Za`ama Anna Allaha Fi Kulli Makan Wa `Ala Man Za`ama Anna Allaha Laysa Lahu Makan, Wa `Ala Man Ta’awwala al-Nuzula `Ala Ghayri al-Nuzul (“Refutation of Those Who Claim That Allah Is In Every Place, and Of Those Who Claim That He Is Not In Any Place, and Of Those Who Interpret the Descent to Mean Other than the Descent”). [28]

AL-KHATTABI’S COMMENTARY

Bayhaqi follows up on the narration of Ibn Rahuyah’s reply with the following explanation by Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi:

One does not imagine of the descent of One Who is not governed by the attributes of bodies that it pertains to the meanings of a descent from top to bottom, or a displacement from above to below. It is only a report of His power and benevolence towards His creatures, His pity for them, His responsiveness to their supplications, and His forgiveness of them. He does what He wishes, modality is not applied to His attributes, nor quantity to His acts. Glory to Him! {There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.} (42:11)…. And the position of all the Predecessors concerning the above is just as we said, and it was narrated narrated thus from a group of the Companions. [29] One of the shaykhs among the hadith scholars who are foremost references in the knowledge of narrations and narrators slipped and turned away from this path when he narrated the hadith of descent and then remarked: `If someone asks how our Lord descends to the heaven, the answer is: He descends as He wishes; if he asks: Does He move (hal yataharrak) when He descends? The answer is: If He wishes, He moves, and if He does not wish, He does not move.’ And this is a gross and crucial mistake (khata’ fahish `azim)! For Allah Almighty is not described by movement, since movement and stillness follow one after the other in the same entity: it is specifically possible to attribute movement to whatever can be attributed stillness, and both of them are among the accidents of originated matter (min a`rad al-hadath) and the attributes of creatures. Whereas Allah is exalted high above them, {There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him.} (42:11) If that shaykh had trodden the path of the pious Predecessors and had not ventured into what is of no concern to him, he would not have come out with a statement such as this gross mistake. I only mentioned this so that such manner of talk should be cautiously avoided, for it does not result in good nor in the benefit of guidance. We ask Allah protection from misguidance, from speaking in prohibited terms, falsehood, and impossibilities. [30]

Al-Khattabi in his commentary on Abu Dawud also states:

This [hadith] belongs to the knowledge in whose outward expression we have been ordered to believe and not seek to disclose its inward sense. It is one of the many ambiguities (mutashabih) which Allah has mentioned in His book. [31]

AL-MATURIDI, IBN HAZM, AND IBN `ABD AL-WAHHAB

Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333) said: “To suggest a place for Allah is idolatry.” [32] Similarly Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri – the declared enemy of the Ash`ari school – said: “By no means whatsoever is Allah in a place or in a time. This is the position of the vast majority of the scholars (al-jumhur) and ours as well, and other than this position is not permissible, for anything other than it is false.” [33] He further states:

[Allah’s descent] is an act which Allah Almighty and Exalted does in the nearest heaven pertaining to an opening for the acceptance of supplication. It refers to the fact that that hour is the likeliest time for acceptance, answer, and forgiveness for those who strive, seek forgiveness, and repent. [34]

Even Sulayman ibn `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab (the brother of the founder of the Wahhabi Sect – Ibn Abdul Wahhab – editor) declared as an unbeliever anyone who attributed place to Allah: “Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhatihi) in every place, or in one place, is a disbeliever (kafir).” [35] Accordingly Hammad ibn Zayd’s statement that “He is in His place and He comes near His servants however He wishes,” if authentic, must be interpreted in a way to suggest other than the ascription of place, as did al-Bayhaqi with Ibn Rahuyah’s answer to the Jahmi. [36]

IBN `ABD AL-BARR’S CONTROVERSY

Literalists often quote Ibn `Abd al-Barr’s controversial words on the hadith of descent in al-Tamhid:

The hadith [of Allah’s descent] provides evidence that Allah is in (fi) the heaven, on (`ala) the Throne, above (fawq) seven heavens, as the Congregation (jama`a) said, and this is part of their proof against the Mu`tazila and the Jahmiyya’s claim that Allah is in every place and not on the Throne….

Part of the right owed Allah’s Speech is that it be taken in it literal sense (`ala haqiqatihi), until the Community concurs that what is meant is the metaphorical meaning, when there is no way to follow what is revealed to us from our Lord except in that way….

Istawa is known in the language and understood to be height (`uluw), rising above something, fixity in a place (al-tamkin), and settledness in it (al-istiqrar fih)…. and istawa is “settledness in height” (al-istiqrar fi al-`uluw). Allah said to us: That you may mount upon (tastawu) their backs, and may remember your Lord’s favor when you mount (istawaytum) thereon (43:13), And it (the ship) came to rest (istawat) upon (the mount) al-Judi (11:44), and And when you are on board (istawayta) the ship, you and whoso is with you (23:28). [37]

IBN AL-`ARABI’S REFUTATION OF IBN `ABD AL-BARR

The above was firmly rejected by Ibn al-`Arabi in his commentary on the hadith of descent in al-Tirmidhi:

Some ignorant people have trespassed bounds in interpreting this hadith, claiming there is proof in it that Allah “is in the Heaven, on the Throne, above the seven heavens.” We say that this is a sign of tremendous ignorance.

What the hadith said is “He descends to Heaven” without specifying from where He descends or how He descends. Yet they said – and their proof is, again, based on the literal sense – {The Merciful established Himself over the Throne} (20:4).

We ask: What is the Throne in Arabic, and what is istawa?

They reply: As Allah said: That you may mount upon (tastawu) their backs, and may remember your Lord’s favor when you mount (istawaytum) thereon (43:13).

We say: Allah is Mighty and Higher than to have His istiwa’ on His Throne compared to our sitting on the backs of animals.

They say: And as He said: And it (the ship) came to rest (istawat) upon (the mount) al-Judi (11:44).

We say: Allah is Mighty and Higher than a ship that sailed and then docked and stopped.

They said: And as He said: And when you are on board (istawayta) the ship, you and whoso is with you (23:28).

We say: Allah forbid that His istiwa’ be similar to that of Noah and his people. Everything in the latter case is created, as it consists in istiwa’ with an elevation and a settling in a place involving physical contact. The entire Umma is in agreement, even before hearing the hadith of descent and the arguments of those who rejected it, that Allah’s istiwa’ does not involve any of those things. Therefore do not give examples from His creation for Him!…

They say: Allah said: {“He rules all affairs from the Heaven to the Earth} (32:5).

We say: This is true, but it does not provide any proof for your innovation.

They say: All the firm believers in the Oneness of Allah raise their hands to the Heavens when supplicating him, and if Musa had not said to Pharaoh: “My Lord is in the Heaven,” Pharaoh would not have said: {O Haman… set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey the god of Moses} (28:38).

We say: You are lying about Musa (, he never said that. But your conclusion shows that you are indeed the followers of Pharaoh, who believed that the Creator lies in a certain direction, and so he desired to climb up to Him on a ladder. He congratulates you for being among his followers, and he is your imam.

They say: What about Umayya ibn Abi al-Salt who said: “Glory to Him Whom creatures are unable to know in the way He deserves to be known, Who is on His Throne, One and One Alone, Sovereign and Possessor over the Throne of Heaven, unto Whose Majesty faces are humbled and prostrate”? And he – Umayya – had read the Torah, the Bible, and the Psalms.

We say: It is just like you, in your ignorance, to cite as proof, first Pharaoh, then the discourse of a pre-Islamic Arab supported by the Torah and the Bible, which have been distorted and changed. Of all of Allah’s creation the Jews are the most knowledgeable in disbelief and in likening Allah to creation. [38]

What we must believe is that Allah existed and nothing existed with Him; that He created all creation, including the Throne, without becoming subject to disclosure through them, nor did a direction arise for Him because of them, nor did He acquire a location in them; that He does not become immanent, that He does not cease to be transcendent, that he does not change, and that He does not move from one state to another.

Istiwa’ in the Arabic language has fifteen meanings both literal and figurative. Some of these meanings are suitable for Allah and the meaning of the verse (20:4) is derived from them. The other meanings are not accepted under any circumstances. For example, if it is taken to mean being fixed in a place (tamakkun), settling (istiqrar), connecting (ittisal), or being bounded (muhadhat): then none of these are suitable for the Creator Almighty and Exalted and no-one should try to find His likeness in His creation.

One may refrain from explaining the verse, as Malik and others have said: “Istiwa’ is known” – he means: its lexical sense- “and its modality is unknown” (wa al-kayfu majhul) [39] – that is: the modality of whatever is suitable for Allah among the senses of istiwa’: therefore who can specify such modality? – “and asking about it is innovation” – because, as we have just made clear, probing this matter is looking for dubious matters and that is asking for fitna.

Hence, from what the Imam of Muslims Malik has said, we can conclude that the istiwa’ is known; that what is suitable for Allah is left unspecified; and that He is declared transcendent above what is impossible for Him. As for specifying what is not suitable for Him, it is not permissible for you, since you have completed the declaration of oneness and belief by negating likeness for Allah and by negating whatever it is absurd to believe concerning Him. There is no need for anything beyond that, and we have already explained this in detail.

As for the phrases: “He descends, He comes, He arrives,” and similar ones whose meanings it is impermissible to apply to His Essence: they refer to His actions… Al-Awza`i explained this when he said, about this hadith: “Allah does what he wishes.” [40] It suffices to know or simply to believe that Allah is not to be defined by any of the characteristics of creatures and that there is nothing in His creation that resembles Him and no interpretation that can explain Him.

They said: We must say “He descends” without asking how. We say: We seek refuge in Allah from asking how! We only say whatever Allah’s Messenger — Allah bless and greet him — has taught us to say and what we have understood from the Arabic language in which the Qur’an was revealed. And the Prophet said: “Allah says: O My servant, I was ailing and you did not visit me, I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink…” [41] None of this is suitable of Allah whatsoever, but He has honored all these actions by expressing them through Him. In the same way, the saying “Our Lord descends” expresses that His servant and angel descends in His name with His order pertaining to whatever He bestows of His Mercy, gives out of His generosity, and showers His creation out of His bounty.

The poet says:

I have descended – therefore do not suspect me of jealousy! – in the station of the generous lover. [42]

A descent can be either figurative or physical. The descending that Allah spoke about, if understood as physical, would mean His angel, Messenger, and slave. However, if you can understand it to mean that He was not doing any of this and that He then turned to do it in the last third of the night, thereby answering prayers, forgiving, bestowing, and that He has named this “descending from one degree to another and from one attribute to another,” then that – ironically – is addressed to those who have more knowledge than you and more intelligence, who are firmer in belief in Allah’s Unity and are less confused than you – nay, who are not confused at all! [43]

They say in ignorance that if He meant the descending of his Mercy he would not make that only in the last third of the night, because His Mercy descends day and night. We say: Yes, he singled out the night, and the day of `Arafa, and the hour of Jum`a, because the descent of His mercy in them is more abundant, and its bestowal is even greater then. Allah told us of this when He said: {And those who beg forgiveness in the early hours of the morning} (3:17). [44]

AL-`IRAQI AND IBN JAHBAL’S DISMISSAL OF IBN `ABD AL-BARR

The Renewer of the eighth Islamic century and teacher of Ibn Hajar, Shaykh al-Islam Zayn al-Din al-`Iraqi said about Ibn `Abd al-Barr: “He is one of those who hold that Allah has a direction, therefore beware of him.” [45] The Shafi`i Imam Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi indicated Ibn `Abd al-Barr’s isolation from the position of most scholars, particularly Malikis, on the questions of istiwa’ and descent:

Concerning what Abu `Umar ibn `Abd al-Barr said, both the elite and the general public know the man’s position and the scholars’ disavowal of if. The Malikis’ condemnation of it, from the first to the last of them, is well-known. His contravention (mukhalafa) of the Imam of North Africa, Abu al-Walid al-Baji, is famous. [46] It reached a point that the eminent people of North Africa would say: `No-one in North Africa holds this position except he and Ibn Abi Zayd!’ although some of the people of knowledge cited an excuse for Ibn Abi Zayd in the text of the great qadi Abu Muhammad `Abd al-Wahhab [ibn `Ali ibn Nasr al-Baghdadi (d. 422)] al-Baghdadi al-Maliki [47] – may Allah have mercy on him. [48]

AL-QARI’S RECAPITULATION

Al-Qari commented the following on the hadith of descent:

“Our Lord descends” means that His command descends to one or more of His angels, or that His herald descends.

“Blessed and Exalted is He” means: Abundant are His goodness, Mercy, and the marks of His beauty. Also, He is exalted above the attributes of creatures pertaining to ascent and descent, and elevated with His splendor, magnificence, and majesty above the properties of contingence. It was said that “Blessed and Exalted” are parenthetical clauses inserted between the verb and its circumstancial modifier [of time, place, etc.] to warn about transcendence, so that no-one falsely imagine that the attribution of the modifier to the verb is real.

“Every night to the lowest heaven”: Ibn Hajar said: “Meaning His order and mercy descend, or His angels.” [49] This is the figurative interpretation of Imam Malik [50] and others; it is indicated by the sound narration: “Allah waits until the first part of the night is over, then He orders a herald (munadiyan) to say: Is there anyone supplicating so that he may beanswered, etc.” [51] A second figurative interpretation – also attributed to Imam Malik – is that it is a metaphor (isti`ara) to signify turning to (iqbal) [52] the supplicant with fulfillment, kindness, mercy, and the acceptance of remorse in the manner of the generous, especially kings when they alight near the needy and weak.

Al-Nawawi said in Sharh Sahih Muslim:

There are, concerning this hadith and those like it among the hadiths and verses of the divine Attributes, two well-known schools of thought. The school of the vast majority of the Salaf and some of the sholars of kalam holds that we must believe in their reality according to what befits Allah Almighty and Exalted, but that the literal import we commonly apply to ourselves is not meant, nor do we say anything to interpret them figuratively, believing firmly that Allah is utterly transcendent above the properties of contingence (huduth). [53] The second school is that of the majority of the scholars of kalam and a number of the Salaf – related from Malik and al-Awza`i – and holds that they are interpreted figuratively but only according to their appropriate contextual meanings. On that basis, this hadith has two interpretations. [54]

Then he cited the two interpretations we mentioned above. From what he said, as well as from the words of the godly scholar Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, Imam al-Haramayn, al-Ghazzali, and others both among our own Imams and the rest, it is understood that the two schools agree upon the dismissal of the literal meaning of the following: the “coming” (al-maji’), the “form” (al-sura), the “person” (al-shakhs), the “leg” (al-rijl), the “foot” (al-qadam), the “hand” (al-yad), the “face” (al-wajh), “anger” (al-ghadab), “mercy” (al-rahma), the “establishment over the Throne” (al-istiwa’ `ala al-`arsh), the “being in the heaven” (al-kawn fi al-sama’), and others. Understood literally, all these would necessarily result in definitely false impossibilities entailing positions whose status is disbelief (kufr) by Consensus. Due to this, all of the Khalaf and Salaf were compelled to dismiss the literal meaning of the word.

They differed only with regard to the following: Should we dismiss the literal meaning while believing firmly that Allah Almighty and Exalted described Himself with whatever befits His majesty and magnificence, without interpreting it figuratively as something else? This is the way of most of the Salaf, and it involves a non-specific type of figurative interpretation (ta’wil ijmali). Or should we dismiss the literal meaning while believing firmly that Allah Almighty and Exalted described Himself with whatever befits His majesty and magnificence, and interpreting it figuratively as something else? This is the way of most of the Khalaf, and it consists in a specific type of figurative interpretation (ta’wil tafsili). [55]

The Khalaf did not want, in adopting the latter, to deliberately contravene the pious Salaf – we seek refuge in Allah from such a notion about them! However, it was only out of the necessity in which their times placed them, because of the abundance of the mujassima and Jahmiyya among other misguided sects, and their sway over the minds of the general public. By adopting specific figurative interpretation, they aimed to deter them and prove their doctrines false. Thereafter, many of them expressed regret and said: “If we had the pious Salaf’s purity of doctrine and enjoyed the scarcity of naysayers which they enjoyed in their time, we would not probe into the figurative interpretation of any of these.”

It is by now clear that Malik and al-Awza`i – major figures of the Salaf – interpreted this hadith in its specifics. Similarly did Sufyan al-Thawri interpret istiwa’ over the Throne as the decision of Allah’s command, its equivalent being {Then turned He (thumma istawa) to the heaven when it was smoke} (41:11). [56] Among those who did the same is Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq. Indeed a whole group of them, as well as later scholars, said that whoever believes Allah to be in a particular physical direction is an unbeliever, as al-`Iraqi has explicitly stated, saying:

This is the position of Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi`i, al-Ash`ari, and al-Baqillani. All the groups have agreed upon interpreting such texts as {And He is with you wheresoever you may be} (57:4), {There is no secret conference of three but He is their fourth[, nor of five but He is their sixth, nor of less than that or more but He is with them wheresoever they may be]} (58:7), {Wheresoever you turn, there is Allah’s countenance} (2:115), {We are nearer to him than his jugular vein} (50:16), “There is no heart except it lies between the two fingers of the Merciful,” [57] and “The Black Stone is Allah’s right hand on earth.” [58] This agreement makes plain to the reader the validity of the authorities’ decision that the pause in the verse

{None knows its explanation (ta’wil) save Allah And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge [They] say: We believe therein}[59] (3:7)

is after the clause “who are firmly grounded in knowledge,” not Allah’s name. [60]

I say: The vast majority consider that the pause comes at Allah’s name, and have declared it a mandatory pause (waqf lazim).61 This is the literal meaning, for ta’wil is the meaning which Allah Almighty and Exalted meant, and in reality none knows that meaning except Allah Almighty and Exalted, and there is no God beside Him. One that speaks concerning its meaning is speaking only according to what is shown to him, and no-one can say: “This interpretation is what Allah meant” categorically. [62]

The disagreement, in the final analysis, is verbal. Hence, many of the latter-day authoritative scholars have avoided designating the interpretation (ta`yin al-ta’wil) as any given item among the suitable items of a word, leaving its designation to Allah’s knowledge. This is a median position between the two schools and a pleasing taste of the two springs. Ibn Daqiq al-`Id chose another median position, saying:

If interpretation stems from an evident and prevalent figurative understanding, then it ought to be applied without reserve. If it stems from a far-fetched, aberrant figurative understanding, then it ought to be left out. If one is as good as the other, then difference in its permissibility or impermissibility is a matter of juridical effort. This matter does not present any danger to the two sides of the argument.

I say: Reserving judgment in this matter is only for lack of a preponderant alternative, although reserving judgment is supported by the position of the Salaf, among them the Greatest Imam [Abu Hanifa], and Allah knows best.[/i]

Al-Qadi [`Iyad] said:

[i]What is meant by His descent is the approach of His Mercy, the increase of His kindness toward His servants, and the acceptance of their contrition, in the custom of generous kings and clement liege-lords when they alight near a needy, suffering and weak people.

It was narrated: “Allah comes down from the highest heaven to the lowest heaven.” [63] That is: He shifts from all that is necessitated by the Attributes of Majesty – such as the rejection of the arrogant, indifference to them, the subduing of enemies, and the exacting of punishment from the wicked – to all that is necessitated by the Attributes of Beauty, such as forbearance, mercy, the acceptance of contrition, gentleness toward the destitute, fulfillment of needs, leniency and alleviation in the commands and prohibitions, and pardon towards apparent sins. Hence it was said that this is a figural manifestation (tajalli suri) and not a real descent (nuzul haqiqi). The difficulty is thereby resolved, and Allah knows best. [64]

NOTES

[1] Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Malik, and al-Darimi. It is narrated from twenty-three Companions, as stated by al-Kattani in Nazm al-Mutanathir.

[2] Ibn `Asakir, Tabyin Kadhib al-Muftari (p. 151).

[3] As quoted by al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (Hashidi ed. 2:371).

[4] Ibn al-Juwayni, al-Nizamiyya (p. 20).

[5] Narrated from Abu Sa`id al-Khudri and Abu Hurayra by al-Nasa’i in al-Sunan al-Kubra (6:124 #10316) and `Amal al-Yawm wa al-Layla (ed. Faruq Hammada p. 340 #482). Al-Qari declared it sound in Mirqat al-Mafatih (1994 ed. 3:299).

[6] Narrated by al-Bazzar, Kashf al-Astar (4:44); al-Tabarani, al-Kabir (9:51). Al-Haythami declared it sound in Majma` al-Zawa’id (10:209). Also narrated – with a weak chain – by Ahmad in his Musnad.

[7] Narrated from Habib ibn Abi Habib by al-Dhahabi in Syar A`lam al-Nubala’ (8:418), but al-Dhahabi himself reported in Mizan al-I`tidal (1:452) that all of Ibn Abi Habib’s narrations are forged. This is an extreme statement in light of Ibn `Abd al-Barr’s mention of Habib in al-Tamhid (24:177) as merely weak, and he adds: “His reports from Malik are full of mistakes and condemned matters.” However, Ibn `Abd al-Barr in al-Tamhid (7:143) also narrates this report from Habib, then goes on to narrate it from Mutarrif with a sound chain, adding: “It is possible that the matter be as Malik said, and Allah knows best.” The “Salafis” reject the report because of Habib’s weakness, but Mutarrif’s chain does not contain him.

[8] As mentioned by al-Tirmidhi in his Sunan (Book of zakat, hadith “Verily, Allah accepts the zakat and takes it with His right Hand…”), Ibn al-Jawzi in his Daf` Shubah al-Tashbih (p. 195-196), al-Dhahabi in Siyar A`lam al-Nubala’ (al-Arna’ut ed. 8:105), Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani, al-Jami` (p. 124), and others.

[9] Al-Bayhaqi, al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (Kawthari ed. p. 456, Hashidi ed. 2:380).

[10] Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` Shubah al-Tashbih (p. 196).

[11] Ibid. (p. 192).

[12] Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Bukhari and Muslim: “I am as My servant thinks of Me, and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he mentions Me in Himself I mention him in Myself. If he mentions Me in a gathering, I mention him in a better gathering. If he comes near Me one hand-span (shibran) I come near him one cubit (dhira`an). If he comes near Me one cubit I come near him an arm’s length (ba`an). If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running.”

[13] Al-Baji, al-Muntaqa (1:357).

[14] See the al-Baji’s explanation of this hadith in the post “Abu al-Walid al-Baji.”

[15] Ibn `Abd al-Salam, al-Ishara ila al-Ijaz (p. 106).

[16] `Abd al-`Aziz bin Baz inserted the following footnote at this point: “What he means by `the vast majority of the scholars’ is the vast majority of the scholars of kalam. As for Ahl al-Sunna – and these are the Companions and those who followed them in excellence – they assert a direction for Allah, and that is the direction of height, believing that the Exalted is above the Throne without giving an example and without entering into modality. The proofs from the Qur’an and the Sunna for this are innumerable, so take heed and beware. And Allah knows best.”

[17] Ibn Hajar elsewhere reports Ibn Daqiq al-`Id’s words in full: “We say concerning the various attributes that they are real and true according to the meaning Allah wills for them. As for those who interpret them, we look at their interpretation: if it is close to the rules of language in use among the Arabs we do not reject it, and if it is far from them we relinquish it and return to believing while declaring transcendence.” In Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 13:383).

[18] Again Bin Baz here interjects: “This is an obvious mistake which goes against the plain import of the texts that have come to us concerning the descent, and likewise what is cited of Baydawi later is null and void. The correct position is that of the Pious Salaf who believed in the descent and let the texts pass as they came to them, affirming Allah’s descent in the sense that befits Him, without asking how nor giving an example, just as the rest of His attributes. That is the safest, straightest, most knowledgeable, and wisest way. Therefore hold on to it, cling to it stubbornly, and beware what contravenes it so that you may reach safety. And Allah knows best.” The gist of these remarks is that Bin Baz refuses to preclude displacement from Allah.

[19] See above, n. 5

[20] See above, n. 6.

[21] Narrated from Rifa`a ibn `Araba al-Juhani as part of a longer hadith by al-Darimi in his Musnad, Ahmad in his, al-Nasa’i in `Amal al-Yawm wa al-Layla, Ibn Majah in his Sunan, al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (5:49-51 #4556-4558), Ibn Hibban with a sound chain in his Sahih according to al-Arna’ut (1:444 #212), al-Tayalisi in his Musnad (p. 182 #1292), al-Bazzar in his. Al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa’id (10:408) said that some of al-Tabarani’s and al-Bazzar’s chains are sound.

[22] Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari (1989 ed. 3:37-38; 1959 ed. 3:32-33 #1094).

[23] Narrated by al-Dhahabi who identifies the scholar as Ibrahim ibn [Hisham] Abi Salih in Mukhtasar al-`Uluw (p. 191 #234).

[24] See n. 40.

[25] In al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (2:375-376 #951),

[26] Quoted in al-Dhahabi, Siyar (8:213).

[27] Al-Dhahabi in Mizan al-I`tidal (3:479) said of Ibn Mandah: “He became confused towards the end of his life… and attributed to a number of scholars sayings pertaining to doctrine which they were not known to hold.”

[28] In Majmu` Fatawa Ibn Taymiyya (5:376-380).

[29] Jubayr ibn Mut`im, Abu Bakr, `Ali, Ibn Mas`ud, `Ubada ibn al-Samit, Rufa`a ibn `Uraba, Jabir, `Uthman ibn Abi al`As, Abu al-Darda’, Anas, `Amr ibn `Abasa, Ibn `Abbas, Umm Salama, Abu Musa al-Ash`ari, and others, see al-Daraqutni’s monograph which compiles all their narrations.

[30] As quoted by al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (2:378-379 #956).

[31] Al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-Sunan (Hims ed. 5:101).

[32] Quoted in Abu Hanifa, Kitab al-Fiqh al-Akbar bi Sharh al-Qari (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-`Arabiyya al-Kubra, 1327/1909) p. 16; cf. al-Maturidi, Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar in Majmu`a Rasa’il (Hyderabad: Matba`at Majlis Da’irat al- Ma`arif al-Nizamiyya, 1903).

[33] In al-Fisal fi al-Milal (2:125).

[34] As cited in al-Kawthari’s marginalia on Daf` Shubah al-Tashbih (1998 repr. p. 50). Note that `Uthman ibn Sa`id al-Darimi stated: “We do not concede that all actions are created…. The descent, the walking, the running (al-harwala), and the establishment on the Throne and to the heaven are eternal without beginning (qadim).” In his Naqd al-Jahmiyya (Cairo, 1361/1942 p. 121) as quoted in al-Kawthari’s Maqalat (p. 314). Ibn Hazm rejected this position in al-Fisal (2:124): “If the establishment on the Throne is eternal without beginning, then the Throne is eternal without beginning, and this is disbelief.”

[35] In al-Tawdih `an Tawhid al-Khallaq Fi Jawab Ahl al-`Iraq (1319/1901) p.

[34]. New ed.: al-Riyad: Dar Tibah, 1984.

[36] Note that in our time Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani revived the claim that Allah is in a place above the Throne which he called al-makan al-`adami (“the inexistential place”) in his introduction to al-Dhahabi’s Mukhtasar al-`Uluw. He was refuted by Shaykh Hasan `Ali al-Saqqaf in his book Talqih al-Fuhum al-`Aliya (“The Inculcation of Lofty Discernment”).

[37] Ibn `Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhid (7:128-131). See also al-Haytami’s fatwa “Is it permissible to say that `Allah is in the heaven’?” and Nuh Keller’s article “Is it permissible for a Muslim to believe that `Allah is in the sky’ in a literal sense?” as well as the discussion on istiwa’ in the forthcoming post, “Istiwa’ is a Divine Act”.

[38] Umayya ibn Abi al-Salt recited a funeral eulogy for the disbelievers who died at Badr and died during the siege of al-Ta’if. Ibn Hajar said in al-Isaba (1:133 #549): “There is no contest among the authorities in history that Umayya ibn Abi Salt died an unbeliever.”

[39] This wording is not established as authentic: See the relevant discussion in our biographical notice on Imam Malik – Allah be well-pleased with him.

[40] Also related from Ishaq ibn Rahuyah as narrated by al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat (2:375-376 #951) and al-Dhahabi in Mukhtasar al-`Uluw (p. 191 #234) and the Siyar (9:558 #1877); Fudayl ibn `Iyad as related from al-Athram by Bukhari in Khalq Af`al al-`Ibad (p. 14); Yahya ibn Ma`in as cited by Lalika’i in Sharh Usul I`tiqad Ahl al-Sunna. The latter two are cited by Ibn Taymiyya in Majmu`a al-Fatawa (5:377).

[41] Narrated from Abu Hurayra by Muslim and Ahmad.

[42] The scholars also often quote al-Shafi`i’s saying that when he first arrived in Egypt they did not understand him, whereupon “I descended, and descended, and descended until they understood me.”

[43] Imam Malik said: “It is our Lord’s command which descends.” Narrated by Ibn `Abd al-Barr himself in al-Tamhid (7:143) from Mutarrif with a sound chain. He then admits: “It is possible that the matter be as Malik said, and Allah knows best.”

[44] Ibn al-`Arabi, Arida al-Ahwadhi (2:234-237).

[45] In Tarh al-Tathrib (2:382).

[46] Imam Abu al-Walid al-Baji, Sulayman ibn Khalaf al-Maliki al-Qurtubi.

[47] Perhaps a reference to his commentary on Ibn Abi Zayd’s Risala (Dibaj p. 262).

[48] In Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyya al-Kubra (9:78).

[49] In Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 3:32 #1094), as quoted above.

[50] See n. 7.

[51] See n. 5.

[52] Attributed to Hammad ibn Zayd by al-Bayhaqi (al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat, al-Kawthari ed. p. 456, al-Hashidi ed. 2:380) as stated.

[53] Note the strong affirmation of both the reality of the Attributes and Allah’s transcendence which is the mark of the accomplished scolars of Ahl al-Sunna in doctrine.

[54] Al-Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim, Book of Salat al-Musafirin wa Qasruha.

[55] See al-Buti’s excellent discussion of these two types in al-Salafiyya (p. 132-144), translated in Shaykh Hisham Kabbani’s Islamic Beliefs and Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna (p. 117-134) and his Encyclopedia of Islamic Knowledge (1:106-119).

[56] “The understanding of istiwa’ as Allah’s turning to a particular command concerning the Throne is not far-fetched, and this is the ta’wil of Imam Sufyan al-Thawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it the verse: {Then turned He to the heaven when it was smoke} (41:11), meaning: “He proceeded to it” (qasada ilayha).” In al-Yafi`i, Marham al-`Ilal (p. 245) and Abu al-Ma`ali Ibn al-Juwayni, al-Irshad (p. 59-60).

[57] Narrated from `Abd Allah ibn `Amr by Muslim, from Anas by al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahih), and from al-Nawwas ibn Sam`an by Ahmad, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban in his Sahih, al-Hakim, and others, all with sound chains. Al-Hakim declared the hadith sound and al-Dhahabi concurred. The continuation of the hadith states that the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — used to say: “O Transformer of hearts! Make firm our hearts in Your Religion,” and that he also said: “And the balance is in the Merciful’s hand, He elevates a people while he abases others, and so until the Day of Resurrection.”

[58] Narrated from Ibn `Abbas, Jabir, Anas, and others by Ibn Abi `Umar al-Ma`dani in his Musnad, al-Tabarani, al-Suyuti in his Jami` al-saghir (1:516 #3804-3805), Ibn `Asakir in Tarikh Dimashq (15:90- 92), al-Khatib in Tarikh Baghdad (6:328), and others. It is considered forged by Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn `Adi (al-Kamil 1:342). Cf. al-Ahdab, Zawa’id Tarikh Baghdad (5:321-323 #949). However, al-`Ajluni stated that it is sahih as a halted report from Ibn `Abbas as narrated by al-Quda`i in the wording: “The Corner [of the Black Stone] (al-rukn) is Allah’s Right Hand on earth…,” and declared it hasan as a hadith of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –. Ibn Qutayba in Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith (1972 ed. p. 215; 1995 ed. p. 198, 262) said that it was a saying of Ibn `Abbas and relates a saying of `A’isha that the Black Stone is the depository of the covenant of human souls with Allah on the Day of Promise (alastu bi rabbikum). Its mention in the Reliance of the Traveller (p. 853b) as “narrated by al-Hakim, who declared it sahih, from `Abd Allah ibn `Amr,” is incorrect.

[59] On the various positions on this question, see Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir for this verse, Zakariyya al-Ansari’s al-Muqsid li Talkhis Ma fi al-Murshid (p. 45) and especially al-Dani’s (d. 444) al-Muktafa fi al-Waqf wa al-Ibtida’.

[60] As al-Qari goes on to say the majority stop at Allah’s name, but both readings are possible, as stated by al-Suyuti in al-Itqan (1:264), al-Raghib in Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an, Zakariyya al-Ansari in al-Muqsid li Talkhis Ma fi al-Murshid (p. 45), al-Dani in al-Muktafa (p. 195-197), and others. The Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — defined {those who are firmly grounded in knowledge} (3:7) as “Those whose oaths are kept, whose tongues are truthful, whose hearts are upright, and whose stomachs and genitals are abstinent. They are among {those who are firmly grounded in knowledge}.” Narrated from Abu al-Darda’, Abu Umama, Wathila, and Anas by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (8:152 #7658), and from Ibn `Abbas by al-Hakim (`Ata’ ed. 8:152 #7658) with a sound chain as confirmed by al-Dhahabi.

[61] Among the Salaf, Ibn Qutayba in his Ta’wil Mukhtalif al-Hadith took the position chosen by al-`Iraqi. This is also the position of Dr. al-Buti in his book Min Rawa’i` al-Qur’an.

[62] Cf. Fakhr al-Islam al-Pazdawi’s remarks: “For us [Maturidis], {those who are firmly grounded in knowledge} (3:7) have no share in the knowledge ofthe ambiguous content of Qur’an (al-mutashabih) other than to pure acquiescence (al-taslim), believing in the real nature of the meaning (haqqiyya al-murad) in Allah’s presence and that the pause at His saying: {None knows its explanation save Allah} (3:7) is required (waqf wajib). The People of Belief belong to one of two levels in knowledge: some over-zealously demand that it be read without pause – those are tested with a form of ignorance – and some demand the pause – those are honored with a form of knowledge…. An example of the ambiguous verses are the individual letters that open certain suras. Another example is the affirmation of Allah’s vision with the sight of the eyes in reality in the hereafter, according to the explicit text of the Qur’an: {On that day will faces be resplendent, looking towards their Lord} (75:22-23). For He exists with the attribute of perfection, and the fact that He can be seen both by Himself and others, is among the characteristics of perfection; moreover, the believer is apt to receive such bestowal of Allah’s gift. However, the affirmation of direction is precluded (ithbat al-jiha mumtani’). It follows that the description of the vision is among the ambiguities, ans so it is obligatory to acquiesce to it while believing in its reality. Similarly, the affirmation of the Hand and the Face are real (ithbat al-yad wa al-wajh haqq) in our school, known through its principle but ambiguous through its description (ma’lumun bi aslihi mutashabihun bi wasfihi). It will not be permitted to invalidate the principle on the grounds that one is unable to comprehend the description. The Mu’tazila went astray only in this respect, for they rejected the principles because of their ignorance of the Attributes – and they became nullifiers-of-Allah’s-attributes (mu’attila).” In ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Bukhari’s (d. 730) commentary on al-Pazdawi’s Usul entitled Kashf al-Asrar (1:55-60). ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Bukhari comments: (1:60) “By saying: ‘For us,’ the Shaykh shunned the position of those who say: ‘Allah is not to be described as possessing a face and hands, rather, what is meant by the face is contentment (al-rida) or the Essence (al-dhat) and the like; and what is meant by the hand is power or favor and the like.’ The Shaykh therefore said: Rather, Allah is described with the attribute of Face and that of Hand, together with the upholding of His transcendence (tanzih) above having a form (sura) and a limb (jariha)…. Similarly with the affirmation of modality (ithbat al-kayfiyya): its description is ambiguous, therefore it is obligatory to acquiesce to it, firmly believing in its reality without busying oneself with interpretation.”

[63] Narrated from Abu al-Khattab by al-Tabarani in al-Kabir (22:370 #927) with a weak chain as indicated by al-Haythami in Majma` al-Zawa’id.

[64] Al-Qari, Mirqat al-Mafatih (1892 ed. 2:136-137, 1994 ed. 3:298-301).

Allah’s blessings and peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions.

Refutations to those who attributes a direction to Allah

June 15, 2007

Ahl al-Sunna Refutations of Those Who Attribute a Direction to Allah

* Imam Bukhari (d. 256) believed that Allah exists without a place as stated by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari. Ibn Hajar repeats in many places that Allah is clear of places.

* Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 311) said in his commentary on the verse “Then turned He (thumma istawa) to the heaven” (2:29):

The meaning of istiwa’ in this verse is height and elevation… but if one claims that this means displacement for Allah, tell him: He is high and elevated over the heaven with the height of sovereignty and power, not the height of displacement and movement to and fro.

* Imam al-Ash`ari (d. 324) said in the authentic version of his Ibana published by Dar al-ansar and edited by Fawqiyya Husayn Mahmud:

Allah is established on the Throne in the sense that He said and the meaning that He wills, with an establishment that transcends touch, settlement, location, immanence, and displacement. The Throne does not carry him, rather the Throne and its carriers are carried by the subtleness of His power, subdued under His grip, and He is above the Throne and above everything down to the extremities of the lower earth, with an aboveness that does not make him any closer to the Throne or to the heavens. Rather, He is as exalted high over the Throne as He is exalted high over the lower earth, and together with this He is near every creature, and He is nearer to His servant than his jugular vein, and He is witness over everything.

* Shahrastani (d. 548) relates that Imam Ash`ari also said:

The vision of Allah does not entail direction, place, or form, or face to face encounter either by impingement of rays or by impression, all of which are impossible.

* Mulla `Ali al-Qari states in Sharh `ayn al-`ilm:

It is obligatory that you believe that your God… is not contained in any place or direction.

He states in Sharh al-fiqh al-akbar:

Allah is not located in a place, whether above or below, or any other than these, and time is inapplicable to Him, unlike what the mushabbiha and mujassima and hululiyya or incarnationists believe.

He also cites in Sharh al-Mishkat al-hafiz Zayn al-Din al-`Iraqi’s statement that all Four Imams agree that anyone who believes Allah lies in a specific direction has committed disbelief.

* Al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam does not declare those who attribute a direction to Allah to be disbelievers but only innovators:

The correct position is that the one who holds belief in Allah’s direction is not declared a disbeliever, because the scholars of Islam did not bring such as these out of Islam, rather, they adjudicated inheritance from Muslims for them, burial in Muslim grounds, sanctity of their blood and property, and the obligation to pray over their remains. The same is true of all the upholders of innovations.

* Imam Ghazali said in his al-Iqtisad fi al-i`tiqad:

The Hashwiyya asserted direction for Allah while guarding themselves from divesting Allah of His attributes (ta`til), falling thereby into likening Allah to creation (tashbih).

Allah has granted success to Ahl al-Sunna in establishing the truth. They have recognized the proper goal in establishing their method, and understood that direction is denied and disallowed for Allah because it pertains to bodies and complements them; while vision of Him is firmly established because it directly follows knowledge and attends it as its perfecting component.

* Ibn al-Jawzi says in his Daf` shubah al-tashbih:

Some claim the verses “Good words ascend to Him” (35:10) and “He is the Omnipotent over His servants” (6:18, 6:61) as proof that He is above in sensory fashion, forgetting that sensory aboveness is only applicable to bodies or atoms, and that aboveness can also be expressed for loftiness of rank.

Furthermore, just as He said: “above His servants,” He also said: “and He is with you” (57:4). Therefore whoever interprets the latter as meaning “with you in knowledge,” permits his counterpart to interpret istiwa’ (in 20:4) as “subduing” (al-qahr)….

Abu Ya`la says: “What is meant by “aboveness” is Allah’s istiwa’ in person on the Throne, which is a limit for him in the direction that is bounded by the Throne. As for the other directions, such as above, behind, in front, and left, they are not bounded.” I say: these words are the very root of anthropomorphism, because what bounds is either greater or smaller than what is bounded, and these dimensions only apply to bodies.

* Ibn Hajar states in Fath al-bari:

The fact that the two directions of “above” and “below” are inapplicable and impossible for Allah does not preclude His being described with the attribute of elevation (`uluw), for such description is only from the standpoint of the meaning of elevation, not that of sensory perception.

Al-Kirmani said: “The outward meaning of the saying: “He Who is in the heaven” (man fi al-sama’) is not meant. Allah is transcendent above immanence and place. However, because the direction of aboveness is nobler than any other direction, Allah linked it to Him to indicate the loftiness of the Essence and the Attributes.” He addresses the other expressions of aboveness in the same manner.

* Ibn al-Hammam al-Hanafi (d. 681) said in al-Musayara, a commentary on Ghazali’s tenets of belief:

The seventh foundation of Islamic belief is that Allah, the Exalted, is not characterized by a direction, because directions — above, below, right, etc. — are created with creatures… and if, by “direction” other than that is meant, which does not suggest the immanence of boundaries or corporeality, let it be made plain (i.e. that it is a loftiness of rank, not space), so that it can be examined whether it belongs truly to transcendence, and if it is misphrased or other than that, then it must be shown to be corrupt.

* Imam al-Yafi`i (d. 768) in the end of his Kitab marham al-`ilal al-mu`dila devotes an entire chapter to the refutation of the anthropomorphists. The title of the chapter is: Bayan al-istidlal `ala nafi al-jiha wa al-jismiyya wa batalan madhhab man qala bihima min al-karramiyya wa al-hashwiyya wa muta’akhkhiri al-hanbaliyya (The exposition of the proofs upon which are based the negation of direction and corporeality and the invalidity of the school of those who assert them among the karramiyya and the hashwiyya and the late Hanbalis). It begins with the words:

The true Imam and teacher of the scholars of kalam, Imam al-Haramayn said: “The madhhab of the People of Truth (Ahl al-Sunna) is absolutely unanimous on the question that Allah is exalted above boundaries and above being characterized by directions. The Karramiyya and some of the Hashwiyya have said that He is bounded and that He is characterized by the direction of aboveness… and each of these two positions is tantamount to declaring that Allah has a dimension or that He has parts, and constitutes pure disbelief.”… I quoted this from his book al-Irshad.

* Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi al-Maliki (d. 543) labels the believers in Allah’s direction “followers of Pharaoh” in his `Aridat al-ahwadhi:

Your conclusion shows that you are indeed the followers of Pharaoh, who believed that the Creator lies in a certain direction, and so he desired to climb up to Him on a ladder. He congratulates you for being among his followers, and he is your imam!

* Even Ibn Hazm al-Zahiri (d. 456), the arch-enemy of Ash`ari and the Ash`ari school, says in al-Fasl fi al-milal:

By no means whatsoever is Allah in a place or in a time. This is the position of the vast majority of the scholars (al-jumhur) and ours as well, and other than this position is not permissible, for anything other than it is false.

Ibn Hajar, Fath al-bari 13:357; Cf. 3:23, 6:102, 13:309, 328, 351, 354, 355, 357, 366, 369-370, 414.
Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, Tafsir 1:192.
al-Ash`ari, al-Ibana `an usul al-diyana, ed. Fawqiyya Husayn Mahmud (Cairo: dar al-Ansar, 1977), p. 21.
Shahrastani, al-Milal wa al-nihal as translated by A.K. Kazi and J.G. Flynn, Muslim Sects and Divisions (London: Kegan Paul International, 1984) p. 85.
al-Qari, Sharh `ayn al-`ilm wa zayn al-hilm 1:34; Sharh al-fiqh al-akbar (Beirut: dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, 1404/1984) p. 57; al-Mirqat, cited by Kawthari, Maqalat p. 321, 362.
al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam, Fatawa p. 151, 153.
al-Ghazali, al-Iqtisad fi al-i`tiqad (Beirut: dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, 1409/1988) p. 48.
Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf` shubah al-tashbih p. 131, 135, 260.
Ibn Hajar, Fath al-bari 6:136 (Jihad).
Ibid. 13:412.
Ibn al-Hammam, al-Musayara p. 16-17.
al-Yafi`i, Marham al-`ilal al-mu`dila, ed. E. Denison Ross (Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1910) p. 244, 246.
Abu Bakr Ibn al-`Arabi, `Aridat al-ahwadhi 2:235.
Ibn Hazm, al-Fasl fi al-milal wa al-ahwa’ wa al-nihal 2:125.

Allah’s establishment on the Throne

June 15, 2007

istiwa’ Allah `ala al-`arsh

We continue listing the positions of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna in establishing the sound understanding and refuting the unsound understanding of the attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunna.

· Umm Salama the Prophet’s wife said the following about istiwa’ as quoted by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-bari: “The establishment is not unknown (ghayr majhul) and its modality is inconceivable in the mind (ghayr ma`qul); one does not ask “how” about Him; “how” is inapplicable to Him.”

· Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161) forwarded an interpretation of istiwa’ in verse 20:4 as “a command concerning the Throne” (amrun fi al-`arsh), according to Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 478) in his al-Irshad ila qawati` al-adilla fi usul al-i`tiqad (The guidance to the decisive proofs in the foundations of belief), as quoted by al-Yafi`i in the latter’s book Kitab marham al-`ilal al-mu`dila fi daf` al-shubah wa al-radd `ala al-mu`tazila (Book of the resolution of difficult problems for the removal of doubts and the refutation of the Mu`tazila):

The understanding of istiwa’ as Allah’s turning to a particular command concerning the Throne is not far-fetched, and this is the ta’wil of Imam Sufyan al-Thawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it the verse: “Then turned He (istawa) to the heaven when it was smoke” (41:11).

· Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150) says in his Wasiyya: “Had He been in a place and needing to sit and rest before creating the Throne, then the question ‘Where was Allah?’ would have applied to Him, which is impossible… We assert that Allah is established on the throne without His need (haja) nor settlement (istiqrar) upon it, for He it is Who preserves the Throne and other than it without needing any of them.”

He said in his al-Fiqh al-akbar: “Allah has no limits, nor any rivals… He who says: ‘I do not know if my Lord is in the heavens or on the earth’ is a disbeliever, and he who says: ‘He is on the Throne, and I do not know whether the Throne is in the heaven or on the earth,’ he is also a disbeliever.” Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi explained this to mean: “The reason is that by such words he suggests a place for Allah and this is idolatry.”

· A man asked Imam Malik (d. 179): “How did Allah make istiwa’ on the throne?” Imam Malik inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said: “Istiwa’ is not unknown (ghayru majhul), the modality of it is inconceivable in the mind (al-kayfu minhu ghayru ma`qul); but belief in it is obligatory, and inquiring about it is a heretical innovation. You are an innovator.” And he gave orders for him to be taken out.

· Imam Shafi`i (d. 204) in his small treatise entitled al-Fiqh al-akbar said: “Whoever says: al-Rahmanu `ala al-`arsh istawa, it is said to him: This verse is one of the mutashabih (ambiguous matter) concerning which one is perplexed to give an answer, and the same is said regarding similar verses.”

· Others who list the verse of istiwa’ among the mutashabihat are Imam Malik ibn Anas, the fuqaha’ of Madina, and al-Asma`i according to Abu Mansur `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi in Usul al-Din.

· The Imam of Ahl al-Sunna, Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari (d. 324), says in his Al-ibana fi usul al-diyana: “Allah is above the heavens, above the Throne, above everything, with a loftiness (fawqiyya) which does not make Him any closer to the Throne or the heavens, just as it does not make Him any further from the earth. He is close to everything in existence, He is closer to the servant than his jugular vein, and He is a witness over all things.”

He also says, as reported by Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi in Usul al-Din: “Allah’s establishment on the Throne is an action He has created named istiwa’ and related to the Throne, just as He has created an action named ityan (coming) related to a certain people; and this implies neither descent nor movement.”

· Al-hafiz Abu Hatim Ibn Hibban al-Busti (d. 354) flatly denied that Allah had limits and was expelled from Sijistan under pain of death by the anthropomorphists, as mentioned above.

· Ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d. 310) said in his Tafsir: “Allah made himself exalted over the heaven with the exaltation of sovereignty and power, not that of displacement and movement.”

· Imam Abu Mansur `Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 429) in Usul al-Din says: “The correct position according to us is the interpretation of the Throne in this verse to mean the sovereignty (al-mulk), as if He meant that the sovereignty has not been established for any but Him. This interpretation is taken from the saying of the Arabs: “So-and-so’s Throne has toppled” if he lost his power.” He then cites three examples from poetry illustrating this. He says about the characteristics of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a in his al-Farq bayn al-firaq (The differences between the sects): “Ahl al-Sunna are in consensus (ajma`u) that Allah, the Flawless, the Exalted, is not bounded by location.” He then reports the saying of Sayidina `Ali: “Allah created the Throne as an indication of His power, not for taking it as a place for Himself.”

· Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 478) said in his al-Irshad as quoted by al-Yafi`i in the latter’s book Kitab marham al-`ilal al-mu`dila:

Care must be taken to show the vulgar anthropomorphists (hashwiyya) the verses upon which they do practice ta’wil so that when they invoke as proof of their belief in Allah’s “settling” (istiqrar) the external meaning of “The Merciful is established on the Throne” (20:4), ask them for the meaning of “And He is with you wheresoever you are” (57:4). If they take the latter according to its external sense also, then they annul the external sense of His being established on the Throne which they claim, and they also proclaim the disgrace of their beliefs for all resonable persons to see; however, if they understand it as referring to His encompassing us with His knowledge, then they have applied ta’wil, and it is no longer forbidden for us to do the same in interpreting His establishment as “subduing” (qahara) and “prevailing over” (ghalaba), as is permitted by the Arabic language… Moreover, istiwa’ in the sense of istiqrar, or settling, presupposes a prior state of disturbance, and to hold this is disbelief (kufr)….

If they say: Why don’t you let the verse pass according to its external sense without interpreting it, and only say that it is among the mutashabihat whose meaning only Allah knows? We say: If the questioner wants to let istiwa’ pass according to the external sense it commonly suggests, which is physical settlement, then such a sense drives us to anthropomorphism, but if that is explicitly shown to be impossible, then the external sense ceases… at which time it is not far-fetched to understand the verse rightly and reasonably according to the demands of the divine Law and the obligation to avoid ta’wil, lest wrong belief results.

· Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali (d. 505) says almost the same thing as Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi in the Ihya’, section on qawa`id wa `aqa’id (principles and doctrines), and something related to it in the Iljam which we have excerpted already.

· The grammarian al-Raghib (d. 507?) says: “The expression istawa `ala has the meaning of istila’ or holding mastery over something, as in the verse of Qur’an: al-rahmanu `ala al-`arsh istawa… It means that everything is alike in relation to Him in such manner that no one thing is nearer to Him than another thing, since He is not like the bodies that abide in one place exclusive of another place.”

· Imam Fakhr al-Din Razi (d. 606) in his al-Tafsir al-kabir says in his commentary to verse 19:93: “Since it is affirmed by this verse that “All those in the heavens and the earth must come to Allah as His slave,” and since it is obligatory that Allah is clear of being a slave, He is therefore clear of being in a place or direction, or on the Throne or the Chair.”

· Imam Abu Mansur Ibn `Asakir (d. 620) says in his `Aqida: “It must not be said: When was He, or where was He, or how was He. He exists without a place.”

· Ibn al-Jawzi said: “Whoever says: He is established on the Throne “in person” (bi dhatihi), has diverted the sense of the verse to that of sensory perception. Such a person must not neglect that the principle is established by the mind, by which we have come to know Allah, and have attributed pre-eternity to Him decisively. If you said: We read the hadiths and keep quiet, no one would criticize you; it is only your taking them in the external sense which is hideous. Therefore do not bring into the school of this pious man of the Salaf — Imam Ahmad — what does not belong in it. You have clothed this madhhab with an ugly deed, so that it is no longer said “Hanbali” except in the sense of “anthropomorphist”….

Then they say: We take them according to their external senses. O wonder! What is the “external sense” of what Allah alone knows? Is the “external sense” of istiwa’ other than sitting down? and is the “external sense” of nuzul other than displacement?…

They said: He is established on the Throne “in person.” But this addition is not related by anyone! It is only what they understood with their senses, namely, that one is not established other than with his own person…

· Imam al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam (d. 660) was asked in his Fatawa: “What do you say about Abu Zayd al-Qayrawani al-Maliki’s (d. 386) saying: “Allah is above His exalted Throne in person (bi dhatihi), and He is in every place with His knowledge”: Does such an affirmation attribute a direction to Allah or not? And is the one who holds such belief declared a disbeliever (kafir) or not?” He replied: “The apparent meaning of what Ibn Abi Zayd said attributes direction for Allah, because he has made a difference between Allah’s being on the Throne and His being with His creation. As for the second question: the more correct position is that the one who holds belief in Allah’s direction is not declared a disbeliever, because the scholars of Islam did not bring such as these out of Islam, rather, they adjudicated inheritance from Muslims for them, burial in Muslim grounds, sanctity of their blood and property, and the obligation to pray over their remains. The same is true of all the upholders of innovations: People never ceased to apply to them the rulings that apply to Muslims. Pay no attention to what the common people claim about their disbelief.”

· Imam Nawawi (d. 676) said in Sharh al-muhadhdhab: “It is said: We believe that the Merciful is established over the Throne, and we do not know the reality of the meaning of this nor what is meant by it (la na`lamu haqiqata mi`na dhalika wa al-murada bihi), while we do believe that “There is nothing like Him whatsoever” and that He is exalted far above the most elevated of created things. That is the way of the Salaf or at least their vast majority, and it is the safest because one is not required to probe into such matters.”

· Ibn al-Hammam al-Hanafi (d. 681) said in al-Musayara: “It is obligatory to believe that Allah is established on the Throne while negating any likeness to creation. As for saying that His establishment (istiwa’) is a conquering (istila’), it is permissible but not obligatory since there is no evidence for it specifically… However, if it is feared that the common people will not understand istiwa’ without conceiving of contact and other corporeal characteristics, and if they do not negate the latter, then there is no harm in directing their understanding to istila’, as its usage and meaning for istiwa’ is established in language from the poet’s saying: “Bishr has conquered (istawa `ala) Iraq” and “When we towered above them and conquered them (istawayna `alayhim)…”

· Shaykh `Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulusi’s (d. 1143) statement already quoted: “Whoever believes that Allah permeates the Heavens and the Earth, or that He is a body sitting on His Throne, is a disbeliever, even if he thinks he is a Muslim.”

· Al-Dhahabi disavowed the term “in person”: “There is no need for this expression, and it disturbs the soul.”

· Ibn Hajar also rejected the statement that Allah is on the Throne “in person” as equally preposterous as saying that He is everywhere:

Some of the Mu`tazila have claimed that Allah was everywhere on the basis of the hadith “If one of you stands in prayer, let him not spit in front of him for Allah is in front of him.” This is evident ignorance, because the hadith then states that he should spit under his foot, which invalidates their principle. The hadith also constitutes a refutation of those who say that Allah is on the Throne “in person.”

· Even Sulayman ibn `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1817 CE), the Wahhabi founder’s grandson, declared as unbeliever anyone who used the term “in person” in relation to Allah being in a place, whether one place or an infinite number: “Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhatihi) in every place, or in one place: he is a disbeliever (kafir). It is obligatory to declare that Allah is distinct from His creation, established over His throne without modality or likeness or examplarity. Allah was and there was no place, then He created place and He is exalted as He was before He created place.”

Is Allah IN the sky?!?!?

June 15, 2007

Is it permissible for a Muslim
to believe that Allah is in the
sky in literal sense?
©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995

No. The literal sense of being “in the sky” would mean that Allah is actually in one of His creatures, for the sky is something created. It is not permissible to believe that Allah indwells or occupies (in Arabic, hulul) any of His creatures, as the Christians believe about Jesus, or the Hindus about their avatars.
What is obligatory for a human being to know is that Allah is ghaniyy or “absolutely free from need” of anything He has created. He explicitly says in surat al-Ankabut of the Qur’an,

“Verily Allah is absolutely free of need of anything in the worlds” (Qur’an 29:6).
Allah mentions this attribute of ghina or “freedom of need for anything whatsoever” in some seventeen verses in the Qur’an. It is a central point of Islamic `aqida or faith, and is the reason why it is impossible that Allah could be Jesus (upon whom be peace) or be anyone else with a body and form: because bodies need space and time, while Allah has absolutely no need for anything. This is the `aqida of the Qur’an, and Muslim scholars have kept it in view in understanding other Qur’anic verses or hadiths.
Muslims lift their hands toward the sky when they make supplications (du’a) to Allah because the sky is the qibla for du’a, not that Allah occupies that particular direction–just as the Kaaba is the qibla of the prayer (salat), without Muslims believing that Allah is in that direction. Rather, Allah in His wisdom has made the qibla a sign (ayah) of Muslim unity, just as He has made the sky the sign of His exaltedness and His infinitude, meanings which come to the heart of every believer merely by facing the sky and supplicating Allah.

It was part of the divine wisdom to incorporate these meanings into the prophetic sunna to uplift the hearts of the people who first heard them, and to direct them to the exaltedness and infinitude of Allah through the greatest and most palpable physical sign of them: the visible sky that Allah had raised above them. Many of them, especially when newly from the Jahiliyya or “pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance”, were extremely close to physical, perceptible realities and had little conception of anything besides–as is attested to by their idols, which were images set up on the ground. Umar ibn al-Khattab mentions, for example, that in the Jahiliyya, they might make their idols out of dates, and if they later grew hungry, they would simply eat them. The language of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) in conveying the exaltedness of Allah Most High to such people was of course in terms they could understand without difficulty, and used the imagery of the sky above them. Imam al-Qurtubi, the famous Qur’anic exegete of the seventh/thirteenth century, says:

The hadiths on this subject are numerous, rigorously authenticated (sahih), and widely known, and indicate the exaltedness of Allah, being undeniable by anyone except an atheist or obstinate ignoramus. Their meaning is to dignify Allah and exalt Him above all that is base and low, to characterize Him by exaltedness and greatness, not by being in places, particular directions, or within limits, for these are the qualities of physical bodies (al-Jami li ahkam al-Qur’an. 20 vols. Cairo 1387/1967. Reprint (20 vols in 10). Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d.,18.216).
In this connection, a hadith has been related by Malik in his Muwatta’ and by Muslim in his Sahih, that Muawiya ibn al-Hakam came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him, “I am very newly from the Jahiliyya, and now Allah has brought Islam,” and he proceeded to ask about various Jahiliyya practices, until at last he said that he had slapped his slave girl, and asked if he should free her, as was obligatory if she was a believer. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) requested that she be brought, and then asked her, “Where is Allah?” and she said, “In the sky (Fi al-sama)”; whereupon he asked her, “Who am I?” and she said, “You are the Messenger of Allah”; at which he said, Free her, “for she is a believer” (Sahih Muslim, 5 vols. Cairo 1376/1956. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1403/1983, 1.382: 538). Imam Nawawi says of this hadith:
This is one of the “hadiths of the attributes,” about which scholars have two positions. The first is to have faith in it without discussing its meaning, while believing of Allah Most High that “there is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11), and that He is exalted above having any of the attributes of His creatures. The second is to figuratively explain it in a fitting way, scholars who hold this position adducing that the point of the hadith was to test the slave girl: Was she a monotheist, who affirmed that the Creator, the Disposer, the Doer, is Allah alone and that He is the one called upon when a person making supplication (du’a) faces the sky–just as those performing the prayer (salat) face the Kaaba, since the sky is the qibla of those who supplicate, as the Kaaba is the qibla of those who perform the prayer–or was she a worshipper of the idols which they placed in front of themselves? So when she said, In the sky, it was plain that she was not an idol worshipper (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi. 18 vols. Cairo 1349/1930. Reprint (18 vols. in 9). Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1401/1981, 5.24).
It is noteworthy that Imam Nawawi does not mention understanding the hadith literally as a possible scholarly position at all. This occasions surprise today among some Muslims, who imagine that what is at stake is the principle of accepting a single rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith as evidence in Islamic faith (`aqida), for this hadith is such a single hadith, of those termed in Arabic ahad, or “conveyed by a single chain of transmission”, as opposed to being mutawatir or “conveyed by so many chains of transmission that it is impossible it could have been forged”.
Yet this is not what is at stake, because hadiths of its type are only considered acceptable as evidence by traditional scholars of Islamic `aqida if one condition can be met: that the tenet of faith mentioned in the hadith is salimun min al-muarada or “free of conflicting evidence”. This condition is not met by this particular hadith for a number of reasons. First, the story described in the hadith has come to us in a number of other well-authenticated versions that vary a great deal from the “Where is Allah?–In the sky” version. One of these is related by Ibn Hibban in his Sahih with a well-authenticated (hasan) chain of transmission, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked the slave girl, “‘Who is your Lord?’ and she said, ‘Allah’; whereupon he asked her, ‘Who am I?’ and she said, ‘You are the Messenger of Allah’; at which he said, ‘Free her, for she is a believer'” (al-Ihsan fi taqrib Sahih Ibn Hibban, 18 vols. Beirut: Muassasa al-Risala, 1408/1988, 1.419: 189).

In another version, related by Abd al-Razzaq with a rigorously authenticated (sahih) chain of transmission, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to her, “Do you testify that there is no god but Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you testify that I am the Messenger of Allah?” and she said yes. He said, “Do you believe in resurrection after death?” and she said yes. He said, “Free her” (al-Musannaf, 11 vols. Beirut: al-Majlis al-Ilmi, 1390/1970, 9.175: 16814).

In other versions, the slave girl cannot speak, but merely points to the sky in answer. Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani has said of the various versions of this hadith, “There is great contradiction in the wording” (Talkhis al-habir, 4 vols. in 2. Cairo: Maktaba al-Kulliyat al-Azhariyya, 1399/1979, 3.250). When a hadith has numerous conflicting versions, there is a strong possibility that it has been related merely in terms of what one or more narrators understood (riwaya bi al-ma’na), and hence one of the versions is not adequate to establish a point of `aqida.

Second, this latter consideration is especially applicable to the point in question because the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) explicitly detailed the pillars of Islamic faith (iman) in a hadith related in Sahih Muslim when he answered the questions of the angel Gabriel, saying, True faith (iman) is to believe in Allah, His angels, His Books, His messengers, the Last Day, and to believe destiny (qadr), its good and evil (Sahih Muslim, 1.37: 8)–and he did not mention anything about Allah being “in the sky”. If it had been the decisive test of a Muslims belief or unbelief (as in the “in the sky” hadith seems to imply), it would have been obligatory for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to mention it in this hadith, the whole point of which is to say precisely what “iman is”.

Third, if one takes the hadith as meaning that Allah is literally “in the sky”, it conflicts with other equally sahih hadiths that have presumably equal right to be taken literally–such as the hadith qudsi related by al-Hakim that Allah Most High says, “I am with My servant when he makes remembrance of Me and his lips move with Me” (al-Mustadrak ala al-Sahihayn. 4 vols. Hyderabad, 1334/1916. Reprint (with index vol. 5). Beirut: Dar al-Marifa, n.d., 1.496), a hadith that al- Hakim said was rigorously authenticated (sahih), which al-Dhahabi confirmed. Or such as the hadith related by al-Nasai, Abu Dawud, and Muslim that “the closest a servant is to his Lord is while prostrating” (Sahih Muslim, 1.350: 482)–whereas if Allah were literally “in the sky”, the closest one would be to Him would be while standing upright. Or such as the hadith related by al-Bukhari in his Sahih, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) forbade spitting during prayer ahead of one, because when a person prays, “his Lord is in front of him” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1.112: 406). Finally, in the hadiths of the Mir’aj or “Nocturnal Ascent”, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was shown all of the seven heavens (samawat) by Gabriel, and Allah was not mentioned as being in any of them.

Fourth, the literal interpretation of Allah being “in the sky” contradicts two fundamentals of Islamic `aqida established by the Qur’an. The first of these is Allah’s attribute of mukhalafa li al- hawadith or “not resembling created things in any way”, as Allah says in surat al-Shura, “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11), whereas if He were literally “in the sky”, there would be innumerable things like unto Him in such respects as having altitude, position, direction, and so forth. The second fundamental that it contradicts, as mentioned above, is Allah’s attribute of ghina or “being absolutely free of need for anything created” that He affirms in numerous verses in the Qur’an. It is impossible that Allah could be a corporeal entity because bodies need space and time, while Allah has absolutely no need for anything.

Fifth, the literalist interpretation of “in the sky” entails that the sky encompasses Allah on all sides, such that He would be smaller than it, and it would thus be greater than Allah, which is patently false.

For these reasons and others, Islamic scholars have viewed it obligatory to figuratively interpret the above hadith and other texts containing similar figures of speech, in ways consonant with how the Arabic language is used. Consider the Qur’anic verse “Do you feel safe that He who is in the sky will not make the earth swallow you while it quakes” (Qur’an 67:16), for which the following examples of traditional tafsir or “Qur’anic commentary” can be offered:

(al-Qurtubi:) The more exacting scholars hold that it [“in the sky”] means, “Do you feel secure from Him who is over the sky”–just as Allah says, “Journey in the earth” (Qur’an 9:2), meaning journey over it–not over the sky by way of physical contact or spatialization, but by way of omnipotent power and control. Another position is that it means “Do you feel secure from Him who is over (‘ala) the sky,” just as it is said, “So-and-so is over Iraq and the Hijaz”, meaning that he is the governor and commander of them (al-Jami li ahkam al-Qur’an, 18.216).
(al-Shirbini al-Khatib:) There are various interpretive aspects to “He who is in the sky,” one of which is that it means “He whose dominion is in the sky,” because it is the dwelling place of the angels, and there are His Throne, His Kursi, the Guarded Tablet; and from it are made to descend His decrees, His Books, His commands, and His prohibitions. A second interpretive possibility is that “He who is in the sky” omits the first term of an ascriptive construction (idafa)–in other words, “Do you feel safe from the Creator of him who is in the sky”; meaning the angels who dwell in the sky, for they are the ones who are commanded to dispense the divine mercy or divine vengeance (al-Siraj al-Munir. 4 vols. Bulaq 1285/1886. Reprint. Beirut: Dar al-Marifa, n.d., 4.344).

(Fakhr al-Din al-Razi:) “He who is in the sky” may mean the angel who is authorized to inflict divine punishments; that is, Gabriel (upon whom be peace); the words “cause the earth to swallow you” meaning “by Allah’s command and leave” (Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi. 32 vols. Beirut 1401/1981. Reprint (32 vols. in 16). Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1405/1985, 30.70).

(Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi:) Or the context of these words may be according to the convictions of those being addressed [the unbelievers], for they were anthropomorphists. So that the meaning would be, “Do you feel safe from Him whom you claim is in the sky?–while He is exalted above all place” (Tafsir al-nahr al-madd min al-Bahr al-muhit. 2 vols. in 3. Beirut: Dar al-Janan and Muassasa al-Kutub al-Thaqafiyya, 1407/1987, 2.1132).

(Qadi Iyad:) There is no disagreement among Muslims, one and all–their legal scholars, their hadith scholars, their scholars of theology, both those of them capable of expert scholarly reasoning and those who merely follow the scholarship of others–that the textual evidences that mention Allah Most High being “in the sky”, such as His words, “Do you feel safe that He who is in the sky will not make the earth swallow you,” and so forth, are not as their literal sense (dhahir) seems to imply, but rather, all scholars interpret them in other than their ostensive sense (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 5.24).

We now turn to a final example, the hadith related by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
Your Lord Blessed and Exalted descends each night to the sky of this world, when the last third of the night remains, and says: “Who supplicates Me, that I may answer him? Who asks Me, that I may give to him? Who seeks My forgiveness, that I may forgive him?” (Sahih Muslim, 1.521: 758).
This hadith, if we reflect for a moment, is not about `aqida, but rather has a quite practical point to establish; namely, that we are supposed to do something in the last third of the night, to rise and pray. This is why Imam al-Nawawi, when he gave the present chapter names to the headings of Sahih Muslim, put this hadith under “Instilling Desire to Supplicate and Make Remembrance of Allah (dhikr) in the Last of the Night, and the Answering Therein”. As for the meaning of “descends” in the hadith, al-Nawawi says:
This is one of the “hadiths of the Attributes”, and there are two positions about it, as previously mentioned in the “Book of Iman”. To summarize, the first position, which is the school of the majority of early Muslims and some theologians, is that one should believe that the hadith is true in a way befitting Allah Most High, while the literal meaning of it as known to us and applicable to ourselves is not what is intended, without discussing the figurative meaning, though we believe that Allah is transcendently above all attributes of createdness, of change of position, of motion, and all other attributes of created things.
The second position, the school of most theologians, of whole groups of the early Muslims (salaf), and reported from Malik and al-Awzai, is that such hadiths should be figuratively interpreted in a way appropriate to them in their contexts. According to this school of thought, they interpret the hadith in two ways. The first is the interpretation of Malik ibn Anas and others, that it [“your Lord descends”] means “His mercy, command, and angels descend,” just as it is said, “The sultan did such-and-such,” when his followers did it at his command. The second is that it is a metaphor signifying [Allah’s] concern for those making supplication, by answering them and kindness toward them (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh al-Nawawi, 6.3637).

The hadith scholar Ali al-Qari says about the above hadith of Allah’s “descending”:
You know that Malik and al-Awazai, who are among the greatest of the early Muslims, both gave detailed figurative interpretations to the hadith. . . . Another of them was Jafar al-Sadiq. Indeed a whole group of them [the early Muslims], as well as later scholars, said that whoever believes Allah to be in a particular physical direction is an unbeliever, as al-Iraqi has explicitly stated, saying that this was the position of Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi’i, al-Ashari, and al- Baqillani (Mirqat al-mafatih: sharh Mishkat al-masabih. 5 vols. Cairo 1309/1892. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d., 2.137).
It is worth remembering that al-Iraqi was a hafiz or “hadith master”, someone with over 100,000 hadiths by memory, while Ali al-Qari was a hadith authority who produced reference works still in use today on forged hadiths. In other words, each had the highest credentials for verifying the chains of transmission of the positions they relate. For this reason, their transmission of the position of the unbelief of whoever ascribes a direction to Allah carries its weight.
But perhaps it is fitter today to say that Muslims who believe that Allah is somehow “up there” are not unbelievers. For they have the shubha or “extenuating circumstance” that moneyed quarters in our times are aggressively pushing the bid’a of anthropomorphism. This bid’a was confined in previous centuries to a small handful of Hanbalis, who were rebutted time and again by ulama of Ahl al-Sunna like Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597/1201), who addressed his fellow Hanbalis in his Daf shubah al-tashbih bi akaff al-tanzih [Rebuttal of the insinuations of anthropomorphism at the hands of divine transcendence] with the words:

If you had said, “We but read the hadiths and remain silent,” no one would have condemned you. What is shameful is that you interpret them literally. Do not surrreptiously introduce into the madhhab of this righteous, early Muslim man [Ahmad ibn Hanbal] that which is not of it. You have clothed this madhhab in shameful disgrace, until it can hardly be said “Hanbali” any more without saying anthropomorphist (Daf shubah al-tashbih bi akaff al-tanzih. Cairo n.d. Reprint. Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tawfiqiyya, 1396/1976, 2829).
These beliefs apparently survived for some centuries in Khorasan, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the East, for Imam al-Kawthari notes that the Hanbali Ibn Taymiya (d. 728/1328) picked up the details of them from manuscripts on sects (nihal) when the libraries of scholars poured into Damascus with caravans fleeing from the Mongols farther east. He read them without a perspicacious teacher to guide him, came to believe what he understood from them, and went on to become an advocate for them in his own works (al-Kawthari, al-Sayf al-saqil fi al-radd ala Ibn Zafil. Cairo 1356/ 1937. Reprint. Cairo: Maktaba al-Zahran, n.d. 56).
He was imprisoned for these ideas numerous times before his death, the ulama of Damascus accusing him of anthropomorphism (al-Asqalani, al-Durar al-kamina fi ayan al-mia al-thamina. 4 vols. Hyderabad 134950/193031. Reprint. Beirut: Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, n.d., 1.155).

Writings were authored by scholars like Abu Hayyan al-Nahwi (d. 745/ 1344), Taqi al-Din Subki (756/1355), Badr al-Din ibn Jamaa (d. 733/ 1333), al-Amir al-Sanani, author of Subul al-salam (d. 1182/1768), Taqi al-Din al-Hisni, author of Kifayat al-akhyar, (d. 829/1426), and Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974/1567) in rebuttal of his `aqida, and it remained without acceptance by Muslims for another four hundred years, until the eighteenth-century Wahhabi movement, which followed Ibn Taymiya on points of `aqida, and made him its “Sheikh of Islam.” But was not until with the advent of printing in the Arab world that Ibn Taymiya’s books (and the tenets of this sect) really saw the light of day, when a wealthy merchant from Jedda commissioned the printing of his Minhaj al-sunna and other works on `aqida in Egypt at the end of the last century, resurrected this time as Salafism or “return to early Islam.” They have since been carried to all parts of the Islamic world, borne upon a flood of copious funding from one or two modern Muslim countries, whose efforts have filled mosques with books, pamphlets, and young men who push these ideas and even ascribe them (with Ibn Taymiya’s questionable chains of transmission, or none at all) to the Imams of the earliest Muslims. My point, as regards considering Muslims believers or unbelievers, is that this kind of money can buy the influence and propaganda that turn night into day; so perhaps contemporary Muslims have some excuse for these ideas–until they have had a chance to learn that the God of Islam is transcendently above being a large man, just as He is transcendently above being subject to time or to space, which are but two of His creatures.

To summarize what I have said in answer to your question above, scholars take the primary texts of the Qur’an and sunna literally unless there is some cogent reason for them not to. In the case of Allah “descending” or being “in the sky”, there are many such reasons. First, a literal interpretation of these texts makes it impossible to join between them and the many other rigorously authenticated texts about Allah being “with” a servant when he does dhikr, “closer to him than the jugular vein” (Qur’an 50:16), “in front of him” when he prays, “closest” to him when he is prostrating, “in the sky” when a slave girl was asked; “with you wherever you are” (Qur’an 58:4), and so on. These are incoherent when taken together literally, and only become free of contradictions when they are understood figuratively, as Malik, al-Awzai, and al-Nawawi have done above. Second, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) detailed the beliefs that every Muslim must have in the Gabriel Hadith in Sahih Muslim and others, and did not mention Allah being “in the sky” (or anywhere else) in any of them. Third, Allah’s being “in the sky” as birds, clouds, and so on are in the sky in a literal sense contradicts the `aqida of the Qur’an that there is “nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11). Fourth, the notion of Allah’s being in particular places contradicts the `aqida expressed in seventeen verses of the Qur’an that Allah is free of need of anything, while things that occupy places need both space and time.

These reasons are not exhaustive, but are intended to answer your question by illustrating the `aqida and principles of traditional ulama in interpreting the kind of texts we are talking about. They show just how far from traditional Islam is the belief that Allah is “in the sky” in a literal sense, and why it is not permissible for any Muslim to believe this. And Allah alone gives success.