Muhammad Zahid ibn Hasan al-Kawthari al-Hanafi al-Ash‘ari (1296-1371), the adjunct to the last Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Caliphate and a major (mujaddid) of the fourteenth Islamic century. He studied under his father as well as the scholar of Qur’an and hadith Ibrahim Haqqi (d. 1345), Shaykh Zayn al-‘Abidin al-Alsuni (d. 1336), Shaykh Muhammad Khalis al-Shirwani, al-Hasan al-Aztuwa’i, and others. When the Caliphate fell he moved to Cairo, then Sham, then Cairo again until his death, where the late Shaykhs ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda and ‘Abd Allah al-Ghumari became his students. Following is his prestigious chain of transmission in fiqh:
Imam al-Kawthari (d. 1371) took fiqh from his father, and also from the hadith master Ibrahim Haqqi (d. 1345) and from Shaykh Zayn al-’Abidin al-Alsuni (d. 1336).
Al-Kawthari’s father took fiqh from the hadith master Ahmad Dya’ al-Din al-Kamushkhanawi al-Naqshbandi (d. 1311) the author of the hadith index Ramuz al-Ahadith.
who took fiqh from Sayyid Ahmad al-Arwadi (d. 1275)
who took fiqh from the hadith master Muhammad Amin, Ibn ‘Abidin (d. 1252), whose chain is given elsewhere.
Both Haqqi and Alsuni took fiqh from the hadith master Ahmad Shakir (d. 1315)
who took fiqh from the hadith master Muhammad Ghalib (d. 1286)
who took fiqh from Sulayman ibn al-Hasan al-Kraydi (d. 1268)
who took fiqh from Ibrahim al-Akhiskhawi (d. 1232)
who took fiqh from Muhammad Munib al-’Aynatabi (d. 1238)
who took fiqh from Isma’il ibn Muhammad al-Qunawi (d. 1195)
who took fiqh from ‘Abd al-Karim al-Qunawi al-Amidi (d.1150)
who took fiqh from Muhammad al-Yamani al-Azhari (d. 1135)
who took fiqh from ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Shurunbulali
who took fiqh from Abu al-Ikhlas al-Hasan al-Shurunbulali (d. 1069)
who took fiqh from ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad al-Nuhrayri
and from Shams al-Din Muhammad al-Muhibbi al-Qahiri (d. 1041)
who both took fiqh from ‘Ali al-Maqdisi (d. 1004)
who took fiqh from Ahmad ibn Yunus al-Shalabi (d. 948)
who took fiqh from ‘Abd al-Barr ibn al-Shahna (d. 921)
who took fiqh from Imam al-Kamal ibn al-Humam (d. 861)
who took fiqh from Siraj al-Din ‘Umar ibn ‘Ali Qari’ al-Hidaya (d. 829)
who took fiqh:
1) from ‘Ala’s al-Din al-Sirami (d. 790)
who took fiqh from Jalal al-Din al-Karlani
who took fiqh from ‘Abd al-’Aziz al-Bukhari (d. 730) [the author of Kashf al-Asrar, a manual of Usul al-Fiqh]
who took fiqh from Hafiz al-Din Imam ‘Abd Allah ibn Ahmad al-Nasafi (d. 701)
who took fiqh from the Sun of Imams Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Sattar al-Kardari
2) from Akmal al-Din Muhammad al-Babarti (d. 796)
who took fiqh from Qawwam al-Din Muhammad al-Kaki (d. 749)
who took fiqh from al-Husayn al-Saghnaqi (d. 711)
who took fiqh from Hafiz al-Din al-Kabir Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Bukhari (d. 693)
who also took fiqh from Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Sattar al-Kardari (d. 642)
Al-Kardari took fiqh from the author of the Hidaya, Imam ‘Ali ibn Abi Bakr al-Marghinani (d. 593)
who took fiqh from al-Najm Abu Hafs ‘Umar al-Nasafi (d. 537)
who took fiqh from the two Pazdawi brothers, Fakhr al-Islam (d. 482) and Sadr al-Islam (d. 493),
the first of whom took fiqh from the Sun of Imams al-Sarkhasi (d. 483) the author of the Mabsut,
who took fiqh from the Sun of Imams al-Halwa’i (d. 448)
who took fiqh from al-Husayn ibn Khidr al-Nasafi (d. 423)
who took fiqh from Muhammad ibn al-Fadl al-Bukhari (d. 381)
who took fiqh from ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad al-Harithi (d. 340)
who took fiqh from Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Hafs (d. 264)
who took fiqh from his father Abu Hafs al-Kabir (d. 217)
who took fiqh from the Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani (d. 189) the companion of Imam Abu Hanifa,
while Sadr al-Islam took fiqh from Isma’il ibn ‘Abd al-Sadiq
who took fiqh from ‘Abd al-Karim al-Pazdawi (d. 390)
who took fiqh from the Imam of Guidance Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 333)
who took fiqh from Abu Bakr al-Jawjazani
who took fiqh from Abu Sulayman Musa ibn Sulayman al-Jawjazani
who also took fiqh from the Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani.
Al-Shaybani took fiqh from the founder of the madhhab Imam Abu Hanifa al-Nu‘man (d. 150)
who took fiqh from Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman (d. 120)
who took fiqh from Ibrahim ibn Yazid al-Nakha‘i (d. 95)
who took fiqh from  ‘Alqama ibn Qays (d. 62),  al-Aswad ibn Yazid (d. 75), and  Abu ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Abd Allah ibn Hubayyib al-Sulami (d. 74 or 73)
‘Alqama and al-Aswad took fiqh from ‘Abd Allah ibn Mas‘ud (d. 32),
while al-Sulami took fiqh from Sayyiduna ‘Ali who was martyred in Kufa in the month of Ramadan of the year 40.
Both Ibn Mas‘ud and Sayyiduna ‘Ali took from the Seal of Prophets and Leader of the Radiant-faced ones, the Master of the First and the Last among angels, jinn, and human beings including Prophets and Messengers: who was taken to the Highest Company in the late morning of the Second Day of the week, the 13th of the month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal in the year 11, the blessings and greeting of Allah upon him, honor, generosity, and mercy, and upon his excellent and chaste Family as well as his pure and Godfearing Companions.
A tireless scholar, there is apparently no field of the Islamic sciences in which al-Kawthari did not have a well-founded claim to authority. He edited and brought back into circulation countless classical books of fiqh, hadith, and usûl after he moved to Cairo. A staunch Ash‘ari, he held an extremely critical view of anti-Ash‘aris, considering Ibn Taymiyya an unmitigated anthropomorphist. Among the books he authored as listed by his student Ahmad Khayri:
Bulugh al-Amani fi Sira al-Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, a biography of the foremost Hanafi authority after Imam Abu Hanifa.
Al-Fara’id al-Wafiya [or: al-Fawa’id al-Kafiya] fi ‘Ilmay al-‘Arud wa al-Qafya (“The Abundant Peerless Matters in the Two Sciences of Prosody and Rhyme”), published without the name of the author.
Fiqh Ahl al-‘Iraq (“The Jurisprudence of the Iraqi Scholars”), less than a hundred pages in length, it is one of the great works on the remarkable character of Hanafi fiqh and its school and contains useful definitions of key concepts such as analogy (qiyâs), scholarly exertion (ijtihâd), and discretion (istihsân) as well as biographical notices on the most eminent figures of the Hanafi school. It was meticulously commented upon by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda. Excerpts:
(In praise of al-Zayla‘i) “If the students of fiqh find one among the hadith masters who is profoundly learned and truly insightful without being taken over by vain lusts – let them hold onto him tooth and nail, for such a type is, among them, as rare as red sulphur.”
The ‘Aqida Tahawiyya received several commentaries, among them that of Najm al-Din Abu Shuja‘ Bakbars al-Nasiri al-Baghdadi – one of Sharaf al-Din al-Dimyati’s shaykhs –, that of Siraj al-Din ‘Umar ibn Ishaq al-Ghaznawi al-Misri, that of Mahmud ibn Ahmad ibn Mas‘ud al-Qunawi, that of Sharh al-Sadr ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Adhra‘i, and others. A commentary was published, authored by an unknown [“Ibn Abi al-‘Izz”] spuriously affiliated with the Hanafi school, but whose handiwork proclaims his ignorance of this discipline and the fact that he is an anthropomorphist who has lost his compass.
• Bid‘a al-Sawtiyya Hawl al-Qur’an (“The Innovation of Asserting Pre-Existence for Qur’an-Recitation”) in which he states: “It is a fact that the Qur’an as found on the Tablet, on Gibril’s tongue and that of the Prophet e , as well as the tongue of all those who recite it, their hearts, and their tablets, is created, originated, and necessarily brought to be. Whoever denies this is a sophist who is unworthy of being heard. The pre-existent is only the concept that subsists in Allah I in the sense of Allah’s own self-discourse (al-kalâm al-nafsî) within His Knowledge, as expressed by Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Ibn Hazm.”
• Hadith Man Tashabbaha bi Qawmin fa Huwa Minhum (“The Hadith: ‘Whoever Outwardly Imitates A People, He is One of Them’”) in which he says: “This hadith is one of the pithy statements of the Prophet e . Al-Najm al-Ghazzi – one of the great Shafi‘i scholars of the eleventh century – authored a large volume titled Husn al-Tanabbuh li Ahkam al-Tashabbuh (“The Excellent Awakening to the Rulings That Pertain to Outward Imitation”) in which he examines at length the rulings inferred from this hadith. This volume is in Damascus’ Zahiriyya library and deserves to be published.” In the corollary article entitled Mansha’ Ilzam Ahl al-Dhimma bi Shi‘arin Khassin wa Hukmu Talabbus al-Muslimi bihi ‘Inda al-Fuqaha’ (“The Origin of the Imposition of a Distinctive Vestimentary Sign on Non-Muslim Citizens and the Juridical Status of Its Donning by a Muslim”) – written in response to Muhammad ‘Abduh’s fatwa permitting the donning of fedoras and top hats by Muslims – he cites the hadith of the Prophet e : “Dye your white hair and do not imitate the Jews” and mentions that Ibn Taymiyya adduced it as evidence that tashabbuh may take place passively on our part and without specific intention. This is a proof against beardless Muslims that wear a suit and tie “without intending to imitate non-Muslims” let alone those who endorse their fashions.
• Hijab al-Mar’a (“Woman’s Veil”) in which he adduced the report of Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Ali’s companion ‘Abida al-Salmani – narrated by al-Tabari in hisTafsir – whereby the meaning of the verse [ they [women] should cast their outer garments (jalâbîb) over their persons] (33:59) included the face but for one eye. Ibn Rushd said that this verse has been adduced as proof that all of woman’s body constitutes nakedness while al-Qurtubi in his commentary on the verse said that the jilbâb is the cloak that conceals all of the body including the head. Another verse states [ And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their headcovers (khumûrihinna) over their bosoms] (24:31), “only that which is apparent” meaning their face and hands according to most jurists, provided they pose no risk of enticement. The Hanbalis include the hands and face among the limbs that must be covered, as they read the above verses in the light of the Prophet’s e statement: “Woman is nakedness (al-mar’atu ‘awra), so when she goes out the devil is facing her, and the nearest she is to her Lord’s countenance is in the privacy of her house.” ‘A’isha defined the headcover as follows: “When a woman reaches puberty she must cover whatever her mother and grandmother must cover,” their khimâr being “nothing short of what covers both the hair and skin,” “without transparency.” She also said: “By Allah, I never saw any better women than the women of the Ansar nor stronger in their confirmation of the book of Allah! When Sura al-Nur was revealed [and to draw their khumûr over their bosoms] (24:31) – their men went back to them reciting to them what Allah had revealed to them in that [sura or verse], each man reciting it to his wife, daughter, sister, and relative. Not one woman among them remained except she got up on the spot, tore up her waist-wrap and covered herself from head to toe (i‘jtajarat) with it. They prayed the very next dawn prayer covered from head to toe (mu‘tajirât).” The two interpretations of the order to [draw their headcovers over their bosoms] among the women of the Companions and the generation that immediately succeeded them – on which are based the two views of the Four Schools, to cover everything or leave out the face and hands – stem from the fact that some women drew from the top down, some from the sides and over. The result for the first category was to cover the face, while the second category left the face uncovered.
• Khutura al-Qawl bi al-Jiha (“The Gravity of the Doctrine That Attributes Direction [to Allah I ]”) in which he reports al-Bayadi’s explanation of Imam Abu Hanifa’s statement: “Whoever says, ‘I do not know whether my Lord is in the heaven or on earth’ is a disbeliever and, similarly, whoever says, ‘He is on the Throne and I do not know whether the Throne is in the heaven or on earth’ is a disbeliever.” Al-Bayadi said in Isharat al-Maram: “This is because he implies that the Creator has a direction and a boundary, and anything that possesses direction and boundary is necessarily created. So this statement explicitly attributes imperfection to Allah I . The believer in [divine] corporeality and direction is someone who denies the existence of anything other than objects that can be pointed to with the senses. They deny the Essence of the Deity that is transcendent beyond that. This makes them positively guilty of disbelief.”
• Al-Lamadhhabiyya Qantaratu al-Ladiniyya (“Anti-Madhhabism is the Archway of Atheism”).
• Layla al-Nisf Min Sha‘ban (“The Night of Mid-Sha‘ban”) in which he cites the hadith whereby the Prophet e said: “The night of mid-Sha‘ban let all of you spend in prayer and its day in fasting, for Allah descends to the nearest heaven during that night beginning with sunset and says: ‘Is there no-one asking forgiveness that I may forgive them? Is there no-one asking sustenance that I may grant them sustenance? Is there no one under duress that I may relieve them? Is there not such-and-such, is there not such-and-such, and so forth until until dawn rises.’” Al-Kawthari commented: “The meaning of descent is His opening the gate of response to His servants, and this is true Arabic usage. As for explaining it as His displacement from top to bottom, it is ignorance of what is permissible and impermissible to apply to Allah I . Therefore, one has to explain it metaphorically as Allah’s sending down a herald sounding out this call, as indicated by al-Nasa’i’s narration; or, also metaphorically, as His ‘turning toward’ (yuqbilu ‘alâ) those who ask forgiveness etc. as related from Hammad ibn Zayd and others. Also, sunset and the last third of the night differ for each region, so both go on continuously according to each different region of the world. It cannot be imagined that a sensory descending is meant in all the formulations of the hadith of descent, and the hadith of mid-Sha‘ban is in the same category.”
• Ma Hiya al-Ahruf al-Sab‘a? (“What Are the Seven Wordings?”) in which he expressed the positions that the ahruf al-sab‘a were not dialects but synonyms, most of which were either abrogated or retained in their known current form.
• Mahq al-Taqawwul fi Mas’ala al-Tawassul (“The Eradication of Gossip Concerning the Use of Intermediaries”), a seminal article on the question.
• Tahdhir al-Umma Min Du‘at al-Wathaniyya (“Warning the Community About Those Who Call to Idol-Worship”), written in 1942, in which he lambasts al-Azhar for allowing the publication of ‘Uthman ibn Sa‘id al-Darimi’s al-Radd ‘ala al-Jahmiyya which contains phrases like “[Allah I ] moves if He wishes, descends and ascends if He wishes… stands and sits if He wishes”; “Allah I has a limit… and His place also has a limit, as He is on His Throne above His heavens, and these are two limits”; “if He wished, He would have settled on the back of a gnat” and other enormities. This is identical to Ibn Karram’s doctrine whereby “Allah has a body unlike bodies, and a limit.” Yet Ibn Taymiyya ardently defends al-Darimi’s views, citing them time and again in his attack on Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s Asas al-Taqdis – a refutation of anthropomorphism – entitled al-Ta’sis Radd Asas al-Taqdis, even claiming that Imam Ahmad upheld the doctrine of that Allah I possesses a limit. At the same time he admits that Ahl al-Sunna did hold the opposite view: “The position that He is above the Throne but has no limit (hadd) nor dimension nor body is that of many of the upholders of the Divine Attributes (al-sifâtiyya) among the followers of Ibn Kullab and the Ash‘ari Imams including their early authorities and whoever agrees with them among the jurists … and the hadith scholars and the Sufis… among them Abu Hatim, Ibn Hibban, and Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi.” Then he states: “Al-Qadi [Abu Ya‘la] said that Ahmad asserts in absolute terms that Allah I had a limit but he negates it in Hanbal’s narration, saying: ‘We believe that Allah is on the Throne in the manner He wishes and however He wishes, without limit nor description anyone could give or define Him by.’ So he negated the limit that pertains to the description he mentioned, meaning the limit known by creatures… And that is the meaning of Ahmad’s statement: ‘Allah I has a limit that only He knows.’” The latter is in blatant contradiction of what is authentically reported from Imam Ahmad by his the major authorities of his school.
Among the books al-Kawthari edited or forwarded:
is criticized for what is perceived by some as excessive partisanship for the Hanafi school and a contentious style in refuting or attacking opponents. Shaykh ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn al-Siddiq al-Ghumari (1328-1413) wrote in Bida‘ al-Tafasir (p. 180-181):
We admired al-Kawthari for his knowledge, wide reading, and modesty, just as we hated his bias for the Hanafis. This bias of his exceeded al-Zamakshari’s bias for the Mu‘tazili school to the point that my brother, the hadith master Abu al-Fayd [Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn al-Siddiq al-Ghumari] used to call him “Abu Hanifa’s madman!” (majnûn Abi Hanifa).
When he offered me his espitle entitled Ihqaq al-Haqq [bi Ibtal al-Batil fi Mughith al-Khalq] (“Making Truth Prevail in Exposing the Falsehoods of Mughith al-Khalq“), a refutation of Imam al-Haramayn’s [Abu al-Ma‘ali ‘Abd al-Malik ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn al-Juwayni] epistle on the preferability of the Shafi‘i school [entitled Mughith al-Khalq fi Tarjih al-Qawl al-Haqq in which the Imam attacked the Hanafi and Maliki schools], I found him casting aspersions [cf. Ihqaq p. 19-20] on the [Qurayshi] lineage of Imam al-Shafi‘i, citing [the trustworthy hadith master Zakariyya ibn Yahya ibn Dawud] al-Saji’s statement [in his book Manaqib al-Shafi‘i]. I criticized him for this aspersion and said to him: “Questioning lineages does not constitute a scholarly refutation.” He replied: “A sectarian refuting a sectarian.” He said this verbatim, so he acknowledges his sectarianism.
I visited him in his house once, together with the noble Sharîf, al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Baqir al-Kattani, and as we discussed certain scholarly issues the name of the hadith master Ibn Hajar came up. Al-Sayyid al-Baqir showed his admiration of Ibn Hajar’s memorization and his commentary on al-Bukhari, and I echoed his opinion. Whereupon he deprecated that commentary and said: “Ibn Hajar used to depend upon hadith indexes (al-atrâf) when collating the different routes of the hadith,” which is untrue. Then he said that he – Ibn Hajar – used to follow women in the streets and make passes at them, at one time following a woman thinking that she was beautiful, until she arrived at her house with him in her tracks; when she removed her face-veil (burqu‘), she turned out to be an ugly black woman, so he turned back, frustrated.
Now, the reason behind this attack, is that al-Hafiz used to assail some of the Hanafis in his books of biography, such as al-Durar al-Kamina and Raf‘ al-Isr[‘an Qudat Misr]. He said of the Hanafi al-‘Ayni that he used to take the manuscript pages of Fath al-Bari from one of his students and use them in his commentary [on Sahih al-Bukhari, entitled ‘Umdat al-Qari]. When al-Hafiz found out, he prevented the distribution of these pages to students.
Worse than this, al-Kawthari imputed senility to Anas bin Malik for relating a hadith that contradicts the school of Abu Hanifa. Worse yet is his attempt to pass a fabricated hadith as authentic because it might imply the tidings of Abu Hanifa, namely, the hadith: “Were knowledge (al-‘ilm) to be found at the Pleiades, certain men from among the Persians would go there to obtain it.” The hadith is in the two Sahihs with the word “belief” [“Were belief (al-îmân)to be found at the Pleiades, a man from those people would go there to obtain it”], and when the Prophet e said it he put his hand on the shoulder of Salman al-Farisi t . Some forger then changed the word “belief” to “knowledge” as pointed out by my brother, the hadith master Abu al-Fayd, in al-Mathnuni wa al-Battar, who said: “Even if it were authentic there would not be in it any reference to Abu Hanifa but to the hadith masters who came out of Persia, such as Abu al-Shaykh and Abu Nu‘aym, for ‘ilm in the terminology of Islamic law means the Book and the Sunna, not juridical opinion (ra’î) and analogy (qiyâs).” Al-Kawthari took him to task in Ta’nib al-Khatib for saying this and replied to him with some harsh words, whereupon my brother wrote a reply to him in which he collected his scholarly blunders and the self-contradictions caused by his odious fanaticism, with some harshness, at the same time acknowledging his knowledge and learning. That reply was not submitted for publication out of deference for their friendship.The difference of opinion between two scholars does not break up their friendship and, like two lawyers differing in a court of justice, they meet as friends outside of it…. May Allah have mercy on my brother and on al-Kawthari, the two major scholars of their time without contest, and may Allah gather us with them in the Abode of His Mercy.
Following is Imam Abu Zahra’s eulogy of al-Kawthari after the latter’s death:
I do not know of any scholar who has departed and left his position vacant these past years such as the position Imam al-Kawthari has left vacant. He was the Remnant of the Pious Predecessors, who did not take knowledge as a source of income, nor as a stepping-stone to a worldly goal.
He was – Allah be well-pleased with him! – a scholar of learning who personified the transmitted report, “The ulamas are the inheritors of the Prophets.” He did not consider this inheritance a mere title of honor by which to pride himself and dominate others. Rather, he considered it a jihad for the purpose of announcing Islam, showing its truths, and banishing the illusions that conceal its essence. He would show it to people pristine and radiant so that they rose to its light and were well-directed by its guidance. He considered such an inheritance demand of the scholar that he strive just as the Prophets strove, standing firm against hardships and tribulations just as they did, remaining patient like them when faced by the stubbornness of those he called to the truth and guidance. Such inheritance is not an honor except to those who practice the means that lead to it, give it its due rights, and know the duties that come with it. Imam al-Kawthari did all of the above.
That distinguished Imam was not an adherent of a new school of thought, nor was he an inviter to a novel matter with no precedent, nor was he one of those whom people label nowadays as reformers. Nay, he used to shy from that, for he was a follower (muttabi‘) and not an innovator. Yet, in spite of that, I say that he was one of the Renewers (al-mujaddidîn) in the true sense of Renewal. For Renewal is not what people today commonly think, namely, casting off the noose and a return to the beginnings of Prophecy; rather, it consists in returning to the religion its splendor and dispelling the confusions that were cast over it, so that it will be shown to people in the purity of its essence and in its original pristine state. Renewal consists in giving life to the Sunna, causing innovation to die, and for the column of Religion to stand among mankind.
That is real and true Renewal and, indeed, Imam al-Kawthari undertook the revival of the Prophetic Sunna. He uncovered what had lain hidden in the alcoves of history out of the books of the Sunna; clarified the methods of its narrators; and made known to the people the Sunna of the Prophet e in its sayings, its deeds, and its tacit rulings through his epistles and his books. Then he devoted himself entirely to the efforts of the past ulamas who upheld the Sunna and gave it its due right. He published the books in which they compiled their works for the purpose of reviving the Sunna at a time when souls were imbued with love of the Religion, hearts had not yet been corrupted, and the scholars were not swayed by the world away from the hereafter nor spent time at the beck and call of rulers.
Imam al-Kawthari was a true scholar; the scholars knew his knowledge. I knew him years before meeting him. I knew him through his writings in which the light of truth shone forth. I knew him through his commentary of manuscripts which he undertook to publish. By Allah! My amazement at the manuscript did not match my amazement at the commentary of the editor. Even when the original manuscript was a brief epistle, yet the Imam’s commentary on it would turn it into a major work that should be read. Truly one’s insight and wide erudition show plainly in such commentaries. All this he did with an elegant style, subtle allusions, forceful analysis, accomplished accuracy, and total mastery over his own thought and writing technique. It could not occur to the mind of the reader that he was a non-Arab writer and not patently Arab. … Yet it is not really astonishing, for he was Turkish in ancestry, education, and everyday life at the time he lived in Istanbul (al-Astana) but his scholarly life was purely Arabic, for he read nothing but Arabic, and nothing filled his head but the shining light of Muhammadan Arabic. …
He came from a family in the Caucasus, as reflected in his vigor, strength, handsome body and spirit, and the quality and depth of his thought. His father moved to Istanbul where he was born in surroundings of guidance and truth. He studied the Islamic sciences until he attained the highest rank in them at around twenty-eight years of age. Then he ascended the ladder of teaching positions until he reached their highest level quite early. He reached the point when he was confronted by those who wanted to separate the world from religion in order to rule the world by other than what Allah has revealed, but he stood in ambush for them despite the fact that he was yet without experience, with everything that a young man at the beginning of his career could hope for. But he chose his Religion over their world. He chose to defend what is still left of Islam rather than have a pleasant life. He preferred to face continuous enmity while obtaining the good pleasure of Allah I rather than pleasure and comfort amidst people’s approval and the good pleasure of those who held the keys of the lower world. Obtaining the good pleasure of Allah is truly the goal of faith.
He fought the promoters of atheism (al-ilhâdiyyîn) in power when they tried to shorten the period of study for the religious curriculum when he saw that to shorten it would jeopardize its preliminary and final parts, so he left no stone unturned until he did away with their wish and even lengthened the period that they were trying to cut short, so that students would be able to absorb and digest all the disciplines they needed, especially for non-natives learning in a patent Arabic tongue. …
He strove with all his might and effort – may Allah be well-pleased with him – on the loftiest paths until he became Deputy of the Office of Shaykh al-Islam in [Ottoman] Turkey. He was among those known to give such a post its due. He never exceeded bounds so as to please someone high-placed, no matter how great their power over him, eventually preferring to be expelled from his position for the sake of upholding the public good. It is better to be expelled for the sake of truth than to implement falsehood. …
Then the lofty-minded, abnegating, Godwary scholar was put to the severest test when he saw his dear country – the Great Land of Islam, the pivot of his strength, the locus of hopes for Muslims – overshadowed by atheism and taken over by those who do not wish any honor for this Religion. The one who clings to his Religion in such a place soon becomes like one clasping a burning coal. Then he finds himself targeted by persecution so that unless he escaped, he would be thrown into some forlorn prisons and blocked from all that is knowledge and teaching. At that point, the Imam faced three choices. Either to remain a prisoner in chains, his knowledge put out in the deep gaol; a harsh fate for a scholar of learning accustomed to teach and guide others, extracting the treasures of the Religion and bringing them to light for the benefit of humankind. Or grovel and flatter and kowtow, short of which he would remain in fetters or even risk losing his life. Or emigrate – and vast are the lands of Allah. He remembered the saying of Allah, [Was not the earth of Allah spacious that you could have migrated therein?] (4:97).
So he emigrated to Egypt then moved to Syria. He then returned to Cairo, then went back to Damascus again, until he finally settled in Cairo.
During his trips to Sham and his residence in Cairo he was a beacon of light. His residence expanded into a school to which flocked the students of true knowledge – not the students of schoolish knowledge. Those students were guided to the sources of knowledge through the books that were written when the marketplace of the Islamic sciences was vibrant and the souls of the ulamas thriving with Islam. He coached the minds of those searching students with those sources and directed them to them. At the same time he would explain whatever they found obscure and pour out the abundance of his learning and share the fruits of his thought. …
I bear witness that I have heard the praise of eminent personalities and scholars, but I never prided myself with any of it as much as I prided myself with the praise of this magnificent shaykh – for such is a scholarly badge from someone who is truly able to give it. …
That noble man who suffered many trials and overcame them, was also afflicted with the loss of loved ones, for he lost his children during his own lifetime, death taking them one after the other. By virtue of his knowledge, he was able to be patient, uttering the statement of the Prophet Ya‘qub, Patience is beautiful, and the help of Allah must be entreated (12:18). … He passed on to his Lord, patient, thankful and praiseful, as the sincere and righteous pass on. May Allah be pleased with him and make him pleased!
taken from the book ‘Ihya al-Maqbur‘ pages 59-60.
by the late Muhaddith of the Age,
Imam Abu’l-Fayd Ahmad ibn Abi Abdallah al-Siddiq al-Ghimmari,
author of 143 books.
As for the Qarniyyun, their land has not been blessed by Allah with any wali or salih since the beginning of Islam down to the present day. Instead, he only gave it the Qarn al-Shaytan [‘the Devil’s Horn’], whose followers were the Khawarij of the thirteenth and subsequent Islamic centuries. So fear God, and do not be like he who is beguiled by them, and supports their corrupt sect and worthless opinion, and their state of misguidance which was explicitly described by the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace), who characterised them as the ‘Dogs of the Fire’ [kilab al-nar], and informed us that they are the ‘worst of all who dwell beneath the sky’, and that they ‘swerve from the religion as an arrow swerves away from its target,’ and that they mouth among the best of sayings in the form of their prattlings about Tawhid, and implementing the Sunna, and combating bid’as – and yet, by Allah, they are drowning in bid’a; in fact, there is no bid’a worse than theirs, which causes them to ‘swerve from the religion as an arrow swerves away from its target’, in spite of their superficial efforts in worship and adherence to the religion. It is as the Prophet (upon whom be blessings and peace) declared: ‘one of you would despise the prayer he says among them, and the fasting he completes with them; they recite Qur’an but it goes no further than their collarbones.’
It is for this reason that he refrained (upon him be blessings and peace) from making du’a for Najd in the way that he had prayed for the Yemen and for Syria, for he said: ‘Allahumma bless us in our Yemen; bless us in our Syria’ – and they said, ‘And in our Najd, o Messenger of Allah?’ (upon him be blessings and peace), but he repeated his prayer for the Yemen and for Syria; and they repeated their utterance; until he said, the second or the third time round, in order to explain why he would not pray for Najd:
‘That is the place of earthquakes, and fitnas, and from it the Devil’s Horn shall rise.’ [Narrated by Bukhari.] And nothing has emerged from there to bring about earthquakes and fitnas in the religion like Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who was astray and led others astray. Hence he was the Devil’s Horn foretold by the Messenger (upon him be blessings and peace), and he abstained from offering prayer for Najd because of him, and because of the fitnas which would flow from his demonic da’wa. Whoever adheres to that da’wa has committed unambiguous kufr, and is destined for apostasy and ‘swerving from the religion’, as is visible in the case of the other mulhids [heretical unbelievers] of the age who are notorious for their ilhad, for in every case they began by holding fast to the sect of the Devil’s Horn, as is well-known to scholars of experience and insight.
Wa-salla’Llahu ‘ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa-‘ala alihi wa-sahbihi kullama dhakaru a-dhakirun wa-ghafala ‘an dhikrihi al-ghafilun.
wa’l-hamdu li’Llahi rabbi’l-‘alamin
Spending three years in the desert heat of Saudi Arabia was for me a time of Ultimate Enlightenment, which raised the veil from the Umma’s most enigmatic and closely-guarded secret. Access to the Ka‘ba is relatively straightforward when compared to the challenge of grasping this secret, namely, the hidden, Manichean division in today’s Muslim world, which is not between secularisation and Islam – a relatively straightforward tension – but between normative Islam and the heresy which is its latter-day simulacrum. As I came to realise, understanding this schism is the key to grasping everything that is wrong with the Muslim nation today.
Saudi Arabia has undoubted virtues. Its crude but generally effective erasure of vice from public spaces is praiseworthy and deserves our respect. Once, returning to London, I took my small child into the Fleet Street church of St Dunstan’s, to escape from the February rain. Inside, however, we were confronted with an exhibition of giant terracotta bas-reliefs depicting the Disciples of Christ, all nude and grimacing, their grotesquely deformed pudenda projecting into the nave. We hurriedly exited into the rain; and I silently prayed for a long life for King Fahd, who, despite all that may be said, is not ashamed before the world to suppress the perversions of the age, and to drive them deep underground where they belong.
The King deserves our prayers, too, for his patronage of several mosque projects: not the extensions to the Great Sanctuaries of Makka and Madina, which were accomplished by teams of mediocrities; but the smaller mosques of Quba and Qiblatayn in Madina, and the astonishingly beautiful Miqat of Dhu’l-Hulayfa, the oasis-like structure just south of the Holy Prophet’s city where pilgrims from the north bathe, pray, and don their Ihram; a truly noble setting for the primordially beautiful and dignified rites of our religion.
Yet it cannot be said that the modern Saudi soul is attuned to beauty. Buildings surviving from before the 20th century are uniformly impressive; more recent structures are exhibitions of the worst of Third World kitsch. And people’s homes are lurid and garishly decorated with shocking pink carpets and fluffed-up Ziegfeld Follies furniture, all illuminated by fluorescent tubes or mock-Bourbon chandeliers.
To those who have come to Islam, as I did, out of a love for Islamic art and the art of Islamic living, this collapse of the age-old Muslim aesthetic is puzzling. The usual explanation is the obvious supply-side account, which describes how the invasion of Muslim suqs in the 19th century by cheap European manufactured goods destroyed the crafts and the artisanal classes which for centuries had cultivated beauty. The Islamic guilds which presided over the production of artefacts which are absent from modern Muslim homes but which are the prized possessions of Western museums had been training grounds not only for technique, but for spiritual excellence, taking as their motto the hadith: ‘Allah is beautiful, and He loves beauty’. The ihsan here advocated is an intuitive gift. Guild masters would train their apprentices for seven years in religious practices as well as in the mechanics of crafting carpets, lamps or ceramics. Every guild was either part of a Sufi tariqa, or functioned as a tariqa in its own right. Manual work was hence turned into a method of dhikr; every instant at the potter’s wheel, or the rugmaker’s frame, would be occupied with the mention of God and His Prophet. The production of beauty was seen as evidence of the craftsman’s inner repose and detachment; faults were the consequence of faults in the soul.
The Industrial Revolution swept most of this away; and ironically the Muslim crafts now survive largely thanks to the Western demand. Nowadays, ‘ethnic’ artifacts, from costly Afghan rugs down to humble brass candlesticks sold at Oxfam, are mainly attractive to people who do not share the worldview which made their beauty possible.
Saudi Arabia, because it has the money to demolish and rebuild and import, has been ravaged more deeply than most Muslim countries in this regard. Most Moroccans are too poor to pull down their stone houses and replace them with cement imitations of Western models; but the Saudis have been unrestrained. Almost all of Makka and Madina, and a good part of Jeddah, has been uncomprehendingly bulldozed and replaced with concrete carbuncles, faced in ghastly variegated marble.
Standing in the ruins of a formerly exquisite Saudi city, one realises that the ‘decline of the guilds’ explanation does not go far enough. Offered the choice between beautiful and ugly Western imports, the Saudis seem invariably to choose what is ugly. They reject their own music, but do not listen to Mozart instead, but to Michael Jackson and other exhalations of the damned degeneracy of America. They throw out traditional Arab or Ottoman furniture, and replace it with mock “Louis Farouk” vulgarity so extreme that it is produced in Europe largely for export. One can imagine the truckers and removal men in Italy or Spain averting their eyes from their awful loads, thankfully putting them on ships bound only for distant Arabian ports.
While living in Saudi Arabia, I had an acquaintance who was troubled by all of this. He was an American convert from a middle-class background who had a scholarship to study at the ‘Umm al-Qura Islamic University’ in Makka. Although he is today the least likely of men to read Q-News http://www.aapi.co.uk/qnews, I will preserve his anonymity by calling him Jalal.
Jalal loved Islamic art, and the great lyrical productions of Sufi poetry. He had come to the religion not through reading Mawdudi, or Muhammad Qutb – for their complex-ridden resentfulness would have repelled a person of his culture and sensitivity – but through travelling in tribal Muslim areas, where he breathed that precious and liberating air which one can only describe as the Islamic spirit. Not the boy-scout bonhomerie of the liberal Ikhwan, or the nervous guilt of the Tabligh, but authentic, unpolluted Islam, as shaped and lived for countless generations by joyfully untroubled lovers of Allah.
Jalal’s fate, however, was to don a gas-mask supplied by the Wahhabi sect, which cut him off from the liberating oxygen of normative Islam and slowly asphyxiated him with fumes of human making. At the university, his open-mindedness made him heedless of our counsels about choosing company that would open his heart to the love of his Lord, rather than close it in recriminations and self-exaltation. And this was his undoing.
I never learned the name of the man who converted him to Wahhabism. But one can deduce his character, and the expression on his face, and his body-language, without difficulty. As months passed, and Jalal the Arabic student fell under the spell of the shouting sermoniser he insisted on hearing, a shadow crept over his features. Formerly a frequent visitor to Madina, he went less often, troubled by Wahhabi polemic against paying too much attention to God’s messengers. His confidence that the sacred could be discerned in nature, in saints and in beauty began to waver, a process that clearly agonised him. At times, when we spoke, he would return for a while to his old self, and talk enthusiastically about architecture, of textiles, of the sacred geography of Muslim cities. But then a cloud would come over his face, and he would almost shudder, as his programming once again took him over, and he parroted the shallow slogans of Wahhabism. I thought, once, of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Jalal was being possessed.
Prior to my years in Saudi Arabia, I had been puzzled by the vehemence of the traditional ulema’s hostility to Wahhabism. Wahhabism, I felt sure, was no more than an overheated Hanbalism, with a naive Bedouin literalism in speaking of a delineated and anthropomorphic God.
Watching the shadows gather around Jalal, however, convinced me that something more ominous, even infernal, was at work. Wahhabism seemed to be not simply or even primarily a package of ideas; it was an existential condition. It breathed an intensity, a dark radioactivity which could, on prolonged exposure, make me physically weak, or sick. After one intense session with a Wahhabi, whose blindness had veiled from him my own orientation, I had to detoxify myself by taking a long walk, breathing deeply, and repeating thousands of prayers upon the Holy Prophet.
I once met a Ugandan who lamented the decline of Islam in his country, and laid the blame very bitterly at the Wahhabis’ door. Before they came, he said, Islam had been spreading fast, largely through the public and joyful celebrations of Mawlid. Singing with passion and rhythm is the key to the African soul, he told me; and yet the Wahhabis, well-funded and with deadly zeal in their eyes, slowly turned off the taps to the Mawlid, until the entire community became disconsolate, forced awkwardly into a dry type of religion that failed to speak to their condition. With the Muslims browbeaten by an organised anti-tariqa and anti-Mawlid sect, the Christian missionaries, with their Africanised hymns, suddenly found the going much easier.
Back in Makka, Jalal’s condition was getting worse. He began to stand very close in front of me, fingering my lapels as he spoke. In this I recognised a symptom of a very advanced case of Wahhabism. When I spoke to him of beauty, or art, or literature, or holiness, his face now blazed with an amused and self-righteous contempt. All that was bid‘a. A mosque could be made of concrete, carpeted with lime-green rugs, and illuminated with multicoloured fluorescent strips, and it was just as good a space for prayer as a medieval structure erected by great craftsmen. Jalal’s room at the university, which he shared with three others, was slowly stripped of anything “ethnically” Muslim – small rugs from Kashmir, rosewater sprinklers, and, of course, his ebony prayer beads. His life was stripped down, sterilised, irradiated with ultraviolet light from the harshest end of the religious spectrum. His reading habits withered, as he realised that the great sacred poets of Islam: Rumi, Sana’i, Shabistari and the rest, were all Sufis, and that the soil of Wahhabism had been as sterile for literature as it had been for all the other arts of Islam.
I watched this transformation with pain. I had hoped, as had others, that he would someday combine his cultural sensitivities with his Islamic knowledge to become a major Muslim leader back in America, speaking two languages with fluency. His destiny, however, lay through the Wahhabi desert. And in the end, he died of thirst.
He suffered a kind of spiritual heart-attack. His attempt to change his spiritual makeup finally collapsed, as I should have anticipated. A crisis which must have tortured him almost beyond endurance brought about his sudden departure from the university, and from the country. He renounced Islam, and encountered and married a Chinese girl. He now practices a form of Nishiren Buddhism which no doubt helps to satisfy, as Wahhabism never could, his craving for contemplation and beauty.
Jalal’s case was extreme, but I fear it is not unique. The spread of Wahhabism, fostered by the general disequilibrium of the age, is rapid, and is contaminating many thousands of souls that might otherwise, with proper exposure to traditional ulama and an attachment to a spiritual director, have found the tranquillity and serenity of authentic Islam. While I know that everything is by Allah’s decree, I blame myself for Jalal’s apostasy. I should have taken him to visit the saints, and the true gatherings of divine love that discreetly flourish in Saudi Arabia, which could have inoculated him against the virus which led to his death. But he represents, in extreme form, the whole story of the Umma’s contemporary crisis. Our lack of recognition of, of insistence upon, beauty, as the traditional accompaniment to the Muslim life, indicates the absence of beauty in our souls, and the distance from our Maker that ensues from the decline of tradition and from the diabolically-contrived spread of heresy and disharmony.
Thankfully, the Umma is still filled with saints, Sufis, and great craftsmen. Economic backwardness has in this respect been a great preservative. Having travelled the world, I know that amid no other community may one find such glories of spirituality and human excellence. All the more reason to defend tradition against this new plague, which denatures and impoverishes Islam precisely at the moment in history when the West, shattered by the decline of its own religion, could begin to see it as an appealing and desperately-needed alternative.
It is striking that not one of the great muhaddiths, mufassirs, grammarians, historians, or legists of Islam has emerged from the region known as Najd, despite the extraordinary and blessed profusion of such people in other Muslim lands. This essay offers to Muslims with open minds an explanation of this remarkable fact.
The land of Najd, which for two centuries has been the crucible of the Wahhabi doctrine, is the subject of a body of interesting hadiths and early narrations which repay close analysis. Among the best-known of these hadiths is the relation of Imam al-Bukhari in which Ibn Umar said: ‘The Prophet (s.w.s.) mentioned: “O Allah, give usbaraka in our Syria, O Allah, give us baraka in our Yemen.” They said: “And in our Najd?” and he said: “O Allah, give us baraka in our Syria, O Allah, give us baraka in our Yemen.” They said: “And in our Najd?” and I believe that he said the third time: “In that place are earthquakes, and seditions, and in that place shall rise the devil’s horn [qarn al-shaytan].”’
This hadith is clearly unpalatable to the Najdites themselves, some of whom to this day strive to persuade Muslims from more reputable districts that the hadith does not mean what it clearly says. One device used by such apologists is to utilise a definition which includes Iraq in the frontiers of Najd. By this manoeuvre, the Najdis draw the conclusion that the part of Najd which is condemned so strongly in this hadith is in fact Iraq, and that Najd proper is excluded. Medieval Islamic geographers contest this inherently strange thesis (see for instance Ibn Khurradadhbih, al-Masalik wa’l-mamalik [Leiden, 1887], 125; Ibn Hawqal, Kitab Surat al-ard [Beirut, 1968],18); and limit the northern extent of Najd at Wadi al-Rumma, or to the deserts to the south of al-Mada’in. There is no indication that the places in which the second wave of sedition arose, such as Kufa and Basra, were associated in the mind of the first Muslims with the term ‘Najd’. On the contrary, these places are in every case identified as lying within the land of Iraq.
The evasion of this early understanding of the term in order to exclude Najd, as usually understood, from the purport of the hadith of Najd, has required considerable ingenuity from pro-Najdi writers in the present day. Some apologists attempt to conflate this hadith with a group of other hadiths which associate the ‘devil’s horn’ with ‘the East’, which is supposedly a generic reference to Iraq. While it is true that some late-medieval commentaries also incline to this view, modern geographical knowledge clearly rules it out. Even the briefest glimpse at a modern atlas will show that a straight line drawn to the east of al-Madina al-Munawwara does not pass anywhere near Iraq, but passes some distance to the south of Riyadh; that is to say, through the exact centre of Najd. The hadiths which speak of ‘the East’ in this context hence support the view that Najd is indicated, not Iraq.
On occasion the pro-Najdi apologists also cite the etymological sense of the Arabic word najd, which means ‘high ground’. Again, a brief consultation of an atlas resolves this matter decisively. With the exception of present-day northern Iraq, which was not considered part of Iraq by any Muslim until the present century (it was called ‘al-Jazira’), Iraq is notably flat and low-lying, much of it even today being marshland, while the remainder, up to and well to the north of Baghdad, is flat, low desert or agricultural land. Najd, by contrast, is mostly plateau, culminating in peaks such as Jabal Tayyi’ (1300 metres), in the Jabal Shammar range. It is hard to see how the Arabs could have routinely applied a topographic term meaning ‘upland’ to the flat terrain of southern Iraq (the same territory which proved so suitable for tank warfare during the 1991 ‘Gulf War’, that notorious source of dispute between Riyadh’s ‘Cavaliers’ and ‘Roundheads’).
Confirmation of this identification is easily located in the hadith literature, which contains numerous references to Najd, all of which clearly denote Central Arabia. To take a few examples out of many dozens: there is the hadith narrated by Abu Daud (Salat al-Safar, 15), which runs: ‘We went out to Najd with Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) until we arrived at Dhat al-Riqa‘, where he met a group from Ghatafan [a Najdite tribe].’ In Tirmidhi (Hajj, 57), there is the record of an encounter between the Messenger (s.w.s.) and a Najdi delegation which he received at Arafa (see also Ibn Maja, Manasik, 57). In no such case does the Sunna indicate that Iraq was somehow included in the Prophetic definition of ‘Najd’.
Further evidence can be cited from the cluster of hadiths which identify the miqat points for pilgrims. In a hadith narrated by Imam Nasa’i (Manasik al-Hajj, 22), ‘A’isha (r.a.) declared that ‘Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) established the miqat for the people of Madina at Dhu’l-Hulayfa, for the people of Syria and Egypt at al-Juhfa, for the people of Iraq at Dhat Irq, and for the people of Najd at Qarn, and for the Yemenis at Yalamlam.’ Imam Muslim (Hajj, 2) narrates a similar hadith: ‘for the people of Madina it is Dhu’l-Hulayfa – while on the other road it is al-Juhfa – for the people of Iraq it is Dhat Irq, for the people of Najd it is Qarn, and for the people of Yemen it is Yalamlam.’
These texts constitute unarguable proof that the Prophet (s.w.s.) distinguished between Najd and Iraq, so much so that he appointed two separate miqat points for the inhabitants of each. For him, clearly, Najd did not include Iraq.
There are many hadiths in which the Messenger (s.w.s.) praised particular lands. It is significant that although Najd is the closest of lands to Makka and Madina, it is not praised by any one of these hadiths. The first hadith cited above shows the Messenger’s willingness to pray for Syria and Yemen, and his insistent refusal to pray for Najd. And wherever Najd is mentioned, it is clearly seen as a problematic territory. Consider, for instance, the following noble hadith:
Amr ibn Abasa said: ‘Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) was one day reviewing the horses, in the company of Uyayna ibn Hisn ibn Badr al-Fazari. […] Uyayna remarked: “The best of men are those who bear their swords on their shoulders, and carry their lances in the woven stocks of their horses, wearing cloaks, and are the people of the Najd.” But Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) replied: “You lie! Rather, the best of men are the men of the Yemen. Faith is a Yemeni, the Yemen of [the tribes of] Lakhm and Judham and Amila. […] Hadramawt is better than the tribe of Harith; one tribe is better than another; another is worse […] My Lord commanded me to curse Quraysh, and I cursed them, but he then commanded me to bless them twice, and I did so […] Aslam and Ghifar, and their associates of Juhaina, are better than Asad and Tamim and Ghatafan and Hawazin, in the sight of Allah on the Day of Rising. […] The most numerous tribe in the Garden shall be [the Yemeni tribes of] Madhhij and Ma’kul.’ (Ahmad ibn Hanbal and al-Tabarani, by sound narrators. Cited in Ali ibn Abu Bakr al-Haythami, Majma‘ al-zawa’id wa manba‘ al-fawa’id [Cairo, 1352], X, 43).
The Messenger says ‘You lie!’ to a man who praises Najd. Nowhere does he extol Najd – quite the contrary. But other hadiths in praise of other lands abound. For instance:
Umm Salama narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) gave the following counsel on his deathbed: ‘By Allah, I adjure you by Him, concerning the Egyptians, for you shall be victorious over them, and they will be a support for you and helpers in Allah’s path.’ (Tabarani, classed by al-Haythami as sahih [Majma‘, X, 63].) (For more on the merit of the Egyptians see Sahih Muslim, commentary by Imam al-Nawawi [Cairo, 1347], XVI, 96-7.)
Qays ibn Sa‘d narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) said: ‘Were faith to be suspended from the Pleiades, men from the sons of Faris [south-central Iran] would reach it.’ (Narrated in the Musnads of both Abu Ya‘la and al-Bazzar, classified as Sahih by al-Haythami. Majma‘, X, 64-5. See further Nawawi’s commentary to Sahih Muslim, XVI, 100.)
Allah’s Messenger said: ‘Tranquillity (sakina) is in the people of the Hijaz.’ (al-Bazzar, cited in Haythami, X, 53.)
On the authority of Abu’l-Darda (r.a.), the Messenger of Allah (s.w.s.) said: ‘You will find armies. An army in Syria, in Egypt, in Iraq and in the Yemen.’ (Bazzar and Tabarani, classified as sahih: al-Haythami, Majma‘, X, 58.) This constitutes praise for these lands as homes of jihad volunteers.
‘The angels of the All-Compassionate spread their wings over Syria.’ (Tabarani, classed as sahih: Majma‘, X, 60. See also Tirmidhi, commentary of Imam Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Mubarakfuri: Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi bi-sharh Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, X, 454; who confirms it as hasan sahih.)
Abu Hurayra narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s) said: ‘The people of Yemen have come to you. They are tenderer of heart, and more delicate of soul. Faith is a Yemeni, and wisdom is a Yemeni.’ (Tirmidhi, Fi fadl al-Yaman, no.4028. Mubarakfuri, X, 435, 437: hadith hasan sahih. On page 436 Imam Mubarakfuri points out that the ancestors of the Ansar were from the Yemen.)
‘The people of the Yemen are the best people on earth’. (Abu Ya‘la and Bazzar, classified as sahih. Haythami, X, 54-5.)
Allah’s Messenger (s) sent a man to one of the clans of the Arabs, but they insulted and beat him. He came to Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) and told him what had occurred. And the Messenger (s) said, ‘Had you gone to the people of Oman, they would not have insulted or beaten you.’ (Muslim, Fada’il al-Sahaba, 57. See Nawawi’s commentary, XVI, 98: ‘this indicates praise for them, and their merit.’)
The above hadiths are culled from a substantial corpus of material which records the Messenger (s.w.s.) praising neighbouring regions. Again, it is striking that although Najd was closer than any other, hadiths in praise of it are completely absent.
This fact is generally known, although not publicised, by Najdites themselves. It is clear that if there existed a single hadith that names and praises Najd, they would let the Umma know. In an attempt to circumvent or neutralise the explicit and implicit Prophetic condemnation of their province, some refuse to consider that the territorial hadiths might be in any way worthy of attention, and focus their comments on the tribal groupings who dwell in Najd.
The best-known tribe of Central Arabia are the Banu Tamim. There are hadiths which praise virtually all of the major Arab tribal groups, and to indicate the extent of this praise a few examples are listed here:
Allah’s Messenger (s) said: ‘O Allah, bless [the tribe of] Ahmas and its horses and its men sevenfold.’ (Ibn Hanbal, in Haythami, Majma‘, X, 49. According to al-Haythami its narrators are all trustworthy.)
Ghalib b. Abjur said: ‘I mentioned Qays in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (s) and he said, “May Allah show His mercy to Qays.” He was asked, “O Messenger of God! Are you asking for His mercy for Qays?” and he replied, “Yes. He followed the religion of our father Ismail b. Ibrahim, Allah’s Friend. Qays! Salute our Yemen! Yemen! Salute our Qays! Qays are Allah’s cavalry upon the earth.”’ (Tabarani, declared sahih by al-Haythami, X, 49.)
Abu Hurayra narrated that Allah’s Messenger (s) said: ‘How excellent a people are Azd, sweet-mouthed, honouring their vows, and pure of heart!’ (Ibn Hanbal via a good (hasan) isnad, according to Haythami, X, 49.)
Anas b. Malik said: ‘If we are not from Azd, we are not from the human race.’ (Tirmidhi, Manaqib, 72; confirmed by Mubarakfuri, X, 439 as hasan gharib sahih.)
Abdallah ibn Mas‘ud said: ‘I witnessed Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) praying for this clan of Nakh‘.’ Or he said: ‘He praised them until I wished that I was one of them.’ (Ibn Hanbal, with a sound isnad. Haythami, X, 51.)
On the authority of Abdallah ibn Amr ibn al-As, who said: ‘I heard Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) saying: “This command [the Caliphate] shall be in Quraysh. No-one shall oppose them without being cast down on his face by Allah, for as long as they establish the religion.”’ (Bukhari, Manaqib, 2.)
The hadith which appears to praise Tamim is hence not exceptional, and can by no stretch of the imagination be employed to indicate Tamim’s superiority over other tribes. In fact, out of this vast literature on the merits of the tribes, only one significant account praises Tamim. This runs as follows: Abu Hurayra said: ‘I have continued to love Banu Tamim after I heard three things concerning them from Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.). “They will be the sternest of my Umma against the Dajjal; one of them was a captive owned by ‘A’isha, and he said: ‘Free her, for she is a descendent of Ismail;’ and when their zakat came, he said: ‘This is the zakat of a people,’ or ‘of my people’.”’ (Bukhari, Maghazi, 68.)
This hadith clearly indicates that the rigour of the Tamimites will be used for, and not against, Islam in the final culminating battle against the Dajjal; and this is unquestionably a merit. The second point is less significant, since all the Arabs are descendents of Ismail; while the variant readings of the third point make it difficult to establish its significance in an unambiguous way. Even the most positive interpretation, however, allows us to conclude no more than that the Messenger (s.w.s.) was pleased with that tribe at the moment it paid its zakat. As we shall see, its payment of zakat proved to be short-lived.
Far more numerous are the hadiths which explicitly critique the Tamimites. These hadiths are usually disregarded by pro-Najdite apologists; but traditional Islamic scholarship demands that all, not merely some, of the evidence be mustered and taken as a whole before a verdict can be reached. And a consideration of the abundant critical material on Tamim demonstrates beyond any doubt that this tribe was regarded by the Messenger (s.w.s.) and by the Salaf as deeply problematic.
An early indication of the nature of the Tamimites is given by Allah himself in Sura al-Hujurat. In aya 4 of this sura, He says: ‘Those who call you from behind the chambers: most of them have no sense.’ The occasion for revelation (sabab al-nuzul) here was as follows:
‘The “chambers” (hujurat) were spaces enclosed by walls. Each of the wives of Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) had one of them. The aya was revealed in connection with the delegation of the Banu Tamim who came to the Prophet (s.w.s.). They entered the mosque, and approached the chambers of his wives. They stood outside them and called: “Muhammad! Come out to us!” an action which expressed a good deal of harshness, crudeness and disrespect. Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) waited a while, and then came out to them. One of them, known as al-Aqra‘ ibn Habis, said: “Muhammad! My praise is an ornament, and my denunciation brings shame!” And the Messenger (s.w.s.) replied: “Woe betide you! That is the due of Allah.”’ (Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Juzayy, al-Tashil [Beirut, 1403], p.702. See also the other tafsir works; also Ibn Hazm, Jamharat ansab al-‘Arab [Cairo, 1382], 208, in the chapter on Tamim.)
In addition to this Qur’anic critique, abundant hadiths also furnish the Umma with advice about this tribe. Since the tacit acceptance of the Prophet (s.w.s.) constitutes a hadith, we may begin with the following incident.
This relates to a famous poem by Hassan ibn Thabit (r.a.). The Tamimites were late converts to Islam, joining the religion, after much resistance, only in the Year of Delegations (‘am al-wufud), which was the ninth year of the Hijra. They hence miss the virtue of sabiqa, of precedence in Islam. Coming at last to the Prophet (s.w.s.), the Tamim insisted on a public debate against him, and he appointed Hassan to reply to the Tamimites’ vain boasting about their tribe. Hassan’s ode, which completely defeated and humiliated them by describing the low status of their tribe, can be considered evidence for the Prophet’s (s.w.s.) own view of Tamim, since the condemnation was given in his presence, and there is no record of his criticising it. (Diwan Hassan ibn Thabit [Beirut, 1966], p.440; for full details of the incident see Barquqi’s commentary in the same volume. See also Ibn Hisham, Sira [Guillaume translation], p.631.)
A further hadith concerning Tamim runs as follows:
On the authority of Imran ibn Husayn (r.a.): ‘A group of Tamimites came to the Prophet (s.w.s.), and he said: “O tribe of Tamim! Receive good news!” “You promise us good news, so give us something [money]!” they replied. And his face changed. Then some Yemenis came, and he said: “O people of Yemen! Accept good news, even though the tribe of Tamim have not accepted it!” And they said: “We accept.” And the Prophet (s.w.s.) began to speak about the beginning of creation, and about the Throne.’ (Bukhari, Bad’ al-Khalq, 1.)
The harsh waywardness of the Tamimi mentality documented in the Qur’an and Hadith casts an interesting light on the personality of Abu Jahl, the arch-pagan leader of Quraysh. Abu Jahl, with his fanatical hatred of the Prophet (s.w.s.), must have been shaped by the Tamimi ethic in his childhood. His mother, Asma’ bint Mukharriba, was of the tribe of Tamim. (al-Jumahi, Tabaqat Fuhul al-Shu‘ara, ed. Mahmud Shakir [Cairo, 1952], p.123.) He also married the daughter of ‘Umayr ibn Ma‘bad al-Tamimi, by whom he had his son, predictably named Tamim. (Mus‘ab ibn Abdallah, Nasab Quraysh [Cairo, 1953], p.312.)
An attribute recurrently ascribed to the Tamimites in the hadith literature is that of misplaced zeal. When they finally enter Islam, they are associated with a fanatical form of piety that demands simple and rigid adherence, rather than understanding; and which frequently defies the established authorities of the religion. Imam Muslim records a narration from Abdallah ibn Shaqiq which runs: ‘Ibn Abbas once preached to us after the asr prayer, until the sun set and the stars appeared, and people began to say: “The prayer! The prayer!” A man of the Banu Tamim came up to him and said, constantly and insistently: “The prayer! The prayer!” And Ibn Abbas replied: “Are you teaching me the sunna, you wretch?”’ (Muslim, Salat al-Musafirin, 6.)
Perhaps the best-known of any hadith about a Tamimite, which again draws our attention to their misplaced zeal, is the hadith of Dhu’l-Khuwaysira:
Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri (r.a.) said: ‘We were once in the presence of Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.) while he was dividing the spoils of war. Dhu’l-Khuwaysira, a man of the Tamim tribe, came up to him and said: “Messenger of Allah, be fair!” He replied: “Woe betide you! Who will be fair if I am not? You are lost and disappointed if I am not fair!” And Umar (r.a.) said, “Messenger of Allah! Give me permission to deal with him, so that I can cut off his head!” But he said: “Let him be. And he has companions. One of you would despise his prayer in their company, and his fast in their company. They recite the Qur’an but it goes no further than their collarbones. They pass through religion as an arrow passes through its target.”’ Abu Sa‘id continued: ‘I swear that I was present when Ali ibn Abi Talib fought against them. He ordered that that man be sought out, and he was brought to us.’ (Bukhari, Manaqib, 25. For the ‘passing through’ see Abu’l-Abbas al-Mubarrad, al-Kamil, chapter on ‘Akhbar al-Khawarij’ published separately by Dar al-Fikr al-Hadith [Beirut, n.d.], pp.23-4: ‘usually when this happens none of the target’s blood remains upon it’.)
This hadith is taken by the exegetes as a prophecy, and a warning, about the nature of the Kharijites. There is a certain type of believing zealot who goes into religion so hard that he comes out the other side, with little or nothing of it remaining with him. One expert who confirms this is the Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Jawzi, well-known for his hagiographies of Ma‘ruf al-Karkhi and Rabi‘a al-Adawiya. In his book Talbis Iblis. (Beirut, 1403, p.88) under the chapter heading ‘A Mention of the Devil’s Delusion upon the Kharijites’ he narrates the hadith, and then writes: ‘This man was called Dhu’l-Khuwaysira al-Tamimi. […] He was the first Kharijite in Islam. His fault was to be satisfied with his own view; had he paused he would have realised that there is no view superior to that of Allah’s Messenger (s.w.s.).’
Ibn al-Jawzi goes on to document the development of the Kharijite movement, and the central role played by the tribe of Tamim in it. Hence (p.89) ‘The commander of the fight [against the Sunnis, at Harura] was Shabib ibn Rab‘i al-Tamimi’; also (p.92) ‘Amr ibn Bakr al-Tamimi agreed to murder Umar’. All this even though their camp sounded like a beehive, so assiduously were they reciting the Qur’an (p.91).
The Kharijite movement proper commenced at the Siffin arbitration, when the first dissenters left the army of the khalifa Ali (k.A.w.). One of them was Abu Bilal Mirdas, a member of the tribe of Tamim (Ibn Hazm, 223), who despite his constant worship and recitation of the Qur’an became one of the most brutal of the Kharijite zealots. He is remembered as the first who said the Tahkim – the formula ‘The judgment is Allah’s alone’ – on the Day of Siffin, which became the slogan of the later Kharijite da‘wa.
In his long analysis of the Kharijite movement, Imam Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi also describes the intimate involvement of Tamimites, and of Central Arabians generally, noting that the tribes of Yemen and Hijaz contributed hardly anyone to the Kharijite forces. He gives an account of Dhu’l-Khuwaysira’s later Kharijite activities. Appearing before Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (k.A.w.) he says: ‘Ibn Abi Talib! I am only fighting you for the sake of Allah and the Hereafter!’ to which Imam Ali replies: ‘Nay, you are like those of whom Allah says, “Shall I inform you who are the ones whose works are most in loss? It is they whose efforts are astray in the life of this world, but who think that they are doing good!” [Kahf, 103].’ (Imam Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi, al-Farq bayn al-firaq [Cairo, n.d.], 80; see the note to p.76 for the full identification of Dhu’l-Khuwaysira.)
As Imam Abd al-Qahir gives his account of the early Kharijite rebellions, replete with appalling massacres of innocent Muslim civilians, he makes it clear that the leaders of each of the significant Kharijite movements hailed from Najd. For instance, the Azariqa, one of the most vicious and widespread Khariji movements, were led by Nafi‘ ibn al-Azraq, who was from the Central Arabian tribe of Banu Hanifa (Abd al-Qahir, 82). As the Imam records, ‘Nafi and his followers considered the territory of those who opposed them to be Dar al-Kufr, in which one could slaughter their women and children. […] They used to say: “Our opponents are mushriks, and hence we are not obliged to return anything we hold in trust to them.’ (Abd al-Qahir, 84.) After his death in battle, ‘the Azariqa pledged their allegiance to Ubaydallah ibn Ma’mun al-Tamimi. Al-Muhallab then fought them at Ahwaz, where Ubaidallah ibn Ma’mun himself died, along with his brother Uthman ibn Ma’mun and three hundred of the most fanatical of the Azariqa. The remainder retreated to Aydaj, where they pledged their allegiance to Qatari ibn al-Fuja’a, whom they called Amir al-Mu’minin.’ (Abd al-Qahir, 85-6.) The commentator to Abd al-Qahir’s text reminds us that Ibn Fuja’a was also of Tamim (p.86).
The Azariqa, who massacred countless tens of thousands of Muslims who refused to accept their views, had a rival in the Najdiyya faction of the Kharijites. These were named after Najda ibn Amir, a member of the tribe of Hanifa whose homeland is Najd; Najda himself maintained his army in Yamama, which is part of Najd. (Abd al-Qahir, 87.)
As is the way with Kharijism in all ages, the Najdiyya fragmented amid heated arguments generated by their intolerance of any dissent. The causes of this schism included the Kharijite attack on Madina, which came away with many captives; and different Kharijite ijtihads over sexual relations with Muslim women who, not being Kharijites, they had enslaved. Three major factions emerged from this split, the most dangerous of which was led by Atiyya ibn al-Aswad, again of the tribe of Hanifa. Following Najda’s death, his own faction split, again into three, one of which left Najd to raid the vicinity of Basra (Abd al-Qahir, 90-1).
The last major Kharijite sect was the Ibadiyya, which, in a gentler and much attenuated form, retains a presence even today in Zanzibar, southern Algeria, and Oman. The movement was founded by Abdallah ibn Ibad, another Tamimi. Its best-known doctrine is that non-Ibadis are kuffar: they are not mu’mins, but they are notmushriks either. ‘They forbid secret assassinations [of non-Ibadis], but allow open battles. They allow marriages [with non-Ibadis], and inheritance from them. They claim that all this is to aid them in their war for Allah and His Messenger.’ (Abd al-Qahir, 103.)
The best-known woman among the Kharijites was Qutam bint ‘Alqama, a member of the Tamimite tribe. She is remembered as the one who told her bridegroom, Ibn Muljam, that ‘I will only accept you as my husband at a dowry which I myself must name, which is three thousand dirhams, a male and a female slave, and the murder of Ali!’ He asked, ‘You shall have all that, but how may I accomplish it?’ and she replied, ‘Take him by surprise. If you escape, you will have rescued the people from evil, and will live with your wife; while if you die in the attempt, you will go on to the Garden and a delight that shall never end!’ (Mubarrad, 27.) As is generally known, Ibn Muljam was executed after he stabbed imam Ali (k.A.w.) to death outside the mosque in Kufa.
Muslims anxious not to repeat the tragic errors of the past will wish to reflect deeply upon this pattern of events. Tens of thousands of Muslims, fervently committed to the faith and outstanding for their practical piety, nonetheless fell prey to the Kharijite temptation. The ulema trace the origins of that temptation back to the incident of Dhu’l-Khuwaysira, who considered himself a better Muslim than the Prophet himself (s.w.s.). And he, like the overwhelming majority of the Kharijite leaders who followed in his footsteps, was a Tamimi. Of the non-Tamimi Kharijites, almost all were from Najd.
There is a further issue which Muslims will wish to consider when forming their view of Najd. This is the attitude of the Najdis following the death of the Messenger (s.w.s.). The historians affirm that the great majority of the rebellions against the payment of zakat which broke out during the khilafa of Abu Bakr (r.a.) took place among Najdis. Moreoever, and even more significantly, many of the the Najdi rebellions were grounded in a strange anti-Islamic ideology. The best-known of these was led by Musaylima, who claimed to be a prophet, and who established a rival shari‘a which included quasi-Muslim rituals such as forms of fasting and dietary rules. He followed the Islamic prayer rules, but abolished the Fajr and the Isha prayers. One of his so-called ‘revelations’ ran:
Banu Tamim is a tribe of purity,
a free people, with no fault in them,
neither do they pay a tribute.
We shall be their allies of protection,
good to them for as long as we live!
We shall protect them from everyone,
and when we die, their affair is with al-Rahman.
(Imam al-Tabari, Tarikh al-Rusul wa’l-Muluk [Beirut, 1407], II, 276).
Musaylima was a forceful speaker, and soon gained a huge following in Central Arabia. However the historians record that when he tried to imitate the miracles of the Prophet (s.a.w.) disaster would result. Children brought to him for cures would become sicker. When his wudu water was poured over crops, the land would turn sterile. Wells that he had used would turn salty. However the power of tribalism caused many to pay no attention.
Talha al-Namari came to Najd and said: ‘Where is Musaylima?’ At this the people said: ‘Careful! Call him the Messenger of Allah!’ So he replied: ‘No, not until I have seen him.’ So when he came to him he said: ‘You are Musaylima,’ and he replied, ‘Yes.’ He said: ‘Who comes to you?’ and he replied: ‘Al-Rahman’. He asked: ‘Does he come in light or darkness?’ ‘In darkness.’ Whereupon he said: ‘I bear witness that you are a liar and that Muhammad tells the truth, but a liar of your tribe is dearer to me than a truth-teller of his.’ So he joined Musaylima until he was killed at the Battle of Aqraba. (Tabari, II, 277).
Incidents like this are revealing in two ways. Firstly, they show the characteristic feature of Musaylima’s aqeedah: Allah resembles a physical being who can ‘come’. Secondly, they reveal the immense, blind power of Arabian tribalism as this still existed in Najd.
As leader of a rival religion, he and his Najdi enthusiasts were in a state of baghy, heretical revolt against due caliphal authority, and Abu Bakr (r.a.) sent an army against them under Khalid ibn al-Walid. In the year 12 of the Hijra Khalid defeated the Najdis at the Battle of al-Aqraba, a bloody clash that centred on a walled garden which is known to our historians as the Garden of Death, because hundreds of great Companions lost their lives there at the hands of the Najdis. The battle ranged the egalitarian spirit of Islam against the old Arab tribalism, as was shown by the fact that the banner of the Muhajirun was held by a freed Persian slave, Salim, while the banner of the Ansar was held high by Thabit b. Qays. The Muslim battle-cry was not the invocation of a tribe or an ancestor, instead it was, ‘Ya Muhammad!’ (Tabari, 281.) The pseudo-prophet was killed by Wahshi, the Ethiopian slave who, even though he had killed Hamza ibn Abd al-Muttalib, had made good his Islam, and was now an honored member of the community. The killing of the prophet of Najdi pride by a man of such humble origins was a powerful symbol of the principles that were at stake. (See Abdallah ibn Muslim Ibn Qutayba, Kitab al-Ma‘arif [Cairo, 1960], p.206; Ahmad ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri, Futuh al-buldan [repr. Beirut, n.d., p.86.])
Devotion to Musaylima lingered on in Central Arabia, however. An indication of the continuity of Najdi religious life is given by the non-Muslim traveller Palgrave, who as late as 1862 found that some Najdi tribesmen continued to revere Musaylima as a prophet. (W. Palgrave, Narrative of a year’s journey through Central and Eastern Arabia [London, 1865], I, 382.)
The other ringleader of Najdi rebellion against the khilafa was a woman known as Sajah, whose full name was Umm Sadir bint Aws, and who belonged to the tribe of Tamim. She made claims to prophethood in the name of a rabb who was ‘in the clouds’, and who gave her revelations by which she succeeded in uniting sections of the Tamim who had argued among themselves over the extent to which they should reject the authority of Madina. Leading several campaigns against tribes who remained loyal to Islam, the Najdi prophetess is said to have thrown in her lot with Musaylima. Other than this, little is known of her fate. (Ibn Qutayba, Ma‘arif, p.405; Baladhuri, Futuh, pp.99-100.)
It is well-known that the Najdi reformer, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, was a Tamimi. The violence and takfir associated with the movement which carries his name surely bears more than a coincidental resemblance to the policies and mindset of the Tamimi Kharijites of ancient Najd. Consider, for instance, the following massacre, of the Shi‘a of Karbala in April 1801, as described by a Wahhabi historian:
Saud made for Karbala with his victorious army, famous pedigree horses, and all the settled people and bedouin of Najd […] The Muslims (i.e. the Wahhabis) surrounded Karbala and took it by storm. They killed most of the people in the markets and houses. One cannot count their spoils. They stayed there for just one morning, and left after midday, taking away all the possessions. Nearly two thousand people were killed in Karbala. (Uthman ibn Bishr, Unwan al-Majd fi Tarikh Najd[Makka, 1349], 1, 121-122.)
It is hard to distinguish this raid, and the brutality of its accomplishment, from the Khariji raids from Najd into the same region a thousand years earlier.
Muhammad Finati, an Italian revert to Islam who served with the Caliphal army which defeated the Wahhabis, wrote a long first-hand account of the extreme barbarism of the Najdi hordes. For instance:
Such among us as fell alive into the hands of these cruel fanatics, were wantonly mutilated by the cutting off of their arms and legs, and left to perish in that state, some of whom, in the course of our retreat, I myself actually saw, who had no greater favour to ask than that we would put them to death. (G. Finati, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati [London, 1830], I, 287.)
It is sometimes claimed that the days when ‘all the settled people and bedouin of Najd’ would happily commit such mass murder are long gone, and that Wahhabism has become more moderate. But another, more recent example, shows otherwise. In 1924, the Wahhabi army entered the city of Ta’if, plundering it for three days. The chief qadi and the ulema were dragged from their houses and slaughtered, while several hundred other civilians lost their lives. (Ibn Hizlul, Tarikh Muluk Al Sa‘ud [Riyadh, 1961], pp.151-3.) After giving the the Sunni population of the Hijaz this terrorist lesson, ‘Ibn Saud occupied Mecca with Britain’s tacit blessing’ (Alexei Vassiliev, A History of Saudi Arabia [London, 1998], p.264).
A good deal of material concerning Najd and Tamim has been preserved from the time of the Salaf. If we reject the method of some Najdi apologists, a method based on the highly selective quotation of hadiths coupled with the blind imitation of opinions expressed by late-medieval commentary writers, we may reach some reasonably settled and authoritative conclusions regarding Central Arabia and its people. The Qur’an, the sound Hadith, and the experience of the Salaf overwhelmingly concur that Central Arabia is a region of fitna. The first of all fitnas in Islam emerged from that place, notably the arrogance of Dhu’l-Khuwaysira and his like, and also the apostasy and fondness for false prophets which caused such difficulty for Abu Bakr (r.a.). Subsequently, the Kharijite heresy, overwhelmingly Najdi in its roots, cast a long shadow over the early history of Islam, dividing the Muslims, distracting their armies from the task of conquering Byzantium, and injecting rancour, suspicion, and bitterness among the very earliest generations of Muslims. Only the most determined, blinkered and irresponsible Najdi sympathiser could ignore this evidence, transmitted so reliably from the pure Salaf, and persist in the delusion that Najd and the misguided, literalistic rigorism which it recurrently produces, is somehow an area favoured by Allah.
And Allah knows best. May He unite the Umma through love for the early Muslims who refused bigotry, and may He preserve us from the trap of Kharijism and those who are attracted to its mindset in our time. Ameen.
Istiwâ’ [al-Qur’an 7:54; 13:2; 20:5; 25:59; 32:4]is one of the Attributes of acts (min sifât al-af‘âl) according to the majority of the explanations.” Al-Qurtubi.
“The establishment of His Throne in the heaven is known, and His Throne in the earth is the hearts of the People of Pure Monotheism (ahl al-tawhîd). He said: (and eight will uphold the Throne of their Lord that day, above them) (69:17), and [concerning] the throne of the hearts:
[We carry them on the land and the sea] (17:70).
As for the throne of the heaven: the Merciful established Himself over it (‘alayhi istawâ); and as for the throne of the hearts: the Merciful conquered it(‘alayhi istawlâ). The throne of the heaven is the direction of the supplication of creatures, while the throne of the heart is the locus of the gaze of the Real. Therefore, there is a huge difference between this throne and that!” – Al-Qushayri.
“We believe that [the Merciful established Himself over the Throne] (20:5), and we do not know the reality of the meaning of this nor what is meant by it (lâ na‘lamu haqîqata mi‘na dhâlika wa al-murâda bihi), while we do believe that [There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him] (42:11) 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.” – Al-Nawawi.
Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari said:
“The establishment of Allah on the Throne is an action He has created named istiwâ’ and related to the Throne, just as He has created an action named ityân (coming) related to a certain people; and this implies neither descent nor movement.” Al-Bayhaqi confirms this: “Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali al-Ash‘ari said that Allah effected an act in relation to the Throne, and He called that act istiwâ’, just as He effected other acts in relation to other objects, and He called those acts ‘sustenance’ (rizq), ‘favor’ (ni‘ma), or other of His acts.” This is also the interpretation of Ibn Hazm (d. 456) – although a vehement enemy of Ash‘aris – who explains istiwâ’ as “an act pertaining to the Throne”.
Abu al-Fadl al-Tamimi mentioned that two positions were reported from Imam Ahmad concerning istiwâ’: One group narrated that he considered it “of the Attributes of act” (min sifât al-fi‘l), another, “of the Attributes of the Essence” (min sifât al-dhât).” Ibn Battal mentions that Ahl al-Sunna hold either one of these two positions: “Those that interpreted istawâ as ‘He exalted Himself’ (‘alâ) consider istiwâ an Attribute of the Essence, while those who interpreted it otherwise consider it an Attribute of act.”
Al-Tamimi further related that Ahmad said:
[Istiwâ’]: It means height/exaltation (‘uluw) and elevation (irtifâ‘). Allah is ever exalted (‘âlî) and elevated (rafî‘) without beginning, before He created the Throne. He is above everything (huwa fawqa kulli shay’), and He is exalted over everything (huwa al-‘âlî ‘alâ kulli shay’). He only specified the Throne because of its particular significance which makes it different from everything else, as the Throne is the best of all things and the most elevated of them. Allah therefore praised Himself by saying that He (established Himself over the Throne) , that is, He exalted Himself over it (‘alayhi ‘alâ). It is impermissible to say that He established Himself with a contact or a meeting with it. Exalted is Allah above that! Allah is not subject to change, substitution, nor limits, whether before or after the creation of the Throne.
The Maliki scholar Ibn Abi Jamra (d. 695) said something similar in his commentary on the hadith “Allah wrote a Book before He created creation, saying: Verily My mercy precedeth My wrath; and it is written with Him above the Throne”:
It may be said from the fact that the Book is mentioned as being “above the Throne” that the divine wisdom has decreed for the Throne to carry whatever Allah wishes of the record of His judgment, power, and the absolute unseen known of Him alone, in order to signify the exclusivity of His encompassing knowledge regarding these matters. This makes the Throne one of the greatest signs of the exclusivity of His knowledge of the Unseen. This could explain the verse of istiwâ’ as referring to whatever Allah wills of His power, which is the Book He has placed above His Throne.”
Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161) interpreted istiwâ’ in the verse (The Merciful established Himself over the Throne) (20:5) as “a command concerning the Throne” (amrun fi al-‘arsh), as related by Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni and quoted by al-Yafi‘i in the latter’s book 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 istiwâ’ as the turning of Allah to a particular command concerning the Throne is not far-fetched, and this is the ta’wîl of Imam Sufyan al-Thawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it the verse: (Then turned He (thumma istawâ) to the heaven when it was smoke) (41:11), meaning: “He proceeded to it” (qasada ilayhâ).
Al-Tabari said, in his commentary on the verse (Then turned He (thumma istawâ) to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens) (2:29):
The meaning of istiwâ’ in this verse is height (‘uluw) 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.
The above position is exactly that of the Ash‘ari school, as shown by Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi’s and Ibn Hajar’s numerous comments to that effect directed against those who attribute altitude to Allahn their interpretation of His ‘uluw such as Ibn Taymiyya. The latter stated: “The Creator, Glorified and Exalted is He, is above the world and His being above is literal, not in the sense of dignity or rank.” This doctrine was comprehensively refuted by Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi (d. 733) in his Radd ‘ala Man Qala bi al-Jiha (“Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya Who Attributes A Direction to Allah “) and Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabahani (1265-1350) in his Raf‘ al-Ishtibah fi Istihala al-Jiha ‘ala Allah (“The Removal of Doubt Concerning the Impossibility of Direction for Allah”).
Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597) in the introduction of his Daf‘ Shubah al-Tashbih said of the anthropomorphists: “They are not content to say: ‘Attribute of act’ (sifatu fi‘l) until they end up saying: ‘Attribute of the Essence’ (sifatu dhât).” Ibn Hazm also said: “If the establishment on the Throne is eternal without beginning, then the Throne is eternal without beginning, and this is disbelief.”
Al-Bayhaqi quotes one of the companions of al-Ash‘ari, Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Mahdi al-Tabari (d. ~380) as saying in his book Ta’wil al-Ahadith al-Mushkalat al-Waridat fi al-Sifat (“Interpretation of the Problematic Narrations Pertaining to the Attributes”): “Allahs in the heaven above everything and established (mustawin) over His Throne in the sense that He is exalted or elevated (‘âlin) above it, and the sense of istiwâ’ is self-elevation(i‘tilâ’).” This is the most widespread interpretation (ta’wîl) of the issue among the Salaf: al-Baghawi said that the meaning of the verse ( The Merciful established Himself over the Throne) (20:5) according to Ibn ‘Abbas and most of the commentators of Qur’an is “He elevated Himself” (irtafa‘a). This is the interpretation quoted by al-Bukhari in his Sahih from the senior Tâbi‘i Rufay‘ ibn Mahran Abu al-‘Aliya (d. 90). Al-Bukhari also cites from Mujahid (d. 102) the interpretation “to rise above” or “exalt Himself above” (‘alâ). Ibn Battal declares the latter to be the true position and the saying of Ahl al-Sunnabecause Allah described Himself as “the Sublimely Exalted” — ( al-‘Alî) (2:255) and said: ( exalted be He (ta‘âlâ) over all that they ascribe as partners (unto Him)!) (23:92).
In complete opposition to the above Ibn Taymiyya said in his Fatawa: “The establishment of Allah over the Throne is real, and the servant’s establishment over the ship is real” (lillâhi ta‘âlâ istiwâ’un ‘alâ ‘arshihi haqîqatan wa li al-‘abdi istiwâ’un ‘alâ al-fulki haqîqatan). “Allahs with us in reality, and He is above His Throne in reality (Allâhu ma‘ana haqîqatan wa huwa fawqa al-‘arshi haqîqatan).. . . Allahs with His creation in reality and He is above His Throne in reality (Allahu ma‘a khalqihi haqîqatan wa huwa fawqa al-‘arshi haqîqatan).”
Another interpretation commonly used by later Ash‘aris for istiwâ’ is that of istîlâ’ and qahr, respectively “establishing dominion” and “subduing.” Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam said:
His establishment (istiwâ’) over the Throne is a metaphor for establishing dominion (istîlâ’) over His kingdom and disposing of it, as the poet said:
qad istawâ Bishrun ‘ala al-‘Irâq
min ghayri sayfin wa damin muhrâq
Bishr established mastery over Iraq
without sword and without shedding blood.
It is a metaphor of similitude with kings, who dispose of the affairs of their kingdoms while sitting among the dynastic princes. The throne may also express rank, as in ‘Umar’s t saying: “My throne would have toppled if I had not found a merciful Lord.”
Ibn Battal and Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi attribute the interpretation as istîlâ’ chiefly to the Mu‘tazila. Ibn Hajar said:
The Mu‘tazila said its meaning is “establishing dominion through subjugation and overpowering” (al-istîlâ’ bi al-qahr wa al-ghalaba), citing as a proof the saying of the poet:
Bishr established mastery over Iraq
without sword and without shedding blood.
The anthropomorphists (al-jismiyya) said: “Its meaning is settledness (al-istiqrâr).” Some of Ahl al-Sunna said: “Its meaning is He elevated Himself(irtafa‘a)” while others of them said: “Its meaning is He rose above (‘alâ),” and others of them said: “Its meaning is sovereignty (al-mulk) and power (al-qudra).”
The latter Sunni interpretation is evidently similar to that of istîlâ’ and qahr. However, because the Mu‘tazila claimed that the divine Attributes were originated in time rather than uncreated and beginningless, their interpretation was rejected by the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna. Ibn Battal said: “The Mu‘tazilaposition is null and void, for Allahs qâhir, ghâlib, and mustawlî without beginning.” Ibn Battal is referring to the Ash‘ari position whereby the Attributes of acts such as creation, although connected with created objects, are without beginning in relation to Allah. To those who object to istawlâ on the grounds that it necessarily supposed prior opposition, Ibn Hajar similarly remarked that that assumption is discarded by the verse: (Allah was (kâna) ever Knower, Wise) (4:17), which the scholars explained to mean “He is ever Knower and Wise.”
Thus Dawud al-Zahiri’s objection that istîlâ’ necessitates a wresting from an adversary is not absolute among Ahl al-Sunna. The Ash‘ari grammarian al-Raghib al-Asfahani (d. 402) said that istawâ ‘alâ has the meaning of istawlâ ‘alâ (“He overcame”) and cited the verse of istiwâ (20:5) as an example of this meaning: “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 exclusively of another place.” In this sense, both the Mu‘tazili position of origination for the Attributes and the literalist requirement of conquest-after-struggle are dismissed, and istawlâ can be safely admitted among the interpretations of Ahl al-Sunna. As Ibn Battal alluded, “establishing dominion and sovereignty,” “subduing,” and “conquering” no more suppose prior opposition in the face of the Creator than do His Attributes of “All-Victorious” (Zâhir) “All-Compelling” (Qahhâr), “Prevailer” (Ghâlib), or “Omnipotent” (Qâhir) presuppose resistance or power on anyone’s part. This is confirmed by the verses: (He is the Omnipotent (al-qâhir) over His slaves) (6:18, 6:61) and (Allah prevails (ghâlib) in His purpose) (12:21). Al-Raghib said: “It means that everything is alike in relation to him” and he did not say: “became alike.”
Ibn al-Jawzi mentions another reason for permitting this interpretation: “Whoever interprets [and He is with you] (57:4) as meaning ‘He is with you in knowledge,’ permits his opponent to interpret istiwâ’ as ‘subduing’ (al-qahr).”
As for the linguistic precedent of the meaning istawlâ for istawâ, it is provided by the poet al-Akhtal (d. <110) who said: “Bishr established mastery over(istawâ ‘alâ) Iraq without sword and without shedding blood.” Some “Salafis” reject this linguistic proof on the ground that al-Akhtal was a second-century Christian. This shows ignorance of agreed-upon criteria for the probative force of Arabic poetry in the Shari‘a, which extends at least to the year 150 and applies regardless of creed.
Dr. Muhammad Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti said:
The consensus in place regarding these texts is the refraining from applying to them any meaning which establishes a sameness or likeness between Allah and His creatures, and the refraining from divesting their established lexical tenor.
The obligatory way to proceed is either to explain these words according to their external meanings which conform with divine Transcendence above any like or partner, and this includes not explaining them as bodily appendages and other corporeal imagery. Therefore it will be said, for example: He has established Himself over the Throne as He has said, with an establishment which befits His Majesty and Oneness; and He has a Hand as He has said, which befits His Divinity and Majesty; etc.
Or they can be explained figuratively according to the correct rules of language and in conformity with the customs of speech in their historical context. For example: the establishment is the establishment of dominion (istîlâ’) and that of authority (tasallut); the hand of Allahs His strength in His saying: (The hand of Allahs over their hand) (48:10) and His generosity in His saying: (Nay, both His hands are spread wide, and He bestows as He wills)(5:64).
As for the interpretation of istiwâ’ as sitting (julûs), it is asserted in the book attributed to ‘Abd Allahbn Ahmad ibn Hanbal under the title Kitab al-Sunna (p. 5, 71): “Is establishment (istiwâ’) other than by sitting (julûs)?” “Allah sits on the kursî and there remains only four spans vacant.” Al-Khallal in his ownKitab al-Sunna (p. 215-216) states that whoever denies that “Allah sits on the kursî and there remains only four spans vacant” is an unbeliever. ‘Uthman al-Darimi went so far as to say in his Naqd al-Jahmiyya: “If He so willed, He could have settled on the back of a gnat and it would have carried Him thanks to His power and the favor of His lordship, not to mention the magnificient Throne.” Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim endorsed these views. Al-Kawthari wrote in his Maqalat: “Whoever imagines that our Lord sits on the kursî and leaves space at His side for His Prophet to sit, he has followed the Christians who believe that ‘Isa u was raised to heaven and sat next to his Father – Allahs elevated above the partnership they ascribe to Him!”
Al-Munawi quotes the following conclusion on the verse of the Throne upon the water:
Al-Tunisi said that the verse (And His Throne was upon the water) (11:7) contains a clear proof that direction is impossible for Allah because the Throne settled (istaqarra) upon the water, therefore, since natural custom was broken by the settlement of that huge mass (jirm) – the largest of all masses – upon the water, contrary to the habitual fact that such a mass – or, rather, much less than it! – does not usually settle upon the water: it becomes known with certitude that istiwâ’ over it is not an istiwâ’ of settledness nor fixity.
The above proof is similar to the proof derived from Imam Malik’s statement: “The establishment is known, the ‘how’ is inconceivable, and to ask about it is an innovation!” Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din al-Subki pointed out that the inconceivability of the modality of istiwâ’ proved that it precluded the meaning of sitting.
In his Qur’anic commentary entitled Lata’if al-Isharat (“The Subtle Signs”), Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri (d. 465) – together with Imam al-Haramayn Ibn al-Juwayni and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi the main figure in the fourth generation-layer of al-Ash‘ari’s students – sums up the position of Ahl al-Sunnaconcerning istiwâ’:
(He established Himself over the Throne) (7:54; 13:2; 20:5; 25:59; 32:4), however, the One without beginning has no limit (al-qadîm laysa lahu hadd). He “established Himself over the Throne,” however, it is impermissible to attribute to Him proximity with His Essence nor remoteness. He “established Himself over the Throne,” however, the Throne would be the most needful of all things to an iota of connection (al-wisâl) [with Him] if it were only alive! But it is a lifeless solid, and when did solids ever possess volition? He “established Himself over the Throne,” however, He is the Everlasting Sovereign (al-Samad) without rival, the Unique without limit.
Abu Hanifa says in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar about the qualities of God:
“He has a hand, a face, and a self. So what He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand, and self, they are all attributes of His with no modality (or description).
Rather, His hand is His attribute with no modality (or description). And His anger and His satisfaction are two of His attributes with no modality (or description)…”
One must first understand that by virtue of the fact that the book – Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar – is considered to be the first book written in the time of the Taabi’een on the topic of Tawheed in an organized and methodical fashion during an age of great controversy when Sunnis were attempting to codify the orthodox creed of Muslims that there will be statements found in it that may be problematic.
Of course Salafis would find great joy in seeing such statements like the one above, since it apparently gives credence to their arguments about what they refer to as ‘The Attributes of Allah,’ like the hand, face, eyes, foot, side, shin, self, etc.
They could easily make the claim that their ‘aqeedah is correct and in agreement with the creed of the Salaf, since Imam Abu Hanifa who is one of the Salaf says in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar that Allah has a hand. And His hand is an attribute, similar to what they say.
So on the surface it would seem that the argument is over, and that Salafis have proven themselves to be victorious in their claims.
However, a number of other things have to be considered before accepting their arguments.
Firstly, if we are to accept that Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is an authentic work legitimately ascribable to Abu Hanifa and that it represents the ‘aqeedah of the Salaf, Salafis have to accept all that it contains. So they’d have to also accept the following statement made by Abu Hanifa about Allah’s speech:
“And He speaks, not as our speech. We speak with tools and letters while Allah, High is He, speaks without a tool and without letters. The letters are created. And the speech of Allah, High is He, is uncreated.”`
In this passage, Abu Hanifa states that when Allah, High is He, speaks, He speaks without letters. But Salafis believe that when Allah speaks, He speaks with letters and sounds.
So, really this is another case of Salafis selectively abusing and misusing the words of the Salaf and those attributed to the Salaf in an attempt to make it seem that their creed agrees with that of the Salaf, when in fact it doesn’t.
Add to that, Salafis are those who argue that the current version of Kitab al-Ibaanah ‘an Usool ad-Diyaanah, attributed to Imam Abu al-Hasan Al-Ash’ari, is a proper ascription to him.
And in that book, it states that Imam Abu Hanifa believed that the Qur’an was created1,. But if Salafis accept that Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is appropriately ascribed to Abu Hanifa, they have to also accept his words that contradict this claim when he says:
“The Qur’an is Allah’s word, High is He, in pages transcribed, in hearts protected, on tongues recited, and on the Prophet (PBUH) and His family revealed. Our utterance of the Qur’an is created. Our writing of it is created. Our recitation of it is created. And the Qur’an is uncreated.”
How more explicit can the Imam be? He expressly states in Al-Fiqh al-Akbar that the “Qur’an is uncreated.” But the Salafis claim that the narrations in Al-Ibaanah that claim that Abu Hanifa believed that it was created is a proper ascription to Abu al-Hasan. And at the same time they consider Al-Fiqh al-Akbar to be properly ascribed to Abu Hanifa.
In addition to that, Imam Abu al-Hasan doesn’t make any mention of Abu Hanifa as being one of those who believed that the Qur’an was created in his more prominent and well-established work entitled ‘Maqaalaat al-Islaamiyyeen.’ And according to Salafis, Kitaab al-Ibaanah was his last work.
So how do they explain the fact that Imam Al-Ash’ari waited until his final work to mention Abu Hanifa, who died more than a century prior to him, as one of those who believed that the Qur’an was created in his supposed last work, when he didn’t mention him in what they believe to be one of his earlier works?
Did not Al-Ash’ari know that Imam Abu Hanifa was the author of Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar?
They just can’t have it both ways.
Either Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is Abu Hanifa’s work, which would make Kitaab al-Ibaanah – in its present form – not Abu al-Hasan’s work. Or the current Kitaab al-Ibaanah is Abu al-Hasan’s work, which would mean that Al-Fiqh al-Akbar is not Abu Hanifa’s work.
And if Al-Fiqh al-Akbar is Abu Hanifa’s work and Salafis want to use it as proof that their ‘aqeedah is no different than his, they have to accept everything in it without exception.
Now as for the issue of the statement in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar about the hand, face, and self and them being attributes, we must consider two things in particular:
1 – Imam At-Tahaawi makes no mention of hands, a face, or a self in his ‘aqeedah. And his book has been accepted as the one that represents the ‘aqeedah of Imam Abu Hanifa and his two companions, Abu Yusuf and Muhammad Ash-Shaibaani.
2 – Secondly, we must understand any comment made in Al-Fiqh al-Akbar – as in other works – according to context.
According to Al-Fiqh al-Akbar, Allah has two general classifications of attributes known as ‘Attributes of the Essence’ and ‘Attributes of Action.’
Attributes of the Essence are the essential qualities of His being.
As for attributes of action, they are things that happen outside of His being. And since He is the one responsible for those occurrences, they are attributed to Him and called ‘Attributes of Action.’
Imam Abu Hanifa explains this in his book when he says:
“He doesn’t resemble anything of His creation, and nothing of His creation resembles Him. He has always and will always exist with His names and His attributes of the (divine) essence and those (attributes) of action.
As for those of the essence, they are: life, power, knowledge, speech, hearing, seeing, and will.
And as for those of action, they are: creating, providing, producing, originating, manufacturing, and other attributes of action.”
So the attributes of Allah’s divine essence are seven:
As for the attributes of action, he states things like
Then, Abu Hanifa says,
“He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”
As for restricting the attributes of the essence to merely seven, this is not to say that these are the only attributes that Allah has. It is merely to say that this is the number that both revelation and reason have been able to conclude. As for the standard view of Maaturidis, the attributes of the essence are 8.
In the end, most of that is just a difference in semantics. And the true difference is with relationship to what Ash’aris call ‘Abstract Attributes’, which are the 7 that Abu Hanifa mentions in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar, while Maaturidis add an eighth called ‘Takween.’
At any rate, notice how Abu Hanifa doesn’t make mention of the hand, face, and self until he enumerates the attributes of the essence. And, so that the readers can see, here is the complete text prior to the mention of the hand, face, and self:
“He doesn’t resemble anything of His creation, and nothing of His creation resembles Him. He has always and will always exist with His names and His attributes of the (divine) essence and those (attributes) of action.
As for those of the essence, they are: life, power, knowledge, speech, hearing, seeing, and will.
And as for those of action, they are: creating, providing, producing, originating, manufacturing, and other attributes of action.
He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”
So if He hasn’t acquired any new name or attribute, there are truly no other definitive attributes of essence other than those mentioned above, and the hand, face, and self aren’t included among them.
Then he continues:
“He has always been Knowing by His knowledge. And knowledge has been an attribute since pre-eternity.
(He has always been) Powerful by His power. And power has been an attribute since pre-eternity.
(He has always been) A Speaker by His speech. And speech has been an attribute since pre-eternity.
(He has always been) A Doer by His will to act. And the will to act has been an attribute since pre-eternity. The Doer is Allah, High is He. The will to act has been an attribute since pre-eternity. And the resulting entity of His will to act is created, while Allah’s will to act, High is He, is uncreated. And His attributes have been since pre-eternity un-invented and uncreated. So whoever says that they are created or invented, remains silent about them, or entertains doubts about them is one who rejects faith in Allah, High is He.”
He also says,
“And Allah, High is He, was indeed a Speaker at a time when He had not yet spoken to Musa, upon him be peace. And Allah was indeed a Creator in pre-eternity even though He had not yet created. ((There is nothing like unto Him. And He is the All-Hearing All-Seeing)). So when He spoke to Musa, He spoke to him with His speech, which has been an attribute of His since pre-eternity. And All of His attributes are without beginning from pre-eternity; contrary to the state of the attributes of created beings.
He has knowledge, not as our knowledge. He has power, not as our power. He sees, not as our seeing. He hears, not as our hearing. And He speaks, not as our speech.
We speak with tools and letters while Allah, High is He, speaks without a tool and without letters. The letters are created. And the speech of Allah, High is He, is uncreated.
He is a thing, not like other things. And the point of saying ‘thing’ is to confirm His existence while not being a divisible body, an indivisible body, and not an accident of a body.
He has no boundary. He has no opposite. He has no rival. And He has no equal.
Then finally he says,
He has a hand, a face, and a self. So what He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand, and self, are all attributes of His with no modality (or description).
Rather, His hand is His attribute with no modality (or description). And His anger and His satisfaction are two of His attributes with no modality (or description)…”
So what are we to understand from all of this? How do we reconcile between Abu Hanifa’s saying after mentioning the seven attributes of the essence:
“He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”
And between his saying,
“He has a hand, a face, and a self. So what He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand, and self, are all attributes of His with no modality (or description).”?
I believe that the best way to reconcile between the two is to say that ‘hand, face, and self’ are references to either one of Allah’s true attributes of the essence as stated in the first clause by Abu Hanifa. Or they are references to one of His attributes of action.
One cannot deny that by such words being annexed to Allah’s name or pronoun in the Qur’an, they are being ‘attributed’ to Him directly even if calling them ‘attributes’ doesn’t coincide with the original linguistic definition of what an attribute is.
So calling them attributes would be a metaphorical application as opposed to a literal application. And if it is a metaphorical application, it would have to be accepted that such named ‘attributes’ are metaphorical ‘attributes.’ So the hand, face, and self would have to be a metaphorical ‘hand, face, and self,’ which are references to one of Allah’s true attributes, since there is nothing like unto Him. And ‘hand’ in its original linguistic understanding applies only to created beings.
Abdur-Rahman ibn Al-Jawzi says while mentioning the mistakes of some Hanbali scholars in the area of scriptural interpretation of the problematic verses of the Qur’an,
“And those writers who I have mentioned have erred in seven areas. The first of them is that they called the ‘reports’ ‘attributes.’ When they are merely annexations/possessive forms. And not every possessive form is an attribute. For Allah, High is He, has said: ((And I have blown into him from My spirit)) [Al-Hijr: 29]. And Allah doesn’t have an attribute known as a ‘spirit.’ So those who have called ‘the possessive form’ (idaafa) ‘an attribute’ are guilty of innovation.”
The linguist, Tha’lab says in Taaj al-‘Aroos,
“A ‘na’t’ is a description given to a specific part of the body like the word ‘lame’ (‘araj). A ‘sifa’ (attribute) is for non-specificity (‘umoom), like the word ‘magnificent’ (‘azeem) and ‘generous’ (kareem). So Allah is described with a ‘sifa’. But He is not described with a ‘na’t.’”
What this would mean is that the word ‘sifa’ (attribute) is being used metaphorically to mean ‘na’t’, which is another word for ‘attribute’ or ‘trait.’ The difference is that a ‘na’t’ describes a specific part of a body, like ‘lame’ or ‘blind’.
For this reason, Imam Bukhaari uses the word ‘nu’oot’ (plural of na’t), instead of ‘sifaat’ (plural of sifa) to refer to those reports that make mention of Allah’s anger, laughter, foot, hand, and face even though He isn’t a body and doesn’t have a body.
This would have to be the accepted interpretation. Otherwise, we must accept that Abu Hanifa contradicts his self by first limiting the attributes of the essence to the 7 mentioned above, and then later adding Allah’s face, hand, and self.
Another important question is ‘Why doesn’t Abu Hanifa add to what he considered attributes ‘the shin, the side, the eyes, the foot, and the spirit?’
This is important because Allah annexes His name or personal pronoun to each of these things in the Qur’an or the Messenger does so in the hadith. So if I am to accept that Allah has a face, self, and hand, simply because He annexes such things to His name or pronoun, I should also accept that He has eyes, a spirit, a foot, a side, a shin, a she-camel, a house, and any other thing that He has attached His name or pronoun to.
And if the Salafis agree with Abu Hanifa’s creed, they should only accept as attributes those things that Abu Hanifa declared to be attributes. This would mean that Salafis have to stop saying that Allah has a foot, a shin, a side, and eyes.
But we know that they won’t do that, because Salafis are very selective about what they want to accept from the Salaf and what they don’t want to accept, all the while claiming that their ‘aqeeda is the ‘aqeeda of the Salaf.
If they use Abu Hanifa’s words about the face, hand, and self as being proof that they follow the minhaaj and understanding of the Salaf, they should only say what the Salaf said and stop adding to their words.
So to accept that these are the words of Abu Hanifa, we’d either have to accept the first interpretation or we’d have to accept the second, which would mean that he is in contradiction with his self.
And if that is so, we’d have to accept that Abu Hanifa may not have been an authority on this subject.
As for referring to these problematic verses and hadiths as ‘Attribute Verses’ (Aayaat as-Sifaat) or ‘Reports of Attributes’ (Akhbaar as-Sifaat), this was the specific terminology that scholars used to refer to them even though they didn’t actually mean that such ascriptions mentioned in scripture were attributes of Allah. Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi’s words above clarify the error of this sort of designation. So hopefully that should resolve any confusion about the issue.
“Haarun ibn Ishaaq al-Hamdaani mentioned about Abu Na’eem from Sulaimaan ibn ‘Eesaa Al-Qaari that Sufyaan Ath-Thauri said: “I said to Hammaad ibn Abi Sulaimaan: “Proclaim to Abu Hanifa, The Idolater, that I am innocent of him.”” Sulaimaan said: “Then Sufyaan said: “That’s because he used to say, ‘The Qur’an is created.’”
Sufyaan ibn Wakee’ said: “I heard ‘Umar ibn Hammaad, the grandson of Abu Hanifa, say: “My father said to me: “The comment that Ibn Abi Lailaa demanded that Abu Hanifa repent from was his statement: ‘The Qur’an is created.’” He (Hammaad) said: “So he repented from it and announced his repentance publicly. My (Hammaad) father said: “How did you turn to this?” He (Abu Hanifa) said: “I feared – By Allah – that I would be disciplined. So I used a misleading expression to trick him (heela).”
Haarun ibn Ishaaq said, “I heard Ismaa’eel ibn Abi Al-Hakam mention about ‘Umar ibn ‘Ubaid At-Tanaafusi that Hammaad – i.e. Ibn Abi Sulaimaan – sent someone to Abu Hanifa to say: “Verily I am innocent of what you say until you repent.”
Ibn Abi ‘Inabah was with him (i.e. Hammaad) and said: “Your neighbor told me that Abu Hanifa invited him to what he was asked to repent from after he had already been asked to repent from it.”
And it was mentioned that Abu Yusuf said, “I debated with Abu Hanifa for two months until he retracted his statement about the createdness of the Qur’an.”
[Al-Ash’ari, Abu al-Hasan (ascribed to him), Kitaab al-Ibaanah ‘an Usool ad-Diyaanah: 1998/1418 Daar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, Marginal Notes by ‘Abdullah Mahmood Muhammad ‘Umar.]
On the same page, the commentator, Abdullah Mahmood Muhammad ‘Umar, makes the following comments:
“Tahaawi states in his book, Al-‘Aqeedah At-Tahaawiyyah, what contradicts these narrations that claim that Abu Hanifa used to state that the Qur’an is created. And Tahaawi is more reliable in transmission and more knowing of the creed of his comrades (Abu Hanifa and his two companions) than Al-Ash’ari is. Imam Tahaawi, the Hanafi, says: “The Qu’ran is the word of Allah. It came from Him as speech without it being possible to say how. He sent it down upon His messenger as revelation. The believers accept it as absolute truth. They are certain that it is, in truth, the word of Allah. It was not created like the speech of human beings…”
So the commentator, in spite of the fact that he seems to accept that the book is properly ascribed to Imam Al-Ash’ari, he establishes that such a claim made by him cannot be substantiated, since it conflicts with the reports given by those who have better knowledge of the creed of Abu Hanifa who conveyed it to the Ummah.
Add to this, Al-Ash’ari doesn’t list Imam Abu Hanifa among those who believed the Qur’an to be created in his book, Maqaalaat al-Islaamiyyeen, even though the narrations above from Al-Ibaanah give the impression that Abu Hanifa never actually relinquished the presumed belief that the Qur’an is created.
Existence is known as the ‘Essential Attribute’ (As-sifah An-nafsiyyah), since without it Allah would not be able of being described by any of the others.
The other 5 are known as the ‘Negating Attributes’ (As-Sifaat As-Salbiyyah). This is because by establishing them, one negates their opposites from Allah’s being.
They are called the ‘Signifying Attributes’ (As-Sifaat al-Ma’nawiyya), because they signify that Allah has the attribute that each adjective implies, i.e. power, will, knowledge, life, sight, hearing, and speech.
Abu Hanifa mentions only the 7 abstract attributes. But this doesn’t mean that he denies the existence of the other 13 mentioned by Ash’aris. This is because the ‘essential attribute’ of ‘existence’ and the other five negating attributes are characteristics of the 7 essential qualities. So they go without saying.
 The reason that Abu Hanifa doesn’t mention the 5 ‘Negating Attributes’ (i.e. permanence without beginning, endurance without end, absolute independence, dissimilarity to creation, and oneness), the ‘Essential Attribute’ (Existence), and the 7 signifying attributes stated above, is that these attributes are actually qualities of Allah’s main qualities, which are the 7 Attributes of the Essence or as Ash’aris call them, ‘Abstract Attributes.’
 The ‘will to act’ is a translation for the word, ‘fi’l,’ usually translated as ‘action.’ I translated as ‘will to act’ since it is more in line with the actually creed of Maaturidis who based much of their creed off of the doctrine of Imam Abu Hanifa. To translate ‘fi’l’ as ‘action’ or ‘act’ would imply that the creation – one of Allah’s actions – is eternal without a beginning, since the author states that the ‘fi’l’ is uncreated.
 In other words, to say such a thing would be equal to saying what the people who deny the divine decree (qadar) say and like the Mu’tazilites who say that every time Allah ascribes a hand to His self, it means ‘power.’
 Imam Shaukaani states in his Irshaad al-Fuhool while discussing the different relationships that tie between literal and figurative language that one of them is, “Assigning a thing the name of one of its forms and manifestations, like using the word ‘hand’ to refer to ‘power…” [Irshaad al-Fuhool: 1/119] In other words, the hand is a form or manifestation of power. This would mean that when one says that the ‘hand’ is one of Allah’s attributes, he really means that it is His power even though a different word is used to apply to it. And Allah knows best.
Thus article is reproduced courtesy of Lamppost Productions
I received a letter in Jordan not too long ago from a British Muslim, asking me questions about modern calls to replace traditional Islam with an ostensible “return to the way of the Salaf, or ‘early Muslims.’” When I answered one of these questions, I realized that many other people might be wondering the same thing, and thought that presenting the question to you tonight in a wider forum might be of greater benefit to the British Muslim and non-Muslim audience.
The letter asked me:
Are the Hanbali Mujtahid Imams al-Dhahiri and Ibn Hazm considered Ahl al-Sunna? And was Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal an anthropomorphist—meaning someone who ascribed human attributes to Allah? Can you provide me examples of the sayings of Imam Ahmad that show he did not have anthropomorphic ‘Aqida?
The questions proved to be related in ways unsuspected by their author. What unites them is literalism as an interpretive principle, which is the subject of my talk tonight. We will look at it first in respect to ijtihad, meaning the ‘qualified deduction of Islamic legal rulings from the Qur’an and hadith.’ But we will look at literalism also, and most carefully, from the point of view of ‘aqida or Islamic belief, in understanding the Qur’anic verses and prophetic hadiths that are called mutashabihat or ‘unclear in meaning’—such as the verse in Surat al-Fath that says,
“Allah’s hand is above their hands” (Qur’an 48:10)
—termed ‘unclear in meaning,’ mutashabih, because linguistically hand can bear multiple interpretations, and its ostensive sense seems to imply ‘belief in a God with human attributes,’ that is, anthropomorphism, an understanding categorically rejected by the Qur’anic verse in Surat al-Shura,
“There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11).
We shall see that literalism was a school of thought in Islamic jurisprudence, though not considered a very strong one by traditional scholars. But in tenets of faith, and particularly in interpreting the relation of the mutashabihat to the attributes of Allah, literalism has never been accepted as an Islamic school of thought, neither among the Salaf or ‘early Muslims,’ nor those who came later.
In answer to the first question, “Are the Hanbali Mujtahid Imams al-Dhahiri and Ibn Hazm considered Ahl al-Sunna?” Dawud ibn ‘Ali al-Dhahiri of Isfahan, who died 270 years after the Hijra, and Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm, who died 456 years after the Hijra, were not followers of Ahmad ibn Hanbal but Dhahiris or ‘literalists’ in jurisprudence. Whether Dawud al-Dhahiri was a mujtahid—meaning qualified to issue expert Islamic legal opinion—has been disagreed upon by Muslim scholars, not only for reasons we will discuss, but also because little that he wrote has come down to us.
As for Ibn Hazm, traditional Islamic scholars have not accepted his claims to be a mujtahid, the first qualification of which is to have comprehensive knowledge of the Qur’an and hadith. Scholars point to his many substantive mistakes in hadith knowledge, and adduce, for example, that if someone doesn’t even know, as Ibn Hazm did not, about the existence of the Sunan of al-Tirmidhi, who died nearly a hundred and fifty years before Ibn Hazm did, it is not clear how he can be considered a mujtahid. But aside from their qualifications, what interests us tonight is their Dhahirism or ‘textual literalism’ as an interpretive method.
What the Dhahiris are most famous for is their denial of all qiyas or analogy. It is recorded, for example, that Dawud held that the Qur’anic prohibition of saying “Uff” in disgust to one’s parents did not prove that it was wrong to beat them, since the literal content of the verse only concerned saying “Uff,” and no analogy could be drawn from this about anything else. Similarly, Ibn Hazm seems to have believed the prohibition in hadith of urinating into a pool of water did not show that there is anything wrong with defecating in it. These are two examples of denials of what is called in Arabic aqiyas jaliyy meaning an a fortiori analogy.
Denying the validity of the a fortiori analogy is so counterintuitive, that Imam al-Juwayni, who died 478 years after the Hijra, has said:
The position adopted by the most exacting of scholars is that those who deny analogy are not considered scholars of the Umma or conveyers of the Shari‘a, because they oppose out of mere obstinacy and exchange calumnies about things established by an overwhelming preponderence of the evidence, conveyed by whole groups from whole groups back to their prophetic origin (tawatur).
For most of the Shari‘a proceeds from ijtihad, and the uniquivocal statements from the Qur’an and hadith do not deal [n: in specific particulars by name] with even a tenth of the Shari‘a [n: as most of Islamic life is covered by general principles given by Allah to guide Muslims in every culture and time], so they [the literalists] are not considered of the learned” (al-Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ [Beirut: Mu’assasa al-Risala, 1401/1984], 13.105).
From Juwayni’s remark that “the uniquivocal statements from the Qur’an and hadith do not deal with even a tenth of the Shari‘a,” we can understand a main impetus of Dhahiri thought by which it differed from the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence; namely, that it radically truncated the range and relevance of the Shari‘a to nothing more than those rulings established by the literal wording (dhahir) of hadiths or verses. And this is perhaps one reason today for renewed interest in the long-dead school, namely, that it frees people from having to learn and follow the large part of the Shari‘a deduced from the general and comprehensive ethos of the Qur’an and sunna.
But secondly, if one reflects for a moment on the fiqh questions we hear urged today by youthful reformers in our mosques, it is plain that a great many of what are termed “Salafi ijtihads” are not salafi (early Muslim) at all, but mere Dhahiri or literalist interpretations of hadiths. To their credit, the movement we are speaking of has revived interest in hadith among Islamic scholars across the board. But it has also given rise to a bid‘a or ‘reprehensible innovation’; namely, that the emphasis on hadith and its ancillary disciplines to the exclusion of other Islamic sciences equally necessary to understanding the revelation, such as fiqh methodology, or the conditioning of hadith by general principles expressed in the Qur’an, has created a false dichotomy in many Muslims’ minds of either fiqh or hadith, where what is needed is fiqh or ‘understanding’ of hadith.
For example, a young man, after leading us at salat al-fajr prayer in Chicago a few months ago, told a latecomer to the first rak‘a (who had been finishing his sunna prayer when the iqama (call to commence) was made): “If the prescribed prayer begins, you don’t finish the sunna, but quit and join the group. Don’t listen to Abu Hanifa, or Malik, or Shafi‘i; the hadith is clear: La salata ba‘da al-iqama illa al-maktuba ‘There is no prayer after the iqama except the prescribed one.’”
Now, the dhahir or ‘literal meaning’ of the hadith was as he said, but the Imams of Shari‘a have not understood it this way for the very good reason that Allah says in Surat Muhammad of the Qur’an, “And do not nullify your works” (Qur’an 47:33), and to simply quit an act of worship—namely, the sunna rak‘as before fajr—is precisely to nullify one of one’s works.
Scholars rather understand the hadith to mean that one may not begin a sunna (or other nafila) prayer after the call to commence (iqama) is given. And this is very usual in human language: to use a general expression, in this case, “There is no prayer” to mean a specific part or aspect of it; namely, “There is no initiating a prayer.” Consider how the Qur’an says, “Ask the village we were in, and the caravan that we came with” (Qur’an 12:82), where the dhahir or literal meaning of village and caravan; namely, the assemblage of stone huts and the string of pack animals, are not things that can be asked—but rather a specific aspect or part of them is intended; that is, the people of the village and the people of the caravan, or rather, just some of them. There are many similar expressions in every language, “Put the tea on the stove,” for example, not meaning to heap the dried leaves on the stove, but rather to put them in a pot, add water, and light the stove, and so on. It is all the more surprising that anyone, Dhahiri or otherwise, could have ever imagined that Arabic, with its incomparable richness in figures of speech, could be so impoverished as to lack this basic expressive faculty.
In reference to modern re-formers of Islam, such literalism necessarily forces itself upon someone trained in hadith alone, as most of them are, when they try to deduce Shari‘a rulings without mastery of the interpretive tools needed to meet the challenges that face the mujtahid, for example, in joining between a number of hadiths on a particular question that seem to conflict, or the many other intellectual problems involved in doing ijtihad. This has made some contemporary Muslims seriously believe that it is a matter of either following “the Qur’an and sunna,” or one of the schools of themujtahid Imams.
This idea has only gained credibility today because so few Muslims understand what ijtihad is or how it is done. I believe this can be cured by familiarizing Muslims with concrete examples of how mujtahid Imams have derived particular Shari‘a rulings from the Qur’an and hadith. Such examples would first show the breadth of their hadith knowledge—Muhammad ibn ‘Ubayd Allah ibn al-Munadi, for example, who died in 272 years after the Hijra, heard Ahmad ibn Hanbal say that having memorized three hundred thousand hadiths was not enough to be a mujtahid—and second, would show the mujtahids’ mastery of the deductive principles that enabled them to join between all the primary texts.
Until this is done, the advocates of this movement will probably continue to follow the ijtihad of non-mujtahids (the sheikhs who inspire their confidence), under the catch phrase “Qur’an and sunna” just as if the real mujtahids were unfamiliar with these. The followers perhaps cannot be blamed, since “for someone who has never travelled, his mother is the only cook.” But I do blame the sheikhs who, whatever their motivations, write and speak as if they were the only cooks.
Finally, if the shortcomings of Dhahiri interpretation is plain enough in fiqh, in ‘aqida, it can amount to outright kufr, as when someone reads the Qur’anic verse,
“Today We forget you as you have forgotten this day of yours” (Qur’an 45:34),
and affirms that Allah forgets, which is an imperfection, and not permissible to affirm of Allah. Of this sort of literalism, Dawud al-Dhahiri and Ibn Hazm were innocent, for this is anthropomorphism, meaning to believe Allah has human attributes, and as such is beyond the pale of Islam.
Regarding the second question that I received in my letter, of whether Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was an anthropomorphist, this is something that has been asked since early times, particularly since someone forged an anthropormorphic tract called Kitab al-sunna [The book of the sunna] and put the name of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s son Abdullah on it. It was published in two volumes in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, by Ibn al-Qayyim Publishing House, in 1986.
I looked this book over with our teacher in hadith, Sheikh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, who had examined it one day, and said that at least 50 percent of the hadiths in it are weak or outright forgeries. He was dismayed how Muhammad al-Qahtani, the editor and commentator, could have been given a Ph.d. in Islamic faith (‘aqida) from Umm al-Qura University in Mecca for readying for publication a work as sadly wanting in authenticity as this.
Ostensibly a “hadith” work, it contains some of the most hard-core anthropomorphism found anywhere, such as the hadith on page 301 of the first volume that “when He Most Blessed and Exalted sits on the Kursi, a squeak is heard like the squeak of a new leather saddle”; or on page 294 of the same volume: “Allah wrote the Torah for Moses with His hand while leaning back on a rock, on tablets of pearl, and the screech of the quill could be heard. There was no veil between Him and him,” or the hadith on page 510 of the second volume: “The angels were created from the light of His two elbows and chest,” and so on.
The work also puts lies in the mouths of major Hanbali scholars and others, such as Kharija [ibn Mus‘ab al-Sarakhsi], who died 168 after the Hijra, and who on page 106 of volume one is quoted about istiwa’ (sometimes translated as being ‘established’ on the Throne), “Does istiwa’ mean anything except sitting?”—with a chain of transmission containing a liar (kadhdhab), an unidentifiable (majhul), plus the text, with its contradiction (mukhalafa) of Islamic faith (‘aqida). Or consider the no less than forty-nine pages of vilifications of Abu Hanifa and his school that it mendaciously ascribes to major Imams, such as relating on page 180 of the first volume that Ishaq ibn Mansur al-Kusaj, who died 251 years after the Hijra said, “I asked Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, ‘Is a man rewarded by Allah for loathing Abu Hanifa and his colleagues?’ and he said, ‘Yes, by Allah.’” To ascribe things so fatuous to a man of godfearingness (taqwa) like Ahmad, whose respect for other scholars is well attested to by chains of transmission that are rigorously authenticated (sahih), is one of the things by which this counterfeit work overreaches itself, and ends in cancelling any credibility that the name on it may have been intended to give it.
The ascription of this book to Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s son ‘Abdullah fails from a hadith point of view, since there are two unidentifiable (majhul) transmitters in the chain of ascription whose names are given as Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Simsar and Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Harawi, of whom no other trace exists anywhere, a fact that the editor and commentator, Muhammad al-Qahtani, on page 105 of the first volume tries to sweep under the rug by saying that the work was quoted by Ibn Taymiya and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya.
But the fact that such a work even exists may give one an idea of the kinds of things that have been circulated about Ahmad after his death, and the total lack of scrupulousness among a handful of anthropomorphists who tried literally everything to spread their innovations.
Another work with its share of anthropomorphisms and forgeries is Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s Ijtima‘ al-juyush al-Islamiyya [The meeting of the Islamic armies], published by ‘Awwad al-Mu‘tiq in Riyad, Saudi Arabia, in 1988, which on page 330 mentions as a hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), the words “Honor the cow, for it has not lifted its head to the sky since the [golden] calf was worshipped, out of shame (haya’) before Allah Mighty and Majestic,” a mawdu‘ hadith forgery apparently intended to encourage Muslims to believe that Allah is physically above the cow in the sky.
On page 97 of the same work, Ibn al-Qayyim also mentions the hadith of Bukhari, warning of the Antichrist (al-Masih al-Dajjal), who in the Last Days will come forth and claim to be God; of which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Allah has sent no prophet except that he warned his people of the One Eyed Liar, and that he is one-eyed—and that your Lord is not one-eyed—and that he shall have unbeliever (kafir) written between his two eyes” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 8.172). Ibn al-Qayyim comments, “The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) negated the attribute of one-eyedness [of Allah], which is proof that Allah Most High literally has two eyes.” Now, any primer on logical fallacies could have told Ibn al-Qayyim that the negation of a quality does not entail the affirmation of its contrary, an example of the “Black and White Fallacy” (for example, “If it is not white, it is therefore black,” “If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy,” and so on), though what he attempts to prove here does show the kind of anthropomorphism he is trying to promote. Forged chains of hadith transmission in Ibn al-Qayyim’s Ijtima‘ al-juyush al-Islamiyya are the subject of a forthcoming work by a Jordanian scholar, In Sha’ Allah, which those interested may read.
For all of these reasons, the utmost care must be used in ascribing tenets of faith to Ahmad ibn Hanbal or other Imams, especially when made by anthropomorphists whose concern is to create credibility for the ideas we are talking about. Many would-be revivers of these ideas today have been misled by their uncritical acceptance of the statements and chains of ascription found in the books of Ibn Taymiya and Ibn al-Qayyim, which they cite in print and rely on, and from whence they get the idea that these were the positions of the early Muslims and prophetic Companions or Sahaba.
Umbrage has unfortunately been taken at the biographies I appended to my translation Reliance of the Traveller about Ibn Taymiya and Ibn al-Qayyim, which detail the gulf between Ibn Taymiya’s innovations and the ‘aqida of the early Muslims, though anyone interested can read about it in any number of other books, one of the best of which has been published in Cairo in 1970 by Dar al-Nahda al-‘Arabiyya, and is called Ibn Taymiya laysa salafiyyan [Ibn Taymiya is not an early Muslim], by the Azhar professor of Islamic faith (‘aqida) Mansur Muhammad ‘Uways, which focuses primarily on tenets of belief. Another was written by a scholar who lived shortly after Ibn al-Qayyim in the same city, Taqi al-Din Abu Bakr al-Hisni, author of the famous Shafi‘i fiqh manual Kifaya al-akhyar [The sufficiency of the pious], whose book on Ibn Taymiya is called Daf‘ shubah man shabbaha wa tamarrada wa nasaba dhalika ila al-sayyid al-jalil al-Imam Ahmad [Rebuttal of the insinuations of him who makes anthropomorphisms and rebels, and ascribes that to the noble master Imam Ahmad], published in Cairo in 1931 by Dar Ihya’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyya. Whoever reads these and similar works with an open mind cannot fail to notice the hoax that has been perpetrated by moneyed quarters in our times, of equating the tenets of a small band of anthropomorphists to the Islamic belief (‘aqida) of Imam Ahmad and other scholars of the early Muslims (al-salaf).
The real (‘aqida) of Imam Ahmad was very simple, and consisted, mainly of tafwid, that is, to consign to Allah the meaning of the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent meanings’ of the Qur’an and hadith, accepting their words as they have come without saying or claiming to know how they are meant. His position is close to that of a number of other early scholars, who would not even countenance changing the Qur’anic order of the words or substituting words imagined to be synonyms. For them, the verse in Sura Taha,
“The All-merciful is ‘established’ (istawa) upon the Throne” (Qur’an 20:5)
does not enable one to say that “Allah is ‘established’ upon Throne,” or that “The All-merciful is upon the Throne” or anything else besides “The All-merciful is ‘established’ (istawa) upon the Throne.” Full stop. Their position is exemplified by Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna, who died 98 years after the Hijra, and who said, “The interpretation (tafsir) of everything with which Allah has described Himself in His book is to recite it and remain silent about it.” It also resembles the position of Imam Shafi‘i, who simply said: “I believe in what has come from Allah as it was intended by Allah, and I believe in what has come from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) as it was intended by the Messenger of Allah.”
It should be appreciated how far this school of tafwid or ‘consigning the knowledge of what is meant to Allah’ is from understanding the mutashabihator ‘unapparent in meaning,’ scriptural expressions about Allah as though they were meant literally (‘ala al-dhahir). The Hanbali Imam Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Khallal, who died in Hijra year 311, and who took his fiqh from Imam Ahmad’s students, relates in his book al-Sunna through his chain of narrators from Hanbal ibn Ishaq al-Shaybani, the son of the brother of Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s father, that
Imam Ahmad was asked about the hadiths mentioning “Allah’s descending,” “seeing Allah,” and “placing His foot on hell”; and the like, and Ahmad replied: “We believe in them and consider them true, without ‘how’ and without ‘meaning’ (bi la kayfa wa la ma‘na).”
And he said, when they asked him about Allah’s istiwa’ [translated above as established]: “He is ‘established’ upon the Throne (istawa ‘ala al-‘Arsh) however He wills and as He wills, without any limit or any description that be made by any describer (Daf‘ shubah al-tashbih, 28).
This demonstrates how far Imam Ahmad was from anthropomorphism, though a third example is even more explicit. The Imam and hadith master (hafiz) al-Bayhaqi relates in his Manaqib al-Imam Ahmad [The memorable actions of Imam Ahmad], through his chain of narrators that:
Ahmad condemned those who said Allah was a “body,” saying, “The names of things are taken from the Shari‘a and the Arabic language. The language’s possessors have used this word [body] for something that has height, breadth, thickness, construction, form, and composition, while Allah Most High is beyond all of that, and may not be termed a “body” because of being beyond any meaning of embodiedness. This has not been conveyed by the Shari‘a, and so is rebutted” (al-Barahin al-sati‘a, 164).
These examples provide an accurate idea of Ahmad’s ‘Aqida, as conveyed to us by the hadith masters (huffaz) of the Umma, who have distinguished the true reports from the spurious attributions of the anthropomorphists’ opinions to their Imam, both early and late. But it is perhaps even more instructive, in view of the recrudescence of these ideas today, to look at an earlier work against Hanbali anthropomorphists about this bid‘a, for the light this literature sheds upon the science of textual interpretation, and I will conclude my talk tonight to it.
As you may know, the true architect of the Hanbali madhhab was not actually Imam Ahmad, who did not like to see any of his positions written down, but rather these were conveyed orally by various students at different times, one reason there are often a number of different narratives from him on legal questions. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the real founder of the Hanbali madhhab was the Imam and hadith master (hafiz) ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, who died 597 years after the Hijra, and who recorded all the narratives from Imam Ahmad, distinguished the well-authenticated from the poorly-authenticated, and organized them into a coherent body of fiqh jurisprudence.
Ibn al-Jawzi—who is not to be confused with Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyya—took the question of people associating anthropomorphism with Hanbalism so seriously that he wrote a book, Daf‘ shubah al-tashbih bi akaff al-tanzih [Rebuttal of the insinuations of anthropomorphism at the hands of transcendence], refuting this heresy and exonerating his Imam of any association with it.
One of the most significant points he makes in this work is the principle that al-Idafatu la tufidu al-sifa, meaning that an ascriptive construction, called in Arabic an idafa, ‘the x of the y’ or in other words, ‘y’s x’ does not establish that ‘x is an attribute of y.’ This is important because the anthropomorphists of his day, as well as Ibn Taymiyya in the seventh century after the Hijra, used many ascriptive constructions (idafa) that appear in hadiths and Qur’anic verses as proof that Allah had “attributes” that bolstered their conceptions of Him.
To clarify with examples, you are doubtless familiar with the Qur’anic verse in Surat al-Fath of the Sahaba swearing a fealty pact (bay‘a) to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), that says,
“Allah’s hand is above their hands” (Qur’an 48:10).
Here, with the words yad Allahi ‘the hand of Allah,’ Ibn al-Jawzi’s principle means that we are not entitled to affirm, on the basis of the Arabic wording alone, that “Allah has a hand” as an attribute (sifa) of His entity. It could be that this Arabic expression is simply meant to emphasize thetremendousness of the offense of breaking this pact, as some scholars state, for the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) placed his hand on top of the Sahaba’s, and the wording could be a figure of speech emphasizing Allah’s backing of this action; and classical Arabic abounds in such figures of speech. The Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace) used hand as a figure of speech in the rigorously authenticated (sahih) hadith, Al-Muslimu man salima l-Muslimuna min lisanihi wa yadih “The Muslim is he who the Muslims are safe from his tongue and his hand,” where handmeans anything within his power to do to them, whether with his hand, his foot, or by any other means. As Imam al-Ghazali says of the word hand:
One should realize that hand may mean two different things. The first is the primary lexical sense; namely, the bodily member composed of flesh, bone, and nervous tissue. Now, flesh, bone, and nervous tissue make up a specific body with specific attributes; meaning, by body, something of an amount (with height, width, depth) that prevents anything else from occupying wherever it is, until it is moved from that place.
Or [secondly] the word may be used figuratively, in another sense with no relation to that of a body at all: as when one says, “The city is in the leader’s hands,” the meaning of which is well understood, even if the leader’s hands are missing, for example (al-Ghazali, Iljam al-‘awam ‘an ‘ilm al-kalam [Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1406/1985], 55).
We have already mentioned the school of thought of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Shafi‘i, and other early Muslims of understanding the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent in meaning,’ scriptural expressions about Allah by tafwid or ‘consigning the knowledge of what is meant to Allah.’ But secondly, we have seen from the example of the hand, that because of the figurative richness the Arabic language, and also to protect against the danger of anthropomorphism, many Muslim scholars were able to explain certain of the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent in meaning’ expressions in Qur’anic verses and hadiths by ta’wil, or ‘figuratively.’
This naturally drew the criticism of neo-Hanbalis, at their forefront Ibn Taymiya and Ibn al-Qayyim, as it still does of today’s “reformers” of Islam, who echo these two’s arguments that figurative interpretation (ta’wil) was a reprehensible departure (bid‘a) by Ash‘aris and others from the way of the early Muslims (salaf); and who call for a “return to the sunna,” that is, to anthropomorphic literalism. Now, the obvious question in the face of such “reforms” is whether literalism is really identical with pristine Islamic faith (‘aqida). Or rather did figurative interpretation (ta’wil) exist among thesalaf? We will answer this question with actual examples of mutashabihat or ‘unapparent in meaning’ Qur’anic verses and hadiths, and examine how the earliest scholars interpreted them:
1. Forgetting. We have mentioned above the Qur’anic verse,
“Today We forget you as you have forgotten this day of yours” (Qur’an 45:34),
which the early Muslims used to interpret figuratively, as reported by a scholar who was himself an early Muslim (salafi) and indeed, the sheikh of the early Muslims in Qur’anic exegesis, the hadith master (hafiz) Ibn Jarir al-Tabari who died 310 years after the Hijra, and who explains the above verse as meaning: “‘This day, Resurrection Day, We shall forget them,’ so as to say, ‘We shall abandon them to their punishment.’” Now, this is preciselyta’wil, or interpretation in other than the verse’s ostensive sense. Al-Tabari ascribes this interpretation, through his chains of transmission, to the Companion (Sahabi) Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be well pleased with him) as well as to Mujahid, Ibn ‘Abbas’s main student in Qur’anic exegesis (Jami‘ al-bayan, 8.202).
2. Hands. In the verse,
“And the sky We built with hands; verily We outspread [it]” (Qur’an 51:47),
al-Tabari ascribes the figurative explanation (ta’wil) of with hands as meaning “with power (bi quwwa)” through five chains of transmission to Ibn ‘Abbas, who died 68 years after the Hijra, Mujahid who died 104 years after the Hijra, Qatada [ibn Da‘ama] who died 118 years after the Hijra, Mansur [ibn Zadhan al-Thaqafi] who died 131 years after the Hijra, and Sufyan al-Thawri who died 161 years after the Hijra (Jami‘ al-bayan, 27.7–8). I mention these dates to show just how early they were.
3. Shin. Of the Qur’anic verse,
“On a day when shin shall be exposed, they shall be ordered to prostrate, but be unable” (Qur’an 68:42),
al-Tabari says, “A number of the exegetes of the Companions (Sahaba) and their students (tabi‘in) held that it [a day when shin shall be exposed] means that a dire matter (amrun shadid) shall be disclosed” (Jami‘ al-bayan, 29.38)—the shin’s association with direness being that it was customary for Arab warriors fighting in the desert to ready themselves to move fast and hard through the sand in the thick of the fight by lifting the hems of their garments above the shin. This was apparently lost upon later anthropomorphists, who said the verse proved ‘Allah has a shin,’ or, according to others, ‘two shins, since one would be unbecoming.’ Al-Tabari also relates from Muhammad ibn ‘Ubayd al-Muharibi, who relates from Ibn al-Mubarak, from Usama ibn Zayd, from ‘Ikrima, from Ibn ‘Abbas that shin in the above verse means “a day of war and direness (harbin wa shidda)” (ibid., 29.38). All of these narrators are those of the sahih or rigorously authenticated collections except Usama ibn Zayd, whose hadiths are hasan or ‘well authenticated.’
4. Laughter. Of the hadith related in Sahih al-Bukhari from Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
Allah Most High laughs about two men, one of whom kills the other, but both of whom enter paradise: the one fights in the path of Allah and is killed, and afterwards Allah forgives the killer, and then he fights in the path of Allah and is martyred,
the hadith master al-Bayhaqi records that the scribe of Bukhari [Muhammad ibn Yusuf] al-Farabri related that Imam al-Bukhari said, “The meaning of laughter in it is mercy” (Kitab al-asma’ wa al-sifat, 298).
5. Coming. The hadith master (hafiz) Ibn Kathir reports that Imam al-Bayhaqi related from al-Hakim from Abu ‘Amr ibn al-Sammak, from Hanbal, the son of the brother of Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s father, that
Ahmad ibn Hanbal figuratively interpreted the word of Allah Most High,
“And your Lord shall come . . .” (Qur’an 89:22),
as meaning “His recompense (thawab) shall come.”
Al-Bayhaqi said, “This chain of narrators has absolutely nothing wrong in it” (al-Bidaya wa al-nihaya,10.342). In other words, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, like the Companions (Sahaba) and other early Muslims mentioned above, sometimes also gave figurative interpretations (ta’wil) to scriptural expressions that might otherwise have been misinterpreted anthropomorphically. This was also the way of Abul Hasan al-Ash‘ari, founder of the Ash‘ari school of Islamic belief, who had two views about the mutashabihat, the first being tafwid, or ‘consigning the knowledge of what is meant to Allah,’ and the second being ta’wil or ‘figurative interpretation’ when needed to avoid the suggestion of the anthropomorphism that is explicitly rejected by the Qur’an.
In light of the examples quoted above about such words about Allah as ‘forgetting,’ ‘hands,’ ‘shin,’ ‘laughter,’ ‘coming,’ and so forth, it is plain that Muslims scholars of ‘Aqida, whether of the Ash‘ari school or any other, did not originate ta’wil or figurative interpretation, but rather it had been with Muslims from the beginning, because that was the nature of the Arabic language. And if the above figures are not the salaf or ‘early Muslims,’ who are? Ibn Taymiya and Ibn al-Qayyim, who died more than seven centuries after the Hijra?
In view of the foregoing examples of figurative interpretation by early Muslims, we have to ask, Whose ‘early Islam’ would today’s reformers of ‘Aqida have us return to? Imam Abu Hanifa first noted, “Two depraved opinions have reached us from East, those of Jahm [ibn Safwan], the nullifier of the divine attributes, and those of Muqatil [ibn Sulayman al-Balkhi, the likener of Allah to His creation” (Siyar a‘lam al-nubala,’ 7.202).
These are not an either-or for Muslims. Jahm’s brand of Mu‘tazilism has been dead for over a thousand years, while anthropomorphic literalism is a heresy that in previous centuries was confined to a handful of sects like the Hanbalis addressed by Imam Ibn al-Jawzi in his Daf‘ shubah al-tashbih, or like the forgers of Kitab al-sunna who ascribed it to Imam Ahmad’s son ‘Abdullah, or like the Karramiyya, an early sect who believed Allah to be a corporeal entity “sitting in person on His Throne.”
As for Islamic orthodoxy, the Imam of Ahl al-Sunna in tenets of faith, ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi says in his ‘aqida manual Usul al-din [The fundamentals of the religion]:
Anyone who considers his Lord to resemble the form of a person [. . . ] is only worshipping a person like himself. As for the permissibility of eating the meat he slaughters or of marriage with him, his ruling is that of an idol-worshipper.
. . . Regarding the anthropomorphists of Khurasan, of the Karramiyya, it is obligatory to consider them unbelievers because they affirm that Allah has a physical limit and boundary from underneath, from whence He is contact with His Throne (al-Baghdadi, Usul al-din [Istanbul: Matba‘a al-Dawla, 1346/1929], 337).
In previous Islamic centuries, someone who worshipped a god who ‘sits,’ moves about, and so forth, was considered to be in serious trouble in his faith (‘aqida). Our question should be: If anthropomorphic literalism were an acceptable Islamic school of thought, why was it counted among heresies and rejected for the first seven centuries of Islam that preceded Ibn Taymiya and his student Ibn al-Qayyim, and condemned by the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna thereafter?
To summarize everything I have said tonight, we have seen three ways of understanding the mutashabihat, or ‘unapparent in meaning’ verses and hadiths: tafwid, ‘consigning the knowledge of what is meant to Allah,’ ta’wil, ‘figurative interpretation within the parameters of classical Arabic usage,’ and lastly tashbih, or ‘anthropomorphic literalism.’
We saw that the way of tafwid or ‘consigning the knowledge of what is meant to Allah,’ was the way of Shafi‘i, Ahmad, and many of the early Muslims. A second interpretive possibility, the way of ta’wil, or ‘figurative interpretation,’ was also done by the Companions (Sahaba) and many other early Muslims as reported above. In classical scholarship, both have been considered Islamic, and both seem needed, though tafwid is superior where it does not lead to confusion about Allah’s transcendence beyond the attributes of created things, in accordance with the Qur’anic verse,
“There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (Qur’an 42:11).
As for anthropomorphism, it is clear from this verse and from the entire history of the Umma, that it is not an Islamic school of thought, and never has been. In all times and places, Islam has invited non-Muslims to faith in the Incomparable Reality called Allah; not making man a god, and not making God a man.
Wa jazakum Allah khayran, wa l-hamdu li Llahi Rabbil ‘Alamin.
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
This is the Text of a lecture given at Islamic Cultural Center (Regents Park Mosque) 28th January 1995.
The word salafi or “early Muslim” in traditional Islamic scholarship means someone who died within the first four hundred years after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), including scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Malik, Shafi’i, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Anyone who died after this is one of the khalaf or “latter-day Muslims”.
The term “Salafi” was revived as a slogan and movement, among latter-day Muslims, by the followers of Muhammad Abduh (the student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) some thirteen centuries after the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), approximately a hundred years ago. Like similar movements that have historically appeared in Islam, its basic claim was that the religion had not been properly understood by anyone since the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the early Muslims–and themselves.
In terms of ideals, the movement advocated a return to a shari’a-minded orthodoxy that would purify Islam from unwarranted accretions, the criteria for judging which would be the Qur’an and hadith. Now, these ideals are noble, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with their importance. The only points of disagreement are how these objectives are to be defined, and how the program is to be carried out. It is difficult in a few words to properly deal with all the aspects of the movement and the issues involved, but I hope to publish a fuller treatment later this year, insha’Allah, in a collection of essays called “The Re-Formers of Islam“.
As for its validity, one may note that the Salafi approach is an interpretation of the texts of the Qur’an and sunna, or rather a body of interpretation, and as such, those who advance its claims are subject to the same rigorous criteria of the Islamic sciences as anyone else who makes interpretive claims about the Qur’an and sunna; namely, they must show:
1. that their interpretations are acceptable in terms of Arabic language;
2. that they have exhaustive mastery of all the primary texts that relate to each question, and
3. that they have full familiarity of the methodology of usul al-fiqh or “fundamentals of jurisprudence” needed to comprehensively join between all the primary texts.
Only when one has these qualifications can one legitimately produce a valid interpretive claim about the texts, which is called ijtihad or “deduction of shari’a” from the primary sources. Without these qualifications, the most one can legitimately claim is to reproduce such an interpretive claim from someone who definitely has these qualifications; namely, one of those unanimously recognized by the Umma as such since the times of the true salaf, at their forefront the mujtahid Imams of the four madhhabs or “schools of jurisprudence”.
As for scholars today who do not have the qualifications of a mujtahid, it is not clear to me why they should be considered mujtahids by default, such as when it is said that someone is “the greatest living scholar of the sunna” any more than we could qualify a school-child on the playground as a physicist by saying, “He is the greatest physicist on the playground”. Claims to Islamic knowledge do not come about by default. Slogans about “following the Qur’an and sunna” sound good in theory, but in practice it comes down to a question of scholarship, and who will sort out for the Muslim the thousands of shari’a questions that arise in his life. One eventually realizes that one has to choose between following the ijtihad of a real mujtahid, or the ijtihad of some or another “movement leader”, whose qualifications may simply be a matter of reputation, something which is often made and circulated among people without a grasp of the issues.
What comes to many peoples minds these days when one says “Salafis” is bearded young men arguing about din. The basic hope of these youthful reformers seems to be that argument and conflict will eventually wear down any resistance or disagreement to their positions, which will thus result in purifying Islam. Here, I think education, on all sides, could do much to improve the situation.
The reality of the case is that the mujtahid Imams, those whose task it was to deduce the Islamic shari’a from the Qur’an and hadith, were in agreement about most rulings; while those they disagreed about, they had good reason to, whether because the Arabic could be understood in more than one way, or because the particular Qur’an or hadith text admitted of qualifications given in other texts (some of them acceptable for reasons of legal methodology to one mujtahid but not another), and so forth.
Because of the lack of hard information in English, the legitimacy of scholarly difference on shari’a rulings is often lost sight of among Muslims in the West. For example, the work Fiqh al-sunna by the author Sayyid Sabiq, recently translated into English, presents hadith evidences for rulings corresponding to about 95 percent of those of the Shafi’i school. Which is a welcome contribution, but by no means a “final word” about these rulings, for each of the four schools has a large literature of hadith evidences, and not just the Shafi’i school reflected by Sabiq’s work. The Maliki school has the Mudawwana of Imam Malik, for example, and the Hanafi school has the Sharh ma’ani al-athar [Explanation of meanings of hadith] and Sharh mushkil al-athar [Explanation of problematic hadiths], both by the great hadith Imam Abu Jafar al-Tahawi, the latter work of which has recently been published in sixteen volumes by Mu’assasa al-Risala in Beirut. Whoever has not read these and does not know what is in them is condemned to be ignorant of the hadith evidence for a great many Hanafi positions.
What I am trying to say is that there is a large fictional element involved when someone comes to the Muslims and says, “No one has understood Islam properly except the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and early Muslims, and our sheikh”. This is not valid, for the enduring works of first-rank Imams of hadith, jurisprudence, Qur’anic exegesis, and other shari’a disciplines impose upon Muslims the obligation to know and understand their work, in the same way that serious comprehension of any other scholarly field obliges one to have studied the works of its major scholars who have dealt with its issues and solved its questions. Without such study, one is doomed to repeat mistakes already made and rebutted in the past.
Most of us have acquaintances among this Umma who hardly acknowledge another scholar on the face of the earth besides the Imam of their madhhab, the Sheikh of their Islam, or some contemporary scholar or other. And this sort of enthusiasm is understandable, even acceptable (at a human level) in a non-scholar. But only to the degree that it does not become ta’assub or bigotry, meaning that one believes one may put down Muslims who follow other qualified scholars. At that point it is haram, because it is part of the sectarianism (tafarruq) among Muslims that Islam condemns.
When one gains Islamic knowledge and puts fiction aside, one sees that superlatives about particular scholars such as “the greatest” are untenable; that each of the four schools of classical Islamic jurisprudence has had many many luminaries. To imagine that all preceding scholarship should be evaluated in terms of this or that “Great Reformer” is to ready oneself for a big letdown, because intellectually it cannot be supported. I remember once hearing a law student at the University of Chicago say: “I’m not saying that Chicago has everything. Its just that no place else has anything.” Nothing justifies transposing this kind of attitude onto our scholarly resources in Islam, whether it is called “Islamic Movement”, “Salafism”, or something else, and the sooner we leave it behind, the better it will be for our Islamic scholarship, our sense of reality, and for our din.
©Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
Our teacher in hadith, Sheikh Shu‘ayb al-Arna’ut, tells my wife and me that Sheikh Nasir al-Albani learned his hadith knowledge from books and manuscripts in the Dhahiriyya Library in Damascus, as well as his long years working on books of hadith. He did not get any significant share of his knowledge from living hadith scholars, according to Sheikh Shu‘ayb, for the very good reason that there wasn’t anyone in Damascus at the time who knew much about hadith, and he didn’t travel anywhere else to learn. I have heard Salafis say that he has an ijaza from one person in Syria, but it could only be (according to Sheikh Shu‘ayb) from someone with far less knowledge than himself
I believe Sheikh Shu‘ayb about this, because his family, like Sheikh Nasir’s, were of the Albanians who emmigrated to Damascus at the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and they all know each other rather intimately. The impression one gets is that Sheikh Nasir’s father, Sheikh Nuh al-Albani, was so strict a Hanafi that he produced something of an over-reaction in Sheikh Nasir not only against Abu Hanifa and his madhhab, but against traditional Islamic sheikhs as well. According to Sheikh Shu‘ayb, Sheikh Nasir studied tajwid or ‘Qur’anic recitation’ and perhaps the Hanafi fiqh primer Maraqi al-falah [The ascents to success] with his father Sheikh Nuh al-Albani, and possibly other lessons in Hanafi fiqh from Sheikh Muhammad Sa‘id al-Burhani, who taught in Tawba Mosque, in the quarter of the Turks on the side of Mount Qasiyun, near Sheikh Nasir’s father’s shop. Sheikh Nasir subsequently found that his time could be more profitably spent with books and manuscripts at the Dhahiriyya Library and in reading works to students, and he did not attend anyone else’s lessons
As for his ijaza or ‘warrant of learning,’ Sheikh Shu‘ayb tells us that it came when a hadith scholar from Aleppo, Sheikh Raghib al-Tabbakh, was visiting the Dhahiriyya Library in Damascus, and Sheikh Nasir was pointed out to him as a promising student of hadith. They met and spoke, the sheikh authorized him “in all the chains of transmission that I have been authorized to relate”—that is to say, a general ijaza, though Sheikh Nasir did not attend the lessons of the sheikh or read books of hadith with him. Sheikh Raghib al-Tabbakh had chains of sheikhs reaching back to the main hadith works, such as Sahih al-Bukhari, the Sunan of Abu Dawud, and hence had a contiguous chain back to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) for these books. But this was an authorization (ijaza) of tabarruk, or ‘for the blessing of it,’ not a ‘warrant of learning’—for Sheikh Nasir did not go to Aleppo to learn from him, and he did not come to Damascus to teach him
This type of authorization (ijaza), that of tabarruk, is a practice of some traditional scholars: to give an authorization in order to encourage a student whom they have met and like, whom they find knowledgeable, or hope will become a scholar. The reason I know of such ijazas is because I have one, from the Meccan hadith scholar Sheikh Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki, which authorizes me to relate “all the chains of transmission that I [Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki] have been authorized to relate by my sheikhs,” including chains of transmission reaching back to the hadith Imams Malik, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i, Ibn Majah (Mecca: Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki, 1412/1992). Though my name is on the authorization, and it is signed by the sheikh, it does not make me a hadith scholar like he is, because aside from some of his public lessons, my hadith knowledge is not from him but from Sheikh Shu‘ayb, whom I have actually studied with. Rather, Sheikh al-Maliki knows my sheikhs in Damascus, that I am the translator of ‘Umdat al-salik [Reliance of the traveller] in Shafi‘i fiqh, that we have known each other for some time, and he approves of my way. The scholarly value of such ijazas is merely to establish that we have met.
As for Ibn Baz, I do not know who he studied with, though from his broadcasts on the radio, I would be most surprised if he had ever studied with someone uncommitted to what he and his colleagues simply call the da‘wa or ‘propagation,’ that is, of the revisions of Islam advocated by Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab.
As it is unlawful to say anything disliked about a Muslim except for an interest countenanced by Sacred Law, the following discussion will not exceed (a) whether these revisions constitute a sectarian emphasis differing from traditional Islam; and (b) if sectarian, how this influences issues that Sheikh Nasir and Ibn Baz might otherwise be believed about
I mention this to you, because, as you may know, some people take offense at the word Wahhabi—and with good reason, if we mean to suggest that they do not love Islam, or are not trying to practice it to the best of their understanding and ability. I feel this is true of virtually all separatist groups, from the beginning of Islam. Provided they do not negate something necessarily known to be of the religion (necessarily known meaning that which any Muslim would know about if asked), all these groups may be said to have tried to understand and apply the Qur’an and the sunna, even though their understanding has brought them to a mistaken conclusion. This is why Shari‘a manuals say things like:
They [those who rise in insurrection against the caliph] are subject to Islamic laws (because they have not committed an act that puts them outside of Islam that they should be considered non-Muslims. Nor are they considered morally corrupt (fasiq), for rebels is not a perjorative term, but rather they merely have a mistaken understanding), and the decisions of their Islamic judge are considered legally effective (provided he does not declare the lives of upright Muslims to be justly forfeitable) if they are such as would be effective if made by our own judge (Reliance of the Traveller, 594).
The fact that such people may consider other Muslims not of their sect to be non-Muslims—the hallmark of heterodox (batil) sects of all times and places—does not change the above rulings, and the caliph or his representative may use only enough force to end the strife. We find in the Hashiya radd al-muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-mukhtar sharh Tanwir al-absar [(Ibn ‘Abidin’s) Commentary: the guide of the perplexed, upon (Haskafi’s) The choice pearls, an exegesis of (Tumurtashi’s) Illumination of eyes], whose every word is considered a decisive evidence (nass) in the Hanafi school:
(al-Haskafi:) Those who revolt against obedience to the imam [meaning the caliph or his representative] are of three types:
(1) highwaymen, and their ruling is known [n: i.e. the death penalty, if they do not give themselves up before they are caught];
(2) rebels (bughat) against the caliphate, whose ruling will be discussed below [n: i.e. they are fought with as much force as needed to make them desist, as in theReliance above];
(3) and kharijites, meaning men with military force who revolt against the imam because of a mistaken scriptural interpretation (ta’wil), believing that he is upon a falsehood of unbelief (kufr) or disobedience to Allah (ma‘siya) that necessitates their fighting him, according to their mistaken scriptural interpretation, and who consider it lawful to take our lives, our property, and take our women as slaves, and who consider the Companions of our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be disbelievers. Their ruling is the same as that of rebels (bughat) against the caliphate [n: (2) above] by unanimous consensus of fiqh scholars.
(Ibn ‘Abidin:) His words and who consider the Companions of our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) to be disbelievers are not a condition for someone to be a kharijite, but rather are a mere clarification of what those who revolted against ‘Ali (Allah Most High be well pleased with him) in fact did. Otherwise, it is enough to be convinced of the unbelief of those they fight against, as happened in our own times with the followers of [Muhammad ibn] ‘Abd al-Wahhab, who came out of the Najd in revolt, and took over the sanctuaries of Mecca and Medina. They followed the Hanbali madhhab, but believed that they were the Muslims, and that those who believed differently than they did were polytheists (mushrikin). On this basis, they held it lawful to kill Sunni Muslims (Ahl al-Sunna) and their religious scholars, until Allah Most High dispelled their forces, and the armies of the Muslims attacked their strongholds and subdued them in 1233 A.H.  (Hashiya radd al-muhtar, 4.262).
The Shafi‘i mufti of Mecca, Ahmad ibn Zayni Dahlan (d. 1304/1886), a historian as well as a scholar, recorded the story of the Wahhabis’ takeover of the holy places in a number of books, one of which, his two-volume history al-Futuhat al-Islamiyya [The Islamic conquests], gives the following description of what became perhaps their most famous, and certainly their most lethal ijtihad; namely, that the sunna of tawassul or ‘supplicating Allah through an intermediary’ was shirk:
Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab claimed that his aim in this school of thought he innovated was to make sincere the belief in Allah’s unity (tawhid), and to abjure worshipping false gods (shirk), and that Muslims had been worshipping false gods for six hundred years, and that he had revived their religion for them. He interpreted Qur’anic verses revealed about worshippers of false gods (mushrikin) as referring to those who worship Allah alone, such as the word of Allah Most High,
“And who is further astray than he who supplicates apart from Allah someone who will not answer him until Resurrection Day, while they are oblivious to their supplication” (Qur’an 46:5),
and His word,
“Do not supplicate besides Allah what will not benefit or harm you” (Qur’an 10:106).
There are many such verses in the Qur’an , so Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab said that whoever seeks the help of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) or others, of the prophets, the friends of Allah (awliya’), or the righteous; or calls on him or asks him to intercede—was like such worshippers of false gods, and was referred to by the generality of such verses. He believed the same thing about visiting the tomb of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and all others of the prophets, friends of Allah, or the righteous. He said about the word of Allah Most High, who quotes the idolators about worshipping their idols:
“We only worship them that they may bring us the nearer to Allah” (Qur’an 39:3)
that people who pray to Allah by means of an intermediary (tawassul) are like these worshippers of false gods who said, “We only worship them that they may bring us the nearer to Allah.” He said that the worshippers of false gods didn’t believe their idols created anything, but rather that the Creator was Allah Most High, as shown by Allah’s word
“And if you ask them who created them, they will say, ‘Allah’” (Qur’an 43:87),
“And if you ask them who created the heavens and earth, they will say, ‘Allah’” (Qur’an 31:25),
such that Allah did not judge them to have committed unbelief and worshipping false gods except for their saying, “that they may bring us all the nearer to Allah,” and in consequence, these people [Muslims who make tawassul] are like them.
And this is simply wrong, for Muslim believers do not take the prophets (upon whom be peace) or the friends of Allah as gods or make them co-partners (shuraka’) with Allah, but rather, they believe that they are created slaves of Allah and do not deserve any worship
As for the worshippers of false gods whom these Qur’anic verses were revealed about, they believed that their idols were gods, and reverenced them with the reverence of godhood, even if they acknowledged that they did not create anything—while believers do not hold that the prophets orawliya’ deserve worship or godhood, and do not reverence them with the reverence due solely to the Divine. Instead, they believe that they are the servants of Allah, and His beloved ones, whom He has elected and chosen, and through His blessings to them (baraka), He shows mercy towards His slaves. Their intention in seeking blessings through them is the mercy of Allah Most High, and much attests to the validity of this in the Qur’an and sunna.
The creed of the Muslims is that the Creator—He Who Afflicts, He Who Benefits, He who deserves worship—is Allah alone. They do not believe that anyone else has any effect whatsoever; and they believe that the prophets and awliya’ do not create anything, do not possess any ability to benefit or harm, but merely that through Allah’s grace to them (baraka), He shows mercy towards created servants.
It was the belief of the worshippers of false gods that their idols deserved worship and godhood that made them guilty of associating co-partners with Allah (shirk), not merely their saying, “We only worship them that they may bring us the nearer to Allah.” For it was only when it was proved to them that their idols did not deserve to be worshipped—as they believed they did—that they said by way of excuse, “We only worship them that they may bring us nearer to Allah.”
So how should Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers consider believers who acknowledge the unity of tawhid to be comparable to those worshippers of false gods who believed in the godhood of their idols? For all the above-mentioned verses and those like them specifically refer tonon-Muslims and worshippers of false gods, while not a single believer enters into them.
Bukhari relates from ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (Allah be well pleased with father and son) who related from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) that in [foretelling the] description of the Kharijites, he said that they would “proceed to Qur’anic verses revealed about non-Muslims, and interpret them as if they referred to believers.”
And in another hadith, also from Ibn ‘Umar, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The thing I fear most for my Umma is a man who interprets the Qur’an taking it out of its context”; both of these hadiths being applicable to this sect
If believers’ praying to Allah through an intermediary (tawassul) and the like were worshipping false gods, it wouldn’t have been done first by the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace), his Companions, and the Muslim Umma, from first to last (Dahlan, al-Futuhat al-Islamiyya[Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tijariyya al-Kubra, 1354/1935], 2.258–59).
This passage shows us why the Wahhabis’ were considered like Kharijites, men who, as al-Haskafi notes above, revolted against the imam “because of a mistaken scriptural interpretation (ta’wil),” believing that he was “upon a falsehood of unbelief (kufr) or disobedience to Allah (ma‘siya) that necessitates their fighting him.”
The main difficulty with their theory that tawassul amounted to worshipping false gods was the fact that it was taught to the Umma by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)—something you have asked about and will be discussed in question (9) below—which was perhaps why no one in the previous eleven centuries of Islamic scholarship before Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab had ever noticed that it was unbelief
In this respect, it is fortunate that Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab didn’t get his hands on his own Imam, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who enjoined his most outstanding student, Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Marrudhi (d. 275/888) to make tawassul through the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Al-Marrudhi relates the tawassul of the hadith of the Companion (Sahabi) ‘Uthman ibn Hunayf containing the words, “O Allah, verily, I turn to You through Your prophet Muhammad, the Prophet of Mercy (Allah bless him and give him peace); O Muhammad, verily I turn through you to my Lord, that He may fulfill my need [emphasis the translator’s]”—which al-Marrudhi relates from Ahmad ibn Hanbal in the “Chapter on Supplications” of his Kitab al-mansak [Book of Hajj and ‘Umra]. This is mentioned by Ibn Taymiya (Qa‘ida jalila fi al-tawassul wa al-wasila [N.d. Reprint. Beirut: al-Maktaba al-‘Ilmiyya, n.d.], 98), whom I tend to believe on it, since it is something whose sunna character he tries to disprove his Imam about, though without conceiving it to be idolatry (shirk) or unbelief (kufr), as the Wahhabis did more than four centuries later.
Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab is gone today, together with the fatwas he gave that resulted in the attacks on Mecca, Ta’if, and Medina beginning in 1205/1790 by “reformers” who believed that the lives, women, and money of ordinary Sunni Muslims who did not feel that tawassul was shirkcould be lawfully taken by those who did. There are no more Wahhabis in this sense. As King Fahd (who, on the whole, has had a positive, moderating influence) said a few years ago in a speech, “We are not Wahhabis, we are Hanbalis.”
Yet if the “revolt” (in al-Haskafi’s words) is gone, the “mistaken scriptural interpretation” remains; and its intellectual influence is still strong on all aspects of the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia. Many of the questions you have asked deal specifically with ideas aggressively packaged and exported to other Muslim countries under the aegis of Ibn Baz, and given currency by the support of Sheikh Nasir and his followers
These are revisions to traditional Islam, and if many ordinary Muslims have forgotten this, it is due to the extent to which they have succeeded, abetted by heavy subsidizing and the present lack of traditional scholars (‘ulama) to teach Muslims the truth. Yet one cannot but feel they mark a transient phase, for Allah has promised to protect the din, and if the rebuttals of classical scholars were heard, these innovations would melt away. In the meantime, “reforms” have been slated for all three pillars of the din, Islam (Shari‘a), Iman (‘Aqida), and Ihsan (Tariqa), and can perhaps be best summarized under these headings:
(1) Islam (Shari‘a): To their credit, the movement we are speaking of has revived interest in hadith among Islamic scholars across the board. But the emphasis on hadith and its ancillary disciplines to the exclusion of other Islamic sciences equally essential to understanding the revelation, such as fiqh methodology, or the conditioning of hadith by general principles expressed in the Qur’an , has created the false dichotomy in many Muslims’ minds of either fiqh or hadith. And this is an intellectual bid‘a of the most ominous sort for Islam, which has never accepted ijtihad from non-mujtahids, or anything short of the fiqh (literally “understanding subtle points”) of hadith.
One sad outcome of dichotomizing fiqh and hadith is the revival of Dhahiri thought we have talked about above, with its “fallacy of misplaced literalism” in interpreting primary scriptural texts. Such literalism necessarily forces itself upon someone trained in hadith alone (like Sheikh Nasir) if he tries to deduce Shari‘a rulings without mastery of the interpretive tools needed to meet the challenges that face the mujtahid, for example, in joining between a number of hadiths on a particular question that seem to conflict, or the many other intellectual problems involved in doing ijtihad. This strident Dhahirism—especially among Sheikh Nasir’s followers—has made some contemporary Muslims seriously believe that it is a matter of either following “the Qur’an and sunna,” or one of the schools of the mujtahid Imams
Now, the big lie has only gained credibility today because so few Muslims understand what ijtihad is or how it is done. I believe this can be cured by familiarizing Muslims with concrete examples of how mujtahid Imams derive particular Shari‘a rulings from the Qur’an and hadith, examples which first, demonstrate the breadth of their hadith knowledge (Muhammad ibn ‘Ubayd Allah ibn al-Munadi (d. 272/886) relates that Ahmad ibn Hanbal said that having memorized three hundred thousand hadiths was not enough to be a mujtahid), and second, demonstrate their mastery of the deductive principles that enable one to join between all the primary texts. Until this is done, the advocates of this movement will probably continue to follow the ijtihad of non-mujtahids (the sheikhs who inspire their confidence), under the catch phrase “Qur’an and sunna” just as if the realmujtahids were unfamiliar with the obligation of following these. The followers perhaps cannot be blamed, since “for someone who has never travelled, his mother is the only cook.” But I do blame the sheikhs who, whatever their motivations, write and speak as if they were the only cooks
(2) Iman (‘Aqida): The uncritical acceptance and subsidizing of Ibn Taymiya’s and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya’s opinions in ‘aqida has had a number of results
One is that Ibn Taymiya’s denial of all figurative expression (majaz) in the Qur’an , what we have called above “misplaced literalism,” has caused the anthropomorphism it brings to most minds to spread to the horizons, under the slogan of a “return to the ‘aqida of early Muslims,” which, as explained above, it most certainly is not
In this connection, I was recently speaking with Mawlana ‘Abdullah Kakakhail, a scholar of Islamic belief (usul al-din) from Islamabad, who told me that he graduated from the Islamic University in Medina in 1966, and shortly afterwards, on the verge of returning home, had been summoned to the office of the vice-rector of the university, who expressed his disappointment that the student had not benefited more from his studies in Islamic faith (‘aqida). The vice-rector said he knew ‘Abdullah was returning to Pakistan with the same tenets of faith he had had when he came. They got to talking about the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent in meaning’ Qur’anic verses and hadiths, and the discussion turned to Allah’s ‘hand’ (Qur’an 48:10). “You say,” the young man told the vice-rector, “That ‘the hand is known, but the how of it is unknown.’ What does the unknownness of this howmean?” The vice-rector said, “It means we do not know whether the hand is black or white, or whether it is long or short.” The vice-rector’s name was Ibn Baz, and this was what was being offered at the time as the da‘wa or ‘invitation’—apparently to the faith (‘aqida) that inspired the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Secondly, the yawning gulf between this kind of anthropomorphism and the entire previous Qur’an tafsir literature has necessitated the explanation that someone (namely, the Ash‘ari school) has crept in upon the Umma and altered the “‘aqida of the early Muslims” that is alleged to have been there before (but now cannot be found). This has in turn divided the field of ‘aqida into two camps, pro- and anti-Ash‘ari, whereas for the previous thousand years, Sunni Muslims agreed upon the orthodoxy of the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools. Why was something fixed that was not broken?
Indeed, when a wealthy trader from Jedda brought to life the long-dead ‘aqida of Ibn Taymiya at the beginning of this century by financing the printing in Egypt of Ibn Taymiya’s Minhaj al-sunna al-nabawiyya and other works, the Mufti of Egypt Muhammad Bakhit al-Muti‘i, faced with new questions about the validity of anthropomorphism, wrote: “It was a fitna (strife) that was sleeping; may Allah curse him who awakened it.”
But perhaps the most ill-starred ‘aqida legacy of the historical Wahhabi movement is something now practiced from the Najd to the Indian Subcontinent, to the East and the West; namely, the ease with which Muslims call each other “unbelievers.” Whether it is over a fiqh question liketawassul, or an ‘aqida question like the above, this is precisely the sectarianism which Allah forbids in the Qur’an with the words,
“And do not be like those who separated into factions and differed between themselves” (Qur’an 3:105),
Sectarianism of this sort is something that did not exist in traditional Sunni Islam for the previous thousand years, but rather represents a break with that tradition. Whether we justify it in the name of an ‘Islamic reform,’ or a ‘return to early Islam,’ sectarianism is and remains the kind of bid‘aof misguidance of which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said in the hadith of Muslim,
“Whoever innovates something in this matter of ours that is not from it shall have it rejected” (Muslim 3.1343).
(3) Ihsan (Tariqa): The third of the re-forms, and among the most aggressively pursued today is an attempt to finish tasawwuf or ‘Sufism’ as one of the Islamic sciences, though there is no doubt that it has been considered as such by virtually all classical scholars since the religious sciences were first recorded. Our times have seen the printing and reprinting of works like ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi’s Talbis Iblis [The Devil’s deception] passages of which criticize “the Sufis” (meaning groups of them in his time) without mentioning that a great many of the biographies of his five-volume Sifa al-safwa [Description of the elect] are the very Sufis quoted in extenso in Qushayri’s classic work on Sufism al-Risala al-Qushayriyya.
Though Sufism exists for the good reason that the sunna we have been commanded to follow is not just the words and outward actions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), but also his states, such as reliance on Allah (tawakkul), sincerity (ikhlas), forbearance (hilm), patience (sabr), humility (tawadu‘), perpetual remembrance of Allah, and so on. Many, many hadiths and Qur’anic verses indicate the obligatory character of attaining these and hundreds of other states of the heart, such as the hadith related by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said,
“No one will enter paradise who has a particle of arrogance in his heart” (Muslim, 1.93).
or the sahih hadith in the Sunan of Abu Dawud about the obligatoriness of having presence of heart in the prayer (salat), that ‘Ammar ibn Yasir heard the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) say,
“Verily, a man leaves, and none of his prayer has been recorded for him except a tenth of it, a ninth of it, an eighth of it, a seventh of it, a sixth of it, a fifth of it, a fourth of it, a third of it, or a half of it” (Sunan Abi Dawud [N.d. Reprint. Istanbul: al-Maktaba al-Islamiyya, n.d.] 1.211).
Half a minute’s reflection should show each of us where we stand on these aspects of our din, and why in classical times, helping Muslims to attain these states was not left to amateurs, but rather delegated to ‘Ulama’ of the heart, the scholars of Islamic Sufism
As in other Islamic sciences, mistakes historically did occur in Sufism, most of them stemming from not recognizing the Shari‘a and tenets of faith (‘aqida) of Ahl al-Sunna as being above every human being. But these mistakes were not different in principle from, for example, the Isra’iliyyat(baseless tales of Bani Isra’il) that crept into Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir) literature, or the mawdu‘at (hadith forgeries) that crept into the body of prophetic hadith. These were not taken as proof that tafsir was bad, or hadith was deviance, but rather, in each discipline, the errors were identified and warned against by the Imams of the field, because the Umma needed the rest. And such corrections are precisely what we find in books like Qushayri’s Risala, Ghazali’s Ihya’ and other works of Sufism.
In contrast, the re-formers of our times have hit upon the expedient of creating doubts of there being any genuine Islamic science to attain spiritual sincerity in a systematic and knowledge-based way. But perhaps today they are beginning to realize that if one ends all spiritual aspiration, one will only produce numbers of aggressive Muslims with no other means of feeling more religious than by arguing to prove their fellow Muslims are less so—an unenviable condition described in the hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace),
“No people went astray after guidance, except that they were afflicted with arguing.”
To summarize, the movement to re-form our din attacks the scholarly authority that has traditionally been the support of its three pillars: in Islam, by turning Muslim’s hearts against the madhhabs that are our Shari‘a; in Iman, by presenting Ibn Taymiya’s anthropomorphism as the ‘way of the early Muslims’; and in Ihsan, by trying to close the door of traditional Islamic spirituality once and for all.
Sheikh Nasir and Ibn Baz are among the main luminaries of the movement, and the latter’s whole career shows an emphasis on these reforms, from the publications printed under his auspices and distributed across the globe, to the funding of Wahhabi U. graduates to return from Medina to their homelands to disseminate the teachings of sect, tirelessly retelling of how few Muslims scholars over the last fourteen hundred years have truly understood Islam as it was understood by the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and themselves.
So perhaps the best answer to your question about the ijazas of these two men is to ask in turn: What relevance to such re-formers should the traditional ijaza system have, when its function was to preserve intact the understanding of Islam by traditional scholars down through the centuries, an understanding they wish to change?
© Nuh Ha Mim Keller 1995
The Ash‘ari school and Maturidi schools have represented the ‘aqida or “tenets of belief” of the majority of Sunni Muslims for more than a thousand years; just as the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi‘i, and Hanbali schools have represented the shari‘a or “Sacred Law” for the majority of Sunni Muslims for this period. Those against these two traditional schools of tenets of faith are people of bid‘a, defined in a fatwa or formal legal opinion by Imam Ibn Hajar Haytami as “whoever is upon other than the path of Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a, Ahl al-Sunna wa l-Jama‘a meaning the followers of Sheikh Abul Hasan Ash‘ari and Abu Mansur Maturidi, the two Imams of Ahl al-Sunna” (Haytami, al-Fatawa al-hadithiyya, 280). In the past, such contraventions, aside from Mu‘tazilites, Shiites, and purely sectarian movements, were confined to a handful of mainly Hanbalis, whose bone of contention with the two traditional schools was that neither had anything to do with their literalist, anthropomorphic understanding of Allah Most High, which they promoted by all means at their disposal.
In answer to your question, the claims that Imam Abul Hasan Ash‘ari (d. 324/936) repudiated his own positions are not new, but have been circulated by these Hanbalis for a long time, a fact that compelled the hadith master (hafiz) Ibn ‘Asakir to carefully investigate this question, and thesanads (chains of narrators) for the attribution of these repudiations to Ash‘ari. The results of his research furnished probably the best intellectual biography of Ash‘ari ever done, a book that rebuts these claims thoroughly and uniquivocally, called Tabyin kadhib al-muftari fi ma nusiba ila al-Imam al-Ash‘ari [On showing the untruth of the liars, concerning what has been ascribed to Imam Ash‘ari], that proves that there are liars in all thesanads that impute this to Imam Ash‘ari. The book is in print, and whoever would like the details should read it.
Imam Ash‘ari’s al-Ibana ‘an usul al-diyana [The clarification of the bases of the religion] was not his last book, but rather among the first after he broke with Mu‘tazilism. Imam Kawthari states:
The Ibana was authored at the first of his return from Mu‘tazilite thought, and was by way of trying to induce [n: the Hanbali literalist] Barbahari (d. 328/940) to embrace the tenets of faith of Ahl al-Sunna. Whoever believes it to be the last of his books believes something that is patently false. Moreover, pen after pen of the anthropomorphists has had free disposal of the text—particularly after the strife (fitna) that took place in Baghdad [n: after A.H. 323, when Hanbalis (“the disciples of Barbahari”) gained the upper hand in Baghdad, Muslims of the Shafi‘i madhhab were beaten, and anthropomorphism became the faith (‘aqida) of the day (Ibn Athir:al-Kamal fi al-tarikh, 7.114)]—so that what is in the work that contradicts the explicit positions transmitted from Ash‘ari by his own disciples, and their disciples, cannot be relied upon (al-Sayf al-saqil, 108).
This is borne out by hadith master (hafiz) Dhahabi in his Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ (15.90), as well as Ibn ‘Asakir’s Tabyin kadhib al-muftari. As for seeing dreams, dreams may warm the heart, but they are not a proof for either Islamic law or tenets of faith. In his introduction to Ibn ‘Asakir’s work, Kawthari notes that “the anthropomorphists are the ones who seem to need this [relating of dreams]: when unable to prove their point while awake, they go to sleep, to find the proofs they are looking for while asleep, to fill their books with them” (Tabyin kadhib al-muftari (21–22).
In relation to your questions in general, it is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia has printed and distributed worldwide thousands of copies of a Salafi book called Manhaj al-Asha‘ira fi al-‘aqida [The methodology of the Ash‘aris in tenets of faith] by one Safar Hawali, a professor at Umm al-Qura University in Mecca. It ascribes to the Ash‘ari school the misrepresentations typical of that part of the world, identifying the school with the positions of heretical sects like the Jahmiyya, the Qadriyya, Murjiites, and so on, and contains a number of the things you asked about the Ash‘aris, so I would guess this is the misinformation that your English Salafis are going upon. One can find the details in Hasan Saqqaf’s recent rebuttal of the work entitled Tahni’a al-sadiq al-mahbub, wa nayl al-surur al-matlub, bi maghazala Safar al-maghlub [The greeting of the beloved friend, and attainment of happiness sought, in affectionate discourse with Safar the defeated]. I have heard that Hawali has since moved on from his positions, though I do not know the details.
Saqqaf also talks in his work about the bogus Hanbali “repentances” of various Ash‘ari Imams such as Ash‘ari, Juwayni, and Ghazali, that don’t appear in their books but have rather reached us by sanads each containing an anti-Ash‘ari or two, as is also corroborated by Ibn Subki in hisTabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-kubra [The greater compendium of the successive generations of Shafi‘i scholars] under the biographical entries on each of these scholars.
From the wider perspective of Islamic law, these forgeries are rather meaningless, since a Muslim may not believe in the Islamic faith (‘aqida) of Ahl al-Sunna merely because his Imam has said it, but rather because he sincerely believes it is the truth. Scholars say that it is not legally valid to follow qualified scholarship (taqlid) in tenets of Islamic faith (as opposed to rulings of Islamic law) unless one has full conviction of these tenets of faith from one’s own heart—which is why they tell us that one’s faith (iman) by taqlid in such tenets is only legally valid on condition that if one’s Imam were to cease believing something of them, one would not. So the forgeries would seem to have little scholarly relevance, other than to show the lengths to which their perpetrators were willing to go.