Beliefs & Methodology

Imam Al-Juwayni{qluetip title=[1]}He is Abu Muhammad al-Juwayni, father of the famous Imam Al-Haramayn Abu Ma'ali al-Juwayni. Abu Muhammad was a Shafi'i faqih and initially in 'aqidah he followed the Ash'ari madhhab. However, he retracted from this and returned to the madhhab of the Salaf - as is attested to by his book Risalah Ithbatu'l-Istawa wa'l-Fawqiyyah.{/qluetip} (d. 438H) - rahimahullah - said:

"Know, that for a brief period, I was confused about three matters:

  1. The issue of As-Sifat (the Attributes of Allah);
  2. The issue of Al-Fawqiyyah (Allah being above His creation); and
  3. The issue of Al-Harf (the Word) and As-Sawt (the Voice) about the Glorious Qur'an.

I used to be confused about the differing sayings - which are found in the contemporary books with regards to these matters whether ta'wil (manipulative distortion) should be made of the Attributes and tahrif of them. Whether to take them as they are and halt at their meanings, or whether to affirm them without ta'wil, ta'til, tashbih or tamthil. But I found in the texts of the Book of Allah - the Most High - and the Sunnah of His Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, a great clarity about the reality of these Attributes, and likewise with regards to affirming Al-'Uluww (the highness of Allah), Al-Fawqiyyah, Al-Harf and As-Sawt.

Then I found in the books of the later Scholars - from the mutakallimin (the people of innovated speech and rhetoric) - their making ta'wil of (Allah's Attribute of) Al-Istawa (Allah ascending above His creation) by saying that it meant qahr (His dominance) and istila (His conquering); ta'wil of (Allah's Attribute of) An-Nuzul by saying that it meant His command descends; ta'wil of (the Attribute of) Al-Yadayn (the Hands of Allah) to mean His Power or His Favour; and ta'wil of Al-Qadm (the Foot of Allah) to mean the foot of truth with their Lord; and the likes of this. Along with this, I found that the claimed that the Speech of Allah - the Most High - meant a speech existent in His Self (qafm bidh-dhat) with Word, but not with Voice. They claimed that these Words are a mode of expression from the meaning existing with Himself!

From those who held to these sayings were a a group of people, who had a high status in my heart, such as a group of the Ash'ari Shafi'i Scholars - and I am upon the madhhab (school of thought) of Ash-Shafi'i radhiallahu 'anhu, knowing the obligations of my Religion and its rulings. So I found the likes of these great Shaykhs adhering to the likes of such statements - and they were my teachers - and I had complete faith in them, their nobility and their knowledge. However, despite all this, I found my heart having a hatred for such ta'wil such that I could not find any tranquillity and peace with it. It caused my chest to feel constricted, rather than causing it to expand ...

And I used to fear affirming the Attributes of Al-'Uluww, Al-Istawa and An-Nuzul fearing that it would imply hasr (limiting and encompassing Allah by His creation) and tashbih (resembling Allah to His creation, i.e. anthropomorphism). However, despite this, when I studied the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, I found in them texts pointing to the reality of these meanings. I found that the Messenger sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam clarified that which came from His Lord, as well as describing Him with them. And know - without any doubt at all - that he sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam used to have present in his noble gatherings the Scholar and the ignorant person, the one with sharp intelligence and the not so sharply-intelligent, the arab and the non-arab. However, I did not find anything by which he followed-up such texts with which he used to describe his Lord neither with another text, nor with anything that would cause the meanings to be removed from their (real meaning), or cause ta'wil to be made of them; such as the ta'wil of my Shaykhs and Scholars from the mutakallimin - such as their ta'wil of Al-Istawa to istila, and their ta'wil of An-Nuzul (Allah's descending) to mean that His command descends; and other than this. And I did not find that he sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam used to warn the people from having iman (faith) in what was apparent in his speech describing his Lord, whether it was concerning Al-Fawqiyyah (Allah being above His creation), or Al-Yadayn (the Hands of Allah), or other than them. And there is nothing recorded from him which proves that these Attributes have another inner meaning, other than what is apparent from their meaning ... "

Then Imam Al-Juwayni - rahimahullah - mentions some ayat and ahadith concerning Al-Fawqinah and Al-Istawa, then he continues:

"So when we came to know this, and came to hold this as our 'aqidah (belief), we were then preserved from the doubts of ta'wil, the blindness of ta'til (divesting Allah- totally or partially - of His Attributes) and the foolishness of tashbih and tamthil (likening Allah to His creation). We then affirmed for Allah the 'Uluww (highness) of our Lord - the Most Perfect - and His Fawqiyah and that He Ascended (Istawa) over His 'Arsh (Throne) in a manner that befits His Majesty and Greatness. So the truth is very clear in this and the chest will readily accept this, for indeed tahrif (distorting the text) is rejected by the correct and sound intellect, such as tahrif of Istawa to istila (conquering); and other than this. Likewise, wuquf (affirming the wording of the Attributes, but halting at their meanings) is also blindness and ignorance, since we know that our Lord described Himself with these Attributes so that we may come to know Him by them. So - in our knowing Him - we do not halt at affirming the wordings of the Attributes, whilst negating what is intended from their meanings. Since He did not described Himself to us by these Attributes, except that we may affirm what He has described Himself with, not that we halt at them. Likewise tashbih and tamthil are also foolishness and ignorance.

Thus, the one whom Allah - the Most High - causes to agree upon affirming (the Attributes) - without tahrif, takyif and wuquf - then he has indeed agreed upon what is intended from them, if Allah - the Most High - wishes."

Then he - rahimahullah - explains the reason why Ahlul-Kalam (the people of innovated speech and rhetoric) felt that they were forced to make ta'wil of Allah's Istawa (Ascending) to istila, so he said:

"And Allah expanded my chest about the state of those Shaykhs who made ta'wil of Al-Istawa to istila ... and it is my belief that they do not understand the Attributes of the Lord - the Most High - except with what befits the creation. Thus, they do not understand Al-Istawa of Allah as truly befits Him ... so this is why they distort the words from its proper context and deny what Allah has described Himself with. And we shall mention the explanation of that - if Allah wills.

And there is no doubt that us and them (i.e. the Ash'ariyyah) agree upon affirming the Attributes of Al-Hayat (Life), As-Sawz'a (Hearing), Al-Raw (Seeing), Al-'Ilm (Knowledge), Al-Qudrah (Power), Al-Iradah (Will) and Al-Kalam (Speech) of Allah. And we certainly do not understand the Attribute of Life of Allah to mean with the likes of such organs that are established in our bodies. Likewise, we do not understand the Hearing and Seeing of Allah to imply that there are limbs. So, just as they say: His Life is not like ours, nor is His Knowledge and Seeing, rather they are Attributes in a way that is befitting to Him, not befitting to us. Then we - likewise - say: His Attribute of Life is known, but its kafiyyah (the nature of how it is), is unknown. His Knowledge is known, buts its kafiyyah is not. Likewise, His Seeing and Hearing are known and there is no implication of there being organs and bodily-parts in any of this - rather all these Attributes are in a way that befit Him.

Likewise is the case for His 'Ayn (Eye), Fawqiyyah, Istawa and Nuzul. His Fawqiyyah is known - it is established just like the reality of His Hearing and the reality of His Seeing are also established; they are known, but their kafiyyah is not. Then similarly, His Fawqiyyah is known and established in a way that befits Him, but the kafiyyah is unknown. Likewise, His Istawa (Ascending) over the 'Arsh (Throne) is known, but the kafiyyah is not explained by implying movements or transmission, which befit the creation - rather His Istawa is in a manner that befits His Greatness. Thus His Attributes are known from the direction of sentence and affirmation, but are unknown from the perspective of how they are and setting limits. So the Believer is clear about the Attributes from one perspective and blind from the other. So the Believer is clear from the perspective of affirmation and existence, but blind from the perspective of their kafiyyah and limits. So this is the way by affirming what Allah - the Most High - has described Himself with, and by negating tahrif, tashbih and wuquf: so this is what the Lord - the Most High - intends for us concerning His Attributes ... that we recognise them, have iman in them being haqiqah (real) and negate any tashbih to them, nor to deny for Allah His real Attributes by tahrif and ta'wil. Indeed, there is no difference between Allah's Attribute of Al-Istawa and As-Sama' and between His Attribute of An-Nuzul and Al-Basr - since each occurs by a text.

So if they say to us about Al-Istawa: you have made tashbih! Then we reply to them about As-Sama': You have made tashbih, and have described your Lord with organs! So if they say: No organs and bodily-parts, rather it is in a manner that befits Him. Then we reply about Al-Istawa and Al-Fawqiyyah: There is no confinement nor limitation, rather it is in a manner that befits Him. So whatever is necessary concerning the Attributes of Life, Hearing, Seeing and Knowledge and not making any tashbih to them, then such is also necessitated regarding Allah's Attributes of Ascending, Descending, Al-Yad (Hand), Al-Wajh (Face), Al-Qadm (Foot), Ad-Dahak (Laughing) and At-Ta'ajjub (Amazement). So just as they do not imply for Him any organs, we do not imply for Him any limbs nor anything that befits the creation. And it is not from justice and fairness that they understand the Attributes of Ascending, Descending, Face and Hand to imply resemblance to the creation, and therefore they think that they must resort to ta'wil and tahrif - (yet they do not do so for the other Attributes such as Lie, Hearing and Seeing).

So those possessing justice and fairness will understand what we have said, have 'aqidah in it, accept our sincere advice and will take as the Din of Allah the affirmation of all His Attributes, negating from them any tashbih, ta'til, ta'wil or wuquf. This is what Allah intended from us concerning this. Since all these Attributes (that they affirm), and all the others (that they make ta'wil of) come from a single place - and that is the Qur'an and the Sunnah. Thus, when we affirm one set of Attributes without ta'wil, but make ta'wil and tahrif for the others, then we are like those who believed in one part of the Book, but disbelieved in another part. And this is sufficient and clear - if Allah - the Most High - wills."

(s) Risalah Ithbatu'l-Istawa wa'l-Fawqiyyah (pp. 176-183), abridged which is part of Majmu'atu'r-Rasa'il al-Muniriyyah. The translation is taken from Al-Ibaanah Magazine Issue 3, Dhu'l-Qa'dah 1416H (April 1996).


Be Mindful O Mankind!

He who seeks knowledge of religion, Paradise seeks him, and he who seeks deeds of vice, Hell seeks him.
'Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 40H), may Allah be pleased with him