The Ayat of the Qur’an
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, Who does not resemble the creation. To Him belong the endowments and the befitting perfections and commendations. I ask Allah to raise the rank of Prophet Muhammad, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, and to protect his nation from that which he feared for it.
Allah said in the Qur’an:
Surat Al-^Imran, ayah 7 means: [Allah is the One Who has sent down to the Prophet the Book that contains muhkamatayat, which are the foundation of the Book, and other ayat which are mutashabihat.] So, know firmly, that the Qur’an contains two types of ayat:
Muhkamat ayat and Mutashabihat ayat
These are the ayat that have only one meaning according to the rules of the Arabic language or else the meaning of the ayah is clearly known. Examples of this type of ayat are: the saying of Allah, ta^ala:
Suratash-Shura,ayah 11 means: [There is nothing like Him] and His saying, ta^ala:
Suratal-Ikhlas, ayah 4 means: [There is nothing which is equal to Him], and His saying, ta^ala:
SuratMaryam,ayah 65 means: [Do you know of anything which is similar to Him? There is none.]
These are the ayat that can have many meanings according to the rules of the Arabic language. Assigning meanings to these ayat requires thorough thinking so that acceptable meanings are given to them. Examples of this type of ayat are: the saying of Allah, ta^ala, in Surat Taha, ayah 5:
and His saying, ta^ala, in SuratFatir, ayah 10:
According to the rules of the Arabic language, these ayat are mutashabihat; so they can have many meanings. If meanings are assigned to them, this must be done in a manner that complies with the language and the Religion, and does not contradict the ayat that are muhkamat. Surely the ayat of the Qur’an do not contradict one another. Likewise, the ahadith (sayings of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam,) do not contradict one another, and they do not contradict the ayat of the Qur’an.
There are two methodologies for explaining the mutashabihatayat of the Qur’an, and both of them are valid:
The Methodology of the Salaf
The Methodology of the Khalaf
The Methodology of the Salaf:
The Salaf were the scholars who lived during the first three centuries after the Hijrah of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving general explanations, since the scholars of the Salaf believed that these ayat have meanings befitting to the perfection of Allah. Rather than saying what these meanings are, they referred these mutashabihatayat to the muhkamatayat. A good example is the saying of Imam ash-Shafi^iyy:
which means: “I believe in what Allah revealed according to the meaning that Allah willed, and in what the Messenger of Allah conveyed according to the meaning that the Messenger of Allah willed.” In other words, the proper befitting meanings are not according to the sensuous and physical meanings that delusions would lead to–such as places, shapes, limbs, movements, sitting, colors, directions, smiling, laughter, or any other meanings which are not permissible to be attributed to Allah.
Furthermore, the Arabs during these three centuries spoke the Arabic language with a natural disposition and great eloquence. Their understanding of its meanings was so sharp that they did not need to attribute specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Instead, they understood that these ayat have meanings that befit Allah, and that it is impossible that they would have sensuous and physical meanings that do not befit Allah.
Nevertheless, it is well known that some of the scholars of the Salaf did attribute specific meanings to mutashabihat ayat. In his Sahih, in the chapter Tafsirul-Qur’an (the explanation of the Qur’an,) Imam al-Bukhariyy attributed a specific meaning to the term “illa wajhahu” in Surat alQasas, ayah 88. He said, “illa mulkahu,” i.e., he said that word “wajh”–which is an attribute of Allah–means “Mulk” or “Dominion.”
The Methodology of the Khalaf:
The Khalaf were the scholars who lived after the first three centuries. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat. The scholars of the Khalaf lived at a time when the people started to lose their natural disposition for the Arabic language. Seeing that the people had become weaker in the language, the scholars of the Khalaf feared that those with perversity in their hearts would read meanings into the mutashabihatayat that do not befit Allah. They feared what is mentioned in SuratAl ^Imran, ayah 7. Allah said:
which means: [Those who have perversity in their hearts, they follow the mutashabihat ayat seeking discord and searching for unbefitting meanings based on their delusions.] In order to protect the creed of Islam, the scholars of the Khalaf followed the example of those scholars among the Salaf who chose to give specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Referring them to the muhkamatayat, they gave specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat in compliance with the language and the Religion. They gave correct, acceptable meanings to the mutashabihatayat. Allah said:
Ayah 7 in Surat Al-^Imran means: [No one knows their true meanings except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion. The latter say, “We believe in it, all of it is from our Lord” and none will understand the message except men of comprehension.”] In relation to this ayah, Ibn ^Abbas said: “I am one of those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion.” It is well known that Ibn ^Abbas is generally regarded as being foremost among the Companions in the explanation of the meanings of the ayat of the Qur’an.
Among those who have perversity in their hearts are the mushabbihah, those who liken Allah to His creation. The followers of Ibn Taymiyah and Muhammad Ibn ^AbdilWahhab are among the group of the mushabbihah. They falsely claim that it is prohibited to assign specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat and especially those that pertain to the attributes of Allah. Moreover, they innovated a devilish rule that assigning specific meanings to these ayat would lead to canceling these attributes of Allah. This claim of theirs leads to interpretations of the ayat of the Qur’an that contradict one another and interpretations of the ahadith of the Prophet that contradict one another and contradict the ayat of the Qur’an. Furthermore, their claim accuses the Islamic scholars among the Salaf and the Khalaf of blasphemy for denying the attributes of Allah. This would include: Ibn ^Abbas, Sufyan athThawriyy, Mujahid, Sa^id Ibn Jubayr, Malik, Ahmad, alBukhariyy, an-Nawawiyy, Ibn Rajab alHanbaliyy, Ibn-ul-Jawziyy, Ibn Hajar, alBayhaqiyy, Abu Fadl at-Tamimiyy, ^Abdul-Qahir al-Baghdadiyy, the linguist and scholar of hadithMurtada az-Zabidiyy, and others.
Foremost, by this claim of theirs they are contradicting the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam. Al-Bukhariyy related that the Prophet made a du^a’ (a supplication) for Ibn ^Abbas. The Prophet said:
which means: <>
In the chapter, TafsiralQur’an, (Explanation of the meaning of the Qur’an), Imam al-Bukhariyy says that the term wajhahu in SuratalQasas,ayah 88, means “His Dominion.” However, those mushabbihah who liken Allah to the creation say, “We do not interpret, but rather we go by the literal meaning,” and hence (they say) wajhahu means “His face.”
Ibn Hajar al-^Asqalaniyy, in his book, AlFath (an explanation of the meaning of Sahih alBukhariyy), Volume 6, page 39-40, said: ” ….. in reference to al-Bukhariyy’s saying that the attribute of Allah, ad-dahik, means ‘mercy,’ it is closer to say that it means ‘acceptance of deeds.’ Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say that Allah smiles, or laughs.
In Surat al-Qalam, ayah 42, Allah said:
The scholars of the Salaf explained the term saq by ‘hardship,’ and the ayah to mean ‘a day of anguish and hardship.’ This explanation is known to have been given by Ibn ^Abbas, Mujahid, Ibrahim an Nakh^iyy, Qatadah, Sa^id Ibn Jubayr, and a multiple of scholars. Both Imam al-Fakhr arRaziyy in his Explanation of the Qur’an, Volume 30, page 94 and Imam al-Bayhaqiyy in his books, Al-‘Asma’ wasSifat, (page 245) and Fath-al-Bari, (Volume 13, page 428) related this explanation from Ibn ^Abbas. Ibn Qulayb also related that about Sa^id Ibn Jubayr who took his knowledge from ^Abdullah Ibn ^Abbas and Ibn ^Umar. Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and attribute ‘the shin’ to Allah, by saying saq literally means ‘shin.’
In Surat-ul-Baqarah, ayah 115, Allah said:
Imam Mujahid, the student of Ibn ^Abbas, said that the word wajh means ‘qiblah,’ i.e., the direction of prayers during the voluntary prayers while traveling and riding on an animal. Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning; they say the term, wajh, means ‘face.’
Similarly, if ayah 12 in Suratat-Tahrim:
was taken literally, it would mean that Allah blew part of His Soul into ^Isa (Jesus.).) However, the scholars said that this ayah means: [Allah ordered Jibril to blow into ^Isa the soul which is honorable to Allah.]
Also, ayah 75 in SuratSad:
if taken literally, would mean: “What has stopped you from performing sujud to what I have created with My hands?” However, the scholars said that the word ‘yadayn’ in the ayah means the ‘care’ of Allah. Yet, the mushabbihah insist that yadayn means hands.
Likewise, ayah 35 in Suratan-Nur:
if taken literally, would mean: “Allah is the light of the heavens and the Earth.” The scholars said that this ayah means: [Allah is the Creator of guidance in the occupants of the skies and the occupants of the earth.] However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that Allah is ‘light.’
If taken literally, ayah 22 in Suratal-Fajr:
would mean: “Your Lord comes.” It was related that Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who is among the authorities of the Salaf, said that this ayah means: [An indication of the Power of Allah has come.] In his book, ManaqibAhmad, Hafidh Imam alBayhaqiyy, established that the sanad (chain) of narrators is sahih (authentic). Also, Ibn al-Jawziyy alHanbaliyy, one of the authorities of the school of Imam Ahmad, related that Imam Ahmad assigned specific, acceptable meanings to the ayat which are mutashabihat. He also said this is a proof that Imam Ahmad did not believe that themaji’ah (a noun for the verb ja’a) in the ayah is that of movement from one place to another. Imam Ibn alJawziyy also said: “It is not possible that Allah would move.” Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that ja’a means “Your Lord comes” (i.e., from one place to another.)
The hadith of the Prophet related by alBukhariyy was explained and affirmed by Imam Malik:
as a descent of mercy and not that of movement. However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and they say the nuzul in the hadith means a descent of movement and going from one place to another.
Copying from Imam al-‘Ash^ariyy, Imam alBayhaqiyy, in his book, Al-Asma’ was-Sifat, page 488, said: “Allah,ta^ala, is not in a place. Movement, coming to rest, and sitting are among the attributes of bodies.”
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbaliyy explained the term al-istiwa’, in SuratTaha, ayah 5:
as al-istila’, which means subjugating. When alistila’ is used to explain this ayah it means that Allah subjugated the ^arsh with a subjugation that is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allah. If the ayah is explained in this manner, it means that Allah was attributed with subjugating the ^arsh before the ^arsh was created in the same way that Allah was attributed with being the Creator before anything from the creation existed. In this context, the scholars have used the term al-azal, which means the status of existing without a beginning. Thus it can be said that Allah subjugated the ^arsh in al-azal, meaning that Allah subjugated the ^arsh with a subjugation which is without a beginning. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say istiwa’ means Allah ‘sits’ on the throne and ‘firmly establishes’ Himself on it.
In his book, Al-Mu^taqad, Imam alBayhaqiyy related in a chain back to al’Awza^iyy and Imam Malik and Sufyan ath-Thawriyy and alLayth Ibn Sa^d that when they were asked about the ayat and the ahadith that are mutashabihat, they said:
which means: “Accept them as they came without applying a ‘how’ to them.” This is because if one asked the question ‘how?’ the answer would be, ‘Like this or that.’ Everything other than Allah is His creation so to say ‘like this or that’ would mean ‘like this or that created thing’ and Allah is not like His creation. Anything a person can imagine, Allah is different from it. When the scholars said: “… without applying a ‘how’ to them,” they meant that Allah is clear of being attributed with sitting, resting, moving, limbs, bodies, and parts. They did not mean that His istiwa’ over the throne has a ‘how’ of which we are ignorant. On the contrary, the scholars completely negated that a ‘how’ could be applied to Allah. So the statement of those who say “Allah sits on the throne but we do not know how,” is rejected on the basis of what these scholars said.
Anyone with a sound mind knows that sitting, no matter how it is, is an attribute of bodies. Occupying places necessitates a ‘how’ and applies to bodies. Furthermore, color and touching are attributes of bodies and ‘how’ applies to them. All of that is impossible to apply to Allah.
Similarly, when the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, asked the black slave woman the question: “Aynallah?”, the scholars said this meant he was asking her about her belief in the status of Allah. She answered: “Fissama'” which has the meaning that Allah has the highest status. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning–saying that the Prophet asked her about the place of Allah, and that she said, “In the sky,” meaning that the sky is a place for Allah.
Likewise, the hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam:
means: <> Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning–saying the hadith means: “Allah, Who occupies the heavens, will be merciful to you.”
So the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meanings of the mutashabihatayat. They reject assigning specific meanings to them, and they refuse to ascribe acceptable meanings to them. By doing this, they render the ayat of the Qur’an and the ahadith in contradiction to one another. For example, the famous hadith of the Prophet:
if taken by the method of the mushabbihah, it would mean, “Allah is between the person and the neck of his animal.” This is in direct contradiction with their claim that the hadith of the black slave woman means: “Allah has a place, which is the sky.”
Likewise, if ayah 4 in Suratal-Hadid:
is taken literally, it would mean, “Allah is with you, wherever you are.” However, the scholars established that this ayah means: [Allah knows about you, wherever you are.] Similarly, if the saying of Allah in SuratFussilat, ayah 54:
is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean, “Allah surrounds everything.” Furthermore, if the saying of Allah that Ibrahim said in Suratas-Saffat, ayah 99:
is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean, “Allah is in the countries of ash-Sham,” since this ayah was related aboutSayyidina Ibrahim while he was moving from Iraq to the countries of ash-Sham. If the saying of Allah in Suratal Baqarah, ayah 125:
is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean: “The Ka^bah is the residence of Allah.” If ayah 128 in Suratan-Nahlis taken literally, it would mean, “Allah is physically with the pious.”
It is clear that if these ayat are interpreted based on the literal meanings, this will lead to numerous contradictions. The great scholars of Islamhave ascribed proper and acceptable meanings to the mutashabihatayat and the mutashabihatahadith in accordance with the Religion, the language, and by referring them to the clear muhkamatayat. They said Suratal-Hadid, ayah 4,
means: [Allah knows about you wherever you are.]
Surat Fussilat, ayah 54,
means [Allah knows everything.]
Surat alBaqarah, ayah 125,
means: [The Ka^bah is a house of a great honor to Allah.]
Surat al-An^am, ayah 61
refers to the fawqiyyah (aboveness) of subjugation, meaning: [All are subjugated to Allah.]
Surat anNahl, ayah 128,
means: [Allah supports those who are pious.]
Surat Taha,ayah 5,
means: [Allah subjugated the ^arsh in al-azal with a subjugation which is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allah.]
In taking the mutashabihatayat by their literal meanings, the mushabbihah contradict the muhkamatayat, like Surat ash-Shura, ayah 11,
which means: [There is nothing like Allah.] They try to escape the contradiction by camouflaging it, saying that Allah has a ‘face’ but without countenance; and Allah has a ‘direction’ which is above, but we do not know ‘how’ it is; and Allah has a ‘shin,’ but we do not know ‘how’ His ‘shin’ is. Moreover, they say that Allah ‘sits’ but we do not know ‘how’ His ‘sitting’ is.
The great Hanafiyy linguist and scholar of hadith, Imam Murtada az-Zabidiyy, in his book, Ithafus-Sadatil-Muttaqin, refuted those who reject acceptable meanings be assigned to the ayat which are mutashabihat and insist on taking them by their literal meanings. He said: “In essence they are slandering the office of Prophethood; they are claiming that the Prophet did not know the meaning of the attributes of Allah that were revealed to him; and they are claiming he called the creation to believe in that of which he was ignorant.” However, Allah says in the Qur’an in Surat ash-Shu^ara’, ayah 195:
which means: [The Qur’an was revealed in clear, explicit Arabic.] Az-Zabidiyy proceeded to say: “Those people who take a position against assigning acceptable meanings are basically likening Allah to the creation.” However, they camouflage it by saying that he has a ‘hand,’ not like the hands of the creation and a ‘shin’ not like the shins of creation and a physical istiwa’, that we cannot comprehend. He addressed them with: “Your saying, ‘we take it by its literal meaning and it is incomprehensible’ is contradictory in itself. If you take by its literal meaning, then ‘as-saq’ in Suratal-Qalam,ayah 42, is a ‘shin’ which is a part made up of flesh, bones, muscle, and nerves. If you take by that literal meaning, then you have committed blasphemy, and if you deny it, then how do you claim to take by the literal meaning?”
Rest assured that the methodologies of both the Salaf and the Khalaf are correct and neither of them attribute anything to Allah that does not befit Him. In simple terms, one correct way of explaining the mutashabihatayat in the Qur’an is to say one believes in them according to the meaning that Allah willed without saying what that meaning is; and without a ‘how,’ i.e., without attributing to Allah sitting, standing, occupying places, sensuous attributes, or any of the meanings that apply to humans and other creations. Following this method, one would say: “Allah has an istiwa’ which befits Him–which is not sitting, and Allah has a yad which befits Him–which is not a hand, and a wajh that befits Him–which is not a face.” The second correct way of explaining the mutashabihatayat in the Qur’an is to give specific meanings to them which are in accordance with the Religion and the language. Following this method, one would say: “His istiwa’ means ‘He preserves the throne,’ His yad means ‘His Care,’ His wajh means ‘His Self,’ ‘His Dominion,’ or ‘His Qiblah.'”
Also know that among the mutashabih are things that only Allah knows about, such as the time when the Day of Judgment will occur, the exact day the sun will rise from its setting place, the exact time when the Dajjal would appear, and the like. This falls under one of the meanings of SuratAl-^Imran,ayah 7:
which means: [No one knows the meaning of that kind of mutashabih except Allah.]
May Allah protect us from falling into the trap of likening Allah to His creation. Imam Abu Ja^far at-Tahawiyy, in his book Al-^Aqidatut-Tahawiyyah, said:
which means: “Whoever attributes to Allah any of the meanings pertaining to humans commits blasphemy.”
We ask Allah to keep us steadfast on the correct path and creed of the Islamic scholars among the Salaf and the Khalaf. We seek refuge with Allah from falling into the trap of apostasy, because the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, said in the hadith related by at-Tirmidhiyy:
This means: <> This is a place that only thekuffar will reach.
Be extremely observant of what you utter, for Allah, ta^ala said in SuratQaf, ayah 18 :
which means: [Every word that a person utters will be written down by the two angels, Raqib and ^Atid.] Also, beware of books that are claimed to be interpretations of the Qur’an or translations of its meanings and in which they liken Allah, the Exalted, to His creation, by attributing to Him light, hands, eyes, shins, faces, sitting, directions, places, and the like. Allah is clear of all imperfection and of any resemblance to the creation.
Praise be to Allah the Lord of the Worlds, the One Who is clear of resembling the creation, all nonbefitting attributes, and all which the blasphemers unrightfully say about Him.