An Introduction to Belief in the Attributes of Allāh

Al-ʿAllāmah Ṣāliḥ ibn Fawzān al-Fawzān

How to believe in the Names and Attributes of Allāh in the way that He prescribed—without taḥrīf (distortion), tamthīl (resemblance), takyīf (stating how) nor taʿtīl (denial).
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Shaykh al Islām Ibn Taymīyyah said:”And from faith in Allāh is faith in what He described Himself with in His Book and what His Messenger Muḥammad () described Him with, without taḥrīf or taʿtīl and without takyīf or tamthīl.”

And they do not disbelieve in the Names of Allāh and His Attributes, and they do not try to determine their modality and they do not liken His Attributes to the Attributes of the creation

Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymīyyah

Commentary:

Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān says:

After the writer briefly mentioned the foundations that are obligatory to have faith in, he mentions them in a detailed way and he begins with the first foundation, which is faith in Allāh the Exalted. So he mentions that entering into it is faith in the Attributes of Allāh which He described Himself with in His Book, or those that He was described with by His Messenger (ﷺ) in his Sunnah. So we affirm these for Him as they came in the Book and the Sunnah with their terminology and meanings, without taḥrīf in their terminology or taʿtīl in their meanings, and without making tashbīh for them with the attributes of the creation.

Tahreef (alteration): It is the distortion and disinclination of something from its apparent meaning. It is said: he altered such and such so he distorted it. It is of two types:

(alteration): It is the distortion and disinclination of something from its apparent meaning. It is said: he altered such and such so he distorted it. It is of two types:

The First Type: Tahreef in terminology – It changing the word to other than its apparent meaning, either by adding a word, or by taking it out, or by deleting a diacritical mark as in the statement of the people of misguidance concerning the statement of Allāh the Exalted:

Tahreef in terminology – It changing the word to other than its apparent meaning, either by adding a word, or by taking it out, or by deleting a diacritical mark as in the statement of the people of misguidance concerning the statement of Allāh the Exalted:

وَجَاءَ رَبُّكَ ‎﴿٢٢﴾

“And your Lord will come.
[al-Fajr, 89:22]

[They say] that is the Command of your Lord. So they added a word. Similarly, there is their statement regarding the statement of Allāh the Exalted:

وَكَلَّمَ اللَّهُ مُوسَىٰ تَكْلِيمًا ‎﴿١٦٤﴾

“And Allāh spoke to Mūsá directly.”
[al-Nisāʾ, 4:164]

[They] reaffirm it to another term. So they change a diacritical mark.

The Second Type: Tahrīf in meaning – It is changing a word from its apparent meaning and its reality, and presenting the word with the meaning of another word. Such as the statement: ‘Verily the meaning of Mercy is wanting reward and the meaning of Anger is wanting punishment.’

Taḥrīf in meaning – It is changing a word from its apparent meaning and its reality, and presenting the word with the meaning of another word. Such as the statement: ‘Verily the meaning of Mercy is wanting reward and the meaning of Anger is wanting punishment.’

taʿṭīl (void): Void language – It is used to make the word empty, that is, to void, and the meaning here is to negate the Attributes from Allāh the Glorified and Exalted. The difference between taḥrīf and taʿṭīl is that taḥrīf negates the correct meaning without changing it to a different meaning, like a chaotic action. So everyone who performs taḥrīf also performs taʿtīl but everyone who performs taʿtīl does not perform taḥrīf.

Takyīf (to ask ‘how’) – It is to distinguish the modality of the Attributes. It is said: ‘One can determine the modality of something if its modality known.’ So to determine the modality of the Attributes of Allāh is to determine their ‘how’ and condition which they are upon. This is not possible for human beings because it is from that knowledge which Allāh has kept to Himself. So there is no path to attain it because it is from His Essence. So just as it is not possible for humankind to know the Essence of Allāh, they cannot determine the modality of His Attributes. So when Imām Mālik was asked:

الرَّحْمَٰنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَىٰ ‎﴿٥﴾

“The Most Merciful ascended (istawá) above His Throne.”
[Ṭā-Hā, 20:5]

“How did He ascend?” So he said: “istawá is known and its modality is unknown and faith in it is obligatory and questions concerning it are an innovation.” This is the statement concerning the Attributes.

Tamthīl (resembling) – It is to liken Allāh by saying that His Attributes are like those of the creation; such as saying that the Hand of Allāh is like our hands and His Hearing is like our hearing and His Eyes are like our eyes. (far above is Allāh from that) Allāh the Exalted said: (resembling) – It is to liken Allāh by saying that His Attributes are like those of the creation; such as saying that the Hand of Allāh is like our hands and His Hearing is like our hearing and His Eyes are like our eyes. (far above is Allāh from that) Allāh the Exalted said:

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ ۖ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ ‎﴿١١﴾

“There is nothing like Him. He is the Seeing, the Hearing.”
[al-Shūrā, 42:11]

So it cannot be said about His Attributes that they are comparable to our attributes or that they resemble our attributes or that they are like our Attributes. Likewise, it cannot be said that the Essence of Allāh is like our essence. So the monotheist believer affirms all of the Attributes of Allāh upon their apparent sense by Magnifying Allāh and His Greatness. The one who performs taʿtīl negates them or negates some of them and the one who likens Allāh affirms them upon a sense not befitting of Allāh, and this is only befitting of the creation.

The people of the Sunnah and the Jamāʿah do not take their faith in the fact that there is nothing like Allāh to mean that they negate from Him what He affirms for Himself such as those who go to an extreme in de-anthropomorphizing Him until they make Him void of His Attributes, in trying to leave of likenesses for Him, in trying to avoid any likening of His Attributes to those of the creation. So the people of the Sunnah say that the Attributes of Allāh the Exalted are specific to Him and only He is described with them. The creation has Attributes specific to them and they are described with them. There is no similarity between the Attributes of the Creator and the attributes of the Creation. So this warning is not necessary except for those people who distort Allāh’s Attributes.

Matn (Original Text by Shaykh al-Islām):

“And they do not disbelieve in the Names of Allāh and His Attributes, and they do not try to determine their modality and they do not liken His Attributes to the Attributes of the creation.”

Commentary:

Ilhaad (disbelief/heresy) in the Language: The distortion and alteration of something, and from it meaning is digging (lahada) a grave. Due to this, it is named as altering and moving from the road that is in the direction of the Qiblah. Heresy in the Names of Allāh and His Signs is alteration and distortion in them from their realities and correct meanings to falsehood. Heresy in the Names of Allāh and His Attributes is of various types: (disbelief/heresy) in the Language: The distortion and alteration of something, and from it meaning is digging (lahada) a grave. Due to this, it is named as altering and moving from the road that is in the direction of the Qiblah. Heresy in the Names of Allāh and His Signs is alteration and distortion in them from their realities and correct meanings to falsehood. Heresy in the Names of Allāh and His Attributes is of various types:

The First Type: Naming idols by them. This is like naming al-Lāt from al-Ilāh and al-‘Uzzah from al-ʿAzīz and al-Manāt from al-Mannān.

Naming idols by them. This is like naming al-Lāt from al-Ilāh and al-ʿUzzah from al-ʿAzīz and al-Manāt from al-Mannān.

The Second Type: Naming Him the Glorified and exalted with what He has not been described with. This is like the Christians who call Him ‘Father’ and like the philosophers who call Him the Reason of the Cause for Activity.

Naming Him the Glorified and exalted with what He has not been described with. This is like the Christians who call Him ‘Father’ and like the philosophers who call Him the Reason of the Cause for Activity.

The Third Type: Describing Allāh the Glorified and Exalted with deficiencies that He is free of. This is like the statement of the Jews who say:

Describing Allāh the Glorified and Exalted with deficiencies that He is free of. This is like the statement of the Jews who say:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ فَقِيرٌ وَنَحْنُ أَغْنِيَاءُ ‎﴿١٨١﴾

“Verily Allāh is poor and we are wealthy.”

And their statement:

يَدُ اللَّهِ مَغْلُولَةٌ ۚ ‎﴿٦٤﴾‏

“The Hand of Allāh is tied up.”

There is also their statement that Allāh rests on Saturday. (far above is Allāh from what they say)

The Fourth Type: Resembling His Attributes to the Attributes of the Creation. This is like the statement of the anthropomorphist who says: ‘His Hand is like my hand’ and other than that. (far above this is Allāh) Indeed Allāh has threatened those who commit heresies in His Names and His Signs with a tremendous threat. So Allāh the Exalted says:

Resembling His Attributes to the Attributes of the Creation. This is like the statement of the anthropomorphist who says: ‘His Hand is like my hand’ and other than that. (far above this is Allāh) Indeed Allāh has threatened those who commit heresies in His Names and His Signs with a tremendous threat. So Allāh the Exalted says:

وَلِلَّهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا ۖ وَذَرُوا الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ ۚ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ ‎﴿١٨٠﴾‏

“And Allāh has the most Beautiful Names, so call upon Him by them. And leave those who commit heresies in His Names. They will be recompensed for what they used to do”
[al-Aʿarāf, 7:180].

Allāh says:

نَّ الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي آيَاتِنَا لَا يَخْفَوْنَ عَلَيْنَا ۗ أَفَمَن يُلْقَىٰ فِي النَّارِ خَيْرٌ أَم مَّن يَأْتِي آمِنًا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۚ اعْمَلُوا مَا شِئْتُمْ ۖ إِنَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ ‎﴿٤٠﴾

“Verily those who commit heresies in Our Āyāt, they are not hidden from Us”
[Fuṣṣilat, 41:40].1

Endnotes:

[1] This section was taken from Sharḥul ʿAqīdah al-Wāsiṭiyyah (p. 15-18) of Shaykh Ṣāliḥ al-Fawzān.

Published: December 16, 2021
Edited: August 11, 2022

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