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Al-Tahwiyyah: Pt2 Understanding Anthropomorphism

Note; Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, is a short text outlining the aqeedah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements. Edited by Asim Khan

ولا شىء َ مثلُه
There is nothing like Him.

The author continues to describe Allāh by saying: ‘There is nothing like him’, which is to negate that anything could be like him; be that a likeness of him relating to his names, his attributes, or to his acts. It is similar to when Allāh says: ‘Do you know of any who is similar to him?’[1]. These aspects make up our belief in the Oneness of Allāh (tawhīd) in terms of his Lordship (Rububiyyah) and his names and attributes (asmaa wa sifaat) as: ‘Both creation and command belong to him. Blessed be Allāh, the lord of all the worlds.’[2] and: ‘To Allāh belong the most beautiful names.’[3] Ahl Al-Sunnah are in agreement that there is nothing like Allah in terms of his essence, attributes and acts.

However, the negation can also be said to encompass all the dimensions of our belief in the oneness of Allāh (tawhīd), as there is nothing like him which also has the right to be worshipped. For all of mankind: ‘were only ordered to worship Allāh, making their religion sincerely for him’[4], meaning to direct all acts of devotion to him alone.

Indeed Allāh is one: ‘There is nothing like unto him; and he is All-Hearing and All-Seeing.’[5] This verse is interpreted either as meaning there is nothing like Allāh in terms of his Lordship (Rububiyya), or his right to be worshipped alone (Uluhiyya), or his names and attributes; or it focuses solely on the uniqueness of Allāh’s names and attributes. As no one else is like Allāh, he therefore deserves that his creation behave towards him in a unique manner. Mankind are to exalt and elevate Allah over and above resembling him to the creation.

Ahl As-Sunnah believe that nothing of Allah’s creation resembles him in the attributes he is characterized with.  Allah has indeed informed us about this by the very text of his mighty Book, when he said: ’There is nothing like him and he is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.’[6]

Consequently, if a particular text of the Qur’ān or Sunnah mentions an attribute of Allah, it is obligatory to believe in it.  One must also possess unequivocal conviction that the attribute is at such a level of perfection, nobility and loftiness that it cuts away at all that gives rise to erroneous impressions of similitude between Allah and the attributes of his creation.

Affirming His attributes in this way is to glorify Allah. Indeed, it is truly evil to not glorify Allah and for the notion that the attribute of Allah resembles the attribute of his creation to precede in a person’s mind.  It is a duty upon the believing heart, which believes in the attributes of Allah that his Prophet SAW praised and glorified him with, to be one that glorifies Allah and not to be polluted with the filth of resemblance (tashbīh), so that the bedrock of his heart is good and pure, and open to possessing faith in the attributes upon the basis of exaltation and elevation.

It is apparent that people also have certain names and attributes which share the terminology used to describe Allāh’s names and attributes, for example, The Qur’ān describes Allāh as Al-‘Alī (The Most High) whereas ‘Alī was also a name approved by the Prophet SAW for his own cousin. Allāh is also described as being the All-Hearing and the All-Seeing, and people also hear and see. Is this not then likening the creation to Allāh by way of anthropomorphism?[7]

What is the defining criteria by which we understand anthropomorphism?

In the verse: ‘There is nothing like unto him; and he is All-Hearing and All-Seeing.’ Allāh firstly negated that something could be like him and then affirmed that he has attributes. However, the creation also have these attributes, namely: hearing and sight. This indicates that there is a clear distinction between what is being affirmed and what is being negated, for it is inconceivable that one thing could be both affirmed and negated at the same time. The way in which we make this distinction is based upon the three basic dictates of spoken language:

1)  The first element is the actual letters that come together to give the name or attribute. This word (lafth) which signifies the name is the first basic element. The name referred to in the aforementioned ayah is Al-Samee’ composed of seen, meem, yaa, and ‘ayn. This is something we all recognize.

2)The second element is the meaning (ma’nā) behind the word. The word samee’ means hearer i.e. the one who can hear.  This is something understood by the intellect.

3)The third element is the modality (kayfiyya or tah’qīq al-ma’nā) of the word. This relates to the reality of how exactly the meaning is manifest which is something that can only be known through the senses and not through reason.

It is these three elements that Imam Mālik was referring to when he was asked: ‘How exactly does Allāh make ascension (istiwā)?’, he responded by saying: ‘ascension (istiwā) is something well-known’-i.e., the word (lafth) and the basic meaning (ma’nā) is known to everyone, the modality is unknown (i.e. knowing and affirming the reality of his ascension (Istiwā)[8]is something we can’t do), (however) having faith in it is obligatory’- meaning to simply say we cannot affirm even the word and/or its basic meaning is not an option for the Muslim. 

The first element is the mere letters, while the second element is needed for people to communicate with others. If people did not agree on the meaning of their words, communication would break down. Similarly, we would not understand the speech of Allah and what he wanted from us, unless we know the meanings of his words. We can understand what he told us about Hell Fire, Paradise, and even what he said about himself; even though we have not seen any of it. This is what Ibn Abbas RA meant when he is reported to have said: ‘There is not in Paradise from that which is on Earth, except the names thereof’; which is to say that even though the creatures of Paradise and Earth share the same names, they do not resemble each other in their realities.

Revisiting the verse: ‘There is nothing like unto Him; and He is All-Hearing and All-Seeing’; we see that Allah affirmed that he is All-Hearing, All-Seeing; these are words that have fundamental meanings understood by human beings. However, the reality (kayfiyya) of these attributes when related to Allah is something that we are unable to sense or fathom. This teaches us that one cannot strike an analogy between the creation and the creator, as in reality there is no likeness between the two entities.

It is in this way that Ahl al-Sunnah find the middle way between those who outright negated these attributes of Allah (the mu’attilah) and those who adhered to assimilation (tamthīl), who propose likenesses of him and liken him to the creatures.

Those who truly believe in his messengers and truly attest and acknowledge his perfection, they affirm for Allah all of his attributes and negate any resemblance to creation.  Thus, they combine affirmation with negation of any resemblance (tashbīh) and they combine exaltation and elevation without negation (ta’tīl).

Points of Wisdom

1)  Important maxim in aqīdah studies: We only know about Allah through revelation. Before the advent of the Prophet SAW it was impossible for someone to claim they knew Allah’s names and attributes. With revelation we came to know his names and attributes. We learnt the actual words used that he used to name himself and the attributes he gave himself. These words have meaning which was understood by those that came to know of them. However, has anyone seen Allah in order to say that Allah has the attribute of a hand and that hand looks like this? This is a level of knowledge unknown to all and cannot even be explored by the human mind. Thus it is important to realise that we only know about Allah through revelation; not through mysticism, spiritual exercises, or philosophical speculation.

2)His saying: ‘There is nothing like him’, is an evidence exhibiting that Allah is exalted above anything resembling any of his attributes of perfection. It is explained in one of two ways a) The meaning of the verse is, he is not like anything, and the word (mithl) was introduced to provide emphasis b) It’s meaning is, there is none like unto him, and the particle (Kaaf) was introduced to provide emphasis.  This angle is strong, agreeable and the more apparent.

3)In our times, many people do not even affirm a creator, let alone submit to Him. Unlike the Quraysh of Makkah who did accept Allāh as the Rabb but were misguided in worshipping him alone. Just because they call themselves the people of the Book it doesn’t mean that they are believers.



Notes: Dr Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, is a short text outlining the aqeedah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements. 
Islam21c requests all the readers of this article, and others, to share it on your facebook, twitter, and other platforms to further spread our efforts.

[1] Q. Maryam: 19, 65.

[2] Q. Al-A’raaf: 7, 54.

[3] Q. Al-A’raaf: 7, 180.

[4] Q. Al-Bayyinah: 98, 5.

[5] Q. Al-Shūrāh: 42, 11.

[6] Q. Al-Shūrāh: 42, 11.

[7] anthropomorphism means the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to a god, animal, or object.

[8] Istiwā refers to Allah rising over His throne.



About Shaykh (Dr) Haitham Al-Haddad

Dr. Haitham al-Haddad is a jurist and serves as a judge for the Islamic Council of Europe. He has studied the Islamic sciences for over 20 years under the tutelage of renowned scholars such as the late Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia as well as the retired Head of the Kingdom's Higher Judiciary Council. He specialises in many of the Islamic sciences and submitted his doctoral thesis on Islamic jurisprudence concerning Muslim minorities. Shaikh Haitham is highly respected having specialised knowledge in the field of fiqh, usul al-fiqh, maqasid al-shari'ah, ulum al-Qur’an, tafsir, aqidah, and fiqh al-hadith. He provides complex theories which address the role of Islamic jurisprudence within a western environment whilst also critically re-analysing the approach of Islamic jurists in forming legal rulings (ifta’) within a western socio-political context. He has many well known students most of whom are active in dawah and teaching in the West. The shaikh is an Islamic jurist (faqih) and as such is qualified to deliver verdicts as a judge under Islamic law, a role he undertakes at the Islamic Council of Europe as Islamic judge and treasurer. Dr Haitham al-Haddad also sits on various the boards of advisors for Islamic organisations, mainly in the United Kingdom but also around the world.

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