Home / Current Affairs / [al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 36] Ta’wīl as used in the Qur’ān 1 of 2

[al-Taḥawiyyah Pt 36] Ta’wīl as used in the Qur’ān 1 of 2

The belief of a person in the seeing of Allāh by the people of Paradise is not correct if that person tries to imagine what it is like or if he tries to interpret it according to his own understanding, since the interpretation of this seeing or the meaning of any of the subtle phenomena which are in the realm of Lordship, is by avoiding its interpretation and strictly adhering to submission. This is the faith of Islam. Those who do not refrain from negating Allāh’s attributes or conceiving them on human patterns are surely mistaken, they are unable to glorify Allāh properly. [HH]

وَلا يَصِحُّ الإِيمَانُ بـِالرُّؤْيَةِ لأَهْلِ دَارِ السَّلامِ لِمَنْ اعْتَبَرَهَا مِنْهُمْ بـِوَهْمٍ، أَوْ تَأَوَّلَهَا بـِفَهْمٍ، إِذا كَانَ تَأْوِيلُ الرُّؤْيَةِ وَتَأْوِيلُ كُلِّ مَعْنىً يُضَافُ إِلَى الرُّبُوبـِيَّةِ تَرْكَ التَأْويلِ وَلُزُومَ التَّسْلِيمِ، وَعَلَيْهِ دِينُ المُرْسَلينَ

This point is a continuation of the previous point regarding Seeing of Allāh by the people of paradise.[1] As we said that the greatest reward Allāh has reserved for His believers is the seeing of His Majestic Face in Paradise. The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said: ‘When the inhabitants of Paradise will enter Paradise, Allāh, the Blessed and Exalted, will ask them, ‘Is there anything more you need that I may bestow upon you?’ They will say, ‘Have you not brightened our faces? Have you not entered us into Paradise and delivered us from the Hellfire?’ Allāh will say, ‘Certainly.’ The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) then said, ‘Then the veils will be removed and they will see the Countenance of Allāh Most High. They will not have been bestowed anything more beloved to them than the sight of their Lord.’ The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) then recited the Quranic verse, ‘For those who do good is the best (reward) and more’.[2]

The books of theology relate that some sects were misled on this article of faith as they interpreted “ru’ya” or seeing Allāh by different interpretations. The Mu’tazilites and the Khawārij denied that seeing Allāh in the hereafter was even possible. The author’s previous statement in which he said “The seeing of Allāh by the people of Paradise is true, without their vision being all-encompassing and without the manner of their vision being known” serves as a refutation against any deviant sect in this matter who claim that even though Allāh will be seen, He will not be seen in any particular direction. The author reconfirmed these meanings here.

The great scholar Ibn Abil ‘Izz (792AH) explained this statement of al-Ṭaḥāwi with great proficiency and comprehension. What follows is a full translation of his explanation:[3]

These words are directed at the Mu’tazilites and their ilk who deny the Beatific Vision (al-Ru’yah), as well as those who interpret Allāh’s attribute based on the paradigms of His creation. The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) said, ‘You will see your Lord as you see the full moon’[4]; and since “as” modifies “you see”, the comparison is definitely between the two visions and not the objects seen. So the Prophetic Narration is very clear that Allāh will be seen in Paradise and people will actually look at Him. In fact, it leaves nothing unclear. What could be clearer or more explicit than that? If a Ḥadith like this is allowed to be interpreted metaphorically, no Sacred Text can actually be relied upon. Surely, it cannot be interpreted to mean that men will know their Lord as they know the full moon. Some people have argued for this interpretation based on verses like: ‘Do you not see (tara) how your Lord dealt with the People of the Elephant’[5], and other verses in which the word ra’ā, ‘see’, has been ascribed to the heart.

Certainly seeing is sometimes an act of the eye, sometimes it is an act of understanding, and sometimes a type of dream, and so on. But in every case there is something in the language of the statement (i.e. context) that makes it clear what kind of seeing is actually meant. If there are no contextual clues as to the intended meaning, the language will be deemed vague and obscure rather than clear and precise. What statement can be clearer than the statement: ‘You will see your Lord as you see the sun at noon when there are no clouds in the sky’[6]…? Can anyone possibly raise the question as to whether these words refer to seeing with the eyes or seeing with the mind? Would anyone waver about the real meaning of this ḥadīth except one whose heart has been sealed?

Some might argue that they resorted to such an interpretation because reason rules out the possibility of seeing Allāh. To this we respond: your claim is rejected by most reasonable people and there is nothing in reason that would reject such an occurrence. Furthermore, if reason were asked about a being that exists by itself but cannot be seen, it would consider that being an impossibility.

The words of the author: ‘If that person tries to imagine what it is like, or if he tries to interpret it according to his own understanding…’ mean that those who first imagine that Allāh’s vision should have such and such properties, similar to other things, and then confirm such properties that they have imagined, are anthropomorphists. If they deny vision based on those false grounds, they are then negators of Allāh’s attributes. What they should actually reject is their own image of the Vision and not the Vision itself. One should affirm what is true and negate what is false.

This is the idea which the author wants to convey by the statement: ‘Those who do not refrain from negating Allāh’s attributes or conceiving them on human patterns are surely mistaken; they are unable to glorify Allāh properly.’ The Mu’tazilites are under the impression that they are glorifying Allāh by rejecting the concept of His Vision. Is it an act of glorification to negate an attribute of perfection? One whose vision is denied does not have the attribute of perfection, for the non-being is also not visible. But perfection is in the affirmation of vision and, at the same time, denial that the vision is all-encompassing of Him. The same is the case with knowledge. We will not be praising Allāh if we say that we cannot know anything of Him. In fact, we will be praising Him if we affirm that we can know Him and at the same time deny that we can fully comprehend Him. Certainly, Allāh cannot be encompassed by either vision or knowledge.

The author’s words: ‘Or if he tries to interpret it according to his own understanding’, are directed against those who interpret the text in a way other than what it apparently means, or what every pure Arab would understand from it. Later writers use the term ta’wīl in this sense. They say that ta’wīl is to understand words in a sense different from what they apparently and overtly mean. In this way, they alter the meanings of various Sacred Texts. They say, “We reinterpret whatever differs from our opinions.” They give this distortion (taḥrīf) the name ta’wīl in order to make it sound appealing and acceptable, but Allāh condemns those who try to make falsehood appealing. Allāh says: ‘Likewise did We make for every messenger an enemy, evil ones among men and jinns, inspiring each other with flowery discourses by way of deception’.[7] The real purport behind what is said is to be taken from the meaning and not the words. Many false ideas have been “proven” in flowery language that in reality conflicts with hard evidence.

The author’s words here are similar to his words discussed earlier: ‘We do not try to interpret His words according to our opinions and imaginations.’ He stresses the meaning of that statement with his words: ‘The interpretation of this seeing or the meaning of any of the subtle phenomena which are in the realm of Lordship, is by avoiding its interpretation and strictly adhering to submission. This is the faith of Islam.’ He is saying here that one must refrain from ta’wīl (meaning fanciful interpretation), or what is called interpretation, which is actually distortion of the text. But the author used a polite way to argue with them (so he did not call it distortion), as Allāh has stated: ‘Argue with them in the way that is best’[8]. At the same time, though, the author is not saying that everything that is termed ta’wīl is to be avoided. Nor should one forgo abandoning the apparent meaning (for a figurative meaning) of a Sacred Text when and if there is some dominating proof for it. What he means is that one must avoid the false, innovated interpretations that go contrary to the opinions of the pious forefathers (salaf), and that the Book and the Sunnah demonstrate to be wrong; and one must avoid speaking about Allāh without knowledge. From the fraudulent examples of ta’wīl (fanciful interpretations) are the interpretations of the evidence concerning Beatific Vision, the evidence concerning Allāh’s transcendence, the interpretation that Allāh did not speak to Moses and that Allāh did not take Abraham as His friend.

In fact, the word ta’wīl itself began to be used in a manner other than its original sense. The meaning of ta’wīl in the Book of Allāh and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) is the reality of the thing that the text points to. For example, the ta’wīl of an informative statement is the occurrence of the action described; and the ta’wīl of a prescriptive statement is the performance of the action prescribed. ‘Ā’isha said: ‘The Messenger of Allāh (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) used to say during his bowing (in prayer), ‘Glory be to You, Allāh, our Lord, and praise to You. Allāh. Forgive me’ in implementation (yata’awwalu) of the Qur’ān[9].’ Allāh also says in the Qur’ān: ‘Do they just wait for the fulfillment (ta’wīl) of the event? On the day the event is finally fulfilled (ya’ti ta’wīluhū) those who disregarded it before will say: ‘The messengers of our Lord did indeed bring true (tidings)’[10]. In a similar sense is the notion of ta’wīl of a dream or ta’wīl of a deed. For example, Allāh says: ‘This is the fulfillment (ta’wīl) of my dream I had before’[11]; ‘He will teach you the interpretation (ta’wīl) of the stories’[12]; ‘That is the best and most suitable for final determination (ta’wīl)’[13]; ‘Now I will tell you the reality (ta’wīl) of those things which you were unable to be patient with’[14]; and: ‘Such is the interpretation (ta’wīl) of things concerning which you were unable to be patient’[15]. Who can deny the existence of those kinds of ta’wīl and the knowledge of what is related to command and prohibition from them?

As for informative statements, such as reports about Allāh and the Hereafter, no one knows their ta’wīl, which is their exact reality. All that is known about them is what they state, but they cannot simply be known by description. If we do not have a prior idea of an object or have not yet experienced something, we cannot know its reality (ta’wīl) simply through description. In this sense, the ta’wīl of ultimate realities is known only to Allāh. But the fact that no one else knows their ta’wīl in this sense does not mean that we cannot understand them. There is no verse in the Qur’ān that Allāh does not require us to reflect upon. Nor has He revealed a single verse except that He loves that we comprehend the meaning He intended by that verse, yet its ultimate reality is known to none but Him. This is what the word ta’wīl means in the Qur’ān, the Sunnah and statements of the Elders, regardless of whether it is in agreement with the apparent meaning of a text or not.

The word ta’wīl is used by many commentators on the Qur’ān, such as Ibn Jarīr al-Tabari (310AH) and others, to mean the exegesis of the passage regardless of whether it is the apparent meaning of the words or not. This is a famous usage of the term. In that case, ta’wīl is the same thing as tafsīr; what is correct is praised and what is wrong is rejected.


[1] https://www.islam21c.com/theology/al-%E1%B9%ADa%E1%B8%A5awiyyah-pt-31-32-seeing-allah/

[2] H. Muslim

[3] See Sharh al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah by Ibn ‘Abdil ‘Izz

[4] H. Al-Bukhārī & Muslim

[5] Q. Al-Fīl, 105: 1.

[6] H. Al-Bukhārī & Muslim

[7] Q. Al-An’ām, 6: 112.

[8] Q. Al-Naḥl, 16:125.

[9] H. Al-Bukhārī & Muslim. The word ‘yata’awwalu’ refers to the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) literally praising Allāh with the very words mentioned in the Qur’ān when Allāh said: ‘then glorify your Lord’s praise and ask His forgiveness. He is the Ever-Returning’ [al-Nasr: 3] [10] Q. Al-A’rāf, 7: 53.

[11] Q. Yūsuf, 12: 100.

[12] Q. Yūsuf, 12: 6.

[13] Q. Al-Nisā, 4: 59

[14] Q. Al-Kahf, 18: 78.

[15] Q. Al-Kahf, 18: 8.

Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-‘Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, edited by Asim Khan, 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-‘Aqīdah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, is a short text outlining the ‘aqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements.

About Shaikh (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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