June 23, 2024
Divine-Attributes

In the Name of Allah—the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful.

Divine Attributes in Hanbali Doctrine


Divine Attributes in Hanbali
Doctrine

From a theological
viewpoint, the Hanbali doctrine shares many core beliefs with other Sunni
theological schools, such as the Ash’ari and Maturidi schools. However, there
are some specific theological nuances within the Hanbali tradition.

The Hanbali
doctrine strongly emphasizes the concept of Tawhid, which is the belief
in the oneness of Allah (God). Hanbali theologians affirm the absolute unity
and uniqueness of Allah, rejecting any form of association or partnership with
Him. They emphasize the transcendence of Allah and His attributes, affirming
them as described in the Qur’an and Hadith, without delving into speculative
interpretation or analogy.

In the Hanbali theological
perspective, there is a strong emphasis on affirming the divine attributes of
Allah as they are mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith. Hanbali theologians
refrain from delving into philosophical or metaphorical interpretations of
these attributes and avoid ascribing a specific modality or how these
attributes manifest in Allah.

Hanbalis believe that Allah’s attributes are unique to Him and cannot be compared to any created beings. They assert that Allah is fundamentally different from His creation and His attributes are perfect and distinct from any human or worldly qualities. Hanbalis reject any
anthropomorphic interpretations or attempts to liken Allah’s attributes to the
attributes of the creation.

For example, when affirming Allah’s attribute of knowledge, Hanbali theologians believe that Allah possesses perfect and comprehensive knowledge that encompasses everything, without delving into the specifics of how exactly Allah knows or the nature of His knowledge. They affirm the attribute without engaging in speculative discussions about the modality of Allah’s knowledge.

Similarly, when affirming Allah’s attribute of mercy, Hanbali theologians affirm that Allah is indeed merciful, but they do not delve into the specifics of how Allah’s mercy is manifested or how it relates to human experiences of mercy. They affirm the attribute without attempting to comprehend or define the intricacies of Allah’s mercy.

In this way, Hanbali theology emphasizes a humble and cautious approach when dealing with Allah’s attributes. They acknowledge the importance of affirming these attributes as part of the belief in Allah’s perfection while recognizing the limitations of human understanding and the vastness of Allah’s nature. Hanbalis prioritize adhering to the explicit textual mentions of Allah’s attributes and avoid engaging in philosophical speculation or
metaphorical interpretations that may lead to misinterpretation or anthropomorphism.

When studying the theological
works of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him), it is evident
that he employed both the approaches of Ta’weel (interpretation) and Tafweedh
(referral) when discussing the Divine Attributes. Ta’weel refers to
interpreting the meanings of the attributes, while Tafweedh involves
deferring the knowledge of the exact nature or modality of the attributes to
Allah without delving into specific interpretations.

Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) recognized the limitations of human understanding when it comes to comprehending Divine Attributes. He acknowledged that some attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith are subject to interpretation and metaphorical understanding, as they are described in a way that is beyond human capacity to fully grasp. In such cases, he would resort to Ta’weel, seeking to understand the intended
meaning while acknowledging that the reality of the attribute remains known
only to Allah.

Imam Qadhi Abu Ya’ala al-Hanbali (may Allah have mercy on him) mentioned some instances of Divine Attributes where Imaa Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him) used Ta’weel to render the appropriate meanings in his work Ibtal al-Ta’weelat. We are giving only two instances here for the sake of the briefness of this article.

Allah Almighty says:
“Do you not see that Allah knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth? If three converse privately, He is their fourth. If five, He is their sixth. Whether fewer or more, He is with them1 wherever they may be. Then, on the Day of Judgment, He will inform them of what they: have done. Surely Allah has ˹perfect˺ knowledge of all things.” [Surah al-Mujadilah, 58:7]

Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him interpreted His company with His Divine Knowledge.

Allah Almighty says:
“Indeed, it is We ˹Who˺ created humankind and ˹fully˺ know what their souls whisper to them, and We are closer to them than ˹their˺ jugular vein.”

[Surah Qaf, 50:16]

 Imam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him interpreted His closeness to the jugular vein with His Divine Knowledge.

On the other hand, there were instances when Imam Ahmad preferred Tafweedh, which means entrusting the knowledge of the exact nature or modality of the attributes to Allah. Instead of engaging in detailed interpretations, he would affirm the attributes as they are mentioned in the texts without delving into speculative explanations.

Based on the approach taken by Imam Ahmad, it can be concluded that both Ta’weel and Tafweedh are valid and reliable approaches to discussing the Divine Attributes. Neither of these approaches can be declared as innovations or rejected outright. Imam Ahmad’s utilization of both approaches highlights the recognition of the limitations of human understanding and the need to maintain a balanced approach when discussing matters related to Divine Attributes.

Indeed, it is essential to clarify
that Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy on him) did not rigidly adhere
to a purely literal interpretation of the Divine Attributes, contrary to what
some scholars may claim. While he affirmed the existence and reality of these
attributes, he did not engage in defining their exact nature or modality.

For instance:

Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated:
“The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w) would often say: Ya Muqallibal-qulub, thabbit qalbi ‘ala dinik (‘O Changer of the Hearts! Strengthen my heart upon Your Religion.)’ So I said: ‘O Prophet of Allah! We believe in you and what you have come with, but do you fear for us?’ He said: ‘Yes. Indeed the hearts are between two Fingers of Allah’s Fingers, He changes them as He wills.'”
[Jami’ al-Tirmidhi: H#2140]


Qadhi Abu Yaala commented on this Hadith:

“I understand that it is not forbidden to stick with the ‘apparent text’ of the narration in confirming the fingers, the index finger, and the one following it, as narrated in the hadith of Jabir. In adhering to the ‘apparent text’, there is nothing that negates His attributes or goes against what He deserves, as we explained in the previous narration. This is because we do not establish fingers that are limbs or body parts, but rather we use the term as we use the terms for hands, face, eyes, and so on. The intended meaning of the narration is to instill fear of Allah and hasten toward obedience, as well as to fear the consequences of turning away from it.|

The concept of the “apparent text” was utilized by earlier Hanbali scholars, known as Mutaqaddimin Hanabilah, in their discussions regarding the Divine Attributes of Allah. These scholars were cautious and careful in their approach to interpreting these attributes, particularly those that appear anthropomorphic in nature, i.e., attributes that were described using human body parts or characteristics.

Rather than ascribing literal human-like meanings to these attributes, the Mutaqaddimin Hanabilah chose to affirm the words of the texts while rejecting their literal interpretations. They recognized that these descriptions were used in a metaphorical or figurative sense, conveying deeper meanings beyond the limitations of human physicality.

By affirming the “apparent text,” they acknowledged the wording and expressions used in the texts while emphasizing the need to understand them in a manner that befits the majesty and transcendence of Allah. They were cautious not to attribute human characteristics or limitations to the divine essence, as this would contradict the fundamental Islamic belief in the absolute uniqueness and incomparability of Allah.

The approach of the Mutaqaddimin Hanabilah reflects their deep reverence for the divine attributes and their commitment to preserving the pure monotheistic understanding of Islam. They sought to strike a balance between affirming the texts and avoiding any anthropomorphization or distortion of Allah’s essence, emphasizing that the true essence of these attributes is beyond human comprehension and should be understood within the framework of Islamic theological principles.

Qadhi Abu Ya’ala al-Hnabli notes
in his work Ibtal al-Ta’weelat:

بل نثبت ذَلِكَ صفة كما أثبتنا اليدين
والوجه والعين والسمع والبصر، وإن لم نعقل معناه

“Rather, we affirm that
attribute just as we affirm the hands, face, eyes, hearing, and sight. Even if
we do not comprehend its meaning.

The phrase “وإن لم نعقل معناه” in the given context indicates that
even if we do not comprehend the exact meaning or nature of the Divine
Attributes, we still affirm their existence. This implies that Imam Ahmad
recognized the limitations of human understanding when it comes to
comprehending the true essence of the Divine Attributes. Qadhi Abu Ya’ala al-Hanbali repeatedly mentioned that the human-like qualities ascribed to Allah are not body parts or limbs, but we don’t know their meanings and nature.

Imam Ahmad did not insist on a
strictly literal interpretation of the Divine Attributes, where human-like
qualities are ascribed to Allah. Instead, he affirmed the attributes as they
are mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith, without delving into the specifics of
their modality or how they manifest in Allah. He acknowledged that these
attributes are unique to Allah and cannot be fully comprehended by human
intellect.

By stating “وإن لم نعقل معناه” (even if we do not comprehend its
meaning), Imam Ahmad emphasized the belief and affirmation of the Divine
Attributes, despite the limitations of human understanding. This indicates his
approach of not engaging in speculative interpretations or attempting to fully
grasp the true essence of these attributes. Rather, he focused on adhering to
the texts and affirming the attributes as they are mentioned.

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah
have mercy on him) did not assert that Allah Almighty possesses a face and
hands in a literal sense. It is important to note that he refrained from
ascribing literal meanings to the Divine Attributes. Imam Ahmad adopted a
cautious approach, avoiding anthropomorphic interpretations that would
attribute human-like physical qualities to Allah.

Imam Ahmad recognized the clear textual references in the Qur’an and Hadith that mention attributes such as the “face” or “hands” of Allah. However, he firmly believed that these attributes should not be understood in a literal or anthropomorphic manner. Instead, he
affirmed their existence as they are mentioned, without delving into their specific nature or modality.

Imam Ahmad, in his approach, sought to uphold the transcendence and uniqueness of Allah. He understood that Allah’s attributes are distinct and beyond the limitations of human comprehension. Imam Ahmad emphasized the importance of avoiding any resemblance or likeness between the Creator and the creation. Therefore, he refrained from ascribing a literal understanding to the Divine Attributes, recognizing that Allah is beyond human limitations and definitions.

By not ascribing literal meanings to the Divine Attributes, Imam Ahmad sought to preserve the belief in the transcendence and incomparability of Allah. He avoided engaging in speculative interpretations or delving into the specifics of how these attributes manifest.

It is important to remember that Imam Ahmad’s approach was in line with the broader teachings of Islam, where scholars across different theological schools have emphasized the transcendent nature of Allah and cautioned against anthropomorphism. His stance was aimed at preserving the proper understanding of Allah’s attributes while acknowledging the limitations of human language and comprehension in describing divine reality.

In conclusion, Imam Ahmad did not claim that Allah possesses a face and hands in a literal sense. Rather, he avoided ascribing literal meanings to the Divine Attributes, highlighting the transcendent nature of Allah and emphasizing that these attributes should be understood in a manner that upholds His uniqueness and incomparability.

Imam Ahmad’s emphasis on affirming
the attributes without delving into their exact meanings or modality can be
seen as a cautious approach that avoids both excessive literalism and
speculative interpretations. His main concern was to preserve the texts and
avoid falling into anthropomorphism or distorting the concept of Allah’s
transcendence and uniqueness.

Therefore, Imam Ahmad’s approach
can be understood as affirming the existence and reality of the Divine
Attributes, while recognizing the limitations of human understanding and
refraining from defining or ascribing specific qualities to Allah that are
beyond our comprehension.

Imam Ahmad recognized the
limitations of human understanding when it comes to comprehending the Divine
Attributes. He understood that these attributes are unique to Allah and cannot
be compared to anything in creation. Imam Ahmad emphasized the affirmation of
these attributes as they are mentioned in the Qur’an and Hadith, without
delving into speculative explanations or ascribing a specific modality to them.

Some scholars have mistakenly attributed a strict literalist approach to Imam Ahmad’s understanding of the Divine Attributes. However, a comprehensive study of his works reveals that he adopted a more balanced approach, combining elements of interpretation (Ta’weel) and referral (Tafweedh) depending on the context and subject matter.

Imam Ahmad’s approach can be seen as a middle ground between those who engaged in excessive metaphorical interpretations that led to misinterpretation of the attributes, and those who resorted to anthropomorphism by ascribing human-like qualities to Allah. He sought to affirm the attributes as they are mentioned while acknowledging that the true nature and reality of these attributes remain known only to Allah.

Therefore, it is incorrect to portray Imam Ahmad as strictly advocating for a literal interpretation of the Divine Attributes. His methodology was rooted in preserving the texts and avoiding speculative discussions that may lead to misrepresentation or confusion. He emphasized the importance of maintaining the balance between affirming the attributes and recognizing the limitations of human understanding.

It is important to note that this
perspective is specific to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and different scholars within
the Hanbali school may have varying views on this matter. Ultimately, the true
nature and understanding of the Divine Attributes remain known only to Allah,
and human attempts to comprehend them are limited by our finite capabilities.

For example, Ibn Taymiyyah, a prominent Hanbali scholar, is well-known for his strict literalist approach in understanding the Divine Attributes. He placed great emphasis on the apparent or surface meanings of the texts, considering them as the primary basis for understanding these attributes.

Ibn Taymiyyah believed in adhering closely to the literal meanings of the Qur’an and Hadith, particularly when it came to descriptions of Allah’s attributes. He considered these descriptions to be clear and unambiguous, and therefore, he insisted on affirming them literally as they are mentioned.

He insisted that Allah Almighty has a face literally, but His face is not like the faces of the created beings. He has hands with fingers, feet,, and voice literally but they are unique in modality. Even Ibn Taymiyyah refused to negate a Jism (body) for Almighty Allah and asserted that he is not sure whether He has a body or not, because the word may have a lot of definitions. So there is a possibility that by negating a Jism from Almighty Allah we might be negating His Essence. Ibn Taymiyyah criticized Imam Qadhi Abu Ya’ala al-Hanbali for refusing to ascribe a ‘direction/dimension’ (Jihah) to Almighty Allah, to avoid Tajseem (embodiment).

[Majmu’ Fatawa ibn Taymiyyah: 3/72, King Fahd Quran Complex , Medinah]

Ibn Taymiyyah’s emphasis on the apparent or surface meanings of the texts has been a subject of debate and criticism. One of the concerns raised by some scholars is the potential for anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human-like qualities or characteristics to Allah literally. This can occur when the literal meanings of certain descriptions are taken without proper qualification or understanding.

According to Ibn Taymiyyah, affirming the literal meanings of Divine Attributes does not mean attributing human-like qualities to Him. He argued that the attributes are to be understood in a manner that befits Allah’s majesty and without drawing any resemblance between the Creator and the created beings.

However, it should be noted that despite Ibn Taymiyyah’s efforts, there are varying interpretations and assessments of whether his approach successfully avoids anthropomorphism. Scholars and theologians have engaged in extensive discussions and debates on this matter, offering different perspectives and critiques.

On the other hand, Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdasi al-Hanbali Rahimahullah tried to preserve Imam Ahmad’s approach to avoid the literal meanings of the Divine Attributes. He quoted Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal as follows:

Imam Abu Abdullah Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal (may Allah be pleased with him) said regarding the statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him): “Verily, Allah descends to the lowest heaven” or “Verily, Allah will be seen in the Hereafter,” and similar narrations: We believe in them, affirm them without delving into their modality or meaning, and we do not reject any part of them. We know that what the Messenger (peace be upon him) conveyed is true, and we do not reject the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). We do not ascribe to Allah more than what He has described Himself with, without limits or boundaries. [Luma tal Itiqad: P#6-7]

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