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ʿAqīdah

The safest position on the issue of Istawā' ʿalā al-ʿArsh and the likes
By Zuber Karim
© Zuber Karim 2009
The Salafis, Deobandis or Barelwis of whatever Manhaj leanings, whether Ashʿarī,
Māturdī or of whatever inclinations among the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaʿah agree
upon the fact that the safest Madh-hab regarding these types of issue is that o
f the Salaf al-Sālihīn, Sahābah ( ) and ultimately, Rasūlullah (
) . That is to believe unreservedly in all that has come from All
ah through his Messenger ( ). This belief should be from the h
eart and tongue. This is what Imān is all about. This is also the command of A
llah. Allah Taʿālā states:

( )
(
“Say ye: "We believe, in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham Ism
a`il Isaac Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given
to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another
of them and we bow to Allah (in Islam)." (136) So if they believe as ye believe
they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in
schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing
the All- Knowing. (137)”
(2:136-137)

Whilst observing verse 137, it reveals that if others uphold the same belief as
you, the believers, then they are guided, otherwise they are in schism. Al-Qurṭ
ubī states that you ( ye) in this verse is an address to the Prophet (
) and his Ummah. The belief outlined previously in verse 136, is unrese
rved Imān (faith) in Allah and all His revelations to His stated Messengers and
prophets, which entails belief in them (the prophets) too.
Rasūlullah and his companions as well as the Salaf after them remained steadfast
on this belief, thus, one does not find any Madh-hab of Ta'wīl in in the Aḥādīt
h nor the statements of the latter. This is the quality of ʿUlama Rāsikhīn fī a
l-ʿilm as mentioned in the Holy Qur'ān.
Man has always inquiries. He is inquisitive by nature. He is always in search o
f truth and since his childhood, pines for knowing the how-ness, what-ness and w
hy-ness of things around him. Hence, the birth of philosophy is logical. Does a
philosopher always reach the truth? Is he in need of a tool, in this case, reve
lation, to assist him in solving the mysteries that baffle him? The writer does
not wish to answer these questions, however, seeks to make them as introduction
to the following.
The inquiry being a human nature, has never become dislodged from the prophets t
oo. Take an example of ʿUzair ( ) when he saw the destroyed city of J
erusalem as stated in the book of Allah:
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Or (take) the similitude of one who passed by a hamlet, all in ruins to its roof
s. He said: "Oh! how shall Allah bring it (ever) to life, after (this) its death
?" But Allah caused him to die for a hundred years, then raised him up (again).
He said: "How long didst thou tarry (thus)?" He said: "(perhaps) a day or part o
f a day." He said: "Nay, thou hast tarried thus a hundred years; but look at thy
food and thy drink; they show no signs of age; and look at thy donkey: and that
We may make of thee a Sign unto the people Look further at the bones, how We br
ing them together and clothe them with flesh! When this was shown clearly to him
he said: "I know that Allah hath power over all things." (2:259)
His question about how the ruined city will be revived in “Oh! how shall Allah b
ring it (ever) to life, after (this) its death?" But Allah caused him to die for
a hundred years, then raised him up (again). He said: "How long didst thou tarr
y (thus)?”, was not of a negator but of a wonder-struck believer who believed in
the power of Allah of resuscitating the life in this once bustling city, thus h
e wondered about Allah's mechanics or how-ness of its reconstruction as highlig
hted by Jalālayn. He slept for a hundred years as the verse proves, in which pe
riod his donkey was reduced to fractured skeleton, yet he and his provisions, t
he juice and fresh figs remained intact during the said time. During the same pe
riod, the city underwent re-building. The commentators point that he was overpo
wered by sleep after making his inquiring statement in the morning and woke up a
fter a century in the later hours of the day, thus, answering to Allah that his
rest was for "(perhaps) a day or part of a day." Allah informed him that the ti
me was more than that, 100 years. Allah, the Almighty told him to observe two s
ets of items, i) the juice and the fig and ii) the donkey. The first set was in
tact while the second was in skeletal form. The bones started joining together
until the the flesh-less skeletal structure stood. The flesh and later the skin
were incorporated to it until the life was inserted to it when it brayed, on se
eing this he concluded, "I know that Allah hath power over all things."
The Messenger of Allah, Ibrahim's ( ) inquiry on how does Allah bring
the mortals to life is another example to the natural quest in human beings. Al
lah knowingly asks, “ ”, “Do not you believe?” He responded, "Yes (I be
lieve), but to be stronger in Faith.” These incidents point to the fact that un
reserved belief was present but the inquiry was human in nature as part of wonde
r and not as part of doubt in faith, let alone negation in belief. Ibrahim's (
) nearness to Allah, gave access to such bravery and to serve as Hujj
ah(evidence) for us. Analysing this type of inquiry and comparing it with that o
f philosophers, one finds a great deal of difference in approach and thought, th
us my former questions persist, “Is he (the philosopher) in need of a tool, in t
his case, revelation, to assist him in solving the mysteries that baffle him?” A
nd does a philosopher always reach the truth? Perhaps a ponderous look into the
afore-mentioned verses and other verses on the same subject may assist in calmi
ng the yearning to climb the peaks of knowledge the hard way and help conquer th
em fast.
The onslaught on the pure ʿAqīdah of Salaf happened during the entry of Hellenis
tic philosophy into the lands of Muslims. Thus, the Muʿtazilī school was an aff
irmative testament to this. While, on the contrary, Ashʿarī and Māturdī schools
of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaʿah were a philosophical response to it. These schoo
ls which soon gained momentum and succeeded in challenging the Muʿtazilites duri
ng debates were fast gaining rigidity. As time passed, Muʿtazilī thought whose b
ackbone was the ruling class weakened. The philosophical debate was won by the
Ashʿarī and Māturdī schools. At all times, the popular stance in ʿaqīdah (Cree
d) was that of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaʿah. The debates brought about the Madh-
hab of Ta'wīl, which was incorporated into the scientific works of Ahl al-Sunnah
wa al-Jamaʿah. The reason for its introduction was to speak the same language
(lingua franca) as the philosophers' and remedy their quests. It was the need o
f the said time that compelled bringing about this madh-hab, thus serving as bar
rier to any absurd philosophical entry into the system of Deen that may corrupt
it and serving as material of defence to any philosophical onslaught in the futu
re.
Do philosophers in their quest for truth get always right or do they sometimes d
eviate? Imam al-Haramayn al-Sharifayn Abdur Rahman al-Jawini, a man of great ph
ilosophical expertise states, “I read 50,000 philosophical works during 50,000 s
eatings. I was able to disable the Muslim philosophers from the non-Muslim ones
within these articles. See, now I am following the religion of an old lady [me
aning: my beliefs and thoughts are simple].” Imam Ghazali in his quest to quen
ch his thirst, left the highest seat of learning, His article Fī Tarīq al-Sadaʿ
āh wa al-Yaqīn bears testimony to the well that quenched his thirst. To the wri
ter, these two incidents are seen as a u-turn to the madh-hab of Salaf.
The Salaf always enjoyed purity in beliefs. They encouraged simplistic and surf
ace approach in them. Imam Malik's anger to the inquirer about Istawā' ʿalā al-
ʿArsh emphasises this. Imam Malik inclined his head and was silent until he was
covered with sweat, then he looked up and said: “Istawā is not unknown, the mod
ality of it is inconceivable in the mind; but belief in it is obligatory, and in
quiring about it is a heretical innovation. You are an innovator.”1 And he order
ed the man to be taken out. Take an example of Abdullah ibn Mubarak and others w
hilst passing by the likes of such verses, stating, “Amirrūhā kamā Jā'at” “Pass
them as they came”. This is for some reasons. First, we have not been command
ed to ponder over them deeply and compose anything about them, however, we have
been commanded to believe in them and absorb the grandeur and power of Allah th
at Allah demonstrates in them (the latter [from 'absorb' onward] may explain the
madh-hab of Ta'wīl). Second, any pose and ponder and analogy with the human su
rroundings will bring about similitude (Tashībh) which Allah is free from. The
same attitude is observable in many commentators who often use the word “Kamā ya
līqu bi Jalāli Dhātihī” “As the grandeur of His Being deserves” in the likes of
Istawā' ʿalā al-ʿArsh. This is the safest position. Other commentators, togeth
er with this, may add the madh-hab of Ta'wīl, however, the preference remained
always for the former to the latter.
Conclusively, the safest (Aslam) madh-hab that every Muslim scholar and non-scho
lar agrees upon is that of Salaf al-Sālihīn, Sahābah and ultimately, Rasūlullah
( ) which is to unreservedly believe in what Allah has reveale
d and not to inquire in the how-ness of such verses as neither has one been com
manded to do so nor is the human intellect capable of grasping it due to its lim
itations. The benefits of adhering to this position are plenty, which puts one
in par with and on the same stance as Salaf al-Sālihīn, Sahābah ( )
and ultimately, Rasūlullah ( ) and other prophets (
) regarding Imān, in which the safety of one's Deen rests and in which the flaw
less guidance is found. For Barakah, I wish to conclude this article with the v
erses quoted in the beginning:

( )
(
“Say ye: "We believe, in Allah and the revelation given to us and to Abraham Ism
a`il Isaac Jacob and the Tribes and that given to Moses and Jesus and that given
to (all) Prophets from their Lord we make no difference between one and another
of them and we bow to Allah (in Islam)." (136) So if they believe as ye believe
they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in
schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing
the All- Knowing. (137)”
(2:136-137)