Wednesday, 25 November 2015

A Concise Summary of Theology: The Attributes of Allah the Exalted

And answering those who insist on asking 'Where is Allah?'




By Imam Muhammad Saeed Ramadan al-Bouti, may Allah have mercy on him

Translated by Mahdi Lock


The Attributes of Allah the Exalted

To be concise, we can say: Our Lord is described with all the attributes of perfection and He is transcendent above every attribute of imperfection, and there is no need for us to go into detail.

Say it concisely and believe in it with certainty: ‘Our Lord, Mighty and Majestic, is described with all the attributes of perfection and our Lord, may His Majesty be manifest, is transcendent above every attribute of imperfection.’ However, our scholars have gathered the attributes of perfection in one category and we call them the Essential Attributes (ummahāt as-ṣifāt), i.e. Allah’s, Glorified and Exalted, essential attributes, and under each attribute there are several attributes that are included under these essential attributes, and the theologians have organised them into the following categories:

-          A personal attribute (ṣifah nafsiyyah), which is one
-          Attributes of negation (ṣifāt silbiyyah), and they are five
-          Attributes of affirmation (ṣifāt maʿānī), and they are seven
-          Attributes of affirmed meaning (ifāt maʿnawiyyah), and they are also seven
The total is thus twenty attributes, and you will find that all the attributes of perfection are included in these twenty attributes.

The first is the personal attribute. I told you that the personal attribute is one attribute; what is it? It is existence (al-wujūd). Allah’s existence is an attribute of His, but it is an essential attribute or you can say that it is a personal attribute. In other words, Allah’s existence is nothing more than His Essence; it is nothing more than His essential existence.

The second is the attributes of negation; why are they called attributes of negation? It’s because you can’t define them unless you negate something. In other words, you can’t define them unless you negate what Allah, Mighty and Majestic, is transcendent above. For example, we say that the first one is oneness (al-wadaniyyah). Define oneness. How do you define it? It is the lack of plurality. Therefore, you’ve explained it by means of negation.

Pre-eternality (al-qidam): how do you define pre-eternality? He doesn’t have a beginning.

Everlastingness (al-baqāʾ): how do you define everlastingness? He doesn’t have an end. And so forth.

This is why we call these attributes, attributes of negation, i.e. you can’t define them unless you negate what Allah, Mighty and Majestic, is transcendent above.

The third is the attributes of affirmation, and they are every attribute that is established for Allah the Exalted’s Essence, and their establishment necessitates a specific ruling, such as us saying, for example:

The attribute of knowledge (al-ʿilm); this attribute is established for Allah the Exalted Essence, and the establishment of this attribute necessitates a specific ruling, which is that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, knows (ʿalīm).

The attribute of speech (al-kalām); it is an attribute that is established for Allah, Mighty and Majestic, and its establishment necessitates that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, speaks (mutakallim).

The attribute of will (irādah); it is an attribute that is established for Allah, Mighty and Majestic, and its establishment necessitates that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, wills (murīd).

Therefore, the attributes of affirmation are the attributes that are established for Allah the Exalted’s Essence, their establishment necessitates a ruling for Allah, Mighty and Majestic, and under these attributes – the attributes of affirmation, which are seven attributes – are several other attributes, but they are summarised in these seven attributes.

“Destroyed are those who exaggerate”

There are many ways of penetrating too deeply, and it suffices you to know that the one who penetrates too deeply knows that he is penetrating too deeply, because he does not seek Allah’s Face by doing so. Rather, he seeks to make himself look piously careful; he wants to make himself look like a thorough investigator. He wants to make himself look like someone, as you know.
In theology, there are people who claim that they are the masters of calling to Allah, Mighty and Majestic. They try to call people to Allah, Mighty and Majestic. They put the Islamic creed into their hearts and the first thing that is said to one of them is: ‘Where is Allah?’ Yes, ‘where is Allah?’, and the answer should be articulated on the tongue and indicated with the hand: ‘in the sky.’ If one doesn’t say that, and one doesn’t do that, he has disbelieved and his faith is incomplete. He has deviated from the Islamic creed.

My brother, this is one of the worst kinds of exaggeration (tanaṭṭuʿ) which al-Muṣṭafā, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, has forbidden. This poor person is a believer in Allah, his heart is overflowing with faith in Allah, Mighty and Majestic, and if you were to ask him, ‘Does the Creator, Mighty and Majestic, have a place?’, he would say, ‘I seek refuge in Allah! Allah the Exalted is transcendent above having a place.’ Is He confined within a specific time?’ He would respond, ‘I seek refuge in Allah! Nothing is comparable to Him.’ He knows this instinctively and easily, and then you come along in order to force and impose upon him things that have nothing to do with him! And this is what makes him guilty of disbelief according to these people.

If this person has some Islamic education and knowledge of Allah’s religion, he will be able to answer these people the way Allah answered them. It would be said to him, ‘Where is Allah?’ and he would reply, ‘I say what Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has said, “It is He Who is Allah in heaven and Allah in the earth.”[1] I say what the Exalted has said, “Do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven causing the earth to swallow you up?”[2] I say what He has said, “We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.}”[3] I say everything that Allah, Mighty and Majestic, has said…and they will say, ‘No! You must say that Allah is in the sky. Don’t mention the other āyāt.’ This is the worst kind of exaggeration, and this is why al-Muṣṭafā, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, {Destroyed are those who exaggerate.}[4]

They say, ‘We follow the speech of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, because he, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, {Where is Allah?}, and she thus indicated… There is something called ‘the reality of a situation (wāqiʿat ḥāl), and the reality of a situation is one of the most important matters in the Islamic Revealed Law which every Muslim should know, let alone those who call to Allah, Mighty and Majestic. This lady was unable to speak. He master wanted to emancipate her so the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, wanted to examine the extent of her faith, i.e. to know whether she was a believer or not, so he, peace be upon him, said to her, “Where is Allah?” It would have been possible for her to point towards any idol, but she pointed towards the sky. Therefore, the meaning is that she believes in Allah and does not believe in idols. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, then indicated to her master to emancipate her (she’s a believer), and this is the reality of a situation. Is it obligatory upon every individual to do what this poor, mute, slave girl did?

The Creator, Mighty and Majestic, has said many things about Himself. He has said, “It is He Who is Allah in heaven and Allah in the earth.” He has said, “And He is with you wherever you are.”[5] If you want to interpret then you must interpret (taʾwīl) all the āyāt and not just interpret some of them. We say what the Salaf[6] said, what Allah, Mighty and Majestic has said, “And He is with you wherever you are.” We say just as He has said it, without how and without confining our Lord, Glorified and Exalted, within space and without confining our Lord, Glorified and Exalted, within time. Yes, we say this and this and that. If you say that He is in heaven, there’s nothing wrong in doing so, because He has said about His Essence: “Do you feel secure against Him Who is in heaven…” If you say that He is with us wherever we are, there is nothing wrong with it and there is no objection. However, to make more general statements based on what has been mentioned in the text (an-naṣṣ)[7], then no. For example, the bathroom is a place,[8] so do we say that the Creator is in the bathroom? We don’t say this, out of etiquette with Allah, Glorified and Exalted. However, when speaking in general, we say what Allah the Exalted has said, “And He is with you wherever you are.” Therefore, if you pick out one of these āyāt because it pleases you and suits your disposition and conceal the other āyāt from your memory, you are an exaggerator, and the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, says, {Destroyed are those who exaggerate.} Likewise, indicating with one’s finger is also a form of exaggeration. The slave girl had a reason for indicating. As for requiring everyone to indicate with their fingers in order for you to see the direction of highness,[9] and that they must do so, then no. I told you before that a student in America or Europe, I don’t remember, said to the questioner,[10] ‘You want me to say above, i.e. altitude, and that’s fine but this same direction that I see as high will be low in a country that is opposite to the one that I am in.’ In other words, you are attributing lowness to the Creator, Mighty and Majestic, in the same time that you are attributing highness to Him. You are attributing lowness to Him in one place and highness to Him in another place. Why is this exaggeration? Say, ‘Allah describes Himself with Highness as He has said.’ Don’t indicate. Don’t specify where the highness is; if you specify the highness then you are confining the Creator. I mention these examples to explain the meaning of the exaggeration that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, has forbidden.




[1]az-Zukhruf 43:84
[2]al-Mulk 67:16
[3] Qāf 50:16
[4] (tn): Narrated by Imam Muslim in his Ṣaḥīḥ
[5] al-Ḥadīd 57:4
[6](tn): i.e. the first three generations
[7] (tn): i.e. the Qurʾān and Sunnah
[8] (tn): i.e. it would be included in the meaning of “wherever you are”
[9]  Ar. ʿulūw, which can mean elevation, altitude, highness, exaltedness, sublimity etc.
[10] (tn): i.e. the one asking, “Where is Allah?”  

Tuesday, 10 November 2015