Al-Khattabi on the Priority of Avoiding tashbih For Both the Salaf and the Khalaf
As we have shown in the excerpts of Nawawi and Subki [See posts: "Nawawi on ta'wil" and "Subkion ta'wil"] concerning the avoidance of and the recourse to figurative interpretation among both the Salaf and the Khalaf, the priority was to repel false understandings and prevent the pitfall of attributing to Allah the characteristics of creation. Again and again, the paradigm upon which is grounded the entire foundation for understanding Allah and His attributes is: "There is nothing like Him whatsoever." This paradigm becomes even more essential, if such a thing is possible, in times when the threat of heretical views becomes excessively felt. The great hafiz Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi (d. 386) addresses this absolute priority in clear and direct terms in his Commentary on Abu Dawud's Sunan:Abu `Ubayd (d. 222)1 used to say: "As for us we narrate those hadiths but we do not smear them with meanings." Abu Sulayman says: It is even more relevant for us not to be forward in that from which those who have more knowledge, antiquity, and seniority than us stood back.
However, the people of the time in which we live have joined two parties. The first [the Mu`tazila and Jahmiyya] altogether disavow this kind of hadith and declares them forged to begin with, which implies their giving the lie to the scholars who have narrated them, that is, the imams of our religion and the transmitters of the prophetic ways, and the intermediaries between us and Allah's Messenger. The second party [the Mushabbiha] gives its assent to the narrations and appplies their outward meanings literally in a way bordering anthropomorphism.
As for us we steer clear from both views, and accept neither as our school. It is therefore incumbent upon us to seek for these hadiths, when they are cited and established as authentic from the perspectives of transmission and attribution, an interpretation (ta'wil) extracted according to the known meanings of the foundations of the Religion and the schools of the scholars, without rejecting the narrations to begin with, as long as their chains are acceptable and narrators trustworthy.2 b) Al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam on the Obligationof Resorting to ta'wil to Refute InnovationShaykh al-Islam `Izz al-Din `Abd al-`Aziz ibn `Abd al-Salam al-Sulami al-Shafi`i (578-660) gave the following fatwa concerning interpretation of the divine attributes:
Q. What is the meaning of the Prophet's saying: "The heart of the believer is between two fingers of the Merciful, He turns it over as He wishes"?3 Does one contravene his obligation if he says: "I do not say anything concerning the verses and the hadiths on the attributes. Rather I hold the same belief concerning them as the Pious Salaf held. To speak about them is an innovation (bid`a), and I let them pass according to their external sense," or is interpretation necessary?
A. The meaning of the Prophet's saying, "The heart of the believer is between two fingers of the Merciful" is that Allah exerts His custody of it with His power and determination as He wills, changing it from disbelief to belief and from obedience to disobedience or the reverse. It is like His saying: "Blessed is He in Whose hand is the sovereignty" (67:1) and: "O Prophet! Say unto those captives who are in your hands" (8:70). It is understood that the captives were not left in the physical hands of the Muslims but that they were subdued and conquered by them. The same applies to the expressions: "Specific and non-specific matters are in the hand of so-and-so," and "The slaves and the animals are in the hand of so-and-so." It is understood that all these mean that they are in his control (istila') and disposal and not in his physical hand. Similarly Allah's saying: "Or he agrees to forgo it in whose hand is the marriage tie" (2:237). The marriage tie is not in his physical hand, but the hand is only an expression of his empowerment and his ability to dispose of the matter.
For one to say: "I believe in this matter what the Salaf believed" is a lie. How does he believe what he has no idea about, and the meaning of which he does not know?
Nor is speaking about the meaning a reprehensible innovation, but rather an obligatory excellent innovation (bid`a hasana wajiba) whenever something dubious appears. The only reason the Salaf kept from such discourse is that in their time no-one construed the words of Allah and those of His Prophet to mean what it is not permissible to construe them to mean. If any such dubiousness had appeared in their time they would have shown it to be a lie and rejected it strenuously. Thus did the Companions and the Salaf refute the Qadariyya when the latter brought out their innovation, although they did not use to address such matters before the Qadariyya appeared on the scene. Nor did they reply to the individuals who mentioned them. Nor did any of the Companions relate any of it from the Prophet since there was no need for it. And Allah knows best."4
1 Abu `Ubayd al-Qasim ibn Sallam.
2 Al-Khattabi, Ma`alim al-sanan `ala sunan Abi Dawud (Hims ed.)5:95. Cited in al-Buti, al-Salafiyya marhalatun zamaniyyatunmubarakatun la madhhabun islami (Damascus: dar al-fikr, 1408/1988) p. 140.
3 Muslim (#2654), Ahmad (2:168), Ajurri, Shari`a (p. 316).
4 al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam, Fatawa, ed. `Abd al-Rahman ibn`Abd al-Fattah (Beirut: dar al-ma`rifa,1406/1986) 55-57.
Reproduced with permission from
Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani's
The Repudiation of "Salafi" Innovations (Kazi, 1996) p. 113-116.
Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his CompanionsAbu Hammad