ON ALLAH’S ATTRIBUTES
Imam al-Bayhaqi mentions in the Section of his book al-I`tiqad wa’l-Hidayah ila Sabil al-Rashad:[i]
باب بيان صفة الذات وصفة الفعل:
قال الله جل ثناؤه هو الله الذي لا إله إلا هو عالم الغيب والشهادة هو الرحمن الرحيم هو الله الذي لا لإله إلا هو الملك القدوس السلام المؤمن المهيمن العزيز الجبار المتكبر سبحان الله عما يشركون هو الله الخالق البارئ المصور له الأسماء الحسنى يسبح له ما في السماوات والأرض وهو العزيز الحكيم فأشار في هذه الآيات إلى فصل أسماء الذات من أسماء الفعل على ما نبينه إلى سائر ما ذكر في كتابه من أسماء الذات وأسماء الفعل.
فلله عز اسمه أسماء وصفات وأسماؤه صفاته وصفاته أوصافه وهي على قسمين أحدهما صفات ذات والآخر صفات فعل…
1 – فصفات ذاته ما يستحقه فيما لم يزل ولا يزال وهو على قسمين أحدهما عقلي والآخر سمعي . فالعقلي ما كان طريق إثباته أدلة العقول مع ورود السمع به وهو على قسمين (1 : أحدهما ما يدل خبر المخبر به عنه ووصف الواصف له به على ذاته كوصف الواصف له بأنه شيء ذات موجود قديم إله ملك قدوس جليل عظيم متكبر والاسم والمسمى في هذا القسم واحد .2( والثاني ما يدل خبر المخبر به عنه ووصف الواصف له به على صفات زائدات على ذاته قائمات به وهو كوصف الواصف له بأنه حي عالم قادر مريد سميع بصير متكلم باق فدلت هذه الأوصاف على صفات زائدة على ذاته قائمة به كحياته وعلمه وقدرته وإرادته وسمعه وبصره وكلامه وبقائه والاسم في هذا القسم صفة قائمة بالمسمى لا يقال أنها هي المسمى ولا أنها غير المسمى
وأما السمعي فهو ما كان طريق إثباته الكتاب والسنة فقط كالوجه واليدين والعين وهذه أيضا صفات قائمة بذاته لا يقال فيها إنها هي المسمى ولا غير المسمى ولا يجوز تكييفها فالوجه له صفة وليست بصورة واليدان له صفتان وليستا الجارحتين والعين له صفة وليست بحدقة وطريق إثباتها له صفات ذات ورود خبر الصادق به…
2 – وأما صفات فعله فهي تسميات مشتقة من أفعاله ورد السمع بها مستحقة له فيما لا يزال دون الأزل لأن الأفعال التي اشتقت منها لم تكن في الأزل وهو كوصف الواصف له بأنه خالق رازق محيي مميت منعم مفضل فالتسمية في هذا القسم إن كانت من الله عز جل فهي صفة قائمة بذاته وهو كلامه لا يقال إنها المسمى ولا غير المسمى وإن كانت التسمية من المخلوق فهي فيها غير المسمى…
“Chapter on the Exposition of the Essential and Active Attributes: Allah says (may His praise be exalted!): (He is Allah besides whom there is no other deity except He; Knower of the Unseen, The Most Compassionate and Most Merciful; He is Allah besides whom there is no deity except He; The Sovereign Lord, The Holy, al-Salam; The Guardian of Faith, The Protector, the Mighty, The compeller, The Majestic, Glory be to Allah of what they ascribe to him. He is Allah, The Creator, The Maker, The Giver of Form who has the Most beautiful Names; All things in the heavens and the earth glorify him; He is The Mighty and The Most Wise…).[ii] Allah has indicated in this verse the difference between His ‘Essential’ and ‘Active’ attributes based on what we will explain regarding the rest of the Attributes that were mentioned in His Book of His Essential Names and Active names. Allah has (may His Name be exalted) Names (al-asma’) and Attributes (al-sifat). His Names are His Attributes and His Attributes are His ascriptions [or qualities = awasaf] and they divide into two types: the Essential Attributes (sifat al-dhat) and the Active Attributes (sifat al-fi`l).
1. [The first]: [Allah’s] Essential Attributes are what are necessary For Him and they have no beginning or end and they divide into two:[iii] rational (`aqliyy) and textual (sam`iy).
As for the rational, its mode of affirmation is by rational [analysis] that arises from a textual [evidence for it] which [further] divides into two types:
[a] the first is the indication of the predicate of that which is predicated of something or the qualification of that which is qualified by something upon the Essence [of Allah] like the qualification of the one possessing the qualification as a Being who is a ‘Thing’, ‘Essence’ ‘Existent’, ‘Eternal’, ‘Deity’, ‘Sovereign Lord’, ‘Holy’, ‘Exalted’, ‘Great’, ‘Majestic, etc. In this type, the name and the named are the same.
[b] The second [type of rational evidence] is the indication of the predicate of that which is predicated of something or the qualification of that which is qualified by something upon the attributes additional to those of [Allah’s] Essence although eternal with [the Essence] like the qualification of the one possessing the qualification as a Being who is ‘Living’, ‘Knowing’, ‘Powerful’, ‘Willing’, ‘Hearing’, ‘Seeing’, ‘Speaker’ and ‘Everlasting’, etc. These qualities [further] indicate additional attributes to those of the Essence but eternal with it such as ‘Life’, ‘Knowledge, ‘Power’, ‘Will’, ‘Hearing’, ‘Sight’, ‘Speech’, ‘Everlastingness’, etc. The name in this type is an [additional] attribute to but co-existent with the named and is neither fully identical to the named nor utterly distinct from it.
As for the textual, it is that which is affirmed[iv] by the Book and the Sunnah only such as ‘Face’, ‘Hands’, ‘Eye’, etc. These are attributes co-existent with the Essence. It cannot be said of them that they are fully identical to the named nor utterly distinct from it. They cannot be ascribed with a modality (takyif). [Allah] has a ‘Face’ which is his attribute but is not a form; He has ‘Hands’ which are his attributes but are not limbs; He has an ‘Eye’ which is his attribute but is not a [physical] eye, etc. The ways these [attributes] are established are through the existence of true narrations (khabr al-sadiq bihi).
2. The Active Attributes are so called because they are derived from [Allah’s] activity which the text affirms as being necessary of Him and they never cease but are not pre-eternal existent in that the actions derived from [these attributes] where not eternally pre-existence such as the qualification of the one possessing the qualification as a Being who is ‘Creator’, ‘Giver of Sustenance’, ‘Giver of life’, ‘Giver of death’, ‘Giver of blessings’ and ‘Bestower of bounty’, etc. If the designations (al-tasmiyyah) in this type are established from Allah (Mighty and Exalted is He!), then they are attributes eternal with His Essence and they are His speech and it cannot be said that they are fully identical to the named nor utterly distinct from it. However, if the designations are from creations, then they are not in this case identical to the named…
Attributes of Allah_some notes
Beware of the following:
- The attributes discussion is highly technical.
- It can be very difficult and often confusing (which does not mean it is irrelevant or meaningless).
- It is a specialist topic requiring deep thought and reflection (there are no ‘crash courses’!)
- Avoid it if it confusing but any doubts must be tackled.
Historically, there have been two broad classifications by Muslim historiographers regarding Allah’s attributes and this has remained ever since.
- Those who deny Allah His attributes as He mentioned them (= mu`attilah). = Mu`tazilites.[v]
- Those who affirm them as they are (sifatiyyah or ahl ithabt al-sifat).[vi] = Ash`arites, Maturidites and Hanbalites and some of the Mutakallimun.
7 attributes are necessary for Allah (which He cannot lack). They are called the sifat al-ma`ani:[viii]
- Enduringness/baqa’ (= Imam al-Ash`ari’s additional attribute not taken by later Ash`arites but mentioned by al-Bayhaqi).[ix]
- Acting/fi`l (is added by the eastern/central Asian Hanafite Maturidites not added by the Ash`arites).[x]
= SIFAH: attributes/quality?
- These are real and exist in Allah.[xi]
- They are not mere words (qawl).
- They are distinguished from the 7 below.
Ghazzali later argued that:
- Attributes are not the Essence of Allah (i.e. sifat is ‘≠’ dhat).
- Attributes are distinguishable from the Essence (za’idah `ala al-dhat).
- Attributes subsist in the Essence of Allah (qa’imah bi dhatih).
- Attributes are Pre-eternal (qadimah).[xii]
There are 7 additional attributes/attributions (which Allah cannot lack either) and are the derived active participle forms of the above 7. They are called the sifat al-ma`nawiyyah:[xiii]
- Being Powerful/al-Qadir.
- Being Willing/al-Murid.
- Being Alive/al-Hayy.
- Being Knowledgeable/al-`Aleem.
- Being All-Hearing/al-Sami`.
- Being All-Seeing/al-Basir
- Being a Speaker/al-Mutakallim.
= WASF: attributions/qualifications?
Active attributes of Allah (sifat al-af`al), such as:
- Creating (khalq),
- Bringing to Life (ihya’),
- Sustaining (razq),
- Bringing to Death (imata).
According to al-Bayhaqi:
- They are not pre-eternal (min al-azl).
- But they endure and are everlasting (la yazalu).
- They are attributes described about Allah from His actions.
- These actions are mentioned in the textual/revelatory sources.
Mu`tazilites say: God has attributes that are ‘essential’ (sifat al-dhatiyyah/sifat al-nafs)[xiv] and ‘active’ (sifat al-fi`liyyah).
- Different views exist within the Mu`tazilite camp. There is not an absolute uniform position.
- Their analysis is rooted in language and grammar (al-lughah wa ’l-nahw) and often not philosophical categories and definitions.
- Mu`tazilite thought has strong overlaps (and hence confusion for modern students) with Ash`arite and Maturidite theological positions; all three camps being on the same spectrum but within different degrees of the spectrum.
- Mu`tazilites were concerned with the utter unity of Allah’s being and hence abhorred any distinctions.[xv]
- One Mu`tazilite view = Allah knows by an ‘act of knowing that is He’, sees by an ‘act of seeing that is He’, etc. Allah is = to all His attributes and hence no distinction between Essence and attribute or existence.[xvi]
- Another view of the Mu`tazilite = Allah is from eternity knowing, living, powerful, hearing, seeing, eternal by Himself (bi-nafsihi).
- For the Mu`tazilites the attributes are only words (aqwal) or ‘designations’ by which we qualify or talk about Allah (al-asma’ wa ’l-sifat hiya al-aqwal).
- They saw no distinction between what the Ash`arites and Maturidites call ma`ani and ma`nawiyah.[xvii]
- Therefore, the Mu`tazilites are seen as ‘those who divest Allah of His attributes’ as well as ‘rejecters of sifat al-ma`ani and sifat al-ma`nawiyyah.’
*Peace and Blessings be upon our Master Muhammad, his family and all his Companions. Amin.*
[i] See al-Imam al-Hafiz al-Bayhaqi al-Shafi`i al-Ash`ari, al-I`tiqad wa’l-Hidayah ila Sabil al-Rashad, pp.71-72 (= 1st edn. Beirut: Dar al-Afaq al-Jadidah, 1401 A.H.).
[ii] See Q. 59:23.
[iii] Meaning there two modes or ways of identifying and knowing them.
[iv] Ithbatuhu (‘its affirmation’ or ‘is established by’).
[v] Because they actually deny the reality/descriptions of Allah’s ‘hands’, ‘eyes’, etc. Cf. Imam Ahmad’s refutation of Jahm b. Sawan in al-Radd `ala al-Zanadiqa, pp.67-68 and Seale, Muslim Theology, 61. One must take heed and not fall into the unfortunate divisive misunderstanding that the Asha`irah and Maturidiyyah are those who deny Allah His attributes and hence are not of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ’l-Jama`ah. This indeed would be a serious and gross misunderstanding. May Allah protect us from that!
[vi] See al-Sharahstani, al-Milal wa’l-Nihal, 1:308 and al-Baghdadi, al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, p.300.
[vii] In Ash`arite theology the relation between wasf, sifah and mawsuf need to be understood clarified and has semantic correlation.
Sifah = def. that property F which is predicated of some being S such that F allows for S to acquire or obtain an additional derivative qualification from F. Cf. al-Baqillani, Kitab al-Tamhid, p.213 §359. Thus:
- Allah has the attribute (sifah) of Knowledge,
- This Attribute allows for an additional qualification (wasf) to come out from it which is ‘knowing’ (`aleem) hence Allah is also `aleem.
[viii] So called because they involve ‘thought qualities/ideas/attributes’, i.e. properties that relate to volition, thinking and non-active attributes, i.e. they do not denote attributes related to creating, doing, etc and are not separable from the essence of Allah as such.
[ix] See Ibn Furak, Mujarrad Maqalat al-Ash`ari, pp.43 and 237.
[x] This is the attribute of takwin (or ‘bringing into being’). It is considered by the Maturidites to be an eternal attribute of God subsisting in His Essence. See al-Maturidi, Kitab al-Tawhid, pp.78–82. Cf. also Fiqh al-Akbar II of Abu Hanifah as cited by A. J. Wensinck in his The Muslim Creed, p.188 and H. Daiber, The Islamic concept of belief in the 4th/10th Century, p.15 (English) and pp.138-148 (Arabic text).
[xi] Cf. al-Baqillani, Kitab al-Tamhid, p.214, §362.
[xii] See al-Ghazzali, al-Iqtisdad fi’l-I`tiqad, pp.60-72.
[xiii] So called because they are derived from the sifat al-ma`ani and hence are qualities/attributes derived (technical term called nisba) from the thought-attributes/ideas/qualities.
[xiv] See al-Shahrastani, al-Milal wa’l-Nihal, 1:273 and J. Peters, God’s Created Speech, 252–3.
[xv] R. Frank, Divine Attributes, p.459.
[xvi] See al-Ash`ari, Maqalat al–Islamiyyin, p.165 and Frank, Divine Attributes, p.453.
[xvii] See al-Baqillani, Kitab al-Tamhid, p.217, §367.