Thursday, November 23, 2017 - 4 Rabi' al-Awwal 1439
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Does God have a shape?

Does God have a shape?

Answer

There is nothing like unto Allah
It is impermissible to believe that the image of Allah the Almighty resembles that of His created beings. Muslim scholars have two positions regarding the primary texts [Qur'an and Sunnah] related to this issue: Tafwid (affirming the attributes of Allah but consigning their modality to Allah) and Ta'wil (interpretation). The two positions disregard the literal meaning of the texts due to the definitive evidences denoting the transcendence of Allah the Almighty above the attributes of His created beings as per His words "There is nothing like unto Him" (Qur'an 42:11) and "Nor is there to Him any equivalent" (Qur'an 112: 4).

In his book Jawharat Al-Tawhid, the Maliki scholar Ibrahim al-Laqqani said, "Any text that leads one to imagine the similitude of Allah to His created beings, should be treated either through ta'wil or tafwid and exalt Allah the Almighty above His creation."

Scholarly opinions
In his book Daf' Shubah al-Tashbih (p.194), the Hanbali scholar and imam Ibn al-Jawzi (may Allah have mercy on him) commented on the hadith of nuzul (i.e. Allah descending to the lower heaven): "The hadith of nuzul was narrated by twenty Companions. It was previously stated that it is impossible for Allah to [have the characteristics of] movement, translocation, or change. On this basis, scholars are divided into two groups: one group adopts the position of ta`wil. They figuratively interpret the nuzul as the descent of the mercy of Allah. The second group refrained from its interpretation while attesting the transcendence of Allah."

In his commentary on Sahih Muslim (vol.5, p.24), the Shafi'i imam, al-Nawawi, commented on the hadith of the slave girl whom the Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) asked about the whereabouts of Allah. He stated, "This is one of the hadiths of the sifat [attributes of Allah]. There are two madhhabs (positions) with regards to such ahadith. The first is to believe in them without delving into their meanings, while maintaining categorically that Allah, Exalted is He, does not resemble anything, and exalting Him above the attributes of created beings. The second madhhab interprets the hadith in a way that is commensurate with His greatness."

Based on the above, Muslim scholars—whether it is those who adopt tafwid or ta'wil—are unanimous on making ta`wil jumli i.e. refraining from applying to these texts any meaning that may lead to assigning a physical shape to Allah. However, some of these scholars accept ta`wil tafsili i.e. adducing to these texts a specific meaning. Other scholars only make ta`wil jumli (i.e. tafwid), and disregard the literal meaning of the attributes.

In his commentary on Sahih Muslim (5/24), Imam Al-Nawawi cited the words of the Shafi’i scholar, Al-Qadi 'Iyyad (may Allah be pleased with him) who said, "There is no disagreement whatsoever among any of Muslims–their fuqahā’ (jurists), muhaddithūn (experts in the science of Ḥadīth transmission, and criticism), mutakallimūn (theologists); naḍhār (polemicists) and muqallids (following the legal decisions of a scholar without questioning the basis of those decisions)–on that the apparent meaning of those texts mentioning that Allah is in the sky are not to be taken literally. An example is the verse, “Are you assured that He who is in the sky will not cause the earth to swallow you up?” Experts of the above fields of Islamic law interpret such texts figuratively. Is there any difference between the modality [takyyf] of these texts and establishing directions? Rather keeping general what Islamic law has kept general on Allah's attributes such as "He is the Sovereign over His Servants” and “He is established over the Throne” while holding fast to the general verse on Allah’s complete transcendence “There is nothing like onto Him” is a protection for those to who Allah the Almighty has granted success.”

Making ta`wil in such a manner is one kind of interpretation and assigns meaning to words in compliance with the Arabic language and its rules. So, how can this be considered denying the Attributes of Allah as some claim it to be?
Though ta'wil was the methodology practiced by the majority of the Khalaf (Successors), it was reported that the Salaf (Predecessors) also pursued it.
It was authentically reported that Ibn 'Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him and his father) interpreted the following:
- (Al-Kursi) or the chair as Knowledge ('Ilm).
- The advent of Allah on the Last Day as the fulfillment of His commands and decree.
- The words of Allah ‘In Our eyes’ as We are knowledgeable of [all affairs].
- The hands as "Might and Power".
- The light as the guide.
- The Face as the Divine Self.
- The leg as sorrow.
There are many other examples of ta'wil reported from Ibn 'Abbas and others from among the Salaf (may Allah be pleased with them all).

The opinion maintaining that ta'wil leads to ta'til (denying the Attribute), comes from those who depend on the literal meanings of the texts and who do not exalt Allah the Almighty above His created beings. This is not tafweed but tashbeeh(similitude). The mutashabihin (those who adhere to the literal meanings of the texts) accuse of the sunnis of ta'teel (denying the texts) when in fact, they (the sunnis) exalt Allah above any imperfection adduced by the apparent meaning of the text.
 

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