This is an e-mail discussion that was conducted between myself and a brother on two very important topics. I hope that readers will find this of some benefit.
As-salaamu alaikum Sheikh Abu Ja’far,
wa `Alaikum us-Salaamu wa Rahmatullah,
May Allah keep you and your family in good health insha’allah.
I would like to ask a few questions that perhaps you may provide clarification on.
I will try my best.
First, I have recently finished reading ‘The Attributes of God’, the English translation of ‘Daf Shubah al Tashbih bi Akaff al Tanzih’ by Imam Abul Faraj ibn al Jawzi rahimahullah, translated by Abdullah Hamid Ali.
There are significant errors made regarding the theology of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241 AH) and Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi, by both the translator and the publisher along with some of the issues of Imam Muhammad Zahid Al-Kawthari.
I know this as I was on the editing staff and I first warned them not to do this translation as they had neither studied comparative creed nor had they understood the issues surrounding the fact that this was an “in house” discussion between Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH) and some other scholars within the madhhab.
After presenting my statements to the translation committee regarding my lack of confidence in their skill as well as mistakes made in theology by the translator, I was informed that they were still going ahead with the project and not going to consult authorities on the topic such as Imams As-Saffarini (d. 1188 AH) and others.
I have enclosed some details as evidence of my statements so that you might see that they are not claims but rather assertions of facts and as the matter concerns foundational theology, the rulings regarding backbiting are suspended and the six dispensations on backbiting
(one of them being false theology) are being exercised (please see the notes at the end of the two large files and you will have a better grasp of my statements made above).
The Imam, while clarifying the meanings of around 60 ahadith, also criticises in many places the commentary of shuyukh such as al Zaghuni,
He is `Ali ibn `Ubaidullah ibn Nasr ibn As-Sirri Az-Zaghuni (455-527 AH). He was a major Imam in the madhhab and wrote on theology.
Imam Ibn As-Sam`ani says of him, “The faqih, the hadith scholar, the preacher, Abul Hasan. He was one of the elite of the madhhab.”
Ibn Al-Jawzi himself says of him, “In every science he had a vast swath of knowledge and could preach for a good, long time.” Both are cited in Adh-Dhail Ala Tabaqat ul-Hanabilah, vol.3 (this is a special edition, four volume set including the original tabaqat (2 vols) as part of the set), pp. 149-150, Beirut, 1417 (AD 1997)
Qadi Abu Ya’la
Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la Al-Baghdadi (380- 458 AH) is Muhammad ibn Al-Hussain ibn Al-Farra Al-Baghdadi and is one of the renewers of Islam and was the one who brought the scholars back into rule during his time when laymen had taken over the Muslim world’s temporal ruling structure.
According to Al-Qadi Abul Hussain, he was one of the many students of Ibn Hamid. Please see Tabaqat ul-Hanabilah, vol.2, pp. 166-167.
He is quoted by Abul Hussain as saying the following on pp. 178-179 in vol.2 of the said text aforementioned:
“We have mentioned faith in the narrations of the attributes without denial, likening to the creation, meaning or interpretation. This is the statement of the early generations, both the beginning and end of them.
It is that which was mentioned by the leader of the believers Al-Qadir, may Allah be pleased with him, in his text Al-Qadiriyyah: What Allah has described Himself with or what the Messenger, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, described Him with are on their reality and not by way of metaphor.”
Thus the theology of the Hanbalis in general and in particular of Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la Al-Baghdadi is mentioned clearly. Please be aware of this principle.
and ibn al Hamid
He is ِAl-Hasan ibn Hamid ibn `Ali ibn Marwan Al-Baghdadi (d. 403 AH). Described by Al-Qadi Abul Hussain (d. 526 AH) as, “The Imam of the Hanbalis in his time, their teacher and mufti and he has numerous texts in various sciences as well as a collected text on the Madhhab.” Tabaqat ul-Hanabilah, vol.2, pp.145-146.
This particular Imam, in the early part of his career, delved into kalam and for this reason, as quoted in the Nihayah (pp. 31-32, Maktabat ur-Rushd, Riyadh, 1425 AH (AD 2004) of Ibn Hamdan (d. 695 AH), as stating that,
“He is above the throne in His Essence and touching it. He descends from His Place which He is in and changes from place to place.” This was early in his theological career and in his middle passage, changed his positions on kalam and moved back into the principle of “without how, without meaning.”
Besides this, his theology is the same as that of Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la Al-Baghdadi (who came some time after him) other than for a few tertiary issues in theology. This position was also refuted (as per the above cited text) by Ibn `Aqil and other scholars who faulted him,
censured him but they held him to be correct in affairs besides that. Just like Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la has said, “He is above the Throne, not like one sitting on a chair or riding on a beast.” (source cited above).
*As a point of context, although the word `alaa is being used in relation to the fact that Allah is above the throne, contextually in the text and to the Hanbali scholars, it is understood that `alaa means fawqa (“above”) and we already know that it is not known according to any human understanding. Please keep this in mind.*
on the said ahadith, calling their remarks self-contradictory and confused, mentioning a few times that they have ‘disgraced the madhab’ of Imam Ahmad, and in one or two places mentioning that their commentary is disbelief.
This issue has to do with the understanding of the doctrine of “without meaning and without how”
(this was later named as tafwid or consignment). Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi advocated for a partitive form of “without meaning and without how” (again tafwid) in which ta’wil (“interpreting attributes according to the language and also principles of speculative theology,” known as kalam).
The scholars of the madhhab had always made a division when discussing attributes that was of three types (this can be gleaned from Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la in his Ibtal ut-Ta’wilat li-Akhbar is-Sifat, vol.1, pp. 41-80 (Dar Iyla id-Dawliyyah Li-Nashar wat-Tawzii`, Kuwait, 1407 AH) and after that he then works with the texts on the attributes;
Ibn Hamdan in his Nihayah, pp. 21-39; 40-43; Ibn Balban in his Mukhtasar ul-Ifadat fi Rub` il-`Ibadati wal-Adabi wa Ziyadat, pp. 485-499, creed section (Dar ul-Basha’ir il-Islamiyyah, Beirut, 1419AH (AD 1998;
Muhammad As-Saffarini in his Lawami` ul-Anwar il-Bahiyyati wa Sawati` il-Asrar il-Athariyyah: Sharh ud-Durrat il-Madiyyati Fi `Aqidat il-Firqat il-Mardiyyah, vol.1, pp. 110-112 (Al-Maktab ul-Islami, Beirut, 1411 AH (AD 1991)
and also Lawa’ih ul-Anwar is-Sanniyyah wa Lawaqih ul-Afkar is-Sunniyyah: Sharh Qasidah ibn Abi Dawud Al-Ha’iyyah, vol.1, pp.259-270 (Maktabat ur-Rushd, Riyadh, 1421 (AD 2001):
1) Sifat udh-Dhat: Attributes of the Essence that are neither solely Allah nor other than Allah. These are the fourteen main attributes that Allah uses to differentiate between Himself and idols in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
All other attributes of the 3,000 names and attributes mentioned in the Qur’an are based upon these 14 attributes. These are further divided into two points: the Sifat thubutiyyah, which are affirmation and salbiyyah, which negate all imperfections from Himself.
2) Sifat ul-Khabariyyah (also referred to as Akhbar us-Sifat): Attributes in which we have no information about them other than what Allah said and He possesses them. We solely know about them just by what He said and we have no other information. These include things such as the attribute yad, saq, wajh, `ain, nafs and so forth.
3) Sifat ul-Fi`liyyah: There are attributes that have to do with what Allah does. These are things such as creation, willing, istiwa, judgement and so forth.
Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi, when someone reads his full theology (by this I mean not just the daf`, but also his text Akhbar us-Siffat, which was translated into English by someone at Princeton with facing Arabic parallel text and it is correct,
along with statement he made in his book Talbis Iblis and also theological pronouncements in Said ul-Khatir), one can see that he did not hold that no.2 were attributes but rather sifat in the sense of descriptions but as he interpreted them they were actually references or by-words for other attributes and not independent attributes to them.
This is a minority opinion and caused a great rift between him and the vast majority of the other scholars of the school.
The reason for this is that. One of the freakish corruptions that results from this is the statement held by some well wishers that Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi was an Ash`ari. The problems with this are manifold:
1) Ash`aris have not said that the second category of attributes are not attributes, so this is a clear distinction between them and the Imam.
2) when one reads the complete set of texts on theology by Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi, we can see that he heavily disparaged kalam and the people that engaged in it and considered it nullifying the attributes of Allah, which is the standard position of the Hanbali school.
3) the Ash`aris in Baghdad were still quite a fledgling organisation. They had only just crystallised as a jama`ah in the time of Al-Qadi Abu Ya`la and were referenced in his text, Ibtal ut-Ta’wilat.
They are first mentioned as a unified jama`ah in the text aforementioned and also Shahrastani’s Al-Milal wan-Nihal under the heading: Al-Ash`ariyyah.
4) the Ta’wil of Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi went so far as to state that no.2 were not attributes at all but by-words for other attributes; this has never been the Ash`ari position.
5) he also held that no.3 were not necessarily attributes in the same way that no.1 were attributes. Again, this caused massive issues with the other scholars of the madhhab.
I do not mind if someone should choose to take on some of the theological positions of Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi. However, what I would say is that they should do the following:
1) know that Hanbali scholars of theology write books in a series, so to grasp the whole topic, you have to read their full pronouncements. This is especially the case with Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi
2) read his tafsir under the topic of the verses of the attributes
3) understand that the daf` is a summary of his more expansive statements in Akhbar us-Sifat. It is dishonest to not consult these when knowing otherwise.
The ending statement I therefore make is that the creed of Imam Ibn Al-Jawzi has been grossly misrepresented based upon what was explained above.
Again I present the information in the enclosures only as you asked about it for detail. As this is fundamental theology, the affair must be put in perspective.
Having said this, what is the stance of the scholars of Ahl al Sunnah wal Jamaat upon the aforementioned scholars?
I have already treated this above.
The second question is more personal; in the course of my daily work I happen to spend a lot of time with a colleague of the Wahhabi persuasion, who is especially active in propagating this madhab in his spare time.
I am sorry to hear that and may Allah protect you from the major kufr and risk of rejecting salvation that is fundamentally part of their organisation.
Seeing his zeal in doing so in a way drives me to want to do more for the cause of Ahl al Sunna in my locality, in order to curb the influence of his jama’a. But is this a good/permissible foundation or niyyah for me to work on?
Yes, if you see that a greater harm would result from not doing so.
You also have to make sure that you have the requisite knowledge to answer doubts and also accurately assess the falsehood and offer credible alternatives to their evil.
Also, his da’wa is having an increasing impact on other work colleagues who, though from Sunni families, are awaam and know little of the situation. Moreover, his da’wa is of the ‘Al-maghrib’ taqiyya-style approach, which is working well on them. What can I do to protect them from falling into the fitnah he is preaching?
You need to expose and bring to light the fact that they are salafis and particularly contrast this with the theology of the believers of the previous 12 centuries. My advice would be to use the Divine Lightning and Divine Texts
The divine texts can be used for answering some general disputes. the Divine Lightning is for someone more developed. I would say that you should gauge the situation and use these texts accordingly.
Thirdly, I was interested in your analysis of the spread of Wahhabism into the Indian subcontinent; can you direct me to some sources of historical information on the early exponents of this methodology e.g. Sayyed Ahmed Khan, Ismail Dehlvi, Titu Mir, Haji Shariatullah, Karamat Ali, Wilayat Ali etc. There seems to be little literature compiled on these figures that is publicly available.
Once could access some of the documents that are in English:
The Wahhabi Movement in India by Qeyammuddin Ahmed
Sayyid Ahmad: A Study of the Religious Reform Movement of Sayyid Ahmad of Ra’e Bareli by Muhammad Hidayetullah, Ashraf Press, Lahore, 1970.
Please also refer to the history series that covers the same period and my give you texts on the topic (Please start by listening to the very first lecture in the whole series in which canons of evidence and their sources are discussed):