There are two methodologies for explaining the mutashabihatayat of the Qur'an, and both of them are valid:The Methodology of the Salaf
The Methodology of the Khalaf
The Methodology of the Salaf:
The Salaf were the scholars who lived during the first three centuries after the Hijrah of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving general explanations, since the scholars of the Salaf believed that these ayat have meanings befitting to the perfection of Allah. Rather than saying what these meanings are, they referred these mutashabihatayat to the muhkamatayat. A good example is the saying of Imam ash-Shafi^iyy:
which means: "I believe in what Allah revealed according to the meaning that Allah willed, and in what the Messenger of Allah conveyed according to the meaning that the Messenger of Allah willed."
In other words, the proper befitting meanings are not according to the sensuous and physical meanings that delusions would lead to--such as places, shapes, limbs, movements, sitting, colors, directions, smiling, laughter, or any other meanings which are not permissible to be attributed to Allah.
Furthermore, the Arabs during these three centuries spoke the Arabic language with a natural disposition and great eloquence. Their understanding of its meanings was so sharp that they did not need to attribute specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Instead, they understood that these ayat have meanings that befit Allah, and that it is impossible that they would have sensuous and physical meanings that do not befit Allah.
Nevertheless, it is well known that some of the scholars of the Salaf did attribute specific meanings to mutashabihat ayat. In his Sahih, in the chapter Tafsirul-Qur'an (the explanation of the Qur'an,) Imam al-Bukhariyy attributed a specific meaning to the term "illa wajhahu" in Surat al-Qasas, ayah 88. He said, "illa mulkahu," i.e., he said that word "wajh"--which is an attribute of Allah--means "Mulk" or "Dominion."The Methodology of the Khalaf:
The Khalaf were the scholars who lived after the first three centuries. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat
. The scholars of the Khalaf lived at a time when the people started to lose their natural disposition for the Arabic language. Seeing that the people had become weaker in the language, the scholars of the Khalaf feared that those with perversity in their hearts would read meanings into the mutashabihatayat that do not befit Allah. They feared what is mentioned in SuratAl ^Imran, ayah 7. Allah said:
which means: [Those who have perversity in their hearts, they follow the mutashabihat ayat seeking discord and searching for unbefitting meanings based on their delusions.] In order to protect the creed of Islam, the scholars of the Khalaf followed the example of those scholars among the Salaf who chose to give specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Referring them to the muhkamatayat, they gave specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat in compliance with the language and the Religion. They gave correct, acceptable meanings to the mutashabihatayat. Allah said:
Ayah 7 in Surat Al-^Imran means: [No one knows their true meanings except Allah and those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion. The latter say, "We believe in it, all of it is from our Lord" and none will understand the message except men of comprehension."] In relation to this ayah, Ibn ^Abbas said: "I am one of those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion."
It is well known that Ibn ^Abbas is generally regarded as being foremost among the Companions in the explanation of the meanings of the ayat of the Qur'an.
Among those who have perversity in their hearts are the mushabbihah, those who liken Allah to His creation. The followers of Ibn Taymiyah and Muhammad Ibn ^Abdil-Wahhab are among the group of the mushabbihah. They falsely claim that it is prohibited to assign specific meanings to the mutashabihatayat and especially those that pertain to the attributes of Allah. Moreover, they innovated a devilish rule that assigning specific meanings to these ayat would lead to canceling these attributes of Allah. This claim of theirs leads to interpretations of the ayat of the Qur'an that contradict one another and interpretations of the ahadith of the Prophet that contradict one another and contradict the ayat of the Qur'an. Furthermore, their claim accuses the Islamic scholars among the Salaf and the Khalaf of blasphemy for denying the attributes of Allah. This would include:
Sa^id Ibn Jubayr,
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbaliyy,
Abu Fadl at-Tamimiyy,
the linguist and scholar of hadithMurtada az-Zabidiyy, and others.
Foremost, by this claim of theirs they are contradicting the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam. Al-Bukhariyy related that the Prophet made a du^a' (a supplication) for Ibn ^Abbas. The Prophet said:
which means: <<O Allah, teach him the Knowledge of Hadith and the explanation of the Qur'an.>>
In the chapter, Tafsiral- Qur'an, (Explanation of the meaning of the Qur'an), Imam al-Bukhariyy says that the term wajhahu in Suratal-Qasas,ayah 88, means "His Dominion." However, those mushabbihah who liken Allah to the creation say, "We do not interpret, but rather we go by the literal meaning," and hence (they say) wajhahu means "His face."Ibn Hajar al-^Asqalaniyy
, in his book, Al-Fath (an explanation of the meaning of Sahih al-Bukhariyy), Volume 6, page 39-40, said: " ..... in reference to al-Bukhariyy's saying that the attribute of Allah, ad-dahik, means 'mercy,' it is closer to say that it means 'acceptance of deeds.' Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say that Allah smiles, or laughs.
In Surat al-Qalam, ayah 42, Allah said:
The scholars of the Salaf explained the term saq
by 'hardship,' and the ayah to mean 'a day of anguish and hardship.' This explanation is known to have been given by Ibn ^Abbas, Mujahid, Ibrahim an Nakh^iyy, Qatadah, Sa^id Ibn Jubayr, and a multiple of scholars. Both Imam al-Fakhr ar-Raziyy in his Explanation of the Qur'an, Volume 30, page 94 and Imam al-Bayhaqiyy in his books, Al-'Asma' was-Sifat, (page 245) and Fath-al-Bari, (Volume 13, page 428) related this explanation from Ibn ^Abbas. Ibn Qulayb also related that about Sa^id Ibn Jubayr who took his knowledge from ^Abdullah Ibn ^Abbas and Ibn ^Umar. Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and attribute 'the shin' to Allah, by saying saq literally means 'shin.'
In Surat-ul-Baqarah, ayah 115, Allah said:
Imam Mujahid, the student of Ibn ^Abbas, said that the word wajh means 'qiblah,' i.e., the direction of prayers during the voluntary prayers while traveling and riding on an animal. Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning; they say the term, wajh, means 'face.'
Similarly, if ayah 12 in Suratat-Tahrim:
was taken literally, it would mean that Allah blew part of His Soul into ^Isa (Jesus.).) However, the scholars said that this ayah means: [Allah ordered Jibril to blow into ^Isa the soul which is honorable to Allah.]
Also, ayah 75 in SuratSad:
if taken literally, would mean: "What has stopped you from performing sujud to what I have created with My hands?" However, the scholars said that the word 'yadayn' in the ayah means the 'care' of Allah. Yet, the mushabbihah insist that yadayn means hands.
Likewise, ayah 35 in Suratan-Nur:
if taken literally, would mean: "Allah is the light of the heavens and the Earth." The scholars said that this ayah means: [Allah is the Creator of guidance in the occupants of the skies and the occupants of the earth.]
However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that Allah is 'light.'
If taken literally, ayah 22 in Suratal-Fajr:
would mean: "Your Lord comes." It was related that Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, who is among the authorities of the Salaf, said that this ayah means: [An indication of the Power of Allah has come.]
In his book, ManaqibAhmad, Hafidh Imam al-Bayhaqiyy, established that the sanad (chain) of narrators is sahih (authentic). Also, Ibn al-Jawziyy al-Hanbaliyy, one of the authorities of the school of Imam Ahmad, related that Imam Ahmad assigned specific, acceptable meanings to the ayat which are mutashabihat. He also said this is a proof that Imam Ahmad did not believe that themaji'ah (a noun for the verb ja'a) in the ayah is that of movement from one place to another. Imam Ibn al-Jawziyy also said: "It is not possible that Allah would move." Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that ja'a means "Your Lord comes" (i.e., from one place to another.)
The hadith of the Prophet related by al-Bukhariyy was explained and affirmed by Imam Malik:
as a descent of mercy and not that of movement. However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and they say the nuzul in the hadith means a descent of movement and going from one place to another.
Copying from Imam al-'Ash^ariyy, Imam al-Bayhaqiyy, in his book, Al-Asma' was-Sifat, page 488, said: "Allah,ta^ala, is not in a place. Movement, coming to rest, and sitting are among the attributes of bodies."
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbaliyy explained the term al-istiwa', in SuratTaha, ayah 5:
as al-istila', which means subjugating. When al-istila' is used to explain this ayah it means that Allah subjugated the ^arsh with a subjugation that is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allah. If the ayah is explained in this manner, it means that Allah was attributed with subjugating the ^arsh before the ^arsh was created in the same way that Allah was attributed with being the Creator before anything from the creation existed. In this context, the scholars have used the term al-azal, which means the status of existing without a beginning. Thus it can be said that Allah subjugated the ^arsh in al-azal, meaning that Allah subjugated the ^arsh with a subjugation which is without a beginning. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say istiwa' means Allah 'sits' on the throne and 'firmly establishes' Himself on it.
In his book, Al-Mu^taqad, Imam al-Bayhaqiyy related in a chain back to al-'Awza^iyy and Imam Malik and Sufyan ath-Thawriyy and al-Layth Ibn Sa^d that when they were asked about the ayat and the ahadith that are mutashabihat, they said:
which means: "Accept them as they came without applying a 'how' to them."
This is because if one asked the question 'how?' the answer would be, 'Like this or that.' Everything other than Allah is His creation so to say 'like this or that' would mean 'like this or that created thing' and Allah is not like His creation. Anything a person can imagine, Allah is different from it. When the scholars said: "... without applying a 'how' to them," they meant that Allah is clear of being attributed with sitting, resting, moving, limbs, bodies, and parts. They did not mean that His istiwa' over the throne has a 'how' of which we are ignorant. On the contrary, the scholars completely negated that a 'how' could be applied to Allah. So the statement of those who say "Allah sits on the throne but we do not know how," is rejected on the basis of what these scholars said.
Anyone with a sound mind knows that sitting, no matter how it is, is an attribute of bodies. Occupying places necessitates a 'how' and applies to bodies. Furthermore, color and touching are attributes of bodies and 'how' applies to them. All of that is impossible to apply to Allah.
Similarly, when the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam, asked the black slave woman the question: "Aynallah?", the scholars said this meant he was asking her about her belief in the status of Allah. She answered: "Fis-sama'" which has the meaning that Allah has the highest status. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning--saying that the Prophet asked her about the place of Allah, and that she said, "In the sky," meaning that the sky is a place for Allah.
Likewise, the hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam:
means: <<If you are merciful to those on earth, the angels, who occupy the heavens, will bring onto you the mercy of Allah.>>
Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning--saying the hadith means: "Allah, Who occupies the heavens, will be merciful to you."Allah is clearing from being in a place or contained in places or directions.