The position of the Salaf concerning the Attributes of Allaah

The following is a section from the appendix to the book, The Correct Islaamic ‘Aqeedah And That Which Opposes It by Shaikh ‘Abdul-‘Azeez Ibn Baaz (rahimahullah).

[i] Al-Awzaa’ee (d. 157H) said: I asked az-Zuhree (d. 124H) and Makhool about the verses pertaining to the Attributes, so they said,

“Leave them as they came!” [1]

[ii] Al-Waleed ibn Muslim said: I asked Maalik (d. 179H), al-Awzaa’ee, Layth ibn Sa’ad (d. 175H) and Sufyaan ath-Thawree (d. 167H) about the reports concerning the Attributes, so they all said,

“Leave them as they came, without asking how!” [2]

Imaam adh-Dhahabee (d. 748H), rahimahullaah, said,

I say: Maalik in his time was the Imaam of the people of al-Madeenah, ath-Thawree was the Imaam of Koofah, al-Awzaa’ee was the Imaam of the people of Damascus, and Layth was the Imaam of the people of Egypt; and they were from the senior (kibaar) Atbaa’ut-Taabi’oon. And this report is a consensus (ijmaa’) upon this, with the absence of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan [Ash-Shaybaanee] (d. 189H) the scholar (faqeeh) of Iraq.” [3]

[iii] Rabee’ah ibn Abee ‘Abdir-Rahmaan (d. 136H), the Shaykh of Imaam Maalik, said,

“Istiwaa` is not unknown, how is incomprehensible, from Allaah is the Message, upon the Messenger is to convey it, and upon us is to accept it.” [4]

[iv] Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah (d. 198H), rahimahullaah, said,

“Everything that Allaah described Himself with in His Book, then its recitation is its explanation without asking how or resembling.” [5]

[v] Imaam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ash-Shaybaanee (d. 189H), rahimahullaah, said,

“The Scholars from the east and the west are all united upon having faith in the Qur`aan and in the ahaadeeth that are related by the precise, reliable narrators (thiqaat) from Allaah’s Messenger sall Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, concerning the Allaah’s Attributes, without explanation or resemblance. Whoever explains anything from them this day, has left that which the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was upon and has split from the Jamaa’ah. For they neither described nor explained, but rather they gave verdicts with what was in the Book and the Sunnah, then remained silent. Whoever speaks with the view of Jahm [ibn Safwaan] has split from the Jamaa’ah, because he described Him with attributes that are nothing.” [6]

Ibn Taymeeyah (d. 728H) said in Majmoo’ Fataawaa (5/50), “Muhammad ibn al-Hasan learnt from Aboo Haneefah (d. 150H), Maalik, and [other] scholars of their level. He related a consensus (ijmaa’) and informed that the Jahmeeyah continuously, or preponderantly describe [Allaah] with matters of negativity. As for his saying: ‘without explanation’, then what is intended by this is the explanation of the Jahmeeyah; those who innovated an explanation concerning the Attributes, which was in opposition to that which the Companions and their followers were firmly established upon.”

[vi] Imaam Ahmad bin Hanbal (d. 214H), rahimahullaah, said about the hadeeth of Allaah’s Descending (Nuzool),

“We have faith in it and we affirm it, without asking how, without explaining it, nor do we reject anything from it.” [7]

Ibn al-‘Uthaymeen said, “The explanation that Imaam Ahmad negated in his statement was the explanation that was forwarded by the people of ta’teel (denial) from the Jahmeeyah and others. They turned the texts of the Book and the Sunnah away from their literal (dhaahir) meanings to one that opposes this.” [8]

[vii] Imaam ash-Shaafi’ee (d. 204H) rahimahullaah said,
“To Allaah belong Names and Attributes that occur in His Book and His Prophet related to the nation. It is not possible for anyone to refute (radd) them. So the one who contradicts this after the evidence has been established against him then he is a kaafir (non-Believer), and as for before the establishment of the proof then he is excused due to ignorance, because the knowledge of that cannot be attained through the intellect. So we affirm these Attributes and we negate tashbeeh (likening Allaah to creation) as Allaah negated it by saying, ‘there is nothing like Him'” [9]

He also said,

“The belief that I am upon, and I saw our Companions, the Ashaabul Hadeeth – like Maalik and Sufyaan and others – to be upon is: affirming the testimony that none has the right to be worshipped except Allaah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allaah. And that Allaah is Over His Throne, above His Heaven (‘alaa ‘Arshihi fee Samaa`ihi), He comes close to His Creation howsoever He Wills, and He Descends to the lowest heaven howsoever He Wills.” [10]

[viii] Nu’aym ibn Hammaad, the Shaykh of al-Bukhaaree, said,

“Whoever resembles Allaah to His creation has committed kufr (unbelief). Whoever denies what Allaah has described Himself with has [also] committed unbelief. Whatever He has described Himself with, or His Messenger [described Him with], then there is no tashbeeh (resemblance) in it.” [11]

[ix] Ishaaq bin Raahawayah rahimahullaah said,

“Indeed Allaah has described Himself in His Book with Attributes from which the creation is left in no need to describe Him with, other than what He described Himself with. From amongst them, ‘Allaah will Come to them in the shade of clouds’ and His saying, ‘And you see the angels around the Throne, hymning the praises of their Lord’. [12]

[x] Imaam at-Tirmidhee (d. 274H), rahimahullaah, said,

“It has been stated by more than one person from the people of knowledge regarding this hadeeth, and about the likes of it from the narrations concerning the Attributes, and that Allaah, the Most Blessed, the Most High, Descends to the lowest heaven of this world every night. They said: Affirm the narrations concerning them; have faith (eemaan) in them; do not imagine them (laa yatawahhamu); nor ask how they are (wa laa yuqaalu kayf). The likes of this has been reported from Maalik ibn Anas, Sufyaan ibn ‘Uyaynah and ‘Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak. They said concerning these ahaadeeth, ‘Leave them as they are, without asking how they are (amirroohaa bilaa kayf).’ This is the saying of the people of knowledge from Ahl-us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. As for the Jahmeeyah, then they reject these narrations and say that this is resemblance (tashbeeh). However, Allaah the Most High has mentioned in various places in His Book [His Attribute of] Hand (Al-Yad); Hearing (As-Sam’) and Seeing (Al-Basr), but the Jahmeeyah give a figurative interpretation (ta’weel) to these verses and explain it in a manner other than how it is explained by the people of knowledge. They say: Indeed, Allaah did not create Aadam with His Hand. They say: Indeed, the Hand [of Allaah] actually means His Power! Ishaaq ibn Ibraaheem said: Resemblance (tashbeeh) is when someone says the Hand [of Allaah] is like my hand, or His Hearing is like my hearing. So if someone says this, then this is resemblance. But if someone says what Allaah says, Hand, Hearing, Seeing; and he does not ask how these [Attributes] are, nor does he say that Allaah’s Hearing is like my hearing, then this is not resemblance. Rather, it just like what Allaah the Most Blessed, the Most High, said in His Book,

‘There is none like Him; He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.'” [13,14]

[xi] Aboo Ja’far at-Tirmidhee (d. 295H), when asked as to how Allaah keeps His Attribute of being above the creation if He Descends to the Lowest Heaven in the last third of the night, replied,

“The Nuzool (Descent of Allaah) is understood, but the how / nature is unknown, and faith in it is obligatory, and to question about [how] it is an innovation (bid’ah).” [15]

[xii] Adh-Dhahabee says in his Arba’een fee Sifaat Allaah,

“It would be beyond ones ability to mention every Imaam who has words concerning the affirmation of Allaah’s Attributes. If the opponent is not guided by those whom we mentioned saying there is a consensus upon affirming them without ta’weel (figurative interpretation), or he does not believe him in his quote, then Allaah will not guide such a person. By Allaah, there is no good in the one who rejects the likes of az-Zuhree, Makhool, al-Awzaa’ee, ath-Thawree, Layth bin Sa’ad, Maalik, ibn ‘Uyaynah, ibn al-Mubaarak, Muhammad bin al-Hasan, ash-Shaafi’ee, al-Humaydee, Aboo ‘Ubayd, Ahmad bin Hanbal, Aboo ‘Eesaa at-Tirmidhee, ibn Surayj, ibn Jareer at-Tabaree, ibn Khuzaymah, Zakareeyah as-Saajee, Abul-Hasan al-Ash’aree. Or rejects saying the likes of their saying in acknowledging the consensus on this like al-Khattaabee, Aboo Bakr al-Ismaa’eelee, ‘Abul-Qaasim at-Tabaraanee, Aboo Ahmad al-Aasaal….and ‘Abdul Qaadir al-Jilaanee…”

Let us carefully consider the above narrations. Ibn Taymeeyah says,

“So the saying of Rabee’ah and Maalik ‘Istiwaa` is not unknown, how is incomprehensible, and faith in it is obligatory’ agrees with the saying of the rest, ‘Leave them as they are, without asking how’. For all they did was to negate knowledge of the kayfeeyah (how the Divine Attributes are), but did not negate the reality of the Attribute. Therefore, if the people had merely believed in its wording, without understanding its meaning – in a way befitting to Allaah – then why did they say, ‘Istiwaa is not unknown, and how is incomprehensible.’ And why did they say, ‘Leave them as they came, without asking how.’ Indeed, in this case Istiwaa` would not be known, rather it would be unknown; just like the Mu’jam letters [those compound letters that occur at the beginning of certain chapters of the Qur`aan; such as: Alif-Laam-Meem, etc]. So there would be no need to negate knowledge of the kayfeeyah (how the Attributes are) if the meaning of the word was not understood. It would only be necessary to negate knowledge of the kayfeeyah if the [meanings of the] Attribute have been affirmed…” [16]

Also their saying ‘they left them as they are’ necessitates that [what the Attributes] indicated would remain as it were, and they came as words indicating a meaning, so if what they indicated was also to be negated then it would have been necessary to say, ‘they left the words [as they are] with the belief that the meaning was not known’…” [17]

So upon considering the above it becomes clear that if the Salaf had not understood the meaning of the Attributes, rather relegated the meanings to Allaah and just affirmed the wording (tafweedh al-ma’naa) their would have been no conceivable need to negate the kayfeeyah of the Attributes! Likewise the meaning of ‘reciting them is their explanation’ is that the clear meaning of what we recite is to be taken, and there is no need to delve into figurative explanation (ta’weel) or look for hidden and metaphorical meanings etc.

This understanding has also been endorsed by the great Shaafi’ee Imaam, al-Khattaabee (d. 388H) when he said,

“The madhhab (way) of the scholars of the Salaf and their legal jurists was to leave the likes of these ahaadeeth [concerning the Attributes] upon their literal (dhaahir) meanings, not to twist their meanings (laa yureeghu lahaa al-Ma’aanee) and neither to figuratively explain (ta’weel) them due to their knowledge that their limited knowledge was incapable of understanding them.

Az-Za’faraanee reported from us from ibn Abee Khaythama from ‘Abdul-Wahhaab bin Najda al-Hutee from Baqya from al-Awzaa’ee who said, ‘Makhool and az-Zuhree used to say: We leave these ahaadeeth as they came.’ I say: this is from the knowledge that we have been ordered to believe in literally without attempting to uncover it’s hidden meanings, and it belongs to a host of the mutashaabiha (verses) that Allaah has mentioned in His Book, so He said,

‘He is the One Who has sent to you the Book, in it are clear and unequivocal verses, and others are mutashaabiha (allegorical or open to a number of meanings).’

So from the clear and unequivocal verses arises a true understanding [of their content] and action, and from the mutashaabiha arises faith and knowledge in their literal meanings, and we leave the knowledge of it’s hidden meaning to Allaah, the Most Perfect…” [18]

Ibn Taymeeyah also says, “…as for the third group, then they are the People of Ignorance and they are many from those who ascribe themselves to the Sunnah and following the Salaf. They say: The Messenger sall Allaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam did not understand the meanings of what Allaah revealed to Him from the verses pertaining to the Attributes [of Allaah], and neither did Jibreel or the Foremost Predecessors understand them. They said the same thing for the ahaadeeth concerning the Attributes – that nobody knew their meaning except Allaah….so these people think that they are following the verse

“and none knows their explanation except Allaah”

….but they have not distinguished between the meaning of the words and their explanation and the explanation that Allaah Alone Knows. And they thought that the ta’weel (figurative explanation) mentioned in this verse is the ta’weel mentioned in the words of the later generations and they erred in this… and the explanation of the Attributes whose reality Allaah Alone Knows is the knowledge of the kayfeeyah which is unknown to us. [For example] the Istiwaa` is known, it’s meaning is understood, and explained and translated in other languages, and this is the explanation that those firmly grounded in knowledge know, but as for the kayfeeyah (how / nature) of the Istiwaa` then this is the explanation that none but Allaah the Exalted knows.” [19]

So when we come to realise that the Salaf understood the meanings of the Attributes and affirmed them it becomes necessary to also know that they did so while negating four matters:

  • Tashbeeh (likening Allaah to His Creation) and Tajseem (likening Allaah to a body)
  • Takyeef (enquiring into the how or nature of the Attribute)
  • Tahreef (distorting the meaning of the Attribute) and tagyeer (changing the meaning of the Attribute) and ta’weel (figuratively interpreting the meaning of the Attribute)
  • Ta’teel (denying the Attributes)


as-Sunnah (1/264-307) of Imaam Abdullaah bin Ahmad bin Hanbal (d.290),
ash-Sharh wal Ibaanah (pp. 187-192) by ibn Battah(d. 387H),
Aqeedah as-Salaf (pp. 4-7) by as-Saaboonee (d. 449H),
ar-Risaalah fee Ithbaat al-Istiwaa’ by al-Juwaynee (d. 438H),
Sharh ‘Aqeedah at-Tahaaweeyah (pp. 162-366) by ibn Abil-Izz al-Hanafee (d. 792H),
at-Tadmureeyah by ibn Taymeeyah,
Dhamm at-Ta’weel by al-Maqdisee,
Aqaaweel ath-Thiqaat fee Ta’weel al-Asmaa’ was Sifaat by ibn Yoosuf al-Karmee.]


[1] Related by al-Laalikaa’ee in Sharh Usool Ahl-is-Sunnah (no.735) with a hasan chain.

[2] Related by al-Aajurree in ash-Sharee’ah (p.314) and al-Bayhaqee in al-Asmaa` was-Sifaat (p.453) with a saheeh chain, as Shaykh al-Albaanee stated in Mukhtasar al-‘Uluw’ (p.142).

[3] al-Arba’een fee Sifaatillaah (180/Q.1-2)

[4] Related by al-Laalikaa’ee in Sharh Usool (no.665) and al-Bayhaqee (p.516). Ibn Taymeeyah said in al-Hamaweeyah (p.45): “Al-Khallaal reported it with a chain of narrators who are all precise and reliable (thiqaat) scholars.”

[5] Related by al-Laalikaa’ee in Sharh Usool Ahl-is-Sunnah (p.736) and ad-Daaraqutnee in as-Sifaat (p.61). Its chain is saheeh as Ibn Hajr stated in Fathul-Baaree (13/501).

[6] Related by al-Laalikaa’ee in Sharh Usool Ahl-is-Sunnah (no.740). Ibn Taymeeyah said in Majmoo’ Fataawaa (4/4), “It is confirmed from Muhammad ibn al-Hasan – the companion of Aboo Haneefah – that he said: [as above].”

[7] Related by Ibn al-Jawzee in Manaaqib-ul-Imaam Ahmad (p.156), Ibn Qudaamah in Lum’atul-I’tiqaad (no.3) and Ibn al-Qayyim in as-Sawaa’iqul-Munazzilah (1/265).

[8] Fath Rabb-il-Bariyyah (p.63)

[9] Siyar A’laam an-Nubalaa (10/80). Adh-Dhahabee says, “Reported by al-Hakkaaree and others with a chain of narrators containing trustworthy narrators as in Mukhtasar al-Uluoo’ (p. 177). He also said, “I say: the censure of Kalaam (theological rhetoric) and its people is common from ash-Shaafi’ee, and he was very stringent in following the narrations in the usool (foundations) and the furoo’ (branches).”

[10] Awn al-Ma’bood (13/41), and ibn Abu Ya’la reports it in Tabaqaat al-Hanaabilaa (1/283) with a chain of narration linked back to ash-Shaafi’ee.

[11] Related by al-Laalikaa’ee in Sharh Usool Ahl-is-Sunnah (no.936). Its chain of narration is saheeh, as Shaykh al-Albaanee stated in Mukhtasar al-‘Uluw’ (p.184).

[12] Al-Arba’een fee Sifaat Allaah (no. 144) by adh-Dhahabee.

[13] Soorah ash-Shooraa (42):21

[14] Sunan at-Tirmidhee (3/266-268)

[15] Mukhtasar al-Uluw’ (p. 231). Al-Albaanee declared the sanad saheeh. Aboo Ja’far was from the greatest scholars of his day.

[16] Majmoo’ Fataawaa (5/41-42)

[17] al-Hamaweeyah (p.109)

[18] Mu’aalim as-Sunan (4/304 – Daar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmee) by al-Khattaabee under the chapter, “From the chapter concerning the Seeing (of Allaah in the Hereafter)” when he discusses the hadeeth of the Descent of Allaah.

[19] al-Hamaweeyah (pp. 24+)

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The Qur'an and Sunnah upon the understanding of the Salafus-Saalih (Righteous Predecessors).
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