The Meaning of ‘Dhahir’ (Apparent)

Posted on August 16, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

The question is, what does the term: dhahir mean?

Ibn Qudama says in Rawdhat al-Nadhir (2/25 with Ibn Badran’s comments):

القسم الثاني الظاهر وهو ما يسبق إلى الفهم منه عند الإطلاق معنى مع تجويز غيره وإن شئت قلت ما احتمل معنيين هو في أحدهما أظهر

‘The second type: al-Dhahir (literal), and that is the meaning that comes first to the mind when uttered, while other meanings might also be possible. If you wish, you may say: That which has two possible meanings, one of them more obvious than the other

Ibn Badran al-Dimashqi al-Hanbali says in his Madkhal (p. 187, al-Turki’s edition):

اعلم أن اللفظ إما أن يحتمل معنى واحدا فقط أو يحتمل أكثر من معنى واحد والأول النص والثاني إما أن يترجح في أحد معنييه أو معانيه وهو الظاهر

‘Know, that the word may either only have one meaning, or more than one meaning. The first type is called al-Nass. The second type is the obvious of the two or more meanings, and that is the dhahir.’

To give you an example of a dhahir; If one says: ‘He went to the training camp and met the Lion’

The dhahir of this is that he went to the training camp and met someone brave and courageous, because this is what comes first to the mind.

The less possible meaning is that met a four legged predator called ‘Lion’, and the reason why it is less possible because it is assumed that Lions aren’t usually located in training camps, and they are not domestic enough to meet and have a cup of tea with human beings.

Therefore, when Ibn Qudama, al-Saffarini or other Hanbali scholars relegate the meaning unto Allah, while believing in the dhahir, they believe in the literal meanings of the texts, the first and the most obvious meaning that comes to mind.

Al-Dhahabi adds in his book, al-‘Uluw:
The latter ones from the speculative theologians (ahl al-nadhar) invented a new belief, I do not know of anyone preceding them in that. They said: ‘These attributes are passed on as they have come and not interpreted (la tu’awwal), while believing that the literal meaning is not intended (dhahiruha ghayr murad).’

This follows that the literal meaning (dhahir) could mean two things:

First; that it has no interpretation (ta’wil) except the meaning of the text (dilalat al-khitab), as the Salaf said: ‘The rising (al-Istiwa) is known’, or as Sufyan and others said: ‘Its recitation is in fact its interpretation (tafseer)’meaning, it is obvious and clear in the language, such that one should not opt for interpretation (ta’wil) or distortion (tahrif). This is the Madhab of the Salaf, while they all agree that they do not resemble the attributes of human beings in any way. For the Bari has no likeness, neither in His essence, nor in His attributes.

Second; that the literal meaning (dhahir) is what comes to imagination from the attribute, just like an image that is formed in one’s mind of a human attribute. This is certainly not intended, for Allah is single and self-sufficient who has no likeness. Even if He has multiple attributes, they all are true, however, they have no resemblance or likeness”

Here is what al-Juwayni says about the Madhab of the Salaf in his last work he wrote after his repentance, al-‘Aqida al-Nidhamiyya – published by al-Kawthari:

“The Imams of the Salaf believed in abstaining from interpretation (ta’wil) and passing the literal meanings of the texts as they have come (ijra’ al-dhawahir ‘ala mawaridiha), while relegating (tafweedh) the meanings to the Lord Most High”

This I hope highlights the problem with many of us that haven’t learned the basics, due to which we fall into such errors.


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