On Tafwidh and Literal Meaning (dhahir)

Posted on August 25, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

Further on, Imām as-Safārīnī mentions the text of his poem in creed. He said:
so they (the Athariyyah) affirmed the Nusūs (the texts regarding the Divine Attributes) with Tanzīh
without Ta’til (denial of the attributes) or Tashbīh
so all that has come from the Ayāt or been authentically reported from the reliable ones
from the Ahādīth, we pass it on as it has come so hear my poem (Nadhm) and know.
In the course of explaining the meanings of his own words, he said:
from the Ahādīth- the authentic ones and the clear Athār that appear to imply Tashbīh or likeness (tamthīl), they are from the Mutashābih that none know but Allāh, so we believe in them and that they are from Allāh and (pass it on as it has come) from Allāh or from the Messenger of Allah sallallahu alayhi was sallam. (page 95-96)

The author here implies that al-Saffarini, by saying: ‘we pass it on as it has come’, refers to the Ash’ari concept of Tafwidh, that is to affirm the wording as detached letters while negating the literal meaning thereof, whereas the Salafi Tafweedh is to affirm the literal meaning and negate the kayf thereof.

As far as the issue of tafwidh is concerned, then like Imam Ahmad and Ibn Qudama, al-Saffarini was not a mufawwidh.

He says (1/98), while commenting on his saying, ‘we accept the narrations as they have been narrated’: Allah is described as He described Himself, and as His Messenger –SallAllahu ‘alaihi wa-sallam – described Him, and how the early companions described Him, without transgressing the Quran and the Hadeeth… The Madhab of the Salaf is not to delve into such (Attributes), to remain silent, and to render the meaning unto Allah Ta’ala. Ibn ‘Abbas said (with respect to verses pertaining to Attributes): ‘This is from the hidden which cannot be explained (tafsir).’ So it is obligatory upon a person to believe in the literal meaning (dhahir), and render the meaning unto Allah’

Perhaps, we cannot find something more explicit than this, that Imam al-Saffarini clearly believed in the literal meaning (dhahir), while rendering the meaning (i.e. the nature thereof) unto Allah.

With regards to Allah’s Speech and the Quran, al-Saffarini concludes (1/165): ‘In conclusion, the Mu’tazilites are in agreement with the Ash’arites, while the Ash’arites are in agreement with the Mu’tazilites, that this Quran contained within the two covers of the Mushaf is created and anew. The only difference between the two factions is that the Mu’tazila did not affirming any other Speech for Allah except this (the Quran, which they thought was created), whereas the Ash’arites affirmed al-Kalam al-Nafsi (self-speech/talking to oneself/inner-speech) subsisting in Allah’s essence. Whereas the Mu’tazilites say, the Speech of Allah is created (and not subsisting in Allah). The Ash’aris do not consider it (the Quran) the Speech of Allah. Yes, they call it ‘the Speech of Allah’, but only metaphorically, and that is the belief of the majority of their predecessors.

Can anyone conclude from this that he was a mufawwidh?

Add to that, 23 pages of al-Saffarini’s Sharh where he quotes numerous scholars from the Salaf and the Khalaf from the four schools, literally affirming that Allah Rose over the Throne, and that He is literally in a direction (jiha), and then refutes the detractors of Ibn Taymiyya on the very issue of direction.

Then the author of the rotten ‘Apples and Oranges’ states:

He further said:
So the Madh’hab of the Salaf is that they describe Allāh the Exalted with what He described Himself and what the Messenger of Allāh sallallahu alayhi was sallam described Him with, without any altering (tahrīf) or ‘howness’ (Takyīf). And He the glorified there is nothing like unto Him-not in His Dhāt, not in His attributes, and not in His actions. All that necessitates deficiency or Hudūth (change), then Allāh is free from that in reality (Haqīqatan), for He, the Exalted is the one fully deserving perfection that is the peak (of perfection) having nothing beyond it. The Madh’hab of the Salaf is to not to delve into the likes of this (Ta’tīl and Takyīf), to remain quiet concerning it, and to relegate knowledge of it (Tafwīd Ilmihi) to Allāh the Exalted. (page 96-97)
speaking of the Madh’hab of the true Hanābilah regarding Allāh’s Divine attributes, Imām as-Safārīnī says:
“…and it is obligatory to affirm them for Him in the manner that they have appeared (in the texts- kama warad) and we entrust the meaning of it to al-‘Azīz al-Hakīm.” (page 107)

Firstly, the author translated Huduth as ‘change’, whereas linguistically it means, something new, recent, or occurrence. It does not refer to change. Moreover, Huduth in the terminology of Kalam is completely synonymous with the term ‘makhluq’, i.e. the creation. Hence, the author should have correctly translated as ‘created-ness’, thereby, rendering the sentence as such:

‘All that necessitates deficiency or Hudūth (created-ness), then Allāh is free from that in reality (Haqīqatan)’

Secondly, it has already explained extensively that the Salaf affirmed the literal meanings (dhahir), while relegating the meaning (or kayf) to Allah. The ‘meaning’ being negated here is precisely the ‘kayf’, otherwise, it will be senseless for these Imams to affirm the literal meanings (dhahir) and demonstrate it by explicitly affirming Allah’s Rising over the Throne, ascribing a direction to Allah, and affirming vigorously that Allah Speaks with Sound and Letters.

Thirdly, it is proven from the works of Ibn Qudama, that he, like al-Saffarini, affirms the literal meaning (dhahir) of the texts, while negating the ‘meaning’, i.e. any ta’wil, other than it’s literal meaning (dhahir). Here are some examples mentioning as such:
1.) Ibn Qudama says in Lum’at al-I’tiqad: ‘From the verses that have come in relation to Allah’s attributes is the saying of Allah, ‘the Face of your Lord…’, and His saying, ‘Rather His two Hands are outstretched’. He then mentions a number of verses affirming a self for Allah, His Coming, His Pleasure, His Love, His Anger and Dislike. He then mentions the Hadeeth about Allah’s descent every night, His Amazement, and His Laugh, and considering it all from His Attributes. He then says:

فهذا وما أشبهه مما صح سنده وعدلت رواته نؤمن به ولا نرده ولا نجحده ولا نتأوله بتأويل يخالف ظاهره

‘These texts and the like, the chain of which has been authenticated, and the narrators of which are upright, we believe in them, and do not reject them nor deny them, nor do we give them a ta’wil which opposes their literal meaning (dhahir).

From this we deduce, a) If he had negated the literal meaning (dhahir) of the texts, he would not have affirmed the Face and Hands of Allah as His Attributes, and b) his objection to any ta’wil which opposes the literal meaning (dhahir) of the texts clearly shows that he does not negate the literal meaning (dhahir), rather he affirms it, and therefore, he is not a mufawwidh.

2.) In his work Dham al-Ta’wil (Censure of Ta’wil), Ibn Qudama states:

ومذهب السلف رحمة الله عليهم الإيمان بصفات الله تعالى وأسمائه التي وصف بها نفسه في آياته وتنزيله أو على لسان رسوله من غير زيادة عليها ولا نقص منها ولا تجاوز لها ولا تفسير ولا تأويل لها بما يخالف ظاهرها

‘The Madhab of the Salaf is to have Iman in the Attributes of Allah Ta’ala and His Names, with which He described Himself… without giving explanation, or a ta’wil that opposes its literal meaning (dhahir).’

It clearly implies that Ibn Qudama affirms the literal meaning (dhahir), due to which he opposes any ta’wil that contradicts the literal meaning (dhahir). For if he was a mufawwidh, he would have negated any type of ta’wil, irrespective of whether or not it opposes the literal meaning (dhahir).3.) In the same book he quotes the statement al-Hafidh Abu Bakr al-Tayyib in his support, without showing any discontent or disagreement:

أما الكلام في الصفات فإن ما روي منها في السنن الصحاح مذهب السلف رضي الله عنهم إثباتها وإجراؤها على ظاهرها

‘As for the subject of Allah’s Attributes, then whatever has been narrated in the authentic collections of Sunan, the Madhab of the Salaf is to affirm them and accept the literal meaning (dhahir) of it.’

This further proves that Ibn Qudama affirmed the literal meaning (dhahir), and therefore, was not a mufawwidh.

4.) Ibn Qudama says in Dham al-Ta’wil:

فإن قيل فقد تأولتم آيات وأخبارا فقلتم في قوله تعالى ( وهو معكم أين ما كنتم ) أي بالعلم ونحو هذا من الآيات والأخبار فيلزمكم ما لزمنا
قلنا نحن لم نتأول شيئا وحمل هذه اللفظات على هذه المعاني ليس بتأويل لأن التأويل صرف اللفظ عن ظاهره وهذه المعاني هي الظاهر من هذه الألفاظ بدليل أنه المتبادر إلى الأفهام منها وظاهر اللفظ هو ما يسبق إلى الفهم منه حقيقة كان أو مجازا

‘If it is said: ‘You made ta’wil of verses and reports, for instance, you said with respect to Allah’s statement: ‘He is with you wherever you are’, meaning: with His knowledge, and the like of these verses and reports, and therefore, your arguments are as much applicable to you as us.
We say: We did not make ta’wil of anything, for to hold such texts in these meanings is not at all ta’wil, because ta’wil is to change the meaning of a word from its dhahir, and what we say here is the dhahir of the wording, that is, what comes first to the mind from that text, irrespective of whether it is haqiqa or majaz.’

Hence, Ibn Qudama explicitly states that he believes in the literal meaning (dhahir) of these texts, and therefore he is not a mufawwidh.5.) In his refutation of Ibn ‘Aqil Ibn Qudama says about Ibn ‘Aqil:

‘He clarified that if one asks us about the meaning of these words (with respect to sifat), We would say: We do not add more to the wording anything that will give a meaning. Rather, its recitation is in fact its meaning (tafsir), without any particular meaning or tafsir.’

Therefore, Ibn Qudama clearly believes that the texts about sifat have a tafsir, and that is the literal meaning (dhahir) of the wording.
The quote from al-Saffarini about the obligation of believing in the literal meaning (dhahir) while negating the ma’na (any meaning that opposes the literal meaning), has already preceded, and therefore, no need for repetition.

As for what literal meaning (dhahir) technically means, then the following explains it in depth:

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 literal meaning (dhahir).’

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

The literal meaning (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 he 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 believe in the literal meaning (dhahir), they believe in the literal meanings of the texts, the first and the most obvious meaning that comes to mind.

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