Tafwid al-Ma’na in Istiwa?

Posted on September 21, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

Tafweed al-Ma`na is -not- a belief that the Attributes of Allah “have no meaning”. It is the belief that -certain- attributes of Allah are clear and -certain- ones are not. In these that are not clear we relegate the Ma`na to Allah alone. One example is ar-rahmanu `ala-l `arsh-istawa. We accept it as a literal reality and reject that it is figurative in anyway that Allah did istawa regarding His Throne. The word “istawa” has a wide variety of meanings in the Arabic language and a simple gloss of Lisan al-`Arab will confirm this. However, the exact understanding of this istawa we relegate to Allah. Tafwid means “relegation”. Tafwid al-Ma`na means “relegation of the meaning”.

Here is what Mar’i al-Karmi al-Hanbali (d. 1033) said in his work Ta’wilat al-thiqat. This comes as a direct refutation of this claim, from a post-Ibn Taymiyya Hanbali scholar, from a book which some claim shows the supposed difference between Ibn Taymiyya and Hanbali creed:

Many of the Mutakallimun said, such as al-Tilmisani and others, that the meaning of their statement: “al-Istiwa is known” is that the various meanings of al-Istiwa are lexically known” after having negated al-istiqrar (being settled), as al-qahr (subduing), al-ghalaba (overpowering) or intending to creating something in the Throne, and so on from the various meanings of al-Istiwa. Hence, these meanings are all known in the Arabic language. “The kayf is unknown”, meaning: to pin-point one of those meanings, being Allah’s intended meaning is unknown to us. “To question it is bid’âh”, meaning: to pin-point it speculatively is bid’âh, for the Companions were not known for considering the Names of Allah and His Attributes based on speculation.

I say (Mar’i al-Hanbali): This tafsir is not pleasing to me, for if this was the intention (behind “al-istiwa is known”), he would have said: “To respond to that is bid’âh” (i.e. instead of saying: “to ask is bid’âh”). This is because the one who responds, it is he who is asked to pin-point the meaning. As for the questioner, then he is being general. As for his saying: “al-Istiwa is know: meaning, the various lexical meanings”, if that was the case, he would have said: “the intended meaning is unknown.”

What is dictated by the obvious wording is that their intent is by their saying:al-Istiwa is known”, i.e. Allah Ta’âla’s Attribute that He Rose over the Throne, which is known with certainty and established by tawatur. Hence, comprehending its reality is something that rests on kayfiyya, and this is what was commented on (in their saying):al-kayf is unknown”. The ‘unknown factor’, it is because there is no way for us to know its kayfiyya, for the kayfiyya depends on the maahiyya (the essence). Their saying: “To ask about it is bid’ah, i.e. because the Companions never asked the Messenger of Allah SallAllahu ‘alaihi wa-sallam about it, the Successors never asked the Companions, for the response to such question leads to the kayfiyya. This is why it is said to those in response, who are affected by this misconception, and are demanding to know the takyif by their question: “al-Kayf is unknown”. For that, the negation of which is proven by the Shar’, the intellect and the consensus of the Salaf, is only the knowledge of the servants with respect to kayfiyya. This (the Kayfiyya) is where the ambitions (to know) cease, and the minds become unable to comprehend. Rather, they (the minds) are unable to comprehend much less than that, for here is the soul, of which it is known to everyone that it leaves the body, and the angel takes it. Hence, this (i.e. the soul) which is known to all, the kayfiyya of it is unknown to all. In fact, the kayfiyya of food and drink coming down to our stomachs, and each of their residence in their own locations, then distribution of its elements around the body is unknown. Would not a deficient mind consider this in relation to comprehending the kayfiyya of the Rising of His Lord above His Throne, Subhanahu wa-ta’ala?

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