Ibn Katheer on the Attributes of Allah

Posted on September 30, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

Let us take a quick look at the position of Ibn Katheer on the Attributes of Allah.

Firstly, Ibn Kathir was a devout student and an admirer of Ibn Taymiyya, and would follow him in many of his views and opinions, as he would also accompany him on his Hisba missions of commanding good and forbidding evil. Anyone who reads Ibn Kathir’s account of Ibn Taymiyya in his Bidaya will be aware of this, in particular, when Ibn Kathir proudly relates how Ibn Taymiyya punished a Sufi Zindiq at his time and made him repent, in Ibn Kathir’s presence.

Ibn al-Imad in his Shadharat quotes Ibn Qadhi Shuhba from his Tabaqat: ‘He (Ibn Kathir) had a special relationship with Ibn Taymiyya, whom he would defend and follow many of his views. He would issue verdicts according to the view of Ibn Taymiyya in the issue of Talaq, due to which he was tested and harmed. He died in Sha’ban and was buried in the Sufi cemetery next to his Sheikh Ibn Taymiyya’.

Secondly, what Ibn Kathir says in tafsir of Allah’s Hands, etc, is not the Ta’wil which involves the negation of the dhahir.

The Salaf affirmed two things from the verses regarding the Attributes:

  1. The Attribute itself, and
  2. The meaning of the Attributes plus the context.

For example, with the verse: ‘Lo! The bounty is in Allah’s Hand’

The Salaf affirmed:
1) Allah has a Hand, and
2) Allah is the ultimate owner of all bounties.

If Ibn Kathir, or any of the Salaf for that matter, negated the dhahir, then the Ash’aris might have a leg to stand on. However, Ibn Taymiyya gave the Ash’aris of his time three years to search through the heritage of the Salaf to find one scholar making ta’wil, and they were unable to comply.

All they could bring were statements of the Salaf regarded verses that had nothing to do with the Sifat.

For instance, the verse: ‘The heavens that We Created with Aydin’, many of them say that the Salaf made ta’wil of the word Aydin by saying it refers to power.

Yet, the verse has nothing to do with Allah’s Attributes, because the word ‘Aydin’, literally and linguistically refers to power, and not hands.

The word ‘Aydin’ is a verbal noun (masdar) for the verb ‘aada’, meaning ‘strengthened’, and therefore completely different to the word ‘yad’ (hand), linguistically, morphologically, let alone literally.

But the Ash’arite problem is ignorance of the Arabic language.

Another verse which clarifies the meaning of Aydin is: ‘Remember our servant, Dawud, the one with Aydin’

Aydin here, linguistically refers to power and not hands, for if it literally meant ‘hands’, the verse would surely sound strange:
‘Remember our servant, Dawud, the one with hands’!

In this regard the Shafi’i Imam Ibn Khuzayma says: ‘Some of the Jahmites claimed the meaning of the saying: ‘Allah Created Adam with His Two Hands’, i.e. with His power. Hence, they claimed that al-Yad (hand) refers to al-Quwwah (power), and this is also from changing (the wording/meanings). This is also ignorance of the Arabic language. For power is called ‘al-Ayd’ in the language of the Arabs, and not ‘al-Yad’ (a hand). Therefore, the one who cannot differentiate between ‘al-Yad’ and ‘al-Ayd’, he is more in need of education and enrolment in a school, than seeking leadership or a theological debate!’ (al-Tawhid p. 87)

Thirdly, and lastly, Ibn Kathir often in his Tafsir makes clear cut affirmation of Allah’s Attributes, which the Ash’aris negate the dhahir of.

For example, in the Tafsir of Allah’s verse: ‘Allah mocks them’ (2:15) quotes the statements of the Salaf and Ibn Jarir affirming literally that Allah mocks them in retaliation.

Ibn Kathir also says in his Tafsir of the verse: ‘And when your Lord Comes, and the angels in rows after rows.’: Hence, Allah will Come on the Day of Judgement, as He Wills, as will the angels in front of Him, in rows after rows’.

Here, Ibn Kathir literally affirms that Allah will Come on the Day of Judgement, and not His decision, reward and mercy as the Ash’arites and the Jahmites claim. It is also very important to note here, that all of the Ash’aris formed a consensus on negating sifat ikhtiyariyya from Allah. In other words, they believed that Allah cannot do what He likes, whenever He likes, because they will oppose Allah’s especial quality of being qadim, eternal. Yet, for Ibn Kathir to disagree with the Ash’aris on such a fundamental issue clearly demonstrates that he was not an Ash’ari.

In his tafsir, Ibn Kathir also affirms that Allah’s Speech is literally heard, another fundamental point of disagreement between the Hanbalis and Ash’aris.

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