God Speaks with a Voice

Posted on February 11, 2007. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

77. As far his doctrine with regard to the disputed question of the Quran, its discussions may be dealt with in two sections. The first one treats of the divine voice which he began by denying. Our answer to this denial is as follows: It has been established that Moses heard the words of God from God Himself without any intermediary. Indeed, if he had heard it from a tree or a stone or an angel, then the Israelites would have been superior to him in this regard; for they had heard it from Moses, the Prophet of God, and Moses is superior to the tree and the stone. Why then was Moses given the epithet of “he who is spoken to by God”? And why did God say: “O Moses! I have chosen thee above the people with My messages and My speaking to thee”[7:144]? and again: “When he came to it, he was called to: ’Moses! I am thy Lord.”[20:11] Now no one would say this to him except God.

78. Since this is certain, then the divine voice is that which was heard, and of which the audibility is feasible. Furthermore, reference to the divine voice has been explicitly made in the traditions which have come to us. ’Abd Allah, son of the Imam Ahmad, has said: “I once said to my father: ’Father, the Jahmiyya claim that God does not speak by uttering a voice.’ He replied: ’They lie; they simply occupy themselves with the science of divesting God of His attributes.’ Then he said: ’I heard ’Abd ar-Rahman b. Muhammad al-Muharibi, who had it on the authority of Sulayman b. Mihran al-A’mash, on the authority of Abu al-Duha, on the authority of Masruq, on the authority of ’Abd Allah, say: ’When God gives utterance to revelation, the people of heaven hear His voice.’ “[58] al-Sijzi has said: Among the relators of this tradition there is not a single Imam who is not approved; and it has been related with a chain of transmitters going back to the Apostle of God.

79. In the tradition transmitted by ’Abd Allah b. Unays, it is related that God will call to the people on the Day of Resurrection with a voice which will be heard by him who is far as well as by him who is near: “I am the King! I am the

 Requiter!”[59] This is a well-known tradition. It is also related in the traditions that Moses, when called to by his Lord, “O Moses!” answered quickly, rejoicing in the divine voice, and saying: “At Thy service! At Thy service! Where art Thou? I hear Thy voice, but I see not where Thou art.” God replied: “O Moses! I am above thee, and to thy right, and to thy left, and to the front of thee and to the back of thee.” Then, knowing that this attribute cannot belong except to God, he answered: “So art Thou, O my Lord!”[60] It is also related that Moses, upon hearing thereafter the words of humans, loathed them, so great was the impression remaining in his ears at hearing the words of God.

80. His statement that “the divine voice is a burst or a crack in the air,” is sheer raving, and an empty assertion, the soundness of which is not attested by any prophetic tradition: nor has he any tradition from the Companions concerning it; nor has he furnished an argument for it; nor is he on the right track with regard to it. Suppose now that he were to be told, “we do not concede that it is so,” what then would his argument be? Were he to say, “this is the terminology of us speculative theologians,” we would reply: “This is very far from what is right and much closer to what is wrong. For you people have cast away the Book and the Sunna, and have become aloof from God and His Apostle; you are in nowise assisted by God towards the right, nor directed towards the truth; what you say is not accepted, nor is your terminology heeded.” Should he then say, “this is a definition, and definitions cannot be denied,” we would answer: “Why not? Have you ever heard of an assertion which constrains the adversary’s submission to the bare mention of it, without manifestation of its soundness, or furnishing evidence in its support?” Should he reply, “it is impossible to furnish evidence in support of it,” our retort would be: “This, then, is an admission of inability to furnish its proof, and of ignorance of its soundness. If you do not know its proof, by what means then did you recognize its soundness?” He who admits ignorance of the soundness of what he says, spares others the trouble of determining it, and admits to them his ignorance and the falsity of his assertion. Now how can an assertion be referred to which cannot he known to be sound or false? How will his adversary submit to him regarding that in which he admits blindness of mind and ignorance?

81. It is strange that these speculative theologians—may God blind their faculties of understanding more so than He has already done —claim that they are not satisfied except by decisive proofs and convincing arguments, and judge that the traditions—which they assert to be traditions transmitted by a single traditionist (akhbar ahad)—do not convey certain knowledge; then they adduce arguments such as this which does not prove anything at all, neither manifestly nor by way of certainty. On the contrary, it is but sheer blindness and raving which he fabricates from his own mind and brings forth from the scum of his stomach. When he is denied it and asked to prove its soundness, he has nothing with which to prove it except, “we have already adopted as a rule that definitions cannot be denied.” Now do you think that since God has blinded their eyes and the perceptive faculties of their mind, that they suppose we will accept from them their bare assertion and follow them in their blindness? Their case is simply that of a blind man who is urinating on a roof, facing the people with his pudendum, and supposing that no one sees him, since he himself is incapable of seeing his own person.

82. We say further: On the contrary, the voice is that of which the audibility is feasible. This is the sound definition attested by experience. For the voice has always been qualified by audibility; and the relation of audibility to the voice is the same as that of visibility to things visible. Moreover, the adjoining of the voice to God has been firmly established by sound prophetic tradition, and the Prophet knows more about God and is more truthful than the speculative theologians who have neither knowledge, nor religion, nor the blessings of the present world nor of the world to come. They are simply the worst of mankind, of whom zandaqa is the predominant quality. God has inspired the hearts of his servants with repugnance towards them, rendering them an object of hatred to them.

83. Moreover, even if it should be established with certainty that the voice, in the case of things perceived by the senses, be the result of the clicking movements of the throat, why should it be thus in the case of the attributes of God? Their assertion is: “That which can be established with certainty with regard to ourselves, can be established in like manner with regard to that which is absent (al-gha’ib)” And our answer is: “You are wrong for three reasons.”

84. First: Your calling of God by the name of Absent (al-gha’ib), though the names of God and His attributes are only known by means of the Law. But you—may God remove you far from prosperity! —could not find for God a single name, among ninety-nine names, with which you could call Him, so that you had to invent a name for Him on your own authority! Besides, God has denied this attribute of Himself for He has said:

“…and We were not absent (gha’ibin)[7:7]

85. Second: You have reverted to tashbih-anthropomorphism, the rejection of which is your main support in refuting the Book of God and the Sunna of His Apostle; and you have caused God to follow the analogy of His servants, and be comparable to them in His attributes and names. Now this is the very essence of tashbih-anthropomorphism!—May God curse you!

86. Third: This anthropomorphism is false as regards the rest of the attributes of God which you have conceded, namely, hearing, sight, knowledge and life. These attributes cannot exist in our case except in consequence of certain instruments. Thus hearing exists because of a perforation; sight, because of an iris; knowledge, because of a mind; and life exists in a body. Moreover, all of the attributes cannot exist except in a body; therefore, if you say that it is the same in the case of the Creator, you are guilty of tajsim and tashbih-anthropomorphism, and have become unbelievers. On the other hand, if you should say, the divine attributes do not require a body,” then why were they required in the present case?

87. However, that which has been firmly established by the Book and the Sunna cannot be put aside by the sheer raving of your spokesman, nor shall we desert the doctrines of the Apostle of God for those of a meddlesome heretical innovator. We will not accept their doctrines in matters which find no support in revealed scripture or in prophetic tradition. In our eyes, they have neither honour nor dignity. How are we to consent to the nullification of the Book and the refutation of the Sunna despite our clinging to them, our adhering to them, our holding fast to them, and the eagerness of our desire for them, in the manner of him who is persuaded that salvation consists in adhering to them, perdition in abandoning them, transgression and the lack of divine preservation in opposing them?—We beseech God to grant us that we keep steadfastly to them during our life, and after our death, until the day when we shall meet Him, so that He may recompense us for our steadfastness and place us in the company of the Prophet who announced them.

88. He argues falsely when he asserts that the following statement constitutes tashbih-anthropomorphism; namely, that when God speaks, there is a sound in the heavens “similar to the sound which results from dragging a chain on smooth rocks.”[61] Such an assertion constitutes an objection against the Master of Apostles, Muhammad, the truthful and trustworthy Apostle of God, as well as an accusation of tamthil and tajsim—anthropomorphism levelled against him. Whoever does this has deserted the orthodox faith. But the matter is not as this faithless forger of false accusations asserts it to be; he has but simply been deceived by the evilness of his purpose and the paucity of his understanding.

“How many persons have censured a valid statement,

Whose censure was the result of meagre understanding!”

Now the above comparison has nothing to do with the thing heard. It is simply the comparison of one hearing with another hearing; that is to say that our hearing of the sound of a chain over smooth rocks would be like our hearing of the divine voice. This comparison is akin to the one which the Prophet made in this other tradition: “Verily, you shall see your Lord as you see the full moon, you shall not gather together in order to see Him;”[62] that is to say that your seeing of your Lord is like your seeing of the full moon, in that the full moon is such that it can be seen by all, not by some to the exclusion of others. This now is the case of one who is about to break his fast; in order to do so, he does not need to join ranks with other fasters in order to see the full moon, as is the case in the seeing of the crescent, at which time they gather together so that he who sees it points it out to him who does not. But the seeing of the full moon is not done in this manner. For this reason, the tradition has been related with the two variants of you will not he harmed, from the root DYM, and you will not gather together, from the root DMM. Now the present case likewise involves a comparison of one hearing with another hearing, and not of one thing heard with another thing heard.
89. He who seeks the truth, God will direct him to that which is right, and wisdom and useful knowledge will accrue to him as a result of the words of God and those of His Apostle. But he who seeks other than the truth, God will cause him to be blind to the right direction, and the Quran and Sunna will then become, for him, false arguments by means of which he will go astray. God has said: “We send down, though the Quran, that which is healing and mercy to the believers and which only adds to the perdition of the unjust.”[17:82] Similar to this is the sun’s light which brightens the way for him who has good sight; but he whose sight is weak, and his eye diseased, will be increased in weak-sightedness by its light and caused to become blind. The poet has said:

Knowledge, for the sensible man, is an enhancement,

But for the weak-minded fool, a defect;

Just as daylight to the perception of mankind

Adds brightness, and blinds the eyesight of bats.

90. As for the details of his false arguments in speculative theology, we shall not plunge into them with him; but we know them to be false by virtue of their very source. We have already clearly shown, by what has preceded, the evilness of the science of speculative theology by virtue of its very source, the censure of it by our Imams, the universal agreement of the scholars that its advocates are partisans of heretical innovations and error, that they are not considered to belong to the ranks of scholars, that whoever occupies himself with it becomes a zindiq and will not prosper. Indeed, the evidence and the veracity of what the Imams say, has become manifest in the case of the author of the present discourse. His condition had gone so far into zandaqa and heretical innovation that he was publicly declared to have innovated and erred. The shedding of his blood was made lawful, and it was necessary for him to repent and confess against himself that he was following the path of heretical innovation and error, and that he who reproved him was right in his reprobation of him. The present discourse is part of the total sum of errors for which he repented and of heretical innovations from which he reverted.[63]


[59] Al-Bukhari

[60] This is a small selection from a long report of Wahb b. Munabbih, collected by Imam Ahmad in his work al-zuhd (Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya p. 54). Wahb b. Munabbih is known for narrating Israeli reports. Those of the Israeli reports that concur with the Shari’a are accepted, while those that contradict are to be rejected. Those of the reports that neither concur nor contradict the Shari’a are neither to be accepted nor rejected.

[61] Sahih mawquf tradition up to Ibn Mas’ud, however, since he could not have acquired the knowledge of this nature except via the Prophet – peace and blessings be upon him – it dictates that the information contained in the authentic text must be from the Prophet, rendering the tradition to be marfu’ in meaning. The authentic mawquf version was collected by Ibn Khuzayma, al-Darimi in his al-radd ‘ala al-jahmiyya and others.

Those who deny that God speaks with a voice argued that the sound “similar to the sound which results from dragging a chain on smooth rocks”, as mentioned in the text refers to the angels flattering their wings, and not God’s voice.

However, their argument is false due to three reasons:

Firstly: The default in the Arabic language is that a pronoun in (ka annahu) refers to the immediate object and not the furthest. Hence, in the sentence: “the angels flutter their wings indicating complete surrender to His saying which sounds like chains being dragged on rock”; the phrase “which sounds like” refers to “His saying”, and not the angels fluttering their wings.

Secondly: The pronoun mentioned in the text is masculine (ka annahu) because it refers to ‘God’s saying’ (qawlihi) which is also masculine. If the pronoun was referring to the wings of the angels (al-ajniha) then it would have been a feminine pronoun (ka annaha), since al-ajniha is also feminine.

Thirdly: What renders their interpretation false is the narration collected by Ibn Jarir with an authentic chain, containing trustworthy narrators throughout:

Narrated to us Ahmad b. ‘Abda al-Dhabi (thiqa) who said narrated to us Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna (Imam), who narrates from ‘Amr b. Dinar (Imam) who narrates from ‘Ikrima (Imam) who narrates from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet – peace be upon him – said: “When God decrees some order in the heaven, the angels flutter their wings altogether, and His saying has a voice which sounds like chains being dragged on al-Safa – the rocks” (li qawlihi sawtun ka sawt al-silsilat ‘ala al-safwan)

[62] Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi

[63] The orthodox doctrine that God speaks with a voice and letters is based upon the Book, the Sunna and sound reason. There are many passages in the Quran that speak of God’s ‘calling out’ such as the verse, “Didn’t the story of Moses reach you? When His Lord Called (idh nadahu) him at the sacred valley of Tuwa” [al-Nazi’at 79:15-6]; and “[Remember] when your Lord Called Moses (wa-idh nada rabbuka musa) : Go to the unjust people!” [al-Shu’ara 26:10]

In the Arabic language, the expressions nada, yunadi, al-nida (calling) only refers to calling out with a loud voice. Abu Nasr al-Sijzi al-Shafi’i says: “ ‘al-nida’ to the Arabs refers to a voice and nothing else. Nothing has come from God or His Messenger – peace be upon him – that God calls out without a voice.” (al-Sijzi, al-radd ‘ala man Ankara al-harf wa al-sawt p. 166, ed. Muhammad ba Karim ba ‘Abd Allah, Dar al-Raya 1994) Abu al-Wafa b. ‘Aqil says: “It is known that al-nida is nothing but a voice…”

The Sunnah also contains many evidences proving that God speaks with a voice. One of the famous narrations in support of this is mentioned by Al-Bukhari, via ‘Abdullah b. Unays, in his Sahih as ta’liq with sighat al-jazm, indicating that the narration is authentic. Al-Bukhari mentions the text of this narration in his work ‘khalq af’al al-‘ibad’ which states: “…and then He will call them out with a voice…” al-Bukhari comments just before citing this narration: “In this there is proof that God’s voice does not resemble the voice of the creation, because God’s voice – may His remembrance be Exalted! – is heard from far as it is heard from near, and that the angels fall unconscious upon hearing His voice. If the angels were to call, they would not fall unconscious.” (al-Bukhari, khaql af’al al-‘ibad page 182, ed. ‘Amr ‘Abd al-Mun’im Salim, Dar Ibn al-Qayyim 2003) Ibn Hajar, in Fath al-Bari, also confirms that in al-Bukhari’s opinion, God speaks with a voice, which does not resemble the voices of the creation.

The mu’allaq narration in al-Bukhari via ‘Abdullah b. Unays has been authenticated by al-Bukhari, al-Hakim, al-Dhahabi, Ibn Hajar, al-Albani and Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut. Shaykh Muhammad Nasir al-Din al-Albani, in his verification of Kitab al-Sunnah by Ibn Abi ‘Asim [p. 225-6, published in 1426/2005 by Zuhayr Shawish], writes:

“Hadith is Sahih, while its chain is hasan or close, for Ibn ‘Aqil is hasan al-hadith. However, al-Qasim b. Abd al-Wahid – who is Ayman al-Makki – none declared him trustworthy (thiqa) except Ibn Hibban. Abu Hatim says of him: ‘His narrations are to be noted down (i.e. for i’tibar).’ He was then asked: ‘Are his narrations used as independent proofs (yuhtaj bih)?’ He said: Narrations of Sufyan and Shu’ba are to be used as independent proofs.’

Al-Dhahabi said of him in al-Mizan: ‘He is declared trustworthy.’ ” – to his words – “The hadith has been narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad (970), Af’al al-‘Ibad (p.89), al-Hakim (4/574), and from him al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma’ (p.78-79), and Ahmad (3/495) from a different route via Hammam b. Yahya from him.

Al-Hakim said: Sahih al-isnad! Furthermore, al-Dhahabi agreed!!! This is what they said, however, in the best of cases the hadeeth is hasan as we mentioned.

al-Bukhari (in his Sahih) mentioned this hadeeth as ta’liq (without mentioning the chain) as sighat al-jazm (indicating the authenticity of the tradition).

Al-Hafidh said (1/159): “This is because its chain is hasan, for it has been supported [by other narrations]” He also said: “The narration also has a different route, as collected by al-Tabarani in Musnad al-Shamiyyin and his Tamam fi Fawa’id via al-Hajjaj b. Dinar, ‘an Muhammad b. al-Munkadir, ‘an Jabir… he then mentioned the same narration. Its chain is good (salih). It also has a third route collected by al-Khatib in al-Rihla via Abu al-Jarud al-‘Ansi,’an Jabir, with the same narration, although there is weakness in its chain.”

Al-Hadith al-Mundhiri (4/202) says about the narration: “Ahmad narrated it with a hasan chain.”

From this takhrij it becomes obvious to anyone with acute perception that the narration is sahih with the three routes combined. Shaykh Zahid a-Kawthari presumptuously assumed in his notes on al-Asma’ [wa’l-Sifat by al-Bayhaqi] that the narration has no route but the first. He, therefore, criticised the narration, relying on the aforementioned statement of Abu Hatim with respect to al-Qasim, and the fact that al-Bukhari and Muslim did not narrate anything from Ibn ‘Aqil! This is only a demonstration of his bigotry against traditions and its people, for which he is known. He, in fact, filled his comments with the like. Otherwise, why did he ignore the two routes which we mentioned from al-Fath [of Ibn Hajar], especially if one of them has a good chain (salih al-isnad)?! May Allah protect us from madhabist bigotry.”

Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut also declares this narration to be Hasan in his verification of Musnad of Imam Ahmad (25/432) and further says: “As for ‘Abdullah b. Muhammad b. ‘Aqil, al-Hafidh [Ibn Hajar] says in al-Talkhis: ‘if he is a lone narrator of a text, then that is to be declared hasan. But if he is opposed then his narration is not accepted.’ Al-Dhahabi says in al-Mizan: ‘His Hadeeth is in the category of Hasan’. We say (i.e. al-Arna’ut): He narration has been followed up by another narrator, and the rest of the narrators in the chain are trustworthy (thiqat) from the narrators of the two Shaykhs (al-Bukhari and Muslim).”

The well-known narration of of Ibn Mas’ud has been mentioned and discussed in fn 55 and 58. Perhaps, a separate treatise can be written and dedicated to the topic of God’s speech with a voice and letters. For further reading, refer to al-Radd ‘ala man Ankara al-Harf wal-Sawt by Abu Nasr al-Sijzi (d. 444); Mas’ala fi al-Harf wal-Sawt by Abu’l-Wafa b. ‘Aqil (refer to fn 8); al-Munadhara fi al-Quran by Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi; Juz’ fi al-Huruf wa al-Aswat by Abu Zakariyya al-Nawawi; and of course, several works by Ibn Taymiyyah.

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