An Introduction to Belief in the Attributes of Allah
By Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan
Shaykhul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah said:
“And from faith in Allaah is faith in what He described Himself with in His Book and what His Messenger Muhammad (saw) described Him with, without tahreef or ta’ateel and without takyeef or tamtheel.”
Shaykh Saalih al-Fawzaan says:
After the writer briefly mentioned the foundations that are obligatory to have faith in, he mentions them in a detailed way and he begins with the first foundation, which is faith in Allaah the Exalted. So he mentions that entering into it is faith in the Attributes of Allaah which He described Himself with in His Book, or those that He was described with by His Messenger (saw) in his Sunnah. So we affirm these for Him as they came in the Book and the Sunnah with their terminology and meanings, without tahreef in their terminology or ta’ateel in their meanings, and without making tashbeeh for them with the attributes of the creation.
Tahreef (alteration): It is the distortion and disinclination of something from its apparent meaning. It is said: he altered such and such so he distorted it. It is of two types
The First Type: Tahreef in terminology – It changing the word to other than its apparent meaning, either by adding a word, or by taking it out, or by deleting a diacritical mark as in the statement of the people of misguidance concerning the statement of Allaah the Exalted:
“And your Lord will come.”
[They say] that is the Command of your Lord. So they added a word. Similarly, there is their statement regarding the statement of Allaah the Exalted:
“And Allaah spoke to Moosaa directly.”
[They] reaffirm it to another term. So they change a diacritical mark.
The Second Type: Tahreef in meaning – It is changing a word from its apparent meaning and its reality, and presenting the word with the meaning of another word. Such as the statement: ‘Verily the meaning of Mercy is wanting reward and the meaning of Anger is wanting punishment.’
Ta’teel (void): Void language – It is used to make the word empty, that is, to void, and the meaning here is to negate the Attributes from Allaah the Glorified and Exalted. The difference between tahreef and ta’teel is that tahreef negates the correct meaning without changing it to different meaning, like a chaotic action. So everyone who performs tahreef also performs ta’ateel but everyone who performs ta’ateel does not perform tahreef.
Takyeef (to ask ‘how’) – It is to distinguish the modality of the Attributes. It is said: ‘One can determine the modality of something if its modality known.’ So to determine the modality of the Attributes of Allaah is to determine their ‘how’ and condition which they are upon. This is not possible for human beings because it is from that knowledge which Allaah has kept to Himself. So there is no path to attain it because it is from His Essence. So just as it is not possible for humankind to know the Essence of Allaah, they cannot determine the modality of His Attributes. So when Imaam Maalik was asked:
“The Most Merciful ascended (istawaa) above His Throne.”
“How did He ascend?” So he said: “Istawaa is known and its modality is unknown and faith in it is obligatory and questions concerning it are an innovation.”
This is the statement concerning the Attributes.
Tamtheel (resembling) – It is to liken Allaah by saying that His Attributes are like those of the creation; such as saying that the Hand of Allaah is like our hands and His Hearing is like our hearing and His Eyes are like our eyes. (Far above is Allaah from that) Allaah the Exalted said:
“There is nothing like Him. He is the Seeing, the Hearing.”
So it cannot be said about His Attributes that they are comparable to our attributes or that they resemble our attributes or that they are like our Attributes. Likewise, it cannot be said that the Essence of Allaah is like our essence. So the monotheist believer affirms all of the Attributes of Allaah upon their apparent sense by Magnifying Allaah and His Greatness. The one who performs ta’teel negates them or negates some of them and the one who likens Allaah affirms them upon a sense not befitting of Allaah, and this is only befitting of the creation.1
The people of the Sunnah and the Jamaa’ah do not take their faith in the fact that there is nothing like Allaah to mean that they negate from Him what He affirms for Himself such as those who go to an extreme in deanthropomorphizing Him until they make Him void of His Attributes, in trying to leave of likenesses for Him, in trying to avoid any likening of His Attributes to those of the creation. So the people of the Sunnah say that the Attributes of Allaah the Exalted are specific to Him and only He is described with them. The creation have Attributes specific to them and they are described with them. There is not similarity between the Attributes of the Creator and the attributes of the Creation. So this warning is not necessary except for those people who distort Allaah’s Attributes.2
Shaykhul Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah said:
“And they do not disbelieve in the Names of Allaah and His Attributes, and they do not try to determine their modality and they do not liken His Attributes to the Attributes of the creation.”
Ilhaad (disbelief/heresy) in the Language: The distortion and alteration of something, and from it meaning is digging (lahada) a grave. Due to this, it is named as altering and moving from the road that is in the direction of the Qiblah. Heresy in the Names of Allaah and His Signs is alteration and distortion in them from their realities and correct meanings to falsehood. Heresy in the Names of Allaah and His Attributes is of various types:
The First Type: Naming idols by them. This is like naming al-Laat from al-Ilaah and al-‘Uzzah from al-‘Azeez and al-Manaat from al-Mannaan.
The Second Type: Naming Him the Glorified and Exalted with what He has not been described with. This is like the Christians who call Him ‘Father’ and like the philosophers who call Him the Reason of the Cause for Activity.
The Third Type: Describing Allaah the Glorified and Exalted with deficiencies that He is free of. This is like the statement of the Jews who say:
“Verily Allaah is poor and we are wealthy.”
And their statement:
“The Hand of Allaah is tied up.”
There is also their statement that Allaah rests on Saturday. (far above is Allaah from what they say)
The Fourth Type: Resembling His Attributes to the Attributes of the Creation. This is like the statement of the anthropomorphist who says: ‘His Hand is like my hand’ and other than
that.(far above this is Allaah) Indeed Allaah has threatened those who commit heresies in His Names and His Signs with a tremendous threat. So Allaah the Exalted says:
“And Allaah has the most Beautiful Names, so call upon Him by them. And leave those who commit heresies in His Names. They will be recompensed for what they used to do.” 3
“Verily those who commit heresies in Our Aayaat, they are not hidden from Us.”4 5