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Does God Have a Gender? Are Ash’aris and Maturidis Disbelievers?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: 1. Am I correct that our understanding of God in islam is that He has no biological sex?

2. From my understanding, once Islam started spreading to different lands, different scholars codified Islamic beliefs in order to call non-muslims to Islam. Therefore, different schools of theology emerged. Are any of these schools considered misguided? I hear rhetoric online from Muslims who declare all Ash’aris and Maturidis disbelievers.

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

1. Yes. This is an essential point of belief that Muslims hold regarding God. It’s basis is the Qur’anic verse, “There is nothing whatsoever like Him.” (42:11)

2. The Ash`ari and Maturidi schools have served as the standard expression of orthodox creed among Sunni scholars for over a millennium. The creed authored by Imam al-Tahawi does not diverge significantly from either, and, like the Maturidi school, it represents the belief of the early Hanafi scholars, namely Imam Abu Hanifa, Qadi Abu Yusuf, and Imam Muhammad.

As you have indicated, the process of codifying any tradition, whether it be related to creed or law or spirituality, arises gradually and within the context of broader social and intellectual currents.

From this perspective, the Ash`ari and Maturidi schools are rightly viewed as emerging in defense of orthodox creed against the arguments of both non-Muslims and those Muslim sects whose understandings were seen as swerving from the way of the pious predecessors (salaf). Imam Ash`ari and Imam Maturidi sought to uphold and defend the way of the pious predecessors, and it was on account of their views and methods being in line with those of early Muslims and the general principles of our religion that scholars who proceeded them accepted the way they set forth.

It is a serious claim to state that those who follow the Ash`ari and Maturidi schools are disbelievers as it implies that the majority of Islamic scholars went astray, a point disproved by clear prophetic instructions to stick to the majority. [Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah]

My advice to you would be to simply stick to a basic and agreed upon creed, such as that of al-Tahawi, while respecting the tradition that the great Sunni scholars of the past represented. Anathema will not get us anywhere, nor will quick accusations of misguidance against fellow Muslims. Rather, you should seek out people who are positive, respectful, and whose presence lifts you spiritually.

Related links:

The Ash`aris & Maturidis: Standards of Mainstream Sunni Beliefs

Keeping One’s Faith While Navigating Differences of Opinion

Salman

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Do We Worship Allah Due to His Essence Alone, or Due to His Command?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Kahn

Question: Do we worship Allah because it is His right over us, because of His essence alone? Or because He has commanded us to do so?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum warahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health states.

The two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

‘Worship’ (ibada) refers to the utmost state of lowliness and submission, a state fitting for creation by the very essence of Allah Most High. Indeed, He alone is eternal and supreme, and He alone possesses all majesty, glory and honor.

However, most humans fall short in recognizing this reality. So out of His largesse and bounty, He has sent prophets and messengers (peace be upon them all) with revelation and a Sacred Law, in which He commands us to actualize a state of worship and live accordingly.

Foundational Theological Difference

This can be further elucidated by appreciating the difference of opinion between the Asharis and Maturidis on the basis of recognizing the Divine:

(a) The Asharis maintain that there is no obligation of belief in Allah and His oneness until and unless a messenger is sent, as only a messenger brings clarity as to what is incumbent on humanity, by means of the revealed Sacred Law. Indeed, Allah Most High states, “And We were not punishing until We brought forth a messenger” (17:15);

(b) The Maturidis, on the other hand, maintain that there is accountability for recognition of the Divine based on intellect alone, which the Sacred Law then confirms. This is based on the overwhelming signs of Allah and His oneness in creation, coupled with the intellect being endowed by Allah with the ability to recognize these signs.

[Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid Sharh Jawharat al-Tawhid; Ibn Abidin, Nasamat al-Ashar Sharh Ifadat al-Anwar; Ibn Nujaym, Fath al-Ghaffar bi Sharh al-Manar; Buti, Dawabit al-Maslaha]

To a certain extent, then, the two perspectives on the basis of worship could be seen as an extension of this theological difference. That is, is gratitude to the Divine incumbent based on the intellect alone, or is it incumbent only when the Sacred Law is revealed?

The Maturidis would affirm the former, whereby worship would be based on recognition of Allah by the intellect, coupled with a realization of the divine attributes of overwhelming sovereignty vis-a-vis the creation’s attributes of neediness and submission — a realization that the very essence of Allah entails creation’s role of worship.

The Asharis would affirm the latter, whereby worship would be based on the divine command to do so. Without a Sacred Law, neither knowledge of the Divine nor realization of His right to be worshiped could be ascertained to an extent that necessitates incumbency.

And Allah knows best.
wassalam
Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Sunni Orthodoxy: When Was It Established and Systematized?

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan

Question: Is it true that “Sunni orthodoxy” was established in the third Islamic century? I have read this in many books authored by non-Muslims. My understanding is that orthodoxy was known from the first century, but systematized as a science in the third century. Is this understanding correct?

 

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.

Your understanding is correct, mashaAllah. Sunni orthodoxy was codified and organized formally in the second, third and fourth centuries, as 4 schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, and Hanbali) and 2 schools of beliefs (Ash’ari and Maturidi).

Yet the teachings of those formal schools were in essence a presentation of revelation itself: the Qur’an sent down to our Master Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), and his Noble Sunna that explained and exemplified the Qur’an. The codified Sunni orthodoxy of those later centuries was merely a systematic formalization of what was inherited from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and his Companions.

For more detail, please see related articles on masud.co.uk, as well as the following:

A Reader on Following Schools of Thought (Madhabs)

The Ash`aris & Maturidis: Standards of Mainstream Sunni Beliefs

How Are Madhabs Any Different From Sects In Christianity?

And Allah knows best.
wassalam
Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

The Ash`aris & Maturidis: Standards of Mainstream Sunni Beliefs

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: Is it true that the Hanbalis were very anti-Ash`ari? I have heard from some people that the beliefs of the Salaf were the beliefs of the “Atharis” and not the Ash`ari/Maturidis and things like interpreting the attributes is not valid. Can you please clarify?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon His Messenger Muhammad, his folk, companions, and followers

Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.

Yes, there was historically a group of Hanbalis who were quite anti-Ash`ari. Some of them were simply wary of the nuances of scholastic theology (kalam) and feared the impact it may have had on the purity of the beliefs within the Qur’an and Sunna. However, there was also a tendency–certainly not predominant–towards excessive literalism in beliefs and even towards anthropomorphism (affirmation of human attributes to Allah).

The Ash`ari and Maturidi Schools: the Standards of mainstream Sunni beliefs

This is why the scholars considered the prevalent way of the Ash`aris and Maturidis to be the ‘standard’ by which anyone’s beliefs would be judged. If these beliefs– whether referred to as “Athari aqida” or anything else–corresponded in content and implications to the beliefs acceptable to the mainstream Sunni schools, then such beliefs were accepted as being within the framework of Ahl al-Sunna; and to the extent that they didn’t, in content or implications, they weren’t.

Imam Ash`ari and Imam Maturidi were from the Salaf

Both Imam Abu’l Hasan al-Ash`ari and Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi were from the Salaf (the age of the early Muslims, generally defined as those of the righteous who lived in the first three Centuries after the Prophetic age). Both of these Imams simply defended and upheld the transmitted beliefs of the Qur’an and Sunna, as understood by mainstream Sunni Islam in each generation before them, from the extremes of excessive literalism and excessive rationalism.

Their teachings and methodology were accepted as the standard of mainstream Sunni Islam by clear general consensus of the scholarly community in their own times and in every generation since–a sign of Divine acceptance by clear promise of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), for it is a Divine promise that the teachings of His final revelation will be preserved and a Prophetic promise that his Umma will not agree on error.

The Divine Attributes and the way of Consigning (tafwid) the meaning to Allah

When it comes to understanding those Divine Attributes that may appear to indicate some similitude between the Creator and creation, the preferred position of both the Ash`aris and Maturidis is:

[1] Affirming what Allah has affirmed, such as istiwa’ or His Hand or Eyes, not more and not less.
[2] Negating what Allah has decisively negated, which is any similitude whatsoever between the Creator and creation–a negation that the sound intellect readily discerns, and which was affirmed by Allah’s words, “There is absolutely nothing like unto Him.” [Qur’an]
[3] Consigning (tafwid) the specific meaning and details of such matters to Allah Most High.

[Bajuri, Tuhfat al-Murid `ala Jawharat al-Tawhid; Nablusi, Sharh Ida’at al-Dujunna; Abu Mu`in al-Nasafi, Tabsirat al-Adilla; Qari/Abu Hanifa, Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar; Maydani/Tahawi, Sharh al-Aqida al-Tahawiyya; Bouti, Kubra al-Yaqiniyyat]

This was the way of the Salaf

This was clearly the way of the pious predecessors (salaf). Their statements of affirmation, which our methodologically-divergent brethren passionately latch onto, were not statements of excessive literalism. Rather, they were simply affirming what Allah has affirmed and strongly condemned those who would negate anything that Allah affirmed (for that entails disbelief, thus the reason why some statements were so firm). However, they did not affirm more than that and did not insist on understanding such affirmations in being “literal” in nature. This is because the literal (i.e. primary) meaning of such matters entails affirming similitude between the Creator and creation and such similitude has been clearly and decisively negated throughout the Qur’an.

What About Figurative Interpretation (ta’wil)?

However, when the need for it arose, some of the early Muslim (salaf) scholars and many of the later Muslim (khalaf) scholars used figurative interpretation to give a meaning to such “apparently problematic” primary texts, using the sound principles of linguistic usage and textual interpretation.

These scholars had clear precedent in the interpretations of many of the Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), most notably Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him), who also engaged in such interpretations when there was need. This is clearly found in many of the very earliest reliable tafsirs of the Qur’an, such as Tafsir al-Tabari, and also in Imam Maturidi’s own tafsir, Ta’wilat Ahl al-Sunna.

The later scholars engaged in figurative interpretation more than the earlier scholars because of the greater prevalence of literalist excesses and the harms these were causing to the laity among the believers.

Does Figurative Interpretation Entail Negation of What Allah Affirmed (ta`til)?

Figurative interpretation doesn’t entail negation of what Allah affirmed in any way whatsoever, because this way, akin to the way of ‘consigning the meaning to Allah’ (tafwid), also entails:

[1] Affirming what Allah has affirmed, such as istiwa’ or His Hand or Eyes.
[2] Negating what Allah has decisively negated, which is any similitude whatsoever between the Creator and creation–a negation that the sound intellect readily discerns, and which was affirmed by Allah’s words, “There is absolutely nothing like unto Him.” [Qur’an]

But it differs in that it

[3] Affirms a meaning to these texts, using the principles of established linguistic usage and sound textual interpretation (such as “Hand” signifying power or favor, as understood from the context). It is very important to note that this figurative interpretation entails affirming a meaning in the sense of affirming what the text signifies–and not an exclusive affirmation of meaning (such that A=B, meaning that text A means B, and nothing else). [For examples of such interpretation, see Shaykh Gibril Haddad’s Ibn `Abd al-Salam and Ash`ari Ta’wil.]

The way of figurative interpretation (ta’wil), as exercised by the mainstream Sunni scholars of the Ash`ari and Maturidi schools  is an affirmation of what is understood from such expressions, and not an exclusive specification of meaning. Thus, the way of figurative interpretation (ta’wil), which the scholars only resorted to with the utmost of caution when there was genuine need, also entails a consignment of the ultimate meaning to Allah Most High (tafwid). This is an important but subtle matter, so understand!

And Allah alone gives success.

Faraz Rabbani