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God’s Existentiality and the Ash’ari Creed: Explaining the Concept of “Bi Dhaatih” for Allah

 

Author: Ali Boriqee

Produced by: al-Mustaqeem Publications

Available in PDF at the end of post

 

Bismillahi ar-Rahman ar-Raheem

This piece is not claiming or labeling that our misguided ash’ari brethren are atheist, rather it is merely to show that their doctrinal assessment is in line with the slogan of atheist. The very statement that brings forth this entire tract is the following statement that the ash’aris have initiated as part of the Islamic creed (in their view anyway) that was never stated at all by any scholar for the first four Islamic centuries.  Their statement is

“Allah is neither inside the creation, nor is He outside of it, nor is He to the left, nor to the right of it, nor is He above it, nor is He below it”

This is because Imaam adh-Dhahabi says: “Then you (the Ash’aris) say: He is not inside the world, nor outside of it, nor above the Throne, nor beneath it, nor is He in the heavens. If this is something you can comprehend, then by Allah, we cannot comprehend this! However, if such negation was stated in religious texts, we would have believed therein and followed it. Rather, when the texts have affirmed that Allah is above the Throne, and that He is in the heavens, and so on, we also say the same, believing therein, and following the textual proofs.”

In essence, this is a statement that agrees to the atheists for it is atheists who use this same logic to prove the non-existentiality of God.

The Sunni view regarding this is that Allah is “above” the Throne as He said He Himself made istiwaa (ascended, rose, settled,) over the Throne as He testified this about Himself on several occasions in the Qur’an and affirmed throughout the prophetic ahadeeth literature. This is not the place to prove this fact as we have provided this elsewhere, however  we will assume for argument’s sake that this is undeniably the correct stance (that being the sunni view).

What I wish to tackle here are several statements of classical orthodox sunni scholars who commented upon Allah’s “istiwaa” over the Throne and that it was an actual reality that He Himself has done

The earliest one that I know of who used the word “bi-dhatihi is al Hafidh Abu Ja’far Ibn Abi Shaybah (297 H.): He said in his book “Kitaabul-Arsh”

لامام الحافظأبو جعفر محمد ابن أبي شيبة(ت 297 هـ) قال في كتابه العرش: (فهو فوق السماوات وفوقالعرش بذاتهمتخلصاً من خلقه بائناً منهم علمه في خلقه لا يخرجون من علمه)

“And He is above the Throne with his Essence separate from His creation and He is with them with His knowledge and there is beyond our knowledge”

Abdullah bin Abi Zayd al Qairawani, called “Malik asSaghir” – d. 386 A.H.- in his famous Risalah:

وأنه فوق عرشه المجيد بذاته، وهو في كل مكان بعلمه،

“And He is above (fawqa) His Throne bi-dhatihi, and He is everywhere with His knowledge.”

Abu Nasir As Sijzee – d. 444 AH.- in his “Al Ibanah” (as reported by AdhDhahabi in “Al Uluw”) :


أئمتنا كسفيان الثوري ومالك وحماد بن سلمة وحماد بن زيد وسفيان بن عيينة والفضيل وابن المبارك وأحمد وإسحاق متفقون على أن الله سبحانه بذاته فوق العرش وعلمه بكل مكان وأنه ينزل إلى السماء الدنيا وأنه بغضب ويرضى ويتكلم بماشاء

 

Our scholars, such as ath-Thawree, Maalik, the two Hamaads, ibn ‘Uyaynah, ibn al-Mubaarak, al-Fudayl, Ahmad and Ishaaq are agreed that Allah is above Hthe Throne bi-dhatihi, and His Knowledge is in every place.”

As a side note, if these pseudo ash’aris ever state that “Imaam Ahmad called Abu J’afar ibn Abi Shaybah a liar” then we can easily repell this to the ground because the ones who were quoted attacking him (Abdullah the son of Imam Ahmad, Kharrash, Dawud bin Yahya …etc. – 10 names) their statements were transmitted by one person, whose name was Ibn Uqdah, who was himself declared to be untrustworthy by several scholars.
No other scholar transmitted those statements by 10 well known scholars, attacking Imam Ja’far, except him.

Thus that report, mentioning those 10 statements, is not to be accepted.

As for the attack by Mateen, then it is not accepted either, because his attack was because of some argument that happened between him and Abu Ja’far rahimahuma Allah, and attacks by contemporaries resulting from disagreements/arguments between them, is not accepted.

adh-Dhahabee mentions dhaatihi, and likewise al-Hasan al-Khariji ash-Shafi’ee who said
“….their belief is that Allah is over His Throne bi dhaatihi…”

“and the likes of this phrase “bi dhaatihi” has preceded from Abu J’afar ibn Abi Shaybah, Uthmaan bin Sa’eed ad-Daarimee, likewise Yahya bin ‘Ammaar, the preacher of Sijistan, used it in his risalah, and likewise Shaykhul-Islm Abu Isma’eel al-Ansaaree who said “….that Allah is above His Throne bi

and upon this poem  is written, in the handwriting of Alamaah Taqiu-deen Ibnu-Salaah “This is the beleif of ahlu-sunnahti wal-jama’ah”, and likewise this term was used by Ahmad bin Thaabit at-Turkee the haafidh, an Shaykh Abdul-Qaadir al-Jilaanee and the Muftee Abdul-Aziz al-Qaheetee and a group of scholars……………….[and adh-dhahabee ends with]
“and a group of the people of knowledge spoke with the aforementioned word “bi dhaatihi” [Mukhtasir al-Uloow p255-256]

Likewise Shaykh Abdul-Qadir al-Jilanee is reported to have said the same

“It is essential to carry the Attribute of al-Istawaa upon it’s apparent sense – without ta’weel, and that He Ascended in Person over the Throne. Istawaa does not mean sitting or touching – as the Mujassima and Karraamiyyah say. Nor does it mean grandeur and highness – as the Ash’ariyyah say. Nor does it mean conquering and dominating as the Mu’tazila say. None of this is related in the Sharee’ah. Neither has this been related by any one of the Salaf as-Saalih and the Taabi’een. Nor from the Ashaabul Hadeeth. Rather it is related from them that they carried the meaning of Istawaa with it’s apparent meaning.” [‘Gunya at-Taalibeen’ (1/50)]

Ibn Taymiyyah in Dar at-Ta’aarud, the following dhaatihi), and that He ascended the throne in a manner that He wishes”

“that the Imaam of the Maalikis of his time, the Haafidh al-Imaam Abu Umar at-Talamnkee says in his book ‘al-Wusool ilaa M’arifatul-Usool’
“and the Muslims from Ahlu-sunnah are agreed upon the meaning of His saying “and He is with you wherever you may be”- and whatever is similar to that in the Qur’an- that that is His Knowledge, that Allah is above the heavens, with His essence (bi

Where are we going with this and how does the above relate to God’s existentiality and atheism. Well, we, the ahlu-sunnah, believe that everything that is refered to Allah is understood by default to be “bi dhaatih” i.e. His Essence.

What is the proof for this?

Al-Khateeb al-Baghdaadee (d.463) said,

 “as for the discussion concerning the Attributes then indeed the madhhab of the salaf pertaining to that which is reported in the authentic sunan, was to affirm them and leave them upon their literal meaning while negating the kayfiyyah and tashbeeh from them. And a group rejected them and nullified that which Allah, the free from defect, had affirmed. And another group from those that affirmed them examined them and fell into a type of tashbeeh and takyeef, and the desired objective is to travel the middle path between these two matters for the religion of Allah is between the two extremes. And the basis of this is that the discussion concerning the Attributes is a branch of the discussion concerning the Person of Allah (dhaat) taking an identical path in both of them. So when it is known that affirming the Lord of the Universes is only affirming the existence not affirming the kayfiyyah, then likewise affirming the Attributes is affirming their existence not affirming limitation or takyeef.
So when we say: Allah, the Exalted has a Hand, and Hearing, and Seeing, then these are Attributes that Allah has affirmed for Himself and we do not say: the meaning of hand is Power (Qudra) and neither do we say: the meaning of Hearing and Seeing is Knowledge and neither do we say that they are limbs/organs, and neither do we liken them to the hands, hearing, and seeing that are organs. Rather we say: what is obligatory is to affirm them because they are to be stopped at (in terms of kayfiyyah) and obligatory to negate tashbeeh from them due to the saying of Allah, ‘there is nothing like Him, He is the Seeing and the Hearing’ and His saying, ‘there is nothing like Him’”

This is a most profound statement made by the Haafidh, the Imaam, the Alaamah Abu Bakr al-Khateeb rahimahullah.

The implicated realities concerning this statement particularly in bold are the following

Similar was stated by Shaykhul-Islam Ibnul-Taymiyyah

Before we embark further into the discussion it is important that we understand this clearly.

There are only two opinions concerning this matter. The first is sunnism and the aqidah (creed) of ithbaat (affirmation) and the second is the creed of atheism

A. We affirm the SPEECH CONCERNING the Dhaat is in all matters which is why al-Khatib and Ibn taymiyyah said that speech concerning the sifaat is in reality speech concerning the essence (dhaat) and none of them made a distinction between sifaat fi’iliyyah or ikhtiyaariyya or what is classified as Sifaat adh-Dhaat (Attributes of Self like Hands, Face, Eyes). Had this distinction played a role then that would make obsolete the takfir of the salaf for stating that the creed of other than theirs regarding the lafdh is apostasy of the sifaat. Dividing the sifaat into categories is only done for the purpose of better understanding, but it does not change the base rule that if someone is talking about an action of Allah, they are in reality talking about Allah and this is unanimously accepted by logic and reason. That is because actions are related to the initiator of it. If the initiator is created, then his actions are created, if the initiator is uncreated, then His actions are uncreated.

If Allah commands Jibreel to destroy the people of lut, then that command is an action that stems from His Will stemming from sifaat ikhtiyaariyyah. Nevertheless it is an action. Yet if someone would say “why did Allah command Jibreel to do that” then everyone in the universe understands that He is talking about Allah and not to the action of His command, but the Commander Himself, Allah..

B. If we do not accept the above, then that implies that Allah’s actions are unworthy of divine nature and status as they will be different than the One who initiated them.

So in essence, no one says that saying “dhaat” when referring to Allah OR HIS SIFAAT is called “how”. There is no howness when we say “bi dhaatihi to istiwaa, which is an action, and bi dhaatihi to nuzool, which is likewise, an action because the initiator of the two is Allah and it is Allah who will perform those actions, not other than Him.

In short, dhaatih is not a t’awil or giving a how at all to the sifaat because the person who gives that impression is agreeing with the madhaab (school of thought) of the atheist as they are denying the wujoodiyyah (existence) of Allah. If someone affirms that Allah “exists” then by default of their belief they must accept that when every ayaah and every hadeeth that speaks about Allah or His attributes, it is referring to His Dhaat i.e. Essence. If they believe contrarily to this, then their creed is pretty much in agreement with atheists for they are denying the wujoodiyyah of Allah.

 

Allah “spoke to Musa”, was an action. We can say “Allah HIMSELF (bi dhaatihi) spoke to Musa” because everyone agrees that Allah exist and is not some imaginary entity. So If He exists, and Allah is used to refer to this One Who Exists, then what spoke to Musa? It was Allah Himself.

YET, His speaking to Musa was an action

The same is stated for every other sifaat fi’iliyyah. He Istiwaa bi dhaati. Allah (bi dhaatih) created the heavens and the earths. If we do not affirm bi dhaatihi for everything Allah does, then that is implying that other than Allah did those actions as those actions will be separated from the initiator of them.

Allah took Ibraheem as a Khaleel. that means Allah HIMSELF took Ibraheem as a Khaleel. taking Ibraheem as a khaleel is an attribute of action.

But going by this line of thinking you brought, then that would give license to say that something else took Ibraheem as a Khalil.

The crux of our research in all of this is to say that the mere mention of Allah or any of His attributes, regarding His descriptions, the actions that He did, and the things He Willed, are all understood to be bi dhaatih. Whenever anyone in this universe hears the name of God, Allah, they understand in their minds that it is referring to the BEING (Dhat) who is called Allah. When we seek the baraka from al-Ghanee, the Muslim understands that we are seeking baraka from the Being (Dhaat) who is called al-Ghanee. When Allah sends or wills an affliction to happen to us, we all understand that it is from Allah (the Being)and not from a source of power other than Allah.

Here are some rudimentary examples of the existentiality of God contrary to the negative theology of the ash’ari creed which agrees on a philosophical level with atheism.

 

Actually there is nothing wrong with understanding bi dhaatih in reference to anything attributed to Allah because there is no problem with such a thinking if you believe He exist.

only those who do not believe that Allah Exist are the only group of people who would believe otherwise.

The Qur’an is the Kalaam of Allah bi dhaatih (i.e. it is Allah who spoke the Qur’an and none else)

Allah instilled (breathed) into Adam ar-Ruh bi dhaatih (meaning Allah Himself did that to Adam, and not other than Him)

Allah says “And He plans too, and He is the best of planners” So Allah, bi dhaatih, is the best of planners. That means Allah Himself is the best of planners.

Allah spoke to Musa bi dhaatih

Allah commanded la ilaha illallah bi dhaatih

Allah created the heavens and the earth bi dhaatih

ar-Rahmn alal arsh istiwaa BI DHAATIH

these are all attributes of action.

Only the atheistic creed of philosophy is what will doubt the essence or existence of Allah doing anything.

As for the threat of atheism, here is something.سورة البقرة , Al-Baqara, Chapter #2, Verse #29)

وَاتَّخَذَ اللَّهُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ خَلِيلًا

issue: He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth, and He directed Himself to the heaven, so He made them complete seven heavens, and He knows all things.
(

Islam= He (Allah) created everything
Atheism= disbelief in that

Issue:

Islam= He (Allah) took Ibraheem as a Khaleel
Atheism= No, that’s not true. Something else must have taken him as a khaleel, not Allah.

.الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا فِي سِتَّةِأَيَّامٍ ثُمَّاسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ

 

Issue:

Islam= created the heavens and earth in six days. WHO did it? Allah and none other than Him. THUMMA istiwaa alal arsh. WHO istiwaa alal arsh. The same one that was referenced for creating the heavens and the earth, Allah, and none other than Him. Allah “istiwaa alal arsh” and none other than Him

Atheism (Philosophying)= no, He did not do that, that is an action and cannot be attributed to Allah.

All of the above implies that Allah Himself (the Arabic of which is bi dhaatih) has done what He said He did. It is either
1. Allah Himself did it or
2. Allah did not do it

One is emaan and the other is kufr. there is no in between here.

The point being, we are required as a part of faith, that if Allah said He did it, then that means HE did it, and not something else.

 

 

Conclusionary remarks

 

The issue or statement that has a direct application under the subject heading of this treatise that we have commented on is that both al-Khatib al-Baghdadee and Ibn Taymiyyah both agreed and stated that speech concerning the Attributes of Allah is in actuality speech concerning the essence.And the basis of this is that the discussion concerning the Attributes is a branch of the discussion concerning the Person of Allah (dhaat) taking an identical path in both of them. So when it is known that affirming the Lord of the Universes is only affirming the existence not affirming the kayfiyyah, then likewise affirming the Attributes is affirming their
existence not affirming limitation or takyeef.
[ ‘Mukhtasar al-Uluw’ (pg. 47+, pg. 272 for a more summarised quote) quoting from a work of al-Khateeb that is in manuscript ‘al-Kalaam alaa as-Sifaat’, see also ‘at-Tadhkira’ of adh-Dhahabee (3/1142)]

]التدمرية ( ص 29 ) : طبع المكتب الإسلامي
القول في الصفات كالقول في الذات فإن الله ليس كمثله شيء لا في ذاته ولا فيصفاته ولا في أفعاله فإذا كان له ذات حقيقة لا تماثل الذوات فالذات متصفة بصفاتحقيقية لا تماثل سائر الصفات

Here is the speech of Abu Bakr al-Khatib rahimahullah

“as for the discussion concerning the Attributes then indeed the madhhab of
the salaf pertaining to that which is reported in the authentic sunan, was to affirm them and leave them upon their literal meaning (alal dhahiria) while negating the kayfiyyah and tashbeeh from them. And a group rejected them and nullified that which Allah, the free from defect, had affirmed. And another group from those that affirmed them examined them and fell into a type of tashbeeh and takyeef, and the desired objective is to travel the middle path between these two matters for the religion of Allah is between the two extremes
.”

likewise Ibn Taymiyyah stated on page 29 of Tadmuriyyah

“The saying about the Attributes is like the saying about ‘ath-Thaat’, so indeed Allah is not like anything, not in His Self, not in His Attributes, and not in His Actions; so when there is for Him a literal ‘Self’, it does not resemble the ‘Selves’, so the ‘Self’ is characterized by the literal Attributes, and is not like the rest of the Attributes…”The Thirteenth Principle
“Speech concerning the attributes is like speech about His
Self.”(risalah at-Tadmuriyyah and Majmua al-Fatwaa)
and just as affirming His
Self is an affirmation of existence but not of ‘how’-then
the same
is true of the attributes.

The statement in bold may lead someone to hold that affirming bi dhaatih for attributes of action is incorrect based on that statement in bold. What we are explaining here in retrospect in so many words was that the statement in bold holds true in categorizing the attributes of Allah for understanding. What Ibn Taymiyyah was saying was that the “Self” (Dhaat) is characterized by literal attributes and is not like the rest, meaning that we don’t call the attribute of “istiwaa alal Arsh” which is fi’iliyyah (actions), and turn around and call it “Sifaat Dhatiyyah” (essence) as it would not make sense. And this is how the statement in bold is understood. It is not to be understood that when He the Most High performs His Actions, that He is not doing them with His Self (bi dhaatih), as this is not what was intended nor understood by the statement of Ibn Taymiyyah in bold. And this is what we are trying to get across in this treatise

I have found further proof for my argument concerning the fact that when we say Allah or mention His Attributes, whether of action or otherwise, it is understood that we are speaking about Allah Bi Dhaatih

From the book of Alawee ibn `Abdil-Qaadir as-Saqqaaf he brings 20 some odd fundamental principles in how to understand the Attributes. Take heed to principle 13 he said

Since just as His Self is real and does not resemble that of other
than Him, then it is characterized by real attributes which also do
not resemble the attributes of others,

Which is why we were stating above that by not affirming bi dhaatih to everything mentioned in the two sources regarding Allah and His actions or Will or Commands, or the like, then this idea resembles the madhaab of the athiest because as is clearly stated above, the affirmation of His Self (His Being, bi Dhaatih) is an affirmation of His existence. Then likewise a lack of affirmation of this is a lack of affirmation of His wujoodiyyah and that by affirming this by believing that it is already implied for Allah whenever “Allah” is mentioned, then this does not equal “how” and there does not need to be a report from the salaf about this because this is something that is necessitated by the deen just as there were no statements of the salaf about the shirk of the quboori tawassul (grave worship) because it was automatically implied by necessity of the textual sources of the religion.“And the basis of this is that the discussion concerning the Attributes is a branch of the discussion concerning the Person of Allah (dhaat) taking an identical path in both of them. So when it is known that affirming the Lord of the Universes is only affirming the existence not affirming the kayfiyyah, then likewise affirming the Attributes is affirming their
existence not affirming limitation or takyeef”

Secondly, al-Khateeb al-Baghdadee wonderfully explained it in the quote above and I reiterate the relevant passage for clarity

The entire bold part mentioned above clearly outlines the fact that affirming the Lord, ar-Rabb, Allah, is clearly affirming His Self by default. And by that default position we are affirming His existence.
The underlined part clarifies that believing and holding to the stance mentioned in bold is not an aqeedah that implies or links to the aqeedah of “how” rather it does not imply to how.

Why do we say all of this? Because it reveals volumes as to why the salaf were silent in using “bi dhaatih. There are two reasons which I stated before hand and I will state them again for the reader’s convenience bi ithnillah

1. Because the salaf were always fearful and applied the manhaj (methodology) of caution in dealing with the subject and based on that, did not like to employ words (that were not used in the Qur’an and sunnah) in spite of the fact that those words were real and correct and true.
2. Because there was no need to employ “bi dhaatih”. The mere mention of His Names or His Attributes (Since the Attributes are like the Self as both Baghdaadee and Ibn Taymiyyah said) was automatically implying His Self (bi dhaatih). When someone complains as to why Allah allowed (Amr) the tsunami to hit Sri Lanka, in reality they are speaking about Allah Himself, even though they are speaking about Him in reference to His Amr (of commanding the water to form the Tsunami that eventually hit Sri Lanka). The same could be said about anything else concerning Allah.

And that is why bi dhaatih was not popularly stated because it is something that the Muslims “should” know by default, something that is duroor from the religion like tawheed is duroor by the deen.

If however, someone still is reluctant to accept the above analysis among our nation, then they will have to justify that everything in the textual reports that speak or mention of Allah, they will have to explain that what was referred was something else, and not Allah. When Allah said that He spoke to Moses, the Muslim believes that He spoke to Moses. If the mind is free from understanding that this verse is referring to Allah Himself, His Essence, then logically they have to justify that it was not Allah who spoke to Moses but something else. If Allah did not speak to Moses, then who did? If Allah did not take Ibraheem alaihi salam as a Khaleel (friend) then who did? If Allah Himself did not command Jibreel to send the message of the Qur’an to Muhammad, then who did? If Allah did not Istiwaa over the Throne, then who did? If Allah did not create Adam with His Hands, then who did? If Allah did not observe the construction of the ships of prophet Noah alaihi salam under His Eyes, then who observed its construction?

In short, there can only be 2 outcomes, either Allah Himself did what He says He did, commanded, or willed, or something other than Allah.

So the Sunni view is not only the fact that Allah Himself did everything He said that He did and willed and commanded, He is also in the only applicable reality suitable for His majesty. He is above the creation because the Throne is over the creation. The Throne suits His majesty and is not some chair like the chairs of humans or other creatures, rather His Throne is the barrier between that which is created, which is all the heavens and everything in them like the universes and galaxies and solar systems and planets, and the uncreated. Allah is beyond this creation whereas the creation is constricted and confined to a location and place, in the realm of time and space and none of the universal properties of objects within this creation applies to the One who is free from these laws, Allah. That means that locality, direction, or any other systematic categorization does not apply to Him.

 

So the Sunni stance is that Allah is above, over, beyond the Throne whereas the imaginary view of the Ash’aris is that Allah is not above, beyond, or over us at all. In fact, to them He is pretty much non-existential. He only exists in their minds as a figment of their imagination.

 

E-book Publication: Allah’s Existentiality and the Ash’ari Creed- Explaining the Concept of “Bi Dhaatih” for Allah