Comprehensive Studies Into the Language of the Sunni Traditionalist Theologians on Dhaahir, Haqiqa, Majaaz, and T’awil

Comprehensive Studies into the Language of the Sunni Traditionalist Theologians on Dhaair, Haqiqa, Majaaz, and T’awil

الحمد لله رب العالمين، وصلى الله وسلم وبارك على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين.
السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركات


The reason for this study, inshallah is to clarify the matter for those who maybe ignorant and wish to learn, to make it a hujjah to those who are defiantly ignorant, and to aid that which is right.


The concept of dhaahir, in the language of theology in Islam has gross misconceptions about it which has lead certain polemist to claim inaccurate statements about the creed of their opponents of which they are originally confused and in ignorance about.

What further adds to the complexity of misunderstanding is that pretty much most, if not all, of the ahlul-kalaam have taken a non arabic outlook into the subject. What does that mean? It means that they have looked into this issue and have viewed and therefore judged it on the basis of western languages and not upon foundational arabic.

This confusion has lead to many of them to interpret the statements of the imaams regarding an interpretation of an aayaa and through their misconception, they have called what they explained as “t’awil” and claimed that their interpretations were “metaphorical” when in fact it is just that they have no grasp of the arabic language.

The Commonly Used Understanding of Dhaahir

The arabic word “dhaahir” has been commonly translated since the englishization of Islamic dawah in the western hemisphere as “literal”. I do not know if the arabs of that time understood the implictions of this mistake, but nonetheless, it is a mistake by which we seek forgiveness on all those who came before us. The reason why this is a mistake is due to several reasons
1. The Arabic equalivalent of “literal” is “haqiqi” and not “dhaahir, which would mean that the arabic term “dhaahir” actually implies or encompasses much more than what was translated as “literal”
2. The English or western understanding of the term ‘literal” has certain connotations, much of it having a negative overtone to it. In other words, when the English speaking person encounters the term literal, there are two views he can grasp from it
A. how it actually is
B. Someone who is dry in intellectual thought i.e. a person who has not gotten it (meaning the context of some speech or articulation of words)

With regard to revelation and divine scriptures, the English speaking person always has, or almost always has the second implication stated above when it comes to religous scriptures. In other words, us within the English speaking world, if you claim to understand a text literally, then that implies to us that you are intellectually devoid (stupid) and you cannot grasp the overall contextual meaning of whatever passage in question and thus you’re intellectually deficient.

With this factual reality in mind, it does more disservice to Islam and the ummah when those who do not understand how the western Englishman views “literal” without any hesitation employes the term “literal” when trying to translate “alal dhaahiran”.

So the question arises, what is the foundational understanding of Dhaahir?

The Foundational Understanding of Dhaahir

I will use two very significant statements, both of whom are representatives of whom I view as the stronger of the madhaahib of all four, Hanbali and Shafa’i in the nomenclature of Islamic theology.

Ibn Qudama al-Hanbali says in Dham al-Ta’wil:

فإن قيل فقد تأولتم آيات وأخبارا فقلتم في قوله تعالى ( وهو معكم أين ما كنتم ) أي بالعلم ونحو هذا من الآيات والأخبار فيلزمكم ما لزمنا
قلنا نحن لم نتأول شيئا وحمل هذه اللفظات على هذه المعاني ليس بتأويل لأن التأويل صرف اللفظ عن ظاهره وهذه المعاني هي الظاهر من هذه الألفاظ بدليل أنه المتبادر إلى الأفهام منها وظاهر اللفظ هو ما يسبق إلى الفهم منه حقيقة كان أو مجازا

‘If it is said: ‘You made ta’wil of verses and reports, for instance, you said with respect to Allah’s statement: ‘He is with you wherever you are’, meaning: with His knowledge, and the like of these verses and reports, and therefore, your arguments are as much applicable to you as us.
We say: We did not make ta’wil of anything, for to hold such texts in these meanings is not at all ta’wil, because ta’wil is to change the meaning of a word from its dhahir, and what we say here is the dhahir of the wording, that is, what comes first to the mind from that text, irrespective of whether it is haqiqa or majaz.’

adh-Dhahabi says in al-‘Uluw:
“The latter ones from the speculative theologians (ahl al-nadhar) invented a new belief, I do not know of anyone preceding them in that. They said: ‘These attributes are passed on as they have come and not interpreted (la tu’awwal), while believing that the apparent meaning is not intended (dhahiruha ghayr murad).’

This follows that the apparent meaning (dhahir) could mean two things:

First; that it has no interpretation (ta’wil) except the meaning of the text (dilalat al-khitab), as the Salaf said: ‘The rising (al-Istiwa) is known’, or as Sufyan and others said: ‘Its recitation is in fact its interpretation (tafseer)’ – meaning, it is obvious and clear in the language, such that one should not opt for interpretation (ta’wil) or distortion (tahrif). This is the Madhab of the Salaf, while they all agree that they do not resemble the attributes of human beings in any way. For the Bari has no likeness, neither in His essence, nor in His attributes.

Second; that the literal meaning (dhahir) is what comes to imagination from the attribute, just like an image that is formed in one’s mind of a human attribute. This is certainly not intended, for Allah is single and self-sufficient who has no likeness. Even if He has multiple attributes, they all are true, however, they have no resemblance or likeness”

These two statements are mountainess in the implication of their speech.
According to Ahlu-Sunnah, the meaning of dhaahir is what is most obvious of the menaing of any phrase or construction of words i.e. what comes first to mind. This is essential to understand because in this definition, this can include a literal interpretation OR a metaphorical interpretation.

It is for this comprehensive definition that it truely reveals that using the english term “literal” is nothing less than a raping of the arabic term ‘dhaahir’ because you have cut the meaning into half.

However, there are two english words that DO do some justice to the arabic term “dhaahir” and they are
1. obvious
2. apparent.

these two words much more accurately describes the intention of the arabs when they try to translate dhaahir rather than using the term “literal”.

in arabic, that has no place. when the construction is
وَاخْفِضْ لَهُمَا جَنَاحَ الذُّلِّ مِنَ الرَّحْمَةِ
That, to the arab mind, is quite obvious, and anything that is obvious, for them, is called apparent, dhaahir, or what they sometimes mistranslate as “literal”, and such a reality is not called figurative for them, while the english might view that to be figurative.

I beleive much of this khilaaf, at its core, is the result of one group of people who when they see the word “literal”, then to them it is devoid of any spirit and something taken literally is something “just as is” .

The other group (the arabs) when they use the word “literal”, they have in mind “that which is clear” and not what the english mind or western mind views as ‘verbatim”. To the arab, the word literal simply means obvious and clear. With that meaning in mind, even if the meaning of a text seems figurative to the westerner, that same text to the arab, is quite obvious which is why they use the word literal.

Now, how does this relate to the polemic between the Sunnis and the Jahmified pseudo Ash’ari cult.

It is related in the fact that the Jahmis as well deceptionally used the mistaken translation for further validation of their invalid madhaab and the invalidation of our valid and only acceptable madhaab.

So now that we have laid down the established Sunni belief that the term “ala dhaahiruha” or “upon its apparent/obvious meaning”, then how does this correlate to Haqiqa and Majaaz

Haqiqa wa Majaaz

As is clearly stated by Haafidh Shaykhul-Islam Ibnul-Qudamah al-Hanbali above that he stated the full extent of dhaahir is that which comes obvious to the mind IRRESPECTIVE of whether it is haqiqa (literal reality) or majaaz (figurative/metaphor).
In other words, the dhaahir meaning of an ayaah can lead to both a literal reality or a figurative metaphorical usage in the language, and in some cases, both.

In the arab thought process, Haqiqa in their view is the literal reality. So when the early Imaams stated that the Istiwaa of Allah was Haqiqiyyah, then they meant that this actual action of Allah was a true reality i.e. that it actually happened, and they countered the jahmiyyah with this phrase because the ahlul-kalaam were saying it was never something that happened, rather it means blah blah blah.

in the modern arabic language does exists but after it has been laid down by later linguists as to what it pertains to since the early arab grammarians clearly established that there was no such thing as majaa in the arabic language as this was a foreign concept that came into the language after the inquisition of neo-platonic thought.

According to the early original Arab Linguists, the original Arabs did not have something called “majaaz”. They denied that there was such thing as majaaz in the language. The meaning of majaaz was interpilated into the word majaaz, but the arabs did not have this in mind early on. Here is a slight reason as to why.

There is a difference between metaphoric words and metaphoric constructs (sentences, phrases)
1) Metaphoric words (Majaaz).
2) Metaphoric sentences (not majaaz).

Metaphoric Sentences:
For example, when we say: “Zaid is a fox”, we do not mean: Zaid is an actual fox, the animal. From the context we understand that we are only giving a metaphor of how cunning Zaid is.

This is a metaphoric sentence. This exists in the Quran in abundance. For example:

“And, out of kindness, lower to them (your parents) the wing of humility …”.

Obviously, humility does not have a wing to lower. But from the context we understand: be kind to your parents … etc.

This is not Majaaz. It is not the point of dispute between people of Sunnah and people of Bid’ah.

Metaphoric words (Majaaz):
Again, when we say: “Zaid is a fox”, notice that the word fox does not mean anything other than: fox; the animal. The word fox does not mean cunning in itself. The entire sentence means: Zaid is cunning. But the word fox still means: fox; the animal.

In the example of: “lower the wing of humility”, we see that the word “wing” does not mean anything other than the well known wing, (as in a bird’s wing).

What people of Bid’ah say is that the words themselves have an apparent meaning, and a different hidden meaning (Majazy meaning). This is to help them in saying things such as “Yad” means: ability, self … etc.

Ahlusunnah disagree, words can only have one or several meanings, and a set meaning can only be dictated by the contructon of a group of words that imply a certain context. That is why in the aayaa where Allah says about His Hands
“….Nay, they are both widely outstretched” then its MOST OBVIOUS MEANING is its english figurative rendering of it, which is that of His bounty is unlimited

However, in another ayaah using the same word yad, Allah says

“…….whom We have created with Our Hands”

the obvious meaning in this ayaah clearly points to its “literal” rendering of it.


the definition of t’awil in the language of the theologians is different than the language of the Fuqaha. In the language of the Fuqaha, t’awil simply means to derive an explanation of a stated speech, pretty much synonymous to the term “tafseer”.

T’awil in the language of the theologians is just as Haafidh Ibn Qudamah stated above which is
to change the meaning of a word from its dhaahir meaning
In other words, it is to change (tahreef) the meaning of a word from its most obvious established meaning in the arabic language and apply far-fetched or baseless meanings that the arabic language did not establish for such terms.

an exampleand logic of ash’ari t’awil in english

Lets take a common idiomatic usage of today
Come back down to earth
figurative meaning= be real, not big headed / Literal= really, come back down to earth
Now, this breakdown is in English

“Istiwaa alal Arsh”
figurative=His Mejesty and Power/ Literal=Really Rose Above Throne
Again, this breakdown is in English

However when their predecessors gave the explanation of it as “He took control” it does not fall into even the figurative, much less the literal.

As for the istiwaa lal-arsh and its division i mentioned above, both are to the arab, dhaahir, its apparent meaning of the verse

NOW, let me show you where this tahreef/t’awil comes into play

When the Jahmis say that
“istiwaa alal arsh = He took control

Then comparable to the other speech

‘Come back down to earth would = He Conquered the earth

Literally “He took control” is a distortion of “istiwaa alal arsh” just as “He conquered the earth” is a distortion of “Come back down to earth”

No one in the english speaking world considers “He conquered the earth” to be the figurative meaning of “Come back down to earth” JUST AS no rightfully educated arab considers “he took control” to be the figurative meaning of istiwa alal arsh, rather both parties would view such meanings to be distortions of what the text actually says and or implies.

That is because the Ash’aris and their forefathers failed to grasp the arabic language in the manner that the arabs had viewed.

In essence, t’awil in the language of the Sunni theologians is to give meanings to words (not sentences) to change the overall nature and meaning of versus that is not even figurative language, but meanings that don’t make sense even to arabs. Thus t’awil in aqidah concerning sifaat is to land the person into a far-fetched meaning that the Quran or Sunnah did not intend to land its reader upon.

T’awil in reality becomes either one of 4 as is established by many of the hufaadh in Islam
1. tahreef (distortion of meanings or drifting off to a distorted tangent)
2. t’ateel (negtion and denial)
3. tamdheel (believing that the attributes of Allah are like of the creatures in likeness:also similar to tashbeeh)
4. Takyeef (similar to tashbeeh. This includes tajseem)

This is the established Sunni “Athari” conceptual breakdown of what t’awil is when applied to the textual reports concerning the sifaat of Allah. What does that mean? That means that anyone partaking to t’awill will always fall into t’ateel, tahreef, tamdheel, or takyeef or a combination of the four in some way or form because when people perform t’awil to the Attributes of Allah, they are actually speaking about Allah without knowledge, and when it is practiced, then it will inevitably lead the practicioner of t’awil to either distort the original meaning of the textual report, or he will negate the obvious meaning of the textual report (actually the t’ateel of the ahlul-kalaam is all based on their tahreef of the texts), or he will compare Allah with a similitude to something created whether it be to objects or to human theory and intellectual concepts, or he will fall into takyeef in comparing Allah to actual physical beings and compare His Actions with theirs.

this is what the salaf had left their legacy to the ummah concerining the Attributes. They did not remark on “tajseem” or “tashbeeh” as these were later terms that could have different meanings to the one who employs them thus adding confusion to the topic.

Some of the Slips of the Mu’awilla

here is a brief excerpt of Haafidh Shamsu-deen Ibnul-Qayyim’s powerful H-bomb against the Jahmi heretics of his time and before which is ound in his as-Sawaa’iq al-Mursalah

Under the section of false t’awils
The First: [A ta’weel] that the word cannot plausibly allow on account of the way it is composed (in the sentence), such as making ta’weel of his (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam’s) saying, “…until the Lord of Honour places His Foot (Rijlahu) over it…” [SAHEEH: Bukhaaree (8/595 – Fath ul-Baaree), Muslim (4/2186,2187)], that the word “ar-rijl” refers to “a group of people”, since this is not known at all in the language of the Arabs.

The Second: [A ta’weel] that the word cannot allow on account of its specific construction in the dual or plural form – even though it may allow it in its singular form, such as the ta’weel of His saying, “…to whom I have created with both My Hands” (Sad 38:75), to mean “qudrah” (power).

The Third: [A ta’weel] that the word cannot allow on account of it’s sequence and composition (in the sentence) – even though it may allow it in a different sequence (in a sentence), such as the ta’weel of His saying, “Do they wait for anything other than that the Angels should come to them, or that your Lord should come, or that some of the signs of Your Lord should come…” (al- An’aam 6:158), that the coming (ityaan) of the Lord means the coming of some of His signs (aayaat), which are actually His command (amr). However, the sequence of the sentence rejects this completely, for it is impossible for it to be carried to mean that, on account of the division, repetition, and categorisation that occurs in the verse (i.e. that the Angels, and Allah, and the Signs will come, and the word “come” being repeated for all three).

And like the ta’weel of his saying, “Verily, you will see your Lord with your eyes, just like you see the full moon on a clear night, without there being any clouds, and just like you see the sun on an afternoon, without there being any clouds”[SAHEEH: Bukhaaree (13/419,420,421 – Fath ul-Baaree), Muslim (1/167) – and the hadeeth has been reported by 30 companions]. So making ta’weel of the vision (the seeing) that has been mentioned in this particular sequence of words with something that opposes its reality, and its apparent meaning is completely impossible, and it is in reality rejection and denial (of the text) but which is being concealed as “ta’weel” by the one who does this.

The Fourth: That [ta’weel of a word] whose usage has never been authored (i.e. written) with that particular meaning in the language of the speaker, eventhough it may have been authored (with that meaning) due to a later convention. And this is a matter in which many people have erred, and in which their understandings have strayed, in that they made ta’weel of many of the words that occur in the texts with a meaning that has never been written for that word at all in the language of the Arabs, even though it may have been used in the convention of the later scholars. And this is something that needs to be pointed out as much lying has been made against Allaah and His Messenger on account of it.

So for example, a group made ta’weel of His saying, “…but when it (the star) set (afala)…” (al-An’aam 6:76), to mean “harakah” (movement), and then they said, “He (i.e. Ibraaheem) argued that on account of its movement (harakah) it cannot have Ruboobiyyah (i.e. be the Lord) [since harakah (movement) is not permitted for Allaah]. And this is completely unknown in the language in which the Qur’aan was revealed – not even in a single place [in the body of oral and written Arabic tradition, has it occurred] that ufool (setting) is actually harakah (movement).

Likewise, the ta’weel of “al-Ahad” (the One) to mean that it is the thing, one part of which cannot be distinguished from another. Then they said that if He (Allaah) was above the Throne, He would not then have been One (Ahad). So the ta’weel of “al-Ahad” with this particular meaning is not known to a single Arab, and nor to the people of the language, and nor has its usage with this meaning known to have occurred in a single place in the language of the people, rather it is the convention of the Jahmiyyah, the Philosophers and the Mu’tazilah and whoever agreed with them.

And also like the ta’weel of His saying, “…then he ascended (istawaa) over the Throne” (al-A’raaf 7:54), that the meaning is “he then embarked upon (turned to) creating the ‘Arsh”, for this is not known in the language of the Arabs, rather not in the language of any of the other nations, that when someone “turns to something” that it is said “he made istiwaa (ascension) over it”. So it is not said to the one who stood to embark upon a journey, “he has made istiwaa over it”, and nor to the one who embarked upon any action, such as reading or writing, or constructing something, that “he made istiwaa over them”, or to the one who turned towards food that “he made istiwaa over the food”. So this is the language of the people, and their words and their customs are present, and yet none of this (type of speech) exists at all.

The Actuality of T’awil and the Inherent Atheism of Jahmi Usool

Just as I have claimed above, that the practitioner of t’awil will absolutely and inevitably fall into takyeef, tamdheel, t’awil, or tahreef or a combination of them, Haafidh Shamsu-Deen Ibnul-Qayyim has stated this very reality in his Sawaa’iq al-Mursala

He says in the seventh bab and titles it with the following

Chapter Seven: The Meaning in the Ta’weel Made By the Mu’awwilah Contains The Very Same As That From Which They Originally Fled (ofTashbeeh)

This chapter is an amazing one for the one who reflects upon it. By way of [this chapter], it is known that the Muta’awwiloon do not benefit from their ta’weel [in anything], except that they make ta’teel (divestment) of the realities of the texts, fool around with them, and violate the sanctities of these texts, and they do not absolve themselves from that which they considered dangerous.

Rather, [that which they attempted to flee from] is actually binding upon them in that which they fled to [of ta’weel of its meaning to something else], just like it is binding (in their view) in that which they fled from (i.e. the original meaning behind the text).

Rather, they fall into that which is more severely cautioned against, as is the condition of those who made ta’weel of the texts related to [Allaah’s] uluww (ascendancy), fawqiyyah (aboveness), istiwaa (arising [over the Throne]), fleeing from confining and restricting (Him). And then they said that He is in every place, with His essence. Thus, they cleared Him of His arising over His Throne, His being distinct and separate from His creation, and then rendered Him into one who is found inside houses, wells, the sitting rooms and in the places whose mention is not desirable.

These are the forerunners, the earlier ones from the Jahmiyyah. When the later ones came to know of the corruption (of this viewpoint), they said that there is nothing behind the universe, and nor above the Throne, except pure non-existence (i.e. nothingness), and that there is not to be found there, a Lord that is worshipped, or an ilaah (deity) that is prostrated to, or prayed to, and nor is He in the universe. Thus, they made His ascription to the Throne (i.e. His ascending over it) to be just like ascribing Him to the vilest of places, high and exalted is Allaah above their saying, with a mighty exaltation.

[Source: As-Sawaa’iq al-Mursalah ‘alal-Jahmiyyah wal-Mu’attilah 1/234- 237]