11th Century Hanabilah from the Lenses of al-Kurani

The article is reproduced from a translative effort of a friend of mine who is a very thorough student of knowledge . He prefers to stay anonymous and as such I will not be posting his name in the title as I have done so for others. May Allah bless the brother for his hard work on the very important field of Islamic theology. The author of the article (shaikh Ahmed Gharib hafidhullah) gives a small context regarding the work which I have put in Bold format for ease of discernment

الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، أما بعد.

This is an article on the stance of the latter day Hanbalis with regards to Tafwidh[1] and Al-Qadr Al-Mushtarak[2] based on the writings of Al-Kurani Al-Shafi`i on the belief of the Hanbalis.

Before I begin, I would like to make note of the following as they are of importance:

  • Burhan-Al-Deen Al-Kurani (d. 1101h) authored a treatise he titled Ifadah Al-`Alam Bi-tahqeeq Mas’alah Al-Kalam, and from the most important objectives of this treatise acquitting the Hanbalis of anthropomorphism that the Asharis accused them of. He completed this treatise at the end of 1071AH and that is the same year that Sheikh Abdul-Baqi Al-Hanbali passed away, who shall be mentioned soon,
  • Al-Kurani strove to identify the Madhab of the Hanbalis by the following means:

Al-Kurani sent a letter to al-Sheikh Abdul-Baqi Al-Hanbali requesting him to author something that contains the beliefs of the Hanbalis, and the conflict between the Hanbalis and the Asharis and to discuss the issue of Kalam[3] and to mention statements of Imam Ahmed with regards to that.

Al-Sheikh Abdul-Baqi says:

Some of my friends and it does not please me to reject them, have requested me to author something with three objectives in mind, and I completed it and made it into five.

Al-Kurani said about Sheikh Abdul-Baqi that he authored his treatise, Al-`Ayn wa Al-Athar in response to my request.

Al-Kurani attempted to familiarize himself with the beliefs of the Hanbalis – and from among them, Ibn Taymiyyahh – when he lived in Cairo to which he said:

Some of our companions in Cairo have shown me a treatise by al-Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah and it is the official position of the Hanbalis, so I read it all.

He [Al-Kurani] gathered what he could of the treatises of Sheikh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah due to his position as one of the Imams of the Hanbalis that were accused of anthropomorphism, and the treatises of Ibn Taymiyyah that he came across were Al-Tadmuriyyah, and a treatise about two men who differed on the Hadith of Allah’s Descent to the worldly heaven and a treatise about two men who differed in belief and some said to the other: whoever does not believe that Allah is above the creation then he is misguided.

Al-Kurani also conveyed from Al-Fatawa Al-Hamawiyyah thinking he is quoting from Al-Tadmuriyyah, so perhaps he had a copy that combined the two books, Al-Tadmuriyyah and Al-Hamawiyyah without separating between them.

Al-`Ayashi says: He [Al-Kurani] was searching for the treatises of al-Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah and his companions for what is related to that, until he succeeded in establishing from that what are the beliefs of the Hanbalis.

It is known that Al-Kurani was on the methodology of Ibn Al-Arabi with regards to Wahdah Al-Wujud[4] and Al-Kurani’s relating from Ibn Taymiyyah is relating from a position of theological disagreement, discussing the words of an adversary after striving in search for it, so his words are like a historical document that with it, one is able to visualize the theological situation of the Hanbalis at the time, and understand their stance in the affirmation of Al-Qadr Al-Mushtarak which is based upon affirming the meaning of the attribute and their stance on Tafwidh and its meaning according to the Hanbalis and Ibn Taymiyyah’s influence in determining these beliefs.

Keeping all of this in mind, we will begin in what we set out to do here in reports that clarify the beliefs of the Hanbalis in the eleventh century based on what Al-Kurani determined based on the aforementioned information,

Al-Kurani says discussing the Hanbalis: These people hold tightly onto the Madhab of the great Muhadditheen[5], as is known about their Imam may Allah be pleased with him. Such as leaving the verses and Hadith upon their apparent meaning and professing faith in them, as well as making relegation in that which the meaning is difficult to ascertain. The Hanbalis vehemently reject doing Ta`weel[6] in such situations accusing their opponents of great ignorance (due to their operationalization of this principle) such as the Asharis, and The Hanbalis opine to say: Allah ﷻ and his Messenger ﷺ and the Salaf[7] of the Ummah are more aware of the meanings of the verses and Hadith than those who make Ta`weel, and what is reinterpreted by these folk, then it is not transmitted that the Salaf reinterpreted these motifs. Therefore either these meanings were hidden from them, then how could it be uncovered by those who came later? Or they simply interpreted these motifs as they appeared to them (i.e. what is apparent from their meanings); that is because the Shariah was revealed in the language of the Arabs, so Allah’s intended meaning by these words are the same that the Arabs understood in their language. Therefore each predicate would subsume their meanings based on their context and that which befits them[8].

So the intended meaning by ulu, Istiwa, nuzul; are the meanings that the Arabs would understand within their relevant contexts.

And from this passage we derive the following:

The Hanbalis follow in the foot-steps of the scholars of hadith and at the forefront, al-Imam Ahmad. With their modus-operandi of accepting reports concerning the Attributes of Allah on their apparent meaning while relegating the meanings and consequences that are not clear.

The Hanbali’s say: Indeed Allah, His Messenger and the righteous predecessors of the ummah are much more knowledgeable about the meanings of these reports, and in that are the confirmations of the meanings of these Attributes, these meanings are known to the Salaf of this ummah and they are more knowledgeable of them than the Asharis who re-interpret.

Ta’wil did not occur from the Salaf because the reports were taken based on what was apparent from their meaning and on the basis of what the Arabs intended in their language.

And this is what Allah Wanted from these reports; to be taken on their apparent meanings that are understood by the Arabs and each predicate would subsume their meanings based on their context and that which befits them. In this, there is a confirmation for the knowledge with the root meanings in the tongue of the Arabs, and this does not negate them saying that they should be taken on their apparent meanings, rather, taking the reports on their apparent meaning does not meaning anything here except to confirm the understood meaning from the words according to the language of the Arabs.

Al-Kurani gives the example of the Istiwaa’ (Allah’s rising over his throne), The Fawqiyyah (Allah being above) and Nuzul (descent) and that the intent from them is their meanings in the Arabic language, and regarding all of the above he narrates from the Hanabilah.

Then Al-Kurani proceeds to narrate the sayings from the Hanbali school.

So he provides examples of these motifs which revolve around the idea of affirming the meanings of the ayat & ahadith which relate to the Divine Nature. For example he draws attention to the example of the Attribute of Fawqiyyah (being above) and its interpretation as being established (istiqrar).

“Therefore the concept of istiqrar (being established) was confirmed for Him, above His Throne because He Affirmed this for Himself in His book and on the tongue of His Messenger ﷺ in-tandem with the affirmation of being above which is its meaning in the language that the Quran was revealed in. So being established upon something and the rising above it in a manner that is befitting to His Essence, and we cannot perceive it now because we have not perceived His Essence and nor do we know His Nature. Therefore how can we derive a ruling about Him that His Actualisations of these meanings such as establishment and being above, necessitate that physical contact to Him and His Essence being contained”.

And what is apparent here is al-Kurani’s affirmation of the base-level meaning coupled with testification of ignorance in terms of His Nature, and the meaning which he understood from the Fawqiyyah being istiqrar, or being established.

Then Al-Kurani narrates the discussion of the Hanabilah on the Nuzool with the conclusion being the same as was the case with the Fawqiyyah and that is an ontological-descent) free from any forms of consequences found within the descent of objects, because He is not an object (jism).

Al-Kurani continues with his transmission of the words of the Hanbalis: “and like the above we affirm the same in His Attribute of Istiwa, we believe in it the way that is intended by the words of the Arabs because He Attributed it to Himself via His Words in the Arabic language… And as for the concept of istiwa of something which isn’t an object upon an object then we do not understand or perceive how it can be except we know that His Action is termed istiwa. And as for its modality, and its consequences then we do not have any knowledge of it because of our limitations of not knowing His Nature”.

So al-Kurani here narrates from them a real-ontological affirmation again (as opposed to complete relegation), notwithstanding the fact he adds the qualifier of a lack of knowledge as to its modality (kayfiyyah) and His Nature.

And we have previously mentioned that al-Kurani had access to the works of Ibn Taymiyyah which were relied-upon by the Hanabilah, and for the purposes of emphasis, I say:

Al-Kurani mentions that this particular work can be described as follows:

  • The harshness by which it responds to the concept of ta’wil
  • Its desire to cling-tightly to the apparent meanings with a form of relegation
  • Its hyperbolic transcendence thesis that makes it certain its author did not ascribe to views of anthropomorphism (tajsim & tashbih), mentioning explicitly so.

To add further to the knowledge that al-Kurani happened across many treatises for ibn Taymiyyah so that he may uncover his true views in matters of theology, and these treatises are:

  • Al-Tadmuriyyah
  • Sharh Hadith al-Nuzul
  • A treatise relating to the Allah’s Loftiness (Ulu’)

And he narrates copiously from al-Hamawiyyah, and he thought he was narrating from al-Tadmuriyyah as had preceded; so we know he happened across a significant portion of the treatise.

Based on this it is important then to demarcate this particular treatise which was relied-upon by the Hanabilah at the end of the 11th century after the Hijrah of the Prophet ﷺ. And the treatise that collects all these descriptions is one of the ones mentioned above.

Predominantly this can be said to be traced to only two possibilities, either the Tadmuriyyah or the Hamawiyyah, and both are strong possibilities. However the Tadmuriyyah is more predominant to me due to two reasons:

  1. The fact that it was taught widely to students, and the Tadmuriyyah is more befitting because it gathers principles and is written aimed at students.
  2. Al-Shaykh Uthman al-Najdi (d. 1097AH) used it to build between a third to a half of his book, Najah al-Khalaf based on what Ibn Taymiyyah mentioned in his Tadmuriyyah. These principles can be found explicitly in his third section.

And from this it can be gathered that the presence of al-Tadmuriyyah in terms of theological textbooks was present within the Hanbali institutions in this epoch.

Predicated on all of this and more we can see that al-Kurani transmits from al-Tadmuriyyah and al-Hamawiyyah Ibn Taymiyyah’s words on the affirmation of the apparent meanings and things to that effect, and then clarifying this, al-Kurani mentions:

“If we are to ontologically ascribe to Allah the Attributes of Life, Knowledge, Power and their like, notwithstanding the fact that their manifestations within the creation in the forms of accidents shows us that their realities are not limited to accidents. Rather it is an actualisation of a universal which can be applied to its different particulars within varying constraints, and from them are their forms and accidents. And similar to this we say in the descriptions of hand and their likes, that their ontological realities are not limited to physical limbs, rather they are more general. It is almost like we can say: it is that by which grasping is actualised and it is more general than limbs and their like”.

And the most important finding from this passage is the affirmation of this qadr al-mushtarak, or base-level meaning which is found across all of its subtypes when the word is used.

And it has already preceded the mention of the words of al-Kurani regarding the Istiwa, Fawqiyyah, istiqrar, and his explanation of the school of the Hanbalis. Here we will mention the transmission of al-Kurani for Ibn Taymiyyah’s words, which further clarify that he did not differ from the rest of the Hanbalis: “the same we say in the issue of Istiwa, its ontological realities are not limited in the actualisation of the settling of one object on another, rather it is more general, especially when it is attributed to Allah. And Allah is not an object (jism) by consensus, and the foundational principle in language when a word or phrase is uttered is its non-metaphorical meanings. And the meaning is more general than the concept of one object settling over another, or an establishment of something existing which is not an object, and we do not know its Essence upon something existing, which we know via revelation that He Himself Made Istiwa upon it. In a manner befitting its nature versus an existing thing whose nature and modality are unknown to us and the predicate of Istiwa being attributed to it. Glory and Majesty to the one who did not specify it more to us”.

Here al-Kurani mentions the affirmation of one of the base-meaning of Istiwa and that is al-istiqrar, being settled, in addition to his words about the relegation of its modality. 

Then he brings another passage from Ibn Taymiyyah, and summarises the fruit of his words by: “And anyone who truly understands this axiom does not need recourse to the tools of ta’wil in any of the ambiguous verses from the get-go. As the ones who reinterpreted due to the objective of transcendence, in that a description that does not befit Him is endorsed. They (the scholars of scholastics) predicated this on their faux-estimation that they had understood the lexical connotations to apply to the creation only. Therefore if it is possible to show His Transcendence above those things which do not befit Him, with the added benefit of leaving the Arabic phrases as they are in their mutashaabih (unclear) fashion; and notwithstanding the fact that these motifs are universal meanings which transform based on their predicates, then these realities are far more generally conceived than that which appears in the minds of some in their limiting of these words and meanings to the creation only. Then all this discourse led them to achieving that which had already been achieved, and that is the  Transcendence of the Lord coupled with not playing around with the apparent meanings of His Descriptions and not removing the lexical connotations from them”.

And from this excerpt it will become apparent to you the congruence between the views related on behalf of Ibn Taymiyyah and those related in view of other Hanbali theologians.

And in defence of Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn al-Qayyim, and those like them who were accused unjustly by the likes of Ibn Hajr al-Haytami and others, al-Kurani writes: “In regards to His Statement: Rising above the Throne, is interpreted on its apparent meaning which coincides and fits neatly with the concept of Allah (in Islam), and it is not the apparent meaning which is from the descriptions of the creation, so that it leads to jismiyyah.[9]

And we have clarified previously that this axiom; the fact that the Istiwa and descriptions like it from the ambiguous verses, its meanings in the Arabic language are more general and more cursive than the meanings which are generally known, because they are meanings which are constructed universals whose particulars share a form of its meaning and nothing more pending the predicate involved.

And as you can see here the congruence between the Hanabilah and Ibn Taymiyyah, and how they established and affirmed meanings derived from the language.

And know that which remains is that we must ask a question and that is? Has al-Kurani suggested that the Hanbalis whom he is speaking on behalf of, cling onto some form of Tafwidh, and as he mentioned that Ibn Taymiyyah himself used to believe in this form of Tafwidh. Then what is this Tafwidh they intend? The meaning or the modality?

The answer to this is found in what al-Kurani mentions about the Hanabilah, objecting to some words from Ibn al-Qayyim: “and in saying this, all of them are on guidance if Allah Wills, in that which appears, because the Mufawwid (practitioner of Tafwidh) is safe when it comes to the objective of Allah in regards to these verses, and abandoning that which he has no knowledge of nor has he been given the onus of knowing.

Al-I’yashee mentions that: “our Shaykh has done well, may Allah be pleased with him, in terms of harmonising their words (Hanbalis) with the words of the Asharis. And he has indeed defending them from the accusations which the later-Asharis impugned them with, just as the Asharis are free from that which is impugned on them from the later-Hanabilah, such as their accusations of negating and corrupting the Word of Allah… And all of them are on guidance by the Will of Allah, taking the different paths of Ahlus Sunnah… even if they differed in terms of Ta’weel and Tafwidh.

And he also mentioned describing the views of Ibn Taymiyyah in terms of what he himself came across about him (the same epistle that was relied-upon by the Hanabilah) that he cling-tightly to the apparent meanings with relegation”.

And if you were to ponder over these different passages I have brought forth above then you will be convinced that the Tafwidh which is intended here is the Tafwidh of modality and not the actual meaning. For al-Kurani narrates from the Hanabilah and Ibn Taymiyyah in that which shows with clarity that they affirmed the meanings of the Sifaat, particularly with their phraseology of the portents of the Arabic language, and the base-level meaning, and nothing remains except the Tafwidh of modality.

In light of this, it is possible for us to understand what al-Shaykh Abdul al-Baqi mentions at the end of his Risalah al-Ayn wa al-Athar: “and ignorance of the modality does not negate the knowledge of that which could be known in its base-form, as we testify to Being of Allah, and we firmly have faith in it, and we do not know how He is. And this has been alluded to by al-Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah have Mercy on Him, in some of his treatises”.

Then it becomes clear that the reason of mentioning these words by al-Shaykh Abdul al-Baqi is so he can use them as a supporting proof for that which he said. And this is mentioned by al-Shaykh Abdul al-Baqi in his fifth chapter where he wishes to show the relative parallels between Abu al-Hasan al-Asha’ree to al-Imam Ahmed, in the sense of leaving the ambivalent verses as they are without playing with them. And al-Shaykh Abdul al-Baqi mentions before this in his epistle that: “and in the precipice of the fifth chapter we will mention the words of al-Shaykh al-Asha’ree and that he is echoing the same as al-Imam Ahmad in his beliefs, and that he relays the ambivalent verses as they have come from Allah, without any reparations or re-interpretation on the texts as is the school of the Salaf”.

And if you include this in the overall thrust of what has been relayed by al-Kurani for the school of the Hanbalis, in that which he understood from the letters of al-Shaykh Abdul al-Baqi, and that he was replied to via the book, al-Ayn wa al-Athar, and the contexts of the debates of the Hanabilah in Egypt, and being cognisant of the works of Ibn Taymiyyah which were relied-upon for them; then it will become clear to you that the Grand Hanabilah in this time, were from the ones who said that the Attributes are established, and the modality is relegated but not the base-meaning, predicated on the pathway of Ibn Taymiyyah which is the pathway of the Salaf. And that they relied upon Shaykh al-Islam in his findings from his publications such as al-Tadmuriyyah and al-Hamawiyyah, and this also brings to light the fact that they spoke with the concept of the base-level meaning, which Ibn Taymiyyah argues for in his Tadmuriyyah as explained by al-Kurani.

So it becomes manifest the position of these great Hanbalis for Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah, and the fact they were well-aware of his views, and they subscribed and relied on them in a theological context. If a person was to relay their views in theology then they would typically marshal their strongest proofs, and this is what the Hanabilah of that time did, which al-Kurani relied upon. Where they brought forth the works of Ibn Taymiyyah to establish their creedal points in front of their interlocutors; and if these folks chastised him for being a pariah in these delicate creedal points, then they would not have used him as a proof. And they simply could have relied upon the fairly-straight forward creedal points brought by al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la when it came to relegations of meanings for example. However they did not do so, and rather they furnished the “Taymiyyah-Hanbali ammunition” and they patented it for the purposes of bringing victory to their belief-systems.

So may Allah have Mercy upon Abu al-Abbas Shaykh al-Islam Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah.

وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

[1] Relegation in any of its forms when speaking about Allah’s Nature

[2] Base-form meaning or a point of parallel that is used to understand relationships (e.g. Allah has Knowledge, and we have knowledge, if we didn’t understand the connection we would never understand any form of Communication to us.

[3] Theology debate concerning Allah’s Attribute of Speech

[4] A form of divine in-dwelling with the Creation

[5] Erudite scholars of hadith

[6] Reinterpreting without scriptural cause

[7] Forerunners of the nation of Islam found in the first three generations

[8] To elucidate this point further, Ibn Abi al-Izz mentions in his explanation of al-Tahawiyyah (1/28): The root cause of the error is the common belief that what is designated by these general terms is something universal and that it exists out there (as a rational concept) does not exist as an absolute universal, but only as a determinate particular. When these terms are used in reference to Allah, they connote something specific to Him; and when they are used in reference to human beings, they connote something specific to them.

[9] Specific form of anthropomorphism based on atomistic philosophical foundations

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