The Involvement of the Pious Salaf in Kalam

The Involvement of the Pious Salaf in Kalam

by Shaykh Gibril F. Haddad

Abu Hanïfa's Works in Kalàm

Among the works of the Imàm in kalàm:[1]

* * Al-Fiqh al-Akbar ("The Supreme Wisdom"), authentically narrated from the Imàm by his son Hammàd. The Ash'arï Shaykh Abþ al-Muzaffar al-Isfaràyïnï [2] said in his book al-Tabsïr fïl-Dïn: "Al-Fiqh al-Akbar was narrated to us by the trust­worthy through a reliable way and a sound chain of transmission from Nasïr ibn Yahyà [up to] Abu Hanïfa."[3] In it the Imàm said: "Allàh is 'something' unlike any other thing, and the meaning of 'something' here is: neither a body (jism), nor an indi­visi­ble sub­stance (jawhar), nor an accident ('arad.); and He has no limit (hadd)." He also said: "Whatever Allàh I mentioned in the Qur'àn about the 'Face,' Hand,' and 'Essence,' these are His Attributes without ask­ing how. Let it not be said that His Hand is [but] His Power (qudra) or Bounty (ni'ma) because doing so is a nullifica­tion of the At­tribute and is the position of the Qadarïs and Mu'tazilïs. His Hand is an Attribute without asking how!" Mullà 'Alï al-Qàrï comments in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar: "That is, without knowledge of any modality, exactly as we are in­capable of having knowl­edge of the true nature (kunh) of the rest of His Attributes, not to mention the true nature of His Essence." Imam Abu Hanïfa's caveat does not contradict the Màturïdï position that the Attributes of corporeality are not corporeal (as in al-Tahàwï's 'Aqïda) but are among the Mutashàbihàt (as in al-Pazdawï's Usul and its Sharh. by al-Bukhàrï). These guidelines - avoidance of figurative interpretation, avoidance of corporeal explanation, and affirmation that Yad etc. are among the Mutashàbihàt - are also within the Ash'arïs' method. The latter allow the option of in­ter­pretation if it coincides with the bases of the Arabic language and the general purport of
'Aqïda, as does Imàm al-Màturïdï in Kitàb al-Tawhïd. The reconciliation with Imàm Abu Hanïfa's statement is to understand it to mean: "It should not be categorically affirmed that His hand is His power and nothing else." And Allàh knows best. This work received no less than fif­teen commentaries, among them those of al-Qàrï, al-Maghïsàwï, and al-Bayàdï, all three of them in print.

* * Al-Wasiyya ("The Testament"), a brief epistle dictated by Abu Hanïfa on his death-bed according to the Sunna,[4] in which he states: "The meeting (liqà') of Allàh Most High with the dwellers of Paradise is by visual sight without modality, nor simile, nor direction" and "We affirm that Allàh estab­lished Himself on the Throne without his having need for it and without settlement on it as He is the Preserver of the Throne and other than the Throne. If He stood in need for it, He would have been unable to bring the world into being or dispose of it, just like created beings [are un­able]. And if He became in need of sitting down and settling, then, before creating the Throne, where was Allàh I? Rather, He is greatly and im­mensely tran­scendent beyond all such notions."

* * Risàlat Abï Hanïfa ilà 'Uthmàn al-Battï, a brief epistle to the Mujtahid of Basra Abu 'Amr 'Uthmàn ibn Muslim al-Battï (d. 143) also narrated through Nasïr ibn Yahyà - from Abu 'Abd Allàh Muhammad ibn Samà'a al-Tamïmï, from Abu Yusuf, from Abu Hanïfa, in which the Imàm explains the principle of his School whereby ïmàn has two, not three pil­lars, namely: conviction in the heart and affir­mation by the tongue, in refu­tation of those who imputed him with the label of Murji'.

* * Al-'Àlim wal-Muta'allim ("The Teacher and the Apprentice"), placed by Abu al-Muzaffar al-Isfaràyïnï "among the overwhelming proofs against atheists and inno­vators,"[5] narrated through two chains, both of them through Abu Hanïfa's stu­dent Abu Muqàtil Hafs ibn Salm al-Fazàrï al-Samarqandï but actually attributed by some to Abu Muqàtil, who is - in either case - mostly discarded.[6]

* * Al-Fiqh al-Absat. ("The Greatest Wisdom"), the same work as the Fiqh al-Akbar but in catechetic form narrated from the Imàm exclusively by Abu Mutï' al-Hakam ibn 'Abd Allàh ibn Muslim al-Balkhï al-Khuràsànï through Abu 'Abd Allàh al-Husayn ibn 'Alï al-Alma'ï al-Kàshgharï (d. >484), both of them discarded as narra­tors. In this ver­sion the Imàm is related to state:

[1] "Who­ever says, 'I do not know whether my Lord is in the heaven or on earth' commits disbelief (qad kafar), as does whoever says, 'He is on the Throne and I do not know whether the Throne is in the heaven or on earth.'" Imàm Abþ al-Layth al-Samarqandï (d. 373) in his Sharh. al-Fiqh al-Akbar (misattributed to al-Màturïdï) and his commentary on the Fiqh al-Absat., and Imàm al-Bayàdï in Ishàràt al-Maràm all said: "He is a disbeliever because he attributes a place to Allàh Most High."[7]

[2] "(The Hand of Allàh is above their hands) (48:10), not like the hand of creatures, and it is not a limb (laysat bi-jàrih.a)."

[3] "If someone says, 'Where is Allàh?' The answer for him is that Allàh existed when there was no 'where,' no creation, nothing! And He is the Creator of everything!" This is confirmed as the true position of the Imàm by al-Tahàwï's article in his "Exposition of the Doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamà'a" that "This is the religion of the Muslims. Anyone that does not guard himself against negation [of the Divine Attributes] or likening [Allàh to some­thing else], has gone astray and missed transcendence. For our Lord - Glorified and Exalted! - is only described in terms of oneness and absolute singularity. No creation is in any way whatsoever like Him. He is beyond having limits placed on Him, or having boundaries, or having parts, limbs, or organs! Nor is He con­tained by the six directions as all created things are."

Certain versions of the Fiqh al-Absat. have undergone identifiable interpolations such as that narrated by the anthropomorphist al-Harawï al-Ansàrï in his book al-Fàruq fïl-Sifàt as pointed out by al-Kawtharï.[8]

The above documentation shows that the pious Salaf did not wholly condemn
involve­ment in kalàm as a blameworthy activity but only, as Imàm Abþ Zahra
pointed out, its spe­cific use by the innovators - particu­larly their main sect, the Mu'tazila - who diverged from the doctrines of Ahl al-Sunna.[9] Those whom the Salaf meant in their condemna­tions of kalàm were the likes of Dàwud al-Jawàribï,[10] Ibn Kar­ràm,[11] and other leaders of sects such as those described in heresiographies such al-Ash'arï's Maqàlàt al-Islàmiyyïn, al-Baghdàdï's al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, Ibn Hazm's al-Fisal fïl-Milal, and al-Shahrastànï's al-Milal wal-Nihal.

The Aim of those who Deny the Existence of Sunni Kalàm

As for those who, today, insist on claiming that the Salaf rejected all of kalàm in un­qualified terms, their aim in such a misrepre­sentation is threefold:[12]

* * First, to empower themselves to cast the label of bid'a against those who do not agree with their anthropomorphist leanings, in calculated ignorance of the strong proofs adduced by the Ash'arï and Màturïdï Scholars of kalàm against the heresies of the Hashwiyya and Mujassima.

* * Second, to instill obscurantism into the hearts of uneducated Muslims and degree-bearing Muslims uneducated in the Religious sciences, as well as fear of learning the foundations of belief from the mouth of the great Scholars who eluci­dated the texts of the Qur'àn and Sunna, on the specious grounds that "all that people need is the Qur'àn and Sunna."

* * Third, to promote the idea that all the Sunni Imàms of the Khalaf - whose major­ity are Ash'arïs - are in fact Jahmï-like innovators except two or three con­tro­versial figures that happened to revive anthropo­morphist doctrines.

The First Mutakallim is 'Alï ibn Abï Tàlib

The truth is that all four of the Four Imàms practiced or supported kalàm, in one form or another, precisely in order to refute kalàm-based innovations. In so doing they actually imitated the major Companions who had debated the Khawàrij and defeated them both in disputation and on the field. Imàm al-Ghazzàlï said: "The first to initiate (sanna) the invi­tation of innovators back to the fold of truth through disputation is 'Alï ibn Abï Tàlib t who sent Ibn 'Abbàs *# to the Khawàrij to speak to them."[13]

The Involvement of the Mujtahid Imàms in Kalàm

The following are authentic examples illustrating the involvement of the
Imàms into kalàm after Abu Hanïfa:

* * It is established that Imàm al-Shàfi'ï entered kalàm disputations with Hafs. al-Fard[14] over the issue of the creation of the Qur'àn until he declared Hafs. a disbe­liever, and he used to nickname him "Hafs. the Isolated" (H.afs. al-Munfarid). Hafs. had tried un­suc­cessfully to make 'Abd Allàh ibn 'Abd al-Hàkim and Yusuf ibn 'Amr ibn Yazïd debate him before al-Shàfi'ï accepted - and defeated him.[15] Al-Bayhaqï said: "And how could he [al-Shàfi'ï] possibly con­sider the kalàm of Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jamà'a rep­re­hensible when he himself practiced it, debated whoever he debated in it, and ex­posed the fallacies of those who had cast doubt into the minds of some of his students?" [16] Al-Shàfi'ï also debated the Mu'tazilï Ibràhïm ibn Ismà'ïl ibn 'Ulayya - the student of Abu Bakr al-Asamm - and the Jahmï Bishr al-Marïsï at whose house he once resided when he first came to Baghdàd.[17]

* * Imàm Màlik compiled a refutation of the Qadariyya for the benefit of his student Ibn Wahb.[18]

* * Imàm al-Awzà'ï debated and defeated the Qadarï Ghaylàn ibn Muslim al-Dimashqï upon the request of the Caliph Hishàm ibn 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwàn, after which Hishàm had him executed.[19]

* * Imàm Ahmad's disputations with Abu 'Ïsà Muhammad ibn 'Ïsà Barghþth and his con­demnations of the Jahmiyya and Mu'tazila over the issue of the creation of the Qur'àn and the Divine Attributes are recorded in a number in the books of his School, as well as his numerous statements of doctrine - narrated by Ibn Abï Ya'là in his Tabaqàt al-H.anàbila - which are, with Abu Hanïfa's works, among the early manifestos of Sunnï kalàm. However, the spurious work entitled al-Radd 'alà al-Zanàdiqa and attributed to Imàm Ahmad by anti-Ash'arïs today, is a work of the worst sort of kalàm whose authentic­ity is categorically rejected by al-Dhahabï and others.

* * Imàm al-Bukhàrï compiled a refutation of the Qadariyya and other sects titled Khalq Af'àl al-'Ibàd, and was expelled from Naysàbþr by the Hanbalïs because of what they perceived as an unacceptable stand in kalàm.

And Allàh knows best.

  1. The full chains of transmission for all these works are given in
    al-Muwaffaq's Manàqib and al-Kawtharï's Ta'nïb al-Khatïb as well as (in
    part) his introduction to al-Bayàdï's Ishàràt al-Maràm (p. 6).
  2. Imàm Abþ al-Muzaffar Tàhir ibn Muhammad al-Isfaràyïnï al-Shàfi'ï
    al-Ash'arï, known as Shahafur (d. 471), author of Tàj al-Taràjim fï Tafsïr
    al-Qur'àn lil-A'àjim cf. Hajjï Khalïfa, Kashf al-Z.unþn (1:268, 1:442). In
    his book al-Tabsïr fïl-Dïn wa-Tamyïz al-Firqat al-Nàjiya min Firaq
    al-Hàlikïn he defines Ahl al-Sunna as the Ash'arïs.
  3. In al-Tabsïr (p. 113) as cited by al-Kawtharï in his introduction to
    al-Bayàdï's Ishàràt al-Maràm (p. 5). The complete chain is: 'Alï ibn Ahmad
    al-Fàrisï < Nasïr [not Nusayr nor Nasr] ibn Yahyà [al-Balkhï (d. 268)] <
    Abu Muqàtil < 'Isàm ibn Yusuf [ibn Maymun al-Balkhï (d. 210 or 215)] <
    Hammàd ibn Abï Hanïfa < Abu Hanïfa. (Ibid. p. 6.) Shaykh Wahbï Sulaymàn
    Ghàwijï said in his edition of al-Qàrï's Sharh. al-Fiqh al-Akbar (p. 13)
    that he saw in Maktabat Shaykh al-Islàm 'Àrif Hikmat in Madïna (Com­pendium
    #226 or #234) a manuscript of the Fiqh al-Akbar with the same chain.
  4. Printed together with al-Nasàfi's Matn al-Manàr fï Us.þl al-Fiqh
    (Cairo: al-Matba'at al-Mahmudi­yya, 1326).
  5. In al-Tabsïr (p. 113) as cited by al-Kawtharï in his introduction to
    al-Bayàdï's Ishàràt (p. 5).
  6. Cf. al-H.àkim, al-Madkhal ilà al-S.ah.ïh. (p. 130 #42), al-Dhahabï,
    Mïzàn ('Ilmiyya 2:219), Ibn H.ajar, Lisàn (2:322-323), Ibn al-Jawzï,
    al-D.u'afà' wal-Matrþkïn (1:221), and al-Khalïlï, Irshàd (3:975).
  7. Cf. Ghàwjï, Abþ H.anïfa (p. 260).
  8. In his introduction to al-Bayàd.ï's Ishàràt al-Maràm (p. 6 n. 1) as
    well as his edition of the Fiqh al-Absat. together with al-'Àlim
    wal-Muta'allim and other doctrinal texts of the Imàm.
  9. "Whenever you hear Abu Yusuf or Muhammad or al-Shàfi'ï or Ibn Hanbal
    and others [among the early Imàms] revile the science of kalàm and those who
    take knowledge by following the methods of the mu­ta­kallimun, know that
    they only meant the Mu'tazila by their criticism, and their methods." Abu
    Zahra, Abu Hanïfa (p. 133).
  10. "He described the God that he worshipped as possessing all the human
    organs except the pudenda and the beard." Al-Shahrastànï, al-Milal
    wal-Nihal (1:105, 1:187).
  11. He used to say: "Allàh is firmly seated on the Throne and He is in
    person (dhàtan) on the upper side of it." Al-Shahrastànï, al-Milal
    wal-Nihal (1:108).
  12. Cf. Hasan al-Saqqàf, Sahïh Sharh. al-'Aqïda al-Tahàwiyya (p.
  13. Al-Ghazzàlï, Ih.yà' 'Ulþm al-Dïn (1:96).
  14. Abþ 'Amr al-Bas.rï Hafs. al-Fard, also known as Abu Yahyà, he came to Basra as a Mu'tazilï then turned against them and joined the Jabriyya as stated by Ibn al-Nadïm in al-Fihrist (p. 255).
  15. Ibn 'Asàkir, Tabyïn Kadhib al-Muftarï (1404 ed. p. 338-340) and
    al-Bayhaqï, Manàqib al-Shàfi'ï (1:455). See also al-Làlikà'ï, Us.þl Ahl
    al-Sunna (2:252-253).
  16. Al-Bayhaqï, Manàqib al-Shàfi'ï (1:454-455).
  17. Cf. al-Bayhaqï, Manàqib al-Shàfi'ï (1:229, 1:407, 1:464), Ibn
    Taymiyya, Muqaddima fïl-Tafsïr (Risàla ed. p. 69), and al-Lacknawï,
    al-Fawà'id al-Bahiyya (p. 94).
  18. Narrated by al-Qàdï 'Iyàd. in Tartïb al-Madàrik (1:204). Al-Dhahabï declared its chain of transmis­sion sound (sahïh.) in Siyar A'làm
    al-Nubalà' (Arna'þt. ed. 8:88).
  19. Cited by Shïth ibn Ibràhïm (d. 598) in H.azz al-Ghalàsim (p. 112)
    cf. al-Ràzï, I'tiqàdàt Firaq al-Muslimïn (1:40), al-Yàfi'ï, Marham al-'Ilal
    (1992 ed. p. 133) and Ibn Taymiyya, Bayàn Talbïs al-Jahmiyya (1:275=
    al-Ta'sïs fï Radd Asàs al-Taqdïs).