Understanding the Qur'ân MuHkam and Mutashabih Verses

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيم

Praise be to God the Creator of the world, the One Who exists without beginning, without end, without location, without a "how" and Who does not depend on time. Nothing resembles Him in anyway and He hears and sees everything without organs. Whatever you imagine, God is different from that. May the elevation in degree and preservation of his community of what he fears for it, be granted to our master MuHammad Al-'Amin, the Honest One, who called for following Islam, the religion of truth, the religion of all the Prophets: of the first, Adam, to the last MuHammad.

Understanding the Glorious Qur'ân

Praise be to Allâh, the Lord of the worlds, Who does not resemble the creation. To Him belong the endowments and the befitting perfections and commendations. I ask Allâh to raise the rank of Prophet MuHammad, Salla l-Lâhu `alayhi wa sallam, and to protect his nation from that which he fears for them. Thereafter:

Allâh said in the Qur'ân:

﴿هُوَ الَّذِيَ أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ في قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاء الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاء تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلاَّ اللّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلاَّ أُوْلُواْ الألْبَابِ﴾

(Huwa l-ladhî ‘anzala `alayka l-kitâba minhu ‘âyâtun muHkamâtun hunna ‘ummu l-kitâbi wa ‘ukharu mutachâbihâtun fa ‘ammâ l-ladhîna fîqulîbihim zayghun fayattabi`ûna mâ tachâbaha minhu btighâ’ l-fitnati wa btighâ’a tawîlihi wa mâya`lamu tawîlahu ‘illâ l-Lâhu wa r-râçikhûna fî l-`ilmi yaqûlûna ‘âmannâ bihî kullun min `indi rabbinâ wa mâ yadh-dhakkaru ‘illâ ‘ulû l-‘albâb)

which means: « Allâh is the One Who has sent down to the Prophet the Book that contains muHkamat ayat, which are the foundation of the Book, and other ayat  which are mutashabihat. Those who have perversity in their hearts, they follow the mutashabihat ayat seeking discord and searching for unbefitting meanings based on their delusions. No one knows their true meanings except Allâh and those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion. The latter say, “We believe in it, all of it is from our Lord and none will understand the message except men of comprehension”. » [sûrât ‘Âli `Imrân, ayah 7].

So, know firmly, that the Qur'ân contains two types of âyat:

Explicit Verses MuHkamat Ayat

These are the ayat that have only one meaning according to the rules of the Arabic language or else the meaning of the ayah is clearly known. Examples of this type of ayat are: the saying of Allâh, ta`âlâ:

﴿ليس كمثله شىء وهو السميع البصير﴾

(Layça kamithlihi chay’ wa huwa s-Samî`u l-BaSîr)

which means: « Absolutely there is nothing like Him » [Surat Ash-Shûra, âyah 11]

And His saying, ta`âlâ:

﴿وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ﴾

(wa lam yakun lahu kufuwan ‘aHad)

which means: « There is nothing which is equal to Him. » [Surat Al-IkhlâS, ayah 4]

And His saying, ta`âlâ:

﴿رَّبُّ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا فَاعْبُدْهُ وَاصْطَبِرْ لِعِبَادَتِهِ ۚ هَلْ تَعْلَمُ لَهُ سَمِيًّا﴾

 which means: « Do you know of anything which is similar to Him? There is none. » [Surat Maryam, âyah 65]

Non-Explicit Verses Mutashabihat âyat

These are the ayat that can have many meanings according to the rules of the Arabic language. Assigning meanings to these ayat requires thorough thinking so that acceptable meanings are given to them. Examples of this type of ayat are: the saying of Allâh, ta`âlâ, in Surat Taha, âyah 5:

﴿الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى﴾

(Ar-RaHmânu  `ala l-`archi stawâ)

which means: « Allâh subjugated the `arsh in al-azal with a subjugation which is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allâh. »

And His saying, ta`âlâ, in Surat FaTir, âyah 10:

﴿مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْعِزَّةَ فَلِلَّـهِ الْعِزَّةُ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِلَيْهِ يَصْعَدُ الْكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ وَالْعَمَلُ الصَّالِحُ يَرْفَعُهُ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ يَمْكُرُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ ۖ وَمَكْرُ أُولَـٰئِكَ هُوَ يَبُورُ ﴾

According to the rules of the Arabic language, these ayat are mutashabihat; so they can have many meanings. If meanings are assigned to them, this must be done in a manner that complies with the language and the Religion, and does not contradict the ayat that are muHkamat. Surely the ayat of the Qur'ân do not contradict one another. Likewise, the aHadîth sayings of the Prophet, Sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam, do not contradict one another, and they do not contradict the âyat of the Qur'ân.

There are two methodologies for explaining the mutashabihat âyat of the Qur'ân, and both of them are valid: The Methodology of the Salaf and The Methodology of the Khalaf.

The Methodology of the Salaf:

The Salaf were the scholars who lived during the first three centuries after the Hijrah of the Prophet, Sallallâhu `alayhi wa sallam. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving general explanations, since the scholars of the Salaf believed that these ayat have meanings befitting to the perfection of Allâh. Rather than saying what these meanings are, they referred these mutashabihat ayat to the muHkamat âyat. A good example is the saying of Imam Ash-Shafi`iyy:

which means: « I believe in what Allâh revealed according to the meaning that Allâh willed, and in what the Messenger of Allâh conveyed according to the meaning that the Messenger of Allâh willed. »  In other words, the proper befitting meanings are not according to the sensuous and physical meanings that delusions would lead to--such as places, shapes, limbs, movements, sitting, colors, directions, smiling, laughter, or any other meanings which are not permissible to be attributed to Allâh.

Furthermore, the Arabs during these three centuries spoke the Arabic language with a natural disposition and great eloquence. Their understanding of its meanings was so sharp that they did not need to attribute specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Instead, they understood that these ayat have meanings that befit Allâh, and that it is impossible that they would have sensuous and physical meanings that do not befit Allâh.

Nevertheless, it is well known that some of the scholars of the Salaf did attribute specific meanings to mutashabihat âyat. In his SaHîH, in the chapter Tafsir al-Qur'ân (the explanation of the Qur'ân,) Imam al-Bukhâriyy attributed a specific meaning to the term « illâ wajhahu » in Surat al-­QaSas, âyah 88. He said, « illâ mulkahu, » i.e., he said that word « wajh » - which is an attribute of Allâh - means « Mulk » or « Dominion. »

 قال الله تعالى : ﴿كُلُّ شَيْءٍ هَالِكٌ إِلَّا وَجْهَهُ﴾

قال الإمام البخاري في تفسيرها : " إلَّامُلْكَهُ "

The Methodology of the Khalaf

The Khalaf were the scholars who lived after the first three centuries. For the most part, this methodology consisted of giving specific meanings to the mutashabihat âyat. The scholars of the Khalaf lived at a time when the people started to lose their natural disposition for the Arabic language. Seeing that the people had become weaker in the language, the scholars of the Khalaf feared that those with perversity in their hearts would read meanings into the mutashabihat ayat that do not befit Allâh. They feared what is mentioned in Surat Al-`Imrân, âyah 7. Allâh said:

which means: « Those who have perversity in their hearts, they follow the mutashabihat ayatseeking discord and searching for unbefitting meanings based on their delusions. » In order to protect the creed of Islam, the scholars of the Khalaf followed the example of those scholars among the Salafwho chose to give specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Referring them to the muhkamat ayat, they gave specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat in compliance with the language and the Religion. They gave correct, acceptable meanings to the mutashabihat ayat. Allâh said:

Ayah 7 in Surat Al-`Imran means: « No one knows their true meanings except Allâh and those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion. The latter say, "We believe in it, all of it is from our Lord" and none will understand the message except men of comprehension."» In relation to this ayah, Ibn `Abbas said: "I am one of those who are firmly rooted in the knowledge of the Religion." It is well known that Ibn `Abbas is generally regarded as being foremost among the Companions in the explanation of the meanings of the ayat of the Qur'ân.

Among those who have perversity in their hearts are the mushabbihah, those who liken Allâh to His creation. The followers of Ibn Taymiyah and MuHammad Ibn `Abdi l­-Wahhab are among the group of the mushabbihah. They falsely claim that it is prohibited to assign specific meanings to the mutashabihat ayat and especially those that pertain to the attributes of Allâh. Moreover, they innovated a devilish rule that assigning specific meanings to these ayat would lead to canceling these attributes of Allâh. This claim of theirs leads to interpretations of the ayat of the Qur'ân that contradict one another and interpretations of the aHadîth of the Prophet that contradict one another and contradict the ayat of the Qur'ân. Furthermore, their claim accuses the Islamic scholars among the Salaf and the Khalaf of blasphemy for denying the attributes of Allâh. This would include: Ibn `Abbas, Sufyan ath­Thawriyy, Mujahid, Sa`id Ibn Jubayr, Malik, AHmad, al­-Bukhâriyy, an-Nawawiyy, Ibn Rajab al­-Hanbaliyy, Ibn-ul-Jawziyy, Ibn Hajar, al-­Bayhaqiyy, Abu Fadl at-Tamimiyy, `Abdul-Qahir al-Baghdadiyy, the linguist and scholar of Hadîth Murtada az-Zabidiyy, and others.

Foremost, by this claim of theirs they are contradicting the Prophet, Salla l-Lâhu `alayhi wa sallam. Al-Bukhâriyy related that the Prophet made a du`a' (a supplication) for Ibn `Abbas. The Prophet said:

which means: «O Allâh, teach him the Knowledge of Hadîth and the explanation of the Qur'ân.»

In the chapter, Tafsir al­Qur'ân, (Explanation of the meaning of the Qur'ân), Imam al-Bukhâriyy says that the term wajhahu in Suratal­Qasas,ayah 88, means "His Dominion." However, those mushabbihah who liken Allâhto the creation say, "We do not interpret, but rather we go by the literal meaning," and hence (they say)wajhahu means "His face."

Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalaniyy, in his book, Al­Fath (an explanation of the meaning of Sahih al­Bukhâriyy), Volume 6, page 39-40, said: " ..... in reference to al-Bukhâriyy's saying that the attribute of Allâh, ad-dahik, means 'mercy,' it is closer to say that it means 'acceptance of deeds.' Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say that Allâh smiles, or laughs.

In Surat al-Qalam, ayah 42, Allâh said:

The scholars of the Salaf explained the term saq by 'hardship,' and the ayah to mean 'a day of anguish and hardship.' This explanation is known to have been given by Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Ibrahim an Nakh`iyy, Qatadah, Sa`id Ibn Jubayr, and a multiple of scholars. Both Imam al-Fakhr ar­Raziyy in his Explanation of theQur'ân, Volume 30, page 94 and Imam al-Bayhaqiyy in his books, Al-'Asma' was­Sifat, (page 245) and Fath-al-Bari, (Volume 13, page 428) related this explanation from Ibn `Abbas. Ibn Qulayb also related that aboutSa`id Ibn Jubayr who took his knowledge from `Abdullah Ibn `Abbas and Ibn `Umar. Yet, the mushabbihahinsist on taking the literal meaning and attribute 'the shin' to Allâh, by saying saq literally means 'shin.'

In Surat-ul-Baqarah, ayah 115, Allâh said:

Imam Mujahid, the student of Ibn `Abbas, said that the word wajh means 'qiblah,' i.e., the direction of prayers during the voluntary prayers while traveling and riding on an animal. Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning; they say the term, wajh, means 'face.'

Similarly, if ayah 12 in Suratat-Tahrim:

was taken literally, it would mean that Allâh blew part of His Soul into `Isa (Jesus.).) However, the scholars said that this ayah means: [Allâh ordered Jibril to blow into `Isa the soul which is honorable toAllâh.]

Also, ayah 75 in Surat Sad:

if taken literally, would mean: "What has stopped you from performing sujud to what I have created with My hands?" However, the scholars said that the word 'yadayn' in the ayah means the 'care' of Allâh. Yet, themushabbihah insist that yadayn means hands.

Likewise, ayah 35 in Suratan-Nur:

if taken literally, would mean: "Allâh is the light of the heavens and the Earth." The scholars said that thisayah means: [Allâh is the Creator of guidance in the occupants of the skies and the occupants of the earth.] However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that Allâh is 'light.'

If taken literally, ayah 22 in Suratal-Fajr:

would mean: "Your Lord comes." It was related that Imam AHmad Ibn Hanbal, who is among the authorities of the Salaf, said that this ayah means: [An indication of the Power of Allâh has come.] In his book,ManaqibAHmad, Hafidh Imam al­Bayhaqiyy, established that the sanad (chain) of narrators is sahih (authentic). Also, Ibn al-Jawziyy al­Hanbaliyy, one of the authorities of the school of Imam AHmad, related that Imam AHmad assigned specific, acceptable meanings to the ayat which are mutashabihat. He also said this is a proof that Imam AHmad did not believe that the maji'ah (a noun for the verb ja'a) in the ayah is that of movement from one place to another. Imam Ibn al­Jawziyy also said: "It is not possible that Allâh would move." Yet, themushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and say that ja'a means "Your Lord comes" (i.e., from one place to another.)

The Hadîth of the Prophet related by al­Bukhâriyy was explained and affirmed by Imam Malik:

as a descent of mercy and not that of movement. However, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning and they say the nuzul in the Hadîth means a descent of movement and going from one place to another.

Copying from Imam al-'Ash`ariyy, Imam al­-Bayhaqiyy, in his book, Al-Asma' was-Sifat, page 488, said: "Allâh, ta`ala, is not in a place. Movement, coming to rest, and sitting are among the attributes of bodies."

Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbaliyy explained the term al-istiwa', in SuratTaha, ayah 5:

as al-istila', which means subjugating. When al­istila' is used to explain this ayah it means that Allâh subjugated the `arsh with a subjugation that is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allâh. If the ayah is explained in this manner, it means that Allâh was attributed with subjugating the `arsh before the `arsh was created in the same way that Allâh was attributed with being the Creator before anything from the creation existed. In this context, the scholars have used the term al-azal, which means the status of existing without a beginning. Thus it can be said that Allâh subjugated the `arsh in al-azal, meaning that Allâh subjugated the`arsh with a subjugation which is without a beginning. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning, and they say istiwa' means Allâh 'sits' on the throne and 'firmly establishes' Himself on it.

In his book, Al-Mu`taqad, Imam al­Bayhaqiyy related in a chain back to al­'Awza`iyy and Imam Malik andSufyan ath-Thawriyy and al­Layth Ibn Sa`d that when they were asked about the ayat and the aHadîth that are mutashabihat, they said:

which means: "Accept them as they came without applying a 'how' to them." This is because if one asked the question 'how?' the answer would be, 'Like this or that.' Everything other than Allâh is His creation so to say 'like this or that' would mean 'like this or that created thing' and Allâh is not like His creation. Anything a person can imagine, Allâh is different from it. When the scholars said: "... without applying a 'how' to them," they meant that Allâh is clear of being attributed with sitting, resting, moving, limbs, bodies, and parts. They did not mean that His istiwa' over the throne has a 'how' of which we are ignorant. On the contrary, the scholars completely negated that a 'how' could be applied to Allâh. So the statement of those who say "Allâhsits on the throne but we do not know how," is rejected on the basis of what these scholars said.

Anyone with a sound mind knows that sitting, no matter how it is, is an attribute of bodies. Occupying places necessitates a 'how' and applies to bodies. Furthermore, color and touching are attributes of bodies and 'how' applies to them. All of that is impossible to apply to Allâh.

Similarly, when the Prophet, Salla l-Lâhu `alayhi wa sallam, asked the black slave woman the question: "AynAllâh?", the scholars said this meant he was asking her about her belief in the status of Allâh. She answered: "Fis­sama'" which has the meaning that Allâh has the highest status. Yet the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning--saying that the Prophet asked her about the place of Allâh, and that she said, "In the sky," meaning that the sky is a place for Allâh.

Likewise, the Hadîth of the Prophet, Salla l-Lâhu `alayhi wa sallam:

means: «If you are merciful to those on earth, the angels, who occupy the heavens, will bring onto you the mercy of Allâh.» Yet, the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meaning--saying the Hadîth means: "Allâh, Who occupies the heavens, will be merciful to you."

So the mushabbihah insist on taking the literal meanings of the mutashabihatayat. They reject assigning specific meanings to them, and they refuse to ascribe acceptable meanings to them. By doing this, they render the ayat of the Qur'ân and the aHadîth in contradiction to one another. For example, the famous Hadîth of the Prophet:

if taken by the method of the mushabbihah, it would mean, "Allâh is between the person and the neck of his animal." This is in direct contradiction with their claim that the Hadîth of the black slave woman means: "Allâh has a place, which is the sky."

Likewise, if ayah 4 in Suratal-Hadid:

is taken literally, it would mean, "Allâh is with you, wherever you are." However, the scholars established that this ayah means: [Allâh knows about you, wherever you are.] Similarly, if the saying of Allâh in SuratFussilat,ayah 54:

is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean, "Allâh surrounds everything." Furthermore, if the saying of Allâhthat Ibrahim said in Suratas-Saffat, ayah 99:

is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean, "Allâh is in the countries of ash-Sham," since this ayah was related aboutSayyidina Ibrahim while he was moving from Iraq to the countries of ash-Sham. If the saying ofAllâh in Suratal Baqarah, ayah 125:

is taken by its literal meaning, it would mean: "The Ka`bah is the residence of Allâh." If ayah 128 in Suratan-Nahl is taken literally, it would mean, "Allâh is physically with the pious."

It is clear that if these ayat are interpreted based on the literal meanings, this will lead to numerous contradictions. The great scholars of Islam have ascribed proper and acceptable meanings to themutashabihat ayat and the mutashabihat aHadîth in accordance with the Religion, the language, and by referring them to the clear muhkamat ayat. They said Suratal-Hadid, ayah 4,

means: [Allâh knows about you wherever you are.]
Surat Fussilat, ayah 54,

means [Allâh knows everything.]
Surat al­Baqarah, ayah 125,

means: [The Ka`bah is a house of a great honor to Allâh.]
Surat al-An`am, ayah 61,

refers to the fawqiyyah (aboveness) of subjugation, meaning: [All are subjugated to Allâh.] Surat an­Nahl, ayah 128,

means: [Allâh supports those who are pious.]
Surat Taha, ayah 5,

means: [Allâh subjugated the `arsh in al-azal with a subjugation which is without a beginning, like all of the attributes of Allâh.]

In taking the mutashabihatayat by their literal meanings, the mushabbihah contradict the muhkamat ayat, likeSurat ash-Shura, ayah 11,

which means: [Absolutely there is nothing like Allâh.] They try to escape the contradiction by camouflaging it, saying that Allâh has a 'face' but without countenance; and Allâh has a 'direction' which is above, but we do not know 'how' it is; and Allâh has a 'shin,' but we do not know 'how' His 'shin' is. Moreover, they say that Allâh 'sits' but we do not know 'how' His 'sitting' is.

The great Hanafiyy linguist and scholar of Hadîth, Imam Murtada az-Zabidiyy, in his book, Ithafus-Sadatil-Muttaqin, refuted those who reject acceptable meanings be assigned to the ayat which are mutashabihat and insist on taking them by their literal meanings. He said: "In essence they are slandering the office of Prophethood; they are claiming that the Prophet did not know the meaning of the attributes of Allâh that were revealed to him; and they are claiming he called the creation to believe in that of which he was ignorant." However, Allâh says in the Qur'ân in Surat ash-Shu`ara', ayah 195:

which means: [The Qur'ân was revealed in clear, explicit Arabic.] Az-Zabidiyy proceeded to say: "Those people who take a position against assigning acceptable meanings are basically likening Allâh to the creation." However, they camouflage it by saying that he has a 'hand,' not like the hands of the creation and a 'shin' not like the shins of creation and a physical istiwa', that we cannot comprehend. He addressed them with: "Your saying, 'we take it by its literal meaning and it is incomprehensible' is contradictory in itself. If you take by its literal meaning, then 'as-saq' in Suratal-Qalam, ayah 42, is a 'shin' which is a part made up of flesh, bones, muscle, and nerves. If you take by that literal meaning, then you have committed blasphemy, and if you deny it, then how do you claim to take by the literal meaning?"

Rest assured that the methodologies of both the Salaf and the Khalaf are correct and neither of them attribute anything to Allâh that does not befit Him. In simple terms, one correct way of explaining the mutashabihat ayat in the Qur'ân is to say one believes in them according to the meaning that Allâh willed without saying what that meaning is; and without a 'how,' i.e., without attributing to Allâh sitting, standing, occupying places, sensuous attributes, or any of the meanings that apply to humans and other creations. Following this method, one would say: "Allâh has an istiwa' which befits Him--which is not sitting, and Allâh has a yad which befits Him--which is not a hand, and a wajh that befits Him--which is not a face." The second correct way of explaining the mutashabihat ayat in the Qur'ân is to give specific meanings to them which are in accordance with the Religion and the language. Following this method, one would say: "His istiwa' means 'He preserves the throne,' His yad means 'His Care,' His wajh means 'His Self,' 'His Dominion,' or 'His Qiblah.'"

Also know that among the mutashabih are things that only Allâh knows about, such as the time when the Day of Judgment will occur, the exact day the sun will rise from its setting place, the exact time when the Dajjalwould appear, and the like. This falls under one of the meanings of Surat Al-`Imran, ayah 7:

which means: [No one knows the meaning of that kind of mutashabih except Allâh.]

May Allâh protect us from falling into the trap of likening Allâh to His creation. Imam Abu Ja`far at-Tahawiyy, in his book Al-`Aqidatut-Tahawiyyah, said:

which means: "Whoever attributes to Allâh any of the meanings pertaining to humans commits blasphemy."

We ask Allâh to keep us steadfast on the correct path and creed of the Islamic scholars among the Salaf and the Khalaf. We seek refuge with Allâh from falling into the trap of apostasy, because the Prophet, Salla l-Lâhu `alayhi wa sallam, said in the Hadîth related by at-Tirmidhiyy:

This means: «The slave shall utter with a word he does not see harmful that will cause him to fall into Hellfire for seventy autumns.» This is a place that only the kuffar will reach.

Be extremely observant of what you utter, for Allâh, ta`ala said in Surat Qaf, ayah 18:

which means: [Every word that a person utters will be written down by the two angels, Raqib and `Atid.] Also, beware of books that are claimed to be interpretations of the Qur'ân or translations of its meanings and in which they liken Allâh, the Exalted, to His creation, by attributing to Him light, hands, eyes, shins, faces, sitting, directions, places, and the like. Allâh is clear of all imperfection and of any resemblance to the creation.

Praise be to Allâh the Lord of the Worlds, the One Who is clear of resembling the creation, all non­ befitting attributes, and all which the blasphemers unrightfully say about Him.

And Allâh knows best.

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