Imam Abu Hanifa, Salafis, Al-Fiqh al-Akbar And the Truth

By Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) says about the qualities of God:

“He has a hand, a face and a self. So what is He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand and self, they are all Attributes of His with no modality (or description).

It is not said that His hand is His power or His blessing, since such would be a nullification of the attribute. And such is the statement of the People of Qadar and I’tizaal. [A]

Rather, His Hand is His attribute with no modality (or description). And His anger and His satisfaction are two of His attributes with no modality (or description).

One must first understand that by the virtue of the fact that the book – Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar – is considered to be the first book written in the time of the Tabi’een on the topic of Tawhid in an organized and methodical fashion during an age of great controversy when Sunnis were attempting to codify the orthodox creed of Muslims that there will be statements found in it that may be problematic.

Of course, Salafis would find  great joy in seeing such statements like the one above, since it apparently gives credence to their arguments about what they refer to as ‘The Attributes of Allah,’ like hands, face, eyes, foot, side, shin, self, etc.

They could easily make the claim that their ‘aqeedah is correct and in agreement with the creed of the Salaf, since Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullay alayh) who is one of the Salaf says in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar that Allah has a hand. And His hand is an Attribute, similar to what they say.

So on the surface it would seem that the argument is over, and that Salafis have proven themselves to be victorious in their claims.

However, a number of other things have to be considered before accepting their arguments.

Firstly, if we are to accept that Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is an authentic work legitimately ascribable to Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) and that it represents the ‘aqeedah of the Salaf, Salafis have to accept all that it contains, so they’d have to also accept the following statement made by Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) about Allah’s speech:

“And He speaks, not as our speech. We speak with tools and letters while Allah, High is He, speaks without a tool or without letters. The letters are created. And the speech of Allah, High is He, is uncreated.”

In this passage, Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) states that when Allah, High is He, speaks, He speaks without letters. But Salafis believe that when Allah speaks, He speaks with letters and sounds.

So, really this is another case of Salafis selectively abusing and misusing the words of Salaf and those attrobuted to the Salaf in an attempt to make it seem that their creed agrees with with that to the Salaf, when in fact it doesn’t.

Add to that, Salafis are those who argue that the current version of Kitab al-Ibanah an Usul ad-Diyaanah, attributed to Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (rahmatullah alayh), is a proper ascription to him.

And in that book, it states that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) believed that the Qur’an was created [1]. But if Salafis accept that Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is appropriately ascribed to Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh), they have to also accept his words that contradict this claim when he says:

“The Qur’an is Allah’s word, High is He, in pages transcribed, in hearts protected, on tongues recited, and on the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) and his family revealed. Our utterance of the Qur’an is created. Our writing of it is created. Our recitation of it is created. And the Qur’an is uncreated.”

How more explicit can the Imam be?? He expressly states in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar that the “Qur’an is uncreated.” But the Salafis claim that the narrations in Al-Ibaanah that claim that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) believed that it was created is a proper ascription to Abu al-Hasan. And at the same time they consider Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar to be properly ascribed to Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh).

In addition to that, Imam Abu al-Hasan (rahmatullah alayh) doesn’t make any mention of Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) as being one of those who believed that the Qur’an was created in his more prominent and well-established worked entitled, Maqaalaat-e-Islaamiyyeen. And according to Salafis, Kitaab al-Ibaanah was his last work.

So how do they explain the fact that Imam al-Ash’ari (rahmatullah alayh) waited until his final work to mention Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh), who died more than a century prior to him, as one of those who believed that the Qur’an was created in his supposed last work, when he didn’t mention him in what they believe to be one of his earliest works?

Did not Al-Ash’ari (rahimahullah) know that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) was the author of Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar?

They just can’t have it both ways.

Either Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is Imam Abu Hanifa’s work, which would make Kitaab al-Ibaanah – in its present form – not Abu al-Hasan’s work. Or the current Kitaab al-Ibaanah is Abu al-Hasan’s work, which would mean that Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar is not Imam Abu Hanifa’s work.

And if Al-Fiqh al-Akbar is Imam Abu Hanifa’s work and Salafis want to use it as proof that their ‘aqeedah is no different than his, they have to accept everything in it without exception.

Now as for the issue of the statement in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar about the hand, face, and self and them being attributes, we must consider two things in particular:

1. Imam at-Tahaawi (rahimahullah) makes no mention of hands, a face, or a self in his ‘aqeedah. And his book has been accepted as the one represents the ‘aqeedah of Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) and his two companions, Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani (rahimahumullah).

2 – Secondly, we must understand any comment made in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar – as in other works – according to the context.

According to Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar, Allah has two general classifications of attributes known as ‘Attributes of the Essence’ and ‘Attributes of Action.’

Attributes of the Essence are the essential qualities of His being.

As for attributes of action, they are things that happen outside of His being. And since He is the one responsible for those occurrences, they are attributed to Him and called ‘Attributes of Action.’

Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) explains this in his book when he says:

“He doesn’t resemble anything of His creation, and nothing of His creation resembles Him. He has always and will always exist with His names and his attributes of the (divine) essence and those atteibutes of action.

As for those of the essence, they are, life, power, knowledge, speech, hearing, seeing and will.

And as for those of action they are: creating, providing, producing, originating, manufacturing and other attributes of action.”

So the attributes of Allah’s divine essence are seven:

1. Life
2. Power
3. Knowledge
4. Speech
5. Hearing
6. Seeing
7. Will

As for the attributes of action, he states things like:

– Creating
– Providing
– Producing
– Originating
– Manufacturing
– And other attributes of action.

Then, Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) says:

“He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”

So according to Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh), Allah has confirmed 7 attributes of essence [2] while he places no limit to His attributes of action, since the possibilities of what can exist are limitless.

As for restricting the attributes of essence to merely seven, this is not to say that these are the only attributes that Allah has. It is merely to say that this is the number that both revelation and reason have been able to conclude. As for the standard view of Maturidis, the attributes of the essence are 8.

As for Ash’aris, they divide attributes a bit further to the point that some of them have stated 13 [3] and some have stated 20 [4].

In the end, most of that is just a difference in semantics. And the true difference is with relationship to what Ash’aris call ‘Abstract Attributes’, which are the 7 that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) mentions in Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar, while Maturidis add an eighth called ‘Takween.’

At any rate, notice how Imam Abu Hanifa (rahimahullah) doesn’t make mention of the hand, face and self until he enumerates the attributes of the essence. And, so that the readers can see, here is the complete text prior to the mention of the hand, face and self:

“He doesn’t resemble anything of His creation, and nothing of His creation resembles Him. He has always and will always exist with His name and His attributes of the divine essence and those (attributes) of action.

As for those of the essence, they are: life, power, knowledge, speech, hearing, seeing and will.

And as for those of action, they are creating, providing, producing, originating, manufacturing and other attributes of action.

He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”

So if he hasn’t acquired any new name or attribute, there are truly no other definitive attributes of essence other than those mentioned above [5], and the hand, face and self aren’t included among them.

Then he continues,

He has always been Knowing by His knowledge. And knowledge has been an attribute since pre-eternity.

(He has always been) Powerful by His power. And power has been an attribute since pre-eternity.

(He has always been) A Speaker by His speech. And speech has been an attribute since pre-eternity.

(He has always been) Creator by His creative-will [6]. And the creative-will has been an attribute since pre-eternity.

(He has always been) A Doer by His will to act [7]. And the will to act will has been an attribute since pre-eternity. The Doer is Allah, High is He. The will to act has been an attribute since pre-eternity. And the resulting entity of His will to act is created, while Allah’s will to act, High is He, is uncreated. And his attributes have been since pre-eternity un-invented and un-created. So whoever says that they are created or invented, remains silent about them, or entertains doubts about them is one who rejects faith in Allah, High is He.”

He also says,

“And Allah, High is He, was indeed a speaker at a time when He had not yet spoken to Musa, upon him be peace. And Allah was indeed a Creator in pre-eternity even though He had not yet created. (There is nothing like unto Him. And He is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing). So when He spoke to Musa, He spoke to his with His speech, which has been an attribute of His since pre-eternity. And all of His attributes are withoit beginning for pre-eternity; contrary to the state of the attributes of created beings.

He has knowledge, not as our knowledge. He has power, not as our power. He sees, not as our seeing. He hears, npt as oir hearing. And He speaks, not as our speech. We speak with tools and letters while Allah, High is He, speaks without a tool and without letters. The letters are created. And the speech of Allah, High is He, is uncreated.

He is a thing, not like other things. And the point of saying ‘thing’ is to confirm His existence while not being a divisible body, an indivisible body, and not an accident of a body.

He has no boundary. He has no opposite. He has no rival. And He has no equal.

Then he finally says,

“He has a hand, a face and a self. So what is He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand and self, they are all Attributes of His with no modality (or description).

It is not said that His hand is His power or His blessing, since such would be a nullification of the attribute. And such is the statement of the People of Qadar and I’tizaal. [A]

Rather, His Hand is His attribute with no modality (or description). And His anger and His satisfaction are two of His attributes with no modality (or description).

So what are we to understand from all of this? How do we reconcile between Imam Abu Hanifa’s (rahimahullah) saying after mentioning the seven attributes of the essence:

“He has always and will always exist with His names and attributes. He has not acquired any new name or attribute.”

And between his saying,

“He has a hand, a face and a self. So what is He, High is He, mentions in the Qur’an of the mention of the face, hand and self, they are all Attributes of His with no modality (or description).”

I believe that the best way to reconcile between the two is to say that ‘hand, face and self’ are reference to either one of Allah’s true attributes of the essence as stated in the first clause by Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh). Or they are references to one  of His attributes of action [9].

One cannot deny that by such words being annexed to Allah’s name or pronoun in the Qur’an, they are being ‘attributed’ to Him directly even if calling them  ‘attributes’ doesn’t coincide with the original linguistic definition of what an attribute is.

So calling them attributes will be a metaphorical application as opposed to a literal application. And if it is a metaphorical application, it would have to be accepted that such named ‘attributes’ are metaphorical ‘attributes.’  So the hand, face and self would have to a metaphorical ‘hand, face and self,’ which are references to one of Allah’s true attributes, since there is nothing like unto Him. And ‘hand’ in its original linguistic understanding applies to only created beings.

Abdur-Rahman Ibn Al-Jawzi (rahimahullah) says while mentioning the mistakes of some Hanbali scholars in the area of scriptural interpretation of the problematic verses of the Qur’an:

“And those writers who I have mentioned have erred in seven areas. The first of them is that they called the ‘reports’ as ‘attributes.’ When they are annexations/possessive forms. And not every possessive form is an attribute. For Allah, High is He, has said: (And I have blown into him from my spirit) [Al-Hijr: 29]. And Allah doesn’t have an attribute inown as a ‘spirit.’ So those who have called ‘the possessive form’ (idaafa) ‘an attribute’ are guilty of innovation.”

The linguist, Thalab says in Taj al-‘Aroos,

“A na’t is a descriPtion given to a specific part of the body like the word lame (a’raj). A ‘sifa’ attribute is for non-specificity ‘umoom’, like the word magnificient (‘azeem) and generous (kareem). So Allah is described with a ‘sifa’. But He is not described with a ‘na’t’

What this would mean is that the word ‘sifa’ (attribute) is being used metaphorically to mean ‘na’t’, which is another word for ‘attribute’ or ‘trait.’ The difference is that a na’t’ describes a specific part of the body, like ‘lame’ or ‘blind.’

For this reason, Imam Bukhari (rahmatullah alayh) uses the word ‘nu’oot’ (plural of na’t’) instead of ‘sifaat’ (plural of ‘sifa’) to refer to those reports that make mention of Allah’s anger, laughter, foot, hand and face even though He isn’t a body and doesn’t have a body.

This would have to be the accepted interpretation. Otherwise, we must accept that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) contradicts himself by first limiting the attributes of the essence to the 7 mentioned above, and then later adding Allah’s face, hand and self.

Another important question is, ‘Why doesn’t Imam Abu Hanifa (rahimahullah) add to what he considered attributes ‘the shin, the side, the eyes, the foot and the spirit?’

This is important because Allah annexes His name or personal pronoun to each of these things in the Qur’an or the Messenger does so in the hadith. So if I am to accept that Allah has a face, hand and a self, simply because He annexes such things to His name or pronoun. I should also accept that He has eyes, a spirit, a foot, a side, a shin, a she-camel, a house and any other thing that He has attached His name or pronoun to.

And if the Salafis agree with Imam Abu Hanifa’s (rahimahullah) creed, they should only accept as attributes those things that Imam Abu Hanifa  declared to be attributes. This would mean that Salafis have to stop saying that Allah has a foot, a shin, a side and eyes.

But we know that they won’t do that, because Salafis are very selective about what they want to accept from the Salaf and what they don’t want to accept, all the while claiming that their ‘aqeeda is the ‘aqeeda of the Salaf.

If they use Imam Abu Hanifa (rahimahullah)’s words about the face, hand and self as being proof that they follow the manhaj and understand of the Salaf, they should only say what the Salaf said and stop adding to their words.

So to accept that these are the words of Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh), we’d either have to accept the first interpretation or we’d have to accept the second, which would mean that he is in contradiction with his self.

And if that is so, we’d have to accept that Imam Abu Hanifa may not have been an authority on this subject.

As for referring to these problematic verses and hadiths as “Attributes Verses” (Aayaat al-Sifaat) or ‘Reports of Attributes’ (Akhbaar as-Sifaat), this was the specific terminology that scholars used to refer to them even though they didn’t actually mean that such ascriptions mentioned in the scripture were attributes of Allah. Imam Ibn al-Jawzi’s words above clarify the error of this sort of designation. So hopefully that should resolve any confusion about the issue.

Footnotes:

[A] In other words, to say such a thing would be equal to saying what the people who deny the divine decree (Qadar) say and like Mu’tazilities who say that everytime Allah ascribes a hand to His self, it means ‘power’.

[1] In Dar al-Kutub al-Ilmiyyah’s 1998/1418 publication of Kitaab al-Ibaanah, it reads on page 40:

“Haarun Ibn Ishaq al-Hamdani mentionee about Abu Nu’aym feom Sulayman Ibn ‘Eesa al-Qari that Sufyan ath-Thawri said: “I said to Hammaad Ibn Abi Sulayman: “Proclaim to Abu Hanifa, The Idolator, that I am innocent of him.” Sulayman said: “That’s because he used to say, “The Qur’an is created”.

Sufyan Ibn Waki’ said: “I heard ‘Umar ibn Hammad, the grandson of Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh), say: “My father said to me: “The comment that Ibn Abi Layla demanded that Abu Hanifa repent from his statement: “The Qur’an is created” He (Hammad) said: “So he repented from it and announced his repentance publicly. My (Hammad) said: “How did you tuen to this?” He (Imam Abu Hanifa) said: “I feared – by Allah – that I would be disciplined. So I used a misleading expression to trick him (heela).

Harun Ibn Ishaq said, I heard Isma’eel Ibn Abi al-Hakam mention about ‘Umar Ibn ‘Ubayd At-Tanaafusi that Hammad – i.e Ibn Abi Sulayman – sent someone to Imam Abu Hanifa to say: “Verily I am innocent of what you say until you repent”.

Ibn ‘Abi Inabah was with him (i.e. Hammad) and said: “Your neighbour told me that Imam Abu Hanifa invited him to what he was asked to repent from after he had alrwady been asked to repent from it”.

And it was mentioned that Imam Abu Yusuf said, “I debated with Imam Abu Hanifa for two months until he retracted his statement about the createdness of the Qur’an”. [Al-Ash’ari, Abu al-Hasan (ascribed to him), Kitaab al-Ibaanah ‘an Usul ad-Diyanah: 1998/1418 Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah. Marginal notes by ‘Abdullah Mahmood Muhammad ‘Umar]

On the same page, the commentator, ‘Abdullah Mahmood Muhammad ‘Umar, makes the following comments:

“Tahaawi, states in his book, Al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, what contradicts these narrations that claim that Imam Abu Hanifa used to state that the Qur’an is created. And Tahaawi is more reliable in transmission and more knowing of the creed of his comrades (Imam Abu Hanifa and his two Companions) than Al-Ash’ari is. Imam Tahaawi, the Hanafi, says: “The Qur’an is the word of Allah. It came from Him as speech without it being possible to say how. He sent it down upon His Messenger as revelation. The believers accept it as absolute truth. They are certain that it is, in truth, the word of Allah. It was not created like the speech of human beings…’

So the commentator, in spite of the fact that he seems to accept that the book is properly ascribed to Imam al-Ash’ari, he establishes that such a claim made by him cannot be substantiated, since it conflicts with the reports given by those who have better knowledge of the creed of Imam Abu Hanifa who conveyed it to the Ummah.

Add to this, Al-Ash’ari doesn’t list Imam Abu Hanifa among those who believed the Qur’an to be created in his book, Maqalaat al-Islamiyyeen, even though the narrations above from Al-Ibaanah give the impression that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahimahullah) never actually relinquished the presumed belief that the Qur’an is created.

[2] These seven attributes are referred to by the Ash’ari’s as ‘The Abstract Attributes’ (Sifaat al-Ma’ani).

[3] In addition to the seven aforementioned attributes, Ash’ari’s include the following six:

– Existence

– Permanance without beginning

– Endurance without end

– Absoluteness Independence

– Dissimilarity to Created Beings

– Oneness

Existence is known as the ‘Essential Attribute’ (As-sifah an-Nafsiyyah), since without it  Allah would not be able of being described by any of the others.

The other 5 are known as the ‘Negating Attributes’ (As-sifat As-Salbiyyah). This is because by establishing them, one negates their opposites from Allah’s being.

[4] Ash’ari’s also include seven other attributes called ‘Signifying attributes’ (As-Sifaat al-Ma’nawiyyah). They are:

– That Allah be Powerful
– That Allah be Willful
– That Allah be Knowing
– That Allah be Living
– That Allah be Seeing
– That Allah be Hearing
– That Allah be Speaking

They are called the ‘Signifying attributes’ (As-Sifaat al-Ma’nawiyyah), because they signify that Allah has the attribute that each adjective implies, i.e. power, Will, knowledge, sight, hearing and speech.

Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) mentions only the 7 abstract attributes. But this doesn’t mean that he denies the existence of the other thirteen mentioned by the Ash’ari’s. This is because the ‘essential attribute’ of ‘existence’ and the other five negating attributes are characteristics of the 7 ‘essential qualities. So they go without saying.

[5] The reason that Imam Abu Hanifa (rahmatullah alayh) doesn’t mention the 5 ‘negating attributes’ (i.e. permanence without beginning, endurance without end, absolute independence, dissimilarity to creation, and oneness), the ‘Essential Attribute’ (Existence) and the 7 signifying attributes stated above, is that these attributes are actually qualities of Allah’s main qualities, which are the 7 Attributes of the Essence or as Ash’aris call them, ‘Abstract Attributes’.

[6] The ‘Creative-Will’ is a translation of what Maturidis refer to as ‘takhleeq.’

[7] The ‘will to act’ is a translation for the word, ‘fi’l’, usually translated as ‘action.’ I translated as ‘will to act’ since it is more in line with the actual creed of Maturidis who based much of their creed off of the doctrine of Imam Abu Hanifa (rahimahullah). To translate fi’l as ‘action’ or ‘act’ would imply that the creation – one of Allah’s actions – is eternal without a beginning, since the author states that the ‘fi’l’ is uncreated.

[8] In other words, to say such a thing would be equal to saying what the people who deny the divine decree (qadar) say and like the Mu’tazalities who say that everytime Allah ascribes a hand to His self, it means ‘power.’

[9] Imam Shawkani states in his Irshad al-Fuhool while discussing the different relationships that tie between literal and figurative language that one of them is, “Assigning a thing the name of one of its forms and manifestations, like using the word ‘hand’ to refer to ‘power’….[Irshad al-fuhool 1/119] In other words, the hand is a form or manifestation of power. This would mean thar when one says that the ‘hand’ is one of Allah’s attributes, he really means that it is His power even though a different word is used to apply to it. And Allah knows best.

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