Answers To Ash'ari Competition Corner: 1st Quiz - Why the Prophets Did Not Speak the Language of Aristotelian Metaphysics To Establish the True Belief in Allaah
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Wednesday, October, 14 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Jism Jismiyyah Competition Corner Jism Jismiyyah Competition Corner

You can view the question of our very first Ash'ari Competition Corner here:

In short, the question was:

We had some participation and someone was in the right direction and identified the answer. Here we want to provide some points that elaborate upon and explain the answer. Inshaa'Allaah this will help to improve your [knowledge of] the philosophical, Jahmee roots of what is known today as "Ash'ariyyah", an aberration from that which Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari himself was upon.

The Answer

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505) one of the most prominent of the Later Ash'aris has essentially given us the answer in a very clear and lucid manner. You can go and read what he said in his book "Iljaam ul-Awaam" in this article here. It is recommended that you read this article first before continuing - you must be familiar with what he said... (go and read it) ... Now that you have read that article (inshaa'Allaah), then we can say the following, which is the Ash'ari textbook perspective on this matter:

Point 1: What the Truth Really Is (to the Ash'aris)

The truth (to the Ash'aris) is clearly in the language that is based upon Aristotelian Metaphysics such as (quoting al-Ghazali):

  • He exists, (but) is not a body (jism),
  • and nor a substance (jawhar),
  • and nor an incidental attribute ('arad),
  • and nor is He inside the universe,
  • nor outside of it,
  • nor attached to it,
  • nor separate from it,
  • and He is not in a location (makaan),
  • and nor is He in direction (jihah),
  • rather all the directions are devoid of Him

And why not throw in something from Ibn Sina the Philosopher as well, for good measure (see here) from his "Risaalah al-Adhawiyyah":

...the soundness of Tawheed of [which is the] affirmation of a Maker [that is] unique (muwahhad) and sanctified (muqaddas) from:

  • al-kam (quantity)
  • al-kayf (quality)
  • al-ayn (location, place)
  • mataa (time, when)
  • al-wad' (position)
  • at-taghyeer (change) [denoted by acting (fi'l) or being acted upon (infi'aal)]

So that belief in Him becomes [one in which] He is a single essence, it not being possible for it [the essence] to have a partner in type (naw') or that it has an existent part (juz') whether in terms of quantity or conceptually (in meaning).

And it is not possible that it [the essence] be outside of the universe (the creation) and nor inside of it, and nor that it would be correct to point to Him that He is "here" or "there".

So clearly the truth (according to them) lies in this type of language, and not in the apparent texts of the revelation which provide but presumptions of tashbeeh (again, to them) and while al-Ghazali (d. 505) did not get on too well with that exceedingly shrewd, baatini ismaa'eelee kafir Ibn Sina (d. 429H), they nevertheless had a common platform in making the basic notions of Aristotelian Metaphysics (and what grew out of them of the theology of the Mutakallimoon) to be the ultimate criterion in the affairs of divinity.

So this is the manifest truth to them - and all of this is false.

Point 2: The Language of the Qur'an, the Language of the Arabs Was Not Able to Accurately Convey the True Belief Regarding Allaah

Then, after we have established what the truth is to the Ash'arites, then the next point is that unfortunately, the Arabic language was not fit for the purpose of clarifying the true belief in Allaah - and in fact no language is. This is because there is just too much ambiguity and metaphor and so on - again this is according to the Ash'arites and it is what Abu Hamid al-Ghazali claims in his book "Iljaam al-Awaam" - this is clearly false.

Point 3: The Prophets Were Forced to Use the Ambiguous Metaphorical Language to A People Too Dumb To Understand and Grasp the True Realities

As a result of the above, then the Prophet's only option was to make use of this ambiguous language of metaphors - it wasn't the Prophet's fault - its the imperfection of the language firstly and secondly, the people were just too dumb to really grasp and understand the realities of the Aristotelian Metaphysical formulation of the creed and its associated terminology (jawhar, 'arad, jism, tahayyuz, jihah, makaan ...). And had the Prophet used that type of language, not one in a thousand would have accepted it and most would have turned atheists.Thus, it was not possible to speak with that type of language. Again, this is according to what is in the Ash'arite textbooks - this is clearly false.

Point 4: Always Think of the Greater Good and the Lesser of Two Evils

And further, that you leave a minority of people with a risk of falling into tashbeeh and Tajseem (Anthropomorphism) on account of language that gives that presumption in belief regarding Allaah is a much better situation than having the majority turn atheists - that's the reasoning explained by al-Ghazali.

Point 5: Conclusion

In conclusion then (according the standard Ash'arite textbook perspective), Prophet Musa did not say to Fir'awn, "You lie! You are a jism and Allaah is not a jism" and Prophet Ibrahim did not say to Nimrod, "You lie! You are a jism and Allaah is not a jism" and Prophet Muhammad (alayhis salaam) did not say about the Dajjaal, "He is a great liar! He is a jism and your Lord is not a jism" - as examples only - because the expression of the truth in that manner cannot be presented to the average commoner because he is too dumb to grasp it and it may force him into Atheism, and thus, such metaphors and figurative speech have to be used by necessity for the following reasons:

  • To aid the commoners in acquiring faith at least
  • To use this language (that gives the strong presumption of tashbeeh to whoever hears it) only with those people about whom it is known that they understand and grasp what the real truth is.

And it's not befitting to start confusing people by bringing in all the jism, jawhar, 'arad and all that stuff out into the open and in a general sense - because the whole purpose is to guide people and not to turn them into atheists.

Questions Arising

There are some questions arising from all of this, and if you have an inquisitive mind, we are sure you are thinking of some as well.

From them:

It is known that some of the Companions, right at the very end of their lives, narrated hadeeth which they had kept to themselves, and they did so out of the fear of having concealed knowledge from the Ummah.

So the question here is, since we can't presume that there were none amongst the Companions who were able to grasp the true and real belief in Allaah (i.e. the one defined through the Aristotelian Metaphysical language) - surely we can't presume this was the case, then as al-Ghazali said, that the Prophet spoke such language that gives the presumption of tashbeeh only to those people whom he knew would grasp the realities - (go and read that article) - then based upon all of this:

We would like to see narrations from the Companions to the effect of:

Allaah's attribute of "Hand" is just a metaphor, don't take it upon its apparent meaning, because Allaah is not a jism made of indivisible particles, and nor is He is an 'arad ...

Istiwaa in the Qur'an is just a metaphor, don't take it upon its apparent meaning, because Allaah is not subject to hawaadith because He is not a jism made of indivisible particles and nor is He an 'arad ...

Allaah being above the Throne, don't take it upon its apparent meaning, because Allaah is not a jism made of indivisible particles that occupies space ...

... and so on.

You see there must exist narrations like this, otherwise - upon the presumption of everything that has been mentioned (of al-Ghazali's explanation) being correct and true - it means that the Companions essentially concealed the real truth from the rest of the Ummah, and we seek refuge in Allaah from such a necessity.

Therefore, if you do find such narrations, please send them to us through our contact page so we can share them with everybody else, and thanks in advance for you kind endeavor.