Aristotle and The Ash'arite Doctrines Of Substance (Jawhar) and Non-Essential Incidental Attribute ('Arad)
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Friday, July, 03 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Aristotle Jawhar 'arad A'raad Substance Accident Aristotle Jawhar 'arad A'raad Substance Accident

Between the Sunni Affirmer and the Jahmite Ash'ari Negator

When a Sunni Affirmer says,

I believe that Allaah is above His servants, above His creation, ascended above the Throne as He has textually and manifestly stated in His Book, in the clear Arabic tongue, addressing a people who clearly understood the meaning of what they were being addressed with:

So He said, "ar-Rahmaan ascended above the Throne" and He said, "And He is al-Qaahir, above His servants", and He said, "The Angels and the Rooh (i.e. Jibreel) ascend up to Him" and the abundant verses similar to this. And then we have in the Sunnah, the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) ascending up to his Lord (al-Mi'raaj), the Angels descending from their Lord, and ascending to Him, the saying of the Prophet to the Khawaarij, "Do you not trust me whereas I am the ameen (trusted one) of the one who is above the sky..." and the supplication of ruqya, "... Our Lord, Allaah, who is above the heaven, your name be sanctified..." and so on from the abundant ahaadeeth which reach the level of tawaaatur (large-scale successive transmission). And then what we have from the statements of the Companions and then those after them, which reach hundreds, if not thousands...

And this is what I speak with and affirm for Allaah the Most High - upon the principle:

  • That there is no one more knowledge of Allaah than Himself, and there is no one more eloquent in describing Himself than Himself and that there is no one more eloquent in His creation in describing Him than His Messenger (sallallahu alayhi wasallam)

And there are multiples upon multiples of the statements of His Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) affirming what is in the Book in that Allaah is above the creation, above His Throne.

And also upon the principle

  • That I do not affirm for Allaah except what He affirmed for Himself, sticking to the wording of what He affirmed for Himself, be that a Name, Attribute or Action, and I negate for Allaah whatever he negated for Himself, sticking to the (methodology of the) texts in negating for Allaah
And everything I affirm for Allaah - then there is - by the textual ruling of the Book - no likeness of it from that which the creation is described with. And this is the trodden path of Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthmaan, Alee, the Muhaajiroon, the Ansaar and the generality of the Sahaabah (radiallaahu anhum), and I guide myself by their way.

The Jahmite Ash'ari Distorter says (with the tongue of disposition):

I believe in the philosophical doctrines based upon the notion of substance (jawhar) and incidental attribute ('arad) spoken of by Aristotle and his likes on the basis of which I have truly understood the Tawheed that neither the Messenger (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was able to eloquently express and nor his companions were able to understand and convey.

Rather, they consistently used phrases and expressions that in our view tend towards tashbeeh and Tajseem, and thus your use of that same language in speaking about Allaah tends to the same.

The real understanding of Tawheed was not acquired and promulgated until our Ash'ari Scholars clarified it, being illuminated therein by [our application of] Aristotle's jawhar and 'arad and the notion of al-Jawhar al-Fard (the indivisible particle) of the Greeks and Hindus before us.

Based upon this illumination which we have been blessed with and which you are deprived of, it is clear to me that you have attributed to Allaah a direction, and anything that is in a direction is enclosed in space - and direction and enclosure by space are attributes of bodies, substances (ajsaam, which are made of jawaahir) and everything that is created is but jawhar (substance) and 'arad (unessential attribute, or accident), and thus you (by saying Allaah is "above") have likened Allaah to be a body like the bodies and thus you have uttered what is kufr (disbelief).

And no doubt, by way of this illumination of ours, we are better guided than you in the use of phrases and expressions in speaking about our Lord.

So unless you abandon your expressions (i.e. those of Allaah and His Messenger):

  • He is al-Qaahir, above His servants,
  • The One who is above the Heaven,
  • Ar-Rahmaan ascended over the Throne,
  • The Angels ascend to Him ...

and adopt only ours [which we have derived from our philosophical illuminations derived from what we borrowed from the notions of the Greek Philosophers]:

  • Allaah is not in a direction,
  • Allaah is not in a space,
  • Allaah is not above ...

you will not leave the darknesses of Tajseem and nor be saved from the misguidance of tashbeeh.

Explanatory Notes and Points

Point 1: The Logic and Metaphysics of Aristotle

Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, understood observable reality to be made up of substances (jawaahir, plural of jawhar) and unessential attributes, also called accidents (a'raad, plural of 'arad). So everything created is substance or accident. To illustrate what this means, a chair is a substance, and it's being brown is merely an incidental attribute that does not affect it's being a chair at all, so being brown (i.e. colour) is an attribute that is non-essential to its being a chair. Accidents (a'raad) can only exist in substances (jawaahir), and accidents are basically changes and modifications that substances go through. To give another example, a headache is an incidental attribute ('arad) occurring in a man (jawhar). Accidents cannot exist in and of themselves. Thus a headache can't exist on its own, it needs substance (jawhar, in this case a man) for it to occur. Aristotle put accidents into nine categories that include amongst others a) quantity, b) quality, c) time, and d) place.

Some other Greek Philosophers spoke of the indivisible particle described as "Atomism", this was also spoken of by the Hindu Philosophers. Though not all the Greek Philosophers agreed upon this, having considerable debate and discussion around it, the basic notion was adopted by the Mu'tazilah and then after them the Ash'ariyyah and they incorporated it into their theology.

When they adopted these classifications of observable reality, they made it the concrete foundation upon what could or could not be said regarding Allaah, the Most High. And thus they used it to deny and negate much of what is in the Book and the Sunnah.

Point 2: The Ash'arite Adoption of the Aristotelian and Greek and Hindu Philosophy Into Their Theology

Qaadee Abu Bakr al-Baqillani, who is perhaps the second most important figure in the Ash'ari madhhab, formalized and codified the basic elements of Aristotle's substance and accident (jawhar and 'arad) in his book at-Tamheed. This became the basis for rationally proving the eternal existence of a creator and the created nature of the universe. Aristotle's notion of substance and accident (as a means of understanding observable reality) and also what is called "Atomism" (al-Jawhar al-Fard) - developed by both Greek and Hindu Philosophers played a considerable role in influencing the Ash'arite's positions towards other issues of belief in Allaah, such as their view on the sifaat (Attributes), al-qadr (Divine Decree), ta'theer ul-asbaab (inherent qualities created in things that produce effects) and so on.

Point 3: The Origin of the Denial of Allaah Being Above His Creation, Above His Throne

The first to deny Allaah' being above His Throne were al-Ja'd bin Dirham and Jahm ibn Safwaan, and al-Ja'd the true and real originator of the Jahmites (Jahm took from him) was influenced by the Mushrik Sabean Philosophers in the land he came from and he brought this into the Ummah. After the Jahmites popularized this (and other deviations in belief), the Mu'tazilah, upon the influence of Greek philosophy carried it further. And Abu Hasan al-Ash'ari was an Imaam of the Mu'tazilah and spent forty years upon that before abandoning it - though not being completely free of its influence. And these Ash'arite Theologians simply continued upon this, and they likewise adopted and formalized the philosophical concepts of the Greeks and made them integral to their theology. However, the earlier ones (like al-Baqillani) were much better than the later ones (Like al-Juwaynee, and al-Ghazaali and ar-Raazee) - holding positions in some areas of creed that were good and sound (such as al-uluww and in some of the attributes).

Most Ash'arites, sadly, have to be literally blind not to see this - which couldn't be a more clearer indication of the falsehood they are upon in denying Allaah being above the creation. On what basis do they deny it - yes, Greek philosophical concepts of classifying all created reality to be either jawhar (substance) or 'arad (unnessential attribute) and using this as a basis to make judgement upon the Book and the Sunnah and what Allaah can or cannot be described with.

So what is their chain of narration, or chain of influence for rejecting Allaah being above His Throne? Mushrik Sabean Philosophers, al-Ja'd bin Dirham, al-Jahm bin Safwaan, Bishr al-Mareesee the master of ta'weel (tahreef), the Mu'tazilah, and the Greek Philosophers.