The Debates of al-Jahm bin Safwan (Summary Execution 128H) With the Indian Materialist Philosophers And the Origins of Ta'teel Within the Ummah
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Wednesday, August, 12 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Jahm Bin Safwan Ta'teel Sumaniyyah Jahm Bin Safwan Ta'teel Sumaniyyah

All praise is due to Allah and may the prayers and salutations be upon His Messenger to proceed:

The content below was part of a previous longer article, we have reproduced it here on its own as this particular issue is very significant and important in relation to understanding the deviation of the Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah and the Ash'ariyyah (and the Maturidiyyah). By grasping what occurred between al-Jahm bin Safwaan in his debates with the Indian Materialist Philosophers, and between al-Ja'd bin Dirham and the Sabean Harranian Philosophers the entire issue of ta'teel (negation of Allaah's Names and Attributes) should become clear inshaa'Allaah.

For more details you can read the longer article on this subject here.

The Chief, Imaam, Flagbearer and Champion of all of the Factions in ta'teel is al-Jahm bin Safwaan

It is mentioned by the likes of Imaam Ahmad (in the book "ar-Radd alal Jahmiyyah waz-zanaadiqah") and al-Bukhaaree (in the book "Khalq Af'aal il-Ibaad wa-Radd alal-Jahmiyyah wa As.haab it-Ta'teel") and others that Jahm bin Safwaan used to debate with the Sumaniyyah and was overwhelmed by them, that he was led to doubt his Lord, and to overcome this doubt he devised what became the Jahmite religion (of negation of Allaah's Attributes amongst other things).

Imaam Bukaaree said in "Khalq Af'aal il-Ibaad" (p.9):

Damurah said: From Ibn Shawdhab: al-Jahm abandoned the prayer for forty days due to doubt. He argued with some of the Sumaniyyah, became doubtful and spent forty days without praying.

And there occurs "Buhooth Fil-Milal wan-Nihal" (3/437), indicates that debates with these Indian Philosophers, the Sumaniyyah, was something that the Mu'tazilah were upon also, he says, speaking about the Mu'tazilah:

...And then the period of ar-Rasheed came (170H-193H) and history narrates about their vigour during his time, to such an extent that there were none who argued with the Sumaniyyah besides them...

So we see that these types of debates with the Philosophers and the mulhids (atheists) were what led to the evolution of this approach. Those who pioneered this approach (in laying down this rational proof) were the Jahmites and the Mu'tazilites in the second century after hijrah, and when the Ash'aris came they simply adopted the same foundations - and especially the Later Ash'aris, after al-Juwaynee who took the Ash'aris much more down the Jahmite path.

Jahm Debating the Sumaniyyah: Part 1

We can now move onto Jahm's debates with the Sumaniyyah. Imaam Ahmad said in "ar-Radd alal-Jahmiyyah" (page 93 onwards):

So from what has reached us of the affair of al-Jahm, the enemy of Allaah, is that he was from the people of Khurasaan, from the people of Tirmidh, and he was a person of much disputation and theological rhetoric (Kalaam), and most of his theological rhetoric was regarding Allaah... So he met a people amongst the disbelievers called the Sumaniyyah. So they came to know Jahm and they said to him: "We will argue with you and if our proof overcomes you, you will enter our religion, and if your proof overcomes us, we will enter your religion".

So from the things that they spoke to Jahm about was that they said to him: "Do you not claim that you have an ilaah (deity)?" So the Jahmite (i.e. al-Jahm) said, "Yes". So they said, "Have you seen your deity directly?" He said, "No." They said, "Have you heard His speech?" He said, "No." They said, "Have you smelt any fragrance of His?" He said, "No." They said, "Have you been able to touch Him?" He said, "No." They said, "Have you perceived him with any senses?" He said, "No." They said to him: "So you don't know that he is a deity?". So Jahm became bewildered, and did not know what he was worshipping for forty-days.

So they overwhelmed Jahm and argued against him by saying that this proves your ilaah (deity) is non-existent, because he cannot be perceived by the five senses. So Jahm went and thought, and tried to find a way to overcome them.

Imaam Ahmad continues:

Then he redressed [this defeat by devising] a proof similar to the heretics of the Christians. The heretics of the Christians claim that the spirit that is within Eesaa (Jesus) is the spirit (rooh) of Allaah, from Allaah's Essence. So when He (Allaah) wants to bring about something, He enters into some of His creation and speaks upon the tongue of that (created person), and thus He commands with whatever He wills and forbids with whatever He wills. But is a spirit that is absent from (the people's) vision.

So Jahm devised a proof just like this one and so he said to the Sumaniyy: "Do you not claim that there is spirit (i.e. soul) within you? He said, "Yes." He (Jahm) said: "Have you seen your spirit?" He said, "No." He said: "Have you heard its speech?" He said, "No." He said: "Have you perceived it with the senses or been able to touch it?" He said, "No." So he (Jahm) said: Thus is Allaah, He has no face that can be seen, and no voice that can be heard, and no fragrance that can be smelt, and He is absent from (the people's) vision, and He is not in any one specific place exclusive to another..."

Then Imaam Ahmad says that he found three verses in the Qur'aan, "There is nothing like unto Him..." (42:11), and "He is Allaah in the Heavens and in the Earth..." (6:3) and "No vision can grasp Him, but His Grasp is over all vision..." (6:103).

And Imaam Ahmad continues later:

Thus, he instituted the religion of the Jahmites. And when people asked them about the verse, "There is nothing like unto Him..." (42:11), what is its explanation (tafseer)? They would say:

"There is nothing like unto Him..." from amongst the things. And He is beneath the seven earths as He is above the Throne, no place is devoid of Him, and He is not in any one specific place exlusive to another. He has not spoken and does not speak. He has not looked towards anyone in the world, and nor (will He) in the Hereafter. He is not described (with anything). He is not known by any attribute or any action. He has no limit or end (i.e. demarcation). He is not grasped by the intellect. He is the face of all of it (i.e. existence). He is the knowledge of all of it. He is the hearing of all of it. He is the seeing of all of it. He is the light of all of it. He is the power of all of it. He is not two things. He is not described by two different descriptions. He does not have a "highest" and a "lowest" and nor directions or sides, neither a right nor left, and neither is He light nor heavy, and He does not have color, or a body (jism) and nor is He known (ma'loom) or understood (ma'qool). And everything that you (imagine) in your heart which is considered a "thing", then He is different to it.

So we see that all of this is negation (salb) - these are all sifaat salbiyyah (attributes of negation) - Jahm described Allaah with negatives. And all of this came about due to his debates with the Sumaniyyah. And he was also the student of al-Ja'd bin Dirham. And this is what al-Ja'd bin Dirham took from the Harranian "pseudo"-Sabian Philosophers, who were the remnants of the Chaldeans who described Allaah only with sifaat salbiyyah (attributes of negation) - see this article for more on al-Ja'd.

And the explanation of the above is since the Sumaniyyah only believed in what was perceivable by the senses, Jahm indicated to them - [using the argument he derived from what the Christians hold regarding Eesaa (alayhis salaam)] that Allaah is everywhere and in everything - just like souls occupy their bodies (i.e. the Sumaniyyah believing their souls are in their bodies) and just like they cannot see, feel, touch, and hear or perceive their souls - even though souls occupy them, then similarly Allaah is everywhere but cannot be seen, felt, touched, and He is not described with anything with what things are described with. And thus he managed to repair the damage that the Sumaniyyah had done to him which had bewildered and confused him. And in this manner, he tried to impress upon those Indian Philosophers.

And this was the origin of the saying of the Jahmiyyah that Allaah is in every place, and it was on the basis of this saying that they negated that Allaah is above the Throne - why because they argued "Allaah is not in one place exclusive to others" on the basis of this belief that al-Jahm invented.

Jahm Debating the Sumaniyyah: Part 2

We can take upon another element of Jahm's debates with the Sumaniyyah, and remember the Sumaniyyah were Naturalists, part of their belief was that everything exists due to natural causes and can be explained by way of them. So there is no creator - everything has always been there and natural causes explain everything.

So we'll take up this matter from the words of Shaykh Salih Aal us-Shaykh in his explanation of al-Hamawiyyah:

... and al-Jahm bin Safwaan ... was a faqeeh, he had something of knowledge of fiqh, and he made some ijtihaad in debating this faction of Naturalists, those who spoke with the transmigration of souls and this is the faction (called) the Sumaniyyah, a faction from the factions of Khurasaan and India. He argued with them regarding the existence of Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, and they confused him, until they said about him, "He is perplexed", and so he spent forty days not praying on account of the severity of his bewilderment.

And this was because he argued in the debate without expansive knowledge of what is necessary and desirable in arguing with the likes of those (people).

This led him to try and establish the existence of Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, for them and he did not find any evidence by which he could establish the existence of Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, except what was later called the way of "hulool, or Hudooth ul-a'raad fil-ajsaam" (the occurrence of unnessential attributes in bodies), or the way of "al-Jawhar al-Fard" (the indivisible particle).

This way has its own details, however the intent here is that it is a way that opposes that which came in the Qur'aan and the Sunnah of affirmation of the existence of Allaah the Mighty and Majestic, and what the human fitrah necessitates that a man did not originate by his own action, and nor by the action of his parents, and there have been brought together within him (i.e. in his body) such instruments with an amazing composition - it is impossible to everyone with intellect that time or nature brought them into existence in this amazing manner.

But he took that path, which is the path of "hulool ul-a'raad fil-ajsaam" (the occurrence of unessential attributes in bodies) and he said, that an unessential attribute ('arad) cannot self-exist (be established of its own accord) - and unessential attributes, such as colors, and the four natural qualities of heat, cold, wetness, dryness, and the likes of elevating, lowering, movement and so on. These are unessential attributes (a'raad) in a body (jism).

So when (the matter was) like this, he (Jahm) said: These unessential attributes occur in an inanimate body (al-jism al-jaamid), and it is not possible that the inanimate body brought about those incidental unessential attributes by itself - rather they were brought into existence into it (by an external agent).

Similarly, this inanimate body, if we break it up into smaller parts, we will eventually end up with what they call al-Jawhar al-Fard (the indivisible particle), and this indivisible particle, which is the single particle or the single part, this also has an unessential attribute ('arad) from amongst those that we have mentioned.

And it is known that this single particle is not able to bring about that unessential attribute for itself. It cannot bring about ascent (rising) in itself, and nor coldness, heat, or wetness and so on. So it is known, therefore, that this (attribute) must have been brought about in it (muhdath, by an external agent), and if it was placed in it like this, then it must have a muhdith (the one who brought this attribute about into it).

And when (the affair is) like this, then this small particle, or this body in which incidental attributes occur, then it departs from the judgement of having been brought about by nature, because it is not possible for this particle, which is nature itself, to bring about those types of effects (on itself).

So the intent here is that they conceded to him that bodies (ajsaam) must have a muhdith (one that brougth them about). So they said to him: "Who is this Muhdith?" He (Jahm) said, "He is my Lord, He is Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic". So when they conceded to him (with this argumentation), he rejoiced. And then they said to him: "Describe your Lord to us". But when he wanted to describe Him on account of what has come in the Qur'aan, of the Attributes, he became more bewildered.

Because he found that if he described Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic, with what has come in the Qur'an, then that will falsify his evidence which he mentioned, because if he described Allaah, the Mighty and Majestic with "ar-Raheem (the Merciful), who possesses rahmah (mercy)", then mercy is an unessential incidental attribute ('arad), mercy is not a body in itself that can be seen, it exists only as an 'arad (incidental attribute) [which according to this proof, can only exist in a body, and thus this body must have been brought about (Muhdath)].

So this meant that this incidental attribute ('arad) must have ocurred in a body, and this would have falsified his evidence which he brought. Because they would have said: "Who is the one that brought about this mercy in your Lord, O Jahm?". So he looked into the attributes, such as those (denoting) motion, like al-majee' (coming), and al-ityaan (arrival), and he looked at al-istiwaa, which is ascending over the Throne, and al-uluww and so on. So he became bewildered, confused.

And when he did not find any proof for Allaah's existence except for this one, he said (in thought, to himself), "This is my definitive proof and it is necessary that everything that weakens this definitive proof, or which falsifies it, must be interpreted (with ta'weel)" so he began to distort (make ta'weel of) all of the texts of the Attributes.

And this is what the Mu'tazilah followed him in, then the Kullaabiyyah, then the Ash'ariyyah and so on.

So the above is clear and self-explanatory. So Jahm in his debates with the Sumaniyyah had to reject all of the Attributes in order to keep his intellectual proof intact. And this is why Jahm began to deny what he denied.

  • He denied that Allaah spoke to Moosaa (alaihis salaam). Why was that? It would have meant that an event (haadith) occurred in Allaah, in that He spoke to Moosaa, after having not spoken to Moosaa. So this is an event, and events only take place in bodies, so Allaah must be a body, so Allaah cannot have spoken to Moosaa, and only in this manner can we establish Allaah is not a body (jism) that is subject to events. So we see the origins of "Jahmeespeak".

  • And likewise, he said the Qur'an was created, if the Qur'an was Allaah's speech, then in places, Allaah speaks the Qur'an in relation to events which took place, and this means Allaah's instances of speaking occurred after those instances of speaking had not occurred -and thus this is an 'arad (unessential attribute) or something that is haadith (an event, occurrence) - and in any case, the whole Qur'an, if it is Allaah's speech, is an 'arad and a haadith, and thus this would mean that Allaah is a body (like the created bodies) that is subject to a'raad and hawaadith. So this means that the Qur'aan cannot be his speech (according to Jahmeespeak) - and thus it must be something created - otherwise it demolishes our (Jahmite) argument against the Atheists and Naturalists. And the Mu'tazilites followed Jahm in that, the Kullabites followed the Mu'tazilites in that - but concocted their own saying - of Kalam Nafsee - and the Ash'arites followed their predecessors in that (the Jahmites, Mu'taziliates, Kullaabites) - and they were all compelled to this, because of what they made the foundation of their religion.

  • And Jahm negated there is a Lord above the heaven, above the Throne - taking this from al-Ja'd bin Dirham. Why because aboveness, elevation is an incidental attribute of a body (jism), so this must be negated from him, in order to keep the intellectual proof intact. So Allaah is not above, rather he is everywhere according to the Hulooli Jahmites, and he is neither inside the universe, nor outside of it, according to the Mu'attil Jahmites.

  • And the Jahmites negated Allaah's sifaat fi'liyyah (like istiwaa, Nuzool and so on) because these actions necessitate hawaadith, and a'raad (unessential attributes or occurrences events, attributes that occurred after they did not exist) - and this would necessitate Allaah is a body subject to events, which would falsify their intellectual argument and show that Allaah must be created - so they had to reject these attributes.

Now we can relate to why Jahm negated what he negated and why he spoke with the bid'ahs that he spoke with. And now the origins of ta'teel and of Jahmeespeak should start to become more and more clear - and now we can see why these people were forced to take the positions they took. All because they made the demonstration of the created nature of the universe with the use of substance and accident and Atomism to be the foundation of their religion.

And then they made all of this to be Tawheed, so Tawheed became stripping Allaah of His Names and Attributes until He became but a notion of oneness that exists only in the mind - devoid of Names and Attributes or any form of description (to the Jahmites) and negation of the Attributes (to the Mu'tazilah) and negation of the Sifaat Fi'liyyah and sifaat Khabariyyah (to the Ash'arite Kullaabites) and so on. So this is what they made Tawheed into - to strip Allaah of His Attributes which He affirmed for Himself. Why? Because of their rational argument of "hudooth ul-ajsaam", through Atomism and substance (al-jawhar) and accident (al-'arad).

And when they took this approach - they were forced to dispute with each other on subsidiary issues - and so we see the Ash'arites disputing with the Mu'tazilites, and these two disputing with the Jahmites - but the asl of them all is the same - they only dispute in subsidiary issues in relation to what can and cannot be denied (to keep the rational proof intact) and what methods can and cannot be used to achieve this rejection.

And we see some Ash'aris who hold ta'weel is the way (to negate Allaah's attributes in order to keep the intellectual proof intact) refuting other Ash'arites who hold tafweed is the way - and vice versa. And we see the Ash'arites refuting some of the Mu'tazilites for claiming that the smallest particle is in fact divisible infinitely - but they both hold onto the notion of al-Jawhar al-Fard - the basic principle and they argue only on subsidiary details. So do not be deceived by their philosophical Jahmeespeak.

And every Muslim in whom there is sound fitrah knows the falsity of this and that this is not the deen of the Messengers, and this is why the smart amongst the Ash'arites, they say to their common folk, "You just need to know the very basics of your creed, don't go too deep..." due to their knowledge and realization that the inherent fitrah of a person will reject what the Mu'attilah have made to be the usool of their religion.

We can now see more clearly the realities, the origins of Jahmeespeak, and the evolution of ta'weel and tafweed as a means of accommodating what has come in the Book and the Sunnah under the umbrella of what they acquired from the philosophies of the Greeks and from the "pseudo"-Sabean Harranian Philosophers and what they fabricated in order to win debates with the Indian Philosophers and Naturalists.