Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (Imaam of the Later Ash'aris): If the Prophet Invited to Belief in Allaah Through the Language and Terminology of the Ash'arites, Not even One in a Thousand Would Accept It! Rather the Majority Would Tend to Atheism!
Posted by Abu.Iyaad on Wednesday, August, 26 2009 and filed under Articles
Key topics: Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali

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

We have mentioned in numerous articles previously that if the common folk were to come to terms with much of what is kept hidden in the books of the Ash'aris, then they would not hesitate in rejecting the Ash'ari madhhab in its totality. And there is no need to waste our own words in this matter when the Imaams of the Ash'aris have very clearly expressed it in their own words.

Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 505H) is one of the major figureheads of the Later Ash'aris. Recall that the Later Ash'aris reverted back to much of the ta'teel of the Jahmites and Mu'tazilites, unlike the earlier Ash'aris such as al-Ash'ari himself (d. 324H), Ibn Mahdi at-Tabari (d. 380H) al-Baqillani (d. 403H) and others who held positions close to the people of the Sunnah - Allaah being above the Throne with His Essence without Jismiyyah, and having Face, Hands, and Eyes without takyeef, or ta'weel being some examples.

The Later Ash'aris set off on a path where they diverted the creed of the Early Ash'aris away from much of the ithbaat (affirmation) and towards the Kalaam (theological speculation), ta'teel (negation) and ta'weel (figurative interpretation) of the Jahmites and Mu'tazilites. This is readily apparent to the one who compares between the writings of the Early Ash'aris and the Later Ash'aris - and this is despite the fact that the Early Ash'aris still demonstrate the remnants of considerable influence from their Mu'tazilee roots.

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali On the Reality of the Creed of the Ash'arites

Al-Ghazali has a short book, "Iljaam al-Awaam an Ilm il-Kalaam" (Bridling the Common Folk Away From the Science of Theological Speculation). This short booklet is essentially a polemical work aimed at defending the Ash'arite creed (in its later form with strong Jahmite and Mu'tazilite tones), and he lays down what he claims was the way of the Salaf, and then proceeds to lay down arguments about the use of language, and the use of metaphors and so on, until he comes to a part where he answers certain objections. And here is where he makes some stark revelations and admissions ... just read them for yourself!

Here is the cover for an old print:

Here is the piece in question from this print:

And now one that is easier to read:

And we can now proceed to the translation:

So if it is said:

Why did he (the Prophet) not remove the cover from what was intended [of the matter of belief] through the application of the word "al-ilaah", and (why did he) not say,

  • 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

For this is the truth with a people [such as the Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah and Ash'ariyyah ed.], and it is possible to express that (belief) in this manner [using these words] just like the Mutakallimoon have expressed it. And there is no shortcoming in his (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam's) expression, and nor any laxity in his desire to reveal the truth, and nor any deficiency in his acquaintance (knowledge).

We say [in response]: Whoever considered this [i.e. what the Mutakallimoon are upon] to be the reality of the truth has made excuse through (the following): That if he (the Messenger) mentioned it, the people would have fled from its acceptance, and they would have hastened to reject (it), and they would have said: "This is completely impossible", and they would have fallen in to rejection (at-ta'teel), and there is no goodness in exaggerating in (such) tanzeeh that results in at-ta'teel in the case of all people except a small minority.

And the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) was sent as a caller unto the creation [inviting them] to the bliss of the Hereafter, as a mercy to all of creation. How can he speak with that in which there is the destruction of the majority. Rather, he was commanded not to speak except at the level of the people's intellects. And he (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, "Whoever spoke to the people with speech that they do not understand, then it would be a tribulation for some of them", or words with this meaning.

If it is then said:

If in exaggeration in at-tanzeeh there is the fear of at-ta'teel in relation to some (of the people), then in his (the Prophet's) use of presumptive words there is the fear of at-tashbeeh in relation to some (of the people).

We say: There is a difference between them both from two angles:

The first of them: That [the former] invites to at-ta'teel in the case of the majority and this [the latter] brings about at-tashbeeh in the case of the minority, and the least of two harms are more worthy of being undertaken, and the greater of the two hamrs are more worthy of being avoided.

And the second: That treating the presumption of at-tashbeeh is easier than treating at-ta'teel. Since it is sufficient for it to be said, alongside the apparent (meanings of the) texts, "There is nothing like unto Him... (Shooraa 42:11), and that He is not a jism (body) and nor like the bodies (ajsaam).

As for affirming Him in belief as existing, and upon what we have mentioned of exaggeration in at-tanzeeh, it is extremely hard. In fact, not even one in a thousand would accept it, especially (amongst) the Arab nation.

Please go back and read that again two more times to confirm that you have read what you have just read ...

Let's see what we have here:

  • The objection is: How come the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) - despite being the most eloquent in expression, having the desire to clarify the truth, having full knowledge (of what is revealed to him regarding belief in Allaah) - never used the terms that the Mutakallimoon use to explain the truth regarding Allaah? Terms such as "He is not a jism (body), nor jawhar (substance), nor 'arad (incidental attribute)" and so on?

  • Al-Ghazali says that those who hold such descriptions to be the truth (i.e. himself and the Mutakallimoon), their excuse and explanation for this is that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) did not use these words (of the Mutakallimoon) because the people would have essentially disbelieved in the Lord that he would have described in this manner. The vast majority would have declared it an impossibility.

  • Al-Ghazali continues and says, how could the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) speak with something that would cause destruction for the majority of the people (as it relates to their belief). In other words the Ash'arite creed, as expounded by these people, if the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) spoke with its phrases and expressions, it would have caused destruction for the majority of the people!

  • Then he says that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had to essentially choose between leading a minority to fall into tashbeeh (resemblance between Allah and His creation), or leading the majority to fall into ta'teel (negation of a Lord described in the manner of the Mutakallimoon) - so he chose the lesser of the two harms and avoided the greater of the two harms!

  • Then he says to deal with tashbeeh is easy, you simply say "There is nothing like unto Him...". So no harm if a minority of people fell into tashbeeh through the words chosen by the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), it can be dealt with easily. But as for affirmation of the belief that the Mutakallimoon express with their exaggeration in what they call tanzeeh (purifying Allaah), then it is extremely hard to get people to believe that, without them rejecting it outright. In fact, not even one person in a thousand would accept it! Thus the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) did not adopt that path!

  • al-Ghazali claims that the fault and blame here is not upon the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam), but upon the people and their shortcoming, and for this reason the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had to speak with metaphors! In other words, its the people's fault that they are not able to understand the language of the Mutakallimoon, and for this reason, the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) had to use figurative speech in order to get them to believe in a Lord whom He had to describe as being "upon the Throne", and "above the heaven" and "above them" in the sense of location! - just to get them to accept the foundation of belief in Divinity without subjecting them to difficulties.

Then al-Ghazali continues straight after, saying:

The translation of which is

Then if it is said:

Does the inability of the people to understand provide the excuse for the Prophets to affirm [certain] matters into their beliefs [i.e. the people's beliefs] that are different to how they really are, in order to establish the foundation of Ilaahiyyah (Divinity) into their belief - such that they make them presume, by way of example, that Allaah is established upon the Throne, and that He is above (fee) the heaven, and that He is above them, with the aboveness of location (makaan)?

We say (in response): Refuge is with Allaah that we should think that, or that it be presumed about a truthful prophet that He describes Allaah with other than what He is [truly] described with, and that He should enter that into the belief of the creation. For the consequence of the creation's shortcoming is in it being mentioned to them what they have the ability to understand and what they do not understand...

Thus, he does not inform them but withholds from them. And he only speaks with such (matters) to those who have the ability and who understand it, and he is able in that regard to do well to treat the inability of the creation and their shortcoming (in understanding). And there is no necessity for deliberately making them understand (something) in opposition to the truth, especially regarding the Attributes of Allaah.

Yes, he has a necessity in using metaphorical words, and perhaps some may err in understanding them, but that is due to the deficiency of the languages, and the necessity of dialogues [between the Prophet and those whom he is calling]. But as for making them understand (something) in opposition to the truth, with deliberate intent to make them ignorant, then it is impossible, regardless of whether a benefit (maslaha) is presupposed therein or not.

What this essentially means is that the deficiency is in the creation in their inability to grasp the truth of what he informed them of, so the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) only spoke of such matters in that way (i.e. Allaah being above the Throne, above the Heaven, established upon the Throne) to people who had the ability to understand them in the right way - which means upon the way of the Mutakallimoon. And that it was a necessity for the Prophet to use only metaphors because no language is perfectly able to express what needs to be expressed of the precision or subtlety of meaning. So the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) never deliberately intended to keep people ignorant by making them understand matters upon other than what they really are by making the people presume such beliefs through the use of such language. Instead he was compelled to only speak such things specifically to those who were able to understand them in the right way and who did not have deficiencies in understanding. And by taking this selective approach the Prophet was able to treat this problem of this deficiency of the people in this regard.

Practically, this means that the Prophet would only say "Allaah is above the heaven", to those who would understand and know that "Allaah doesn't have a direction" and "Allaah is not in location" and "Allaah is not within the universe and nor outside of it" and "Allaah is not a jism, or a jawhar or an 'arad" and so on - and as for those who were not able to understand, he would withhold from them.

This also means that according to the Ash'arites, the revealed texts contain words and statements that amount to manifest kufr or give the presumption of manifest kufr.

And here you should make a realization which is that often, the Later Ash'aris bring doubts and misconceptions, regarding their own creed and methodology in an attempt to refute them, but these doubts they bring and present are in fact much stronger than the actual replies they bring, their replies making their position look even more pathetic and more apparent in falsehood, and this occurs from the likes of al-Ghazali (d. 505H) and ar-Raazee (d. 606H) and others, and illustration of this with examples is a subject on its own.