E – Linguistic Meaning of Attributes is Understood, Not Modality
The linguistic meanings of the Attributes are understood but not the manner of their existence.
The Names of Allah have a literal, apparent meaning that everyone can understand. However, some people automatically assume this means anthropomorphism. That is, to say Allah actually has a Hand, they automatically assume you mean like the hand of the creation. This is an evil presumption to make by automatically jumping to tashbih. The concept of a hand is understood, but the modality of it is not. Uniqueness of His Names and Attributes does not mean He has no Hand, rather, His hand is not like ours, and we do not know how it is, nor do we question it.
Another important point is to be consistent with that methodology. We take that approach in regards to all His Names and Attributes. Other groups would pick and choose. If one starts to claim that some ayaat are metaphorical, then what is there to stop them with doing this to every single ayah of the Quran? Again, the Quran is sent such that we can read it and understand its basic message, it is not an intellectual puzzle.
An important narration regarding this issue is the athar of Imam Maalik, one version of which is:
Yahya bin Yahya (d. 234AH) reported, “We were sitting with Malik bin Anas when a man came in and asked, “‘ar-Rahmaanu ‘alal arsh istawaa‘ (The Most Merciful rose over the Throne [20:5]), how did He istiwaa?” At this, Malik lowered his head until sweat began to pour down his forehead (out of anger). The he replied, ‘The istiwaa is not unknown, and the kayf (howness) is not comprehensible; believing in it is obligatory, and asking questions about it is an innovation. And I am sure that you are an innovator.’ He then commanded that the man be expelled.” [Bayhaqi’s Asma wa al-Sifat]
There are many lessons from this narration. First, it is clear that the man understood istiwaa to mean rise above, and not ‘conquer’ (istawla) or some other meaning. Also, Imam Malik beautifully explained that not only is there a meaning, but we understand it, we affirm it, it is obligatory to believe in it, and at the same time the ‘howness’ of it is not understood, nor can it be understood. This is a rule that can be applied to all of the Names and Attributes of Allah (swt).
This is also in clear contradiction to those who claim istiwaa does not mean to rise above, or those who claim istiwaa has a meaning, but we don’t know what the meaning is. It also shows that we do not make anthropormorphism, but are in the middle path between the extremes of denial and affirmation.