1. Speaking in a certain way about some Attributes is the same as speaking about all.
2. Speaking about Allah’s Attributes is like speaking about Allah’s Essence (Dhaat).
The most ‘controversial’ Attributes of Allah are those related to His Essence – e.g. His Hand, or Face. Ash’aris and groups who make metaphorical interpretations of Allah’s Attributes are extremely inconsistent. In fact, the atheists who deny them en masse are actually more consistent and logical! It does not make sense to affirm the Knowledge of Allah, or His Life, and then say His Hand means power.
Ibn Abbas said, “There is nothing of this world present in Jannah except for the names.”
And Allah(swt) says,
And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens [in Paradise] beneath which rivers flow. Whenever they are provided with a provision of fruit therefrom, they will say, “This is what we were provided with before.” And it is given to them in likeness. And they will have therein purified spouses, and they will abide therein eternally.[2:25]
It is obvious the fruits and rivers, etc. in this life are not the same as the Hereafter, however, the descriptions are there so we can understand the concepts.
As for the second principle, then it can be summarized simply. Everyone affirms that Allah exists. Do we also exist? Yes. No one takes from this that our existence is the same, however, it is a commonality.
We cannot comprehend or explain Allah.
Ta’til means to deny and tajseem means to commit anthropomorphism (compare Allah to the creation). A mu’attil and a mujassim are, respectively, ones who commit those acts.
The gist of this rule is that the people who deny (ta’til) Allah’s Attributes do so out of a fear of commiting tajseem. They automatically conceive of the Attribute in an anthropomorphic manner and thus deny the clear, explicit meanings of the verses of Quran. In this process they compare Allah to other objects or non-existant, impossible objects and deny Allah of His perfect Attributes.
Those who actually do go so far as to commit tajseem make ta’til by denying the true meaning of the ayaat and denying Allah the Attributes He deserves.
The classical mujassimah (anthropomorphic) groups of Islam were, for the most part, Rafidah (shia) groups (although, in later times, the Shi’a are predominantly Mu’tazili). The non-Shia groups were primarily Sufis who believed that there was no existence except Allah (wahdatul wajood).
This is to contrast the Ash’aris who accuse Ahlus Sunnah now of being ‘anthropomorphic’. Note, these accusations against Ahlus Sunnah did not start until after the actual mujassimah groups died out.
A word can have a general meaning, but when attributes to something else it becomes more specific. For example, light has a general meaning. But when you attribute it to the sun (sunlight) or the moon (moonlight) it becomes more specific.
So for example, the creation may have aspects of rahmah (mercy), but when one refers to the Rahmah of Allah, it is much more specific.
here are 3 types of idaafah (possession)
Attribution of a characteristic to its owner, and this does not change. For example, the ‘Ilm of Allah. Sifaat Dhaatiyyah.
Attribution of an object to its owner, and this is objects that exist in and of themselves, not concepts. For example, the house of Allah, or the camel of Allah.
Attribution of a verb or action to the one who does it, and this is a concept, not an object, and it is not static. For example, “your Lord comes…” Sifaat Fi’liyyah.
These concepts were misunderstood by deviant groups. For example, the first category was denied by the Mu’tazilah and affirmed by Ash’aris. The second category was not disputed as all understood these objects separate from Allah. The third category is unique to Ahlus-Sunnah, as the groups of kalam tried to put everything into the other categories.
Examples include words such as direction (jiha) and body (jism).
We stick to the texts of the Quran and Sunnah and do not speak without knowledge.
And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned. [17:36]
People of kalam immediately begin talking about things like jiha in relation to things like istiwa, so they ignore the texts and make up their own words.
If a word is not found in the Quran or Sunnah, it is examined, and if the meaning is incorrect, it is rejected. If the meaning can be good or bad, we do not use it. And if the meaning is correct, then it is accepted but only as a khabr [description].
Qur’anic methodology is detailed affirmation and concise negation, in contrast to the people of kalam.
*kalam literally means speech and refers to groups who imported Greek philosophy (e.g. Aristotelian thought) into Islam and tried to mix it with the Quran.
Attributes can be divided into 2 categories, thubutiyyah (affirmed Attributes, which is the vast majority) and manfiyyah (negated Attributes).
Negation is rarer than affirmation. Usually it is done in general terms and negates something false that people may attribute to Allah. For example, “There is nothing like Him” [42:11], and “Do you know anyone that is similar to Him?” [19:65]
Allah(swt) may also affirm something and negate a false presumption, for example,
And We did certainly create the heavens and earth and what is between them in six days, and there touched Us no weariness. [50:38]
And rely upon the Ever-Living who does not die [25:58]
Negation also implies affirmation of the opposite. So for example, to say Allah does not forget (20:52) also implies that Allah always remembers what we do.
To have negation on its own is not perfection or worthy of praise. It is like saying, “The wall does not show injustice (though it is not capable of showing justice either).”
The people of kalam, however, negate in detail while affirming the opposite. So for example, they will begin describing Allah by saying things like “He does not have a body, He is neither above us, nor below us, nor to the left, nor to the right…” This methodology is not the way of the Quran, the Quran primarily affirms in details the Attributes of Allah, with succinct and concise negation.
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.