The scholars of the true Salaf -- that is, the pious Muslims of the first three centuries after the Hijra of the
Prophet -- used to interpret the mutashabihat in the following way: they refuted the unacceptable
interpretations but did not specify which one of the acceptable meanings was the intended meaning of the
verse or the hadith.
When Imam Malik, al-Shafi`i, and others were asked about the interpretation of the verse al-rahman `ala
al-`arsh istawa in particular, and about similar verses in general, they used to say: "Accept these verses
and hadith as they were given without believing that they have meanings which pertain to a manner, such
as images, descriptions related to creations, and the like." Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal said: "Allah
mentioned Establishment (al-istiwa') and Establishment is only what Allah mentioned about it, not what
humans imagine about it."
From these quotations it is clear that the Salaf, including Imam Ahmad, rejected the meanings that imply a
mode or manner (kayf) of "establishment" because specifying the manner implies a resemblance to
Thus we see that the way of the Salaf was mere acceptance of expressions on faith without saying how
they are meant, and without additions, subtractions, or substituting meanings imagined to be synonyms,
while stressing Allah's absolute transcendence beyond the characteristics of created things in order to
preclude likening Him to His creation. To suggest or cite opinions that they added the terms: "sitting" or "in
person" (bi al-dhat) or "sitting in person" or "literally" (haqiqatan) is to give the lie to their insistance on
rejecting the kayf of Allah's establishment.
When forwarding their opinions on this subject, "Salafis" are fond of quoting, not the bila kayf
(no-modality) opinions of the great Imams of Ahl al-Sunna, but those of the anthropomorphists that lived
around them and deviated from their views, although they claimed to follow their schools. We have
already mentioned some of them, like the Hanbalis Ibn Ya`la and al-Zaghuni condemned by Ibn al-Jawzi,
and the Hanbalis `Abdullah ibn Ahmad, Ibn Sa`id al-Darimi, and Ibn Khuzayma denounced by al-Razi and
Kawthari: As we said before, their assertion that the only alternative to the Jahmi belief that "Allah is in
every place" is to say that "He is in one place only, above His throne" is just as false as saying He is in
every place for Allah exists without place. Yet the belief that He exists in a place is what yesterday's and
today's anthropomorphists pass as the opinion of the Salaf. However, just because someone lived in the
first three centuries, it does not mean that he represented the doctrine of the Salaf. It will be clear from the
forthcoming opinions of the Salaf and Khalaf that the correct position of Ahl al-Sunna never adds "in
person" or "literally" -- which is to specify a modality -- to the mention of Allah's establishment on the
Throne, and that to suggest space in the slightest manner is to leave Islam. b) The Methodology of the
Khalaf The Khalaf scholars are those who came in succeeding generations after those of the first three
Hijri centuries. They are so-named for their successorship of the inheritance of the Prophet (s), acquiring
the knowledge and understanding and of religion. An example of their method is in the interpretation of
the verse: yad Allahi fawqa aydihim (58:10) translated as: "Allah's Hand is over their hands." Khalaf
scholars usually give an explicit meaning to such verses. This way is acceptable insofar as there is a fear
that people will otherwise interpret them anthropomorphically, likening Allah to his creations (tashbih) and
begin to speak of His "Hand" as a literal (haqiqi) attribute, in the manner of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim, and
the early Hanbali anthropomorphists decried by Ibn al-Jawzi. Thus the Khalaf scholars here explain the
words yad Allah (Allah's hand) in this verse as referring to `ahd Allah, that is, "the Covenant with Allah.
Similarly they interpreted the word yadayy (Allah's two hands) in the verse lima khalaktu bi yadayy which
is literally "for what I created with My two Hands" as "care" (al-`inaya).
The explanation of the word in other verses confirms the above meanings. The scholars have pointed out that al-yad among the Arabs also signifies strength (al-quwwa). The verse "We have built the heaven with (Our) hands" (51:47) is cited in al-Hafiz al-Zabidi's massive dictionary of Arabic "Taj al-`Arus" (10:417) as
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