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Anthropomorphic Tendencies
amongst some from the Han\u0101bila
Im\u0101m Ibn al-Jawz\u012b
translated by Merlin Swartz
Released byw ww .m ar if ah .ne t 1428 H

I have observed that some members of the [Hanbal\u012b] school have taken positions on
matters of usul that are not acceptable. Among them there are three persons, namely,
Abu \u2018Abdull\u0101h bin H\u0101mid, his disciple the Q\u0101d\u012b [Abu Ya\u2019la], and Ibn Zagh\u016bn\u012b, who have
detailed [their views] in writing and whose books have brought shame on the school. In
my view they have descended to the level of the vulgar masses (`aw\u0101mm) by interpreting
[texts from the Qur\u2019\u0101n and the Hadith bearing on] the divine attributes (sif\u0101t) in
accordance with the requirements of sense perception (`al\u0101 muqtad al-hiss). Thus when
they learn that All\u0101h created Adam in his own \u2018form\u2019 (s\u016bra), they conclude that All\u0101h has
a form consisting of a face (wajh), which [they say is an attribute] added to His Essence
(z\u0101\u2019id `al\u0101l dh\u0101t), two eyes, a mouth, an uvula, molars, a forehead bearing the marks of
prostration (subuh\u0101t), two hands, fingers, even a little finger and a thumb, a chest and a
thigh, two legs and two feet, but they add: \u201cWe know of no reference to a head.\u201d

They also assert that All\u0101h can touch and be touched, and that a person may actually
draw near to the Divine Essence. Some of them even say that [All\u0101h] breathes. They
delight the uneducated public by advancing their views that contravene the canons of
reason. Having adopted a literal interpretation of the divine names (asm\u0101\u2019) and the
attributes (sif\u0101t) they go on to apply the term \u2018attribute\u2019 [to both of them] indiscriminately,
[which is] an innovative method of designation for which there is no evidence (dal\u012bl) in
scripture or reason. They ignore the scriptural texts (nus\u016bs) that discourage a literalistic
interpretation (zaw\u0101hir) in favour of modes of representation (ma`\u0101n\u012b) that are necessary
to All\u0101h\u2019s [oneness and transcendence] and [require] the negation of those references
(sim\u0101t) which, when taken literally, imply origination in time (hud\u016bth). They are not
satisfied to call such \u2018an attribute of action\u2019 (sif\u0101t fi`l) but insist on designating it \u2018an
attribute of essence\u2019 (sif\u0101t dh\u0101t). Then having declared them to be such, they refuse to
interpret along the lines required by literary usage, in which case the expression \u2018hand [of
All\u0101h]\u2019 should be taken to mean His power (qudra) or blessing (n\u012b\u2019ma); [references to His]
\u2018arriving\u2019 (m\u0101j\u012b\u2019) or \u2018coming\u2019 (ity\u0101n) as his kindness (birr) or His benevolence (lutf), and
[references to His] \u2018thigh\u2019 (saq) as His might (shidda). Rather they say: \u201cWe interpret such

expressions literally (`al\u0101 z\u0101hir).\u201d

However, since the literal meaning takes human qualities (nu\u2019\u016bt al-adamiy\u012bn) as its point of
reference, the expression may be construed in its concrete, literal sense (`al\u0101 haq\u012bqatihi)
only when that is possible; if that is not possible then it ought to be construed
metaphorically (`al\u0101 maj\u0101z). [In reality,] they are steeped in [the methods] of
anthropomorphism (tashb\u012bh), their following having come from the uneducated classes

I have thus [thought it necessary to] expose the errors of both those who follow and
those who are followed [in these matters]. I say to my fellow Hanbal\u012bs: You are
proponents of scripture and tradition (naql wa-ittib\u0101`), and your distinguished imam,
Ahmad bin Hanbal, used to say when he was being scourged [on account of his beliefs]:
\u201cHow can I say what has not been said [before]?\u201d Be on your guard, therefore, lest you
introduce heretical doctrines into his teaching! Did [Ahmad] ever discourse on such
matters as the recitation (til\u0101wa) and what is recited (matluw), the reading (qir\u0101\u2019a) and what
is read (maqr\u016b\u2019)? Has anyone ever reported to you that [Ahmad] taught that All\u0101h\u2019sis t i w\u0101\u2019
on the Throne is one of the attributes of essence (sif\u0101t al-dh\u0101t) or an attribute of action
(sif\u0101t al-fi\u2019l)? On what grounds do you justify venturing into [a discussion of] such
matters? Some of you have stated that a \u2018hand\u2019 is to be ascribed to All\u0101h as an attribute
added to His Essence (z\u0101\u2019ida `al\u0101l dh\u0101t). All such statements are in conflict with
established norms and are repugnant to those who oppose innovation (bid\u2019a). You insist
that the traditions of the Prophet are to be interpreted literally (`al\u0101 z\u0101hir), but the literal
meaning of \u2018foot\u2019 (qadam), [alleged to be one of the divine attributes] is \u2018limb\u2019 (jariha). The
only acceptable method is to allow [the words of scripture] to stand as they appear in the
text [without comment]. They are to be recited, but nothing is to be added.

If you had understood the difference between the two positions, you would not have
fallen into error. When it is said that Jesus is a spirit of All\u0101h (r\u016bhull\u0101h), Christians
maintain that \u2018spirit\u2019 (r\u016bh) is an attribute (sif\u0101) of All\u0101h which entered into Mary.
[Likewise] those who affirm that All\u0101h sits on the Throne in His essence (bi-dh\u0101tihi) have
relegated Him to the realm of the physical senses (hissiy\u0101t). It is essential that due
consideration be given to the established by the principle of reason, for it is through this
latter that we can know [that] the Creator [exists] and can ascertain Him to be eternal.
Use reason, then, to shield All\u0101h from those finite, corporeal qualities (tashb\u012bh aw-tajs\u012bm)
that are alien to His being, and permit the traditions of the Prophet to stand exactly as
you find them, without adding to or subtracting from them! If you had said: \u201cWe recite

them [without comment],\u201d no one would have censured you. It is your interpretation of them

in a literalistic fashion (`al\u0101l z\u0101hir) alone that is objectionable. Refrain from insinuating
into the doctrine of [Ahmad] our pious ancestor, what he never taught! Instead you have
brought shame and dishonour to the school, so much so that the only thing that is now
said of a Hanbali is that he is an anthropomorphist (mujassim). Not only that, but you
have embellished your doctrine with a narrowly partisan devotion (`asabiyya) to Yaz\u012bd
[bin Mu\u2019awiyya] even though you know quite well that the founder of the school actually
permitted the cursing [of Yaz\u012bd]. Ab\u016b Muhammad al-Tam\u012bm\u012b used to say of one of your
leaders that he had brought such shame on this school that it would not be washed away
until the day of resurrection.

The errors of the authors to whom I have referred above fall into seven categories:
(1) They take scriptural texts which refer only to the qualifications (aws\u0101f) and construe

them as though they were akhbar as-sifat. Not everything ascribed to All\u0101h [in scripture],
however, should be assigned the status of an attribute (sifa). Thus, when the Qur'an
relates All\u0101h as having said: "I breathed into [Adam] My spirit (r\u016bh)," the reference to
"spirit" (r\u016bh) here should not be taken to mean that All\u0101h possesses an attribute by that
name. Indeed, those who term a simple qualification (mudaf) an attribute have departed
from normative practice.

(2) They say that the meaning of those sayings of the Prophet that fall into the category
of the ambiguous sayings (mutashabbih\u0101t) is known only to All\u0101h. But then they add:\u201cWe
take [these obscure texts] in their literal sense (`al\u0101 z\u0101hirih\u0101).\u201d How strange is it that the literal

meaning (z\u0101hir) is one that only All\u0101h knows? Can the termi st iw\u0101, when taken in its literal
sense, mean anything other than \u2018sitting\u2019 (qu\u2019\u016bd), or the termnu z\u016bl anything other than
\u2018movement\u2019 (intiq\u0101l)?

(3) They ascribe attributes to All\u0101h [carelessly, not understanding] that attributes (sif\u0101t)
ought to be predicated of All\u0101h on the same basis as essence (dh\u0101t) is predicated, [that is]
only on the authority of peremptory evidence (adilla q\u0101t'iyya). Ibn H\u0101mid said:

\u201cAnyone who rejects what is ascribed to All\u0101h in reliable traditions (akhb\u0101r thabita), has he [not]
blasphemed in a double sense? The majority of Hanbal\u012bs hold that those who reject traditions in which a
leg, foot, fingers, palm and so forth are predicated to All\u0101h are to be declared unbelievers even if the
traditions in question have come down from a single source (ah\u0101d) for, in our view, their contents belong
to the category of authoritative knowledge (`ilm).\u201d

Statements of this sort can come only from one who does not understand the principles
of jurisprudence or those of reason.
(4) They fail to distinguish between those prophetic traditions that rest on multiple
authorities (khabar mashh\u016br) such as \u201cHe (All\u0101h) descends to the lowest heaven,\u201d and traditions
that are not at all reliable such as, for example, the saying \u201cI saw my Lord in the best form (f\u012b
ahs\u0101ni s\u016bratin).\u201d In fact, they establish divine attributes on the basis of both categories
(5) They make no distinction between traditions whose line of transmission goes back to

the Prophet (marf\u016b\u2019) and those that go back only to a Companion or a Follower. Indeed
they predicate attributes of All\u0101h on the basis of both types of traditions without

(6) They interpret certain expressions metaphorically (ta`awwalu) in one place but refuse
to do so in [another] place. Thus, for example, they take the divine saying \u201cHe who comes to
Me walking I will come to him running\u201d as a figure of speech referring to All\u0101h's bestowal of

blessings on His creatures. However, in connection with the saying of `Umar bin `Abdul
`Az\u012bz: \u201cOn the day of resurrection, All\u0101h will come walking,\u201d they insist on a literal
interpretation. How strange it is that they interpret a saying going back to the Prophet
metaphorically but refuse to do so when considering [a similar saying] from `Umar bin
`Abdul `Az\u012bz!

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