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The Issue of the Ambiguous Attributes of Allah

By Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani

Translated by Zameelur Rahman

(Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim Vol 5. pp. 379-80)

Zuhayr ibn Harb and Ibn Numayr narrated to me: both of them from alMuqri. Zuhayr said: from Abdullah ibn Yazid al-Muqri: he said:
Haywah narrated to us: Abu Hani informed me: that he heard Abu Abd
al-Rahman al-Hubuli: that he said: Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-As (Allah
be pleased with him) says: that he heard Allahs Messenger (Allah bless
him and grant him peace) say:
Verily all the hearts of the children of Adam are between two fingers of
the fingers of the Most Merciful like one heart. He disposes of them
however He wills. Then Allahs Messenger (Allah bless him and grant
him peace) said: O Allah! Disposer of Hearts, dispose our hearts to Your
obedience. (Sahih Muslim)
His statement two fingers of the fingers of the Most Merciful: alNawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) said: This is one of
the hadiths of attributes and there are two views in regards to them which
have just preceded:
One of them is to believe in them without venturing
into tawil (interpretation) or trying to understand its meaning. Rather,
one believes it is the truth and that its outward purport is not intended.
Allah Most High said: Naught is as His likeness (42:11).
And the second is to interpret them in a manner that is befitting.
According to this, the intended meaning is figurative. This is just as is
said, such and such a person is in my grasp and in my palm; it is not
intended by it that he took up residence in his palm, rather the intent is: he
is under my power. It is said, such and such a person is between my two
fingers, I turn him however I wish i.e. that he is under my control and I
will dispose of him how I wish. Thus, the meaning of the hadith is that
He (Glorified and High is He) disposes of the hearts of His servants and
other hearts besides them however He wills. None of them are thwarted
from him, and what He intends does not escape Him, just as what is
between the two fingers of man is not thwarted from him. Thus, He
addresses the Arabs [in a manner] by which they will understand it and
the like of it by [making use of] sensual meanings that give assurance to

their souls. If it is said: Allahs Power is one, and two fingers (isbaan)
is for duality, the response is that it has preceded that this is figurative
and metaphorical, so the simile (tamthil) occurred in accordance to what
they are used to without intending thereby duality or plurality. And Allah
knows best.
The weak servant (Allah pardon him) says:
Imam al-Nawawi (Allah Most High have mercy on him) only mentioned
two paths (madhhabs) of the ulama of Ahl al-Sunnah in the likes of
these texts which attribute a finger to Allah (Most High), or a hand, or a
palm, and other things besides these.
The first of them is the path of tafwid (relegation) and this is the position
of the majority of the muhaddithin (hadith scholars) and predecessors
(salaf), and the second is tawil (interpretation), and this is the position of
most mutakallimin (scholastic theologians).
There is a third path which a group of the predecessors took, and al-Hafiz
al-Dhahabi, Allamah Ibn Taymiyyah and his student Ibn al-Qayyim
(Allah Most High have mercy on them) preferred, and it is that the
intended meaning of finger is its literal sense (manaha l-haqiqiyyah)
but it is an attribute of Allah (Most High), is not a limb and is not like the
fingers of creation, rather its kayfiyya (modality) is unknown.
Allamah Ibn Daqiq al-Id mentioned a fourth method which was
approved by many ulama. He said: We say about the problematic
attributes, it is true and truthful according to the meaning Allah intended.
Whoever interprets it, we consider [the interpretation]. If its interpretation
is close, in accordance with the language of the Arabs we do not reject it,
and if it is distant, we refrain from it and return to affirming [the intended
meanings of the attributes] while declaring transcendence. That which is
from the attributes whose meaning is apparent and clearly understood
from the conversation of the Arabs we understand it in accordance with
that, like His statement In that I neglected the side of Allah (janb Allah)
(39:56), for indeed the intended meaning of it in their popular usage is
duty to Allah (haqq Allah), so there is no hesitation in understanding it
in accordance with this [meaning]. Similar is his statement: Verily, the
heart of the son of Adam is between the two fingers of the Most
Merciful, for indeed the intended meaning of it is that the will of the son
of Adams heart is controlled by Allahs Power and what He brings down
on it. Al-Hafiz transmitted this in Fath al-Bari (13:383), Kitab alTawhid, Bab ma Yudhkaru fi l-Dhati wa l-Nuut
All four paths are conceivable (muhtamilah). Multitudes of the verifying
scholars have taken every one of them. For indeed the important thing in

beyond tashbih (comparison) and tatil (negation), and every one of these
four paths is firmly convinced of this. The difference between them is not
a difference in creed, for indeed the creed is declaring Allah
beyond tashbih and tatil, and it is only a difference of opinion in
expressing that creed and basing them on the texts. So not one of these
paths is entirely baseless or absolutely misguided, even if theoretical
debates and arguments have not ceased to run between them for many
centuries. Occasionally browbeating, exaggeration and excess occurred in
them from the various sides and occasionally one of them steered in the
direction of trespassing the limits of moderation, but the truth is that the
basis of the dispute is nothing but an ijtihadi (judgemental) dispute, akin
to the differences of the fuqaha (jurists) in juristic matters which are open
to interpretation (mujtahad fiha). For this reason, outstanding scholars of
the ummah, adherent devotees to the Book and the Sunnah of whose
being from the people of truth and from the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamaah
is not in doubt, took every opinion from these four opinions.
It is apparent that the path of the majority of the predecessors (salaf)
was tafwid, and this is the safest, most prudent [path] and most in
accordance with His statement (Most High): no one knows its
interpretation except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in
knowledge say: we believe therein (3:7).1 We have spoken on this
matter in some detail in our writings around Tafsir Uthmani which is
from the sum of our Arabic essays. See, for elaboration of all sides of the
matter, Kitab al-Asma wa l-Sifat by al-Bayhaqi, Daf Shubah alTashbih by Ibn al-Jawzi, Sharh Hadith al-Nuzul by Ibn Taymiyyah and
Bawadir al-Nawadir by Shaykh Ashraf Ali al-Thanawi (Allah Most
High have mercy on them).



It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that
are] precise - they are the foundation of the Book - and others unspecific. As for
those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is
unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no
one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah. But those firm in knowledge say,
"We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord." And no one will be reminded except
those of understanding. [3:7] [Tarjuma Sahih Int.]