Ash’ari Dialectic in Contradistinction From Arabic Principles: The Case of Why Allah is Not ar-Rahman



When trying to understand Ash’ari dialectic in their suppositions and stances, one has to delve deep into their philosophical underpinnings in order to understand what would appear to be nonsensical to the open surface of a man’s common sense.

One case in point would be in investigating what would seem to be preposterous from the vantage point of a basic Muslim. In this case, why Allah is not actually ar-Rahman, in which this brief synopsis attempts to open the door and explore the world of kalam as it answers the “why” of this very question.

The Surface Level: Anthropomorphic Conceptions Entertained by the Mutakalimun

Here is a quote by a pseudo Ash’ari GF. Haddad

Imam al-Baydawi rahimahullah said in his Tafsir on the explanation of {al-rahman al-rahim}: “Compassion (al-rahma), lexically, is the tenderness of the heart and an inclination that entails the showing of favor and good treatment, whence ‘womb’ (al-rahim) since it curves around its content. But the Names of Allah Most High are taken only in consideration of outcomes (bi-i`tibar al-ghayaat), which are acts (af`al), and not of inceptions (mabadi’), which are affects (infi`alat).”

Imam al-Suyuti rahimahullah in his unfinished Hashiya [to Surat al-Tawba] on al-Baydawi entitled Nawahid al-Abkar comments: “Its upshot is that it is impossible to attribute literal compassion to Allah Most High, therefore it is explained as ‘that which it necessitates’ (tufassaru bi-lazimiha).” A few lines down, on the last verse of Surat al-Fatiha, al-Baydawi states: “Anger is the flaring of the psyche wanting revenge. When attributed to Allah Most High the intent is culmination and outcome as already discussed.”

This method and its examples are demonstrated by Imam al-`Izz Ibn `Abd al-Salam rahimahullah in his treatise al-Ishara ila al-Ijaz fi Ba`d Anwa` al-Majaz, ed. `Uthman Hilmi ([Cairo:] al-Matba`at al-`Amira, 1313/1895) p. 104-112 in which he states: “According to the Shaykh [al-Ash`ari], rahma means God’s willing (irada), for His servant, of whatever one showing compassion wills for the one who is shown it” and so for all states or acts that connote affect (infi`al), need, spatiality or corporeality such as friendship (mahabba), love (wudd), good pleasure (rida), gratitude (shukr), laughter (dahik), happiness (farah), patience (sabr), jealousy (ghira), shame (haya’), testing (ibtila’), sarcasm (sukhriyya), mockery (istihza’), scheming (makr), deceit (khid`), astonishment (`ajab), distance (as when referred to as dhalika, dhalikum), hesitancy (taraddud), establishment over the Throne (istiwa’), leisure (faragh), baring of the shin (kashf al-saq), wrath (ghadab), resentment (sukht or sakhat), grief (asaf), hatred and spite (qila, maqt, bughd), enmity (`adawa), and malediction (la`n).

Let us break this down. Rahmah, and other Names and Attributes, is not Rahmah when it comes to Allah because the only meaning the mutakalimin understood from it was ‘the leaning of the heart to something’ in reference to “rahma”. Because Allah doesn’t have a heart or emotions, they denied this Rahmah. Obviously, they only understood this Rahmah by looking at human rahmah. It is THEY who initially consider the Rahmah of Allah to be anthropomorphic hence feeling the need to do t’awil in it.

As one can see, in reading the statement of Imam al-Izz ibn Abdi-Salam, the Quranic or hadith based attributions that Allah or His Messenger confirm for Allah like Istiwa, Ghadab, Ghira, Ridha, etc, are all necessitating factors requiring either spatiality (like for example Allah’s Istiwa alal-arsh, commonly interpreted by ahlu-aunnah as “fawqiya” i.e. actual aboveness/beyondness) or corporeality (as with Ridha or Rahma).

It is of no wonder why Ash’ari Imams have identified that believing in the Qur’an as is regarding Allah is from the principles of kufr, and that reading the Qur’an requires the human rationale to de-corporealize the apparent kufr evident in the text.

The famous 9th-century Ash’ari theologian, Imam as-Sanusi states in his Umm al-Barahin that the fundamentals of kufr are six. The sixth one he lists is

“Adhering to the apparent meanings (dhawahir) of the Book and the Sunnah alone in fundamentals of creed without comparing them with rational proofs and definitive shar’i principles.”

Do not be confused by the phrase “and definitive shar’i principles”. What is intended here is not the actual principles derived by the Qur’an and Sunnah, but rather the interpolated theories of the mutakalimin in restructuring how the scriptural evidences are to be understood. One such “principle” that as-Sanusi believes to be a “definitive shar’i principle” is the innovated theory “the name is the named” which we will ellucidate towards the end of this brief synopsis God Willing.

Asha’irah Are Similar to M’utazilah in Names and Attributes But Arrive at Diametrically Opposed Views.

Here is what Ash’aris believe regarding Allah’s Names:

1) All names that indicate action (ie. The Creator (الخالق), The Sustainer (الرزاق) … etc.) are not names that Allah had since pre-eternity. Because there was nothing created, sustained … etc. So to them (الخالق) means the one who possesses creation … etc. The words themselves (الخالق) (الرزاق) are creatures of Allah, that point to Him.

2) All names that do not indicate action (ie. The Living (الحي), The Knower (العليم) … etc.) are creatures of Allah as well. This is because they believe that the NAME IS THE NAMED, and that had Allah had those names, then He must have had them pre-eternally. So multiple pre-eternal names would mean multiple gods. Which is unacceptable to them. Allah never had these names pre-eternally. Instead, these names words (الحي) (العليم) are creatures of Allah that point to Him. So Allah’s Names to the Ash’aris do not deserve any higher degree of respect.

Thus to conclude, Ash’aris and Mu’tazilah are opposites on this issue.

•Mu’tazilah believe that: The name is a different deity than the named. If Allah’s names are pre-eternal then there will be multiple pre-eternal deities: Allah + each of his names.

•Ash’aris believe that: The name is the named. So multiple pre-eternal names means multiple gods.


The Kalam Based Logic For “The Name is the Named”

The Ash’ari belief in atomism has compelled the mutakalimin to alter an Arabic principle of logic that was an inseperable feature of the revealed scriptural texts, that being the Qur’an and Sunnah. In other words, the Qur’an and Sunnah have its own logic, which is understood and popularized by the power of common sense innately by humans of every ethnicity and walk of life. On the other hand, the dialectic of the mutakalimin have an entirely different logic in understanding language which inadvertently has a link towards understanding theology. The Muslim must remember that all kalam based dialectic result from the ideas of atomism, the construct of hawadath wal-ajsam. The entire existence of Ash’arism was based on proving several facts. I highlight three of the facts here as they are directly relevant to our topic under review

  1. That all of existence is either a hadath (an occurence, emergent), and hence MUST be created. Based on their idea that all muhdathat are makhluqat. And we have already covered this here On the Difference Between Muhdath and Makhluq: Intermediate Readings Between Sunnism and Asharism
  2. Or it is a jism; a body, of having form or corporeality, and hence MUST be created
  3. That Allah MUST be trancended from being attributed, affected, or described with those Attributes which indicate either of the two.

They said that “الفعل هو المفعول”. That the act is synonymous with the result of the act. This would thus entail that, for example, “الخلق هو المخلوق”, i.e. The act of creating is but the creation itself”. So prior to the creation coming about and after the creation coming about, there was no newly-arising reason, cause (سبب) in between to explain why the creation should have come about, and Allah was as He always was, withOUT speech and action. They held that it was impossible for Allah to act prior to the creation of the heavens and earth and when they were created, they were created through acts which are not established with the self of Allah, upon their innovated principle (الفعل هو المفعول) and (الخلق هو المخلوق), meaning that an act is simply its result [there is no separate thing established as an act outside of what it produces and which can be ascribed to the acting agent]. So, yes the creation was created but without an act of creation established with Allah, rather the creation itself as an entity represents the act, there is no act that can actually be ascribed to Allah. The result of ascribing the very act of creating to Allah hint at the kalam proof failing as Allah would have been subject to an event, which can only take place in bodies, as per Aristotelian Metaphysics! In essence, there is no creator established in reality in their theology and the heavens and earth cannot in reality be said to be created, because they just came about without any reason necessitating why the heavens and earth should change from non-existence to existence, and without any reason as to why one of two equal possiblities (to not exist or to exist) should be given preference over the other without any newly-arising reason (سبب) or determinant, and without any act of creating ascribed to Allah.

This is the exact same script in which the topic under discussion entails. That is, “the name is the named” theory. Thus Ash’ari kalam logic is as follows. Allah cannot be called ar-Rahman for this would indicate that Allah can actually “demonstrate” rahma, which if enacted, entails being “ar-Rahim” which would indicate a muhdath (an emergence) from which Allah is suppose to be free of. Adding to this that takyif of rahma, the nature of displaying rahma, is “what the heart leans towards”, in which case Allah is free from having a heart.

Juxtaposing The Kalam Premise with the Logic of Scripture

The Arabs and their language, along with the Prophetic guidance from which it is based, is developed from the following construct below. We will use فعل (f’ala) as it is the base form used to teach Arabic grammar and from this we gain insight into the depth of meaning and realization of Divine guidance of the Messengers عليهموا صلاة سلام. There is the construct “فاعل، فعل، و مفعول”. That is, “there is the Actor, the action [of the actor], and that which was enacted”.

This principle, in Arabic, is the basis of human logic embedded in the common sense of all humans under the sky. In order for that which is enacted, there must be an action for it. One cannot be “loved”, which is the enacted part of the equation, without the action of something having the act of “love”. In order for this “love”, which is an action” to be acted, there must be an actor that executes the act.

In deconstructing the kalam premise, the kalam premise here is to remove the “action” element from “the doer, the action, that which is done“, so all we have now, with action removed, is “the doer, the action, that which is done” and no action in between that gave rise to the end-result (that which was done) and which is ascribed to the acting agent. All of this is for the purpose of separating Allah from the “Name” because “the name is the named” according to them. If Allah IS “al-Khaliq” i.e. the Creator, this would entail that He acted in a point in time and that this “Khaliq” existed along with Allah pre-eternally.

Imam al-Bukhari refutes this saying that there is no tongue (language) that omits this integral stage from the normal formula of existence. In other words, erasing “the action” in order to link that which is acted on or “the named” with the actor, or “the name”, is a defience of human logic which makes absolutely no sense to anyone who has an intellect.

Imam al-Bukhari beautifully repels the absurdities of kalam ideologues on this very subject in his Khalq Af’al al-‘Ibad.

“As for [distinguishing] the fiʿl (action) from the mafʿūl (that which is done, the result of an act), then the fiʿl is to bring about something (iḥdāth al-shay’), and the mafʿūl is the thing brought about (al-ḥadath), due to His saying (خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ) “He created (khalaqa) the heavens and the earth” (6:73). The heavens and the earth are mafʿūlah (the results of action), and every thing besides Allāh that is through His ordainment (qaḍā’) then it is mafʿūl. Thus the creation of the heavens is His act because it is not possible for the heaven to be established by itself without the action of a doer. And the heaven is ascribed to Him (as His creation) due to His action… Similarly, all languages of the creation provide the same understanding without any difference between them. Indeed there is the fāʿil (actor), the fiʿl (the action) and the mafʿūl (that which is enacted, the result), and the fiʿl is the attritube [of the fāʿil] and the mafʿūl is (something) other than him (the fāʿil). And the explanation of that is in His, Most High’s saying (مَا أَشْهَدتُّهُمْ خَلْقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَلَا خَلْقَ أَنفُسِهِمْ) I (Allāh) made them not to witness (nor took their help in) the creation of the heavens and the earth and not (even) their own creation. (18:51). He did not intend here by “the creation of the heavens”, the heavens themselves for He has distinguished between the action (of creating) the heavens from the (actual) heavens, and thus did He (faʿala) create the whole of the creation. And (likewise) in His saying, “and not (even) their own creation”, He has distinguished between the fiʿl (action) and the [created] soul(s), and His action did not become the creation itself…And the Jahmiyyah said: The fiʿl and mafʿūl are one and same thing…And the people of knowledge said: Creating is the action of Allāh. And our actions are created, due to His, the Most High’s saying: And whether you keep your talk secret or disclose it, verily, He is the all-Knower of what is in the breasts (of men). Should not He Who has created know? (67:13-14). Meaning, [what He created] of secret or open speech. Thus, the fiʿl (action) of Allāh is His attribute, and that which is mafʿūl is what is besides Him from the creation.

[Khalq Afʿāl al-ʿIbād (Mu’assasah al-Risālah, Beirut, 1990) pp. 111-112.]

There is one interesting statement Imam al-Bukhari brings outside of the fact that he completely dismantles the asininity of this kalam principled developed by some Ash’ari mutakalimun. He said

And the Jahmiyyah said: The fiʿl and mafʿūl are one and same thing

This is exactly what the Ash’ari mutakalimun say. That the action and that which was enacted are one in the same thing, thus the actor, or the “name”, in this case “al-Khaliq” cannot truly apply to Allah. The same with many of the other Names Allah Attributes to Himself in the scriptural sources.

This theory is the base source for the misguidance of why Allah cannot be attributed with sifat fi’iliyyah thus landing the kalam adherents to deny the actuality of sifat OR to give a t’awil to these ascriptions in the Book and sunnah that opposes the dhahir, apparent meaning into a far fetched interpretation. It is because the name IS the named.