Ibn Hajr Knocks Two Ash’ari Birds With A Single Sunni Stone

The great Hafidh of this ummah, Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani رحمه الله, while he was refuting the mutakalimin among the Ash’aris in kitabu tawhid first chapter, second hadith, he brings the following notion that was developed by them.

وَقَالَ غَيْره قَوْل مَنْ قَالَ طَرِيقَة السَّلَف أَسْلَمَ وَطَرِيقَة الْخَلَف أَحْكَم لَيْسَ بِمُسْتَقِيمٍ ؛ لِأَنَّهُ ظَنَّ أَنَّ طَرِيقَة السَّلَف مُجَرَّد الْإِيمَان بِأَلْفَاظِ الْقُرْآن وَالْحَدِيث مِنْ غَيْر فِقْه فِي ذَلِكَ ، وَأَنَّ طَرِيقَة الْخَلَف هِيَ اِسْتِخْرَاج مَعَانِي النُّصُوص الْمَصْرُوفَة عَنْ حَقَائِقهَا بِأَنْوَاعِ الْمَجَازَات ، فَجَمَعَ هَذَا الْقَائِل بَيْن الْجَهْل بِطَرِيقَةِ السَّلَف وَالدَّعْوَى فِي طَرِيقَة الْخَلَف ، وَلَيْسَ الْأَمْر كَمَا ظَنَّ ، بَلْ السَّلَف فِي غَايَة الْمَعْرِفَة بِمَا يَلِيق بِاَللَّهِ تَعَالَى ، وَفِي غَايَة التَّعْظِيم لَهُ وَالْخُضُوع لِأَمْرِهِ وَالتَّسْلِيم لِمُرَادِهِ ، وَلَيْسَ مَنْ سَلَكَ طَرِيق الْخَلَف وَاثِقًا بِأَنَّ الَّذِي يَتَأَوَّلهُ هُوَ الْمُرَاد وَلَا يُمْكِنهُ الْقَطْع بِصِحَّةِ تَأْوِيله ، وَأَمَّا قَوْلهمْ فِي الْعِلْم فَزَادُوا فِي التَّعْرِيف عَنْ ضَرُورَة أَوْ اِسْتِدْلَال وَتَعْرِيف الْعِلْم

rough translation:

“..the saying of the one who who said:
{‘the way of the Salaf is safer and the way of the Khalaf is wiser’}
is not correct, because he assumed that the way of the Salaf is only the belief in the lafdh (words\letters) of the Quran and Hadith without having understanding of it, (and) the way of the Khalaf is to derive the meanings of the texts that diverge away from their haqiqa (realistic meaning) with different types of majaz (figurative meaning);

So the one who said this combined between the ignorance of the way of the Salaf and the claiming of the way of the Khalaf, and it is not like he assumed. The Salaf had utmost knowledge of what befits Allah, and had the utmost glorification and submission to His commands….”

There are two blunders here in this issue. The first blunder is in the statement itself, and the second blunder lies in an erroneous misnomer some of the mutakalimin were operating under, which became the underlying reason as to why they developed this formula in the first place.

The First stone: is easy. The wording itself is clearly erroneous which is why Ibn Hajr رحمه الله barely gives attention to it and leaves it last since its the premise which they came about this formula that is fundamentally more important. Suffice it to say, that there is no wisdom/knowledge in a way outside of “safety”. For its opposite, being “risky” in developing your own interpretations with no basis, in the realm of doctrine in Islam, entails ignorance, not knowledge as it would entail foolishness, not wisdom.

The Second stone: this has two issues to it!

A. The refutation of tafwid in m’ana: So what ibn hajr here demonatrates is that those who held this mistaken belief among some mutakalimun, mistakenly assumed that the salaf merely affirmed the words of the sifat without knowing or understanding their meaning and that the ahlul-kalam among Ash’aris delved into their meanings to perform t’awil; in this case as ibn hajr is saying, by diverting their meanings to far-fetched notions, which was incorrect. Since as ibn hajr points out, they made a mistake in claiming that the salaf only affirmed the utterance of the terms but NOT the meanings those terms had. Thus ibn Hajr is thereby implicitly saying that the salaf DID in fact know their meanings. Otherwise, he would not have argued against this formula and actually agreed with it. Furthermore, Ibn Hajr at the end of the excerpt does in fact confirm that the salaf did have understanding of what befits Allah. Claiming ignorance of the meaning not the way of the salaf.

B. The real Ash’ari kalam based meaning of t’awil! Many people who find favor with Ash’ari theology among the laity are not educated by their Ash’ari teachers as to what t’awil is in their madhab. These folk typically use the linguistic usage of the term. Thus they think Ash’ari t’awil is sinply “interpretation”. This is incorrect and the statement of ibn hajr clarifies this.

the way of the Khalaf is to derive the meanings of the texts that diverge away from their haqiqa (realistic meaning) with different types of majaz (figurative meaning)

This is in fact the Ash’ari method to offering t’awil. They dont interpret the texts according to how it is known among the arabs, they simply take a word and extract sll the linguistic meanings of that word, and then they apply the meaning they favor and apply it to the entire statement which causes the entire sentence/statement to make no sense according to the mind of the Arabs.

To further sidify this fact, we will use the statement if Sayfu-Deen al-Amidi who offers the meaning to t’awil witjin the Ash’ari school as is understood by all Ash’ari mutakalimun

In his al-Ihkam, for the word t’awil, Amidi says:

صرف اللفض من الاهتمال الراجه إلى الاهتمال المرجوه

(It means): ‘The diversion of an expression from the preponderant – or probable – interpretation to the outweighed – or improbable – interpretation’.

al-Amidi, al-Ihkam 3:279

So t’awil does not mean merely to offer an interpretation. It means by Ash’ari standards of methodology to divert an expression away from the PROBABLE i.e. the obvious meaning and towards an improbable i.e. far fetched meaning that no one would understand from the reading of the entire phrase/expression EVEN IF the word they are trying to interpret, singularly may have one of its meanings offered as the meaning. The problem here is that in Arabic, the meanings are known and made obvious by the construction of other words. It is IMPROPER, and an unsound methodology to isolate a single word out of an entire sentence, find the various meanings that word may have in singular form, and then adopt one of the meanings it has in that singular form, and then interpret the entire expression based on that diverted meaning.

An easy and common example this takes place is where Allah says

قَالَ يٰۤـاِبۡلِيۡسُ مَا مَنَعَكَ اَنۡ تَسۡجُدَ لِمَا خَلَقۡتُ بِيَدَىَّ ؕ اَسۡتَكۡبَرۡتَ اَمۡ كُنۡتَ مِنَ الۡعَالِيۡنَ‏

“O Iblis, what prevented you from prostrating yourself before him whom I created from My Two Hands. Are you proud, or do you think yourself to be exalted?”

Here, in this ayah, the proper Ash’ari method would be to take the word “بِيَدَىَّ” “my Hands” and then look at how many meanings the word itself has, choose a suitable meaning among its meanings that is favorable to the method of tanzih according to Ash’aris, and then choose that meaning. So classically, the Ash’ari mutakalimun adopted the term “power” (ayd) to be thee meaning of the ayah. The problem here is that this is malpractice to the Arabic language and to the doctrine of the Muslims. If one changes the meaning to “power” and inserts that into the meaning of the ayah, then the reading makes no sense whatsoever. “Oh Iblis, what prevented you from prostrating yourself before him whom I created from My Powers”.

It does not make sense when reading the ayah and is not understood by the language of the arabs since what determines the meaning is not just the word itself, but where its placed at in the expression along with the other words in that expression which gives the word its meaning. In short, this is the context. So when Ash’aris offer a reinterpretation, they are actually de-contextualizing the expression and passing it off as the interpretation. That is the very nature of offering an “improbable” meaning towards an expression.

Furthermore, it does not make sense theologically either because had the meaning been “powers”, then Iblis would have had the upper hand against Allah in argument wa iyadhubillah for he could have argued back saying “but you created everything with your power”. The whole point of the ayah and why Allah argued this was to emphasize to Iblis that your duty to bow down to Adam is due to Adam’s SPECIAL nature of how he was created i.e. with Allah’s actual Hands. Had Adam been created just by Power, then his creation would be no different from all other creatures who were also created by Power. Hence the ayah makes nonsense if we divert from the obvious meaning of Allah’s actual Hands, and then divert the meaning and say it meant His Powers.