The Concept of “Jism” Between Ahlu-Sunnah and Ahlul-Kalam

The doctrine of Ahlu-Sunnah wal-Jama’ah with regards to believing in Allah the Most High and His Sublime Attributes (Sifat) is based on the merit of purifying Allah from any deficiency by which Allah is understood as having the most excellent attributes and being far removed from any deficiency.
The Qur’an and the Sunnah only utilize characteristics for Allah that Allah held to be the most essential and most useful for the guidance of humans. The duty of those who believe the Qur’an and the Sunnah is to believe in what Allah and His Messenger have attributed to Allah in His Characteristics (Sifat) and to disable any Characteristics that Allah and His Messenger have negated from Allah. The job of the Muslims is to believe in these Attributes of Allah upon their apparent meanings (dhawahir) whether these meanings are real (haqiqi) or metaphor (majaz). The determination of what makes the Attributes to be either haqiqi or majaz has nothing to do with kalam dialectic nor are all the Attributes of Allah to be considered as “majaz” NOR are they all literal. Rather the determination of what identifies an Attribute of Allah to be majaz or haqiqi is based on the linguistic construct in how the ayah or hadith has been revealed
When it comes to terminologies that the Qur’an and Sunnah have been silent on, then the duty of a Muslim as outlined in the orthodox creed of the Imams of the Muslims from the beginning of Islam into current times is to INVESTIGATE what this term may imply. Silence entails BOTH the lack of affirmation AS WELL AS the lack of negation. Silence does NOT mean negation. Due to the matter of silence, investigation remains the protocol until the matter is determined to be clearly false, clearly true, or if there is ambiguity, then what is true is confirmed and what is false is denied. After investigation, it is necessary to either confirm it for Allah if it has a true meaning that coincides with the scriptural sources of Islam, OR to negate and reject it if the meaning opposes the scriptures (the Qur’an and Sunnah), OR if it has both a positive and a negative connotation, then to decipher what is necessary to be affirmed and what is to be negated from the Lord Almighty. This has always been the proper Muslim behavioral ettiquette towards their Creator since the beginning of Islam.
Bearing all of the above in mind, this brief study will investigate the term “jism” as a concept and how it does or does not apply to Allah.

The Term

Jism is a word that is ambigious as it has several meanings to it. “Jismiyya’ in the language of the theologians is understood in three distinctual meanings/aspects
1. jismul-jawarih (form of limbs)
2. jismul-aqsamu (form of parts)
3. al-qa’im bi nafsih (established by itself, on its own, alluding to existentialism)
The Ash’ari Contention Towards Ahlul-Hadith wal-Athar (atharis)
The Ash’ari mutakalimin throughout their history has not adopted the behavioral ettiquette binding on a Muslim towards His Lord as was highlighted in the introduction above. Their behavioral ettiquette was vastly different than the early Muslims and orthodoxy throughout the ages. Instead of having faith in the meanings of Allah’s revelatory information regarding Himself in His Attributes, what had happened was that the Ash’ari school adopted the course of viewing the meanings to imply blasphemy (kufr) AS A DEFAULT. Ash’ari mutakalimin hold that believing in the apparent meanings of such texts is a cause of deviation, in fact, of kufr.
The famous 9th-century Ash’ari theologian, 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.”

Imam an-Nasafi says similar in his Sharh Aqa’id an-Nasafi that one of the pillars of kufr is to understand the scripture regarding Allah’s Attributes (sifat) upon the apparent meanings.
The Issue of Jism
The issue regarding jism in reality is an issue regarding God’s existence between the theist argument that argues and believes that God is real, that He actually exist on one hand and the atheist argument that God is nowhere. Whereas for Ash’aris, they view that the issue of jism is merely the issue of attributing a body and limbs to the Lord Almighty. So lets review the three connotative meanings of the term jism
The first is jismul-jawarih – the body of limbs
The second is jismul-aqsam – the body of parts
The third is jismu bi qa’im an-nafsih – established by itself, on its own, real, existential
Both Ahlu-Sunnah and Ash’aris agree that attributing the meaning of jism with regards to the first two, body of limbs and body of parts, are equally heterodox blasphemies (kufr) that is prohibited.
Where Ash’aris diverge from Ahlu-Sunnah is with regards to the third meaning of “jism”. For Ash’aris, they don’t even factor the third meaning into one of the meanings of “jism” that is alloted to it in the language of the Arabs (Arabic).
Furthermore, Ash’aris view ahlu-sunnah as being “mujasimah” (anthropomorphists, those who attribute a body of limbs and/or parts to God Almight) for the mere result of ahlu-sunnah believeing in the scripture upon its apparent meanings which reveal Allah having the Attributes of Hands, Eyes, and other Attributes for which the scriptural sources confirmed.
However, little do many bandwagon Ash’aris know is that this third meaning will never be inseperable from the term “jism” and the right of due process has always been given by sunni scholars on those who spoke about this term “jism”. Moreover they do not realize that this third meaning is connected with Allah’s actual Existence.
In Sunni doctrine, “jism” is not taught nor affirmed for Allah. You will not find this being a core belief advocated by any salafi/athari creedal text in our vast 1400 year long track record from the time of Imam an-Muzani’s sharhu-Sunnah all the way to shaykh ibn Uthaymin’s creedal works.
Introspection of Classical Orthodoxy on Jism
In Bayaan Talbis al-Jahmiyyah, ibn Taymiyyah says
     “And those who say that He is a jism are of two types.
the first: and this is the saying of their scholars, {‘He is a jism (form) but not like the created forms’, just as it is said an essence (dhaat) unlike other essences, and characterized by attributes but unlike other characterizations, established by Himself but not like other things that establish and maintain itself, an entity (shai) but not like other entities”.}  So these (those who use jism with these meanings) are saying “He is as His reality is without resembling other than Him from any aspect whatsoever.
However, this is an affirmation that He has an “extent” by which He is distinguished from, just as when we say (He is) characterized by Attributes,’ this is an affirmation of the reality of being on account of which something is distinguished (from other than it) and this is from among the requisites of every existing thing.
as for al-jism as al-qaa’im bi nafsi he stated in Manhaj as-Sunnah
  “And whoever says ‘He is a jism’ then this is well known from the karamiyyah and other than them from amongst those who say ‘He is a jism’. Then that is to be explained to mean that He exists or that He is established by Himself (al-qaa’im bi nafsihi) NOT THAT HE IS COMPOSITE (jismul-aqsamuhu). And the people are agreed upon the fact that whoever says “He is a jism” and intends THIS PARTICULAR MEANING (the meaning of al-qaa’im bi nafsihi), then he is correct in the meaning and whoever declared such a one to have erred only did so on account of the wording used(and not the meaning applied)
Imam Abu Bakr Al-Ismaili (277-371H) in his book “i’tiqaad a’immatul hadeeth” says the following about jism

  التجسيم من الألفاظ المجملة المحدثة التي أحدثها أهل الكلام، فلم ترد في الكتاب والسنة ولم تعرف عن أحد من الصحابة والتابعين وأئمة الدين، فلذلك لا يجوز إطلاقها نفيا ولا إثباتا، فإن الله لا يوصف إلا بما وصف به نفسه أو وصفه به رسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم نفيا أو إثباتا .

 “Tajsim is a new word, the concept of which was invented by the ahlul kalam, and it is neither found in the Book nor in the Sunnah, and it is not known from any of the sahabah and taabi’in and imams of the ummah. Therefore, it is not allowed to negate it or to affirm it since Allah is not attributed except with what He attributes for Himself or what the Prophet attributes to Him, whether in negating or affirming.”

Take notice of something interesting here. Isma’ili is asserting that the entire phenomenon of “charging people with Tajsim” is itself a concoction of the heretics of ahlul-kalam. In fact this is there hallmark. Whenever you have a group emphasizing “tajsim”, one can rest assured they follow the deviations of heterodox cults of kalam and do not represent or follow the sunni school of theology of ahlul-hadith wal-athar.

In Sharh Al-Wasitiyya, Shaykh ibn Uthaymin says:

   ثانياً: قولكم: إثبات الجهة يستلزم التجسيم! نحن نناقشكم في كلمة الجسم: ما هذا الجسم الذي تنفرون الناس عن إثبات صفات الله من أجله؟! أتريدون بالجسم الشيء المكون من أشياء مفتقر بعضها إلى بعض لا يمكن أن يقوم إلى باجتماع هذه الأجزاء؟! فإن أردتم هذا، فنحن لا نقره، ونقول: إن الله ليس بجسم بهذا المعنى، ومن قال: إن إثبات علوه يستلزم هذا الجسم، فقوله مجرد دعوى ويكفينا أن نقول: لا قبول. أما إن أردتم بالجسم الذات القائمة بنفسها المتصفة بما يليق بها، فنحن نثبت ذلك، ونقول: إن لله تعالى ذاتاً، وهو قائم بنفسه، متصف بصفات الكمال، وهذا هو الذي يعلم به كل إنسان .

Secondly, They say (the mutakalimin) that by affirming that Allah has a jihah, they (the salaf) fall into tajsim. So lets discuss with them the meaning of the word “jism”. If you mean a jism that is composed of parts that are in need of one another, that is unable to exist unless they are present, then we do not affirm this meaning. However, If you say that al-jism is essentially the “dhaat” (Essence) that is independent from need, and that is described by whatever is suitable for it, then yes, we do affirm this! And we say as a matter of fact that Allah the Most High in His Essence is established by His own merit for His Attributes are Perfect and this very matter is recognized by all of humanity
Moreover, shaykh Uthaymin further warns against the usage of the term “jism” in his sharh of Aqidatu-Safariniya

لكن مع ذلك ما نقول : إن الله جسم ، حتى وإن أردنا هذا المعنى ، وذلك لأن لفظ الجسم لم يرد في الكتاب والسنة لا إثباتاً ولا نفياً ، ولأن إثبات الجسم إن أثبتناه فهو مستلزم للتشبيه على رأي بعض الناس ، وإن نفيناه فهو مستلزم للتعطيل على رأي آخرين ، إذن فلا نثبته ولا ننفيه ، وهذا هو العقيدة السليمة ألا تثبت باللفظ : أن الله جسم أو ليس بجسم ، اسكت ! ما دام الله قد سكت عنه ورسوله سكت عنه والصحابة سكتوا عنه لا تثبت ولا تنفي ، لكن تؤمن بأن الله ذاتاً موصوفة بالصفات اللائقة بها وإن الله يقبض ويبسط ويأخذ بيمينه الصدقة ويربيها وينـزل ويأتي

  “However we say about this matter with us that regarding jism for Allah, even if we wanted this meaning [refering to qa’im bi nafsi], with this connotation to jism, it was not intended to be used either in the Book and Sunnah and it was neither confirmed OR denied. We do not affirm jism for to confirm this as such would provoke anthropomorphism into the conception among the people.
He continues saying that therefore, we do not prove it or deny it, and this is the sound creed that is not proven by the word. Silence is to be used in claiming jism and that Allah was silent and His Messenger was silent and the companions were silent and all of them neither confirmed it NOR denied it. And this is the key point here! Silence entails BOTH the lack of affirmation AS WELL AS the lack of negation. Silence does NOT mean negation. This is a common mistake by some who claim to be Athari.
The great Imam and Hafidh Sadru-Din ibn Abil-Izz al-Hanafi, the greatest commentator of the aqida of Tahawiya says in his commentary on the topic

وَلَكِنْ لَا يُقَالُ لِهَذِهِ الصِّفَاتِ إِنَّهَا أَعْضَاءٌ ، أَوْ جَوَارِحٌ ، أَوْ أَدَوَاتٌ ، أَوْ أَرْكَانٌ ، لِأَنَّ الرُّكْنَ جُزْءُ الْمَاهِيَّةِ ، وَاللَّهُ تَعَالَى هُوَ الْأَحَدُ الصَّمَدُ ، لَا يَتَجَزَّأُ – سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى ، وَالْأَعْضَاءُ فِيهَا مَعْنَى التَّفْرِيقِ وَالتَّعْضِيَةِ (1) ، تَعَالَى اللَّهُ عَنْ ذَلِكَ ، وَمِنْ هَذَا الْمَعْنَى قَوْلُهُ تَعَالَى : { الَّذِينَ جَعَلُوا الْقُرْآنَ عِضِينَ } (2) . وَالْجَوَارِحُ فِيهَا مَعْنَى الِاكْتِسَابِ وَالِانْتِفَاعِ . وَكَذَلِكَ الْأَدَوَاتُ هِيَ الْآلَاتُ الَّتِي يُنْتَفَعُ بِهَا فِي جَلْبِ الْمَنْفَعَةِ وَدَفْعِ الْمَضَرَّةِ . وَكُلُّ هَذِهِ الْمَعَانِي مُنْتَفِيَةٌ عَنِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى ، وَلِهَذَا لَمْ يَرِدْ ذِكْرُهَا فِي صِفَاتِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى . فَالْأَلْفَاظُ الشَّرْعِيَّةُ صَحِيحَةُ الْمَعَانِي ، سَالِمَةٌ مِنَ الِاحْتِمَالَاتِ الْفَاسِدَةِ ، فَكَذَلِكَ يَجِبُ أَنْ لَا يُعْدَلَ عَنِ الْأَلْفَاظِ الشَّرْعِيَّةِ نَفْيًا وَلَا إِثْبَاتًا ، لِئَلَّا يَثْبُتَ مَعْنًى فَاسِدٌ ، أَوْ يُنْفَى مَعْنًى صَحِيحٌ

  “So therefore it is not to be said that His Attributes are organs, limbs, material , parts, or parts of a whole. And Allah the Most High is One the Indivisible
He essentially argues that we are not to consider the sifat khabariya to be smaller parts from a larger part