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Section 3: Allah’s Privative Qualities

1. Allah Is Not Compounded

83. Concerning His privative (salbiyya) qualities, which are seven. First, the Most High is not compounded (murakkab), otherwise He would be in need of members, and that which is in need (muftaqir) is possible (existence).

84. When he finished the positive qualities, he began on the privative ones. The first (the positive) are called the qualities of perfection (kamal), and the second the qualities of glory (jalal). And if you will, all the qualities may be qualities of glory. For the affirmation of His Power means the negation (salb) of impotence (‘ajz) in Him, and the affirmation of knowledge means the negation of ignorance in Him, and likewise for the other qualities. And in truth what can be understood by our reason (al-ma‘qul lana) of His qualities is nothing but negation (sulub) and relationships (idafat). And the limit (kunh) of His essence and qualities is veiled from the consideration (nazar) of reason (‘uqul). And no one knows what He is but He Himself.

85. Now the author mentioned here seven qualities. The first is that He is not compounded. And a compounded thing is one which has parts. And the opposite of compounded is single (basit), and it is what does not have parts. And composition (tarkib) is sometimes objective, as the composition in bodies of atoms (jawahir) and accidents (a‘rad); and sometimes it is mental (dhihni), as the composition of quiddity (mahiyya) and limits (hudud), like the composition of genera (ajnas) and species (fusul).

And a compounded thing in both senses is in need of its parts, because it is impossible for it, objectively or subjectively, to be realized and distinguished without its parts. And its parts are other than it, because the part can be separated from it. And the part is not called the whole. And that from which a thing can be separated is distinct from it. Then a compounded thing is in need of something else, hence, it is possible (existence). Therefore, if the Most Exalted Creator were compounded He would be possible (existence), and that cannot be.

2. Allah Is Not A Body

86. Second, He is not a body (jism), nor an accident (‘arad), nor an atom (jawhar), otherwise He would have need of a place (al-makan), because it is impossible for body to be separated from originated things. Then He would be an originated thing, and that is impossible.

87. The Most High Creator is not a body, contrary to the Anthropomorphists (mujassima). And body is that which has length and breadth and depth. And accident is that which alights (al-hall) in a body and has no existence without it. And the proof that the Most High is not an accident or a body is of two kinds: (1) First, if He were one of these two He would be possible existence. But this necessity is false; hence, that which necessitates it is false also. And for the explanation of this necessity – we know of necessity (bid-darura) that every body needs a place, and every accident needs a locus (mahall).

And place and locus are other than body and accident. Hence, they are in need of something other than themselves. And that which needs something else is the possible. Hence, if the Most High Creator were a body or an accident He would be possible existence. (2) Second, if He were a body, He would be an originated thing, and that is impossible. And in explanation of this, no body can be quit of originated things. And that which cannot be quit of originated things is itself an originated thing, as we have previously explained. Hence, if He were a body, He would be an originated thing. But He is prior. Then contradictories would have to agree, and that is impossible.

88. And it is not possible that He be in a place (makan), for He would then have need of it, nor in a direction, for He would then have need of it.

89. And these two qualities are negative. (1) The first is that He is not in a place, contrary to the Christians and some of the Sufis. And what is understood by incarnation (hulul – alighting) is the inhering (qiyam) of one entity (mawjud) in another entity in succession. And if they intend this meaning, then it is false. For then the necessary would have to be in need, and that cannot be. And if they intend some other meaning, then first of all we would have to conceive it, and afterwards pass judgment on it, either rejecting it or affirming it.

90. (2) Second, He is not in a direction (jiha). And direction is the goal (maqsad) of a moving object, and is connected with the world of sense. And the Karramites thought that He was in the direction of heaven (fawqiyya), and they supposed this from the literal meaning of a text (naql), and that is false. Because, if He be in a direction, then either He does not need it, in which case He will not alight in it, or else He does need it, in which case He would be the possible. And the literal traditional meaning possesses interpretations (ta’wilat) and bearings (mahamil) which are mentioned in their proper place.

For since corporeality (jismiyya) and what follows from it has on rational grounds been proved impossible for Him, then either (a) another interpretation is necessary – for it is impossible to use both (tradition and reason), otherwise contradictories would have to agree, or (b) both must be rejected, in which case both of the contradictories would have to be removed (a logical impossibility), or (c) tradition must be used and reason rejected, in which case reason also would have to be rejected, because of the rejection of its foundation (reason is fundamental (asl), tradition is consequent (far‘) – if the former is rejected the latter is impossible). So (d) the fourth possibility remains, namely, the use of reason and the interpretation of tradition.1

91. And pleasure (al-ladhdha) and pain (al-alam) are not valid for Him, because it is impossible for the Most High to have a physical constitution (mizaj).

92. Pain and pleasure are things that we perceive internally (wijdani), hence, they do not need explanation. And it has been said of them that pleasure is the perception of what is agreeable with regard to its being (min hayth) agreeable, and pain is the perception of what is disagreeable (munafi) with regard to its being disagreeable. And pleasure and pain may be either sensuous or mental. If the perception is by the senses they are sensuous, and if it is by the mind they are mental.

Since this is determined, we say that pain is impossible for the Most High, as all reasonable beings agree, since He is subject to nothing that is disagreeable (munafi – contrary to His nature). And pleasure, if it be sensuous, is likewise impossible for Him, because it results from having a physical constitution, and a physical constitution is impossible for Him, otherwise He would be a body. And if it be mental, the philosophers have affirmed it for Him, also the founder of the Ya‘qubigga (sect)2 from among us.

For the Most High Creator is qualified by His perfection, which is worthy of Him, for it is impossible for Him to have any imperfection. Nevertheless, He perceives by His essence and His perfection. Hence, He is the Most Glorious Perceiver and the Most Exalted Perceiver by the most complete perception, and by pleasure we mean nothing other than that.

93. But the scholastic theologians have restricted their statements to the denial of pleasure to Allah, either because of their belief that mental pleasure (also is) denied to Allah, or because of its not having been mentioned in the Majestic Law. For the qualities of Allah and His names are restricted, and it is not permissible for any but Him to venture into them, except with His permission. And even if pleasure is possible for Allah from the point of view of (human) reason, yet it is not polite (to attribute it to Him), because it may perhaps be impossible (for Him) for some reason or other which we do not know.

94. Nor does He unite with other than Himself, because union (al-ittihad) is absolutely impossible for Him.

95. Union may be used in two senses, figurative and real. (1) Figurative union is one thing’s becoming another thing in being (al-kawn) or in corruption (al-fasad). (For an example of being – water becomes mist; of corruption – seed in the ground dies and becomes a new plant). Either (a) there is no addition (idafa) of another thing, as their saying that water becomes air and air becomes water; or (b) there is an addition of something else, as it is said that dirt becomes mud by the addition of water to it. (2) And real union is when two entities become one entity.

96. Since that is determined, know that the first is altogether impossible for the Most High, because created being (al-Kawn) and corruption are impossible for Him. And as for the second, some Christians say that He has united with Christ, for they say that the divinity (lahutiyya) of the Creator has united with the humanity (nasutiya) of Isa. And the Nasriyya say that He has united with Ali. And some of the Sufis say that He has united with those who know God (‘arifin). Now, if they mean something other than what we have mentioned it is first necessary to conceive it, then to pass judgment upon it.

And if they mean what we have mentioned (namely, real union), then it is altogether false, because union is in itself impossible (there is no such thing as real union). Therefore, it is impossible that it should be proved (to occur) in anything else. Now it is impossible, because if after the union of two entities they continue to exist, there is no union, because they are two, not one, and if they become non-existent together, this also is not union, but a third entity, and if one of them becomes non-existent and the other continues to exist, this also is not union, because non-existence cannot unite with existence.

3. Allah Is Not A Locus For Originated Things

97. Third, the Most High is not a locus (mahall) for originated things, because of the impossibility of His being acted upon (infi‘al) by anything else, and the impossibility of imperfection in Him.

98. Know that there are two ways of considering (i‘tibaran) the qualities of the Most High: (1) The first of these refers to the essential Power itself and the essential Knowledge itself and to the other qualities themselves. And (2) the second refers to the connection (ta‘alluq) which these qualities have with the things determined (muqtadayat) by them, such as the control of Power over that which is decreed (maqdur), and of Knowledge over that which is known. And, according to this second sense, there is no dispute about these qualities, being things which are relative, in addition (to the essence), and changing as the things with which they are connected change and vary.

99. But in regard to the first sense, the Karramites thought that the qualities are originated things and are renewed in like manner as the things with which they are connected are renewed. They said that He was not Powerful at first, but later became Powerful, and that He was not knowing, but later became Knowing. And the reality is contrary to this, for what is renewed in what they mentioned is the relative connection. And if they mean that, it is self-evident.

Otherwise, it is false for two reasons: (1) First, if His qualities are things originated and renewed, it would be necessary for Him, to be acted upon and to change. But the necessity is false, hence, that which necessitates it is false also. And there are two proofs of this. (a) First, His qualities are essential, and their change would require the change of the essence and its being acted upon. And (b) second, the origin of the qualities would necessitate the origin of His ability to be a locus for them, and that would require the passibility and changeableness of the locus. But it is impossible for the nature (mahiyya) of the Most High to be subject to change and passibility. Hence, His qualities are not originated, which is what we sought.

(2) Second, the qualities of the Most High are perfect qualities, because it is impossible for them to have imperfection. And if they were originated and renewed He would not have perfection. And not having perfection is imperfection – and Allah, the High, the Great, is exalted above that!3

4. Allah Is Not Visible

100. Fourth, ocular vision (ru’ya) of the Most High is impossible, because everything which can be seen possesses direction. For it is of necessity either opposite to one, or else it is like something opposite. Then He would be a body, and that is impossible. And in the word of the Most High (to Moses):

“Thou shalt not see me” (7:143). 4

– and lan is the eternal negative.

101. The philosophers and the Mu‘tazilites hold that the vision of Him with the eye is impossible, because of his being incorporeal (mujarrad). And the Anthropomorphists (mujassima) and Karramites hold that it is possible to see Him with the eye face to face. And the Ash‘arites believe that God is incorporeal, and (yet) say that the vision of Him is valid, contrary to the opinion of all sane men. And some of the Ash‘arites say, “By vision we do not mean the impression (intiba‘) (of the object on the optic nerve) or the issuing of rays, but the state which is acquired from the vision of an object after the acquisition of the knowledge (‘ilm) of it.”

And others of them say that the meaning of the vision of Him is that He uncovers Himself (yankashifu) to believing creatures on the Last Day like the uncovering of a visible full moon. And the reality is that if they mean by that a complete manifestation (al-kashfu’t-tamm), then that is admitted, for on the Day of Resurrection perfect knowledge (al-ma‘rifa) will become necessary (daruri). Otherwise, it cannot be conceived except as ocular vision, and that is false both by reason and tradition.5

102. (1) It is false by reason, because if He be visible He must be in a direction, and therefore be a body, which is false, as has been previously shown. For every visible thing is either opposite, or is like something opposite (fi hukmi’l-muqabil), as the image in a mirror, and that is necessarily true. And everything opposite or like an opposite is in a direction. Hence, if the Most High Creator be visible He must be in a direction, which is false. (2) And it is also false by tradition, for several reasons6.

(a) First, when Moses asked for a vision (of Him) he received the answer,

“Thou shalt not see me” (7:143).

And lan is the eternal negative according to the lexicographers. And since Moses did not see Him, certainly no one else has seen Him. (b) Second, in the word Allah

“No vision taketh in Him, but he taketh in all vision” (6:103).

He describes Himself by denying that eyes can perceive Him. Hence, proving that He is visible is a fault.

3. Third, He made a great matter of their seeking for a vision of Himself, and attached blame to it, and threatened (the guilty), saying,

“But a greater thing than this did they ask Moses! for they said, “Show us Allah plainly!” and for this their wickedness did the fire-storm lay hold on them (4:153).

“They who look not forward to meet Us say, "If the angels be not sent down to us, or unless we behold our Lord…" Ah! they are proud of heart, and exceed with great excess!” (25:21).

5. Allah Has No Partner

103. Fifth, a partner (ash-sharik) is denied to Him, because of tradition, and because of their hindering one another (in case of a plurality of deities), in which case the orderliness of existence would be destroyed, and because He would have to be compounded, since two necessaries would share in being necessarily existent, in which case there would have to be a distinguisher (ma’iz).

104. Scholastic theologians and philosophers have agreed in denying to the Most High a partner, for several reasons: (1) First, the traditional proofs which point to this, and also the agreement of the prophets, which is here a proof, because their veracity does not rest on their affirmation of the Unity. (2) Second, the proof of the scholastic theologians, which is called “the proof of hindrance.” And that is taken from the word of the Most High,

“Had there been in either heaven or earth gods beside Allah, both surely had gone to ruin” (21.22).

And this means that if He had a partner, the destruction of the orderliness of existence would follow of necessity, and that is false. In explanation of this – if the will of one of the two (gods) came into connection with the production of a moving body, then undoubtedly it is possible for the other god to will its rest, or it is not. (a) If it is possible, then undoubtedly either the will of both will be carried out – in which case opposites would have to be reconciled, or else the will of neither of them will be carried out – in which case the body would have neither motion nor rest, or the will of (only) one of them will be carried out, in which case two evils will result:

(a) First, preponderance (tarjih) without any one to give preponderance, and (β) second, the impotence of the other (god). (b) If it is not possible for the other god to will its rest, then it necessarily follows that he is impotent. For there is no hindrance except the connection of the will of that other god (with the body). But impotence on the part of gods is false, and preponderance without one to give preponderance is impossible. Hence, the destruction of the orderliness of existence would be necessary, and that also is impossible.

105. (3) Third, the proof of the philosophers and its explanation. If there be in existence a Necessarily Existent, then both of the gods must be possible existence, for in this case they would both share in being necessarily existent. And undoubtedly, they can either be distinguished from one another or they cannot, for if they cannot be distinguished they do not acquire duality. And if they can be distinguished, it is necessary that each one of the two be compounded of that in which they are one, and that by which they are distinguished. And every compounded thing is possible existence. Hence, they both are possible existences, and this was contrary (to our premises).

6. Allah Has no Idea or State

106. Sixth, ideas (ma‘ani) and states (ahwal) are denied to the Most High. Because if He were Powerful by His Power and Knowing by His Knowledge and so forth He would have need in His qualities of that idea. Then He would be possible existence, and this is contrary (to our premises).7

107. The Ash‘arites hold that the Most High is Powerful by His Power and Knowing by His Knowledge and Living by His Life, and so for all His other qualities, and that these are prior ideas in addition to His essence and inhering in it. And the Bahshamiya say that the Most High is equal to (musawi) any other essence, and is distinguished from other essences by a state (hala) which is called godhood (uluhiyya).

And this state produces in Him four states: being powerful, knowing, being alive, and existing. And state (hal) according to them is a quality belonging to an entity (mawjud), and existence (wujud) and non-existence (‘adam) do not possess this quality. And they say that the Most High Creator is Powerful in relation to (bi-i‘tibar) that state of being powerful and Knowing in relation to that state of knowing, and so for the other qualities. And the fallacy of this contention is necessary (daruri), for a thing is either an entity or a non-entity, since there is no middle ground.8

108. And the philosophers and the investigators (muhaqqiqun) among the scholastic theologians say that the Most High is Powerful by His essence, and so for the other qualities. And when we say, “the essence is Knowing and is Powerful,” what is imagined to be an addition (za’ida) is relative and is addition only in the mind, not objectively. And this is the reality in our opinion, because if He were Powerful by His Power (qudra) or state of being powerful (qadiriyya), and Knowing by His Knowledge (‘ilm) or state of knowing (‘alimiyya), and so forth, then it would follow that the Necessary would have need of something else in His qualities. Because these ideas and states are distinct from His essence absolutely. And everything which is in need of something else is possible existence. And if His qualities be in addition to His essence, then He would be possible existence, which is contrary to our premises.

7. Allah Is Self-Sufficient And Has No Need

109. Seventh, the Most High is self-sufficient (ghaniyy) and not in need, for the necessity of His existence apart from anything else requires that He be without need of anything else, and that everything besides Him be in need of Him.

110. Among His negative qualities is His being absolutely self-sufficient and not in need of another, neither in His essence nor in His qualities. For the necessity of His existence, which has been established for Him, requires His being absolutely without need as regards all things beside Himself. For if He were in need (muhtaj) He would have to want (iftaqara) something, and then He would be possible existence, and Allah is exalted above that! Rather the Creator, whose greatness is glorious, is without need of anything besides Himself. And everything (that is) is an emanation (rashha – oozing) amongst the emanations of His existence, and a mote (dharra) amongst the motes in the rays of his munificence.

  • 1. “The Mu‘tazilites have agreed in rejecting comparison (tashbih) of Him of every sort, as to direction or locus or form or body or limitation or motion or decrease or change or impression, and they have made it incumbent to explain (ta‘wil) the figurative (mustashabih) verses” (Shahrastani, p. 29). This was a protest against the anthropomorphism of the Hanbalites and Karramites who took literally the statements of the Qur’an about Allah’s hands, face, His sitting on His throne, etc.

    The Ash‘arites also rejected this anthropomorphism, but they felt it was impious to pry into the nature of Allah and try to explain what was meant by His hands and His throne. Hence, they simply affirmed that “Allah has settled Himself upon His throne,” that He “has a countenance – and two hands –and two eyes, without asking how (bila kayfa)” (creed of al-Ash‘ari, Macdonald, “Development,” pp. 294, 190). The Shi‘ites follow the Mu‘tazilites in holding that the anthropomorphisms must be explained (ta’wil).

  • 2. The translator had written “the author of ‘Ya‘qut,’” which I have corrected by conjecture. R.A.N.
  • 3. See note on par. 58: The Sifatians held that the divine qualities were eternally inherent in the essence of Allah. The Mu‘tazilites rejected this doctrine, because “if the qualities share in priority they would share in godhood also,” and the multiplicity of eternal existence would have to result, and this they denied. They said that the qualities were not in addition to the essence, but were the essence itself. Thus, Allah is Knowing by His essence, not by His Knowledge, and is Powerful by His essence, not by His Power. (Shahrastani, p 29, Macdonald, “Development,” p. 136, Sell, “The Faith of Islam,” third edition, pp. 194, 195).
  • 4. The full Verse of the Holy Qur’an is the following:

    “And when Musa came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said: My Lord! show me (Thyself), so that I may look upon Thee. He said: You cannot (bear to) see Me but look at the mountain, if it remains firm in its place, then will you see Me; but when his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain He made it crumble and Musa fell down in a swoon; then when he recovered, he said: Glory be to Thee, I turn to Thee, and I am the first of the believers.” (7:143).

  • 5. “They have agreed in denying the vision of Allah the Most High with the eyes in the future life” (Shahrastani, p. 29). The Shi‘ites agree wholly with the Mu‘tazilites in this matter.

    Al-Ash‘ari said, “We believe that Allah at the Day of Resurrection will be visible to the eyes, as the moon is seen upon the night of the full moon; the believers will see Him… We teach that Moses besought Allah that he might see Him in this world; then Allah revealed Himself to the mountain and turned it into dust and taught Moses thereby that he could not see Him in this world. (Q. 7:143). (Macdonald, “Development,” p. 295).

    And according to the creed of an-Nasafi, “That there is a Vision (ru’ya) of Allah the Most High is allowed by reason and certified by tradition (naql). A proof on authority has come down with the affirmation that believers have a Vision of Allah the Most High in Paradise and that He is seen, not in a place or in a direction or by facing or the joining of glances or the placing of a distance between him who sees and Allah the Most High” (Macdonald, “Development,” p. 310).

  • 6. This is in reply to the Ash‘arites who said that the Vision of Allah was denied Moses only in this world.
  • 7. See Macdonald, “Development,” p. 160.
  • 8. See note on par. 58: The Sifatians held that the divine qualities were eternally inherent in the essence of Allah. The Mu‘tazilites rejected this doctrine, because “if the qualities share in priority they would share in godhood also,” and the multiplicity of eternal existence would have to result, and this they denied. They said that the qualities were not in addition to the essence, but were the essence itself. Thus, Allah is Knowing by His essence, not by His Knowledge, and is Powerful by His essence, not by His Power. (Shahrastani, p 29, Macdonald, “Development,” p. 136, Sell, “The Faith of Islam,” third edition, pp. 194, 195).