Attributing to Allah what He has not attributed to Himself
From: Usul al-Kafi
192 A person wrote a letter to Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) telling him about a certain group which attributes form and features to God and requested him to explain the true doctrine of Divine Unity.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) replied: May God be merciful to you. You have asked me about the Oneness of God and the notion which a group holds. Exalted is God, there is nothing like Him and He is All-Hearing and All-Seeing. God is above what is attributed to Him by those who liken God to His creatures, those who tell lies about God. Remember, may God be merciful to you, that in respect of the Oneness of God the true doctrine is what is revealed in the Noble Quran regarding the attributes of God, the Mighty, the Exalted. Keep away from God, the Sublime, all notions of negation and similitude. His existence should never be negated nor should He be likened to anything. He is God, the Established, the Existent. Exalted is He far above what the interpreters attribute to Him. Exceed not the Noble Quran; otherwise you will be stranded even after the exposition of the truth.
193 Imam Zainul Abideen (p) was requested by Abu Hamza, a believer, to explain the concept of the Oneness of God.
Imam Zainul Abideen (p): O Abu Hamza, any kind of limitations cannot define God. The limitations cannot be attributed to God. The status of our Lord is very high and more sublime than the extent of definitions and attributes. Then how can He who is unlimited be defined by concepts which are themselves limited.
Then the Imam (p) quoted the following verse of the Noble Quran: “Vision cannot perceive Him and He perceives all; He is the Subtle, the All-Aware” (Q, 6:103)
194 Two persons appeared before Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) and said that during the Night of Ascension, the Prophet Muhammad (p) saw his Lord in a perfect form of a youth of the age of thirty…
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) went into prostration saying: You are Glorified. They could neither comprehend You nor Your Oneness. Due to this (ignorance) they have described you by wrong attributes. Glorified are You. Had they comprehended You, they would have described You as You have described Yourself. You are Glorified. How their souls have induced them to liken you to others. God, I shall never ascribe to You any attributes save those You have Yourself ascribed to Your Supreme Self and I shall never liken You to Your creatures. You are the possessor of all goodness. Do not include me among the wrongdoers.
The Imam (p) then addressed the two persons: Whatever and however you imagine, you imagine something other than God. We the progeny of Prophet Muhammad (p) represent the median type and criterion (Golden Mean), those who surpass us cannot catch up with us and those who lag behind cannot overtake us.
The Imam (p) further explained: God is far above the level of having the attributes of His creations…
195 Imam Zainul Abideen (p): If all the dwellers in the heaven and on the earth gather together to praise God in all His Glory and Greatness, they will not be able to do so.
196 A person wrote to Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (p) as follows: We have come across some of your followers who differ in the matter of the Unity of God. Some say that He has body and some maintain that He has a shape.
The Imam (p) wrote back in reply: Glory be to God, who can neither be defined nor qualified. Nothing is like Him and He is All-Hearing and All-Knowing.
According to another version of the tradition, the last words of the Imam (p) were ‘All-Seeing’.
197 On the topic of the Oneness of God, Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) wrote: Verily, God is High and Mighty and Sublime and far higher than the realities of His attributes which can (can’t?) be fully comprehended. Ascribe to Him only those attributes that He has assigned to Himself and refrain from qualifying God with anything besides those attributes.
198 Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) was asked regarding the attributes of God.
The Imam (p): Do not exceed the limits set by the Noble Quran.
199 A person wrote to Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) about the difference of opinion that existed among people regarding the Oneness of God.
The Imam (p): Glory be to Him who has no limitations and cannot be defined. Nothing is like Him and He is All-Hearing and All-Seeing.
200 In a letter to Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (p) on the topic of the Oneness of God, a believer wrote: People who live around us differ among themselves regarding the topic of the Divine Unity. Some of them say that He has a body and some of them maintain that He has a form (shape).
Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (p): Glorious is He who is infinite and who cannot be defined or qualified. He does not resemble anything and nothing resembles Him. He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.
201 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Verily, God cannot be defined. And how can He be defined when He himself has said in Noble Quran: “No just estimate of God do they make” (Q, 6:91). In whatever manner He is defined, He will be greater than that.
202 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Verily, God is Great and Sublime. People cannot describe His attributes and they cannot describe the sublimity of His Greatness. “Vision cannot take Him in its grip and He takes the eyes in his grip. He is All-Subtle, All-Aware” (Q, 6:103). States, whereabouts or conditions are not applicable in His case. How can He be described when the concepts and connotation of description have been created by Him, so that it became conception and modality that came into being and we understood to describe Him in terms of His space since He himself has created the space so that it came into being and we knew the space through the space which He had fixed for sense of direction so that the sense of direction came into being and we know the directions through the direction which He has fixed for us. Therefore, God, the Hallowed, the Most High is at every place but is out of everything. Vision sees Him not but He perceives. There is no god save Him, the Sublime, the Great and He is the All-Subtle, All-Aware.
Non-existence of body and form of God
203 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) said regarding the negation of the body and form for God: Glorified is He about whom nobody knows what He is except He Himself. Nothing is like Him and He is All-Hearing and All-Seeing. He has no limitations nor can He be felt or touched or perceived by eyes or senses. Nothing can encompass Him nor has He any body or form or figure or demarcation.
204 Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) was asked about the Oneness of God.
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): All praise be to God who created all things as original creation and fashioned them through His Might and Wisdom. He did not create things from pre-existing things which could negate His power of creation, nor did He design them under any need or through any means so that His work could be questioned or criticized. He created whatever He liked and howsoever He liked, all by Himself to make His wisdom manifest as well as the reality of His Providence. Reason cannot grasp Him. Visualizations cannot reach Him and the faculty of sight cannot perceive Him. He is beyond any calculation or computation. The power of expression is helpless to describe Him. Eyesight is blind in seeing Him. The power of description and definition goes astray in describing and defining Him. He is veiled without veil and is hidden without any covering. He is known without being seen and He is described without any form or shape and praised without any body. There is no god except God, the Great, the Elevated.
205 Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) was told that some people maintain that God has a body.
Imam Musa al-Kazim (p): Verily God, the Sublime, has no resemblance to anything. It is most blasphemous and scandalous to describe the Creator of all things in the form of a body or shape, or process of creation, limitations, limbs and organs. God, the Most High, the Greatest, is too sublime, too high and too far above these conceptions.
Attributes of the absolute reality of God
206 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Our Lord, the Exalted, the Glorious God, has existed eternally. Knowledge was His Essence when there was nothing to be known; Hearing was His Essence when there was nothing to be heard. Seeing was His Essence when there was nothing to be seen. Power was His Essence when there was nothing on which power could be exercised. When He created things, His knowledge applied to the objects, His hearing to audibles and His seeing to visible objects and His power to object on which power could be exercised.
The Imam (p) was further asked: Has God always been in motion?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): God is High and Exalted above that. Verily, motion is an attribute caused by an action.
Again the Imam (p) was asked: Has God always been speaking?
The Imam (p): Verily, speech is an attribute, which came into being later, and is not eternal. God, the Mighty, the Majestic, existed when there was nothing to be spoken to.
207 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): God, the Mighty, the Majestic, existed eternally even when nothing else existed. He had eternally known whatever would come into being and His knowledge of a thing before it comes into being is exactly the same as it is after it comes into being.
208 A believer wrote a letter to Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) beginning with the words: All praise be to God to the utmost limit of His knowledge.
The Imam (p) wrote back to him: Never say ‘to the utmost limit of His knowledge’ since there is no limit to His knowledge. Say ‘To His greatest possible pleasure’.
209 A person wrote to Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) asking him about God, the Mighty, the Majestic: Did He know the things before He created them and fashioned them or He did not know that before He created them and willed to create and fashion them so that He came to know about the creatures when He created and fashioned what He fashioned?
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) wrote in reply: God always had the knowledge about things before He created them. His knowledge about things before their creation remained unchanged after He created those things.
Supplement to the previous chapter
210 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p) described the concept of the eternity of God: Verily, He (God) is One, the Eternal refuge. His name has one and the same meaning.
A believer asked: Some people of Iraq maintain that God hears with something different from what He sees with.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): They are liars. They have abandoned the religion of God and they have attributed a human likeness to God. High indeed is God, Sublime, Exalted above that. He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing, He hears with what He sees, and sees with what He hears.
The believer: These people are also of the opinion that God is All-Seeing in the same sense and in the same way as they conceive seeing.
The Imam (p): God is Exalted above all this. Only that can be conceived which has the attribute of a created being and God is not like that.
211 An atheist: Do you say that God is All-Hearing and All-Seeing?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): God is All-Hearing and All-Seeing but He hears without any organic mechanism and sees without any instrument. He hears and sees by His Supreme Self. When I say ‘His Supreme Self’ I do not mean that He is one thing and His ‘Supreme Self’ is something else. I wanted to explain what I knew because I had been asked, and I wanted to explain it to you since you had asked. If I say ‘He hears with the wholeness of His Being’ this does not mean that His whole has any parts, as a ‘whole’ according to our concept is made up of parts. But I wanted to make you understand and to interpret my knowledge. In this matter to which I refer, there is nothing except that He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing, All-Knowing and All-Aware without diversity in His essence or in the meaning of His Supreme Self
Intention is an attribute of action
212 A person asked Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): Is God eternally exercising His will?
The Imam (p): Exercise of a will cannot be without the objective willed. God is eternally All-knowing and All-Powerful and then He wills (whatever He wills).
213 A believer: Is the knowledge of God and the Will of God the same or are they different from each other?
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): His knowledge is not necessarily His will. Do you not remember that on most occasions you say ‘If God wills I shall do this’ but you never say ‘If God knows I shall do this.’ Your own conditional words ‘If God wills’ prove that in your opinion and belief God has not willed it as yet. And in case He wills whatever He wills will surely come to pass exactly as He wills. Hence, His knowledge has priority over His will.
214 A person: Tell me about the will of God and the will of His creatures.
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): The will of His creatures means what occurs in their minds and then what appears afterwards in the form of action. In the case of God, the Sublime, willing results in actual happening of what is willed and is not distinct from it. This is because He does not plan or meditate or ponder. These qualities are negated from Him. These are the attributes of His creations. His will is His action, not different from it. He says unto it ‘Be’ and it comes into being without any word of mouth or utterance of the tongue, and without any planning and deliberation and there is no question of ‘how’ for these, as the connotation of ‘how’ is not applicable in His case.
215 Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p) was asked about the significance of the words ‘My anger’ occurring in verse: “And those on whom My anger descends is surely ruined” (Q, 20:81).
The Imam (p): His anger signifies His punishment. Verily whoever thought that God shifts from one state to another, ascribed to God the attributes of His creatures. Nothing provokes God, the Exalted, to bring any change in Him.
216 An Atheist: Are pleasure and wrath applicable to God?
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Yes, but not like that which is found in His creatures. In His creatures, the pleasure is a condition in which it enters and is transferred from one condition to another, because the creatures are imperfect, compound and created. Other things can enter into them. But in our Creator, nothing can enter because He is One, the unity in its pristine essence and its meaning. His pleasure is His reward and His anger is His chastisement, without anything entering into Him or stimulating Him or changing Him from one state to another; these are the attributes of His creatures who are powerless and dependent.
About the Names (of God)
217 Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) was asked about the exact nature of name.
The Imam (p): A name is an attribute of the object named.
218 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): The name of God is something other than God Himself. And everything to which the term is applicable except God Himself is a creation (by God, the Creator). Since whatever is expressed by the tongue and whatever is done by the hand is nothing but a creation. And one’s saying God with his tongue or writing ‘God’ with his hands is an extreme limit among all conceivable limits to signify Godhead. But the object represented by a symbol is quite different from the symbol itself. But the symbol can be expressed by sound or by letter and all that can be expressed or defined is something created while the Creator of all things including space, time, abstract concept of how, why, where, and when etc. cannot be expressed or defined to any extent. God was not brought into being so that the state of His being could be known through the works of someone else who brought him into being. And to whatever extreme limit men may rise in His cognition He shall be other than that extreme limit.
Summarizing the above sermon on the Unity of God, the Imam (p) concluded: One who has comprehended this truth can never go astray. This is the essence of the Unity of God, so by the grace of God, guard it, do not let the shadow of any untruth fall on it. Remain steadfast in it and comprehend it by the will of God. He who pretends or assumes that he knows God through his veils or by forms or by semblance is a polytheist. Because His veil, form or semblance are different from Himself. Verily He is the One, the Unique. So how can a person bear witness to the Unity of God and to His being unique if he thinks that he has known God through nothing other than God? Verily only he has known God who has known God through God himself. He who has not known God through God Himself has not known Him at all. What he has known is something other than all the things when nothing existed. He is called by His names but He is other than His names and His names are other than what He is.
Connotation of names
219 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was requested to explain the hidden meaning of ‘Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim’ (In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful).
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): The ‘B’ of Bismillah stands for ‘Bahaullah’ which denotes the domination of God over His creatures. The ‘S’ of Bismillah stands for “Sanaullah” which means ‘The Glory and Majesty of Allah’ The ‘M’ of Bismillah stands for ‘Majidullah’ or ‘Mulkullah’ which means ‘the kingdom of God.’ ‘Al-Rehman’ denotes His Mercy for all His creations and ‘Al-Rahim’ denotes His Mercy for the faithful.
220 Imam Musa al-Kazim (p) was asked the meaning of the name Allah (God).
The Imam (p): It means He is the Absolute Ruler over everything, big or small.
221 Imam Ali ar-Reza (p) was requested to explain the meaning of the verse: “God is the Light of the heavens and the earth” (Q, 24:35).
The Imam (p): God is the guide for all the inhabitants of the heavens and earth.
According to another tradition, the Imam (p) said: The One who guides every one in the heaven and everyone on the earth.
222 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was requested to explain the meaning of the verse: “Is the First and the Last” (Q, 57:3). The believer said that he can grasp the meaning of God being the First but cannot understand that He is the Last.
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): With the only exception of God, the Lord-Sustainer of the world, everything (in the universe) undergoes change. The Lord-Sustainer alone remains absolutely in the same state. He is the First to exist before everything and will remain everlastingly after everything. His attributes and His names never undergo any kind of change unlike all other things without a single exception. As, for example, man originally was nothing but dust. Then it transformed into flesh and blood and bones and again it became dust. Another example is that of a date. In the beginning it was green, unripe and then it became ripe and mature and then finally dried up. So, the names and conditions of everything remain changing but God, the Mighty, the Majestic, never undergoes any kind of change.
223 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was asked the meaning of the verse: “He (God) is the First and the Last” (Q, 57:3)
Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p): He being the First means there was no first before Him and no beginning preceded Him at all. His being the Last means His being without any end. End can be conceived only as an attribute of what is created. But He is Eternal, the (absolute) First and the Last. He has always been and He will always be, having neither any beginning nor any end. Occurrence does not apply to Him. He does not change from one state to another and is the Creator of everything.
224 A person asked Imam Muhammad at-Taqi (p): Tell me about the Lord, the Hallowed, the Exalted, whose names and attributes have been mentioned in His Noble Quran. Are these names and Attributes He Himself?
Imam Muhammad at-Taqi (p): Your question has two aspects. If you mean that His names and attributes are in themselves His Supreme Self, you are attributing plurality and multiplicity to God. He is far above that. But if you mean that these names and attributes have eternal existence then the word eternal shall also have two meanings. First, if you mean that these names and attributes have eternally been in the knowledge of God and He has eternally deserved them, then your conception is right. But if you mean that (in their literal sense) the image, the pronunciation and the spelling of these names and attributes have eternally existed, then may God save us from the notion that there had eternally been any other thing along with God. God existed when there was no creation. God created these names and attributes to be a medium between Himself and His creation. Through these names and attributes they could supplicate before Him and worship Him. And this is the remembrance of God. God existed when there was no remembrance. The object of remembrance is God, the Eternal and eternally existing. But His names and attributes are created and the meaning of these names and attributes is the same as God, and the notion of incompatibility and of union (between His self, names and attributes) is not in keeping with His elegance because incongruity and union are found in things compound and divisible. It can neither be said that God is compound nor less nor more and He is eternal in His essence. Everything else is divisible and compound but God is one and indivisible. The notions of ‘more’ and ‘less’ are not applicable to Him. Everything that is divisible or to which ‘more or less’ can be attributed is essentially a created being providing a proof (of the existence) of its Creator. Thus, your statement that God is Omnipotent means you have admitted that nothing humbles Him. These words negate disability from Him and prove that disability is alien to Him. Similarly, you’re saying ‘Omniscient’ negated ignorance from Him and you admit ignorance is totally foreign to Him. When God will annihilate things, their images, features and components will be simultaneously annihilated. God, who is Eternal knows them all eternally.
The person: Then how (after complete annihilation) can we name our Lord as ‘All-Hearing’?
The Imam (p): In the sense that nothing audible that is known through hearing is hidden from Him. We do not connect His audibility to something which is tied up with the head (the ear and its organism). Similarly, we have named Him All-Seeing since nothing visible that is known through the eyes, like colour or body or anything else, is hidden from Him. We never attribute to Him seeing by means of eyes. In the same way, we have named Him All-Subtle in the sense that He has all knowledge of the minuscule things like a mosquito and things smaller than that. He knows all about its breeding place, its instincts, its sexuality, its feeling for its kind, its interdependence and carrying of eating and drinking material to its offspring in the mountains, deserts and the valleys therein. Thus, we come to the conclusion that their Creator is All-Subtle without assigning this quality to any condition. Condition is a must for the created beings.
Similarly, we call Him Almighty not because of His fighting capability, for this is used for the created. If Divine Might had been used in the sense of fighting power, then it would become a similarity to which the possibility of increase would be applicable. And then the notion of decrease will also apply. But that which decreases is not eternal. And that which is not eternal is helpless. Therefore, our Lord has neither any like or unlike, nor any peer, nor any form or limits, nor any seeing through the eyes. It is prohibited for hearts to find any semblance to Him and for consciousness to imagine Him. Great and Exalted is He above any comprehension and above the signs of His creation. He is far above all that.
225 A person asked Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) the meaning of the familiar and oft repeated phrase ‘Glory be to God’ (Subhanallah). (Q, 12:108)
The Imam (p): Dignity of God (negation of all those attributes that are unworthy of Him).
226 Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (p) was asked the meaning of the familiar phrase ‘Glory be to God’ (Subhanallah). (Q, 12:108)
The Imam (p): This phrase denotes the essential purity of God being above the perfection all created being.
Difference between the names of God and those of His creations
227 Imam Ali ar-Reza (p), in the presence of some people, said: He (God) is the Subtle, All-Aware, All-Hearing, All-Seeing, the One, the Unique, the Absolutely Independent, He begetteth not, nor is He begotten and there is none like Him. If God was as such as those who believe in similitude, then neither the Creator can be distinguished from the created, nor the Inventor from the invented. But in fact He is the Inventor of the invented to whom he has given body and form. Since the body and form belongs to the invented and not of the Inventor, there fore there is nothing like Him nor is He like anything.
One of the audience: You have called Him Unique, the Independent and you also said that nothing resembles Him. But God is one and an individual is one. Is it not a resemblance in Oneness?
Imam Ali ar-Reza (p): Not at all. May God keep you steadfast. Resemblance relates to essence (not in names). As for the names, every object is one and the names signify the objects that bear those names. When we talk of an individual as ‘one’ we mean that the individual is one body and not two because he is made up of several limbs and colours. And what is composed of different parts cannot be regarded as one. He consists of separate parts, diverse and divisible. His blood is not his flesh and his flesh is not his blood. His nervous system is different from his veins and arteries and his hair is not his skin. His blackness is different from his whiteness. The same holds good for the other creations. Therefore, person is one in name and not in essence. God, Exalted be His Majesty, is One and Unique and none else is One and Unique. There is no incongruity and diversion in Him nor is there any excess or deficit. But person is a creation composed of different parts and essences and primary elements, and in this state of composition is regarded as one.
One of the audience: You have provided solace to us. May God comfort you. Kindly explain to us your observation that He is the Subtle, All-Aware as you have explained the Oneness of God. I do understand that God is Subtle in a sense different from that in which any of His creations is subtle and there must be a difference. But I would like that you explain it to us.
The Imam (p): Our statement that He is Subtle means that He has created subtle things and has full awareness of those subtle things. May God favour you and keep you steadfast. Do you not see the signs of His creation in vegetation which is subtle and not subtle and also in very subtle creations and in the tiny birds, insects, mosquitoes and in the tiny flies and also things infinitesimal to the extent that they are not visible to the eye and they are so small that you cannot tell the male from the female and the young from the old. We see the infinite smallness of these creatures and how they are guided in coming near the female of the species and running away from what is deadly and in the gathering of what is essential for their survival. We see the creatures dwelling in the depth of the seas and under the bark of the trees and in valleys and deserts. We see them communicating messages to one another and with their offspring and also their bringing food for them. We also see their matching of colours, the red with the yellow and the white with red. Also we see that due to their smallness they are not visible to the eye. Our eyes do not perceive them. Our hands do not touch them. Having seen all this, we conclude that the Creator of such subtle creatures must have used a very subtle art in the creation of what we have mentioned. We also know that those who make things do so out of other things. But God alone, the only One, the Subtle, the Great, has created things out of nothing.