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How Do We Understand God’s Attributes?

Questioner

Homer

Reply Date

Feb 27, 2018

Question

I am reading about Islam. I came across some verses form the Quran that say that your God has hands and eyes. How should such attributes be understood?

Consultant

Answer


God's Attributes

Salam Dear Brother,

Thank you very much for your question, and for your interest in learning about Islam and its beliefs.

Of course, God is the focus of the Islamic faith.

Muslims believe not only in the existence of One True God, but also that He is the source of all good; and He is perfect.

There is to Him No Equivalent

Muslims believe that God is the Creator, Sustainer, and Cherisher of this universe and everything in it.

He is not like anything of creation, otherwise, He would not be the Creator of creation.

God is not part of creation; and therefore, He is different from it.

The Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God, confirms this fact as it goes,

{…there is nothing whatever like unto Him.} (Ash-Shura 42:11)

Because God is the Creator of the whole universe and everything in it, we cannot grasp Him with our minds, or conceptualize Him in our limited brains, or find His truth with our senses.

One of the great scholars of Islam, Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali says:

It is a well-known thing that there are two ways of knowledge; description or actual witnessing.

When it comes to the first one, we will find that it is a defective way i.e. it does not give us an actual or real conceptualization of the thing being described.

Notwithstanding the fact that description is a limited way to know things, it is still fruitful and beneficial when it comes to things that are beyond our senses.

The second way of knowledge, which is witnessing, is more accurate to a degree in realizing things.

When it comes to God, the second way is impossible as no one has witnessed God because witnessing Him means things He is far above like dimension, being contained in a place and judged by a distance; all of which are impossible to Him.

Therefore, we cannot depend on the second way; rather, we should try the first way which is description of God, i.e. His Divine Perfect Attributes rather than His Entity.

Allah’s Divine Attributes

It is because of this that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“Reflect upon the blessings of God, but not His Entity.” (Al-Tabarani)

As explained earlier, we will get to know when we try to think about His Entity because it is above our minds.

One of the attributes of God is “difference from creation”, and because of this attribute, we should shun any idea that may lead us to anthropomorphism (that is, the attribution of human beings to God).

If any text in the Quran or the Hadith apparently gave any words that may lead us to go down this path, we should understand it in one of two ways:

  1. To submit the understanding of the whole text completely to God as part of the test of our faith. In this way, we should bear in mind that He is trying to make things clearer to us in a language we can understand without any link between the words and the way things are in reality with Him.
  1. To try to understand the text within the rules of Arabic language that speak about figure of speech, that is, the text may be understood as figurative speech.

For instance, “hand” is a figurative symbol of power, so when the Quran speaks about God having a hand, it may mean, God’s Power as the hand in the figurative Arabic language is a symbol of power. Of course this last one can be done by erudite scholars who are qualified to deal with such texts.

These are the two ways that can be used in these cases, to save our limited minds from falling into the abyss of exhaustion without getting to any destination.

Imam Ibrahim Al-Laqani said in his well-known poem known as Jawharatut Tawhid (The Pearl of Divine Oneness):

Every text that would appear to imply similitude,

Interpret it or consign, and always affirm transcendence.

It is narrated that Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq, the Prophet’s closest Companion, used to say,

“Failing to realize, is in itself realization.”

He means, that failing to realize the reality of Allah, is itself a realization that He is Allah; the Creator and the Cherisher, as it proves to us how limited we are and how magnificent He is.

Finally, I would like to quote a translation from a very well-known text in Islamic belief according to the mainstream interpretation, Imam Al-Dardir’s Al-Kharidah Al-Bahiyyah (The Radiant Pearl) who states:

Thus, He is the Majestic, the Beautiful, the Master,

The Pure, the Holy, and the Most High Lord.

I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch.

Salam.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

How Can Allah Be Our Hearing?

Allah is Infinite: How Can Human Minds Comprehend Him?

Can We Ask: What Does Allah Look Like?

 




About Sheikh Ahmad Saad

Ahmed Saad is the founding director of Ihsan Institute of Arabic & Islamic Studies-UK. An international speaker and dynamic scholar. ()

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