The first lesson from the series on introductory Islamic creed commentary on Imam Muhammad ibn Ja’far Al Kattani’s poem “The Creed of Deliverance”
If you were to ask an average Muslim that has the smallest amount of knowledge regarding the Muslim sect they attribute themselves to, there is a very high chance that they will claim to be part of the “saved sect – الفرقة الناجية”, or at the very least on the “true way” of being in this sect. This claim is made while it escapes him or her that such a claim is quite an audacious one and more often than not has no basis, except that they were informed that they were on the path of “the strangers”, which were foretold about by the Prophet peace be upon him. The interesting part is, you will hear the same rhetoric as this person from another who might seem to be doing things in what looks superficially to be an opposite way. In fact, I’ve personally heard one individual claim that they are on the Sunnah of the Prophet peace be upon him and they’re part of “the strangers”, while throwing some label such as “Sufi” or “Ash’ari” or “innovator” on another Muslim whom they do not see eye to eye with. On the other hand, this other individual that was labelled by the first is saying exactly the same thing regarding the first, but the label is different. Instead they will call the first a “Salafi” or “Wahhabi” as a way to demean them and apparently “show” how they’re on the wrong path.
From my personal experience, the more I learn, the more I see the ridiculous nature of this discourse and the more I see why we as Muslims have gotten to this point. Every time I hear such language I immediately remember God’s words in the Qur’an when He says in Chapter 23, Verses 52 & 53:
وَإِنَّ هَـٰذِهِۦۤ أُمَّتُكُمۡ أُمَّةً۬ وَٲحِدَةً۬ وَأَنَا۟ رَبُّڪُمۡ فَٱتَّقُونِ * فَتَقَطَّعُوٓاْ أَمۡرَهُم بَيۡنَہُمۡ زُبُرً۬اۖ كُلُّ حِزۡبِۭ بِمَا لَدَيۡہِمۡ فَرِحُونَ
And surely this your religion is one religion and I am your Lord, therefore be careful (of your duty) to me. But they cut off their religion among themselves into sects, each part rejoicing in that which is with them
It’s extremely sad that many Muslims recite the Qur’an on a daily basis and yet when it comes to learning from it and taking its instructions to heart, many of us simply fail. In fact, we have many Muslims that have either memorized the whole Qur’an cover to cover, or are currently focusing and working hard on memorizing it. But how many of us are working hard on implementing and understanding the Qur’an in our daily lives? It truly brings what the Prophet peace be upon said to the companions about the end of time to a vivid realization for anyone reflecting upon it:
أنتم في زمان قليل قراؤه كثير فقهاؤه وسيأتي زمان كثير قراؤه قليل فقهاؤه
You’re living during a time when few have memorized while many have understood, and a time will come when many will have memorized while few have understood
When it comes to the above mentioned verse, Imam Al Qurtubi mentions in his commentary Al Jami’ Li Ahkam Al Qur’an that the verse is understood in light of the narration from the Prophet peace be upon him in which he said:
ألا إن من قبلكم من أهل الكتاب افترقوا على ثنتين وسبعين ملة وإن هذه الملة ستفترق على ثلاث وسبعين ثنتان وسبعون في النار و واحدة في الجنة وهي الجماعة
Verily the people before you from the People of the Book split into seventy two religions, and this religion will split into seventy three; seventy two are in Hell and one is in Heaven and it’s the group
This narration was reported by Abu Da’uwood and it ended at that point. At’Tirmithi narrated it and had an addition that was missing in which the companions may God be pleased with them asked the Prophet peace be upon him:
ومن هي يا رسول الله؟ قال: ما أنا عليه وأصحابي
And who shall it be o’ Messenger of God? He said: what I’m upon and my companions
As Imam Al Qurtubi explains, the splitting into groups being warned about in both the Verses and Prophet narration is to split on the principles and foundations of Islam. This is the case due to the specific use of the word “milla - ملة” in the narration. On the other hand, this narration CANNOT be used when it comes to the branches of the religion. Unfortunately, some Muslims mistakingly use this narration from the Prophet peace be upon him to attack the following of a particular Matth’hab and claim that it “splits the Ummah”. Such a fallacious use of the words of the Prophet peace be upon him is nothing else but a sign of ignorance. With respect to what the Prophet peace be upon indicated regarding what he and his companions may God be pleased with them, this is what is known as the “Sunnah“.
To drive this point home, the Prophet peace be upon him said in another narration:
عليكم بسنتي وسنة الخلفاء الراشدين من بعدي عضوا عليها بالنواجذ وإياكم ومحدثات الأمور فإن كل بدعة ضلالة
Follow my way and the way of the rightly guided caliphs after me, and hold on to this with your teeth, and beware of innovated matters (in the religion) because every innovation (in the religion) is a misguidance
Furthermore, Imam Malik may God be pleased with him used to quite often say:
فإن خير أمور الدين ما كان سنة وشر الأمور محدثات البدائع
The best of religious matters is what was in accordance to the Sunnah, and the most evil of matters are the newly innovated ones (in the religion)
It should be made clear here that the definition of Sunnah according to the Sharia excludes what were customary norms within the Arabian society. Acts that are in accordance with that society’s general norms or against them are not named Sunnah or Bidah, even if they were acts of the Prophet peace be upon him. For example, the Prophet peace be upon him milked his own goat, but no one can say it is a Sunnah for a Muslim to milk their own goat.
There is another term for Sunnah that is more restrictive than just jurisprudence, and it deals with Creed. This is in regards to the difference between Sunnah and Shia, and what is meant with these names is political regarding the caliphate. At the very beginning, Muslims split into three groups depending on their view on who should qualify to be the ruler of the believers, and the three positions were:
- The caliphate is restricted to the family of the Prophet peace be upon him – Shia
- The caliphate is not restricted to anyone – Kharijites
- The caliphate is restricted to the tribe of Quraysh – Sunni
Although this was a political split, it later took a creedal form, and that solidified the split between Muslims to this day.
With respect to the Arabic linguistic meaning of the term “al jama’a - الجماعة”, it refers to the group of people that have pledged allegiance to someone. The term started to be widely used during the time of the third rightly-guided caliph Othman Bin Affan may God be pleased with him when the Kharijites defected from the rest of Muslims and killed him. This term is no longer valid for use during our times because it was initially used to describe the majority of Muslims that were in allegiance with the caliph, which is no longer in existence.
But let’s get back to the narrations about the 73 sects. Shaykh Muhammed Al Hasan Wald Ad’Dido is a contemporary scholar and president of the Association for Preparing Scholars in Mauritania. He is one of the very few living scholars that seem to have mastered many of the Islamic sciences, and seems to have memorized anything that anyone can think of when it comes to the Islamic Tradition. More importantly, unlike many of our contemporary scholars and imams of mosques that simply relate what they read in the Hadith books as they have studied them in the universities they attended, Shaykh Ad’Dido didn’t just study and memorize all the Hadith texts such as Bukhari and Muslim and Abu Da’uwood with scholars of Hadith, but he can also relate the narrations in these books in all their versions with chains of transmission that go all the way back to the Prophet peace be upon him (click here to see what I mean). According to Shaykh Ad’Dido, the part of the narration saying that seventy two out of the seventy three sects are in Hell except for one is not authentic. The narration stops at the splitting into seventy three sects, and all other additions seen are either fabricated or weak. Furthermore, the splitting is not a negative or a positive thing. Rather, the Prophet peace be upon him foretold about it because it was inevitably going to happen due to the differences of intellectual powers and comprehension abilities of people. What one individual is able to understand from a Qur’anic Verse or narration of the Prophet peace be upon him is not necessarily going to be at the same level as someone else.
The opinion of Shaykh Ad’Dido is one of others that the scholars of Hadith have about this particular narration. Another opinion that I was taught is that the added part regarding the different groups says that seventy two are going to be in Heaven except for one, which is apparently also as authentic as the version most commonly narrated among Muslims that opposes it (that 72 are in Hell and 1 is in Heaven).
If you thought it ended there, think again. When it comes to the interpretation of the narration itself, regardless of whether you take the first version or second or third or or or, you will find it quite odd that there is such a wide diversity of ways to read this narration. One interpretation talks about the fact that all of humanity is the Ummah of the Prophet peace be upon him, because he was sent to all of them. Those who respond and accept the Message are called the Ummah of Affirmation (أمة الإستجابة), while others who have not are called the Ummah of Invitation (أمة الدعوة). Therefore, one interpretation is that the seventy two sects will form the Ummah of Invitation, while the remaining sect that goes into Heaven is the Ummah of Affirmation, irrespective of how many groups are within it.
There are many other interpretations for this Hadith that I’m not going to get into here, but I think I made my point, which is that some Muslims who try to quote this Prophetic narration as if it’s clear and has no ambiguity in it are in fact mistaken. Nothing that is clear cut would have the mind boggling number of opinions this particular narration has. Many have delved into it and commented about it, and many more Muslims nowadays will quote this narration from the Prophet peace be upon him and claim to be from the “saved sect” until the cows come home. But the truth of the matter is, the falsehood is not necessarily fallen on the narration itself, but rather it falls on those who occupy themselves to an unacceptable extent with it.
In fact, it is impermissible in Islam to declare anyone or any group of people to be saved except for those who have been explicitly named in the Qur’an or authentic narration from the Prophet peace be upon him.
There is another narration from the Prophet peace be upon him where he said:
بدأ الإسلام غريبا وسيعود غريبا فطوبى للغرباء
Islam started as a strange thing and will return as a strange thing, so glad tidings are for the strangers
In the spirit of making claims, which is a major ailment that Muslims are suffering from, many will claim to be on the way of the “strangers”. I have yet to meet a single Muslim that quotes this narration and completes it with the two endings that it’s been narrated with. The companions may God be pleased with them asked:
من هم الغرباء يا رسول الله؟
Who are the strangers O’ Messenger of God?
There are two versions of responses that he peace be upon him gave:
قوم صالحون في قوم سوء كثير، من يعصيهم أكثر ممن يطيعهم
Righteous people among wicked people. Many more will disobey them than those who obey
من يصلحون ما أفسد الناس من سنتي
Those who fix what people have broken in my Sunnah
In the interpretation of the word “strangers”, according to the scholars of Hadith, the first “strangers” were the Prophet peace be upon him and his first companions in Mecca may God be pleased with them. They were weak and could not manifest the Truth or speak of it. The return to that was foretold by the Prophet peace be upon him, which is when those who have the Truth will not be able to speak it. Many Muslims have misunderstood the word “strangers” to mean those who do things differently or look a little different than others. The first “strangers” at the beginning of Islam were strange among their own people, who looked like them, dressed like them, ate like them, and had the same customary practices as them. Take that to nowadays and apply it. My personal experience with this matter has been quite “strange”.
I’ve been studying and travelling to sit with scholars and learning much about the Islamic Tradition over the past 4 years in quite a focused and intense way. As I began studying I realized that I’ve never raised my eyebrows so much in my life. Much of what I thought were given facts turned out to be merely opinions by some scholars that others, and in some instances most did not agree with. The methodology behind approaching the Tradition itself, which I was exposed to previously before sitting with teachers was flawed in its essence, because it gave authority to the intellect of those who were not trained and did not seriously study. Lately, I’ve even had a question about why I placed importance on having a chain of transmission for anything being done in the religion that goes back to the Prophet peace be upon him, such as praying and wudu’. Among Muslims, the way to do Islam now is to either buy the books yourself and pretend you’re Ibn Hazm, or just go on Google or YouTube, and practice Do It Yourself Islam. But to emphasize sitting with teachers and learning from them and ask for a chain of transmission for anything being said that relates to the religion and practicing it, has now been getting me very weird looks. To top it off, those who find the traditional way of obtaining knowledge strange, will decree themselves as the “saved sect” and the “strangers”, while everyone else is apparently doomed.
Quick pause and side note: I’m not making a claim to be one of the “strangers”. I’m just trying to give perspective on things. When I share that I’m getting weird looks, it’s due to me trying to follow in the footsteps of the previous generations of scholars in hopes of attaining a small percentage of what they had. But I am convinced that the right away to obtaining knowledge and learning the Islamic Tradition has been lost among most Muslims and is now looked upon as “strange”.
Back to what I was saying. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him said:
أما أن يفرد الإنسان طائفة منتسبة إلى متبوع من الأمة ويسميها أهل الحق ويشهر أن كل من خالفها في شيء فهو من أهل الباطل فهذا حال الأهواء والبدع
For one person to single out a sect that follows a particular imam from among the Muslims and name it the “People of Truth”, and announce that all who disagree with it in any matter are the “People of Falsehood” – this is the state of people following their personal whims and innovations
I absolutely love this saying of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have marcy on him. It is basically a commentary on the Verse:
ولا تزكوا أنفسكم هو أعلم بمن اتقى
And do not exalt yourselves. He knows best who has achieved awareness (of God)
Furthermore, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him used the term insan in Arabic, which in English can be translated into person. However, the Arabic word comes from the root word meaning “to forget”. In the statement by Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him, he says that the individual doing this singling out of one group over others is one who has forgotten what Islam actually teaches and forgot his place in the world.
A final word about this subject. Many claim to be following the Sunnah of the Prophet peace be upon him. But if one examines things closely, it turns out for the most part to be an empty claim. Every sincere Muslim would know that they’re really lacking and are not following most of the Sunnah, and they acknowledge that. The danger comes when one has enough pride to believe that they are indeed “saved”, and then start judging others. The scholars have unanimously ruled that it’s impermissible to declare anyone as one who is not part of the People of Sunnah, unless those scholars who are the level of being able to discern this have a unanimous agreement that he or she has seriously strayed away from the People of Sunnah. Otherwise, even if one is violating certain givens, or happens to be unanimously declared as an innovator in a certain matter, they are still part of the People of Sunnah.
Heaven and Hell are none of anyone’s business but God’s. So each of us should mind our own business and work on rectifying our states.
This and God knows best!
Disclaimer: This post is quite long as it deals with an extensive subject.
While writing my last post Ash’ari – What’s in a name?, I was getting a rush of many things I wanted to state, but in the interest of keeping it short I opted to not mention much of what I would’ve liked to. Doing so has bothered me a great deal and therefore I decided to follow it up with another more elaborate exposition on this issue of Salafi/Wahhabi and Ash’ari labels. I still won’t get into the issue in exhausting detail, because that would mean I should write a book instead, which I’m not worthy of undertaking such a task. However, I will seek to highlight the main points here, because I’ve been finding that for those who do not study the matter, these labels are confusing more than anything. By that I mean that those who use these terms are confused in themselves and in turn confuse others when they throw these terms around. Just a word of warning, this is one of those topics that I get extra harsh on those Muslims that like to label their fellow Muslims. I have a zero tolerance policy for any Muslim that excludes other Muslims, especially when they do it in the name of Islam.
I do NOT like the term Salafi. It gives the impression to those who hear it that the one claiming to be Salafi is in fact following on the footsteps of the Salaf, i.e. the pious predecessors, while everyone else is not. This could NOT be further from the truth. In fact, in many cases those who claim to be Salafis should be punished for desecrating the name Salafi and giving such a distorted view of Islam and of the Salaf, which ends up pushing many Muslims away and driving non-Muslims to avoid Islam. I prefer the term Googli or YouTubi, because the reality is sadly that’s where they get all their “Islam” from. For these people “true” and “authentic” Islamic information will ONLY come from places like http://www.islam-qa.com or http://www.islamway.com. It’s really interesting that in those two examples that represent others, the first website is run by a well-known Islamic lecturer and author in Saudi Arabia, while the second one is run by a much more extensive group, that has names running for 3 pages, the great majority of which are Saudi or at least educated in Saudi Arabian Islamic universities (there were a couple of names from Al Azhar university though just to be fair!). When it comes to YouTube, the same principle holds. If the Shaykh sitting in front of that camera is wearing the Saudi robe and head piece, that’s confirmation for his uprightness and truthfulness!
So the premise most of those who call themselves Salafi, yet are in fact Googli or YouTubi, is that for any Islamic information to be authentic it must come from Saudi Arabia. Otherwise you can take it and throw it against the wall. Am I the only one who thinks that this is ludicrous? If you think that true Islam comes from Saudi Arabia, and all others are false or misguided or misunderstanding or innovating or anything of that sort, then you should wake up and smell the qahwa. The sad thing is, these people seem to not have anyone really stand up to them because they’re really clever in how they use the Quran and narrations of the Prophet peace be upon him to intellectually terrorize Muslims around them. Sophistical reasoning is the game in town for them. Yet, none of them are well versed in the Tradition in the slightest degree.
What are these terms Salafi/Wahhabi and Ash’ari about? Why do they have a problem with each other so much? And can they just get along?
This issue goes back in time to over 1100 years ago. Imam Abu Al Hasan Al Ash’ari, who is a descendent of one of the greatest companions of the Prophet peace be upon him, Abu Musa Al Ash’ari may God be pleased with him, was born around the year 260 AH in Basra, Iraq, and died around the year 324 AH in Baghdad, Iraq. He was a great theologian and philosopher during his time, and was one of the main, if not the top, figures of the Mu’tazilite school of theology. This school of theology had the basic premise that the intellect supersedes the transmission of any Tradition, and that a sound intellect and state of an individual are enough to determine what is permissible from that which is not. They had several positions in Islamic creed that deviated from the people of Sunnah, such as that God does not create the actions of people; that His Unity and Uniqueness negated having attributes (despite that these attributes are affirmed in the Quran); that the profligate Muslim is neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but he’s in a state between the two; that those in Paradise will not see God (again despite the verse that says that in the Quran); as well as several other contentions that the Mu’tazilites had. The point for them where all of their system of theology arose is that the intellect can do it all. One really famous Mu’tazilite figure that most Muslims don’t realize was a Mu’tazilite is Al Ja’hith (الجاحظ).
For a period of approximately 40 years Imam Al Ash’ari was the most prominent figure in the Mu’tazilite school. He defended their arguments and attacked others who opposed them by using systems of logic and philosophical argumentations. Most of his writings were of a Mu’tazilite dispensation, which makes sense since most of his lifetime was spent as a Mu’tazilite. The Imam had an intellectual crisis after spending all his years as a Mu’tazilite, and after a short period of thought and reflection he had what can only be described as an opening from God, which was followed by him joining the group known at the time as Al Kullabiyya. He then spent his time using the systems of logic and philosophical argumentations used by the Mu’tazilites to refute their theological positions, to give conclusions such as that the actions of people are in fact created by God not by the people themselves, and that the Quran is the Uncreated Word of God, and that the attributes of God are to be affirmed not negated as they claimed. Imam Al Ash’ari further attempted to show that contrary to their claims, all of the refutations against the Mu’tazilites were consistent with sound logic and intellect. Major figures from Al Kullabiyya were Imam Al Harith Al Muhasibi who authored Risalat Al Mustarshideen (رسالة المسترشدين), Imam Ibn Hiban who authored the Hadith collections, and Imam Al Bukhari who authored the famous Sahih Al Bukhari. Interestingly enough, Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal may God be pleased with him always criticized Imam Al Muhasibi for getting into the philosophy of theology to a large degree. The only reason I can think of why he would do that is because of a personal experience I had when I asked Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah may God preserve him about studying philosophy, and his response to me was to be careful for philosophy brings about heresy.
Finally, Imam Al Ash’ari settled upon the creed that his pious predecessors upheld. Namely, that whatever has been revealed in the Quran and transmitted in a sound narration was to be taken at face value, and to not delve into its interpretation much. However, and this is the point the so-called Salafis don’t like, if the situation arises and it becomes a necessity, where a verse or narration from the Prophet peace be upon him gives an anthropomorphic impression, those who follow Imam Al Ash’ari’s school resort to interpretation, but follow it with the phrase “and God knows best what it means”. This is the core issue of the matter. This is where the so-called Salafi goes as far as excommunicating the Ash’ari from the people of Sunnah, falsely believing that he’s defending the religion. The accusation is that the Ash’ari still uses the intellect as a judge over the transmission, which the Salafi can’t accept despite God saying in the Quran:
أفلا يتدبرون القرآن
Do they not reflect upon the Quran
After this somewhat lengthy introduction, and believe me when I say that I’ve left much out of it in the interest of wanting to talk about the meat of the subject, it’s time to shed light on the major issue the so-called Salafi has with the Ash’ari, and it has to do with the attributes of God.
In the Quran, God says in Chapter 3, Verse 7:
هُوَ ٱلَّذِى أَنزَلَ عَلَيكَ ٱلكِتَـٰبَ مِنهُ ءَايَـٰتٌ مُّحكَمَـٰتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ ٱلكِتَـٰبِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَـٰبِهَـٰتٌ فَأَمَّا ٱلَّذِينَ فِى قُلُوبِهِم زَيغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَـٰبَهَ مِنهُ ٱبتِغَاءَ ٱلفِتنَةِ وَٱبتِغَاءَ تَأوِيلِهِۦ وَمَا يَعلَمُ تَأوِيلَهُ ۥ إِلَّا ٱللَّه وَٱلرَّٲسِخُونَ فِى ٱلعِلمِ يَقُولُونَ ءَامَنَّا بِهِۦ كُلٌّ مِّن عِندِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُوْلُواْ ٱلأَلبَـٰبِ
He it is Who has revealed unto you (O Muhammad) the Scripture wherein are clear revelations – they are the substance of the Book – and others (which are) allegorical. But those in whose hearts is doubt pursue, that which is allegorical seeking (to cause) dissension by seeking to explain it. None knows its explanation except God. And those who are of sound instruction say: We believe therein; the whole is from our Lord; but only men of understanding really heed
Imam Ibn Katheer may God have mercy on him mentions in his commentary on the Quran Tafseer Al Quran Al Kareem that Imam Ahmed may God be pleased with him narrated that the Prophet peace be upon him heard a group of people arguing and he said:
إنما هلك من كان قبلكم بهذا، ضربوا كتاب الله بعضه ببعض، وإنما أنزل كتاب الله يصدق بعضه بعضا، فلا تكذبوا بعضه ببعض، فما علمتم منه فقولوا، وما جهلتم فكلوه إلى عالمه
Surely the people who have come before you were destroyed by this (argumentation), they negated the Book of God using itself against itself, and verily the Book of God was revealed to affirm itself by itself, so do not negate it by it, and what you comprehended from it you can relate, and what you did not then leave it to its Knower
Imam Fakhr Ad’Deen Ar’Razi in his commentary on the Quran Mafateeh Al Ghaib addresses this verse from several angles. Linguistically, to say that a statement is Muhkam (محكم) means that it does not allow for any other meaning to come to your mind. For example, if I described a table color as “black”, the only color you will imagine is black. Your mind does not accommodate for anything different. Furthermore, black doesn’t come in shades. So you literally cannot imagine anything that would be different than anyone else when it comes to being told that the color of the table is black. On the other hand, to say that a statement is Mutashabih (متشابه), i.e. allegorical or ambiguous, means that it would carry different but equal possibilities, to the point where you could not affirm one over the other. This would of course be the case until it becomes clarified further using a statement that is Muhkam. What’s interesting about this is that as Imam Ar’Razi mentions, people who follow a particular school, will claim that the proofs for their conclusions are Muhkam, while those that oppose them are Mutashabih. For example, those who are of the opinion that the believers will be able to see God from Paradise use Verses 22 and 23 from Chapter 75, where God says:
وُجُوهٌ يَومَئذٍ نَّاضِرَةٌ إِلَىٰ رَبها نَاظِرَةٌ
Faces on that day are illuminated, looking upon its Lord
Meanwhile, those who reject this vision say that it’s a Mutashabih verse and the Muhkam one is Verse 103 from Chapter 6, where God says:
لَّا تُدرِكه ٱلأَبصَـٰرُ
Vision comprehends Him not
There are more examples that Imam Ar’Razi lists (and you can go check them out for yourself if you’d like in his commentary), but I think this one is sufficient to display the point, which is that the methodology of those holding one particular opinion is to claim that the Quranic verse or Prophetic narration they’re using is unambiguous and very clear, while those of the opposing opinion are utilizing interpretations of ambiguous ones. Funny enough, the same people that are being rejected are saying exactly the same thing but in opposite about the first group. So in reality it’s just a big ego trip just to prove that one group is on the truth while the other is on the falsehood. And to see how in the above example both sides are being ridiculous when they assume that their understanding is right while the other is wrong, all one has to do is examine the linguistic use of words in both verses; naathira (ناظرة) and al abss’aar (الأبصار).
Modern Arabs would falsely assume that the two words are synonymous, and therefore would translate both words into any language using that same meaning. However, Arabic is not that simple and has subtle nuances in meaning that only those well-grounded in the language would pick up – read any book on al furooq allughawiyya (الفروق اللغوية) and you’ll see what I mean. In this case, the word أبصر (abss’ar) indicates not only seeing, but also comprehending and encompassing what is seen (تفيد الإدراك), while the word نظر (na’thar) indicates seeing and not comprehending and encompassing what is seen. To give an everyday type of example that most of us have experienced, when someone looks through you and you wave at them but they don’t respond until you scream at them and they finally catch on and realize it’s you and respond and say “I didn’t see you there”. Also, those who sleepwalk seem awake because they usually have their eyes open and in some cases can go all the way to the store and back and not realize what they’re doing. In both of those examples, for the person using their eyes one would use the Arabic word na’thar. To use abss’ar the person in question must be actively engaged and comprehends the thing they’re looking at. To show this differential use of these two words in the Quran go to Chapter 7, Verse 198 where God says:
وَإِن تَدعُوهُم إِلَى ٱلهُدَىٰ لَا يَسمَعُواْ وَتَرَىهُم يَنظُرُونَ إِلَيكَ وَهُم لَا يُبصِرُونَ
And if you invite them to guidance, they do not hear; and you see them looking towards you, yet they do not see
Even if you don’t understand the differential use of the words abss’ar and na’thar, you still conclude from this verse alone that they can’t both have the same meaning since God is using one to affirm a quality of sight while the other is being negated. So when it comes to seeing God from Paradise, both groups’ understandings can actually be combined. Meaning, the believers will be able to see God from Paradise, but they still won’t be able to comprehend Him as they would comprehend anything else using their vision.
But let’s get back to the verse from Chapter 3 regarding the allegorical verses. The Prophet peace be upon him ordered us to simply believe in those verses but not delve into them and what they mean. Furthermore, as the majority of scholars have determined based on where the end of the statement comes within the verse, those who delve into the allegorical verses are the ones who have doubt and sickness in their hearts. There is a narration in the Tradition that Imam Malik may God be pleased with him had a man come to him and ask about Verse 5 from Chapter 20:
ٱلرَّحمَـٰنُ عَلَى ٱلعَرشِ ٱستَوَىٰ
This verse is translated in different ways depending on how the translator interpreted the verse:
The Beneficent One, Who is established on the Throne
The Beneficent God is firm in power
The All-Merciful has positioned Himself on the Throne
The Most Gracious God rose over the Mighty Throne
The Compassionate on the Throne is established
The question this man asked to Imam Malik may God be pleased with him was: how did God do it? In other words, what does this verse mean exactly? There are two versions for how Imam Malik may God be pleased with him responded. After lowering his head for a while, and getting hot and sweating heavily, he raised his head and said in one version:
الاستواء معلوم والكيف مجهول والسؤ ال عنه بدعة وما أراك إلا مبتدع فأنيحوه عني الساعة
al istiwa’ is known (i.e. linguistically we know what it means), and the how is unknown (i.e. what it actually means when it’s related to God is unknown), and asking about it is an innovation, and I see that you are nothing but an innovator, so get him out of my sight.
The other response of Imam Malik may God be pleased with him was:
The interpretation is in reciting it (i.e. it means what God intended and its explanation is by reciting it as is).
Either response of Imam Malik is a display of how the pious predecessors treated verses in the Quran or Prophetic narrations dealing with the attributes of God, which are allegorical or ambiguous in meaning. In those occasions where God or the Prophet peace be upon him used words that would typically mean something anthropomorphic, the pious predecessors didn’t delve into any of it and left it alone. They knew it couldn’t mean something anthropomorphic about God, because He says in Chapter 42 Verse 11:
لَيسَ كَمِثلِهِۦ شَىءٌ
There is nothing like a likeness of Him
The Arabic word in the verse ka’mithlihi (كمثله) uses two tools used in the Arabic science of balagha (بلاغة) for describing likeness. The letter kaf (ك) is used for likening something to another to a great degree. The use of mithl (مثل) is used for likening something to another to a small degree. So linguistically, what God is saying in the above verse is that nothing is like Him in either a small or a great degree, i.e. nothing can be compared to Him in any way whatsoever. This verse alone makes the approach of anyone towards verses in the Quran or Prophetic narrations to be a conceding approach of the meaning to God while acknowledging that it can’t mean anything anthropomorphic. And this is where the modern so-called Salafis have a problem with Ash’aris.
The Ash’ari creed’s approach to ambiguous verses in the Quran and Prophetic narrations regarding the attributes of God was not antithetical to the approach of the pious predecessors. Rather, they recognized that to not delve into their meanings would be the proper way to handle them. However, as Islam started to spread to Christian lands, and as people from different dispensations started to have questions for Muslims about God, and as Muslims had to deal with people who did not speak the Arabic language, something had to be done when it came to the ambiguous verses in the Quran and Prophetic narrations dealing with the attributes of God. For example, when God says in Chapter 48 Verse 10:
يَدُ ٱللَّهِ فَوقَ أَيدِيهم
One would not literally translate the word yad into English as hand, but rather as a metaphor for power, i.e.:
The power of God is over theirs
Another example is with the verse I’ve already mentioned:
ٱلرَّحمَـٰنُ عَلَى ٱلعَرشِ ٱستَوَىٰ
The Ash’ari way to explain this would be to use the translation:
The Beneficent God is firm in power
Instead of saying anything else relating to God becoming established on the Throne or sitting on it or anything of that sort.
So for the Ash’aris the reason they interpreted such verses in the Quran and narrations from the Prophet peace be upon him was not due to free choice in the matter. It was a matter of necessity. In other words, they were compelled to do so out of need to translate or explain to either non-Muslims/non-Arabs, or to Muslims who raised those questions up due to doubt in their hearts. This was also to uphold the principle in the Quran of:
لَيسَ كَمِثلِهِۦ شَىءٌ
There is nothing like a likeness of Him
Which was repeated again in a different way in Chapter 112 Verse 4:
وَلَم يَكُن لَّهُ ۥ كفُوًا أَحَدٌ
And never has there ever been anyone co-equal to him
The idea was to use this strategy to stop the mind from imagining something unbecoming of God. This was also not done out of thin air without evidence. The Arabic language is quite poetic and most words carry metaphorical meanings other than the outward literal meaning. For example, the word istiwa’ (استواء) has about 14 meanings in the Arabic dictionaries, which I’ve come across. One of them is the outward meaning “to establish” or “to sit”. However, there are others such as to affirm in power, to take over, to complete a process, etc. The Ash’ari position on such a word when it’s attributed to God is that it can’t mean the same thing outwardly when it’s applied to humans, i.e. to sit. Therefore, they move to other meanings and use them when attempting to explain or translate, but still concede what it actually means to God’s knowledge by saying:
الله أعلم بمرادها
God knows better what is intended in meaning
This goes with other Quranic verses or Prophetic narrations as well. When one sees the word “hand” attributed to God, the Ash’ari position is that they should immediately move it to the metaphor rather than the literal meaning of hand as it is applied to humans. This is done to a great extent in Arabic everyday speech, such as when one says:
حكومة البلد في يد رجل معين
The power of government in country xyz is in the hand of a particular person
Also, if you see the word “coming” attributed to God, the Ash’ari position is that it possibly refers to His command, i.e. the command of God is coming, rather than God Himself in His essence coming, which would be a characteristic of human beings.
All of I have mentioned above and much more is based on a very deep linguistic understanding of meanings and syntax in the Quran. It also brings it knowledge of pre-Islamic poetry and metaphorical use of words as the Arabs understood them. Interestingly enough, the companions didn’t get into all of this because to them Arabic wasn’t even a science to be studied as it has become afterwards. It was natural to them and didn’t require much effort because their eloquence was a side effect of the culture. Nowadays we have to go and study these things to gain a glimpse of an appreciation of the linguistic nature of the Quran, which for the companions was immediately apparent. As the poet says:
لست نحويا يلوك لسانه
ولكن سليقيا أقول فأعرب
I’m not a grammarian chewing his tongue
I’m naturally speaking eloquently
Where the modern day so-called Salafis differ with Ash’aris is that they reject this approach of interpretation and claim that doing so is a negation of what God says in the Quran about Himself. So they affirm the literal meanings, but add a caveat statement – as it befits His majesty (كما تليق بجلاله). For example, when they see the word hand, they affirm that God has a hand. But would say: as it befits His majesty. Meaning He has a hand, but it’s not like your hand. Another example is with the verses on seeing God from Paradise. They say: we will see God using our eyes (and I’ve actually seen them point at their eyes). Any interpretation would be a deviation in one’s creed and in fact would take one out of the folds of people of Sunnah.
To give you an idea of the extent of their taking the literal meanings of these verses I’ll share what I learned when I went to school as a young boy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When we came across the verse mentioning the word yad, which has the literal meaning hand, our class teacher said:
And surely God has a hand, and both of His hands are right hands for God is the most beautiful being and He can’t have a left hand, so they’re both right hands
When we studied the narration of the Prophet peace be upon him in commenting on Verse 30 from Chapter 50, where God says:
يَومَ نَقُولُ لِجَهَنَّمَ هَلِ ٱمتَلَأتِ وَتَقُولُ هَل مِن مَّزِيدٍ
On the Day when we will say unto Hell: are you filled? And it will say: is there any more to add?
The Prophet peace be upon him is narrated to have said that:
يضع الله قدمه في النار فتقول: قط قط
God will put forth His foot in Hell and it will say: enough! enough!
So now God doesn’t just have two hands (that are both right hands), but also a foot. And that’s not where it ends, because in Verse 42 from Chapter 68 God says:
يَومَ يُكشَفُ عَن سَاقٍ وَيُدعَونَ إِلَى ٱلسُّجُودِ فَلَا يَستَطِيعُونَ
On the Day a leg will be bared and they (the unbelievers) will be called to fall in prostration but they will not be able to
OK. So now God has two right hands, a foot, and a leg. What else? If I were to go through all the Quranic verses that have an ambiguous use of attributes being given to God, and take the literal meaning of each as it’s applied to humans, God will have hands, feet, legs, a face, and sits on a massive Throne. If I add to it the Prophetic narrations, God also walks, runs, laughs, asks questions as if he doesn’t know the answer, has to look for Adam and Eve peace be upon them when they hide, and most of the time he’s in the sky, but comes down in the last third of every night. All of this is derived from the approach of the modern day so-called Salafis. But where does this come from?
Well, it’s an approach that’s about 700 years old, the main proponent of which was Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him. He based this on many understandings of his regarding what God has intended from us as Muslims when we approach the Quran, one of which was that we must accept everything on face value as it is said without any exceptions. According to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him, to interpret the ambiguous verses metaphorically would necessitate the negation of their outward meaning, and therefore would be a form of major deviance, if not a flat-out disbelief in what God has revealed (in reality, this is a problem in philosophy that I’ll address at a later point, but it has to do with substance theory and bundle theory). The response to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him was that he misunderstood the point of interpretative approach. Namely, that it wasn’t to negate the outward meaning of the ambiguous use of certain attributes as they are mentioned in relation to God. Rather, it was to negate a meaning that is carried upon that which applies to humans. In other words, if it’s an anthropomorphic meaning, it has to be rejected. This was not based on some whim or caprices of the scholars that preceded Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him and all of them; it was based on the verse where God says about himself:
لَيسَ كَمِثلِهِۦ شَىءٌ
There is nothing like a likeness of Him
Very few scholars came after Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him and tried to propagate his type of understanding. However, they were rejected by the consensus of the scholars. One of the major works dealing with how these attributes were fallaciously understood in an anthropomorphic sense is a book by Imam Abdul Rahman Ibn Al Jawzi titled Daf’ Shubah At’Tashbeeh Bi’Akaff At’Tanzeeh (دفع شبه التشبيه بأكف التنزيه). Imam Al Jawzi shows in this work how all of the ambiguously associated attributes to God can be understood linguistically in other ways, which are in line with a proper understanding of Arabic syntax and metaphor use, while not negating what God is saying about Himself.
Imam Ar’Razi in his commentary on this verse actually mentions an individual (Muhammad Ibn Isaac Ibn Khuzayma who wrote a book called التوحيد – monotheism) that was quite similar in his approach to the modern day so-called Salafis who want to affirm the attributes God mentions in a literal sense and at the same negate it with the self-contradictory sophistical reasoning. For those who are interested you can look it up for yourself and enjoy an interesting response from Imam Ar’Razi to an ignoramus as he described him.
The question that poses itself for those who are in insistent on taking the literal outward meaning of an Arabic word that normally means something when it’s attributed to humans, is why they reject the move to one of the other multiple meanings of the word, which would at least get one to move away from anthropomorphizing God, while at the same time affirming what God says about Himself. What’s more puzzling is their claim that this is what the pious predecessors did. The audacity of such a claim is astounding. Interestingly enough, they add this insidious caveat at the end of their literal understanding and say “as it befits his majesty – كما تليق بجلاله”. There is something in logic that points to the fallaciousness of a statement called “self-contradiction”. If I claim that someone is a happily married bachelor, people would laugh. If I point at something and say it’s a round square, my intellect would be questioned. To attribute an anthropomorphic quality to God and then say it’s not anthropomorphic is ridiculous. None of the pious predecessors ever said that phrase those modern so-called Salafis use. When people started asking about the ambiguously associated attributes with God found in the Quran and Prophetic narrations, what became known later as the Ash’aris (those following the creed of Imam Abu Al Hasan Al Ash’ari) or Matouridis (those following the creed of Imam Abu Mansour Al Maturidi may God be pleased with him that had a similar approach to Imam Al Ash’ari), went the route of interpretation so as not to have the questioner form an imaginary anthropomorphic image of God in his/her mind.
If one looks at a verse that uses the word “hand” associated with God, and it’s used in a certain context, but decides to ignore that context, and vehemently affirms that God has a hand, and it in fact is a hand, but then says it’s not like a human hand and it’s as it befits His majesty, this would mean that this person is either ignorant of the Arabic language, or is having some form of dissociation in his/her brain pathways, which the neuroscientist in me wants to study because I find that quite interesting. In fact, my hypothesis is that it’s a combination of ignorance of Arabic sciences, as well as a neurological symptom of a much deeper condition possibly caused by being dropped on the head as a child!
So, what did the pious predecessors say when it came to God’s attributes?
Abu Bakr As’Sidig may God be pleased with him said a beautiful statement:
كل ما يخطر في بالك فالله خلاف ذلك
Anything that you can imagine in your mind, God is other than that
He may God be pleased with him also said:
العجز عن إدراكه إدراك والخوض في ذات الإله إشراك
Inability to comprehend God is comprehension of God and delving into matters regarding the essence of God is a form of polytheism
Also, there are the statements I’ve mentioned from Imam Malik when he was asked about Verse 5 from Chapter 20 and his first version of the responses was: al istiwa’ is known (i.e. linguistically we know it means), and the how is unknown (i.e. what it actually means when it’s related to God is unknown), and asking about it is an innovation, and I see that you are nothing but an innovator, so get him out of my sight. The other response of Imam Malik may God be pleased with him was: the interpretation is in reciting it (i.e. it means what God intended and its explanation is by reciting it as is).
I’ve travelled around and asked Muslims coming from diverse backgrounds, and whenever the topic of the attributes of God comes up, the first response I hear is the Verse:
لَيسَ كَمِثلِهِۦ شَىءٌ
There is nothing like a likeness of Him
This is the guiding principle for the majority of Muslims when talking about God to anyone. They usually don’t go further than that. But if the necessity arises, where they have to explain or interpret or translate for any reason, they always move towards utilizing other valid meanings for the words rather than affirming the literal one commonly used for humans then negating it at the same time with the ridiculous statement “as it befits His majesty – كما تليق بجلاله”. This is the way not only the majority of regular Muslims, but also the majority of Sunni Muslim scholars dealt with this topic. And this is the point of contention between the Salafi/Wahhabi crowd and the Ash’ari crowd. The sad part about this is that the modern so-called Salafis go as far as saying since, for example, Imam An’Nawawi was an Ash’ari, he’s not from the people of Sunnah. What a calamity?! If Imam An’Nawawi is not from the people of Sunnah, who is from the people of Sunnah then? Right now Al Azhar scholars say they are Ash’aris. Are they not Sunni then? What about scholars from Al Qarawiyeen University? How about the majority of scholars such as Al Baiy’haqi and As’Seyooti and Ibn Hajr Al Asqalani and Al Qurtubi and As’Subki and many more. It’s literally about 90% of Sunni scholars and Muslims in the world and throughout history that claim the creed led by Imam Abu Al Hasan Al Ash’ari on Islamic theology to be their creed.
Just a final thought after having gone through all of this. I find the attitude of modern so-called Salafis to be hypocritical. On the one hand they go around preaching and bothering other Muslims that follow the scholars and follow different matth’habs and talk about how people should be following the Quran and Sunnah and ignore the scholars. They keep telling those who disagree with them that just because one of the four Imams said something doesn’t make it binding because they’re men and they make mistakes. They use statements out of context made by the different Imams such as the one by Imam Shafi’i where he said:
إن صح الحديث فهو مذهبي
If the narration is authentic then it’s my matth’hab
And they basically annoy their fellow Muslims over all kinds of jurisprudence issues. But when it comes to creed, they blindly follow one scholar, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him, who is not infallible and since he’s a human being is subject to making mistakes, such as the one regarding how to handle the ambiguous verses on the attributes of God. The Arabic proverb says:
أخطاء الكبار كبار
The mistakes of great people are great
If you’re a modern day so-called Salafi reading this, and are boiling because you think I’m attacking Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him, seek refuge with God from your devil that’s whispering to you such a ridiculous assertion. I’m not in a position to judge a great scholar such as Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him. I’m simply relating what other Sunni scholars have said about the matter. He made ijtihad in a matter and was wrong according to about 90% of Muslim scholars, so he’s singly rewarded by God instead of doubly. To preserve his legacy and keep it all positive, his mistakes should be covered over. But when you propagate his mistakes, it forces him to be exposed to those who hate him and allows them to attack his legacy, which I’ll be one of the first to defend. First order of business in defending Imam Ibn Taymiyyah may God have mercy on him is to stop the ignoramus from spreading his mistakes among the masses.
Finally, there are three general types of Muslims that involve themselves in this type of discourse; ones who can’t comprehend much of this theological discussion (and being able to read doesn’t mean being able to comprehend), ones who somewhat comprehend this topic, and ones who really do get it. In what is considered to be the most famous narration of the Prophet peace be upon him, when the archangel Gabriel peace be upon him came and asked about Islam, Iman, and Ihsan, the Prophet peace be upon him addressed creed under the topic of Iman and said:
أن تومن بالله وملائكته وكتبه ورسله واليوم الآخر والقدر خيره وشره
That you believe in God, the angels, the revealed Scriptures, the messengers, the Last Day, and the Divine Decree good and bad
In reality, this is all one needs for creed, and any discussion about God is discouraged because it’s an attempt with a limited intellect and finite brain to understand the unlimited and infinite God. The Prophet peace be upon him said:
تفكروا في خلق الله ولا تتفكروا في ذات الله
Reflect upon the Creation of God and do not reflect upon the essence of God
However, if the situation arises where a discussion can’t be avoided, the guiding principle is given by God Himself in the Quran when He says:
لَيسَ كَمِثلِهِۦ شَىءٌ
There is nothing like a likeness of Him
In my estimation, the modern day so-called Salafis are of the type of Muslims that God did not give the intellectual ability to engage in theological discourse. The proof of that is in their self-contradictory statements and ignorance of the Arabic language and its sciences coupled with a blind tribal-allegiance to a single scholar. Hence, they should recognize their inabilities and not try to tread water in an ocean they can’t swim, for this would be following the teaching and narration of the Prophet peace be upon him:
رحم الله امرئ عرف قدر نفسه
God has mercy on an individual that knows their true measure
Final Disclaimer: whether you call yourself Salafi, Ash’ari, or Maturidi, at the end of the day you’re of the people of Sunnah just like the others you don’t attribute yourself to. So stop judging who is a Sunni and who is not and have some humility and fear of God!
That and God knows best.
One of the terms that are thrown around by some Muslims that like to label other Muslims is “Ash’ari”. Whenever I hear this term, or any term for that matter, being used to label any Muslim, my first reaction is revulsion, followed by the question: what do you mean by “Ash’ari”? I ask this question not to necessarily get an answer from the person. Rather, I’m looking to turn their attention to their manifested ignorance of the term they’re using. Before you form an idea that I’m siding with anyone, I ask the same question when someone uses the terms “Wahhabi”, “Salafi”, “Sufi”, or any other term for that matter. It’s typically a sign that an individual doesn’t know what a term means when they liberally use it to label many of their fellow Muslims, which is sadly just part of the calamity of this age; manifest ignorance and Googlism to the highest degree.
For those who are interested, I’ll take a few lines to display why when I ask the question “what do you mean by Ash’ari?”, I’m doing it to expose this person’s ignorance to himself.
In brief, Imam Abu Al Hasan Al Ash’ari was a great scholar born in the year 260 AH in Basra, Iraq, during a time of great scholarship and erudition. During his time the Mu’tazilite group of scholars was the most elite and powerful. In fact, they got to such power at one point that the Muslim ruler at the time having adopted their school of thought began to persecute any scholar that rejected their school. For those who are not versed in this part of Muslim theological history, the Mu’tazilites was a group of scholars who put the intellect (Al Aql) as a judge over the transmission (An Naql). For example, if they read a verse or came across a transmitted narration from the Prophet peace be upon him, and it contradicted their intellectual understanding and logical processes, they would reject the verse or narration from the Prophet peace be upon him. On the surface their methodology and reasons for rejection of many things seemed completely logical to many of their followers. However, for reasons I won’t go into here, the Sunni scholars were able to logically refute their fallacious claims. For a great example refutation read Al Hai’da (الحيدة) by Imam Abdulaziz Al Kinani, who debated the most feared Mu’tazilite theologian of his time, Bishr Al Mareesi, and refuted him to a point that was laughable (l actually did laugh quite a bit when I read it!).
I will point out here that the Mu’tazilites utilized fear tactics and went as far as killing scholars that disagreed with them and ended up putting Imam Ahmed Ibn Hanbal in prison and tortured him because he would not adopt their theology. In fact, Imam Ahmed was given the title Imam Ahl As’ Sunna Wal Jama’a because of his courageous stance against them when literally all other Sunni scholars were too afraid to speak up. Their most commonly known theological claim is that the Quran was created, rather than being an attribute of God. The classic question they used to determine whether they persecuted a scholar was: what do you say about the Quran? To answer that it is the uncreated word of God meant torture, prison, and possible death. To answer that it is created by God meant safety from their tyranny!
The purpose of this short post is not to address all the different positions on certain theological issues that divided Muslims into the different theology schools. The issue regarding the Quran was one thing. Another contention that up to this day Muslims are, for a lack of a better word, fighting over is how to understand the ambiguous verses that deal with the attributes of God. If God wills it, I will write on this topic in the future. For now, what I’ve mentioned above was just a very ridiculously brief pre-emption to what I wanted to mention about Imam Abu Al Hasan Al Ash’ari.
Imam Al Ash’ari was the most prominent theologian for the Mu’tazilites for about 40 years. In fact, one could say he was their head theologian that theorized and laid down many of their arguments. He then had what can only be described as an opening from God, in which all the fallacies in their arguments became manifest and clear to him. This caused him to rebel against the Mu’tazilite school and to spend a second and brief period of his life attacking them. In fact, he was using the Mu’tazilite school premises on many of their arguments to refute them. Finally, he entered his third, and what would be his last, phase of his theological evolution. This is when he settled on the creedal formula and theological understanding of God and His nature that was adopted by the pious predecessors. May be in a future post I’ll get into all the different schools and where they differed and based on what evidence they differed on. However, for now, and for the past and the future, I’ll keep quoting the narration of the Prophet peace be upon him:
من قال لا إله إلا الله دخل الجنة
Whoever says there is no God but the One True God, has entered Heaven
I’ll also quote the verse from the Quran where God says in Chapter 4, verse 48:
إن الله لا يغفر أن يشرك به ويغفر ما دون ذلك لمن يشاء ومن يشرك بالله فقد افترى إثما عظيما
Surely God does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, and forgives what is besides that to whomsoever He pleases; and whoever associates anything with God, he devises indeed a great sin
As Imam Al Qurtubi mentions in his work Al Jami’ Li Ahkam Al Quran, this verse unequivocally makes it clear that so long as a person doesn’t associate partners with God, then he is in a position to receive forgiveness from God over any other sins he commits. This would include mistakes or misunderstandings in the branches of theology and creed that deviate from the consensus of the Muslim scholars over the past 1400 years. Unfortunately, when Muslims throw labels around, it serves as a first step to excommunicate fellow Muslims from being Sunni, which then can be followed by kicking them outside the folds of Islam, and that’s exactly how the Kharijites functioned historically.
Am I deluded to have thought that all Muslims are in fact Muslims? Why is it that so many of our fellow Muslims are so eager to excommunicate the rest from Islam? With all the problems we as Muslims have nowadays, and all the division we are already suffering through, it can be described as nothing less than a capital crime to label each other with names and titles that we don’t even understand. In fact, I’m sure if the Commander of the Believers Umar Ibn Al Khattab may God be pleased with him was around today, he would beat most of us with his stick for our behavior, and no one could blame him.
So if anyone tries to throw the label of Ash’ari on you, or on anyone else for that matter, just ask the question: what do you mean by Ash’ari?