ibn Taymiyya Affirms Limits for Allah in the Six Physical Directions

The Tajsīm of Ibn Taymiyyah:
Ibn Taymiyyah’s Affirmation of Limits for Allah in the Six Physical Directions

In his Bayān Talbīs al-Jahmiyyah, Ibn Taymiyyah affirms that Allah has boundaries and limits (hadds/ghāyahs) in the six physical directions, namely: up, down, back, front, left and right.

He mentions this in the context of discussing Qādī Abū Ya‘lā’s discussion on ascribing hadd to Allah. Qādī Abū Ya‘lā is one of the notorious anthropomorphists taken to task by Hāfiz Ibn al-Jawzī in his Daf‘ Shubah al-Tashbīh.

First, Ibn Taymiyyah quotes Qādī Abū Ya‘lā relating two purported statements of Imām Ahmad:

1. The first that Allah has a hadd that only He knows

2. And the second that He does not have a hadd.

Then he quotes Qādī Abū Yalā’s attempt at reconciling these two purported statements:

فالموضع الذي قال (أحمد) إنه على العرش بحد معناه ما حاذى العرش من ذاته فهو حد له وجهة له والموضع الذي قال هو على العرش بغير حد معناه ما عدا الجهة المحاذية للعرش وهي الفوق والخلف والأمام والميمنة والميسرة

That is, Abu Ya‘la said: “The place in which Ahmad said that He is on the throne with a hadd, its meaning is [the part] of His essence that is in line with the ‘Arsh, so it (the ‘Arsh) is His hadd and His direction; and the place which he said He is over the throne without hadd, its meaning is what is besides the direction in line with the ‘Arsh – that is, above, behind, front, right and left.” (Bayān Talbīs al-Jahmiyyah, 3:735)

And he goes on to make it even more explicit. Abū Ya‘lā said:

“The difference between the downwards direction parallel to the ‘Arsh and other than it which we mentioned [i.e. the other five directions] is that:

The downward direction is in line with the ‘Arsh as established from evidence, and the ‘Arsh is limited (mahdūd) so it is possible to describe [the part] of the self [of Allah] that is in line with it and that it [the ‘Arsh] is a limit and direction. That is not so in other than it [i.e. other than the downward direction], because it is not in line with that which is limited, but it is traversing through the right and the left, up, front and behind, without a limit. This is why none of these [five directions] are described with Hadd or direction; whereas the direction of ‘Arsh is parallel to what opposes it from the direction of [Allah’s] self, but it is not in line with the whole [of Allah’s] self because it has no limit.”

In brief, Qādī Abū Ya‘lā is saying that the self or essence of Allah is limited by the ‘Arsh in the downward direction (from the perspective of Allah’s self); but in the other directions, i.e. up, right, left, front and back, there are no limits, and Allah’s self is endless. That is, he believes Allah is a physical body but an infinitely large body. Hence, Abu Ya‘lā reconciles the two purported statements of Imam Ahmad as follows: the negation of hadd is for the five directions and the affirmation is for the downward direction.

Ibn Taymiyyah, however, does not agree with Qādī Abū Ya‘lā. According to Ibn Taymiyyah, the difference between the downward direction and the other directions is not that the first is limited and the others unlimited, but that the limit in the first is known while the limits in the other five directions are unknown. This is also how Ibn Taymiyyah reconciles the two purported statements of Imam Ahmad. He says the affirmation is affirmation of limits themselves (i.e. that Allah Himself has limits in all six directions), and the negation is negation of known limits in the five directions besides the downward direction. He says: “Where he [Ahmad] negated it, he negated a definer defining Him and his knowledge of His hadd, and where he affirmed it, he affirmed it in itself.” (حيث نفاه نفى تحديد الحاد له وعلمه بحده وحيث أثبته أثبته في نفسه).

Ibn Taymiyyah says: “As for what Qadi said of affirming hadd from the direction of ‘Arsh only (faqat)…it is the view of a group of the people that affirm (the attributes), and the majority hold the contrary view and that is correct.” (وأما ما ذكره القاضي في إثبات الحد من جهة العرش فقط فهذا قد اختلف فيه كلامه وهو قول طائفة من أهل الإثبات والجمهور على خلافه وهو الصواب)

What is the contrary view? It is the opposite of what Abū Ya‘lā said that Allah does not have a hadd above, behind, left, right and front. That is, according to Ibn Taymiyyah, Allah does have a hadd in all these directions, but it is just that we do not know what those hadds are.

He also says that the fact the hadd of Allah is not known (as mentioned in Imam Ahmad’s purported statement) shows that the hadd is not limited to the direction of ‘Arsh, as that is known to us! Hence there are hadds in the other directions which we do not know! (ولو كان مراد أحمد رحمه الله الحد من جهة العرش فقط لكان ذلك معلوما لعباده فإنهم قد عرفوا أن حده من هذه الجهة هو العرش فعلم أن الحد الذي لا يعلمونه مطلق لا يختص بجهة العرش)

Hence the clear meaning of Ibn Taymiyyah’s speech is that Allah has hadds from the six physical directions.

This is Ibn Taymiyyah’s view with respect to the self of Allah itself: that it is bounded by limits in the six physical directions (just like every single physical object). However, he does not believe the limited self is contained within creation (i.e. hulūl). The two issues should not be confused.

Scholars of lughah and other sciences, like Rāghib al-Asfahānī clearly defined “jism” as that which has length, breadth and depth. Imam al-Ghazāli defined jism in this way also:

أعني بالجسم عبارة عن مقدار له طول وعرض وعمق يمنع غيره من أن يوجد حيث هو إلا بأن يتنحى عن ذلك المكان

“By jism I mean [something with spatial] measurement of length, breadth and depth, which prevents something else from being present where it is, unless it moves from that place.”

Ibn Taymiyyah affirms that Allah’s self is bounded by limits in the six physical directions which is the very definition of jism. Hence, Ibn Taymiyyah was explicitly promoting tajsīm (corporealism) in this passage.

Imam ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawi on ibn Taymiyya’s Corrupt Beliefs

After praising ibn Taymiyya, Imam ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawi mentions the following:

And some corrupt beliefs have been conveyed from him for which he was condemned by al-Yafi’i, ibn Hajar al-Makki (al-Haytami), and others. He is a man who has committed sins and made mistakes, thus the people should be aware of his errors and acknowledge his proficiency and virtue. His death was – according to what ibn Hajar has mentioned about him – in the year 728 (AH) while in prison by the command of the ruler of his time. May the Mercy of Allah be upon him.

[Imam ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lucknawi, Iqama al-Hujja with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda’s notes, pg. 29, Maktaba Matbu’at al-Islamiyya – 1998]

وقد نُقِلَ عنه عقائد فاسدة شنَّع عليه بها اليافعي وابنُ حجر المكي وغيرها، وهو بشر له ذنوب وخطأ، فلينتبه الإنسان على خطئه، وليُقِرَّ بمهارته وفضله، وكانت وفاته – على ما ذكره ابن حجر – سنة ثمان عشرين وسبعمائة في الحبس بأمرِ سلطان زمانه. منه رحمه الله تعالى.

“إقامة الحجة على أن الإكثار في التعبد ليس ببدعة” للإمام عبد الحي اللكنوي، ص. ٢٩، مكتبة مطبوعات الإسلامية – ١٩٩٨

Taqi al-Din al-Subki – ibn Taymiyya and his Followers were from the Deviant Hashwiyya Sect, and they were a Minority Fringe Group who would Teach their Beliefs in Secret

Shaykh al-Islam Taqi al-Din al-Subki (D. 756AH) on ibn Taymiyya and his followers being from the deviant Hashwiyya sect, and that they were a minority fringe group who would teach their beliefs in secret

“As for the Hashwiyya, they are a despicable and ignorant lot who claim to belong to the school of (Imam) Ahmad (ibn Hanbal)… They have corrupted the creed of a few isolated Shafi’is, especially some of the Hadith scholars among them who are lacking in reason… They were held in utmost contempt, and then towards the end of the seventh century (AH) a man appeared who was diligent, intelligent and well-read and did not find a Shaykh to guide him, and he is of their creed and is brazen and dedicated to teaching his ideas… He said that non-eternal attributes can subsist in Allah, and that Allah is ever-acting, and that an infinite chain of events is not impossible either in the past or the future. He split the ranks and cast doubts on the creed of the Muslims and incited dissension amongst them. He did not confine himself to creedal matters of theology, but transgressed the bounds and said that travelling to visit the tomb of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is a sin… The scholars agreed to imprison him for a long time, and the Sultan imprisoned him… and he died in prison. Then some of his followers started to promulgate his ideas and teach them to people in secret while keeping quiet in public, and great harm came from this.”

[al-Zabidi, Ithaf al-Sada al-Muttaqin, 2:11. al-Zabidi is quoting from al-Subki’s al-Sayf al-Saqil fi al-Radd ‘ala ibn Zafil, see al-Rasa-il al-Subkiyya, 84-85]

ibn Taymiyya’s Straying From the Way of the Atharis

Al Imam Ibnul Wazeer (D. 840AH) mentioned on pg. 331 of the 3rd volume of his book ‘Awaasim minal Qawaasim:

ومذهب الإمام أحمد وأمثاله من أئمة الحديث وهم طائفتان:

الطائفة الأولى: أهل الحديث والأثر وأتباع السنن والسلف الذين ينهون عن الخوض في علم الكلام

ثم قال…

الطائفة الثانية أهل النظر في علم الكلام والمنطق والمعقولات وهم فرقتان:

أحدهما: الأشعرية

والفرقة الثانية من المتكلمين منهم: الأثرية كابن تيمية وأصحابه فهؤلاء من أهل الحديث لا يخالفونهم إلا في استحسان الخوض في الكلام, وفي التجاسر على بعض العبارات, وفيما تفرد به من الخوض في الدقائق الخفيات والمحدثون ينكرون ذلك عليهم لأنه ربما أدى ذلك إلى بدعة أو قدح في الدين. أهـــ

“And the madhhab of Al Imam Ahmad and others like him from the the Imams of Hadeeth, and they are two groups:

The first group is: Ahlul Hadeeth wal Athar and the followers of the Prophetic traditions and the Salaf, who forbid theological discussion (‘Ilmul Kalaam).”

Later, after discussing them in detail in several pages, Ibnul Wazeer said:

“The second group is: The people of research in Theology (‘Ilmul Kalaam), Logic, and intellectual sciences. And they subdivide into two groups:

The first group is the Ash’aris.

The second group of theologians include the Athariyyah like Ibn Taymiyyah and his companions. For they are from Ahlul Hadeeth. They do not differ with them except about the permissibility of indulging in theology, and in boldly making certain statements, and in the discussion of intricate complex issues that he (Ibn Taymiyyah) went alone with. The scholars of Hadeeth disapproved of them doing so because it could possibly lead to innovation or a violation of the Deen.”

Courtesy of Shaykh Abdur Rahman Sondalaani: