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.