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Aqeedah and Fiqh

The Theological Implications of the Story of Ibrahim & the Stars (Ibn Taymiyyah vs the Mutakallimun) | Yasir Qadhi

starsIntroduction

The Qurʾān informs us, in 6:74-83, of the story of Ibrahīm with his people, and how he argued with them about God and His existence by successively rejecting the stars, moon and Sun to be real Lords, and finally turning his face to the One who created Him.

This story has been understood in various manners by different groups. Most mutakallimūn (scholars of kalām ) used this story as the solitary Qurʾānic evidence for the proof of the existence of God through the proof of the createdness of accidents (the dalīl al-ʾaʿrāḍ wa ḥudūth al-ajsām – henceforth ‘dalīl‘). The Ahl al-Ḥadīth, on the other hand, never accepted this proof in the first place, much less ascribe it to the great patriarch Ibrahīm, the ‘Friend of God’. The most vocal opponent of this interpretation was Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 A.H./ 1327 C.E.). In this article, the different theological implications of this story as understood by these two groups will be discussed.1

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The Proof of Creation from the Createdness of Accidents

The mutakallimūn devised a unique proof in order to prove the existence of God. Most authorities ascribe this proof to Abū al-Hudhayl al-ʿAllāf2 (d. 226 A.H./841 C.E.); however, Ibn Taymiyyah believed that it was Jahm b. Ṣafwān (d. 124 A.H./ 741 C.E.)  who first introduced this proof into the Muslim intellectual world.3

Regardless of who the first proponent of this theory was, it was to become the standard proof for the createdness of the world (and hence, the existence of a Creator) for the Muʿtazilites, Ashʿarītes and Maturidites, with differences amongst them regarding the nature of an ‘accident’ and the various premises associated with this proof. The Muʿtazilite Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār (d. 415 A.H./1024 C.E.) was one of the first to succinctly articulate the four premises of this proof, all of which were accepted by the Ashʿarites as well. Firstly, one must acknowledge that there are, within bodies, certain ‘meanings’ (maʿānī) or ‘accidents’ (aʿrāḍ) such as movement and rest. Secondly, that these ‘meanings’ or ‘accidents’ are created, and not eternal. Thirdly, that bodies are concomitant with these ‘meanings’, and not preceding them. And lastly, that if bodies are not free of accidents and do not precede them, then the bodies themselves must be created.4 If all of these premises are true, then ipso facto there must be a Creator, whom we call God, who originated these bodies along with their accidents.

This evidence was mentioned by Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī5 (d. 330 A.H./941 C.E.) and al-Bayhaqī6 (d. 458 A.H./1065 C.E.), but it was al-Bāqillānī7 (d. 403 A.H./ 1012 C.E.) who was the first Ashʿarīte to expound on this dalīl and make it a fundamental principle for their school.

A few decades later, ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādi (d. 429 A.H./1037 C.E.) was to make this proof the second fundamental (aṣl) out of the fifteen fundamentals of the religion, and to then proclaim, “And every opinion that conflicts with the dalīl that proves bodies and accidents are created must be rejected.”8 All subsequent scholars of kalām incorporated this dalīl in some form or fashion in their theological works.

The Story of Ibrahīm  As The Basis of this Dalīl

Although the dalīl was almost unanimously agreed upon by all the mutakallimūn, only a handful of them actually provided any Qurʾānic basis for it. The sole evidence that was supplied was the story of Ibrahīm  with the celestial objects.

The earliest reference to theological opinions being derived from the incident of Ibrahīm  appears to be that of Bishr al-Mirrīsī (d. 218 A.H./833 C.E.).  Al-Dārimī (d. 289 A.H./901 C.E.), in his refutation of Bishr, claimed that Bishr denied God’s descent to the lower heavens in the last third of the night because of Ibrahīm ‘s statement, “I do not love the āfilīn .” [The precise translation for this Arabic term (āfilīn) is crucial for our theological understanding of the verse, hence it will be left untranslated where possible.] al-Dārimī writes,

And you claimed that Ibrahīm  repudiated any love for a God that moves, meaning that if God descends from one heaven to another, or descends on the Day of Judgment in order to judge between His servants, then He has afala and moved, just as the Sun and moon did. And therefore Ibrahīm  denied lordship to these two objects. 9

Al-Dārimī then proceeded to refute this premise, and claimed that if God descends on the Day of Judgment, this does not necessitate that He will disappear (afala) into anything. The fact that the Sun or moon seems to ‘disappear’ into other matter when they set cannot be extrapolated and applied to God.10 From this refutation, it can be assumed that Bishr understood afala to mean ‘disappear’, and that he used this story to prove that accidents (in this case, motion, which is a corollary to the disappearance of these objects) cannot subsist in a Divine Essence.

Abū al-Hassan al-Ashʿarī also alluded to these verses, albeit in a slightly different context, for he states, after quoting 6:76-77, “And so (Ibrahīm ), may God’s blessings be upon him, combined between the stars and moon in that neither of them could possibly be a god or lord since they both shared the attribute of ufūl. And this is the inspection (nadhar) and proof (istidlāl) that rejecters seek to reject and deviants deviate away from.”11 Al-Ashʿarī stated this in the context of trying to prove the legitimacy of ‘inspection’ (nadhr), and not in the sections pertaining to the createdness of the world, although once again it is evident that he considered the basic premises of the ‘Proof of Accidents’ to be applicable in the story of Ibrahīm , since he sees Ibrahīm  as denying the divinity of an object in which accidents subsist.

It appears that the first Ashʿarīte to give prominence to this verse in light of the ‘Proof of Accidents’ is, once again, al-Bāqillānī. Unlike al-Ashʿarī, however, al-Bāqillānī believed this Proof to be the primary evidence for the existence of the Creator. In a chapter concerning the evidences that the world is created, he mentions one of the forms of the ‘Proof from Accidents’, and then states,

And so too was the ‘Friend of God’, Ibrahīm, may God’s mercy be upon him. For he proved the createdness of objects by the changes they undergo and the fact that they move from one state to another, because when he saw the star, he said ‘This is my Lord’, to the end of the verses. So he realized that this object, since it changed and moved from one state to another, was ephemeral, controlled and created, and that it must have a creator. And that is why he said after that, ‘I turn my face to the One who created the Heavens and Earth.’ [6:79]12

From the quote and its context, it appears that al-Bāqillānī understood ‘afal‘ to indicate movement and change, and that he considers Ibrahīm to have been searching for God, eventually rejecting these celestial objects in favor of the true God.

Al-Bayhaqī, another early Ashʿarīte (despite the strong influence that the Ahl al-Ḥadīth had on him, which can be seen in his theology), also referenced this verse to show that Ibrahīm proved the existence of God by showing that no body in which an accident occurs could be worthy of divinity.13 He was followed by Al-Juwaynī (d. 468 A.H./1085 C.E.) shortly afterward.14 Another scholar of the Ashʿarites of that ear was Abu Isḥāq al-Shirāzī (d. 476/1084), who was the first Director of the Nizamiyya School in Baghdad, and an immediate predecessor of the position of al-Ghazali. In his al-Ishara ila madhab ahl al-haqq (p. 152, 166) he quotes verse 6:72, and then writes,

It is not possible for the Lord to change from one state to another, or to move from one place to another. God says 6:72, and afala means to move from one direction to another and to change from one state to another. So Ibrahim said that he does not like that which changes place, or changes [in any way]. Therefore, whoever described God in a way that Ibrahīm  negated is not from the Muslims… As we have explained before, Ibrahim demonstrated that the stars, sun and moon were created by change, and uful, and movement from one state to the next. And God commanded us to follow Ibrahim in order to arrive at the truth, not like one who believes and describes the Lord with descent, and movement, and changing from one state to another, and believing in these texts in a literal manner, without interpretation.

It is interesting to note that al-Ghazālī (d. 505 A.H./1111 C.E.), the next Ashʿarite of importance, had a much more philosophical and Avicennian understanding of this story, and did not view it in the kalām perspective but rather an esoteric mystical one.15 The next Ashʿarite who had a major impact was Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606 A.H./1209 C.E.), to whom we shall return later in the article.

The Ashʿarītes were not the only mutakallimūn who viewed the incident of Ibrahīm  in such a light. Of the Maturīdites who understood this story in a similar manner was Abū al-Maʿīn al-Nasafī (d. 508 A.H./1114 C.E.). In the context of denying any attributes that necessitated movement being ascribed to God (such as God’s istiwā over the Throne), he stated since Ibrahīm  denied the divinity of celestial objects because they moved from one place to another, God himself could not be characterized by any accident.16

The Muʿtazilite al-Zamakhsharī (d. 538 A.H./ 1143 C.E.) also agreed with this view. He stated that Ibrahīm  was chosen by God to guide his people to the correct method of inquiry and proof for His existence. He was to teach them that true inquiry leads one to believe that no idol or celestial object could be worthy of worship ‘…since accidents are subsiding in them, and therefore there must be a creator who created them’.17 Al-Zamakhsharī stated that Ibrahīm said of these objects ‘This is my Lord’, not because he believed this, but rather to state the belief of the opponent, fully knowing that the statement was false, but being fair to them and showing them that he was not dogmatically inclined to believe his own teachings blindly and without conviction. Although it is stated the he said this actually believing them to be his Lords, it appears, according to al-Zamakhsharī, that the former opinion is stronger. Thereafter, Ibrahīm  stated, ‘I do not like the āfilīn‘, meaning that he does not like worshiping lords that change from one state to another, that move from one location to another, that hide by coverings – for all of this is inherently characteristic of bodies (ajsām).18 It is significant to note that al-Zamakhsharī clearly states that Ibrahīm did not actually believe these celestial objects were gods, but rather was trying to prove to his people that they were not divine. This is different than the view of al-Bāqillānī, who views Ibrahīm has having been searching for God through this incident; it is possible that he derived this interpretation from al-Ashʿarī himself, although al-Ashʿarī’s quotes are ambiguous and can be read both ways.

Thefore, before proceeding, this section can be summarized by stating that all the groups of kalām (the Muʿtazilites, the Ashʿarites and the Maturidites) affirmed that the primary proof of God’s existence was the ‘Proof of the Createdness of Accidents’. Many of the primary architects of these three schools also sought to prove the legitimacy of this proof from the story of Ibrahīm. In order to understand the story as substantiating this Proof, they translated afala as ‘motion’; hence, they claimed, since this great Patriarch denied divinity to the stars, moon, and Sun because of ‘motion’, and motion was an accident, the Qurʿānic story was in fact a direct evidence for the validity of the ‘Proof of the Createdness of Accidents’.

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī and the Story of Ibrahīm

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606 A.H./1209 C.E.), the single greatest Ashʿarite theologian of medieval Islam, took the story of Ibrahīm to a new level. He used this incident as one of the primary evidences in proving that God cannot have a direction or body, or occupy space. Al-Rāzī states that Ibrahīm proved the createdness of the celestial bodies by the fact that change occurs in them, which eventually led him to turn his face to the true God. He claims that this story proves, in three ways, that God cannot be a body, have a direction or occupy space:19

Firstly, since all bodies share certain similarities, what is allowed for one body must also be allowed for others. Therefore, if God were a body, He would be characterized with what bodies are characterized with, and accidents could subsist in Him just as they subsist in other bodies. But since Ibrahīm clearly showed that objects which change from one state to another cannot be divine, it follows that God, who is divine, cannot be a body.

Secondly, at the conclusion of this inspection, Ibrahīm said that he turned his face to the One who created the Heavens and Earth (‘alladhī faṭar al-samāwāti wa al-arḍa‘, [6:79]), for which God praised him. And the very fact that God praised him at this point shows that all that was required of Ibrahīm  was to acknowledge God as the creator, for if God were also a body or substance, an Ibrahīm  was required to know this, God would not have praised him until Ibrahīm  had reached this knowledge.

Thirdly, if God were a body, this would necessitate that other bodies be similar to Him in His Essence. This, in turn, would imply that He had partners similar to Him. Yet Ibrahīm  says, in these same series of verses, “…and I am not of those who ascribe partners to Him” [6:79], thus showing that God does not have a body.

From this, it can be seen that al-Rāzī gave this story more theological prominence than any Ashʿarīte before him, specifically in denying ‘bodiness’ (jismiyyah), spatial occupation (taḥayyuz) and change (taghayyur) in God through it.

In his tafsīr, al-Rāzī discusses this incident in far greater detail, and, as is characteristic for him in this work, mentions dozens of issues pertaining to it.20

Of these issues is the question: was Ibrahīm sincere in his claim that these celestial objects were actually gods, or was he merely arguing with his people in this manner? According to al-Rāzī, many scholars of exegesis of the past believed that Ibrahīm grew up in a cave, sheltered from society, and that his mother had placed him there and occasionally came to take care of him in order to protect him from the King, who had promised to kill all male babies born in that year (due to a vision he had seen). When Ibrahīm came of age, he began questioning his parents and the people around him, ‘Who is my lord?’ and, not being satisfied with their answers, embarked on this journey in which he eventually ‘discovered’ the One True God. According to this interpretation, the story is to be taken as Ibrahīm’s personal journey and quest to discover God. However, according to al-Rāzī, this cannot be the correct opinion, for twelve reasons, which he lists (one of which is that the claim that these celestial objects are creators is blatant disbelief, and this cannot be presumed of Ibrahīm).21

Therefore, according to al-Rāzī, there are only two possibilities left. The first is that Ibrahīm did not intend to ascribe lordship to these celestial objects, but rather intended something else (and here he lists seven possibilities of what might have been intended and how this phrase can be correctly interpreted; for example, that he was merely stating what his people believed in order to show them the futility of that belief). The second possibility is that this incident occurred before Ibrahīm became an adult (i.e., before puberty), and thus it would not be considered a sin (since before this age one is not held accountable for what one does). This second opinion, states al-Rāzī, is plausible, even though the first one is stronger.22

Al-Rāzī also discussed the precise meaning of ufūl. ‘Ufūl‘, he claims, means ‘to disappear after an object has appeared’. And the reason that ufūl shows the createdness of a body is because it indicates motion. Now it is possible that one might question, al-Rāzī states, as to why Ibrahīm had to wait until the objects disappeared before pronouncing their createdness, since the objects would have been moving ever since their appearance? To this, he replies that, while there is no doubt that the rising of these objects and their setting both show that they are created, the fact of the matter is that the evidences that are employed by the prophets must be crystal-clear, such that even the most foolish person can see their validity. And the evidence of the createdness of an object by its motion, whilst completely valid and indubitable, is really only understood by the most honored of God’s servants. As for the evidence from their disappearance, this is a matter that all of mankind will be able to comprehend. Hence, in Ibrahīm ‘s wisdom, he used the actual disappearance of the object instead of its motion to prove its createdness.23

Al-Rāzī also derives three rulings from Ibrahīm’s testimony of ‘I do not love the āfilīn‘ [6:79]. Firstly, this proves that God cannot be a body (jism), since if He were a body, He would also be hidden (āfil) from us, and thus not worthy of divinity. Also, this would imply that He cannot descend from the Throne to the skies, otherwise this would be a type of ufūl as well. Secondly, this verse clearly proves that created attributes cannot subsist in God, otherwise He would be subject to change. Thirdly, this verse also proves that the religion must be based upon examination, not blind following, otherwise there would be no benefit in Ibrahīm’s search and investigation.24

As a last point that is relevant to this discussion, al-Rāzī states that this incident is one of the greatest evidences against the ḥashawiyyah25 since Ibrahīm was praised by God for his being guided to the truth through this examination and investigation. This proves, according to al-Rāzī, that there is no station (maqām) after that of the prophets which is better than the station of investigation and research,26 meaning ʿilm al-kalām.

It is interesting to note that in this section of his tafsīr, al-Rāzī did not explicitly mention the ‘Proof from Accidents’ and its premises, although it is clear that he alluded to it more than once.

We have seen how some of the famous proponents of kalām viewed the story of Ibrahīm. It is now time to turn our attention to one of the greatest critics of ʿilm al-kalām, Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 A.H./1327 C.E.), and see his perspective on the ‘Proof’ and its relationship to the story of Ibrahīm.

Ibn Taymiyyah’s Response to This Proof

Ibn Taymiyyah dedicated a significant portion of his writings to refute the premises and implications of this Proof; in fact he claimed that the salaf‘s disapproval of ʿilm al-kalām was due primarily to this very Proof.27

For Ibn Taymiyyah, the Qurʾānic methodology of proving the existence of God was far superior than the ‘Proof of Accidents’ employed by the mutakallimūn. Ibn Taymiyyah believed that man had ingrained in him a belief in God, and that this belief, embodied in the fiṭrah, or innate subconscious nature of man, was an integral part and parcel of the human conscience. And since the Prophet had stated that ‘Every child is born upon the fiṭrah…’, Ibn Taymiyyah felt there was no need to construct elaborate proofs for the existence of God. According to him, the existence of God is more obvious that the existence of man himself. And it is for this reason that the overwhelming majority of mankind, from all generations and in all places, acknowledged a belief in a supreme deity, and those who strayed from this belief are the exception rather than the rule.28

However, Ibn Taymiyyah did believe that the Qurʾān addresses those who denied the existence of God. He felt that the strongest proof, after the fiṭrah of man, was the proof from the ephemeral nature of creation itself, including the createdness of man. For man knows instinctively that he is created, just as he knows that the other animals, plants, minerals, clouds and objects around him are created. And every creation is in need of a Creator. Thus, the fact that man is a created object is evidence in and of itself of the existence of a Creator, and is itself not in need of evidence. The Proof of the people of kalām, however, is meant to prove the createdness of man, whereas the Qurʾānic methodology is to take this for granted and use it to prove the existence of a Creator, as, for example, in 52: 35, “Were they created from nothing, or did they create themselves?”29

Another Qurʾānic proof of the existence of God, according to Ibn Taymiyyah, is the miracles of the prophets, such as the miracles given to Moses, Jesus, and Muḥammad.3

In light of these authentic, Qurʾānic evidences, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, there was no need to resort to methods which none of the prophets ever called to. For no one can argue that the prophets of God proclaimed to mankind that they should believe in ‘substances’ and ‘accidents’ and try to prove the existence of God through such means. In fact, none of the Companions of the Prophet did so either. Therefore, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, it must be that those who use this evidence are following a path other than the path of the Prophet and his Companions.31

Furthermore, Ibn Taymiyyah felt that this Proof was overcomplicated in its premises, and self-evident in its conclusions. Additionally, the groups of kalām differed amongst themselves in many of the premises of this dalīl, most of which were not indubitable, and the rest of which were so perplexing that only the most intelligent of people could understand them. This Proof, according to him, is ‘…like a piece of lean camel meat placed on the peak of a steep mountain; neither is it easy to climb nor is it juicy meat [worthy] to take’. 32

Ibn Taymiyyah reserved his harshest criticism for this Proof because of its implications in the theological understanding of God’s Attributes. Ibn Taymiyyah pointed out that the mutakallimūn relied primarily on this Proof in order to reinterpret God’s Attributes away from what he perceived to be their primary meanings. This is because, from the perspective of Ibn Taymiyyah, the mutakallimūn did not even spare God from the premises and intricacies of this Proof, and in their over-zealousness to ensure that God was not a ‘body’, denied ‘accidents’ (ʿaraḍ) as subsisting in Him. Since each group amongst the people of kalām had its own definition of ‘accident’, they differed in their understanding of God’s Attributes. For the Muʿtazilites, all of God’s Attributes could be construed as accidents, whereas for the Ashʿarītes it was only those Attributes which changed over time (i.e., those related to the Will of God). Based on this distinction, Ibn Taymiyyah said, the Muʿtazilites rejected all affirmatory Attributes and claimed that to affirm such an Attribute as subsisting in God would imply that God was a body, hence created.33 The Ashʿarites, on the other hand, affirmed eternal, unchanging Attributes, but refused to affirm God’s ‘descent’ (nuzūl), ‘rising over the throne’ (istiwā), a speech that was related to His Will, and most other attributes mentioned in the Divine Texts. In fact, Ibn Taymiyyah states, the majority of theological deviations of the groups of kalām stem from the implications of this Proof.34

And since the solitary Qurʾānic evidence that the mutakallimūn had for this Proof was the story of Ibrahīm, Ibn Taymiyyah critiqued their understanding of it in many works. Ibn Taymiyyah writes of the mutakallimūn, “So they said: any accident that occurs within Him (i.e., God) is ufūl, and the Friend of God (i.e., Ibrahīm ) said, ‘I do not love the āfilīn”, and an āfil is a being that moves – one which is a place of accidents. Thus, the Friend of God negated his love for any being that is a place for accidents, for it cannot be a God.”35

Ibn Taymiyyah’s Understanding of the Story of Ibrahīm

Ibn Taymiyyah criticized the mutakallimūn in a number of ways for reading this Proof into the story of Ibrahīm ; below is a list of the primary critiques found in his writings.36

The First Point

Ibn Taymiyyah argues that this story has been entirely misunderstood by the mutakallimūn. According to the mutakallimūn, when Ibrahīm said to the three celestial bodies, ‘This is my Lord’, he actually meant in his heart that this celestial object was the being that created him.37 In other words, Ibrahīm was sincerely searching for the divine being that created him, and so in turn presumed this being to be a star, then the moon, then the Sun, and finally realized that it was a Divine God that was different from these celestial objects.

However, Ibn Taymiyyah sees Ibrahīm as a ḥanīf, one who was always turned to God, and not as an atheist or idol-worshiper searching for the true God. The purpose of the story was not Ibrahīm’s personal search for God, but rather his way of arguing with his people and showing them the futility of their worship of celestial objects. In other words, Ibrahīm was not actually ascribing divinity to these celestial objects, but rather merely showing this people the error of their ways; this entire story is a debate tactic against his people, and not a personal search for the truth.

Ibn Taymiyyah calls this misunderstanding of the mutakallimūn ‘…the most misguided of all their misguidances’.38

The Second Point

The scholars of kalām, according to Ibn Taymiyyah, understood the meaning of ufūl as ‘movement’, and this was the basis of their taking the story of Ibrahīm  as the sole Quranic evidence for their Proof. According to them, Ibrahīm denied the Lordship of a being that moves, because movement is an accident, and accidents are created, thus rendering the bodies they reside in created as well.

However, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, ufūl does not mean ‘movement’ (al-ḥaraka wa al-intiqāl) in the least. In fact, all linguists and grammarians of the Arabic language have agreed that ‘afala‘ means to disappear and be covered up (al-ghayb wa al-iḥtijāb), and not merely to move.39 Never once did the Arabs call any object that moved āfil, or any object that changed āfil, for one who walks or prays is not called such, despite his movement or change in posture. And nor did the Arabs use this word to describe temporary attributes that a body is characterized by, such as sickness or change in color, for one does not say that the Sun afala if it becomes yellowish or red, but only if it disappears.40

Ibn Taymiyyah argues that had the meaning of ‘afala‘ been ‘to move’, Ibrahīm  would not have had to wait until the Sun and moon were fully apparent, as the verse states that he waited until after the Sun and moon had become apparent in the horizons (‘fa-lamma raʾā al-qamara bāzighan…‘ and ‘…al-shamsa bazighatan‘ [7:74,75]). Rather, he could have deduced this Proof from the very first instance the Sun and moon had risen up into the horizon. So the fact that Ibrahīm  had to wait until the particular object was fully visible in the sky (bāzigh), and then the ufūl occurred, shows that it was not by the movement of the objects but rather by their disappearance that Ibrahīm claimed these beings could not be the Lord.41

The Third Point

To believe that Ibrahīm actually intended that the star, moon and Sun was his Lord when he said ‘This is my Lord’ is actually an evidence against the Proof, and not for it. For Ibrahīm saw the star rise and set, and likewise the moon and Sun, and they continued to move throughout this rising and setting. Yet never once while witnessing this motion did Ibrahīm deny divinity to these celestial objects, rather, he waited until they manifested themselves and then eventually disappeared before making this claim. Thus, according to the interpretation of the mutakallimūn, Ibrahīm tacitly allowed these beings the attribute of divinity despite their motion, showing that motion in and of itself does not disqualify an object from being divine.42 Rather, Ibrahīm did not concern himself with the accidents of these celestial objects to disprove their being gods; instead he used the fact that they disappeared and were not permanent for this claim.43 So the story of Ibrahīm is closer to being an evidence against this Proof rather than being one in support of it.44

In Ibn Taymiyyah’s view, this is yet another example of a maxim that he frequently quotes: there is no textual evidence that the people of deviation (ahl al-bidʿa) use to try to justify their deviation except that that very text can be used against them rather than for them.45

The Fourth Point

Ibn Taymiyyah argues that this understanding of the verse has not been narrated from any of the pious predecessors, from the scholars of exegesis or from the scholars of the language. Rather, this is an innovated interpretation which earlier scholars clearly pointed out, such as ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd al-Dārimī (d. 289 A.H./901 C.E.).46

The Fifth Point

According to Ibn Taymiyyah, the people whom Ibrahīm was addressing already believed in a Supreme Lord. There was no need, therefore, to prove His existence. Unlike the people of Egypt at the time of Moses, who followed Pharaoh’s claim of being the Lord, the people of Ibrahīm  were polytheists who worshipped celestial objects, but also acknowledged the One God to be Supreme. In fact, these people did not even believe these celestial objects to be the Creator, and that was why Ibrahīm pointed out to them that if the star, moon and Sun were not Lords (rabb), then why should they be worshiped? The people of Ibrahīm  acknowledged God, and this is proven in the Qurʾān itself. Ibn Taymiyyah quotes 26: 75-77, when Ibrahīm  says to his people: “Do you see that which you all worship? You and your forefathers of old? Then they are all hated to me, except for the Lord of the worlds.” And again in 43: 26-27, “I have dissociated with all whom you worship, except for the One who created me, for He will guide me.” In both these verses, Ibrahīm mentions that his people believed in the Supreme God and worshiped Him, hence he had to make an exception in his dissociation and hatred. And it was because of this that he said, at the conclusion of his conversation with his people in these very verses, “And I am not of those who associate partners (to God)” [6: 78].  Therefore, his people, like other pagan cultures, believed in God but worshiped objects besides Him, in this case celestial objects, building temples in their honor.47

So the point of the story, according to Ibn Taymiyyah, could not have been to prove the existence of God, but rather that only He was worthy of worship, and not these celestial objects.48

The Sixth Point

It is well-known, Ibn Taymiyyah argues, that not a single intelligent person in the history of mankind has every claimed that one star was exclusively responsible for the creation of all other stars, the Sun, moon and the rest of the creation.49 In fact, even the people of Ibrahīm did not state this, so how could this be assumed of Ibrahīm, the prophet of God?50

The Seventh Point

Ibrahīm only denied his love of the āfilīn, for he said after viewing these objects, ‘I do not love the āfilīn‘ [6:76], and did not mention anything other than that.51 Therefore the elaborate conclusions that the mutakallimūn derive from this story are not explicit in it.

Conclusion

The story of Ibrahīm  in 6:74-83 is seen by a certain group of the mutakallimūn as a solid Qurʾānic evidence for the proof of the existence of God from the createdness of accidents. Some of them, such as al-Bāqillānī, claimed that Ibrahīm was actually searching for God, and through this search rejected the stars, moon and Sun as gods due to the existence of an accident, in this case movement, within them. Others, such as al-Rāzī, understood from this incident that Ibrahīm was arguing with his people and trying to convince them of the existence of God by showing that celestial objects could not be divine because of their motion. In all cases, an underlying assumption was made of the validity of the dalīl al-ʾaʿrāḍ wa ḥudūth al-ajsām (‘Proof from Accidents and The Createdness of Bodies’), and that this story somehow validated this dalīl.

On the other hand, the scholars of the Ahl al-Ḥadīth did not agree with this dalīl in the first place, and therefore ipso facto rejected it as being proven by the story of Ibrahīm. Early Ahl al-Ḥadīth scholars such as al-Dārimī countered this understanding, but the Ahl al-Ḥadīth needed to wait for their most eloquent and famous spokesman and defender for a more complete and thorough refutation of the mutakallimūn in this regard, and it was thus Ibn Taymiyyah who provided them with that refutation.

It appears, however, that Ibn Taymiyyah was not aware of al-Rāzī’s specific interpretations of this incident, for although he addresses some of al-Rāzī’s points which are common to other mutakallimūn, he does not tackle the points that are unique to him. Had he read al-Rāzī’s tafsīr on this section, there is little doubt that he would have addressed al-Rāzī’s reading of this incident, as he did in numerous other cases.

Whatever the case might be, Ibn Taymiyyah tried to prove, using other Qurʾānic verses, the Arabic language, history and common sense, that Ibrahīm was not searching for God nor was he using accidents to prove His existence, but rather was merely showing his people the foolishness of worshiping created objects that appear and disappear, instead of worshipping God alone, who is Ever-Present.


[1] There are, of course, many other theological interpretations of this incident, including philosophical and Ṣufistic ones, the most prominent of these being that of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 505 A.H./1111 C.E.) in his Mishkāt al-Anwār, ed. Abu al-ʿAlāʾ al-ʿAfīfī (Cairo: Dār al-Qawmiyyah, 1964) p. 67-68. However, these interpretations are beyond the scope of this article.

[2] Qaḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār b. Aḥmad, Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Khamsah, ed. ʿAbd al-Karīm ʿUthmān (Cairo: Maktabata Wahbah, 1996), p. 94.

[3] Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm b. Taymiyyah, Minhāj al-Sunnah ed. Muḥammad Rashād Sallām (Riyadh: Jāmiʿat al-Imām Muḥammad b. Saʿūd al-Islāmiyyah, 1986), v. 1, p. 310.

[4] See: Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Khamsah, p. 95.

[5] Abū al-Ḥasan Alī b. Ismāʿīl al-Ashʿarī, Kiāb al-Lumaʿ fī al-Radd ʿalā Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bidaʿ, ed. Hammūda Ghurābah (Cairo: Al-Maktabat al-Azhariyyah li al-Turāth, n.d.), p. 76. However, in another work of his, he severely criticised this dalīl and called it a product of the ‘philosophers and people of deviation’; see: Risālah ilā Ahl al-Thagr, ed. Muḥammad al-Julaynid (Riyadh: Dār al-Liwāʾ, 1410 A.H.), p. 52-55.

[6] Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. al-Hussayn al-Bayhaqī, al-Iʿtiqād wa al-Hidāyah ilā Sabīl al-Rashād, ed. Aḥmad Abu al-ʿAynayn (Riyadh: Dār al-Faḍīlat, 1999), p. 34.

[7] Abū Bakr b. al-Ṭayyib al-Bāqillānī, al-Tamhīd, ed Imād al-Dīn Ḥaydar (Beirut: Dār al-Thaqāfah, 1994), p. 37-43..

[8] ʿAbd al-Qāhir al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl al-Dīn, (Beirut: Dār al-Ṣādir, n.d., reprint of the Turkish edition of 1928.) p. 58

[9] ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd al-Dārimī, Naqḍ ʿUthmān b. Saʿīd ʿalā al-Mirrīsī al-Jahmī al-ʿAnīd fī mā aftara ʿalā Allah fī al-Tawḥīd, ed. Manṣūr b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Simārī (Riyadh: Maktaba Adwā al-Salaf, 1999), p. 164.

[10] ibid., p. 164.

[11] Kiāb al-Lumaʿ fī al-Radd ʿalā Ahl al-Zaygh wa al-Bidaʿ, p. 24.

[12] Abū Bakr b. al-Ṭayyib al-Bāqillānī, al-Inṣāf fī ma yajibu Iʿtiqāduhu wa lā yajūz al-Jahl bihī, ed. Imad al-Dīn Ḥaydar (Beirut: Alim al-Kutub, 1986), p. 44.

[13] al-Iʿtiqād wa al-Hidāyah ilā Sabīl al-Rashād, p. 34.

[14] Abū al-Maʿālī ʿAbd al-Malik b. Abdallah al-Juwaynī, al-Shāmil fī Uṣūl al-Dīn ed. ʿAlī Sāmī al-Nashshār (Alexadria, Munshiʾat al-Maʿārif, 1969), p. 246.

[15] Mishkāt al-Anwār, p. 67-68.

[16] Abū Al-Maʿīn Maymūn b. Muḥammad al-Nasafī, Baḥr al-Kalām (Cairo: Maṭbaʿat al-Kurdī, 1911), p. 23-24.

[17] Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf, ed. Abd al-Razzāq al-Mahdī (Lebanon: DarIḥyā  al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 1997) v. 2, p. 39.

[18] ibid., v. 2, p. 39.

[19] Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī, Asās al-Taqdīs fī ʿIlm al-Kalām (Lebanon: Muʾassasat al-Kutub al-Thaqāfiyyah, 1995), p. 27-28.

[20] Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī, al-Tafsīr al-Kabīr (Lebanon: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Turāth al-ʿArabī, 2001), v. 5, p. 30-50.

[21] ibid., v. 5, p. 39-40.

[22] ibid., v. 5, p. 40.

[23] ibid., v. 5, p. 43.

[24] ibid., v. 5, p. 45.

[25] A derogatory term used to primarily describe the Ahl al-Ḥadīth, from ḥashā meaning ‘to gather everything’. The intention is to state that the Ahl al-Ḥadīth would merely gather every narration and text and jumble it all together, without examination or understanding of what they were gathering.

[26] ibid., v. 5, p. 50.

[27] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 16, p. 473. A more detailed discussion of Ibn Taymiyyah’s response to this dalīl is worthy of a separate dissertation in and of itself; for the purposes of this article only one aspect, that of the theological implications of the story of Ibrahīm , is being considered in great detail.

[28] See Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm b. Taymiyyah, Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʾAql wa al-naql, ed. Muḥammad Rashād Sallām (n.d.) v. 8, p. 90-91, 482.

[29] Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʾAql wa al-naql, v. 7, p. 219.

[30] See ibid., v. 3, p. 308-318, v. 8. p. 238-239.

[31] Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm b. Taymiyyah, Bayān Talbīs al-Jahmiyyah, ed. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān al-Qāsim (Riyadh: Dār al-Maʿrifah,  1421 A.H.),  v. 1, p. 255.

[32] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā ed. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad b. Qāsim and Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Muḥammad (no publication details), v. 2, p. 22.

[33] As an example of this, Qaḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār writes, concerning the divine attribute of life (al-ḥayāt), “The essential point here is that if God were living with a ‘life’ (ḥayāt) – and ḥayāt cannot be recognized unless the place in which it resides is recognized – this would imply that the Eternal has a body (jism), and this is impossible. And the same applies to ‘power’ (qudrah), since ‘power’ cannot be acted with until the place in which it resides also participated in that act even if it be in a partial manner. So (if this were the case) it would be obligatory that God be a body (jism), allowing accidents to occur in Him, and this is not possible.”[33] See his Sharḥ Uṣūl al-Khamsah, p. 200-201.

[34] See, as examples: Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 8, p. 149; Minhāj al-Sunnah v. 1, p. 311; Darʾ Taʿāruḍ al-ʾAql wa al-naql v. 6, p. 183; Bayān Talbīs al-Jahmiyyah v. 1, p. 131.

[35] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 252.

[36] The division of these critiques into ‘points’ was done by the author to simplify the presentation of Ibn Taymiyyah’s thoughts, which, as typical, are scattered in numerous books and fatāwā. However, in more than one work, he states that this understanding can be refuted ‘…min wujūh: awwaluhā…’ and so forth. See for example, Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 3, p. 313, in which he lists four of these seven points explicitly.

[37] As the quotes above show, this is not the belief of all the scholars of kalām, and in particular the Muʿtazilte scholars explicitly deny it.

[38] Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm b. Taymiyyah, Bughyat al-Murtād, ed. Mūsa b. Sulaymān al-Duwaysh (Madinah: Maktabat al-ʿUlūm wa al-Ḥikam, 2001), p. 359.

[39] Bughyat al-Murtād, p. 359, Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 252,  Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 313.

[40] Darʾ Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 109.

[41] Bughyat al-Murtād, p. 360, Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 253.

[42] Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 313.

[43] Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm b. Taymiyyah, Sharḥ al-Iṣbahāniyyah, unpublished doctoral dissertation edited by Muḥammad al-Ṣaʿwī (Riyadh: Imam Muḥammad b. Ṣaʿūd University, 1408 A.H.), p. 137.

[44] Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 111.

[45] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 254.

[46] Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 314. For al-Dārimī’s quote, see above.

[47] Darʾ al-Taʿāruḍ, v. 1, p. 110, Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 254.

[48] Sharḥ al-Iṣbahāniyyah, p. 137.

[49] Bughyat al-Murtād, p. 360.

[50] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā, v. 6, p. 254.

[51] Bughyat al-Murtād, p. 360.

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Ibn-ʿAllan’s Commentary Dalilul-Falihin: The Book of Fasting | Hadiths 9-12

 وعن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: “كان رسول الله ﷺ إذا دخل العشرُ أحيَى الليل، وأيقظ أهلهُ، وشدَّ المئزر” متفقٌ عليه().

 

ʿAʾishah (May Allah be pleased with her) reported:

When the ten nights would begin, the Messenger of Allāh r would keep the night alive; he would also awaken his family and tighten his wrapper.

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Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

“When the ten nights would begin”

What is meant is the last ten nights

“The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ would keep the night alive”

He would keep stay up at night and engage in various forms of worship such as ṣalāt, dhikr, and meditation/reflection. Or he kept himself alive by remaining awake, since sleep is death’s sibling. The metaphor refers to the night because when someone who is sleeping is woken-up and brought back to life, their night can be said to have been given life through them.

“He would also awaken his family”

He did so to draw their attention towards the time of goodness, so they may expose themselves to the gusts of goodness. A narration in Tirmidhī states, “When the last ten days of Ramaḍān would enter, the Messenger of Allāh r would not fail to wake up anyone who was capable of staying up in his household”. He would lead them towards the avenues of goodness, and help them attain it.

“And tighten his wrapper”

Al-Khaṭṭābī explains: “The meaning is likely to be earnestness in acts of worship. Just as one would say ‘I have tightened my wrapper for this matter’ i.e I have buckled down to it/rolled up my sleeves for it. It is also said that it may be a metaphor for buckling down and withdrawing from women. It is also said that it may have a literal meaning and a figurative meaning at the same time, i.e that he literally tighten his waist wrapper (izār) and also withdrew from women and buckled down for worship. However, the first explanation is more plausible because in another narration the following wording is found “He would tighten his wrapper and withdraw from women”. This leads us to conclude that the expression tightening his wrapper relates to earnestness in worship only.

– باب فضل السحور وتأخيره ما لم يخشَ طلوع الفجر

Chapter on the virtues of saḥūr, and of delaying it as long as one does fear the rising of dawn

 

 عن أنسٍ، رضي الله عنه، قال: قال رسول الله : “تسحروا؛ فإن في السحور بركةً” متفقٌ عليه .

Anas (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allāh said, “Eat suḥūr [or practice saḥūr] (predawn meal) because surely, there is baraka in suḥūr.”

[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Saḥūr is the meal which is taken prior to the rise of dawn. Suḥūr on the other hand, is the act of partaking food at that time. This will have relevance in the ensuing commentary of the ḥadīth.

“The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, ‘Eat suḥūr [or practice saḥūr] (predawn meal)’ ”

This is considered mandūb i.e praiseworthy. The Sunna itself is fulfilled by having a little food even if it is only a sip of water. It is mentioned in a ḥadīth of ʿAbdullāh bin-Surāqa, traced back to the Nabī r: ‘Practice suḥūr, even if only with a sip of water’. It is narrated by Ibn-ʿAsākir[2]. The Sunna is likewise fulfilled by having a considerable quantity of food.

“Because surely, there is baraka in suḥūr [or saḥūr].”

Al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn-Ḥajar explains: ‘The use of both spellings is found in authentic narrations. If suḥūr is meant i.e the act of eating at that time, then by baraka is meant the reward and merit. If saḥūr is meant i.e the food which is eaten at that time, then by baraka is meant the fact that it strengthens one for fasting and makes one energetic for it. It also reduces the difficult involved in it’.

It is also said that the baraka lies in the fact of being awake at that time and engaging in duʿāʾ.
It is however more appropriate to say that the Baraka is attained through various avenues, namely: adherence to the Sunna, acting differently than the ahlul-kitāb (Christians and Jews), strengthening oneself for worship through it, its being a cause for one to engage in dhikr and duʿāʾ at a time when acceptance is highly likely, and it also allows for one who has forgotten to make the intention for fasting before sleeping to do so[3].

This ḥadīth was also narrated by Aḥmad, Al-Tirmidhī, Al-Nasāʾī, and Ibn-Māja all through Anas. Al-Nasāʾī has already narrated it through Abū-Hurayra and Ibn-Masʿūd. Aḥmad has also narrated it through Ibn-Masʿūd. This has all been mentioned in Al-Jāmiʿul-Ṣaghīr.

 وعن زيد بن ثابتٍ، رضي الله عنه، قال: تسحرنا مع رسول الله ثم قمنا إلى الصلاة. قيل: كم كان بينهما؟ قال: قدر خمسين آية. متفقٌ عليه

Zaid bin Thābit (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

We took suḥūr (predawn meal) with the Messenger of Allāh r and then we stood up for ṣalāt (prayer). It was asked: ‘How long was the gap between the two?’ He replied: ‘The time required for the recitation of fifty verses.’

[Al-Bukhārī and Muslim].

Zaid bin-Thābit was from the Anṣār of Madīna, and he was 11 years old when the Nabī r emigrated from Makka to Madīna. His father passed away when he was 6 years old, and the Nabī r considered him too young to participate in the battle of Badr (~13 years old). He however allowed him to participate in Uḥud. It is also said that he in fact did not participate in Uḥud but rather in Khandaq and the following expeditions with Rasūlullāh r. He used to write revelation for the Nabī r and he was one of the three people who compiled the Qurʾān by gathering its various verses and chapters and verifying their authenticity. The effort to compile the Qurʾān after the demise of the Nabī r was ordered by Abū-Bakr and ʿUmar.
ʿUmar and ʿUthmān would both designate him as imām in Madīna when they traveled for Ḥajj. Ibn Abī-Dāwūd explains: ‘Zaid bin-Thābit was the most knowledgeable of the rules of inheritance among the Ṣaḥābah, and he was among those firmly grounded in knowledge.
A total of 92 ḥadīth from Rasūlullāh r have been narrated by him, 10 of which are found in the collections of Bukhārī or Muslim. He passed away in Madīna in the year 54 A.H.

“We took suḥūr (predawn meal) with the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ”

One can notice a subtle indication of etiquette in the choice of words, rather than saying ‘Us and Rasūlullāh took suḥūr’ he used wording which emphasizes the fact that they followed his example r.

“And then we stood up for ṣalāt (prayer)”

The morning ṣalāt i.e ṣubḥ.

“It was asked: ‘How long was the gap between the two?’ He replied: ‘The time required for the recitation of fifty verses.’ ”

Anas is the one who asked the question. Imām Aḥmad also narrated a ḥadīth where Qatāda asks Anas the same question.
The verses referred to are of moderate length. They were neither long nor short, and were read neither fast nor slow. The ʿArab had the habit of estimating time through physical actions, such as saying ‘As long as it takes to milk a goat’. Zaid however chose to estimate the time through the action of reading the Qurʾān to indicate that it was a time fit for worship through recitation of the Qurʾān. Ibn Abī-Jamra explains: ‘The ḥadīth is an indication of the fact that the vast majority of their time was immersed in ʿibāda (worship)’.

The ḥadīth also indicates that suḥūr was done as late as possible, as it is more befitting for the intent behind it. Also because it was the Nabī r’s habit to look for that which was most gentle for his Umma and apply it. If he did not take suḥūr that would prove difficult for some of them, just as taking suḥūr in the middle of the night would be difficult for those overtaken by sleep. That could lead to leaving suḥūr altogether or in it being a tiresome process.

 وعن عمرو بن العاص رضي الله عنه أن رسول الله r قال: “فَصْلُ ما بين صيامنا وصيام أهل الكتاب أكلةُ السحر” رواه مسلم .

ʿAmr bin Al-ʿĀṣ (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, ‘The difference between our observance of fasting and that of the people of the scriptures (ahlul-kitāb) is suḥūr (predawn meal)’

[Narrated by Muslim].

ʿAmr bin Al-ʿĀṣ accepted Islām in the year of Khaybar, i.e the beginning of the 7th year A.H. Him, Khālid Ibnul-Walīd and ʿUthmān bin-Ṭalḥa came to the Nabī and accepted Islām together. He was made the commander of the 17th expedition, called sariyatu dhātil-salāsil and which had 300 men. It was then reinforced through another regiment in which were Abū-Bakr and ʿUmar, and whose commander was Abū-ʿUbayda bin-Jarrāh. The Nabī r told the latter ‘Do not be at odds with eachother’. ʿAmr used to lead the ṣalāt of the combined regiments until they returned to Madīna (notwithstanding the illustrious personalities who joined them). He was designated as an ambassador to Omān where he remained until the death of the Nabī r. Abū-Bakr t then sent him as governor to Shām and he was present in the various conquests of its territory. He then governed Palestine for ʿUmar t for some time after which he was sent with a regiment to Egypt, which he conquered. He remained its governor until the death of ʿUmar. ʿUthmān left him in his position for another 4 years, and he then removed him. ʿAmr then settled away in Palestine from which he would occasionally visit Madīna. Muʿāwiya t eventually designated him governor of Egypt, where he remained as governor until his death and was buried there. He passed away on the eve of ʿIdul-Fiṭr the year 43 A.H at the age of 70 years. His son ʿAbdullāh led his funeral prayer. He was among the heroes and intellectuals of the ʿArab, and was known to be a leader with a great vision.
When the time of his death dawned upon him he said: ‘O Allāh you have ordered me and I was not compliant, you prohibited me and I did not refrain, I am not strong so I seek assistance, neither am I free of blame so I apologize, and I am not arrogant but rather I am repentant; there is no deity except You’. He kept repeating these words until he passed away.

“The difference between our observance of fasting and that of the people of the scriptures (ahlul-kitāb)”

The ahlul-kitāb are the Jews and Christians. They were given revealed scriptures, hence the name ahlul-kitāb.

“Is suḥūr (predawn meal)”

This is an unequivocal statement to the fact that taking suḥūr is a special trait for us, and that Allāh has made it a favor and distinction for this Umma. This favor and distinction were not granted to the previous nations.

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Ibn-ʿAllan’s Commentary Dalilul-Falihin: The Book of Fasting. Hadiths 7-8

– وعنه، رضي الله عنه، أن رسول الله ﷺ، قال: “إذا جاء رمضانُ، فُتحتْ أبواب الجنة، وغُلقت أبواب النار، وصُفدت() الشياطين” متفقٌ عليه().

Abū-Hurayra (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allāh said, “When Ramaḍān begins, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of the fire of hell are closed, and the devils are chained.”

Narrated by Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

The Messenger of Allāh said, “When Ramaḍān begins, the gates of paradise are opened”

The most apparent meaning is that this is a literal opening of the doors of paradise for a person who passes away during Ramaḍān, or for a person who performs good actions which are accepted. It is also said that the meaning is figurative, meaning that performing good actions in Ramaḍān will lead to the gates of paradise being opened in the hereafter. Another figurative meaning may also be the abundance of mercy and forgiveness, as can be inferred by a narration of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim “The doors of mercy are opened”.

“The gates of the fire of hell are closed”

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The same observation can be made about this statement as has just been said regarding the gates of paradise.

It is also said that this is a metaphor to express the fact that the egos of the fasting persons are pure from the impurities of shameful actions, and they are liberated from the things which lead to sinful acts by means of their tamed based desires.
Al-Ṭībī explains: ‘The benefit of this is two-fold: the angels are clearly made aware that the action of those fasting is highly revered in front of Allāh. The fact that the truthful Nabī is the one informing about this matter also serves to increase the eagerness of the Muslim individual’.

“And the devils are chained”

This statement can also be considered to be in a literal sense. It may also figuratively mean that they are prevented from causing excessive nuisance to the believers and from provoking them. That makes them seem as they are chained. It may also mean that the Muslims refrain from involving themselves in the acts of disobedience which the devils annoy them with.

– باب الجود وفعل المعروف والإكثار من الخير في شهر رمضان

والزيادة من ذلك في العشر الأواخر منه

Chapter on generosity, performing good actions, increasing in goodness during Ramaḍān and augmenting in that during its last 10 days

1/1222- وعن ابن عباس، رضي الله عنهما، قال: كان رسول الله ﷺ، أجود الناس، وكان أجود() ما يكونُ في رمضان حين يلقاهُ جبريلُ، وكان جبريلُ يلقاهُ في كل ليلةٍ من رمضان فيدارسهُ القرآن، فلرسولُ الله ﷺ، حين يلقاهُ جبريلُ أجودُ بالخير من الريح المرسلة” متفقٌ عليه().

Ibn ʿAbbās (May Allah be pleased with them) reported:

The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ was the most generous of men; and he would be the most generous during the month of Ramaḍān when Jibrīl visited him. Jibrīl would meet him every night of Ramaḍān and he would review the Qurʾān with him. As a result, at the time Jibrīl met him the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ was more generous with goodness than the free wind.

What is meant by good actions in the title are obligatory and recommended actions alike. Increasing such actions in Ramaḍān is mandūb (i.e commendable) as the reward will be multiplied on virtue of the distinction of this time. This particularity in Ramaḍān is because it is the best of the months, so it is commendable to keep it alive with such actions and see their reward multiplied as a result.

The last ten days start on the eve of the 21st day of fasting, and they end on the last day whether the month ends in 29 days or 30 days.

Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

“The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) was the most generous of men”

He was the man endowed with the most generosity. Indeed it is a fact that that which has been narrated of his generosity has not been narrated regarding anyone else.

“And he would be the most generous during the month of Ramaḍān when Jibrīl visited him.”

His state of generosity in Ramaḍān was superior to that outside of Ramaḍān, but he was nevertheless the most generous man in an absolute sense.

“Jibrīl would meet him every night of Ramaḍān and he would review the Qurʾān with him”

It is said that the wisdom in reviewing the Qurʾān is that it renews the pledge of having a content ego. Contentment in turns breeds generosity. Ramaḍān is also the season of goodness because Allāh’s bounties on his servants are increased therein. It was the habit of Nabī to give preference to follow the example of the sunna of Allāh (i.e his customary practice) in dealing with His servants. The combination of what has been mentioned i.e the time, the one who came down (Jibrīl), what he descended with (the Qurʾān) and the learning were all obtained through the hand of generosity. And Allāh knows best.

“As a result, at the time Jibrīl met him the Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) was more generous with goodness than the free wind”

He was, in the speed of his generosity faster than the wind. The free wind indicates the wind which continuously blows with mercy. His generosity was all-encompassing in its benefit just as the free wind fully encompasses anything it blows on.

A narration of Imām-Aḥmad includes the following wording at the end of this ḥadīth: “He was never asked anything except that he gave it”[1].

Imām Al-Nawawī explains:

“This ḥadīth contains many fine lessons: encouragement towards generosity at all times, and increasing it during Ramaḍān as well as when meeting righteous people (analogy with the meeting of Jibrīl). It also indicates the virtue of visiting the pious and noble folk, and to do so repeatedly as long as the person being visited does not mind. It also points to the laudable nature of abundantly reading Qurʾān during Ramaḍān and the fact that it is superior to all forms of remembrance of Allāh [dhikr/adhkār]. Indeed, if dhikr was superior or equivalent to it then they would have done it (the Nabī and Jibrīl). Some commentators have said that these were tajwīd sessions. This is however objectionable as memorization of the Nabī was a given, and anything beyond memorization could be achieved through a few sessions. It is therefore clear that the intent in Jibrīl’s coming was an increase in the amount of recitation.

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Ibn-ʿAllan’s Commentary Dalilul-Falihin: The Book of Fasting | Hadiths 3-6

– وعنه أن رسول الله ﷺ قال: “من أنفق زوجين في سبيل الله نُودي من أبواب الجنة: يا عبدالله هذا خيرٌ، فمن كان من أهل الصلاة دُعيَ من باب الصلاة، ومن كان من أهل الجهاد دُعيَ من باب الجهاد، ومن كان من أهل الصيام دُعيَ من باب الريان، ومن كان من أهل الصدقة [480] دُعيَ من باب الصدقة” قال أبو بكر رضي الله عنه، بأبي أنت وأُمي يا رسول الله! ما على من دُعيَ من تلك الأبواب من ضرورةٍ، فهل يدعى أحدٌ من تلك الأبواب كلها؟ قال: “نعم وأرجو أن تكون منهم” متفقٌ عليه().

Abū-Hurayra (May Allāh be pleased with him) also reported:

The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “He who spends a pair in the way of Allāh will be called from the gates of paradise: ‘O slave of Allāh! This is goodness’ and one who is among the people of ṣalāt (prayer), will be called from the gate of ṣalāt; and whoever is eager in fighting in the cause of Allāh, will be called from the gate of jihād; and one who is regular in fasting will be called from the gate Ar-Rayyān. The one who is a charitable person will be called from the gate of charity.” Abū-Bakr (May Allāh be pleased with him) said: “O Messenger of Allāh ﷺ ! May my mother and father be sacrificed for you! Those who are called from these gates will stand in need of nothing. However, will anybody be called from all of those gates?” He replied, “Yes, and I hope that you will be one of them.” ”.

Narrated by Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

“ The Messenger of Allāh said, “He who spends a pair in the way of Allāh will be called from the gates of paradise: ‘O slave of Allāh! This is goodness’ ”

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In some narrations of this ḥadīth it is added: “It was said: what is a pair? He ﷺ said: two horses, two cows, or two mules”.

It is possible that his ḥadīth applies to all virtuous actions, be it two ṣalāt, fasting two days, or two acts of charity. That is substantiated by the wording of the rest of the ḥadīth, which enumerates those different actions.

In the way of Allāh applies to all acts of goodness [i.e for Allāh’s sake]. It is also said that it is specific to jihād, but the first interpretation is more correct and apparent. That is Imām Al-Nawawī’s position.

Goodness here is said to mean reward and delight. It is also said that it means this is better i.e we think that this is better for you than the rest of the doors, due to the abundance of its reward and bounties. Come and enter through it.

Ḥāfiẓ Ibn-Ḥajar however contends in Fatḥul-Bārī: “The meaning of goodness is virtue, not superiority, although the wording may lead to think so. The intent of the statement is to provide additional encouragement to the individual for entering through that door”.

“And one who is among the people of ṣalāt (prayer), will be called from the gate of ṣalāt; and whoever is eager in fighting in the cause of Allāh, will be called from the gate of jihād; and one who is regular in fasting will be called from the gate Al-Rayyān.”

Al Qurṭubī explains: to be among the people of ṣalāt means that one performs abundant optional prayers to the point that it represents the most common of his optional actions. The obligatory ṣalāt is not meant, because all people are equal in that respect.

The same reasoning applies to fasting and ṣadaqa.

The door is called Al-Rayyān i.e the one who is satiated/quenched, as opposed to the one who is thirsty i.e the person fasting. This is to signify that he is rewarded for his thirst through a permanent satiation in paradise.

“The one who is a charitable person will be called from the gate of charity.”

After the mention of this door, four of the five pillars of Islām have been included, leaving the pillar of Ḥajj. There is no doubt that there is a door for [those who performed] Ḥajj [abundantly]. That leaves a remainder of three doors to complete the number of eight doors.

One of those doors is the door for ﴾ الْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ﴿ “those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind” (s. Āl-ʿImrān, v. 134). Imām Aḥmad bin-Ḥanbal narrates from Al-Ḥasan [in a ḥadīth mursal] “Certainly Allāh has a door in paradise which none except those who forgive injustice will enter through”.

Another one of those doors is “the door of the right side.” That is the door of the mutawakkilīn i.e those who used to put their entire trust in Allāh, through which will enter those who will not go through any reckoning nor will they be subject to any punishment.

As for the third door, it may be the door of the remembrance of Allāh, as a ḥadīth in Tirmidhī alludes to it. It is also possible that it is the door of knowledge.

Considering the fact that the types of virtuous actions number much more than eight in total, it is then possible that the doors through which people will be called are in fact internal doors which are located beyond the eight main doors of paradise.

Al-Suyūṭī explains in Al-Dībāj: “Al-Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ explains: the remaining doors are mentioned in other aḥādīth: the door of repentance, the door of “those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind”, the door of those who are content, the door of the right side from which will enter those who will not undergo any reckoning”.

Al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn-Ḥajar explains in Fatḥul-Bārī: for one to spend in the way of Allāh in ṣadaqa, jihād, knowledge and ḥajj is obvious. It is however not so obvious for other actions.
Spending in ṣalāt may refer to acquiring its tools such as the water to purify oneself, and one’s suitable garments or the like thereof.
As for spending while fasting it would be on those things which strengthen one to do such as suḥūr [pre-dawn meal] and fuṭūr [meal after sunset].
Spending to forgive others would mean that one forsakes those rights which he is entitled to from them.
Spending in tawakkul would be that which one spends during a sickness which prevents them for earning a living, while exerting patience in one’s affliction. It can also be that which one spends on someone else who is afflicted by the same, seeking thereby reward.
Spending for dhikr would be along the same lines.

It is also possible that what is meant by spending on ṣalāt and fasting is for one to exert their person in those acts. In the language of the ʿArab, exertion of one’s person is called expenditure [nafaqa]. They will for instance say, “I have expended my life on it” when referring to a trade which one has learnt. Exerting one’s body in fasting and ṣalāt would therefore be considered expenditure.

“Abū-Bakr  (May Allāh be pleased with him) said: “O Messenger of Allāh ﷺ ! May my mother and father be sacrificed for you! Those who are called from these gates will stand in need of nothing. However, will anybody be called from all of those gates?” ”

He means that one being called by anyone of these doors would certainly not suffer any diminution or loss. This statement brings alertness to the fact that very few people will be called from all those gates.

The one who has all those actions to his account is called from all the doors is an expression of merit, but entrance will nevertheless occur from only one door . That door is likely to be the one corresponding to the action which was most dominant for that person.

In this same context, one should not be confused by the ḥadīth of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim which says “Whoever performs ablution and does so most adequately, and then says I bear witness that there is no deity but Allāh…” and then it mentions “then the eight doors of paradise will open and he may enter from whichever one he choses”. The takeaway from this ḥadīth is that the doors are opened in this instance as a sign of esteem. One will nonetheless only enter through the door corresponding to their most abundant action.

Al-Zarkashī explains: “It is possible that the paradise is a fortress with embedded walls, and each wall would have its own door. Some will be called from the first door only, while others will be made to skip to the first door and taken to the interior door. So on and so forth…”.

“He replied, “Yes, and I hope that you will be one of them.” ”

The ʿulamāʾ explain: “Hope from Allāh and His Nabī ﷺ unequivocally comes to realization”.

The author-Imām Nawawī-explains: among the things which are inferred from this ḥadīth is the virtue of Abū-Bakar , and the permissibility of praising a person in their presence as long as a tribulation is not feared for them such as them becoming fond of themselves.

 وعن سهل بن سعدٍ رضي الله عنه عن النبي ﷺ، قال: “إن في الجنة باباً يُقالُ له: الريانُ، يدخلُ منه الصائمون يوم القيامة، لا يدخلُ منه أحدٌ غيرهم، يقالُ: أين الصائمون؟ فيقومون لا يدخل منه أحدٌ غيرهم، فإذا دخلوا أُغلق فلم يدخل منه أحدٌ” متفقٌ عليه().

Sahl bin-Saʿd  (May Allāh be pleased with him) narrates:

The Prophet ﷺ said, “In paradise there is a gate which is called Al-Rayyān through which only those who observe fasting will enter on the Day of Resurrection. No one else will enter through it. It will be called out, “Where are those who observe fasting?” so they will stand up and no one else will enter through it. When the last of them will have entered, the gate will be closed and then no one will enter through that gate.”

Narrated by Bukhārī and Muslim.

“The Prophet ﷺ said, “In paradise there is a gate which is called Al-Rayyān”

The significance of the name Rayyān i.e the one who is satiated/quenched has been explained earlier. One may add here that being satiated has been used to also signify that one’s hunger is satisfied, because they clearly go hand-in-hand.

“Through which only those who observe fasting will enter on the Day of Resurrection”

The mention of the day of resurrection is because that is when this will occur. It can also be said that it’s to differentiate from the souls of the martyrs and those of the believers which enter paradise during the duration of this lowly world, without it being contingent upon the action of fasting.

“No one else will enter through it. It will be called out, “Where are those who observe fasting?” so they will stand up and no one else will enter through it. When they have entered, the gate will be closed and then no one will enter through that gate. ”

The narration of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim mentions “when the last one of them will have entered”.

The repetition of the fact that no one else will enter through it is done for emphasis. The wording of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim is also narrated by Ibn Abī-Shayba in his Musnad, Abū-Nuʿaym in his Mustakhraj, Ibn-Khuzayma, and Al-Nasāʾī. Al-Nasāʾī added: “Whoever enters will never ever experience thirst again”.

Both Bukhārī and Muslim narrated this ḥadīth in the chapter of fasting.

وعن أبي سعيد الخدري، رضي الله عنه، قال: قال رسول الله ﷺ: “ما من عبدٍ يصومُ يوماً في سبيل الله إلا باعد الله بذلك اليوم وجههُ عن النار سبعين خريفاً()” متفقٌ عليه().

Abu Saʿīd Al-Khudrī  (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “There is no slave of Allāh who observes fasting for one day in the way of Allāh, except that Allah will detach his face from hell-fire to the extent of a distance to be covered in seventy years. ”

Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

“The Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “There is no slave of Allāh”

Meaning no legally responsible individual, and what will be mentioned next is true for both men and women. This is substantiated by the fact that a narration of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim does not specify a gender “Whoever fasts a day in the way of Allāh, He detaches their face from the hell-fire for a distance of seventy years”.

“Who observes fasting for one day in the way of Allāh”

Meaning in the obedience of Allāh.

“Except that Allāh will detach his face from hell-fire to the extent of a distance to be covered in seventy years.”

Meaning for the duration of a journey lasting seventy years.

وعن أبي هريرة، رضي الله عنه، عن النبي ﷺ، قال: “من صام رمضان إيماناً واحتساباً، غفر له ما تقدم من ذنبه” متفقٌ عليه().

Abū-Hurayra (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported:

The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who observes the fast of the month of Ramaḍān with faith and reflecting upon its reward, will have his past sins forgiven.”

Narrated by Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.

“The Prophet ﷺ said, “He who observes the fast of the month of Ramaḍan with faith”

Meaning in a mental state where one affirms the truth of the reward related regarding it.

“And reflecting upon its reward”

Reflecting upon it and seeking thereby Allāh’s countenance [i.e His pleasure].

“Will have his past sins forgiven.”

Al-Nasāʾī and Aḥmad both add in a fine [ḥadīth ḥasan] narration, “and future sins”.
The sins which are forgiven on account of acts of obedience are those minor sins which relate to Allāh’s rights.

Ibn-ʿAllan’s Commentary Dalilul-Falihin: The Book of Fasting. Hadiths 1-2

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