« PreviousContinue »
1. GOD. This article of the faith includes a belief in the existence of God, His unity and attributes, and has given rise to a large number of sects. Some acquaintance with the various controversies which have thus arisen is necessary to a correct knowledge of Islám. I commence the consideration of this subject by giving the substance of a Sunní, or orthodox treatise known as the Risála-i-Berkevi. The learned orientalist M. Garcin de Tassy, considered it to be of such authority that in his "L'Islamisme d'après le Coran" he has inserted a translation of the Risála.1 Muhammad AlBerkevi, speaking of the Divine attributes, says :
(1). Life. (Hyát). God Most High is alone to be adored. He has neither associate nor equal. He is free from the imperfections of humanity. He is neither begotten nor does He beget. He is invisible. He is without figure, form, colour or parts. His existence has neither beginning nor end. He is immutable. If He so wills, He can annihilate the world in a moment of time and, if it seem good to Him, recreate it in an instant. Nothing is difficult to Him, whether it be the creation of a fly or that of the seven heavens. He receives neither profit nor loss from whatever may happen. If all the Infidels became Believers and all the irreligious pious, He would gain no advantage. On the other hand, if all Believers became Infidels, He would suffer no loss.
(2). Knowledge. ('Ilm). He has knowledge of all things hidden or manifest, whether in heaven or on earth. He knows the number of the leaves of the trees, of the grains of wheat and of sand. Events past and future are known to Him. He knows what enters into the heart of man and what he utters with his mouth. He alone, except those to whom He has revealed them, knows the invisible things. He is free from forgetfulness, negligence and error. His knowledge is eternal: it is not posterior to His essence.
(3). Power. (Qudrat). He is Almighty. If He wills, He can raise the dead, make stones talk, trees walk, annihilate the heavens and the earth and recreate of gold or of silver thousands similar to those destroyed. He can transport a man in a moment of time from the east to the west, or from the west to the east, or to the seventh heaven. His power is eternal à priori and à posteriori. It is not posterior to His essence.
1. He speaks of it thus: "l'ouvrage élémentaire de la religion Musulmane le plus estimé et le plus répandu en Turquie," p. 154.
(4). Will. (Irádah). He can do what He wills, and whatever He wills comes to pass. He is not obliged to act. Everything, good or evil, in this world exists by His will. He wills the faith of the believer and the piety of the religious. If He were to change His will there would be neither a true believer nor a pious man. He willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion. All we do we do by His will: what He willeth not does not come to pass. If one should ask why God does not will that all men should believe we answer : "We have no right to enquire about what God wills and does. He is perfectly free to will and to do what He pleases." In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state; in making serpents, scorpions and pigs : in willing, in short, all that is evil God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know. We must acknowledge that the will of God is eternal and that it is not posterior to His essence.
(5). Hearing. (Sama'). He hears all sounds whether low or loud. He hears without an ear for His attributes are not like those of men.
(6). Seeing. (Basr). He sees all things, even the steps of a black ant on a black stone in a dark night; yet He has no eye as men have.
(7). Speech. (Kalám). He speaks, but not with a tongue as men do. He speaks to some of His servants without the intervention of another, even as He spoke to Moses, and to Muhammad on the night of the ascension to heaven. He speaks to others by the instrumentality of Gabriel, and this is the usual way in which He communicates His will to the prophets. It follows from this that the Qurán is the word of God, and is eternal and uncreated.
These are the "haft sifát," or seven attributes of God. There is unanimity of opinion as to the number of attributes, but not as regards their nature and the extent of the knowledge concerning them to which men can attain. Thus some say that the knowledge of God is the first thing to acquire; but Imám Sháfa'í and the Mutazilites say that a man must first attain to the idea of the knowledge of God. The meaning of the expression "Knowledge of God" is the ascertaining the truth of His existence, and of His positive and privative attributes, as far as the human understanding can enter into these matters. The unity is not a mere numerical unity but absolute, for the number one is the first of a series and implies a second, but God has not a
Enquiries into the Nature of God unlawful. 119
second. He is "singular without anything like Him, separate having no equal;" for," had there been either in heaven or earth gods beside God, both surely had gone to ruin." (Súra xxi. 22). God is not a substance, for substance has accidents, but God has none otherwise His nature would be that of "dependent existence." God is without parts, for otherwise he would not exist till all the parts were formed, and His existence would depend on the parts, that is, on something beside Himself.
The orthodox strictly prohibit the discussion of minute particulars, for say they, "just as the eye turning to the brightness of the sun finds darkness intervene to prevent all observation, so the understanding finds itself bewildered if it attempts to pry into the nature of God." The Prophet said: "We did not know the reality of the knowledge of Thee;" and to his followers he gave this advice: "Think of God's gifts, not of His nature: certainly you have no power for that." The Khalif Akbar is reported to have said: "to be helpless in the search of knowledge is knowledge and to enquire into the nature of God is Shirk (infidelity)." A moderate acquaintance with Muslim theology shows that neither the injunction of the Prophet nor the warning of the Khalíf has been heeded.
According to the early Muslims, the Companions and their followers, enquiries into the nature of God and His attributes were not lawful. The Prophet knowing what was good for men, had plainly revealed the way of salvation and had taught them :
'Say: He is God alone:
God the eternal !
He begetteth not, and He is not begotten;
And there is none like unto Him." (Súra cxii.)
This was sufficient for them to know of the mystery of the Godhead. God is far beyond the reach of the human
1. Sharh-i-'Aqáíd-i-Jámí, p. 27.
understanding. He alone embraces all in His comprehension. Men should therefore mistrust their own perceptive faculties and notions and should obey the inspired legislator Muhammad, who loving them better than they love themselves, and knowing better than they do what is truly useful, has revealed both what they ought to believe and what they ought to do. It is true that men must exercise their reason, but they must not do so with regard to the divine attributes.1
Dogma is divided into two portions, usúl and farú’— (i. e., roots and branches.) The former include the doctrine about God; the latter, as the name implies, consist of truths which result from the acceptance of the former. The orthodox belief is that reason has only to do with the "farú'," for the usúl being founded on the Qurán and Sunnat have an objective basis.
Differences of opinion about various branches of the "farú","led to discussions which did not stop there but went on to the "usúl," and so paved the way for the rise of scholastic theology ('Ilm-i-kalám.) I have already in the chapter on the exegesis of the Qurán explained the difference in meaning between muhkam (obvious) verses and mutashábih (intricate) ones. This difference lies at the very foundation of the present subject. It is, therefore, necessary to enter a little into detail.
The question turns very much on the interpretation of the 5th verse of the 3rd Súra: "He it is who hath sent down to thee the Book.' Some of its signs are of themselves perspicuous (muhkam): these are the basis of the
1. The above statements form the substance of several pages in the "Prolégomènes d'Ibn Khaldoun," in which also occurs the following: "Cela n'est pas toutefois un motif pour déprécier notre intelligence et nos facultés perceptives: l'intelligence est une balance parfaitement juste: elle nous fournit des résultats certains sans nous tromper. Mais on ne doit pas employer cette balance pour peser les choses qui se rattachent à l'unité de Dieu, à la vie future, à la nature du prophétisme, au véritable caractère des attributs divins et à tout ce qui est au delà de sa porteé. Vouloir le faire, ce serait une absurdité." Vol. iii. p. 45.
Book and others are figurative (mutashábih.) But they whose hearts are given to err, follow its figures, craving discord, craving an interpretation; yet none knoweth its interpretation but God. And the stable in knowledge say, 'We believe in it: it is all from our Lord.' But none will bear this in mind, save men endued with understanding." Here it is clearly stated (1) that no one except God can know the interpretation of mutashábih verses, and (2) that wise men though they know not their interpretation, yet believe them all. Many learned men, however, say that the full stop should not be placed after the word "God" but after "knowledge," and so this portion of the verse would read thus: "None knoweth its interpretation but God and the stable in knowledge. They say: 'we believe, &c.' ›› On this slight change in punctuation, which shows that the 'stable in knowledge' can interpret the mutashabih verses, opposite schools of theology have arisen in Islám.
The latter reading opens the way to a fearless investigation of subjects which all the early Muslims avoided as beyond their province. In the early days of Islám it was held that all parts of the Qurán, except the muhkam verses and the purely narrative portions, were mutashábih; that is, all verses which related to the attributes of God, to the existence of angels and genii, to the appearance of Antichrist, the period and signs of the day of judgment, and generally all matters which are beyond the daily experience of mankind. It was strongly felt that not only must there. be no discussion on them, but no attempt should be made to understand or act on them. Ibn 'Abbás, a Companion, "One must believe the mutashábih verses, but not
take them for a rule of conduct." Ibn Jubair was
Telle fut la règle suivie par les anciens musulmans à l'égard des verses motachabeh ; ils l'appliquaient aussi aux expressions du même genre qui
se présentent dans la Sonna,
parce qu'elles proviennent de la
This passage is of some interest as origin of the Qurán and the Sunnat.
même source que celles du Coran." Ibn Khaldoun, vol. iii. p. 67. maintaining the common source and