Ibn Qudama Did Tafwid in Meaning and Not Just Modality

I usually keep away from the aqeedah wars among various Sunni groups because I don’t find much benefit in them. I’m not that interested in converting other Sunnis to my way of thinking. However, I do care about consistency and fair representation of others’ opinions. Recently, a debate has risen over whether Ibn Qudama, the famous Hanbali scholar of the middle period, performed tafwid (تفويض‎) in meaning or not when it comes to Allah’s Attributes. There are two camps:

  • Those who say Ibn Qudama performed tafwid only in modality and not in meaning
  • Those who say Ibn Qudama performed tafwid in both modality and meaning

Those who may not be aware, tafwid in meaning in the context of Allah’s Attributes means to consign their meanings to Allah due to the impossibility of knowing their reality. The doctrine states that the expressions used in the Qur’an and Sunnah such as Allah’s ‘hands’ or ‘face’ do not carry the literal meanings like their counterparts in human beings. Rather, they are Attributes of Allah and not organs like the face or hands of human beings. They are passed over as they have come without delving into their meanings or trying to explain them. The reality of their meanings should be left to the one who said them.

The two groups agree that tafwid is true when it comes to the modality of Allah’s Attributes, however, they disagree if it applies to the meaning as well. For example, should we accept the literal meanings of the Attributes according to their lexical meanings in the Arabic language? If so, then it means Allah has a Hand, because the meaning of the Arabic word “hand” (yad) was known, but without assuming that Allah’s Hand is comparable to a human hand, or asking how. This is an ongoing long debate between the two groups. However, we’re not interested in this debate here. We want to know which side was Ibn Qudama on because both groups claim him as their own.

As I said before, I care about consistency and accurate representation. Thus, in this article, I will show, insha’Allah, that when we look at Ibn Qudama’s multiple writings, it becomes quite clear that he belonged to the group that does tafwid in both modality and meaning.

Ibn Qudama on Tafwid

Here are some of Ibn Qudama’s statements on this issue in his own words:

لا حاجة لنا إلى علم معنى ما أراد الله تعالى من صفاته جل وعز فإنه لا يراد منها عمل ولا يتعلق بها تكليف سوى الإيمان بها ويمكن الإيمان بها من غير علم معناها فإن الإيمان بالجهل صحيح فإن الله تعالى أمر بالإيمان بملائكته وكتبه ورسله وما أنزل إليهم وإن كنا لا نعرف من ذلك إلا التسمية

“There is no need for us to know the meanings of what Allah intended from His Attributes, for indeed, He has not intended any action by them and neither has He attached any responsibility regarding them besides believing in them. It is possible to believe in them without knowledge of their meanings and therefore, indeed faith with ignorance [of the meanings] is correct. Verily, Allah has ordered us to have faith in His angels, His books, His messengers and what He had revealed unto them even if we do not know of them except their names.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām, pg. 51]

وإن عاب السكوت عن التفسير أخطأ فإننا لا نعلم لها تفسيرا ومن لم يعلم شيئا وجب عليه السكوت عنه وحرم عليه الكلام فيه قال الله تعالى {ولا تقف ما ليس لك به علم}

وذكر الله تعالى في المحرمات {وأن تقولوا على الله ما لا تعلمون}… وأيضا فإن عائب هذه المقالة عائب على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم فإنه كان يؤمن بالله وكلماته ولم يفسر شيئا من ذلك ولا بين معناه

“And if one finds fault in silence regarding the explanation, he is erroneous; for indeed, we do not know an explanation for them and the one who does not know anything, it is necessary upon him to remain silent regarding it and it is impermissible for him to speak on it. Allah has said: ‘And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge…’ (Qur’ān, 17:36) and Allah has mentioned from among the impermissible things: ‘… and to say about Allah what you do not know.’ (Qur’ān, 2:169)… and also, if one faults this position, then one faults the Prophet ﷺ; for, indeed, he believed in Allah and His Words and did not explain anything from them [the ambiguous Attributes] and he did not explain their meanings.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām, pg. 54]

وهي الإيمان بالألفاظ والآيات والأخبار بالمعنى الذي أراده الله تعالى والسكوت عما لا نعلمه من معناها وترك البحث عما لم يكلفنا الله البحث عنه من تأويلها ولم يطلعنا على علمه واتباع طريق الراسخين الذين أثنى الله عليهم في كتابه المبين حين قالوا {آمنا به كل من عند ربنا}

“It is to have faith in the words, the verses and reports with the meaning that Allah has intended (i.e., to say something similar to what has been reported by Imām Shafi’i which has been mentioned above), silence upon what we do not know regarding its meanings, to leave searching for what Allah has not burdened us with and searching for their explanations as well as what He has not informed us from His Knowledge and to follow the path of those who are steadfast whom Allah has commended in His clear Book wherein they say: “We believe in all that has come from our Lord.” (Qur’ān, 3:7)

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām, pg. 51]

وعلموا أن المتكلم بها صادق لا شك في صدقه فصدقوه ولم يعلموا حقيقة معناها فسكتوا عما لم يعلموه وأخذ ذلك الآخر والأول ووصى بعضهم بعضا بحسن الإتباع والوقوف حيث وقف أولهم وحذروا من التجاوز لهم والعدول عن طريقهم وبينوا لهم سبيلهم ومذهبهم ونرجوا أن يجعلنا الله تعالى ممن اقتدى بهم في بيان ما بينوه وسلوك الطريق الذي سلكوه

“And they (the Salaf) knew that the One who spoke them (Allah) was truthful without doubt, so they believed Him. And they did not know the reality of their meanings [i.e. the Attributes], so they were silent about what they did not know. The later and the earlier ones adhered to this. Thus, they strongly advised one another of good obedience and stopping where their formers stopped. And they warned from exceeding their bounds and diverging from their [i.e. the Salaf’s] path. Furthermore, they elucidated their methodology and doctrinal positions. We hope to Allah that He makes us from the ones who followed them in explaining what they explained and following the path that they traverse.”

[Dhamm al-Ta’wīl, 1/11]

وَمن الْمَعْنى أَن صِفَات الله تَعَالَى وأسماءه لَا تدْرك بِالْعقلِ لِأَن الْعقل إِنَّمَا يعلم صفة مَا رَآهُ أَو رأى نَظِيره وَالله تَعَالَى لَا تُدْرِكهُ الْأَبْصَار وَلَا نَظِير لَهُ وَلَا شَبيه فَلَا تعلم صِفَاته وأسماؤه إِلَّا بالتوقيف والتوقيف إِنَّمَا ورد بأسماء الصِّفَات دون كيفيتها وتفسيرها فَيجب الإقتصار على مَا ورد بِهِ السّمع لعدم الْعلم بِمَا سواهُ وَتَحْرِيم القَوْل على الله تَعَالَى بِغَيْر علم

“And from the meaning is that Attributes and Names of Allah, the Exalted, cannot be comprehended by reason, as reason only knows a quality based on observation or witnessing its equivalent. Allah, the Exalted, is not perceived by sight, and there is nothing similar or comparable to Him. Therefore, reason cannot grasp His Attributes and Names, so one can only understand them through textual evidence (Tawqeef).  Tawqeef only reported the Names and Attributes without modality and explanation. Thus, it is necessary to confine ourselves to what has been heard [in the texts] due to the absence of knowledge beyond it and the prohibition to make statements about Allah without knowledge.”

[Dhamm al-Ta’wīl]

وأما إيماننا بالآيات وأخبار الصفات، فإنما هو إيمان بمجرد الألفاظ التي لا شك في صحتها، ولا ريب في صدقها، قائلها أعلم بمعناها، فآمنا بها على المعنى الذي أراد ربنا تبارك وتعالى

“As for our belief in the Qur’anic verses and traditions treating of the divine attributes, it is purely a belief in the words, the soundness of which may not be doubted, nor their veracity suspected. The one who said them knows best their meanings. So we believe in them according to the meaning intended by our Lord.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām, p. 59]

فَإِن أَكثر مَا عِنْد المتأول أَن هَذِه اللَّفْظَة تحْتَمل هَذَا الْمَعْنى فِي اللُّغَة وَلَيْسَ يلْزم من مُجَرّد إحتمال اللَّفْظ للمعنى أَن يكون مرَادا بِهِ فَإِنَّهُ كَمَا يحْتَمل هَذَا الْمَعْنى يحْتَمل غَيره وَقد يحْتَمل مَعَاني أخر لَا يعلمهَا

“Now, the most the interpreter can claim is that a given expression admits a given meaning in the classical language. But it does not necessarily follow from the mere fact of the expression’s admissibility of this meaning, that this meaning is intended by it. For just as it may admit this meaning, it may also admit others. It may even admit still other meanings with which the interpreter is not acquainted.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām]

وَإِن عيب علينا السُّكُوت فَلَيْسَ السُّكُوت بقول وَلَا ينْسب إِلَى سَاكِت قَول

“If we be blamed for our silence, silence, at least, is not a doctrine, nor can any doctrine be ascribed to one who keeps silent.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām]

لَا نزيدك على ألفاظها زِيَادَة تفِيد معنى بل قرَاءَتهَا تَفْسِيرهَا من غير معنى بِعَيْنِه وَلَا تَفْسِير بِنَفسِهِ وَلَكِن قد علمنَا أَن لَهَا معنى فِي الْجُمْلَة يُعلمهُ الْمُتَكَلّم بهَا فَنحْن نؤمن بهَا بذلك الْمَعْنى

“We have nothing to offer you by way of an addition to these expressions which would convey a meaning; nay rather their very recitation is their interpretation, without any meaning or interpretation in particular. But we do know that they have a meaning, among others, which is known by Him who uttered them. So we believe in them according to that meaning.”

[Tahrīm al-Naẓr fī Kutub al-Kalām]

ولأن قولهم: (آمَنَّا بِهِ) يدل على نوع تفويض وتسليم لشيء لم يقفوا على معناه

“And also due to their statement (We have believed in it) proves this is a type of tafwid and submission to something that they did not know its meaning.”

[Rawdha al-Naadhir p. 216]

فإن قيل: فكيف يخاطب الله الخلق بما لا يعقلونه أم كيف ينزل على رسوله ما لا يطّلع على تأويله؟

يجوز أن يكلفهم الإيمان بما لا يطّلعون على تأويله ليختبر طاعتهم كما قال تعالى: (وَلِنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ حَتَّى نَعْلَمَ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ مِنْكُمْ وَالصَّابِرِينَ) (وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الْقِبْلَةَ الَّتِي كُنْتَ عَلَيْهَا إِلَّا لِنَعْلَمَ) الآية، (وَمَا جَعَلْنَا الرُّءْيَا الَّتِي أَرَيْنَاكَ إِلَّا فِتْنَةً لِلنَّاسِ)

وكما اختبرهم بالإيمان بالحروف المقطّعة مع أنه لا يعلم معناها والله أعلم

“If it should be said, ‘How could Allah speak to the creation in a way that they don’t understand? How could He send down on His Messenger something that one cannot ascertain the meaning?'”

“It is possible that He would make them responsible for having iman in what they don’t know its meaning in order for them to be tested in their obedience. Like when he said, (So that He might test you as We know the mujahidin from those among you that are patient). (We did not make the Qiblah which you were upon except so that We might know) and also (We did not make the vision which We showed you except as a test to the people).”

“And just as He can test them in iman regarding the surahs that begin with the disconnected letters while the fact is that none knows their meaning. And Allah knows best”.

[Rawdha al-Naadhir p. 217]

Hanbalis Today Who Follow Ibn Qudama’s Position on Tafwid in Meaning

I’ve heard from some that the claim of Ibn Qudama being a mufawwidh and the tafwid position in general is not held by any Hanbalis today but only outsiders, however, this is completely false. There are plenty of Hanbalis today who take the Tafwid al-Ma’na (meaning) position and attribute it to Ibn Qudama as well:

  • Sh. Muhammad Sayyid al-Hanbali from Al-Azhar has explained Ibn Qudama’s book Lum’ah al-‘itqaad and takes the Tafwid al-Ma’na position.
  • Sh. Yusuf ibn Sadiq al-Hanbali has taught the book Lum’ah al-‘itqaad for years as well and recently published a commentary on it in English and also takes the Tafwid al-Ma’na position.
  • Sh. Ismail Hakamali al-Hanbali from the UK also has explained Lum’ah al-‘itqaad multiple times and takes the Tafwid al-Ma’na position.
  • Sh. Abdul Wahid Hanbali also takes the same positions as the above.


Given explicit statements from Ibn Qudama himself above, it should be quite clear that he practiced and actively preached tafwid in meaning and modality. In short, he was indeed a Mufawwidh. And perhaps this is why some among the other camp openly admitted to this fact:

Sh. Abdur Razzaq Afeefy who follows the opinion of doing tafwid in modality only said:

مذهب السلف هو التفويض في كيفية الصفات لا في المعنى، وقد غلط ابن قدامة في لمعة الاعتقاد، وقال: بالتفويض ولكن الحنابلة يتعصبون للحنابلة، ولذلك يتعصب بعض المشايخ في الدفاع عن ابن قدامة، ولكن الصحيح أن ابن قدامة مفوض

“The methodology of the Salaf was consignment regarding the modality (kayfiyyah), not in the meaning (ma’nā), and indeed Ibn Qudama erred in Lum’at al-I’tiqād as he said with Tafwiḍ; but the Ḥanābila are partisan to the Ḥanābila. Therefore, some Masha’ikh are extreme when it comes to defending Ibn Qudamah. However, what is correct is that Ibn Qudamah was a Mufawwidh.”

[Fatāwa wa Rasā’il Samāhat al-Shaykh ‘Abd al-Razzāq ‘Afīfī]

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