Revisiting the Irrationality of Salafi Anthropomorphism

Sam Shamoun

As we promised (1, 2) we resume our refutation of Bassam Zawadi’s assertion that the Trinity is illogical in light of John 17:3 and that his beliefs concerning the eternal nature of the Quran and Allah having bodyparts are not irrational. Here we will respond to the points Zawadi raised in order to defend his incoherent and unreasonable Islamic doctrines.

Zawadi has to separate one of my quotes in order deny that it says that the Quran is not something other than Allah, even though he will go on to quote the part which says that Allah’s attributes are not him but at the same time they are not other than him. See the following article for the details (*).

Zawadi tries to explain this away by saying that this means that Allah’s attributes are a necessary part of his nature, and further says that to speak of a specific attribute is to speak of Allah himself!

In the process of saying this Zawadi manages to distort as well as further contradict his own Salafi position since he argues that Allah’s face represents Allah himself:

For example, if one were to say that Allah's Face has perished it is as good as saying that Allah Himself has perished, since Allah's Face is necessary for Him. So in this way, the attribute of Face was used to represent Allah even though it is not Allah, since Allah is not a Face but God.

Here, Zawadi gets himself in trouble since for him to argue that Allah’s face is simply another way of speaking of Allah himself is to pretty much agree with the majority of Sunnis who say that by face the Quran means the essence of Allah, and not simply a specific attribute of his essence. In other words, since it is the entire essence which is identical to Allah, and not to any specific attribute, to therefore say that face means Allah is to basically admit that it actually refers to Allah’s essence.

But this is not what Salafi’s believe since to them the face of Allah is not identical with his essence or to him but is a particular attribute of his essence.

Nor does Zawadi make sense when he says that referring to an attribute of Allah is to speak of Allah since no one particular attribute is identical to Allah since Allah is more than any specific attribute.

And just to show why Zawadi’s point is nothing more than pure nonsense simply replace face with hand and see how much sense that makes, e.g. Allah’s hands will perish really means that Allah himself will perish. The most this proves is that Allah’s hands, or power, will perish but not that Allah will cease to exist or that any other part of him will wither away.

Moreover, it is obvious that Zawadi misunderstood what he read since the point being made is not that Allah’s attributes are identical with Allah in the sense that if you refer to any specific characteristic of his you are therefore referring to him. What the quotation I provided meant is that one cannot say that Allah’s attributes are something other than Deity since this would posit more than one eternal entity. At the same time one cannot say that the Deity is identical to any particular characteristic since the Being of God or Allah is much more complex and encompasses more than any one specific attribute.

Zawadi thinks he has answers to my questions. Here is his response to my question concerning how the Quran can be eternal if it isn’t Allah or identical to him:

The Qur'an is the speech of Allah. Allah's speech is one of His attributes. Allah's attributes (e.g. knowledge, sight, speech, etc.) have always been with Allah since they are part of His nature. Logically speaking then, if Allah is eternal then that also means that His attributes are eternal and not created.

This still doesn’t answer my question, so let me reiterate my point. How can the Quran be eternal when it is not identical with Allah, when it is not Allah, but distinct from him? The only way for the Quran to be eternal is if it is God, or fully divine, since God alone is beginningless, timeless. But if it is divine then how can it not be identical to Allah?

Let me simplify this even further so that Zawadi will understand the problems he faces, and that he is not left thinking that Christians are the only ones who have to contend with paradoxes that they do not fully understand or cannot adequately explain. Will Zawadi say that the Quran or Allah’s speech IS Allah, IS God, and doesn’t simply represent or can be used to refer to his deity? If the answer is no then how can Zawadi believe that something which is not identical to Allah, which cannot be identified as Allah, is eternal?

If his answer is yes then how can Allah’s speech be a distinct attribute of his if it identical to him? How can his speech be different from the other qualities which Allah has when it is the same as Allah and would therefore encompass all the attributes?

I had asked how could Allah still be one when the Quran, or his attribute of speech, is other than him, to which Zawadi replied:

We say that Allah is one Lord and God who has several attributes. We don't say that Allah only has one attribute or that the Qur'an is God.

This, also, doesn’t begin to address my question so let me repeat it one more time. Since the Quran, being the speech of Allah, is not Allah how can it therefore be uncreated and Allah still be one? How can something other than Allah be eternal without this destroying Islamic monotheism?

Zawadi misunderstood my point concerning whether the Quran is a living dynamic entity and raises the false analogy of Allah’s knowledge to show that it doesn’t have to be alive any more than Allah’s knowledge has to be. The problem with this erroneous comparison is that knowledge is different from speech since the latter implies communication which further presupposes an object to which this speech is directed. In other words if Allah is a speaking Being then he must be speaking to someone before creation, but who was he communicating with in eternity?

The second problem is that the Quran contains prayers directed to Allah such as the following:

In the name of ALLAH, the Gracious, the Merciful. All praise is due to ALLAH alone, Lord of all the worlds. The Gracious, the Merciful. Master of the Day of Judgment. THEE alone do we worship and THEE alone do we implore for help. Guide us in the straight path, The path of those on whom THOU hast bestowed THY favours, those who have not incurred THY displeasure and those who have not gone astray. S. 1:1-7 Sher Ali

Since the Quran is supposed to be eternal then this means that the above prayer is uncreated, which raises the question as to who was praying this to Allah in eternity? Was Allah praying this to himself? Or should we assume that the Quran is a personal, living being distinct from Allah which has direct communion and fellowship with Allah?

According to the following narratives a Muslim such as Zawadi must embrace the latter view since these reports speak of the Quran as a cognizant entity that will actually intercede for those who recite its verses!

Abu Umama said he heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) say: Recite the Qur'an, for on the Day of Resurrection it will come as an intercessor for those who recite It. Recite the two bright ones, al-Baqara and Surah Al 'Imran, for on the Day of Resurrection they will come as two clouds or two shades, or two flocks of birds in ranks, pleading for those who recite them. Recite Surah al-Baqara, for to take recourse to it is a blessing and to give it up is a cause of grief, and the magicians cannot confront it. (Mu'awiya said: It has been conveyed to me that here Batala means magicians.) (Sahih Muslim, Book 004, Number 1757)

Narrated AbuHurayrah:
The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: A surah of the Qur'an containing thirty verses will intercede for its reader till he will be forgiven. That is: "Blessed is He in Whose Hand is the sovereignty" (Surah 67). (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 6, Number 1395)

As if it couldn’t get anymore confusing, one commentator says that these hadiths actually mean that the Quran will be endowed with speech in order to intercede for Muslims:

991. Abu Umamah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, "Read the Qur'an, for it will come as an intercessor for its reciters on the Day of Resurrection." [Muslim].

Commentary: This Hadith tells the excellence of reciting the Qur'an and acting upon its injunctions. Intercession (in this Hadith) means that the Qur'an will be endowed with the power of speech by Allah and it will request Allah to forgive the sins of its reciters who acted upon its teachings. Allah will accept the request of the Qur'an, as signified in other Ahadith.

992. An-Nawwas bin Sam`an reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah saying, "The Qur'an and its people who applied it, will be brought on the Day of Resurrection preceded with Surat Al-Baqarah and Surat Al-`Imran arguing on behalf of those who applied them." [Muslim].

Commentary: This Hadith means that on the Day of Requital, the Qur'an, with Surat Al-Baqarah and Al-`Imran in the forefront, will intercede before Allah for those who used to recite and act upon them in the life of the world. (Riyad-us-Saliheen, Compiled By Al-Imam Abu Zakariya Yahya bin Sharaf An-Nawawi Ad-Dimashqi, Chapter 180, "The Excellence of Reciting the Qur'an"; source; bold, italic and underline emphasis ours)

But isn’t the Quran supposed to be the eternal speech of Allah? Then how can Allah’s speech be endowed with speech? Does that even make sense?

Regardless of whether the interpretation of expositor is correct or not, the point remains that according to these narratives the Quran is a living, conscious, rational entity that prays to and intercedes with Allah. In light of this the following prayers become all the more interesting:

Say: "I seek refuge with (Allah) the Lord of the daybreak, From the evil of what He has created; And from the evil of the darkening (night) as it comes with its darkness; (or the moon as it sets or goes away). And from the evil of the witchcrafts when they blow in the knots, And from the evil of the envier when he envies." S. 113:1-5 Hilali-Khan

Say: "I seek refuge with (Allah) the Lord of mankind, The King of mankind, The Ilah (God) of mankind, From the evil of the whisperer (devil who whispers evil in the hearts of men) who withdraws (from his whispering in one's heart after one remembers Allah) , Who whispers in the breasts of mankind, Of jinns and men." S. 114:1-6 Hilali-Khan

Since Zawadi believes that these Suras are eternal, being part of the uncreated Quran, perhaps he can explain to us, especially to his readers, who exactly is being commanded to recite these words, to pray these incantations or invocations? Is the Quran actually commanding Allah to pray seeing that he was the only other conscious entity that was there in eternity?

That this is a possible, in fact plausible, explanation is supported by the fact that Muslim scripture testifies that Allah actually prays like the angels and believers do!

Upon them shall be prayers (salawatun) from their Lord and mercy, and they are the rightly directed. S. 2:157

He it is who PRAYS for/on you (yusallii alaykum), as do His angels ... S. 33:43

Allah AND His angels PRAY for the Prophet (yasalluuna alan-Nabiyy): O ye that believe PRAY for him (salluu `alayhi), and salute him with all respect. S. 33:56

And there is actually a specific narration where Allah is reciting the Quran a thousand years before creating the universe!

Narrated AbuHurayrah
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said, "A thousand years before creating the heavens and the Earth, Allah RECITED Ta-Ha and Ya-Sin, and when the angels HEARD the recitation they said, 'Happy are the people to whom this comes down, happy are the minds which carry this, and happy are the tongues which utter this." Darimi transmitted it. (Tirmidhi Hadith, Number 660, The ALIM CD-ROM Version)

Hence, not only does Allah pray like Muslims do he also recites the Quran like they do!

For more on the issue of Allah praying we recommend this article (*)

With that just said, the real problem that Zawadi must contend with and has to explain is how can the Quran intercede with Allah if it isn’t other than Allah? But if it is other than Allah, since it is distinct from and actually communicates with him, how can it therefore be eternal without this compromising Islamic monotheism?

So in light of this let me repeat my question which Zawadi hasn’t sufficiently answered. How many Allahs do Muslims really have and believe in?

In response to my statement that the Quran’s eternal nature indicates that all the events and speeches recorded within it must have been predetermined beforehand, thereby canceling out the belief in human free will, Zawadi claims that I am ignorant of what Islam teaches concerning predestination! Either Zawadi misunderstands this doctrine and is actually misinformed concerning what the Islamic corpus actually says in respect to Allah’s foreknowledge and predestination, or he is again distorting this fundamental teaching in order to mislead his readers. For a full discussion on what the Islamic position is concerning this issue and how it actually confirms my point we recommend this article (*).

Zawadi denies that the Christian view of Jesus as the eternal Logos is similar to the Islamic view of the Quran as the eternal speech of Allah on the grounds that no reputable Muslim scholar that he knows of believes this. This is nothing more than the fallacy of appealing to authority and of ad populum.

Moreover, Christians aren’t the only ones to see the similarity between the two views since Muslims such as the Mutazila also clearly saw this to be the case as well:

The Mutazila took issue with the majority of ulama over the doctrines of the divine attributes or names of God and the eternal, uncreated nature of the Quran. Both beliefs were seen as contradictory and as compromising God's unity (Islam's absolute monotheism). How could the one, transcendent God have many divine attributes (sight, hearing, power, knowledge, will)? The Mutazila maintained that the Quranic passages that affirmed God's attributes were meant to be understood metaphorically or allegorically, not literally. Not to do so was to fall into anthropomorphism, or worse, shirk, associationism or polytheism. Similarly, the Islamic doctrine that the Quran is the speech or word of God should not be taken literally, for how could both God and His word be eternal and uncreated? The result would be two divinities. The Mutazila interpreted metaphorically those Quranic texts that spoke of the Quran preexisting in heaven. Contrary to majority opinion, they taught that the Quran is the created word of God, who is its uncreated source. The Mutazila critique of those like Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who believed in the eternity of the Quran, was ably summarized by Caliph Mamun in a letter to his governor:

Everything apart from Him is a creature from His creation - a new thing which He has brought into existence. [This perverted opinion they hold] though the Koran speaks clearly of God's creating all things, and proves to the exclusion of all differences of opinion. They are, thus, like the Christians when they claim that Isa bin Maryam [Jesus, the son of Mary] was not created because he was the word of God. But God says, "Verily We have made it a Koran in the Arabic language," and the explanation of that is, "Verily, We have created it," just as the Koran says, "And He made from it His mate that he might dwell with her." (Esposito, Islam The Straight Path [Oxford University Press, New York Oxford: Hard cover, third edition], pp. 71-72; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Zawadi tries to deny that the Quran is both eternal and created:

We don't say that the same thing is eternal and created at the same time. If we did then that would be a logical contradiction. We say that the book cover, pages, ink, etc. of the Qur'an are created, but the information content in it is eternal. So something eternal is being communicated to us through created means. We are not saying that the eternal is the created thing, just as Christians would say that Jesus is eternal and at the same time became a man (who is obviously created).

He further contends that the Quran did not become part of creation, and in so doing continues to expose his ignorance of both Biblical and Islamic teachings:

As I said before, the Qur'an in essence is eternal and communicated to us through created means. It did not become a creation. It is not a creation. Christians don't merely say that God remained in His essence and simply communicated to us through the image of a man. No, they say that He became a man.  Since Muslims do not say that Allah's divine attribute of speech became paper, ink, etc. and that it is only communicated through those means, the analogy becomes fallacious at best.

Christians believe that God's divine essence was in the man of Jesus Christ himself. But no where do Muslims believe that the divine attribute of God is in the book itself. It is only its message and information content that it is there. Anyone can write up the Qur'an on a piece of paper. That doesn't mean that he can transform an ordinary piece of paper into a divine piece of paper at any time. Sure, the paper could become holy in the sense that it contains the words of the divine, but not that it has actually become divine in and of it self. If that were the case then the Prophet (peace be upon him) would have taught us to worship the Qur'an or seek blessings from it by wiping it over our faces, etc.

To show the readers how Zawadi is simply being evasive at this point in order to avoid admitting the obvious, we challenge him to come out and say that the Arabic text which he reads IS NOT the Quran. In other words, when Zawadi picks up a copy of the Quran and reads the Arabic letters that are in front of him we want him to admit that he is not actually reading the so-called revelation. If he happens to say that it is then he is basically admitting that the book, the ink, and the letters are not simply means through which the Quran has been communicated, but are an essential and necessary part of the so-called revelation.

To put this simply so that Zawadi hopefully gets it this time around, the Quran has become a part of creation since it was made into an Arabic writing. Interestingly, the Quran itself admits that it became something!

We verily, have MADE it (jaalnahu) a Qur'an in Arabic, that you may be able to understand (its meanings and its admonitions). And Verily, it (this Qur'an) is in the Mother of the Book (i.e. Al-Lauh Al-Mahfuz), before Us, indeed Exalted, full of Wisdom. S. 43:3-4 Hilali-Khan

That the Arabic word for made can have the same connotation as the Arabic term for create can be easily proven by comparing the following texts:

It is He who created you (khalaqakum) out of one living soul, and MADE (jaala) of him his spouse that he might rest in her. Then, when he covered her, she bore a light burden and passed by with it; but when it became heavy they cried to God their Lord, 'If Thou givest us a righteous son, we indeed shall be of the thankful.' S. 7:189 Arberry

Here, the first woman is said to have been made from man. Yet in other passages the word create is used:

O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you (khalaqakum) from a single soul and from it created (khalaqa) its mate and from them twain hath spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty toward Allah in Whom ye claim (your rights) of one another, and toward the wombs (that bare you). Lo! Allah hath been a watcher over you. S. 4:1 Pickthall

And among His Signs is this, that He created (khalaqa) for you mates from among yourselves, that ye may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): verily in that are Signs for those who reflect. S. 30:21 Y. Ali

Thus, making and creating can be used interchangeably and synonymously in the Quran. This therefore demonstrates that the Arabic Quran was created which means that Zawadi must accept the fact that, if the Quran is eternal, then it didn’t eternally exist in Arabic but was only made such later in time.

Yet for the Quran to be made into something implies that a change occurred, or an addition was made, since that means that prior to being made into that specific thing it did not exist in that state or manner. This soundly refutes Zawadi’s erroneous assertion that the Quran did not "become a creation," since it certainly did right at the moment it was made to become something it wasn’t, specifically an Arabic Quran written in the Arabic language by scribes on pages using pen and ink.

And isn’t it a rather a curious thing that, although the Quran says it has been made, it never says that it is uncreated!

Zawadi links to his articles concerning Allah actually having limbs and bodyparts, none of which address or refute the objections that I raised against him in this particular response concerning why such a belief is simply irrational and cannot be maintained.

Zawadi continues to deny that this belief is illogical and insists that it is simply beyond reason but not contrary to it. Zawadi has the audacity to say that he "smashed" me and that I am a fool for not understanding his position. The problem is that Zawadi simply didn’t comprehend my argument, and it apparently went way over his head as I shall show once again.

Zawadi believes that Allah is eternal and at the same time he assumes that his deity literally has eyes, hands, a flank, shins, etc., even though he denies that these limbs and bodyparts are anything like what is found in creation.

As we had stated, to which Zawadi still hasn’t provided an adequate response or explanation, Allah can only have these parts if he has a material shape of some kind, which further implies that Allah must be a spatial being, one who occupies space and matter. After all, a being who is supposed to have created time, space, and matter and who must therefore be timeless, spaceless, immaterial, incorporeal etc., simply cannot have eyes, hands shins, or feet.

Yet Zawadi believes in both, e.g. that Allah created the universe, and therefore must believe that he created time, space, and matter, while also literally having all of these bodily attributes! Zawadi simply doesn’t want to contend with the fact that Allah cannot have these bodyparts and still be the creator of space and matter without this either implying that Allah created his own eyes, hands, shin and feet, or that not all aspects of space and matter are created since Allah’s body, which must occupy time, space and matter, is eternal.

Interestingly there are specific reports which suggest that Allah didn’t create all aspects of time, space and matter since Allah is supposed to be time itself!

Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah said, ‘The offspring of Adam abuse the Dahr (Time), and I am the Dahr; in My Hands are the night and the day!’" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 200)

Narrated Abu Huraira:
"The Prophet said, ‘Allah said: "The son of Adam hurts Me by abusing Time, for I am Time; in My Hands are all things and I cause the revolution of night and day."’" (See Hadith No. 351, Vol. 6) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 583)

If Allah is time then does this mean Allah created himself and experiences changes? After all, time is a measurement of change. Change can only happen when matter exists, so before creation, without matter existing, there cannot be time. Physicists never extend the time line backwards from the Big Bang because it would not have any meaning to speak of time before there was anything else (space and matter). Therefore, if Allah is time and time is part of creation doesn’t this mean that Allah brought himself into existence? Or does this mean that time is eternal since it is Allah, and if so doesn’t this go against science and reason which states that time hasn’t always existed? And if it is eternal then does this mean that space and matter are eternal as well seeing that time is a measurement of change which only occurs with the existence of matter and space? And would this further imply that Allah experiences change in light of his being time itself?

In light of Zawadi’s beliefs he would have to agree that not all time, space and matter are created since Allah’s body is not part of creation and yet he cannot have a body if he doesn’t occupy spatial dimensions in someway.

Nor can Zawadi claim that this simply means that Allah controls time since the language which Muhammad employed doesn’t suggest this at all. Muhammad's words are emphatic and clear for all to read and do not need explaining; he expressly says that Allah himself is time itself. Muhammad’s statement makes just as much sense as if he were to say that Allah is creation itself, which no Muslim would dare say. It is obvious that Muhammad had no idea that by making Allah say that he is time he would be raising serious theological and logical problems for his followers to contend with.

Rationally Zawadi cannot have it any other way. So what does Zawadi and his cohorts do? They throw out all rationality and logic and appeal to mystery, that Allah having such "attributes" is simply beyond reason and comprehension!

To make matters worse, the Quran doesn’t say that Allah has two eyes, but that he has several!

"And construct the ship under Our Eyes (ayunina) and with Our Inspiration, and address Me not on behalf of those who did wrong; they are surely to be drowned." S. 11:37 Hilali-Khan

And be thou patient under the judgment of thy Lord; surely thou art before Our eyes (ayunina). And proclaim the praise of thy Lord when thou arisest, S. 52:48 Arberry

"She floats under our eyes (ayunina) (and care): a recompense to one who had been rejected (with scorn)!" S. 54:14 Y. Ali

Nor does the Muslim scripture teach that Allah has only two hands since he has more than that:

Do they not see that We have created for them of what Our Hands (aydeena) have created, the cattle, so that they are their owners. S. 36:71 Hilali-Khan

And WE have built the heavens with Our own hands (aydin), and, verily, WE have vast powers. S. 51:47 Sher Ali

It is important to note that the Arabic words for eyes and hands are in the plural case, meaning more than two, not in the dual form which would support the view that Allah only has two eyes and two hands. This is perhaps why Zawadi says that Allah’s eyes and hands are unlike anything creation since there are not too many creatures that have multiple eyes and feet!

The Quran further mentions that Allah has a side or flank, as well as a shin:

Lest any soul should say, "Alas, my grief that I was unmindful of the side of Allah (janbi Allahi), and was a scoffer," S. 39:56

(Remember) the Day when the Shin shall be laid bare (i.e. the Day of Resurrection) and they shall be called to prostrate (to Allah), but they (hypocrites) shall not be able to do so, S. 68:42 Hilali-Khan

If we take these to be literal depictions of the Islamic god then it is evident that Zawadi’s deity is a rather grotesque looking entity, resembling more of an ugly monster than the immaterial, timeless Being which the Holy Bible speaks of and which most Muslims believe in.

And we are not the only ones who see how Zawadi’s Salafi beliefs have turned Allah into a grotesque looking being. There are other Sunni Muslims who also have seen this and have sharply rebuked those like the hero of Salafi Muslims, Ibn Taymiyya, for holding to such nonsense:

We say to him: What do you say concerning the mention of "several eyes" (a‘yun), the mention of the "flank" (janb), the mention of the single "shin" (saq), and the mention of the "several hands" (aydi)? If we take these literally then we must affirm a being that has one face with many eyes, a single side, many hands, and a single shin! What being on earth is possibly uglier? And if you take the liberty of interpreting this and that to be dual or singular, then why does Allah not mention it, nor the Prophet, nor the Salaf of the Community? (Ibn Jahbal Al-Kilabi, The Refutation of Him (Ibn Taymiyya) who Attributes Direction to Allah (al-Raddu ‘ala Man Qala bil-Jiha), Introduction by Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji, translation and notes by Gibril Fouad Haddad [Aqsa Publications, Birmingham UK 2008:], Chapter Seven. The Absurdity of His Literalism, pp. 221-223; bold and underline emphasis ours)

In conclusion, the Islamic doctrine concerning the eternal nature of the Quran poses the same sort of problems for Zawadi which he erroneously imagined existed for the Christian belief in Jesus as God’s eternal, uncreated Logos/Word. Moreover, his Salafi position that Allah has eyes, hands, flanks, shin, and legs is not simply beyond reason, it is clearly against all rationality and logic. Zawadi must accept the fact that his Islamic beliefs are irrational and goes against the current scientific view that time, space and matter began to exist at the Big Bang.

So much for Zawadi’s defense of his irrational and unscientific beliefs. Lord Jesus willing, more rebuttals to Zawadi’s fluff and bluster to follow shortly.

Recommended Reading

Rebuttals to Bassam Zawadi
Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page