Imkān al-Kidhb and the Arab Scholars

December 31, 2018

In al-Muhannad ‘ala l-Mufannad, a work completed in Shawwāl of 1325 AH (1907 CE), ‘Allāmah Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī described the beliefs of the ‘Ulamā’ of Deoband in matters that they were alleged to have parted from the Ahl al-Sunnah. The work comprises of 26 questions and answers.

He discusses the topic of “imkān al-kidhb” under questions 23, 24 and 25. Questions 24 and 25 are particularly relevant to the subject, a translation of which is produced below:

Question Twenty-Four

Do you believe in the possibility of the occurrence of falsehood in a statement from the Speech of the Master (Great and Glorious is His Transcendence). If not, what then is your opinion?

Answer

We and our elders (Allah Most High have mercy on them) declare and are convinced that all speech that issued from the Creator (Great and Glorious is He) or will issue from Him is absolutely truthful, and it is certain that it concurs with reality. Undoubtedly, there is no trace of falsehood in any part of His (Exalted is He) Speech, nor any doubt about [the absence of] contravening reality [in His Speech]. Whoever believes contrary to this or conceives of a lie in any part of His Speech is a disbeliever, apostate and heretic, and does not have even a trace of faith.

Question Twenty-Five

Have you ascribed the view of “imkān al-kadhib” (the possibility of lying) to some of the Ash‘arīs? If so, what is meant by this? And do you have a proof-text for this view from the reliable scholars? Explain the matter to us as it is.

Answer

This began as a dispute between us and the Indian logicians and innovators about the ability of the Creator (Transcendent is He) to act contrary to what He promised, informed, intended, etc. They said that acting contrary to these things is negated from Allah’s Ancient Power (qudrah qadīmah), hypothetically impossible (mustaḥīl ‘aqlan), impossible to exist within His ability, and it is necessary for Him [to act] in accordance with His promise, report, intent and knowledge.

We said: Such things are certainly within His ability but their occurrence (wuqū‘) is not possible according to the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah, namely the Ash‘ārīs and Māturīdīs, textually and logically according to the Māturīdīs, and only textually according to the Ash‘arīs.

They objected that if it were possible that these things are included within the Power, it would entail the possibility of falsehood and this is certainly not in His ability and is intrinsically impossible (mustaḥīl dhātan).

We responded using a variety of answers from the kalām-scholars, of which was:

Even if the concomitance of the possibility of falsehood in acting contrary to the promise, reports etc. in His ability is accepted, it too is not intrinsically impossible, rather, like oppression and impudence, it is intrinsically within the Power, but it is textually and logically impossible, or just textually, as several imāms have espoused.

When they saw these responses, they caused corruption in the land and attributed to us [the position of] allowing imperfections (naqṣ) in relation to His Holiness (Blessed and Exalted is He), and they spread this accusation amongst the foolish and the ignorant to create enmity in the common people and to seek enjoyment and popularity amongst men. They reached the roads of the heavens in fabrication when they fabricated an image from themselves on the actuality (fi’liyyah) of falsehood [and ascribed it to us] without fearing the Knowing King. When Indians became aware of their scheming, they sought help from the noble ‘ulamā’ of the two Sanctuaries because they know they are ignorant of their evil and the reality of the views of our ‘ulamā’.

Their likeness is but the likeness of the Mu‘tazilah as compared with the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah since they [i.e. the Mu’tazilah] excluded rewarding the sinner (ithābat al-‘āṣī) and punishing the obedient (‘iqāb al-muṭī’) from the Pre-Eternal Power and made justice (‘adl) necessary for Allāh’s essence. They called themselves “the advocates of justice and transcendence” and they attributed injustice, unconscientiousness and ugliness to the ‘ulamā’ of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah. So just as the predecessors of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah did not mind their ignorance and did not permit inability in relation to Him (Transcendent and Exalted is He!) in the aforementioned injustice, and broadened the Pre-Eternal Power while also removing imperfections from His Noble Absolute Self and perfecting the transcendence and sanctity of His Lofty Holiness, saying, “Your understanding of the possibility of the ability to punish the obedient and reward the sinner as an imperfection is but the consequence of [following] despicable philosophers”; in the same way, we say to them, “Your understanding of the ability to act contrary to the promise, report and truth and the likes of them as an imperfection, while their issuance (ṣudūr) from Him (Exalted is He) is impossible, only textually, or rationally and textually, is but the misfortune of philosophy and logic and your adverse ignorance.”

They do what they do because of the absolute transcendence [of Allāh], but they are unable to perfect the Power and broaden it. As for our predecessors, the Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah, they combined between the two matters, of widening the Power and perfecting transcendence for the Necessary Existent (Transcendent and Exalted is He).

This is what we mentioned in al-Barāhīn in summary-form, and here are some of the proof-texts in support of it from the relied upon books of the madhhab:

(1) It says in Sharḥ al-Mawāqif:

“All the Mu‘tazila and Khawārij make punishing the one who incurs a major sin necessary when he dies without repentance and they do not allow Allāh to pardon him for two reasons. First, He (Exalted is He) made it a promise to punish major sins and informed [us] of this i.e. punishment because of it, so if He does not punish for a major sin and pardons, it would entail reneging on His threat and falsehood in His speech, which are impossible. The answer is, the conclusion of this [argument] is that punishment will [actually] occur, so where is the [intrinsic] necessity of punishment, on which is our discussion, since there is no doubt that non-necessity [of punishment] along with [its] occurrence does not entail reneging and falsehood? It cannot be said that it entails their possibility which is also impossible, because we say: its impossibility is not accepted. How so, when they [reneging on a threat and stating something false] are from the possibilities included in His (Exalted is He) Power?”

(2) In Sharḥ al-Maqāsid by ‘Allamah al-Taftāzāni (Allāh Most High have mercy on him) at the end of the discussion on Power:

“The deniers of the inclusiveness of His Power are many groups; of them are al-Naẓẓām and his [Mu‘tazilī] followers who say that He does not have power over foolishness, falsehood and oppression and all ugly acts (qabā’iḥ), for if their creation were in His capacity, their issuance (ṣudūr) from Him would be possible, and this concomitant (lāzim) is false because it results in impudence (safah) if He knows the ugliness of this and its dispensability, and in ignorance if He is not knowing.

“The response is: We do not concede the ugliness of a thing in relation to Him, how [can we accept this] when He is in complete control of His kingdom? And if it is conceded, Power over it does not negate the impossibility of its issuance from Him, by consideration of the presence of disposal and the absence of need, even if it is possible (mumkinan).”

(3) It says in al-Musāyarah and its commentary al-Musāmarah by ‘Allāmah al-Muḥaqqiq Kamāl ibn al-Humām al-Ḥanafi and his student Ibn Abi l-Sharīf al-Maqdisī al-Shāfi‘ī (Allāh Most High have mercy on them):

“Then he i.e. the author of Al-’Umdah said, ‘Allah (Exalted is He) is not characterised by Power over oppression, impudence and falsehood because the impossible is not included in [His] Power, i.e. it is improper for it to pertain to them, while according to the Mu’tazilah, He (Exalted is He) is capable of all that but does not do [them].’ End quote from Al-‘Umda.

“It appears as though he altered that which he transmitted from the Mu‘tazilah, since there is no doubt that the absence of power over what was mentioned is the madhhab of the Mu‘tazilah. As for its presence, i.e. power over what was mentioned, and then abstention from pertaining to them by choice, it is more fitting to the madhhab, i.e. it the madhhab of the Ash‘aris, than it is to the madhhab of the Mu‘tazilah. It is obvious that this more fitting position is also included in transcendence, since there is no doubt that abstention therefrom i.e. from those things mentioned of oppression, impudence and falsehood, is from the matter of transcendence, from that which does not befit the majesty of His Holiness (Exalted is He).

“Hence, it should be understood by the foregone premise, i.e. the intellect understands, which of the two views are more excessive in transcendence from indecencies: is it power over it, i.e. what was mentioned from the three matters, along with impossibility, i.e. His abstention from it by choosing that abstention; or its impossibility from Him because of the absence of power over it? It is incumbent to rely on the more inclusive of the two statements in transcendence, which is the statement more fitting to the madhhab of the Ash‘aris.”

(4) In Ḥawāshī al-Kalnabawī ‘alā Sharḥ al-‘Aqā’id al-Aḍuḍiyyah by al-Muḥaqqiq al-Dawwānī (Allāh Most High have mercy on them):

In sum, lying being ugly in the uttered-speech (al-kalām al-lafẓi), in the sense that it is an attribute of deficiency, is not accepted according to the Ash‘arīs. That is why al-Sharīf al-Muḥaqqiq (al-Jurjānī) said it is from the totality of the possibilities (mumkināt), and acquiring decisive knowledge of its non-occurrence in His speech by consensus of the scholars and the Prophets (upon them be peace) does not negate its intrinsic possibility like all decisive knowledge of normal occurrences (al-‘ulūm al-‘adiyah) and it does not negate what Imām al-Rāzī said…”.

(5) In Taḥrīr al-Uṣūl by the author of Fatḥ al-Qadīr, Imām ibn al-Humām, and its commentary by Ibn Amir al-Hajj (Allah Most High have mercy on them):

“Therefore – i.e. since whatever is conceived as a deficiency is impossible for Him – the decisiveness of the impossibility of characterising Him – i.e. Allāh (Exalted is He) – with lying and the like of it (Transcendent is He beyond that) becomes apparent. Also, if His act being characterised by ugliness was possible, confidence in the integrity of His promise, the integrity of His speech besides it – i.e. [besides] His (Exalted is He) promise – and the integrity of His Prophets would be removed – i.e. in principle, His integrity would be uncertain.

“According to the Ash‘arīs, He (Exalted is He) is certainly not characterised by ugly acts, but they are not rationally impossible, like all of creation. [This is] just like all the sciences in which one of two opposites being the reality is certain, but the other is not impossible, if it were assumed that it is the reality; just like the certainty of Mecca and Baghdad – i.e. their existence – since their non-existence is not rationally impossible. Therefore – i.e. when the matter is such – confidence [in the integrity of His word] being removed is not necessitated because the possibility of something rationally does not necessitate not having firm resolve of its non-existence.

“The running dispute regarding the rational impossibility and possibility of this applies to all faults – is Allah’s power over it absent or is it, i.e. the fault, contained in it, i.e. His Power? He will certainly not do it, i.e. the absolutely decisive condition is the fault will not be done…”

Similar statements to what we quoted from the madhhab of the Ash‘arīs are mentioned by al-Qāḍī al-‘Aḍuḍ in Sharḥ Mukhtaṣar al-Uṣūl and the commentators on it, as well as in Sharḥ al-Mawāqif and the marginalia to al-Mawāqif by al-Chalabī, and others. Similarly, ‘Allamah al-Qushjī in Sharḥ al-Tajrīd, al-Qunawi and others stated this. We avoided quoting their texts fearing prolixity and tedium. Allāh has charge of right guidance and right direction. (al-Muhannad ‘ala l-Mufannad, Dār al-Fatḥ, p. 87-96)

These answers were then sent to prominent Arab scholars of that era, who endorsed them. Some of these prominent Arab scholars include:

  1. Shaykh Muḥammad Sa‘īd Bābuṣayl al-Makkī (d. 1912), the Shāfi‘ī Muftī of Makkah and one of its leading scholars at the time. He wrote: “I have studied these answers by the perspicacious erudite scholar to the answers mentioned in this treatise and I found them to be at the peak of correctness, may Allāh (Exalted is He) repay the answerer, my brother and dear one, the unique Shaykh Khalīl Aḥmad, may He continue his fortune and reverence in both worlds, and may He break the heads of the misguided and the jealous by him to the Day of Judgement. [I ask this] through the status of the Messengers, āmīn.” (ibid. p. 115)
  2. Sayyid Aḥmad al-Barzanjī (d. 1919), the Shāfi‘ī Muftī of Madīnah, who wrote an entire treatise in response to Mawlānā Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī’s request to give his assessment on the answers. The treatise is called: Kamāl al-Tathqīf wa l-Taqwīm li ‘Iwaj al-Afhām ‘ammā Yajib li Kalāmillāh al-Qadīm. He wrote at the end of the treatise: “Once the discussion has reached this stage, we make a general comprehensive statement for all the answers of the treatise comprising of 26 answers, which the respected erudite scholar Shaykh Khalīl Aḥmad presented to us to inspect and consider the judgements therein: We indeed do not find in there any view that necessitates disbelief or innovation. Nor anything that is to be criticised for whatever reason, besides these three places which we mentioned, and there is nothing there too that necessitates disbelief or innovation as you are aware from our discussion about them. It is known that every scholar who compiles a book will not be safe from slips in some places of his speech.”

The bulk of Sayyid Barzanjī’s treatise is on the topic of imkān al-kidhb, as reflected by its title. He thus states: “The reason I gave it this title is that the answers which he gave to these questions, although diverse and related to various rules of both peripherals and principles, the most important of them is the one related to the necessity of truthfulness in Allāh’s self and spoken speech. Due to this importance, I give priority to this discussion over other answers…After having realised this adequate clarification and comprehending it with sound sufficient understanding, you know that what the respected Shaykh Khalīl Aḥmad mentioned in answers 23, 24 and 25, is a recognised position in the reliable widely-circulated books of the latter-day ‘Ulamā’ of Kalām like al-Mawāqif, al-Maqāṣid, Shurūḥ al-Tajrīd, al-Musayārah and so on. The outcome of these answers that Shaykh Khalīl Aḥmad mentioned is in agreement with the aforementioned ‘Ulamā’ of Kalām on it being within the ability of Allāh (Exalted is He) to go against the promise and threat and the truthful report in the spoken speech, which according to them necessitates intrinsic possibility, while there is certainty and conviction on it not occurring. This much does not entail disbelief, obstinacy, nor innovation in religion nor corruption. How so when you know the statement of the ‘Ulamā’ that we mentioned agreeing with it? As you saw in the statement of Mawāqif and its commentary which we cited earlier. Thus, Shaykh Khalīl Aḥmad has not come out of the parameters of their speech.” (ibid. p. 121 – 125)

The treatise is dated to Rabī‘ al-Awwal, 1329 H (1911), and was consigned by over 20 scholars of Madīnah.

  1. ‘Allāmah Sayyid Muḥammad Abu l-Khayr Ibn ‘Ābidīn (1853 – 1925), the grandson of the brother of the famous Ibn ‘Ābidīn, author of Radd al-Muḥtār. He was a notable scholar of Shām. He states that he has read the treatise and that its author has described the beliefs of Ahl al-Sunnah wa l-Jamā‘ah. (ibid. p. 130)
  2. Shaykh Muṣṭafā ibn Aḥmad al-Shaṭṭī al-Ḥanbalī (1856 – 1929), a prominent Ḥanbalī muftī and ṣūfī of Damascus, and author of a work refuting Wahhābīs. (ibid. p. 131)
  3. ‘Allāmah Maḥmūd al-‘Aṭṭār (1867 – 1943), a great scholar of Shām, and the most notable student of ‘Allāmah Sayyid Badr al-Dīn al-Ḥasanī (1851 – 1935). He writes: “I have come across this important work and found it to be a book comprising of all subtle and manifest [matters] in refutation of the innovated group of Wahhābīs, may Allāh (Exalted is He) increase the likes of its author.” (ibid. p. 132 – 133)