Imam al-Nawawi (d. 676 AH) on how to understand the Attributes of Allah

Imam al-Nawawi (d. 676 AH) on how to to understand the Attributes of Allah

The famous Shafi’i scholar known as Imam Muhyud-Din Yahya al-Nawawi (d. 676 AH) said in his well acknowledged and respected commentary to Sahih Muslim, known as Minhaj al-Muhaddithin, the following methodology on how Sunni scholarship understood the methodology to understand the Attributes (Sifat) of Allah:

With respect to this hadith (hadith al-nuzul) and the like of it of the hadiths containing the Divine attributes and their verses, there  are  two  well-known   approaches:  the approach of most of the Salaf and some of the speculative theologians [mutakallimun]  is to believe  in their true nature according  to what befits Him, Exalted  Be He, and that their literal meanings that are commonly acknowledged with reference to us [dhahiriha] are not intended.  We are to not discuss their meanings but all the while believing  in God’s being exalted, Glory to Him, from having all the other characteristics  of creation such as transference from place to place [intiqal] and movements [harakat].

The second is the approach of most of the speculative theologians and a portion of the Salaf. It is related about Malik and Awza’i that they said they are to be interpreted in a way befitting them according to their non-literal meanings. Accordingly, the report is to be interpreted   with two [different   forms of]   interpretations.   One of them is an interpretation by Malik ibn Anas and others, who said: it is His Mercy (rahmah), His Order (amr) and His angels who descend, as it can be said: “the Sultan did so and so” when actually [the task] has been performed by those under his command [and not by him personally]”  (Sahih Muslim bi-Sharh al-Imam Muhyi al-Din Yahya ibn Sharaf al-musamma al-Minhaj sharh Sahih Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj, Beirut: Dar al-Ma‘rifa, 1994), vol.6, p.279.  Quoted by Dr. N. Nahouza in Contemporary Wahhabism rebranded as Salafism : the issue of interpreting the Qur’anic verses and hadith on the Attributes of God and its significance, p. 42).

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