Monday, December 25, 2006

Interpretation of words refering to Allah's attributes

Question: According to the translator of Fiqh al Akbar, Imam Abu Hanifa writes this passage (Abu Adam: beware that the translation below is weak and dangerously misleading. It is not allowed to translate literally the words refering to Allah's attributes in Arabic that are not obvious in meaning, such as translating "yad" as "hand", etc. This is because the apparent meaning of "hand" is a limb, and it is blasphemy to believe that Allah has limbs. See the answer below for more detail ):

"It cannot be said that His Hand represents His power or His bestowal of bounty, because such an interpretation would require a negation of an attribute."

The question is: Imam Abu Hanifa clearly here states that it cannot be said that His hand represents His power or His bestowal of bounty. So why the Maturidiyyah still say that ''hand'' means ''power''? This goes against the statement of Abu Hanifa, i.e. this is a big contradiction. Can you exlain this contradiction?

Answer: First of all this kind of translation is the work of an irresponsible deviant. How can he translate the arabic "yad" as "hand" in this context, when Abu Hanifa does not accept providing an interpretation? In fact, a couple of pages later he explicitly states that it is not allowed to translate "yad" into Persian, even if if you state immediately after it: "without a modality."

Moreover, the translator's saying "of unknowable modality," is not what it says in Arabic. It says: "without a modality." This is very different. Modality, as stated in Princeton University's Wordnet means: "how something is done or how it happens". According to this definition it is kufr to say about an attribute of Allah that it is of "unknowable modality", because this implies that it does have one, it is just that we do not know it.

The expression translated is "bilaa kayf". Literally it means: "without a how". It does not mean that the how is unknown. It means that there is no how. That is, Allah attributes are not something that has spatial, physical or temporal aspects, ie. shape, form, mode and the like. This is because such aspects are aspects of created attributes. Such attributes need specification, because they have many possible modes, such as: what kind of shape? How tall?  How wide?, How fast? How far? In what direction? At what time? etc. This means that these attributes need a creator to specify them, and cannot be eternal.

Back to your question.... Note that the reason why Abu Hanifa says what he says about "yad" is that saying it means "power" or "bestowal of bounty" does not fit the context it is mentioned in all places. Many of the later followers of Abu Hanifa were compelled to specify interpretations for words that are used to refer to attributes, but do not have an obvious and befitting meaning. One of them is "yad". This compulsion came from the appearance of much deviation and confusion caused by hypocrates, deviants and other enemies of the religion. This meant it was no longer sufficient to say "without modality". It had to be made more clear that these words do not have any sense of their apparent meaning in order to remove doubts and concerns among the general public. So although it is preferred not to specify a meaning, having people falling in kufr is much worse than going ahead with providing acceptable interpretations.

For this reason one finds many scholars doing this. Even Ahmad ibn Hanbal, the most conservative of the four imams did this. He said that "Jaa' Rabbuka", which is translated by blasphemers as. "Allah came", means that Allah's orders came. This saying of his was narrated with a sound chain by Al-Bayhaqiy.

The need for providing acceptable interpretations is especially pressing today, because people are very ignorant and there is big propaganda for the blasphemous beliefs of anthropomorphism. Almost all the money for religious propagation is in the hands of anthropomorphists or those that try to please them.
As a sidenote you should know that when it comes to translating words that refer to Allah's attributes, such as ridaa, ghadab, yad, etc. which's literal meaning do not befit the Creator, there is consensus that this cannot be done if the translation is misleading. Almost all authors today commit a big mistake in this area. In Al-Fiqh Al-Akbar itself you will find that Abu Hanifa does not allow that translation of the Arabic "yad", translated by the careless translator as "hand", at all to Persian. He did allow translating some other words, provided that one stated "without a how" with it. At his time, and in Persian, he felt that this was enough to avoid misunderstandings, except in the case of "yad".

Know that the following are the conditions that must be made for translation of Allah's attributes to another language than Arabic:

1.It must be equivalent to an Arabic expression that is permitted to use.
For example we do not say that Allah has a "mind" or use the words "intelligent" or "rational" as attributes for Him, because there are no revealed text to indicate the permission.

2.It must have the same meaning as the Arabic expression in the context that it is being used.
For example, we should not use the word "anger" as a translation of the word "ghadab" in Arabic, because "anger" is an emotional reaction in English, and is not used otherwise. Emotions are changing states of being, and it is impossible that Allah should change, just as it is impossible that he should react, because reacting is a sign of need. Rather one should translate the meaning of "ghadab" when referring to Allah, which is that the one that has Allah's "ghadab" against him is someone that Allah has willed punishment for.
Likewise one must not use the intransitive verb "pleased" for Allah as a translation for "radiya" in Arabic, because the expression "to be pleased" is an emotional reaction. Instead one should use the word reward, which is what the verb radiya means when referring to Allah in Arabic.

3.It must not be confusing or misleading so that a listener or reader may think it means something that is not befitting of the Creator.
For example, a word like "wrath" is closer to "ghadab" in Arabic when referring to Allah, than "anger". This is because wrath can mean "punishment." Accordingly, the expression "God's Wrath", could mean: "God's Punishment." There is still, however, the fear of it being misunderstood to mean an emotional state. For that reason, it is safer to use the word "punishment" for the Arabic "ghadab", than wrath.
Note that while there are expressions in Quran and Ĥadith that can be easily misunderstood, we are not allowed to come up with misleading expressions of our own.

4.It must not give a sense of being improper or impolite.
For example, we do not use an expression like "the Creator of ugliness" in an absolutely way. This is despite the fact that its permission is included in the permission to say "the Creator of All Things". The reason is that it shows poor etiquette when uttered in an absolute way.

5.It must carry a sense of awe and glorification. For example we do not use the word "planter", even though the verb "to plant" is used in Arabic, because the former lacks the sense of awe and glorification.
The origin of the above rules is that one cannot say anything about Allah for which there is no permission. The permission is achieved by having a revealed text. The words that refer to attributes in Arabic that some people understand wrongly have permission, but translated words do not. One cannot translate these in a way that does not comply to the above 5 rules, because without these being met, one is saying something about Allah according to what one likes or thinks only, this is either haraam or kufr, not less.

Abu Adam