Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) on the Relationship between the Attributes & the Essence

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The great Islamic scholar, the proof of Islam, and the mujaddid of the 5th century after Hijrah, Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali (r.a.) wrote in his al-Iqtiswad fi al-I’itiqad, that Allah (s.w.t.) is Existent, Mawjud; Eternal a parte ante, Qadim; Eternal a parte post, Baqa’; an that Allah (s.w.t.) is not a substance, jawhar; not a composite body, jism; and neither is He an accident, ‘aradh, nor is He defined.  He is not in any direction, is beyond vision, He is knowable and is One.

Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) also wrote that He does not accept divisibility, and is not quantifiable in definition or magnitude.  He is Perfect, having no equal in any manner either in Essence or in Attributes.  There is no plurality in Allah’s (s.w.t.) Essence either through Attributes or otherwise.  He has seven Perfect Attributes, Swifaat.  Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) was of the Ash’ari madzhab of ‘aqidah.  The Maturidi madzhab of ‘aqidah held that there are eight.  They are: Life, Hyat; Knowledge, ‘Ilm; Power, Qudrat; Will, Iradat; Sight, Baswr; Hearing, Sami’a; Speech, Kalam) and Creating, Takwin.

The Swifaat are not the Essence, Dzat, but are Eternal and subsistent in Essence, and that it is impossible that any aspect of the Attributes be temporal; Distinct, Existing separately and objectively; Superadded to the Dzat.  It is maintained that the Master of Creation is Knowing according to Knowledge, Living according to Life, Powerful according to Power, Willing according to Will, Seeing according to Sight, Hearing according to Hearing, and Speaking according to Speech.

The Divine Attributes are not something other than Allah (s.w.t.).  All the Attributes are all Eternal because if they were originated, the Eternal a parte ante would be a locus for contingent things which is absurd and illogical.  It is impossible for a Necessary Essence, Wajib adz-Dzat, to possess possible Attributes.  When we say ‘Allah’ then, we point to the Dzat together with the Swifaat and not to the Dzat alone because the term ‘Allah’ could not be predicated of a Dzat that is judged to be free from Swifaat.

Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) wrote, “[As against ] Philosophers [and Christians] who say that Attributes are the Essence, we believe that Attributes are not Essence but only superadded to the Essence.  They are, rather, pointing to the Essence.”

The Dzat is independent of Swifaat but the Swifaat depend on the Dzat.  All the Swifaat Subsist in His Dzat and none of them could possibly subsist without His Dzat whether any Swifat is in a locus or not.  There is no contradiction in this belief as, Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) adds, “Just as the mind is capable of rationalising an Eternal Existent Who has no cause, it is also capable of rationalising an Eternal Existent Who has Attributes and Who has no cause for the existence of both.”  In this case, Essence, Dzat, as independent and Attributes, Swifaat, as superadded.  The Swifaat are not something other than Allah (s.w.t.) and there is no Plurality in His Dzat either through Swifaat or otherwise.


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