Ibn Rajab al Hanbali on the creed of Imam Ahmad and the Salaf
Ibn Rajab al Hanbali said, “The correct position in all of this is the position of the Righteous Salaf in their leaving the verses and hadiths concerning the Attributes as they came without explanation, asking how or likening them to creation. There is nothing at all contravening this position that is authentically reported from them, especially Imam Ahmad. Neither is anything reported from them proving that they probed into their meanings or propounded analogies and similitudes for them. This, even though there some who lived close to the time of Ahmad who did do some of this, following the way of Maqqatil, but they are not to be followed in this. Those who should be followed are the Imam of Islam such as ibn al Mubarak, Malik, Thawri, Awza’I, Shafi, Ahmad, Ishaq, Abu ‘Ubaid and their likes.” (Fadhl 'Ilm al-Salaf 'ala 'Ilm al-Khalaf )
It is interesting to note in this statement of Ibn Rajab explaining the creed of the Salaf and in particular the creed of Imam Ahmad, he does not mention that their position concerning the unclear verses (ayat) and hadiths (narrations of the Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam) related to Allah’s Attributes, that they are to be taken upon the literal meaning, but rather they would simply narrate them as they received them, as in the words of the Salaf themselves, “Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?”
The Creed of Imam Ahmad
Imam Ahmad (d. 241 AH) said, “Allah is not to be described other than in the terms with which He has described Himself, or in which the Messenger of Allah – sallahu alayhi wa salam- has described Him. We do not exceed the Quran and hadtih.” (IbnTaymiyyah Hamawiyya – pg 271-272)(IbnTaymiyya-majmu fatawa - 5:26)
Imam Ahmad also said, “We believe and confirm the hadiths of the Attributes without how and without meaning (wa la kayf wa la ma’na.) (Narrated from Hanbal ibn Ishaq through al Khallal by Ibn Qudamah in Dhamm al Tawil.)
The Creed of Those Who came before Imam Ahmad
Imam Shafi (d. 204 AH) was asked about the Divine Attributes. He said, “It is forbidden for the minds to represent Allah. It is forbidden for the imagination to conceive limits for Him. It is forbidden for speculation to presume anything about Him. It is forbidden for souls to think about His Essence. It is forbidden for consciences to deepen reflection about Him. It is forbidden for thoughts to grasp other than what He described Himself with, as conveyed by His Prophet –sallahualayhiwasalam. (Narrated from al Rabi ibnSulayman by IbnQudamah in Dhamm a Tawil g 20-21)
Nothing about the literal meaning...
Imam Shafi also said, “I believe in what comes from Allah in the meaning meant by the Messenger of Allah, sallahu alayhi wa salam.” (Ibn Qudamah in Lam’at al Itiqad)
Nothing about the literal meaning...
Al-Walid ibn Muslim (d. 194H) said, “I asked Malik, al-Awza’i, Laytb ibn Sa’d and Sufyan al-Thawri, may Allah have mercy upon them, concerning the reports related about the Attributes, so they all said, ‘Leave them as they are without asking ‘How?” (Reported by al-Aajurri in Ash-Sha’ri’ah, p. 314, al-Bayhaqi in Al-Asma was-Sifat, p. 453 and also al-I’tiqad, p. 118 and the chain of narration is hasan.)
Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning. .
Al-Awza’i (d.157H) said, “I asked az-Zuhri and Makhul about the ayat pertaining to the Sifat (Attributes of Allah), so they said, ‘Leave them as they are.” (Reported by al-Laalikaa’ee in SharhUsulul-I’tiqad 3/430 and IbnQudamah al-Maqdisi in Dhammut-Ta‘wil, p. 18 and the chain of narration is hasan.)
Again nothing about taking them upon their literal meaning.
There seems to be a pattern....