Oneness of God and impossibility of seeing God according to shi’ah

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Monotheism or unity of God is the foundation of Islam. The Noble Qur’an has dealt with this subject in hundreds of verses. It covers all facts of referring to Allah as the One and only God-He has no peers, no match and no partners, He is Eternal and none is like Him. He is the only One worthy of worship and He is second to none. Muslims are unanimous in their agreement on this matter of faith.

Oneness (tawhid) is of two kinds, Firstly, Allah the Exalted, is One in His Essence and in the necessity of His Existence. He is Self-existing. He is beyond all matter and potentially not composed of anything. He does not branch out into other beings, be it in existence, notionally, or realistically. Secondly, Allah’s Attributes are of the same nature as His Essence. Scholars of speculative theology and rational philosophy say that the Attributes of Allah are two types, positive and negative. Some of the positive Attributes are Everlasting Life, Omniscience, Omnipotence and Eternity. So it is said that Allah is Ever- living, Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Eternal, Just, All-hearing, All-knowing.

As for the negative Attributes, they assert that Allah is far above all limitations. These Attributes are also called the Attributes of Majesty or Dignity which negate the possibility of Him being created, i.e. they prove He is Self-existing, far above thing like composition, corporeality, occupying a place, poverty, incarnation. So it is said, Allah has no body, no form, and no imperfection. He is not composed of anything. He cannot be described as incarnate. In summary, He is far above any of attributes of any contingent being. The Shi’ite belief in tawhid is of the purest form. It deems Allah to be above any anthropomorphic elements of the concept of Deity which may encroach upon His Lofty Divinity such as polytheism and corporeality. His Divine Will is free from oppression and monstrosity, and there are no partners with Him in His Eternal Being.

Shi’ah Muslims believe that Allah’s Attributes are identical to His Essence. In is impossible for God to have any way. The discussion of His Attributes has also entered the domain of Islamic philosophy. Shi’ite philosophers have discussed it extensively. The philosophers Sadr al- Din shirazi (1964:54) has said:

His Attributes are verily His Essence ( i. e. inseparable), not as the followers of Abu’l- Hasan al- Ash’ari maintain in that their numerousness in existence calls for a corresponding number of eternals, and not as the Mu’tazilities maintain by rejecting their origin but accepting their vestiges, and render the Essence as proxy, but through those firm in knowledge who maintain that His Existence is His very Essence, which is the confirmation of His Attributes of Perfection [ kamaliyyah] and the manifestation of those Attributes of Beauty [ jamaliyyah] and Majesty [jalaliyyah].

Shi’ite and Mu’tazilities speculative theologians benefited a great deal from the view of Imam Ali on tawhid. This is whiat he said in the first sermon of his Nahj al-balaghah: The foremost act in religion is the acknowledgement of Him. The perfection of acknowledgement Him is believing in Him, the perfection of believing in Him is acknowledgement His oneness, the perfection of acknowledgement His oneness is pledging loyalty to Him and perfection of pledging loyalty to Him and the perfection of pledging loyalty to Him is denying [ in the human sense] Attributes pertaining to Him because of the qualities of His creation that could be attributed to humans. Every one of them is a proof that it is different from that to which it is attributed and everything to which something is attributed is different from the attribute. Thus, whoever assigns attribute to Allah recognizes His like, and who recognizes His like regards Him as dual, and who recognizes Him as dual recognizes parts of Him, and who recognizes parts of Him has mistaken Him.

The Imamites and Mu’tazilities agree that Allah’s Essence is above corporeality. Accordingly, He cannot be confined to space or time. However, Hanbalites, Ash’arites, and Karamites are of the view that Allah can be limited to be station of His loftiness which is adjacent to the uppermost part of the Throne. They based this belief on the esoteric meaning of certain verses such as: “The Beneficent God is firm in power” (20:5) and “Nay, both His hands are spread out” (5:64). Consequently, in his Maqalat al-islamiyyin, al-Ah’ari said “Allah is on His Throne. He has two hands but not as property, He has eyes but not as manner, and has a face as He said, And here will endure forever the Face thy Lord, the Lord of glory and honour (60:27)” (1980: 295).

Ali ibn Abi Talib, the exemplar for Shi’ah Muslims, made a glaring statement which refuted the view of corporeality of Allah and puts Him above those qualities that could attributed to His creation: Those who claim to be equitable to Thee did not do Thee justice when they equated Thee with idols, falsely assigned to Thee that which could befit Thy creation, and abstractly assumed that Thou art composed of parts in the same way as material things. (Nahj al-balaghah: 144)

Some authors of books dealing with denominations, sects and schools of thought accused Hisham ibn (d.198/812), who is considered one of the great speculative theologians, a towering figure of his time and the most famous of Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq’s disciples, of upholding the view of the corporeality of God. Al-Jahiz, al-Nazzam and al-Ash’ari went to extremes in attributing this idea to him, quoting him as saying, “Allah is body like other material beings.”

However, research has proved that such an accusation does not hold. It was precipitated by envy, his opponents, who could not put up with the veracity and strength of his arguments, wanted to tarnish his reputation, especially the Mu’tazilities, whose claims he refuted in his polemics against their teachings. In Hisham’s biography in Mu’jam rijal al-hadith (“Biographies of Transmitters of Traditions”), Imam Abu’l- Qasim al-Khoei (d.1992) referred to the stories about Hisham (vol.18)
and concluded:

I believe that the stories accusing Hisham of holding the view on corporeality [of God] are all concocted. This has stemmed from envy as evidenced by the statement of [ Imam] Abu’l- Hasan al- Rida who said in his favour “May Allah have mercy on Hisham for he was a good person, to whom justices was not doe by his people out of envy.

His opponents allege that Hisham described the Lord, the Most High, as of seven ashbar (a measure equivalent to the expanse of an open hand between the tips of the little finger and thumb). This is not worthy of anyone who is even of mediocre knowledge and experience, let alone Hisham, of whose character and knowledge his teacher and Imam Ja’far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq said, “O Hisham! You are still supported by the Holy Spirit”.

Despite Hisham’s young age, Imam al-Sadiq used give him precedence over all his companions. Moreover, if Hisham had uttered such words, it does not follow that his doctrine was corporeality. The alleged words are akin to those said by philosophers and speculative theologians in the context of their treatises and debates, that Allah is “thing [shay] like other things.”

Also, The passage which is claimed to have been reproduced from Hisham’s view does not prove that he believed in the corporeality of God, for what is said by way of argument or counter- argument in a debate and as a simile does not necessarily represent real belief or the views of the person advancing the argument. Hisham’s debate was with al- Allaf, he said, “You say that the Creator knows everything through His knowledge, and that His knowledge of all other scholars (His creation). Then why do you similarly not say that He is a body unlike the bodies of His creation”

Qur’an examples for immateriality of God
In conclusion, Imamite Shi’ah Muslims put Allah above all that which may befit and/or constrain material things such as corporeality, space or time composition. They interpret verses such as 10: 48 and 5:20 whose outer meaning belies their inner one giving the impression that Allah has a face, a hand, or moves from one place to the other into meanings which are in harmony with sound reason, paramount in all this is the preservation of the integrity of the Sovereign Lord from any short coming worthy of likeness and potentiality. In reference to this same quotation, Sadr al- Din Shirazi, the famous philosopher, wrote a treatise on the ambiguous verses of the Qur’an and how the different Sunni, the Imamite schools of thought, as well as gnostics and mystics have dealt with such verses.

It is possible that one can see Allah, the Exalted, with one’s naked eyes I this world or the hereafter? In their belief that it is possible to see God, the Ash’arites relied on the patent meaning of some verses of the Noble Qur’an. Ash’ari states, “Allah, the Most High, can seen with eyesight on the Day of Judgment as the full moon can be seen. The believers can see Him but not the unbelievers because they will denied the privilege of seeing Him” (1980;292).

There is a general consensus among the Imamites, however, that it is impossible to see Allah either in this world or in the next. It is impossible to perceive God for it is against logic: what is not a body, or incarnate, or occupying a space or time, a counterpart or perceived as such cannot be seen. It is equally impossible to see the Creator through eyesight. Reason bears witness to the fact and the Qur’an attests to it, as do the tradition which have reached us through an unbroken chain from the Imams of Guidance of the Progeny of the Prophet. The generality of Imamites and the majority of their speculative theologians hold this view. In his monumental book, al-Kafi, al- Kulayni has recorded twelve traditions from the Imams in which they have stated unequivocally the impossibility of seeing Allah here or in the Hereafter. The philosopher Sade al- Din Shirazi expounded these narrations exquisitely and eloquently, concluding that perfect intellects separated from matter can see Allah through physical eyesight. He vigorously refuted the views of al-Ghazzali who in his book al-Iqtisad fi’l –iqad,hold that it is possible to see God (al-Kulayni (n.d.):2580.

Pivotal to the Ash’arites proof of the possibility of seeing God is this deduction: Allah is self-existent, and since this the case then any existing being can be seen, for what confirms seeing is existence. It has been related that the believers can see Him in the Hereafter (al-Shahrastani (1975): 131)”. “The Imamites and Adlites proofs the impossibility of seeing God revolve around the fact that the permissibility of seeing the Creator should necessitate that He be a body or physical entity occupying a space and can identified. It then implies that He be limited and with a limit” (al-Kulayni).


History of Islamic philosophy – seyyed Hossein Nasr- pages:124to129


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