By Abul-Hussein at Ahl al-Hadith

Regarding The Existence Of Metaphor In The Arabic Language

The sound position regarding metaphor is that it is exists in language of the Arabs. This it itself is a general statement that is governed by a qualification. Metaphor exists in the language of the Arabs but it is not to be applied to the names and attributes of Allah (swt). The scholars of Usul al-Fiqh have treated this topic under the section of Usul al- Fiqh entitled: Contradicitions Between Literal And Metaphorical Meaning

The Rule Of Thumb Regarding Metaphor:

When a conflict arises between the metaphorical and literal meaning and usage of a word then preference is given to the literal meaning and usage. This is the norm unless there is proof that justifies the employing the metaphor usage of a word to the exclusion of the literal meaning and usage. What the scholars of Ilm al-Kalam (Theology) have suggested is that the use of metaphor is to be given preference when dealing with the Names and Attributes of Allah (swt). This position is predicted on reason (rational proof) rather than linguistic proof. Therefore, the position of the Scholars Of Kalam is not consistent with the principle we mentioned that governs the usage of metaphor as treated in Usul al-Fiqh. The evidence (dalil) of the Scholars of Kalam is not grounded in the well established principle (qa’ida) that governs the usage of metaphor. Rather, the Scholars of Kalam turn to reason they treat their use of reason (intellect) as a legitimization of employing metaphor in the Names And Attributes. Reason in itself, is not a proof weighty enough to justify abandoning the literal usage of a term in the absence of linguistic proof that legitimizes the use of metaphor.

he Rule Applying To The Names And Attributes Of Allah

There is nothing similar or equal to Allah (swt). Allah (swt) can not be compared to anything for none knows the Essence of Allah (swt). Comparison between things means knowledge of likes, knowledge of the two things that are two be compared. Nothing that comes to mind is like Allah (swt) Allah (swt) is unlike all of creation. The principle of the scholars of Usul al-Fiqh for interpreting the Book and the Sunnah is that the literal meaning of a word is given the preference unless there is valid linguistic evidence to justify recourse to metaphor in its stead. What the Scholars Of Kalam offer as a justification for recourse to metaphor in the Names And Attributes Of Allah (swt) is not substantial enough as it does not coincide with the principle that governs the use metaphor in the place of the literal meaning of the Names and Attributes of Allah (swt).

Shaikh Muhammad Mukhatar ash Shinqiti al Usuli al Maliki (h)

Comment Of Abul-Hussein:

A Balanced Approach In Dealing With The Topic Of Metaphor

This position of Shaikh Muhammad Mukhtar Shinqiti (h) on how to deal with metaphor is also the position of Shaikh Sadiq Hasan Khan (r) and others. This is a balanced position as it decreases conflict between various schools of Aqeeda. Also this position is rooted in principles and supported by proof. As regards the position of Imam Ibn Taymiyah (r) towards metaphor i.e., the absence of metaphor in the Arabic language this is not a new position. The position of Ibn Taymiyah (r) on metaphor is often misrepresented partly because it is misunderstood. Ibn Taymiyah (r) does not employ the same terminology to treat the topic of metaphor that we find common among those who follow the ideas of Imam Sakaaki (scholar of rhetoric). There is a point wherein Ibn Taymiyah agrees with the majority of scholars in the issue of metaphor but he gives it a different name and their is a part wherein he disagrees. What confuses the issue greatly is that Imam Ibn Taymiyah (r) does not use the same terminology to deal with aqeeda or rhetoric that is common among other scholars. He has his own terminology that is divested of close association with Greek philosophy. In fact, Ibn Taymiyah aimed to use terminology that has a ground in the Book, Sunnah or Arabic language. Our other Imams, did not take this position they utilized the logic of the Greeks and the basics of the rationale of Greek philosophy to construct terminology and standardize it. So that they developed a technical language that was shared and common and utilized in Islamic sciences. Imam Ibn Taymiyah (r) constructed a system and rationale for the construction of terminology that was grounded directly in the Qur’an or Sunnah and Arabic. The idea that Ibn Taymiyah argues for is that there has been a misuse of metaphor in the Arabic language and that there are some uses that came to be popular in later scholarship that emerged with schools of rhetoric influenced by Greek thought.

Imams In The Madhab That Claims There Is No Metaphor In The Arabic Language

The position that there is no metaphor in the Arabic language was also the position of Muhammad Abu Bakr, Asfour Daud adh Dhahiri, Abi Ishaq as Safraa’ienni, Saeed Bin Mundhir and the scholars of Usul al Fiqh leaned in their direction. Imam Suyuti and Imam Zarkashi before him chronciled the differences of the Ulema regarding metaphor in the Arabic language. In recent times al-Allamah Amin Shinqiti al Maliki al Mufasir (r) took the position that metaphor does not exist in the Arabic language.

Closing Words Regarding The Matter Of Metaphor

The use of metaphor has great implication in the way Aqeeda is treated. This subject is technical and is truly an area that requires great patience, tolerance and learning. It is not facile to rightly declare those who reject metaphor to be incorrect without understanding their reasoning the source of their position and without first having gained depth in the Arabic language.

In order to gain a position in this topic that affords one the ability to critically judge one must be familiar with the Imams of Arabic and be intimate with the Imams of Rhetoric and knowledgeable of the schools and opinions therein. Also one is required to understand how these schools developed and the contours of the debates that took place among the Imams of language. Like, fiqh language studies also were characterized by madhabs.

Because this topic requires a degree of study it is best to suspend judgment or take a position by following an Imam without engaging debate. To debate this matter without a background is a mark of great ignorance. This issue requires much more than listening to a position and refutation it also entails understanding how various schools of thought in Arabic have an impact on Usul al fiqh and Aqeeda. So it is best left alone. We are not obliged to follow Ibn Taymiyah (r) but it is silly to think that he is easily refuted by the shallow claim that he was wrong and that is it. In any case, the balanced approach for the Athari in this matter is that metaphor exists in the Arabic language but it does not apply to the Names and Attributes of Allah (swt) and the rules when dealing with the Names and Attributes Of Allah (swt) is that Allah is disimilar to all creation and thought.


1.) Explanation of Zad al Mustaqna By Muhammad Mukhtar Shinqiti (h)

2.) Metaphor Between those who stand by it and those who reject it volume three by Doctor Abdul Adheem Ibrahim Muhammad al Mu’tee printed by Maktaba Wahba

3.) Jaame Li Ahkam Wa Usul al Fiqh by Sadiq Hasan Khan