compiled by Abu Layth
One of the many fraudulent claims of the pseudo-salafi movement is that Imam An-Nawawi was not an Asha’ri in creed. This is yet another example of their attempt to rewrite history to be in their favor. Before we prove that Imam an-Nawawi (rahmatullah ‘alayh) was an Asha’ri, we must first analyze why the pseudo-salafis would make such an unprecedented claim. Imam An-Nawawi is a Mujtahid in the Shafi’i school, having the most authority after Imam ash-Shafi’i! Imam An-Nawawi is respected by all Sunni ‘ulama‘, and indeed even non-Sunnis. His books are read, memorized, and preserved by each generation after him. He is, arguably, one of the most remembered and well-known scholars of the entire Muslim ummah. His commentary upon the Sahih Muslim is considered by many to be the best ever done in Muslim history, his Majmu‘ is considered only challenged in status by Ibn Qudamah’s Al-Mughni. If the pseudo-salafis can claim him to be an anthropomorphist and inline with their literalist views in creed, they have on their side a highly respected scholar, of whom no disagreement exists regarding his high status in Islam. It is for this reason that the deviant pseudo-salafis will do anything they can, especially lie, to claim Imam an-Nawawi as one of “them“.
Recently a pseudo-salafi neo-Muqatili said on our site,
“…An-Nawawee is not accepted in aqeedah. One of hte [sic.] principles in the extraction of aqeedah is that there [sic.] views mirror the views of the predecessors. If there is a lack of congruity between the articulator and what has been established in unequivocal terms by the predecessors, then this disqualifies the person as being an authoritative figure by which their statements can be accepted in whatever field be spoken about. Thus ahlu-sunnah reserve an-Nawawee and utilize [sic.] him in hwere [sic.] he specialized in i.e. fiqh, usoolul-fiqh, lugha, shurooh of hadeeth, uloomul-hadeeth, and the basics of tassawwuf, but not in terms of al-Asmaai wa Sifaat.
it is also incorrect to call an-Nawawee an ash’ari particularly if an-Nawawee’s asl was in bringing arguments in refutation of kalaam and ilmul-kalaam. We say that he inclines towards the madhaab of the ashaa’irah, but he was not an actual ash’ari. Ash’aris are mutakalimoon like ar-Razi. Juwaynee, and the above individuals whom I’ve named in previous posts.”
Summing up this pseudo-salafi’s arguments:
1) Imam an-Nawawi is not quoted in ‘Aqidah because, as he claims, he is not inline with the method of the Salaf us-Salih in creed. Or in other words he is not inline with what the commenter believes is the creed of ahlus Sunnah! Imam An-Nawawi refutes this claim himself as you shall come to see.
2) That An-Nawawi “refuted” kalam/’ilm-ul-kalam. He argues that an Asha’ri can only adopt the way of “kalaam” in order to be deemed an Asha’ri. This is not entirely true either, as there are two well-known schools (methods) of the Asha’ris in dealing with the attributes of Allah.
The Position of Imam An-Nawawi According to Ahlus-Sunnah
There are three ways to determine the status in creed of Imam an-Nawawi.
1) Analyze what his contemporaries, such as his students, comrades, co-teachers etc. said regarding him.
2) Analyze what the scholars after him said regarding his creed and status amongst the Sunnis.
3) Review his works and determine what he said regarding kalam.
This will be the method of this article.
What did his students, Comrades, and those After Him Say of Accepting his Creed
Shaykh ‘Alā’ud-Dīn ibn Al-‘Attār (d. 724 a.h), the student of Imām An-Nawawī and one of his many biographers who witnessed karamāt as well as sat in his many circles of knowledge, stated about him
“…he was an ‘Ālim, a Rabbānī, upon whom agreement [of the scholars] is there upon his knowledge and his Imāmship…”
He also said,
“My Shaykh narrated to me that he held twelve classes a day explaining and reading the texts. Two classes go over the Wasit, one class going over the Muhadhdhab, a class going over both of the two Sahih works [i.e. Bukhari and Muslim], a class specifically covering Sahih Muslim, a class over the Luma’ of ibn Al-Jnni, a class reviewing Islah al-Mantiq (logic) by Ibn As-Sikkit, class on language, a class in Tasrif, a class in Usul al-Fiqh [foundations of jurisprudence], a class regarding the “names of men” in hadith (أسماء الرجال), and a dars in the Usul [foundations] of the Religion. ((See Al-Minhaj As-Sawi fi Tarjamat Imam An-Nawawi page 57-60 ))
He also reported the many books of hadith to his students as narrated by Ibn ‘Attar.
There are two points that we are to take from these words of Ibn ‘Attar (rahmatullah ‘alayh) that concern our topic:
His Agreed upon Title of Shaykh ul-Islam proves He is to be taken from in ‘Aqidah and His Teaching of Asha’ri Works
Imam An-Nawawi was given the title of “Shaykh ul-Islam” by his students, comrades, and those Imams after him. The title Shaykh ul-Islam is of import to this discussion because it denotes that he mastered all of the sciences of Islam and if such is the case, then the argument of the pseudo-salafis that he is not taken from in creed is rejected by the scholars, for his status denotes that he is to be taken from in all matters. We should note here that we are arguing for “agreement” of the Muslims regarding this title. It is true that some individuals overly praise certain Shuyukh with this title, as Imam as-Sakhawi points out, and they do not meet the criterion for this honorific.
Imām ash-Sakhāwī states that “Shaykh ul-Islām” signifies one who follows the Kitāb and the Sunnah, has mastered the Usūl of the religion, who has plunged deep into the differences of the amongst the scholars, and has become able to extract the legal evidences from the texts, and has understood the rational and transmitted texts at a good level. [al-jawahir wad-durar]
Imam ash-Sharif Muhammad ibn Al-Hasan Al-Wasiti al-Husayni (d. 776 A.H) said in his al-Matalib Al-’Aliyyah fit-Tabaqat ash-Shafi’iyyah regarding Imam An-Nawawi,
“The Shaykh, The Imam, The ‘Alim (scholar), the Rabbani, the Hafith (master of Hadith), the Faqih (jurist), the Shaykh ul-Islam of his time, and after his time. He was from the scholars who implemented [their knowledge], and from the Imams of immense knowledge, from the friends of Allah who know (‘arifin), and from the true ascetics…”
Imam Muhammad Al-Wasiti also mentions what Ibn Al- ‘Attar mentioned of his many classes he had within a day, except that he clarifies that in Usul al-Fiqh he would review al-Luma’ of Abi Ishaq and the Muntakhib of Imam Fakhrud-Din ar-Razi, and in Usul ad-Din he would go over the Irshad of Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni! The Irshad’s title is: الإرشاد إلى قواطع الأدلة في أصول الاعتقاد al-Irshad ila qawati’ Al-Adillat fi Usual al-’Itiqad. The Irshad is a work of Sunni Kalam theology by one of the heads of the Asha’ris, Imam Al-Haramayn Abdul Malik Al-Juwayni, a book mastered, taught, and propagated by Imam An-Nawawi within his circles of knowledge.
Click the Thumbnail Scan to See for Yourself!
Three points are extracted from the above texts related to our discussion:
Others who gave him the title “Shaykh ul-Islam” include but are not restricted to, Imam as-Sakhawi ((Hayat Al-Imam an-Nawawi )), Imam Suyuti [who was given the title by others as well] ((See his Minhaj as-Sawi )), Imam as-Subki in his Tabaqat, Ibn Qadi Shuhbah, and many others.
His Statements in Creed Overwhelmingly Match the School of Abul-Hasan Al-Asha’ri
The school of Abul Hasan Al-Asha’ri regarding the Sifat (attributes) of Allah is, according to Imam as-Subki one of the two methods, which he also ascribed to Imam Al-Juwayni in his Risalat an-Nithamiyyah:
[Tabaqat Ash-Shafi'iyyah 5/191]
Imam An-Nawawi (radiya Allahu ‘anhu) followed both of these paths and stated that both of these paths were the way of the salaf (predecessors) with regard to the texts. He NEVER stated that the literal meaning was intended by these texts, as the pseudo-salafis say, and he even denied such as you will come to know below. You will also see further down that Imam An-Nawawi adopted the kalam method in refuting the anthropomorphists by using their creedal nomenclature and rational proofs.
His commentary in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim regarding the narration of “descent/an-Nuzul”:
This hadith is from the hadith of the Sifat (of Allah), and regarding it there are two well known madhdhabs: the first, and it is the madhhab of the salaf and some of the Mutakallimin (scholars of kalam) that it is believe in their [i.e. the attributs] reality according to what befits Allāh ta’ala, and that the literal meaning that we commonly apply to ourselves is not what is meant, and that one does not speak regarding its interpretation while holding the belief that Allah ta’alā is free from the attributes of the created, and from translocation, and movement, and the rest of the attributes of created beings. The second is the madhdhab of the majority of the Mutakallimīn, and a group from amongst the Salaf, and it is what is reported from Mālik and al-Awzā’ī that they are interpreted figuratively but only according to their appropriate contextual meanings. On this basis there are two interpretations (ta’wils). The first is the ta’wil of Imam Malik ibn Anas and other than he, that its meaning is the descent of His mercy and decree and His angels. [as is said regarding the Sultan ...] and the Second interpretation is that it is an Isti’arah (metaphor) to signifiy turning to (iqbal) to those who supplicate to Him with fulfillment by answering [the du'aa] and showing lutf (kindness, generosity) [to those beseeching Him].
[Sharh Sahih Muslim; Kitab Salat al-Musafirin]
Take notice that Imam an-Nawawi denies the literal meaning, the method of the pseudo-salafis, for Allah’s descent, and says the way of the salaf and the Mutakallimin is both tafwid and ta’wil. Notice here that he is only adopting the two methods of the Asha’ris and denying any other madhdhab in this matter, as he states there are “two madhdhabs”, in other words, and no more!
Imam An-Nawawi also quoted Imam Malik elsewhere in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim regarding this issue of the “descent” of Allah,
Imam Malik was asked about the “descent” of Allah and he said, “His, the majestic’s, command descends every night, and as for Allah ‘azza wa jall, then he is eternal, he does not move or displace, glorified be He, and there is no god but He!”[6/37]
He says regarding the hadith of the “slave girl”:
“This hadith is from the narrations of the attributes of Allah, and there are two madhdhabs regarding this, and I have mentioned them both in the chapter of Iman. The first is to believe in it without delving into its meaning, while believing that Allah has no similitude to Him at all, and negating for him the attributes of created beings. And the second school is that it is interpreted in a manner that befits Him.” [...then he gives the interpretations...]
Again, Imam an-Nawawi makes no mention of the madhdhab of the literalists who delve into the literal meaning and affirm it for Allah! He is stating here the two schools of the Asha’ris!
He also says in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim:
“Verily there is nothing like Allah ta’ala, and he is free from tajsim (corporeality), and displacement, and being within direction, and from the rest of the attributes of the created beings.” [3/19]
This is the exact wording of the Asha’ris within their texts when talking of Allah.
This is in direct contradiction to the creed of Ibn Taymiyyah who said that he does not deny “jism“ – body/corporeality – for Allah. He said,
“It is well known that the Book , the Sunnah, and the Consensus nowhere say that all bodies (ajsaam) are created, and nowhere say that Allah Himself is not a body! Nor did any of the Imams of the Muslims ever say such a thing. Therefore if I also choose not to say it, it does not expel me from fitra nor from Shari’ah!” ((At-Ta’sis 1:118 ))
Such stupidity only shows the ignorance of Ibn Taymiyyah in issues of creed! “The Book” does say He is not a body when He says “There is nothing like unto Him, and He is As-Sami’ al-Basir!” This is a verse of denial of everything in similitude with creation! For jism (corporeality/body) is an attribute of the created, and is thus tamthil. Allah never ascribes himself with a body (jism), yet Ibn Taymiyyah is more than happy to do so for Him, exalted is He above what this deviant ascribed to Him! Ibn Jahbal refuted such kufristic insinuations in his refutation of Ibn Taymiyyah that has been translated and published and this paper’s goal is not to discuss this matter. However, take note that even Imam An-Nawawi disagreed with Ibn Taymiyyah, and this is a clear refutation of the claim of “Ijma’” by Ibn Taymiyyah in the quote above.
As Allah says in the Qur’an,
“And who is more unjust than one who invents about Allah a lie or denies His verses?” [7:37]
So the Qur’an does say He is not a body. But a question to ask the proponents of Tajsim (and this is what it is): Where does Allah ascribe to Himself a “body”? What proof do you have? Or is it that you do take the literal meaning of hand, shin, waist, foot, eyes, and with your sensual perception imagine Allah as the pagan Christians do as a body (jism), unlike other bodies – in other words with a bigger hand than humans. These folk have invented a lie upon Allah by saying about Him what He has denied about Himself!
Imam An-Nawawi is the complete opposite in creed of Ibn Taymiyyah. In fact, Imam An-Nawawi does not even recognize the school of Ibn Taymiyyah as being from Ahlus Sunnah, as you can see from his commentary in Sahih Muslim, rejecting the “literal” meanings as what is intended.
Imam An-Nawawi also said in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim:
“And from the scholars are those who refrain from interpretating [the narratives of attirbutess]. They say we believe that they are real and that the literal meanings of the texts are not what are intended, and the meaning is what befits His majesty and this is the madhhab of the majority of the Salaf, and it is most upright, and safest. The second school is one of interpretation of the texts in a manner which befits His Majesty, while denying any imperfections from Allah ta’ala, as there is nothing like unto Him!” [16/166]
Also Imam An-Nawawi quotes Imam Al-Mazari, the Maliki Asha’ri, in refutation of Ibn Qutaybah regarding his belief that Allah has an “image unlike other images” regarding the hadith “Allah created Adam in His image…”. He said,
He also denies the literalists’, such as Ibn Qutaybah, approach to this hadith. Notice he utilizes the Asha’ri Sunni kalami argument that an image necessitates tarkib, and anything that has tarkib is muhdath, and Allah ta’ala is not muhdath. This is a rational Kalami argument that is proof against the anthropomorphists, and is utilized here by Imam an-Nawawi to refute such creedal impudence!
Another clear text from Imam An-Nawawi professing the Asha’ri doctrine with regards to the attributes of Allah is what he said in his masterpiece “Majmu‘”.
“There is disagreement regarding the verses of the attributes of Allāh and their narrations. Do we delve into its interpretation or not? And some of the scholars have said that they are to be interpreted according to what befits Allāh, and this is the most known opinion of the two schools of the Mutakallimīn. Another group said that it is not interpreted, rather one refrains from speaking about its meanings and entrusts its knowledge to Allāh while believing in the denial of the attributes of created beings from Him. And so they said, for example, “We believe that ar-Rahman ‘alal ‘arsh istāwa – (literally translated here as: that the merciful rose upon the throne), and we do not know its real meaning that was intended by it, and we believe this while believing there is nothing like unto Allāh, and while He is free from Hulūl and the attributes of the originated matters (al-ḥudūth), and this is the path of the Salaf, and the majority of them, and it is the safest [path].”
Hulul is indwelling or incarnation of the Divine into a created being, place, or quality. Here he also states the two schools of the Asha’ris as well, that of tafwid and that of ta’wil, while denying the literal purport of these texts. Notice here that Shaykh ul-Islam Imam an-Nawawi deems the school of the righteous Salaf the path of tafwid, not the path of literalism!
Another indication of Imam an-Nawawi being an Asha’ri is his praise of the madhdhab of Imam Abul Hasan al-Asha’ri in his Tahdhib al-Asma’i wal-Lughat under the entry of Ustadh Abū Isḥāq Al-Isfrā’īnīi:
“This teacher was one of the three who gathered in one era upon supporting the madhdhab of the Hadīth and the Sunnah in the issues of Kalām, and they were steadfast in supporting the madhhab of the Shaykh Abil Hasan Al-Asha’rī, and they [the three] were the ustādh Abū Isḥāq Al-Isfrā’īnī, Qāḍī Abū Bakr al-Bāqilānī, and the Imām Abū Bakr ibn Fūrak.”
He deemed this madhdhab the madhdhab of the hadith and the Sunnah in the issues of kalam, an obvious praise for the madhdhab of the Asha’ris!
Conclusion: The Statement of Imam Adh-Dhahabi and Sakhawi
Imām adh-Dhahabī said in his tārīkh al-Islām about Imām an-Nawawī:
‘Verily his madhdhab regarding the attributes as-sam’iyyah was as-sukūt (to remain silent regarding them). And he narrated them as they came, and maybe he interpreted them a small number of times in his Sharḥ of Saḥīḥ Muslim!”
Imam As-Sakhawi quoted these words and said after them in his bio of Imam An-Nawawi,
“This is what he says! And there is a lot of ta’wīl (interpretations) in what he said!”
He also said on page 36,
“It was forwarded by Imams al-Yafi’i and At-Taj As-Subki (may Allah have mercy upon them both), that he was an Asha’ri!”
As-Subki’s exact words in his Tabaqat ash-Shafi’yyah are:
“…and verily An-Nawawi was an Asha’ri in creed!”
A Response to a Claim Made by The Pseudo-Salafis
We came upon an article that presupposes that Imam An-Nawawi (rahimahullah) was not an Asha’ri because he criticizes some of the Mutakallimin that argue that one must use Kalam to arrive at knowing Allah. Imam An-Nawawi slams this position, no doubt, and says it is not the majority position. However, in his condemnation of those Mutakallimin who hold this view, is proof that Imam an-Nawawi considered himself an Asha’ri and a Mutakallim.
“…and this opinion (qawl) is held by many of the Mu’tazilah, and some of our companions [of] the Mutakallimin, and this is an apparent mistake…”
He deems here the “Mutakallimin” as those who are “our companions”. Imam an-Nawawi in his Majmu’ uses “As-habnaa” to refer to those of his same madhdhab, that of the Shafi’is, and he is doing the same here! This is clearly an ascription of Himself to the same school as they are upon, the school of Kalam!
He does this multiple times in his Sharh of the Sahih of Imam Muslim. He says as well in another place,
“…and from it [i.e. the text] is the affirmation of the charismatic acts [karamaat] of the friends of Allah (awliya’), and this is the madhhab of ahlus Sunnah, which contradicts that of the Mu’tazilah [...] and this is what is correct (sahih) according to our companions of the Mutakallimin!”
He also stated in his Sharh of the Muhadhdhab,
“Our companions of the Mutakallimin said…” (1/174)
This is inline with what we have forwarded throughout this article; that he taught the works of Kalam, quoted them, endorsed the Asha’ri and Kalam methods in his Sharh of Sahih Muslim as well as within his Majmu’ when discussing how the Sunnis treat the issue of Allah’s attributes. He is, undoubtedly, as professed by Imam al-Yafi’i and Taj As-Subki, an Asha’ri!
All of this is clear proof that the pseudo-salafis have lied upon Imam An-Nawawi – just as some of them took out entire sections from his works such as his Adhkaar! Such is necessary for them, considering the Imams of Islam do not hold to their creed, and so they must distort the Imams’ states in order to justify their anthropomorphic tendencies! And as Allah has said: the curse of Allah is upon the liars!
Imam An-Nawawi on Warning the Laity of Learning Sunni Kalaam
Imam an-Nawawi, just as Imam al-Ghazzali, warned the laity about delving into kalaam, unless a doubt were to raise in their minds regarding it.
He said as translated by the Asha’ri and Sufi, Shaykh Nuh Keller in his “Reliance of the Traveller”, “A:” in brackets is the commentary of Shaykh Abdul-Wakil Durubi.
“As for the basic obligation of Islam, and what relates to tenets of faith, it is adequate for one to believe in everything brought by the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) and to credit it with absolute conviction free of any doubt. Whoever does this is not obliged to learn the evidences of the scholastic . The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did not require of anyone anything but what we have just mentioned, nor did the first four caliphs, the other prophetic Companions, nor others of the early Muslim community who came after them. Rather, what befits the common people and vast majority of those learning or possessing Sacred Knowledge is to retrain from discussing the subtleties of scholastic theology, lest corruption difficult to eliminate find its way into their basic religious convictions. Rather, it is fitter for them to confine themselves to contentment with the above mentioned absolute certainly.Our Imam Shafi’i (Allah Most High have mercy on him) went to the greatest possible lengths in asserting that engaging in scholastic theology is forbidden. [A: What he meant thereby was the heretical scholastic theology that proliferated in his time and put rationalistic theories ahead of the Koran and sunna, not the science of theology (`ilm al-tawhid) by which Ash'ari and Maturidi scholars (dis: x47] have clarified and detailed the tenets of faith of Sunni Islam, which is an important part of the Islamic sciences.) He insistently emphasized its unlawfulness, the severity of the punishment awaiting those who engage in it, the disgrace of doing it, and the enormity of the sin therein by saying,
“For a servant to meet Allah with any other sin than idolatry (shirk) is better than to meet Him guilty of anything of scholastic theology.”
His other statements expressing the same meaning are numerous and well known. But if someone has doubts (Allah be our refuge) about any of the tenets of faith in which belief is obligatory (def: books u and v), and his doubt cannot be eliminated except by learning one of the theologians’ proofs, then it is obligatory for him to learn it in order to remove the doubt and acquire the belief in question.
To see Imam ash-Shafi’i utilizing Kalam for need read the following article: A Discussion Regarding Sunni Kalaam wherein the following story is narrated:
Something of this is illustrated in a story narrated by Imām ash-Shāfi’i’s student al-Muzanī that demonstrates both the necessity of defending the Truth in an equivalent and in the differences of intellect and understanding that Allah has alloted:
“I debated a certain man who asked me questions that almost caused me to doubt my religion. I came to Ash-Shafi’i and recounted to him the whole matter. He said to me: “Where are you?!” I replied, “In the masjid!” He said, “Nay! You are in taran [a whirlpool in the red sea] and its waves are crashing down upon you! This is a favourite issue of the atheists and is such and such [he gave Muzani the answer]. It would be better for someone to be tried with all the harms that Allah has created rather than to be tried with Kalaam!”
Imam Al-Bayhaqi commented on this story said in his Manāqib,
“This shows ash-Shāfi’i’s excellent knowledge of the issue and the obligation of exposing the distortions of atheists whenever needed. By kalam, he meant the atheism of the atheists and the heresies of the innovators, and Allah knows best!” [Manaqib Al-Imam Ash-Shafi'i page 458]
So when the need arose, Imam An-Nawawi not only recommended Kalam, but he deemed it wajib – an obligation! Let those who say Imam An-Nawawi was not an Asha’ri take heed of this point: He obligated the Sunni Kalaam of the Asha’ris when it was needed, so how could he deem it to be falsehood if he deemed it obligatory based upon the need? In other words, Imam An-Nawawi was an Asha’ri, supported the madhhab, utilized its proofs in his works, quoted from its scholars, and held that it was necessary to learn the arguments if need arose.
And with Allah is our Supreme Success!
And May Allah send his blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad, his family, and his followers! Amin!