Compiled by Abu Layth
Imam Muslim narrates the following hadith in his Sahih:
“Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Our Lord – Blessed and Exalted is He! – descends every night to the lowest heaven in the last third of the night and says: Who is supplicating Me so that I may answer him? Who is asking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?”
Shaykh ul-Islam, Imam An-Nawawi says in his Sharh Sahih Muslim,
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 attributes] 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, number 1261 of hadith.al-islam.com of Sahih Muslim]
Shaykh ul Islam, Imam An-Nawawi (qaddasa Allahu Ruhu) quotes Imam Malik and Al-Awza’i as making ta’wil, that is interpreting this hadith away from its literal meaning, as ‘the descent of His mercy and decree and His angels’. Note here that Imam An-Nawawi only quotes two schools:
1) The school that believes in these texts, without believing in their literal meaning, and to adopt silence in discussing them. This method is called tafwid.
2) The school that interprets them, and this is Imam Malik and Awza’i's reports.
He does not report a third school, a school revived in our time, that endorses the literal meaning – the meaning which entails corporeality and displacement for Allah – and thus rejects such a schools validity in Sunni creed!
Abu ‘Umar Ibn Abdul-Barr quotes in his Tamhid a report from Imam Malik regarding this hadith:
“And it is reported from Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Al-Jabali, and he was from the trustworthy Muslims of Qayrawan who said, it was narrated to me from Jaami’ ibn Sawadah in Egypt saying, it was narrated to us from Mutarrif from Malik ibn Anas that he was asked about the hadith ‘Verily Allah descends at night to the heavens of the earth’, so Malik said, “His command descends!”
This was reported in At-Tamhid of Ibn Abdul-Barr Vol. 7 page 143, who says – even though quoting this – that the majority of the Imams of the Sunnah affirm this hadith saying ‘He descends just as Rasulullah said, while believing within his hadith, without delving into the modality (wa la yukayyifuna), though he says further down the page, “And it was said by a people of Ahlul-Athar also: ‘His command descends, and his mercy descends’. This was reported from Habib, the Katib (transcriber) of Malik, and other than him. And this was rejected by another group from them…[and he goes on saying that Allah does whatever He wills etc]…and then he quotes the above. Take note that Ibn Abdul-Barr was criticized in creed by the scholars of the Sunnah, especially by the Malikis, see Sidi Gibril’s brief bio of Ibn Abdul-Barr! Also take note that such literal belief was not affirmed by Shaykh ul Islam Imam An-Nawawi in his commentary of this hadith! Hafith Al-’Iraqi, the Shaykh of Hafith Ibn Hajr said of Ibn Abdul-Barr, “He is one of those who hold that Allah has a direction, therefore beware of him.” [Tarh At-Tathrib 2:382]
This exact wording quoted by Imam An-Nawawi from Imam Malik was also narrated without chain from Ibn Sayyid Al-Andalusi Al-Batluyusi in his work “Al-Insaaf”:
“And for this hadith there are two Sahih interpretations that do not allude to tashbih (likening Allah to the creation). The first is what was alluded to by Imam Malik rahimahullah [then he quotes as Imam An-Nawawi did]…”
Imam Ibn Sayyid Al-Andalusi, born 444 A.H. died in 521 A.H. during the reign of Amir Al-Mu’minin Ibn Tashfeen, starts his explanation of this hadith by saying,
“The Mujassimah (anthropomorphists) made his ‘nuzul‘ literal (haqiqi), exalted is Allah above what these oppressors [and in another manuscript - ignoramuses/Jahilun] ascribe to Allah! And the ‘Arifin of Allah have consensus that Allah does not ‘displace’, as displacement is from the attributes of the temporal/created entities!” [page 84 of his Insaf, published by Dar Al-Fikr, Damascus]
I am currently only able to find two chains for this athar from Imam Malik, and it seems it is the only available regarding this specific issue:
1) The one mentioned by Ibn Abdul-Barr from Habib that he narrated without chain. The certain problem is with Habib, who is Habib ibn Abi Habib Abu Muhammad Al-Misri who is definitely questioned by the scholars of hadith. Ahmad declared him “not trustworthy”. Ibn Hajr said about him in his Taqrib, “Matruk (abandoned), declared a liar by Abu Dawud and a group [of scholars].” [entry 1087 mu'assasah ar-risalah] This certainly makes the chain rejected.
2) The second athar narrated with full chain by Ibn Abdul-Barr.
In Kashf Al-Al-Hathith the author quotes another athar that goes through Jami’ that is reported by Ibn Al-Jawzi who declared Jami’ to be “majhul – unknown”. Ibn Hajr in his Lisan Al-Mizaan says about him,
He quotes here Imam Ad-Daraqutni who says in his Ghara’ib Imam Malik a report Daraqutni deems null (batil), and says about Jaami’, “Da’if (weak).” This weakening by Ad-Daraqutni was also quoted in Maqasid Al-Hasanah ((http://www.islamweb.net/hadith/display_hbook.php?hflag=1&bk_no=1849&pid=353638 )).
I could not find praise for Jaami’ and so it seems that this athar is weakened by him being present in the chain.
I saw in the Tahqiq of Risalat Al-Waafiyah of Abi Amru Ad-Dani by the pseudo-salafi Abi Anas Ar-Rashidi published by Dar-Al-Basirah, the claim that Mutarrif ibn Abdullah ibn Mutarrif was weak, the nephew of Imam Malik ibn Anas. Ibn Abi Hatim reports from Abu Hatim that he said regarding him, “Honest (Saduq), but he mingled hadith.” Ibn ‘Adi said of him, “He reports manakir (which means singularly narrated narrations).” This is of course all that they quote regarding him. They do not however quote the view of Hafith Ibn Hajr who says about him in his Taqrib, “Thiqah (impeccably trustworthy)”, and Ibn Hajr in his Tahthib refutes the claim of Ibn ‘Adi saying that the problem is not with Mutarrif but from an individual who reported from him named “Ahmad ibn Abi Dawud ibn Abi Salih Al-Harrani” who was a liar, so he argues that nothing is wrong with Mutarrif ibn Abdullah. They also do not quote the view of Imam Ad-Daraqutni who says about him, “Thiqah (impeccably trustworthy)” or the words of Ibn Sa’ad, “He was thiqah…” or the inclusion of him in Ibn Hibban’s Thiqaat! [Tahthib At-Tahthib of Hafith Ibn Hajr] So such an aspersion upon this chain is preposterous and uncalled for by the pseudo-salafis!
I have also seen people criticize Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Al-Jabali, of whom Ibn Abdul-Barr says in his own chain of this hadith “He was from the thiqaat (trustworthy) Muslimin in Qayrawan!” Al-Khatib said of him, “It is said (qil) he is a rafidi!”, which is indicates uncertainty. Nevertheless they did not attack his memory, and this athar does not support his bida’ah – which is to revile the companions, and Ibn Abdul-Barr knew what he was talking about considering he was from this man’s region and made such an open claim praising him.
It seems, and Allah knows best, that this chain has weakness in it due to Jaami’ being from its narrators. This is not an extreme weakness though, as the pseudo-salafis would have us believe, for at worst he is da’if as Imam Ad-Daraqutni stated, and at best he is majhul. Mutarrif is thiqah, as is Muhammad ibn ‘Ali Al-Jabali, even though some will boldly deceive to weaken this chain further. The first chain goes through Habib who was deemed abandoned. So it does not seem based upon the principles of hadith, that it could be utilized to strengthen the hadith of Jaami’.
Nevertheless, the language of Arabic does support such ta’wil as shown by Ibn Sayyid in his Al-Insaaf which you can download above. Such ta’wil was also validated in the language by Shaykhul-Islam Imam An-Nawawi in his Sharh. Imam An-Nawawi held that the safest opinion regarding the sifaat is to believe in them as they come, without believing the literal meanings as such would be tashbih, and remaining silent about its interpretations as he stated in his Sharh Sahih Muslim.
It is interesting to note that in the Risalat Al-Wafiyah of Abi ‘Amru Ad-Daniy there is an authentic athar from Nu’aym ibn Hammad and Ishaq ibn Rahuwayh (radiya Allahu anhuma) of them saying:
[Lalaka'i in Sharh Al-'Itiqad #936, with and authentic chain and Ibn 'Asakir in his Taarikh 17/612] Abi ‘Amru Ad-Daniy also says about the hadith of Nuzul,
“…and His nuzul is ‘how‘ He wills, tabarak wa ta’ala, without hadd, without howness (takyif), and without ascribing to Him displacement (intiqaal), and without zawaal.” (pages 22-23)
Shaykh Gibril Haddad says the following about the athar under review in this article:
Narrated from Mutarrif by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in al-Tamhîd (7:143) with a weak chain because of Jâmi’ ibn Sawada as per al-Dâraqut.nî in Ibn H.ajar’s Lisân (2:93). Also narrated from Salih ibn Ayyûb from Habib ibn Abî Habib – who is very weak – by al-Dhahabî in Syar A’lâm al-Nubalâ’ (8:418). The latter reported in his Mîzân (1:452) from Ibn ‘Adi’s Kamil (2″818) the opinion that all of Ibn Abî Habib’s narrations are forged but this is an extreme statement in light of three factors: (a) Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in al-Tamhîd (24:177) mentioned Habib as merely weak, adding: “His reports from Mâlik are full of mistakes and condemned matters”; (b) Salih ibn Ayyûb said: “I mentioned this report to Yah.yâ ibn Bukayr and he said: “Excellent, by Allâh! and I did not hear it from Mâlik.” Narrated by al-Dhahabî who describes Ibn Bukayr in Tadhkirat al-H.uffâz. (2:420) as “the muh.addith of Egypt, the Imâm and trustworthy h.adîth Master… one of the vessels of knowledge together with truthfulness and complete reliability… Where is the like of Ibn Bukayr in his leadership in the Religion, his insight in fatwâ, and the abundance of his learning?” (c) Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in al-Tamhîd (7:143) also narrates this report from Habib, then goes on to narrate it from Mutarrif, adding: “It is possible that the matter be as Mâlik said, and Allâh knows best.” It is established that Jâmi’ did narrate from Mutarrif, as stated by al-Mizzî in Tahdhîb al-Kamâl (28:71).