Aqida of Ibn Kathir

What was the aqida of ibn Kathir? Was it the same as ibn Taymiyyah?

Ibn Kathir was of the Shafi’i madhhab and a hadith master (who memorized over 100,000 ahadith). Whatever length of time Ibn Kathir studied with Ibn Taymiya, he was in his twenties when the latter died, and his long and fruitful career extended over the next forty-six years.

Ibn Kathir’s tafsir doesn’t seem to contain any of ibn Taymiyyah’s aqida opinions. The most significant is his claim that “there is no figurative expression (majaz) in the Qur’an” (Ibn Taymiya: al-Iman, 83), even in the use of such words as ‘hand’, ‘face’, ‘eyes’, ‘shin’, and the like with reference to Allah. He says, “Every word in the Book of Allah and His messenger is conditioned by that which clarifies its meaning, in none of which is there any figurative expression (majaz); rather, all of it is literal (haqiqa)” (ibid., 78).

Compare this with what Ibn Kathir says about the verse: (ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى عَلَى الْعَرْشِ) “Then He established the Throne” (Qur’an 7:54):

وَأَمَّا قَوْلُهُ تَعَالَى: ﴿ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى عَلَى الْعَرْشِ﴾ فَلِلنَّاسِ فِي هَذَا الْمَقَامِ مَقَالَاتٌ كَثِيرَةٌ جِدًّا، لَيْسَ هَذَا مَوْضِعَ بَسْطِهَا، وَإِنَّمَا يُسلك فِي هَذَا الْمَقَامِ مَذْهَبُ السَّلَفِ الصَّالِحِ: مَالِكٌ، وَالْأَوْزَاعِيُّ، والثوري، وَاللَّيْثُ بْنُ سَعْدٍ، وَالشَّافِعِيُّ، وَأَحْمَدُ بْنُ حَنْبَلٍ، وَإِسْحَاقُ بْنُ رَاهَوَيْهِ وَغَيْرُهُمْ، مِنْ أَئِمَّةِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ قَدِيمًا وَحَدِيثًا، وَهُوَ إِمْرَارُهَا كَمَا جَاءَتْ مِنْ غَيْرِ تَكْيِيفٍ وَلَا تَشْبِيهٍ وَلَا تَعْطِيلٍ. وَالظَّاهِرُ الْمُتَبَادَرُ إِلَى أَذْهَانِ الْمُشَبِّهِينَ مَنْفِيٌّ عَنِ اللَّهِ، فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُشْبِهُهُ شَيْءٌ مِنْ خَلْقِهِ، وَ ﴿لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ﴾ [الشُّورَى:١١] بَلِ الْأَمْرُ كَمَا قَالَ الْأَئِمَّةُ -مِنْهُمْ نُعَيْم بْنُ حَمَّادٍ الْخُزَاعِيُّ شَيْخُ الْبُخَارِيِّ -: “مَنْ شَبَّهَ اللَّهَ بِخَلْقِهِ فَقَدْ كَفَرَ، وَمَنْ جَحَدَ مَا وَصَفَ اللَّهُ بِهِ نَفْسَهُ فَقَدْ كَفَرَ”. وَلَيْسَ فِيمَا وَصَفَ اللَّهُ بِهِ نَفْسَهُ وَلَا رَسُولَهُ تَشْبِيهٌ، فَمَنْ أَثْبَتَ لِلَّهِ تَعَالَى مَا وَرَدَتْ بِهِ الْآيَاتُ الصَّرِيحَةُ وَالْأَخْبَارُ الصَّحِيحَةُ، عَلَى الْوَجْهِ الَّذِي يَلِيقُ بِجَلَالِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى، وَنَفَى عَنِ اللَّهِ تَعَالَى النَّقَائِصَ، فَقَدْ سَلَكَ سَبِيلَ الْهُدَى

“People have many positions on this matter, and this is not the place to present them at length. On this point, we follow the position of the early Muslims (salaf)—Malik, Awza‘i, Thawri, Layth ibn Sa‘d, Shafi‘i, Ahmad, Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, as well as others among the Imams of the Muslims, ancient and modern—namely, to let the verse pass as it has come, without saying how it is meant (bi la takyif), without any resemblance to created things (wa la tashbih), and without nullifying it (wa la ta‘til): the literal outward meaning (dhahir) that comes to the minds of anthropomorphists (al-mushabbihin) is negated of Allah, for nothing created has any resemblance to Him: “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing” (Qur’an 42:11) Rather the matter is like what the imams said, among them Nu’aym ibn Hammad al-Khuza’iyy, the sheikh of Bukhari: “whoever likens Allah to His creation has committed kufr, and whoever denies what Allah has described Himself with has committed kufr.” Certainly, there is no resemblance (تشبيه) (of Allah with the creation) in what Allah and His Messenger have described Him with. Whoever attests to Allah’s attributes that the plain Ayat and authentic Hadiths have mentioned, in the manner that suits Allah’s majesty, all the while rejecting all shortcomings/defects from Him, will have taken the path of guidance.”

(Ibn Kathir: Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim, 2.220). Arabic source: https://tafsir.app/ibn-katheer/7/54

This is precisely the position of tafwid or “consigning the knowledge of what is really meant by such scriptural expressions to Allah” that Ash‘aris like Imam Nawawi and many others held concerning such verses.


Further Reading: https://wahhabisrefuted.wordpress.com/2015/08/06/ibn-kathirs-tafsir-of-various-verses-of-the-quran-not-pseudo-salafi/

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