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Ibn Taymiyyah, the Philosophers, the Mutakallimun and the Eternity of the Universe: Part 2
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Topics: Philosophers Ahl Al-Kalam Tasalsul Qidam Al-Alam

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Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah Corroborates That Everthing Besides Allaah is Originated, Has a Beginning and Is Preceded by Its Own Non-Existence - Kitab Minhaj al-Sunnah

Minhaj al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah is another monumental book by Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and is a refutation of a Raafidee Shi'ite called Ibn al-Mutahhar al-Hillee (d. 726H) who wrote a book called "Kitab al-Istiqaamah Fee Ithbaat al-Imaamah" (around 90 pages in length). This book was written by this Raafidee and presented to the king known as al-Jaayito Khudaa Bandah (from the descendants of Genghis Khan), hoping that through it, people would be invited and called to the Shi'ite religion. This king adopted Shi'ism in 709H. Historically, the Shi'ah had adopted Mu'tazilite theology and so Ibn Taymiyyah refuted them in a number of areas, in the issue of Imamate, the issue of Qadar, the issue of the attributes and other matters. Within this work Ibn Taymiyyah also address the claim of the Philosophers of the universe being eternal.

In the published Minhaj al-Sunnah (tahqiq Muhammad Rashad Salim, 1986, nine volumes) around 300 pages are dedicated to the issue of the eternity of the universe, we will quote some excerpts from this inshaa'Allaah.

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote (1/149):

There is nothing from any of the existing things that are simultaneous (in their existence) with Allaah, the Exalted, [without Him preceding them] as is said by the atheist philosophers:

That the universe is a [caused] effect of His, and it (the universe's existence) is a binding necessity of His (existence), [its existence being] inescapable with His (existence) and [that] He (Allaah) precedes it only [in the sense of] nobility, cause and character. He does not precede it in terms of time (zaman).

Now, if He had been a perfect, necessitating cause whose effect is simultaneous to it - as they (these philosophers) claim - there would not anything that is originated (muhdath) in the universe, since that originated thing would not have come to be on account of an eternal perfect cause whose effect is simultaneous to it, since a specific originated thing can never be eternal.


Those who followed the Greek Philosophers such as al-Farabi, Ibn Sina did not have any proof at all that the universe is eternal. And they knew this. However, when they saw the Ahl al-Kalaam (Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah, Hishaamiyyah, Karramiyyah, Ash'ariyyah) adducing the proof of huduth al-ajsaam (origination of bodies) to prove the universe had a beginning, and saw them being forced to hold a particular view regarding Allaah's actions - [no actions can be established with Allaah's essence to avoid what they call hawaadith, events] - holding this in order to remain consistent with their proof which depended upon their principle that an endless chain of events is impossible in the past, the likes of Ibn Sina laughed at them and saw their treasure. The Ahl al-Kalaam had two approaches:

First: The Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah held that whilst Allaah existed eternally, speech and action was impossible for Him, and then all of a sudden it became possible for Him without any reason or explanation, and thus was the heavens and earth created, and it was created without any action (or speech) being established with Allaah Himself. This was to avoid invalidating their proof that the universe is originated because it possesses incidental attributes, so if Allaah "created" the universe, as in, the attribute of creating is established with Allaah's essence, as in an attribute ascribed to Him, this means Allaah too would be created since whatever is not devoid of incidental attributes is itself originated, according to their principles. Thus, the "speech of Allah" is only the speech Allaah creates in the creation, not that He has an attribute of speech (this is what led them to say the Qur'an is created) and likewise the attributes of Allaah and actions of Allaah are merely what is manifested in the creation, not that they are established with His essence. This was the approach of the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah in trying to hold a consistent position after adopting this proof which was in fact pioneered by the Hellenized Sabeans and brought into the Ummah through al-Ja'd bin Dirham and al-Jahm bin Safwan.

Second: The Ash'arites, whilst they held that Allaah existed eternally with His attributes (those that they do affirm), there were no manifestation of these attributes at all until the creation of this universe. Allaah was totally devoid of action (and as for speech, they only consider it a meaning in the self). Thus Allaah was al-Khaliq (the creator), yet never ever created anything for that period in eternity before creating this universe and Allaah was al-Razzaaq (the Provider) yet never provided every for that period in eternity, and likewise, Allaah was al-Rahman al-Rahim, yet no mercy, and He was al-Qadir, yet no power manifested and so on for all the names and attributes. Faced with explaining how the creation came to be whilst avoiding the ascription of actions (af'aal) to His essence to avoid invalidating their intellectual proof which they took from the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah, they said that whilst Allaah wished it in eternity with His eternal iraadah (wish) and with His eternal qudrah, the muraad and maqdoor (that which is wished and determined to be) was impossible to occur for a period in eternity and then it changed from impossibility (imtinaa') to possibility (imkaan) - without any reason or cause to change it from impossibility to possibility (they had to maintain this in order to avoid falsifying their proof). In other words, Allah eternally had all His attributes whose effects never manifested, ever, prior to creating the heavens and earth, and then all of a sudden they did (to create this universe) for no apparent reason.

So those Philosophers stood looking, bewildered at these people, smirking, and thinking this is easy game for us and so their tongue of disposition said:

You have just given us an opening to argue for our belief that the universe is eternal, even though we have not demonstrated any independent proof for our claim. But by attacking your position we can support and bolster our position and make it look as if ours is the only other alternative which is that Allaah's existence makes the universe's existence absolutely necessary, and thus Allaah and the universe are like simultaneous cause and effect. And since you (the Mutakallimun), by using our conceptual tools, have agreed with us that no actions can be established with Allaah's essence that arise from His will and power, then we can argue the case that it is more sound in reason to believe that Allaah's existence necessitates the existence of the creation, just like an inextricably linked cause and effect than to believe in your nonsense that something can change from impossibility (imtinaa') to possibility (imkaan) [i.e. the creation coming to existence through the action of Allaah] without any newly-arising reason or cause whatsoever to necessitate that.

So the Philosophers now argued that since they considered it absurd that action for an agent (or the result, product of the action) can suddenly become permissible after being impossible without any reason or cause necessitating or explaining that, then it is sounder to affirm that the agent has eternally been doing and acting, instead of what the Ahl al-Kalaam were forced to hold as their view, being forced into that by their proof of huduth al-ajsaam (origination of bodies). Now this view of the Philosophers is not the same view as Ahl al-Sunnah who say that Allaah has eternally been one who speaks and acts if, as and when He wills, which means when He wills, He creates and when He wills, He speaks and when He wills, He acts, which is unlike the saying of the Philosophers who, like the Ahl al-Kalaam, deny that Allaah speaks and acts as and when He wills. And thus when they say Allaah has eternally been acting, they mean it upon what they are already upon of denying Allaah's attributes and actions. Thus, action is a matter of permanence with His essence (devoid of choice, will and the individual actions arising from them). The consequence is that a universe therefore is an absolute must, and it must exist simultaneous to the existence of Allaah, without Allaah preceding it in reality, and without the universe being preceded by non-existence, because Allaah and the universe are like cause and effect. If the perfect cause is there, the effect must exist simultaneously.

The thing to bear in mind all along is that because the Ahl al-Kalaam (Jahmiyyah, Mu'tazilah, Karraamiyyah, Raafidee Mujassimah, Ash'ariyyah, Maturidiyyah) all founded their speech about Allaah upon the conceptual tools and language of the Greek Philosophers themselves, having used it to devise their proof, they were forced to converge (to varying degrees) with the views of the Philosophers in their version of theism, as in how they described Allaah. And thus, what they were all united upon, in opposition to what was brought by the revealed books and sent messengers, is that Allaah does not have actions tied to His will and power, as in He does not and cannot act by His choice (sifaat fi'liyyah, af'aal ikhtiyaariyyah). As a result, the Philosophers took to a certain explanation (Allah and the universe are like cause and effect, if the cause is present the effect must be simultaneously present, and since Allaah is eternally acting (Note: this is not the same view as Ahl al-Sunnah, who unlike the Philosophers and Ahl al-Kalaam, affirm that Allaah's speech and action is tied to His will and power], the universe is eternal along with Him) and the Ahl al-Kalaam took to a certain explanation which is that speech and action was impossible for Allaah for a period, then it became possible, or that Allaah had attributes in eternity but whose manifestations were impossible and then they became possible, yet without them being able to explain what changed the situation from one of impossibility to one of possibility. This flaw was picked upon by the Philosophers to ridicule and to claim that their view is stronger and makes more sense. Then to support their arguments they simply said to Ahl al-Kalaam that whatever you are doing to the texts of the attributes (ta'weel) then we will do likewise with the texts that mention the creation of the heavens and earth, so just like you explain away the attributes of Allaah, we too will explain away the texts mention the creation of this universe, and our ta'wil is simply to say that the heavens and the earth were made of matter that was eternal, existing along with Allaah's existence, just like cause and effect.

Now the efforts of Ibn Taymiyyah are to be look upon as follows: That he stepped in to rescue Ahl al-Kalaam by his efforts against the Philosophers, and he gives them a helping hand to get them out of their own folly and their predicament, in a messy battle they got themselves into and cannot get themselves out of. So Ibn Taymiyyah destroyed the arguments of the Philosophers upon the correct way, upon the texts of the Book and the Sunnah, and showed that they were indeed more astray than the Ahl al-Kalaam, and their arguments more futile even if at the same time, the views of Ahl al-Kalaam were also futile, because they departed from the Book and the Sunnah.

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote (1/189):

However, the existence in eternity of al-mujib bil-dhat, (one whose essence necessitates [the existence of others, simultaneously]) is impossible because it requires the [existence of] that which is necessitated (mujab, muqtadaah) to also be eternal, and this is impossible, from numerous angles...

Then Ibn Taymiyyah proceeds to destroy this claim of the Philosophers by mentioning around seven or eight angles of refutation, whilst noting that this is the alternative proposed by the Philosophers against the proof of the Mutakallimin.

Ibn Taymiyyah also wrote (1/204), after pointing out a particular flaw in argument, which can be used to affirm the opposite of what its proponent intends by it:

And when that is possible (mumkin), then every proof adduced to argue that anything from the universe is eternal is invalidated. Thus the saying of the eternity of the universe is invalidated, and the impossibility of it being eternal becomes known...

And he also said, in words that are very clear (1/376):

And this is an independent evidence that whatever is besides Allaah is originated (muhdath), coming to existence after it was not, and that He the Sublime is the creator of everything after it was nothing. So sublime is the one who is singled out with al-baqaa (everlastingness) and al-qidam (eternity), and He made binding upon everything besides Him to be originated from nothing.

These are clear, explicit words that need no comment.

And he also said in concise words (2/388):

As for the perpetuality of events, then its meaning here is that He is perpetually [eternally] one who speaks when He wills and this is the perpetuality [eternality] of His perfection, [from] the qualities of His majesty, [and] the perpetuality of His actions, and it is permitted through [acceptance] of this that the universe and all that is within it is created by Him, [that it is] originated after it did not exist because the reason (sabab) for its origination is what is established with His essence of His words and His actions [which arise from His will] and other than that. Hence, the reason (sabab) for the origination of events (huduth al-hawadith) is understood, and it is impossible alongside this for the eternality of anything from the universe to be spoken with. Because if it had been eternal, its originator would be mujib bi dhatihi (one whose very existence necessitates the simultaneous existence of what is besides him) such that it requires the [simultaneous existence] of what is necessitated and required by His existence (mujab, muqtadah). However, when the Creator is the doer of an act which is established with His self through His will and His choice, it is impossible then for Him to be mujib bi dhatihi (one whose very existence necessitates the simulataneous existence of what is besides him) for anything from amongst all the things, hence, the eternity of anything from the universe is impossible.


That Allaah is eternally one who speaks and acts through His will and power is referred to as "hawaadith" by the Ahl al-Kalaam (they have their own innovated kalam language to characterise and describe matters affirmed in the Book and the Sunnah) and they reject Allaah's chosen actions, as do the Philosophers, and the Ahl al-Kalaam simply followed the Philosophers in this because they used the conceptual tools and language of these Philosophers and thus converged with the Philosophers in their language of theology in describing Allaah, the Most High. Thus, what they refer to as "hawaadith" (events) is in fact Allaah eternally being one who speaks if He wills, acts if He wills, creates if He wills and so on. However, this is what is affirmed in the Book and the Sunnah and it is what the Imaams of the Salaf are upon, and upon this did they refute the Jahmiyyah and Mu'tazilah when they affirmed that Allaah speaks as and when He wills, with whatever He wills (in relation to the issue of the Qur'an) and it is only through affirmation of this, that the saying of the Philosophers can be refuted and destroyed, without at the same time necessitating that anything besides Allaah exists eternally alongside Him, since there is nothing besides Allaah except that it came to existence after non-existence, preceded by its own non-existence, brought about through Allaah's speech and action, which are tied to His will and power.

However, since the Mutakallimin compromised themselves - by relying upon the conceptual tools of those Philosophers and were forced to deny what the Book and Sunnah affirmed to allow them to maintain a false, flawed, corrupt proof to demonstrate the universe is originated - they were unable to reconcile between reason and revelation and refute the Philosophers adequately.

And thus it appeared to them that there can only be two views, either their view or the view of the Philosophers, and this is because they were already compromised in having been forced to deny what is manifest in the Book and the Sunnah [that Allah has speech and action tied to His will and power and has eternally been like this] on account of the conceptual baggage they took from the Philosophers as part and parcel of their theological language and debate. It was this kalaam that the Salaf severely condemned, the language of al-ajsaam, al-jawaahir and al-a'raad (bodies and their incidental attributes).

These are just a sample of quotations from Minhaj al-Sunnah and it is just to indicate that the refutation of the eternity of the universe or eternity of anything besides Allaah is found in abundance in major and minor works of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah.

Further related reading: The following two detailed articles will help you get a better grasp of this subject of "hawaadith" (events), "huduth" (origination) and the likes which have a connection to the issue of the universe being originated or eternal.

  • Muhammad Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri al-Deobandi al-Maturidi On Abu Hanifah, al-Bukhari, Ibn Taymiyyah and the Sifat Fi'liyyah and The Issue of Haadith, Muhdath, Makhluq
    Part 1, Part 2

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Imam al-Dhahabi's Biography for Ibn Taymiyyah in the unpublished volume of Siyar A'laam al-Nubulaa

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