The Theology of the Shia in the Time of Imam Sadiq (a)

Sayed Ihsan Musawi Khalkhali1

Ni’mat-Allah Safari Frushani2

Original Persian document can be found here.


Hadith (haadith) (حادث) – Came into being, created, temporary

Qadim (qadeem) (قديم) – uncreated, eternal


The subject of God’s attributes is of the most important and ancient of Islamic discussions – the relation between God’s attributes and His essence, the temporal (huduth) and eternal (qidam) nature of the attributes, corporealism and anthropomorphism. The first opinions were proposed by Imamite mutakalims of the first half of the second century. They can be grouped into:

1) Zurara b. A’yan and his household, they considered some of God’s Active Attributes (sifat-e fi’l) as created (hadith)

2) Mumin al-Taq, who considered God’s knowledge as created (comes into being)

3) Hisham b. Salim who was an anthropomorphist

4) Hisham b. Hakam, attributed to corporealism.

In this article, we will analyze their beliefs in their historical and environmental contexts. In the end, we will compare this to hadiths of the Imams (a).


The following discussions of God and His attributes were contentious in the first centuries of Islam. Whether or not His attributes are a part of His essence. If God’s attributes are a part of Him, then there is intermixing in God’s essence; they thought that such an understanding would separate God’s essence from His pure, extensive quality. However, if God’s attributes are not a part of Him, they must either be created or uncreated. Attributes such as knowledge, hearing, and sight are connected to things outside of God’s attributes, complicating the matter. In response, a spectrum of opinions formed, such as ta’til, negating the possibility of God possessing attributes; tajsim (divine corporealism) and tashbih (divine anthropomorphism), comparing God’s attributes to human attributes (Waladust, 1387; Pakatchi, 1377).

The oldest reports about this come from the first half of the second century (Pakatchi, 1377, p. 626). This early stage of Imamism is unique, the eras of Imams Baqir, Sadiq and the beginning of Kazim (a). It was the age of theorization of the mutakalim companions of the Imams (Subhani, 1391, 26-27; Karbasi, 1391, 38-42).

Note that this unrestricted theorization occurred in Kufa, an intellectually diverse and free space. Whereas the Imams were in Madina, over 1,000 km away from their followers. This created a situation wherein the leading companions could voice their opinions and did not await the views of their Imams. However, it is doubtless that the companions considered the views of the Imams important and did not stray far from their teachings.

We could not locate an article documenting all the diverse opinions of the companions. The author of the article Asma wa Sifat in Dayera al-Ma’arif-e Buzurg-e Islami emphasized that the beliefs of the companions are in dire need of analysis and until now, nobody has done it (Pakatchi, 1377, p. 626). Only Hisham b. Hakam has received attention due to the sensitive and controversial nature of his famous line “Allah is a body unlike other bodies;” countless books and articles have been written about this matter [mainly to defend Hisham’s quote]. The most important book-series in this regard is Theology and Society in the Second and Third Centuries of the Hijra by Josef van Ess [available in English].

Zurara b. A’yan and the A’yan Family

Most sources point to Zurara and his ilk championing the temporal quality of God’s attributes. In a letter dictated by Imam Sadiq (a) and penned by ‘Abd al-Malik b. A’yan, it states, “God existed, and nothing but He was there, not known (ma’ruf) nor unknown (majhul). God was neither a speaker (mutakalim), decreer (murid), mover (mutaharak), nor doer (fa‘il). Mighty and Exalted is He! All of these attributes came into existence through His doing” (Saduq, p. 227).

In Muqalat al-Islamiyin by Abu al-Hasan Ash’ari, “The Rafidites differed about God’s knowledge, ever-lasting life (hay), ability, hearing, sight, and godliness (ilah). They are nine groups. The first of which is the Zurarites. The Zurarites claim that God was not hearing, knowing, nor seeing, until He created these attributes for Himself” (Ash’ari, 2005, 36). Assuming its accuracy, Zurara believed that only three of God’s attributes are created and noneternal (haadith) – hearing (sami’), knowing (‘alim), and sight (basir). The third group considered God’s ability (qadir), hearing, and seeing as noneternal – the fourth group His ever-lasting life (hay) – and the fifth group His knowledge (‘alim) (Ash’ari, 2005, 36-38).

About a century later, ‘Abd al-Qadir Baghdadi in his book al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, he does not elaborate upon the various subsects (Jabirizada, 1383, 364). He writes, “The Zurarites are attributed to the innovation of believing that God was neither living, able, hearing, seeing, knowing, nor decreeing, until He created these attributes for Himself. They were upon this misguidance that the Basran Qadarites spoke about the temporalness of God’s word, and the Karramites about God’s word, will, and realization” (Baghdadi, 1995, 80, 230, 335). Interesting that such beliefs are attributed to the Zurarites, Basran Mu’tazilites, and Karramites.

In Usul al-Din, he adds that Zurara believed that the following attributes were created, His: might (Baghdadi, 1928, 95), knowledge (Ibid, 95), hearing (Ibid, 96), and life (Ibid, 105). In this report, ability (qudra) is added. It is claimed that Zurara said, “The attribute of ability, in relation to any possibility, came into existence once for God” (Ibid, 93). In other words, for every possibility, the attribute of ability is found to be created (huduth) for God once.

It is clear that the followers of Ash’ari generalized upon all of God’s attributes. What we see in Baghdadi’s book is what is found in future texts (Shahrestani, 1375 l, 1:165; Ibn Jawzi, 85; Sam’ani, 1998, 3:144; Ayji, 1997, 3:683; Safdi, 2000, 14:130).

According to Zurara, one cannot be a hearer, knower, or seer if there is nothing to hear, know or see. Thus, God’s hearing, knowing, and seeing are noneternal. According to Ash’ari, this was the opinion of most Shiites and Mu’tazilites (Ash’ari, 2005, 483-505).

Note that this was an age prior to the formation of our modern sects and religious understandings. Philosophical ideas were such as quwwa, f’il, malika wa ‘adam-e malika being debated and were just taking shape. Kalami language was not yet developed, such as essential attribute (sifat-e dhat) and active attribute (sifat-e fi’l). During the translation movement, as Greek philosophical texts were being converted to Arabic, their concepts entered the nascent Islamic intellectual space. This is a criterion for hadith scholars, for example, the first khutba of Nahj al-Balagha uses such concepts (Radi, 1387 l, 39-40). It is more probable that this was stated by Reda (a), since some writings source it to him (Saduq, 1984, 1:153; Ibid, 34-41; Mufid, 1414 l, 253-258). According to Ash’ari, the difference between active versus essential attributes was first voiced by a group of Mutazilites of Basra, Baghdad, and Abu Ya’qub Shahham the student of Abu Hadhil ‘Ulaf (Dhahabi, 1982, 10:552; Ash’ari, 2005, 505).

To answer why Zurara considered these active attributes distinct, context is important according to Josef van Ess. He writes that these attributes are not a matter of God’s attributes but bada (بداء) (Josef van Ess, 2008, 1:466). He relays a narration from Zurara from the Imam: “Believing in bada is a form of worship” (Saduq, 331-332). These overseen attributes tie man’s actions with God’s knowledge. God’s knowledge is concurrent with man’s activities, since that is when the action is created. Man’s actions are not predetermined. Thus, bada is the created law and origin in nature. Hearing and seeing are types of knowledge. This may be why Mufid considers hearing, seeing, and knowledge as having the same meaning (Mufid, 1382, 13).

The aforementioned can be understood differently. According to Ash’ari, Zurara stated that “God is not characterized by these attributes, until He creates them for Himself” (Ash’ari, 2005, 38). This contrasts others, such as Mumin al-Taq, who argued that God only becomes characterized by these attributes the moment He creates the dependent of that attribute (Musawi Khalkhali, Ibid, 128). This means that, according to some besides Zurara, God is considered “knowing” once He creates something to know, and the createdness of the attributes relies on the createdness of things, not that the attributes were created following God’s essence, as Zurara claims. Zurara narrates from Sadiq (a) that he considers everything, apart from God, as created (Kulayni, 1363, 1:82).

Assuming the aforementioned’s authenticity, Zurara considers God’s attributes as things that are separate from His essence. This is why he considers them as created (Paketchi, 1377, 625). The three aforestated attributes were merely examples. Even though this contradicts Ash’ari’s statement, if the context is considered, and we reconcile the reports, this makes Ash’ari’s general points about the Zurarites as highly probable.

Mumin al-Taq

Abu Ja’far Muhammad b. ‘Ali b. Nu’man Ahwal, nicknamed Mumin al-Taq by friends, Shaytan al-Taq by foes (Safadi, 2000, 4:78), was another important early mutakalim. All Sunni source nickname him “Shaytan al-Taq” (Khatib Baghdadi, 1997, 13:411; Ibn Hajar, 1971, 2:159, 5:300). The name Taq stems from his business being at the part of Kufa near the mountain of Taq al-Muhamil (نجاشي، 1424ق: 325 ،ش886؛ ابن حجر، 1971 ،5 :300؛ ابن نديم، بيتا: 224 ،پ4). The term “shaytan” indicates his wit (339: 1, 2003, Modarresi). It is said that when Hishsm b. Hakam heard the opponents call him Shaytan al-Taq, he christened him as Mumin al-Taq (ابن حجر، 1971 ،5 :300).

According to Ashari, Ahwal argued “God is knowledgeable about Himself, He is not ignorant in this. However, He only knows about a thing the moment He wills and gives it a destiny. Prior to that it is impossible for Him to know about that, not because He is ignorant, but because prior to receiving that divine will and destiny, it is not a thing, and an ‘installation’ to being a thing is having divine destiny” (اشعري، 2005 :3). In another place, the quote is has a slight difference, “and a ‘component’ to being a thing is having the divine destiny” (493). He adds that in Ahwal’s opinion, receiving divine will (taqdir) “is equivalent to God’s will. If God wills something, then He becomes knowledgeable of it. If He does not will something, He does not become knowledgeable of it. According to Ahwal’s camp and many Rafidites, decreeing is a form of movement. If God performs that movement, He becomes knowledgeable of that thing. Otherwise, it cannot be said that He is knowledgeable of that [non]thing. They thought that God cannot be characterized as being knowledgeable of things that do not yet exist” (Ash’ari, 2005, 37, 220, 493). Other historians have reported similarly (Baghdadi, 1995, 71; Shahrestani, 1375 l, 1:166-167).

Note the lack of appropriate terminology in this era. This belief ascribed to Ahwal is of the most accurate. He realized that it is meaningless to be knowledgeable of something that does not yet exist. At the same time, he realized that God can never be considered ignorant of anything. The result, he believed in two positions of God’s knowledge: The first is about God’s essential knowledge. It is an attribute of knowledge that God possesses. God has knowledge of affairs. The second is about God’s active knowledge. God is aware of affairs that have occurred. [God knows about things in the past, not the future].

The difference between Zurara and Ahwal is important to understand. Zurara claimed that God, after creating a thing, creates knowledge for Himself about it. However, Ahwal believed that God, after creating a thing, becomes aware of it. For Ahwal, knowledge of the thing is continuously created for Him.

Hisham b. Salim Jawaliqi

Jawaliqi is famous for anthropomorphism. According to Ash’ari, “God possesses a human-like face without flesh or blood. He is a splendid white light. He possesses the five human senses and human body parts, such as arms, legs, eyes, nose, mouth. That with which He hears is different than that with which He sees, and it is the same for all the senses” (Ash’ari, 2005, 34, 239). Baghdadi’s quote is similar, but he adds, “God’s top half is hollow, and body half is solid (Kulayni, 1363, 1:101; Saduq, 114; Ash’ari, 2005, 209; Baghdadi, 1995, 69, Baghdadi, 1928, 74; Shahrestani, 1375, 1:165). This addition in Baghdadi’s book and in later works demonstrates belief in divine corporealism as well; Imamite texts corroborate (Kulayni, 1363, 1:102; Saduq, 113-114). Wildferd Madelung considers this addition an “absolute biased distortion,” and shows that Ash’ari attributes this to Dawud Jawarabi, a leading corporealist (Ash’ari, 2005, 135, 209; Madelung, 1387, 177, e. 1; Van Ess, 2008, 1:490). Another reason why this accusation is baseless is because all over the Imamite hadith literature it is mentioned that group of Hisham b. Hakam is corporealist in contrast to the group of Hisham b. Salim Jawaliqi which is anthropomorphic, and everywhere it is emphasized that both rival groups regularly clashed.

In Mutazilite sources, Jawaliqi is considered an anthropomorphist. Abu al-Husayn Khayat writes, “Hisham b. Salim and Shaytan al-Taq worshiped a [human-like] being like themselves” (Khayat, 1993, 58). Ibn Abi Hadid writes, “Hisham b. Salim considered God to have a human-like face, however, he was anti-corporealism. Of course, such a belief is contradictory” (1959, 3:225).

Abu Hayan Tawhidi narrates a story which indicates that the belief of Jawaliqi’s anthropomorphism was well-known (Tawhidi, 1992, 233-234).

As mentioned, all over the Imami hadith literature can the claim of Jawaliqi’s anthropomorphism be seen (Saduq, bab 6). This was based on ayahs and hadiths about the Prophet’s (p) ascension which state that he (p) saw God (Qumi, 1387 l, 1:19). Ali b. Ibrahim Qumi (d. early 4th CAH), of the greatest Imami hadith scholars, who came a century after Jawaliqi, continued to defend the idea of seeing God in the afterlife. Regarding surah Najam verses 12-14, he explains, “Are you arguing with what he saw? Truly he (p) saw God again, near the Sidrat al-Muntaha” (Qumi, 1387 l, 1:19). Ali b. Ibrahim continues this argument with a hadith showing that Hisham b. Hakam’s opponents, the Jawaliqites, cited a hadith stating that the Prophet (p) saw God in the form of a young man; they believed that God has a face. Hisham b. Hakam had arguments to deny seeing God (Kulayni, 1363, 1:99-100; compare this with the report attributed to Tabari about Hisham b. Hakam’s beliefs in: Ansari, 1390, 267).

This point becomes clearer when we know that Jawaliqi, according to Najashi, authored a book about the Prophet’s ascension (Najashi, 1424 l, 434, 1165 s). It is probable that this book is the same in the lofty report found in Tafsir Qumi (Qumi, 1387 l, 2:3-12) promoted by the continuators of Jawaliqism (Modarresi, 2003, 1:127). In it, when the Prophet (p) passes the Sidrat al-Muntaha, he (p) comes in the presence of God. He (p) sees a bright light emitting from beyond the barriers (hijabs), and he (p) hears that, if not for these barriers, the light of the throne would have passed everything (Qumi, 1387 l, 2:11).

Analyzing the Imamite narrations about seeing God, and thus God having a face, this belief became prevalent since Kufa [the earliest days of Imamite history, since Kufa was the first theological capital of Shi’ism]. In some hadiths, the companions ask the Imams about the Sunni and Imami opinion of seeing God (Saduq, 109; to learn more about the Sunni opinion of seeing God, see Ignác Goldziher, 1959, 124-125). The companions misunderstood the esoteric seeing God with the heart for an exoteric interpretation (Saduq, 108-122; Kulayni, 1363, 1:95-99). This situation made it so that the Imams could only share their beliefs with a few special companions, and those companions could not openly spread such truths (Saduq, 117). The avoidance of transmitting such narrations by great hadith scholars continued, such that Saduq in his book al-Tawhid states, “There are many a such hadith, however, lest an ignoramus misunderstand them anthropomorphically, they are not transmitted” (Saduq, 119-120). From Saduq we understand that the Imamites understood “seeing” God in a literal fashion, not figuratively like the Mutazilites (Qumi, 1387 l, 1:20; Ash’ari, 2005, 157). Such an esoteric understanding can be understood from the Quran, Sura Najam 11, 13, and Takwir 23.

Imam Hadi (a) states that belief in seeing God is anthropomorphism (Saduq, 117; Kulayni, 1363, 1:97). The belief of seeing God, according to Hisham b. Salim, Mumin al-Taq, ‘Ali b. Ismail Maythami, and many other Imamites, was based on the aforementioned hadith that on the Prophet’s ascension, he (p) saw God in the form of a handsome, young, thirty-year-old (Saduq, 97, 113).

It must be noted that the phrase “God created Adam in His image” is also found in Judeo-Christian sources and Sunni sources (Bukhari, 1401 l, 7:125; Muslim, 8:32). Imamites (Saduq, 1984, 1:110) and Sunnis (Ibn Qutayba, 204-205; Ibn Hajar, 5:133; Baghdadi, 1928, 76) later on tried to explain such narrations. Imam Reda (a) states: “The beginning of the hadith was omitted. The original story is that when the Prophet (p) was on route, he saw two men cursing one another. One jeered, ‘May your face and the face that looks like yours be forever hideous.’ The Prophet (p) told him, ‘Do not speak to your brother so, as God created Adam in His image'” (Saduq, 1984, 1:110).

The idea of God possessing a light was extremely common within the Kufan Ghulats (Ash’ari, 2008, 7). This matter is the reason that some researchers consider this doctrine of Jawaliqi to be independent of the teachings of the Ahlulbayt (a) and instead as a result of the free intellectual space of Kufa (van Ess, 2008: 1:488) or from Sunni hadithic notions (al-Ja’fari, 1413 l, 201-202). It is difficult to imagine such occurring outside of Kufa’s open intellectual arena.

In Ash’ari’s Muqalat al-Islamyin, anthroporphism is not attributed to Ahwal. Though in the older al-Antasar by Abu al-Husayn Khayat Mu’tazili, he attributes anthropomorphism to both Jawaliqi and Ahwal (Khayat, 1993, 53). Shahrestani and later sources attribute the same (Shahrestani, 1375 l, 1:167; Ayji, 1997, 3:673, 683; Safadi, 2000, 4:78). Ibn Abi Hadid repeats this in Sharh Nahj al-Balagha (3:224).

Shahrestani asserts that Ahwal justified his belief on the basis of the narration “Allah created Adam in His image.” If correct, presumably Jawaliqi believed this on the same basis. Both were far from corporealism. In other words, Ahwal accepted God’s face immaterially. However, since the term “immaterial” did not exist at the time, he used “light” instead. “God’s face is human-like, divine, and non-corporeal” (Shahrestani, 1375 l, 1:167). In Sura Nur verse 35, “light” is used in such a manner.

Shahrestani adds that Muqatil b. Sulayman and Dawud Jawaribi also held these beliefs (Ibid; Ash’ari, 2005, 152-153). Other non-Imamite hadith scholars attributed with such beliefs include Nuh b. Abi Maryam, stepson to Muqatil b. Sulayman and a muhadith and student of Abu Hanifa (Ibn Hajr, 1984, 10:279-285), Nu’im b. Hammad A’war Khaza‘i, and Mu’adh b. Mu’adh ‘Anbari. Their reports are founds in the Sunni sahihs (Ibn Abi Hadid, 1959, 3:224).

Hisham b. Hakam

Last but not least is Hisham b. Hakam, the most important mutakalim of the era.

*For more information about Hisham’s quote “Allah is a body unlike other bodies,” see the article Hisham b. Hakam’s Subsect in the Earliest Days of Imamism. Most of information about him in this article can be found in that, so I won’t translate that part.

Some reports indicate that Hisham believed in the non-eternalness of God’s attributes (Ash’ari, 2005, 37; Baghdadi, 1995, 73). Though he emphasized that God’s attributes are neither created nor uncreated (Ash’ari, 2005, 37). Later Shia sources agree (Qatab Rawandi, 1409 l, 2:688). Ash’ari adds that regarding God’s ability, life, hearing, and seeing, Hisham used to say, “These are God’s attributes. They are neither a part of His essence, nor are they nonessential” though there is ikhtilaf whether he considered these attributes as created or eternal (Ash’ari, 2005, 38). According to Shahrestani, Hisham claimed that God was always knowledgeable of Himself, however, His knowledge is bounded to created things. This new knowledge is neither haadith (temporal), nor non-divine, nor a part of God, since knowledge is an attribute and an attribute is indescribable (Shahrestani, 1375 l, 1:164).

Assuming the aforementioned is accurate, this means that Hisham believed that God’s attribute of knowledgeable is eternal, however, God’s knowledge increases as things are created. This is similar to what Ash’ari reported from the followers of Muhammad b. Khalil Sakkak, student of Hisham. They used to say, “Knowledgeable is an essential attribute of God, and God is aware of Himself. However, until a thing is created, God cannot be considered knowledgeable of it. Thus, once a thing is created, God becomes aware of it. However, before its creation, it cannot be said that God is knowledgeable of it, since being knowledgeable of non-things is invalid” (Ash’ari, 2005, 490).

Hisham’s beliefs in this regard is similar to Zurara and Ahwal, except that he did not state that God’s attributes are created (for more information regarding Hisham’s beliefs about God’s other attributes, see ‘Ali-Reda As’adi, 1388, 94-115).

Reports from the Imams (a)

*The teachings of the Imams about God’s attributes are those that are taught by the modern scholars. I may translate this section later.


Looking at the views of the companions, it becomes clear that the companions outwardly theorized independently of the Imam’s teachings. However, they considered the doctrines of the Imams and used what they learned from them (a). Many of these opinions formed due to cultural and personal reasons. A lack of appropriate vocabulary in the Arabic language made the situation more confusing. A look at the narrations of the Imams shows that they (a) denied such ideologies.


  1. Senior expert of Shiite Studies at the University of Religions and Denominations
  2. Board member at al-Mustafa International University

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