Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Surah 9:128 and Bassam's "Giant" Problem

By Anthony Rogers

The following is a reply to Bassam Zawadi’s “Rebuttal To Anthony Roger's Article ‘To the Believers Is He Most Kind and Merciful: A Case Study in Shirk’”.


Aside from the gratuitous dig at brother Sam Shamoun, from whom Bassam has been on the receiving end of more than his fair share of refutations, many of which he has yet to recover from, as well as committing several textbook cases of informal logical fallacies such as poisoning the well and guilt by association, all of which he deftly managed to cram into one sentence at the beginning of his article, the rest of Bassam’s reply to me, with some incidental lapses here and there, was a fairly straightforward, non-emotive attempt to rescue the Qur’an from the internal critique I offered here. However, forasmuch as he tried to declare the Qur’an innocent of the charge of violating its own criteria of “strict monotheism”, the following aims to show that Bassam was not successful and that he actually compounds the problem I raised. In other words, the dilemma that I initially addressed is actually worse than I originally thought, and I have no less than Bassam to thank for making it that much clearer to me. And so while I would otherwise think it advisable from a Muslim perspective for Bassam to make his services as an apologist for Islam unnecessary in a hurry, as a Christian I can only encourage Bassam to persevere and continue to help us prosecute our case against Islam as a false religion.

To give a brief recap of the article and argument to which Bassam is trying to respond, I pointed out that from both a systematic and historical perspective Surah 9:128 stands out like a sore thumb. From a systematic standpoint Surah 9:128 is clearly out of step with the rest of the Qur’an, which uniformly refers to Allah as raoofun raheemun, “most kind and merciful”. This is because all the other times these attributes are mentioned they are identified as divine attributes, i.e. attributes of Allah (2:143, 9:117, 16:7, 47, 22:65, 24:20, 57:9, 59:10), but Surah 9:128 messes up the otherwise tidy system by ascribing these attributes to Muhammad. Viewing the matter in terms of the progress of the “revelation” of the Qur’an, i.e. in terms of the order in which the chapters and verses of the Qur’an were allegedly given, the concluding verses of Surah 9 end up being the capstone, concluding the history of Quranic revelation, which up to that point had only spoken of Allah in this way, with the declaration that Allah doesn’t have a monopoly on these attributes. Here are the relevant passages in the supposed order in which they were “revealed”:

“… for our Lord is indeed Most Kind, Most Merciful (laraoofun raheemun).” 16:7

“… For thy Lord is indeed full of kindness and mercy (laraoofun raheemun).” 16:47

“… For Allah is to all people most surely full of kindness, Most Merciful (laraoofun raheemun).” 2:143

“… Our Lord! Thou art indeed Full of Kindness, Most Merciful (raoofun raheemun).” 59:10

“… And verily, Allah is to you Most Kind and Merciful (raoofun raheemun).” 57:9

“Were it not for the grace and mercy of Allah on you, and that Allah is full of kindness and mercy (raoofun raheemun), (ye would be ruined indeed).” 24:20

“… For Allah is Most Kind and Most Merciful (laraoofun raheemun) to man.” 22:65

“… but He [Allah] turned to them (also): for He is unto them Most Kind, Most Merciful (raoofun raheemun).” 9:117

And, finally, the climactic verse:

Now hath come unto you an Apostle from amongst yourselves: it grieves him that ye should perish: ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers is he most kind and merciful. 9:128

As Muslim scholar Neal Robinson admits regarding this:

… the objectification of Muhammad reaches its peak in Surah 9, which is indubitably one of the latest Madinan surahs. It repeatedly refers to ‘Allah and His Messenger’ (9.1, 3, 7, 16, 24, 29 etc.) and the penultimate ayah (9.128) describes the Messenger as ‘all-pitying all-merciful’, qualities which are elsewhere ascribed to Allah. (Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text, 2nd edition, [Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003], p. 244)

The above certainly suggests that there is a problem here, at least on the surface. Surah 9:128 simply does not neatly harmonize with the rest of the Qur’an, and it appears to altogether upset what we would, tracing out the progress of Quranic “revelation”, expect to find at the crescendo of a document that claims to teach pure monotheism and to be free of the arch-sin and theological error of attributing partners to Allah or saying that someone is a co-sharer in his divine attributes.

Accordingly, Muslims have alternately either been forthright about the fact that these are divine attributes that are ascribed to Muhammad, and have embraced them as such, as the following quote illustrates:

One of the men of knowledge, Al-Husayn ibn al-Fadl, said, “He honored him with two of His own names: the compassionate and the merciful (rauf, rahim).” The same point is made in another ayat: “Allah was kind to the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves.” (3:164) …

Jafar ibn Muhammad [as-Sadiq] said, “Allah knew that His creatures would not be capable of pure obedience to Him, so He told them this in order that they would realize that they would never be able to achieve absolute purity in serving Him. Between Himself and them He placed one of their own species, CLOTHING HIM IN HIS OWN ATTRIBUTES OF COMPASSION AND MERCY. He brought him out as a truthful ambassador to creation and made it such that when someone obeys him, they are obeying Allah, and when someone agrees with him, they are agreeing with Allah.” Allah says: “Whoever obeys the Messenger has obeyed Allah.” (4:80)

As-Samarqandi explains that the words a mercy to all the worlds mean for both the jinn and mankind. It is also said that it means for all creation. He is a mercy to the believers by guiding them, a mercy to the hypocrites by granting them security from being killed, and a mercy to the unbelievers by deferring their punishment. Ibn Abbas said, “He is a mercy to the believers and also to the unbelievers since they are safe from what befell the other communities who cried lies.” It is related that the Prophet said to Jibril, “Has any of this mercy touched you?” He replied, “Yes, I used to have fear about what would happen to me, but now I feel safe because of the way Allah praised me when He said, ‘Possessing power, secure with the Lord of the Throne, obeyed, then trusty.’” (81:21) (Qadi Iyad Ibn Musa al-Yahsubi, Kitab Ash-shifa bi ta'rif huquq al-Mustafa (Healing by the recognition of the Rights of the Chosen One), translated by Aisha Abdarrahman Bewley [Madinah Press, Inverness, Scotland, U.K., third reprint 1991, paperback], Part One. Allah’s great estimation of the worth of his Prophet expressed in both word and action, Chapter One. Allah’s praise of him and his great esteem for him, Section 1. Concerning praise of him and his numerous excellent qualities, pp. 4-6; capital, bold and underline emphasis ours)

or they have been downright embarrassed and (appropriately) repulsed by such a claim, so much so that some have even been willing to excise these verses from the Qur’an, as is the case with  Rashad Khalifa’s Quran: the Final Testament and Edip Yuksel’s Quran – A Reformist Translation. According to Khalifa, these verses were wrongly added to the Qur’an, and the Muslims who are responsible for adding them (and those who accept them) are guilty of making an idol out of Muhammad and of doing the same thing with Muhammad that Christians are accused of doing with the Lord Jesus.

As I argued in the article, upon analysis Muslims are right that these verses ascribe divine attributes to Muhammad, and Khalifa, whether right or wrong in his decision to simply cut the offending verses out as inauthentic and a corruption of the original Qur’an – though the Islamic sources do cast a great deal of doubt on their authenticity as can be seen here – was certainly right to see these verses as a case of shirk.

Bassam’s Reply

Interestingly enough, Bassam himself unwittingly acknowledges the prima facie problem that stares us in the face here. According to Bassam, “God as we all know would obviously have these qualities and attributes,” and so no argument is even needed or given by Bassam to justify the ascription of these attributes to Allah. By inference, what isn’t obvious and what does, therefore, call for some kind of explanation, as Bassam’s labors testify, is the fact that Muhammad would be said to have these qualities and attributes. Whereas we expect to hear that Allah is the possessor of these (and other) divine attributes, no one expects to hear that Muhammad, a mere man, can (and does) lay claim to these qualities as well. [Of course Muslims will want to say that it is Allah rather than Muhammad who is ascribing these attributes to his messenger, but those who are not committed to the Qur’an in advance will, to say the least, find it suspicious that the one who claimed to speak for Allah attributed to Allah such self-flattering statements about the one who claimed to speak for Allah.]

I have heard a number of responses to this problem from rank and file Muslims, such as, Surah 9:128 is not talking about Muhammad but about Allah, and although Bassam comes up with some howlers of his own in his response, as we will see momentarily, to his credit he does not attempt to argue against the fact that “the Messenger” or “Apostle”, i.e. Muhammad, is the nearest antecedent and the person who is clearly intended by the words “most kind and merciful.” The simple fact is that, as much as some Muslims wish it was otherwise, no translation, no hadith, no tafsir, and no reputable Muslim scholar that I am aware of says anything to justify or in any way support such a claim. In fact, all the sources that speak to this issue – again, all the ones that I am aware of, a number of which I cite in my article – clearly say otherwise. Indeed, Khalifa himself did not see this as a viable option, leaving him with the only other alternative, that of amputating the infected verses to keep the disease from spreading to the rest of the Qur’an.

While I would expect arguments like the above from the average Muslim who feels the sting of this problem but doesn’t have the dexterity to know how else to extricate himself from it without looking like an exegetical cat on hot textual bricks, it is surprising to see that at least the above answer, as mistaken as it is, does not fall prey to the many different kinds of problems that Bassam so easily falls into in his attempted reply. This is surprising because one can hardly read one of Bassam’s articles without finding out just how much Bassam knows (and wants everyone else to know that he knows) Arabic, and how his knowledge of Arabic so often functions as a veritable get out of jail free card whenever someone demonstrates that Muhammad’s teachings are false and inconsistent.

In fact, one does not need to look through past articles of Bassam’s to find any examples of this, for although his was a short response to my article, glossing over much of what I wrote, Bassam nevertheless managed to find the occasion – did you think he wouldn’t? – to point out that he knows Arabic and that my error possibly stems from my ignorance of the Arabic language. Bassam said:

I challenge Anthony to prove that the Qur'an called the Prophet (peace be upon him) Most Kind and Merciful. It simply cannot be proven grammatically nor by appealing to the context of the verse.

It's possible that Anthony due to his ignorance of the Arabic language actually thought that the words raoofun raheemun literally translates into Most kind and merciful. Anthony fails to realize that the word "Most" is not there and is only added by translators as an interpretation of the words because we know that when they are used in reference to God then that means that they are meant to be understood as having infinite value. However, if one looks at the English translations of Surah 9:128 one would observe that all the translations (including non-Muslim translations) with the exception of Yusuf Ali didn't use the word "Most". This is because the context shows that this is in reference to Muhammad (peace be upon him) and hence to be understood as mercy and kindness in a limited form. Yusuf Ali probably used the word "most" because he thought of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as being the most merciful and kind of all human beings towards the believers. (Emphasis original)

According to Bassam, then, because I am ignorant of Arabic, the second greatest sin next to shirk, I thought “that the words raoofun raheemun literally translates into Most kind and merciful,” a fact that he gives Yusuf Ali a pass on because, if I may have the pleasure of playing Bassam’s trump card against him, Bassam can’t credibly vaunt his knowledge of Arabic over against Yusuf Ali. Moreover, setting Bassam’s special pleading aside, he also believes it is an idiosyncrasy of Ali’s translation to use the word “most”, which shows just how much research he put into his response, as the following examples of different translations of Q. 9:128 show:

“most compassionate and merciful” (Shabir Ahmed)

“most compassionate, most merciful” (Mohammed Aqib Qadri)

“most kind and merciful” (Ali Quli Qara'i)

“most compassionate, most merciful” (Faridul Haque)

[These (and other) translations can be viewed here.]

In any event, my argument did not even hinge or capitalize on the fact that Yusuf Ali used the word “most” in his translation, but on the observation that the same underlying Arabic words are used for Muhammad in Surah 9:128 that are everywhere else used to speak of Allah’s divine names and attributes, which makes Bassam’s observation about the fact that other translations do not use the word “most” not only wrong but altogether irrelevant, an obvious case of bait and switch.

Aside from those translations that use the word “most”, a comparison of various translations will show that a number of translators render these words the same way for Muhammad that they do for Allah (with the exception that they utilize the convention of capitalizing these words in reference to Allah), reflecting the fact that the same words are being used to speak of Allah that are being used to speak of Muhammad. For example,

Pickthall translates the phrase as “full of pity, merciful”  in 9:128 for Muhammad, just like he translates it “Full of pity, Merciful” where it is used of Allah, as in 2:143, 9:117, 16:7, 16:47, 22:65, 57:9, 59:10.

Shakir translates the phrase as “compassionate, merciful” in 9:128, the same way he translates it when used of Allah, “Compassionate, Merciful” (9:117, 16:7, 47, 22:65, 24:20).

Sher Ali translates the phrase as “compassionate and merciful” for Muhammad in 9:128, and for Allah translates it as “Compassionate and Merciful” (2:143, 22:65, 24:20, 57:9) and “Compassionate, Merciful” (9:117, 16:7, 47, 59:10).

And so, instead of challenging me to provide one example where Muhammad is called “most kind and merciful”, Bassam should have come up with a single example in the Qur’an where anyone besides Allah and his associate Muhammad are called raoofun raheemun, whether that translates as “Most kind and Merciful” (e.g. Yusuf Ali, Shabir Ahmed, Mohammed Aqib Qadri, Ali Quli Qara'i), “Full of pity, Merciful” (e.g. Pickthall), “all-pitying all-merciful” (e.g. Robinson), “Compassionate and Merciful” (e.g. Sher Ali, Shakir) or “Really, really Nice guy.” Bassam knew he couldn’t provide any example from the Qur’an and so he created a straw-man to knock down instead.  

Ironically enough, and here is one of the many ways Bassam does harm to his own cause, even though it wasn’t my intention to make the argument turn on an (alleged) peculiarity of Yusuf Ali’s translation, which Bassam ended up being wrong on anyway, the definition of the word raoofun provided by Bassam in his reply supports the very point he (falsely) attributed to me but which I am now decidedly happy to take up and employ. According to Zawadi:

First, let's define the two terms raoofun and raheemun. Raheemun comes from the word al-rahmah (الرحمة), which could be safely translated as mercy. Ra'oofun comes from the word al-ra'fah (الرأفة). Abu Baqa al-Kufawi in his Al-Kulliyat, page 378 defines al-ra'fah:

Al-ra'fah is an exaggeration of a specific mercy. It is the lifting of the abhorred and removal of harm.

Ibn Al-Atheer defines it,

Al-ra'fah is softer than mercy and doesn't occur in a state of hatred, while mercy could occur in a state of hatred for self interest.

So basically we see that Ra'oofun is a more soft and exaggerated form of mercy.

Since Raoofun is a more soft and exaggerated form of mercy, and that according to the very sources Bassam cites, is not “most kind” one legitimate way to express the meaning of this word as other Arabic speakers testify? Is it any wonder that this word, raoofun, along with raheemun, the latter of which is also sometimes translated as “most merciful” by Muslim translators, is so often predicated of Allah in the Qur’an? Just like Haman, Bassam appears to have hung himself from gallows of his own making. In light of this, perhaps this is an appropriate place to point out that as long as Bassam is doing such a terrific job of helping me with Arabic, I won’t need to seek out other tutors to disabuse me of my ignorance. No doubt other Muslims who know Arabic would not be as quick as Bassam appears to be to supply me with all the Arabic I need to know in order to confirm and intensify the problems seen in the Qur’an.

For all the stock that Bassam appears to put in the above linguistic argument, his central contention is that Allah’s attributes can be ascribed to creatures in a limited way and that is all that is going on in Surah 9:128. In fact, it is likely because this was the angle that Bassam was going to try and come at this issue with that he got distracted by my utilization of Yusuf Ali who chose to use the word “most” in his translation. After all, if Muhammad is “most kind”, then it wouldn’t make any sense to argue that 9:128 doesn’t commit shirk because human beings can have Allah’s attributes in a limited sense.

Whatever the reason for Bassam’s mistaken understanding of the argument, the solution to the apparent problem of 9:128 as he sees it is that human beings have been created in the image of God; it is on this basis that Allah’s qualities can be attributed to creatures in a limited sense. So Bassam:

God as we all know would obviously have these qualities and attributes. However, Muslims believe that we have been created in the image of Allah and could attribute God's attributes to human beings in a limited manner.

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said:

The word soorah (image) in this hadeeth is like all the other names and attributes narrated (in the texts) where the words used may also be applied to created beings, in a limited manner. When these words are applied to Allaah, they carry a unique meaning, such as al-'Aleem (All Knowing), al-Qadeer (All-Powerful), al-Raheem (Most Merciful), al-Samee' (All Hearing), al-Baseer (All-Seeing), and such as His creating with His hands, rising above the Throne, etc. (Ibn Taymiyah , Naqd al-Ta'sees, Volume 3, page 396, cited here)

So here we see that we could have the attributes of God, but in a limited sense.

One of the first problems with this response is that it simply isn’t the case that the divine qualities raoofun raheemun are attributed to creatures in general in the Qur’an either in a limited or unlimited sense. Rather, these attributes are predicated of “Allah and Muhammad” and no one else. In fact, not only does the Qur’an not attribute these qualities of Allah to creatures in general, reserving them as it does for “Allah and Muhammad”, but it doesn’t even say, and it ostensibly and arguably contradicts, the very idea that man was made in Allah’s image or likeness. According to the Qur’an, Allah is absolutely unique and not like anything else:

(He is) the Creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves, and pairs among cattle: by this means does He multiply you: there is nothing whatever like unto Him, and He is the One that hears and sees (all things). YA, Q. 42:11

And there is none like unto Him. YA, Q. 112:4

Commenting on the latter verse, Yusuf Ali, whom we have already seen is no friend of Bassam’s, said: “This sums up the whole argument and warns us specially against Anthropomorphism, the tendency to conceive of Allah after our own pattern, an insidious tendency that creeps in at all times and among all peoples.” Apparently Bassam is no exception to this “insidious tendency”.

A second problem that Bassam’s argument has stems from the following boast for Muhammad found in the hadith:

Jubair b. Mut'im reported on the authority of his father that he heard Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: I have many names: I am Muhammad, I am Ahmad, I am al-Mahi through whom Allah obliterates unbelief, and I am Hashir (the gatherer) at whose feet people will be gathered, and I am 'Aqib (after whom there would be none), and Allah has named him as compassionate and merciful. (Sahih Muslim, Book 30, #5811) (emphasis mine)

Would the point of this hadith, with its obvious allusion to Surah 9:128, make any sense if this boast can be made of others besides Muhammad? Isn’t it a deprecation of Muhammad, contrary to the very spirit of this hadith (and the verse on which it is based), which is to speak highly of him, to say that what is singularly spoken by him and of him may just as well be spoken of others or be said by others about themselves? In fact, if Bassam really believes his own argument here, he should have no trouble calling himself or others after the two names with which Allah named Muhammad based on Surah 9:128. Will he dare? I seriously doubt it. But one thing I am sure of, he won’t do so without bringing himself into disrepute with his Muslim brethren who recognize that these names do not indiscriminately apply to others according to the Islamic sources but rather are reserved for Allah and Muhammad.

A final problem that will be mentioned concerns the traditions that say Adam was made in Allah’s image. Many Muslims would be surprised to hear that there even are such traditions, and a number of Muslims who know about them and yet don’t accept Bassam’s commitment to Salafism and its anthropomorphic understanding of Allah’s attributes would reject such hadith on the grounds that they contradict the teaching of the Qur’an and/or because they are weak or unsound (e.g., see here and here). Still others would say that they are falsely interpreted as referring to Adam being created in the image of Allah (see here and here). In the case of these Muslims, appealing to man being made in Allah’s image would not be an option for defending against the shirk of Surah 9:128.

Although it might appear from this that Bassam enjoys the privilege of having an answer that isn’t available to Muslims who believe such hadith contradict the Qur’an and/or are unsound, the teaching of the relevant hadith on man being made in Allah’s image lead to even bigger problems than the one that man being created in the image of Allah was brought in to solve, i.e. the problem of likening Muhammad to Allah in his attributes.

To further explain this, although Bassam does not actually quote the relevant hadith, he does quote Ibn Taymiyya’s commentary on the hadith to the effect that because human beings were made in Allah’s image they may be said to have Allah’s attributes in a limited way. The hadith in question is quite possibly the following, which is one of only three that can be found in the six standard hadith collections.

This hadith has been transmitted on the authority of Abu Huraira and in the hadith transmitted on the authority of Ibn Hatim. Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) is reported to have said: When any one of you fights with his brother, he should avoid his face for Allah created Adam in His own image.  (Muslim, 032:6325)

According to Bassam and other Salafi’s, this hadith not only proves that Adam was created in the image of Allah; it also proves that Allah actually has a face and image. In other words, Bassam does not merely believe, as do orthodox Jews and Christians, that man reflects or is like God in an ethical sense or with respect to the mental and volitional faculties of the soul, etc., which already conflicts with the Qur’an, but, contrary to Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and even mainstream Islam, that man is like God in that he has an actual or literal form and face as well.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, Bassam’s own interpretive principles force him to believe that, in addition to a form and face, Allah has eyes, hands, shins and feet, and that Adam was a veritable physical duplicate of Allah. This can be seen in another hadith from Muslim about Adam being made in the image of Allah:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, created Adam in His own image with His length of sixty cubits, and as He created him He told him to greet that group, and that was a party of angels sitting there, and listen to the response that they give him, for it would form his greeting and that of his offspring. He then went away and said: Peace be upon you! They (the angels) said: May there be peace upon you and the Mercy of Allah, and they made an addition of "Mercy of Allah". So he who would get into Paradise would get in the form of Adam, his length being sixty cubits, then the people who followed him continued to diminish in size up to this day.  (Muslim, 040:6809; see also Bukhari, 08.074.0246)

Other narrations also speak of Adam’s physical likeness (without also mentioning his creation in Allah’s image):

Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Allah created Adam, making him 60 cubits tall. When He created him, He said to him, "Go and greet that group of angels, and listen to their reply, for it will be your greeting (salutation) and the greeting (salutations of your offspring." So, Adam said (to the angels), As-Salamu Alaikum (i.e. Peace be upon you). The angels said, "As-salamu Alaika wa Rahmatu-l-lahi" (i.e. Peace and Allah's Mercy be upon you). Thus the angels added to Adam's salutation the expression, 'Wa Rahmatu-l-lahi,' Any person who will enter Paradise will resemble Adam (in appearance and figure). People have been decreasing in stature since Adam's creation. (Sahih al-Bukhari, 04.055.0543)

Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "The first group of people who will enter Paradise, will be glittering like the full moon and those who will follow them, will glitter like the most brilliant star in the sky. They will not urinate, relieve nature, spit, or have any nasal secretions. Their combs will be of gold, and their sweat will smell like musk. The aloes-wood will be used in their centers. Their wives will be houris. All of them will look alike and will resemble their father Adam (in stature), sixty cubits tall." (Sahih al-Bukhari, 04.055.0544)

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: The first group of my Ummah to get into Paradise would be like a full moon in the night. Then those who would be next to them; they would be like the most significantly glittering stars in regard to brightness, then after them (others) in ranks. They would neither void excrement, nor pass water, nor suffer from catarrh, nor would they spit. And their combs would be made of gold, and the fuel of their braziers would be aloes and their sweat would be musk and their form would be the form of one single person according to the length of their father sixty cubits tall. This hadith has been transmitted on the authority of Ibn Abi Shaiba with a slight variation of wording. (Sahih Muslim, 040.6796, cf. No. 6795)

If the teaching of these hadith about Adam being made in Allah’s literal physical image or likeness are sound, and Bassam’s quote from Ibn Taymiyya shows that he believes they are, then this goes a long way in resolving why the angels were commanded to prostrate before Adam, for in this case Adam was Allah’s clone or icon. Similarly, it would also go a long way in explaining why the throne of Allah is thought to groan under Allah’s weight when he sits upon it, the sort of thing we would expect of a being who is 60 cubits tall.

In light of the fact that man is said to have diminished in stature since the time of Adam, so that man basically becomes a smaller-scale physical model or Minnie-Me of Allah (and Adam), it would also explain what it would necessarily mean for a Muslim like Bassam, assuming he is consistent with his own sources, when he says that man has Allah’s attributes in a limited sense. In other words, just like Allah reaches to a certain length, has a face, etc., so Adam had a length in proportion to Allah’s own length, and all men after Adam have a length and face but on a diminished or smaller scale. In other words, Bassam’s argument for Muhammad being given Allah’s attributes, if consistent, amounts to saying that there is Allah, who has these attributes to a greater degree, and there is man, who has these attributes to a lesser degree, which is just to say that Allah and man on this scheme are on a continuum. Bassam’s god, as the philosophers would say, is simply Man writ large. This is hardly the sort of being about whom it can be said, “there is nothing like unto him,” and saying there is something like unto him is hardly a defense against the charge of shirk that follows from Muhammad being likened to Allah in his attributes in Surah 9:128.

This shows that Islam is either its own worst enemy, or apologists like Bassam do Islam no favors when trying to be apologists for their religion. When all is said and done, when everything is taken into account, Bassam’s grand defense against the idea that Q. 9:128 likens Muhammad to Allah in his attributes comes down to this: the Qur’an does not liken Muhammad to Allah in his attributes, because Adam was made in Allah’s image or likeness, which means according to Allah’s length of sixty cubits, not to mention other physical characteristics such as a face, hands, eyes, feet, etc., and all men, including Muhammad, are diminished, smaller-scale model’s of Adam, and therefore they can be said to have Allah’s attributes and be like him in a limited sense. In fact, since believers will be super-sized upon their entrance into paradise so that they, too, will be like Adam – “All of them will look alike and will resemble their father Adam (in stature), sixty cubits tall” – who corresponds to Allah in his length and stature, then many people will be like Allah to a greater extent than they already are. Needless to say, all of this just as surely involves shirk as the problem that man being made after or in the divine image was marshaled in to solve, namely, the problem of Muhammad being assimilated or likened to Allah in his attributes. No wonder mainstream Muslims reject such crude anthropomorphism, as illustrated by the following words of Ibn al-Jawzi, which were spoken about those who held views similar to those held by Ibn Taymiyya (and Bassam):

I have seen them…descend to the level of popular belief, construing the divine attributes according to the requirements of what the human senses can perceive. They have heard that “Allah created Adam according to his likeness and form (ala surahtihi)’” so they affirm that Allah has a form and a face in addition to His essence, as well as two eyes, a mouth, an uvula, molar teeth, a physiognomy, two hands, fingers, a palm, a little finger, thumb, a chest, thighs, two legs, two feet. They say: “We have not heard about the head itself.” They also say: “He can touch and be touched, and His servant can approach His Essence.” One of them says: “And he breathes.” Then they placate the common people by adding: “But not as we think.”

They have applied the apparent meaning with regard to divine Names and Attributes. Thus, they give the divine Attributes a wholly innovative and contrived name for which they have no evidence either in transmitted texts of Quran and sunna or in rational proofs based on reason. They have paid attention neither to texts that steer one away from the apparent sense towards the meanings required for Allah, nor to the necessary cancellation of the external meaning when it attributes to Allah the distinguishing marks of creatures. They are not content to say, “attribute of act” (sifatu fil) until they end up saying, “attribute of essence” (sifatu dhat). Then, once they affirmed them to be attributes of essence,” they claimed, we do not construe the text according to the directives of the Arabic language. Thus they refuse to construe “hand” (yad) as meaning “favor” and “power”; or “coming forth” (maji) and “giving” (ityan) as “mercy” and “favor”; or “shin” (saq) as “tribulation.” Instead they said, We construe them in their customary external senses, and the external sense is what is describable in terms of well-known human characteristics, and a text is only construed literally if the literal sense is feasible. Then how they become vexed when imputed with likening Allah to His creation (tashbih) and they express scorn at such an attribution to themselves, clamoring., ‘We are Sunnis!’ Yet their discourse is clearly couched in terms of tashbih. And some of the masses follow them.

….If you were to say, ‘We read hadiths but we are silent,’ no one would have any objection against you. However, your interpretation of the apparent sense is morally repugnant and disgusting…..” (Ibn al-Jawzi, Daf shubah al-tashbih bi akuff al tanzih, ed. Hasan al Saqaf [Amman: dar al-imam Nawawi, 1412/1991], as cited in the 2nd edition of Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani’s Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine, Beliefs (Aqida) [Mountain View, Ca: As-Sunna Foundation of America, 1998], Vol. 1, p. 68-70)


To conclude, the Qur’an only attributes these qualities to Muhammad, and the Islamic narrations and other Muslim sources teach that these attributes uniquely apply to Muhammad (with the exception of Allah “of course”). The hadith about Adam being made in Allah’s image only introduce confusion, absurdity and additional cases of shirk into this picture and certainly do nothing to help Muslims solve anything. Even as you can’t stop a leak by putting one leaky bucket in larger leaky bucket, so likewise you can’t solve one problem with an even bigger problem, even (and especially) if that problem is sixty cubits tall. Suffice it to say, Bassam has a giant problem.

If the Lord Jesus is willing, further problems with Bassam’s reply will be exposed in a second part.