Can we see Allah? – An Ashari Perspective.

ABU’L HASAN AL ASHARI’S EXPLAINATION OF THE SIGHT OF ALLAH ON THE DAY OF JUDGEMENT.

⇸Imam Abu Musa Al Ashari wrote a master piece named “Al Ibanah An Usul Ad Diyanah”. In that book is the Chapter containing the Kalam to Prove the visibility of God to sight (absār) in the next world.” He Writes,

God has said, “ On that day shall faces beam with light,” -meaning “shall shine,”—“ looking towards their Lord,”—“meaning “seeing.” The vision can be only one of the following kinds: (a) God means the regard of scrutiny as when He says, “ Can they not look up to the clouds, how they are created? or (b) He means the regard of expectation, as when He says, “They await but a single blast”,[1] or (c) He means the regard of sight. Now God cannot mean the regard of reflection and scrutiny, because the next world is not the abode of scrutiny, and He cannot mean the regard of expectation, because, since “vision” and “face” are mentioned together, “vision” means the vision of the eyes, which are in the face (just as, when the lexicographers mention the vision of the heart and say, “Look upon this thing with thine heart,” its meaning is not the vision of the eyes) and if this is true, since “vision” and “face” are mentioned together, “vision” does not mean the regard of expectation that is in the heart. Besides, surely the regard of expectation does not exist in Paradise, because expectation is accompanied by misgivings and uncertainty, while those who dwell in Paradise possess there such peaceful, pleasant, enduring life as neither eye has seen nor ear heard, and since this is so, they cannot be in a state of expectation, for whenever they think of anything, it is theirs by the very thought. Since that is true, God cannot have in mind the regard of fellow-feeling (ta‘attuf)[2] because creatures cannot entertain this sentiment towards their Creator. Since three kinds of vision fail to answer the purpose, the fourth kind is certain, namely, that the meaning of His words “looking towards their Lord” is that they are seeing, they see their Lord. 

Among the things that invalidate the belief of the Mu’tazilah that God meant, by His words “looking towards their Lord,” the regard of expectation, is the fact that He said “looking towards their Lord,” whereas the regard of expectation as they understand it cannot be connected with His use of the word “towards,” because, among the Arabs, it is not correct to say “towards ” with reference to the regard of expectation. Do you not agree that God, when He said, “They await but a single blast,” did not say “towards,” since His meaning was expectation! He has quoted from Bilqis: “and await what my envoys bring back” and thus, since she meant expectation, she did not say “towards.” 

Imru’ ‘l-Qays says: 

If you two will await me but an hour,  Beside Umm Jundub you’ll afford me time)” [3]

Therefore, since he meant expectation, he did not say “towards.” Hence, since God said “looking towards their Lord,” we know that He did not mean expectation, but meant only the regard of sight; and since God connected the vision with the mention of the face, He meant the vision of the eyes that are in the face, just as He has said, “We have seen thee turning thy face towards every part of heaven; but We will have thee turn….” [4] and thus He mentioned the face, but meant only the turning of his eyes towards heaven in expectation of the descent of the angel upon him, when God shifted him from the Qiblah of Jerusalem to the Ka‘abah. 

If anybody says, “Why do you not say that, by His words ‘looking towards their Lord,’ He meant only ‘looking towards the reward of their Lord?,” the answer is: The reward of God is something other than Himself. God said “looking towards their Lord,” but He did not say “looking towards something other than Himself.” The Qur’an is to be understood literally, and it is not for us to understand it in any other way, except by proof; otherwise it is to be understood literally. Do you not think that, since God said, “Pray to Me and serve Me,” nobody can say He meant something other than Himself and understand these words in any but a literal way? Wherefore, if that is so, since He says “looking towards their Lord,” we cannot, without proof, understand the Qur’an in any but a literal way. Furthermore, it may be said to the Mu‘tazilah: If you may think that by God’s words “looking towards their Lord,” He meant only that they were looking towards something other than Himself, why not somebody else say that by His words “ The eyes do not reach Him,”[5] God meant “They do not reach something other than Himself,” and did not mean that they do not reach Him! And this is a distinction they have not the capacity to make.  n

⇸Note:- Mutazila believe that God will not beheld by sight but they disagree as to whether or not He will be beheld by the hearts. Abu’l Hudayl and most of the Mutazila say, “We shall see God with our hearts, in the sense that we shall know Him through our Hearts.”
[1] Al Qur’an, 36:49.
[2] Affection.
[3] Diwan Al Shafa’i.
[4] Al Qur’an, 2:139.
[5] Al Qur’an, 6:103.

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