“No thing is as His likeness.” (42:11)
This verse, which is the foundation for Sunnī doctrine concerning the oneness and uniqueness of Allāh (subhānuhū wa ta‘ālā), expressly negates any and all similarity between Creator and creation. There are a few points to note about the verse:
1. The form of the sentence is “nafy (negation) in the context of nakirah (an indefinite noun).” Shay’ (thing) is an indefinite noun and it has been negated using the word laysa. It is an established principle of Nahw (Arabic grammar) that a nafy in the context of nakirah connotes total negation. In other words, the form of the sentence grammatically entails that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that resembles Allāh (subhānuhū wa ta‘ālā).
2. The terms used for resemblance in this verse are two: one particle (harf), ka (like), and one noun (ism), mithl (likeness). This compounding of terms used for resemblance negates the minutest possible similarity. For instance, if one were to say, “Zayd is not a lion” (laysa Zaydun asadan), this would negate only a gross resemblance. If one were to say, “Zayd is not like a lion” (laysa Zaydun ka asadin), this would negate similarity with a lion to a greater degree. And if one were to say, “Zayd is not as the likeness of a lion,” (laysa Zaydun ka mithli asadin) it would be to negate any similarity between Zayd and a lion.
Imām al-Bayhaqī (384 – 458 H)1 said: “When Allāh intended to negate tashbīh (making a resemblance between Allāh and His creation) in the most emphatic way that a negation can [possibly] be made, He put together in our recitation the particles of similitude (i.e. ka) with the noun of resemblance (i.e. mithl), so that the negation is emphasised to the utmost.” (Al-Asmā’ wa l-Sifāt, 2:34)
3. The word mithl (likeness) is the broadest term of equation. It incorporates similarity in every possible dimension, whether in appearance, qualities or actions. Other words of equation, like shakl, nidd and musāwī are narrower than mithl. Hence, this entails a negation of similarity in all respects, as it means, “no thing is as His likeness in any respect.”