Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Allah the Man-God – Part One:


By Anthony Rogers

"If He [Allah] does not have eyes, nor ears, nor hand, nor foot, then what we are worshipping is a watermelon!" – Ibn Khuzayma and the early Muslims of Tabaristan and Isfahan

Broaching the Issue

In one of the many passages of the Bible that extol the glory of the true God and expose the foolishness of believing in false gods and worshipping idols, it is written:

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. Why should the nations say, "Where, now, is their God?" But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; they have eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but they cannot hear; they have noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but they cannot feel; they have feet, but they cannot walk; they cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them. (Psalm 115:1-8; see also 94:9, 135:15-17)

The Qur’an seems to agree with the Bible’s polemic against false gods at this point. In fact, part of the following section of the Qur’an even seems reminiscent in one way or another of the above statement from the Bible:

Verily those whom ye call upon besides God are servants like unto you: Call upon them, and let them listen to your prayer, if ye are (indeed) truthful! Have they feet to walk with? Or hands to lay hold with? Or eyes to see with? Or ears to hear with? Say: "Call your 'god-partners', scheme (your worst) against me, and give me no respite! "For my Protector is God, Who revealed the Book (from time to time), and He will choose and befriend the righteous. "But those ye call upon besides Him, are unable to help you, and indeed to help themselves." If thou callest them to guidance, they hear not. Thou wilt see them looking at thee, but they see not. (Surah 7:194-198)

However, a little closer reflection yields what appears to be a significant difference between these two statements. In Psalm 115:5 the irony, idiocy and immorality of worshipping man-made gods or idols is pointed up by the fact that, just like their worshippers, these “gods” have eyes, ears, hands, and feet, but, unlike their worshippers, they aren’t able to see, hear, feel, or walk, which means they are inferior rather than superior to those who worship them however much the latter may declare that their gods are greater than themselves and worthy of their worship. This shows, among other things, that people can declare that their “god is great” and yet be very much deceived.

The Qur’an on the other hand seems to imply in Surah 7:195 that the idols in question are not God or gods because they lack eyes to see with, ears to hear with, hands to touch with, and feet to walk with. Given how this is worded, one can hardly be faulted for considering on the basis of this verse the possibility that such appendages are a necessary (even if not a sufficient) condition for being truly divine according to the Qur’an, which entails that Allah was envisioned to be just such a being by the Qur’an’s author(s). Is this the case?

While Surah 7:195 may not be thought clear enough by some to bear the full weight of a positive answer to the above question, a positive answer is at least consistent with what this passage says. Yet, while it may be granted that it is not adequate by itself, when we take into account what is said elsewhere in the Qur’an (and ahadith) one may well argue that this is a natural and perhaps even the most natural conclusion to come to. Indeed, it is just because such an interpretation is consistent with the passage and because of all that will follow showing the anthropomorphic nature of the deity envisaged by Muhammad that it isn’t surprising to see that some early Muslims have understood the above verse in just this way, as Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani remonstrates:

Ibn Khuzayma cites, as a proof for establishing that Allah has a foot and other limbs, the verse, "Have they feet wherewith they walk or have they hands wherewith they hold, or have they eyes wherewith they see, or have they ears wherewith they hear?" (7:195). This contravenes the sound position of the Salaf expressed by al-Muqri as related by Abu Dawud in his Sunan: "Allah hears and sees" means: He has the power of hearing and seeing [not the organs]."103

Kawthari points out that Ibn Khuzayma's understanding is identical to that of the anthropomorphists of Tabaristan and Isfahan. These are mentioned by al-Saksaki as saying,104 "If He does not have eyes, nor ears, nor hand, nor foot, then what we are worshipping is a watermelon!" They claim, in support of their views, that in the Qur'an Allah has derided those who lacked limbs by saying, "Have they feet wherewith they walk?"105

Ibn al-Jawzi says the following about him: 

I saw that Abu Bakr Ibn Khuzayma compiled a book on Allah's attributes and divided it into chapters such as: "Chapter of the Asserting of His hand"; "Chapter of His Holding the Heavens on His fingers"; "Chapter of the Asserting of His foot, in spite of the Mu`tazila." Then he said: Allah said: "Have they feet wherewith they walk or have they hands wherewith they hold, or have they eyes wherewith they see, or have they ears wherewith they hear?" (7:195); then he informs us that he who has no hand and no foot is like cattle. 

I say: Verily I wonder at that man, with all his lofty skill in the science of transmission of hadith, saying such a thing, and asserting for Allah what he vilifies the idols for not having, such as a hand that strikes and a foot that walks. He should have asserted the ear also. If he had been granted understanding, he would not have spoken thus, and he would have understood that Allah reviled the idols in comparison to their worshippers (i.e. not to Him). The meaning is: You have hands and feet, how then do you worship what lacks them both? (Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani, Encyclopedia of Islamic Doctrine, 2nd ed., Vol. I, Beliefs, edited by G. F. Haddad, Ph.D., Alexander Bain, Ph.D., Karim K. Tourk, Jennifer McLennan (Mountain View, CA: As-Sunna Foundation of America, 1998), p. 88-89 (With some variations, this portion of the work can also be viewed online: Online Source)


103 Abu Dawud, Sunan, Kitab al-Sunna, ch. 19, last hadith.

104 Al-Saksaki, in his al-Burhan fi marifat aqaid ahl-adyan (The demonstration concerning the knowledge of the doctrines of the people of religion).

105 Kawthari, Maqalat, p. 361.

In addition to showing that some Muslims have understood the verse in this way, the above citation also shows just how poorly equipped some Muslims who dissent from this kind of teaching are to deal with such evidence. For instance, when Ibn al-Jawzi is quoted as saying that Ibn Khuzayma should have gone on to assert for Allah an ear also, apparently implying that the latter did not explicitly do so, he seems to have overlooked that the passage being appealed to mentions “ears”. And even if the verse did not mention an ear or ears, it hardly constitutes an argument against someone who asserts for Allah a hand and foot that this would also be grounds for asserting an ear. If we assume that Ibn al-Jawzi is correct and that Allah having a hand and foot would provide the grounds for extrapolating to other appendages such as an ear, so what? How does that prove that Allah does not have a hand and foot rather than that Allah also has an ear and that those who have reason to believe that Allah has a hand and foot also, thereby, have good grounds for asserting an ear? More importantly, Ibn al-Jawzi’s main argument is clearly flawed and backfires on him. Since he is arguing that Allah does not have a hand or foot (or an ear), when he says that the verse is comparing idol worshippers to the objects of their worship and that it chides them for worshipping what does not have a hand or foot like they do, he is actually making the point for the anthropomorphists he is supposed to be refuting. If Allah does not have a hand and foot, then, to turn his own question against him, why did Ibn al-Jawzi worship Allah since he lacks them both?

It is of further interest that Shaykh Kabbani, before citing al-Jawzi’s criticisms of Ibn Khuzayma, tells us that al-Muqri (or al-Muqree), as found in Abu Dawood, says that the Qur’anic refrain that Allah “sees and hears” means that Allah has the power and not the organs of seeing and hearing, but not only do I not find any such report in Abu Dawud’s standard collection of hadith, but even if such a narration is to be found there the fact is that Ibn Khuzyma himself, who authored a primary hadith collection that is widely recognized even by those who oppose him in matters of creed (aqida) – indeed, even al-Jawzi celebrates Ibn Khuzayma’s knowledge of the science of hadith in the above quote [1] – reports a narration from al-Muqri where he indicates the contrary:

Muhammad bin Yahyaa narrated to us, he said: Abdullaah bin Yazeed al-Muqree narrated to us, he said: Hurmulah bin `Imraan at-Tajeebee narrated to us, from Aboo Yoonus - Saleem Jubayr - the Mawlaa of Abu Hurayrah, may Allaah be pleased with him, that he said regarding the verse, "Verily! Allah commands that you should render back the trusts to those to whom they are due; and that when you judge between men, you judge with justice. Verily, how excellent is the teaching which He (Allah) gives you! Truly, Allah is Ever All ­Hearer, All ­Seer." (An-Nisa 4:58), "I saw the Messenger of Allaah (sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam), place his thumb upon his ear and his finger next to it upon his eye", Abu Hurayrah, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, "I saw Allaah's Messenger (sallAllaahu `alayhi wa sallam) doing that". (Kitaab ut-Tawheed of Ibn Khuzaymah, Maktabah ar-Rushd 1/97). (See the following article: The Attribute of Eyes for Allah.)

In any event, the verse in question can certainly be read in an anthropomorphic way (and has been), and so it is with a view to the question of whether the Qur’an and Islamic sources do teach that Allah is an anthropomorphic entity that the following articles are directed. 


Although some occasion will be given to refer to various individuals and groups in history who have interpreted the Qur’anic sources in a more or less anthropomorphic way, the burden of this series is less to articulate and demonstrate the view of any individual or group but to discern and delineate what the Qur’an and early Muslim traditions lead us to believe was taught by Muhammad and his companions about Allah irrespective of whether this turns out to be exactly the same in every particular with that which was, is, or came to be taught by any one individual or school of thought. To the extent that any individual or group beyond these primary, foundational sources is referred to, it is, in the main, for the purpose of giving confirmatory evidence that among those who profess themselves to be Muslims there have been those who have latched on to such things to bolster their claim and/or because on the particular point in question they represent what the present writer takes to be either a cogent argument or an observation worthy of further reflection.

The conclusion of the present writer in light of the evidence to be surveyed approximates that advocated by a number of scholars under the name of “transcendent anthropomorphism,” a view which recognizes that the Allah of the Qur’an possesses a definite form and likeness and face and their attendant appendages, even though these are not exactly like (nor absolutely unlike) that of any other being in existence, being different from them (and similar to them) in various ways. A paradigm example of this may be seen in the case of Ibn Khuzaymah of Nishapur (223-311/833-924), already mentioned above, who was a scholar of hadith, Shafi’i fiqh, and the author of a traditionist approach to the divine attributes called Kitāb ut-Tawhīd (as well as 140 other books), who said the following about Allah’s face:

God has affirmed for Himself a Splendid and Venerable face, which he declares is eternal and non-perishable. We and all scholars of our madhhab from the Hijaz, the Tihama, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt affirm for God (the) face, which He has affirmed for Himself. We profess it with our tongues and believe it in our hearts, without likening (qhayr an nashabbiha) His face to one from His creatures… We and all our scholars in all our lands say that the one we worship has a face… And we say that the face of our Lord (radiates) a brilliant, radiant light (al-nūr wa al-diyā’ wa-bahā’) which, if His veil is removed the glory of His face will scorch everything that sees it. His eyes are veiled from the people of this world who will never see Him during this life… The face of our Lord is eternal…

Now God has decreed for human faces destruction and denied them splendor and venerability. They are not attributed the light, brilliance or splendor (al-nūr wa al-diyā’ wa-bahā’) that He described His face with. Eyes in this world may catch human faces without the latter scorching so much as a single hair… Human faces are rooted in time (muhdatha) and created… Every human face perishes… Oh you possessors of reason (dhawā al-hijan), could it ever really occur to any one with sense and who knows Arabic and knows what tashbīh (means) that this (transient and dull human) face is like that (splendidly brilliant face of God)? (Kitab al-Tawhid, 10f., 22f. As cited in Wesley Williams, Ph.D., A Body Unlike Bodies: Transcendent Anthropomorphism, Divine Embodiment, and Early Sunnism, Presentation at 5th Annual Duke-UNC Graduate Islamic Studies Conference, April 5, 2008, p. 3) 

Allah has “affirmed for Himself” a face, and so Ibn Khuzayma and “all scholars of our madhab” “believe” and “profess” that he has a face with the difference between his face and human faces consisting in the splendor, glory, brilliance, radiance, venerability, and indestructibility of his face over against the faces of creatures which are dull, transient, created, and rooted in time.

And this description calls to mind not only the many passages of the Qur’an that make mention of the splendorous/majestic face of Allah, such as the following:

All that dwells upon the earth is perishing, yet still abides the face of thy Lord (wajhu rabbika), majestic, splendid. S. 55:27, Arberry (see also: 2:115, 2:272, 6:52, 13:22, 18:28, 28:88, 30:38, 30:39, 76:9, 92:20)

but also the following hadith from Bukhari:

Narrated 'Abdullah bin Qais: The Prophet said, "(There will be) two Paradises of silver and all the utensils and whatever is therein (will be of silver); and two Paradises of gold, and its utensils and whatever therein (will be of gold), and there will be nothing to prevent the people from seeing their Lord except the Cover of Majesty over HIS Face in the Paradise of Eden (eternal bliss)." (Sahih Bukhari93.536; see also:  55.617, 58.253, 74.306, 76.577, 93.503)

And others from Muslim:

Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of allah (may peace be upon him) was standing amongst us and he told us five things. He said: Verily the Exalted and Mighty God does not sleep, and it does not befit Him to sleep. He lowers the scale and lifts it. The deeds in the night are taken up to Him before the deeds of the day. and the deeds of the day before the deeds of the night. His veil is the light. In the hadith narrated by Abu Bakr (instead of the word" light" ) it is fire. If he withdraws it (the veil), the splendour of His countenance [facewajh] would consume His creation so far as His sight reaches. (Sahih Muslim1.343)

'Abdullah b. Qais transmitted on the authority of his father (Abu Musa Ash'ari) that the apostle (may peace be upon him) said: There would be two gardens (in Paradise) the vessels and contents of which would be of silver, and two gardens whose vessels and contents would be of gold. The only thing intervening to hinder the people from looking at their Lord will be the mantle of Grandeur over HIS face in the Garden of Eden. (Sahih Muslim1.346)

(See also: Muslim, 32:6325)

As said, this series will look primarily and foundationally at what the Qur’an and hadith say about Allah in order to determine if in fact the Islamic deity is to be thought of (according to the Islamic sources) as a being with a body and limbs or something that has attributes and characteristics that are analogous to even if not altogether exactly like those possessed by human creatures. 

To briefly anticipate and summarize some of what we will find: according to the Islamic sources we will see that Allah is a thing and a person; he has a soul and a spirit; he has a likeness, shape and form; he has a face, eyes, and ears; he has arms and elbows; he has hands, palms, fingers and fingertips; he has a chest, waist and side; he has a shin and feet; he has dimensions, mass, and weight; accordingly he can be said to wear a veil, sit on a throne, live in a house, look out over a watchtower, ascend and descend, run, stroke a person’s back, shake hands, grasp things, etc. Furthermore, although it is not characteristic for him to do so, Allah can even converse directly with people, i.e. without the mediation of an angelic messenger, and he has even directly spoken in this life to a select few, was seen by Muhammad in this world and also on the occasion of his ascent, and will be seen by all Muslims at the great assize, and even that all Muslims antecedent to that event are expected to have a mental picture of him by which they can identify him on that day. In short, this series will show that Allah is a man-god.

What this will demonstrate, among other things, is that Muslims are far from being in anything even remotely close to an enviable position when they mischaracterize and ridicule the Christian doctrine of the incarnation as belief in a man-god. After all, there is a big difference between saying that one of the persons of the Godhead took on a human nature at a point in time in addition to his eternal, unchanging divine nature, such that it can be said that the Divine Word or Son, not by virtue of His eternal divinity but by virtue of assuming a human nature, has a face, hands, feet, etc., and saying that God qua God, that is, God as He is in Himself and apart from a voluntary act of condescension in taking a human nature upon Himself, actually has attributes and characteristics analogous to embodied human creatures. The same principle applies to the incarnation-anticipating theophanies of the Old Testament and to any and all other acts of divine self-humbling whereby the Ineffable, Inscrutable, Incomprehensible God manifests Himself and makes Himself known to His creatures, whether in heaven, on earth, or under the earth.  

Another thing that this will demonstrate is that the Allah of the Qur’an cannot be the creator and maker of heaven and earth as the Qur’an claims, for if Allah has a particular form, if he has dimensions, etc., then he cannot be the origin of the universe, i.e. the space-mass-time continuum, for in the nature of the case the existence of the latter would be the very precondition for the existence of such a being in the first place.


[1] When it came to memorization and knowledge of hadith, Ibn Khuzayma was referred to as “the Imam of Imams.” 

After the hadith collections of al-Bukhari, Muslim, an-Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, and Ibn Majah, commonly referred to as “the Six Books” (Al-Kutub al-Sittah), Ibn Khuzayma’s  Mukhtasar al-Mukhtasar min al-Musnad al-Sahih is recognized as one of the primary hadith collections. 

In the original notes to al-Jawzi’s Daf‘ Shubah al-Tashbīh bi-Akaff al-Tanzīh, Imām Zāhid al-Kawtharī said of Ibn Khuzayma: “He is considered as one of the greatest scholars of hadith.” (Ibn al-Jawzi, The Attributes of GodTranslation, Notes & Appendices by ‘Abdullah bin Hamīd ‘Alī, introduction by Khālid Yahyā Blankinship [Bristol, England: Amal Press, 2006], p. 51, fn#10.

We also find the following in The Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Muslim:

Many students learned the Science of Hadith from Imam Muslim. Those who became famous and occupied a prominent position are: Abu Hatim Razi, Musa bin Harun, Ahmad bin Salamah, Abu 'Isa Tirmidhi, Abu Bakr bin Khuzaimah, Abu 'Awanah and Hafiz Dhahbi. (The Translation of the Meanings of Summarized Sahih Muslim, Volume 1 (Darrussalam, 2000), p. v)

Other words of high praise for Ibn Khuzayma from the likes of Ibn Hibban, Ad-Daraqutni, Abu al-Sa’d al-Sam’aani, Abu al-A’bbas bin Surayj, Abu al-Hasan bin Hamdawayh al-Sanjani, Abu Abdullah al-Hakim, Muhammad bin Sahl al-Toosi, Al-Hafith Abu Ali al-Naysaboori, Abu Bishr al-Qattan, Abdur-Rahman bin Abi Hatim, Adh-Dhahabi, Abu al-Fadl Salih al-Hamathani, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Abdel Hadi, Taajul Deen al-Subki, Muhammad bin al-Fadl, and Abu Ahmad Husainak can be found here: Ibn Khuzayma.