God Spatially Above and Spatially Extended: The Rationality of Ibn Taymiyya’s Refutation of Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Ašʿarī Incorporealism

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Jon Hoover University of Nottingham Nottingham United Kingdom

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Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) wrote his tome Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya to refute Ašʿarī kalām theologian Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s (d. 606/1210) argument in Taʾsīs al-taqdīs that God is not corporeal, located, or spatially extended. Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya is the largest known refutation of kalām incorporealism in the Islamic tradition, and al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs was apparently the most sophisticated work of its kind circulating in Ibn Taymiyya’s Mamlūk scholarly milieu. Ibn Taymiyya in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya deconstructs al-Rāzī’s rational arguments and explicates an alternative theology of God’s relation to space. Translating his understanding of the meaning of the Qurʾān and the Sunna into kalām terminology and drawing on Ibn Rušd’s (d. 595/1198) Aristotelian notion of place as the inner surface of the containing body, Ibn Taymiyya envisions God in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya as a very large indivisible and spatially extended existent that is above and surrounds the created world in a spatial sense.


Ibn Taymiyya (m. 728/1328) écrivit son traité Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya pour réfuter l’argument du théologien Ašʿarī Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (m. 606/1210) dans Taʾsīs al-taqdīs selon lequel Dieu n’est pas corporel, situé ou spatialement étendu. Le Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya est la plus grande réfutation connue de l’incorporélisme du kalām dans la tradition islamique et le Taʾsīs al-taqdīs d’al-Rāzī demeure l’œuvre la plus aboutie du genre circulant dans le milieu savant mamelouk d’Ibn Taymiyya. Ibn Taymiyya dans Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya déconstruit les arguments rationnels d’al-Rāzī et déploie une théologie alternative de la relation de Dieu à l’espace. Traduisant sa compréhension de la signification du Coran et de la Sunna dans la terminologie du kalām et s’inspirant de la notion aristotélicienne d’Ibn Rušd (m. 595/1198) du lieu comme surface inté- rieure du corps contenant, Ibn Taymiyya envisage Dieu dans le Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya comme un très grand existant indivisible et spatialement étendu qui est au-dessus et entoure le monde créé dans un sens spatial.


Qurʾānic verses such as “[The angels] fear their Lord above them” (yaḫāfūna rabba-hum min fawqi-him; Kor 16, 50) and “The All-Merciful sat over the Throne” (al-Raḥmānu ʿalā l-ʿarši stawā; Kor 20, 5) raise thorny questions about God’s relation to body, location, and space. I will distinguish four approaches to these questions among early and medieval Muslim theologians to set the stage for this article’s focus on the Ḥanbalī theologian Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328). These issues are often analyzed through an epistemological lens of rationalism and traditionalism that identifies rationalism with Muʿtazilī adherence to the incorporeality of God and traditionalism with literalism. This dichotomy too easily obscures the rationality of views opposing the Muʿtazilīs, and it struggles to make sense of the rationalizing character of Ibn Taymiyya’s “traditionalist” theology. The following typology therefore focuses on the theology of each approach rather than on the degree to which it might be considered rationalist or traditionalist.2

The first of the four approaches is the noncognitive stance of traditionists like Ġulām Ḫalīl (d. 275/888) and Ḥanbalīs such as Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223).3 Scriptural texts speaking about God’s names and attributes are deemed to be entirely devoid of cognitive content. Nothing is said about divine location or corporeality, neither to affirm nor to deny, and all interpretation of the meaning of God’s attributes is shunned. Texts indicating God’s names and attributes are affirmed verbally but passed over without comment (imrār) and without inquiring into their modality (bi-lā kayf). Intellectual effort should be devoted to understanding God’s law instead of theology.

The second approach maintains explicitly that God is a body (ǧism). The early theologian Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 150/767) is reported to believe that God is a body in the form of a human being, which, however, does not resemble anything else, and the early Šīʿī Hišām b. Ḥakam (d. 179/795-796) is said to affirm that God is a body with dimensions, a radiant light like an ingot that glistens like a pearl.4 The Karrāmī theologians, named after Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Karrām (d. 255/869) affirm that God is a body distinct from creation and located above God’s Throne. The Karrāmīs thrived well into the seventh/thirteenth century.5

The third view situates God above the world spatially but avoids calling God a body explicitly. I will call this “spatialism” to distinguish it from the corporealism of the preceding approach. The two views taken together constitute what is called “transcendent anthropomorphism” in some of the scholarly literature.6 A prime example of spatialism is the traditionist al-Dārimī (d. between 280/893 and 282/895) who appears to be a noncognitivist at first glance because he says that God is to be described only as God describes Himself in the Qurʾān without delving into questions about the modality of God’s names and attributes (bi-lā takyīf).7 However, his noncognitivism is only partial, and he takes the li- berty to interpret what it means for God to be above. Al-Dārimī attacks the theologian Ǧahm b. Ṣafwān (d. 128/746) for maintaining that “God has no boundary, no extremity, and no limit” (laysa li-Llāh ḥadd wa-lā ġāya wa-lā nihāya),8 and he counters that all things have boundaries and extremities. Ǧahm’s denial of a boundary for God is tantamount to denying that God is a thing (šayʾ), and denying that God is a thing is, in turn, equivalent to saying that God is nothing at all. Al-Dārimī thus claims that God is a thing with a boundary and in fact two boundaries. One boundary is known only to God. The other is God’s place over the Throne above the heavens.9 Al-Dārimī explains further that there is nothing else with God above the created world. There is no other heaven above God, and nothing encompasses God or contains God.10 The late fourth/tenth-century Ḥanbalī text al-Radd ʿalā l-zanādiqa wa-l-Ǧahmiyya (Refutation of the Heretics and the Ǧahmiyya) attributed to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) articulates a similar spatial interpretation. The Ḥanbalī Radd advances diverse arguments to show that God is a thing that is not inside the creation. Instead, God is above the Throne and surrounds the world.11 As will become apparent below, Ibn Taymiyya falls within this spatialist tradition.12

Fourth is the incorporealism of kalām theologians among the Muʿtazilīs, Ašʿarīs, Māturīdīs, and the Twelver and Zaydī Šīʿīs. Incorporealists argue that it is irrational for God to be a body or in a place, and they typically reinterpret (taʾwīl) God’s attributes to avert connotations of corporeality and spatiality. God’s sitting (istiwāʾ) on the Throne (Kor 20, 5) for example is reinterpreted as God’s possessing (istilāʾ).13 The Ašʿarī kalām tradition, Ibn Taymiyya’s primary interlocutor, got off to an ambiguous start regarding God’s incorporeality. Two or perhaps three different views may be identified in the works of the tradition’s eponym al-Ašʿarī (d. 324/935). Al-Ašʿarī argues in his Kitāb al-Lumaʿ (Highlights) that it would violate God’s unity for God to be a three-dimensional body assembled out of two or more things. God also did not call Himself a body in revelation.14 However, al-Ašʿarī in his al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna (Elucidation of the Foundations of the Religion) ignores the question of whether God is a body and instead adopts what appears to be a noncognitive posture. He affirms that God has a face, hands, and eyes without inquiring into how (bi-lā kayf), and he condemns the Muʿtazilī practice of reinterpreting such attributes to avert corporeal connotations.15 Yet, al-Ašʿarī also affirms in al-Ibāna that God is over the Throne, without adding bi-lā kayf, and he interprets God’s location to mean that God is not in created things such as the Virgin Mary’s womb.16 This is a kind of spatialism comparable to that of al-Dārimī and the Ḥanbalī Radd. Despite this, later Ašʿarīs such as al-Ǧuwaynī (d. 478/1085) in his Kitāb al-Iršād ilā qawāṭiʿ al-adilla fī uṣūl al-iʿtiqād (The Book of the Guide to Conclusive Proofs for the Foundations of the Creed) deny divine corporeality and spatial location unequivocally and take up reinterpretation,17 and Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) articulates the interpretative approach that comes to dominate the mature Ašʿarī tradition. In his most extensive work on the topic Taʾsīs al-taqdīs (Establishing Sanctification), al-Rāzī identifies his opponents as Karrāmīs and Ḥanbalīs and elaborates both rational and scriptural arguments for God’s incorporeality and exoneration from location (ǧiha) and spatial extension (taḥayyuz).18 Toward the end of the book, al-Rāzī sets out a rule for interpreting the plain (ẓāhir) senses of scriptural texts violating the Ašʿarī incorporealist rationality: the meanings of such texts must be either reinterpreted according to the custom of the later kalām theologians or delegated to God and given no further thought (tafwīḍ). Al-Rāzī ascribes tafwīḍ to the early Muslims (salaf) and states his own preference for reinterpretation.19

The present study explores the rational argumentation of Ibn Taymiyya’s Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya (Explication of the Deceit of the Ǧahmiyya), a direct refutation of al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs.20 At eight sizable volumes in the 2005 Medina edition, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya is the largest known refutation of kalām incorporealism in the Islamic tradition. Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya is also the largest work that Ibn Taymiyya wrote during his seven years in Egypt (705/1306-712/1313) and the earliest of his three most extensive works of theology, the other two being the comparably sized Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql (Averting the Conflict between Reason and Revealed Tradition)21 and Minhāǧ al-sunna l-nabawiyya (The Way of the Prophetic Sunna).22 Ibn Taymiyya wrote Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql in Damascus sometime after 713/1313 and then wrote Minhāǧ al-sunna l-nabawiyya after Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql.23 Despite its size and significance, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya has only recently begun to receive attention in western language scholarship. Since 2016, Sophia Vasalou, Livnat Holtzman, Miriam Ovadia, and Farid Suleiman have drawn upon it as a source in their respective monograph projects,24 and I have investigated how Ibn Taymiyya uses Ibn Rušd’s (d. 595/1198) al-Kašf ʿan manāhiǧ al-adilla (Exposition of the Methods of Argument) in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya to support his own views.25 It remains, however, to contextualize Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya as a major work in its own right and analyze its core argument.

I will first examine Ibn Taymiyya’s assertion in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya that the tome marks an expansion in his anti-Ašʿarī polemic to refute Ašʿarī incorporealism with rational arguments. Then, I will outline the basics of these arguments to illustrate how he defends his understanding of God in the terminology of kalām theology. This will show that Ibn Taymiyya deploys Ibn Rušd’s Aristotelian notion of place as the inner surface of the containing body to envision God as a large spatially extended existent located outside of and surrounding the created world. God is therefore spatial in two senses: first in being spatially distinct from the world, and second in being spatially extended in His essence. At the end of the article, I briefly note how Ibn Taymiyya treats the same topic in his later Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql and Minhāǧ al-sunna l-nabawiyya.

Ibn Taymiyya has sometimes been assimilated to Ḥanbalī noncognitivism or the tafwīḍ position of later Ašʿarism, often to shield him from charges of corporealism and anthropomorphism.26 Ašʿarī tafwīḍ, however, requires denying the plain senses of texts indicating corporeality in God’s attributes before delegating their meanings to God, whereas Ibn Taymiyya affirms the plain sense and does not deny that God is a body.27 Noncognitivism also does not properly characterize Ibn Taymiyya because he does not seek to guard the formal wording of God’s attributes from cognitive interference. Instead, and against al-Rāzī’s Ašʿarī incorporealism, he explains what it means for God to be above the heavens and over the Throne, and he rationalizes the spatialism articulated earlier by al-Dārimī and the Ḥanbalī Radd attributed to Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal with far greater sophistication.28

1 The Purpose and Dating of Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya

Ibn Taymiyya tells the story of what led him to write Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya in his introduction to the work. First, he received a question from Hama in Syria sometime after the year 690/1290 about how to interpret Qurʾānic verses and ḥadīṯ reports on the attributes of God. He replied with a fatwa outlining the doctrine of the early Muslims (salaf) over against the Ǧahmiyya (named after Ǧahm b. Ṣafwān) whom he accuses of denying the reality of God’s attributes. Ibn Taymiyya notes that the fatwa sparked opposition, but he does not mention specific names, dates, or events. He then informs us in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya that he received a book written by “the best of the opposing judges” (afḍal al-qudāt al-muʿāriḍīn) posing questions and objections to his treatise and that he replied with the several volume al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya l-wārida ʿalā l-futyā l-ḥamawiyya (The Response to the Egyptian Objections against the Ḥamawiyya Fatwa). Ibn Taymiyya says that this proved insufficient to deal with opponents who depended on the books of Ǧahmī kalām theologians, foremost among them Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī. He, therefore, had to complete the task that he had begun in al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya by responding to al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs. This was necessary, he writes, “so that the difference between explication and deceit is clarified, the deceit is purged thereby, and the crux of the matter is known in what concerns the foundations of kalām theology” (li-yatabayyana l-farq bayna l-bayān wa-l-talbīs wa-yaḥsula bi-ḏālika taḫlīṣ al-talbīs wa-yuʿrafa faṣl al-ḫiṭāb fī-mā fī hāḏā l-bāb min uṣūl al-kalām).29

While short on historical particulars, Ibn Taymiyya’s introduction does clearly outline a sequence of three identifiable works and explain that he wrote Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya to expose the corrupt rational arguments of kalām theologians. This fits with what we know otherwise about the three works. The first text that Ibn Taymiyya mentions, the response to a request from the people of Hama, is his famous 698/1298 fatwa Ḥamawiyya, which examines how to interpret scriptural texts such as “The All-Merciful sat over the Throne” (al-Raḥmānu ʿalā l-ʿarši stawā; Kor 20, 5).30 According to Ibn Taymiyya, the Ǧahmī kalām theologians, whom he equates with the Muʿtazilīs and later Ašʿarīs, first deny the plain sense (ẓāhir) of such texts. Then they either cease thinking about them in accord with what they call the way of the salaf, or they reinterpret the texts to mean something else (taʾwīl), as when they reinterpret God’s sitting as possessing.31 Ibn Taymiyya rejects such reinterpretation as stripping (taʿṭīl) God of His attributes, and he singles out the Taʾwīlāt of Ašʿarī theologian Ibn Fūrak (d. 406/1015)32 and al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs as prominent books expounding erroneous reinterpretations.33 He also excoriates the Ašʿarī hermeneutic for making the salaf out to be ignorant of the meanings of the texts. For Ibn Taymiyya, the salaf affirmed and understood the plain senses of the texts but without inquiring into the modality of the attributes (bi-lā kayf).34 He adds that he has proofs from both reason and scripture for his views but that a fatwa is not the place to present them.35

Ibn Taymiyya adopts a firm stance against the Ašʿarīs in Ḥamawiyya, and he clearly already had al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs in his sights as a major threat to his position. Ibn Taymiyya’s challenge drew the attention of his contemporaries.36 His opponents accused him of corporealism (taǧsīm) and began agitating against him. The governor of Damascus intervened quickly to quell the commotion.37 The matter then lay dormant for about seven years.

The second work that Ibn Taymiyya mentions in the introduction to Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya is his al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya in response to al-Iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya. The author of al-Iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya, whom Ibn Taymiyya calls “the best of the opposing judges,” is the Egyptian Ḥanafī judge Šhams al-Dīn al-Sarūǧī (d. 710/1310). Only a small portion of Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya has been located and published, and the text of al-Sarūǧī is lost except for a few paragraphs quoted within the extant part of al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya.38 From these few paragraphs, however, we can ascertain that al-Sarūǧī argues that the salaf themselves engaged in reinterpretation (taʾwīl) and that rational arguments require reinterpreting texts suggesting temporal origination and spatial extension in God in order to avoid corporealism.39 Ibn Taymiyya rejects al-Sarūǧī’s claims, and he observes among other things that the Qurʾān, the Sunna, and the salaf do not condemn corporealism, even if they do not affirm it.40 This is a key point that he will reiterate in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, as we will see below.

While the extant portion of Ibn Taymiyya’s al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya is relatively short at 177 pages in the printed edition, al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya was apparently a large work of four volumes.41 If the extant pages are anything to go by, the entirety of al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya was devoted to hermeneutics and the interpretation of scriptural texts, much like the earlier Ḥamawiyya fatwa. This fits with Ibn Taymiyya’s observation in the introduction to Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya that al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya was inadequate to the task of confuting the kalām argumentation that was infecting his opponents. It thus remained to write Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya to overturn the rational proofs undergirding the Ašʿarī conviction that one must reinterpret God’s attributes implying corporeality and spatial extension. In taking on al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, Ibn Taymiyya sought to refute what was evidently the most powerful and influential presentation of Ašʿarī arguments circulating at the time.

Ibn Taymiyya wrote both al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya and Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya in the wake of the controversy that reemerged over his views on God’s attributes in mid-705/early 1306. At the instigation of his enemies in Cairo, the governor of Damascus subjected him to three hearings. Ibn Taymiyya defended himself successfully but was summoned to Cairo several weeks later. Upon arriving in Cairo, the Mamlūk sultan and high-ranking officials and religious scholars convicted Ibn Taymiyya of corporealism and errors in the doctrine of God’s speech, and they imprisoned him in the Cairo citadel on Friday, 23 Ramaḍān 705/8 April 1306 for 18 months.42

The editors of the 2005 Medina edition of Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya date the work to this 18-month imprisonment.43 Both Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya and al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya appear in Ibn Raǧab’s (d. 795/1392) list of works that Ibn Taymiyya wrote in Egypt,44 and the biographer al-Kutubī (d. 764/1363) speaks of “what he wrote in the dungeon of Cairo in refutation of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs” (mā amlā-hu fī l-ǧubb raddan ʿalā Taʾsīs al-qiddīs [sic]).45 However, a letter that Ibn Taymiyya wrote from prison indicates that the terminus ad quem for both works can be moved to about six months before his release. Ibn Taymiyya received a message from some scholars in Cairo in Ramaḍān 706/March-April 1307, and his letter in reply likely dates to shortly thereafter.46 The letter describes Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya without naming it explicitly and then alludes to his al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya:

وقد كتبت في هذا ما يجيء عدة مجلدات وذكرت فيها مقالات الطوائف جميعها وحججها الشرعية والعقلية واستوعبت ما ذكره الرازي في كتاب تأسيس التقديس ونهاية العقول وغير ذلك حتى أتيت على مذاهب الفلاسفة المشائين أصحاب أرسطو […]. وأيضا لما كنت في البرج ذكر لي أن بعض الناس علق مؤاخذة على الفتيا الحموية وأرسلت إلي وقد كتبت فيما بلغ مجلدات.

I wrote about [matters relating to God’s sitting on the Throne] in what comes to several volumes. I mentioned in them the views of all the sects and their revelation-based and reason-based arguments. I dealt extensively with what al-Rāzī says in Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, Nihāyat al-ʿuqūl (The Utmost in Rational Knowledge) and other works, to the point that I mentioned the doctrines of the peripatetic philosophers, the followers of Aristotle […]. Also, when I was in the tower (burǧ) [of the citadel in Cairo], it was mentioned to me that someone had written an objection to the Ḥamawiyya fatwa. It was sent to me, and I wrote several volumes [in reply].47

The Egyptian encyclopedist al-Nuwayrī (d. 733/1333) states that Ibn Taymiyya was moved from the tower of the Cairo citadel to the dungeon (ǧubb) on the night of the Feast of Fast-Breaking (ʿīd al-fiṭr), five or six days after his initial incarceration on 23 Ramaḍān 705/8 April 1306.48 At the end of the quotation above, Ibn Taymiyya mentions hearing about the response to his Ḥamawiyya – al-Sarūǧī’s al-Iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya – while in the tower. So, he must have learned of al-Sarūǧī’s work in his first five or six days of imprisonment. Over the course of twelve months, from Ramaḍān 705/April 1306 to Ramaḍān 706/March-April 1307, Ibn Taymiyya wrote two massive works, first al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya and then Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, to defend his views and refute those of his opponents comprehensively. Moreover, the contents of Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, examined in what follows, bear out Ibn Taymiyya’s stated purpose in writing the work, namely, to complete the job of replying to the Ašʿarīs by refuting their rational argumentation.

2 Bayān talbīs al-Ǧahmiyya as a Refutation of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs

In Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya Ibn Taymiyya responds to the second of two recensions of al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs. Different prefaces distinguish the two.49 What may be called the “Herat” preface is printed in the 2011 edition of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, and its earliest known witness is MS Istanbul, Süleymaniye, Hekimoǧlu, 821, which was copied in 598/1202 and claims comparison with the original (aṣl).50 In the Herat preface, al-Rāzī states that he wrote the book after arriving in Herat in Muḥarram 596/October-November 1199 and finding the people of the city discussing God’s incomparability (tanzīh). This corresponds to what we know about al-Rāzī’s difficulties at the time. In 595/1198-1199, al-Rāzī arrived in Fīrūzkūh, a city about halfway between Kabul and Herat. While disputing with scholars in the city, he slandered a leading Karrāmī theologian, and the Ġūrid ruler Ġiyāṯ al-Dīn expelled him to Herat to calm the ensuing Karrāmī uproar.51

In what may be called the “Ayyubid” preface of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, al-Rāzī does not mention his visit to Herat but instead dedicates the work to al-ʿĀdil Abū Bakr Muḥammad b. Ayyūb (d. 615/1218), apparently to honor him on becoming sultan of the Ayyubid Empire of Egypt and Syria in 596/1200. The biographer Ibn Abī Uṣaybiʿa reports that the sultan paid al-Rāzī 1000 dinars for the book.52 The Ayyubid preface is printed in several modern editions of al-Rāzī’s book. The most often cited is the 1986 Cairo edition of Aḥmad Ḥiǧāzī l-Saqqā.53 The earliest known witness to the Ayyubid preface is MS Istanbul, Millet, Feyzullah Efendi, 1106, which dates to 606/1210. Presumably, al-Rāzī wrote Taʾsīs al-taqdīs with the Herat preface shortly after arriving in Herat in 596/1199 to address the theological issues under discussion in that city and to counter the views he had encountered in Fīrūzkūh.54 Then, he reissued the book soon thereafter to garner the patronage of the Ayyubid sultan. Ibn Taymiyya knows and refutes only the recension of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs containing the Ayyubid preface.55

Ibn Taymiyya’s refutation of al-Rāzī in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya takes the form of a rambling commentary on major portions of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs.56 Following is an outline of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs with note of the corresponding commentary in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya. Pagination for the parts and sections of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs are first to the 2011 Damascus edition and then to the 1986 Cairo edition. Direct translations of part and section titles are placed between quotation marks; other titles are my own paraphrases or summaries. Volume and page numbers for Ibn Taymiyya’s corresponding discussions in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya are placed between parentheses. As Ibn Taymiyya indicates in his 706/1307 letter to Cairene scholars quoted above, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya contains extensive quotation from and comment upon al-Rāzī’s kalām work Nihāyat al-ʿuqūl57 and numerous other sources, and I have noted a few of these below.

3 Outline of al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs and Ibn Taymiyya’s Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya

Preface p. 43-44/9-11 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, I, p. 3-24)

Part One: “The proofs proving that [God] is exonerated of corporeality (ǧismiyya) and space (ḥayyiz),” p. 45-114/13-102 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, I, p. 25-V, p. 446)

Section One: “Firmly establishing the premises that must be presented before delving into the proofs,” p. 46-58/15-29 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, I, p. 25-III, p. 83 include extensive quotation and discussion of texts from al-Dārimī, al-Ašʿarī, Ibn Fūrak, Ibn Rušd, etc.)

Section Two: “Firmly establishing the tradition-based proofs that [God] is exonerated of corporeality, space and location (ǧiha),” p. 59-73/30-47 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, III, p. 84-286)

Section Three: “Furnishing the reason-based proofs that [God] is definitely not spatially extended (mutaḥayyiz),” p. 74-84/48-61 (not addressed in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya)

Section Four: “Furnishing the demonstrations (barāhīn) that [God] is not localized in (muḫtaṣṣ bi-) any spaces and locations,” p. 85-97/62-68 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, III, p. 287-IV, p. 241)

Section Five: “Concerning the specious rational arguments of those [Karrāmīs and Ḥanbalīs] who affirm [God’s] localization in space and location,” p. 98-112/79-99 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, IV, p. 242-V, p. 323, of which roughly the last third discusses passages from al-Rāzī’s Nihāyat al-ʿuqūl and al-Arbaʿīn fī uṣūl l-dīn)

Section Six: Charging the Karrāmīs with affirming that God is composite (murakkab) and assembled (muʾallaf), p. 113-114/100-102 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, V, p. 324-446)

Part Two: “Concerning reinterpreting (taʾwīl) the indeterminate (mutašābihāt) among the [ḥadīṯ] reports and [Qurʾānic] verses,” p. 115-217/103-221 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, V, p. 447-VIII, p. 214)

Introduction: “Elucidating that all sects of Islam confess that there must be reinterpretation of some plain senses (ẓawāhir) of the Qurʾān and the reports,” p. 115-120/105-109 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, V, p. 451-VI, p. 354)

Sections 1-30: Reinterpretations of specific reports and verses, p. 121-216/110-219 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, VI, p. 355-VIII, p. 214, of which VI, p. 355-VII, p. 390 discusses Section 1 on God and form [ṣūra]; sections 9-30 are not addressed in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya)

Section 31: On isolated reports (aḫbār āḥād), p. 212-216/215-219 (not addressed in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya)

Section 32: The universal rule (al-qānūn al-kullī) of reinterpretation, p. 217/220-22158 (not addressed here in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya but in its response to the next part)

Part Three: “Firmly establishing the doctrine of the salaf,” p. 219-234/222-243 (Ibn Taymiyya, Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, VIII, p. 215-549)

Part Four: Miscellaneous questions, p. 235-245/245-258 (not addressed directly in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya)59

The first part of al-Rāzī’s Taʾsīs al-taqdīs occupies the first third of the work. It divides into six sections and provides reason- and tradition-based proofs that God is not corporeal, spatially extended, or located. Ibn Taymiyya’s repetitious response takes up nearly the entirety of the first five volumes of Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya, with the bulk of his attention devoted to the first, fourth, and fifth sections of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, which contain al-Rāzī’s main premises and rational arguments. I will analyze Ibn Taymiyya’s reply to the first part of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs in the following sections of the present article.

Al-Rāzī dedicates the second part of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs, about half the work, to reinterpreting texts of the Qurʾān and the ḥadīṯ literature that he calls indeterminate (mutašābih), that is, texts implying that God is corporeal and spatial. Ibn Taymiyya gives Part Two of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs comparatively little attention and does not discuss the latter two-thirds directly. The upshot of his argumentation is that al-Rāzī’s reinterpretations distort and deny the plain senses of the texts.

At the end of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs Part Two, al-Rāzī sets out the universal rule guiding his reinterpretations that was noted above. When decisive rational proofs contradict the plain sense (ẓāhir) of a text, those who permit reinterpretation must reinterpret it, and those who do not permit that must delegate its meaning to God.60 Then in the brief third part of Taʾsīs al-taqdīs al-Rāzī identifies taʾwīl as the practice of the kalām theologians and tafwīḍ as the doctrine of the salaf. The salaf know that God did not intend the meanings conveyed by the plain senses of indeterminate texts. They therefore make it an obligation to delegate the meanings to God and do not permit further interpretation.61

In reply to Taʾsīs al-taqdīs Part Three, Ibn Taymiyya rejects the necessary priority of reason over revealed texts and contends that there is no contradiction between reason-based and revelation-based proofs.62 He also faults al-Rāzī for ignorance of the true views of the salaf. Following lines developed earlier in Ḥamawiyya and al-Ǧawāb ʿan al-iʿtirāḍāt al-miṣriyya, Ibn Taymiyya maintains in Bayān talbīs al-ǧahmiyya that the salaf affirm knowledge of