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Exposition of the Witness | Imam Ghazali

The Meaning of the First Word of the Witness

We say-and our trust is in God-praise be to God the Creator, the Restorer, the Doer of whatever He wills, He Whose throne is glorious and Whose power, mighty, Who guides the elect to the orthodox path and the right way, Who grants them benefits once they affirm His unity by guarding the articles of faith from the obscurities of doubt and hesitation, Who leads them to imitate the way of His chosen Apostle and to follow the example of his most honoured Companions by directing their footsteps to the way of truth, Who reveals Himself to them in His Essence and in His works by His beautiful attributes which none perceive except he who inclines his ear in contemplation, Who makes known to them that He is one in His Essence without any associate, single without any compeer, eternal without any opposite, separate without any like. He is one, ancient with nothing preceding Him, eternal without any beginning, abiding in existence with none after Him, everlasting without any end, subsisting without cessation, abiding without termination. He has not ceased and He will not cease to be described by the epithets of majesty. At the end of time He will not be subject to dissolution and decay, but He is the first and the last, the external and the internal, and He knows all.
  • Transcendence. We attest that He is not a body possessing form, nor a substance restricted and limited: He does not resemble other bodies either in limitation or in accepting division. He is not a substance and substances do not exist in Him; He is not an accident and accidents do not exist in Him. No, He resembles no entity and no entity resembles Him; nothing is like Him and He is not like anything; measure does not bound Him and boundaries do not contain Him; directions do not surround Him and neither the earths nor the Heavens are on different sides of Him. Truly, He is seated on the throne after the manner in which He said and in the sense in which He willed-in a state of equilibrium removed from contact, fixity of location, stability, envelopment, and change. The throne does not support Him, but the throne and those who carry it are supported by the grace of His power and are constrained by His hand. He is above the throne and above the Heavens and above everything to the limits of the earth with an aboveness which does not bring Him nearer to the throne and the Heavens, just as it does not make Him farther from the earth. No, He is highly exalted above the throne and the Heavens, just as He is highly exalted above the earth. Nevertheless, He is near to every entity and is “nearer to a creature than his jugular vein”; and He witnesses everything since His nearness does not resemble the nearness of bodies, just as His essence does not resemble the essence of bodies. He does not exist in anything, just as nothing exists in Him: He has too much exalted Himself that any place should contain Him, just as He has too much sanctified Himself that time should limit Him. No, He was before He had created time and place, and just as He was, He now is. He is distinct from His creatures through His attributes. There is not in His essence any other besides Him, nor in any other besides Him, His essence. He is far removed from change of state or of location. Events have no place in Him and mishaps do not befall Him. No, He does not cease, in the epithets of His Majesty, to be far removed from decay, and in the attributes of His perfection He has no need of an increase in perfection. In His essence His existence is known by reason; His essence is seen with the eyes, a blessing from Him and a grace to the righteous in the life everlasting and a completion of bliss from Him through beholding His gracious face.n Life and Power. We witness that He is living, powerful, almighty and all-subduing; inadequacy and weakness befall Him not; slumber overtakes Him not nor sleep; dissolution does not prevail over Him nor death. He is Lord of the visible world and the invisible, and of power and might; His are dominion, subjugation, creation, and command; the Heavens are rolled in His right hand and created things are subjugated in His hand. He is separate in creating and inventing; He is alone in bringing into existence and innovating. He created all creatures and their works, and decreed their sustenance and their lives; nothing decreed escapes His hand and the mutations of things are not beyond His power. The things which He decreed cannot be numbered and the things which He knows have no end.nKnowledge. We attest that He knows all things which can be known, grasping all that happens from the limits of earth to the highest heaven; not an atom's weight in the earth or in Heaven is beyond His knowledge. Yes, He knows the creeping of the black ant upon the solid rock in the darkest night, and He perceives the movement of the mote in the midst of the air. He knows the secrets and that which is more shrouded in secrecy than secrets; He has knowledge of the suggestions of the mind, of the movements of the thoughts, and of the concealed things of the inmost parts by a knowledge which is ancient from eternity and by which He has not ceased to be described through the ages, not by a knowledge which renews itself and arises in His essence through experience.nWill. We attest that He is the Willer of all things that are, the ruler of all originated phenomena; there does not come into the visible or invisible world anything meagre or plenteous, small or great, good or evil, or any advantage or disadvantage, belief or unbelief, knowledge or ignorance, success or failure, increase or decrease, obedience or disobedience, except by His will. What He wills is and what He does not will is not; there is not a glance of the eye nor a stray thought of the heart that is not subject to His will. He is the Creator, the Restorer, and the Doer of whatsoever He wills. There is none that rescinds His command, none that supplements His decrees, none that dissuades a servant from disobeying Him, except by His help and mercy, and none has power to obey Him except by His will. Even though mankind, jinn, angels, and devils were to unite to move the weight of a single atom in the world or to render it still, without His will they would fail. His will subsist in His essence as one of His attributes. He has not ceased to be described by it from eternity, willing, in His infinity, the existence of things at their appointed time which He has decreed. So they come into existence at their appointed times even as He has willed in His infinity without precedence of subsequence. They come to pass in accordance with His knowledge and will without variation or change. He does not direct things through arrangement of thought and awaiting the passage of time, and therefore one thing does not distract Him from another.
  • Hearing and Sight. We attest that He is a hearer and a see-er. He hears and sees and no audible thing, however faint, is beyond His hearing, and no visible thing, however minute, is hidden from His sight. Distance does not prevent His hearing and darkness does not obstruct His seeing. He sees without eyes and hears without ears; just as He perceives without a brain, and seizes without a hand, and creates without an instrument, since His attributes do not resemble the attributes of created things, just as His essence does not resemble the essence of created things.nSpeech. And we attest that He speaks, commanding, forbidding, promising, and threatening, with a speech from eternity, ancient, and self-existing. Unlike the speech of created things, it is not a sound which is caused through the passage of air or the friction of bodies; nor is it a letter which is enunciated through the movement of the lips and tongue. We also attest that the Quran, the Bible, the Gospel, and the Psalms are His books revealed to His apostles; that the Quran is repeated by the tongue, written down in copies, and preserved in the heart, yet it is, nevertheless ancient, subsisting in the essence of God, not subject to division and separation through its transmission to the heart and (transcription on) leaves. We further attest that Moses heard the speech of God without sound and without word, just as the righteous see the essence of God in the hereafter, without substance or accident. And since He has these qualities, He is living, knowing, willing, hearing, seeing and speaking through life, power, knowledge, will, hearing, sight, and speech, not solely through His essence.nWorks. And we attest that there is no entity besides Him, except what originates by His action and proceeds from His justice, after the most beautiful and perfect and complete and just of ways. We attest that He is wise in His actions, just in His judgement; His justice is not comparable with that of men, since tyranny is conceivable in the case of the latter when he deals with the property of others than himself; but tyranny is inconceivable in the case of God, for He does not encounter any property of another besides Himself, so that his dealing with it might be tyrannous. Everything besides Him, men and jinn, angels and devils, Heaven and earth, animals, plants, and inanimate, substance and accident, as well as things perceived and things felt, are all originated things which He created by His power from nothing and made from nought, since He existed in eternity by Himself and there was not along with Him any other. So He originated creation thereafter as a manifestation of his power and a realisation of that which had preceded of His will and that which existed in eternity of His word, not because He had any need or necessity for it. We also attest that He is magnanimous in creating and inventing and in imposing obligations, not doing it through necessity. We attest that He is gracious in beneficence and reform, though not through any need. Munificence and kindness, beneficence and grace are His, since He is able to bring upon His creatures all manner of torture and to shower upon them all kinds of pain and affliction. Even if He should do this, it would be justice on His part, it would not be vile, and it would not be tyrannous. He rewards His believing servants for their acts of obedience in the spirit of generosity and encouragement rather than according to their merit and desert. For He is under obligation to none and tyranny is inconceivable in Him. None possesses any claim against Him. His claim to obedience is obligatory and binding upon all creatures because He made it obligatory upon them through the words of His prophets and not by reason alone. But He sent His apostles and showed their veracity through explicit miracles and they conveyed His commands and prohibitions as well as His promises and threats. So it became obligatory upon all creatures to believe in what they brought.

The Meaning of the Second Word of thenWitness

The second word of the witness is that which testifies that the apostleship belongs to the Apostle, and that God sent the unlettered Qurashite Prophet Muhammad, as an apostle to all the Arabs and the non-Arabs, to the jinn and men. And by his law He abrogated the other laws, except such of them as He confirmed. And He gave him precedence over all other prophets and made Him Lord of mankind, and declared incomplete any profession of faith which attests to unity, i.e. there is no god but Allah, unless it is followed by the witness to the Apostle, namely, Muhammad is the Apostle of AIlah. And he made belief in him, in all the things which he narrated concerning the affairs of this world and the hereafter, obligatory upon all creation. And He will not accept the belief of any creature until he believes in that which the Prophet narrated concerning the things after death, of which the first is the question of Munkar and Nakir. These are two awful and terrible beings who will make the dead one sit up in the grave, both soul and body; they will ask him about the unity of God and about the apostleship, saying, Who is the Lord, and what is the religion, and who is thy Prophet? They are the two inquisitors of the grave and their questions comprise the first examination after death.nnAgain, man should believe that the punishment of the grave is real and that His judgment of the body and soul is just and in accordance with His will. And he should believe in the balance with the two scales and the tongue-the magnitude of which is like the stages of the Heavens and the earth; in it the deeds are weighed by the power of God, even to the weight of the mote and the mustard seed, in order to establish exact justice. The records of the good deeds will be placed in a good manner in the scale of light, and then the balance will be weighed down by them according to the measure of their favour in the sight of God and by His grace, while the records of the evil deeds will be cast in a vile manner in the scale of darkness, and they will be light in the balance through the justice of God. He should believe also that the bridge is real; it is a bridge stretched over Hell, sharper than the edge of the sword and finer than a hair. The feet of the unbelievers slip on it, according to the decree of God, and they fall into the Fire; but the feet of the believers stand firm upon it, by the grace of God, and so they pass into everlasting life. And he should believe in the frequented tank the tank of Muhammed, from which the believers will drink before entering Paradise and after crossing the bridge. Whoever drinks a single draught from it will never thirst again. Its width is the distance of one month’s journey; its waters are whiter than milk and sweeter than honey. Around it are ewers in number like the stars of heaven, and into it flow two canals from al-Kawthar. And he, should believe in the judgment and the distinctions between men in it, that some will be closely questioned that some will be treated with leniency and that others will enter Paradise without questioning-these are God’s favourites. God will ask, whomsoever He will of the prophets concerning the carrying of His message, and whomsoever of the unbelievers concerning their rejection of the apostles; and He will ask the innovators concerning the law and the Muslims concerning their works. And he should believe that the monotheists will be released from Hell-fire after vengeance has been taken on them so that there will not remain in Hell a single monotheist. And he should believe in the intercession of the Prophets, of the learned, and of the martyrs-each according to his dignity and rank before God. And he who remains of the believers and has no intercessor will be released through the grace of God. Therefore not a single believer will abide in Hell forever; whosoever has in his heart the weight of an atom of belief will be brought out from there. And he should acknowledge the excellence of the Companions and their different ranks, and that the most excellent of mankind, after the Prophet, is Abu-Bakr, and then Umar, and then Uthman, and then Ali. And he should think well of all the Companions and praise them, just as God and His Apostle praised them.
All this was handed down in traditions from the Prophet and from his Companions. Therefore he who subscribes to all this and believes in it without doubting will be of the people of truth and the Law, thus separating himself from the followers of error and heresy.n nSo we ask God to perfect our faith and make us steadfast in it. We ask this, through His mercy, for ourselves and for all the Muslims throughout the world. Truly He is the most merciful. And may the blessing of God be upon our Lord Muhammed and upon very chosen servant.
The Foundations of the Articles of FaithnImam Al Ghazali