Hisham b. al-Hakam: God is a Body? – Part 3

By Ammaar Hussein
Click for Part 2

وأول من عرف في الإسلام أنه قال إن الله جسم هو هشام بن الحكم

The First person in Islam known to have said ‘Allah is a Body’ is Hisham b. al-Hakam (Ibn Taymiyya)

اليهود أكثرهم مشبّهة وكان بدء ظهور التّشبيه في الإسلام من الرّوافض مثل هشام بن الحكم

The Jews are mostly anthropomorphists. The beginning of anthropomorphism in Islam is via the Rawafidh such as Hisham b. al-Hakam (Fakhr al-Diin al-Razi)

Hisham Accused

Proto-Sunni heresiographical sources describe Hisham as an anthropomorphist who ‘likened God to his creatures’. Unfortunately, it becomes clear with the least bit of study that most of what has been attributed to him is embellished and driven by an agenda.

An example of this is a frequently circulated statement that Hisham supposedly said:

وحكي عن هشام بن الحكم أن أحسن الأقدار: أن يكون سبعة أشبار بشبر نفسه

God is seven spans tall but according to His measures not ours.

Indeed, there was so much spurious material attributed to him, and he was made to hold so many disparate opinions, that the only way his detractors could explain the phenomenon was to claim that he was very inconsistent:

وذكر عن هشام انه قال في ربه في عام واحد خمسة أقاويل

It is remarked that in one and the same year he advocated five different standpoints about His God.

One of the earliest sources, the Kitab al-Maqalat of Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (d. 324), has the following to say when discussing the so-called Hishamiyya (followers of Hisham b. al-Hakam):

يزعمون أن معبودهم جسم وله نهاية وحد طويل عريض عميق طوله مثل عرضه وعرضه مثل عمقه لا يوفي بعضه على بعض ولم يعينوا طولاً غير الطويل وإنما قالوا: “طوله مثل عرضه” على المجاز دون التحقيق وزعموا أنه نور ساطع له قدر من الأقدار في مكان دون مكان كالسبيكة الصافية يتلألأ كاللؤلؤة المستديرة من جميع جوانبها ذو لون وطعم ورائحة ومجسة لونه هو طعمه وطعمه هو رائحته ورائحته هي مجسته وهو نفسه لون ولم يعينوا لوناً ولا طعماً هو غيره وزعموا أنه هو اللون وهو الطعم وأنه قد كان لا في مكان ثم حدث المكان بأن تحرك البارئ فحدث المكان بحركته فكان فيه وزعم أن المكان هو العرش

They claim that the one they worship is a finite ‘body’ with limits, having length, breadth and depth of equal size … They claim that He is a radiant light, similar to a pure ingot shining like a round pearl from all sides … That He was originally not in space but then produced space through his own motion and thus came to be in it (space), and that this space is the ‘throne’ …

This is another example of a fabrication against Hisham because you would expect to find echoes of this in the early Imami sources if it were true. I could find only one report which can be said to corroborate the accusation. Furthermore, its chain is clearly unreliable with the primary narrator (Ali b. Abi Hamza) weakened by some as a liar.

احمد بن إدريس، عن محمد بن عبدالجبار، عن صفوان بن يحيى، عن علي بن أبي حمزة قال: قلت لابي عبدالله عليه السلام: سمعت هشام بن الحكم يروي عنكم أن الله جسم، صمدي نوري، معرفته ضرورة، يمن بها على من يشاء من خلقه، فقال عليه السلام: سبحان من لا يعلم أحد كيف هو إلا هو، ليس كمثله شئ وهو السميع البصير، لا يحد ولا يحس ولا يجس ولا تدركه الابصار ولا الحواس ولا يحيط به شئ ولا جسم ولا صورة ولا تخطيط ولا تحديد

Ahmad b. Idris – Muhammad b. Abd al-Jabbar – Safwan b. Yahya – Ali b. Abi Hamza who said: I said to Abi Abdillah عليه السلام: I heard Hisham b. al-Hakam narrating from you that ‘Allah is a solid body of light. (Acquiring) Knowledge of Him is necessary. He grants it (knowledge of Him) to the one He wishes from among his creatures’. He عليه السلام said: Glory be to the One whom no one knows how He is except Himself. There is nothing like Him and He is All-Hearing All-Seeing. He is not bounded. He is not sensed. He is not touched. Neither Vision nor senses can reach Him. Nothing encompasses Him. (He is) Not a body nor a form. Neither demarcation nor limitation (can apply to Him).

If this particular characterization of Hisham’s views on God can be put aside, it is much harder to do the same with a more widely attested doctrine attributed to him and for which he became infamous.

A Corporeal God?

Hisham stands accused of holding God to be a corporeal body (Jism). All the narrations below are weak in one way or another (in terms of chain), but when taken collectively, paint the picture that this accusation cannot be easily dismissed like the others.

علي بن محمد رفعه عن محمد بن الفرج الرخجي قال: كتبت إلى أبي الحسن عليه السلام أسأله عما قال هشام بن الحكم في الجسم وهشام بن سالم في الصورة فكتب: دع عنك حيرة الحيران واستعذ بالله من الشيطان، ليس القول ما قاله الهشامان

Ali b. Muhammad raised it to Muhammad b. al-Faraj al-Rakhji who said: I wrote to Abi al-Hasan عليه السلام asking him about what Hisham b. al-Hakam said regarding ‘the body’ and what Hisham b. Salim said regarding ‘the human form’. He wrote: Leave the confusion of the confused, seek refuge in Allah from the Shaytan, the (true) position is not what was said by the two Hishams.

محمد بن أبي عبدالله، عمن ذكره، عن علي بن العباس، عن أحمد بن محمد بن أبي نصر، عن محمد بن حكيم قال: وصفت لابي إبراهيم عليه السلام قول هشام بن سالم الجواليقي وحكيت له قول هشام بن الحكم إنه جسم فقال: إن الله تعالى لا يشبهه شئ، أي فحش أو خنى أعظم من قول من يصف خالق الاشياء بجسم أو صورة أو بخلقة أو بتحديد وأعضاء، تعالى الله عن ذلك علوا كبيرا

Muhammad b. Abdallah – the one he mentioned – Ali b. al-Abbas – Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Abi Nasr – Muhammad b. Hukaym who said: I described for Abi Ibrahim عليه السلام the position of Hisham b. Salim al-Jawaliqi and quoted for him the position of Hisham b. al-Hakam that He is a body. He said: Nothing can be compared to Allah the Elevated. What can be a greater obscenity than the statement of one describing the Creator of things as a body, or a form, or having constituents, or by limitations or parts. Elevated is Allah from all that a great transcendence.

ابن المتوكل، عن علي، عن أبيه، عن الصقر بن دلف قال: سألت أبا الحسن علي بن محمد عليهما السلام عن التوحيد وقلت له: إني أقول بقول هشام بن الحكم، فغضب عليه السلام ثم قال: مالكم ولقول هشام؟ إنه ليس منا من زعم أن الله جسم، ونحن منه برآء في الدنيا والآخرة، يا ابن دلف إن الجسم محدث، والله محدثه و مجسمه

Ibn al-Mutawakkil – Ali – his father – al-Saqr b. Dalaf who said: I asked Aba al-Hasan Ali b. Muhammad عليهما السلام about Tawhid and said to him: I subscribe to the belief of Hisham b. al-Hakam. He became angry and said: What do you have to do with the belief of Hisham? He is not from us the one who claims that Allah is a body. We disassociate from such a one in this world and the hereafter. O the son of Dalaf – a body is accidental and Allah is its cause and the one who forms it.

The common thread running through all these narrations is Hisham’s affirmation of the corporeality of God. In order to get a better understanding of Hisham’s actual position and motivations, one needs to piece together the disparate data and overcome the many layers of confusion in the sources. A beginning point has to be the context of Kalam in the second century.

Theoretical Framework

The view of God in Islam is formulated based on the foundation of the verse in the Qur’an which says:

لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ

There is nothing like Him (2:11)

A Kalam question that originated over the interpretation of this verse was whether God may be described as a shayʾ, meaning a ‘thing’ or ‘something’. The controversy arose when the early Murjiʾi, Jahm b. Safwan (d. 128) asserted that God was not a thing. This Jahm has been described by Western academics as “the first Muslim ‘theologian’ in the full and proper sense”. Documentation about him is scarce and not entirely reliable.

Jahm lived and taught in North-Eastern Iran, and it may well be that he never left the territory of Khurasan. It is claimed that Jahm is the first or among the first who introduced the method of reasoning to derive opinions from propositions (ra’y) in Islam. He stood accused of drawing on pagan Greek philosophy which he borrowed from Hellenistic philosophers (al-falasifa), Christian heretics, and Jews.

Jahm’s concept of God, in particular his distinction between God and ‘things’ (ashya’), has been described by scholars as neo-Platonic. This would indicate a link with Harran and the ideas of the Sabians who were living there.

It should be remembered that Umar b. Yazid, the uncle of Hisham b. al-Hakam, claimed that Hisham followed the Madhhab of the Jahmiyya before his conversion to the truth at the hands of the Imam al-Sadiq.

وقال الكشي: روي عن عمر بن يزيد: وكان ابن أخي هشام يذهب في الدين مذاهب الجهمية خبيثا فيهم

Thus, it is natural that he would be influenced by Jahm’s system of thought.

Most Muslim scholars understood the verse in the sense of ‘no thing at all is like him’ refusing any degree of ‘likeness to God’. They interpreted the Qurʾanic verse as meaning that God is a thing unlike all other (created) things.

Jahm’s explanation was different. His emphasis lay on the conclusion that the term ‘thing’ does not refer to God. That is to say, to be a thing is to share the property ‘likeness’, e.g. to be dead like another dead thing and unlike a living thing. The property ‘likeness’ then is an inseparable accident concomitant with ‘thing’.

God, according to the Jahmites, exists outside the realm of all things which share the property to be like and unlike other things, thus He cannot be referred to as ‘thing’ (He is a non-thing). The majority understood any denial of God being a shayʾ as implying His being nothing. Jahm b. Safwan, to be sure, did not mean to affirm that God was nothing. He recognised God as most real, the only reality, but the controversy persisted.

This question was authoritatively settled by Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as far as the school of Ahl al-Bayt are concerned).

محمد بن يعقوب، عن علي بن إبراهيم، عن محمد بن عيسى، عن عبد الرحمن ابن أبي نجران قال: سألت أبا جعفر عليه السلام عن التوحيد فقلت: أتوهم شيئا؟ فقال: نعم، غير معقول ولا محدود، فما وقع وهمك عليه من شئ فهو خلافه، لا يشبهه شئ ولا تدركه الاوهام، كيف تدركه الاوهام وهو خلاف ما يعقل، وخلاف ما يتصور في الاوهام؟! إنما يتوهم شئ غير معقول ولا محدود

Muhammad b. Ya’qub – Ali b. Ibrahim – Muhammad b. Isa – Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Najran who said: I asked Aba Ja’far عليه السلام about Tawhid saying: do I think of him a thing? He said: Yes. (Something) neither cognisable nor delimited. Whatever your imagination falls upon is different than He, nothing resembles Him and imaginations cannot reach Him. How could imaginations reach Him when He is different from what can be cognised and different from what is represented in imagination? (He must) only be thought of as a thing that is neither cognisable nor delimited.

Hisham submissively followed the Imam in thinking of God as a ‘thing’ but this meant that he had to then abide by the implications of such a decision seeing as though his former master Jahm also taught that each thing exists when it exists as an existent body (jism mawjud). The incorporeal is non-existent (ma`dum, ma laysa bi-mawjudin). For something to exist it had to be a ‘body’.

Tathbit not Ta’til or Tabtil

محمد بن مسعود، قال: حدثني علي بن محمد القمي، قال: حدثني أحمد ابن محمد بن خالد البرقي، عن أبي عبد الله محمد بن موسى بن عيسى من أهل همدان، قال: حدثني أشكيب بن عبدك الكيساني، قال: حدثني عبد الملك بن هشام الحناط، قال: قلت لأبي الحسن الرضا عليه السلام: أسألك جعلني الله فداك؟ قال: سل يا جبلي عما ذا تسألني، فقلت: جعلت فداك، زعم هشام بن سالم أن الله عز وجل صورة وأن آدم خلق على مثل الرب، فنصف هذا ونصف هذا، وأوميت إلى جانبي وشعر رأسي، وزعم يونس مولى آل يقطين، وهشام بن الحكم أن الله شئ لا كالأشياء، وان الأشياء بائنة منه، وأنه بائن من الأشياء، وزعما أن إثبات الشئ أن يقال جسم فهو لا كالأجسام، شئ لا كالأشياء، ثابت موجود، غير مفقود ولا معدوم خارج من الحدين، حد الابطال وحد التشبيه، فبأي القولين أقول؟ قال: فقال عليه السلام: أراد هذا الاثبات، وهذا شبه ربه عالي بمخلوق، تعالى الله الذي ليس له شبه ولا مثل، ولا عدل ولا نظير، ولا هو بصفة المخلوقين، لا تقل بمثل ما قال هشام بن سالم، وقل بما قال مولى آل يقطين وصاحبه. قال: قلت: فنعطي الزكاة من خالف هشاما في التوحيد؟ فقال برأسه: لا

Muhammad b. Masud – Ali b. Muhammad al-Qummi – Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Khalid al-Barqi – Abi Abdillah Muhammad b. Musa b. Isa from among the people Hamdan – Ishkib b. Abdak al-Kaysani – Abd al-Malik b. Hisham al-Hannat who said: I said to Abi al-Hasan al-Ridha عليه السلام: Can I ask you – may I be made your ransom? He said: Ask O Jabali – what do you want to ask me about? I said: May I be made your ransom – Hisham b. Salim claims that Allah Mighty and Majestic has a form and that Adam was created in the likeness of the Lord. Half human and half otherwise – and I pointed to my sides and the hair of my head.

Yunus the client of the family of Yaqtin and Hisham b. al-Hakam claim that Allah is a thing unlike other things, and that the other things are distinct from Him and He is distinct from the things. And they claimed that to establish the existence of a thing is to consider it a body, but he is unlike any other body, a thing unlike any other thing. Self-subsisting, present. Not lost or non-existent. Free of the two extremes, the extreme of negation and the extreme of likening Him to his creation.

Which of these two positions should I take?

He عليه السلام said: This one (Hisham b. al-Hakam) desired Ithbat (to establish the existence of God) while the other one (Hisham b. Salim) likened His Lord the Elevated with creation.

Elevated is Allah who has no like, analogue, equal or match. He is not in the attribute of the created ones. Do not subscribe to what was said by Hisham b. Salim rather subscribe to what was said by the Client of the family of Yaqtin and his fellow (Hisham b. al-Hakam).

I said: Do we give Zakat to the one who opposes Hisham (b. al-Hakam) in Tawhid? He said with his head: No.

In the same Kitab al-Maqalat, we encounter another view attributed to Hisham which seems much more credible than the previous quote and backs up my interpretation.

The view of the anonymous ‘second group of the Rafidha’ below evidently belongs to the school of Hisham b. al-Hakam.

والفرقة الثانية من الرافضة: … إنما يذهبون في قولهم أنه جسم إلى أنه موجود ولا يثبتون البارئ ذا أجزاء مؤتلفة وأبعاض متلاصقة

The second group from the Rafidha … when they refer to him as a body they wish to assert that he is Existent. They do not ascribe to the Creator parts which are combined or limbs adjoining one another.

Thus, Hisham’s aim was Tathbit to affirm the Existence of God and to escape the charge of Ta’til (denying the attributes of God) and Tabtil (invalidating the existence of God). He accepted that God was a thing. This in his system meant that He was a body. But what kind of Body?

To be continued.