The accessible sources of contemporary Anglosphere writings on the Athari creed are dominated by refutation pdfs in emotional language or by lengthy academic works that overwhelm the layman. Dr. Hatem al-Haj’s new book offers a fresh departure from these as it demonstrates a polite, academic, yet short and accessible introduction of the Athari divine ontology and its critics, with aim to persuade the reader of its soundness. In 120 pages of content, Dr. al-Haj explains the Scriptural and rational basis for his epistemology and his aqidah, starting with a discussion on sectarianism, takfīr and the ethics of ikhtilāf, emphasising disagreeing with love. Following this introduction, his explanation of his creed can be split into four sections.
The first section explains the role of reason in the Taymiyyan epistemology, clarifying that the Athari view does not entail diminishing the office of reason, and detailing the epistemic basis from which we know the religion to be true. Following a discussion of sense experience and reason, he gives a summary of the arguments in Dar’ at-Ta`ārud on why the explicit meanings of the authentic Scripture cannot be negated by purportedly rational proofs. The second section begins the Athari understanding of tanzīh (God’s transcendence, prepending that with a discussion on nominalism and following it up with al-Qadr al-Mushtarak.
Following this, he goes on to explain the meaning of amodal affirmation (ithbāt al-ma3nā bilā kayfah) for the next twenty pages and notes the reliance on the “la kayfa wa la ma3na” by the mufawwidah. By the end of the book, he spends around 25 pages explaining the rational arguments of the mutafalsifah and the jahmiyyah on (i) the perfect not being subject to change (ii) composite god and divisibility (iii) on the questions of tashbih and tajsim.
The main reflections that came to me from this book were a realisation of what it does not aim to do and what its objective is not. This book is not a polemical work, nor is it a philosophical treatise, nor does it explain many credal differences beyond divine ontology, nor is it a historiographic explanation of the evolution of credal positions. Nor is it a systematic explanation of all of the contradictions in adversary creeds, nor does it try to ruthlessly document and anticipate every counter-argument and counter-counter-argument. This book is a gentle, introductory and explanatory overview, explained in soft tone, and a calm navigation and cruise through a number of evidence points on why the Dr. believes what he believes.