Bi-la kaifa

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The Arabic phrase bi-la kayfa, also bi la kaifa, (Arabic: بلا كيف) is roughly translated as "without asking how," or "without [knowing] how".[1] It was a way of resolving theological problems in Islam over apparent contradictions in verses in the Qur'an by accepting without questioning.[1] [2]

An example is (what some thought was) the contradiction between references to God (Arabic: اللهAllāh) having human characteristics (such as the "Hand of God" or the "Face of God"), and the Islamic concept of God as being transcendental, as evident in the Quranic verse "There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the Hearing, the Seeing,"(Quran 42:11).[3] Another was the question of how the Quran could be both the word of God, but never have been created by God because (as many Hadith testified) it has always existed.[4] [5]


Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (ca. 873-936) originated the use of the term in his development of a theological system that would resolve some of the paradoxes[citation needed] in the rationalist Mu'tazilah school of thought. Instead of explaining how God can have a face (which would anthropomorphize God) or explaining the verses as metaphorical (which would cast doubt on the literalness of the Qur'an) readers simply accept the verses as they stand, without asking how or why.[5]

From roughly the 12th century onward, the newly formed Ash'ari sect left off the theological system considered the primary concept of al-Ash'ari himself, abandoning "bi-la kayf" and accepting the metaphorical interpretations al-Ash'ari once opposed so strenuously.[6]

Another source credits Ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali school of fiqh or jurisprudence) as the original creator of the doctrine.[7]

Literalism and interpretation[edit]

The term "bi-la kayf" is the belief that the verses of the Qur'an, particularly those related to the names and attributes of God, should be taken at their apparent meaning rather than employing figurative interpretation. An example would be the belief that Allah has literal hands; the Qur'an mentions specifically that Allah created man with his two hands. The difference of opinion arises when reconciling the attribute with the statement that Allah is unlike the creation. According to this methodology, the reconciliation is done by affirming the apparent meaning of the verses and negating the similarity of the attributes of the creator to the attributes of the creation. Precisely how Allah's attributes function are not elaborated upon and left as part of the Al-Ghaib.


  1. ^ a b Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. p. 187. ISBN 9780099523277. 
  2. ^ Rafiabadi, Hamid Naseem (2009). The Intellectual Legacy of Ibn Taimiyah. New Delhi: Pinnacle Technology. ISBN 978-81-7625-906-4. Retrieved 7 September 2015. 
  3. ^ Surat Ash-Shūraá 42:11
  4. ^ Wensinck, A J (2008) [1932]. The Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical Development. Routledge. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia ... macmillan. pp. 74–5. ISBN 9780099523277. 
  6. ^ Muslim Philosophy
  7. ^ Akhtar, Shabbir. "12". The Quran and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam. Routledge. Retrieved 8 September 2015. 

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