This website and its content came about through circumstances which I couldn’t have envisaged three years ago when I first decided to put my Islamic studies on a more formal, classical footing—but such situations are often the way with Allaah (a.w.j.).
In common with many people who have accepted Islaam in adulthood, or who have turned their attention towards gaining a greater understanding of the Islaam in which they were raised, I had (over a period of more than 20 years) read, watched and listened to a great deal of material covering almost all aspects of Islaam from authors and speakers of many points of view. I hadn’t, however, actually memorised very much apart from several Chapters of the Qur’aan and the ahaadeeth containing the supplications and athkaar of the Messenger of Allaah (p.b.u.h.) for reciting at certain times of the day, or for specific promises of reward. I decided therefore to step up a level and try to memorise and study in more detail the ’Aqeedah of Imaam Aboo Ja’far at-Tahaawee.
I started this undertaking while working full-time and also meeting (at least some of) the demands of having a wife and three teenage children, so my initial ambitions were purposely quite modest and realistic. After choosing the text I wanted to study, I then set about collecting published and readily available materials for the Arabic text (printed and recited) and the English translation. With the help of a friend, Larbi Benrezzouk, who is a translator of classical Arabic, I arrived at a standard, grammatically correct and annotated text for me to memorise. The English translation turned out to be more of an issue.
From looking at six previous translations and commentaries, it quickly became clear that they were not in fact just translations, but concealed attempts at influencing the English-speaking reader into accepting the individual translator’s School of Thought on particular aspects of belief—under the pretext of “clarifying” the issues involved. This meant my basically having to start from scratch and look at the Arabic myself, to see where the differences originated and whether they were within the realms of acceptable differences in understanding. I took the decision to start from the absolute basics of identifying (with help) the triliteral roots from which most words in the ’aqeedah were derived, then the words’ grammatical structures and verb forms—to assist in identifying their literal meanings and the senses in which they are used and understood by an Arabic speaker.
This is not something I would ever consider or recommend for a definitive understanding of either the Qur’aan or ahaadeeth, as there is so much more to their understanding than this. If one looks at sites containing multiple translations of the Qur’aan, for example, one can find sometimes major differences in understanding of certain verses, and as such, they should only be studied in a definitive way under the guidance of a known expert in this area. This isn’t to say that independent Qur’anic study shouldn’t be entered into, but that any such study should only be to appreciate how translations have been derived, and to identify and gain an awareness of matters that require a greater degree of knowledge, understanding and guided learning.
In ’Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah, the differences in translation came under four main categories: Firstly where the Arabic had slightly different wordings in different publications, for example by additions of short phrases or uses of passive tenses for verbs rather than the active ones reported elsewhere. These don’t change the overall nature of the ’Aqeedah, but for anyone interested in looking more deeply into this area, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has compiled the differences he found in the four texts he used for his own translation and partial commentary, The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi (Zaytuna Institute, 2007) under a section entitled Notes to the Arabic Text.
The second main area of differences was that of choice of meaning for some of the words in the Arabic text. Most differences in specific choices of wording were within the range of meanings of the original Arabic, although very few translators took the time to think about why the Imaam chose to use pairings of synonyms in some of his statements, or the implications arising from use of words derived from specific roots. Due to this, they seem to have just taken a pick-and-mix approach from the range of meanings available, rather than identifying the contrasts, opposites and parallels in meanings that the Arabic perhaps warrants. While these issues might be thought of as weaknesses in translation—arising from shortage of time in all likelihood—they don’t change the overall nature of the aspects of belief being discussed by the Imaam.
The third area was that of instances where the translator in effect gave their own wording to explain an area of belief being stated by the Imaam, and as such they often bear very little resemblance to the original text. This is more “giving a lesson” rather than translating.
The fourth area is the one, sometimes combined with instances from the third area, where the problems arise. It is where the translator has deleted, added to, changed or completely (and one would have to assume intentionally) mistranslated a particular statement of the Imaam in order to conceal or misrepresent what the Imaam said, or to introduce their own different beliefs.
This area is one where I feel my approach of individually identifying the words used by the Imaam, and deriving their roots and grammatical structures, to be valid. It allows one to check if and how each word of the Arabic has been translated; which words and phrases have been unjustifiably added, and to differentiate between the instances of differing grammar approaches between Arabic and English—instances where it can be said “we don’t do it that way”, and instances where we have the same approach, but the translator has nevertheless changed the grammar of a word or phrase, to avoid the implications arising from the structure used by the Imaam—changing a verb to a noun, for example, to avoid the understanding of Allaah’s Nature arising from use of a verb.
This work expanded to be a word-by-word analysis of the ’Aqeedah, with the original Arabic text followed by a transliteration for readers who can’t follow the Arabic, then listings of words for individual statements, with their roots, ranges of meanings, references to dictionaries containing classical and contemporary meanings, and finally, contextual translations. The individual words are then compiled into minimalist, literal translations/transliterations, to enable a closer understanding of the vocabulary and structure of the original Arabic text in the way it would be understood by an Arabic speaker. Statements are finally represented by a close-to-literal translation in more standard English. Each root, its derivatives, and the statements in which they occur are compiled in a glossary.
All this was done so that a reader can follow the translation stage by stage from the Arabic to the English, and can independently check to see that nothing has been added, taken away, misrepresented, or unjustifiably or inconsistently translated in any way. Occasional references to how certain words are used in the Qur’aan by Allaah (a.w.j.) are given, and to how they sometimes relate to other statements in the ’Aqeedah, but apart from that, no other commentary is given either for or against any particular School of Thought, and neither is one necessary. The Imaam can speak for himself.
Using this approach, a reader can, if they choose, then study other translations of the ’Aqeedah and see where any corruptions have been introduced. This will allow them to identify Schools of Thought who publicly claim to believe the ’Aqeedah of the Imaam, but in fact don’t, and to identify the School of Thought which does accept and believe the ’Aqeedah of the Imaam as stated by him.
I’ve published this work as a 300+ page A4 e-book Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah in English: A Study Aid, and have extracted two further publications from this, for quicker reference: Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah: Arabic Text (in A5 landscape format) and Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah: English Translation (in A5 portrait format).
Following on from this initial work, I realised that despite the simple, instinctive nature of correct Islamic beliefs concerning Allaah (a.w.j.)—as detailed in the Qur’aan, the teachings of our Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and in ’Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah—there was a pressing need for a detailed, evidence-based explanation in English of how an individual can recognise and understand why he or she has those correct beliefs. There was also a need for a detailed, step-by-step explanation of exactly how and why the main deviations in belief that exist in the Muslim ummah arose, how they are still justified by their adherents, and how they can be easily and clearly identified from the Qur’aan, ahaadeeth, ’Aqeedah at-Tahaawiyyah and the writings of the scholars of these astray groups. Without such a reference work, Muslims can still be hoodwinked into accepting the arguments of scholars whose beliefs contradict those of Imaam at-Tahaawee. These scholars have inherited centuries of practice in the arts of misrepresentation, misdirection, distraction and obfuscation, so it takes more than just a few discussions or readings of their works to peel back the layers of their arguments and “evidences” to reveal their techniques and to finally pin down their mistakes.
This work has been published as a 160+ page A4 e-book Identifing Islaam’s Saved Sect.
While these books were written primarily for a Muslim audience, the analytical, referenced approach to their structures and arguments also makes them valuable resources for non-Muslims, who can benefit from a more direct access to the beliefs of the first generations of Muslims, and an understanding of the foundational reasons for doctrinal differences between contemporary Muslim groups and communities. These doctrinal differences still play a major part in social cohesion difficulties within and between Muslim nations and communities, and feed into the extremism being experienced around the world by non-Muslims and Muslims alike.