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

An example is the apparent contradiction between references to God having human characteristics (such as the "Hand of God" or the "Face of God") and the concept of God as being transcendental. The position of attributing actual hands or an actual face to God was known as mujassima ("corporealist") or mushabbih ("anthropomorphist").[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 (c. 873–936) originated the use of the term in his development of the orthodox Ash'ari school against some of the paradoxes of the rationalist Muʿtazila. Instead of explaining that God has a literal face (which would anthropomorphize God), he explained that the earliest Muslims simply accepted the verses as they stand - without asking how or why.[5] This view was held by the vast majority of Sunni Muslims from the first generations of Islam.

Another source credits Ahmad ibn Hanbal, founder of the Hanbali school of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) as the original creator of the doctrine.[6]

Nuh Ha Mim Keller states that both ibn Hanbal and al-Ash'ari held the same creed of and consisted of accepting the words of the mutashabihat "unapparent meanings" of the Qur'an and hadith as they have come without saying how they are meant.[7]


The term "bi-la kayf" is the belief that the verses of the Qur'an with an "unapparent meaning" should be accepted as they have come without saying how they are meant. For example, Imam Ahmad was asked about the hadiths mentioning "Allah's descending", "seeing Allah", and "placing His foot on hell"; and the like, and he replied: "We believe in them and consider them true, without 'how' and without 'meaning' (bi la kayfa wa la ma‘na) and with firmly believing that these words have a meaning that Allah knows, and that literal meaning isn't meant".[8]


  1. ^ a b Kadri, Sadakat (2012). Heaven on Earth: A Journey Through Shari'a Law from the Deserts of Ancient Arabia to the Streets of the Modern Muslim World. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 187. ISBN 978-1-4668-0218-6.
  2. ^ Rafiabadi, Hamid Naseem (2009). The Intellectual Legacy of Ibn Taimiyah. Pinnacle Technology. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-61820-648-0.
  3. ^ Felicitas Opwis, David Reisman (eds.), Islamic Philosophy, Science, Culture, and Religion: Studies in Honor of Dimitri Gutas (2011), p. 458. Toshihiko Izutsu, Sufism and Taoism: A Comparative Study of Key Philosophical Concepts (1984), p. 49.
  4. ^ Wensinck, A J (2013). The Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical Development. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 1-135-03009-X.
  5. ^ a b Rafiabadi, Hamid Naseem (2009). The Intellectual Legacy of Ibn Taimiyah. Pinnacle Technology. p. 74-5. ISBN 978-1-61820-648-0.
  6. ^ Akhtar, Shabbir (2007). The Quran and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-134-07255-2.
  7. ^ Keller, Sheikh Nuh. "Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal". Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  8. ^ Kawthari, Daf‘ shubah al-tashbih. Cairo n.d. Reprint. Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Tawfiqiyya, 1396/1976, 28

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