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What is the difference between the attribute of ma’ani and ma’nawiyyah?



Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.

To make the understanding of society regarding aqidah easier, scholars emphasized several important attributes that every Muslim is obligated to believe so that his understanding in regards to the matters of godliness could be correctly understood.

The 20 Attributes of Allah SWT is arranged a bit late in the progression of madhhab Asya’irah. It can be said, it emerges during the end stage or era of the arrangement of the discussion of godliness according to madhhab Asya’irah. The 20 Attributes is collected by Imam al-Sanusi in his book Umm al-Barahin and commented by various scholars in the world. Before Imam al-Sanusi, the discussion on the attributes of Allah SWT is already stated in their books. Among them are Imam al-Haramain al-Juwaini [1] who divides the attributes of Allah SWT to nafsiyyah and ma’nawiyyah [2] while Imam Fakhruddin al-Razi divided the attributes of Allah into salbiyyah, idhafiyyah and haqiqiyyah. [3]

The discussion on the attributes of Allah was initially discussed in the time of Imam Abu Hasan al-Ash’ari which emphasizes the basic attributes stated in the Quran which are qudrah, iradah,’ilm, hayah, sama’, basar and kalam. These 7 attributes are the obligatory attributes of Allah SWT. These are the attributes that are named as ma’ani attribute of which we will explain their difference with the attribute of ma’nawiyyah. Four parts of the attributes of Allah that are arranged by Imam al-Sanusi are the attribute of nafsiyyah, salbiyyah, ma’ani and ma’nawiyyah.

Definition of the Attribute of Ma’ani

The attribute of ma’ani is for anything that exists, stands on His existence which obligates rulings on it. Another definition is “Anything that shows the meaning that stands on the Essence.”[4] Simply put, it means the 7 attributes stands on themselves and it obligates all the determinants for the 7 attributes of ma’ani which are the attribute of ma’nawiyyah.

Imam al-Sanusi said:

ثُمَّ يَجِبُ لَهُ تَعَالَى سَبْعُ صِفَاتٍ تُسَمَّى صِفَاتِ الْمَعَانِى

Then, it is an obligation for Him the 7 attributes that are named as the attributes of ma’ani.

The attributes of ma’ani are qudrah (The Almighty), iradah (The Decree), ‘ilm (The All-Knowing), hayah (The All-Living), sama’ (The All-Hearing), basar (The All-Seeing) and kalam (The All-Saying).

Asya’irah scholars named the ma’ani attributes refers to the true reality that exists on the essence of Allah which are the 7 main attributes; qudrah, iradah, ‘ilm, hayah, sama’, basar and kalam. [5]

Al-Imam al-Baijuri in his Hasyiah stated: “Know that ma’ani attributes from the angle of ta’alluq [6] and its absence, the same for general ta’alluq for an obligation, permissibility and impossibility especially with mumkinat or maujudat are divided into 4:

  • Those who ta’alluq with mumkinat which means the attribute of qudrah and iradah but ta’alluq with the first attribute which is qudrah is ta’alluq ijad (its existence) and ‘idam (its absence). While the second ta’alluq (the attribute of iradah) is ta’alluq takhsis (determinant).
  • Those who ta’alluq with the obligation, permissibility and impossibility is the attribute of ‘ilm and However, ta’alluq for the first attribute which is ‘ilm is ta’alluq inkisyaf (openness). While, ta’alluq for the second attribute which is kalam is ta’alluq dalalah which is guidance.
  • Those who ta’alluq with everything that is maujud which are sama’, basar and (idrak) [7], if there are who hold such opinion.
  • Those who ta’alluq with something which is knowing that all ta’alluq is not an obligation on a mukallaf for it is included in matters which are complex in the knowledge of kalam as stated by Syeikh al-Barawi [8] from Sayyidi Muhammad al-Saghir and stated by al-Syeikh al-Shanwani. [9]

The Definition of the Attribute of Ma’nawiyyah

Here we state the several definitions of it:

  • The attributes of ma’nawiyyah are attributes that exist due to the existence of the attribute of ma’ani. In other words, the attribute of ma’nawiyyah exist because of the existence of the attribute of ma’ani.
  • It is also said that the attributes of ma’nawiyyah is the nazariyyah ahwal according to Abi Hashim al-Mu’tazili. [10] For example, with the existence of the attribute of ‘ilm on the essence of Allah, then the effect of it is the situation where Allah has the attribute of being the All-Knowing (kaunuhu ‘aliman).
  • Al-Baqillani said: “Every attribute that is maujud that does not exist, then it is a matter. Whether it is the meaning that is obligatory from what is conditioned on the hayah (All-Living) or not conditioned, for example the situation of alive is living.” See Nihayat al-Iqdam, pg.45.
  • According to al-Ilji: “It is the intermediary between maujud and non-existence.” See al-Mawaqif, 1/279.

According to Imam al-Sanusi,

ثُمَّ سَبْعُ صِفَاتٍ تُسَمَّى صِفَاتٍ مَعْنَوِيَّةً وَهِيَ مُلَازَمَةٌ لِلسَّبْعِ الْأُوْلَى

“Then the 7 attributes that is named as the attributes of ma’nawiyyah which are the constant of the previous 7 attributes (ma’ani).”

These attributes are kaunuhu qadiran (His situation of the Almighty), kaunuhu muridan (His situation of the All-Decreeing), kaunuhu ‘aliman (His situation of the All-Knowing), kaunuhu hayyan (His situation of the All-Living), kaunuhu sami’an (His situation of the All-Hearing), kaunuhu basiran (His situation of the All-Seeing), kaunuhu mutakalliman (His situation of the All-Saying).

The Difference Between the Attributes of Ma’ani and Ma’nawiyyah

The attributes of ma’ani is not the essence of Allah Himself but are attributes which stand on His Essence. Thus, it is known as the attributes of the Essence while the attribute of ma’nawiyyah are attributes that are outside from the Essence. There are several differences between these two attributes, although there are some scholars who considered them as the same. The differences are:

  • The attributes of ma’ani is the usul while the attributes of ma’nawiyyah is division of it. [11]
  • The attributes of ma’ani is the reason (‘illah) and the attribute of ma’nawiyyah is the effect (ma’lul).
  • The attributes of ma’ani is the attributes of the Essence of Allah appropriate with His perfection. While the attributes of ma’nawiyyah are a constant for the Essence of Allah where it is impossible that Allah SWT does not display the attribute.
  • The attributes of ma’ani is awujudiyyah attribute that is rational and accepted by akal zihin and its external while the attributes of ma’nawiyyah are attributes that are thabit and accepted by akal zihin but not its external. See Tahzib Syarh al-Sanusiyyah, pg. 43.

Here, we state the statement of al-Baijuri, “This is in consideration of the number of the attributes of ma’nawiyyah, indeed congruent with the opinion that thabit the ahwal which is the attribute that is non-existent and absent. Furthermore, it is the intermediary between existence and non-existence.” This is the opinion of Imam al-Sanusi in al-Sughra where he said “… the chosen according to the tahqiq is that it is not a matter for indeed a matter has the attribute of an impossibility.” [12]

For an easy example, Allah SWT’s Essence has the attribute of al-Rizq. With this attribute, He provides sustenance for all the universe. The act of providing sustenance is attributed as al-Raziq (The Provider).


In our opinion, the attributes of ma’ani such as qudrah and the constant or the His situation of being qudrah is the attribute of ma’nawiyyah. And the thabit from these attributes that stands on the Essence are the 7 ma’anit attributes. As for the attributes of ma’nawiyyah, it is more to the ta’bir of the existence of the meaning of the attributes of the Essence and numerous scholars such as Imam al-Sanusi considered the attributes of ma’nawiyyah are included in the 20 Attributes, although Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Asy’ari Rahimahullah himself did not considered them as such. Indeed, everything that have been discussed above is only taken from al-Quran and al-Hadith. We try our best to simplify this discussion so that it can be understood by the public and be a guide and beneficial knowledge in our lives as Muslims.