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Tashbīh

Tashbīh (Arab., shabaha, ‘liken, compare’). The issue raised in Islam by statements in the Qurʾān which attribute to God human likenesses—e.g. a face, hands, and eyes—and which describe him talking and sitting. A fierce battleground in early Islam (see ALLĀH), it led to an avoidance of literal anthropomorphism by affirming tanzīh (keeping God free from such reductions to human size), along with an agnostic acceptance of the language bilā kaif (see ALLĀH), without knowing how it is to be taken. The opposite view was to accept that nothing can be said of God beyond the extremely approximate and corrigible, and that God should be emptied of all attributes (taʿṭīl): they cannot belong literally to his own nature or being, and simply reflect our perception of his dealings with us. An intermediate (but often suspect) position (taʾwīl) took the statements of the Qurʾān to be allegorical. The issue has remained central to the major and continuing divisions of Islam. See also TANZĪH.

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