Before arguing that God is attributed with speech, it is first important to understand what we mean by “speech”. Of particular importance, is the distinction between speech and the utterances which express it. Imam Fakhr Al-Deen Al-Razi explores this in his Al-Arba’een fi Usul Al-Deen. The Imam writes:

Know that if a human uttered the phrase “give me water”, then before uttering those words, he finds within himself a request for water [which he then expresses with the phrase “give me water”]. And the essence of this request is other than the essence of that utterance. We offer several proofs for this distinction.

First: that the essence of this request does not change with time and place, whereas the utterances may change with time and place[1].

Second: that all people of intellect axiomatically know that a person’s uttering the sound “do”, signifies a request that subsists within the utterer. And what is signified is other than the signification.

Three: that all people of intellect axiomatically know that the utterance “do” is not a request or a command, until people have agreed for this utterance to signify that meaning. As for the meaning which subsists within the utterer, then its being a request or command is something that is intrinsic to its reality, and does not depend on the establishment of a convention[2].

Four: that uttering “he is hitting” or “he hits” is a signification of informing, whereas uttering “hit” or “don’t hit” is a signification of commanding or prohibiting. And if those who established the convention chose to, they could have made it so that the utterance “he is hitting” or “he hits” signified the commanding, and the utterance “hit” or “don’t hit” signified the informing. But those same people would not be able to change the reality of the informing into commanding, or vice versa [and what they can change, is other than what they cannot].

Thus, the above clear proofs indicate that the reality of a request and the reality of speech, is distinct from the reality of the utterance. Rather, the utterance expresses the speech, and is proof of its existence.

– Al-Razi, Al-Arba’een fi Usul Al-Deen (Vol. 1, pg. 244)

And we refer to what the Imam calls a “request”, that quality that the speaker is attributed with, as Self Speech (Kalam Nafsi). As for the sounds and gestures which express the meanings that this quality signifies, we call those Uttered Speech (Kalam Lafthi).

The Imam goes on further by drawing a distinction between this Self Speech, and the will and knowledge of the speaker. He writes:

So let us now investigate the essence of this request, the essence of this mental judgment that we call speech. So we say: this request is either the will, or it is a quality that is other than the will. The first is false, so the second must be true. And we claim that it cannot be the will for the following reasons:

First: There is no dispute that Allah ﷻ has commanded belief [in Islam] from those who He knows will never believe. And it would be incorrect to say: “Allah willed faith from this person”, because Allah knew that this person will never believe. After all, it is impossible for what Allah knows will occur, to not occur. And that which will not occur, is necessarily not willed by Him.

So since it is established that Allah commands that which He does not will to occur, we come to know: the essence of the command is distinct from the essence of the will. And this is a strong argument for proving this distinction.

Second: It is possible for one to command a thing and not will it, or will a thing and not command it.

As for the commanding of a thing but not willing it, we offer several examples:

Firstly: suppose the Sultan commanded Zayd to command ‘Amr to do something. And suppose Zayd did not will for ‘Amr to do this thing, but only commanded him to do it because of the Sultan’s order. Here Zayd has commanded a thing, even though he did not will it.

Secondly, the example our companions (رحمهم الله) offered: suppose a man beat his slave, and the slave went to complain to the Sultan. Then the Sultan asked the man “why did you beat your slave?” And the man responded “he does not obey me.” And to prove that the slave does not obey him, the man then commands the slave to do such and such [intending that the slave not obey him, to demonstrate to the Sultan the slave’s disobedience]. Here the man has commanded his slave to do something, even though he did not will this thing from the slave, for otherwise this would ruin his excuse to the Sultan.

Thirdly: that when Allah ﷻ informed the Prophet ﷺ that Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab would die upon disbelief, the Prophet ﷺ did not will Islam from them. For if either accepted Islam, then this would make what was revealed to the Prophet ﷺ a lie. Thus, it is established that the Prophet ﷺ did not will Islam from them. Despite this, the Prophet ﷺ commanded them to accept Islam. From this we know: that the commanding of a thing can occur without the commander’s willing for it to occur.

As for someone willing a thing and not commanding it, then this is obviously possible. In fact, some people explicitly admit to this when they say “I want you to do this, but I am not commanding you to do it”.

From the above it is established that the request that subsists within the requester is other than the requester’s will.

We then say: there is no doubt that our uttering statements like “Zayd stood” and “‘Amr beat” signifies a mental judgement. And this mental judgment is other than the power and will of the judge [as has been shown above]. What’s left is for the opponent to say: “this mental judgment is itself belief and knowledge”. Proving that this is not the case, would be proof that this mental judgment is distinct from will, power, and knowledge, and this is all what we mean by Self Speech.

And we claim that the mental judgement [that signifies the meanings expressed by the utterances] does not belong to the genus of known information or beliefs: this is because when I am in a state of knowing that the world is emergent, I can mentally say “the world is beginningless”. For the mind can construct false propositions in the same way it can construct true propositions. And the signification of the false proposition exists in the mind, even though knowledge of what is signified does not [since what is signified is known to be false]. And this decisively proves that this mental judgment is distinct from knowledge and belief.

So if it said: this mental judgment is nothing more than an abstract supposition of the mind.

We respond: let’s grant this for the sake of arguement. The fact remains that this ‘supposition’ [which signifies meanings] is a quality that is distinct from knowledge and belief, and distinct from power and will, and that quality is what we seek to prove exists. And it matters not what you decide to call this quality, whether you call it a “supposition” or not [i.e. call it “Speech”].

It is thus establish from the above: that this mental request is other than the will, and that this mental judgement is other than knowledge and belief.

– Al-Razi, Al-Arba’een fi Usul Al-Deen (Vol. 1, pg. 246)

And from what the Imam demonstrated above, we understand that a speaker is a speaker, and a requester is a requester, by virtue of the Self Speech that he is attributed with. Not by virtue of the expressive sounds he emits[3]. In fact, the expression proves the existence of a quality by virtue of which the requester is a requester[4]. And this quality is what we call “Speech”. 


[1]  Meaning: we can express a request for water using different sounds. Either by using different English words, or by using words from another language.

And so what changes [i.e. the sounds which signify that request] is other than that which remains unchanged [i.e. the request for water, which subsists within the speaker no matter how the speaker chooses to express this request].

[2] And what depends on the establishment of a convention, is other than that which does not.

[3] I add: this is because a being may emit those sounds and not be considered a speaker or a requester.

For example: suppose you received a request over the phone from Zayd. In this case, the being emitting the sounds that express this request to you, is the phone in your hand. Despite this, you know that the phone is not the requester.

Thus, the requester is not a requester by virtue of the expressive sounds emitted. Rather, the existence of this expressive sound is proof for the existence of a requester, who is attributed with Self Speech.

[4] The existence of an expression signifying a request, is proof for the existence of a requester that issued this request. This is known axiomatically. 

And being a requester means nothing more than being attributed with a quality by virtue of which the requester signified the request. This is argued for using what Imam Al-Razi presented above. This quality is what we call Self Speech. 

Thus, the existence of an expression signifying a request, is proof for the existence of Self Speech.

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