A Contested Concept: The Image of God in Islam
Dr. Matthew Puffer
Theology - The Image of God Seminar
Muslims throughout the world might be surprised to learn that Islamic scholars have considered the “image of God” a central term for thinking about theological anthropology. For, unlike the sacred scriptures of their Jewish and Christian neighbors, the phrase “image of God” never appears in the Holy Quran and has not played a prominent role in either of Islam’s two largest communities, Sunni and Shia. And yet, in his concept of al-Insan al-kamil, translatable as "the perfect man" or "the complete man,” the prominent Islamic mystic and Sufi scholar Ibn al-‘Arabi argues for an Arabic term that is analogous to some Christian and Jewish interpretations of “image of God.” In order to support his philosophy, Ibn al-‘Arabi pulls evidence from Muslim sources – the Quran, Islamic teachings, and one of the most authoritative schools of hadith, including Hadith Bukhari 6227 which states that God created Adam “in his image” – and yet, despite the way Ibn al-‘Arabi’s works have captivated the minds of Western scholars and theologians, his studies remain controversial among Muslims. This paper examines the holy Quran’s prohibition of anthropomorphizing God and an exegetical examination of Hadith Bukhari 6227 to argue that while a certain aspect of Ibn al-‘Arabi’s “perfect man” is in accordance with Islam, other aspects of Ibn al- ‘Arabi’s “perfect man” go against basic Islamic teachings. In the end, whereas the phrase “image of God” is esteemed in other monotheistic faiths, this paper concludes that it ought not be embraced in Islam.
Rifai, Jenna, "A Contested Concept: The Image of God in Islam" (2019). Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE). 821.