Praise be to Allah.
Al-Bukhaari (6227) and Muslim (2841) narrated from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Allaah created Adam in His image, and he was sixty cubits tall. When he created him he said, ‘Go and greet that group of angels who are sitting and listen to how they greet you, for that will be your greeting and the greeting of your descendents.’ So he said, ‘Al-salaamu ‘alaykum (peace be upon you),’ and they said, ‘Al-salaamu ‘alayka wa rahmat-Allaah (Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allaah.’ So they added (the words) ‘wa rahmat-Allaah.’ Everyone who enters Paradise will be in the form of Adam, but mankind continued to grow shorter until now.”
Muslim (2612) narrated that Abu Hurayrah said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When any one of fights his brother, let him avoid the face, for Allaah created Adam in His image.”
Ibn Abi ‘Aasim narrated in al-Sunnah (517) that Ibn ‘Umar said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not say ‘May Allaah deform your face’ [a form of cursing in Arabic], for the son of Adam was created in the image of the Most Merciful.” Shaykh ‘Abd-Allaah ibn al-Ghunaymaan (may Allaah preserve him) said: “This hadeeth is saheeh and was classed as such by the imams and by Imam Ahmad and Ishaaq ibn Raahawayh. Those who classed it as da’eef have no evidence, except for the view of Ibn Khuzaymah, but those who classed it as saheeh are more knowledgeable than him.
Ibn Abi ‘Aasim also narrated (516) that Abu Hurayrah said: The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “When any one of you fights let him avoid the face, for Allaah created Adam in the image of His Face.” Shaykh al-Albaani said: its isnaad is saheeh.
These two hadeeth indicate that the pronoun in the phrase “in His image” refers to Allaah, may He be glorified.
Al-Tirmidhi (3234) narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “My Lord came to me in the most beautiful image and said, ‘O Muhammad.’ I said, ‘Here I am at Your service, my Lord.’ He said, ‘What are the chiefs (angels) on high disputing about…’” Classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
According to the lengthy hadeeth about intercession, it says, “… then the Compeller (al-Jabbaar) will come to then in an image different than the image in which they saw Him the first time…” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 7440; Muslim, 182.
From these ahaadeeth we learn that it is proven that Allaah has an image (soorah in Arabic), in a manner that befits Him, may He be glorified and exalted. His image is one of His attributes which cannot be likened to the attributes of created beings, just as His essence cannot be likened to their essence.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah said: “The word soorah (image) in this hadeeth is like all the other names and attributes narrated (in the texts) where the words used may also be applied to created beings, in a limited manner. When these words are applied to Allaah, they carry a unique meaning, such as al-‘Aleem (All Knowing), al-Qadeer (All-Powerful), al-Raheem (Most Merciful), al-Samee’ (All Hearing), al-Baseer (All-Seeing), and such as His creating with His hands, rising above the Throne, etc.” Naqd al-Ta’sees, 3/396
Everything that exists must inevitably have a form or image. Shaykh al-Islam said: “Just as everything that exists must have attributes that, so too everything that exists by itself must have a form or image. It is impossible for something that exists by itself not to have a form or image.”
And he said: “There was no dispute among the salaf of the first three generations that the pronoun in the hadeeth refers to Allaah, and it is narrated through many isnaads from many of the Sahaabah. The contexts of the ahaadeeth all indicate that… but when al-Jahamiyyah became widespread in the third century AH, a group began to say that the pronoun refers to something other than Allaah, and this was transmitted from a group of scholars who are known to have knowledge and to follow the Sunnah in most of their affairs, such as Abu Thawr, Ibn Khuzaymah, Abu’l-Shaykh al-Asfahaani and others. Hence they were denounced by the imams of Islam and other Sunni scholars.”
Naqd al-Ta’sees, 3/202
Ibn Qutaybah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “That Allaah should have an image is no stranger than His having two hands, fingers or eyes. Rather those are readily accepted because they are mentioned in the Qur’aan, but this idea (image or form) is regarded as strange because it is not mentioned in the Qur’aan. But we believe in them all, but we do not discuss how any of them are.”
Ta’weel Mukhtalif al-Hadeeth, p. 221
Shaykh al-Ghunaymaan said: “Thus it is clear that the form or image is like all the other divine attributes. Any attribute which Allaah has affirmed in the Revelation, we must affirm it and believe in it.”
Sharh Kitaab al-Tawheed min Saheeh al-Bukhaari, 2/41
Shaykh Ibn Baaz (may Allaah have mercy on him) was asked: There is a hadeeth narrated from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in which he forbids saying “May Allaah deform your face”, and says that Allaah created Adam in His image. What is the correct belief with regard to this hadeeth?
This hadeeth is proven from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), in which he said: “If any one of you strikes (another), let him avoid the face, for Allaah created Adam in His image.” According to another version: “In the image of the Most Merciful.” This does not imply resemblance or likeness.
What is meant, according to the scholars, is that Allaah created Adam with the ability to hear and see, and to speak when he wants. These are also attributes of Allaah, for He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing, and He speaks when He wants, and He has a Face, may He be glorified and exalted.
But it does not mean that there is any resemblance or likeness. Rather the image of Allaah is different from that of created beings. What is meant is that He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing, and He speaks when He wants, and He created Adam also able to hear and see, with a face and hands and feet. But man’s hearing is not like Allaah’s hearing, his seeing is not like Allaah’s seeing, his speaking is not like Allaah’s speaking. Rather Allaah has attributes that befit His majesty and might, and man has attributes that befit him, attributes that are finite and imperfect, whereas the attributes of Allaah are perfect, with no shortcomings, infinite and without end. Hence Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“There is nothing like Him, and He is the All‑Hearer, the All‑Seer”
“And there is none co‑equal or comparable unto Him”
So it is not permissible to strike the face or say “May Allaah deform your face”.
End quote. Majmoo’ Fataawa al-Shaykh, 4/226
Another thing that will help to explain the meaning of this hadeeth is the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The first group to enter Paradise will be in the image of the moon” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3245; Muslim, 2834.” What the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) meant here is that the first group will be in human form, but because of their purity, beauty and brightness of face they will look like the moon, so they are likened to the moon, but without resembling it. So just because a thing is said to be in the image of a thing it does not mean that it is like it in all aspects.
The Prophet’s words, “Adam was created in His image” means that Allaah created Adam in His image, for He has a face, an eye, a hand, and a foot, and Adam had a face, an eye, a hand, and a foot… but that does not mean that these things are exactly the same. There is some similarity, but it is not exactly the same. Similarly the first group to enter Paradise are likened to the moon, but they are not exactly the same. This confirms the view of Ahl al-Sunnah wa'l-Jamaa'ah, who say that none of the attributes of Allaah can be likened to the attributes of created beings, without distorting or misinterpreting, or discussing how or likening Him to His creation.
See Sharh al-‘Aqeedah al-Waasitah by Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Uthaymeen, 1/107, 293.
For more information, see: Sharh Kitaab al-Tawheed min Saheeh al-Bukhaari by Shaykh al-Ghunaymaan, 2/33-98, in which he quotes at length from Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him), refuting the misinterpretation of this hadeeth by ahl al-kalaam and those who agreed with them.
And Allaah knows best.