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Allah’s Relationship with Time and Space

Answered by Shaykh Faraz A. Khan

Question: If Allah’s power enters time and space, such as in our lives, and Allah’s power is a part of him, then why could Allah not incarnate himself in the form of a human on this earth?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and states.

Allah Most High is transcendent above any quality of His creation, including existing within time or space, as that would entail being limited.

Imam Tahawi states in his well-known creed, “Contrary to all created things, He is well exalted above limits, end points, pillars, or limbs; and the six directions do not encompass Him.”

Allah Himself states, “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him, and He is all-hearing, all-seeing” (42:11), as well as “No one at all is equivalent or similar to Him” (112:4).

Divine Attributes

As for divine power (qudra), it is a timeless attribute ascribed to Allah’s entity. It is one of Allah’s seven affirmative attributes (sifat al-ma`ani), which are: power, will, knowledge, life, speech, hearing and sight.

All of these attributes are ascribed to the divine entity and are hence timeless, having no beginning or end. Therefore, they do not ‘enter’ creation or our lives. Rather, in the language of our theologians, they have what are termed ‘associations’ (ta`alluqat).

Divine power, for example, is ‘associated’ with everything conceivable: He brings into existence, or takes out of existence, whatever He wills of things conceivable. The created things are in time and space. The divine attribute is eternal, without beginning, end, or change.

How Exactly It Works

As for the nature of these associations, that is a realm the mind cannot penetrate. The exact relationship between the timeless attribute of divine power and its temporal effects in creation is one of the mysteries of the cosmos. And despite the amazing nuance of our theology, it remains a theology of humility and embracing our own limits. Trying to enter such realms causes only problems and misgivings.

As the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “Reflect on creation, but do not reflect on the Creator, for verily you cannot give Him due estimation.” [Abu Shaykh]

We cannot ‘encompass’ the Divine, but the Divine fully encompasses us. As Imam Tahawi states, “Thoughts cannot reach Him, and minds cannot grasp Him.”

Or in the words of Allah Himself, “Sight cannot reach Him, but He reaches all sight. And He is ever-subtle, fully aware” (6:103).

And Allah knows best.
wassalam
Faraz

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Related Answers and Courses:

A Reader on Understanding the Attributes of Allah

Islamic Beliefs for Seekers: Dardir’s Kharidah Explained

Did the Maliki Jurist Ibn Abi Zayd Believe Allah is Literally Above the Throne?

Answered by Shaykh Rami Nsour

Question: Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatullah

 

After studying for a while and increasing my understanding in many issues, one issue still causes me confusion, and that is the issue of Allah and the ‘Arsh. I accept the verses of the Qur’an as they are about this matter and do not even translate them but accept them “bi la kayf”. However, I came across a translation of Ibn Abi Zayd al-Qayrawani’s Risalah. In that translation it mentions on page 18: “He is upon His glorious throne by His essence, yet is in every place by His knowledge.”

 

The main confusion I have is over the expression “bi dhatihi”. Why did the Shaykh mention this in this way. As far as I know, no verse of the Qur’an or Hadith uses this expression. I have asked two scholars about this issue but neither of them explained it. Also, I feel a bit uncomfortable about asking as Imam Malik censured a questioner for asking about the ‘Arsh. I just want an explanation of why al-Qayrawani used this expression. I only know a tiny bit of Arabic so I cannot access the Arabic commentaries.

 

 

Answer: This is a very good question and one that is essential for all serious seekers of knowledge to know what the scholars have said about this. The line that you are referring to from the Beliefs portion of the Risala of Ibn Abi Zayd is one that has caused numerous discussion among scholars and students from past and present. The line, in most available copies reads, “And He [Allah] is above the Throne al majeed bi dhatihi.” I have left untranslated the words “al majeed bi dhatihi” because that is where there must be a discussion.

Allah is Not Contained by a Direction

The main problem in the line is that it could lead someone to believe that Allah is in a direction, which goes against the belief of Ahlus Sunna wal jama’ah. Imam Al Tahawiyy says in his widely accepted book on the beliefs of Islam, “He [Allah] is not contained by the six directions” [Al-Tahawiyy, Aqidatul Tahawiyya]. Some of the Maliki scholars, such as Sidi Ahmed Zarruq, have said that the line in the Risala that indicates Allah being in a direction (above the Throne) is something that was added in by deviant people and it was not part of the original manuscript [Zarruq, Sharh al Risala]. This is one explanation for the line that is given by the commentators of the Risala.

Metaphorical Aboveness

If we are to assume that Ibn Abi Zayd actually wrote the line, then the explanation given by the Maliki scholars is that he meant “above” in a metaphorical sense and not a literal sense. In other words, that Allah is above the need of the throne or that He is above it in grandness. They say that Ibn Abi Zayd could not have meant it in a literal sense because that would make him from the people that believe Allah to be in a particular direction, which is a deviant belief. We know that Allah does not resemble creation and that directions are a part of creation. One of the most basic principles of belief is that “Everything that you can conceive, Allah is different than that.”

Why Would Ibn Abi Zayd Use the Word “Above”?

Sidi Ahmed Zarruq, may Allah be pleased with him, said that one of the explanations of why Ibn Abi Zayd would say that Allah is “above” His Throne is that there were people at in his time that believed Allah to be on earth. These people were the ‘Ubaydiyyah, also known as the Isma’ilis, and were deviant in many aspects of their belief and practice including believing that one of their rulers was God. Therefore, Ibn Abi Zayd was using this line to teach people that Allah is not on earth and he is above, in a way similar to the slave woman who was asked where Allah was [Zarruq, Sharh al Risala].

“Al Majeed bi dhatihi.” Honorable Owner or Honorable Throne?

Another issue with the line is understanding where the adjective of the word honorable (majeed) is linked to. If we say that Honorable is an adjective to the word Throne, then the line would read as, “And He is above the Honorable Throne in His essence.” This would be a very strong statement indicating that Allah, in His Essence, is above the Throne and we would have to go through our list of explanations for the use of this phrase. But, if we look at the word Honorable as an adjective for Allah, the line would read as, “And He, Honorable is His essence, is above His throne,” and it would not be as easily interpreted that Allah is literally above the throne. To decide on what it is an adjective for, we can look at the ayah in 85:15 where Allah uses “majeed” to describe Himself and not the throne. Since Ibn Abi Zayd was using many verses and Hadiths in his section on creed, we would use the verse from the Quran as a guide to understand the grammar of the text’s line.

Above in the Quran

One thing to note is that although the line in the Risala uses the preposition “fawq” in Arabic to describe Allah in relation to the Throne, nowhere in the Quran do we find this preposition used with the Throne. In the Quran, all the verses that speak about the Throne use the preposition “ala.” So, if one is to stay true to the texts of the Quran and Hadith, saying “fawq al arsh” is not acceptable. Many people that believe Allah to be in a direction use the line of Ibn Abi Zayd as a proof. The response should be that we use the verse as it is and say “ala”. Then, we have to understand that the prepositions can have literal and metaphorical interpretations.

One place where the preposition “fawq” is used is in the verse 48:10 but it is not in relation to the Throne. The people that believe Allah to be in a direction say that this preposition of “fawq” (above) is metaphorical, yet when they read the preposition “ala” for the throne, they say it is literal and that Allah is literally on His throne. They have contradicted themselves by allowing metaphorical interpretation sometimes and other times not. Contradiction is a sign of falsehood as truth does not contradict itself (Quran 4:82).

One last thing I would like for those who believe Allah to be in a direction to ponder on is the nature of our universe. When a person stands upon the earth and says that Allah is in a direction and points up, that up is the down of the person on the other side of the earth. So, if Allah is up for you, does that mean that He is below the person on the other side of the Earth? Allah is exalted above what people falsely ascribe to Him.

Rami Nsour

Related Answers:

How Do We Understand the Hadith Stating that Allah Descends to the Lowest Heaven in the Last Third of Every Night?

What Is Our Stance Regarding the Statement of Some That Allah “Sits” on the Throne?

Is There a Way to Physically Describe Allah?

Are Muslims With Anthropomorphic Beliefs Considered Disbelievers?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Are Muslims who have anthropomorphic beliefs considered disbelievers?

Answer: wa `alaykum assalam

We do not involve ourselves in polemics and we definitely do not involve ourselves in labeling other groups of Muslims as being outside the fold.

The widespread epidemic of takfir is one of the biggest evils of our time, as scholars such as Shaykh Nuh Keller have pointed out. Rather, anyone who has read the warnings of the Prophet (Allah bless him) on doing takfir of another Muslim understands the gravity of the matter and this is why the `ulema of old have always held back on passing such judgments, finding any possible excuse they could to avert labeling someone outside the fold.

Ibn `Abidin, the central authority for fatwa in the Hanafi school, said, “A fatwa may not be given of the unbelief of a Muslim whose words are interpretable as having a valid meaning, or about the unbelief of which there is a difference of scholarly opinion, even if weak .” [Radd al-Muhtar]

Regarding the belief that some Muslims have that entail anthropomorphism, such positions do not render them outside the field. This is because: (a) what is entailed by a position is not always the position itself, meaning that someone may hold a position that entails a corrupt belief but they themselves do not actually hold to that corrupt conclusion, and (b) the anthropomorphism that is considered clear disbelief is to state that Allah is a body like created bodies, as the scholars have mentioned.

Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

How Do We Understand the Hadith Stating that Allah Descends to the Lowest Heaven in the Last Third of Every Night?

Answered by Ustadh Tabraze Azam

Question: Allah exists without place or space but what about this hadith – Abu Hurairah (RA) narrated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: ‘In the last third of every night our Rabb (Cherisher and Sustainer) (Allah (SWT)) descends to the lowermost heaven and says; “Who is calling Me, so that I may answer him? Who is asking Me so that may I grant him? Who is seeking forgiveness from Me so that I may forgive him?.”‘ [Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith Qudsi]

Answer: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

I hope you are in the best of health and spirits, insha’Allah.

The upshot is that there are two opinions of the scholars on this narration (hadith). Consequently, one of the ways it can be interpreted, here, is either:

[1] His mercy, command and angels descend; (t: just as we can say in English ‘the King made this town’, i.e. he commissioned for the town to be made, though the workers were the ones who actually did the job)

[2] It is a metaphor for His gentleness to those making supplication (i.e. at that time of night) and His answering them.

[Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, Fath al-Bari Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari; Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Furthermore, Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani, the famous commentator on the Sahih al-Bukhari, Fath al-Bari, mentions a quote from Imam Baydawi in which he says that what is intended by the ‘descent’ is the light of His mercy and not His moving from one place to another (which is ‘lower’ in comparison to the first).

And Allah knows best.

Wassalaam,

Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Related Answers:

A Reader on Understanding the Attributes of Allah

What Is Our Stance Regarding the Statement of Some That Allah “Sits” on the Throne?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Assalamu Alaikum. I have learned in depth about the correct aqida of Muslims, the Attributes of Allah and that He exists without a place. My belief is fine, but I want to ask about the belief of a person who says “Allah sits on the Throne.” I am guessing this is kufr? Is it permissible to seek knowledge from the books of people who state this?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

Allah does not resemble creation. This is decisively demonstrated in the Qur’anic statement, “there is nothing whatsoever like Him.” (42:11) Thus, Allah is not confined within time or space, nor is He described with limits, organs, and other such characteristics belonging to created things.

As for the statement that Allah “sits” on the throne, this is unsound. Imam Bayhaqi, the great hadith scholar and theologian, stated:

“The Begininglessly Eternal (al-qadim) is elevated over his throne but neither sitting, nor standing, not in contact with, not separate from the throne… For ‘contact’ and its opposite ‘separation’, ‘standing’ and its opposite ‘sitting’, are characteristics of created bodies.” [Kitab al-Asma’ wa’l Sifat]

Ibn Hajar `Asqalani similary cites Ibn Battal stating that the belief that Allah sits on the throne is a position held by the anthropomorphists. [Fath al-Bari] This is because “sitting” entails contact between two objects and “contact” only arises between objects that possess limits and extents, which in turn is indicative of these objects being created. Thus, we find Imam Tahawi stating clearly, “He is beyond having limits placed on Him.” [`Aqida al-Tahawiyya]

From this, we can understand that the position of Ahl al-Sunna is to preclude such characteristics for Allah. As for those who hold and promote these heterodox positions, their books detailing creedal aspects should be avoided and when read should be done by qualified individuals who possess the knowledge and insight to detect such problematic positions.

Please see:

A Reader on Understanding the Attributes of Allah

Wassalam
Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Is There a Way to Physically Describe Allah?

Answered by Sidi Salman Younas

Question: I would like to know how Allah (swt) is described. Not in terms of attributes, but in a physical sense. What does He look like. Is there a way to physically picture Him.

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

I hope you are well.

Allah Most High cannot be described physically. Something “physical” is something that has material existence, form, limits, confinement in time and space, and so forth, all of which are impossible for Allah Most High.

The reason these aspects are impossible for Allah is because they are attributes of created things and Allah has clearly stated in the Qur’an that “there is nothing whatsoever like Him.” (42:11)

One should realize from this the transcendent nature and majesty of Allah Most High, whose reality the meager intellects of man cannot fathom. Thus, the Prophet (Allah bless him) is narrated to  have said, “Contemplate on the creation of Allah but do not contemplate on Allah.”  [Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman; Tabarani, al-Awsat; Abu Nu`aym, Hilya; Asbahani, Targhib]

Based on the prophetic dictate above, we should steer clear from trying to grasp the reality of Allah. We should suffice by understanding that the human intellect is very limited in its reach and see our inability to fully understand Allah as being from our weakness and imperfection as humans. This weakness and imperfection is only reaffirmed when we look at created things around us: the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the sky, and so forth, seeing thereby the greatness of Allah and His power. This will bring about a deeper sense of slavehood and neediness towards the one who is in need of no one.

Please see:

What Does The Narration “Allah created Adam In His/his Image” Mean?

Allah Breathing His Spirit Into Jesus? The Possible Meanings of this Verse & The Approach of Sunni Islam Towards Ambiguous Texts

Can Allah Feel Emotions Like Happiness and Sadness?

Wassalam
Salman