“Allah Is Now As He Ever Was”


by Dr. G. F. Haddad



The saying “Allah existed eternally without a place, and He is now as He ever was” is related – without chain – from ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib – Allah be well-pleased with him.[1] Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Sakandari (d. 709) cites it as one of his Hikam (#34).


The Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – said: “Allah was when there was nothing else than Him, and His Throne was upon the water, and He wrote in the Reminder (al-dhikr) all things, and He created the heavens and the earth.”[2]


            Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150) said: “Had He been in a place and needing to sit and rest before creating the Throne, then the question ‘Where was Allah?’ would have applied to Him, which is impossible.”[3]


            The Ash‘ari Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam said in his statement of doctrine:


He was before He brought place and time into existence, and He is now as He ever was.[4]


            The position of Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari is similarly summed up by Abu al-Qasim ibn ‘Asakir:


The Najjariyya said: ‘The Creator is in every place without in­dwel­ling (hulûl) nor direction (jiha).’ The Hashwiyya and mushab­biha said: ‘The Creator took His place (hâllun) on the Throne, the Throne is His location (makân), and He is sitting on top of it.’ Al-Ash‘ari took a middle ground and said: ‘Allah existed when there was no place; then He created the Throne and the kursî without ever being in need of place, and He is, after creating place, exactly as He was before creating it.’[5]


            This is the position of al-Ash‘ari also as given by Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi (d. 733): “The words of the Shaykh [Abu al-Hasan al-Ash‘ari] concerning di­rection are: ‘Allah was when there was no place, then He created the Throne and the kursî, without ever needing place, and He is, after creating place, exactly as He was before creating it.’”[6] Ibn Jahbal also says in his Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya:


22. We say: Our doctrine is that Allah is pre-eternal and pre-existent (qadîm azalî). He does not resemble anything nor does anything resemble Him. He has no direction nor place. He is not subject to time nor duration. Neither “where” (ayn) nor “at” (hayth) applies to Him. He shall be seen, but not as part of an encounter, nor in the sense of an encounter (yurâ lâ ‘an muqâbala wa lâ ‘alâ muqâbala). He was when there was no place, He created place and time, and He is now as He ever was. This is the madhhab of Ahl al-Sunna and the doctrine of the shaykhs of the [Sufi] Path – may Allah be well-pleased with them.[7]


30. Muhammad ibn Mahbub, Abu ‘Uthman al-Maghribi’s servant, said: “Abu ‘Uthman said to me one day: ‘O Muhammad! If someone asked you: Where is the One you worship, what would you an­swer?’ I said: ‘I would answer: He is where He never ceased to be.’ He said: ‘What if he asked: Where was He in pre-eternity?’ I said: ‘I would answer: Where He is now. That is: He was when there was no place, and He is now as He ever was.’ Abu ‘Uthman was pleased with my answer. He took off his shirt and gave it to me.”[8]


            Ibn Hazm said in his Tawhid:


   And [it is obligatory to know] that He, the Most High, is neither in a place nor in a time. Rather, He is the creator of times and places. He – Most High – said: [He has created everything and has meted out for it a measure] (25:2) and [Who created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them] (25:59), and both time and place are created. He – Most High – was ever without them. Place is only for bodies while time is only a duration for every still or moving thing, or something pertaining to a still or moving object, and all this is pre­cluded from Allah U.[9]


            Al-Shaykh al-Akbar Muhyi al-Din ibn ‘Arabi said in the chapter of Islamic doctrine in al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya:


[144] He has no conceivable likeness whatsoever (laysa lahu mithlun ma‘qul), nor can minds represent Him. Time does not con­fine Him, nor place lift nor transport Him. Rather, He was when there was no place, and He is now as He ever was.


[145] He created fixity (al-mutamakkin) and place (al-makân),[10] brought time into existence, and said: “I am the One, the Ever-Living.”[11] Preserving His creations in no way tires Him. Attributes which do not describe Him and are devised by creatures do not apply to Him.[12]


[146] Exalted is He far above being in­dwelt by originated matters, or indwelling them, or that they be after Him or that He be before them. Rather, we say: ‘He was and there was nothing with him.’[13] For the words ‘before’ and ‘after’ are among the locutions of Time, which He invented.[14]


            Sulayman ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1817CE), the grandson of the founder of the Wahhabi sect, said:


Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhâtihi) in every place, or in one place: he is a disbeliever. It is obligatory to declare that Allah is separate (bâ’in) from His creation, established over His Throne with­out modality or likeness or exemplariness. Allah was and there was no place, then He created place and He is exalted as He was before He created place.[15]


            The Imams strongly refuted those who suggested that the Throne existed together with Allah. Among these refutations is al-Bayhaqi’s section entitled “The Beginning of Creation” in al-Asma’ wa al-Sifat,[16] and Ibn Hajar who wrote the following in his commentary on the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Tawhid in Sahih al-Bukhari:


Al-Bukhari named the Chapter on the Throne: “Chapter entitled: (And His Throne was upon the water) (11:7) (And He is Lord of the tremendous Throne) (9:129).” In this way he mentioned parts from two Qur’anic verses, and it is good to state this second part after the first one, to respond to those who misunderstood the hadith: “There was Allah, and there was nothing before Him; and His Throne was upon the water,” mistakenly thinking that it meant that the Throne was always alongside Allah [i.e. existing without beginning]. This is an incorrect position, as is the belief of some thinkers that the Throne is the Creator and the Maker! Perhaps those who held this, such as Abu Ishaq al-Harawi, used for evidence the hadith of ibn Abbas from Mujahid narrated through Sufyan al-Thawri: “Allah was on His Throne before He created anything; the first thing He created was the pen,”[17] and this “first” is interpreted as the creation of Heavens and Earth and their contents.


   ‘Abd al-Razzaq mentioned in his commentary on the saying of Allah: (And His Throne was upon the water) (11:7) that this (the Throne) was the beginning of His creation before He created the heaven, and that His Throne was made from a red emerald. Thus al-Bukhari’s mention of “The Lord of the tremendous Throne” alludes to the fact that the Throne is a servant and that it is lorded over.


   He ends his chapter with the hadith: “There, I saw Musa holding the leg of the Throne.”[18] By confirming that the Throne has legs, the author proves that it is an object that was put together, possessing constituent parts. Any such object must have been created.[19]


            Al-Munawi quotes the following conclusion on the verse of the Throne upon the water:


   Al-Tunisi said that the verse (And His Throne was upon the water) (11:7) contains a clear proof that direction is impossible for Allah I because the Throne settled (istaqarra) upon the water, there­fore, since natural custom was broken by the settlement of that huge mass (jirm) – the largest of all masses – upon the water, contrary to the habitual fact that such a mass – or, rather, much less than it! – does not usually settle upon the water: it becomes known with certitude that istiwâ’ over it is not an istiwâ’ of settledness nor fixity.[20]


[1]As cited by ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (d. 429) in his al-Farq Bayn al-Firaq (p. 256).

[2]Narrated from ‘Imran ibn Husayn by al-Bukhari, Sahih, book of the Beginning of Creation.

[3]Abu Hanifa, Wasiyya al-Imam al-A‘zam Abu Hanifa, ed. Fu’ad ‘Ali Rida (Beirut : Maktabat al-Jamahir, 1970) p. 10.

[4]Ibn ‘Abd al-Salam, al-Mulha (p. 11).

[5]In the Tabyin (Saqqa ed. p. 150).

[6]In Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-Kubra (9:79).

[7]In Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-Kubra (9:41). Concerning muqâbala al-Qari said in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar (p. 180): “One must not pay any attention to what the innovators imagine on rational bases, and the commentator of al-Tahawi’s ‘Aqida [i.e. Ibn Abi al-‘Izz or Ibn al-Qayyim in Sharh al-‘Aqida al-Tahawiyya (p. 195)] committed a mistake in this regard when he said: ‘Can any vision be rationally conceived without face-to-face encounter? And in it there is a proof for His elevation (‘uluw) over His creatures.’ It seems that he applies the upward direction to his Lord, whereas the doctrine of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a is that He – exalted is He – is not seen in any direction. The Prophet’s e saying: ‘You shall see your Lord just as you see the moon on the night it is full’ [Narrated from Abu Hurayra by al-Tirmidhi (hasan gharîb) and Abu Hanifa in his Musnad and, in a slightly different wording, from Jarir ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Bajali by al-Bukhari and Muslim] is a simile (tashbîh) between two types of sightings generally speaking, not a simile between two objects of vision from every perspective.” Ibn Abi al-‘Izz – purportedly a Hanafi – said in Sharh al-‘Aqida al-Tahawiyya (p. 195): “Who­ever claims that Allah is seen without direction, let him verify his reason!” Note the latter’s casual dismissal of – and deviation from – Imam al-Tahawi’s position in the ‘Aqida (§35. “The Seeing of Allah by the People of the Garden is true, without their vision being all-encompassing and without the manner of their vision being known.” §38 “He is beyond having limits placed on Him, or being restricted, or having parts or limbs. Nor is He contained by the six directions as all created things are”) and Imam Abu Hanifa’s position in al-Wasiyya (p. 3-4): “The meeting (liqâ’) of Allah I with the dwellers of Paradise is without modality, nor simile, nor direction.” (Liqâ’ Allâh ta‘âlâ li ahl al-janna bi al-ru’ya al-basariyya bilâ kayf wa lâ tashbîh wa lâ jiha), cited by al-Qari in Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar (p. 176-177). Imam al-Haramayn said in al-Irshad (p. 167): “Among their [the Mu‘tazila’s] insinuations are claims that stem, in fact, from pure specu­lation, such as their saying: ‘one who sees must be facing opposite what he sees, or virtually facing’ (al-râ’î yajib an yakûna muqâbilan li al-mar’î aw fî hukm al-muqâbil). We say to them: Do you know for certain what you are claiming, or do you know it on specula­tive bases? If they claim that they know it for certain and accuse whoever disagrees with them of denial, their credibility collapses and their untruth becomes manifest. The same reasoning applies to the anthropomorphists…. And the Creator sees His creation without direction, therefore it is possible that He be seen without direction.”

[8]In Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyya al-Kubra (9:43). See also al-Tabari’s comments in our post titled “The Seating of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – on the Throne, section entitled “al-Tabari’s Defense of Mujahid’s Narration” at notes 49-50.

[9]In Ahmad al-Hijazi Saqqa, ed. ‘Ilm al-Kalam ‘ala Madhhab Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama‘a (p. 65-66).

[10]Or: “He created place and all that takes place.”

[11]I.e. I am in no need of either of you.

[12]Lâ tarji‘u ilayhi sifatun lam yakun ‘alayhâ min sun‘ati al-masnû‘ât.

[13]See n. 2 above.

[14]From ‘Uthman Yahya’s edition of al-Futuhat al-Makkiyya (1:164), Part Three of “The Meccan Conquest,” chapter entitled “Attachment Comprising the Essential Creed of All, Which is the Doctrine of the People of Islam Agreed To Without Examining the Proof Nor the Presentation of Evidence.”

[15]In his al-Tawdih ‘an Tawhid al-Khallaq fi Jawab Ahl al-‘Iraq (1319/1901, p. 34, and new ed. al-Riyad: Dar Tibah, 1984).

[16]See our published translation of al-Bayhaqi’s Asma’ wa al-Sifat (ASFA).

[17]Narrated from Mujahid from Ibn ‘Abbas by ‘Abd ibn Humayd as mentioned by al-Suyuti in al-Durr al-Manthur for the verse (Lo! We have created every thing by measure) (54:49).

[18]Part of a longer hadith narrated from Abu Hurayra by al-Bukhari, al-Tirmidhi (hasan sahîh), and Ibn Majah; and from Abu Sa‘id al-Khudri by al-Bukhari, Muslim, and Ahmad.

[19]Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 13:409f.). Ibn Hajar elsewhere (6:290 #3019) examines the different versions of the hadith “Allah was and there was nothing other than/ with/ before Him” to conclude that the evidence pointed to the creation of water first, then the Throne, then the Pen.

[20]In al-Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir, under the entry for the hadith: “Allah inscribed the desti­nies of all created things before creating the heavens and the earth by fifty thou­sand years, while His Throne stood upon the water.” Narrated from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As by Muslim in his Sahih.