Istiwa’ is a Divine Act

(Re: Qur’an 7:54; 13:2; 20:5; 25:59; 32:4)

“The establishment of His Throne in the heaven is known, and His Throne in the earth is the hearts of the People of Pure Monotheism (ahl al-tawhid). He said: “and eight will uphold the Throne of their Lord that day, above them” (69:17), and [concerning] the throne of the hearts: “We carry them on the land and the sea” (17:70). As for the throne of the heaven: the Merciful established Himself over it (`alayhi istawa); and as for the throne of the hearts: the Merciful conquered it (`alayhi istawla). The throne of the heaven is the direction of the supplication of creatures, while the throne of the heart is the locus of the gaze of the Real – Most High -. Therefore, there is a huge difference between this throne and that!”  – Al-Qushayri.

“We believe that “the Merciful established Himself over the Throne” (20:5), and we do not know the reality of the meaning of this nor what is meant by it (la na`lamu haqiqata mi`na dhalika wa al-murada bihi), while we do believe that “There is nothing whatsoever like unto Him” (42:11) and that He is exalted far above the most elevated of created things. That is the way of the Salaf or at least their vast majority, and it is the safest because one is not required to probe into such matters.”  – Al-Nawawi.3

Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash`ari said: “The establishment of Allah – Most High – on the Throne is an action He has created named istiwa’ and related to the Throne, just as He has created an action named ityan (coming) related to a certain people; and this implies neither descent nor movement.”4 Al-Bayhaqi confirms this: “Abu al-Hasan `Ali al-Ash`ari said that Allah – Most High – effected an act in relation to the Throne, and He called that act istiwa’, just as He effected other acts in relation to other objects, and He called those acts `sustenance’ (rizq), `favor’ (ni`ma), or other of His acts.”5 This is also the interpretation of Ibn Hazm (d. 456) – although a vehement enemy of Ash`aris – who explainsistiwa’ as “an act pertaining to the Throne”.6

Abu al-Fadl al-Tamimi mentioned that two positions were reported from Imam Ahmad concerning istiwa’: One group narrated that he considered it “of the Attributes of act” (min sifat al-fi`l), another, “of the Attributes of the Essence” (min sifat al-dhat).”7 Ibn Battal mentions that Ahl al-Sunna hold either one of these two positions: “Those that interpreted istawa as `He exalted Himself’ (`ala) consider istiwa an Attribute of the Essence, while those who interpreted it otherwise consider it an Attribute of act.”8

Al-Tamimi further related that Ahmad said:

[Istiwa’]: It means height/exaltation (`uluw) and elevation (irtifa`). Allah – Most High – is ever exalted (`ali) and elevated (rafi`) without beginning, before He created the Throne. He is above everything (huwa fawqa kulli shay’), and He is exalted over everything (huwa al-`ali `ala kulli shay’). He only specified the Throne because of its particular significance which makes it different from everything else, as the Throne is the best of all things and the most elevated of them. Allah – Most High – therefore praised Himself by saying that He “established Himself over the Throne”, that is, He exalted Himself over it (`alayhi `ala). It is impermissible to say that He established Himself with a contact or a meeting with it. Exalted is Allah above that! Allah is not subject to change, substitution, nor limits, whether before or after the creation of the Throne.9

The Maliki scholar Ibn Abi Jamra (d. 695) said something similar in his commentary on the hadith “Allah wrote a Book before He created creation, saying: Verily My mercy precedeth My wrath; and it is written with Him above the Throne”:

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