Istiwa’ is a Divine Act

It may be said from the fact that the Book is mentioned as being “above the Throne” that the divine wisdom has decreed for the Throne to carry whatever Allah wishes of the record of His judgment, power, and the absolute unseen known of Him alone, in order to signify the exclusivity of His encompassing knowledge regarding these matters. This makes the Throne one of the greatest signs of the exclusivity of His knowledge of the Unseen. This could explain the verse of istiwa’ as referring to whatever Allah wills of His power, which is the Book He has placed above His Throne.”10

Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161) interpreted istiwa’ in the verse “The Merciful established Himself over the Throne” (20:5) as “a command concerning the Throne” (amrun fi al-`arsh), as related by Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni and quoted by al-Yafi`i in the latter’s book Marham al-`Ilal al-Mu`dila fi Daf` al-Shubah wa al-Radd `ala al-Mu`tazila (“Book of the Resolution of Difficult Problems for the Removal of Doubts and the Refutation of the Mu`tazila”):

The understanding of istiwa’ as the turning of Allah – Most High – to a particular command concerning the Throne is not far-fetched, and this is the ta’wil of Imam Sufyan al-Thawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it the verse: “Then turned He (thumma istawa) to the heaven when it was smoke” (41:11), meaning: “He proceeded to it” (qasada ilayha).11

Al-Tabari said, in his commentary on the verse “Then turned He (thumma istawa) to the heaven, and fashioned it as seven heavens” (2:29):

The meaning of istiwa’ in this verse is height (`uluw) and elevation… but if one claims that this means displacement for Allah, tell him: He is high and elevated over the heaven with the height of sovereignty and power, not the height of displacement and movement to and fro.

The above position is exactly that of the Ash`ari school, as shown by Abu Bakr ibn al-`Arabi’s and Ibn Hajar’s numerous comments to that effect12 directed against those who attribute altitude to Allah in their interpretation of His `uluw such as Ibn Taymiyya. The latter stated: “The Creator, Glorified and Exalted is He, is above the world and His being above is literal, not in the sense of dignity or rank.“13 This doctrine was comprehensively refuted by Ibn Jahbal al-Kilabi (d. 733) in his Radd `ala Man Qala bi al-Jiha(“Refutation of Ibn Taymiyya Who Attributes A Direction to Allah – Most High -“)14 and Shaykh Yusuf al-Nabahani (1265-1350) in his Raf` al-Ishtibah fi Istihala al-Jiha `ala Allah (“The Removal of Doubt Concerning the Impossibility of Direction for Allah”).15

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597) in the introduction of his Daf` Shubah al-Tashbih said of the anthropomorphists: “They are not content to say: `Attribute of act’ (sifatu fi`l) until they end up saying: `Attribute of the Essence’ (sifatu dhat).” Ibn Hazm also said: “If the establishment on the Throne is eternal without beginning, then the Throne is eternal without beginning, and this is disbelief.”16

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