Allah’s Establishment Over the Throne

(istiwa’ Allah `ala al-`arsh)

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We continue listing the positions of the scholars of Ahl al-Sunna in establishing the sound understanding and refuting the unsound understanding of the attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunna.

  • Umm Salama the Prophet’s wife said the following about istiwa’ as quoted by Ibn Hajar in Fath al-bari: “The establishment is not unknown (ghayr majhul) and its modality is inconceivable in the mind (ghayr ma`qul); one does not ask “how” about Him; “how” is inapplicable to Him.”

  • Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161) forwarded an interpretation of istiwa’ in verse 20:4 as “a command concerning the Throne” (amrun fi al-`arsh), according to Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwayni (d. 478) in his al-Irshad ila qawati` al-adilla fi usul al-i`tiqad (The guidance to the decisive proofs in the foundations of belief), as quoted by al-Yafi`i in the latter’s book Kitab 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 Allah’s turning 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 (istawa) to the heaven when it was smoke” (41:11).

  • Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150) says in his Wasiyya:

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… We assert that Allah is established on the throne without His need (haja) nor settlement (istiqrar) upon it, for He it is Who preserves the Throne and other than it without needing any of them.

He said in his al-Fiqh al-akbar:

Allah has no limits, nor any rivals… He who says: ‘I do not know if my Lord is in the heavens or on the earth’ is a disbeliever, and he who says: ‘He is on the Throne, and I do not know whether the Throne is in the heaven or on the earth,’ he is also a disbeliever.

  • Imam Abu Mansur al-Maturidi explained this to mean: “The reason is that by such words he suggests a place for Allah and this is idolatry.”

  • A man asked Imam Malik (d. 179): “How did Allah make istiwa’ on the throne?” Imam Malik inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said: “Istiwa’ is not unknown (ghayru majhul), the modality of it is inconceivable in the mind (al-kayfu minhu ghayru ma`qul); but belief in it is obligatory, and inquiring about it is a heretical innovation. You are an innovator.” And he gave orders for him to be taken out.

  • Imam Shafi`i (d. 204) in his small treatise entitled al-Fiqh al-akbar said:

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