The Vision of Allah the Exalted in the World and the Hereafter

Ibn Sadaqa said that Abu Zur`a said: `The hadith of Ibn `Abbas [about the Prophet seeing His Lord] is sound (sahih), and none denies it except a Mu`tazili’… Ibn al-Humam said: `This is but the veil of form (hijab al-sura).’ It seems that he meant by this that the entire goal can be visualized if it is interpreted as a figural manifestation (tajalli suri), as it is of necessity absurd to interpret it as a real or literal manifestation (tajalli haqiqi). Allah Almighty has many forms of manifestations (anwa` min al-tajalliyat) according to His Entity and Attributes. Likewise, He possesses all power and encompassing ability, well beyond the angels and other than them, to fashion forms and appearances. Yet He is transcendent above possessing a body (jism), a form (sura), and directions (jihat) with regard to His Entity. These considerations help solve many of the purported difficulties in the ambiguous verses and the narrations of the Attributes. Allah knows best the reality of spiritual stations and the minutiae of objectives…. If the hadith is shown to have something in its chain that indicates forgery, then fine; otherwise: the door of figurative interpretation is wide and imposes itself (bab al-ta’wil wasi`un muhattam).20

Elsewhere al-Qari states:

If this vision took place in dream, then there is no difficulty…. However, if it took place in a wakeful state (fi al-yaqaza), as conveyed by the letter of Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s narration [but see al-Haytami’s comment quoted above], then the Salaf declared belief in the letter of such narrations – provided they were sound – without explaining them as one would explain the attributes of creatures. Rather, they negated modality (al-kayfiyya) and entrusted knowledge of their hidden meaning to Allah. For He shows to His Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — whatever He wishes from behind the curtains of the Unseen, including what our minds have no way of comprehending. However, to leave aside figurative interpretation (al-ta’wil) in our time fosters confusion (fitna) in the beliefs of people, due to the dissemination of the doctrines of misguidance (i`tiqadat al-dalal). Therefore, it is appropriate to interpret it in conformity with the Law as a possible intrepretation, not a definitive one. Accordingly, the words `in the best form’ could signify `I saw my Lord as I was in the best form in the sense of His utmost favor and kindness to me'; or `in the Lord’s best form’ in the sense that the form of something is whatever distinguishes it from something else, whether it pertains to the thing itself or to whatever part of it is being characterized. This can be applied to meanings just as it is applied to material bodies. One speaks about `picturing a matter or a situation thus.’ Allah’s `form’ – and Allah knows best – would then be His specific Entity (dhatuhu al-makhsusa) separate from any other representation of the farthest levels of perfection, or the Attribute that is specific to Him, meaning `My Lord was more gracious and kinder than at any other time.’ Thus did al-Tibi and al-Tawrabashti relate it.21

The above is reminiscent of Ibn al-Jawzi’s similar interpretation in the second hadith of his Daf` Shubah al-Tashbih:

If we say that he — Allah bless and greet him — saw Him while awake, then the form, if we say that it refers to Allah Almighty, would mean: “I saw Him in the best of His Attributes in turning to me and being pleased with me.” If we say that it refers to the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — himself, then it would mean: “I saw Him as I was in the best form.”22¬†¬†Others considered Ibn `Abbas’ narration to refer to a vision with the eyes of the heart, as elucidated by Ibn `Abbas’ other narrations in Sahih Muslim and al-Tirmidhi (hasan): “He saw him with his heart.” Another narration from Ibn `Abbas in Muslim states: “He saw him with his heart twice,” in commentary of the verses: {The heart lied not (in seeing) what it saw} (53:11), {And verily he saw him, yet another time} (53:13).

Another explanation is that the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — saw light. This is stated explicitly in the Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — reply, when asked by Abu Dharr if he had actually seen his Lord: “I saw light.”23

Many sound reports show that the Companions differed sharply whether the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — saw Allah or not. Ibn `Abbas related that he did, while Ibn Mas`ud, `A’isha, Abu Hurayra, and Abu Dharr related reports to the contrary, stating that the verses of Sura al-Najm and other Suras referred to Gibril — upon him peace –,24 and that the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — said that he saw light.

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