“Allah is Now as He Ever Was”

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 (hulû l) nor direction (jiha).’ The Hashwiyya and mushabbiha said: ‘The Creator took His place (hâ llun) on the Throne, the Throne is His location (makâ n), 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 Footstool (al-`arsh wa al-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 Footstool, 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 (qadî m 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 muqâ bala wa lâ ‘alâ muqâ bala). 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] 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-makâ n), [9] brought time into existence, and said: “I am the One, the Ever-Living.” [10] Preserving His creations in no way tires Him. Attributes which do not describe Him and are devised by creatures do not apply to Him. [11] [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.’ [12] For the words ‘before’ and ‘after’ are among the locutions of Time, which He invented. [13] Sulayman ibn `Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1817CE), the Wahhabi founder’s grandson, said: Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person (bi dhâ tihi) 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 examplarity. Allah was and there was no place, then He created place and He is exalted as He was before He created place. [14] 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, [15] 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,” [16] and this “first” is interpreted as the creation of Heavens and Earth and their contents. `Abd al-Razzaq mentioned in his commentary on Allah’s saying: {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.” [17] 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. End of Ibn Hajar’s words. [18] 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 — may He be exalted — 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.[19]

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