The “Book Written Above the Throne”

Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani

(fawq al-`arsh)

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Concerning the saying of the Prophet (s) cited in the Book of Tawhid of Sahih al-Bukhari, chapter 22, and again, in two versions, in chapter 55:

When Allah created creation He wrote with Him above His Throne: Verily My mercy precedeth My wrath [22];

When Allah created creation He wrote a Book that is with Him, saying: My mercy overcometh or precedeth My wrath [55 #1];

Allah wrote a Book before He created creation, saying: Verily My mercy precedeth My wrath; and it is written with Him above the Throne [55 #2].

“With Him” refers to the position of a rank, not that of a location, because location does not apply to Him and the Exalted cannot be the literal object of a preposition denoting location.

The claim that has been made by some, that “there is nothing created over the Throne,” as if the Throne, which is created, was somehow the geographical limit between the creation and the Creator is refuted by these hadiths. Not only is it unfounded in the Book and the Sunna, but it also suggests an understanding of Allah’s aboveness in relation to the Throne as spatial rather than figurative and related to rank.

The passage related to the Throne in the text of the `Aqida tahawiyya (#50-51 in the translation cited above) has been transmitted in two different versions. The correct version, used by al-Ghunaymi’s commentary on the `Aqida, has:

He is independent of the Throne and of what is beneath it;

( مُحِيْطٌ بِكُلِّ شَيْئٍ وَبِمَا فَوْقِهِ )

He encompasses all things and that which is above it;

and what He has created is incapable of encompassing Him.

Other versions, such as Ibn Abi al-`Izz’s (d. 792) commentary, have:

( مُحِيْطٌ بِكُلِّ شَيْئٍ وَفَوْقَهُ )

He encompasses all things and is above it;

and what He has created is incapable of encompassing Him.

Ibn Abi al-`Izz’s arguments for the veracity of the latter wording:

i) the word “wa” has been inadvertently dropped from the text by some copyists, giving محيطٌ بكل شيئ فوقِه — similar to the first version, which is incorrect in his view. Yet, by the same token, it could have been inserted unintentionally by some copyists.

ii) there is nothing of creation above the Throne in his view. In this he follows Ibn Hazm who took as his evidence istawa in the sense of “an act pertaining to the Throne, and that is the termination of His creation at the Throne, for there is nothing beyond it”! As we have said this is baseless, for in the authentic hadith, Abu Hurayra narrates that the Prophet said: “When Allah created creation, He wrote a book, which is with Him above the Throne, saying: My mercy overcomes My wrath.” This Book which is above the Throne is the Preserved Tablet, which contains a record and decree of all things past and future. This was mentioned by Ibn Hajar in his commentary on chapter 55 of Bukhari’s Tawhid. Neither Ibn Hazm nor Ibn Abi al-`Izz make mention of this hadith in their discussions.

iii) the word wa could have been deliberately expunged by some “deniers of aboveness (fawqiyya)” — which he takes in the literal sense. Again, who is to say that the word was not, on the contrary, interpolated by some fanatic literalists?

It should be realized that the scholars referred to by Ibn Abil-`Izz as the “deniers of aboveness” did not need to change Tahawi’s text in order to put forward their interpretation of fawqiyya as referring to rank: the Maturidi commentary of Sharh al-`Aqida at-Tahawiyya by Akmal al-Din Babarti has used the wording preferred by Ibn Abil-`Izz, and explained the fawqiyya as being highness of rank. So has Basim Jabi’s edition of the `Aqida.

This indicates to us that the wording which Ibn Abil-`Izz preferred has been used by non-“Salafis” as well as “Salafis,” but interpreted differently. Thus even if Tahawi’s wording were as claimed by Ibn Abi al-`Izz, there is no problem with it, provided it is taken in the correct manner. As Ghazali stated in the section entitled al-Qawa`id wa al-`aqa’id of his Ihya’: “Allah is above the Throne, above the heavens, above everything, with a highness that does not make Him any closer to the Throne or the Heavens, just as it does not make Him any further from the Earth.”

Ibn Hajar says in Fath al-Bari concerning this:

When we say: “Allah is above the Throne” (Allah `ala al-`arsh), it does not mean that He is touching it or that He is located on it or bounded by a certain side of the Throne. Rather, it is a report which is transmitted as is, and so we repeat it while at the same time negating any modality, for there is nothing like Him whatsoever, and from Him is all success.

As for “above His throne” (in the hadith) it refers to the Book. Some have taken it in the sense of “upwards from His Throne,” as in Allah’s saying: “a gnat, or anything above it” (2:26), but this is far-fetched. Ibn Abu Jamra (d. 695) said:

“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, so as to signify the exclusivity of His encompassing knowledge regarding these matters, making the Throne one of the greatest signs of the exclusivity of His knowledge of the Unseen. This could explain the verse al-rahmanu `al al-`arshi istawa as referring to whatever Allah wills of His power, which is the Book He has placed above His Throne.””

Ibn Abu Jamra’s explanation is in accordance with the sound understanding of Allah’s elevation (`uluw) as that of rank which we have already mentioned, and is reminiscent of Sufyan al-Thawri’s interpretation of istiwa’ in verse 20:4 as a divine command, which we have mentioned above. It is confirmed by the explanation of the hadith of Zaynab, the Prophet’s wife, in Bukhari when she said: “I have been married from above seven heavens” and also: “Allah gave me in marriage in the heaven” to refer to Allah’s decree and order in the Qur’an, which descended from the Preserved Tablet, not to Allah Himself.

Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions