Istiwa alal Arsh—Where is Allah Ta’ala?

By Jamia Maseehiyyah Ashrafiyyah

The  issue  of  Istiwa  alal  Arsh is  mentioned  in  seven  Surahs, viz.  Surah  A’raaf,  Surah  Yunus,  Ra’d,  Taha,  Furqaan,  Sajdah  and Hadeed.

The  following  Tafseer  of  Istiwa  alal  Arsh appears  in  Tafseer Mukammal Bayaanul Qur’aan under the Aayat in Surah A’raaf:
“Then  He  established  (and  manifested)  Himself  on  the  Arsh  (which resembles  the  Throne  of  a  King,  in  a  manner  befitting  His  Sublime Self).”

This  is  precisely  the  view  of  the  Jumhoor  Salaf [Overwhelming majority  of  the  Former  Ulama], i.e.:  

•  Istiwa is in its  literal  sense.

The  nature  of  the  literal  meaning  is  entrusted  to  Allah  Ta’ala.  Delving in the reality of it is prohibited.

This  prohibition  is  only  logical  because  our  mental  perception  is incapable  of  comprehending  it  [the  reality  of  Allah  Ta’ala’s  Istiwa]. This  is  like  a  person  who  is  born  blind  will  be  advised  not  to  delve  into the  nature  of  colour,  for  the  same  reason  [i.e.  he  is  incapable  of comprehending the nature of colour]. 

And  beware  of  comparing  His  [Allah  Ta’ala’s]  Istiwa  to  your Istiwa,  for  indeed  the  nature  of  an  attribute  differs  in  relation  to  the holder  of  the  attribute.  Zaid  ‘settling’  somewhere  is  not  like  the  mind settling  on  an  issue.  Similarly,  the  length  of  a  stick  is  not  the  same,  i.e. it  does  not  share  the  same  reality,  as  the  length  of  night,  not withstanding  the  fact  that  both  ‘settling’  and  ‘length’  are  in  their  literal sense (in the two examples mentioned). 

When  the  Mustawi  [that  is,  the  Being  Who  has  established  and manifested  Himself  on  the  Arsh]  is  unfathomable  in  His  Essence,  His Istiwa  will  undoubtedly  be  unfathomable  in  reality.  Thus,  there  is  no way  to  judge  One  Whose  reality  is  unfathomable  with  an  entity  whose reality is fathomable. Your Istiwa is inconceivable for Allah Ta’ala.

The safest course is not to discuss this issue and leave the nature of it to Allah Ta’ala.  

The approach of the illustrious Salaf [i.e. Predecessors, Former Ulama] was that the Nusoos [Quraanic Texts and Ahadeeth—here reference is to the allegorical texts] are in their literal senses. However, the nature and essence of it is not known.

Istiwa and Uluw [Loftiness] do not necessitate direction. If direction is declared [for Allah Ta’ala as the deviate Salafis fallaciously claim, that Allah Ta’ala is above on His Throne] then the nature of Istiwa is specified which is in violation to the belief of the illustrious Salaf as they unequivocally state that the reality [of Istiwa] is not known.  

To summarize, there are two dimensions to Istiwa and Uluw:

Declaring direction [for Allah Ta’ala].

Without declaring direction, in fact, declaring no direction. 

The first is the doctrine of the Mujassimah [a deviant sect who subscribe to anthropomorphism] and the second is the doctrine of the Ahlus Sunnah in which the Muhadditheen and Soofiyah both are included. 

Direction [for Allah Ta’ala] is negated traditionally and rationally. In tradition, on the basis of the Aayat: “There is none like unto Him.”  

Rationally, for this reason that direction is created and non-eternal, whereas Allah Ta’ala is pure from the attribute of non-eternity, as the location of non-eternity is also non-eternal.

And,  how  beautifully  did  Imam  Maalik  put  it  when  he  was  asked about  this  [i.e.  Istiwa  alal  Arsh]:  “Istiwa  is  known,  the  manner is  unknown,  delving  into  it  is  bid’at  and  belief  in  it  is  incumbent.”— Marginal  Notes  of  Nibraas  with  reference  to  Sharhul  Fiqhil  Akbar  by Mulla Ali Qaari.

The  bid’at  and  dhalaalat  (innovation  and  deviation)  of  the  modernist Salafis  is  thus  manifest  from  Imam  Maalik’s  statement.  They  have raised  and  dabbled  into  this  issue  without  fear  for  the  delicate  nature  of the  subject,  thus  exposing  their  Imaan  and  the  Imaan  of  innocent Muslims  to  kufr.  May  Allah  Ta’ala  protect  us  from  transgressing  the limits.

This  brings  us  to  the  question:  Where  is  Allah  Ta’ala?  This question  too,  like  the  previous  mas’alah  is  delicate  and  delving  into  it  is unwise.  In  fact,  for  us  who  lack  expertise  in  Shar’i  Uloom to  discuss  the issue  is  fraught  with  perils  for  our  Imaan.  And,  even  if  we  possessed deep  knowledge  of  the  Shariah  and  Islamic  Sciences,  then  too  words lack  the  scope  to  describe  this  as  well  as  all  the  Infinite  Attributes  of Allah Azza wa A’laa. 
The  minimum  requirement  is  that  we  believe  in  the  following:

Allah  Ta’ala  declares:

“East  and  west  belongs  to  Him.  Thus,  wherever you turn, the Face of Allah is there.”

Thus,  the  Face  of  Allah  Ta’ala  is  everywhere.  In  what  way  and  in  which manner is not for our concern. In fact, it is kufr to probe the details. 

Allah Ta’ala declares: 

“Be aware that indeed He encompasses everything.”

Thus,  everything  is  surrounded  and  encompassed  by  Him.  Nothing escapes Him and nothing is beyond Him. This much we believe and it is part of  our  categorical  Faith.  How  He  encompasses  everything  is beyond the limit of our finite minds. 

Allah  Ta’ala  declares:  

“And He is with you wherever you are.”

The  above  Aayat  also  asserts  the  Presence  of  Allah  Ta’ala  to  be everywhere.  We  do  not  know  the  kaif  or  manner  and  nature  of  His presence.  This  is  the  belief  of  the  illustrious  Soofiyah  whom  the Salafiyyah  (Salafis)  target  with  slander.  The  scope  of  this  treatise  does not  permit  a  detailed  rebuttal  of  the  Salafi  slander  levelled  against  the honourable  Soofiyah  and  Mashaaikh  of  Tasawwuf.  Our  purpose  here  is simply  to  provide  the  essential  dalaail  and  basis  for  the  Mathhab  and Maslak  of  the  Hanafiyyah,  Soofiyah  and  Jumhoor  Ahlus  Sunnah  wal Jama’ah. 

Shaikh  Shamsud  Deen  Ramli  Shaafi’i  (Rahmatullahi  alaih)  in  his Fataawa  cites  an  incident  of  a  person  who  offensively  questioned  a Soofi  [Saint,  Buzrug]:  “Where  is  Allah?”  The  anti-Mathhab  Madinah University  students  rudely  pose  the  same  question  to  Musallis  in Masjid-e-Nabawi.  The  Buzrug  gave  the  following  apt  reply:  “Be  gone! Are  you  searching  with  your  eyes  where?  Allah  Ta’ala  declares:  ‘And He is with you wherever you are.”

Rasoolullah  (Sallallahu  alaihi  wa  sallam)  said:  “If  you  send  a  rope  down to the bottom-most earth, it will come to Allah.”

The  Hadeeth  clearly  rebuts  the  Salafi  view  of  Allah  Ta’ala  being confined  to  the  skies.  As  stated  earlier,  Allah  Ta’ala  is  free  from  time, place, direction and limit.

Hazrat  Ali  (Karramallahu  wajhahu)  sums  up  the  Aqeedah  [Tenet  of Faith]  of  the  Ahlus  Sunnah  as  follows:  “I  recognise  my  Rabb  with  that which He Himself has made me recognise Him. He cannot be perceived with the senses and He cannot be judged according to humans. He is near in His absence, yet far in His presence. He is above everything, yet nothing will be said to be below Him. He is in front of everything, yet nothing will be said to be in front of Him. He is in everything unlike one thing in another. Thus, Glory to that Being Who is such whilst nothing else is like that.”

A poet said it very beautifully:                                    

“We can think about You, but we cannot fully comprehend You.”

Salafis question Allah Ta’ala’s Omnipresence by disgorging the following profanity: “Is He in the toilet when you are in the toilet?” Allah Ta’ala instructs us to respond to the drivel of the ignoramuses in the following manner:
                                    
(Salaam to you! We do not quarrel with the juhalaa.) (Insha Allah we will refute this drivel soon)

In short, Allah Ta’ala’s Presence is everywhere, i.e. He is Omnipresent, in a manner He knows best. 

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