[Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ Usmani (rahimahullah)]
As for creation taking place through the Divine Command, “Be”, we would like to add a note, following the example of Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanavi in his “Bayan al-Qur’an”, for the benefit of those who happen to be interested in Western philosophy, or in Christian theology, or, worst of all, in the writings of the Orientalists and their translations of Sufi texts.
Let us begin by saying that it is a mystery — and we are using the word “mystery”, not in the debased and the modern sense, but in the original meaning of the term which implies that certain realities are altogether beyond the reach of human understanding, and that certain other realities cannot and must not, even when partially or wholly understood, be given out to those who have no aptitude for receiving them, and that with regard to them it is advisable “to keep one’s lips closed.” In these matters, when and what one chooses to reveal is ultimately not the question of liberalism or democratism or egalitarianism, but that of “spiritual etiquette.” Having repeated the warning given by Maulana Thanavi himself, we shall do no more than explaining what “Bayan al-Qur’an” says on the subject.
Regarding this particular mystery, there is a difference of approach between the two groups of the Mutakallimin (the masters of al-‘Ilm al-Kalam or dialectical theology). According to the Asha’ri group, “Be, and it comes to be” (Kun fa Yakoon) is a metaphorical or allegorical expression. That is to say, the phrase does not signify that Allah actually addressed an existent and commanded it “to be”, but it is an allegorical illustration of His omnipotence, suggesting that there is no interval between an act of will on His part and its realization. The commentator al-Baydawi has adopted this view. But, according to the Maturidi group, the phrase literally means what it says. This approach to the subject, however, produces a difficult problem. A command is given only to an existent. If a thing does not exist at all, how can Allah address it? On the other hand, if a thing does already exist, it is superfluous to command it “to be.” The problem can easily be resolved if we keep two considerations in mind. Firstly, this command does not belong to the order of Tashri’ (legislation) which requires the addressee to exist in actual) fact and to possess understanding; it belongs to the order of Takween: (creation) which is concerned with giving existence to non-existents.
This explanation, in its turn, brings us into the thick of a controversy that has muddled a great deal of Western philosophy and theology. We refer to the question of “creation arising out of nothingness” (Ex Nihilo), and the second of our two considerations will clarify it. It is usual enough to place “existence” (Wujud) in opposition to “nothingness or non-existence” (Adam). But it has also been said that non-existence does not exist. For, Allah is omniscient, and Divine Knowledge comprehends everything that has been, or is, or will be, so that what does not yet exist according to our reckoning, does already exist in Divine Knowledge. To use a different expression, everything past, present or future has its “pure” and “subtle” counterpart in Divine Knowledge. If Western terminology should be more easily comprehensible to some of our readers, we can call these Prototypes, Numbers, or Essences, or Ideas or Archetypes, but each time we will have to give a more refined and a higher signification to these terms than Pythagoras or Plato ever did. The Sufis, however, call them “Al-A’yan al-Thabitah.” With the help of this explanation we can see that when Allah wishes to create a thing, He commands its Essence, which already exists in His Knowledge, “to be”, and it “comes to be” — that is to say, comes to be actualised in the world. Thus, “creation” does not arise out of “nothingness.” Before a thing comes to exist as an “actuality” in the world, it already exists as a “potentiality” in Divine Knowledge. It is this “potentiality” to which the Divine Command “Be” is addressed. Hence, it is equally true to say that Essences do not exist, and to say that Essences do exist. The first statement pertains to the knowledge of the creatures, and the second to the Divine Knowledge.
At the end, we shall again insist that no good can come out of unnecessarily meddling with such delicate questions, specially if the purpose is no more than to seek a new sensation.
[Taken from Ma’ariful Qur’an]