Our Understanding Allah (s.w.t.) being Established on His Throne

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

There is sometimes some confusion regarding the meaning of Allah (s.w.t.) being Established, istiwa’, on the ‘Arsh, Throne.  An example is this verse:

Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who Created the Heavens and the Earth in six days, then He Established Himself on the Throne (of authority): He Draweth the night as a veil over the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He Created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His Command.  Is it not His to Create and to Govern?  Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds! (Surah al-A’araf:54)

The Wahhabi sect says ‘al-istawa’’, establishment, means ‘al-istiqrar’, literal settlement upon the ‘Arsh.  ibn ‘Utsaymin said, regarding istawa’, “We know the meaning of istawa’ and we believe it and accept it, and He is upon is His Throne, and His Establishment thereupon is of aboveness and settledness.  We do not know the modality of this al-istawa’.”

Istiwa’’ is a Divine Act in the translation of Imam al-Bayhaqi’s (r.a.) al-Asma’ wa asw-Swifat.  The Wahhabi sect deny the position of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah.  The Wahhabi sect took from the earlier, heretical position of Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.), and assert that ‘settledness’ takes place over the Throne.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) asserted that Allah (s.w.t.) descends, and can be above, fawq, and below, taht; ‘without how’.  He claimed, falsely, that the school of the Salaf is the affirmation of everything that the Qur’an stated concerning aboveness, fawqiyyah; belowness, tahtiyyah, and Establishment over the Throne.”  This is found in Imam Abu Zahrah’s (r.a.) al-Madzahib al-Islamiyyah, in his criticism of the Wahhabi sect.

In contrast, Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) in Kitab Waswiyyat al-Imam al-A‘azham ila Abi ‘Amr ‘Utsman al-Batti, said, “We assert that Allah Established Himself over the throne without His need nor settlement upon it, for He it is Who Preserves the Throne and other than it without needing any of them.”  He said in his al-Fiqh al-Akbar, “Allah has no limits, nor any rivals...  He who says, ‘I do not know if my Lord is in the Heavens or on the Earth,’ is a disbeliever, and he who says, ‘He is on the Throne, and I do not know whether the Throne is in the Heaven or on the Earth,’ he is also a disbeliever.”

Imam Abu Manswur al-Maturidi (r.a.) explained this to mean, “The reason is that by such words, he suggests a place for Allah and this is idolatry.”

Umm Salamah (r.a.) the wife of the Prophet (s.a.w.), said the following about istiwa’, as quoted by Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) in Fath al-Bari: “The establishment is not unknown and its modality is inconceivable in the mind; one does not ask ‘how’ about Him; ‘how’ is inapplicable to Him.”

Imam ibn Rushd (r.a.) in Sharh al-‘Utbiyyah, stated that Imam Malik’s (r.a.) position is that the Throne is not Allah’s (s.w.t.) location of settledness, mawdi‘ istiqrar Allah.  This was also quoted in Fath al-Bari.

A man asked Imam Malik (r.a.), “How did Allah make istiwa’ on the throne?”

Imam Malik (r.a.) inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said, Istiwa’ is not unknown, the modality of it is inconceivable in the mind; but belief in it is obligatory, and inquiring about it is a heretical innovation.  You are an innovator.” And he gave orders for him to be taken out.

According to Imam al-Juwayni (r.a.) in his al-Irshad ila’ Qawati’ al-Adillah fi Uswul al-‘Itiqad, as quoted by Imam al-Yafi’i (r.a.) in Kitab Marham al-‘Ilal al-Mu’dhilat fi Dhaf ash-Shubah wa ar-Radd ‘ala al-Mu’tazila, “The understanding of istiwa’ as Allah’s Turning to a particular Command concerning the Throne is not far-fetched, and this is the ta’wil of Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it, the verse: ‘Moreover, He Comprehended in His design the sky, and it had been as smoke’.”

Moreover, He Comprehended in His Design, the sky, and it had been (as) smoke… (Surah Fuswswilat:11)

Imam Sufyan ats-Tsawri (r.a.) forwarded the same interpretation of istiwa’ concerning this verse:

A Revelation from Him Who Created the Earth and the Heavens on high.  (Allah) Most Gracious is Firmly Established on the Throne (of Authority). (Surah ThaHa:4-5)

Imam al-Juwayni (r.a.) said in his al-Irshad ila’ Qawati` al-Adillah fi Uswul al-‘Itiqad, as quoted by Imam al-Yafi’i (r.a.) in Kitab Marham al-‘Ilal al-Mu’dhilat fi Dhaf ash-Shubah wa ar-Radd ‘ala al-Mu’tazila, that care must be taken to show the ‘vulgar’ anthropomorphists, Hashwiyyah, the verses upon which they do practice ta’wil.  They invoke as proof of their belief in Allah’s (s.w.t.) ‘settling’, istiqrar, the external meaning of the following verse:

(Allah) Most Gracious is Firmly Established on the Throne (of Authority). (Surah ThaHa:5)

We then ask them for the meaning of this:

... And He is with you wheresoever ye may be ... (Surah al-Hadid:4)

If they take the latter according to its external sense also, then they annul the external sense of His being Established on the Throne which they claim, and they also proclaim the disgrace of their beliefs for all reasonable persons to see; however, if they understand it as referring to His Encompassing us with His Knowledge, then they have applied ta’wil, and it is no longer forbidden for us to do the same in interpreting His Establishment as ‘subduing’, qaharah, and ‘prevailing over’ ghalabah, as is permitted by the Arabic language.  Moreover, istiwa’ in the sense of istiqrar, or settling, presupposes a prior state of disturbance, and to hold this is disbelief, kufr.  And yet, this is the position of the Wahhabi sect.

In their defense, they say, we should let the verse pass according to its external sense without interpreting it, and that it is among the mutashabihat whose meaning only Allah (s.w.t.) Knows.  Imam al-Juwayni (r.a.) said, if the questioner wants to let istiwa’ pass according to the external sense it commonly suggests, which is physical settlement, then such a sense drives us to anthropomorphism, but if that is explicitly shown to be impossible, then the external sense ceases, at which time it is not far-fetched to understand the verse rightly and reasonably according to the demands of the shari’ah and the obligation to avoid ta’wil, lest wrong belief results.

Imam ibn Hajr al ‘Asqalani (r.a.) in Fath al-Bari, wrote, “The Mu`tazila said its meaning is ‘Establishing Dominion through subjugation and overpowering,’ citing as a proof the saying of the poet, Bishr, ‘established mastery over Iraq without sword and without shedding blood.’”

The anthropomorphist al-Jismiyyah have said, “Its meaning is ‘settledness’,” meaning al-istiqrar.”

This meaning was also rejected by Imam al-‘Izz ad-Din ibn ‘Abd as-Salam (r.a.), who said in al-Mulhah fi ‘Itiqad Ahl al-Haqq, “What Allah is not: He is not a body endowed with form.  He is not a substance confined by boundary or measurement.  He resembles nothing and nothing resembles Him.  Directions and sides do not encompass Him.  Neither the Earths nor the Heavens contain Him.”

Imam al-`Izz ibn ‘Abd as-Salam (r.a.) was asked in his Fatawa, “What do you say about Abu Zayd al-Qayrawani al-Maliki’s saying, ‘Allah is above His exalted Throne in person, and He is in every place with His knowledge’?  Does such an affirmation attribute a direction to Allah or not?  And is the one who holds such belief declared a kafir or not?”

He replied, “The apparent meaning of what ibn Abi Zayd said attributes direction for Allah, because he has made a difference between Allah’s being on the Throne and His being with His Creation.  As for the second question: the more correct position is that the one who holds belief in Allah’s direction is not declared a disbeliever, because the scholars of Islam did not bring such as these out of Islam, rather, they adjudicated inheritance from Muslims for them, burial in Muslim grounds, sanctity of their blood and property, and the obligation to pray over their remains.  The same is true of all the upholders of innovations: People never ceased to apply to them the rulings that apply to Muslims.  Pay no attention to what the common people claim about their disbelief.”

Imam ash-Shafi’i (r.a.) in his al-Fiqh al-Akbar, said: “Whoever says, ‘The Most Gracious is Firmly Established on the Throne’, it is said to him, ‘This verse is one of the mutashabih concerning which one is perplexed to give an answer, and the same is said regarding similar verses.’”  Mutashabih meaning it is an ambiguous verse.  Others who list the verses of istiwa’ among the mutashabihat include Imam Malik (r.a.).

(Allah) Most Gracious is Firmly Established on the Throne (of Authority). (Surah ThaHa:5)

Imam Abu Manswur ‘Abd al-Qahir al-Baghdadi (r.a.), in Uswul ad-Din, wrote, “The correct position according to us is the interpretation of the Throne in this verse to mean Sovereignty, as if He meant that Sovereignty has not been established for any but Him.  This interpretation is taken from the saying of the Arabs, ‘So-and-so’s throne has toppled,’ if he lost his power.”  He then cites three examples from poetry illustrating this.  He says about the characteristics of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah in his al-Farq bayn al-Firaq, “The Ahl as-Sunnah are in consensus that Allah, the Flawless, the Exalted, is not bounded by location.”  He then reported the saying of ‘Ali (k.w.), “Allah Created the Throne as an indication of His Power, not for taking it as a place for Himself.”

Imam Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (r.a.), wrote in his al-Ibana fi Uswul ad-Diyanah, “Allah is above the Heavens, above the Throne, above everything, with a loftiness which does not make Him any closer to the Throne or the Heavens, just as it does not make Him any further from the Earth.  He is Close to everything in existence; He is closer to the servant than his jugular vein, and He is a Witness over all things.”

He also said, as reported by Imam Abu Mansur al-Baghdadi (r.a.), in Uswul ad-Din: “Allah’s Establishment on the Throne is an action He has Created named ‘istiwa’’ and related to the Throne, just as He has Created an action named ‘ityan’ (coming) related to a certain people; and this implies neither descent nor movement.”

Imam Abu Hatim ibn Hibban al-Busti (r.a.) flatly denied that Allah (s.w.t.) had limits and was expelled from Sijistan under pain of death by the anthropomorphists.

Imam ibn Jarir ath-Thabari (r.a.) said in his Tafsir, “Allah Made Himself Exalted over the Heavens with the Exaltation of Sovereignty and Power, not that of displacement and movement.”

Imam Abu Hamid Ghazali (r.a.) wrote almost the same thing as Imam Abu Manswur al-Baghdadi (r.a.) in the Ihya’, in the section on Qawa’id wa ‘Aqa’id, and something related to it in the Iljam.

The grammarian, Shaykh ar-Raghib (r.a.) wrote, “The expression ‘istawa’ ‘ala’ has the meaning of istila’ or holding mastery over something, as in the verse of Qur’an:

(Allah) Most Gracious is Firmly Established on the Throne (of Authority). (Surah ThaHa:5)

It means that everything is alike in relation to Him in such manner that no one thing is nearer to Him than another thing, since He is not like the bodies that abide in one place exclusive of another place.”

Imam Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (r.a.), in his at-Tafsir al-Kabir, wrote, “Since it is affirmed by this verse that, ‘Not one of the beings in the Heavens and the Earth but must come to (Allah) Most Gracious as a servant,’ and since it is obligatory that Allah is clear of being a slave, He is therefore clear of being in a place or direction, or on the Throne or the Chair.”  This was in his commentary to Surah Maryam:93.

Not one of the beings in the Heavens and the Earth but must come to (Allah) Most Gracious as a servant. (Surah Maryam:93)

Imam Abu Manswur ibn ‘Asakir (r.a.) wrote in his ‘Aqidah, ‘It must not be said, ‘When was He’, or ‘Where was He’, or ‘How was He’; He Exists without a place.”

Imam ibn al-Jawzi (r.a.) said, “Whoever says, ‘He is established on the Throne in person’, has diverted the sense of the verse to that of sensory perception.  Such a person must not neglect that the principle is established by the mind, by which we have come to know Allah, and have attributed pre-eternity to Him decisively.  If you said, ‘We read the ahadits and keep quiet, no one would criticise you; it is only your taking them in the external sense which is hideous.  Therefore, do not bring into the school of this pious man of the Salaf, Imam Ahmad - that which does not belong in it.  You have clothed this madzhab with an ugly deed, so that it is no longer said ‘Hanbali’ except in the sense of ‘anthropomorphist’.”  And yet, this is exactly what has happened with the Wahhabi sect when they claim to be of the Hanbali madzhab, and people believe them.

Imam ibn al-Jawzi (r.a.) also said, “Then they say, ‘We take them according to their external senses.’  O wonder!  What is the ‘external sense’ of what Allah Alone Knows?  Is the ‘external sense’ of istiwa’ other than sitting down?  And is the ‘external sense’ of nuzul other than displacement?

They said, ‘He is Established on the Throne ‘in person.’’  But this addition is not related by anyone!  It is only what they understood with their senses, namely, that one is not established other than with his own person.”

Imam an-Nawawi (r.a.) wrote in Sharh al-Muhadzdzab, “It is said, ‘We believe that the Merciful is established over the Throne, and we do not know the reality of the meaning of this nor what is meant by it, while we do believe that there is nothing like Him whatsoever, and that He is Exalted far above the most elevated of Created things.  That is the way of the Salaf, or at least their vast majority, and it is the safest because one is not required to probe into such matters.’”

Imam ibn al-Hammam al-Hanafi (r.a.) wrote in al-Musayarah, “It is obligatory to believe that Allah is Established on the Throne while negating any likeness to Creation.  As for saying that His Establishment is a conquering move, it is permissible but not obligatory since there is no evidence for it specifically...  However, if it is feared that the common people will not understand istiwa’ without conceiving of contact and other corporeal characteristics, and if they do not negate the latter, then there is no harm in directing their understanding to istila’, as its usage and meaning for istiwa’ is established in language from the poet's saying, ‘Bishr has conquered Iraq,’ and ‘When we towered above them and conquered them’...”

Shaykh ‘Abd al-Ghani an-Nablusi (r.a.) said, “Whoever believes that Allah permeates the Heavens and the Earth, or that He is a body sitting on His Throne, is a disbeliever, even if he thinks he is a Muslim.”

Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) disavowed the term ‘in person’, ‘bi dzatihi’, saying, “There is no need for this expression, and it disturbs the soul.”

Imam ibn Hajr (r.a.) also rejected the statement that Allah (s.w.t.) is on the Throne ‘in person’, ‘bi dzatihi’, as equally preposterous as saying that He is everywhere:

Some of the Mu’tazila have claimed that Allah (s.w.t.) was everywhere on the basis of the hadits, “If one of you stands in prayer, let him not spit in front of him for Allah is in front of him.”  This is evident ignorance, because the hadits then states that he should spit under his foot, which invalidates their principle.  The hadits also constitutes a refutation of those who say that Allah (s.w.t.) is on the Throne ‘in person’, ‘bi dzatihi’,

Even Sulayman ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, the grandson of the founder of the Wahhhabi sect, that heretic, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, declared as unbeliever anyone who used the term ‘in person’, ‘bi dzatihi’, in relation to Allah (s.w.t.) being in a place, whether one place or an infinite number: “Whoever believes or says: Allah is in person in every place, or in one place: he is a kafir.  It is obligatory to declare that Allah is distinct 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.”

Allah (s.w.t.) was before He Brought place and time into existence, and He is now as He ever was.  The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Allah Existed and nothing existed together with Him.”  This was narrated from Buraydah (r.a.) by Imam al-Hakim (r.a.) in al-Mustadrak, who declared it swahîh.  Imam adz-Dzahabi (r.a.) concurred.  And it was narrated from ‘Imran ibn Husayn (r.a.) by Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), and Imam ibn Hibban (r.a.) with two sound chains in his Swahih, and Imam ibn Abi Shaybah (r.a.) in his Muswannaf.

In summary, He Established Himself over the Glorious Throne in the way that He Says and the meaning He Intends, “established” in a manner transcending contact, mumassah: settledness, istiqrar; fixity, tamakkun; indwelling, hulul; or movement, intiqal.  He is far above the claims of the people of error and misguidance, the Wahhabis and the anthropomorphists.  The Throne does not carry Him, and neither do the Throne-Bearers carry the Throne.  Rather, the Throne and the Throne-Bearers are Carried up by the subtlety of His Infinite might, and all are powerless, maqhurun, in His Grasp.


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