Perfect Attribute of Allah: “Istiwa ala Arsh”

 

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام  على رسوله المصطفى الأمين

وآ له وصحبه ومن أتبعهم بإحسان إلى يوم الدين

 

In the name of Allah Most Beneficent Most Merciful

All praise is for Allah the Exalted and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and his family and companions and all those who follow them and their way until the Day of Resurrection

Knowing Allah in His Names and Attributes generally

and in His Perfect Attribute of “Istiwa ala Arsh”

(rising over the throne) specifically,

and some of the controversies.

General Observation about the Names and Attributes

Allah said about Himself:

(لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ )

“Absolutely nothing resembles Him, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (Al-Sħuuraa, 11) This verse in succinct words negates similarities between Allah and His creation, and of course we know that all of Allah’s Beautiful Names and Perfect Attributes are Absolutely Perfect without any defect or imperfections whatsoever, and yet as the verse also says Allah is “Hearing” and “Seeing” which are two common trait that many living creatures also have in various forms and degrees.  Nevertheless Allah affirmed for Himself that He is (السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ) and we translate these words in relation to Allah as “All-Hearing” and “All-Seeing” to distinguish the limited and imperfect type of hearing and sight of the creatures, as compared to the Perfect Complete Infinite Hearing and Seeing of Allah the Creator the Almighty and Most Majestic. There are many instances when Allah mentioned in the Quran the hearing and seeing of the creatures and we know very well what these words mean in relation to ourselves since they are two out of the five senses; i.e. to hear, see, touch, taste, and smell.

Concerning the Throne

The Arsh (Throne) is a created part of Allah’s creation and Allah has no need of it, and it is the greatest part for even the Kursi is greater than the entire universe, yet the Throne is greater . And the Throne has a shade as in the following famous Hadeeth reported by both al-Bukhari and Muslim and others

Abu Hurairah, may Alalh pleasure be y upon him, reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said: “Allah , the Exalted will keep seven persons under His Throne on the Day when there will be no shadow anywhere except that one: 1. The just king of the Muslims. 2. The youth who passed his young age remembering Allah. 3. The man whose heart remains stuck to the Mosque. 4. Two people who established love between themselves solely for the sake of Allah. 5. One who remembers Allah in loneliness and tears come out of his eyes. 6. The man who is invited by a woman (for evil act) but rejects her just for the sake of Allah. 7. The person who gives charity in a manner that his left hand is

unaware of what the right hand gave.”

Concerning Allah’s Attribute “Istiwa ala Arsh”

This mentioned seven times in the Quran, like in the saying of Allah

إِنَّ رَبَّكُمُ اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى عَلَى الْعَرْشِ يُغْشِي اللَّيْلَ النَّهَارَ يَطْلُبُهُ حَثِيثًا

وَالشَّمْسَ وَالْقَمَرَ وَالنُّجُومَ مُسَخَّرَاتٍ بِأَمْرِهِ أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ تَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ (54)

Indeed, your Lord is Allah, who is created the heavens and earth in six days and then rose over above  the Throne. He covers the  night with the day, chasing it rapidly; and [He created] the sun, the moon, and the stars, subjected by His command. Unquestionably His is the creation and the command; blessed is Allah, Lord of the worlds.[Surat-al-Araf 54]

And in the saying of Allah:

اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى عَلَى الْعَرْشِ مَا لَكُمْ مِنْ دُونِهِ

مِنْ وَلِيٍّ وَلَا شَفِيعٍ أَفَلَا تَتَذَكَّرُونَ (4)

It is Allah who created the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them in six days; then He rose above the Throne. You do not have besides Him any protector or any intercessor. Will you not be reminded? [Suratal-Sajdah 4]

And Allah said

( الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى ( (5)
“The Most Beneficent, above the Throne He rose.”[Ta Ha 5]

Note that when the word “Istiwa” is used with preposition “ila” (to, towards) and not the  preposition “ala” (on) the meaning is ‘directed to, intend to’ in the saying of Allah,

هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ لَكُمْ مَا فِي الْأَرْضِ جَمِيعًا ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى إِلَى السَّمَاءِ فَسَوَّاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَوَاتٍ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ (29)

“It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth.  He then directed Himself to the sky and made them seven heavens, and He is Omniscient concerning all things.” [Surat-al-Baqara 29]

In relation to humans, the action of “istiwa” has another meaning, as Allah said about riding beasts:

وَالَّذِي خَلَقَ الْأَزْوَاجَ كُلَّهَا وَجَعَلَ لَكُمْ مِنَ الْفُلْكِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ مَا تَرْكَبُونَ (12) لِتَسْتَوُوا عَلَى ظُهُورِهِ ثُمَّ تَذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ رَبِّكُمْ إِذَا اسْتَوَيْتُمْ عَلَيْهِ وَتَقُولُوا سُبْحَانَ الَّذِي سَخَّرَ لَنَا هَذَا وَمَا كُنَّا لَهُ مُقْرِنِينَ (13) وَإِنَّا إِلَى رَبِّنَا لَمُنْقَلِبُونَ (14

“That you may ride (settle yourselves) upon their backs and then remember the favor of your Lord when you have ride them, and say. “Exalted is He who has subjected this to us, and we could not have [otherwise] subdued it.[Surat-az- Zukraf 13]

And Allah said about Nuh (noah) and those with him on the Ark:

فَإِذَا اسْتَوَيْتَ أَنْتَ وَمَنْ مَعَكَ عَلَى الْفُلْكِ فَقُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ الَّذِي نَجَّانَا مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ (28)

“And when you have boarded the ship, you and those with you, then say, ‘Praise to Allah who has saved us form the wrongdoing people.’” [Surat-al-Mu’minun;28]

No intelligent person who knows Arabic would say that he doesn’t understand the meaning of “Istawa” in relation to humans upon a horse or camel and ship, and no believer would say that the meaning of “Istawa” of Allah on His Majestic Throen is just like the “Istawa” of some creatures onto a horse or camel or ship, for Allah is completely and absolutely independent and free of need, but rather they say in accordance with the majesty and greatness of Allah the Creator, as He Himself has praised Himself with this Attribute.

The various understandings are seen in various translation: to sit; to mount; to ride; to established Himself above; to rise over. This last one appears to be the best when qualified (explained) with a commentary to avoid any misunderstandings.

Some of the deviated sects thought that this Attribute was unbecoming of Allah, and thus interpreted it as “astawla” which means to take over, occupy like a conquering army, and take control, meaning to become the Lord and Master over all things. They make this assumption because they think of the throne and also chair as something “metaphorical” meaning not literal and not real but only as a symbol for the kingdom and dominion.

But this has been rejected as absurd because it necessitates that there was some god before Allah Almighty and then Allah fought and conquered and took over the Throne. A very absurd idea indeed. The correct idea has been mentioned some of the ‘followers’ (taba’een) as to rise above and over the throne, and the idea here is that Allah is exalted High above His Creation and is not part of the Creation but above and beyond it.  He Is Lord and Master and Owner and is in full control and is able to do as He wills at all times!!! He did this specific act of “itiwa`a” as He willed to do it and then informed us about it, just as Allah informed us that He descends to the lower heaven every last third of the night to accept the prayers of those that ask Him.

There are many sayings of the Salaf (predecessors) about this like the famous saying of Imam Malik, (may the mercy of Allah be upon him) said:”Al-Istiwaa is known, and how is unknown,to have eemaan (faith) in it is obligatory, and to question it is an innovation “. Then he said to the questioner: “I do not think except that you are an evil man”. So he ordered him to be expelled [This has also been related about Ummul-Mumineen Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her)) and others]

Rabee’ah ibn Abee ‘Abdur-Rahmaan (may the mercy of Allah be upon him) said:”Al-Istiwaa (Allaah ascending) is not unknown , and how is not comprehendable, and from Allah is the Message, upon the Messenger is to clearly convey it, and upon us is to affirm it”

 

Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (may the mercy of Allah be upon himr) said: “We know that our Lord-the Most Perfect – is above the heavens, above his Arsh (throne), separate from His creation.”

And the great scholar Ibn Khuzaymah said: “Whoever does not affirm that Allah is above His heavens, upon His Throne and that He is distinct from His creation; must be forced to repent…[ Mentioned by Al-Hakim in Al-Marifah].
The matter is as the scholars-such as Nuaym ibn Hammad al-Khuzaee (d.228H), ( Shaikh of al-Bukharee) said: “Whosoever makes tashbeeh (resemblance) of Allah to His creation, has committed kufr (disbelief), and whosoever denies what Allah has described Himself with, has also committed kufr. Indeed, all that Allah has described Himself with, or what His Messenger has described Him with, then there is no tashbeeh in it at all.”

In Summery:

The Aqeedah (creed and faith) of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah concerning the Names and Attributes of Allah is to affirm the Names and Attributes which Allah has affirmed for Himself, without distorting them or denying them, or discussing “how” they are or likening them as similar to anything else (Allah is Exalted above any likeness to others!). It is proven in the Qur’aan and Sunnah and by the consensus (Ijmaa’) of the Aalaf (early generations of predecessors) of this Ummah (nation) that Allah is above His heavens on His Throne as He informed us in the Quran and Sunnah, and that He is the Exalted, the Most High, and that He controls and Sees and Hears and Knows all that happens in His Creation, and that He is the Master and Lord and the One God of all creation. He is Always Exalted Above all things, and there is nothing that is above Him, may He be forever Glorified in praise and glorification.

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