Taken from (Islamic doctrines and beliefs vol 4 Allah’s Names and Attributes )
ibn al-arabi’s refutation to Ibn Abd al-barr
Some ignorant people have trespassed bounds in interpreting this hadith, claiming thes eis proof in it that Allah “is in the heaven, on the throne, above the seven heavens’ We say taht this is a sign of tremendous ignorance.
What the hadith said is “He descends to heaven” without specifying from where He descends or How He descends. Ye tthey said- and their proof is again based on the literal sense ‘The Merciful Established himself over the throne ’20:2
We ask: What is the Throne in arabic, and what is Istawa?
They reply: as Allah said: ‘That you may mount upon (tastawu) their backs, and may remember your Lord’s favor when you mount (istawaytum) thereon’ 43:13
We say: Allah is mighty and higher than to have His Istawa on His throne compared to our sitting on the backs of animals.
They said: and as He said: ‘and it (the ship) came to rest (istawat) upon (the mount) al-judi’ 11:44
We say: Allah is Mighty and Higher than a ship that sailed and then docked and stopped.
They said: and as He said. ‘And when you are on board (istawayta) the ship, you and whoso is with you’ 23:28
We say: Allah forbid that his Istiwa be similar to that of Noah alayhi salam and his people. Everything in the latter case is created, as it consists in istiwa with an elevation and a settling in a place involving physical contact. The entire Umma is in agreement, even before hearing the hadith of descent that the arguments of those who rejected it, that Allah’s Istiwa does not involve any of those things. Therefore do not give examples from His creation for Him!…
They say: Allah said: “He rules all affairs from the heaven to the earth” 32:5
We say: This is true, but it does not provide any proof for your innovation.
They say: All the firm believers in the oneness of Allah raise their hands to the heaven when supplicating Him, and if Musa alayh isa lam not said to pharoah: ‘My Lord is in the heaven,’ Pharoah would not have said ‘O Haman,.. set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey the god of Moses’ 28:38
We say: You are lying about Mus a alayhi salaam, he never said that. but your conclusion shows that you are indeed the followers of pharaoh, who believed that the Creator lies in a certain direction, and so he desired to climb up to Him on a ladder. He congratulates you for being among his followers, and he is your imam.
They say: What about umayya ibn abi al-salt who said: “Glory to Him who creatures are unable to know in a way He deserves to be known, Who is on His throne, One and One alone, soverign and Possesser over the throne of heaven, unto Whose majesty faces humbled and prostrate”? and he – umayya had read the Torah, the bible, and the psalms.
We say: It is just like you, in your ignorance, to cite as proof, first pharaoh, then the discourse of pre islamic arab supported by the torah and the bible which have been distorted and changed. Of all of Allah’s creation the jews are the most knowledgable in disbelief in likening Allah to the creation.
What we must bleieve is that Allah existed and nothing existed with Him; that He created all creation, including the throne, without becoming subject to disclosure through them, nor did a direction arises for Him because of them, nor did he acquire a location in them; that He does not become immanent, that He does not cease to be transcendent, that he does nto change, and that He does nto move from one state to another.
Istiwa in the arabic language has fifteen meanings both literal and figurative. some of these meanings are suitable for Allah and the meaning of the verse 20:4 is derived from them. The other meanings are not accepted under any circumstances. for example, if it is taken to mean being fixed in a place (tamakkun), settling (Istiqrar), connecting (Ittisal), or being bounded (muhadhat): then none of these are suitable for the Creator Subhannahu wa ta ala and no-one should try to find His likeness in His creation.
One may refrain from explaining the verse, as Malik rahimahullah and others have said: ‘Istiwa is known’ – he means: its lexical sense- “and its modality is unknown’ (Wa al-kayfu majhul)- that is: the modality of whatever is suitable for Allah among the sense of Istiwa: therefore who can specify such modality?- “And asking about it is innovation”- because, as we have just made clear, probing thi smatter is looking for dubious matters and that is asking for fitna.
Hence, from what Imam of muslims malik rahimahullah has said, we can conclude that the istiwa is known; that what is suitable for Allah is left unspecified; and that He is declared transcendent above what is impossible for Him. as for specifying that is not suitable for Him, it is not permissible for you, since you have completed the declaration of oneness and belief by negating likeness for Allah and by negating whatever it is absurd to believe concerning Him,. There is no need for anything beyond that, and we have already explained this in detail.
As for the phrases: ‘He descends, He comes, he arrives,” and similar ones whose meanings it is impermissible to apply to His Essense: they refer to His actions…. Al-awza’i explained this when he said, about this hadith: “Allah does what he wishes” ( Also related from ishaq ibn rahuyah as narrated by al-bayhaqi in al-asma wa al-sifat 2:375-376 #951 and al-dhahabi in mukhtasar al-uluw p.191 #234 and the Siyar (9:558 #1877); Fudayl ibn iyad as related from al-athram by bukhari in khalq af’al al-ibad p14; Yahya ibn Ma’in as cited by Lalika’i in sharh usul i’tiqad ahl al0sunna. The later two are cited by ibn taymiyya in majmu’a al-fatawa 5:377)
It suffices to know or simply to believe that Allah is not to be defined by any of the characteristics of creatures and there there is nothing in His creation that resembles Him and no interpretation that can explain Him.
They said: We must say “He descends” without asking how. We say: We seek refuge in Allah from asking how! We only say whatever Allah’s Mesenger salalahu alayhi wa salam has taught us to say and what we have understood from the arabic language in which the Qur’an was revealed. And the Prophet salalahu alayhi wa salam said: ‘Allah says: O my servant, I was ailing and you did not visit me, I was hungry and you did not fee d me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink…” (Narrated from Abu Hurayra radiallahu anhu by muslim and Ahmad) None of this is suitable of them through Him. In the same way, the saying “Our Lord descends” expresses that His servant and angels descends in His name with His order pertaining to whatever He bestows of His mercy, gives out of His generosity and showers His creation out of His bounty.
The poet says:
I have descended- therefore do nto suspect me of jealousy! in the station of the generous lover. (The scholars also often qoute al-shafii’s saying that when he first arrived in egypt they did not understand him, whereupon “I descended, and descended, and descended until they understood me”
A descent can be either figurative or physical. The descending that Allah spoke about, if understood as physical, would mean His angel, Messenger, and slave. However, if you can understand it to mean that He was not doing any of this and that He then turend to do it in the last third of the night, thereby answering prayers, forgiving, bestowing, and that He has named this “descending from one degree to another and from one attribute to another, ” then that ironically is addressed to those who have more knowledge than you and mroe itnelligence, who are firmer in belief in Allah’s unity and are less confused than you-Nay, who are not confused at all!
They say in ignorance that if He meant the descending of His mercy he would not make that only in the last third of the night, because His mercy descends day and night. We say: Yes, he singled out the night, and the day of arafa, and the hour of jum’a, because the descent of His mercy in them is mroe abundant, and its bestowal is even greater then. Allah told us of this when He said: “And those who beg forgivness in the early hours of the morning” 3:17
Ibn al-arabi, arida al-ahwadhi 2:234-337
more on istiwa from the same book
The meaning of what the muslims say whereby Allah (established Himself over the Throne) is not that He is in contact with it, nor that He is fixed there (mutamakkin fih), nor that He is circumscribed (mutahayyiz) in any of its directions (jihat). However, He is separate (ba’in) from all of His creation. IT is but a report whose terms are ordained and so we say it, at the same timedenying any modality (takyif) for it, for (There is nothing whatsoever Like unto Him, and He is the All-hearing All Seeing) 42:11
Al-ash’ari said that Allah effected an act pertaining to the throne which He named “establishment” (Istiwa). This is like other acts of His and as what He named “sustenance” (rizq), “Favor” (ni’ma), and others. further more, He did not give the “establishment” a modality beyond saying it is an attribute of action, because of His statement: (Then He rose over the Throne) 25:59, and the word “then” denotes sequence in time, which is the exclusive province of acts. Also, Allah ’s acts take place without touch nor motion on His part.
Among the perspicuous scholars, abu al-hasan ‘ali ibn Muhammad ibn mahdi al-tabari said: “Allah is ‘in the heaven above everything and established over His throne’ in the sense that He is elevated high (alin) above it, and the sense of istiwa is elevation (i’tila).”. . .
The Preternal One (al-Qadim) is thus elevated over His throne but neither sitting on (qa’id) nor standing on (qa’im) nor in contact with (mumass), nor seprate from (mubayin) the throne- meaning separate in His essence in the sense of physical separation or distance. For “contact” and its opposite “separation,” “Standing” and its opposite “sitting” are all characteristics of bodies (ajsam), whereas (Allah is One, everlasting, Neither begetting nor begotten, and there is non like Him) 112:1-4 Therefore what is allowed for bodies is impermissible for Him.
The teacher abu bakr ibn furak also mentioned the above method if interpretation from one of our companions who said: “He established Himself in the sense of elevated.” Then he said that such elevation is not in the sense of distance, nor boundary, nor place in which He is firmly fixed. Rather, he means by it what Allah meant when He said: (Have you taken security from Him who is in the heaven…) 67:16-17, that is, above it, together with the preclusion of limit (hadd) for Him and the fact that He admits neither of being contained by a heavenly stratum nor of being encompassed by earthly expanse of space. Allah Almighty was described thus in the evidence transmitted, and so we do not dispute what evidence said. (al kawthari p410-411, al hashidi 2:308-309 Cf. Imam malik rahimahullah : “He is neither ascribed a limit nor likened with anything” (la yuhaddad wa la yushabbah). ibn al-arabi said after citing it in Ahkam al-quran 4:1740: “This is a pinnacle of tawhid in which no muslim preceded Malik”