Sayings of Mainsream Salaf and Khalaf Scholars on the Understanding of Allah’s Attributes
Allah’s establishment over the Throne (Istiwa Allah ala al-arsh)
The position of sunni scholars will continue to be listed in an effort to establish a sound understanding about the attributes mentioned in the Quran and sunna and to refute any unsound understanding.
Umm Salama, the Prophet’s salalahu alayh i wa salam sife, said the following about Istiwa: “The establishment is not unknown (Ghayr majhul) and its modality isinconceivable in the mind (ghayr maqul); one does not ask “how” about Him; “how” is inapplicable to Him.“ (Ibn hajar, fath al-bari 13:406-407 Beirut 1989 ed.)
Sufyan al-thawri (d. 161) forwarded Imam al-haramayn al-juwayni’s (d.478) (in his al-irshad ila qawati al-adilla fi usul al-itiqad) interpretation of Istiwa in the verse 20:4 as “a command concerning the throne” (amrun fi al-arsh), as qouted by al-yafii in his book kitab marham al-ilal al-mudila fi daf al-shubah wa al-radd ala al-mutazila (Book of the resolution of difficult problems for the removal of doubts and refutation of the mutazila):
The understanding of Istiwa as Allah’s turning to a particular command concerning the throne is not far-fetched, and this is the tawil of Imam sufyan al-thawri, who took as corroborating evidence for it the verse, “Then turned he (istawa) to the heaven when it was smoke” (41:11) (in al-yafii, marham al-ilal al-mudila, ed E. Denison Ross (Calcutta: Asiatic society of bengal1910 p245)
Imam abu hanifa (d.150) says in his Wasiyya:
Had He been in a place and needing to sit and rest before creating the throne, then the question “Where was Allah?” would have applied to Him, which is impossible…We assert that Allah is established on the throne without His need(haja) nor settlement (Istiqrar) upon it, for He it is who preserves the Trone and other than it without needing any of them. (Abu hanifa, wasiyyat al-imam al-azam abu hanifa , ed. Fuad Ali rida Beirut Maktabat al-jamahir 1970 p.10)
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 mansur al-maturidi explained this in the saying, “The reason is that by such words he suggests a place for Allah and this is idolatry.” (Abu hanifa, kitab al0fiqh al-akbar bi sharh al-qari (Cairo: Dar al0kutub al-arabiyya al-kubra 1327/1909 p16; cf. al-maturidi, sharh al fiqh al akbar in majmuat rasail (hyderabad: matbaat majlis dairat al-maarif al-nizamiyya 1321/1903)
A man asked Imam malik (d179), “How did Allah make istiwa on the throne?” Imam malik inclined his head and was silent until the sweat of fever covered his brow, then he looked up and said, “Istiwa is not unknown (ghayru majhul), the modality of it is inconceivable in the mind (al-kayfu minhu ghayru maqul); 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. (Ibn abi zayd al-qayrawani, al-jami fi al-sunan wa al-adab wa al-maghazi wa al-tarikh, ed. M. Abu al-ajfan and uthman battikh (Beirut: Muassasat al-risala: Tunis: Al-maktaba al-atiqa 1402/1982 p123)
Imam Shafii (d.204), in his small treatise entitled al-fiqh al-akbar said, “Whoever says, ‘al-rahmanu ala al arsh istawa’, it is said to him, ‘This verse is one of the ambiguous verses (mutashabih) concerning which one is perplexed to give an answer, and the same is said regarding similar verses.”” (al-shafii, al-fiqh al-akbar p.17)
Others who list the verse of istiwa among the mutashabihat are imam malik ibn anas, the fuqaha of madina, and al-asmai according to abu mansur abd al-qahir al-baghdadi in usul al-din (al-baghdadi, usul al-din p.112-113)
The imam of Sunnis, abu al-hasan al-ashari (d324), says in his al-ibana fi usul al-diyana:
Allah is above the heavens, above the throne, above everything, with a loftiness (fawqiyya) 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 says, as reported by abu mansur al-baghdadi in usul al-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. (al-baghdadi usul al din p.113)