Fatwa of the scholars of al-Azhar on the one who believes that God is in a place

Title page of Ithaf al-Kainat

To read the whole fatwa in Arabic in PDF format click here.

Here is the translation of this important fatwa which has been written by Imam Abu Muhammad Mahmud ibn Muhammad ibn Khattab as-Subki al-Azhari in his book: Ithaf al-Kaainaat bi-bayaan as-salaf wa l-khalaf fi-l mutashabihaat, page 2:

READ CAREFULLY WHAT HE SAID IN 1931 AS IT IS VERY IMPORTANT!

Introduction

The imam and great scholar, the muhaddith, The Renewer of the Religion, Abu Muhammad, Mahmud Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Khitaab, Al-Subkiyy, Al-Azhariyy, the founder of the Association of Islamic Law in Egypt, the author of Al-Manhal Al-‘Adhb Al-Mawrud Sharh Sunan Abiy Daawood (an explanation of the collection of hadith by Abu Daawud), who died 1352 h., may God have mercy upon him, said in his book “Ithaf Al-Kaa’inaat bi-Bayaan Madh-hab Al-Salaf wa Al-Khalaf Fi Al-Mutashaabihaat”, page 2:

Praise to the Lord of the Worlds, who is clear of the attributes of creation, like direction and body and place and physical highness, and may God raise the rank of Prophet Muhammad, who wiped out shirk and blasphemy and ordered us to believe that Allah is clear of created attributes and revealed to him in the Koran what means that Allah is one, doesn’t have a partner or parts, that He does not need anything or anyone, does not beget and was not begotten and that He has no equal, and also revealed to him what means that Allah does not resemble anything and that He hears and sees everything. May Allah also raise the rank of the Prophet’s companions and all those who imitated his ways.

After that, Mahmud Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Khitaab, Al-Subkiyy says:

[The question asked]

Some of those who desire knowledge about the beliefs of the religion and to stand firm in the school of the Salaf and Khalaf with regard to the hadiths and aayaat that do not have an explicit meaning [called mutashaabihaat in Arabic] asked as follows:

What is the saying of the scholars, may Allah protect them, regarding the one who believes that God has a physical direction, and that He sits on the throne in a special place and says that this is the belief of the ‘Salaf‘, promotes this idea, and accuses those who deny this of blasphemy. [Such a person says this] while pointing to the 2 aayahs: الرحمن على العرش استوى  [which if taken literally, would mean ‘The Merciful established on the throne’, however it will become very obvious to you as you read on that shaykh as-Subki mentions another meaning for this verse] and    ءأمنتم من في السماء  [ which if translated literally, would mean ‘Do you feel safe from who is in the sky?’].

Is this a valid or an invalid belief? If invalid, does the one who says so commit blasphemy, and so all his previous works are annulled, such as prayer, fasting and other religious activities and his marriage contract invalidated? If he dies in this state, before repenting, is he not washed, prayed for and buried in the graveyards of the Muslims? Is the one who believed what this one is saying as true, also a non-Muslim, like him? What do you say about what some people affirm, i.e. that denying that Allah is attributed with the six directions (i.e. up, down, front, back, left and right) is wrong, and that it entails denying His existence? Let us benefit from your showing of what the madhhab of the Salaf and the Khalaf in these two aayahs, and other aayahs, such as ‘إليه يصعد ‘الكلم الطيب”  (if translated literally, it would say “to Him ascend the good words.”) and the hadith,    ينـزل ربنا إلى السماء الدني   (which  if translated literally, would say “He descends to the sky of the world.”) with a complete and satisfactory explanation.

Include the sayings of the scholars of hadith, Quran-explanation, fiqh and tawhid, and clarify completely, with full details so that the tongues of those who speak thoughtlessly are silenced – those who liken Allah to His creation and believe that what the Khalaf scholars did in terms of ta’weel [interpreting figuratively] is blasphemy, while claiming that this is the way of the Jahmiyyah, the blasphemous sect, and spread this rumour among the common people. May Allah reward you!

[The Answer of Imam Abu Muhammad Mahmud Khitaab As-Subkiyy]

The answer of Imam Abu Muhammad Mahmud Khitaab As-Subki: So I answered, by Allah‘s help, and said: In the name of Allah, ar-Rahmaan, ar-Raheem. Praise to Allah, the Creator of true guidance, and may Allah raise the rank of the one who was given wisdom and clear speech, and of those who support him and his companions, whom Allah guided and gave success and steadfastness. After saying that, the judgment is that this belief is invalid, and the one who believes it is a non-Muslim by the consensus of those who count among the scholars.

[The proof in terms of reasoning]

The proof of reasoning for this is that Allah’s existence is eternal without a beginning, and does not resemble anything that has a beginning.

[The proof in terms of Quran and Hadith]

In terms of what has been related, the proof is “He does not resemble anything, and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” (this is the meaning of surah 42, 11). (What As-Subki has mentioned is enough for the sound minded, because Islam does not teach something contradictory – all its teachings are harmonious in meaning. However, in order to bring Hadiths as well as Quran and logical reasoning, he might have added that Al-Bayhaqiyy, Muslim and others, related the hadith of the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam: “You are adh-Dhahir, hence there is nothing above You, and You are al-Batin, hence there is nothing underneath You.” Then Al-Bayhaqiyy said (in his book “Al-Asmaa’ wa as-Sifaat”): “If there is nothing above Him and nothing underneath Him, then He is not in a place.”)

[The consequence of these proofs for the one who believes something contradictory to them]

Accordingly, anyone that believes that Allah settled in a place, or was in contact with it or anything else that has a beginning, such as the Arsh (sometimes translated as “throne” – it is a creation with 4 legs, and is like the Ka’bah for the Angles), or the Kursiyy (sometimes translated as “chair”), or the sky, or the earth, or anything else – he is a blasphemer absolutely and without a doubt. All his religious works are invalid, such as prayer, fasting and Hajj, and his wife is separated [i.e. his marriage contract is invalidated], and he must repent immediately. If he dies with this belief, then he is not washed, neither is he prayed for, nor is he buried in the graveyard of the Muslims. In addition, the same judgment applies to all those who believed that his belief is the truth. May Allah protect us from the evils of our selves and the liability of our bad deeds.

As for such a person’s encouragement of others to have such blasphemous beliefs, and his telling them that the one who does not share such beliefs is a blasphemer; then this [activity of his] is [another] blasphemy and an abhorrent lie with the intent to spread deviance. As for him taking as evidence, according to his invalid claim, the two aayahs mentioned and their likes, to show that Allah settles on the ‘Arsh, or sits on it, or descends in the sky or the like, as this group of people claims: they do this despite the fact that Allah’s attribute of speech (which the revealed book of the Qur’an refers to) is not created, and it is one of the eternal attributes of Allah that existed before the ‘Arsh or the sky, so Allah is attributed with ” ‘ala al-‘Arsh istawa” before the ‘Arsh existed. Moreover, was He sitting, according to them, on the non-existing ‘Arsh before it existed?! Was He (according to them) in the sky before it existed?!

[The revealed book of the Quran refers to Allah’s attribute of speech (which does not have a beginning, or an end, and does not change – as is true for all of His attributes), just as the word “Allah” refers to the Creator and is not Him Himself. Words, languages, letters and sounds are all obviously created things – if someone is in doubt, let them say “bism-i-llaah-ir-Rahmaan-ir-Rahiim” without a beginning or an end! The word “Quran” in Arabic may refer to Allah’s eternal attribute of speech or to the book. It is kufr to say that the Quran is created if one means Allah’s attribute. It is a sin (but not kufr) to say so if one is referring to the book, because it is inappropriate and a bid’ah.]

These [sorts of claims] are something a rational being does not even hesitate about. Does sound reason accept that something eternal settles in something that has a beginning? Verily we are Allah‘s creation and we will return to be judged by Him! In summary, this careless person and his likes have claimed something that cannot be verified; neither by reason, nor by what has been related. They have committed blasphemy, and they think they have done something good! And the greatest calamity that they are struck by is that they claim to be salafis, while they are deviants from the true path, and disgracing the best among the Muslims. There is no power or ability other than what Allah creates!

[The Salaf’s way of dealing with the mutashaabihaat]

Concerning the way of the Salaf (the scholars of the first 3 centuries) and Khalaf (scholars after the salaf) in dealing with the non-explicit aayahs and hadiths, they have all agreed that Allah is clear of and above the attributes of whatever has a beginning. Therefore, He does not have a place for Himself on the Arsh or the sky or anywhere else. He is also not attributed with settling in or on anything that has a beginning, and not with transformation or movement or the like. Rather, He is as he was before the existence of the Arsh or the Kursi or the skies and other things that have a beginning. The Haafith (ibn Hajar al-Asqalani) said in al-Fath (Fath-ul-Baariy – the explanation of al-Bukhaariy): ‘the Fuqahaa [fiqh scholars] all agreed, from East to West, upon the belief in the Qur’an and the hadiths that trustworthy people related from the Prophet (may Allah raise his rank) about the attributes of Allah, without likening them to creation or explanation.’

They only disagreed on the matter of explaining the meaning of these aayahs, so the Salaf (i.e. most of them) believe in them as they were related and that they are not literally meant, because of the saying of Allah which means, “He does not resemble anything and He is All-Hearing, All-Seeing”, and leave the meaning be, due to the saying of Allah that means: ‘and no one knows their meaning except Allah’ (surah 3,  verse 5 – more details later).

Accordingly, they say regarding the Aayah “Al-Rahman ‘ala al-‘Arsh istawa” [if taken literally it would mean ‘He established on the throne’], that He “istawa” in a sense that befits Him, and only He knows it, and regarding the aayah “‘a ‘amintum man fee s-samaa'” [if literally translated it would say: “Do You feel safe from who is in the sky?”] that we believe in it and the meaning that Allah gave it, while clearing Him of the attributes of whatever has a beginning, and of settling [in a place]. They also say about the Aayah “yad-ullahi fawqa aydihim[if taken literally it would mean: ‘His hand is above their hands’] that He has a ‘yad’ not like our yad [i.e. our] hand, and only Allah knows it. This was their way in dealing with these aayahs that do not have simply a single possible meaning or only one famous meaning.

The great salafi (i.e. that according to the author he was like the Salaf in his ways, not that this is a madhhab)  Ibn Kathir said: ‘As for the saying of Allah ‘thumma istawa ‘alaa al-‘arsh’ (if someone translated it literally he would say “then He ascended the throne”), there are so many sayings about this that this is not the place to mention them all, and we will rather take the way of the pious Salaf, Malik, al-Awzaa’i, Al-Thawri, Al-Layth ibn Sa’d, Ash-Shaafi’i, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ishaaq in Raahwayh and other imams, new and old, which is to pass by them without giving them a how, or a likeness, or deny them. As for the apparent literal meanings that come to the minds of those who liken Allah to His creation, those are rejected, because He does not resemble anything, and there is nothing like Him, and he is All-Seeing, All-Hearing. Rather, it is like what the imams said, among them Nu’aym Ibn Hammaad Al-Khuzaa’iyy, the sheikh of Al-Bukhaariyy: “The one who likens Allah to His creation has committed blasphemy, and the one who denies what Allah has attributed to Himself has also committed blasphemy. There is no likening [to the creation] in any of what Allah has attributed to Himself or what the Prophet attributed to Him. So the one who affirms what has been related in plain aayahs and authentic hadiths in a way that is befitting with Allah’ greatness, and denies that Allah has any flaws; he has taken the path of guidance.” The like of the above is to be found in all tafseer books of the masterful imams.

[Examples of how the Salaf dealt with mutashaabihaat]

They say about the hadith (which if translated literally, would say that ‘our Lord descends to the sky of the world’] that this has a meaning that befits Allah, and that only Allah knows it. Then there is another hadith, the Hadith of the slave girl related by Muslim and Abu Daawood where it is mentioned that the Prophet said to her: ‘ayna Allah?’ and she said ‘fii as-samaa’ (which if translated literally, would mean ‘where is Allah’ and that she said ‘in the sky’) and that he said “who am I?” and she answered “you are the Messenger of Allah.’ Then he said ‘free her, for she is a believer. ‘This hadith is handled with the same approach as the aayah ‘a ‘amintum man fii as-samaa'” and likewise? all other such hadiths and aayahs. They took this approach because of the aayah:

هو الذي أنزل عليك الكتاب منه آيات محكمات هن أم الكتاب وأخر متشابهات ، فأما الذين في قلوبهم زيغ فيتبعون ما تشابه منه ابتغاء الفتنة وابتغاء تأويله ، وما يعلم تأويله إلا الله والراسخون في العلم يقولون ءامنا به كل من عند ربنا وما يذّكّر إلا أولوا الألباب

(This Aayah (surah3, 7) means that: Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad some Aayahs –called muhkamaat (محكمات) – that have only one explicit meaning according to the Arabic language, such as those prescribing halaal and haraam, and other aayahs – called mutashaabihaat (متشابهات) – that do not. Those with deviance in their hearts will emphasise the latter kind of aayahs in order to spread deviance (i.e. by contradicting the meaning of the muhkamaat) through pretending that they are only explaining the meaning. Only Allah knows their meaning, and the very knowledgeable say ‘we believe in them, they are all from Our Lord’, and only the sound minded take heed and ponder this.)

The Salaf (i.e. the Salaf in general, not all of them) said there is a full stop in the aayah after, “only Allah knows their meaning.” As for the “steadfast in knowledge” mentioned after this in the Quran, this is the beginning of a new sentence (i.e. they do not know the meaning) to show that the great scholars believe in these aayahs, (i.e. without assigning a particular meaning.)

[The Khalaf’s way of dealing with mutashaabihaat]

Regarding the Khalaf [scholars after the 3rd century]; they say [i.e. it is more prevalent among them to say] that these aayahs and hadiths have a known meaning, so the meaning of “istawa” is “control”, and the meaning of ‘man fee s-samaa” (if literally translated it would mean “who is in the sky”) is that it is a figure of speech referring to His punishment, authority and orders, or it is simply a figurative way of praising Allah by attributing to him above-ness and greatness, and clearing him of lowliness or below-ness, NOT that He settles in it. This is because settlement is an attribute of bodies and signifies having a beginning, and Allah is clear of that. [Also, understanding it literally contradicts aayah 93 of surat Maryam, which means: “All those in the heavens and earth must come to Allah as a slave.” It is possible also that the word “who” is referring to the angels, because the sky is their abode. Finally, the sky is below the ‘arsh…]

The meaning of (literally translated) “descending” in the hadith is that His Messenger or His Mercy descends. (The hadith attributes the so called “descending” to the last 3rd of the night, and since it is always the last 3rd of the night somewhere on earth, we know that the meaning is NOT that Allah is moving from one place to another.) As for the Prophet’s approval of the slave-girl’s hint towards the sky; this was a concise way OF her showing that she was not associating partners with Allah, because it was thereby known that she did not worship the idols on earth. (Also, some scholars said the hadith has weaknesses in its text, because Abd-ur-Razzaaq related it without any mention of the words ‘ayna?’ or ‘fii as-samaa’.)

This is the way of the khalaf in all aayahs and hadiths of this kind, based on their saying that the full stop in the aayah about the aayahs that do not have a single possible, or well known, meaning comes after ‘only Allah knows their meaning and those steadfast in knowledge,’ i.e. the steadfast in knowledge know their meaning. Their proof is that the Quran is in Arabic, and this Arabic uses these expressions. However, the weightiest opinion is that of the salaf. (Note: he means of course that the majority of the salaf take this approach to this aayah, not absolutely all, since this would be consensus (ijmaa’.))

The one who attributes to the salaf or khalaf other than this is a deviant and a deviator.

[The Jahmiyyah are very different from the Khalaf]

The one who claims that the way of the khalaf is the way of the Jahmiyyah is a transgressor and a liar, because the Jahmiyyah are the followers of Jahm Ibn Safwaan, who said that humans are forced to do what they do and denied all ability to humans, and claimed that Paradise and Hell will end. He also claimed that belief is only knowledge of Allah, whereas blasphemy is not knowing Him. He said that no one does anything except Allah, and that humans are said to have actions only as a figure of speech, in the same way one says that ‘the sun passed its zenith’ or the ‘mill turned,’ without any intrinsic action or ability from them. He also claimed that Allah’s knowledge has a beginning, and prevented people from saying that Allah is attributed with Life, Knowledge or Will. He said “I don’t attribute to Him an adjective that can be used for others, such as existing, alive, willing and such,” and accepted to say that He has power, brings into existence, acts, creates, gives life and death, because only He has these attributes. He also claimed that Allah’s attribute of speech has a beginning, as the Qadariyyah sect did, and refused to say that Allah speaks. Our companions said he was a blasphemer for all his deviances, and the Qadariyyah said he was an infidel for his claim that Allah creates the acts of humans, so all the nation said that he was a Kaafir. Here ends the quote [i.e. the above description of the Jahmiyyah] from the book ‘Al-Farq Bayna Al-Firaq’, written by the Imam Abu Mansur ‘Abd-ul-Qaadir Ibn Taahir Al-Baghdaadiyy, page 199. From this you know that the scholars of the Khalaf are free from this sect and its claims.

[An answer to those that claim that denial of direction is denial of existence]

As for the idea that denying that Allah is attributed with any of the six directions is a denial of His existence, this is obviously invalid since Allah existed before they existed, namely up, down, front, back, left and right. Rather, He existed before the world as a whole by consensus of old and later scholars. How then does someone that has even a tiny mind picture that clearing Him of being attributed with these 6 directions is the same as denying His existence??!! How can it be that Allaah’s Eternal Existence depends on some things that have a beginning or on those things that He created??!! You (O Allah) are clear of all imperfection!

This is a great lie! How (could it not be), when a number of the Salaf and the Khalaf have plainly stated that the one who believes that Allah is in a direction (i.e. up) is a blasphemer, as was stated by Al-Baghdaadiyy. This was also the saying of Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shaafi’i, Abu Hasan Al-Ash’ari and Al-Baaqillaani, as mentioned by the great scholar Mullaa Ali Qaari in ‘Sharh al-Mishkaat’ in the second volume on page 137. Allah said (what means that) real blindness is not that of the eyes, but that of the heart (surah 22, 46.) and that if Allah has not created the light of guidance in someone’s heart, then he will never be guided (surah 24, 40.) We ask Allah to guide us all on the straight path and block the misguidance of the cursed Satan, and to raise the rank of the last of the Prophets, and whoever follows him in his works.

[A list of the scholars that signed this fatwa]

After writing this, I have shown this answer to a number of honourable scholars of Azhar University, and they have agreed and signed it, and they are the following distinguished companions of ours:

  • Sheikh Muhammad Najdi, the sheikh of the Shaafi’i followers.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Sabee’ Adh-Dhahabi, the sheikh of the Hanbaliyy followers.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Al-‘Azbi Rizq, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Abd-ul-Hameed ‘Ammaar, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Ali Al-Nahraawi, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Dusuuqi Abdullah Al-Arabi, from the Council of the Great Scholars.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Al-‘Azbi Rizq, the lecturer in the higher section.
  • Sheikh Ali Mahfuuth, the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Ibrahim ‘Iiaarah Al-Daljamuni, the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Muhammad ‘Alyaan, from the great scholars of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Ahmad Makki, the lecturer in specialization section of Azhar.
  • Sheikh Muhammad Husayn Hamdaan.

–End of Fatwa–

Points to remember from this quote:
  • Imam as-Subki al-Azhari died in 1352 after the Hijrah, may Allah have mercy upon him, and the fatwa has been written and signed by these scholars in 1350 after Hijrah.
  • What he explains here is a judgement on the issues of belief, and remember: the issues of belief in Islam do NOT change with the eras and the different people. If 80 years ago, he said, based on evidences, that believing that God is in a direction is blasphemy by consensus of the scholars, then why is it that now some people do not want to accept this fact and prefer to say that it is not blasphemy?

One Response to “Fatwa of the scholars of al-Azhar on the one who believes that God is in a place”

  1. Salalahu’Alayhi WaSalim*

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