Initial notes on the post ‘Allah’s Relationship with Time and Space’

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By a member of the Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

The following are some introductory notes I am taking in order to better understand an answer given by Shaykh Faraz Khan of the SeekersGuidance institute and its associated site, on the subject of Allah’s Relationship with Time and Space. I know this is a matter that may seem again to be recurring again and again in what I write, but we have to understand that non-Muslims are what they are due to (a large degree) the beliefs they hold concerning Allah and the Creation, and how they have conflated the nature of Allah with that of the Creation. So any questions which seem to confuse people in this respect are definitely important matters, and they must be answered properly so that doubts will not come up into people’s minds, and that with the Mercy of Allah, those who are non-Muslims may see the truth of Islam.

o    The question is that if Allah’s Power enters time and space, and Allah’s Power is part of Him, then why do we Muslims uphold the impossibility of Allah incarnating Himself into the visible material Universe? I am supposing that this is envisioned as something along the lines of what the Christians believe about ‘Isa (Alayhi Salaam), and perhaps the question was posed as such by someone who was challenged with this question by a Christian or someone holding similar beliefs.

o    Before I start seeing what the Shaykh himself said, I have to say that we have to be very careful about what the words that are used in questions or in explaining matters actually refer to, since a lack of being rigorous in this matter is one of the root causes for enormous mistakes to come up in people’s beliefs.

o    In here, the question is asked on the basis of the phrase “Allah’s Power enters time and space”. But this word ‘enters’ is very problematic and is not acceptable, since entering has the implied meaning of a physical barrier being traversed literally (sort of like how people enter and exit a room, or how a virus or germ may penetrate the walls of a bodily cell, etc.). Of course, the initial background assumption of the Mujassima[1] non-Muslims is that God is already entering and exiting the space-time dimensions, so why should we Muslims make a big fuss about what (for example) the Christians say, when they claim that God incarnated in the form of ‘Isa (Alayhi Salaam), since according to them, God was carrying out what he does all the time anyway. But here is where we do not agree either with the background assumption or with anything deriving from it, and we have to cut the errors from the root before it spreads everywhere.

o    There is also one issue with saying that ‘Allah’s Power is part of Him.’ It is difficult to know exactly what the questioner meant by this, but I am certain that many non-Muslims take this in the literal sense of God having parts, one ‘part’ Power, another Knowledge, another Will, and so on and so forth. This is also something we see in “Trinitarian theology” where it is said that “God’s Word and His Power” is ‘God the Son’ as the second ‘person’ of the trinity, and it is clear that in here there is an invalid conceptual partitioning of Allah the Exalted. So this is something else we have to be wary of whenever we deal with non-Muslims posing these types of questions.

o    The Shaykh begins his answer by saying that Allah is transcendent above any quality of His Creation, including existing within the delimited confines of time and space. Now, there is an issue that some of our opponents may raise with regards to the word ‘transcendent’, in that for them, when one says that ‘Allah is Transcendent beyond having human qualities’, they take this to imply that He should then be conceived of as a Deity so remote that He does not and in fact cannot even have any relationship or influence with whatever occurs or exists on the Earth or in the Universe at large. But this is a certainly incorrect and invalid reasoning, since transcendence in this case means to be beyond being attributed with created qualities – and one of these created qualities or limitations is the inability to bring about any effective change in the Universe. Thus, it is actually the humans and whatever exists of delimited creatures that are incapable and powerless, not Allah the Exalted. So this is something we have to consider whenever the phrase “Allah is transcendent above being attributed with so-and-so” is brought up. Perhaps some of our Muslim scholars might say that the choice of the ‘Transcendent’ to denote what we call ‘Tanzeeh’ is not the best choice, due to the confusion it might cause within some people, but this is a debate for the scholars, and I cannot comment much about it.

o    The Shaykh then quotes from at-Tahaawi’s (RA) Aqeedah text, where it is mentioned that Allah is exalted above having “limits, end-points, pillars, or limbs; and the six directions do not encompass Him.” To begin with, we must remember that ‘above’ in here is referring to Allah’s exalted status, not the “aboveness” of relative distances.

o    Also, note that at-Tahaawi (RA) mentioned different types of limits, such as end-points, pillars, etc., even though ‘limits’ may very well be enough for those of understanding. The reason (from what I understand) is that certain minds may still veer into unacceptable thoughts in this regard even though the matter has been made clear to them (such as by thinking that end-points are not limits, etc.) and this is why many of our ‘Ulamaa explained the matter in more detail in order to preempt these types of blameworthy thoughts.

o    Then the Shaykh presents what the Qur’an says in Verse 42:11 and the last Verse of Surah al-Ikhlaas. The truth is that these few Verses should be enough theology for those who have a sound heart and a sound mind in order for them to fully understand the issue of Allah’s dissimilarity from His Creation. The detailed explanations need to come forth only when deviants and heretics try to introduce totally unacceptable thoughts within the Islamic mainstream, and when the danger for the belief of the laity becomes severe.

o    Next, is a heading titled ‘Divine Attributes’ which seeks to go more in depth into the topic of Allah’s ‘Power’, since this was the basis of the initial question. The Shaykh says that Allah’s Qudra (Power) is one of the seven Sifaat al-Maani [these are Life, Will, Knowledge, Power, Hearing, Speech, and Sight], and that all of these are timeless attributes ascribed to Allah’s Entity. Very importantly, they do not ‘enter’ the Creation, but they have what are termed associations or ‘Ta’alluqaat’.

o    Before moving on, let me just say very quickly that the discussion on the Sifaat and their different classifications is a highly technical matter, and I can definitely not do justice to this discussion within this article. So perhaps this matter may be discussed at a later stage within the context of a scholarly piece purely devoted to this topic.

o    Now, with regards to Divine Power, its association is with everything that is conceivable, which is His bringing into existence, or taking out of existence, whatever He wills among the conceivable things. Note that these created things are in time and space, with time and space also being created (that is, time and space are not ‘all-encompassing, eternal backgrounds’ within which things and events pop in and out of existence, but – speaking in a non-technical language- they are creations just like everything events and objects. The discussion and proof of this is very much out of this present discussion, but it is an important part of in-depth Islamic metaphysics.)

o     Anyway, so from this consideration it is obvious that the Attribute of Power is beyond quantification and qualification within the dimensions of the Universe.

o    Next is another title ‘How Exactly It Works’, since obviously some people will be thinking as to ‘how’ Divine Power is associated with the created objects and events. But the Shaykh immediately says that the nature of these associations is something we absolutely cannot comprehend. And this is as it should be, since our brains and thoughts are created entities, and the created cannot properly understand the nature of Allah and His Attributes. Also whenever the word ‘How’ enters into the discussion, it is a call to explain the ‘Kayfiyya’ (modality) of something, and Allah is in fact exalted above having a modality.

o    One tentative note I will make: It might be said that the title ‘How Exactly it works’, followed by  saying that the relationship between Allah’s Power and its effects in the temporal order is not known might be taken by some as implying that there is a ‘how’ (a modality), only that we do not know what this modality is. I sincerely do not think this is what the Shaykh intended at all, but if anyone still feels confused, the truth is that there is no ‘how’ that should be applied to this question to begin with, not that the ‘how’ is unknown. So this distinction between the two matters is important to bear in mind.

o    It is within the context we have considered above that a report from the Prophet is presented, in which it is said that we may reflect on the creation, but that we should not reflect on the Creator, since we can definitely not give Him due estimation. And as I have mentioned in some other articles, the study of Islamic theological sciences is many times geared not towards “better understanding Allah’s Nature” in the direct sense that it may occur to people in other religions, but rather to understand what the world and the Universe are and how they are composed and how they work, so that we may understand that Allah is dissimilar to that. This is a very important matter to keep in mind; we should not ever be confused about this at all.

o    Also, the quote from Imam at-Tahaawi (Rahimahullah) is shown, where he says that thoughts cannot reach Him and minds cannot grasp Him. The final point is from Verse 6:103, where Allah says that the Absaar (translated by the Shaykh as ‘Sight’) cannot have Idraak (translated as ‘reaching’) of Him, but that He has Idraak of the Absaar. I know this is much more related to the issue and debates surrounding the Beatific vision of Allah in the Hereafter, but I suppose the Shaykh presented it here so as to invoke the impossibility of the human’s insight (and intellect) from ever having perfect knowledge or true cognizance of Allah the Exalted, and that we should understand in humility the limitations that will always be part of our human nature.


[1] i.e. the idol-worshippers in the mental sense