Where is Allah?
Concerning the fourteenth alleged contradiction:
Where is Allah and his throne? Allah is nearer than the jugular vein [50:16], but he is also on the throne [57:4] which is upon the water [11:7], and at the same time so far away, that it takes between 1,000 and 50,000 years to reach reach him [32:5, 70:4].
This is a very important issue of Aqeedah and deserves a clear response, as it can sometimes lead to confusion and deviation.
1. Allah’s Supremacy
The true believer affirms that Allah is ascended above His throne, above the seven heavens.
67:17-18 Are you sure that He Who is Above the heaven will not cleave the earth beneath you? Or are you sure that He Who is above the heaven will not send against you a stone-charged hurricane.
87:1 Declare your Rubb, the Supreme, to be far removed from every imperfection or impurity.
Commenting on this verse, Mahmood Murad explains:
The “Supreme”, linguistically, is in the superlative signifying that Allah is higher than everything and is above all things in essence, power, and invincibility. (SOURCE)
2. Allah’s Maiyyah
57:4 He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in Six Days, and then ascened the Throne. He knows what enters within the earth and what comes forth out of it, what comes down from heaven and what mounts up to it. And He is with you wheresoever ye may be. And Allah sees well all that ye do.
To some, this verse may appear to be advancing two conflicting ideas. On one hand, it says that Allah is ascended over the throne, over the seven heavens, while later it says that He is with us wherever we are. The latter concept is known as Allah’s maiyyah, or the nature of His closeness to us.
According to the Qur’an and Sunnah, we understand that Allah encompasses all things in His knowledge, seeing, hearing, power, authority, etc., but not in His essence. When Allah says He is with the believers, this is understood in terms of support and approval.
Elaborating on this concept, Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Saalih Al-Uthaymeen (d. 2001CE) writes:
Maiyyah in the Arabic language that the Qur’an was revealed in does not necessitate that something be mixed with other things or combined in the same place, rather it refers to something being with something else in a general way. The exact meaning is to be defined by the context…
The truth must be that Allah is with His Creation in a way that means He encompasses them by way of His knowledge, power, hearing, seeing, planning, authority, etc., while He remains above the Throne, above all of His Creation.
(Ibn Uthaymeen, Concerning the Beautiful Names and Attributes of Allaah, T.R.O.I.D. Publications, 2003, pp.105-106 )
So the truth about where Allah is, is that He is beyond His Creation, and ascended over the Throne.
3. This explanation of Allah’s maiyyah is also sufficient to explain verses like 50:16-17 which reads:
50:16 It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than (his) jugular vein, when the two (guardian angels) appointed to learn (his doings), learn (and noted them), one sitting on the right and one on the left.
From the previous explanation we would understand that any verse describing Allah’s closeness to His Creation, does not describe the closeness of His essence, but rather the encompassing nature of His powers.
Nevertheless, verse 50:16-17 has been interpreted differently by the Scholars of Tafsir, and we shall provide their explanation as well.
In the referred verses, many people do not read 50:17, and they stop at 50:16.
But if one reads the whole phrase, we find it says:
And we are closer to Him than His jugular vein, when the two (guardian angels) appointed to learn (his doings), learn (and noted them).
Hence, what is being referred to here is the closeness of the Angels and not the closeness of Allah. The question is, why has Allah attributed the closeness of the Angels to Himself?
This will be better understood if we examine the following verses:
15:9 We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).
75:18 But when We have recited it, follow thou its recital
Just as the Angels brought down the message by the leave of Allah and recited it to the Prophet Muhammad pbuh, so are they closer to the human being than the jugular vein, by the leave of Allah. In both cases, the actions of the angels are attributed to Allah because they occur by His command.
This is the understanding of the early muslim scholars, and can be found in prominent tafisr such as Ibn Kathir.
4. With regards to the following verse,
11:7 He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days – and His Throne was over the waters – that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct…
let us examine so related narrations:
Imran bin Husayn said “….The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said, ‘Allah was before everything and His Throne was over the water. He then wrote in the Preserved Tablet mentioning everything.’… (Ahmad 4:431)
It is recorded that Abdullah ibn Amr bin Al-As said that the Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said, “Verily Allah measured the amount of sustenance of the creatures fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth, and His Throne was over the water (Muslim 4:2044)
The Messenger of Allah (sallallaahu alaihi wasallam) said, Do you see what He has spent since He created the Heavens and the Earth? Yet all that has not decreased what is in His Right Hand. His Throne is over the water and in His other Hand is the bounty or power to bring about death, and He raises some people and brings others down(Bukhari 9:515)
This makes it very clear as to what the verse is referring to, but what the water in the verse denotes, is open to interpretation.
As Adel M. A. Abbas writes in his book, His Throne Was On Water:
The book’s title is taken from the verse “His throne was on water,” a verse whose splendor and scientific implication invite further reflection. The recent discovery by quantum mechanics researchers that outer space is full of virtual particles and antiparticles that materialize constantly in pairs may shed some light on this verse. This, together with the creation of the universe and the refashioning of the skies into cocentric oval or ball-shaped layers, is illustrated on the cover.
Such mysteries as space-time, humanity, the expanding universe, and the various stages of creation are addressed in the following pages.(Abbas, His Throne was on Water, Amana Publications, 1997, p. ix)
The author of the referred book has gone into great detail explaining his rather fascinating scientific interpretation of verse 11:17, which deals with the structure and creation of the universe. One may consult the book for more information.
5. And finally, concerning 32:5 and 70:4, this has been dealt with in our response to the alleged contradiction On The Length of God’s Days. For the purpose of this response, we would just like to emphasize that the length of the period taken to ascend to God does not necessarily relate to the distance of God, Himself.
To conclude, Allah’s power is All-encompassing, but we affirm that he is ascended over His Throne, above the seven heavens. The Most High, Glorified and Exalted is He.