The Reality of Istawa and Throne in the Qur’ān: An Exegetical Analysis

Turning the pages of the Qur’ān, verse after verse, Maria Zehra makes an exegetical analysis of the reality of Istawa, the Kursi and Throne of Allah to prove Allah’s physical existence over His throne and finds the various verses of the Qur’ān indicating Allah being with His creation via His knowledge.

Written by

Published on

Turning the pages of the Qur’ān, verse after verse, Maria Zehra makes an exegetical analysis of the reality of Istawa, the Kursi and Throne of Allah to prove Allah’s physical existence over His throne and finds the various verses of the Qur’ān indicating Allah being with His creation via His knowledge.

It is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them in six days; then He established Himself above the Throne. You have not besides Him any protector or any intercessor; so, will you not be reminded? (The Qur’ān – 32:4)

In the light of several ayaat (verses) of the Qur’ān, primarily 57:4, 42:11, and 41:54, since long, it has been a point of contention that Allah is present everywhere. This is due to the Qur’ān’s passages being explained from a variety of angles. A closer study of the verses concerning Istawa and Allah’s existence indicates that these and other related verses imply that Allah did ascend to his throne and that He is not physically present everywhere but he is present via his knowledge. This article intends to critically analyse these verses to dismantle the doubt concerning Allah’s existence; simultaneously, it will prove Allah’s physical existence over His throne indicated in the verses of the Qur’ān (e.g., 20:5, 3:55) resulting in a conclusion that the verses talking about Allah being everywhere (e.g., the Qur’ān 57:6, 57:4) should be understood as an indication of Allah being with His creation by His knowledge.

It is crucial to understand that when the Qur’ān says, “He is with you wherever you go” (Qur’ān 57:4), it is not intending to imply that He is physically present with His creation. This verse is understandable in light of verse 58:7, where the Qur’ān states: “…There is no secret counsel of three, but He is their fourth, nor of five, but He is their sixth, nor of less than that or more, but He is with them wheresoever they may be…”. This indicates that Allah is monitoring them and perfectly hearing their discourse.

Numerous experts have stated that there is widespread agreement among scholars that the word “with” alludes to Allah’s knowledge. As Sadi states, “being with” means that Allah is with them through His knowledge, and so He is warning them in the following section of verse 57:4 that “Allah sees well all that you do.”

Additionally, Imam Ahmed examined that verse 58:7 begins with Allah’s knowledge and concludes with Allah’s knowledge. Thus, according to logic and reason, it is implausible to believe that Allah is physically present with mankind in order to know what is in their hearts when He frequently says in the Qur’ān that He is competent over all things (e.g., the Qur’ān 16:17, 4:149). He possesses the ability to be with His creation through His wisdom while seated on the throne atop the seventh heaven.

In verse 3:55, Allah addresses Eesa, saying, “O ‘Eesa, I will take you back and raise you up to Me and deliver you from those who disbelieve…”, the phrase “and raise you up” demonstrates unequivocally that Allah is located above the heavens, not below them. Allah is summoning His Messenger Jesus, son of Mary, in order to raise him from this world to the next. The pronoun “and raise you to Myself” refers to Allah. There is no doubt about it being any other. Irrelevant it is to emphasise that it signifies “towards my mercy” or “towards the home of my angels.”

Concerning the chapter Fussilat verse 11, “Then he ascended to heaven in a cloud of smoke…” al-Baghawi stated in his tafseer that Ibn Abbas and the majority of the early generation commentators stated that Allah rose to heaven. In verses 40:36 and 40:37, the Qur’ān refers to Pharaoh’s decree, in which he directed the construction of a tower for him to arrive and gaze at the God of Musa. This shows that Prophet Musa must have informed Pharaoh that Allah is above; otherwise, why would he state this?

Concerning Allah’s istawa, it is backed up by seven Qur’ānic passages and there is no room for amplification, as everything is self-evident. For example, the Qur’ān states: ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ عَلَى ٱلْعَرْشِ ٱسْتَوَىٰ The word ‘Ala is a preposition (harf jar) in this verse that signifies “over”. And the term istawa is a third-person singular perfect verb (f’al madhi), which signifies that Allah has already accomplished the action of rising over His created throne, and therefore a noun (ism). “Keep in mind that Allah is not in need of His (throne), rather, it (throne) is in need of Allah. On Earth, rulers’ thrones are always smaller than their kingdoms,” Abu Bakr Zoud remarked. Sa’adi said, in his tafseer, that the throne of Allah is His most sublime, greatest, and vastest of all created things. He (rose over) it in a manner that befits His Majesty and is appropriate to His greatness and beauty. He rose over the throne, and everything is subject to His dominion.

When we reflect on the verses of the Qur’ān, we find that everything ascends to Him and not even once the word “descend” has been used while talking of things going towards Allah. In verse 35:10 the Qur’ān says: “…To Him ascends good speech…”. The word yas’adu, which is an imperfect verb, clearly shows that all good speech raises to Allah. The throne of Allah is above the seventh heaven and this is evidenced by the report of Tirmidhi, where it has been reported that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said that al-Firdaus is the highest of Paradise, it is most expansive and above that is the throne of ar-Rahman (Allah). So, if Paradise is above the seventh heaven then the throne must also be above the seventh heaven. Dhahabi said in al-’Alw (al-Mukhtasar, 35) that Abd Allah bin Amr said: “Allah created the water above the seven heavens, and He created the throne above water.” This reflects how vast the throne of Allah is and it encompasses everything. This is further stated in Sharh al-Aqeedah al-Tahhaawiyyah (1/311).

Now, the question arises: how Allah rose over it (throne)? How Allah ascended to the throne is not specified in the verses of the Qur’ān. This is not to say that there is no “how”, only that we are unaware of it. Thus, there must have been a method for Allah to ascend to His throne that we are unaware of. Nevertheless, there have been certain scholars in the past who have attempted to explain how and in what manner Allah has ascended to his throne. In this regard, ibn Taymiyyah stated that He is seated over his kursi (chair) that is affixed to the throne, and His seating is unlike that of humans.  However, some argue that it is inappropriate to describe Allah’s traits that are not explicitly specified in Qur’ānic passages. Al-Barraak stated: “… the context of ibn Taymiyyah’s statements gives the impression that istiwa (raising over) indicates sitting. However, it is preferable to avoid using this term until it is proven.”

According to a critical analysis of the passages pertaining to the Istawa, Allah is worshipped and loved in both worlds; nonetheless, His essence exists above His throne, distinct from His creation. Having Allah mentioned being above His throne and His knowledge in the same verse (Qur’ān 57:4), there is no doubt that this has importance, as it implies that Allah is closer to His creation than his jugular vein (Qur’ān 50:16) and that this is via His knowledge rather than in a physical sense.

Furthermore, several other Qur’ānic verses describing excellent words and good acts ascending to Allah show that He is above. However, the Qur’ān and other Islamic texts make no reference to how Allah rose to His throne. As is the case with other facets of Islam, this is a question of the unseen, as we humans are unaware of it. Experts will continue to investigate this topic and provide their theories regarding this “how,” while at the same time, some sections of the scholars who are opposed to the action of experimenting with “how” will continue to oppose Takyif’s (asking how).