4. Imam Razi once again stresses on the point that “istawa `ala `l-`Arsh” should not be taken in the sense of “being seated on the `Arsh”: for three reasons. One, there was a time when there was no `Arsh until Allah created it. Second, the earth is spherical. What is up for some is down for others. `Arsh has to be in some direction. But Allah is not in any one direction. Third, we read in Surah Al-Haqqah verse 17, “Eight will be bearing the `Arsh on that Day.” Obviously, the created cannot bear the Creator.” Therefore the meaning of being seated has to be shelved. For further discussion see Chapter 7, note 82 of this work.
We might also ask ourselves, if not for the introduction of such enigmatic words how will challenge-hungry minds spend their research energies? (Au.)
Alusi also takes up the subject to show how difficult it is to deal with it. He quotes the hadith from Abu Da’ud which says, “I have been allowed to say that one of those angels that carry the `Arsh (is so large) that between his earlobe and the shoulder is a distance of seven hundred years.”
According to Albani, the hadith is Sahih (Au.).
The Prophet has also said that the `Arsh is above the seven heavens in the form of a dome. Another report of Abu Da’ud tells us that once a Bedouin went up to the Prophet and said, “People are suffering, folks are lost, properties are destroyed, cattle is dying, so ask Allah for rains. We seek that you intercede with Allah, and seek that Allah intercede with you..” The Prophet remonstrated, “Woe unto you man. Do you realize what you are saying?” Then he began to say “Glory to Allah, glory to Allah,” again and again. Then he said, “Woe unto you man. Allah cannot be asked to intercede with anyone of His creation. Allah is Greater than that. Do you realize Allah’s Greatness? He is above His `Arsh, the `Arsh is above the heavens.” Then using his fingers he made a dome-like figure to indicate its shape. Then he added, “It makes a noise similar to the noise of a rider on a new leather saddle.”
The hadith was declared Sahih by Abu Da’ud himself.
The difficulty of the topic has led many scholars of great repute to leave the verse where it is without any interpretation, explanation, or further clarification. Imam Abu Hanifah held the opinion that, “It is not right of anyone to speak out anything about Allah’s Essence. Rather, one should ascribe to Him what He ascribed unto Himself, without adding anything over and above what He said.” This was also the opinion of Imam Malik, Imam Ahmad, Imam Shafe`i, Muhammad b. al-Hasan, Mirwazi, Ibn Mubarak, Is-haq b. Rahwayh, Bukhari, Tirmidhi and Abu Da’ud. This is more or less what the Sufiya have said, viz., people do not need any interpretation unless they forget the fact, already there in a corner of their mind, that Allah is different from anything that their minds can imagine.
Nevertheless, some scholars have understood the term “istawa”, continues Alusi, in the sense of “istila” meaning, “He overcame, or overpowered.” This of course may not be a satisfactory explanation to some. But we should not be oblivious of the fact that the Qur’an is in the Arabic language, addressing Arabs, and their minds look for meaning. In view of this fact, and since “istawa” cannot be understood in the sense of “He sat,” or “squatted,” or “positioned Himself,” there should be room to understand it in the sense of “istila” since an Arab reader will have to choose between the two. He cannot be told to draw no meaning whatsoever. What Ibn `Abidin al-Shami has written in Radd al-Muhtar is very reasonable that taking the meaning as “istila” should be allowable for the common people, since they have to understand the verse one way or the other, although, such a meaning cannot be declared correct in the absolute sense.
Alusi concludes that it is best not to speak of the topic at all, but rather, leave it to everyone to form an opinion that his knowledge allows him, and not insist that one version is correct and another incorrect.