Imaam Qurtubi on Allah’s Transcendence

“This is regarding the issue of the istiwaa and the speech and action of the scholars. Indeed we have expounded from the many statements of the scholars [regarding this issue] in the book al-Kitaab ul-Ansaa fi Sharh Asmaa Allah ul-husnaa wa Sifaatihi al-Ulaa . And we mentioned in that book fourteen sayings from the majority from the Muataqadimeen [i.e. the Salaf] and the Muta’akkhireen [i.e. the Khalaf] that it is waajib to free and purify [do tanzeeh and subhaan] al-Baari [i.e. Allah the Creator] from having direction [al-Jihat] and occupying a space [tahayyuz - derived from the root hawz, see p. 213 Hans Wehr Dictionary] and it is necessary to do so.

This demonstrates the need that was upon the generality of the early scholars [i.e. the Salaf] and those who came after them to free Allah the Most High from having directions. They did NOT attribute the direction of physical above-ness, because this would imply that He moves and exists in a place [makaan] and spacial measurement [hayyaz] and it is nessesary to declare Him above being attributed with place, spacial measurement, movement [harakaat], being motionless by occupying a space [as-Sukun lil-Mutahayyiz], changing states [taghayyur wal-huduth]. This is the statement of the theologians.

The first generations – Allah be well pleased with them – would not speak by negation of direction nor would they talk about that [i.e. Allah having a direction]. However, all of them spoke with affirmation according to what was spoken in His book [i.e. the Qur'an] and the narrations from His Messengers. Nobody from amongst the righteous Salaf ever denied that the Istiwaa above His Throne is a reality, and the Throne was given special relevance, because it represents the paramount Highest point of His creation, only the modality of the Istiwaa is unknown, and indeed its reality is unknown. Imaam Maalik – Allah’s Mercy be upon him – said: “The lignuistic definition of Istiwaa is known, meaning: according to the language, Yet it’s reality [when this the word is applied to Allah] remains unknown, and to ask about this is bid’ah. Likewise, the wife of the Holy Prophet, Umm Salamah said: This affair should be one of sufficiency, and whomsoever wishes to study this position further should refer to the books of the scholars.

[Tafseer al-Qurtubi, Surah al-A'raaf, ayah 54]

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