Published time: 08 ,February ,2017      17:31:49
‘Where is God?’ This is the question a Salafī is most likely to ask first in any discussion about tawḥīd (monotheism). It is the heart of his faith, and it is the Trumpian wall between him and other Muslims. The Salafī has a specific answer to that question. In his opinion, whosoever misses it, has missed Islām.
Code news: 9

The Salafī Concept of God: A Shī'ite Critique

(Part I)


By: Toyib Olawuyi

Where is God?


‘Where is God?’ This is the question a Salafī is most likely to ask first in any discussion about tawḥīd (monotheism). It is the heart of his faith, and it is the Trumpian wall between him and other Muslims. The Salafī has a specific answer to that question. In his opinion, whosoever misses it, has missed Islām. Al-'Uthaymīn (d. 1421 AH) demonstrates this attitude very strong in this dictum:


QUESTION 55: The honourable shaykh was asked about the reply of a person to the question: ‘Where is God?’ He (the person) replies: ‘God is everywhere.’ Or, he says: ‘He exists.’ Is this answer completely correct?




This is an absolutely invalid reply. If he is asked, ‘Where is God?’, he must reply: ‘He is in the heaven’, just as the woman asked by the Prophet (peace be upon him), ‘Where is God?’ also gave the same reply. She said: ‘He is in the heaven.’


If a person says, ‘He exists’, this is a deviation from the answer, and a circumvention of it. In the case of the person who says, ‘Surely, God is everywhere’, and he means that He is everywhere in person, this is disbelief (kufr), because it is a denial of the position of the scriptural texts – and also of the transmitted, logical and instinctive proofs – that God, the Most High, is above everything, and that He is above the heavens, settled on His Throne.[1]


Ibn Bāz (d. 1420 AH) also proclaims the same viewpoint:




You mentioned in one of your broadcasts. You said that a child asked his father about God, and the father replied that God is present everywhere. The question is: What is the legal status of a reply like this? – ABDULLĀH, FROM RIYADH.




This reply is invalid, and it is from the statements of heretics like the Jahmiyyah, the Mu'tazilah and their ilk. The correct position which is followed by the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamā'ah is that God, glorified is He, is in the heaven, above the Throne, above all His creatures, as proved by Qur'ānic verses, Prophetic traditions, and the consensus of the predecessors (salaf) of the Community. As God, the Almighty, the Most Glorious, says: {Your Lord is God, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days and then settled Himself firmly on the Throne} [7:54], and God repeats that in six other verses in His noble Book.[2]


Apparently, it is the doctrine of orthodox Salafism that God resides ‘in the heaven’. But, reading through their various dicta, one may be tempted to ask: If He is ‘in the heaven’, how is He simultaneously ‘above the heavens’ and ‘above all creatures’? What exactly is the Salafi answer to the question: ‘Where is God?’ Is it, ‘He is in the heaven’? Or, is it, ‘He is above the heavens’? Needless to say, both replies have divergent meanings and different implications. Al-Fawzān realizes this confusion and tries to remove it:


There is no doubt that God, glorified is He, is in the heaven. This is the belief of Muslims and the followers of the messengers, in the ancient times and in contemporary times. Therefore, it is a point of consensus in the messages of God, the Most High, and His believing servants believe that God, glorified and exalted is He, is in the heaven, and there are abundant proofs, more than a thousand of them, for that in the Book and the Tradition, for God’s altitude, and that He is in the heaven, and that He is firmly settled on His Throne, as He Himself informs (us). Part of that is what the questioner mentioned in His Statement: {Do you feel secure that He Who is in heaven will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth when it shakes? Or do you feel secure that He Who is in the heaven will not send against you a violent tornado, so that you shall know how was My warning?} [67:16-17]. Also, there is the ‘Tradition of the Bondmaid’ in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim which reports that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said to her: ‘Where is God?’ She replied: ‘In the heaven.’ He said: ‘Manumit her, for she is a believer.’


What is meant by ‘He is in the heaven’, if the word ‘heaven’ is intended to mean ‘altitude’, then it is with regards to location. It means that God, glorified is He, is in a high altitude, separate from His creation, elevated above His creatures, separate from His creation. But, if the word ‘heaven’ is intended to mean ‘the constructed sky’, it is of seven levels. In that case, the meaning of the word ‘in the heaven’ is ‘above the heaven’, as it is in the Statement of God: {Say: ‘Travel in the land} [6:11], meaning ‘over the land’. Similarly, there is {I will crucify you in the trunks of palm trees} [20:71], meaning ‘on the trunks of palm trees’.


In any case, the abundant verses, the mass-transmitted traditions, and the consensus of the Muslims and the followers of the messengers, is that God is in the heaven. As for those who deny this, such as the Jahmiyyah and their followers and students, this school of thought is invalid and is a sacrilege in the Names of God, and God says: {Abandon those who desecrate His Names. They will be repaid for what they did} [7:180]. Sacrilege in the Names of God and His Attributes is a serious crime. Meanwhile, the person who claims that God is not in the heaven, he has belied the Qur'ān, the Tradition and the consensus of the Muslims. If he is a scholar, he is declared an apostate for that. However, if he is an ignorant person, it is explained to him. But, if he persists after that, he becomes an apostate, and we seek God’s refuge.[3]   


As such, when Salafīs say that ‘God is in the heaven’, they actually mean that ‘He is above the heaven’. Yet, al-Fawzān’s clarification has merely raised further problems. The earth is an oblate spheroid,[4] and not flat-shaped. Therefore, each of its regions has its unique, different ‘heaven’. Perhaps, a good way to demonstrate this, is to draw an oblate ball, and then draw a long, straight line from each point on its surface. Do these lines converge, or do they scatter in different directions? This is why when a man in Norway and another in Australia both look skywards, they can only see different areas of the heaven. To be more precise, the heaven does not spread above the earth: it rather surrounds our planet. Therefore, claiming that God is in the heaven is a very problematic step. Above which angle of the heaven exactly is He located? Looking at a globe, one notices that the upper section of the ‘heaven’ lies above the North Pole. By comparison, the ‘heaven’ over Africa is towards the side of the planet, while the ‘heaven’ of the South Pole is below the earth. This is probably the trickiest part. If we agree, arguendo, that God is indeed in/above the heaven, would it then be correct to declare that He is below our planet, since the ‘heaven’ of the South Pole is actually below it? Meanwhile, considering the Salafi doctrine that the Creator is literally above everything, then it means that He only resides above the North Pole. This definitely ushers in a flood of theological crises for Salafī Islām, especially since the ‘heaven’ of the Middle East lies towards the side of the globe! Further complicating the case for Salafīs is the scientific fact that the earth rotates on its axis, spinning in 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds.[5] This indicates that, except for those living on the North Pole and the South Pole, the ‘heavens’ of the other regions of the earth are not fixed. As the planet rotates, its various continents also turn their faces from various areas of the sky to others.     

Al-Fawzān’s clarification effort is equally smashed by this tradition, documented by al-Bukhārī (d. 256 AH):


Narrated Abū Huraira:


Allah’s Messenger said: ‘Every night when it is the last third of the night, our Lord, the Superior, the Blessed, descends to the nearest heaven and says: "Is there anyone to invoke Me that I may respond to his invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone asking My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?”’[6]


Affirming it, al-'Uthaymīn states:


His Descent, the Most High is true. For it [concerns] what we have previously discussed: Every pronoun [attached to a verb or noun] which refers to Allah is attributed to Him in truth. We are therefore duty bound to believe in it, deem it to be true, and declare: Our Lord descends to the lowest Heaven. [This Heaven] is the closest Heaven in proximity to the earth. The Heavens are seven [in number]. Indeed He the Majestic, the Exalted, descends during this time in the night in order to draw close to His slaves, the Majestic, the Lofty.[7]


This report, in its literal sense, suggests that God routinely ‘descends’ from above the seven heavens to the lowest heaven. To ‘descend’ means to come down from a higher position or place to a lower position or place. So, the direct implication of the tradition is that God moves from place to place, from high to low, and vice versa. In fact, since there is always ‘the last third of the night’ somewhere on the earth, one may infer from the tradition that He is stationed permanently in the lowest heaven, only shifting from one region of it to another as situations demand. One wonders. Whenever He is in the lowest heaven, there are six other heavens above Him. How then is He still ‘above His creatures’ or ‘above the heavens’ as al-Fawzān claims? Moreover, while this ‘god’ of the Salafīs performs his regular nocturnal routines, the inhabitants of the six higher heavens are above him, and he is below them. Hence, at that point in time, they are ‘higher’ than him, and he is ‘lower’ than them. This scenario apparently does not flow together with the threadbare Salafī slogan that ‘God is the Most High’. How can he be ‘the Most High’ when he is physically under billions, perhaps trillions, of creatures?

Attempting to provide replies to the above queries, al-'Uthaymīn looks rather pitiful:


They say: How can you declare: [That] Allah descends?! If He descends - Where is [the principle] of al- 'Uloo (the concept of Allah's Exaltedness and Loftiness)?! If He descends, where is the Ascent (al-Istiwa'a) upon the Throne?! For [the act] of Descent [involves] movement, and a transference [from one place to another]. If He descended: The [act of] Descent is an occurrence, and occurrences do not take place except by [the presence] of a doer.


We respond: This [form] of argumentation is false and [provides] no obstacle in the [acceptance] of the statement [concerning] the reality of the Descent. Are you (the rejectionists) greater in knowledge concerning that which Allah the Majestic, the Exalted, is deserving of than the Companions of the Messenger? For the Companions never uttered these suppositions at all. They said: ‘We hear, and we believe. We accept and we deem it to be true.’


O you contemporary dissenters - you appear now and enter into argument with falsehood, you say: How?! How?! We say: He descends, and we do not comment in reference to the Ascent upon the Throne. [We do not question]: Is the Throne vacated by Him or not?


In relation to al-'Uloo: We say: He descends, never-the-less He the Majestic, the Exalted is elevated above His creation. For the meaning of the Descent does not dictate that the [lower] Heaven supports Him, nor that the other Heavens shade Him. For He is not encompassed by any matter from amongst His creation. Accordingly, we say: He descends in truth [simultaneously with] His 'Uloo in truth, and there is no matter comparable to Him.[8]


He makes no real effort to answer the questions. He merely regurgitates the illogical Salafi doctrine, along with its inconsistent elements, and demands that we must swallow everything blindly. That is precisely how specious beliefs are defended.














[1] Muḥammad ibn Ṣāliḥ al-'Uthaymīn, Majmū' Fatāwā wa Rasāil, ed. by Fahd ibn Nāṣir ibn Ibrāhīm al-Sulaymān, 29 vols (Riyadh: Dār al-Waṭan, 1413-1431 AH), I (1413 AH), 132-133

[2] 'Abd al-'Azīz ibn 'Abdullāh ibn 'Abd al-Raḥmān ibn Bāz, Majmū' Fatāwā wa Maqālāt Mutanawwi'ah, ed. by Dr. Muḥammad ibn Sa'd al-Shuway'ir, 24 vols (Riyadh: Dār al-Qāsim li al-Nashr, 1420-1425 AH), VI (1420 AH), 309

[3] Ṣāliḥ ibn Fawzān al-Fawzān, Majmū' Fatāwā, ed. by Ḥammūd ibn 'Abdullāh al-Maṭar and 'Abd al-Karīm ibn Ṣāliḥ al-Muqran, 2 vols (Riyadh: Dār Ibn Khuzaymah, 1424 AH), I, 9-10

[4] Lloyd Motz and Jefferson Hane Weaver, The Story of Astronomy (Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 1995), p. 149; Hannu Karttunen et al, Fundamental Astronomy, 5th edn (Berlin: Springer-Verlag, 2007), p. 15; Forest R. Moulton, ‘The Shape of the Earth’, Journal of Geography, 2:10 (1903), 521-527 (p. 527); Michael Allaby, Earth Science: A Scientific History of the Solid Earth (New York: Facts On File Inc., 2009), p. 30

[5] Randy J. Nelson et al, Seasonal Patterns of Stress, Immune Function and Disease (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002) p. 9; Jacqueline Mitton, Cambridge Illustrated Dictionary of Astronomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 94

[6] The Translation of the Meanings of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī: Arabic-English, trans. by Dr. Muḥammad Muḥsin Khan, 9 vols (Riyadh: Darussalam Publishers and Distributors, 1997), IX, 355, no. 7494

[7] Muhammad ibn Salih Al-'Uthaymeen, An Explanation of Riyadh as-Saliheen from the Words of the Master of the Messengers, trans, by Abu Sulaymaan Sajad ibn 'AbdurRahman, ed. by Dr. 'Abdullah ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad Al-Tayyar (The Qur’an and Sunnah Society, 1419 AH), p. 220

[8] Ibid, pp. 222-223

* Opinion: