Mr. Katz in one of his articles has stated that some of the verses of the Qur’an, regarding where Allah is, are mutually contradictory1.
The verses of the Qur’an upon which Mr. Katz has based his objection are reproduced below:
Al-Hadeed 57:4 reads as:
هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ ۚ
It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days and then He mounted the throne [of control]”
Qaaf 50:16 reads as:
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ ۖ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ
We created man and We [even] know the promptings of his mind. We are closer to him than his life vein
Hu’d 11:7 reads as:
وَهُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ وَكَانَ عَرْشُهُ عَلَى الْمَاءِ
It was Him Who made the heavens and the earth in six days, and [at that time] His throne [of control] was on the waters
Al-Sajadah 32:5 reads as:
يُدَبِّرُ الْأَمْرَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ثُمَّ يَعْرُجُ إِلَيْهِ فِي يَوْمٍ كَانَ مِقْدَارُهُ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ مِّمَّا تَعُدُّونَ
He decides all affairs from the heavens to the earth; then these [affairs] go [back] up to Him in a day, the length of which is a thousand years of your reckoning.
Al-Ma`aarij 70:4 reads as:
تَعْرُجُ الْمَلَائِكَةُ وَالرُّوحُ إِلَيْهِ فِي يَوْمٍ كَانَ مِقْدَارُهُ خَمْسِينَ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ
The angels and the ruh ascend upto Him in a day the length of which is fifty thousand years
Comparing 57: 4 with 50: 16, Mr. Katz writes:
Is the throne of Allah at your jugular vein? That question is silly, so it seems. Obviously one can easily understand these verses to mean, that Allah is near to you and to everyone equally since he is not in any location in particular. Allah is “everywhere” in the sense that there is no place that is without his presence. What about the throne?
Then, referring to the meaning, generally understood by the translators of the Qur’an, of the word “throne” as used in Al-Hadeed 57: 4 (which is no different from what I have implied in my translation, i.e. it refers to “control”), Mr. Katz writes:
The throne symbolizes the power and sovereignty of Allah’s rule. One does not need to understand it as a physical location. And in fact, Yusuf Ali translates it as if it is not an act of sitting down on the throne (which is the literal meaning of the Arabic), but as a metaphorical expression for his power.
He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in Six Days,
and is moreover firmly established on the Throne (of Authority). …
This would solve the question if each mentioning of Allah’s throne could always be understood metaphorically. But what then do we make of this following ayat?
And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days – and His Throne was upon the water – that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct. …
— Sura 11:7
Is the water also metaphorical? Even if it might not be entirely clear where this water was (the ocean, the rain clouds, …?), this seems to be clearly a statement of location for this throne and no longer to be metaphorical. Also, the Arabic is past tense, and the question is then: Is the throne still upon the water, and if not, where has it moved to?
And then, Mr. Katz goes on to write:
And then there is this verse:
He rules (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth:
in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, on a Day,
the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning.”
— Sura 32:5
The angels and the spirit ascend unto him in a Day
the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years:
— Sura 70:4
If Allah is nearer to us than our jugular vein, why is there any need for the “affairs” (?), angels and the spirit to travel at all to reach Allah? Is there any interpretation of Sura 32:5 and 70:4 which does not involve a physical “distance” between the earth and Allah that has to be bridged?
Sura 50:16 could be understood that Allah is equally near everywhere, and there is no place you can go to be nearer to Him than were you are at this time.
Then why does anyone or anything have to travel to reach Allah?
Thus, there are three basic objections that Mr. Katz has levied on these verses, these are:
- 57: 4 and 50: 16 are mutually contradictory. One says that Allah is closer to humans than their life veins and the other says that He is firmly established on His throne;
- The meaning of the throne generally taken by the translators, including myself, cannot be taken in verse 11: 7; and
- If Allah is closer to His creation than their life veins then why do the angels have to travel to Him in periods extending over one thousand to fifty thousand years.
In the following paragraphs, I shall present my point of view regarding the meaning of the referred verses.
The usage of the Arabic word “`arsh” to imply authority is commonly known. Thus when the Qur’an says that “… Allah established Himself on His throne”, it means that He took charge of controlling His creation. This phrase has generally been used in the Qur’an to negate the belief of those who thought that Allah did create everything that exists, but after creating everything He has delegated the management of His creation to others. This belief is quite close to the belief of those that say that God is only the “First cause”. The Qur’an has negated this belief by emphasising that Allah not only created everything that exists, but the total control of the affairs of His creation also lies solely in His hands. Thus, the word “`arsh” does not in itself signify a particular place in (or outside) the universe. Furthermore, when the Qur’an says that God is closer to humans than their life veins, it basically refers to His omniscience. A close look at 50: 16 shall support this point of view. The Qur’an says:
We created man and We [even] know the promptings of his mind. We are closer to him than his life vein.
Obviously, the verse is referring to God’s knowledge of human thoughts and actions. It is in this particular context that the referred words have been said. Thus, the words: “We are closer to him than his life vein” do not signify the physical position of God, but His omniscience. Thus, neither of the two verses (57: 4, 50: 16) is relating to us the physical whereabouts of God. Therefore, in my opinion, there does not arise the question of mutual contradiction.
Mr. Katz says that the meaning generally implied by the word “`arsh” cannot be taken in verse 11: 7, where the Qur’an says:
It was Him Who made the heavens and the earth in six days, and [at that time] His throne [of control] was on the waters”
as, according to Mr. Katz, “this seems to be clearly a statement of location for this throne and no longer to be metaphorical”. I tend to disagree with Mr. Katz that this is “clearly a statement of location for this throne”. In my opinion, like the first verse (57: 4) this verse too refers to the control of God, over His creation. What this verse is telling us is not “where” was God’s throne at “that” time, but that in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the whole earth was covered with water, and therefore His control, at that time was on the waters. This statement is quite close to what the Bible says regarding the beginning of the creation. The book of Genesis starts with the following words:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (1: 1 -2)
Unfortunately, we do not have the original words of the Bible, who knows maybe the original words here might not have been much different from those used by the Qur’an.
Finally, Mr. Katz says that if God is closer to His creation than their life veins then why do the angels have to travel to Him in periods extending over one thousand to fifty thousand years.
My point of view regarding the above should be quite clear from the explanation given above. But to clarify even further, I would like to reiterate that “closer than life vein” refers to the omniscience of God. Whereas the other verses (mentioning that the angels spend thousands of years to reach Allah) refer to His magnificence and grandeur (70: 4) and to the fact that God’s operational time scale is far wider and far greater for us — humans — to fully comprehend and understand due to our inherent limitations (32: 5). Obviously, being omniscient does not automatically imply that God has lost His grandeur. The two verses are referring to two separate phenomena. Just as if I say at one place that “I am aware of every move that you make” and at another place that “you cannot reach me easily”, the two sayings cannot be termed as mutually contradictory. One refers to the perfection of my knowledge and the other to the other person’s imperfections and my grandeur and magnificence. In the same way, at one place the Qur’an says that “God knows everything that man does and thinks, He is closer to man than his life vein” and at another it says that “How can you assess the grandeur of God, He is far above what you can imagine. Even the closest of His angels take thousands of years to reach Him”. The two statements refer to two separate phenomena and thus are not comparable. Therefore, in my opinion, there does not arise the question of contradiction in the two statements.
I do hope my clarification shall be considered with a neutral mind. All comments that may point out any linguistic inconsistencies in my interpretation of the Qur’anic verses are most welcome and shall be highly appreciated.
© Copyright December 1998. All Rights Reserved with the Author
- Mr. Katz’s complete article can be seen at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/i020.html [↩]