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A Muslim’s Understanding of God’s Perpetual Activity

Among many religions, there's been a discussion about how God created things. Did God create the world eternally? Or was there a beginning point? Many scholars from the past have weighed in on this discussion. There have been brutal debates.

Outside of Islam, especially in Judaism and Christianity, this matter was discussed widely. According to the book of Genesis, “In the beginning of God, creating the Heavens and the Earth, the Spirit of God was hovering over the water.” It looks like water existed before the creation. The creation was not totally out of nothing, there was already something there. Moreover, the book of Genesis stated, “Things were in a state of disorder, and it seems that God created order out of that disorder.” It's not like everything started out from a blank slate or from a total nothingness.

During the second century of Christianity, there were scholars, like Gearhard May. More recently, there is a scholar named Frank McGrath. He published a book called, “The Only True God.” This book pointed out that in the second century of Christianity, led some to think that the most correct belief for Christians to hold would be that God created the universe from nothing. That statement became quickly a very standard belief and disrupt The Middle Ages. Eventually, this was widely accepted by Jewish and Muslim scholars because they all shared similar types of discussions and ideas of a philosophical nature.

The Muslim scholars are referred to as the “Kalam Scholars.” Kalam means something like speech.

This is like a dialectical theologian. The dialectical theologians of Islam adopted the same idea that the universe was created from nothing. There are philosophers entering the scene, Muslim philosophers, like Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. They came up with a different idea. They thought like some Greek philosophers thought that God is so perfect that he's not going to deal with a changing world directly. There must be a sort of emanation from God that happens, naturally or automatically. God is pure thought and they put it in some philosophical way by saying, “God would have been pure thought thinking itself. When God contemplates himself, a thought is born.”

One thing leads to another, and that leads to another. Eventually, that leads to this universe as an emanation from God. However, that emanation would have been always the case. There never would've been a time when the universe did not exist as an emanation from God. Something that is totally dependent upon God. They would speak about God, like what's the distinction between God and the creation? If the creation always existed, why isn't that a God?

This is philosophically valid that the universe (as creation), is dependent upon God. The universe is contingent, and God is a necessary being. The universe may or may not exist, it doesn't have to exist, but God must exist. God exists by himself and by necessity. It cannot be otherwise.

That's a great distinction. The debate seemed locked between these two positions. One is the position of the Kalam scholars, the Muslim dialectical theologians, there's a beginning from nothing. Eventually, God created the universe. Time began with this creation too.

Whereas the philosophers among Muslims like Ibn Sina. Al-Farabi said, “It's been an emanation from God from all time. There never was a time when this creation did not exist.”

Weighing in on this debate, there was a scholar who became famous in Islamic history, Al-Ghazali. He passed away in the year 505 of the Muslim era, 11, 1111. It was close to 1,010 years ago. He railed against the philosophers because he took the view that the universe was created from nothingness. He thought that the philosophers were out of order. As if they’re treating the creation as always an eternally existing. Therefore, this is like another return with God. Consequently, he didn't like that.

Ibn Rushd responded to Al-Ghazali. Al-Ghazali wrote a book called “The Incoherence Of The Philosophers.” In Arabic, the book is called, “Tahafut al-Falasifah.” Ibn Rushd wrote a response to that, which is entitled, “Tahafut Al-Tahafut, The Incoherence of The Incoherence.” In his book, he defends an idea, which is like the idea of the philosophers before him. However, it's a nuance. He said, “Yes, the creation always existed, but it's not the same items in creation that always exists because the creation changes.” One thing is created from another thing, and that was created from another thing. Yet, there isn’t one thing that exists perpetually.

Ibn Rushd is a famous scholar in Islamic history. He is from Andalus, which was the Muslim part of Spain at that time, the Iberian Peninsula. He has written much in Islamic tradition. He wrote a very important book called, “The Distinguished Jurist’s Primer Volume I: Bidayat al-Mujtahid,” It’s a primer for anyone who wants to start thinking about giving verdicts in Islamic law. He was a jurist on his own. He was a judge. He knew his subject and Islam already.

However, he was philosophical in his outlook. He wrote a lot about philosophy, reason, revelation, and the harmony between them. That's how the matter was left in as a philosophical discourse.

Ibn Taymiyyah is a major scholar in our history. He’s well-known for his adherence to tradition, so far from the philosophical schools. He expands on an idea, which is like the idea of Ibn Rushd. That idea seems to be based largely on philosophy. Yet, Ibn Taymiyyah grounds this in the Quran and the Muslim tradition.

There are two main sources about this viewpoint. In 1965, Hussam Al-Alussi completed a doctorate thesis at Cambridge University. Eventually, his thesis was published in Lebanon. In this thesis, he drew attention to Ibn Taymiyyah's view about this. He expanded it in some detail.

The other source is John Hoover. He has become an expert on all things relating to the humble school of Islamic jurisprudence, starting with Ibn Ahmad himself. The eponyms behind the school and great scholars of the schools, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and his student, Ibn.

John Hoover wrote an article, a scholarly academic article detailing Ibn Taymiyyah’s view on this subject. He bases this largely on a translation of a fatwa, that is part of the large collection of fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah. It's the 37-volume collection. In one of these fatwas, he's expounding Hadith from Saheeh al-Bukhari that says, “When God created the heavens and the earth, there was nothing prior to God. Then, God created the heavens and the earth. At that time, the throne was on the water.”

Ibn Taymiyyah refers to a verse from the Quran: “He is the one who created the Heavens and the Earth in Six days and His throne was upon the waters.” Quran [11:7].

It seems to imply that before God created the heavens and the earth, the throne was already on the water. That means apart from God, that was already the throne of God, and there was water. Something existed before this creation. Ibn Taymiyyah, says there was nothing in the Quran or the Hadith that clearly and definitively indicates that the universe was created from nothing. Those who have that view, have it for philosophical reasons. It's not based on tradition.

On the other hand, he’s seeing hints in the tradition and in the Quran, pointing to the existence of other things, along with God prior to the creation of the world. He thinks that along with Ibn Rushd before him, the universe is created from something which is created from something else, and creation always existed. Yet, as the philosophers had maintained, in a state of dependence on God, God is the necessary being. The universe has contingent depending upon God. There isn’t a thing that exists apart from God eternally. However, the creation exists, always with God. There never was a time when the creation did not exist.

For a long time, in debates with Christians, there's an objection to the Islamic view of God. The Christian’s perspective is that they believe in the Trinity. The Trinity has three persons loving each other. However, the unitarian view of Christians and Muslims with God is just simply one person. Before God, created the universe, there would have been no person to love. God would have been alone. This recent research stumbled upon this view of Ibn Taymiyyah, if one takes this view, there wasn’t a time when God was alone, because God always loved his creatures. This is a very significant dimension to one’s discussions in interfaith dialogues.

But what does it mean that God loves his creatures in advance?

It's a common idea among Jews, Christians, and Muslims that God has full knowledge of all things. He knows the creatures that he's going to create in the future. Since God knows the creature, it allows him to love those creatures in advance.

For instance, people still have memories of their departed loved ones. People still love them in their own minds. For instance, Dr. Shabir loves both of his grandmothers despite them not being here.

From God’s perspective, he loves his creatures before they're even here because he knows them in his full knowledge.

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