Allaah is Al-’Alee (the Most High) & Al-’Atheem (the Most Great) – Shaykh Uthaymeen | Dr. Saleh as-Saleh


The following is excerpted from the Shaykh Uthaymeen’s explanation of Aayatul-Kursi, Translated by Dr. Saleh as-Saleh rahimahullaah

وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ
And He [Allaah] is the Most High, the Most Great.
[Qur’aan, Aayatul-Kursi , Surah Al-Baqarah 2:255]

This sentence, with both of its boundaries defined, denotes exclusivity that He (Allaah) alone is the Most High, meaning that He possesses the absolute Transcendence (al-’uluw al-mutlaq). The restricted or limited ‘uluw (transcendence) is affirmed for the humans. Allaah تعالى said:

وَلَا تَهِنُوا وَلَا تَحْزَنُوا وَأَنتُمُ الْأَعْلَوْنَ
So do not become weak
(O you pious believers), nor be sad, and you will be superior (in victory). [Qur’aan, Soorat Aal-’Imraan (3: 139)]

This superiority is restricted such as being above the kuffaar [in victory], not an absolute transcendence. The latter is exclusively restricted to Allaah, for He, the One who is most High and free from all imperfection, is above everything.

Then it must be known that the attribute of Transcendence of Allaah in the creed of ahlu-sunnah wal jamaa’ah is classified into two types:

(a)    The ‘uluw of the thaat : The Transcendence of Allaah’s Essence.

(b)   The ‘uluw of the sifaat : The Transcendence of Allaah’s Attributes.

The ‘uluw of the thaat means that Allaah (تعالى) in His Essence is above everything, and everything is below Him, Most Majestic and Mighty is He. Regarding the ‘uluw of the sifaat , it means that Allaah is qualified with the superlative qualities as He, the Most High, said:

 وَلِلَّهِ الْمَثَلُ الْأَعْلَىٰ
And for Allaah is the Highest Description
[Qur’aan, Soorat An-Naml (16:60)].

Every Attribute which Allaah (تعالى) qualified Himself with is an Attribute of Perfection and in every respect is free from any kind of imperfection.

If you ask: “What is the reason behind this kind of classification? Do you have a proof of it from the Qur’aan or the sunnah ? Did you find this in the sayings of the sahaabah ?

The answer is: “No! But I found it to be necessary when it has been determined that the people of negation (an-nufaat), who themselves are ahlu-ta’teel (those who deny the Attributes), restrict the ‘uluw to the sifaat (qualities) only. They said that Allaah’s Transcendence is in His sifaat only not in Essence (thaat). The people of ta’teel (ahlu-ta’teel) themselves became divided regarding the ‘uluw of the thaat, as discussed below.

What is important is that the Imaams of  as-salaf -us-saalih (رحمهم الله) and the scholars who came after resorted to this classification out of necessity because they were tested by the people of ta’teel (who denied the ‘uluw of the thaat), and thus they were obligated to affirm the Transcendence in this way.

In fact, if we say only that, “Allaah is the Most High,” and if someone from the people of ta’teel says that, “the ‘uluw relates to His Attributes,” then what would the common Muslim understand? The only thing he will understand is that Allaah is qualified with the ‘uluw of the sifaat only. But if we say, “Allaah is Most High in His sifaat as well as in His Essence,” the common Muslims will understand this meaning. In fact, the first thing that is obvious to the common Muslim is that Allaah’s ‘uluw concerns His Essence. Certainly the ‘uluw of the sifaat is part of the meaning of the ‘uluw but the strange thing is that the people of negation and ta’teel establish it while it is not obvious to many people.

In their denial of the ‘uluw of Allaah’s thaat (Essence), the people of ta’teel ended up being divided into two groups:

The first group:  They said that Allaah, in His Essence, is everywhere, and if so then He, according to their claim, either occupies a hayyiz [70]  or He does not. If He occupies a hayyiz then it is necessary that He would occupy the “places” and there would remain no single “place” present. And if He does not occupy a hayyiz, then He is ma’doom (none-existing). [71]  They would not say that what does not occupy a hayyiz is like the “air” or the like thereof, because this would not be harmonious with their position. [72]

The second group: They said, “He (تعالى) is neither in ‘uluw (loftiness) nor in sufl (opposite ‘uluw: lowness); He is neither inside the world nor outside it; neither to the right nor to the justify; neither joined nor separate.

This position is absolute ta’teel (negation) because it is a description of al-’adam (none-existence). Some scholars said, “If we were asked to describe al-’adam we would not find a more comprehensive definition than this description [above].”

So contemplate as to how their negation of what has been affirmed by the way of naql (texts) and ‘aql (rational) led them to say what cannot be accepted neither by sensory perception (hiss), nor by naql or ‘aql.

We have explained earlier that the ‘uluw of Allaah is proven by the way of the kitaab (the Book, i.e. the Qur’aan), the sunnah , ijmaa’ (general consensus of the salaf ), ‘aql , and fitrah . [73]  The proofs of the Book and sunnah are diverse:

Some of which mention the ‘uluw like in the saying of Allaah (تعالى):

        { وهو العَلِيُّ العَظِيم } [البقرة:255].
And He [Allaah] is the Most High, the Most Great.

{ سَبِّحِ اسْمَ رَبِّكَ الأَعْلَى } [الأعلى،1]
And make tasbeeh [declaring that Allaah is far removed above all imperfection] of your Rabb , the Most High, above everything.
[Qur’aan, Soorat Al-A’laa (87:1)].

Others state the fawqiyyah [Allaah being above creation], as in Allaah’s saying in the Qur’aan:

{ وَهُوَ القاهِرُ فَوْقَ عِبادِهِ } [الأنعام،1].
And He [Allaah] is al-Qaahir [74]  above His slaves.
[Qur’aan, Soorat Al-An’aam (6:18)].

Some aayaat (verses) mention the su’ood (ascent) of things up to Him :

{ إليهِ يَصعَدُ الكَلِمُ الطَّيِّبُ والعَمَلُ الصالِحُ يرفَعُهُ } [فاطر،10].
 To Him ascend [all] the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it [the goodly words, i.e. the goodly words are not accepted by Allaah unless and until they are followed by good deeds][Qur’aan, Soorat Faatir (35:10)].

{ تَعرُجُ الملائِكَةُ والرُّوح إليه } [المعارج،4].
The angels and the rooh [Jibreel u] ascend to Him.
[Qur’aan, Soorat Al-Ma’aarij (70:4].

Sometimes the Qur’aan mentions the descent of things from Him (تعالى):

 { يُدَبَّرُ الأمر من السَّماء إلى الأرض } [السجدة،5].
He [Allaah] arranges [every] affair from the heavens to the earth.
[Qur’aan, Soorat As-Sajdah (32:5)].

 { إنَّا نحنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ } [الحجر،9].
Verily We: It is We Who have sent down the thikr  [the Qur’aan].
 [Qur’aan, Soorat Al-Hijr (15:5)].

In the Book there is also the affirmation that Allaah (تعالى) is above the heavens:

{ ءأمنْتُم من في السَّماء أن يخسِفَ بِكُمُ الأرْضَ } [المُلك،16].
Do you feel secure that He, who is above the heaven [Allaah], will not cause the earth to sink. [Qur’aan, Soorat Al-Mulk (67:16)].

In addition to the above aayaat, there are many other references in the Qur’aan which affirm the ‘uluw of Allaah. Similarly the sunnah affirms Allaah’s ‘uluw in His Essence by the way  of  saying, action, and approval. The affirmation in the saying as in the statement of the Prophet (peace be upon him):

Our Rabb is Allaah Who is in the heaven …” [75]

And in his action as when he (peace be upon him) pointed towards the heavens when he said: “O! Allaah be witness [saying it thrice],” before the greatest assembly of Muslims then. [76]

As to his approval, the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked a slave girl: Where is Allaah? She replied: “Above the heavens.” He (peace be upon him) then ordered her master, Grant her freedom, because she is a believer .” [77]

As for the ijmaa,’  it is acknowledged that the salaf are in agreement that Allaah is above His ‘arsh . No one among them had ever said that He is everywhere or that He is neither above the world nor below it, or that He is neither to the right nor to the left, or that He is neither separated from the world nor associated with it.

On the other hand, the proof of the ‎‘aql (intellect), has two angles to it:

1. The ‘uluw is an attribute of perfection and therefore being as such necessitates that it is an affirmed attribute of Allaah because Allaah is qualified with the attributes of perfection from every angle.

2. For the sake of argument, if we say that, “Allaah is either above the world or under it or on its right or left,” then which of these descriptions denote perfection? The answer is, “Allaah is above the world,” because if he is “under it” then He would be less perfect than the created! And if He is in the same place as the created, then Allaah (تعالى) would be equal to him in perfection. Thus it is necessitated that Allaah (تعالى) is above everything.

Finally, as far as the fitrah (natural inclination or disposition) is concerned, each person naturally acknowledges the fact that Allaah is above the heavens. That is why whenever a person supplicates His Rabb (Allaah) he (she) takes refuge towards the direction of the sky (i.e. upward). [78]

[In this regard it is noteworthy to mention] that because Abul Ma’aali al-Juwayyni, [79]  may Allaah bestow His mercy upon him and may He forgive him, denied the ascending of Allaah above the ‘arsh (istiwaa’ ‘ala al-’arsh) and the ‘uluw of Allaah in His Essence, he had  decided that, “Allaah was and there was nothing, [80]  and He is now as He ever has been,” [81]  denying the istiwaa ‘ala al-’arsh. Abul ‘Alaa al-Hamadaani, [82]  may Allaah bestow His mercy upon him, said, “Teacher! There is no need to mention the ‘arsh. [83] Just tell us about this necessity which we find within ourselves: Whenever an ‘aarif (one who knows of Allaah) says: ‘O! Allaah,’ he finds within his heart a compelling intent aspiring upward? [84]  Al-Juwayyni slapped his hands against his head screaming, “Al-Hamadani rendered me perplexed. Al-Hamadaani rendered me perplexed.” He was unable to respond because the matter is natural and cannot be denied.

The strange thing is that those who deny the Transcendence of Allaah themselves raise their hands upward in the direction of the heavens when they invoke Allaah. I do not know of the situation of the person who believes that Allaah is everywhere in His Essence or that He is not inside the world nor outside it or He is neither above nor below, how is he going to face His Rabb on the Day of Resurrection?

Then Allaah تعالى said:

{ العَظِيم }
The Most Great,

meaning the One Who possesses the absolutely perfect Greatness.

The great of a certain kind of things is the majestic whose qualities attained the utmost degree of perfection, as Allaah تعالى has said about the throne of the Queen of Sabaa’ :

 { وَلَهَا عَرْشُُ عَظِيم }
And She has a great throne.
[Qur’aan, Soorat An-Naml (27:23)].

In this sense the great of a certain kind of things is that which is characterized by utmost importance and utmost degree of perfection in its qualities.


[70] Hayyiz: Linguistically the word hayyiz signifies:

(a) Drawing, collecting, or gathering.
(b) To hold in one’s possession.
(c) To drive the camel gently to water.
(d) To rise, turn away, or turn towards.
(e) Remove, withdraw, or retire to a distance.
(f) Draw back.
(g) Leave a place to another.
(h) Turn aside to a place or to a different company and
(i) What is annexed to the house.

It is noticed that these linguistic meanings entail: change, moving or turning from place to a place or from a direction to another. In addition, the term hayyiz refers to an existing external thing that surrounds and contains something. The lateral portions (or outer surfaces) of the contained thing itself form an existing hayyiz. Anything that surrounded by an existing hayyiz is called mutahayyiz. Accordingly, what is in between the heavens and the earth is mutahayyiz. [Refer to Appendix A for further important information.]

[71] They negate the ‘uluw of Allaah above the creation because they consider what is above the world is itself a hayyiz. Saying that Allaah is above the world means to them that he is in a hayyiz although they acknowledge that it is ‘adami (non-existing)! It is clear that the way of the scholastic theologians is fallacious argumentation. The fact is that above the world there is nothing except Allaah. So could He be in something “non-existing”? Being “in it” is no more than being alone by Himself and that He is distinct and separate from creation, His thaat is not commixed with any part of His creation..

[72] Because the air does not occupy a hayyiz, yet it exists. To Allaah belongs the best example.

[73] The Shaykh refers to his explanation of Al-’Aqeedah Al-Waasitiyyah of Shaykh-ulIslam Ibn Taymeeyah [Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Daar Ibnul Jawzi, 1415/1994], vol. 1, pp. 373-400.

[74] Allaah is al-Qaahir: The Most Mighty and the Magnificent, is dominant over all his slaves being Himself above creation, the Ever-living, the Mighty, and the AllPowerful. He is the One who subdued all of his creatures; everything in the upper and lower worlds is subservient to His Will, and Authority; whatever He willed to happen will certainly occur and as He wanted it to be, and whatever He willed not to occur will never take place; All creatures are in need of Him, they have no control of good or harm to themselves; nor can they control death nor life nor Resurrection. The most powerful creature is nothing before the domination and power of Allaah, the AllMighty; the creatures which people have taken as “gods” besides Allaah, cannot protect themselves let alone to dominate others. Allaah, the perfect is His domination deserves to be worshipped alone.

[75] Reported by Abu Daawood, Ahmad, and others. It was declared hasan by Ibn ‘Adiyy (Al-Kaamil 3:1054) and by Al-Baihaqi (Al-Asmaa’ was-Sifaat, p. 892), ath-Thahabi (Al-’Uluw, p. 48), and ad-Daarimee (Ar-Rad ‘Alal-Jahmiyyah, p.70). Other scholars of hadeeth considered it weak because of the weakness of one of its narrators, Ziyaadah bin Muhammad al-Ansaari. According to al-Bukhaari, his hadeeth falls in the category of munkar that, according to him, is a strong state of criticism meaning “denounced”. Other scholars of hadeeth sometimes consider the munkar to mean the absolutely singular (al-fard al-mutlaq) narration which is not supported by any follow up (mutaaba’ah). [See Shifaa’ul-‘Aleel bi-Alfaath wa Qawaa’id Al-Jarh Watta’deel (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Maktabatul-’Ilm, 1411/1991), pp. 306-311, and Shaykh alAlbaani’s Da’eef Sunan Abee Daawood, no. 839]. However, another hadeeth by Qataadah in which Bani Israa’eel have said: “O Our Rabb!, You are in the heaven, and we are on the earth…,” is declared hasan by Shaykh al-Albaani (رحمه االله). See ath-Thahabi’s Al-’Uluw (Beirut, Lebanon: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1412/1991; checked by Shaykh alAlbaani)], no. 107.

[76] As in the long hadeeth of Jaabir (رضي االله عنهما) describing the Farewell Hajj of the Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) which was reported by Muslim in his Saheeh (English Translation), vol. 2. pp. 611-617.

[77] This is a clear response to those who say, “Allaah is everywhere.” The Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) used the term “Where,” and the answer of the girl was “Above.” Those who say that Allaah is exalted above any particular direction are to be asked, “What do you mean by ‘direction’?” If they deny that Allaah is above the creation because it would mean that He is in a “particular direction,” then they are wrong because there is no one from the creation who exalted Allaah more than the Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم), and yet he (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) affirmed that He (تعالى ) is above the heavens and pointed skyward because it is a direction of ‘uluw. This direction of ‘uluw does not limit, contain, or envelop Allaah, the Most Great.

Nothing is above Him, the Most High. Are they more eloquent in speech than the Prophet is (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم)? Are they more sincere with respect to the teachings of this deen than the Prophet is (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم)? Certainly, they are not. And the Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) did not intend confusion to his followers. Had there been any false meaning necessitated by affirming the ‘uluw of Allaah the way the Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) affirmed, he would have made it clear.

The texts, however, do not necessitate the false conclusions made by those who deny the ‘uluw of Allaah in His Essence above the creation. Neither in the Qur’aan nor in the authentic sunnah, does the affirmation of the ‘uluw imply hat Allaah is contained in a place or that he is a compounded body (jism), or “within limits,” for He is above everything and that there is no creation above the world, there is only Allaah above everything.

[78] People naturally raise their hands and seek the direction of ‘uluw (highness) in their hearts when they supplicate Allaah, the Most High. This does not mean that they do so because the sky is the qiblah of invocation just as the ka’bah is the qiblah (direction) of the prayer as claimed by those who deny the ‘uluw of Allaah is His Essence! There is no legal evidence that the sky is the qiblah of du’aa. Had this been one of the proven matters, it would have been known by the salaf. In addition, the qiblah of invocation is the qiblah of the prayer. It is praiseworthy that the Muslim face the qiblah while making du’aa. In fact the Prophet (صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّم) faced the qiblah many times and invoked Allaah, the Most High. A qiblah is something that a person is face to face with, just like the positions in the prayer, invocation, thikr, sacrifice, etc. Had the sky been the qiblah of du’aa then it would have been permissible for the Muslim to invoke Allaah turning his face up in its direction, something not legally approved.

Linguistically, the upward position towards which the hands are raised is not called a qiblah. Directing the heart upward while in a state of du’aa is something ingrained in the fitrah and done by the Muslim, the kaafir, the learned and the ignorant, especially in times of distress. The one facing the qiblah knows well that Allaah is not there, however, while in a state of du’aa the person turns to his Creator who is above the creation. He does not turn towards the sky seeking refuge in something created, but he seeks the Creator of the heavens and the earth who is High above the entire creation. Ask those in times of distress, “Do you turn towards the heavens or to Allaah who is above the heavens?” Naturally, they turn to Allaah.

[79] Al-Juwayyni, ‘Abdul Maalik Ibn ‘Abdullaah Ibn Yusuf Ibn Muhammad Abul Ma’aali (419/1028-478/1085), nicknamed imaamul haramayyn (lit. the Imaam of the Two Sanctuaries i.e. Makkah and Madeenah). He lived in Makkah for four years and then moved to Madeenah where he taught. He never was, however, an Imaam of the two sacred Mosques. His followers exaggerated in him and gave him this title.

Originally, he was from Juwayyn (present-day Afghanistan). He was a Shaafi’ee scholar and an Ash’arite. It is important to remember that he is said to have been the first to resort to the figurative interpretation of the sifaat. He (رحمه االله) however, retracted from this position, but like many of the late ashaa’irah, he resorted to tafweed: consigning the meaning of the sifaat to Allaah claiming that the thaahir (obviously−understood meaning), is not the intended meaning, something that they erroneously attributed to the salaf. The truth, however, is that the salaf, affirm the obviously understood meaning of the Attributes of Allaah, but they consign the “how” of the sifaat to Allaah (تعالى ). For example, the obvious meaning of Pleasure is known.

We affirm it to Allaah as He has affirmed to Himself. The manner of Allaah’s Pleasure, however, is consigned to Allaah. So the Pleasure of Allaah is true and like all of His Attributes, nothing is like unto Him in His Pleasure. The kayyfiyah (specification, i.e. how is His Pleasure) is known only to Allaah. Imaam ath-Thahabi reported that before his death, al-Juwayyni denounced scholastic theology and fully supported the position of the salaf. (Al-’Uluw, p. 175, checked by Shaykh al-Albaani).

[80] Meaning that Allaah was and there was no ‘Arsh as confirmed by the full report in ath-Thahabi’s Al-’Uluw (p. 276, no. 337; checked by Shaykh al-Albaani).

[81] Meaning that He is not ascending above His ‘Arsh.

[82] Muhammad Ibn ‘Ali al-Hasan Ibn Muhammad al-Hamadaani (d. 531/1137).

[83] Because the proof for the ‘Arsh is sam’ee, meaning it is established by evidence from the Qur’aan and (or) authentic sunnah. Had it not been established through this means, we would have not known of it.

[84] i.e. because of the Transcendence of Allaah. In the detailed report, al-Hamadaani said: “Whenever an ‘aarif says: ‘O! Allaah,’ except that before his tongue starts moving, a compelling intention arises in his heart. It turns neither to the left nor to the right but heads for above. Do you have a way to avert this necessitated intention?” His saying “heads for above” affirms that it seeks Allaah who is absolutely above the universe, it does not turn to the heavens nor to the ‘Arsh because these are created things.

Source : From the eBook: Tafseer Ayatul-Kursi – By Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-’Uthaymeen (rahimahullah). With Related Points of Benefit From the Shaykh’s Commentary on Imaam ibn Taymeeyah’s Sharhul ’Aqeedatil-Waasitiyyah, Prepared by Dr. Saleh As-Saleh (rahimahullah)

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