Sunday, August 31, 2008

50,000 years before creating the heavens and the Earth

“50,000 years before creating the heavens and the Earth” – Understanding Ibn Taymiyah’s Statement that Created Things Have Always Existed
`Abd al-Rahmân al-Barrâk, professor at al-Imâm Islamic University'


People misunderstand what Ibn Taymiyah means when he states that there have always been created things and that this has been the case stretching back into the past for eternity. People think that he is claiming our present universe to be timeless, without beginning. This is not the case.

The technical term in Arabic used to describe something that exists without having a beginning is the term qadîm. Ibn Taymiyah, contrary to what some people have understood, does not claim that our universe is qadîm.

The claim that the observable universe is qadîm – having no beginning in the past – is a false claim. It is blatantly false, because Allah informs us that this universe of ours was created in six days. This is clearly stated in many verses of the Qur’ân. For instance, Allah says:

“Allah is the one who created the heavens and the Earth in six days.” [Sûrah al-A`râf: 54]

“Indeed, your Lord is Allah who created the heavens and the Earth in six days.” [Sûrah Yûnus: 3]

“Allah is the one who created the heavens and the Earth and what is between them in six days.” [Sûrah al-Sajdah: 4]

We are also informed that Allah created the heavens and the Earth 50,000 years after determining the measure of all created things.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah recorded the measure of all created things 50,000 years before creating the heavens and the Earth… and His throne was above the water.” [Sahîh Muslim (2653)]

This means that our universe certainly had a beginning at a specific point in time. Its existence did not persist eternally into the past.

The claim that this universe of ours has no beginning is a claim made by classical peripatetic philosophers who described God as the “First Cause” and the source of existence. They claim that God is the complete cause for all things in existence and that a complete cause necessitates the existence of its effect. Therefore – they argue – the universe is eternally ancient by virtue of the eternal nature of its cause. The universe exists without ever being preceded by non-existence.

Some people confuse these ideas with Ibn Taymiyah’s claim that created existence, considered in categorical terms, is qadîm – existing eternally in the past – and that there is no beginning to the presence of the class of things known as “created things”. Ibn Taymiyah’s view can also be described as a continuous series of created things stretching eternally into the past of the idea that there have always been created things. All of these descriptions describe essentially the same idea.

Ibn Taymiyah is simply saying that Allah has always been creating and doing as he pleases. There no created thing without accepting that Allah had created something else before it – and that this has always been the case forever in the past – because Allah has always existed and He has always been capable of all things, and He has always been doing whatever he wills to do.

Because of this, there have always been created things, or at the very least, it is definitely possible that there have always been created things. This does not mean that created things have been forever following one from another. Created things do not exist independently throughout time. No created thing has ever existed without its having its beginning in Allah’s creating it. Each created thing has, therefore, come into existence after not having existed.

Only Allah has always existed. He alone is not preceded by non-existence. Allah has always existed in the past and he will continue to exist forever. He has no beginning and no end. This is why Allah has among his names al-Awwal (the First) and al-Âkhir (the Last).

Allah says: “He is the First and the Last, the Evident and the Hidden, and He has knowledge of all things.” [Sûrah al-Hadîd: 3]

The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to supplicate his lord, saying: “You are the First before Whom there is no other and You are the Last, after Whom there is no other.” [Sahîh Muslim (2713)]

Those who object to Ibn Taymiyah making this claim – and it is not just the position of Ibn Taymiyah, but that of all those who believe that Allah has always been capable of all things – they object to it because they misunderstood what he is actually saying. If they had understood what he meant, they would have had no reason to reject it.

Those who reject the idea that there can be a series of created things stretching back eternally into the past are really implying that Allah has not always been capable and then became capable – and that he had not always been carrying out actions and then began carrying out actions. This is the opinion of many of those who assert that the impossibility of a continuous succession of transient objects stretching forever into the past. Those who claim that such a thing it is impossible while at the same time asserting that Allah has always been capable and has always been carrying out actions – such people are contradicting themselves.

Some people in the past had gone so far as to declare it impossible for transient objects to continue on into the future and had claimed that both Paradise and Hell would one day come to an end. This was the belief of Jahm b. Safwân and those who followed him. No doubt, the belief that Paradise will come to an end is an outright rejection of what Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) have told us.

Allah is eternal. As al-Tahâwî says in his `Aqîdah: “He has always existed without beginning and He will continue to exist forever without coming to an end.”

Everything else besides Allah came into existence after having not existed Allah can then maintain the existence of anything He wills and keep it in existence for eternity. If Allah does not cause it to perish, it will continue into the future for however long Allah wants it to exist. It is always dependent on His will. Nothing in creation precedes Allah in what is unique to Him.

Allah says: “There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the One who hears and sees (all things).” [Sûrah al-Shûrâ: 11]


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