Muzaffar Iqbal and Hasan Spiker

Creation is the Divine act of bringing something into existence. It is one of the major themes of the Qurʾān which is thematically linked to the tripartite fundamentals of its message: (a) Unicity of God, Who is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that exists between them (see Tawḥīd; Allah Most High); (b) Prophethood (al-nubuwwa, q.v.); and (c) Resurrection (al-maʿād)—the final return to Him through His recreation after extinction (see Day of Reckoning; for the tripartite fundamentals of the Qurʾān, see Ghazalī, Jawāhar, faṣl al-thānī; Rāzī, sub Q 6:91, 141).

Eleven Qurʾānic terms related to creation cover the entire spectrum of creation: from bringing into existence something that had no previous existence or precedent, to bringing something into existence from another thing (ījād al-shayʾ min shayʾ). The act of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing, al-ibdāʿ) is only attributable to Allah Most High. Exegetical reflections on the ontological aspects of this theme include questions related to Divine Purpose, Wisdom, Power, and Sovereignty. The most frequently used root to denote creation is kh-l-q; in addition, terms derived from ten other roots have direct bearing on the theme of creation. These terms and other concepts related to creation theme are explored in the following sections.

Definitions and Usage

kh-l-q: Eight derivatives of this root appear 261 times: 184 times as the Form I verb khalaqa; twice as the intensive noun (khallāq) (Q 15:86, 36:81); six times as the noun khalāq (“share”) (Q 2:102, 200, Q 3:77; Q 9:69x3); twice as khuluq (“moral character”) (Q 26:137, Q 68:4); twelve times as the active participle khāliq, (Q 6:102, 13:16, 15:28, 23:14, 35:3, 37:125, 38:71, 39:62, 40:62, 52:35, 56:59, 59:24); twice as the passive participle mukhallaq (Q 22:5x2); and once as the Form VIII verbal noun ikhtilāq (Q 38:7) (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub kh-l-q). Al-Khāliq and al-Khallāq can only be used for Allah as these are His Attributes (Azharī, Tahdhīb, abwāb al-khāʾ wal-qāf; see Beautiful Names of Allah).

Quoting the great Iraqi linguist, Abū Bakr al-Anbārī (271-328/884-940), Muḥammad b. Aḥmad b. al-Azharī (282-370/895-981) says khalq in the language of the Arabs has two aspects: inshāʾ (bringing into being) on an invented pattern and taqdīr (proportioning) (Azharī, Tahdhīb, abwāb al-khāʾ wal-qāf; cf. Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub kh-l-q; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, baṣīra fī-l-khalq). This explains the difference between creation by Allah Most High and making of something by human beings. For instance, when Prophet ʿĪsā (q.v.), upon him peace, says to the Children of Isrāʾīl (q.v.), I will create for you out of clay (annī akhluqu lakum min al-ṭīni) the likeness of a bird; then I will breathe into it, and it will be a bird by the leave of Allah (Q 3:49), it does not mean that he is going to produce something that has not existed before; rather, birds have lived before him, whereas, Allah Most High brings something into existence (aḥdathahu) something that did not exist previously (Ibn Sīda, Muḥkam, al-khāʾ wal-qāf wal-lām; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān). Similarly, khalq in Q 29:17, You only serve, apart from Allah, idols and you create (wa takhluqūna ifkan) a calumny, does not mean they create a calumny, rather, it means “you give shape to a lie” (tuqaddirūna kadhiban) (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, bāb al-qāf, faṣl al-khāʾ).

Abū al-Ḥusayn al-Qāsim b. Muḥammad b. al-Mufaḍḍal al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) provides an insightful explanation of the term al-khalq:

Its original meaning is al-taqdīr al-mustaqīm (“proper proportioning”); it is also used to denote the creation of a thing that had no previous existence or precedent (fī ibdāʿ al-shayʾ min ghayr aṣl wa lā iḥtidhāʾ): [Allah Most High] said, He created (khalaqa) the heavens and the earth (Q 6:1), that is, He originated them from nothing (abdaʿahumā), and the proof for this is His saying, He is the existentiator (badīʿ) of the heavens and the earth (Q 2:117). Khalq can also be used, however, for bringing something into existence from another thing (ījād al-shayʾ min shayʾ), as in He created you from a single soul (Q 4:1), and He created man from a drop of fluid (Q 16:4); We created man from an essence of clay (q.v.) (Q 23:12); and He created the jinn from smokeless fire (Q 55:12). Creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing, al-ibdāʿ) is only for Allah Most High… And if it is said that His saying, So blessed is Allah, the best of creators (aḥsan al-khāliqīn) (Q 23:14), implies that others can be creators besides Him, then one answer is that here aḥsan al-khāliqīn stands for aḥsan al-muqaddirīn (the best of those who proportion), and a second response is that the verse refers to the belief of the polytheists, who believed that there are creators other than Allah; but even according to their beliefs, Allah is the best of those who create. (Mufradāt, sub kh-l-q)

Ten other roots have direct bearing on the theme of creation:

  1. b-d-ʿ: To make something for the first time (ibtidāʾ al-shayʾ), that is, creating it without any previous pattern (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, bāb al-bāʾ wal-dāl wa mā baʿdahumā fī-l-thulāthī). The root occurs four times (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub b-d-ʿ): once (Q 57:27) as the Form VIII verb ibtadaʿū [-]; once (Q 46:9) as the noun bidʿ; and twice (Q 2:117; 6:101) as the noun badīʿ—both times referring to Allah Most High. “When al-ibdāʿ is used for Allah Most High, it refers to creation of a thing (ījād al-shayʾ) without instrument (āla), material (mādda), time (zamān) and space (makān)” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-d-ʿ). Both Qurʾānic occurrences of badīʿ (Q 2:117; 6:101) have the same wording, “badīʿu-l-samāwāti wal-arḍi—the Originator of the heavens and the earth.Badīʿ is on the pattern of “faʿīl” for the sake of emphasis (lil-mubālagha). Allah Most High is the Originator of the heavens and the earth: He causes them to exist (munshiʿuhā), He brings them into being (mūjiduhā), He is their mubdiʿ (Originator), and He causes them to be (mukhtariʿuhā) without previous model and form (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:117);
  2. b-d-ʾ: Al-Rāghib explains that all verbs stemming from this root (badaʾtu, abdaʾtu, and ibtadaʾtu) have the sense of “qaddama—to do something before something else, to give precedence or priority to.” The noun badʾ means beginning: And He began (wa badaʾa) the creation of human being from clay (Q 32:7); Say: travel through the earth and see how He began (badaʾa) creation (Q 29:20); Allah begins (yabdaʾu) creation (Q 10:34); as He originated you (badaʾakum), you will return (Q 7:29). He goes on to explain:

Allah is al-Mubdiʾ al-Muʿīd (He Who begins and repeats), because He is the cause of the beginning and the end… And the saying of the Most High, bādiʾ-l-raʾyi (Q 11:27)—also read without ḥamza, bādiya-l-raʾyi—means, “the first hasty and inconsiderate opinion (al-raʾy al-faṭīr), an opinion expressed without full consideration. Something can be called badīʾ when it is not yet known, never mentioned before, it is similar [in meaning] to al-badīʿ (initial, foremost, unprecedented) in the sense that it has never been produced before (Mufradāt, sub b-dʾ).

Al-Mubdiʾ is one of the Most Beautiful Names of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, as He originates and brings into existence things without any precedent (min ghayr sābiq mithāl) (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, bāb al-alif). He originates the creation (Q 10:4; cf. Q 10:34; 21:104; 27:64). This “origination” is contrasted with His “repeating” (iʿāda) of creation on the Day of Reckoning (q.v.), as mentioned in the continuation of the foregoing verse, then He brings it back again (thumma yuʿīduhu; also see Q 10:34; 30:11; 29:19). The triliteral root b-d-ʾ appears fifteen times in the Qurʾān; twelve times as Form I verb (badaʾa; Q 7:29; 9:13; 10:4, 34, 2x; 12:76; 21:104; 27:64; 29:20; 30:11, 27; 32:7) and three times as Form IV verb “abdaʾa - yubdiʾu - ibdāʾan” (Q 29:19; 34:49; 85:13) (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub b-d-ʿ);

  1. b-r-ʾ: To create; it is generally considered to be a synonym of khalaqa (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs, bāb al-bāʾ wal-rāʾ wa mā maʿahumā fī-l-thulāthī; Samarqandī, Baḥr; Māwardī, Nukat; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:54). The root appears 31 times in the Qurʾān in ten derived forms (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub b-d-ʿ). The relevant forms are: the active participle al-Bāriʾ, as in: He is Allah the Creator (al-khāliq), al-Bāriʾ, the Bestower of forms (al-muṣawwir) (Q 59:24). The construct Bāriʾikum—your Creator occurs twice in Q 2:54 – 2x). It exclusively refers to Allah (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub b-r-ʾ). B-r-ʾ is generally used for the creation of animate beings; your Creator refers to the creation of the rational beings, both male and female; the noun bariyya (Q 98:6; 2x), which has the same meaning as khalq (the created, creatures), also used for creation of animate beings (al-ḥayawān); because baraʾa is used in reference to the creation of human beings and word khalaqa is used in reference to the creation of the heavens and the earth (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, bāb al-alif, faṣl al-hamza, stem b-r-ʾ). Creation, expressed by baraʾa means that Allah Most High creates the created (khalaqa-l-khalq) without following a previous model (lā ʿan mithāl) (Ibn al-Athīr, Nihāya, sub baraʾa; Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān). Baraʾa has a specific semantical field slightly different from khalaqa (Zabīdī, Tāj, faṣl al-hamza). Al-Bāriʾ is the One Who has created you free of defects (al-ʿuyūb), insufficiency (al-nuqṣān) and contradiction (al-tafāwut) and He has differentiated you one from another (mayyaza baʿḍakum min baʿḍ) by bestowing upon you various forms and outward appearances (Abū al-Suʿūd, Irshād);
  2. j-ʿ-l: To make, to perform, to do; generally, it is considered to be the synonym of faʿala and ṣanaʿa, but it has a broader usage (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub j-ʿ-l). The root appears three hundred and forty-six times in the Qurʾān (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub j-ʿ-l). The verb jaʿala is used in thirteen senses in the Qurʾān and in Arabic more broadly; one of them is “khalq—creation,” as in His Words, and He made the darknesses and the light (Q 6:1; see Light; Darkness); the meaning of jaʿala in this verse is khalaqa (Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, baṣīra fī-l-jaʿl; Makkī, Hidāya; Māwardī, Nukat; Baghawī, Samʿānī, Tafsīrs). As a synonym of the verb “khalaqa” (cf. e.g.: Q 2:30; 35:1), jaʿala means “to create”, as in Q 16:78, and He created for you hearing and vision (Wāḥidī, Wajīz); and We have made the night and day two signs (Q 17:12); and He made the sun a burning lamp (Q 71:16) and He has placed firm mountains (rawāsiya) therein (Q 27:61) (Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, al-Radd, tafsīr al-jahmiyya li-jaʿl bi-maʿnā khalq wal-radd ʿalayhim, pp. 216-217);
  3.  n-sh-ʾ: The Form I verb nashaʾa means “to be or to become high or elevated”; the verbal nouns are al-nashʾ and al-nashʾa, bearing the meaning of “bringing something or someone into being (inshāʾ) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub n-sh-ʾ). In the verse, and you have already known the first creation (al-nashʾata-l-ūlā) (Q 56:62), nashʾa refers to man’s creation in his mother’s womb (q.v.) (Samarqandī, Baḥr, Wāḥidī, Wajīz); it refers to the Day of Resurrection in, then Allah will produce the final creation (yunshiʾu-l-nashʾata-l-ākhira) (Q 29:20; cf. Q 53:47), which represents the revivification of the created after death (Makkī, Hidāya; see Death and the Dead). In most cases the verb is used in connection with living creatures (al-ḥayawān), especially Form IV verb anshaʾa, “causing to come into existence (ījād).” Ibn Manẓūr (630-711/1232-1311) considers it a synonym of “khalaqa—to create”; the Arabic phrase “anshaʾahu-Llāhu” is paraphrased as “Allah created it” (Lisān, sub n-sh-ʾ). The root appears 28 times in seven derived forms (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub n-sh-ʾ);
  4. f-ṭ-r: To split, to cleave. When used in the connection with Allah Most High, as in the phrase “faṭara-Llāhu-l-khalqa” it means “Allah caused something to come into being (ījāduhū)” (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub f-ṭ-r). Allah Most High is the Cleaver (fāṭir) of the Heavens and the earth (fāṭir al-samāwāti wal-arḍi; cf. Q 6:14; 12:10; 14:10; 35:1; 39:46; 42:11). The root appears twenty times in the Qurʾān in six derived forms (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub f-ṭ-r);
  5. k-w-n: refers to the time that passed, and expresses the existence of something (Rāghib, Mufradāt). Though this does not appear in the Qurʾān, Form II (kawwana—yukawwinu—takwīnan) has a close relation to creation: takwīn means “assembling, producing and creating.” The difference between ibtidāʿ—creating something that has no previous pattern, nor material or time-related precedence (ghayr masbūq bi-mādda wa lā zamān)—and takwīn is that the latter means producing something from an existing material (Jurjānī, Taʿrīfāt, bāb al-alif; bāb al-tāʾ) (for more discussion on this usage see below);
  6. ṣ-w-r: Fashioning and forming something. It normally refers to the shaping of a thing after its creation: And We have certainly created you, and then given you shape (thumma ṣawwarnākum) (Q 7:11; cf. 3:6; 40:64; 64:3); the conjunction “thumma—then,” according to one interpretation, refers to temporal distance between the acts of creating and shaping. Other exegetical opinions suggest that creation refers to the creation of Ādam, upon him peace (q.v.), and ṣawwarnākum to his progeny in the wombs of their mothers (Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī; Qurṭubī; Bayḍāwī). This root also yields one of the Beautiful Names of Allah (q.v.), al-Muṣawwir, the Fashioner: He is Allah, the Creator (al-Khāliq), the Originator (al-Bāriʾ), the Fashioner (al-Muṣawwir); to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names (Q 59:24). The root appears nineteen times in five derived forms: once (Q 2:260) as the imperative form of the Form I verb (ṣur); four times (Q 3:6; 7:11; 40:64; 64:3) as the Form II verb (ṣawwara); ten times as the noun ṣūr (“trumpet”); three times (Q 40:64; 64:3; 82:8) as the noun ṣūra (“form”); once (59:24) as the Form II active participle, as one of the Most Beautiful Names of Allah Most High—al-muṣawwir (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub ṣ-w-r).
  7. q-d-r: To fix proportions; to ordain. Form II verb qaddara is used sixteen times in verses which emphasize precise determination of each created thing: He is Who made the sun a radiance, and the moon a light, and determined (qaddarahū) for it stations, that you might know the number of years and the reckoning [of time]; Allah did not create these save in truth. He expounds the signs for a people who know (Q 10:5); and He created everything, then measured it out with due measure (fa-qaddarahu taqdīran; Q 25:2); From a drop He created him, then proportioned him (Q 80:19);
  8. s-w-y: (to proportion): The phrase created you in Q 82:7, Who created you (khalaqaka), then proportioned you (fa-sawwāka), and wrought you in symmetry, “means that He, the Sublime, decreed and fixed the proportions of the creature (qaddara khalq) from a drop of sperm, then fashioned and proportioned the creature in the mother’s womb” (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). The sequence of khalq, taqdīr, and taswiya is further emphasized in other verses: from a drop of sperm He created him, and then set him in due proportion (fa-qaddarahu) (Q 80:19). This implies stages (aṭwār; drop of sperm - nuṭfa, then embryo - muḍgha) in the creation of a human (Wāḥidī, Wajīz).


The Most Beautiful Names of Allah and Creation

A distinctive feature of the Qurʾānic treatment of the theme of creation is the use of the Most Beautiful Names of Allah to refer to various aspects of creation. These include al-Khāliq (Q 6:102, 13:16, 15:28, 23:14, 35:3, 37:125, 38:71, 39:62, 40:62, 52:35, 56:59, 59:24), which emphasizes Divine determination in creation, and al-Khallāq intensifies this; al-Bāriʾ (Q 2:54 x2; Q 59:24) conveys that what He creates is free from flaw and is in harmonious proportion; al-Badīʿ (Q 2:117, 6:101) emphasizes creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing, “without any instrument, matter, time or space” (Tāj)‫. The use of the Name Badīʿ in Q 2:116-117 is especially pertinent: And they say, ‘Allah has taken to Him a son.’ Glory be to Him! Nay, to Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth; all obey His will. The Existentiator (badīʿ) of the heavens and the earth; and when He decrees a thing, He but says to it ’Be,’ and it is. Nāṣir al-Dīn Abū Saʿīd ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) argues that the choice of the Name Badīʿ in this verse constitutes a proof against the claim that Allah Most High took a son. Allah Most High is the Absolute Agent, Who existentiates all things from nothing; this is far more complete and transcendent beyond the act of fathering a child (Tafsīr). Al-Muṣawwir (Q 59:24) denotes that the beautiful forms encountered in creation, both physical and intelligible (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub ṣ-w-r), are of His artful shaping. Al-Fāṭīr (Q 6:14, 12:101, 14:10, 35:1, 39:46, 42:11), derived from f-ṭ-r (“to cleave something”), is suggestive of having been rent asunder and the appearance of the cosmos ex nihilo.

Exegetical reflections on the rhetorical nuances of the use of the Most Beautiful Names and the implied links to the central themes of the Qurʾān—the foremost of which is tawḥīd, the Absolute Oneness of the Creator—include extensive discussions on Q 2:54, where the Name Bāriʾ is used twice. The distinction between khāliq and bāriʾ is explained as the former denoting “the Determiner of things in accordance with the His Wisdom”, and the latter being “the Existentiator of things, [such that they are] free from flaws” (barīʾan min al-tafāwut) (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr).

Divine Purpose, Knowledge, Harmony, Wisdom, Power, and Sovereignty in Creation

Purpose and Objectives

Numerous verses point out that creation inherently involves purpose and objectives (Q 2:21, 11:119, 45:22, 51:49, 51:56, 67:2). An important debate among classical scholars with regard to Divine “objectives” in creation pivots on Q 51:56: I created the jinn and mankind only that they might worship Me. Two possibilities are discussed: (i) Did Allah Most High create these conscious, responsible creatures because He wished to be worshipped; or (ii) does the objective of worship pertain solely to His creatures, as their objective, and not His? The Ashʿarī rejection of the former view is based on its unacceptable implication: that is, fulfilling an objective of the Divine will implies that Divine perfection is contingent upon a particular action, such that were the action not to be carried out, the Divine Essence would remain in some sense imperfect. On the other hand, Muʿtazilī position, as explained by al-Zamakhsharī, holds that the actions of Allah Most High are in fact motivated by objectives. He argues that His realization of these motives is contingent on the free will of His creation, over which He has no control: “That is, I did not create the jinn and mankind except for the sake of worshipping. ... Should you say, “if He willed worship from them, surely they would all be worshippers?” I would say “He only willed that they worship having chosen to worship Him, not having been compelled to do so, for He created them such that they have their own power. Some of them thus chose to abandon worship, even though He willed it from them; had He willed it for all, in the sense of coercion, they would have all worshipped” (Kashshāf, sub Q 51:56).

From the Muʿtazilī perspective, then, Allah Most High wills that His creatures worship Him, but has ordered the universe in such a manner that the realization of His will is contingent on the free choice of His creatures—if they choose not to worship Him, His will remains at least partially unfulfilled. This view follows from the Muʿtazilī non-recognition of the distinction between amr (“command”) and irāda (“volition”; see below) (See Divine Decree).

Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) upholds the view of the Ashʿarī school in his interpretation of Q 51:56: “The actions of Allah Most High are never carried out for the sake of attaining an objective, for then He would be seeking a perfection [not already in His Essence] through the attainment of that objective. However, He is Perfect in His own Essence—how then can His commands be understood as involving the attainment of objectives, and caused by motives? The Muʿtazila upheld this position, and said that the actions of Allah are carried out in order to attain objectives, and they went to great lengths in condemning those who reject this” (Tafsīr). The Ottoman exegete Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqi Burūsawī (1063-1137/1653-1725), while broadly advocating the Ashʿarī position, refines and nuances its assertions. He argues that no one contests that great ends are achieved through Allah’s actions; after all, His actions are constitute His mercy and generosity to His servants. However, it is unbefitting of the Most High to hold that His actions were caused by His desire to attain a goal, such that were it not for the motive, He would not have done the action. That would imply that He seeks perfection by means of an action (istikmālihi bi fiʿlin), whereas He is actually Perfect (al-kāmil bil-fiʿl) in every way (and doesn’t need actions to achieve perfection). That said, His actions do bring about perfect ends (Rūḥ al-Bayān).

A verse containing a similar tension is Q 2:21: O you people, serve your Lord Who created you, and those that were before you; haply so you will be God-fearing. One interpretation holds that so you will be God-fearing pertains not to serve your Lord, but to created you. According to this interpretation, Allah Most High created the creation with the “objective” that they be God-fearing, whereas according to the dominant interpretation, the construction means that through serving Allah Most High, creatures can hope to become God-fearing. Al-Rāzī holds that the former interpretation is suited to the principles of the Muʿtazila (Tafsīr); Bayḍāwī is milder, merely calling it a “weak” interpretation (Tafsīr).


While the notion of Divine “objectives” underlying creation is subject to scholarly dispute, the entailment of all-encompassing Divine knowledge, sovereignty, power and wisdom in ex nihilo creation is, on the other hand, uncontested. The Creator must necessarily possess full and detailed knowledge of the created world; after all, He is the One who created the world and specified all of its particulars. Numerous verses indicate the cogency of this line of reasoning by explicitly linking creation to Divine knowledge, such as: And We created above you seven layered heavens, and We were not heedless of creation (Q 23:17); If you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and earth?’ they will say, ‘The Mighty, the All-knowing created them’ (Q 43:9); We indeed created man and We know what his soul whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than the jugular vein (Q 50:16); Should He not know what He created? And He is the Subtle, the Aware (Q 67:14). In his commentary on Q 50:16, Burūsawī explains that each created thing has a timeless “fixed state” in the knowledge of Allah Most High, which underlies its external state “after” its creation. This fixed state contains even the minutest facts about every aspect of what will take place as that creature’s creation unfolds. “Allah Most High knows the state of man before his creation, with a knowledge [that pertains] to his fixed state, just as He knows him after his creation with active knowledge. That which [a man] whispers to himself is included in [Allah’s knowledge], for it is also created by Allah, and His creation is unconditionally known to Him” (Rūḥ al-Bayān).

The metaphysical necessity of the all-encompassing quality of this knowledge is explained by al-Rāzī in his commentary on Q 67:14, Should He not know what He created? And He is the Subtle, the Aware:

The meaning of the verse is that someone who creates something must know what he is creating; just as this premise is established as true by this unequivocal text, so is it established as true by means of rational proofs. For creation (al-khalq) is tantamount to intentionally bringing things into being (al-ījād wal-takwīn), and someone who  intends to do something must have knowledge of the essence of that thing, because it is impossible for someone who is heedless of a thing to intend to do it. Moreover, just as it is established that the Creator must have knowledge of the quiddity of the created thing, so too must He have knowledge of its quantity, for its realization (li-anna wuqūʿahu) in a particular measure, rather than as something lesser or greater, must be the result of the intention and his choice (bi-qaṣd al-fāʿil wa-khtiyārihi). And the intention must be preceded by knowledge, and He must therefore have known that measure and willed to existentiate that measure, such that the occurrence of that measure has priority over the occurrence of that which is greater or smaller than it. Otherwise that measure having been specified to occur, rather than the greater or the smaller, would constitute [an instance of] the preponderance of one of the two inherent potentialities [i.e. either its existence or nonexistence] of a possible being over the other without a preponderator, which is impossible. It is thus established as true that the one who creates a thing must know the essence of that creation, in both its quantity and its quality (Tafsīr).

The mere fact, then, of differentiation and specificity within creation—the fact that the creation is this one, of a particular quality and quantity, rather than another possible one of a different quality and quantity—demonstrates that its creator must have had maximally detailed knowledge of what He was to create, because otherwise the existence of this particular cosmos preponderating over that of another would have taken place without anything causing that preponderance, which is impossible.

The Qurʾān repeatedly asserts that creation has occurred bil-ḥaqq (“with truth”) (Q 6:73, 14:19, 16:3, 29:44, 30:8, 39:5, 44:39, 45:22, 46:3). Early exegetes differed about the proper interpretation of this evocative phrase. According to Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923), the early exegetes generally explain it as meaning that the creation of the heavens and the earth took place “in truth and unerringly, not in falsehood and erroneously” (ḥaqqan wa ṣawāban lā bāṭilan wa khaṭaʾan); or, “by means of His speech” by which they refer to the existentiating command “Be” which the same verse describes as “His true word” (qawluhū al-ḥaqq) (Tafsīr, sub Q 6:73).

Al-Bayḍāwī interprets bil-ḥaqq as meaning “founded upon truth and wisdom” (Tafsīr, sub Q 6:73). In his al-Taʾwīlāt al-Najmiyya, the founder of the eponymous Sufi order, Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā (540-618/1146-1217) offers an interpretation consistent with a Sufi conception of Qurʾānic cosmology, glossing bil-ḥaqq as “for truth (lil-ḥaqq), that is, to make manifest the Attributes of the Real (al-ḥaqq)” (Al-Taʾwīlāt al-Najmiyya, sub Q 6:73).


All constituent parts of this enormously vast cosmos display a remarkable harmony—from the layered seven heavens to the depths of the oceans (q.v.), there is no disparity in the extraordinary interdependence of the manifest cosmos. Some of this—the harmony of the sun (q.v.) and the moon (q.v.), for example—is easily observed by human beings: It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They all traverse [their own] orbit (Q 36:40). The Qurʾān invites its readers to reflect on the harmony of the observable phenomena in the cosmos. Allah is the One Who created seven heavens, one upon another; no disharmony shall you see in the creation of the Most Merciful. Cast your sight again; do you see any flaw? Then cast your sight once more; your sight will return to you humbled and wearied (Q 67:3-4). The lack of any disharmony (tafāwut)—which is glossed as lack of proportion or balance (ʿadam al-tanāsub), such that parts of it fail to be in harmony with other parts (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Rāzī, Tafsīr)—is indicative of the absolute Divine Knowledge and Power, as well as of His Sovereignty over all creation, which obeys, glorifies, and prostrates to His August Majesty (Q 17:44; 24:41; 57:1; 59:1, 24; 61:1; 62:1; 64:1): The seven heavens, and the earth, and whosoever is in them glorify Him. And there is no thing, save that it hymns His praise, though you do not understand their praise. Truly He is Clement, Forgiving (Q 17:44). Several other verses indicate the extraordinary harmony of various constituents of the manifest cosmos as well as its purposeful creation: All things are created in truth (Q 44:38–39): And We did not create the heavens and the earth and whatsoever is between them in play. We did not create them, save in truth. But most of them know not (see also Q 6:73; 10:5; 14:19; 15:85; 16:3; 29:44; 30:8; 39:5; 45:22; 46:3). This harmony and balance in the cosmos is mirrored in the Qurʾān itself, for whoever contemplates the Qurʾān will find no incongruity in it (Q 4:82).


Related to the symmetry and harmony of the creation by the One, Unique God—Who encompasses all knowledge—is His Wisdom, without which the creation, which indeed evinces such wisdom, would have been impossible. One aspect of Divine Wisdom can be experientially conceived through contemplation of the manifest cosmos, as Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (450-505/1058-1111) explains in his short treatise, Al-ḥikmah fi Makhluqāti-Llāh (Wisdom in the Creation of Allah), which takes fourteen realms of creation (from the heavens and earth to vegetation) displaying signs of Divine Wisdom. Likewise, al-Ghazālī points out various aspects of Divine Wisdom in his masterpiece, Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-dīn. Perceptive knowledge (idrāk) of the Wisdom of Allah Most High in every created thing has an apparent and a hidden facet (jaliyya wa khafiyya). An example of the apparent wisdom is in the creation of the sun, which makes distinction between the day and night possible—the day being a time suitable for working for livelihood (cf. Q 78:11) and night being like a cloak (cf. Q 78:10), providing the opportunity to rest therein (cf. Q 10:67)—and He has made the night for repose (Q 6:96). The hidden mysteries of the Wisdom of creation, which one reaches through reflection, lead one to reach gnosis of Allah (al-wuṣūl ilā-Llāh)” (Iḥyāʾ, 4:80, al-rukn al-awwal fī nafs al-shukr, bayān tamyīz mā yuḥibbuhū-Llāhu taʿālā ʿammā yakrahuhū).

In a passage (Q 28:71-73) full of rhetoric subtly and force, Divine Wisdom in the creation of the night and the day is thematically linked to His mercy: Say, “Have you considered: if Allah should make night come over you unceasingly until the Day of Resurrection, what god other than Allah would bring you light? Will you not, then, listen?” Say, “Have you considered: if Allah should make day come over you unceasingly until the Day of Resurrection, what god other than Allah would bring you night, that you might rest therein? Will you not, then, see?” Out of His Mercy He made for you night and day, that you may rest therein, and that you may seek of His Bounty, and that haply you may give thanks. The invitation to contemplate the specific bounties of the alteration of the day and night, the former allowing work and the fulfillment of needs and the latter rest and tranquility, leads the contemplative soul to thankfulness (Rāzī, Tafsīr) for the beneficial aspects of both the night and the day (see Night and Day). Abū al-ʿAbbād Aḥmad b. Muḥammad Ibn ʿAjība al-Fāsī (d. 1224/1809) extends the apparent rhythms of the night and the day to the states of the soul and likens the day to the expansion of the inner soul and the night to its contraction and says that their alteration is a blessing, for if one were to experience excessive expansion, one would become bold and importunate; relentless presence of the night and of contraction, on the other hand, would make one despairing and timid (Baḥr).


Numerous Qurʾānic verses are explicit about the manner in which creation implies a Creator of infinite power, including: She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal has touched me? He said: So it will be. Allah creates what He will. If He decrees a thing, He says unto it only: Be! and it is (Q 3:47); For to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and of the earth, and all that is between them; He creates what He will. Allah is powerful over everything (Q 5:17); He created the heavens without pillars you can see (Q 31:10); Could they not see that Allah, Who created them, was mightier than them in power? (Q 41:15); What, have they not seen that Allah Who created the heavens and earth, not being wearied by creating them, is able to give life to the dead? Yes indeed; He is powerful over everything (Q 46:33); We created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days, and no weariness touched Us (50:38). The Quran uses the existence of the created world to establish the possibility of the Hereafter (q.v.): surely, the power behind this creation is capable of creating an afterlife. This theme will be discussed in detail in the “Recreation” section below.


The absolute sovereignty of Allah Most High over His creation is one of the principal implications of the doctrine of tawḥīd (The Oneness of God). Allah Most High is the sole Creator of everything. Before His act of creation, there was nothing beside Him. This is elucidated in the sound Prophetic hadith, “Allah was, and there was nothing other than Him” (Bukhārī, Badʾ al-Khalq, Mā jāʾa fī Qawl Allāh Taʿālā Wa Huwa alladhī yabdaʾu al-khalqa thumma yuʿīduhū wa Huwa ahwanu ʿalayh). Being the sole Creator of everything, Allah is the Absolute Sovereign over His creation. The Qurʾānic critique of polytheism (q.v., shirk) is based on this fact. The so-called “gods”—whether idols or spirits— are themselves created by Allah Most High, and therefore profoundly unworthy of being worshipped: They ascribe to Allah the jinn as associates, though He created them (Q 6:100); What, do they associate [with Allah] that which create nothing and are themselves created; and that have no power to help them, or even help themselves? (Q 7:191-192); Is He who creates as he who does not create? Will you not reflect? (Q 16:17); And those they call upon, apart from Allah, created nothing, and themselves are created (Q 16:20); Surely those upon whom you call, apart from Allah, can never create (even) a fly, even if they banded together to do it (Q 22:73); Yet they have taken gods, apart from Him, that create nothing and themselves are created (Q 25:3); This is the Creation of Allah. Now show me that which those (you worship) beside Him have created. Nay, but the wrong-doers are in manifest error (Q 31:11); Say: ‘Have you considered your associates on whom you call, apart from Allah? Show me what they have created in the earth (Q 35:11); Or were they created out of nothing? Or are they the creators? Or did they create the heavens and earth? Nay, but they do not have sure faith (Q 52:35-36).

In his commentary on Q 7:191, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad Abū Manṣūr al-Māturīdī (d. 333/ca.945), the founder of the eponymous theological school, comments that “their directing their worship to other than the One Who created them constitutes insolence and injustice” (Taʾwīlāt). Al-Ṭabarī comments that their “gods” “are not able to come to their aid if Allah wills adversity for them … nor do they have the power to come to the aid of their own selves, nor to divert any harm from themselves” (Tafsīr, sub Q 7:192). Allah’s absolute sovereignty, then, is a corollary of His unique ability to create.

Commenting on Q 16:17 (Is He who creates as he who does not create?), Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī says: “He [Allah Most High] has differentiated Himself from the rest of the things that they used to worship by His Attribute of Being Creator (bi-ṣifati-l-khāliqiyya), for the purpose of His words, Is He who creates as he who does not create? is to make clear that He is distinguished from [alleged] peers (andād) by [this] Attribute of Being Creator, and that His entitlement to Divinity and to being worshipped arises exactly because of His being the Creator” (Tafsīr). Al-Rāzī’s argument, in fact, occurs in the context of establishing, in opposition to the Muʿtazila, that Allah Most High creates human actions. Part of the absolute sovereignty of Allah Most High, according to the Ashʿarī and Māturīdī schools, is that He has predestined and created even the outwardly volitional actions of His conscious, responsible creatures. The most suggestive Qurʾānic proof text for this position is probably Q 37:96: Do you worship that which you carve, when Allah created you and all that you do? (see Divine Decree for a detailed discussion).

The Qurʾān teaches that all of the elements of creation, whether conscious or apparently inanimate, acknowledge and glorify Allah on an innate level. One of the most evocative examples of this is Q 17:44: The seven heavens and the earth and all therein glorify Him; nothing there is, but that it proclaims His praise, but you do not understand their praise. Surely He is Clement, Forgiving. This verse follows two verses that refute the possibility of a multitude of gods: Say: ‘If there had been other gods with Him, as they say, in that case assuredly they would have sought a way unto the Lord of the Throne.’ Glory be to Him! High indeed be He exalted above that they say! (Q 17:42-43) Explaining one of the possible interpretations of 17:44, Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) tells us that “every being originated ex nihilo (muḥdath) bearing witness to itself that Allah Mighty and Majestic is the Creator and He has power [over all things]” (Tafsīr). Other verses also suggest this acknowledgement, such as Q 16:48, Have they not regarded all things that Allah has created casting their shadows to the right and to the left, bowing themselves before Allah in all lowliness? and Q 55:6, and the stars and the trees prostrate themselves (see Shade; Tree). Nature thus bears witness to the authority of Allah Most High; it is only beings with free choice and the capacity to disobey Him who are able to choose not to recognize it, Have you not seen how to Allah bow all who are in the heavens and all who are in the earth, the sun and the moon, the stars and the mountains, the trees and the beasts, and many of mankind? (Q 22:18). As a free agent, therefore, human being requires special encouragement to recognize the truth, which in the Qurʾān often takes the form of a reminder of His ex nihilo creation, as in Q 2:21, O you human beings, serve your Lord Who created you, and those that were before you; Q 19:67, Will not human being remember that We created him aforetime, when he was nothing?; and Q 30:40, Allah is He Who created you, then He provided for you, then He shall make you dead, then He shall give you life; is there any of your associates who does anything of that? Glory be to Him! Exalted is He and high above what they associate with Him.

Difference between khalq and amr

The noun amr (pl. awāmir: orders, commands; umūr: things, issues) from the root ʾ-m-r is used one hundred and sixty-six times (ʿAbd al-Bāqī, Muʿjam, sub ʾ-m-r) in thirteen, seventeen, or eighteen different senses according to various views (al-ʿAskarī, al-Wujūh, al-amr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Nuzhat, kitāb al-alif, bāb al-amr; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir, baṣīra fī-l-amr, respectively). Q 7:54 uses both khalq and amr: Surely, His is the creation (al-khalq) and the command (wal-amr); blessed be Allah, the Lord of the Worlds. This was a pivotal verse in the debates which arose during the fifteen years (218-234/833–848) of inquisition (miḥna), when, four months before his death in 234/833, the ʿAbbāsid Caliph al-Maʾmūn officially adopted the Muʿtazilī doctrine that the Qurʾān was created. In the context of creation, the majority of exegetes consider khalq to refer to creation and amr to refer to the Divine command addressed to the creation (cf. Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Khāzin; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlat; Wāḥidī, al-Wajīz, sub Q 7:54).

The Ḥanafī jurist and ascetic Abū al-Layth Naṣr b. Muḥammad al-Samarqandī (d. 373/983) explains: “Know that the creation belongs to Allah Most High; He has brought everything into existence and His amr governs His creation (nāfidh fī khalqihi)” (Baḥr). Explaining the difference between khalq and amr, al-Rāzī says that everything besides Allah either belongs to the realm of creation (ʿālam al-khalq) or to the realm of amr (ʿālam al-amr). The things that belong to the realm of creation are those that have a physical body (jism) or bodily traits (jusmānī), or are specified by a particular proportion (bi-miqdār muʿayyan); conversely, anything free from bodily measures (al-ḥajmiyya) and proportions belongs to the realm of amr. The realm of creation is the sphere of beings that are subjugated by Allah Most High (fī taskhīri-Llāh), and the realm of amr means Allah’s management of the created beings (tadbīru-Llāh) (Tafsīr, sub Q 7:54). Al-Qurṭubī, likewise, differentiates between khalq and amr: creation (khalq) means that which is created (al-makhlūq), and amr refers to His Word (kalāmuhu)—kun—which is not created: His Command when He desires a thing is only to say to it, “Be!” and it is (Q 36:82). Al-Qurṭubī uses this distinction to levy several arguments against the Muʿtazilī position that the Qurʾān is created:

  1. If Allah’s Word, that is His amr, were created, He would have said: “alā lahu-l-khalq wal-khalq—His is the creation and the creation.” But this is nonsense (ʿiyy), and Allah is Exalted above speaking a word that has no meaning and no benefit (lā fāʾida fīhi).
  2. Allah says: and of His signs is that the Heaven and the earth remain by His Command (Q 30:25); and the sun and the moon and the stars are subjected to His Command (Q 7:54; cf. Q 16:12). The created beings (al-makhlūqāt) remain in existence (qāʾimatun) by His Command (bi-amrihi). If amr were created, it would require something else for it to exist, and that would require something else, and so on, endlessly (lā-nihāya), and that is impossible (muḥāl). This proves that His amr, i.e. His Word, is eternal and not created.
  3. Allah says: And We have not created the heavens and earth and that which is between them except in truth (illā bil-ḥaqq) (Q 15:85; cf. Q 46:3). He has created them with truth, that is, with Word (al-qawl); His Word to whatsoever is to be created is “Be!” If truth were created, it would be impossible to create with it another creature, for creation is not created by the created (li-anna-l-khalq lā yukhlaq bi-makhlūq).
  4. Amr is not Will (irāda), as claimed by the Muʿtazila. Allah may order a matter that He does not want and prohibit what he wants. For example, the Creator ordered Ibrāhīm to sacrifice his son (cf. Q 37:102) though He did not Will that from him; and He ordered His Prophet to establish fifty prayers in his Community, but He willed only five prayers. He willed the martyrdom of Ḥamza, when He said, and [He may] take to Himself from among you martyrs (Q 3:140), yet He prohibited the disbelievers from killing him and never ordered it. (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:54).

Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Ibrāhīm b. ʿUmar al-Khāzin (678-741/1280-1341) further clarifies that the usage means that He has created His creation and He alone has the exclusive right to order them (wa lahū an yaʾmura) whatever He wills and to make decisions regarding them as He wants (Khāzin, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:54).

kun fa-yakūn: Modalities of creation

The precise meaning of bringing something into existence has occupied commentators of the Qurʾān for the whole history of exegesis. The Qurʾān simply informs us that creation is accomplished through a simple verbal command: When He decrees a thing, He but says to it (idhā qaḍā amran fa-innamā yaqūlu lahū) ‘Be,’ and it is (kun fa-yakūn) (Q 2:117; also see Q 3:47, 59; 6:73; 16:40; 19:35; 36:82; 40:68). The brevity is equally striking in Q 16:40, And Our word unto a thing, when We intend it, is only that We say unto it: Be! and it is.

Of the eight instances of the usage of kun fa-yakūn (Be! and it is), three (Q 3:47, 59; 19:35) specifically pertain to the creation of ʿĪsā, upon him peace: Truly the likeness of ʿĪsā in the sight of Allah is that of Ādam; He created him from dust, then said to him, ‘Be!’ and he was (Q 3:59). Q 3:47 provides more context through a dialogue with Maryam, upon her peace: She said: My Lord! How can I have a child when no mortal has touched me? He said: So it will be. Allah creates whatsoever He will. When He decrees a thing, He says unto it only: ‘Be,’ and it is. Q 19:35 refutes the belief by some Christians that ʿĪsā, upon him peace, is the son of God: It befits not Allah that He should take unto Himself a son. Glory be to Him! When He decrees a thing, He says unto it only: Be! and it is.

Of the other five usages, one (Q 40:68) mentions secondary causes but affirms that ultimately creation is through Divine Will: He is Who created you from dust, then from a drop, then from a blood clot. Then He brings you forth as infants, that you may then reach maturity, then that you may grow old—though some of you are taken earlier—that you may reach a term appointed, and that haply you may understand. He is [the One] Who gives life and causes death. So when He decrees a thing, He only says to it, ‘Be!’ and it is (40:67-68). The remaining four (Q 2:117; 6:73; 16:40; 36:82) include all acts of creation in the command to ‘Be!’

One of the questions posed by the commentators with respect to the creative command (Be!) is: how can a “thing” that is yet to be made to exist be given a command before it has been created? In his early exegesis, Muqātil b. Sulaymān al-Balkhī (d. 150/767) suggests that the “things” the Qurʾān refers to in these verses are objects of the knowledge of Allah Most High, glossing when He decrees a thing (Q 2:117) as “thing in His knowledge” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:117). In his Baḥr al-ʿUlūm, al-Samarqandī lays out the problem and provides two possible resolutions:

Were it to be asked, “Are His words “Be” an address to existent or to non-existent things (maʿdūmāt)?” If someone were to answer, “to non-existent entities,” they would be asked, “how can a non-existent thing be addressed, and how can it be addressed by saying ‘Be’?” If they were to answer, “it is existent particulars that are addressed,” they would be asked, “how can He command an [already] existent thing to ‘Be’?” Now, there are two answers to all of this. The first of them is that all things exist in the knowledge of Allah Most High before their created existence, and the address was thus to something existing in His knowledge. The other answer is that the meaning of ‘when He decrees a thing, He but says to it ‘Be,’ and it is’ is that when He wills to create something, He creates it, and the statement involved [‘Be’] is merely metaphorical.

The question is whether it is possible to understand the Qurʾānic “Be” as literally addressing an object. According to the early Ashʿarī view, this is impossible, as non-existent things are “pure nonexistence”; the verse must be taken as a metaphorical expression of the creative act of Allah Most High. Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Ḥabīb al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) seems to incline against this view, putting forward three different ways to resolve this issue:

The first [interpretation] is that it is a declaration from Allah Most High that His commands are in effect within His existent creation, just as He commanded the Children of Israel to be apes, despised and rejected. The meaning, then, is not the existentiation of non-existent things. The second is that Allah Mighty and Majestic knows all that will be before it is, and thus all things were in His knowledge before their existence, [in a form] resembling those things in their existent state. It was thus valid for Him to say “Be!” to them, and to command them to leave the state of nonexistence for the state of existence… The third is that it is a declaration from Allah Most High that pertains to everything He has existentiated, that if He wills to create it, it is, and comes to exist without [depending on] any statement that He must say, and that there is no more [in the act of creation] than His decree, which He wills; He expressed this as a statement, even though it is not a statement (ʿabbara ʿanhu bil-qawl wa in lam yakun qawlan) (Nukat, sub Q 2:117)

Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā favors the second of Māwardī's three explanations. He glosses Q 16:40 (The only words We say to a thing, when We will it, is that We say to it Be, and it is) as: “in Our perfect power, We do not require, in the existentiation and origination of a thing, the employment of instruments ... [Creation] is His beginninglessly eternal Will, in accordance with the entailments of His beginninglessly eternal Wisdom, through beginninglessly eternal Volition, connecting to beginninglessly eternal Power, which is all tantamount to “Be! and it is,” namely a nonexistent thing being taken out of Divine knowledge and into existence” (Al-Taʾwīlāt al-Najmiyya, sub Q 16:40). His contemporary, al-Rāzī, likewise, rejects the idea of a sequential modality, that is, the non-existence of a thing, followed by Divine command (Be!), and its coming into existence. He argues that the most likely meaning of the phrase is that it indicates the instantaneous implementation of Allah’s Power in creation, “for the Most High creates things without requiring preparation, experimentation, or preexisting models; an example of this is the creation of the heavens and the earth, as He said to the heavens and the earth, Come both of you, willingly or unwillingly. They said: We come, obedient” (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:117).

Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī Burūsawī (Ismail Hakkı Bursevî, 1063-1137/1653-1725) represents a circumspect Ashʿarī view in his Rūḥ al-Bayān (sub Q 2:116):

Know that the People of the Prophetic path (ahl al-Sunna) do not consider that the existence of things pertains to this command, namely “Be”, but that their existence pertains to His creation (bi-khalqihi), origination (wa ījādihi), and existentiation (wa takwīnihi), which is a beginninglessly eternal Attribute. This phrase [Be and it is] [merely] expresses the rapidity with which a created thing obtains through His origination and perfect power to [create] it, but no one has knowledge of the [exact] manner by which His Power pertains to nonexistent entities, and [one] must thus abstain from investigating the matter, just as is the case of investigating the manner in which the Creator exists, and the manner in which the punishment after death takes place, for these are all mysteries (fa-innahā min al-ghawāmiḍ).

Abū Thanāʾ Shihāb al-Dīn al-Ālūsī (1217-1270/1803-1854) adopts a view, which he ascribes to the Ḥanafī Māturīdis, in contrast to what is associated with the early Ashʿarī position:

As the critical verifiers (muḥaqqiqūn) amongst our masters, the Ḥanafīs, have maintained, the command (Be) is to be interpreted in its literal sense. Allah Most High has in His existentiation of things made it His custom to existentiate them with this word, even though it would not be impossible [for Him] to existentiate them with another [word], and what is intended is the Beginninglessly Eternal Speech, because it is impossible for a sequentially ordered word to have subsistence in His essence, and because [Be] is [itself] originated ex nihilo, and would thus require its own address, and so on ad infinitum. (Rūḥ, sub Q 2:117)

On the question of whether the essence of a thing in the knowledge of Allah Most High “before” it is created can be said to be an actual “thing” (shayʾ), that is, a subsistent entity, Burūsawī and Ālūsī, among the later exegetes, take contrasting views. Discussing Q 16:40, Burūsawī says, “If you say, ‘[this verse] contains a proof that nonexistent is a ‘thing’ (anna-l-maʿdūm shayʾ), because He named it [thus] before its creation,’ I say, ‘that manner of expressing it pertains to its existence when the volition of Allah Most High connects to it, not that it was a ‘thing’ before that.” On the other hand, representing a late tradition of philosophical and theological precision (taḥqīq), al-Ālūsī notes that Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī demonstrated that using “thing” (al-shayʾ) to signify a nonexistent entity (al-maʿdūm) is a literal usage, not a technical usage particular to the Muʿtazila as was widely thought; those unaware of this point have gone to unnecessary lengths to interpret “Be, and it is” (Rūḥ, sub Q 16:40). Elsewhere in his tafsīr, al-Ālūsī explains the rationale behind the adoption of this position: “The true position is that which is maintained by the knowers of Allah [i.e. that non-existent objects have subsistence in the Divine knowledge]. This is because a conception of a possible non-existent entity (al-maʿdūm al-mumkin) can be formed, and one [particular such entity] can be intended, instead of another. Anything that this is true of, is distinct in itself, separately from any mental supposition; and all such [separate] things are subsistent and fixed, outside of our minds, and detached from individuated particulars. Such things, then, are nowhere other than in things-in-themselves (nafs al-amr), by which is meant the knowledge of the Real (Rūḥ, sub Q 2:20).

Kalām and philosophical traditions

In addition to the exegetical tradition, kalām and philosophical traditions also expounded on the theme of creation. The massive translation movement initiated by the second ʿAbbāsid Caliph Abū Jaʿfar ʿAbd Allāh b. Muḥammad al-Manṣūr (r. 136-158/ 754–775), brought almost the entire corpus of Greek philosophy and science into Arabic over the course of two centuries. As a result, Muslim thought was influenced by pre-Islamic debates between peripatetic and neo-platonic philosophers on the one hand, and Jewish and Christian theologians on the other hand, with regard to the eternality of the world as opposed to its ex nihilo creation. The idea of the eternity of the world was vigorously contested by Muslim thinkers; the idea that matter is coeternal with God directly conflicted with the unequivocal Qurʾānic doctrine of tawḥīd, which posits a Unique and Singular Creator and Originator of all that exists (Q 6:102; 13:251; 39:465; 40:62), Who has no opponent or rival (Q 6:19; 15:96; 17:22, 39, 42; 21:22; 23:91, 117; 51:51), Who possesses all the attributes of perfection (Q 59:23; 62:1), Who begot neither a son (Q 2:116; 4:171; 6:100-101; 9:30-31; 10:68; 17:111; 18:4; 21:26; 25:1) nor a daughter (Q 6:100; 16:57; 37:149; 43:16; 52:39); Who has no mate (Q 6:101; 72:3); Who is beyond duality (Q 16:51) or trinity (Q 4:171; 5:73), Who has always existed, Alone, when there was nothing else—He is the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden, and He has knowledge of all things (Q 57:3), like Whom there is nothing (Q 11:42), Who is changeless (Q 2:255; 3:2; 20:111; 112:2); the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them, Who alone deserves to be worshipped (Q 1:2; 5:28; 7:54; 13:16; 19:65; 37:4-5; 38:65-66). The co-eternity of matter with Him would, thus, compromise all of these fundamental Qurʾānic doctrines and, therefore, the three distinct intellectual discourses which emerged in the wake of the translation movement attempted to find solutions: the Muʿtazila, the Ashʿariyya and the Māturīdiyya. Of course, there was no monolithic position even within these broadly classified schools of thought which emerged during this time of intense intellectual discourse.

The Muʿtazila school, founded by Wāṣil b. ʿAṭāʾ (d. 131/748) and his main lieutenant, ʿAmr b. ʿUbayd (d. 144/761), after their disagreement with al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (21-110/642-728), was the first to attempt to mitigate the danger posed by the doctrine of the eternal existence of the world. Abū al-Hudhayl Muḥammad b. al-Hudhayl b. ʿUbaydallāh b. Makḥūl al-ʿAbdī al-ʿAllāf (ca.135–227/752–842), one of the most influential early Muʿtazilīs, held that all created things are already defined and determined in God’s foreknowledge, that there is a limit (nihāya) to their number, and even God’s ability to create things will end once everything that was in His foreknowledge to be created has come into existence, because God knows that He will create a finite world. Prior to their coming into existence, the “thing” exists in God’s knowledge (al-Khayyāṭ, K. al-Intiṣār, 16). Abū al-Hudhayl’s disciple Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf b. Isḥāq al-Shaḥḥām (d. ca.280/893) gave a more definite shape to this idea by proposing that the “non-existent (maʿdūm)” is, nevertheless, a “thing (shayʾ),” as even prior to its coming into existence, it is an object of God’s knowledge and an object of knowledge must be a thing (al-Ashaʿarī, Maqālāt, 162, 505). But the idea that something exists eternally in God’s knowledge, before being created by God, might be thought to compromise the doctrine of tawḥīd. To avoid this problem, a more refined version of this postulate, attributed to Abū al-Hudhayl, posits that the possibility of things resides in God’s power (qudra), rather than the thing being an external object of that power. Hishām b. ʿAmr al-Fuwaṭī (d. before 230/845), however, differed with his teacher Abū al-Hudhayl on this point and maintained that a non-existent cannot be called “a thing (shayʾ)” prior to its existence (kawn), even though he did not differ about God having its knowledge (al-Intiṣār, 50). The majority view, as elaborated by the later Muʿtazila, however, maintained that the word “thing” (al-shayʾ) embraces not only existent particulars, such as objects in the physical world, but also abstract concepts they called “non-existents” (maʿdūmāt). Thus non-existent entities enjoy a form of distinct, determinate subsistence (thubūt), but not existence as particularized essences (al-aʿyān). Conversely, for the early Ashʿarīs, anything that does not exist in particularized essences (al-aʿyān) is merely pure nonexistence (al-ʿadam al-ṣirf).

The Ashʿarī and Māturidī creedal positions on creation, first expounded by the founders of these schools— Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (260-324/874-936) and Abū Manṣūr Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-Māturīdī (d. 333/ca.945) respectively—were refined over the centuries through the works of other scholars, including such influential figures as Najm al-Dīn Abū Ḥafṣ ʿUmar b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Nasafī (460-537/1068-1142; cf. al-ʿAqāʾid) and Saʿd al-Dīn Masʿūd b. ʿUmar al-Taftāzānī (722-792/1322-1390), the author of a commentary on al-ʿAqāʾid of Najm al-Dīn, Sharḥ al-ʿAqāʾid al-Nasafiyya. The exegete Abū al-Barakāt al-Nasafī (d. 710/1310) explains these positions in his Sharḥ al-ʿumda fī ʿaqīda ahl al-Sunna wal-jamāʿa (also known as al-Iʿtimād fī-l-iʿtiqād), wherein he categorically states the Māturidī position which holds that “Creation (al-takwīn), creating (al-takhlīq), creation (al-khalq), and bringing into being (ījād), making something new (al-iḥdāth), and inventing (al-ikhtirāʿ) are synonymous words and what is meant by them is a single meaning: bringing a non-existent from non-existence into existence. We chose the word al-takwīn following the Salaf; al-takwīn is other than what is created (al-takwīn ghayr al-mukawwan). Al-takwīn is the eternal Attribute existing in the very Essence of Allah Most High (ṣifa azalīyya qāʾima bi-dhāt Allāh taʿāla), like all other Attributes, and al-takwīn is the creation of the whole world and every part of it, according to a [predetermined] time for its coming into existence…; thus, the cosmos and all of its parts that Allah Most has created are through His [Attribute of] takwīn, as it is known that they are in His eternal Knowledge; thus we have clarified that the cosmos is created in time (al-ʿālam muḥdath) and the One Who brings it into existence in time is Allah Most High” (p. 195-96). The Māturīdīs differ with the Ashʿarīs and Muʿtazila, who hold that “creation” and “what is created,” are in fact the same thing (al-takwīn wal-mukawwan wāḥid). Abū al-Barkāt al-Nasafī, on the other hand, calls it “impossible, for it is like saying, ‘hitting is the same as the one who is hit, and eating is the same as what is being eaten, and killing (al-qatl) is the same as the one being killed (maqtūl); the corruption of this obvious” (Sharḥ al-ʿumda, p. 197).

Like the Muʿtazila and the two broadly categorized Sunni schools, the Ashʿarīs and the Māturidīs, the philosophers also differed among themselves about the eternity of the world and its creation in time. For instance, al-Kindī (d. after 256/870) rejected this Aristotelian idea and held that origination (al-ibdāʿ) is “the manifestation (iẓhār) of the thing (al-shayʾ) from non-being (ʿan lays)” (Rasāʾil, Fī ḥudūd al-ashyāʾ, 165-179). He comments on Q 36:78-83: And he has set forth for Us a parable and forgotten his own creation, saying, “Who revives these bones, decayed as they are?” Say, “He will revive them Who brought them forth the first time, and He knows every creation. He Who made for you fire from the green tree, and, behold, you kindle from it.” Is not He Who created the heavens and the earth able to create the like thereof? Indeed, He is the knowing Creator. His Command when He desires a thing is only to say to it, “Be!” and it is. Al-Kindī first points out the logical flaw in the denial of the disbeliever, who must, nevertheless admit that something is (kāna) after not having been (lam yakun), and that his bones formerly were not, that is, they were non-existent (maʿdūm), but now must necessarily be, after not having been [for the obvious reason that disbeliever’s bones must exist for him to have asked the question in the first place], and then goes on to explain:

For He made fire from not-fire (jaʿala min lā nārin nāran), or heat from not-heat. Thus something is necessarily generated from its contrary. For if what comes to be (al-ḥādith) did not come to be from the substance (ʿayn) of its contrary, and if there is no intermediary between the two contraries—by “contrary” I mean “it” and “not-it” (huwa wa lā huwa)—it would have to come to be from itself (min dhātihi). [But that is impossible, because] its essence (dhāt) is always fixed, eternal and without beginning. For, if dryness does not come from not-fire, then it must come from fire, so that fire will come from fire, and [this] fire from [another] fire, and inevitably there will endlessly (sarmadan) and eternally be fire from fire and fire from fire. Therefore, fire would always exist, and there would never be a state (ḥāl) where it is not (hiya laysun). Thus, there would never be fire after there was no fire. But fires do exist (mawjūda) after not being (lam takun), and are destroyed after existing. So, the only remaining possibility is that fire is generated from not-fire, and that every generation is from what is other than itself. Hence, everything that is generated is generated from “not-it” (lā huwa). (Rasāʾil, 374-375).

The denial of the creation of the Heavens and the earth rests, al-Kindī argued, on the disbelievers’ analogy of the Divine act of creation with human creation:

In the case of human acts, the greater the work produced (ʿamal), the longer is the period [of time] required, so that for [humans] the greatest of perceptible things [i.e. the heavens] would take the longest amount of time to be produced. So then, [Allah] said that He, exalted be His praise, needs no period [of time] to originate. And this is clear, because He made “it” from “not-it” (jaʿala huwa min lā huwa). If His power (qudra) is such that it can produce (yaʿmalu) bodies from not-bodies, and bring being out of non-being (akhraja aysan min laysin), then, since He is able (qādir) to perform a deed with no material substrate (min lā ṭīnatin), He does not need to produce in time. For, since there can be no human act (fiʿl) without a material substrate, the act that does not need to act upon a material substrate has no need of time. When He wills something, His command is to say to it: ‘Be!’ and it is, that is, He only wills, and together with His will is generated that which He wills, great be His praise, and exalted His Names above the opinions of the disbelievers. (Rasāʾil, 375)

The broadly held position of the philosophers was, nevertheless, the affirmation of the eternity of the world, as postulated by al-Fārābī (d. 339/951) and Ibn Sīnā (370-427/980-1037); it led to the celebrated response of Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, who in his Tahāfut al-Falāsifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) contended that the thesis of the eternality of the world conflicts not only with the Qurʾānic doctrine of free Divine choice, but also with reason. In turn, this produced an emphatic rejoinder by one of the great philosophers of Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd (520-594/1126-1198), who defended, amongst many other philosophical theses, the eternality of the world, maintaining that the interpretive scope allowed by Scripture ensures the complete harmony of his position with Divine revelation.

Al-Ghazālī’s fundamental argument, which would become the most broadly accepted Sunni position through its acceptance by the vast majority of theologians and philosophers succeeding him, is that the possibility of the ex nihilo world exists timelessly in the knowledge of Allah Most High; He eternally wills its existence rather than its nonexistence, but it nonetheless has, with respect to itself, a beginning in time, a time that is created alongside and derives its sole reality from its relation to that world (cf. Discussions 1 and 2 of Tahāfut al-falāsifa). Al-Ghazālī’s teacher Abū al-Maʿālī al-Juwaynī (419-478/1028-1085) had already stated this in his al-Irshād (p. 17-27), and extended the argument to prove the existence of the Creator: “Now that the temporality of the world (ḥudūth al-ʿālam) has been established, it is clear that there is a beginning to its existence (muftataḥ al-wujūd); and since it is equally possible for a temporal being (ḥādith) to exist or not to exist… reason demands that the world must have a Determinant (mukhaṣṣiṣ) who determined its actual existence” (al-Irshād, p. 28). Ibn Rushd, however, is unconvinced. He concedes the cogency of the argument stating that for man, for example, to have existed rather than not existed requires a determining principle. But he explains that the philosophers’ conception of possible existence is fundamentally different from that of the theologians; the philosophers do not believe that the possibilities of the existence or nonexistence of a thing are equivalent at one and the same time, but that each is contingent on a particular time and particular context within the larger, eternal world (Tahāfut al-tahāfut, al-masʾala al-ūlā, p. 118-120).

Three centuries after al-Ghazālī and shortly after his entry into Constantinople, the Ottoman Sultan Muḥammad al-Fātiḥ (Fatih Sultan Mehmet) (835-885/1432-1481) commissioned two of the most renowned philosopher-scholars in his realm, Muṣliḥ al-Dīn Muṣtafā b. Yūsūf b. Ṣāliḥ al-Bursavi (838-893/1434-1488), generally known as Hocazade, and ʿAlāʾ al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī (d. 877/1473) to compose treatises adjudicating once and for all between al-Ghazālī and Ibn Rushd. Their works, which are among some of the towering achievements of Ottoman scholarship, tilt toward the Ghazālian position (cf. Hocazade, Tahāfut al-falāsafa; al-Ṭūsī, Kitāb al-Dhakhīra).

Three centuries after the Ottoman inquiry, Shāh Walī Allāh al-Dihlawī (1114-1176/1702-1763) elucidated the theme of creation through three Divine Attributes: ibdāʿ (creation ex nihilo—creation out of nothingness, without any matter), khalq (creation of something from an existing thing; “like He created Ādam from clay and He created the Jinn from smokeless fire”), and tadbīr (Divine management and governance of the engendered things); that is, employing a set of created things to derive the universal beneficial purpose (al-maṣlaḥat al-kulliya) that His Generosity requires. “For example, He sent down rain (q.v.) from the clouds (q.v.), which brought forth plants of the earth for people and animals to eat, and this enabled life (q.v.) to exist on earth for an appointed term” (Ḥujjat Allāh al-bāligha, 1:41-42).

Creation in Six Days

Several verses state that the heavens and earth were created in six days (Q 7:54; 10:3; 11:7; 25:59; 32:4; 50:38; 57:4). This assertion seems at odds with other verses, such as Q 54:49-50 (Truly, We have created everything according to a measure and Our Command is naught but one, like the blinking of an eye) and the previously discussed kun fa-yakūn verses. The apparent conflict is resolved by the exegetes who note that the verses mentioning days refer to a time when the heavens, earth, sun, moon, day and night did not exist, and therefore these days must refer to a period of time other than what is normally understood by “day” in human usage (see Day). A report from Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), Allah be pleased with him and his father, states that these six days are equivalent to the days of the Hereafter; the length of each day is one thousand years of our earthly reckoning (cf. Q 32:5; Samarqandī, Baḥr). This opinion is accepted by al-Qurṭubī, who says these days are similar to the days of the Hereafter, for the sake of the glorification of the creation of the heaven and earth (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:54). This view is also accepted by al-Khāzin, who says, “in this way, creation was perfectly completed (takāmala jamīʿ al-khalq) in six days, the length of each day being one thousand years; and this is the general opinion of scholars (wa hādhā qawl jumhūr al-ʿulamāʾ)”. Al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī also shares this view (cf. Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 7:54).

Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Sharbīnī (d. 977/1570) explains that, “if one says the day is from among the days of this world, then it is an allusion to a period of time (miqdār min al-zamān) and this period begins at sunrise and ends at sunset; but at that time [of creation of the heavens and the earth] there was no sun, moon, or heaven. The answer to the extent of this period can be explained by His Words, and they will have their provisions therein, morning (bukratan) and afternoon (wa ʿashiyyan) (Q 19:62); that is, according to the measures of the beginning of morning and the end of the afternoon in this world, for in Paradise there is no night or daytime” (al-Sirāj al-munīr). Some later scholars, such as Muḥammad b. ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Shawkānī (1173-1250/1759-1834), remain neutral and simply mention various opinions: “the day is from sunrise until sunset; and it is said that these days are like the days of this world; and it is said that these days are like the days of the Hereafter; the six days follow this order: Sunday (al-aḥad) and the last is Friday (al-jumuʿa); though the Exalted would have been able to create the world in the blink of the eye (fī laḥẓatin wāḥida), for He, [the Sublime], says to it “Be and it is”, but He willed to teach His servants patience and careful consideration (al-taʾannī) in every matter” (Fatḥ al-Qadīr).

The day on which Allah Most High began the creation is also a subject of scholarly debate; several exegetes quote Mujāhid (d. 102/720 or 104/722), who says that these six days are counted beginning from Sunday (yawm al-aḥad and ending on Friday (Māwardī, Nukat; Ṭabarī, Samʿānī, Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs, sub Q 7:54). Other explanations include the following: “He, the Exalted, mentions this period, because everything has an appointed and well-defined time (ajal) with Him” (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb). The creation of heavens and earth in six days is an allusion to the taqdīr (proportioning the measures) of the appearance of their physical essence (taqdīr dhawātihimā) in a well-defined period of time (bi-miqdār muʿayyan); though it is rationally conceivable for the time to be more or less than six days, nevertheless assigning the defined period [to their creation], inevitably refers to the deeds of a Modeler (takhṣīṣ mukhaṣṣiṣ) and this refers to the fact that the creation of the Heavens and the earth need a Doer (Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:54). Allah Most High appointed for everything a fixed date (ḥaddan maḥdūdan) and Divinely decreed measured time (waqtan muqaddaran), and He does not permit them to enter into existence except according to this schedule (illā ʿalā dhālika-l-wajh); He is not weakened by this, as attested by His Words, And We did certainly create the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days, and there touched Us no weariness (Q 50:38).

Some scholars say that the six days relate to the ordering of His creatures (marātib maṣnūʿātihi): one day for the material of the heavens (yawmun li-māddat al-samāwāt); one day for their form; one day for their perfection through planets and stars and souls and so on (see Stars and Planets); one day for the material of the earth; one day for its form; and one day for its perfection through mountains (q.v.) and so forth. In other words, the six days are an allusion to the stages of the unfolding of the universe (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb). Allah’s Wisdom necessitates that the creation of the heavens and the earth be a gradual process (mudarrajan) and not happen suddenly (dufʿatan); for He created the universes and worlds (al-ʿawālim) originating from one another (mutawallidan baʿḍuhā min baʿḍ) so that their creation can be more perfect (atqan ṣunʿan) than creation in one single moment could have been; and in order that this creation be the manifestation of two Attributes—Knowledge of Allah (ʿilmu-Llāh) and His Omnipotence (qudratuhu); His Omnipotence would be suitable for “creation in a single moment,” but His Knowledge and Wisdom necessitates a gradual process (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr).

This gradual process of creation is also mentioned in Q 41:9-12: Say: Do you indeed disbelieve in Him Who created the earth in two days and attribute to Him equals? That is the Lord of the worlds. And He placed on the earth firmly fixed anchors [mountains] over its surface, and He blessed it and determined therein its [creatures’] sustenance in four days without distinction—for all those who ask. Then He turned to the heaven while it was smoke and said unto it and unto the earth, ‘Come willingly or unwillingly!’ They said, ‘We come willingly.’ Then He decreed that they be seven heavens in two days and revealed to each heaven its command. And We adorned the lowest heaven with lamps and a guard. That is the Decree of the Mighty, the Knowing. ʿImād al-Dīn Abū al-Fidāʾ Ismāʾīl b. ʿUmar Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) explains this passage as a proof that Allah Most High created the earth first, for it represents the basis and foundation (kal-asās), and the principle is to begin with the foundation and continue with the roofing (al-saqf); as attested by His Words, It is He Who created for you all of that which is on earth. Then He rose over towards the Heaven and made them seven Heavens. And He is the All-Knower of everything (Q 2:29) (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 41:9).

Ibn ʿĀshūr provides a similar explanation: “And the intended meaning, here, is the length that equals two days, in the form people know it—after the creation of the earth; for light and darkness, the two essential elements which determine the day by their mere presence on the earth, appeared only after the creation of the earth [as mentioned in Q 7:54]. [The description of creation] begins with the mention of the creation of the earth, because it is more obvious to the human eyes (aẓhar lil-ʿiyān) and it is within the reach of humans; and inevitably, the proof attests that the creation of the earth is prior to the creation [of the heavens]; and because of the blessings that earth contains [for the created] is more efficient (aqwā) and more comprehensive (aʿamm)—by this, the hideousness of denying the Creator becomes evident and more repulsive (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 41:9).

Creation as Proof of the Existence of God

Q 16:17 pointedly asks: Is He who creates as he who does not create? Why do you not reflect?

The primary argument for the existence of God in Kalām discourse is premised on the contingency of the world (ḥudūth al-ʿālam). The world—defined as every existent other than Allah Most High (kull mawjūd siwā-Llāh taʿālā) (al-Bāqillānī, al-Inṣāf, p. 29; al-Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-ʿaqāʾid, p. 23; al-Juwaynī, Irshād, p. 57)—consists of substances (aʿyān), which subsist in themselves, and accidents (aʿrāḍ), which do not. All substances and accidents are subject to generation and decay and so are contingent (ḥādith), for they undergo change from one state to another. Ibrāhīm, upon him peace (q.v.), proclaimed a star to be his Lord, but when it set (changing from one state to another) he recognized it too was created (Q 6:76-79). The argument from contingency proceeds by positing that every contingent being (muḥdath) must have an originator (muḥdith); the world being contingent, it follows that the world must have an originator. That the world is contingent means that its two possibilities—existence and non-existence—are equal in probability unless a preponderance is determined, tipping the balance one way or the other. That the world exists demonstrates that there is an originator, namely Allah Most High, the Necessary Being (al-wājib al-wujūd) (al-Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-ʿAqāʾid, p. 23-28; for similar arguments, see al-Bāqillānī, al-Inṣāf, p. 29; al-Bāqillānī, Tamhīd, p. 23).

Al-Bāqillānī (338-403/950-1013), the master theologian credited with giving definite shape to arguments for a Creator from contingency, also presents two other arguments: (i) the antecedence (taqaddum) and anteriority (taʾakhkhur) of certain things over others requires an agent (God) who established them so, being logically indeterminate on their own; (ii) existing things are endowed with determined forms which they cannot grant to themselves, and so require a determinant (God) ensuring that they receive these forms and no other (al-Inṣāf, p. 30). These arguments extend the scope of the Kalām discourse beyond the standard argument from contingency, by positing that since the universe was not arranged as it is by any a priori necessity, it must have a preexistent and independent cause.

Further building on this discursive tradition, Ibn Ḥazm (384-456/994-1064) advanced five logically “compelling proofs” (barāhīn ḍarūriyya) of the temporality of the world in his al-Faṣl fī-l-milal wal-ahwāʾ wal-niḥal (“Critical Examination of Religions, Heresies, and Sects”) (1:57-65): (i) every substance (shakhṣ) in the world, every accident in every substance, and all time (kull zamān)—conceived as comprised of transient moments—is finite. The finitude of substances is evident from the limits of the area they occupy and the duration of their existence; the finitude of accidents is evident from the finitude of the substances in which they inhere; and the finitude of time is evident from the transience of the moments composing it; (ii) every existent in actuality (bil-fiʿl) is numerically determinate, and therefore finite; (iii) since a non-finite world would imply temporal eternity, and since infinity cannot be extended by adding anything to it, any elapsed time would not add anything to the time already elapsed. The time elapsed from the beginning of time (al-abad) down to our age (zamāninā), for instance, would thus be equal to the time elapsed down to the Hijra of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace; the revolutions of a planet such as Saturn, which revolves once every thirty years, would be equal to the those of the Upper Heavens (dār al-falak al-akbar), amounting to some 11,000 revolutions during the same period of time. Temporal finitude is necessary (fa-wajabat al-nihāya fī-l-zamān), Ibn Hazm argues (among other reasons), to avoid mutually exclusive eternal moments, and to maintain the intuitive logical necessity of the whole being greater than the part; (iv) were the world without beginning and end, it would be impossible to determine it in quantity and in nature (it being an undifferentiated mass); and (v) likewise, were there no beginning and no end, we would not be able to enumerate one thing after another—whereas in our existence (fī wujūdinā), the things of the world can be so enumerated. Hence the necessity of a beginning to the universe. Allah Most High has drawn our attention to this and the preceding proof, he concludes, in His saying and He takes count of all things (Q 72:28).

Despite such additional proofs and arguments, the argument from the temporality of the world remained the bedrock of Kalām-based proofs for the existence of a Creator. That explains in part why the Mutakallimūn were in general averse to the philosophers’ notion of the eternity of the world (see below). It should be noted that the Kalām argument had already been well articulated by the time of al-Ghazālī’s sweeping refutation of the eternity of the world (cf. Discussions 1 and 2 of Tahāfut al-falāsifa), his teacher al-Juwaynī even giving it a popular form. Al-Ghazālī’s sophisticated rearticulation of the Kalām arguments, as well as his forceful rejection of certain positions echoing the Aristotelian concept of an eternal, self-perpetuating world, were decisive in shifting the balance of the discourse (see the fourth introduction to his al-Iqtiṣād, a work dealing with generally the same topics as al-Juwaynī’s Irshād but making full use of Aristotelian logic, including the syllogism).

Finally, al-Rāzī provides perhaps the most nuanced and comprehensive exposition of the Kalām tradition on the subject. He develops a Qurʾānically-suffused typology of ways in which the rational proofs for the existence of a Creator can be understood. These arguments are based on either temporality (ḥudūth), contingency (imkān), or a combination of both, whether with regard to substances (jawāhir) or accidents (aʿrāḍ):

  • Arguments from the contingency of essences (al-istidlāl bi-imkān al-dhawāt), alluded to in Qurʾānic verses such as: Allah is indeed free of want, whereas you stand impoverished (Q 47:38); the words of Ibrāhīm, For surely they (the false deities) are my enemies, [and none is my helper] save the Sustainer of all the worlds (Q 26:77); and that with thy Sustainer is the beginning and the end [of all that exists] (Q 53:42); say “Allah!” and then leave them toying in their folly (Q 6:91); So flee unto Allah (Q 51:50); and indeed, hearts grow tranquil in the remembrance of Allah (Q 13:28);
  • Arguments from the contingency of attributes (al-istidlāl bi-imkān al-ṣifāṭ), alluded to in Qurʾānic verses such as: He has created the heavens and the earth (Q 16:3) and the One Who made the earth a resting-bed for you, and the heavens a canopy (Q 2:22) (see the “cosmic arguments” below);
  • Arguments from the temporality of bodies (al-istidlāl bi-ḥudūth al-ajsām), alluded to in Qurʾānic verses such as the saying of Ibrāhīm, upon him peace: “I do not love what sets” (Q 6:76);
  • Arguments from the temporality of accidents (istidlāl bi-ḥudūth al-aʿrāḍ), this being the mode of argument easiest for people to comprehend (aqrab…ilā afhām al-khalq). These comprise proofs (dalāʾil) of two kinds. First, those based on the human self (al-anfus): everyone necessarily knows that whatever has come into existence after non-existence (al-ʿadam) must have a creator (mūjid). This creator cannot be man himself, or his parents, or the rest of humanity, but must be different from these existents (yukhālif hādhihī al-mawjūdāt) so as to bring these persons (al-ashkhāṣ) into existence. Second, those based on the cosmos (al-āfāq), including all its mutable states, whether thunder, lightning, winds (q.v.), clouds, or the interchanging seasons. Such proofs lead to the conclusion that heavenly and elemental bodies are alike in their corporeality (mushtarika fī-l-jismiyya), it being impossible to principally distinguish one from another on the basis of characteristics such as their proportion, shape, or location. (…) This proves that all bodies depend on a Capable Cause (Muʾaththir Qādir) with neither body nor corporeality (laysa bi-jism wa lā jismāniyya). (Tafsīr, sub Q 2:21).


An important corollary of the doctrine of creation is the hierarchical ordering of the existing beings. Several topologies can be discerned in Islamic sources: hierarchy in essence (that is, the subordination of some created beings to others with respect to their closeness to Allah Most High); in chronological sequence (what first appeared in existence); in the functioning of the existent beings together with the manner in which different elements in creation relate to and depend upon one another in the context of the larger cosmic order. The hierarchy in essence is discernible in many pre-modern works on sacred cosmology, which give precedent to the Divine Throne (ʿarsh) and His Footstool (kursī) over all else. Among such works is the five volume, 1960-page Kitāb al-ʿaẓama of the Hadīṭh master, Qurʾān commentator, and historian Abū Muḥammad ʿAbdullāh b. Muḥammad b. Jaʿfar b. Ḥayyān al-Anṣārī al-Aṣbahānī (274-369/887-979), commonly known as Abū Shaykh (Abū Nuʿaym, K. dhikr akhbār Iṣbahān, 2:90; al-Dhahabī, Tadhkira, 3:147). This work became the basis of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī’s (849-911/1445-ca.1505) al-Hayʾa al-Saniyya fī-l-hayʾa al-sunniyya. Both works provide extensive details on the Qurʾānic invitation to contemplate the creation and the hierarchies of the created entities.

The place of human beings within the created order is another central theme of the hierarchy of creation (see Humans). Q 17:70 reads: We have honored (karramnā) the Children of Ādam and carried them on land and sea, and provided them with good things, and preferred them greatly over many of those We created. Amongst the earlier exegetes, al-Ṭabarī explains this honoring of humankind as “Our giving them mastery over other creatures, and Our subjecting all of creation to them” (Tafsīr). Al-Sulamī (325-412/936-1031) explains the honor as the human capacity for spiritual knowledge, relating that his great Sufi predecessor al-Junayd al-Baghdādī (d. ca.296/908) interpreted the verse to mean that Allah Most High “honored the children of Ādam with understanding bestowed by Him” (Ḥaqāʾiq al-Tafsīr). Citing al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. ca.102/720), al-Samarqandī explains that this “honoring” is through intellect (q.v.) and discernment (al-tamyīz):

It is said that Allah Most High created the plants and trees of the earth and placed therein a spirit; for as long as the spirit (rūḥ) dwells within them, they grow and increase; when the spirit leaves, they wither and their growth and increase is cut off (see Plants and Vegetation). He created animals and placed an augmentation of spirit within them, by means of which they seek out their own provision, and are able to hear sounds; and He created the sons of Ādam, and placed within them [another] augmentation of spirit, by means of which they apply their intellects, distinguish [between things], and know. [Moreover], He created the Prophets, and placed within them [a yet greater] augmentation of the spirit, by means of which they hear the angels, and through this means, they receive revelation, and have knowledge of the Hereafter…. [Human beings are superior] to the jinn, Satans (q.v.) and animals. It is related from Ibn ʿAbbās that he said ‘they have superiority over all of creation, other than a group amongst the angels, namely Jibrīl (q.v.), Mīkāʾīl (q.v.), Isrāfīl and the like of them’; and it is related from Abū Hurayra that he said ‘in the sight of Allah, the believer is more distinguished than the angels that are in His Presence.’ (Baḥr)

In his exegesis of Q 17:70, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī expands on some aspects of these earlier interpretations. The unique place of human beings in creation can be understood in terms of the manner in which the human soul transcends the powers of the vegetative and animal souls:

Know that man is a substance constituted by a composite of the soul and body (q.v.). Now, the human soul is the most noble of all souls existing in the lower world (al-ʿālam al-suflī), and his body is [likewise] the noblest of all bodies existing in the lower world. The explanation (taqrīr) of the superiority of the human soul is that the vegetative soul has three fundamental abilities (quwāhā): [that of] receiving nourishment, growth, and reproduction, and the animal soul has two [additional] powers, that of sensation (al-ḥassāsa), both external and internal, and volitional movement. Now, the human soul has these five powers—receiving nourishment, growth, reproduction, sensation, and movement—but in addition, the human soul is uniquely singled out by another ability, namely the intellective ability (al-quwwat al-ʿāqila), which perceives the essence of things as they are in themselves (ḥaqāʾiq al-ashyāʾ kamā hiya). It is within [this ability] that the light of the knowledge of Allah Most High becomes manifest, and the illumination of His Grandeur shines forth, and it is this [ability] that enables him to become acquainted with the secrets of the two worlds of Creation and Command (ʿālamay al-khalq wal-amr), and to encompass the different divisions of creatures of Allah, the spirits and bodies, as they are in themselves. This [intellective] ability is the result of the fecundation of the holy substances, and the incorporeal spirits of the Divine (al-jawāhir al-qudsiyya wal-arwāḥ al-mujarrada al-ilāhiyya). This ability, then, is incomparable to the vegetative and animal abilities in nobility and distinction; and if this is the case, it is clear that the human soul is the most noble of souls existing in this world. (Tafsīr)

There is a general agreement, then, that human beings are superior to all other creatures in the lower world, because of their capacity to make contact with the higher world; indeed, al-Rāzī specifies that man derives his intellective ability from that higher world. On the question of the status of human beings in comparison with the beings of the higher world, especially the angels (q.v.), there emerged an effective consensus among the Sunni theologians that the strongest interpretation of the Qurʾānic verses points to the superiority of human beings, in potentia, even to the angels. Adducing the Qurʾānic evidence in his famous commentary on the creed of Abū Ḥafṣ al-Nasafī, al-Taftāzānī comments on the formulation of human precedence offered by al-Nasafī, that “the human messengers are superior to the angelic messengers, and the angelic messengers are superior to the generality of mankind, and the generality of mankind are superior to the generality of angels”:

Now, the superiority of the angelic messengers over the generality of humankind is founded in scholarly consensus, nay, rather it is so of necessity. The superiority of human messengers over angelic messengers, as well as the superiority of the generality of mankind over the generality of the angels, [is founded, on the other hand] on certain reasons: First, Allah Most High commanded the angels to prostrate to Ādam, upon him peace; this was by way of magnifying and honoring him, as is evinced by the words of the Most High, relating [the words of Iblīs], Do you see? This is the one whom You have honored above me! (Q 17:62)…the wisdom of this requires [us to believe] that He commanded the lower to prostrate himself to the higher and not the contrary. Secondly, anyone conversant with the [Arabic] language understands that the meaning of the words of the Most High and He taught Ādam the Names, all of them (Q 2:31) is that Ādam is superior to the angels, and shows his greater knowledge, and his entitlement to magnification and honor. The third [aspect of the proof] is the words of the Most High, Allah chose Ādam and Nūḥ, the family of Ibrāhīm, and the family of ʿImrān above all the worlds (Q 3:33), because the angels are a part of the worlds. From this it follows, by consensus (bil-ijmāʿ), that the generality of mankind is not superior to the Angelic messengers; otherwise, the rule [that mankind is superior] remains in operation. It is, however, a matter of opinion, merely based on rational proofs. The fourth [proof] is that human beings attain virtues and perfections in knowledge and practical matters (al-faḍāʾil wal-kamālāt al-ʿilmiyya wal-ʿamaliyya), despite hindrances and obstacles due to [the presence of] lusts and anger, and the recurrence of necessary and essential needs, which take up one’s time, so as to prevent one’s attaining the perfections. Now, there is no doubt that worship and the attainment of perfection in the presence of distractions and diversions is more difficult, and require more sincerity; thus man is more excellent (Sharḥ al-ʿAqāʾid, 264-266).

Another common trope for many of the great exegetes, which seems to be demanded by the Qurʾānic notion of tafḍīl, is that of ontological taxonomies, like “the degrees of existents” (marātib al-mawjūdāt), “the degrees of being” (marātib al-wujūd), and the degrees of creatures (marātib al-makhlūqāt). Al-Baydāwī tells us, for example, that one interpretation of Q 40:15 (The Exalter of Ranks (darājāt), the Lord of the Throne), is that darajāt refers to “the degrees of creatures”—for example, the supremacy of human Prophets and saints, and angels, and the descending degrees of ordinary human beings, animals (q.v.) and so on. These degrees are based entirely on proximity to Allah Most High. Q 8:22 reads: Surely the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not understand. Commenting on this, Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā clarifies that man is distinctive, because of his free will, in that he is capable of being both the highest and the lowest of creatures:

Surely the worst of beasts, that is, the worst of those who move in existence in Allah's sight within the [different] degrees of existent beings (marātib al-mawjūdāt) are those that are deaf to listening to the words of the Real, with acceptance and heart (q.v.), and dumb with regard to the words of the Real, and to speaking with the Real. Deafness and dumbness have been singled out because the deaf person must also be dumb (see Hearing and Deafness). And do not use their intellects, that is, those who do not know why they were created, nor the capacity to seek after the perfection which they have ... Know that man was created in the “best of forms” (fī aḥsani taqwīm, cf. Q 95:4), with the capacity for spiritual training and ascension, able to attain [a type of] perfection that the angels cannot attain. In his natural state, his level of proximity [to Allah Most High] is lesser than the angels and higher than the animals, and [it is] through being spiritually trained by the Sacred Law, that he becomes superior to an angel, and thus becomes the best of creatures (98:7); but by contravening the Sacred Law and following his caprice, he becomes the worst of creatures (Q 98:6); thus, the state of [a creature capable] of being better than an angel [can] end in his becoming the worst of beasts.

In his commentary on Q 12:101, al-Rāzī offers an insightful division of the most fundamental degrees of being:

Know that there are three degrees of being: (i) that which influences but is not influenced, and [that is God]; He is the Divinity (al-ilāh), Exalted and Holy; (ii) that which is influenced, but does not influence, which is the world of bodies (ʿālam al-ajsām), for they admit the taking on of shapes and forms, diverse characteristics and opposite accidents; [this world] has no influence on anything else at all. These two divisions are extremely remote from one another, but a third category, that influences and is influenced, mediates between them, namely the world of spirits (ʿālam al-arwāḥ). Now, the special property of the substance [particular to] the spirits is that it receives the effects and activity from the world of the light of the Majesty of Allah, and then, when it approaches the world of bodies, it can act upon it and influence it. The connection of the spirit to the world of bodies is, thus, one of free disposal and direction, and its connection to the world of Divinity is one of knowledge and gnosis. The words of the Most High, You have given me to rule (Q 12:101), are an allusion to the soul’s connection to the world of bodies, and You have taught me the interpretation of dreams (Q 12:101) is an allusion to its connection to the Presence of the Majesty of Allah Most High. (Tafsīr)

Temporal Hierarchies

Another type of hierarchical classification discussed by the exegetes is that of the sequential order of creation. In the absence of concrete Qurʾānic data, no scholarly consensus exists about the chronological sequence of creation. There is debate about whether Pen or the Throne was the first to have been created (see Pen and Writing; Throne of Allah). A report from Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be pleased with him and his father, in reference to Q 68:1 (Nūn. By the Pen and that which they write), is often cited in support of the Pen: “The first thing that Allah Most High created was the Pen and He ordered it to register the Divine Decree (q.v.; al-qadar) and the sequence of creation of everything that is going to exist until the Hour (ilā qiyām al-sāʿa)” (Makkī, Hidāya; Wāḥidī, Wajīz; Ṭabarī, Baghawī, Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs).

Al-Ṭabarī (Tafsīr, sub Q 43:4) mentions that Ibn ʿAbbās used to say, “The first thing Allah created was the Pen, and He commanded it to write that which He wished to create.” Regarding the Book in which the Pen wrote, Ibn ʿAbbās recited: and behold, it is in the Mother Book, with Us; sublime indeed, wise (Q 43:4; see Preserved Tablet). Chronological precedent of Pen over the Throne is, however, ruled out on the basis of a sound hadith transmitted on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr b. al-ʿĀṣ (d. ca. 63/682 or 67/686), who said: “I heard the Messenger of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, say: ‘Allah decreed the proportions of the creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth.’ And he said: ‘while His Throne was on the water’” (Muslim, kitāb al-qadar, ḥijāj Ādam wa Mūsā ʿalayhimā al-salām). This tradition necessitates the priority of the creation of the Throne; this is accepted by many, including Taqī al-Dīn Abū al-ʿAbbās Aḥmad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥalīm Ibn Taymiyya (661-728/1263-1328)—who says that this refers to the fact that Allah proportioned the measures of creation while His Throne was on the water (q.v.); this means that the Throne existed (kāna-l-ʿarsh mawjūdan) and had already been created (makhlūqan) prior to the issuing of the Divine Decree [to the Pen]; so it was not brought into being after it (Ṣafadiyya, al-ṣaḥīḥ anna-l-ʿarsh khuliqa qabl al-qalam). Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad b. Abī Bakr Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (691-751/1292-1350) agrees, saying in his qaṣīda, al-Nūniyya: “the truth is that the Throne is [created] before, for at the moment of writing it had pillars (kāna dhā arkān)” (faṣl fī iʿtirāḍihim ʿalā-l-qawl bi-dawām fāʿiliyyat al-Rabb taʿālā wa kalāmuhu wal-infiṣāl ʿanhu). In support of this opinion, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī (773-852/1371-1449) mentions the opinion of Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Hamdānī who says that scholars have two opinions regarding which was created first—the Throne or the Pen—and the majority holds that the Throne precedes the creation of the Pen (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-Bārī, 6:289).

In another hadith, included by both Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Ismāʿīl b. Ibrāhīm b. al-Mughīra al-Juʿfī al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) and Abū al-Ḥusayn Muslim b. al-Ḥajjāj b. Muslim al-Qushayrī al-Naysābūrī (d. 261/875)—Allah have mercy upon them—in their respective collections of Sound Hadiths, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, said: “There was Allah and nothing else existed. And His Throne was on the water. And He ordained everything in the Reminder (fī-l-dhikr), and He created the Heavens and the earth” (Bukhārī, kitāb badʾ al-khalq, bāb mā jāʾa fī qawli-Llāhi taʿālā: wa Huwa-Lladhī yabdaʾu-l-khalq thumma yuʿīduhu wa huwa ahwanu ʿalayhi [Q 30:27]). Ibn Ḥajar, the principal commentator on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, explains:

Nothing existed besides Him, no water and no throne; the meaning of the passage, “And His Throne was on the water” means that He had first created water and then (thumma) created the Throne, placing it on the water. In the account of Nāfiʿ b. Zayd al-Ḥimyarī, the wording is as follows, “there was His Throne on the water, then (thumma) He created the Pen and said, ‘write all that is to exist, then He created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them.’ Thus, He commanded the sequential order of the creatures—after water, and the Throne. The particle “thumma—then” appears only at the mention of creating the heavens and the earth. The version in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim is transmitted on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr (d. 65/684): “Allah decreed the measures and proportions of the creation (maqādīr al-khalāʾiq) fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth, while His Throne was on the water” (Muslim, kitāb al-qadar, bāb ḥijāj Ādam wa Mūsā ʿalayhimā al-salām). This tradition corroborates the transmission of him who transmits, “then He created the heaven and the earth”—a wording that points to the sequential order (Fatḥ al-bārī, badʾ al-khalq).

Some scholars hold that the creation of water preceded the creation of the Throne; this is based on a hadith of Abū Razīn al-ʿUqaylī Laqīṭ b. ʿĀmir: “I said: O Messenger of Allah! Where was our Lord before He created His creation? He said: He was [above] the clouds (fī ʿamāʾ), no air was under him, no air was above him, and He created His Throne upon the water” (Ibn Mājah, Sunan, abwāb al-sunna; Tirmidhī, Sunan, abwāb tafsīr al-Qurʾān, bāb wa min sūrat Hūd; Dhahabī, ʿArsh, al-mabḥath al-awwal, khalq al-ʿarsh wa hayʾatuhu). In his commentary on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, Badr al-Dīn Abū Muḥammad Maḥmūd b. Aḥmad al-ʿAynī (762-855/1361-1451) accepts this opinion and writes:

In His words “and His Throne was on the water” [cf. Q 11:7] one can find the proof [for the opinion] that water and the Throne were the first things created; thus they are the beginning of the world for they were created before the heavens and the earth and at that time there was nothing under the Throne except water. If one says that the Throne and water were the first two created things, which of them precedes the other? I say: water! The reports transmitted by al-Tirmidhī (209-279/824-892) and Aḥmad [b. Ḥanbal (164-241/781-855)] on the authority of Abū Razīn state that water was created before the Throne. And al-Suddī in his commentary transmits, through several chains of transmitters, that “Allah did not create anything before the creation of water” (ʿUmdat, kitāb badʾ al-khalq, bāb mā jāʾa fī qawli-Llāhi taʿālā Q 30:27).

A further proof for this opinion is the widely accepted tradition, transmitted by Abū Hurayra (62/681), who asks the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, “Of which matter was the creation created? (mimmā khuliqa-l-khalq). He answered: From water” (Ḥākim, Mustadrak, tafsīr sūrat Ḥāʾ mīm al-Jāthiya wa ʿinda ahl al-Ḥaramayn Ḥāʾ mīm al-Sharīʿa; Aḥmad, Musnad, musnad Abī Hurayra).

There are other sequential orderings with respect to what was created first on earth, and which of the Prophets was the first to be created, before their appearance on earth. Q 3:96 reads: The first House established for the people was that at Bakka, a place holy, and a guidance to all beings. Al-Ṭabarī mentions an interpretation which states that the Kaʿba (q.v.) was created before all of the [seven] earths; this is on the authority of Mujāhid b. Jabr (d. ca.104/722), who said, “the first thing that Allah created was the Kaʿba, and then He unrolled the earth beneath it (thumma daḥā al-arḍ min taḥtihā)” (Tafsir, sub Q 3:96). With respect to the sequential priority of the Porphets, al-Ṭabarī mentions two chains of narration pertaining to Qatāda’s exegesis of Q 33:7. In the first transmission, Qatāda states that the Prophet Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, used to say, “I was the first of the Prophets to be created, and the last of them to be sent.” In the second narration, we are told that when Qatāda used to recite Q 33:7, he would himself say, “the Prophet of Allah, upon him blessings and peace, was the first of the Prophets to be created” (Tafsīr).

This hadith is taken by some Sufi exegetes to propose that Muḥammadan Light was the first thing created. In his Rūḥ al-Bayān, Burūsawī goes so far as to say, “there is consensus amongst both exoteric scholars (ahl al-ẓāhir) and those [who experience] mystical witnessing (ahl al-shuhūd) that Allah Most High created all things from the light of Muḥammad (Rūḥ al-Bayān, sub Q 33:46). Ibn ʿAjība attempts to resolve some aspects of the question in his cosmological speculation in al-Baḥr al-Madīd (sub Q 79:27): “The first thing that Allah created was the Throne, from the luminous Muḥammadan light [that is in Allah’s possession]; He then created topaz, which melted by His Grandeur and became water; then, it began a surging motion and became a quintessence from which He created the earth. Therefrom a smoke arose, from which He created the Heaven, and He then unrolled the earth, and readied provision for man and animals, and other [creatures].”

Yet another mode of cosmological hierarchy is suggested by Q 67:3: He who created the seven heavens one upon another (alladhī khalaqa sabaʿa samāwātin ṭibāqā); and Q 71:14-15: What ails you, that you look not for Majesty in Allah, seeing He created you in degrees? Have you not regarded how Allah created seven heavens one upon another? Al-Qurṭubī (Tafsīr, sub Q 71:15) explains ṭibāqan as “One above the other, each heaven encompassing (muṭabbaqa) the other, like domes (kal-qibāb). This was the position of Ibn ʿAbbās and al-Suddī. Al-Ḥasan [al-Baṣrī] said, ‘Allah created seven Heavens in layers (ṭibāqan) upon seven earths, between each earth and each heaven, there being khalq and amr.’” Burūsawī (Rūḥ al-Bayān, sub Q 67:3) tells us that “between the seventh [heaven] and the Footstool and Throne that are above them, there are oceans of light.” While not negating the literal sense of the verses, certain ishārī (symbolically allusive) exegeses also see allusions in the notion of ṭibāq (“layers”) to realities of the human spirit. Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā, for instance, glosses tibāqan as “the heavens of the different stages of the heart, layer upon layer, each of them containing a special wisdom” (Al-Taʾwīlāt al-najmiyya). Kāshānī considers the seven heavens to refer to “the seven degrees of the unseen (min marātib al-ghuyūb)”—which he had identified in his commentary on Q 65:5, “which exist one atop the other, in harmony” (Tafsīr, sub Q 71:15).


The continuous existence of all creation is utterly dependent upon Allah Most High, Who holds (yumsik) the heavens and the earth, lest they fall apart (an tazūlā); and were they to fall apart, none would maintain them after Him; truly He is Clement, Forgiving (Q 35:41). The notion of the absolute and continued contingency of the created order is a defining characteristic of the Qurʾānic cosmology, bequeathing a sense of the perpetual presence of Allah Most High in the cosmos, and of its radical dependence upon Him in every moment of its existence, as the following passage from Sūrat al-Ḥajj asserts through a sequence of layered cosmological phenomena: That is because Allah makes the night pass into the day and makes the day pass into the night, and because Allah is Hearing, Seeing. That is because Allah is the Truth and what they call upon apart from Him is false, and because Allah is the Exalted, the Great. Have you not considered that Allah sends down water from Heaven, and then the earth becomes green? Truly Allah is Subtle, Aware. To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. And Allah is truly the Self-Sufficient, the Praised. Have you not considered that Allah has made whatsoever is on the earth subservient unto you—and the ship sails upon the sea—by His Command; and He maintains the sky lest it fall upon the earth, save by His Leave. Truly Allah is Kind and Merciful unto mankind (Q 22:61-65; see Sky). Al-Qurṭubī elucidates this “holding” or sustainment of the created order as the unique Attribute of the Creator, Who “proved that their gods cannot create anything in the heavens and the earth. He explains that their Creator and Sustainer is Allah; no temporally originated thing exists except through His existentiation, and it does not remain [in existence] except through His causing it to remain [in existence]” (Tafsīr, sub Q 35:41). A number of exegetes say that the mention of the Attributes of ḥalīman ghafūran in Q 35:41 (He is Forbearing and Forgiving) indicates that despite the disbelief of the disbelievers (q.v.), and the polytheism of the polytheists, Allah Most High continues to hold the heavens to give them time to repent (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Rāzī, Ibn Kathīr). Part of the Divine sustainment of the cosmos consists of His providing His creatures physical sustenance, for He is the Provider (al-Razzāq; cf. Q 51:58), and part of it pertains to His giving them guidance and proper means of glorifying Him, thereby safeguarding the spiritual connection of the created to the Creator (see Rabb and Rubūbiyya). The aspect of spiritual sustenance is highlighted by Abū al-Suʿūd Muḥammad al-ʿImādī (896-982/1490-1574) in an eloquent passage where he draws out the hidden depths of the meaning of ṣalāt (prayer, q.v.) in Q 24:41: Have you not seen that whatsoever is in the heavens and on the earth glorifies Allah, including the birds spreading their wings? Each knows its prayer (ṣalatahu) and its glorification (tasbīḥahu); and Allah knows the things they do. Abū al-Suʿūd shows that this may imply Allah Most High’s direct sustainment of all creatures:

Every possible existent, whether composite or simple, from the aspect of quiddity (min ḥaythu māhiyyatihi) and the existence of states, affirms the existence of the [Artful] Maker, the Necessary Being, Who is characterized by all Attributes of perfection, Who is exalted above all that is not suitable to His Sublimity… [every existent creature] is in need of Him, the Exalted, and receives an effusion from Him, pertaining to all that concerns it….The critical exposition of this [lies in the following]: no possible existent deserves existence by and in itself; every existent [depends on] and is eager to receive effusions (fuyūḍ) from the Most High of all that befits its nature, [such as] existence, and all of the perfections [pertaining to this specific being] that follow from [its existence], both in terms of that thing’s existence being set in motion, and its remaining in existence. Each thing continually receives effusions from the Most High at every moment, receiving all manner of effusions pertaining to its essence and existence ... such that were its connection to the Care (al-ʿināya) and Lordship (al-rabbāniyya) were to cut off, it would perish altogether. This reception of spiritual effusion may be expressed by [the word] ṣalāt, that is, [each being’s] supplication for [the full] completion and realization [of its essence] (Irshād, sub Q 21:41).

Creation and Contemplation

Of all the Qurʾānic contemplative rubrics, Creation is the most frequently mentioned. Reflection upon the sheer fact of human existence, and that of the world in which we live, as well as on the beauty and harmony of the particular features of the cosmos leads to recognition of the great Power, Knowledge, and Wisdom of the Creator, as well as of metaphysical phenomena that constitute tenets of faith, such as Resurrection and life after death. A great number of verses invite contemplation of the creation of the cosmos, and of the teleological significance of some of its particular features: Q 6:99, 7:54, 10:67, 10:101, 13:2-4, 16:10-17, 16:65-70, 21:30-33, 23:80-89, 26:24-28, 27:59:64, 28:71-73, 29:19-20, 30:20-25, 30:48-50, 31:10-11, 45:3-5, 50:6-11, 51:20-21, 79:27-33, 80:24-32, 86:5-7, and 88:17-20 (see Contemplation).

A pivotal verse inviting contemplation on the creation and cosmic events within the created cosmos is Q 2:164: Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day and the ship that runs in the sea with profit for people, and the water Allah sends down from heaven therewith reviving the earth after it is dead, and His scattering in it all manner of crawling thing, and the turning about of the winds, and the clouds compelled between heaven and earth—surely there are signs for a people who use their intellects. One interpretation of contemplating the creation (khalq) of the heavens and the earth is that it means reflecting on their having been “existentiated in the form that they possess, with all of the wonders and [spiritual and moral] lessons that they contain, and the masterful works of art that human minds are powerless to [fully] understand” (Abū al-Suʿūd, Irshād). Another explanation is that it means reflecting on “their physical constitution, that is, the form (hayʾa) of the heavens and the earth,” in which case khalq is interpreted according to one of its secondary meanings. On the first interpretation, the object of contemplation is the act of creation itself, whereas according to the second interpretation, it is the particular form of created beings that is to be contemplated (Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, sub Q 2:164). Other verses related to contemplation include Q 3:190-191: Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the succession of night and day are signs for those with intellects untainted; those who remember Allah standing, sitting, and on their sides, and contemplate the creation of the heavens and the earth—“Our Lord, not in vain did You create this, glory be to You! Save us then, from the punishment of the Fire”; Q 7:185: Or have they not considered the dominion of the heaven and of the earth, and what things Allah has created, and that it may be their term is already nigh? In what manner of discourse then will they after this believe?; Q 41:53: We will show them Our signs on the horizons and in themselves, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth; Q 42:28-29: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and the crawling things He has scattered abroad in them; and He is able to gather them whenever He will; and Q 45:4: and in your creation, and the crawling things He scatters abroad, there are signs for a people having sure faith.


As already noted above, Resurrection, that is the act of recreation is one of the three fundamental themes of the Qurʾān, the other two being tawḥīd (Oneness of Allah) and risāla (Prophethood). The purpose of the creation of humankind and the fruits of their spiritual and moral conduct in this world will be revealed when Allah Most High brings all humanity back to life to face His judgment (see Day of Resurrection), leading to an eternal life, which for the righteous is a state of bliss and blessed proximity to Allah Most High in Paradise, and for the wrongdoers a state of accursed wretchedness and remoteness from Allah Most High, in Hell.

In many verses, the Qurʾān presents the theme of recreation alongside that of creation: Who originates creation, then brings it back again, and provides for you from heaven and earth? Is there a god alongside Allah? Say: ‘Produce your proof, if you speak truly’ (Q 27:64; also see: Q 30:11, 27; 85:13). Recreation is Allah’s promise to His creatures so that He may reward those who have believed and done righteous deeds, in justice. But those who disbelieved will have a drink of scalding water and a painful punishment for what they used to deny (Q 10:4). Thus all creation will return on that Day to Him to have a fair judgment; and this is the “revivification of the dead after their death on the Day of Resurrection” (Samarqandī, Baḥr). In the same sura, the polytheists and disbelievers are challenged with a question: is there any idol among their false idols that can begin and repeat creation? For Allah begins creation and then repeats it; so how are you deluded? (Q 10:34).

Another vivid depiction of recreation is in Q 21:104: The Day when We will fold the heaven like the folding of a sheet for the records. As We began the first creation (awwala khalqin), We will repeat it. [That is] a promise binding upon us. Indeed, We shall do it. This will happen on the Day when Allah Most High will raise every creature (yuʿīdu-Llāhu al-khalāʾiq) in a new creation, in the same manner as He began their creation; He is Able to return them (ʿalā iʿādatihim). This is a binding necessity (wājib al-wuqūʿ), for it belongs to the category of Allah’s promises that never change (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr; cf. Q 30:6; 39:20, and Q 6:34, 115; 18:27). A similar verse is Q 29:19-20: Have they not seen how Allah originates creation, then brings it back again? Surely that is an easy matter for Allah. Say: Journey in the earth, and behold how He originated creation; so will Allah produce a later creation; for Allah has power over all things. Explaining the meaning of origination (al-ibdāʾ) and recreation (al-iʿāda), Burūsawī explains that “the origination of creation is its being made manifest, from nonexistence into existence, and then from unseen existence (al-wujūd al-ghaybī) into particularized essences (al-wujūd al-ʿaynī) (see Manifest and Hidden). Imām al-Ghazālī, Allah have mercy on him, said, ‘if existentiation (al-ījād) is not preceded by something like it, it is called origination (ibdāʾ), and if it is preceded by something like it, it is called recreation (iʿāda); Allah originated creatures, and then He will recreate them, that is, He will bring them back and return them, after [their state of] nonexistence, to existence, and then gather them. All things began with Him, and to Him they will return” (Rūḥ al-Bayān, sub Q 29:19).

The recreation is shown to be possible, then, by the fact that the first creation occurred. This Qurʾānic argument finds one of its most compelling expressions in 36:77-79: Does man not see that We created him of a sperm-drop? For he is flagrantly contentious. And he strikes a similitude for Us, but has forgotten his own creation. He says, “Who can give life to bones when they have crumbled to dust?” Say: He will bring them to life He who created them in the first instance, and He has full knowledge of every kind of creation. The Qurʾān also likens the revivification of the barren earth with water, which all are able to see, to bringing the dead back to life. If the former is easy for Allah, surely so too is the latter: Look at the effects of the mercy of Allah, how He gives life to the earth after its death; that is certainly the Raiser of the dead, and He has power over all things (Q 30:50). Yet another example is Q 50:6-11: What, have they not beheld heaven above them, how We have built it, and decked it out fair, and it has no cracks? And the earth, We stretched it forth, and cast on it firm mountains, and We caused to grow therein of every joyous kind as an insight and a reminder to every penitent servant. And We sent down out of heaven water blessed, and caused to grow thereby gardens and grain of harvest and tall palm-trees laden with clusters of dates, a provision for the servants, and thereby We revived a land that was dead. Even so is the resurrection (see Date Palm).


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See also

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