Wahabi argues: If tensed facts exist, then it necessarily follows that truth or falsehood is changing over time. For example, the tensed statement “It is now 1:27 pm” is only true at 1:27 pm and false at all other times. So if Allah knows this tensed fact, His knowledge must be changing constantly as He knows when certain statements become true and false. However, if Allah is absolutely changeless, that would mean that Allah cannot know tensed facts, hence compromising His attribute of omniscience.
Comment: This pseudo-argument that this wahabi enemy of himself, and of Aļļaah, feels so happy about, originates from likening the Creator to the created. Again and again they come back to their basic belief in the Creator, which is that He is something limited to a place (i.e. a body) with changes in it over time. They thought they could know the reality of Aļļaah’s knowledge by imagination and drawing inferences from their own existence. That is why, for example, they believe that His Will is a series of different wills over time, just like ours. Now even the belief in His perfect Knowledge is subject to their blasphemous attacks. They argue as above, because they cannot imagine perfect knowledge not in time, and think that reality is limited to what they can imagine. It is because they base their arguments upon imagination that they make so many mistakes.
Not being able to imagine something does not mean it cannot be true
It is not enough to say, “I can’t imagine it, so it cannot be true,” or even “I can’t understand it, so it can’t be true.” Even in sciences studying creation, especially physics, the facts and concepts they speak of are so counter intuitive and unfamiliar to our minds and knowledge that they cannot be imagined. That is why they rely on complex mathematics to express their theories instead. So if concepts in physics cannot be conceptualized in the mind, what would be the case for the Creator and His attributes?
For example, they say that if lightning hit the back of a moving train and at the same time its front, then to an outsider they happen simultaneously, but to someone inside the front is hit before the back, because he is moving towards the event. Accordingly, there could be points in time that are separate according to one frame of reference and simultaneous to another. None of these frames are special, and it is as equally true to say that it occurred simultaneously as it is to say that one occurred first.
The belief that Aļļaah does not resemble His creation and how it is applied here for average Muslims
Every aspect of a created thing or being has a beginning, since no aspect of it is eternal. Likewise, everything that has a beginning must be a creation, as it must have been brought into existence. This means that Aļļaah is not something you can imagine, not Him and not His attributes, because your imagination is based on what you are familiar with, namely things that have a beginning, things that last moments of time despite their possible non-existence.
Based on this, the scholars taught people the rule that “whatever you can imagine in your mind, Aļļaah does not resemble it.” Similarly, the cousin of the Prophet Muĥammad, and famous companion, Ibn ˆAbbaas said, “Ponder about everything, but do not ponder about the Self of Aļļaah.” (Fatĥu-l-Baariy 13/383 ) He said this because such dwelling leads one to draw analogies between the Creator and the created, which is blasphemy. It contradicts the belief in Aļļaah’s Oneness, as it involves the heretical belief that Aļļaah has an equal in some aspect. It also contradicts the Quranic “Absolutely nothing resembles Him.”
Accordingly, Aţ-Ţaĥaawiyy stated in his creed: “Whoever attributed to Aļļaah an attribute that has a meaning among the meanings that apply to humans has committed blasphemy.” Note the categorical sense of “a meaning,” which tells us that this is true for any meaning that applies to humans, not just some. For example, having a direction, a body, changing or the like. Note also that he states “meaning”, and not “word,” because the important thing is the meaning of the word, not the word itself. Consequently, if someone said “Aļļaah is not a body,” yet believed that Aļļaah is something in a place, then he is not a Muslim. This is because he believes Aļļaah to be attributed with the bodily meaning of occupying place.
Had the Wahhabis held onto this advice from the scholars, they would have rejected the argument they presented above at face value, and remained firmly within the fold of Islam. This is what average Muslims have done, because they know that they cannot imagine Aļļaah or His attributes. There would be no need for complex answers. Instead, the Wahhabis, out of their inclination towards deviance and hatred for the People of the Truth, the Sunnis, they decided to present an argument based on the idea that “what is true of creation must be true of the Creator.”
As for us, the People of the Truth, the Sunnis, we do not liken Aļļaah to His creation, and we do not draw analogies between the Creator and His creation. We firmly believe that Aļļaah is not in the frameworks of time and place, unlike Wahhabis. Consequently, Aļļaah’s Knowledge is not our kind of knowledge, created knowledge, so it is not restricted by time. No creation can fully know the reality of Aļļaah, or His attributes. It is One Knowledge by which He knows everything, unlike our knowledge. As for time, it is something we are stuck passing through, a function of our reality of being under constant change and renewal relative to all other things in space. Aļļaah is neither in a state of change nor renewal, nor is He in a place, so it is nonsensical to draw analogies between ourselves or our knowledge and Aļļaah and His Knowledge.
A look at “Tensed Facts”
What confused the wahabi is that at 1:27 pm he is in one situation of time and place, and at 1:28 pm at another, as estimated by the position of the Sun with respect to the Earth, as is the custom of humans (see footnote.) He thought that since he is changing situations with respect to the rest of creation, that Aļļaah also was in a situation at 1:27 pm and then another at 1:28 pm. This is not the case, because Aļļaah is not in a “situation,” as He is not in a place, and is not in time, so the question, “when was He?” does not apply to Him. Missing this point, he thought that knowledge of “tensed facts” has to be in time. This cannot be true, because it is impossible that Aļļaah should be in time, as we shall prove below under the next heading.
The past tense, for example, is an expression referring to the relative situation of created things to each other. So when someone says “12:00 noon already passed,” he means that he already passed through that state relative to space and the change and renewal of other creations. Aļļaah, on the other hand, does not pass through relative situations, since He is not in a place and does not change and does not renew.
As for the present tense, it is true for me, at 1:27, that it is 1:27, but this is only a name for my relative position to other things that change with me at different places. Aļļaah is not in a place and does not change, or renew, so His knowledge is not relative to time. Aļļaah knows everything about all times, without Himself being in time. His knowledge of time is without a beginning, end, change or renewal.
Aļļaah knows all these relations, because He created them. He knows them with one indivisible knowledge, that is neither a whole nor a part, because it is not composed lest it need a composer, and that is beginningless and without end, because it is not brought into existence, lest it need a creator.
In fact, Aļļaah created our knowledge and perception of “tensed facts,” so He knows the “now is 1:27”, for a created being which is a matter of time, space and relative change or renewal for that being. He knows it without His knowledge having a future, past or present, because He created it. He knows it perfectly, because He created every aspect of it, unlike the creations that exist in the uncountable when situations/times that each and every creation pass through during the time they last. In fact, created beings only have the knowledge of the “now” they are in according to the limited perceptions He created in them.
We believe then, that Aļļaah knows “tensed facts” without needing to be in the creation of time. We believe His knowledge is eternal and some information created, just as we believe that Aļļaah’s action of creating is eternal while the created has a beginning.
It is impossible that Aļļaah should be in time
The arguer thinks Aļļaah’s knowledge is something that can be divided over moments of time, so that the concepts of past, present and future applies to it. That cannot be true, however, because Aļļaah’s existence is not a possibility, but an existence that is intrinsically necessary (Waajibu-l-Wujuud). To clarify: something that exists is either intrinsically (i.e. with respect to itself alone) possible in its existence, or intrinsically necessary. There is no third judgment for what exists. The possible in existence accepts non-existence, while the necessary does not. Aļļaah is necessarily existent, but everything else is possible, because what is possible in existence needs something other than itself to exist. If it did not, then it would be intrinsically necessary.
If Aļļaah’s existence was divisible into time periods, then His necessary existence would be in a state of renewal, moment by moment, and what is renewed is not necessary in existence, rather it is only possible in the next moment, i.e. possible after having existed. In other words, renewal of existence does not apply to what is necessary in existence, because it does not need renewal. After all, if it needed renewal, it would not be necessary in existence. Consequently, it does not have moments of existence.
Another way to say this is that if Aļļaah’s existence had been divisible into moments of time, then this would either be with Him having a beginning, which none of us believe, or with Him having no beginning. However, if his existence was divisible into moments of time, without a beginning, then this would mean that an infinite number of moments passed before the world came into existence. An infinite number of moments cannot pass, however, because infinity cannot be completed. Therefore, since an infinite amount of moments cannot pass, it must be true that Aļļaah’s existence is not divisible into moments of time. Accordingly, His knowledge is not either, because it is an eternal, necessary, and thus non-renewing, attribute of Aļļaah. We know He has this attribute, because He specified and brought everything into existence, and since He specified it, He must definitely know it also.
Our knowledge, on the other hand, is a knowledge that is renewed over time, so our knowledge existing at 1:27 differs from our knowledge at 1:28. This is because it is changing, and because it is not necessary in existence, and is therefore divisible into moments of existence.
Beginningless Eternity is not a time
One important point needs to be stressed: Beginningless Eternity is not a past time. Rather, it is an expression by which we mean the existence of Aļļaah with the non-existence of time, place and all creation. The mind wants to know what this precedence of the Creator with respect to His creation is. It is not in time, however, because time is possible in existence, as it is parts (moments) following each other in sequence, and these parts are definitely not eternal. The whole of time then, is dependent on possible parts, and what depends on the possible is surely only possible in existence. Accordingly, the precedence of its Creator cannot be in time, not the least because that would make Him both in time and not in time, which is self-contradictory.
The reality of this, however, is not something the mind can grasp, because anything that enters the mind is in a situation of time. That is why Aļļaah being precedent is known by us in general, but not in detail or comprehensively.
For example, Aļļaah’s precedence of beginninglessness indicates a distinction between His beginninglessness and His endlessness. Beginningless eternity, however, is not something other than Aļļaah (but not Him Himself either.) Moreover, distinction between the two meanings would require a beginning for endlessness, but this is impossible, because any hypothesized beginning would have endlessness before it, as there is no beginning before that. That is, distinction between beginninglessness and endlessness would require the completion of beginninglessness, and that is impossible, because what does not begin cannot finish. This means that our minds are incapable of distinguishing between the concepts of beginninglessness, endlessness and eternity. The reason is that the mind only knows what the mind encompasses. So what is apparent is that Aļļaah is first in that everything that has a beginning depends on Him for their existence. If one tries to understand the reality of that firstness, however, one is completely unable, because the mind cannot encompass what has no limit.
Now we are back to the point that the reality of Aļļaah’s existence is not comprehensible to humans, but at an even deeper level than previously. A further indication of this fact, is that a human being does not conceptualize something except if he perceives in his mind inner feelings, such as pain and pleasure, or input from his senses, such as light, color, shape, sound, voice, taste, smell, temperature and softness. Anything beyond that is difficult for a human to conceptualize. Since Aļļaah’s reality is not like what we perceive through our senses, we are not able to conceptualize Him.
Yet another indication of this incomprehensibility, is that what we know about Him, is either in the sense of negation, like in the sense that He is neither a body, nor a particle, or in terms of meanings that pertain to Him, such as, “He is the one that has all rights to judge.” In fact the most apparent fact we know about Him is: “He is the Creator of the world,” and that therefore He precedes it. Yet we cannot know the reality of this precedence, because it is not one of time.
We are compelled, nevertheless, to speak about this meaning in a figurative way, because language has been established to speak about things that are in time and place, and we do not have special vocabulary to express exactly what we want to say. For this reason, the feeble minded will think that we are saying something other than what we intend, such as when we say “before Aļļaah created the worlds.” We not mean by this to say that Aļļaah was in time.
In this regard, the Imam of Guidance, Abuu Manşuur Al-Maaturiidiyy says: “A fundamental belief principle is that whenever Aļļaah is ascribed an attribute, then this attribute is eternal. One says that He is attributed with knowledge, power and providing eternally without a beginning and without an end. If He is mentioned with regard to His management of creation and orders to it, then time is stated, but this time is for creation, not for Him. For example, it is said, “Aļļaah knows eternally that you are sitting here,” or “(sitting here) at this time.” I.e. Aļļaah knows eternally without a beginning or an end that the person is sitting now…. This is all to prevent people from thinking “How were the created things in eternity? (Ta’wiilaat Ahlu-s-Sunnah 9/473)”
Having said that, what the arguer is describing, is a change of information over time for something in time. Time is something relative to one’s frame of reference, as one relates to all other things in space. Even in modern, generally accepted physics, they teach that the order of things is a matter of one’s reference point in space, and now the trend is that the phenomena of time is related to mass. Strange, but since Aļļaah is not in a place, unlike what Wahhabis believe, this helps us to accept also that time is not something He passes through as He does not have a reference point in space nor does He have mass, because He is not a body. Rather, all places at all times pertain to Him with no difference between them, because He is not in a place and does not change. It is what His Power to create pertains to that is in time and place with respect to each other, not that He Himself is in time.
Accordingly, Aļļaah knows eternally without a beginning or end, or change or renewal, the fact that “the time is 1:28 when the time is 1:28” and He knows the relation of that particular time to all other times. For example, He knows the time at which this time is present in itself, and when it is passed, and when it is future, just as He knows that time’s relation to the beginning of time, and so on. In other words, He knows everything that has to do with that time, both what we know, and what we do not know. So if that time comes, in relation to us, as we pass through time, and He is not, then Aļļaah did not increase His knowledge, because He knows eternally everything that has to do with it.
The ambiguity of what the wahabi said is made clearer if we hypothesized that a prophet asked his Lord, “what time is it now?” and Aļļaah revealed to him that the time is so and so. Is this revelation that was revealed to Him something that happened to Aļļaah’s knowledge, or something that He knows without beginning or end? The answer is without doubt that it is something that Aļļaah knows eternally, because the word “now” is a word of relativity (relative to what passes through time) that Aļļaah (who is not in time) knows by His beginningless and endless knowledge. In other words, it is true that the time, at that particular point in time, is called “now” relative to things that are renewed or that change (i.e. things that could intrinsically, with respect to themselves, in the mind’s eye, be non-existent after existence.) So it is true that it is “now” with respect to that prophet when he asks. Based on this we can rephrase the hypothesized request as follows: “What is the time now, relative to myself?” or, “What is the time now, relative to what passes through time?”
As for the Eternal, the relation of all different places is one to Him, in the sense that no place is closer or further from Him than another, because He is not in place, neither in one place, nor in all places. Likewise, all different times have one relation to Him, in the sense that one time is not nearer to Him than another. This is indicated in the aayah:
هُوَ الْأَوَّلُ وَالْآخِرُ [الحديد : 3]
Literally translated: “He is the First and the Last.” Since Aļļaah does not have a beginning, it is true, based on the aayah, that He is First and Last without a beginning, i.e. without a past time, i.e. without being last after having been first. So the meaning of being last is not after being first and being first is not before being last. We consequently know that He is not bound by time, and that all different times have one relation to Him, because created things (i.e. what passes through time) cannot be last unless they have a past time. There is no question, however, that comprehending this is utterly beyond the capability of our minds.
The origin of this doubt-spreading point brought forward by the wahabi is his thinking that Aļļaah passes through time, just as creation does. So he thought that the relation of “now” to Aļļaah is the same as the relation of “now” to us, His creation. This thinking stems from his failure to define time properly, and failure to differentiate between the Creator and the created. If he was really trying to get to the truth, he would have solved this problem by defining time properly. Alternatively, he could have believed Aļļaah’s saying about Himself:
وَخَلَقَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ [الأنعام : 101]
Meaning: “He created everything, and He knows everything.” After all, time is definitely other than Aļļaah, so He is its Creator, and He is not passing through it.
This is because measuring time is estimating renewal or change by renewal or change in something else. For example, days are measured in terms of changes in the sun or moon’s positions. If a sunrise is followed by a sunset, we say that a day has passed, and if this happens seven times, then we say that a week has passed and so on. Elements and bodies are in a constant state of renewal, because their existence in every new moment is only a possibility; you do not know with absolute certainty whether they will exist in the next moment or not. They are therefore in a continuous state of renewal of existence. That is why the concept of time always applies to them; they cannot break free of it. They are in a state of continuous state of existence after existence instead of non-existence, as long as they exist. This is what it means to pass through time. This is not so with Aļļaah, because Aļļaah’s existence is a must, and it is therefore impossible that He should cease to exist. In other words, His existence is not in time, because His existence is not in a state of renewal. It is also clear then that He is not measurable in terms of time, because time is a measure of relative change or renewal between two things, and Aļļaah is not attributed with change or renewal. He is, after all, the Creator of time, because time is other than Aļļaah, and He said in His Book that He created everything.