So this discussion [that we’re having] is concerning refining such wording–so clarify what you mean.
From the goals that the Legislator laid down is a refinement of the terminology used, so when referring to Allaah’s Knowledge, instead of us saying, ‘Allaah is present in all that exists … Allaah is present everywhere,’ we should say, ‘Allaah surrounds (comprehends) all things in (His) Knowledge,’ because the first expression, i.e., ‘Allaah is present in all that exists,’ is connected to the aqidah of the extremist Sufis who say, ‘There is no He but He,’ so [according to them] there is no [distinction between] Creator or created, as one of them said:
When the Magians worshipped the fire
They worshipped nothing but the One, the Irresistible Subduer [i.e., Allaah]
Because [according to these people] Paradise, the Fire, the Creator, the creation, all of these things have no reality, and in summary [they say], ‘There is no He but He,’ they say, ‘Everything that you see with your very eye is Allaah!’
Thus it does not befit a Muslim to say a word which he will be compelled to explain afterwards. [So] make a clear statement–and there is nothing clearer than the Quraan, ‘Allaah surrounds (comprehends) all things in (His) Knowledge.’
As for you saying a sentence and then saying after it [having being compelled to explain it], ‘By Allaah! I mean such and such …’ then [in answer to this] the Prophet عليه الصلاة والسلام said … and this was part of his disciplining us and teaching us manners, manners which if we followed we would have succeeded, [he said], ‘Do not say something which you have to make an excuse for before the people.’ [Compiler’s note: Reported in Sahih al-Jaami’ no., 742 with the wording, ‘And do not say something which you have to seek an excuse from …’]
And in another shorter narration there occurs, ‘Beware of that which you must seek an excuse from.’
So don’t say, ‘Allaah is present in all that exists, Allaah is present in all that exists,’ because you will face many objections and much criticism which you will have no way of answering.
It will be said to you, ‘The place which a Muslim is forced to go to two or three times a day, a place which he wishes he wouldn’t have to enter, is your Lord there too?’ Likewise, with [places such as] sewers etc., a Muslim does not say this.
So take back this statement of yours. Do not say it.
This is complicated, so what should we believe and what should we say? [What should we say] instead of, ‘Allaah is everywhere?’ Namely, when we speak about the One who is worshipped Himself, i.e., Allaah, [which is] the Name of Supreme Greatness [Ismul-Jalaalah], known amongst all Muslims, [what should we say?]
We know that the saying of some of them that ‘Allaah is everywhere,’ is a mistake and that what is meant is His Knowledge, so we say [to these people]: when referring to Divine Knowledge let your wording be correct, say, ‘Allaah surrounds (comprehends) all things in (His) Knowledge.’
But when we speak about Allaah the Mighty and Majestic, about the Divine Dhaat what should we say?
It has been reported from one of the Salaf, Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak, who is from the major Shaikhs of the Imaam of the Sunnah, Imaam Ahmad, may Allaah have mercy upon him … he said in a statement which gathered and included [a summary of the topic at hand], he said, ‘Allaah the Blessed and Most High is above His Throne in His Essence [bi dhaatihi]. Separate and distinct from His Creation. And He is with them in His Knowledge.’
The previous discussion [that], ‘Allaah surrounds (comprehends) all things in (His) Knowledge,’ is an explanation of this last sentence, ‘And He is with them in His Knowledge.’
But at the beginning of this statement [of Ibn al-Mubaarak] he spoke about the Diving Dhaat, he said that Allaah the Blessed and Most High is above His Throne in His Essence [Dhaat], he based this statement upon many aayahs from the noble Quraan, [such as], ‘The Most Gracious rose over the [Mighty] Throne [in a manner that suits His Majesty],’[Taa Haa 20:5] ‘To Him ascend (all) the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it (the goodly words i.e., the goodly words are not accepted by Allaah unless and until they are followed by good deeds),’ [Faatir 35:10]
And in the famous hadith, ‘Have mercy on those on earth and the One above the Heavens will have mercy on you,’ it is as though this hadith is an excerpt from His Saying, the Blessed and Most High, ‘Do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allaah), will not cause the earth to sink with you, then behold it shakes (as in an earthquake)? Or do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heaven (Allaah), will not send against you a violent whirlwind? Then you shall know how (terrible) has been My Warning?’ [Mulk 67:16-17] Imaam Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak, the Shaikh of Imaam Ahmad, is expressing [the meaning of] these ayaahs [quoted above] and others [in that statement of his].
The Haafidh of Damascus, adh-Dhahabi, collected such statements in a book particular to this topic, which is printed and is called ‘The Ascendancy of the Most High, the Oft-Forgiving’ [Al-Uluww lil-Aliyyil-Ghaffaar]. In this book, he collected those aayahs which talk about this characteristic of the Divine Dhaat, i.e., the characteristic of being totally and absolutely above all creation.
The aayahs, hadiths, sayings of the Companions, narrations from the Salaf, amongst whom are the four Imaams, [which adh-Dhahabi collected in that book] all talk about what Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak gathered in that one sentence, ‘Allaah the Blessed and Most High is above His Throne in His Essence, separate and distinct from His Creation …’ so he nullified the belief of indwelling [hulool], Allaah being the One in no need of any of His Creation.
But this ascendancy which it is not possible for the human intellect to grasp or imagine does not mean that any secret is hidden from Him, Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak said, ‘And He is with them in His Knowledge.’
So this brief sentence has collected [the meaning contained in] tens of aayahs and hadiths and sayings from the Salaf, so that the creed of the Muslim can be correct and far removed from that of ‘the Unity of Existence’ [Wahdatul-Wujood] and far removed from [believing in] ‘indwelling’ [hulool] which some of the misguided sects affirm.
Allaah the Blessed and Most High is above His Throne in His Essence, separate and distinct from His Creation and He is with them in His Knowledge.
Al-Hudaa wan-Noor, 69.