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Last Updated: 2012/12/15
Summary of question
Can something emerge from nothing?
question
Can something emerge from nothing?
Concise answer

Based on philosophical and mystical principles, creating something out of nothing means that the universe and the entire divine attributes are, in the level of divine essence, vanished  in God’s essence with no name, accident or distinction or any quality existing. The level of God’s essence, before manifestation, is the level which is literally called the unseen of the unseen or the invisible of the invisibles; it is nothing but absolute concealment.  Hence, the universe having particular feature has been created from nothing. That is, it had been nothing in the level of essence. (Of course, it should be noted that we do not mean temporal eternity; rather we mean positional eternity). This meaning is not only stated by men of knowledge but it is deciphered from the narrations (revayat) as well. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was asked: Where was our Lord before He created the heavens and the earth?” He replied: “He was in a heavy cloud (kana fi `amaa') with nothing above and beneath it. ‘Amaa' is the level of nothingness of things in the essence of God.

Detailed Answer

The creation of something out of nothing is an important philosophical and theological problem. It is necessary to mention in the first place that this topic is discussed under ‘createdness and pre-eternity of the universe’. Muslim scholars are of the view that the universe is not essentially pre-eternal; rather it has essential contingency because eternity of something is not compatible with the monotheistic vision. Muslim thinkers agree that the universe is essentially created and it is not essential eternal yet they disagree about the temporal createdness of the universe. Most Muslim theologians consider the universe to be temporally created (created in time) but most Muslim philosophers are of the view that temporal createdness of the universe is meaningless because time is one of the aspects of the realm of matter. It is, therefore, meaningless to have time without matter.[1]

Obviously, after discussing createdness and pre-eternity regarding the universe (other than Allah), the same question can be asked regarding the realm of matter. Muslim philosophers consider temporal createdness about the realm of matter meaningless giving the same argument they were offerign regarding temporal createdness of the universe. In fact, some philosophers who do not accept temporal createdness of the realm of matter do not hold the same view regarding eternity of the realm of matter; rather they explain it in the form of two possibilities. Considering the necessity of the continuation of divine grace, some Muslim philosophers believe that the world of matter is eternal as well.[2]

In any case, all Muslim scholars should, after dealing with the foregoing issue, answer the question about the beginning of creation. Did the creatures come into being out of nothing or out of something? This is one of the difficult questions. Either of the two possibilities offered as a response to this question would end up in a dead end because if it is said that the universe was created from something, then the problem arises as to how a thing which exists could come into being again. And if something has been created out of nothing, how could nothing be the origin and source of something? This issue becomes serious when we come across different narrations regarding creation out of nothing. Therefore, all Muslim scholars should, despite having different views, respond to this question. That is to say, all of those who believe in temporal createdness of the universe should reply to this question whether the primary creation had been out of something or nothing.  Same is the case with the scholars who do not believe in temporal createdness of the universe; they should also deal with this problem and come with an answer.

Here we will give an answer on the basis of philosophical and mystical principles and sayings of the infallibles.  It must be noted before hand that creating out of nothing does not mean that nothing is the cause or source and primordial substance of existence or creation because it is meaningless to say that nothing is the cause of something.

Based on philosophical and mystical principles, it can be said that creation had been out of nothing and it can also be said that it had been out of something. In other words, both of the two propositions can be correct. Creation out of something is correct because all of the existents are the presence and epiphany of God. They have originated from God’s very essence. So, in reality, only God is the real being and the rest are His signs and expressions.[3] Creation out of nothing is also correct in the sense that the universe or rather God’s entire attributes are, in the level of God’s essence, vanished  in God’s essence with no name, accident or distinction or any quality existing. The level of God’s essence, before epiphany, is the level of the unseen of the unseen which is in the absolute concealment.  Hence, the universe having particular feature has been created from nothing. That is, it had been nothing in the level of essence. In fact, it should be noted that we do not mean temporal eternity; rather we mean positional eternity. This meaning is not only stated by some men of knowledge but it is deciphered from the narrations (revayat) as well. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was asked: Where was our Lord before He created the heavens and the earth?” He replied: “He was in a heavy cloud (kana fi `amaa') with nothing above and beneath it.[4]

‘Amaa' is the level of nothingness of things in the essence of God. In other words, God has all the powers and is needless of everything and every attribution in the level of `amaa'. All the attributes and qualities in this rank are vanished. Therefore, no type of description is possible for it because he is purified, in this level, of all kinds of qualities. Therefore, the position of `amaa' applies to the first of the levels of God’s essence according to men of knowledge.

To explain it further, although mystics consider the realm of existence and manifestations of truth countless, they are generally divided into five ranks or five presences. The first of them, as stated in the narrations, is called `amaa'. Other names have also been applied to this rank including the absolute world, the world of invisibles, the world of divine reality and the world of absolute invisibility as the Quran says:

«وَ عِنْدَهُ مَفاتِحُ الْغَیبِ لا یعْلَمُها إِلاَّ هُوَ»[5]

“With Him are the keys of the unseen, the treasures that none knoweth but He.”[6], [7]

 


[1] For further information vide: Answer 19722 (Createdness and Eternity of the World according to Philosophers and Theologians).

[2] See answer 19722 (Createdness and Eternity of the World according to Philosophers and Theologians) to find who holds this view.

[3] For further information vide: question 11013 (the relationship between created and eternal and primordial matter of the creation of the universe).

[4] Musnad, vol.4, p. 11

«حدثنا عبد الله، حدثنی أبی، ثنا یزید بن هرون، أنا حماد ابن سلمة، عن یعلى بن عطاء، عن وکیع بن حدس، عن عمه أبی رزین، قال: قلت یا رسول الله، أین کان ربنا عز وجل قبل أن یخلق خلقه؟ قال: کان فی عماء، ما تحته هواء وما فوقه هواء، ثم خلق عرشه على الماء»

Abu Razeen narrated that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, disliked to be asked [too many] questions, but "when he, Abu Razeen, asked him a question it pleased him." He said:

I said: "Messenger of Allah, where was our Lord before He created the heavens and the earth?" He replied: "He was in a heavy cloud (kana fi `amaa') above which there was air (maa fawqahu hawaa') and below which there was air (wa-maa tahtahu hawaa'). Then He created the Throne upon the water."

[5] Al-An’aam, 59

[6] Extracted from answer 10342 (God before creation of the universe)

[7] For further information refer to answers 4639 (Unity of Being) and 13064 (The Five Presences)

 

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