Is Allah seeable?

Seeing Allah (Ru'yat Allah)

The Shi'a school of thought absolutely denies that Allah can be seen since He has no image or body. However, other schools of thought accept several hadith that not only claim that Allah has physical parts but also that He will be seen on the Day of Judgement just as any other object is seen. They also claim that Allah occupies space and travels from one place to another. The basis for these arguments is hadith and not the Holy Qur'an. Some of these narrations are as follows:

"Our Lord, before creating His creation, did not have anything with Him; underneath Him was air; above Him was air; then he created His throne on water."[129]

On the Day of Judgement: "It will be said to Hell: 'Are you filled up'? It will say: 'Are there any more'? So the Lord, Blessed and Exalted is He, will put His leg into it, whereupon it will say, 'Now I am full'!"[130]

"We were sitting with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh&hf) when he looked at the full moon and observed, 'You shall see your Lord as you are seeing this moon, and you will not be harmed by seeing Him'."[131]

The last narration, in particular, asserts that people will see Allah with their physical eyes, regardless of whether they are among the good or among the hypocrites. Seeing Allah means that Allah must have a physical body and must occupy physical space; Imam Malik ibn Anas and Imam al-Shafi'i accept this opinion, and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal considers this belief among the fundamentals of the religion.

The opinion of the followers of the ahl al-bayt is that seeing Allah is impossible. This view is supported by the Holy Qur'an and by logic. The Holy Qur'an says clearly: "No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision."[132] Furthermore, there are multiple examples of people asking to see Allah and the response of Allah the Exalted to their requests:

"And remember when you said, O people of Moses, 'We shall never believe in you till we see Allah plainly.' But you were seized with a thunderbolt while you were looking. Then We raised you up after death so that you might be grateful."[133]

"The People of the Scripture ask you (O Muhammad) to cause a book to descend upon them from Heaven. Indeed, they asked Moses for even greater than that when they said, 'Show us Allah in public,' but they were struck with thunder and lightening for their wickedness." [134]

"And those who expect not a meeting with Us say, 'Why are not the angels sent down to us?' or 'Why do we not see our Lord?' Indeed, they think too highly of themselves and are scornful with great pride."[135]

"When Moses came to the place appointed by Us, and his Lord addressed him, he said, 'O Lord! Show Yourself to me so that I may look upon You.' Allah said, 'By no means can you see Me, but look at the mountain - if it abides in its place then you shall see Me.' When his Lord manifested His glory to the mountain, he made it like dust, and Moses fell in a swoon. When he recovered his senses, he said, 'Glory be to You. To You do I turn in repentance, and I am the first to believe'."[136]

If seeing Allah were impossible for the prophets and messengers of Allah (pbut), then it is clearly impossible for all other people as well, either during this life or the Hereafter.

Logically speaking, in order to see an object, the object must have several qualities. First, it must have a specific direction, such as in front of or to the left or right of the viewer. Second, a distance must exist between the one seeing and the thing being seen. Seeing would be impossible if the distance became longer or shorter. Allah the Almighty is not a physical object that we can pinpoint and ultimately see, nor does He occupy space. Although the Holy Qur'an says: "He is the Supreme, watching over His worshippers"[137] and "They revere their Lord high above them,"[138] "above them" refers to the Almighty being above His servants in His might, power, and loftiness - not in place, space, area, elevation, or physcal location. Such qualities do not apply to Him. During his ascention to Heaven, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf) called upon his Lord by the words: "You are as You have praised Your own Self," while Prophet Jonah (pbuh) called upon his Lord from the bottom of the sea saying: "There is no God but You! Glory be to You!"[139] Regarding Prophet Jonah (pbuh), the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hf) has said: "Do not exalt me over him in nearness to Allah just because I reached the high throne, whereas he was in the bottom of the sea, for the adored one is above being confined to a space or a direction."

Imam 'Ali (pbuh) was asked by one of his companions, Tha'lab al-Yamani, whether he had seen his Lord. Imam 'Ali (pbuh) replied: "How could I worship something that I do not see?" When asked how he saw Him, Imam 'Ali (pbuh) replied: "Eyes do not reach Him with physical sight, but the hearts reach Him with the realities of belief."[140] There are many things which people cannot reach and have no physical access to but which people still believe in. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (pbuh) was once asked: "Could Allah be seen on the Day of Resurrection?" His (pbuh) answer was: "Be He exalted and glorified from that! The eyes would reach an object which has color and shape, but Allah, the Exalted, is the Creator of colors and shapes."

Similar aspects of Allah, such as His "hand" or His "face," are also meant allegorically. The Hand of Allah refers to His power and might, and His Face refers to different things. The first step in the oneness and monotheism of Allah is the understanding that Allah is not a body and will never be seen and that He is unique, as the Holy Qur'an states: "There is nothing like unto Him."[141]

Notes:

[129] Sunan ibn Majah, introduction; Sunan al-Tirmidhi, explanations of Surat Hud. Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, 4:11-12

[130] Sahih Bukhari, 3:128; 4:191; 4:129 of Anas, and others. Some narrations say "foot" instead of "leg."

[131] Sahih Bukhari, 10:18, 20; Book on the Times of Prayers hadith #521 and #539; Interpretation of the Holy Qur'an hadith #4473; Monotheism hadith #6882, #6883, #6884; Sahih Muslim, Book on Mosques and Places of Performing Prayers hadith #1002; Tirmidhi, Book on the Description of Paradise hadith #2474; Abu Dawud, Book on the Sunnah, hadith #4104; Ibn Majah, Book on the Introduction, hadith #173; Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal 4:360, 362, 365

[132] Qur'an 6:102

[133] Qur'an 2:55

[134] Qur'an 4:53

[135] Qur'an 25:21

[136] Qur'an 7:143

[137] Qur'an 6:61

[138] Qur'an 16:50

[139] Qur'an 21:87

[140] Nahj al-Balaghah

[141] Qur'an 42:11