|Tawhid (Monotheism)||Tawhid of Essence • Tawhid in Attributes • Tawhid in Actions • Tawhid in Worship|
|Other Beliefs||Tawassul • Shafa'a • Tabarruk|
|Bada' • Amr Bayn al-Amrayn|
|Infallibility • 'Ilm al-ghayb • Mu'jiza • Integrity of the Holy Qur'an|
|Infallibility • Wilaya • 'Ilm al-ghayb • Occultation of Imam al-Mahdi (a) (Minor Occultation,Major Occultation) • Reappearance of Imam al-Mahdi (a) • Raj'a|
|End Time • Hereafter • Barzakh • Embodiment of Actions •Bodily Resurrection • Al-Sirat • Tatayur al-Kutub • Mizan • Hashr|
|Other Outstanding Beliefs|
|Ahl al-Bayt (a) • The Fourteen Infallibles • Taqiyya • Marja'iyya • Tawalli • Tabarri|
Seeing God, or visual perception of God, (Arabic: رؤية الله) is a theological issue regarding the possibility of seeing God with physical eyes. According to Imami and Mu'tazilite theologians, God cannot be seen with our physical eyes, neither in this world nor in the hereafter. They argue that perceiving God with our physical eyes would imply that God possesses a physical form or body. On the other hand, several Sunni theological schools, including Ash'arism, the People of Hadith, corporalists (al-mujassima), Karramiyya, and Salafists, maintain the belief that it is possible to see God.
In Islam, the question of perceiving God traces back to the second/eighth century. Some believe that the issue was introduced into Islamic discourse by specific individuals who had previously practiced Judaism or Christianity before apparently embracing Islam. The matter of seeing God is not only discussed within the realm of theology but also finds mention in the Quran, hadiths, and mystical traditions. Numerous books have been written on this subject, one of which is Ru'yat Allah fi daw' al-kitab wa-l-sunna wa al-'aql al-sarih (Seeing God in light of the Book, the Tradition, and explicit reason).
The Notion and Significance
The question of seeing God is a theological inquiry into the possibility of perceiving God with our physical eyes. References to this topic can be found in certain Quranic verses, such as verses 22 and 23 of Quran 75, verse 15 of Quran 83, verse 16 of Quran 10, and verses 11-13 of Quran 53. Some verses explicitly reject the notion of seeing God, including verse 103 of Quran 6, verse 143 of Quran 8, verse 55 of Quran 2, verse 153 of Quran 4, and verse 21 of Quran 25. Both Shiite and Sunni hadith sources contain numerous narrations addressing the possibility or impossibility of seeing God.
It is said that the pursuit of direct contact with God has led Muslim Sufis and mystics to be seriously concerned with the issue of seeing God. This matter holds particular importance within the first generation of Muslim Sufis, with various individuals, including Ibrahim al-Adham, having left quotes on the subject.
History of the Debate
Within Islam, the discourse surrounding the visual perception of God emerged in the second/eighth century during theological debates involving two sects: the Jahmiyya and the Mu'tazilites. These sects denied the possibility of seeing God through physical eyes. In the early third/ninth century, the belief in the possibility of seeing God was upheld by Ahmad b. Hanbal, one of the four Sunni Imams, and his followers as a main doctrine. Other theological sects such as the Maturidiyya, Ash'arites, Mujassima (corporalists), Karramiyya, and Salafists affirmed the possibility of perceiving God with physical eyes.
Some contemporary theologians, like Ja'far Subhani, a Shia scholar of jurisprudence and theology, hold the belief that the notion of seeing God was introduced into Islamic discourse and hadiths by some Jews and Christians who falsely claimed to have converted to Islam, including figures like Ka'b al-Ahbar. Subhani asserts that all hadiths concerning the visual perception of God were falsely attributed and fabricated by such Jews and Christians.
Seeing God in Other Religions
Prior to the advent of Islam, the issue of seeing God is referenced in both the Torah and the Gospel. Within the Bible, there are instances where God speaks to Moses (a), stating, "You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." Another verse addresses Moses (a), stating, "Then I will remove my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen." In the Gospel, there is a verse suggesting that those who are pure in heart will see God. However, another verse in the Gospel asserts that no one has ever seen God.
Views of Islamic Denominations about Seeing God
In Islam, there exist three primary positions on the question of seeing God. The first is held by two Sunni theological sects, Mujassima (corporalists) and Karramiyya. They maintain the belief in the possibility of seeing God both in this world and in the hereafter, as they consider God to have a physical and spatial form.
Other Sunni theological sects, including the Ash'arites and the People of Hadith, Do not ascribe a physical form to God. However, they still uphold the belief that in the hereafter, God will be seen by physical eyes.
Arguments for the Possibility of Seeing God in the Hereafter
Proponents of the possibility of seeing God have made recourse to philosophical and religious textual arguments, some of which are as follows.
Here are some of the philosophical arguments for the possibility of seeing God:
- If a person can see oneself and the objects around, then it is plausible that they can also be seen by others. Considering that God has the ability to perceive Himself and all things, it follows that it is within His capacity to grant us the capability to see Him.
- Various entities can be seen, and the possibility of seeing them pertains to their essences and existences. In this case, since God is existent, it must be possible to see Him.
Religious Textual Evidence
- A relevant Quranic verse in this context is verse 143 of Quran 7, where Prophet Moses (a) implores God to allow him to see Him. However, God responds that Moses (a) cannot see Him. This verse is used as an argument to support the possibility of seeing God. It is reasoned that if seeing God were deemed impossible, Moses (a) would not have made such a request in the first place.
- Other Quranic verses such as verse 44 of Quran 33, verses 22-23 of Quran 75, verse 15 of Quran 83, and verse 103 of Quran 6 are also cited as evidence for the possibility of seeing God.
- Certain hadiths transmitted from the Prophet (s) have also been cited as evidence for the possibility of seeing God in the hereafter, including the following: “You shall see your Lord, just as you see the full moon.”
Arguments for the Impossibility of Seeing God
Opponents of the possibility of seeing God have also made recourse to philosophical and textual arguments.
According to Ja'far Subhani, the essence of these philosophical arguments revolves around the idea that perceiving God necessitates ascribing a physical body or physical attributes to God. The following are examples of these arguments:
- The act of perceiving God through physical eyes implies that God possesses dimensions, occupies space, and exists within the confines of time. However, God transcends these attributes. 'Allama al-Hilli argues that God's necessary existence implies His immaterial nature and the absence of spatial dimensions or directions in relation to Him. Consequently, it becomes impossible to visually perceive God using physical eyes.
- If it was possible to see God, then God would be seen either with the entirety of His essence or with part of His essence. The first horn implies God’s finitude and limitation, and the second implies God’s composition, spatiality, and directionality, both of which are impossible. Therefore, God cannot be seen with physical eyes.
One textual argument against the possibility of seeing God is found in verse 143 of Quran 7, which is cited by proponents as well. In this verse, God informs Moses (a) that He can never be seen, with the term "never" ("lan" in "lan tarani") implying a permanent negation. Therefore, the verse suggests that it is permanently impossible to see God.
The other verse is “The sights do not apprehend Him, yet He apprehends the sights.” According to Imami and Mu'tazilite theologians, the verse implies that God cannot be perceived by physical eyes.
Certain hadiths transmitted from Imams of the Shi'a (a) also suggest that God cannot be seen with physical eyes. For example, there is a narration where someone asked Imam Ali (a) if he had ever seen God. The Imam responded by stating that he would never worship a God whom he had not seen. However, he further explained that God can be perceived not through physical eyes, but through the truth of faith.
Opponents of the possibility of seeing God argue that the Prophetic hadith, which is often cited by proponents, if considered reliable, actually pertains to knowledge of God rather than the act of physically seeing Him. They contend that if God were to be seen through physical eyes, as suggested by the hadith, it would imply that God has spatial dimensions or directions, which is deemed impossible.
The problem of seeing God has been discussed in various theological, exegetical, mystical, and hadith books. Moreover, there are independent works dedicated specifically to the topic of seeing God, some of which are as follows.
- Kalima hawl al-ru'ya (A discourse on seeing) by Sayyid 'Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din is a book that presents a Shia perspective on the impossibility of seeing God. The book was published as part of the fourth volume of Mawsu'a al-Imam al-Sayyid 'Abd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Din, edited by the Center for Islamic Sciences and Culture, and published by Dar al-Muwarrikh al-'Arabi. Additionally, it was published as titled "Ru'yat Allah wa-falsafat al-mithaq wa-l-wilaya" (Seeing God and the Philosophy of Covenant and Authority), edited by Mahdi Ansari Qomi, and published by Lawh Mahfuz Publications.
- Ru'yat Allah fi daw' al-kitab wa-l-sunna wa-l-'aql al-sarih (Seeing God in light of the Book, the Tradition, and explicit reason) by Ja'far Subhani. The author presents the argument that the idea of seeing God is a theory originating from Judaism and seeks to challenge this theory. Through philosophical, Quranic, and hadith-based arguments, Subhani puts forth a case for the Shiite perspective on this matter.
- Ru'yat Allah jall wa-'ala (Seeing God, the Glorious and the Transcendent) is a book authored by 'Ali b. 'Umar al-Darqutni, a renowned scholar of hadith in the fourth/tenth century. The book serves as a compilation of relevant Quranic verses and hadiths that support the possibility of seeing God. It was published by Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyya, accompanied by two additional appendices: Ru'yat Allah tabarak wa-ta'ala (Seeing God the Blessed the Transcendent) by Ibn al-Nahhas and Daw' al-sari ila ma'rifa ru'yat al-bari (The flowing light towards knowledge of seeing the creator) by Abu Shama al-Muqaddasi. Additionally, Dar Ibn Taymiyya Publications released a version of the book, which includes two other works on seeing God: al-Misbah al-munir fi ru'yat al-rabb al-khabir and al-Mulhaqal-dafi ila ma fi kitab al-ru'ya al-wafi by Abu Uways al-Kurdi.
Other works on seeing God include:
- Ru'yat Allah bayn al-tanzih wa-l-tashbih (Seeing God between exaltation and anthropomorphism) by Abd al-Karim Bihbahani, published by Ahl al-Bayt (a) World Assembly.
- Ru'yat mah dar asiman: barrasi-yi tarikhi-yi mas'ali-yi liqa' Allah dar kalam wa tasawwuf (Seeing the moon in the sky: a historical study of the problem of seeing God in Islamic theology and Sufism) by Nasr Allah Purjawadi, published by Markaz Nashr Danishgahi.
- Ru'yat-i khudawand? Dar in jahan wa jahan-i digar (Seeing God? In this world and the hereafter) by Seyyid 'Abd al-Mahdi Tawakkul, under the supervision of Nasir Makarim Shirazi. It was published by Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib Publications.
- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 26, 27; Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 127; Bihbahānī, Fī riḥāb Ahl al-Bayt, p. 16.
- Dhākirī, "Ruʾya", p. 799-802.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 95-110; Ṣadūq, al-Tawḥīd, p. 107-122; Sayyid Raḍī, Nahj al-balāgha, sermon 91, 185 and 186; Sharaf al-Dīn, Ru'yat Allah, p. 53-81; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 1, p. 115 and vol. 6, p. 139 and vol. 9, p. 127-129; Dārquṭnī, Ruʾyat Allāh jall wa-ʿalā, p. 7-94.
- Ṭūsī, al-Tibyān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān, vol. 1, p. 249-253; vol. 10, p. 197-199; Ṭabāṭabāʾī, al-Mīzān, vol. 8, p. 237-243; Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf, vol. 1, p. 141; vol. 2, p. 151-157; Fakhr al-Rāzī, Tafsīr al-kabīr, vol. 3, p. 519-520 and vol. 14, p. 354-358; vol. 30, p. 730-733.
- Dhākirī, "Ruʾya", p. 810.
- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 24, 25; Dhākirī, "Ruʾya", p. 799-802.
- Ibn Taymīyya, Minhāj al-sunna al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 316, 329, 349, and vol. 3, p. 341, 344, 347.
- Dhākirī, "Ruʾya", p. 804.
- Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 138, 139; Subḥānī, Jaʿfar. Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 15-24; Bihbahānī, Fī riḥāb Ahl al-Bayt, p. 99,100.
- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 16.
- Dhākirī, "Ruʾya", p. 799.
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- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 25, 51; Āmadī, Ghāyat al-marām, p. 142.
- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 27.
- Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 125.
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- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 27; Ashʿarī, Māqalāt al-islāmīyyīn, vol. 1, p. 172.
- Muʿtazilī, al-Mukhtaṣar fī uṣūl al-din, p. 190; Shahristānī, al-Milal wa al-niḥal, vol. 1, p. 57, 114.
- Ashʿarī, Māqalāt al-islāmīyyīn, vol. 1, p. 131, 172; Āmadī, Ghāyat al-marām, p. 142; Shahristānī, al-Milal wa al-niḥal, vol. 1, p. 5; Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 125.
- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 35-55.
- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 53.
- Āmadī, Ghāyat al-marām, p. 142, 143; Shahristānī, al-Milal wa al-niḥal, vol. 1, p. 113.
- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 41; Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Arbaʿīn, vol. 1, p. 278.
- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 35, 45, 46; Fakhr al-Rāzī, al-Arbaʿīn, vol. 1, p. 292-295.
- Fakhr al-Rāzī, Tafsīr al-kabīr, vol. 13, p. 97.
- Dārquṭnī, Ruʾyat Allāh jall wa-ʿalā, p. 7-94.
- Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, vol. 1, p. 115; vol, 6, p. 139; vol. 9, p. 127-129.
- Ashʿarī, al-Ibāna ʿan uṣūl al-diyāna, p. 49; Ibn Taymīyya, Minhāj al-sunna al-nabawīyya, vol. 2, p. 332; vol. 3, p. 341.
- Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 128.
- Jawādī Āmulī, Tawhīd dar Qurʾān, p. 257.
- Ḥillī, Kashf al-murād, p. 46, 47.
- Subḥānī, al-Ilāhīyāt, vol. 2, p. 127.
- Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 64-66.
- Qur'an 6:103.
- Jawādī Āmulī, Tawhīd dar Qurʾān, p. 258; Subḥānī, Ruʾyat Allāh, p. 55; Muʿtazilī, Sharḥ uṣūl al-khamsa, p. 156.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 95-110; Ṣadūq, al-Tawḥīd, p. 107-122.
- Sayyid Raḍī, Nahj al-balāgha, p. 259, sermon 179.
- Muʿtazilī, al-mukhtaṣar fī uṣūl al-din, p. 191, 192.
- Amīnīpūr, "Nīm nigāhī bi ʿunwān-hāyi Mawsūʿat al-imām al-sayyid ʿAbd al-Husayn Sharaf al-Dīn." p. 25, 26.
- Dārquṭnī, Ruʾyat Allāh jall wa-ʿalā, p. 7; Nafīsī, Shādī. "Dārquṭnī, Abū l-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. ʿUmar.", p. 755.
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