Can Allah Create?

Can Allah Create? December 14, 2017

The question here is not, Did Allah create? The question is, Is it conceivable that a god like Allah could create the world? Does it make any sense to say that an absolutely sovereign but Unitarian god created the universe?

Our first reaction might be: Why not? If Allah is sovereign and all-powerful, surely he can make things out of nothing, just like the Christian God. It doesn’t seem to take all that much, assuming of course that you’re a sovereign divine being. There’s no logical contradiction, it seems, in saying a sovereign monad molded a creation different from himself.

I disagree. Not only is it factually wrong to say Allah created the world; it’s also logically contradictory.

How so? Consider Allah’s life prior to the creation. He is completely and utterly alone. There are no eternal divine beings for him to commune with. He has never had the “experience” of otherness, since there is nothing other. He has never had the “experience” of productivity, since nothing and no one has been produced. The only thing that is is Allah, utterly and completely alone.

Already we can begin to see why Allah cannot create. He is, in himself, barren, fruitless, unproductive. In this respect, Allah is just like the Ungenerate and Unbegetting Father of the Arians, and the criticisms that Athanasius and the Cappadocians brought against Arius apply equally to Allah.

Athanasius regularly plays riffs on the biblical description of God as Light, and the claim in Hebrews (1:3) that the Son is the radiance of light. It makes no sense to say that God is un-radiant light, since radiance is of the essence of light. Thus, if the Father is Light, He must radiate an eternal Radiance, which, according to Hebrews, is the Son.

Then Athanasius pushes the point. For the Arians, the Father is a light without radiance, and that can only mean that he is fruitless and unproductive in himself. For the orthodox, by contrast, the essence of God is “fruitful in itself” (Discourses Against the Arians, 2.14.2). Since the Father is fruitful in Himself, He also is fruitful in creating. Without the Word, “things originate could not . . . be brought to be.” As a Son proper to the Father’s essence, He is the one through whom creatures come to be, without whom creation could not be at all.

The Father cannot create without His Son, any more than a Light can illuminate without its radiance.

As Athanasius puts it, “as the light enlightens all things by its radiance, and without its radiance nothing would be illuminated, so also the Father, as by a hand, in the Word wrought all things, and without Him makes nothing” (Discourses, 2.18.31).

The Father has a “generative nature” (gennetikes phuseos), since He is always with His generated Word, Wisdom, and Image that is proper to His substance (Discourses, 2.14.2). Without the eternal Son, there could be no creation. Light lightens by radiance, and if the Father’s light did not eternally radiate, it could not form the bright world of creation.

Gregory of Nyssa develops the same point in his treatise against the later Arian Eunomius. Michel Rene Barnes has argued that the Trinitarian debates of the fourth century were debates about God’s productivity, which is to say, God’s power. As Barnes puts it, “If God has a natural productive capacity, He can produce a ‘Son’ with the same nature; if God does not have a natural productive capacity [which is Eunomius’ position], whatever ‘Son’ means it cannot mean a product with the same nature as God.”

The debate about God’s inner productive is also a debate about creation. Barnes again: “If productivity is natural to God, then creating itself (a kind of productivity) has its source in God; if productivity is not natural to God, then creating must in some way have its source exterior to God. It goes almost without saying that Gregory’s understanding is that God is naturally productive and that God creates. Eunomius understands that God is not naturally productive, and creation is the function of something exterior to God’s nature.” The entire thrust of Eunomius’ theology is to protect the Arian truth that God is fruitless.

Back to Allah, and one can imagine a riposte along these lines: Allah doesn’t produce anything naturally or necessarily, but he has the capacity to produce the world, a capacity which he puts into effect. He doesn’t have any eternal other to other with, but he has the capacity to create an other and to engage with him, her, or it.

Notice what’s happening in this response. Allah, who is supposed to be utterly sovereign and independent, now needs a world to realize his latent creative potential. Allah, the all-merciful, needs creatures before he can “experience” otherness. Unfruitful in himself, he flourishes in creative productivity only by making something exterior.

Allah, utterly sovereign Allah, suddenly looks to be dependent on the existence of the world to be wholly himself. He begins to look much, much smaller than he did at the beginning. Hence the dialectical swings within Islamic theology between exalted Unitarianism and mystical pantheism.

Here are the choices then: You can have a god who remains sovereign only by having nothing to relate to, a god who remains thoroughly divine only by remaining wholly barren. You can have a god who puffs himself up to look sovereign, but who turns out to need the world as much as it needs him. Neither of these options gives us a sovereign creator.

Or, you can worship a God who is eternally productive, eternally Other in and to Himself, eternally Light and Radiance because He is eternal Radiant Light. That is to say, you can worship the Trinity, the only Creator and the only God capable of creating.

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  • Noah Chesnut

    Dangerous argument, as taken to be valid it also disproves the Christian god. The Christian god also never “experienced” productivity before creating the world. Or if he did, it can only work in one of two ways: 1) One of the Trinity created the other, implying a time before that aspect of the Trinity, making that aspect non-eternal, which makes it violate the concept of “god”, or 2) The Trinity is self-created, an argument equally easy to apply to Allah.

    To be honest though, I still think it’s all a silly argument. So what if Allah existed solitary? It doesn’t really make any sense to say that prevents him from creation. Creation ability may only be revealed through creation, but it’s illogical to say that the creation is necessary for the ability. Think of it this way: Did you have the capacity to think the instant before your first thought? Yes. The thought is not required for the capacity to have thought.

    Let’s have one final comparison. Before the origin of evil, was there a good god? “Goodness” would be impossible to understand without a contrast in evil. But does that actually make a 100% good creation impossible? No, it just makes it impossible for humans to understand because we would have no frame of reference for what less than 100% good looks like.

    I also remain thoroughly unconvinced that even the Christian god is “eternally productive” and “eternally other”. You seem to be covertly redefining these from common meaning as both are trivially false when applied to any Christian conception of god I’ve ever seen.

  • Mark

    I’m confused. Doesn’t Allah refer to the same Abrahamic God of the Christian faith?

    • Monty Loftus

      Not in the minds of sectarian Christians obsessed with proving their own superiority to Muslims. What you’re reading here is base Islamophobia coated in cheap theology. The author just wants a high-minded excuse to look down on other people.

    • Erp

      And for Arabic speaking Christians is their term for their god. The author would be better to have titled this as ‘Can an unitarian god create?’ especially since he never engages with Muslim theology on the nature of god but mostly discusses pre-Muslim Trinitarian figures’ arguments. He could then have brought up that Muslims and Jews and Oneness Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses (and several other Christian denominations) are unitarian.

  • LastManOnEarth

    This is parody?

  • Why is a christian making arguments about the islamic view of god without referring to islamic theology?
    Would this not be better addressed by a muslim?

  • LastManOnEarth

    Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva would like to have word…

  • tovlogos

    “it’s also logically contradictory.” This fact occurred to me before I finished the first sentence.
    However, I don’t find this sort of exercise useful for any practical purposes — certainly not for addressing
    the human conflict that is eating its way through the souls of mankind and the creation.

    Islam speaks for itself — Muhammad, in effect, “appointed” allah his commission as the Muslim god — he created
    Allah’s notoriety by selecting him from the Kaaba, in Mecca, after being taught by the Jews and the Christians about Judeo-Christianity.
    It was finally something — the appearance of an ideology that he could embrace. He was enthralled by the
    storyline; and the idea of One God — it was like nothing he had ever heard. He was hooked.

    The problem began when he, a common sinner like the rest of us, via a dream decided he was the next prophet, which
    was not part of the Judeo-Christian prophetic outlook. He believed that Gabriel, a busy angel/messenger whom
    he thought was the Holy Spirit, was the source of his dream. Although the source of his dream blatantly contradicted the
    biblical storyline, the point of which was the Messiah — the Scarlet Thread, he drew the conclusion that all of history was wrong; and he must be right.

    Notwithstanding, what Muhammad did was nothing new — Roman King Antiochus lV, was just as bad; and he seriously hated the Jews.
    Thousands have done the same for centuries — the good news is, the cults that have pivoted their ideologies off Judeo-Christianity
    is a wonderful endorsement of its veracity.

  • rtgmath

    This is a provocative, confrontational, and frankly idiotic article. The author frankly dwells on the fringes of heresy himself, coming just shy of declaring that there are multiple gods in debate with each other (or is it one God with multiple personality disorder?), so creating the world.

    The God of Genesis was Unitary, and every Jew recited, “Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God is One Lord.” There was NO doctrine of the Trinity found in the Old Testament, and it was not needed to assert that God created the world. The very same argument the author makes against Allah creating the world is the same argument that can be used against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob creating the world.

    Really, now. What malicious ignorance in the author provoked him to attempt to make fun of Islam? I am not Muslim, but there is no need to try to make them angry, and that is what the author is trying to do! Islam postulates the same qualities of Omniscience and Omnipotence that Christianity claims for God, and in point of fact, the Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God — just differently, each affirming that the revelation given to them was the last legitimate revelation of God to the world.

    My suggestion is that the author withdraw the article, apologize, and rethink his calling. I don’t expect him to do so, however. Since when do people who write such inane articles actually think cogently about their own lack of spirituality?