What had God (SWT) been doing before He created the universe?
Because God is independent of time, there can be no specified period for Him such as before the universe was created. It is also unthinkable for God (SWT) to act within such a period.
Time is only in question for creatures; only creatures act within time. However, it may be possible to ask the question like God existed in the pre-eternity, there was nobody with Him. Then what had God been doing in the pre-eternity? It is possible to answer this question briefly like He had been beholding His own beauty and perfection. Only God knows the unseen.
On the basis of this question lies the misunderstanding and confusion on the concepts of time and pre-eternity. Since man lives bound up with time and space, he evaluates every phenomenon and truth according to the criterion of time; and the one bound up with time confuses the time he lives in with a process, which has no past (pre-eternity) .The question above, is the result of such a misinterpretation.
Time is an abstract concept, which comes into existence with the creatures being created in an orderly succession. The creation of all beings, their growing different, their ends and disappearance- all come true in the course of time. All beings that have been brought from the realm of non-existence into the realm of existence with the infinite might and power of God (SWT) constantly flow in the stream of time. The concepts of past, present and future time are relative ones, they get their names according to each other. Today is yesterdays tomorrow and is going to be tomorrows yesterday.
As for the concept of pre-eternity, it does not mean infinity as far as the concept of time is concerned. Although time can be divided into segments such as era, century, year, month, day, hour, second; it is not possible to make such a division for pre-eternity. Furthermore, pre-eternity cannot be considered a beginning point.
There was nothing else but God (SWT) (Hadith). Time started with the creation of beings. Therefore, no matter how much one may prolong the concept of time towards the past, it cannot be compared with God’s (SWT) pre-eternity.
However, it may be appropriate to ask the question like this: In the pre-eternity God (SWT) existed, there was nothing else with Him. Then what had God (SWT) been doing in the pre-eternity? It is necessary to state that God (SWT) does not necessarily have to do something in the past and His doing nothing is not a defect for Him. Even if he does not create beings, He is at utmost perfection all the same. It is out of question that His creation of all beings increases His perfection and His not doing so lowers it.
After this explanation, let us answer the question. God (SWT), in the pre-eternity, had been beholding His own beauty and perfection. To know God (SWT) with His perfection is only unique to Him. The Messenger Muhammad (PBUH), who beholds God in person during Ascension, said: I have not known you as it should be!
God (SWT), in the pre-eternity, with His eternal knowledge, had been ordaining and beholding the essence and realities of beings, their identities, their plans and programmes, their spiritual entities and images –all of which were to be the manifestation places of His names and attributes. God (SWT), with His favour and munificence, mercy and compassion, wished to dress the essence and truth of His knowledge with a physical body and giving the order Be!... He created all beings. This act of creation has been a bestowal, a favour and a gift for all creatures.
In God’s beholding His own perfection and beauty, and in making the spiritual plans and programmes, in ordaining them in His eternal knowledge, there can be no date and a period. That is to say, these cannot be evaluated within a succession of time. This beholding, arrangement, and ordaining are not the ordaining and arrangement in the sense human mind comprehends. Just as God’s essence and actions do not resemble those of creatures, so too His divine ordaining is not a programming in the sense human being understands.