How should we understand the hadith stating that Allah comes down to the sky of the earth every night?

Details of the Question
How should we understand the hadith stating that Allah comes down to the sky of the earth every night?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The relevant hadith is as follows:

"Our Lord, the Blessed, the Superior, comes every night down to the sky of the earth when the last third of the night remains, saying: "Is there anyone to invoke Me, so that I may respond to invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me, so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone seeking My forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?" (Bukhari, Tawhid 35, Tahajjud, 14, Daawat 13; Muslim, Salatu'l-Musafirin, 24, 168 (758); Tirmidhi, Salat, 329, Da'awat 80 (3493); Abu Dawud, Salat 311 (1315)

This hadith is known as the "hadith of nuzul". It is important and famous because it is narrated a lot and is distinguished in Kutub as-Sitta and the other sahih, sunan, musnad and mujam books, and it is free from ambiguity. It was reported by more than twenty Companions.

The verb "ynzl " in the hadith is written as "yanzilu= comes down" in Bukhari versions. Accordingly, spiritual coming down might be meant through closeness; then, it means Allah approaches His slaves with His grace and generosity.

The phrase "the sky of the earth" indicates Al­lah's approaching us. The world dunya is derived from dunuww, which means nearer.

Abu Bakr Ibn Furak writes that some scholars wrote this verb as "yunzilu = sends down". In that case, this verb needs an object. That is, it means "Yunzilullahu malakan- Allah sends down an angel".

Qurtubi uses the following narration of Nasai to prove the soundness of this narration and says there is no problem about it: "Then, He orders a crier to call "Is there anyone who prays and asks for something?" (Fathu'l-Bari, III, 272)

There are very nice interpretations and explanations in Ayni's book called Umdatu'l-Qari. One of them can be summarized as follows:

Nuzul is used in the sense of moving, informing, strength, luck, turning toward and the originating of a decree.  All of these meanings are known by lexicographers. Since nuzul has some common meanings, it is the best thing to interpret it with a meaning that is permissible to attribute to Allah. It can be said that Allah gives luck and turns to those who perform tahajjud prayers with mercy, by giving them what they wish and forgiving them.

It is not an interpretation but using one of the common meanings of the word; the interpretations of some salaf scholars like Imam Malik are similar interpretations. (III, 618-623)

Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali writes the following views in his book, Fathu’l-Bari, while explaining the phrase "Allah is with them, wheresoever they be" in verse 7 of the chapter of al-Mujadala:

“Being with them mentioned in this verse has the same meaning shown by the hadith narrations about Allah's coming down to the sky of the earth. That is, Allah’s closeness is not the same as the closeness of people/creatures to one another. His closeness/coming down is closeness shown to the prayers, wishes and repentance of His slaves as their Lord.

As a matter of fact, Hammad b. Zayd states the following while answering a question about the issue: “Allah approaches His slaves as he wishes.” Ibn Rajab explains this statement of Hammad as follows: “That is, Allah's coming down does not mean going from one place to another like His creatures.”

In the same place, it is stated that scholars like Abu Abdillah (Ahmad b. Hanbal) stated the following regarding the issue:

“It is necessary to keep silent here. “Invent not similitudes for Allah.” (an-Nahl, 74) As it is stated in the verse above, it is necessary to accept the expressions mentioned in hadiths as they are - without any restrictions. Allah comes down to the sky of the earth as He wishes, with His knowledge, power and majesty. He has surrounded everything with His knowledge. Nobody who describes Him can describe His majesty as it is necessary. No escape can move away from Him.”

Ibn Rajab, summarizes these words as follows:

“That is, Allah's coming down to the sky of the earth is not like the coming down of creatures. On the contrary, His coming down takes place in a way that is appropriate for His power, majesty and knowledge, which surrounds everything. In fact, the knowledge of creatures is limited; their knowledge cannot surround everything. They can know about Allah as much as Allah informs them about Himself or the Prophet informs them about Him.  Therefore, the righteous salaf agreed that it was necessary to accept these kinds of hadiths and verses as they were and refer the issues that the mind could not perceive to those who know about them.” (Ibn Rajab, 3/117-118)

- We need to refer the issues that we do not understand to Allah. This view is a fact that is expressed by many salaf scholars like, Imam Malik and Imam Ahmad b.  Hanbal.

As a matter of fact, Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani states the following about the hadith of nuzul: “The creed of salaf and khalaf scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah is as follows: Allah is free and away from moving, traveling and entering something, There is nothing similar to Him.” (Ibn Hajar, Fathu’l-Bari, 7/124)

Acting upon those statements, we can definitely say that according to Ahl as-Sunnah, Allah does not come down to the sky of the earth in person; He comes down with His knowledge and power.

According to the rotation of the earth, the issues explained in the hadith become manifest in the place where the time mentioned in the hadith comes. Sunlight, which was created by Allah, reaches various places in the world according to the rotation of the world. Similarly, Allah's grace and mercy come down to the place where it is time for dawn anywhere in the world.

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