Sunni Islam not only teaches that the Quran is the uncreated speech of Allah (kalam Allah), but also claims that there is a pre-creation tablet in which the Quran and everything destined to take place has been written. Sunni tradition further teaches that Allah created a pen which was commanded to write down within this tablet everything that would take place, and the pen did so 50,000 years before the heavens and the earth were brought into existence:      

Abdullah b. ‘Amr b. al-‘As reported: I heard Allah’s Messenger as saying: Allah ordained the measures (of quality) of the creation fifty thousand years before He created the heavens and the earth, as His Throne was upon water. (Sahih Muslim, Book 033, Number 6416


1 Faith

(4b) Chapter: Belief in the Divine Decree – Section 2

‘Ubada b. as-Samit reported God’s messenger as saying, “The first thing God created was the pen. He told it to write and when IT ASKED Him what it should write He told it to write what was decreed, so it wrote what had taken place and what would take place to all eternity.”

Tirmidhi transmitted it, saying that this is a tradition whose isnad is gharib.

Grade: Sahīh (Zubair `Aliza’i)

Reference: Mishkat al-Masabih 94

In-book reference: Book 1, Hadith 88 (; capital emphasis mine)


47 Chapters on Tafsir

(66) Chapter: Regarding Surat Noon

Abdul-Wahid bin Sulaim said: “I arrived in Makkah and met Ata bin Abi Rabah. I said: ‘O Abu Muhammad! Some people with us speak about Al-Qadar.’ Ata said: ‘I met Al-Walid bin Ubadah bin As-Samit and he said: “My father narrated to me, he said: ‘I heard the Messenger of Allah saying: “Verily the first of what Allah created was the Pen. He said to it: “Write.” So it wrote what will be forever.’”

Grade: Sahih (Darussalam)

Reference: Jami` at-Tirmidhi 3319

In-book reference: Book 47, Hadith 371

English translation: Vol. 5, Book 44, Hadith 3319 (

Once again:

Know that Israfil is the master of the horn [al-qarn]. God created the preserved tablet [al-lawḥ al-maḥfuz] of white pearl. Its length is seven times the distance between the heaven and the earth and it is connected to the Throne. All that exists until the day of resurrection is written on it. Israfil has four wings–one in the East, one in the West, one covering his legs and one shielding his head and face in fear of God. His head is inclined toward the Throne …. No angel is nearer to the throne than Israfil. Seven veils are between him and the Throne, each veil five hundred years distance from the next; seventy veils are between Jibril and Israfil. While he is standing the trumpet [ṣur] is placed on his right · thigh and the head of the trumpet on his mouth. He awaits the. command of God, and when He commands he will blow. And when the period of the world is completed, the trumpet will be brought near the face of Israfil and he will fold his four wings and blow the trumpet.27

27 Kitab aḥwāl al-qiyāma, pp. 49-50 (Jane I. Smith & Yvonne Y. Haddad, The Islamic Understanding of Death and Resurrection [State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany, NY 1981], pp. 70-71; bold emphasis mine)


Some say that the Book concealed (56:78) and the Preserved Tablet are the same (R). Others say that the Preserved Tablet refers to a book recited by the angels nigh unto God (Aj, Q, R), while others relate it to the Mother of the Book (3:7; 13:39; 43:4), said to be the source of all revelation, from which the Quran and all other revealed Books are derived (Q, Ṭ s). Some commentators describe the Tablet (lawḥ) as one made of white pearls that is as high as the distance between Heaven and earth and as wide as the distance between the east and the west (JJ, Q, Ṭ s). Others say that it is located to the right of God’s Throne (Q, R, Ṭ s). In keeping with the predominant theme of the sūrah, believers prevailing over persecution from disbelievers, al-Qushayrī relates the Preserved Tablet to 29:49, Nay, it is but clear signs in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge, indicating that the Quran is preserved in the hearts of true believers. For further discussion of the Preserved Tablet, see the essay “The Quran and Schools of Islamic Theology and Philosophy.” (The Study Quran, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr [HarperOne, 2015 First Edition], Q. 85:21-22; p. 1394; bold emphasis mine)

On a related point, scholars have long noted that the Sunni view of the Quran being the uncreated speech or word of Allah which became a material tangible object, i.e., a book, echoes the historic Christian view of Christ as the eternal Logos (“Word”) of God that became flesh. Moreover, reflection upon the nature of the Quran even led to civil strife where specific Islamic factions attacked and even murdered each other over the issue of whether the Islamic “revelation” was created or not:


Muslims believe that in addition to the earthly Quran, there is a “Mother-Book” (umm al-kitab) in Heaven. It resides with Allah on a “preserved tablet” in Paradise, which descended to the lowest heavens (bayt al-izza) preparatory to its being revealed. This tablet is open only to Allah, inaccessible to mortals except as revealed in the Quran. Certainly the Quran is in the Mother of the Book, which is in our Presence, raised high and full of wisdom (43:4). It is also called the kalam Allah or actual speech of Allah.

For most Muslims, the kalam Allah is eternal and UNCREATED, so the Quran also has those qualities. In this regard, it is similar to the Christian idea of the Logos, as recorded in the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.” Its precise nature is a matter of some dispute, however. Whether the Quran is a precise copy of the umm al-kitab or an abridged version, for example, is debated. In any case, the Quran says of this book, Behold it is a truly noble discourse, conveyed unto mankind in a well-guarded divine writ which none but the pure of heart can touch: a revelation from the Sustainer of all the worlds (56:77-79). (Diane Morgan, Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice (Praeger: An imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC 2010), p. 30; capital emphasis mine) 


The Quran as the Word of God

From the beginning of Islamic theology, kalām, and parallel with constraining discussions about the eternity of Divine Qualities, the problem of the eternity versus the created nature of the Quran came to be debated by a group considered the founders of kalām. In the Quran are verses that mention its prior existence in the Preserved Tablet (al-lawḥ al-maḥfūẓ; 85:22), as the Mother of the Book (ʿumm al-kitāb; 43:4), and as a Book that was concealed (maknūn; 56:77– 78). Still, there is uncertainty about how and whether the discussion of the eternity of the Quran took place in the first Islamic century or later. The most important indication is a story about Ibn ʿAbbās, a Companion of the Prophet who died in 68/687, in which there is a kind of reference to the uncreated nature of the Quran.1

During the first decades of the second Islamic century, some began to place emphasis on the createdness of the Quran during the process of the first formulation of kalām by such figures as Jaʿd ibn Dirham (d. 126/743– 44) and Jahm ibn Ṣafwān (d. 129/746– 47). Yet ONE CANNOT POINT TO ANYONE who defended the eternity of the Quran at the end of the first and the first half of the second century amid the debate about its createdness. In any case there are indications that the views of the createdness of the Quran, on the one hand, and its eternity, on the other, did not only take shape during this period, but also prepared the way for intermediate positions. A saying transmitted from Imam Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (d. 148/765) points to an intermediate position holding that the Quran is created (muḥdath) and at the same time uncreated.2 This view relies on the description of the Quran as muḥdath and seeks to show that it is at the same time eternal, for it does not consider every being that is muḥdath to also be created (makhlūq).

During the second half of the second century AH debates about the createdness of the Quran intensified, and the Muʿtazilite movement came to be identified as the defenders of the view of the createdness of the Sacred Text. During the caliphate of the Abbasid al-Maʾmūn (198– 218/813– 33) and as a result of the efforts of his vizier Aḥmad ibn Abī Dāʾūd, who had Muʿtazilite tendencies, the view that the Quran was created gained political support and even significance. In a letter to the governor of Baghdad, Caliph al-Maʾmūn openly declared that those who believed in the uncreatedness of the Quran WERE LIKE CHRISTIANS who considered Jesus the son of Mary to be uncreated, since he was seen as the Word of God.3 Following the assertion of this position and through the efforts of Aḥmad ibn Abī Dāʾūd, the event known as al-miḥnah (“the calamity”) took place, in which courts of inquiry were convened to investigate the views of the scholars of Baghdad about this matter, and those who did not adhere to the doctrine were persecuted.

It was during al-miḥnah that the Ḥadīth scholar Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855), who despite great pressure refused to accept the idea of the createdness of the Quran, came to be known as a hero and a model for later defenders of the uncreatedness of the Sacred Book. In the writings of Ibn Ḥanbal, for example, in his letter to Musaddid ibn Masrahad, followers of Ḥadīth were presented as leaders in the defense of the uncreatedness of the Quran, and the Jahmites and Muʿtazilites were introduced as leaders of the opposite camp, those who believed in its createdness.4

Historical evidence reveals that, in spite of what has been reflected in later sources of the followers of Ḥadīth, or “People of Ḥadīth” (aṣḥāb al-ḥadīth), THERE WAS NO UNIFIED VIEW concerning the uncreatedness of the Quran even among the “People of Ḥadīth.” In the face of the strong theological discussions in favor of the createdness of the Quran, some of the “People of Ḥadīth” could not find firmly established documents against this view and on this issue sided with the Muʿtazilites and Jahmites. Among such figures one must mention the celebrated ʿAlī ibn al-Madīnī (d. 234/84849). In contrast to Ibn Ḥanbal, al-Madīnī not only confirmed the createdness of the Quran,5 but also held other beliefs, such as determinism (qadar), that were close to the Muʿtazilite position.6

The juxtaposition of the ideas of Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal and ʿAlī ibn al-Madīnī began a process that, during the century after the affair of the miḥnah, determined the lines of development of the beliefs held by different theological factions in Sunni circles. Ibn Ḥanbal’s view did of course have followers for many centuries after him. As late as the eighth/fourteenth century, Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Dhahabī (d. 748/1348) rose to defend the position of Ibn Ḥanbal and the “People of Ḥadīth” against those who believed in the createdness of the Quran; without taking more moderate positions into consideration, he completely rejected the belief that the Quran was created.7

Some circles in the Sunni world, however, followed another path. Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd Allāh ibn Kallāb (d. after 240/854– 55), one of the first Sunni theologians (mutakallimūn), put forth his own intellectual position on the problem of the eternity of the Quran, a position that did not take as its starting point the Quran as it was revealed in the Arabic language. He adopted an intermediate position holding that the Word of God is eternal in its essence; it is not composed of letters and sounds, does not have divisions, parts, and particulars, and does not change. Letters are the written forms of the Word of God and are for that reason subject to change. The Word of God is called the Quran when its form— that is, its written language, interpretation, and recitation— is Arabic, in the same way that it is called the Torah when its form is Hebrew.8 In this context one must also mention another Sunni theologian, Ḥusayn al-Karābīsī (d. after 248/862– 63), who, in turning the views of the scholars of Ḥadīth (muḥaddithūn) into a theological discussion, introduced the distinction between inner kalām (Word) and literal kalām.9

In the middle of the third/ninth century a tendency toward moderation appeared on both sides of this debate. On the side of the “People of Ḥadīth,” Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870), the author of al-Ṣaḥīḥ and one of the greatest scholars of Ḥadīth, adopted an intermediate position. He believed that the uncreatedness of the Quran CANNOT BE EXTENDED to the human reading of it. He developed the idea of literal kalām further and believed that the human language of the Quran is created. Because of his beliefs, discussed in detail and with great care in his Kitāb khalq afʿāl al-ʿibād wa’l-radd ʿala’l-jahmiyyah (The Book of the Createdness of the Actions of God’s Bondsmen and Refutation of the Jahmites), al-Bukhārī WAS SEVERELY CRITICIZED in his own lifetime by extremists among the “People of Ḥadīth,” such as Muḥammad ibn Yaḥyā al-Dhahalī (d. 258/872).10

Similar moderation can also be seen among theologians who held views similar to those of the Muʿtazilites. Muḥammad ibn Shujāʿ ibn al-Thaljī (d. 266/879), who was a Ḥanbalite theologian of the “People of Justice” (ahl al-ʿadl), asserted, in contrast to other members of his school, that to talk about the createdness or uncreatedness of the Quran is itself an innovation (bidʿah), and one must remain silent about it.11 In the years leading up to the turn of the fourth/tenth century, Abu’l-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (d. 334/946), the founder of the Ashʿarite school, reexamined the theory of literal (lafẓī) kalām and inner (nafsī) kalām and integrated this discussion into his theological system.

From the beginning of the fourth/tenth century on, as various theological positions became more distinct, the views concerning the createdness of the Quran coalesced into a few distinct positions. These positions consisted of complete denial of the createdness of the Quran by those who claimed to follow the traditions of the “ancestors” (salaf) and extremists among the “People of Ḥadīth,” insistence upon the createdness of the Quran on the part of the Muʿtazilite thinkers, and the proposal of literal kalām by the Ashʿarites. The view of Twelve-Imam Shiites from the fourth/tenth century on favors the createdness of the Quran despite differences of opinion on this matter during the period of the lives of the first eleven Imams.12 (Muṣṭafā Muḥaqqiq Dāmād, The Study Quran [HarperOne, 2015 First Edition], THE QURAN AND SCHOOLS OF ISLAMIC THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY, translated by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, pp. 1510-1511; capital emphasis mine)

However, I won’t be focusing on the problems that belief in the uncreatedness of the Quran pose for Allah’s unicity. Rather, I want to direct our focus to the Sunni belief that the preserved tablet which exists with Allah was created before the creation of the heavens and earth.

Note what the following Salafi website states in this respect:

Praise be to Allah.

Al-Lawh al-Mahfooz is created, like all other created things. Everything other than Allah is created, such as the Throne, the Kursiy and the Lawh.

This is something obvious, and there is no confusion about it, and no scholarly difference concerning it at all. Everything other than Allah is created by Him and exists after having been non-existent: al-Lawh al-Mahfooz, the Pen, the Throne, and everything in the heavens and on the earth, and everything in the earth and below the ground, and everything in the entire universe is created by Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

There is nothing confusing about the Qur’an being written in al-Lawh al-Mahfooz which is created, for we all write the Qur’an on pages which are also created.

We utter words and write them on paper, but the attribute of speech and words that we possess does not reside in the paper; rather our attributes exist in us…

This is the truth that Ahl as-Sunnah believe in. End quote from Majmoo‘ al-Fataawa (6/54). (Is al-Lawh al-Mahfooz created; is the Qur’an immanent in it; and will the light of Allah be immanent on the earth on the Day of Resurrection?; bold emphasis mine)

And here is what renowned medieval Sunni Muslim scholar and commentator Ibn Kathir wrote in respect to the first thing that Allah created:

Imran ibn Husayn narrated that there was Allah and there was nothing that preceded Him. His throne was upon the water. He inscribed everything on the Preserved Tablet, and THEN created the heavens and the earth.

WHERE WAS ALLAH: Abu Razin Laqit ibn Aamir narrated that he asked, “O Messenger of Allah, where was our Lord before He created the heavens and the earth? He said, “He was in ama… there being no air above Him. Then He created His throne over the water. (The word ama’ is said to be: a vacuum, fine cloud, something incomprehensible to men).

THE FIRST THING CREATED: The ulama (Scholars) differ on what was created first. Some say that the pen was created before all these things. Ibn Jarir and Ibn Jawzi and others have this opinion. Ibn Jarir said that, after the pen, fine cloud was created. Ubadah ibn Samit narrated that Allah’s Messenger said, “The first thing Allah created was the pen. THEN He said to it, “Write!” So, at that very moment it began to write what was to transpire till the Day of Resurrection.

However, the majority concur with Hafiz Abul Ula Hamdani and others (that the arsh, throne, was a creation before it). This is what Ibn Jarir reported from Ibn Abbas. Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Aas narrated that he heard Allah’s Messenger say, “Allah recorded the destiny of the creatures BEFORE He created the heavens and the earth BY FIFTY THOUSAND YEARS. And His throne was on the water”. This is the destiny that the pen wrote down. Thus, it is established that the throne preceded the pen. It is possible that the pen was the first creation in the universe, and we have support for it in the hadith narrated by Imran ibn Husayn that the people of Yaman said to Allah’s Messenger, “We have come to you to attain comprehension of the religion and to ask about THE BEGINNING OF THE CREATION”. He said, “There was Allah and there was nothing before Him or with Him or other than Him”. Next, “He recorded ON THE PRESERVED TABLET everything. THEN He created the heavens and the earth”. Since they had asked about the beginnings of the creation of the heavens and the earth, he told them only what concerned them and did not speak of the creation of the throne, as he informed in the preceding hadith of Abu Razin.

Ibn Jarir also reported that it is said, “Surely, our Lord created–after the pen–kursi (chair). Then–after the kursi–He created the arsh (throne). Then, after that, He created the air and the darkness. Then He created water and placed His throne on water.” Allah, Glorious and Exalted, knows best. (Ibn Kathir Ad-Damishqi (700-774 AH), Al Bidaayah Wannihaayah (From the Beginning to the End), translated by Rafiq Abdur Rahman [Darul-Ishaat, Karachi, Pakistani, First edition 2014], Volume 1. The Story of Creation, Ummah of the Past, The Life of Muhammad up to 9. AH, pp. 48-49; capitalized emphasis mine)

The foregoing raises some major problems for Sunni Muslims.

In the first place, the assertion that Allah supposedly created the preserved tablet, the pen and the throne, with his throne being suspended on water, before the heavens and earth were created makes absolutely no sense.

After all, how can there be any created thing before the creation of the heavens and earth, which even the Ibn Kathir’s reference equates with the beginning of creation? I.e., the beginning of creation is the moment when the heavens and earth were created.

Therefore, how can the preserved tablet, the throne, water and pen exist or have been created prior to creation, when these objects would also have to be a part of creation itself?  

Moreover, for such objects to exist and to be distinct from one another they must by necessity occupy space and place. However, space, place, matter, time etc. all came into being when the heavens and earth were created. Therefore, how can material, spatial objects exist before the creation of the heavens and earth?  

This brings me to the final problem. How much sense does it make to refer to Allah writing down all that would take place 50,000 years before the creation of the heavens and earth? If, as scientists believe, time itself only came to be a reality when the heavens and earth were formed then what measurement did Allah go by when he allegedly “revealed” to his “prophet” that all things were written down 50,000 years prior to the creation?

Does any of this make sense at all?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s