On Divine Aboveness (al-Fawqiyya): The Development of Rationalized Ḥadīth-Based Argumentations in Islamic Theology

L. Holtsman, Miriam Ovadia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This article follows milestones in the development, from the ninth to fourteenth centuries, of the arsenal of arguments on God’s aboveness, His throne and His directionality. Although God’s aboveness is but one component of the theological debate on God’s attributes, this theme drew the attention of the entire spectrum of scholars. Its centrality is demonstrated in the writings of the traditionalists, but theologians of strong rationalistic tendencies, too, notwithstanding their fundamental approach of criticizing and even discrediting theological ḥadīths, did not ignore the ultra-traditionalistic texts drawn from the Ḥadīth material. And so, even as the traditionalists gladly adopted kalāmic vehicles to defend their tenets, the rationalists were equally informed of the traditionalistic curriculum and in fact were well read in this material. George Makdisi has convincingly shown throughout his oeuvre that there were no clear-cut boundaries between the early traditionalist and rationalist intelligentsias: Both shared the same education; their discussions often overlapped; and both were intimately familiar with the transmitted sources. The present article, inspired by Makdisi’s scholarship, aims to examine further this diffusion of ideas between the two sharply distinguished poles of Islamic theology through the lens of the concept of fawqiyya. The first part presents different topoi of God’s aboveness as reflected in the Ḥadīth material and outlines the didactic narrative that flourished in the ultra-traditionalistic literature. The second part presents the rationalistic concepts of God’s supposed location and directionality, which were mainly based on Qurʾānic verses and kalāmic doctrines. The debates within the rationalistic circles took place in parallel to the activities of the traditionalists and hence triggered and enriched the discussions. The third part of the article concentrates on Ash ʿ arite theologians who drew upon the Ḥadīth literature in conceptualizing a set of arguments, at once semi-traditionalistic and semi-rationalistic, that blended rationalistic ideas and methods into traditionalism. The fourth and final part of the article sheds light on the prominent trend in the later, more developed traditionalistic views, as reflected in the writings of authors from the Mamluk period. These authors made a substantial contribution to the theological debate.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRationalization in Religions
Subtitle of host publicationJudaism, Christianity and Islam
EditorsYohanan Friedmann, Christoph Markschies
Place of PublicationBerlin
Publisherde Gruyter
Number of pages46
ISBN (Electronic)9783110446395, 9783110437348
ISBN (Print)9783110444506, 9783110736595
StatePublished - 2019


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