Answered by Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra
I know Allah cannot have literal hands and fingers. Could you please explain the hadith in which a non-Muslim said that Allah will grab the world with His hand, and what is meant by “I am the King” as well?
In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate
You are correct that Allah does not have literal physical hands and fingers according to orthodox Islamic theology. This hadith has been narrated with slightly different wording in the collections of Imams Bukhari, Muslim, Nasa’i and Tirmidhi. It reads that Abdullah ibn Masud (may Allah be pleased with him) said,
“A man from the People of the Book [in one version: a Jewish Rabbi] came to the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and said, ‘O Abul-Qasim! Allah will certainly seize the heavens with one finger, and the lands with one finger, and the trees and soil with one finger, and all created beings with one finger, then say, ‘I am the King! I am the King!’”
[Abdullah says:] “So I saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) laugh until his molar teeth showed, then he recited, ‘And they did not appraise Allah is His true estimation…’” [Quran, 6:9] [Bukhari]
The Meaning of this Hadith
This hadith recounts the incident where a person from the People of the Book tried to describe what will happen on the Day of Judgement, and how all creation will be in the grasp of Allah Almighty. However, the wording they used is what they found in their [potentially altered] scriptures, not the Quran. Combined with their lack of knowledge of Allah’s transcendence above all created things, they thought they were doing good in describing Allah in physically powerful terms. [Ibn Battal, Sharh Sahih al-Bukhari]
Then, some scholars say the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) laughed at how the man described Allah out of lack of knowledge yet falling so short of the mark, while affirming the general idea that Allah of course will have complete control of His creation on that Day. This is alluded to when the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) decided to recite the part of the verse which says that Allah will indeed have that control, but those people have not understood Allah’s true transcendence and power. [Qurtubi, Al-Mufhim]
We do not need to give a commentary on the meanings of the non-Muslim’s description because they are not from the Islamic tradition, but rather from his own tradition. Even the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) laughed and responded instead with a verse of the Quran. Some narrators interpreted this as an affirmation, however, this was a misunderstanding according to scholars. [Khattabi, Ma‘alim al-Sunan; Qurtubi, Al-Mufhim]
How Muslim Scholarship Understands Terms Implying Similarity to Creation
When it came to understanding what is meant when Allah Most High is described by any words which could outwardly seem to also describe human features, the scholars had two different ways of approaching this. The way of the early scholars was to pass over those words as they are and consign the true meaning to Allah (tafwidh) while ruling out any possible similarity with created beings. They did not analyze or suggest interpretations, generally.
In later times, because of the confusion that had spread and the potential threat to a Muslim’s beliefs, latter-day scholars chose to suggest an interpretation (ta’wil) that would befit the Arabic meanings and context, in order to steer the layperson’s mind away from anthropomorphic understanding. [Bayjuri, Tuhfat al-Murid; Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Al-Tawdeeh]
[Shaykh] Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat
Shaykh Abdullah Misra was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1983. His family hails from India, and he was raised in the Hindu tradition. He embraced Islam in 2001 while at the University of Toronto, from where he completed a Bachelor of Business Administration. He then traveled overseas in 2005 to study the Arabic language and Islamic sciences in Tarim, Yemen, for some time, as well as Darul Uloom in Trinidad, West Indies. He spent 12 years in Amman, Jordan, where he focused on Islamic Law, Theology, Hadith Sciences, Prophetic Biography, and Islamic Spirituality while also working at the Qasid Arabic Institute as Director of Programs. He holds a BA in Islamic Studies (Alimiyya, Darul Uloom) and authorization in the six authentic books of Hadith and is currently pursuing specialized training in issuing Islamic legal verdicts (ifta’). He holds a certificate in Counselling and often works with new Muslims and those struggling with religious OCD. He is an instructor and researcher in Sacred Law and Theology with the SeekersGuidance The Global Islamic Seminary. Currently, He resides in the Greater Toronto Area with his wife and children. His personal interests include Indian history, comparative religion, English singing, and poetry.