Two Types of Allah’s “With-ness” in Context: Imam al-Sa’di

One of the many beneficial books authored by Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di is Tanbeehaat al-Lateefah, an explanation of ibn Taymiyah’s famous al-‘Aqeedah al-Waasitiyyah. The following is a brief excerpt from that work dealing with better understanding the places in the Qur’an where Allah mentions His “with-ness”:

وإذا أردت أن تعرف هل المراد المعية العامة أو الخاصة، فانظر إلى سياق الآيات: فإن كان المقام مقام تخويف ومحاسبة للعباد على أعمالهم، وحث على المراقبة، فإن المعية عامة، مثل قوله: {مَا يَكُونُ مِنْ نَجْوَى ثَلَاثَةٍ} [المجادلة: 7] الآية، وإن كان المقام مقام لطف وعناية من الله بأنبيائه وأصفيائه، وقد رتبت المعية على الاتصاف بالأوصاف الحميدة، فإن المعية معية خاصة، وهو أغلب إطلاقاتها في القرآن، مثل: {أَنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ} [التوبة: 123] {إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ} [البقرة: 153] {لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَنَا} [التوبة: 40] ونحوها.ـ

If you want to know whether the intended meaning of Allah’s with-ness in an ayah is general or specific, then look at the context of the ayah. If it comes in a place of intimidation and taking the slave to account for his actions or inciting him to take himself to account then it is a general with-ness, such as His statement:

مَا يَكُونُ مِن نَّجْوَىٰ ثَلَاثَةٍ إِلَّا هُوَ رَابِعُهُمْ وَلَا خَمْسَةٍ إِلَّا هُوَ سَادِسُهُمْ وَلَا أَدْنَىٰ مِن ذَٰلِكَ وَلَا أَكْثَرَ إِلَّا هُوَ مَعَهُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كَانُوا ۖ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُم بِمَا عَمِلُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ

There is no private conversation of three except that He is the fourth of them, nor of five except that He is the sixth of them – and no less than that nor more except that He is with them wherever they are. Then on the Day of Resurrection He will inform them of what they did. Indeed Allah is all knowing of all things. [58:7]

But if it comes in a place of gentleness and care from Allah towards His prophets and chosen ones and the with-ness is stipulated by some praiseworthy quality, then this is the specific type of with-ness, which is the more commonly-found type in the Qur’an. Examples include: Continue reading