Fiqh al-Akbar Commentary (al-Maghnisawi)

Appendix Sharh Fiqh al-Akbar_Creation out of Nothing (creatio ex nihilio)

Appendix_Creatio ex nihilo

Orthodox Muslim doctrine asserts that Allah created the world ‘not from anything’ (la min shay’). Thus, it rejects two concepts of initial creation types:

[1] Creatio ex materia: creation from pre-existent ‘matter’.

    • The doctrine has its most explicit expression in Plato’s “Demiurge” (= δημιουργός. See the Timaeus: the universe is a created entity, 28b7; anything that exists is caused to exist by something, 28a4–6; the cause of the universe is a ‘Craftsman/artisan/demiurge’ who fashioned the universe after a model/form, 28a6 ff., c3 ff; the model/form of the universe is something that always is, 29a4–5 and so the universe is a work of craft, fashioned after an eternal model/form, 29a6–b1).
    • This doctrine would entail that Allah’s causal efficacy is demonstrably contingent upon some already pre-existent matter or ‘stuff’. This is known as a ‘material cause’ (cf. Aristotle: Physics, II.3; Metaphysics, A.3 ff; Parts of Animals, 639b12ff; Politics, II.11; Metaphysics, D.2; De Generatione, 335a28-336a12). > This diminishes the doctrine of Divine Omnipotence where creative power is only effective on matter.
    • The doctrine is incoherent in that it has to account for the pre-existent matter upon which Divine activity is directed. > Is it just simply there? > Does this imply a dualistic co-existence of matter with Allah?

[2] Creatio ex deo: creation from the Being of God. This is the doctrine of the Neo-Platonist emanation. > God is an undifferentiated unity (= ‘The One’; i.e. no distinctions, no predications, no properties or distinct attributes, etc.) and is utterly ineffable (cf. Plotinus, Enneads, VI.9.4-6 and V.2.1). > This transcendent being does not create but simply effortlessly generates from itself (= ‘an emission of force’; Enneads, V.2.1 and V.1.7) a series of emanations that it does not freely will into existence.

    • This compromises the radical distinction between Creator and creation (mukhalifun li ’l-hawadith), i.e. the utter dependency of the latter on the former.
    • It diminishes if not undermines the personal or volitional Attribute of Allah, i.e. He would have no choice but to create as it would be a necessary expression of His being.
    • It is not rationally coherent in how a concrete reality/world would arise out of an undifferentiated being that has no properties.


  • Known also as creatio originans.
  • It does not mean that nothing is a ‘thing’ (shay’).
  • Hence, Allah did not create out of anything (= Arabic: la min shay’/`adam al-shay’).
  • Creation is not a ‘change’ or a transformation/transition from non-being into being it is sheer and absolute beginning.
  • Prior to the creation or origination of the universe, there was not anything (hence the Prophetic statement: kana Allahu wa lam yakun ma`ahu shay’un – “Allah was and there was not anything with him”).
  • Thus, there was no material cause prior to the universe.
  • Creation is not where Allah acts on a subject but constitutes the subject by His action.
  • This is logically coherent and is logically possible.
  • Intuitively it refers to a thing x coming into being.
  • Thus, if Allah creates some entity e at time t it means that e comes into being at t. A formal definition of this intuitive notion may be:

Cr1: e comes into being at t iff:

(i)                 e exists at t1;

(ii)               t is the first time at which e exists and

(iii)             e’s existing at t is a tensed fact.

Or alternatively:

Cr2: Allah creates e at t iff: Allah brings it about that e comes into being at t.

  • Analogies also exist: the expansion of the universe into new space; appearance of particles originated from a vacuum, etc.
  • Ex-nihilo is the rational alternative through elimination: possible explanations of the universe include: 1. Matter = eternal and uncaused; 2. Matter = temporally finite and uncaused and 3. Matter = temporally finite and caused. > 3 seems the most plausible.
  • The modality (kayfiyyah) of creatio ex-nihilo is unknown, i.e. ‘how does Allah create from nothing?’ > Such ‘how’ questions would be impossible to answer simply because of the nature of Allah and who/what He is. > It is sufficient that we know that Allah created x without knowing how Allah created x. The two are not logically incompatible or incoherent and not knowing how Allah creates does not invalidate the doctrine itself just as not knowing how the internet phenomenon actually works does not render the internet phenomenon as somehow meaningless.

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