in category Allah (God)

How did the classical scholars prove the existence of God?

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In a Nutshell:
The classical scholars used a variety of examples and reasonings to argue for the existence of God. A number of well known examples are cited in this answer

Abu Hanifa

There are two arguments attributed to Abu Hanifa:

1. A messenger invited Abu Hanifa to a debate with an atheist who was awaiting him. Everyone including the atheist awaited his arrival. An hour had passed, but Abu Hanifa hadn't arrived. Another hour passed and still no sign of him.
Finally Abu Hanifa arrived. He apologised for his lateness and began to explain, 'I began to make my way to the River Tigris and on reaching the river bank I realised there was no boat to cross the river. I was standing on the river bank looking for a navigator or a boat when something caught my attention in the middle of the river. To my amazement I saw planks of wood rising to the surface from the sea bed. I was shocked, amazed, I couldn't believe what I saw seeing. Ready made planks of wood were rising up to the surface and joining together. I continued to look into the middle of the river and then I saw nails rise from the sea bed. They positioned themselves to hold the planks together.'
The atheist was listening with a smile. Abu Hanifa continued, 'I could see a boat forming before my eyes, I stood in amazement. Suddenly the boat began to move. It came towards me against the current. It stood floating beside me while I was on the river bank, as if telling me to embark onto it. I went on the boat and yet again it began to move. There was no navigator or sailor on the boat and the boat began to travel towards the direction of the royal palaces. The boat eventually reached the other side of the River Tigris and I disembarked. I turned around and the boat had disappeared and that is why I am late.'
At this moment, the atheist burst out laughing and remarked, 'Oh Abu Hanifa, you speak of a boat appearing from nowhere, without someone having built it. I swear I do not believe a word of it!'
Abu Hanifa turned to the atheist and replied, 'You don't believe a word of it? If you cannot believe that a boat came into being without a boat maker, how can you believe that the whole world, the universe, the stars, the oceans and the planets came into being without a creator?'

2. "Is there any proof that God exists?" an atheist asked Abu Hanifa who replied, "People tell me there is a big ship, it contains different goods on board. There is no one to steer it, no one maintaining it. Yet, this ship keeps going back and forth; it even traverses big waves on the oceans; it stops at the locations that it is supposed to stop at; it continues in the direction that it is supposed to head. This ship has no captain and no one planning its trips."
The atheist interrupted and exclaimed, "What kind of strange and silly thought is this? How can any intelligent person think that some thing like this can occur?"
Abu Hanifa said, "I feel sorry for your state! You cannot imagine one ship running without some one looking after its affairs. Yet you think that for this whole world, which runs exactly and precisely, there is no one who looks after it and no one owns it." (Ibn Abi al-Izz and Ahmad al-Tahawi, Sharh al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyah, Vol1., p.36)

Imam Malik

Imam Malik (d. 795) was asked by the Abbasid Caliph Harun Rashid about evidence for the existence of the Creator. Imam Malik told him to seek evidence in the different languages, different voices, and different melodies of creatures. (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azim, p.106)


Imam Shafi'i replied to the question in the following way:

"The leaves of Toot (berries) are all but one. Each leaf tastes exactly the same. Insects, honey bees, cows, goats and deer live off of it. After eating these the insects produce silk; bees produce honey; deer give musk (a special kind of scent), cows and goats deliver off-springs. Is this not clear evidence that one kind of leaf has so many qualities and who created these qualities? It is the Khaliq (Creator) who we call Allah (swt) Who is the Inventor and the Creator." (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azim, p.106)

Ahmed Ibn Hanbal

Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal reflected on the question in the following way. He said:

"There is an incredibly strong fort, it has no doors, there is no way to get in. In fact, there is not even a hole in it. From outside it glows like the moon and from inside it shimmers like gold. It is sealed from all sides, matter of fact it is air tight. Suddenly one of its doors breaks down, a living thing with eyes and ears, a beautiful looking animal appears yelling and wandering all over. So is not there a creator who made it possible for life to take place in this secured and closed fort? And is not this Creator better than humans? This Creator has no limit." (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azim, p.10​7)

Ibn Taymiyyah

Ibn Taymiyyah wrote:

"Affirming the Creator by means of signs is an obligation, as it has been revealed in the Qur'an and Allah has made it instinctual to his servants. Though deductive arguments may be correct, their usefulness is lacking." (Majmu al-Fatawa, Vol. 1, p.48)

Ibn al-Qayyim

The Hanbali jurist Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 1350) used an example of a watermill spinning on its own, producing, harvesting and distributing its crops without anyone to guide it to argue for the existence of a creator:

"What do you say about a watermill revolving over a river in perfection?

Its tools are perfected, its parts measured with excellence, and it is so obvious such that no observer can find fault in its parts or its form. It presides over a grand garden within which are every kind of fruit and crops, watering them as needed. Within this garden, its shrubbery is gathered and its maintenance is assured for its well-being. Its produce is excellent and guaranteed, and all of its needs are well served.

Thus, nothing of it is left disordered and none of its fruit is left to rot. Then, the value of everything produced is divided according to their needs and necessities, divided by every type and distributed, and this distribution occurs in this manner at all times.

Do you find this arrangement to have a creator or harvester or manager?

Or, is the arraignment of that watermill and garden without an actor or maintainer or manager?

What do you find that your mind tells you in that case and how could you explain it?" (Miftah Dar al-Sa'adah wa Manshur Wilayat al-'Ilm wa al-Idarah)

Ibn Kathir

The mufassir Ibn Kathir (d. 1373) observes:

"The running rivers that travel from area to area with benefit, and what Allah has produced from the earth of various animals and plants of different tastes, scents, shapes, and colors, and the unity of the soil and water; all this demonstrates the existence of the Creator and His awesome power, His wisdom and mercy with His creation, His kindness, good treatment, and benevolence with them. There is no God besides Him. There is no Lord like Him. I depend upon Him and I turn to Him. The verses in the Qur'an indicating this are very plentiful." (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azim, p.10​7)

Ibn Hajar

Ibn Hạjar al-Asqalani (d. 1449) argued:

"It is said the meaning [of the verse] is: Were they created without a creator? That is impossible, as they must have a creator. If they deny the Creator, then they must have created themselves, and that proposition is even more foolish and false, for how can something without existence create anything? If they reject these two opinions [that they came to be without a creator or they created themselves], then the proof is established upon them that they were in fact created." (Fath al-Bari bi-Sharh al-Bukhari, Vol. 8, p.63)

Ibn Sina

Ibn Sina's (Avicenna) full argument is quite complex. Simply put, his proof is not based on design but the fact that the things we observe are 'contingent' or merely 'possible'. He is posing the question, "Everything around us could have failed to exist; why is there something, rather than nothing?"

The answer is not everything can be contingent; not everything could have failed to exist. There has to be something that has to exist, in order to explain why everything exists. The point he is making is a contingent thing is something that may or may not exist. There is nothing in its nature to guarantee that it exists or must exist. Even though everything we directly experience is contingent, something else exists necessarily, whose nature guarantees it exists.

To demonstrate this, Ibn Sina argues any contingent thing on its own basis could either exist or not exist, but it must have some external cause that made it exist.

Take yourself for instance. You are contingent - you could easily have failed to exist. In fact, at one time you didn't exist and will cease to exist in the future, demonstrating you are not necessary.

A cause brought you into existence. The aggregate whole of all contingent things, ie the physical universe, is also contingent. Everything in the universe is contingent, so collectively it too must be contingent. It also needs an external cause.

Since that external cause has to be outside the whole aggregate of contingent things, it cannot itself be contingent. So it is necessary.

And this is God.

Shaykh Mustafa Sabri

Shaykh Muṣṭafā Ṣabrī, the last Shaykhul Islam of the Ottoman Caliphate, says in his book Mawqif al-ʿAql wa al-ʿIlm wa al-ʿĀlim min Rabb al-ʿĀlamīn:

‘If you say to an atheist, “What is the cause of the existence of this existence that needs a cause that brings it into existence?”, he will answer by saying that it is the existence of another existence that preceded it. Then you say to him, “What is the cause of the existence of that existence that preceded it?” He will answer by saying that the existence of a third existence existed before it, and like the second it needs a cause that brings it into existence. This chain of answers in this way will never end, no matter how long it goes on for and how you far you make it in questioning–so know that this antagonist is deceiving you, misleading you and distracting you with his answers as they actually contain no answer whatsoever, just as he is deceiving, misleading and distracting himself before doing so to you. What I mean is that he cannot show you the cause of the existence of that existence whose cause of existence you asked him about first, and thus he flees from answering your question without knowing that he is fleeing. Then he tries to hide the fact that he is fleeing from answering by turning the matter into layers of continuous darkness that have no beginning. He makes you think that there is a cause before a cause and then continues with this delusion until you have a chain of causes that have no beginning, and thus none of it can be a cause as it has no source and it has not existence.’


Ibn Hạjar al-Asqalani, Fath al-Bari bi-Sharh al-Bukhari
Ibn al-Qayyim, Miftah Dar al-Sa'adah wa Manshur Wilayat al-'Ilm wa al-Idarah
Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur'an al-Azim
Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmu al-Fatawa

Muṣṭafā Ṣabrī, Mawqif al-ʿAql wa al-ʿIlm wa al-ʿĀlim min Rabb al-ʿĀlamīn

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