The issue of the location of God has existed throughout all religions, and Islam is no different, Christianity and Judaism appear to hold a view of Omnipresence (God is everywhere), whilst within Islamic schools of thought there is a difference of opinion.
Firstly we need to define what a location is, I define it as the space that an object occupies. Immediately there is a problem, as space is something that is created, how can God, whom existed before space, be present within it? This would then mean that He would be outside of space, but if that was the case, when space was created He would be less than He was previously, as now there is space which He is not in. This paradox highlights the confusion that can occur when trying to use rational thought to reach beyond the scope of what reason can achieve.
In the picture above, a man is stood on a 1 dimensional world, so he can either go left or right, there is no up or down or in or out. So for him, he may say, there is left and there is right, nothing else can exist, so God must either be to my left or to my right, there is no other logical explanation. However there is nothing wrong with his logic process, but there is a mistake in the premise, God does not have to be left or right. So just as some people say God must be somewhere or nowhere, these are terms that we use, but we can not be sure they apply to God in this scenario. Just like the one dimensional man, some have said Allah is above the creation, what do they mean by this?
So where reason can not reach, we must take a different approach, one of simply confirming what we know, and leaving what we don’t know from the sound sources withing the Quran and Sunnah.
What do we know?
We know God has certain features, He is one, He is the First and Last, He has all power over everything, and complete knowledge of everything, this is all from the Quran verse 57:
1سَبَّحَ لِلَّهِ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
57|1|Glorifying God is everything in the heavens and the earth. He is the Almighty, the Wise.
2لَهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۖ يُحْيِي وَيُمِيتُ ۖ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَيْءٍ قَدِيرٌ
57|2|To Him belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth. He gives life and causes death, and He has power over all things.
3هُوَ الْأَوَّلُ وَالْآخِرُ وَالظَّاهِرُ وَالْبَاطِنُ ۖ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ
57|3|He is the First and the Last, and the Outer and the Inner, and He has knowledge of all things.
4هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ ۚ يَعْلَمُ مَا يَلِجُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا يَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا وَمَا يَنزِلُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ وَمَا يَعْرُجُ فِيهَا ۖ وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
57|4|It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days, then settled over the Throne. He knows what penetrates into the earth, and what comes out of it, and what descends from the sky, and what ascends to it. And He is with you wherever you may be. God is Seeing of everything you do.
5لَّهُ مُلْكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ۚ وَإِلَى اللَّهِ تُرْجَعُ الْأُمُورُ
57|5|To Him belongs the kingship of the heavens and the earth, and to God all matters are referred.
6يُولِجُ اللَّيْلَ فِي النَّهَارِ وَيُولِجُ النَّهَارَ فِي اللَّيْلِ ۚ وَهُوَ عَلِيمٌ بِذَاتِ الصُّدُورِ
57|6|He merges the night into the day, and He merges the day into the night; and He knows what the hearts contains.
We know that whatever we have in our mind, God is different to that:
4وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ
112|4|And there is nothing comparable to Him.
But what do these verses actually mean? Some have said, people exist and Allah exist, we have a name and Allah has a name, we do things and Allah does things, there are many examples where we could say there are similarities between Allah and the creation. We have traditions that explains this issue, essentially the explanation is that their is no similarity in the meaning, so for example I have a name, but the meaning of my name is not the same as God. I exist, but my existence is dependant on God, whereas God’s existence is independent of everything, so there is nothing like God in terms of meaning.
H 321, Ch. 17, h 1
Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from al-Mukhtar ibn Muhammad ibn al-Mukhtar al-Hamadani and Muhammad ibn al-Hassan from ‘Abdallah ibn al-Hassan al-‘Alawi both of them from al- Fath ibn Yazid al-Jurjani from abu al-Hassan (a.s.) al-Thani or al-Thalith who has said the following. “I heard the Imam saying, ‘He (Allah) is the Subtle, All-aware, All-hearing, All-seeing, the One, the Self-sufficient, Who does not have any children, is not any one’s child and there is no one similar to Him. Had Allah been as those believing in similitude (al-Mushabbihah) say there would have been no distinction between the Creator and the created, the inventor and the invented but He is the Inventor. There would have been no distinction between Allah and what He has given body and form to bring into existence. In fact, nothing is similar to Him and He is not similar to anything.” I then said, “Yes, may Allah take my soul in your service, but you just said, The One the Self sufficient, that no one is similar to Him. Allah is One and a man is one. Are the two not similar in oneness?” The Imam replied, “O Fath, you said something impossible. May Allah grant you steadfastness. Similarity is in meaning. In the case of names they are all the same. The names refer to the nominee. When it is said a man it, at the same time, is a report about one body and not two bodies. In fact, man is not one thing. His parts, colors and the color of his colors that consist of distinct parts, that are not equal. His blood is different from his flesh. His nerves are different from his vines, his hairs are different from his skin. The black things in him are different from the white things therein. The same is true of all other creatures. Human beings are one in name but not in meaning. Allah, Great Whose Majesty is, is only One and no one other than Him is one. There is no difference, imbalance, increase or decrease in Him. Human beings are created, designed, compounded of different parts and various substances. Only when combined becomes one.” I then said, “May Allah take my soul in service for your cause, and grant you happiness, would you explain to me the meaning of your words “Subtle and All-aware? Explain it as you just did with the One? I know that His Subtlety or kindness is different from those of His creatures but I like more clarity.” The Imam said, “O Fath, we said He is Subtle it is because of His knowledge of the delicate creatures, may Allah give you success and steadfastness, so you should consider His creation. Consider His design in delicate and not so delicate plants and other creatures like animals, small and large such as flies and cricket and smaller ones that even eyes can not. Because of their small size no one knows which is male and which is female, which is new born and which is old. We find tremendously delicate things with signs of His Subtlety, in their desire for reproduction, running away from death, collecting what is good for them and what is in the depth of the oceans and on the barks of trees, in the wilderness and desolate places. We find more fastidiousness in such animals and their ability to communicate with each other, and what their offspring understand from them, their transporting food to their young and their colors, red along with yellow, white along with red so fine that our eyes are not able to catch for their very exquisite shape. Our eyes are not able to see them and our hands are not able to touch them. All these show that the Creator of all such marvelous creatures are Subtle Who is kind to all the creatures we mentioned. He has done it without instruments and means. Every designer and manufacturer builds and manufactures some thing from something but Allah does it from nothing.”
As for the statement about a person being one, and Allah being one, this is discussed in a tradition:
H 290, Ch. 13, h 1
Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from Muhammad ibn ‘Isa ibn ‘Ubayd from Hammad from Hariz from Muhammad ibn Muslim from abu Ja‘far (a.s.) who has said the following about being eternal. “He, Allah, is One, the Self-sufficient. He is One and only One without any multiplicity in different meaning.” The narrator said that I further inquired, “May Allah take my soul in your service, certain people in Iraq think, that Allah hears with something different from what He sees with, and He sees with something different from what He hears with.” The Imam replied, “They have said a lie and have become atheists for considering Allah similar to other things. Allah, the Most High, indeed is above all things. He is All-hearing and All-seeing. He hears with what He sees, and sees with what He hears.” The narrator has said that he further asked, “Those people are also of the opinion that Allah is All-seeing in the same sense and in the same way as they perceive.” The Imam said, “Allah is High Exalted above all such things. Only such things are perceived, which has the attributes of created things. Allah is not created.”
So as the statements say, there is a difference between a name and its meaning, for example, I have knowledge, and God has knowledge, the names are the same, but the meanings are very different, my knowledge is limited, God’s is complete.
We are also aware of the 99 names, but these are only attributes of God, they are not God, they are only a representation of Him.
H 229, Ch. 5, h 3
Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from ‘Abbass al-Ma‘ruf from ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn abu Najran who has the following. I wrote or said to Imam abu Ja‘far ‘Abdallah (a.s.), “May Allah take my soul in your service. Do we worship the Beneficent, the Merciful, the One who is One only and Self-sufficient?” The Imam then said, “Whoever worships the names without the meaning for which they stand he has become a polytheist and has denied the existence of Allah and has worshipped nothing. You must worship Allah who is the One and only One, the Self-sufficient, Who is the meaning for these names but not these names. The names are attributes that He has said are of His attributes.”
H 228, Ch. 5, h 2
Ali ibn Ibrahim has narrated from his father from al-Nadr ibn Suwayd from Hisham ibn al- Hakam who asked Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.) about the names of Allah and about the root or derivative forms of those names. “What is the root word for Allah?” The Imam replied, “The word Allah is derived from the word Elah (Lord) which requires Ma’luh (some one whose Lord one has become). Note that names are something other than whatever to which they apply. O Hisham, whoever, worships the name without the fact for which the name stands he has denied the existence of Allah and has not worshipped any thing. Whoever worships the name and the meaning for which the name stands he has worshipped two things. Whoever worships the meaning without the name he is a monotheist. Did you understand it ) O Hisham?” Hisham then asked, “Please explain further.” The Imam then said, “Allah has ninety nine names. If names would have been the same thing for which they stand every one of them would have been a Lord. However, Allah is a meaning for which these names stand and they all are something other than Him. O Hisham, bread is the name for a certain kind of food, water is the name for a certain kind of drink, cloth is the name for a certain kind of garment and fire is the name for a thing that burns. Did you understand, O Hisham, in a form of understanding that would help you to defend our cause against our enemies and those who worship things that are other than Allah?” I said, “Yes, I did receive such understanding.” The Imam then said, “May Allah grant you success in it and keep you steadfast (in your belief). Hisham has said, “I swear by Allah that since then no one has been able to defeat me in an argumentation on the issue of the Oneness of Allah and that has made me reach this position that I hold.”
So to return to the initial question, the question of when, where and how do not apply to God. When has no meaning if there is no passage of time, where has no value if there is no space and how is irrelevant if there are no limits. To apply these terms to God would be applying created limitations to the one that existed before any creation.
H 234, Ch. 6, h 5
It is narrated, through the same chain of narrators and source, from Ahmad ibn Muhammad
ibn Khalid from his father from Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Nasr from abu al-Hassan al-
Muwsali from Imam abu ‘Abdallah (a.s.), who has said the following.
“One of the Jewish rabbis (hibr) came to Imam Ali (a.s.), and asked, ‘O Amir al-Mu’minin,
when did your Lord come into existence?’” Imam Ali (a.s.) replied, “Bereft of you be your
mother! When has Allah not been (in existence), so that it could be said when did He come
into existence. My Lord existed before any before without being before. He is after every
after, without being after. There is no finale destination or end for Him. All ends fall short
before Him. He is the final destination of all goals.” He further asked, “O Amir al-Mu’minin,
are you a prophet?” Imam Ali (a.s.) replied, “Hold it there. I am one of the slaves of
Muhammad,(s.a.) the Messenger of Allah.”
It has also been narrated that someone asked Imam Ali (a.s.) this.
“Where was our Lord before the creation of the heavens and the earth?” Imam Ali (a.s.)
replied, “Where is a question about space. Allah has been there before there was space.”
As for those that give an answer for the location of God, they have surely limited Him and we have nothing in the authentic sources to suggest a location, and it is accepted that reason can only reach so far.