Where is Allah?
Allah is exalted and above His creation because of the evidence of the Quran, Sunnah (prophetic traditions), consensus of the scholars, common sense and man’s innate instinct (fitrah).
Evidences of 'Uluww (Highness of Allah)
(1) The Quran describes the "exaltedness" or "highness" of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) in different ways, as His being high and above, and by describing how things come down from Him, and go up to Him, and by stating that He is above heaven. For example:
Evidences of Highness of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى):
"… and He is the Most High, the Most Great." [Quran: Surah al Bakarah 2: Ayah 255]
"Glorify the Name of your Lord, the Most High." [Quran: Surah al 'A`la 87: Ayah 1]
Evidences that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is Above:
"And He is the Irresistible, above His slaves …" [Quran: Surah al Anam 6: Ayah 18]
"They fear their Lord above them, and they do what they are commanded." [Quran: Surah an Nahl 16: Ayah 50]
Evidences that things coming down from Allah (سبحانه و تعالى):
"He arranges (every) affair from the heavens to the earth … " [Quran: Surah as Sajdaah 32: Ayah 5]
"Verily We: it is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e., the Quran) …" [Quran: Surah al Hijr 15: Ayah 9]
Things going up to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى):
"… To Him ascend (all) the goodly words, and the righteous deeds exalt it …" [Quran: Surah Fatir 35: Ayah 10]
"The angels and the Rooh (Jibreel) ascend to Him …" [Quran: Surah al Ma'arij 70: Ayah 4]
Evidences that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above the heavens:
"Do you feel secure that He, Who is over the heavens, will not cause the earth to sink with you …?" [Quran: Surah al Mulk 67: Ayah 16]
(2) The Sunnah: Many reports were narrated "mutawatir" (i.e. with a large number of narrators at every stage of the isnad/chain, such that it is impossible for them all to have agreed on a lie) from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم), describing his words and deeds and things of which he approved. For example, he used to say "Subhana Rabbi al-A’la (Glory be to my Lord Most High)" in sujood (prostration), and in some ahadeeth (reports) he is reported to have said "By Allah Who is above the Throne."
Among his deeds is the gesture of pointing up with his finger, when addressing the people in the greatest gathering, on the Day of ‘Arafah during his Farewell Pilgrimage. He asked the people, "Have I not conveyed the message?" and they said, "Yes!" He asked again, "Have I not conveyed the message?" and they said, "Yes!" He asked a third time, “Have I not conveyed the message?" and they said "Yes!" Each time, he said: "O Allah, bear witness!" - pointing up to the sky and then at the people. He also used to raise his hands towards heaven when he made du’a (supplication), as reported in many ahadeeth. This is proof via his actions that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is exalted and high.
An example of an approval of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) which indicates that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is exalted and high is the hadeeth (report) concerning the young slave girl:
Mu'awiyah as-Sahmi (رضی اللہ عنہ) reported: "I had some sheep which I kept between Uhud and Juwaniyyah with a slave-girl to look after them. One day, I went out to check on my sheep and discovered that a wolf had devoured one of them. Since I am just a human, (I became angry) and struck the girl. Later on, I came to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and reported to him the incident. He terrified me with the gravity of my action. I said, 'Messenger of Allah'! Shall I free her (as an expiation of my sin.) He said 'Call her over'. When I did, he asked her, 'Where is Allah?' She said, 'Above the heavens'. Then he asked her, 'Who am I?' She said, 'The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) '. Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) ordered me, 'Free her. She is a believer'." (Muslim, Abu Dawood, and others)
This young girl was uneducated, as many are, and she was a slave, but she knew that her Lord is above heaven. Some misguided people deny that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above heaven, and say, "He is neither above nor below; neither to the right nor to the left. He is everywhere!"
(3) The consensus of the scholars: The salaf (pious predecessors) agreed that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above heaven, as is reported by scholars such as al-Dhahabi (رحمه الله), in his book Al-‘Aluw li’l-‘Aliy al-Ghaffar.
(4) Common sense: Highness is a quality which is associated in people’s minds with perfection. If this is the case, then it should be attributed to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) because every absolute perfection should be attributed to Him.
(5) The innate instinct of man (fitrah). There should be no dispute that man instinctively knows that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above heaven. Whenever something overwhelming befalls a person, and he turns to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) for help, he looks towards heaven, not in any other direction. But it is strange that those who deny that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above His creation still raise their hands up in supplication to no other direction than towards heaven.
Even Pharaoh, the enemy of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) who disputed with Moses, Moosa (عليه السلام) about his Lord, told his minister Haman:
"O Haman! Build me a tower that I may arrive at the ways, - the ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the god of Moosa …" [Quran: Surah Ghafir 40: Ayah 36-37]
He knew in his heart of hearts that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is real, as He says: "And they belied them (those ayat/signs) wrongfully and arrogantly, though their own selves were convinced thereof …" [Quran: Surah an Naml 27: Ayah 14]
As the above evidences show the belief that Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is above His creation and separate from it was the belief of the Muslims, firmly established in the Quran and Sunnah as is the belief that Allah has Knowledge of all things, Sees everything, Hears everything, has the ability and the power to do whatever He wills, and these attributes of His are perfect in every sense. This is also the established belief of all the Companions of the Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه و سلم) and those who came after them of the Salaaf as Saliheen, the pious precessors.
It is also belief of the 4 Imams of Islamic jurisprudence as witnessed by their own statements:
Imam Abu Hanifah
Abu Muti' Al-Balkhi reported: "I asked Imam Abu Hanifah about a person who says, 'I do not know whether my Rabb is, above the heavens or on earth?' Abu Hanifah (رحمه الله) said: 'A person who makes such a statement becomes an apostate because Allah, the Exalted says, 'The Merciful has ascended above the 'Arsh, and the 'Arsh of Allah is above His heavens'.
I further asked Abu Hanifah, 'What if such a person admits, Allah is above His 'Arsh, but exclaims, I do not know whether His 'Arsh is above the heavens or on earth'.
Abu Hanifah responded: 'If he denies that the 'Arsh is above the heavens, he is an apostate." [Sharh at-Tahawiyyah, p. 288] If the person apostatizes by saying that he did not know where is the 'Arsh of Allah, then by right a person who denies the Loftiness of Allah altogether is definitely worse than an apostate.
Abdullah ibn Nafi' reported: Malik ibn Anas (رحمه الله) said: "Allah is above the heavens, but His knowledge encompasses everything. Nothing escapes His knowledge." [Abdullah ibn Ahmad, As-Sunnah, and others]
Imam Ash-Shafi'i (رحمه الله) said:"The creed which I hold is the same creed the Muslims before me were holding, namely, the Testimony of Faith: "There is no god worthy of being worshipped except Allah, that Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, and that Allah is above His 'Arsh, above the heavens. He descends to the lowest heaven whenever He wishes." [Al-Juyush al-Islamiyyah, Ibn Al-Qayyim, p. 93]
Imam ibn Khuzaymah (رحمه الله), a Shafi'ite himself, said: "Whoever disacknowledges (i.e. does not accept or believe) that Allah is above His 'Arsh, above His seven heavens, and that He is separated from His creatures, is a Kafir, (unbeliever). Such person must be ordered to repent and disavow his belief, or else he must be beheaded and thrown on a garbage dump so that neither Ahlul-Qiblah, Muslims, nor Ahludh-Dhimmah, Christians and Jews, be annoyed by the foul odor of his carcass." [Ibid]
Abu Bakr Muhammad at-Tamimi (رحمه الله), a Shafi'ite Imam of Naisabur, said: "I do not pray behind a person who denies the attributes of Allah and does not recognize that Allah is above His 'Arsh." [Ibid]
Iman Ahmad (رحمه الله) was asked: "Is Allah above His 'Arsh (throne), above the seventh heaven, separate from His creatures, and is His knowledge and power encompassing everything everywhere?"
He replied: "Certainly, He is above His 'Arsh and nothing escapes His knowledge." [Al-Juyush al-Islamiyyah, Ibn Al-Qayyim, p. 123]
Beliefs of Innovation
As Islam spread into non-Muslim lands, the concept of 'Uluww, the loftiness of Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), i.e. Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) being above His creation and not indwelling in it, became lost on some converts to Islam, through their lack of knowledge and ignorance. Also, at this time a number of sects arose which brought in the thinking of non-Muslims into Islam, such as the thinking of the ancient Greek phylosophers, Christians, Jews and hindus. This thinking and these ideas were the remant of the host culture; what the people did not know about Islam, they retained from their traditions, such that even today you have many customs in different parts of the world practiced by Muslims that have nothing to do with Islam.
The concept of god being omnipresent in his essence, present everywhere in his being, was one such concept, it is called "Halool". The second concept, "Wah dat al Wajood", is pantheism, i.e. god is in everything and everything is god. These concepts are found among Sufis even today. They have no basis in Islam, as the above evidences from the Quran and Sunnah clearly establish. The concept that God needs to be everywhere in His creation, to affect anything, implies the imperfection of such a creator; Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) is perfect in every sense and commands "Be, and it is" without His need to be in or around a thing to affect it. His Knowledge, Power and Authority encompass everthing, but not his "Darth", i.e. that which He is.
It is interesting to note that the word “Sufism” was not known at the time of the Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) or the Sahaabah, his companions or the Taabi’een, the students of the Companions. It arose, centuries later, at the time when a group of ascetics who wore wool (“soof”) emerged, and this name was given to them. It was also said that the name was taken from the word “soofiya” (“sophia”) which means “wisdom” in Greek. The word is not derived from al-safa’ (“purity”) as some Sufis claim, because the adjective derived from safa’ is safaa’i, not soofi (sufi).
However, even the early Sufis were different from the later Sufis. The early Sufis were mostly ascentics, the latter Sufis spread bid’ah (innovation) to a greater extent and made shirk, making partners, associating others, with Allah (سبحانه و تعالى); they commited shirk in both minor and major forms commonplace among the people, as well as introduce innovations into Islam.
One who commits Shirk is upon the path of his own destruction, because Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) says:
Verily, Allah forgives not that partners should be set up with him in worship, but He forgives except that (anything else) to whom He pleases, and whoever sets up partners with Allah in worship, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin. [Quran: Surah 4 an-Nisa 4: Ayah 48].
The Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم) warned the Muslims against innovations in the religion when he said, “Beware of newly-invented things, for every newly-invented thing is an innovation and every innovation is a going-astray.” [al-Tirmidhi, Graded saheeh hasan].