Abu al-Hasan al-Tabari, `Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Mahdi (d. ~380). He studied under al-Ash`ari in Basra and Abu al-Hasan al-Bahili, and accompanied Abu Ishaq al-Isfarayini, Abu Bakr ibn Furak, and Abu Bakr al-Baqillani. ...He authored among other works: "Al-Usul wa Tafsir Asami al-Rabb" ("Principles of the Religion and the Explanation of the Divine Names") and "Ta'wil Ahadith al-Mushkilat al-Waridat fi al-Sifat" ("The Interpretation of the Problematic Narrations That Pertain to the Attributes.") In the latter book he said: "Allah is in the heaven above everything and established over His Throne in the sense that He is elevated high above it, and the sense of istiwa' is elevation."
Thank you for the remarks. The original words are `ali and mu`tali which refer to elevation in the sense of exaltation, not altitude. I have modified the translation slightly to read:
In the latter book he said: "Allah is 'in the heaven above everything and established over His Throne' in the sense that He is exalted high or elevated (`‚lin) above it, and the sense of istiw‚' is self-exaltation (i`til‚')."
The sense is clarified by al-Bayhaqi in al-Asma' wa al-Sifat:
Among the perspicuous scholars, Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Mahdi al-Tabari said: "Allah is 'in the heaven above everything and es-tab-lished over His Throne' in the sense that He is exalted high or elevated ('‚lin) above it, and the sense of istiw‚' is self-exaltation (i 'til‚')." . . .
The Preternal One (al-QadÓm) is thus elevated over His Throne but neither sitting on (q‚'id) nor standing on (q‚'im) nor in contact with (mum‚ss), nor separate from (mub‚yin) the Throne - meaning separate in His Es-sence in the sense of physical separation or distance. For "contact" and its opposite "separation," "standing" and its opposite "sitting," are all the characteristics of bodies (ajs‚m), whereas "Allah is One, Everlasting, neither begetting nor begotten, and there is none like Him." (112:1-4) Therefore what is allowed for bodies is impermissible for Him.
The teacher Abu Bakr ibn Furak also mentioned the above method in interpretation from one of our companions who said: "He established Him-self in the sense of elevated." Then he said that such elevation is not in the sense of dis-tance, nor boundary, nor place in which He is firmly fixed. Rather, he means by it what Allah meant when He said: "Have you taken security from Him Who is in the heaven. . ." (67:16-17), that is, above it, together with the preclusion of limit (hadd) for Him and the fact that He admits neither of being contained by a heavenly stratum nor of being encompassed by an earthly expanse of space. Allah Almighty was described thus in the evidence transmitted, and so we do not dispute what the evidence said. End of al-Bayhaqi's words.
In another passage of the book I say:
Al-Bayhaqi quotes one of the companions of al-Ash'ari,
Abu al-Hasan 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Mahdi al-Tabari (d. ~380) as saying in his
book Ta'wil al-Ahadith al-Mushkilat al-Waridat fi al-Sifat
("Interpretation of the Problematic Narrations Pertaining to the
Attributes"): "Allah is in the heaven above everything and established
over His Throne in the sense that He is exalted or elevated ('‚lin) above it,
and the sense of istiw‚' is self-eleva-tion (i'til‚')."
This is the most widespread interpretation (ta'wÓl) of the issue among
the Salaf: al-Baghawi said that the meaning of the verse "The Merciful
established Himself over the Throne" (20:5) according to Ibn 'Abbas and
most of the commentators of Qur'an is "He elevated Himself" (irtafa'a).
This is the interpretation quoted by Bukhari in his Sahih from the senior T‚bi'i
Rufay' ibn Mahran Abu al- 'Aliya (d. 90). Bukhari also cites from Mujahid (d.
102) the interpretation "to rise above" or "exalt Himself
above" ('al‚). Ibn Battal declares the latter to be the true
position and the saying of Ahl al-Sunna because Allah described Himself as
"the Sublimely Exalted" -- al-'AlÓ (2:255) and said: "exalted be
He (ta'‚l‚) over all that they ascribe as partners (unto Him)!"