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Last Updated: 2017/01/21
Summary of question
How was the ultimate underlying substance created by Allah? Was there anything existing alongside Allah?
question
How was the ultimate underlying substance created by Allah? Is there anything present other than Allah? If that is the case, did anything exist besides and alongside Allah? If He created anything from Himself, that means He is composed of matter. That is to say, something distinct and material separated from him. Is that the case?
Concise answer
This issue has something to do closely with the issue of "the created" (hādith) and "the eternal" (qadim). The key to understanding this topic is to understand the concept of existence, non-existence and tajalli (divine self-manifestation) which is the appearance and disclosure of God as truth in Islamic theoretical gnosticism. Tajalli is a process by which God reveals Himself in concrete forms; it is something which is not God but it is the appearance and disclosure of God. It is both "is" and "is not".  By accepting tajalli, neither the problem of composition of God comes into being nor is there any need to imagine an existence alongside Allah. For further details, go through the detailed answer:
 
Detailed Answer
This issue has something to do closely with the issue of "the created" (hādith) and "the eternal" (qadim).  A question which arises here is how one can perceive the relationship between God and other creatures in the process of the creation especially in the first stage when the created comes into being from the eternal. How was arche or the primary substance created and was considered a being beside God? Is that being something different from God? If that is different, how did it separate from God when in fact we know that God is not composed of elements to be divided and regarded as the ultimate underlying substance in the worlds?
The key to understanding this topic is to understand the concept of existence, non-existence and tajalli (divine self-manifestation). Relying on the Quran and narrations (revayāt), some have considered wujud (existence) as having three main applications:
1. Existence of God: God exists at a stage where anything other than God is considered as pure nothingness.
2. Existence of the world: The world exists in a stage where God”s existence is different from this world. In fact, the real existence (God) apparently seems to be like non-existent because everything that is seen in the concrete external world is something other than God. Hence, the meaning of existence when applied to God is different from the meaning of existence applied to the world. Where there is God, everything else is non-existent and where there is the world, the people of the world consider God is non-existent because they are at a level of understanding where they consider the non-existent as existent and the existent as non-existent.
3. Divine self-manifestation (tajalli): Tajalli is the appearance and disclosure of God as truth in Islamic theoretical gnosticism. Tajalli is a process by which God reveals Himself in a way which is not God but it is a disclosure of God. It is both "is" and "is not" as the poet says:
چون نور که ازمهر جدا هست و جدا نیست
عالم همه مرآت خدا هست وخدا نیست
در آیینه بینید اگر صورت خود را
آن صورت آیینه شما هست و شما نیست
It is like light which is and is not part of the moon,
The world is a mirror showing God but it is not God
If you see your face in the mirror,
That face is you and is not you.
It can be termed as the "existence of non-existence". God”s existence is the real existence and the existence of the world is the non-existence of something which looks to be existent. The stage of divine self-manifestation is also the existence of the non-existence because it is not real existence. This is the very ultimate underlying substance after God, the primary substance of creation. The primary matter is neither God, nor something other than God because it is divine self-manifestation.
It is difficult for a man to understand this mystical paradox which is situated within time and space because the mind is inevitably in the stage where it considers the non-existent as existent and the existent as non-existent. For the mind, self-manifestation (tajalli) is a conspicuous contradiction but tajalli is a reality derived from the sayings of the Prophet (S) and the infallible leaders as explained in various ways by mystics and saints. This is the very secret between the lover and the beloved (God and divine self-manifestation) as well as the problem of the relationship between "the created" (hādith) and "the eternal" (qadim) which the partial intellect (”aql) is unable to perceive as the poet says:
میان عاشق و معشوق سریست
چه داند آنکه اشتر می چراند
There is a secret between the lover and the beloved,
He who drives a camel does not know what it is.
The fact that God is the real existence and the rest is nothing and when compared to the stage of God”s existence, they are nothing and non-existent has been pointed out in numerous verses and narrations. The stage of the contingent entities is also clearly perceived by man”s mind (which is in fact non-existent but reveals itself as existent) as narrated from the Holy Prophet of Islam (S) who said:
"The truest word of Arab poets is: Beware, everything other God is nothing but false and fancy."[1]
As for the stage which is placed between "existent" (God) and "non-existent" (world), there are different verses and narrations in this regard. This stage is in reality the stage of the ultimate underlying stage of creation. In mysticism, it is referred to as ”amā which is the first stage of divine self-manifestation. The Holy Prophet (S) was asked:
Where was our Lord before He created the creatures?
The Prophet said, "He was in ”amā with nothing above or underneath it.[2]
To explain it further, the mystics consider the world of existence and its manifestation of the truth as being countless, but they generally divide it into five stages or five stations.
The first stage is the very stage which is termed as ”amā. This stage has been referred to with other names as well such as the ”absolute realm”, ”alam lahut (Realm of Divinity), the absent of the Absents, the absolute absent etc. As well, the Quran says:
"وَ عِنْدَهُ مَفاتِحُ الْغَیبِ لا یعْلَمُها إِلاَّ هُوَ"[3]
"And with Him are the keys of the unseen treasures-- none knows them but He."
The stages which have been mentioned after this stage are as follows: jabarut (power), malakut (heavens), realm of evidence and the stage of society which is the man”s stage. In total, there are five stages.[4]
Therefore, the process of the creation of the world can be explained as such:  "The world has been created from nothing, not from God because the world is said to be "existent" then God seems to be non-existent. There is no doubt that what we call God (existence of the truth) is different from the existence of creation.
Hence, the world is created from nothing and the first stage from this creation is the stage which is called ”amā which we cannot describe as being like a contingent being nor can we consider it to be God or real existence. The word ”amā literally means blindness or darkness.
Then, God”s "will" to appearance caused the stages of grace and tajalli to emanate. At first the realms of jabarut (power) and malakut (as the Quran terms it as heavens) were created and then the world of external matter (as the Quran terms it as the earths) was created.
Therefore, by accepting tajalli which is not intelligible for the mind as is God, neither the problem of composition of God comes into being nor is there any need to imagine an existence alongside Allah.
 

[1] «أصدق بیت قاله الشّاعر قول لبید: ألا کلّ شی‏ء ما خلا الله باطل» Ghazzali, Ihya Ulum al-Deen, vol.13, p. 180, Dar al-Kitab al-Arabi, Beirut, (without date).
 [2]"حدثنا عبد الله، حدثنی أبی، ثنا یزید بن هرون، أنا حماد ابن سلمة، عن یعلى بن عطاء، عن وکیع بن حدس، عن عمه أبی رزین، قال: قلت یا رسول الله، أین کان ربنا عز وجل قبل أن یخلق خلقه؟ قال: کان فی عماء، ما تحته هواء وما فوقه هواء، ثم خلق عرشه على الماء" Ahmad bin Hanbal has transmitted this report in his al-Musnad, vol.4, p. 11.
[3] Al-An”am, 59.
[4] Adapted from answer 10342 (site: 10212).
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