In his famous treatise on the Sunni creed, Imam al-Tahawi uses the word ‘al-Qadim’ to refer to Allah, meaning pre-existing or without beginning. This has attracted criticism by some contemporaries who deem such wording as baseless, with some even calling it a bid’a. Such a rash claim against as great a figure as al-Tahawi is harsh, considering the following:
In al-Hakim’s al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-Sahihayn we find al-Qadim listed as one of the Names of Allah (volume 1, page 239, hadith #42 in the 2014 Dar al-Ta’sil edition). Now then, all the narrators in this chain are used by al-Bukhari and Muslim, except for ‘Abd al-‘Aziz b. Husayn al-Turjuman, who is considered weak by al-Bukhari, Muslim, Yahya b. Ma’in, and Ibn ‘Adi.
Another narration is found in Sunan Abi Dawud (hadith #466 in Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut’s edition) whereby Allah’s Authoratative Power (Sultanih) is described as al-Qadim. Bear in mind that Allah’s Attributes are inseperable from His Essence.
In summary, condemning al-Tahawi, one of the great hadith scholars, for using a word to describe Allah that was in currency among hadith narrators, in light of the above, long before theologians exerted their influence on the sciences, is a harsh stance to take. Rather than deeming it a baseless innovation, the best stance would be that it is at least based on a weak hadith and can be used to describe one of Allah’s attributes. And Allah knows best!