The correct view on this issue is that Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) did not see his Lord with his eyes;
he only saw Him with his heart.
The words which Ibn Abbas is reported in the Sahih collections of hadith to have said are, “Muhammad saw his Lord with his heart twice.”206 `A’ishah, on the other hand, is reported to have denied that he ever saw the Lord.-07 Some of the scholars who have discussed these ahadith have tried to reconcile one with the other. They say that `A’ishah only denied that the Prophet saw the Lord with his eyes; Ibn `Abbas affirmed, on the other hand, that he saw Him with his heart. The words that are reported of Ibn Abbas are qualified as well as unqualified. He sometimes says, “Muhammad saw his Lord,” and sometimes, “Muhammad saw Him.”208 But he has not been reported to have ever said in so many words that he saw God with his eyes.
Likewise, Imam Ahmad sometimes only affirms that the Prophet saw God without specifying its nature, and sometimes that he saw God by his heart. No one has mentioned that he heard him saying that the Prophet saw God with his eyes. A section of his followers who heard him affirming the vision without specifying its nature took it in the sense of visual perception, just as some people who heard Ibn Abbas affirming the vision without specifying its mode took it in the sense of seeing with the eyes.
There is nothing to prove that the Prophet saw God with his eyes. No companion had ever said that, nor is there anything in the Quran or the Sunnah which may suggest it. In fact, authentic texts negate rather than affirm it, for example, Muslim has reported that Abu Dharr asked the Prophet, “Did you see the Lord?” and he replied, “Light! How could I have seen Him.”209 In the Quran we have, “Glory to (God) Who did take His servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque to the Farthest Mosque, whose precincts We did bless in order that We might show him some of Our signs” (17:1). Had the Prophet seen God with his eyes on that occasion, God would have mentioned it at this place. In another verse we have, “Would you then dispute with him regarding what he saw… Indeed he did see the greatest signs of his Lord” (53:12,18). Had he seen God with his eyes, this was the place to mention it.
Both Al-Bukhari and Muslim record in their Sahihs that, in commenting on the verse, “We granted the vision which We showed you just as a trial for men” (17:60), Ibn Abbas said, “It was a vision the Prophet saw with his eyes the night he was taken on a journey.”210 But it was a vision of the signs; for when he informed people what he saw with his eyes the night of Ascension, they wondered at it; some did testify to it but others belied it. The Prophet did not say that he saw God with his eyes, nor is there anything to that effect in the authentic reports of the Ascension recorded in hadith collections. Had it really happened it would surely have been mentioned in these reports.
The Quran and the Sunnah clearly say, and the consensus of the Elders of the ummah definitely states, that no one can see the Lord with his eyes in this life. Only a few people have made an exception in the case of the Prophet. As for seeing God in the next life, there is complete agreement that the Believers will see Him with their eyes just as they see the sun and the moon.
Author: Ibn Taymiyyah
Islamic Topic: Seeing God
Source: Book: [Fatawa 6:509-10] / Also mentioned in “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”