Surat al-Baqara / Tafsir

“The Meaning of ‘Istawa’ in al-Baqara Verse 29” – The Tafsir of Shaykh Ata

“The Meaning of ‘Istawa’ in al-Baqarah Verse 29:

The Tafsir of Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil

***

Allah says in the Qur’an al-Karim: {It is He who has created for you everything that is in the earth and then turned towards (istawa) the Heavens and fashioned it as seven and He has knowledge of all things [Q. 2:29]}.[1] Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil (Allah preserve him) comments:

 “Allah – Glory be to Him! – created all things in the earth so that human beings can benefit from it and this is a proof text for the rule that ‘in origin, all things are permissible’. Then He – Glory be to Him! – turned (thumma’stawa) to the heavens meaning he resolved or intended to create it after creating the earth without Him creating anything else in between. When the Arabs say istawa ilayhi, it means ‘to have an absolute resolve for something and not for anything else’; this was held by al-Farra’. This is perhaps the closest meaning to the word “istawa” in this context. I say ‘the closest meaning’ because the word “istawa” is from the mutashabih category…”[2]

Notes:

  1. Huwa/ هُوَ = ‘He’, ‘Allah’.
  2. Khalaqa/ خَلَقَ = ‘created’, ‘determined’, ‘made’; created not from anything (ex nihilo) with unique form, shape and composition. This is a power and ability unique to Allah and is one of His attributes.[3]
  3. Lakum/ لَكُم = ‘for you’, ‘for your sake’, ‘for your benefit’; where the letter ‘lam/ل’ posits the reason indicating the multitude of benefits Allah has created for His creatures and hence denial and disbelief in Allah is the clearest form of ingratitude and ignorance.[4]
  4. Ma/ مَّا = ‘whatever’, ‘everything’, ‘that which’.
  5. Thumma/ ثُمَّ = ‘and then’, ‘thereafter’, ‘after that’; here to denote the sequencing of the report and information and not to suggest any gaps or delays in Allah’s actions.
  6. Istawa ila/ ٱسْتَوَىٰ إِلَى = (see below).[5]
  7. al-sama’/ ٱلسَّمَآءِ = ‘the skies’, ‘the heavens’, ‘one of the directions indicating loftiness’.
  8. Sawwa/سَوَّا = ‘fashioned’, ‘made straight’, ‘proportioned’; ‘to set into a system’.
  • Imam al-Qurtubi writes: “There are three types of people when it comes to this verse: one group says, ‘We read it, believe in it but do not seek to explain it’; many of the scholars inclined to this position […] another group says, ‘we read it and explain it according to what the literal meaning in the language is’; and this is the position of the anthropomorphists; a third groups says, ‘we read it and explain it in a non-literal way and not the literal or apparent meaning’…”[6]

والناس فيها وفيما شاكلها على ثلاثة أوجه قال بعضهم: نقرؤها ونؤمن بها ولا نفسرها؛ وذهب إليه كثير من الأئمة وقال بعضهم: نقرؤها ونفسّرها على ما يحتمله ظاهر اللغة. وهذا قول المشبّهة. وقال بعضهم: نقرؤها ونتأوّلها ونُحيل حَمْلها على ظاهرها

  • Imam al-Qurtubi continues: “And al-Bayhaqi Abu Bakr Ahmad Ibn `Ali Ibn al-Husayn said: ‘Allah’s saying {istawa} to mean ‘to turn towards’ is correct because to turn towards [the heavens] means to intend to create them. Intent and aim is linked to the Will and that is permitted as an attribute of Allah. The preposition {thumma} is connected to creation and not the Divine Will […] Sufyan Ibn `Uyayna and Ibn Kaysan said regarding {and then he istawa to the heavens}: it means he intended towards it, i.e. to create it and fashion it; this is an opinion’ […]”[7]

وقال البيهقي أبو بكر أحمد بن عليّ بن الحسين: قوله: «ٱستوى» بمعنى أقبل صحيح، لأن الإقبال هو القصد إلى خلق السماء؛ والقصد هو الإرادة، وذلك جائز في صفات الله تعالى. ولفظة «ثم» تتعلق بالخلق لا بالإرادة. وأما ما حكي عن ٱبن عباس فإنما أخذه عن تفسير الكلبيّ، والكلبيّ ضعيف. وقال سفيان بن عُيينة وٱبن كَيسان في قوله: { ثُمَّ ٱسْتَوَىٰ إِلَى ٱلسَّمَآءِ }: قصد إليها، أي بخلقه وٱختراعه، فهذا قول. وقيل: على دون تكييف ولا تحديد؛ وٱختاره الطبري. ويُذكر عن أبي العالية الرّياحيّ في هذه الآية أنه يقال: ٱستوى بمعنى أنه ٱرتفع. قال البيهقي: ومراده من ذلك ـ والله أعل

  • Imam Ibn Kathir states: “When Allah Most High mentioned the signs in creating them as well as what they witness in their own selves, He mentions another sign which they can witness which is the creation of the heavens and the earth. He said: {It is He Who created for you everything in the earth; then He turned towards the heavens and fashioned it as seven heavens…[Q. 2:29]} meaning: ‘Allah intended to create the heavens’. The meaning of the word ‘istiwa’’ here in this context includes the the meaning of ‘intent’, ‘aim’, ‘towards’ because it is transitive with ‘ila’ and hence ‘He fashioned them’ means ‘He created them as seven heavens’ and the word ‘heaven’ (sama’) is generic here. He said: {And He knows everything} meaning His knowledge encompasses everything in His creation…”[8]

لما ذكر تعالى دلالة من خلقهم وما يشاهدونه من أنفسهم، ذكر دليلاً آخر مما يشاهدونه من خلق السموات والأرض، فقال: { هُوَ ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ لَكُم مَّا فِى ٱلأَرْضِ جَمِيعاً ثُمَّ ٱسْتَوَىٰ إِلَى ٱلسَّمَآءِ فَسَوَّاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَـٰوَاتٍ } أي: قصد إلى السماء. والاستواء ههنا مضمن معنى القصد والإقبال، لأنه عدّي بإلى، فسواهن، أي: فخلق السماء سبعاً، والسماء ههنا اسم جنس، فلهذا قال: { فَسَوَّاهُنَّ سَبْعَ سَمَـٰوَاتٍ وَهُوَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمٌ } أي: وعلمه محيط بجميع ما خلق،

 

 

s.z.c.

And Allah alone gives success.


[1] Cf. Muhsin Khan and Hilali’s rendering of the verse as: {He it is Who created for you all that is on earth. Then He Istawâ (rose over) towards the heaven and made them seven heavens and He is the All-Knower of everything}.Cf. Yusuf Ali, ‘He turned to Heaven’; Pickthall, ‘turned He to Heaven’; Taqi Usmani, ‘He turned to the heavens’; Daryabadi, ‘turned toward the heaven’; Alahazrat, ‘He inclined towards the heavens’…

[2] Shaykh `Ata’ Ibn Khalil, al-Taysir fi Usul al-Tafsir, p.67.

[3] Ibn `Ashur, al-Tahrir wa ’l-Tanwir, 1:378.

[4] Ibid., 1:379-382.

[5] Ibid., 1:383-385:

“The original meaning of istiwa’ is istiqama (‘straightness’) without any crookedness as when it is said ‘straight path’ (sirat mustawin)…it is taken metaphorically to mean ‘having an intent towards something’ (al-qasd `ala ’l-shay’) which includes a firm resolve and swiftness as if He is directly heading towards something without swerving; and the verb being transitive with ‘ila’ is an indication that it is figurative i.e. an analogy or exemplification…”

والاستواء أصله الاستقامة وعدم الاعوجاج يقال صراط مستو، واستوى فلان وفلان واستوى الشيء مطاوع سواه، ويطلق مجازاً على القصد إلى الشيء بعزم وسرعة كأنه يسير إليه مستوياً لا يلوي على شيء فيعدى بإلى فتكون (إلى) قرينة المجاز وهو تمثيل، فمعنى استواء الله تعالى إلى السماء تعلق إرادته التنجيزي بإيجادها تعلقاً يشبه الاستواء في التهيىء للعمل العظيم المتقن.

[6] al-Qurtubi, al-Jami` li-Ahlam al-Qur’an, 1:241-242.

[7] Ibid., 1:243-245.

[8] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1:213. Incidentally, this important translation that indicates Imam Ibn Kathir’s view is missing from the abridged English translation online. See §. ‘Evidence of Allah’s Ability’ at http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=411

One thought on ““The Meaning of ‘Istawa’ in al-Baqara Verse 29” – The Tafsir of Shaykh Ata

  1. Pingback: Ibn Kathir’s Tafsir of Various Verses of the Qu’ran – not Pseudo-salafi | Wahhabis Refuted

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