AL-QURTUBI’S EXPOSITION ON SELECT PASSAGES

In this post I will be citing from renowned medieval Muslim scholar and Quranic expositor Al-Qurtubi’s commentary on specific texts which directly relate to Christian-Muslim polemics and debate. All bold and/or capital emphasis will be mine.

Al-Qurtubi on Mary’s Status

Maryam, Allah has chosen you and purified you.

The words ‘purified you’ refer to purification from disbelief, as Mujāhid and al-Ḥasan said. Az-Zajjāj said it means of all impurities: menstruation, lochia and other things. Allah ‘chose her’ to give birth to ‘Īsā over all the women of her time. Al-Ḥasan, Ibn Jurayj and others say that it means over all women until the Trumpet is sounded, and that is sound as we will explain. That is the position of az-Zajjāj and others.

The word ‘chosen’ is repeated because the first time it means chosen for worship and the second chosen to bear ‘Īsā. Muslim reports that Abū Mūsā said that the Prophet said, ‘There are many perfect men, but the only perfect women are Maryam daughter of ‘Imrān, and Āsiyah, the wife of Pharaoh. ‘Ā’ishah is preferred to other women like tharīd over other types of food.’ Our scholars said that ‘perfect’ means complete. The perfection of each thing is according to what it is. Absolute perfection belongs only to Allah. There is no doubt that the most perfect human beings are the Prophets, then the awliyā’, then the truly sincere, then the martyrs and then the righteous. If this is confirmed, then it is said that the perfection mentioned in the hadith means Prophethood which would necessitate that Maryam and Āsiyyah were Prophets, and that is indeed said. The sound position is that Maryam was a Prophet because Allah gave revelation to her by means of an angel in the same way that he gave revelation to the other Prophets. This will be further discussed in Sūrat Maryam. As for Āsiyyah, there is no clear evidence of her Prophethood, but of her ṣīddiqiyyah and excellence, as will be explained in at-Taḥrīm.

It is related by sound paths from Abu Hurayrah that the Prophet said, ‘The best of the women of this world are four: Maryam bint ‘Imrān, ‘Āsiyyah bint Muzaḥam, Khadījah bint Khuwaylid and Fāṭimah bint Muḥammad.’ Ibn ‘Abbās reported that the Prophet said, ‘The best of the women of the Garden are: Khadījah bint Khuwaylid, Fāṭimah bint Muḥammad, Maryam bint ‘Imrān and ‘Āsiyyah bint Muzaḥam, the wife of Pharaoh.’ Another path has: ‘After Maryam, the mistress of the women of the people of the Garden will be Fāṭimah and Khadījah.’

The apparent meaning of the Qur’an and the hadiths DEMANDS that Maryam is the best of all the women of the world from Ḥawwā’ to the last woman alive when the Final hour comes. The angels conveyed to her revelation from Allah containing responsibility, information and good news, as was conveyed to other Prophets, and so she is a Prophet, and a Prophet is better than a walī. Therefore she is better than all other women, first and last. Next in excellence is Fāṭimah and then Khadījah according to what is related by Ibn ‘Abbās whereby the Messenger of Allah said: ‘The mistress of the women of the world is Fāṭimah, then Khadījah and then Āsiyyah.’ This is a good hadith which gives rises to ambiguity.

Allah singled out Maryam for things he did not give to any other woman: the Spirit of Absolute Purity spoke to her, purified her, blew into her shirt and approached her for that breath. That happened to no other woman. She believed the words of her Lord and did not ask for any sign as proof of the good news as Zakariyyā had done. That is why Allah called her ṣiddīqah in the revelation when he says ‘a woman of truth’ (5:75) and: ‘She confirmed the words of her Lord and His Books and was one of the obedient’ (66:12). Allah testified that she was a woman of truth and affirmed the words of the good news and testified that she was one of the obedient. (Tafsir al-Qurtubi – Vol. 3: Juz’ 3: Sūrat al-Baqarah 254 – 286 & Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān 1 – 95, translated by Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley [Diwan Press, 2019], pp. 300-302; bold emphasis mine)

Al-Qurtubi On Jesus’ Nature In heaven

Aḍ-Ḍaḥḥāk said, ‘The story is that ‘Īsā gathered the Disciples in a room. There were twelve of them. The Messiah entered by a niche in the room and Iblīs informed all the Jews about that. About four thousand of them met and attacked the door of the room. The Messiah said to the Disciples, “Which of you will go out and be killed and be with me in Paradise?” One man said, “I will, Prophet of Allah.” He gave him a woollen shirt and turban and handed him his staff and he was made to look like ‘Īsā. He went out to the Jews and they crucified and killed him. Allah robed the Messiah in feathers, clothed him in light and cut him off from the pleasure of food and drink, and he flew with the angels.’ (Ibid,, p. 323)

Al-Qurtubi on Q. 2:29

and then directed His attention up to heaven

In His words ‘then directed’, the word ‘then’ is simply a narrative aid and does not imply any time sequence in the matters referred to. Linguistically the word ‘directed’ (istawā’) means to ascend to and be on top of something, as in: ‘Then you and those with you settled in the ship.’ (23:28). It is used for the sky over your head and the birds over your head.

This āyah is one of those which are considered problematic. Regarding it and others of a similar nature people take three views. One of them is that we should read it and believe in it and not try to explain it, which is the position of most of the Imams. An example of this attitude is what is related from Mālik when a man asked him about the words of Allah: ‘The All-Merciful was established firmly on the throne.’ (20:5) Mālik said, ‘The meaning of istawā (established firmly) is not unknown but the how of it is not intelligible; belief in it is mandatory; and asking about it is an innovation. I think you are an evil man!’ Others say that we should read it and understand it literally. This is the position of the anthropomorphists. Yet others say that we should read it and interpret it metaphorically and cannot take it literally.

Al-Farrā’ said about this āyah, ‘Istawā in Arabic has two usual meanings. One refers to people reaching full maturity. The second is being free from crookedness. A third possibility is someone directing himself to something. This is its meaning in this āyah and Allah knows best.’ Ibn ‘Abbās said that istawā here means to ascend. All these things are possible in Arabic. Abū Bakr Aḥmad ibn ‘Alī ibn al-Ḥusayn al-Bayhaqī said that it is sound for istawā to mean to direct oneself because here directing Himself is to aim for creating heaven and aiming for something is a question of will. That is permitted in respect of the Attributes of Allah Almighty. So ‘then’ is connected to creation, not will. What is related from Ibn ‘Abbās is taken from the commentary of al-Kalbī who is weak. Sufyān ibn ‘Uyaynah said that it means ‘to aim for it’, in other words its creation. This is one view. It is said that the meaning of the word is without limitation or definition, as aṭ-Ṭabarī preferred. Abu-l-‘Āliyah ar-Riyāḥī said, ‘It means “to rise”.’ Al-Bayhaqī said, ‘Allah knows best, but what is meant by that is its elevation. It is the vapour of the water from which the sky was created.’ It is said that ‘mustawā’ means smoke. Ibn Aṭiyyah said that the words do not accept that interpretation. It is said that it means to take control, and Ibn Aṭiyyah said that this comes from His words: ‘The All-Merciful was established firmly on the throne.’ (20:5)

It would appear from this āyah, if you take the word ‘then’ as having a temporally sequential meaning, that Allah created the earth before the heavens whereas in Sūrat an-Nāzi‘āt (79) He describes the heavens being created before the earth. This was the position of Qatādah: heaven was created first. Aṭ-Ṭabarī related it from him. Mujāhid and other commentators say that Allah dried the water on which His Throne rested and turned it into the earth and made smoke rise from it and made heaven. Thus earth was created before heaven. I believe that what Qatādah said is sound, Allah willing: that Allah first created the smoke of heaven and then created the earth and directed Himself to heaven, which was smoke and arranged it and then He smoothed out the earth.

Part of what indicates that smoke was created before the earth is what is related by as-Suddī from Abū Mālik from Abū Ṣāliḥ from Ibn ‘Abbās, and from Murrah al-Hamdānị from Ibn Mas‘ūd and some Companions about this āyah: the Throne of Allah Almighty was on the water and He did not create anything before water.

When He desired to bring about creation, He produced smoke from the water and it rose above it and was high above it (samā) and so He called it heaven (samā’). Then He dried the water and made it earth and then split it up made it into seven earths over two days, Sunday and Monday. The earth WAS PLACED ON THE FISH which is the nūn which Allah mentioned in the Qur’an in al-Qalam. The fish was in the water and the water was on a stone. The stone was on the back of an angel and the angel was on a large stone. The stone, which is the one Luqmān mentioned, was in the wind, neither in heaven nor on earth. The fish moved and was agitated and so the earth quaked. So He sent down mountains on it and it became firm. The mountains vaunt themselves over the earth. That is His words: ‘He cast firmly embedded mountains on the earth so it would not move under you.’ (16:15)

He created the mountains and the provision and trees and its inhabitants and what it needs over two days, Tuesday and Wednesday. That is when He says: ‘Say: “Do you reject Him who created the earth in two days, and make others equal to Him? That is the Lord of all the worlds.” He placed firmly embedded mountains on it, towering over it, and blessed it and measured out its nourishment in it, laid down for those who seek it – all in four days.’ (41:9-10) That is the answer for someone who asks. Then He turned to heaven when it was smoke’. That smoke came from the respiration of water. He made it one heaven. Then He split it open and made it seven heavens in two days, Thursday and Friday. It is called ‘Jumu‘ah’ because in it the creation of the heavens and earth were combined.’ ‘He revealed, in every heaven, its own mandate.’ (41:12)

Then in every heaven He created the angels and creatures in it of vapour and mountains of hail and what is not known. Then He adorned the lower heaven with stars and made them an adornment and protection from shayṭāns. When he finished creating what He wished, He settled on the Throne. That is: ‘It is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days’ (57:1) and: ‘they were sewn together and then He unstitched them.’ (21:30)

Wakī‘ mentioned from Abū Ẓabyān that Ibn ‘Abbās said, ‘The first thing that Allah Almighty created was the Pen. “Write,” He told it. It said, “Lord, what shall I write?” He said, “Write the Decree.” So it wrote what would be on the day until the coming of the Final Hour. Then He created the Nūn and flattened the earth on it and made it firm with the mountains. The mountains will vaunt themselves over the earth until the Day of Rising.’ One variant states that He created the earth before elevating the vapour of the water, which is the smoke, differing from the first variant. The views about this differ and there is scope for independent judgment regarding it.

The basic element of the creation of all things is water as is reported by Ibn Mājah and Abū Ḥātim al-Bustī from Abū Hurayrah. He said to the Messenger of Allah, ‘When l see you my self is happy and my eye delighted. Tell me about the origin of all things.’ He replied, ‘All things were created from water.’ He asked, ‘Tell me about something by virtue of which, I will enter the Garden.’ He said, ‘Feed people, extend the greeting, maintain ties with your kin, and stand in prayer at night when people are asleep, and you will enter the Garden in peace.’

Ibn ‘Abbās said that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘The first thing that Allah created was the Pen and He commanded it to write down all that would be.’ Al-Bayhaqī said, ‘Allah knows best, but he meant that the first thing that Allah created after water, wind and the Throne was the Pen.’ Ṭāwus said that a man came to ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘Āṣ and asked ‘What was creation created from?’ He said, ‘From water, fire, darkness, wind and earth.’ The man asked, ‘And from what were these created?’ He replied, ‘I do not know.’ Then the man went to ‘Abdullāh ibn az-Zubayr and asked him and he gave the same answer as ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Amr. Then he went to ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Abbas and he answered the same. When he asked the second question, Ibn ‘Abbās recited: ‘He has made everything in the heavens and everything in the earth subservient to you.’ (45:13) The man said, ‘This could only come from a man of the people of the House of the Prophet!’ Al-Bayhaqī said, ‘He means that it is the source of all in its creation and origination. He created water first, or water and whatever He willed of His creation, not from a root or prior model. Then He made it the root for what He created afterwards. He is the Originator and He is the Creator. There is no god but Him and no Creator but Him. Glory be to Him! He is Mighty and Exalted!’

and arranged it into seven regular heavens.

Allah mentions seven heavens but does not give a clear number of earths in the Revelation. The only possible reference to seven earths is found in His words: ‘and of the earth the same number (mithlahunna)’ (65:12). There is disagreement about the meaning of that but it is said that it is referring to their number (literally ‘their like’), and the number is also used in several hadiths reference to the number of earths. Their quality and description varies, as it is said that ‘the same number’ can mean ‘the same density’. It is said that there are seven heavens, but they are not unstitched. Ad-Dāwūdī said that. The first is the sound view: there are seven heavens. Muslim related that Sa‘īd ibn Zayd said that he heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘If someone takes a span of land unjustly, his neck will be encircled with it through the seven earths.’ ‘Ā’ishah has something similar as does Abū Hurayrah. An-Nasā’ī related from Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘Mūsā said, “Lord, teach me something by which I can remember you and by which I can pray to you.” He said, “Mūsā, say: ‘There is no god but Allah.’” Mūsā said, “Lord, all of Your slaves say that.” He said, “Say: ‘There is no god but Allah.” He said, “There is no god but You. I want something especially for me.” He said, “Mūsā, if the seven heavens and their inhabitants other than Me, and the seven earths, were put in one pan, and ‘There is no god but Allah’ in the other pan, ‘There is no god but Allah’ would outweigh them.’”

At-Tirmidhī related that Abū Hurayrah said, ‘Once while the Prophet of Allah and his Companions were sitting, clouds came over them, and the Prophet of Allah asked, “Do you know what this is?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” they answered. He said, “These are the clouds. These are the water-bearers of the earth which Allah drives to people who are not grateful to Him and do not call on Him.” He asked, “Do you know what is above you?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” they answered. He said, “It is the firmament, a protected ceiling and waves that are held back.” Then he asked, “Do you know what is between you and it?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” they answered. He said, “Between you and it is the distance of five hundred years.” Then he asked, “Do you know what is above that?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” they replied. He said, “Above that are two heavens with a distance of five hundred years between them.” He continued in that manner until he had mentioned seven heavens, the distance between every two heavens being like that which is between heaven and earth. Then he asked, “Do you know what is above that?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” was the reply. He said, “Above that is the Throne and the distance between it and the [final] heaven is like what is between a pair of heavens.” Then he asked, “Do you know what is below you?” “Allah and His Messenger know best,” they answered. He said, “It is the earth.” Then he asked, “Do you know what is under that?” They replied, “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said, “Under that is another earth, and the distance between them is five hundred years,” and he continued until he had counted seven earths with a distance of five hundred years between each two. Then he said, “By the One Who has the soul of Muḥammad in His hand, if you were to drop a rope to the lowest earth, it would fall on Allah.” Then he recited: “He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward. He has knowledge of all things.” (57:3)’ Abū ‘Īsā said, “The fact that the Prophet recited this āyah indicates that it means “it would fall in the knowledge, power and authority of Allah. He is on His Throne as He described in His Book.” It is a gharīb hadith. Al-Ḥasan did not hear directly from Abū Hurayrah.

There are many reports about there being seven earths. We have mentioned enough that about that. (Tafsir al-Qurtubi – Vol. 1: Juz’ 1: Al-Fātiḥah & Sūrat al-Baqarah 1-141, translated by Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley [Diwan Press, 2019], pp. 141-146)

Al-Qurtubi on Q. 2:30

… It is also said that they asked the question because they had seen the corruption and bloodshed of the jinn who had inhabited the earth before the creation of Ādam. So Allah sent Iblīs against them with an army of angels and they killed them and drove them into the seas and to the tops of the mountains. That was when pride entered Iblīs’s heart. Their words, ‘Why put…?’ is thus a simple question. ‘Is this caliph going to be like the jinn or not?”’ (Ibid., p. 161)

Al-Qurtubi on Q. 2:34

with the exception of Iblīs.

The exception is connected to what was just mentioned before (i.e. the angels), as is generally stated. Ibn ‘Abbās, Ibn Mas‘ūd and Ibn Jurayj and others said that Iblīs was one of the angels. Ibn ‘Abbās said, ‘His name was ‘Azāzīl and he was one of the noblest of the angels. He had four wings and then was deprived of his angelic status. When he disobeyed Allah, Allah cursed him and he became Shayṭān.’ Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr said, ‘The jinn were a tribe of the angels, created from fire and Iblīs was one of them. The rest of the angels were created from light.’ Ibn Zayd, al-Ḥasan and Qatādah said, ‘Iblīs was the father of the jinn in the same way that Ādam was the father of human beings. He was not an angel.’ A similar statement is also related from Ibn ‘Abbās. He said that his name was al-Ḥārith in Arabic. Sahr ibn Ḥawshab and others say, ‘He was one of the jinn who were on earth. The angels fought them and captured him as a child and he worshipped with the angels.’ Aṭ-Ṭabarī related that from Ibn Mas‘ūd.

Others find their evidence in Allah’s description of the angels: ‘They do not disobey Allah in respect of any order He gives them and carry out what they are ordered to do’ (66:6), and in the āyah: ‘Iblīs was one of the jinn.’ (18:50) The jinn are not angels. The proponents of the first position answer that nothing prevents Iblīs from issuing from the angels as a whole, since Allah knew that he would be wretched and He is not asked about what He does. There is nothing in the fact that he was created from fire nor in the development of his appetites, demonstrated by his becoming angry, that precludes him from being one of the angels. As for those who say that he was one of the jinn of the earth who was captured, to counter that it is related that Iblīs, accompanied by an army of angels, was the one who fought the jinn on earth. Al-Mahdawī and others related that.

Ath-Tha‘labī related that Ibn ‘Abbās said that Iblīs was from one of the clans of the angels who were called ‘jinn’ and who were created from smokeless fire. The angels were created from light. His name in Syriac was ‘Azāzīl and in Arabic al-Ḥārith. He was one of the guardians of the Garden and chief of the angels of the lowest heaven. He had authority over it and over the earth. He was one of the angels with the greatest striving and most knowledge. He used to manage what was between heaven and earth. Because of that he saw himself as great and noble. That is what led him to unbelief and to disobey Allah. Then he was transformed into the accursed Shayṭān. Sometimes the angels are referred to as ‘jinn’ because of their being hidden from sight in the same way. We find in Revelation: ‘They claim there is a blood-tie between Him and the jinn.’ (37:158) (Ibid., pp. 176-177)

Al-Qurtubi on Q. 2:282

but men have a degree above them.

The root of the word darajah (degree) means ‘to roll up’. A darajah is a step which one steps on to ascend. ‘ijlah means ‘strength’ and a horse that is ‘rajīl’ is strong in walking. The extra degree of a man is on account of intelligence, power to spend and maintain, paying blood money, larger shares of inheritance, and jihād. Ḥumayd said that the degree referred to is the beard, but even if this is sound from him, it is weak because it is not implied by the āyah nor does the āyah mean it. Ibn al-‘Arabī said, ‘Bliss to the slave who refrains from what he does not know, especially when it concerns the Book of Allah! The superiority of men over women is not hidden from someone who is intelligent, even if it were not that woman is created from man, and so he is her root. He can prevent her going out without his permission and she may only fast with his permission and only make ḥajj with him.’

It is said that the degree is the dower as ash-Sha‘bī said. It is said that it is the permission to discipline. Thus the degree entails preference. You should be aware that the right she owes to her husband obliges the right that he owes to her. That is why the Prophet f said, ‘If I were to command anyone to prostrate to other than Allah, I would have commanded a woman to prostrate to her husband.’ Ibn ‘Abbās said, ‘The degree indicates encouragement for men to be good company and expansive to women in money and character, because the one preferred must make greater efforts.’ Ibn ‘Aṭiyyah said that this is an outstanding and excellent opinion. Al-Māwardī said that it is possible that it is about marital rights because he can initiate divorce but she cannot and he can call her to bed while she cannot force him to respond. Related to that are the words of the Prophet, ‘If a woman is called to her husband’s bed and refuses, the angels curse her until morning.’ (Tafsir al-Qurtubi – Vol. 3: Juz’ 3: Sūrat al-Baqarah 254 – 286 & Sūrah Āli ‘Imrān 1 – 95, translated by Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley [Diwan Press, 2019], pp. 456-457)

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