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Tafsir of Ayat al-Kursi

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The Ayat of al-Kursi is recited every day after the Prayer by the Ummah globally, many also recite the passage of al-Kursi for numerous other purposes every day. It is well known but people rarely ponder over its meaning. It is one of the most sublime and majestic examples of the Qur'anic style. It is a compressed articulation of the Divine in a single verse. Whilst at the same time the doctrine has practical and spiritual repercussions for the believer.

اللّهُ لاَ إِلَـهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ لَّهُ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَا فِي الأَرْضِ مَن ذَا الَّذِي يَشْفَعُ عِنْدَهُ إِلاَّ بِإِذْنِهِ يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلاَّ بِمَا شَاء وَسِعَ كُرْسِيُّهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ وَلاَ يَؤُودُهُ حِفْظُهُمَا وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْعَظِيمُ

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Allah! There is no God but He,
the Living, the Self-subsisting, the Eternal.
No slumber can seize Him, nor sleep.
All things in heaven and earth are His.
Who could intercede in His presence without His permission?
He knows what appears in front of and behind His creatures.
Nor can they encompass any knowledge of Him except what he wills.
His throne extends over the heavens and the earth,
and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them,
for He is the Highest and Most Exalted.

(Al Baqara: 255)

 

Fada'il (excellence of the Verse)

The excellences (fada'il) of Ayat al-Kursi are many as collected by Imam al-Suyuti in his extensive commentary of the Qur'an in the narrative genre (tafsir bi 'l-riwayat). He outlined many benefits including:

 

1. The Exalted status of the verse

Ahmad with the wording in Muslim, Abu Dawud, Ibn Durays, al-Hakim and al-Harawi have reported regarding the excellence [of Ayat al-Kursi] from Ubay Ibn Ka`b that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was asked about which verse of the Holy Qur'an was the most exalted and he صلى الله عليه وسلم replied: "Ayat al-Kursi "Allah. There is no deity except Allah the Living and Everlasting..." By Him in whose Hand is my soul; [this verse] has a tongue and two lips with which it sanctifies the King at the foot of the Throne."[1]

In another version: "Bukhari narrates in his Ta'rikh, al-Tabarani as well as Abu Nu`aym in al-Ma`rifa with his chain of transmission (isnad) who are all upright from Ibn al-Asqa` al-Bakri that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was asked which verse of the Qur'an was the most exalted and he replied: {Allah! There is no God but He the Living, the Self-subsisting, the Eternal. No slumber can seize nor can sleep...} until he finished the verse."[2]

 

2. Its protective power:

al-Bayhaqi narrates in his Shu`ab al-Ima[3] from Anas who said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Whoever recites the Ayat al-Kursi after every obligatory salah, he will be protected until the next salah and none but the Prophets, Siddiq or martyrs were firm on it..."[4]

Ibn al-Najjar narrates in his Ta'rikh Baghdad from Ibn `Abbas who said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said: "Whoever recites Ayat al-Kursi after every obligatory salah, Allah will grant him the heart of those who are thankful, the deeds of the siddiqun, the rewards of the Prophets and will extend his right hand with Mercy and will not prevent him from entering Paradise until he dies whereupon he will be made to enter it."[5]

 

3. The Exalted name of God is contained within it

Ibn Abi 'l-Dunya in his al-Du`a', al-Tabarani, Ibn Mardawayh, al-Harawi in his Fada'il as well as al-Bayhaqi in [Kitab] al-Asma` wa'l-Sifat all report from Abu Umama that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:

"The Exalted Name of Allah is in three chapters of the Qur'an which if one calls Him by it He responds. al-Baqara, Ali `Imran and Ta-Ha." Abu Umama said: "I looked for them and found that in al-Baqara: 255 there was the Ayat al-Kursi "Allah. There is no deity except Allah the Living and Everlasting"; in Al `Imran:2 there was "Allah. There is no deity except Allah the Living and Everlasting" and in Ta-Ha:111 "And [all] faces shall be humbled before (Allah), the Ever Living..."[6]

Imam al-Qurtubi mentioned in his tafsir the following in his tafsir of that when Ayat al-Kursi was revealed:

"From Muhammad al-Hanafiyya who narrates that: when Ayat al-Kursi was revealed, every idol and every king in the world fell in prostration and the crowns of kings fell off their heads. Devils fled (harabat), colliding in one another in confusion until they came to their [chief] Iblis and they told him of this [event] and he sent them to find out what had happened so when they came to Medina they were told that Ayat al-Kursi had been revealed."[7]

These verses of the Qur'an are is theologically loaded as they encapsulate Islam central concept of tawhid (Allah's unity). It is also a source for philosophical and rational reflection about Allah سبحانه وتعالى and his attributes.

There are also many relevant practical implications for any person serious about the deen, da`wa and developing themselves to become better committed believers. The verse has 16 occurrences of ascriptions to Allah سبحانه وتعالى, 7 being of a direct divine name or nominal term:

Allah

الله

Ilah

إِلَـهَ

Huwa

هُوَ

Al-Hayy

الـحيّ

Al-Qayyum  

القـيوم

Al-`Ali

العَلِىُّ

Al-`Azim

العَظِيمُ

There are 10 complete sentences, each expresses a distinct concept and idea about the Divine.

 

Basic Commentary

"Allah" / [الله]: Allah's exalted name (ism jalala) that he has reserved for himself and is not derived from any root.[8]

لا إله إلا هو

"There is no deity but He The Eternal and Everlasting"

Here there is a negation (la nafiyat al-jins) i.e. Allah's emphatic and total negation of anything resembling a deity that can be compared to Him. Nothing is comparable to him.[9]

 

Tawhid requires emphatic language

"The second point: Some say ‘al-ilah' means ‘the one worshipped' (al-ma'bud) but this is incorrect from two aspects. The first aspect is that The Most High was an ilah from all eternity but was not someone who was a ma`bud (‘a being worshipped' [S. meaning he did not have the property of ‘being worshipped']). The second aspect is that the Most high has affirmed and mentioned other beings who are worshipped aside from himself as in "you and what you all worship besides Allah." [al-Anbiya':98]. Rather, an Ilah is a being that when it does something, is worthy of total religious worship...]."[10]

Thus, a deity must be a kind of being that is worthy of devotion, total submission and obedience. Allah سبحانه وتعالى is a perfect being and the nature and attributes that he has require rationally that he be worshipped. Such a being cannot be deficient or lacking in any sense. It must also be free from limitations.

الحي القيوم

"The Living and Everlasting"

Allah سبحانه وتعالى is living and real - not an abstract inert and disinterested Creator who has set up the world on clockwork and let it run. No. He intervenes in history and acts for the believers. He can change plans, stop who he wants to and realise whatever he wishes in his eternal providential plan.

Allah is al-qayyum (‘Everlasting'). The word has connotations of Allah being self-subsistent, Self-existing as well as that Being which holds everything in existence:

"{al-Qayyum} existing by governing the creation or sustaining every person and rewarding with His knowledge from what each has earned. It can also mean holding all things in being; knowledge of all matters..."[11]

Allah سبحانه وتعالى being al'qayyum affirms the attribute of eternality, everlastingness, self-subsistence, Divine aseity doctrine, etc.

لاَ تَأْخُذُهُ سِنَةٌ وَلاَ نَوْمٌ

"Slumber does not seize him nor does fatigue"

Allah سبحانه وتعالى is not overcome with any difficulty or deficiencies. He also faces no hindrance in doing whatever He wishes. He can sustain anything in being without any difficulty. This affirms His attribute of Eternal and everlastingness and infinite independent nature.

لَّهُ مَا فِي ٱلسَّمَـٰوَاتِ وَمَا فِي ٱلأَرْضِ

"All things in heaven and earth belong to Him"

"As for the Most High saying {everything in the Heavens and the earth belongs to Him...} it is referring to the creation and dominion and what is implied in this is what we mentioned earlier namely that if a necessarily existent being can only be one, then anything other than it possibly existent being and anything that is merely possible is brought into being and anything that is brought into being is originated and so anything else other than [the necessary being] is originated and contingent.."[12]

The logic is that contingently existing entities (dependent objects) do not have the power intrinsically to effect change or produce anything. They depend for their existence on something else. Allah owns the universe. He governs the Universe. He controls the universe. He is the sovereign Lord and King.

يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلاَ يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلاَّ بِمَا شَآءَ

"He knows what appears in front of and behind [all] of His creatures.
Nor can they encompass any knowledge of Him except of what he wills"

Allah knows everything: the past, future and present (as well as ‘counterfactuals' [what someone would have done but did not actually do it]). This affirms the Divine Omniscience.

وُسْعُ كرسيِّه السمواتُ والأرضُ

"And His Throne extends over the heavens and the earth"

There is much written about the word ‘kursi' and what it means with divided opinion. Imam al-Mawardi succinctly summarises the various opinions:

"Regarding the Kursi, there are two opinions: the first: it is one of Allah's attributes and the second: that it is attributes pertaining to something created [by Allah]. Those who hold the first opinion have four interpretations:

(1) it is Allah's knowledge which was the view of Ibn `Abbas;

(2) it is Allah's power;

(3) Allah's dominion and

(4) Allah's planned decree.

If it is said [the Kursi] is attributes pertaining to something created [by Allah] then it has three interpretations:

(1) it is the Throne itself which was the view of al-Hasan;

(2) it is a footstool and not the throne and

(3) it is a chair below the throne which is above the water..."[13]

Imam al-Razi's preference or approval for the opinion of al-Qaffal is instructive here:

"[...] these words are meant to describe Allah's greatness and exaltation through images. This means that Allah addressed His creatures in ways familiar to them through their own kings in order that He might make known His essence and attributes to them.  He therefore made the Ka`ba a house for Himself and people perform tawaf around it as they do the houses of their kings. It is also mentioned that the Black Stone is the right hand of Allah on this earth thus He made it an object of reverent kissing as men would kiss the hands of their kings [...] hence by analogy He declared a throne for Himself... "[14]

Imam al-Mawardi explains the different nuances of the term ‘al-`aliy' (Most High):

"the first opinion is that the word ‘al-`aaliy' (‘The High') would be referring to something that resides in an exalted place whereas the word ‘al-`aliy' (‘The Highest') is something that is absolutely entitled to the loftiest and exalted place and so may not have anything that shares with it in rank so on this view it would be permitted to describe Allah as ‘The Highest' but not ‘The High' whereas on the first view one may describe Allah with both terms..."[15]

 

Implications

The magnificence and special status of this verse makes the chapter it occurs in special too because the topic is about Allah's unity as well as Allah's nature and attributes. This makes the doctrine lofty and extremely important.

We should be on full guard in preserving and maintaining Allah's transcendence (tanzih) and sovereignty. In other words, we should be pondering about tawhid and its implications. Do we for example do anything that might compromise Allah's sovereignty or are we engaging in anything that might border on or infringe upon His right to be Legislator or Lawgiver.

Pondering over Ayat al-Kursi should make us feel humbled before the Majesty and Glory of Allah سبحانه وتعالى. It should remind us of the sheer insignificant standing we have in comparison to Him and how this alerts us to the unjustified character of our haughtiness, arrogance and pride in making ourselves the standard in all things whereas only He has the right to set standards.

Allah سبحانه وتعالى is the sovereign King. The Universe is His ranch. He owns the Universe. He controls the forces/causes in this world, He can contravene the laws of nature, He decides what happens or not. This should make us understand that our term has been fixed by Allah and our rizq (sustenance) is fixed (we will get it). We submit to Him on this understanding that when we are enjoined to do a task like carry this call of re-establishing Islam as a way of life through the khilafa, we fear nothing and no-one. Nothing can harm us and nothing can benefit us except if Allah wills.

Allah knowing everything, i.e. being Omniscient means He sees and knows everything we do. We cannot hide from Allah so the only thing to do is to flee to Allah. We must also submit to Him and his tadbir (providential organisation of the world and its events). We must rely on Him totally and listen to His commands without question Allah's foretelling and promises that will come to pass.

 

 

References

[1] See Muslim, Sahih, 1:556 (#810); al-Hakim, al-Mustadrak ala'l-Sahihayn, 1:561; Abu Dawud, Sunan, 2:27 (#1460) and Ahmad in his Musnad, 5/141 (#21315). See also al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 2:6.

[2] al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 2:6.

[3] al-Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 2:458 (#2395-6).

[4] al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 2:6; al-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Kabir, 3:38 (#2732) and al-Haythami, Majma` al-Zawa'id, 2:148.

[5] al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 2:6. Cf. al-Nasa'i, al-Sunan al-Kubra, 6:30 (#9928) and al-Tabarani, al-Mu`jam al-Awsat, 8:93 (#8068).

[6] al-Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 2:9.

[7] See al-Jami` li-Ahkam al-Qur'an, 2:268.

[8] al-Zajjaj, Ishtiqaq Asma' Allah, pp.26-42.

[9] See al-Darwish, I`rab al-Qur'an and Karim wa Bayanuhu, 1:283.

[10] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 7:2-14.

[11] al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam, Tafsir al-Qur'an, s.v. 2:255.

[12] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 7:11.

[13] al-Mawardi, al-Nukat wa'l-`Uyun, 1:270-271.

[14] al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, 7:12.

[15] al-Mawardi, al-Nukat wa'l-`Uyun, 1:271.

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Comments (5)add comment

Backeer said:

The glory of Allah explained enough to make us to go to Sujood...
 
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July 07, 2012
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mazid said:

Very nice SUBHAAN ALAHA
 
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March 12, 2012
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Hijab al faisal said:

JAZAKALLAH khair brother i have read some where that after reading fard prayer you can recite Ayat-ul-kursi so that your soul will be taken out with less pain and you will be awaken with high respect so try to make habit of reading Ayat-ul-kursi at other time like going out from home will save you from devils, Entering home will make your food arrangement easy. When feeling fear will reduce your fear and increase your faith on ALLAH.
JAZAKLLAH khair
May ALLAH Bless you all and save us all from bad deeds. Recite Holy Quran In Ramadan and pray for all of us
 
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August 01, 2011
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muslim said:

This is nice....inshaAllah, it gets spread!!
 
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December 09, 2010
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im said:

what an absolutely SUPERB article Masha'Allah... these sort of things should be emailed around, and more of their type written i will pass it on!
 
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July 11, 2010
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