Elucidation of At-Tabari's comments on the Highness and Istiwaa'
Fatwa No: 277453

  • Fatwa Date:10-4-2015 - Jumaadaa Al-Aakhir 21, 1436
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Question

Al salaam ‘alaykom wa rahmat Allah wa barakatoh. May Allâh bless you.I am wondering what imam al-Tabari’s view on istawa is? There is a well-known website here in Sweden, that many think is upon correct ‘Aqeedah, who claims that al-Tabari’s view on the word "istawa" is what the ash‘ari’s think.They have translated many parts of the Imam’s tafsir into swedish and attached the reference, such as:[’alâ ’alayha ’uluwwa mulkin wa sultân, lâ ’uluwwa intiqâlin wa zawâl], [Jami’ al-bayan 1:430].[bi qudratihi]. [Jami’ al-bayan 5:405][al-musta’li ’ala kulli shay’ bi qudratihi]. [Jami’ al-bayan 16:366]Is this true? As I've understood it, many of our scholars have praised al-Imam al-Tabari (rahimahullah) for his great tafsir of the Noble Book. http://islamqa.info/en/43778It feels like islamqa.info would have told it if he deviated in such a great matter.Please clear this confusion, and advise me of what to do. Jazaak Allah khayr, I love you for the sake of Allâh.

Answer

All perfect praise be to Allaah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allaah, and that Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is His slave and Messenger.

At-Tabari is one of the great Muslim scholars and Imams; his Tafseer is one of the best books on the exegesis of the Quran. Suffice it to say that Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him who was well-versed in the works of At-Tabari, said about him:

"With regards to the available books of Tafseer in circulation among people, the soundest is that of Ibn Jareer At-Tabari; he cited the statements of the righteous predecessors with their authentic chains of narration; his book is free of Bid‘ah (religious innovations) and he does not transmit reports from doubtful sources."

Here you have Ibn Taymiyyah himself testifying that At-Tabari's Tasfeer is free of religious innovations. How then can someone claim that it contains distortion or blameworthy Ta’weel (figurative interpretation)?

It is quite strange that someone would attribute to At-Tabari the words of another man without clarifying At-Tabari's own view on the subject. He commented on the verse (which means): {It is He who created for you all of that which is on the earth. Then He leveled Himself (istawa) to the heaven and made them seven heavens, and He is Knowing of all things.} [Quran 2:29], saying:

"The most befitting and appropriate of all the (aforementioned) meanings with respect to the words of Allaah: {Then He leveled Himself (istawa) to the heaven and made them seven heavens…}, is that it means He became High (‘ala) and elevated (irtafa‘a) above them and created the seven heavens by His power. It is strange that someone would deny the commonly understood meaning of the language of the Arabs in interpreting (the word istawa in) the words of Allaah {Then He leveled Himself to the heaven} which denotes ‘Uluww (highness) and Irtifaa‘ (elevation), trying to escape this meaning lest it would imply what he claims (i.e. that it would mean that Allaah is under the heavens)." [End of quote]

We say here that At-Tabari affirms the divine attributes of ‘Uluww and Istiwaa’ in accordance with the Salaf (righteous predecessors). If he used a term that indicates otherwise, then its intended meaning should be understood from the context instead of interpreting his words out of context, and instead of claiming that he denies the divine attribute of ‘Uluww or distorts it like the people of religious innovations do.

An example of this is his statement that followed the one mentioned above: "If he claims that this was not done by physical action (movement) but rather by design and planning, then it is said to him: then similarly you should say that he became High above the heaven with a highness associated with sovereignty and power, not a highness associated with passage and movement." [End of quote]

‘Abdullaah ibn Fahd Al-Khulayfi said in his book Tasfeeh Ad‘iyaa’ At-Tanzeeh: "Ibn Jareer made this last statement only to refute those who made this claim. He had already made his position clear at the beginning (when he said that the most appropriate of all interpretations is to say that Allaah became High above the heavens)." We stress here what Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: "The terms Zawaal (passage) and Intiqaal (movement or change of locality) are abstract … It is better in this regard to heed the terms used in religious texts, thus affirming the terms that Allaah and His Messenger affirmed and negating what they negated." [End of quote]

The same applies to his commentary on the name Al-‘Aliyy (the High) in the Aayat Al-Kursi [Quran 2: 255]. He said: "Al-‘Aliyy means the High; it means that Allaah is High above His creation with His Power (bi qudratihi)." This does not indicate, by any means, that At-Tabari negates the essential Highness of Allaah above His creation; it also does not imply negation of any aspect of Highness in relation to Allaah, such as the Highness associated with status or the Highness associated with dominance. He mentioned Power in this context (bi qudratihi) so that it would not be understood that Allaah is in need of the Throne. Allaah is free of need from the Throne, and in fact the Throne is in its place by the Power of Allaah. At-Tahaawi  may  Allaah  have  mercy  upon  him wrote in his ‘Aqeedah: "He does not need the Throne nor what is less than the Throne; He encompasses everything while He is above it; and what He has created is incapable of encompassing Him." Ibn Abi Al-‘Izz commented on it saying, "He is above the Throne and He is the One Who bears the Throne and its bearers by His Power and Might. He is free of need from the Throne and the Throne is in need of Him." [End of quote]

The same applies to the statement of At-Tabari with regard to the divine attribute Al-Muta‘aal (The Exalted), as he said: it means that Allaah is exalted over everything with His Power (bi qudratihi)." He said that in his commentary on the verse (which means): {[He is] Knower of the unseen and the witnessed, the Grand, the Exalted (Al-Muta‘aal).} [Quran 13:9]

Finally, we would like to advise the students of knowledge not to hasten in passing judgments, especially with regards to criticizing our righteous predecessors and especially in matters pertaining to ‘Aqeedah; their statements and expressions should be interpreted in the best possible manner. ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattaab  may  Allaah  be  pleased  with  him said: "Do not think ill of a word uttered by your brother when you can find a good interpretation for it."

Allaah Knows best.

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