|Volume 4: Surah Baqarah, Verse 255|
ALLAH is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; whatever is the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His Permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they cannot comprehend anything of His Knowledge except what He pleases; His Chair (Knowledge) extends over the heavens and the earth; and the preservation of them both tires Him not; and He is the Most High, the Great (255).
QUR’AN: Allah is He besides Whom there is no god, the Everliving, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist:
In the chapter of the Opening, some explanation was given of the name, “Allah”, and it was mentioned that it ultimately means “The Being Who concentrates in Himself all the attributes of perfection"; it makes no difference whether it is derived from alaha 'r-rajul (the man was bewildered; yearned for) or from alaha (= worshipped). "He besides Whom there is no god": It has been explained under verse 2:163. Its literal translation is, "there is no god except He". It shows that other deities worshipped besides Allah, in fact have no existence at all.
"Ever-living": "al-hayy" is on a paradigm which denotes perpetuity; the word, therefore, means not only living but Ever-living. Man, in the very beginning, found out that there were two kinds of things around him: first, those things whose condition do not change as long as they exist, like stones and other such materials; second, those which go on changing, like trees, animals and man himself. He also found that after sometimes such things start to deteriorate, and even lose consciousness; still they exist: until at a certain point when their existence come to an end. Thus he realized that there was something else, besides the senses, which keeps one alive and which is the source of all the senses and their perceptions. He called it "life", and its absence was named "death". It is life which is the source of knowledge (perception) and power.
Allah has mentioned this life in many places as an accepted fact: Know that Allah gives life to the earth after its death (29:17); And among His signs is this, that you see the earth still, but when We send down on it the water, it stirs and swells; most surely He who gives it life is the Giver of life to the dead (41:39); Neither are the living and the dead alike (35:22); We have made of water every thing living (21:30). These verses describe all three kinds of living things, the vegetable, the animal and the human being.
Likewise, Allah describes various types of life; . . . and are pleased with the world's life and are content with it . . . (10:7); They shall say: "Our Lord! twice didst Thou make us subject to death and twice hast Thou given us life. . . " (40:11), The two lives referred to in this verse are the life of al-barzakh = the period after death in this world and before the Day of Resurrection) and the life on the Day of Resurrection. Thus, there are various types of life, as there are various types of living things.
Although Allah mentions the life of this world as an accepted fact, in various other verses of the Qur'an He describes it as an unsound, imperfect and insignificant thing, as He says: . . . this world's life is nothing compared with hereafter but (only a) means (13:26); . . . coveting the (transitory) goods of this world's life . . . (4:94); . . . desiring the adornments of this world's life . . . (18:28) ; And this world's life is naught but a play and an idle sport . . . (6:32); . . . and this world's life is naught but means of deception (57:20). So these are the attributes used for this world's life. It is a means, and a means is sought to obtain an end and to reach a goal, it is not an end in itself. It is a transitory thing, and transitory things go away soon. It is an adornment, and an adornment is used to attract eyes towards the things adorned: in other words, what catches the eyes is not the real thing, and the real thing does not attract the eyes. It is a play, and a play keeps you oblivious of the really important responsibilities. It is a vain sport, and a vain sport is indulged in for imaginary, not real, reasons. And it is a means of deception, and such a thing deceives man.
A comprehensive verse, which also explains the abovementioned ones, is the following:
And this life of the world is nothing but a sport and a play; and as for the next abode, the most surely is the life - did they but know! (29:64).
The life of this world, in comparison to the life hereafter is not a real life, as the above-mentioned verse shows. It is transitory, while the life hereafter is the real life, because that life will not end; death will not reach it. Allah says: . . . in security; they shall not taste therein death except the first death (44:55-56); They shall have therein what they wish and with Us is more yet (50:35).
Thus, there will be no death in the life hereafter, and there shall be no deficiency in that life nor there shall be any annoyance for them. But the first factor, that is, security is the basic characteristic of that real life.
The life hereafter, therefore, is the real life because there is no death in it; and, as Allah Himself has declared in many other verses, it is He Who controls it. Obviously, the life hereafter is also dependent and not independent. It has not got this characteristic of eternity by itself; it is a gift given to it by God.
Going a step further, it will be realized that the real life is only that which 'cannot' be overtaken by death. The life hereafter 'will not' be overtaken by death; but it 'can' be overtaken, if God so pleases. Therefore, that also is not "real" life. Real life is that in which non-existence at any stage is impossible; which is essential being; in other words, where life is not acquired by the person, but the person is life itself and life is the person himself. Allah says: and rely on the Ever-living Who dies not (25:58). Thus, the only real life is Divine Life, Essential Being.
The above discourse shows that the exclusiveness in the verse: He is the Living, there is no god but He (40:65) is real, not relative: In reality, He is the only Living One, because real life, unconquered by death or deterioration, is His alone.
In the verse under discussion, as in a similar verse: Allah there is no god but He, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting . . . (3:2), the word "Allah" is the subject, "there is no god but He" is its first predicate, "the Ever-living" is the second and "the Self-subsisting . . ." the third predicate. Accordingly, the meaning would be "Allah is the Ever-living. . ." ; and life would be reserved for Allah only; others would get life only when He bestows it on them.
"al-Qayyum" (the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist) is on the paradigm of fay 'ul from the verb al-qiyam to stand); as is al-qayyam on the paradigm of fay'al, in the same meaning. It is a paradigm which is used to show the maximum degree of a quality. The original meaning of the verb (to stand) has, by association, been extended and now it is used for protecting a thing, accomplishing a task and managing it, bringing up a thing, looking after it and having power over it. Allah clearly said that He "stands" with the affairs of His creation, that is, watches it, looks after it and brings it up and has all power over it. He says: Is it He then who stands over (i.e., watches) event soul as to what it earns? (13:33). Another verse is more comprehensive: Allah bears witness that there is no god but He (and so do the angels and those possessed of knowledge), standing with (maintaining) justice, there is no god but He, the Mighty, the Wise (3:18). He maintains His creation with justice. He does not give and does not withhold but with justice - and existence is nothing except giving and withholding. He gives to everything what it deserves. Lastly, He declares that this maintaining with justice is according to His two great names, the Mighty, the Wise: by His Might He maintains every thing; and by His Wisdom He does justice to it.
Allah is the origin of every thing. Existence as well as all attributes, qualities and the effects of every thing begin from Him. All other "origins" originates from Him. He stands over every thing in the real and comprehensive sense of "standing", as explained above. There is no weakness or flaw in His "standing": and other things cannot stand except by Him. This attribute is reserved for Him in both ways: "Standing" cannot be found except in Allah, and Allah is never anything but standing. The former is understood by the syntax of the sentence: Allah is the "Standing". The latter is understood by the next sentence: "Slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep".
This discourse leads us to believe that the name al-qayyum (The Standing) is the basis for all the divine names which refer to His attributes of action in any way, like the Creator, the Sustainer. the Originator, the Resurrector, the Bestowal of life, the Giver of death, the Forgiver, the Compassionate, the Affectionate and so on.
QUR'AN: Slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep:
"as-Sinah" means drowsiness, "an-nawm" is sleep, the inert condition in which the muscles are relaxed and the consciousness suppressed by natural factors in the body of an animal or a human being. "ar-Ru'ya" (dream) is something else; it is the vision which passes through the mind in sleep.
A criticism has been leveled against this sentence that is contrary to the sequence demanded by rhetoric: when two things are thus mentioned in an affirmative sentence the weaker point is mentioned first and then one progress to the stronger one; for example, we say, "Zayd can carry a load of fifty kilogram, even a hundred." But in a negative sentence the sequence is reversed: it goes from stronger to weaker point: for example, "he cannot carry a load of a hundred kilogram, let alone fifty "he does not spend hundreds of pounds on himself, let alone tens.'' According to this rule, as the sentence here is negative, it should have been written thus: "Sleep does not overtake Him nor slumber".
REPLY: The sequence does not always follow the affirmativeness or negativeness of the sentence. Look, for example. as the sentence, "he is too weak to carry a load of twenty kilogram or even ten." It is an affirmative sentence, and still the stronger point comes first. It would he against the norms of rhetoric, if the weaker point, that is. 10 kilogram were mentioned first. In fact. the only correct procedure is to look at the context and see what it demands. Now, look at this Qur'anic sentence. Sleep is more contrary to the attribute of "Standing" in comparison to slumber. Therefore, eloquence demanded that, first, slumber he denied, and then the stronger point, sleep, be negated. The meaning, thus will be: The weaker factor (slumber) has no effect on His power and standing, nor does even the stronger one (sleep).
QUR'AN : Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His, who is he that can intercede with Him but by His Permission?
The perfect and comprehensive "Standing" of Allah means that He owns, in real ownership, the heavens and the earth and what is in them. That is why His attribute of "Standing" is followed here by a declaration of that ownership. It was for the same reason that the attribute of "Standing" was joined with the declaration of His Oneness: His Oneness would not be complete if He were not "Standing".
There are two sentences here, both of which are followed by other sentences to remove chances of misunderstandings. The sentence. "whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His", is followed by the sentence, "who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission?" And the next sentence, "He knows what is before them and what is behind them", is followed by the words, "and they cannot comprehend anything of His Knowledge except what He pleases."
"Whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His": Allah owns everything, and has authority over them all. Things and all their attributes, properties and traits exist because of God and by Him. The verse, from the word "the Self-subsisting" up to this sentence, proves that the total authority is Allah's alone. There is no work connected with anything, right from its existence up to its ultimate end, that is not done by Him and does not proceed from Him.
On realizing this eternal truth, one might wonder about the system of "cause-and-effect" prevalent in this world. What is the significance of these causes? How could they have any influence on any effect when nothing has any effect or power except Allah?
The sentence, "who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission?" answers this speculation. These causes are intermediaries in such affairs. In other words, they are intercessors who cause the bringing of a thing or effect into being, by the permission of Allah. Intercession means being an intermediary in bringing about a good or averting an evil. There is no doubt that an intercessor has some influence on the affairs of the thing for which he intercedes. Such influence could be contrary to the complete authority and total sovereignty of Allah, had it not been based on the permission of Allah Himself. But every cause draws its effectiveness only from the decree of Allah Himself. There is no cause and no instrument which is independent of the will of Allah. Every cause is a cause, because Allah has made it so. Therefore, whatever effect and influence it has on anything is in fact done by Allah. Ultimately, there is no authority except that of Allah, and no "standing" except His.
As already explained, intercession means being an intermediary in the world of cause and effect - it may be a creative intercession, that is, being an intermediary cause of creation; or a legislative intercession, that is, interceding in the award of recompense on the Day of Judgment, as is clearly mentioned in the Qur'an and sunnah (as was described in the commentary on verse 2:48). The sentence, "who is he that can intercede with Him . . ." is preceded by a description of His "Standing"
and total authority; these two attributes cover His power and authority in both creation and legislation. Therefore, the intercession mentioned in this sentence must cover both creative and legislative intercessions.
The context of this verse, so far as intercession is concerned, is like the following verses: Surely your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six periods, and He is firmly established on the 'Arsh (Throne) regulating the affair; there is no intercessor except after His permission; this is Allah, your Lord; therefore worship Him; will you not then ponder? (10:3); Allah is He Who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six periods, and He is firmly established on the 'Arsh (Throne); you have not besides Him any guardian or any intercessor; will you not then ponder? (32:4). It was described in the topic of intercession that it includes creative causation as well as legislative intercession. Every cause intercedes with Allah for its effect, and becomes a medium for bestowing the grace of existence on it, by adhering to the divine attributes of grace and mercy. The system of "cause-and-effect" is found in intercession as well as in prayer and invocation. Allah says: All those who are in the heavens and the earth do beseech Him; every day He is in a (new) splendor (55:29); And He gave you of all that you ask Him (14:34). This aspect has been described in the commentary on verse 2:186.
QUR'AN: He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He pleases:
The sentence comes after the topic of intercession, and in its context it is like the following verses: Nay! They are honored servants; they do not precede Him in speech and (only) according to His commandment do they act. He knows what is before them and what is behind them, and they do not intercede except for him whom He approves, and for fear of Him they tremble (21:26-28).
Apparently, the pronouns of the third person plural in the verse under discussion refer to the intercessors, who are implied in the preceding sentence. To say that "He knows what is before them and what is behind them" is to say that He encompasses them completely. He has given them permission to intercede: but it does not mean that they can do anything without His prior permission. Nor may others take undue advantage of that intercession.
The following two verses throw light on the same subject: And we do not come down but by the command of your Lord; His is whatever is before us and whatever is behind us and whatever is between these, and your Lord is not forgetful (19:64); The Knower of the unseen! So He does not reveal His secret to any, except to him whom He chooses of an apostle; for surely He makes a guard to march before him and after him, so that He may know that they have indeed delivered the messages of their Lord, and He encompasses what is with them and He takes account of every thing (72:26-28). These two verses show that Allah encompasses the angels and the prophets, so that they cannot do anything without His permission; they cannot descend unless bidden to do so, and cannot deliver except what He wishes them to deliver. It may be inferred that "what is before them" refers to what is seen by them; and "what is behind them" to what is not seen by them and is far away from them. In other words, the two phrases refer to the seen and the unseen. In short, the sentence says that Allah knows very well what is present with them and what is yet to come to them; and then the talk is completed by the words, "and they cannot comprehend any thing out of His knowledge except what He pleases". He knows them and encompasses what they know, but they cannot comprehend His knowledge except what He pleases.
We have proved that the intercessor, in this verse, means both creative causes and legislative interceders. The pronouns used in three places in this verse are those of the third person plural, masculine gender, normally used for rational beings. Someone might think that these pronouns could not be used for creative causes (as these causes are not "people" or rational beings). It is not so. Intercession, interceding, glorifying the Creator and offering thanks to Him are normally the acts of rational beings; and for this reason the Qur'an mostly uses such pronouns even for inert or lifeless things, when it declares them
to perform such deeds. Allah says:. . . and there is not a single thing but glorifies Him with His praise, but you do not understand their glorification (17:44); Then He directed Himself to the heaven and it was vapor, so He said to it and to the earth; Come both willing or unwillingly. They both said: We come willingly (41:11). In both verses the pronouns of rational beings have been used for "everything" and for the heaven and the earth. There are many similar verses.
The sentence, "and they cannot comprehend anything out of His knowledge except what He pleases", shows total authority and perfect management. Perfect management demands that the subordinate should not know what is to happen next; otherwise, he might try to wriggle out of a forthcoming unpleasant situation, and the plan of the manager might be put in disorder. It is easy to see in the light of the above discussion the import of this sentence: it wants to show that the management of all affairs is in the hands of Allah only, and it is done by His knowledge and by His control of the intermediary causes which He Himself has created. So far as these intermediary causes are concerned (and especially those with life and intellect), their effectiveness and their knowledge is derived from His knowledge, will and pleasure - and ultimately is a reflection of divine knowledge and power. And none of them can proceed against the will and decree of Allah in any way.
The sentence, moreover, shows that knowledge (not "the thing known") is of Allah only. No creature has any knowledge except what Allah is pleased to bestow upon him. It is the same as when Allah has said that power, honor and life belongs to Him only. For example: ... and 0 that those who are unjust could see, when they see the chastisement, that the power is wholly Allah's, and that Allah is severe in requiting (evil) (2:165); Do they seek honor from them? Then surely all honor is for Allah (4:139); He is the Living, there is no god but He (40:65). The following verses also may be brought as evidence that knowledge belongs to Allah only: surely He is the Knowing, the Wise (12:83) ; and Allah knows while you do not know (3:66). There are many other verses of the same meaning.
The verb of knowledge in the preceding sentence has been changed to the verb of comprehension here and it has raised the verse to a very high plane of eloquence.
QUR'AN: His Chair (knowledge) extends over the heavens and the earth:
"al-Kursi" means chair. Metaphorically it sometimes is used for kingdom; thus the chair of king means the sphere of his authority and the region under his sovereignty.
The preceding sentences show that the whole universe belongs to Allah and is encompassed by His knowledge. This sentence also says that His "Chair" extends over the whole universe. It is reasonable to believe that the extension of the "Chair" refers to all-encompassing divine authority. The "Chair", thus, would mean the divine position by which the heavens and the earth are maintained, possessed, managed and known. Ultimately, the "Chair" would be a degree of divine knowledge. And extension of the chair would mean maintenance and preservation of everything that is in the heavens and in the earth, with all its characteristics; and that is why the sentence is followed by the words, "and the preservation of them both tires Him not."
QUR'AN: "and the preservation of them both tires Him not, and He is the Most High, the Great":
"al-Awd" means to tire, to weigh down, to depress. Although, the objective pronoun after the verb "tires" is generally taken to refer to "Allah" (as is seen in the translation), equally correctly it may be taken to refer to the "Chair" and then it would be translated as "tires it not". The declaration at the end of the verse that 'the preservation of the heavens and the earth tires Him not' is befitting to its beginning: "Slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep".
This verse, in short, says that there is no god except Allah, for Him is Life and to Him belongs the attribute of al-qayyumiyyah (Standing, Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist), in its unrestricted sense without any weakness or defect. That is why the verse ends on the words, "and He is Most High, the Great". He is Most High: the hands of creatures cannot reach Him and can in no way weaker His authority or enfeeble His being. He is Great: the great number of the creatures does not overwhelm Him, and the magnitude of the heavens and the earths does not tire Him.
This sentence also shows that eminence and greatness in their true sense are for Allah only. This restriction is real, because eminence and greatness are parts of perfection, and every perfection in its real sense is found in Allah only. Also, the restriction may have been used to strengthen the claim that the eminence and greatness are reserved for Allah only - the heavens and the earth are insignificant before His majesty and greatness.
al-'Ayyashi narrates in his at-Tafsir from as-Sadiq (a.s.) "Abu Dhaka said: 'O Messenger of Allah! What is the best of that which has been revealed to you?' He said: 'The verse of the "Chair". The seven heavens and the seven earths in the "Chair" are but like a ring thrown in a vast open space.' Then he said: 'And surely the excellence of al-'Arsh (the Throne) over the chair is like that of the open space over the ring.' "
The author says: as-Suyuti has quoted the first part of this tradition in ad-Durru 'l-manthur from Ibn Rahwayh (in his al-Musnad) who has narrated it from 'Awf ibn Malik from Abu Dhaka; and also he has quoted Ahmad, Ibnu 'd-Daris and al-Hakim (who said that it is correct) and al-Bayhaqi (in his Shu'abu'l-'iman) who have narrated it from Abu Dharr.
Ahmad and at-Tabarani have narrated from Abu Amamah who said: "I said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Which (verse) revealed to you is the greatest?' He said: 'Allah is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist; the verse of the Chair.' " (ad-Durru 'l-manthur)
The author says: as-Suyuti has also narrated the same thing through al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (in his Tarikh) from Anas from the Prophet.
In the same book he quotes ad-Darimi who has narrated from Ayfa' ibn 'Abdullah al-Kala'i that he said: "A man said: 'O Messenger of Allah! Which verse in the Book of Allah is the greatest?' He said: 'The verse of the Chair; Allah is He besides Whom there is no god, the Ever-living, the Self-subsisting by Whom all subsist ... . ' "
The author says: This verse was named "the verse of the Chair" in the early period of Islam during the lifetime of the Prophet; and was thus described by the Prophet himself as the traditions quoted from him and the Imams of Ahlu 'l-bayt and the companions prove. That this verse was given a special name shows how much importance was attached to it. It could only be because of the highest nobility of its meaning and the elegance and grace of its style. It establishes the pristine belief of the Oneness of God (Allah is He besides Whom there is no god), and then goes on to the attribute of "standing" which is the foundation of all His names which describe His attributes of action. Then it gives details of those attributes in all small and big things and affairs of the universe, showing that whatever emanates from His authority is a part of that authority. It is because of these fine points that the traditions have called it "the greatest verse of the Qur'an". It deals in detail with various aspects of monotheism and divine authority. Of course, there are some other verses which deal with this subject, for example; Allah is He besides Whom there is no god; His are the very best names (20:8). But it lacks the details which have been given in this verse of the Chair. It is for this reason that some traditions have said that the verse of the Chair is the chief of all the verses of the Qur'an. See for the proof the tradition narrated in ad-Durru 'I-manthur from Abu Hurayrah from the Prophet. Some other traditions say: Every thing has a summit, and the summit of the Qur'an is the verse of the Chair. It has been narrated in at-Tafsir of al-'Ayyashi from 'Abdullah ibn Sinan from as-Sadiq (a.s.).
at-Tusi has narrated in his al-Amali, through his chains from Abu Amamah al-Bahili that he heard 'Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) say: "I do not think that a man who enters into Islam on attaining wisdom, or was born in Islam (i.e., in a Muslim family) should pass a night's darkness . . . " (At this juncture Abu Amamah interrupted by asking, "and what is the meaning of a night's darkness?" 'Ali [a.s.] said: "the whole night") "until he recites this verse: Allah is He besides Whom there is no god. . . "; and he recited the complete verse up to the end: and the preservation of them both tires Him not; and He is the Most High, the Great. Then he said: "If you but knew what it is (or, as another version says, "what is in it") you would not leave it on any condition. Surely, the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said, 'I have been given the verse of the Chair from the treasure (that is) below al-'Arsh (the Throne) ; and no prophet before me was given it."' Then 'Ali (a.s.) continued: "I have not spent a single night, since I heard it from the Messenger of Allah, without reciting it . . ."
The author says: This has been narrated in ad-Durru 'Imanthur quoting 'Ubayd, Ibn Abi Shaybah, ad-Darimi, Muhammad ibn Nasr, Ibnu 'd-Darts and ad-Daylami, all from 'Ali (a.s.). There is a multitude of traditions, from both Sunni and Shiite sources, about the excellence of this verse. The tradition of the Prophet quoted in this tradition ("I have been given the verse of the Chair from below the Throne") has been narrated in adDurru 'l-manthur on the authority of al-Bukhari (in his at-Tarikh) and Ibnu 'd-Daris from the Prophet. It may be inferred from it that the Chair is below al- Arsh and is encompassed by it. We shall describe it later.
Zurarah said: "I asked Abu 'Abdillah (a.s.) about the words of Allah: His Chair extends over the heavens and the earth - whether the heavens and the earth encompass the Chair or the Chair extends over the heavens and the earth? He said: 'Verily, every thing is in the Chair.' " (al-Kafi)
The author says: In many traditions the same point has been emphasized in reply to similar questions. This question looks strange, because nobody has ever recited the verse in a way which could justify such confusion. Apparently, the questions were based not on the recital of the Qur'an but on the common understanding that the Chair was a particular body kept over the heavens or over the seventh heaven (i.e. above the material world), and from there the affairs of the material world were managed. That being the picture of the Chair in their minds, it was reasonable to suppose that the heavens and the earth encompassed the Chair because it was placed over the heavens as a wooden or iron chair is placed over a floor. And with this background it would seem more appropriate to say that the heavens and the earth encompassed the Chair. And that gave rise to the question as to why Allah, instead, said: "His Chair extends over the heavens and the earth?" A question of the same type was asked about the Arsh and the reply was given that the extension (or encompassing) was not as a material thing encompasses another material thing.
Hafs ibn al-Ghiyath said: "I asked Abu 'Abdillah (a.s.) about the words of Allah: His Chair extends over the heavens and the earth. He said: 'His knowledge.' " (Ma'ani 'l-akhbar)
There is another tradition in the same book from the same Imam about this verse which says: "The heavens and the earth and whatever is between them is in the Chair, and the Throne is that knowledge which no one can measure."
The author says: These two traditions show that the Chair is one of the levels of the knowledge of Allah. Many other traditions supports this interpretation.
As will be explained later, there exists a level of knowledge which is not limited or measured. In other words, there is a world, on a higher plane than ours, whose constituents are not bound by material dimensions. They exist and at the same time are known to Allah. And that knowledge also is unlimited. God willing, we shall describe it in detail when commenting on the verse 10:61: . . . and there does not lie concealed from your Lord the weight of an atom in the earth or in the heaven, nor any thing than that nor greater, but it is in a clear book. This boundless knowledge has been referred to in the tradition of the Imam in these words, "and the Arsh is that knowledge which no one can measure." The import of the tradition is not to show the great number of the known things, because number is not unlimited and anything which is created is finite. What the tradition wants to say is that the limitations and restrictions of this material world are not found in that world. Existence, on that level, is perfect and the conditions, dimensions and distinctions of this material world are not found there. It is as Allah says: And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We do not send it down but in a known measure (15:21).
When those existing things are known by unlimited knowledge, that is, when they exist without any limitation attached to them, that knowledge is called al-Arsh (The Throne); and when they exist in the world of limitations and known with those limitations, that knowledge is called al-Kursi (The Chair).
At this stage we may probably say that the words, "He knows what is before them and what is behind them" allude to this plane of knowledge. What is before them (i.e. the future) and what is behind them (i.e. the past) is not what is with them (i.e. the present). It refers to a plane where past, present, and future loose their limitations of time, and are all equally present.
Hannan said: "I asked Abu 'Abdillah (a.s.) about the Throne and the Chair. He replied: 'Verily, the Throne has many diverse attributes. Allah uses in the Qur'an various adjectives to describe its various aspects. He says: the Lord of the great Throne (9:129). It means; Lord of the great kingdom or authority. And He says: The Beneficent (God) on the Throne is firm (20:5). It means that He is firm in His kingdom. And it is the knowledge of the "how" of the things. Also, the Throne, although together with it, is distinct from the Chair; because they are two of the greatest doors of the unseen, and they both are unseen. And they are together in the unseen, because the Chair is the manifest door of the unseen, from which appears creation and from which all the things come. And the Throne is the concealed door of the unseen in which is found the knowledge of the states, conditions and existence; of measure and limit; of will and intention; as well as the knowledge of words, actions and omissions, and the knowledge of the beginning and the return. Thus, the two are two gates of knowledge joined together, because the dominion of the Throne is other than the dominion of the Chair, and its (the Throne's) knowledge is more hidden than the knowledge of the Chair. That is why Allah said, "the Lord of the great Throne"; that is, its attribute is greater than that of the Chair, and both are joined in it.' " (Hannan says) "I said: 'May I be your ransom, then why did it become associated with the Chair in excellence?' He (the Imam) said: It was associated with it because the knowledge of the state and condition is found in it. And in it are found the manifest doors of al-bada' (the decree hidden from other); as well as its reality and the dimensions of its joining and separating. Therefore, they are two neighbors, one of which contains the other in itself. And by similitude are turned those who know, and so that they may offer proof for the truth of their claims. Because He chooses especially whom He pleases for His mercy, and He is the Mighty, the Powerful.' " (at-Tawhid)
The author says: The words of the tradition, "the Chair is the manifest door of the unseen", may be understood in the light of the short explanation given earlier. The level of the knowledge of measured things is nearer to our material world than infinite knowledge which has no limits. Further explanation will be given under verse 7:54: Surely your Lord is Allah Who created the heavens and the earth in six periods of time, and He is firm on the Throne. "And by similitude are turned those who know": It is an indication that the words, throne, chair and similar other expressions, are similitude which have been given to people for their understanding, and only those who have knowledge understand this.
as-Sadiq (as.) said, inter alia, in a tradition: "Every thing which Allah has created is in the receptacle of the Chair, except His Throne, because that is too great for the Chair to encompass." (al-Ihtijaj )
The author says: Its meaning may be understood from the earlier discourse. And it is in conformity with other traditions. Contrary to it there is a tradition which says that the Throne is that knowledge which Allah gave to His prophets and apostles and the Chair is that knowledge which no one was made aware of. It has been narrated by as-Saduq through Mufaddal from as-Sadiq (a.s.). But in view of all other traditions, it can only be surmised that the narrator was confused and changed the names, Throne and Chair, from their proper places. If this is not accepted then the tradition will have to be discarded like the one that is attributed to Zaynab al-'Attarah.
al-'Ayyashi narrates in his at-Tafsir from 'Ali (a.s.) that he said: “Verily the heavens and the earth and whatever is between them is created in the hollow of the Chair; and it has four angels who bear it by the order of Allah.”
The author says: as-Saduq has narrated it from ‘Ali (a. s.) through Asbagh ibn Nubatah. It is the only tradition narrated from Ahlu‘l-bayt which says that there are angels who bear the Chair. But other traditions mention such bearers only for the Throne; and it is in conformity with the Book of Allah, as He says: Those who bear the Throne and those around it celebrate the praise of their Lord . . . (40:7); and above them eight shall bear on that day the Throne of your Lord (69:17). It may be said that the Chair is somewhat joined with the Throne, as a manifest side of a thing is joined with its hidden side; and in this way the bearers of one may be called the bearers of the other.
al-‘Ayyashi narrates in his at-Tafsir from Mu’awiyah ibn ‘Ammar that he asked as-Sadiq (a.s.) about (the verse), Who is it that can intercede with Him but by His permission? He said: “We are those intercessors.”
The author says: It has also been narrated by al-Barqi in al-Mahasin. You know that the intercession in this verse is common to creative and the legislative interceding, and therefore includes the intercession of the Prophet and the Imams. This tradition, thus, gives an example of the intercessors.