Did Fir’awn claim divinity, or worship other gods?: al-Shawkaani, al-Qurtubi, & al-Baghawi

In surah al-A’raaf, Allah says:

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِ فِرْعَوْنَ أَتَذَرُ مُوسَىٰ وَقَوْمَهُ لِيُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَيَذَرَكَ وَآلِهَتَكَ ۚ قَالَ سَنُقَتِّلُ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَنَسْتَحْيِي نِسَاءَهُمْ وَإِنَّا فَوْقَهُمْ قَاهِرُونَ

The chiefs of Fir’awn’s people said: “Will you leave Moosaa and his people to spread mischief in the land, and to abandon you and your gods?” He said: “We will kill their sons, and let live their women, and we have indeed irresistible power over them.” [7:127]

Sheikh Muhammad al-Shawkaani briefly mentioned a question that arises from a careful reading of this ayah in his tafsir where he wrote:

واختلف المفسرون في معنى وآلهتك لكون فرعون كان يدعي الربوبية كما في قوله: ما علمت لكم من إله غيري، وقوله: أنا ربكم فقيل: معنى وآلهتك: وطاعتك، وقيل: معناه: وعبادتك، ويؤيده قراءة علي وابن عباس، والضحاك “وإلهتك” وفي حرف أبي “أتذر موسى وقومه ليفسدوا في الأرض وقد تركوك أن يعبدوك” وقيل: إنه كان يعبد بقرة، وقيل: كان يعبد النجوم، وقيل: كان له أصنام يعبدها قومه تقربا إليه فنسبت إليه ولهذا قال: أنا ربكم الأعلى. قاله الزجاج، وقيل: كان يعبد الشمس . ـ

The scholars of tafsir have differed regarding the meaning of “your gods” due to the fact that Fir’awn used to claim lordship for himself, such as in his statement:

مَا عَلِمْتُ لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيْرِي

I know of no other god for you besides me [28:38]

as well as his saying:

أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ

I am your lord… [79:24]

Some said the meaning of “aalihatak” [lit. “your gods”] is: obedience to you. And others said its meaning is: worship of you. This understanding is supported by a variant recitation (qiraa’ah) transmitted from ‘Ali, ibn ‘Abbaas and al-Dhahhaak:

وَإِلَهَتَكَ

wa ilaahatak

… and your divinity …

as well as what comes in the variant dialect (harf) recitation of Ubay:

 أَتَذَرُ مُوسَى وَقَوْمَهُ لِيُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَقَدْ تَرَكُوكَ أَنْ يَعْبُدُوكَ

… Will you leave Moosaa and his people to spread mischief in the land while they have abandoned you and worshiping you? …

وقيل: إنه كان يعبد بقرة، وقيل: كان يعبد النجوم، وقيل: كان له أصنام يعبدها قومه تقربا إليه فنسبت إليه ولهذا قال: أنا ربكم الأعلى. قاله الزجاج، وقيل: كان يعبد الشمس . ـ

Meanwhile, some others have said that Fir’awn used to worship cows, while others said that he worshiped the stars. Still others said that he used to have statues which his people would worship in order to seek nearness to him, and so these statues were attributed to him. According to this explanation, that is why he said:

أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ

I am your lord most high [79:24]

and this was the opinion of al-Zujaaj. And others said that he used to worship the sun.

[Fath al-Qadeer pg. 494]

Throughout his tafsir, al-Shawkaani drew verily heavy on the tafsir of Imam al-Qurtubi, often paraphrasing some of his discussions. Imam al-Qurtubi delved into a somewhat extended discussion of this particular issue in his tafsir, which al-Shawkaani has already summarized above. What follows below is an small excerpt from the middle of al-Qurtubi’s discussion which holds some benefits not already mentioned by al-Shawkaani:

وقرأ علي بن أبي طالب وابن عباس والضحاك ( وإلاهتك ) ومعناه وعبادتك . وعلى هذه القراءة كان يعبد ولا يعبد ، أي ويترك عبادته لك . قال أبو بكر الأنباري : فمن مذهب أصحاب هذه القراءة أن فرعون لما قال أنا ربكم الأعلى و ما علمت لكم من إله غيري نفى أن يكون له رب وإلاهة . فقيل له : ويذرك وإلاهتك ; بمعنى ويتركك وعبادة الناس لك . ـ

‘Ali ibn Abi Taalib, ibn ‘Abbaas, and al-Dhahhaak recited this ayah with the variant recitation (qiraa’ah):

وَإِلَاهَتَكَ

wa ilaahtak

… and your divinity

the meaning of which is: worship of you. So according to this variant recitation, Fir’awn used to be worshiped but he himself did not worship anything. So according to this, the ayah means: the people were going to abandon him and give up directing their worship to him.

Abu Bakr al-Anbari said: So according to the understanding of those who recited the ayah with this recitation, when Fir’awn said:

أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ

I am your lord most high [79:24]

and:

مَا عَلِمْتُ لَكُم مِّنْ إِلَـٰهٍ غَيْرِي

I know of no other god for you besides me [28:38]

he was negating that there was any lord of god over him. So it was said to him:

 وَيَذَرُكَ وَإِلَاهَتَكَ

… and to abandon you and your divinity

meaning: they will leave you and directing their worship towards you.

وقراءة العامة وآلهتك كما تقدم ، وهي مبنية على أن فرعون ادعى الربوبية في ظاهر أمره وكان يعلم أنه مربوب . ودليل هذا قوله عند حضور الحمام آمنت أنه لا إله إلا الذي آمنت به بنو إسرائيل فلم يقبل هذا القول منه لما أتى به بعد إغلاق باب التوبة . وكان قبل هذا الحال له إله يعبده سرا دون رب العالمين جل وعز ; قاله الحسن وغيره . ـ

But the more common recitation is:

وَيَذَرَكَ وَآلِهَتَكَ

… and to abandon you and your gods?

as we have previously mentioned, and understanding this is built on the premise that Fir’awn claimed a position of divine lordship publicly while he knew that he was really under a higher power himself. And the evidence for this is what he said at the time of his death:

آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ

I believe that there is no deity worthy of worship except for He in whom Banu Israa’eel believe. [10:90]

however this profession was not accepted from him, as he only produced it after the door of repentance had been closed, whereas before this point he had a god other than the Lord of all creation which he used to worship secretly. All this was the explanation of al-Hasan as well as others.

[Jaami’ li-Ahkam al-Qur’an 7/236]

And Imam al-Baghawi explained this issue by writing:

ـ ( وقال الملأ من قوم فرعون ) له ( أتذر موسى وقومه ليفسدوا في الأرض ) وأرادوا بالإفساد في الأرض دعاءهم الناس إلى مخالفة فرعون في عبادته ، ( ويذرك ) أي : وليذرك ، ( وآلهتك ) فلا يعبدك ولا يعبدها . قال ابن عباس : كان لفرعون بقرة يعبدها ، وكان إذا رأى بقرة حسناء أمرهم أن يعبدوها ، فلذلك أخرج السامري لهم عجلا . وقال الحسن : كان قد علق على عنقه صليبا يعبده . وقال السدي : كان فرعون قد اتخذ لقومه أصناما وأمرهم بعبادتها ، وقال لقومه هذه آلهتكم وأنا ربها وربكم ، فذلك قوله ( أنا ربكم الأعلى ) ( النازعات – 24 ) ، وقرأ ابن مسعود وابن عباس والشعبي والضحاك : ” ويذرك وإلاهتك ” بكسر الألف ، أي : عبادتك فلا يعبدك ، لأن فرعون كان يعبد ولا يعبد وقيل : أراد بالآلهة الشمس . وكانوا يعبدونها ـ

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِ فِرْعَوْنَ

The chiefs of Fir’awn’s people said …

to him

أَتَذَرُ مُوسَىٰ وَقَوْمَهُ لِيُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ

… Will you leave Moosaa and his people to spread mischief in the land …

and by “mischief in the land” they were referring to their acts of calling the people to disobey Fir’awn as it related to worshiping him.

وَيَذَرَكَ وَآلِهَتَكَ

… and to abandon you and your gods? [7:127]

and so they neither worship you nor them.

Ibn ‘Abbaas said: Fir’awn used to have a cow which he worshiped, and whenever he would see a handsome cow he would command his people to to worship it. And this is why al-Saamiri brought forth a [golden] calf for the Banu Israa’eel.

al-Hasan said: Fir’awn used to wear a necklace with an Ankh (Egyptian cross) around his neck which he worshiped.

al-Suddi said: Fir’awn set up statues for his people and commanded them to worship them, and he told his people, “these are your gods and I am their lord and your lord.” This is why he said:

أَنَا رَبُّكُمُ الْأَعْلَىٰ

I am your lord most high [79:24]

Meanwhile, ibn Mas’ood, ibn ‘Abbaas, al-Sha’bi, and al-Dhahhaak recited it as:

 وَيَذَرَكَ وَإَلِاهَتِكَ

… and to abandon you and your divinity?

meaning: your worship, such that they would not worship you, for Fir’awn used to be worshiped but did not worship anything.

But others said: by “your gods” it is referring to the sun, for the people used to worship the sun.

[Tafsir al-Baghawi 3/268]

See also: Supposed Contradictions in the Qur’an: ibn ‘Uthaymeen

See also: Tafsir of the Qur’an and its Connection to the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti

See also: A Note on the Different Qiraa’aat: Sheikh bin Baaz

See also: An Example of Added Meaning from the Different Qiraa’aat

See also: The Importance of Tafsir and its Sources: Sheikh al-Fawzan

See also: “Blessed is whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it” : Tafsir al-Baghawi

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4 thoughts on “Did Fir’awn claim divinity, or worship other gods?: al-Shawkaani, al-Qurtubi, & al-Baghawi

  1. Pingback: Tafsir of the Qur’an and its Connection to the Qiraa’aat: al-Suyooti | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: An Example of Added Meaning from the Different Qiraa’aat | Tulayhah

  3. Pingback: “Blessed is whoever is at the fire and whoever is around it” : Tafsir al-Baghawi | Tulayhah

  4. Pingback: Meanings of the words Yahood, Nasaara and Saabi’oon: Tafsir al-Baghawi | Tulayhah

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