We made the way easy for him: Tafsir al-Tabari & Tafsir ibn Kathir

In surah ‘Abasa, Allah mentions the following passage:

قُتِلَ الْإِنسَانُ مَا أَكْفَرَهُ * مِنْ أَيِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقَهُ * مِن نُّطْفَةٍ خَلَقَهُ فَقَدَّرَهُ * ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ * ثُمَّ أَمَاتَهُ فَأَقْبَرَهُ * ثُمَّ إِذَا شَاءَ أَنشَرَهُ * كَلَّا لَمَّا يَقْضِ مَا أَمَرَهُ

Cursed is man, how he disbelieves! * What did Allah create him from? He created him from a sperm-drop, and then apportioned him * Then He made the way easy for him * then He causes him to die and makes a grave for him * then, when He wills, He will raise him up * No! Man has not yet accomplished what Allah has command of him [80:17-23]

The salaf and the mufassiroon differed as to the meaning of the ayah:

ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ

Then He made the way easy for him

al-Haafidh Ismaa’eel ibn Kathir summarized the two opinions of the salaf and later scholars by writing:

ـ ( ثم السبيل يسره ) قال العوفي عن ابن عباس ثم يسر عليه خروجه من بطن أمه وكذا قال عكرمة والضحاك وأبو صالح وقتادة والسدي واختاره ابن جرير . ـ

ثُمَّ السَّبِيلَ يَسَّرَهُ

Then He made the way easy for him

al-‘Awfi relayed that ibn ‘Abbaas explained it as: then Allah made man’s exit from his mother’s womb easy for him.

This is just as ‘Ikrimah, al-Dhahhaak, Abu Saalih, Qataadah, and al-Suddi said. And this was the preferred position of ibn Jariri [al-Tabari].

وقال مجاهد هذه كقوله ( إنا هديناه السبيل إما شاكرا وإما كفورا ) الإنسان 3 ] أي بينا له ووضحناه وسهلنا عليه عمله وهكذا قال الحسن وابن زيد وهذا هو الأرجح والله أعلم . ـ

Mujaahid said that this ayah is like Allah’s statement:

إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا

Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful. [76:3]

So according to this, the meaning of the ayah is: He showed him the way, made it clear, and made it easy for him to act upon it. This was also what al-Hasan and ibn Zaid said, and this is the stronger view. And Allah knows best.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 8/323]

The great mufassir Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari also mentioned these two explanations along with the exact wordings of each of the salaf who voiced them, and then weighed these two positions by writing:

وأولى التأويلين في ذلك عندي بالصواب قول من قال : ثم الطريق ، وهو الخروج من بطن أمه يسره . ـ

In my opinion, the interpretation which is closer to being correct is that of those who say that it refers to facilitating the way out of the mother’s womb.

وإنما قلنا ذلك أولى التأويلين بالصواب ، لأنه أشبههما بظاهر الآية ، وذلك أن الخبر من الله قبلها وبعدها عن صفته خلقه وتدبيره جسمه ، وتصريفه إياه في الأحوال ، فالأولى أن يكون أوسط ذلك نظير ما قبله وما بعده . ـ

The reason why we say that that is the closer one of the two to being correct is because it is in line with the clear outward meaning of the ayah. That is, both before and after this ayah, Allah is providing information about how He creates the body, puts it in order, and takes it through the various stages of life. So what is most fitting is that this ayah which falls in the midst of that is in alignment with what came before it and what follows it.

[Tafsir al-Tabari 24/225]

Some points of benefit:

  • Examining the relationships between ayaat (munasabat) is a valid method of tafsir
  • Explaining one part of the Qur’an by referring to another is a valid method of tafsir
  • The two explanations of the salaf differed but did not conflict or contradict one another
  • The later mufassiroon did not claim that either one of the explanations was incorrect. Rather they only weighed the merits of which one appeared to be strongest and most fitting
  • Ibn Kathir would independently weigh and assess the various explanations, and differed from the opinion of ibn Jarir in a number of places despite his great reliance on ibn Jarir’s work as a whole

For more on this topic, see also: An Example of Reconciling Different Explanations from the Salaf: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool

See also: Taking Ayaat out of Context: Sheikh ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Badr

See also: Why do the Mufassiroon differ?: Ibn Taymiyah

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

One thought on “We made the way easy for him: Tafsir al-Tabari & Tafsir ibn Kathir

  1. Pingback: An Example of Reconciling Different Explanations from the Salaf: Sheikh Muhammad Bazmool | Tulayhah

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