I Swear by the Installments of the Qur’an: Tafsir of ibn ‘Abbaas

Allah swears in surah al-Waaqi’ah by saying:

فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِمَوَاقِعِ النُّجُومِ * وَإِنَّهُ لَقَسَمٌ لَّوْ تَعْلَمُونَ عَظِيمٌ * إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ * فِي كِتَابٍ مَّكْنُونٍ

So I swear by the mawaqi’ah al-nujoom * and that is certainly a strong oath – if you only knew – * that this is certainly a noble recitation * in a well-guarded book. [56:75-78]

In his brief commentary, Ibn al-Jawzi summarizes the different explanations of the term mawaqi’ah al-nujoom as follows:

وفي “النجوم” قولان . أحدهما: نجوم السماء، قاله الأكثرون . فعلى هذا في مواقعها ثلاثة أقوال . أحدها: انكدارها وانتثارها يوم القيامة، قاله الحسن . والثاني: منازلها، قاله عطاء، وقتادة . والثالث: مغيبها في المغرب، قاله أبو عبيدة . والثاني: أنها نجوم القرآن، رواه ابن جبير عن ابن عباس . فعلى هذا سميت نجوما لنزولها متفرقة، ومواقعها: نزولها . ـ

There are two interpretations of the word nujoom:

1. The stars of the sky, which was the position of the majority of the salaf. If the stars are what is being referred to by nujoom, then there are three different interpretations of the word mawaqi’ah:

a. The extinguishing and dispersal of the stars of the Day of Resurrection. This was the opinion of al-Hasan al-Basr.

b. Their places in the sky, as ‘Ataa’ and Qatadah said.

c. The places where the stars set on the horizon, as Abu ‘Ubaydah said.

2. That nujoom is referring to the installments of the Qur’an, as ibn Jubayr transmitted from ibn ‘Abbaas. According to this explanation, the word nujoom is used because it was sent down in many different installments, and the word mawaqi’ah in this context refers to the act of sending it down.

[Zad al-Maseer 8/151]

Most if not all English translators of the Qur’an have translated ayah 56:75 as some variant of the first explanation that ibn al-Jawzi mentioned, such as “the falling of the stars”, “the positions of the stars”, or “the setting places of the stars”. However, some of the mufassiroon such as ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbaas, the most important mufassir of the salaf, favored the second opinion.

al-Qurtubi mentions some of the statements of ibn ‘Abbaas in his tafsir of this ayah:

وقال ابن عباس : المراد بمواقع النجوم نزول القرآن نجوما ، أنزله الله تعالى من اللوح المحفوظ من السماء العليا إلى السفرة الكاتبين ، فنجمه السفرة على جبريل عشرين ليلة ، ونجمه جبريل على محمد عليهما الصلاة والسلام عشرين سنة ، فهو ينزله على الأحداث من أمته ؛ حكاه الماوردي عن ابن عباس والسدي . وقال أبو بكر الأنباري : حدثنا إسماعيل بن إسحاق القاضي حدثنا حجاج بن المنهال حدثنا همام عن الكلبي عن أبي صالح عن ابن عباس قال : نزل القرآن إلى سماء الدنيا جملة واحدة ، ثم نزل إلى الأرض نجوما ، وفرق بعد ذلك خمس آيات خمس آيات وأقل وأكثر ، فذلك قول الله تعالى : فلا أقسم بمواقع النجوم .ـ

Ibn ‘Abbaas said:

What is meant by mawaqi’ah al-nujoom is the Qur’an being sent down in installments. Allah sent it down from the Lawh al-Mahfuth in the highest heaven to the messenger angels, and then those messenger angels took it to Jibril in installments over the course of twenty nights*, and Jibril gave it to Muhammad in installments over the course of those twenty years. So it was sent down in response to the situations and circumstances of the Muslim nation.

al-Mawardi transmitted this narration from ibn ‘Abbaas and al-Suddi.

Abu Bakr al-Anbari said … that ibn ‘Abbaas said:

The Qur’an was sent down to the lowest heaven all at once, and then it was sent down to the earth in installments. So it was sent down five ayaat here and five ayaat there, or more ayaat at a time or fewer. That is why Allah says:

فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِمَوَاقِعِ النُّجُومِ 

So I swear by the installments of the Qur’an [mawaqi’a al-nujoom]

[Tafsir al-Qurtubi 17/203]

Ibn Kathir began his explanation of this ayah by writing:

واختلفوا في معنى قوله : ( بمواقع النجوم ) ، فقال حكيم بن جبير ، عن سعيد بن جبير ، عن ابن عباس يعني : نجوم القرآن ; فإنه نزل جملة ليلة القدر من السماء العليا إلى السماء الدنيا ، ثم نزل مفرقا في السنين بعد . ثم قرأ ابن عباس هذه الآية . ـ

The scholars differered regarding the phrase:

بِمَوَاقِعِ النُّجُومِ 

bi mawaqi’ah al-nujoom

Hakeem ibn Jubayr narrated that Sa’eed ibn Jubayr narrated that ibn ‘Abbaas explained this to mean: the installments of the Qur’an, for it was sent down all at once on Laylah al-Qadr from the highest heaven to the lowest heaven and then it was sent down piece by piece in the years that followed. Then ibn ‘Abbaas recited this ayah.

وقال الضحاك عن ابن عباس : نزل القرآن جملة من عند الله من اللوح المحفوظ إلى السفرة الكرام الكاتبين في السماء الدنيا ، فنجمته السفرة على جبريل عشرين ليلة ، ونجمه جبريل على محمد – صلى الله عليه وسلم – عشرين سنة ، فهو قوله : ( فلا أقسم بمواقع النجوم ) نجوم القرآن . ـ

al-Dhahhaak narrated that ibn ‘Abbaas said:

The Qur’an was sent down all at once from Allah in the Lawh al-Mahfooth to the noble messenger angels in the lowest heaven. Then the messenger angels brought it in installments to Jibril over the course of twenty nights*, who then brought it in installments to Muhammad over the course of twenty years. That is Allah’s statement:

فَلَا أُقْسِمُ بِمَوَاقِعِ النُّجُومِ

So I swear by the mawaqi’ah al-nujoom

meaning the installments of the Qur’an.

وكذا قال عكرمة ، ومجاهد ، والسدي ، وأبو حزرة . ـ

And similar explanations were also voiced by ‘Ikrimah, Mujahid, al-Suddi and Abu Hazrah.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 7/544]

*Translator’s Note: I asked sheikh Muhammad al-‘Awaaji (former professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah) about this narration. What follows is the question and response:

اطلعت على هذا القول في تفسير القرطبي لابن عباس في سورة الواقعة “المراد بمواقع النجوم نزول القرآن نجوما ، أنزله الله تعالى من اللوح المحفوظ من السماء العليا إلى السفرة الكاتبين ، فنجمه السفرة على جبريل عشرين ليلة” فهل هذا القول صحيح أم أن الله أنزل القرآن على جبريل مباشرة؟

Question: I came across the following statement of ibn ‘Abbaas in al-Qurtubi’s tafsir of surah al-Waqi’ah,

“What is meant by mawaqi’ah al-nujoom is the Qur’an being sent down in installments. Allah sent it down from the Lawh al-Mahfuth in the highest heaven to the messenger angels, and then those messenger angels took it to Jibril in installments over the course of twenty nights …”

Is this statement correct/authentic, or did Allah reveal the Qur’an to Jibril directly?

هذا غير صحيح الصحيح عنه وعن غيره في صفة مجيء الوحي إلى النبي ﷺ، أن النبي ﷺ، سمعه من جبريل من ربه -تبارك وتعالى- مباشرة. وصح عنه أنه نزل جملة إلى السماء الدنيا ونزل به جبريل على الرسول ﷺ مفرقاً بحسب الوقائع والحوادث.ـ

Response: This is not correct. The correct position regarding how the revelation came to the Prophet that has been relayed from both ibn ‘Abbaas and others is that the Prophet heard it from Jibril who heard it directly from his Lord. And it has been authentically transmitted from ibn ‘Abbaas that the revelation was sent down all at once to the lowest heaven and then Jibril brought it down to the Messenger in pieces as needed according to the events and happenings.

[I asked this question here via the Qur’anic Consultations Twitter page on August 3rd, 2020]

4 thoughts on “I Swear by the Installments of the Qur’an: Tafsir of ibn ‘Abbaas

  1. I have a question about the Athar of ibn Abbas. Didn’t Jibril hear the Quran from Allah and sent it down to the prophet alayhi salat wa salaam. According to the Athar it says messenger angels brought to Jibril in installments. Jazakallah

    • as salaam ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,

      Excellent question, baarakAllaahu feek! I sent your question to sheikh ‘Abdullah al-‘Awaaji (former professor of Tafsir at the Islamic University of al-Madinah), and here is the question and response:

      [اطلعت على هذا القول في تفسير القرطبي لابن عباس في سورة الواقعة “المراد بمواقع النجوم نزول القرآن نجوما ، أنزله الله تعالى من اللوح المحفوظ من السماء العليا إلى السفرة الكاتبين ، فنجمه السفرة على جبريل عشرين ليلة” فهل هذا القول صحيح أم أن الله أنزل القرآن على جبريل مباشرة؟]

      Question: I came across the following statement of ibn ‘Abbaas in al-Qurtubi’s tafsir of surah al-Waqi’ah, “What is meant by mawaqi’ah al-nujoom is the Qur’an being sent down in installments. Allah sent it down from the Lawh al-Mahfuth in the highest heaven to the messenger angels, and then those messenger angels took it to Jibril in installments over the course of twenty nights …” – Is this statement correct/authentic, or did Allah reveal the Qur’an to Jibril directly?

      [هذا غير صحيح
      الصحيح عنه وعن غيره في صفة مجيء الوحي إلى النبي ﷺ، أن النبي ﷺ، سمعه من جبريل من ربه -تبارك وتعالى- مباشرة.
      وصح عنه أنه نزل جملة إلى السماء الدنيا ونزل به جبريل على الرسول ﷺ مفرقاً بحسب الوقائع والحوادث.]

      Response: This is not correct. The correct position regarding how the revelation came to the Prophet that has been relayed from both ibn ‘Abbaas and others is that the Prophet heard it from Jibril who heard it directly from his Lord. And it has been authentically transmitted from ibn ‘Abbaas that the revelation was sent down all at once to the lowest heaven and then Jibril brought it down to the Messenger in pieces as needed according to the events and happenings.

      [End of Q&A – see here]

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