The Meaning of “Beneath it Rivers Flow”: Tafsir ibn Kathir & al-Baghawi

One of the frequently repeated descriptions of Jannah in the Qur’an is Allah’s statement:

جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ

Which is often translated as “Gardens beneath which rivers will flow” or something similar.

In this first instance of this phrase in the mushaf, al-Haafidh ibn Kathir explains it by writing:

قال تعالى : ( وبشر الذين آمنوا وعملوا الصالحات أن لهم جنات تجري من تحتها الأنهار ) فوصفها بأنها تجري من تحتها الأنهار ، كما وصف النار بأن وقودها الناس والحجارة ، ومعنى ( تجري من تحتها الأنهار ) أي : من تحت أشجارها وغرفها ، وقد جاء في الحديث : أن أنهارها تجري من غير أخدود ، وجاء في الكوثر أن حافتيه قباب اللؤلؤ المجوف ، ولا منافاة بينهما ، وطينها المسك الأذفر ، وحصباؤها اللؤلؤ والجوهر ، نسأل الله من فضله [ وكرمه ] إنه هو البر الرحيم . ـ

Allah says:

وَبَشِّرِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ أَنَّ لَهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ

And give good tidings to those who believe and do righteous deeds that they will have gardens beneath which rivers flow. [2:25]

So He has described Jannah as having rivers flowing underneath it, mirroring how He described the Hellfire as having men and stones for its fuel. And the meaning of

تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ

… beneath which rivers flow.

is beneath its trees and dwelling places. It comes in a hadith that the rivers of Jannah flow without any riverbeds. And regarding al-Kawthar [a certain river in Jannah], it has been reported that its banks will have tents made of hollowed-out pearls – and there is no contradiction between these two things – and that its scent is a strong musk, and that its sand would be pearls and rubies. We ask Allah for His bounty and graciousness, for He is Good and Merciful.

وقال ابن أبي حاتم : قرئ على الربيع بن سليمان : حدثنا أسد بن موسى ، حدثنا ابن ثوبان ، عن عطاء بن قرة ، عن عبد الله بن ضمرة ، عن أبي هريرة ، قال : قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : أنهار الجنة تفجر من تحت تلال – أو من تحت جبال – المسك . ـ

Ibn Abi Haatim reported … that Abu Hurayrah said that Allah’s Messenger said:

The rivers of Jannah spring forth from beneath hills – or he said: from beneath  mountains – of musk.

وقال أيضا : حدثنا أبو سعيد ، حدثنا وكيع ، عن الأعمش ، عن عبد الله بن مرة ، عن مسروق ، قال : قال عبد الله : أنهار الجنة تفجر من جبل مسك .ـ

Ibn Abi Haatim also reported … from Masrooq that ‘Abdullah ibn Mas’ood said:

The rivers of Jannah spring forth from a mountain of musk.

[Tafsir ibn Kathir 1/204]

Imam al-Baghawi also choose to address this topic at the same spot in his tafsir by writing:

ـ ( تجري من تحتها ) أي من تحت أشجارها ومساكنها ( الأنهار ) أي المياه في الأنهار لأن النهر لا يجري وقيل ( من تحتها ) أي بأمرهم لقوله تعالى حكاية عن فرعون ” وهذه الأنهار تجري من تحتي ” ( 51 – الزخرف ) أي بأمري ـ

تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا

… beneath which flow …

i.e. below its trees and dwelling places

الْأَنْهَارُ

… rivers

i.e. the waters of rivers flow, for the rivers themselves do not change locations.

And some have said that

مِن تَحْتِهَا

… beneath which …

means “under their command” in light of how this phrase is used in Allah’s statement relaying that Fir’awn said:

وَهَـٰذِهِ الْأَنْهَارُ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِي

And these rivers flow beneath me [43:51]

meaning: by my command.

[Tafsir al-Baghawi 1/73]

In some instances, this phrase is modified slightly to what is often translated as “beneath them rivers flow”, referring to the people of Jannah. Imam al-Baghawi comments on this when it occurs towards the beginning of surah Yunus by writing:

ـ ” تجري من تحتهم الأنهار ” أي : بين أيديهم ، كقوله عز وجل : ” قد جعل ربك تحتك سريا ” ( مريم – 24 ) لم يرد به أنه تحتها وهي قاعدة عليه ، بل أراد بين يديها . وقيل : تجري من تحتهم أي : بأمرهم . ـ

تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الْأَنْهَارُ

Rivers flow min tahtihim [10:09]

meaning: rivers flowing in front of them. This is like Allah’s statement:

قَدْ جَعَلَ رَبُّكِ تَحْتَكِ سَرِيًّا

Your Lord has made a small river tahtik [19:24]

The intended meaning here is not that the river is underneath her [Maryam] and that she is sitting in it. Rather, it means “in front of her”.

And some others say that:

تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهِمُ الْأَنْهَارُ

Rivers flow min tahtihim [10:09]

means: river flow at their command.

[Tafsir al-Baghawi 4/123]

See also: Fear the Fire Whose Fuel is Men and Stones: Tafsir al-Baghawi & Tafsir al-Qurtubi

See also: Tafsir of Surah al-Baqarah 21-29: al-Tafsir al-Muyassar

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Beneath it Rivers Flow”: Tafsir ibn Kathir & al-Baghawi

  1. Pingback: Fear the Fire Whose Fuel is Men and Stones: Tafsir al-Baghawi & Tafsir al-Qurtubi | Tulayhah

  2. Pingback: Tafsir of Surah al-Baqarah 21-29: al-Tafsir al-Muyassar | Tulayhah

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