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Quranic Sciences

Exegesis of Imam al-Rida (a.s.)

Imam al-Rida (A.S.) did not author a book on exegesis, but he explained the meanings of the verses about which he was questioned by others who wanted to know his views in their regard, and we will indicate here some such explanations in order to acquaint you with the magnificent method and innovative style of the Imam (A.S.) in this regard.

It is reported that al-Mamoon asked him once to explain some Qur'anic verses out of his curiosity about the knowledge God bestowed upon the Imam regarding their meanings. Among such verses was: "He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and His throne was over the waters, that He might try you which of you is best in conduct."186 He said, "The Praised and Exalted God created the Throne, the water, and the angels before the creation of heavens and earth, and the angels used to know God through their own creation, through the Throne and the water. Then He made His Throne over the water in order to manifest His might to the angels so that they might know that He is capable of doing whatever He pleased. Then He raised the Throne through His might, moved it and made it above the seven heavens. Then He created the heavens and the earth in six days while He was omni-Potent on His Throne. He was capable of creating them in a twinkle of the eye, but the Exalted One created them in six days in order to show the angels what He was creating one after the other so that they would know time and again that God was the Originator of each and every thing. God did not create the Throne because He was in need for it since He is independent of the Throne and of everything He created; He cannot be described by anything in the cosmos simply because He has no physical body; Exalted He is above the characteristics of what He created a great deal of Exaltation.

"As regarding His saying, `...that He might try you which one of you is best in conduct,' He has created them in order to test them through the responsibility of obeying and worshipping Him, not out of His desire to test or try them, since He already knows all things."

This glorious explanation of the Imam (A.S.) for the creation of the heavens and the earth in six days is considered, we think, among the best explanations because gradual creation and perfection deepens the feeling of awe regarding the greatness of the Creator and Originator more than had it been at once.

Al-Mamoon also asked him about the meaning of the verse: "Had it been thy Lord's Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?! No soul can believe except by the Will of God."187 Quoting his forefathers, al-Rida (A.S.) said: "Muslims said to the Messenger of God (S.A.W.), `We wish you forced those whom you have conquered, O Messenger of God, to accept Islam, so that our number would increase, and we would become stronger in the face of our enemies.' The Messenger of God (S.A.W.) said: `I am not going to meet God, the Almighty and the Exalted, having invented an innovation which He did not command me to do, nor am I the type of person who forces others to do anything at all.' It was then that this verse was revealed: `Had it been thy Lord's Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth,' by means of forcing them, or when they find no other choice while in this world just as those who believed only after seeing God's might and retribution in the life after death. `If I do such a thing to them, they would not deserve any reward, but I wish they accept it out of their own choice rather than being forced to do so in order that they will deserve to be close to me and blessed through me, and they would remain in Paradise forever.'

"As regarding the meaning of `No soul can believe except by the Will of God,' it does not mean that it is prohibited from believing (without a prior consent of God); it simply means that God invites it to believe without forcing it to do so."

The Imam (A.S.) said the following in his explanation of the verse which says: "[God is He] Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy":188

"He made the earth suitable to the creation of your nature, agreeable to your bodies; He did not make it too hot to burn you, nor too cold to freeze you, nor too windy to cause you dizziness, nor too stinky to damage your heads, nor as liquid as water to cause you to drown, nor too solid to enable you to build houses and graves for your dead; rather, the Exalted and Sublime made it strong enough to be useful for you, for your bodies, and for your buildings, making it usable in your homes and graves and a great deal of other advantages as well; thus, He made the earth a couch for you.

"As for the heavens, He made them like a protective ceiling above your heads in which He let the sun and its moon and the stars orbit for your own good. He `... sent down water from the heavens, and brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance,' meaning thereby water which He caused to descend from a high altitude in order to reach the summits of your mountains and hills, valleys and plains, which He caused to descend as showers and as moisture which soil inhales, and He did not cause it to pour down at once to ruin your lands, trees and other vegetation and fruits. `And brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance'189 means whatever grows on earth for your sustenance, so `Do not set up rivals unto God when ye know (the truth),'190 that is, `rivals' such as similitudes and such things like idols which have no comprehension, hearing, sight, or are able to do anything at all, while you know that they cannot create any of these great blessings with which He, your Lord, the Exalted, the Most High, has blessed you."

This simple explanation provided by the Imam (A.S.) gives the meaning of the verse clarity and ease which can be comprehended by anyone, even one whose share of intelligence is most modest, enabling him to appreciate the magnificence, beauty, and perfection of the creation. He may even explain the important points in a verse which may cause the wisdom of their making as we find him doing with the last verse in order to point out the depth of miraculous aspect of the verses of the Holy Qur'an.

Notes:

186 Hud:7

187 Younus:99-100

188 Al Baqara:22

189 Al Baqara:22

190 Ibid

Adapted from: "Imam al-Ridha (a.s.), A Historical and Biographical Research" by: "Muhammad Jawad Fadlallah"