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The Meaning of “Fi as-samaa” in Ayah (67:16) & The Hadith of The Slave Girl

*(Translator’s note: This article discusses the precise meaning of the word “fi” in Arabic as it applies to a particular ayah and hadith. Normally, the word “fi” is translated as “in” or “inside”. However, this translation is inaccurate when applied to those specific texts. For that reason, I have chosen to leave the word “fi” and some other words in transliterated form (fi as-samaa) while the rest of the text is translated into English.)*

أَءَمِنتُمْ مَّن فِى السَّمَآءِ أَن يَخْسِفَ بِكُمُ الاٌّرْضَ فَإِذَا هِىَ تَمُورُ – أَمْ أَمِنتُمْ مِّن فِى السَّمَآءِ أَن يُرْسِلَ عَلَيْكُمْ حَـصِباً فَسَتَعْلَمُونَ كَيْفَ نَذِيرِ
Allah the Exalted said: {Do ye feel secure that He Who is (fi as-samaa) will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth when it shakes? Or do ye feel secure that He Who is (fi as-sama)…} [67:16-17]

The Hadith of the slave girl:

Mu’awiyah as-Sahmi reported: «I had some sheep which I kept between Uhud and Juwaniyyah with a slave girl to look after them. One day, I went out to check on my sheep and discovered that a wolf had devoured one of them. Since I am just a human, (I became angry) and struck the girl. Later on, I came to the Prophet -Sallallahu alahi wa Sallam- and reported to him the incident. He terrified me with the gravity of my action. I said, “Messenger of Allah! Shall I free her (as an expiation of my sin.) He said ”Call her over.“

When I did, he asked her: ”Where is Allah?“ She said, “fi as-samaa.”

Then he asked her, ”Who am I ?“ She said, “The Messenger of Allah -Sallallahu alahi wa Sallam-“.

Thereupon, the Messenger of Allah -Sallallahu alahi wa Sallam- ordered me, ”Free her for she is a believer“ » [Sahih Muslim].

Reference: Sahih Muslim 537 a
In-book reference: Book 5, Hadith 39
USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 4, Hadith 1094

The scholars have agreed that the phrase “fi as-samaa” in the ayah and the hadith of the slave girl does not mean inside the sky. Allah is Exalted above dwelling in His creation, or that the creation would surround Him. Such a meaning is absolutely invalid, and all the Imams of the Salaf are in consensus on that point. The scholars have explained the phrase in agreement with its meaning in the Arabic language, the many Islamic texts (Quran and Sunnah), sound intellect, and natural human instinct (fitrah).

The scholars explained “as-samaa” to be the Throne (`Arsh), because the word “as-samaa” linguistically means the ceiling or roof of some object, and the Throne is the ceiling of all creation because it is above all creation, and all the creation is below it.

Az-Zajjaj (d. 311 H.) said: “(As-samaa) linguistically is said about everything that is raised up and high above. Every ceiling is a ‘samaa’. For this reason the cloud is called the ‘samaa’ because it is high.” (1)

Ibn Faris (d. 395 H) said: “(As-samaa) is the ceiling of the house, and everything that towers over is a ‘samaa’, to the point that the back of a horse is called ‘samaa’.” (2)

“Fi” has been explained as (`alaa); i.e. on / over / above.

Abu Bakr Ahmad As-Sibghi (d. 342 H.) said: «The Arabs would sometimes use the word ‘fi’ to mean ‘alaa’ (on/above). Allah the Exalted said: {So travel ‘fi’ the earth} [9:2] and {I will crucify you ‘fi’ the trunks of palm trees} [20:71]. The meaning is ‘on the earth’ and ‘on the trees’. The phrase ‘fi as-samaa’ is used in the same way, meaning on the throne and above the heavens, as it has authentically been reported from the Prophet peace be upon him. » (3)

Al-Harith al Muhasibi (d. 243 H.) said about its meaning: «It means above the throne, and the throne is above the sky, because whoever is above something which is above the sky is ‘fi as-samaa’» (4)

Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi (d. 458 H.) said: “He said {Do ye feel secure that He Who is (fi as-samaa)…} [67:16] and He meant “Who is above the sky”, just as He said {I will crucify you “fi” the trunks of palm trees} meaning: on the trunks of the palm trees. He also said {So travel “fi” the earth} meaning on the earth. Everything which is above is “samaa”, and the Throne is high above the heavens. So the meaning of the ayah, and Allah knows best, is: ‘Do you feel safe from the One who is above the Throne’, just as He clearly stated in all the other ayat.” (5)

So the meaning of “fi as-samaa” in the ayah and the Hadith of the jariyah (slave girl) is: Above the heavens, on the Throne.

The pronoun “man” (Arabic for “who”) in the ayah is for Allah the Exalted:

– The slave girl’s answer to the question of the Prophet -Sallallahu alahi wa Sallam- “Where is Allah?” was: “fi as-samaa”, and he bore witness to her faith.

Muhammad ibn Yazid al-Mubarrad (d. 286 H.) said: “The question about what is understood from the word “man” (who) as in the ayah: {Do ye feel secure that Who (Man) is ‘fi as-samaa’ will not cause you to be swallowed up by the earth} indicated that “who” is being used for Allah the Exalted. (6)

Ibn Jarir At-Tabari (d. 310 H.) said: “{Do ye feel secure that Who is fi as-samaa}: it is Allah” (7)

Ibn Abi Zamanin (d. 399 H.) said: ” {Who is fi as-samaa} He means Himself” (8)

Abu al-Mudhaffar as Sam`ani (d. 489 H.) said about the explanation of the ayah: “Do you feel secure from your Lord.” (9)

(1) Tahdheeb al Lugha by Abu Mansur Al-Azhari (13/117)
(2) Mu’jam Maqayees al Lugha (3/98)
(3) Al Asmaa was Sifaat by Al Baihaqi (p.324). He said: “Abu Abdillah al-Hafidh said: The Shaikh Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn Ishaq ibn Ayyub al Faqeeh said: …” and then he mentioned his statment. The sanad is saheeh.
(4) Fahmul Quran wa Ma’anih by Al Muhasibi. Section 4, Chapter: Ma la yajuz fihi naskh wa ma yajuz dhalika fih (Where abrogation cannot occur, and where it can).
(5) Al I’tiqad wal Hidaya ila Sabil al Rashad – by Al Baihaqi (p.116)
(6) Al Muqtadab by Muhammad ibn Yazid al Mubarrad (2/51)
(7) Jaami’ al Bayan fi Taweel al Quran by Ibn Jarir at Tabari (23/513)
(8) Tafsir al Quran al Aziz by Ibn Abi Zamanin (5/14)
(9) Tafsir al Quran by As Sam’ani (6/12)


Prepared by: Um Abdullah al-Misawi

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