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Vol. LXXIX January 1989 No. 1

And [He shall appoint him] a messenger to the Children of Israel [saying] "Lo! I have come to you with a sign from your Lord. Lo! I create for you from clay something resembling the form of birds and I blow into it and it becomes birds by God's leave. And I heal the blind from birth and the leper and I bring the dead to life by God's leave. And I declare to you what you eat and what you store up in your houses. Surely in that there is a sign for you if you are believers," S. 3:49. The Quran's concurrence with the Christian view that Jesus worked miracles provides common ground for Muslim-Christian dialogue. On the Muslim side Ali Merad has written that, from the perspective of the Quinan, actions of Jesus such as creating living creatures and raising the dead to lifealbeit by God's leave were unprecedented and exalted him to a unique position among the human messengers of God.1 Writing independently and from a Christian standpoint, Kenneth Cragg has suggested that the Qur'anic proviso that Jesus' miracles were performed "by God's leave" is potentially a mediating feature between the Qur'n and the New Testament because the latter asserts that everything which Jesus said and did was by divine authority and leave.2 The aim of the present study is to put such dialogue on a surer footing by examining how one of the miracles attributed to Jesus in the Quinan is handled in some of the major Muslim commentaries of the classical period. The miracle which we have selected for this purpose is the creation of birds from clay which is referred to in S. 3:49 and again in S. 5:110. This might seem an odd choice because, unlike healing the blind and the leper and raising the dead to life, this miracle is not mentioned in the canonical gospels.3 The choice can be justified, however, on the grounds that the Qur'anic miracle of the birds raises important theological and Christological issues. In particular three features of the Qur'anic references to this miracle might be thought to imply that Jesus was allowed to

Ali Merad, "Le Christ selon le Coran," Rev. de l'Occ. Mus. et de la Mdit., V (1968), 80-93; English translation, "Christ According to the Qui^n," VidyajyotU August 1981, pp. 306-19. 2 . Cragg, Jesus and the Muslim (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1985), pp. 33f. 3 The closest pre-Islamic parallel is in "The Infancy Story of Thomas," S. 2:2-4 where the infant Jesus creates twelve sparrows from clay on the sabbath. Translation in E. Hennecke, New Testament Aprocrypha, I (London: S.C.M., 1973), 392f.


exercise the divine prerogative of creating life. Firstly, the verb used to denote Jesus* "creating" something from clay is khalaqa, a verb which the Qur*n reserves almost exclusively for God's activity.4 Secondly, the substance which Jesus employed was clay, the very substance from which, according to the Qur^n, God created Man.5 Thirdly, the verb nafakha used to indicate Jesus' "blowing" into the birds is used elsewhere indicating God's blowing His Spirit into Man at the creation and into Mary when she conceived.6 To ransack the classical commentaries in order to satisfy our curiosity about these details would give a very distorted picture of the exegetical tradition. The questions which engrossed the first generations of Muslims, and the great medieval commentators who preserved their sayings along with their own deliberations on the sacred text, are not necessarily the ones which preoccupy us. Yet in view of the enormous prestige possessed by the classical commentaries down to this day, the non-Muslim cannot hope to appreciate the Qur'n as Holy Scripture unless he takes these commentaries into account.7 I shall therefore attempt to represent by summary, explanatory paraphrase, or quotation, everything written about the miracle of the birds in five of the most famous classical commentaries. My starting point will be the voluminous Tafsir of Abu Jacfar al-Jabari (d. 310/922).8 This is the oldest major commentary extant and provides an almost exhaustive record of the traditional material which was in circulation at the time when it was compiled. Tabari comments on the whole Quinan in sequence, dividing the suras into manageable sections which vary in length from a single phrase to several verses. He deals with each section in much the same way. First he quotes the text and provides a paraphrase. Then he discusses canonical variants. Following this he mentions traditional interpretations quoting the traditions in full together with their asrd (sing, isnd). Finally he deals with any remaining grammatical or philological problems and with variant readings which do not have canonical status. Tabari's work enjoyed an exalted reputation for several centuries after his death, with one Baghdad jurist declaring that it would not be excessive for a person to go all the way to China to obtain a copy!9 Amongst contemporary Muslim scholars it is used with caution because it includes traditions supposedly derived from Jewish and Christian sourcesthe so-called isrtfliyyatand because Jabar fails to indicate that many of the other traditions which he records are supported by isnads which are unsound.
See section 6a and point e) of my final observations. Of the other 10 occurrences of the word in the QuPn, 9 are in this context: S. 6:2; 7:12; 17:61; 23:12; 28:38; 32:7; 37:11; 38:71; 76. The exception is S. 51:33. 6 For the former see S. 15:29; 32:9; 38:72; for the latter S. 21:91 and S. 66:12. 7 For other aspects of this issue see Neal Robinson, T h e QuPn as the Word of God," in A. Linzey and P. Wexler, eds., Heaven and Earth: Essex Essays in Theology and Ethics (Worthing: Churchman, 1986), pp. 38-54. 8 Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabar, Jm? al-baynfl tafsir al-Qufan, 30 parts bound in 12 volumes (Blq, 1324 A.H.). For comments on S. 3:49 see Part 3, pp. 190f. For S. 5:110 see Part 7, p. 83. 9 Abu Hamid al-Asfaryin (d. 406/1016), cited in Khalil Samir "Le Commentaire de Jaban sur Coran 2/62 et la Question du Salut des non-Musulmans," Annali dell'Istituto Orientale de Napoli, XL (N.S. XXX) (1980) 560.
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Four other commentaries will be consulted. First in order of antiquity is the Kashshf of Zamakhshari (d. 539/1144).10 This work sits lightly on the traditions but includes elegant and succinct discussions of grammatical points for which it is still highly regarded. Because Zamakhshari was a Muctazilite, the commentary is printed with orthodox polemical glosses at the foot of the page to correct the dogmatic inferences which he drew. Very different is the Tafsir Kabir of Fakhr al-Dn al-Rz (d. 606/1209)11 who was himself an opponent of the Muctazilites. Rzfs undertaking is truly encyclopedic. He comments on the whole Quinan, enumerating the "problems" or "questions" raised by each ya. In tackling these problems he draws on his own intimate knowledge of a wide range of disciplines including philosophy and theology. Despite Rzfs essential orthodoxy, his commentary is not favored by traditionalists because he seems at times to come very close to putting the rational coherence of the traditions at a higher premium than their pedigree. The Anwar al-Tanzil of Baydw (d. 685/1286)12 is a handy compendium which is heavily dependent on the works already mentioned, especially that of Zamakhshari, but occasionally includes additional information. My main reason for referring to it is that it has long proved popular amongst Muslims and orientalists alike.13 The most recent commentary to be consulted is that of Ibn Kathr (d. 774/1372),14 a work frequently neglected by non-Muslim scholars. Contemporary Muslims hold it in high esteem for it adheres strictly to tradition while eliminating many of the reports which lack sound isnads. There are of course other classical commentaries besides these but none which matches Tabarf s knowledge of tradition, Zamakhshari's grammatical insights, or Rzfs skill in dialectic. Moreover, since commentators rely heavily on their predecessors, these five commentaries taken together cover the Sunni exegetical tradition fairly thoroughly. It was originally my intention to extend the survey to include Sufi and Shicite writers. In view of the wealth of material in these five commentaries alone, this regrettably will have to be postponed until another occasion. My approach will be analytical. I shall take the issues one by one in the order which Tabari presents them and show how they are dealt with by him and by his successors. The reader should however bear in mind that the Arabic texts are for the most part printed without full stops and indentations or any other details of punctuation and layout.

10 Abu al-Qsim JdulJah Mahmd b. 'Umar al-Zamakhshar, al-Kashshf 'an haqiq al-tanzil wa uyw al-aqekwilfi wujh al-tw% 4 volumes (Beirut, n.d.). For comments on S. 3:49 see I, 431. For S. 5:110 see 1,653. 11 Fakhr al-Din al-Rzi, al-Tafsir al-kabir, 8 volumes (Beirut, 1398/1978). For comments on S. 3:49 see II, 451f. For S. 5:110 see III, 468f. 12 'Abdallah b. 'Umar al-Bay<jaw, Anwr al-tanzil wa asrr al-tdwil (Beirut, 1329 A. H.). For comments on S. 3:49 see p. 74. For S. 5:110 see p. 166. 13 George Sale, The Koran (London: F. Warne & Co., n.d.) frequently cites it in the footnotes. Parts of it have been translated into English: D.S. Margoliouth, Chrestomathia Baidawiana: The Commentary of al-Bai(fwi on Sura ///(London: Luzac & Co., 1894) and A.F.L. Beeston, Baicjawis Commentary on Surah 12 of the Qu? an (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963). 14 Abu al-Fid' Ism'l b. Kathr, Tafsir al-Qufn al-azim, 7 volumes (Beirut, 1385 A.H.) For comments on S. 3:49 see II, 41. For S. 5:110 see II, 678f. c


1) A Canonical Variant: "it becomes birds, "or "it becomes a bird"? Tabari informs us that at S. 3:49 and S. 5:110 a reader from the Hijaz read the singular tffir whereas the rest of the readers read the plural tayr. Tabari favors the latter because it implies a greater miracle, because it complies with the written consonantal text of the Quin and because it is the most widely attested reading. Rz attributes the singular reading t'ir to Nf?. He was the chief of the Medinan school (d. 169/785) and his name heads the list of the seven canonical readings. Baydw gives us the additional information that at S. 5:110 the reading t'ir was also supported by Yacqb. He was head of the Bassoran school (d. 205/820). His name occurs in the list of ten readers but not in the list of seven.15 Ibn Kathr makes no reference to this reading, presumably because it departs from the consonantal text. 2) "Birds" or "a bird'? Arabic Morphology As we have seen, Tabari simply states that tayr is plural whereas t'ir is singular. This seems to be Zamakhsharf s assumption as well. Rzfs position is more nuanced. In commenting on S. 3:49 he states that the readers read tayr as a plural but that it is a collective noun which sometimes denotes the plural and sometimes the singular. In commenting on S. 5:110 he says that tayr is the plural of t'ir and that in this it resembles dtfn the plural of ?in (a sheep) and rakb, the plural of rkib (a rider). When commenting on S. 5:110 Baydw says that the variant reading t'ir could be a singular or a plural like bqir (cattle, a herd). 3) Reported Traditions Despite Tabari's preference for the most widely attested reading which he understands as a plural, the two traditions which he mentions (each supported by a single isnd) seem to imply the creation of only one bird or flying creature. The first tradition is traced back to Ibn Ishq (d. 151/768) via Ibn Humayd and Salama. It is as follows: Jesus, the blessings of God be upon him, was sitting one day with the boys from the elementary school. He took clay and then said, "Shall I make a bird for you from this clay?" They said, "Can you do that?" He replied, "Yes, by leave of my Lord." Then he prepared it and when he had made it in the form of a bird he blew into it. Then he said, "Become a bird by leave of my Lord." So it flew out between the palms of his hands. The boys went off and mentioned that business of his to their teacher and divulged it to the people.

W.M. Watt, Bell's Introduction to the Qufn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1970), pp. 47-50.



Jesus grew and the Children of Israel had in mind to do away with him.* So when his mother feared for him she bore him on a little donkey of hers and went off as a fugitive with him. This is almost certainly an excerpt from the lost first section of Ibn Ishq's Kitb al-Maghzi for the isnd occurs 380 times in Tabari's Tafsir and is generally thought to indicate the transmission of Ibn Ishq's work in Raiy.16 The work was regarded with suspicion because Ibn Ishq relied on Jewish and Christian informants for his material. The second tradition reported by Tabari is traced back to Ibn Jurayj (d. 150/767 or 151/768) via al-Qsim, al-Hussayn, and Hajjj. According to this tradition Jesus asked which bird would be the hardest to create. When told that the bat would be hardest because it was nothing but flesh, he made a bat. The isnd supporting this tradition occurs 450 times in Tabari's Tafsir. There are a further 700 instances in which Ibn Jurayj's informant is named as Mujhid and 180 instances in which he is Ibn cAbbs. Horst suggests that all three variants of this isnd indicate Tabari's use of a written work by Ibn Jurayj.17 Once again we are faced with a source which is questionable for Suyt says of Ibn Jurayj that he did not aim at reporting healthy traditions but transmitted what was mentioned concerning each aya regardless of whether it was "healthy" or "sick."18 Zamakhshari makes only a passing reference to the existence of a tradition that what Jesus created was a bat. Rz refers to traditional reports about the miracle in the following manner: It is related that when Jesus, upon him be peace, laid claim to prophethood and produced miracles they began to harass him and ask him to create a bat. So he took clay and formed it and blew into it. And lo! it flew between heaven and earth. Wahb said that while it was flying people kept their eyes on it but when it had disappeared from view it dropped down dead. Subsequently people disagreed. One party said he only created a bat but others said he created different sorts of birds. Nfc's reading would support the former view whereas the majority reading would support the latter. The Wahb to whom Rzi refers is Wahb b. Munabbih (d. 110/729) the Yemenite of Persian origin who was notorious for his interest in Jewish and Christian traditions.19 Neither Baydw nor Ibn Kathr so much as alludes to any of the above traditions. In the case of Ibn Kathr this is as we should expect because the traditions are all Isr'iliyyt.


H. Horst, "Zur berlieferung im Korankommentar at-Tabaris," ZDMG, CHI (1953), 290-307 (see

303). Ibid., 295. Jall al-Din al-Suyti, al-itqnfi*ulm al-Chit*an, 2 parts bound in 1 volume (Beirut, 1399/1979), part 2, p. 189, lines 9f. 19 In Tabari there are 41 instances in which Wahb is given as Ibn Ishq's informant; see Horst, ZDMG, CHI, 303. But Rzi seems to be citing a different tradition from that which Tabari attributes to Ibn Ishq.
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4) What Did Jesus Blow Into? There is a puzzling difference between S. 3:49 and S. 5:110. In both instances what Jesus creates from clay is described somewhat circuitously as kahayati 'l-tayri "something resembling the form of birds." Yet in S. 3:49 he blows flhi whereas in S. 5:110 he blows fiha. Tabari's explanation is that both are grammatically correct, but that in S. 3:49 he blows "into them" i.e. into the "birds," whereas in S. 5:110 he blows "into it" i.e. into "the form of birds." Zamakhshari's explanation is more refined. In both cases Jesus blows "into it," i.e. into "something resembling the form of birds," but in S. 3:49 the construction is regarded as masculine because of "birds" which is masculine whereas in S. 5:110 it is regarded as feminine because of "form" which is feminine. Rzi and Baylwi give the same explanation as Zamakhshari without acknowledging it as his. Ibn Kathr does not draw attention to this difference between S. 3:49 and S. 5:110. He neatly sidesteps the issue by the way in which he paraphrases the two passages substituting a masculine noun in the first instance and a feminine noun in the second. Thus in paraphrasing S. 3:49 he has Jesus blow into the "shape" (shaki) which he "represents" (sawwara) and in S. 5:110 he has him blow into the "representation" (stira) which he "shapes" (shakkala) !

5) The Reading of'Abdallah b. Massud Tabari also knows a reading of S. 3:49 in which the preposition fi "into" is omitted and the pronominal suffix -ha is attached directed to the verb "blow." He deals with this matter last of all and introduces it as "one of the two readings" which is his habitual shorthand expression for the reading of Ubayy b. Kacb (d. 29/649) and 'Abdallah b. Mascd (d. 33/653) which failed to gain canonical status. Tabari accounts for the existence of this reading by citing other instances in which the desert Arabs sometimes omit prepositions. For example they say, "On many a night I rode her to breaking point" (battuha). and "On many a night I rode on her to breaking point" (battu fiha). Then there is the poet who said: *No breast has been rent and no mourning woman has attended thee* *Nor have the nobles bewailed thee along with the spoils.* In this instance "has attended thee" (qmatka) replaces the more usual "has attended upon thee" (qmat calayka). Tabari's final example, which he cites without comment, is something of a tour deforce. It is another line of poetry: *One of the Ban cAyyidh Allah went off with her* * A charming character. [She will not return] until the [last] trumpet is blown.* This is particularly apposite because it involves the verb nafakha, the verb in question in S. 3:49. Moreover the expression "the [last] trumpet is blown" is a Qur'anic one except that whereas the Quian always includes the preposition


(yunfakhu fi-sri) the poet has left it out (yunfakhu -sra).20 Zamakhshari also mentions this reading of S. 3:49 and attributes it to 'Abdallah (i.e. "Abdallah b. Mascd). The lengthy explanation given by Tabari is not repeated. Instead we are given Ibn Mascd's own comment that Jesus blew like a blacksmith blowing coals. Rzi, Baydw, and Ibn Kathir do not mention this reading. By their time 'exceptional' readings were no longer a live issue for they rarely found protagonists.21

6) The Meaning of the Verb khalaqa As was mentioned earlier, the verb used to denote Jesus' "creating" something from clay is khalaqa a verb which the Quinan reserves almost exclusively for God's activity. It will therefore be of considerable interest to see how the commentators deal with this word at S. 3:49 and S. 5:110. In his initial paraphrase of these two ayas Tabari retains the verb khalaqa without so much as providing a synonym. Throughout the commentary his usual practice is to deal with key terms when they are encountered for the first time. The first occurrence of khalaqa is at S. 2:21, "O Mankind serve your Lord who created you." But Tabari does not discuss the term when dealing with that passage either. It looks therefore as though he was unaware of any problems concerning its meaning. At S. 3:49 Zamakhshari simply glosses the verb in question with another (qaddara) which generally means "determine" or "make in proportion." At S. 2:21where of course God is the agenthe defines "creating" (khalq) as "the bringing of the thing into being by proportioning it and making it regular" (ijdu 'l-shay*i 'ala taqdirin wa istiwcPin). In support of this he cites the expression "to fashion a sandal" (khalaqa 'l-ncfala).22 Rzfs treatment of the verb is much more extensive. When commenting on S. 3:49 he draws attention to his earlier discussion of the matter in the comments on S. 2:2123 but sees no harm in repeating himself. The two accounts overlap to a large extent so in summarizing Rzfs position I shall attempt to combine them. He begins by referring to the philologist Ibn al-Anbri (d. 328/940) whose work he knows from the Tahdhib of al-Azhari (d. 371/982). According to Rzi, Ibn alAnbri showed that khalq had the meaning of taqdir (determining, measuring), taswiya (arranging, making regular) and taswir (fashioning, representing). The case for this is based on evidence from the Quinan, from poetry, and from other nonQuranic expressions.

S. 6:73; 20:102; 27:87; 78:18. Little more than a decade after Jabari's death Ibn Shannabdh was condemned for declaring it permissible to make use of these readings. See Watt, Bell's Introduction, pp. 47-50. 22 Zamakhshari, I, 228. 23 Rzi, I, 209.



(a) The Qur'n. Rz draws attention to four ayas or groups of ayas: i) "So blessed be God the best of creators (ahsanu -khliqina), S. 23:14. Since human beings cannot be creators in the sense of "causing to be" (takwin) and "originating" (ibd&) the word "creator" (khliq) should here be interpreted in terms of "determining" and "arranging." ii) "This is only a creation (khuluq) of the men of old," S. 26:137. "You create (takhluqna) a falsehood," S. 29:17. "This is nought but an invention (ikhtilq)? S. 38:7. In these ayas khalaqa and its derivatives are applied to lying because the liar determines and fashions a falsehood in his imagination, iii) "Lo! I create (akhluqu) for you from clay something resembling the form of birds," S. 3:49. "And when thou createdest (takhluqu) from clay something resembling the form of birds," S. 5:110. In these two ayas, which are of course the ones which concern us, Rzi follows Ibn al-Anbri in opting for the sense of determining and fashioning, iv) "He it is who determined (khalaqa) for you all that is in the earth," S. 2:29. Rzi only gives this final citation from the Qur^n in the second of his two discussions, that is to say when he is dealing specifically with S. 3:49. This may imply that it is his own contribution to the debate. He argues that the perfect tense of khalaqa indicates God's activity in the past. Yet it is nonsense to suppose that everything that is on the earth at present had already been "created" by God if what is meant by this is that He had already brought it into being and originated it. The meaning must be rather that He "determined" or "predetermined" (qaddara) everything in the past. (b) Poetry. After dealing with the Qur'anic evidence in the above manner Rzi adduces two lines of poetry. The first, which he attributes to Zuhayr, is as follows: *Thou indeed cuttest what thou has measured (khalaqta).* some of the people measure (yakhluqu) then do not cut.* This is in fact the seventeenth line of a twenty-three line poem by the celebrated pre-Islamic poet Zuhayr b. Abi Sulm.24 The poet is eulogizing Harim b. Sinan and the meaning is that unlike others Harim executes the plans he determines on. Rzi does not name the author of the second line of poetry and I am unable to place it. I tentatively suggest the following vocalization and translation: *wa lyu't bi aydi -khliqina wa lei* *aydi -khawliqi -ajyadu ill dama* *The graceful-necked [horse] is not surrendered to those who have their designs [on it]* *not to the smooth mountains, without bloodshed.*

Zuhayr b. Abi Sulm, Diwan (Beirut, n.d.), p. 29.


(e) Non Qur'anic Expressions. The first example which RzI gives is the one which we have already encountered in Zamakhshari, khalaqa 'l-na'ala which means "to fashion a sandal." To this he adds the following: ahdithu -khalqi, "ficticious tales," an expression used by the desert Arabs in speaking of reports which they do not believe; khalaq, "a portion," i.e., a measured amount; khaliq, "suitable," Le., endowed with a measure of worthiness; al-sakhratu 1-khalqeFu -malsFu, "the smooth flat rock," i.e., the rock which has become regular in contrast with rocks that are rough and irregular; akhlaqa -thawbu, "the garment wore out," i.e., it became threadbare so that its roughness and irregularity became smooth and regular. Having reviewed all of this philological evidence Rzi concludes that Ibn alAnbri's explanation of the verb was correct. Now if this is the case it calls into question the legitimacy of calling God al-Khliq1* for it might well be thought that this involved ascribing human qualities to God. Rzfs two discussions of this issue complement each other and merit translation. In his commentary on S. 2:21 he gives the conflicting opinions of two Muctazilite scholars before stating the orthodox consensus and his own hesitation about it. The Qdi cAbd al-Jabbr [d. 416/1025] said, "Khalq is an action with the same meaning as taqdir. Classical Arabic does not require that that action should stem only from God. On the contrary, Scripture speaks against such a view when God says, 'So blessed be God the best of creators," and 'And when thou [Jesus] createdest from clay something resembling the form of birds.' But when the Exalted One performed actions He certainly had knowledge of the consequences and the particulars of the enterprise. There is no action of His which is not like that. So of course this name should be conferred on Him in a special sense." Abu cAbd Allah al-Basri [d. 369/970] said, "The name al-Khliq cannot be applied to God because taqdir and taswiya amount to fikr (thought), zann (supposition) and husbn (reckoning). And that is impossible in respect to God." The greater part of the Sunni orthodox said that khalq was equivalent to bringing into being (ijd) and causing to be (insh3). They adduced in support of this the Muslim saying "There is no khliq besides God." But if khalq is equivalent to taqdir that is incorrect. In his commentary on S. 3:49 Rzi omits the quotation from cAbd al-Jabbr but repeats the quotation from Abu cAbd Allah al-Basri almost verbatim. Then he continues: Our fellows [i.e. the Ashcarites? or the Sunni orthodox in general?] said that God alone is al-Khliq. In support of this they adduced God's saying, "God is the khliq of all things." (S. 13:16 and S. 39:62). Some of them have also adduced His saying, "Is there any khliq other than God who provideth for you . . . ?" (S. 35:3). This is a weak argument because what He actually said

"The Creator," one of the ninety-nine names of Allah.


THE MUSLIM WORLD was "Is there any khliq other than God who provideth for you from the sky . . . ?" The meaning of this is, is there any khliq other than God who may be described as providing from the sky? It is unnecessary for the person who believes that there is no khliq who fits this description other than God to believe that there is no khliq other than God. They answer Abu cAbd Allah's statement by saying that taqdir and taswiya are equivalent to cilm (knowledge) and zann (supposition) but that although the latter is impossible in God's essence the former is established.

Of this learned theological debate we find not a trace in Baydw who reproduces almost word for word the comments of Zamakhshari. Subsequent orthodoxy tended to cut the Gordian knot by supposing that the verb khalaqa had two senses: the root sense established by Ibn al-Anbri and the special sense which was only applicable to God. This seems to be the position which is assumed without discussion by Ibn Kathir. In commenting on S. 3:49 he glosses it with qaddara and sawwara but at S. 2:21 where God is the agent he says that God brought them out "from non-existence to existence" (min al-cadmi ila -wujdi).26 7) The Significance of Blowing into the Birds None of thefivecommentaries consulted links Jesus' blowing into the birds with God's blowing His Spirit into man. Rzi does, however, mention the possibility that Jesus' breath was in some way special. What he says in the context of commenting on S. 3:49 is tantalizingly brief and ambiguous. He remarks that some theologians claim that this ya indicates that the Spirit is a fine substance like the wind and is thus presented as breath. He indicates that there is debate about whether it is permissible to say that God endowed Jesus' breath with particular efficacy so that when he blew into things it caused them to come to life.27 He espouses the alternate view, namely that God created life by His own power at the moment when Jesus blew. In support of this he adduces two ayas from the Qur'n. Firstly God is described as "[He] who created (khalaqa) death and life," S. 67:2. Secondly, when Abraham was involved in a dispute he said, "My Lord is He who gives life and causes death," S. 2:258. Abraham's argument would have been worthless if this were true of anyone else. So far Rzfs position is, I think, perfectly clear, but he does not stop at this point. He adds that according to the Quinan Jesus was begotten solely by Gabriel's blowing into Mary and that therefore since Gabriel is a pure spirit and a pure spiritual being it of course follows that Jesus' breath was life and spirit.

Ibn Kathir, 1,99. This is the view subsequently popularized by Ibn cArabi. See Muhyi-d-din Ibn 'Arabi (sic /), The Wisdom of the Prophets, trsl. Angela Culme-Seymour (Gloucestershire: Beshom Publications, 1975), p. 70.




8) The Meaning of bi idhni 'llahi The final issue raised by the Qur'anic account of the miracle of the birds is the precise significance of the expression which I have translated as "by God's leave." In paraphrasing the miracle of the birds in S. 3:49 Tabari does not give a synonym nor does he subsequently discuss the matter. When dealing with the reference to raising the dead, where the proviso is repeated, he links it with Jesus' habit of petitioning God before performing healings. Zamakhshari likewise only discusses the expression in S. 3:49 when it is repeated after the reference to raising the dead. But his explanation is different; he says that it was spoken as a rebuttal of any who would attribute divinity to him because of what he did. At S. 5:110 where God says "by My leave," he glosses it as bi tashl, "by my facilitation" or "by my supplying." Rzi goes into greater detail. In commenting on S. 3:49 he says that the expression means bi takwini 'llhi wa takhliqihi "by God's causing to be and determining." In support of this interpretation he cites, "No soul can ever die except by God's leave," S. 3:145, i.e., except God bring about his death. Rzi adds that Jesus mentioned this proviso to abolish all doubt by making it clear that although he made the representation of the birds from clay it was God who created the life. In commenting on S. 5:110, however, he notes that in this version of the miracle of the birds the proviso is mentioned twice that is to say in connection with the initial fashioning from clay as well as in connection with the coming to life. Rzi simply says that this is to emphasize that what occurred originated in God's determining power rather than in Jesus' creative power. Baydw only comments on the expression at S. 3:49. He says that Jesus indicates thereby that it is God and not he himself who makes the birds come alive. In his comments on S. 3:49 Ibn Kathir says that the birds flew visibly by leave of God who granted this miracle to Jesus, thereby indicating that He had sent him. In his comments on S. 5:110 he says that they become birds "by God's leave and creation" and in the same aya, when the expression occurs in connection with the raising of the dead, he says that they rose from their tombs "by God's leave and His power and His decree and His volition." But what really puts the proviso into perspective is Ibn Kathir's general comment on the miracles: Many of the ulama say that God sent each one of the prophets with what suited the people of his period. What predominated in the period of Moses (on whom be peace) was magic and the aggrandizement of magicians. So God sent him with a miracle which dazzled and bewildered every magician and when they were confident that it was from the Almighty the Omnipotent, they were led to Islam and became God's devoted servants thereof [cf. S. 7:120ff., etc.]. As for Jesus (on whom be peace), he was sent in the period of physicians and natural scientists. So he brought them signs which nobody could have had access to except were he supported by Him who prescribed the way. For from whence would a physician obtain the power to give life to an inanimate object or for the cure of the blind from


THE MUSLIM WORLD birth and the leper and for the raising of one who was in his tomb pledged for the Day of Judgement? Likewise Muhammad (the blessings and peace of God be upon him) was sent in the period of those who were skilled in Arabic and of the eloquent and the troops of poets. So he brought them a Book from God (Mighty and Majestic is He). And if "man and jinn were to unite and produce the like" [S. 17:88] or "ten suras the like of it" [S. 11:131] or "a sura the like of it" [S. 2:27; 10:38], they would never be able "though they were helpers one of another" [S. 17:88]. That is nought save the speech of the Lord (Mighty and Majestic is He). The speech of the creatures will never bear a resemblance to it.28



Now that we have completed our analysis of the data of the commentaries we have studied, we are in a position to offer some observations: a) The commentators attach great importance to issues which have nothing to do with the Qur'anic representation of Jesus. They are concerned for instance about variant readings and grammatical anomalies which might be thought to detract from the perfection of the Quinan. b) There is virtually no awareness of the Christian tradition. The Isr'iliyyt have little in common with either the canonical or the apocryphal gospels. Even the discussion of khalaqa is presented as something which is pertinent solely to Muslim theology and without reference to the Christian belief in the Logos as God's agent in creation. c) The Quin's attribution of unprecedented miracles to Jesus is not a cause of embarrassment. On the contrary, since Jesus is a prophet the miracles which God vouchsafes him must be sufficiently great to convince those to whom he is sent. Hence the commentators tend to exaggerate the miraculous rather than play it down. d) There is a dearth of traditions relating to the Quranic texts which we have studied. There are no particular hadith, nor are there any asbbu -nuzl purporting to give the context of the revelation. More surprising is the total absence of reports stemming from the companions of the Prophet and their pupils, for such reports are dominant in many sections of the commentaries of Tabari and Ibn Kathir. e) There is a need for a more thorough study of the verb khalaqa. For instance, it is surely noteworthy that in the Quinan, where the finite verb occurs 173 times in the active voice, God is the subject in no less that 162 instances. Moreover, 8 of the remaining 11 instances are scarcely exceptions since in them it is used mockingly: the subject is the pagan deities or man whose creative power is implicitly denied. Might it not be the case that in the one instance where the finite verb is used of human beings creating a falsehood it is also used mockinglyimplying that they cannot create anything substantial? Certainly the two instances in which Jesus is

Ibn Kathir, II, 41.



the subject stand out as exceptional and should not be used as primary data for establishing the meaning of the verb!29 f) The commentators proffer a bewildering variety of explanations for the* proviso "by God's leave." In view of the absence of authoritative traditions about it, such explanations hardly amount to more than personal opinion. The conclusion seems justified that a serious consideration of the classical commentators does not close the door to an "open" Muslim-Christian dialogue.
College of St. Paul NEAL ROBINSON

and St. Mary Cheltenham, United Kingdom

The non-QuPanic evidence is problematic since we no longer have access to the oral culture tapped by the early philologists. Yet this does not impinge on the semantic world of the Quinan.


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