Ayat Al-Kursi Explained

Verse 255 of Surah Al-Baqarah, the second chapter of the Quran, is known as Ayat Al-Kursi – the Verse of the Chair (or Verse of the Throne). It derives its title from the word Kursi (Chair) appearing towards the end of the verse which alludes to the authority of Allah over everything else. The verse consists of several sentences that recount the perfection and dominion of Allah, and sum up the Islamic concept of monotheism. The verse summarizes some of His most important attributes and refutes some common misconceptions that people from various belief systems may have about their Creator.

Islam lays great emphasis on reciting, understanding, and acting upon the requirements of Ayat Al-Kursi. According to a hadith in Bukhari, anyone who recites Ayat Al-Kursi when going to bed at night is protected from Satan till morning. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ also urged reciting Ayat Al-Kursi at the end of each obligatory prayer as it facilitates entry into Paradise. (Nasai) Moreover, the Prophet’s ﷺ companion, Abdullah bin Masud, described Ayat Al-Kursi as “more magnificent” than anything in the heavens or on the earth. (Tirmidhi) The English translation of Ayat Al-Kursi is as follows. 

Allah – there is no god except Him, the Ever-Living, All-Sustaining. Neither drowsiness nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who could possibly intercede with Him without His permission? He (fully) knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them, but no one can grasp any of His knowledge—except what He wills (to reveal). His Chair encompasses the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of both does not tire Him, for He is the Most High, the Greatest.

Let us now understand the meaning of Ayat Al-Kursi in detail by breaking it up into phrases and short sentences.

Allah – there is no god except Him…

“God” implies someone worthy of worship. Allah is the only true God that exists, and thus, He alone deserves to be worshipped. What is worship, anyway? Worship means unconditional obedience, service, and devotion. In Islam, invoking someone for help, guidance, or forgiveness is also considered worship. Thus, Allah must alone be prayed to, and called upon, to the exclusion of all others.

The Ever-Living, All-Sustaining…

Two of the defining attributes of Allah are mentioned here. First, He is the Eternal – He has always been alive and shall continue to live forever. There is no concept of birth or death with Him; He has always been and shall always be. Second, Allah sustains all creation, providing them food, nourishment, and the means to sustain themselves. While the creation depends upon Allah for provision, He is self-subsisting. He does not rely on anyone for His existence nor does He require anyone’s assistance in any matter.

Neither drowsiness nor sleep overtakes Him…

Allah is free of human needs and weaknesses. He does not require any rest or sleep because He is far above any form of exhaustion or fatigue. He is always alert, watching over His creation, and witnessing every move they make, every word they utter, and every thought they entertain.   

To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth…

All that the heavens contain – the planets, stars, galaxies, and what is beyond our knowledge – belongs to Allah because He is the one who created all this. Similarly, the mountains, forests, deserts, glaciers, rivers, and oceans are all His. We are only custodians or trustees of the blessings He has provided us here on earth; even our material wealth ultimately belongs to Allah. Hence, we have the responsibility to use our resources wisely, share them with others, utilize them to promote the cause of truth and justice, and be thankful to Him.  

Who could possibly intercede with Him without His permission…?

Throughout history, humans have been obsessed with “intercession”. Even today, while a majority of people on earth do recognize the existence of a Divine Being, most of them invoke others to seek means of access to the Almighty. These intermediary beings include angels, spirits, alleged “children of God”, deceased humans, heavenly bodies, idols, and even animals. The implication here is that all such calls for intercession are futile because all authority rests with Allah alone. The intermediary beings cannot benefit or harm anyone, and can never be in a position to change the will of Allah. On the other hand, Allah has a direct connection with each human being; hence, each of us must call upon Allah directly, with hope and sincerity.

He (fully) knows what is ahead of them and what is behind them…

No matter is hidden from Allah, as His knowledge is all-encompassing. What is ahead of us or behind us can be interpreted in various ways. “Ahead” may refer to the future, including what awaits us in the hereafter, and “behind”, to the past, thus referring to the portion of the worldly life we have already lived. Alternatively, “ahead” may signify what is manifest – the things we can see, hear, or feel. According to this interpretation, “behind” would refer to the hidden aspects of this universe – what we do not yet know or do not have the capacity to grasp.

But no one can grasp any of His knowledge – except what He wills (to reveal)…

While Allah has complete knowledge of His creatures and what they encounter in life, the converse is not true. We humans, despite our intellectual advancements over the millennia, are unaware of many things about ourselves, the world we live in, and the wider universe. For this reason, whatever knowledge we possess must not make us arrogant, over-confident, or condescending. 

His Chair encompasses the heavens and the earth…

The “Chair” of Allah signifies His authority and dominion. He is the one who preserves the universe, and He shall hold everyone to account for their deeds. The “Chair” may be synonymous with the “Throne” of Allah referred to elsewhere in the Quran, or the Throne may signify a yet higher degree of rule and kingship. The “Chair” and “Throne” could be physical objects, or they may only be metaphors for the supreme authority of Allah. Either way, it suffices us to know that Allah alone sustains this universe; hence, calling upon anyone else is futile.

And the preservation of both does not tire Him…

The fact that Allah never feels any fatigue is re-emphasized here. Humans grow tired and drowsy after a hectic day of work. Allah, on the other hand, has never become tired or drowsy – not even after He created the universe – and shall never become so. This is a point of distinction between the Creator and the created: Allah is free of mortal needs and weaknesses.

For He is the Most High, the Greatest.

The verse closes with two more attributes of Allah. He has the highest status and He possesses the greatest might. Hence, He is worthy of all praise, glory, and devotion. And there is none comparable to Him.

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