Clay and Dust
(ṭīn, ṣalṣāl, turāb, ḥamaʾ, sijjīl)

Muzaffar Iqbal and Csaba Okvath

This entry includes all five forms of the earthy substance mentioned in the Qurʾān as material used (i) for the creation of the first human being, Ādam, upon him peace; (ii) by the Prophet ʿĪsā in forming a bird-figure; (iii) mentioned by Firʿawn to his grand vizier and high priest Hāmān for the construction of a tower to the heavens; and (iv) in stones used as projectiles to smite the People of Lūṭ and People of the Elephant. The Qurʾānic nouns for these six forms are: ṭīn, ṣalṣāl, turāb, ḥamaʾ and sijjīl.

Definitions and Usage

Ṭīn: The nominal form ṭīn is derived from the root ṭ-y-n and is defined as powdery earth mixed with water (al-turāb wal-māʾ al-mukhtaliṭ) (Rāghib, Mufradāt). The noun ṭīn is used 12 times in both indefinite and definite prepositional phrases and in an indefinite accusative form (min ṭīn: Q 6:2; 7:12; 23:12; 32:7; 37:11; 38:71, 76; 51:33; min al-ṭīn: Q 3:49; 5:110; ʿalā al-ṭīn: Q 28:38; ṭīnan: Q 17:61).

Ṣalṣāl: The nominal form ṣalṣāl (verbal forms ṣalṣala/yuṣalṣilu), derived from the root ṣ-l-l, denotes a ringing sound and refers to used to make earthenware (khazaf), after molding on a potter’s wheel, such ware is baked in kilns and the resultant material is called fakhkhār (Farāhīdī, ʿAyn, sub al-ṣād wa-l-lām; stem ṣ-l-l). The noun ṣalṣāl refers primarily to the reverberation of sound as when a dry vessel is struck, and secondarily to the material composing such a vessel (Rāghib, Mufradāt). It occurs in the Qurʾān four times in two specific constructions (Q 15:26, 28, 33: min ṣalṣāl min ḥamaʾin masnūn; Q 55:14: min ṣalṣālin kal-fakhkhār).

Turāb, from the root t-r-b, denotes dust or powdery earth (Rāghib, Mufradāt). It is used seventeen times in the Qurʾān.

ḥamaʾ, from the root ḥ-m-ʾ, is black mud; it is used three times (Q 15:26, 28, 33), in conjugation with masnūn (“altered”), thus giving the phrase ḥamaʾin masnūn (altered black mud).

Sijjīl, from the root s-j-l, is used three times (Q 11:82; 15:74; 105:4), it refers stones made from baked clay.

Material Used in the Creation of Humans

Clay (īn and ṣalṣāl both) is described as the primary material used for the creation of Ādam, upon him peace, and of humankind in general (Q 6:2; 7:12; 17:61; 23:12; 32:7; 38:71, 76) alongside dust (turāb) (Q 3:59) and water (see Q 21:30; 25:54). Abū Mūsā al-Ashʿarī (d. 44/ca.664), Allah be well-pleased with him, transmitted the following Hadith: “Allah the Exalted created Ādam from a handful that He took from all parts of the world, such that the descendants of Ādam appear according to this measure: some of them have a ruddy complexion, some black, and others white… Then his clay (īnatuh) was moistened (bullat) and became sticky clay (īn lāzib); some time passed and it became shaped and altered mud (amaʾ masnūn, see below); it was left for a period of time, then became resounding clay (alāl)” (Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil, Dhikr khalq Ādam; Tirmidhī, Sunan, Abwāb Tafsīr al-Qurʾān, [bāb] wa min sūrat al-Baqara). Commentators hold that the reference to the creation of humankind in He it is Who has created [all of] you from clay (Q 6:2) is a figurative one to Ādam (see below).

The Sufi master and exegete Abūl-Qāsim al-Qushayrī (376-465/986-1072) explains the symbolical significance of Q 6:2: “He established the original substance of clay and imbued it with wonders, and shed on it what is not shed on any [other] created being. The significance (ʿibra) is hidden in their union (bil-waṣl) and not in the origin (al-aṣl), for the union is nearness (qurba) [to the Creator] while the origin is dust (turba)” (Tafsīr). Rūzbihān al-Baqlī (d. 606/1209) writes, “The heavens are a body (jasad), and that body’s heart is the earth. Allah Most High singled out the heart of the heavens for His Majesty to shine therein, [as is stated] in the verse And the earth shall shine with the light of its Lord (Q 39:69). it is because of this special distinction that He created the outer form of Ādam from the heart of the world” (ʿArāʾis). The Moroccan Sufi exegete Ibn ʿAjība (d. 1224/1809) comments further, “Repositories (i.e., human bodies) are [made] of clay, while souls are [made] of the light of the Lord of the Worlds. Their being made from clay (ṭīniyya) is a covering [that conceals] the light of [Divine] nurturing lordship (rubūbiyya), which is the spirit (al-rūḥ). For the soul is one of the lights of sanctity (min anwār al-qudus) and one of Allah’s secrets. He who purifies and sublimates his earthly substance (naẓẓafa ṭīnatahu wa laṭṭafahā) may obtain the secrets of the divinity and the divinely bestowed knowledge (al-ʿulūm al-ladunniyya) and lights of the Divine Realm (anwār al-malakūt); and the secrets of the [supraformal] realm of Divine Omnipotence (asrār al-jabarūt) may be revealed to the soul” (Baḥr, sub Q 6:2).

The Qurʾān also describes Ādam’s creation from clay in the context of Satan’s prideful contrast with his own creation from fire: He said: What hindered you from falling prostrate when I commanded you? [Satan] said: I am better than him; You created me from fire and You created him from clay (min īnin) (Q 7:12; cf. Q 38:76). Exegetes explain that Satan draws a false analogy to arrive at an incorrect conclusion, being the first to do so (Qurṭubī and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs); and that in his arrogance he disdained the substance of Adam’s creation, saying “I am better than him” (Q 7:12) and “Shall I prostrate myself to one whom You created of clay?” (Q 17:61). The objection raised by Iblīs is “a rhetorical question with a negative meaning (istifhām bi-maʿnā al-inkār), by which the Devil meant, ‘My origin is more honorable than his” (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 17:61; cf. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). In this regard, ʿĀʾisha (d. 57/677/8), Allah be well-pleased with her, transmitted that “angels were created of light, Iblīs was created of smokeless flame of fire (min mārij min nār), and Ādam was created of that which has been described for you” (Muslim, Zuhd wal-raqāʾiq, aḥādīth mutafarriqa). Al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) observes:

The Enemy of Allah (i.e., Satan) preferred fire to clay, although these two belong to the same category in being inanimate substances. Nevertheless, clay is better than fire for four reasons: i) the essence of clay is gravity (razāna), tranquility (sukūn), sobriety (waqār), endurance (anāt), forbearance (ilm), and patience (abr); all these attributes impelled Ādam, peace upon him, after the felicity (saʿāda) destined for him, to repentance, humility, and supplication (taarruʿ); thus he acquired forgiveness, chosenness (ijtibāʾ), and guidance (hidāya). Whereas the substance (jawhar) of fire comprises flightiness (khiffa), impetuosity (aysh), violence (idda), turbulence (irtifāʾ), and instability (al-iḍṭirāb)…consequently [Iblīs] inherited eternal ruin (halāk), punishment, accursedness and damnation (shaqāʾ). ii) There are reports that state that the dust of Paradise is fragrant musk; but no reports state that there is fire in Paradise or that there will be any kind of soil in Hellfire. iii) Fire is an instrument of punishment and is the punishment of Allah for His enemies, whereas soil is not. iv) Clay has no need of fire, but fire needs a locus, and its locus is [in] soil. A fifth argument is possible: soil is a site of prostration (masjid) and is purificatory (ahūr), but fire is intimidation (takhwīf) and punishment, as in His words By that Allah threatens (yukhawwifu) His slaves (Q 39:16). (Tafsīr, sub Q 7:12)

This fifth possible argument is supported by the fact that the basic components of clay are water and soil, both of which are pure elements used respectively in wet and dry ablutions (wuūʾ and tayammum, see Ablution) (see Q 4:43 and 5:6). Due to their purity the earth in its entirety was made a site of prostration, according to the famous hadith concerning five things granted exclusively to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace (Nasāʾī, Sunan, Ghusl wal-tayammun, al-tayammun bil-ṣaʿīd, reported by Jābir b. ʿAbdullāh; the other four are safety for the distance of a month’s travel, the earth being a means of purification, his right of intercession and his universal mission).

The adjective “clinging” (lāzib) in the verse Verily, We created them of clinging clay (Q 37:11) is explained by linguists as synonymous with “adhering” (lāzim) and is paraphrased as “adhesive” (lāziq) (Zajjāj, Maʿānī). Al-Rāghib al-Iṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) defines the quality as “extremely firm” (al-thābit al-shadīd, thubūt) (Mufradāt, sub l-z-b); Ibn Fāris writes that “the stem l-z-b refers to the steadiness of something and to its constancy (luzūm)” (Maqāyīs). Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) offers further synonyms: iq (“sticky”), lazij (“adhesive”), and atid (“of pure origin”) (Tafsīr).

In another verse, clay appears in the complex grammatical construction Verily We created humankind from an extract of clay (min sulālatin min īnin) (Q 23:12), per Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688), ʿIkrima (d. 107/725), Qatāda (d. 117/735), and Muqātil referring specifically to the creation of Ādam (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb). Al-Farrāʾ (d. 207/822) defines this “extract” as “something pulled out of the ground” (al-sulālat allatī tusallu min kulli turbatin) (Maʿānī). Qatāda thus offered the lexical explanation that “Adam was pulled out (ustulla) of clay” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr). Al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) remarks that the “extract” is something “extracted (mustalla) from all [types of] earth (min kull turāb); this is why Ādam was created from soil collected from [across] the surface of the earth (min adīm al-ar)” (Tafsīr, sub Q 23:12).

In Q 6:2, humankind in general is described as originating from clay, given the plural suffix khalaqa-kum: It is He Who created you [all] from clay. The Qurʾān here refers to a single addressee, Ādam, with a plural locution (for more on this rhetorical device, see Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 51, Fī wujūh mukhāṭabātih). Exegetes explain that this may be a genealogical substitution, for Allah created Ādam from clay and in the verse addressed Ādam’s descendants, since Ādam is their ancestor and they are his progeny (al-Khāzin, Lubāb). Al-Rāzī draws on a series of mediating causes to explain the verse:

The prevalent interpretation (al-mashhūr) is that the intended meaning is that He, the Exalted, created them from Ādam, and Ādam was created of clay; for this reason He said: It is He Who created you from clay. I add: humans are created from sperm and menstrual blood, both of which originate from blood, while blood takes its origins from nourishment, as produced by foodstuffs. Foodstuffs may be of either animal or vegetal origin. If they originate from an animal source, this is a transitional stage in the formation of the human. Consequently, it is [ultimately] of vegetal origin. Thus it is verified that the human is [ultimately] created from vegetal foodstuffs and there is no doubt that these originate from clay; in such a way, it is proved that humankind is born from clay (mutawallid min īn). (Tafsīr)

The other term for clay, ṣalṣāl, appears in the Qurʾān in two constructions referring to the creation of the first human: And, verily, We created man from resounding clay of altered mud (min ṣalṣālin min ḥamaʾin masnūn) (Q 15:26, 28, 33); and He created man from resounding clay like the clay of pottery (min ṣalṣālin kal-fakhkhār) (Q 55:14). Exegetes (citing Abū Hurayra and al-Ḍaḥḥāk) agree that these verses refer to the creation of Ādam, upon him peace (Māwardī, Nukat and Jalālayn, Tafsīr, sub Q 15:26). Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) comments that Ādam was created from three different materials: resounding clay (ṣalṣāl), mud (ḥamaʾ), and clinging clay (ṭīn lāzib) (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). By general agreement, ṣalṣāl is defined as dry clay as yet untouched by fire or not yet fired in a kiln, whereas after being fired it is called fakhkhār (see variously Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Māwardī, Nukat; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Such dry clay has a clattering sound (ṣalṣala) if struck (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, as related by Qatāda) due to its dryness (Zajjāj, Maʿānī).

The first element of the prepositional phrase of altered mud (min ḥamaʾin masnūn), namely ḥamaʾ (sing. ḥamʾa), is generally identified as an altered black clay; the second element, namely the passive participle masnūn (from the stem s-n-n), is interpreted differently (Māwardī, Nukat; Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf). The linguists of Baṣra hold that the adjectival form masnūn means “fashioned mud” (ḥamaʾ muṣawwar), as in the expression “the facial form” (sunnat al-wajh). The Kūfan linguists explain masnūn as something altered (mutaghayyir), as if one were rubbed against the other (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr). Ibn Kathīr (700-774/1300-1373) defines it as something smooth or polished. On the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās, al-Qurṭubī asserts that masnūn means moistened vapid soil (Tafsīr).

Finally, the simile in Q 55:14 (like the clay of pottery) describes the final stage of clay’s preparation, evoking the fired (maṭbūkh) clay that yields earthenware (khazaf). The verse describes the final stage of the substance of creation: first Ādam’s creation from dust (turāb) (Q 3:59), then its transformation into clay (ṭīn), then into altered mud (ḥamaʾ masnūn), and ultimately into resounding dry clay (ṣalṣāl) (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya (481-541/1088-1147) writes in sum, “Allah Almighty created him from pure (ayyib) and impure (khabīth) clay of different colors; in one place He mentions his creation from this kind of clay, and in another place from that kind. But all the descriptions and attributes quoted in the Qurʾān concerning this issue refer to dust as the fundamental material of his creation” (Muarrar).

Material Used by Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace

Clay appears in two nearly identical verses, where the Prophet ʿĪsā, upon him peace, is sent to the Children of Isrāʾīl bearing a sign demonstrating his messengership (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:49)—namely, the miracle (muʿjiza) of breathing life into a clay bird figurine: that I shall produce (akhluqu) for you, from clay, a figure like that of a bird, then I will breathe into it and it will become a bird, by Allah’s leave (Q 3:49); and O ʿĪsā, son of Maryam, remember My favor to you and your mother when I supported you with the Holy Spirit…and when you shaped out of clay a form like that of a bird by My permission (Q 5:110) (see Jibrīl; Holy Spirit). Q 3:49 occasioned exegetical discussion for its use of the verb khalaqa (“to create”), which the Qurʾān otherwise reserves for the divine creation ex nihilo (e.g., Q 2:21, 29; 3:47; 5:1; 51:56, etc.). Abū Ḥayyān (d. 745/1344) (Bar) glosses the verb akhluqu here as uqaddiru (“I shape”) and uhayyiʾu (“I prepare”). While creation proper, in the sense of origination (inshāʾ) and causing the entity (ʿayn) to be existentiated (ibrāz) from pure non-being (min al-ʿadam al-irf), is ascribed only to Allah, the verb can also bear the meanings of taqdīr (“shaping”) and tawīr (“forming”). Abū Ḥayyān continues, “and [the particle “from”] in the Qurʾānic phrase (min ṭīnin,from clay”) is used to indicate a qualification (taqyīd), which means that he (i.e., ʿĪṣā) did not produce it from absolutely nothing; the substance from which he formed the shape of a bird is here mentioned.”

With reference to the figure like that of a bird mentioned in the verse, commentators cite the report transmitted by Wahb b. Munabbih (d. ca.109/728) that ʿĪsā, upon him peace, produced miracles in support of his claim to prophethood. His people called upon him to create a bat (khuffāsh), whereupon he picked up a handful of clay, shaped it, breathed into it, and it flew in the sky. Wahb added, “It kept flying as long as people could see it by their own eyes; when the bat was far enough from them, it fell dead on the earth” (Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Al-Qurṭubī adds, “the shaping of clay and the breathing into it by ʿĪsā was from Allāh,” as explained in the phrase, by Allah’s leave (Tafsīr).

Material used by Pharaoh

The Qurʾān mentions clay as a raw material used for construction by Pharaoh (see Firʿawn), the tyrannical ruler of Egypt: O Hāmān, Kindle a fire for me on clay, then set up for me a lofty tower so that I may obtain knowledge of the god of Mūsā; verily, I think that he (Mūsā) is one of the liars (Q 28:38). The phrase kindle a fire for me on clay metonymically refers to the heating up of kilns (afrān) for drying brick clay to be used in the construction of the tower (Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr). Pharaoh’s presumption also appears in Q 40:36-37: O Hāmān, build for me a lofty tower, so that I may reach the ways—“the ways of the heavens”—and I may have a look at the god of Mūsā.

Stones of Clay

Clay also forms weapons against evildoers, as in We have been sent to a people who are sinners, to send down upon them stones of [baked] clay (ḥijāratan min ṭīnin) (Q 51:32-33). The next verse describes these stones as marked by your Lord for those who trespass the set limits (Q 51:34), in this case namely the people of Lūṭ. According to Ibn Kathīr, each clay pellet was inscribed with the name of the person it would destroy (Tafsīr); Ibn ʿAṭiyya adds, “it is transmitted that it [was] clay baked in the fire of hell until it became as solid as baked brick” (Muḥarrar). Some commentators describe these objects as “stones of punishment” (ḥijārat al-ʿadhāb) with black and white or black and red stripes (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Elsewhere they are compared to torrential rains: And We rained on them stones of baked clay (ḥijāratan min sijjīlin) layered one on another (manḍūd) (Q 11:82; see also Q 15:74). Al-Ṭabarī writes of the term here used for baked clay (sijjīl), “it is in Persian, consisting of two words, sang and gil” (Tafsīr, sub Q 11:82). Al-Jawālīqī (465-540/1072-1145) offers more detail, writing “Ibn Qutayba said al-sijjīl is Persian: sang and gil, that is, stone and clay” (Muʿarrab, sub sīn, no. 336; cf. Suyūṭī, Itqān, Type 38, fī-mā waqaʿa fīh bi-ghayr lughat al-ʿArab; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub s-j-l, who calls it “Arabicized Persian”). The same expression appears in Q 105:4 (They pelted them with stones of baked clay), referring to the birds that destroyed Abraha’s army as it attacked Makka (see People of the Elephant).


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See also

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