So they turned away from him and departed.
"The Arabs say of one who thinks deeply that he is looking at the stars."
What Qatadah meant is that he looked at the heavens thinking of a way to distract his people. So he said,
(Verily, I am sick), meaning, weak.
Ibn Jarir narrated here a Hadith from Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, stating that the Messenger of Allah said;
لَمْ يَكْذِبْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ الصَّلَةُ وَالسَّلَمُ غَيْرَ ثَلَثَ كَذَبَاتٍ
ثِنْتَيْنِ فِي ذَاتِ اللهِ تَعَالَى قَوْلُهُ
بَلْ فَعَلَهُ كَبِيرُهُمْ هَـذَا
وَقَوْلُهُ فِي سَارَّةَ هِيَ أُخْتِي
Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him) did not lie except in three cases.
Two were for the sake of Allah;
one is when he said, Verily, I am sick;
and the second when he said, Nay, this one, the biggest of them (idols) did it.
and the third when he said concerning (his wife) Sarah, "She is my sister."
This Hadith is recorded in the books of the Sahih and Sunan with various chain of narrations.
But this is not the kind of real lie for which a person is to be condemned -- Allah forbid! One calls it a lie for lack of a better word, because it is abstruse speech used for a legitimate religious purpose, and it was said that what was meant by the words,
(Verily, I am sick) was, `I am sick at heart of your worshipping idols instead of Allah.'
Al-Hasan Al-Basri said,
"The people of Ibrahim went out to their festival and they wanted to make him go out too. So he lay down on his back and said,
(Verily, I am sick), and he started looking at the sky. When they had gone out, he turned to their gods and broke them."
This was recorded by Ibn Abi Hatim. Allah said;
فَتَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ مُدْبِرِينَ
So they turned away from him and departed