LITERAL OR INDEFINITE PERIODS OF TIME?
Muslim apologists often claim that Genesis is literally inaccurate because the earth is much older than 10,000 years – and in trying to dismiss this accusation by saying a "day" of creation might not be an actual 24 hour solar day, but an unspecified period of time, Biblical creationists fall into the trap of then having to address the Muslim objection of how plant life survived for many years before light existed. However if we look at the evidence it seems that it is actually the Quran and Muhammad's explanations which suffer from the same argument, except it is compounded by the fact that Muslims insist that the Islamic scripture and Muhammad's sunna are completely scientifically correct, being in perfect conformity with modern scientific claims and discoveries.
Our Objections To The Muslim Claims
The Quran in S. 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59 clearly teaches that God created "the heavens and the earth" in six days. The issue centers on the fact of whether these days are meant literally, or do they refer to God creating the universe over an indefinite period of time.
In this paper we will be examining the earliest Muslim sources in order to test the modern Muslim claims that the Quran, in agreement with modern scientific discoveries, teaches that the earth is actually billions of years old. The purpose for doing so is that modern Muslim Apologists often use this as an evidence that the Quran, unlike the Holy Bible, goes hand-in-hand with scientific fact. It is therefore presumed that this proves that the Quran is the word of God whereas the Bible is not.
Our first citation comes from Sahih Muslim, Chapter MCLV, The beginning of creation and the creation of Adam, Hadith No. 6707:
Abu Huraira reported that Allah's Messenger (mpbuh) took hold of my hands and said: Allah the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday and He created the mountains on Sunday and He created the trees on Monday and He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday and created light on Wednesday and He caused animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam (pbuh) after 'Asr on Friday; the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, ie. Between afternoon and night.
This Hadith sounds the death knell for any Muslim trying to interpret the days of the Quran as indefinite periods of time. Furthermore, this Hadith leaves us with a scientific difficulty since it states that light, i.e. sun, was not created until Wednesday, after the creation of vegetation such as trees. This becomes more evident in the following traditions.
The following traditions are taken entirely from The History of al-Tabari, Volume 1- General Introduction and from the Creation to the Flood (trans. Franz Rosenthal, State University of New York Press, Albany 1989), pp. 187-193:
"We have stated before that time is but hours of night and day and that the hours are but traversal by the sun and the moon of the degrees of the sphere.
Now then, this being so, there is (also) a sound tradition from the Messenger of God told us by Hannad b. al-Sari, who also said that he read all of the hadith (to Abu Bakr)- Abu Bakr b. 'Ayyash- Abu Sa'd al-Baqqal- 'Ikrimah- Ibn Abbas: The Jews came to the Prophet and asked him about the creation of the heavens and the earth. He said: God created the earth on Sunday and Monday. He created the mountains and the uses they possess on Tuesday. On Wednesday, He created trees, water, cities and the cultivated barren land. These are four (days). He continued (citing the Qur'an): 'Say: Do you really not believe in the One Who created the earth in two days, and set up others like Him? That is the Lord of the worlds. He made it firmly anchored (mountains) above it and blessed it and decreed that it contain the amount of food it provides, (all) in four days, equally for those asking'- for those who ask. On Thursday, He created heaven. On Friday, He created the stars, the sun, the moon, and the angels, until three hours remained. In the first of these three hours He created the terms (of human life), who would live and who would die. In the second, He cast harm upon everything that is useful for mankind. And in the third, (He created) Adam and had him dwell in Paradise. He commanded Iblis to prostrate himself before Adam, and He drove Adam out of Paradise at the end of the hour. When the Jews asked: What then, Muhammad? He said: 'Then He sat straight upon the Throne.' The Jews said: You are right, if you had finished, they said, with: Then He rested. Whereupon the Prophet got very angry, and it was revealed: 'We have created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days, and fatigue did not touch Us. Thus be patient with what you say.'"
This tradition not only states that the days of creation were literal, but that the heavens and the constellations were created after the earth! This is a major scientific problem!
"According to al-Qasim b. Bishr b. Mar'ruf and al-Husayn b. 'Ali al-Suda'i- Hajjaj- Ibn Jurayj- Isma'il b. Umayyah- Ayyub b. Khalid- 'Abdallah b. Rafi', the mawla of Umm Salamah- Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of God took me by the hand. Then he said: God created the soil on Saturday. Upon it, He created the mountains on Sunday. He created the trees on Monday. He created evil on Tuesday. He created light on Wednesday. He scattered the animals on the earth on Thursday and He created Adam as the last of His creatures after (the time of) the afternoon prayer in the last hour of Friday, in the time between the afternoon prayer and night(fall)."
"According to Muhammad b. 'Abdallah b. Bazi'- al-Fudayl b. Sulayman- Muhammad b. Zayd- Abu Salamah b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Awf- Ibn Salam and Abu Hurayrah who mentioned the hour (of Adam's creation) on Friday on the authority of the Prophet as he stated it. 'Abdallah b. Salam said: I know which hour it is. God began the creation of the havens and the earth on Sunday, and He finished in the last hour of Friday. Thus it is the last hour of Friday (in which Adam was created)."
"According to al-Muthanna- al-Hajjaj- Hammad- 'Ata' b. al-Sa'ib- 'Ikrimah: The Jews asked the Prophet: What about Sunday? The Messenger of God replied: On it, God created the earth and spread it out. They asked about Monday, and he replied: On it, He created Adam. They asked about Tuesday, and he replied: On it, He created the mountains, water, and so on. They asked about Wednesday, and he replied: Food. They asked about Thursday, and he replied: He created the heavens. They asked about Friday, and he replied: God created night and day. Then, when they asked about Saturday and mentioned God's rest (ing on it), he exclaimed: God be praised! God then revealed: 'We have created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days, and fatigue did not touch Us.'"
Al-Tabari then comments:
"The two reports transmitted by us from the Messenger of God have made it clear that the sun and the moon were created after God had created many things of His creation. That is because the hadith of Ibn Abbas on the authority of the Messenger of God indicates that God created the sun and the moon on Friday. If this is so, earth and heaven and what was in them, except the angles and Adam, had been created before God created the sun and the moon. All this (thus) existed while there was no light and no day, since night and day are but nouns designating hours known through the traversal by the sun and the moon of the course of the sphere. Now, if it is correct that the earth and the heaven and the what was between them, except what we have mentioned, were in existence when there was no sun and no moon, the conclusion is that all existed when there was no night or day. The same (conclusion results from) the following hadith of Abu Hurayrah reported on the authority of the Messenger of God: God created light on Wednesday- meaning by 'light' the sun, if God wills.
"Someone might ask: You have assumed that 'day' is just a noun designating a period of time (miqat) between the rising of dawn and the setting of the sun, and now, you assume that God created the sun and the moon days after He began creating the things He did. Thus, you established periods of time and called them 'days' while there was no sun and no moon. If you have no proof for the soundness of this, it is a contradictory statement.
The answer is: God called what I have mentioned 'days'. Thus, I have used for them the same designation He did. The use of 'days' when there was no sun and no moon may be compared to (the use of 'morning' and 'evening' in) God's word: 'They have their sustenance in (Paradise) in the morning and in the evening'- (using 'morning' and 'evening' in spite of the fact that) there is no morning or evening there, because there is no night in the other world and no sun and no moon, as God says: 'Those who do not believe are in doubt about it, until the Hour comes upon them suddenly, or the punishment of a barren comes upon them.' God called the Day of resurrection a 'barren day', because it is a day with no night after its coming. Speaking of the 'days' before the creation of the sun and the moon was intended to refer to a period of a thousand of the years of this world, each of which has twelve months of the people of this world. Their hours and days are counted by the traversal by the sun and the moon of the course of the spheres. Likewise, 'morning' and 'evening' in connection with the sustenance provided for the inhabitants of Paradise were used for a period of duration with which they were familiar in this connection as 'time' in this sphere, although, for the inhabitants of Paradise, there is no sun and no night.
"According to al-Qasim- al-Husayn- Hajjaj- Ibn Jurayj- Mujahid: God entrusts the management of everything to the angels for a thousand years, and then again until another thousand years have elapsed, repeating the process forever. He said: '(In) a day whose measure is a thousand years.' 'Day' is His saying to what he entrusts to the angels for a thousand years: 'Be! And it is.' But He called it 'day', calling it as He pleased. All this on the authority of Mujahid. He continued. God's word: 'A day with your Lord is like a thousand years of your counting', is entirely the same thing.
"Reports similar to the one that has come down on the Prophet's authority, that God created the sun and the moon after His creation of the heavens and the earth and other things, have come down from a number of early (scholars) as follows:
According to Abu Hisham al-Rifa'I- Ibn Yaman- Sufyan- Ibn Jurayj- Sulayman b. Musa- Mujahid- Ibn Abbas, commenting on: 'And He said (the heaven) and the earth: Come willingly or unwillingly! They said: We come willingly,' as follows: God said to the heavens: Cause My sun and My moon to rise and cause My stars to rise, and the earth He replied: Split your rivers and bring forth your fruit. Both replied:
'We come willingly.'
"According to Bishr b. Mu'adh- Yazid- Sa'id- Qatadah, commenting on: 'And He revealed in every heaven its command': He created in it its sun, its moon, and its stars, and what is good for it."
After citing these traditions, Tabari concludes:
"These reports, mentioned to us on the authority of the Messenger of God and those who mentioned them on his authority, have made it clear that God created the heavens and the earth before He created time, day and night, the sun and the moon. God knows best!" (bold emphasis ours)
Several comments are in order. First, unlike the fallible opinions of Christian Scholars of the Holy Bible, these traditions are binding upon Muslims since they are not the opinions of fallible men. Rather, they are the opinions of Muhammad himself, as well as Islam's premiere commentator, Ibn Abbas. This indicates that these are not merely fallible interpretations of the supposed infallible revelation of the Quran, but are rather the supposedly infallible commentary of the Prophet of Islam. Hence, whereas the opinions of Christian exegetes are not binding since it is merely their fallible understanding of the infallible Bible, these traditions stem from the mouth of Muhammad who knew the meaning of the Quranic passages better than anyone else.
Secondly, these traditions place the creation of the sun after plant and animal life. Taking into consideration that some Muslims viewed the days of creation as lasting thousands of years, this implies that the sun was not created until thousands of years after the creation of plant and animal life! This is clearly a gross scientific error, one which no scientist would support.
Finally, Tabari also records the fact that Muhammad believed that Adam was created over six thousand years before him. The following is taken from the same work of Tabari cited above:
"According to Ibn Humayd- Yahya b. Wadih- Yahya b. Ya'qub- Hammad- Sa'id b. Jubayr- Ibn Abbas: This world is one of the weeks of the other world- seven thousand years. Six thousand two hundred years have already passed. (The world) will surely experience hundreds of years, during which there will be no believer in the oneness of God there. Others said that the total extent of time is six thousand years. (pp. 172-173)
"According to Abu Hisham- Mu'awiyah b. Hisham- Sufyan- al-A'mash- Abu Salih- Ka'b: This world is six thousand years." (Ibid.)
"According to Muhammad b. Sahl b. 'Askar- Isma'il b. 'Abd al-Karim- 'Abd al-Samad b. Ma'qil I- Wahb: Five thousand six hundred years of this world have elapsed. I do not know which kings and prophets lived in every period (zaman) of those years. I aksed Wahb b. Munabbih: How long is (the total duration of) this world? He replied: Six thousand years." (pp. 173-174)
In fact, according to Tabari Muhammad believe that the end of the world was to occur 500 years after his coming:
"According to Hannad b. al-Sari and Abu Hisham al-Rifa'i- Abu Bakr b. 'Ayyash- Abu Hasin- Abu Salih- Abu Hurayrah: The Messenger of God said: When I was sent (to transmit the divine message), I and the Hour were like these two, pointing at his index and middle fingers." (p. 176, see also pp. 175-181)
Tabari comments on the meaning of the Hour being as close as Muhammad's index and middle fingers:
"Thus, (the evidence permitting) a conclusion is as follows: The beginning of the day is the rise of the dawn, and its end is the setting of the sun. Further, the reported tradition on the authority of the Prophet is sound. As we have mentioned earlier, he said after having prayed the afternoon prayer: What remains of this world as compared to what has passed of it is just like what remains of this day as compared to what has passed of it. He also said: When I was sent, I and the Hour were like these two- holding index finger and middle finger together; I preceded it to the same extent as this one- meaning the middle finger- preceded that one- meaning the index finger. Further, the extent (of time) between the mean time of the afternoon prayer- that is, when the shadow of everything is twice its size, according to the best assumption ( 'ala al-taharri)- (to sunset) is the extent of time of one-half of one-seventh of the day, give or take a little. Likewise, the excess of the length of the middle finger over the index finger is something about that or close to it. There is also a sound tradition on the authority of the Messenger of God, as I was told by Ahmad b. 'Abd al-Rahman b. Wahb- his paternal uncle 'Abd-allah b. Wahb- Mu'awiyah b. Salih- 'Abd al-Rahman b. Jubayr b. Nufayr- his father Jubayr b. Nufayr- the companion of the Prophet, Abu Tha'labah al-Khushani: The Messenger of God said: Indeed, God will not make this nation incapable of (lasting) half a day- referring to the day of a thousand years.
"All these facts taken together make it clear that of the two statements I have mentioned concerning the total extent of time, the one from Ibn Abbas, and the other from Ka'b, the one more likely to be correct in accordance with the information coming from the Messenger of God is that of Ibn 'Abbas transmitted here by us on his authority: The world is one of the weeks of the other world- seven thosand years.
"Consequently, because this is so and the report on the authority of the Messenger of God is sound- namely, that he reported that what remained of the time of this world during his lifetime was half a day, or five hundred years, since five hundred years are half a day of the days, of which one is a thousand years- the conclusion is that the time of this world that had elapsed to the moment of the Prophet's statement corresponds to what we have transmitted on the authority of Abu Tha'labah al-Khushani from the Prophet, and is 6,500 years or approximately 6,500 years. God knows best!" (pp. 182-183)
Hence, according to Muhammad not only is the world less than 7,000 years but it was to end on the seventh day, or seven thousand years from the time it was created.
Accordingly, the world should have ended sometime between 1070-1132 A.D., approximately 500 years after the birth and death of Muhammad. This is based on the fact that according to Tabari and others, the advent of Muhammad took place approximately 6,500 years from the time of creation. This is clearly a false prophecy.
Contrary to the modern Muslim view, the Quran and the earliest Islamic traditions do not teach that the earth is billions of years old. Furthermore, Muhammad's interpretation of Quranic verses on the creation of the universe leaves major scientific problems. His belief that the heavens and constellations were only created after the earth would find little support from any reputable scientist. Hence, Islam leaves us with more problems than solutions.
Articles by Sam Shamoun
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