Letters to the Editor
Q: Is two-way communication possible with Allah?
Please this issue’s lead article.
Problems with Ahadith
Q: What is the correct understanding of the following Hadith?
Narrated by Abu Huraira, the Prophet said, “In very hot weather, delay the Zuhr prayer till it becomes cooler because the severity of heat is from the raging of Hell-fire. The Hell-fire of Hell complained to its Lord saying: ‘O Lord! My parts are eating (destroying) one another.’ So Allah allowed it to take two breaths, one in the winter and the other in the summer. The breath in the summer is at the time when you feel the severest heat and the breath in the winter is at the time when you feel the severest cold.”
Prophets speak in the language of the people and that of the day. They use the same terminology as current in their times. They do not use words, or concepts in advance of their inventions, except that, they lead to greater meaning by speaking in parables.
If a man is asked in our times why is summer hotter than winter, he will straightaway answer that Earth is closer to the Sun in the summer and that is why it is hotter. And, likewise, the Earth is farthest from the Sun in the winter and so it is cooler.
In actual fact, when the Earth is about five million kilometers closer to the Sun, because of its lopsided movement around the Sun, and, although it receives 7% more light in that phase, it is not hotter at all then. In fact, the Earth is hottest when it goes farthest from the Sun in July.
Changes in the seasons are caused because the Earth is tilted by 23.5 degrees with reference to the Sun. The Earth spins around this axis while revolving around the Sun; and, it is the exposure of the land area to the Sun that accounts for the heat in summer.
Changes in weather have other factors governing it. But that is quite complicated for the non-specialists.On the other hand, studies connected with the effect of Solar Winds on earth’s climate are not yet complete.
So, if you think that a Prophet should speak out scientific facts, then, what language was he to adopt? Whatever language he spoke, it would not be understood by the majority of peoples of all ages. If you asked a graduate today about what causes weather changes, he would give you the wrong reason, as demonstrated above. Therefore, the Prophet put it as simply as possible, as in the above hadith of Bukhari.
Nonetheless, seeing that a Prophet does not speak out but that which is necessary, we should continue to search for the meaning that could be hidden in his words, i.e. ‘the Sun is allowed to breathe twice.’ It is all the more reasonable to search for a scientific meaning because his words about the Sun saying, ‘some of my parts are eating one another,’ is quite clear in that its hydrogen is being burnt off so that one day it will be left with no hydrogen, but only helium. Admittedly, that does not explain the ‘eating of some by others’ very well. But it does come close.
But, to assume that there has to be a scientific truth behind the statement is also wrong, because science has its limits; but knowledge has no limit. The Prophet could be speaking of factors and forces that science will never unravel.
Q: There are other ahadith which deals with science, e.g., where the Sun goes after it sets and rising of sun from the West in the end times.
Mohammad Ilyas Mir,
Once again, the meaning of the Prophetic statements of the above sort should not be searched in the literal sense. This applies to ‘where the Sun goes as it sets.’ But, the rising from the West should not be difficult to understand. If a large enough comet passes close to the Earth, it’s magnetic pull could cause the earth’s rotation to slow down, come to a halt and then start rotating in another direction as the comet distances away, all happening without the Earthians feeling any disturbance.
Alternatively, if the Earth rotates in such a way that the North Pole becomes South Pole and the South Pole north, for whatever celestial reasons, then too the Sun could be seen rising from the West.
All in all, we might point out that testing Allah’s words, and His Prophet’s statements, by the criteria of science, philosophy, or events, etc., before accepting them is a huge teleological error. The Qur’an is a miracle. But its miraculous nature does not consist in making scientific statements; but rather in not making any statement of unscientific nature; in other words, in not making an error: of any sort, scientific, social, psychological, legal, etc.
The distinction makes a huge difference in our approach to the Qur’an. Looking for statements that are confirmed by science, will distance one away from the Qur’an because, he will start by studying science, and then apply its rules or data to the Qur’an. But since scientific data is ‘always’ incomplete, there are many reasons to err in understanding and interpreting them.
On the other hand, the second method of “discovering” that there are no errors in the Qur’an, leads to the study of the Qur’an itself; and the Qur’an will never communicate a wrong idea to a sincere and honest reader. On the contrary, it leads to the belief that it is infallible. While the earlier mentioned method of study leads to weakness in faith, the latter leads to strength in faith.
This wrong approach, i.e. testing the Qur’an and hadith with external data, has resulted in, and continues to, distancing of the Muslim youth from the study of the Revelation. The problem is compounded by the fact that today’s educated Muslim neither know the Qur’an, nor the science. Their faith is sandwiched in between. They are neither here, nor there, always full of doubts, with no personal conviction.