I’ve already answered a common objection against the divinity of the holy Quran, namely that it teaches that the sun sets in a spring of dark mud. In this article I shall deal with a particular Hadith in which it is reported that the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) himself explained that the sun sets in a spring of dark mud:
عَنْ أَبِي ذَرٍّ، قَالَ كُنْتُ رَدِيفَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهُوَ عَلَى حِمَارٍ وَالشَّمْسُ عِنْدَ غُرُوبِهَا فَقَالَ هَلْ تَدْرِي أَيْنَ تَغْرُبُ هَذِهِ . قُلْتُ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ . قَالَ فَإِنَّهَا تَغْرُبُ فِي عَيْنِ حَامِيَةٍ
Narrated Abi Dharr (radi Allahu anhu): I was sitting behind the Messenger of Allah (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water. (Sunan Abi Dawud #4002)
The principle of our madhhab and maslak is not to accept every narration simply because it has come in a classic book of Hadith. In fact, we reject this narration of the sun setting in a spring of warm water because it manifestly contradicts a more authoritative version of the Hadith which appears in the Sahihayn. In that Hadith, the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) explained to sayyidina Abi Dharr al-Ghifari (radi Allahu anhu): “It goes and prostrates beneath the Throne, then it asks for permission (to rise) and permission is given to it. Soon it will prostrate, but it will not be accepted from it, and it will ask for permission (to rise) but permission will not be given to it; it will be said to it: “Go back to where you came from.’ So it will rise from its place of setting, and that is what Allah, may He be glorified, refers to in the verse (interpretation of the meaning): “And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term (appointed). That is the Decree of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing” [Yaa-Seen 36:38].
I shall comment on the meaning of this Hadith shortly. But first, it is quite clear that the narration from the Sunan of Abi Dawud which states that the sun sets in a spring of warm water must be rejected. Not only does it conflict with this more authoritative version of the Hadith, it also has some weakness in its chain:
From the above it is clear that the version of the hadeeth of Abu Dharr which is most likely to be correct is the first one, in which it says: “It goes and prostrates beneath the Throne”, in which it makes no mention of it setting “in a spring of warm water (innaha taghrubu fi ‘aynin haamiyah).” This is based on several factors:
This wording is that on which the majority of narrators and those with the best memories agreed upon, in the report from Ibraaheem at-Taymi.
The second version (“in a spring of warm water”) was narrated only by al-Hakam ibn ‘Utaybah from Ibraahem, and al-Hakam – although he was trustworthy – was described by an-Nasaa’i as mudallis [i.e., he used vague wording to give a wrong impression] in Dhikr al-Mudalliseen (no. 11). Ibn Hibbaan said: He used to engage in tadlees. End quote from ath-Thiqaat (4/144). None of those who narrated his hadeeth said that he clearly stated that he heard it from the previous narrator; rather they all said that his report included the word ‘an (from – instead of ‘I heard’, etc). Ibn Hajar mentioned him in Maraatib al-Mudalliseen in the second rank of mudalliseen (p. 30), who are the ones whose tadlees the imams (leading scholars) tolerated and from whom they narrated reports that they regarded as sound, because of their prominence and because they rarely engaged in tadlees compared to others, such as ath-Thawri; or (it was tolerated) because they did not use engage in tadlees except when narrating from a trustworthy source, such as Ibn ‘Uyaynah. The fact that this report is contrary to the report narrated by the trustworthy narrators confirms the possibility that tadlees occurred in this hadeeth in particular.
The first version was narrated by both al-Bukhaari and Muslim, whereas the second version was not narrated by these two shaykhs. That is because they thought the first version was more likely to be correct than any other. Undoubtedly the reports in the books of al-Bukhaari and Muslim take precedence, according to the critics and scholars, than those in other books and Musnads.
There is a great difference between the two versions. The first one describes the sun as prostrating beneath the Throne, whether at the time of sunset or at any other time, according to different versions of the hadeeth. Prostration beneath the Throne is a matter of the unseen, and no one knows how it is except Allah, may He be glorified and exalted. He, may He be glorified and exalted, has told us that all created things prostrate to Him, as He says (interpretation of the meaning):
“See you not that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, and the mountains, and the trees, and Ad-Dawab (moving living creatures, beasts, etc.), and many of mankind? But there are many (men) on whom the punishment is justified”
No one knows how this prostration is or when it happens or its real nature except Allah, may He be glorified and exalted. Similarly, the hadeeth of Abu Dharr is no different from this verse at all, and there is nothing objectionable in it.
Al-Khattaabi (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
It cannot be denied that it halts beneath the Throne, in a manner that we cannot see or comprehend; rather this is speaking about a matter of the unseen. So we should not disbelieve in it or ask how it happens, because our knowledge cannot comprehend it.
End quote from A‘laam al-Hadeeth Sharh Saheeh al-Bukhaari (p. 1893)
With regard to the second version, “It sets in a spring of warm water”, this is problematic, because the setting of the sun occurs when its disc disappears below the horizon, and it sets on some people and rises on others because of the movement of the earth around it. So it is not possible that the sun, which is of immense size, could disappear into a spring of warm water. With regard to the words of Allah, may He be exalted, in the story of Dhu’l-Qarnayn (interpretation of the meaning): “Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water” [al-Kahf 18:86], the commentators said that what is meant is to depict the scene that appeared before him, for he saw it on the horizon of the sea, as if it were sinking into it at the time of setting. The Holy Qur’an does not tell us that this was something that happnened in a real sense; hence Allah, may He be glorified, said “he found it setting” and He did not say “it was setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water.”
Al-Haafiz Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
That is, he way he saw the sun was as if it was setting in the ocean, which is something that happens to everyone who stands on the shore: he sees the sun as if it is setting into the sea, when in fact it does not leave the celestial path on which it is firmly established.
End quote from Tafseer al-Qur’an al-Kareem (5/191)
To sum up: whoever casts aspersions on the Sunnah because of this wording is ignorant of the precision of the hadeeth scholars in examining different versions of the hadeeth and distinguishing between the reports which are proven and those which are not proven. The fact that some scholars regarded this report as saheeh is problematic; rather what they intended was to class as saheeh the basis of the hadeeth, not to suggest that this version is more correct than that which is proven in as-Saheehayn: “It goes and prostrates beneath the Throne.”
Here I would like to point out that the Hadith of the sun prostrating beneath the Throne and requiring permission to rise are matters of the unseen which we cannot comprehend. True, the sun’s rising and setting is due to the rotation of the Earth upon its own axis, which is why when it is night in one hemisphere there is daylight on the other. For this reason, it may be said that the Hadith wording of the sun requiring permission to rise is problematic. One may even reject it as being true because these are not the divine Words of Allah. There is the possibility of a mistake in the narration or that the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) misunderstood the divine inspiration regarding the sun but Allah knows best.