Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) once clarified concerning the earth’s history:
God created clay on Saturday, mountains on Sunday, trees on Monday, things entailing labor on Tuesday, and light on Wednesday. He caused animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam after Asr on Friday, the last creation at the last hour [of creation]. (Sahih Muslim, # 1300)
Since the prophet died without having had the time to explain its meaning, this hadith —probably among his last— has been languishing, forgotten. And, because it suggests that the earth evolved in seven “days” and that light emerged after animals and trees (“on Wednesday”), it has been deemed scientifically inaccurate and relegated to the back-burner. But, with my training in geology, I find this to be amazingly and incredibly accurate.
But, let us step back and begin from how science and the Qur’an explain the sequence in which the universe was created. Since time immemorial, humans have simply assumed that the universe has been “static and stable”—that it has always existed as such and will continue to be the same unendingly.
But, then, in the early 1960s, peering at the sky over some years, scientists discovered that all heavenly bodies seemed to be moving away from each other. When this was confirmed by other scientists, the question that then arose was, from what point did they start moving away from each other? After much thought-provoking discussion, these scientists could only conclude that all heavenly bodies must have been joined together in a single mass at one point in space and time, before being split apart, eons ago, by some force.
That was around 1965. Today, we know this as the “Big Bang Theory.” It suggests that all objects in the universe were joined together in a single immensely compacted dense mass (“singularity”), probably the size of a golf ball! By poring over millions of datapoints spread over years, these scientists also concluded that, 13.7 billion years ago, that “singularity” exploded in all directions, probably like an aerial firecracker, with such tremendously great force that the universe is still expanding. Sounds awesome!
And here is how the Qur’an explains creation:
The heavens and the earth were joined together before God split them apart, and We made every living being out of water. [Surah Al-Anbiyâ’, 21:30]
With power and skill, we constructed the firmament. Verily it is We who are steadily expanding it. [Surah Al-Dhâriyât, 51:47]
Didn’t the Qur’an explain, 1,400 years ago, what scientists discovered in 1965? And, while verse 21:30 explains the splitting of that “singularity,” verse 51:47 explains that the universe continues to expand. While scientists have not yet figured out what was the “force” that caused the explosion, the Qur’an tells us it was Allah.
With this background, let us revert to the wonders of the Sahih Muslim # 1300 hadith. Here I present my understanding of the earth’s evolution as unraveled by this hadith, as well as my response to the two allegedly unscientific issues raised in that saying of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).
The Seven “Days”
Concerning the first issue, the Qur’an explains its usage of the word “day” (yaum in Arabic; pl. ayâm) when related to cosmology.
A day in the sight of your Lord is like a thousand years of your reckoning [Surah Al-Ḥajj, 22.47]
The angels and the spirit ascend unto him in a day, the measure whereof is (as) fifty thousand years. [Surah Al-Ma’ârij, 70:4]
Thus, the “day” mentioned in this hadith is not our normal 24-hour period, but an interval of indefinite duration, with the length of each “day” being approximated by the context of the subject being discussed. Here, using the word “day” will be similar to using the phrase “a swarm of bees.” This phrase could mean a hundred bees or it could mean a million bees.
And the seven categories named by the seven “days of the week,” as employed by the Prophet (ﷺ), were his ingenious and innovative way to help us segregate successive eras and save us from jumping back and forth in our contemplation. So, the hadith refers to seven distinct evolutionary developmental phases unfolding over the earth’s life history. The issue of “light” appearing after the appearance of some plants and animals, is discussed below under “Light on Wednesday.”
Understanding the Chronological Divisions as Used in
the Modern Science of Geology
Combining geology with theology, my explanation of this hadith follows. But, before going into the nitty-gritties of the earth’s evolution, let us understand the terms in which geologists divide the earth’s evolution, in line with scientific observation.
While scientists have determined that the “Big Bang” creating the universe occurred 13.7 billion years ago, they have also determined that the earth emerged as an independent unit only 4.6 billion years ago. And what happened during these 4.6 billion years? Geologists divide this period into the following specific “developmental” phases called “eras”:
Precambrian Era, from 4.6 billion years ago (bya), to 590 million years ago (mya);
Paleozoic Era, from 590 mya to 250 mya;
For our purpose, I sub-divide the Paleozoic Era as follows:
Earlier Paleozoic Era, from 590 mya to 360 mya;
Later Paleozoic Era, from 360 mys to 250 mya;
Mesozoic Era, from 250 mya to 60 mya; and
Cenozoic Era, from 60 mya to the present, and continuing.
And now, let us try to unravel the prophet’s above-mentioned hadith (Sahih Muslim # 1300) —matching up the Prophet’s categories with modern terminology.
The Evolutionary Developmental Phases
“Clay on Saturday”
After the universe was created via the “Big Bang,” which, the Qur’an explains beautifully and remarkably in verse 21:30 quoted above, the intensely hot and molten earth took about four billion years — from 4.6 billion bya to 590 mya – to cool down enough to form a crust of “clay/soil” —an immensely long period of time indeed! This process would be similar to cream forming on top of cooling milk. Geologists refer to this period as the “PRECAMBRIAN ERA.”
And while this stable crust was apparently in place by 4.4 bya, we know very little about that Era’s flora and fauna, despite its making up roughly seven-eighths of the Earth’s history. At that time, the earth must have been a desolate and barren place indeed, similar to pictures we see of the moon and Mars. Any life forms at that time must have been microscopic and must have emerged after the earth had cooled sufficiently and water had been created.
“Mountains on Sunday”
Differential temperatures and pressures within the earth triggered gigantic earthquakes during the succeeding “EARLIER PALEOZOIC ERA,” from 590 mya to 360 mya, thereby creating our initial mountains. That would be similar to applying pressure to potter’s clay from both sides, which makes the mass rise in the middle.
Life began in water (21:30 above), as also reiterated in verses 24:45 and 25:54, and then living creatures spread to the land.
And Allah has created every creature from water… [Surah Al-Nûr, 24:45]
And it is He who has created [the] human being from [this same] water… [Surah Al-Furqân, 25:54]
“Trees on Monday”
New life forms emerged on land and in water during the “LATER PALEOZOIC ERA,” from 360 mya to 250 mya. This included giant trees, the remains of which provide for us coal. The hadith accurately implies that plants were created before animals (to provide animals with food). The Paleozoic Era ended with the largest extinction event in the earth’s history, with most of the flora and fauna dying. The cause of this extinction remains speculative.
“Things entailing labor on Tuesday”
Also called “The Age of Reptiles,” the succeeding “MESOZOIC ERA” lasted from 250 mya to 60 mya. Reptiles such as dinosaurs and mammals, which probably experienced labor pain in childbirth as human females do, then populated the earth. This Era began in the wake of the above-mentioned extinction and ended with the following additional extinction:
Toward the end of “Tuesday,” a six-mile wide meteor, hurtling at 55,000 mph, reportedly crashed into the Gulf of Mexico, 65 mya, with the cataclysmic impact of a million atom bombs. This reportedly created the Chicxulub crater, with the meteor ripping 12 miles down into the earth, far deeper than the deepest hole dug by humans thus far (Russia’s Kola Super Deep goes down 7.5 miles).
This impact spewed mega tons of debris into the atmosphere, blocking off sunlight, and plunging the earth into darkness for a long time. Known as the K-T (Kreider-Tertiary) Extinction, this inhibited photosynthesis, killing 75% of the world’s flora and fauna. We experience that type of blocking-off of sunlight – in a greatly diminished fashion – when darkness envelopes the atmosphere in any area struck by a dust storm.
“Light on Wednesday”
When the above debris gradually settled down during the succeeding CENOZOIC ERA, sunlight re-basked the earth, 60 mya. So, it was not that light was created after the time when animals and plants had appeared, but rather that sunlight re-shone on earth after having been intercepted for so long by the blanket of debris caused by the crash of a large meteor.
This scenario would be similar to sunlight re-appearing after being cut off in a modern dust storm. Imagine how much more severe would have been a dust storm that lasted much longer—a type of sun-blocking storm that humans have not experienced thus far.
During this extended period of blocked out sunlight and decreasing temperatures, many glaciers emerged in the higher latitudes of North America, Europe, in parts of South America and parts of Asia, and in all of Antarctica. These glaciers advanced and retreated as climatic patterns alternated.
Thus this “day” was a time when plants and animals could again flourish and even further develop or “evolve.”
“Animals spreading out on Thursday”
Giant mammals, such as the mammoth, and other animals then gradually emerged in parts of North America and Eurasia, areas then not covered by ice, from around 60 mya, into the current CENOZOIC ERA. But, many of these mammals and other animals became extinct when the glacial period ended about 11,700 years ago. Then. new animals and plants – horses and dogs; lions and tigers; cows and camels; roses and lilies; date palm and coconut trees, etc.— started evolving.
“Creation of Adam on Friday”
Adam was created after Allah had made the earth habitable for mankind—late in the CENOZOIC ERA, that is, as Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) put it, “after Asr on Friday.” After all, while intellectually a giant among God’s creations, physically, the human being is among the weakest, most fragile, and most vulnerable of God’s creatures. Humans are the recent-most creation, emerging only between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago.
Looking at this amazing concise history of evolution, appropriately described in the above hadith —using terms understandable to even the least sophisticated human being, one cannot help but wonder: Could an illiterate 7th century Arab have made up this seemingly impossible story all by himself and gotten it right? A story which explains, with remarkable accuracy, and in amazingly correct chronology, some major events in the four-plus billion years of the earth’s creation and evolution—in agreement with the modern science of Geology? A story that also narrates the incident of “light” emerging after a period of darkness, which darkness, we now know as being due to the after-effects of the crashing of a gigantic meteor onto the earth?
Doesn’t this hadith, when properly interpreted through the eyes of modern science, provide the strongest evidence that Divinity revealed to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) “snapshots” of these major earth-history evolutionary development phases? Is there any other way to describe this hadith except as Divine insight given to Prophet Muhammad? Isn’t this reason enough for cynics to re-consider their philosophy, outlook, and attitude toward Islam as backward or crude in its treatment of events and processes studied in the sciences related to Evolution and Creation?
I suggest this hadith should be considered as a “flagship hadith” providing the most solid physical corroboration of the Prophet’s connection with the Divinity in terms of knowledge specific to the earth’s pre-history. While many hadith provide us with relevant information connecting spirituality with Divinity, the Sahih Muslim Hadith #1300 makes definitive statements about the creation and development of our world over millions, even billions, of years, a kind of understanding which could not have been known, unassisted, before the observations and analysis of modern data collection and methods of Geology.
It is here, for the first time, that we find a 14-century-year-old Divine confirmation in Islamic sources, presenting the sequence of Creation stated in meaningful physical terms. These “snapshots” of Creation given us in this hadith agree with a scenario constructed through current objective analysis worked out in Earth Science.
So then, let us then add these evolutionary developmental phases to the other amazing Qur’anic verses already mentioned above:
- Verse 21:30, explaining what is currently called the “Big Bang”
- Verses 24:45 and 25:54 explaining that all living creatures, including human beings, were derived from water, as Science currently teaches
- Verse 51:47 explaining that the universe continues to expand, again in agreement with current astronomy
Furthermore, verse 22:47 explains that a “day” can be as long as a thousand years; and verse 70:4 explains that a “day” can be even fifty thousand years long or longer. This meaning of the term “day” is consistent with the cosmological usage of that term in both English and Arabic. Do we not then become wonder-struck with the scientific validation of the Qur’an and Hadith in regard to the earth’s history: its creation and evolutionary development over eons of time! Some other Qur’anic verses provide additional insight of a similar nature to reinforce these.
For the Future
Consider this Qur’anic verse:
O you assembly of Jinns and men! If you can pass beyond the zones of heavens and earth, pass! But not without authority (from God)! [Surah Al-Raḥmân, 55:33]
Since humans are already traveling in space, can’t we assume that we have God’s permission to do so? At least we have not yet reached His limits, if there are such. We might also discover life on other planets:
And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the living creatures that He has scattered through them. [Surah Al-Shûrâ, 42:29]
We have already been introduced above to Jinns, another of God’s creations. But the only things we know about them is that they are made from fire free-of-smoke, [Surah Al-Raḥmân, 55:15], and that they co-inhabit the universe with us. The only sort of “fire free-of-smoke” that I know of is laser light. Would that be an adequate description of how these beings are constituted? Perhaps future science will confirm for us the existence of what the Quran refers to as Jinns?
Might not an exciting period of discovery, moving from planetary to inter-planetary focus, then beckon us? In Sha Allah!
 M.S., Geology, Univ. of Karachi, 1961; Ph.D., Soil Science, Univ. of Hawaii, 1965.