Answered by Shaykh Shuaib Ally
Question: I’m confused about two hadiths I have read as they seem to imply that the earth is 7000 years old even though science says the earth is billions of years old. Is there a dispute in their authenticity or is there a different interpretation?
Answer: Assalamualaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
I pray this finds you well.
General Principle for Understanding Revealed Texts
A general principle is that revealed texts are interpreted in a manner that accords with known facts, not in ways that contradict them.
There are a number of hermeneutical tools scholars employ to understand narrations in a way that makes sense of the text and the surrounding knowledge environment. The inability to reconcile them with empirical and observed truths constitutes a reason for scholars to consider a report fabricated.
A non-Literal Reading of Such Narrations
One such tool to make sense of the narrations in question is to consider them as intending to highlight the closeness of the Hour, not to give a specific numerical value for days remaining on Earth. That is, to consider them a type of example or comparison [ibn Hajar, Fath; ibn Rajab, Fath]. This would accord with the general meaning of other narrations that indicate the proximity of the Hour (see below), as well as allowing for those who uphold the veracity of the transmissions.
Many Scholars Consider these Narrations Fabrications
A modern reader would likely critique them because they do not seem to reconcile, prima facie, with current scientific understandings of dating the age of the universe. However, a number of classical scholars – including ibn Hazm, Qadi ‘Iyad, ibn al-‘Arabi, and al-Sakhawi – largely considered them fabricated for a different reason.
That is, that the narrations specify an age for the universe, seven thousand years, and indicate that about five hundred years remain. If this were the case, one could ostensibly calculate the end of the universe. Ibn al-Qayyim, in al-Manār al-Munīf, says that if these narrations were true, one could easily calculate from his time that there only remains of the universe two hundred and fifty one years.
This contradicts the Qur’anic text, which clearly states that this knowledge is something God has reserved for himself. For example: People ask you about the Hour; say: Its knowledge is with God alone [Qur’an; 33.63].
It is also contrary to established Prophetic narrations in the same vein, such as the Hadith of Gabriel, in which the Prophet – peace and blessings of God be upon him – was asked about the time of the Hour. He replied, ‘The one being asked is not more knowledgeable about it than the one asking’ [Muslim].
For this reason, a number of scholars have considered these narrations fabrications. Ibn Kathir, in his Nihāya, for example, holds that no narration that delimits the beginning of the universe, or indicates how much remains, is authentic. Ibn Rajab, in his Fath, argues in a similar fashion. Qadi ‘Iyad uses a similar line of reasoning to reject these reports, arguing that these time frames have already passed, and the world has not ended, clearly indicating the falsity of the contents of the reports. Ibn Hajar adds to this that since the time of Qadi ‘Iyad, three hundred years have additionally passed. [ibn Hajar, Fath].
The Closeness of the Hour
A number of Prophetic narrations, as mentioned above, do indicate the closeness of the Day of Judgment. He said – peace and blessings of God be upon him – that “I was sent, along with the Hour, like this” and held up his index and middle fingers together, indicating the proximity of the two events [Bukhari].
Such narrations indicate that what remains of this world is minimal compared to what has already passed. However, no one knows their actual lengths, and there does not appear to be anything authentically transmitted on the matter [ibn Rajab, Fath].
Further discussion, along with analysis of chains of transmitters, can be found in the sources cited above. See, for example, ibn Hajar, Fath.
God knows best.