Meaning of the Hadith about the Prostration of Sun underneath the Throne of Allah, in the light of the context and significance of the verse of the Holy Qur’an (36:38) that is explained by the Hadith and the purpose of the prophetic teachings.
Following Hadith narrations are used by haters of Islam from amongst the Christians missionaries to attack Islam and by Hadith rejecters to question the divine origin of Hadith. Further it raises queries in the minds of general readers as well.
Narrated Abu Dharr: The Prophet asked me at sunset, “Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?”
I replied, “Allah and His Messenger know better.”
He said, “It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates Itself underneath the Throne and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course but it will not be permitted.
But it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the west. And that is the interpretation of the Statement of Allah:
“And the sun is quickly proceeding towards its destination. That is the designing of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. ” (36.38)
(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 54, Hadith 421)
In a narration, again from Sayyidina Abu Dharr, there appear the additional words to the effect:
“I asked the Prophet about the Statement of Allah: — ‘And the sun is quickly proceeding towards its destination. That is the designing of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing ‘ (36.38) He said, ‘Its course is underneath “Allah’s Throne.’” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6, Book 60, Hadith 327)
Following is the explanation given by Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ after quoting the above narrations in his commentary (tafsir) to Qur’an 36:38.
The Prostration of the Sun: A look into the phenomenon of the sun performing sajdah (prostration) beneath the ‘arsh (the Divine Throne)
From these narrations of Hadith, we learn that mustaqar means a spatial destination, that is, a place where on orbit of the movement of the sun stands completed- and they also tell us that this place is beneath the ‘arsh (the Throne of Allah).
Hence, the verse would mean that, every day, the sun moves towards a particular destination, and once it has reached there, it performs prostration before Allah and seeks His permission for the next orbit. Once permission is given, it begins the next orbit.
Questions about the Hadith:
But, when seen outwardly, several strong difficulties arise on the basis of principles laid down by experiments, observations and astronomy.
1. The state of the ‘arsh of Allah (generally referred to as Divine Throne) as understood from the Qur’an and Sunnah is that it surrounds all that we know as the masses of the land and expanses of the sky. All these masses and expenses along with planets and stars, without any exceptions, are enclosed within the ‘arsh- and the ‘arsh of Allah holds the entire cosmic universe inside itself.
If seen from this angle, the sun is, in all conditions and all the time, simply under the ‘arsh. What, then, would be the sense of going beneath the ‘arsh after it sets?
2. It is a common observation that the sun, after it sets at someplace, does rise elsewhere. Therefore, its rising and setting is an ongoing phenomenon,
What then is the meaning of going beneath the ‘arsh after setting and doing prostration?
3. From the apparent sense of the Hadith mentioned above, we learn that the sun, after having reached its destination (mustaqar), pauses within which it offers sajdah (prostration) before Allah and seeks the permission for the next orbit- although, there being no break in the movement of the sun at any time is an open observation.
And since this rising and setting of the sun keeps taking place all the time in terms of different locations, therefore, this pause should also be there all the time as a result of which the sun should not have any movement any time.
Some clarifications and reminders before the actual explanation
To understand its answer, it must be borne in mind that to the extent the explanation of the cited verse (i.e., Qur’an 36:38 for itself) is concerned, no difficulty out of the doubts and difficulties mentioned above relates to the Qur’an.
The sense it carries is no more than that Allah Almighty has commissioned the sun to move in such an organized and steady way that it keeps moving continuously in a single state towards its destination (mustaqar).
I Any doubts, out of the doubts mentioned above, do not apply to what has been said in the cited verse. However, all these doubts and difficulties in comprehension do arise from the Hadith statement about the sun that soon after its setting, it goes beneath the ‘arsh (Divine Throne), performs sajdah (prostration) and seeks permission to start the next orbit.
And this debate sprung up in relation to this verse for the reason that, in some words of the hadith, reference has been made to this verse. Answers to these doubts given by experts of the Hadith and commentators of the Qur’an differ. From the apparent connotation of the words there, it is generally gathered that this sajdah of the sun takes effect only once in day-night span after its setting.
The clear cut, and cloudless rejoinder seems to be that which Allama Shabbir Ahmad Usmani has given in his treatise (Sujud al-Shams: The Prostration of the Sun) which finds support in the statement of several leading commentators.
Before one proceeds to understand the presentation … It should be borne in mind that the argument of the Qur’an and the noble prophets through the creations in the heavens and the earth and the major changes that occur therein is limited to the extent that could be rationalized by every human being by virtue of bare observation and elementary deliberation.
Technical refinements of philosophy and mathematics that can be resolved by experts in the field alone are not the material on which argument of this nature is based; nor are people invited to deliberate on these. The reason is simple.
Believing in Allah the Almighty and acting in accordance with His message is the duty of every human being- learned or illiterate, man or woman, urbanite or villager, dweller of some mountain or island. Therefore, prophetic teachings are synchronized with the level of perception, reason and understanding of common people that need no technical expertise.
Take the example of knowing the time of salah (daily ritual prayers), fixing the orientation of qiblah (the Holy Ka’ba in Makkah), and knowing the months, years, and dates. The knowledge of all these things can also be acquired through mathematical computations.
But the shariah (Law) of Islam has, rather than rely on high-tech mathematical calculations to determine any of these things, placed reliance on common observations. Months and years and their dates were set in accordance with the lunar calendars.
The basis of determining whether the new moon has or has not appeared was declared to be physical observation alone, the seeing of the new moon. The days of fasting and the hajj were fixed on that very basis. When some people asked the Holy Prophet about the secret behind the waning, waxing, and disappearing of the moon and then its rising again, the answer to it was given by the Qur’an on his behalf: “Say:
They are indicative of time for the people, and of the Hajj”- (Al-Baqarah, 2:189) In other words, the Holy Prophet was asked to tell people that all those changes occurring in the life of the moon are there so that they could find out when the month begins and ends and then find out its dates and determine the days of the Hajj.
The answer served them with a warning against their unnecessary and ineffectual question, because no business of theirs, in this world or in the next, hinges on finding the reality behind it. Therefore, they were supposed to ask only about something that related to either their worldly or other worldly needs.
The context of the verse quoted in the hadith
After these initial remarks, let us give a little thought to the essential matter before us. Is it not that, in the cited verses, Allah the Almighty has, after having mentioned some manifestations of His perfect power and infinite wisdom, invited human beings to believe?
 Of these mentioned first was the land that is before us all the time:
“And a sign for them is the dead LAND.” (36:33)
Then mention was made of how rains made it come alive and the growth of trees and other produce became possible- something everyone sees and knows:
“We GAVE IT LIFE and BROUGHT FORTH GRAIN from it; so, from it they eat.” (36:33)
Mentioned first after that was the daily alternation of the night and day:
“And a sign for them is the night. We strip (the cover of) the day from it, and they are suddenly in darkness.” (36:37)
Mentioned thereafter were planets and stars. Out of these, about the sun it was said:
“And the sun is quickly proceeding towards its destination. That is the designing of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing.” (36:38)
Think about it. The purpose here is to tell that the sun is not moving on its own, not of its volition or power. Instead, it is moving in subservience to the One who is Mighty and Knowing and moving under the predetermined system originated by an entity with great power and knowledge.
The Holy Prophet, close to the time of one sunset, had alerted Sayyidina Abu Dharr al-Ghifari to the reality behind it during a question answer interlude with him. He has told him that the sun, at the time of its setting, performs a prostration before Allah the Almighty beneath the ‘arsh and seeks the permission to start the next orbit. When it has permission, it moves as usual and rises from the east in the morning.
Its outcome is no more than that the atmosphere of the world goes through a new transformation at the time of the setting and rising of the sun, something that depends on the sun. The Holy Prophet took this moment as suitable to
teach human beings their essential lesson that they should not take the sun to be an independent entity moving of its own volition and power. It moves only under the permission and will of Allah the Almighty. Every time it rises and every time it sets must be with His permission, for it is subservient to His permission.
This very act of moving under the command of Allah the Almighty has been declared to be its prostration, the act of prostration before its creator. The reason is that a prostration made by anything happens to be appropriate to its state of being as the Qur’an has itself clearly said:
“Did you not realize that the greatness of Allah is proclaimed by all those in the heavens and the earth, and by the birds with their wings spread out? Everyone knows one‘s own (way of) praying (to Allah) and one‘s own (way of) proclaiming Allah‘s greatness.” (24:41)
It means that the entire creation of Allah is engaged in worshipping and glorifying Allah, but each has its own separate way of doing it that has already been taught to it just like human beings who have been told how to do their salah and tasbih.
Therefore, taking the prostration (sajdah) of the sun to mean that it can take effect only when it places its forehead on some floor like a human being would not be correct.
And when it stands clarified from the statements of the Qur’an and Sunnah that the Divine Throne, the ‘arsh of the Allah, surrounds all heavens and stars and surfaces, it is already obvious that the sun is nowhere but under the ‘arsh, at all times and at every place.
And when experience bears out that the time the sun is setting at one place, it is also rising at another. Therefore, no moment of the sun is free of either rising or setting. Thus, the being of the sun under the ‘arsh is also perennial under all states and so is its setting and rising.
Therefore, the outcome of the subject mentioned in the Hadith is that the sun, in its entire orbit, remains in the state of prostration before Allah under the ‘arsh, that is, it moves under His permission and command. And this cycle will stay activated right through the proximity of the last Day of Resurrection until comes the time for the emergence of the sign that the Day of Resurrection is very close.
When this happens, the sun will, rather than start its next orbit, be commanded to turn back – and then, it will rise from the west. At that time, the door of repentance will be closed and no declaration of faith or repentance from anyone shall remain acceptable at that hour.
In short, this particularity of the setting of the sun, its passing under the ‘arsh, the making of prostration there and the incidence of seeking permission for the next orbit mentioned in the narration being studied is simply a similitude in consonance with the mores of effective prophetic teaching and in terms of common perception.
Neither does it make it necessary that it performs prostration (sajdah) on some land surface like a human being, nor does it make it necessary that there be some pause in the movement of the sun at the time of making a prostration, nor does it mean that it goes to some particular place doing only one prostration during a day and night, and nor that it goes beneath the ‘arsh after setting only.
But, at this time of great alternation, when people are seeing that the sun is receding away from them, what has been done is that they have been apprised of the truth of what is happening in the manner of a similitude while the reality is that this whole thing is happening because of the sun moving beneath the ‘arsh in subservience to the Divine command – the sun does not have any capability or power of its own.
So, the way, at this time, the people of Madinah were convinced that the sun would now make its prostration and seek permission for the next orbit, similarly, the message was relayed onwards to every place where the sun would be setting and everyone there would stand advised of the lesson thereof.
Thus, the truth of the matter turns out to be that the sun at every moment while moving on its orbit keeps offering prostration before Allah the Almighty and keeps seeking permission to move ahead – and it needs no pause or break to make prostration or seek permission. Following this submission, there remains no doubt concerning the Hadith quotes, neither in terms of observations, nor in terms of the rules of astronomy.
(See, Maariful Qur’an, English Translation by Muhammad Shamim, vol.6 pp.388-395)
One may say that the hadith suggests it is the sun that revolves around the Earth and not the other way round.
As stressed above, one must remember that the prophets do not come to teach astronomy. Their sole aim is to make people understand that everything in the universe obeys Allah and so should the humans.
For this reason, they allude to how humans perceive things, and it actually does appear that the sun moves across the horizon. Had the Prophet –peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- through divine guidance made the point in a way that could not be comprehended by his immediate listeners, it would have killed the purpose of it, because their guidance and instruction into righteousness was certainly the sole way message could reach us in this age.
Looking back, we can now easily understand the proverbial sense of it and appreciate it, but it wouldn’t have been any way possible for the people in the seventh century to look ahead into the future. For us the message remains as great
and relevant as ever because even though we have the knowledge that it is rather the Earth that revolves around sun, we know the grand design and the fine-tuning of the whole celestial system including the sun is such that it speaks of
an Ultimate Power which is obeyed by the whole Universe. And this is what the essence of the message is.
(See, Abu Al-A’la Maududi, Rasail wa Masail, Islamic Publications, Lahore, 2000 pp.21-22)
The following two verses are also about the topic at hand.
“The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts [Allah] by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.” (Qur’an 17:44)
“Do you not see that to Allah prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth and the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people?” (Qur’an 22:18)
Maulana Daryabadi in his commentary note to Qur’an 22:18 reproduces what Edward William Lane’s quotes with reference to Lisan al-‘Arab, the well-known and voluminous Arabic lexicon:
“The primary significance of السجود is تذلل … The سجود of inanimate things to God, we understand, in the Qur’an as denoting as obedience to that whereto they are made subservient.” (Tafsir-ul-Quran- Translation and Commentary of the Holy Qur’an by Abdul Majid Daryabadi, Academy of Islamic Research and Publications, Lucknow, 2007 vol.3 pp.178)
Shah Wali Ullah (d. 1176 A.H./1762 C.E.) sums up the essence of the whole issue beautifully.
“In their conduct (the prophets) did not occupy themselves with what had no relevance for refining the soul and the governing of the community. They did not explain the events of the atmosphere like rain, eclipses, rings around the sun or moon, the wonders of plants and animals, the measurement of the paths of the sun and moon, the causes of daily events, and the stories of the prophets, kings, countries and so on.
Unless they used simple words with which their audience was familiar, and that their minds would accept if these were used to remind them of the blessings of God and the requital of God, unless this was by way of digression into a general discussion which is permitted in cases like this, through introducing metaphors and similes.
This was basically the case when they asked the Prophet about the reasons for the waxing and waning of the moon, and God the Exalted turned from that to the explanation of the benefits of that waning and waxing, and said, “They ask you about the new moons, say they are times appointed for the people and the pilgrimages.” (Qur’an 2:189)
You may see many people whose taste is corrupted because of familiarity with these (technical) fields, or due to other causes, so that they apply the words of the prophets to things to which they did not refer, and God knows better.” (Hujjat Allah al-Baligha- The Conclusive Argument from God, Translated by Marcia K.
Hermansen, Islamic Research Institute, Islamabad, 2003 p.256)
While Christians missionaries are hell bent on finding issues with such hadith narrations, what they often forget is that the scripture they consider “holy” is not only riddled with top class absurdities but also such classical expressions of the kind they take exception to when it comes to Islamic sources.
The following is from the Bible:
“The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” (Ecclesiastes 1:5)
The readers should wait for an explanation to this verse which does not show the cunning approach and double standards of these anti-Islamic polemicists – the Rivals of the Truth.
Allah knows Best!
 Only relevant parts of his explanation are quoted for the sake of brevity and some changes have been made in the translation
 The point is the context of the verse mentioned in the hadith is about the phenomena under common human observation, therefore, it appears expedient that the significance of the meanings of the hadith explaining the verse must also be about what is observable by all humans. This leads to a metaphorical explanation of the hadith.
Almighty Allah is the highest and most knowledgeable, and the attribution of knowledge to him is the safest.
Right from Almighty Allah and wrong from me and Satan
Prepared by Mohamad Mostafa Nassar- Australia.
Make sure to copy and email this post for your reference, you might need it later.
Arrogance is not only a sign of insecurity, but also a sign of immaturity. Mature and fully realised persons can get their points across, even emphatically without demeaning or intimidating others.