Analysis of the reliability of the alleged report about the sun setting in a spring of warm water according to the Holy Prophet- peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
There is a Hadith from Sunan Abu Dawud that has been brought up by some anti-Islamic polemicists.
The narration along with the chain of narrators goes as;
Yazid bin Harun- Sufyan bin Husain- Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah- Ibrahim (b. Yazid al-Taymi)- Yazid al-Taymi- Abu Dharr said: I was sitting behind the Apostle of Allah 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 Abu Dawud, Hadith 3991)
In Musnad Ahmad these words are part of a longer narration reported through same chain of narrators;
Abu Dharr narrated, “Once I was with the Prophet riding a donkey on which there was a saddle or a (piece of) velvet. That was at sunset. He said to me, ‘O Abu Dharr, do you know where this (sun) sets?’ I said, ‘Allah and His Messenger know better.’ He said, ‘It sets in a spring of murky water, (then) it goes and prostrates before its Lord, the Exalted in Might and the Ever-Majestic, under the Throne. And when it is time to go out, Allah allows it to go out and thus it rises. But, when He wants to make it rise where it sets, He locks it up. The sun will then say, “O my Lord, I have a long distance to run.” Allah will say, “Rise where you have set.” That (will take place) when no (disbelieving) soul will get any good by believing then.’” (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith 21459 al-Risala ed.)
This narration is quite similar to the narration found in many hadith works including Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim etc. except the words “It sets in a spring of warm water.”
In Sahih Bukhari it goes as;
Sufyan (al-Thawri)- Al-A’mash- Ibrahim (b. Yazid al-Taymi)- Yazid al-Taymi- 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)
The significant difference is of the words “it sets in a spring of warm/murky water.”
Analysis of the chains of narrators:
From Abu Darr, it both ways i.e. with and without the words under consideration, it narrated by Yazid al-Taymi and from him by his son Ibrahim bin Yazid al-Taymi. From Ibrahim it is narrated by six different narrators;
2- Yunus bin ‘Ubaid: And from him at least three narrators report this narration. See Sahih Muslim etc.
3- Musa bin al-Musayyab al-Thaqafi: From him it is narrated by Abdah bin Sulayman, See Al-‘Uzmah of Abu al-Shaykh al-Asbahani 4/1189
5- Harun bin Sa’d: Abdul Ghaffar bin al-Qasim narrates from him. See Al-‘Uzmah of Abu al-Shaykh al-Asbahani 4/1191 and Al-Tabarani’s Mu’jam Al-Awst, Hadith 4470
6- Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah: The sole narrator down from him is Sufyan bin Husain, See Sunan Abu Dawud, Musnad Ahmad, Mustadrak al-Hakim, Musnad al-Bazzar etc.
Of all these various routes from Ibrahim bin Yazid al-Taymi, it is only through Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah that these words “It sets in a spring of warm water” are narrated.
In short, there are six narrators reporting the hadith from Ibrahim bin Yazid, and only one of them i.e. Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah quotes the particular words. And to add to the trouble there is again only one narrator down from him and he is Sufyan bin Husain whereas parallel to Sufyan there are at least eleven people narrating the hadith without these words on the authority of five different people narrating from Ibrahim bin Yazid.
Following flow diagram for the above detail gives the pictorial display the strangeness of these words. Down from Ibrahim bin Yazid al-Taymi only the narrators with red outline for their names give the words under consideration against loads of other narrators who do not report these words.
The narration is anomalous (shaadh) and defective (mu’allal):
This fact alone is enough to make the narration dubious. No doubt both Al-Hakam and Sufyan are per se trustworthy narrators but because on their respective levels they go against much reliable and numerous narrators. Such a narration reported this way is termed as “shaadh” i.e. anomalous.
Carefully read the definition of anomalous (shaadh) hadith given by Ibn al-Salah (d. 643 A.H.) in his magnus opus, “Kitab Ma’rifat ‘anwa’ ‘ilm al-Hadith” translated under the title “An Introduction to the Science of Hadith”;
“… the anomalous hadith is the one which a reliable transmitter relates and which is in conflict with what other people relate.” (An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, Translated by Dr. Eerik Dickinson, Garnet Publishing Ltd. Berkshire 2006 p.57)
Also see the definition of defective (mu’allal) hadith given by Ibn Salah;
“A defective hadith is one in which a defect impugning its soundness is detected, although it outwardly appears to be free of the defect. That may apply to an isnad made up of reliable transmitters which outwardly seems to fulfill the conditions of soundness. Someone being alone in transmitting the hadith as well as others contradicting him aid in catching the defect.” (An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, p.67)
And when a report or a part of it becomes “shaadh” it ceases to be a sahih (sound) report. For this the definition of a “Sahih hadith” will help.
Hafiz Ibn Salah writes;
“The sahih (sound) hadith is a “supported” hadith (al-hadith al-musnad), the isnad of which coheres continuously through the transmission of one upright and accurate person from another up to its point of termination. The sound hadith can be neither anomalous (shaadh) nor defective (mu’allal),” (An Introduction to the Science of Hadith, p.5)
So merely being “sahih al-isnaad” is not enough for the report itself to be sahih.
Therefore, the very fact that Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah’s narrates differently from five other narrators reporting it on the authority of Ibrahim bin Yazid al-Taymi, makes the narration “shaadh” (anomalous) which is a kind of weak (da’if) reports.
But the trouble with the narration does not end here. Down from Al-Hakam bin ‘Utaybah, Sufyan bin Husain is also unique in narrating these words whereas the number of narrators down from narrators other than Al-Hakam narrating it from Ibrahim al-Taymi is at least eleven. There is not a single supporting narrator for Sufyan either.
Hafiz Al-Bazzar (d. 292 A.H.) after giving this narration writes;
“We do not know anyone other than Sufyan bin Husain reporting it through the chain: Al-Hakam bin ‘Utayba –Ibrahim- his father- Abu Dharr, while Yunus bin ‘Ubayd, Suleman Al-A’mash and Harun bin Sa’d have also narrated it from Ibrahim.” (Musnad Al-Bazzar- Bahr al-Zakhkhar, under Hadith 4010)
And this is important, not only because it adds more to the oddity of the narration, but also because Sufyan bin Husain though generally considered authentic was also criticized by few scholars. This criticism does not harm his general narrations but becomes significant when he goes out of the way and narrates what other narrators from the same original source do not.
Muhammad ibn Sa’d said about him: “He was reliable (but) he made many mistakes in his narrations.” (Tabaqat al-Kubra, Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyya, Beirut, 1990, vol.7 p.227 No. 3417)
These details make it quite clear that according to rules of reporting it is not right to attribute these words to the Messenger of Allah- on him be the peace and blessings of Allah.
Apparently, the words from Qur’an 18:86 were confused and appended to the hadith that had no link to the ayah whatsoever. The narrator failed to understand the real significance of the verse and the hadith and for apparent semblance he confused the two.
The verse from the Holy Qur’an i.e. surah 18 ayah 86 is simply about how the sunset appeared to Zulqarnain and even the classical Muslim scholars understood it like that. The detailed explanation of it is found HERE.
As to the meanings of the Hadith of Abu Dharr- may Allah be pleased with him- about the sun prostrating under the Throne (‘arsh) of Allah, visit THIS PAGE for explanation.
So the excitement of the missionaries is in vain. Pity!
Indeed Allah knows the best!