How Long Is History According to Islam?
How Long Is History According to Islam?
By Zakaria Bziker /

My previous article ‘The First People’ hints at the idea that history of mankind is longer than what people generally assume. Some readers and friends have pointed out that history cannot be more than 6,000 years old. This view is inconsistent with the NASA estimation for the astronomical cycle of the vernal equinox precession that lasts 25,800 years and which had been observed in the remote past. This conservative viewpoint of history, which some people cling to, stems from the influence of the Judeo-Christian calendar as well as the lack of historical records beyond 6,000 B.C. Islam however is silent about the length of history or at least indirect.

This article is an attempt to demonstrate how vast history is and to determine a conservative estimation of its length according to Islam. Before we proceed to that, we need to take a look at what the Judeo-Christian tradition view on history’s span. History is 6,165 years old (±50 years) according to the Old and New Testament. The calculation is based on the unbroken chronogenealogy chain of prophets and messengers. Unlike the Judeo-Christian calendar, the present article relies instead on a few prophet Mohammed’s Hadiths (PBUH) relevant to history. I should point out that the title of the article remains an unanswered question and the article does not come as a definite answer to the question.

When reading a geology book, one may come across the all 4.5-billion-year-long history of earth stuffed into 24 hours with the purpose of putting time in perspective as to how long human history is in relation to the history of earth. The correlation goes as follow: if earth was formed at midnight, man did not appear until 11:58:43s P.M. making mankind’s history only seconds old. This reduction of the entire earth history to 24 hours is not unprecedented. Prophet Mohammed, in one of his Hadiths, seems to have used similar correlation between a normal day and mankind’s entire history. The Hadith is in order:

Imam Ahmad reported via Abu Nudrah that Abu Sa’id said:

One day the Prophet led us in praying the afternoon prayer (Salat al’Asr). Then he stood and addressed us until sunset. He mentioned everything that was to happen until the Day of Resurrection, and left nothing unsaid. Some of us remembered it, and some of us forgot it. One of the things he said was: ‘O people, this world is full of attractive temptations. Allah has appointed you as vicegerents (Khalifah) in this world, and He will see how you will act. So guard yourselves against the temptations of this world and of women’ Towards the end of this speech, he said, ‘The sun is about to set, and what remains of this world, compared to what has passed, is like what remains of this day compared to what has passed.’

From this Hadith, it is clear that we are living at the end of history. From another Hadith we also know that the advent of the prophet Mohamed and the last day are adjacent when the prophet says:

I was sent as close to the day of judgment as these two fingers together (Bukhari via Abu Hurairah)

Narrated by Sahl bin Sad:

I saw Allah’s Apostle pointing with his index and middle fingers, saying: ‘The time of my Advent and the Hour are like these two fingers. The Great Catastrophe will overwhelm everything.” (Bukhari, Book 6, Volume 60, Hadith: 458)

We do not know when was the first day in history and neither do we have any clue of how many remaining days or years in this world, but we do know that what is remaining is little, and given that this little consists of at least 1383 years (from 632 to 2015 A.D.), we then know for certain that the number of years that had passed before the advent of the prophet are way greater than the 1383 years that has passed after his birth following the logic of the first mentioned Hadith. Therefore, in order to figure out the number of years that had passed before the advent of the prophet Mohammed, we need a sort of means or landmarks to use for our estimation.

Since the prophet likened the rest of history to the remaining of the day on which he spoke the hadith, his advent corresponds to the sunset or Maghreb prayer in a normal day since that is the time when he spoke the Hadith. Now we only need to know three fixed points: when the normal day starts, when it ends, and when is the last day in history to sort out the numbers of years that stretch from the first day in history to the day the prophet was born.

The assumptions that I will base my estimation upon are that the beginning of history corresponds to the first prayer of the day, the prayer of Maghreb corresponds to the advent of the prophet Mohammed, and the last day corresponds to the last prayer of the day (Icha prayer). Since the last day is unknown, we can only assume that 2015 being the last year in history to have a conservative estimation. Thus, when the normal day starts is now known, when it ends is known as well, and when history ends is also, hypothetically, known. All that is left to calculate is how many years in between the first day in history and the advent of the prophet.

I considered these assumptions for a number of reasons but I will start with the reasons why I dismissed other two assumptions. In the Islamic tradition, a day ends with the sunset and the next starts after the sunset. So if we tried to use the proportion of one whole day (24 hours) corresponding to the whole history from Adam to the last day, the first day would correspond to the sunset and the last day would correspond to the sunset of the following day. This analogy may not work because we do not know how many minutes were left until the sun set that day the prophet spoke the Hadith, and if we assume that a few minutes, say 5 minutes, correspond to 1382 years, that would make history 400,000 years old which is an exaggerated number if we resort to the Judeo-Christian calendar being the best guess we have so far and the precession of the equinoxes being a sort of repère. Therefore, the 24-hour analogy of history is dismissed.

The second assumption is history corresponding to the time between the first prayer and Maghreb prayer, that is from sunrise to sunset. This assumption seems quite appealing but not conservative as well. We know that the prophet said the Hadith right before the sunset, but, again, we do not know how many minutes before the sunset. For that reason we are unable to make an analogy between – the arrival of the prophet Mohammed and the last day – and the time in which the Hadith was uttered and the actual sunset that followed it. Even if we knew how many minutes between the Hadith and the sunset, that would make history hundreds thousand years old just like in the previous assumption.

Now the reason why I opted for the last prayer being correspondent to the last day in history and the coming of prophet Mohammed being correspondent to the Maghreb prayer is because the coming of the prophet and the last day are adjacent just like the two fingers the prophet indicates which makes more sense if we think about the five fingers corresponding to the five daily prayer. Plus, the last prayer is the only temporal landmarks to be considered and the only option that gives a conservative estimation that approximates the cycle of precession.

Below we have two timelines; the normal day and the entire history in correlation. The beginning of history corresponds to the first prayer, the advent of the prophet corresponds to the Maghreb prayer, and the last day corresponds to the last prayer. In between these fixed points we have the elapsed time between each point.

How Long is History According to Islam

We now solve the equation for the proportional relationship between both timelines. First, we have to identify the constant factor or ration of proportionality then calculate the unknown variable which is the number of years before the advent of the prophet. The ration of proportionality is 15.36 (1383÷90=15.36).

The beginning of history

Now all that is left is to multiply the ration by the time that stretches from the first prayer to the Maghreb prayer and we get the result of 11,228 years and two months. We add that to the number of years that passed after the advent of the prophet and we get the total of 12,611 years which is how long history is according to the stated assumptions.

The prayer times that we based our calculation on are of Mecca in the winter solstice day which gives us the most conservative estimation of how long history is given that winter solstice is the shortest day in the year. Had we based our estimation on the summer solstice we would then get a 16,803 year-old history estimation. We do not know what day of the year the prophet spoke the Hadith and thus I had to opt for the extremes to have a range between 12,611 and 16,803 year-old history. Seeing that we do not know when the resurrection day will come to pass, the more we progress towards the future, the more history expands from both extremes (past and future). For example, if we progress 8 years into the future, history expands 64 years back in the past (8 times as long). So we may not know how long history is until the last day comes but we at least know that it is immensely vast.

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How Long Is History According to Islam?