By its own admission, the Qur’an contains verses known as mutashābihāt or allegorical – verses with no definite interpretation whose ultimate meaning is known only to God (Qur’an 3:7). Despite this, however, the beautiful imagery of these verses never ceases to inspire us towards a deeper remembrance of God. One such verse that has long left me in awe and wonder is the fourth verse of Sūrah Ma`ārij (“Ascending Stairways”):
The angels and the Spirit will ascend to Him
during a Day the extent of which is fifty thousand years. (Qur’an 70:4)
“Fifty thousand years!” – such an immensely long period of time! I often ask myself what spiritual lesson I may draw from this verse, knowing well that I can never fully comprehend the verse’s ultimate meaning and intent due to my limited understanding of the world around me.
I turn to the classical exigeses of the Qur’an, such as Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, which states that this verse might be referring to the length of the Day of Resurrection (yaum al-qiyāmah), when each soul will be reminded of his or her actions in life. Imagine, all humanity standing in wait for fifty millennia to receive final judgment! All the decades of our lives would seem like an eye blink compared to the length of that weighty day!
Another interpretation I have read of this verse is that the angels and spirit take a period of fifty millennia to ascend to God. Compare the verse above to another verse in Sūrah Sajdah (“Prostration”):
He arranges (each) matter from the heaven to the earth;
then it will ascend to Him in a Day
the extent of which is a thousand years
of those which you count. (Qur’an 32:5)
When reading these two verses together, I’m left astounded – why such long periods of time? If God wished, couldn’t the angels or God’s divine orders ascend to Him instantaneously without any delay whatsoever?
I have no definitive answers to satisfy my wonder, but I’ll share my reflections. Maybe one of the lessons the Qur’an seeks to teach by describing such long periods of time in Sūrah Ma‘ārij can be found in the verses that follow immediately after the verse above:
So be patient with gracious patience.
Indeed, they see it [as] distant,
But We see it [as] near. (Quran 70:5-7)
If God had willed, He could give us judgment immediately. If God had willed, the angels and divine orders could ascend to Him instantaneously. But maybe God reveals these details in the Qur’an as a way of teaching us a lesson by example. He shows us that He has no need to rush events; He is not fazed by lengthy eons of time. God shows us Himself that He is aṣ-Ṣabūr, the Most Patient. And through His example, we are taught a universal lesson: Things take time, so you too be patient.
We can possibly find the same lesson in some verses of Sūrah Qāf where we read the following:
And We have did certainly create the heavens and earth
and what is between them in six days,
and there touched Us no weariness. (Qur’an, 50:38)
The Qur’an states in a number of places that God created the heavens and earth in six “days,” which in light of the verses above (32:5 and 70:4, as well as 22:47) could be indefinitely long periods of time. Our scientific investigation of the āyātullāh (God’s signs in nature) makes clear to us that these “days” had lengths of billions of years to our reckoning.
But why did the creation of the heavens and earth take any time at all? Creation did not tire God – the verse itself rejects the biblical notion that God had to “rest” on a seventh day. If creation was so easy, couldn’t God simply create everything at a blink of an eye? Why “six” of anything when He is undoubtedly able to create everything we know instantaneously?
Once again, maybe we can find a lesson in the verses immediately following the verse above:
So be patient [O Muhammad] over what they say,
and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord
before the rising of the sun
and before its setting.
And [in part] of the night exalt Him
and after prostration. (Qur’an 50:39-40)
Once again, God teaches us by His own example. To the best of our knowledge, 13 billion years have passed since the Big Bang, and 4.5 billion years have passed since the creation of the Earth. It was only after these incomprehensibly long periods of time that humans ever came into existence. When we consider these āyātullāh (God’s signs in nature), we see that God did not rush our creation. Again, we learn that He is aṣ-Ṣabūr, the Most Patient. Again, we are taught the same universal lesson: Things take time, so you too be patient.
Thank you for the beautiful reminder about patience. The verse from Surah Ma’arij reminded me about the many light years that the lights from the stars travel before reaching our eyes. The size of this universe is unthinkable and it should make us humble. Glorious to Allah, the Best Creator.
Thank you for sharing these reflections. These ayaath also make us recall our eternal life in the akhira over our temporal life in the dunya… we have an eternal life to come, where we too will exist for billions upon billions of years. These ayaath protect us from having a too narrow understanding of time as our Kind Loving Lord is teaching us that time and its understanding is in His control. May Allah unite us all in His beautiful heaven!
Save those who persevere and do good works. Theirs will be forgiveness and a great reward. (11.11)
“things take time so you too be patient”for our Lord is the most patient and most kind in our lives when we are patient in our affairs we will eventually succeed
I remember from somewhere else that angels do ascend quickly. Maybe the verse means that, by human reckoning of time from earth, it’s like thousands of years by our travel limitations.
Sometimes I feel like our existence on earth since Prophet Adam, is like a child who accidentally fell in a cavern, and our Parent is getting us out but it’s got to wait until the ladder comes. And it’s so critical for the child to remember throughout all this time, that he was once from above, to keep active so his muscles are still good enough for when he has to climb out, to remember where to go back to if he wanders off, for when the ladder arrives, and then to look up to see his Parent, so he can climb out on the ladder.
Also I always wondered what the original word in the Bible that today says God “rested” on the 7th day. Maybe the original word meant more like an allegorical “recline on His throne” like a king reviewing or looking over his kingdom or court. We have a word meaning something like that in Malay. I can see a word like that possibly mistranslated as “resting”. Just like “Jesus is love” was probably originally “Jesus is Rahmah” – in the same way as “Muhammad was sent as Rahmah”.