Qur'an Contradiction:

Six or eight days of creation?

Sura 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59 clearly say that God created "the heavens and the earth" in six days. But then there is also the following passage:

2    Say: Is it that ye deny Him Who created the earth in TWO Days
     And do ye join equals with Him? He is the Lord of (all) the Worlds. 
     He set on the (earth), mountains standing firm, high above it,
     and bestowed blessings on the earth, and measured therein all things 
4    to give them nourishment in due proportion, in FOUR Days
     in accordance with (the needs of) those who seek (Sustenance). 

     Moreover He comprehended in His design the sky, 
     and it had been (as) smoke: He said to it and to the earth: 
     "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly." 
     They said: "We do come (together), in willing obedience." 
2    So He completed them as seven firmaments in TWO Days, 
     and He assigned to each heaven its duty and command. 
     And We adorned the lower heaven with lights, 
     and (provided it) with guard. 
     Such is the Decree of (Him) the Exalted in Might, Full of Knowledge. 
                                            -- Sura 41:9-12 (Yusuf Ali)
= 8                   altogether these are EIGHT Days.

Two days for the creation of the earth, then four days to fill the earth with mountains, blessings and nourishment for all its inhabitants, and in the end two more days to create the seven heavens and create the stars in them. This adds up to 2+4+2 = 8 days in contradiction to the 6 days mentioned in the other verses.

The structure is very clear: These are the three "layers" which are created bottom up:

***    FIRMAMENTS   [the sky, the "roof" over the earth] in 2 days
:-)    BLESSINGS    [filling the earth with everything needed for life] in 4 days
===    The EARTH    [the foundation]  completed in 2 days

Yusuf Ali starts out his commentary with "This is a difficult passage..." before he tries to explain away the problem. But it just doesn't look like the first two days are part of the four day period since the second period presupposes the existence of the earth which is now to be filled after it had been created.

Had the first period been four and the second two days, the second could be included in the first, since "filling the earth" is part of "creating the earth", but the other way around doesn't make sense. The earth that isn't existing yet cannot be filled. But mathematically it is just not possible to include four days in two days. And it is very clear from the text that the first two days are connected with "creating" the next four days are characterized by "putting ON it", "bestowing on it", "giving them".

That verse 9 and 10 describe different stages is further supported by the text structure since the two phases are "separated" by the second line of verse 9 asking a rhetorical question to the listener/reader based on what has been done in this first stage. Before it goes on to look at the second stage of creation.

That is how the structure of the text presents itself (to the reader without an agenda to fit it into six days).

The full explanation from Yusuf Ali's footnote 4470 is:

The Commentators understand the "four Days" in verse 10 to include the two Days in verse 9, so that the total for the universe comes to six Days. This is reasonable, because the processes described in verses 9 and 10 form really one series. In one case it is the creation of the formless matter of the earth; in the other case it is the gradual evolution of the form of the earth, its mountains and seas, and its animal and vegetable life, with the "nourishment in due proportion", proper to each.

As explained, I don't think this explanation is acceptable. But I would welcome a clearer presentation based on the text by anybody who can give one.

Yusuf Ali reports this as THE opinion of the commentators. For the major commentators there does not even seem to exist the possibility of this second attempt below given by some Muslims to reconcile the number of days from eight to six:

Here, the commentators generally have been confronted with this question: If it is admitted that the creation of the earth took two days and the setting up of the mountains and placing of the provisions and blessings in it took four days, and the creation of the heavens, took another two days, the total number of the days would be eight, whereas at several places in the Quran Allah has said that the creation of the earth and heavens took six days in all. (For example, see 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, and 25:59). This question can easily be answered as follows:

The two days of the creation of earth are not separable from the two days in which this universe as a whole was created. If we consider the following verses, we see that in them the creation of both the earth and the heavens has been mentioned together, and then it has been stated that Allah made the seven heavens in two days. These seven heavens imply the whole universe, one part of which is also our earth. Then, when like the other countless stars and planets of the universe this earth also took the shape of a unique globe within two days, Allah began to prepare it for animate creatures, and in four days created in it all those provisions, which have been mentioned in the above verse.

It is interesting to note that this second theory is sharply contradictory to the (usual) one given by Yusuf Ali, who includes the first two days in the second period of four days.

Why did Yusuf Ali not think that explanation was at least worth mentioning? In other difficult passages he does give several options on how different scholars have explained it. The very fact that there exist contradictory explanations defies the above remark that this problem could "easily" be explained this way.

Anyway. Above I have expressed my doubts about the validity of Yusuf Ali's "harmonization", So let me explain why this explanation also falls short of being satisfactory for several reasons:

The beginning of verse 11 is translated by Pickthall and Shakir by "THEN turned he to the heavens..." which does for sure indicate a temporal sequence. For example Pickthal:

Then He turned to the heaven, which was only smoke at that time. He said to the heaven and the earth: "Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly."

It is specifically said, that the heavens were only smoke "at that time" (as this translation says it) or "when IT was smoke" or "and IT was vapor" (as others say) [i.e. no stars and planets formed together yet out of the smoke], which is stated in contrast to the earth whose formation was already finished as described in the immediately preceeding verses. If all of it were to be smoke and the forming of the earth and the heavens is a parallel action, then it would have to be something like "He turned to the heavens and the earth, when THEY were only like smoke ..." but that is not so, the smoke stage explicitely only refers to the heaven while the earth is addressed as a "finished" entity when God calls heaven and earth together. The earth was finished, only the firmament or "roof" was left to be finished up, and "all of it to be pulled together".

Is that not a fair interpretation?

That the earth is finished before God turns to the creation of the heaven is confirmed in Sura 2:29 which says,

He it is Who hath created for you all that is on earth.
Then He turned to the heaven, and made them into seven heavens.

This makes again clear that all that is in/on the earth is created BEFORE God turns to the creation of the seven heavens. God cannot create things ON the earth before the earth itself is in existence. The Qur'an explicitly denies the second of the above proposed theories trying to solve the problem by identifying the first and the last two days.

Having gotten a Muslim's response that the word "thumma" translated above as "then" can also mean "and" and not necessarily indicates an "after" in time, I want to respond that in this verse, the meaning is crystal clear to be a sequence. It doesn't even depend on the word "then" but the verb itself indicates the sequence of doing one thing and then TURNING to the next. If several tasks are done parallel then there is no "turning" from on to the other.

Furthermore, there is yet to be found a verse in the Qur'an where "thumma" does signify a "parallelism" and not a "sequence".

The existance of contradictory explanations is always the result of confusion and the sign that no theory is really fitting the data. If one explanation would really make full sense, then all others would have been abandoned long ago. This is not the case. The problem is still there and there is no solution that really captures the features of the text as it is given into a coherent interpretation.

I acknowledge that I am not able to read the Arabic and I investigated this passage from the English translations only but the translators are experts in the Arabic language and usually one can trust them. I invite anybody who can give a clear exposition based on the (Arabic) text which makes good sense and solves the problem. But reading several translations which all agree on the basic features of the text, I do feel that my interpretation is coherent with the text, and all would be fine if this were the only text in the Qur'an about creation of heavens and earth, but since other Qur'an passages say that it was six days and not eight, therefore it is indeed a rather obvious problem.

But this scenario also has its scientific problems. If we want to believe that the earth was fashioned and filled with life first before the "smoke" was gathered into forming the heavens [stars, planets] then this contradicts very clearly all (current) scientific theories of astronomy.

Further there is a hadith in Sahih Muslim, Chapter MCLV, The beginning of creation and the creation of Adam, Hadith No. 6707:

Abu Huraira reported that Allah's Messenger (mpbuh) took hold of my hands and said: Allah the Exalted and Glorious, created the clay on Saturday and He created the mountains on Sunday and He created the trees on Monday and He created the things entailing labour on Tuesday and created light on Wednesday and He caused animals to spread on Thursday and created Adam (pbuh) after 'Asr on Friday; the last creation at the last hour of the hours of Friday, ie. between afternoon and night.

From Saturday to Friday there are seven days. Now this doesn't say that these are all the days of creation, but there are at least seven days, maybe eight or more. But it does disagree without reconciliation with the account of the six day creation. And within these seven days Allah hasn't done anything on the heavens yet.

Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 3, Number 1041 & 1042 also mention the creation of Adam on Friday. This does not square with the interpretation of days as "long periods". A Friday is not longer than a day and the other weekdays are not either.

In Tafsir Al-Jalalyn we find this explanation:

41:9    2 days meaning Sunday and Monday
41:10   4 days meaning Tuesday and Wednesday 

[fourth day instead of four days? he declares it to be two days, clearly 
in order to avoid just the above pointed out difficulty. He probably 
means that God created "the earth AND what is in it" in 4 days, just as 
Yusuf Ali reports it as the general opinion of the commentators.]

41:12   2 days meaning Thursday and Friday.

In any case, we do see that both the above quoted hadith as well as this tafsir take the days literally, contradicting several "modern Muslims" who rather want to interpret these days as "periods" or "epochs". But obviously Muhammad himself as well as the early commentators did not see it that way.

The tafsir in contradiction to the hadith seems to confess that Saturday is the Sabbath [day of rest] like in the Bible.

Jochen Katz


There is an additional problem with this passage, namely a grammatical one. According to the late Iranian Islamic scholar, Ali Dashti, there is an error regarding the grammar of 41:11. Dashti wrote:

... Sky and earth in Arabic are feminine nouns, and the verb "said" in verse ten [note: in most English translations it is verse eleven] is accordingly feminine and dual; but the adjective "willing" at the end of the verse is masculine and plural, and thus at variance with the rules of the Arabic grammar. (Dashti, 23 Years: A Study of the Prophetic Career of Mohammad, translated from the Persian by F.R.C. Bagley [Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, CA 1994], p. 163; bold emphasis mine)

Arabic, unlike English, has not only singular and plural forms of verbs and adjectives. It also has a dual form that is used when the referent consists of two entities. The plural is used when three or more entities are in view. Verbs and adjectives also take on masculine and feminine forms as a way of corresponding to or identifying the gender of the subject or object within the sentence. To help the readers appreciate Dashti's point the following sentence is an attempt to mimic the error in the English:

Rachel and Mary both said, "The three of us men come willingly."

Anyone reading this can clearly see the considerable grammatical errors of the sentence, confusing both gender and numbers. This is precisely what we find in Surah 41:11.

Discussion of Muslim Responses.

Contradictions in the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page