Hadith Case Study: Does the Sun Set in a Muddy Spring?

The hadith by Abu Dharr al-Ghifaree about the sun setting is well-known, but there are a few variants. In general, the variants all show the Prophet (SAW) asking Abu Dharr during sunset whether he knew where the sun goes then telling him the answer of where it goes. All variants of the hadith note part of the answer as being “under the throne.” One variant includes “a spring of dark mud” in its answer.

The chain of this hadith is the following: Ibrahim At-Taymi > Yazid > Abu Dharr.

There are three routes from Ibrahim:

  1. A’mash
  2. Yunus
  3. Hakam ibn Utaibah.

The variants of A’mash are mentioned in both Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim. A’mash was a strong narrator.

Sufyan & Abu Nu’aim & Abu Muawiyah & Ibn Numair & Muhammad ibn Ubaid > A’mash > Ibrahim > Yazid > Abu Dharr:

Abu Dharr said:

[Once I was with the Prophet (SAW) in the mosque.] The Prophet asked me when the sun set, “Do you know where it goes?” I said: Allah and His Messenger know best.

He said, “It goes until it prostrates under the throne, then it seeks permission, then permission is given to it. And soon, it will prostrate but won’t be accepted and it will seek permission but won’t be given permission, and it will be said to it, ‘Return from where you came.’ Then, it will rise from its setting place (the West).”

“And that is the statement of Allah ⟪And the sun runs [on course] toward its stopping point. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.⟫ (36:38).”

Sahih Bukhari 3199 & 4802 & 7424, Musnad Ahmad 21541, wording of Sufyan, square brackets from everyone else

One narrator from A’mash transmits an abbreviated wording, summarizing it as Abu Dharr asking about the meaning of the verse.

Wakee’ > A’mash > Ibrahim > Yazid > Abu Dharr:

Abu Dharr said: I asked the Prophet (SAW) about Allah’s statement ⟪And the sun runs towards its stopping point⟫. He responded, “It’s stopping point is under the throne.”

Sahih Bukhari

The second narrator from Ibrahim was Yunus, and Yunus was extremely reliable. Ibn Hibban commented about him, “He was one of the greatest of his time in knowledge, grace, memory, accuracy, and [following] the sunnah.”

Yunus > Ibrahim > Yazid > Abu Dharr:

The Prophet (SAW) said one day, “Do you know where this sun goes?”

They said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”

He said, “This [sun] runs [its course] until it reaches its stopping point under the throne. Then, it falls into prostration, and it stays like that until it is said to it, ‘Rise and return to where you come from.’ So, it will return and rise.”

“Then, it runs [its course] until it reaches its stopping point under the throne. Then, it falls into prostration, and it stays like that until it is said to it, ‘Rise and return to where you come from.’ So, it will return and rise.”

“Then, it runs [its course] while people don’t see anything wrong with it until it reaches its stopping point—that is under the throne—then it will be said to it, ‘Rise and return to rise from your setting-place [i.e. the West].’ So, it will rise from its setting-place.”

The Prophet (SAW) said, “Do you know when [that will be]? That is when faith will not benefit someone at all if he/she had not believed before or earned something from that belief.”

Sahih Muslim

There are three things clear in these narrations:

  • There is no mention of a muddy spring
  • The Prophet (SAW) is talking about the verse ⟪And the sun runs towards its stopping point⟫ (36:38)
  • This conversation happened in the mosque

Even the variants that do not explicitly mention the verse 36:38 refer to it implicitly by mentioning “the stopping point” of the sun. They all clearly state that the sun goes under the throne and prostrates before seeking permission to return.

The last narrator from Ibrahim was Hakam ibn Utaibah, and Hakam ibn Utaibah was known to be honest. Bukhari just called him honest without calling him strong.

His variant is narrated in Sunan Abi Dawud abbreviated and Musnad Ahmad fully.

Yazid > Hakam > Ibrahim > Yazid > Abu Dharr:

Abu Dharr said:

I was with the Prophet (SAW) on a donkey, and there was a saddle on it. […] And this was during sunset. So, he said to me, “O Abu Dharr, Do you know where this [sun] disappears to?”

I said, “Allah and His Messenger know best.”

He said, “It sets in a spring of dark mud, it goes until it falls into prostration under the throne. When its time to leave comes near, Allah gives it permission to leave, so it leaves and rises.”

“When he intends to make it rise from where it set (i.e. the West), He detains it [there] and it says, ‘My Lord, my journey is long [so let me go].’ So, he will say to it, ‘Rise from where you disappeared (i.e. the West).’ And that is when believing will not benefit anyone.”

Musnad Ahmad, Abu Dawud

The phrase “sets in a muddy spring” is clearly meant to be a reference to the verse in the Quran ⟪Until, when he (Dhul-Qarnayn) reached the setting of the sun, he found it [as if] setting in a spring of dark mud⟫ (18:86).

The verse being about the perception of Dhul-Qarnayn is clear from its wording, but this variant of the hadith seems to consider it physical in some sense.

However, this variant is clearly a mistake.

Hakam’s addition of “a spring of dark mud” is not present in the variant of A’mash and Yunus, and the two of them outnumber him. A’mash and Yunus are both also well-known to be very reliable in memory and transmission, while Hakam is not known for that. For this reason alone, Hakam’s variant addition should be considered weak.

Diagram: You can see how the hadith from Yazid from Sufyan from Hakam is anomalous.

The mistake in this hadith could be from either of the three sole narrators: Hakam, Sufyan, or Yazid. It might most likely be Sufyan because he was described as someone who made mistakes.

The fascinating thing about this hadith is that we can see exactly how the mistaken narrator made such a mistake.

Essentially, he remembered the gist of Ibrahim’s narration to the point that he knew that the narration quoted a Quranic verse about the sun. He, however, forgot exactly which verse the narration quoted. As a consequence, he mistakenly quoted 18:86 in contrast to the other two narrators who quoted 36:38 implicitly or explicitly.

So, not only do we know that this version contradicts the other narrators, it is also very easy to see why the lapse in memory happened.

This variant also makes other mistakes, like claiming it happened while they were riding a donkey instead of while they were sitting in the mosque.

In the sciences of hadith, when a strong narrator contradicts those stronger or more numerous than him, that is called shaadh. This variant of the hadith is an example of shaadh.

On sunnah.com, you find the grading “Sahih in chain” by Al-Albani. That is because the chain might appear okay at first but comparing to different variants leads to the conclusion that the part about the muddy spring is a mistake by the narrator and not from the Prophet (SAW).

And Allah knows best.

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