بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
A brother recently raised a shubhah (doubt) to me regarding the the following ahadith. He thought that it contradicts modern science.
وبهذا الاسناد عن محمد بن عبد الله بن جعفر، عن أبيه، عن (3) محمد بن أحمد بن يحيى [ عن محمد بن الحسين، عن أبي سعيد العصفري ] (1) عن عمرو بن ثابت (2)، عن أبي الجارود عن أبي جعفر عليه السلام، قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: إني وأحد عشر من ولدي وأنت يا علي زر الارض - أعني أوتادها وجبالها - بنا أوتد الله الارض أن تسيخ بأهلها، فإذا ذهب الاثنا عشر من ولدي ساخت الارض بأهلها ولم ينظروا (3).
And by this isnad from Muhammad b.
Abdillah b. Jafar from his father from Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Yahya from Muhammad b. al-Husayn from Abu Sa`eed al-Asfari from
Amr b. Thabit from Abu’l Jarud from Abu Jafar عليه السلام. He said: The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم said: Me, eleven from my loins, and you O `Ali are the pegs of the Earth – I mean its pillars and its mountains. By us, Allah steadies the Earth from swallowing its inhabitants. When the twelfth from my loins goes, the Earth will swallow its inhabitants unexpectedly. (muwathaq) (موثق)
The issue here is the word تسيخ which has the following definitions:
This phrasing also occurs in other ahadith.
وَجَبَلَ جَلاَمِيدَهَا، وَنُشُوزَ مُتُونِهَا وَأَطْوَادِهَا، فَأَرْسَاهَا في مَرَاسِيهَا، وَأَلْزَمَهَا قَرَارَاتِهَا، فَمَضَتْ رُؤُسُهَا فِي الْهَوَاءِ، وَرَسَتْ أُصُولُهَا فِي الْمَاءِ، فَأَنْهَدَ جِبَالَهَا عَنْ سُهُولِهَا، وَأَسَاخَ قَوَاعِدَهَا فِي متُونِ أَقْطَارِهَا، وَمَوَاضِعِ أَنْصَابِهَا، فَأشْهَقَ قِلاَلَهَا، وَأَطَالَ أَنْشَازَهَا، وَجَعَلَهَا لِلاْرْضِ عِمَاداً، وَأَرَّزَهَا فِيهَا أَوْتَاداً، فَسَكَنَتْ عَلَى حَرَكَتِهَا مِن أَنْ تَمِيدَ بِأَهْلِهَا، أَوْ تَسِيخَ بِحِمْلِهَا، أَوْ تَزُولَ عَنْ مَواضِعِهَا.
He also created its high hills, rocks of stones and lofty mountains. He put them in their positions and made them remain stationary. Their peaks rose into the air while their roots remained in the water. In this way He raised the mountains above the plains and fixed their foundations in the vast expanse wherever they stood. He made their peaks high and made their bodies lofty. He made them like pillars for the earth and fixed them in it like pegs. Consequently, the earth became stationary; otherwise it might bend with its inhabitants or sink inwards with its burden, or shift from its positions.
Nahjul Balagha Sermon 211
Before we come to ask if the hadith contradicts modern science, we have to know what modern science says on the issue and the degree of confirmation/confidence we can place on what modern science says, since not all hypotheses/theories are equal in their inductive support.
We also have to ask how much confidence we want to place on a given hadith, because, once again, not all ahadith are equal in their inductive support. Is it mutawatir, does it at least have a reliable chain, or not? These are important questions to ask when assessing the degree to which our two sources of information (natural sciences and hadith sciences) might clash. You can read more about induction here.
Let's start off with step 1: what does the science say?
Let's take a cursory glance on YouTube and see what pops up, just to get a basic understanding.
See the first part of this children's video:
You can also see this video for a more wild version whereby the tectonic plates are kept perfectly still (although such a situation would be impossible practically.) There would still be massive destruction. However, around ~3:00 in, he says something of particular note: when 2 tectonic plates smash into one another, the more dense of the two plates sinks underneath the other plate, causing mountains to be formed. If mountains are not formed, it would seem, as the first video indicates, that lava would simply engulf the earth, and that one plate would literally swallow another, causing the earth (and the inhabitants on it) to sink.
Let's see if we can't find some more academic sources to back this claim. Let's look at Wikipedia to begin with, before getting a proper academic source:
"Subduction is a geological process in which the oceanic lithosphere is recycled into the Earth's mantle at convergent boundaries. Where the oceanic lithosphere of a tectonic plate converges with the less dense lithosphere of a second plate, the heavier plate dives beneath the second plate and sinks into the mantle. A region where this process occurs is known as a subduction zone, and its surface expression is known as an arc-trench complex." (Underline mine).
On page 77 of "Plate tectonics: A very short introduction" we read:
"Gravity acting on the weight of cold lithosphere already subducted into the hotter, less dense asthenosphere pulls the plate down, causing it to bend downward." (Molnar, Peter Hale. Plate Tectonics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2015.)
This is an authoritative Oxford University publication; if this point was controversial for whatever reason, we'd have to delve further into primary literature. As it stands, however, we have no reason to think subduction as described above is anything other than established science, and so this is the end of the road as far as my interest is concerned. If someone can credibly contest the point, then further research would have to be done.
Conclusion and Naseehah
My point in this exercise was to demonstrate to you, my readers, how to begin to research doubts. When you have a doubt in mind, it is not sufficient to simply assume what the science says, or the degree of confidence we can have in a particular scientific theory. We need to delve into the details and see what is actually factual and what is not. It may turn out, as in this case, that modern science actually confirms that hadith with a high degree of confidence, and in fact, this may be seen as an example of a prophetic miracle. How could the Prophet have known that without mountains the earth would sink 1400 years ago? If anything, this is a confirmation of his prophecy (s).
I invite you to extend this skepticism to "common knowledge" or the inherited wisdom of secular society. There are many myths which we take for granted without even taking a second to think "wait a second, is my presumption even factual?" It is for this reason we often have faith-shattering doubts about a whole host of issues such as slavery, homosexuality, science, etc. without taking a moment to do even a cursory amount of research into the factual premises of the shubhah. One of the first things you should do when investigating a shubhah is not only to see what the Islamic position on an issue is, but to investigate the thing you take to be in conflict with the Islamic position. "X Islamic thing contradicts human rights!" Okay, why don't you read up on the foundations of human rights and especially the specific item that you take to be in conflict with Islam. "X Islamic position contradicts scientific theory Y." Okay, go and research scientific theory Y and go and see how solid it actually is.
If you make this a habit, you will see in reality how frail the shubuhaat really are, and how many of our modern assumptions are utterly baseless or even contrary to reality.
Edited by Ayuoobi