Days of Allah
(ayyām Allāh)

Bilal Ali

The phrase ayyām Allāh (“days of God”) occurs twice in the Qurʾān, once in the Makkan Sūrat Ibrāhīm (Q 14:5) and once in the Madinan Sūrat al-Jāthiya (Q 45:14). The overall significance of the phrase in both occurrences is the affirmation of Divine Oneness (tawḥīd) and articles of belief.

Definitions and Usage

The possessive attribution of “days” (ayyām, sing. yawm; see Day) to the Sublime Name “Allah” may be a rhetorical device indicating their honorific significance (tashrīf li-amrihā) (Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub y-w-m; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Rāzī and Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīrs; al-Qāsimī, Maḥāsin al-taʾwīl). While the singular yawm most often refers to the measurement of time from sunrise to sunset, or according to astronomers (munajjimīn) from sunrise to sunrise or sunset to sunset (Zabīdī, Tāj), it can denote any period of time regardless of length or simply time in general, as in the hadith, “Those are the days of disorder” (tilka ayyām al-harj) (Rāghib, Mufradāt; Wāḥidī, Asbāb al-nuzūl).  In its plural form, ayyām—originally aywām, the conjunction of the letters yāʾ and wāw preceded by a sukūn causing their assimilation and the dominance of the former (Rāzī, Tafsīr)—may refer to significant events that occurred in that time. That events are metonymically described as “days” rather than “nights” is due to the occurrence of most battles during daytime (Zabīdī, Tāj; Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr). Ayyām can also refer to punishment and retribution, as when it is remarked forebodingly, “Today is your day” (Zabīdī, Tāj).

Days of Allah in Q 14:5

The first of the two Qurʾānic occurrences of the phrase ayyām Allāh appears in the Divine directive to Mūsā, upon him peace: bring your people out of darkness and into the light, and remind them of the days of Allah. Exegetes gloss the phrase “days of God” here as:

  1. Allah’s grace, specifically His deliverance (q.v.) of the Israelites from the grasp of Firʿawn (q.v.), the splitting of the sea, and the granting of manna and quail, amongst other divine favors, an interpretation supported by statements from the Companions Ibn ʿAbbās and Ubayy b. Kaʿb, as well as the Successors Mujāhid, Saʿīd b. Jubayr, Qatāda, and Ibn Qutayba, Allah be well-pleased with them all (Mujāhid, Ṭabarī, and Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīrs; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Thaʿlabī, Kashf; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Samarqandī, Baḥr; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr). Ubayy b. Kaʿb, Allah be well-pleased with him, relates this interpretation through the Messenger, upon him blessings and peace: “One day Mūsā stood among his people and reminded them of the days of Allah, and the days of Allah are his favors (naʿmāʾuhu)” (al-Nasāʾī, Tafsīr);
  2. Allah’s inflictions on past nations, such as those inflicted upon the nations of ʿĀd and Thamūd as referred to in Q 69:7, an opinion attributed to Ibn Zayd, Ibn al-Sāʾib, Muqātil, Rabīʿ, and Ibn ʿAbbās, Allah be pleased with them (Thaʿlabī, Kashf; Rāzī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Māwardī, Nukat; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Ālūsī, Rūḥ);
  3. the general history of perished, bygone nations including His favors as well as His punishments (see Reward and Punishment), an interpretation supported by al-Zajjāj and Ibn Jarīr (Zajjāj, Maʿānī; Ṭabarī and Rāzī, Tafsīrs; Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Māwardī, Nukat; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr). Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. 546/ca.1151), quoting Qāḍī Abū Muḥammad, asserts that the term ayyām here encompasses both His favors and His punishments since the intent of the verse (remind them) is achieved by both meanings together (Muḥarrar). Al-Zamakhsharī (467-538/ca.1074-1143) notes the similar expression ayyām al-ʿarab (“days of the Arabs”), a reference to the long history of Arab tribal wars such as the “Day (Battle) of Dhū Qār” and the “Day (Battle) of al-Fijār” (Kashshāf). This interpretation, al-Māturīdī (d. 333/944) points out, expands the scope of the term to include reference to both Allah’s favors upon those who believe in Him and His wrath upon those who deny Him, encompassing interpretations (i) and (ii) above (Taʾwīlāt). Al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) remarks on Mūsā “reminding” through the days of God and their function as a catalyst for contemplation: "[The word] “days” (ayyām) is used to refer to significant events that occurred on them. It is said, for example, “So-and-so is a scholar of the days of the Arabs,” meaning the events [that took place in their history]… Allah says, We deal out such days among people in turn (Q 3:140). Once you recognize this, [know that] the meaning [of the verse] is “exhort them with both exhortation (targhīb) and admonition (tarhīb), with both divine promise (waʿd) and threat (waʿīd).” The exhortation and promise are to remind them of what favors Allah has bestowed upon them and upon those before them, upon those who believed in the messengers in all of the days which have passed. The admonition and threat refer to reminding them of Allah’s might, punishment, and retribution for those who rejected the messengers from the nations past in the days of the past, such as the punishments which befell ʿĀd, Thamūd, and others, so that they may seek out the promise and testify [to the truth] while also being wary of the threat and abandoning disbelief." (Tafsīr)
  4.  the days of Israelite history familiar to all of Mūṣā’s followers, both the good and bad, or specifically the days of enslavement under Firʿawn. Al-Māturīdī writes: "His statement ayyām Allāh may refer to those well-known days themselves, days He directed Mūsā to remind them of, for verily days come with one’s sustenance and depart with one’s deeds and life. If they were good, then good [awaits them], and if they were evil, then evil [awaits them]. In the days to come, therefore, the sustenance that each day brings is a favor from Allah upon them and in the passing of one’s life and in the passing of time is the manifestation of Allah’s power. This is what Mūsā is being told to remind his people of. And Allah knows best. Allah may also be simply instructing Mūsā to remind the Children of Isrāʾīl to recall their suffering at the hands of Firʿawn and their eventual deliverance, as if saying, “Remind them of those days departed and what followed.” (Taʾwīlāt; cf. Rāzī, Tafsīr);
  5. the time of the Covenant (mīthāq) (q.v.), that is, human existence prior to instantiation in this life, a time free of affliction and suffering (Qushayrī, Tafsīr);
  6. the time when the human soul (rūḥ) had not yet occupied its embodied form and was still pure (ṣafwa) and cognizant of Divine unity (taʿrīf al-tawḥīd) (Qushayrī, Tafsīr; Baqlī, ʿArāʾis al-bayān);
  7. the time when Allah was and none was with Him—neither of the days of this world nor those of the hereafter (Qushayrī, Tafsīr; Baqlī, ʿArāʾis al-bayān; Najm al-Dīn al-Kubrā, al-Taʾwīlāt), and humans were concealed in non-existence (Qushayrī, Tafsīr; Barūsāwī, Rūḥ al-bayān); articulated also as the time of divine preexistence (qidam) and eternality (baqāʾ) (ʿArāʾis al-bayān); or
  8. the time when the souls will reunite in the universe of eternal merriment, these last two proffered by the Sufi exegete Ṣadr al-Dīn Rūzbahān al-Baqlī (522-606/1128-1209) and suggesting that these days may be yet to come (ʿArāʾis al-bayān).

Days of Allah in Q 45:14

The second Qurʾānic occurrence of the phrase ayyām Allāh appears in Q 45:14: Tell the believers to forgive those who have no hope in (or: do not fear) (yarjūna) the days of Allah, so that He may reward some people for what they have earned. “Days,” here, according to exegetes, may connote (i) favors and grace; (ii) inflictions and wrath, as in the occurrence in Q 14:5; (iii) the interminable bounties of Paradise (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr); (iv) the days in which Allah has determined to give believers their reward, whether in this world or the next (Mujāhid, Tafsīr; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr); or simply (v) the days created by God, as it is God who causes bounties to flow to human beings. The people referred to in the verse falsely believe that such bounties are the result of their own earnings (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt) and are understood by some to refer to polytheists (al-Farrāʾ, Maʿānī al-Qurʾān; al-Sadūsī, al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh). The function of “the days of God” here is thus in harmony with the overall Qurʾānic theme of affirming Divine unity. Al-Māturīdī, in elucidation of Q 14:5, comments that the days of human life (which are God’s creation) “bring” human beings their provision and positive and negative apportionings of Divine destining, and indeed eventually will take their very lives away in the course of the passing of days, and are therefore a direct testimony to God’s power (Taʾwīlāt).

Depending on the interpretation of the word ayyām, the preceding verb yarjūna can denote “hope” or (figuratively) “fear” (Ālūsī, Rūḥ), much as its use in Q 71:13 (what ails you, that you do not hope toward Allah for dignity?: Ṭabarī and Rāzī, Tafsīrs). The verse thus admits the alternative glosses “forgive those who have no hope in Allah’s favors/reward” and “forgive those who do not fear Allah’s punishment.” In each case, the directive to forgive encourages believers to refrain from imitating the rude mannerisms of their opponents who do not look toward the days of God (Rāzī, Tafsīr).

Exegetes also differ as to whether the directive to forgive in the verse had been abrogated in ruling (as opposed to in both ruling and recitation/script or in recitation/script alone: see Abrogation) by verses sanctioning coercive force (qitāl), whether Q 8:57, 9:5, 9:29, or 9:36, as related from Qatāda (al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh; Qāsim b. Sallām, al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh; al-Naḥḥās, al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh) or Q 22:39, as related from Abū Ṣāliḥ (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād). These differences stem from varied accounts of the verse’s original occasion of revelation (sabab al-nuzūl), some identifying the verse as Makkan like the rest of the sūra and its occasion a pre-Hijra incident between ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb, Allah be well-pleased with him, and a Ghifārī polytheist who, having ridiculed him, nearly provoked violent retaliation. By this account, the verse instructs ʿUmar to exercise restraint until the revelation of verses which would later sanction combat (Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Samarqandī, Baḥr, narrating from Muqātil and al-Kalbī; al-Naḥḥās, al-Nāsikh wal-mansūkh), although Qāḍī Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 543/1148) deems this narration unsound (Aḥkām). More likely the verse’s revelation pertains to the inflammatory comments of the hypocrite ʿAbd Allāh b. Ubayy made at the Well of Muraysīʿ during the (post-Hijrī) campaign against the Banūl-Muṣṭaliq. ʿAbd Allāh, having sent a slave to the well to retrieve water, enquired upon his delayed return, “What held you back?” The slave replied, “ʿUmar’s slave was sitting on the side of the well and would not leave anyone to draw water until he had filled the waterskin of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, Abū Bakr, and his master.” Whereupon ʿAbd Allāh remarked, “Our example and their example is but like how it is said, ‘Fatten your dog and it will [eventually] consume you.’” Upon hearing of these remarks, ʿUmar, Allah be pleased with him, intended to confront Ibn Ubayy with sword drawn, and subsequently the verses were revealed (Rāzī and Qurṭubī, Tafsīrs; Ibn al-Jawzī, Zād; Ālūsī, Rūḥ). A third possible occasion of revelation also involves ʿUmar, this time his intention to respond to the Madinan Jew Finḥāṣ, who claimed upon hearing Q 2:245 (who is it that will lend Allah a goodly loan…) that “Muḥammad’s Lord is needy” (Rāzī; Qurṭubī; Ibn al-Jawzī; Ālūsī). Proponents of the view that the verse is Madinan add that the instruction to forgive abuses implies the ability to retaliate, which only effectively obtained in the Madinan period (Māturīdī, Taʾwīlāt)—although al-Ālūsī (d. 1270/1853) (Rūḥ) notes that, especially given ʿUmar’s daring, certain Muslims had been capable of retaliation even in Makka (al-Wāḥidī, Asbāb al-nuzūl p. 401; Rāzī, Tafsīr).

Finally, some argue that the verse was not abrogated at all. Instead they suggest that it refers to the pardon not of grievous abuses but of more minor insults (Rāzī, Tafsīr) and that the Madīnan verses sanctioning coercive force (qitāl) antedated its revelation (Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505) and Shāh Wali Allāh al-Dihlawī (1114-1176/1702-1763), who argue that the number of abrogated verses is often quite exaggerated, do not include this verse in their lists of abrogated verses (Suyūṭī, Itqān 2:700; al-Dihlawī, al-Fawz al-kabīr).


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See also

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