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The Meaning of "Thumma" & "Yawm"


While writing my replies to Mr. Katz's articles, I avoid writing responses to such of these articles to which a satisfactory or a close to satisfactory response has already been given. This is the reason why I avoided writing on: "Three groups or Two?", "Who takes the Soul at Death?", "How Many Angels were Sent to Pharaoh?", "How Many Wings do Angels Have?" and "Heaven or Earth, Which was Created First?". Mr. Randy Desmond has written adequate rebuttals of all these articles, which Mr. Katz has posted on his site. Mr. Desmond's response to "Heaven or Earth -- Which was Created first?" is based on the meaning of the Arabic word "Thumma", in about the same way as my own response to "The Length of God's days", was based on the meaning of the word "Yawm".

Mr. Katz in a recent update of his web page has added two short notes, one of which (including a reference from an Arabic dictionary) is a refutation  of the meaning of the word "Thumma", as explained by Mr. Desmond and the other * (also including a reference from the dictionary) a refutation of the meaning of the word "yawm", as I tried to explain it in my article.

Mr. Katz, briefly stating his point of view about "Thumma" writes:

    I just realized something, it's kind of funny actually how I'm trying to prove that Thumma must indicate sequence and order using a dictionary. It [is] just like trying to prove in English that "then" indicates sequence and order. You know, if you come up to an Arab and ask him if Thumma may not indicate sequence or order he'll just laugh.

I do agree with Mr. Katz that it would be rather funny if someone tried proving that the word "then" (in the English language) indicates sequence and order. I also agree that it would be exactly the same case for "thumma" in the Arabic language. But unfortunately what Mr. Katz seems to be forgetting is that the point under consideration is not whether "then" (in the English language) or "thumma" (in the Arabic language) is used to indicate "sequence and order" or not. The point under consideration is whether "thumma" in the Arabic language is used ONLY to indicate "sequence and order". As far as the "Arab" who would "laugh" at some one who asks him: " whether there could be a 'Thumma' which may not indicate sequence or order", I would have serious doubts about his being an Arab (or maybe he would not be laughing, maybe he would just be showing his teeth to hide his shame for not knowing good Arabic!!!), just as I would have serious doubts about the Englishman who says that the word "then" in the English language, must indicate "sequence and order" (I am sure Mr. Katz is not saying so.... although he is certainly implying so).

Before looking at "Thumma" in the Arabic language, let us have a look at "then" in the English language. The word "then" in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary" is given to mean:

then ... 1 at that time     2 a: Soon after that: next in order of time (walked to the door, then turned)     b: following next after in order of position, narration or enumeration: being next in a series (first came the clowns, then came the elephants)     c: in addition: BESIDES (then there is the interest to be paid) 1    3 a (1): in that case (take it then, if you want it so much) (2): used after but to qualify or offset a preceding statement (she lost the race, but then she never really expected to win)    b: according to that: as may be inferred (your mind is made up, then)     c: as it appears: by way of summing up (the cause of the accident, then, is established)    d: as a necessary consequence (if the angles are equal, then the complements are equal)...
then: that time (since then, he has been more cautious)
then: existing or acting at or belonging to the time mentioned (the then secretary of state)

 The Oxford Advanced Learner's Encyclopedic Dictionary states:

then ... 1  (referring to past or future time) (a)  at that time: We were living in Wales theno  I was still married to my first husband theno  See you on Thursday -- we'll be able to discuss it theno  Jackie Kennedy, as she then was, was still only in her twentieso  [attrib] The then Prime Minister took her husband with her on all her travels(b)  next; after that; afterwards: I'll have soup first and then the chickeno  The liquid turned green and then brown.  o  We had a week in Rome and then went to Viennao  (c)  (used after a preposition) that time: From then on he refused to talk about ito  We'll have to manage without a TV until theno  She'll have retired by then... 2  and also: There are the vegetables to peel and the soup to heat. Then there's the table to lay and the wine to coolo  I've sent cards to all my family. Then there's your family and the neighbours.2  3  in that case; therefore: If its not on the table then it will be in the drawero  Offer to take him out for lunch, then (ie as a result of this) he'll feel in a better moodo  He'll be looking for a secretary then?...

I don't think any more evdence shall be required by Mr. Katz or any one else to the effect that the word "then" in the English language is not used ONLY to indicate "sequence and order".

Now let us turn to "Thumma". Mr Katz says that it is obvious that "Thumma" must indicate sequence and order. Let us have a closer look at his claim.

Mohammad Jama'l al-Din ibn Ma'lik, in his famous poetic book on Arabic Grammar "alfiah al-Ma'lik", has started his book with the following poetic verse:

'Our speech consists of sensible words, nouns, verbs and moreover prepositions'. 

It is obvious that the word "thumma" has been used in the same meaning as given in 2(c) and 2 in the two respective quotations from the dictionaries. I would request Mr. Katz to explain the meaning of "thumma" in this poetic verse, by holding it to necessarily indicate "sequence and order" (ie the meaning of "then" as given in 2(a) and 1(b) in the two respective quotations).

Moreover, the Qur'an has clearly used the word "thumma" in meanings other than that which is given in the dictionary quoted by Mr. Katz.

In Al-An`aam 6: 1, the Qur'an says:

'Praise be to Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth and made the darknesses and the light, still those who do not believe, ascribe equals to Him.' 

The word "thumma" in this verse has been used in the meaning "even after this" or even more simply stated, in the meaning: "still".  The verse simply refuses to accept the meaning stated by the dictionary that Mr. Katz has quoted.

In the very next verse again, the word "thumma" is not used in the meaning that the dictionary states. The Qur'an says:

The first "thumma", is used in exactly the same meaning which is given by the dictionary quoted by Mr. Katz. While the second "thumma" is used in the same meaning as given for verse 6: 1 above. The Qur'an has used this word in a number of other places, one of which is: al-Taubah 9: 126.

Then again, in the same Surah, verse 8, "thumma" has been used in exactly the same meaning as given in 1 and 1(a) in the two respective English dictionaries cited above. 6: 8 reads as:

The Qur'an has used the "thumma", in the same meaning as given above in a number of other places. (For instance see: Yunus 10: 103, al-a`la' 87: 11 - 13)

Then again, in Al-balad 90: 11 - 17, "thumma" has been used in yet another meaning:

'But he did not scale the height. What do you know what the height is? Freeing of a bondsman, feeding of an orphaned relative or a distressed poor, in times of hunger. Moreover the person be from amongst those who believe...'. 

In this verse, it is more than obvious that "thumma" is used exactly in the same meaning as given in 2 (c) and 2, in the two respective dictionaries cited above.

The use of the word "thumma" in meanings other than those stated by the dictionary (cited by Mr. Katz) is also quite apparent in the Arabic poetry. I present below a few examples only from "Hamasah" -- a collection of Arabic poetry -- that should suffice as evidence to this effect. One of the poets is reported to have said3:

'How many problems have fallen on me, I faced them all patiently and "still" I did not bow before them.' 

In the above poetic verse, "thumma" has been used in the same meaning as in the Qur'anic verses 6: 1 and 6: 2 above.

Another one, a woman from Banu Huzza'n, says4:

'If she saw me in burning fire, and she had power, she would only increase the fire wood'.  

In this verse, "thumma" has been used in the same meaning as we say "and" or "moreover".

Sanna'n says5:

'If it was possible to complain to the dead regarding the severe problems that the living faced after them, and (then) if I had complained...'.

Abu Habba'l Barra' ibn Rai`ee says6:

"They were [my] excellent brothers [and they were all killed]. And what is hand but a finger, then another". (ie I am like a hand who has lost all its fingers except one, thus I do not deserve to be called a hand anymore).

These Qur'anic and poetic verses adequately evidence the fact that the dictionary cited by Mr. Katz does not give a comprehensive usage of the word "thumma". These dictionaries are based on the very sources that I have quoted here, these examples are thus far more authentic then any dictionary. Just in case, Mr. Katz is still in need of a quote from a dictionary, I present below one such citation as well.

Al-Mawrid -- the common Arabic-English dictionary -- has explained the word "thumma" as:

then, thereupon; afterwards, thereafter, after that, next, later, later on, subsequently; moreover, furthermore, besides

Besides this, the famous dictionary, "Al-Qa'moos al-muheet" may also be seen. This should suffice as evidence for the fact that "thumma" is used in a number of other meanings besides the one which Mr. Katz has mentioned.

The case of the word yawm has already been presented in my response to "The Length of God's days", the quotations there are sufficient for believing that like the word "thumma", the word "yawm" has also been inadequately explained in the cited dictionary. Besides those quotations, the reader may also consider the explanations given in "Lisa'n al-Arab", "Aqrab al-Mawa'rid", "Al-Munjad", "La'roos", "Al-Nihayah", and "Al-Ra'yed".

May the Lord open our hearts for whatever is the Truth.

© Copyright December 1998. All Rights Reserved with the Author


1- The reader is requested to compare this meaning of "then" with the meaning that is ascribed to "thumma" in the statements under consideration by Mr. Desmond. The similarity is obvious.

2- The reader is requested to compare this meaning of "then" with the meaning that is ascribed to "thumma" in the statements under consideration by Mr. Desmond. The similarity is obvious.

*-  The reader should note that the referred dictionary, although does not give a comprehensive meaning of the word "Thumma", but as I have tried to make the point in my response to Mr. Newton's "Grammatical Errors in the Qur'an", has based its meanings on a verse of the Qur'an.

3- "Tashi'l al-Dira'sah fi' sharh al-Hamasah", Zulfiqar Ali, `abd al-Tawwa'b Academy, Multan, March 1986. (Pg. 71)

4- "Tashi'l al-Dira'sah fi' sharh al-Hamasah", Zulfiqar Ali, `abd al-Tawwa'b Academy, Multan, March 1986. (Pg. 222)

5- "Tashi'l al-Dira'sah fi' sharh al-Hamasah", Zulfiqar Ali, `abd al-Tawwa'b Academy, Multan, March 1986. (Pg. 233)

6- "Tashi'l al-Dira'sah fi' sharh al-Hamasah", Zulfiqar Ali, `abd al-Tawwa'b Academy, Multan, March 1986. (Pg. 246)