Some critics of Islam use the following hadith to prove that the Quran teaches that the Sun sets in the murky water.
Sunan Abu Dawud 3991—Abu Dharr said: I was sitting behind the Apostle of Allah who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water.
There reference might be approximate but can you please provide your scholarly opinion on this hadith and whether it is reliable or not.
The matter of where the sun sets has been sufficiently answered in our response titled, Regarding Al-Kahf 18:86 – A Scientific Error?
As to the hadith in question, there are several hadiths worded similarly but without the words, “sets in a spring of warm water.” If all the hadiths that are related are read, it can easily be appreciated that the quoted part is an error. The evidence is that each of the other hadiths end the with reference to the Qu’ranic verse from Surah Al Kahf 36:38, which notes the sun’s path (from the human perspective and from which we benefit) as a sign of God. Instead, in the hadith in question someone has erroneously managed to substitute one verse for another. In other words, instead of ending the hadith with the verse from Surah Al Kahf 18:86 the narrator replaced it with a verse from Surah Ya-Sin 36:38.
In analyzing the two hadiths (found in Abu Dawood #3991 and Musnad Ahmad #20933) that have this mistake – as opposed to the multiple hadiths that do not transfer the mistake – it becomes clear that the first source to report the hadith in the incorrect form is Al Hakam Al ‘Utaybah. His version is clearly a deviation from the multiple hadiths cited by other narrators. Additionally, he has only one person, Sufyan bin Hussain, narrating from him. While both narrators are generally considered reliable, there are a few scholars that voice some reservations about them. Following are the observations of the scholars about the two narrators:
Al Hakam Al ‘Utaybah
- Abu Hatim bin Hibban Al Yasti said: “He used to engage in Tadlees (i.e. implying that a hadith comes from someone when it didn’t or being ambiguous about the source or omitting a weak narrator who was in between two reliable narrators who have met each other).”
- Abdul Rahman bin Mahdi said: “Steadfast reliability but vary meanings of hadith.”
- Ibn Hajar said: “Steadfast trustworthiness, jurist, except he may have committed Tadlees.”
Sufyan bin Hussain
- Muhammad Ibn Sa’d said: “He was reliable but made many mistakes in [transmitting] hadiths.
- Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani said: “Yaqoub bin Sheebah said, ‘honest, reliable and in his hadiths there are weaknesses.’ ‘Uthman bin Abi Sheebah declared him, ‘reliable except he used to be a bit confused/disorderly.'”
So while Al Albani (ra) certifies that the chain of narrators is solid, its contents come into question along with any potential flaws contributing to the problem. The point here is not to shed a negative light upon these narrators but to put in perspective that an error was made and because of their noted flaws this may have been the reason this version of the hadith developed. Keep in mind, there are multiple versions of this hadith but without the words “the sun sets in a warm spring.” When one seeks this hadith in Muslim (ra) and Bukhari (ra) there is no mention of the phrase. These two sources are the most authentic books of hadith and must be given proper consideration.
Lastly, it is clear that with the number of hadiths that report it differently than the one cited above combined with the fact that they come from only one narrator who was also criticized, makes the case that this hadith has been reported wrongly. Thus, the “critics” of Islam have no basis to their argument if they have not appreciated the actual statement of the hadith. Had they attempted to understand better they may have realized that the hadith in question is unreliable.
I hope this helps.
God knows best.