As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
Something interesting I came across…
In Surah al-‘Ankabut, Allah `azza wa jall describes the length of time that Prophet Nuh (`alayhisalam) spent with his people. But what do you notice about the verse?
وَلَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا نُوحًا إِلَىٰ قَوْمِهِ فَلَبِثَ فِيهِمْ أَلْفَ سَنَةٍ إِلَّا خَمْسِينَ عَامًا فَأَخَذَهُمُ الطُّوفَانُ وَهُمْ ظَالِمُونَ
“And certainly We sent Noah to his people, and he remained among them a thousand years minus fifty years…” [al-‘Ankabut: 14]
In the English translation, you can’t really notice anything, but if you look at the Arabic, there are actually 2 different words being used here:
“… A thousand years (sana) minus fifty years (‘aam)”
Hmm, but hold on… don’t the words sana (سنة) and ‘aam (عام) both mean ‘year’?
Yes, they do. But usually in the Qur’an, when 2 synonyms (words of the same/similar meaning) appear in the same sentence, there is normally a key difference being highlighted between them.
So what is the difference between sana and ‘aam?
Well, there are various explanations, but one interesting view is that sana generally indicates a year of difficulty, hard work and hardship whereas ‘aam usually indicates a year of ease and goodness or blessing.
This is why in Surah Yusuf, when Prophet Yusuf (`alayhisalam) talks about the interpretation for the King’s dream, he says:
قَالَ تَزْرَعُونَ سَبْعَ سِنِينَ دَأَبًا
مَّ يَأْتِي مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ سَبْعٌ شِدَادٌ
“… You will plant for seven years (sinin – plural of sana) consecutively…”
“Then will come after that seven difficult [years]” [verses: 47-48]
The meaning carries on with the word: sana/sinin - indicating years of hard work in planting and sowing, followed by years of hardship and lack of crops etc
But then he says:
ثُمَّ يَأْتِي مِن بَعْدِ ذَٰلِكَ عَامٌ فِيهِ يُغَاثُ النَّاسُ وَفِيهِ يَعْصِرُونَ
“Then will come after that a year (‘aam) in which the people will be given rain and in which they will press [olives and grapes].” [verse: 49]
And this was the year (‘aam) of ease, rainfall and growth of crops/blessings after the previous difficult years of lessened crops and growth.
It also says in Surah al-A’raf:
وَلَقَدْ أَخَذْنَا آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ بِالسِّنِينَ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الثَّمَرَاتِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ
“And We certainly seized the people of Pharaoh with years (sinin) of famine and a deficiency in fruits that perhaps they would be reminded.” [al-A'raf: 130]
Subhan’Allah, now if we come back to the verse about Nuh (`alayhisalam), we then realise what this great Messenger of Allah went through with his people such that Allah `azza wa jall describes his lifespan as being a thousand years (sana) – indicating toil and hardship with his people, minus only fifty years (‘aam) – indicating a short period of relative ease and blessing.
Now, what do you guys say…
Kull ‘aam wa anta bi-khayr
Kull sana wa anta tayyib?
(By the way, this is just one explanation of several; some say that the difference is in whether one is speaking about the year in terms of days or months, and others put the difference down to lunar/solar year, but this viewpoint I mentioned was the most interesting masha’Allah!).