From one year to the next

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]

How interesting!

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!).

19 thoughts on “From one year to the next

  1. May Allah bless you for your guidance and knowledge that you share with those of us seeking knowledge and for those who are looking to strengthen their knowledge. May Allah guide all of us to learn each day and to be better people. May Allah open our hearts and guide us always and protect us from wrong doing’s. Thank you for your beautiful interpretation. Laura

  2. long years of hardship and few years of this commom among Prophets because the fact is those who suffer most are the Prophets.

    please write something on this….

  3. Wa iyyakum.

    With regards to the reference… You can find this in books that deal with mufradat and muradifat (synonyms) insha’Allah. Al-Suhaili explains the 3 viewpoints in his book, الروض الأنف, wallahu a’lam.

  4. Asalaamu aalaykum !

    Jazak Allah Khaire for you very informative interpretation. May Allah grant you Barakat for helping and constantly striving to explain what I don’t know.

  5. Absolutely great article! Jazak Allah for this.

    If I may, I would like to continue on the same note and share that the same concept of using 2 synonymous words is present in Al-Kahf 65.
    As the ayaah goes:

    فَوَجَدَا عَبْدًا مِّنْ عِبَادِنَا آتَيْنَاهُ رَحْمَةً مِّنْ عِندِنَا وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ مِن لَّدُنَّا عِلْمًا

    And they found a servant from among Our servants to whom we had given mercy from us and had taught him from Us a [certain] knowledge.

    Now the words indina and ladunna both mean “from our side” but as the scholars have pointed out inda has the concept of being general in nature whereas ladunn has the connotation of specialty attached to it.
    Thus, although Allah’s mercy is general but the wisdom and knowledge he bestows upon his servants is only provided to chosen few.

    Just my 2 cents!

  6. Here is another one of similar nature and maybe someone will have an insight that can help all of us:

    Surah Ibrahim, Verse 34:

    وَآتَاكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ ۚ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا نِعْمَتَ اللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَا ۗ إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ

    And He gave you from all you asked of Him. And if you should count the favor of Allah , you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful

    Why use 2 different words four counting: تَعُدُّو and تُحْصُو ?

    Jazak Allah!

  7. Salam, mashaAllah an insightful post. Makes me wonder about the beautiful nature of Qur’an alHakim… such subtle hints can point out to major differences. Arabic is an amazing language. It’s richness of text is unmatched. Jazakillah khyran katheer for sharing this=)

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