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Significance of number four

by Dr. Nasim Rehmatullah

The number four (arba in Hebrew and Arabic) is a cardinal number that occurs frequently in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Holy Quran we also find its use. It indicates stability; order; grounded nature of things; completeness or comprehensiveness; wholeness or fullness. Allah in His wisdom has determined four to be an adequate number to provide proof beyond doubt or to provide adequate time.

Four seems to represent cosmic order and stability as in the four phases of the moon, four cardinal points of the earth, north, south, east, west. We have expressions like, the four corners of the earth; four seasons and many more.

In reading The Holy Quran we find in Surah Al-Fatihah (1:2-4) four cardinal attributes of Allah, Rabb; Rahman; Raheem and Maalik. The Promised Messiah(as) in talking about the Holy Quran and referring to  Surah Al-Baqarah (2:2-3) says for perfection you need all four components to be perfect:

  1. Alif Laam Meem – Annallah ho aalamo;  I am Allah the All Knowing
  2. Zalekal kitabo; This is The Book, the perfect book
  3. La rayba fihey; This book is free from error, doubt and confusion
  4. Hodalil Mutaqeen; It is the guidance for the righteous and provides the greatest possible guidance for human nature. [Haqeeqatul Wahi, Roohani Khazain, Vol 22, pp. 136-137, footnote]

This is followed by four attributes of a Momin  (2:4-5)

“Who have faith in the unseen; who institute salat; spend out of what Allah has given them; who believe in what has been revealed to thee and what was revealed before thee and have firm faith in what is yet to come “

When Abraham(as) said: “My Lord, show me how You give life to the dead,” Allah said: “Why! Do you have no faith?” Abraham replied: “Yes, but in order that my heart be at rest.” He said: “Then take four birds, and tame them to yourself, then put a part of them on every hill, and summon them; they will come to you flying. (Al-Baqarah 2:261)

There are four functions of The Prophet(sa) described in The Holy Quran in Al-Jumu’ah (62:3)

“Recite to them the signs (yatloo alayhim aayatehe); purify them (wa yo zakki him), foster them and make provision for their progress; teach them the book (laws governing life) and wisdom (the philosophy behind the laws)”

Ubay Ibn Ka’b(ra) was a close companion of The Holy Prophet(sa). After the demise of The Prophet(sa) many people came to him seeking knowledge and advice. To one such person he said:

The believer has four characteristics. If he is afflicted by any misfortune, he remains patient and steadfast. If he is given anything, he is grateful. If he speaks, he speaks the truth. If he passes a judgment on any issue, he is just.”

Prayer has four components

  1. Hamd (Praise)
  2. Astaghfar and taubah (seeking forgiveness and repentance)
  3. Petition for ones needs
  4. Shukr (thanks and gratitude).

Salat covers all four components. In sujood (prostration) we are on all four pleading with God.

Implicit in the laws requiring four witnesses (rape , adultery or fornication); permission for men to marry up to four wives; four months waiting period (iddat) is divine wisdom to provide proof beyond doubt; an adequate number and to provide adequate time. Justice is paramount. The Holy Quran urges a proof beyond doubt (four witnesses) for such crimes where technology tools of DNA testing and Audio-Video are not available. The Quran accepts a proof when it is beyond doubt (12:76).

Allāhu ʾaʿlam [Allah knows best].

There is much more in The Holy Quran. It is for us to find. May Allah enable us to do so. Aameen.