What Is the Significance of Number Forty in Islam?

In different cultures or religions, people pay special attention to some specific numbers. For example, numbers 7, 40, and 70 are amongst lucky numbers, and number 13 is known to be a cursed number in some cultures. However, the significance of the number 40 among many cultures and religions is very noticeable. Therefore, this question may arise that what is so special about this number? Can number forty bring luck and happiness to people? Is it a fact or just a superstition? Let’s have a quick look at the background of the number forty in different religions.


Number Forty in Christianity 


Number forty has been mentioned in the Bible in different verses:


1- Jesus (PBUH) fasted "forty days and forty nights" in the Judean desert. (Matthew 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2).

 

number forty


2- Forty days was the period from the resurrection of Jesus to the ascension of Jesus (PBUH). (Acts 1:3).


3- Rain fell for "forty days and forty nights" during the Flood (Genesis 7:4). [1] 

 

Number Forty in Islam 


Number forty is mentioned in the Quran four times: 


1 & 2- Prophet Moses (PBUH) spent 40 days on Mount Sinai, where he received the ten commandments (2: 51, 7: 142).


3- Prophet Moses (PBUH) and his people were lost in the desert for forty years. (5: 26)


4- As mentioned in the Quran, It seems that the age of forty should be the time when a human being is supposed to reach his/her intellectual perfection and understanding of life. This is the time when one can plan the rest of his/her life in a way to gain the most from this world for the hereafter:


“… When he comes of age and reaches forty years, he says, ‘My Lord! Inspire me to give thanks for Your blessing with which You have blessed my parents and me, and that I may do righteous deeds which please You, and invest my descendants with righteousness. Indeed I have turned to you in penitence, and I am one of the Muslims.” (46: 15) 


It is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) that “When one becomes forty years old, Allah tells his two guardian angels, ‘From now on, be strict on him and note every small and big deed he does’” [2]. The narration emphasizes that the age of forty shapes the personality of a person, and if he/she is still unable to manage his/her life, it is his/her fault for having wasted his/her life in the wrong way. 

 


Number Forty in Narrations and the Conduct of Scholars


There are so many narrations from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) that mention number forty. Here we list a few of these narrations:


1- “He who purifies his faith for Allah for forty days, Allah will flow the springs of wisdom from his heart to his tongue” [3].

 
2- “The prayers of the one who drinks wine are not accepted for forty days unless he repents” [4] [i].

 
3- “The prayers of a person who gossips would not be accepted for forty days and nights” [5].


Some scholars say that number forty is used to emphasize the significant amount of something.


4- “One who leaves his house to gain a gate of knowledge by which he deviates the wrong towards righteous, or deviance to guidance, his deed is equal to forty years worship of a worshipper” [6].

 

number forty


The Fortieth Day after Burial (Arba’een)


In some cultures, it is a tradition that forty days after a passed-away person’s burial, close relatives and friends gather in a place with the family of the late person and remember the passed-away person and wish peace and patience for his/her family. In this manner, they show the family of the deceased person that they are not alone, and people will help them and support them when required. 


It is based on this tradition, taken from the conduct of the Prophet (PBUH & HP) and his Progeny (AS) that Muslims travel to Karbala on the 40th (Arba’een) martyrdom commemoration of Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions; Not only to sympathize with the household of Prophet (PBUH & HP) on this event, but to show their gratefulness for their courage in preserving the true Islam and the conduct of the Prophet (PBUH & HP). More importantly, Muslims show that the aim of Imam Hussain (AS) is still observed and taken care of. 

 


Is It OK to Follow the Rules Related to Number Forty? 


Based on the importance that some verses of the Quran and narrations of the Prophet (PBUH & HP) give to number forty, Muslim scholars, especially those who are fond of Islamic mysticism and self-purification, pay special attention to number forty in their conducts and life-style


Therefore, there is nothing wrong with trying to benefit from the blessings that the number forty may have. And it is trustworthy because Allah and the Prophet (PBUH & HP) have mentioned it. However, normal human beings do not have a real knowledge of numbers and the wisdom behind them. 


A Logical Interpretation 


As mentioned in a narration earlier, the Prophet (PBUH & HP) says that if you purify your faith for forty days, you will see a great result. [7] The reason is that if one works so hard on his/her spirituality to be able to purify his faith for forty days, it will become a habit for him. Allah says in the Quran, “Be wary of Allah, and Allah will teach you, and Allah has knowledge of all things” (2: 282), which is very much relevant to the mentioned narration. Therefore, one interpretation of doing something for forty days is that whatever you do for this long period, with persistence, will become your habit, and after something becomes a habit, you can easily go on with it for the rest of your life.


Conclusion 


To sum up, there is no such thing as lucky or cursed numbers. And instead of trying to find luck in numbers, one should work hard to develop his personality, spirituality, knowledge, and wisdom. 


But the reason number forty has been mentioned by the Prophet (PBUH & HP), and Islamic scholars might be a symbol of enormousness, meaning that if you persist in doing something for a considerable amount of time, it will become your habit. However, the reason why they insisted on number forty might be because they wanted to spread unique conduct and a specific discipline among the believers. 

 

Notes:


[i] Some may think that if praying and fasting are not accepted for forty days after drinking, then it will be OK if they do not pray or fast for forty days after they drink. It should be noted that praying and fasting are still compulsory for the person who drinks. However, the sin is counted so huge that they should repent from it, deciding not to commit it again, and say their prayers and perform fasting and other obligations.


References 


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/40_(number)#In_religion
[2] Al-kafi, Vol 8, P. 108
[3] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 67, p. 242
[4] Mustadrak al-Wasa’il, vol. 17. P. 57
[5] Al-Kafi, Vol. 6, p. 400
[6] Amali- e Tousi, p. 118
[7] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 67, p. 242