Is there a hadith saying that the earth rests upon an ox and a fish?
Yes, this is a hadith. We wonder what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who always told the truth, intended to mean with this hadith.
Possibly this is a figurative statement but the public take it literally. As is known a statement is used in three meanings: reality, metaphor and allusion. If it is used in the same meaning as it is uttered, it is then a reality. If it is used in a different meaning than its own and if there is an obstacle against using it in its own meaning, it is a metaphor. And if something is not expressed with its own meaning but with the opposite of this meaning, this is called allusion.
For example, if the word wooden is used in the meaning of the thing to make furniture this is a reality. If we intend to mean that, someone is stupid and thickheaded, and then it becomes a metaphor. Our phrases are all metaphorical statements. We say someone poisoned the well, and intend that he said something that caused a pre-bias; not that he poured poison down into a well.
When we come to the subject what is the intended meaning in the hadith: the Earth rests upon an ox and a fish.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) wanted to express three meanings with this statement:
The first: God Almighty appoints an angel for each creature He creates. We call these Appointed Angels. The world also has two appointed angels; namely Savr-ox and Hut-fish.
The second: Fourteen centuries before, i.e. in the age when Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions lived, two most important means of livelihood were agriculture and hunting. This is still the case partially. The symbol of agriculture is ox, and that of hunting is fish. Thus, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) highlighted this fact with this hadith, and articulated two most important sources in peoples livelihood.
The third: As is known, in the ages when the technique was not yet developed, it was believed that the earth was stable and the sun was rotating around it. However, it was understood later that it was vice-versa. It was not easy to explain this reality to the people with beliefs in old knowledge directly. If this way were followed, maybe many people would not benefit from the light of Islam. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) answered with a literary expression and satisfied the people of that age.
The earth passes through twelve imaginary circles (twelve constellations) when it rotates around the sun. We call these zodiacal signs. Two of these signs are called ox and fish. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was asked at different times what the earth is situated on. He answered at the first time: on the ox, and at the second: on the fish. He thus informed fourteen centuries before that the earth passes through the constellations of ox and fish but that the sun is stable.
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) articulated three great truths with a metaphorical and allusive expression and satisfied his addressees both in that century and in the centuries to come.
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