Answered by Ustadh Shuaib Ally
Could you kindly provide guidance on the meaning of the Hadith about Hell and the seasons?
Answer: Assalam ‘aleykum,
Abu Huraira narrated: the Prophet said, “In very hot weather delay the Dhuhr prayer till it becomes cooler because the severity of heat is from the raging of the hellfire. The hellfire complained to its Lord saying, “O Lord! My parts are eating each other.” So Allah allowed it to take two breaths, one in the winter and the other in the summer. The breath in the summer is at the time when you feel the severest heat, and the breath in the winter is at the time when you feel the severest cold” (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi and others, with minor variations).
The Description is Literal
The explanation favored by numerous scholars (Qadi ‘Iyad, Nawawi, ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Qurtubi) is that the narrations are to be interpreted literally (the fire actually complained, and that severe heat is from it raging), since there is no good reason to interpret it metaphorically. Barring such a reason, texts ought to be interpreted literally.
On this interpretation, how exactly the summer and winter is affected in our world by the breath of the Fire isn’t the primary concern of scholarship. The many scholars holding this view are largely content to relegate its explanation to the realm of the unseen, which we are commanded to believe in even though the why and the how might not be readily apparent, because:
a.there isn’t a definitive reason the Fire couldn’t affect this world’s weather
b.the narration has been transmitted authentically
c.we haven’t received a direct explanation of how the affect comes about
The Description is Metaphorical
Some classical scholars, including Baydawi (Mustafa al-Bugha in the modern period as well) hold the view that the entire description in the narration is to be interpreted metaphorically.
Baydawi argues that the point of such comparisons is to remind people of the hereafter. He holds that beautiful things of this life give insight into the comfort and happiness of Paradise, and causes people to incline towards and want it. In the same vein, the difficult, painful and harmful aspects of this life are a sample of the horrors of the fire and its punishment. This causes people to fear it, and to hold back from anything that could lead them to it.
Severe heat and severe cold – that people stay away from in this life – should therefore remind people of the punishment of the fire, some of which will be in the form of both, and cause them to attempt to stay away from it as well.
Sources: Fath al-Bari; Fath al-Mulhim; al-Minhaj; Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi; al-Kashif ‘an Haqa’iq al-Sunan; Mirqat al-Mafatih