It has been alleged that the Qur’an contradicts itself when it comes to stating the number of days taken for the creation of the universe. The verses under discussion are from the 41st chapter of the Qur’an:
9. Say, “Do you indeed disbelieve in He who created the earth in two days and attribute to Him equals? That is the Lord of the worlds.”
10. And He placed on the earth firmly set mountains over its surface, and He blessed it and determined therein its [creatures’] sustenance in four days without distinction – for [the information] of those who ask.
11. Thumma He directed Himself to the heaven while it was smoke and said to it and to the earth, “Come [into being], willingly or by compulsion.” They said, “We have come willingly.”
12. And He completed them as seven heavens within two days and inspired in each heaven its command. And We adorned the nearest heaven with lamps and as protection. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing.
Two days in verse nine, added by four days in verse 10 and two more days in verse 12 would indicate that the total days taken for creation were eight whereas the Qur’an states elsewhere that the universe was created in six days.
Apparently one would think that the four days mentioned in 41:10 include the two days mentioned in 41:9. However, when it is mentioned that Allah directed Himself to the heaven, it is also mentioned that He said to the earth to come into being (verse 11). This would mean that the four days in 41:10 do not include the two days of 41:9 because if the earth had been created already (verse 9), the order of creation of earth would not come again. The bottom line is that when Allah ordered the heavens and the earth to come into being (verse 11), the process of creation started and the events of verse 9 and verse 12 started simultaneously. The events of verse 9 and verse 12 ended simultaneously as well and then the events stated in verse 10 came into being. The two days of 41:12 were simultaneously being created with the four days of 41:10. Maududi clarifies:
Here, the commentators generally have been confronted with this question: If it is admitted that the creation of the earth took two days and the setting up of the mountains and placing of the provisions and blessings in it took four days, and the creation of the heavens, as mentioned below, took another two days, the total number of the days would be eight, whereas at several places in the Qur’an Allah has said that the creation of the earth and heavens took six days in all. (For example, see AI-A `raf: 54, Yunus: 3, Hud: 7, AI-Furqan: 59). On this very basis, almost all the commentators agree that these four days include the two days of the creation of the earth. That is, two days were taken for the creation of the earth and two days for the creation of the rest of the things within the earth, as mentioned below. Thus, the earth along with its provisions became complete in four days in all. But this not only is against the apparent words of the Qur’an, but the difficulty also is, in fact, an imaginary difficulty, to avoid which need for this interpretation has been felt. The two days of the creation of the earth are, in fact, not separate from the two days in which this universe as a whole was created. If we consider the following verses, we see that in them the creation of both the earth and the heavens has been mentioned together, and then it has been stated that Allah made the seven heavens in two days. These seven heavens imply the whole universe, one part of which is also our earth. Then, when like the other countless stars and planets of the universe this earth also took the shape of a unique globe within two days, Allah began to prepare it for animate creatures, and in four days created in it all those provisions which have been mentioned in the above verse. What development works were carried out in the other stars and planets in these four days have not been mentioned by Allah, for not to speak of the man of the period of the revelation of the Qur’an, even the man of the present age does not have the capability to digest and assimilate this information.
The explanation is completely harmonious and also makes sense. However, some have argued against this explanation stating that the Arabic word Thumma (ثم) always means then where something follows another. This is one of the meanings of the word but is not always the case.
We find Arabic poetry testifying to this fact:
قل لمن ساد ثم ساد أبوه
ثم قد ساد قبل ذلك جده
Say to those who prevailed, thumma prevailed the father,
Thumma his grandfather has prevailed before that.
Thumma in the poetry does not refer to any sequence because the father and the grandfather have been stated after the thumma whereas a son cannot come before the father or the grandfather. The better word for thumma here would be moreover.
جَنُوح دِفاق عَنْدَلٌ ثم أُفرِعَت
لَهَا كَتِفَاها في مُعَالىً مُصَعَّد
Swiftly she rolls, her cranium huge, her shoulder-blades high-hoisted to frame her lofty, raised superstructure.
The translator does not use ‘then’ for ‘thumma’ and presents the poetry in a way that does not denote sequence.
The Qur’an itself testifies to this.
And [recall] when We made an appointment with Moses for forty nights. Thumma you took [for worship] the calf after him, while you were wrongdoers.
In this verse, thumma is used but after is also used after the incident. Does this mean that there is repetition of the same thing? Definitely not. Here thumma means and rather than then. A practical example would be to say as follows:
I will wake up at six, then I will go to the office after waking up.
The ending words “… after waking up” are not required because the word then is very clear that going to office would be after waking up. There are numerous examples of this sort in the Qur’an. A few more below:
…And if they fight you, they will show you their backs; thumma they will not be aided.
Showing the backs itself means that they would not be aided and so to say that there is a sequence here where not being aided would be after showing backs would be incorrect. These two are simultaneous.
If one feels that this is not a direct explanation of the word thumma and is rather an interpretation, then the more direct ones should satisfy this misconception.
There is not upon those who believe and do righteousness [any] blame concerning what they have eaten [in the past] if they [now] fear Allah and believe and do righteous deeds, and thumma fear Allah and believe, and thumma fear Allah and do good; and Allah loves the doers of good.
Fear of Allah is a command of Allah that is to be followed always without any sequence. It would be incorrect to say that one should believe and do righteous deeds and then fear Allah. Fear of Allah is something that is simultaneous to believing and doing righteous deeds. Thumma here should better be translated as moreover instead of then.
Another more direct and clear meaning verse is as follows:
Say, “Travel through the land; thumma observe how was the end of the deniers.”
How would one travel through the land and then observe? This verse is the most clear when it comes to understanding other proper meaning of the word thumma. Observing would be an act that would be conducted along with travelling.
Another verse that clarifies other meanings of thumma is as follows:
Thumma We gave Moses the Scripture, making complete [Our favor] upon the one who did good and as a detailed explanation of all things and as guidance and mercy that perhaps in [the matter of] the meeting with their Lord they would believe.
In the context, the previous discussion is with Prophet Muhammad –may Mercy and Blessings of Allah be upon him. So to say then the scripture was given to Prophet Musa (عليه السلام) would not be suitable and hence a better translation would be and instead of then.
And We have certainly created you (khalaqnaakum), [O Mankind], and given you [human] form. Thumma We said to the angels, “Prostrate to Adam”; so they prostrated, except for Iblees. He was not of those who prostrated.
Khalaqnaakum is a plural word which would mean that ‘created you’ is for mankind and not just Adam (عليه السلام). If it was just Adam (عليه السلام), then one could say that the prostration order was then but since it refers to mankind and prostrating order had been given before creating mankind, then is not much applicable and moreover makes more sense here.
Another very clear verse is as follows:
Thumma eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought.
The preceding verse speaks of inspiration to the bee. If there was a sequence with thumma here, then eating of fruits would have to be after the inspiration. This way a person would have to eat after the inspiration to the bee. This proves that thumma is not always then and here it is and.
Allah would not know something after it has happened. He already knows and always knows. Another simple point is that a shadow is because of the sun and not vice versa. How can sun be made an indication after the shadow? This indicates that thumma does not necessarily have a sequence and can be simultaneous and or moreover.
Indeed, Allah knows best.
 Qur’an 7:54, 10:3, 11:7, 25:59 and 32:4
 Tafsir Maududi Surah 41
 See Tafsir Ibn Kathir (1/102), Ibn Hisham Al-Ansari pg. 159.
 Qur’an 2:51
 Qur’an 3:111
 Qur’an 5:93
 Qur’an 6:11
 Qur’an 6:154
 Qur’an 7:11
 Qur’an 16:69
 Qur’an 19:70
 Qur’an 25:45