Quora Answer: Why Does Allah (s.w.t.) Use the Number 40 Frequently in the Qur’an?
بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
The following is my answer to a Quora question: “Why does Allah (s.w.t.) Use the number 40 in a lot in the Qur’an?”
In Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an, the number “40” is part of a common literary device signifying completion. This is common to all Semitic languages, and can be found in the Bible as well, with Noah (a.s.) being on the ark for “40 days and 40 nights”, and the Children of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years. It signifies the completion of a spiritual journey, and need not necessarily be taken to refer to a definitive period of time. Thus, Abraham (a.s.) was in the fire for 40 days. Adam (a.s.) searched for Eve for 40 years. Joseph (a.s.) was in the well for 40 nights. None of these refer to a specific moment of time, and too many people, ignorant of the literary tradition of another language, take them literally. Similarly, in English, when we say someone went the “whole nine yards”, or “walked a mile in their shoes”, it does not necessarily refer to a measure of length. This is what idioms are.