One of the things we need to understand about Arabic culutre is the significance of the number “seven.” This boils over into our understanding of ahadith.
First, a strong disclaimer: Islam has nothing to do with numerology — that is, the study and assignment of arbitrary numbers to the value of letters of the Arabic alphabet — such as the popular “786″ which represents “bismillah.”
Nor should numbers be interpreted symbolically or otherwise, unless there is a very good, strong reason for doing so — such as with number seven.
Now that that’s out of the way: the number seven appears alone, and in multiples (70, 700, 70k, etc.) in several ahadith.
Let’s take a quick browse. For example, this famous hadith which comes to play in aqeedah mentions the number 73:
The Prophet () said: The Jews were split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians were split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
Other hadith mention 70,000:
Ibn Mas’ud (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
Messenger of Allah said, “Hell will be brought on that Day (the Day of Resurrection) with seventy bridles (leashes); and with every bridle will be seventy thousand angels, pulling it.” (Saheeh Muslim)
In these cases, and cases where the number seven is listed (seven itself or a multiple of seven — 70, 700, 7000, 70,000, etc.), the number seven signifies a large quantity — a lot. It does not literally mean 70 or 70k; it can mean a large number.
And Allah knows best. If you search books of hadith for the number seven and its multiples, you will actually find this occur in a lot of ahadith. So keep this in the back of your mind when you read.
- Collector’s Edition: Sahih al-Bukhari. By Yasir Qadhi. 2012.