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Astronomy and the Qur’an

April 2005 version

 

Some Muslims say the Qur’an contains scientific truth about the orbits of the sun, moon, (and sometimes planets). I was interested in investigating this, and we will take a few twists and turns before arriving at a conclusion. But the bottom line is: unless a Muslim viewed these verses as the language of appearance, these verses would disprove, not prove the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an.

Sura 36:37-40 says, "And a sign for them is the night: We withdraw there from the day, and behold they are plunged in darkness; 38 and the sun runs its course for a period determined for it; that is the decree of (him), the exalted in might, the all-knowing. 39 And the moon-we have measured for it mansions (to traverse) till it returns like the old (and withered) Lower part of a date stalk. (40) It is not permitted to the sun to catch up the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to law)." (Yusuf Ali’s translation, original edition). [Words in parenthesis are in parenthesis in the translation.]

Some Muslims point out "the sun runs its course for a period determined for it" and the word "orbit" at the end. However, we cannot make too much of the sun’s "orbit" because Yusuf Ali’s translation has a footnote (17) on that word saying "circuit, course". Furthermore, the revised edition of Yusuf Ali says "resting place" instead of "period".

How Freely Do Some Muslims Translate the Qur’an?

The Sufi site http://www.sufi.co.za/modern_science_and_islam.htm goes even farther, saying

"All these the earth and heavenly bodies (all of them are planets) and they are all the time in motion in their orbits (or on their axis) they are spheres floating" (Ansari)

It adds the words "(all of them are planets)" and "(or on their axis)" in parenthesis, because this is not in the Arabic at all. So let’s ignore this one as being too loose a translation, and ask "what does Sura 36:37-40 really teach?" There are three possibilities:

Orbits of sun and moon: The Qur’an taught that the sun and moon moved in continuous orbits/path around the earth of a particular, ordained period

Swim to its resting place: The sun swims across the sky during the day, and goes to its resting place at night, returning to its place the previous dawn. Likewise the moon swims in its path.

Language of appearance: Same as the previous, but this is intended as a description of how things appear, not how they actually are.

Let’s Go Back to the Arabic

Course/Orbit: Yusuf Ali discusses the Arabic word in question in footnote 3983 on p.1326. He says, "Mustaqarr may mean: (1) a limit of time, a period determined, as in vi. 67, or (2) a place of rest or quiescence; or (3) a dwelling place, as in ii. 36. I think the first meaning is best applicable here; but some commentators take the second meaning. In that case the simile would be that of the sun running a race while he is visible to us, and taking a rest during the night to prepare himself to renew his race the following day. His stay with the antipodes appears to us as his period of rest."

Move/swim/rotate: yasbahuna can mean hastening on, though its most direct meaning is swimming.

Swim/rotate: The famous Muslim commentator Ibn Taymiyah (died 1328 A.D.) wrote, "celestial bodies are round (istidaaratul-aflaak) - as it is the statement of astronomers and mathematicians (ahlul-hay’ah wal-hisab)..... The [word] falak [in the Arabic language] means that which is round" (Majmu’ul-Fatawa vol. 6, p. 566-567)

It is not a "scientific miracle" that the sun and moon "falak" because

a) The Arabic term for the earth orbiting the sun is not falak but mahrek.

b) The word falak did not originate with the Qur’an; it was a foreign loan word.

One person contributed the following: "The root [Arabic -- falaka] … from the same primitive Semitic root we get [Akkadian -- pilakku]; [Hebrew -- pelek]; [Arabic -- falkatun], all meaning the whirl of a spindle, and by another line of derivation [Arabic -- falakun]; [Ethiopic -- falaka] for the celestial hemisphere. So the philologers as a rule endeavour to derive [Arabic -- falkun] from this root, imagining it is so named from its rounded shape."

Also, the word falak was used by Arabs, before the time of Muhammad, to refer to the voyage of the celestial objects in the "sky dome". The people before, and in Muhammad’s time, believed in the Aristotelian/Ptolemaic model of the universe where the earth was at the center and was surrounded by 7 spherical domes. And celestial bodies were believed to move in these spheres, or spheres themselves were believed to move in a course. The fact that the Qur’an speaks of seven heavens strongly suggest that Muhammad’s "astronomy" fit the Ptolemaic and Aristotelian models, which were believed to be factual at this point in history.

My Conclusion (so far): While the Arabic is vague, these words say nothing ancient people prior to Mohammed did not already say.

However, if we assume that Mohammed and his early followers could understand the Qur’an (a pretty safe assumption), and that the scientific view of the Qur’an is fairly consistent, then we have two ways arriving at a reasonable conclusion. First, what did early Muslims say about this, and second, what does the rest of the Qur’an say.

What Mohammed and Early Muslims Said About the Sun

Where would you go to find the correct meaning of the Qur’an? Zamakhshari? al-Tabari? Baidawi? If you were an early Muslim, you would just go to Mohammed himself! Here what Mohammed explained, according to both Bukhari and al-Tabari.

"Narrated Abu Dhar : The Prophet asked me at sunset, ‘Do you know where the sun goes (at the

time of sunset)?’ I replied, ‘Allah and His Apostle know better.’ He said, ‘It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates itself underneath the Throne, and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and them ( a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted,…’" Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.4 no.441 p.283. Sahih Muslim vol.1 book 1 ch.73 no.297-300 p.95-96 also has a lot of detail on this conversation with Mohammed and Abu Dharr.

Another translation of the same passage of al-Bukhari says:
"Abzur Ghifari (ra) narrated: one day Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) asked me, ‘Abzar do you know after setting where does Sun go?’ I replied, ‘I do not know, only Allah’\’s apostle can say better.’ Then Prophet (SA) replied, ‘After setting, the sun remains prostrated under Allah’s Aro’sh (Allah’s throne) and waits for Allah’s command for rising again in the East. Day will come when sun will not get any more permission from Allah to rise again and Qeyamot (dooms day) will fall upon earth’".

al-Tabari vol.1 p.231 says, "I asked the Messenger of God [Mohammed] ‘Where does it [the sun] set?’ He replied: ‘It sets in the heaven and is then raised from heaven to heaven until it is raised to the highest, seventh heaven. Eventually, when it is underneath the Throne, it falls down and prostrates itself, and the angels who are in charge of it prostrate themselves together with it. The sun then says, My Lord, whence do you command me to rise, from where I set or from where I rise?’ He continued. This is (meant by) God’s word: ‘And the sun: It runs to a place where it is to reside (at night)’ where it is held underneath the Throne – ‘That is decreed by One Mighty and Knowing’ by ‘this’ is meant the procedure of the mighty’ Lord in His royal authority, the Lord Who is ‘knowing’ about His creation. He continued. Gabriel brings to the sun a garment of luminosity from the light of the Throne, according to the measure of the hours of the day. It is longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, and of intermediate length in the autumn and spring. [spring, fall, and winter fashions!] He continued. The sun puts on that garment, as one of you here puts on his garment. Then, it is set free to roam in the air of heaven until it rises whence it does. … The same course is followed by the moon in its rising … But Gabriel brings it a garment from the light of the Footstool. This is (meant by) God word ‘He made the sun a luminosity and the moon a light.’"

The sun and moon are signs of Allah. Abu Dawud vol.1 book 2 no.1173 p.304;

Sunan Nasa’i vol.2 no.1462,1464 p.272; vol.2 no.1465,1466 p.273; vol.2 no.1475 p.278vol.2 no.1477 p.280; vol.2 no.1481 p.283; vol.2 no.1485-1486 p.286-287; vol.2 no.1488-1489 p.287,289; vol.2 no.1500 p.297; vol.2 no.1502 p.299; vol.2 no.1505 p.300; vol.2 no.1506 p.301

Dhu al-Qarnaiyn [Zul Qarnain] "witnessed the setting of the sun in its resting place into a pool of black and foetid slime." al-Tabari vol.5 p.173-174 (See Sura 18:82-97)

al-Tabari vol.1 p.234 also mentions that the sun sets in a muddy spring. The word "muddy" is hami’ah, meaning mean black clay, but hamiyah is a similar word that can mean hot. (See footnote 442 p.234)

"He [Mohammed] continued. When the sun rises, it rises upon its chariot from one of those springs accompanied by 360 angels…. When God wishes to test the sun and the moon, showing His servants a sign and thereby asking them to stop disobeying Him and to start to obey, the sun tumbles from the chariot and falls into the deep of that ocean, which is the sphere. When God wants to increase the significance of the sign and frighten His servants severely, all of the sun falls, and nothing of it remains upon the chariot. That is a total eclipse of the sun, when the day darkens and the stars come out." al-Tabari vol.1 p.236

 

What Mohammed and Early Muslims Tell Us About the Heavens

The Prophet [Mohammed] replied: ‘Ali, they are five stars: Jupiter (al-birjis), Saturn (zuhal), Mercury (utarid), Mars (Bahram), and Venus (al-zuhrah). These five stars rise and run like the sun and the moon and race with them together. All the other stars are suspended from heaven as lamps are from mosques,…" al-Tabari vol.1 p.235-236

"God created an ocean three fasrakhs (18 kilometers) removed from heaven. Waves contained, it stands in the air by the command of God. No drop of it is spilled. All the oceans are motionless, but that ocean flows at the rate of the speed of an arrow. It is set free to move in the air evenly, as if it were a rope stretched out in the area between east and west. The sun, the moon, and the retrograde stars [5 planets] run in its deep swell. This is (meant by) God’s word: ‘Each swims in a sphere.’ ‘The sphere’ is the circulation of the chariot in the deep swell of that ocean." al-Tabari vol.1 p.235

Conclusion from early Muslims: The sun literally goes to a resting place at night, and the sun and moon literally "swim" in an ocean of water in the sky.

 

What the Rest of the Qur’an Says

Note that verse numbers are different in various translations of the Qur’an. These verse numbers and quotes are from Yusuf ‘Ali (revised edition). I corrected the capitalization.

Sura 20:53 "He who has made for you the earth like a carpet spread out"

Sura 50:7 "And the earth – We have spread it out4946, and set thereon mountains…"

Yusuf ‘Ali’s footnote 4946 says, "Cf. xiii. 3; and xv. 19 and n.1955. The earth is round, and yet it appears stretched out as a vast expanse, like a carpet kept steady with the weight of the mountains." So regardless of whether you believe this teaches the flat earth or not, Yusuf ‘Ali says this verse at least says the earth appears as a flat carpet.

Sura 67:15 "It is He who as made the earth manageable5571…" Other translations have "level". Yusuf Ali’s footnote 5571 says, "Zalul is used in ii 71 for an animal trained and tractable: here it is used to qualify the earth, and I have translated ‘manageable’…."

Sura 71:15 "‘See ye not how Allah has created the seven heavens one above another ‘And made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a glorious lamp?" Even granted that this is language of appearance, there is not hint of teaching of modern astronomy.

Sura 71:19 "‘And Allah has made the earth for you as a carpet (spread out),5718…" Yusuf ‘Ali’s footnote 5718 says, "cf. xx 53.

Sura 78:6-7 "Have We [Allah] not made the earth as a wide Expanse5890, and the mountains as pegs?" Yusuf ‘Ali’s footnote 5890 says, See n. 2038 to xvi. 15. Cf. also xiii. 3 and xv. 19. The spacious expanse of the earth may be compared to a carpet, to which the mountains act as pegs…."

Zul-Karnain in Sura 18 and the Science of Astronomy

Sura 18:85-86 "One (such) way he [Zul-qarnain] followed, until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it set in a spring of murky water: near it he found a people: We [Allah] said: ‘O Zul-qarnain! (Thou hast authority,) either to punish them, or to treat them with kindness." "Murky" has also been translated as "muddy" and "black". "spring of … water" has also been translated as "spring". M.H. Skahir translates this as "black sea".

Sura 18:89-90 "Then followed he [Zul-qarnain] (another) way, until when he came to the rising of the sun, he found it rising on a people for whom we had provided no covering protection against the sun."

Muslim commentators differ on exactly who Zul-qarnain (man of two horns) is. Some think Alexander the Great, some think Cyrus of Persia, and some a Yemeni king. It does not matter though. Regardless, Zul-qarnain was able to travel to where the sun actually rose. This supports a flat earth cosmology in the Qur’an. More significantly, he traveled to where the sun set, and found that it set in a muddy/murky spring.

If you ask astronomers if the sun sets in a muddy spring, they will tell you "no".

Conclusion: The Qur’an teaches the following:

The earth is flat, spread out like a carpet and pegged flat by mountains

The sun has a defined path through the day, then sets in a muddy/murky spring and goes to Allah’s throne.

The sun then rises at a specific spot

Except for five "retrograde stars" (planets), the stars are hung like lamps.

Mohammed taught early Muslims this as a literal truth, not just a metaphor or simile.

The Purpose of Stars and Meteors

"The lowest heaven has lamps [stars], and ‘We have made such (Lamps) (as) missiles to drive away the Evil ones, and have prepared for them the Penalty of the Blazing Fire.’" Sura 67:5

"The creation of these stars is for three purposes, i.e. as decoration of the sky, as missiles to hit the devils, and as signs to guide travellers. So, if anybody tries to find a different interpretation, he is mistaken and just wastes his efforts..." Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.3 before no.421 p.282.

Shooting stars are sometimes hurled at devils who try to listen in on heavenly secrets. Sahih Muslim vol.1 book 4 no.902 and footnote 674 p.243.

Shooting stars are to hit [bad] angels before they spread what they heard. Sometimes the bad angels tell soothsayers before they are hit though. Ibn-i-Majah vol.1 book 1 no.194 p.110.

Meteors are to attack jinn (genies) Sahih Muslim vol.4 book 24 no.5538 p.1210

Stars guard against Satan. al-Tabari vol.1 p.223

Mohammed Splitting the Moon in Two

 

 

"The demand of the pagans to the Prophet to show them a miracle. The Prophet showed them the splitting of the moon. Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Massud: During the lifetime of the Prophet the moon was split into two parts and on that the Prophet said, ‘Bear witness (to this).’" Bukhari vol.4 book 56 ch.26 and vol.4 book 56 no.830 p.533.

"Narrated Anas that the Meccan people requested Allah’s Apostle to show them a miracle, and so he showed them the splitting of the moon." Bukhari vol.4 book 56 no.831 p.533.

"Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas: The moon was split into two parts during the lifetime of the Prophet." Bukhari vol.4 book 56 no.832 p.534.

Splitting the moon. Bukhari vol.6 book 60 no.290 and footnote 1 p.273; vol.6 book 60 no.387-391 p.365-366; vol.6 book 60 no.345,349,368-370 p.331,336

Splitting the moon Sahih Muslim vol.4 book 37 no.6721,6724-6730 p.1467-1468

Sura 54:1 says, "The Hour (of Judgment) is nigh, and the moon was cleft asunder. (Yusuf ‘Ali revised edition).

Note that cleft asunder means the mean was split in half, and the verb here is past tense. We have no records of any other people in the world, including close-by Egypt, Syria, or Persia that saw the moon split in two. The Qur’an and hadiths do not say how it got back together either.

Yusuf ‘Ali in footnote 5128 says, "Three explanations are given in the Mufradat, and perhaps all three apply here: (1) that the moon once appeared cleft asunder in the valley of Makkah within sight of the Prophet, his Companions, and some Unbelievers; (2) that the prophetic past tense indicates the future, the cleaving asunder of the moon being a Sign of the Judgment approaching; and (3) that the phrase is metaphorical, meaning that the matter has become clear as the moon. That the first was noticed by contemporaries, including Unbelievers, is clear from verse 2. The second is an incident of the disruption of the solar system at the New Creation: Cf. lxxv. 8-9."

Nobody else in the world at this time reported the moon split in two. As a side note, the Enclopaedia Britannica vol.13 1972 p.458B has a picture of the Chomsungdae astronomical observatory, near Kyongju Korea, built in the 7th century Silla period.


Counter-examples in the Qur’an?

Ignoring the previous verses, let’s discuss other verses in the Qur’an some Muslims believe support modern astronomical theories. In fairness to them, here are the verses they bring up, along with responses.

Sura 7:54 "…He draweth the night as a veil o’er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession:..."

Response, day and night following each other is true, but says nothing about science or astronomy that primitive people did not know.

Sura 13:2a and Sura 31:10 both say that Allah raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see".

Response: While not all ancient peoples believed the heavens were held by pillars, this merely says Allah did not have any visible pillars that could be seen.

Sura 13:2b "…He has subjected the sun and the moon! Each one runs (its course) for a term appointed"

Response: That both the sun and moon have regularity was observable by even primitive people.

Sura 21:30 "Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were jointed together (as one Unit of Creation), before we [Allah] clove them asunder?" Muslims view this as the Qur’an anticipating the big bang theory.

Response: The ancient Egyptians, Aryan Hindus, and others believed the heavens and earth were together before being separated. To merely say the heavens and earth were joined together (implying halves) is more like those ancient mythologies than the big bang theory.

Sura 21:33 "All (the celestial bodies) swim along, each in its2695 rounded course. Yusuf Ali’s footnote 2695 is instructive here. It says, "I have indicated, unlike most translators, the metaphor of swimming implied in the original words:…"

Malik’s translation says, "all (celestial bodies) move swiftly in an orbit of their own."

Response: The Arabic word was understood as "swim" as Yusuf Ali has correctly translated, as shown by al-Tabari vol.1 p.235; al-Tabari vol.1 p.236. Also the verses speak of the sun and moon, not other celestial bodies, so it is not quite correct to put (celestial bodies) in the translation in parenthesis. The Qur’an does not say anything moves in a path/orbit in the sky except the sun, moon and retrograde stars (planets).

Sura 21:104 "The day that We roll up the heavens like a scroll".

Response: It is unclear to me how this supposed to anticipate modern astronomy, but Mohammed’s first wife took him to hear the gospels from a Christian, and the Bible in Revelation 6:14 and in the Old Testament in Isaiah 34:4. However, Christians do not generally try to fit modern astronomy into Revelation 6:14.

Sura 22:65 "…He withholds the sky2847 from falling on the earth except by His leave…" Yusuf ‘Ali’s footnote 2847 says that this word samaa can mean (1) something high, (2) a root, a ceiling, (3) the sky, the canopy of heaven. (4) cloud or rain. He says he understand the last meaning here, though most authorities seem to render it by some such words as "sky".

Response: Thus many authorities the word would be "sky" which is most consistent with a flat earth view. So while we cannot say this verse definitely proves the flat earth view in the Qur’an, due to the vagueness of the Arabic, this verse certainly cannot be used to prove a modern scientific view in the Qur’an.

Sura 25:61-62 "Blessed is He who made constellations in the skies, and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light. And it is he who made the night and the day to follow each other:…"

Response: Calling the sun a lamp does nothing to prove the Qur’an had modern scientific views. The day and night following each other is true, but it is something even primitive people all knew.

Sura 27:88 "…these mountains which you see and think are firmly fixed, will pass away like clouds…" (Malik) One Muslim apologist apparently believes this alludes to the earth’s rotation.

Response: The verse before mentions the last trumpet, so the context is the end times, not today.

Sura 29:44 says that the creation of the heavens and the earth is a sign for those who believe.

Response: The creation of heaven and earth shows God’s majesty according to Psalm 8:1,3,5; Psalm 19:1-6. Mohammed knew of the Psalms (zubur) of David, so there is no news here.

Sura 31:29, Sura 35:13, Sura 36:37, and Sura 39:5 all say that Allah merges night into day and day into night. It also says the sun and moon each run their appointed course. Sura 55:5 also says the sun and moon run their appointed courses.

Response: There is nothing to suggest this is not the path of the sun and moon in the sky. These things were known and observed by ancient, primitive people too. Saying a truth that even pagans already believed of course does not prove a book wrong. However, repeating common knowledge in no way proves the Qur’an predicted modern scientific knowledge.

Sura 51:47,48 "We have build the firmament with might: and We indeed have vast power. And we have spread out the (spacious) earth: how excellently We do spread out!" (Yusuf ‘Ali). Other translations say "like a carpet".

Response: Spreading out the earth, which some see as teaching a flat earth, does nothing to prove the Qur’an taught modern scientific theories. As a non-Muslim, I am willing to admit that this might not be teaching the falsehood that the earth is flat, but rather be a poetic expression. Muslims have used this to say the Qur’an taught the big bang expansion of the universe. The fact that God spread out the heavens does not specifically mean the big bang theory, and God stretching out the heavens is in the Bible in Isaiah 42:5. However, Christians do not try to use a vague reference like this to prove the anticipated the big bang theory.

Sura 55:33 mentions zones of the earth that men and Jinns [genies] cannot pass beyond without authority.

Response: Zones of the earth does not teach modern geography, though it sounds a bit like sea monsters or other barriers keep people from traveling to other parts of the earth. Likewise zones of heaven does not mean much, except that both Mohammed and Jewish tradition spoke of seven heavens.

Sura 71:15-16 "See ye not how Allah has create the seven heavens one above another, And made the moon a light in the midst, and made the sun as a (Glorious) lamp?" It is claimed by some Muslims that the seven layers of the earth’s atmosphere (troposphere, stratosphere, etc.) are the seven heavens.

Response: Besides seven heavens being in common with Jewish tradition, calling the moon a light and the sun a lamp does not show modern scientific views, though this is not falsehood if it is understood as poetic language. Also, if the seven heavens were the seven layers of the earth’s atmosphere, it would be wrong to say the sun, moon, and stars are in the heavens.

As a side note, though the Bible never mentions seven heavens, various apocryphal traditions mention seven heavens: 2 Enoch 20:1; 20:1 p.134-135; Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah 7:8; 9:1,6; 10:17; The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs ch.3.3 p.13. 3 Baruch 11:1 p.675 mentions 5 heavens, though it does not say that is all there are. So even if it were a scientific miracle that Mohammed mentioning seven heavens corresponded to the earth's atmospheric layers, it would be even a greater miracle that these earlier works mentioned seven heavens too.

Sura 86:1-3 "By the heaven and by the visitant by night, and what will explain to you what the visitant by night is? It is the star of piercing brightness. (Just as Allah Almighty is taking care of each star in the galaxies, similarly) over each soul there is an appointed guardian angel." (Malik)

Some Muslims claim this teaches that the sun is a star.

Response: Note two things: a) the sun is not mentioned here, and b) everything in parenthesis was added in the English translation; it is not in the original Arabic!

Yusuf ‘Ali (revised edition) gives a much more accurate translation here. "By the Sky6067 and the Night-Visitant6068 (therein); And what will explain to thee What the Night-Visitant is? – (It is) the Star of piercing brightness; - there is no soul but has a protector over it.6069"

Yusuf ‘Ali’s footnote 606 says, "…The ‘Star of piercing brightness’ is understood by some to be the Morning Star, by others to be the planet Saturn, by others again to be Sirius, or the Pleids [Pleiades] or shooting stars. I think it is best to take the ‘Star’ in the collective or generic sense, for stars shine on every night of the year, and their piercing brightness is most noticeable on the darkest night."

Some Interpretations Are Really Out of This World!

Here are some other Muslim views recorded in http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/interprt.htm. This site has other good info too.

"Take for instance Muhammad Hanafi al-Banna who discovered allusions to aeroplanes (Sura 17:1), artificial satellites (Sura 41:53), interplanetary travel (Sura 55:33), and the hydrogen bomb (Sura 74:33-38) (Jansen 1980:48).

Thus, it was not surprising when men like Muhammad Kamil Daww wrote that the miracle of the "scientific" content of the Qur’an was even greater than the miracle of its matchless eloquence. This gave veracity to Muhammad, and hence a correctness to all the statements in the Qur’an.

Today the person best known for popularizing scientific exegesis is the French doctor Maurice Bucaille. In his book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, he seeks to expose the unscientific nature of the Bible while simultaneously elevating the status of the Qur’an by using the same criteria."

But Some Muslims Were More Down to Earth

It must be mentioned that many Muslims do not hold to the previous interpretations. Some see these verses are simply remarking on easily observed things in the sky.

Muhammad said: "Refrain from speaking about me except of what you know.

Whoever speaks a lie about me deliberately, may him prepare his place in the hellfire. And whoever interprets Qur’an by his own opinion may him prepare his place in the Hellfire." Tirmiz EE, Tefsir 1, (2951) (contributed)

 

"Nay, We hurl the Truth against Falsehood, and it knocks out its brain, and behold, Falsehood doth perish! Ah! Woe be to you for the (false) things ye ascribe (to Us)." Sura 21:19

If anyone deliberately attributes a lie to Mohammed, their abode is Hell. Abu Dawud vol.3 ch.1372 book 19 no.3643 p.1036. Also Bukhari vol.2 book 23 no.378 p.212-218

"...And whoever intentionally ascribes something to me [Mohammed] falsely, he will surely take his place in the (Hell) Fire." Bukhari vol.8 book 73 no.217 p.139-140.

A false witness is tantamount to ascribing partners to Allah. Ibn-i-Majah vol.3 book 13 no.2372 p.414

Muslims Views and Responses

1. The Qur’an anticipates modern science: The sun and moon are in orbit and rotate along their axis (Sura 21:33; 36:27-40). The Qur’an even teaches the big bang theory (Sura 21:30; Sura 51:47,48). The Arabic word falak means "orbit". Astronomers tell us that the sun orbits the center of the galaxy every 250 million years or so. The Arabic word yasbahuna (from sabaha) means rotating on its axis.

1 Response: Actually this is wishful thinking for two reasons.

1) The words are vague: falak is Arabic means course, progress as well as orbit, and yasbahuna can mean hastening on, though its most direct meaning is swimming.

2) Mohammed told us clearly what is means, and it means the sun and moon traveled over earth, swam/rode in a chariot across the earth’s sky.

Again, here are two sources of what Mohammed said.

"God created an ocean three fasrakhs (18 kilometers) removed from heaven. Waves contained, it stands in the air by the command of God. No drop of it is spilled. All the oceans are motionless, but that ocean flows at the rate of the speed of an arrow. It is set free to move in the air evenly, as if it were a rope stretched out in the area between east and west. The sun, the moon, and the retrograde stars [5 planets] run in its deep swell. This is (meant by) God’s word: ‘Each swims in a sphere.’ ‘The sphere’ is the circulation of the chariot in the deep swell of that ocean." al-Tabari vol.1 p.235

Narrated Abu Dhar : The Prophet asked me at sunset, ‘Do you know where the sun goes (at the

time of sunset)?" I replied, "Allah and His Apostle know better." He said, "It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates itself underneath the Throne, and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and them ( a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted,…" Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.4 no.441 p.283

2. The Qur’an mentions the sun’s orbit around the center of our galaxy.

2 Response: The sun does not have an independent orbit in our galaxy. If the Qur’an was attempting to teach modern science, it should have said the sun, moon, earth, and retrograde stars (planets) all orbit the galaxy together.

Again, we also know exactly what Mohammed meant, because he told us, as Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.4 no.441 p.283 and al-Tabari vol.1 p.235 record.

3. The sun’s resting place means it is shining on the other side of the earth.

Again, we also know exactly what Mohammed meant, because he told us, as Bukhari vol.4 book 54 ch.4 no.441 p.283 and al-Tabari vol.1 p.235 record.

4. The sun’s resting place means the ultimate destruction of the sun.

4 Response: A typical person reading this, in any language, would think it refers to a periodic cycle, not ultimate destruction.

5. Language of appearance: The sun, moon, and planets mark a path in the sky. These verses were meant neither to support nor contradict modern science, but were poetic expressions merely saying Allah was behind what people naturally observed.

5 Response: This would sound reasonable, except for what Bukhari and al-Tabari wrote that Mohammed said. If Bukhari and al-Tabari were wrong about this, then what criteria is there for saying they were right about anything.

 

Conclusion

Some (but not all) Muslims try to use these verses to prove the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an. Unless you see an error in this discussion, it is not intellectually honest to try to claim this proves the scientific accuracy of the Qur’an. In fact, some of these verses contradict what we know by modern science, unless you understand them to be poetic and the language of appearance. However, Bukhari and al-Tabari show these were understood quite literally. The sun and moon swim in the sky over the earth.

However, the most important thing in the world is not what you know, but Who you know. It is not which theories of men you believe, but whether you follow what the True God has revealed. Every single viewpoint on astronomy up to the nineteenth century has some error in it. Who’s to say that in the future people will not say the same about our scientific views? The only way we can know what is true is by what God has revealed to us. We have trust that God would reveal what we need to know, and that He would preserve the meaning of His revelation.

 

Bibliography: Translations of the Qur’an

1. Arberry, Arthur J. The Koran Interpreted. Macmillian Publishing Co., Inc. 1955.

2. Dawood, N.J. The Koran. Penguin Books. 1956-1999.

3. Malik, Farooq-i-Azam. English Translation of the Meaning of AL-QUR’AN : The Guidance for Mankind. The Institute of Islamic Knowledge. 1997

4. Pickthall, Mohammed Marmaduke. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. Dar al-Islamiyya (Kuwait) (no date given)

5. Rodwell, J.M. The Koran. First Edition. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books. 1993.

6. Shakir, M.H. The Qur’an. Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc. 12th U.S. Edition 2001.

7. Sher Ali, Maulawi. The Holy Qur’an. Islam International Publications Limited (Ahmadiyya) 1997

8. Yusuf ‘Ali, Abdullah. The Holy Qur-an : English translation of the meanings and Commentary. Revised & Edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA. King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex. (Al Madina Saudi Arabia) 1410 A.H.

Other References

Campbell, Dr. William. The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science (2nd edition). Arab World Ministries 2002.

The Translation of the Meanings of Sahih Al-Bukhari Arabic-English Vol.1 by Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan. Islamic University, Al-Medina Al-Munawwara AL MAKTABAT AL SALAFIAT AL MADINATO AL MONAWART

No date, No copyright.

The History of al-Tabari : An Annotated Translation. Ehsan Yar-Shater, General Editor. State University of New York Press 1989-.

http://debate.org.uk/topics/history/interprt.htm

 

Appendix – Translations of Sura 36:38-40

"And the sun runs on to a term appointed for it; that is the ordinance of the Mighty, the Knowing. (39) And (as for) the moon, We have ordained for it stages till it becomes again as an old dry palm branch. (40) Neither is it allowable to the sun that it should overtake the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day; and all float on in a sphere." M.H. Shakir’s translation

Pickthall’s translation has one verse number lower.

"(37) And the sun runneth on unto a resting-place for him. That is the measuring of the Mighty, the Wise. (38) And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she return like an old shriveled palm-leaf." (39) It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit." (M.M. Pickthall’s translation)

(38) And a Sign for them is the night from which We strip off the day, and lo! They are in darkness. (39) And the sun is moving on the course prescribed for it. That is the decree of the Almighty, the All-Knowing God."

Maulawi Sher Ali’s translation (Ahmadiyya)

(36:37-40) Another sign for them is the night; when We withdraw the daylight from it, and behold they are in darkness. The sun runs its course, this course is pre-estimated for it by the Almighty, the All-Knowing. As for the moon, We have designed phases for it till it again becomes like an old dry palm branch. Neither it is possible for the sun to overtake the moon, nor for the night to outstrip the day; each floats along in its own orbit." Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik’s translation.

(37) And a Sign for them Is the Night: We withdraw Therefrom the Day, and behold They are plunged in darkness; (38) And the Sun Runs unto a resting place, For him: that is The decree of (him) The Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing. (39) And the Moon, - We have measured for her Stations (to traverse) Till she returns Like the old (and withered) Lower part of a date-stalk. (40) It is not permitted To the Sun to catch up The Moon, nor can The Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along In (its own) orbit (According to Law).

(Yusuf Ali’s translation of the Qur’an (p.1326-1327) Revised & Edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA. King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex.)

(37) And a Sign for them is the Night; We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged into darkness; (38) And the Sun runs his course for a period determined for him: that is the decree of (Him), the exalted in Might, the All-Knowing. (39) And the Moon – We have measured for her mansions13 (to traverse) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of date-stalk." (40) It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit17 (according to Law).

Footnote 17 says "Circuit, course"

Abdullah Yusuf Ali published by MILLAT Book Centre

This differs from the previous (revised) Yusuf Ali in "for a period determined for him:" vs. "unto a resting place, for him:" and "stations" vs. "mansions"

"And a sign for them is the night; We strip it of the day and lo, they are in darkness. And the sun – it runs to a fixed resting-place; that is the ordaining of the All-mighty, the All-knowing. And the moon- We have determined it by stations, till it returns like an aged palm-bought. It behooves not the sun to overtake the moon, neither does the night outstrip the day, each swimming in a sky." A.J. Arberry’s translation

"A sign to them also is the night. We withdraw the day from it, and lo! They are plunged in darkness; And the sun hasteneth to her place of rest. This, the ordinance of the Mighty, the Knowing! And as for the moon, We have decreed stations for it, till it change like an old and crooked palm branch. To the sun it is not given to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day; but each in its own sphere doth journey on."

J.M. Rodwell’s translation of the Qur’an

"The night is another sign for men. From the night We lift the day – and they are plunged in darkness. The sun hastens to its resting-place; its course is laid for it by the Mighty One, the All-Knowing. We have ordained phases for the moon, which daily wanes and in the end appears like a bent old twig. The sun is not allowed to overtake the moon, nor does the night outpace the day. Each in its own orbit swims."

N.J. Dawood’s translation of the Qur’an.

http://www.submission.org/efarsi/arabic/sura36.html says,

"The sun sets into a specific location, according to the design of the Almighty, the Omniscient."



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