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To Raqib, "Qur'an and Science"

Reader comment on item: Pope Benedict XVI and the Koran
in response to reader comment: Qur'an and Science

Submitted by Lactantius Jr. (United Kingdom), Nov 2, 2006 at 09:53

To Raqib

In quoting Surah 36:40, you remind me of Islamic ‘Dawahist' Shabir Ally's reference to it, Shabir also making the claim for "astronomical knowledge in the Qur'an," which has been undercut so well by Sam Shamoun, and I quote verbatim some of his response to Shabir's claims, which also effectively undercuts your claim for the "Qur'an and science." Sam Shamoun's work being posted at http://www.answering-islam.org/Responses/Shabir-Ally/science11.htm

Two verses in the Qur'an refer to the orbits of the sun and moon. After mentioning the sun and the moon, Allah says: ‘Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion.'" Qur'an 21:33; 36:40.

Response:

There isn't a single verse in the Qur'an, where it states that the earth is traveling in an orbit. The Qur'an implies that the earth is stationary in relation to the sun and moon. Secondly, in these and several other verses in the Quran (see below) the orbits of sun and moon are mentioned together and no distinction is made between them. They look the same from the earth, traversing through the sky; but as everyone knows, in reality their orbits are very different: The moon travels around the earth, the sun does not. It only looks like it does because of the rotation of the earth. On the contrary, the earth travels around the sun. Why does the Qur'an never make this distinction in the two orbits? That might have been amazing. But exactly that is missing.

The Qur'an nowhere speaks about an orbit of the sun in the universe, it always speaks about the orbit of the sun "around the earth" (through the sky from East to West) as observed in its movement from sunrise to sunset.

You mention Copernicus (AD 1473-1543) Raqib, saying that:- "same astrological idea of Copernicus was written in The Holy Koran around 800 years before Copernicus proposed his idea to Vatican." Astrology is not astronomy, but however, I'll respond as though you were claiming the Qur'an correctly foretold planetary orbits, which it does not.

The Arabic word falak has here been translated by the word ‘orbit'; many French translators of the Qur'an attach to it the meaning of ‘sphere'. This is indeed its initial sense.

In times long past, the word caused problems to translaters of the Qur'an, who were unable to imagine the circular course of the Moon and the Sun and therefore retained images of their course through space, that were either more or less correct, or hopelessly wrong. Si Hamza Boubekeur in his translation of the Qur'an cites the diversity of interpretations given to it: "A sort of axle, like an iron rod, that a mill turns around; a celestial sphere, orbit, sign of the zodiac, speed, wave ...", but he adds the following observation made by Tabari, the famous Tenth century commentator: "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know." (XVII, 15). This shows just how incapable men were of understanding this concept of the Sun's and Moon's orbit. It is obvious that if the word had expressed an astronomical concept common in Muhammad's day, it would not have been so difficult to interpret these verses.

Let's see if whether the Qur'an passes the test of scientific accuracy.

First, the fact that the sun and moon travel while the earth is stationary can be seen in the following citations:

"And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit." Surah 21:33

"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). Surah 36:40

"By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him ..." Surah 91:1-2

If these verses are supposedly foretelling that the planets and stars are floating in an orbit, why then is there no mention of the fact that the earth is floating as well? Particularly the ayat 36:40 and 91:2 also give the impression that both the sun and the moon travel on an identical orbit where the sun never catches up to the moon. The fact is that, the moon and sun are not traveling together, since the moon orbits around the earth, not the sun. It is the earth that travels around the sun.

The expression "the sun not catching up the moon" shows very clearly that what Muhammad had in mind, was the progress of each body across the sky. The moon tracks across the sky at night, the sun at day - so of course they could not "catch up". He watched the two racing across the sky, neither one catching the other. But the very idea of catching up shows that in his 7th century mind, sun and moon were running on the same track.

"And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day." Surah 14:33

"Allah it is Who raised up the heavens without visible supports, then mounted the Throne, and compelled the sun and the moon to be of service, each runneth unto an appointed term; He ordereth the course; He detaileth the revelations, that haply ye may be certain of the meeting with your Lord." Surah 13:2

"And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she returns like an old shrivelled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They all float, each in an orbit. Surah 36:39-40

"He hath created the heavens and the earth with truth. He maketh night to succeed day, and He maketh day to succeed night, and He constraineth the sun and the moon to give service, each running on for an appointed term. Is not He the Mighty, the Forgiver?" Surah 39:5

Again, if the Quran indeed were foretelling modern scientific fact why then did this last verse not state that the earth is also running on a course for an appointed term? Wouldn't this have been a perfect place for Allah to state that the earth also travels, seeing that the orbit of both the sun and moon are mentioned in this verse? Instead, this is the sixth verse where the impression given is that the earth is not traveling, whereas the sun and moon are. The point that the earth is not traveling is solidified by the following verse:

"Is not He (best) Who made the earth a fixed abode, and placed rivers in the folds thereof, and placed firm hills therein, and hath set a barrier between the two seas? Is there any God beside Allah? Nay, but most of them know not!" Surah 27:61 (Pickthall)

Pickthall's translation gives the impression that the earth is in a fixed position, and is therefore stationary.

This view on the earth being a stationary object is supported by al-Baidawi:

"And He cast on the earth firm mountains lest it should shake with you," or least it should turn aside and be thrown out of balance. For before the mountains were created on it, the earth had been a light-weight sphere of simple substance. It floated about freely in orbit like the planets, and would advance with the slightest movement. Its sides varied in dimension when the mountains were created on its surface, and they centered it, thus serving as wedges to keep it from moving. It was also said that, when Allah created the earth it started to sway and swing, so that the angels said, "None can have a resting place on its surface." So it was made stationary by the mountains. (Baidawi's comments on Surah 16:15 as cited in ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO BOX 13, A-9503 VILLACH, AUSTRIA], pp. 19-20)

Al-Baidawi also claims:

"The sun - It runs to a fixed resting place" refers to a certain limit at which it cycle comes to an end. It is compared to the resting-place of a traveler after his journey, or to the center of the sky where it moves slower, so that one thinks it has come to a halt. [The poet says, ‘The sun is gone astray and revolves in the sky".] It can also mean a settled course, or an appointed end for each day from the east to the west. For it has a cycle of three hundred and sixty sunrises and sunsets; it rises every morning from its resting-place and sets in a setting place, only to return to them the following year. This could also be a reference to the destruction of the world when it ceases to rotate. Another reading is: ‘with no resting-place to it'; namely, it does not rest, but moves all the time. (Baidawi's comments on Surah 36:38 as cited by ‘Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible?, p. 29)

This gives the impression that the sun travels from one end of the earth to the other over a three hundred and sixty-day period. This strongly argues that the Qur'an pictures the earth as an immovable, stationary object where the sun and moon travel around. In fact, Muhammad also taught that the sun rests in a muddy spring from which it returns back on its course:

"Narrated Abu Dharr: The prophet asked me at sunset, ‘Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)?' I replied, ‘Allah and his messenger 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 then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course, but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West. And that is the interpretation of the statement of Allah: "‘And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term appointed). This is the decree of (Allah) the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing."'" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Number 421)

The translator of this Hadith states:

"The procedure of the sun mentioned in this Hadith and similar other things mentioned in the Qur'an like the prostration of the trees, herbs, and stars, etc. (v. 55:6) are beyond our limited knowledge of this universe. It is interpreted that these are mentioned so because of our limited understanding of the people at that time about the matters of the universe."

Where does the sun travel to after receiving permission from Allah to return on its course? The Qur'an gives us the answer:

"Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people. We (Allâh) said (by inspiration): "O Dhul-Qarnain! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness." Surah 18:86

Muhammad and his companions clearly believed that the sun literally set in a muddy spring.

Al-Zamakhshari remarks in his book, Al-Kash-shaf:

"Abu Dharr (one of Muhammad's close companions) was with Muhammad during the sunset.

Muhammad asked him: ‘Do you know, O Abu Dharr where this sets?' He answered: ‘Allah and His apostle know better.' Muhammad said: ‘It sets in a spring of slimy water.'" (3rd Edition, Volume 2, p. 743, 1987)

Hence, Muhammad believed that the sun literally sets in a spring. In his book, The Lights of Revelation (p. 399), al-Baidawi indicates,

"The sun sets in a slimy spring; that is, a well which contains mud. Some of the readers of the Qur'an read it, ‘... a hot spring', thus the spring combines the two descriptions. It was said that Ibn 'Abbas found Mu'awiya reading it (as) hot. He told him, ‘It is muddy.' Mu'awiya sent to Ka'b al-Ahbar and asked him, ‘Where does the sun set?' He said in water and mud and there were some people. So he agreed with the statement of Ibn al-'Abbas. And there was a man who composed a few verses of poetry about the setting of the sun in the slimy spring."

Ibn Abbas, who was both a Sahabah and a cousin of Muhammad, also believed along with Ka'b al-Ahbar that the sun literally set in a muddy spring.

In Al-Jalalan's Commentary, p. 251, we are told that the setting of the sun is in a well that contains murky mud. The same interpretation is given by al-Tabari in his commentary (The History by Tabari, The Scientific Books, p. 339) as well as in the Concise Interpretation of al-Tabari (pt 2, p. 19) where he states that the well in which the sun sets "contains lime and murky mud".

Hence, Muhammad believed and the Qur'an teaches, that the sun rests in a muddy spring from where it then travels throughout the galaxy until it appears before Allah and returns back again!

Al-Baidawi also mentions the course the moon follows when traversing the galaxy:

"And the moon-we determined" means its course is determined by stations. These stations are [twenty-seven]. They are as follows: Saratan ['Cancer'], Batin ['the Ventricle'], Thurayya ['the Pleiades'], al-Dabaran, al-Mihqama, al-Hata'a, Dhira' ['the Arm'], al-Natra, Taraf ['the End'], Jaiha ['the Countenance'], Zabra ['the Lion's Shoulder'], Sarfa ['the Lion's Heart'], `Uwa' ['the Lion's Thigh'], al-Samalik, al-Zayana, Iklil ['the Wreath'], Qalb ['the Heart'], Shauka ['the Thorn'], al-Ta'a'im, Balda ['the Town'], Sa'd al-Dhabih ['Sa'd of the Sacrifices'], Sa'd Bala', Sa'd al-Su'ud, Sa'd al-Ahbiya, Fargh al-Dilw al-Muqaddam ['the advanced Aquarius'], Fargh al-Dilw al-Mu'akhkhar ['the delayed Aquarius'], and Risha ['the Whale's Belly']. Every night the moon rests at a station, never exceeding it, and never late to it. When it is at its last station, which precedes the meeting, it tapers and turns into a crescent, "till it runs like an aged palm-bough" or an old palm frond, or a year-old palm frond. "It behoves not the sun" means it does not fit the sun "to overtake the moon" in speed. "Neither does the night outstrip the day" means it does not run before it and leave it lagging behind. "Each" refers to the suns and the moons. "Swimming in a sky" means they glide easily in it. (`Abdallah `Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], pp. 30-31; bold emphasis ours)

Baidawi claims that the Qur'anic reference that the moon is appointed mansions (cf. 36:39) means that the moon travels throughout the galaxy, traversing the different constellations such as Pleiades. This is a gross error! Other errors include:

"He Who created the seven heavens, one above the other ... And We have adorned the lowest heaven with lamps ..." Surah 67:3, 5

"And He completed them seven heavens in two days and inspired in each heaven its command; and We adorned the lower heaven with lamps, and rendered it guarded ..." Surah 41:12

"We have indeed adorned the lower heaven with the beauty of the stars." Surah 37:6

These passages contain major errors of fact. The lamps that adorn the lowest heaven are identified as the stars. The problem is that stars do not just adorn the lowest heaven, but adorn all the galaxies that we know of. Lamps can be seen throughout the billions of galaxies and are not just limited to one specific part of the heavens. This is a major error of scientific fact.

The Qur'an also asserts that the moon is located in the midst of the seven heavens which is a gross error:

"Do you not see how Allah has created the seven heavens one above the other, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a lamp?" Surah 71:15-16

The problem with this verse is that the average distance from the earth to the moon is 384,400 km, while Proxima Centauri, the closest star to us outside of the solar system, is already about 4.3 light years = 40,682,300,000,000 km (40 trillion kilometers) away, or expressed differently, we need to multiply the distance of the moon by more than 100 million to reach even the nearest of all the stars. Therefore, to say that the moon is in the midst of the seven heavens implies that the moon is actually farther away from the earth than the stars since the latter are only found in the lowest heaven. Once again, the Qur'an presents us with a major scientific error!

"And We have (from of old), adorned the lowest heaven with lamps, and We have made such (lamps as) missiles to drive away Satans ... " Surah 67:5

"We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty (in) the stars, (for beauty) and for guard against all obstinate rebellious Satans. (So) they should not strain their ears in the direction of the Exalted Assembly but be cast away from every side." Surah 37:6-8 (see also 15:16-18, 55:33-35)

Abu Qatada states,

"The creation of these stars is for three purposes, i.e. as decoration of the (nearest) heaven, as missiles to hit the devils, and as signs to guide travelers. So, if anybody tries to find a different interpretation, he is mistaken and just wastes his efforts, and troubles himself with what is beyond his limited knowledge." (Dr. Muhammad Taq-I-ud-Din Al-Hillai, Ph.D. [Berlin] Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Interpretation of the Meaning of the Noble Quran, pp. 214, 394-395)

Are we to really believe that meteors or stars are actually used to pelt immaterial spirits in order to prevent them from getting near the presence of Allah's angels? In what sense can physical objects be used to hurt spirits who have no material form? Would you claim that this is scientifically accurate Raqib?

Conclusion:

If the Qur'an is indeed foretelling modern scientific fact, why then does it not bother to mention that the earth is rotating on its axis, or that it is also traveling on an orbit? Why does it give the impression that the earth is stationary, and that the sun travels to one end of space and then comes to rest in a muddy spring? Why does it give the impression that the sun and moon travel on the same course when we know that the moon is actually rotating around the earth and it is the earth that rotates around the sun? Why does it give the impression that the earth is actually flat and that the stars are to be found only in the lowest heaven as opposed to being found throughout the entire universe? Why does the Qur'an claim that meteors or stars are actually objects used to cast out immaterial spirits from the presence of angels? Perhaps you can answer all these questions Raqib, but I can't, and must conclude that the Qur'an falls short of making the kind of scientific statements you and others claim it does.

Submitting....

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