Bible,Quran & Sc. 1
Bible,Quran & Sc. 2
Bible,Quran & Sc. 3
Bible,Quran & Sc. 4
Bible, The Qur'an and Science
by Dr. Maurice Bucaille
Chapter 3: The Qur'an and Modern
relationship between the Qur'an and science is a priori a surprise,
especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord. A
confrontation between a religious book and the secular ideas proclaimed by
science is perhaps, in the eyes of many people today, something of a
paradox. The majority of today's scientists, with a small number of
exceptions of course, are indeed bound up in materialist theories, and have
only indifference or contempt for religious questions which they often
consider to be founded on legend. In the West moreover, when science and
religion are discussed, people are quite willing to mention Judaism and
Christianity among the religions referred to, but they hardly ever think of
Islam. So many false judgements based on inaccurate ideas have indeed been
made about it, that today it is very difficult to form an exact notion of
the reality of Islam.
prelude to any confrontation between the Islamic Revelation and science, it
would seem essential that an outline be given of a religion that is so
little known in the West.
totally erroneous statements made about Islam in the West are sometimes the
result of ignorance, and sometimes of systematic denigration. The most
serious of all the untruths told about it are however those dealing with
facts; for while mistaken opinions are excusable, the presentation of facts
running contrary to the reality is not. It is disturbing to read blatant
untruths in eminently respectable works written by authors who a priori
are highly qualified. The following is an example taken from the
Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) vol. 6. Under the
heading Gospels (Evangiles) the author alludes to the differences between
the latter and the Qur'an: "The evangelists (. . .) do not (. . .), as in
the Qur'an, claim to transmit an autobiography that God miraculously
dictated to the Prophet . . .". In fact, the Qur'an has nothing to do with
an autobiography: it is a preaching; a consultation of even the worst
translation would have made that clear to the author. The statement we have
quoted is as far from reality as if one were to define a Gospel as an
account of an evangelist's life. The person responsible for this untruth
about the Qur'an is a professor at the Jesuit Faculty of Theology, Lyon !
The fact that people utter such untruths helps to give a false impression
of. the Qur'an and Islam.
hope today however because religions are no longer as inward-looking as they
were and many of them are seeking for mutual understanding. One must indeed
be impressed by a knowledge of the fact that an attempt is being made on the
highest level of the hierarchy by Roman Catholics to establish contact with
Muslims; they are trying to fight incomprehension and are doing their utmost
to change the inaccurate views on Islam that are so widely held.
Introduction to this work, I mentioned the great change that has taken place
in the last few years and I quoted a document produced by the Office for
Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican under the title Orientations for a
Dialogue between Christians and Muslims (Orientations pour un dialogue
entre chrétiens et musulmans). It is a very important document in that it
shows the new position adopted towards Islam. As we read in the third
edition of this study (1970), this new position calls for 'a revision of our
attitude towards it and a critical examination of our prejudices' . . . 'We
should first set about progressively changing the way our Christian brothers
see it. This is the most important of all.' . . . We must clear away the
'out-dated image inherited from the past, or distorted by prejudice and
slander' . . . , and 'recognize the past injustice towards the Muslims for
which the West, with its Christian education, is to blame.'
[ At a certain period of
history, hostility to Islam, in whatever shape or form, even coming from
declared enemies of the church, was received with the most heartfelt
approbation by high dignitaries of the Catholic Church. Thus Pope Benedict
XIV, who is reputed to have been the greatest Pontiff of the Eighteenth
century, unhesitatingly sent his blessing to Voltaire. This was in thanks
for the dedication to him of the tragedy Mohammed or Fanaticism
(Mahomet ou le Fanatisme) 1741, a coarse satire that any clever scribbler of
bad faith could have written on any subject. In spite of a bad start, the
play gained sufficient prestige to be included in the repertoire of the
Vatican document is nearly 150 pages long. It therefore expands on the
refutation of classic views held by Christians on Islam and sets out the
title Emancipating ourselves from our worst prejudices (Nous libérer
de nos préjugés les plus notables) the authors address the following
suggestions to Christians: "Here also, we must surrender to a deep
purification of our attitude. In particular, what is meant by this are
certain 'set judgements' that are all too often and too lightly made about
Islam. It is essential not to cultivate in the secret of our hearts views
such as these, too easily or arbitrarily arrived at, and which the sincere
Muslim finds confusing."
extremely important view of this kind is the attitude which leads people to
repeatedly use the term Allah' to mean the God of the Muslims, as if the
Muslims believed in a God who was different from the God of the Christians.
Al lâh means 'the Divinity' in Arabic: it is a single God, implying
that a correct transcription can only render the exact meaning of the word
with the help of the expression 'God'. For the Muslim, al lâh is none
other than the God of Moses and Jesus.
document produced by the Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican
stresses this fundamental point in the following terms:
seem pointless to maintain that Allâh is not really God, as do certain
people in the West! The conciliar documents have put the above assertion in
its proper place. There is no better way of illustrating Islamic faith in
God than by quoting the following extracts from Lumen Gentium
[ Lumen Gentium is the title of
a document produced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1966)].
'The Muslims profess the faith of Abraham and worship with us the sole
merciful God, who is the future judge of men on the Day of Reckoning . . .'"
therefore understand the Muslims' protest at the all too frequent custom in
European languages of saying 'Allâh' instead of 'God' . . .
Cultivated Muslims have praised D. Masson's French transition of the Qur'an
for having 'at last' written 'Dieu'
instead of 'Allah'.
Vatican document points out the following: "Allâh is the only word that
Arabic-speaking Christians have for God." Muslims and Christians worship a
The Vatican document then undertakes a critical examination of the other
false judgements made on Islam.
fatalism' is a widely-spread prejudice; the document examines this and
quoting the Qur'an for support, it puts in opposition to this the notion of
the responsibility man has, who is to be judged by his actions. It shows
that the concept of an Islamic legalism is false; on the contrary, it
opposes the sincerity of faith to this by quoting two phrases in the Qur'an
that are highly misunderstood in the West:
no compulsion in religion" (sura 2, verse 256)
"(God) has not laid upon you in religion any hardship" (sura 22, verse 78)
document opposes the widely-spread notion of 'Islam, religion of fear' to
'Islam, religion of love'-love of one's neighbor based on faith in God. It
refutes the falsely spread notion that Muslim morality hardly exists and the
other notion, shared by so many Jews and Christians, of Islamic fanaticism.
It makes the following comment on this: "In fact, Islam was hardly any more
fanatical during its history than the sacred bastions of Christianity
whenever the Christian faith took on, as it were, a political value." At
this point, the authors quote expressions from the Qur'an that show how, in
the West, the expression 'Holy War'
[ Translators of the Qur'an,
even famous ones, have not resisted the secular habit of putting into their
translations things that are not really in the Arabic text at all. One can
indeed add titles to the text that are not in the original without changing
the text itself, but this addition changes the general meaning. R. Blachère,
for example, in his well-known translation (Pub. Maisonneuve et Larose,
Paris, 1966, page 115) inserts a title that does not figure in the Qur'an:
Duties of the Holy War (Obligations de la guerre sainte). This is at the
beginning of a passage that is indisputably a call to arms, but does not
have the character that has been ascribed to it. After reading this, how can
the reader who only has access to the Qur'an via translations fail to think
that a Muslim's duty is to wage holy war?]
has been mis-translated; "in Arabic it is Al jihâd fî sabîl Allâh,
the effort on God's road", "the effort to spread Islam and defend it against
its aggressors." The Vatican document continues as follows: "The jihâd
is not at all the Biblical kherem; it does not lead to extermination, but to
the spreading of God's and man's rights to new lands."-"The past violence of
the jihâd generally followed the rules of war; at the time of the
Crusades moreover, it was not always the Muslims that perpetrated the worst
the document deals with the prejudice according to which "Islam is a
hide-bound religion which keeps its followers in a kind of superannuated
Middle Ages, making them unfit to adapt to the technical conquests of the
modern age." It compares analogous situations observed in Christian
countries and states the following: "we find, (. ..) in the traditional
expansion of Muslim thought, a principle of possible evolution in civilian
certain that this defense of Islam by the Vatican will surprise many
believers today, be they Muslims, Jews or Christians. It is a demonstration
of sincerity and open-mindedness that is singularly in contrast with the
attitudes inherited from the past. The number of people in the West who are
aware of the new attitudes adopted by the highest authorities in the
Catholic Church is however very small.
is aware of this fact, it comes as less of a surprise to learn of the
actions that sealed this reconciliation: firstly, there was the official
visit made by the President of the Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the
Vatican to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia; then the official reception given by
Pope Paul VI to the Grand Ulema of Saudi Arabia in the course of 1974.
Henceforth, one understands more clearly the spiritual significance of the
fact that His Grace Bishop Elchinger received the Grand Ulema at his
cathedral in Strasbourg and invited them during their visit to pray in the
choir. This they did before the altar, turned towards Makka.
representatives of the Muslim and Christian worlds at their highest level,
who share a faith in the same God and a mutual respect for their differences
of opinion, have agreed to open a dialogue. This being so, it is surely
quite natural for other aspects of each respective Revelation to be
confronted. The subject of this confrontation is the examination of the
Scriptures in the light of scientific data and knowledge concerning the
authenticity of the texts. This examination is to be undertaken for the
Qur'an as it was for the Judeo-Christian Revelation.
relationship between religions and science has not always been the same in
any one place or time. It is a fact that there is no writing belonging to a
monotheistic religion that condemns science. In practise however, it must be
admitted that scientists have had great difficulties with the religious
authorities of certain creeds. For many centuries, in the Christian world,
scientific development was opposed by the authorities in question, on their
own initiative and without reference to the authentic Scriptures. We already
know the measures taken against those who sought to enlarge science,
measures which often made scientists go into exile to avoid being burnt at
the stake, unless they recanted, changed their attitude and begged for
pardon. The case of Galileo is always cited in this context: he was tried
for having accepted the discoveries made by Copernicus on the rotation of
the Earth. Galileo Was condemned as the result of a mistaken interpretation
of the Bible, since not a single Scripture could reasonably be brought
case of Islam, the attitude towards science was, generally speaking, quite
different. Nothing could be clearer than the famous Hadith of the Prophet:
"Seek for science, even in China", or the other hadith which says that the
search for knowledge is a strict duty for every Muslim man and woman. As we
shall see further on in this section, another crucial fact is that the
Qur'an, while inviting us to cultivate science, itself contains many
observations on natural phenomena and includes explanatory details which are
seen to be in total agreement with modem scientific data. There is no equal
to this in the Judeo-Christian Revelation.
nevertheless be wrong to imagine that, in the history of Islam, certain
believers had never harboured a different attitude towards science. It is a
fact that, at certain periods, the obligation to educate oneself and others
was rather neglected. It is equally true that in the Muslim world, as
elsewhere, an attempt was sometimes made to stop scientific development. All
the same it will be remembered that at the height of Islam, between the
Eighth and Twelfth centuries A.D., i.e. at a time when restrictions on
scientific development were in force in the Christian world, a very large
number of studies and discoveries were being made at Islamic universities.
It was there that the remarkable cultural resources of the time were to be
found. The Calif's library at Cordoba contained 400,000 volumes. Averroës
was teaching there, and Greek, Indian and Persian sciences were taught. This
is why scholars from all over Europe went to study at Cordoba, just as today
people go to the United States to perfect their studies. A very great number
of ancient manuscripts have come down to us thanks to cultivated Arabs who
acted as the vehicle for the culture of conquered countries. We are also
greatly indebted to Arabic culture for mathematics (algebra was an Arabic
invention), astronomy, physics (optics), geology, botany, medicine
(Avicenna) etc. For the very first time, science took on an international
character in the Islamic universities of the Middle Ages. At this time, men
were more steeped in the religious spirit than they are today. but in the
Islamic world, this did not prevent them from being both believers and
scientists. Science was the twin of religion and it should never have ceased
to be so.
Medieval period was, for the Christian world, a time of stagnation and
absolute conformity. It must be stressed that scientific research was not
slowed down by the Judeo-Christian Revelation itself, but rather by those
people who claimed to be its servants. Following the Renaissance, the
scientists' natural reaction was to take vengeance on their former enemies;
this vengeance still continues today, to such an extent indeed that in the
West, anyone who talks of God in scientific circles really does stand out.
This attitude affects the thinking of all young people who receive a
university education, Muslims included.
thinking could hardly be different from what it is considering the extreme
positions adopted by the most eminent scientists. A Nobel prize winner for
Medicine has tried in the last few years to persuade people, in a book
intended for mass publication, that living matter was able to create itself
by chance from several basic components. Starting, he says, with this
primitive living matter, and under the influence of various external
circumstances, organized living beings were formed, resulting in the
formidable complex being that constitutes man.
these marvels of contemporary scientific knowledge in the field of life
should lead a thinking person to the opposite conclusion. The organization
presiding over the birth and maintenance of life surely appears more and
more complicated as one studies it; the more details one knows, the more
admiration it commands. A knowledge of this organization must surely lead
one to consider as less and less probable the part chance has to play in the
phenomenon of life. The further one advances along the road to knowledge,
especially of the infinitely small, the more eloquent are the arguments in
favor of the existence of a Creator. Instead of being filled with humility
in the face of such facts, man is filled with arrogance. He sneers at any
idea of God, in the same way he runs down anything that detracts from his
pleasure and enjoyment. This is the image of the materialist society that is
flourishing at present in the West.
spiritual forces can be used to oppose this pollution of thought practised
by many contemporary scientists?
and Christianity make no secret of their inability to cope with the tide of
materialism and invasion of the West by atheism. Both of them are completely
taken off guard, and from one decade to the next one can surely see how
seriously diminished their resistance is to this tide that threatens to
sweep everything away. The materialist atheist sees in classic Christianity
nothing more than a system constructed by men over the last two thousand
years designed to ensure the authority of a minority over their fellow men.
He is unable to find in Judeo-Christian writings any language that is even
vaguely similar to his own; they contain so many improbabilities,
contradictions and incompatibilities with modern scientific data, that he
refuses to take texts into consideration that the vast majority of
theologians would like to see accepted as an inseparable whole.
mentions Islam to the materialist atheist, he smiles with a complacency that
is only equal to his ignorance of the subject. In common with the majority
of western intellectuals, of whatever religious persuasion, he has an
impressive collection of false notions about Islam.
on this point, allow him one or two excuses: Firstly, apart from the
newly-adopted attitudes prevailing among the highest Catholic authorities,
Islam has always been subject in the West to a so-called 'secular slander'.
Anyone in the West who has acquired a deep knowledge of Islam knows just to
what extent its history, dogma, and aims have been distorted. One must also
take into account the fact that documents published in European languages on
this subject (leaving aside highly specialized studies) do not make the work
of a person willing to learn any easier.
knowledge of the Islamic Revelation is indeed fundamental from this point of
view. Unfortunately, passages from the Qur'an, especially those relating to
scientific data, are badly translated and interpreted, so that a scientist
has every right to make criticisms-with apparent justification-that the Book
does not actually deserve at all. This detail is worth noting henceforth:
inaccuracies in translation or erroneous commentaries (the one is often
associated with the other), which would not have surprised anybody one or
two centuries ago, offend today's scientists. When faced with a badly
translated phrase containing a scientifically unacceptable statement, the
scientist is prevented from taking the phrase into serious consideration. In
the chapter on human reproduction, a very typical example will be given of
this kind of error.
such errors in translation exist? They may be explained by the fact that
modern translators often take up, rather uncritically, the interpretations
given by older commentators. In their day, the latter had an excuse for
having given an inappropriate definition to an Arabic word containing
several possible meanings; they could not possibly have understood the real
sense of the word or phrase which has only become clear in the present day
thanks to scientific knowledge. In other words, the problem is raised of the
necessary revision of translations and commentaries. It was not possible to
do this at a certain period in the past, but nowadays we have knowledge that
enables us to render their true sense. These problems of translation are not
present for the texts of the Judeo-Christian Revelation. the case described
here is absolutely unique to the Qur'an.
scientific considerations, which are very specific to the Qur'an, greatly
surprised me at first. Up until then, I had not thought it possible for one
to find so many statements in a text compiled more than thirteen centuries
ago referring to extremely diverse subjects and all of them totally in
keeping with modern scientific knowledge. In the beginning, I had no faith
whatsoever in Islam. I began this examination of the texts with a completely
open mind and a total objectivity. If there was any influence acting upon
me, it was gained from what I had been taught in my youth; people did not
speak of Muslims, but of 'Muhammadans', to make it quite clear that what was
meant was a religion founded by a man and which could not therefore have any
kind of value in terms of God. Like many in the West, I could have retained
the same false notions about Islam; they are so widely-spread today, that I
am indeed surprised when I come across anyone, other than a specialist, who
can talk in an enlightened manner on this subject. I therefore admit that
before I was given a view of Islam different from the one received in the
West, I was myself extremely ignorant.
I owe the
fact that I was able to realize the false nature of the judgements generally
made in the West about Islam to exceptional circumstances. It was in Saudi
Arabia itself that an inkling was given to me of the extent to which
opinions held in the West on this subject are liable to error.
of gratitude I owe to the late King Faisal, whose memory I salute with
deepest respect, is indeed very great: the fact that I was given the signal
honour of hearing him speak on Islam and was able to raise with him certain
problems concerning the interpretation of the Qur'an in relation to modern
science is a very cherished memory. It was an extremely great privilege for
me to have gathered so much precious information from him personally and
those around him.
had now seen the wide gap separating the reality of Islam from the image we
have of it in the West, I experienced a great need to learn Arabic (which I
did not speak) to be sumciently well-equipped to progress in the study of
such a misunderstood religion. My first goal was to read the Qur'an and to
make a sentence-by-sentence analysis of it with the help of various
commentaries essential to a critical study. My approach was to pay special
attention to the description of numerous natural phenomena given in the
Qur'an; the highly accurate nature of certain details referring to them in
the Book, which was only apparent in the original, struck me by the fact
that they were in keeping with present-day ideas, although a man living at
the time of Muhammad could not have suspected this at all. I subsequently
read several works written by Muslim authors on the scientific aspects- of
the Qur'anic text: they were extremely helpful in my appreciation of it, but
I have not so far discovered a general study of this subject made in the
initially strikes the reader confronted for the first time with a text of
this kind is the sheer abundance of subjects discussed: the Creation,
astronomy, the explanation of certain matters concerning the earth, and the
animal and vegetable kingdoms, human reproduction. Whereas monumental errors
are to be found in the Bible, I could not find a single error in the Qur'an.
I had to stop and ask myself: if a man was the author of the Qur'an, how
could he have written facts in the Seventh century A.D. that today are shown
to be in keeping with modern scientific knowledge? There was absolutely no
doubt about it: the text of the Qur'an we have today is most definitely a
text of the period, if I may be allowed to put it in these terms (in the
next chapter of the present section of the book I shall be dealing with this
problem). What human explanation can there be for this observation? In my
opinion there is no explanation; there is no special reason why an
inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula should, at a time when King Dagobert was
reigning in France (629-639 A.D.), have had scientific knowledge on certain
subjects that was ten centuries ahead of our own.
It is an
established fact that at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation, i.e. within a
period of roughly twenty years straddling Hegira (622 A.D.), scientific
knowledge had not progressed for centuries and the period of activity in
Islamic civilization, with its accompanying scientific upsurge, came
after the close of the Qur'anic Revelation. Only ignorance of such
religious and secular data can lead to the following bizarre suggestion I
have heard several times: if surprising statements of a scientific nature
exist in the Qur'an, they may be accounted for by the fact that Arab
scientists were so far ahead of their time and Muhammad was influenced by
their work. Anyone who knows anything about Islamic history is aware that
the period of the Middle Ages which saw the cultural and scientific upsurge
in the Arab world came after Muhammad, and would not therefore indulge in
such whims. Suggestions of this kind are particularly off the mark because
the majority of scientific facts which are either suggested or very clearly
recorded in the Qur'an have only been confirmed in modern times.
easy to see therefore how for centuries commentators on the Qur'an
(including those writing at the height of Islamic culture) have inevitably
made errors of interpretation in the case of certain verses whose exact
meaning could not possibly have been grasped. It was not until much later,
at a period not far from our own, that it was possible to translate and
interpret them correctly. This implies that a thorough linguistic knowledge
is not in itself sufficient to understand these verses from the Qur'an. What
is needed along with this is a highly diversified knowledge of science. A
study such as the present one embraces many disciplines and is in that sense
encyclopedic. As the questions raised are discussed, the variety of
scientific knowledge essential to the understanding of certain verses of the
Qur'an will become clear.
Qur'an does not aim at explaining certain laws governing the Universe,
however; it has an absolutely basic religious objective. The descriptions of
Divine Omnipotence are what principally incite man to reflect on the works
of Creation. They are accompanied by references to facts accessible to human
observation or to laws defined by God who presides over the organization of
the universe both in the sciences of nature and as regards man. One part of
these assertions is easily understood, but the meaning of the other can only
be grasped if one has the essential scientific knowledge it requires. This
means that in former times, man could only distinguish an apparent meaning
which led him to draw the wrong conclusions on account of the inadequacy of
his knowledge at the time in question.
possible that the choice of verses from the Qur'an which are to be studied
for their scientific content may perhaps seem too small for certain Muslim
writers who have already drawn attention to them before I have. In general,
I believe I have retained a slightly smaller number of verses than they
have. On the other hand, I have singled out several verses which until now
have not, in my opinion, been granted the importance they deserve from a
scientific point of view. Wherever I may have mistakenly failed to take
verses into consideration for this study that were selected by these
writers, I hope that they will not hold it against me. I have also found, on
occasion, that certain books contain scientific interpretations which do not
appear to me to be correct; it is with an open mind and a clear conscience
that I have provided personal interpretations of such verses.
same token, I have tried to find references in the Qur'an to phenomena
accessible to human comprehension but which have not been confirmed by
modern science. In this context, I think I may have found references in the
Qur'an to the presence of planets in the Universe that are similar to the
Earth. It must be added that many scientists think this is a perfectly
feasible fact, although modern data cannot provide any hint of certainty. I
thought I owed it to myself to mention this, whilst retaining all the
attendant reservations that might be applied.
study been made thirty years ago, it would have been necessary to add
another fact predicted by the Qur'an to what would have been cited
concerning astronomy , this fact is the conquest of space. At that time,
subsequent to the first trials of ballistic missiles, people imagined a day
when man would perhaps have the material possibility of leaving his earthly
habitat and exploring space. It was then known that a verse existed in the
Qur'an predicting how one day man would make this conquest. This statement
has now been verified.
present confrontation between Holy Scripture and science brings ideas into
play, both for the Bible and the Qur'an, which concern scientific truth. For
this confrontation to be valid, the scientific arguments to be relied upon
must be quite soundly established and must leave no room for doubt. Those
who balk at the idea of accepting the intervention of science in an
appreciation of the Scriptures deny that it is possible for science to
constitute a valid term of comparison (whether it be the Bible, which does
not escape the comparison unscathed-and we have seen why-or the Qur'an,
which has nothing to fear from science). Science, they say, is changing with
the times and a fact accepted today may be rejected later.
comment calls for the following observation: a distinction must be drawn
between scientific theory and duly controlled observed fact. Theory is
intended to explain a phenomenon or a series of phenomena not readily
understandable. In many instances theory changes: it is liable to be
modified or replaced by another theory when scientific progress makes it
easier to analyse facts and invisage a more viable explanation. On the other
hand, an observed fact checked by experimentation is not liable to
modification: it becomes easier to define its characteristics, but it
remains the same. It has been established that the Earth revolves around the
Sun and the Moon around the Earth, and this fact will not be subject to
revision; all that may be done in the future is to define the orbits more
for the changing nature of theory is, for example, what made me reject a
verse from the Qur'an thought by a Muslim physicist to predict the concept
of anti-matter, a theory which is at present the subject of much debate. One
can, on the other hand. quite legitimately devote great attention to a verse
from the Qur'an describing the aquatic origins of life, a phenomenon we
shall never be able to verify, but which has many arguments that speak in
its favour. As for observed facts such as the evolution of the human embryo,
it is quite possible to confront different stages described in the Qur'an
with the data of modern embryology and find complete concordance between
modern science and the verses of the Qur'an referring to this subject.
confrontation between the Qur'an and science has been completed by two other
comparisons: one is the confrontation of modern knowledge with Biblical data
on the same subjects; and the other is the comparison from the same
scientific point of view between the data in the Qur'an, the Book of
Revelation transmitted by God to the Prophet, and the data in the Hadiths,
books narrating the deeds and sayings of Muhammad that lie outside the
end of this, the third section of the present work, the detailed results of
the comparison between the Biblical and Qur'anic description of a single
event are given, along with an account of how the passage fared when
subjected to the scientific criticism of each description. An examination
has, for example, been made in the case of the Creation and of the Flood. In
each instance, the incompatibilities with science in the Biblical
description have been made clear. Also to be seen is the complete agreement
between science and the descriptions in the Qur'an referring to them. We
shall note precisely those differences that make one description
scientifically acceptable in the present day and the other unacceptable.
observation is of prime importance, since in the West, Jews, Christians and
Atheists are unanimous in stating (without a scrap of evidence however) that
Muhammad wrote the Qur'an or had it written as an imitation of the Bible. It
is claimed that stories of religious history in the Qur'an resume Biblical
stories. This attitude is as thoughtless as saying that Jesus Himself duped
His contemporaries by drawing inspiration from the Old Testament during His
preachings: the whole of Matthew's Gospel is based on this continuation of
the Old Testament, as we have indeed seen already. What expert in exegesis
would dream of depriving Jesus of his status as God's envoy for this reason?
This is nevertheless the way that Muhammad is judged more often than not in
the West: "all he did Was to copy the Bible". It is a summary judgement that
does not take account of the fact that the Qur'an and the Bible provide
different versions of a single event. People prefer not to talk about the
difference in the descriptions. They are pronounced to be the same and thus
scientific knowledge need not be brought in. We shall enlarge on these
problems when dealing with the description of the Creation and the Flood.
collection of hadiths are to Muhammad what the Gospels are to Jesus:
descriptions of the actions and sayings of the Prophet. Their authors were
not eyewitnesses.. (This applies at least to the compilers of the
collections of hadiths which are said to be the most authentic and were
collected much later than the time when Muhammad was alive). They do not in
any way constitute books containing the written Revelation. They are not the
word of God, but the sayings of the Prophet. In these books, which are very
widely read, statements are to be found containing errors from a scientific
point of view, especially medical remedies. We naturally discount anything
relating to problems of a religious kind, since they are not discussed here
in the context of the hadiths. Many hadiths are of doubtful authenticity.
they are discussed by Muslim scientists themselves. When the scientific
nature of one of the hadiths is touched upon in the present work, it is
essentially to put into relief all that distinguishes them from the Qur'an
itself when seen from this point of view, since the latter does not contain
a single scientific statement that is unacceptable. The difference, as we
shall see, is quite startling.
observation makes the hypothesis advanced by those who see Muhammad as the
author of the Qur'an quite untenable. How could a man, from being
illiterate, become the most important author, in terms of literary merit, in
the whole of Arabic literature? How could he then pronounce truths of a
scientific nature that no other human being could possibly have developed at
the time, and all this without once making the slightest error in his
pronouncements on the subject?
in this study are developed from a purely scientific point of view. They
lead to the conclusion that it is inconceivable for a human being living in
the Seventh century A.D. to have made statements in the Qur'an on a great
variety of subjects that do not belong to his period and for them to be in
keeping with what was to be known only centuries later. For me, there can be
no human explanation to the Qur'an.
Authenticity of the Qur'an
It Came To Be Written
its undisputed authenticity, the text of the Qur'an holds a unique place
among the books of Revelation, shared neither by the Old nor the New
Testament. In the first two sections of this work, a review was made of the
alterations undergone by the Old Testament and the Gospels before they were
handed down to us in the form we know today. The same is not true for the
Qur'an for the simple reason that it was written down at the time of the
Prophet; we shall see how it came to be written, i.e. the process involved.
context, the differences separating the Qur'an from the Bible are in no way
due to questions essentially concerned with date. Such questions are
constantly put forward by certain people without regard to the circumstances
prevailing at the time when the Judeo-Christian and the Qur'anic Revelations
were written; they have an equal disregard for the circumstances surrounding
the transmission of the Qur'an to the Prophet. It is suggested that a
Seventh century text had more likelihood of coming down to us unaltered than
other texts that are as many as fifteen centuries older. This comment,
although correct, does not constitute a sufficient reason ; it is made more
to excuse the alterations made in the Judeo-Christian texts in the course of
centuries than to underline the notion that the text of the Qur'an, which
was more recent, had less to fear from being modified by man.
case of the Old Testament, the sheer number of authors who tell the same
story, plus all the revisions carried out on the text of certain books from
the pre-Christian era, constitute as many reasons for inaccuracy and
contradiction. As for the Gospels, nobody can claim that they invariably
contain faithful accounts of Jesus's words or a description of his actions
strictly in keeping with reality. We have seen how successive versions of
the texts showed a lack of definite authenticity and moreover that their
authors were not eyewitnesses.
be underlined is the distinction to be made between the Qur'an, a book of
written Revelation, and the hadiths, collections of statements concerning
the actions and sayings of Muhammad. Some of the Prophet's companions
started to write them down from the moment of his death. As an element of
human error could have slipped in, the collection had to be resumed later
and subjected to rigorous criticism so that the greatest credit is in
practise given to documents that came along after Muhammad. Their
authenticity varies, like that of the Gospels. Not a single Gospel was
written down at the time of Jesus (they were all written long after his
earthly mission had come to an end), and not a single collection of hadiths
was compiled during the time of the Prophet.
situation is very different for the Qur'an. As the Revelation progressed,
the Prophet and the believers following him recited the text by heart and it
was also written down by the scribes in his following. It therefore starts
off with two elements of authenticity that the Gospels do not possess. This
continued up to the Prophet's death. At a time when not everybody could
write, but everyone was able to recite, recitation afforded a considerable
advantage because of the double-checking possible when the definitive text
Qur'anic Revelation was made by Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad. It took place
over a period of more than twenty years of the Prophet's life, beginning
with the first verses of Sura 96, then resuming after a three-year break for
a long period of twenty years up to the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D.,
i.e. ten years before Hegira and ten years after Hegira.
[Muhammad's departure from Makka
to Madina, 622 A.D.]
following was the first Revelation (sura 96, verses 1 to 5)
[ Muhammad was totally
overwhelmed by these words. We shall return to an interpretation of them,
especially with regard to the fact that Muhammad could neither read nor
the name of thy Lord who created,
Who created man from something which clings
Read! Thy Lord is the most Noble
Who taught by the pen
Who taught man what he did not know."
Hamidullah notes in the Introduction to his French translation of the Qur'an
that one of the themes of this first Revelation was the 'praise of the pen
as a means of human knowledge' which would 'explain the Prophet's concern
for the preservation of the Qur'an in writing.'
formally prove that long before the Prophet left Makka for Madina (i.e. long
before Hegira), the Qur'anic text so far revealed had been written down. We
shall see how the Qur'an is authentic in this. We know that Muhammad and the
Believers who surrounded him were accustomed to reciting the revealed text
from memory. It is therefore inconceivable for the Qur'an to refer to facts
that did not square with reality because the latter could so easily be
checked with people in the Prophet's following, by asking the authors of the
suras dating from a period prior to Hegira refer to the writing down of the
Qur'an before the Prophet left Makka in 622 (sura 80, verses 11 to 16):
means! Indeed it is a message of instruction
Therefore whoever wills, should remember
On leaves held in honor
In the hands of scribes
Noble and pious."
Ali, in the commentary to his translation, 1934, wrote that when the
Revelation of this sura was made, forty-two or forty-five others had been
written and were kept by Muslims in Makka (out of a total of 114).
85, verses 21 and 22:
this is a glorious reading
[In the text: Qur'an which also
On a preserved tablet"
56, verses 77 to 80:
a glorious reading
In a book well kept Which none but the purified teach.
This is a Revelation from the Lord of the Worlds."
25, verse 5:
said: Tales of the ancients which he has caused to be written and they are
dictated to him morning and evening." Here we have a reference to the
accusations made by the Prophet's enemies who treated him as an imposter.
They spread the rumour that stories of antiquity were being dictated to him
and he was writing them down or having them transcribed (the meaning of the
word is debatable, but one must remember that Muhammad was illiterate).
However this may be, the verse refers to this act of making a written record
which is pointed out by Muhammad's enemies themselves.
that came after Hegira makes one last mention of the leaves on which these
divine instructions were written:
98, verses 2 and 3:
(apostle) from God recites leaves
Kept pure where are decrees right and straight."
Qur'an itself therefore provides indications as to the fact that it was set
down in writing at the time of the Prophet. It is a known fact that there
were several scribes in his following, the most famous of whom, Zaid Ibn
Thâbit, has left his name to posterity.
preface to his French translation of the Qur'an (1971), Professor Hamidullah
gives an excellent description of the conditions that prevailed when the
text of the Qur'an was written, lasting up until the time of the Prophet's
sources all agree in stating that whenever a fragment of the Qur'an was
revealed, the Prophet called one of his literate companions and dictated it
to him, indicating at the same time the exact position of the new fragment
in the fabric of what had already been received . . . Descriptions note that
Muhammad asked the scribe to reread to him what had been dictated so that he
could correct any deficiencies . . . Another famous story tells how every
year in the month of Ramadan, the Prophet would recite the whole of the
Qur'an (so far revealed) to Gabriel . . ., that in the Ramadan preceding
Muhammad's death, Gabriel had made him recite it twice . . . It is known how
since the Prophet's time, Muslims acquired the habit of keeping vigil during
Ramadan, and of reciting the whole of the Qur'an in addition to the usual
prayers expected of them. Several sources add that Muhammad's scribe Zaid
was present at this final bringing-together of the texts. Elsewhere,
numerous other personalities are mentioned as well."
diverse materials were used for this first record: parchment, leather,
wooden tablets, camels' scapula, soft stone for inscriptions, etc.
same time however, Muhammad recommended that the faithful learn the Qur'an
by heart. They did this for a part if not all of the text recited during
prayers. Thus there were Hafizun who knew the whole of the Qur'an by
heart and spread it abroad. The method of doubly preserving the text both in
writing and by memorization proved to be extremely precious.
after the Prophet's death (632), his successor Abu Bakr, the first Caliph of
Islam, asked Muhammad's former head scribe, Zaid Ibn Thâbit, to make a copy.
this he did. On Omar's initiative (the future second Caliph), Zaid consulted
all the information he could assemble at Madina: the witness of the
Hafizun, copies of the Book written on various materials belonging to
private individuals, all with the object of avoiding possible errors in
transcription. Thus an extremely faithful copy of the Book was obtained.
sources tell us that Caliph Omar, Abu Bakr's successor in 634, subsequently
made a single volume (mushaf) that he preserved and gave on his death
to his daughter Hafsa, the Prophet's widow.
Caliph of Islam, Uthman, who held the caliphate from 644 to 655, entrusted a
commission of experts with the preparation of the great recension that bears
his name. It checked the authenticity of the document produced under Abu
Bakr which had remained in Hafsa's possession until that time. The
commission consulted Muslims who knew the text by heart. The critical
analysis of the authenticity of the text was carried out very rigorously.
The agreement of the witnesses was deemed necessary before the slightest
verse containing debatable material was retained. It is indeed known how
some verses of the Qur'an correct others in the case of prescriptions: this
may be readily explained when one remembers that the Prophet's period of
apostolic activity stretched over twenty years (in round figures). The
result is a text containing an order of suras that reflects the order
followed by the Prophet in his complete recital of the Qur'an during
Ramadan, as mentioned above.
perhaps ponder the motives that led the first three Caliphs, especially
Uthman, to commission collections and recensions of the text. The reasons
are in fact very simple: Islam's expansion in the very first decades
following Muhammad's death was very rapid indeed and it happened among
peoples whose native language was not Arabic. It was absolutely necessary to
ensure the spread of a text that retained its original purity. Uthman's
recension had this as its objective.
sent copies of the text of the recension to the centres of the Islamic
Empire and that is why, according to Professor Hamidullah, copies attributed
to Uthman exist in Tashkent and Istanbul. Apart from one or two possible
mistakes in copying, the oldest documents known to the present day, that are
to be found throughout the Islamic world, are identical; the same is true
for documents preserved in Europe (there are fragments in the Bibliothèque
Nationale in Paris which, according to the experts, date from the Eighth and
Ninth centuries A.D., i.e. the Second and Third Hegirian centuries). The
numerous ancient texts that are known to be in existence all agree except
for very minor variations which do not change the general meaning of the
text at all. If the context sometimes allows more than one interpretation,
it may well have to do with the fact that ancient writing was simpler than
that of the present day.
[ The absence of diacritical marks, for example, could make a verb either
active or passive and in some instances, masculine or feminine. More often
than not however, this was hardly of any great consequence since the context
indicated the meaning in many instances.]
suras were arranged in decreasing order of length; there were nevertheless
exceptions. The chronological sequence of the Revelation was not followed.
In the majority of cases however, this sequence is known. A large number of
descriptions are mentioned at several points in the text, sometimes giving
rise to repetitions. Very frequently a passage will add details to a
description that appears elsewhere in an incomplete form. Everything
connected with modern science is, like many subjects dealt with in the
Qur'an, scattered throughout the book without any semblance of
* It is imporatnt to say that Qur'an was collected during the Prophet's
lifetime. The Prophet, and before his death, had showed the collection of
Qur'an scrolls to Gabriel many times. So, what is said in regard to
collecting of Qur'an during the ruling period of the Caliphs after the
Prophet means copying the same original copy written in the Prophet's life
which later were sent to different countries, and it does not mean the
recording or writing of Qur'an through oral sources as it may be thought.
Yet, many of the Companions have written the Qur'an exactly during the
lifetime of the Prophet. One of those was Imam Ali's copy. He, because of
his close relation with the Prophet, his long companionship, didn't only
collect the dispersed scrolls of the Qur'an, but he rather could accompany
it with a remarkable Tafseer, mentioning the occasion of each verse's
descension, and was regarded the first Tafseer of Qur'an since the beginning
of the Islamic mission. Ibn Abi Al-Hadeed says," All the scholars agree that
Imam Ali is the first one who collected the Qur'an," (see Sharhul Nahj,
271). Another one, Kittani, says that Imam Ali could arrange the Qur'an
according to each surah's order of descension, (see Strategic
Administration, 461). Ibn Sireen Tabe'ee relates from 'Ikrimeh, who said
that 'lmam Ali could collect the Qur'an in a manner that if all mankind and
jinn gathered to do that, they could not do it at all,' (see al-Itqan
1157-58). Ibn Jizzi Kalbi also narrates, "If only we could have the Qur'an
which was collected by Ali then we could gain a lot of knowledge," (see al-Tasheel,
114). That was only a brief note about the benefits of Imam Ali's Mus'haf,
as Ibn Sireen had declared, "I searched so long for Imam Ali's Mus'haf and I
correspounded with Medina, but all my efforts gone in vain.' (see al-Itqan,
1/58, al-Tabaqat,2/338). Thus; it becomes certain that Qur'an has been
collected by Imam Ali without simple difference between it and other known
copies, except in the notes mentioned by Him which renders it as the most
excellent copy has ever been known. Unfortunately, the inconvenient
political conditions emerged after the demise of the Prophet, (i.e after the
wicked issue of Saqeefah) was a main obstacle to get benefits from that
remarkable copy of the Qur'an.
Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
DIFFERENCES FROM AND RESEMBLANCES TO THE BIBLICAL DESCRIPTION
contrast to the Old Testament, the Qur'an does not provide a unified
description of the Creation. Instead of a continuous narration, there are
passages scattered all over the Book which deal with certain aspects of the
Creation and provide information on the successive events marking its
development with varying degrees of detail. To gain a clear idea of how
these events are presented, the fragments scattered throughout a large
number of suras have to be brought together.
dispersal throughout the Book of references to the same subject is not
unique to the theme of the Creation. Many important subjects are treated in
the same manner in the Qur'an: earthly or celestial phenomena, or problems
concerning man that are of interest to scientists. For each of these themes,
the same effort has been made here to bring all the verses together.
European commentators, the description of the Creation in the Qur'an is very
similar to the one in the Bible and they are quite content to present the
two descriptions side by side. I believe this concept is mistaken because
there are very obvious differences. On subjects that are by no means
unimportant from a scientific point of view, we find statements in the
Qur'an whose equivalents we search for in vain in the Bible. The latter
contains descriptions that have no equivalent in the Qur'an.
obvious resemblances between the two texts are well known; among them is the
fact that, at first glance, the number given to the successive stages of the
Creation is identical: the six days in the Bible correspond to the six days
in the Qur'an. In fact however, the problem is more complex than this and it
is worth pausing to examine it.
Six Periods of the Creation
absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever in the Biblical
[ The Biblical description
mentioned here is taken from the so-called Sacerdotal version discussed in
the first part of this work; the description taken from the so-called
Yahvist version has been compressed into the space of a few lines in today s
version of the Bible and is too insubstantial to be considered here.]
description of the Creation in six days followed by a day of rest, the
sabbath, analogous with the days of the week. It has been shown how this
mode of narration practiced by the priests of the Sixth century B.C. served
the purpose of encouraging the people to observe the sabbath. All Jews were
expected to rest [
'Sabbath' in Hebrew means 'to rest'.]
on the sabbath as the Lord had done after he had laboured during the six
days of the week.
the Bible interprets it, the word 'day' means the interval of time between
two successive sunrises or sunsets for an inhabitant of the Earth. When
defined in this way, the day is conditioned by the rotation of the Earth on
its own axis. It is obvious that logically-speaking there can be no question
of 'days' as defined just now, if the mechanism that causes them to appear-i.e.
the existence of the Earth and its rotation around the Sun-has not already
been fixed in the early stages of the Creation according to the Biblical
description. This impossibility has already been emphasized in the first
part of the present book.
refer to the majority of translations of the Qur'an, we read that-analogous
with the Biblical description-the process of the Creation for the Islamic
Revelation also took place over a period of six days. It is difficult to
hold against the translators the fact that they have translated the Arabic
word by its most common meaning. This is how it is usually expressed in
translations so that in the Qur'an, verse 54, sura 7 reads as follows:
Lord is God Who created the heavens and the earth in six days."
very few translations and commentaries of the Qur'an that note how the word
'days' should really be taken to mean 'periods'. It has moreover been
maintained that if the Qur'anic texts on the Creation divided its stages
into 'days', it was with the deliberate intention of taking up beliefs held
by all the Jews and Christians at the dawn of Islam and of avoiding a
head-on confrontation with such a widely-held belief.
in any way wishing to reject this way of seeing it, one could perhaps
examine the problem a little more closely and scrutinize in the Qur'an
itself, and more generally in the language of the time, the possible
meaning of the word that many translators themselves still continue to
translate by the word 'day' yaum, plural ayyam in Arabic.
[ See table on last page
of present work for equivalence between Latin and Arabic letters.]
common meaning is 'day' but it must be stressed that it tends more to mean
the diurnal light than the length of time that lapses between one day's
sunset and the next. The plural ayyam can mean, not just 'days', but
also 'long length of time', an indefinite period of time (but always long).
The meaning 'period of time' that the word contains is to he found elsewhere
in the Qur'an. Hence the following:
32, verse 5:
". . . in
a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is a thousand years of
(It is to be noted that the Creation in six periods is precisely what the
verse preceding verse 5 refers to).
70, verse 4:
". . . in
a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is 50,000 years."
that the word , yaum' could mean a period of time that was quite
different from the period that we mean by the word 'day' struck very early
commentators who, of course, did not have the knowledge we possess today
concerning the length of the stages in the formation of the Universe. In the
Sixteenth century A.D. for example, Abu al Su'ud, who could not have had any
idea of the day as defined astronomically in terms of the Earth's rotation,
thought that for the Creation a division must be considered that was not
into days as we usually understand the word, but into 'events' (in Arabic
commentators have gone back to this interpretation. Yusuf Ali (1934), in his
commentary on each of the verses that deals with the stages in the Creation,
insists on the importance of taking the word, elsewhere interpreted as
meaning 'days', to mean in reality 'very long Periods, or Ages, or Aeons'.
therefore possible to say that in the case of the Creation of the world, the
Qur'an allows for long periods of time numbering six. It is obvious that
modern science has not permitted man to establish the fact that the
complicated stages in the process leading to the formation of the Universe
numbered six, but it has clearly shown that long periods of time were
involved compared to which 'days' as we conceive them would be ridiculous.
the longest passages of the Qur'an, which deals with the Creation, describes
the latter by juxtaposing an account of earthly events and one of celestial
events. The verses in question are verses 9 to 12, sura 41:
speaking to the Prophet)
Do you disbelieve Him Who created the earth in two periods? Do you ascribe
equals to Him. He is the Lord of the Worlds.
"He set in the (earth) mountains standing firm. He blessed it.
He measured therein its sustenance in four periods, in due proportion, in
accordance with the needs of those who ask for (sustenance? or
"Moreover (tumma) He turned to heaven when it was smoke and said to
it and to the earth: come willingly or unwillingly! They said: we come in
"Then He ordained them seven heavens in two periods, and He assigned to each
heaven its mandate by Revelation. And We adorned the lower heaven with
luminaries and provided it a guard. Such is the decree of the All Mighty,
the Full of Knowledge."
four verses of sura 41 contain several points to which we shall return. the
initially gaseous state of celestial matter and the highly symbolic
definition of the number of heavens as seven. We shall see the meaning
behind this figure. Also of a symbolic nature is the dialogue between God on
the one hand and the primordial sky and earth on the other. here however it
is only to express the submission of the Heavens and Earth, once they were
formed, to divine orders.
have seen in this passage a contradiction with the statement of the six
periods of the Creation. By adding the two periods of the formation of the
Earth to the four periods of the spreading of its sustenance to the
inhabitants, plus the two periods of the formation of the Heavens, we arrive
at eight periods. This would then be in contradiction with the six periods
however, this text, which leads man to reflect on divine Omnipotence,
beginning with the Earth and ending with the Heavens, provides two sections
that are expressed by the Arabic word tumma', translated by
'moreover', but which also means 'furthermore' or 'then'. The sense of a
'sequence' may therefore be implied referring to a sequence of events or a
series of man's reflections on the events mentioned here. It may equally be
a simple reference to events juxtaposed without any intention of bringing in
the notion of the one following the other. However this may be, the periods
of the Creation of the Heavens may just as easily coincide with the two
periods of the Earth's creation. A little later we shall examine how the
basic process of the formation of the Universe is presented in the Qur'an
and we shall see how it can be jointly applied to the Heavens and the Earth
in keeping with modern ideas. We shall then realize how perfectly reasonable
this way is of conceiving the simultaneous nature of the events here
does not appear to be any contradiction between the passage quoted here and
the concept of the formation of the world in six stages that is to be found
in other texts in the Qur'an.
QUR'AN DOES NOT LAY DOWN A SEQUENCE FOR THE CREATION OF THE EARTH AND
two passages from the Qur'an quoted above, reference was made in one of the
verses to the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth (sura 7, verse 54) , and
elsewhere to the Creation of the Earth and the Heavens (sura 41, verses 9 to
12). The Qur'an does not therefore appear to lay down a sequence for the
Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
number of verses in which the Earth is mentioned first is quite small, e.g.
sura 2, verse 29 and sura 20, verse 4, where a reference is made to "Him Who
created the earth and the high heavens". The number of verses where the
Heavens are mentioned before the Earth is, on the other hand, much larger: (sura
7, verse 54; sura 10, verse 3; sura 11, verse 7; sura 25, verse 59; sura 32,
verse 4; sura 50, verse 38; sura 57, verse 4; sura 79, verses 27 to 33; sura
91, verses 5 to 10).
fact, apart from sura 79, there is not a single passage in the Qur'an that
lays down a definite sequence; a simple coordinating conjunction (wa)
meaning 'and' links two terms, or the word tumma which, as has been
seen in the above passage, can indicate either a simple juxtaposition or a
appears to me to be only one passage in the Qur'an where a definite sequence
is plainly established between different events in the Creation. It is
contained in verses 27 to 33, sura 79:
the harder to create Or. is it the heaven that (God) built? He raised its
canopy and fashioned it with harmony. He made dark the night and he brought
out the forenoon. And after that (ba' da dalika) He spread it out.
Therefrom he drew out its water and its pasture. And the mountains He has
fixed firmly. Goods for you and your cattle."
of earthly gifts from God to man, which is expressed In a language suited to
farmers or nomads on the Arabian Peninsula, is preceded by an invitation to
reflect on the creation of the heavens. The reference to the stage when God
spreads out the earth and renders it arable is very precisely situated in
time after the alternating of night and day has been achieved. Two groups
are therefore referred to here, one of celestial phenomena, and the other of
earthly phenomena articulated in time. The reference made here implies that
the earth must necessarily have existed before being spread out and that it
consequently existed when God created the Heavens. The idea of a
concomitance therefore arises from the heavenly and earthly evolutions
with the interlocking of the two phenomena. Hence, one must not look for any
special significance in the reference in the Qur'anic text to the Creation
of the Earth before the Heavens or the Heavens before the Earth: the
position of the words does not influence the order in which the Creation
took place, unless however it is specifically stated.
BASIC PROCESS OF THE FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE AND THE RESULTING COMPOSITION
OF THE WORLDS
Qur'an presents in two verses a brief synthesis of the phenomena that
constituted the basic process of the formation of the Universe.
--sura 21, verse 30:
the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together,
then We clove them asunder and We got every living thing out of the water.
Will they not then believe?"
41, verse 11. God orders the Prophet to speak after inviting him to reflect
on the subject of the earth's creation:
(God) turned to the Heaven when it was smoke and said to it and to the earth
. . ."
There then follow the orders to submit, referred to on page 136.
come back to the aquatic origins of life and examine them along with other
biological problems raised by the Qur'an. The important things to remember
at present are the following. a) The statement of the existence of a gaseous
mass with fine particles, for this is how the word 'smoke' (dukan in
Arabic) is to be interpreted. Smoke is generally made -up of a gaseous
substratum, plus, in more or less stable suspension, fine particles that may
belong to solid and even liquid states of matter at high or low temperature;
reference to a separation process (fatq) of an primary single mass
whose elements were initially fused together (ratq). It must be noted
that in Arabic 'fatq' is the action of breaking, diffusing,
separating, and that 'ratq' is the action of fusing or binding
together elements to make a homogenous whole.
concept of the separation of a whole into several parts is noted in other
passages of the Book with reference to multiple worlds. The first verse of
the first sura in the Qur'an proclaims, after the opening invocation, the
following: "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful", "Praise be to
God, Lord of the Worlds."
'worlds' reappears dozens of times in the Qur'an. The Heavens are referred
to as multiple as well, not only on account of their plural form, but also
because of their symbolic numerical quantity. 7.
number is used 24 times throughout the Qur'an for various numerical
quantities. It often carries the meaning of 'many' although we do not know
exactly why this meaning of the figure was used. The Greeks and Romans also
seem to have used the number 7 to mean an undefined idea of plurality. In
the Qur'an, the number 7 refers to the Heavens themselves (samawat).
It alone is understood to mean 'Heavens'. The 7 roads of the Heavens are
"(God) is the One Who created for you all that is on the earth. Moreover He
turned to the heaven and fashioned seven heavens with harmony. He is Full of
Knowledge of all things."
23, verse 17:
"And We have created above you seven paths. We have never been unmindful of
67, verse 3:
"(God) is the One Who created seven heavens one above an other. Thou canst
see no fault in the creation of the Beneficent. Turn the vision again! Canst
thou see any rift?"
71, verse 15-16:
"Did you see how God created seven heavens one above another and made the
moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp?
[ It is to be noted that while
the Bible calls both Sun and Moon 'lights', here, as always in the Qur'an,
they are differently named; the first is called 'Light' (nur) and the
second is compared in this verse to a 'lamp (siraj) producing light'.
We shall see later how other epithets are applied to the Sun.]"
78, verse 12:
"We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp."
blazing lamp is the Sun.
commentators on the Qur'an are in agreement on all these verses: the number
7 means no more than plurality.
[ Apart from the Qur'an, we
often find the number 7 meaning plurality in texts from Muhammad's time, or
from the first centuries following him, which record his words (hadiths).]
therefore many Heavens and Earths, and it comes as no small surprise to the
reader of the Qur'an to find that earths such as our own may be found in the
Universe, a fact that has not yet been verified by man in our time.
of sura 65 does however predict the following:
"God is the One Who created seven heavens and of the earth (ard) a
similar number. The Command descends among them so that you know that God
has power over all things and comprehends all things in His knowledge."
indicates an indefinite plurality (as we have seen), it is possible to
conclude that the Qur'anic text clearly indicates the existence of more than
one single Earth, our own Earth (ard); there are others like it in
observation which may surprise the Twentieth century reader of the Qur'an is
the fact that verses refer to three groups of things created, i.e.
in the Heavens.
--things on the Earth
--things between the Heavens and the Earth
several of these verses:
20, verse 6;
"To Him (God) belongs what is in the heavens, on earth, between them and
beneath the soil."
25, verse 59:
". . . the One Who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them
in six periods."
32, verse 4:
"God is the One Who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them
in six periods."
50, verse 38:
created the heavens, the earth .and what is between them in six periods, and
no weariness touched Us."
[ This statement that the
Creation did not make God at all weary stands out as an obvious reply to the
Biblical description, referred to in the first part of the present book,
where God is said to have rested on the seventh day from the preceding days'
reference in the Qur'an to 'what is between the Heavens and the Earth' is
again to be found in the following verses: sura 21, verse 16; sura 44,
verses 7 and 38 ; sura 78, verse 37; sura 15, verse 85; sura 46, verse 3;
sura 43, Verse 85.
Creation outside the Heavens and outside the Earth, mentioned several times,
is a priori difficult to imagine. To understand these verses, reference must
be made to the most recent human observations on the existence of cosmic
extra-galactic material and one must indeed go back to ideas established by
contemporary science on the formation of the Universe, starting with the
simplest and proceeding to the most complex. These are the subject of the
passing on to these purely scientific matters however, it is advisable to
recapitulate the main points on which the Qur'an gives us information about
the Creation. According to the preceding quotations, they are as follows:
Existence of six periods for the Creation
Interlocking of stages in the Creation of
the Heavens and the Earth.
Creation of the Universe out of an
initially unique mass forming a block that subsequently split up.
Plurality of the Heavens and of the
Existence of an intermediary creation
'between the Heavens and the Earth'.
MODERN SCIENTIFIC DATA CONCERNING THE FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE
The Solar System
and planets rotating around the Sun constitute an organized world of
dimensions which, to our human scale, appear quite colossal. The Earth is,
after all, roughly 93 million miles from the Sun. This is a very great
distance for a human being, but it is very small in comparison to the
distance separating the Sun from the furthermost planet from it in the solar
system (Pluto); in round numbers it is 40 times the distance from the Earth
to the Sun, i.e. approximately 3,672 million miles away. This distance, when
doubled, represents the largest dimension of our solar system. The Sun's
light takes nearly 6 hours to reach Pluto, and yet the journey is made at
the terrifying speed of over 186,000 miles per second. The light coming from
stars on the very confines of the known celestial world therefore takes
billions of years to reach us.
of which we are a satellite like the other planets surrounding it, is itself
an infinitesmally small element among a hundred billion stars that form a
whole, called a galaxy. On a fine summer night, the whole of space seems to
be filled with stars that make up what is known as the Milky Way. This group
has extremely large dimensions. Whereas light could cross the solar system
in units of one hour, it would require something like 90,000 years to go
from one extreme to the other of the most compact group of stars that make
up our galaxy.
galaxy that we belong to however, even though it is so incredibly huge, is
only a small part of the Heavens. There are giant agglomerates of stars
similar to the Milky Way that lie outside our galaxy. They were discovered a
little over fifty years ago, when astronomy was able to make use of an
optical instrument as sophisticated as the one that made possible the
construction of the Mount Wilson telescope in the United States. Thus a very
large number indeed of isolated galaxies and masses of galaxies have been
discovered that are so far away that it was necessary to institute a special
unit of light-years, the 'parsec' (the distance light travels in 3.26 years
at 186,000 miles per second).
Formation and Evolution of Galaxies, Stan and Planetary Systems
there originally in the immensely large space the galaxies now occupy?
Modern science can only answer this question as of a certain period in the
evolution of the Universe; it cannot put into numbers the length of time
that separates this period from us.
earliest time it can provide us with, modern science has every reason to
maintain that the Universe was formed of a gaseous mass principally composed
of hydrogen and a certain amount of helium that was slowly rotating. This
nebula subsequently split up into multiple fragments with very large
dimensions and masses, so large indeed, that specialists in astrophysics are
able to estimate their mass from 1 to 100 billion times the present mass of
the Sun (the latter represents a mass that is over 300,000 times that of the
Earth). These figures give an idea of the large size of the fragments of
primary gaseous mass that were to give birth to the galaxies.
fragmentation was to form the stars. There then followed the intervention of
a condensing process where gravitational forces came into play, (since these
bodies were moving and rotating more and more quickly), along with pressures
and the influence of magnetic fields and of radiations. The stars became
shiny as they contracted and transformed the gravitational forces into
thermal energy. Thermonuclear reactions came into play, and heavier atoms
were formed by fusion at the expense of others that were lighter; this is
how the transition was made from hydrogen to helium, then to carbon and
oxygen, ending with metals and metalloids. Thus the stars have a life of
their own and modern astronomy classifies them according to their present
stage of evolution. The stars also have a death; in the final stage of their
evolution, the violent implosion of certain stars has been observed so that
they become veritable 'corpses'.
planets, and in particular the Earth, originated in a separation process
starting from an initial constituent that in the beginning was the primary
nebula. A fact that has no longer been contested for over twenty-five years
is that the Sun condensed inside the single nebula and that the planets did
the same inside the surrounding nebular. disc. One must stress-and this is
of prime importance for. the subject in hand-that there was no sequence in
the formation of the celestial elements such as the Sun nor in the formation
of an earthly. element. There is an evolutionary parallelism with the
identity of origin.
science can give us information on the period during which the events just
mentioned took place. Having estimated the age of our galaxy at roughly ten
billion years, according to this hypothesis, the formation of the solar.
system took place a little over five billion years later'. The study of
natural radio activity makes it possible to place the age of the Earth and
the time the Sun was formed at 4.5 billion years ago, to within a
present-day accuracy of 100 million years, according to some scientists'
calculations. This accuracy is to be admired, since 100 million years may
represent a long time to us but the ratio 'maximum error/total
time-to-be-measured' is 0.1/4.5, i.e. 2.2%.
Specialists in astrophysics have therefore attained a high degree of
knowledge concerning the general process involved in the formation of the
solar system. It may be summarized as follows: condensation and contraction
of a rotating gaseous mass, splitting up into fragments that leave the Sun.
and planets in their places, among them the Earth.
[ As regards the Moon, its
gradual separation from the Earth following the deceleration of its rotation
is an acknowledged probability.]
The knowledge that science has gained on the primary nebula and the way it
split up into an incommensurable quantity of stars grouped into galaxies
leaves absolutely no doubt as to the legitimacy of a concept of the
plurality of worlds. It does not however provide any kind of certainty
concerning the existence in the Universe of anything that might, either
closely or vaguely, resemble the Earth.
The Concept of the Plurality of the Worlds
of the above, modern specialists in astrophysics consider it highly likely
that planets similar to Earth are present in the Universe. As far as the
solar system is concerned, nobody seriously entertains the possibility of
finding general conditions similar to those on Earth on another planet in
this system. We must therefore seek for them outside the solar system. The
likelihood of their existing outside it is considered quite probable for the
thought that in our galaxy half of the 100 billion stars must, like the Sun,
have a planetary system. The fifty billion stars do indeed, like the Sun,
rotate very slowly. a characteristic which suggests that they are surrounded
by planets that are their satellites. These stars are so far away that the
possible planets are unobservable, but their existence is thought to be
highly probable on account of certain trajectory characteristics ; a slight
undulation of the star's trajectory indicates the presence of a companion
planetary satellite. Thus the Barnard Star probably has at least one
planetary companion with a mass greater than that of Jupiter and may even
have two satellites. As P. Guérin writes: "All the evidence points to the
fact that planetary systems are scattered in profusion all over the
universe. The solar system and the Earth are not unique." And as a
corollary. "Life, like the planets that harbour it, is scattered throughout
the universe, in those places where the physico-chemical conditions
necessary for its flowering and development are to be found."
process in the formation of the Universe therefore lay in the condensation
of material in the primary nebula followed by its division into fragments
that originally constituted galactic masses. The latter in their turn split
up into stars that provided the sub-product of the process, i.e. the
planets. These successive separations left among the groups of principle
elements what one might perhaps call 'remains'. Their more scientific name
is 'interstellar galactic material'. It has been described in various ways;
there are bright nebulae that reflect the light received from other stars
and are perhaps composed of 'dusts' or 'smokes', to use the terminology of
experts in astrophysics, and then there are the dark nebulae that are less
dense, consisting of interstellar material that is even more modest, known
for its tendency to interfere with photometric measurements in astronomy.
There can be no doubt about the existence of 'bridges' of material between
the galaxies themselves. Although these gases may be very rarefied, the fact
that they occupy such a colossal space, in view of the great distance
separating the galaxies, could make them correspond to a mass possibly
greater than the total mass of the galaxies in spite of the low density of
the former. A. Boichot considers the presence of these intergalactic masses
to be of prime importance which could "considerably alter ideas on the
evolution of the Universe."
now go back to the basic ideas on the Creation of the Universe that were
taken from the Qur'an and look at them in the light of modern scientific
CONFRONTATION WITH THE DATA IN THE QUR'AN CONCERNING THE CREATION
examine the five main points on which the Qur'an gives information about the
The six periods of the Creation of the
Heavens and the Earth covered, according to the Qur'an, the formation of
the celestial bodies and the Earth, and the development of the latter
until (with its 'sustenance') it became inhabitable by man. In the case of
the Earth, the events described in the Qur'an happened over four periods.
One could perhaps see in them the four geological periods described by
modern science, with man's appearance, as we already know, taking place in
the quaternary era. This is purely a hypothesis since nobody has an answer
to this question.
It must be noted however, that the formation of the heavenly bodies and
the Earth, as explained in verses 9 to 12, sura 41 (see page 136) required
two phases. If we take the Sun and its subproduct the Earth as an example
(the only one accessible to us), science informs us that their formation
occurred by a process of condensation of the primary nebula and then their
separation. This is exactly what the Qur'an expresses very clearly when it
refers to the processes that produced a fusion and subsequent separation
starting from a celestial 'smoke'. Hence there is complete correspondence
between the facts of the Qur'an and the facts of science.
Science showed the interlocking of the two
stages in the formation of a star (like the Sun) and its satellite (like
the Earth). This interconnection is surely very evident in the text of the
The existence at an early stage of the
Universe of the 'smoke' referred to in the Qur'an, meaning the
predominantly gaseous state of the material that composes it, obviously
corresponds to the concept of the primary nebula put forward by modern
The plurality of the heavens, expressed in
the Qur'an by the number 7, whose meaning we have discussed, is confirmed
by modern science due to the observations experts in astrophysics have
made on galactic systems and their very large number. On the other hand
the plurality of earths that are similar to ours (from certain points of
view at least) is an idea that arises in the text of the Qur'an but has
not yet been demonstrated to be true by science; all the same, specialists
consider this to be quite feasible.
The existence of an intermediate creation
between 'the Heavens' and 'the Earth' expressed in the Qur'an may be
compared to the discovery of those bridges of material present outside
organized astronomic systems.
not all the questions raised by the descriptions in the Qur'an have been
completely confirmed by scientific data, there is in any case absolutely no
opposition between the data in the Qur'an on the Creation and modern
knowledge on the formation of the Universe. This fact is worth stressing for
the Qur'anic Revelation, whereas it is very obvious indeed that the
present-day text of the Old Testament provides data on the same events that
are unacceptable from a scientific point of view. It is hardly surprising,
since the description of the Creation in the Sacerdotal version of the Bible
[ This text completely
overshadows the few lines contained in the Yahvist version. The latter is
too brief and too vague for the scientist to take account of it.]
was written by priests at the time of the deportation to Babylon who had the
legalist intentions already described and therefore compiled a description
that fitted their theological views. The existence of such an enormous
difference between the Biblical description and the data in the Qur'an
concerning the Creation is worth underlining once again on account of the
totally gratuitous accusations leveled against Muhammad since the beginnings
of Islam to the effect that he copied the Biblical descriptions. As far as
the Creation is concerned, this accusation is totally unfounded. How
could a man living fourteen hundred years ago have made corrections to the
existing description to such an extent that he eliminated scientifically
inaccurate material and, on his own initiative, made statements that science
has been able to verify only in the present day? This hypothesis is
completely untenable. The description of the Creation given in the Qur'an is
quite different from the one in the Bible.
ANSWERS TO CERTAIN OBJECTIONS
Indisputably, resemblances do exist between narrations dealing with other
subjects, particularly religious history, in the Bible and in the Qur'an. It
is moreover interesting to note from this point of view how nobody holds
against Jesus the fact that he takes up the same sort of facts and Biblical
teachings. This does not, of course, stop people in the West from accusing
Muhammad of referring to such facts in his teaching with the suggestion that
he is an imposter because he presents them as a Revelation. As for the proof
that Muhammad reproduced in the Qur'an what he had been told or dictated by
the rabbis, it has no more substance than the statement that a Christian
monk gave him a sound religious education. One would do well to re-read what
R. Blachère in his book, The Problem of Muhammad (Le Problème de
Mahomet) [ Pub. Presses
Universitaries de France, Paris, 1952.],
has to say about this 'fable'.
A hint of
a resemblance is also advanced between other statements in the Qur'an and
beliefs that go back a very long way, probably much further in time than the
generally speaking, the traces of certain cosmogonic myths have been sought
in the Holy Scriptures; for example the belief held by the Polynesians in
the existence of primeval waters that were covered in darkness until they
separated when light appeared; thus Heaven and Earth were formed. This myth
is compared to the description of the Creation in the Bible, where there is
undoubtedly a resemblance. It would however be superficial to then accuse
the Bible of having copied this from the cosmogonic myth.
just as superficial to see the Qur'anic concept of the division of the
primeval material constituting the Universe at its initial stage-a concept
held by modern science-as one that comes from various cosmogonic myths in
one form or another that express something resembling it.
worth analysing these mythical beliefs and descriptions more closely. Often
an initial idea appears among them which is reasonable in itself, and is in
some cases borne out by what we today know (or think we know) to be true,
except that fantastic descriptions are attached to it in the myth. This is
the case of the fairly widespread concept of the Heavens and the Earth
originally being united then subsequently separated. When, as in Japan, the
image of the egg plus an expression of chaos is attached to the above with
the idea of a seed inside the egg (as for all. eggs), the imaginative
addition makes the concept lose all semblance of seriousness. In other
countries, the idea of a plant is associated with it; the plant grows and in
so doing raises up the sky and separates the Heavens from the Earth. Here
again, the imaginative quality of the added detail lends the myth its very
distinctive character. Nevertheless a common characteristic remains, i.e.
the notion of a single mass at the beginning of the evolutionary process
leading to the formation of the Universe which then divided to form the
various 'worlds. that we know today.
reason these cosmogonic myths are mentioned here is to underline the way
they have been embroidered by man's imagination and to show the basic
difference between them and the statements in the Qur'an on the same
subject. The latter are free from any of the whimsical details accompanying
such beliefs; on the contrary, they are distinguished by the sober quality
of the words in which they are made and their agreement with scientific
statements in the Qur'an concerning the Creation, which appeared nearly
fourteen centuries ago, obviously do not lend themselves to a human
Astronomy in the Qur'an
Qur'an is full of reflections on the Heavens. In the preceding chapter on
the Creation, we saw how the plurality of the Heavens and Earths was
referred to, as well as what the Qur'an calls an intermediary creation
'between the Heavens and the Earth', modern science has verified the latter.
The verses referring to the Creation already contain a broad idea of what is
to be found in the heavens, i.e. of everything outside the earth.
from the verses that specifically describe the Creation, there are roughly
another forty verses in the Qur'an which provide information on astronomy
complementing what has already been given. Some of them are not much more
than reflections on the glory of the Creator, the Organizer of all the
stellar and planetary systems. These we know to be arranged according to
balancing positions whose stability Newton explained in his law of the
mutual attraction of bodies.
verses to be quoted here hardly furnish much material for scientific
analysis: the aim is simply to draw attention to God's Omnipotence. They
must be mentioned however to give a realistic idea of the way the Qur'anic
text described the organization of the Universe fourteen centuries ago.
references constitute a new fact of divine Revelation. The organization of
the world is treated in neither the Gospels nor the Old Testament (except
for a few notions whose general inaccuracy we have already seen in the
Biblical description of the Creation). The Qur'an however deals with this
subject in depth. What it describes is important, but so is what it does not
contain. It does not in fact provide an account of the theories prevalent
at the time of the Revelation that deal with the organization of the
celestial world, theories that science was later to show were inaccurate. An
example of this will be given later. This negative consideration must
however be pointed out. [
I have often heard those who go to great lengths to find a human
explanation-and no other-to all the problems raised by the Qur'an Bay the
following: "if the Book contains surprising statements on astronomy, it is
because the Arabs were very knowledgeable on this subject." In so doing they
forget the fact that, in general, science in Islamic countries is very much
post-Qur'an, and that the scientific knowledge of this great period would in
any case not have been sufficient for a human being to write some of the
verses to be found in the Qur'an. This will be shown in the following
GENERAL REFLECTIONS CONCERNING THE SKY
50, verse 6. The subject is man in general.
"Do they not look at the sky above them, how We have built it and adorned
it, and there are no rifts in it."
31, verse 10:
"(God) created the heavens without any pillars that you can see..."
13, verse 2:
"God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see,
then He firmly established Himself on the throne and He subjected the sun
and moon . . ."
verses refute the belief that the vault of the heavens was held up by
pillars, the only things preventing the former from crushing the earth.
55, verse 7:
"the sky (God) raised it . . ."
22, verse 65:
"(God) holds back the sky from falling on the earth unless by His leave . .
known how the remoteness of celestial masses at great distance and in
proportion to the magnitude of their mass itself constitutes the foundation
of their equilibrium. The more remote the masses are, the weaker the force
is that attracts one to the other. The nearer they are, the stronger the
attraction is that one has to the other: this is true for the Moon, which is
near to the Earth (astronomically speaking) and exercises an influence by
laws of attraction on the position occupied by the waters of the sea, hence
the phenomenon of the tides. If two celestial bodies come too close to one
another, collision is inevitable. The fact that they are subjected to an
order is the sine qua non for the absence of disturbances.
subjection of the Heavens to divine order is often referred to as well:
23, verse 86. God is speaking to the Prophet.
"Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens and Lord of the tremendous throne?"
already seen how by 'seven heavens' what is meant is not 7, but an
indefinite number of Heavens.
45, verse 13:
"For you (God) subjected all that is in the heavens and on the earth, all
from Him. Behold! In that are signs for people who reflect."
55, verse 5:
"The sun and moon (are subjected) to calculations"
"(God) appointed the night for rest and the sun and the moon for reckoning."
14, verse 33:
"For you (God) subjected the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing
their courses. And for you He subjected the night and the day."
verse completes another: the calculations referred to result in the
regularity of the course described by the heavenly bodies in question, this
is expressed by the word da'ib, the present participle of a verb
whose original meaning was 'to work eagerly and assiduously at something'.
Here it is given the meaning of 'to apply oneself to something with care in
a perseverant, invariable manner, in accordance with set habits'.
36, verse 39: God is speaking:
"And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she returns like an old
shriveled palm branch."
This is a
reference to the curled form of the palm branch which, as it shrivels up,
takes on the moon's crescent. This commentary will be completed later.
16, verse 12:
"For you (God) subjected the night and the day, the sun and the moon; the
stars are in subjection to His Command. Verily in this are signs for people
who are wise."
practical angle from which this perfect celestial order is seen is
underlined on account of its value as an aid to man's travel on earth and by
sea, and to his calculation of time. This comment becomes clear when one
bears in mind the fact that the Qur'an was originally a preaching addressed
to men who only understood the simple language of their everyday lives. This
explains the presence of the following reflections.
"(God) is the One Who has set out for you the stars, that you may guide
yourselves by them through the darkness of the land and of the sea. We have
detailed the signs for people who know."
16, verse 16:
"(God sets on the earth) landmarks and by the stars (men) guide themselves."
10, verse 5:
"God is the One Who made the sun a shining glory and the moon a light and
for her ordained mansions, so that you might know the number of years and
the reckoning (of the time). God created this in truth. He explains the
signs in detail for people who know."
calls for some comment. Whereas the Bible calls the Sun and Moon 'lights',
and merely adds to one the adjective 'greater' and to the other 'lesser',
the Qur'an ascribes differences other than that of dimension to each
respectively. Agreed, this is nothing more than a verbal distinction, but
how was one to communicate to men at this time without confusing them, while
at the same time expressing the notion that the Sun and Moon were not
absolutely identical 'lights'?
NATURE OF HEAVENLY BODIES
The Sun and the Moon
is a shining glory (diya') and the Moon a light (nur). This
translation would appear to be more correct than those given by others,
where the two terms are inverted. In fact there is little difference in
meaning since diya' belongs to a root (dw') which, according
to Kazimirski's authoritative Arabic/French dictionary, means 'to be bright,
to shine' (e.g. like a fire). The same author attributes to the substantive
in question the meaning of 'light'.
difference between Sun and Moon will be made clearer by further quotes from
25, verse 61:
"Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed
therein a lamp and a moon giving light."
"Did you see how God created seven heavens one above an other and made the
moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp?"
78, verses 12-13:
"We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp."
blazing lamp is quite obviously the sun.
Here the moon is defined as a body that gives light (munir) from the
same root as nur (the light applied to the Moon). The Sun however is
compared to a torch (siraj) or a blazing (wahhaj) lamp.
A man of
Muhammad's time could easily distinguish between the Sun, a blazing heavenly
body well known to the inhabitants of the desert, and the Moon, the body of
the cool of the night. The comparisons found in the Qur'an on this subject
are therefore quite normal. What is interesting to note here is the sober
quality of the comparisons, and the absence in the text of the Qur'an of any
elements of comparison that might have prevailed at the time and which in
our day would appear as phantasmagorial.
known that the Sun is a star that generates intense heat and light by its
internal combustions, and that the Moon, which does not give of flight
itself, and is an inert body (on its external layers at least) merely
reflects the light received from the Sun.
nothing in the text of the Qur'an that contradicts what we know today about
these two celestial bodies.
know, the stars are heavenly bodies like the Sun. They are the scene of
various physical phenomena of which the easiest to observe is their
generation of light. They are heavenly bodies that produce their own light.
'star' appears thirteen times in the Qur'an (najm, plural nujum);
it comes from a root meaning to appear, to come into sight. The word
designates a visible heavenly body without saying of what kind, i.e. either
generator of light or mere reflector of light received. To make it clear
that the object so designated is a star, a qualifying phrase is added as in
the following sura:
86, verses 1-3:
"By the sky and the Night-Visitor, who will tell thee what the Night-Visitor
is, the Star of piercing brightness."
[ Here, the sky and a star are
used to bear witness to the importance of what is to come in the text.]
evening star is qualified in the Qur'an by the word takib meaning
'that which pierces through something' (here the night shadows) . The same
word is moreover used to designate shooting stars (sura 37, verse 10): the
latter are the result of combustion.
difficult to say whether these are referred to in the Qur'an with the same
exact meaning that is given to the heavenly bodies in the present day.
planets do not have their own light. They revolve around the Sun, Earth
being one of them. While one may presume that others exist elsewhere, the
only ones known are those in the solar system.
planets other than Earth were known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter and Saturn. Three have been discovered in recent times: Uranus,
Neptune and Pluto.
Qur'an would seem to designate these by the word kaukab (plural
kawakib) without stating their number. Joseph's dream (sum 12) refers to
eleven of them, but the description is, by definition, an imaginary one.
definition of the meaning of the word kaukab in the Qur'an Seems to
have been given in a very famous verse. The eminently spiritual nature of
its deeper meaning stands forth, and is moreover the subject of much debate
among experts in exegesis. It is nevertheless of great interest to offer an
account of the comparison it contains on the subject of the word that would
seem to designate a 'planet'.
the text in question: (sura 24, verse 35)
the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as if
there were a niche and within it a luminary. The luminary is in a glass. The
glass is as if it were a planet glittering like a pearl."
subject is the projection of light onto a body that reflects it (glass) and
gives it the glitter of a pearl, like a planet that is lit by the sun. This
is the only explanatory detail referring to this word to be found in the
is quoted in other verses. In some of them it is difficult to distinguish
which heavenly bodies are meant (sura 6, verse 76; sura 82, verses 1-2).
verse however, when seen in the light of modern science, it would seem very
much that these can only be the heavenly bodies that we know to be planets.
In sura 37, verse 6, we see the following:
indeed adorned the lowest heaven with an ornament, the planets."
possible that the expression in the Qur'an 'lowest heaven' means the 'solar
system'? It is known that among the celestial elements nearest to us, there
are no other permanent elements apart from the planets: the Sun is the only
star in the system that bears its name. It is difficult to see what other
heavenly bodies could be meant if not the planets. The translation given
would therefore seem to be correct and the Qur'an to refer to the existence
of the planets as defined in modern times.
The Lowest Heaven
Qur'an mentions the lowest heaven several times along with the heavenly
bodies of which it is composed. The first among these would seem to be the
planets, as we have just seen. When however the Qur'an associates material
notions intelligible to us, enlightened as we are today by modern science,
with statements of a purely spiritual nature, their meaning becomes obscure.
verse quoted could easily be understood, except that the following verse (7)
of the same sura 37 speaks of a 'guard against every rebellious evil
spirit', 'guard' again being referred to in sura 21, verse 32 and sura 41,
verse 12, so that we are confronted by statements of quite a different kind.
meaning can one attach moreover to the 'projectiles for the stoning of
demons' that according to verse 5, sura 67 are situated in the lowest
heaven? Do the 'luminaries' referred to in the same verse have something to
do with the shooting stars mentioned above?
[ It is known that when a
meteorite arrives at the upper layers of the atmosphere, it may produce the
luminous phenomenon of a 'shooting star'.]
observations seem to lie outside the subject of this study. They have been
mentioned here for the sake of completeness. At the present stage however,
it would seem that scientific data are unable to cast any light on a subject
that goes beyond human understanding.
information the Qur'an provides on this subject mainly deals with the solar
system. References are however made to phenomena that go beyond the solar
system itself: they have been discovered in recent times.
two very important verses on the orbits of the Sun and Moon:
21, verse 33:
"(God is) the One Who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each
one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion."
36, verse 40:
"The sun must not catch up the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day.
Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion."
essential fact is clearly stated: the existence of the Sun's and Moon's
orbits, plus a reference is made to the travelling of these bodies in space
with their own motion.
negative fact also emerges from a reading of these verses: it is shown that
the Sun moves in an orbit, but no indication is given as to what this orbit
might be in relation to the Earth. At the time of the Qur'anic Revelation,
it was thought that the Sun moved while the Earth stood still. This was the
system of geocentrism that had held sway since the time of ptolemy, Second
century B.C., and was to continue to do so until Copernicus in the Sixteenth
century A.D. Although people supported this concept at the time of Muhammad,
it does not appear anywhere in the Qur'an, either here or elsewhere.
The Existence of the Moon's and the Sun's Orbits
Arabic word falak has here been translated by the word 'orbit'. many
French translators of the Qur'an attach to it the meaning of a 'sphere'.
This is indeed its initial sense. Hamidullah translates it by the word
caused concern to older translators 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. Sir 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. A Dew concept
therefore existed in the Qur'an that was not to be explained until centuries
1. The Moon's Orbit
the concept is widely spread that the Moon is a satellite of the Earth
around which it revolves in periods of twenty-nine days. A correction must
however be made to the absolutely circular form of its orbit, since modern
astronomy ascribes a certain eccentricity to this, so that the distance
between the Earth and the Moon (240,000 miles) is only the average distance.
seen above how the Qur'an underlined the usefulness of observing the Moon's
movements in calculating time (sura 10, verse 5, quoted at the beginning of
this chapter.) This system has often been criticized for being archaic,
impractical and unscientific in comparison to our system based on the
Earth's rotation around the Sun, expressed today in the Julian calendar.
criticism calls for the following two remarks:
a) Nearly fourteen centuries ago, the Qur'an was directed at the inhabitants
of the Arabian Peninsula who were used to the lunar calculation of time. It
was advisable to address them in the only language they could understand and
not to upset the habits they had of locating spatial and temporal
reference-marks which were nevertheless quite efficient. It is known how
well-versed men living in the desert are in the observation of the sky. they
navigated according to the stars and told the time according to the phases
of the Moon. Those were the simplest and most reliable means available to
from the specialists in this field, most people are unaware of the perfect
correlation between the Julian and the lunar calendar: 235 lunar months
correspond exactly to 19 Julian years of 365 1/4 days. Then length of our
year of 365 days is not perfect because it has to be rectified every four
years (with a leap year) .
lunar calendar, the same phenomena occur every 19 years (Julian). This is
the Metonic cycle, named after the Greek astronomer Meton, who discovered
this exact correlation between solar and lunar time in the Fifth century
2. The Sun
more difficult to conceive of the Sun's orbit because we are so used to
seeing our solar system organized around it. To understand the verse from
the Qur'an, the position of the Sun in our galaxy must be considered, and we
must therefore call on modern scientific ideas.
galaxy includes a very large number of stars spaced so as to form a disc
that is denser at the centre than at the rim. The Sun occupies a position in
it which is far removed from the centre of the disc. The galaxy revolves on
its own axis which is its centre with the result that the Sun revolves
around the same centre in a circular orbit. Modern astronomy has worked out
the details of this. In 1917, Shapley estimated the distance between the Sun
and the centre of our galaxy at 10 kiloparsecs i.e., in miles, circa the
figure 2 followed by 17 zeros. To complete one revolution on its own axis,
the galaxy and Sun take roughly 250 million years. The Sun travels at
roughly 150 miles per second in the completion of this.
is the orbital movement of the Sun that was already referred to by the
Qur'an fourteen centuries ago. The demonstration of the existence and
details of this is one of the achievements of modern astronomy.
Reference to the Movement of the Moon and the Sun in Space With Their Own
concept does not appear in those translations of the Qur'an that have been
made by men of letters. Since the latter know nothing about astronomy, they
have translated the Arabic word that expresses this movement by one of the
meanings the word has: 'to swim'. They have done this in both the French
translations and the, otherwise remarkable, English translation by Yusuf
Ali. [ Pub. Sh. Muhammad
Ashraf, Lahore (Pakistan)]
Arabic word referring to a movement with a self-propelled motion is the verb
sabaha (yasbahuna in the text of the two verses). All the
senses of the verb imply a movement that is associated with a motion that
comes from the body in question. If the movement takes place in water, it is
'to swim'; it is 'to move by the action of one's own legs' if it takes place
on land. For a movement that occurs in space, it is difficult to see how
else this meaning implied in the word could be rendered other than by
employing its original sense. Thus there seems to have been no
mistranslation, for the following reasons.
-The Moon completes its rotating motion on its own axis at the same time as
it revolves around the Earth, i.e. 291/2 days (approx.), so that it always
has the same side facing us.
-The Sun takes roughly 25 days to revolve on its own axis. There are certain
differences in its rotation at its equator and poles, (we shall not go into
them here) but as a whole, the Sun is animated by a rotating motion.
appears therefore that a verbal nuance in the Qur'an refers to the Sun and
Moon's own motion. These motions of the two celestial bodies are confirmed
by the data of modern science, and it is inconceivable that a man living in
the Seventh century A.D.-however knowledgeable he might have been in his day
(and this was certainly not true in Muhammad's case) -could have imagined
is sometimes contested by examples from great thinkers of antiquity who
indisputably predicted certain data that modern science has verified. They
could hardly have relied on scientific deduction however; their method of
procedure was more one of philosophical reasoning. Thus the case of the
pythagoreans is often advanced. In the Sixth century B.C., they defended the
theory of the rotation of the Earth on its own axis and the movement of the
planets around the Sun. This theory was to be confirmed by modern science.
By comparing it with the case of the Pythagoreans, it is easy to put forward
the hypothesis of Muhammad as being a brilliant thinker, who was supposed to
have imagined all on his own what modern science was to discover centuries
later. In so doing however, people quite simply forget to mention the other
aspect of what these geniuses of philosophical reasoning produced, i.e. the
colossal blunders that litter their work. It must be remembered for example,
that the Pythagoreans also defended the theory whereby the Sun was fixed in
space; they made it the centre of the world and only conceived of a
celestial order that was centered on it. It is quite common in the works of
the great philosophers of antiquity to find a mixture of valid and invalid
ideas about the Universe. The brilliance of these human works comes from the
advanced ideas they contain, but they should not make us overlook the
mistaken concepts which have also been left to us. From a strictly
scientific point of view, this is what distinguished them from the Qur'an.
In the latter, many subjects are referred to that have a bearing on modern
knowledge without one of them containing a statement that contradicts what
has been established by present-day science.
Sequence of Day and Night
At a time
when it was held that the Earth was the centre of the world and that the Sun
moved in relation to it, how could any one have failed to refer to the Sun's
movement when talking of the sequence of night and day? This is not however
referred to in the Qur'an and the subject is dealt with as follows:
"(God) covers the day with the night which is in haste to follow it . . ."
36, verse 37:
"And a sign for them (human beings) is the night. We strip it of the day and
they are in darkness."
31, verse 29:
"Hast thou not seen how God merges the night into the day and merges the day
into the night."
39, verse 5:
". . . He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night."
verse cited requires no comment. The second simply provides an image.
mainly the third and fourth verses quoted above that provide interesting
material on the process of interpenetration and especially of winding the
night upon the day and the day upon the night. (sura 39, verse 5)
or 'to wind' seems, as in the French translation by R. Blachère, to be the
best way of translating the Arabic verb kawwara. The original meaning
of the verb is to 'coil' a turban around the head; the notion of coiling is
preserved in all the other senses of the word.
actually happens however in space? American astronauts have seen and
photographed what happens from their spaceships, especially at a great
distance from Earth, e.g. from the Moon. They saw how the Sun permanently
lights up (except in the case of an eclipse) the half of the Earth's surface
that is facing it, while the other half of the globe is in darkness. The
Earth turns on its own axis and the lighting remains the same, so that an
area in the form of a half-sphere makes one revolution around the Earth in
twenty-four hours while the other half-sphere, that has remained in
darkness, makes the same revolution in the same time. This perpetual
rotation of night and day is quite clearly described in the Qur'an. It is
easy for the human understanding to grasp this notion nowadays because we
have the idea of the Sun's (relative) immobility and the Earth's rotation.
This process of perpetual coiling, including the interpenetration of one
sector by another is expressed in the Qur'an just as if the concept of the
Earth's roundness had already been conceived at the time-which was obviously
not the case.
to the above reflections on the sequence of day and night, one must also
mention, with a quotation of some verses from the Qur'an, the idea that
there is more than one Orient and one Occident. This is of purely
descriptive interest because these phenomena rely on the most commonplace
observations. The idea is mentioned here with the aim of reproducing as
faithfully as possible all that the Qur'an has to say on this subject.
following are examples:
70 verse 40, the expression 'Lord of Orients and Occidents'.
--In sura 55, verse 17, the expression 'Lord of the two Orients and the two
--In sura 43, verse 38, a reference to the 'distance between the two
Orients', an image intended to express the immense size of the distance
separating the two points.
who carefully watches the sunrise and sunset knows that the Sun rises at
different point of the Orient and sets at different points of the Occident,
according to season. Bearings taken on each of the horizons define the
extreme limits that mark the two Orients and Occidents, and between these
there are points marked off throughout the year. The phenomenon described
here is rather commonplace, but what mainly deserves attention in this
chapter are the other. topics dealt with, where the description of
astronomical phenomena referred to in the Qur'an is in keeping with modern
EVOLUTION OF THE HEAVENS
called modern concepts on the formation of the Universe to mind, reference
was made to the evolution that took place, starting with primary nebula
through to the formation of galaxies, stars and (for the solar system) the
appearance of planets beginning with the Sun at a certain stage of its
evolution. Modern data lead us to believe that in the solar system, and more
generally in the Universe itself, this evolution is still continuing.
anybody who is aware of these ideas fail to make a comparison with certain
statements found in the Qur'an in which the manifestations of divine
Omnipotence are referred to.
Qur'an reminds us several times that: "(God) subjected the sun and the moon:
each one runs its course to an appointed term."
sentence is to be found in sura 13, verse 2. sura 31, verse 29; sura 35,
verse 13 and sura 39, verse 5.
addition to this, the idea of a settled place is associated with the concept
of a destination place in sura 36, verse 38: "The Sun runs its course to a
settled place. This is the decree of the All Mighty, the Full of Knowledge."
place' is the translation of the word mustaqarr and there can be no
doubt that the idea of an exact place is attached to it.
these statements fare when compared with data established by modern science?
Qur'an gives an end to the Sun for its evolution and a destination place. It
also provides the Moon with a settled place. To understand the possible
meanings of these statements, we must remember what modern knowledge has to
say about the evolution of the stars in general and the Sun in particular,
and (by extension) the celestial bodies that automatically followed its
movement through space, among them the Moon.
is a star that is roughly 4½ billion years old, according to experts in
astrophysics. It is possible to distinguish a stage in its evolution, as one
can for all the stars. At present, the Sun is at an early stage,
characterized by the transformation of hydrogen atoms into helium atoms.
Theoretically, this present stage should last another 5½ billion years
according to calculations that allow a total of 10 billion years for the
duration of the primary stage in a star of this kind. It has already been
shown, in the case of these other stars, that this stage gives way to a
second period characterized by the completion of the transformation of
hydrogen into helium, with the resulting expansion of its external layers
and the cooling of the Sun. In the final stage, its light is greatly
diminished and density considerably increased; this is to be observed in the
type of star known as a 'white dwarf'.
dates are only of interest in as far as they give a rough estimate of the
time factor involved, what is worth remembering and is really the main point
of the above, is the notion of an evolution. Modern data allow us to predict
that, in a few billion years, the conditions prevailing in the solar system
will not be the same as they are today. Like other stars whose
transformations have been recorded until they reached their final stage, it
is possible to predict an end to the Sun.
second verse quoted above (sur'a 36, verse 38) referred to the Sun running
its course towards a place of its own.
astronomy has been able to locate it exactly and has even given it a name,
the Solar. Apex: the solar. system is indeed evolving in space towards a
point situated in the Constellation of Hercules (alpha lyrae) whose
exact location is firmly established; it is moving at a speed already
ascertained at something in the region of 12 miles per. second.
astronomical data deserve to be mentioned in relation to the two verses from
the Qur'an, since it is possible to state that they appear to agree
perfectly with modern scientific data.
Expansion of the Universe
expansion of the Universe is the most imposing discovery of modern science.
Today it is a firmly established concept and the only debate centres around
the way this is taking place.
first suggested by the general theory of relativity and is backed up by
physics in the examination of the galactic spectrum; the regular movement
towards the red section of their spectrum may be explained by the distancing
of one galaxy from another. Thus the size of the Universe is probably
constantly increasing and this increase will become bigger the further away
the galaxies are from us. The speeds at which these celestial bodies are
moving may, in the course of this perpetual expansion, go from fractions of
the speed of light to speeds faster than this.
following verse of the Qur' an (sura 51, verse 47) where God is speaking,
may perhaps be compared with modern ideas:
heaven, We have built it with power. Verily. We are expanding it."
is the translation of the word sama' and this is exactly the
extra-terrestrial world that is meant.
expanding it' is the translation of the plural present participle
musi'una of the verb ausa'a meaning 'to make wider, more
spacious, to extend, to expand'.
translators who were unable to grasp the meaning of the latter provide
translations that appear to me to be mistaken, e.g. "we give generously" (R.
Blachère). Others sense the meaning, but are afraid to commit themselves:
Hamidullah in his translation of the Qur'an talks of the widening of the
heavens and space, but he includes a question mark. Finally, there are those
who arm themselves with authorized scientific opinion in their commentaries
and give the meaning stated here. This is true in the case of the
Muntakab, a book of commentaries edited by the Supreme Council for
Islamic Affairs, Cairo. It refers to the expansion of the Universe in
totally unambiguous terms.
THE CONQUEST OF SPACE
point of view, three verses of the Qur'an should command our full attention.
One expresses, without any trace of ambiguity, what man should and will
achieve in this field. In the other two, God refers for the sake of the
unbelievers in Makka to the surprise they would have if they were able to
raise themselves up to the Heavens; He alludes to a hypothesis which will
not be realized for the latter.
first of these verses is sura 55, verse 33: "O assembly of Jinns and Men, if
you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them!
You will not penetrate them save with a Power."
[ This verse is followed by an
invitation to recognize God's blessings. It forms the subject of the whole
of the sura that bears the title 'The Beneficent'.]
translation given here needs some explanatory comment:
a) The word 'if' expresses in English a condition that is dependant upon a
possibility and either an achievable or an unachievable hypothesis. Arabic
is a language which is able to introduce a nuance into the condition which
is much more explicit. There is one word to express the possibility (ida),
another for the achievable hypothesis (in) and a third for the
unachievable hypothesis expressed by the word (lau). The verse in
question has it as an achievable hypothesis expressed by the word (in).
The Qur'an therefore suggests the material possibility of a concrete
realization. This subtle linguistic distinction formally rules out the
purely mystic interpretation that some people have (quite wrongly) put on
b) God is
addressing the spirits (jinn) and human beings (ins), and not
essentially allegorical figures.
penetrate' is the translation of the verb nafada followed by the
preposition min. According to Kazimirski's dictionary, the phrase
means 'to pass right through and come out on the other side of a body' (e.g.
an arrow that comes out on the other side). It therefore suggests a deep
penetration and emergence at the other end into the regions in question.
Power (sultan) these men will have to achieve this enterprise would
seem to come from the All-Mighty.
be no doubt that this verse indicates the possibility men will one day
achieve what we today call (perhaps rather improperly) 'the conquest of
space'. One must note that the text of the Qur'an predicts not only
penetration through the regions of the Heavens, but also the Earth, i.e. the
exploration of its depths.
other two verses are taken from sura 15, (verses14 and 15). God is speaking
of the unbelievers in Makka, as the context of this passage in the sura
We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending
therein, they would say. our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay, we
are people bewitched."
The above expresses astonishment at a remarkable spectacle, different from
anything man could imagine.
The conditional sentence is introduced here by the word lau which
expresses a hypothesis that could never be realized as far as it concerned
the people mentioned in these verses.
talking of the conquest of space therefore, we have two passages in the text
of the Qur'an: one of them refers to what will one day become a reality
thanks to the powers of intelligence and ingenuity God will give to man, and
the other describes an event that the unbelievers in Makka will never
witness, hence its character of a condition never to be realized. The event
will however be seen by others, as intimated in the first verse quoted
above. It describes the human reactions to the unexpected spectacle that
travellers in space will see. their confused sight, as in drunkenness, the
feeling of being bewitched . . .
exactly how astronauts have experienced this remarkable adventure since the
first human spaceflight around the world in 1961. It is known in actual fact
how once one is above the Earth's atmosphere, the Heavens no longer have the
azure appearance we see from Earth, which results from phenomena of
absorption of the Sun's light into the layers of the atmosphere. The human
observer in space above the Earth's atmosphere sees a black sky and the
Earth seems to be surrounded by a halo of bluish colour due to the same
phenomena of absorption of light by the Earth's atmosphere. The Moon has no
atmosphere, however, and therefore appears in its true colors against the
black background of the sky. It is a completely new spectacle therefore that
presents itself to men in space, and the photographs of this spectacle are
well known to present-day man.
again, it is difficult not to be impressed, when comparing the text of the
Qur'an to the data of modern science, by statements that simply cannot be
ascribed to the thought of a man who lived more than fourteen centuries ago.
As in the
case of the subjects already examined, the verses of the Qur'an dealing with
the Earth are dispersed throughout the Book. It is difficult to classify
them, and the scheme adopted here is a personal one.
explain them more clearly, one might begin by singling out a certain number
of verses that deal with more than one subject at a time. These verses are
largely general in their application and constitute an invitation extended
to men to reflect on divine Beneficence by pondering on the examples
groups of verses may be singled out which deal with more specific subjects,
water cycle and the seas.
--the Earth's relief.
--the Earth's atmosphere.
VERSES CONTAINING GENERAL STATEMENTS
these verses provide arguments intended to lead man to meditate on the
Beneficence of God towards His creatures, here and there they contain
statements that are interesting from the point of view of modern science.
They are perhaps especially revealing by virtue of the fact that they do not
express the varied beliefs concerning natural phenomena that were current at
the time of the Qur'anic Revelation. These beliefs were later to be shown by
scientific knowledge to be mistaken.
one hand, these verses express simple ideas readily understood by to those
people to whom, for geographical reasons, the Qur'an was first directed: the
inhabitants of Makka and Madina, the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula. On
the other hand, they contain reflections of a general nature from which a
more cultivated public of any time and place may learn something
instructive, once it starts to think about them: this is a mark of the
is apparently no classification of such verses in the Qur'an, they are
presented here in the numerical order of the suras:
"(God) is the One who made the earth a couch for you and the heavens an
edifice, and sent down water from the sky. He brought forth therewith fruits
for your sustenance. Do not join equals with God when you know."
"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth,
In the disparity of night and day,
In the ship which runs upon the sea for the profit of mankind,
In the water which God sent down from the sky thereby reviving the earth
after its death,
In the beasts of all kinds He scatters therein,
In the change of the winds and the subjected clouds between the sky and
Here are Signs for people who are wise."
13, verse 3:
"(God) is the One who spread out the earth and set therein mountains
standing firm and rivers. For every fruit He placed two of a pair. He covers
the day with the night. Verily in this there are Signs for people who
15, verses 19 to 21. God is speaking:
"The earth, We spread it out and set thereon mountains standing firm. We
caused all kind of things to grow therein in due balance. Therein W e have
provided you and those you do not supply with means of subsistence and there
is not a thing but its stores are with Us. We do not send it down save in
20, verses 53 and 54:
"(God is) the One Who has made for you the earth like a cradle and inserted
roads into it for you. He sent water down from the sky and thereby We
brought forth pairs of plants, each separate from the other. Eat! Pasture
your cattle ! Verily in this are Signs for people endued with intelligence."
27, verse 61:
"He Who made the earth an abode and set rivers in its interstices and
mountains standing firm. He placed a barrier between the two seas. Is there
any divinity besides God? Nay, but most people do not know."
reference is made to the general stability of the Earth's crust. It is known
that at the early stages of the Earth's existence before its crust cooled
down, the latter was unstable. The stability of the Earth's crust is not
however strictly uniform, since there are zones where earthquakes
intermittently occur. As to the barrier between the two seas, it is an image
which signifies that the waters of the great rivers and the waters of the
sea do not mix at the level of certain large estuaries.
67, verse 15:
"(God is) the One Who made the earth docile to you. So walk upon its
shoulders! Eat of His sustenance! Unto Him will be the Resurrection."
79, verses 30-33:
"After that (God) spread the earth out. Therefrom He drew out its water and
its pasture. And the mountains He has firmly fixed. Goods for you and for
such verses, emphasis is laid upon the importance of water and the practical
consequences of its presence in the earth's soil, i.e. the fertility of the
soil. There can be no doubt that in desert countries, water is the most
important element governing man's survival. The reference in the Qur'an
however goes beyond this geographical detail. According to scientific
knowledge the character the Earth has of a planet that is rich in water is
unique to the solar system, and this is exactly what is highlighted in the
Qur'an. Without water, the Earth would be a dead planet like the Moon. The
Qur'an gives first place to water among the natural phenomena of the Earth
that it refers to. The water cycle is described with remarkable accuracy in
THE WATER CYCLE AND THE SEAS
verses of the Qur'an concerning the role of water in man's existence are
read in succession today. they all appear to us to express ideas that are
quite obvious. The reason for this is simple: in our day and age, we all, to
a lesser or greater extent, know about the water cycle in nature.
however, we consider the various concepts the ancients had on this subject,
it becomes clear that the data in the Qur'an do not embody the mythical
concepts current at the time of the Revelation which had been developed more
according to philosophical speculation than observed phenomena. Although it
was empirically possible to acquire on a modest scale, the useful practical
knowledge necessary for the improvement of the irrigation, the concepts held
on the water cycle in general would hardly be acceptable today.
would have been easy to imagine that underground water could have come from
the infiltration of precipitations in the soil. In ancient times however,
this idea, held by Vitruvius Polio Marcus in Rome, 1st century B.C., was
cited as an exception. For many centuries therefore (and the Qur'anic
Revelation is situated during this period) man held totally inaccurate views
on the water cycle.
specialists on this subject, G. Gastany and B. Blavoux, in their entry in
the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) under the
heading Hydrogeology (Hydrogéologie), give an edifying history of
Seventh century B.C., Thales of Miletus held the theory whereby the waters
of the oceans, under the effect of winds, were thrust towards the interior
of the continents; so the water fell upon the earth and penetrated into the
soil. Plato shared these views and thought that the return of the waters to
the oceans was via a great abyss, the 'Tartarus'. This theory had many
supporters until the Eighteenth century, one of whom was Descartes.
Aristotle imagined that the water vapour from the soil condensed in cool
mountain caverns and formed underground lakes that fed springs. He was
followed by Seneca (1st Century A.D.) and many others, until 1877, among
them O. Volger . . . The first clear formulation of the water cycle must be
attributed to Bernard Palissy in 1580. he claimed that underground water
came from rainwater infiltrating into the soil. This theory was confirmed by
E. Mariotte and P. Perrault in the Seventeenth century.
following passages from the Qur'an, there is no trace of the mistaken ideas
that were current at the time of Muhammad:
50, verses 9 to 11:
[ Whenever the pronoun
'We' appears in the verses of the text quoted here, it refers to God.]
sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens,
grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the
other-sustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We gave (new) life to a dead
land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs)."
23, verses 18 and 19:
"We sent down water from the sky in measure and lodged it in the ground. And
We certainly are able to withdraw it. Therewith for you We gave rise to
gardens of palm-trees and vineyards where for you are abundant fruits and of
them you eat."
15, verse 22:
"We sent forth the winds that fecundate. We cause the water to descend from
the sky. We provide you with the water-you (could) not be the guardians of
two possible interpretations of this last verse. The fecundating winds may
be taken to be the fertilizers of plants because they carry pollen. This
may, however, be a figurative expression referring by analogy to the role
the wind plays in the process whereby a non-raincarrying cloud is turned
into one that produces a shower of rain. This role is often referred to, as
in the following verses:
35, verse 9:
"God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. We
drive them to a dead land. Therewith We revive the ground after its death.
So will be the Resurrection."
be noted how the style is descriptive in the first part of the verse, then
passes without transition to a declaration from God. Such sudden changes in
the form of the narration are very frequent in the Qur'an.
--sura 30, verse 48:
"God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. He
spreads them in the sky as He wills and breaks them into fragments. Then
thou seest raindrops issuing from within them. He makes them reach such of
His servants as He wills. And they are rejoicing."
"(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. When
they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land. Then
We cause water to descend and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus
We will bring forth the dead. Maybe you will remember."
25, verses 48 and 49:
"(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. We
cause pure water to descend in order to revive a dead land with it and to
supply with drink the multitude of cattle and human beings We have created."
45, verse 5:
". . . In the provision that God sends down from the sky and thereby He
revives the ground after its death and in the change (of direction) of
winds, there are Signs for people who are wise."
provision made in this last verse is in the form of the water sent down from
the sky, as the context shows. The accent is on the change of the winds that
modify the rain cycle.
13, verse 17:
"(God) sends water down from the sky so that the rivers flow according to
their measure. The torrent bears away an increasing foam."
verse 30, God commands the Prophet:
"Say. Do you see if your water were to be lost in the ground, who then can
supply you with gushing water?"
"Hast thou not seen that God sent water down from the sky and led it through
sources into the ground? Then He caused sown fields of different colors to
36, verse 34:
"Therein We placed gardens of palm-trees and vineyards and We caused water
springs to gush forth."
importance of springs and the way they are fed by rainwater conducted into
them is stressed in the last three verses. It is worth pausing to examine
this fact and call to mind the predominance in the Middle Ages of views such
as those held by Aristotle, according to whom springs were fed by
underground lakes. In his entry on Hydrology (Hydrologie) in the
Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) M.R. Remenieras,
a teacher at the French National School of Agronomy (Ecole nationale du
Genie rural, des Eaux et Forêts), describes the main stages of hydrology and
refers to the magnificent irrigation works of the ancients, particularly in
the Middle East. He notes however that an empirical outlook ruled over
everything, since the ideas of the time proceeded from mistaken concepts. He
continues as follows:
not until the Renaissance (between circa 1400 and 1600) that purely
philosophical concepts gave way to research based on the objective
observation of hydrologic phenomena. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) rebelled
against Aristotle's statements. Bernard Palissy, in his Wonderful
discourse on the nature of waters and fountains both natural and artificial
(Discours admirable de la nature des eaux et fontaines tant naturelles
qu'artificielles (Paris, 1570)) gives a correct interpretation of the water
cycle and especially of the way springs are fed by rainwater."
statement is surely exactly what is mentioned in verse 21, sura 39
describing the way rainwater is conducted into sources in the ground.
subject of verse 43, sura 24 is rain and hail:
"Hast thou not seen that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them
together, then makes them a heap. And thou seest raindrops issuing from
within it. He sends down from the sky mountains of hail, He strikes
therewith whom He wills and He turns it away from whom He wills. The
flashing of its lightning almost snatches away the sight." The following
passage requires some comment:
56, verses 68-70:
"Have you observed the water you drink? Do you bring it down from the
rainclouds? Or do We? If it were Our will, We could make it salty. Then why
are you not thankful?"
reference to the fact that God could have made fresh water salty is a way of
expressing divine Omnipotence. Another means of reminding us of the same
Omnipotence is the challenge to man to make rain fall from the clouds. In
modern times however, technology has surely made it possible to create rain
artificially. Can one therefore oppose the statement in the Qur'an to man's
ability to produce precipitations?
answer is no, because it seems clear that one must take account of man's
limitations in this field. M.A. Facy, an expert at the French Meteorological
Office, wrote the following in the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia
Universalis) under the heading Precipitations (Precipitations):
"It will never be possible to make rain fall from a cloud that does not have
the suitable characteristics of a raincloud or one that has not yet reached
the appropriate stage of evolution (maturity)". Man can never therefore
hasten the precipitation process by technical means when the natural
conditions for it are not present. If this were not the case, droughts would
never occur in practice-which they obviously do. To have control over rain
and fine weather still remains a dream therefore.
cannot willfully break the established cycle that maintains the circulation
of water in nature. This cycle may be outlined as follows, according to
modern ideas on hydrology.
calories obtained from the Sun's rays cause the sea and those parts of the
Earth's surface that are covered or soaked in water to evaporate. The water
vapour that is given off rises into the atmosphere and, by condensation,
forms into clouds. The winds then intervene and move the clouds thus formed
over varying distances. The clouds can then either disperse without
producing rain, or combine their mass with others to create even greater
condensation, or they can fragment and produce rain at some stages in their
evolution. When rain reaches the sea (70% of the Earth's surface is covered
by seas), the cycle is soon repeated. When rain falls on the land, it may be
absorbed by vegetation and thus aid the latter's growth; the vegetation in
its turn gives off water and thus returns some water to the atmosphere. The
rest, to a lesser or greater extent, infiltrates into the soil, whence it is
either conducted through channels into the sea, or comes back to the Earth's
surface. network through springs or resurgences.
compares the modern data of hydrology to what is contained in the numerous
verses of the Qur'an quoted in this paragraph, one has to admit that there
is a remarkable degree of agreement between them.
the above verses from the Qur'an have provided material for comparison
between modern knowledge about the water cycle in nature, this is not the
case for the seas. There is not a single statement in the Qur'an dealing
with the seas which could be used for comparison with scientific data per
se. This does not diminish the necessity of pointing out however that
none of the statements in the Qur'an on the seas refers to the beliefs,
myths or superstitions prevalent at the time of its Revelation.
number of verses deal with the seas and navigation. As subjects for
reflection, they provide indications of divine Omnipotence that arise from
the facts of common observation. The following verses are examples of this:
14, verse 32:
"(God) has made the ship subject to you, so that it runs upon the sea at His
16, verse 14:
"(God) is the One Who subjected the sea, so that you eat fresh meat from it
and you extract from it ornaments which you wear. Thou seest the ships
plowing the waves, so that you seek of His Bounty. Maybe, you will be
31, verse 31:
"Hast thou seen that the ship runs upon the sea by the Grace of God, in
order to show you His signs. Verily in this are Signs for all who are
persevering and grateful."
55, verse 24:
"His are the ships erected upon the sea like tokens."
36, verse 41-44:
"A sign for them is that We bore their offspring in the loaded Ark. We have
created for them similar (vessels) on which they ride. If We will, We drown
them and there is no help and they will not be saved unless by Mercy from Us
and as a gratification for a time."
reference here is quite clearly to the vessel bearing man upon the sea, just
as, long ago, Noah and the other occupants of the vessel were carried in the
Ark that enabled them to reach dry land.
observed fact concerning the sea stands out, because of its unusual nature,
from the verses of the Qur'an devoted to it: three verses refer to certain
characteristics shared by great rivers when they flow out into the ocean.
phenomenon is well known and often seen whereby the immediate mixing of
salty seawater and fresh riverwater does not occur. The Qur'an refers to
this in the case of what is thought to be the estuary of the Tigris and
Euphrates where they unite to form what one might call a 'sea' over 100
miles long, the Shatt Al Arab. At the inner parts of the gulf, the effect of
the tides is to produce the welcome phenomenon of the reflux of fresh water
to the interior of the dry land, thus ensuring adequate irrigation. To
understand the text correctly, one has to know that the English word 'sea'
conveys the general meaning of the Arabic word bahr which designates
a large mass of water and is equally used for both the sea and the great
rivers: the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates for example.
following are the three verses that describe this phenomenon:
25, verse 53:
"(God) is the One Who has let free the two seas, one is agreeable and sweet,
the other salty and bitter. He placed a barrier between them, a partition
that it is forbidden to pass."
35, verse 12:
"The two seas are not alike. The water of one is agreeable, sweet, pleasant
to drink. The other salty and bitter. You eat fresh meat from it and you
extract from it ornaments which you wear."
55, verses 19, 20 and 22:
"He has loosed the two seas. They meet together. Between them there is a
barrier which they do not transgress. Out of them come pearls and coral."
addition to the description of the main fact, these verses refer to what may
be obtained from fresh water and seawater: fish, personal adornment, i.e.
coral and pearls. With regard to the phenomenon whereby the river water does
not mix with seawater at the estuary, one must understand that this is not
peculiar to the Tigris and Euphrates; they are not mentioned by name in the
text, but it is thought to refer to them. Rivers with a very large outflow,
such as the Mississippi and the Yangtze, have the same peculiarity. the
mixing of their fresh water with the salty water of the sea does not often
occur until very far out at sea.
THE EARTH'S RELIEF
constitution of the Earth is highly complex. Today, it is possible to
imagine it very roughly as being formed of a deep layer, at very high
temperature, and especially of a central area where rocks are still in
fusion, and of a surface layer, the Earth's crust which is solid and cold.
The crust is very thin; its thickness is estimated in units of miles or
units of ten miles at the most. The Earth's radius is however slightly over
3,750 miles, so that its crust does not represent (on average) one hundredth
of the of the sphere's radius. It is upon this skin, as it were, that all
geological phenomena have taken place. At the origin of these phenomena are
folds that were to form the mountain ranges; their formation is called 'orogenesis'
in geology. the process is of considerable importance because with the
development of a relief that was to constitute a mountain, the Earth's crust
was driven in proportionately far down: this process ensures a foundation in
the layer that underlies it.
history of the distribution of the sea and land on the surface of the globe
has only recently been established and is still very incomplete, even for
the most recent and best known periods. It is likely that the oceans
appeared and formed the hydrosphere circa half a billion years ago. The
continents were probably a single mass at the end of the primary era, then
subsequently broke apart. Some continents or parts of continents have
moreover emerged through the formation of mountains in maritime zones (e.g.
the North Atlantic continent and part of Europe).
to modern ideas, the dominating factor in the formation of the land that
emerged was the development of mountain ranges. The evolution of the land,
from the primary to the quaternary era, is classed according to 'orogenic
phases' that are themselves grouped into 'cycles' of the same name since the
formation of all mountains reliefs had repercussions on the balance between
the sea and the continents. It made some parts of the land disappear and
others emerge, and for hundreds of millions of years it has altered the
surface distribution of the continents and oceans: the former at present
only occupying three tenths of the surface of this planet.
way it is possible to give a very rough outline of the transformations that
have taken place over the last hundreds of millions of years.
referring to the Earth's relief, the Qur'an only describes, as it were, the
formation of the mountains. Seen from the present point of view, there is
indeed little one can say about the verses that only express God's
Beneficence to man with regard to the Earth's formation, as in the following
71, verses 19 and 20:
"For you God made the earth a carpet so that you travel along its roads and
the paths of valleys."
51, verse 48:
earth, We have spread it out. How excellently We did that."
carpet which has been spread out is the Earth's crust, a solidified shell on
which we can live, since the globe's sub-strata are very hot, fluid and
hostile to any form of life.
statements in the Qur'an referring to the mountains and the references to
their stability subsequent to the phenomenon of the folds are very
88, verses 19 & 20. The context invites unbelievers to consider certain
natural phenomena, among them:
". . . the mountains, how they have been pitched (like a tent).
The Earth how it was made even."
following verses give details about the way in which the mountains were
anchored in the ground:
78, verses 6 & 7:
"Have We not made the earth an expanse and the mountains stakes."
stakes referred to are the ones used to anchor a tent in the ground (autad,
plural of watad).
geologists describe the folds in the Earth as giving foundations to the
mountains, and their dimensions go roughly one mile to roughly 10 miles. The
stability of the Earth's crust results from the phenomenon of these folds.
So it is
not surprising to find reflections on the mountains in certain passages of
the Qur'an, such as the following:
79, verse 32:
"And the mountains (God) has fixed them firmly."
31, verse 10:
"(God) has cast into the ground (mountains) standing firm, so that it does
not shake with you."
phrase is repeated in sura 16, verse 15; and the same idea is expressed with
hardly any change in sura 21, verse 31:
"We have placed in the ground (mountains) standing firm so that it does not
shake with them."
verses express the idea that the way the mountains are laid out ensures
stability and is in complete agreement with geological data.
THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE
addition to certain statements specifically relating to the sky, examined in
the preceding chapter, the Qur'an contains several passages dealing with the
phenomena that occur in the atmosphere. As for the comparison between them
and the data of modern science, it is to be noted here, as elsewhere, that
there is absolutely no contradiction between today's modern scientific
knowledge and the phenomena described.
familiar feeling of discomfort experienced at high altitude, which increases
the higher one climbs, is expressed in verse 125, sura 6:
"Those whom God wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam. Those whom
He wills lose their way, He makes their breast narrow and constricted, as if
they were climbing in the sky."
commentators have claimed that the notion of discomfort at high altitude was
unknown to the Arabs of Muhammad's time. It appears that this was not true
at all: the existence on the Arabian Peninsula of peaks rising over two
miles high makes it extremely implausible that they should not have known of
the difficulty of breathing at high altitude.
[ 1. The city of Sanaa, the
capital of the Yemen, was inhabited in Muhammad's time. It lies at an
altitude of nearly 7,900 feet above sea level.]
Others have seen in this verse a prediction of the conquest of space, an
opinion that appears to require categorical denial, at least for this
Electricity in the Atmosphere
Electricity in the atmosphere and the consequences of this, i.e.
and hail, are referred to in the following verses:
13, verses 12-13:
"(God) is the One Who shows you the lightning, with fear and covetousness.
He raised up the heavy clouds. The thunder glorifies His Praise and so do
the angels for awe. He sends the thunder-bolt and strikes with them who He
wills while they are disputing about God. He is All Mighty in His Power."
24, verse 43 (already quoted in this chapter):
"Hast thou not seen that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them
together, then makes them a heap. And thou seest raindrops issuing from
within it. He sends down from the sky mountains of hail, He strikes
therewith whom He wills and He turns it away from whom He wills. The
flashing of its lightning almost snatches away the sight."
two verses there is the expression of an obvious correlation between the
formation of heavy rainclouds or clouds containing hail and the occurrence
of lightning. the former, the subject of covetousness on account of the
benefit it represents and the latter, the subject of fear, because when it
falls, it is at the will of the All-Mighty. The connection between the two
phenomena is verified by present-day knowledge of electricity in the
phenomenon of shadows and the fact that they move is very simply explained
today. It forms the subject of the following observations:
"Out of the things He created, God has given you shade . . ."
16, verse 48:
"Have (the Unbelievers) not observed that for all the things God created,
how their shadow shifts right and left, prostating themselves to God while
they are full of humility."
25, verses 45 and 46:
"Hast thou not seen how thy Lord has spread the shade. If He willed, He
could have made it stationary. Moreover We made the sun its guide and We
withdraw it towards Us easily."
from the phrases dealing with the humility before God of all the things He
created, including their shadow, and the fact that God can take back all
manifestations of His Power, as He wills, the text of the Qur'an refers to
the relationship between the Sun and the shadows. One must bear in mind at
this point the fact that, in Muhammad's day, it was believed that the way a
shadow moved was governed by the movement of the sun from east to west. This
principle was applied in the case of the sundial to measure the time between
sunrise and sunset. In this instance, the Qur'an speaks of the phenomenon
without referring to the explanation current at the time of the Revelation.
It would have been readily accepted for many centuries by those who came
after Muhammad. In the end however, it would have been shown to be
inaccurate. The Qur'an only talks moreover of the function the sun has as an
indicator of shadow. Evidently there is no contradiction between the way the
Qur'an describes shadow and what we know of this phenomenon in modern times.
Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms
verses describing the origins of life have been assembled in this chapter,
along with certain aspects of the vegetable kingdom and general or specific
topics relating to the animal kingdom. The grouping of verses scattered
throughout the Book affords a general view of the data the Qur'an contains
on these subjects.
case of the subject of this and the following chapter, the examination of
the Qur'anic text has sometimes been particularly delicate on account of
certain difficulties inherent in the vocabulary. These have only been
overcome through the fact that scientific data which have a bearing on the
subject have been taken into consideration. It is particularly so in the
case of living beings, i.e. animal, vegetable and human, where a
confrontation with the teachings of science is shown to be indispensable in
the search for the meaning of certain statements on these topics contained
in the Qur'an.
become clear that numerous translations of these passages in the Qur'an,
made by men of letters, must be deemed inaccurate by the scientist. The same
holds true for commentaries made by those who do not possess the scientific
knowledge necessary for an understanding of the text.
THE ORIGINS OF LIFE
question has always preoccupied man, both for himself and for the living
things around him. It will be examined here from a general point of view.
The case of man, whose appearance on Earth and reproduction processes are
the subject of lengthy exposés, will be dealt with in the next chapter.
Qur'an describes the origins of life on a very broad basis, it is extremely
concise. It does so in a verse that also mentions the process of the
formation of the Universe, already quoted and commented on:
21, verse 30:
the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together,
then We clove them asunder and We got every living thing out of the water.
Will they then not believe?"
notion of 'getting something out of something' does not give rise to any
doubts. The phrase can equally mean that every living thing was made of
water (as its essential component) or that every living thing originated in
water. The two possible meanings are strictly in accordance with scientific
data. Life is in fact of aquatic origin and water is the major component of
all living cells. Without water, life is not possible. When the possibility
of life on another planet is discussed, the first question is always: does
it contain a sufficient quantity of water to support life?
data lead us to think that the oldest living being must have belonged to the
vegetable kingdom: algae have been found that date from the pre-Cambrian
period, i.e. the time of the oldest known lands. Organisms belonging to the
animal kingdom probably appeared slightly later. they too came from the sea.
been translated here by 'water' is the word ma' which means both water in
the sky and water in the sea, plus any kind of liquid. In the first meaning,
water is the element necessary to all vegetable life:
20, verse 53.
"(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought
forth pairs of plants each separate from the other."
the first reference to the notion of a pair in the vegetable kingdom. We
shall return to this later.
second meaning, a liquid without any further indication of what kind, the
word is used in its indeterminate form to designate what is at the basis of
the formation of all animal life:
"God created every animal from water."
see further on how this word may also be applied to seminal fluid
[ It is secreted by the
reproductive glands and contains spermatozoons.].
it deals therefore with the origins of life in general, or the element that
gives birth to plants in the soil, or the seed of animals, all the
statements contained in the Qur'an on the origin of life are strictly in
accordance with modern scientific data. None of the myths on the origins of
life that abounded at the time the Qur'an appeared are mentioned in the
THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM
It is not
possible to quote in their entirety all the numerous passages in the Qur'an
in which divine Beneficence is referred to concerning the salutary effect of
the rain which makes vegetation grow. Here are just three verses on this
16, verses 10 and 11:
"(God) is the One Who sends water down from the sky. For you this is a drink
and out of it (grow) shrubs in which you let (cattle) graze freely.
Therewith for you He makes sown fields, olives, palm-trees, vineyards and
all kinds of fruit grow."
"(God) is the One Who sent water down from the sky. Therewith We brought
forth plants of all kinds and from them the verdure and We brought forth
from it the clustered grains, and from the palm-tree its spathes with
bunches of dates (hanging) low, the gardens of grapes, olives and
pomegranates similar and different. Look at their fruit, when they bear it,
and their ripening. Verily, in that there are signs for people who believe."
50, verses 9-11:
"We sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens,
grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the
other-sustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We give (new) life to a dead
land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs)."
Qur'an adds to these general data others that refer to more specialized
Balance in the Vegetable Kingdom
15, verse 19:
"The earth . . . We caused all kinds of things to grow therein in due
The Different Qualities of Various Foods
13, verse 4:
"On the earth are adjacent parts; vineyards, sown fields, palm-trees,
similar and not similar, watered with the same water. We make some of them
more excellent than others to eat and verily in this are signs for wise
interesting to note the existence of these verses because they show the
sober quality of the terms used, and the absence of any description that
might highlight the beliefs of the times, rather than fundamental truths.
What particularly attracts our attention however, are the statements in the
Qur'an concerning reproduction in the vegetable kingdom.
Reproduction in the Vegetable Kingdom
bear in mind that there are two methods of reproduction in the vegetable
kingdom: one sexual, the other asexual. It is only the first which in fact
deserves the term 'reproduction', because this defines a biological process
whose purpose is the appearance of a new individual identical to the one
that gave it birth.
reproduction is quite simply multiplication. It is the result of the
fragmentation of an organism which has separated from the main plant and
developed in such a way as to resemble the plant from which it came. It is
considered by Guilliermond and Mangenot to be a 'special case of growth'. A
very simple example of this is the cutting. a cutting taken from a plant is
placed in suitably watered soil and regenerated by the growth of new roots.
Some plants have organs specially designed for this, while others give off
spores that behave like seeds, as it were, (it should be remembered that
seeds are the results of a process of sexual reproduction).
reproduction in the vegetable kingdom is carried out by the coupling of the
male and female parts of the generic formations united on a same plant or
located on separate plants.
the only form that is mentioned in the Qur'an.
"(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought
forth pairs of plants each separate from the other."
'One of a
pair' is the translation of zauj (plural azwaj) whose original
meaning is: 'that which, in the company of another, forms a pair'; the word
is used just as readily for a married couple as for a pair of shoes.
22, verse 5:
"Thou seest the grounds lifeless. When We send down water thereon it shakes
and grows and puts forth every magnificent pair (of plants)."
31, verse 10:
"We caused to grow (on the earth) every noble pair (of plants)."
13, verse 3:
"Of all fruits (God) placed (on the earth) two of a pair."
that fruit is the end-product of the reproduction process of superior plants
which have the most highly developed and complex organization. The stage
preceding fruit is the flower, which has male and female organs (stamens and
ovules). The latter, once pollen has been carried to them, bear fruit which
in turn matures and frees it seeds. All fruit therefore implies the
existence of male and female organs. This is the meaning of the verse in the
be noted that for certain species, fruit can come from non-fertilized
flowers (parthenocarpic fruit), e.g. bananas, certain types of pineapple,
fig, orange, and vine. They can nevertheless also come from plants that have
definite sexual characteristics.
culmination of the reproductive process comes with the germination of the
seed once its outside casing is opened (sometimes it is compacted into a
fruit-stone). This opening allows roots to emerge which draw from the soil
all that is necessary for the plant's slowed-down life as a seed while it
grows and produces a new plant.
in the Qur'an refers to this process of germination:
"Verily, God splits the grain and the fruit-stone."
Qur'an often restates the existence of these components of a pair in the
vegetable kingdom and brings the notion of a couple into a more general
context, without set limits:
36, Verse 36:
"Glory be to Him Who created the components of couples of every kind: of
what the ground caused to grow, of themselves (human beings) and of what you
do not know."
form many hypotheses concerning the meaning of the 'things men did not know'
in Muhammad's day. Today we can distinguish structures or coupled functions
for them, going from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large, in
the living as well as the non-living world. The point is to remember these
clearly expressed ideas and note, once again, that they are in perfect
agreement with modern science.
THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
several questions in the Qur'an concerning the animal kingdom which are the
subject of comments that call for a confrontation with modern scientific
knowledge. Here again, however, one would gain an incomplete view of all
that the Qur'an contains on this subject if one were to leave out a passage
such as the extract which follows. In this passage, the creation of certain
elements in the animal kingdom is described with the purpose of making man
reflect upon the divine Beneficence extended to him. It is quoted basically
to provide an example of the way in which the Qur'an describes the
harmonious adaptation of Creation to man's needs; it relates in particular
the case of those people who live in a rural setting, since there is nothing
that could be examined from a different point of view.
verses 5 to 8:
"(God) created cattle for you and (you find) in them warmth, useful services
and food, sense of beauty when you bring them home and when you take them to
pasture. They bear your heavy loads to lands you could not reach except with
great personal effort. Verily, your Lord is Compassionate and Merciful; (He
created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and for ornament. And He
created what you do not know."
these general remarks, the Qur'an sets out certain data on highly
--reproduction in the animal kingdom.
--references to the existence of animal communities.
--statements concerning bees, spiders and birds.
--remarks on the source of constituents of animal milk.
1. Reproduction in the Animal Kingdom
very summarily dealt with in verses 45 and 46, sura 53:
"(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small
quantity of liquid when it is poured out."
'pair' is the same expression that we have already encountered in the verses
which deal with reproduction in the vegetable kingdom. Here, the sexes are
given. The detail which is absolutely remarkable is the precision with which
it is stated that a small quantity of liquid is required for reproduction.
The word itself signifying 'sperm' is used. The relevance of this remark
will be commented upon in the next chapter.
2. References to the Existence of Animal Communities
6, Verse 38:
"There is no animal on earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not
belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book
(of Decrees). Then to their Lord they will be gathered."
several points in this verse which require comment. Firstly, it would seem
that there is a description of what happens to animals after their death:
Islam does not apparently, have any doctrine on this point. Then there is
predestination in general
[ We saw in the Introduction to
the third part of this book what one was expected to believe about
predestination in its application to man himself.]
which would seem to be mentioned here. It could be conceived as absolute
predestination or relative, i.e. limited to structures and a functional
organization that condition modes of behaviour: the animal acts upon various
exterior impulses in terms of a particular conditioning.
states that an older commentator, such as Razi, thought that this verse only
referred to instinctive actions whereby animals worship God. Sheik Si
Boubakeur Hamza, in the commentary to his translation of the Koran, speaks
of "the instinct which, according to Divine Wisdom, pushes all beings to
group together, so that they demand that the work of each member serve the
behaviour has been closely investigated in recent decades, with the result
that genuine animal communities have been shown to exist. Of course, for a
long time now the results of a group or community's work have been examined
and this has led to the acceptance of a community organization. It has only
been recently however, that the mechanisms which preside over this kind of
organization have been discovered for certain species. The most studied and
best known case is undoubtedly that of bees, to whose behaviour the name von
Frisch is linked. Von Frisch, Lorenz and Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel
Prize for their work in this field.
3. Statements Concerning Bees, Spiders and Birds
specialists on the nervous system wish to provide striking examples of the
prodigious organization directing animal behaviour, possibly the animals
referred to most frequently are bees, spiders and birds (especially
migratory birds). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that these three
groups constitute a model of highly evolved organization.
that the text of the Qur'an refers to this exemplary trio in the animal
kingdom is in absolute keeping with the exceptionally interesting character
that each of these animals has from a scientific point of view.
Qur'an, bees are the subject of the longest commentary:
16, verses 68 and 69: [
One might note in passing, that this last verse is the only one in the
Qur'an that refers to the possibility of a remedy for man. Honey can indeed
be useful for certain diseases. Nowhere else in the Qur'an is a reference
made to any remedial arts, contrary to what may have been said about this
"Thy Lord inspired the bees: Choose your dwelling in the hills, in the trees
and in what (man) built. Eat of all fruit and follow the ways of your Lord
in humility. From within their bodies comes a liquor of different colours
where is a remedy for men."
difficult to know what exactly is meant by the order to follow the ways of
the Lord in humility, unless it is to be seen in general terms. All that may
be said, with regard to the knowledge that has been gained of their
behaviour, is that here-as in each of the three animal eases mentioned as
examples in the Qur'an-there is a remarkable nervous organization supporting
their behaviour. It is known that the pattern of a bee's dance is a means of
communication to other bees; in this way, bees are able to convey to their
own species the direction and distance of flowers from which nectar is to be
gathered. The famous experiment performed by von Frisch has shown the
meaning of this insect's movement which is intented to transmit information
between worker bees.
are mentioned in the Qur'an to stress the flimsiness of their dwelling which
is the most fragile of all. They have a refuge that is as precarious,
according to the Qur'an, as the dwelling of those who have chosen masters
other than God.
29, verse 41:
"Those who choose masters other than God are like the spider when it takes
for itself a dwelling. Verily, the flimsiest dwelling is the dwelling of the
spider. If they but knew."
spider's web is indeed constituted of silken threads secreted by the
animal's glands and their calibre is infinitely fine. Its fragility cannot
be imitated by man. Naturalists are intrigued by the extraordinary pattern
of work recorded by the animal's nervous cells, which allows it to produce a
geometrically perfect web.
frequently mentioned in the Qur'an. They appear in episodes in the life of
Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon and Jesus. These references do not however
have any bearing on the subject in hand.
concerning the existence of animal communities on the ground and bird
communities in the sky has been noted above:
"There is no animal on the earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does
not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the
Book (of Decrees) . Then to their Lord they will be gathered."
verses highlight the birds' strict submission to God's Power.
16, verse 79:
"Do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky? None
can hold them up (in His Power) except God."
67, verse 19:
they not looked at the birds above them spreading their wings out and
folding them? None can hold them up (in his Power) except the Beneficent."
The translation of one single word in each of these verses is a very
delicate matter. The translation given here expresses the idea that God
holds the birds up in His Power. The Arabic verb in question is amsaka,
whose original meaning is 'to put one's hand on, seize, hold, hold someone
illuminating comparison can be made between these verses, which stress the
extremely close dependence of the birds' behavior on divine order, to modern
data showing the degree of perfection attained by certain species of bird
with regard to the programming of their movements. It is only the existence
of a migratory programme in the genetic code of birds that can account for
the extremely long and complicated journeys which very young birds, without
any prior experience and without any guide, are able to accomplish. This is
in addition to their ability to return to their departure point on a
prescribed date. Professor Hamburger in his book, Power and Fragility
(La Puissance et la Fragilité)
[ Pub. Flammarion, 1972, Paris.],
gives as an example the well-known case of the 'mutton-bird' that lives in
the Pacific, with its journey of over 16,500 miles in the shape of the
figure 8 [ It makes this
journey over a period of six months, and comes back to its departure point
with a maximum delay of one week.].
It must be acknowledged that the highly complicated instructions for a
journey of this kind simply have to be contained in the bird's nervous
cells. They are most definitely programmed, but who is the programmer?
4. The Source of the Constituents of Animal Milk
defined in the Qur'an in strict accordance with the data of modern knowledge
(sura 16, verse 66). The translation and interpretation of this verse given
here is my own because even modern translations habitually give it a meaning
which is, in my opinion, hardly acceptable. Here are two examples:
Blachère's translation: [
Pub. G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1966, Paris,]
"Verily, in your cattle there is a lesson for you! We give you a pure milk
to drink, excellent for its drinkers; (it comes) from what, in their
bellies, is between digested food and blood."
--Professor Hamidullah's translation:
[ Pub. Club Français du Livre,
"Verily, there is food for thought in your cattle. From what is in their
bellies, among their excrement and blood, We make you drink pure milk, easy
for drinkers to imbibe."
texts were shown to a physiologist, he would reply that they were extremely
obscure, the reason being that there hardly appears to be much agreement
between them and modern notions, even on a very elementary level. These
translations are the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is a well known
fact however, that a translator, even an expert, is liable to make mistakes
in the translation of scientific statements, unless he happens to be a
specialist in the discipline in question.
valid translation seems to me to be the following:
"Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what
is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of
the intestine and the blood, a milk pure and pleasant for those who drink
it." (sura 16, verse 66)
interpretation is very close to the one given in the Muntakab, 1973,
edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, which relies for
its support on modern physiology.
point of view of its vocabulary, the proposed translation may be justified
translated «inside their bodies' and not, as R. Blachère and Professor
Hamidullah have done, 'inside their bellies'. This is because the word
batn also means 'middle', «interior of something', as well as 'belly'.
The word does not here have a meaning that is anatomically precise. 'Inside
their bodies' seems to concur perfectly with the context.
notion of a 'primary origin' of the constituents of milk is expressed by the
word min (in English 'from') and the idea of a conjunction by the
word baini. The latter not only signifies «among' but also 'between'
in the other translations quoted. It is however also used to express the
idea that two things or two people are brought together.
scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp
the meaning of this verse.
substances that ensure the general nutrition of the body come from chemical
transformations which occur along the length of the digestive tract. These
substances come from the contents of the intestine. On arrival in the
intestine at the appropriate stage of chemical transformation, they pass
through its wall and towards the systemic circulation. This passage is
effected in two ways: either directly, by what are called the 'lymphatic
vessels', or indirectly, by the portal circulation. This conducts them first
to the liver, where they undergo alterations, and from here they then emerge
to join the systemic circulation. In this way everything passes through the
constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands. These are
nourished, as it were, by the product of food digestion brought to them via
the bloodstream. Blood therefore plays the role of collector and conductor
of what has been extracted from food, and it brings nutrition to the mammary
glands, the producers of milk, as it does to any other organ.
initial process which sets everything else in motion is the bringing
together of the contents of the intestine and blood at the level of the
intestinal wall itself. This very precise concept is the result of the
discoveries made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system. It
was totally unknown at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and has been
understood only in recent times. The discovery of the circulation of the
blood, was made by Harvey roughly ten centuries after the Qur'anic Rev
consider that the existence in the Qur'an of the verse referring to these
concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which
they were formulated.
moment ancient human writings enter into detail (however slight) on the
subject of reproduction, they inevitably make statements that are
inaccurate. In the Middle Ages-and even in more recent time-reproduction was
surrounded by all sorts of myths and superstitions. How could it have been
otherwise, considering the fact that to understand its complex mechanisms,
man first had to possess a knowledge of anatomy, the discovery of the
microscope had to be made, and the so-called basic sciences had to be
founded which were to nurture physiology, embryology, obstetrics, etc.
situation is quite different in the Qur'an. The Book mentions precise
mechanisms in many places and describes clearly-defined stages in
reproduction, without providing a single statement marred by inaccuracy.
Everything in the Qur'an is explained in simple terms which are easily
understandable to man and in strict accordance with what was to be
discovered much later on.
reproduction is referred to in several dozen verses of the Qur'an, in
various contexts. It is explained through statements which deal with one or
more specific points. They must be assembled to give a general idea of the
verses as a whole, and here, as for the other subjects already examined, the
commentary is in this way made easier.
REMINDER OF CERTAIN BASIC CONCEPTS
imperative to recall certain basic concepts which were unknown at the time
of the Qur'anic Revelation and the centuries that followed.
reproduction is effected by a series of processes which we share in common
with mammals. The starting point is the fertilization of an ovule which has
detached itself from the ovary.
place in the Fallopian tubes half-way through the menstrual cycle. The
fertilizing agent is the male sperm, or more exactly, the spermatozoon, a
single fertilizing cell being all that is needed. To ensure fertilization
therefore, an infinitely small quantity of spermatic liquid containing a
large number of spermatozoons (tens of millions at a time) is .required.
This liquid is produced by the testicles and temporarily stored in a system
of reservoirs and canals that finally lead into the urinary tract; other
glands are situated along the latter which contribute their own additional
secretions to the sperm itself.
implantation of the egg fertilized by this process takes place at a precise
spot in the female reproductive system: it descends into the uterus via a
Fallopian tube and lodges in the body of the uterus where it soon literally
implants itself by insertion into the thickness of the mucosa and of the
muscle, once the placenta has been formed and with the aid of the latter. If
the implantation of the fertilized egg takes place, for example, in the
Fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus, pregnancy will be interrupted.
embryo begins to be observable to the naked eye, it looks like a small mass
of flesh at the centre of which the appearance of a human being is at first
indistinguishable. It grows there in progressive stages which are very well
known today; they lead to the bone structure, the muscles, the nervous
system, the circulation, and the viscerae, etc.
notions will serve as the terms of reference against which the statements in
the Qur'an on reproduction are to be compared.
HUMAN REPRODUCTION IN THE QUR'AN
It is not
easy to gain an idea of what the Qur'an contains on this subject. The first
difficulty arises from the fact already mentioned, i.e. that the statements
dealing with this subject are scattered throughout the Book. This is not
however a major difficulty. What is more likely to mislead the inquiring
reader is, once again, the problem of vocabulary.
there are still many translations and commentaries in circulation today that
can give a completely false idea of the Qur'anic Revelation on this subject
to the scientist who reads them. The majority of translations describe, for
example, man's formation from a 'blood clot' or an 'adhesion'. A statement
of this kind is totally unacceptable to scientists specializing in this
field. In the paragraph dealing with the implantation of the egg in the
maternal uterus, we shall see the reasons why distinguished Arabists who
lack a scientific background have made such blunders.
observation implies how great the importance of an association between
linguistic and scientific knowledge is when it comes to grasping the meaning
of Qur'anic statements on reproduction.
Qur'an sets out by stressing the successive transformations the embryo
undergoes before reaching its destination in the maternal uterus.
82, verses 6 to 8:
"O Man! Who deceives you about your Lord the Noble, Who created you and
fashioned you in due proportion and gave you any form He willed."
71, verse 14:
"(God) fashioned you in (different) stages."
with this very general observation, the text of the Qur'an draws attention
to several points concerning reproduction which might be listed as follows:
fertilization is performed by only a very
small volume of liquid.
the constituents of the fertilizing
the implantation of the fertilized egg.
the evolution of the embryo.
1. Fertilization is Performed by Only a Very Small Volume of Liquid
Qur'an repeats this concept eleven times using the following expression:
16, verse 4:
"(God) fashioned man from a small quantity (of sperm)."
Arabic word nutfa has been translated by the words 'small quantity
(of sperm)' because we do not have the terms that are strictly appropriate.
This word comes from a verb signifying 'to dribble, to trickle'; it is used
to describe what remains at the bottom of a bucket that has been emptied
out. It therefore indicates a very small quantity of liquid. Here it is
sperm because the word is associated in another verse with the word sperm.
75, verse 37:
"Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out?"
Arabic word mani signifies sperm.
Another verse indicates that the small quantity in question is put in a
'firmly established lodging' (qarar) which obviously means the
23, verse 13. God is speaking:
"Then We placed (man) as a small quantity (of sperm) in a safe lodging
be added that the adjective which in this text refers to the 'firmly
established lodging' makin is, I think, hardly translatable. It
expresses the idea of a firmly established and respected place. However this
may be, it refers to the spot where man grows in the maternal organism. It
IS important to stress the concept of a very small quantity of liquid needed
in the fertilization process, which is strictly in agreement with what we
know on this subject today.
2. The Constituents of the Fertilizing Liquid
Qur'an describes the liquid enabling fertilization to take place in terms
which it is interesting to examine:
'sperm', as has been stated precisely (sura
75, verse 37)
'a liquid poured out'. "Man was fashioned
from a liquid poured out" (sura 86, verse 6)
'a despised liquid' (sura 32, verse 8 and
sura 77, verse 20)
The adjective 'despised' (mahin) would, it seems, be interpreted
not so much on account of the nature of the liquid itself, as more the
fact that it is emitted through the outlet of the urinary tract, using the
channels that are employed for passing urine.
'Mixtures' or 'mingled liquids' (amsaj):
"Verily, we fashioned man from a small quantity of mingled liquids" (sura
76, verse 2)
commentators, like professor Hamidullah, consider these liquids to be the
male and female agents. The same view was shared by older commentators, who
could not have had any idea of the physiology of fertilization, especially
its biological conditions in the case of the woman. They thought that the
word simply meant the unification of the two elements.
authors however, like the commentator of the Muntakab edited by the
Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, have corrected this view and
note here that the 'small quantity of sperm' is made up of various component
parts. The commentator in the Muntakab does not go into detail, but
in my opinion it is a very judicious observation.
the components parts of sperm?
Spermatic liquid is formed by various secretions which come from the
the testicles: the secretion of the male
genital gland contains spermatozoons, which are elongated cells with a
long flagellum; they are bathed in a sero-fluid liquid.
the seminal vesicles. these organs are
reservoirs of spermatozoons and are placed near the prostate gland; they
also secrete their own liquid but it does not contain any fertilizing
the prostate gland: this secretes a liquid
which gives the sperm its creamy texture and characteristic odour.
the glands annexed to the urinary tract:
Cooper's or Méry's glands secrete a stringy liquid and Littré's glands
give off mucous.
the origins of the 'mingled liquids' which the Qur'an would appear to refer
There is, however, more to be said on this subject. When the Qur'an talks of
a fertilizing liquid composed of different components, it also informs us
that man's progeny will be maintained by something which may be extracted
from this liquid.
the meaning of verse 8, sura 32:
"(God) made his progeny from the quintessence of a despised liquid."
Arabic word, translated here by the word 'quintessence', is sulala.
It signifies 'something which is extracted, the issue of something else, the
best part of a thing'. In whatever way it is translated, it refers to a part
of a whole.
Fertilization of the egg and reproduction are produced by a cell that is
very elongated: its dimensions are measured in ten thousandths of a
millimetre. In normal conditions
[ It is estimated that in one
cubic centinletre of sperm there are 25 million spermatozoons with, under
normal conditions, an ejaculation of several cubic centimetres.],
only one single cell among several tens of millions produced by a man will
actually penetrate the ovule; a large number of them are left behind and
never complete the journey which leads from the vagina to the ovule, passing
through the uterus and Fallopian tubes. It is therefore an infinitesimally
small part of the extract from a liquid whose composition is highly complex
which actually fulfills its function.
consequence, it is difficult not to be struck by the agreement between the
text of the Qur'an and the scientific knowledge we possess today of these
3. The Implantation of the Egg In the Female Genital Organs.
egg has been fertilized in the Fallopian tube it descends to lodge inside
the uterus; this is called the 'implantation of the egg'. The Qur'an names
the lodging of the fertilized egg womb:
"We cause whom We [ God
is speaking] will to
rest in the womb for an appointed term."
implantation of the egg in the uterus (womb) is the result of the
development of villosities, veritable elongations of the egg, which, like
roots in the soil, draw nourishment from the thickness of the uterus
necessary to the egg's growth. These formations make the egg literally cling
to the uterus. This is a discovery of modern times.
of clinging is described five different times in the Qur'an. Firstly in
verses 1 and 2 of sura 96:
"Read, in the name of thy Lord Who fashioned,
Who fashioned man from something which clings."
'Something which clings' is the translation of the word 'alaq. It is
the original meaning of the word. A meaning derived from it, 'blood clot',
often figures in translation; it is a mistake against which one should
guard: man has never passed through the stage of being a 'blood clot'. The
same is true for another translation of this term, 'adhesion' which is
equally inappropriate. The original sense of 'something which clings'
corresponds exactly to today's firmly established reality.
concept is recalled in four other verses which describe successive
transformations from the small quantity of sperm through to the end:
22, verse 5:
"We have fashioned you from . . . something which clings."
23, verse 14:
"We have fashioned the small quantity (of sperm) into something which
40, verse 67:
"(God) fashioned you from a small quantity (of sperm), from something which
"Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out? After
that he was something which clings; then God fashioned him in due
which harbours the pregnancy is qualified in the Qur'an by a word which, as
we have seen, is still used in Arabic to signify the uterus. In some suras,
it is called a 'lodging firmly established' (sura 23, verse 13, quoted above
and sura 77, verse 21) [
In another verse (sura 6, verse 98) a place of sojourn is mentioned. It is
expressed in a term very similar to the preceding one and would also seem to
signify the maternal uterus. Personally, I believe this to be the meaning of
the verse, but a detailed interpretation would involve much lengthier
explanation which is beyond the scope of this book.].
4. Evolution of the Embryo inside the Uterus
Qur'anic description of certain stages in the development of the embryo
corresponds exactly to what we today know about it, and the Qur'an does not
contain a single statement that is open to criticism from modern science.
'the thing which clings' (an expression which is well-founded, as we have
seen) the Qur'an informs us that the embryo passes through the stage of
'chewed flesh', then osseous tissue appears and is clad in flesh (defined by
a different word from the preceding which signifies 'intact flesh').
23, verse 14:
"We fashioned the thing which clings into a chewed lump of flesh and We
fashioned the chewed flesh into bones and We clothed the bones with intact
flesh' is the translation of the word mudga; 'intact flesh' is
lahm. This distinction needs to be stressed. The embryo is initially a
small mass. At a certain stage in its development, it looks to the naked eye
like chewed flesh. The bone structure develops inside this mass in what is
called the mesenchyma. The bones that are formed are covered in muscle; the
word lahm applies to them.
verse which requires extremely delicate interpretation is the following:
39, verse 6:
"(God) fashions you inside the bodies of your mothers, formation after
formation, in three (veils of) darkness." (zulumat)
intrepreters of the Qur'an see in this verse the three anatomical layers
that protect the infant during gestation: the abdominal wall, the uterus
itself, and the surroundings of the foetus (placenta, embryonic membranes,
I am obliged to quote this verse for the sake of completeness; the
terpretation given here does not seem to me to be disputable from an
anatomical point of view but is this what the text of the Qur'an really
known how certain parts appear to be completely out of proportion during
embryonic development with what is later to become the individual, while
others remain in proportion.
surely the meaning of the word mukallaq which signifies 'shaped in
proportion' as used in verse 5, sura 22 to describe this phenomenon.
fashioned . . . into something which clings . . . into a lump of flesh in
proportion and out of proportion."
Qur'an also describes the appearance of the senses and the viscerae:
32, verse 9:
"(God) appointed for you the sense of hearing, sight and the viscerae."
to the formation of the sexual organs:
53, verses 45-46:
"(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small
quantity (of sperm) when it is poured out."
formation of the sexual organs is described in two sura of the Qur'an:
35, verse 11:
"God created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then He made you pairs
(the male and female)."
75, verse 39:
(God) made of him a pair, the male and female."
already been noted, all statements in the Qur'an must be compared with
today's firmly established concepts: the agreement between them is very
clear. It is however very important to compare them with the general beliefs
On this subject that were held at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation in
order to realize just how far people were in those days from having views on
these problems similar to those expressed here in the Qur'an. There can be
no doubt that they would have been unable to interpret the Revelation in the
way we can today because we are helped by the data modern knowledge affords
us. It was, in fact, only during the Nineteenth century that people had a
slightly clearer view of this question.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the most diversified doctrines originated in
unfounded myths and speculations: they persisted for several centuries after
this period. The most fundamental stage in the history of embryology was
Harvey's statement (1651) that "all life initially comes from an egg". At
this time however, when nascent science had nevertheless benefited greatly
(for the subject in hand) from the invention of the microscope, people were
still talking about the respective roles of the egg and the spermatozoon.
Buffon, the great naturalist, was one of those in favor of the egg theory,
but Bonnet supported the theory of the seeds being 'packed together'. the
ovaries of Eve, the mother of the human race, were supposed to have
contained the seeds of all human beings, packed together one inside the
other. This hypothesis came into favor in the Eighteenth century.
a thousand years before our time, at a period when whimsical doctrines still
prevailed, men had a knowledge of the Qur'an. The statements it contains
express in simple terms truths of primordial importance which man has taken
centuries to discover.
QUR'AN AND SEX EDUCATION
believes that it has made manifold discoveries in all possible fields. It is
thought that great innovations have been made in the field of sex education,
and the knowledge of the facts of life which has been opened up to young
people is regarded as an achievement of the modern world. Previous centuries
were noted for their deliberate obscurity on this point and many people say
that religion-without stating which religion-is the cause of it.
information set out above is proof however that fourteen centuries ago
theoretical questions (as it were) on human reproduction were brought to
man's attention. This was done as far as was possible, taking into account
the fact that the anatomical and physiological data needed for further
explanations were lacking. One should also remember that, to be understood,
it was necessary to use simple language suited to the level of comprehension
of those who listened to the Preaching.
considerations have not been silently ignored. There are many details in the
Qur'an on the practical side of life in general, and the way man should
behave in the many situations of his existence. His sex life is no
verses in the Qur'an deal with sexual relations themselves. They are
described in terms which unite the need for precision with that of decency.
When translations and explanatory commentaries are consulted however, one is
struck by the divergences between them. I have pondered for a long time on
the translation of such verses, and am indebted to Doctor A. K. Giraud,
Former Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Beirut, for the following:
86, verse 6 and 7:
was fashioned from a liquid poured out. It issued (as a result) of the
conjunction of the sexual area of the man and the sexual area of the woman."
The sexual area of the man is indicated in the text of the Qur'an by the
world sulb (singular). The sexual areas of the woman are designated
in the Qur'an by the word tara'ib (plural).
the translation which appears to be most satisfactory. It is different from
the one that is often given by English and French translators, i.e. " (Man)
has been created by a liquid poured out which issues from between the
vertebral column and the bones of the breast." This would seem more to be an
interpretation than a translation. It is hardly comprehensible.
behavior of a man in his intimate relationships with his wife is stated
the order concerning the menstruation period contained in verses 222 and
223, sura 2; God gives the following command to the Prophet:
verses 222 and 223:
"They (the Believers) question thee concerning menstruation. Say: This is an
evil. Keep away from women during menstruation and do not approach them
until they are clean. When they have purified themselves, go to them, as God
ordered it to you.
"Verily, God loves the repentants and loves those who purified themselves.
"Your wives are a tilth. Go to your tilth as you will. Do (some good act)
for your souls beforehand."
beginning of this passage is very clear in meaning: it formally forbids a
man to have sexual contact with a woman who has her period. The second part
describes the process of tilling which the sower performs before sowing the
seed which is to germinate and produce a new plant. Through this image
therefore, stress is indirectly laid on the importance of bearing in mind
the final purpose of sexual contact, i.e. reproduction. The translation of
the final phrase is by R. Blachère: it contains an order which seems to
refer to the preliminaries before sexual contact.
orders given here are of a very general kind. The problem of contraception
has been raised with regard to these verses: neither here, nor anywhere
else, is reference made to this subject.
Nor is provoked abortion referred to. The numerous passages quoted above on
the successive transformations of the embryo make it quite clear, however,
that man is considered to be constituted as of the stage described by the
existence of 'something which clings'. This being so, the absolute respect
of the individual human being, which is referred to so often in the Qur'an,
brings with it a total condemnation of provoked abortion. This attitude is
today shared by all monotheistic religions.
relations are permitted at night during the Fast in the month of Ramadan.
The verse concerning Ramadan is as follows:
"Permitted to you, on the night of the fast, is to break chastity with your
wives. They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. So hold
intercourse with them and seek what God has ordained for you."
contrast to this, no exception to the rule is made for pilgrims in Makka
during the celebration days of the Pilgrimage.
"For whom undertakes (the duty of) the Pilgrimage in its time, no wooing and
prohibition is formal, as is the fact that other activities are forbidden,
e.g. hunting, fighting, etc.
Menstruation is again mentioned in the Qur'an in connection with divorce.
The Book contains the following verse:
65, verse 4:
"For your wives who despair of menstruation, if you doubt about them, their
period of waiting will be three months. For those who never have their
monthly periods and those who are pregnant their period will be until they
lay down their burden."
waiting period referred to here is the time between the announcement of the
divorce and the time it comes into effect. Those women of whom it is said
'they despair of menstruation' have reached the menopause. A precautionary
period of three months is envisaged for them. Once this period is completed,
divorced women who have reached the menopause may remarry.
who have not yet menstruated, the pregnancy period has to be awaited. For
pregnant women, divorce only comes into effect once the child is born.
laws are in perfect agreement with physiological data. One can, furthermore,
find in the Qur'an the same judicious legal provision in the texts dealing
theoretical statements dealing with reproduction, and the practical
instructions on the sex life of couples, do not contradict and cannot be
placed in opposition to the data we have from modern knowledge, nor with
anything that can be logically derived from it.