CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE
From an examination of creation as described in the Qur’an, an extremely important general concept emerges: The Qur’anic narration is quite different from the Biblical narration. This idea contradicts the parallels which are often wrongly drawn by Western authors to emphasize the resemblance between the two texts. To stress only the similarities, while silently ignoring the obvious dissimilarities, is
to distort reality. There is, perhaps, a reason for this. When talking about creation, there is a strong tendency in the West to claim that
Muhammad copied the general outlines mentioned in the Qur’an from the Bible. Certainly it is possible to compare the six days of creation as described in the Bible, plus an extra day for rest on God’s Sabbath, with this verse from chapter al-A‘raaf.
“Your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six days.” Qur’an, 7:54
However, it must be pointed out that modern commentators stress the interpretation of the Arabic word ayyaam, (one translation of which is ‘days’), as meaning ‘long periods’ or ‘ages’ rather than periods of twenty-four hours. What appears to be of fundamental importance to me is that, in contrast to the narration contained in the Bible, the Qur’an does not lay down a sequence for creation of the earth and heavens. It refers both to the heavens before the earth and the earth before the heavens, when it talks of creation in general, as in this verse of chapter Taa Haa:
“(God) who created the earth and heavens above.” Qur’an, 20:4
In fact, the notion derived from the Qur’an is one of a parallelism in the celestial and terrestrial evolutions. There are also basic pieces of information concerning the existence of an initial gaseous mass ( dukhaan ) which are unique to the Qur’an. As well as descriptions of the elements which, although at first were fused together ( ratq ), they subsequently became separated (fatq). These ideas are expressed in chapters Fussilat and al-Anbiyaa:
“God then rose turning towards the heaven when it was smoke” Qur’an, 41:11
“Do the disbelievers not see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then I split them apart?” Qur’an, 21:30
According to modern science, the separation process resulted in the formation of multiple worlds, a concept which appears dozens of times in the Qur’an. For example, look at the first chapter of the Qur’an, al-Faatihah:
( “Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds.” Qur’an, 1:1 ).
These Qur’anic references are a11 in perfect agreement with modern ideas on the existence of primary nebula (galactic dust), followed by the separation of the elements which resulted in the formation of galaxies and then stars from which the planets were born. Reference is also made in the Qur’an to an intermediary creation between the heavens and the earth, as seen in chapter al-Furqaan:
“God is the one who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them…” Qur’an, 25:59
It would seem that this intermediary creation corresponds to the modern discovery of bridges of matter which are present outside organized astronomical systems.
This brief survey of Qur’anic references to creation clearly shows us how modern scientific data and statements in the Qur’an consistently agree on a large number of points. In contrast, the successive phases of creation mentioned in the Biblical text are totally unacceptable. For example, in Genesis 1:9-19 the creation of the earth (on the 3rd day) is placed before that of the heavens (on the 4th day). It is a well known fact that our planet came from its own star, the sun. In such circumstances, how could anyone claim that Muhammad, the supposed author of the Qur’an, drew his inspiration from the Bible. Such a claim would mean that, of his own accord, he corrected the Biblical text to arrive at the correct concept concerning the formation of the Universe. Yet the correct concept was reached by scientists many centuries after his death.
Whenever I describe to Westerners the details the Qur’an contains on certain points of astronomy, it is common for someone to reply that there is nothing unusual in this since the Arabs made important discoveries in the field of astronomy long before the Europeans. But, this is a mistaken idea resulting from an ignorance of history. In the first place, science developed in the Arab World at a considerable time after the Qur’anic revelation had occurred. Secondly, the scientific knowledge prevalent at the highpoint of Islamic civilization would have made it impossible for any human being to have written statements on the heavens comparable to those in the Qur’an. The material on this subject is so vast that I can only provide a brief outline of it here.
The Sun and Moon.
Whereas the Bible talks of the sun and the moon as two lights differing only in size, the Qur’an distinguishes between them by the use of different terms: light (noor) for the moon, and lamp (siraaj) for the sun. “Did you see how Allah created seven heavens, one above the
other, and made in them the moon a light and the sun a lamp?” Qur’an, 78:12-13
The moon is an inert body which reflects light, whereas the sun is a celestial body in a state of permanent combustion producing both light and heat.
Stars and Planets
The word ‘star’ (najm) in the Qur’an ( 86:3 ) is accompanied by the adjective thaaqib which indicates that it burns and consumes itself as it pierces through the shadows of the night. It was much later discovered that stars are heavenly
bodies producing their own light like the sun. In the Qur’an, a different word, kawkab, is used to refer to the planets which are
celestial bodies that reflect light and do not produce their own light like the sun. “We have adorned the lowest heaven with ornaments, the planets.” Qur’an, 37:6
Today, the laws governing the celestial systems are well known. Galaxies are balanced by the position of stars and planets in well-defined orbits, as well as the interplay of gravitational forces produced by their masses and the speed of their movements. But is this not what the Qur’an describes in terms which have only become comprehensible in modern times. In chapter al-Ambiyaa we find:
“(God is) the one who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each one is traveling in an orbit with its own motion.” Qur’an,21:33
The Arabic word which expresses this movement is the verb yasbahoon which implies the idea of motion produced by a moving body, whether it is the movement of one’s legs running on the ground, or the action of swimming in water. In the case of a celestial body, one is forced to translate it, according to its original meaning, as ‘to travel with its own motion.’
In my book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, I have given the precise scientific data corresponding to the motion of celestial bodies. They are well known for the moon, but less widely known for the sun.
The Day and Night
The Qur’anic description of the sequence of day and night would, in itself, be rather commonplace were it not for the fact that it is expressed in terms that are today highly appropriate. The Qur’an uses the verb kawwara in chapter az-Zumar to describe the way the night ‘winds’ or ‘coils’ itself around the day and the day around the night.
“He coils the night upon the day and the day upon the night.” Qur’an, 39:5
The original meaning of the verb kis to coil a turban around the head. This is a totally valid comparison; yet at the time the Qur’an was revealed, the astronomical data necessary to make this comparison were unknown. It is not until man landed on the moon and observed the earth spinning on its axis, that the dark half of the globe appeared to wind itself around the light and the light half appeared to wind itself around the dark.
The Solar Apex
The notion of a settled place for the sun is vividly described in chapter Yaa Seen of the Qur’an:
“The sun runs its coarse to a settled place That is the decree of the Almighty, the All Knowing.” Qur’an, 36:38
“Settled place” is the translation of the word mustaqarr which indicates an exact appointed place and time. Modern astronomy confirms that the solar system is indeed moving in space at a rate of 12 miles per second towards a point situated in the constellation of Hercules ( alpha lyrae ) whose exact location has been precisely calculated. Astronomers have even give it a name, the solar apex.
Expansion of the Universe
Chapter ath-Thaariyaat of the Qur’an also seems to allude to one of the most imposing discoveries of modern science, the expansion of the Universe.
“I built the heaven with power and it is I, who am expanding it.” Qur’an,51:47
The expansion of the universe was first suggested by the general theory of relativity and is supported by the calculations of astrophysics. The regular movement of the galactic light towards the red section of the spectrum is explained by the distancing of one galaxy from another. Thus, the size of the universe appears to be progressively increasing.
Conquest of Space
Among the achievements of modern science is the “conquest” of space which has resulted in mans journey to the moon. The prediction of this event surely springs to mind when we read the chapter ar-Rahmaan in the Qur’an:
“O assembly of Jinns and men, if you can penetrate the regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them except with authority.” Qur’an,55:33
Authority to travel in space can only come from the Creator of the laws which
govern movement and space. The whole of this Qur’anic chapter invites humankind to recognize God’s beneficence.
Let us now return to earth to discover some of the many amazing statements contained in Qur’anic reflections about our own planet. They deal, not only with the physical phenomena observed here on earth, but also with details concerning the living organisms that inhabit it. As in the case of everything we have discussed so far, we shall see that the Qur’an also expresses concepts in the field of geology that were way ahead of those current at the time of its revelation.
At this point, we must ask ourselves the following question: How could an uneducated man in the middle of the desert accurately tackle so many and such varied subjects at a time when mythology and superstition reigned supreme? How could he so skillfully avoid every belief that was proven to be totally inaccurate many centuries later?
The verses dealing with the earthly systems are a case in point. I have quoted a large number of them in my book, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, and have paid special attention to those that deal with the water cycle in nature. This is a topic which is well known today. Consequently, the verses in the Qur’an that refer to the water cycle seem to express ideas that are now totally self-evident. But if
we consider the ideas prevalent at that time, they appear to be based more on myth and philosophical speculation than on observed fact, even though useful practical knowledge on soil irrigation was current at that period.
Let us examine, for example, the following verse in chapter az-Zumar:
“Have you not seen that Allah sent rain down from the sky and caused it to penetrate the ground and come forth as springs, then He caused crops of different colors to grow…” Qur’an,39:21
Such notions seem quite natural to us today, but we should not forget that, not so long ago, they were not prevalent. It was not until the sixteenth century, with Bernard Palissy, that we gained the first coherent description of the water cycle. Prior to this, people believed that the waters of the oceans, under the effect of winds, were thrust towards the interior of the continents. They then returned to the oceans via the great abyss, which, since Plato’s time was called the Tartarus .In the seventeenth century, great thinkers such as Descartes still believed in this myth. Even in the nineteenth century there were still those who believed in Aristotle’s theory that water was condensed in cool mountain caverns and formed underground lakes that fed springs. Today, we know that it is the infiltration of
rain water into the ground that is responsible for this. If one compares the facts of modern hydrology with the data found in numerous verses of the Qur’an on this subject, one cannot fail to notice the remarkable degree of agreement between the two.
In geology, modern science has recently discovered the phenomenon of folding which formed the mountain ranges. The earth’s crust is like a solid shell, while the deeper layers are hot and fluid, and thus inhospitable to any form of life. It
has also been discovered that the stability of mountains is linked to the phenomenon of folding. The process of mountain formation by folding drove the earth’s crust down into the lower layers and provided foundations for the mountains.
Let us now compare modern ideas with one verse among many in the Qur’an
that deals with this subject. It is taken from chapter an-Naba’: “Have We not made the earth an expanse and the mountains stakes?” Qur’an, 78:6-7
Stakes ( awtaad ), which are driven into the ground like those used to anchor a tent, are the deep foundations of geological folds. Here, as in the case of all the other topics presented, the objective observer cannot fail to notice the absence of any contradiction to modern knowledge.
More than anything else, I was struck by statements in the Qur’an dealing with living things, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, especially with regard to reproduction. We should really devote much more time to this subject, but, due to the limited scope of this presentation, I can only give a few examples. I must once again stress the fact that it is only in modern times that scientific progress has made the hidden meaning of some Qur’anic verses comprehensible to us. Numerous translations and commentaries on the Qur’an have been made by learned men who had no access to modern scientific knowledge. It is for this reason that scientists find some of their interpretations unacceptable.
There are also other verses whose obvious meanings are easily understood, but which conceal scientific meanings which are startling, to say the least. This is the case of a verse in chapter al-Ambiyaa, a part of which has already been quoted:
“Do the unbelievers not realize that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then I clove them asunder and I made every living thing out of water. Will they still not believe?” Qur’an, 21:30
This is a dramatic affirmation of the modern idea that the origin of life is aquatic.