Science in the Qur'an - Part Two of Two

Chapter 6: Interstellar Galactic Material
Chapter 7: How Many Earths are There?
Chapter 8: Organization of the Universe
Chapter 9: What Holds up the Sky?
Chapter 10: Comparing Apples and Oranges
Chapter 11: The Sun & Moon and Their Orbits
Chapter 12: The Sun & Moon Move With Their Own Motion
Chapter 13: What Shape is the Earth?
Science in the Qur'an - Part One of Two

Chapter 6: Interstellar Galactic Material

The Qur'an mentions a rather curious category of created things, namely things between the heavens and the earth. Dr. Bucaille observes that this mention in the Qur'an "may surprise the twentieth century reader of the Qur'an" (The Bible, tl1e Qur'an and Science, p. 144). For example, one verse says as follows: "To Him (God) belongs what is in the heavens, on earth, between them and beneath the soil" (Qur'an 20:6; other verses include 25:59, 32:4 and 50:38).

What is that between the heavens and the earth? Dr. Bucaille explains as follows: "The creation outside the heavens and outside the earth is a priori difficult to imagine. To understand these verses, reference must be made to the most recent 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 . . ." (p. 145).

Scientists tell us that a primary nebula condensed, then divided up into fragments. These fragments, these galac- tic masses, further split up into stars and their sub-prod- ucts, the planets. Each time such a division or split oc- curred, there remained extra material apart from the prin- cipal elements newly formed. The scientific name for these extra materials is 'interstellar galactic material'.

Is this extra material significant? Yes. Experts in astro- physics are quite aware of such material which have "a tendency to interfere with photometric measurements" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 149). The extra material is so rarefied that they may be referred to as dusts or smokes or gases. Yet they altogether occupy so much total space that they may correspond to "a mass possibly greater than the total mass of the galaxies" (p. 149).

Again, we must face up to the implication of all this. How could a man living fourteen hundred years ago have known about interstellar galactic material? Was Muham- mad, on whom be peace, well versed in modern astrophys- ics? Or is the Qur'an nothing but the Word of God? Allah, the only true God, declares in His book: "The revelation of the scripture is from Allah, the Mighty, the Wise. Surely We [Allah] have revealed the scripture unto you [Muhammad] with truth; so worship Allah, making religion pure for Him (only)" (Qur'an 39:1-2).

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Chapter 7: How Many Earths are There?

If you open the Qur'an to the first surah, you will notice it begins as follows: "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds." Worlds? Not just one? Yes . . . worlds! There is the physical world, the spiritual world, the world of bacteria, and so forth. That, obviously, is one sense in which we can understand 'worlds'.

Another verse of the Qur'an, however, makes it clear that there are many earths (see Qur'an 65:12). Is it pos- sible that there may be other earths out there?

No one expects to find another earth within our solar system. But scientists say it is likely that in our galaxy there are many earths outside the solar system. They say that approximately 50 billion stars in the Milky Way ro- tate slowly, as does the sun. This characteristic indicates that those stars are surrounded by planets that are their satellites. The Bernard Star, for example, is believed to have at least one planetary companion. (see The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 148). Dr. Bucaille quotes P. Guerin as follows: "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" (p. 148-9).

In a recent article published in the Toronto Star, two sci- entists advanced evidence that there may indeed be many earths waiting to be discovered. The headline read: "Earths may be dime a dozen out there."

The Qur'an also uses the symbolic plural number 7 to indicate the existence of a plurality of heavens (see Qur'an 2:29, for example). Dr. Bucaille comments that this is "confirmed by modern science due to the observations experts in astrophysics have made on galactic systems and their very large number" (p. 150).

Once again we find that the Qur'an says something and scientists later discover it to be true. Can we resist believ- ing in this book of God? God says: "Those who disbelieve in the Reminder when it comes unto them (are guilty), for indeed it is an unassailable Scripture. Falsehood cannot come at it from before it or behind it. (It is) a revelation from the Wise, the Owner of Praise" (Qur'an 41 :41-42).

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Chapter 8: Organization of the Universe

What the Qur'an mentions about the organization of the Universe is important because "these references constitute a new fact of divine Revelation" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 153). The Qur'an deals with this matter in depth although this is not dealt with in the previous scrip- tures.

Dr. Maurice Bucaille also points out the important fact that the Qur'an does not contain "the theories prevalent at the time of the Revelation that deal with the organization of the celestial world" (p. 153). If the Qur'an was authored by any human being, he or she would have naturally in- cluded the ideas prevalent at the time. But many of those ideas were later shown to be inaccurate. How did the author of the Qur'an know enough to exclude those ideas, unless the author is God himself.

Those who say that Muhammad authored the Qur'an think that the Arabs were very knowledgeable in the field of Science, and Muhammad was or course one of them. But this explanation is based on the incorrect assumption that the Arabs knew Science before the Qur'an was re- vealed. As pointed out by Dr. Bucaille, the fact is that Science in Islamic countries came after the Qur'an, not before. "In any case", writes Dr. Bucaille, "the scientific knowledge of that great period would not have been suffi- cient for a human being to write some of the verses to be found in the Qur'an" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 1 53-1 54)

Modern astronomers are aware that the stars and planets are kept within ranges of precise distances from each other. Had it not been for this fact, collision between them would be inevitable. The author of the Qur'an was also aware of this. In the Qur'an we read "the sun and the moon (are subjected) to calculations (Qur'an 55:5).

Again, we read: "For you (God) subjected the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses" (Qur'an 14:33). The phrase 'diligently pursuing their courses' is a trans- lation of the Arabic term daa'ib which here means 'to apply oneself to something with care in a perseverant, invariable manner, in accordance with set habits' (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p.l55). And that indeed is how the sun and moon behave.

Another verse in the Qur'an says, "the stars are in sub- jection to His command" (Qur'an 16:12). Order in the universe is essential for its preservation. God, who subjected them to that order knew about it be- fore any scientist.

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Chapter 9: What Holds up the Sky?

Today scientists speak of gravitational forces that hold the heavenly bodies apart from each other and prevent them from colliding with each other. How was this to be con- veyed to the first readers of the Qur'an? God tells us in the Qur'an that He is the One Who raised the sky (Qur'an 55:7) and that he holds it back from falling on the earth (Qur'an 22:65). But how exactly does God do this?

If the author of the Qur'an was a human being, it would have been very easy for the author to copy the answer to this question from the Bible. But today no one will be- lieve that answer.

In the New American Bible, a picture is drawn to show how the authors of the Bible imagined the world to look like. In that picture, the sky "resembles an overturned bowl and is supported by columns" (The New American Bible, St. Joseph's Medium Size Edition, pp. 4-5). The earth in that picture is flat, and is also supported by pillars. After describing the picture at length, the editors of that Bible conclude by calling that idea of the world a "prescientific concept of the universe."

At the time when the Qur'an was being revealed, anyone could have easily believed this description which was al- ready found in the Bible. It is only in modern times that people would know better. How did the author of the Qur'an avoid this mistake?

God says in the Qur'an that He created the heavens "without any pillars that you can see" (Qur'an 31:10). Again, the Qur'an says: "God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see" (Qur'an 13:2). Dr. Maurice Bucaille comments: "These two 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" (The Bible, the Qur 'an andScience, p. 154).

To be able to avoid that prescientific error, the author of the Qur'an must have been either a modern scientist, or God Himself.

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Chapter 10: Comparing Apples and Oranges

The sun and the moon are different from each other not only in terms of size, but also in terms of function. The sun generates light, but the moon does not. The moon merely reflects the light coming from the sun. Every high school student today knows this.

A man or woman in the seventh century, however, would not have known about this fine distinction between the sun and the moon. To such a person, the two would appear as a greater light and a lesser light. Such a person would observe that the greater light lights up the day and the lesser light lights up the night. And this indeed is how the sun and the moon were described in previous books.

The Bible, describing the creation, says: "God made two great lights—the greater light to gov- ern the day and the lesser light to govern the night" (Genesis 1: 16). The author of the Qur'an however, was aware that this comparison between the sun and the moon is not adequate. Therefore the Qur'an does not refer to them as being a greater and a lesser light.

The Qur'an says: "God is the One who made the sun a shine and the moon a light" (Qur'an 10:5).

Commenting on this, Dr. Bucaille says: "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 dimesion to each respectively" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 156).

Similarly, the Qur'an says: "Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light" (Qur'an 25:61).

Here again, the difference between the sun and the moon is noted. The sun is called a lamp, and the moon is called an object giving light.

Again in the Qur'an God says that He "made the moon a light" and "made the sun a lamp" (Qur'an 71:15-16).

Furthermore, God calls the sun a "blazing lamp" (Qur'an 78:12-13). This term which is used for the sun is never used for the moon in the Qur'an.

In all of these verses, God expresses the notion that the sun and the moon are "not absolutely identical lights" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 156).

Dr. Bucaille draws his conclusions from what he found in the Qur'an about the sun and the moon: "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" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p 157).

In short, "There is nothing in the text of the Qur'an that contradicts what we know today about these two celestial bod- ies." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 157).

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Chapter 11: The Sun & Moon and Their Orbits

Today we know that the Moon revolves around the earth in approximately 29.5 days. The sun also revolves in its own orbit. To understand the sun's orbit, Dr. Bucaille says that the position of the sun in our galaxy must be considered, and we must therefore call on modern scien- tific ideas (The Bible, the Qur 'an and Science, p. 162).

Our galaxy, the milky way galaxy, includes one hundred billion stars situated in such a formation that the galaxy is shaped like a disc. This disc turns around its centre like a gramaphone record. Now, it is obvious that when a gramaphone record turns, any point on the disc would move around and come back to its original position. Simi- larly, every star in the galaxy moves as the galaxy rotates on its axis. Therefore the stars that are away from the centre of the galaxy orbit around the axis. The sun is one of those stars.

Dr. Bucaille explains that modern science has worked out the details of the sun's orbit as follows: "To complete one revolution on its own axis, the galaxy and the sun take roughly 250 million years. The sun travels roughly 150 miles per second in the completion of this" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).

After describing this, Dr. Bucaille comments: "The above is the orbital movement of the sun that was already referred to in the Qur'an fourteen centuries ago." (TheBible, theQur'anandScience, p. 162)

And yet this is a new finding. As Dr. Bucaille says, the knowledge of the sun's orbit is an acquisition of modern astronomy (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).

Two verses in the Qur'an refer to the orbits of the sun and moon. After mentioning the sun and the moon, God says: "Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40). How did the author of the Qur'an know of this? Even after the Qur'an was revealed, early commentators could not conceive of the orbits of the sun and moon. The tenth century commentator Tabari could not explain this so he said, "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know" (XVII, 15 quoted in The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).

Dr. Bucaille comments: "This shows just how incapable men were of under- standing this concept of the sun's and moon's orbit." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).

From this it is clear that if the Qur'an was here express- ing an idea already known to the people, the commenta- tors would have easily understood it. But this, as Dr. Bucaille explains was "a new concept that was not to be explained until centuries later" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161)

This confirms what God said to his prophet, on whom be peace: "This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we inspire in you (Muhammad). Neither you nor your people knew it before this" (Qur'an 11:49).

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Chapter 12: The Sun & Moon Move With Their Own Motion

The Qur'an makes the following statement about the sun and the moon: "Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40).

Why did the Qur'an say that the sun and moon move with their own motion? And, if that is true, where did the author of the Qur'an get this information?

The fact is that the sun and moon rotate on their axes and are in part animated by this rotating motion. The phrase "travelling with its own motion" in the verses quoted above is a translation of the arabic verb 'yasbahoon'. This could also be translated 'they swim.' In that case, the verse would read that the sun and the moon, "Each swim in its own orbit." Those who translate the verse this way explain that the term swim refers to movement with one's own internally generated force. Furthermore the move- ment of a swimmer is graceful, measured, and smooth. This is a very fitting description for the movement of the stars and planets including the sun and the moon.

After describing the scientific data concerning the rotation of the sun and the moon, Dr. Bucaille says: "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.... could have imagined them" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 163).

It is also amazing that the Qur'an uses a different term for the movement of the clouds and the mountains (see Qur'an 27:88). Obviously, the clouds and mountains are driven by external forces. The cloud is driven by the wind and the mountains move with the rotation of the earth. The sun and moon, however, move with their own motion, and therefore the Qur'an uses a peculiar term "they swim" to refer to their smooth, graceful, self-propelled move- ment.

How did the author of the Qur'an know enough to make this choice of words that will reflect a modern scientific truth? The Qur'an is no less than a revelation from God.

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Chapter 13: What Shape is the Earth?

Today we can look at a globe and know that the earth is somewhat like a ball, a sphere. The Qur'an makes certain statements that led Muslim scientists to understand long before their European coun- terparts that the earth is spherical. When Europe was in the dark ages thinking that the earth was flat, Muslim students were using globes for studying the earth in Islamic universities.

Since it was not the purpose of the Qur'an to teach science, the Qur'an did not need to state explicitly that the earth is spherical in shape (or more precisely, a geoid). But some of what the Qur'an says stimulates you to think of the world as a globe. Take, for example, the following verse: "Have you not seen how God merges the night into the day and merges the day into the night?" (Qur'an 31:29).

Another verse tells us that God coils the day and night around: "He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night" (Qur'an 39:5).

The word 'coils' in the verse above is a translation of the Arabic verb kawwara which is used in describing the action of coiling a turban around the head. To understand this statement fully, readers of the Qur'an had to think of the earth as a sphere.

To fully appreciate the above two statements in the Qur'an, try this experiment at home: You need a flashlight and a globe. Take these items into a dark room. Using the flashlight to simulate the light of the sun, shine the light upon the globe. Notice that only one half of the globe is lighted up. The other half is in darkness. Half the world is having day, the other half is having night. Now, recall that the earth is continuously rotating on its axis and will go around completely in twenty four hours. Slowly turn the globe around to simulate this rotation. Notice that as the globe turns, the day is going around the globe to light up the other half of the world. The night is also going around the globe to give rest to the other half of the world.

The day and night are perpetually coiling around the earth with some degree of interpenetration. This is ex- actly how it appears to astronauts during their space flights.

Dr. Bucaille makes the following remark: "This process of perpetual coiling, including the inter- penetration 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 obvi- ously not the case." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 165).

How do we explain the presence of this knowledge in the Qur'an? This obviously did not reflect the level of learning of the time, but was helpful in stimulating Muslim scientists to conceive of the earth in its real shape.