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
"Your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six days." Qur'an,
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..."
It would seem that this intermediary creation corresponds to the modern
discovery of bridges of matter which are present outside organized astronomical
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.
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
"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
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 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.