The Koran As A Miracle?

May 5, 2021 Category: Religion

The Flat Earth:

Serious astronomy has been practiced since Nabu-ri-mannu of Chaldea in the 6th century B.C.  More to the point: the model of a flat Earth has been debunked since Classical Antiquity.  In the 5th century B.C., Euctemon of Athens seems to have been well aware that the world was spherical.  In the 4th century B.C., Pytheas of Massalia became the first to demarcate the north and south poles in his terrestrial cartography.  And in the 3rd century B.C., Eratosthenes of Cyrene deduced the sphericality of the Earth after observing that shadows cast by sunlight were different lengths at different latitudes.  He even calculated the circumference of the planet to within a few kilometers. (!)

By the end of the 5th century A.D., the renown Indian astronomer, Arya-bhata of Pataliputra / Kusumapura [Bihar] had established the spherical nature of the Earth in his “Ashmaka-tantra” [Book of Solutions; rendered “Aryabhatiya” in Arabic].  He posited that the APPARENT rotation of the stars was actually due to the daily rotation of the EARTH ITSELF.  He made such astronomical observations even as he laid the groundwork for algebra and trigonometry.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the understanding of a spherical Earth was reflected in the writings of Anicius Boëthius, who had no qualms with bucking Church teachings.

In the 620’s, the renown Indian mathematician, Brahma-gupta of Rajasthan [Gurjarata] pioneered algebra.  He even established the numerical notation–replete with zero, negative numbers, and a decimal system to represent the value of pi–that would later be adopted by the Arabs (later to be mislabeled “Arab numerals”).  He too recognized the Earth as spherical.  Amazingly, he correctly estimated the Earth’s circumference at 4,967 yojanas (about 40,000 km).

By the time MoM was undertaking his ministry, the Indian astronomer, Bhaskara was composing commentaries on Arya-bhata’s work, as well as refining the numerical system that would later be adopted by the Arabs.  The Andalusian scholar, Isidore of Seville was also referring to the world as round.  Alas, the Seal of the Abrahamic prophets, who was purportedly in direct communication with the Creator the Universe, was none the wiser.

When the Mohammedan creed was established, the impression that the world is flat was nothing new to Abrahamic cosmogony.  The misconception dates back to the Hebrew Bible–in which the Abrahamic deity asked Job rhetorically: “Where were you when I laid the Earth’s foundations, marked out its dimensions, and laid its cornerstone?”  Elsewhere in the Book of Job, we are told that “the Earth takes shape like clay under a seal” (38:14).

Even during the Rashidun caliphate (mid-7th century), we find widespread recognition–OUTSIDE OF Dar al-Islam–that the world was round.  The Armenian geographer / astronomer, Anania Shirakatsi penned his magnum opus, the “Ashkharatsuyts” within only a few years of MoM’s death, explicating the spherical nature of the Earth.  The Byzantine “Ravenna Cosmography” also exhibited a clear understanding this fact.

Alas.  The notion of the Earth being flat had a long history in Abrahamic lore–as attested by, say, First Samuel 2:1-8 (“For the pillars of the earth are god’s, and on them he shall set the world”).  Isaiah 40:20 speaks of god sitting “above” the Earth.  And we are notified that the Abrahamic deity “has set the world on its foundations; so that it shall never be moved” in Psalms 93, 96, and 104.  First Chronicles says the same thing (16:30).  All this is reminiscent of the Koran describing mountains as stakes holding the Earth down (16:15 and 78:7), while marveling at the heavens being suspended above the Earth without pillars (13:2-3, 22:65, and 31:10).

It is obvious that the authors of the Koran were under the impression that the world was flat.  In 2:22, 13:2-3, 15:19, 20:53, 43:10, 50:7, 51:48, 71:19, 79:30, 88:20, and 91:6, we are told that the world is “dahaha” [a vast expanse] that was created (by god) by being “spread out” (like a carpet). {30}  Such passages might alternately be interpreted as describing the Earth as a bed.  (Beds aren’t spheres.)  This is all rather embarrassing, as much of the rest of the world had been well-aware of the Earth’s spherical nature since Classical Antiquity (as was the case with Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, Plato, Hipparchus, etc.)

In keeping with this, it’s no surprise that MoM’s audience wondered where the sun went at night.  This befuddlement was clearly a consequence of a conception of the world as a flat surface with edges (as well as a geo-centric perspective).  Of course, instead of correcting these glaring misconceptions, MoM opted to ANSWER such queries; as he HIMSELF espoused the same erroneous cosmic model.

As if it weren’t already clear enough, 78:6-7 elaborates on the point, specifying that the Earth was spread out LIKE A CARPET.  It should come as no surprise, then, that the authors of Islam’s holy book marvel at the fact that the sky (as a dome) does not fall down, being as it is not held up by pillars.

The authors of the Koran posited the (literal) ENDS of the Earth.  For them, the entire scope of the world (the “oikumene”) was from the Indus River valley (“Pison” in the argot of early Semitic peoples) in the east to the Nile Delta (“Gihon”) in the west. {23}  So, as far as they were concerned, one could literally voyage to the places where the sun rose (presumably: from somewhere just beyond the Hindu Kush) and set (into a muddy pool, ostensibly located somewhere in the Maghreb, just beyond Egypt). {32}  The SUN’S RESTING PLACE is referenced in 36:38 as well.

It evidently never occurred to the Muslim conquerers of the Middle Ages that when they pushed eastward toward India (and westward toward the Barbary Coast and Iberian Peninsula), they were venturing into places the authors of their holy book were unaware existed.

13:41 and 21:44 explicitly refer to the ENDS / EDGES / SIDES [“a-trafi-ha” / “tarfi” / “tarafan”] of the earth [“arda”]—stating that god reduces the world from its ends.  This was not meant to be metaphorical.  In 11:114 and 20:130, when instructing people when to pray, the same term (“T-R-F”) is used to refer to the “ends” of the day (sunrise and sunset).

And what is ABOVE this flat surface?  13:2, 21:32, 22:65, and 31:30 describes the sky as a “protective” ceiling over us (i.e. a dome).  As it turns out, the Koranic description of the heavens as a (protective) DOME was nothing new.  The Sumerian heaven was depicted as a dome suspended above the flat earth (over which was the sea of Tiamat)–almost exactly the description we find in Islam’s holy book.  Were the Sumerians thinking of ozone as well?  As it turns out, Anu created the world by cleaving the heaven and earth.  He then used stars to protect the world from evil demons.  Any of this sound familiar?  It should.  All of these zany dogmas are found in the Koran.

The heavens-as-a-dome leitmotif is even found in ancient Chinese mythology, replete with pillars suspending it over a flat Earth (ref. the “Huai-nan-zi” from the 2nd century B.C.; in which the pillars had to be repaired by the goddess, Nü-wa).  Such cosmology was nothing new when the Koran was composed.  Had the book’s authors thought of the world as spherical, they would have described this protective encasement as a rind or shell, not as a dome.

The Koran’s authors marvel at how god holds up the sky without using pillars.  Likewise, in 34:9, the authors seem to be in awe at how god restrains the sky from falling onto the Earth.  Hearing that god keeps the sky from falling down, we can’t help but be amused.  Yet we’re told that the heavens BEGAN conjoined with the Earth; for 55:7 explains that when god created the heavens, he RAISED them up from the Earth like a canopy.  It makes sense, then, that 2:22 describes the sky as a canopy over the Earth, while comparing the Earth to a (stationary) bed.

Thus the Earth is an expanse, rather than a sphere, over which is the dome of the heavens is miraculously suspended without pillars (also ref. 34:9).  The heavens is something one could theoretically pass beyond, if god so permitted–as mentioned in 55:33.  Moreover, this magically-suspended dome was created AFTER the Earth—as specified in 2:29, 41:9-12, and 79:27-30.  (That’s right: The Earth was first, the cosmos came later on.)  Naturally, then, the sky is seen as a roof that will break / open (or a canopy that will fold) on Judgement Day (as in 21:104, 69:16, 78:19, and 81:11).

We could, of course, read all this figuratively; but that would be an odd approach to take with a text that claims to be the ultimate explication of the natural world.  This is rather embarrassing, as the Greeks started positing the Earth was spherical in the 6th century B.C.–more than twelve centuries before the Koran was composed.

In 51:47, the Koran’s protagonist announces that he was the one who’d made the heaven [“sama’a”] spacious / expansive.  (“Mu-s[h]i’una” means ONE WHO makes spacious / expansive; based on the verb “aus[h]a’a”, which might also be translated as extensive / vast.)  Was this a premonition of Hubble’s constant?  An incredible insight that the fabric space-time ITSELF is undergoing a process of expansion?

Hardly.  In the very next verse, the book’s protagonist announces that he had “spread out” [“fa-ras[h]-naha” means we’ve spread it out”] THE EARTH.  He then praises himself for being the “mahiduna” [spreader]…on BOTH counts: Heaven and Earth.  (All this is done in the first person royal plural.)  Are we to suppose, then, that the planet Earth is expanding as well?  Nope.  As mentioned, 13:41 and 21:44 state that god is DIMINISHING the Earth (from its edges).

Thus we’re told that god used his prodigious power to make Earth a vast expanse; and the heavens a vast expanse OVER it.  THAT is how it all began.  It comes as no surprise, then, that the exegete, Mawardi cited the same phrasing (“spread out”) as an argument “against those who claim the Earth is like a ball” in the late 10th / early 11th century.

Revealingly, the authors of the Koran felt pressed to answer the question: Where does the sun go at night?  The mere posing of the question reveals the degree of ignorance involved.  That they even attempted to answer the question reveals that they were complicit in that ignorance.  Those who knew better would have clarified this misconception, stating that the sun doesn’t “go” anywhere; it temporarily disappears from the side of the rotating sphere on which the observer happens to be standing.  They would have likely pointed out that it is always daytime SOMEWHERE, and always night SOMEWHERE ELSE.  Alas: Those who wrote the relevant Koranic passages were under the impression that when the sun set, it set on the Earth itself (such that when night fell, it fell upon the entire world).  It is no wonder, then, that it never occurred to the authors of the Koran that fasting and praying according to the rising and setting of the sun might be problematic for, say, NORDIC Muslims (2:187 and 17:78). {23}

Clearly, the authors did not think of the Earth as a round object drifting along (in a vast cosmos, most of which we can’t see).  These comments reveal, instead, that the authors saw the world as a flat base with the heavens as something that exist exclusively above it.  Even if this is taken as metaphor, it still reveals that the book’s authors thought of the heavens as miraculously SUSPENDED (or held up, as though by supports).  Of course, such pillar-less-ness would not seem miraculous to anyone who understood Earth to be a spherical body floating within a firmament.

Is it not odd that god failed to mention that our sun is just another star…and that stars are just other suns…and that many of the pinpoints of light we see in the sky are entire galaxies?  Well, it’s not odd once we understand who wrote the Koran.

It is also clear that the authors of the Koran thought the Earth to be flat from the way that they discuss night and day (i.e. as if the Earth did not have poles).  Certainly, fasting could be either deadly or stupendously easy in, say, the upper Nordic region (depending on which time of year Ramadan fell).  Of course, if the Earth were flat, there would be no place with several months between sunrise and sunset.  The authors were obviously unaware of the lengthening days and nights as one went extremely far north or south.  If Islam were only meant for people in the Arabian desert, there would be no problem at all.  (Well, at least, on this particular matter.)

Clearly, the early Muslims (i.e. the Salaf) were under the impression that the Earth was flat, which—it would seem—had to be beneath one thing and atop another.  As it turns out, it was beneath a miraculously suspended dome (no columns holding it up); but what, pray tell, was it ON?  No answer is forthcoming in the Koran.  Yet, according to the 14th-century historiographer, Ibn Kathir, one of the Sahaba (MoM’s cousin, Ibn Abbas) was convinced that the world was set on top of a gigantic fish (“nun”); which Ibn Kathir (in keeping with with Al-Tabari) connected to the opening verse of Surah 68.  (Incidentally, the 8th-century historiographer, Jafar “al-Sadiq” was left with the same impression.)

The Koranic passages enumerated here had a clear effect on the thinking of the Muslim world.  They led the 9th-century exegete, Abu Bakr ibn Mujahid al-Atashi of Baghdad to note: “If the Earth were round, then water would not have settled on it.”  Brilliant.  It was this model of the world that was articulated by Al-Tabari in his “History” (10th century) when he referenced “the two sides of the Earth and the two rims of heaven” (in recounting the tale about Alexander the Great voyaging to the places where the sun rises and sets.

According to 18:83-90, Dhul-Qarnayn [“Two-horned One”; a reference to Alexander the Great] voyages to the edge of the world…and finds the actual place where the sun sets (into a puddle of murky water, as it turns out).  It is then explained that people who live in that location are therefore always in the sunshine.  (No shit.)  25:45 then explains that god made the sun’s movement as an indication for the length / direction of shadows; thereby reversing a cause and effect that even most children understand.

So we have the unequivocal statement that the sun sets into a muddy pool (18:86).  The passage recounts that “D[h]u al-Qarnayn” [one with two horns; i.e. Alexander the Great] traveled to the place where the sun set.  Apologists often dissimulate when it comes to this rather embarrassing verse–insisting that it REALLY meant to say the place where “IT APPEARED” to him that the sun set in a muddy pool.  But that is not what the passage says.

Eisegetes are forced to clandestinely insert the qualifying clause into the text so as to get the passage to mean what they wish it meant.  The comical view that there is a place the sun goes at night–namely: into a muddy pool at the western edge of the (flat) world–is confirmed in Abu Dawood’s Hadith no. 4002.  This reiteration refutes the notion that 18:86 might be charitably interpreted as a description of mere appearances. {31}

When we look at 18:86, we should note that it is not that it only APPEARED to Alexander the Great that the sun was setting in the muddy pool; he actually FOUND (“wajadah[a]”) it doing so. {32}  We know this, because when the authors of the Koran DID want to state that something merely appeared to be a certain way, but was not really so, they said as much.  Note, for example, 4:157 wherein it is explained that when Jesus of Nazareth was supposedly crucified, it only APPEARED to be the case: “shubbiha” denotes merely seeming-to-be (in contradistinction to actually being).  The upshot was that witnesses were mistaken.  There is no such insinuation in 18:86.  At no point does it intimate that Alexander was under any mis-impression when he arrived at the place where the sun set. {33}

Needless to say, one does not need to travel to a distant land to REACH THE PLACE where the sun sets; as the sun sets from anywhere and everywhere on the planet (being as how the Earth is a rotating sphere).  The horizon does not exist at a certain location; it is an optical effect.

We know that MoM was referring to an actual place where the sun LITERALLY sets due to the “sahih” Hadith account of Abu Dharr, who recounted that MoM once asked him: “Do you know where the sun sets?”  The self-proclaimed prophet continued: “It sets in a spring of warm water.”  Abu Dharr then asks: “Do you know where the sun goes?”  MoM replied: “Verily it glides until it reaches the place under the throne.  There, it falls prostrate and remains until it is given permission to rise again; and go to the place from whence it came.  It then returns and emerges from the rising place” (Bukhari 4/54/421).  This iteration involves the sun in transit (as THE explanation for its diurnal disappearance / reappearance).  Given that the sun is always in the sky from the perspective of somewhere on the Earth’s surface, this makes no sense.  Yet it DOES make sense if we were to suppose that the Earth was stationary and flat, WITH EDGES, and that the sun revolved around it.

As late as the 15th century, Jalal ud-Din al-Mahalli of Cairo wrote (in his “Tafsir al-Jalalayn”) that the relevant passages of the Koran “suggest that the Earth is flat”; an assertion, he added “that is the opinion of most of the ulema.” (!)

Also noteworthy was the Persian polymath, Al-Khwarizmi’s major work on geography, the “Kitab Surat al-Ard” [Book of the Face of the Earth] c. 833, which was based on the work of the geo-centrist, Ptolemy.  Needless to say, spheres do not have faces. {29}  None of his maps in any way indicated that he was aware of the Earth’s sphericality (the fact that if, say, one were to venture off one side of the drawing, one would emerge on the opposing side).

Evidence that the flat-Earth view abided in Mohammedan lore can be found in a slew of medieval Islamic geographers–every one of whom, guided by the Koran as they were, STILL hadn’t yet gotten the memo that the Earth was spherical.  Perhaps many of them were urged to demarcate the place where “Dhul-Qarnayn” had found the edge of the world (per 18:83-90).  Take, for instance, three of the most notable Islamic geographers:

  • Abu Hanifah Ahmad ibn Dawood of Dinawar (9th century)
  • Abul-Qasim Ubayd-allah ibn Abdullah ibn Khordadbeh of Jibal (late 9th /early 10th century)
  • Muhammad Abul-Qasim ibn Hawqal of Nisibis (10th century)

It is clear from the writings of all three that the accepted view was of a flat Earth.  This last writer was best known for his “Surat al-Ard” [Face of the Earth].  He was clearly not thinking about the surface of a sphere.

There is a passage in the Hadith of “Muslim” (book 5; no. 7258) in which MoM is quoted as proclaiming: “God drew the ends of the Earth together for me to see; and I saw its eastern and western lands; and I saw that the dominion of my community will reach as far as that which has been drawn together for me to see.”  This is a peculiar thing to say if one understands that the entire world exists on the surface of a sphere.

With the possible exception of the Ptolemist (geo-centrist), Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Kathir al-Farghani of Baghdad (9th century), it would seem that the first major expositors in the Muslim world to have–finally–figured out that the world was spherical were the Persian polymaths, Abu Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni of Khwarezm and Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad ibn al-Husayn of Karaj–both in the early 11th century.  It might be noted, though, that they both still equivocated on the matter of geo-centrism.

However, the Muslim cartographer, Muhammad al-Idrisi of Palermo (also from the 12th century) seems to have STILL not gotten the memo about the Earth NOT actually being as the Koran describes it (flat).  This is made evident by his “Tabula Rogeriana”; a map clearly not drawn by someone trying to show that the Earth was spherical.  His best-known book was “The Pleasure Of He Who Longs To Journey To the Horizons”.  For, so far as he saw it, there existed the edges-of-the world described in the Koran (13:41 and 21:44). {30}

In much of Dar al-Islam, the Koran flat-Earth view actually persisted into the 19th century.  Revealingly, in the memoirs of his official Egyptian mission to Paris (published in 1834), Rifa’a al-Tahtauri of Cairo (a respected teacher at Al-Azhar University) marveled at the fact that European astronomers had actually proven that–contrary to the Koran–the Earth was, in fact, round. (!)  His surprise makes sense.  For as far as the authors of his holy book were concerned, the known world was a flat surface with edges.  The circumscribed “oikumene” reflected the limited knowledge of the “known world” at the time the “Recitations” were composed.

Far from motivating scientific inquiry, the Koran stymied it for centuries.  Any headway that was made was made IN SPITE OF, not because of, Islamic theology.  We should not be surprised, then, to find that the founder of Boko Haram–indoctrinated at the University of Medina c. 1990–was confident that the world was flat.  For, so far as he was concerned, Islam’s holy book was the ultimate source for understanding anything and everything.  He was simply noticing what the Koran clearly says.  Therefore THAT must be the truth; and that’s all there is to it.

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