The Koran As A Miracle?

May 5, 2021 Category: Religion


Islamic scripture’s treatment of the sun rising / setting is SPECIFIC LOCATIONS is not the only giveaway that the early Mohammedans thought the Earth was flat, and at the center of a cosmos AROUND WHICH the sun revolved.  The revealing thing is not the (daffy) answers given to “Where does the sun go at night?”; but in the very question posed.  If one wanted to be crystal clear on the matter, and leave no doubt that mis-impressions had been decisively dispelled, how easy it would have been to simply respond to such inquiries with: “The sun does not GO anywhere.  The Earth is a spherical object, the rotation of which accounts for the sun’s apparent rising in the east and setting in the west.”  On the contrary, 91:4 claims that it is NIGHT that hides the sun.  In 38:32, Solomon says that the night occurs because the sun disappears behind a curtain of darkness.  We could be charitable; and take this in a purely poetic way, but–then again—isn’t the Koran meant to EXPLAIN things?

Defective astronomy suffuses the Koran.  As mentioned, in 21:104, the heavens are said to be a sheet that god will fold on Judgement Day.  Even taken metaphorically, this is an odd thing to say.

In 13:2, 14:33, 21:33, 31:29, 35:13, 36:38-40, 39:5, 55:5, and 91:1-2, the Koran talks about how the sun and the moon have designated orbits / courses (which, of course, they do); but predictably fails to acknowledge that the Earth ALSO has an orbit / course.  (The sun’s movement is described as running / swimming from here to there, then finding a resting place between sunset and sunrise.)  36:40 even states that the sun is never allowed to “catch up to” the moon.  Splendid.  That “the sun and the moon swim in their own rounded courses across the sky” is hardly a succinct way to convey the fact that the earth is a sphere revolving around the sun.  It is no wonder, then, that the authors of the Koran are beguiled by the fact that the sun never “catches up to” the moon as they swim along in their respective orbits.

Meanwhile, 91:3-4 and 92:1 state that the night-time “CONCEALS” the sunlight…which is, so we’re told, why it becomes dark.  And, to top it all off, 37:6-7 explains that the stars are located in the “lower heavens” (i.e. closer than the sun and moon).  81:2 reminds us that stars can FALL…as in: down to Earth.  This only makes sense if one sees the heavens as a dome suspended miraculously over the flat Earth–which is, as it turns out, precisely what the authors of the Koran thought. {29}

Is all this really better than Copernicus managed?  If this were intended to explicate helio-centrism, god had a very strange way of doing it.

Recall that god built the seven heavens to be “strong” (78:12), noting that it has no cracks in it (50:6).  The authors expect us to be impressed by this.  22:65 notes that god holds the heavens up (from falling down to Earth); while 13:2 marvels that he does so without using visible pillars.

And what of the passage referring to the sky as a protective ceiling?  No such passage exists.  21:32 refers to the “heavens” as a PROTECTED ceiling, not a protective one.  That is, the (seven) heavens are PROTECTED FROM Earth, not PROTECTING Earth.  That’s why shooting stars are said to be projectiles god uses to shoot down djinn who are trying to eavesdrop on the goings-on of heaven.  For “akhira” is a cordon, quarantined from the corruptions of “dunya”.

If 21:32 is referring to the Earth’s atmosphere, it doesn’t make any sense; as the planet’s atmosphere is an interface with the rest of the universe (including the stars, sun, and moon), not a ceiling.  (It is effectively a gaseous membrane.)  In any case, a spherical shell isn’t a ceiling.  If, on the other hand, the verse is referring to the rest of the universe (as the sky is said to CONTAIN the stars, sun, and moon), then it is STILL not a ceiling.

Nothing makes the geocentric view more glaring than the authors’ need to address the matter of where the sun goes at night.  Looking to verses 86 thru 90 of Surah 18, we find the the sun goes to a “setting place” (located in a muddy spring) at the end of the day, only to miraculously re-appear each morning at a “rising place”.  Where, then, is it during the night?  Well, at a “resting place”, of course (36:38)…located beneath god’s throne, where it prostrates (waiting until morning, at which point god grants it permission to rise again).  Of course, the whole matter of where the sun goes is moot once we realize the entire process is about the Earth (as a sphere) ROTATING; whereby places on its surface change with respect to the sun.  The sun is, of course, always where it is; and is always shining somewhere in the world.  There is no “resting place” where it awaits it queue to rise again.  (The fact that the entire solar system slowly revolves around the center of the galaxy does not change this.  After all, it’s all about frame of reference.  Even our galaxy is drifting through space; but that has no bearing on the diurnal activities of the planet Earth.)

The Koran also describes the moon as a source of illumination.  This was a common belief in ancient times.  Indeed, in the Sumerian / Akkadian and Hittite word for the moon, “Iskhara”, means “maker of light”.  Given a geo-centric worldview, this kind of description is exactly what we would expect.

When we read at the beginning of Surah 91 that the day “displays” the sun while the night “covers” the sun, we’re reading the words of someone who doesn’t understand what accounts for the light of day and the darkness of night: a revolving Earth, and the positional relation of a given part of its surface to the rays of a nearby star.  It would never occur to the Koran’s authors that the moon might still be there even during daylight hours.

Nevertheless, apologists insist that the Final Message to mankind explained everything with perfect clarity.  Consequently, how could anyone have possibly come away with the impression that the world was anything but an orb floating in space?  We must wonder: Did it not occur to the Koran’s vaunted protagonist to—at some point—simply say: “The Earth is a spherical object that rotates within a vast space while orbiting the sun (which is itself just another star), thereby giving the appearance that the sun ascends from the eastern horizon and descends on the western horizon; when it is really the Earth that is spinning.  So when it is day on one side, it is night on the obverse side, and vice versa.”  That would have likely done the trick.

Why would god NOT have clarified this elementary point when he knew full well that most people at the time were under the distinct (mistaken) impression that the Earth was the center of the cosmic scheme, and all bodies in the heavens revolved around it?  Why would he just “leave it at that” when, by ONLY stating what is found in the Koran, that widespread (mistaken) impression would persist for a thousand more years?  (As it turned out, Galileo published his “Dialogue Concerning Two Chief World Systems” on EXACTLY the one-millennium anniversary of MoM’s ignominious death.)  The Vatican would not forgive Galileo for his position until 1992. {34}

It is no secret that in Abrahamic lore, the geo-centric view prevailed.  This is made apparent in passages like Joshua 10:13, in which we are told that the sun stopped in the sky, delaying its setting for a full day.  That such an effect would be due a cessation in the Earth’s rotation would have never occurred to those who thought the world was flat and located at the center of the universe.  So we are told the sun was held still; not that the Earth stopped rotating.  We also encounter this phrasing in the Book of Habakkuk (3:11).  Ecclesiastes 1:5 tells us that it is the sun that revolves around the Earth.

It is no surprise, then, that the Koran exhibits the same misconceptions.

The supposition that the Earth was NOT at the center of the celestial spheres dates back to the 6th century B.C., when the Ionian thinker, Hecataeus of Miletus recognized the world to be a round object in a solar system–as explicated in his “Periodos Ges”.  That was all well over a millennium before MoM lived.  The idea was seconded in the 5th century B.C. by Meton of Athens, who developed lunar theory.  Ki-dunnu of Chaldea continued to develop lunar theory in the 4th century B.C.

The helio-centric model continued to be promoted through the 3rd century B.C.  In the early part of that century, Aristarchus of Samos presented the first explicitly helio-centric model of the solar system.  Archimedes of Syracuse would then champion the idea…as would the aforementioned Eratosthenes of Cyrene.

Alas, in the Muslim world, the geo-centric view prevailed–as attested by the Andalusian astronomer, Abu al-Qasim al-Qurtubi of Madrid (a.k.a. “Maslama al-Majriti”), who is best known for translating Ptolemy’s “Planisphaerium” c. 1000, yet stopped short of endorsing the idea that the Earth revolved around the sun.

The first Muslim thinker to explicitly delineate a helio-centric view of the solar system would not be until the 12th century, when it was endorsed the Andalusian astronomer, Nur al-Din ibn Ishaq al-Bitruji (a.k.a. “Alpetragius”).

Yet, even then, the impression that world was flat persisted in Dar al-Islam.  Any doubts that this misimpression was rampant throughout the Muslim world are dispelled by the fact that medieval expositors found the need to posit “Bahamut”, the giant fish that carried the world on its back.  Some accounts even had the world resting on the back of a giant ox (“Kuyutha”)…which was, in turn, standing on a giant gemstone (a slab of “jacinth”) …which was held up by Bahamut, which swam in the primordial waters beneath everything.  This zany cosmological picture was still being proffered in the 13th century–as with the Persian thinker, Zakariya of Qazwin in his “Aja’ib al-Makhluqat wa Ghara’ib al-Mawjudat” [Wonders of the Creatures and Miraculous Things of the Universe].  If the Koran had made it clear that the world was round, then why were such prominent writers still under the impression the world was flat?

Yet another indication that denizens of Dar al-Islam thought the world was the center of the universe was the panoply of works by NON-Muslims who were INFLUENCED BY Muslim thinkers, and as a consequence espoused geo-centrism.  Take, for instance, the English writer, Johannes of Sacro-Bosco (John of Holywood).  His “The Sphere of the World” placed the Earth at the center of the cosmos.  That was in the 13th century.  While Johannes DID recognize the Earth to be spherical, he sought validation of his mis-impressions about the celestial spheres (a model first made famous by Ptolemy) from Muslim sources.  (He was fluent in medieval Arabic).

Even by the late 14th century, many of the most prominent Muslim thinkers STILL thought the Earth was the center of the universe.  The celebrated astronomer, Ibn al-Shatir of Damascus penned the “Kitab Nihayat al-Sul fi Ta-shih al-Usul [Book of the Final Quest for the Rectification of Principles], which presented an expressly geo-centric model of the cosmos (though he seemed to have come to terms with the fact that the Earth was spherical).

When it came to an actual understanding of the cosmos, German astronomer (and Renaissance humanist), Nicholas of Cusa made headway in the 15th century.  Yet—like the Catholic Church—most of the Muslim world was un-moved by such insights.  (For more on this, ref. “A History of Arabic Astronomy” by George Saliba; as well as “Orthodoxy” by Sonja Brentjes.)

When, in 1543, the Polish freethinker, Nicolaus Copernicus published “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” [On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres], the helio-centric model of the solar system came as somewhat vexing news to the denizens of Dar al-Islam (as it was to the Vatican).  That the entire Muslim world found the development so surprising should come as no surprise.  It was not as if those the Ummah hadn’t been reading their holy book carefully enough; the problem was that they were ONLY familiar with the worldview of their holy book.  They were simply convinced of that which their scriptures had informed them; as that seemed to be the only way to know anything.

Of course, almost all denizens of Dar al-Islam NOW know the Earth to be a spherical object in a solar system, orbiting a star that is just one of countless other stars.  This is yet another reminder that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims TODAY disregard the Koran; though typically without recognizing that they are disregarding the Koran.  The fact remains: Until the modern age, most Muslims were under the distinct impression that the Earth was flat…and was at the center of the universe…as a direct result of what their holy book told them.

In closing, let’s look past the flat-Earth, geo-centric perspective of the Koran.  For, in the grand scheme of things, such flawed astronomy was the least of mankind’s problems in the 7th century.  What was REALLY going on when this was all written down?  For the problem with the laughably defective explications of the natural is not an isolated one; it is indicative of a larger problem that pervades the rest of the book…on ALL subjects (from the conditions for civil society to the location of a man’s testicles).  Considering all this, the only thing that is miraculous about the Koran is that there are still people who think that there is anything miraculous about the Koran.

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