THE QUR'AN AND MODERN SCIENCE
Extracted from the Book
The Bible, The Qur'an and Science
Nature of Heavenly Bodies
THE SUN AND THE MOON
The Sun is a shine (diya') and the Moon a light (nur). This
translation would appear to be more correct than those given by
others, where the two terms are inverted. In fact there is little
difference in meaning since diya' belongs to a root (daw') which,
according to Kazimirski's authoritative Arabic/French dictionary,
means 'to be bright, to shine' (e.g. like a fire). The same author
attributes to the substantive in question the meaning of 'light'.
The difference between Sun and Moon will be made clearer by further
quotes from the Qur'an.
- Surah 25, verse 61:
Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed
therein a lamp and a moon giving light
- Surah 71, verses 15-16:
Did you see how God created seven heavens one above another and made
the moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp?
- Surah 78, verses 12-13:
We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing
The blazing lamp is quite obviously the sun.
Here the Moon is defined as a body that gives light (munir) from the
same root as nur (the light applied to the Moon). The Sun however is
compared to a torch (siraj) or a blazing (wahhaj) lamp.
A man of Muhammad's time could easily distinguish between the Sun, a
blazing heavenly body well knows to the inhabitants of the desert, and
the Moon, the body of the cool of the night. The comparisons found in
the Qur'an on this subject are therefore quite normal. 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 phantasmagoric.
It is known that the Sun is a star that generates intense heat and
light by its internal combustion, and that the Moon, which does not
give off light itself, merely reflects the light received from the
Sun, constituting an inert body (on its external layers at least).
There is nothing in the text of the Qur'an that contradicts what we
know today about these two celestial bodies.
As we know, the stars are heavenly bodies like the Sun. They are the
scene of various physical phenomena of which the easiest to observe is
their generation of light. They are heavenly bodies that produce their
The word 'star' appears thirteen times in the Qur'an (najm, plural
nujum); it comes from a root meaning to appear, to come into sight.
The word designates a visible heavenly body without saying of what
kind, i.e. either generator of light or mere reflector of light
received. To make it clear that the object so designated is a star, a
qualifying phrase is added as in the following Surah:
- Surah 86, verses 1-3:
By the sky and the Night-Visitor, who will tell thee what the Night-
Visitor is, the Star of piercing brightness
The evening star is qualified in the Qur'an by the word thakib meaning
'that which pierces through something' (here the night shadows). The
same word is moreover used to designate shooting stars (Surah 37,
verse 10): the latter are the result of combustion. It is difficult to
say whether these are referred to in the Qur'an with the same exact
meaning that is given to the heavenly bodies in the present day.
It is difficult to say that planets are mentioned in the Qur. an with
the specific meaning we give today to these heavenly bodies.
The planets do have their own light. They revolve around the Sun,
Earth being one of them. While one may presume that others exist
elsewhere, the only ones known are those in the solar system.
Five planets other than Earth were known to the ancients: Mercury,
Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Three have been discovered in recent
times: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
The Qur'an would seem to designate these by the word kaukab (plural
kawakib) without stating their number. Joseph's dream (Surah 12)
refers to eleven of them, but the description is, by definition, an
A good definition of the meaning of the word kaukab in the Qur'an
seems to have been given in a very famous verse. The eminently
spiritual nature of its deeper meaning stands forth, and is moreover
the subject of much debate among experts in exegesis. It is
nevertheless of great interest to offer an account of the comparison
it contains on the subject of the word that would seem to designate a
Here is the text in question: (Surah 24, verse 35)
God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His
light is as if there were a niche and within it a luminary. The
luminary is in a glass. The glass is as if it were a planet glittering
like a pearl
Here the subject is the projection of light onto a body that reflects
it (glass) and gives it the glitter of a pearl, like a planet that is
lit by the sun. This is the only explanatory detail referring to this
word to be found in the Qur'an.
The word is quoted in other verses. In some of them It is difficult to
distinguish which heavenly bodies are meant (Surah 6, verse 76; Surah
82, verses 1-2).
In one verse however, when seen in the light of modern science, it
would seem very much that these can only be the heavenly bodies that
we know to be planets. In Surah 37, verse 6, we see the following
We have indeed adorned the lowest heaven with an ornament, the planets
Is it possible that the expression in the Qur'an 'lowest heaven' means
the solar system? It is known that among the celestial elements
nearest to us, there are no other permanent elements apart from the
planets: the Sun is the only star in the system that bears its name.
It is difficult to see what other heavenly bodies could be meant if
not the planets. The translation given would therefore seem to be
correct and the Qur'an to refer to the existence of the planets as
defined in modern times.
THE LOWEST HEAVEN
The Qur'an mentions the lowest heaven several times along with the
heavenly bodies of which it is composed. The first among these would
seem to be the planets, as we have just seen. When however the Qur'an
associates material notions intelligible to us, enlightened as we are
today by modern science, with statements of a purely spiritual nature,
their meaning becomes obscure.
Thus the verse quoted above could easily be understood, except that
the following verse (7) of the same Surah 37 speaks of a 'guard
against every rebellious evil spirit', 'guard' again being referred to
in Surah 21, verse 32 and Surah 41, verse 12, so that we are
confronted by statements of quite a different kind.
What meaning can one attach moreover to the 'projectiles for the
stoning of demons' that according to verse 5, Surah 67 are situated in
the lowest heaven? Do the 'luminaries' referred to in the same verse
have something to do with the shooting stars mentioned above?
All these observations seem to lie outside the subject of this study.
They have been mentioned here for the sake of completeness. At the
present stage however, it would seem that scientific data are unable
to cast any light on a subject that goes beyond human understanding.
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