Geology

Are the mountains Moving like the Clouds?

Frequent references to the earth’s mountains have been made in the Holy Qur’an with graphic descriptions about their nature and usefulness for human life. The purpose of this article is to present a brief discussion of some verses about the mountains in view of the recent scientific investigations about their origin and formation. Since this topic is intimately related to interpretation of the verses of the Qur’an about the creation of the universe and the natural phenomena in general, we begin with a discussion of the more general subject of the conformity of the Qur’anic verses with scientific knowledge. The Qur’an and Science The Holy Qur’an claims to be a book of guidance for the righteous as revealed to the Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) more than 1400 years ago. It presents its teachings in a rational and philosophical manner in order to create a firm belief in the existence of God and His divine attributes. This is a perfect book; there is no doubt in it; it is a guidance for the righteous. (Ch.2: v.3). It recognises the superiority of those with knowledge over those who do not have knowledge (Ch.39: v.10), and encourages reflection on the vast natural phenomena around us as a proof of the existence of a Creator and Sustainer. It is estimated that there are about 750 verses of the Qur’an that exhort the readers to reflect on and study the natural phenomena around us with frequent examples referring to subjects dealing with many fields of knowledge including astronomy, cosmology, physics, and biology. In the creation of the heaven and the earth and in the alteration of the night and the 50 Review of Religions – March 2002 Are the Mountains Moving like the Clouds? – Amazing Revelations of the Holy Qur’an about Mountains By Dr. Mian M. Abbas – Alabama, USA day, there are indeed Signs for people of understanding. Those who standing, sitting or lying down on their sides bear Allah in mind, and reflect over the creation of the heavens and the earth, and say ‘Our Lord! Thou has not created this without purpose.’ (Ch.3: v.191). It is one of the basic premises of the teachings of the Qur’an that a deep study of the nature of the earth, the heavenly bodies, the origin of the universe, and the origin of life, leads to abundant evidence of the existence of God. The more one studies the creations and the natural phenomena in the universe, the more reasons and proofs one will find in support of the belief in the existence of God and His attributes. The funda- mental assumption here is that there cannot be any conflict between our discoveries of the laws of nature, or science, and the revelation from God or the Qur’ a n i c teachings and descriptions of the phenomena of nature. While exhorting the readers to ponder over God’s creation of the universe and all that exists therein, the Qur’an provides many graphic descriptions and insights into the creation of the earth, the heavenly bodies, and the diversity of natural phenomena. Some of the verses may have literal interpretations, while others may be considered to be only metaphorical in nature with spiritual interpretations or dealing with prophesies about the future. More often, however, the Qur’anic verses have literal as well as spiritual interpretations. When dealing with topics that are either poorly understood or about which only speculative knowledge exists, literal interpretations that may be acceptable are made in accordance with the know-ledge of the times. With acquisition of new know- ledge, the interpretations are sub- sequently revised with deeper insight into the subject. The interpretations of the Qur’anic verses, however, are not arbitrary. The general guidance and rules for inter-pretation have been laid down by the Qur’an(1) itself by identifying two classes of verses: those that are clear in meaning and decisive, and others that are not definitive and may have different interpretations. We have: He it is Who has sent down to thee the Book; in it there are verses that are decisive in meaning (muhkam) – they are the basis of the Book – and there are others that are allegorical (m u t a s h a b i h a ) . (Ch.3: v.8) 51 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 The allegorical verses falling in the second category may involve spiritual analogies or may contain prophecies whose exact nature and time of fulfillment are yet be determined. The general rule emphasized by the Qur’an for interpretation of such verses that may be indecisive or subject to different interpretations, is that their meaning must be corroborated by the decisive verses and must not be in contradiction to any other verse of the Qur’an. The Holy Q u r’an is the ultimate commentator and interpreter of itself. Qur’anic Verses on the Nature of Mountains The purpose of this short article is to discuss some verses of the Qur’an referring to the nature of the mountains, in the light of recent scientific knowledge of their origin and evolution. Frequent references to the nature and usefulness of mountains have been made in the Qur’an, and we draw particular attention to the following verses in view of their graphic descriptions, and different interpretations that they have been subjected to: He has set in the earth firm mountains lest it roll beneath you, and rivers and pathways that you may find your way. (Ch.16: v.16) Have we not made the earth a bed, and the mountains as pegs? (Ch.78: v.8) And when the mountains are made to move. (Ch.81: v.4) And the earth – We have spread it out, and made in it firm mountains and caused everything to grow in it in proper proportion. (Ch.15: v.20) And He placed in the earth firm mountains, rising above its surface, and blessed it with abundance, and provided therein its foods in proper measure in four periods, alike for all seekers. (Ch.41: v.11) And you see the mountains as if they were firmly fixed, whereas they are moving like the clouds. This is the work of Allah who has perfected everything. (Ch.27: v89) The above Qur’anic verses may be interpreted in a spiritual sense, with the mountains referring to worldly powers or spiritually great personalities such as the prophets of God, and thus contain 52 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 prophecies that have been fulfilled or will be fulfilled in due time. Physical interpretations have also been given in view of the knowledge of the times and have been discussed in detail in some excellent commentaries of the Qur’an (2–4). In this article, we focus only on the scope of the physical or literal interpretations in view of the current scientific knowledge. A careful study and reflection on the above quoted verses leads us to the following general Qur’anic concept of the mountains revealed some 1400 years ago: 1. The earth’s surface on which we live is subject to motions underneath us. 2. The mountains play a role similar to those of pegs or stakes dug in the ground for resisting the motion of an object. 3. The formation and existence of mountains plays a role in the creation of pathways, rivers, drinking water, human food, and other needs for existence. 4. The mountains appear to us to be stationary and firmly fixed on the surface of the earth, whereas in fact they are moving and their motion is similar to those of clouds. The Qur’anic overview outlined above, in particular the verse ( C h . 2 7 : v.89], appears to be contrary to the commonly held views about the rigidity of the earth and the mountains, and has presented considerable diffi-culty to earlier commentators. However, during the last few decades an enormous amount of information has been obtained about the e a r t h ’s formation, structure, geologic history and its interior processes. The earth is now viewed not as a solid and rigid body, but as a dynamic, ever changing and living planet. As a result a scientific field of study referred to as plate tectonics has evolved. The discoveries in this field are relevant to the subject of the Qur’anic verses under discus-sion, and we review the basic features of this theory that are now well accepted by the scientific c o m m u n i t y. Although an attempt has been made to keep this review as simple and brief as possible, readers not interested in scientific details may wish to skip the next section and move on to the following section! Plate Tectonics The unbelievable idea that the major landmass continents (such as 53 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 Asia, Europe, North America) are not rigidly fixed on the surface of the earth and have been moving around was expressed some three centuries ago. However, it was only in 1912 that the German scientist Alfred Wegener published his highly controversial view about the continental drift that some 300 million years ago all the major continents were connected in one big land mass, and have been drifting apart ever since. The only significant proofs of his ideas at the time were the jigsaw fitting of the geological structures of the adjoining continental landmasses and similarities of the plant and animal life. His theory, however, was generally considered to be absurd during his lifetime, and it was not until the 1960’s that it started receiving serious attention. With subsequent investigations involving many scientific dis- ciplines including satellite observations form space, the new field of study of plate tectonics has evolved. A summary of the basic features of the theory and our current knowledge of the earth’s geological processes is outlined below. Detailed descriptions can be found in the references [5–8]. 1. The interior of the earth consists of two inner and outer cores of hot molten iron and nickel at a temperature of some 5500 degrees. This region is surrounded by a cooler and much thicker region of somewhat mellow rocky material of about 2000 miles thickness called the m a n t l e . The outermost region of the earth is a thin region and is referred to as the crust. I t floats on the mantle much like a raft floats on a pond of water. It is of two types; the continental crust, on which we all live, is lighter and is about 60-70 miles thick; and the oceanic crust consisting of a denser rocky material that lies under the oceans. 2. The crust is divided into at least 12 plates, such as Eurasian, African, and North American plates that float on the inner mantle. The plates are forced to move in a complex circulatory pattern, with some plates moving towards, some away and some sliding along other plates. Although the speed of the moving plates is too small to be observed by the human eye, being only of the order of a few centimeters a year, over a period of hundreds of millions of years it results in very large distances such as we find between the continents today. 54 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 3. When two continental plates moving towards one another collide, the mate-rial near the edges of the plates rises above the surface level and moun- tains are formed, while the oceanic plates moving towards or away from each other lead to the formation of ridges and trenches under the oceans. Thus, the mountains have been formed by the movement and collision of continental plates. The Indian plate having broken off the African plate some 200 million years ago and colliding with the Eurasian plate, for example, has formed the great Himalayan Mountains. The giant continental plates along with the great Himalayas are still moving and the mountains are still getting taller to this day. 4. The exact nature of the forces that lead to the motion of the giant tectonic plates is still not clearly understood, and is a subject of intense investi- gations. However, it is generally agreed that these forces arise from convection processes and circulation of the mantle material driven from the hot inner core of the earth. This process is similar to the circulation of hot water in a pot heated from below with a b u r n e r. Amazing as it may seem, the physical laws and the basic processes involved in the circulation of the mantle in the earth’s interior are the same as in the circulation of air in the atmosphere rising upwards in the hot tropical regions and descending in the cooler high latitude regions. Such processes are also res-ponsible for the formation and motion of clouds in the earth’s atmosphere. 5. The interior of the earth has been and continues to be a dynamic and very much alive medium ever since its formation some 4.6 billion years ago, continuously changing. The motion of the tectonic plates leads to the formation and destruction of landmasses, mountains above the surface of the earth, and ridges and trenches under the oceans. Without the motion of tectonic plates, the landmasses with all its mountains would have disappeared a long time ago with the constantly occurring erosion processes. The whole earth would then be covered with the oceans. The land creatures and the human life as we see it today on the surface of the earth, with rivers, drinking water, food and 55 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 other needs for man’s existence would not have been possible without the motions associated with the tectonic plates, and the existence of mountains. Are the highly unusual ideas and processes summarized above merely a conjecture, based on some newly formulated ‘theory’ yet to be tested and validated? Do we have sufficient observational evidence to make such novel and revolutionary ideas believable? The brief answer is that there is now an over-whelming amount of evi- dence, obtained in widely diverse fields of study (such as geological structures, mag-netite, fossils, plant and animal life, etc.) that the main features of the plate tectonic theory are now well established. This has hap-pened during the last 50 years or so. The most persuasive evidence has come in the form of direct observation of the motion of the continents with ground-based and satellite-borne instruments. All such observations made with great precision, indicate that the continents are moving with respect to one a n o t h e r. The North American continent, for example, is observed to be moving away from Europe by about an inch every year. Although this motion appears to be very small, it leads to the entire width of the Atlantic Ocean over a period of some 300 million years! Qur’anic Revelations about Mountains A comparison of our most recent knowledge about the nature of mountains based on the basic element of plate tectonics outlined here, with the description in the Q u r’anic verses listed above, indicates a most astonishing validation of the Quranic verses revealed some 1400 years ago. Besides any metaphorical interpre- tations, we do know the Qur’anic descriptions of mountains have proved to be literally true, however incom-prehensible they may have been in the past. From scientific investigations, today we do know that: 1. Although the mountains are stationary, they appear to be physically moving with respect to other objects on the surface of the earth, despite their enormous mass and rigidity. 2. The mountains do indeed play a role similar to that of pegs or stakes in the ground to resist the motion of movable objects, even though the pegs or the mountains are moving. 3. The physical processes leading to the motion of the mountains 56 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 are indeed strangely similar to the processes that lead to the formation and motion of clouds, namely the convection and circulation of air mass in the earth’s atmosphere. 4. The formation of mountains has led to the existence of landmasses, pathways and modes of land borne trans- portation as well as the production of rivers and fresh water. Human and other animal life as we see it today on the surface of the earth would not have been possible without the processes that lead to the creation of mountains. The revelations and validation of the hidden secrets behind the nature and formation of the mountains are absolutely amazing. A clear and graphic description of the nature of the mountains lay open to the readers of the Holy Qur’an for some 1400 years and yet it is only in recent times that the interpretations of the Qur’ a n i c verses have become fully clear. From another point of view, the verses of the Holy Qur’an continue to be validated in every age with new knowledge and discoveries, continually providing powerful proofs and strengthening the belief of its Divine origin. We conclude with two highly prophetic verses of the Qur’ a n touching on these two aspects: We Ourself has sent down this Exhortation, and We will most surely safeguard it. (Ch.15: v.10) This verse contains in it one of the most wonderful prophesies of the Qur’an, the fulfillment of which is a continuing testimony to its Divine origin. It has always been held that the promise of safeguarding in this verse refers not merely to the preservation of the purity of the revealed text from subsequent changes and interpolations, but more importantly to the validity of their meanings and interpretations with the passage of time. That the physical text of the Qur’an is word by word identical to the Qur’an that was revealed and that existed at the times of the Holy Prophet of Islam has been well established by all scholarly studies and is beyond any dispute. It is the promise of preservation of the validity of the interpretations, and the intelle- ctual content of the verses of the Qur’an that is being fulfilled in the present age. The accelerated pace of accumulation of new scientific knowledge, is providing testimony to its Divine origin in accordance with the claim: 57 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 Will they not then meditate upon the Qur’an? Had it been from any one other than Allah, they would surely have found therein much contradiction. (Ch.4: v.83) References 1. The Qur’an: The chapter and the verse references are given with the convention of counting the first verse (In Qur’ans where the first verse is not numbered subtract one from the verse number given). The quoted English translation has been chosen by the author from a collection of translations, in paricular: The Holy Qur’an, with English translation and Short commentary, Ed. Malik G. Farid, Islam International publications, London, 1994; The Qur’ a n, Muhammad Zafrullah Khan, Curson Press, 1970; 2. Commentaries: The Holy Qur’an, with English Translation and C o m m e n t a r y, Vol. 1-5, Alhaj. Mirza Bashir-ud-Mahmud Ahmad, Islam International Publ., London, 1988. 3. Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge, and Tr u t h, pp.307- 311, Mirza Tahir Ahmad, Islam International Publ., London, 1998. 4. The Bible, the Qur’an and Science, Maurice Bucaille, Dar Al Ma’arif, Egypt, 1977. 5. This Dynamic Earth, W. Jacquelyne Kious, and Robert I. Tilling, U.S. Geological Survey Publication, Wadhington, D.C., 1999. 6. The Dynamic Planet, W. G. Ernst, Columbia University Press, New York, 1990. 7. Continents in Motion, W. Sullivan, McGaw-Hill, New York, 1991. 8. Physical Geology, N. K. Coch, and A.Ludman, Macmillan, New York, 1991. Ch.16: v.16 is translated as: ‘And he has placed in the earth firm mountains to sustain you and rivers and paths so that you keep to the right path’. Likewise Ch.41: v.11 is translated as: ‘He set therein firm mountains rising above its surface, and placed blessings therein and finely balanced its means os sustenance in four periods – alike for all who seek’. Finally Ch.28: v.89 is translated as” ‘And you see the mountains 58 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 imagining them to be stationary, while they are floating like the floating of the clouds. Such is the worth of Allah, Who has made everything firm and strong. Verily, He knows full well what you do’. (The Holy Qur’an, translation by the late maulvi Sher Ali, published under the auspices of Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, 1997, Islam International Publications. For an alternative view, the reader is also invited to R e v e l a t i o n , Rationality, Knowledge and Truth by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad who answered a number of questions on this and related subjects some of which we have featured in the Review of Religions in the past (Editor) About the Author Professor Dr. Mian Abbas Ph.D is a space scientist/astrophysicist, currently at the NASA marchall Space Flight Centre in Alabama. he has written a number of treatise and his research has been published in a number of scientific and technical journals. 59 Are the Mountains Moving Like the Clouds Review of Religions – March 2002 We hope you have enjoyed reading this edition of the magazine. The Review of Religions will continue to prov i d e discussion on a wide range of subjects and welcomes any comments or suggestions from its readers. To ensure that you regularly receive this monthly publication, please fill in your details below and we will put you on our mailing list. 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