The Holy Qur'an

Astronomy in the Quran

Astronomy in the Quran (Saleh Mohammed Alladin) Religious scriptures have contributed a lot to the progress of man. In this article I propose to quote the English translation of some of the verses of the Holy Quran which are connected with astronomy, from which one can derive considerable inspiration and enlightenment. The Holy Quran emphatically exhorts us to ponder over the creation of the heavenly bodies and discover the signs of God which they present. It admonishes us to make our studies in science not merely a means of understanding the material universe but also a means of remembering God, the Creator of the universe, for only by doing so we can be saved from the evil effects of science such as the world wars. Thus the Holy Quran says. “Are you in doubt concerning Allah, Maker of the heavens and the earth?” (14:11). “In the creation of the heavens and the earth and in the alternation of the night and the day there are indeed Signs for men of understanding; Those who remember Allah while standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and ponder over the creation of the heavens and the earth: Our Lord, Thou hast not created this in vain; nay, Holy art Thou; save us then from the punishment of the Fire.” (3:191, 192). Seeking the truth is a common aim of both science and religion. Thus the Prophets of God have encouraged science. According to the Holy Quran, the Prophet Noah (peace be on him) preached as follows: “What is the matter with you that you expect not wisdom and staidness from Allah? And He has created you in different forms and different conditions. Have you not seen how Allah has created seven heavens in perfect harmony. And has placed the moon therein as a light and made the Sun as a lamp?” (71:14-17). 42 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS Our master the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings of God be on him), came at a time when the world was steeped in ignorance. Almighty God revealed to him that a new era of knowledge and learning was going to dawn and the time of teaching the world be means of the pen had come (96:2-6). Through the Holy Prophet Almighty God taught us the prayer: “O my Lord, increase me in knowledge.” (20:115). The Muslims of early times made great efforts in the acquisition of knowledge and were leaders in various branches of science for a long time. They contributed a lot to the progress of astronomy and developed algebra. The Holy Quran has drawn our attention to astronomy in the very beginning. It begins with the declaration: “All praise belongs to Allah, Lord of all the worlds” (1:2). By using the words, “all the worlds”, the Holy Quran has drawn our attention to the multiplicity of God’s creation. The words “Lord (Rabb, in Arabic) of all the worlds,” have also been repeated in the Holy Quran very many times. The Arabic word Rabb gives the meaning of One who creates, sustains, develops and brings to perfection by degrees. The progress, in astronomy is unfolding to us the vastness and the evolution of the universe to which these words allude. While the Holy Quran is the word of God, science is the work of God. In order to understand the word of God, we should study His work; and in order to understand the significance of His work, we should study His word.1 Let us recall the salient advances in astronomy made after the Holy Quran was revealed. The ancients distinguished two kinds of heavenly bodies. To the first kind belonged the fixed stars, many of which formed patterns on the sky called constellations; and to the second kind belonged the seven wandering bodies which comprised the Sun, the Moon, and five bright planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The seven days of the week have been named after these bodies. The ancients noted that while the fixed stars do not change their relative position, the wandering bodies move slowly from one constellation to another. Most early concepts of the universe held the earth to be stationary. As early as the 6th century B.C. Greek scholars regarded the earth as a globe standing motionless in the centre of the universe. They regarded the boundary of the universe as a hollow sphere studded with stars on its inner surface. To account for the daily rising and setting of the stars, 1. “Why I believe in Islam” by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih II (Nazir Dewato Tabligh, Qadian). ASTRONOMY IN THE QURAN 43 they imagined that this celestial sphere completed one rotation daily about an inclined axis through the earth. The wandering bodies were presumed to move in the space between the celestial sphere and the earth. This was the generally accepted view of the universe at the tune the Holy Quran was revealed. In the year 1543, Copernicus published a revolutionary theory in which he suggested that the sun is at the centre of the universe and the planets revolve around the sun and not the earth, and the earth is simply one of the planets. He also suggested that the earth rotated on its axis (a suggestion also made earlier by Aryabhatta and Albiruni). The daily rising and setting of the stars was ascribed to the daily rotation of the earth. The revolutionary ideas of Copernicus met with formidable opposition but the later researchers confirmed the views of Copernicus. We now know that in addition to the bright planets known to the ancients, there are other planets further away from the sun, namely, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Many of these planets are accompanied by smaller bodies called satellites which revolve around the planets. The Moon is the satellite of the Earth. Apart from the principal planets mentioned above, thousands of minor planets called asteroids as well as numerous comets and meteor streams also revolve around the sun. This is the sun’s family or the Solar system as we know today. We have also learned that the sun is just one of the multitude of stars. The Holy Quran says: “Allah is He who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like thereof” (65:13). The number seven is also used according to the Arabic idiom for “many”. Thus elsewhere the Holy Quran says: “And if all the trees that are in the earth were pens and the ocean were ink, with seven oceans swelling it thereafter, the words of Allah would not be exhausted Surely, Allah is Mighty, Wise” (31:28). With the increasing knowledge of the universe, we are getting a deeper understanding of the verses of the Holy Quran. The sun is a globe of intensely hot gas, 864,000 miles in diameter and about three hundred thousand times as massive as the earth. Some stars are much larger than the sun and some much smaller. The stars are of different colours. Blue stars are hotter than the sun while the red stars are cooler. The stars are subject to evolution. Our galaxy or the Milky Way system contains about a hundred billion stars. It is a vast stellar system consisting of a spheroidal central region surrounded by a flat disk of stars about a hundred thousand light years in diameter and a big halo. One light year is about 6,000,000,000,000 miles. Our sun was regarded as the centre of the universe until the early years of the twentieth century. The researches of Shapley in 1917 showed that the sun is far from the centre of the Galaxy. We now know that the sun is situated at a distance of about 30,000 light years from the centre of the Galaxy and makes one revolution around it in a period of about two hundred million years. 44 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The Holy Quran says: “And the sun is moving on the course prescribed for it. That is the decree of the Almighty, the All-Knowing God.” (36:39). The stars in the galaxy, and the planets in the Solar system all move according to the same law of gravitation. Sir Isaac Newton had discovered that the motion of the moon around the earth is governed by the same force due to gravity which operates on the surface of the earth and is responsible for the fall of an apple from an apple tree. Thus a glorious harmony and a wise plan is discernible throughout God’s creation. It is very significant that in the Holy Quran, mention is made of the sun and the moon, the plants and the trees, and the higher heavens above, all in one place, and our attention is drawn to the comprehensive harmony and the remarkable balance that prevails throughout. The Holy Quran says: “The sun and moon run their courses according to a fixed reckoning. And the stemless plants and the trees humbly submit to His will. And the heavens He has raised high and set up a measure, That you may not transgress the measure. So weigh all things in justice and fall not short of the measure.” (55:6-10). After drawing our attention to the natural phenomena, the Holy Quran enjoins us to maintain a just balance in our social affairs keeping in mind the Divine example. In another place the Holy Quran refers to the perfection of God’s creation as follows: “Blessed is he in whose hand is the kingdom, and He has power over all things; Who has created death and life that He might try you — which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving Who has created seven heavens in harmony. No incongruity canst thou see in the creation of the Gracious God. Then look again; Seest thou any flaw? Aye, look again, and yet again, thy sight will only return to thee confused and fatigued.” (67:2-5). In yet another place, attention is drawn to the excellent design and order in the universe, as follows: “It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor can the night outstrip the day. All of them float in an orbit. (36:41). The word float used to describe the movement of heavenly bodies beautifully alludes to the tenuous nature of the medium in which they move. ASTRONOMY IN THE QURAN 45 We are encouraged to study the movements of heavenly bodies and develop mathematics. The Holy Quran says: “He it is who made the sun radiate a brilliant light and the moon reflect a lustre, and ordained for it stages, that you might know the number of years and mathematics. Allah has not created this but in truth. He details the Signs for a people who have knowledge.” (10:6). The Holy Quran has drawn our attention to the high heavens in a number of places. It says: “Allah is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see.” (13:3). “And the heavens He has raised high and set up a measure.” . (55:8). “Are you harder to create or the heaven that He has built? He has raised the height thereof and made it perfect.” (79:28, 29). “Do they not look at the camel, how it is created? And at the heaven, how it is raised high? And at the mountains, how they are set up? And at the earth, how it is spread out?” (88:18-21). The observations of modern astronomy have taken us to bewildering distances and have thus provided a deeper understanding of the above verses. We now know that our Milky Way galaxy with its about hundred billion stars is only one of the many billions of galaxies that comprise the observable universe. We are now able to look into regions of space that are billions of light years away from us. Thus with the progress of astronomy, man’s mind is being stretched in an effort to comprehend the immensity of the universe. One wonders how many of the stars populating the innumerable galaxies have planetary systems like our own and how many planets support life. Our scientific knowledge is extremely scant, but there are indications that other stars in our galaxy have planets. The Holy Quran is ahead of science in telling us that there are living beings beyond our earth. It says: “All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (59:25). Commenting on this verse, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (peace be on him) wrote in 1896 as follows “The dwellers of the heavens and the dwellers of the earth 46 REVIEW OF RELIGIONS glorify Him.” This is an indication that the heavenly bodies are also populated and their dwellers follow Divine guidance.2 Other verses of the Holy Quran on this topic are as follows: “Of Him do beg all that are in the heavens and the earth. Every day He reveals Himself in a different state.” (55:30). “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of whatever living creatures He has spread forth in both. And He has the power to gather them together when He pleases.” (42:30). The following comment has been made on this verse: “The reference in the last sentence of the verse may be to the possibility of the creatures living on earth and in heavenly bodies becoming united at some future time,”3 In conclusion, I quote from the Holy Quran a very touching appeal to look at the sky. Almighty God says: “Have they not looked at the sky above them, how We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it? And the earth — We have spread it out, and placed therein firm mountains; and We have made to grow therein every kind of beautiful species, As a means of enlightenment and as a reminder to every servant that turns to Us.” (50:7-9). The heavenly bodies give us enlightenment. As Poincare wrote, “the stars send us not only the visible and gross light which strikes our bodily eyes, but from them also comes to us a light which illuminates our minds.”4 2. “The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam” by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Holy Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam (The London Mosque, 16 Gressenhall Road, London SW 18,1979) p. 52. 3. The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary Vol II Part II (Oriental and Publishing Corporation, Rabwah, 1960) p. 2350. 4. “The Value of Science” by H. Poincare (Dover, 1958) p. 85.