15 Nov Does the Qur’an Allude to Scientific Developments?.Part5
Such is the richness of the Qur’an, which explains many truths in so few words.
Here, in only four words, many vague things were clarified at a time when people generally believed that the sun made a daily circuit around the Earth.
• Another inspiring and eloquent Qur’anic verse concerns the universe’s expansion, mentioned in only four words:
And the firmament: We constructed it with power and skill, and We are spreading it (51:47–48).
The verse reveals that the distance between celestial bodies is increasing, which means that the universe is expanding. In 1922, the astronomer Hubble claimed that all galaxies, except the five closest to Earth, are moving further away into space at a speed directly pro-portional to their distance from the Earth. According to him, a galaxy one million light years distant is moving away at a speed of 168 km/year, a galaxy two million light years distant at twice that speed, and so on. Le Maître, a Belgian mathematician and priest, later proposed and developed the theory that the universe is expanding. No matter how we try to express this reality, whether through Hubble’s coefficient or a future theory, the Revelation is unmistakably clear on the reality it-self.
• The Qur’an provides some indication of the invisible operation of various laws as attraction and repulsion, rotation and revolution:
God is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see (13:2).
All celestial bodies move in order, balance, and harmony. They are held and supported by invisible pillars, some of which are repulsion or centrifugal forces:
He holds back the sky from falling on earth, except by His leave (22:65).
At any moment, the heavens could fall upon the Earth. That the All-Mighty does not allow this to happen is yet another instance of the universal obedience to His Word. Modern science explains this as a balance of centripetal and centrifugal forces. What is of far greater importance, however, is that we turn our minds to that obedience and to the Divine Mercy that holds the universe in its reliable motion, rather than deciding to follow Newton’s or Einstein’s theories about the me-chanical and mathematical terms of that obedience.
• Previously, some Qur’anic commentators thought a reference to traveling to the moon, once considered a very remote possibility, could be found in:
By the moon’s fullness! You shall surely travel from stage to stage (84:18–19).
Earlier commentators took this as a figurative reference to our spiritual life, an ascent from one stage to the next, and from one heaven to another. Others interpreted it as referring to change in general, from one state to another. Later interpreters gave ambiguous meanings, because the literal meaning did not agree with their beliefs about travelling such distances. But in fact, the more appropriate sense of the words following the oath By the moon! given the verse’s immediate con-text, is that of really travelling to the moon, whether literally or figuratively.
• The Qur’anic description of the Earth’s geographical shape and change in that shape are particularly interesting:
Do they not see how We gradually shrink the land from its outlying borders? Is it then they who will be victors? (21:44).
The reference to shrinking from its borders could relate to the now-known fact that the Earth is compressed at the poles, rather than to the erosion of mountains by wind and rain, of coastal areas by the sea, or of the gradual desertification of agricultural land.
At a time when people generally believed that the Earth was flat and stationary, the Qur’an explicitly and implicitly revealed that it is round. More unexpectedly still, it also says that its precise shape is more like an ostrich egg than a sphere:
After that He shaped the Earth like an egg, whence He caused to spring forth the water thereof, and the pasture thereof (79:30–31).
The verb daha’ means “to shape like an egg,” and its derived noun da’hia is still used to mean “an egg.” As this scientific fact may have appeared incorrect to scientists living before the advent of modern science, some interpreters misunderstood the word’s meaning. They understood it as “stretched out” perhaps fearing that its literal meaning might be difficult to understand and thus mislead people. Modern scientific instruments recently established that the Earth is shaped more like an egg than a perfect sphere, and that there is a slight flattening around the poles as well as a slight curving around the equator.
• As a last example, consider what the Qur’an says about the sun and the moon:
We have made the night and the day as two signs; the sign of the night We have obscured, while the sign of the day We have made to enlighten you (17:12).
According to Ibn ‘Abbas, the sign of the night refers to the moon, and the sign of the day to the sun. Therefore, from the sign of the night We have obscured, we understand that the moon once emitted light just as the sun does, and that for some reason God took away its light, causing it to darken or become obscured. While the verse accurately recounts the moon’s past, it also points to the future destiny of other heavenly bodies.
*Many other verses are related to what we now call scientific facts. Their existence indicates that our quest for knowledge is a portion of Divine Mercy graciously bestowed by our Creator. Indeed, Divine Mercy is one of the Qur’an’s names for itself. All the truth and knowledge that it contains is beyond our ability to recount or even to hold in our mind.
*We must remember however that while the qur alludes to many scientific truths it is not a textbook of science or explanations.
*Rather it is, and has always been understood by believers to be, the book of guidance that teaches us the way to right belief and right action so that we may be worthy of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness.
It is our responsibility to ensure that the pursuit of scientific and other kinds of knowledge is conducted in the light of the Qur’an, which so encourages and supports it. Such an approach results in knowledge that will not engender arrogance and selfpride, for such feelings lead to mental desolation and human degradation, not to mention the degradation of the Earth, our temporary home and Divinely given trust.
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