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Is it true that the Qur’an mentions everything of benefit to man? If so, does it make reference to some of the questions that science and technology work on today?
The primary purpose of the Qur’an is to make mankind aware of the Creator, to
affirm that He is known through all that is shown or discoverable in the earth
or the heavens, to lead human beings to the way of belief and worship, and to so
order individual and collective life that people attain real happiness in this
world and the hereafter. It is only for this purpose that the Qur’an mentions
the matters that it does and in the degree of detail that it does so.
Furthermore, still for this purpose, the Qur’an discloses the matters that it
does according to a particular method and sequence, and in a particular context,
so that those who are unaware of this method are unable to find what they are
looking for and may suffer disappointment.
Because the Qur’an was revealed for man’s sake, to secure man in relationship to his Creator, and enable him to attain, through every walk of life, success, honour and eternal happiness, it is necessarily comprehensive. That this is so can be confirmed from the countless books and commentaries that have been written on its different aspects. The perfection of style and eloquence of the Qur’an’s Arabic has been attested by the greatest literary masters of every century, and inspired them to excellence not only in Arabic but also in the other languages widely used by the Muslim peoples. Under the Qur’an’s guidance, scholars who have made a study of man or of the physical world have been able to look into and comprehend the real nature of things and events. Through the Qur’an’s wisdom, psychologists and sociologists have managed to resolve the thorniest problems related to individual or collective affairs. And moralists and pedagogues have always turned to the Qur’an as an infinite, inexhaustible resource for the education of future generations. Indeed, it would be impossible to recount in a brief space the many benefits that have accrued to mankind from the virtues of the Qur’an.
When we speak in the present time of the contents of the Qur’an, what is in many people’s minds, especially the young, has something to do with the scientific and technological matters in the Book, and how it relates to the positive sciences now.
A large number of books have been written so far on this subject. They have tried to relate Qur’anic truths to advances in scientific knowledge. Many of these books were certainly influenced by the culture and science of their time and, despite the care and pains expended on these commentaries, people have felt doubtful about them and found them over-elaborate and far-fetched. In particular, the efforts to make Qur’anic truths correspond to particular hypotheses (more or less accepted as scientific truths before they had been really established) have appeared to distort, mispresent and even slight the Qur’an. In fact, the statements in the Qur’an about scientific matters are expressed in a clear style as accessible to a mountain shepherd, pondering the verses centuries after they were revealed, as to the Archangel Gabriel, who brought the Revelation to the Prophet, upon him be peace. Those who read it aright do not differ in their understanding of the divine purpose in it, except that each may have a different taste according to his degree.
It is essential, therefore, when explaining the Qur’an, to be objective and to remain faithful to the precision, soundness and clarity of the Divine Revelation. Instead of interpreting the Qur’an in the light of certain phenomena and a specialist language outside of the Qur’an, those phenomena should be interpreted, and that specialist language should be evaluated, in the light of the Qur’an. Needless to say, the verses in the Qur’an are best understood through a sufficient knowledge of the Arabic language, of the fine nuances of its words and structures, and through a proper familiarity with the occasions on which the verses were revealed. It is for these reasons that the understanding and interpretation of the Companions of the Prophet, upon him be peace, and of the Successors (the generation after the Companions), and of the first commentators such as Ibn Jarir, are the most reliable and, unsurprisingly, the most in accord with scientific truths established since. By contrast, the later commentaries, although they appear more philosophically subtle and profound, are far-fetched and over-elaborated, and do not accord with what science has since been able to confirm.
We can offer here only a few examples from the Qur’an to illustrate the argument.
1. The Creator, who sees and knows all things from before the beginning to beyond the end of time, draws our attention to the fact that, in a general sense, the future will be the age of knowledge and information, and that as a natural consequence of this, it will be an age of faith and belief:
Soon We shall show them Our signs on the furthest horizons, and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is truth. Is it not enough that your Lord witnesses all things? (Fussilat, 41.53)
From the very early days of Islam sufis have accepted and consistently referred to this verse as a sign and assurance of the spiritual wisdom they strove for. But if the verse is read also from the viewpoint of how scientific knowledge has progressed since its revelation (a progress significantly initiated and advanced by the work of Muslim scholars and scientists), the mere fact of the verse will be seen to be a miracle.
Everything that lies within the compass of man’s thinking and research cannot but affirm the Oneness of the Creator, as the true nature and interrelationship of microcosm and macrocosm come to be further disclosed and better understood. When we see hundreds of books made available about this point we witness that what was Divinely revealed is near to being provided. Even now we feel we shall soon hear, and be able to understand, testimonies and praises to God through thousands of tongues belonging to nature:
The seven heavens and the earth, and all things therein, declare His Glory. There is not a thing but celebrates His praise. And yet you do not understand how they declare His Glory. Truly He is Oft-Forbearing, Most Forgiving. (al-Isra’, 17.44)
What we already understand of the import of this verse is not negligible. The smallest atoms as well as the largest nebulae do speak to us, in the language of their being, of their submission to the One God and so glorify Him. However, the numbers of people able to listen to and understand this universal praise of God are very few, and the sincere Muslims who will bring all the earth’s people to hear about this praise are also few, dispersed and feeble.
2. What the Qur’an reveals about the formation and the developmental phases of a genin in the uterus is striking:
O mankind! if you have a doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you out of dust, then out of sperm, then out of a leech-like cloth, then out of a lump of flesh, partly formed and partly unformed, in order that We may manifest (what We will) to you...... (al-Hajj, 22.5)
In another verse, the development is explained in greater detail, and the distinct phases more clearly emphasised:
Man We created from a quintessence (of clay). Then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then we made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood. Then of that clot We made a lump (embryo); then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Then We developed out of it a new (distinct, individual) creature. (al-Mu’minun, 23.12–14)
.... He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness. . . (al-Zumar, 39.6)
The Qur’an’s phrase ‘the three veils of darkness’ can now be glossed in detail: the parametrium, miometrium and endometrium are three tissues enveloping three water, heat, and light-proof membranes, namely amnion, corion and the wall of the womb.
3. What the Qur’an has said about milk and the process of its production is as brilliant as the drink itself is, and to understand it is as beneficial:
And verily in cattle (too) will you find an instructive sign. From what is from their bodies, between excretions and blood, We produce, for your drink, milk, pure and agreeable to those who drink it. (al-Nahl, 16.66)
The Qur’an narrates the process in remarkable detail: part-digestion of what is ingested as food, absorption of it; a second process and refinement in the glands. Milk is a wholesome and agreeable diet for man, yet it is a secretion, like other secretions, between the excretions which the body rejects as useless and the precious blood-stream which circulates in the body.
4. The Qur’an has revealed that all things in nature are created in pairs.
Glory be to God, who created in pairs all things, of what the earth produces, of themselves, and of which they have no knowledge. (Ya Sin, 36.36)
All things are in twos. Every thing has its pair or counterpart, opposite to it or complementary. The complementarity of sexes in man and animals and certain plants has long been known. But, what about the pairs in ‘all things, of which they have no knowledge’? This may refer to a whole range of entities, inanimate as well as animate. In the subtle forces and principles of nature within (as well as among) animate or inanimate entities, there are many kinds of pairs. All things, from atoms to clouds, as our modern instruments can confirm, do indeed occur in twos.
5. The Qur’an recounts, in its own unique idiom, the first creation of the world and of living forms in it:
Do not the unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as a single mass), before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe? (al-Anbiya’, 21.30)
The narrative in the Qur’an is manifest and clear, and should not be confounded with the different hypotheses that are aired as to whether the primary material in creation is an ether or a large cloud, a huge nebula, a mass of hot gas or something else. The Qur’an has also explained that every living thing was created of water. The Scripture does not concern itself with whether this unique source of life came about as a result of gases and vapours which first rose from the earth, later condensing and returning to it as rain, then formed the seas and so prepared a suitable context and condition for life to form, or whether it happened in some other way. The verse in the Qur’an explicitly and unmistakably presents the universe as a single miracle of creation. Everything in the universe is an integral part of that miracle and bears signs that prove it so. Everything is interconnected, like the leaves in some massive tree which are different but like one another and linked to a common root. The verse is, of course, also emphasizing the vitality and significance of water which constitutes three-fourths of the mass of most living bodies.
6. The sun has a special and significant place in the creation. The Qur’an reveals the most important aspects of it in just four words of Arabic whose full meaning cannot easily be rendered:
And the sun runs its course (mustaqarr) determined for it. That is His decree, the Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing. (Ya Sin, 36.38)
In fact, mustaqarr here may mean a determined route in space, or a fixed place of rest or dwelling, as well as a determined route in time. We are told not only that the sun runs a predetermined course, but also that it moves towards a particular point in the universe. The solar system (the sun and its dependent planets and satellites), as we now know, is running to the constellation Lyra at an almost inconceivable speed (every second we come ten miles closer to that constellation, almost a million miles a day). Our attention is also drawn to the fact that when the sun has finished its appointed task it will abide by a command and come to rest.
Such is the richness of the Qur’an that many truths are told in so few words. Here, in only four words, many vaguely known things are clarified-although the Qur’an was revealed fourteen centuries ago when people generally believed that the sun made a daily circuit around the earth.
7. Another of the inspiring and eloquent utterances in the Qur’an concerns the spreading out or expansion of the universe in space; again, the Arabic original uses only four words:
And the firmament: We constructed it with power and skill, and We are spreading it.(al-Dhariat, 51.47–8)
The verse reveals to us that the distance (space) between celestial bodies is increasing, the universe is expanding. In 1922 the astronomer Hubble claimed that all galaxies except the five closest to the earth, are moving further away into space at a speed directly proportional to their distance from the earth. According to Hubble, a galaxy one million light years away is moving away at a speed of 168 km/year, one two million light years away 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 human beings try to express this reality, whether through Hubble’s coefficient or (in the future) through someone else’s, the Revelation is unmistakably clear as regards the reality itself.
8. We are given some indication in the Qur’an of the invisible operation of what we now call the laws of physics, such as attraction and repulsion, and rotation and revolution in the universe:
God is He who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see....
The celestial bodies, from individual satellites to entire solar systems, move in order, balance and harmony. They are held and supported in this order by pillars but not of the sort one can see. Some of these ‘pillars’ are repulsion or centrifugal force:
.... He holds back the sky from falling on earth except by His leave....(al-Hajj, 22.65)
From this verse we understand that the heavenly bodies may at any moment collapse on the earth except that the All-Mighty does not allow it, and that is an instance of the universal obedience to His Word which, in the language of contemporary science, is explained as a balance of centripetal and centrifugal forces. It is of far greater importance that we turn our minds to that obedience and to the Divine Mercy by which the universe is held in its reliable motion than to whether people now follow Newton’s or Einstein’s theories about the mechanical and mathematical terms of that obedience.
9. There is a verse in the Qur’an which some commentators have thought may be a reference to travelling to the moon, a once remote possibility which, not so long ago, became an actuality:
By the moon’s fullness! you shall surely travel from stage to stage.
Earlier commentators understood this verse quite differently. They read it figuratively in reference to man’s spiritual life considered as an ascent, from one stage to the next above it, from one heaven to another. Others interpreted the verse as referring to change in general from one state to another. Over the course of time, later interpreters of the Qur’an tried to explain the sense in roundabout ways because the literal meaning of the verse did not agree with what they felt sure they knew about the possibility of actually travelling distances of this magnitude. But in fact, the more appropriate sense of the words following the oath (By the moon!), given the immediate context of the verse, is that of really travelling to the moon, whether literally or figuratively.
10. The words in the Book about the geographical shape of the earth 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? (al-Anbiya’, 21.44)
The reference to shrinking from its borders could relate to the now known fact that the earth is compressed down at the poles, rather than to the erosion of mountains by wind and rain, or of the sea-shores by the sea, or to the encroachment of the desert upon lands cultivated (and so dominated) by man.
At a time when people generally believed that the earth was flat and stationary, the Qur’an revealed in several different verses, explicitly and implicitly, that it is round. More unexpectedly still, it also tells us that the 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. (al-Nazi’at, 79.30–2)
The verb in Arabic (daha) means ‘to shape like an egg’-the derived noun form (dahia) is still used to mean an egg. Because the scientific fact may have appeared in their time to be contrary to sense-impression, some interpreters misunderstood the meaning of the word, as ‘stretched out’, perhaps fearing that the literal meaning might be difficult to understand and so mislead. Of course, modern instruments have established quite recently that the shape of the world is indeed more like an egg than a perfect sphere, that there is a slight flattening around the poles and a slight curving around the equator.
11. 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.... (al-Isra’, 17.12)
According to Ibn Abbas, the sign of the night refers to the moon, the sign of the day to the sun. Therefore, from the words ‘the sign of the night We have obscured’, we understand that the moon once emitted light as the sun does; and that God took its light from it, caused it to darken or obscured it. While the verse thus accurately recounts the past of the moon, it also points to the future destiny of other heavenly bodies.
There are many more verses in the Qur’an that are related to what we now call scientific facts. The existence of such verses indicates that man’s seeking of knowledge is a portion of Divine Mercy graciously bestowed upon him by his Creator. Indeed, Divine Mercy is one of the Qur’an’s names for itself, and all that it contains of truth and knowledge is beyond the compass of man to even tell, let alone to hold in his mind. We must remember, however, that while the Qur’an contains allusions to many scientific truths, it is not therefore to be read as a book of science or scientific explanations. Rather it is, and has always been understood by believers to be, the Book of Guidance which teaches mankind the way to right belief and right action so that we may be worthy of Divine Mercy and Forgiveness. It is the responsibility of Muslims to ensure that the pursuit of knowledge, scientific or otherwise, is conducted in the light of the Qur’an which so encourages and supports it-and not in a spirit of arrogance and insolence and vainglory, which is the way of unbelievers and which will lead to desolation of mind and the degradation of man and the earth which, only by God’s leave, man temporarily inhabits and hold in trust.
I pray God to bless the Muslim community with sincere and righteous Muslims who will read and expound the Qur’an in the right way to benefit mankind and guide their steps to virtue and to happiness in this life and the hereafter.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Is the Qur’an, as some people say, the work of the Prophet Muhammad? If not, how can it be proved that it is not?
- How should we respond when modern science and scientific facts are mentioned to show that they are in agreement with the Qur’an?
- Islam is a way of life and of belief revealed by God, and that way
requires submission to God. How can this be in accord with sense and reason,
as is claimed?
click Is it true that the Qur’an mentions everything of benefit to man? If so, does it make reference to some of the questions that science and technology work on today?
- What was the Divine Wisdom in the Qur’an’s being revealed in stages over a period of 23 years?
- Why did the revelation of the Qur’an open with the command iqra’ or read?
- What does it mean to say ‘as time grows older, the Qur’an gets younger’?
- What is prophethood? What does it mean for people? Did all the prophets
appear in the Arabian Peninsula? Were there people among whom a prophet was
not raised? If so, can those to whom prophets were not sent be held
responsible for their beliefs and actions?
click How many prophets have been sent to mankind?
- Why was no prophet raised from among women?
click Was the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, the Prophet solely for the Arabs? Or for all nations and all times?
- What were the reasons behind the several marriages of the Prophet, upon him be peace?
- A hadith says: ‘There is a reward as much as that of one hundred
martyrdoms for one who adheres to my Sunna when my ummah are spoilt.’ What is
the importance of understanding Sunna today? How should we apply it to our
lives in this age?
click God certainly knows how we act and live in this world, whether we obey His commands or not. So, what is the meaning of being sent to this world to be tested?
- Five prayers a day are compulsory in Islam. However, in the extreme polar
regions a day or a night lasts six months each, in the sense that the sun is
always visible or always invisible. So, how does one pray there?
As God does not need our worship, why need we do so, and if we do, why not do it in whatever way we wish?
Is man’s intention enough to save him?
How should a disbeliever be approached and addressed, and what should he or she be be told first?
What is jihad? And what are its greater and lesser aspects?
God has bestowed material wealth and comfort, status and prestige, upon some people, but poverty, misery and affliction upon others. Does this mean that God has preferred those who are wealthy, or that those who are poor are really worse off or that they are somehow evil? What is the meaning behind such differences?
Why did God not endow His servants equally? Why did He create some of them blind, disabled, or afflicted in other ways?
Can Islam by itself deal with every problem?
If the manner and moment of every death is predestined wherein lies the guilt of a killer?
The people of Sodom, Gomorrah and some other civilizations were destroyed for their abominable sins. There are more sinners today and many more acts of unprecedented indecency committed everywhere. Why does God not send a punishment, a scourge from heaven or a total destruction to the nations?
The Qur’an says: God lets go astray whoever He wills and guides aright whoever He wills (al-Muddasir, 74.31). However, we also know from the Qur’an that God bestows reason, intellect and free will upon man, and leaves him the choice of the way of good or evil. How can we reconcile these?
What will become in the hereafter of those who were born and live in non-Islamic countries?
Why is ilhad, atheism, so widespread?
What is tenasukh (reincarnation)? Does it conform in any way to the teachings of Islam?
Some say that Muslims invaded and occupied territories for the sake of conquest and exploitation, as Western imperialist powers did. Was this so?
How is it that Islam, a religion inspired by God for the good of humanity, allows slavery?
They say religion is a means contrived (by mankind) to cover up problems that man could not solve but which, with further advances in civilization, will one day be solved-and so, they ask, will religion no longer be needed?
What is the difference between the words Allah and God?
Why did God create the universe? Did He need to? Why did He not do so sooner rather than later?
What are the Essence and Attributes of God? Can we describe Him? How can we respond to those who ask, ‘Why can’t we see God?’, and ‘Given that God created everything, who created God?’
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