[ French scientist examines the Holy Book of Islam. He concludes Quran has advance science in it.]
"THE QURAN AND MODERN SCIENCE"
Muslim holy scripture examined in light of modern knowledge
By Dr. Maurice Bucaille
In his objective study of the texts, Maurice Bucaille clears away many preconceived ideas about the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qur'an. He tries, in this collection of Writings, to separate what belongs to Revelation from what is the product of error or human interpretation. His study sheds new light on the Holy Scriptures. At the end of a gripping account, he places the Believer before a point of cardinal importance: the continuity of a Revelation emanating from the same God, with modes of expression that differ in the course of time. It leads us to meditate upon those factors which, in our day, should spiritually unite rather than divide-Jews, Christians and Muslims.
As a surgeon, Maurice Bucaille was struck by the existence of Muslim piety and by aspects of Islam which remain unknown to the vast majority of non-Muslims. In his search for explanations which are otherwise difficult to obtain, he learnt Arabic and studied the Qur'an. In it, he was surprised to find statements on natural phenomena whose meaning can only be understood through modern scientific knowledge.
The relationship between the Qur'an and science is a priori a surprise, especially when it turns out to be one of harmony and not of discord. A confrontation between a religious book and the secular ideas proclaimed by science is perhaps, in the eyes of many people today, something of a paradox. The majority of today's scientists, with a small number of exceptions of course, are indeed bound up in materialist theories, and have only indifference or contempt for religious questions which they often consider to be founded on legend. In the West moreover, when science and religion are discussed, people are quite willing to mention Judaism and Christianity among the religions referred to, but they hardly ever think of Islam. So many false judgements based on inaccurate ideas have indeed been made about it, that today it is very difficult to form an exact notion of the reality of Islam.
As a prelude to any confrontation between the Islamic Revelation and science, it would seem essential that an outline be given of a religion that is so little known in the West.
The totally erroneous statements made about Islam in the West are sometimes the result of ignorance, and sometimes of systematic denigration. The most serious of all the untruths told about it are however those dealing with facts; for while mistaken opinions are excusable, the presentation of facts running contrary to the reality is not. It is disturbing to read blatant untruths in eminently respectable works written by authors who a priori are highly qualified. The following is an example taken from the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) vol. 6. Under the heading Gospels (Evangiles) the author alludes to the differences between the latter and the Qur'an: "The evangelists (. . .) do not (. . .), as in the Qur'an, claim to transmit an autobiography that God miraculously dictated to the Prophet . . .".
In fact, the Qur'an has nothing to do with an autobiography: it is a preaching; a consultation of even the worst translation would have made that clear to the author. The statement we have quoted is as far from reality as if one were to define a Gospel as an account of an evangelist's life. The person responsible for this untruth about the Qur'an is a professor at the Jesuit Faculty of Theology, Lyon ! The fact that people utter such untruths helps to give a false impression of. the Qur'an and Islam.
There is hope today however because religions are no longer as inward-looking as they were and many of them are seeking for mutual understanding. One must indeed be impressed by a knowledge of the fact that an attempt is being made on the highest level of the hierarchy by Roman Catholics to establish contact with Muslims; they are trying to fight incomprehension and are doing their utmost to change the inaccurate views on Islam that are so widely held.
One extremely important view of this kind is the attitude which leads people to repeatedly use the term Allah' to mean the God of the Muslims, as if the Muslims believed in a God who was different from the God of the Christians. Al lâh means 'the Divinity' in Arabic: it is a single God, implying that a correct transcription can only render the exact meaning of the word with the help of the expression 'God'. For the Muslim, al lâh is none other than the God of Moses and Jesus.
The document produced by the Office for Non-Christian Affairs at the Vatican stresses this fundamental point in the following terms:
"It would seem pointless to maintain that Allâh is not really God, as do certain people in the West! The conciliar documents have put the above assertion in its proper place. There is no better way of illustrating Islamic faith in God than by quoting the following extracts from Lumen Gentium [ Lumen Gentium is the title of a document produced by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1966)]. 'The Muslims profess the faith of Abraham and worship with us the sole merciful God, who is the future judge of men on the Day of Reckoning . . .'"
One can therefore understand the Muslims' protest at the all too frequent custom in European languages of saying 'Allâh' instead of 'God' . . . Cultivated Muslims have praised D. Masson's French transition of the Qur'an for having 'at last' written 'Dieu' [ God.] instead of 'Allah'.
The Vatican document points out the following: "Allâh is the only word that Arabic-speaking Christians have for God." Muslims and Christians worship a single God.
The Vatican document then undertakes a critical examination of the other false judgements made on Islam.
'Islamic fatalism' is a widely-spread prejudice; the document examines this and quoting the Qur'an for support, it puts in opposition to this the notion of the responsibility man has, who is to be judged by his actions. It shows that the concept of an Islamic legalism is false; on the contrary, it opposes the sincerity of faith to this by quoting two phrases in the Qur'an that are highly misunderstood in the West:
"There is no compulsion in religion" (sura 2, verse 256)
"(God) has not laid upon you in religion any hardship" (sura 22, verse 78)
The document opposes the widely-spread notion of 'Islam, religion of fear' to 'Islam, religion of love'-love of one's neighbor based on faith in God. It refutes the falsely spread notion that Muslim morality hardly exists and the other notion, shared by so many Jews and Christians, of Islamic fanaticism. It makes the following comment on this:
"In fact, Islam was hardly any more fanatical during its history than the sacred bastions of Christianity whenever the Christian faith took on, as it were, a political value."
At this point, the authors quote expressions from the Qur'an that show how, in the West, the expression 'Holy War' [ Translators of the Qur'an, even famous ones, have not resisted the secular habit of putting into their translations things that are not really in the Arabic text at all. One can indeed add titles to the text that are not in the original without changing the text itself, but this addition changes the general meaning. R. Blachère, for example, in his well-known translation (Pub. Maisonneuve et Larose, Paris, 1966, page 115) inserts a title that does not figure in the Qur'an: Duties of the Holy War (Obligations de la guerre sainte). This is at the beginning of a passage that is indisputably a call to arms, but does not have the character that has been ascribed to it. After reading this, how can the reader who only has access to the Qur'an via translations fail to think that a Muslim's duty is to wage holy war?] has been mis-translated; "in Arabic it is Al jihâd fî sabîl Allâh, the effort on God's road", "the effort to spread Islam and defend it against its aggressors." The Vatican document continues as follows: "The jihâd is not at all the Biblical kherem; it does not lead to extermination, but to the spreading of God's and man's rights to new lands."-"The past violence of the jihâd generally followed the rules of war; at the time of the Crusades moreover, it was not always the Muslims that perpetrated the worst slaughters."
Finally, the document deals with the prejudice according to which "Islam is a hide-bound religion which keeps its followers in a kind of superannuated Middle Ages, making them unfit to adapt to the technical conquests of the modern age." It compares analogous situations observed in Christian countries and states the following: "we find, (. ..) in the traditional expansion of Muslim thought, a principle of possible evolution in civilian society ."
I am certain that this defense of Islam by the Vatican will surprise many believers today, be they Muslims, Jews or Christians. It is a demonstration of sincerity and open-mindedness that is singularly in contrast with the attitudes inherited from the past. The number of people in the West who are aware of the new attitudes adopted by the highest authorities in the Catholic Church is however very small.
The subject of this confrontation is the examination of the Scriptures in the light of scientific data and knowledge concerning the authenticity of the texts. This examination is to be undertaken for the Qur'an as it was for the Judeo-Christian Revelation.
The relationship between religions and science has not always been the same in any one place or time. It is a fact that there is no writing belonging to a monotheistic religion that condemns science. In practise however, it must be admitted that scientists have had great difficulties with the religious authorities of certain creeds. For many centuries, in the Christian world, scientific development was opposed by the authorities in question, on their own initiative and without reference to the authentic Scriptures. We already know the measures taken against those who sought to enlarge science, measures which often made scientists go into exile to avoid being burnt at the stake, unless they recanted, changed their attitude and begged for pardon. The case of Galileo is always cited in this context: he was tried for having accepted the discoveries made by Copernicus on the rotation of the Earth. Galileo Was condemned as the result of a mistaken interpretation of the Bible, since not a single Scripture could reasonably be brought against him.
In the case of Islam, the attitude towards science was, generally speaking, quite different. Nothing could be clearer than the famous Hadith of the Prophet: "Seek for science, even in China", or the other hadith which says that the search for knowledge is a strict duty for every Muslim man and woman. As we shall see further on in this section, another crucial fact is that the Qur'an, while inviting us to cultivate science, itself contains many observations on natural phenomena and includes explanatory details which are seen to be in total agreement with modem scientific data. There is no equal to this in the Judeo-Christian Revelation.
Their thinking could hardly be different from what it is considering the extreme positions adopted by the most eminent scientists. A Nobel prize winner for Medicine has tried in the last few years to persuade people, in a book intended for mass publication, that living matter was able to create itself by chance from several basic components. Starting, he says, with this primitive living matter, and under the influence of various external circumstances, organized living beings were formed, resulting in the formidable complex being that constitutes man.
Surely the marvels of contemporary scientific knowledge in the field of life should lead a thinking person to the opposite conclusion. The organization presiding over the birth and maintenance of life surely appears more and more complicated as one studies it; the more details one knows, the more admiration it commands. A knowledge of this organization must surely lead one to consider as less and less probable the part chance has to play in the phenomenon of life. The further one advances along the road to knowledge, especially of the infinitely small, the more eloquent are the arguments in favour of the existence of a Creator. Instead of being filled with humility in the face of such facts, man is filled with arrogance. He sneers at any idea of God, in the same way he runs down anything that detracts from his pleasure and enjoyment. This is the image of the materialist society that is flourishing at present in the West.
A knowledge of the Islamic Revelation is indeed fundamental from this point of view. Unfortunately, passages from the Qur'an, especially those relating to scientific data, are badly translated and interpreted, so that a scientist has every right to make criticisms-with apparent justification-that the Book does not actually deserve at all. This detail is worth noting henceforth: inaccuracies in translation or erroneous commentaries (the one is often associated with the other), which would not have surprised anybody one or two centuries ago, offend today's scientists. When faced with a badly translated phrase containing a scientifically unacceptable statement, the scientist is prevented from taking the phrase into serious consideration. In the chapter on human reproduction, a very typical example will be given of this kind of error.
Why do such errors in translation exist? They may be explained by the fact that modern translators often take up, rather uncritically, the interpretations given by older commentators. In their day, the latter had an excuse for having given an inappropriate definition to an Arabic word containing several possible meanings; they could not possibly have understood the real sense of the word or phrase which has only become clear in the present day thanks to scientific knowledge. In other words, the problem is raised of the necessary revision of translations and commentaries. It was not possible to do this at a certain period in the past, but nowadays we have knowledge that enables us to render their true sense. These problems of translation are not present for the texts of the Judeo-Christian Revelation. the case described here is absolutely unique to the Qur'an.
These scientific considerations, which are very specific to the Qur'an, greatly surprised me at first. Up until then, I had not thought it possible for one to find so many statements in a text compiled more than thirteen centuries ago referring to extremely diverse subjects and all of them totally in keeping with modern scientific knowledge. In the beginning, I had no faith whatsoever in Islam. I began this examination of the texts with a completely open mind and a total objectivity. If there was any influence acting upon me, it was gained from what I had been taught in my youth; people did not speak of Muslims, but of 'Muhammadans', to make it quite clear that what was meant was a religion founded by a man and which could not therefore have any kind of value in terms of God. Like many in the West, I could have retained the same false notions about Islam; they are so widely-spread today, that I am indeed surprised when I come across anyone, other than a specialist, who can talk in an enlightened manner on this subject. I therefore admit that before I was given a view of Islam different from the one received in the West, I was myself extremely ignorant.
I experienced a great need to learn Arabic (which I did not speak) to be sufficiently well-equipped to progress in the study of such a misunderstood religion. My first goal was to read the Qur'an and to make a sentence-by-sentence analysis of it with the help of various commentaries essential to a critical study. My approach was to pay special attention to the description of numerous natural phenomena given in the Qur'an; the highly accurate nature of certain details referring to them in the Book, which was only apparent in the original, struck me by the fact that they were in keeping with present-day ideas, although a man living at the time of Muhammad could not have suspected this at all. I subsequently read several works written by Muslim authors on the scientific aspects- of the Qur'anic text: they were extremely helpful in my appreciation of it, but I have not so far discovered a general study of this subject made in the West.
What initially strikes the reader confronted for the first time with a text of this kind is the sheer abundance of subjects discussed: the Creation, astronomy, the explanation of certain matters concerning the earth, and the animal and vegetable kingdoms, human reproduction. Whereas monumental errors are to be found in the Bible, I could not find a single error in the Qur'an. I had to stop and ask myself: if a man was the author of the Qur'an, how could he have written facts in the Seventh century A.D. that today are shown to be in keeping with modern scientific knowledge? There was absolutely no doubt about it: the text of the Qur'an we have today is most definitely a text of the period, if I may be allowed to put it in these terms (in the next chapter of the present section of the book I shall be dealing with this problem). What human explanation can there be for this observation? In my opinion there is no explanation; there is no special reason why an inhabitant of the Arabian Peninsula should, at a time when King Dagobert was reigning in France (629-639 A.D.), have had scientific knowledge on certain subjects that was ten centuries ahead of our own.
It is an established fact that at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation, i.e. within a period of roughly twenty years straddling Hegira (622 A.D.), scientific knowledge had not progressed for centuries and the period of activity in Islamic civilization, with its accompanying scientific upsurge, came after the close of the Qur'anic Revelation. Only ignorance of such religious and secular data can lead to the following bizarre suggestion I have heard several times: if surprising statements of a scientific nature exist in the Qur'an, they may be accounted for by the fact that Arab scientists were so far ahead of their time and Muhammad was influenced by their work. Anyone who knows anything about Islamic history is aware that the period of the Middle Ages which saw the cultural and scientific upsurge in the Arab world came after Muhammad, and would not therefore indulge in such whims. Suggestions of this kind are particularly off the mark because the majority of scientific facts which are either suggested or very clearly recorded in the Qur'an have only been confirmed in modern times.
It is easy to see therefore how for centuries commentators on the Qur'an (including those writing at the height of Islamic culture) have inevitably made errors of interpretation in the case of certain verses whose exact meaning could not possibly have been grasped. It was not until much later, at a period not far from our own, that it was possible to translate and interpret them correctly. This implies that a thorough linguistic knowledge is not in itself sufficient to understand these verses from the Qur'an. What is needed along with this is a highly diversified knowledge of science. A study such as the present one embraces many disciplines and is in that sense encyclopedic. As the questions raised are discussed, the variety of scientific knowledge essential to the understanding of certain verses of the Qur'an will become clear.
The Qur'an does not aim at explaining certain laws governing the Universe, however; it has an absolutely basic religious objective. The descriptions of Divine Omnipotence are what principally incite man to reflect on the works of Creation. They are accompanied by references to facts accessible to human observation or to laws defined by God who presides over the organization of the universe both in the sciences of nature and as regards man. One part of these assertions is easily understood, but the meaning of the other can only be grasped if one has the essential scientific knowledge it requires. This means that in former times, man could only distinguish an apparent meaning which led him to draw the wrong conclusions on account of the inadequacy of his knowledge at the time in question.
It is possible that the choice of verses from the Qur'an which are to be studied for their scientific content may perhaps seem too small for certain Muslim writers who have already drawn attention to them before I have. In general, I believe I have retained a slightly smaller number of verses than they have. On the other hand, I have singled out several verses which until now have not, in my opinion, been granted the importance they deserve from a scientific point of view. Wherever I may have mistakenly failed to take verses into consideration for this study that were selected by these writers, I hope that they will not hold it against me. I have also found, on occasion, that certain books contain scientific interpretations which do not appear to me to be correct; it is with an open mind and a clear conscience that I have provided personal interpretations of such verses.
By the same token, I have tried to find references in the Qur'an to phenomena accessible to human comprehension but which have not been confirmed by modern science. In this context, I think I may have found references in the Qur'an to the presence of planets in the Universe that are similar to the Earth. It must be added that many scientists think this is a perfectly feasible fact, although modern data cannot provide any hint of certainty. I thought I owed it to myself to mention this, whilst retaining all the attendant reservations that might be applied.
Had this study been made thirty years ago, it would have been necessary to add another fact predicted by the Qur'an to what would have been cited concerning astronomy , this fact is the conquest of space. At that time, subsequent to the first trials of ballistic missiles, people imagined a day when man would perhaps have the material possibility of leaving his earthly habitat and exploring space. It was then known that a verse existed in the Qur'an predicting how one day man would make this conquest. This statement has now been verified.
The present confrontation between Holy Scripture and science brings ideas into play, both for the Bible and the Qur'an, which concern scientific truth. For this confrontation to be valid, the scientific arguments to be relied upon must be quite soundly established and must leave no room for doubt. Those who balk at the idea of accepting the intervention of science in an appreciation of the Scriptures deny that it is possible for science to constitute a valid term of comparison (whether it be the Bible, which does not escape the comparison unscathed-and we have seen why-or the Qur'an, which has nothing to fear from science). Science, they say, is changing with the times and a fact accepted today may be rejected later.
This last comment calls for the following observation: a distinction must be drawn between scientific theory and duly controlled observed fact. Theory is intended to explain a phenomenon or a series of phenomena not readily understandable. In many instances theory changes: it is liable to be modified or replaced by another theory when scientific progress makes it easier to analyse facts and envisage a more viable explanation. On the other hand, an observed fact checked by experimentation is not liable to modification: it becomes easier to define its characteristics, but it remains the same. It has been established that the Earth revolves around the Sun and the Moon around the Earth, and this fact will not be subject to revision; all that may be done in the future is to define the orbits more clearly.
A regard for the changing nature of theory is, for example, what made me reject a verse from the Qur'an thought by a Muslim physicist to predict the concept of anti-matter, a theory which is at present the subject of much debate. One can, on the other hand. quite legitimately devote great attention to a verse from the Qur'an describing the aquatic origins of life, a phenomenon we shall never be able to verify, but which has many arguments that speak in its favour. As for observed facts such as the evolution of the human embryo, it is quite possible to confront different stages described in the Qur'an with the data of modern embryology and find complete concordance between modern science and the verses of the Qur'an referring to this subject.
This confrontation between the Qur'an and science has been completed by two other comparisons: one is the confrontation of modern knowledge with Biblical data on the same subjects; and the other is the comparison from the same scientific point of view between the data in the Qur'an, the Book of Revelation transmitted by God to the Prophet, and the data in the Hadiths, books narrating the deeds and sayings of Muhammad that lie outside the written Revelation.
At the end of this, the third section of the present work, the detailed results of the comparison between the Biblical and Qur'anic description of a single event are given, along with an account of how the passage fared when subjected to the scientific criticism of each description. An examination has, for example, been made in the case of the Creation and of the Flood. In each instance, the incompatibilities with science in the Biblical description have been made clear. Also to be seen is the complete agreement between science and the descriptions in the Qur'an referring to them. We shall note precisely those differences that make one description scientifically acceptable in the present day and the other unacceptable.
This observation is of prime importance, since in the West, Jews, Christians and Atheists are unanimous in stating (without a scrap of evidence however) that Muhammad wrote the Qur'an or had it written as an imitation of the Bible. It is claimed that stories of religious history in the Qur'an resume Biblical stories. This attitude is as thoughtless as saying that Jesus Himself duped His contemporaries by drawing inspiration from the Old Testament during His preachings: the whole of Matthew's Gospel is based on this continuation of the Old Testament, as we have indeed seen already. What expert in exegesis would dream of depriving Jesus of his status as God's envoy for this reason? This is nevertheless the way that Muhammad is judged more often than not in the West: "all he did Was to copy the Bible". It is a summary judgement that does not take account of the fact that the Qur'an and the Bible provide different versions of a single event. People prefer not to talk about the difference in the descriptions. They are pronounced to be the same and thus scientific knowledge need not be brought in. We shall enlarge on these problems when dealing with the description of the Creation and the Flood.
The collection of hadiths are to Muhammad what the Gospels are to Jesus: descriptions of the actions and sayings of the Prophet. Their authors were not eyewitnesses.. (This applies at least to the compilers of the collections of hadiths which are said to be the most authentic and were collected much later than the time when Muhammad was alive). They do not in any way constitute books containing the written Revelation. They are not the word of God, but the sayings of the Prophet. In these books, which are very widely read, statements are to be found containing errors from a scientific point of view, especially medical remedies. We naturally discount anything relating to problems of a religious kind, since they are not discussed here in the context of the hadiths. Many hadiths are of doubtful authenticity. they are discussed by Muslim scientists themselves. When the scientific nature of one of the hadiths is touched upon in the present work, it is essentially to put into relief all that distinguishes them from the Qur'an itself when seen from this point of view, since the latter does not contain a single scientific statement that is unacceptable. The difference, as we shall see, is quite startling.
The above observation makes the hypothesis advanced by those who see Muhammad as the author of the Qur'an quite untenable. How could a man, from being illiterate, become the most important author, in terms of literary merit, in the whole of Arabic literature? How could he then pronounce truths of a scientific nature that no other human being could possibly have developed at the time, and all this without once making the slightest error in his pronouncements on the subject?
The ideas in this study are developed from a purely scientific point of view. They lead to the conclusion that it is inconceivable for a human being living in the Seventh century A.D. to have made statements in the Qur'an on a great variety of subjects that do not belong to his period and for them to be in keeping with what was to be known only centuries later. For me, there can be no human explanation to the Qur'an.
Authenticity of the Qur'an
How It Came To Be Written
Thanks to its undisputed authenticity, the text of the Qur'an holds a unique place among the books of Revelation, shared neither by the Old nor the New Testament. Quran was written down at the time of the Prophet.
The Qur'anic Revelation was made by Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad. It took place over a period of more than twenty years of the Prophet's life, beginning with the first verses of Sura 96, then resuming after a three-year break for a long period of twenty years up to the death of the Prophet in 632 A.D., i.e. ten years before Hegira and ten years after Hegira. [Muhammad's departure from Makka to Madina, 622 A.D.]
The following was the first Revelation (sura 96, verses 1 to 5) [ Muhammad was totally overwhelmed by these words. We shall return to an interpretation of them, especially with regard to the fact that Muhammad could neither read nor write.].
"Read: In the name of thy Lord who created,
Who created man from something which clings
Read! Thy Lord is the most Noble
Who taught by the pen
Who taught man what he did not know."
Professor Hamidullah notes in the Introduction to his French translation of the Qur'an that one of the themes of this first Revelation was the 'praise of the pen as a means of human knowledge' which would 'explain the Prophet's concern for the preservation of the Qur'an in writing.'
The Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
DIFFERENCES FROM AND RESEMBLANCES TO THE BIBLICAL DESCRIPTION
In contrast to the Old Testament, the Qur'an does not provide a unified description of the Creation. Instead of a continuous narration, there are passages scattered all over the Book which deal with certain aspects of the Creation and provide information on the successive events marking its development with varying degrees of detail. To gain a clear idea of how these events are presented, the fragments scattered throughout a large number of suras have to be brought together.
This dispersal throughout the Book of references to the same subject is not unique to the theme of the Creation. Many important subjects are treated in the same manner in the Qur'an: earthly or celestial phenomena, or problems concerning man that are of interest to scientists. For each of these themes, the same effort has been made here to bring all the verses together.
For many European commentators, the description of the Creation in the Qur'an is very similar to the one in the Bible and they are quite content to present the two descriptions side by side. I believe this concept is mistaken because there are very obvious differences. On subjects that are by no means unimportant from a scientific point of view, we find statements in the Qur'an whose equivalents we search for in vain in the Bible. The latter contains descriptions that have no equivalent in the Qur'an.
The obvious resemblances between the two texts are well known; among them is the fact that, at first glance, the number given to the successive stages of the Creation is identical: the six days in the Bible correspond to the six days in the Qur'an. In fact however, the problem is more complex than this and it is worth pausing to examine it.
The Six Periods of the Creation
There is absolutely no ambiguity whatsoever in the Biblical [ The Biblical description mentioned here is taken from the so-called Sacerdotal version discussed in the first part of this work; the description taken from the so-called Yahvist version has been compressed into the space of a few lines in today s version of the Bible and is too insubstantial to be considered here.] description of the Creation in six days followed by a day of rest, the sabbath, analogous with the days of the week. It has been shown how this mode of narration practiced by the priests of the Sixth century B.C. served the purpose of encouraging the people to observe the sabbath. All Jews were expected to rest [ 'Sabbath' in Hebrew means 'to rest'.] on the sabbath as the Lord had done after he had laboured during the six days of the week.
The way the Bible interprets it, the word 'day' means the interval of time between two successive sunrises or sunsets for an inhabitant of the Earth. When defined in this way, the day is conditioned by the rotation of the Earth on its own axis. It is obvious that logically-speaking there can be no question of 'days' as defined just now, if the mechanism that causes them to appear-i.e. the existence of the Earth and its rotation around the Sun-has not already been fixed in the early stages of the Creation according to the Biblical description. This impossibility has already been emphasized in the first part of the present book.
When we refer to the majority of translations of the Qur'an, we read that-analogous with the Biblical description-the process of the Creation for the Islamic Revelation also took place over a period of six days. It is difficult to hold against the translators the fact that they have translated the Arabic word by its most common meaning. This is how it is usually expressed in translations so that in the Qur'an, verse 54, sura 7 reads as follows:
"Your Lord is God Who created the heavens and the earth in six days."
There are very few translations and commentaries of the Qur'an that note how the word 'days' should really be taken to mean 'periods'. It has moreover been maintained that if the Qur'anic texts on the Creation divided its stages into 'days', it was with the deliberate intention of taking up beliefs held by all the Jews and Christians at the dawn of Islam and of avoiding a head-on confrontation with such a widely-held belief.
Without in any way wishing to reject this way of seeing it, one could perhaps examine the problem a little more closely and scrutinize in the Qur'an itself, and more generally in the language of the time, the possible meaning of the word that many translators themselves still continue to translate by the word 'day' yaum, plural ayyam in Arabic. [ See table on last page of present work for equivalence between Latin and Arabic letters.]
Its most common meaning is 'day' but it must be stressed that it tends more to mean the diurnal light than the length of time that lapses between one day's sunset and the next. The plural ayyam can mean, not just 'days', but also 'long length of time', an indefinite period of time (but always long). The meaning 'period of time' that the word contains is to he found elsewhere in the Qur'an. Hence the following:
--sura 32, verse 5:
". . . in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is a thousand years of your reckoning."
(It is to be noted that the Creation in six periods is precisely what the verse preceding verse 5 refers to).
--sura 70, verse 4:
". . . in a period of time (yaum) whereof the measure is 50,000 years."
The fact that the word , yaum' could mean a period of time that was quite different from the period that we mean by the word 'day' struck very early commentators who, of course, did not have the knowledge we possess today concerning the length of the stages in the formation of the Universe. In the Sixteenth century A.D. for example, Abu al Su'ud, who could not have had any idea of the day as defined astronomically in terms of the Earth's rotation, thought that for the Creation a division must be considered that was not into days as we usually understand the word, but into 'events' (in Arabic nauba).
Modern commentators have gone back to this interpretation. Yusuf Ali (1934), in his commentary on each of the verses that deals with the stages in the Creation, insists on the importance of taking the word, elsewhere interpreted as meaning 'days', to mean in reality 'very long Periods, or Ages, or Aeons'.
It is therefore possible to say that in the case of the Creation of the world, the Qur'an allows for long periods of time numbering six. It is obvious that modern science has not permitted man to establish the fact that the complicated stages in the process leading to the formation of the Universe numbered six, but it has clearly shown that long periods of time were involved compared to which 'days' as we conceive them would be ridiculous.
One of the longest passages of the Qur'an, which deals with the Creation, describes the latter by juxtaposing an account of earthly events and one of celestial events. The verses in question are verses 9 to 12, sura 41:
(God is speaking to the Prophet)
"Say. Do you disbelieve Him Who created the earth in two periods? Do you ascribe equals to Him. He is the Lord of the Worlds.
"He set in the (earth) mountains standing firm. He blessed it.
He measured therein its sustenance in four periods, in due proportion, in accordance with the needs of those who ask for (sustenance? or information?).
"Moreover (tumma) He turned to heaven when it was smoke and said to it and to the earth: come willingly or unwillingly! They said: we come in willing obedience.
"Then He ordained them seven heavens in two periods, and He assigned to each heaven its mandate by Revelation. And We adorned the lower heaven with luminaries and provided it a guard. Such is the decree of the All Mighty, the Full of Knowledge."
These four verses of sura 41 contain several points to which we shall return. the initially gaseous state of celestial matter and the highly symbolic definition of the number of heavens as seven. We shall see the meaning behind this figure. Also of a symbolic nature is the dialogue between God on the one hand and the primordial sky and earth on the other. here however it is only to express the submission of the Heavens and Earth, once they were formed, to divine orders.
Critics have seen in this passage a contradiction with the statement of the six periods of the Creation. By adding the two periods of the formation of the Earth to the four periods of the spreading of its sustenance to the inhabitants, plus the two periods of the formation of the Heavens, we arrive at eight periods. This would then be in contradiction with the six periods mentioned above.
In fact however, this text, which leads man to reflect on divine Omnipotence, beginning with the Earth and ending with the Heavens, provides two sections that are expressed by the Arabic word tumma', translated by 'moreover', but which also means 'furthermore' or 'then'. The sense of a 'sequence' may therefore be implied referring to a sequence of events or a series of man's reflections on the events mentioned here. It may equally be a simple reference to events juxtaposed without any intention of bringing in the notion of the one following the other. However this may be, the periods of the Creation of the Heavens may just as easily coincide with the two periods of the Earth's creation. A little later we shall examine how the basic process of the formation of the Universe is presented in the Qur'an and we shall see how it can be jointly applied to the Heavens and the Earth in keeping with modern ideas. We shall then realize how perfectly reasonable this way is of conceiving the simultaneous nature of the events here described.
There does not appear to be any contradiction between the passage quoted here and the concept of the formation of the world in six stages that is to be found in other texts in the Qur'an.
THE QUR'AN DOES NOT LAY DOWN A SEQUENCE FOR THE CREATION OF THE EARTH AND HEAVENS
In the two passages from the Qur'an quoted above, reference was made in one of the verses to the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth (sura 7, verse 54) , and elsewhere to the Creation of the Earth and the Heavens (sura 41, verses 9 to 12). The Qur'an does not therefore appear to lay down a sequence for the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
The number of verses in which the Earth is mentioned first is quite small, e.g. sura 2, verse 29 and sura 20, verse 4, where a reference is made to "Him Who created the earth and the high heavens". The number of verses where the Heavens are mentioned before the Earth is, on the other hand, much larger: (sura 7, verse 54; sura 10, verse 3; sura 11, verse 7; sura 25, verse 59; sura 32, verse 4; sura 50, verse 38; sura 57, verse 4; sura 79, verses 27 to 33; sura 91, verses 5 to 10).
In actual fact, apart from sura 79, there is not a single passage in the Qur'an that lays down a definite sequence; a simple coordinating conjunction (wa) meaning 'and' links two terms, or the word tumma which, as has been seen in the above passage, can indicate either a simple juxtaposition or a sequence.
There appears to me to be only one passage in the Qur'an where a definite sequence is plainly established between different events in the Creation. It is contained in verses 27 to 33, sura 79:
"Are you the harder to create Or. is it the heaven that (God) built? He raised its canopy and fashioned it with harmony. He made dark the night and he brought out the forenoon. And after that (ba' da dalika) He spread it out. Therefrom he drew out its water and its pasture. And the mountains He has fixed firmly. Goods for you and your cattle."
This list of earthly gifts from God to man, which is expressed In a language suited to farmers or nomads on the Arabian Peninsula, is preceded by an invitation to reflect on the creation of the heavens. The reference to the stage when God spreads out the earth and renders it arable is very precisely situated in time after the alternating of night and day has been achieved. Two groups are therefore referred to here, one of celestial phenomena, and the other of earthly phenomena articulated in time. The reference made here implies that the earth must necessarily have existed before being spread out and that it consequently existed when God created the Heavens. The idea of a concomitance therefore arises from the heavenly and earthly evolutions with the interlocking of the two phenomena. Hence, one must not look for any special significance in the reference in the Qur'anic text to the Creation of the Earth before the Heavens or the Heavens before the Earth: the position of the words does not influence the order in which the Creation took place, unless however it is specifically stated.
THE BASIC PROCESS OF THE FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE AND THE RESULTING COMPOSITION OF THE WORLDS
The Qur'an presents in two verses a brief synthesis of the phenomena that constituted the basic process of the formation of the Universe.
--sura 21, verse 30:
"Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then We clove them asunder and We got every living thing out of the water. Will they not then believe?"
--sura 41, verse 11. God orders the Prophet to speak after inviting him to reflect on the subject of the earth's creation:
"Moreover (God) turned to the Heaven when it was smoke and said to it and to the earth . . ."
There then follow the orders to submit, referred to on page 136.
We shall come back to the aquatic origins of life and examine them along with other biological problems raised by the Qur'an. The important things to remember at present are the following. a) The statement of the existence of a gaseous mass with fine particles, for this is how the word 'smoke' (dukan in Arabic) is to be interpreted. Smoke is generally made -up of a gaseous substratum, plus, in more or less stable suspension, fine particles that may belong to solid and even liquid states of matter at high or low temperature;
b) The reference to a separation process (fatq) of an primary single mass whose elements were initially fused together (ratq). It must be noted that in Arabic 'fatq' is the action of breaking, diffusing, separating, and that 'ratq' is the action of fusing or binding together elements to make a homogenous whole.
This concept of the separation of a whole into several parts is noted in other passages of the Book with reference to multiple worlds. The first verse of the first sura in the Qur'an proclaims, after the opening invocation, the following: "In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful", "Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds."
The terms 'worlds' reappears dozens of times in the Qur'an. The Heavens are referred to as multiple as well, not only on account of their plural form, but also because of their symbolic numerical quantity. 7.
This number is used 24 times throughout the Qur'an for various numerical quantities. It often carries the meaning of 'many' although we do not know exactly why this meaning of the figure was used. The Greeks and Romans also seem to have used the number 7 to mean an undefined idea of plurality. In the Qur'an, the number 7 refers to the Heavens themselves (samawat). It alone is understood to mean 'Heavens'. The 7 roads of the Heavens are mentioned once:
--sura 2, verse 29:
"(God) is the One Who created for you all that is on the earth. Moreover He turned to the heaven and fashioned seven heavens with harmony. He is Full of Knowledge of all things."
--sura 23, verse 17:
"And We have created above you seven paths. We have never been unmindful of the Creation."
--sura 67, verse 3:
"(God) is the One Who created seven heavens one above an other. Thou canst see no fault in the creation of the Beneficent. Turn the vision again! Canst thou see any rift?"
--sura 71, verse 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? [ It is to be noted that while the Bible calls both Sun and Moon 'lights', here, as always in the Qur'an, they are differently named; the first is called 'Light' (nur) and the second is compared in this verse to a 'lamp (siraj) producing light'. We shall see later how other epithets are applied to the Sun.]"
--sura 78, verse 12:
"We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp."
Here the blazing lamp is the Sun.
The commentators on the Qur'an are in agreement on all these verses: the number 7 means no more than plurality. [ Apart from the Qur'an, we often find the number 7 meaning plurality in texts from Muhammad's time, or from the first centuries following him, which record his words (hadiths).]
There are therefore many Heavens and Earths, and it comes as no small surprise to the reader of the Qur'an to find that earths such as our own may be found in the Universe, a fact that has not yet been verified by man in our time.
Verse 12 of sura 65 does however predict the following:
"God is the One Who created seven heavens and of the earth (ard) a similar number. The Command descends among them so that you know that God has power over all things and comprehends all things in His knowledge."
Since 7 indicates an indefinite plurality (as we have seen), it is possible to conclude that the Qur'anic text clearly indicates the existence of more than one single Earth, our own Earth (ard); there are others like it in the Universe.
Another observation which may surprise the Twentieth century reader of the Qur'an is the fact that verses refer to three groups of things created, i.e.
--things in the Heavens.
--things on the Earth
--things between the Heavens and the Earth
Here are several of these verses:
--sura 20, verse 6;
"To Him (God) belongs what is in the heavens, on earth, between them and beneath the soil."
--sura 25, verse 59:
". . . the One Who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them in six periods."
--sura 32, verse 4:
"God is the One Who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them in six periods."
--sura 50, verse 38:
"We created the heavens, the earth .and what is between them in six periods, and no weariness touched Us." [ This statement that the Creation did not make God at all weary stands out as an obvious reply to the Biblical description, referred to in the first part of the present book, where God is said to have rested on the seventh day from the preceding days' work!]
The reference in the Qur'an to 'what is between the Heavens and the Earth' is again to be found in the following verses: sura 21, verse 16; sura 44, verses 7 and 38 ; sura 78, verse 37; sura 15, verse 85; sura 46, verse 3; sura 43, Verse 85.
This Creation outside the Heavens and outside the Earth, mentioned several times, is a priori difficult to imagine. To understand these verses, reference must be made to the most recent human observations on the existence of cosmic extra-galactic material and one must indeed go back to ideas established by contemporary science on the formation of the Universe, starting with the simplest and proceeding to the most complex. These are the subject of the following paragraph.
Before passing on to these purely scientific matters however, it is advisable to recapitulate the main points on which the Qur'an gives us information about the Creation. According to the preceding quotations, they are as follows:
Existence of six periods for the Creation in general.
Interlocking of stages in the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth.
Creation of the Universe out of an initially unique mass forming a block that subsequently split up.
Plurality of the Heavens and of the Earths.
Existence of an intermediary creation 'between the Heavens and the Earth'.
SOME MODERN SCIENTIFIC DATA CONCERNING THE FORMATION OF THE UNIVERSE
The Solar System
The Earth and planets rotating around the Sun constitute an organized world of dimensions which, to our human scale, appear quite colossal. The Earth is, after all, roughly 93 million miles from the Sun. This is a very great distance for a human being, but it is very small in comparison to the distance separating the Sun from the furthermost planet from it in the solar system (Pluto); in round numbers it is 40 times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, i.e. approximately 3,672 million miles away. This distance, when doubled, represents the largest dimension of our solar system. The Sun's light takes nearly 6 hours to reach Pluto, and yet the journey is made at the terrifying speed of over 186,000 miles per second. The light coming from stars on the very confines of the known celestial world therefore takes billions of years to reach us.
The Sun, of which we are a satellite like the other planets surrounding it, is itself an infinitesmally small element among a hundred billion stars that form a whole, called a galaxy. On a fine summer night, the whole of space seems to be filled with stars that make up what is known as the Milky Way. This group has extremely large dimensions. Whereas light could cross the solar system in units of one hour, it would require something like 90,000 years to go from one extreme to the other of the most compact group of stars that make up our galaxy.
The galaxy that we belong to however, even though it is so incredibly huge, is only a small part of the Heavens. There are giant agglomerates of stars similar to the Milky Way that lie outside our galaxy. They were discovered a little over fifty years ago, when astronomy was able to make use of an optical instrument as sophisticated as the one that made possible the construction of the Mount Wilson telescope in the United States. Thus a very large number indeed of isolated galaxies and masses of galaxies have been discovered that are so far away that it was necessary to institute a special unit of light-years, the 'parsec' (the distance light travels in 3.26 years at 186,000 miles per second).
Formation and Evolution of Galaxies, Stan and Planetary Systems
What was there originally in the immensely large space the galaxies now occupy? Modern science can only answer this question as of a certain period in the evolution of the Universe; it cannot put into numbers the length of time that separates this period from us.
At the earliest time it can provide us with, modern science has every reason to maintain that the Universe was formed of a gaseous mass principally composed of hydrogen and a certain amount of helium that was slowly rotating. This nebula subsequently split up into multiple fragments with very large dimensions and masses, so large indeed, that specialists in astrophysics are able to estimate their mass from 1 to 100 billion times the present mass of the Sun (the latter represents a mass that is over 300,000 times that of the Earth). These figures give an idea of the large size of the fragments of primary gaseous mass that were to give birth to the galaxies.
A new fragmentation was to form the stars. There then followed the intervention of a condensing process where gravitational forces came into play, (since these bodies were moving and rotating more and more quickly), along with pressures and the influence of magnetic fields and of radiations. The stars became shiny as they contracted and transformed the gravitational forces into thermal energy. Thermonuclear reactions came into play, and heavier atoms were formed by fusion at the expense of others that were lighter; this is how the transition was made from hydrogen to helium, then to carbon and oxygen, ending with metals and metalloids. Thus the stars have a life of their own and modern astronomy classifies them according to their present stage of evolution. The stars also have a death; in the final stage of their evolution, the violent implosion of certain stars has been observed so that they become veritable 'corpses'.
The planets, and in particular the Earth, originated in a separation process starting from an initial constituent that in the beginning was the primary nebula. A fact that has no longer been contested for over twenty-five years is that the Sun condensed inside the single nebula and that the planets did the same inside the surrounding nebular. disc. One must stress-and this is of prime importance for. the subject in hand-that there was no sequence in the formation of the celestial elements such as the Sun nor in the formation of an earthly. element. There is an evolutionary parallelism with the identity of origin.
Here, science can give us information on the period during which the events just mentioned took place. Having estimated the age of our galaxy at roughly ten billion years, according to this hypothesis, the formation of the solar. system took place a little over five billion years later'. The study of natural radio activity makes it possible to place the age of the Earth and the time the Sun was formed at 4.5 billion years ago, to within a present-day accuracy of 100 million years, according to some scientists' calculations. This accuracy is to be admired, since 100 million years may represent a long time to us but the ratio 'maximum error/total time-to-be-measured' is 0.1/4.5, i.e. 2.2%.
Specialists in astrophysics have therefore attained a high degree of knowledge concerning the general process involved in the formation of the solar system. It may be summarized as follows: condensation and contraction of a rotating gaseous mass, splitting up into fragments that leave the Sun. and planets in their places, among them the Earth. [ As regards the Moon, its gradual separation from the Earth following the deceleration of its rotation is an acknowledged probability.] The knowledge that science has gained on the primary nebula and the way it split up into an incommensurable quantity of stars grouped into galaxies leaves absolutely no doubt as to the legitimacy of a concept of the plurality of worlds. It does not however provide any kind of certainty concerning the existence in the Universe of anything that might, either closely or vaguely, resemble the Earth.
The Concept of the Plurality of the Worlds
In spite of the above, modern specialists in astrophysics consider it highly likely that planets similar to Earth are present in the Universe. As far as the solar system is concerned, nobody seriously entertains the possibility of finding general conditions similar to those on Earth on another planet in this system. We must therefore seek for them outside the solar system. The likelihood of their existing outside it is considered quite probable for the following reasons:
It is thought that in our galaxy half of the 100 billion stars must, like the Sun, have a planetary system. The fifty billion stars do indeed, like the Sun, rotate very slowly. a characteristic which suggests that they are surrounded by planets that are their satellites. These stars are so far away that the possible planets are unobservable, but their existence is thought to be highly probable on account of certain trajectory characteristics ; a slight undulation of the star's trajectory indicates the presence of a companion planetary satellite. Thus the Barnard Star probably has at least one planetary companion with a mass greater than that of Jupiter and may even have two satellites. As P. Guérin writes: "All the evidence points to the fact that planetary systems are scattered in profusion all over the universe. The solar system and the Earth are not unique." And as a corollary. "Life, like the planets that harbour it, is scattered throughout the universe, in those places where the physico-chemical conditions necessary for its flowering and development are to be found."
The basic process in the formation of the Universe therefore lay in the condensation of material in the primary nebula followed by its division into fragments that originally constituted galactic masses. The latter in their turn split up into stars that provided the sub-product of the process, i.e. the planets. These successive separations left among the groups of principle elements what one might perhaps call 'remains'. Their more scientific name is 'interstellar galactic material'. It has been described in various ways; there are bright nebulae that reflect the light received from other stars and are perhaps composed of 'dusts' or 'smokes', to use the terminology of experts in astrophysics, and then there are the dark nebulae that are less dense, consisting of interstellar material that is even more modest, known for its tendency to interfere with photometric measurements in astronomy. There can be no doubt about the existence of 'bridges' of material between the galaxies themselves. Although these gases may be very rarefied, the fact that they occupy such a colossal space, in view of the great distance separating the galaxies, could make them correspond to a mass possibly greater than the total mass of the galaxies in spite of the low density of the former. A. Boichot considers the presence of these intergalactic masses to be of prime importance which could "considerably alter ideas on the evolution of the Universe."
We must now go back to the basic ideas on the Creation of the Universe that were taken from the Qur'an and look at them in the light of modern scientific data.
CONFRONTATION WITH THE DATA IN THE QUR'AN CONCERNING THE CREATION
We shall examine the five main points on which the Qur'an gives information about the Creation.
The six periods of the Creation of the Heavens and the Earth covered, according to the Qur'an, the formation of the celestial bodies and the Earth, and the development of the latter until (with its 'sustenance') it became inhabitable by man. In the case of the Earth, the events described in the Qur'an happened over four periods. One could perhaps see in them the four geological periods described by modern science, with man's appearance, as we already know, taking place in the quaternary era. This is purely a hypothesis since nobody has an answer to this question.
It must be noted however, that the formation of the heavenly bodies and the Earth, as explained in verses 9 to 12, sura 41 (see page 136) required two phases. If we take the Sun and its subproduct the Earth as an example (the only one accessible to us), science informs us that their formation occurred by a process of condensation of the primary nebula and then their separation. This is exactly what the Qur'an expresses very clearly when it refers to the processes that produced a fusion and subsequent separation starting from a celestial 'smoke'. Hence there is complete correspondence between the facts of the Qur'an and the facts of science.
Science showed the interlocking of the two stages in the formation of a star (like the Sun) and its satellite (like the Earth). This interconnection is surely very evident in the text of the Qur'an examined.
The existence at an early stage of the Universe of the 'smoke' referred to in the Qur'an, meaning the predominantly gaseous state of the material that composes it, obviously corresponds to the concept of the primary nebula put forward by modern science.
The plurality of the heavens, expressed in the Qur'an by the number 7, whose meaning we have discussed, is confirmed by modern science due to the observations experts in astrophysics have made on galactic systems and their very large number. On the other hand the plurality of earths that are similar to ours (from certain points of view at least) is an idea that arises in the text of the Qur'an but has not yet been demonstrated to be true by science; all the same, specialists consider this to be quite feasible.
The existence of an intermediate creation between 'the Heavens' and 'the Earth' expressed in the Qur'an may be compared to the discovery of those bridges of material present outside organized astronomic systems.
Although not all the questions raised by the descriptions in the Qur'an have been completely confirmed by scientific data, there is in any case absolutely no opposition between the data in the Qur'an on the Creation and modern knowledge on the formation of the Universe. This fact is worth stressing for the Qur'anic Revelation, whereas it is very obvious indeed that the present-day text of the Old Testament provides data on the same events that are unacceptable from a scientific point of view. It is hardly surprising, since the description of the Creation in the Sacerdotal version of the Bible [ This text completely overshadows the few lines contained in the Yahvist version. The latter is too brief and too vague for the scientist to take account of it.] was written by priests at the time of the deportation to Babylon who had the legalist intentions already described and therefore compiled a description that fitted their theological views. The existence of such an enormous difference between the Biblical description and the data in the Qur'an concerning the Creation is worth underlining once again on account of the totally gratuitous accusations leveled against Muhammad since the beginnings of Islam to the effect that he copied the Biblical descriptions. As far as the Creation is concerned, this accusation is totally unfounded. How could a man living fourteen hundred years ago have made corrections to the existing description to such an extent that he eliminated scientifically inaccurate material and, on his own initiative, made statements that science has been able to verify only in the present day? This hypothesis is completely untenable. The description of the Creation given in the Qur'an is quite different from the one in the Bible.
ANSWERS TO CERTAIN OBJECTIONS
Indisputably, resemblances do exist between narrations dealing with other subjects, particularly religious history, in the Bible and in the Qur'an. It is moreover interesting to note from this point of view how nobody holds against Jesus the fact that he takes up the same sort of facts and Biblical teachings. This does not, of course, stop people in the West from accusing Muhammad of referring to such facts in his teaching with the suggestion that he is an imposter because he presents them as a Revelation. As for the proof that Muhammad reproduced in the Qur'an what he had been told or dictated by the rabbis, it has no more substance than the statement that a Christian monk gave him a sound religious education. One would do well to re-read what R. Blachère in his book, The Problem of Muhammad (Le Problème de Mahomet) [ Pub. Presses Universitaries de France, Paris, 1952.], has to say about this 'fable'.
A hint of a resemblance is also advanced between other statements in the Qur'an and beliefs that go back a very long way, probably much further in time than the Bible.
More generally speaking, the traces of certain cosmogonic myths have been sought in the Holy Scriptures; for example the belief held by the Polynesians in the existence of primeval waters that were covered in darkness until they separated when light appeared; thus Heaven and Earth were formed. This myth is compared to the description of the Creation in the Bible, where there is undoubtedly a resemblance. It would however be superficial to then accuse the Bible of having copied this from the cosmogonic myth.
It is just as superficial to see the Qur'anic concept of the division of the primeval material constituting the Universe at its initial stage-a concept held by modern science-as one that comes from various cosmogonic myths in one form or another that express something resembling it.
It is worth analysing these mythical beliefs and descriptions more closely. Often an initial idea appears among them which is reasonable in itself, and is in some cases borne out by what we today know (or think we know) to be true, except that fantastic descriptions are attached to it in the myth. This is the case of the fairly widespread concept of the Heavens and the Earth originally being united then subsequently separated. When, as in Japan, the image of the egg plus an expression of chaos is attached to the above with the idea of a seed inside the egg (as for all. eggs), the imaginative addition makes the concept lose all semblance of seriousness. In other countries, the idea of a plant is associated with it; the plant grows and in so doing raises up the sky and separates the Heavens from the Earth. Here again, the imaginative quality of the added detail lends the myth its very distinctive character. Nevertheless a common characteristic remains, i.e. the notion of a single mass at the beginning of the evolutionary process leading to the formation of the Universe which then divided to form the various 'worlds. that we know today.
The reason these cosmogonic myths are mentioned here is to underline the way they have been embroidered by man's imagination and to show the basic difference between them and the statements in the Qur'an on the same subject. The latter are free from any of the whimsical details accompanying such beliefs; on the contrary, they are distinguished by the sober quality of the words in which they are made and their agreement with scientific data.
Such statements in the Qur'an concerning the Creation, which appeared nearly fourteen centuries ago, obviously do not lend themselves to a human explanation.
Astronomy in the Qur'an
The Qur'an is full of reflections on the Heavens. In the preceding chapter on the Creation, we saw how the plurality of the Heavens and Earths was referred to, as well as what the Qur'an calls an intermediary creation 'between the Heavens and the Earth', modern science has verified the latter. The verses referring to the Creation already contain a broad idea of what is to be found in the heavens, i.e. of everything outside the earth.
Apart from the verses that specifically describe the Creation, there are roughly another forty verses in the Qur'an which provide information on astronomy complementing what has already been given. Some of them are not much more than reflections on the glory of the Creator, the Organizer of all the stellar and planetary systems. These we know to be arranged according to balancing positions whose stability Newton explained in his law of the mutual attraction of bodies.
The first verses to be quoted here hardly furnish much material for scientific analysis: the aim is simply to draw attention to God's Omnipotence. They must be mentioned however to give a realistic idea of the way the Qur'anic text described the organization of the Universe fourteen centuries ago.
These references constitute a new fact of divine Revelation. The organization of the world is treated in neither the Gospels nor the Old Testament (except for a few notions whose general inaccuracy we have already seen in the Biblical description of the Creation). The Qur'an however deals with this subject in depth. What it describes is important, but so is what it does not contain. It does not in fact provide an account of the theories prevalent at the time of the Revelation that deal with the organization of the celestial world, theories that science was later to show were inaccurate. An example of this will be given later. This negative consideration must however be pointed out. [ I have often heard those who go to great lengths to find a human explanation-and no other-to all the problems raised by the Qur'an Bay the following: "if the Book contains surprising statements on astronomy, it is because the Arabs were very knowledgeable on this subject." In so doing they forget the fact that, in general, science in Islamic countries is very much post-Qur'an, and that the scientific knowledge of this great period would in any case not have been sufficient for a human being to write some of the verses to be found in the Qur'an. This will be shown in the following paragraphs.]
A. GENERAL REFLECTIONS CONCERNING THE SKY
--sura 50, verse 6. The subject is man in general.
"Do they not look at the sky above them, how We have built it and adorned it, and there are no rifts in it."
--sura 31, verse 10:
"(God) created the heavens without any pillars that you can see..."
--sura 13, verse 2:
"God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see, then He firmly established Himself on the throne and He subjected the sun and moon . . ."
These two verses refute the belief that the vault of the heavens was held up by pillars, the only things preventing the former from crushing the earth.
--sura 55, verse 7:
"the sky (God) raised it . . ."
--sura 22, verse 65:
"(God) holds back the sky from falling on the earth unless by His leave . . ."
It is known how the remoteness of celestial masses at great distance and in proportion to the magnitude of their mass itself constitutes the foundation of their equilibrium. The more remote the masses are, the weaker the force is that attracts one to the other. The nearer they are, the stronger the attraction is that one has to the other: this is true for the Moon, which is near to the Earth (astronomically speaking) and exercises an influence by laws of attraction on the position occupied by the waters of the sea, hence the phenomenon of the tides. If two celestial bodies come too close to one another, collision is inevitable. The fact that they are subjected to an order is the sine qua non for the absence of disturbances.
The subjection of the Heavens to divine order is often referred to as well:
--sura 23, verse 86. God is speaking to the Prophet.
"Say: Who is Lord of the seven heavens and Lord of the tremendous throne?"
We have already seen how by 'seven heavens' what is meant is not 7, but an indefinite number of Heavens.
--sura 45, verse 13:
"For you (God) subjected all that is in the heavens and on the earth, all from Him. Behold! In that are signs for people who reflect."
--sura 55, verse 5:
"The sun and moon (are subjected) to calculations"
--sura 6, verse 96:
"(God) appointed the night for rest and the sun and the moon for reckoning."
--sura 14, verse 33:
"For you (God) subjected the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses. And for you He subjected the night and the day."
Here one verse completes another: the calculations referred to result in the regularity of the course described by the heavenly bodies in question, this is expressed by the word da'ib, the present participle of a verb whose original meaning was 'to work eagerly and assiduously at something'. Here it is given the meaning of 'to apply oneself to something with care in a perseverant, invariable manner, in accordance with set habits'.
--sura 36, verse 39: God is speaking:
"And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she returns like an old shriveled palm branch."
This is a reference to the curled form of the palm branch which, as it shrivels up, takes on the moon's crescent. This commentary will be completed later.
--sura 16, verse 12:
"For you (God) subjected the night and the day, the sun and the moon; the stars are in subjection to His Command. Verily in this are signs for people who are wise."
The practical angle from which this perfect celestial order is seen is underlined on account of its value as an aid to man's travel on earth and by sea, and to his calculation of time. This comment becomes clear when one bears in mind the fact that the Qur'an was originally a preaching addressed to men who only understood the simple language of their everyday lives. This explains the presence of the following reflections.
--sura 6, verse 97:
"(God) is the One Who has set out for you the stars, that you may guide yourselves by them through the darkness of the land and of the sea. We have detailed the signs for people who know."
--sura 16, verse 16:
"(God sets on the earth) landmarks and by the stars (men) guide themselves."
--sura 10, verse 5:
"God is the One Who made the sun a shining glory and the moon a light and for her ordained mansions, so that you might know the number of years and the reckoning (of the time). God created this in truth. He explains the signs in detail for people who know."
This calls for some comment. Whereas the Bible calls the Sun and Moon 'lights', and merely adds to one the adjective 'greater' and to the other 'lesser', the Qur'an ascribes differences other than that of dimension to each respectively. Agreed, this is nothing more than a verbal distinction, but how was one to communicate to men at this time without confusing them, while at the same time expressing the notion that the Sun and Moon were not absolutely identical 'lights'?
B. NATURE OF HEAVENLY BODIES
The Sun and the Moon
The Sun is a shining glory (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 (dw') 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.
--sura 25, verse 61:
"Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light."
--sura 71, 15-16:
"Did you see how God created seven heavens one above an other and made the moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp?"
--sura 78, verses 12-13:
"We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp."
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 known 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 phantasmagorial.
It is known that the Sun is a star that generates intense heat and light by its internal combustions, and that the Moon, which does not give of flight itself, and is an inert body (on its external layers at least) merely reflects the light received from the Sun.
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 own light.
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 sura:
--sura 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." [ Here, the sky and a star are used to bear witness to the importance of what is to come in the text.]
The evening star is qualified in the Qur'an by the word takib meaning 'that which pierces through something' (here the night shadows) . The same word is moreover used to designate shooting stars (sura 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.
The planets do not 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 (sum 12) refers to eleven of them, but the description is, by definition, an imaginary one.
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 'planet'.
Here is the text in question: (sura 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 (sura 6, verse 76; sura 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 sura 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 could easily be understood, except that the following verse (7) of the same sura 37 speaks of a 'guard against every rebellious evil spirit', 'guard' again being referred to in sura 21, verse 32 and sura 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, sura 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? [ It is known that when a meteorite arrives at the upper layers of the atmosphere, it may produce the luminous phenomenon of a 'shooting star'.]
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.
C. CELESTIAL ORGANIZATION
The information the Qur'an provides on this subject mainly deals with the solar system. References are however made to phenomena that go beyond the solar system itself: they have been discovered in recent times.
There are two very important verses on the orbits of the Sun and Moon:
--sura 21, verse 33:
"(God is) the One Who created the night, the day, the sun and the moon. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion."
--sura 36, verse 40:
"The sun must not catch up the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion."
Here an essential fact is clearly stated: the existence of the Sun's and Moon's orbits, plus a reference is made to the travelling of these bodies in space with their own motion.
A negative fact also emerges from a reading of these verses: it is shown that the Sun moves in an orbit, but no indication is given as to what this orbit might be in relation to the Earth. At the time of the Qur'anic Revelation, it was thought that the Sun moved while the Earth stood still. This was the system of geocentrism that had held sway since the time of ptolemy, Second century B.C., and was to continue to do so until Copernicus in the Sixteenth century A.D. Although people supported this concept at the time of Muhammad, it does not appear anywhere in the Qur'an, either here or elsewhere.
The Existence of the Moon's and the Sun's Orbits
The Arabic word falak has here been translated by the word 'orbit'. many French translators of the Qur'an attach to it the meaning of a 'sphere'. This is indeed its initial sense. Hamidullah translates it by the word 'orbit'.
The word caused concern to older translators of the Qur'an who were unable to imagine the circular course of the Moon and the Sun and therefore retained images of their course through space that were either more or less correct, or hopelessly wrong. Sir Hamza Boubekeur in his translation of the Qur'an cites the diversity of interpretations given to it: "A sort of axle, like an iron rod, that a mill turns around; a celestial sphere, orbit, sign of the zodiac, speed, wave . . .", but he adds the following observation made by Tabari, the famous Tenth century commentator: "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know." (XVII, 15). This shows just how incapable men were of understanding this concept of the Sun's and Moon's orbit. It is obvious that if the word had expressed an astronomical concept common in Muhammad's day, it would not have been so difficult to interpret these verses. A Dew concept therefore existed in the Qur'an that was not to be explained until centuries later.
1. The Moon's Orbit
Today, the concept is widely spread that the Moon is a satellite of the Earth around which it revolves in periods of twenty-nine days. A correction must however be made to the absolutely circular form of its orbit, since modern astronomy ascribes a certain eccentricity to this, so that the distance between the Earth and the Moon (240,000 miles) is only the average distance.
We have seen above how the Qur'an underlined the usefulness of observing the Moon's movements in calculating time (sura 10, verse 5, quoted at the beginning of this chapter.) This system has often been criticized for being archaic, impractical and unscientific in comparison to our system based on the Earth's rotation around the Sun, expressed today in the Julian calendar.
This criticism calls for the following two remarks:
a) Nearly fourteen centuries ago, the Qur'an was directed at the inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula who were used to the lunar calculation of time. It was advisable to address them in the only language they could understand and not to upset the habits they had of locating spatial and temporal reference-marks which were nevertheless quite efficient. It is known how well-versed men living in the desert are in the observation of the sky. they navigated according to the stars and told the time according to the phases of the Moon. Those were the simplest and most reliable means available to them.
b) Apart from the specialists in this field, most people are unaware of the perfect correlation between the Julian and the lunar calendar: 235 lunar months correspond exactly to 19 Julian years of 365 1/4 days. Then length of our year of 365 days is not perfect because it has to be rectified every four years (with a leap year) .
With the lunar calendar, the same phenomena occur every 19 years (Julian). This is the Metonic cycle, named after the Greek astronomer Meton, who discovered this exact correlation between solar and lunar time in the Fifth century B.C.
2. The Sun
It is more difficult to conceive of the Sun's orbit because we are so used to seeing our solar system organized around it. To understand the verse from the Qur'an, the position of the Sun in our galaxy must be considered, and we must therefore call on modern scientific ideas.
Our galaxy includes a very large number of stars spaced so as to form a disc that is denser at the centre than at the rim. The Sun occupies a position in it which is far removed from the centre of the disc. The galaxy revolves on its own axis which is its centre with the result that the Sun revolves around the same centre in a circular orbit. Modern astronomy has worked out the details of this. In 1917, Shapley estimated the distance between the Sun and the centre of our galaxy at 10 kiloparsecs i.e., in miles, circa the figure 2 followed by 17 zeros. To complete one revolution on its own axis, the galaxy and Sun take roughly 250 million years. The Sun travels at roughly 150 miles per second in the completion of this.
The above is the orbital movement of the Sun that was already referred to by the Qur'an fourteen centuries ago. The demonstration of the existence and details of this is one of the achievements of modern astronomy.
Reference to the Movement of the Moon and the Sun in Space With Their Own Motion
This concept does not appear in those translations of the Qur'an that have been made by men of letters. Since the latter know nothing about astronomy, they have translated the Arabic word that expresses this movement by one of the meanings the word has: 'to swim'. They have done this in both the French translations and the, otherwise remarkable, English translation by Yusuf Ali. [ Pub. Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore (Pakistan)]
The Arabic word referring to a movement with a self-propelled motion is the verb sabaha (yasbahuna in the text of the two verses). All the senses of the verb imply a movement that is associated with a motion that comes from the body in question. If the movement takes place in water, it is 'to swim'; it is 'to move by the action of one's own legs' if it takes place on land. For a movement that occurs in space, it is difficult to see how else this meaning implied in the word could be rendered other than by employing its original sense. Thus there seems to have been no mistranslation, for the following reasons.
-The Moon completes its rotating motion on its own axis at the same time as it revolves around the Earth, i.e. 291/2 days (approx.), so that it always has the same side facing us.
-The Sun takes roughly 25 days to revolve on its own axis. There are certain differences in its rotation at its equator and poles, (we shall not go into them here) but as a whole, the Sun is animated by a rotating motion.
It appears therefore that a verbal nuance in the Qur'an refers to the Sun and Moon's own motion. These motions of the two celestial bodies are confirmed by the data of modern science, and it is inconceivable that a man living in the Seventh century A.D.-however knowledgeable he might have been in his day (and this was certainly not true in Muhammad's case) -could have imagined them.
This view is sometimes contested by examples from great thinkers of antiquity who indisputably predicted certain data that modern science has verified. They could hardly have relied on scientific deduction however; their method of procedure was more one of philosophical reasoning. Thus the case of the pythagoreans is often advanced. In the Sixth century B.C., they defended the theory of the rotation of the Earth on its own axis and the movement of the planets around the Sun. This theory was to be confirmed by modern science. By comparing it with the case of the Pythagoreans, it is easy to put forward the hypothesis of Muhammad as being a brilliant thinker, who was supposed to have imagined all on his own what modern science was to discover centuries later. In so doing however, people quite simply forget to mention the other aspect of what these geniuses of philosophical reasoning produced, i.e. the colossal blunders that litter their work. It must be remembered for example, that the Pythagoreans also defended the theory whereby the Sun was fixed in space; they made it the centre of the world and only conceived of a celestial order that was centered on it. It is quite common in the works of the great philosophers of antiquity to find a mixture of valid and invalid ideas about the Universe. The brilliance of these human works comes from the advanced ideas they contain, but they should not make us overlook the mistaken concepts which have also been left to us. From a strictly scientific point of view, this is what distinguished them from the Qur'an. In the latter, many subjects are referred to that have a bearing on modern knowledge without one of them containing a statement that contradicts what has been established by present-day science.
The Sequence of Day and Night
At a time when it was held that the Earth was the centre of the world and that the Sun moved in relation to it, how could any one have failed to refer to the Sun's movement when talking of the sequence of night and day? This is not however referred to in the Qur'an and the subject is dealt with as follows:
--sura 7, verse 54:
"(God) covers the day with the night which is in haste to follow it . . ."
--sura 36, verse 37:
"And a sign for them (human beings) is the night. We strip it of the day and they are in darkness."
--sura 31, verse 29:
"Hast thou not seen how God merges the night into the day and merges the day into the night."
--sura 39, verse 5:
". . . He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night."
The first verse cited requires no comment. The second simply provides an image.
It is mainly the third and fourth verses quoted above that provide interesting material on the process of interpenetration and especially of winding the night upon the day and the day upon the night. (sura 39, verse 5)
'To coil' or 'to wind' seems, as in the French translation by R. Blachère, to be the best way of translating the Arabic verb kawwara. The original meaning of the verb is to 'coil' a turban around the head; the notion of coiling is preserved in all the other senses of the word.
What actually happens however in space? American astronauts have seen and photographed what happens from their spaceships, especially at a great distance from Earth, e.g. from the Moon. They saw how the Sun permanently lights up (except in the case of an eclipse) the half of the Earth's surface that is facing it, while the other half of the globe is in darkness. The Earth turns on its own axis and the lighting remains the same, so that an area in the form of a half-sphere makes one revolution around the Earth in twenty-four hours while the other half-sphere, that has remained in darkness, makes the same revolution in the same time. This perpetual rotation of night and day is quite clearly described in the Qur'an. It is easy for the human understanding to grasp this notion nowadays because we have the idea of the Sun's (relative) immobility and the Earth's rotation. This process of perpetual coiling, including the interpenetration of one sector by another is expressed in the Qur'an just as if the concept of the Earth's roundness had already been conceived at the time-which was obviously not the case.
Further to the above reflections on the sequence of day and night, one must also mention, with a quotation of some verses from the Qur'an, the idea that there is more than one Orient and one Occident. This is of purely descriptive interest because these phenomena rely on the most commonplace observations. The idea is mentioned here with the aim of reproducing as faithfully as possible all that the Qur'an has to say on this subject.
The following are examples:
--In sura 70 verse 40, the expression 'Lord of Orients and Occidents'.
--In sura 55, verse 17, the expression 'Lord of the two Orients and the two Occidents'.
--In sura 43, verse 38, a reference to the 'distance between the two Orients', an image intended to express the immense size of the distance separating the two points.
Anyone who carefully watches the sunrise and sunset knows that the Sun rises at different point of the Orient and sets at different points of the Occident, according to season. Bearings taken on each of the horizons define the extreme limits that mark the two Orients and Occidents, and between these there are points marked off throughout the year. The phenomenon described here is rather commonplace, but what mainly deserves attention in this chapter are the other. topics dealt with, where the description of astronomical phenomena referred to in the Qur'an is in keeping with modern data.
D. EVOLUTION OF THE HEAVENS
Having called modern concepts on the formation of the Universe to mind, reference was made to the evolution that took place, starting with primary nebula through to the formation of galaxies, stars and (for the solar system) the appearance of planets beginning with the Sun at a certain stage of its evolution. Modern data lead us to believe that in the solar system, and more generally in the Universe itself, this evolution is still continuing.
How can anybody who is aware of these ideas fail to make a comparison with certain statements found in the Qur'an in which the manifestations of divine Omnipotence are referred to.
The Qur'an reminds us several times that: "(God) subjected the sun and the moon: each one runs its course to an appointed term."
This sentence is to be found in sura 13, verse 2. sura 31, verse 29; sura 35, verse 13 and sura 39, verse 5.
In addition to this, the idea of a settled place is associated with the concept of a destination place in sura 36, verse 38: "The Sun runs its course to a settled place. This is the decree of the All Mighty, the Full of Knowledge."
'Settled place' is the translation of the word mustaqarr and there can be no doubt that the idea of an exact place is attached to it.
How do these statements fare when compared with data established by modern science?
The Qur'an gives an end to the Sun for its evolution and a destination place. It also provides the Moon with a settled place. To understand the possible meanings of these statements, we must remember what modern knowledge has to say about the evolution of the stars in general and the Sun in particular, and (by extension) the celestial bodies that automatically followed its movement through space, among them the Moon.
The Sun is a star that is roughly 4½ billion years old, according to experts in astrophysics. It is possible to distinguish a stage in its evolution, as one can for all the stars. At present, the Sun is at an early stage, characterized by the transformation of hydrogen atoms into helium atoms. Theoretically, this present stage should last another 5½ billion years according to calculations that allow a total of 10 billion years for the duration of the primary stage in a star of this kind. It has already been shown, in the case of these other stars, that this stage gives way to a second period characterized by the completion of the transformation of hydrogen into helium, with the resulting expansion of its external layers and the cooling of the Sun. In the final stage, its light is greatly diminished and density considerably increased; this is to be observed in the type of star known as a 'white dwarf'.
The above dates are only of interest in as far as they give a rough estimate of the time factor involved, what is worth remembering and is really the main point of the above, is the notion of an evolution. Modern data allow us to predict that, in a few billion years, the conditions prevailing in the solar system will not be the same as they are today. Like other stars whose transformations have been recorded until they reached their final stage, it is possible to predict an end to the Sun.
The second verse quoted above (sur'a 36, verse 38) referred to the Sun running its course towards a place of its own.
Modern astronomy has been able to locate it exactly and has even given it a name, the Solar. Apex: the solar. system is indeed evolving in space towards a point situated in the Constellation of Hercules (alpha lyrae) whose exact location is firmly established; it is moving at a speed already ascertained at something in the region of 12 miles per. second.
All these astronomical data deserve to be mentioned in relation to the two verses from the Qur'an, since it is possible to state that they appear to agree perfectly with modern scientific data.
The Expansion of the Universe
The expansion of the Universe is the most imposing discovery of modern science. Today it is a firmly established concept and the only debate centres around the way this is taking place.
It was first suggested by the general theory of relativity and is backed up by physics in the examination of the galactic spectrum; the regular movement towards the red section of their spectrum may be explained by the distancing of one galaxy from another. Thus the size of the Universe is probably constantly increasing and this increase will become bigger the further away the galaxies are from us. The speeds at which these celestial bodies are moving may, in the course of this perpetual expansion, go from fractions of the speed of light to speeds faster than this.
The following verse of the Qur' an (sura 51, verse 47) where God is speaking, may perhaps be compared with modern ideas:
"The heaven, We have built it with power. Verily. We are expanding it."
'Heaven' is the translation of the word sama' and this is exactly the extra-terrestrial world that is meant.
'We are expanding it' is the translation of the plural present participle musi'una of the verb ausa'a meaning 'to make wider, more spacious, to extend, to expand'.
Some translators who were unable to grasp the meaning of the latter provide translations that appear to me to be mistaken, e.g. "we give generously" (R. Blachère). Others sense the meaning, but are afraid to commit themselves: Hamidullah in his translation of the Qur'an talks of the widening of the heavens and space, but he includes a question mark. Finally, there are those who arm themselves with authorized scientific opinion in their commentaries and give the meaning stated here. This is true in the case of the Muntakab, a book of commentaries edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo. It refers to the expansion of the Universe in totally unambiguous terms.
E. THE CONQUEST OF SPACE
From this point of view, three verses of the Qur'an should command our full attention. One expresses, without any trace of ambiguity, what man should and will achieve in this field. In the other two, God refers for the sake of the unbelievers in Makka to the surprise they would have if they were able to raise themselves up to the Heavens; He alludes to a hypothesis which will not be realized for the latter.
1) The first of these verses is sura 55, verse 33: "O assembly of Jinns and Men, if you can penetrate regions of the heavens and the earth, then penetrate them! You will not penetrate them save with a Power." [ This verse is followed by an invitation to recognize God's blessings. It forms the subject of the whole of the sura that bears the title 'The Beneficent'.]
The translation given here needs some explanatory comment:
a) The word 'if' expresses in English a condition that is dependant upon a possibility and either an achievable or an unachievable hypothesis. Arabic is a language which is able to introduce a nuance into the condition which is much more explicit. There is one word to express the possibility (ida), another for the achievable hypothesis (in) and a third for the unachievable hypothesis expressed by the word (lau). The verse in question has it as an achievable hypothesis expressed by the word (in). The Qur'an therefore suggests the material possibility of a concrete realization. This subtle linguistic distinction formally rules out the purely mystic interpretation that some people have (quite wrongly) put on this verse.
b) God is addressing the spirits (jinn) and human beings (ins), and not essentially allegorical figures.
c) 'To penetrate' is the translation of the verb nafada followed by the preposition min. According to Kazimirski's dictionary, the phrase means 'to pass right through and come out on the other side of a body' (e.g. an arrow that comes out on the other side). It therefore suggests a deep penetration and emergence at the other end into the regions in question.
d) The Power (sultan) these men will have to achieve this enterprise would seem to come from the All-Mighty.
There can be no doubt that this verse indicates the possibility men will one day achieve what we today call (perhaps rather improperly) 'the conquest of space'. One must note that the text of the Qur'an predicts not only penetration through the regions of the Heavens, but also the Earth, i.e. the exploration of its depths.
2) The other two verses are taken from sura 15, (verses14 and 15). God is speaking of the unbelievers in Makka, as the context of this passage in the sura shows:
"Even if We opened unto them a gate to Heaven and they were to continue ascending therein, they would say. our sight is confused as in drunkenness. Nay, we are people bewitched."
The above expresses astonishment at a remarkable spectacle, different from anything man could imagine.
The conditional sentence is introduced here by the word lau which expresses a hypothesis that could never be realized as far as it concerned the people mentioned in these verses.
When talking of the conquest of space therefore, we have two passages in the text of the Qur'an: one of them refers to what will one day become a reality thanks to the powers of intelligence and ingenuity God will give to man, and the other describes an event that the unbelievers in Makka will never witness, hence its character of a condition never to be realized. The event will however be seen by others, as intimated in the first verse quoted above. It describes the human reactions to the unexpected spectacle that travellers in space will see. their confused sight, as in drunkenness, the feeling of being bewitched . . .
This is exactly how astronauts have experienced this remarkable adventure since the first human spaceflight around the world in 1961. It is known in actual fact how once one is above the Earth's atmosphere, the Heavens no longer have the azure appearance we see from Earth, which results from phenomena of absorption of the Sun's light into the layers of the atmosphere. The human observer in space above the Earth's atmosphere sees a black sky and the Earth seems to be surrounded by a halo of bluish colour due to the same phenomena of absorption of light by the Earth's atmosphere. The Moon has no atmosphere, however, and therefore appears in its true colors against the black background of the sky. It is a completely new spectacle therefore that presents itself to men in space, and the photographs of this spectacle are well known to present-day man.
Here again, it is difficult not to be impressed, when comparing the text of the Qur'an to the data of modern science, by statements that simply cannot be ascribed to the thought of a man who lived more than fourteen centuries ago.
As in the case of the subjects already examined, the verses of the Qur'an dealing with the Earth are dispersed throughout the Book. It is difficult to classify them, and the scheme adopted here is a personal one.
To explain them more clearly, one might begin by singling out a certain number of verses that deal with more than one subject at a time. These verses are largely general in their application and constitute an invitation extended to men to reflect on divine Beneficence by pondering on the examples provided.
Other groups of verses may be singled out which deal with more specific subjects, as follows:
--the water cycle and the seas.
--the Earth's relief.
--the Earth's atmosphere.
A. VERSES CONTAINING GENERAL STATEMENTS
Although these verses provide arguments intended to lead man to meditate on the Beneficence of God towards His creatures, here and there they contain statements that are interesting from the point of view of modern science. They are perhaps especially revealing by virtue of the fact that they do not express the varied beliefs concerning natural phenomena that were current at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation. These beliefs were later to be shown by scientific knowledge to be mistaken.
On the one hand, these verses express simple ideas readily understood by to those people to whom, for geographical reasons, the Qur'an was first directed: the inhabitants of Makka and Madina, the Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula. On the other hand, they contain reflections of a general nature from which a more cultivated public of any time and place may learn something instructive, once it starts to think about them: this is a mark of the Qur'an's universality.
As there is apparently no classification of such verses in the Qur'an, they are presented here in the numerical order of the suras:
--sura 2, verse 22:
"(God) is the One who made the earth a couch for you and the heavens an edifice, and sent down water from the sky. He brought forth therewith fruits for your sustenance. Do not join equals with God when you know."
--sura 2, verse 164:
"Behold! In the creation of the heavens and the earth,
In the disparity of night and day,
In the ship which runs upon the sea for the profit of mankind,
In the water which God sent down from the sky thereby reviving the earth after its death,
In the beasts of all kinds He scatters therein,
In the change of the winds and the subjected clouds between the sky and earth,
Here are Signs for people who are wise."
--sura 13, verse 3:
"(God) is the One who spread out the earth and set therein mountains standing firm and rivers. For every fruit He placed two of a pair. He covers the day with the night. Verily in this there are Signs for people who reflect."
--sura 15, verses 19 to 21. God is speaking:
"The earth, We spread it out and set thereon mountains standing firm. We caused all kind of things to grow therein in due balance. Therein W e have provided you and those you do not supply with means of subsistence and there is not a thing but its stores are with Us. We do not send it down save in appointed measure."
--sura 20, verses 53 and 54:
"(God is) the One Who has made for you the earth like a cradle and inserted roads into it for you. He sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought forth pairs of plants, each separate from the other. Eat! Pasture your cattle ! Verily in this are Signs for people endued with intelligence."
--sura 27, verse 61:
"He Who made the earth an abode and set rivers in its interstices and mountains standing firm. He placed a barrier between the two seas. Is there any divinity besides God? Nay, but most people do not know."
Here a reference is made to the general stability of the Earth's crust. It is known that at the early stages of the Earth's existence before its crust cooled down, the latter was unstable. The stability of the Earth's crust is not however strictly uniform, since there are zones where earthquakes intermittently occur. As to the barrier between the two seas, it is an image which signifies that the waters of the great rivers and the waters of the sea do not mix at the level of certain large estuaries.
--sura 67, verse 15:
"(God is) the One Who made the earth docile to you. So walk upon its shoulders! Eat of His sustenance! Unto Him will be the Resurrection."
--sura 79, verses 30-33:
"After that (God) spread the earth out. Therefrom He drew out its water and its pasture. And the mountains He has firmly fixed. Goods for you and for your cattle."
In many such verses, emphasis is laid upon the importance of water and the practical consequences of its presence in the earth's soil, i.e. the fertility of the soil. There can be no doubt that in desert countries, water is the most important element governing man's survival. The reference in the Qur'an however goes beyond this geographical detail. According to scientific knowledge the character the Earth has of a planet that is rich in water is unique to the solar system, and this is exactly what is highlighted in the Qur'an. Without water, the Earth would be a dead planet like the Moon. The Qur'an gives first place to water among the natural phenomena of the Earth that it refers to. The water cycle is described with remarkable accuracy in the Qur'an.
B. THE WATER CYCLE AND THE SEAS
When the verses of the Qur'an concerning the role of water in man's existence are read in succession today. they all appear to us to express ideas that are quite obvious. The reason for this is simple: in our day and age, we all, to a lesser or greater extent, know about the water cycle in nature.
If however, we consider the various concepts the ancients had on this subject, it becomes clear that the data in the Qur'an do not embody the mythical concepts current at the time of the Revelation which had been developed more according to philosophical speculation than observed phenomena. Although it was empirically possible to acquire on a modest scale, the useful practical knowledge necessary for the improvement of the irrigation, the concepts held on the water cycle in general would hardly be acceptable today.
Thus it would have been easy to imagine that underground water could have come from the infiltration of precipitations in the soil. In ancient times however, this idea, held by Vitruvius Polio Marcus in Rome, 1st century B.C., was cited as an exception. For many centuries therefore (and the Qur'anic Revelation is situated during this period) man held totally inaccurate views on the water cycle.
Two specialists on this subject, G. Gastany and B. Blavoux, in their entry in the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) under the heading Hydrogeology (Hydrogéologie), give an edifying history of this problem.
"In the Seventh century B.C., Thales of Miletus held the theory whereby the waters of the oceans, under the effect of winds, were thrust towards the interior of the continents; so the water fell upon the earth and penetrated into the soil. Plato shared these views and thought that the return of the waters to the oceans was via a great abyss, the 'Tartarus'. This theory had many supporters until the Eighteenth century, one of whom was Descartes. Aristotle imagined that the water vapour from the soil condensed in cool mountain caverns and formed underground lakes that fed springs. He was followed by Seneca (1st Century A.D.) and many others, until 1877, among them O. Volger . . . The first clear formulation of the water cycle must be attributed to Bernard Palissy in 1580. he claimed that underground water came from rainwater infiltrating into the soil. This theory was confirmed by E. Mariotte and P. Perrault in the Seventeenth century.
In the following passages from the Qur'an, there is no trace of the mistaken ideas that were current at the time of Muhammad:
--sura 50, verses 9 to 11:
"We [ Whenever the pronoun 'We' appears in the verses of the text quoted here, it refers to God.] sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens, grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the other-sustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We gave (new) life to a dead land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs)."
--sura 23, verses 18 and 19:
"We sent down water from the sky in measure and lodged it in the ground. And We certainly are able to withdraw it. Therewith for you We gave rise to gardens of palm-trees and vineyards where for you are abundant fruits and of them you eat."
--sura 15, verse 22:
"We sent forth the winds that fecundate. We cause the water to descend from the sky. We provide you with the water-you (could) not be the guardians of its reserves."
There are two possible interpretations of this last verse. The fecundating winds may be taken to be the fertilizers of plants because they carry pollen. This may, however, be a figurative expression referring by analogy to the role the wind plays in the process whereby a non-raincarrying cloud is turned into one that produces a shower of rain. This role is often referred to, as in the following verses:
--sura 35, verse 9:
"God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. We drive them to a dead land. Therewith We revive the ground after its death. So will be the Resurrection."
It should be noted how the style is descriptive in the first part of the verse, then passes without transition to a declaration from God. Such sudden changes in the form of the narration are very frequent in the Qur'an.
--sura 30, verse 48:
"God is the One Who sends forth the winds which raised up the clouds. He spreads them in the sky as He wills and breaks them into fragments. Then thou seest raindrops issuing from within them. He makes them reach such of His servants as He wills. And they are rejoicing."
--sura 7, verse 57:
"(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. When they have carried the heavy-laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land. Then We cause water to descend and thereby bring forth fruits of every kind. Thus We will bring forth the dead. Maybe you will remember."
--sura 25, verses 48 and 49:
"(God) is the One Who sends forth the winds like heralds of His Mercy. We cause pure water to descend in order to revive a dead land with it and to supply with drink the multitude of cattle and human beings We have created."
--sura 45, verse 5:
". . . In the provision that God sends down from the sky and thereby He revives the ground after its death and in the change (of direction) of winds, there are Signs for people who are wise."
The provision made in this last verse is in the form of the water sent down from the sky, as the context shows. The accent is on the change of the winds that modify the rain cycle.
--sure 13, verse 17:
"(God) sends water down from the sky so that the rivers flow according to their measure. The torrent bears away an increasing foam."
-sura 67, verse 30, God commands the Prophet:
"Say. Do you see if your water were to be lost in the ground, who then can supply you with gushing water?"
-sura 39, verse 21:
"Hast thou not seen that God sent water down from the sky and led it through sources into the ground? Then He caused sown fields of different colors to grow."
--sura 36, verse 34:
"Therein We placed gardens of palm-trees and vineyards and We caused water springs to gush forth."
The importance of springs and the way they are fed by rainwater conducted into them is stressed in the last three verses. It is worth pausing to examine this fact and call to mind the predominance in the Middle Ages of views such as those held by Aristotle, according to whom springs were fed by underground lakes. In his entry on Hydrology (Hydrologie) in the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) M.R. Remenieras, a teacher at the French National School of Agronomy (Ecole nationale du Genie rural, des Eaux et Forêts), describes the main stages of hydrology and refers to the magnificent irrigation works of the ancients, particularly in the Middle East. He notes however that an empirical outlook ruled over everything, since the ideas of the time proceeded from mistaken concepts. He continues as follows:
"It was not until the Renaissance (between circa 1400 and 1600) that purely philosophical concepts gave way to research based on the objective observation of hydrologic phenomena. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) rebelled against Aristotle's statements. Bernard Palissy, in his Wonderful discourse on the nature of waters and fountains both natural and artificial (Discours admirable de la nature des eaux et fontaines tant naturelles qu'artificielles (Paris, 1570)) gives a correct interpretation of the water cycle and especially of the way springs are fed by rainwater."
This last statement is surely exactly what is mentioned in verse 21, sura 39 describing the way rainwater is conducted into sources in the ground.
The subject of verse 43, sura 24 is rain and hail:
"Hast thou not seen that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them a heap. And thou seest raindrops issuing from within it. He sends down from the sky mountains of hail, He strikes therewith whom He wills and He turns it away from whom He wills. The flashing of its lightning almost snatches away the sight." The following passage requires some comment:
--sura 56, verses 68-70:
"Have you observed the water you drink? Do you bring it down from the rainclouds? Or do We? If it were Our will, We could make it salty. Then why are you not thankful?"
This reference to the fact that God could have made fresh water salty is a way of expressing divine Omnipotence. Another means of reminding us of the same Omnipotence is the challenge to man to make rain fall from the clouds. In modern times however, technology has surely made it possible to create rain artificially. Can one therefore oppose the statement in the Qur'an to man's ability to produce precipitations?
The answer is no, because it seems clear that one must take account of man's limitations in this field. M.A. Facy, an expert at the French Meteorological Office, wrote the following in the Universalis Encyclopedia (Encyclopedia Universalis) under the heading Precipitations (Precipitations): "It will never be possible to make rain fall from a cloud that does not have the suitable characteristics of a raincloud or one that has not yet reached the appropriate stage of evolution (maturity)". Man can never therefore hasten the precipitation process by technical means when the natural conditions for it are not present. If this were not the case, droughts would never occur in practice-which they obviously do. To have control over rain and fine weather still remains a dream therefore.
Man cannot willfully break the established cycle that maintains the circulation of water in nature. This cycle may be outlined as follows, according to modern ideas on hydrology.
The calories obtained from the Sun's rays cause the sea and those parts of the Earth's surface that are covered or soaked in water to evaporate. The water vapour that is given off rises into the atmosphere and, by condensation, forms into clouds. The winds then intervene and move the clouds thus formed over varying distances. The clouds can then either disperse without producing rain, or combine their mass with others to create even greater condensation, or they can fragment and produce rain at some stages in their evolution. When rain reaches the sea (70% of the Earth's surface is covered by seas), the cycle is soon repeated. When rain falls on the land, it may be absorbed by vegetation and thus aid the latter's growth; the vegetation in its turn gives off water and thus returns some water to the atmosphere. The rest, to a lesser or greater extent, infiltrates into the soil, whence it is either conducted through channels into the sea, or comes back to the Earth's surface. network through springs or resurgences.
When one compares the modern data of hydrology to what is contained in the numerous verses of the Qur'an quoted in this paragraph, one has to admit that there is a remarkable degree of agreement between them.
Whereas the above verses from the Qur'an have provided material for comparison between modern knowledge about the water cycle in nature, this is not the case for the seas. There is not a single statement in the Qur'an dealing with the seas which could be used for comparison with scientific data per se. This does not diminish the necessity of pointing out however that none of the statements in the Qur'an on the seas refers to the beliefs, myths or superstitions prevalent at the time of its Revelation.
A certain number of verses deal with the seas and navigation. As subjects for reflection, they provide indications of divine Omnipotence that arise from the facts of common observation. The following verses are examples of this:
--sura 14, verse 32:
"(God) has made the ship subject to you, so that it runs upon the sea at His Command."
--sura 16, verse 14:
"(God) is the One Who subjected the sea, so that you eat fresh meat from it and you extract from it ornaments which you wear. Thou seest the ships plowing the waves, so that you seek of His Bounty. Maybe, you will be thankful."
--sura 31, verse 31:
"Hast thou seen that the ship runs upon the sea by the Grace of God, in order to show you His signs. Verily in this are Signs for all who are persevering and grateful."
--sura 55, verse 24:
"His are the ships erected upon the sea like tokens."
--sura 36, verse 41-44:
"A sign for them is that We bore their offspring in the loaded Ark. We have created for them similar (vessels) on which they ride. If We will, We drown them and there is no help and they will not be saved unless by Mercy from Us and as a gratification for a time."
The reference here is quite clearly to the vessel bearing man upon the sea, just as, long ago, Noah and the other occupants of the vessel were carried in the Ark that enabled them to reach dry land.
Another observed fact concerning the sea stands out, because of its unusual nature, from the verses of the Qur'an devoted to it: three verses refer to certain characteristics shared by great rivers when they flow out into the ocean.
The phenomenon is well known and often seen whereby the immediate mixing of salty seawater and fresh riverwater does not occur. The Qur'an refers to this in the case of what is thought to be the estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates where they unite to form what one might call a 'sea' over 100 miles long, the Shatt Al Arab. At the inner parts of the gulf, the effect of the tides is to produce the welcome phenomenon of the reflux of fresh water to the interior of the dry land, thus ensuring adequate irrigation. To understand the text correctly, one has to know that the English word 'sea' conveys the general meaning of the Arabic word bahr which designates a large mass of water and is equally used for both the sea and the great rivers: the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates for example.
The following are the three verses that describe this phenomenon:
--sura 25, verse 53:
"(God) is the One Who has let free the two seas, one is agreeable and sweet, the other salty and bitter. He placed a barrier between them, a partition that it is forbidden to pass."
--sura 35, verse 12:
"The two seas are not alike. The water of one is agreeable, sweet, pleasant to drink. The other salty and bitter. You eat fresh meat from it and you extract from it ornaments which you wear."
--sura 55, verses 19, 20 and 22:
"He has loosed the two seas. They meet together. Between them there is a barrier which they do not transgress. Out of them come pearls and coral."
In addition to the description of the main fact, these verses refer to what may be obtained from fresh water and seawater: fish, personal adornment, i.e. coral and pearls. With regard to the phenomenon whereby the river water does not mix with seawater at the estuary, one must understand that this is not peculiar to the Tigris and Euphrates; they are not mentioned by name in the text, but it is thought to refer to them. Rivers with a very large outflow, such as the Mississippi and the Yangtze, have the same peculiarity. the mixing of their fresh water with the salty water of the sea does not often occur until very far out at sea.
C. THE EARTH'S RELIEF
The constitution of the Earth is highly complex. Today, it is possible to imagine it very roughly as being formed of a deep layer, at very high temperature, and especially of a central area where rocks are still in fusion, and of a surface layer, the Earth's crust which is solid and cold. The crust is very thin; its thickness is estimated in units of miles or units of ten miles at the most. The Earth's radius is however slightly over 3,750 miles, so that its crust does not represent (on average) one hundredth of the of the sphere's radius. It is upon this skin, as it were, that all geological phenomena have taken place. At the origin of these phenomena are folds that were to form the mountain ranges; their formation is called 'orogenesis' in geology. the process is of considerable importance because with the development of a relief that was to constitute a mountain, the Earth's crust was driven in proportionately far down: this process ensures a foundation in the layer that underlies it.
The history of the distribution of the sea and land on the surface of the globe has only recently been established and is still very incomplete, even for the most recent and best known periods. It is likely that the oceans appeared and formed the hydrosphere circa half a billion years ago. The continents were probably a single mass at the end of the primary era, then subsequently broke apart. Some continents or parts of continents have moreover emerged through the formation of mountains in maritime zones (e.g. the North Atlantic continent and part of Europe).
According to modern ideas, the dominating factor in the formation of the land that emerged was the development of mountain ranges. The evolution of the land, from the primary to the quaternary era, is classed according to 'orogenic phases' that are themselves grouped into 'cycles' of the same name since the formation of all mountains reliefs had repercussions on the balance between the sea and the continents. It made some parts of the land disappear and others emerge, and for hundreds of millions of years it has altered the surface distribution of the continents and oceans: the former at present only occupying three tenths of the surface of this planet.
In this way it is possible to give a very rough outline of the transformations that have taken place over the last hundreds of millions of years.
When referring to the Earth's relief, the Qur'an only describes, as it were, the formation of the mountains. Seen from the present point of view, there is indeed little one can say about the verses that only express God's Beneficence to man with regard to the Earth's formation, as in the following verses:
--sura 71, verses 19 and 20:
"For you God made the earth a carpet so that you travel along its roads and the paths of valleys."
--sura 51, verse 48:
"The earth, We have spread it out. How excellently We did that."
The carpet which has been spread out is the Earth's crust, a solidified shell on which we can live, since the globe's sub-strata are very hot, fluid and hostile to any form of life.
The statements in the Qur'an referring to the mountains and the references to their stability subsequent to the phenomenon of the folds are very important.
--sura 88, verses 19 & 20. The context invites unbelievers to consider certain natural phenomena, among them:
". . . the mountains, how they have been pitched (like a tent).
The Earth how it was made even."
The following verses give details about the way in which the mountains were anchored in the ground:
--sura 78, verses 6 & 7:
"Have We not made the earth an expanse and the mountains stakes."
The stakes referred to are the ones used to anchor a tent in the ground (autad, plural of watad).
Modern geologists describe the folds in the Earth as giving foundations to the mountains, and their dimensions go roughly one mile to roughly 10 miles. The stability of the Earth's crust results from the phenomenon of these folds.
So it is not surprising to find reflections on the mountains in certain passages of the Qur'an, such as the following:
--sura 79, verse 32:
"And the mountains (God) has fixed them firmly."
--sura 31, verse 10:
"(God) has cast into the ground (mountains) standing firm, so that it does not shake with you."
The same phrase is repeated in sura 16, verse 15; and the same idea is expressed with hardly any change in sura 21, verse 31:
"We have placed in the ground (mountains) standing firm so that it does not shake with them."
These verses express the idea that the way the mountains are laid out ensures stability and is in complete agreement with geological data.
D. THE EARTH'S ATMOSPHERE
In addition to certain statements specifically relating to the sky, examined in the preceding chapter, the Qur'an contains several passages dealing with the phenomena that occur in the atmosphere. As for the comparison between them and the data of modern science, it is to be noted here, as elsewhere, that there is absolutely no contradiction between today's modern scientific knowledge and the phenomena described.
A familiar feeling of discomfort experienced at high altitude, which increases the higher one climbs, is expressed in verse 125, sura 6:
"Those whom God wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam. Those whom He wills lose their way, He makes their breast narrow and constricted, as if they were climbing in the sky."
Some commentators have claimed that the notion of discomfort at high altitude was unknown to the Arabs of Muhammad's time. It appears that this was not true at all: the existence on the Arabian Peninsula of peaks rising over two miles high makes it extremely implausible that they should not have known of the difficulty of breathing at high altitude. [ 1. The city of Sanaa, the capital of the Yemen, was inhabited in Muhammad's time. It lies at an altitude of nearly 7,900 feet above sea level.] Others have seen in this verse a prediction of the conquest of space, an opinion that appears to require categorical denial, at least for this passage.
Electricity in the Atmosphere
Electricity in the atmosphere and the consequences of this, i.e. lightning and hail, are referred to in the following verses:
--sura 13, verses 12-13:
"(God) is the One Who shows you the lightning, with fear and covetousness. He raised up the heavy clouds. The thunder glorifies His Praise and so do the angels for awe. He sends the thunder-bolt and strikes with them who He wills while they are disputing about God. He is All Mighty in His Power."
--sura 24, verse 43 (already quoted in this chapter):
"Hast thou not seen that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them a heap. And thou seest raindrops issuing from within it. He sends down from the sky mountains of hail, He strikes therewith whom He wills and He turns it away from whom He wills. The flashing of its lightning almost snatches away the sight."
In these two verses there is the expression of an obvious correlation between the formation of heavy rainclouds or clouds containing hail and the occurrence of lightning. the former, the subject of covetousness on account of the benefit it represents and the latter, the subject of fear, because when it falls, it is at the will of the All-Mighty. The connection between the two phenomena is verified by present-day knowledge of electricity in the atmosphere.
The phenomenon of shadows and the fact that they move is very simply explained today. It forms the subject of the following observations:
-sura 16, verse 81:
"Out of the things He created, God has given you shade . . ."
--sura 16, verse 48:
"Have (the Unbelievers) not observed that for all the things God created, how their shadow shifts right and left, prostating themselves to God while they are full of humility."
--sura 25, verses 45 and 46:
"Hast thou not seen how thy Lord has spread the shade. If He willed, He could have made it stationary. Moreover We made the sun its guide and We withdraw it towards Us easily."
Apart from the phrases dealing with the humility before God of all the things He created, including their shadow, and the fact that God can take back all manifestations of His Power, as He wills, the text of the Qur'an refers to the relationship between the Sun and the shadows. One must bear in mind at this point the fact that, in Muhammad's day, it was believed that the way a shadow moved was governed by the movement of the sun from east to west. This principle was applied in the case of the sundial to measure the time between sunrise and sunset. In this instance, the Qur'an speaks of the phenomenon without referring to the explanation current at the time of the Revelation. It would have been readily accepted for many centuries by those who came after Muhammad. In the end however, it would have been shown to be inaccurate. The Qur'an only talks moreover of the function the sun has as an indicator of shadow. Evidently there is no contradiction between the way the Qur'an describes shadow and what we know of this phenomenon in modern times.
The Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms
Numerous verses describing the origins of life have been assembled in this chapter, along with certain aspects of the vegetable kingdom and general or specific topics relating to the animal kingdom. The grouping of verses scattered throughout the Book affords a general view of the data the Qur'an contains on these subjects.
In the case of the subject of this and the following chapter, the examination of the Qur'anic text has sometimes been particularly delicate on account of certain difficulties inherent in the vocabulary. These have only been overcome through the fact that scientific data which have a bearing on the subject have been taken into consideration. It is particularly so in the case of living beings, i.e. animal, vegetable and human, where a confrontation with the teachings of science is shown to be indispensable in the search for the meaning of certain statements on these topics contained in the Qur'an.
It will become clear that numerous translations of these passages in the Qur'an, made by men of letters, must be deemed inaccurate by the scientist. The same holds true for commentaries made by those who do not possess the scientific knowledge necessary for an understanding of the text.
A. THE ORIGINS OF LIFE
This question has always preoccupied man, both for himself and for the living things around him. It will be examined here from a general point of view. The case of man, whose appearance on Earth and reproduction processes are the subject of lengthy exposés, will be dealt with in the next chapter.
When the Qur'an describes the origins of life on a very broad basis, it is extremely concise. It does so in a verse that also mentions the process of the formation of the Universe, already quoted and commented on:
--sura 21, verse 30:
"Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together, then We clove them asunder and We got every living thing out of the water. Will they then not believe?"
The notion of 'getting something out of something' does not give rise to any doubts. The phrase can equally mean that every living thing was made of water (as its essential component) or that every living thing originated in water. The two possible meanings are strictly in accordance with scientific data. Life is in fact of aquatic origin and water is the major component of all living cells. Without water, life is not possible. When the possibility of life on another planet is discussed, the first question is always: does it contain a sufficient quantity of water to support life?
Modern data lead us to think that the oldest living being must have belonged to the vegetable kingdom: algae have been found that date from the pre-Cambrian period, i.e. the time of the oldest known lands. Organisms belonging to the animal kingdom probably appeared slightly later. they too came from the sea.
What has been translated here by 'water' is the word ma' which means both water in the sky and water in the sea, plus any kind of liquid. In the first meaning, water is the element necessary to all vegetable life:
--sura 20, verse 53.
"(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought forth pairs of plants each separate from the other."
This is the first reference to the notion of a pair in the vegetable kingdom. We shall return to this later.
In the second meaning, a liquid without any further indication of what kind, the word is used in its indeterminate form to designate what is at the basis of the formation of all animal life:
-sura 24, verse 45:
"God created every animal from water."
We shall see further on how this word may also be applied to seminal fluid [ It is secreted by the reproductive glands and contains spermatozoons.].
Whether it deals therefore with the origins of life in general, or the element that gives birth to plants in the soil, or the seed of animals, all the statements contained in the Qur'an on the origin of life are strictly in accordance with modern scientific data. None of the myths on the origins of life that abounded at the time the Qur'an appeared are mentioned in the text.
B. THE VEGETABLE KINGDOM
It is not possible to quote in their entirety all the numerous passages in the Qur'an in which divine Beneficence is referred to concerning the salutary effect of the rain which makes vegetation grow. Here are just three verses on this subject:
--sura 16, verses 10 and 11:
"(God) is the One Who sends water down from the sky. For you this is a drink and out of it (grow) shrubs in which you let (cattle) graze freely. Therewith for you He makes sown fields, olives, palm-trees, vineyards and all kinds of fruit grow."
--sura 6, verse 99:
"(God) is the One Who sent water down from the sky. Therewith We brought forth plants of all kinds and from them the verdure and We brought forth from it the clustered grains, and from the palm-tree its spathes with bunches of dates (hanging) low, the gardens of grapes, olives and pomegranates similar and different. Look at their fruit, when they bear it, and their ripening. Verily, in that there are signs for people who believe."
--sura 50, verses 9-11:
"We sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We caused to grow gardens, grains for harvest, tall palm-trees with their spathes, piled one above the other-sustenance for (Our) servants. Therewith We give (new) life to a dead land. So will be the emergence (from the tombs)."
The Qur'an adds to these general data others that refer to more specialized subjects:
Balance in the Vegetable Kingdom
--sura 15, verse 19:
"The earth . . . We caused all kinds of things to grow therein in due balance."
The Different Qualities of Various Foods
--sura 13, verse 4:
"On the earth are adjacent parts; vineyards, sown fields, palm-trees, similar and not similar, watered with the same water. We make some of them more excellent than others to eat and verily in this are signs for wise people."
It is interesting to note the existence of these verses because they show the sober quality of the terms used, and the absence of any description that might highlight the beliefs of the times, rather than fundamental truths. What particularly attracts our attention however, are the statements in the Qur'an concerning reproduction in the vegetable kingdom.
Reproduction in the Vegetable Kingdom
One must bear in mind that there are two methods of reproduction in the vegetable kingdom: one sexual, the other asexual. It is only the first which in fact deserves the term 'reproduction', because this defines a biological process whose purpose is the appearance of a new individual identical to the one that gave it birth.
Asexual reproduction is quite simply multiplication. It is the result of the fragmentation of an organism which has separated from the main plant and developed in such a way as to resemble the plant from which it came. It is considered by Guilliermond and Mangenot to be a 'special case of growth'. A very simple example of this is the cutting. a cutting taken from a plant is placed in suitably watered soil and regenerated by the growth of new roots. Some plants have organs specially designed for this, while others give off spores that behave like seeds, as it were, (it should be remembered that seeds are the results of a process of sexual reproduction).
Sexual reproduction in the vegetable kingdom is carried out by the coupling of the male and female parts of the generic formations united on a same plant or located on separate plants.
This is the only form that is mentioned in the Qur'an.
-aura 20, verse 53:
"(God is the One Who) sent water down from the sky and thereby We brought forth pairs of plants each separate from the other."
'One of a pair' is the translation of zauj (plural azwaj) whose original meaning is: 'that which, in the company of another, forms a pair'; the word is used just as readily for a married couple as for a pair of shoes.
--sura 22, verse 5:
"Thou seest the grounds lifeless. When We send down water thereon it shakes and grows and puts forth every magnificent pair (of plants)."
--sura 31, verse 10:
"We caused to grow (on the earth) every noble pair (of plants)."
--sura 13, verse 3:
"Of all fruits (God) placed (on the earth) two of a pair."
We know that fruit is the end-product of the reproduction process of superior plants which have the most highly developed and complex organization. The stage preceding fruit is the flower, which has male and female organs (stamens and ovules). The latter, once pollen has been carried to them, bear fruit which in turn matures and frees it seeds. All fruit therefore implies the existence of male and female organs. This is the meaning of the verse in the Qur'an.
It must be noted that for certain species, fruit can come from non-fertilized flowers (parthenocarpic fruit), e.g. bananas, certain types of pineapple, fig, orange, and vine. They can nevertheless also come from plants that have definite sexual characteristics.
The culmination of the reproductive process comes with the germination of the seed once its outside casing is opened (sometimes it is compacted into a fruit-stone). This opening allows roots to emerge which draw from the soil all that is necessary for the plant's slowed-down life as a seed while it grows and produces a new plant.
A verse in the Qur'an refers to this process of germination:
--sura 6, verse 95:
"Verily, God splits the grain and the fruit-stone."
The Qur'an often restates the existence of these components of a pair in the vegetable kingdom and brings the notion of a couple into a more general context, without set limits:
--sura 36, Verse 36:
"Glory be to Him Who created the components of couples of every kind: of what the ground caused to grow, of themselves (human beings) and of what you do not know."
One could form many hypotheses concerning the meaning of the 'things men did not know' in Muhammad's day. Today we can distinguish structures or coupled functions for them, going from the infinitesimally small to the infinitely large, in the living as well as the non-living world. The point is to remember these clearly expressed ideas and note, once again, that they are in perfect agreement with modern science.
C. THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
There are several questions in the Qur'an concerning the animal kingdom which are the subject of comments that call for a confrontation with modern scientific knowledge. Here again, however, one would gain an incomplete view of all that the Qur'an contains on this subject if one were to leave out a passage such as the extract which follows. In this passage, the creation of certain elements in the animal kingdom is described with the purpose of making man reflect upon the divine Beneficence extended to him. It is quoted basically to provide an example of the way in which the Qur'an describes the harmonious adaptation of Creation to man's needs; it relates in particular the case of those people who live in a rural setting, since there is nothing that could be examined from a different point of view.
-sura 16, verses 5 to 8:
"(God) created cattle for you and (you find) in them warmth, useful services and food, sense of beauty when you bring them home and when you take them to pasture. They bear your heavy loads to lands you could not reach except with great personal effort. Verily, your Lord is Compassionate and Merciful; (He created) horses, mules and donkeys for you to ride and for ornament. And He created what you do not know."
Alongside these general remarks, the Qur'an sets out certain data on highly diversified subjects:
--reproduction in the animal kingdom.
--references to the existence of animal communities.
--statements concerning bees, spiders and birds.
--remarks on the source of constituents of animal milk.
1. Reproduction in the Animal Kingdom
This is very summarily dealt with in verses 45 and 46, sura 53:
"(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small quantity of liquid when it is poured out."
The 'pair' is the same expression that we have already encountered in the verses which deal with reproduction in the vegetable kingdom. Here, the sexes are given. The detail which is absolutely remarkable is the precision with which it is stated that a small quantity of liquid is required for reproduction. The word itself signifying 'sperm' is used. The relevance of this remark will be commented upon in the next chapter.
2. References to the Existence of Animal Communities
--sura 6, Verse 38:
"There is no animal on earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book (of Decrees). Then to their Lord they will be gathered."
There are several points in this verse which require comment. Firstly, it would seem that there is a description of what happens to animals after their death: Islam does not apparently, have any doctrine on this point. Then there is predestination in general [ We saw in the Introduction to the third part of this book what one was expected to believe about predestination in its application to man himself.] which would seem to be mentioned here. It could be conceived as absolute predestination or relative, i.e. limited to structures and a functional organization that condition modes of behaviour: the animal acts upon various exterior impulses in terms of a particular conditioning.
Blachère states that an older commentator, such as Razi, thought that this verse only referred to instinctive actions whereby animals worship God. Sheik Si Boubakeur Hamza, in the commentary to his translation of the Koran, speaks of "the instinct which, according to Divine Wisdom, pushes all beings to group together, so that they demand that the work of each member serve the whole group."
Animal behaviour has been closely investigated in recent decades, with the result that genuine animal communities have been shown to exist. Of course, for a long time now the results of a group or community's work have been examined and this has led to the acceptance of a community organization. It has only been recently however, that the mechanisms which preside over this kind of organization have been discovered for certain species. The most studied and best known case is undoubtedly that of bees, to whose behaviour the name von Frisch is linked. Von Frisch, Lorenz and Tinbergen received the 1973 Nobel Prize for their work in this field.
3. Statements Concerning Bees, Spiders and Birds
When specialists on the nervous system wish to provide striking examples of the prodigious organization directing animal behaviour, possibly the animals referred to most frequently are bees, spiders and birds (especially migratory birds). Whatever the case, there is no doubt that these three groups constitute a model of highly evolved organization.
The fact that the text of the Qur'an refers to this exemplary trio in the animal kingdom is in absolute keeping with the exceptionally interesting character that each of these animals has from a scientific point of view.
In the Qur'an, bees are the subject of the longest commentary:
--Sura 16, verses 68 and 69: [ One might note in passing, that this last verse is the only one in the Qur'an that refers to the possibility of a remedy for man. Honey can indeed be useful for certain diseases. Nowhere else in the Qur'an is a reference made to any remedial arts, contrary to what may have been said about this subject.]
"Thy Lord inspired the bees: Choose your dwelling in the hills, in the trees and in what (man) built. Eat of all fruit and follow the ways of your Lord in humility. From within their bodies comes a liquor of different colours where is a remedy for men."
It is difficult to know what exactly is meant by the order to follow the ways of the Lord in humility, unless it is to be seen in general terms. All that may be said, with regard to the knowledge that has been gained of their behaviour, is that here-as in each of the three animal eases mentioned as examples in the Qur'an-there is a remarkable nervous organization supporting their behaviour. It is known that the pattern of a bee's dance is a means of communication to other bees; in this way, bees are able to convey to their own species the direction and distance of flowers from which nectar is to be gathered. The famous experiment performed by von Frisch has shown the meaning of this insect's movement which is intented to transmit information between worker bees.
Spiders are mentioned in the Qur'an to stress the flimsiness of their dwelling which is the most fragile of all. They have a refuge that is as precarious, according to the Qur'an, as the dwelling of those who have chosen masters other than God.
--sura 29, verse 41:
"Those who choose masters other than God are like the spider when it takes for itself a dwelling. Verily, the flimsiest dwelling is the dwelling of the spider. If they but knew."
A spider's web is indeed constituted of silken threads secreted by the animal's glands and their calibre is infinitely fine. Its fragility cannot be imitated by man. Naturalists are intrigued by the extraordinary pattern of work recorded by the animal's nervous cells, which allows it to produce a geometrically perfect web.
Birds are frequently mentioned in the Qur'an. They appear in episodes in the life of Abraham, Joseph, David, Solomon and Jesus. These references do not however have any bearing on the subject in hand.
The verse concerning the existence of animal communities on the ground and bird communities in the sky has been noted above:
--sura 6 verse 38:
"There is no animal on the earth, no bird which flies on wings, that (does not belong to) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Book (of Decrees) . Then to their Lord they will be gathered."
Two other verses highlight the birds' strict submission to God's Power.
--sura 16, verse 79:
"Do they not look at the birds subjected in the atmosphere of the sky? None can hold them up (in His Power) except God."
--sura 67, verse 19:
"Have they not looked at the birds above them spreading their wings out and folding them? None can hold them up (in his Power) except the Beneficent." The translation of one single word in each of these verses is a very delicate matter. The translation given here expresses the idea that God holds the birds up in His Power. The Arabic verb in question is amsaka, whose original meaning is 'to put one's hand on, seize, hold, hold someone back'.
An illuminating comparison can be made between these verses, which stress the extremely close dependence of the birds' behavior on divine order, to modern data showing the degree of perfection attained by certain species of bird with regard to the programming of their movements. It is only the existence of a migratory programme in the genetic code of birds that can account for the extremely long and complicated journeys which very young birds, without any prior experience and without any guide, are able to accomplish. This is in addition to their ability to return to their departure point on a prescribed date. Professor Hamburger in his book, Power and Fragility (La Puissance et la Fragilité) [ Pub. Flammarion, 1972, Paris.], gives as an example the well-known case of the 'mutton-bird' that lives in the Pacific, with its journey of over 16,500 miles in the shape of the figure 8 [ It makes this journey over a period of six months, and comes back to its departure point with a maximum delay of one week.]. It must be acknowledged that the highly complicated instructions for a journey of this kind simply have to be contained in the bird's nervous cells. They are most definitely programmed, but who is the programmer?
4. The Source of the Constituents of Animal Milk
This is defined in the Qur'an in strict accordance with the data of modern knowledge (sura 16, verse 66). The translation and interpretation of this verse given here is my own because even modern translations habitually give it a meaning which is, in my opinion, hardly acceptable. Here are two examples:
--R. Blachère's translation: [ Pub. G. P. Maisonneuve et Larose, 1966, Paris,]
"Verily, in your cattle there is a lesson for you! We give you a pure milk to drink, excellent for its drinkers; (it comes) from what, in their bellies, is between digested food and blood."
--Professor Hamidullah's translation: [ Pub. Club Français du Livre, 1971, Paris.]
"Verily, there is food for thought in your cattle. From what is in their bellies, among their excrement and blood, We make you drink pure milk, easy for drinkers to imbibe."
If these texts were shown to a physiologist, he would reply that they were extremely obscure, the reason being that there hardly appears to be much agreement between them and modern notions, even on a very elementary level. These translations are the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is a well known fact however, that a translator, even an expert, is liable to make mistakes in the translation of scientific statements, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question.
The most valid translation seems to me to be the following:
"Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of what is inside their bodies, coming from a conjunction between the contents of the intestine and the blood, a milk pure and pleasant for those who drink it." (sura 16, verse 66)
This interpretation is very close to the one given in the Muntakab, 1973, edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, which relies for its support on modern physiology.
From the point of view of its vocabulary, the proposed translation may be justified as follows:
I have translated «inside their bodies' and not, as R. Blachère and Professor Hamidullah have done, 'inside their bellies'. This is because the word batn also means 'middle', «interior of something', as well as 'belly'. The word does not here have a meaning that is anatomically precise. 'Inside their bodies' seems to concur perfectly with the context.
The notion of a 'primary origin' of the constituents of milk is expressed by the word min (in English 'from') and the idea of a conjunction by the word baini. The latter not only signifies «among' but also 'between' in the other translations quoted. It is however also used to express the idea that two things or two people are brought together.
From a scientific point of view, physiological notions must be called upon to grasp the meaning of this verse.
The substances that ensure the general nutrition of the body come from chemical transformations which occur along the length of the digestive tract. These substances come from the contents of the intestine. On arrival in the intestine at the appropriate stage of chemical transformation, they pass through its wall and towards the systemic circulation. This passage is effected in two ways: either directly, by what are called the 'lymphatic vessels', or indirectly, by the portal circulation. This conducts them first to the liver, where they undergo alterations, and from here they then emerge to join the systemic circulation. In this way everything passes through the bloodstream.
The constituents of milk are secreted by the mammary glands. These are nourished, as it were, by the product of food digestion brought to them via the bloodstream. Blood therefore plays the role of collector and conductor of what has been extracted from food, and it brings nutrition to the mammary glands, the producers of milk, as it does to any other organ.
Here the initial process which sets everything else in motion is the bringing together of the contents of the intestine and blood at the level of the intestinal wall itself. This very precise concept is the result of the discoveries made in the chemistry and physiology of the digestive system. It was totally unknown at the time of the Prophet Muhammad and has been understood only in recent times. The discovery of the circulation of the blood, was made by Harvey roughly ten centuries after the Qur'anic Rev elation.
I consider that the existence in the Qur'an of the verse referring to these concepts can have no human explanation on account of the period in which they were formulated.
From the moment ancient human writings enter into detail (however slight) on the subject of reproduction, they inevitably make statements that are inaccurate. In the Middle Ages-and even in more recent time-reproduction was surrounded by all sorts of myths and superstitions. How could it have been otherwise, considering the fact that to understand its complex mechanisms, man first had to possess a knowledge of anatomy, the discovery of the microscope had to be made, and the so-called basic sciences had to be founded which were to nurture physiology, embryology, obstetrics, etc.
The situation is quite different in the Qur'an. The Book mentions precise mechanisms in many places and describes clearly-defined stages in reproduction, without providing a single statement marred by inaccuracy. Everything in the Qur'an is explained in simple terms which are easily understandable to man and in strict accordance with what was to be discovered much later on.
Human reproduction is referred to in several dozen verses of the Qur'an, in various contexts. It is explained through statements which deal with one or more specific points. They must be assembled to give a general idea of the verses as a whole, and here, as for the other subjects already examined, the commentary is in this way made easier.
REMINDER OF CERTAIN BASIC CONCEPTS
It is imperative to recall certain basic concepts which were unknown at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation and the centuries that followed.
Human reproduction is effected by a series of processes which we share in common with mammals. The starting point is the fertilization of an ovule which has detached itself from the ovary.
It takes place in the Fallopian tubes half-way through the menstrual cycle. The fertilizing agent is the male sperm, or more exactly, the spermatozoon, a single fertilizing cell being all that is needed. To ensure fertilization therefore, an infinitely small quantity of spermatic liquid containing a large number of spermatozoons (tens of millions at a time) is .required. This liquid is produced by the testicles and temporarily stored in a system of reservoirs and canals that finally lead into the urinary tract; other glands are situated along the latter which contribute their own additional secretions to the sperm itself.
The implantation of the egg fertilized by this process takes place at a precise spot in the female reproductive system: it descends into the uterus via a Fallopian tube and lodges in the body of the uterus where it soon literally implants itself by insertion into the thickness of the mucosa and of the muscle, once the placenta has been formed and with the aid of the latter. If the implantation of the fertilized egg takes place, for example, in the Fallopian tubes instead of in the uterus, pregnancy will be interrupted.
Once the embryo begins to be observable to the naked eye, it looks like a small mass of flesh at the centre of which the appearance of a human being is at first indistinguishable. It grows there in progressive stages which are very well known today; they lead to the bone structure, the muscles, the nervous system, the circulation, and the viscerae, etc.
These notions will serve as the terms of reference against which the statements in the Qur'an on reproduction are to be compared.
HUMAN REPRODUCTION IN THE QUR'AN
It is not easy to gain an idea of what the Qur'an contains on this subject. The first difficulty arises from the fact already mentioned, i.e. that the statements dealing with this subject are scattered throughout the Book. This is not however a major difficulty. What is more likely to mislead the inquiring reader is, once again, the problem of vocabulary.
In fact there are still many translations and commentaries in circulation today that can give a completely false idea of the Qur'anic Revelation on this subject to the scientist who reads them. The majority of translations describe, for example, man's formation from a 'blood clot' or an 'adhesion'. A statement of this kind is totally unacceptable to scientists specializing in this field. In the paragraph dealing with the implantation of the egg in the maternal uterus, we shall see the reasons why distinguished Arabists who lack a scientific background have made such blunders.
This observation implies how great the importance of an association between linguistic and scientific knowledge is when it comes to grasping the meaning of Qur'anic statements on reproduction.
The Qur'an sets out by stressing the successive transformations the embryo undergoes before reaching its destination in the maternal uterus.
--sura 82, verses 6 to 8:
"O Man! Who deceives you about your Lord the Noble, Who created you and fashioned you in due proportion and gave you any form He willed."
--sura 71, verse 14:
"(God) fashioned you in (different) stages."
Along with this very general observation, the text of the Qur'an draws attention to several points concerning reproduction which might be listed as follows:
fertilization is performed by only a very small volume of liquid.
the constituents of the fertilizing liquid.
the implantation of the fertilized egg.
the evolution of the embryo.
1. Fertilization is Performed by Only a Very Small Volume of Liquid
The Qur'an repeats this concept eleven times using the following expression:
--sura 16, verse 4:
"(God) fashioned man from a small quantity (of sperm)."
The Arabic word nutfa has been translated by the words 'small quantity (of sperm)' because we do not have the terms that are strictly appropriate. This word comes from a verb signifying 'to dribble, to trickle'; it is used to describe what remains at the bottom of a bucket that has been emptied out. It therefore indicates a very small quantity of liquid. Here it is sperm because the word is associated in another verse with the word sperm.
--sura 75, verse 37:
"Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out?"
Here the Arabic word mani signifies sperm.
Another verse indicates that the small quantity in question is put in a 'firmly established lodging' (qarar) which obviously means the genital organs.
--sura 23, verse 13. God is speaking:
"Then We placed (man) as a small quantity (of sperm) in a safe lodging firmly established."
It must be added that the adjective which in this text refers to the 'firmly established lodging' makin is, I think, hardly translatable. It expresses the idea of a firmly established and respected place. However this may be, it refers to the spot where man grows in the maternal organism. It IS important to stress the concept of a very small quantity of liquid needed in the fertilization process, which is strictly in agreement with what we know on this subject today.
2. The Constituents of the Fertilizing Liquid
The Qur'an describes the liquid enabling fertilization to take place in terms which it is interesting to examine:
'sperm', as has been stated precisely (sura 75, verse 37)
'a liquid poured out'. "Man was fashioned from a liquid poured out" (sura 86, verse 6)
'a despised liquid' (sura 32, verse 8 and sura 77, verse 20)
The adjective 'despised' (mahin) would, it seems, be interpreted not so much on account of the nature of the liquid itself, as more the fact that it is emitted through the outlet of the urinary tract, using the channels that are employed for passing urine.
'Mixtures' or 'mingled liquids' (amsaj): "Verily, we fashioned man from a small quantity of mingled liquids" (sura 76, verse 2)
Many commentators, like professor Hamidullah, consider these liquids to be the male and female agents. The same view was shared by older commentators, who could not have had any idea of the physiology of fertilization, especially its biological conditions in the case of the woman. They thought that the word simply meant the unification of the two elements.
Modern authors however, like the commentator of the Muntakab edited by the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Cairo, have corrected this view and note here that the 'small quantity of sperm' is made up of various component parts. The commentator in the Muntakab does not go into detail, but in my opinion it is a very judicious observation.
What are the components parts of sperm?
Spermatic liquid is formed by various secretions which come from the following glands:
the testicles: the secretion of the male genital gland contains spermatozoons, which are elongated cells with a long flagellum; they are bathed in a sero-fluid liquid.
the seminal vesicles. these organs are reservoirs of spermatozoons and are placed near the prostate gland; they also secrete their own liquid but it does not contain any fertilizing agents.
the prostate gland: this secretes a liquid which gives the sperm its creamy texture and characteristic odour.
the glands annexed to the urinary tract: Cooper's or Méry's glands secrete a stringy liquid and Littré's glands give off mucous.
These are the origins of the 'mingled liquids' which the Qur'an would appear to refer to.
There is, however, more to be said on this subject. When the Qur'an talks of a fertilizing liquid composed of different components, it also informs us that man's progeny will be maintained by something which may be extracted from this liquid.
This is the meaning of verse 8, sura 32:
"(God) made his progeny from the quintessence of a despised liquid."
The Arabic word, translated here by the word 'quintessence', is sulala. It signifies 'something which is extracted, the issue of something else, the best part of a thing'. In whatever way it is translated, it refers to a part of a whole.
Fertilization of the egg and reproduction are produced by a cell that is very elongated: its dimensions are measured in ten thousandths of a millimetre. In normal conditions [ It is estimated that in one cubic centinletre of sperm there are 25 million spermatozoons with, under normal conditions, an ejaculation of several cubic centimetres.], only one single cell among several tens of millions produced by a man will actually penetrate the ovule; a large number of them are left behind and never complete the journey which leads from the vagina to the ovule, passing through the uterus and Fallopian tubes. It is therefore an infinitesimally small part of the extract from a liquid whose composition is highly complex which actually fulfills its function.
In consequence, it is difficult not to be struck by the agreement between the text of the Qur'an and the scientific knowledge we possess today of these phenomena.
3. The Implantation of the Egg In the Female Genital Organs.
Once the egg has been fertilized in the Fallopian tube it descends to lodge inside the uterus; this is called the 'implantation of the egg'. The Qur'an names the lodging of the fertilized egg womb:
-sura 22, verse 5:
"We cause whom We [ God is speaking] will to rest in the womb for an appointed term."
The implantation of the egg in the uterus (womb) is the result of the development of villosities, veritable elongations of the egg, which, like roots in the soil, draw nourishment from the thickness of the uterus necessary to the egg's growth. These formations make the egg literally cling to the uterus. This is a discovery of modern times.
The act of clinging is described five different times in the Qur'an. Firstly in verses 1 and 2 of sura 96:
"Read, in the name of thy Lord Who fashioned,
Who fashioned man from something which clings."
'Something which clings' is the translation of the word 'alaq. It is the original meaning of the word. A meaning derived from it, 'blood clot', often figures in translation; it is a mistake against which one should guard: man has never passed through the stage of being a 'blood clot'. The same is true for another translation of this term, 'adhesion' which is equally inappropriate. The original sense of 'something which clings' corresponds exactly to today's firmly established reality.
This concept is recalled in four other verses which describe successive transformations from the small quantity of sperm through to the end:
--sura 22, verse 5:
"We have fashioned you from . . . something which clings."
--sura 23, verse 14:
"We have fashioned the small quantity (of sperm) into something which clings."
--sura 40, verse 67:
"(God) fashioned you from a small quantity (of sperm), from something which clings."
-sura 75, verse 37-38:
"Was (man) not a small quantity of sperm which has been poured out? After that he was something which clings; then God fashioned him in due proportion."
The organ which harbours the pregnancy is qualified in the Qur'an by a word which, as we have seen, is still used in Arabic to signify the uterus. In some suras, it is called a 'lodging firmly established' (sura 23, verse 13, quoted above and sura 77, verse 21) [ In another verse (sura 6, verse 98) a place of sojourn is mentioned. It is expressed in a term very similar to the preceding one and would also seem to signify the maternal uterus. Personally, I believe this to be the meaning of the verse, but a detailed interpretation would involve much lengthier explanation which is beyond the scope of this book.].
4. Evolution of the Embryo inside the Uterus
The Qur'anic description of certain stages in the development of the embryo corresponds exactly to what we today know about it, and the Qur'an does not contain a single statement that is open to criticism from modern science.
After 'the thing which clings' (an expression which is well-founded, as we have seen) the Qur'an informs us that the embryo passes through the stage of 'chewed flesh', then osseous tissue appears and is clad in flesh (defined by a different word from the preceding which signifies 'intact flesh').
--sura 23, verse 14:
"We fashioned the thing which clings into a chewed lump of flesh and We fashioned the chewed flesh into bones and We clothed the bones with intact flesh."
'Chewed flesh' is the translation of the word mudga; 'intact flesh' is lahm. This distinction needs to be stressed. The embryo is initially a small mass. At a certain stage in its development, it looks to the naked eye like chewed flesh. The bone structure develops inside this mass in what is called the mesenchyma. The bones that are formed are covered in muscle; the word lahm applies to them.
Another verse which requires extremely delicate interpretation is the following:
--sura 39, verse 6:
"(God) fashions you inside the bodies of your mothers, formation after formation, in three (veils of) darkness." (zulumat)
Modern intrepreters of the Qur'an see in this verse the three anatomical layers that protect the infant during gestation: the abdominal wall, the uterus itself, and the surroundings of the foetus (placenta, embryonic membranes, amniotic fluid).
I am obliged to quote this verse for the sake of completeness; the terpretation given here does not seem to me to be disputable from an anatomical point of view but is this what the text of the Qur'an really means?
It is known how certain parts appear to be completely out of proportion during embryonic development with what is later to become the individual, while others remain in proportion.
This is surely the meaning of the word mukallaq which signifies 'shaped in proportion' as used in verse 5, sura 22 to describe this phenomenon.
"We fashioned . . . into something which clings . . . into a lump of flesh in proportion and out of proportion."
The Qur'an also describes the appearance of the senses and the viscerae:
--sura 32, verse 9:
"(God) appointed for you the sense of hearing, sight and the viscerae."
It refers to the formation of the sexual organs:
--sura 53, verses 45-46:
"(God) fashioned the two of a pair, the male and the female, from a small quantity (of sperm) when it is poured out."
The formation of the sexual organs is described in two sura of the Qur'an:
--sura 35, verse 11:
"God created you from dust, then from a sperm-drop, then He made you pairs (the male and female)."
--sura 75, verse 39:
"And, (God) made of him a pair, the male and female."
As has already been noted, all statements in the Qur'an must be compared with today's firmly established concepts: the agreement between them is very clear. It is however very important to compare them with the general beliefs On this subject that were held at the time of the Qur'anic Revelation in order to realize just how far people were in those days from having views on these problems similar to those expressed here in the Qur'an. There can be no doubt that they would have been unable to interpret the Revelation in the way we can today because we are helped by the data modern knowledge affords us. It was, in fact, only during the Nineteenth century that people had a slightly clearer view of this question.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the most diversified doctrines originated in unfounded myths and speculations: they persisted for several centuries after this period. The most fundamental stage in the history of embryology was Harvey's statement (1651) that "all life initially comes from an egg". At this time however, when nascent science had nevertheless benefited greatly (for the subject in hand) from the invention of the microscope, people were still talking about the respective roles of the egg and the spermatozoon. Buffon, the great naturalist, was one of those in favor of the egg theory, but Bonnet supported the theory of the seeds being 'packed together'. the ovaries of Eve, the mother of the human race, were supposed to have contained the seeds of all human beings, packed together one inside the other. This hypothesis came into favor in the Eighteenth century.
More than a thousand years before our time, at a period when whimsical doctrines still prevailed, men had a knowledge of the Qur'an. The statements it contains express in simple terms truths of primordial importance which man has taken centuries to discover.
THE QUR'AN AND SEX EDUCATION
Our epoch believes that it has made manifold discoveries in all possible fields. It is thought that great innovations have been made in the field of sex education, and the knowledge of the facts of life which has been opened up to young people is regarded as an achievement of the modern world. Previous centuries were noted for their deliberate obscurity on this point and many people say that religion-without stating which religion-is the cause of it.
The information set out above is proof however that fourteen centuries ago theoretical questions (as it were) on human reproduction were brought to man's attention. This was done as far as was possible, taking into account the fact that the anatomical and physiological data needed for further explanations were lacking. One should also remember that, to be understood, it was necessary to use simple language suited to the level of comprehension of those who listened to the Preaching.
Practical considerations have not been silently ignored. There are many details in the Qur'an on the practical side of life in general, and the way man should behave in the many situations of his existence. His sex life is no exception.
Two verses in the Qur'an deal with sexual relations themselves. They are described in terms which unite the need for precision with that of decency. When translations and explanatory commentaries are consulted however, one is struck by the divergences between them. I have pondered for a long time on the translation of such verses, and am indebted to Doctor A. K. Giraud, Former Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Beirut, for the following:
--sura 86, verse 6 and 7:
"(Man) was fashioned from a liquid poured out. It issued (as a result) of the conjunction of the sexual area of the man and the sexual area of the woman." The sexual area of the man is indicated in the text of the Qur'an by the world sulb (singular). The sexual areas of the woman are designated in the Qur'an by the word tara'ib (plural).
This is the translation which appears to be most satisfactory. It is different from the one that is often given by English and French translators, i.e. " (Man) has been created by a liquid poured out which issues from between the vertebral column and the bones of the breast." This would seem more to be an interpretation than a translation. It is hardly comprehensible.
The behavior of a man in his intimate relationships with his wife is stated explicitly.
There is the order concerning the menstruation period contained in verses 222 and 223, sura 2; God gives the following command to the Prophet:
--sura 2, verses 222 and 223:
"They (the Believers) question thee concerning menstruation. Say: This is an evil. Keep away from women during menstruation and do not approach them until they are clean. When they have purified themselves, go to them, as God ordered it to you.
"Verily, God loves the repentants and loves those who purified themselves.
"Your wives are a tilth. Go to your tilth as you will. Do (some good act) for your souls beforehand."
The beginning of this passage is very clear in meaning: it formally forbids a man to have sexual contact with a woman who has her period. The second part describes the process of tilling which the sower performs before sowing the seed which is to germinate and produce a new plant. Through this image therefore, stress is indirectly laid on the importance of bearing in mind the final purpose of sexual contact, i.e. reproduction. The translation of the final phrase is by R. Blachère: it contains an order which seems to refer to the preliminaries before sexual contact.
The orders given here are of a very general kind. The problem of contraception has been raised with regard to these verses: neither here, nor anywhere else, is reference made to this subject.
Nor is provoked abortion referred to. The numerous passages quoted above on the successive transformations of the embryo make it quite clear, however, that man is considered to be constituted as of the stage described by the existence of 'something which clings'. This being so, the absolute respect of the individual human being, which is referred to so often in the Qur'an, brings with it a total condemnation of provoked abortion. This attitude is today shared by all monotheistic religions.
Sexual relations are permitted at night during the Fast in the month of Ramadan. The verse concerning Ramadan is as follows:
--sura 2, verse 187:
"Permitted to you, on the night of the fast, is to break chastity with your wives. They are a garment for you and you are a garment for them. So hold intercourse with them and seek what God has ordained for you."
In contrast to this, no exception to the rule is made for pilgrims in Makka during the celebration days of the Pilgrimage.
--sura 2, verse 197:
"For whom undertakes (the duty of) the Pilgrimage in its time, no wooing and no license."
This prohibition is formal, as is the fact that other activities are forbidden, e.g. hunting, fighting, etc.
Menstruation is again mentioned in the Qur'an in connection with divorce. The Book contains the following verse:
--sura 65, verse 4:
"For your wives who despair of menstruation, if you doubt about them, their period of waiting will be three months. For those who never have their monthly periods and those who are pregnant their period will be until they lay down their burden."
The waiting period referred to here is the time between the announcement of the divorce and the time it comes into effect. Those women of whom it is said 'they despair of menstruation' have reached the menopause. A precautionary period of three months is envisaged for them. Once this period is completed, divorced women who have reached the menopause may remarry.
For those who have not yet menstruated, the pregnancy period has to be awaited. For pregnant women, divorce only comes into effect once the child is born.
All these laws are in perfect agreement with physiological data. One can, furthermore, find in the Qur'an the same judicious legal provision in the texts dealing with widowhood.
Thus, the theoretical statements dealing with reproduction, and the practical instructions on the sex life of couples, do not contradict and cannot be placed in opposition to the data we have from modern knowledge, nor with anything that can be logically derived from it.
Qur'anic and Biblical Narrations
A large number of subjects dealt with in the Bible are also found in the Qur'an. Firstly, there are narrations referring to the Prophets; Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Elias, Jonah, Job and Moses; the Kings of Israel; Saul, David, Solomon-to name just some of the main narrations they share in common. There then follow more specific accounts of great events in the course of which the supernatural has intervened, e.g. the Creation of the Earth and Heavens, the Creation of Man, the Flood, the Exodus. Finally, there is all that has to do with Jesus and His mother Mary as far as it concerns the New Testament.
What reflections do the subjects dealt with in the two Scriptures provoke when viewed in the light of our modern knowledge of them from extra-Scriptural sources?
Parallel: Qur'an/Gospel and Modem Knowledge.
With regard to the parallel of Qur'an/Gospels, one must first note that none of the subjects referred to in the Gospels, which were criticized from a scientific point of view (see Part Two of this book), is quoted in the Qur'an.
Jesus is referred to many times in the Qur' an, e.g. Mary's annunciation of the nativity to his father, the annunciation of the miraculous nativity to Mary, Jesus's stature as a Prophet of the highest order, His role as a Messiah, the Revelation He directs to Man which confirms and modifies the Torah, His preachings, His disciples and apostles, the miracles, His Ascension to God, His role in the Last Judgment, etc.
Suras 3 and 19 of the Qur'an (the second of which bears Mary's name) devote long passages to Jesus's family. They describe His mother Mary's nativity, her youth and the annunciation of her miraculous motherhood. Jesus is always called 'Son of Mary'. His ancestry is exclusively given with regard to His mother's side, which is quite logical since Jesus had no biological father. Here the Qur'an differs from Matthew's and Luke's Gospels: as we have already seen, they give the paternal genealogies of Jesus which are, moreover, different from each other.
In the Qur'an, Jesus is placed according to His maternal genealogy in the line of Noah, Abraham, and Mary's father (Imran in the Qur'an):
--sura 3, verses 33 and 34:
"God chose Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of Imran above all His creatures, as descendants one from another."
So Jesus is descended from Noah and Abraham on His mother Mary's side, and from her father Imran. The errors made in the naming of the 'ancestors of Jesus' found in the Gospels are not present in the Qur'an, nor are the impossibilities in the genealogies contained in the Old Testament of Abraham's ancestry, both of which were examined in the first and second parts of this book.
Once again, this fact must be noted if one is to be objective, and yet again its great importance appears very clearly in the face of the unfounded statements which are made claiming that Muhammad, the author of the Qur'an, largely copied the Bible. One wonders in that case who or what reason compelled him to avoid copying the passages the Bible contains on Jesus's ancestry, and to insert at this point in the Qur'an the corrections that put his text above any criticism from modern knowledge. The Gospels and Old Testament texts are quite the opposite; from this point of view they are totally unacceptable.
Parallel: Qur'an/ Old Testament and Modem Knowledge.
In the case of the Old Testament, certain aspects of this parallel have already been dealt with. The Creation of the world, for example, was the subject of a critical study made in the Old Testament section of this book. The same subject was examined with regard to the Qur'anic Revelation. Comparisons were made and there is no need to cover this ground again.
It seems that historical knowledge is too vague and archaeological data too scarce for parallels to be established in the light of modern knowledge on problems concerning the Kings of Israel, who form the subject of narrations in both the Qur'an and the Bible.
Whether or not one can tackle the problem of the Prophets in the light of modern data depends on the extent to which the events described have left traces which may or may not have come down to us.
There are however two subjects dealt with in both the Qur'an and the Bible which should command our attention and which need to be examined in the light of modern knowledge. They are as follows:
--The first because it has not left traces in the history of civilization which support the Biblical narration, whereas modern data do not permit us to criticize the narration contained in the Qur'an.
--The second because the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations evidently complement each other in their broad outlines, and modern data seem to provide both of them with remarkable historical support.
The Biblical Narration of the Flood and the Criticism Leveled at It- A Reminder.
The examination of the Old Testament description of the Flood in the first part of this book led to the following observations:
There is not just one description of the Flood, but two, written at different times;
--the Yahvist version which dates from the Ninth century B.C.
--the Sacerdotal version dating from the Sixth century B.C., so called because it was the work of priests of the time.
These two narrations are not juxtaposed, but interwoven so that part of one is fitted in-between parts of the other, i.e. paragraphs from one source alternate with passage from the other.
The commentary to the translation of Genesis by Father de Vaux, a professor at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, shows very clearly how the paragraphs are distributed between the two sources. The narration begins and ends with a Yahvist passage. There are ten Yahvist paragraphs altogether and between each one a Sacerdotal passage has been inserted (there are a total of nine Sacerdotal paragraphs). This mosaic of texts is only coherent when read from a point of view which takes the succession of episodes into account, since there are blatant contradictions between the two sources. Father de Vaux describes them as "two accounts of the Flood, in which the cataclysm is caused by different agents and lasts different lengths of time, and where Noah receives into the Ark a different number of animals."
When seen in the light of modern knowledge, the Biblical description of the Flood as a whole is unacceptable for the following reasons:
a) The Old Testament ascribes to it the character of a universal cataclysm.
b) Whereas the paragraphs from the Yahvist text do not date the Flood, the Sacerdotal text situates it at a point in time where a cataclysm of this kind could not have occurred.
The following are arguments supporting this opinion:
The Sacerdotal narration states quite precisely that the Flood took place when Noah was 600 years old. According to the genealogies in chapter 5 of Genesis (also taken from the Sacerdotal text and quoted in the first part of this book), we know that Noah is said to have been born 1,056 years after Adam. Consequently, the Flood would have taken place 1,655 years after the creation of Adam. The genealogical table of Abraham moreover, taken from the same text and given in Genesis (11, 10-32), allows us to estimate that Abraham was born 292 years after the Flood. As we know that (according to the Bible) Abraham was alive in roughly 1850 B.C., the Flood would therefore be situated in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. This calculation is in strict keeping with the information in old editions of the Bible which figures prominently at the head of the Biblical text.
This was at a time when the lack of human knowledge on the subject was such that the chronological data contained in the Bible were accepted without question by its readers-for want of any arguments to the contrary. [ Now that certain notions concerning the chronology of ancient times have been established, and the imaginary dates given by the authors of the Sacerdotal text of the Old Testament are no longer credible, those dates have quickly been suppressed in Bibles. In the case of those genealogies that have been preserved, modern commentators of books intended for mass publication fail to draw the readers' attention to the errors they contain.]
How is it possible to conceive today of a universal cataclysm in the Twenty-first or Twenty-second century B.C. which destroyed life on all the earth's surface (except for the people and animals in the Ark)? By this time, civilizations had flourished in several parts of the globe, and their vestiges have now come down to posterity. In Egypt at this time, for example, the Intermediate Period followed the end of the Old Kingdom and preceded the beginning of the Middle Kingdom. In view of our knowledge of the history of this period, it would be absurd to maintain that the Flood had destroyed all civilization at this time.
Thus It may be affirmed from a historical point of view that the narration of the Flood as it is presented in the Bible is in evident contradiction with modern knowledge. The formal proof of man's manipulation of the Scriptures is the existence of the two texts.
The Narration of the Flood Contained in the Qur'an.
The Qur'an gives a general version which is different from that contained in the Bible and does not give rise to any criticisms from a historical point of view.
It does not provide a continuous narration of the Flood. Numerous suras talk of the punishment inflicted upon Noah's people. The most complete account of this is in sura 11, verses 25 to 49. Sura 71, which bears Noah's name, describes above all Noah's preachings, as do verses 105 to 115, sura 26. Before going into the actual course taken by events, we must consider the Flood as described in the Qur' an by relating it to the general context of the punishment God inflicted on communities guilty of gravely infringing His Commandments.
Whereas the Bible describes a universal Flood intended to punish ungodly humanity as a whole, the Qur'an, in contrast, mentions several punishments inflicted on certain specifically defined communities.
This may be seen in verses 35 to 39, sura 25:
"We gave Moses the Scripture and appointed his brother Aaron with him as vizier. We said: Go to the people who have denied Our signs. We destroyed them completely. When the people of Noah denied the Messengers, We drowned them and We made of them a sign for mankind. (We destroyed the tribes) of Âd and Tamud, the companions of Rass and many generations between them. We warned each of them by examples and We annihilated them completely."
Sura 7, verses 59 to 93 contains a reminder of the punishments brought upon Noah's people, the Âd, the Tamud, Lot (Sodom) and Madian respectively.
Thus the Qur'an presents the cataclysm of the Flood as a punishment specifically intended for Noah's people: this is the first basic difference between the two narrations.
The second fundamental difference is that the Qur'an, in contrast to the Bible, does not date the Flood in time and gives no indication as to the duration of the cataclysm itself.
The causes of the flooding are roughly the same in both narrations. The Sacerdotal description in the Bible (Genesis 7, 11) cites two causes which occurred simultaneously. "On that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened." The Qur'an records the following in verses 11 and 12, sura 54:
"We opened the Gates of Heaven with pouring water. And We caused the ground to gush forth springs, so the waters met according to the decree which has been ordained."
The Qur'an is very precise about the contents of the Ark. The order God gave to Noah was faithfully executed and it was to do the following:
--sura 11, verse 40:
"(In the Ark) load a pair of every kind, thy family, save this one against whom the word has already gone forth, and those who believe. But only a few had believed with him."
The person excluded from the family is an outcast son of Noah. We learn (sura 11, verses 45 and 46) how Noah's supplications on this person's behalf to God were unable to make Him alter His decision. Apart from Noah's family (minus the outcast son), the Qur'an refers to the few other passengers on board the Ark who had believed in God.
The Bible does not mention the latter among the occupants of the Ark. In fact, it provides us with three different versions of the Ark's contents:
--according to the Yahvist version, a distinction is made between 'pure' animals and birds, and 'impure' animals (seven [ Surely 'seven' here indicates 'many', as it often does in the Semitic languages of the time.] pairs, i.e. seven males and seven females, of each 'pure' species, was taken into the Ark and only one pair of each 'impure' species).
-according to a modified Yahvist verse (Genesis 7, 8) there was only one pair of each species, whether 'pure' or 'impure'. -according to the Sacerdotal version, there was Noah, his family (with no exceptions) and a pair taken from each species.
The narration in the Qur'an of the flooding itself is contained in sura 11, verses 25 to 49 and in sura 23, verses 23 to 30. The Biblical narrative does not present any important differences.
In the Bible, the place where the Ark comes to rest is in the Ararat Mountains (Genesis 8, 4) and for the Qur'an it is the Judi (sura 11, verse 44.) This mountain is said to be the highest of the Ararat range in Armenia, but nothing proves that the names were not changed by man to tally with the two narratives. This is confirmed by R. Blachère: according to him there is a peak in Arabia named Judi. The agreement of names may well be artificial.
In conclusion, it is possible to state categorically what major differences exist here between the Biblical and Qur'anic narrations. Some of them escape critical examination because objective data are lacking. When, however, it is possible to check the statements in the Scriptures in the light of the established data, the incompatibility between the Biblical narration-i.e. the information given on its place in time and geographical extent-and the discoveries that have contributed to modern knowledge is all too clear. In contrast to this, the narration contained in the Qur'an is free from anything which might give rise to objective criticism. One might ask if it is possible that, between the time of the Biblical narration and the one contained in the Qur'an, man could have acquired knowledge that shed light on this event. The answer is no, because from the time of the Old Testament to the Qur'an, the only document man possessed on this ancient story was the Bible itself. If human factors are unable to account for the changes in the narrations which affected their meaning with regard to modern knowledge, another explanation has to be accepted, i.e. a Revelation which came after the one contained in the Bible.
With the Exodus from Egypt of Moses and his followers, (the first stage of their move to Canaan), we come to an event of great importance. It is an established historical event which appears in a known context, in spite of occasional allegations one finds which tend to attribute to it a largely legendary character.
In the Old Testament, the Exodus forms the second book of the Pentateuch or Torah, along with a narration of the journey through the wilderness and the alliance (covenant) concluded with God on Mount Sinai. It is natural for the Qur'an to devote a great deal of space to it too: an account of the dealings Moses and his brother Aaron had with the Pharaoh and of the exit from Egypt is found in more than ten suras containing long descriptions, e.g. suras, 7, 10, 20 and 26, along with more abridged versions and even simple reminders. The name of Pharaoh, the main character on the Egyptian side, is repeated (to the best of my knowledge) seventy-four times in the Qur'an in 27 suras.
A study of both the Qur'anic and Biblical narrations is especially interesting here because, in contrast to what has been noted in the case of the Flood (for example), in the main, the two narrations have many points in common. There are certainly divergences, but the Biblical narration has considerable historical value, as we shall see. This is because it helps to identify the Pharaoh, or rather the two pharaohs in question. This hypothesis, which starts with the Bible, is complemented by the information contained in the Qur'an. Modern data are added to these two Scriptural sources and it is thus possible, through a confrontation between the Bible, the Qur'an and today's knowledge, to situate this episode from the Holy Scriptures in a historical context.
THE EXODUS ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE
The Biblical narration begins with a reminder of the Jews' entry into Egypt with Jacob, who joined Joseph there. Later on, according to Exodus 1, 8:
"Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph."
The period of oppression followed; the Pharaoh ordered the Jews to build the cities of Pithom and Ramesses (to use the names given to them in the Bible) (Exodus I, 11). To avoid a population explosion among the Hebrews, Pharaoh ordered each new-born son to be thrown into the river. Moses was nevertheless preserved by his mother for the first three months of his life before she finally decided to put him in a rush basket on the river's edge. The Pharaoh's daughter discovered him, rescued him and gave him to a nurse, none other than his own mother. This was because Moses's sister had watched to see who would find the baby, had pretended not to recognize him and then recommended to the Princess a nurse who was really the child's mother. He was treated as one of the Pharaoh's sons and given the name 'Moses'.
As a young man, Moses left for a country called Midian where he married and lived for a long time. We read an important detail in Exodus 2, 23:
"In the course of those many days the king of Egypt died."
God ordered Moses to go and find the Pharaoh and lead his brothers out of Egypt (the description of this order is given in the episode of the Burning Bush). Aaron, Moses's brother, helped him in this task. This is why Moses, once he had returned to Egypt, went with his brother to visit the Pharaoh who was the successor of the king under whose reign he had long ago been born.
The Pharaoh refused to allow the Jews in Moses's group to leave Egypt. God revealed Himself to Moses once again and ordered him to repeat his request to Pharaoh. According to the Bible, Moses was eighty years old at this time. Through magic, Moses showed the Pharaoh that he had supernatural powers. This was not enough however. God sent the famous plagues down upon Egypt. The rivers were changed into blood, there were invasions of frogs, gnats and swarms of flies, the cattle died, boils appeared on men and animals, there was hail and plagues of locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born. Nevertheless, the Pharaoh still did not allow the Hebrews to leave.
They therefore broke out of the city of Rameses, 600,000 of them [ We shall later see that the figure has been grossly exaggerated.] "besides women and children" (Exodus 12, 37). At this point Pharaoh "made ready his chariot and took his army .With him, and took six hundred picked charioteers and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them . . . Pharaoh, king of Egypt, pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly." (Exodus 14, 6 and 8). The Egyptians caught up with Moses's party beside the sea. Moses raised his staff, the sea parted before him and his followers walked across it without wetting their feet. "The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh's horses, his chariots, and his horsemen." (Exodus 14, 23) "The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left." (Exodus 14, 28-29).
The text of Exodus is quite clear: Pharaoh was at the head of the pursuers. He perished because the text of Exodus notes that "not so much as one of them remained." The Bible repeats this detail moreover in the Psalms: Psalm 106, verse 11 and Psalm 136 verses 13 and 15 which are an act of thanks to God "Who divided the sea of Rushes [ In Hebrew 'yam souf'.] in sunder . . . and made Israel pass through the midst of it . . . but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the sea of Rushes." There can be no doubt therefore, that according to the Bible, the Pharaoh of the Exodus perished in the sea. The Bible does not record what became of his body.
THE EXODUS ACCORDING TO THE QUR'AN
In its broad outlines, the narration of the Exodus contained in the Qur'an is similar to that of the Bible. It has to be reconstituted, however, because it is made up of passages dispersed throughout the Book.
The Qur'an does not provide a name which enables us to identify who the reigning Pharaoh was at the time of Exodus, any more than the Bible does. All that is known is that one of his counsellors was called Haman. He is referred to six times in the Qur'an (sura 28, verses 6, 8 and 38, sura 29, verse 39 and sura 40, verses 24 and 36).
The Pharaoh is the Jews' oppressor:
--sura 14, verse 6:
"When Moses said to his people: Remember the favor of God to you when He delivered you from Pharaoh's folk who imposed upon you a dreadful torment, slaughtered your sons and spared your women."
The oppression is recalled in the same terms in verse 141, sura 7. The Qur'an does not however mention the names of the cities built by the Jews in subjection, as does the Bible.
The episode where Moses is left by the riverside is recorded in sura 20 verses 39-40 and sura 28, verses 7 to 13. In the version contained in the Qur'an, Moses is taken in by Pharaoh's family. We find this in verses 8 and 9, sura 28:
"The family of Pharaoh took him up. (It was intended) that (Moses) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow. Pharaoh, Haman and their hosts were sinners. Pharaoh's wife said: (He will be) a joy to the eye for me and you. Don't kill him. He may be of use to us or we may take him as a son. They did not sense (what was to come)."
Muslim tradition has it that it was Pharaoh's wife Asiya who took care of Moses. In the Qur'an, it was not the Pharaoh's wife who found him, but members of his household.
Moses's youth, his stay in Midian and marriage are described in sura 28, verses 13 to 28.
In particular, the episode of the Burning Bush is found in the first part of sura 20, and in sura 28, verses 30 to 35.
The Qur'an does not describe the ten plagues sent down upon Egypt as a divine chastisement (unlike the long description in the Bible), but simply mentions five plagues very briefly (sura 7, verse 133): flooding, locusts, lice, frogs, and blood.
The flight from Egypt is described in the Qur'an, but without any of the geographical data given in the Bible, nor the incredible numbers of people mentioned in the latter. It is difficult to imagine how 600,000 men plus their families could have stayed in the desert for a long time, as the Bible would have us believe.
This is how the death of Pharaoh pursuing the Hebrews is described:
--sura 20, verse 78:
"Pharaoh pursued them with his hosts and the sea covered them."
The Jews escaped. Pharaoh perished, but his body was found: a very important detail not mentioned in the Biblical narration.
--sura 10, verses 90 to 92. God is speaking:
"We took the Children of Israel across the sea. Pharaoh with his hosts pursued them in rebellion and hostility till, when the fact of his drowning overtook him, he said: I believe there is no God except the God in whom the Children of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him.
"God said: 'What? Now !. Thou has rebelled and caused depravity. This day We save thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a sign for those who come after thee.' But verily, many among mankind are heedless of Our signs."
This passage requires two points to be explained:
a) The spirit of rebellion and hostility referred to is to be understood in terms of Moses's attempt to persuade the Pharaoh.
b) The rescue of the Pharaoh refers to his corpse because it is stated quite clearly in verse 98, sura 11, that Pharaoh and his followers have been condemned to damnation:
--sura 11, verse 98 "Pharaoh will go before his people on the Day of Resurrection and will lead them to the fire." For those facts which can be checked with historical, geographical and archaeological data therefore, it should be noted that the Qur'anic and Biblical narrations differ on the following points:
--the absence in the Qur'an of place names, both of the cities built by the Hebrews in Moses's group, and on the route taken by the Exodus.
--the absence of any reference to the death of a Pharaoh during Moses's stay in Midian.
--the absence in the Qur'an of details concerning Moses's age when he addressed his request to the Pharaoh.
--the absence in the Qur'an of the numbering of Moses's followers. These figures are openly exaggerated in the Bible to incredible proportions (said to have been 600,000 men plus their families forming a community of more than two million inhabitants.)
--the absence of any mention in the Bible of the rescue of the Pharaoh's body after his death.
For our present purposes, the points to be noted because they are shared by both narrations are as follows:
--the confirmation contained in the Qur'an of Pharaoh's oppression of the Jews in Moses's group.
--the absence from both narrations of any mention of the King of Egypt's name.
--the confirmation contained in the Qur'an of the Pharaoh's death during the Exodus.
CONFRONTATION BETWEEN SCRIPTURAL DATA AND MODERN KNOWLEDGE
The narrations contained in the Bible and the Qur'an on the time spent by the sons of Israel in Egypt, and the way they left, give rise to data which may constitute matter for a confrontation with modern knowledge. In fact, the balance is very uneven because some data pose many problems while others hardly provide subject for discussion.
1. Examination of Certain Details Contained in the Narrations The Hebrews in Egypt
It is, apparently, quite possible to say (and without running much risk of being wrong) that the Hebrews remained in Egypt for 400 or 430 years, according to the Bible (Genesis 15, 13 and Exodus 12, 40). In spite of this discrepancy between Genesis and Exodus, which is of minor importance, the period may be said to have begun long after Abraham, when Joseph, son of Jacob, moved with his brothers to Egypt. With the exception of the Bible, which gives the data just quoted, and the Qur'an which refers to the move to Egypt, but does not give any indication as to the dates involved, we do not possess any other document which is able to illuminate us on this point.
Present-day commentators, ranging from P. Montet to Daniel Rops, think that, in all probability, the arrival of Joseph and his brothers coincided with the movement of the Hyksos towards Egypt in the Seventeenth century B.C. and that a Hyksos sovereign probably received them hospitably at Avaris in the Nile Delta.
There can be no doubt that this guess is in obvious contradiction to what is contained in the Bible (Kings I, 6, 1) which puts the Exodus from Egypt at 480 years before the construction of Solomon's Temple (circa 971 B.C.). This estimation would therefore put the Exodus at roughly 1450 B.C. and would consequently situate the entry into Egypt at circa 1880-1850 B.C. This is precisely the time, however, that Abraham is supposed to have lived, and other data contained in the Bible tell us that there were 250 years separating him from Joseph. This passage from Kings I in the Bible is therefore unacceptable from a chronological point of view. [ We shall return to this subject later, when we call upon Father de Vaux's help in
examining this reference in Kings I.] We shall see how the theory put forward here has only this objection, taken from Kings I, to be levelled against it. The very obvious inaccuracy of these chronological data effectively deprives this objection of any value.
Aside from the Holy Scriptures, the traces left by the Hebrews of their stay in Egypt are very faint. There are however several hieroglyphic documents which refer to the existence in Egypt of a category of workers called the 'Apiru, Hapiru or Habiru, who have been identified (rightly or wrongly) with the Hebrews. In this category were construction workers, agricultural labourers, harvesters, etc. But where did they come from? It is very difficult to find an answer to this. Father de Vaux has written the following about them:
"They are not members of the local population, they do not identify themselves with a class in society, they do not all share the same occupation or status."
Under Tuthmosis III, they are referred to in a papyrus as 'workers in the stables'. It is known how Amenophis II, in the Fifteenth century B.C., brought in 3,600 of these people as prisoners from Canaan, because, as Father. de Vaux notes, they constituted a considerable percentage of the Syrio-Palestinian population. Under Sethos I, in circa 1300 B.C., the 'Apiru created considerable disturbances in the Beth-Shean region of Canaan, and under Ramesses II some of them were employed in the quarries or for transporting piles used in the works of the Pharaoh (e.g. the Great Pylon of Ramesses Miamon). We know from the Bible that the Hebrews, under Ramesses II, were to build the northern capital, the City of Ramesses. In Egyptian writings the 'Apiru are mentioned once again in the Twelfth century B.C. and for the last time under Ramesses III.
The 'Apiru are not just mentioned in Egypt however, so did the term therefore apply solely to the Hebrews? It is perhaps wise to recall that the word could initially have been used to signify 'forced labourers', without regard to their origins, and that it subsequently became an adjective indicating a person's profession. We might perhaps draw an analogy with the word 'suisse' (Swiss) which has several different meanings in French. It can mean an inhabitant of Switzerland, a mercenary soldier of the old French monarchy who was of Swiss extraction, a Vatican guard, or an employee of a Christian church . . . However, this may be, under Ramesses II, the Hebrews (according to the Bible) or the 'Apiru (according to the hieroglyphic texts) took part in the great works ordered by the Pharaoh, which were indeed 'forced labour'. There can be no doubt that Ramesses II was the Jews' oppressor: the cities of Ramesses and Pithom, mentioned in Exodus, are situated at the eastern part of the Nile Delta. Today's Tanis and Qantir, which are roughly 15 miles apart, are in the same region as these two cities. The northern capital constructed by Ramesses II was situated there. Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression.
Moses was to be born in this environment. The circumstances pertaining to his rescue from the waters of the river have al- ready been outlined above. He has an Egyptian name: P. Montet has clearly shown in his book Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible) [ Pub. Delachaux and Niestlé, Neufchatel, 1959.] that the names Mesw or Mesy are on the list of personal names in the dictionary of the hieroglyphic language by Ranke. Musa is the transliteration used in the Qur'an.
The Plagues of Egypt
Under this title the Bible refers to ten punishments inflicted by God, and provides many details concerning each of these 'plagues'. Many have supernatural dimensions or characteristics. The Qur'an only lists five plagues, which, for the most part, are merely an exaggeration of natural phenomena: flooding, locusts, lice, frogs and blood.
The rapid multiplication of locusts and frogs is described in the Bible. It speaks of river water changed to blood which floods all the land (sic); the Qur'an refers to blood, but without giving any complementary details. It is possible to invent all kinds of hypotheses on the subject of this reference to blood.
The other plagues described in the Bible (gnats, swarms of flies, boils, hail, darkness, death of the first-born and of cattle) have various origins, as was the case of the Flood, and are constituted by the juxtaposition of passages from many different sources.
The Route Taken by the Exodus
No indication of this is given in the Qur'an, whereas the Bible refers to it in great detail. Father de Vaux and P. Montet have both reopened studies into it. The starting-point was probably the Tanis-Qantir region, but no traces have been found of the rest of the route taken which could confirm the Biblical narration; nor is it possible to say at exactly what point the waters parted to allow the passage of Moses and his followers.
The Miraculous Parting of the Waters
Some commentators have imagined a tide-race, due perhaps to astronomic causes or seismic conditions connected to the distant eruption of a volcano. The Hebrews could have taken advantage of the receding sea, and the Egyptians, following in hot pursuit, could have been wiped out by the returning tide. All this is pure hypothesis however.
2. The Point Occupied by the Exodus in the History of the Pharaohs
It is possible to arrive at much more positive evidence in the case of the point the Exodus occupies in time.
For a very long time Merneptah, the successor to Ramesses II, was held to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus. Maspero, the famous Egyptologist of the beginning of this century did, after all, write in his Visitor's Guide to the Cairo Museum (Guide du visiteur du Musée du Caire), 1900, that Merneptah "was probably, according to the Alexandrian tradition, the Pharaoh of the Exodus who is said to have perished in the Red Sea." I have been unable to find the documents on which Maspero based this assertion, but the eminence of this commentator requires us to attach the greatest importance to what he claims.
Apart from P. Montet, there are very few Egyptologists or specialists in Biblical exegesis who have researched into the arguments for or against this hypothesis. In the last few decades however, there has been a spate of different hypotheses which seem to have as their sole purpose the justification of an agreement with one single detail in the Scriptural narrations, although the inventors of these hypotheses do not bother with the other aspects of the Scriptures. Thus it is possible for a hypothesis to suddenly appear which seems to agree with one aspect of a narration, although its inventor has not taken the trouble to compare it with all the other data contained in the Scriptures (and consequently not just with the Bible), plus all the data provided by history, archaeology, etc.
One of the strangest hypotheses yet to come to light is by J. de Miceli (1960) who claims to have pinpointed the date of the Exodus to within one day, i.e. the 9th of April, 1495 B.C. He relies for his information entirely on calculations made from calendars and claims that Tuthmosis II was reigning in Egypt at that time, and was therefore the Pharaoh of the Exodus. The confirmation of the hypothesis is supposed to reside in the fact that lesions of the skin are to be observed on the mummy of Tuthmosis II. This commentator informs us (without explaining why) that they are due to leprosy, and that one of the plagues of Egypt described in the Bible consisted in skin boils. This staggering construction takes no account of the other facts contained in the Biblical narration, especially the Bible's mention of the City of Ramesses which rules out any hypothesis dating the Exodus before a 'Ramesses' had reigned.
As to the skin lesions of Tuthmosis II, these do not swing the argument in favour of the theory which designates this King of Egypt as the Pharaoh of the Exodus. This is because his son, Tuthmosis III, and his grandson Amenophis II also show signs of skin tumors [ The skin lesions are clearly visible on the mummies of these Pharaohs preserved in the Egyptian Museum, Cairo.], so that some commentators have suggested the hypothesis of a disease which ran in the family. The Tuthmosis II theory is not therefore tenable.
The same is true for Daniel-Rops's theory in his book. The People of the Bible (Le Peuple de la Bible) [ Pub. Desclée de Brouwer, 1970, Paris.]. He ascribes the role of the Pharaoh of the Exodus to Amenophis II. It does not seem to be any better-founded than the preceding hypothesis. Using the pretext that Amenophis II's father (Tuthmosis III) was very nationalistic, Daniel-Rops proclaims Amenophis II the persecutor of the Hebrews, while his step-mother, the famous Queen Hatshepsut, is cast in the role of the person who took Moses in (although we never discover why).
Father de Vaux's theory, that it was Ramesses II, rests on slightly more solid foundations. He expands on them in his book, The Ancient History of Israel (Histoire ancienne d'Israël) [ Pub. J. Gabalda and Co., 1971, Paris.]. Even if his theory does not agree with the Biblical narration on every point, at least it has the advantage of putting forward one very important piece of evidence: the construction of the cities of Ramesses and Pithom built under Ramesses II referred to in the Biblical text. It is not possible therefore to maintain that the Exodus took place before the accession of Ramesses II. This is situated in the year 1301 B.C., according to Drioton and Vandier's chronology, and in 1290 B.C. according to Rowton's. The two other hypotheses outlined above are untenable because of the following imperative fact: Ramesses II is the Pharaoh of the oppression referred to in the Bible.
Father de Vaux considers the Exodus to have taken place during the first half or towards the middle of Ramesses II's reign.
Thus his dating of this event is imprecise: he suggests this period to allow Moses and his followers time, as it were, to settle in Canaan, and Ramesses II's successor, Pharaoh Mernaptah who is said to have pacified the frontiers after his father's death, to bring the Children of Israel into line, as depicted on a stele of the Fifth year of his reign.
Two arguments may be levelled at this theory:
a) The Bible shows (Exodus 2, 23) that the King of Egypt died during the period when Moses was in Midian. This King of Egypt is described in the Book of Exodus as the King who made the Hebrews build the cities of Ramesses and Pithom by forced labour. This King was Ramesses II. The Exodus could only have taken place under the latter's successor. Father de Vaux claims however to doubt the Biblical sources of verse 23, chapter 2 of Exodus.
b) What is more astounding is that Father de Vaux, as director of the Biblical School of Jerusalem, does not refer in his theory of the Exodus to two essential passages in the Bible, both of which bear witness to the fact that the King died during the pursuit of the fleeing Hebrews. This detail makes it impossible for the Exodus to have taken place at any other time than at the end of a reign.
It must be repeated that there can be little doubt that the Pharaoh lost his life as a result of it. Chapters 13 and 14 of Exodus are quite specific on this point: "So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him . . ." (Exodus 14,6). (Pharaoh king of Egypt) "pursued the people of Israel as they went forth defiantly" (Exodus 14,8) . . . "The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained." (Exodus 14,28 and 29). In addition to these verses, Psalm 136 confirms Pharaoh's death and refers to Yahweh who "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea of Rushes" (Psalms 136,15).
Thus, during Moses's lifetime, one Pharaoh died when Moses was in Midian and another during the Exodus. There were not one, but two Pharaohs at the time of Moses: one during the oppression and the other during the Exodus from Egypt. The theory of a single Pharaoh (Ramesses II) put forward by Father de Vaux is unsatisfactory because it does not account for everything. The following observations are further arguments against his theory.
3. Rameses II, Pharaoh of the Oppression Merneptah, Pharaoh of the Exodus
P. Montet has very discerningly resumed the original Alexandrian [ There can be no doubt that in the Golden Age of the ptolemies, historical documents on Antiquity were preserved at Alexandria, only to be destroyed at the time of the Roman conquest; a loss which is keenly felt today.] tradition mentioned by Maspero. It is found much later in the Islamic tradition as well as in the classic Christian tradition. [ In the Holy Histories of the early 20th century, as in the History by Abbe H. Lesetre, intended for religious instruction, the Exodus is mentioned as having taken place during Merneptah's reign in Egypt.] This theory is set out in Montet's book Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et le Bible) [ Pub. Delachaux and Niestlé, Neuchatel, 1959.] and is supported by additional arguments, based in particular on the narrative contained in the Qur'an, to which the famous archaeologist did not refer. Before examining them however, we shall first return to the Bible.
The Book of Exodus contains a reference to the word 'Ramesses' although the Pharaoh's name is not mentioned. In the Bible 'Ramesses' is the name of one of the cities built by the forced labour of the Hebrews. Today we know that these cities form part of the Tanis-Qantir region, in the eastern Nile Delta. In the area where Ramesses II built his northern capital, there were other constructions prior to his, but it was Ramesses II who made it into an important site, as the archeological excavations undertaken in the last few decades have amply shown. To build it, he used the labour of the enslaved Hebrews.
When one reads the word 'Ramesses' in the Bible today, one is not particularly struck by it: the word has become very common to us since Champollion discovered the key to hieroglyphics 150 years ago, by examining the characters that expressed this very word. We are therefore used to reading and pronouncing it today and know what it means. One has to remember however that the meaning of hieroglyphics had been lost in circa the Third century B.C. and that Ramesses' name had hardly been preserved anywhere except in the Bible and a few books written in Greek and Latin which had deformed it to a lesser or greater extent. It is for this reason that Tacitus in his Annals talks of 'Rhamsis'. The Bible had however preserved the name intact: it is referred to four times in the Pentateuch or Torah (Genesis 47,11; Exodus 1,11 and 12,37. Numbers 33,3 and 33,5).
The Hebrew word for 'Ramesses' is written in two ways in the Bible: 'Râ(e) mss' or 'Râeâmss' [ The letter 'e' figures as the ayin in Hebrew.]. In the Greek version of the Bible, called the Septuagint, it is 'Râmessê'. In the Latin version (Vulgate) it is written 'Ramesses'. In the Clementine version of the Bible in French (1st edition, 1621) the word is the same, 'Ramesses'. The French edition was in circulation at the time of Champollion's work in this field. In his Summary of the Hièroglyphic System of the Ancient Egyptians (Precis du systeme hiéroglyphique des anciens Egyptiens) (2nd edition, 1828, page 276), Champollion alludes to the Biblical spelling of the word.
Thus the Bible had miraculously preserved Ramesses's name in its Hebrew, Greek and Latin versions. [ It is strange to note moreover, that in old editions of the Bible, commentators did not understand the meaning of the word at all. In the French edition of the Clementine Bible, 1621, for example, an interpretation of the word 'Ramesses' is given which makes total nonsense: 'Thunder of Vermin' (sic).]
The preceding data alone are enough to establish the following:
a) There can be no question of the Exodus before a 'Ramesses' had come to the throne in Egypt (11 Kings of Egypt had this name).
b) Moses was born during the reign of the Pharaoh who built the cities of Ramesses and Pithom, i.e. Ramesses II.
c) When Moses was in Midian, the reigning Pharaoh (i.e. Ramesses II) died. The continuation of Moses's story took place during the reign of Ramesses II's successor, Merneptah.
What is more, the Bible adds other highly important data which help to situate the Exodus in the history of the Pharaohs. It is the statement that Moses was eighty years old when, under God's orders, he tried to persuade Pharaoh to free his brothers: "Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh." (Exodus 7,7). Elsewhere however, the Bible tells us (Exodus 2,23) that the Pharaoh reigning at the time of the birth of Moses died when the latter was in Midian, although the Biblical narration continues without mentioning any change in the sovereign's name. These two passages in the Bible imply that the total number of years spanning the reigns of the two Pharaohs ruling at the time when Moses was living in Egypt must have been eighty years at least.
It is known that Ramesses II reigned for 67 years (1301-1235 B.C. according to Drioton and Vandier's chronology, 1290-1224 B.C. according to Rowton). For Merneptah, his successor, the Egyptologists are unable, however, to provide the exact dates of his reign. Nevertheless, it lasted for at least ten years because, as Father de Vaux points out, documents bear witness to the tenth year of his reign. Drioton and Vandier give two possibilities for Merneptah: either a ten-year reign, 1234-1224 B.C., or a twenty-year reign 1224-1204 B.C. Egyptologists have no precise indications whatsoever on how Merneptah's reign came to an end: all that can be said is that after his death, Egypt went through a period of serious internal upheavals lasting nearly 25 years.
Even though the chronological data on these reigns are not very precise, there was no other period during the New Kingdom concordant with the Biblical narration when two successive reigns (apart from Ramesses II-Merneptah) amounted to or surpassed eighty years. The Biblical data concerning Moses's age when he undertook the liberation of his brothers can only come from a time during the successive reigns of Ramesses II and Merneptah [ The period spanning the two reigns Sethos I-Ramesses II, which is said to have lasted roughly eighty years, is out of the question: Sethos I's reign-which was too short for this-does not square with the very long stay in Midian which Moses made as an adult and which took place during the reign of the first of the two Pharaohs he was to know.]. All the evidence points towards the fact that Moses was born at the beginning of Ramesses II's reign, was living in Midian when Ramesses II died after a sixty-seven year reign, and subsequently became the spokesman for the cause of the Hebrews living in Egypt to Merneptah, Ramesses II's son and successor. This episode may have happened in the second half of Merneptah's reign, assuming he reigned twenty years or nearly twenty years. Rowton believes the supposition to be quite feasible. Moses would then have led the Exodus at the end of Merneptah's reign. It could hardly have been otherwise because both the Bible and the Qur'an tell us that Pharaoh perished during the pursuit of the Hebrews leaving the country.
This plan agrees perfectly with the account contained in the Scriptures of Moses's infancy and of the way he was taken into the Pharaoh's family. It is a known fact that Ramesses II was very old when he died: it is said that he was ninety to a hundred years old. According to this theory, he would have been twentythree to thirty-three years old at the beginning of his reign which lasted sixty-seven years. He could have been married at that age and there is nothing to contradict the discovery of Moses by 'a member of Pharaoh's household' (according to the Qur'an), or the fact that Pharaoh's wife asked him if he would keep the newly-born child she had found on the bank of the Nile. The Bible claims that the child was found by Pharaoh's daughter. In view of Ramesses II's age at the beginning of his reign it would have been perfectly possible for him to have had a daughter old enough to discover the abandoned child. The Qur'anic and Biblical narrations do not contradict each other in any way on this point.
The theory given here is in absolute agreement with the Qur'an and is moreover at odds with only one single statement in the Bible which occurs (as we have seen) in Kings I 6,1 (N.B. this book is not included in the Torah). This passage is the subject of much debate and Father de Vaux rejects the historical data contained in this part of the Old Testament, which dates the Exodus in relation to the construction of Solomon's temple. The fact that it is subject to doubt makes it impossible to retain it as a conclusive argument against the theory outlined here.
The Problem of the Stele Dating from the Fifth Year of Merneptah's Reign
In the text of the famous stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah's reign critics think they have found an objection to the theory set out here, in which the pursuit of the Jews constituted the last act of his reign.
The stele is of great interest because it represents the only known document in hieroglyphics which contains the word 'Israel'. [ The word is followed by a generic determinative which leaves no doubt as to the fact that this term signifies a 'human community or group'.] The inscription which dates from the first part of Merneptah's reign was discovered in Thebes in the Pharaoh's Funeral Temple. It refers to a series of victories he won over Egypt's neighbouring states, in particular a victory mentioned at the end of the document over a "devastated Israel which has no more seed . . " From this fact it has been held that the existence of the word 'Israel' implied that the Jews must already have settled in Canaan by the fifth year of Merneptah's reign, and that in consequence, the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt had already taken place.
This objection does not seem tenable because it implies that there could have been no Jews living in Canaan all the while there were Jews in Egypt-a proposition it is impossible to accept. Father de Vaux however, in spite of the fact that he is a supporter of the theory which makes Ramesses II the Pharaoh of the Exodus, notes [ In his book 'The Ancient History of Israel' (Histoire ancienne d'Israël)] the following about the settling of the Jews in Canaan: "In the South, the time when communities related to the Israelites settled in the Kadesh region is unclear and dates from before the Exodus." He therefore allows for the possibility that certain groups may have left Egypt at a time different from that of Moses and his followers. The 'Apiru or Habiru who have sometimes been identified with the Israelites were already in Syria-Palestine long before Ramesses II and the Exodus: we have documentary evidence which proves that Amenophis II brought back 8,600 prisoners to work as forced labourers in Egypt. Others were to be found in Canaan under Sethos I where they caused unrest in the Beth-Shean region: P. Montet reminds us of this in his book Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible). It is quite plausible to suppose therefore that Merneptah was obliged to deal severely with these rebellious elements on his borders while inside them were those who were later to rally around Moses to flee the country. The existence of the stele dating from the fifth year of Merneptah's reign does not in any way detract from the present theory.
Moreover, the fact that the word 'Israel' figures in the history of the Jewish people is totally unconnected with the notion that Moses and his followers settled in Canaan. The origin of the word is as follows:
According to Genesis (32,29), Israel is the second name given to Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. The commentators of the Ecumenical Translation of the Bible-Old Testament (Traduction oecuménique de la Bible-Ancien Testament), 1975, think that its meaning is probably that 'God shows Himself in His Strength'. Since it has been given to a single man, it is not surprising that it was given to a community or group of people in memory of a distinguished ancestor.
The name 'Israel', therefore appeared well before Moses: several hundred years before to be exact. It is not surprising consequently to see it cited in a stele from the reign of the Pharaoh Merneptah. The fact that it is cited does not at all constitute an argument in favour of a theory which dates the Exodus before the fifth year of Merneptah's reign.
What it does do is refer to a group which it calls 'Israel', but Merneptah's stele cannot be alluding to a politically established collectivity because the inscription dates from the end of the Thirteenth century B.C. and the Kingdom of Israel was not formed until the Tenth century B.C. It must therefore refer to a human community of more modest proportions. [ "The name 'Israel' (in the stele) is accompanied by the generic determinative 'people' instead of the determinative 'country', as is the case for the other proper names in the stele" writes Father B. Couroyer, Professor at the Biblical School of Jerusalem, in his commentary to the translation of the Book of Exodus (Pub. Editions du Cerf, Paris, 1968, page 12).]
Nowadays, we know that the entry of 'Israel' into history was preceded by a long formatory period of eight or nine centuries. This period was distinguished by the settling of many semi-Nomadic groups, especially the Amorites and the Arameans all over the region. In the same period, Patriarchs began to appear in their communities among whom were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-Israel. The second name of this last Patriarch was used to designate the original group, the nucleus of a future political entity which was to appear long after Merneptah's reign, since the Kingdom of Israel lasted from 931 or 930 to 721 B.C.
4. The Description Contained in the Holy Scriptures of the Pharaoh's Death During the Exodus.
This event marks a very important point in the narrations contained in the Bible and the Qur'an. It stands forth very clearly in the texts. It is referred to in the Bible, not only in the Pentateuch or Torah, but also in the Psalms: the references have already been given.
It is very strange to find that Christian commentators have completely ignored it. Thus, Father de Vaux maintains the theory that the Exodus from Egypt took place in the first half or the middle of Ramesses II's reign. His theory takes no account of the fact that the Pharaoh perished during the Exodus, a fact which should make all hypotheses place the event at the end of a reign. In his Ancient History of Israel (Histoire ancienne d'Israël) , the Head of the Biblical School of Jerusalem does not seem to be at all troubled by the contradiction between the theory he maintains and the data contained in the two Books of the Bible: the Torah and Psalms.
In his book, Egypt and the Bible (L'Egypte et la Bible), P. Montet places the Exodus during Merneptah's reign, but says nothing about the death of the Pharaoh who was at the head of the army following the fleeing Hebrews.
This highly surprising attitude contrasts with the Jews' outlook: Psalm 136, verse 15 gives thanks to God who "overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Sea of Rushes" and is often recited in their liturgy. They know of the agreement between this verse and the passage in Exodus (14,28-29): "The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen and all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not so much as one of them remained." There is no shadow of a doubt for them that the Pharaoh and his troups were wiped out. These same texts are present in Christian Bibles.
Christian commentators quite deliberately, and in contradiction to all the evidence, brush aside the Pharaoh's death. What is more however, some of them mention the reference made to it in the Qur'an and encourage their readers to make very strange comparisons. In the translation of the Bible directed by the Biblical School of Jerusalem [ L'Exode (Exodus), 1968, page 73, Pub. Les Editions du Cerf, Paris.] we find the following commentary on the Pharaoh's death by Father Couroyer.
"The Koran refers to this (Pharaoh's death) (sura 10, verses 90-92), and popular tradition has it that the Pharaoh who was drowned with his army (an event which is not mentioned in the Holy Text [ There can be no doubt that this commentator is referring to the Bible.]) lives beneath the ocean where he rules over the men of the sea, i.e. the seals".
It is obvious that the uninformed reader of the Qur'an is bound to establish a connection between a statement in it which-for the commentator-contradicts the Biblical text and this absurd legend which comes from a so-called popular tradition mentioned in the commentary after the reference to the Qur'an.
The real meaning of the statement in the Qur'an on this has nothing to do with what this commentator suggests: verses 90 to 92, sura 10 inform us that the Children of Israel crossed the sea while the Pharaoh and his troops were pursuing them and that it was only when the Pharaoh was about to be drowned that he cried: "I believe there is no God except the God in which the Chilldren of Israel believe. I am of those who submit themselves to Him." God replied: "What? Now! Thou bast rebelled and caused depravity. This day W e save thee in thy body so that thou mayest be a Sign for those who will come after thee."
This is all that the sura contains on the Pharaoh's death. There is no question of the phantasms recorded by the Biblical commentator either here or anywhere else in the Qur'an. The text of the Qur'an merely states very clearly that the Pharaoh's body will be saved: that is the important piece of information.
When the Qur'an was transmitted to man by the Prophet, the bodies of all the Pharaohs who are today considered (rightly or wrongly) to have something to do with the Exodus were in their tombs of the Necropolis of Thebes, on the opposite side of the Nile from Luxor. At the time however, absolutely nothing was known of this fact, and it was not until the end of the Nineteenth century that they were discovered there. As the Qur'an states, the body of the Pharaoh of the Exodus was in fact rescued: whichever of the Pharaohs it was, visitors may see him in the Royal Mummies Room- of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo. The truth is therefore very different from the ludicrous legend that Father Couroyer has attached to the Qur'an.
5. Pharaoh Merneptah's Mummy
The mummified body of Merneptah, son of Ramesses II and Pharaoh of the Exodus-all the evidence points to this-was discovered by Loret in 1898 at Thebes in the Kings' Valley whence it was transported to Cairo. Elliot Smith removed its wrappings on the 8th of July, 1907: he gives a detailed description of this operation and the examination of the body in his book The Royal Mummies (1912). At that time the mummy was in a satisfactory state of preservation, in spite of deterioration in several parts. Since then, the mummy has been on show to visitors at the Cairo Museum, with his head and neck uncovered and the rest of body concealed under a cloth. It is so well hidden indeed, that until very recently, the only general photographs of the mummy that the Museum possessed were those taken by E. Smith in 1912.
In June 1975, the Egyptian high authorities very kindly allowed me to examine the parts of the Pharaoh's body that had been covered until then. They also allowed me to take photographs. When the mummy's present state was compared to the condition it was in over sixty years ago, it was abundantly clear that it had deteriorated and fragments had disappeared. The mummified tissues had suffered greatly, at the hand of man in some places and through the passage of time in others.
This natural deterioration is easily explained by the changes in the conditions of conservation from the time in the late Nineteenth century when it was discovered. Its discovery took place in the tomb of the Necropolis of Thebes where the mummy had lain for over three thousand years. Today, the mummy is displayed in a simple glass case which does not afford hermetic insulation from the outside, nor does it offer protection from pollution by micro-organisms. The mummy is exposed to fluctuations in temperature and seasonal changes in humidity: it is very far from the conditions which enabled it to remain protected from any source of deterioration for approximately three thousand years. It has lost the protection afforded by its wrappings and the advantage of remaining in the closed environment of the tomb where the temperature was more constant and the air less humid than it is in Cairo at certain times of the year. Of course, while it was in the Necropolis itself, the mummy had to withstand the visits of grave plunderers (probably very early on) and rodents: they caused a certain amount of damage, but the conditions were nevertheless (it seems) much more favourable for it to stand the test of time than they are today.
At my suggestion, special investigations were made during this examination of the mummy in June 1975. An excellent radiographic study was made by Doctors El Meligy and Ramsiys, and the examination of the interior of the thorax, through a gap in the thoracic wall, was carried out by Doctor Mustapha Manialawiy in addition to an investigation of the abdomen. This was the first example of endoscopy being applied to a mummy. This technique enabled us to see and photograph some very important details inside the body. Professor Ceccaldi performed a general medico-legal study which will be completed by an examination under the microscope of some small fragments that spontaneously fell from the mummy's body: this examination will be carried out by Professor Mignot and Doctor Durigon. I regret to say that definitive pronouncements cannot be made by the time this book goes to print. [ November, 1975 for the First French edition.]
What may already be derived from this examination is the discovery of multiple lesions of the bones with broad lacunae, some of which may have been mortal-although it is not yet possible to ascertain whether some of them occurred before or after the Pharaoh's death. He most probably died either from drowning, according to the Scriptural narrations, or from very violent shocks preceding the moment when he was drowned-or both at once.
The connection of these lesions with the deterioration whose sources have been mentioned above renders the correct preservation of the mummy of the Pharaoh somewhat problematical, unless precautionary and restorative measures are not taken very soon. These measures should ensure that the only concrete evidence which we still possess today concerning the death of the Pharaoh of the Exodus and the rescue of his body, willed by God, does not disappear with the passage of time.
It is always desirable for man to apply himself to the preservation of relics of his history, but here we have something which goes beyond that: it is the material presence of the mummified body of the man who knew Moses, resisted his pleas, pursued him as he took flight, lost his life in the process. His earthly remains were saved by the Will of God from destruction to become a sign to man, as it is written in the Qur'an. [ The mummy of Ramesses II, who was another witness to Moses's story, has been the subject of a study comparable to the one carried out on the mummy of Merneptah; the same restoration work is required for it.]
Those who seek among modern data for proof of the veracity of the Holy Scriptures will find a magnificent illustration of the verses of the Qur'an dealing with the Pharaoh's body by visiting the Royal Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum, Cairo!
[Note: The results of these medical studies carried out in Cairo, 1976, were read by the author before several French learned societies, including the 'Académie Nationale de Médecine' (National Academy of Medecine), during the first part of 1976. The knowledge of these results led the Egyptian Authorities to take the decision to transport the mummy of Ramesses II to France. Thus it arrived for treatment in Paris on the 26th September 1976.]
The Qur'an, Hadith and Modern Science
The Qur'an does not constitute the sole source of doctrine and legislation in Islam. During Muhammad's life and after his death, complementary information of a legislative nature was indeed sought in the study of the words and deeds of the Prophet.
Although writing was used in the transmission of hadith from the very beginning, a lot of this came also from the oral tradition. Those who undertook to assemble them in collections made the kind of enquiries which are always very taxing before recording accounts of past events. They nevertheless had a great regard for accuracy in their arduous task of collecting information. This is illustrated by the fact that for all of the Prophet's sayings, the most venerable collections always bear the names of those responsible for the account, going right back to the person who first collected the information from members of Muhammad's family or his companions.
A very large number of collections of the Prophet's words and deeds thus appeared under the title of Hadiths. The exact meaning of the word is 'utterances', but it is also customary to use it to mean the narration of his deeds.
Some of the collections were made public in the decades following Muhammad's death. Just over two hundred years were to pass before some of the most important collections appeared. The most authentic record of the facts is in the collections of Al Bukhari and Muslim, which date from over two hundred years after Muhammad and which provide a wider trustworthy account. In recent years, a bilingual Arabic/English edition has been provided by Doctor Muhammed Muhsin Khan, of the Islamic University of Madina. [ Pub. Sethi Straw Board Mills (Conversion) Ltd and Taleem-ul-Qur'an Trust, Gujranwala, Cantt. Pakistan. 1st edition 1971, for Sahih Al Bukhari.] Al Bukhari's work is generally regarded as the most authentic after the Qur'an and was translated into French (1903-1914) by Houdas and Marcais under the title Les Traditions Islamiques (Islamic Traditions). The Hadiths are therefore accessible to those who do not speak Arabic. One must, however, be wary of certain translations made by Europeans, including the French translation, because they contain inaccuracies and untruths which are often more of interpretation than of actual translation. Sometimes, they considerably change the real meaning of a hadith, to such an extent indeed that they attribute a sense to it which it does not contain.
As regards their origins, some of the hadiths and Gospels have one point in common which is that neither of them was compiled by an author who was an eyewitness of the events he describes. Nor were they compiled until some time after the events recorded. The hadiths, like the Gospels, have not all been accepted as authentic. Only a small number of them receive the quasi-unanimous approval of specialists in Muslim Tradition so that, except al-Muwatta, Sahih Muslim and Sahih al-Bukhari, one finds in the same book, hadiths presumed to be authentic side by side with ones which are either dubious, or should be rejected outright.
In contrast to Canonic Gospels which though questioned by some modern scholars but which have never been contested by Christian high authorities, even those hadiths that are most worthy to be considered as authentic have been the subject of criticism. Very early in the history of Islam, masters in Islamic thought exercised a thorough criticism of the hadiths, although the basic book (The Qur'an) remained the book of reference and was not to be questioned.
I thought it of interest to delve into the literature of the hadiths to find out how Muhammad is said to have expressed himself, outside the context of written Revelation, on subjects that were to be explained by scientific progress in following centuries. Al-though Sahih Muslim is also an authentic collection, in this study 1 have strictly limited myself to the texts of the hadiths which are generally considered to be the most authentic, i.e. those of Al Bukhari. I have always tried to bear in mind the fact that these texts were compiled by men according to data received from a tradition which was partially oral and that they record certain facts with a greater or lesser degree of accuracy, depending on the individual errors made by those who transmitted the narrations. These texts are different from other hadiths which were transmitted by a very large number of people and are unquestionably authentic. [ Muslim specialists designate the first by the word Zanni and the second by the word Qat'i.]
I have compared the findings made during an examination of the hadiths with those already set out in the section on the Qur'an and modern science. The results of this comparison speak for themselves. The difference is in fact quite staggering between the accuracy of the data contained in the Qur'an, when compared with modern scientific knowledge, and the highly questionable character of certain statements in the hadiths on subjects whose tenor is essentially scientific. These are the only hadiths to have been dealt with in this study.
Hadiths which have as their subject the interpretation of certain verses of the Qur'an sometimes lead to commentaries which are hardly acceptable today.
We have already seen the great significance of one verse (sura 36, verse 36) dealing with the Sun which "runs its course to a settled place". Here is the interpretation given of it in a hadith: "At sunset, the sun . . . prostrates itself underneath the Throne, and takes permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself . . . it will ask permission to go on its course . . . it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West . . ." (Sahih Al Bukhari). The original text (The Book of the Beginning of the Creation, Vol. IV page 283, part 54, chapter IV, number 421) is obscure and difficult to translate. This passage nevertheless contains an allegory which implies the notion of a course the Sun runs in relation to the Earth: science has shown the contrary to be the case. The authenticity of this hadith is doubtful (Zanni).
Another passage from the same work (The Book of the Beginning of the Creation, vol. IV page 283, part 54, chapter 6, number 430) estimates the initial stages in the development of the embryo very strangely in time: a forty-day period for the grouping of the elements which are to constitute the human being, another forty days during which the embryo is represented as 'something which clings', and a third forty-day period when the embryo is designated by the term 'chewed flesh'. Once the angels have intervened to define what this individual's future is to be, a soul is breathed into him. This description of embryonic evolution does not agree with modern data.
Whereas the Qur'an gives absolutely no practical advice on the remedial arts, except for a single comment (sura 16, verse 69) on the possibility of using honey as a therapeutic aid (without indicating the illness involved), the hadiths devote a great deal of space to these subjects. A whole section of Al Bukhari's collection (part 76) is concerned with medicine. In the French translation by Houdas and Marcais it goes from page 62 to 91 of volume 4, and in Doctor Muhammad Muhsin Khan's bilingual Arabic/English edition from page 395 to 452, of volume VII. There can be no doubt that these pages contain some hadiths which are conjectural (Zanni), but they are interesting as a whole because they provide an outline of the opinions on various medical subjects that it was possible to hold at the time. One might add to them several hadiths inserted in other parts of Al Bukhari's collection which have a medical tenor.
This is how we come to find statements in them on the harms caused by the Evil Eye, witchcraft and the possibility of exorcism; although a certain restriction is imposed on the paid use of the Qur'an for this purpose. There is a hadith which stresses that certain kinds of date may serve as protection against the effects of magic, and magic may be used against poisonous snakebites.
We should not be surprised however to find that at a time when there were limited possibilities for the scientific use of drugs, people were advised to rely on simple practices; natural treatments such as blood-letting, cupping, and cauterization, head-shaving against lice, the use of camel's milk and certain seeds such as black cumin, and plants such as indian Qust. It was also recommended to burn a mat made of palm-tree leaves and put the ash from it into a wound to stop bleeding. In emergencies, all available means that might genuinely be of use had to be employed. It does not seem-a priori-to be a very good idea, however, to suggest that people drink camel's urine.
It is difficult today to subscribe to certain explanations of subjects related to various illnesses. Among them, the following might be mentioned:
--the origins of a fever. there are four statements bearing witness to the fact that "fever is from the heat of hell" (Al Bukhari, The Book of Medicine, vol. VII, chapter 28, page 416).
--the existence of a remedy for every illness: "No disease God created, but He created its treatment" (Ibid. chapter 1, page 396). This concept is illustrated by the Hadith of the Fly. "If a fly falls into the vessel of any of you, let him dip all of it (into the vessel) and then throw it away, for in one of its wings there is a disease and in the other there is healing (antidote for it). i.e. the treatment for that disease" (Ibid. chapter 15-16, pages 462-463, also The Book of the Beginning of Creation part 54, chapters 15 & 16.)
--abortion provoked by the sight of a snake (which can also blind). This is mentioned in The Book of the Beginning of Creation, Vol. IV(chapter 13 and 14, pages 330 & 334).
--haemorrhages between periods. The Book of Menses (Menstrual Periods) Vol. VI, part 6, pages 490 & 495 contains two hadiths on the cause of haemorrhages between periods (chapters 21 & 28). They refer to two women: in the case of the first, there is a description (undetailed) of the symptoms, with a statement that the haemorrhage comes from a blood vessel; in the second, the woman had experienced haemorrhages between periods for seven years, and the same vascular origin is stated. One might suggest hypotheses as to the real causes of the above, but it is not easy to see what arguments could have been produced at the time to support this diagnosis. This could nevertheless have been quite accurate.
--the statement that diseases are not contagious. Al Bukhari's collection of hadiths refers in several places (chapters 19, 25, 30, 31, 53 and 54, Vol. VII, part 76, of the Book of Medicine) to certain special cases, e.g. leprosy (page 408), plague (pages 418 & 422), camel's scabies (page 447), and also provides general statements. The latter are however placed side by side with glaringly contradictory remarks: it is recommended, for example, not to go to areas where there is plague, and to stay away from lepers.
Consequently, it is possible to conclude that certain hadiths exist which are scientifically unacceptable. There is a doubt surrounding their authenticity. The purpose of reference to them lies solely in the comparison that they occasion with the verses of the Qur'an mentioned above: these do not contain a single inaccurate statement. This observation clearly has considerable importance.
One must indeed remember that at the Prophet's death, the teachings that were received from this fell into two groups:
--firstly, a large number of Believers knew the Qur'an by heart because, like the Prophet, they had recited it many, many times; transcriptions of the text of the Qur'an already existed moreover, which were made at the time of the Prophet and even before the Hegira [ The Hegira was in 622, ten years before Muhammad's death.].
-secondly, the members of his following who were closest to him and the Believers who had witnessed his words and deeds had remembered them and relied on them for sUPport, in addition to the Qur'an, when defining a nascent doctrine and legislation.
In the years that were to follow the Prophet's death, texts were to be compiled which recorded the two groups of teachings he had left. The first gathering of hadiths was performed roughly forty years after the Hegira, but a first collection of Qur'anic texts had been made beforehand under Caliph Abu Bakr, and in particular Caliph Uthman, the second of whom published a definitive text during his Caliphate, i.e. between the twelfth and twenty-fourth years following Muhammad's death.
What must be heavily stressed is the disparity between these two groups of texts, both from a literary point of view and as regards their contents. It would indeed be unthinkable to compare the style of the Qur'an with that of the hadiths. What is more, when the contents of the two texts are compared in the light of modern scientific data, one is struck by the oppositions between them. I hope I have succeeded in showing what follows:
--on the one hand, statements in the Qur'an which often appear to be commonplace, but which conceal data that science was later to bring to light.
--on the other hand, certain statements in the hadiths which are shown to be in absolute agreement with the ideas of their times but which contain opinions that are deemed scientifically unacceptable today. These occur in an aggregate of statements concerning Islamic doctrine and legislation, whose authenticity is unquestioningly acknowledged.
Finally, it must be pointed out that Muhammad's own attitude was quitedifferent towards the Qur'an from what it was towards his personal sayings. The Qur'an was proclaimed by him to be a divine Revelation. Over a period of twenty years, the Prophet classified its sections with the greatest of care, as we have seen. The Qur'an represented what had to be written down during his own lifetime and learned by heart to become part of the liturgy of prayers. The hadiths are said, in principle, to provide an account of his deeds and personal reflections, but he left it to others to find an example in them for their own behaviour and to make them public however they liked: he did not give any instructions.
In view of the fact that only a limited number of hadiths may be considered to express the Prophet's thoughts with certainty, the others must contain the thoughts of the men of his time, in particular with regard to the subjects referred to here. When these dubious or inauthentic hadiths are compared to the text of the Qur'an, we can measure the extent to which they differ. This comparison highlights (as if there were still any need to) the striking difference between the writings of this period, which are riddled with scientific inaccurate statements, and the Qur'an, the Book of Written Revelation, that is free from errors of this kind. [ The truth of the hadiths, from a religious point of view, is beyond question. When they deal, however, with earthly affairs there is no difference between the Prophet and other humans. One hadith gives an account of an utterance of the Prophet: "Whenever I command you to do something related to Religion do obey, and if I command you something according to my own opinion (do remember this) I am a human being". Al Saraksi in his 'Principles' (Al Usul) transmitted this statement as follows: "If I bring something to you on your religion, do act according to it, and if I bring you something related to this world, then you have a better knowledge of your own earthly affairs".]
At the end of this study, a fact that stands forth very clearly is that the predominant opinion held in the West on the Texts of the Holy Scriptures we possess today is hardly very realistic. We have seen the conditions, times and ways in which the elements constituting the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Qur'an were collected and written down: the circumstances attendant upon the birth of the Scriptures for these three Revelations differed widely in each case, a fact which had extremely important consequences concerning the authenticity of the texts and certain aspects of their contents.
The Old Testament represents a vast number of literary works written over a period of roughly nine hundred years. It forms a highly disparate mosaic whose pieces have, in the course of centuries, been changed by man. Some parts were added to what already existed, so that today it is sometimes very difficult indeed to identify where they came from originally.
Through an account of Jesus's words and deeds, the Gospels were intended to make known to men the teachings he wished to leave them on completion of his earthly mission. Unfortunately, the authors of the Gospels were not eyewitnesses of the data they recorded. They were spokesmen who expressed data that were quite simply the information that had been preserved by the various Judeo-Christian communities on Jesus's public life, passed down by oral traditions or writings which no longer exist today, and which constituted an intermediate stage between the oral tradition and the definitive texts.
This is the light in which the Judeo-Christian Scriptures should be viewed today, and-to be objective-one should abandon the classic concepts held by experts in exegesis.
The inevitable result of the multiplicity of sources is the existence of contradictions and oppositions: many examples have been given of these. The authors of the Gospels had (when talking of Jesus) the same tendency to magnify certain facts as the poets of French Medieval literature in their narrative poems. The consequence of this was that events were presented from each individual narrator's point of view and the authenticity of the facts reported in many cases proved to be extremely dubious. In view of this, the few statements contained in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures which may have something to do with modern knowledge should always be examined with the circumspection that the questionable nature of their authenticity demands.
Contradictions, improbabilities and incompatibilities with modern scientific data may be easily explained in terms of what has just been said above. Christians are nevertheless very surprised when they realize this, so great have been the continuous and far-reaching efforts made until now by many official commentators to camouflage the very obvious results of modern studies, under cunning dialectical acrobatics orchestrated by apologetic lyricism. A case in point are the genealogies of Jesus given in Matthew and Luke, which were contradictory and scientifically unacceptable. Examples have been provided which reveal this attitude very clearly. John's Gospel has been given special attention because there are very important differences between it and the other three Gospels, especially with regard to the fact that his Gospel does not describe the institution of the Eucharist: this is not generally known.
The Qur'anic Revelation has a history which is fundamentally different from the other two. It spanned a period of some twenty years and, as soon as it was transmitted to Muhammad by Archangel Gabriel, Believers learned it by heart. It. was also written down during Muhammad's life. The last recensions of the Qur'an were effected under Caliph Uthman starting some twelve years after the Prophet's death and finishing twenty-four years after it. They had the advantage of being checked by people who already knew the text by heart, for they had learned it at the time of the Revelation itself and had subsequently recited it constantly. Since then, we know that the text has been scrupulously preserved. It does not give rise to any problems of authenticity.
The Qur'an follows on from the two Revelations that preceded it and is not only free from contradictions in its narrations, the sign of the various human manipulations to be found in the Gospels, but provides a quality all of its own for those who examine it objectively and in the light of science i.e. its complete agreement with modern scientific data. What is more, statements are to be found in it (as has been shown) that are connected with science: and yet it is unthinkable that a man of Muhammad's time could have been the author of them. Modern scientific knowledge therefore allows us to understand certain verses of the Qur'an which, until now, it has been impossible to interpret.
The comparison of several Biblical and Qur'anic narrations of the same subject shows the existence of fundamental differences between statements in the former, which are scientifically unacceptable, and declarations in the latter which are in perfect agreement with modern data: this was the case of the Creation and the Flood, for example. An extremely important complement to the Bible was found in the text of the Qur'an on the subject of the history of the Exodus, where the two texts were very much in agreement with archaeological findings, in the dating of the time of Moses. Besides, there are major differences between the Qur'an and the Bible on the other subjects: they serve to disprove all that has been maintained-without a scrap of evidence-concerning the allegation that Muhammad is supposed to have copied the Bible to produce the text of the Qur'an.
When a comparative study is made between the statements connected with science to be found in the collection of hadiths, which are attributed to Muhammad but are often of dubious authenticity (although they reflect the beliefs of the period), and the data of a similar kind in the Qur'an, the disparity becomes so obvious that any notion of a common origin is ruled out.
In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad's day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements In the Qur'an which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Qur'an as the expression of a Revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.