Chapter 11 : The Sun & Moon and Their Orbits
Exposing Dr. Maurice Bucaille's Misinformation
Shabir tries to demonstrate that the Quran is a scientific miracle, foretelling modern scientific facts centuries before these facts were discovered. The only problem is that if Shabir were to be consistent then science can not only prove that the Quran is true, but can also be used to prove that it is false. Hence, in this study we will seek to demonstrate that the Quran clashes with modern scientific fact and is therefore a false book.
Today we know that the Moon revolves around the earth in approximately 29.5 days. The sun also revolves in its own orbit. To understand the sun's orbit, Dr. Bucaille says that the position of the sun in our galaxy must be considered, and we must therefore call on modern scientific ideas (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
It is quite true that today we know that the moon revolves around the earth, yet the Quran did not. The Quran implies that the moon travels in a similar orbit along side the sun, whereas the earth is remaining stationary, a gross error.
Our galaxy, the milky way galaxy, includes one hundred billion stars situated in such a formation that the galaxy is shaped like a disc. This disc turns around its centre like a gramaphone record. Now, it is obvious that when a gramaphone record turns, any point on the disc would move around and come back to its original position. Similarly, every star in the galaxy moves as the galaxy rotates on its axis. Therefore the stars that are away from the centre of the galaxy orbit around the axis. The sun is one of those stars.
Dr. Bucaille explains that modern science has worked out the details of the sun's orbit as follows:
"To complete one revolution on its own axis, the galaxy and the sun take roughly 250 million years. The sun travels roughly 150 miles per second in the completion of this" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
After describing this, Dr. Bucaille comments:
"The above is the orbital movement of the sun that was already referred to in the Qur'an fourteen centuries ago." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162)
In the contrary, the Quran teaches that the sun travels to one end of space and returns back to its resting place. According to the Quran, that resting place is a muddy spring within the earth!
And yet this is a new finding. As Dr. Bucaille says, the knowledge of the sun's orbit is an acquisition of modern astronomy (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
Two verses in the Qur'an refer to the orbits of the sun and moon. After mentioning the sun and the moon, God says:
"Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40).
Notice first that Shabir can't produce a single verse from the Quran where it states that the earth is traveling in an orbit. The reason for this is that there is no verse in the Quran stating this fact. The Quran implies that the earth is stationary in relation to the sun and moon.
Second, in these and several other verses in the Quran (see below) the orbits of sun and moon are mentioned together and no distinction is made between them. They look the same from the earth, traversing through the sky; but as everyone knows in reality their orbits are very different: The moon travels around the earth, the sun does not. It only looks like it does because of the rotation of the earth. In the contrary, the earth travels around the sun. How come the Qur'an never makes this distinction in the two orbits? That might have been amazing. But exactly that is missing.
The Qur'an nowhere speaks about an orbit of the sun in the universe, it always speaks about the orbit of the sun "around the earth" (through the sky from East to West) as observed in its movement from sunrise to sunset.
How did the author of the Qur'an know of this? Even after the Qur'an was revealed, early commentators could not conceive of the orbits of the sun and moon. The tenth century commentator Tabari could not explain this so he said,
"It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know" (XVII, 15 quoted in The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).
Dr. Bucaille comments:
"This shows just how incapable men were of understanding this concept of the sun's and moon's orbit." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).
From this it is clear that if the Qur'an was here expressing an idea already known to the people, the commentators would have easily understood it. But this, as Dr. Bucaille explains was "a new concept that was not to be explained until centuries later" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).
First, it is wrong that Tabari didn't know how to understand this. He cites various traditions of Muhammad that explain the orbits of sun and moon in detail, see this article. Other commentators have not been silent either. As we shall shortly demonstrate, several of the classical Muslim commentators clearly believed that the sun settled in a spring on earth. From there it would return back on its course. They also believed that the moon traveled throughout the different constellations within our galaxy.
What exactly does Tabari's statement "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know" refer to? Looking at the context to this statement as given in Bucaille's book we find:
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 sphere. This is indeed its initial sense.
The word caused concern to older translations 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. Si 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 clestial 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 new concept therefore existed in the Qur'an that was not explained until centuries later.
It becomes clear, that Tabari's statement only refers to the exact meaning of the word falak used in the Quran. This is seemingly a difficult word which commentators and translators have struggled with. But as we have shown in this article, despite the difficulty of the word falak Tabari has a clear understanding of the orbit of the sun and the moon. Therefore, Bucaille is misrepresenting Tabari, and Shabir Ally removes information on the context of Tabari's statement that was still found in Bucaille's book. Despite the importance of the topic, the question of divine authentication of the Quran, Shabir Ally has not bothered to read his main witness Tabari for himself. He has not even read Bucaille carefully, but blindly believes his conclusion even though Bucaille's own quotation reveals that his conclusion is faulty. Either Shabir Ally is irresponsibly negligent, or he knowingly misleads his readers by selective quotations which give an impression that is clearly not the intention of the original author. However, we know that both Bucaille and Shabir Ally are highly intelligent and the tool of misquotation of sources to uphold the Quran is used by them not only in this case. (See many of the rebuttals to Shabir Ally and M. Bucaille.)
Even though we like to give the benefit of the doubt, the observation of frequent misquotations makes it difficult not to conclude that Bucaille and Ally are both guilty of intellectual dishonesty and deliberate fraud for the cause of promoting Islam. It cannot all be blamed on mere stupidity.
Lastly, the fact that sun is traveling is not something new since we find the Holy Bible alluding to this centuries before the Quran was produced.
This confirms what God said to his prophet, on whom be peace:
"This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we inspire in you (Muhammad). Neither you nor your people knew it before this" (Qur'an 11:49).
Let us see if whether the Quran passes the test of scientific accuracy.
First, the fact that the sun and moon travel while the earth is stationary can be seen in the following citations:
And He it is Who created the night and the day, and the sun and the moon. They float, each in an orbit. S. 21:33
It is not permitted to the Sun to catch up the Moon, nor can the Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along in (its own) orbit (according to Law). S. 36:40
By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him ... S. 91:1-2
If these verses are supposedly foretelling that the planets and stars are floating in an orbit, why then is there no mention of the fact that the earth is floating as well? Particularly the verses 36:40 and 91:2 also give the impression that both the sun and the moon travel on an identical orbit where the sun never catches up to the moon. The fact is that, just as Shabir mentions, the moon and sun are not traveling together since the moon orbits around the earth, not the sun. It is the earth that travels around the sun.
The expression "the sun not catching up the moon" shows very clearly that what Muhammad had in mind was the progress of each body across the sky. The moon tracks across the sky at night, the sun at day - so of course they could not "catch up". He watched the two racing across the sky, neither one catching the other. But the very idea of catching up shows that in his 7th century mind, sun and moon were running on the same track.
And maketh the sun and the moon, constant in their courses, to be of service unto you, and hath made of service unto you the night and the day. S. 14:33
Allah it is Who raised up the heavens without visible supports, then mounted the Throne, and compelled the sun and the moon to be of service, each runneth unto an appointed term; He ordereth the course; He detaileth the revelations, that haply ye may be certain of the meeting with your Lord. S. 13:2
"And for the moon We have appointed mansions till she returns like an old shrivelled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They all float, each in an orbit. S. 36:39-40
He hath created the heavens and the earth with truth. He maketh night to succeed day, and He maketh day to succeed night, and He constraineth the sun and the moon to give service, each running on for an appointed term. Is not He the Mighty, the Forgiver? S. 39:5
Again, if the Quran indeed were foretelling modern scientific fact why then did this last verse not state that the earth is also running on a course for an appointed term? Wouldn't this have been a perfect place for God to state that the earth also travels seeing that the orbit of both the sun and moon are mentioned in this verse? Instead, this is the sixth verse where the impression given is that the earth is not traveling, whereas the sun and moon are. The point that the earth is not traveling is solidified by the following verse:
Is not He (best) Who made the earth a fixed abode, and placed rivers in the folds thereof, and placed firm hills therein, and hath set a barrier between the two seas? Is there any God beside Allah? Nay, but most of them know not! S. 27:61 Pickthall
Pickthall's translation gives the impression that the earth is in a fixed position, and is therefore stationary.
This view on the earth being a stationary object is supported by al-Baidawi:
"And He cast on the earth firm mountains lest it should shake with you," or least it should turn aside and be thrown out of balance. For before the mountains were created on it, the earth had been a light-weight sphere of simple substance. It floated about freely in orbit like the planets, and would advance with the slightest movement. Its sides varied in dimension when the mountains were created on its surface, and they centered it, thus serving as wedges to keep it from moving. It was also said that, when God created the earth it started to sway and swing, so that the angels said, "None can have a resting place on its surface." So it was made stationary by the mountains. (Baidawi's comments on S. 16:15 as cited in Abdallah Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO BOX 13, A-9503 VILLACH, AUSTRIA], pp. 19-20)
Al-Baidawi also claims:
"The sun - It runs to a fixed resting place" refers to a certain limit at which it cycle comes to an end. It is compared to the resting-place of a traveler after his journey, or to the center of the sky where it moves slower, so that one thinks it has come to a halt. [The poet says, The sun is gone astray and revolves in the sky".] It can also mean a settled course, or an appointed end for each day from the east to the west. For it has a cycle of three hundred and sixty sunrises and sunsets; it rises every morning from its resting-place and sets in a setting place, only to return to them the following year. This could also be a reference to the destruction of the world when it ceases to rotate. Another reading is: with no resting-place to it; namely, it does not rest, but moves all the time. (Baidawi's comments on S. 36:38 as cited by Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible?, p. 29)
This gives the impression that the sun travels from one end of the earth to the other over a three hundred and sixty-day period. This strongly argues that the Quran pictures the earth as an immovable, stationary object where the sun and moon travel around. In fact, Muhammad also taught that the sun rests in a muddy spring from which it returns back on its course:
"Narrated Abu Dharr: The prophet asked me at sunset, Do you know where the sun goes (at the time of sunset)? I replied, Allah and his messenger know better. He said, It goes (i.e. travels) till it prostrates itself underneath the throne, and takes the permission to rise again, and it is permitted and then (a time will come when) it will be about to prostrate itself but its prostration will not be accepted, and it will ask permission to go on its course, but it will not be permitted, but it will be ordered to return whence it has come and so it will rise in the West. And that is the interpretation of the statement of Allah: "And the sun runs on its fixed course for a term appointed). This is the decree of (Allah) the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing."" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 4, Number 421)
The translator of this Hadith states:
"The procedure of the sun mentioned in this Hadith and similar other things mentioned in the Quran like the prostration of the trees, herbs, and stars, etc. (v. 55:6) are beyond our limited knowledge of this universe. It is interpreted that these are mentioned so because of our limited understanding of the people at that time about the matters of the universe."
Where does the sun travel to after receiving permission from God to return on its course? The Quran gives us the answer:
"Until, when he reached the setting place of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of black muddy (or hot) water. And he found near it a people. We (All‚h) said (by inspiration): "O Dhul-Qarnain! Either you punish them, or treat them with kindness." S. 18:86
Shabir elsewhere tries to interpret this passage allegorically. Despite Shabir's attempt at allegorizing this passage, Muhammad and his companions clearly believed that the sun literally set in a muddy spring.
Al-Zamakhshari remarks in his book, Al-Kash-shaf:
"Abu Dharr (one of Muhammad's close companions) was with Muhammad during the sunset.
Muhammad asked him: Do you know, O Abu Dharr where this sets? He answered: God and His apostle know better. Muhammad said: It sets in a spring of slimy water." (3rd Edition, Volume 2, p. 743, 1987)
Hence, Muhammad believed that the sun literally sets in a spring. In his book, The Lights of Revelation (p. 399), al-Baidawi indicates,
"The sun sets in a slimy spring; that is, a well which contains mud. Some of the readers of the Qur'an read it, ... a hot spring, thus the spring combines the two descriptions. It was said that Ibn 'Abbas found Mu'awiya reading it (as) hot. He told him, It is muddy. Mu'awiya sent to Ka'b al-Ahbar and asked him, Where does the sun set? He said in water and mud and there were some people. So he agreed with the statement of Ibn al-'Abbas. And there was a man who composed a few verses of poetry about the setting of the sun in the slimy spring."
Ibn Abbas, who was both a Sahabah and a cousin of Muhammad, also believed along with Ka'b al-Ahbar that the sun literally set in a muddy spring.
In Al-Jalalan's Commentary, p. 251, we are told that the setting of the sun is in a well that contains murky mud. The same interpretation is given by al-Tabari in his commentary (The History by Tabari, The Scientific Books, p. 339) as well as in the Concise Interpretation of al-Tabari (pt 2, p. 19) where he states that the well in which the sun sets "contains lime and murky mud".
Hence, Muhammad believed and the Quran teaches that the sun rests in a muddy spring from where it then travels throughout the galaxy until it appears before God and returns back again!
Al-Baidawi also mentions the course the moon follows when traversing the galaxy:
"And the moon-we determined" means its course is determined by stations. These stations are [twenty-seven]. They are as follows: Saratan ['Cancer'], Batin ['the Ventricle'], Thurayya ['the Pleiades'], al-Dabaran, al-Mihqama, al-Hata'a, Dhira' ['the Arm'], al-Natra, Taraf ['the End'], Jaiha ['the Countenance'], Zabra ['the Lion's Shoulder'], Sarfa ['the Lion's Heart'], `Uwa' ['the Lion's Thigh'], al-Samalik, al-Zayana, Iklil ['the Wreath'], Qalb ['the Heart'], Shauka ['the Thorn'], al-Ta'a'im, Balda ['the Town'], Sa'd al-Dhabih ['Sa'd of the Sacrifices'], Sa'd Bala', Sa'd al-Su'ud, Sa'd al-Ahbiya, Fargh al-Dilw al-Muqaddam ['the advanced Aquarius'], Fargh al-Dilw al-Mu'akhkhar ['the delayed Aquarius'], and Risha ['the Whale's Belly']. Every night the moon rests at a station, never exceeding it, and never late to it. When it is at its last station, which precedes the meeting, it tapers and turns into a crescent, "till it runs like an aged palm-bough" or an old palm frond, or a year-old palm frond. "It behoves not the sun" means it does not fit the sun "to overtake the moon" in speed. "Neither does the night outstrip the day" means it does not run before it and leave it lagging behind. "Each" refers to the suns and the moons. "Swimming in a sky" means they glide easily in it. (`Abdallah `Abd al-Fadi, Is the Qur'an Infallible? [Light of Life, PO Box 13, A-9503 Villach, Austria], pp. 30-31; bold emphasis ours)
Baidawi claims that the Quranic reference that the moon is appointed mansions (cf. 36:39) means that the moon travels throughout the galaxy, traversing the different constellations such as Pleiades. This is a gross mistake! Other mistakes include:
He Who created the seven heavens, one above the other ... And We have adorned the lowest heaven with lamps ... S. 67:3, 5
And He completed them seven heavens in two days and inspired in each heaven its command; and We adorned the lower heaven with lamps, and rendered it guarded ... S. 41:12
We have indeed adorned the lower heaven with the beauty of the stars. S. 37:6
These passages contain major mistakes. The lamps that adorn the lowest heaven are identified as the stars. The problem is that stars do not just adorn the lowest heaven, but adorn all the galaxies that we know of. Lamps can be seen throughout the billions of galaxies and are not just limited to one specific part of the heavens. This is a major scientific error.
The Quran also asserts that the moon is located in the midst of the seven heavens which is a gross error:
Do you not see how God has created the seven heavens one above the other, and made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a lamp? S. 71:15-16
The problem with this verse is that the average distance from the earth to the moon is 384,400 km, while Proxima Centauri, the closest star to us outside of the solar system, is already about 4.3 light years = 40,682,300,000,000 km (40 trillion kilometers) away, or expressed differently, we need to multiply the distance of the moon by more than 100 million to reach even the nearest of all the stars. Therefore, to say that the moon is in the midst of the seven heavens implies that the moon is actually farther away from the earth than the stars since the latter are only found in the lowest heaven. Once again, the Quran presents us with a major scientific error!
And We have (from of old), adorned the lowest heaven with lamps, and We have made such (lamps as) missiles to drive away Satans ... S. 67:5
We have indeed decked the lower heaven with beauty (in) the stars, (for beauty) and for guard against all obstinate rebellious Satans. (So) they should not strain their ears in the direction of the Exalted Assembly but be cast away from every side. S. 37:6-8 (see also 15:16-18, 55:33-35)
Abu Qatada states,
"The creation of these stars is for three purposes, i.e. as decoration of the (nearest) heaven, as missiles to hit the devils, and as signs to guide travelers. So, if anybody tries to find a different interpretation, he is mistaken and just wastes his efforts, and troubles himself with what is beyond his limited knowledge." (Dr. Muhammad Taq-I-ud-Din Al-Hillai, Ph.D. [Berlin] Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Interpretation of the Meaning of the Noble Quran, pp. 214, 394-395)
Are we to really believe that meteors or stars are actually used to pelt immaterial spirits in order to prevent them from getting near the presence of God's angels? In what sense can physical objects be used to hurt spirits who have no material form? Would Bucaille and Shabir claim that this is scientifically accurate?
Finally, the fact that the sun travels was already documented within the Holy Bible long before Islam:
"His (the sun) going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof." Psalm 19:6 KJV
Even though the Psalms mainly consist of poetic imagery and allegory, this imagery of the sun traveling is scientifically accurate. Dr. Henry Morris, President of Institute of Creation Research (ICR), states:
"As a matter of fact, however, the words of the psalmist may be even more scientific than he could have known. Studies of modern galactic astronomy have indicated that the sun is indeed moving around a center in the Milky Way galaxy in a gigantic orbit that would require two million centuries to complete, even at the tremendous tangential speed of 600,000 miles per hour. Furthermore, it is well known that our own galaxy is moving with respect to other galaxies. The sun's circuit is from one end of the heavens to the other ... Consequently, the psalmist - instead of using pre-scientific language - was using the most scientific language he could have used in describing the motion of the sun relative to the earth." (Dr. Morris, Science and The Bible [Moody Press, Chicago 1986], p. 13)
In the next section, Shabir continues with:
The Sun & Moon Move With Their Own Motion
The Qur'an makes the following statement about the sun and the moon:
"Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40).
Why did the Qur'an say that the sun and moon move with their own motion? And, if that is true, where did the author of the Qur'an get this information?
The fact is that the sun and moon rotate on their axes and are in part animated by this rotating motion.
The phrase "travelling with its own motion" in the verses quoted above is a translation of the arabic verb yasbahoon.
This could also be translated they swim. In that case, the verse would read that the sun and the moon, "Each swim in its own orbit." Those who translate the verse this way explain that the term swim refers to movement with one's own internally generated force. Furthermore the movement of a swimmer is graceful, measured, and smooth. This is a very fitting description for the movement of the stars and planets including the sun and the moon.
After describing the scientific data concerning the rotation of the sun and the moon, Dr. Bucaille says:
"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. ... could have imagined them" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 163).
It is also amazing that the Qur'an uses a different term for the movement of the clouds and the mountains (see Qur'an 27:88). Obviously, the clouds and mountains are driven by external forces. The cloud is driven by he wind and the mountains move with the rotation of the earth. The sun and moon, however, move with their own motion, and therefore the Qur'an uses a peculiar term "they swim" to refer to their smooth, graceful, self-propelled movement.
How did the author of the Qur'an know enough to make this choice of words that will reflect a modern scientific truth?
The Qur'an is no less than a revelation from God.
A better question is if the Quran indeed was foretelling modern scientific fact, why then does it not bother to mention that the earth is rotating on its axis or that it is also traveling on an orbit? Why does it give the impression that the earth is stationary and that the sun travels to one end of space and then comes to rest in a muddy spring? Why does it give the impression that the sun and moon travel on the same course when we know that the moon is actually rotating around the earth and it is the earth that rotates around the sun? Why does it give the impression that the earth is actually flat and that the stars are to be found only in the lowest heaven as opposed to being found throughout the entire universe? Why does the Quran claim that meteors or stars are actually objects used to cast out immaterial spirits from the presence of angels? Perhaps Shabir can answer all these questions.
We again must conclude that the Quran falls short of making the kind of scientific statements that Shabir claims it does.
Responses to Shabir Ally and his "Islamic Information"
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