Scientific Predictions in the Qur'an?
Islamic humor reaching for the moon
Harun Yahya’s amazing ability to cross-breed recently discovered scientific facts with Qur’an verses results in deformed knowledge that is neither Islamic nor scientific per se. However, these anomalies will not stop Yahya, who deems it crucial to update the Islamic scripture with the help of some scientific data. His efforts to make science submit to the Qur’an1 serve the great ideal of turning the Islamic scripture into a book full of predictions that are fulfilled in our day with the help of scientific studies and developments. Taking scientific discoveries hostage and forcing them to pay tribute to Islam enables Yahya to counter the Bible, the book of divine prophecies, with the Qur’an, the so-called book of scientific predictions.
Harun Yahya’s website, which is dedicated to the promotion of the supposed miracles of the Qur’an, has a subsection entitled “Predictions in the Qur’an”, which is based on Yahya’s desire to draw links between some verses and latest technological developments. Quite interestingly, Yahya’s unsubstantial and far-fetched interpretations take the supposed predictions beyond our planet and affiliate the Qur’an with mankind’s explorations in space. Consequently, Yahya asserts that mankind’s exploration in outer space and voyage to the moon were part of the divine information granted to Mohammad through the Qur’an in the form of predictions. The analysis of these two affiliated so-called scientific predictions of the Qur’an will illustrate how Yahya’s aim to serve Islam with the help of concocted miracles is of great value because it enriches Islamic humor.
The Exploration of Space
Great miracle-hunter Harun Yahya finds a simple Qur’an verse in Surah 55 and regards it as the cryptic form of a prediction. To follow Yahya’s argument:
Humanity's exploration of space was accelerated with the Soviet satellite Sputnik on 4 October 1957, which launch is considered by NASA as the dawn of the “Space Age.” The first man to ever leave the Earth's atmosphere was the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who made his space flight in 1961 in Vostok 1 spacecraft. On 20 July 1969, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human being ever to set foot on the Moon.
In fact, the Qur'an revealed that such developments and achievements would one day be realised. For instance, Allah draws our attention to this in the following verse:
O company of jinn and human beings. If you are able to pierce through the confines of the heavens and Earth, pierce through them. You will not pierce through, except with a clear authority. (Qur'an, 55:33)
Yahya immediately draws our attention to a specific word in the verse above and gives a brief lecture on its multiple meanings while seeking ways of supporting his weird theory:
The Arabic word sultan, translated here as "a clear authority," has other meanings as well: force, power, sovereignty, dominion, law, path, permission, give leave, justify, and proof.
Careful examination reveals that the above verse emphasizes that humanity will be able to move into the depths of Earth and sky, but only with a superior power. In all likelihood, this superior power is the superior technology employed in the twentieth century, for it enabled scientists to achieve this great feat. (Source)
Harun Yahya’s argument, which sounds odd to many objective readers of the Qur’an, may allure and captivate some people who are fond of science-fiction and take great delight in approaching religious texts from a radically different perspective. Still, the supposed prediction in the Qur’an verse above has two weak and problematic points that betray Yahya’s dream and undermine his theory. First, Yahya feels free to ignore the question “What are ‘the confines’ of heaven that mankind and jinn will pierce through in verse 33?” Is bringing a satellite between earth and moon already beyond the confines of heaven, let alone the heavens in the plural? On what basis are the boundaries of the heavens and the earth determined? Second, in verse 33 Allah addresses the community of jinn along with that of humans and, according to Yahya’s interpretation, encourages also the jinni to explore outer space in the same way as mankind! Sadly enough, it is impossible to know if the invisible jinn have been to outer space so far and if they have ever availed themselves of the latest scientific developments in the accomplishment of their goals. As a result, we must remind Yahya that the alleged prediction in Surah 55:33 could be considered only partially fulfilled in 1961 since there is no evidence for the involvement of jinn in space explorations.
Surah 55:33 addresses both the community of humans and jinn, which is rather natural when the thematic coherence of the chapter is taken into consideration. The first signal of this coherence is given in the following verses, which talk of two distinct but associated creatures, namely man and jinn:
He created man of clay like the potter's, And the jinn did He create of smokeless fire. (Surah 55:14-15 Pickthall)
The fundamental association drawn in this Surah between mankind and jinn despite the difference in their substance and nature may be partly related to the teaching that certain things in the world exist in the form of couples. Below is the list of the things that are stated in Surah 55 to exist in couples most likely in accordance with the existence of the two specific communities, mankind and jinn:
Two Easts and two Wests (v. 17)
Two seas (v. 19)
Two gardens (v. 46)
Two fountains (v. 50)
Every kind of fruit in pairs (v. 52)
Two other gardens (v. 62)
Two abundant springs (v. 66)
Besides, the particular verse quoted by Yahya with the assertion of a scientific prediction is not the only or first verse to address mankind and jinn as related communities. Strikingly, the verses preceding and following verse 33 refer to both communities and enables us to get the context of the verse that supposedly predicts space exploration:
31 Soon shall we settle your affairs, O both ye worlds!
32 Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
33 O ye assembly of Jinns, and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!
34 Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny?
35 On you will be sent (O ye evil ones twain!) A flame of fire (to burn) and a smoke (to choke): No defence will ye have.
36 Then which of the favours of your Lord will ye deny? (Yusuf Ali)2
This simple analysis proves what a talented daydreamer Harun Yahya is, for the implicit threat concerning the settlement of the affairs with mankind and jinn in verse 31 apparently turns into a sarcastic remark that invites these two communities to leave the heaven and the earth in verse 33. This mocking challenge gains significance in verse 35, which makes it clear that neither mankind nor jinn will be able to escape the divine punishment on the Day of Judgment. Accordingly, the verses coming after verse 35 are related to the end of times (“And when the heaven splitteth asunder and becometh rosy like red hide”, verse 37), the sins of the two communities (“On that day neither man nor jinni will be questioned of his sin”, verse 39), and the capture of the guilty for their transfer to Hell (“The guilty will be known by their marks, and will be taken by the forelocks and the feet”, verse 41).
Yahya’s peculiar interpretation of verse 33 suggests that mankind and jinn were encouraged to carry out space explorations with the fear of facing the divine wrath at the end of times although in reality mankind did not conduct such activities with the aim of escaping God on the Day of Judgment! The ludicrousness of Yahya’s theory is also exposed when compared with Ibn Kathir’s relevant tafsir of Surah 55:33:
(O assembly of Jinn and men! If you are able to pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, then pass beyond (them)! But you will never be able to pass them, except with authority (from Allah)!) meaning, ‘you will never be able to escape Allah's orders and decrees, because it encompasses you. You will never be able to avoid or avert His rule and judgement over you, you are surrounded by it wherever you may be.’ This is also about the Gathering when the angels, comprising seven lines in every direction, will surround the creatures. None of the creatures will be able to escape on that Day. (Except with authority) meaning, except with the commandment from Allah. (Source)
Obviously, Yahya ignores the fact that in Surah 55 Allah first warns human beings and jinn by referring to their judgment at the end of times (v. 31), then challenges them to escape him by going through the confines of the world (v. 33). This challenge, of course, has a mocking tone and the way it is grammatically structured aims to stress the inability of both mankind and jinn to escape Allah unless he gives them permission. Yahya’s seeming failure to understand the context of the 33rd verse later compels him to stretch the meaning of the Arabic word “sultân” in the same verse. Yahya’s attempt to associate the word “sultân” with the latest developments in technology illustrates how desperately he is in need to invent pseudo-scientific predictions from the Qur’an verses.
At this point of our analysis we deem it necessary to give Harun Yahya a piece of friendly advice: If Yahya wants to avoid ludicrous and funny interpretations resulting from his urge to invent pseudo-predictions in the Qur’an, he should read his scripture carefully, focus on the context of a particular verse, and check if there are other Qur’an verses in the light of which the fallaciousness of his arguments can be revealed. While searching in the Qur’an, we have found the following verses, which are thematically related to Surah 55:33 as they repeat the teaching given by it in a slightly different form:
And we know that we cannot escape from Allah in the earth, nor can we escape by flight. (Surah 72:12 Pickthall)
Say (O Muhammad): Travel in the land and see how He originated creation, then Allah bringeth forth the later growth. Lo! Allah is Able to do all things. He punisheth whom He will and showeth mercy unto whom He will, and unto Him ye will be turned. Ye cannot escape (from Him) in the earth or in the sky, and beside Allah there is for you no friend or helper. (Surah 29:20-22 Pickthall)
Strikingly, the confession and concession in Surah 72 are attributed to the jinn whilst the warning in Surah 29 is delivered to human beings. The teaching given in both instances is that it is impossible for men and jinn to escape God either on earth or in the sky. The existence of these verses in the Qur’an prove that Surah 55:33, which Yahya claims to be based on a scientific prediction, is actually a simple verse in which the same warning is given to both of the communities at the same time with the addition of a piece of sarcasm. Had Harun Yahya paid attention to the above verses before fabricating his theories, he would not have made such a huge contribution to Islamic humor by suggesting that Allah predicted a journey out of this world for not only mankind, but also the community of jinn. Thanks to Yahya’s efforts and misinterpretation, we can now laugh by envisaging a bunch of jinn singing and dancing in a space shuttle and grinning all over their smoky faces.
Finally, we should bear in mind another significant fact: the teaching that mankind is unable to run away from God no matter where one goes had been more beautifully expressed in the Bible several centuries before the Qur’an. While praising God’s wisdom, omnipresence, and omniscience, the inspired author of Psalm 139 talked of his hypothetical ascension to heaven and descent to the netherworld in order to emphasize the impossibility of one’s escape and hiding from God:
You squeeze me in from behind and in front;
you place your hand on me.
Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension;
it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it.
Where can I go to escape your spirit?
Where can I flee to escape your presence?
If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.
If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.
If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn,
and settle down on the other side of the sea,
even there your hand would guide me,
your right hand would grab hold of me. (Psalm 139:5-10 NET Bible)
This well-known psalm is often recited and talked about by Jews and Christians, and Mohammad may well have heard about these verses describing God’s omnipresence and omniscience in Psalm 139 and adapted this idea for his Qur’an by presenting Allah as a deity challenging and tantalizing mankind and jinn to transgress the boundaries of this world with the aim of evading him. This simple borrowing, however, turned into a so-called scientific prediction and thus an example of involuntary Islamic humor thanks to Yahya’s wishful thinking.
The Voyage to the Moon
Harun Yahya includes mankind’s first voyage to the Moon, one of the remarkable achievements of the last century, into the list of scientific predictions in the Qur’an, devising another science-fiction scenario enriching Islamic humor. To follow his arguments:
And [I swear by] the moon when it is full, you will mount up stage by stage! What is the matter with them, that they have no faith? (Qur'an, 84:18-20)
After referring to the Moon, the above verses then say that people will mount up stage by stage. The term tarkabunna comes from the verb rakiba, (to mount, walk on a path, follow, embark upon, set about, participate, or rule). In the light of these meanings, it is very likely that the expression "you will mount up stage by stage" refers to a vehicle to be boarded.
Indeed, the astronauts' spacecraft pass through each layer of the atmosphere one by one, and then begin to pass through the Moon's gravitational field. Thus, the Moon is reached by moving through individual layers. In addition, the swearing by the Moon in Surat al-Inshiqaq 18 further strengthens this emphasis, meaning that the verse may well be a sign that humanity will travel to the Moon.3 (Allah knows best.) (Source)
Apparently, Yahya wants us to believe that the reference to the moon – actually, the sentence refers to the “full” moon – in Surah 84:18 is followed by the sentence referring to the act of “mounting up stage by stage” not by mere coincidence. In other words, Yahya contends that the order of these statements and their combination predicts a great scientific achievement: voyage to the moon. Before analyzing the context of the verses quoted by Yahya, we should examine whether perhaps his peculiar translation is misleading.
In Shakir’s translation there is neither the verb “mount up” nor the word “stage”:
And the moon when it grows full, That you shall most certainly enter one state after another. But what is the matter with them that they do not believe. (Surah 84:18-20)
In Rodwell’s translation the idea of going through different states is maintained:
And by the moon when at her full, That from state to state shall ye be surely carried onward. What then hath come to them that they believe not? (Surah 84:18-20)
Yusuf Ali’s translation is closest to Yahya’s:
And the Moon In her Fulness: Ye shall surely travel From stage to stage What then is the matter With them, that they Believe not? (Surah 84:18-20)
Pickthall presents a translation similar to the one given by Yusuf Ali and used by Harun Yahya:
And by the moon when she is at the full, That ye shall journey on from plane to plane. What aileth them, then, that they believe not? (Surah 84:18-20)
Evidently, Harun Yahya did not concoct a translation of his own per se while fabricating his theory, but made use of some translations that would support his allegation. Still, it should be noted that Yahya added a steep “upward” motion which is not present in any of the above translations. I am aware of only one translation that has something similar,4 when the Ahmadiyya translator Maulana Ali uses “ascend” to render the verb. Nevertheless, the vast majority of translators only have a simple movement, “onwards” but not “upwards.
After pointing at Yahya’s manipulating translation and reading all these different translations, we cannot stop wondering why the verses end in a rhetorical question that is about man’s faith and has absolutely nothing to do with the supposed scientific prediction highlighted by Yahya?
What then is the matter with them, that they believe not? (Surah 84:20 Yusuf Ali)
Since this question comes right after mankind’s alleged “mounting up stage by stage” on their way to “the moon”, do we have to believe that Allah wanted mankind to have faith in him specifically in return for the revelation of this scientific prediction? How would it be possible for Mohammad’s audience to know about the alleged prediction concerning the voyage to the moon before its fulfillment in the 20th century? Either this problem has escaped Yahya’s sharp sight or he wants to convince us that Allah indeed demanded faith from his servants for a prediction unknown to them and to-be-fulfilled many centuries later.
Keeping this problem aside, we can proceed to the analysis of the sentence referring to the moon in Surah 84:18-20. Actually, Allah is said to “swear by the moon” for the veracity of his ensuing claim that mankind will “mount up stage by stage”, and this reference to the moon, embedded in a vow, is of vital importance for Yahya’s allegation. To be honest, Yahya once more surprises us by his apparent unawareness of the fact that his Allah is a deity addicted to swearing by several things throughout the Qur’an.5 For example, in the Islamic scripture Allah swears (all the references are taken from Pickthall)
By the declining day (Surah 103:1)
By the snorting courses, Striking sparks of fire. (Surah 100:1-2)
By the fig and the olive (Surah 95:1)
By the sun and his brightness (Surah 91:1)
By the Dawn, And ten nights, And the Even and the Odd, And the night when it departeth (Surah 89:1-4)
By the Mount (Surah 52:1)
By the Scripture which maketh plain (Surah 43:2)
Yahya seems reluctant to take into account the possibility of coincidence for the occurrence of the sentence “you will mount up stage by stage” right after the reference to the moon in one of Allah’s frequent vows. We cannot stop wondering whether Yahya would be eager to make an association between the reference to the stars in the following verses and the statement coming right after the vow:
Nay, I swear by the places of the stars - And lo! that verily is a tremendous oath, if ye but knew - That (this) is indeed a noble Qur'an. In a Book kept hidden. Which none toucheth save the purified, A revelation from the Lord of the Worlds. (Surah 56:75-80)
Following Yahya’s odd strategy of interpretation, we should conclude that Allah presents the Qur’an as a noble book kept hidden in the places of the stars! It is also high time we reminded Yahya of the bitter truth that his Allah swears by the moon in two other Qur’an chapters:
By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him (Surah 91:1-2 Pickthall)
Nay, by the Moon. And the night when it withdraweth And the dawn when it shineth forth, Lo! this is one of the greatest (portents) As a warning unto men (Surah 74:32-36 Pickthall)
Interestingly, Yahya appears to be ignorant of the fact that Allah makes references to the moon while giving some theological teachings and warnings in the Qur’an, and these references weaken the far-fetched association drawn by Yahya between Allah’s swearing by the moon and mankind’s act of mounting up stage by stage in Surah 84:18-20. In other words, we cannot be sure whether or not the alleged idea of mounting up stage by stage is crucially linked to Allah’s swearing by the moon for the verification of his statement, for Allah only swears by the moon that mankind will surely travel or go from one stage to another instead of marking the object of swearing (moon) as the destination of the asserted voyage. From this observation arises the question: Where will mankind go by mounting up stage by stage?6
Moreover, Yahya should read Surah 84 more carefully in order to see that the moon is only one of the three things that Allah swears by before presenting his prediction about mankind’s travel:
Oh, I swear by the afterglow of sunset, And by the night and all that it enshroudeth, And by the moon when she is at the full, That ye shall journey on from plane to plane. (Surah 84:16-19 Pickthall)
Yahya’s eagerness to associate only the moon with the prediction of mankind’s voyage in Surah 84:18-20 is erroneous and rather odd since Allah swears not only by the moon, but also by the afterglow of sunset and by the night and all it enshrouds. To correct Yahya’s mistake and reach a more accurate interpretation, we must include ALL of the things that Allah swears by in the verses preceding the supposed scientific prediction. This correction gives us the additional information about the time of mankind’s “mounting up stage by stage” (or the boarding of a vehicle in Yahya’s reasoning) and enables us to conclude that mankind’s voyage to the moon will be a nocturnal one, taking place after the sunset as all the things sworn by in the verses above obviously pertain to the night.
It is also noteworthy that Allah swears by “the moon when she is at the full” in Surah 84 although in two other instances in the Qur’an (Surah 74 & 91) he does not become specific about the shape or light of the moon7 while making a similar vow. This shows that Surah 84:18 refers either to the specific phase of the moon or to its brightness as if striving to disappoint Harun Yahya and dismiss his theory:
And by the moon when she is at the full (Pickthall)
And the Moon in her Fulness (Yusuf Ali)
And by the moon when at her full (Rodwell)
And the moon when it grows full (Shakir)
Clearly, Yahya has to admit that the Qur’an predicted mankind’s voyage to the moon after the sunset and the fall of absolute darkness. These details ironically turn the prediction in Yahya’s theory devoid of any scientific knowledge. We are thus left with a prediction that is not scientific at all since it is impossible to talk of “sunset” or “night” in outer space. Had Allah really predicted mankind’s voyage to the moon, he would not have needed to be specific about the time of that voyage or the brightness of the moon during the same voyage. These points prove that there was no intended rational or thematic relation between Allah’s swearing by the things of the night and man's traveling through different stages in Surah 84. The reference to the moon in verse 18 simply occurs in one of Allah’s frequent and ordinary vows, and its placement right before the prediction of mankind’s journey is purely arbitrary and coincidental.
Unsurprisingly, Harun Yahya’s peculiar interpretation of Surah 84:18-20 was not known by the Islamic commentators of the past. For instance, in Ibn Kathir’s tafsir mankind’s “traveling from stage to stage” is construed in a completely different way, casting doubts upon Yahya’s interpretation and demolishing his assertions:
(You shall certainly travel from stage to stage.) "Stage after stage. Your Prophet has said this.'' Al-Bukhari recorded this statement with this wording. `Ikrimah said, (From stage to stage.) "Stage after stage. Weaned after he was breast feeding, and an old man after he was a young man.'' Al-Hasan Al-Basri said, (From stage to stage.) "Stage after stage. Ease after difficulty, difficulty after ease, wealth after poverty, poverty after wealth, health after sickness, and sickness after health.'' (Source)
Apparently, Muslim scholars had differing views about the interpretation of the sentence concerning mankind’s traveling from one stage to another in Surah 84; this is why Sale offers another interpretation for the same statement:
From state to state, i.e., "from the state of the living to that of the dead, and from the state of the dead to a new state of life in another world." (Sale in Wherry’s comprehensive commentary of the Qur’an verse 19 of Surah 84, source)8
In any case Harun Yahya’s argument falls apart since none of the Islamic scholars approached these verses from a scientific perspective and none ever thought of ascribing a scientific prediction to the statements concerning the stages of mankind’s life on earth! An analysis of the context of Surah 84 also reveals the absurdity of Yahya’s claims.
This is confirmed by further details of formulation in this Quranic statement. First, the verse addresses Muhammad’s immediate audience: “YE” shall surely journey, rather than “your distant descendants” shall surely travel. Second, the prediction seemingly addresses the whole group of human beings. All people seem to take that journey, not a very select few as the verse does not say “some of your distant descendants will travel”, but rather uses the pronoun “ye” without any indication of exceptions. Therefore, this verse does not talk about a singular achievement of mankind as a group (like the mission to the moon in which only a few people were directly involved), but addresses the audience as “ye”, i.e. it talks directly to the listeners and says something about them that holds true for all of them individually. It does not speak about “an-nas” (mankind as a whole and over the whole course of history), but about “you” (individuals) who are hearing this verse recited. It talks about the life journey of the average person, about life as it is their common experience. That is also borne out in the above quotations from the commentators. Finally, given that this verse originally addressed the Arabs of Muhammad’s time, we need to point out that it was not Arabs who first traveled to the moon, but Americans. When Muhammad first recited this verse to his listeners, he did not say “some other people” or “some nation across the ocean”, but “ye”.
When we get back to the thematic analysis of the Surah, we see that the whole chapter is about man’s judgment by Allah at the end of times as the introductory sentences portray the destruction of the universe:
When the heaven is split asunder and attentive to her Lord in fear, and when the earth is spread out and hath cast out all that was in her, and is empty. And attentive to her Lord in fear! (Surah 84:1-5 Pickthall)
These verses are followed by the statements pertaining to mankind’s judgment by Allah and one’s getting the recompense of his deeds:
Thou, verily, O man, art working toward thy Lord a work which thou wilt meet (in His presence). Then whoso is given his account in his right hand. He truly will receive an easy reckoning. And will return unto his folk in joy. But whoso is given his account behind his back, He surely will invoke destruction and be thrown to scorching fire. (Surah 84:6-12)
Right before Allah’s swearing for mankind’s travel from stage to stage, the idea of man’s returning to Allah for judgment is emphasized:
He verily lived joyous with his folk, he verily deemed that he would never return (unto Allah). Nay, but lo! his Lord is ever looking on him! (Surah 84:13-15)
In the light of these verses it becomes clear that man’s going through different states or stages in verse 19 is associated with the teaching that death and judgment await every man, which is a more plausible interpretation showing compatibility with the theme of the whole Surah. Harun Yahya’s interpretation, on the other hand, suggests that mankind’s return to Allah for the Day of Judgment is linked to the scientific prediction of mankind’s voyage to the moon. Consequently, we are supposed to believe that Surah 84 perfectly predicts mankind’s voyage to the moon for the sake of meeting Allah on the Day of Judgment! Yahya must be happy now as his aims to combine the Qur’an verses with scientific predictions have finally given fruit. We can but congratulate Yahya on this great achievement.
Caner Taslaman’s manipulation of S. 84:18-20 is exposed and rebutted by Jochen Katz in “And the Moon remains … out of reach – How an Islamic dawah miracle self-destructs.”
Harun Yahya’s allegations about the existence of certain scientific predictions in the Qur’an are the result of his daydreaming, for his interpretations turn out to be fallacious and inconsistent with the context of the verses chosen by him. Although adding a piece of science-fiction into the Qur’an for the sake of making it more attractive to modern readers is somewhat entertaining, it also is a deliberate distortion of the Islamic scripture through different methods denying or concealing its original teachings. However, it should not be forgotten that Yahya indeed does a great job when he concocts scientific miracles and predictions in his Qur’an by producing outstanding examples of Islamic humor. For this great contribution of his to Islam, Yahya definitely merits praise and applause.