Zaid ibn Amr ibn Nufail's Cosmological Views and Their Influence on the Quran

According to Muslim sources, prior to Islam there was a group of Arab men who abandoned the paganism of Arabia, specifically of Mecca. They had decided that they would only worship the one true God of Abraham. These men were called Hanifs. The name of one of these Hanifs was Zaid ibn Amr ibn Nufail, who also happened to compose poems which reflected his theological views. Some of these poems were preserved by these very same Muslim sources.[1]

In this paper, we will document how some of Zaid’s views regarding creation that are found within his poems are quite similar to what one reads in the Quran. In fact, many would venture to even say that the author of the Quran took some of these statements and ideas and incorporated them into the Quran, passing them off as the words of God.

The Quran makes the following claims about the earth, heavens, mountains, clouds etc.:

He causes the dawn to break; and He has made the night for rest, and the sun and the moon for reckoning; this is an arrangement of the Mighty, the Knowing. S. 6:96 Shakir

Allah is He Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you see, and He is firm in power and He made the sun and the moon subservient (to you); each one pursues its course to an appointed time; He regulates the affair, making clear the signs that you may be certain of meeting your Lord. And He it is Who spread the earth and made in it firm mountains and rivers, and of all fruits He has made in it two kinds; He makes the night cover the day; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect. S. 13:2-3 Shakir

And the earth have WE spread out, and set therein firm mountains and cause every thing to grow therein in proper proportion. S. 15:19 Sher Ali

And We send the winds fertilizing, then send down water from the cloud so We give it to you to drink of, nor is it you who store it up. S. 15:22 Shakir

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

HE has created the heavens without any pillars that you can see, and HE has placed in the earth firm mountains that it may not quake with you, and HE has spread therein all kinds of creatures; and WE have sent down water from the clouds, and have caused to grow therein of every fine species. S. 31:10 Sher Ali

Do you send it down from the clouds, or are WE the Sender? If WE so pleased, WE could make it bitter. Why, then, do you not give thanks? S. 56:69-70 Sher Ali

And made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (Glorious) Lamp? S. 71:16 Y. Ali

And placed therein high mountains and given you to drink sweet water therein? S. 77:27 Pickthall

In light of the foregoing, we quote from Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasulullah (edited by Ibn Hisham) since this source preserves some of Zaid’s poems:

Thou of thy goodness and mercy
Didst send a messenger to Moses as a herald.
Thou saidst to him, Go thou and Aaron,
And summon Pharaoh the tyrant to run to God

And say to him, ‘Did you spread out this (earth) without support,
Until it stood fast as it does
Say to him ‘Did you raise this (heaven) without support?
What a fine builder then you were!’
Say to him ‘Did you set the moon in the middle thereof
As a light to guide when night covered it?

Say to him, ‘Who sent forth the sun by day
So that the earth it touched reflected its splendour?’
Say to him, ‘Who planted seeds in the dust
That herbage might grow and wax great?
And brought forth its seeds in the head of the plant?’
Therein are signs for the understanding.
Thou in thy kindness did deliver Jonah
Who spent nights in the belly of the fish


And Zayd said:

I submit myself to him to whom
The earth which bears mighty rocks is subject.
He spread it out and when He saw it was settled
Upon the waters, He fixed the mountains on it.
I submit myself to Him to whom clouds which bear
Sweet water
are subject
When they are borne along to a land
They obediently pour copious rain upon it.

(Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad [Oxford University Press, Karachi, tenth impression 1995], pp. 101, 102; italic emphasis ours)

Zaid’s poem shows great affinity with the language and stories found within the Quran. He even made mention of Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, Jonah and the fish in language reminiscent of the Quran!

The reader can obviously see from Zaid’s words that the Quran’s scientific statements weren’t necessarily new or unknown. Zaid’s poem proves that the Arabs already knew these statements even before Muhammad’s time. Therefore, if as Muslims claim that these statements on science prove that there was a divine source that inspired them, then it wasn’t Muhammad who was inspired. Muslims must be consistent and admit that men like Zaid were the ones receiving revelation from God since they knew of these things long before the Quran was ever recited or written.

Zaid’s poems provide further evidence that the author of the Quran simply quoted from earlier sources, stories, and myths, and then tried to pass these off as revelation from the one true God.

Here is another example of how the Quran cites a preexisting myth as revelation:

And they ask thee concerning Dhu'l Qarnain. Say, ‘I will recite to you something of his account.’ Until when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting as if in a pool of murky water, and near it he found a people. WE said, ‘O Dhu'l Qarnain, you may punish them, or treat them with kindness.’ The he followed a certain way. WE established him in the earth and gave him the means to achieve everything. S. 18:83-86


And he [Solomon] reviewed the birds; then he said, 'How is it with me, that I do not see the hoopoe? Or is he among the absent? Assuredly I will chastise him with a terrible chastisement, or I will slaughter him, or he bring me a clear authority.' But he tarried not long, and said, 'I have comprehended that which thou hast not comprehended, and I have come from Sheba to thee with a sure tiding. I found a woman ruling over them, and she has been given of everything, and she possesses a mighty throne. I found her and her people prostrating to the sun, apart from God; Satan has decked out fair their deeds to them and he has barred them from the way, and therefore they are not guided, so that they prostrate not themselves to God, who brings forth what is hidden in the heavens and earth; and He knows what you conceal and what you publish. God: there is no god but He, the Lord of the Mighty Throne.' Said he, 'Now We will see whether thou hast spoken truly, or whether thou art amongst those that lie. Take this letter of mine, and cast it unto them, then turn back from them and see what they shall return.' S. 27:20-28

The following poem is from pre-Islamic times and attributed to a Yamani king named Tiban Asa'd Abu Karib, also known as the Tubba (a title given to the Yamani kings):

...Dhu'l-Qarnayn before me was a Muslim.
Conquered kings thronged his court,
East and west he ruled, yet he sought
Knowledge true from a learned sage.
He saw where the sun sinks from view
In a pool of mud and fetid slime
Before him Bilqis my father's sister
Ruled them until the hoopoe came to her. (Guillaume, p. 12; italic emphasis ours)

What makes this truly interesting is that certain Muslims have argued against the assertion that the Quran's story of Dhul-Qarnain is taken from legendary Christian sources, such as The History of Alexander the Great Being the legendary Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes. They claim that the extant MSS of this Christian source actually post-date the Quran, and could not have influenced the Quranic story (here).

Yet, Ishaq provides a pre-Islamic poem in which the details of the Quranic story regarding Dhul-Qarnain were already known, thereby supporting the claim that this is just another myth which the Quran reports as fact!

For more evidence on the Quran plagiarizing pre-existing stories and fables, please read the following articles:


[1] Not everyone is convinced that these are actually pre-Islamic poems, since these poems are only found in post-Islamic sources, literature that was written long after the advent of Islam. Many believe that these poems were concocted in order to bolster the Quran’s alleged inimitability, or to justify its grammatical errors. Thus, Muslims may try to argue that these poems are actually adapting Quranic language, not the other way around. Whether in fact these poems are pre-Islamic or not, either position reflects poorly on the Quran and Muslims. If these poems do predate the Quran, then this supports the view that the Quran didn’t present anything new but only rehashed the fables, stories and details that were well known during that time. If, on the other hand, these poems were written after the advent of Islam, then this exposes the utter dishonesty and deceptive methodology of Muslim writers and scholars. It shows that Muslims didn’t hesitate to use outright deception, going so far as to even rewrite history in order to make Islam and Muhammad look good.

Furthermore, in either case, it is obvious that the early Muslims did not see those statements as being "scientific miracles". By stating those observations, the Quran did not reveal anything new, but only seeks to point out that those common insights about how the world works are signs of God’s existence and power. If they had understood those observations to be new revelation, they would certainly not have put it into the mouth of a pre-Islamic poet!

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