Chapter 13 : "What Shape is the Earth?"
Shabir attempts to establish that the Quran affirmed the shape of the earth as being spherical, as opposed to being flat, centuries before this fact was discovered. Hence, Shabir hopes to use this argument as proof for the Quran's divine origin. We gladly respond to this point in order to demonstrate that the Quran is not as amazing as Shabir would have his readers believe.
Today we can look at a globe and know that the earth is somewhat like a ball, a sphere. The Qur'an makes certain statements that led Muslim scientists to understand long before their European counterparts that the earth is spherical. When Europe was in the dark ages thinking that the earth was flat, Muslim students were using globes for studying the earth in Islamic universities.
Actually, Muslims of the past and present clearly viewed the earth as flat. They even appealed to the Quran to prove that the earth is flat as we shall shortly demonstrate.
Since it was not the purpose of the Qur'an to teach science, the Qur'an did not need to state explicitly that the earth is spherical in shape (or more precisely, a geoid). But some of what the Qur'an says stimulates you to think of the world as a globe. Take, for example, the following verse:
Another verse tells us that God coils the day and night around:
The word `coils' in the verse above is a translation of the Arabic verb kawwara which is used in describing the action of coiling a turban around the head. To understand this statement fully, readers of the Qur'an had to think of the earth as a sphere.
To fully appreciate the above two statements in the Qur'an, try this experiment at home:
You need a flashlight and a globe. Take these items into a dark room. Using the flashlight to simulate the light of the sun, shine the light upon the globe. Notice that only one half of the globe is lighted up. The other half is in darkness. Half the world is having day, the other half is having night. Now, recall that the earth is continuously rotating on its axis and will go around completely in twenty four hours. Slowly turn the globe around to simulate this rotation. Notice that as the globe turns, the day is going around the globe to light up the other half of the world. The night is also going around the globe to give rest to the other half of the world.
The day and night are perpetually coiling around the earth with some degree of interpenetration. This is exactly how it appears to astronauts during their space flights.
Dr. Bucaille makes the following remark: "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". (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 165).
This obviously did not reflect the level of learning of the time, but was helpful in stimulating Muslim scientists to conceive of the earth in its real shape. How could this knowledge get into the Qur'an?
Actually, most of this information was nothing knew since centuries before the birth of Islam the Holy Bible already taught that the earth was a sphere:
Dr. Henry Morris, president of Institute for Creation Research, comments:
Dr. Morris notes:
"as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us." Psalm 103:12
Dr. Morris claims:
"The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow." Ecclesiastes 1:6-7
Dr. Morris indicates:
Dr. Morris also comments on the statement in verse 7 on streams running into the sea:
"He has described a circle (Hebrew- khug) on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness." Job 26:10
"When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle ( khug) on the face of the deep." Proverbs 8:27
"It is he who sits above the circle (khug)of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them like a tent to live in." Isaiah 40:22
Again, Dr. Morris' comments on these last three passages:
Scientists also tell us that the universe is expanding. Hence, the statement in Isaiah 40:22 that God stretches out the heavens is not far off from what scientists today tell us about the universe.
The final biblical passage affirming that the earth is a sphere as well as rotating on its axis is:
Dr. Morris observes:
"... When the Lord comes, it will be at night when men are in bed. But it will also be ealy morn when women are grinding meal (Luke 17:35) and mid-day when men are working in the field 9Luke 17:36). This is possible since the earth is round and rotating daily on its axis." (Ibid., p. 1116)
At this point someone might possibly interject and argue the fact that the Holy Bible mentions the four corners of the earth, clearly implying that the earth is flat. Actually, there is really no difficulty if one studies the original Hebrew and Greek words used for "corners."
For instance, the Hebrew word is Kanaph. This word is translated in a variety of ways. It generally carries the meaning of extremity. It is translated "borders" in Numbers 5:38. In Ezekiel 7:2 it is translated "four corners" and again in Isaiah 11:12 "four corners." Job 37:3 and 38:13 as "ends."
The Greek word which is used in Revelation 7:1 is zonia. The word literally means angles, or divisions, quarters, zones etc. Much like a map is divided into four directions, so the word is used to refer to the four directions of the earth, namely east, west, north and south. In fact, had the Bible writers meant four literal corners they could have used other words which would have conveyed this idea more precisely:
What we find instead are two terms from the Hebrew and Greek which imply both the extremities of the earth as well as its four directions.
Turning to the Quran, we find that certain verses give the impression that the earth is anything but spherical:
"O you servants of Mine who have attained to faith! Behold! wide is Mine earth..." S. 50:7
"Have we not made the earth as a bed and the mountains as pegs." S. 78:6-7 (Al-Hillali-Khan)
"... And the earth how it is spread." S. 88:20:
At first these verses would simply seem to be allegorical statements, not to be taken literally. Yet, upon reading the works of the earliest Muslim commentators, it becomes quite evident that Muhammad believed in a flat earth! Al-Jalalan, one of Islam's premiere commentators, in his Tafsir, p. 509, states:
Al Baidawi concurs:
In the book, Behind The Veil: Unmasking Islam, we are told:
As the preceding citation stated, there have been several modern Saudian Muslim authorities frankly admitting that the Quran does indeed teach a flat earth. The following article is taken from Athar Shiraz Siddiqui's article The Earth According to Quran:
The Earth According to Quran
Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality by Parvez Hoodbhoy: **** (Page 49)
"The earth is flat. Whoever claims it is round is an atheist deserving of punishment." Yousef M. Ibrahim, "Muslim Edicts take on New Force", The New York Times, February 12, 1995, p. A-14.
That is a well-known religious edict, or fatwa, issued two years ago by Sheik Abdel-Aziz ibn Baaz, the supreme religious authority of Saudi Arabia. The blind theologian's status gives his fatwas great weight, though his opinions have often raised eyebrows or embarrassed worldly Saudis...
Also cited by Sagan "The Demon-haunted World'', Carl Sagan, Ballantine, ISBN 0-345-40946-9, p. 325. I quote (as fair use):
Hence, we see that Muslims both of the past and present affirm that the Quran clearly teaches that the earth is flat.
Instead of appealing to known Muslim authorities such as Baidawi, Zamakhshari and others Shabir aligns himself with Dr. Maurice Bucalle. The problem with Bucaille is that he is not an authority on Islam. His writings contain gross errors of fact. Bucaille also deliberately mistranslates both the Holy Bible and the Quran, oftentimes creating entirely new meanings for already established words in order to prove his points. For an excellent response to Bucaille's book we recommend Dr. William Campbell's book, The Qur'an and the Bible in light of History and Science, Middle East Resources PO Box 96, Upper Darby PA 19082. Dr. Campbell documents Bucaille's deliberate mistranslation and misinterpretation of the Quran and the Holy Bible.
It is obvious why Shabir would cite Bucaille as an authority. If Shabir were to appeal to the Muslim scholars of the past such as al-Jalalyn, he would be forced to admit that the early Muslims were quite aware that the Quran does in fact teach a flat earth.
Finally, it is not entirely true that civilizations of the past believed that the earth was flat. The fact of the matter is that much evidence exists to show that prior to the birth of Islam there were many individuals who were well aware of the fact that the earth was a sphere. George O. Abell, Exploration of the Universe, 4th edition, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, pages 16 and 18, writes of Pythagoras and other Greek Philosophers' views on the earth:
Another member of the Pythagorean school was Philolaus, who lived in the following century. He may have been the first person to introduce the concept that the earth is in motion. Apparently he held that it is too base to occupy the center of the universe; he assigned a central fire to that position. About the fire revolved the earth and other planets...
Philolaus regarded the celestial sphere as motionless and its apparent rotation as the result of the revolution and rotation of the earth. He proposed that the sun, the moon, and the planets moved in their respective spheres outside the orbit of the earth. It was an imaginative concept based entirely on fancy and cannot be regarded as a forerunner of the heliocentric theory. Nevertheless, the concept of a moving earth had been introduced, although in a completely erroneous manner. It was a bold idea that may have had some influence on later Greek thought. Other Greek philosophers of the sixth to fourth centuries B.C. who are said to have believed in a moving earth are Hicetas, Heracleides, and Ecphantus...
In fact, over 900 years before the Quran Aristotle clearly affirmed the sphericity of the earth:
As a second argument, Aristotle explained that northbound travelers observe the stars near the north celestial pole to be higher in the sky than is observed at home, and different stars pass through the zenith. Conversely, when one travels to more southern latitudes the stars near the north celestial pole are seen lower in the sky, and some stars that are never above the horizon atn home are seen to rise and move across the southern sky. The only possible explanation is that the travelers' horizons had tipped to the north or south, respectively, which indicates that they must have moved over a curved surface of the earth... he also advanced a theoretical argument that material falling to a center would take on a spherical shape - an idea consistent with the gravitational theory of Newton two millennia later. (The above citations can be found at this page)
In summary, there is nothing in the Quran about the earth that wasn't already known to Jews, Christians and others. In fact, we find that the Holy Bible clearly taught a round earth centuries before the Quran was ever produced. Furthermore, the Quran clearly teaches that the earth is actually flat, as opposed to being spherical. This is not a Christian interpretation, but one endorsed by Muslims both of the past and the present.
All biblical quotations taken from the NRSV unless stated otherwise.
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