There is, perhaps, no better illustration of the close links between Islam and science than the Prophet Muhammad’s often-quoted statements:
“Seeking knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim.”
“Wisdom is the lost property of the believer.”
“Whoever follows a path seeking knowledge, Allah will
make his path to paradise easy.”
These statements and many others are veritable invitations to hu- manity to enrich their knowledge from all sources. It comes as no surprise, therefore, to learn that in Islam religion and science have always been considered as twin sisters and that today, at a time when science has taken such great strides, they still continue to be associated.
Nor is it a surprise to learn that certain scientific data are used for the better understanding of the Quranic text. What is more, in a century where, for many people, scientific truth has dealt a deathblow to religious belief, it is precisely the discoveries of science that, in an objective examination of the Islamic scrip- ture, have highlighted the supernatural nature of revelation and the authenticity of the religion which it taught.
When all is said and done, scientific knowledge seems, in spite of what many people may say or think, to be highly conducive to reflection on the existence of God. Once we begin to ask our- selves, in an unbiased or unprejudiced way, about the metaphysi- cal lessons to be derived from some of today’s knowledge, (for ex- ample our evolving knowledge of the smallest components of matter or the questions surrounding the origin of life within inani- mate matter), we indeed discover many reasons for thinking about God. When we think about the remarkable organization presiding over the birth and maintenance of life, it becomes clear that the likelihood of it being the result of chance lessens quite consider- ably.
As our knowledge of science in the various fields expands, cer- tain concepts must seem increasingly unacceptable. For example, the idea enthusiastically expressed by the recent French winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine, that living matter was self-created from simple chemical elements due to chance circumstances. Then from this point it is claimed that living organisms evolved, leading to the remarkably complex being called man. To me, it would seem that the scientific advancements made in understand- ing the fantastic complexity of higher beings provides stronger ar- guments in favor of the opposite theory: that the existence of an ex- traordinarily methodical organization presiding over the remark- able arrangement of the phenomena of life necessitates the exis- tence of a Creator.
In many parts of the Book, the Quran, encourages this kind of general reflection but also contains infinitely more precise data which are directly related to facts discovered by modern science. It is precisely this data which exercise a magnetic attraction for today’s scientists.
THE QURAN AND SCIENCE
For many centuries, humankind was unable to study cer- tain data contained in the verses of the Quran because they did not possess sufficient scientific means. It is only today that numerous verses of the Quran dealing with natural phenom- ena have become comprehensible. A reading of old commen- taries on the Quran, however knowledgeable their authors may have been in their day, bears solemn witness to a total in- ability to grasp the depth of meaning in such verses.
I could even go so far as to say that, in the 20th century, with its com- partmentalization of ever-increasing knowledge, it is still not easy for the average scientist to understand everything he reads in the Quran on such subjects, without having recourse to specialized research. This means that to understand all such verses of the Quran, one is nowadays required to have an absolutely encyclopedic knowledge embracing many sci- entific disciplines.
I should like to stress, that I use the word science to mean knowledge which has been soundly established. It does not include the theories which, for a time, help to explain a phe- nomenon or a series of phenomena, only to be abandoned later on in favor of other explanations. These newer explana- tions have become more plausible thanks to scientific prog- ress.
I only intend to deal with comparisons between state- ments in the Quran and scientific knowledge which are not likely to be subject to further discussion. Wherever I introduce scientific facts which are not yet 100% established, I will make it quite clear.
There are also some very rare examples of statements in the Quran which have not, as yet, been confirmed by modern science. I shall refer to these by pointing out that all the evi- dence available today leads scientists to regard them as being highly probable. An example of this is the statement in the Quran that life has an aquatic origin,
“And I created every living thing out of water” Quran, 21:30)
These scientific considerations should not, however, make us forget that the Quran remains a religious book par excellence and that it cannot be expected to have a scientific purpose per se. In the Quran, whenever humans are invited to reflect upon the wonders of creation and the numerous natural phenomena, they can easily see that the obvious intention is to stress Divine Omnipotence.
The fact that, in these reflections, we can find allusions to data con- nected with scientific knowledge is surely another of God’s gifts whose value must shine out in an age where scientifically based atheism seeks to gain control of society at the expense of the belief in God. But the Quran does not need unusual characteristics like this to make its supernatural nature felt. Scientific statements such as these are only one specific aspect of the Islamic revelation which the Bible does not share.
Throughout my research I have constantly tried to remain to- tally objective. I believe I have succeeded in approaching the study of the Quran with the same objectivity that a doctor has when opening a file on a patient. In other words, only by carefully analyzing all the symptoms can one arrive at an accurate diagno- sis.
I must admit that it was certainly not faith in Islam that first guided my steps, but simply a desire to search for the truth. This is how I see it today. It was mainly the facts which, by the time I had finished my study, led me to see the Quran as the divinely- revealed text it really is.
Before getting to the essence of the subject, there is a very im- portant point which must be considered: the authenticity of the Quranic text.
It is known that the text of the Quran was both recited from memory, during the time it was revealed, by the Prophet and the believers who surrounded him, and written down by designated scribes among his followers. This process lasted for roughly twen- ty-three years during which many unofficial copies were made.
An official copy was made within one year after the Prophet’s death at the instruction of Caliph Abu Bakr. Here we must note a highly important point. The present text of the Quran benefited in its original preparation from the advantage of having its authenticity cross-checked by the text recited from memory as well as the unofficial written texts.
The memorized text was of paramount importance at a time when not everyone could read and write, but everybody could memorize. Moreover, the need for a written record was included in the text of the Quran itself. The first five verses of chapter al-‘Alaq, which happen to constitute the first revelation made to the Prophet (S), express this quite clearly:
“Read: In the name of your Lord who created. Who cre- ated man from a clinging entity. Read! Your Lord is the most Noble, Who taught by the pen. Who taught man what he did not know.” Qu’an, 96:1 -5
These are surely words in “praise of the pen as a means of human knowledge”, to use Professor Hamidullah’s expression. Then came the Caliphate of ‘Uthman (which lasted from the twelfth to the twenty-fourth year following Muhammad’s death).
Within the first two years of Caliph ‘Uthman’s rule, seven official copies were reproduced from the official text and distributed throughout a large area of the world which had already come under Islamic rule. All unofficial copies existing at that time were destroyed and all future copies were made from the official seven copies.
In my book, The Bible, the Quran and Science, I have quoted passages from the Quran which came from the period prior to the Hijrah (the Prophet’s emigration from Makkah to Madeenah in the year 622) and which allude to the writing of the Quran before the Prophet’s departure from Makkah.
There were, moreover, many witnesses to the immediate tran- scription of the Quranic revelation.
Professor Jacques Berque has told me of the great importance he attaches to it in comparison with the long gap separating the writing down of the Judeo-Christian revelation from the facts and events which it relates. Let us not forget that today we also have a number of manuscripts of the first written versions of the Quran which were from a time period very close to the time of revelation.
I shall also mention another fact of great importance. We shall ex- amine statements in the Quran which today appear to merely record scientific truth, but of which men in former times were only able to grasp the apparent meaning. In some cases, these state- ments were totally incomprehensible. It is impossible to imagine that, if there were any alterations to the texts, these obscure pas- sages scattered throughout the text of the Quran, were all able to escape human manipulation.
The slightest alteration to the text would have automatically destroyed the remarkable coherence which is characteristic to them. Change in any text would have prevented us from establishing their total conformity with modern knowledge. The presence of these statements spread throughout the Quran looks (to the impartial observer) like an obvious hall- mark of its authenticity.
The Quran is a revelation made known to humans in the course of twenty-three years. It spanned two periods of almost equal length on either side of the Hijrah. In view of this, it was natural for reflections having a scientific aspect to be scattered throughout the Book. In a study, such as the one we have made, we had to re- group the verses according to subject matter, collecting them chapter by chapter.
How should they be classified? I could not find any indications in the Quran suggesting any particular classification, so I decided present them according to my own personal one.
It would seem to me, that the first subject to deal with is Cre- ation. Here it is possible to compare the verses referring to this topic with the general ideas prevalent today on the formation of the Universe. Next, I divided up verses under the following general headings: Astronomy, the Earth, the Animal and Vegetable King- doms, Humans, and Human Reproduction in particular.
Further- more, I thought it useful to make a comparison between Quranic and Biblical narrations on the same topics from the point of view of modern knowledge. This has been done in the cases of Creation, the Flood and the Exodus. The reason that these topics were chosen is that knowledge acquired today can be used in the inter- pretation of the texts.
CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE
From an examination of creation as described in the Quran, an extremely important general concept emerges: The Quranic narra- tion is quite different from the Biblical narration. This idea contra- dicts the parallels which are often wrongly drawn by Western au- thors to emphasize the resemblance between the two texts. To stress only the similarities, while silently ignoring the obvious dis- similarities, is to distort reality. There is, perhaps, a reason for this.
When talking about creation, there is a strong tendency in the West to claim that Muhammad copied the general outlines men- tioned in the Quran from the Bible. Certainly it is possible to com- pare the six days of creation as described in the Bible, plus an extra day for rest on God’s Sabbath, with this verse from chapter al-A’raaf.
“Your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six days.” Qur’an, 7:54
However, it must be pointed out that modern commentators stress the interpretation of the Arabic word ayyaam, (one transla- tion of which is ‘days’), as meaning ‘long periods’ or ‘ages’ rather than periods of twenty-four hours.
What appears to be of fundamental importance to me is that, in contrast to the narration contained in the Bible, the Qur’an does not lay down a sequence for creation of the earth and heavens. It refers both to the heavens before the earth and the earth before the heavens, when it talks of creation in general, as in this verse of chapter Taa Haa:
“(God) who created the earth and heavens above.” Qur’an, 20:4
In fact, the notion derived from the Qur’an is one of a parallel- ism in the celestial and terrestrial evolutions. There are also basic pieces of information concerning the existence of an initial gas- eous mass (dukhaan ) which are unique to the Quran. As well as descriptions of the elements which, although at first were fused to- gether (ratq), they subsequently became separated (fatq). These ideas are expressed in chapters Fussilat and al-Anbiyaa:
“God then rose turning towards the heaven when it was smoke” Qur’an, 41 :1 1
“Do the disbelievers not see that the heavens and the
earth were joined together, then I split them apart?”
According to modern science, the separation process resulted in the formation of multiple worlds, a concept which appears dozens of times in the Quran. For example, look at the first chapter of the Qur’an, al-Faatihah: (“Praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds.” Quran, 1 :1 ). These Quranic references are a1 1 in perfect agreement with modern ideas on the existence of primary nebula (galactic dust), followed by the separation of the elements which resulted in the formation of galaxies and then stars from which the planets were born. Reference is also made in the Quran to an inter- mediary creation between the heavens and the earth, as seen in chapter al-Furqaan:
“God is the one who created the heavens, the earth and what is between them…” Qur’an, 25:59
It would seem that this intermediary creation corresponds to the modern discovery of bridges of matter which are present out- side organized astronomical systems.
This brief survey of Quranic references to creation clearly shows us how modern scientific data and statements in the Quran consistently agree on a large number of points. In contrast, the successive phases of creation mentioned in the Biblical text are totally unacceptable. For example, in Genesis 1:9-19 the creation of the earth (on the 3rd day) is placed before that of the heavens (on the 4th day).
It is a well known fact that our planet came from its own star, the sun. In such circumstances, how could anyone claim that Muhammad, the supposed author of the Quran, drew his inspira- tion from the Bible. Such a claim would mean that, of his own accord, he corrected the Biblical text to arrive at the correct con- cept concerning the formation of the Universe. Yet the correct con- cept was reached by scientists many centuries after his death.
Whenever I describe to Westerners the details the Quran con- tains on certain points of astronomy, it is common for someone to reply that there is nothing unusual in this since the Arabs made im- portant discoveries in the field of astronomy long before the Euro- peans. But, this is a mistaken idea resulting from an ignorance of history. In the first place, science developed in the Arab World at a considerable time after the Quranic revelation had occurred. Secondly, the scientific knowledge prevalent at the highpoint of Is- lamic civilization would have made it impossible for any human being to have written statements on the heavens comparable to those in the Quran. The material on this subject is so vast that I can only provide a brief outline of it here.
The Sun and Moon
Whereas the Bible talks of the sun and the moon as two lights dif- fering only in size, the Quran distinguishes between them by the use of different terms: light (noor) for the moon, and lamp (siraaj) for the sun.
“Did you see how Allah created seven heavens, one above
the other, and made in them the moon a light and the sun
a lamp?” Quran, 78:12-13
The moon is an inert body which reflects light, whereas the sun is a celestial body in a state of permanent combustion producing both .light and heat
Stars and Planets
The .word ‘star’ (najm) in the Quran (86:3) is accompanied by the adjective thaaqib which indicates that it burns and consumes itself as it pierces through the shadows of the night. It was much later discovered that stars are heavenly bodies producing their own light like the sun.
In the Quran, a different word, kawkab, is used to refer to the plan- ets which are celestial bodies that reflect light and do not. produce their own light like the sun. • …
‘We have adorned the lowest heaven with ornaments, the planets.” Qur’an, 37:6