- Qur'an and science
The relation between Qur'an and science is a strong relation in the Islamic thought. Almost all sources, classical and modern, agree that the
Qur’ancondones, even encourages the acquisition of science and scientific knowledge.Ahmad Dallal, "Science and the Qur'an", Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
The contemporary Islamic discourse on the Qur’an and science abounds with assertions of the relationship between the two. This presumed relationship is construed in a variety of ways, the most common of which are the efforts to prove the divine nature of the Qur’an through modern science.
The belief that Qur'an had prophesied scientific theories and discoveries - known as Ijaz al-Qur'an - has become a strong and wide-spread belief in the contemporary Islamic world. Alleged prophecies are often provided to show a connection between the
Qur'an and miracles, and to support the belief of divine origin for the Qur'an.
According to Qur'an; natural phenomena comprises a large portion of the divine signs; nature itself praises
Godquran-usc|24|41|expand=no, and God proclaims that he will show humankind his signs on the furthest horizons we well as deep within themselves quran-usc|41|53|expand=no. [Ian Richard Netton, "Nature as Signs", Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
"a time is fixed for every prophecy; you will come to know in time" quran-usc|6|67|expand=no.Islamic scholar
Zaghloul El-Naggarthinks that this verse refers to the scientific signs in the Qur'an that would be discovered by the world in modern time, centuries after the revelation. The scientific signs claimed to be in the Qur'an exist in different subjects, including creation, astronomy, the animal and vegetables kingdom, and human reproduction. Some of those claimed prophecies are:
*The Qur'an contains a number of verses pertaining to some biological specificities regarding human reproduction and development (see Embryology below). According to
Keith L. Moore(professor emeritus of anatomy at the University of Toronto, and son of a Protestant clergyman) the scientific meaning of certain surahs in the Qur'an has become clear only recently, and concluded that God had revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad, Moore has disseminated this view in many lectures, panel discussions and articles. [http://www.cafearabica.com/wwwboard/social/messages/5948.html Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science' of the Quran ] "Wall Street Journal", Jan 23, 2002. pg. A.1]
*The Qur'an referenced the heavens and earth as originally being an integrated mass before God split them "Have not those who disbelieve known that the heavens and the earth were of one piece, then We parted them" quran-usc|21|30|expand=no, which has been interpreted by some as being "nothing short of a condensed version of the
*The Qur'an talked about cosmic orbital motion: "It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit" quran-usc|36|40|expand=no at a period of time when people thought that earth was flat and stationary. [http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/science-and-islam Science and Islam in Conflict] Discover magazine 06.21.2007]
The most famous proponent of this argument is perhaps
Maurice Bucaille, a French physician and author of the popular book "The Bible, The Quran and Science". Maurice Bucaille asserts in his book that "he could not find a single error in the Qur'an", and that the Qur'an does "not contain a single statement which is assailable from a modern scientific point of view", which led him to believe that no human author in the seventh century could have written "facts" which "today are shown to be keeping with modern scientific knowledge". Bucaille's opinion did not gain scientific consensuson the matter.
The search for Qur'anic references to and prophecies of modern scientific discoveries has become a "popular trend" in some Muslim societies [Cite news
title = Muslim call to adopt Mecca time
accessdate = 2008-04-24
date = 2008-04-21
url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7359258.stm] ; as a manifestation of the popularity of the scientific miracles belief, the Muslim World League at Mecca formed a committee named Committee on the Scientific Miracles of the Qurʾān and the Sunna to investigate the relation between Qur'an and science, headed by Zaghloul El-Naggar.
According to some recent studies of the relationship between science education and religion, one of the ways in which science education in strongly Islamic societies is impacted by religiosity is when "acceptable" scientific discoveries can be found to have been anticipated or "identified" by the Qur'an, with consequent implications for what is taught and not taught [Cite book
publisher = Routledge
pages = 4
last = Gilbert
first = John
title = The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Science Education
date = 2004] .
cientific exegesis of the Qur'an
Scientific exegesis of the Qur'an is the assumption that all sorts of findings of the modern natural sciences have been anticipated in the Qur'an and that many unambiguous references to them can be discovered in its verses. Many Islamic authors, classical and modern, believe that all the sciences were contained in the Qur'an. Wielandt, Rotraud. "Exegesis of the Qurʾān: Early Modern and Contemporary ." Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān.] Cite book
publisher = Brill Archive
pages = 35
last = Jansen
first = J. J. G.
title = The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt
date = 1974] The practise of "tafsir 'ilmi", or scientific exegesis, which was "almost forgotten, has been revived in modern times; the classical attempt to incorporate all streams of human knowledge into the Qur'an has been updated with a special focus on the
This method of scientific interpretation did not find general approval among Muslim authors. Many classical Muslim commentators and scientists, notably
al-Biruni, assigned to the Qur'an a separate and autonomous realm of its own and held that the Qur'an "does not interfere in the business of science nor does it infringe on the realm of science." Ahmad Dallal, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an, "Quran and science" ] These medieval scholars argued for the possibility of multiple scientific explanation of the natural phenomena, and refused to subordinate the Qur'an to an ever-changing science.
#It is lexicographically untenable, since it falsely attributes modern meanings to the quranic vocabulary.
#It neglects the contexts of words or phrases within the quranic text, and also the occasions of revelation where these are transmitted.
#It ignores the fact that, for the Quran to be comprehensible for its first audience, the words of the Qurʾān had to conform to the language and the intellectual horizon of the ancient Arabs at the Prophet's time — an argument already used by the Andalusian Mālikite scholar al-Shāṭibī (d. 790/1388) against the scientific exegesis of his time.
#It does not take notice of the fact that scientific knowledge and scientific theories are always incomplete and provisory by their very nature; therefore, the derivation of scientific knowledge and scientific theories in qurʾānic verses is actually tantamount to limiting the validity of these verses to the time for which the results of the science in question are accepted.
#Most importantly, it fails to comprehend that the Qur'an is not a scientific book, but a religious one designed to guide human beings by imparting to them a creed and a set of moral values.
In defense of their efforts the exegetes use two verses in the Qur'an: one that states "and We have sent down to thee the Book explaining all things"quran-usc|16|89|expand=no and another which says "We have neglected nothing in the Book"quran-usc|6|38|expand=no. The classical objection to these verses being used as a basis for intensive "tafsir 'ilmi" is that the "Book" mentioned in these verses is not the Qur'an itself, but a "well-preserved tablet" in heaven, of which the earthly Qur'an is a reflection.
The qur'an is insistent that
Allahis the sole creator of all things; the universe and humans. Qur'an does not assert that God created the universe at some definable point in the past. As opposed to deismor to certain readings of Newtonian physics, God continues to sustain the creation during every moment of its existence quran-usc|2|255|expand=no. And in fact the Qur’an is deeply impressed with the ongoing order of nature and summons all humankind to share in its admiration and to learn from it:
Your Guardian-Lord is Allah, Who created the heavens and the earth in six days, and is firmly established on the throne (of authority): He draweth the night as a veil o'er the day, each seeking the other in rapid succession: He created the sun, the moon, and the stars, (all) governed by laws under His command. Is it not His to create and to govern? Blessed be Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds! quran-usc|7|54|expand=no.God’s purpose in the creation of the universe was focused on humanity. This is manifest, for example, in the fact that the universe is admirably designed to provide for human needs and wants quran-usc|2|22|expand=noquran-usc|10|67|expand=no. The Qur’an offers its own version of cosmic anthropic principle. Daniel Carl Peterson, Creation, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
Qur'an contains many verses describing the universe creation; God created
heavens and earthin six days quran-usc|7|54|expand=no, the heavens and earth were completed in two days quran-usc|41|9|expand=no, and in four days God furnished the creation of the earth with mountains, rivers and fruit-gardens quran-usc|41|10|expand=no. Heavens and earth formed from an integrated disk-shaped mass which had to be split quran-usc|21|30|expand=no, the seven heavens were created from smoke quran-usc|41|11|expand=no, forming layers, one above the other quran-usc|67|3|expand=no.
God and angels inhabit the
seventh heaven. The lowest heaven is adorned with lights quran-usc|41|12|expand=no, the sun and the moon (which follow a regular path) quran-usc|71|16|expand=noquran-usc|14|33|expand=no, the stars quran-usc|37|6|expand=no and the constellations of the zodiac quran-usc|15|16|expand=no. Angelika Neuwirth , Cosmology, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
According to Qur'an, Adam is the first human being and the father of humankind. First Adam was created from clay, God himself formed the material of which Adam is made and breathed his spirit into him, and then Eve was created from Adam, the Qur'an does not report when she was created Cornelia Schöck, Adam and Eve, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an] . Subsequently all humankind was created from clay. Today, some modern Muslim commentators have decided that, since the Qur’an makes no mention of the evolution of one species to another kind of species, the Darwinian theory of
evolutionis contrary to the teachings of the Qur’an. An apt verse that summarizes the process of human creation is: Abul Fadi Mohsin Ebrahim, Biology as the Creation and Stages of Life, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
"From the (earth) did We create you, and into it shall We return you, and from it shall We bring you out once again" quran-usc|20|55|expand=no
In Qur’an quran-usc|23|12|end=15|expand=no reference is made to fetal development and growth, explanations of these verses express the view that "sperm" and "safe lodging" refer to sperm within the female
Prior to fertilization, sperm bind to the
zona pellucidaor outer covering of the ovum. Following such lines of interpretation, "clot" could be a reference to this, i.e. to sperm clinging to the ovum. However, "clot" is also interpreted by some exegetes as "blood clot" and taken to refer to "something that clings" to the uterus. For those modern commentators who then extrapolate this interpretation scientifically, the "blood clot" could be taken to represent the fertilized ovum or early embryo implanting itself in the endometrium or uterine lining. Some modern interpreters combine these verses with quran-usc|39|6|expand=no, seeing in the reference to the “three veils of darkness” a reflection of the three anatomical layers that protect the fetus — the abdominal wall, the uteruswall and amniotic sac. E.H. Waugh , Blood and Blood Clot, Encyclopedia of the Qur'an]
It is widely recognized that the Qur'an and hadith contain a number of verses pertaining to human reproduction and development. In his book "A History of Embryology," Professor
Joseph Needhamdescribes some of the embryological passages in the Qur'an, verses Quran-usc|23|14 (discussed below), This verse is mistranslated by modern translators,Fact|date=April 2008 for the past 100 years it has been translated as the second stage of the embryo being a "clot of blood", although this is a false translation,Fact|date=April 2008 the word "alaqa", prior to one hundred years ago, and during the prophet Muhammad's lifetime, the definition of this word "alaqa" and the context in which it was used was "that which clings" which the embryo does not do at this point in the embryonic stages [http://fetus.ucsfmedicalcenter.org/amniotic/learn_more.asp UCSF Fetal Treatment Center ] "UCSF Fetal Treatment Center ", Jan 23, 2002. pg. A.1] Dr. Keith L. Moore, who is most known for his textbooks on the subjects of anatomy and human embryology, had to say of the Qur'an and Muhammad, "It is clear to me that these statements (of the Qur'an about human development) must have come to Muhammad from God, because almost all of this knowledge was not discovered until many centuries later. This proves to me that Muhammad must have been a messenger of God", then he was asked does this mean you believe that the Qur'an is the word of God? He replied "I found no difficulty in accepting this". Quran-usc|24|45, Quran-usc|35|11, Quran-usc|75|36, Quran-usc|75|37, Quran-usc|75|38, Quran-usc|75|39, and Quran-usc|76|2 as "a seventh century echo of Aristotleand Ayurveda." Joseph Needham, "A History of Embryology." Abelard-Schuman.] According to Dr. Moore, professor emeritusof Anatomyat the University of Toronto, the scientific meaning of certain surahs in the Quran has become clear only recently.cite journal | last=Moore | first=Keith L. | title=A scientist's interpretation of references to embryology in the Qur'an | journal=Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, | volume=18 | year=1986 | month=January | pages=15–16 ] An example cited by him is verse Quran-usc|39|6.
However when asked in a 2002 if he would be willing to be interviewed about Qur'anic scientific miracles, Moore declined saying, “it’s been 10 or 11 years since I was involved in the Quran.” [http://www.cafearabica.com/wwwboard/social/messages/5948.html Strange Bedfellows: Western Scholars Play Key Role in Touting `Science' of the Quran ] "Wall Street Journal", Jan 23, 2002. pg. A.1]
Moore suggests that the verse phrase may describe the following three physiological barriers:
anterior abdominal wall;
# The amniochorionic membrane.
Moore notes that there are other interpretations of this verse, but does not elaborate. Regarding this verse,
Basim Musallamquotes the Damascene Hanbalischolar Ibn Qayyim(1291-1351), who reports a different interpretation: "Most commentators explain, it is the darkness of the belly, and the darkness of the womb, and the darkness of the placenta." Basim Musallam, "Sex and Society in Islam." Cambridge University Press.] The extent of human knowledge of embryology stretches back to the second century, when Greek doctor Galendescribed the placentaand fetal membranes. Basim Musallam writes that the scientific tradition of Hippocrates, Aristotle, and Galen "was native to the Middle East for centuries before Islam." Basim Musallam, "Sex and Society in Islam" Cambridge University Press.] He finds that "the Qur'an described the development of the foetus in the language of the biological sciences of the time. There was little difference between the language of the Qur'an and that of Galen on the stages of fetal development." Basim Musallam, "Sex and Society in Islam" Cambridge University Press.] Discussing the "stages" mentioned in this verse, Moore argues that it was probably known to the seventh century doctors that the human embryodeveloped within the uterus, though their knowing of human embryos developing in stages would have been unlikely. Moore claims that though Aristotlenoted the developmental stages of a chick embryo during the fourth century, it was not until the fifteenth century that developmental stages of human embryo had been the subject of discourse. However, Musallam writes that this had been described long before Muhammad:
Further occurrences of verses pertaining to supposed embryological development are Quran-usc|23|13 and Quran-usc|23|14.
The word "nutufah" (Arabic: _ar. نطفة) here has been interpreted as the "
sperm" or " spermatozoon", and the most respected Muslim translators (Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, and Shakir) all give some variant of this.
Musallam quotes the hadith, where the Prophet gives a more detailed description:
Moore writes that a more meaningful rendering of the word "nutufah" would be "
zygote", which divides to form a blastocystbefore embedding itself in the uterus — possibly what is referred to in the verse as "a place of rest". This interpretation, he claims, is supported by a different verse in the Qur'an describing the human being as created from a "mixed drop", to which the zygote would correspond, being "the union of a mixture of the sperm and the ovum."
The word "alaqah" (Arabic: _ar. علقة), rendered by
Yusuf Alias a "clot of congealed blood", is translated as "a leech-like structure" by Abdul Majid Zendani, professor of Islamic studiesat the King Abdulaziz University. Moore claims that the meaning of "alaqah" is "leech" or "bloodsucker", which he states is an appropriate description of the relationship between the embryo and the endometriumin which it is implanted, between days 7 and 24 of human embryological development. This is because the human embryo derives blood from the endometrium, in the same way a leech draws blood from its host. Morphologically, too, the embryo at this stage resembles that of a leech, he notes, unobservable by anyone in the seventh century without a microscope.
The next stage referred to is "mudhgah" (Arabic: _ar. مضغة), which Moore suggests means "chewed substance or chewed lump." This, he believes, corresponds to around the fourth week of development where the embryo resembles the appearance of a chewed lump, a key characteristic of which being indentations or "teeth-marks" signaling the beginnings of the
somites, the precursor to the vertebral column. Continuing in his analysis of this verse, he states that the next stage (which mentions formation of bones and flesh) is also in accordance with the stages of embryological development, as first the bones form as cartilagemodels, after which musclesdevelop from the surrounding somatic mesoderm. The phrase "then We developed out of it another creature" may allude to the resemblance of a human figure by the end of the eighth week, by which time the embryo (now known as the fetus) has gained distinctive human characteristics and possesses the primordia of all external and internal organs.
Other perceived verses referring to human development cited by Moore include Quran-usc|32|9 and Quran-usc|22|5.
Verse Quran-usc|32|9, he suggests, refers to the development of the
special senses in the order of hearing, vision, and sensation. According to Moore, this is the correct order of development in the embryo: the primordia of the internal ears develop first, followed by the beginning of the eyes, with the differentiation of the brain(which he refers to as the "site of understanding") occurring last of these.
Moore states that Quran-usc|22|5 seems to indicate that the embryo consists of both differentiated and undifferentiated tissues. He cites the example of undifferentiated
mesenchymepresent around the differentiated cartilage bone models. This mesenchyme then differentiates to form the muscles and ligaments attached to the bone.
Islam and science
Qur'an and miracles
Criticism of the Qur'an
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