Short Answer: The Quran uses the singular, dual, and plural forms of these words to indicate various meanings, including the literal directions of east and west, the domination of Allah over the whole of creation, and the rising and setting of both the sun and the moon.
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The Noble Quran, being the final word of the Ever-Knowing God to mankind, is a glimpse of His infinite knowledge.
Every word, expression, and chapter is so meticulously chosen and phrased such as to give the utmost precision of meaning, as well as splendid eloquence and deep impact.
The words: “East” and “West” have been mentioned in the Quran using the three Arabic morphological forms—single, dual, and plural—in each case to purposely give a specific meaning.
In the singular form, reference is often to the geographic east and west–directions of the planet Earth, as in the following verse, when Allah says:
It is not righteousness that you turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteous is he who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and gives his wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and to the needy and to the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and observes proper worship and pays the poor due (zakah). (Quran 2:177)
Also, the singular form could refer to the alternation of the sun rising and setting, by which the day and night alternate to maintain life on earth, as in the following verse, when God says:
[…] Ibrahim (Abraham) said, “Yet surely Allah brings the sun from the East, so come bring it from the West.” Then the one who disbelieved was confounded; and Allah does not guide the unjust people […] (Quran 2:258)
Alternatively, the combined expression “East and West” is used to express the domination of Allah over the whole earth, and the whole of creation.
Examples of this usage can be read in the following verses, when God says:
And Allah has the East and the West […] (Quran 2:115)
[…] Say, “To Allah (belong) the East and West;” He guides whomever He decides to a straight Path […] (Quran 2:142)
On the other hand, the dual form, used in other verses, could refer to either of two meanings:
The first is the separate rising and setting of the sun and the moon, both of which were and are the basis for defining the time units.
This is along with the solar and lunar calendars.
An example for this is the verse that says:
The Lord of the two easts and the Lord of the two wests. (Quran 55:17)
The second is the two extreme points of earliest sunrise and latest sunrise, along any latitude of the globe in any one day (this is explained in the fourth point of the “plural” meanings below).
An example of the Quranic mentioning of this meaning is the verse that says:
Until, when he comes to Us, he says, “Oh, would that there had been between me and you the distance of the two easts!” (Quran 43:38)
Coming to the plural forms of “Easts” and “Wests,” they were used in the verses which say:
The Lord of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them both and the Lord of the Easts. (Quran 37:5)
Yet no, I swear by The Lord of the Easts and the Wests; surely, We are indeed (the) Determiners. (Quran 70:40)
In these verses, the plural forms could carry a number of physically significant meanings.
They could refer to either or all of the following phenomena:
- The apparent rising and setting of each of the celestial bodies relative to the earth, due to the rotation of the earth around its own axis and around the sun.
- The different (consecutive) times of sunrise or sunset as we move around the globe from east to west along any latitude (time zones).
- The variable times of sunrise and sunset in the same location around the four seasons; and hence the variation in the length of daytime between summer and winter. This variation widens as we move towards the poles from the equator.
- As the axis of rotation of the earth around itself is inclined to its axis of rotation around the sun, the time of sunrise differs (in the same day) along the same longitude as we move to higher or lower latitudes.
From this last fact, it follows that in any one day, all year round, there are oppositely two extreme latitudes (north and south): one with the earliest time of sunrise and the other with the latest.
This explains the Quranic use of the dual form pointed to above.
I hope this clarifies the wise and precise linguistic usage of the same word (east or west) in different morphological forms (singular, dual, or plural).
In fact, it could exactly fit several physical phenomena of this marvelous creation of the Ever-Knowing, Ever-Determiner— Allah.
And Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
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