The Qur’an has four essential aims: explaining and proving Divine Existence and Unity, the Resurrection, Prophethood and Divine worship and justice.
All its explanations and injunctions, and its accounts of the histories of previous peoples, are to establish those four principles in people’s minds, hearts and practical lives.
To this end, since nature is the realm where God’s Names are manifested and is therefore a collection of signs of Divine Existence and Unity, it frequently refers to the realities of creation and ‘natural’ events and things, and to man as, in one respect, a part of nature, and, in another respect, the fruit and a sample of the tree of creation as a whole.
The Qur’an isn’t a book of sciences. But since sciences deal with nature and man and since sciences and technology constitute a very important aspect of man’s life and are themselves the product of man’s mind, the Qur’an, which contains ‘whatever is wet and dry’ either explicitly or implicitly or by allusion, certainly refers to sciences and scientific advancements.
But, while sciences deal with nature and things for their own sake and concentrate on the question of ‘how?’, the Qur’an refers to them for the sake of God and for their most, fundamental purpose as signs of Divine Existence and Unity as the manifestations of Divine Names, and therefore as the means of obtaining knowledge of God.
Second, the Qur’an seeks to guide people and inculcate in them belief and high standards of morality. The great majority of people don’t have specialized knowledge about scientific facts or theories.
It would be inappropriate for a book of guidance directed to all people in all ages to refer to things and natural events in the manner of sciences.
If the Qur’an referred to, say, the sun as a heavenly body of such and such size, made up of gases composed of two thousand billion times billion tons of matter, with the remains of other elements and in which for every million atoms of hydrogen there are about 85,000 helium atoms, most people would be simply bewildered or indifferent.
As the comprehensive and conclusive Revelation, the Qur’an addresses all levels of understanding and intends to be understood, with belief and action to follow understanding.
Since most people judge according to their sense-impressions, the Qur’an uses the appropriate language and style.
For example, while narrating the story of Dhu’l-Qarnayn, the Qur’an says that he reached the setting-place of the sun and found the sun setting in a fiery muddy spring (Surat Al-Kahf 18:86).
It is obvious that the sun doesn’t set in a spring. But this verse, besides giving many clues to certain facts to be discovered later, considers ordinary sense-impressions.
First of all, we understand from the verse that Dhu’l-Qarnayn went as far as the western end of a land adjoining water around which there wasn’t another visible land. That is why most commentators of the Qur’an have concluded that it was the Atlantic Ocean.
Second, the verse implicitly states that Dhu’l-Qarnayn didn’t reach the coasts of the land he conquered in the west but advanced only so far as the point from which he could see the ocean like a spring.
Thirdly, when he reached that point, it was a fiery summer day and, most probably because of the vapors rising from the ocean and the marshy land adjoining the sea, it appeared from afar like a muddy spring.
Fourthly, the verse contains a subtle and important point. The word translated here as spring also means eye and the sun.
As the Qur’an, because of its elevated perspective, looks at the world from ‘on high’ and also there are innumerable eyes watching the world from on high, the ocean from that perspective, however large it may appear to the people in this world, appears no bigger than a spring.
Further, there is a subtle allusion here to a time when those who believe in God will gain enough power and equipment to rule, at least, a considerable part of the world and, ascending the heavens, observe the world from on high.
The statement just discussed comprises only five words. All the statements of the Qur’an contain lots of information either explicitly or implicitly and allusively to satisfy all levels of understanding in all times until the Judgment Day.
Another example is a statement of only four words: The sun moves (in its course) to a resting-place for it (Surat Ya-Sin 36:38).
Meanings and Connotations
Before elucidating other meanings and connotations of this statement, we should remember that in the past people, judging again by their sense-impressions, believed that the earth was motionless while the sun moved around it.
Later developments in science and observations showed that the earth spins upon its own axis and orbits the sun which is, relatively, motionless.
First of all, since people see the sun moving, the Qur’an mentions it as moving. Second, the Qur’an mentions the sun here as an illustration of the magnificent order prevailing throughout the universe as a sign of God’s Might and Knowledge, The context is as follows:
A sign for them is the night. We strip it of the day, and behold! they are in darkness. And the sun moves (in its course) to a resting-place for it. That is the measuring and ordaining of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. And for the moon We have appointed mansions till it returns like an old shriveled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They float, each in an orbit. (Surat Ya-Sin 36:37-40).
We understand from the statement in its context that the sun has a vital function in the universal order. The Qur’an uses in the statement mustaqarr, meaning a fixed course to follow, stability and the place in which stability is secured.
So, the statement can mean that the sun has a central position in the order of the universe. Second, the preposition used together with the word ‘stability1, li, has three meanings: for, to, and in.
Therefore, the exact meaning of the statement comprising four words is: The sun moves following a route or course to a fixed place determined for it for the purpose of its (system’s) stability. In recent decades, solar astronomers have been able to observe that the sun isn’t in fact motionless. It quivers and shakes and continually rings like a well-hit gong.
These vibrations of the sun reveal vital information about the sun’s deep interior, its hidden layers, information which affects calculations of the age of the universe.
Also, knowing exactly how the sun spins internally is important in testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Like so many other significant findings in astronomy, this discovery about the sun was totally unexpected.
Having discovered the quivering and ringing sun, some astronomers have commented that it is as if the sun were a symphony orchestra, with all the instruments being played simultaneously. All the vibrations combine at times to produce a net oscillation on the solar surface that is thousands of times stronger than any individual vibration.
Commenting on the Qur’anic verse. The sun moves to a resting-place for it, several decades before this totally unexpected discovery in astronomy, Said Nursi had written:
As the word ‘moves’ points to a style, the phrase ‘in its course’ demonstrates a reality. The sun, like a vessel built of gold, travels and floats in the ocean of the heavens comprising ether and defined as a stretched and tightened wave.
Although it quivers and shakes in its course or orbit, since people see it running, the Qur’an uses the word travel or float. However, since the origin of the force of gravity is movement, the sun moves and quivers in its orbit.
Through this vibration, which is the wheel of its figurative movement, its satellites are attracted to it and preserved from falling and scattering. When a tree quivers, its fruits fall. But, when the sun quivers and shakes, its fruits-its satellites-are preserved from falling.
Again, wisdom requires that the sun should move and travel on its mobile throne-its course or orbit-accompanied by its soldiers-its satellites. For the Divine Power has made everything moving and condemned nothing to absolute rest or motionlessness.
Divine Mercy allows nothing to be condemned to inertia which is the cousin of death. So, the sun is free, it can travel provided it obeys the laws of God and does not disturb others’ freedom.
So, it may actually be travelling, as its travelling may also be figurative. However, what is important according to the Qur’an is the universal order, the wheel of which is the sun and its movement. Through the sun, the stability and orderliness are ensured. [Muhakemat (Reasonings), Istanbul 1988, pp. 68-69.]
- Bucaille, M. (1987) The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, Taj Company, Delhi.
- Jones, B, (1992) The Night Sky, Salamander Books Ltd.
- Nurbaki, H. (1989) Verses from the Glorious Qur’an and the Facts of Science, T.D.V., Ankara.
- Leibacher, J., R. Noyes, J. Toomre & R. Ulrich (1985) ‘Helioseismology’, Scientific American (September), pp.48-57.
- Bartusiac, M, (1994) ‘Sounds of the Sun’, American Scientist (January-February), pp.61-68.
First published in Fountain Magazine Issue 20 / October – December 1997.