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The Quran’s Geographical Errors

The following is taken from ‘Abdallah ‘Abd al-Fadi’s monumental work, Is the Qur’an Infallible?, Part One: Geographical Questions, pp. 15-32, published by Light of Life, P.O. Box 13, A-9503, Villach, Austria.

  1. The Sun Sets in a Spring

Question 1: We read in Sura al-Kahf 18:83-86: “They will question thee concerning Dhu al-Qarnain. Say: ‘I will recite to you a mention of him.’ We established him in the land, and We gave him away to every thing; and he followed away until, when he reached the setting of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and he found nearby a people.’

Al-Baidawi in his commentary Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil says the following with regard to these verses:

The Jews asked Muhammad about Dhu al-Qamain (Alexander the Great), and he said to them that God established him in the land so that he could reach the place where the sun sets. He found that it set in a muddy spring, and all around the spring were idolatrous people! He also walked to the place where the sun rises and discovered that people lived there who went about naked, with no homes to shelter them from the sun. After that he walked to a site that lies to the north, between the place where the sun rises and sets, which he found to be between two mountains. He poured on these two mountains a mixture of iron and molten brass, thereby setting up an impassable barrier which only God can reach on the Day of Resurrection.

Al-Baidawi added that “Ibn ‘Abbas heard Mu’awiya read ‘aynin hamiya [‘hot spring’l, so he told him it was hami’a [‘muddy’]. Therefore, Mu’awiya sent to Ka’b al-Ahbar, asking, ‘Where do you think the sun sets?’ He said to him, ‘In water and mud.’”

We ask: As the sun is many times larger than the earth, how then could Dhu al-Qamain see it set in a spring filled with water and mud, surrounded by people?

  1. The Earth Is Stationary 

Question 2: We read the following in the Qur’an:

“He created the heavens without pillars you can see, and He cast on the earth firm mountains, lest it shake with you” (Sura Luqman 31:10).

“It is He who.stretched out the earth and set therein firm mountains” (Sura al-Ra’d 13:3).

“And the earth – We stretched it forth, and cast on it firm mountains, and We caused to grow therein every thing justly weighed” (Sura al-Hijr 15:19).

“And He cast on the earth firm mountains lest it shake with you, and rivers and ways; so haply you will be guided” (Sura al-Nahl 16:15).

“And We set in the earth firm mountains lest it should shake with them” (Sura al-Anbiya’ 21:31).

Al-Baidawi explains the verse in Sura al-Ra’d as follows: “‘Stretched out the earth’ means it was flattened in width and length so that feet may be steady on and animals may roll on it.” He explained these verses in his commentary on Sura al-Nahl 16:15 as follows:

“And He cast on the earth firm mountains lest it should shake with you,” or lest it should tum aside and be thrown out of balance. For before the mountains were created on it, the earth had been a light-weight sphere of simple substance. It floated about freely in orbit like the planets, and would advance with the slightest movement. Its sides varied in dimension when the mountains were created on its surface, and they centred it, thus serving as wedges to keep it from moving. It was also said that, when God created the earth it started to sway and swing, so that the angels said, “None can have a resting place on its surface.” So it was made stationary by the mountains.

We ask: How could the earth be stretched out, flattened and motionless? How can anyone say that the mountains keep the earth from moving when it is evident that it rotates on its axis once every 24 hours, causing the cycle of day and night? It also revolves around the sun once a year, effecting the changing of the seasons.

  1. Stars Are for Stoning the Satans

Question 3: We read in Sura al-Mulk 67:5:

“And We adorned the lower heaven with lamps, and made them things to stone Satans; and We have prepared for them the chastisement of the Blaze.”

Al-Baidawi explained this verse, saying:

“And We adorned the lower heaven” means the nearer heavens. “With lamps” refers to the luminous stars that light the night as lamps. This does not contradict the fact that some stars are stationed in higher heavens, for the adorning of the lower heaven means they are made manifest in it. “And made them things to stone Satans” means they were made for another reason, which is the stoning of enemies. Rujum [“things to stone”] is the plural of rajam, which is anything used for stoning that has flames issuing from it. Another opinion says, “We made them mediums of clairvoyance and augury [which is another definition of the root verb rajama] for the Satans among men, who are the soothsayers.”

We read in Sura al-Saffat 37:6-10: “We have adorned the lower heaven with the adornment of the stars and to preserve against every rebel Satan; they listen not to the High Council. For they are pelted from every side, rejected, and theirs is an everlasting chastisement, except such as snatches a fragment, and he is pursued by a piercing flame.”

We read in Sura al-Hijr 15:16-18: “We have set in heaven constellations and decked them out fair to the beholders, and guarded them from every accursed Satan excepting such as listens by stealth – and he is pursued by a manifest flame.”

Al-Baidawi explains this verse as follows: ” ‘And guarded them from every accursed Satan’ means that one cannot go up to heaven, tempt its inhabitants, be aware of its location, or subdue it. ‘Excepting such as listen by stealth’ refers to every demon. ‘Listening by stealth’ means overhearing or eavesdropping. It is compared to snatching a fragment from the dwellers of heaven owing to the similarity of their substance, or by deduction from the positions and movements of the stars.”

Ibn ‘Abbas reported that:

They [the fallen angels] had not been kept away from the heavens. But when Jesus was born they were kept away for three years, and when Muhammad was born they were all kept away from them by means of the flames [meteors]. This is not to be rejected owing to the fact that the meteors had been formed before the angels’ birth, for it is possible that they were created for other purposes. Another opinion is that the exception is withheld, meaning that anyone who listens by stealth will be pursued by a flame visible to those able to see. Shihab [“flame”] is a blazing brand of fire. It can also refer to a star [meteor] or a flaming dart, owing to the brilliance of either.

We ask: How are we to imagine an angel the size of a man holding the stars like pieces of rock with which to pelt Satan, keeping him from listening to the voices of the inhabitants of heaven? Have these heavenly bodies been created to serve as ammunition or war material for the stoning of Satan? It is a matter of fact that every star is like an enormous galaxy, and therefore the universe contains millions of enormous galaxies floating at huge distances in limitless space. Also, how can the angels throw the stars without plunging the universe into utter chaos, since by their actions they would upset its equilibrium?

  1. Seven Heavens and Seven Earths

Question 4: We read the following verses in the Qur’an:

“It is God who created seven heavens, and of earth their like” (Sura al-Talaq 65:12).

“It is He who created for you all that is in the earth, then he lifted himself to heaven and levelled them seven heavens; and he has knowledge of everything” (Sura al-Baqara 2:29).

“So he determined them seven heavens in two days, and revealed its commandment in every heaven. And We adorned the lower heaven with lamps, and to preserve; that is the ordaining of the All-mighty, the All-knowing” (Sura Fussilat 41:12).

“We set up the heaven as a roof well-protected; yet still from Our signs they are turning away” (Sura al-Anbiya) 21:32).

“Hast thou not seen how that God… holds back heaven lest it fall upon the earth, save by His leave? Surely God is AII-gentle to men, All-compassionate” (Sura al-Hajj 22:65).

“What, have they not beheld heaven above them, how we have built it, and decked it out fair, and it has no cracks?” (Sura Qaf 50:6).

A1-Baidawi said the “roof well-preserved” in Sura al-Anbiya’ 21 is kept from falling by the command of God. He also explained the “cracks” in Sura Qaf 50 as ruptures, and said that God created the heavens smooth and closely fitting, one on top of the other. It clearly follows from al-Baidawi’s exegesis that God created heaven as a vast, smooth roof above us, with six other heavens as roofs, one on top of the other. He also created our earth together with six other earths like it. The sum total of heavens and earths is thus fourteen.

We ask: How could it be that the IimiUess space above us is a smooth roof capable of caving in, or that there are seven roofs of this kind? How could it be that the millions of stars floating in IimiUess space are lamps fixed in an imaginary roof? How can the claim be justified that there are seven earths like our earth, which is unique among millions of planets, moons and suns?

  1. The Postponed Month Is Unbelief

Question 5: We read in Sura al-Tawba 9:36,37: “The number of the months, with God, is twelve in the Book of God, the day that He created the heavens and the earth; four of them are sacred. That is the right religion. So wrong not one another during them. And fight the unbelievers totally even as they fight you totally; and know that God is with the god-fearing. The month postponed is an increase of unbelief whereby the unbelievers go astray; one year they make it profane, and hallow it another, to agree with the number that God has hallowed, and so profane what God has hallowed. Decked out fair to them are their evil deeds; and God guides not the people of the unbelievers.”

The question is: Is this really unbelief? Scientists determine dates by the solar calendar, which is different from the lunar calendar by roughly one month, so how can a natural astronomical calculation be considered unbelief?

  1. Egypt Is Irrigated by Rain

Question 6: We read in Sura Yusuf 12:49: “Then thereafter there shall come a year wherein the people will be succoured [yughathu] and press in season.”

Here a reference is made to the drought that Egypt suffered for seven continual years during the time of Joseph, and to the surplus that would replace this barrenness. It says that in the year of plenty they will have rain [the word succoured in Arabic means ‘to be relieved by rain1; as if Egypt’s fertility is based on rain. This contradicts reality, for rain is very scarce in Egypt, and it plays no role in that country’s irrigation, which is obtained solely from the annual flooding of the Nile. How then can the fertility of Egypt be attributed to rain?

  1. Thunder Is an Angel

Question 7: We read in Sura al-Ra’d 13:13: “The thunder proclaims His praise, and the angels, in awe of Him. He looses the thunderbolts, and smites with them whosoever He will; yet they dispute about God, who is mighty in power.”

Al-Baidawi said, “Ibn ‘Abbas reported that the Prophet was asked about the thunder. He answered, ‘It is an angel entrusted with the clouds. He has entwined shreds of fire with which he drives the clouds and the angels, in awe of God.’ Another opinion says that the pronoun him refers to the thunder itself.”

Al-Tirmidhi brought out, quoting Ibn ‘Abbas, that “the Jews came to Muhammad and said, ‘Tell us about the thunder. What is it?’ He said, ‘One of the angels who is entrusted with the clouds. He has entwined shreds of fire with which he drives the clouds wherever God wills.’ They asked, ‘What is this sound, then, which is heard?’ He said, ‘It is his rebuke to the clouds, that they should stop where they have been commanded.’ They said, ‘You have spoken the truth!’”

We ask: Why does the Qur’an say that thunder is an angel, when primitive peoples regarded it as a god? In reality it is the electricity generated by the collision of positively and negatively charged ions in the clouds.

This is a continuation from the previous segment (

  1. The Valley of Towa

Question 8: We read in Sura Ta Ha 20:12: “I am thy Lord; put off thy shoes; thou art in the holy valley, Towa.”

Muslim scholars agree unanimously that the valley where God first appeared to Moses is Towa. But the Bible teaches us that, when Moses was grazing the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, he drove the sheep out of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. And he beheld the bush burning with fire without being consumed. Then the Lord called to him, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exodus 3:1-5). So this happened to Moses in Horeb, the mountain ofGod. Where did the Qur’an find the name “Towa”, when in fact Horeb was a well-known mountain on the Sinai Peninsula?

  1. Olives on Mount Sinai

Question 9: We read in Sura al-Mu’minun 23:19,20: “Then We produced for you therewith gardens of palms and vines wherein are many fruits for you, and of them you eat, and a tree issuing from the Mount of Sinai that bears oil and seasoning for all to eat.”

Commentators said that the tree refers to olives, and the seasoning refers to the food eaten with the bread (al-Tabari, Jami’ al-Bayan 18:13).

We ask: Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to refer to Canaan, which is known for olives, and notSinai, where God had to provide manna for the Israelites, owing to the barrenness of the land? In other words, the Sinai Desert is not known for its olives.

  1. The Sun Runs to a Resting Place

Question 10: We read in Sura Ya Sin 36:38: “And the sun – it runs to a fixed resting-place; that is the ordaining of the All- mighty, the All-knowing.”

Al-Baidawi said:

“The sun – it runs to a fixed resting-place” refers to a certain limit at which its cycle comes to an end. It is compared to the resting place of a traveller after his journey, or to the centre of the sky where it moves slower, so that one thinks it has come to a halt. [The poet says, ”The sun is gone astray and revolves in the sky.’1lt can also mean a settled and certain course, or an appointed end for each day from the east to the west. For it has a cycle of three hundred and sixty sunrises and sunsets; it rises every morning from arising place and sets in a setting place, only to retum to them the following year. This could also be a reference to the destruction of the world when it ceases to rotate. Another reading is: “with no resting-place to it”; namely, it does not rest, but moves all the time.

We ask: How can the Qur’an say that the sun runs, or that it has a resting place to which it is bound to go? The sun is a stationary star that does not move anywhere. Rather, it is the earth that revolves around the sun.

As for the claim that a variant reading of the Qur’an points to the sun running and not stopping, this only proves that the Qur’an has widely different interpretations which change the meaning. Thus the commentator himself contests the alleged soundness and accuracy of the Qur’an.

  1. The Moon Is Like a Palm Frond

Question 11: We read in Sura Ya Sin 36:39,40: “And the moon – We determined it by stations, till it runs like an aged palm bough. It behoves not the sun to overtake the moon, neither does the night outstrip the day, each swimming in the sky.”

Al-Baidawi said:

“And the moon – we determined” means its course is determined by stations. These stations are [twentyseven]. They are as follows: Saratan [‘Cancer’], Batin [‘the Ventricle’], Thurayya [‘the Pleiades’], al-Dabaranal-MihqamaaI-Hata’aDhira’ [‘the Arm’], al-NatraTara’ [‘the End’], Jaiha [‘the Countenance’], Zabra [‘the Lion’s Shoulder’], Sarfa [‘the Lion’s Heart’], ‘Uwa’ [‘the Lion’s Thigh’], al-Samalikal-ZayanaIklil [‘the Wreath’], Qalb [‘the Heart’], Shauka [‘the Thorn’], al-Ta’a’im, Balda [‘the Town’], Sa’d al-Dhabih [‘Said of the Sacrifices’], Sa’d Bala’Sa’d al-Su’udSa’d al-AhbiyaFargh al-Dilw al-Muqaddam [‘the advanced Aquarius’], Fargh al-Dilw al-Mu’akhkhar [‘the delayed Aquarius’], and Risha [‘the Whale’s Belly’]. Every night the moon rests at a station, neverexceeding it, and never late to it. When it is at its last station, which precedes the meeting, it tapers and tums into a crescent, “till it runs like an aged palm-bough” or an old palm frond, or a year-old palm frond. “It behoves not the sun” means it does not fit the sun “to overtake the moon” in speed. “Neither does the night outstrip the day” means it does not run before it and leave it lagging behind.

“Each” refers to the suns and the moons. “Swimming in a sky” means they glide easily in it.

  1. Mount Qaf Encompasses All the Earth

Question 12: We read in Sura Qaf 50:1: “Qaf by the glorious Qur’an.”

In Ara’is al-Majalis (pp. 7, 8) Tha’labi says, “God, highly exalted, created a great mountain of a green chrysolite, to which the sky owes its greenness. It is called Mount Qaf, and it encompasses all the earth. It is by this mountain that God swore when He said, ‘Qaf by the glorious Qur’an.”’ In a book entitled Qisas al-Anbiya (p. 5) it is written that “(Abdallah Ibn Salam inquired of Muhammad, saying, ‘What is the highest peak in the world?’ Muhammad said, ‘It is Mount Qaf.’ He asked, ‘And what is it?’ Muhammad said, ‘It is of green chrysolite, to which the sky owes its greenness.’ He said, ‘You have spoken the truth, Messenger of God. And what is the height of Mount Qaf?’ Muhammad answered, ‘It is a journey of five hundred years!’ He asked him further, ‘How long does it take a man to cover its circumference?’ He answered, ‘It is a joumey of two thousand years.’ ”

This story of Mount Qaf owes its origin to the Jewish book, Hagiga. In chapter 11, section 1 of this book, the author tries to explain the rarely used Hebrew word tohu [“emptiness or formlessness”], which occurs in Genesis 1:2. The said book reads: “Tohu is the green line encompassing the entire world, from which darkness issues.” The Hebrew word translated as “line” in this book is qav. On hearing the word, the Companions did not know it meant a line, but fancied it to be a majestic mountain chain called Qaf! (There is no letter v in Arabic.)

Now if the Qur’an was revealed by God, as Muslims claim, how could it allege that the horizon, which is an imaginary line, is a mountain?

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