Responses to "Islamic Information"

Science in the Quran

Chapter 11 : The Sun & Moon and Their Orbits

Exposing Dr. Maurice Bucaille's Misinformation

In his article on the orbit of the sun and moon, Shabir Ally quotes Bucaille's citation of al-Tabari's comments on the Quran:

Two verses in the Qur'an refer to the orbits of the sun and moon. After mentioning the sun and the moon, God says:

"Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40).

How did the author of the Qur'an know of this? Even after the Qur'an was revealed, early commentators could not conceive of the orbits of the sun and moon. The tenth century commentator Tabari could not explain this so he said, "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know" (XVII, 15 quoted in The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).

Dr. Bucaille comments:

"This shows just how incapable men were of understanding this concept of the sun's and moon's orbit." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).


This gives a misleading impression that Tabari had no explanation on the preceding Quranic statements regarding the orbit of the sun and moon. The fact is that not only did Tabari have something to say, he even quotes a tradition from Muhammad on the authority of Ibn `Abbas where the former extensively comments on the orbit of the sun and moon. The following lengthy quotation is taken from the History of al-Tabari, Volume 1- General Introduction and from the Creation to the Flood (trans. Franz Rosenthal, State University of New York Press, Albany 1989), pp. 231-237:

Among the traditions transmitted from the Messenger of God on this subject is what I have been told by Muhammad b. Abi Mansur al-Amuli- Khalaf b. Wasil - Abu Nu'aym `Umar b. Subh al-Balkhi- Muqatil b. Hayyan- `Abd al-Rahman b. Abza- Abu Dharr al-Ghifari: I walked hand in hand with the Prophet around evening when the sun was about to set. We did not stop looking at it until it had set. He continued. I asked the Messenger of God: Where does it set? He replied: It sets in the heaven and is then raised from heaven to heaven until it is raised to the highest, seventh heaven. Eventually, when it is underneath the Throne, it falls down and prostrates itself, and the angels who are in charge of it prostrate themselves together with it. The sun then says: My Lord, whence do You command me to rise, from where I set or from where I rise? He continued. This is (meant by) God's word: "And the sun: It runs to a place where it is to reside (at night)" - where it is held underneath the Throne - "That is decreed by One Mighty and Knowing" -- by "this" is meant the procedure of the "mighty" Lord in His royal authority, the Lord Who is "knowing" about His creation. He continued. Gabriel brings to the sun a garment of luminosity from the light of the Throne, according to the measure of the hours of the day. It is longer in the summer and shorter in the winter, and of intermediate length in autumn and spring. He continued. The sun puts on that garment, as one of you here puts on his garment. Then, it is set free to roam in the air of heaven until it rises whence it does. The Prophet said: It is as if it had been held for three nights. Then it will not be covered with luminosity and will be commanded to rise from where it sets. This is (meant by) God: "When the sun shall be rolled up." He continued. The same course is followed by the moon in its rising, its running on the horizon of the heaven, its setting, its rising to the highest, seventh heaven, its being held underneath the Throne, its prostration, and its asking for permission. But Gabriel brings it a garment from the light of the Footstool. He continued. This is (meant by) God's word: "He made the sun a luminosity and the moon a light." Abu Dharr concluded: Then I went away together with the Messenger of God and we prayed the evening prayer. This report from the Messenger of God indicated that the only difference between the condition of the sun and that of the moon is that the luminosity of the sun comes from the wrap of the luminosity of the Throne with which the sun was covered, while the light of the moon comes from a wrap of the light of the Footstool with which the moon was covered.

The other report, referring to a different concept, is what I was told by Muhammad b. Abi Mansur- Khalaf b. Wasil- Abu Nu'aym- Muqatil b. Hayyan- Ikrimah: One day when Ibn `Abbas was sitting (at home or in the mosque), a man came to him and said: Ibn `Abbas, I heard Ka'b, the Rabbi, tell a marvelous story about the sun and the moon. He continued. Ibn `Abbas who had been reclining sat up and asked what it was. The man said: He suggested that on the Day of Resurrection, the sun and the moon will be brought as if they were two hamstrung oxen, and flung into Hell. `Ikrimah continued. Ibn `Abbas became contorted with anger and exclaimed three times: Ka'b is lying! Ka'b is lying! Ka'b is lying! This is something Jewish he wants to inject into Islam. God is too majestic and noble to mete out punishment where there is obedience to Him. Have you not heard God's word: "And He subjected to you the sun and the moon, being constant" referring to their constant obedience. How would He punish two servants that are praised for constant obedience? May God curse that rabbi and his rabbinate! How insolent is he toward God and what a tremendous fabrication has he told about those two servants that are obedient to God! He continued. Then he said several times: We return to God. He took a little piece of wood from the ground and started to hit the ground with it. He did that for some time, then lifting his head he threw away the little piece of wood and said: You want me to tell you what I heard the Messenger of God say about the sun and the moon and the beginning of their creation and how things went with them? We said: We would, indeed, May God show mercy unto you. He said: When the Messenger of God was asked about that, he replied: When God was done with His creation and only Adam remained to be created, He created two suns from the light of His Throne. His foreknowledge told Him that He would leave here one sun, so He created it as (large as) this world is from east to west. His foreknowledge also told Him that He would efface it and change it to a moon; so the moon is smaller in size than the sun. But both are seen as small because of the sun's altitude and remoteness from the earth.

He continued: If God had left the two suns as He created them in the beginning, night would not have been distinguishable from day. A hired man then would not know until when he should labor and when he should receive his wages. A person fasting would not know until when he must fast. A woman would not know how to reckon the period of her impurity. The Muslims would not know the time of the pilgrimage. Debtors would not know when their debts become due. People in general would not know when to work for a livelihood and when to stop for resting their bodies. The Lord was too concerned with His servants and too merciful to them (to do such a thing). He thus sent Gabriel to drag his wing three times over the face of the moon, which at the time was a sun. He effaced its luminosity and left the light in it. This is (meant by) God's word: "And We have made the night and the day two signs. We have blotted out the sign of the night, and We have made the sign of the day something to see by." He continued. The blackness you can see as lines on the moon is a trace of the blotting. God then created for the sun a chariot with 360 handholds from the luminosity of the light of the Throne and entrusted 360 of the angels inhabiting the lower heaven with the sun and its chariot, each of them gripping one of those handholds. He entrusted 360 of the angels inhabiting (the lower?) heaven with the moon and its chariot, each of them gripping one of those handholds.

Then he said: For the sun and the moon, He created easts and wests (positions to rise and set) on the two sides of the earth and the two rims of heaven, 180 springs in the west of black clay - this is (meant by) God's word: "He found it setting in a muddy spring," meaning by "muddy (hami'ah)" black clay - and 180 springs in the east likewise of black clay, bubbling and boiling like a pot when it boild furiously. He continued. Every day and night, the sun has a new place where it rises and a new place where it sets. The interval between them from beginning to end is longest for the day in summer and shortest in winter. This is (meant by) God's word: "The Lord of the two easts and the Lord of the two wests," meaning the last (position) of the sun here and the last there. He omitted the positions in the east and the west (for the rising and setting of the sun) in between them. Then He referred to east and west in the plural, saying; "(By) the Lord of the easts and wests." He mentioned the number of all those springs (as above).

He continued. God created an ocean three farsakhs (18 kilometers) removed from heaven. Waves contained, it stands in the air by the command of God. No drop of it is spilled. All the oceans are motionless, but that ocean flows at the rate of the speed of an arrow. It is set free to move in the air evenly, as if it were a rope stretched out in the area between east and west. The sun, the moon, and the retrograde stars run in its deep swell. This is (meant by) God's word: "Each swims in a sphere." "The sphere" is the circulation of the chariot in the deep swell of that ocean. By Him Who holds the soul of Muhammad in His hand! If the sun were to emerge from that ocean, it would burn everything on earth, including even rocks and stones, and if the moon were to emerge from it, it would afflict (by its heat) the inhabitants of the earth to such and extent that they would worship gods other than God. The exception would be those of God's friends whom He would want to keep free from sin.

Ibn `Abbas said that `Ali b. Abi Talib said to the Messenger of God: You are like my father and my mother! You have mentioned the course of the retrograde stars (al-khunnas) by which God swears in the Qur'an, together with the sun and the moon, and the rest. Now, what are al-khunnas? The Prophet replied: `Ali, they are five stars: Jupiter (al-birjis), Saturn (zuhal), Mercury (`utarid), Mars (bahram), and Venus (al-zuhrah). These five stars rise and run like the sun and the moon and race with them together. All the other stars are suspended from heaven as lamps are from mosques, and circulate together with heaven praising and sanctifying God with prayer. The Prophet then said: If you wish to have this made clear, look to the circulation of the sphere alternately here and there. It is the circulation of heaven and the circulation of all the stars together with it except those five. Their circulation today is what you see, and that is their prayer. Their circulation to the Day of Resurrection is as quick as the circulation of a mill because of the dangers and tremors of the Day of resurrection. This is (meant by) God's word: "On a day when the heaven sways to and fro and the mountains move. Woe on that day unto those who declare false (the Prophet's divine message)."

He continued. When the sun rises, it rises upon its chariot from one of those springs accompanied by 360 angels with outspread wings. They draw it along the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer, according to the extent of the hours of night and the hours of day, be it night or day. When God wishes to test the sun and the moon, showing His servants a sign and thereby asking them to stop disobeying Him and to start to obey, the sun tumbles from the chariot and falls into the deep of that ocean, which is the sphere. When God wants to increase the significance of the sign and frighten His servants severely, all of the sun falls, and nothing of it remains upon the chariot. That is a total eclipse of the sun, when the day darkens and the stars come out. When God wants to make a partial sign, half or a third or two-thirds of it fall into the water, while the rest remains upon the chariot, this being a partial eclipse. It is a misfortune for the sun or for the moon. It frightens His servants and constitutes a request from the Lord (for them to repent). However this may be, the angels entrusted with the chariot of the sun divide into two groups, one that goes to the sun and pulls it toward the chariot, and another that goes to the chariot and pulls it toward the sun, while at the same time they keep it steady in the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer, according to the extent of the hours of day or the hours of night, be it night or day, summer or winter, autumn or spring between summer and winter, lest the length of night and day be increased in any way. God has given them knowledge of that by inspiration and also the power for it. The gradual emergence of the sun or the moon from the deep of that ocean covering them which you observe after an eclipse (is accomplished by) all the angels together who, after having brought out all of it, carry it (back) and put it upon the chariot. They praise God that He gave them the power to do that. They grip the handholds of the chariot and draw it in the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer. Finally, they bring the sun to the west. Having done so; they put it into the spring there, and the sun falls from the horizon of the sphere into the spring.

Tabari continues to comment about the role the sun and moon will play at the end of the world:

"When this takes place, the sun will be held underneath the Throne for one night. Whenever it prostrates itself and asks for permission (to proceed to) whence it should rise, it is given no answer until the moon joins it and prostrates itself together with the sun and asks for permission (to proceed to) whence it shall rise. The moon, too, is not given an answer. Finally, (the angel?) will hold the sun for three nights and the moon for two nights ..." (Ibid., p. 239)

We would like to ask the following questions. Seeing that Tabari cites a tradition from Muhammad on the authority of Ibn `Abbas on the orbit of the sun, moon and stars how could Bucaille give the impression that Tabari had no explanation for S. 21:33, 36:40? Furthermore, how can one possibly accept Muhammad as a prophet in light of his comments that are brimming with scientific errors? Does the sun and moon travel together on a similar course? Was the moon actually a sun before God stripped it of its luminosity? Does the moon have light of its own? Is there really an ocean in space where the sun, moon and stars travel within? All these factors make it hard for any thinking individual to take Shabir's claim that the Quran is a scientific miracle or that Muhammad was actually God's prophet seriously.

Sam Shamoun

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