Splitting the Moon
Or Tearing the Qur’an to Shreds?
There are plenty of Muslim propagandists who make the bold claim that the Qur’an predicted not only the fact that man would one day land on the moon,1 but reveals even the year of the first moon landing. In the following rebuttal article, I will look at the two versions of this claim as propagated by Harun Yahya and Caner Taslaman.
Harun Yahya writes:2
THE DATE OF THE LUNAR LANDINGS
The Hour (of Doomsday) has drawn near and the Moon has split. (Surat al-Qamar, 1)
The word “Qamar” means “Moon,” and the word “Moon” appears in the first verse of Surat al-Qamar. There are 1390 verses from that verse to the end of the Qur’an. The year 1390 in the Islamic calendar corresponds to 1969 AD, the date of the lunar landings. This, one of the greatest landmarks in human history, was indicated 14 centuries beforehand. (Allah knows the truth.)
In addition, the word “inshakka,” meaning “split,” is used in this verse. The word is derived from the root “shakka,” meaning “to plow, dig up, to turn the soil...” In the same way, the Apollo 11 spacecraft that went to the Moon also took specimens of lunar dust back to Earth. In that sense, the term “the Moon has split” is consistent with developments in the present day.
Number of verses from the first verse of Surat al-Qamar to the end of the Qur’an = 1390
There are, however, quite a few nasty details, which make this miracle claim rather unconvincing. These problems are found both in the calculations as well as in the meaning / message of the verse itself.
First, there was no verse numbering system of the Qur’an in the time of Muhammad. This is a later human addition, not a divinely given one. In fact, even though the total number of verses from Sura 54:1 to Sura 114:6 is indeed 1390 – based on the numbering system that has become the most common one during the 20th Century –, there exist several different counting systems for the Qur’an until this day. This “miracle” works only in one particular counting system.3
Second, it is highly questionable to view the ordering of suras as being “revealed”. There exist Qur’an manuscripts with different orders of suras, a fact that obviously messes up many of the verse counting exercises. Moreover, this order of suras is a convention chosen for reasons which are not clear. Muslim and non-Muslim scholars agree that it is not the chronological order of the suras. Since Surat al-Qamar is an early sura, the number of verses revealed after Q. 54:1 is definitely much larger than 1390.
Even if we accept the ordering of suras as it is common now, and also choose the numbering system that is currently used by the majority of Muslims, there are still plenty of problems left.
Third, even though it is true that the number of verses in Suras 54 to 114 add up to 1390 in the most common numbering system employed today, the mission of Apollo 11 did not take place in the year 1390 of the Islamic calendar!
The first man set foot on the moon on 21 July 1969, 3:56 GMT. As any calendar conversion tool (*) will show, 21 July 1969 corresponds to 6 Jumaada al-awal 1389 AH. In fact, the very first day of 1390 AH, 1 Muharram 1390 AH, corresponds to 9 March 1970. In other words, the years AD 1969 and 1390 AH did not even have one day of overlap.
Fourth, Muslim commentators agree that Surat al-Qamar is an early Meccan sura, i.e., it was “revealed” several years before the Hijrah – and thus before there ever was an Islamic calendar!4 This verse was first uttered some 1395 (lunar) years before the first moon landing.
Fifth, for some of their favorite “mathematical miracles”, Muslims base their claims on the solar year, but in this case they want to employ the Islamic calendar which counts lunar years. That is at least inconsistent.5 1390 lunar years amount to less than 1356 solar years, a number that is rather useless for this miracle claim.
It is now time to move on to an examination of the actual meaning of the verse, not just its place in the verse numbering system and the speculations how one could associate verse numbers with dates of historical events according to different calendars.
Sixth, the verse is clearly written in the past tense. One needs to first argue carefully why it is to be understood as a prophecy.6
Seventh, the verse is about “the Hour” which is a reference to the Day of Judgment, i.e., divine judgment, not about technological achievements of mankind. Harun Yahya has not provided any explanation why or how the moon landing mission of Apollo 11 should be associated with the Day of Judgment – i.e. the end of the world as we know it.
Eighth, collecting a couple of moon rocks can hardly be called a “splitting of the moon”. That is a rather forced interpretation. (More about that later when examining the version propagated by Caner Taslaman.)
Ninth, even if we were to accept that the intended meaning of “the moon has split” is “a few moon rocks samples were transferred from the moon to the earth”, then the Islamic propaganda bubble bursts at the latest, when we learn that this has been happening for millions of years due to natural events. There are many lunar meteorites that have made a journey from the moon to the earth. Some left the moon millions of years ago, others only a couple of hundreds of years, but most of them a long time before Apollo 11 collected their moon rock samples. The interested reader can find much information about lunar meteorites at this website.
The verse does not say that “the moon has been split by the hands of men”. There is no human involvement claimed in this verse.
The explosions, cracks and craters in the surface of the moon caused by asteroids crashing into the moon are by far larger than any of the miniscule changes on the moon that were caused by human hands or machinery.
With these observations, there is absolutely nothing left of Harun Yahya’s miracle, other than the amazement that millions of Muslims believe this nonsense and don’t ever seem to question claims about miracles of the Qur’an. It is appalling how gullible the Muslim masses are. Do you, Muslim reader, really want to be counted among them?
Are these deceptive and manipulative claims not “lies about the Qur’an”? Should honest Muslims not be outraged that Muslim leaders are making a mockery of the Qur’an and of Islam by these horrendously false interpretations?
Finally, in order to spread these lies even further, Muslims also took the effort of making a video about it (*).
Dr. Caner Taslaman, another Muslim miracle monger, realized that there is a serious problem with this particular claim. Therefore, he slightly changed the miracle and propagates the following version in his book:7
THE DATE OF THE LANDING ON THE MOON
In chapter 16, we studied the expressions in the Quran that alluded to man’s landing on the moon. One of the most important among the signs is in the first verse of the sura the Moon (Qamar). The number of verses to be counted from this verse to the end of the Quran is 1389. The year 1389 in the Muslim calendar corresponds to the year 1969 in the Gregorian calendar. And the year 1969 was the year when man landed on the moon for the first time. (On the other hand, the number 1389 may also be pointing out that man will land on the moon 1389 years after this verse or after the Quran was revealed by God. This was because the Muslim calendar started at a time when the revelation was not completed.)
|1- The Hour has come closer and the The Moon has split.|
|54-The Moon, 1|
How many verses are there from the first verse of the sura The Moon until the end of the Quran?
In which year of the Muslim calendar did the first man land on the moon?
Well, when the calculation turns out to be wrong, adjust the calculation and simply continue the miracle claim as if nothing had happened. Isn’t it wonderful how flexible these miracles are? Right or wrong calculation, it is a miracle either way.
Taslaman realized that the original inventor of this miracle messed up on the date conversion between the Islamic and the Gregorian calendar. So, Taslaman “corrects” the number 1390 to 1389 without blinking an eye and still claims that there are as many years as there are verses from Sura 54:1 to the end of the Qur’an. This reminds us of Rashad Khalifa who eliminated the last two verses of Sura 9 from the Qur’an because they did fit neither into his theology nor into his calculations (cf. 1, 2). Taslaman, on the other hand, has not declared yet which verse exactly he has sacrificed in order to rescue the calculations for the moon landing miracle.
Apart from this minor detail, all objections that I listed in my examination of Harun Yahya’s version still apply.
However, there is something else that Taslaman added into his chapter which is rather strange:
(On the other hand, the number 1389 may also be pointing out that man will land on the moon 1389 years after this verse or after the Quran was revealed by God. This was because the Muslim calendar started at a time when the revelation was not completed.)
Apart from changing the date from the original miracle claim, he sees apparently no problem in offering two additional alternative interpretations, thereby exposing the highly speculative nature of these miracle claims. Moreover, he seems not to realize that his two alternative interpretations are impossible and backfire on his own credibility as well as on the credibility of the Qur’an! Let’s examine them.
Assuming that Sura 54 was “revealed” roughly in the year five before the hijrah,8 then 1389 lunar years later is somewhere between 1963 and 1965. Even Caner Taslaman should be aware that no man landed on the moon in those years. If the Quran really prophesied that man will land on the moon 1389 years after the revelation of this verse, then the Qur’an made a false prophecy and should therefore be rejected as a revelation from God. Even though it is clearly a more reasonable approach to start counting the years with the revelation of this verse than with the beginning of the Islamic calendar which is unrelated to this verse, I do not understand why Taslaman even suggests an interpretation that immediately produces a false prophecy for the Qur’an. Did Taslaman not even bother to calculate the implications of his suggestion before he published it?
His next suggestion fares no better. It adds the problem that association of this verse with the completion of the Qur’an is rather unclear and unmotivated. But let’s calculate this anyway. The final parts of the Qur’an were “revealed” in the last year of Muhammad’s life, i.e. in AD 632 or 10 AH, and 1389 lunar years after 10 AH comes to the year 1399 of the Islamic calendar, or AD 1978 to 1979. However, the manned moon landing missions Apollo 11 to Apollo 17 all took place between 1969 and 1972 (*). Thus, the second alternative interpretation likewise results in an obviously false prophecy.
Even if we forget the Islamic calendar and lunar years, and interpret the number 1389 as solar years, we still do not hit the target. Five years before the hijrah is AD 617, adding 1389, we come to 2006. There have not been any attempts to send people to the moon around 2006, nor am I aware of manned moon missions planned for the last few weeks left in 2011 if we add 1389 to 622, the first year of the Islamic calendar.
Frankly, the option that Taslaman has not considered is the most likely interpretation: The number 1389 (or rather 1390) is coincidental and there is simply no meaning in the sum total of the number of verses between Sura 54:1 and 114:6 – as much as this conclusion may hurt Taslaman’s pride and identity as a “mathematical Muslim”.
Caner Taslaman distributed his discussion of Q. 54:1 over two chapters in his book, on pages 88 and 282. So far, I have quoted and discussed the latter one. On page 88 of his book, Taslaman provides us with these additional “insights”, or should we say “attempts to manipulate our understanding of Qur’an texts”? He writes:
THE MOON HAS SPLIT
|1- The Hour has come closer and the moon has split (shaqqa).|
|54-The Moon, 1|
There is another indication in the Quran in the above verse referring to the landing on the moon. In order to have a better insight into this, let us dwell on the connotation of the Arabic word “shaqqa” which, among its multifarious meanings, signifies “rending asunder,” “splitting,” “fissuring;” it may also signify plowing the soil.
|25- We pour forth water in abundance.|
26- And We split (shaqqa) the earth in fragments.
|80-He Frowned, 25-26|
As we see, to describe the fissures made by water on the earth’s soil, the same word “shaqqa” is used. One of the most important events that occasioned man’s visit to the moon was the sampling of the soil on the surface of the moon. The surface of the moon was fissured by man for the first time in history. The term “shaqqa” may refer to this cleavage.
We have examined the 1st verse of the sura “The Moon.” The 2nd verse of the same sura addresses the wrongdoers who preferred to ignore the evidences of God.
|2- Yet if they see a sign they turn away and they say,|
|“A continuous sorcery!”||54-The Moon, 2|
As quoted already in the first part, Harun Yahya formulated similarly:
… the word “inshakka,” meaning “split,” is used in this verse. The word is derived from the root “shakka,” meaning “to plow, dig up, to turn the soil...” In the same way, the Apollo 11 spacecraft that went to the Moon also took specimens of lunar dust back to Earth. In that sense, the term “the Moon has split” is consistent with developments in the present day.
Taslaman and Harun Yahya and/or the sources which they drew from for this argument have a flowering imagination and no problem to invent new meanings for words in order to fabricate their miracles. If we consult the linguistic analysis of this verse at the very helpful website “The Quranic Arabic Corpus - Word by Word Grammar, Syntax and Morphology of the Holy Quran” (here) and then click on “wa-inshaqqa” which lists all occurrences of words from this root in the Qur’an, we do not find “plowing” listed among the meanings of the word as it is used in the Qur’an. The word has a far more “dramatic tone”. The meanings listed on the page of Quranic usages of this word and related words of the same root (*) are “to split, to split open, to split asunder, to oppose, distance, schism, opposition …” but not soft meanings like “to scratch the surface”, or “to pick up a stone from the ground” as our two friends would have us believe.9
Let us take a closer look at the passage in Sura 80 that Taslaman appeals to in order to support his new meaning:
24 Then let man look at his food,
25 That We pour forth water in abundance,
26 And We split the earth in clefts,
27 And We cause therein the grain to grow,
28 And grapes and clover plants (i.e. green fodder for the cattle),
29 And olives and date-palms,
30 And gardens, dense with many trees,
31 And fruits and Abba (herbage, etc.),
32 (To be) a provision and benefit for you and your cattle. (Al-Hilali & Khan)
The crucial verse 26 again in a few more translations:
Then We cleave the earth, cleaving (it) asunder, (Shakir)
Then WE cleave the earth a proper cleaving, (Sher Ali)
Then cleave the earth, cleaving (it) asunder, (Maulana Muhammad Ali)
Then We cracked the land with cracks. (Progressive Muslims)
thumma shaqaqnā l-arda shaqqan
then We cleaved the earth splitting, (Source)
Does this passage try to tell us that Allah is a farmer who walks behind an ox and a plough, row after row, to plough the earth? No, the image that the dramatizing poetic language of verse 26 employs is that of a new plant breaking through the hard surface, cracking the crusty soil.10
I am in awe when I see little plants break through a tough surface. Where does this plant get the strength, the power to do that? The Qur’an ascribes it to the direct action of Allah: WE split the earth … in order to let plants grow and become food for mankind and cattle.
This passage communicates that Allah provides for the food of men by (1) giving rain and (2) splitting the (hard surface of) the earth, so that food plants can grow out of it.
But nowhere does the Quran use the word to signify the picking up of stones, or even for the human action of ploughing or digging.11 The whole point here is that drastic action communicates the strength of God and his care for mankind. A strong man is not able to rip a hole into a street with his bare hands, but a tiny little grass can do it – or God does it to let the grass grow.
Yahya/Taslaman’s argument is problematic also because it ignores that when the Qur’an uses the verb "split" with regard to the earth (in Q. 80:26), it is used in a poetic way and refers to the surface of the earth rather than the whole world/planet. When the same verb is used with regard to the moon, however, the Qur’an does not mean a little scratch in the surface of the moon, but refers to the whole moon as people see it. And, historically, the commentators have never understood it any other way.12
Finally, if Taslaman and Yahya want to insist on “human technology plowing a piece of the moon”, then this happened several years before Apollo 11. The Soviet Luna 2 crashed on the moon on 13 September 1959 and the American Ranger 4 crashed on the moon on 26 April 1962, both “ploughing the moon” probably far more forcefully than the soft landing of the lunar module of Apollo 11 and the collection of a few rocks by Armstrong and Aldrin.
Manipulation, manipulation, and more manipulation
While the error of incorrectly equating 1390 AH with AD 1969 was probably an honest mistake (i.e. unintentional, although exposing incompetence and shoddiness), changing the number later to 1389 and still making the same claim can no longer be considered an innocent mistake but is deliberate manipulation.
In another publication by Harun Yahya, again connecting Q. 54:1 with the moon landing and its historical date, we find yet another manipulated calculation. Leaving out the parts we have already dealt with, the new argument is:
The 1969 Moon Landing is Indicated in the Qur'an
In fact, there is another very important indication here: Some of the "abjad" values of certain words in this verse in Surat al-Qamar also point to the figure 1969.
One important point which needs to be stressed in this method of calculation is the likelihood of producing very large or irrelevant numbers. Despite the probability of a relevant number emerging being exceedingly small, it is striking that such a clear figure should result.
The Hour [has drawn near] and the moon has split.
Hijri: 1390, Gregorian: 1969
In 1969, American astronauts carried out research on the Moon, dug the soil up with various pieces of equipment, split it and carried specimens back to Earth.
We must, however, make it clear that the splitting of the Moon is of course one of the miracles given to our Prophet (saas) by Allah. This miracle is revealed thus in a hadith:
The people of Mecca asked Allah's Apostle to show them a miracle. So he showed them the moon split in two halves between which they saw the Hiram' mountain. (Sahih Bukhari)
The above miracle is the splitting of the Moon revealed in the verse. However, since the Qur'an is a Book that addresses all times, one may think of this verse as referring to the exploration of the Moon in our own day. (Allah knows best.)
(Harun Yahya, Mathematical Miracles of the Qur'an)
Apart from the error that this again associates 1390 AH and AD 1969, what does Yahya actually do here? There are several systems of assigning numerical values to the letters of the Arabic alphabet. Yahya uses one of these systems13 to derive the number 1390 by adding the values of letters found in the text of Sura 54:1. However, he does not use the whole verse, but he picks and chooses which letters he takes and which ones he leaves out. Here is the verse, again:
اقْتَرَبَتِ السَّاعَةُ وَانْشَقَّ الْقَمَرُ
Here is a decent transliteration taken from the site IslamAwakened:
Iqtarabati alssaAAatu wainshaqqa alqamaru (Source; coloring mine)
Harun Yahya uses only the red part of the verse, leaving out the complete first word, iqtarabati (“it has come near”). But that is not all; he does not even use all the letters in the red part. For example, why would he sum up the letter values of al-ssā‘atu with only one Sin when it should be two Sin because of the shadda? (In other words, add another 300 for the second Sin.) And, even worse, how does he justify leaving out the second Qaf from the word inshaqqa? After all, the root of the word is “Shin Qaf Qaf”, and the second Qaf adds another 100 to the sum of the letter values!
Isn’t that a rather obvious manipulation of the data? Isn’t that “tearing the Qur’an into shreds” (Q. 15:91) for one’s own purposes? Where is the integrity of these people? And where are the Muslims that expose this dishonesty in handling the Qur’an?
Adding a pseudo-pious “Allah knows best” into the claim is no excuse or justification for this blatant manipulation!
However, the manipulation is not only on the level of a forced association of numbers with the verse, but the meaning of the text itself is manipulated. The meaning of the word “inshaqqa” is forced to fit the desired miracle as seen above, but Yahya does basically the same thing in his alternative version of this claim (*).
Most seriously, in my opinion, is however that the actual purpose and message of the verse as a whole is changed. Yahya, Taslaman & Co. are shifting the miracle from a momentous action of Allah – splitting the moon, an event understood to be visible on earth, to a mere prediction that some people will one day collect some rocks from the moon. The miracle now is the prediction, not the splitting.
Again, in the Qur’an it is clearly understood that Allah has done14 the splitting as a sign of his great power. In the Islam of Yahya and Taslaman, a mere human being is collecting 21.7 kilograms of rocks from the surface of the moon due to human technological advancement, and for Allah is left only the job to announce this human achievement beforehand.
Frankly, this isn’t taking the Quran seriously anymore, but manipulating its meaning, and its message.
Instead of the powerful miracle of Allah visibly splitting the moon, in the hands of Harun Yahya and Caner Taslaman this sign deteriorated into two human beings picking up a mere 21.7 kilograms of rock from its surface. I am impressed!
In this article I have examined some modern Muslim interpretations of Sura 54:1. However, there is yet another passage in the Qur’an which is also (ab)used as a prediction of the moon landings, Sura 84:18-20. Caner Taslaman’s claims around that passage are examined in the companion article, “And the Moon remains … out of reach”.
The imagination of another Muslim group finds even more miraculous numbers associated with Sura 54:1. This is discussed in the article “Allah’s Timing?”