We are grateful to Prof. Arnold Neumaier for his permission to use his article on this site.

Review of

A New Astronomical Quranic Method for The Determination Of The Greatest Speed C

by Dr. Mansour Hassab-Elnaby, available at the URL   http://www.islamicity.org/Science/960703A.HTM

(i) The document observes that with a suitable meaning of the terms, the equation

[speed of light] * [sidereal terrestrial day] =
[ONE THOUSAND LUNAR YEARS] * [months/year] * [moon orbit length]

is valid within the variabilities of the quantities involved. However, the definition of the [moon orbit length] in this equation has no natural meaning as a distance actually travelled by the moon in a meaningful interval, and seems strained to force the result.

(ii) It is claimed that the Quran (verse 32:5) predicted this relation 14 centuries ago, and thus "emphasises the unity of the physical world, the validity of the special theory of relativity and the authenticity of the Glorious Quran for unbelievers."

The prediction is questionable but can be defended within the considerable freedom of interpretation of ancient texts. However, the conclusion is unwarranted: The unity of the physical world does not show in numerical coincidences between otherwise unrelated quantities; the equation is completely unrelated to special relativity and the authenticity of a whole book cannot rest on the correctness of isolated and hidden facts that are open to interpretation.

(iii) Another Quran verse (22:47) is added as hinting at the same relation. But this verse is predated by essentially the same statement made in the New Testament (2 Peter 3:8) several centuries earlier; the same arguments therefore support (or don't support) both the authenticity of the Quran and the New Testament, something probably not intended by the author.

Indeed, numerical speculations like the one in this paper crop up in all religions where people with enough time to search for coincidences feel a need to justify the authenticity of their sacred books. Such speculations are the decoy for the unfortunate people who desire a shortcut in their search for truth and life; and God allows them to be deceived until they are ready to look deeper.

This summarizes the contents and my evaluation of it. My advice to anyone reading this is to base their faith not on any `proofs' of a philosophical or numerical sort, but on an assessment of how someone's life is affected by the consequences of someone's faith. Follow those whose life and work gives - even in adverse circumstances - most witness to the power of love, learn by imitating their example, and your own life and work will be governed by this power, too.

* * * * *

In the following more detailed discussion of the basic claims (i) and (ii), I follow the Latin saying `in dubio pro reo'. This is an old rule guaranteeing fairness of trials in the Roman courts. It means: `in case of doubt, proceed on the basis that the defendant is right'.

Verses from the Quran appear in bold italics; passages from the above document are emphasized via italics. [with my amendments in square brackets, and additional comments in footnotes marked by stars *]. Spelling errors in the original are corrected.

1. The basic claim:

"The greatest speed C, denoting the velocity of light in vacuum, is hinted at in two glorious Quranic verses relating this fundamental universal constant C with the motion of the Earth-Moon system."

2. The data given:

"The length of the moon's orbit L and the time t of one terrestrial day are correlated in a marvellous Quranic verse which describes a universal constant velocity of a certain cosmic affair as follows:

"GOD rules the cosmic affair from the heavens to the earth. Then this affair travels, to Him (i.e., through the whole universe) in one day, where the measure is one thousand years of your reckoning." (32:5)

The Quranic expression "of your reckoning" leaves no doubt as to our understanding of the year as the lunar year."

As I don't speak Arabic, I cannot check the correctness of the translation, but here are alternative English renderings from several publicly available translations:

"He [GOD] directs the affair from heaven to earth, then it goes up to Him in one day, whose measure is a thousand years of your counting." (Arberry)

"He rules (all) affairs from the heavens to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go up to Him, on a Day, the space whereof will be (as) a thousand years of your reckoning." (Yusuf Ali)

"He directeth the ordinance from the heaven unto the earth; then it ascendeth unto Him in a Day, whereof the measure is a thousand years of that ye reckon." (Pickthall)

"He regulates the affair from the heaven to the earth; then shall it ascend to Him in a day the measure of which is a thousand years of what you count." (Shakir)

(See http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/032.qmt.html for the last three renderings; http://answering-islam.org/L_islamic.html contains links to further translations.)

The author's explanatory addition "(i.e., through the whole universe) seems unsupported by the text, but may be regarded as an admissible hypothesis for further interpretation.

So (in dubio pro reo) let us assume that the translation given is adequate.

3. The interpretation of the data:

"This affair ... crosses in ONE DAY a maximum distance in space equivalent to that which the moon passes during ONE THOUSAND LUNAR YEARS (i.e. during 12000 Sidereal months)."

This is just one of many possible interpretations, and not the least contrived one. If `GOD' and `cosmic' were replaced by `An astronaut' and `important' (a semantically adequate substitution) the most natural interpretation of the resulting statement would be an indication of communication times or the associated distances, combined with some information on different ways to measure the same time interval or distance from different points of view. But then the argument given would imply that GOD is located at the distance travelled by light in one day!?

But (in dubio pro reo) let us assume that the interpretation given is adequate. Then it is still very unlikely that this was, as claimed to justify the calculation, "of your [the ARAB's] reckoning" at the time when

"the ARAB people use[d] the lunar system* in their calculation of time. The Quran addressed them in the only language they could understand without upsetting their habits."

If the Quran took such care of the habits of the ARAB people to be understood, it is difficult to see why it hasn't also expressed, in a way understandable** to them, the information claimed to be contained in this verse, namely:

"we conclude that the cosmic affair, mentioned in the previous Quranic verse, is identical to LIGHT and all similar cosmic affairs travelling in vacuum with this maximum speed".

Instead it took 14 centuries to find this out:

"This interpretation has been suggested by Zindani, A. and Dezahf M. (1989), Organization of Scientific Miracles c_ Quran, Muslim World League Makka- Kingdom of Saudi Arabian."

That the truth claimed to be in verse 32:5 of the Quran was not known before 1989 supports the much more likely hypothesis that it is a projection of modern man into the old documents.

But (in dubio pro reo) let us assume that the information was supposed to be hidden throughout the ages to be revealed only in the present times.

4. Identification of the "affair":

This is justified in the document by observing that the above interpretation reduces to the equation

[speed of light] * [sidereal terrestrial day] =
[ONE THOUSAND LUNAR YEARS] * [months/year] * [moon orbit length],

in short, C * t = 1000 * 12 * L.

To prove the equation, the document quotes the following figures and relations, which allow one to check the equation by an easy calculation.

C     = 299792.458 km/s
        (speed of light)

t     = 23 hr, 56 min, 4.0906 sec = 86164.0906sec   
        (one sidereal terrestrial day)

T     = 655.71986 hr = 27.321661 days   
        (one siderial lunar month)

Y     = 1 year = 365.25636 days   
        (one revolution of earth around sun)

R     = 384264 km
        (average radius of lunar geocentric orbit)

V     = 2 pi R/T = 3682.07 km/hr
        (average orbital velocity of the moon)

alpha = T/Y*360 degrees = 26,92848 degrees   
        (angle travelled by the earth moon system around the sun 
         during one sidereal month)

L     = V cos(alpha) T 
        (mean length of moon's orbit around the earth)

The problem here is with the definition of L, which, according to the above, should be a precise definition of the "maximum distance in space equivalent to that which the moon passes during" one lunar month. Obviously, this distance depends on the reference frame used to observe the moon. The author quotes the Quran,

"GOD is the ONE who created the night, the day, the sun, and the moon. Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (21:33).

The straightforward interpretation is that the right point of reference should be the center of mass of the earth, since the sun is describes as travelling in an orbit (around the earth, as was tradition at that time). However, the authors interpretation of this is, surprisingly,

"Here an essential scientific fact is clearly stated, namely, the existence of the earth's, sun's and moon's orbits."

The earth is not at all mentioned here. But (in dubio pro reo) let us again assume that the author's interpretation is adequate.

Then the orbit of the sun would have to be the relative motion of the sun with respect to the center of the galaxy. However, this is completely ignored in the calculation. Instead, the center of mass of the sun is apparently the intended reference frame: "the earth, and consequently the moon's orbit, have travelled some way around the sun..."

However, instead of specifying clearly the reference frame they use and then calculating a proper arclength along the moon's path in this frame, the author gives apparently deep physical arguments...

"This validity condition of the second postulate of special relativity is considered in the present work because the constancy of the velocity C needs absolute space (vacuum). To attain vacuum in the Einstein's sense of this word. it is not: sufficient just to eleminate from a volume of space every atom, molecule and particle, it is necessary also to get rid of the gravitational field. Therefore we have screened out the effect of the solar gravitational field on the geocentric orbital motion of the moon."

(This is pure nonsense. To the accuracy c is determined by the claimed calculation, the gravitational field of the sun doesn't affect the speed of light in free space; it only causes a tiny deflection very close to the sun. If one eliminates the effect of the solar gravitational field, there is no revolution around the sun and the measure of years becomes inappropriate. On the other hand, would the the author take his argument seriously, he'd also need to screen out the terrestrial gravitational field; but if one eliminates ALL gravitational fields there is no orbital motion!)

... that should justify the averaging method that leads to the above formulas:

"L is the inertial distance which the moon covers in co-revolution around the earth during one sidereal month, i.e., L is the net length of the moon's orbit due to its own geocentric motion, without the interference of its spiral motion caused by the earth's revolution around the sun, i.e., L is the lunar orbit length excluding the effect of the solar gravitational field on the measured value.

Thus the definition of `L' used has an intrinsic ambiguity completely uncharacteristic of "GOD (in Arabic ALLAH: the ONE and Only GOD, the CREATOR)" who must have loved invariance principles because they rule the physics on earth and in the heavens.

It is already very difficult at this stage to keep faith in the truth of the whole story. But (in dubio pro reo) let us assume that the definitions given are adequate, and correspond to the intentions of the writer of the Quran.

5. The consequences drawn are not conclusive:

"This astonishing result emphasises the unity of the physical world, the validity of the special theory of relativity and the authenticity of the Glorious Quran for unbelievers."

This conclusion, while it may reflect the authors feelings, is not based on the new interpretations exposed in the document.

The unity of the physical world does not show in numerical coincidences between otherwise unrelated quantities, but instead in a coherent interrelation of laws and facts that add insight into the working of the universe. What is the use of knowing C * t = 1000 * 12 * L ? Even if accepted as true, it is an isolated fact, not helping in understanding the universe.

Furthermore, there is nothing relativistic about the "new relativistic interpretation of this Quranic relation". The equation is completely unrelated to special relativity; the equations mentioned follow from elementary geometry, and the references in the text to relativity could be dropped without affecting the logical chain of arguments. But that relativity is mentioned gives the text of course a much more scientific feel, an important decoy if one wants to lure our modern, science-credulous folks into accepting something they would otherwise be suspicious of.

Also, the authenticity of an whole book cannot rest on the correctness of isolated and hidden facts that are open to interpretation. One part of a book can contain facts and another part be erroneous. Even the best modern physics books, and especially those for laymen, contain together with lots of truths a good number of inaccuracies or even outright falsehoods. And anyone can quote a truth to embellish his work.

The fact that the relation (if true and intended) could not be the work of human beings with the limited knowledge of their time might be counted as sign of a signature of a trancendental power. But even then it remains dubious whose signature it is; it could be the signature of an irritating or even deceiving spirit, and cannot be uncritically attributed to the CREATOR.

"This new law deduced in the present work is important so far as it confirms the law of conservation of momentum in the Earth-Moon system. Moreover it implies the influence of the tidal effect and the gravitational change factor on the this system."

The paper contains no new law, only an equation that does not allow anything to be predicted from it except this equation itself. Nothing at all in the arguments involved in the derivation of the equation is related to either conservation of momentum or tides or gravitational changes; therefore it cannot confirm or imply these things in any significant sense of the words. But again, mentioning it impresses many people by its scientific appearance.

"According to Dirac's cosmology, the universal gravitational constant G must be variable in time!"

Stated here as a fact, this is a speculative minority view in physics, and there is no theory of gravitation that embeds Dirac's speculations into a common framework with the part of general relativity confirmed by experiment. The equations quoted after this statement are true but lead nowhere except to a wish that "Correlating the last three equations, further studies in Cosmology may be prompted and facilitated", but they serve the goal of making the arguments more seductive to laymen and casual readers.

"This work proves the universality and constancy of the fundamental constant C as the Greatest Cosmic Speed and reveals the Glorious Quran as a Holy Book worth studying with meticulous analysis since its author is the CREATOR of the Universe."

Universality is proved by many physical experiments and functioning clocks and other devices, not by some speculations as those in this paper. Constancy is a matter of definition, after having accepted the framework of relativity; there is nothing to prove. And, indeed, the present paper proves nothing in these respects.

And the CREATOR of the Universe should be able to provide the scholars of His Holy Book as a result of their meticulous analysis not with numerical pastimes demonstrated in this document, but with powers to live and understand.

6. Epilogue

How many physicists would subscribe to this exaggerated statement?

"It will come as no exaggeration if one says the story of the determination of the velocity of light is a concise history of physics."

Perhaps it should better read:

It will come as no exaggeration if one says the story of the "New Astronomical Quranic Method for The Determination Of The Greatest Speed" is a typical overassessment of the importance of the discovery of a minor coincidence in the sea of possible relations between physically meaningful numbers and semantic interpretations of ancient texts.

Prof. Dr. Arnold Neumaier
Institute of Mathematics
University of Vienna


* However, the "Dictionary of Islam" by Thomas Patrick Hughes, Kazi Publ., writes on p. 696:

... in the year A.D. 412, the Arabians introduced a system of intercalation, whereby one month was intercaleted into every three years. (See M. de Perceval, vol. i. p. 242). This system of intercalation existed in the time of Muhammad; but it is related that, at the farewell pilgrimage, the Prophet recited the khutbah on the Day of Sacrifice, and said: "A year is twelve months only, as at the time of the creation," and thus again introduced the lunar year. (See Mishkat, book xi. ch.xi.)

And Yusuf Ali writes in his Qur'an commentary, footnote 1295, commenting on Sura 9:36:

... it may be noted that the Arab year was roughly luni solar like the Hindu year, the months being lunar and the intercalation of a month every three years brought the year nearly but not accurately up to the solar reckoning. From the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage (A.H. 10) the Islamic year was definitely fixed as a purely lunar year of roughly 354 days, the months being calculated by the actual appearance of the moon.

Thus it appears that rather than addressing "them in the only language they could understand without upsetting their habits", the Quran did not hesitate to upset the ARAB's habits regarding their measure of time.

This would not invalidate the remainder of the argument if Sura 9:36 can be taken to define the language on this point. The latter Sura was probably revealed several years before Sura 32:5 and Sura 22:47 (inferred from Yusuf Ali's comments on Sura 32:23 and Sura 22); so one would have to assume in addition, that the meaning of these Suras would have been intended to be obscure at the time of revelation.

** I was informed that the word light and the word speed were ordinary Arabic words. Why would God not say the speed of light is like.... if he wanted to make a real proof for the origin of this info? Why obscure it so much that only a great effort can construct a calculation that involves the speed of light?

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