Scientific Facts from the Qur’an
Long before Scientists came up with ‘scientific explanations’ for things, the Qur’an which we take to be the Word of God told us so. This 1400 year old scripture contains detailed scientific knowledge that transcends the time in which it was revealed, certainly more so than any scientist would have known even a hundred years ago. Since we believe the scripture is a divine revelation and as it is perfectly consistent with modern science. I will take it as evidence enough that it is indeed the Word of God.
There are numerous scientific facts contained in the Qur’an which are only now being discovered by modern science. In fact they cover a range of scientific disciplines from embryology to cosmology. If as its detractors suppose, Muhammad composed the Qur’an, how we ask is it that it should contain such scientific statements that were unheard of in his day, nay thought impossible?
Statements such as life originating from water, creation of plant life in pairs, the orbit of planets, the expanding heavens and the universe as a single entity before being split to form the cosmos would have at that time been so obscure and incomprehensible to its readers that had it not been for the Fear of God and the Dread of changing His Word, they might have been tempted to expunge them from the text as some Christian sects of yore did the Bible and still do today, editing out the content they think is not in keeping with their ideas. Such folly did not take place in Islam due to the God-fearing nature of its followers and the fact that it was widely memorized in whole, not to mention the fact that the Qur’an itself has an in-built device within it that prevents it being tampered with, that is its unique flow that gives it a coherence not found in any other work or scripture. Even a bit of tampering destroys this flow so that the reader immediately realizes its out of place.
As God Himself assures us:
Indeed, it is We who sent down the Message, and indeed We will be its Guardian
((The Rocky Tract:9).
And so the Qur’an survives to this day in its original form as it did 1400 years ago when it was first revealed, disclosing facts that are only now being confirmed by modern science.
Origin of Life
So let me begin with the story of how life originated. The Qur’an says very clearly:
We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
(The Prophets: 30)
Don’t you think this is a remarkable affirmation of the modern idea of the origin of life being aquatic – that life arose from water. It has been established beyond doubt today that all living cells are mostly made up of water, the essential substance for the existence of life as we know it. Water is the basic biological substance of living matter. Cells are largely made of water. For instance as much as 80 percent of the cytoplasm (basic cell material) of a standard animal cell is made up of water, so that even to live, living things need a constant supply of water. Else they would perish. In other words there can be no life without water. In fact, the first thing that scientists look for when searching for life on another planet is the presence of water – the stuff of life.
This idea of all living creatures having their ultimate origins in water was affirmed by the Qur’an over 1400 years ago and only now with the advancement of science are we coming to realize the veracity of this unique statement. The invention of the microscope established it beyond question. But don’t you think it’s strange that this idea should have originated in the deserts of Arabia. That’s perhaps the last place that someone would guess that all life came from water. And while we’re at it do you know that scientists are still at a loss to explain how water formed on earth? The favourite theory is that the water we have on earth covering over two thirds of the globe was delivered by comets or asteroids, something like saying that the water in your swimming pool came from a lump of hail falling from the sky.
Creation in Pairs
The Qur’an tells us:
And we have created all things in pairs
(The Scattering Winds: 49)
We now know that not only animal and plant life possess pairs, but also non-living matter -in the form of atoms. The atom is the basis of all matter in the universe and in it too we find pairs. We now know that the constituents of elementary particles are not limited to protons, neutrons and electrons. A proton has its anti-proton, an electron is coupled with a positron, and a neutron possesses an anti-neutron, a scientific discovery made only modern times. It is even found in the subtle forces of nature like positive and negative energy, the magnetic forces of attraction and repulsion and even the force of cohesion which draws molecules together so we have solids and the opposing force of heat motion which makes them fly apart so we have gases!
Now let man but think from what he is created! He is created from a drop emitted proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs
(The Night Star: 6-7)
We know now that the reproductive organs of the male, the testicles receive their nerve supply and blood supply (from the Aorta) and lymphatic drainage which is exactly in the area between the backbone (spinal column) and the ribs.
The Holy Book further says:
He created in pairs, male and female; from a seed lodged (in its place)
(The Star: 45-46)
We now know that the sex of a foetus is determined by the nature of the sperm and not the ovum. The sex of the child, whether female or male, depends on whether the 23rd pair of chromosomes is XX or XY respectively which is ultimately decided by the male’s sperm and not the female’s ovum. Male chromosomes are defined as XY and the female ones as XX. The chromosomes are split during ovulation into two each, containing an X chromosome. Some sperms contain X and some Y chromosome. If an X chromosome unites with an X chromosome in the woman’s egg, the sex of the child to be born will be female, while a Y chromosome in the man uniting with an X chromosome in the woman means the offspring will be of the male sex. Therefore the sex of a child is entirely dependent on the arrival of an X or Y chromosome from the sperm, a fact that has only been established very recently.
The Development of the Embryo
We also find the Qur’an describing the embryological development of humans in a manner that could not have been known until the 19th century with developments in embryology. The Holy Book tells us that God created man from ‘a tiny thing that clings’. This term alaq used here literally means a leech or a tiny creature having the ability to attach itself by one of its ends to a surface. There is perhaps no better description than this of the process by which the fertilized ovum implants itself in the uterus. The Holy Book describes the growth of the human embryo as follows:
Man We created from a quintessence (of clay); then We placed him as (a drop of) sperm in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then We made the sperm into a thing that clings and from that a chewed lump (of flesh) and We made out of that lump bones and we clothed the bones with flesh. Then we brought forth out of it another creature. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators
(The Believers 12-14)
This very aptly describes the development of the embryo shortly after the process of implantation when it develops into a sort of clinging thing, like a leech which is what alaq means. If you were to take a picture of a human embryo and a leech, you will see how closely they resemble each other. Not only is the similarity confined to appearance, but also to function, for does not the embryo draw nourishment from the mother’s blood like the leech which feeds on our blood? What is so remarkable about this description is that the human embryo at that stage is very tiny, so tiny indeed that it cannot be seen with the naked eye, but only through an advanced microscope. Thus there is no way such knowledge could have been known even a hundred years ago, let alone a thousand years ago.
But that’s not all, the Qur’an continues to say that the embryo develops further into something like a chewed lump (of flesh) for which it employs the term mudghah. The word literally means a chewed substance and this is exactly how the embryo looks in its later stage. In fact if you were to chew a piece of gum and take it out with its teethmarks, you will find it closely resembling the embryo at this stage because of the somites or cells forming the vertebrae at the back of the embryo.
Another curious aspect of embryology is given in the Qur’an:
He creates you in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness
(The Crowds:6 )
It has been scientifically proven today that the development of the foetus in the mother’s womb passes through three veils of darkness which are: the first darkness- the darkness of the anterior abdominal wall; the second darkness- the darkness of the uterine wall and the third darkness- the darkness of the amnio-chronic membrane or of the placenta and its membranes. These three layers are known to protect the embryo from external injuries. This description too is remarkable considering the fact that such data relating to embryology have been acquired only in the recent past, certainly not before the nineteenth century.
Yet another interesting fact is that the faculty of hearing is mentioned before sight:
Has there not been over man a period of time when he was nothing – (not even) mentioned? Verily We created man from a drop of mingled sperm in order to try him. So We gave him (the gifts) of Hearing and Sight
It is today established that in the human embryo, the hearing organs develop before the eyes which in fact first perceives the world around it only after it is born. Besides the eye needs light to see while hearing does not.
But that’s not all. The Holy Book contains an interesting description of zoological phenomena:
Your Lord inspired the bee: “Build dwellings in the hills and the trees, and in the abodes of men. Then eat from every kind of fruit and find with skill the paths of your Lord.”
(The Bee: 68-69)
Here we find God addressing the females of the species, where the verbs ‘build’ ‘eat’ and ‘travel’ are all in the feminine form in Arabic. Thus anittakhidhi ‘to build’ or thamaraati ‘to eat’ are in the feminine. Now, we know that a colony of bees comprises of three classes, a queen who lays the eggs, the female worker bees with underdeveloped sex organs who collect honey and build the hive and the male drones whose sole purpose is to impregnate the queen. The phrasing of this command is remarkable as it is in complete agreement with the fact that it is the females who build hives and produce honey from the nectar of flowers, a phenomenon that was discovered only recently by modern science. In fact this female dominance of bees was not known until about 300 years ago, since it takes a real specialist to identify the sex of bees. If you were to read Shakespeare’s play Henry the Fourth, you will find mention of bees having a king with soldiers serving him. So rooted was the belief in the male domination of bees until a few centuries ago.
Yet another zoological phenomenon is described as follows:
Verily, in cattle there is a lesson for you. From what is within their bodies, between excretions and blood, we produce for your drink, milk, pure and pleasant to those who drink it
We know today that milk is formed exactly like this, at the conjunction of the intestinal walls and bloodstream, when the cow’s digestive enzymes turn its food into excretions that flow through the intestines which are then absorbed by bloods vessels which in turn convey it to the creature’s mammary glands to produce milk. This phenomenon was only recently discovered as a result of advances in biology and zoology in very recent times.
The Qur’an also provides us with some fascinating botanical information which the men of those times to whom it was revealed were not at all familiar with, such as when it speaks of plants being created in pairs:
He who has made for you the earth like a carpet spread out, has enabled you to get about by ways, and has sent down water from the sky, with it have we produced diverse pairs of plants each separate from the others
The word used here for pairs is azwaaj which means ‘pair’, ‘couple’ and is even used of spouses. We now know that plants like animals have reproductive apparatuses in the form of male stamens and female pistils which is how plants reproduce themselves by means of fruits to scatter their seed.
Also telling is the Qur’an’s description of our environment, which science has only recently discovered. Take the passage that describes cloud formation and the rain and hail that emerges from it:
Seest thou not that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a heap? – then wilt thou see rain issue forth from their midst. And He sends down from the sky mountain masses (of clouds) wherein is hail. He strikes therewith whom He pleases and He turns it away from whom He pleases.The vivid flash of its lightning well-nigh blinds the sight
This is exactly what happens in our skies when Cumulonimbus clouds form to produce rain and hail. The wind pushes smaller cumulus clouds to converge in a large cumulonimbus cloud. As the smaller clouds join together, the updrafts within the larger cloud increase, causing it to grow vertically as if stacked up. This heap as the Qur’an calls it causes the cloud body to reach higher into the cooler regions of the atmosphere where water droplets and hail form, becoming larger and larger, so that when they are too heavy to be held by the updrafts, they fall to earth as rain and hail. It is only recently that meteorologists, with the aid of satellite images and observation balloons and other modern gear, have come to conclude thus. It is also a curious fact that the Qur’an should describe the water cycle as follows:
See you not that God sends rain down from the sky and leads it through springs in the earth? Then he causes to grow, therewith, produce of various colours
(The Crowds:21 )
Here we find the Qur’an describing the manner in which springs are fed by rainwater. Although this seems quite logical to us today, we must bear in mind that it was not until the sixteenth century with the findings of Bernard Palissy that we gained the first logical description of the water cycle. The dominant belief until then was that the waters of the oceans were thrust toward the interior of the continents by the force of the winds and that they then condensed in mountain caverns to form underground lakes that fed springs.
We know that it is the infiltration of rain water into the ground that is responsible for this phenomenon as the Qur’an describes, and to think it was unknown even to such a great thinker as Descartes who lived well after Palissy but held on to the older theory proposed by Aristotle.
Also revealing is the process of photosynthesis described in the Qur’an:
And I swear by the night when it draws in, and by the dawn when it breathes
(The Folding Up:17-18)
Here we have the Qur’an describing the dawn breathing, which is exactly what happens during photosynthesis which involves plants absorbing energy from sunlight to grow by taking in carbon dioxide from the air and giving off oxygen This is similar to the breathing process of humans who take in oxygen and give our carbon dioxide. In the case of plants too, it is a sort of breathing that takes place. This process begins at dawn and declines by noon. It obviously cannot be observed with the naked eye and was discovered by Swiss Botanist Jean Senebier only in 1796. However, over 1400 years ago, the Qur’an used the word tanaffasa to describe this process of ‘breathing’ when describing the dawn which is further stressed by the fact the God swears upon it. And to think the Holy Book described it in such simple beautiful terms over a thousand years ago.
Another interesting natural phenomenon described in the Qur’an is the unseen barrier of ocean waters which has only recently been acknowledged by modern science:
He it is that has let free the two bodies of flowing water, one palpable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter. Yet has He made a barrier between them, and a partition forbidden to be passed
Oceanographers have of late observed a phenomenon known as surface tension which prevents the waters of different seas from mixing and losing their properties in one another due to density differences as if an unseen wall were coming between them. This holds true of many seas that come together such as the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean which meet at the strait of Gibraltar. These two seas should show similar characteristics at the juncture they meet and yet each retains its own temperature, salinity and density peculiar to itself as if some unseen barrier were preventing them from coming together in spite of the tides, waves and strong currents in these seas. This aspect, invisible to the naked eye and in conflict with the properties of water then known to man, was first revealed in the Qur’an fourteen hundred years ago.
Yet another remarkable natural phenomenon is described in the Qur’an. Here the state of the unbelievers is said to be:
Like the depths of darkness in a vast deep ocean, overwhelmed with billow topped by billow, topped by clouds. Depths of darkness, one above another. If a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it!. For any to whom God gives not light, there is no light!
We now know that at a depth of 200 meters from the surface of the sea, darkness takes over so that if a man stretches out his hand, he can hardly see it. It gets more darker at the bottom of the seas and oceans. This fact could hardly have been known in the 7th century when the Qur’an was revealed. It was in much later times with the invention of submarines and the like that men discovered that darkness reigned deep in the oceans. But that’s not all, the verse speaks of wave upon wave, and you might wonder what it’s all about. It was only very recently that scientists discovered that there are indeed two sets of waves, the surface ones that we see and internal ones which occur at interfaces between two layers of water of different densities in the deep seas. Although they cannot be seen by the naked eye, they can be detected through changes in temperature or salinity in a given area. The geological details contained in the Qur’an are also remarkable when we consider the fact that these came to be only recently discovered:
Have We not made the earth as a bed and the mountains as pegs?
(The Great News: 6-7)
The Qur’an here describes the mountains as pegs, in other words, like pegs driven into the ground like those used to pitch a tent. This is a good description of the geological folds which form mountain ranges. This process of mountain formation by folding thrust the earth’s crust deeper down into the lower layers and provided foundations for the mountains. These roots are several times their elevation above the surface like the tip of an iceberg. Take for instance Mount Everest, it has a height of 9 km above ground, but did you know its roots go as deep as 125 km. It was only in 1865 that Astronomer Royal Sir George Airy proposed that mountains have roots
But that’s not all. Mountains play an important role in stabilizing the earth’s crust as it helps prevent its tremors originating deep in the bowels of the earth:
And He has set up on the earth mountains standing firm, lest it should shake with you
It was only with recent developments in plate tectonics theory in the 1960s that it was found that mountains act as stabilizers of the earth. And to think that an Arab from the desert knew about this over 1400 years ago. Yet another astounding revelation of the Qur’an is its statement:
We sent down iron in which is (material for) mighty war, as well as many benefits for mankind
The word used here to describe how iron came to be on earth is anzal meaning ‘sent down’. So God is telling us that He sent down iron to the earth, making it clear that iron is not an earthly material. So is it a surprise when modern science tells us that iron is not natural to the earth and that it came from outer space when the earth’s surface was struck by meteorites carrying iron from distant exploding stars. That iron could have come down to earth from outer space is something that no scientist, let alone an ordinary man living in the 7th century, could have known.
Origin of the Universe
Even more remarkable are the vivid descriptions of the origins of the universe including what may be taken as an indication of the Big Bang Theory which holds that the universe started off as a singularity, an infinitely dense, super-condensed ball of matter and energy that burst forth, expanding to become what we know as the universe with its myriad of planets, stars and galaxies. In the Qur’an we come across a verse that bears testimony to this cosmic event:
Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were fused together before We clove them asunder?
But that’s not all, we also read in the Qur’an:
With power did we construct the heaven, Verily it is We who are expanding it
(The Scattering Winds: 47)
What this verse says is that not only was there a Big Bang which started it all, but also that the universe is constantly expanding. The word used here for this phenomenon is the plural present participle musi’una of the verb aus’a ‘to expand’. What this tells us is that the universe is still expanding. Scientific observations now make it clear that galaxies are in fact expanding, and moving away from each other at a constant rate. Even in the time of Einstein about a hundred years ago, scientists claimed that either the universe had its confines or that it was an endless space, but none of them ever conceived of the cosmos as an expanding universe. It was only in 1929 that Edwin Hubble, using a powerful telescope, was able to demonstrate that the universe was expanding like an inflating balloon. Indeed until the revelation of the Quran no other source had made such an assertion. And all this was written in the Qur’an 1400 years ago. But that’s not all. It further says:
He comprehended in His Design the heavens, and it had been smoke. He said to it and the earth: “Come ye together, willingly or unwillingly.” They said, “We come (together) in willing obedience. So He completed them as seven firmaments
The word used for this primeval gaseous state, dukhan is an Arabic term for smoke, vapour and gaseous matter. Thus it appears from the Qur’an that the universe was a gaseous mass before it reached a state from which the universe and the earth emerged. We now know that the earth, the sun and the stars did not come about immediately after the primeval explosion, but that before this there existed primary nebulae in space, interstellar clouds of gas and dust that clumped together to form stars and planets, confirming what the Qur’an has to say about it. Nowhere before the Prophet’s day was such a theory asserted, nay not even a thousand years afterwards. This was only a recent discovery with the development of advanced instruments to study heavenly phenomena by modern man. Even if we are to apply it, as the Qur’an implies, to the more specific case of our earth whose atmosphere is like a skin of air around it, we will still find it valid since the earth’s gravity could have captured such free floating gases to form our atmosphere. If not for gravity such gases would have quickly diffused into space. Scientists theorize that earth’s early atmosphere was probably formed from the gases given out by volcanoes, but it’s more likely it formed when the early earth came into contact with interstellar gas clouds while orbiting the sun.
Orbits of Planets
The Qur’an also knows of the orbits of the planets:
It is He who created the night and the day, and the sun, and the moon; each of them floating in an orbit
The Arabic word which expresses this movement is the verb yasbahuna which implies the idea of motion produced by a moving body, whether it is the movement of one’s legs running on the ground, or the action of swimming in water. In the case of a celestial body, one is forced to translate it, according to its original meaning, as ‘to travel with its own motion’. The Arabic word sabaha used here should be conceived as a motion in a self-generating act. The moon rotates around its axis within a space of time equal to its revolution around the earth; that is 29.5 days. So what we see is always the same face of the moon. The sun turns about its axis within 25 days approximately. The word sabaha that describes the motions of the sun and the moon therefore agrees with scientific facts. This fact could not have been known by a man living in the 7th century, regardless of his erudition.
Nature of Sun and Moon
The Qur’an’s description of the sun and moon are also in conformity with what we know today of these heavenly bodies:
See ye not How God has created the seven heavens One above another, And made the moon a light in their midst, and made the sun as a (Glorious) Lamp?
Here the sun is called a lamp and the moon described as giving out light. The sun’s comparison to a siraj, a lamp or torch, is fitting as it is a star in a permanent state of combustion producing both light and heat. That such a simile is not used for the light of the moon is in the fitness of things since the moon is an inert body that simply reflects the light of the sun. Also interesting is the fact that the word ‘star’ in the Qur’an is accompanied by an adjective thaqib which indicates that it burns and consumes itself as it pierces through the shadows of the night. It was discovered only much later that the stars are heavenly bodies producing their own light like the sun. The Qur’an has a different word, kawkab, which it uses to refer to the planets which are celestial bodies that reflect light and do not produce their own light like the sun as in the verse: “We have adorned the lowest heaven with ornaments, the planets” (Those Ranged in Ranks:6 ).
Earth as Sphere
More remarkable is the fact that the Qur’an describes the earth as a spherical object, in the verse: He made the earth egg-shaped. The Arabic word dahw used here refers to rotundity like that of the ostrich’s egg. The word ‘dahw’ means to spread out, giving (something) a round shape. Despite the meaning of rotundity concealed in words derived from the word dahw there have been translators for whom a spherical earth was difficult to conceive, who had to translate it as “to spread out”. Therefore, the Quran’s statement to this effect failed to be grasped. Men believed that the verse referred to the plenitude of the earth, ignoring the sense of rotundity it conveyed. And indeed, the actual shape of the earth does have the shape of an ostrich egg as described in the Qur’an. This is remarkable considering that even the books written centuries afterwards likened the shape of the earth to a tray and had various other fanciful notions as to its shape.
Also interesting is the fact that the Qur’an describes the alternation of night and day in the following terms:
He wraps the night around the day and He wraps the day around the night
We would find that the Arabic verb kawwara ‘to coil or wrap around’ used here to describe the alternation of night and day has the same root as the Arabic word for ‘ball’ and possesses the connotation of wrapping or winding something around a spherical object, like to coil a piece of cloth around the head. It was not until a few decades ago that its true meaning became apparent when space travelers observed that the earth spinned on is axis with the dark half of the globe appearing to wind itself around the light of day and the light half appearing to wind itself around the dark of night.The verse also clearly implies the sphericity of the world, yet another modern discovery.
Another remarkable revelation of the Qur’an is its statement:
We made the sky a protective ceiling. And yet they are turning away from Our Signs
The protective properties of the sky were discovered only in the 20th century and to think this statement was made in the 7th century when men looked upon the sky as a sort of stone vault or dome held high by pillars of some sort. Today, we know the atmosphere not only envelops the earth with life-sustaining gases, but also has several protective properties including what we call the Ozone layer which protects the earth from the lethal rays of the sun. If it did not exist solar radiation would have wiped out all life on earth a very long time ago, nay not have allowed it to come into being in the first place.
But just as it blocks the most harmful rays, it also allows a certain amount of ultraviolet rays just enough for life to thrive to pas through. It also insulates earth against extremes of temperature by limiting both incoming solar radiation and the escape of re-radiated heat into space, somewhat like a thermostat. The sky also serves as a blanket wrapped around the earth, protecting it from the freezing cold of space where the temperature just above the sky is – 2700 C. If ever such a cold temperature reached earth, we would have frozen over instantly. In short the sky serves as a giant greenhouse, warming the earth’s surface by soaking up heat and protecting life as we know it.