Scientific Errors in the Quran
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A common criticism of the Quran, as with the Hadith, is that it contains numerous scientific and historical errors, with no obvious attempts to differentiate its understanding of the natural world and historical events from the common folklore and misconceptions of the people living in 7th century Arabia. Modern responses typically appeal to metaphor, alternative meanings, or phenomenological interpretations of such verses. They also argue that the wording needed to be acceptable to people of its time. Critics typically argue that an all-knowing, perfect communicator would nevertheless have been able to avoid statements in the Quran that reinforced misconceptions of the time, caused future generations to have doubts about its perfection, and on a scale that critics contend is an overwhelming weakness.
The Qur'an mentions a few times that the sun and the moon travel in an orbit or sphere/hemisphere (fee falakin فِى فَلَكٍ), but does not mention once that the Earth does too. This is consistent with an Earth-centered (geocentric) view of the cosmos that places a motionless Earth at the center of the universe and all "heavenly bodies" travel around the Earth. This was the prevailing understanding of the universe prior to the 16th century when Copernicus helped explain and popularize a sun-centered (heliocentric) view of the universe. Tellingly, the sun's orbit is almost always mentioned in the context of night and day (Quran 13:2 being the only exception) and is always mentioned with that of the moon (which does in fact orbit the Earth each month, and likewise appears, to the unaided eye, to traverse the sky each night when it is visible).
Quran 36:37-40, occurring in a passage about night and day, right after describing the change from day to night, states that the sun runs on to a resting place for it (لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ لَّهَا). There are also sahih hadith (Sahih Muslim 1:297) that mention the sun's daily cycle using the same Arabic word to mean a resting place, which is underneath Allah's throne, and is where each night the sun prostrates and is asked to go and rise 'from its rising place' (مِنْ مَطْلِعِهَا). This cycle repeats, until one day Allah asks the sun to rise 'from your setting place' (مِنْ مَغْرِبِكِ).
The alternative view among exegetes was that this refers to the sun's final resting on the last day. Other verses talk about the sun swimming for a 'term appointed' (using a different Arabic word). Another version of the above hadith probably supports this view (for details of all these things see footnotes in the main article). Whichever interpretation was intended, the sun's movement is nevertheless mentioned right after describing day and night, just as the next verse mentions the different mansions appointed for the moon each night. The whole passage is about day and night and the sun and moon's movement in that context.
A modern vantage point would explain the above Qur'anic description of the sun moving in an orbit as a reference to our sun orbiting the black hole at the center of the milky way galaxy every 225 million years. Critics argue that this is of no relevance to human time scales, and that nothing from the text implies that the sun is orbiting anything other than the Earth. The Quran never in any way differentiates the sun's orbit from that of the moon and consistently implies that they are of a common nature.
Here the sun running / pursuing its course (يَجْرِىٓ) is something that the author expects people to have seen (thus posing another challenge for the galactic orbit interpretation).
The word translated as "follow" is primarily defined as to follow, go or walk behind, follow in way of imitation, of action etc. and was often used for animals like camels following behind each other. The Moon does not actually follow behind the sun's movement, nor does it provide its own light like the sun. The verse is most suggestive of a worldview in which the moon and sun traverse the same or similar paths after one another, which is what a 7th century person might believe from observing the sky. Critics would expect a less suspicious choice of wording in a perfect book if it merely meant the sun and moon appear one after the other. One day instead of following the sun, the moon will by joined with it according to another verse (see the Similar Size and Distance of the Sun and Moon section below).
Here the Qur'an quotes a few lines from a debate between Abraham and a disbelieving King, where Abraham replies that Allah 'brings the sun' (yatee biashshamsi يَأْتِى بِٱلشَّمْسِ) from the east. The Arabic verb and preposition indicates that the sun actually moves. The verb means to come, and when it has an object with the bi- preposition it means to bring, as in many other instances in the Qur'an. While the story is quoting a mere human's words, the author apparently believes it to be a good response and sees no problem with it.
Setting and rising place of the sun
In these verses, the author presents a version of a popular legend from the 7th century of a man named Dhu'l-Qarnayn who visits the places where the sun sets and rises.
Centuries after Muhammad lived, commentators with better astronomical knowledge introduced interpretations of these verses such that Dhu'l-Qarnayn only traveled until he reached "the west" or to a spot "at the time" when the sun set and not the "place" where the sun set. However, these alternative interpretations are severely undermined by the context and Arabic words used in these verses, which instead point to physical locations where the sun did its setting and rising. A plethora of evidence shows that the early Muslims understood the verse in this straightforward way.
Earth and heavens created in six days
The Qur'an presents the prevailing Middle-Eastern myth that the Earth and heavens were formed in six days. This is in sharp contrast with the findings of modern cosmology which show the Earth to have formed some 9 billion years after the beginning of the universe.
Unlike the hundreds of other verses where the Arabic word yawm or its plural ayyam (أَيَّامٍ) is understood to mean day or days, when the Quran describes the creation of the world some modern Muslim scholars have appealed to its alternative meaning, 'time period'. The author makes no attempt to convey long time periods or to distinguish his description from the prevailing Middle-Eastern creation myths in this regard (or from his own usage of the term 'yawm' elsewhere in the text), which feature six literal days of creation (for example, the Bible in Genesis 1:5 reads, "Evening came and morning came: The first day.").
Neither the universe nor Earth were formed in six distinct long periods of time. There is likewise apparently no attempt to indicate, even poetically, the vast duration of time in which the universe has developed, (namely, 13.8 billion years).
The Earth specifically was created in two days according to the Qur'an, and in four days (on days three and four according to the tafsirs) were created mountains and the sustenance of the Earth.
Mountains nonetheless continue to rise and erode to this day. Similarly, living things and their sustenance continue to evolve, yet the Qur'an says that the creation of mountains and sustenance occurred in a specific period that ended two days before the creation of the universe was completed. See the next section regarding the final two of the six days (from Quran 41:11-12) which immediately follow the verses discussed above.
Earth created before stars
The elements in the Earth's crust and core were first formed in stars by nucleosynthesis. When those stars exploded as supernovas, they expelled the elements that were used in future solar systems such as Earth's own. Modern radiometric dating of meteorites and rocks from the Earth and Moon show that these bodies were formed at the same time as the sun and its other planets, 4.5 billion years ago. The Qur'an, on the other hand, describes the Earth as being fully formed before the stars.
Quran 41:12 states that lamps (or more specifically, stars in the similar verse Quran 37:6) were placed in the nearest of the seven heavens. But before there were seven heavens and while heaven was just smoke, the Earth already existed according to the previous verse, Quran 41:11, and the Earth's creation and completion in the preceding days is described in the verses immediately preceeding that one Quran 41:9-10, discussed in the previous section above. The creation sequence is thus as follows:
- Heaven and completed Earth;
- Seven heavens and each given its mandate;
- The nearest heaven adorned with stars and guarded.
Quran 2:29 further confirms that heaven was only fashioned seven heavens when, according to the Quran, everything on Earth had been created.
The word lamps (masabeeha مَصَٰبِيحَ) in Quran 41:12 and Quran 67:5 with which Allah adorns (zayyanna زَيَّنَّا) the lowest heaven would need, of course, to include any luminous bodies such as the stars. These are termed as kawakib (كَوَاكِبِ) in Quran 37:6, a word that also appears in Joseph's dream (Quran 12:4) and the destruction of the heavens (Quran 82:1-2).
Some modern Muslim scholars attempt to reconcile the Qur'anic description with modern science by arguing that the word 'Then' in the verses above indicate does not indicate sequence, but that it instead means 'moreover'. This argument collides with the fact that these words (thumma in Quran 41:11 and Quran 2:29, and fa in Quran 41:12 - all translated as 'then') are generally used to indicate sequence. In other contexts, thumma was sometimes used to mean 'moreover'. This alternative usage, however, would always be unambiguous and clear in context, unlike in the passages quoted above, which evidently describe a stepwise process - the creation of the heavens subsequent to that of the Earth.
In another passage, Quran 79:27-33, the heaven (singular) has already been raised and proportioned as a ceiling before the earth is spread, pastures produced and mountains fixed. Ibn Kathir notes in his tafsir that Ibn 'Abbas said the Earth was created first before each of these events and that scholars intepreted the Arabic word dahaha (دَحَىٰهَآ) in verse 79:30 to refer to a specific kind of spreading that occured after everything on Earth had been created. However, the passage nevertheless appears to contradict the sequence of Quran 41:9-12, in which the heaven is still "smoke" after Earth's sustinence and mountains have been placed.
Earth and heavens torn apart
Modern Muslim scholars generally maintain that the following verse is compatible with and even predictive of the Big Bang theory. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was formed 13.8 billion years ago due to a rapid expansion from singularity. The earth was then formed, 4.54 billion years ago, from accretion of debris that surrounded the precursor of the Sun. There was at no stage a "separation" of the "joined" earth and heavens.
The ancient concept can be traced back to Mesopotamian creation myths in which heaven was separated from earth. Quran 21:30 and similar verses assume that listeners are familiar with the basic outlines of this myth which was extremely wide-spread at the time of Muhammad and his companions.
The word translated "joined together" is ratqan (رَتْقًا) meaning closed up or sewn up, also used metaphorically in terms of reconciling people, but does not imply a homogenous mass or state.
The separation of the heavens and earth can be read in the context of verses that mention something "between" their fully formed state (which seems to be occupied by the clouds Quran 2:164 and birds Quran 24:41).
There is no scientific theory in which the Earth and heavens were torn apart from each other. The verse states that "We clove them" (dual pronoun 'huma'), not "We clove it", thereby indicating that the Earth and heavens are distinct after the cloving. If one holds that Quran 21:30 describes the big bang, the atomic particles that would later form the Earth would at the beginning would have to be separated from those that would go on to form everything else in the universe. This, however, bears no resemblance to modern scientific cosmology, wherein the material that forms the Earth passed through at least one earlier generation of stars, and more recently was part of various asteroids, comets and planetesimals orbiting the sun (which could all be described as being in the 'heavens') that sometimes collided and merged with each other, sometimes split apart, and gradually coalesced under gravity to form the Earth and other planets.
The very next verse Quran 21:31 speaks of mountains being placed on the Earth. Here, 'the Earth' must mean an actual world, yet modern interpretations of the previous verse hold that 'the Earth' refers merely to atomic particles at the time of the big bang.
Heaven made from smoke
There is no stage in the formation of the universe that involved smoke (carbon particles suspended as a result of combustion; the word translated smoke is the noun dukhan دُخَانٍ, which means literal smoke of the sort that rises from a fire). Similarly, the Earth and heavens did not each "come" as separate entities at any point in time. Rather, the Earth is a part of this universe and has developed within it.
Some modern Muslim scholars nevertheless interpret 'smoke' as the primordial state of the universe after the big bang. It is worth noting, however, that the verse indicates a time when heaven alone, but not the Earth, was smoke. This is especially challenging when one considers that the Earth and its mountains are described as already existing in the previous two verses (Quran 41:9-10, discussed above).
Quran 65:12 plainly states that there exist seven earths.
A hadith in Bukhari reveals that these seven Earths are stacked above each other.
The number, like seven heavens, might have come from a misunderstanding or indigenous interpretation of mythology from classical antiquity in which there were seven moving planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the sun and moon). The number seven, however, does not accord with the findings of modern astronomers, which know there to be eight ordinary planets and five dwarf planets, making for a grand total of thirteen in our solar system. Modern astronomy also has found many thousands of planets in other solar systems and Cosmologists estimate that hundreds of billions of stars and planets exist in the universe at large.
The universe consists of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. The Quran states that beyond our heaven which contains the stars, there exist another six heavens. The myth of seven heavens was a common idea prevalent in the Middle East during the time when the Qur'an was first recited.
Some modern Islamic scholars have argued that these verses refer to the seven layers of the atmosphere. However, Quran 37:6 states that stars occupy the nearest heaven. Additionally, there are 5 rather than 7 principal layers to the Earth's atmosphere, and likewise only 5 rather than 7 major layers to the Earth itself.
Similar size and distance of the sun and moon
In a passage about events on the day of resurrection, the Qur'an implies that the sun and moon are of comparable size and distance. As already noted, the Quran says that the moon "follows" the sun (Quran 91:1-2), and "It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor doth the night outstrip the day." (Quran 36:40). Verse Quran 75:9 adds that on the last day the sun and moon will be joined together. While such a perspective is intuitive for one in seventh century Arabia viewing the sun and moon with their unaided eye and observing eclipses, modern science has revealed that 64.3 million moons could fit in the sun.
The Arabic word translated as "are joined" is jumi'a, a verb which means to collect together, gather together, bring together. Critics note that this would require the moon to travel 98 million miles away from Earth and into the sun, which is over 400 times wider. To describe them as brought together (jumi'a) in such a scenario would hardly be apt, critics argue, and a very odd apocalyptic event. Rather, the description sits comfortably in the ancient understanding of the cosmos, whereby the sun and moon were assumed to be two roughly equivalent celestial bodies in the sky above the Earth.
It is worth noting that the "darkening" of the moon in verse 8 is an Arabic word which in hadiths refers to a lunar or solar eclipse (in this case lunar). However, for a lunar eclipse to occur (when the earth's shadow is cast upon the moon) the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth and thus are not in any sense "joined". Nor does "joined" in verse 9 work as a reference to a solar eclipse (when the sun occasionally casts a shadow of the moon on the earth). The moon is invisible during the portion of a month when it can eclipse the sun since it must be on the daylit side of the earth, and hence the moon does not "darken" or itself become eclipsed (verse 8) as it passes between observers and the sun but rather its silhouette becomes visible.
Moon split in two
The Qur'an (according to a common interpretation) and a hadith tradition state that the moon was miraculously split into two pieces and then, presumably, put back together again. There is, however, no scientific evidence suggesting that the moon was ever been split into two parts. Critics have pointed out that since the moon is visible to half the planet at any given time, there should exist numerous accounts from different parts of the world attesting to the event if it in fact happened. The Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Chinese and Indians had avid astronomers who, critics maintain, should have seen this event and recorded it in their histories. The complete absence of any such historical record from other civilizations contemporary to Muhammad is thus presented as a strong indication that the event described in scripture never happened.
During the lifetime of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) the moon was split into two parts; one part remained over the mountain, and the other part went beyond the mountain. On that, Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said, "Witness this miracle."
Nature of the moon's light
Modern Muslim scholars have sometimes argued that the Qur'an predicted the realization that the moon does not emit its own light, but simply reflects light coming from the Sun. The Arabic word for reflected (in`ikaas) does not appear in the two Qur'anic verses that say the Moon is a "light". Instead, the word noor (nooran نُورًا) is used, which simply means "a light", and, in another verse, the word muneer (muneeran مُّنِيرًا) is used, which means "giving light" and is from the same root as noor. Nonetheless, the usage of these words is vague and appears to permit alternative interpretations.
Noor appears again (this time as a participle muneeran مُّنِيرًا) in a similar verse about the moon:
Quran 33:45-46 most clearly displays the meaning of noor to be "light" rather than "reflected light". A lamp is described as "shining light" with the same Arabic word used in Quran 25:61 (muneeran مُّنِيرًا):
In Lane's Lexicon of classical arabic, the word muneer (مُّنِيرً) is defined as 'Giving light, shining bright, bright, or shining brightly'. Noor is defined on the previous page as 'Light; whatever it may be; and the rays thereof'. In reference to Quran 10:5 (quoted above) which describe the moon with this word, Lane writes, 'In the Kur. x. 5, the sun is termed ضياء and the moon نور and it is said that ضياء is essential, but نور is accidental [light]'. The notion of essential and accidental light and its application to the sun and moon originates not from the Arabs at the time of the Qur'an, but rather from the book Kitab al-Manazir, commonly known as 'Optics', published in 1572 by the great polymath and optics pioneer al-Hazen. Lane goes on to say, citing the highly regarded Taj al-Arus classical dictionary, 'it [light] is of two kinds, the light of the present world and that of the world to come; and the former is either perceived sensibly, by the eye, and this is what diffuses itself from luminous bodies, as the sun and moon and stars, and is mentioned in the Kur. x. 5 referred to above'.
The word noor is also used in Quran 24:35 to show that Allah is the "light" of the universe. The author does not imply that Allah reflects light from another source, but rather that he is the ultimate source of all light.
Meteors as stars fired at devils
The Qur'an states that stars (kawakib ٱلْكَوَاكِبِ) and/or lamps (masabih مَصَٰبِيحَ) adorn the heavens and guard against devils. The Qur'an further asserts that Allah has made them flaming missiles to ward away devils. While stars are giant balls of gas thousands of times larger than the earth, meteors are small rocky masses or grains of debris which burn up after entering the earth's atmosphere. Many ancient people confused the two, as meteors look like stars that are streaking across the sky; this is why they were often called shooting stars or falling stars. The Quranic concept has a close parallel in an earlier Jewish development from Zoroastrian mythology.
The same Arabic words are used at the start of Quran 67:5 as in Quran 37:6 (زَيَّنَّا ٱلسَّمَآءَ ٱلدُّنْيَا), except that in Quran 67:5 the word lamps is used instead of stars. The lamps that 'beautify the heaven' must refer to stars (and perhaps also the 5 visible planets), which are always there. Meteors, on the other hand, are now known to be distinct from the distant stars. They are often not much larger than grains of sand and only become visible for a second when they burn up, generating light in the Earth's atmosphere.
A hadith in Sahih Muslim confirms that the 'pursuant flames / missiles' in the two verses refer to meteors which they saw shooting across the sky.
Other relevant verses are Quran 55:33-35 (flame of fire and smoke, though a slightly different context) and Quran 72:8-9.
The entire heaven has a night and day
The Qur'anic conception of the cosmos accords with its author's visual perception of the sky, even to the extent that in Quran 79:28-29 night and day is mistaken as a feature of the entire heaven (the lowest heaven is elsewhere said to be adorned with stars, as discussed above). In these verses the night and morning brightness are said to be an attribute of the heaven (l-samāu) which Allah built (banāhā) and raised (rafaʿa) as a ceiling (samkahā) and ordered it (fasawwāhā) when he created the heaven and earth.
The possessive hā suffix in laylahā (its night) and ḍuḥāhā (its morning light) relates night and day to the heaven in its entirety. In reality, the night and day we experience is a feature of the earth's rotation on its axis. There is no sense in which the earth's night and day (which happen at the same time) apply across the wider cosmos.
In order to confirm the interpretation of these verses it is important to look at how the significant words are used elsewhere in the Quran. "The night" is a very common word in the Quran, and the morning light is used in the same context in Quran 93:1-2 and Quran 91:1 (see also Quran 79:46).
Indeed, Quran 91:1-6 has many of the same Arabic words as Quran 79:27-30: "its morning light" (this time of the sun), "the night", and "the heaven" (singular) "built" by Allah. Putting the two passages together, it seems that the author of the Quran intuitively believed that the night and the sun's morning light were features pertaining to the entire visible heaven.
Other verses are helpful to confirm what is meant by the heaven (singular) in this context. Quran 2:29 states that Allah turned (is'tawā) to the heaven and fashioned them (fasawwāhunna) seven heavens. These are two forms of the same Arabic verb as is translated "ordered" in Quran 79:28 in the above quote.
The word "raised" in Quran 79:28 is similarly used for the creation of the heaven (singular) and earth in Quran 88:18 and the heavens (plural) raised without visible pillars in Quran 13:2.
The word "he built it" in v. 27 (banāhā) also occurs in Quran 50:6, which says regarding the heaven (singular) that Allah "built it" and "adorned it" (wazayyannāhā), a word which in other verses refers to the stars adorning the lowest heaven (Quran 37:6, Quran 41:12 and Quran 67:5, as discussed in the Earth created before stars section above).
The sky/heaven as a ceiling
A common myth at the time of the Quran's composition was that the sky or heavens were held up with pillars, which is also a Biblical motif. While classical Muslim scholars often believed in a dome shaped heaven, some academic scholars have argued that the Quranic heavens are flat, stacked expanses (see main article). These heavens are like roofs (Quran 2:22, Quran 21:32, Quran 40:64), in layers (Quran 71:15 and Quran 67:3), while Quran 13:2 further emphasizes this image by pointing out that, unlike what one would expect with an Arabian tent, the roof that is the sky is without visible pillars (perhaps phrased with deliberate ambiguity). Quran 81:11 adds that the sky is like a covering that can be 'stripped away', while Quran 21:104 states that it will eventually be rolled or folded up. This will occur after it has been rent asunder with clouds (Quran 25:25), angels appearing at its edges (Quran 69:17).
The sky/heaven as a guarded ceiling
Quran 21:32 says Allah made the sky/heaven a guarded ceiling, and is most likely related to the verses about devils chased by shooting stars (meteors) that guard the lowest heaven. One of those verses, Quran 37:6-10 discussed above, contains a noun meaning "guard" from the same Arabic root (hafiza) as the verb in this verse. Interestingly, modern science has revealed that the things by which the sky / heaven is said to be guarded can also pose a threat to living things on Earth - asteroids and meteorites have penetrated the atmosphere and hit the earth throughout the course of history. This includes the massive meteorite that hit near the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years which killed off numerous species, including most dinosaurs.
The sky/heaven as something that can fall
The Quran describes the sky/heaven as a roof held up by Allah that can fall or fragments of which may break off and fall upon unfortunate individuals. This is challenging in light of the modern realization that the sky is simply a conglomeration of various gasses.
Heavens to be rolled up
Quran 21:104 and Quran 39:67 state that the heavens will be 'rolled up' come the day of judgement, implying the corporeality and 'flatness' of space.
Stars as something that fall
The Qur'an says that the stars will fall (inkadarat ٱنكَدَرَتْ) as one of many dramatic events surrounding the last day. The word كدر in the form used in this verse (form VII) meant 'to dart down', as is said of a bird or hawk, or to fall and scatter.
The structure of space-time is such that nothing, not even stars, can move faster than the velocity of light. That is, even if the stars were to move close to light speed across the sky, their apparent motion would be so slight relative to their distance that it would nonetheless be imperceptible to the naked eye. Moreover, as many visible stars are hundreds of light years away (the nearest star is more than four light years away), the light from such events would take years to reach our eyes. Indeed, many stars still visible in the sky ceased to exist centuries ago and it is only their light which is just now reaching the Earth.
The cause of shadows changing length
Shadows are produced when the sun's light is obstructed. The Earth's rotation causes these shadows to change size and lengthen. Quran 25:45-46 states that the reason shadows fluctuate in size rather than being stationary is because Allah has made the sun their guide. This appears to confirm the geocentric outlook widely evidenced elsewhere in the Qur'an, for it is only on a geocentric view that shadows would be of fixed length if the sun (rather than the Earth) were not made to do something.
Interestingly, Quran 25:46 follows up by stating that Allah 'draws the shadows towards himself'. The exact meaning of this verse is unclear, but if it regards the retraction of an object's shadow 'back onto itself' - that is, to a state where there is no shadow or the shadow is at its shortest - then perhaps it can be interpreted to describe the gradual 'pointing of the shadow towards heaven' or 'upwards towards Allah'. Even this reading is difficult to justify, however, and the verse is perhaps best regarded as having lost intelligibility beyond the vague spiritual sense in which it may be read.
Disregard of North and South Poles
In polar regions, the longevity of day and night vary during summer and winter. The day gets shorter and shorter in winter until there are days or weeks of uninterrupted night. At the poles themselves, day and night alternately last for six months and all phases of the moon occur several times between sunrise and sunset. These circumstances render many of the most important Islamic rituals impracticable and suggest that the author(s) of the Qur'an and hadith, in so far as they aspired to produce a religion of global practicability, were not aware of the extreme distortions to the day length that take place near the poles.
When reading this verse one may also wonder in what sense day and night each have an orbit (See Geocentrism and the Quran).
See also the Fasting and Prayer Requirements Near the Poles section below.
The Qur'an takes what is perhaps best described as the creationist view of the origins and history of life on earth. This diverges sharply from the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans have evolved from prior life forms, over the course of millions of years and through natural selection. Consequently, while some Muslim scholars reinterpret the Quran in order that they may accept the theory of evolution, most reject it in favor of a creationist world view. Opinion polls show that the majority of Muslims agree Islam and evolution are not compatible.
First humans created from clay
The Qur’an states that the first man was created instantaneously from clay (salsalin صَلْصَٰلٍ) / mud (hamain حَمَإٍ). There is no indication that the author is aware of the evolution of human life over millions of years or our common ancestry with apes and primates. While some scientists argue over the detailed mechanisms driving evolution, they agree that common descent is an overwhelmingly proven fact.
The Quran also states, in a similar vein, that the first man was created from dust (turabin تُرَابٍ).
Adam and Eve
The Qur’an contains stories concerning the 'first humans' which detail, among other matters, how all people are descended from Adam and Eve (called Hawa in Arabic), the two earliest ancestors. These humans were created in a garden (the word for paradise in Arabic is jannah, which literally means 'garden') and then brought to Earth fully formed (Sahih Hadiths say Adam was 60 cubits - or 90 feet - tall). This view of the origins of human life is directly challenged by overwhelming DNA evidence and the numerous fossils of pre-Homo sapiens species that lived on earth for millions of years prior to the evolution modern humans. Powerful DNA evidence that humans have common ancestry with other primates include endogenous retroviruses and the fusion of chromosomes in the exact same genetic locations.
In the above verse the poetic allusion to sex and pregnancy and the couple's invocation to Allah leaves no doubt that the first sentence is a reference to common descent from Adam (in similar verses this is less explicit). All the classical exegetes state that this “single being” (نَّفْسٍ وَٰحِدَةٍ ) refers to Adam. Both classical Sunni and Shia Tafsirs confirm this and there are even mutawatir hadith narrations (mass transmitted reports) implying that all humans descend from Adam (for details, see Evolution and Islam).
Another verse describes the literal descent of humanity from one man with reference to the sexual means by which it was achieved ("despised fluid" i.e. semen) after Allah had created that first man out of clay.
The word translated “seed” in the Pickthall translation is nasl نسل, which means progeny (i.e. descendants).
Some modern Muslim scholars argue that the notion of two ancestral “parents” is consistent with recent scientific findings that show a common female and male ancestor of all modern humans. This results, however, from a confusion with the nicknames (Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam) by which scientists have referred to human's earliest genetic ancestors. These two individuals, however, are distinct from the Quranic characters as they are simply the last common male and female ancestors of everyone alive today and not of all humans in history. More importantly, whereas the Qur'an describes Eve as Adam's wife (who, notably, was created after him), Mitochondrial Eve lived some 50,000 to 80,000 years earlier than Y-chromosomal Adam. Genetic evidence also overwhelmingly indicates that humans diverged from earlier species as a population rather than as a single couple.
The Qur'an contain descriptions regarding bodily fluids and the stages of development of the human embryo. Many of these descriptions are extremely vague and most bear a telling resemblance to similar descriptions found in the Jewish Talmud as well as the ideas of ancient Greeks, such as Galen. These descriptions do not accord with the findings of modern science and are generally considered unremarkable in the seventh-century Arabian context wherein the Quran was first recited.
Semen originating between the backbone and ribs
The Qur'an states that semen originates from somewhere between the backbone and ribs. Other verses and hadiths too suggest a reproductive function for the backbone. While this aligns with the views of the physicians of antiquity, modern science has shown that sperm comes from the testicles and semen from various glands behind and below the bladder, which is not between the backbone and ribs.
Embryo formed from semen
The Qur'an describes the initial formation of a human embryo out of fluid emanating from the man, which has been placed in the womb (and possibly mixed with a female fluid). This reflects the widespread contemporary view at that time that semen is the material from which the embryo is initially formed, as taught by Hippocrates, Galen, and the Jewish Talmud. It is also evident in hadiths. By contrast, modern science has shown that semen is the vehicle for the sperm cells, one of which fuses with a woman's ovum in her fallopian tube, and that the resulting cell divides (rather than the seminal medium) and travels back into the womb for implantation.
While many English translations mention a "drop of seed", or "drop of sperm", the Arabic word used in the Quran is nutfah, which literally means a small amount of liquid and was a euphemism for semen.
Disregard of female ovum
The Quran, in all its discussion of human reproduction, does not mention the role of the ovum, implying instead that reproduction is caused simply by storage and mingling of the male semen in the female womb. Although visible to the human eye, the female ovum is very small and unknown in the 7th century - this appears to explain its omission in the Quran.
Humans created from a clot of blood
The Qur'an describes humans as being formed from a clot of blood after an initial semen stage. By contrast, modern science has revealed that there is no stage in embryonic development where the relevant material is a clot of blood. The Quranic description is likely influenced by a simplistic attempt at explaining human reproduction based on unaided-eye observations of an early-term miscarriage and a woman's menstrual cycle. While in modern times some Muslims scholars have advanced alternative meanings for the relevant word, the historical certainty that the word can mean clotted blood (also the unanimous understanding in the classical tafsirs), which has a clear biological meaning, while being used in the Qur'an in the context of a biological description (formation of a baby), renders the modern reinterpretations extremely challenging.
Gender decided at clot stage
The Qur'an states that an embryo is transformed from semen into a clot, shaped (presumably into a human mold), and then determined into either the male or female sex. Modern genetics, on the other hand, has shown that the sex of a human is decided at the moment of conception.
While translators mostly use "And" in verse 39, the Arabic particle is fa, as also in the previous conjunction, which indicates sequence (i.e. 'and then'). Classical tafsirs share this reading, and the same reading is reflected in a sahih hadith found in both Bukhari and Muslim:
Bones formed before flesh
The Qur'an states that the bones of a human embryo are formed first and then covered up with flesh. By contrast, modern science has shown that muscles and the cartilage 'models' of the future bones start to form at the same time and in parallel. Muscles have started to form before the cartilage models start to be replaced with actual bone.
The Qur'an again parallels the influential Greek physician Galen, who says:
All organisms created in pairs
The Quran states that all beings are created in pairs. However, modern science has revealed that not every creature procreates or reproduces through a male and female sexual relationship. The whiptail lizard in the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, and South America, for instance, is an all-females species which reproduces by parthenogenesis. Viruses (if considered a life form) reproduce using a host's DNA and are neither female nor male. Bacteria reproduce by cell division. Fungus can reproduce either asexually or sexually with thousands of genders. Many species of plants also reproduce either asexually or through pollination. Hermaphrodites of all species also do not appear to fit in to this dichotomy.
Fetus in three layers of darkness
The word butun (بطن) means belly/abdomen/midriff, though some translators have opted to use the more specific (and evocative) word "womb". Classical tafsirs interpreted the "three darknesses" as the placenta, womb (uterus), and belly. Modern science has revealed there to be many more such layers in the human body, such as the endometrium, myometrium, perimetrium, peritoneum, besides the cervix uteri, corpus uteri, abdomen (with walls), and placenta (with layers). In terms of extra-embryonic membranes, there is also the allantois, which is a sac-like structure and does not surround the embryo, but becomes part of the umbilical cord and is not in any real sense 'a darkness' viz-a-viz the embryo. The other two membranes, the chorion and amnion, together form the amniotic sac, which is quite thin and transparent. The idea of three membranes around the fetus (chorion, allantois, and amnion) was taught by the highly influential Greek physician, Galen, and the description found in the Quran in all likelihood draws on Galen's widespread influence in the late antique world.
Functions of the heart
The Quran describes the literal heart as a locus of contemplation and thought, an ancient concept known as cardiocentrism.
Source and purity of Milk
The Qur'an states that milk is produced in the body somewhere between excretions and blood. The mammary glands, where milk is produced and stored, are, however, not located near the intestines, which is where excrement is stored. Many kinds of cattle and goat milk needs processing or pasteurization before they can safely be consumed; the milk is often infected with bacteria and other micro-organisms. A significant number of humans are lactose intolerant and unable to digest milk without experiencing abdominal bloating and cramps, flatulence, diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. These realities appear to challenge the Qur'anic notion that milk is 'pure' and 'agreeable'.
Geology and meteorology
Facing toward Mecca
The Qur'an instructs Muslims to face the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray. In consideration of the roundness of the Earth, scholars developed the great circle method to carry out this instruction. However, a number of problems have been suggested: one facing Mecca also necessarily has their back turned to it (a display of disrespect which is roundly prohibited in Islam), and one directly opposite Mecca on the globe may pray in any direction. A similar consideration leads North American Muslims, who live in the hemisphere of this antipode of Mecca, to instead prefer the rhumb-line technique since the great circle method would cause people north and south in the Americas to face away from each as they pray (great circle lines from this antipode diverge cross the continent before they start to converge again when they enter the hemisphere of Mecca). Finally, Astronauts in Earth's orbit or on the Moon and Mars would are essentially unable to follow these instructions (suggesting that the author of the Qur'an did not have such future realities in mind).
Fasting and prayer requirements near the Poles
The Qur'an instructs Muslims to fast by abstaining from food and drink from sunrise till sunset during Ramadan. In the polar regions there are six months of sunlight and six months of perpetual night during Summer and Winter. Such fasting is not practicable for anyone living in the polar regions, and very easy (depth of Winter) or extremely hard (height of Summer) in places within around 40 degrees latitude of the poles. Various rules have been contrived by Muslim scholars for those at such latitudes to try to accommodate the (here inconvenient) fact that we live on a round Earth.
A similar issue emerges for the five daily prayers. Persons living in the polar region would not be able to make a sunset or sunrise prayer for much of the year. Even in less extreme contextxs, for cities further south like Aberdeen in Scotland, the gap between the night prayer (Isha) and the dawn prayer (Fajr) is still around 4 and a half hours in June, so a person praying five times a day is required to interrupt their sleep around 3.20am, then go back to sleep before getting up for the day. These challenges would likely not have been on the mind of the author of the Quran during the 7th century in Arabia.
Earth as spread out and flat
The author of the Qur'an mentions that the Earth is 'spread out' and laid flat. The Arabic word here (sataha) was used to describe making the flat top or roof of a house or chamber and making a top surface flat. Words from the same root mean the flat top surface or roof of a house or chamber, a bounded flat plane in geometry, a level place upon which dates can be spread, a rolling pin (which expands the dough), plane or flat.
The Qur'anic commentary of al-Jalalayn agrees with this understanding of the verse saying that legal scholars at his time agree that the earth is flat and not spherical.
Earth as like carpet
The Arabic word (bisaatan) used here means a thing that is spread or spread out or forth, and particularly a carpet.
Earth as like a couch
The Earth is described using an Arabic word (firashan) that means a thing that is spread on the ground to sit or lay upon.
The same root word for couch in Quran 2:22 is used as a verb in Quran 51:48 in the sense of to spread (the first word translated spread here).
Earth as like a bed
The Earth is described as a 'bed' (or 'carpet' in the Yusuf Ali translation) in verse Quran 20:53, and similarly Quran 43:10. The Arabic word (mahdan) suggests something completely flat and spread out on the ground (and not, for instance, 'rolled up' for storage).
Sometimes the same Arabic word is translated as expanse, as in Quran 78:6-7. Together with the next verse, the Earth is here a thing spread out and pegged down by mountains.
The same root word is used as a participle at the end of Quran 51:48.
Earth stretched out
In the verse below, as also in Quran 13:3 and Quran 50:7, the Qur'an uses a verb (madadna) that meant to extend by drawing or pulling, stretch out, expand.
Earth as a level plain
The Qur'an describes a time in the future when mountains will be removed. Quran 18:47 uses an Arabic word (baarizatan) that means "entirely apparent" to describe the Earth at this time. Quran 20:106 uses words (qa'an and safsafan) that mean a level plain. This description implies the Earth is flat and level and that it is the mountains which give it shape.
Permanent barrier between fresh and salt water
When a fresh water river flows into the sea or ocean, there is a transition region in between. This transition region is called an estuary where the fresh water remains temporarily separated from the salt water. However, this separation is not absolute, is not permanent, and the different salinity levels between the two bodies of water eventually homogenize. The Qur'an, by contrast, suggests that the separation between the two types of water is absolute, permanent, and maintained by some sort of divine barrier placed between them.
Another reference to "the two seas" (bahrayn) is found in the story of Moses and his servant.
The story of Moses and his servant is one of four stories in Surah al-Kahf. Modern academic scholarship has identified antecedants of each story in the lore of late antiquity. This particular story is almost unanimously considered to derive from a legend about Alexander the Great and his search for the water of life. For details see the section on the four stories in Surah al-Kahf in the article Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature.
It may further be compared to the ancient Akkadian myth of the Abzu, the name for a fresh water underground sea that was given a religious quality in Sumerian and Akkadian mythology. Lakes, springs, rivers, wells, and other sources of fresh water were thought to draw their water from the Abzu underground sea, while the Ocean that surrounded the world was a saltwater sea. This underground sea is called Tehom in the Hebrew Bible. For example, Genesis 49:25 says, "blessings of the heavens above, and Tehom lying beneath". Wensinck explains, "Thus it appears that the idea of there being a sea of sweet water under our earth, the ancient Tehom, which is the source of springs and rivers, is common to the Western Semites". Similarly in Greek mythology, the world was surrounded by Oceanus, the world-ocean of classical antiquity. Oceanus was personified as the god Titan, whose consort was the aquatic sea goddess Tethys. It was also thought that rainfall was due a third ocean above the "Firmament of the Sky" (a vast reservoir above the firmament of the sky is also described in the Genesis creation narrative).
Whether the two seas mentioned in the Qur'an referred to these mythological seas or a more general inviolable barrier between bodies of salt and fresh water, critics argue that the verse in question is scientifically wrong.
Mountains as pegs which prevent the earth from shaking
Modern geology has discovered that large plates in the crust of the earth are responsible for the formation of mountains. Called plate tectonics, the slow movement of these massive plates meet and the pressure between them pushes up the crust, forming mountains while also causing earthquakes and faults in the Earth's surface. The formation of mountains and occurance of earthquakes are thus both largely the result of destabilizing tectonic activity. They are part of the same ongoing process and one cannot exist without the other. The Qur'an, by contrast, holds that mountains are like pegs in the ground, stabilizing the Earth which would shake without them.
Mountains cast upon Earth
Mountains are usually formed through the movement and collision of lithospheric (tectonic) plates. This is an ongoing process that continues to this day as the plates slowly move. The Quran, by contrast, states that the mountains on Earth's surface were cast upon it by God. Other verses state that creation of mountains occurred during the first four days, as discussed in the section above on creation of earth and heaven in six days. The imagery is clear when one considers the above verses which describe the Mountains as 'pegs' which stabilize the Earth (which is itself compared to a carpet and bed matt in other verses).
The word 'he has cast' is alqa (lam-qaf-ya), which in this form (Arabic verb form IV) is frequently used elsewhere in the Quran to mean throw or cast. It is the same word as is used in Quran 3:44 when lots are cast using pens (it would be easy to imagine that mountains were similarly scattered), and Quran 12:10 when the prophet Yusuf is cast down into the well, and in Quran 20:20 when Moses casts down his staff, which becomes a snake.
Chests contract with altitude
Quran 6:125 states that a person's chest cavity gets smaller at higher altitude. Modern science, by contrast, has revealed that the opposite is the case.
Earthquakes as a punishment
The Quran describes Earthquakes, blizzards, hurricanes, and other destructive natural activity as being a sort of punishment for the people they inflict. Research, however, has not found any correlation between civilizations' irreligiosity and their susceptibility to these or other type of natural disaster.
Disregard of evaporation in water cycle
Some modern Muslim scholars argue that the water cycle is described in the Qur'an. Every verse about rain in the Qur'an implies that rain comes either directly from the sky or from Allah. The crucial step of evaporation of water into the air is never mentioned. That Quran describes a linear process orchestrated by Allah rather than a cyclical process (as with the water cycle) renders these modern reinterpretations challenging.
Mountains of hail in the sky
Hail forms in cumulonimbus clouds when updrafts raise water droplets to an altitude where they freeze. The Qur'an, by contrast, describes mountain-like masses of hail in the sky / heaven.
Hast thou not seen how Allah wafteth the clouds, then gathereth them, then maketh them layers, and thou seest the rain come forth from between them; He sendeth down from the heaven mountains wherein is hail, and smiteth therewith whom He will, and averteth it from whom He will. The flashing of His lightning all but snatcheth away the sight.
Transliteration: wayunazzilu (and he sends down) mina (from) alssamai (the sky) min (from) jibalin (mountains) feeha (in it ['it' is feminine here so must refer to the sky]) min (of) baradin (hail)
Tafsirs such as al-Jalalayn and the one attributed to Ibn Abbas say that this means mountains in the sky. Ibn Kathir notes two views, that these are literally mountains of hail in the sky, or that they are a metaphor for clouds. Clouds could poetically be described as mountains in the sky, but the verse says "mountains of hail in the sky", which critics would say strongly suggests large masses of ice (in the clouds or otherwise), and it was sometimes understood in this literal way as evidenced in tafsirs.
Allah smites with thunderbolts
The Quran describes thunder and lightning in a manner typical of ancient mythology. Allah, in a manner evocative of the legends most famously regarding Zeus, smites persons he wishes to punish with thunderbolts. A hadith, graded hasan (good) by Dar-us-Salam, further states that Muhammad believed the sound of thunder was an angel striking the clouds, which the angel drives along with a piece of fire (evoking the image of a whip of fire).
Ants converse and recognize humans
Ants primarily communicate with each other using pheromones (chemical signals). While scientists have discovered that ants make some noises, nothing has ever indicated that the brains of ants could produce anything approximating complex speech. By contrast, the Qur'an recounts the story of an ant warning her fellow ants of the approach of Solomon's large army of humans. Solomon is able to understand her speech and proceeds, presumably, to leave the ants be.
Four types of cattle
The Qur'an states that Allah has provided four kinds of cattle (eight including male and female). There exist, however, many more than four species of cattle. The word "cattle" in Quran 39:6 is al-ana'ami, from a root meaning plentiful subsistence and in this form meant pasturing (i.e. grazing) animals. The word azwajin ("kinds" in the translation of 39:6 below) generally means "mate" or "member of a pair". Quran 6:143-144 clarifies that this refers to male and female pairs of sheep, goats, oxen, and camels, suggesting that the author of the Qur'an was aware of four kinds of grazing animals useful for humans (horses, mules and donkeys are considered a separate category from al-ana'ami, see Quran 16:5-8). This does not include many other types of cattle from the regions outside of Arabia, such as reindeer, which were and remain important to people in northern latitudes.
Horses created as transportation
After thousands of years of domestication and cross-breeding, horses were domesticated approximately 4,000 years ago in East Europe and Central Asia. Prior to this, horses were wild animals not yet suitably bred for this purpose. Today feral horses are descendants of once domesticated horses that aren't tamed or used for human transportation. By contrast, the Qur'an appears to suggest that horses were created by Allah already prepared to serve human purposes.
All animals live in communities
The Qur'an emphatically states that all animals live in "communities". Many animals, such as the jaguar or leopard, are however well known for being solitary creatures, rarely meeting in pairs and then only to mate. Animals of these kinds do not live in communities and rather tend to resort to violence when their solitude is disturbed (the opposite, some argue, of what it means to live in a community). There also exist species whose young are not raised as family and which lay eggs and abandon them before hatching. Sea Turtles, for instance, bury their eggs on a beach and leave them. When an egg hatches the baby turtle must dig to the surface and make a sprint to the sea or perish. Some reptiles behave similarly. The Carolina anole, which is a lizard species, is another such example. These anoles lay a single egg every 2 weeks, around 10 in total, each taking 5 to 7 weeks to hatch. Anole hatchlings must fend for themselves and are by nature solitary creatures from birth.
One modern translation of the Quran interprets umamun (community / nation) to mean "genus" (group of species, plural: genera). This interpretation appears difficult, however, for while today we categorize species into genera, families, and other taxonomic ranks within evolutionary tree (phylogenetic) models, such categories are understood as an evolutionary process in which, even now, sub-groups of many species are diverging and gradually evolving into new species.
Bird flight as a miracle
Modern science has revealed the aerodynamic properties of birds' anatomy which enable them to fly. Bird flight essentially functions by creating a difference in the air pressure between the lower and upper part of the wing and this creates lift that pushes the bird upward. The wings of birds have evolved over millions of years and have thereby refined birds' flight abilities. By contrast, the Quran states that 'nothing' holds birds in the air, except for the miraculous power of Allah.
Below are a selection of historical errors found in the Quran, a more complete list is located in the article dedicated to historical errors in the Quran.
Massive wall of iron
The Qur'an presents a version of the Syrian legend of Alexander the Great as a great king who helps a tribe of people build a massive wall of iron between two mountains. The Quran then states, along with the hadith, that this wall and the tribes it traps will remain in place until the Day of Judgement. Modern satellites and near comprehensive exploration of the Earth's surface, however, have yet to reveal any trace of such massive structure.
"Bring me blocks of iron." At length, when he had filled up the space between the two steep mountain-sides, He said, "Blow (with your bellows)" Then, when he had made it (red) as fire, he said: "Bring me, that I may pour over it, molten lead." Thus were they made powerless to scale it or to dig through it.
Mary as part of the Trinity
Mainstream Christian doctrine has never held Mary to be a part of the Trinity. The Qur'an, however, apparently implies as much, leading many to conclude that Muhammad misunderstood Christian doctrine.
This alternative formulation of the trinity is present even more clearly in Quran 5:72-75, which makes no mention of the holy spirit and takes measure to disprove the divinity of Jesus and his mother by pointing out that they, like normal human beings, also ate food.
A common interpretation advocated by Muslim scholars today is that this refers to a fringe Arab Christian sect known as the Collyridians. However, this sect were only mentioned in a 4th century CE book on heresies. The most plausible alternative interpretation proposed so far relates these verses to a Byzantine theological dispute and contemporary war propaganda (for details, see the Qur'anic Trinity section of the article Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature).
Mary as Miriam
Mary the mother of Jesus was born in the first century BCE and was not related to Moses and his family whose story is set 1500 years earlier. Miriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron and daughter of Amram (Imran). The Quran appears to confuse these two characters, as it describes Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the "Sister of Aaron" and her mother as the "wife of Imran" in context where the "Imran" being discussed is evidently Miriam's father. A possible source of this confusion is the fact that both Miriam and Mary had the same name in Arabic, or were at least similar enough sounding for the original distinction to have been lost or neglected (the word used in either case in the Quran is the same and is pronounced maryam).
"Wife of 'Imran" is here im'ra-atu ʿim'rāna, literally woman of Imran, though the same construction certainly means "wife" a few verses later (Quran 3:40), and in several other verses.
Some modern academic scholars cite evidence that this could be a case of typology (deliberate literary allusion between characters - see main article). This may be the best explanation, although the verses would still be misleading as historical statements. Sahih Muslim 25:5326 seeks to explain the coincidence based on alleged customary forms of address (to explain "sister of Aaron") or naming customs (to explain why Imran named his daughter Mary), depending on interpretation of the hadith. Either interpretation only reduces part of the coincidence. Even if a naming custom could increase the odds that this father-daughter pair would share names with some earlier biblical family, a further coincidence would still be required if her father happened to be named the same as the father (Imran) in the particular biblical family alluded to when his daughter is addressed as "sister of Aaron". Another attempted explanation is that this Imran actually had a son called Aaron as well as a daughter named Mary.
Ezra as the son of God in Jewish doctrine
Historically, Judaism has been a strict form of monotheism. The Quran, by contrast, describes the Jews as practitioners of polytheism by stating that they hold Uzair (Ezra) to be the son of God. This is compared directly with the Christian doctrine which hold Jesus to be the son of God. This appears to be a confusion resulting from conflating the alternative senses in which Jewish and Christian theologians have employed and understood the word "son".
David invented coats of mail
Historians commonly credited the invention of coat mail (not to be confused with scale armor) to the Celts in the 3rd century BCE.. Mail has also been found in a 5th century BCE Scythian grave, and there is a cumbersome Etruscan pattern mail artifact from the 4th century BCE. The nature of coat mail is such that it should persist for several millennia, and such advantageous military technologies would spread rapidly, so it is unlikely that coat mail would have originated much earlier, undiscovered by archaeologists. While, older translations of the Bible mention Goliath and David wearing a "coat of mail" in 1 Samuel 17:5 and 17:38 respectively, this is a well known mistranslation for a word meaning armor in general.
In the Qur'an, by contrast, David in the 10th century BCE is taught by Allah how to make long coats of mail (sabighatin سَٰبِغَٰتٍ) after Allah made the iron (al hadid ٱلْحَدِيدَ) malleable for him and told him to measure the chainmail links (as-sardi ٱلسَّرْدِ) thereof. A second passage adds that people should be thankful for this knowledge which has been passed down since David and protects them today.
Chainmail seems to have been familiar to the early Muslims. Muhammad is narrated as using a metaphor of two coats of iron (junnataani min hadeedin جُنَّتَانِ مِنْ حَدِيدٍ), one owned by a generous person and the other by a miser in whose coat every ring (halqat حَلْقَةٍ) becomes close together (Sahih Muslim 5:2229). Ibn Kathir in his tafsir for 34:11 has narrations in which Mujahid and Ibn Abbas use that same arabic word meaning rings (الحلقة) to explain the Quranic verse.
Crucifixions in ancient Egypt
The first historical reference to crucifixion as a method of execution is from 500 BCE, when the technique began being used in several middle eastern cultures. The Qur'an, by contrast, tells of crucifixions at the time of Moses (approximately 1500 BCE) as well as Joseph (approximately 2000 BCE).
Ancient Egypt has been subjected to extensive study by archaeologists. While there exists hieroglyphic evidence of people impaled through upright stakes in ancient Egypt, this remains distinct from the palm-tree crucifixions described in the Quran, as palm trees are of too great girth to be used to vertically impale an individual.
The same verb for crucifixion is used in Quran 4:157 regarding Jesus. Two other verses, Quran 38:12 and Quran 89:8, use another word to call Pharaoh "owner of the pegs" or "stakes". Sometimes this is claimed to refer to impalement and even mistranslated as such. However, the context in Quran 89:6-11 shows that it refers to unspecified rock-hewn monuments (most likely columned temples, obelisks or possibly even the pyramids).
Moreover, there is no ancient Egyptian evidence of cross amputation (punitive removal of a single hand and foot on alternate sides). It seems that here again a contemporary punitive practice has been transferred in the Quran to ancient Egypt. A parallel using the same Arabic words occurs in Quran 5:33, which commands crucifixion or cross amputation among a range of punishment options (both of which became part of Islamic jurisprudence). In the exceptionally cruel combination of both punishments put in the mouth of Pharaoh (see also Quran 7:124 and Quran 26:49), the victim would need to be fastened to the palm tree and / or nailed through the remaining two extremities.
The singular Pharaoh
Geographically, the Coptic land of Egypt is adjacent to Arabia. Thus, most Arabs were aware of the preservation method applied by the ancient Egyptian to their pharaohs. Pharaohs were preserved intact using methods such as salt to dry the body (hence, salt in the body of Ramesses II does not suggest that he drowned in the dead sea). There were many pharaohs from numerous dynasties who were preserved in this way. The Qur'an, by contrast, only speaks of "Pharaoh" (Firaun) singularly, as a proper noun without the definite article, suggesting that its author was unaware of the multiplicity of pharaohs.
Nabatean rock tombs at al-Hijr as homes and palaces from before the time of Pharaoh
The Qur'an frequently lists destroyed peoples of the past, particularly the peoples of Noah, Lot, Pharaoh's army, Midian, Aad and its successor, Thamud. The destruction of Thamud after they disbelieved their prophet Salih is mentioned many times, either by an earthquake Quran 7:78 or a thunderous blast (for example Quran 54:31).
Its destruction is also alluded to by a believer from the family of Pharaoh:
The companies / factions (l-aḥzābu) is a term used collectively for the list of destroyed cities also in Quran 38:12-14.
Thamud is a term used by experts for a people or peoples of a particular region over a number of centuries (8th century BCE to the 4th century CE), but the Qur'an speaks only of a particular destruction of Thamud after the warnings of their prophet Salih went unheeded. It describes them as the builders of well known palaces and homes, skillfully carved from the mountains, clarified in the Quran and hadith as a place in Arabia known as al Hijr (the rocky tract), or Mada'in Salih today.
The errors in the Quran here are two-fold: It is now known that these were actually elaborately carved tombs, not homes or palaces, and that they were made by the Nabateans from the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century AD, not before the time of the Pharaohs. Petra in Jordan was the Nabateans' more famous city before al Hijr. There are over 100 tombs at al-Hijr, some very large, and many of them small, believed even by a 14th Century CE Arab traveller to contain the bones of the people of Thamud in their houses.. Nabatean inscriptions forbid opening the tombs, reusing them or moving the bodies. The town of al-Hegra where the people lived some distance from the surrounding rock tombs was built of mud-brick and stone.
The Quran says Thamud carved palaces from its plains, and homes from its mountains:
These ruins were well known to Muhammad's listeners:
Al-Hijr is widely accepted as this location. It is also mentioned once by name in Quran 15:80-83 ("the companions of al-Hijr") and its description and destruction matches that for Thamud.
Al-Hijr is also identified in hadiths as the "al Hijr, land of Thamud" (al hijr ardi Thamudi الْحِجْرِ أَرْضِ ثَمُودَ):
Samarians in ancient Egypt
The Qu'ran states that Moses dealt with a Samarian during his time. However the Samarians did not exist until well over half a millennium after Moses is supposed to have existed.
Oxford Bibliographies (an academic website) says the following:
The likely root of the Quranic confusion is the story in the Bible, Hosea 8:5-8 or 1 Kings 12:25-29 where there is mentioned a golden calf (or two of them) created in Samaria after the time of Solomon. One modern perspective holds that the Qur'an might be referring to Zimri, son of Salu (Numbers 25:14). However, the Quranic character is referred to three times in Quran 20:85-88 as l-sāmiriyu with the definite article, "the Samiri", so this is a descriptive title rather than a proper name.
Noah's worldwide flood
The Quran contains a version of the worldwide-flood story widespread in ancient near-Eastern mythology and most famously found in the Bible. Since geological evidence suggests such a flood never took place, some modern Muslim scholars have reinterpreted the account in the Quran as referring to a more limited, local flood. Several elements in the tale, however, militate against this rereading. Elsewhere in the Quran whenever the heavens and earth are mentioned together, it means in their entirety. In this story waters are released from both of them. Another such detail is the storage of "two of each kind" of animal aboard the ship, since it is not clear what purpose this would serve if the flood were local. Similarly, the purpose of the boat itself appears unclear in this reading - as with the ample warning time that Noah was given, he and his family could have simply evacuated the area that was to be flooded. The relevant passage also states plainly that nothing, not even a tall mountain, could save an individual from drowning on that day except for Allah - this seems to contradict the idea that individuals and animals could have escaped the flood simply by evacuating the flooded area. Noah is recorded praying to God, "O my Lord! Leave not of the Unbelievers [kuffar], a single one on Earth!" - the flood is an answer to this prayer, which likewise suggests that the flood described is a global flood that drowns all those not chosen by Allah to persist aboard the ark.
Flood waters boiled from an oven
Aside from waters pouring from gates in the heaven, the Qur'an further describes the flood waters as boiling from an oven. There is no scientific nor historical evidence for a large flood of this nature. This element is not found even in more ancient versions of the story (Epic of Gilgamesh, Atra hasis, and Ziusudra). Its ultimate origin appears to be a highly tenuous rabbinical exergisis in the Babylonian Talmud, based on a word in an unrelated verse that means heat or wrath.
Note that in his translation, Yusuf Ali mistranslates the Aramaic loan word for the oven (alttannooru ٱلتَّنُّورُ) as "fountains". The Arabic verb translated "gushed forth" (fara فَارَ) means "boiled" in the context of water in a cooking pot, as well as in the other verse where it is used, Quran 67:7.
Noah's ark holding every species
Part of the legend of Noah's Ark is that a pair of every living species was stored on board. Modern science has revealed, however, that there are over a hundred thousand species of animals including penguins, polar bears, koala bears, and kangaroos that live spread across the entire planet and each of which require different climates, habitats, and diets. These discoveries appear to render the idea that all animals could have been kept on board a single ship impossible.
Countable currency in ancient Egypt
Surah Yusuf mentions that the caravan that rescued the eponymous prophet from the pit sold him to an Egyptian "for a low price, a few dirhams". Leaving aside the fact that dirham coins did not exist in ancient Egypt, a more fundamental problem is that the price is indicated as having been some kind of discreetly countable currency: darāhima maʿdūdatin ("dirhams counted"). The word maʿdūdatin occurs throughout the Quran denoting something discreetly numbered, for example "[Fasting for] a limited number of days" in Quran 2:184. Thus, it is not describing a weight of valuable material, but a countable currency. Such a thing did not exist in ancient Egypt. Rather, there were stone weights, particularly the denben, for measuring amounts of precious metals and to price other goods that could be barter traded, but not itself nor units of metal used as a means of exchange.
The Qur'an, in multiple instances, states that the first humans "Adam and Eve" spoke to each other in some kind of language, and that God told them the names of 'all things'. Modern linguistics has revealed, however, that the type of sentences constructed in the Qur'an were not spoken by humans until over 100,000 years after the first humans evolved. The language of the first humans would be incomprehensible to us and they would not be able to express the kinds of sentences that Adam and Eve do in the Qur'an. The earliest forms of human communication were entirely different in nature from the sorts of languages humans have used in the last several thousands of years.
Some 1.9 million species of plants and animals have been identified and named, out of some 8.7 million that may actually exist. Millions more have become extinct. Far more numerous are the living objects, galaxies, the countless stars and planets of the universe. In light of this, it is not clear what is meant by the idea that Allah taught Adam 'all the names', especially since the first humans do not appear to have been extremely knowledgeable.
Incidentally, the element in the Quranic verse in which the angels could not name animals when Adam was a tale invented by a Rabbi. See the relevant section on that topic in the article Parallels Between the Qur'an and Late Antique Judeo-Christian Literature.
Arabic as eminently accessible
Fewer than 4% of the world's population grows up speaking Arabic. The Arabic of this 4%, however, is not the Arabic of the Quran and is instead comprised of various regional dialects of modern colloquial Arabic. The text of the Quran is thus directly accessible only to a small portion of the world's population. Additionally, there are present in the Quran many words, phrases, and references whose original 7th century Arabic meaning, being unrecorded, has been entirely lost to history or, in some cases, has remained subject to inconclusive debates. Consequently, while Muslims are obligated to pray and recite the Quran in Arabic, it is only a small proportion of the Muslim population that can claim to have some sense of what they recite on a daily basis. These circumstances are difficult to reconcile with the Quran's assertion that the Quran was 'revealed in Arabic so that people may understand it'.
Miracles and myths
Humans turned apes
The Qur'an records a miraculous event where Sabbath breakers are transformed into apes. There is, however, no scientific evidence that humans were ever transformed into apes.
The Qur'an describes a statue of a calf that was capable of mooing.
Hordes trapped by iron wall
The Quran states that two massive tribes of beasts (Gog and Magog) were and will continue until the Day of Judgement to be trapped behind a massive wall of Iron erected by Dhul-Qarnayn. According to the Qur'an, these two tribes were trapped by Dhul-Qarnayn behind this metal wall and will only be let free on the day of Judgement. However, no such wall or tribes have ever been found despite the advent of global satellite imagery.
The Qur'an states that Jesus received a feast sent down from heaven. There have, however, never been any scientifically verified accounts of food descending from heaven.
Stick turned serpent
The Quran states that Moses' staff transformed into a serpent. There is no scientific evidence that suggests such a transformation would be possible.
Army of genies and birds
A story in the Qur'an, drawing on Jewish folklore, states that Solomon commanded a massive army comprised of 'Jinns and men and birds'. Solomon is described as speaking with a Hoopoe bird and thereafter desiring to execute the bird when it is tardy to his assembly. The Hoopoe bird, it is then revealed, was only delayed because it had been spying on a beautiful female ruler, Queen Sheba, who Solomon subsequently insists is misguided and must be conquered. At this point, Solomon assigns a Jinn from his assembly the task of stealing Queen Sheba's magnificent throne. There is, however, no scientific evidence that Jinn exist, that birds can be commanded as soldiers, or that birds can engage in elaborate conversations with humans.
Living inside a big fish
The Quran presents a version of the Biblical tale in which Jonah is swallowed by a whale ('the big Fish') and then lives in the whale for some time while praying. Scientific research, however, suggests that a person could not persist long inside a whale's digestive tract and, if not crushed by the whale or by water pressure, would almost immediately suffocate.
Buraq, the winged horse
While it took one week to travel from Mecca to Jerusalem (the location of the alleged 'farthest Mosque') by camel, the Qur'an states that a magical winged horse, called the Buraq, transported Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem in a matter of minutes. While creatures like the Buraq were common characters in near Easter myths, scientific research has not found any evidence that flying horses exist.
Speaking body parts
The Quran states that human organs will, on the Day of Judgement, testify against their own persons. Scientific research does not suggest that this is possible.
Sea split in half
The Quran present a version of the story where Moses splits the sea and crosses it with the Israelites. Scientific research does not suggest that this is possible.
Manipulating the wind
The Quran says that Solomon had the power to control the wind and traditional sources elaborate that Solomon could use this wind to fly upon a gigantic wooden carpet to wherever he pleased. Scientific research does not suggest that this is possible. Historical research also fails to find any real record of a king traveling the earth upon a m flying carpet.
Testimony of a dead man
The Quran states that Allah instructed a group of people to strike a murdered man with a piece of a heifer (young female cow that has not yet borne a calf) in order to temporarily resurrect him and discover the identity of the murderer. Scientific research does not suggest that this is possible.
Mountains and birds sing psalms
The Qur'an states that hills and birds would sing the psalms with David. Scientific research does not suggest that hills can sing, and no birds living the proximity of David were or are capable of imitating human sounds.
Nonmathematical hereditary laws
4.11: Allah (thus) directs you as regards your Children's (Inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of two females: if only daughters, two or more, their share is two-thirds of the inheritance; if only one, her share is a half. For parents, a sixth share of the inheritance to each, if the deceased left children; if no children, and the parents are the (only) heirs, the mother has a third; if the deceased Left brothers (or sisters) the mother has a sixth. (The distribution in all cases ('s) after the payment of legacies and debts. Ye know not whether your parents or your children are nearest to you in benefit. These are settled portions ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Al-wise.4.12: In what your wives leave, your share is a half, if they leave no child; but if they leave a child, ye get a fourth; after payment of legacies and debts. In what ye leave, their share is a fourth, if ye leave no child; but if ye leave a child, they get an eighth; after payment of legacies and debts. If the man or woman whose inheritance is in question, has left neither ascendants nor descendants, but has left a brother or a sister, each one of the two gets a sixth; but if more than two, they share in a third; after payment of legacies and debts; so that no loss is caused (to any one). Thus is it ordained by Allah; and Allah is All-knowing, Most Forbearing.
The shares of inheritance outlined in the Quran do not add up to one, and there is no way to reconcile the shares presented. By contrast, the Quran states that the rules it contains are perfect.
- Wife: 1/8 = 3/24,
- Daughters: 2/3 = 16/24,
- Father: 1/6 = 4/24,
- Mother: 1/6 = 4/24,
- Total = 27/24=1.125
The Quran describes liars as possessing 'lying, sinful forelocks'. The forelock, however, is not a part of brain and hosts no neural activity. While some Muslim scholars have argued that this is a prophetic reference to the prefrontal cortex, the verse does not appear to be describing the individual's brain, but rather appears to make metaphorical metonymic use of the word 'forelock' to refer to the 'lying, sinful' person themselves.
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2443 فَلَكٍ and p. 2444
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 415 يَجْرِىٓ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 313 تَلَىٰ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 15 يَأْتِى
- ↑ Tafsir ibn Kathir 2:29
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1027 رَتْقًا
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 861 دُخَانٍ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 455 جُمِعَ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2866 مُّنِيرً
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2865 نُورًا
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 601 حفظ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2596 ٱنكَدَرَتْ
- ↑ https://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence
- ↑ http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence
- ↑ DNA Evidence That Humans & Chimps Share A Common Ancestor: Endogenous Retroviruses - Youtube.com
- ↑ Professor Ken Miller on DNA fusion events- Youtube.com
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 3032 نسل
- ↑ http://biologos.org/blog/does-genetics-point-to-a-single-primal-couple
- ↑ http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/how-big-was-the-human-population-bottleneck-not-anything-close-to-2/
- ↑ Harrison's principles of internal medicine. (17th ed. ed.). New York [etc.]: McGraw-Hill Medical. pp. 2339–2346. ISBN 978-0-07-147693-5, 2008.
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2321 ف
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 220 بطن
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1357 سُطِحَ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 204 بِسَاطًا
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2371 فِرَٰشًا
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2739 مَهْدًا
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2695 مدد
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 187 بَارِزَةً
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon, Suppliment p. 2994 قَاعًا, Lane's Lexicon p. 1694 صَفْصَفًا
- ↑ Wensinck, Arent Jan (1918). "The Ocean in the Literature of the Western Semites". Verhandelingen der Koninklijke Akademie van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam. Afdeeling Letterkunde. Nieuwe reeks. dl. 19. no. 2. page 14
- ↑ ibid. page 17
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon, Suppliment p. 3012 أَلْقَىٰ
- ↑ Tafsir al-Jalalayn 24:43
- ↑ Tafsir Ibn Kathir 24:43
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon, Suppliment p. 3035 أَنْعَٰمِ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1266 أَزْوَٰجٍ
- ↑ Richard A. Gabriel, The ancient world, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007 P.79
- ↑ Robinson, H. R., Oriental Armour, New York:Dover Publications, 1995, pp.10-12
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1298 سبغ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1298 سَٰبِغَٰتٍ, Lane's Lexicon p. 1347 ٱلسَّرْدِ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 629 حلقة
- ↑ Tafsir of Ibn Kathir for 34:11 (Arabic)
- ↑ Hegra Archaeological Site (al-Hijr / Madā ͐ in Ṣāliḥ) - unesco.org (includes many photographs of the tombs)
- ↑ al-Hijr UNESCO nomination document p.36 (includes detailed site description)
- ↑ History and mystery of Al-Hijr, ancient capital of the Nabateans in Arabia - Arabnews.com
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 280 بيوت
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 1394 مسكن
- ↑ biblehub.com
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 318 تَّنُّورُ
- ↑ Lane's Lexicon p. 2457 فور
- ↑ Trade in ancient Egypt - World History Encyclopedia
- ↑ Mora, C. (August 23, 2011). "How Many Species Are There on Earth and in the Ocean?". PLoS Biology 9: e1001127. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001127. PMID 21886479. PMC:3160336.
- ↑ http://www.answering-islam.org/Quran/Contra/i001.html