The Islamic Whale

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ٍSurat Al-Qalam

The Islamic whale (in Arabic الحوت الإسلامي, al-hoot al-islami), is a mythological creature described in Islamic texts that carries the Earth on its back. It is also called Nun (نون), which is also the name of the Arabic letter "n" ن. Two alternative names of the whale are Liwash and Lutiaya.[1] The details behind the mentioning of this creature are unclear. The name Nun is derived from one of the mysterious letters which appear before the start of certain surahs in the Quran. However, the whale does feature in Hadith and Tafsir explanations of verses. The concept appears to be of Jewish origin.[2]

From all of the earliest Sunni and Shi'a sources today available to us, it does appear that the earliest Muslims believed the letter "nun" in the Qur'an surah 68:1 refers to a giant whale upon whose back the entire earth rests. This belief is attributed by numerous Islamic scholars of high repute to "tarjumaan al-qur'an", Ibn Abbas, and was mentioned thereafter by many trusted Islamic scholars all the way up until the 19th century - though they mention it alongside other different interpretations. According to this cosmography, the earth is (actually the 7 earths are) attached to the back of the whale by means of the mountains, which are pegs to balance the earth upon the Nun's back. This cosmography fits in with a widespread ancient belief that the world was balanced upon the back of giant animals, and the even more primordial belief that the world is surrounded by a giant, unending body of water.

Nun in the Qur'an

The letter nun appears in the verse 68:1[3] as one of the mysterious letters (muqattaʿat) which appear before the start of 29 surahs in the Quran (for example alif lam mim before Surah al-Baqarah). One popular theory to explain these letters was proposed by Theodor Nöldeke, that they were simply an indication of the scribes or owners of the sheets for those surahs when the Quran was first compiled.

Most respected scholars of Islam (Ibn Kathir, At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi and others including Al-Jalalayn) reported the belief that Nun refers to a whale that carries the Earth on its back:[4]

Word-by-word translation of the Qur'anic verse:

  • نٓ - noon - the name of the whale
  • وَٱلْقَلَمِ - wal-qalam - by the pen (wa- prefix means "and" or "by")
  • وَمَا - wa-ma - and what
  • يَسْطُرُونَ - yasturoona - they write

There is not much information in the Qur'an ipso facto, but it is necessary to have an understanding of this idea in order to understand much of the traditional interpretation of the Qur'an and early Islamic cosmography. For example, in verse 21:87 Jonah is called "man of the Nun", which has been interpreted as meaning that he was eaten by a whale[5][6]:

Relevant Quotations

Surah 68 famously begins with the letter nun (نٓ), one of 29 surahs that begin with mysterious letters (muqattaʿat).

نٓ وَٱلْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ
Nun. By the pen and what they inscribe.

A Fish/Whale (l-ḥūt الحوت) which swallowed Yunus (Jonah) is mentioned in the same chapter:

Then be patient for the decision of your Lord, [O Muhammad], and be not like the companion of the fish (الحوت) when he called out while he was distressed.

Another surah mentions al-nun (ٱلنُّونِ), which is how the letter nun (نٓ) is spoken. The verse was understood to be a reference to the creature which swallowed Yunus (Jonah):

And [mention] the man of the fish (ٱلنُّونِ, al-nun), when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, "There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers."


In a lengthy hadith, a Jew tests Muhammad's knowledge on a number of questions. One of these concerns the food of the people of paradise. The word translated "the fish" is actually al-nun. Muhammad answers that they will eat the caudate lobe of liver of "al-nun" (قَالَ ‏زِيَادَةُ كَبِدِ النُّونِ). In addition they will eat a bull which grazes around paradise.

Thauban, the freed slave of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), said:

While I was standing beside the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) one of the rabbis of the Jews came and said: Peace be upon you, O Muhammad. [...] The Jew said: What would constitute their breakfast when they would enter Paradise? He (the Holy Prophet) replied: A caul of the fish-liver. He (the Jew) said. What would be their food alter this? He (the Holy Prophet) said: A bullock which was fed in the different quarters of Paradise would be slaughtered for them. [...]

The Jew said: What you have said is true; verily you are an Apostle. He then returned and went away. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: He asked me about such and such things of which I have had no knowledge till Allah gave me that.

Ibn Hajar in his famous commentary on on Sahih al-Bukhari (Fath al Bari) mentions this hadith regarding al-nun, adding that "Al-Tabari mentioned through al-Dahhak on the authority of Ibn Abbas, he said, 'The bull butts the whale with its horn, so the people of Paradise eat from it, then it is resurrected and the bull is slaughtered with its tail, and they eat it, then it is resurrected and this process continues'".

A number of narrations reported from companions (particularly Ibn Abbas) mention the nun as a giant whale beneath the earth. A giant bull also features in some of these narrations. These concepts can be seen also in early Jewish texts, probably including the Apocalypse of Abraham (2nd century CE). For details of the above, see this article.

Tafsir Ibn Kathir

Ibn Kathir lists three different interpretations and spends a good bit of text on the first interpretation which can be summarized as: In the beginning, Allah created the pen before all else. The pen asked "what do I write" and Allah told it to write the letter ن "nun" or "N" which is actually a whale upon whose back he balanced the entire world:

كَمَا قَالَ الْإِمَام أَبُو جَعْفَر بْن جَرِير حَدَّثَنَا اِبْن بَشَّار حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى حَدَّثَنَا سُفْيَان هُوَ الثَّوْرِيّ حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَان هُوَ الْأَعْمَش عَنْ أَبِي ظَبْيَان عَنْ اِبْن عَبَّاس قَالَ : أَوَّل مَا خَلَقَ اللَّه الْقَلَم قَالَ اُكْتُبْ قَالَ وَمَاذَا أَكْتَب ؟ قَالَ اُكْتُبْ الْقَدَر فَجَرَى بِمَا يَكُون مِنْ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْم إِلَى قِيَام السَّاعَة ثُمَّ خَلَقَ النُّون وَرَفَعَ بُخَار الْمَاء فَفُتِقَتْ مِنْهُ السَّمَاء وَبُسِطَتْ الْأَرْض عَلَى ظَهْر النُّون فَاضْطَرَبَ النُّون فَمَادَتْ الْأَرْض فَأُثْبِتَتْ بِالْجِبَالِ فَإِنَّهَا لَتَفْخَر عَلَى الْأَرْض

"As The Imam Abu Ja'afar ibn Jareer told said (so) told user ibn Bashaar, so told us Yahya so told us Sufyaan ِAl-Thawri so told use Sulimaan who is the sticky-eyed(al-a'mash) from Abi Zabyaan from ibn 'Abbaas who said "The first thing that Allah created is the pen, it said "What do I write" Allah said "write the fate of existence all that will happen from this day until the day of judgement, then Allah created the "Nun" and raised the mist of the water and rent it from the sky and spread the earth on the back of the Nun. The Nun was disturbed and the earth was extended and earth was fixed in place with the mountains, verily they are the pride (of Allah) upon the earth."
Tafsir of Ibn Kathir on the verse 68:1

Hadith from Ibn Abbas, the turjuman ul-Qur'an

Another variation of this hadith from At-Tabari:

عن ابنِ عباسٍ قال أولُ شيءٍ خلق اللهُ تعالى القلمُ فقال له اكتب فكتب ما هو كائنٌ إلى أن تقومَ الساعةُ ثم خلق النون فوق الماءِ ثم كبس الأرضَ عليه

From Ibn Abbas (ابنِ عباسٍ), who said: The first thing Allah (اللهُ) created was the pen (القلمُ), so he told it: "Write!" (اكتب) And it wrote what will happen until the Hour (Day of Judgement), then he created the Nun (النون) above (فوق) water (الماءِ), then He pressed (كبس) the Earth (الأرضَ) on it (عليه).

تاريخ الطبري (Tarikh At-Tabari) [7]

The hadith (narration) by Ibn Abbas (collected by At-Tabari) is considered صحيح (sahih)[7], which means it is considered to be an authentic narration in the traditional estimation of hadith. According to the tradition Ibn Abbas holds a special place in the scheme of hadith preservers, for Muhammad made du'a(prayer) for Ibn Abbas, so that Allah would teach him the true interpretation of the Qur'an. Ibn Abbas was also called turjuman ul-Qur'an (ترجمان القرآن) id est "translator of the Qur'an", because he had such a deep knowledge about the interpretation (tarjama, literally translation) of the revelations.

Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas (raa): The Prophet (saws) embraced me and said, “O Allah! Teach him (the knowledge of) the Book (Quran).”

His narration also explains why mountains are described as pegs in the Qur'an. It is because, according the traditional Islamic cosmology, the earth would fall off of the back of the whale without the pegs that hold it[8]:

78:6 Have We not made the earth an even expanse?
78:7 And the mountains as pegs?

It also explains why Allah's throne is "on water" (because Allah created the heavens out of water):

And it is He who created the heavens and the earth in six days - and His Throne had been upon water

Tafsir Al-Tabari

At-Tabari mentions several interpretations. One of them is this:

هو الحوت الذي عليه الأرَضُون

It is a whale (الحوت), which on it the Earths.

At-Tabari tafsir on 68:1 [9]

In Islamic cosmology there are seven flat Earths, just like there are seven heavens:

Allah is He Who created seven heavens, and of the earth the like of them

They are placed on the whale like flapjacks on a plate, stacked one atop the other.

Tafsir Al-Qurtubi

Al-Qurtubi mentions several interpretations. One of them is that the Nun is the whale which is under the 7th (lowest) Earth:

نۤ> الحوت الذي تحت الأرض السابعة>

<Nun> - the whale (الحوت), which is under the Earth the seventh.

Tafsir Al-Qurtubi on 68:1 [10]

From his use of the word "tahat" or "under" it can be surmised that in Al-Qurtubi's cosmology the earth is seen as flat.

ِTafsir Al-Kabir (by Al-Razi)

بالحوت الذي على ظهره الأرض وهو في بحر تحت الأرض السفلى

..with the whale (بالحوت) which over its back is the Earth and it is in the sea under the Earth (الأرض) the lowest.

Tafsir Al-Kabir on 68:1[11]

Al-Kabir here repeates the idea that there are multiple flat earths balanced on the back of the whale.

ِTafsir Fath Al-Qadir (by Shawkani)

This tafsir is from the 18th century and it mentions several interpretations. One of them is the idea that the world is carried on the back of a whale:

هو الحوت الذي يحمل الأرض

It is a whale which carries the Earth.

Fath Al-Qadir on 68:1[12]

Hadith Al-Kafi (shia)

Hadith Al-Kafi, one of the most prestigious Shi'ite hadith, also confirms that a whale carries the earth upon its back:

H 14813 – From him, from Salih, from one of his companions, from Abdul Samad Bin Basheer, who has reported the following: Abu Abdullah (asws) has said that: ‘The whale which is carrying the earth secretly said to itself that it is carrying the earth by its own strength. So Allah (azwj) the High Sent to it a fish smaller than a palm’s length, and larger than a finger. So it entered in its gills and shocked it. It remained like that for forty days. Then Allah (azwj) Raised it and was Merciful to it, and Took it out. So whenever Allah (azwj) Intends the earth to be in a quake, He (azwj) Sends that (small) fish to that (big) fish. So when it sees it, it becomes restless, so the earth gets engulfed by the earthquake’.
Al-Kafi, vol. 8, part 6, [13]

Tafsir Al-Tusi (shia)

The first comprehensive Shia tafsir[14] says this about the Nun:

وقال ابن عباس - فى رواية عنه - إن النون الحوت الذى عليه الارضون

And said Ibn Abbas (ابن عباس) - in his narration - that Nun (النون) is a whale (الحوت) which on it are the Earths (الارضون).
Al-Tibbyan by Al-Tusi on 68:1 [15]

There is thus attestation of Nun the whale in both the Sunni and Shi'ite tradition.

The Qur'anic Cosmology vis-à-vis Modern Science

The world view evinced in the tasfir is one fundamentally at odds with the modern, scientific understanding of cosmology, earth sciences and geology. The authors of the tafsir tradition and the Qur'an seem to have been operating on the assumption that the earth that the human race inhabits is flat, and moreover it is only one of many different earths. The belief that the world is balanced on the back of a giant cosmological animal is not peculiar to Islam--witness the Hindu tradition of Akupāra (Sanskrit: अकूपार), also know as Kurma and Chukwa, the giant tortoise who supports the 16 elephants who hold up the world, or the Chinese myth of the sea turtle Ao whose sawed off legs prop up the world. The idea of a giant animal holding up the world is a myth found in many pre-scientific cultures.

Other interpretations of Nun

Although many traditional tafsir explain that Nun is the whale which carries the Earth(s) on its back, there are also non-whale interpretations of Nun.

"ن is a letter of the alphabet"

ن ("n") is a letter of the Arabic alphabet called نون (Nun). Many surahs in the Qur'an actually start with mysterious letters that don't have any immediate meaning. This does beg the question of what these letters mean in the first place, and from the perspective of a believing Muslim why Allah would start his revelations out with random letters, but considering it does fall into an accepted Qur'anic pattern it does at least offer an explanation for its presense. Another point is the word following the Nun, "walqalami" "by the pen." The Arabic formation for oaths and swears is to add و "wa" a particle meaning generally "and" to a noun in the majruur (genetive) case, producing the swearing oath: "والله" "wallahi" "by God!" "والشمس" "washamsi" "by the sun!" etc. Since the word "qalam" or "pen" is in the genitive case, it should be understood to be a swear, and this seems likely. It should however be remembered that the original "rasm" or consonantal text for the Qur'an lacked the vowel markings which in this case marks the word as being in the genitive. The original text thus might not have had this word in the genitive case, in which case the meaning would simply be "and the pen." It is thus possible that in the original the "wa" functioned simply as an "and" and the original meaning was thus simply "(the letter) nun, and the pen, and what they write."

"N" in "Ar-Rahmaan"

The word الرحمن, Ar-Rahman, "the gracious" is one of the titles of Allah. The 13th sura starts with three letters الر, and a few suras start with the letters حم (see the comment on random letters at the beginning of surahs above). Putting these together produces الر + حم + ن= الرحمن "Ar-rahmaan."

  • The word Ar-Rahman is nowadays actually written as الرحمان, but in the old Uthmani script it was written without the ا (alif) before the ن. It was added later, to indicate the "aa" vowel.
  • A lot of verses start on other letters however and no convincing argument can be made for producing relevant words from most of them.

Nun means "ink"

A proposed solution for this is that the nun here means "ink" in the nominative case, in which case 68:1 would mean "The ink and the pen and that which they write". This solution suffers from some issues:

  • The Qur'an used the word مِدَادًا (midaadan) for "ink" in the verse 18:109, while it used the word نون (nun) to mean "whale" in the verse 21:87. So it is more probable, that the meaning of nun here is "whale".
  • According to this interpretation, this refers to the ink with which the Qur'an was written. Which is not very fitting, since the primary form of the Qu'ran is recitation according to the traditional narrative. The word "Qur'an" itself means "recitation" in the traditional understanding. It should also be noted, however, that the word Qur'an may have a Syriac antecedent in the word "Qeryaanaa", meaning a lectionary, the book of scripture readings in traditional Christian masses. With this understanding the meaning of "ink" might make more sense.

"Allah knows best"

"Allah knows best", in other words "the author knows what he meant", is an explanation offered by some Muslim commentators, indicating that even with the traditional narrative understanding the mysterious letters at the start of this surah and others is difficult topic.

Modern Muslim Scholarly and Apologetic Views

Today, Muslim scholars[16], realizing how at odds this cosmography of giant animals and oceans is with modern science, have attempted to refute the reliability of the traditional whale interpretation.

It's not in the Qur'an

The letter Nun appears at the start of surah 68 al-Qalam and it was used in spelled out form in another verse 21:87 to mean "whale". However, it is not clearly stated in the Qur'an that Nun is the whale which carries the Earth on its back. The Qur'an speaks about mountains being like pegs, which may support the "whale cosmology" and the two are linked in one version of the hadith. If there is nothing under the Earth, then there is no reason for mountains to function as pegs.

When something is not in the Qur'an, then it doesn't mean it was never a part of Islam. The "5 pillars of Islam" are also not described in the Qur'an and they are considered to be a part of Islam. Islam (or at least the mainstream Islam) is derived from the Qur'an, hadith and sira. At one time, the whale was part of Islamic cosmography until knowledge improved and this became unsustainable.

The strength of the hadith mawqoof

A problem often mentioned in regards to this tradition is that it relies on Hadith rated as "mawqoof" or originating with a companion of the prophet. In traditional Sunni exegisis however this has not normally been seen as an issue:

Besides that, there is a fatwa which says that a mawqoof hadith can be used as evidence if nobody protested against it:

As for taking it as evidence, it means that we have to act according to it and consider it a source of evidence of the Islamic religion. Scholars have ten different opinions regarding that issue. The nearest of them to correctness is that if the opinion of the companion spread widely and no one went against it, then it is a source of evidence and a consensus by silence. However, if it did not spread or some other companions went against it, then it is not a source of evidence, but can be used as secondary evidence.

That is the case if reason and Ijtihaad (personal diligence) can be applied in the opinion of the companion; otherwise (i.e. if his opinion is something that has nothing to do with Ijtihaad like matters of the unseen or the stories of the previous Prophets), then it is regarded as Marfoo‘ (traceable) to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, unless it is known that that companion used to take his information from the books of the People of the Book.

Allaah Knows best

Fatwa 217021 [17]

Only the early scholars believed it

It's sometimes claimed that only early scholars believed this, a strange claim considering that antiquity usually validates rather than invalidates views and doctrines in Islamic theology and jurisprudence. This view is, incidentally, not entirely accurate so far as it goes, as the idea of the earth-bearing whale was mentioned even by the prominent Yemeni Sunni Islamic scholar, Al-Shawkani who died in the year 1834 CE who wrote about it in his commentary on this verse.

Jewish Origins

There are some modern claims that this story/doctrine comes from Judaism. Neither the Bible, Talmud, targums, Mishnah mentions the idea of the earth-bearing whale, although as mentioned above, the Apocalypse of Abraham may be an antecendant to the concept as well as the giant bull. There is also a myth of a big sea monster called "Leviathan" in the Bible:

In that day, the Lord will punish with his sword— his fierce, great and powerful sword— Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea.

Isiah 27:1

It's not clear whether it is a whale or a dolphin or a crocodile (although the word is construed in modern Hebrew to mean "whale", but this has no necessary implication for the word in the time of Isaiah). It was also described as a dragon and serpent. There are many different interpretations. In Judaism Leviathan is sometimes understood metaphorically as a great enemy of Israel. In Christianity Leviathan is sometimes understood as Satan. Neither the Bible nor any extra-biblical Judaic text say that the Leviathan holds the earth on its back, but there is a rabbinic text saying that Leviathan is a flying serpent who has "middle bar of the earth" between its fins:

On the fifth day He brought forth from the water the Leviathan, the flying serpent, and its dwelling is in the the lowest waters; and between its fins rests the middle bar of the earth.

Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer (Ch. 9)

Insofar as the Leviathan is interpreted as being a whale, it is possible that this was the origin of the myth. The entirety of the myth itself though does not appear to be Jewish in origin, rather being an obvious Islam accretion.

Ibn Abbas Receiving the Story from the Jews

Some modern Islamic scholars attribute this story to Jewish sources, basing this idea on the fact that ibn Abbas often took and retold Jewish stories. Interestingly, there exist sahih hadiths which appear to permit exactly this sort of re-narration:

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr: The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Convey (my teachings) to the people even if it were a single sentence, and tell others the stories of Bani Israel (which have been taught to you), for it is not sinful to do so. And whoever tells a lie on me intentionally, will surely take his place in the (Hell) Fire."

This hadith appears to allow taking stories from Jewish sources. In the phrase "of Bani Israel" (عَنْ بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ), the word عن can mean both "from" and "about". Some Islamic scholars contest that this, coupled with the fact that the beginning of the hadith reads, literally translated, "convey from me" (بلغوا عني), it is more likely that Muhammad's message is to narration stories about Jews from Islamic sources.

Fath ul-Bari says in his commentary:

وقيل المعنى حدثوا عنهم بمثل ما ورد في القرآن والحديث الصحيح

And it is said that it means relating traditions about them found in the Qur'an and authentic hadith.

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Ahaadeeth Al 'Anbiyaa', Bab: Ma Thakr 'an Bani Israel [18]

Still, at the same time, some competing Islamic scholars argue that there is not anything wrong with taking Jewish stories from and retelling them for Muslims with an Islamic spin - with modern historians note, In fact, that where a Jewish or Christian narrative on any given topic, the Quran usually reiterates this with some changes made suitable to Islamic theology.

Those scholars arguing against the validity of the biblical references often couple the foregoing hadith with another hadith from Sahih Al-Bukhari, from the chapter entitled “Do not ask the people of the Scripture about anything”:

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) said (to the Muslims). "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.' "

Sahih Bukhari 9:92:460, book 96, chapter "Do not ask the people of the Scripture about anything"

Islamic scholars are again divided on the interpretation of this hadith. Some argue that Muslims should ignore the Jews, because some of the Jewish stories are right, while others are wrong.. Other scholars emphasize the final part of the hadith with says Muslims ought to believe in whatever was revealed to the Jews, and thereby arrive at the conclusion that narrating from them is acceptable.

Imam Shafi'i, for instance, explicitly prohibits retelling the "lies" of the Jewish traditions:

من المعلوم أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم لا يجيز التحدث بالكذب ، فالمعنى حدثوا عن بني إسرائيل بما لا تعلمون كذبه ، وأما ما تجوزونه فلا حرج عليكم في التحدث به عنهم [ ص: 576 ] وهو نظير قوله : إذا حدثكم أهل الكتاب فلا تصدقوهم ولا تكذبوهم ولم يرد الإذن ولا المنع من التحدث بما يقطع بصدقه 

It is known that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not permit speaking lies when he said "relate traditions from the children of Israel", thus it is meant that you relate traditions that you know not to be lies and whatever you find to be compliant with your beliefs then there is no harm narrating those traditions from them. This is in obedience to the Prophet's statement "Do not believe the people of the Scripture or disbelieve them." He did not recommend nor prohibit relating those traditions that are known to not be lies.

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani, Fathul Bari, Kitab: Ahaadeeth Al 'Anbiyaa', Bab: Ma Thakr 'an Bani Israel [19]

Another important quote from Ibn Abbas himself is also found in the chapter “Do not ask the people of the Scripture about anything”, however. This narration appears to cast doubt on the idea that ibn Abbas was in the habit of taking stories from the Jews:

Narrated Ubaidullah:

Ibn `Abbas said, "Why do you ask the people of the scripture about anything while your Book (Qur'an) which has been revealed to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) is newer and the latest? You read it pure, undistorted and unchanged, and Allah has told you that the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians) changed their scripture and distorted it, and wrote the scripture with their own hands and said, 'It is from Allah,' to sell it for a little gain. Does not the knowledge which has come to you prevent you from asking them about anything? No, by Allah, we have never seen any man from them asking you regarding what has been revealed to you!"

Sahih Bukhari 9:92:461, book 96, chapter "Do not ask the people of the Scripture about anything"

It Was Ibn Abbas’s Personal Opinion

Some modern Islamic scholars argue that Ibn Abbas was sharing his personal views on cosmology. In the hadiths themselves, by contrast, Ibn Abbas attributes the story directly to Allah. This would create two primary issues with the credibility of Ibn Abbas from an Islamic theological standpoint, if these Islamic scholars are correct, namely:

1) That lying about Allah is forbidden:

And who is more unjust than he who invents a lie about Allah? Those will be presented before their Lord, and the witnesses will say, "These are the ones who lied against their Lord." Unquestionably, the curse of Allah is upon the wrongdoers.

2) And that attributing stories to Allah without knowledge is forbidden and an act of Satan:

O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. He only orders you to evil and immorality and to say about Allah what you do not know.

A position that entails Ibn Abbas did both of the above things would appear to collide with the Islamic doctrine regarding the unerring reliability of Muhammad's companions as narrators.

The Cosmic bull

As well as the Islamic whale, further cosmic animals supporting the Earth have appeared in Islamic folklore cosmography throughout the early and medieval periods, such as Kujata, the Islamic Cosmic Bull (which some scholars believed was in-between the whale and Earth - as can be seen in this Islamic World Map by Zekeriya Kazvinî). While these are not all necessarily linked to traditions or the Qur'an, they are somewhat problematic to those that propose the Qur'an contains scientific foreknowledge of modern cosmology.

See Also

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  1. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs: "And from his narration on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas that he said regarding the interpretation of Allah's saying (Nun): '(Nun) He says: Allah swears by the Nun, which is the whale that carries the earths on its back while in Water, and beneath which is the Bull and under the Bull is the Rock and under the Rock is the Dust and none knows what is under the Dust save Allah. The name of the whale is Liwash, and it is said its name is Lutiaya'; the name of the bull is Bahamut, and some say its name is Talhut or Liyona. The whale is in a sea called 'Adwad, and it is like a small bull in a huge sea. The sea is in a hollowed rock whereby there is 4,000 cracks, and from each crack water springs out to the earth. It is also said that Nun is one of the names of the Lord; it stands for the letter Nun in Allah's name al-Rahman (the Beneficent); and it is also said that a Nun is an inkwell. (By the pen) Allah swore by the pen. This pen is made of light and its height is equal to the distance between Heaven and earth. It is with this pen that the Wise Remembrance, i.e. the Guarded Tablet, was written. It is also said that the pen is one of the angels by whom Allah has sworn, (and that which they write (therewith)) and Allah also swore by what the angels write down of the works of the children of Adam"
  2. See the section "The possible origins of the Whale" towards the end of the article The Nun whale and it’s origins in early Islam
  3. نٓ وَٱلْقَلَمِ وَمَا يَسْطُرُونَ Nun. By the pen and what they inscribe Quran 68:1
  4. Al-Jalalayn on 21:87
    • ذَا ٱلنُّونِ } صاحب الحوت}
    • {Man of the fish} companion of the whale (الحوت, al-hoot)
  5. And [mention] the man of '''the fish''' (ٱلنُّونِ, ''al-noon''), when he went off in anger and thought that We would not decree [anything] upon him. And he called out within the darknesses, "There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers." Quran 21:87
  7. 7.0 7.1
  8. That is also supported by the tafsir Al-Jalalayn on the verse 78:7 "and the mountains pegs? with which the earth is tied down like tents are tied down with pegs the interrogative is meant as an affirmative."
  13. Page 45. Kitab al-Kafi. Archived at [1].