Scientific Errors in the Qur'an
A common criticism of the Quran 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. Apologetic 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 (falak - a rounded course), 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 (13:2 is the only exception) and is always mentioned with that of the moon, which does in fact orbit the Earth each month, and to a naive observer seems to traverse the sky each night when it is visible.
This is in a passage about night and day. Right after describing the change from day to night, it says 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 َغْرِبِكِ).
The alternative view was that it 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.
Apologetics 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 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.
Here the sun running / pursuing its course (yajree يَجْرِىٓ) is something that the author expects people to have seen (another problem for the galactic orbit interpretation).
The Arabic word translated "follow" is primarily defined as to follow, go or walk behind, follow in way of immitation, 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 propagates 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, people with better astronomical knowledge had to invent apologetic 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. Plenty of evidence shows that the early Muslims understood the verse in this straightforward way. Critics typically ask why an all-knowing being would use such misleading verses that mimic the misconceptions and legends prevalent at the time if one of the alternative explanations is correct.
Earth and Heavens Created in Six Days
The Earth first formed around 9 billion years after the Big Bang. The Qur'an, however, repeats the prevailing Middle-Eastern myth that the Earth and heavens were formed in six days.
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 apologetics appeal to its alternative meaning, 'time period'. The author makes no attempt to convey long time periods or to distingish his description from the prevailing Middle-Eastern creation myths in this regard, which feature six literal days of creation (for example in the Bible we have, "Evening came and morning came: The first day." - Genesis 1:5).
Neither the universe nor Earth were formed in six distinct long periods of time. There is no attempt to poetically indicate the vast duration in which the universe has developed, which has taken place over the past 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 in fact 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 in 41:11-12 which immediately follow the verses shown 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 our 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. Yet the Qur'an describes the Earth being fully formed before the stars.
Verse 41:12 says that lamps (or more specifically, stars in the similar verse Quran 37:6) were placed in the lowest of the seven heavens. But before there were seven heavens, while heaven was just smoke, the Earth already existed according to verse 11, and the Earth's creation and completion in the preceeding days is described in verses 9-10 already discussed in the previous section. The creation sequence is: Heaven and Earth; seven heavens; the lowest heaven adorned with stars.
The verse below further confirms that heaven was only made into seven heavens when the Earth already existed according to the Qur'an.
The word lamps (masabeeha مَصَٰبِيحَ) in Quran 41:12 and Quran 67:5 with which Allah adorns (zayyanna زَيَّنَّا) the lowest heaven would obviously have to include any luminous bodies such as the stars, as does kawakibi (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 websites attempt to reconcile the Qur'anic description with modern science by denying that the word 'Then' in the verses above indicate sequence, and instead claim that it means 'moreover'. They claim this despite the fact that these words (thumma in 41:11 and 2:29, and fa in 41:12 - all translated as 'Then') generally are used to indicate sequence. In other contexts thumma was sometimes used to mean 'moreover', which is generally clear from those contexts, but the passages quoted above describe a process - the creation of the heavens and Earth.
Earth and Heavens were Torn Apart
Apologetics typically claim that the following verse is compatible with the Big Bang theory. According to this theory, the Universe was formed about 13.8 billion years ago due to a rapid expansion from singularity. The earth was formed 4.54 billion years ago from accretion of debris that surrounded the precursor of the Sun. There was no "separation" of the "joined" earth and heavens. In cosmic egg myths, an egg-like structure was split into two halves, the lower half forming the earth and the upper half forming the heaven. The verse itself assumes that the listeners are familiar with the concept.
This separation can be read in the context of verses that mention something "between" the fully formed earth and the heavens (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 says that "We clove them" (dual pronoun 'huma'), not "We clove it", thereby indicating that the Earth and heavens are distinct after the cloving. To imagine that verse 21:30 describes the big bang, the atomic particles that would later form the Earth would at the beginning have to be separated from those that would go on to form everything else in the universe. This bears no resemblance to scientific cosmology, wherein the material that forms the Earth passed through at least one earlier generation of star, 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, while in the apologetic interpretation of the previous verse 'the Earth' refers merely to atomic particles at the time of the big bang.
Universe was Made from Smoke
Looking once again at the verses discussed above, it is worth pointing out that there was no stage of 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 literally means smoke, as from a fire). Nor did the Earth and heavens each "come" as separate entites at any point of time. Earth is a part of this Universe and has developed within it.
Apologetics nevertheless typically interpret 'smoke' as the primordial state of the universe after the big bang. However, the verse indicates a time when just the heaven, but not the Earth was smoke. Furthermore, the Earth and its mountains are clearly mentioned as already existing in the previous two verses (Quran 41:9-10 discussed above).
This verse claims there are seven Earths.
A hadith reveals that these are seven Earths stacked above each other.
The number, like seven heavens, might have come from a misunderstanding of mythology from classical antiquity in which there were seven moving planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the sun and moon). If instead we take it to mean seven actual planets the Qur'an is still wrong. According to astronomers, there are eight ordinary planets and five dwarf planets, which leaves the grand total at thirteen in our solar system. Modern astronomy also has found thousands of other planets in other solar systems and Cosmologists estimate that hundreds of billions of stars and planets exist in the universe.
The universe consists of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars. While the Qur'anic notion that the heaven of stars is covered by six further heavens might currently be unfalsifiable, 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 Islamic websites claim that these are seven layers of the atmosphere. However, verse Quran 37:6 says that stars are in the nearest heaven. There are only 5 not 7 principal layers to the Earth's atmosphere, and likewise only 5 not 7 major layers to the Earth itself.
The similar size and distance of the sun and moon
The Qur'an has statements about the end of the world that are much as one would expect if the author believed the sun and moon to be of similar size and a similar distance from Earth.
The word translated "are joined" is Arabic jumi'a, a verb which means to collect together, gather together, bring together. Given that this would actually require the moon to travel 98 million miles away from Earth and into the sun, which dwarfs it by over 600 times in diameter, it seems vastly less fitting as an apocalyptic event than if the ancient conception of the cosmos was correct. For this reason critics see it as far more likely that the author had such a misconception about the sun and moon.
Moon was Split in Two
The Qur'an and Hadith claim that the moon was miraculously split into two pieces and then, presumably, put back together again. There is absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever that the moon has ever been split into two. Since the moon is visible to half the planet at any given time, we should expect to see numerous accounts from different parts of the world attesting to this event if it actually happened. The Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Chinese and Indians had avid astronomers who should have seen this event and recorded it in their histories. The absence of historical record from other civilizations, contemporary to Muhammad, is a strong indication that this event never happened.
The Moon's light
A popular claim is that the Qur'an has knowledge 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". It instead uses the word "noor" (nooran نُورًا) which simply means a light, and in another verse, muneer (muneeran مُّنِيرًا), which means giving light and is from the same root as noor. This is vague enough to be interpreted either way, so is not necessarily an error, but nor can any special knowledge be claimed.
Noor appears again (this time as a participle muneeran مُّنِيرًا) in a similar verse about the moon:
Perhaps the best example of a verse showing the noor simply means light and not reflected light can be found in 33:45-46 in which a lamp is shining light with the exact same Arabic word as in 25:61 above (muneeran مُّنِيرًا):
In Lane's Lexicon of classical arabic, this 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 Qur'an verse 10:5 (quoted above) that describe the moon with this word, he says, '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]'. It is important to note that this 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 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 this verse to show that Allah is the "light" of the universe. Clearly the author is not implying that Allah reflects light from another source but is the source of the light.
Meteors are Stars Shot at Devils
The Qur'an says that stars (kawakib ٱلْكَوَاكِبِ) / lamps (masabih مَصَٰبِيحَ) adorn the heavens and guard against 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. In the following verse, the Qur'an claims that Allah uses stars as missiles to ward away devils. This repeats a common Arab myth at the time the Qur'an was first recited.
The same Arabic words are used at the start of verse 67:5 as in 37.6 (زَيَّنَّا ٱلسَّمَآءَ ٱلدُّنْيَا), except the stars are described as lamps. Clearly the lamps that 'beautify the heaven' refer to stars (and perhaps also the 5 visible planets), which are always there. Meteors are generally not much larger than grains of sand and are only visible for a second when they burn up, generating light in the Earth's atmosphere after millions of years in darkness.
In Sahih Muslim we have a hadith confirming that the pursuing flames / missiles in the two verses refer to what we would call meteors which they saw shooting across the sky.
Sky is a Tent/Dome
A common myth at the time of the Quran's composition was that the sky or heavens were held up with pillars. Many Bedouin people living in Arabia imagined the sky as a large tent covering, similar to the tents they used.
In another verse, the author says that the sky / heaven is a covering that can be removed.
Sky is a guarded canopy
This verse seems to relate to the verses about devils chased by shooting stars (meteors) that guard the lowest heaven. See for example Quran 37:6-10 discussed above, in which we find a noun meaning guard from the same Arabic root (hafiza) as the verb in this verse). Somewhat ironically, the things supposedly guarding the sky / heaven can actually 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.
Sky can Fall Down on People
The Quran describes the sky/heaven as a ceiling held up by Allah that can fall to earth or fragments break off and fall on someone. The earth's atmosphere is simply made of gas and outer space is not a solid object.
The Heavens can be Rolled Up
These verses imply that the heavens have two dimensional surfaces.
The Stars Will Fall
The Qur'an says that the stars will fall (inkadarat ٱنكَدَرَتْ) along with other 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. Even if stars were to somehow move close to light speed across the sky their motion would be imperceivable to the naked eye as many visible stars are hundreds of light years away. Neither would we be able to see anything that the stars are doing recently (when we see a star 100 light years away, we are seeing it as it was 100 years ago).
The Cause of Shadows Changing Length
Shadows are produced when the sun's light is blocked by an obstacle. It is the Earth's rotation that causes these shadows to change size and lengthen. However, verse 25:45 seems to say that the reason that shadows lengthen rather than being stationary is because Allah has made the sun their guide. Yet if the Earth did not rotate (so shadows were stationary) and then the Earth was made to rotate (so that they could lengthen and draw in) the sun would not need to be made to do anything different in either case. Thus the most likely explanation is that the verse represents a geocentric worldview where the sun moves across the sky, guiding the shadows.
Then the next verse, 25:46, says that shadows are drawn towards Allah which has no scientific meaning.
Ignorance of the 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. See also the Fasting and Prayer Requirements Near the Poles section below.
Furthermore, when reading this verse one could wonder in what sense day and night each have an orbit. See Geocentrism and the Quran regarding that question.
The Qur'an presupposes a creationist view of life on earth. Its understanding of the history of human life is incompatible with the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans have evolved from prior life forms, over the course of millions of years, through natural selection . While some Muslims 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.
Human Creation from Clay
The Qur’an states that 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 nor our common ancestry with apes and primates.
Similarly, it says that the first man was created from dust (turabin تُرَابٍ).
First Humans: Adam and Eve
The Qur’an and Hadith contains stories concerning the 'first humans' and how all people are descended from these two earliest ancestors. It states that humans were created in a garden (paradise) and then brought to earth fully formed. This view of the origins of human life is clearly contradicted by DNA evidence and the numerous fossils of pre-homosapien species that lived on earth for millions of years before modern humans first evolved.
Another verse is clear on literal descent of humanity from one man by sexual means (i.e. semen) after Allah had created him out of clay.
The word translated “seed” in Pickthall’s translation is nasl نسل, which means progeny (i.e. descendants).
Some Muslim creationists will claim the view of two ancestral “parents” is consistent with recent scientific findings that show a common female and male ancestor of all modern humans. They often exploit the confusion caused by scientists referring to these genetic ancestors as Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam. These two individuals bear little resemblance to the Quranic account as they are simply the last common male and female ancestors of everyone alive today, not of all humans in history. The Qur'an clearly states Eve was created later than Adam, however Mitochondrial Eve lived some 50,000 to 80,000 years earlier than Y-chromosomal Adam. Genetic evidence overwhelmingly indicates that humans diverged from earlier species as a population, not a single couple. .
The Qur'an and Hadith contain statements about bodily fluids and the stages of development of the human embryo. Many of these descriptions are vague and unscientific. Most bear a striking resemblance to similar descriptions found in the Jewish Talmud and the ideas of ancient Greeks such as Galen, including their errors.
Sperm Originates Between the Backbone and Ribs
The Qur'an states, incorrectly, that semen originates from somewhere between the backbone and ribs. Today we know sperm comes from the testicles and semen from various glands behind and below the bladder, which is not between the backbone and ribs.
Embryo is Initially Formed from Semen
The author of the Qur'an describes the initial formation of a human embryo out of fluid emanating from the man (and possibly also of the woman), which is placed in the womb. This reflects the contemporary, but incorrect, view that semen is the material from which the embryo is initially formed, as taught by Hippocrates, Galen, and the Jewish Talmud. In fact, semen is the vehicle for the sperm cells, one of which fuses with a woman's ovum in her fallopian tube, and the resulting cell divides and travels back into the womb for implantation.
While English translations mention a "drop of seed", or "drop of sperm", the Arabic word in question is nutfah, which literally means a small amount of liquid, a euphemism for semen.
No Mention of Female Ovum
The Qur'an's author did not mention the role of the ovum in human reproduction and appears to have no knowledge of it. This verse fails to mention the important role of the female egg, or ovum, plays in the reproduction of humankind. It implies that reproduction is caused simply by the male semen. The human ovum is very small, though visible to the human eye, and it's purpose wasn't understood in the 7th century. Again, we are left wondering why an all-knowing deity would omit such information.
Humans Created from a Clot of Blood
The Qur'an and Hadith depict that humans are formed from a clot of blood after an initial semen stage. There is no stage in embryonic development where humans are formed from a clot of blood. This description is likely influenced by an unscientific and primitive understanding of human reproduction based on observations from an early-term miscarriage and a woman's menstrual cycle. While in modern times some apologetics seek to use alternative meanings for the relevant word, the mere fact that it certainly can mean clotted blood (which is the unanimous interpretation in the classical tafsirs), in a passage about a biological process (formation of a baby), is seen by critics as a major weakness in what should be a perfect description.
Gender of a Baby is Decided After it Becomes a Clot
The Qur'an says that an embryo is transformed from semen into a clot, then it is shaped, and then the male or female sex is determined. Modern genetics 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 word is fa, as also in the previous conjunction, which indicates sequence (i.e. 'and then'). The tafsirs also take this view, and it is very much reflected in a sahih hadith found in Bukhari and Muslim:
Narrated Anas bin Malik:
Bones are Formed before Flesh
The Qur'an explains that the bones of a human embryo are formed first and then covered up with flesh. Modern scientific studies and research have shown that the cartilage models and muscles start to form at the same time and in parallel. Muscles have started to form before the cartilage models start to be replaced with bone.
The Qur'an again parallels the influential Greek physician Galen, who says:
All Organisms are Created in Pairs
Not every creature procreates or reproduces through male and female sexual relationship. The whiptail lizard in the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, and South America, is an all-females species which reproduces by parthenogenesis. Viruses reproduce using a host's DNA and are neither female nor male. Bacteria reproduce by cell division. Fungus can reproduce either sexually or asexually. Many species of plants also reproduce either asexually or through pollination.
Fetus is in Three Layers of darkness
The word butun (بطن) means belly/abdomen/midriff, though some translators like to use the more specific word "womb". Tafsirs interpreted the "three darknesses" as the placenta, womb (uterus) and belly. There are in fact many more 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). The idea of three membranes around the fetus (chorion, allantois, and amnion) was taught by the highly influential Greek physician, Galen. Perhaps the Qur'anic author is simply repeating this idea, which applies only to the embryonic membranes.
The allantois is a sac-like structure which becomes part of the umbilical cord, hardly a 'a darkness' for the embryo. The other two membranes, the chorion and amnion, together form the amniotic sac, which is quite thin and transparent.
Functions of the Heart
In several verses, the Qur'an ascribes understanding and thinking to the heart instead of the brain.
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 nowhere 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. This makes the Qur'anic claim that milk is 'pure' and 'agreeable' to those who drink it dubious in the eyes of critics.
Geology and Meteorology
The Earth is Flat
Facing Toward Mecca
The Qur'an tells all Muslims to face in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca when they pray. Critics point out a number of problems when applied to a round Earth, where they must align with a great circle around the globe passing through Mecca. You are simultaneously facing opposite its direction as the circle can be traced behind you. On the opposite side of the Earth every direction is equally facing towards and away from Mecca. The Americas are mostly in the hemisphere of this antipode. There, the rhumb line method is often preferred because the great circle method lines across the continent diverge before they start to converge when they enter the hemisphere of Mecca, causing people north and south to face away from each as they pray. Astronauts in Earth orbit or (one day) on the Moon and Mars would require even more contrived solutions.
Fasting and Prayer Requirements Near the Poles
The Qur'an commands Muslims to fast from eating and drinking 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 observable by 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 contrived rules have been proposed by Muslim scholars for those at such latitudes to try to accommodate the inconvenient fact that we live on a round Earth.
A similar issue exists for the five daily prayers. Anyone living in the polar region would not be able to make a sunset or sunrise prayer for much of the year. Even for cities further south like Aberdeen in Scotland, the gap between the night prayer (Isha) and the dawn prayer (Fajr) is around 4 and a half hours in June, so anyone following these rules has to interupt their sleep around 3.20am, then go back to sleep before getting up for the day. Critics argue that such issues would not have crossed the mind of a 7th century man in Arabia, who believed that everyone experiences sunrise and sunset when he does, and where it would be perfectly natural to arise at dawn any time of the year.
Earth is Spread Out and Flat
The author of the Qur'an mentions to his audience 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 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.
The Earth is a carpet
The arabic word (bisaatan) used here means a thing that is spread or spread out or forth, and particularly a carpet.
Earth is 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 2:22 is used as a verb in 51.48 in the sense of to spread (the first word translated spread here).
Earth is a Bed
The Earth is described like a bed (or carpet in Yusuf Ali's translation) in verse 20:53, and similarly Quran 43:10. The arabic word (mahdan) suggests something completely flat and spread out on the ground and not rolled up for storage.
Sometimes the same Arabic word is translated as expanse as in this verse. Together with the next verse, the Earth is a thing spread out and pegged down by mountains.
The same root word is used as a participle at the end of 51.48
The Earth was stretched out
Earth is a Level Plain
The Qur'an describes a time in the future when mountains will be removed. Verse 18:47 uses an arabic word (baarizatan) that means "entirely apparent" to describe the Earth at this time. Verse 20:106 uses words (qa'an and safsafan) that mean a level plain. This description assumes the Earth is already flat and level with only the mountains giving it shape. The author here appears to have no knowledge that the Earth is round and not level.
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 (thus cannot be described as a "barrier"), is not permanent, and the different salinity levels between the two bodies of water eventually homogenize. The Qur'an however erroneously says that the seperation between the two types of water is absolute and permanent.
Mountains Prevent Earthquakes
Modern geology has discovered that large plates in the crust of the earth are responsible for the formation of mountains. Called Plate tectonic these massive plates meet and the pressure between them pushes up the crust forming mountains but also causing earthquakes and faults. the Qur'an propagates the idea that mountains are crucial in stabilizing the earth when, in fact, the earth would be much more stable and have less earthquakes if mountains did not exist.
Mountains Cast into the Earth
Mountains are usually formed through the movement of lithosphere plates. They were not thrown down into the earth.
The word he has cast is alqa (lam-qaf-ya), which in this form means to throw or cast down and is the same word used in 12:10 when Yusuf is cast down into the well, and in 20:20 when Moses casts down his staff, which becomes a snake.
Chest Contracts with Altitude
This verse says that your chest cavity gets smaller with higher altitude when in reality the opposite is true.
Earthquakes are a Punishment from God
Some of the highest death tolls from natural disasters in the last decade were in Muslim countries. In fact, natural disasters do not differentiate between Muslim or non-Muslim nations nor are they controlled by a divine being. Earth quakes are extremely common along tectonic fault lines and are not a punishment for human behavior but the byproduct of natural forces.
Hurricanes and Blizzards are a Punishment from God
Two of the deadliest blizzards in history happened in Muslim countries. However, the Qur'an regards those natural disasters as violent punishment from God. Weather events are now understood scientifically and can even be predicted in advance.
No Evaporation in Water Cycle
Some apologetics claim 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. However the crucial step of evaporation of water into the air is never mentioned. The Quran seems to describe a linear process orchestrated by Allah as opposed to a cyclical process.
Mountains of Hail in the Sky
Hail forms in cumulonimbus clouds when updrafts raise water droplets to an altitude where they freeze. However, the Qur'anic author seems to have imagined 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 Uses Thunderbolts to Smite People
The author describes thunder and lightning in a way typical of ancient mythology and imagined that they strike those whom Allah wishes to smite.
More light on this verse comes in the following hadith, graded hasan (good) by Dar-us-Salam. Muhammad believed the sound of thunder was an angel striking the clouds, which he drives along with a piece of fire.
Ants Recognize Humans and Speak with Each Other
Ants typically communicate with each other using pheromone which are a chemical signal. While scientists have also discovered that ants make some noises, nothing has ever indicated that the brains of ants could produce such complex communication as is depicted in the Quranic story of Solomon and the ants. However, the Qur'an tells us that not only does an ant warn her fellow ants of the approach of a large army of humans, but it recognizes one of the humans as Solomon. Then, he also understands her speech. How an ant could even see that far or have known the identify of Solomon is never explained.
Only Four Types of Cattle
While the Qur'an states that Allah has provided four kinds of cattle (eight including male and female) for use by humans and for eating, in fact there are more than a dozen kinds of cattle. The word "cattle" in 39:6 is al-ana'ami, meaning 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, oxes and camels, so in fact the author of the Qur'an is aware only of four kinds of cattle useful for humans (horses, mules and donkeys are considered distinct from cattle in Quran 16:5-8). This neglects other types of cattle from the regions outside of Arabia such as reindeer, which are important to people in northern latitudes.
Horses Created as Transportation
It took thousands of years of domestication and cross-breeding before 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. Even today feral horses are descendants of once domesticated horses that aren't tamed or used for human transportation.
All Animals Live in Communities
The Qur'an is emphatic that all animals live in communities. Some animals such as the jaguar or leopard are well known for being solitary creatures, rarely meeting in pairs and only to mate. They do not live in communities and routinely fight each other over territory.
There are also species even whose young are not raised as a family, which lay eggs and abandon them before hatching. Sea Turtles 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. An even better example is the Carolina anole, which is a lizard species. They lay just 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 translation attempts to interpret umamun (community / nation) to mean genus (group of species, plural: genera). Even supposing this to be the correct interpretation, it would represent the pre-scientific understanding in which every creature can be neatly categorised, ignorant of the on-going process in which sub-groups of many species are diverging and gradually evolving into new species.
Bird Flight is a Miracle
Today, engineers and scientists are well aware of the aerodynamic properties of a bird's wing. It 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 evolved over millions of years to acquire this feature. The author of the Qur'an, however, says that 'nothing' holds up the bird except the miraculous power of Allah.
Wall of Iron between Two Mountains
The author of the Qur'an repeats 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. Even with satellites and near universal exploration of the world, no archaeologist has ever found even a trace of such a 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.
Christians Worship Mary as Part of the Trinity
Christians have never worshipped Mary as part of the Trinity. The author of the Qur'an seems to be mistaken in his understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity and the theology of Christians.
Further evidence that the author believed Mary was part of the Christian trinity appears in Surah Al-Ma'idah when the subject of the trinity is explicitly addressed:
It is particularly noteworthy that no other entity is mentioned (i.e. the holy spirit, which is the 3rd member of the trinity in actual Christian doctrine). Verse 75 even uses the statement that the Messiah and Marium both ate food to demonstrate that they are normal humans and not a part of a divine trinity with Allah.
Mary Confused with Miriam
Each of the following verses narrates the story of Jesus's birth. But Mary the mother of Jesus was born in the first century BCE and is not related to Moses and his family whose story is set 1500 years earlier. Miriam, not Mary, was the sister of Moses and Aaron and daughter of Amram (Imran).
"Daughter of 'Imran" is not a mere figure of speech about her ancestry - Mary's mother is described as the wife of 'Imran, and two verses earlier it is conspicuous that "the Family of 'Imran" is mentioned after other famous prophets:
Jews call Ezra the Son of God
Historically, Judaism has been a strict form of monotheism. But the author of the Qur'an accuses Jews of polytheism by stating that they call Uzair (Ezra) the son of God in the same way that Christians see Jesus as the son of God. The author of the Qur'an seems to be unaware of the different theological implications of these two terms between Judaism and Christianity.
Coat of Mail was Invented during the Reign of David
There is no evidence that coats of chainmail (as distinct from scale armour) existed during the time of David (10th century BCE). The earliest example of a coat of mail was Celtic and its invention is commonly credited 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. Such artifacts would have been easily preserved and found by archeologists if they had existed much earlier. Some 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 armour in general.
In the Qur'an, David is taught by Allah how to make coats of iron chainmail (sabighatin سَٰبِغَٰتٍ) and to measure the chainmail links (as-sardi ٱلسَّرْدِ) thereof. It says people should be thankful for this knowledge which has been passed down from him.
Crucifixions in Ancient Egypt
There are no references from any culture anywhere in the world to crucifixion as a method of execution before 500 BCE, where they started to appear in several middle eastern cultures. However, the Qur'an tells of crucifixions at the time of Joseph (approximately 2000 BCE) and Moses (approximately 1500 BCE).
Ancient Egypt has been extensively studied in archaeology. While there is hieroglyphic evidence of people impaled through upright stakes in ancient Egypt, this is a distinct execution method from the crucifixion on palm trees in the Qur'anic story. Palm trees are far too thick to be used as upright stakes for impaling a person from above, so no-one would choose palm trees for such a purpose. Rather, the Egyptians would have to impale the victim to the side of the palm tree trunk in the Qur'an's anachronistic tale.
Samaritans existing in ancient Egypt
The Qu'ran claims that Moses dealt with a Samaritan during his time, however they did not exist until over half a millennium after this even supposedly occurred. The term Samari itself comes from the city of Samaria, an archaeologically confirmed city which was built by King Omri in around 870BC, nearly 700 years after Moses is supposed to have existed.
These verses concern the story of the golden calf in the time of Moses. It seems that Muhammad may have been confused because there is another Biblical passage in Hosea 8:5-6 about a much later golden calf that the Samaritans worshipped after the time of Solomon.
Pharaoh or Pharaohs
Geographically, the Coptic land of Egypt was adjacent to Arabia. Thus, most Arabs were aware of the preservation method applied by the ancient Egyptian to their Pharaohs. They were preserved intact using methods such as salt to dry the body (hence salt in the body of Ramesses II is not evidence that he drowned in the sea). There were many Pharaohs ranging from numerous dynasties who were preserved in this way, but the Qur'an merely narrated one un-named Pharaoh who would be preserved as a sign.
Critics argue that the Qur'an contains an un-historical, world-wide flood story as found in the Bible and ancient near-Eastern mythology. Apologetics claim instead that the textual evidence supports nothing more than a regional flood in the Qur'anic story of Noah. Critics raise various problems and questions in this claim:
If the flood was not world-wide, why Noah was instructed to spend time building a boat at all when he could have just taken his family out of the flood region with sufficient warning? Animals in the region could have done likewise by the same kind of miracle needed to bring them all to an ark.
Why would Noah have to put every kind of animal on the ark to save them when there would have been more members of most species elsewhere in the world, unaffected by the regional flood?
A mountain, or simply fleeing the region would be enough to save someone from a regional flood, but this verse says nothing can save them.
"The Earth" here could also be translated "the land", but why would Noah only care about a single region of disbelievers?
The story of Noah was a famous myth of a world-wide flood. Critics see a major weakness that the Qur'an makes no attempt to distinguish itself from the same world-wide flood myth that its listeners were familiar with.
Noah's Ark holds Every Species
The legend of Noah and the Ark states that two of each kind of animal was placed on an ark. However, 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 in different climates and requiring specialized diets. There is no way such an event could have occurred.
Nobody before John the Baptist was given the name "John"
The name "John" originates from the Hebrew name Yohanan. Several figures in the Old Testament bore this name. To quote historical examples, there was a high priest named Johanan (3rd century BC) and a ruler named John Hyrcanus (died 104 BC). These people existed before John the Baptist, who was a contemporary of Jesus. But the Qur'an claims that nobody before John the Baptist (Yahya in Arabic) bore his name.
Supernatural Destruction of Cities
The author of the Qur'an thought that outside the vicinity of Arabia there were cities and tribes destroyed by Allah for rejecting his messengers and Islam. In each specific example in the Qur'an (A'ad, Thamud, Midian, the people of Lot, Pharoah's army), the destruction of the disbelievers is sudden and total. Thanks to today's scientific progress, historical cities and tribes are known to have been destroyed by natural disasters, famine, wars, migration, or neglect, often taking years or decades to unfold. But the Qur'an merely repeats a common myth of the ancient Near East whereby these incidents are treated as swift and sudden punishments by God for people's sins.
The suddenness of Allah's punishment is stressed many times in Surah al-A'raf:
In the Qur'an, the people of Thamud were killed instantly by an earthquake Quran 7:78 or thunderous blast Quran 11:67, Quran 41:13-17, Quran 51:44, Quran 69:5. The people of A'ad were killed by a fierce wind for 7 days Quran 41:13-16,Quran 46:24-35,Quran 51:41, Quran 69:6-7. The people of Midian (Midyan) were killed overnight by an earthquake Quran 7:91, Quran 29:36. The towns of Lot were destroyed by a storm of stones from the sky Quran 54:32, Quran 29:34. The actual locations of these towns or tribes are currently unknown, and Midian was a wide geographical area, so claims about their sudden demise may always be unfalsifiable. Many other polytheist towns throughout the world certainly did not experience any sudden destruction.
Humans can Live for a Thousand Years
The oldest verified human life has been a little over 120 years. Based on fossil records and testing on human remains, anthropologists have concluded that human life spans are increasing, not decreasing. Nevertheless, the Qur'an claims that Noah lived for almost 1,000 years.
Non-Existent Mosque in Jerusalem
Muslims claim that Al-Aqsa mosque is mentioned in the Qur'an as the furthest mosque, even though there was obviously no mosque in Jerusalem during Muhammad's time.
The Qu'ran states that the first humans "Adam and Eve" spoke to each other in some kind of language in many suras, and also that God told them the names of everything. Thanks to the modern field of linguistics and the history of language we know that the type of sentences constructed in the Qu'ran would simply not have been able to be spoken by humans until over 100,000 years since 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 Qu'ran.
Allah taught Adam the names of all things. Does he know how long it takes to speak these names? 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. Let us not even talk about the names of non-living objects, galaxies, the countless stars and planets of the universe.
People are Protected in Mecca
The Qur'an claims Allah has made Mecca and the Ka'aba a place of safety. However, historically it has been attacked and seen battles numerous times. Juhayman al-Otaybi, Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, and Abu Tahir al-Janabi killed thousands of Muslim pilgrims in Mecca. Moreover, Yazid Bin Muawiya sent an army battalion to attack Mecca and desecrated the Ka'aba. The universal safety of people in Mecca has no historical evidence supporting it.
Requirement to Learn in Arabic
There are over 5,000 languages and dialects in the world, with less than 4% of the world's population being native Arabic speakers. Moreover, even native speakers of modern Arabic in its various dialects need additional study to be able to understand well the Qur'anic Arabic from which the modern language developed. Even then, both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars acknowledge that the meaning of certain words, and historical allusions in the Qur'an have become lost or have always been uncertain (as indeed anyone familiar with the discussions of competing interpretations in the tafsirs will be aware).
However, it is incumbent upon Muslims to pray in Arabic, recite the Qur'an in Arabic, and understand commentaries and the traditions of Muhammad in Arabic. Critics wonder why an all-knowing being would not provide a more efficient way to send his message to all people on earth and why he does not account for the immense diversity of languages.
Myths and Legendary Tales
While miracles by definition are supposed to defy the laws of nature and scientific explanation, it is interesting to observe some of the strange and absurd myths and legends in the Qur'an.
Humans Transformed into Apes
The Qur'an records a miraculous event where Sabbath breakers are transformed into apes. This account seems to be a mere legend and has no basis in scientific fact.
Golden Calf Statue Moos
A statue of a calf was cast out of ornaments but it could moo.
Tribes Trapped Behind a Wall
The story of Dhul-Qarnayn says that two tribes are trapped behind a massive wall of Iron. According to the Qur'an, these two beast tribes were trapped by Dhul-Qarnayn behind this metal wall and will only be let free on the day of Judgement. Obviously, no such wall has ever been found nor are there tribes somewhere on earth trapped behind it.
The Qur'an states Mary received food sent down from heaven. There have never been any scientifically verified accounts of fully cooked food falling from the sky.
A Stick Transforms into a Serpent
Solomon's Army of Genies and Birds
Throughout history, kings and emperors had commanded huge and small amount of armies. None was ever recorded to possess armies that entirely consists of birds and genies. This story in the Qur'an draws on Jewish folklore.
He spoke with a Hoopoe bird and wanted to punish it for a small error.
The Hoopoe bird was in fact busy eavesdropping on a beautiful female ruler, Queen Sheba.
Jonah Performs Repentance inside a Fish
A human could not live inside a fish and pray.
Muhammad Flies on a Winged Horse to Heaven
It took one week to travel from Mecca to the Farthest Mosque by camel. But the Qur'an reveals that a magical winged horse, called the Buraq, traveled a similar distance in a matter of minutes. No such creature has ever been shown to be real and it seems to only exist in legend and mythology.
Body Parts Speak
The limbs and organs of a human are controlled by the brain that conveys electrical signal through the nervous system. But the Qur'an believes that the limbs can talk and testify against the person, even though they would have no voice, memory or mind of their own.
Sea Split in Half
Moses and the Israelites crossed a sea that was split into two halves.
Solomon can Control the Wind
King Solomon had the authority to manipulate the wind at his command and could fly anywhere he wanted.
A Dead Man Testified against his Killer
Allah told some people to hit a murder victim with a piece of cow to temporarily resurrect him.
Mountains and Birds can Sing Songs
Mathematical Error in 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.
- 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 total does not equal to 1. This error can never be reconciled in any way. 
People use the Forehead to Lie
According to a particularly imaginative miracle claim made by some Islamic websites, the Qur'an identifies which part of the brain is used for telling lies. Brain wave technology has shown that electrical activity happens in the entire brain when a person is being deceitful.
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