Scientific Miracles in the Quran
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In recent times, many Muslim scholars have interpreted certain Quranic verses as being miraculously predictive of modern scientific discoveries and have presented these interpretations as evidence of the Quran's divine origin. Interestingly, no verse contained in the Quran has ever prompted a scientific discovery, and modern Muslim scholars have also generally not tried to argue that this has ever been the case. As such, all the purported instances of miraculous scientific foreknowledge in the Quran have been identified as such only after the science they are alleged to describe has been discovered by independent and unrelated means. Critics have pointed out this weakness and generally hold these so-called scientific miracles to be the product of theological sophistry whereby science is read back into the Quran upon discovery. Critics also maintain that there is no instance in the Quran where a scientific subject has been described with sufficient clarity, specificity, and accuracy as to qualify as anything Miraculous.
In the eyes of historians, the Quran's author(s) almost certainly made no pretensions about predicting modern science. In support of this perspective, there is no Islamic scripture that actually claims that the Quran (or Islamic scripture in general) contain allusions to future scientific discoveries. Consequently, where the Quran makes mention of what are today perceived as topics of scientific interest (such as the wonders of the day and night sky, fauna and flora, or the human spirit), historians suggest that these passages were originally intended to simply inspire awe in their audience by orienting that audience's attention towards the world's many marvels and especially those marvels accessible to individuals living in the harsh, arid, and rocky environment of early 7th century Arabia.
The most popular Islamic voices who have argued for the existence of scientific miracles in the Quran in the West include Harun Yahya, Zakir Naik, I.A. Ibrahim, and Hamza Tzortzis. Notably, in 2013, Hamza Tzortzis published an essay withdrawing his case for scientific miracles in the Quran and stating that the entire endeavor to prove such miracles "has become an intellectual embarrassment for Muslim apologists" and "has exposed the lack of coherence in the way they have formulated" their arguments, noting that "many Muslims who converted to Islam due to the scientific miracles narrative, have left the religion". Zakir Naik's preaching has been banned in India, Bangladesh, Canada, the UK, and Malaysia under anti-terrorism and anti-hate laws. On January 11th, 2020, Harun Yahya was sentenced to 1,075 years in prison for, among other charges, operating a sex cult, sexual assault, blackmail, and money laundering.
Methodology of Islamic theologians
A variety of theological methods are employed by modern Islamic scholars in making the case for any given scientific miracle in the Quran. These methods include what can be described and categorized as dehistoricization, pseudo-correlation, reinterpretation, disambiguation, elective literalism, elective esotericism, and data mining. While there exist any number of alternative approaches and combinations thereof to making the case for any given scientific miracle, the aforementioned methods are, in roughly descending order, the most common. These methods are not mutually exclusive and tend to employed in conjunction with one another in order to strengthen the case being made.
While modern Islamic theologians have employed the various methods discussed here in order to develop cases of scientific miracles in the Quran, philosophical and/or religious justification for the employment of these methods has been scant if at all forthcoming. Critics who have pointed out the problems inherent in the use of some/all of these methods have generally not been responded to or taken seriously by establishment theologians.
The most common practice in making the case for a scientific miracle in the Quran is dehistoricization. Dehistoricization is the process whereby a historical event (in this case a verse of the Quran) is removed from its historical context. Since no Islamic scripture claims to be predictive of modern science, the great majority of scientific miracle cases require a degree of dehistoricization. Muhammad did not, after all, appeal directly to his companions by telling them he could forecast scientific discoveries that would be made more than a thousand years hence, in a future they would not live to see. Similarly, Muhammad did not appeal to his companions by forecasting historical events would be uncovered by future archeological research. If he had done either, the miracle would have been ineffective and gone over the heads of his contemporaries who would not have known what Muhammad was talking about. Indeed, if his contemporaries could have verified the scientific or historical remark made by Muhmmad, it would not have been a miracle (as this would mean that Muhammad could also have learned of the fact through similar means).
As a result, verses have to be dehistoricized and subsequently reframed as forecasts of future scientific (or archeological) discoveries. For instance, when the Quran states the Earth has been 'spread out' as a 'bed' and that mountains have been cast down upon the Earth as stabilizing 'stakes', it intends to inspire its contemporary audience's awe by directing its attention to a common mythological notion that this audience held to be true. Islamic theologians thus take this and similar verses and reframe them as predictions.
In cases where the scientific or historical fact to which Muhammad is alluding is described accurately, modern Islamic theologians are required to engage in a double dehistoricization: firstly, the description must be reconceived as a prediction, and, secondly, the possibility of Muhammad acquiring the relevant fact through other than divine means must be precluded.
To achieve the latter, Islamic theologians will variously argue that the relevant fact was not known to anyone in the 7th century, that Arabia was prohibitively isolated from global currents of knowledge, that Muhammad in particular was isolated from knowledge in general, that Muhammad was illiterate and therefore incapable of accessing knowledge even if it were available to him, and/or that the mental capabilities of ancient persons were significantly less than those of modern persons.
Critics and historians have been unaccepting of either of these forms of dehistoricization and assiduously maintain that historical texts can only be understood in their historical context, that there is no fact accurately described in the Quran that was not also known in the 7th century, that Arabia evidently had access to global currents of knowledge, that there is no reason to believe that Muhammad was uniquely isolated from knowledge, that Muhammad was probably not illiterate, that if Muhammad was illiterate he would still be capable of significant learning in what was a primarily oral culture, and that there is no scientific evidence that ancient persons circa the 7th century were drastically less intelligent than modern persons.
Another common practice employed by Islamic theologians in making the case for scientific miracles in the Quran is drawing what are best described as pseudo-correlations between the Quran and scientific fact. This is achieved through: the use of decontextualized quotations from scientific publications, scientific and grammatical jargon in a confounding manner, metaphorical interpretations of science, equating the common historical observation of a phenomenon with its modern scientific explanation, as well as inaccurate or incorrect understandings of the relevant scientific fact.
In the case of the Quran 'predicting the stabilizing role of mountains', for instance, Islamic theologians suppose that the 'roots' of a mountain in some sense stabilize the Earth crust, whereas modern science does not hold this to be the case.
Critics suggest that where the science correlated to Quranic verses by Islamic theologians has been misunderstood, misapplied, or misrepresented, the case made for the scientific miracle is invalid.
It is also generally necessary for Islamic theologians to flout interpretive tradition (classical tafsirs) in their reading of the portion of the verse said to describe a scientific fact. The interpretations flouted sometimes include those provided by Muhammad himself and, much more frequently, those provided by Muhammad's companions (the Sahabah).
Specific examples of the types of shifts involved in this type of rereading include: taking verses from passages descriptive of the hereafter and interpreting them as descriptive of the modern era, taking verses from passages descriptive of supernatural or miraculous events and interpreting them as descriptive of eternal laws of nature, and taking verse from passages descriptive of particular historical events and interpreting them as eternal laws of human society.
This type of reinterpretation is particularly common in the West, where translations of scripture are often reworded in a manner that is distinct from the original Arabic text and which better accommodates or, at times, directly endorses the desired reinterpretation.
Critics and historians hold that this type of rereading strains credulity for its neglect of textual and historical context and, where it influences translations, have often condemned it as a form of academic and intellectual dishonesty. Critics also point out that flouting the early exegetical tradition, especially where it relies on and reiterates the perspective found in the narrations of Muhammad (hadiths) or the sayings of his companions (aqwal al-sahabah), undermines traditional Islamic doctrine which holds the word of Muhammad as final and which very often elevates the theological and exegetical statements of Muhammad's companions to status comparable to Muhammad's own words.
The verses that appear to be best suited as candidates for scientific miracles are those verses comprised of words and phrases whose meaning is opaque and cryptic or whose meaning has simply been lost to time. Islamic theologians have most often used verse of this variety in order to make cases for scientific miracles in the Quran.
Critics have argued that if there is no justification for the highly specific reading projected upon an essentially ambiguous verse, then this cannot be considered miraculous.
Sometimes, the verses presented by Islamic theologians as scientific miracles are verses containing a metaphor which taken literally appears to describe some scientific phenomenon. In many such cases, the same or similar metaphor or metaphorical word is used elsewhere in the Quran in a context which clarifies its meaning and where a literal reading results in no sensible interpretation.
Critics have argued that this effectively arbitrary and rare reading of metaphors in literal terms is tendentious and a practice which capitalizes on chance usage rather than anything that could seriously be described as an intended meaning on the part of the author(s).
One recurring category of scientific miracles presented by Islamic theologians derive from compiling counts of individual root-words set in various grammatical forms throughout the text of the Quran. Words which happen to appear an equal number of times or in some interesting ratio are then presented as scientific miracles of a mathematical sort. Many variations on this sort of miracle case exist, with some theologians going to extraordinary ends to compile larges quantities of numbers calculated using various aspects of verses including their letter count, position in the surah, position the Quran, and other such aspects in order to find relationships.
Critics have argued that these purported miracles draw on the laws of probability and reveal nothing supernatural about the Quran.
A situation slightly different from standard cases of scientific miracles arises on occasion where the Quran describes a scientific phenomenon in relatively clear terms, albeit incorrectly. While these situations are not frequently attended to by modern Islamic theologians, they have at times insisted that while the apparent meaning of the verse may appear incorrect, they are in fact true in some esoteric sense. Despite being of an evidently lower caliber, these cases are also at times advanced as scientific miracles.
Philosophical concerns with methodology
Certain philosophical considerations have often been proposed as being of interest for those who either take the idea of scientific miracles in the Quran seriously or who are considering whether they should.
- The proposition that Humans have access to a miracle from God/gods would be incredibly consequential or at least extremely interesting if true, and thus deserves to be thought about with great seriousness and scrutiny. Otherwise, any number of contradictory parties would be able to claim that their respective scriptures contained scientific miracles.
- A god/gods desiring to present humankind with a miracle of scientific foreknowledge would need meet this justifiable scrutiny with a miracle so uniquely clear and sound as to distinguish itself from false miracle claims, else the god/gods would have failed in their purpose, which is a supposed impossibility. It would indeed have to be impossible to have reason to deny such a miracle - this is the meaning of certainty.
- A scriptural statement containing a scientific statement would be evident as a miracle if and only if it is at once: (1) unambiguous and intentional, (2) ascertainably unknowable at the time of revelation, and (3) scientifically sound, because:
- (1) An ambiguous or unintentional scientific statement could be correct only by accident
- (2) A scientific statement knowable at the time and place of revelation would not be a miracle
- Additionally, it may be that none of the above criteria can be established regarding any scientific statement because: (1) language is inherently ambiguous, (2) it is impossible to prove something is not an accident, and (3) history is fundamentally inaccessible. Nonetheless, one can and probably will disregard the skepticism necessitated by this last bullet point in their analysis.
Purported scientific miracles
Below are the most-often discussed of the many so-called scientific miracles of the Quran
Quranic Miracle: Universe is steadily expanding
Some modern Muslims scholars are of the opinion that the Quran had already told that universe has been constantly expanding even before this was discovered by modern science.
They present the following verse as their proof:
Muhammad Assad: AND IT IS We who have built the universe with [Our creative] power; and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.
Zakir Naik writes regarding this verse:
Critics point out that the term “lamūsi‘ūn لَمُوسِعُونَ ” in this verse is a noun and not a verb, and it describes "God" and not the "heaven" (i.e. the term “wa-innā lamūsi‘ūn وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ” means "God is the Expander", and not "the Universe is Expanding").
Thus the earlier Quran translators translated it as:
Sahih International: And the heaven We constructed with strength, and indeed, We are [its] expander.
Moreover, the root word of لَمُوسِعُونَ (lamūsiʿūna) is و س ع (waw-sin-ayn). However in the Quran, this word and its derivatives have been used in the meanings of "Encompassing".
This is seen in the following verses:
Sahih Intl: My Lord encompasses all things in knowledge
In another verse the word "احاط" (encompass) has been used instead of "wasi'a"
Sahih Intl: and that Allah has encompassed all things in knowledge.
ٖFor this reason, a few translators used this figurative meaning:
Abdul Majid Daryabadi: And the heaven! We have built it with might, and verily We are powerful.
Critics also point out that exactly the same grammar has been used in the next verse 51:48.
In this verse, the word الْمَاهِدُونَ (spreader/smoother) has exactly the same grammar  as the word لَمُوسِعُونَ (i.e. expander) in the previous verse, but no one translated it as "earth is steadily spreading out".
Critics point out that some modern Quran translations have altered the meaning of 51:47 in three ways:
- They have translated the Quranic word “heaven سَّمَاءَ” as “universe”, which is not correct.
- They have taken the Arabic noun “We are the expander”, but turned it into the verb “The Universe is expanding,”
- And then they added the entirely superfluous adverb “steadily” in an attempt to insert into the Quran additional ideas that are not actually there.
With these three translational liberties, they have completely changed the meaning of this verse from a simple description of Allah’s creation of the heavens into a scientific statement of Hubble’s expanding universe that is not actually contained in the Quran.
Universe consists of "Space", while Quranic heaven is a solid canopy which could not expand
Critics also point out that according to science, the universe consists of space and galaxies are travelling away from each other in this space and thus it is considered as an expansion of the universe.
However, the Quran heaven is a solid canopy:
Who has made the earth your couch, and the heavens your canopy; and sent down rain from the heavens; and brought forth therewith Fruits for your sustenance; then set not up rivals unto Allah when ye know (the truth).
The word translated as canopy is binaa or binaan ( بِنَاء ). This word means "building". Here, the heavens are described as a multi-story building over the earth. There are seven layers or stories to this building called the heavens. The heavens are built on a foundation called "the earth". The tafsir of Ibn Kathir, among others, elaborates this:
And according to the tradition in Sahih Bukhari 4:56:557, prophets are residing upon these solid heavens along with their nations, and solid things don't expand.
The Big Bang
Many modern Islamic scholars have argued that Quran 21:30 and Quran 51:47 describes the Big Bang. Historians, by contrast, have shown that the first verse describes a version of world egg creation myth which was widely believed in earlier times through much of the world. According to the archetype of the myth, the Earth and heavens both existed in an egg-shaped structure which split (or hatched) to become the separate Earth and heaven, ushering in the era of mankind. In many versions, the first man appears as this earth-heaven structure 'hatches' open. The verse states that "We clove them" (dual pronoun 'huma'), not "We clove it", thereby indicating that the Earth and heavens are two distinct entites after the cloving, and the next verse speaks of mountains being placed on Earth. The other verse uses the Arabic word mūsiʿūna, which means makers of ample room or of width. The identical verb form and grammar is used for the last word in the next verse, the spreaders (al mahidoon الْمَهِدُونَ), which is from the root mahada مهد which means to make plain, even, smooth, spread a bed. Also from this root is the noun mahdan, meaning a bed or even expanse, which appears in other verses about the creation of Earth where it was made a bed in the past tense. The tense is clear in those verses to mean a past event rather than an ongoing process (Quran 20:53,Quran 43:10 and Quran 78:6-7).
A universe from smoke
Many modern Islamic scholars and popular voices, such as Harun Yahya and I. A. Ibrahim, have argued that Quran 41:11contains an accurate account of the formation of stars and early phases of the Universe. Critics have pointed out that the phrasing is extremely vague and that in the context where the verse is found, a chronology of creation is described that in no way aligns with the history of the universe: the Earth is described as being created first, along with all that is present on its surface, and only thereafter is the starry sky created. Only the heaven, but not the Earth are described as being smoke. Moreover, they point out, the Earth is addressed by Allah in the verse in question as distinct from the heaven, which alone is described as smoke. Several other criticism, described in the main article, have also been made.
Black holes and pulsars
Some modern Islamic scholars and popular voices, particularly Harun Yahya, have argued that the Quran 77:8 and Quran 86:1-3 contain an accurate description of black holes and pulsars. Quran 77:8 speaks of the stars being "obliterated" or "effaced" and Quran 86:1-3 speaks of a star of "piercing brightness". Critics have argued that neither of these verses imply anything other than the eschatological disappearance and observable brightness of stars, neither of which statements is particularly noteworthy. Indeed, it is said, that the sense of the word used in Quran 77:8 which means "effaced" even suggests a solid firmament above the Earth upon which the stars are some sort of sprinkled light. Critics also point out that the same verse (Quran 77:8) is interpreted by Islamic figures, including Yahya, to describe both black holes and pulsars and that this is plainly impossible as the two are in no way the same phenomenon.
Corpus: So when the stars are obliterated,Daryabadi: So when stars are effaced.
The speed of light
Some modern Islamic scholars and voices, particularly Dr. Mansour Hassab-Elnaby, have argued that Quran 32:5 contains the information or is in some distinct manner cognizant of the fact that light in one day travels a distance roughly equal to 12,000 lunar orbits. Hassab-Elnaby's case is developed using abstruse mathematical calculations that employ various figures including the thousand-year period described in the verse and the distance the moon could be said to travel about the Earth if the Earth were stationary. Critics have argued that this case is a textbook example of numerological obscurantism whereby any text in existence can be taken and 'shown to be of divine origin' on the basis of various 'rare' numeric patterns which inevitably appear in any sufficiently complex data and limited set (similar techniques when applied to works such as Shakespearean plays and Virgil's Georgics, for instance, have revealed similarly 'dazzling coincidences').
Seven heavens, seven earths
Some modern Islamic scholars have argued that Quran 65:12 contains a scientifically-sound insight in its statement that there exist seven heavens and seven entities 'like' the Earth. Various interpretations to this effect include the reading of the 'seven heavens' as descriptive of atmospheric layers and the reading of the 'seven earths' as descriptive of the layers of the Earth's surface or the number of continents. Critics have pointed out that no classification of the layers of the Earth's atmosphere holds there to be seven layers, that no classification of the Earth's layers holds there to be seven layers, that the seven-count of continents is moreso a cultural/historical artifact than anything grounded in geographical or geological fact (with Eurasia, for instance, being a more geologically-sound candidate for a continent) , and that the 'seven earths' spoken of in the Quran in all likelihood reference the seven stacked disks of which Earth is the top-most that are described extensively in many places scattered throughout hadith literature and the sayings of Muhammad's companions.
The descent of Iron
Some modern Islamic scholars and voices, including Harun Yahya, have argued that Quran 57:25 provides a scientifically-sound description of the origin of the iron that is present on Earth. Historians have pointed out that the myth regarding the heavenly-descent of iron vastly predates Abrahamic scriptures and can be found some three millennia prior to the advent of Islam among the ancient Egyptians who describe Iron as 'ba-en-pet' or 'metal from heaven'. Similar descriptions have also been found among the even more ancient people of Mesopotamia.
Critics have pointed out that this is a clear case of 'elective literalism'. The term used to describe the 'descent' of Iron is 'anzala', which is frequently used elsewhere in the Quran where it describes cattle, garments, food, and even the people of the book (Jews and Christians) as being 'sent down' by some deity. In all these cases and many others, anzala is not taken literally.
Some Islamic scholars have also argued that the occurrence of the word 'iron' in the 26th verse of the surah is miraculous, given that Iron's atomic number is 26. Critics have argued that this nothing more than a coincidental product of numerological datamining and have asked why the surah number could not also have been 55 or 56, rather than 57, to also match Iron's atomic weight, which is 55.845.
Chest-tightening in hypoxic environments
Many modern Muslims scholars have argued that Quran 6:125 contains a scientifically accurate description of Hypoxia, altitude sickness, or the general phenomenon of lower oxygen levels in the air (thus called 'hypoxic air') at higher altitudes. Critics have pointed out that any Arab living in the general vicinity of Muhammad would have been familiar with the difficulty involved in breathing at higher altitudes, and that Muhammad particularly would have been aware of this phenomenon if accounts of his regularly climbing mountains just prior to proclaiming himself a prophet are to be trusted. Critics have also argued that if one takes the verse literally, the description provided is inaccurate, as the difficulty breathing at higher altitudes is not due to the constriction of one's chest, although this is what one may think based on the sensation of shortened breath which is experienced in hypoxic environments. Indeed, in the lower air pressure of higher altitudes, gasses and air actually expand, and it is also the case that one's chest would expand a very small amount in this environment as there is less atmospheric compression being applied to your body (as opposed to someone, say, at the bottom of the sea, who would instantly be crushed). Persons born and raised in higher altitudes have actually been recorded to have enlarged chests which compensate for the hypoxic environment by allowing the individual to breath in larger quantities of air in order to acquire the necessary quantity of oxygen.
Daryabadi: So whomsoever Allah willeth that he shall guide, He expoundeth his breast for Islam; and whomsoever He willeth that he shall send astray, He maketh his breast strait, narrow, as if he were mounting up into the sky, thus Allah layeth the abomination on those who believe not.
Mountains stabilize the Earth
Many modern Islamic scholars have argued that the Quran's description of mountains as 'pegs' that have been 'cast down' into the Earth's surface in order to 'stabilize' it contains a scientifically-sound insight related to the phenomenon of isostasy. Relevant verses include Quran 31:10, Quran 78:6-7, and Quran 15:19. Isostasy is the phenomenon where some mountain exist atop a similar accumulation of crust underground. Both the mountain and the underground accumulation of crust form when tectonic plates collide, with some crust matter being propelled upward (becoming the visible mountain) and, sometimes, a similar quantity of crust matter being propelled downward. Critics have pointed out that while there is at times an underground accumulation of crust-matter below mountains, scientists have pointed out that this phenomenon does not in any way stabilize the Earth's surface. Indeed, modern science has discovered that mountains (and their underground underbellies) are in fact a direct product of the instability of the Earth's surface, which form when tectonic plates collide and generate destructive earthquakes. Critics also point out that there is no sense to the idea that mountains have been 'cast down' into the Earth as 'pegs', for mountains have not descended from the sky. However, they continue, this formulation does make sense in the context of Islamic cosmology, which holds that the Earth is just the top-most of seven terrestrial disks stacked atop the back of what is known as the Islamic Whale. The instability of the non-stationary whale, it is said, causes the terrestrial disks to be unstable, which must then be fastened to the back of the whale using mountain-pegs.
Daryabadi: Have We not made the earth an expanse. And the mountains as stakes?
Yusuf Ali: Have We not made the earth as a wide expanse, And the mountains as pegs?
Daryabadi: And the earth! We have stretched it out and have cast thereon mountains firm, and We have caused to spring up thereon everything weighed.
Yusuf Ali: And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.
Some Islamic scholars and authorities, including Dr. Al Zeiny, PhD, have argued that Quran 13:41 and Quran 21:44 contain a scientifically-sound insight in their supposed implication that the quantity of land is continually diminishing due to the movement of tectonic plates. Critics have pointed out that there is no scientific evidence that suggests the ongoing diminishment of the quantity of land. They point out, for instance, that over the past billion or so years, land has not diminished, and that, for instance, whereas 29.1% of the Earth's surface is presently land, 200 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period, the supercontinent Pangea covered only about a quarter of the Earth's surface. Historians have also objected and argued that these verses should not be read literally and that they should only be understood in their historical context and in their plain sense where what is described is simply the reduction of the territory possessed by Muhammad's opponents due to his ongoing conquests.
Yusuf Ali: See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? (Where) Allah commands, there is none to put back His Command: and He is swift in calling to account.
Yusuf Ali: Nay, We gave the good things of this life to these men and their fathers until the period grew long for them; See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? Is it then they who will win?
Some Islamic scholars and voices, such as Harun Yahya, have argued that the Quran's statement regarding the creation of Adam, the first man, from clay contains a scientifically-sound insight regarding the chemical composition of the human body. Relevant verses include Quran 38:71-72, Quran 37:11, and Quran 23:12. Critics and historians have argued that where the Quran describes the formation of the first man from clay, it is merely repeating the common ancient myth widespread throughout the Earth well before Islam. Critics have also argued that the description in the Quran is not scientifically-sound because whereas the Quran says that the first human was made from clay, modern science holds that clay only 'match-makes' the RNA and membrane vesicles involved in the production of living organisms and does not form a building block.
Daryabadi: And assuredly We created man of an extract of clay.
Pickthall: Verily We created man from a product of wet earth;
Yusuf Ali: Man We did create from a quintessence (of clay);
Many modern Islamic scholars, including particularly Zakir Naik, have argued the Quran's description of the production of semen 'from between' the sulb (spine) and tara'ib (ribs) in Quran 86:6-7 contains a scientifically-sound insight. Very diverse explanations, all mutually exclusive although nearly all depending upon a rereading of sulb to mean 'loins' rather than 'ribs', have been advanced by Islamic scholars explaining how this is the case. Interestingly, classical scholars continually argued over the meaning the words contained in this verse as well. For instance, Ibn Kathir describes tara’ib as a female organ, while other classical tafsirs argue that it belongs to the male. Critics argue that there is no singular, cogent interpretation of this verse whereby it can be said to be scientifically sound. It appears, they argue, that this verse is simply repeating Hippocrates' theory regarding the production of sperm from between the backbones and ribs from the 5th century which had become popular in the region by the advent of Islam. Hippocrates taught that semen comes from all the fluid in the body, diffusing from the brain into the spinal marrow, before passing through the kidneys and via the testicles into the penis. Critics and linguists have also pointed out that there is no reasonable linguistic case to be made for the rereading of sulb, which incontrovertibly meant 'ribs' in the 7th century, as 'loins'.
Sahih Intl: He was created from a fluid, ejected, Emerging from between the backbone and the ribs.
Pickthall: He is created from a gushing fluid That issued from between the loins and ribs.
Yusuf Ali: He is created from a drop emitted- Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs:
Many modern Islamic scholars have argued that the presentation of Embryology found in the Quran is both scientifically-sound and predictive of modern science. In this domain, Islamic scholars and authorities, including Dr. Al Zeiny, Dr. Zakir Naik, Dr. Ibrahim Syed, Dr. Sharif Kaf Al-Ghazal, Hamza Tzortzis, and Harun Yahya, have all drawn on the works of the Western doctors, particularly Dr. Keith Moore (lecturer and researcher at King Abdulaziz University; alongside his co-author Abdul Majeed al-Zindani) and Dr. Maurice Bucaille (personal physician to the family of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia), who were collectively sponsored with millions of dollars by the Saudi government and who produced science publications which purported that Islamic scriptures contained scientifically sound information. Relevant verses include Quran 22:5, Quran 23:12-14, and Quran 40:67. Critics have time and again responded to the various attempts made by Islamic scholars and doctors sponsored by the Saudi government to reconcile modern science with Islamic scriptures. The Daily Telegraph reported in 2010 that Bucaille's "assertions have been ridiculed by scientists". Beyond the various scientific errors within Islamic scriptures compared to the findings of modern science that critics have pointed out, historians have generally accepted that the incorrect embryological ideas present in the Quran largely derive from ancient sources including, most prominently, the works of Galen, a 2nd century Greek physician whose ideas had widespread and lasting influence.
All things in pairs
Some Islamic scholars have argued that Quran 51:49, Quran 36:36, and similar verses contain a scientifically-sound insight regarding the existence of all living things in male and female pairs. Critics and historians have pointed out that the idea that all living things and things in general (as implied by Quran 51:49) exist in pairs simply draws on the widespread ancient motif of the duality of all things in nature. The most prominent example of this motif is perhaps the ancient Chinese Yin-Yang principle of duality, with similar concepts being described in the Rig-Veda and elsewhere. Critics have also pointed out that modern science has revealed that it is not the case that all living things exist in pairs. Exceptions, they argue, include the schizophyllum commune and the various and numerous asexual, hermaphroditic, and parthenogenetic organisms that populate the Earth.
Many modern Islamic scholars, all drawing on the work of Saudi-financed researcher and lecturer at King Abdulaziz University Dr. Keith Moore, have argued that the Quran 96:16's mention of a 'lying, sinful forelock' contains a scientifically-sound insight regarding the area of the brain that is employed in the activity of lying, namely, it is said, the prefrontal cortex (which lies below one's forelock). Historians and linguists, by contrast, do not view this passage in the Quran as making any pretensions about predicting modern science. They view the phrase 'lying, sinful forelock' as a simple metaphorical and metonymic reference to the individual described in the preceding verse who is being dragged by his forelock rather than a reference to the portion of the brain it resides on top of - the intent of this usage, they suggest, is not that the forelock is literally lying (which is evidently impossible) but simple to say that the person, of whom this forelock is a part, is lying. Critics have also pointed out that there is plenty of modern research utilizing fMRI technology which militates against the idea that lying takes place in the pre-frontal cortex, including the work of Professor Jia-Hong Gao of Peking University (trained at Yale and MIT), Professor Scott H. Faro, Professor Frank A. Kozel (trained at Yale), Professor Daniel D. Langleben of the University of Pennsylvania, and Professor Stephen M. Kosslyn of Harvard University (trained at Stanford). This research shows that the portion of the brain responsible for lying may in fact be the anterior cingulate gyrus, which lies in the medial portion of the brain in frontal-parietal area and not beneath the forelock.
Fresh water-salt water barriers
Many modern Islamic scholars argue that Quran 25:53 contains a scientifically-sound insight regarding the 'separation' of fresh and salt water in estuaries, where fresh water rivers meet the salty ocean. Critics and historians argue that this verse is merely stating what any person viewing the convergence of a river and ocean with their unaided eye would observe - namely, that the two bodies of water maintain distinct coloration. The additional proposition made in the verse regarding the existence of some sort of barrier that causes the maintenance of this difference in coloration, they continue, is simply what a premodern person inclined to believe in metaphysical entities might hypothesize as the cause. Critics point out that there is, in fact, no such 'barrier' present in estuaries and that the persistent distinction between the two bodies of water is due a difference in the density of fresh and salt water - even this distinction, however, can be compromised when other factors, such as wind and stronger tidal forces, are at play which cause the bodies of water to mix with one another at a greater rate.
Daryabadi: And it is He who hath mixed the two seas: this, sweet ond thirst quenching; that, saltish ond bitter; and hath placed between the twain a barrier and a great partition complete.
Yusuf Ali: It is He Who has let free the two bodies of flowing water: One palatable and sweet, and the other salt and bitter; yet has He made a barrier between them, a partition that is forbidden to be passed.
Purported historical miracles
Claims that the Qur'an miraculously preserves information from history generally involve the figure of Pharaoh and ancient Egypt. This section looks at the more common claims.
Preservation of Pharaoh's body
The medical Doctor Maurice Bucaille is best known for his claim about the mummified body of the Pharaoh Merneptah (d. 1203 BCE), whose body is on display in a museum in Cairo. Merneptah's father was the more famous Rameses II, who died at the age of 90 and suffered from severe arteriosclerosis (nevertheless, Rameses is more commonly associated with the Exodus story). Bucaille claimed that the body of Merneptah, whom he assumes was the ruler in the Exodus story, shows signs of death by drowning, which in turn is claimed to be compatible with the story in Quran 10:90-92. Bucaille examined the mummy when it was temporarily moved to Paris as it was rapidly deteriorating.
However, Merneptah suffered from arthritis and atherosclerosis and died as an old man. Further, the salt crystals in his body which was the basis for Bucaille's claim of death by drowning is simply a result of Egyptian burial and preservation practices. Natron, the drying agent used in ancient Egypt is a mixture of baking soda and salt. It is therefore entirely expected to find salt in mummies. In fact, secular historians do not even regard the Exodus to have been a historical event, let alone identify which Pharaoh was involved in order for him to be a sign for later generations, since there is a total absense of independent evidence to support the story as described in the scriptures.
Title of Malik (King) vs Pharaoh in the stories of Joseph and Moses
In the Quranic stories of Moses, the leader of the Egyptians is called Pharaoh (Firaun). However, in the Quranic stories of Joseph, the Egyptian ruler is always called "the king" (al-malik). In this way the Qur'an is said to avoid an anachronism of the Biblical parallels, in which the book of Genesis calls the ruler Pharaoh even in the story of Joseph set hundreds of years earlier.
Critics point out that the most obvious reason for the different Quranic titles is that the author thought Pharaoh was the actual name of the Egyptian ruler and not a title borne by many rulers in Egyptian history. In every case he is simply called Firaun without the definite article, "al-". In contrast, the several instances mentioning the ruler in Surah Yusuf use the definite article, al-malik (the king).
While the pharaoh at the time of the exodus story is traditionally believed to be Rameses II, it is unclear exactly when Joseph is supposed to have lived (secular historians generally consider neither Joseph nor Moses to be historical figures). Sometime during the era of the New Kingdom, Second Intermediate Period, the pharaoh title became the form of address for a person who was king. The earliest confirmed usage of pharaoh as a title is for Akhenaten (reigned c. 1353–1336 BCE), or possibly Thutmose III (c. 1479–1425 BCE).
The miracle claim is somewhat inaccurate regarding its claims about the Bible given that the Joseph parallels in Genesis chapters 39-41 in fact use Melekh (king) and Pharaoh interchangably. Compare for example Genesis 39:20, 40:1, 40:6, 41:46, and 47:11.
Pharaoh's claim to divinity
Aside from controversies concerning exactly in what sense, when and by whom the pharaohs were considered to be divine, Jewish traditions in the centuries before the Quran maintained a trope that the pharaoh made such a claim for himself. These were based on Rabbinic exegesis of two verses in the Biblical book of Ezekiel.
The earliest known Rabbinic tradition of this nature occurs in the Mekhilta of Rabbi Ismael (2nd century CE). The pharaoh is one of four Biblical figures together chastised in a number of sections for claiming to be a god.
We see similar exegesis occuring a number of times in the midrash Tanhuma, a name given to three texts, of which the relevant one is the Yelammedenu (also known as Tanhuma B), though also occuring in later texts such as Exodus Rabba. The earliest date for the final redactive layer of the Tanhuma Yelammedenu is the eigth or nineth century CE. However, its first phase seems to have existed by the sixth century. See for example Midrash Tanhuma Vaera 9.
Another midrash on this topic from the Yelammedenu, occurs in Midrash Tanhuma Bereshit 7.
Yet another exegesis, this time of Exodus 7:15 occurs in Midrash Tanhuma Vaera 14 as quoted by Prof. Scott Noegel.
- The Rationalizer: Top scientists comment on the Quran (video playlist, Interviews with quote-mined scientists who supposedly approved the so-called scientific miracles)
- Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, "Does the Quran contain scientific miracles?", 8/21/2013 (archived from the original), https://web.archive.org/web/20190416194024/https://www.hamzatzortzis.com/does-the-quran-contain-scientific-miracles-a-new-approach/
- "Zakir Naik's colourful, controversial past", Livemint, 7 July 2016, http://www.livemint.com/Politics/nEgC4RcrRkydW33OMxbvdN/Zakir-Naiks-controversial-past.html.
- "Foreign Media On Zakir Naik, 'Doctor-Turned-Firebrand Preacher'", NDTV, 15 July 2016, http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/foreign-media-on-zakir-naik-doctor-turned-firebrand-preacher-1431875.
- Reuters Staff, ed, (1/11/2021), Turkish court sentences TV preacher to more than 1,000 years in jail - state media, , Reuters, 1/11/2021 (archived from the original), https://web.archive.org/web/20210131004740/https://www.reuters.com/article/turkey-court-preacher-idUSL4N2JM23C
- Taylan Bilgic, Turkey Sex Cult Chief Sentenced to More Than 1,000 Years in Jail, , Bloomberg, 1/11/2021 (archived from the original), https://web.archive.org/web/20210111124141/https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-11/turkey-sex-cult-chief-sentenced-to-more-than-1-000-years-in-jail
- وسع awsa'a - Lane's Lexicon page 3052 and page 3053
- Active Participle Form I Corpus Quran Verse 51:48
- بِنَاء binaa - Lane's Lexicon page 261
- Tafsirs 2:22
- مهد mahada - Lane's Lexicon page 2739
- Hippocratic Writings (Penguin Classics, 1983) pp. 317-318
- Sameer Rahim (8 October 2010). "Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science by Jim al-Khalili: review". The Telegraph.
- "Genesis Chapter 39 בְּרֵאשִׁית" mechon-mamre.org
- Patmore, Hector M. (2008) Adam, Satan, and the King of Tyre: The reception of Ezekiel 28:11-19 in Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity, Durham theses, Durham University pp. 170-171. Available at Durham E-Theses Online: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/2381/
- See also Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 15.11.1 - Sefaria.org
- Midrash Tanchuma introduction - Sefaria.org
- Myron B. Lerner, "The works of Aggadic Midrash and Esther Midrashim" in Eds. Sefrai et. al. (2006) The literature of the Sages: Second Part Netherlands: Royal van Gorcum and Fortress Press, p.150
- "See, I have set thee in God’s stead to Pharaoh (Exod. 7:1). The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: The wicked Pharaoh boasts that he is a god. Make him realize that he is an insignificant being. Indeed, I will make you appear as a god to him. Whence do we know that he claimed to be divine? It is said: My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself (Ezek. 29:3). Therefore, he will look at you and say: “Surely this one is god.”"
Midrash Tanhuma Vaera 9 Safaria.org
- Midrash Tanhuma Bereshit 7 Sefaria.org
- Footnote 1 in Why Pharaoh went to the Nile by Prof. Scott B. Noegel Accessed 19 Oct 2021
- It is also translated on the Sefaria site: "And the Lord said unto Moses: “Rise up early in the morning, and stand before Pharaoh; lo, he cometh from the water” (Exod. 8:16). Why did Pharaoh go to the waters early in the morning? Because the wicked one boasted that since he was a god, he had no need to go to the water to relieve himself." Midrash Tanhuma Vaera 14 Saferia.org