Shooting Stars in the Quran

From WikiIslam, the online resource on Islam
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Error creating thumbnail: Unable to save thumbnail to destination
Long exposure photograph of a meteor shower

In a number of verses the Quran states that Allah adorned and guarded the nearest heaven with stars, and has made them (the stars) missiles against devils who attempt to eavesdrop on heavenly meetings. The devils are pelted from every side, pursued by a bright burning flame if they overhear anything. These verses were understood by early Muslims as a reference to meteors, or "shooting stars", which in reality are completely distinct from the distant stars, though in the ancient world the concepts were commonly confused. Academic scholars have situated the Quranic concept in the context of ancient near east mythologies about eavesdropping devils and celestial phenomena.

Ancient beliefs around stars and meteors pre-Islam

Humans have always looked up at night and seen the stars lighting the sky. Folklore around stars, before our modern understanding of them as gigantic balls of gases, creating light energy via nuclear fusion,which takes years to reach us, has been creative and varied.

Due to their similar visual size and appearance, many ancient people have confused meteors, which are small rocky masses or grains of debris which burn up after entering the earth's atmosphere as stars streaking across the sky, which is why they were often called shooting stars (as we do in English), broken stars or falling stars.

On a typical night it means you might see just a few meteors an hour streaking randomly across the sky. These are called sporadic meteors. At certain times of the year these numbers can increase to around 100 meteors an hour in events called meteor showers, as Earth ploughs through denser streams of particles in its orbit around the Sun.[1]

Meteors as stars

For example, in Ancient Egypt civilisation, we see a strong resemblance of a shooting star by the author of ‘The Shipwrecked Sailor’ (c. 2000-1900 BC), which recounts a series of many fantastic adventures, including a star falling to Earth:

Dr Lloyd D. Graham has linked this event to being a meteorite,[2] and Aly Barakat has discussed a theoretically catastrophic impact in ancient Egypt.[3][4]

Biblical motifs

Though there are no direct stories of the functions of stars in this way in the bible (or biblical literature), Dr Julien Decharneux notes in his book Creation and Contemplation: The Cosmology of the Qur'ān and Its Late Antique Background, which explores the connections between the cosmology of the Qur’ān and various cosmological traditions of Late Antiquity, with a focus on Syriac Christianity,[5] that there are some general motifs which link to this imagery; such as Talmudic stories of demons listening in to divine councils, and separately fire as weapons from the upper skies. However, there is no direct story for this (yet) found in biblical literature. He notes it is more likely rooted in Iranian mythology:

The image of fallen angels trying to approach the firmament in order to listen to the heavenly council is found in the Talmud. Crone in fact already notes the presence of the motif in the first-century Greek Testament of Solomon. Here however, demons are not chased by fiery missiles, but they themselves look like shooting stars after falling from the sky out of exhaustion. Although a systematic skimming of the sources would probably reveal the presence of the motif of stars chasing demons away from the heavenly council in patristic and Christian apocryphal literature, our sources show that it was still lively in the imagery of the 8th century in the Church of the East. Theodore bar Koni, in his Scolion, discusses the activity of demons:

Can the demons ascend to the place on high anyway? They cannot because they are held back by the power of the one who destroyed them. It is not proper that defiled ones approach the Tent of the Saints […]. The fact that our Lord compared him to a lightning means two things: either that he lasted in his domination for the time of the sight of a lightning, or that when while he was shining as a lightning in glory, he was quenched at once and no traces of his splendour was left.

In fact, the motif of demons chased by flames finds particularly original renderings in the writings of Pseudo-Macarius and that of Syriac mystic authors studied in the second chapter. Building on the motif the inner divine fire that animates the mystic, they hold that it is the flames of this fire that chase away the demons from the heart. All in all, we see that Crone’s hypothesis of an eastern origin and development for the motif is quite likely. The image of fire and flames chasing demons away was not only widespread in Jewish circle as witnessed by the Babylonian Talmud, but it was also quite in use in the Church of the East tradition.
Decharneux, Julien. (2023) Creation and Contemplation: The Cosmology of the Qur'ān and Its Late Antique Background (Studies in the History and Culture of the Middle East Book 47) Berlin: De Gruyter. (pp. 316-317).

Weapons against demons

Many cultures had mythology surrounding meteors and meteorites, with some believing they were weapons, such as in ancient Africa and Mesopotamia:

'The indigenous San people of southern Africa also consider meteorites dangerous: ‘They can kill people, and at the times of the meteor showers when many are moving about and falling, the sky is very bad.’ Echoing themes from Mesopotamian and classical antiquity, the San god Koa xa, ‘lord of the animals’, used a meteorite to fight lions that attacked his son.'
Golia, Maria, Meteorite: Nature and Culture (Earth), Reaktion Books, p. 72

And this may have inspired their use much later in Zoroastrianism, (which was a prominent religion in the Persian (Iranian) empire both before and during the time of the prophet Muhammad/beginning of Islam), where we see the link between stars and meteors as weapons: understanding of the stars set men apart, as evidenced in the emergence of the prophet Zoroaster around 1100 BC. An early Christian text suggests that Zoroaster, ‘a very great observer of the stars’, used his wisdom to his advantage: ‘wishing to be regarded as a divine being [he] began to elicit sparks from the stars and show them to people’. This brief passage and a story recorded in the first century AD have been interpreted as describing a meteor shower that Zoroaster may have anticipated. The oldest portions of Avestan scripture, thought to record Zoroaster’s words, say the sky is made of ‘hardest stone’ and worn as armour by Ahura Mazda, god of creation and cosmic order. Avestan texts contain many astronomical references, and the word asana means both ‘sky’ and ‘stone’. On one occasion, Zoroaster was said to have defeated demons with ‘a massive stone received from God’...
Golia, Maria. Meteorite: Nature and Culture (Earth) Reaktion Books. p. 57

Patricia Crone and other Islamic scholars examine these relationships further in the 2012-13 Qur'an Seminar Commentary (a series of academic conferences) in pages 305 - 317 and 385 - 398.

Islamic literature

The Qur'an

The Qur'an states that stars (kawakib ٱلْكَوَاكِبِ), lamps (masabih مَصَٰبِيحَ) and/or great stars/constellations/zodiac signs (burūj بُرُوجًا) adorn the heavens and guard against devils (shayāṭīn شياطين).

The Qur'an further asserts that Allah has made them (the stars/lamps) missiles to ward away devils (who are believed to be jinn in Islam), who attempt to listen in on heavenly meetings (known as the Exalted Assembly). The Quranic concept has a close parallel in an earlier Jewish development from Zoroastrian mythology. Such myths are best understood as pre-modern attempts to explain the common phenomenon of meteors streaking across the night sky. The relevant verses are below:

Indeed, We have adorned the nearest heaven [al-samā’a l-dunyā] with an adornment of stars [al-kawākibi], And as protection against every rebellious devil [wa-ḥifẓan min kulli shayṭānin mārida][So] they may not listen to the exalted assembly [of angels] and are pelted from every side, Repelled; and for them is a constant punishment, Except one who snatches [some words] by theft, but they are pursued by a burning flame, piercing [in brightness] [fa-’atbaʿa-hu shihābun thāqibun].
And we have, (from of old), adorned the lowest heaven [al-samā’a l-dunyā] with lamps [bi-maṣābīḥa], and We have made such (Lamps) (as) missiles to drive away the Evil Ones [wa-jaʿalnā-hā rujūman li-l-shayāṭīni], and have prepared for them the Penalty of the Blazing Fire.
It is We Who have set out the zodiacal signs in the heavens [laqad jaʿalnā fī l-samā’i burūjan], and have beautified it for the beholders; And (moreover) We have guarded them from every cursed devil [shayṭānin rajīmin]: But any that gains a hearing by stealth, is pursued by a flaming fire, bright (to see) [fa-’atbaʿa-hu shihābun mubīnun].
And we have sought [to reach] the heaven but found it filled with powerful guards [ḥarasan shadīdan] and burning flames [wa-shuhuban]. And we used to sit therein in positions for hearing, but whoever listens now will find a burning flame lying in wait for him. [yajidu la-hu shihāban raṣadan].

The same Arabic words are used at the start of Quran 67:5 as in Quran 37:6 (زَيَّنَّا ٱلسَّمَآءَ ٱلدُّنْيَا), except that in Quran 67:5 the word lamps is used instead of stars. The lamps that 'adorn the heaven' must refer to stars (and perhaps also the 5 visible planets), which are always there.

Stars and visible planets were often called the same thing (kawakib ٱلْكَوَاكِبِ) due to their similar appearance, with stars appearing 'fixed' and planets notably 'moving', usually differentiated by astronomers by labelling them respectively. This is confirmed by astronomers such as Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi who around 964 wrote the astronomical book of fixed stars كتاب صور الكواكب kitāb suwar al-kawākib. As professor David Cook notes, "Eventually in Arabic, najm generally came to mean 'a fixed star' while kawkab 'a planetary body' but there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Planets were believed to be moving stars."[6]

In Quran 67:5, the word translated "missiles" is rujūman (رُجُومًا), which are things that are thrown, especially stones.[7]

In Quran 15:16 the phrase translated "zodiacal signs" is Burūj بُرُوجًا, meaning great stars or constellations; Surah 85 (Al-Burūj) is called The Great Star.

This term also means towers/forts/castles, which a smaller number of mufassirūn have understood it as (towers on the firmament) in their commentaries on the Quran.[8]

The zodiacal constellations were referred to in Arabic as burūj, a term used for fortifications and castles. Quranic usage (15: 16, 25: 61, 85: 1) is in the generic sense of a constellation rather than for the specific twelve zodiacal constellations (Table 5) later recognised in the astronomical texts.

Other relevant verses are Quran 55:33-35 (flame of fire and smoke, though a slightly different context):

O company of jinn and mankind, if you are able to pass beyond the regions of the heavens and the earth, then pass. You will not pass except by authority [from Allah]. So which of the favors of your Lord would you deny? There will be sent upon you a flame of fire and smoke, and you will not defend yourselves.

Note that no astronauts or human-made robots leaving Earth have yet been hit by fire and smoke, both which cannot actually occur in space due to the lack of oxygen.[9]

And Quran 21:32, which many classical commentators have associated with protection against devils:

And We made the sky a protected ceiling, but they, from its signs, are turning away.

Also separately we see in Surah At Tariq: (known as 'the morning star' or 'the nightcomer' - الطارق), in verse 3, using the term (najm/نجم), which also means star,[10] for piercing star.

By the sky and the night comer - And what can make you know what is the night comer? It is the piercing star (najm) - There is no soul but that it has over it a protector.

In al-Wahidi's (d. 468AD / 1075CE) famous Asbab Al-Nuzul (circumstances of revelation - a book/exegesis covering the context each Quranic verse was revealed in), which is the earliest surviving book dealing solely with this subject matter,[11] the circumstances of these few verses are recorded as when Abu Talib (the prophets uncle) saw a shooting star/meteor, with Muhammad/God seemingly confusing the two in this story.

(By the heaven and the Morning Star; ah, what will tell thee what the Morning Star is! The piercing Star!) [86:1-3]. This was revealed about Abu Talib. He once went to visit the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and the latter offered him bread and milk. As Abu Talib was sitting and eating, a meteor fell, filling everything with fire. Abu Talib was scared. He asked: “What on earth can this be?” The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: “This is a meteor that was thrown and it is one of the signs of Allah”. Abu Talib was amazed, and so Allah, exalted is He, revealed these verses.

Though other exegesis admittedly have assign this specific verse (Q86:3) different meanings, such as Ibn Kathir listing two opinions; with Qatadah and 'others' saying it's an illuminating star that only appears during the night (hence is called Tariq in verse Q86:1&2 - named after a visitor unexpectedly turning up at night), and Ibn Abbas (the prophets cousin) saying 'It is illuminating and it burns the Shaytan', perhaps still a confusion of the two phenomena.[12] Other name it as the constellation Pleiades[13], and others Saturn.[14]

And similarly in Q53:1, we are told of the falling/plunging/descending star ((najm/نجم) again).

By the Star when it plunges,

With some prominent commentators such as Ibn Kathir linking this to a star hitting devils, noting early Muslim opinions on the matter: (By the star when it goes down.) Ibn Abi Najih reported that Mujahid said, "The star refers to Pleiades when it sets at Fajr.'' Ad-Dahhak said "When the Shayatin are shot with it.'' [15]

The Hadith

A hadith collected in Sahih Muslim and Sunan al Tirmidhi confirms that the 'pursuant flames / missiles' in the two verses refer to visible meteors which they saw shooting across the sky.

'Abdullah. Ibn 'Abbas reported: A person from the Ansar who was amongst the Companions of Allah's Messenger (pbuh reported to me: As we were sitting during the night with Allah's Messenger (pbuh), a meteor shot gave a dazzling light. Allah's Messenger (pbuh) said: What did you say in the pre-Islamic days when there was such a shot (of meteor)? They said: Allah and His Messenger know best (the actual position), but we, however, used to say that that very night a great man had been born and a great man had died, whereupon Allah's Messenger pbuh) said: (These meteors) are shot neither at the death of anyone nor on the birth of anyone. Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, issues Command when He decides to do a thing. Then (the Angels) supporting the Throne sing His glory, then sing the dwellers of heaven who are near to them until this glory of God reaches them who are in the heaven of this world. Then those who are near the supporters of the Throne ask these supporters of the Throne: What your Lord has said? And they accordingly inform them what He says. Then the dwellers of heaven seek information from them until this information reaches the heaven of the world. In this process of transmission (the jinn snatches) what he manages to overhear and he carries it to his friends. And when the Angels see the jinn they attack them with meteors. If they narrate only which they manage to snatch that is correct but they alloy it with lies and make additions to it.
Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: "We were with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), while he was sitting with a group of his Companions, when they saw a glowing shooting star. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: 'When you saw the likes of this during Jahiliyyah, what would you say about it?' They said: 'We would say that a great man died, or that a great man has been born.' The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: 'It is not shot due to the death of anyone, nor his coming into life. Rather when our Lord [Blessed is His Name and Most High] decrees a matter, He is glorified by the bearers of the Throne. Then He is glorified by the inhabitants who are below them, then those below them, until such glorification reaches this Heaven. Then the inhabitants of the sixth Heaven ask the inhabitants of the seventh Heaven: "What did your Lord say?" He said: 'So they inform them; then the inhabitants of each Heaven seek the information, until the news is conveyed to the inhabitants of the Heavens of the earth. The Shayatin try to overhear so they are shot at, so they cast it down to their friends. Whatever they came with is true, as it is, but they distort it and add to it.'"

These also seem to reinforce the incorrect idea of stars being shooting stars, and give us yet a fourth word for stars.

In both cases we see the word (najm/نجم) is used to describe the shooting star. Literally: رُمِيَ was thrown[16] بِنَجْمٍ a star[17] فَاسْتَنَارَ then it flamed[18] (نار in Arabic form X, derived from نور light). It is sometimes said that a najm (نجم) could refer to any kind of celestial body and not necessarily a star, but it is at least clear that these hadiths refer to what we now understand are visible meteors.

A hadith in Sunan Ibn Majah's collection also conveys the concept, though without clarifying the nature of the shihab (the word translated as "burning flame" in the Quran verses quoted above):

The Prophet said: "When Allah decrees a matter in heaven, the angels beat their wings in submission to his decree (with a sound) like a chain beating a rock. Then "When fear is banished from their hearts, they say: 'What is it that your Lord has said?' They say: 'The truth. And He is The Most High, The Most Great." He said: 'Then the eavesdroppers (from among the jinn) listen out for that, one above the other, so (one of them) hears the words and passes it on to the one beneath him. The Shihab (shooting star) may strike him before he can pass it on to the one beneath him and the latter can pass it on to the soothsayer or sorcerer, or it may not strike him until he has passed it on. And he ads one hundred lies to it, and only that word which was overheard from the heavens is true."

And a hadith in Mishkat al-Masabih also confirms that stars (najm/نجم) are missiles for the devils, this time without mentioning the flame:

Qatada said God most high created these stars for three purposes; He made them an adornment for the sky, missiles for the devils, and signs by which people find their way. If anyone explains them differently he makes a mistake, squanders what is allotted to him, and occupies himself with something he does not know.

Bukhari transmitted it without a full isnad. Razln’s version has, “occupies himself with what does not concern him, what he has no knowledge of, and what prophets and angels are incapable of knowing.”

On the authority of ar-Rabi’* there is something to the same effect with the addition, “I swear by God that God has not set in a star anyone’s life, provision, or death. They are only speaking lies against God and attributing causes to the stars.”

Other companions

Although much of the commentary is disputed to actually come from Ibn Abbas (the prophets cousin), the tafsir on the Qur'an attributed to him states:

(And verily We have beatified the world's heaven) the first heaven (with lamps) with stars, (and We have made them) i.e. the stars (missiles for the devils) such that some of them become bewitched, some are killed while others are burnt, (and for them) for the devils (We have prepared) in the Hereafter (the doom of flame.

Which even if not from him directly, gives us a more contemporary view of these verses.

Contemporary Commentaries

Early more contemporary commentaries also conflated the two, such as Muqatil ibn Sulayman (~80-150AH), believed to be the earliest full authentic tafsir to survive.[19]

{Dhura} means being expelled by meteors from the stars/planets, then the stars/planets return to their places {And for them is a heavy punishment} [verse: 9] meaning permanent for the doubters whoever listens to them, and whoever does not listen is a permanent punishment in the Hereafter, and the stars/planets hurt and do not diminish, their counterpart in Blessed be {And indeed We have adorned the heaven. The world is full of lamps, and We have made it a pit for the devils, and We have prepared for them the torment of the blazing fire.} [Blessed be He: 5]. {Except for him who is snatched} of the devils {snatching} of the angels {and then a piercing shooting star follows him} [verse: 10] of the angels the stars, meaning by the piercing shooting star, a luminous fire, as Moses said: {Or will I bring to you a shining shooting star? } [An-Naml: 7], meaning With a bright fire, there is an offering.

And Al-Tabari (224-310 AH):

...{And indeed We have placed constellations in the sky} He said: Stars/Planets. Bishr told us, he said: Yazid told us, he said: Saeed told us, on the authority of Qatada, his saying: {And We have placed constellations in the sky} and their constellations are their stars. Muhammad bin Abdul-Ala told us, he said: Muhammad bin Thawr told us, on the authority of Muammar, on the authority of Qatada: {zodiac signs} he said: the stars/planets. God Almighty says: And We preserved the lower heaven from every accursed devil whom God had stoned and cursed. {Except he who eavesdrops} He says: But some of the devils may eavesdrop on what is happening in the sky, and then a meteor from the fire follows it clearly, showing its effect on it, either by disturbing it and corrupting it or by burning it.

See also his commentary on verse 67:5 where he notes that God made stars for three purposes: as decorations for the sky, to stone demons, and as guiding signs (for navigation).

Muslim Historians

Meteor showers were of unknown cause to 7th Century Arabs, as the later (than the Quran's writing) historian and geographer Al-Ya'qubi (d 897/8AD) reports several meteor showers that happened just before and during Muhammad's lifetime (In 571 AD and 609 AD), attributing them to shooting stars/planets striking devils, with the multitude of them potentially leading to the idea they are 'pelted from every side'. Further Muslim historians such as Ibn 'Idhari and Ibn al-Jawzi confirm this understanding, with a summary of their assessment of meteor showers held in this Royal Astronomical Society publication.

Versus modern science

As mentioned in the introduction, while stars are giant balls of gas thousands of times larger than the earth, meteors are now known to be distinct from the distant stars, being small rocky masses or grains of debris which burn up after entering the earth's atmosphere. This debris is not even 'star-like', but just rocks, metal and dust with no light source, and therefore cannot accurately be said to match the description of 'lamps'.

They are often not much larger than grains of sand and only become visible for a second when they burn up, generating light in the Earth's atmosphere. 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 (see: The Scientific American. The Science of Shooting Stars. 2023. Phil Plait. for a further explanation of the science for the casual reader).

Large increases in meteors occur on a predictable schedule each year as the Earth's orbit passes through the stream of particles and debris left in the wake of a number of comets (or in a few cases, of asteroids). They only burn in Earths atmosphere due to friction from travelling extremely fast in a vacuum which takes no energy, to being compressed by air in the atmosphere, rising the temperature and setting fire where there is oxygen.[20][21] The most visible is usually the annual Perseid meteor shower in August, which easily look like stars with flames being used a weapon in the sky. Meteor showers look like stars 'pelting' from every side.

If the flaming missiles mentioned by the Quran are to be identified with meteors burning up in the Earth's atmosphere, this would locate the eavesdropping devils (or jinn) in the upper atmosphere too, which leaves no way for the (extremely distant) stars to serve as guards in this process as outlined in the verses. This would also place the angels inside or very close to the Earths atmosphere, so we would have expected to occasionally see them from Earth. Also, meteor paths are dictated by physics, so it is unclear how they could pursue a jinn/devil that moved out of it's directed course.

Stars are an average 5 light years away from each other in our galaxy.[22] For context, a light year is the distance light travels in one year, which is 5.88 trillion miles/9.46 trillion kilometres.[23] This again makes them an odd choice for a protection/guard, with trillions of miles/kilometers of mostly empty space between them.

The results of many stellar size measurements over the years have shown that most nearby stars are roughly the size of the Sun, with typical diameters of a million kilometers or so.[24] An example of a calculation to demonstrate the size of this, is the sun can fit around 22 billion billion billion (10^28) people in, with the full workings found in this Quora answer as an estimate. This of course makes them absurdly large to be used as an object to be thrown by angels at jinn, both of which are approximately human size and visit Earth.

Also, stars do not actually 'burn' or cause flame which is caused by chemical burning on Earth needing oxygen.[25] Stars create energy via nuclear fusion instead with no flames.

However, these verses would of course fit a relatively small universe as imagined by 7th century Arabs, in which a heavenly firmament is adorned with small stars which appear relatively close to each other, able to pelt shooting stars at any devils or jinn in their vicinity, seeming to cover visible interstellar distances in a flaming streak across the sky.

Modern Apologetic interpretations

Meteors come from stars

Some apologists, for example, the highly influential Abul Ala-Maududi (d. 1979 AD) writing in light of much more modern science in his modern tasfir wrote:

This does not mean that the stars themselves are pelted at the Satans, nor that the meteorites shoot out only to drive away the Satans, but it means that the countless meteorites which originate from the stars and wander in space at tremendous speeds and which also fall to the earth in a continuous shower prevent the Satans of the earth from ascending to the heavens. Even if they try to ascend heavenward these meteorites drive them away. This thing has been mentioned here because the Arabs believed about the soothsayers, and this also was the claim made by the soothsayers themselves, that the Satans were under their control, or that they had a close contact with them, and through them they received news of the unseen, and thus, could foretell the destinies of the people. That is why at several places in the Quran, it has been stated that there is absolutely no possibility for the Satans ascending to the heavens and bringing news of the unseen. For explanation, see (Surah Al-Hijr, ayat 16-18) note 9-12, (Surah As-Saaffat, ayat 7-10) note 6,7. As for the truth about meteorites, man’s information in this regard is still without a scientific basis. However, the theory which seems best to account for all the facts known today and the information gathered from the examination of the meteorites fallen on the earth, is that meteorites originate from the disintegration of one or more planets and wander in space and sometimes fall to the earth under its gravitational pull. (See Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. XV, under Meteorites).

Note: the claim that meteorites ('Meteorites' are specifically 'space rocks', i.e. the debris that have survived the burning all the way to Earth’s surface from meteors, not meteors themselves which are the burning objects and mostly come from comet debris) come from planets disintegrating is highly misleading and out-of-date. Very few meteors become meteorites (only 5-10%),[26] and of those that do, ~99.8% percent of meteorites are believed to originate from asteroids with the remaining small fraction (~0.2%) of meteorites originating from an asteroid or comet colliding with either the Mars or the Moon (split roughly equally between them), and the debris eventually falling into Earths gravitational pull.[27] The moon is never mentioned having this function, and Mars is only one of approximately 700 quintillion planets, with the rest being too far away for this.[28] Planets themselves, just like stars, are not missiles throw to become meteors - so this contradicts the literal meaning of the Quran.

Objections to this claim

The claim appears to be that stars create heavier elements[29] which eventually go on to become the sources of debris which can become meteors.

However, there are objections to this interpretation.

1. Qur'an does not state that the shooting stars 'come from stars' (mostly many billions of years ago), which would be very easy to do - so put bluntly this isn't what is being said in the text. It is the stars themselves that are a protection and are thrown. I.e. you state that something is a missile, all rules of grammar and logic lead you to assume that it's the thing that is mentioned that is the missile, not something that part of it get its elements from after going through many other processes to become billions of years later.

2. Meteors do not even come directly from stars, but rather form asteroids and comets either hitting earth or occasionally breaking into Mars or the Moon, with the debris getting burned up in Earths atmosphere (again, see: The Scientific American. The Science of Shooting Stars. 2023. Phil Plait. for a further explanation of the science). It is only true to say all the elements which make up everything (and not just space debris) in the universe were once part of a star.

3. In light of the previous point, naming stars/lamps/constellations as a protection is a totally pointless link to make as they have nothing to do with the story, which should focus only on the flames if meteors were what was being mentioned. The stars could have been described as being made for anything else in the universe as they create heavy elements for everything, yet they only are in this context where it is easy for humans to confuse the two.

4. If it meant something like the unknown sources of meteors at the time, it easily could have used another of the many words for objects/things in the heavens rather than those which have a different meaning. Or a generic term such as 'ajrām as-samāwiyya/ الأجرام السماوية' for heavenly bodies, which can be used to cover all things in the sky (and therefore cover the unknown debris), without using words specifically designated to stars.

In other words, this has involved twisting the text into something that isn't there.

Cosmic rays

Abul Ala-Maududi (d. 1979 AD) also wrote:

In Arabic the word shihab-i-mubin literally means a fiery flame. In Surah (Surah As-Saffat, Ayat 10), the same thing has been called shihab-i-thaqib (flame that pierces through darkness). This may or may not necessarily be a meteor for it is just possible that it may be some type of rays such as cosmic rays or even a stronger type which we have not been able to discover as yet. Anyhow, if the fiery flame that pursues Satans may be taken to be a meteor, a countless number of these can form a fortification around our sphere of the universe. Scientific observations made with the help of the telescope have shown that billions of these meteors are rushing from space in a mass of rainfall. towards the earth’s atmosphere. Such a scene was witnessed in an eastern pan of North America on November 13, 1833. This is so strong a fortification that it can prevent Satans from passing through any fortified sphere.

Note the meteor shower being referred to here Leonid Meteor Storm, where fragments of ice, rock, and dust left behind by the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. About every 33 years, the Leonid meteor shower intensifies, increasing the possibility of a dazzling display of lights.[30] This comes from a predictable pattern of material left behind by the comet entering earths atmosphere and burning up,[31] they do not actually form a flame in space which is impossible due to there being no oxygen.[32]

Two other alternative interpretations popular in modern times[33] as seen above, are that the Quran is referring to coronal mass ejections (large eruptions of charged matter from the sun or other stars), or cosmic rays (high energy, sub-atomic particles travelling through interstellar space). However, coronal mass ejections move slowly in cosmic terms, disperse over distance and do not come from surprise directions (Quran 37:8 states that the devils are pelted from every side, and pursued by a piercing flame if they escape with anything they overheard). Cosmic rays do not emit light as they travel through space and therefore nor could these be the flaming missiles of fire and smoke in the Quran.

Additional points

On a separate note, though stars are described as an ornament or beauty for the sky in Quran 37:6, and Quran 67:5, there are an estimated minimum c.100 septillion stars[34] in the known universe, but only a few thousand are actually visible to the naked eye.[35]

There is also nothing said of their function of holding planetary systems together,[36] which could have easily been done by the differentiation of fixed stars from moving stars, and shown genuine scientific foreknowledge.

The fact that the Quran labels stars as rujūman (رُجُومًا)[37] 'things that are thrown', seemingly by approximately human-sized angels at human-sized jinn. Along with verses Quran 81:2 saying stars will 'fall/dart down' (inkadarat ٱنكَدَرَتْ)[38] on judgement day, which has been taken to mean fall onto Earth by major classical commentators,[39][40] [41] heavily implies another scientific error; in that the author thought stars were much smaller than they really are, as they appear from Earth, when in reality they're often millions of kilometres wide.[42]

External Links


  1. What causes a meteor shower? BBC Sky at Night Magazine. 2023. Penny Wozniakiewicz
  2. Then a Star Fell:” Folk-Memory of a Celestial Impact Event in the Ancient Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor? Dr Lloyd D. Graham. 2022).
    Also availablehere
  3. Aly Barakat, ‘Did the Kamil Meteorite Fall Contribute to the Downfall of the Old Kingdom?’, The Ostracon: Journal of the Egyptian Study Society, XXIV (Fall 2013), pp. 12–21.
  4. Egypt's Impact Catastrophe Found (!?) & Old Kingdom's End. cf-apps7865. 2019. - YouTube video covering Aly Barakat, ‘Did the Kamil Meteorite Fall Contribute to the Downfall of the Old Kingdom?’, The Ostracon: Journal of the Egyptian Study Society, XXIV (Fall 2013), pp. 12–21.
  5. Julien Decharneux (2023), Creation and Contemplation: The Cosmology of the Qur’ān and Its Late Antique Background, Berlin: De Gruyter.
  6. Cook, D. (2016). Comets and Meteors in the Islamic World. In: Selin, H. (eds) Encyclopaedia of the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine in Non-Western Cultures. Springer, Dordrecht.
  7. رُجُومًا - Lane's Lexicon p. 1048
  8. E.g. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs on verse 15:16. (Though the tafsir/commentary is attributed to Ibn Abbas, the prophets cousin, it is widely accepted to be at least largely a forgery - however it became a popular medieval commentary).
  9. Lighting fires in space is helping us make greener energy on Earth. New Scientist. 2020. Philip Ball.
  10. نجم (najm) pp 3028 - Lane's Lexicon Classical Arabic Dictionary.
  11. Asbāb al-Nuzūl By: Alī ibn Ahmad al-Wāhidī Translated By: Mokrane Guezzou Edited and with a brief Introduction by Yousef Meri. Introduction: pp iv. They also note here that some scholars such as Andrew Rippin doubt the existence of earlier 'circumstances of revelation' works mentioned which do not survive - though the translators disagree this is sufficient evidence to reject their existence.
  12. Tafsir Ibn Kathir on Verse 86:1. Ibn Kathir d 1373
  13. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn on Verse 86.3. Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli (d. 864 ah / 1459 ce) and his pupil Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 ah / 1505 ce).
  14. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs on verse 86.3. The tafsir is attributed to the prophets cousin Ibn Abbas - however at least a large part of it (if not all) is considered to be a forgery by an unknown medieval scholar.
  15. Tafsir Ibn Kathir on verse 53:1. Ibn Kathir d. 1373.
  16. رمي - Lane's Lexicon page 1161
  17. نجم - Lane's Lexicon Supplement page 3028
  18. نار - Lane's Lexicon page 2865
  19. John Wansbrough, "The Sectarian Milieu: Content and Composition of Islamic Salvation History" 2006 (Original 1978). Prometheus. 2006. ISBN 10: 1591023785ISBN 13: 9781591023784
  20. Science. How stuff works. Meteors burn up when they hit the Earth's atmosphere. Why doesn't the space shuttle?
  21. NASA Science. Spaceplace. Explore Earth and Space. Mesosphere.
  22. National Radio Astronomy Observatory. 2021. Jeff Mangum. What is the Average Distance Between Stars in our Galaxy?
  23. NASA. Exoplanet Exploration. FAQs. What is a light-year?
  24. Lumen Learning. Astronomy. The Stars: A Celestial Census. Diameters of Stars.
  25. Lighting fires in space is helping us make greener energy on Earth. New Scientist. 2020. Philip Ball.
  26. How Often do Meteorites Hit the Earth? 2016. Samantha Mathewson.
  27. NASA. Meteors and Meteorites: Facts.
  28. There are over 700 quintillion planets in the universe — but there’s no place like home. ZME Science. 2023. Tibi Puiu.
  29. National Science Foundation. Science Matters. The stars within us.
  30. November 12-13, 1833: The Night the Stars Fell. 2022. Jenny Ashcraft.
  31. Royal Museums Greenwich. When and where to see the Leonid meteor shower.
  32. Lighting fires in space is helping us make greener energy on Earth. New Scientist. 2020. Philip Ball.
  33. Quran and Science in Harmony. Facebook Group. 2017.
  34. NASA. Universe Exploration. Basics. Stars.
  35. How many stars can I see at night? Astronomy. Lovethenightsky. Tanya C. Forde.
  36. NASA Science. Astrophysics. Focus Areas. Stars.
  37. رُجُومًا - Lane's Lexicon p. 1048
  38. Lane's Lexicon p. 2596 - ٱنكَدَرَتْ
  39. Tafsir Al-Jalalayn Verse 81.2. Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli (d. 864 ah / 1459 ce) and his pupil Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911 ah / 1505 ce).
  40. Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs Verse 81.2. Ibn Abbas. Unknown date.
  41. Tafsir of Al-Tabari on verse 81.2. Al-Tabari. b ~839 d. 923
  42. Diameters of Stars. The Stars: A Celestial Census. Astronomy.