Did Muhammad and the Earliest Muslims know the Earth is Round?

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The 'Blue Marble' photograph of the Earth taken by the crew of Apollo 17 on their way to the moon in December 1972

Introduction[edit]

When critics point out that the Qur'anic Earth is flat, or that the author of the Qur'an believed that the sun sets in a muddy spring, and furthermore, that such verses encouraged the early Muslims to maintain false beliefs about the world, sometimes people claim in response that everyone knew that the Earth was round by the time of Muhammad. This article will dispel that assertion, and as such is complementary to discussions about Islamic cosmography.

It seems that despite the best efforts of apologetics websites, there is no known evidence for a round Earth belief among the earliest Muslims, which would surely be abundant if Muhammad had such knowledge, and plenty of evidence for belief in a flat Earth.

False claims that there was always a Muslim consensus for a round Earth[edit]

While many people in some regions had known for centuries that the Earth was round and not flat, the question is whether Muhammad and his nearby contemporaries in Arabia had this knowledge.

One Islamic fatwah website (copied by others) quotes from scholars who lived hundreds of years after Muhammad in a failed attempt to show that there was always a Muslim consensus that the Earth is round. They are implying that the Qur'an does not reflect a very human lack of knowledge about the shape of the Earth.

ibn Taymiyyah

To do so, they first quote from a book by ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 AH/1328 CE), who in turn cites Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn al Munadi as saying that the scholars from the second level of the companions of Imam Ahmad (d. 241 AH / 855 CE) – i.e. the early Hanbalis – said there was consensus among the scholars that both heaven and Earth are balls, the latter based on astronomical reasoning. This evidence is worthless, because from the 8th century CE the Muslims had access to Greek and Indian astronomical knowledge (see below), so of course Muslim scholars had this view. The term 'consensus' (ijma) was used in different ways by different scholars, but essentially meant the agreement of Muslim scholars, or ideally, also of the salaf (the first three generations of Muslims)[1]. In this case it is explicitly the scholars. As we read on, however, it is apparent that even this "consensus" for a round Earth was rather nebulous, and as already mentioned and will see again, those who did endorse a round Earth did so because they were educated people aware of the astronomical arguments.

They then quote ibn Taymiyyah again, who is answering a question about the shape of the heavens and Earth, this time citing Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Ja‘far ibn al Munadi (again), Abu’l-Faraj ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597 AH / 1201 CE), and ibn Hazm (d. 456 AH / 1064 CE) as saying that there is a consensus that the heavens are round. Notice that despite the topic, he says the heavens, but nothing about the Earth. He says they provided evidence from the Qur'an, sunnah, and narrations from the companions (sahabah) and second generation.

Ibn Taymiyyah continues the passage[2] giving the supposed evidence for round heavens in the Qur'an, sunnah, and narrations from the early Muslims (not included by the Islamic fatwah website). In between, he argues that a round heavens and Earth is supported by what specialists on tafsir and language have said about certain words in the Qur'an.

It is the hadiths and companions that we are interested in for the purposes of this article (the Qur'an verses cited by ibn Taymiyyah are Qur'an 21:33, Qur'an 36:40, Qur'an 39:5, and Qur'an 67:5).

Narrations of the companions

The solitary piece of evidence that Ibn Taymiyyah can bring from the companions about round heavens is that ibn 'Abbas and others said regarding Qur'an 36:40 and the heavenly bodies swimming in a falak (rounded course):

فِي فَلْكَة كَفَلْكَةِ الْمِغْزَل

fee falka, ka-falkati almighzal

in a whirl (whorl), like the whirl of a spindle
al-Tabari and ibn Kathir Tafsirs for 36:40[3]

See the comments and footnotes about falak in the article Geocentrism and the Quran (a whirl was a small wheel or hemisphere that span around a spindle[4]). Now given that the sun and moon appear both to arc across the sky, even to those who imagined the Earth was flat and the heavens a dome (or a sphere), such people would also imagine some path for them continuing beneath the Earth after they have set so they can return whence they came (as also in the hadith from Abu Dharr discussed later in this article). Indeed, this is precisely what we read from ibn 'Abbas as noted by ibn Kathir in his Tafsir for Qur'an 31:29. The sun runs in its falak (فَلَكهَا) in the sky / heaven (السَّمَاء) during the day, and when it sets it runs during the night (بِاللَّيْلِ - omitted from the translation) in its falak beneath the Earth:[3]

Ibn Abi Hatim recorded that Ibn ’Abbas said, “The sun is like flowing water, running in its course in the sky during the day. When it sets, it travels in its course beneath the earth until it rises in the east.” He said, “The same is true in the case of the moon.” Its chain of narration is Sahih.

So the evidence from the companions presented by ibn Taymiyyah is not exactly much to go on regarding the shape of the heavens, and says nothing about the shape of the Earth.

Hadiths

Ibn Taymiyyah then mentions the hadith in Sunan Abu Dawud (graded weak) Sunan Abu Dawud 4726 (Dar-us-Salam Ref) in which Muhammad forms a dome with his fingers above his head when saying that Allah's throne is above the heavens. Ibn Taymiyyah's interpretation is that the throne is dome shaped.

The other hadith he mentions is in Sahih Bukhari, which says:

if you ask Allah for anything, ask Him for the Firdaus, for it is the last part of Paradise and the highest part of Paradise, and at its top there is the Throne of Beneficent, and from it gush forth the rivers of Paradise." [the word translated 'last' means middle].

Ibn Taymiyyah then says that a middle only exists in a round thing. How any of this helps demonstrate that the heavens are spherical is a mystery.

Ibn Hazm

The Islamic fatwah website then quotes one of the three that ibn Taymiyyah cited, ibn Hazm, who said that there is sound evidence that the Earth is round, but the common people and some non-leading Muslim scholars thought otherwise, though none of the leading scholars denied that the Earth is round.

So firstly, uneducated people (as were Muhammad and the sahabah) thought the Earth to be flat even in ibn Hazm's day. Secondly, his statement provides no evidence that the earliest scholars actually said the Earth is round (just that leading scholars didn't say it was flat). It is clear that Ibn Hazm and the other followers of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal mentioned above believed in a round Earth for astronomical reasons, even if some of them attempted to find further backup from the Qur'an and sunnah.

Given that Ibn Taymiyyah cites these scholars, the narrations he then uses to support spherical heavens (when asked about the shape of both the heavens and Earth), were presumably the best they could come up with. If a consensus for a round Earth went back to Muhammad and the companions, surely the scholars could come up with better than this feeble evidence.

Even the already dubious claims of just a scholarly consensus are further undermined when we read Tafsir al-Jalalayn, which was written centuries later by two people who were not trying to massage the Qur'an to fit a round Earth reality. For Qur'an 88:20 we read the following:

As for His words sutihat ‘laid out flat’ this on a literal reading suggests that the earth is flat which is the opinion of most of the scholars of the revealed Law and not a sphere as astronomers (ahl al-hay’a) have it even if this latter does not contradict any of the pillars of the Law.

For details on this word, sutihat, in verse 88:20, see this section of the flat Earth article.

The website goes on to quote from a 20th century book of fatwas, which claims that the Earth is egg shaped and also makes an argument using verse 39:5, both of which are debunked in the article Flat Earth and the Quran.

So to summarise, there seems to be no evidence available that the earliest Muslims believed the Earth is round. Instead, there is lots of evidence that they thought the Earth to be flat, as explained further below. But before we come to that, let's see what historians have to say about Arab astronomical knowledge.

Acquisition of Greek and Indian astronomical knowledge[edit]

Ptolemy’s Almagest was translated into Arabic in the 8th century CE after the Qur’an was completed. Ptolemy recorded in book five of his AlMagest in the mid-2nd century CE the discovery of Hipparchus, and of Aristarchus before him, that the sun is much larger than the earth and much more distant than the moon, and the Aristotelian view that Earth was spherical and the heavens were celestial spheres.[5]

Professor Kevin Van Bladel says:

When the worldview of educated Muslims after the establishment of the Arab Empire came to incorporate principles of astrology including the geocentric, spherical, Aristotelian-Ptolemaic world picture – particularly after the advent of the ‘Abbāsid dynasty in 750 – the meaning of these passages came to be interpreted in later Islamic tradition not according to the biblical-quranic cosmology, which became obsolete, but according to the Ptolemaic model, according to which the Quran itself came to be interpreted.[6]

Earlier in the same paper, Van Bladel describes how Christian theologians in the region of Syria in the sixth century CE shared the view that the Earth was flat and the heaven, or series of heavens was like a dome or tent above the Earth, based on their reading of the Hebrew and New Testament scriptures. This was a rival view to that of the churchmen of Alexandria who supported the Aristotelian-Ptolemaic view of a spherical Earth surrounded by spinning celestial spheres. See the footnote below[7] for excerpts of that chapter, which he summarises by saying:

Clearly the Ptolemaic cosmology was not taken for granted in the Aramaean part of Asia in the sixth century. It was, rather, controversial.[7]

David A. King writes:

The Arabs of the Arabian peninsula before Islam possessed a simple yet developed astronomical folklore of a practical nature. This involved a knowledge of the risings and settings of stars, associated in particular with the cosmical setting of groups of stars and simultaneous heliacal risings of others, which marked the beginning of periods called naw’, plural anwā’. […] Ptolemy’s Almagest was translated at least five times in the late eighth and ninth centuries. The first was a translation into Syriac and the others into Arabic, the first two under Caliph al-Ma’mūn in the middle of the first half of the ninth century, and the other two (the second an improvement of the first) towards the end of that century […] In this way Greek planetary models, uranometry and mathematical methods came to the attention of the Muslims.[8]

Hoskin and Gingerich say:

In 762 [Muhammad’s] successors in the Middle East founded a new capital, Baghdad, by the river Tigris at the point of nearest approach of the Euphrates, and within reach of the Christian physicians of Jundishapur. Members of the Baghdad court called on them for advice, and these encounters opened the eyes of prominent Muslims to the existence of a legacy of intellectual treasures from Antiquity - most of which were preserved in manuscripts lying in distant libraries and written in a foreign tongue. Harun al-Rashid (caliph from 786) and his successors sent agents to the Byzantine empire to buy Greek manuscripts, and early in the ninth century a translation centre, the House of Wisdom, was established in Baghdad by the Caliph al-Ma’mun. […] Long before translations began, a rich tradition of folk astronomy already existed in the Arabian peninsula. This merged with the view of the heavens in Islamic commentaries and treatises, to create a simple cosmology based on the actual appearances of the sky and unsupported by any underlying theory." [9]

Flat Earth(s) in hadith collections[edit]

The next few sections are about evidence of a commonplace flat Earth belief among the earliest Muslims (it omits evidence from the Qur'an itself, as per the purpose of this article stated in the introduction).

Two easy ways to demonstrate that at least a large number of the earliest Muslims imagined the Earth to be flat are to look at hadiths and tafsirs. For the purposes of this article, it matters little whether the hadiths are authentic or not; either way they demonstrate beliefs of early Muslims.

Narrated Salim's father (i.e. `Abdullah): The Prophet said, "Whoever takes a piece of the land of others unjustly, he will sink down the seven earths on the Day of Resurrection."

This next hadith is on the same topic. It is graded daif (weak), but shows what some early Muslims (if not actually Muhammad) thought about the world:

...Then he said: ‘Do you know what is under you?’ They said: ‘Allah and His Messenger know better.’ He said: ‘Indeed it is the earth.’ Then he said: ‘Do you know what is under that?’ They said: ‘Allah and His Messenger know better.’ He said: ‘Verily, below it is another earth, between the two of which is a distance of five-hundred years.’ Until he enumerated seven earths: ‘Between every two earths is a distance of five-hundred years.’...

The following hadith is graded Sahih by Dar-us-Salam (Hafiz Zubair 'Ali Za'i) and has a chain of narration graded as Sahih (authentic) by al-Albani. It is from Sunan Abu Dawud, book XXV - Kitab Al-Ahruf Wa Al-Qira’at (Book of Dialects and Readings Of The Qur’an):

Narrated Abu Dharr: I was sitting behind the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) who was riding a donkey while the sun was setting. He asked: Do you know where this sets ? I replied: Allah and his Apostle know best. He said: It sets in a spring of warm water (Hamiyah).
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Dharr that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) one day said: Do you know where the sun goes? They replied: Allah and His Apostle know best. He (the Holy Prophet) observed: Verily it (the sun) glides till it reaches its resting place under the Throne. Then it falls prostrate and remains there until it is asked: Rise up and go to the place whence you came, and it goes back and continues emerging out from its rising place and then glides till it reaches its place of rest under the Throne and falls prostrate and remains in that state until it is asked: Rise up and return to the place whence you came, and it returns and emerges out from it rising place and the it glides (in such a normal way) that the people do not discern anything ( unusual in it) till it reaches its resting place under the Throne. Then it would be said to it: Rise up and emerge out from the place of your setting, and it will rise from the place of its setting. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said. Do you know when it would happen? It would happen at the time when faith will not benefit one who has not previously believed or has derived no good from the faith.[10]

Notice that it says, "from its rising place" (min matli'iha مَطْلِعِهَا ), and "from the place of your setting" (min maghribiki مِنْ مَغْرِبِكِ). The sun is commanded to go somewhere – it cannot be claimed that this is an idiomatic way of commanding the Earth to rotate, nor that the words mean the east and west here (despite mistranslations of similar hadiths), not least because the words al mashriq and al maghrib would have been used for that purpose and without the possessive suffixes. The words used in this hadith must refer to the sun’s rising and setting places - it is pure nonsense to claim otherwise.

The following hadith, unless it is allegorised to death, clearly indicates a flat earth belief where night occurs at the same time for everyone on Earth:

Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: Allah descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the first part of the night is over and says: I am the Lord; I am the Lord: who is there to supplicate Me so that I answer him? Who is there to beg of Me so that I grant him? Who is there to beg forgiveness from Me so that I forgive him? He continues like this till the day breaks.


Thauban reported that Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) said: Allah drew the ends of the world near one another for my sake. And I have seen its eastern and western ends….
It was narrated from Sahl bin Sa’d As-Sa’idi that the Messenger of Allah said: “There is no (pilgrim) who recites the Talbiyah but that which is to his right and left also recites it, rocks and trees and hills, to the farthest ends of the earth in each direction, from here and from there.”

Flat Earth in Tafsirs[edit]

The spring where the sun sets[edit]

In the tafsir of al-Tabari (b. 224 AH / 839 CE) for Qur'an 18:86, we see the following remarks about the nature of the spring into which the sun sets. The similar sounding words hami'ah (muddy) and hamiyah (hot) seem to have become confused at some point:

الْقَوْل فِي تَأْوِيل قَوْله تَعَالَى : { حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ مَغْرِب الشَّمْس وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُب فِي عَيْن حَمِئَة }

يَقُول تَعَالَى ذِكْره : { حَتَّى إِذَا بَلَغَ } ذُو الْقَرْنَيْنِ { مَغْرِب الشَّمْس وَجَدَهَا تَغْرُب فِي عَيْن حَمِئَة } , فَاخْتَلَفَتْ الْقُرَّاء فِي قِرَاءَة ذَلِكَ , فَقَرَأَهُ بَعْض قُرَّاء الْمَدِينَة وَالْبَصْرَة : { فِي عَيْن حَمِئَة } بِمَعْنَى : أَنَّهَا تَغْرُب فِي عَيْن مَاء ذَات حَمْأَة , وَقَرَأَتْهُ جَمَاعَة مِنْ قُرَّاء الْمَدِينَة , وَعَامَّة قُرَّاء الْكُوفَة : " فِي عَيْن حَامِيَة " يَعْنِي أَنَّهَا تَغْرُب فِي عَيْن مَاء حَارَّة . وَاخْتَلَفَ أَهْل التَّأْوِيل فِي تَأْوِيلهمْ ذَلِكَ عَلَى نَحْو اِخْتِلَاف الْقُرَّاء فِي قِرَاءَته

The meaning of the Almighty’s saying, ‘Until he reached the place of the setting of the sun he found it set in a spring of murky water,’ is as follows:

When the Almighty says, ‘Until he reached,’ He is addressing Zul-Qarnain. Concerning the verse, ‘the place of the setting of the sun he found it set in a spring of murky water,’ the people differed on how to pronounce that verse. Some of the people of Madina and Basra read it as ‘Hami’a spring,’ meaning that the sun sets in a spring that contains mud. While a group of the people of Medina and the majority of the people of Kufa read it as, ‘Hamiya spring’ meaning that the sun sets in a spring of warm water. The people of commentary have differed on the meaning of this depending on the way they read the verse.

So he says of the Basra version:

"بـمعنى: أنها تغرب فـي عين ماء ذات حمأة"

"Meaning: that it sets in a spring of muddy water."

And of the people of Kufa reading hot spring:

"يعنـي أنها تغرب فـي عين ماء حارّة"

"It means that it sets in a spring of hot water"

He goes on to quote various opinions such as Ibn 'Abbas, that the sun sets in black mud:

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّد بْن عَبْد الْأَعْلَى , قَالَ : ثنا مَرْوَان بْن مُعَاوِيَة , عَنْ وَرْقَاء , قَالَ : سَمِعْت سَعِيد بْن جُبَيْر ,

قَالَ : كَانَ اِبْن عَبَّاس يَقْرَأ هَذَا الْحَرْف { فِي عَيْن حَمِئَة }

Muhammad bin 'Abd al-A'laa narrated and said: Marwan ibn Mu'awiya narrated from Warqa, he said: I heard Sa'id ibn Jubayr say: ibn 'Abbas read this letter "in a muddy spring"

وَيَقُول : حَمْأَة سَوْدَاء تَغْرُب فِيهَا الشَّمْس

and he said: the sun sets in black mud.

وَقَالَ آخَرُونَ : بَلْ هِيَ تَغِيب فِي عَيْن حَارَّة

Others said: it disappears (تَغِيب) in a hot spring.

From these comments and narrations in al-Tabari's tafsir, we can reasonably conclude that many, and perhaps all, of the earliest Muslims took verse 18:86 to mean that the sun actually sets in a spring and thus that the Earth is flat.

If the reader wishes to explore this sub-topic further, they can see how al-Tabari in his History of the Prophets and Kings, and al-Baydawi in his tafsir mention the opinion that the sun has 360 springs into which it can set, and the pre-Islamic Arab poems on the same topic in the article Dhu'l Qarnayn and the Sun Setting in a Muddy Spring.

The sky is a dome above the Earth[edit]

In his tafsir for Qur'an 2:22, al-Tabari includes narrations from some of the earliest Muslims about the sky being a dome or ceiling over the Earth:

حَدَّثَنِي مُوسَى بْن هَارُونَ , قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا عَمْرو بْن حَمَّاد , قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا أَسْبَاط , عَنْ السُّدِّيّ فِي خَبَر ذَكَرَهُ , عَنْ أَبِي مَالِك , وَعَنْ أَبِي صَالِح , عَنْ ابْن عَبَّاس , وَعَنْ مُرَّة , عَنْ ابْن مَسْعُود وَعَنْ نَاس مِنْ أَصْحَاب النَّبِيّ صَلَّى اللَّه عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : { وَالسَّمَاء بِنَاء } , فَبِنَاء السَّمَاء عَلَى الْأَرْض كَهَيْئَةِ الْقُبَّة , وَهِيَ سَقْف عَلَى الْأَرْض .وَحَدَّثَنَا بِشْر بْن مُعَاذ , قَالَ : حَدَّثَنَا يَزِيد , عَنْ سَعِيد , عَنْ قَتَادَةَ فِي قَوْل اللَّه { وَالسَّمَاء بِنَاء } قَالَ : جَعَلَ السَّمَاء سَقْفًا لَك .

Musa ibn Harun narrated and said that Amru ibn Hammad narrated and said that Asbath narrated from al-Suddi in the report mentioned, from Abu Malik, and from Abu Salih, from ibn 'Abbas and from Murrah, from ibn Masud and from people of the companions of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):

"...and the sky a canopy..." The canopy of the sky over the earth is in the form of a dome, and it is a roof over the earth. And Bishr bin Mu'az narrated and said from Yazid from Sa'id from Qatada in the words of Allah "...and the sky a canopy..." He says he makes the sky your roof.

Ibn Kathir in his tafsir for Qur'an 13:2 has yet more narrations of the sahabah and tabi'un (2nd generation) on this topic:

Allah said next, (..without any pillars that you can see.) meaning, `there are pillars, but you cannot see them,' according to Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, and several other scholars. Iyas bin Mu`awiyah said, "The heaven is like a dome over the earth," meaning, without pillars. Similar was reported from Qatadah, and this meaning is better for this part of the Ayah, especially since Allah said in another Ayah, (He withholds the heaven from falling on the earth except by His permission.) 22:65 Therefore, Allah's statement, (..that you can see), affirms that there are no pillars. Rather, the heaven is elevated (above the earth) without pillars, as you see. This meaning best affirms Allah's ability and power.

The Earth on the back of a whale[edit]

Al-Tabari's tafsir contains other indications of a common flat Earth belief. For example, regarding Qur'an 68:1, which mysteriously starts with the Arabic letter nun, he (and many other tafsirs) records that one of the interpretations among sahabah such as ibn 'Abbas was that the 'nun' is a whale on whose back the Earth is carried (other interpretations were that it was an inkwell, or a name of Allah). The evidence is extensively documented on other websites including narrations with sahih chains from the sahabah, so the interested reader is referred to them.[12][13][14]

Conclusion[edit]

Islamic apologists have failed to provide any evidence that Muhammad or the earliest Muslims knew that the Earth was round. In contrast, there is lots of evidence to show the early Muslims believing the Earth to be flat. The cited hadiths and tafsirs demonstrate early Muslim views, whether or not the chains of narration are accurate.

This evidence can be used as a foundation for other arguments concerning the flat Earth verses in the Qur'an: that they cause a justifiable suspicion that the author of the Qur'an was just as unaware as his nearby contemporaries about the shape of the Earth. It also supports the point that even if we suppose its author was aware of a round Earth, it is a secondary major weakness of the Qur'an to use such language when it will inevitably encourage 7th century Muslims to maintain their false notion that the Earth is flat (and indeed for many centuries later with some Muslims, such as al-Suyuti in his Tafsir al-Jalalyn, and ibn Kathir in his Tafsir[15]).

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. http://www.sunnah.org/fiqh/ijma.htm
  2. For the full chapter in Arabic see Wikisource.org, and for someone's English translation for most of the relevant parts see Salafitalk forum
  3. 3.0 3.1 For the Arabic, see quran.al-islam.com
  4. الفَلَكُ falak - Lane's Lexicon Volume 1 page 2444. See also the previous page. Lane says that the falak was generally imagined as a celestial hemisphere by the Arabs, but also that the Arab astronomers applied the term to seven spheres for the sun, moon, and the five visible planets, rotating about the celestial pole. This must reflect the post-Qur'anic influence of Ptolemy, whose astronomical work was translated for the Arabs from the 8th century onwards.
  5. Toomer, G. J., Ptolemy and his Greek predecessors, In Astronomy Before the Telescope, Ed. Christopher Walker, p.86, London: British Museum Press, 1996
  6. Van Bladel, Kevin, “Heavenly cords and prophetic authority in the Qur’an and its Late Antique context”, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 70:223-246, p.241, Cambridge University Press, 2007
  7. 7.0 7.1 ibid. pp.224-226. Here are some more excerpts:
    Entering into the debate was John Philoponus, a Christian philosopher of sixth-century Alexandria, who wrote his commentary on Genesis to prove, against earlier, Antiochene, theologians like Theodore of Mopsuestia, that the scriptural account of creation described a spherical geocentric world in accord with the Ptolemaic cosmology. [...]

    On the other hand, Cosmas Indicopleustes wrote his contentious Christian Topography in the 540s and 550s to prove that the spherical, geocentric world-picture of the erroneous, pagan Hellenes contradicted that of the Hebrew prophets. Cosmas was an Alexandrian with sympathies towards the Church of the East, who had travelled through the Red Sea to east Africa, Iran, and India, and who received instruction from the East Syrian churchman Mār Abā on the latter's visit to Egypt. His Christian topography has been shown to be aimed directly at John Philoponus and the Hellenic, spherical world-model he supported. [...] However, it is clear that Cosmas was going against the opinions of his educated though, as he saw it, misguided contemporaries in Alexandria.

    A number of Syrian churchmen, notably but not only the Easterners working in the tradition of Theodore of Mopsuestia, took the view of the sky as an edifice for granted. Narsai d. c. 503), the first head of the school of Nisibis, in his homilies on creation, described God's fashioning of the firmament of heaven in these terms: "Like a roof upon the top of the house he stretched out the firmament / that the house below, the domain of earth, might be complete". ayk taṭlîlâ l-baytâ da-l-tḥēt mtaḥ la-rqî῾â I d-nehwê mamlâ dûkkat ar῾â l-baytâ da-l῾el. Also "He finished building the heaven and earth as a spacious house" šaklel wa-bnâ šmayyâ w-ar῾â baytâ rwîḥâ. Jacob of Serugh (d. 521) wrote similarly on the shape of the world in his Hexaemeron homilies. A further witness to the discussion is a Syriac hymn, composed c. 543-554, describing a domed church in Edessa as a microcosm of the world, its dome being the counterpart of the sky. This is the earliest known text to make a church edifice to be a microcosm, and it shows that the debates over cosmology were meaningful to more than a small number of theologians.
  8. King, David A., “Islamic Astronomy”, In Astronomy Before the Telescope, Ed. Christopher Walker, p.86, London: British Museum Press, 1996
  9. Hoskin, Michael and Gingerich, Owen, “Islamic Astronomy” in The Cambridge Concise History of Astronomy, Ed. M. Hoskin, p.50-52, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
  10. For the Arabic, see sunnah.com or #159: hadith.al-islam.com
  11. The commentary on the Qur'an, by Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir al- Tabari ; being an abridged translation of Jami' al-bayan 'an ta'wil ay al-Qur'an, with an introduction and notes by J. Cooper, general editors, W.F. Madelung, A. Jones. Oxford University Press, 1987. p.164
  12. Youtube.com Islam & the whale that carries the Earth on its back - Video by TheMaskedArab
  13. AnsweringIslamBlog.wordpress.com - Muhammad's Magical Mountain: One Whale of a Tail!
  14. Answering-Islam.com - The Quran and The Shape of the Earth
  15. See also ibn Kathir's tafsir for verses 2:229, 21:32, 36:38, and 41:9-12, in all of which he says the heavens are a dome or roof or like the floors of a building over the Earth