Geocentrism and the Qur'an
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Primary Evidence
- 2.1 The sun and moon are signs from Allah
- 2.2 The visibility of the sun's movement
- 2.3 The course of the sun in relation to the course of the moon
- 2.4 The regular cycle of the sun
- 2.5 The movement of the sun and timekeeping
- 2.6 The shape of the sun's course
- 2.7 The similar size and distance of the sun and moon
- 3 Supporting Evidence
- 4 Conclusion
- 5 References
- 6 See Also
- 7 External Link
Some may confuse geocentricism with the the idea that the Earth is flat. This is not the case. These are two different ideas. Geocentrism simply is the notion that the earth is the (immovable) centre of our universe, thus all celestial bodies mover around it. The ancient Greeks and the Europeans of the middle ages thought that the celestial bodies (the sun, the moon and the 5 known planets) all moved in celestial spheres around a spherical earth. It should be noted that even though not all geocentrists are flat-earthers invariably all flat-earthers seem to be geocentrists.
It seems the author of the Qur'an thought that the sun (and the moon and the five known planets) followed a curved (rounded) course (a Falak ). According to the Qur'an this falak starts in the east (where the sun goes up), goes high above the earth and ends after sunset with the Sun resting at night at a hidden place. All this took place around an earth that was spread out and had a firmament built on invisible pillars above it. This was a common belief at the time and can be found with the Babylonians, ancient Hebrews, the Assyrians and other cultures in the region. In that regard it may be interesting to note that the Tawaf (the circling of the Ka'aba) mimics these seven orbits.
The evidence for the Qur'an’s geocentricity will be dealt with in several paragraphs, supported by evidence from the Qur'an, Muslim daily practice, Muslim scientists and the Hadith. Even though some Muslims reject the Hadith and the Sunnah as being not-divinely inspired; that argument presupposes a priori that the Qur'an is divinely inspired and protected whilst these other documents are not. Obviously, such special pleading will not do in a scholarly examination of the Qur'an. The Qur'an alone cannot prove itself to be Prophet Muhammad’s words (let alone the words of Allah) without the support of hadiths. Not only are these sources useful as supporting evidence; they also tell us which interpretation is supported by Muhammad and (early) Muslims. This is also why this article includes the views of several medieval Muslim Astronomers: if the Qur'an had clearly described a cosmology that is not geocentric, they would simply not hold geocentric views. In addition, we will even include the opinions of a modern-day Muslim astronomer.
Let us see what makes the Qur'an geocentric:
- It is very clear from the Qur'an and scientific observations that the moon makes rounds around the earth. The Qur'an mentions the sun and the moon in such a way as if they are following each other
[ Qur'an 91:1-2 - By the sun and his brightness, And the moon when she followeth him]
What could this actually mean other than that the sun takes a path similar to that of the moon (which does indeed go around the earth once per month, and to an ancient person seems to do so on a nightly basis)? The word translated "follow" is used many other places to mean recite, but is primarily defined as to follow, go or walk behind, follow in way of immitation, of action etc. and is often used for animals like camels following behind each other .
- The floating/swimming/running (the verb جري) of the sun is always mentioned with that of the moon, and in these verses they are nearly always mentioned in the context of night and day (21:33, 39:40, 31:29, 35:13, and 39:5; the exception being 13:2). See also 14:33 (though note that the word translated "constant in their courses" is daibayni, which is simply a verb meaning to strive, toil, labour, hold on or continue ).
Qur'an 36:37-40 Qur'an 36:37-40 is a passage about night and day. Right after describing the change from day to night it says that the sun runs on to a resting place for it (a few translations use instead, "appointed term", though in nearly all other verses where we find قرر  as a participle they translate it as a place of settlement or an abode or resting place). There are also sahih hadith that use the same Arabic word as in verse 36:38 to mean a resting place as part of the sun's daily cycle Sahih Muslim 1:297 (for the Arabic of this hadith, see here).
The alternative view was that it refers to the sun's final resting on the last day. There are other verses (35:13, 31:29, 39:5, 13:2) that mention the sun and moon floating/swimming (with the same verb as is translated "run" in 36:38) for a term appointed (لِأَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّى which does have that meaning - مُسْتَقَرٍّ in 36:38 is a different word). Another version of the above mentioned hadith (e.g. Sahih Bukhari 9:93:520 - for the Arabic see here) probably supports this view, with a different ending indicating that the مُسْتَقَرٍّ (resting place) in 36:38 refers to the end of the world when the sun is asked to rise from its setting place (مِنْ مَغْرِبِهَا). Whichever interpretation was intended, the sun's movement is nevertheless mentioned right after describing day and night, just as the next verse mentions the different mansions appointed for the moon each night. The whole passage is about day and night and the sun and moon's movement in that context.
- There is only one moon and one sun in the entire Qur'anic universe. The position of all these celestial bodies within this universe are clearly described in the Qur'an. For example, the heavens are above the earth, and the sun, moon and stars are within the heavens.
[ Qur'an 71:15-16 - Have you not seen how Allah created the seven heavens one above the other, setting in them the moon as a light and the sun as a lantern? ]
- The Qur'an mentions heavenly bodies traveling in their own orbits, but so do the concepts of day and night each a have an orbit. None of the bodies are supposed to run into each other.
- The heavens are firmly held in place lest they move from where they are and fall on the earth.
[ Qur'an 2:22-29, Qur'an 35:41, Qur'an 21:104, Qur'an 17:92, and Qur'an 34:9 ]
Note that there is no mention of orbits for the heavens or the earth in the Qur'an. An orbit is only mentioned for the sun and the moon, and the stars have falling places/times Qur'an 56:75 (مَوَٰقِعِ - inflected as an Arabic noun of time or place ). For the Qur'an to be scientific, it must contain accurate statements in regards to all that is visible i.e. material objects and phenomena. How can Allah appeal to such things as signs of his power and existence if he fails to make his case obvious?
All the evidence in the Qur'an points very strongly to the fact that the author had been observing the universe, not from the heavens, but from the Arabian Desert. The author tells us that the heavens are above the earth. Why? Because he was looking at the heavens from the Arabian floor and not from the vast space above or below. Otherwise Allah would have seen the Milky Way as a disc. Our solar system too is a disc. The earth is just one of the planets moving around the sun. However, in the the Qur'an we find the sky mistakenly being referred to as if it were a solid structure that could fall upon the earth and crush people and things between them. There are verses upon verses which lead us to these conclusions.
The sun and moon are signs from Allah
According to the Qur'an, the sun and the moon are some of the signs (al ayaat) that are created by Allah. In the Qur'an, Allah also promises to "explain his signs in detail, for people who have knowledge."
yussuf Ali - (he explains in detail) al ayaat (the signs) Li (for) Qawmin (people) Yalamoon (knowing).
Apologists may say that these detailed explanation are only correctly understood by them (since only they have knowledge); but this is of course circular reasoning. ("You first have to believe the Qur'an to be 100% true to be qualified to criticize its veracity.") Even if this were true, these Muslim possessors of 'true' knowledge should be able to provide us with a coherent, unambiguous explanation of the Qur'an and its miraculous signs - and if we look at how early learned Muslims, including Muhammad himself, explained these verses, we will find that they confirm a geocentric cosmology.
Here is another verse where we see basically the same sentiment expressed:
yudabbiru (he arranges / regulates) al amra (the matter) yufassilu (he explains in detail) al ayaat (the signs) la allakum (so you may) biliqai (meeting) rabbikum (with your Lord) tūqinūna (be certain)
The sun and moon running their courses are signs (ayaat) to mankind and thus they must be visible (or known) to a 7th century Arab audience. The Qur'an also promises to explain these signs in detail. And with good reason because they are proofs for the people so they can be certain that someday they will meet Allah.
The visibility of the sun's movement
The movement of the sun (as well as the course of the moon) is visible according the author of the Qur'an.
These were all visible phenomena to the people of the 7th century; they could 'see' the night turn into day and vise versa, they could see the sun and the moon run their courses around the earth. The people could see Allah's signs, and Allah could see them. At various places in the Qur'an numerous observers 'see' the sun go up, reach its highest point, then go back down to its resting place.
أَلَمْ تَرَ = Alam Tara (”Don’t you see?")
It could be argued that "don't you see" means "don't you know" or "aren't you aware" or "don't you realise". Of course this does not make much of a difference. In this case, the Qur'an clearly reinforces the common but incorrect beliefs of the time, and further uses these erroneous beliefs to support the existence of Allah.
Here is how the Qur'an tells us of an indirect observation of the sun's movement. The author of the Qur'an explains how the shadow cast by the sun is guided by the sun's movement:
الشَّمسَ عَلَيهِ دَلِيل = ash shamsa (the sun) `alayhi (for it) dalilaan (a guide / an indication)
According to the Qur'an, the shadow that the sun casts are moving because of the sun. And we should be able to see this. Of course, this is exactly how it would appear to someone observing the phenomena standing here on earth; however, this is not how you would describe it if you were viewing from outside our solar system. It is not the sun but the rotation of earth which causes shadows to change shape.
Interestingly, the length of the shadow cast by the sun is also used to determine the start of the Asr prayer time; the apparent movement of the sun is still used by Muslims as a clock of sorts.
However, according to a better English translation of the Qur'an, the sun's influence over the shadow is only part of the hypothetical situation in which Allah makes the shadow constant. In such a case, indeed, the earth's influence over the shadow's length becomes naught (since it only arises if the earth stops moving), and the sun's influence becomes singular.
The course of the sun in relation to the course of the moon
The courses of the sun and the moon are also a pair of sorts, according to the Qur'an:
See above the notes in the Primary Evidence section of this article regarding the word translated "follow" in 91:2.
...khalaqa (created) allayla (the night) waalnnahara (and the day) waalshshamsa (and the sun) waalqamara (and the moon) kullun (each) fee (in) falakin (a rounded course) yasbahoona (they swim)
Here it is again: heavens and earth, night and day, sun and moon.
And again: the Qur'an explains, not only are humans created in pairs (male and female), so are the two bodies of flowing waters (one salt and one sweet), and the night and the day and the sun and the moon.
Notice how frequently the sun and the moon are mentioned together as a pair. Its clearly implied that the sun and the moon are a pair of sorts, just like (according to the Qur'an) the heavens and the earth or the night and the day. In Qur'an 36:36 and 35:11-35:13 this belief is expressly stated. The sun and the moon (along with their courses) are mentioned amongst a range of other things that are created in pairs.
The regular cycle of the sun
According to the Qur'an, the sun's cycle is repeated on a regular basis (exactly computed even) just like that of the Moon and night and day.
This Surah reads: Alshamsu (the sun) waalqamaru (and the moon) bihusbanin.
Husban can mean a number of things: definite reckoning, appointed courses, numbering, revolving firmament, running appointed and scheduled course. In many English translations we see the word 'course' or 'celestial sphere' but note that the word 'falak' isn't mentioned here; this verse only indicates that the sun and the moon behave in a calculated / scheduled / appointed manner.
There is a reason why this is important: the sun's daily cycle and the moons monthly cycle are used for timekeeping in Islam.
This cycle is repeated every day:
The Qur'an clearly tells us that the sun follows a daily cycle, which ends every night when the sun goes to its resting place. (ِمُسْتَقَرٍّ) Waalshshamsu (and the sun) tajree (runs) limustaqarrin (a resting point) laha (of it). Notice how the sun's movement is repeatedly mentioned in the context of night and day.
A standard apologetic claim is that references to the sun's movement concern its 225 million year orbit around the milky way. Such a meaning would have no relevance to human timescales, nor would it be "a token" or sign for 7th century listeners, nor would it make sense in the context about the night-day cycle. Moreover, the idea that the sun is prevented from overtaking the moon is a concept that would only make any kind of sense from a naive human perspective where they orbit the same world.
The movement of the sun and timekeeping
In the days of Muhammad it was common practice to use the sun for timekeeping, so there's little wonder that the Qur'an tells us the supposed course of the Sun is a sign from Allah to keep track of the time of day (and likewise the course of the moon is a monthly calendar)
The moon (the sign of the night) is to be used to count the years (12 lunar years make up the Islamic year) and the sun is to be used to keep track of time. The only solar movement Muslims use for timekeeping is the apparent daily course of the Sun (from east up and then down to the west). To this very day, Muslims use the (crude) lunar calender, and the waqt (prescribed time) of their daily salats (prayers) is determined entirely by the position of the Sun along it’s apparent course.
- Salat Al Fajr – right before sun rise. (mentioned in Qur'an 24:58)
- Salat Al Zuhr – right after the Sun’s zenith, but before the shadow of the Sun becomes twice its length from midday.
- Salat Al Asr- between zenith and sunset (when the length of a shadow of a stick is either once or twice its length)
- Salat Al Maghrib – right after sunset. (Mentioned in Qur'an 17:78)
- Salat Al Isha'a – between sunset and sunrise.
The picture is pretty clear: the apparent daily course of the sun dictates the time of each and every daily prayer. And this is important for Muslims.
There are other examples of how the sun's apparent movement along the sky is used to know what time it is or to make appointments during the day:
The Qur'an is clear; the apparent course of the sun is to be used for timekeeping ('reckoning') and the only examples of the sun being used for timekeeping in the Qur'an employs the sun's daily movement along the sky.
The shape of the sun's course
Take a look at these verses which explain to us the shape of the sun's course. Apparently the sun goes up from east, travels high and eventually goes down to the west.
The sun rises (goes up) in the east:
The sun's course has a high point:
The sun goes up and down:
The sun goes down again in the west:
Here the course of the sun is described as a sign (ayat). Note that the rising of the sun is compared (again) to the rising of the moon (the same words are used). However, the moon is in an orbit around the earth, whilst the sun is not.
The Qur'an clearly tells the sun ends its daily cycle every night when the sun goes to its resting place. (ِمُسْتَقَرٍّ or mustaqarrin - see notes above in the section Primary Evidence regarding the translation of this word).
The Qur'an also describes the locations where the sun can be seen to go up and down. It can be seen by human eyes in the story of Dhul-Qarnayn (possibly Alexander the Great):
For a detailed discussion of the key words in these verses, see the article Dhul Qarnayn and the Sun Setting in a Muddy Spring
The Qur'an is quite clear about the course of the sun. It does not even describe a complete orbit, but merely a rounded course (falak) that has a beginning, an end, and a highest point.
The similar size and distance of the sun and moon
The Qur'an has some statements about the end of the world that are much as one would expect if the author believed the sun and moon to be of similar size and a similar distance from Earth.
The word translated "are joined" is Arabic jumi'a, a verb which means to collect together, gather together, bring together . Now given that this would actually require the moon to travel 98 million miles away from Earth and into the sun, which is over 600 times wider, it is far less suitable as an apocalyptic event than if the ancient understanding of the cosmos was correct, and it is not credible that an author with accurate knowledge of the solar system would describe such an event using the words found in these verses.
Ancient and modern-day Muslim astronomers
Muslims living in Muhammad’s day unequivocally accepted the Qur'an's geocentric cosmology. References in the Hadith of any of the ansari or others in Muhammad's environment arguing about this point with their prophet or amongst themselves are unknown. Famous Muslim astronomers (people who certainly read, and knew the Qur'an) like the Arab astronomer Ibn al-Shatir and the Persian Nasir al-Din al-Tusi used Greek (geocentric) astronomy to create complex models of our ‘universe’ (basically only our solar system, which they believed constituted the entire universe) that were geocentric just like the Qur'an.
In a televised debate aired on Iraqi Al-Fayhaa TV (October 31, 2007), Muslim Researcher on Astronomy Fadhel Al-Sa'd also declared :
What I say is based on Koranic science. He bases his arguments on the kind of science that I reject categorically -- the modern science that they teach in schools. This science is a heretic innovation that has no confirmation in the Koran. No verse in the Koran indicates that the Earth is round or that it rotates. Anything that has no indication in the Koran is false.
According to Fadhel Al-Sa'd, the moon's diameter is 1,200,000 km, while that of the sun is only 2,400,000 km.
Muslims around the time of Muhammad
In the Hadiths we read Muhammad's own words, and they clearly paint the same picture: the sun moves around the earth and goes to a resting place at night.
Even though these Hadiths are all deemed 'sahih' (authentic) according to Islamic scholars, some apologists will deny them without any valid reason other than for their stupidity. Of course the Hadiths, at the very least, tell us what Muslims around the time of Muhammad (or not long after his demise) believed about the sun and how to interpret the Qur'an correctly.
A lot of details about the sun’s movement are contained within the Qur'an.
According to the Qur'an, the supposed course of the sun:
- is seen by 7th century listeners without knowledge of galactic orbits.
- is (almost always) compared to the Moon's course.
- is repeated regularly.
- is almost always mentioned with that of the moon in the context of night and day.
- is to be used by the Muslims for timekeeping.
- has a destination. Beginning in the east, it goes up to a high point, then goes down to the west.
In addition to all these facts; great ancient, and even modern-day, Muslim astronomers agree that the Qur'an is geocentric, and the Hadiths also affirm this geocentric cosmology (so Muhammad or at least the people around him agree with it)
What else can one conclude, other than the Qur'an is geocentric? Whoever wrote the Qur'an thought that the sun orbits our planet. We know this is not true: the sun is not orbiting our planet and it is certainly not in some bizarre daily rounded path that looks like half a circle.
In ancient times, many people - but certainly not all - did not know any better than what they seemed to observe everyday: the sun appeared to be going around the earth through our skies. We cannot blame a 7th century Bedouin for not knowing this, but should not the omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient creator of the universe know better?
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