Qur'an, Hadith and Scholars:Cosmology
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No complete picture of Islamic cosmogony is given in the Qur'an, however, from what details are offered it does appear that the writer(s) of the Qur'an envisioned the earth as flat (see Islamic Views on the Shape of the Earth). The Qur'an also paints the picture of the universe in which both the sun and the moon revolve around the earth; the hadith add to the picture the detail that when not visible they prostrate themselves to Allah. On top of this, the mufasirrun add to the picture The Islamic Whale, the mythological giant whale upon which the earth as a whole rests. The stars are portrayed as being roughly the size they appear, and also being castable from heaven by Allah, and all of the Islamic scriptures fail to evince the now apparent knowledge of the actual vastness of the universe vis-a-vis the earth.
And a Sign for them is the Night: We withdraw therefrom the Day, and behold they are plunged in darkness;
And the sun runs his course for a period determined for him: that is the decree of (Him), the Exalted in Might, the All-Knowing.
And the Moon,- We have measured for her mansions (to traverse) till she returns like the old (and withered) lower part of a date-stalk.
Narrated Al-Abbas ibn AbdulMuttalib: I was sitting in al-Batha with a company among whom the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) was sitting, when a cloud passed above them.
The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) looked at it and said: What do you call this? They said: Sahab.He said: And muzn? They said: And muzn. He said: And anan? They said: And anan. AbuDawud said: I am not quite confident about the word anan. He asked: Do you know the distance between Heaven and Earth? They replied: We do not know. He then said: The distance between them is seventy-one, seventy-two, or seventy-three years. The heaven which is above it is at a similar distance (going on till he counted seven heavens). Above the seventh heaven there is a sea, the distance between whose surface and bottom is like that between one heaven and the next. Above that there are eight mountain goats the distance between whose hoofs and haunches is like the distance between one heaven and the next. Then Allah, the Blessed and the Exalted, is above that
Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Then Allah created the "Nun" and He caused steam to rise out of which the heavens were created and the Earth was then laid flat on nun’s back. Then the Nun became nervous and (as a result) the earth began to sway, but (Allah) fastened (the earth) with mountains lest the earth should move ...
It was narrated by Ibn Jarir, narrated by Ibn Hamid, narrated by Ata’a, narrated by Abu Al-Dahee, narrated by Ibn Abbas who stated, "The first thing my Lord created, may He be Exalted and Glorified, was the pen and He said to it, ‘Write.’ So the pen wrote all that will be until judgment day. Then Allah created the Nun (the whale) above the waters and he pressed the Earth into its back.
Al Tabarani narrated the same hadith above (from the prophet Muhammad) who narrated from Abu Habib Zaid Al-Mahdi Al Marouzi, narrated by Sa’id Ibn Yaqub Al-Talqani, narrated by Mu’amal Ibn Ismail, narrated by Hamad Ibn Zaid, narrated by Ata’a Ibn Al Sa’ib, narrated by Abu Al Dahee Muslim Ibn Subaih, narrated by Ibn Abbas who stated that the prophet – may peace and blessing be upon him and his family - said, "The first things Allah created were the pen and the whale and He said to the pen ‘Write.’ The pen asked, ‘What shall I write?’ Allah replied, ‘Everything that shall be until judgment day.’ Then He said ‘Nun. By the Pen and by what they write.’ So Nun is the whale and al-Qalam is the pen" ...Ibn Abu Nujaih stated that Ibrahim Ibn Abu Bakir was informed by Mujahid who said, "It was said that Nun is the great whale who is underneath the seven Earths." Furthermore, Al-Baghawy – may Allah rest his soul - and a group of commentators stated that on the back of this whale there is a great rock whose thickness is greater than the width of the heavens and the earth and above this rock is a bull that has forty thousand horns. On the body of this bull are placed the seven earths and all that they contain, and Allah knows best.
The second view is that this refers to when the sun's appointed time comes to an end, which will be on the Day of Resurrection, when its fixed course will be abolished, it will come to a halt and it will be rolled up. This world will come to an end, and that will be the end of its appointed time. This is the fixed course of its time. Qatadah said: (on its fixed course for a term (appointed).) means, "It has an appointed time and it will not go beyond that. It was also said that this means, it keeps moving in its summer orbit for a certain time, and it does not exceed that, then it moves to its winter orbit for a certain time, and it does not exceed that. This was narrated from `Abdullah bin `Amr, may Allah be pleased with him. Ibn Mas`ud and Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with them, recited this Ayah as: (And the sun runs with no fixed course for a term,) meaning that it has no destination and it does not settle in one place, rather it keeps moving night and day, never slowing down or stopping, as in the Ayah: (And He has made the sun and the moon, both constantly pursuing their courses, to be of service to you) (14:33). which means, they will never slow down or stop, until the Day of Resurrection.
So, He has given the sun its own light, and the moon its (reflection of) light, and has given each its own orbit. So the sun rises each day and sets at the end of the day, giving one kind of light all the time, but it moves, rising and setting at different points in the summer and winter, thus making the days and nights longer or shorter alternatively according to the season. Its authority is in the daytime, for it is the heavenly body that dominates the day. As for the moon, Allah has decreed that it should pass through different phases. At the beginning of the month, the moon appears small when it rises.
(It is not for the sun to overtake the moon,) Mujahid said, "Each of them has a limit which it does not transgress or fall short of. When the time of one comes, the other goes away, and when the time for one to prevail comes, the time of the other ceases. `Ikrimah said concerning the Ayah, (It is not for the sun to overtake the moon,) this means that each of them has its time when it prevails. So it is not appropriate for the sun to rise at night.
(nor does the night outstrip the day.) means, after night has passed, it is not right for another night to come until it has been day. The authority of the sun is during the day and the authority of the moon is at night. Ad-Dahhak said, "The night does not depart from here until the day comes from here -- and he pointed to the east." Mujahid said: (nor does the night outstrip the day.) "They seek one another rapidly." The meaning is that there is no gap between night and day; each of them follows the other with no interval, because they have been subjugated and are both constantly pursuing one another.(They all float, each in an orbit.) means, night and day, the sun and the moon, all of them are floating, i.e., revolving, in their orbits in the heaven. This was the view of Ibn `Abbas, `Ikrimah, Ad-Dahhak, Al-Hasan, Qatadah and `Ata' Al-Khurasani. Ibn `Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, and others among the Salaf said, "In an orbit like the arc of a spinning wheel."
"After Allah completed creating the creation, the womb stood up and pulled at the lower garment of the most merciful. He said, 'Stop that!' It replied, 'My stand here is the stand of one seeking refuge in you from severance of ties.' Allah said, 'Would it not please you that I join whoever joins you and sever whoever severs you' It replied, ‘Yes indeed!’ He said, ‘You are granted that!’" Abu Hurayrah then added, "Read if you wish..."
Imam Ahmad recorded from `Abdullah bin `Amr that Allah's Messenger said: "Verily, the womb is attached to the Throne. And connecting its ties does not mean dealing evenly (with the kinsfolk), but it rather means that if one's kinsfolk sever the ties, he connects them." This Hadith was also recorded by Al-Bukhari. Ahmad also recorded from `Abdullah bin `Amr, may Allah be pleased with him, that Allah's Messenger said:
"The womb will be placed on the Day of Resurrection, curved like a spinning wheel, speaking with an eloquent fluent tongue, calling to severing whoever had severed it, and joining whoever had joined it." Imam Ahmad recorded from `Abdullah bin `Amr, may Allah be pleased with him, that Allah's Messenger said:"The merciful ones will be granted mercy from the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those on earth -- the One above the heavens will then have mercy on you. And Ar-Rahim (the womb) is from Ar-Rahman, so whoever joins it, it joins him; and whoever severs it, it severs him." Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi both recorded this Hadith and it has been reported with continuous chains of transmission. At-Tirmidhi said, "Hasan Sahih." There are numerous other Hadiths in this regard.
He continued: If God had left the two suns as He created them in the beginning, night would not have been distinguishable from day. A hired man then would not know until when he should labor and when he should receive his wages. A person fasting would not know until when he must fast. A woman would not know how to reckon the period of her impurity. The Muslims would not know the time of the pilgrimage. Debtors would not know when their debts become due. People in general would not know when to work for a livelihood and when to stop for resting their bodies. The Lord was too concerned with His servants and too merciful to them (to do such a thing). He thus sent Gabriel to drag his wing three times over the face of the moon, which at the time was a sun. He effaced its luminosity and left the light in it. This is (meant by) God's word: "And We have made the night and the day two signs. We have blotted out the sign of the night, and We have made the sign of the day something to see by." He continued. The blackness you can see as lines on the moon is a trace of the blotting. God then created for the sun a chariot with 360 handholds from the luminosity of the light of the Throne and entrusted 360 of the angels inhabiting the lower heaven with the sun and its chariot, each of them gripping one of those handholds. He entrusted 360 of the angels inhabiting (the lower?) heaven with the moon and its chariot, each of them gripping one of those handholds.
Then he said: For the sun and the moon, He created easts and wests (positions to rise and set) on the two sides of the earth and the two rims of heaven, 180 springs in the west of black clay – This is (meant by) God's word: "He found it setting in a muddy spring," meaning by "muddy (hami'ah)" black clay - and 180 springs in the east likewise of black clay, bubbling and boiling like a pot when it boiled furiously. He continued. Every day and night, the sun has a new place where it rises and a new place where it sets. The interval between them from beginning to end is longest for the day in summer and shortest in winter. This is (meant by) God's word: "The Lord of the two easts and the Lord of the two wests," meaning the last (position) of the sun here and the last there. He omitted the positions in the east and the west (for the rising and setting of the sun) in between them. Then He referred to east and west in the plural, saying; "(By) the Lord of the easts and wests." He mentioned the number of all those springs (as above).
He continued. God created an ocean three farsakhs (18 kilometers) removed from heaven. Waves contained, it stands in the air by the command of God. No drop of it is spilled. All the oceans are motionless, but that ocean flows at the rate of the speed of an arrow. It is set free to move in the air evenly, as if it were a rope stretched out in the area between east and west. The sun, the moon, and the retrograde stars run in its deep swell. this is (meant by) God's word: "Each swims in a sphere." "The sphere" is the circulation of the chariot in the deep swell of that ocean. By Him Who holds the soul of Muhammad in His hand! If the sun were to emerge from that ocean, it would burn everything on earth, including even rocks and stones, and if the moon were to emerge from it, it would afflict (by its heat) the inhabitants of the earth to such and extent that they would worship gods other than God. The exception would be those of God's friends whom He would want to keep free from sin.
Ibn `Abbas said that `Ali b. Abi Talib said to the Messenger of God: You are like my father and my mother! You have mentioned the course of the retrograde stars (al-khunnas) by which God swears in the Qur'an, together with the sun and the moon, and the rest. Now, what are al-khunnas? The Prophet replied: `Ali, they are five stars: Jupiter (al-birjis), Saturn (zuhal), Mercury (`utarid), Mars (bahram), and Venus (al-zuhrah). These five stars rise and run like the sun and the moon and race with them together. All the other stars are suspended from heaven as lamps are from mosques, and circulate together with heaven praising and sanctifying God with prayer. The Prophet then said: If you wish to have this made clear, look to the circulation of the sphere alternately here and there. It is the circulation of heaven and the circulation of all the stars together with it except those five. Their circulation today is what you see, and that is their prayer. Their circulation to the Day of Resurrection is as quick as the circulation of a mill because of the dangers and tremors of the Day of resurrection. This is (meant by) God's word: "On a day when the heaven sways to and fro and the mountains move. Woe on that day unto those who declare false (the Prophet's divine message)."
He continued. When the sun rises, it rises upon its chariot from one of those springs accompanied by 360 angels with outspread wings. They draw it along the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer, according to the extent of the hours of night and the hours of day, be it night or day. When God wishes to test the sun and the moon, showing His servants a sign and thereby asking them to stop disobeying Him and to start to obey, the sun tumbles from the chariot and falls into the deep of that ocean, which is the sphere. When God wants to increase the significance of the sign and frighten His servants severely, all of the sun falls, and nothing of it remains upon the chariot. That is a total eclipse of the sun, when the day darkens and the stars come out. When God wants to make a partial sign, half or a third or two-thirds of it fall into the water, while the rest remains upon the chariot, this being a partial eclipse. It is a misfortune for the sun or for the moon. It frightens His servants and constitutes a request from the Lord (for them to repent). However this may be, the angels entrusted with the chariot of the sun divide into two groups, one that goes to the sun and pulls it toward the chariot, and another that goes to the chariot and pulls it toward the sun, while at the same time they keep it steady in the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer, according to the extent of the hours of day or the hours of night, be it night or day, summer or winter, autumn or spring between summer and winter, lest the length of night and day be increased in any way. God has given them knowledge of that by inspiration and also the power for it. The gradual emergence of the sun or the moon from the deep of that ocean covering them which you observe after an eclipse (is accomplished by) all the angels together who, after having brought out all of it, carry it (back) and put it upon the chariot. They praise God that He gave them the power to do that. They grip the handholds of the chariot and draw it in the sphere, praising and sanctifying God with prayer. Finally, they bring the sun to the west. Having done so; they put it into the spring, and the sun falls from the horizon of the sphere into the spring.Then the Prophet said, expressing wonder at God’s creation: How wonderful is the divine power with respect to something than which nothing more wonderful has ever been created!… By Him Who holds the soul of Muhammad in His hand! Were those people not so many and so noisy, all the inhabitants of this world would hear the loud crash made by the sun falling when it rises and when it sets… Whenever the sun sets, it is raised from heaven to heaven by the angels’ fast flight, until it is brought to the highest, seventh heaven, and eventually is underneath the Throne. It falls down in prostration, and the angels entrusted with it prostrate themselves together with it. Then it is brought down to heaven. When it reaches this heaven, dawn breaks. When it comes down from one of those springs, morning becomes luminous. And when it reaches this face of heaven, the day becomes luminous.
I was told about the same by Wasil - Waki’ - al-A‘mash - Abu Zabyan - Ibn ‘Abbas.
According to Ibn al-Muthanna - Ibn Abi ‘Adi - Shu‘bah - Sulayman (al-A‘mash?) - Abu Zabyan - Ibn ‘Abbas: The first (thing) created by God is the Pen. It proceeded to (write) whatever is going to be. (God) then lifted up the water vapor, and the heavens were created from it. Then He created the fish, and the earth was spread out on its back. The fish moved, with the result that the earth was shaken up. It was steadied by means of the mountains, for the mountains indeed proudly (tower) over the earth. So he said, and he recited: "Nun. By the Pen and what they write."
I was told the same by Tamim b. al-Muntasir - Ishaq (b. Yusuf) - Sharik (b. ‘Abdallah al-Nakha‘i) - al-A‘mash - Abu Zabyan or Mujahid - Ibn ‘Abbas, with the exception, however, that he said: And the heavens were split off from it (instead of: were created).
According to Ibn Bashshar - Yahya - Sufyan - Sulayman (al-A‘mash?) - Abu Zabyan - Ibn ‘Abbas: The first (thing) created by God is the Pen. God said: Write!, whereupon the Pen asked: What shall I write? God replied: Write what is predestined! He continued. And (the Pen) proceeded to (write) whatever is predestined and going to be from that day on to the Coming of the Hour. Then God created the fish. He lifted up the water vapor, and heaven was split off from it, and the earth was spread out upon the back of the fish. The fish became agitated, and as a result, the earth was shaken up. It was steadied by means of the mountains, he continued, for they proudly (tower) over the earth.
According to Ibn Humayd - Jarir (b. ‘Abd al-Hamid) - ‘Ata’ b. al-Sa’ib - Abu al-Duha Muslim b. Subayh - Ibn ‘Abbas: The first thing created by God is the Pen. God said to it: Write!, and it wrote whatever is going to be until the Coming of the Hour. Then God created the fish. Then he heaped up the earth upon it.
This reportedly is a sound tradition as transmitted on the authority of Ibn 'Abbas and on the authority of others in the sense commented upon and explained and does not contradict anything transmitted by us from him on this subject.Should someone ask: What comment on his authority and that of others proves the soundness of what you have transmitted to us in this sense on his authority? He should be referred to what I have been told by Musa b. Harun al-Hamdani - ‘Abdallah b. Mas‘ud and some (other) companions of the Messenger of God (commenting on): "He is the One Who created for you all that is on earth. Then He stretched out straight toward the heaven and fashioned it into seven heavens." God’s throne was upon the water. He had not created anything except what He created before the water. When He wanted to create the creation, He brought forth smoke from the water. The smoke rose above the water and hovered loftily over it. He therefore called it "heaven." Then He dried out the water, and thus made it one earth. He split it and made it into seven earths on Sunday and Monday. He created the earth upon a (big) fish (hut), that being the fish (nun) mentioned by God in the Qur'an: "Nun. By the Pen." The fish was in the water. The water was upon the back of a (small) rock. The rock was upon the back of an angel. The angel was upon a (big) rock. The big rock - the one mentioned by Luqman - was in the wind, neither in heaven nor on the earth. The fish moved and became agitated. As a result, the earth quacked, whereupon He firmly, anchored the mountains on it, and it was stable. This is stated in God’s word that He made for the earth "firmly anchored (mountains), lest it should shake you up."
Mujahid related that ‘Nun’ is the whale that is underneath the seventh earth. He stated that the ‘Pen’ is what was used to write ‘Al-Thikir’ (The Remembrance - Quran). Likewise, it was also narrated by Mukatil, Murrah Al-Hamdani, Ata’ Al-Kharasani, Al Suddi and Al-Kalbi who all said, "Nun is the whale upon which all the earths are placed."
Narrated by Abu Thabyan, narrated by Ibn Abbas who said, "The first thing that Allah created was the Pen which wrote all that shall be. Then water vapor began to rise, out of which the heavens were created. Then (Allah) created Nun (the whale) and flattened the earth on its back. When the earth began to lean, it was reinforced with mountains, which are on its surface." Then Ibn Abbas read the verse (Sura 68:1) ‘Nun and the Pen.’
Al-Kalbi and Mukatil stated that the name (of the whale) is ‘Al-Bahmout.’ Al-Rajis said, "Why do I see you all silent and the Lord my God created Al-Bahmout?"Abu Yakthan and Al-Waqidi stated that the name (of the whale) is ‘Leotha’; Whereas Kab stated that its name is ‘Lo-tho-tha’ or ‘Bil-Ha-motha.’ Kab said, "Satan crept up to the whale, on whom the seven earths are placed, and whispered into its heart saying, ‘Do you realize what is on your back, Oh Lo-tho-tha of beasts and plants and humans and others? If you are annoyed with them, you can throw them all off your back.’ So Lo-tho-tha intended to do what was suggested (by Satan) but Allah sent the whale a reptile that crawled through into its blowhole and reached its brain. The whale then cried to Allah –may He be glorified and honored – and He gave permission for the reptile to exit (the whale)." Kab continued and said, "By Allah, the whale stares at the reptile and the reptile stares at the whale, and if the whale intends to do (what Satan suggested) the reptile would return to the place it was before."
Kaab al-Ahbar said: When God wished to create the dry land, He commanded the wind to churn up the waters. When they had become turbulent and foamy, waves swelled and gave off vapor. Then God commanded the foam to solidify, and it became dry. In two days he created the dry land on the face of the waters, as He hath said: Say, do ye indeed disbelieve in him who created the earth in two days? (41:9). Then He commanded these waves to be still, and they formed the mountains, which He used as pegs to hold down the earth, as He hath said: And we placed stable mountains on the earth lest it should move with them (21:31). Were it not for the mountains, the earth would not have been stable enough for its inhabitants. The veins of these mountains are connected with the veins of Mount Qaf, which is the range that surrounds the earth.
Then God created the seven seas. The first is called Baytush and surrounds the earth from behind Mount Qaf. Behind it is a sea called Asamm, behind which is a sea called Qaynas, behind which is a sea called Sakin, behind which is a sea called Mughallib, behind which is a sea called Muannis, behind which is a sea called Baki, which is the last. These are the seven seas, and each of them surrounds the sea before it. The rest of the seas in which are creatures whose number only God knows, are like gulfs to these seven. God created sustenance for all these creatures on the fourth day, as He hath said: And he provided therein the food of the creatures designed to be the inhabitants thereof, in four days; equally, for those who ask (41:10).
There are seven earths. The first is called Ramaka, beneath which is the Barren Wind, which can be bridled by no fewer than seventy thousand angels. With this wind God destroyed the people of Ad. The inhabitants of Ramaka are a nation called Muwashshim, upon whom is everlasting torment and divine retribution. The second earth is called Khalada, wherein are the implements of torture for the inhabitants of Hell. There dwells a nation called Tamis, whose food is their own flesh and whose drink is their own blood. The third earth is called Arqa, wherein dwell mulelike eagles with spearlike tails. On each tail are three hundred and sixty poisonous quills. Were even one quill placed on the face of the earth, the entire universe would pass away. The inhabitants thereof are a nation called Qays, who eat dirt and drink mothers' milk. The fourth earth is called Haraba, wherein dwell the snakes of Hell, which are as large as mountains. Each snake has fangs like tall palm trees, and if they were to strike the hugest mountain with their fangs it would be leveled to the ground. The inhabitants of this earth are a nation called Jilla, and they have no eyes, hands or feet but have wings like bats and die only of old age. The fifth earth is called Maltham, wherein stones of sulphur hang around the necks of infidels. When the fire is kindled the fuel is placed on their breasts, and the flames leap up onto their faces, as He hath said: The fire whose fuel is men and stones (2:24), and Fire shall cover their faces (14:50). The inhabitants are a nation called Hajla, who are numerous and who eat each other. The sixth earth is called Sijjin. Here are the registers of the people of Hell, and their works are vile, as He hath said: Verily the register of the actions of the wicked is surely Sijjin (83:7). Herein dwells a nation called Qatat, who are shaped like birds and worship God truly. The seventh earth is called Ajiba and is the habitation of Iblis. There dwells a nation called Khasum, who are black and short, with claws like lions. It is they who will be given dominion over Gog and Magog, who will be destroyed by them.And the earth was tossed about with its inhabitants like a ship, so God sent down an angel of extreme magnitude and strength and ordered him to slip beneath the earth and bear it up on his shoulders. He stretched forth one of his hands to the East and the other to the West and took hold of the earth from end to end. However, there was no foothold for him, so God created from an emerald a square rock, in the middle of which were seven thousand holes. In each hole there was a sea, description of which is known only to God. And He commanded the rock to settle beneath the angel’s feet. The rock, whoever, had no support, so God created a great bull with forty thousand heads, eyes, ears, nostrils, mouths, tongues and legs and commanded it to bear the rock on its back and on its horns. The name of the bull is al-Rayyan. As the bull had no place to rest its feet, God created a huge fish, upon which no one may gaze because it is so enormous and had so many eyes. It is even said that if all the seas were placed in one of its gills, they would be like a mustard seed in the desert. This fish God commanded to be a foothold for the bull, and it was done. The name of this fish is Behemoth. Then He made its resting place the waters, beneath which is the air, and beneath the air is the Darkness, which is for all the earths. There, beneath the Darkness, the knowledge of created things ends.
Muhammad Husayn Haykal
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