Are scientific discoveries mentioned in the Quran?
Author: İbrahim Canan (Prof. Dr.)
The following is stated in a verse in the Quran: "…nor anything fresh or dry (green or withered) but is (inscribed) in a Clear Book (to those who can read)" (al-An'am 59). What is meant by the phrase, "Kitab al-Mubin" (Clear Book)? Islamic scholars interpreted it as both the Quran and "Lawh al-Mahfuz" (Prescribed Tablet).
Lawh al-Mahfuz is a tablet whose secret and content is known by Allah only and in which everything that is known by Allah and everything that happened and will happen is written. That is, it is the Qadar book of Allah.
We cannot claim that the verse denotes only one of those two possibilities. Then, it can be said that both Lawh al-Mahfuz and the Quran are meant by the phrase Kitab al-Mubin.
In this case, everything is written clearly in detail in Lawh al-Mahfuz and is summarized in the Quran. The difference between them is like the difference between a tree and its seed. For instance, a fig seed is as small as a point but it includes a big fig tree in it with all of its characteristics (its height, branches, leaves, fruits, taste, aroma, etc…); it carries all aspects (material and spiritual) of the fig tree in the genes that we cannot see in the form of programs. It is a reality proved scientifically.
Therefore, the important events of the past and the future are recorded in the Quran in the form of summaries and signs just like the seed.
However, it is not possible for everybody to see and understand it. Some scholars that are experts about the issue can perceive or see them.
It is normal for the following question to come to the mind: What is the reason why the scientific discoveries that are very important for the humanity like the plane, train and electricity are not explained clearly in the Quran? It is possible to answer this question, which comes to everybody’s mind, from a few aspects:
1- From the point of view of the main purpose of the Quran:The main purpose of the Quran is not to give us scientific information or to present us with historical information related to the past and the future. It is neither a book of history, geography, physics, chemistry or a book of discoveries and inventions. To look for the information that are found in those books in the Quran originates from lack of knowing the main purpose of the Quran and knowing it thoroughly.
First and foremost, the Quran is a book of religion. That is, it is a book informing people about Allah and their duties toward Allah. In fact, all religions try to explain “the Creator” and “the duties of the creatures”, which are two unknown things, for people. “Who is the Creator? What is the Creator? What kind of a being is He? What did He do? What is He doing? What is His purpose in creating people and things?”
Man wants to find out and understand those issues. We want to know and understand: “What are creatures? Where did they come from? What will happen to them in the end? What are their functions and duties in this world?”
The main purpose of the Quran is to inform people about their Lord and themselves by answering those questions.
The Quran mentions other creatures along with those issues. The earth and the sky, the moon, the sun and the stars, animals and trees, mountains, seas and rivers are all mentioned in the Quran. However, the reason why they are mentioned is the two purposes mentioned above: either to mention the power of Allah and His authority on them, and to inform people about Allah by using them as evidence and means or to mention their benefits and uses for people and to mention the purpose of their creation, to remind people of their duties of servitude and to encourage people to fulfill them.
Galaxies, the number of the stars, and scientific information like the diameter of the sun, its distance to the world, the rays it transmits, and the degree of its heat is not mentioned in the Quran because the information that describes those things is not important from the point of view of worshipping Allah. Despite all of its magnitude and service, the sun is mentioned as a “lamp” or “candle” in terms of its importance in the framework of worshipping. The world is sometimes a cradle and sometimes a mattress. The sky is a ceiling decorated with stars.
How can human inventions demand the right to be mentioned in the Quran while the vast universe is described like that? They are very small and insignificant in terms of their bodies and service compared to the components of the universe. Then, an indirect mentioning by the Quran for the human inventions is enough for them. We will see later that it is done like that.
2- From the point of view of the mystery of testing:Another reason why the Quran does not mention scientific inventions or the past and future events clearly enough for everybody to understand is a necessity of the mystery of testing. We mean this: Human beings were not created on a fixed and unchangeable ability like the other creatures. Man can progress (be elevated) or regress (descend) due to his nature. He can progress spiritually and surpass angels or he can regress ethically and fall down to a level lower than that of animals.
God Almighty did not leave man unattended after creating him like that. He taught human beings how to progress and reach lofty targets through prophets; He also showed them the obstacles that will prevent progress and the causes that will humiliate and lower them; He said to them, "Here are two ways before you; one of them leads to progress and the other leads to descent. Do not lower yourself by obeying Satan. Otherwise, you will be accounted for it and you will lose eternally."
The spiritual and even material elevation of man depends on choosing this true path, which is shown to him, with his free will. Life is an opportunity, a test given to man to make a choice.
It is necessary for man not to be forced while making a choice if the test is to be a real test and if he is to be accounted for what he did.
Prophets were sent in each era to renew this divine message; they explained the truths that were forgotten in the course of time and that were veiled in a way that the minds would understand. However, they did not force people. No prophet forced people to believe when they conveyed the divine message. In a way, the miracles that astonished the minds were not completely silencing and forcing people to believe. For instance, when the rod of Moses swallowed the illusory ropes of the magicians, they said,
"We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses" and believed in Allah; however, the Pharaoh said, "Surely this must be your leader, who has taught you magic" (Ta-Ha, 71) and continued to disbelieve. Similarly, when the Prophet (pbuh) split the moon into two when he pointed at it with his index finger upon the demand of the Makkan polytheists, they continued to resist by saying, "Muhammad started to influence the sky with his magic."
Thus, the religion is a test. In this test, a door is opened for the mind but the will of man is not removed. Then, it is contrary to this principle for the Quran to mention the technology human beings will invent and the events they will see in the future clearly enough for everybody to understand. In that case, nobody will be able to reject it; they will have to accept it.
3- From the point of view of gradual progress: As it is known, the law of gradualism is in question for man. This law made it possible for man to discover and invent various technologies and tools gradually when they were necessary and when man worked hard. If it had been a divine rule to mention science clearly in the heavenly books, it would have been contrary to the principle of gradual progress. Everything would have been given readily; so, man would not have had to work; there would have been communities of people at the same level everywhere since all people would have received the same message. It is contrary to the principle of gradualism, which is in question for man.
4- From the point of view of the honor of humanity:God Almighty allowed a great share of honor and pride to humanity by not mentioning science clearly in the Quran. It is a great honor for man, who is known as “the vicegerent on the earth” (dominant over the other living beings on the earth) and as “honorable”, to attain science and inventions by developing his ability through his personal efforts. Is there a human being that does not take pride in great discoverers and inventors that discovered America, that invented the alarm clock, Piri Reis, who drew the first world map, Ibn an-Nafs, who discovered the blood circulatory system, Edison, who discovered electricity, no matter what their nationalities are?
This honor is one of the millions of grants of God Almighty to humanity. The share of human beings in discoveries and inventions is present though very little; and it is a means of pride. If those discoveries and inventions had been mentioned in the Quran, we would have been deprived of that honor.
5- From the point of view of the capacity of the people that the Quran addresses:The Quran takes into consideration the understanding level of the majority of the people. In each era, more than three fourths of the people are common people. Even today, some scientific issues can be understood by experts of that branch of science only; the rest cannot understand it. When you speak in a way that the majority of the people understand you, it is clear that the ones at higher levels will understand you more easily.
Besides, if we consider that the Quran does not address only one single age but all ages until the Doomsday, we will understand the importance of the issue better.
If things that do not comply with the daily observations of people, their individual experiences and general information had been mentioned openly, it would have caused two important drawbacks:
1- It would have driven people who did not believe fully and who had hesitations away from the religion. Those who opposed the religion would have used it to increase their mockery. For instance, if the Quran had mentioned microbes and stated that there were millions of small living beings in one glass of water that we drink, that information would have confused believers who lived before the invention of the microscope and caused them to have superstitions; it would have led the unbelievers to total rejection and mockery.
2- It would have drawn the attraction of people to unnecessary and useless things. If the Prophet had informed people through the Quran and his personal knowledge that there would be televisions and that people would watch what happened in other parts of the world instantly in the rooms that they lived, or if he had said that there would be electricity and that a whole city would be transformed to brightness from darkness by pushing a button, people would have been engaged in unnecessary discussions and talks among them and would have forgotten about their main duties. However, it is not the purpose of the religion. The real purpose of the religion is to arrange the duties of people toward Allah and their relationships with other people, and to teach them the ways of material and spiritual progress.
No matter from which point of view you deal with it, the mind does not regard it appropriate for science and technology to be mentioned clearly in the Quran.
Due to many wisdoms and reasons the most important ones of which we have mentioned above, sciences are not mentioned openly in the Quran; however, it is observed that they are implied or indicated in various ways. We will try to explain the issue by giving some examples.
A – Information related to cosmos:The Quran often gives information about the universe. The creation, order, harmony of the universe, the night and the day following each other, the rain, clouds, plants, trees and animals are mentioned. The information about them represents the laws regarding things so truthfully that the science that developed in every field only confirmed it; science never stated anything opposite to it.
For instance, in many verses of the Quran, it is repeatedly stated that plants were created in pairs (twos) (ar-Rahman 52, ar-Ra'd 3, Taha 131); in a verse, it is stated that things that we do not know were also created in pairs (Yasin 36); in another verse, attention is drawn to the fact that everything was created in pairs (adh-Dhariyat 49). Thus, it informs us about the existence of pairs from good-bad, ugly-beautiful, hot-cold, night-day, belief-unbelief, to positive and negative particles that constitute the structure of atom and the two opposite poles of the electricity. This information may seem simple for today but it is a miracle for the era 14 centuries ago.
The verse of nur (light) is an interesting example that we need to mention here. It can be said that it indicates electricity, one of the most important discoveries of humanity: "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the Glass as it were a brilliant star: lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West, whose Oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things." (an-Nur, 35).
We understand that the simile, "as it were a brilliant star" indicates light bulb, "whose Oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it" indicates electricity and we also understand from the simile, "a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the East nor of the West" that the oil mentioned in the verse is not the oil produced from plants that grow based on the climate.
The loftiness and profundity in the style of the verse and especially the similes are appropriate for deducing other meanings.
B – Historical Events:The Quran sheds light on the future by describing some events in the past and points to some technology that humanity can obtain through science. Some of those events are miracles granted to prophets. Some of them are not regarded as miracles. Let us give a few examples:
1- In the chapter of al-Fil, it is stated that the Ethiopian army, whose aim was to demolish the Kaaba, was defeated by stones of baked clay called “sijjil”. It is indicated there that particles that are small enough for a bird to carry can be used to defeat an army if they are thrown down from the air. Various weapons thrown down from airplanes, cannon balls and missile bullets that are exploded at a certain height applied this principle.
2- In the Battle of Badr, a miracle granted to the Prophet (pbuh) informs us about something further than the one mentioned above. As it is explained in the books of tafsir and siyar (life of the Prophet), a handful of soil and sand that the Prophet picked up from the ground and threw at the enemies hit the eyes of the each enemy and caused their defeat. The verse narrates the event as follows: "It is not ye who slew them; it was Allah: when thou threwest (a handful of dust) it was not thy act, but Allah's" (al-Anfal, 17).
It is a highly advanced technology for a bullet to follow the target and to catch it today. However, it is limited with big targets in the air. The verse indicates that it is possible to develop bullets that can find and catch small targets like human beings and that they can even be thrown by hand. Neutron bomb can be an example of it.
C - Miracles:The miracles mentioned in the Quran indicate some technology that human beings can attain. The miracle of Miraj (Ascension) is one of them. The Prophet (pbuh) ascended to the sky with his spirit and body through the miracle of Miraj (al-Isra 1; an-Najm 7-18). According to the complementary explanations that were reported together with hadiths, the descent to the sky was made by a vehicle resembling a horse and travelling very fast called Buraq. The description about the speed of Buraq is very remarkable. It is stated in the hadith that Buraq steps its front foot on the ultimate point that its eye reaches.
That miracle indicates that the way to the sky is open to human beings along with drawing attention to the magnitude of the speed to be reached in the vast space.
The miracle related to the rod of Hazrat Musa (Moses) is related to today. One of the miracles of the rod that does wonderful things is the gushing forth of water out of the ground when Moses hits the ground with it. The water comes out from 12 springs (al-Baqara 60). Today, extracting water through deep artesian wells even in deserts has become something ordinary. Besides, not only water but also petrol and natural gas gush forth out of the ground. Since 12 springs are mentioned in the verse, it is possible to make other bounties gush forth in the future.
As a matter of fact, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) states the following in a hadith: "The door of sustenance is open from the highest point of the sky to the depths of the ground. Allah gives sustenance to all of His slaves based on their efforts."
A miracle that is granted to Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham) informs us about fireproof materials. As it is known, Hazrat Ibrahim, who did not give in to the community that worshipped idols, broke the idols that his community worshipped into pieces. He was given the punishment of being thrown into the fire due to his act. When Hazrat Ibrahim was thrown into the fire, he took refuge in Allah. God Almighty gave the fire this order: "O Fire! Be thou cool, and (a means of)) safety for Abraham." (al-Anbiya, 69) The fire did not burn Hazrat Ibrahim.
This miracle informs us about the existence of a waterproof material. As a matter of fact, human beings discovered amianthus; then, they developed it and produced materials that protect spaceships from being burned due to entering atmosphere very fast and getting hot very easily.
In conclusion, we can say this: There are many verses about information and technology to be reached in the future in the Quran. Those verses were not sent down only to tell us about the miracles of the prophets or the stories of the prophets. There are some scientific truths in various verses of the Quran, from the verses that give information about the creation of man and the universe to the verses that encourage man to contemplate and draw lessons. Experts of each branch of science will be able to discover the ones related to their branches in the course of time.
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