D. The Earth's Atmosphere
In addition to certain statements specifically relating to the sky, examined in the preceding chapter, the Qur’an contains several passages dealing with the phenomena that occur in the atmosphere. As for the comparison between them and the data of modern science, it is to be noted here, as elsewhere, that there is absolutely no contradiction between today's modern scientific knowledge and the phenomena described.
A familiar feeling of discomfort experienced at high altitude, which increases the higher one climbs, is expressed in verse 125, Surah Al-An’am (6):
"Those whom God wills to guide, He opens their breast to Islam. Those whom He wills lose their way, He makes their breast narrow and constricted, as if they were climbing in the sky."
Some commentators have claimed that the notion of discomfort at high altitude was unknown to the Arabs of Muhammad's time. It appears that this was not true at all: the existence on the Arabian Peninsula of peaks rising over two miles high makes it extremely implausible that they should not have known of the difficulty of breathing at high altitude. [The city of Sanaa, the capital of the Yemen, was inhabited in Muhammad's time. It lies at an altitude of nearly 7,900 feet above sea level.] Others have seen in this verse a prediction of the conquest of space, an opinion that appears to require categorical denial, at least for this passage.
Electricity in the Atmosphere
Electricity in the atmosphere and the consequences of this, i.e. lightning and hail, are referred to in the following verses:
- Surah Ar-Ra’d (13) verses 12-13:
"(God) is the One Who shows you the lightning, with fear and covetousness. He raised up the heavy clouds. The thunder glorifies His Praise and so do the angels for awe. He sends the thunder-bolt and strikes with them who He wills while they are disputing about God. He is All Mighty in His Power."
- Surah An-Nur (24) verse 43 (already quoted in this chapter):
"Hast thou not seen that God makes the clouds move gently, then joins them together, then makes them a heap. And thou seest raindrops issuing from within it. He sends down from the sky mountains of hail, He strikes there with whom He wills and He turns it away from whom He wills. The flashing of its lightning almost snatches away the sight."
In these two verses there is the expression of an obvious correlation between the formation of heavy rainclouds or clouds containing hail and the occurrence of lightning, the former, the subject of covetousness on account of the benefit it represents and the latter, the subject of fear, because when it falls, it is at the will of the All-Mighty. The connection between the two phenomena is verified by present-day knowledge of electricity in the atmosphere.
The phenomenon of shadows and the fact that they move is very simply explained today. It forms the subject of the following observations:
- Surah An-Nahl (16) verse 81:
"Out of the things He created, God has given you shade . . ."
- Surah An-Nahl (16) verse 48:
"Have (the Unbelievers) not observed that for all the things God created, how their shadow shifts right and left, prostating themselves to God while they are full of humility."
- Surah Al-Furqan (25) verses 45 and 46:
"Hast thou not seen how thy Lord has spread the shade. If He willed, He could have made it stationary. Moreover We made the sun its guide and We withdraw it towards Us easily."
Apart from the phrases dealing with the humility before God of all the things He created, including their shadow, and the fact that God can take back all manifestations of His Power, as He wills, the text of the Qur’an refers to the relationship between the Sun and the shadows. One must bear in mind at this point the fact that, in Muhammad's day, it was believed that the way a shadow moved was governed by the movement of the sun from east to west. This principle was applied in the case of the sundial to measure the time between sunrise and sunset. In this instance, the Qur’an speaks of the phenomenon without referring to the explanation current at the time of the Revelation. It would have been readily accepted for many centuries by those who came after Muhammad. In the end however, it would have been shown to be inaccurate. The Qur’an only talks moreover of the function the sun has as an indicator of shadow. Evidently there is no contradiction between the way the Qur’an describes shadow and what we know of this phenomenon in modern times.
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