Muslims claim that the Qur’an mentioned the shape of the earth to be like an egg in the 7th century, long before modern science discovered this fact. Such a scientific fact, and similar ones, Muslims claim, convince us of the divine origin of the Qur’an.
On the other hand, many non-Muslims claim that the Qur’an did not mention the above fact at all. In fact, to the contrary, the Qur’an specifies that the earth is flat, thus reiterating false scientific fact believed by the 7th century humans.
Who is correct? And who is not? This article aims at answering such a question. I will divide this article into the following sections:
Logical analysis of Muslims claims
What are the Qur’anic verses involved in this controversy, and what is their interpretations by a major Tafsir; Jalalyn
1) Logical Analysis of the Muslims claims
According to Muslims, the Qur’an says that the earth is shaped like an egg. Modern science affirms this fact. The Qur’an affirmed this scientific fact in the sixth century, long before modern science discovered this fact. Hence, the Qur’an must have a divine origin.
Let us formulate this claim in its argument form:
Premise 1 : Modern science shows that the earth is shaped like an egg
Premise 2: This scientific fact was not known to any human, and impossible to be known for any human, in the 6th century
Premise 3: The Qur’an mentioned this fact in the 6th century
Conclusion: The Qur’an must have a divine origin
Needless to say this argument is invalid. The conclusion does not follow from the premises. Even if one accepts all the abovementioned premises, one isn’t obliged at all to accept its conclusion. There is no relation between a book containing a scientific fact that is ahead of its times, and the claimed divine origin of such a book. I can believe that the Qur’an is a unique wonder in the world, and not believe at all of its divine origin.
So, it seems clear that a Muslim cannot convince any person of the divine origin of the Qur’an based on claimed scientific facts contained in the Qur’an. There is no logical connection between the “science” of the Qur’an, and claiming the Qur’an as a divine book.
2- What are the Qur’anic verses involved in this controversy, and what is their interpretation by a major Tafsir; Jalalyn
The following Qur’anic verses, with their related Tafsir quotes, do speak about the earth formation;
And it is He Who spread out the earth, and placed therein firm mountains and rivers and of every kind of fruits He made Zawjain Ithnain (two in pairs – may mean two kinds or it may mean: of two varieties, e.g. black and white, sweet and sour, small and big). He brings the night as a cover over the day. Verily, in these things, there are Ayat (proofs, evidence, lessons, signs, etc.) for people who reflect.
The Arabic verse is very clear. It says “and He who ‘madda al’arda’’ meaning He extended (stretched out) the earth.
Jalalyn tafsir explains the verse confirming what I just mentioned about the Arabic verse:
And He it is Who spread out, extended [flat], the earth and set, created, therein firm mountains and rivers, and of every fruit He has made in it two kinds, of every species. He covers, He cloaks, the night, and its darkness, with the day. Surely in that, which is mentioned, are signs, indications of His Oneness, exalted be He, for a people who reflect, upon God’s handiwork.
And the earth We have spread out, and have placed therein firm mountains, and caused to grow therein all kinds of things in due proportion.
Again, the Arabic verse is very clear. It says “and the earth, We ‘maddadnaha’” expressin again that He “stretched out”. Jalalyn tafsir reflects the same meaning:
And the earth We have stretched it out, spread it flat, and cast therein firm mountains, lest it should sway beneath its inhabitants, and caused to grow therein every kind of balanced thing, [every kind of thing] known and determined.
Who has made earth for you like a bed (spread out); and has opened roads (ways and paths) for you therein, and has sent down water (rain) from the sky. And We have brought forth with it various kinds of vegetation.
Jalalyn here also conveys the meaning of a flat earth as a bed:
He is, the One Who made for you, as well as [for] all creatures, the earth a cradle, a bed, and threaded, facilitated, for you therein ways, roads, and sent down from the heaven water, rain. God, exalted be He, says, as a complement to Moses’s description of Him and as an address to the people of Mecca: and therewith We brought forth various kinds, species, of plants (shattā, ‘various’, adjectivally qualifies azwājan, ‘kinds’), in other words, [plants] of different colours, flavours and [different] in other ways (shattā is the plural of shatīt, similar [in pattern] to marīd, [plural] mardā, as [may be used] in [a phrase like] shatta al-amr, ‘the affair has become divided’).
And the earth! We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and have produced therein every kind of lovely growth (plants).
Here is what Jalalyn says about this verse:
And the earth (wa’l-arda, is a supplement to the position of the words ilā l-samā’i, ‘at the heaven’), how, We have spread it out, [how] We have rolled it across the face of the water, and cast in it firm mountains, to fix it in place, and caused every delightful kind, [every delightful] specimen, causing delight by its [very] beauty, to grow in it,
And We have spread out the earth: how Excellent spreader (thereof) are We!
Jalalyn confirms spreading the earth out:
And the earth, We spread it out: We made it level: what excellent Spreaders then!, We are.
And after that He spread the earth,
Here we have “Alarda Dahaha”, meaning Allah “Daha” the earth.
Jalalyn explains the meaning of “dahaha”:
and after that He spread out the earth: He made it flat, for it had been created before the heaven, but without having been spread out;
The reader is advised to remember this meaning of “Dahaha” in this context. This will become necessary in a later part of this paper
And at the earth, how it is outspread?
And the earth, how it was laid out flat?, and thus infer from this the power of God, exalted be He, and His Oneness? The commencing with the [mention of] camels is because they are closer in contact with it [the earth] than any other [animal]. 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.
Note how Jalalyn tafsir notices the issue of Qur’anic claims of the flatness of the earth as opposed to the astronomers. Jalalyn realize there is a problem here. However, the tafsir sides with the traditional Islamic view, namely that the earth is flat.
By the earth and Him Who spread it.
Jalalyn affirms the flatness of the earth in this verse:
and [by] the earth and the One Who spread it, laid out flat.
Thus far, it seems clear that the Qur’an speaks about a flat earth. There is the Arabic word “Maddadnaha” which obliges one to see the earth as and extended flat surface.
However, there is the other word “Dahaha” which means ‘extend” also. Some Muslims claim this word means “egg-shaped” also. They agree that it has the first meaning of extension. But they dispute that the Qura’n meant “He made the earth egg-shaped”.
In fact, the above Muslim claim is false. Dahaha has one dominant meaning in Arabic that implies spreading out, extending, and making flat. Below are quotes in Arabic from “Lisan al Arab”
I provide a link also for the interested reader:
دحا (لسان العرب)
الدَّحْوُ: البَسْطُ. دَحَا الأَرضَ يَدْحُوها دَحْواً: بَسَطَها.
وقال الفراء في قوله عز وجل: والأَرض بعد ذلك دَحاها، قال: بَسَطَها؛ قال شمر: وأَنشدتني أَعرابية: الحمدُ لله الذي أَطاقَا، بَنَى السماءَ فَوْقَنا طِباقَا، ثم دَحا الأَرضَ فما أَضاقا قال شمر: وفسرته فقالت دَحَا الأَرضَ أَوْسَعَها؛ وأَنشد ابن بري لزيد بن عمرو بن نُفَيْل: دَحَاها، فلما رآها اسْتَوَتْ على الماء، أَرْسَى عليها الجِبالا ودَحَيْتُ الشيءَ أَدْحاهُ دَحْياً: بَسَطْته، لغة في دَحَوْتُه؛ حكاها اللحياني.
وفي حديث عليّ وصلاتهِ، رضي الله عنه: اللهم دَاحِيَ المَدْحُوَّاتِ، يعني باسِطَ الأَرَضِينَ ومُوَسِّعَها، ويروى؛ دَاحِيَ المَدْحِيَّاتِ.
والدَّحْوُ: البَسْطُ. يقال: دَحَا يَدْحُو ويَدْحَى أَي بَسَطَ ووسع.
طحا (لسان العرب)
طَحَاه طَحْواً وطُحُوّاً: بسطه.
وطَحَى الشيء يَطْحِيه طَحْياً: بَسَطَه أَيضاً. الأَزهري: الطَّحْو كالدَّحْو، وهو البَسْطُ، وفيه لغتان طَحَا يَطْحُو وطَحَى يَطْحَى.
والطَّاحِي : المُنْبَسِطُ.
وفي التنزيل العزيز: والأرضِ وما طَحاها؛ قال الفراء: طَحاها ودَحاها واحدٌ، قال شمر: معناه ومَنْ دَحاها فأَبدَل الطاءَ من الدَّالِ، قال: ودَحاها وسَّعَها.
وطَحَوْته مثلُ دَحَوْته أَي بَسَطْته.
3) Substantive conclusion
The evidence that the Qur’an claims the earth is flat is overwhelming to say the least. I just cannot see any objective researcher reaching any other conclusion. The Qur’an used words like extend, make flat, dahaha, all aiming to describe the Earth as a flat object. The evidence is strong and makes the claim that the Qur’an says the earth is flat a reality. Claiming otherwise amounts to a denial of substantial evidence.
In addition, even if the claim that the earth is egg-shaped is found in the Qur’an, the claim in and off of itself provides no proof of any divine origin of the Qur’an.