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Qur’anic Reflections on Nature: Chapter 4, Essential Message of Islam

By Muhammad Yunus & Ashfaque Ullah Syed

16 May, 2015

The Qur’an is alive with reflections on the beauty and harmony of nature and on its relationship with life as part of its ontological debate. These reflections are in the form of statements, which capture the laws of the cosmos in expansive open ways that captivate and beguile us by their beauty, majesty and accuracy. Thus for example, the following Qur’anic observations are picturesque and imaginative, and at the same time clearly indicative of the axial and the orbital rotations of heavenly bodies that science discovered many centuries later.

·        Merging (yulij) of the night into the day and vice versa (31:29).1

·        Overlapping (yukawwir) of the night into the day and vice versa (39:5).

·        The incapability of the night to outstrip (sabiq) the day, and all (the heavenly bodies) floating in an orbit (falak) (21:33).2

·        Drawing of the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day, which it pursues ceaselessly (7:54).

·        The sun and the moon being constant (dai’bayn) in their courses (14:33).

A cross-section of the verses including those referred to above are rendered below to give a broad overview of the Qur’anic treatment of the subject. 

4.1.          Movement of heavenly bodies in orbits

“Your Lord is God who created the heavens and the earth in six periods, and is established on the Seat of Authority. He draws the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day (which) it pursues ceaselessly. He has subjected the sun, the moon and the stars to His Laws. Aren’t the creation and order up to Him? Blessed be God, the Lord of all the Worlds” (7:54).

“He has made serviceable to you the sun and the moon, both constant (dai’bayn) (in their courses) and He has made serviceable to you the night and the day” (14:33).

“He is the One who created the night and the day and the sun and the moon – each floating in an orbit (falak)” (21:33).

“Haven’t you seen that God causes the night to merge (yulij) into the day and the day to merge (yulij) into the night and has subordinated the sun and the moon (to His laws) – each running (its course) for a determined term – and God is Informed of what you do” (31:29).

“(God) created the heavens and the earth in accordance with the truth (universal laws). He causes the night to overlap (yukawwir) the day and the day to overlap (yukawwir) the night and has subordinated the sun and the moon (to His laws) – each running (its course) for a determined term. Isn’t this God Almighty, Most Forgiving” (39:5).  

4.2.          Creation of Heaven and Earth

“In the creation of the heavens and the earth, (in) the alternation of night and day, (in) the ships that sail the ocean for the benefit of humanity, (in) the water which God sends down from the sky with which it enlivens the earth after its death and spreads out all kinds of creatures on it, (and in) the coursing of the winds and the clouds, compelled between the sky and the earth, are indeed signs for a people who use their reason” (2:164).

“God is the One who has raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see, and is firmly established on the Seat (of Authority). He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His laws), each running (its course) for a determined term. He regulates (all) affairs and spells out these signs that you may be certain about meeting with your Lord” (13:2).

“Don’t those who deny (God) see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (before), and We split them apart? We made every living thing from water. Won’t they still believe” (21:30).

4.3.          Earth's geography

“He sends down water from the sky, so that the valleys flow according to their measure, with the stream carrying the swelling froth (on its surface). And what they heat in the fire to make ornaments or utensils produces similar froth. Thus does God demonstrate truth and falsehood: as for the froth, it goes away like the foam, while what benefits humanity remains on earth. Thus does God draw comparisons” (13:17).

“(Say,) Who made the earth a settlement and put rivers in its clefts and set mountains on it, and placed a barrier between the two waters (sweet and saline): Is there any deity besides God? No, but most of them do not know” (27:61).

“He created the heavens without any pillars, you can see, and set firm mountains on earth - lest it might shake with you, and spread out on it all kinds of creatures; and We send down water from the sky, and We thereby produce every kind of noble species on it” (31:10).

4.4.          Wind, rain and water cycle                

“He is the One who sends the winds as good news heralding His mercy: when they have carried heavy laden clouds, We drive them to a dead land, sending down thereby water, wherewith We produce all kinds of fruits. Thus do We raise the dead, that you may be mindful” (7:57).

“Haven’t you seen how God drives the clouds, gathers them together, then piles them into layers, and you see a downpour emerging from within them? He sends down mountain-masses (of clouds) from the sky with hail in them, and He strikes with it anyone He wills, and diverts it from anyone He wills. The flash of its lightning almost takes away the sight” (24:43).

4.5.          Plant and animal world 

“He is the One who sends down water from the sky; thereby We bring forth all kinds of sprouts. And We produce therewith green (crops), out of which We produce heaps of grains. And from the date palm and its spathes, (hang) clusters (of dates) within reach, (and We produce) groves of grapes, and olives, and pomegranates, similar but different (in variety). Look at their fruit when they bear, and in its ripeness! There are signs in this for a people who believe” (6:99).

“And what He has multiplied for you on earth are in different colors. There is a sign in this for a people who are mindful (16:13). He is the One who has made the sea subject (to His Laws) that you may eat fresh flesh from it, and you extract from it gems that you may wear; and you see the ships cleaving through it, that you may seek some of His bounty, and thus be grateful (to Him)” (16:14).

“Don’t they see how the birds are governed in the air of the sky: none holds them up but God. There are signs in this for a people who believe” (16:79).

 “Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the living creatures that He has spread out in either of them. He has the power to gather them together when He wills” (42:29).

4.6.          God has created everything in pairs

“He is the One who has spread out the earth and set on it mountains and rivers; and He made fruits of all (kinds) in pairs. He draws the night (as a veil) (yughshi) over the day. There are signs in this for a people who reflect” (13:3).

“Glory to the One who created in pairs all of them, that the earth produces, as well as their own (human) kinds, and (those) of which they have no knowledge” (36:36). 

“The creator of the heavens and the earth: He has made for you pairs from among yourselves and pairs from among the cattle; thus he multiplies you. There is nothing like Him and He is Observant and Aware” (42:11).                                                                                                                             

“We have made everything in pairs that you may be mindful” (51:49)

4.7.          Human Embryology  

A number of Qur’anic verses refer to the reproductive process in a woman’s fetus, touching on one or more stages of embryonic development. The stipulations of these verses are immaculately consistent and can be paraphrased into two statements: i) ‘Man is created out of a tiny drop (of semen),3 which is established in a secured resting place,4 and transformed first into a clot (22:5, 23:14),5 then into a chewed (lump of) flesh - formed and unformed (22:5), then into bones, which are finally clothed with clean flesh (23:14). ii) God completes the creation of man in due proportions6 in his mother’s womb, through different stages of formation, within three (veils of) darkness (39:6).   

“Surely We created man from an extract of clay (tin, inorganic matter) (23:12). We then placed him as a drop (of semen) in a secured resting place (13). We then transformed the drop into a clot and We transformed the clot into a chewed (lump of) flesh, and We transformed this chewed (lump of) flesh into bones, and We clothed the bones with flesh, and then We produced another creature from it. So blessed be God, the Best of Creators” (23:14).

“O people, if you are in doubt about the Resurrection, (consider) that We created you from dust (turab), then from a drop (of semen), then from a clot, then from a chewed (lump of) flesh, formed and unformed, that We may manifest (Our Power) to you; and We keep those We wish in the wombs for a determined term, then We bring you out as babies and then you (grow and) reach your prime. Some of you die (early) and some of you will be kept back until the feeblest age, so that they know nothing after having known (much); and (further), you see the earth barren and lifeless, but when We send down water on it, it is stirred (to life), it swells, and it puts forth every kind of beautiful species” (22:5).

“…He creates you in your mother’s womb - transformation after transformation, within three (veils of) darkness…”(39:6)

 Any further elaboration of the Qur’anic stipulations to show their conformity with the latest scientific knowledge will be rather technical and detract from the subject, but it may suffice to quote the noted French surgeon, Maurice Bucaille quotation:7

“The Qur'anic description of certain stages in the development of the embryo corresponds exactly to what we know today about it, and the Qur'an does not contain a single statement that is open to criticism from modern science.”                

4.8.          Mysteries of nature that have come to light only in recent times

The Qur’an also makes fleeting references to diverse mysterious phenomena that have come to light only in recent times with modern scientific advancement in different fields. Such verses are therefore highly technical in nature, and sound scientific knowledge will be required to grasp the essence of these verses, as briefly listed below.

·        Relativity of time: a ‘day’ in space may be as long as 1000 years 8 or 50,000 years.9

·        Reduction in oxygen content of air at higher altitudes.10

·        Three layers of tissues enclosing the embryo in a woman’s womb.11

·        Embryonic growth in a woman’s uterus with progress of pregnancy.12

·        Individual finger prints of humans.13

·        Role of wind in carrying pollens for certain plants.14

·       The ‘barrier’ between sweet water, and saline water.15

·        Creation of the universe from a single mass,16 and the evolution of all living things from water.17

·        The universe is expanding.18

·        Man’s potential to explore space and ocean beds. 19

·        Human pain receptors are located on the skin.20

·        The frontal lobes of the brain are responsible for lying and sins.21

·        Graduated layers of darkness in ocean depths, resulting in such intense darkness deep down the ocean that one can’t see one’s own hand.22

·        Participation of only female bees in the building of the hive.23

·        The existence of communities among all animals and living creatures.24

Preservation of the Pharaoh’s dead body with the parting of river Nile,25 though until the archaeological discovery of mummies in late 19th century, the Pharaoh was known to have died and perished.26

4.9.          Summing Up

The verses cited in the foregoing under different sub-headings clearly show the extraordinary accuracy and consistency of Qur’anic stipulations on natural phenomena. Muhammad, or for that matter, any mortal in that era, had no means to repeatedly make axiomatic pronouncements on the various facets of nature for more than two decades without any reference to the prevalent myths and legends; and this reflects the extraordinary in the Qur’an.  


1.       35:13.

2.       36:40.

3.       35:11, 40:67, 53:46, 75:37, 76:2, 80:19.    

4.       23:13, 77:21.

5.       40:67, 96:2.

6.       75:38, 82:7.

7.       Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, 5th edition, Paris 1988, English translation, p. 218.

8.       32:5.

9.       70:4.

10.     6:125.

11.     39:6.

12.     23:14.

13.     75:4.

14.     15:22.

15.     25:53, 27:61, 55:19.

16.     21:30.

17.     21:30, 24:45.

18.     51:47.

19.     55:33.

20.     4:56. 

21.     96:16.

22.     24:40.  

23.     16:68, For explanation, see Jeffery Lang, Struggling to Surrender, 2nd revised edition, Maryland 1998, p. 35.

24.     6:38.

25.     10:92.

26.     The Bible, Exodus 14.28.

[26 notes]

Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.