By Prof. Zafar Ahsan for NewAgeIslam.com
Throughout the last fourteen centuries, no book has been read so widely nor has shaped the human mind as The Quran. The Quran is the book of Allah, the Wise and Worthy of all Praise. There is only one version of The Quran. It is the only religious book that was never altered since its revelation to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) about fourteen hundred years ago. This is a fact which even the critics of Islam admit. Before studying The Quran it must be realized that, unlike all other writings, this is a unique book with a supreme author. Its contents are not confined to a particular theme or style, but contain the foundations of the entire system of life. The word Quran means “to recite” or “to collect”. Thus The Quran is a complete code covering all aspects of life, whether spiritual, intellectual, social, economic or scientific. These messages are spread throughout The Quran in a variety of ways.
The Quran also encourages the quest for knowledge. In this context, consider the following first five verses which were revealed to Prophet Muhammed (PBUH): Read (or Proclaim) In the name of thy Lord and Cherisher-Who created, Created man, out of a leech-like clot: Proclaim! And thy Lord is Most Bountiful, He Who taught (the use of) the Pen Taught man that Which he knew not (Al-Alaq 96, Verses 1-5).
(The English versions of these verses and the verses that appeared in this article are taken from ).
Allah is the Creator of everything that is present in the universe, so what are the philosophical reasons behind this creation. We have to think about these reasons. Verse 2 above states the process of creation of human being; and the truth and exact knowledge involved in any process of creation is just the definition of science. Thus verse 2 (above) clearly indicates that if we want to know the factuality, genuineness and reality of a creation, we then have to study science. Moreover, in these verses the Arabic word Iqra appears twice, while the Arabic word Qalam is mentioned only once. This means that one has to read more than once. That is in order to establish facts and to arrive at the right conclusion, a systematic investigation and study has to be made; which in turn has to be recorded. And this is what we mean by research. Summing up the message given by the above verses, we can say that The Quran invites us to make a habit of reading, writing, study and research and get knowledge of all kinds including science, self-knowledge, spiritual understanding etc.
In this article, in the light of the verses of The Quran, the motions of the sun, the moon and the earth have been discussed in detail. What are the scientific reasons behind the shinning of the sun and the moon? What is the path of the sun in the heavens? The answers to such and similar other related questions have been discussed here with the help of the verses of The Quran.
Motion of the sun and the earth
The Quran was revealed in the seventh century. There are many verses in the Quran which describe the scientific facts, most of which were discovered only in the last one hundred years. There is a consistency in its description of various phenomena. The verses accurately describe ideas that are in agreement with the modern observations about the universe (the verses of The Quran that we shall be using in this paper have been designated as V-1, V-2 etc.).
The Quran also encourages that one should develop the scientific temperament in his approach and this is clearly indicated in the following verse.
V-1: Behold! In the creation Of heavens and the earth, And the alternation of night and day, There are indeed signs For men of understanding,-Men who remember Allah Standing, sitting, And lying down on their sides, And contemplate the (wonders of ) creation In the heavens and the earth (With the saying): Our Lord not for naught Hast Thou created (all) this! Glory to Thee! Give us salvation from Chastisement of the fire.
(Ale-Imran 3, Verses 190-191).
A true scientist is always used to think again and again over the problem with which he is working. It does not matter whether he is standing, sitting, lying or busy in something else. His main job is to think over the problem in a serious manner. In verse V-1 there is an invitation for us to think, in the spirit of a true scientist, over the creation of heavens and the earth and the alternation of day and night. Allah has not created these things just for fun. There are some specific reasons (and of course some laws) for the creation of heavens and the earth. The day and night are also changing.
The motion of the sun and the moon has been mentioned in The Quran at a number of places. For example, The Quran makes the following statement about the sun and the moon:
V-2: And the Sun Runs unto a resting place, For him: that is The decree of (Him), The exalted in Might, The All-Knowing. And the moon,-We have measured for her Stations (to traverse) Till she returns Like the old (and withered) Lower part of a date-stalk. It is not permitted To the Sun to catch up The Moon, nor can The Night outstrip the Day: Each (just) swims along In (its own) orbit (According to Law) (Yasin 36, Verses 38-40).
V-3: It is Allah Who alternates The Night and the Day: Verily in these things Is an instructive example For those who have vision! (Al-Nur 24, Verse 44).
Wherever in The Quran, the motion of the sun and the moon (and all the celestial bodies) are mentioned (cf., V-2 - V-3), the word “swim” is used for the movements of the celestial bodies. This word may be referred to as not only describing the uniform translatory motion, but also rotational motion. One can visualize these motions by sliding a soccer ball on the surface of water, the ball will undergo translatory as well as rotational movements. This also suggests that most of the celestial objects are spherical in shape. So the motions of the sun and the earth are translatory as well as rotational. Moreover, the sun is not only moving around the galaxy but also rotating about its axis; and it takes nearly twenty five days for one complete rotation about its axis. This can be checked very easily by looking at the changing positions of the sun spots. The alternation of day and night is due to earth’s rotation on its axis.
From our present knowledge of Astronomy, it is known that the sun and other stars in the neighbourhood of our solar system revolve slowly around the centre of the galaxy. In the course of this motion, our solar system completes one full turn around the galaxy in about 250 million years covering a distance of nearly one million trillion miles in that time at an average speed of 150 miles/second. The entire galaxy, carrying earth with it, is moving through space relative to other nearby galaxies. As a consequence of this motion, our galaxy and the Anderomeda galaxy (galaxy nearest to us at a distance of 106 light years; one light year is equal to 9.46 × 1012 km) are approaching one another at a speed of 180 miles/second. The earth is carried along with our galaxy in this motion. Thus, even the motion of the earth is very complicated. It rotates about its axis, revolves around the sun, moves with the sun around the centre of the galaxy and moves with the galaxy on its journey towards Andromeda.
Ibne Shatir, a twelfth century mathematician and astronomer, gave a hypothesis that the earth was not at the centre of the universe and it was the sun which was at the centre of the universe and the planets were moving around the sun. He proved it by trigonometry (cf., http://www.islamiska.org/ e/Astro.htm). Later on this theory was restated by Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) to Europeans and even today the credit is given to Copernicus.
It was only in the beginning of the twentieth century that the sun was found to be located in one of the arms of our spiral galaxy and thus lost the pride position of being at the centre of our universe. It (the sun) just becomes one of the billions of stars in our galaxy. The solar system (the sun, the planets, the large number of minor planets between Mars and Jupiter- called Asteroides, large number of comets and meteors) is a part of our galaxy. In comparison to the sun, the earth appears like a dot; and if we compare the sun with the universe then our sun is buried deep within the Orion arm about 26000 light years from the centre of our milky way galaxy. Our own Milky Way galaxy contains about ten thousand crore stars like our sun. Besides our own galaxy there are billions of galaxies in the universe, each containing similarly large number of stars. Although the milky way galaxy is but one of the billions of galaxies in the universe, the milky way galaxy has special significance to us as it is the home of our solar system (for a detailed account of the shapes, sizes and physical properties of other galaxies of the universe, see  and ).
How the sun/moon shine?
Having known about the motion of the sun and the moon, now let us find out the reasons that how these objects are shinning. In this connection, we have the following verses of The Quran:
V-4: It is He who made the sun To be a shinning glory And the moon to be a light... (Yonus 10, Verse 5).
V-5: Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies, And placed therein a Lamp And a Moon giving light; (Al Furquan 25, Verse 61).
V-6: See ye not How Allah has created The seven heavens One above another, And made the moon A light in their midst, And made the sun as A (Glorious) Lamp? (Nuh 71, Verses 15-16). V-7: And placed (therein) A blazing Lamp (Al-Naba 8, Verse 3).
In verse V-4, the Arabic word dhiya is used for sun and nur for the moon. The word dhiya means ‘own light’, while the nur stands for ‘borrowed light’. Thus verse V-4 clearly indicates that the sun has got its own light while the moon is shinning due to borrowed light. In verse V-5, the Arabic word siraj (which means Lamp) is used for the sun while for moon the Arabic word munira (which means reflection of light) is used. The sun is mentioned here as a lamp, while the moon shines due to the reflection of light. While in verses V-6 and V-7, the sun is mentioned as a glorious and blazing lamp, respectively. Thus, from these verses it is clear that the sun is a lamp which is shinning due to its own light, while the glow of the moon is due to the reflection of light. But for a blazing lamp a proper fuel is required. Since in space oxygen based combustion is not allowed, so what should be the nature of the fuel that keep the lamp (the sun) shinning continuously. The hint for such a fuel is mentioned in following verse of The Quran.
V-8: 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-neigh Luminous,
Though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide Whom He will to His Light: Allah dot set forth Parables For men: and Allah Doth know all things (Al-Nur 25, Verse 35).
In this verse, the lamp (enclosed in a glass) is shinning like a brilliant star whose fuel is that which can light (ignite) itself even though the fire has not touched it. Such a fuel is the nuclear fuel produced by the nuclear fusion reaction which is explained as follows:
The process by means of which two or more nuclei of lighter atoms combine to form a heavy nucleus with a release of enormous amount of energy is called nuclear fusion. In this reaction, lighter nuclei fuse in the star to produce heavier nuclei with the release of a large quantity of heat; and the chemical equation for such reaction is:
Here four protons (nuclei of hydrogen atom) fuse to give helium nuclei, two positrons (positive electrons) and a large amount of heat Q. For fusion reaction to begin in star, the star should have a minimum temperature requirement of 4 × 106 ◦C (cf., ).
It is known that the sun is a ball of flaming gases containing 70 percent of hydrogen, 28 percent of helium and 2 percent of heavier gases like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen etc. The radius of the sun is almost hundred times that of the earth (radius of the earth is 6378.14 km) and the mass about a million times that of earth (mass of the earth is 6 × 1024 kg). The surface temperature of the sun is 6000 ◦C, while the temperature at the centre is 15 × 106 ◦C and the density at the centre is 104 kg/m3 . Very high temperature on the sun’s centre and very high pressure on it provide ideal conditions for nuclear fusion. Since the sun is a star, almost all the stars produce their energy through the process of nuclear fusion and hence we can say, in the light of these discussions and verses V-4 to V-8 that:
The sun is shinning due to its own light which is produced through the nuclear fusion reaction, while the moon is shinning due to the reflected light from the sun.
Rising/setting of sun
East and west are the two extreme points of the rising and setting of the stars (the sun is also one of the stars of the sky) and the celestial bodies. Since the rotation of the earth is from west to east, so every celestial object appears to rise from the east and appears to set in the west. Now let us find out what The Quran says about the rising and setting of the sun (and the celestial objects). From The Quran, we have:
V-9: To Allah belong the East and the West (Al-Baqra 2, Verse 115).
V-10: (He is) Lord of Easts and Lord of Wests (Al-Rahman 55, Verse 17).
V-11: Now I do Call to witness the Lord of all points In the East and the West (Al-Maarij 70, Verse 40).
A possible interpretation of these verses (V-9 to V-11) in the context of the sun (and other celestial objects) is as follows:
In verse V-9, the Arabic words mashriq and maghrib are used, which mean one east and one west; while in verse V-10, the Arabic words mashriqain and maghribain are used, which mean two east and two west. In verse V-11, the Arabic words mashariq and magharib are used, which mean number of
east and west. The sun rises exactly from the east and sets exactly in the west on vernal and autumnal equinoxes (March 21st and September 23rd) and thus the sun has exactly one east (Mashriq) and one west (Maghrib) on these two occasions. The sun rises from the middle point of east and south and sets at the middle point of south and west on December 22nd (winter solstice); while on June 21st (summer solstice), the sun rises from the middle of east and north and sets in the middle of west and north. Thus on December 22nd and June 21st, the sun has got two east (Mashriqain) and two west (Maghribain). But the sun is rising and setting every day, so it has number of east (Mashariq) and number of west (Magharib). These discussions not only indicate that every day the rising and setting points of the sun are different, but also that every celestial body (and sun is one of them) has its own well defined path (see also  and ).
Path of the sun
Once we have seen that the sun appears to rise from different points on each day of the year, now let us find out the path which the sun follows during its course of movement in the sky. The hint for the path of the sun is hidden in the following verses of The Quran: V-12: By the Sky, with Its constellations (Al-Buruj 85,Verse1).
The glorious sky with its constellations is mentioned here. The bright stars linked to a certain geometrical pattern are known as constellations. More than 88 constellations have so far been identified by the astronomers. These constellations are spread throughout the sky and their appearances in the sky are connected with the seasons and months of the year (cf.,  and ). A sound knowledge about their appearances in the sky proves helpful in the study of navigation sciences and related areas. These constellations may be twelve signs of zodiac or may be some other constellations such as Big Dipper, Orion, Cygnus, Herculles, Perseus, Canis Major, Lyra, Aquila etc. (see also ).
V-13: Blessed is He Who made Constellations in the skies, And placed therein a Lamp And a Moon giving light; (Al Furquan 25, Verse 61).
The glorious lamp of the sky is the sun and next to it, is the moon. The path of the sun (which is known as ecliptic) is defined in this verse. The sun apparently moves around the sky once every year, and in the process moves through the constellations which are known as signs of zodiac. The twelve signs of zodiac (along with the dates in which the sun appears in a particular sign) are:
Aquarius (Jan. 20 - Feb. 17), Pisces (Feb. 18 - Mar. 19), Aries (Mar. 20- Apr 19), Taurus (Apr. 20 - May 20), Gemini (May 21 - June 20), Cancer (June 21 - July 22), Leo (July 23 - Aug. 22), Virgo (Aug. 23 - Sept. 22), Libra (Sept. 23 - Oct. 22), Scorpius (Oct. 23 - Nov. 21), Sagittarius (Nov.22- Dec. 21), Capricorn (Dec. 22 - Jan. 19).
Thus, for example between September 23 and October 22, the sun is in the zodiac sign Libra etc. (For more details about the motion of the sun, see  and ). It may be noted that the moon moves in an orbit, the plane of which is inclined to the plane of ecliptic (path of the sun) at an angle of about 5o. Since this angle is small we can neglect it, and assume that the path of the moon always lies on the ecliptic. That is the path of the moon, on a particular day, is same as the path of the sun. This helps us to locate the position of the new moon for any particular Islamic month. The path of the moon crosses the ecliptic twice every month, and it is at these crossing points the eclipses occur ().
Thus we have seen that whatever scientifically established facts (about the sun, the moon and the earth etc.) we have with us, they have already been revealed in The Quran some fourteen hundred years ago. This is nothing other than a miracle for the believers. A learned reader will always find in The Quran, the scientific truths and realities; and we confidently hope and expect that as the knowledge in various fields advance, other Quranic statements will likewise prove true.
These discussions forced us to think about the Knowledge and Power of The Creator. Ever ponder over the signs of the Creator? All Praise must be to the Lord of the Universe, The Almighty, The All-Knowing, The Omnipotent. Now imagine the Knowledge and Power of the Creator of this universe and then imagine our own place in this universe whose boundaries are yet to be discovered.
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 Ahsan, Zafar: The Quran and Modern Theories of the Universe. Islamic Culture, Volume LXXVIII, No. 4 (Oct. 2004) 25-50.
 Jaffereys, W.H. and Robins, R.P.: Discovering Astronomy. John Wiley, Toronto (1981).
 Narlikar, J.V.: The Structure of the Universe. Oxford University Press, Oxford (1978).
 Pananides, N.A.: Introductory Astronomy. Addison- Wesley Publishing Company, California (1974).
This paper is written exclusively for NewAgeIslam.com by Prof. Zafar Ahsan a faculty member of the Department of Mathematics, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh