Do Quran and Hadith Describe the Earth as Flat?

What do we make of all the verses and ahadith that seem to imply that the earth is flat or that the earth does not revolve around the sun?

Consider the ayah in Surat al-Kahf:

“Until, when [Dhul-Qarnayn] reached the setting of the sun, he found it setting in a spring of dark mud, and he found near it a people. Allah said, “O Dhul-Qarnayn, either you punish [them] or else adopt among them [a way of] goodness.””

And the hadith:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said one day: “Do you know where the Sun goes when it sets?” They said: “Allah and His Messenger know best.” He said: “It goes until it arrives at its place of settlement beneath the Throne. Then it falls down in prostration and remains like that until it is said to it: ‘Arise! Go back from whence you came.’ Then it goes back and rises from its place of rising. Then it goes until it arrives at its place of settlement beneath the Throne. Then it falls down in prostration and remains like that until it is said to it: ‘Arise! Go back from whence you came.’ Then it goes back and rises from its place of rising. Then it goes without people finding anything wrong with it until it arrives at that place of settlement it has beneath the throne. Then it will be told: ‘Arise! Enter upon the morning rising from your setting place’.” Then Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Do you know when that will be? It will be when ‘its faith will not avail a soul which had not believed before or earned some good from its faith” [Sahîh Muslim]

How do we understand all this? It is easy to say that these are all “metaphorical.” Perhaps they are in some sense, but that’s too hasty. Is there any other “recourse”?

Imagine two people have equally correct knowledge about the universe. Those two people can describe that knowledge in different ways, i.e., they can describe the universe in different ways. They can use different language, different images, different concepts to explain the same thing. Furthermore, they can use different terms *even when they are describing things literally from their individual perspectives*. What do I mean by this? Well, a simple example is all the different terms that Bedouin Arabs have for “lion.” Or all the different terms that Eskimos have for “snow.” The way that an Arab talks about a lion and the way that an Eskimo talks about snow will be very different from how a zoologist or a meteorologist speaks about these things. It is not that the Arab or the Eskimo are speaking metaphorically while the zoologist/meteorologist are speaking literally. No, in this example, everyone is speaking literally but there are just certain concepts that are in the language and at the disposal of the Arab/Eskimo that are not found in the language and conceptual architecture of the zoologist/meteorologist. And vice versa. The assumption that people nowadays tend to make is that scientific language is the language that describes things as they really are. But we don’t have to accept that. In fact, we shouldn’t because scientific language is always changing. I’ll explain the significance of this in a minute inshaAllah.

The second layer is this: Imagine two people where one has correct knowledge about the universe and the other doesn’t but thinks he does. This adds another wrinkle. In the previous example, the Bedouin Arab relying on the accumulated knowledge of centuries and generations of Bedouins living in the environment of the lion arguably has a better understanding of lions than the foreign zoologist from outside that environment who travels to the location for a couple of months at a time, does his fieldwork, and goes back home. And of course zoology itself is a new discipline. So the language of the Bedouins will reflect their superior knowledge. But the zoologist will not necessarily accept this. In fact, the zoologist thinks that these Bedouins are fairly ignorant and their understanding of lions pales in comparison to his. And to prove that point, he will cite the Bedouin’s descriptions of the lion and claim that those descriptions are inaccurate. But on what basis can he claim that the Bedouin’s description is inaccurate? He can only do so on the basis of his own knowledge, which, in this example, we have stipulated is incorrect and certainly inferior to the knowledge of the Bedouins. Nonetheless, the zoologist is confident that these Bedouins simply do not know what they are talking about.

This is the folly and pitiful arrogance of modern science. First, scientific language is assumed to be the only accurate, literal, acceptable way to describe the world. Second, science assumes it knows what the universe is really like. Both these assumptions we easily reject out of hand.

Now, to give you a taste of this, consider that most of what they teach people in school about science, astronomy, and the shapes and the motions of the earth and other celestial bodies uses a Newtonian language. Since Newton’s time, physicists by the end of the nineteenth century till now have speculated that the universe is really more than 3 spatial dimensions. Einstein pioneered this way of thinking about physics when he incorporated non-Euclidean mathematics — such as Riemannian geometry — into his treatment of gravitation. At one point in the past decade, String Theorists were even theorizing a 21-dimensional universe. Obviously, this is all speculation on their part and only Allah knows the reality. But even within the bounds of accepted theoretical physics, we can see how describing the world as “flat” or “rolling up the heavens” and so on are perfectly apt. In 4 spatial dimensions, for example, a 3-dimensional sphere can be rolled up, just like how in 3 spatial dimensions a 2-dimensional circle can be rolled up. And so on. This goes back to my point about scientific language always changing. Part of this is because scientists’ knowledge about the world, or what they purport to be knowledge at any rate, is always changing. And then their language evolves on top of that. So why should we take that language as a benchmark for judging the Words of Allah? We decidedly should not.

On a spiritual level, I really cherish the passages in the Quran and the ahadith that conflict with modern scientific understandings. Those are gems for me and provide me the most peace and boost in iman. Because those are instances where revelation from Allah is teaching me something or making me aware of something about the world that modern people and the most advanced science is not privy to (at least for the time being, perhaps). The ayat about Dhul-Qarnayn in Surat al-Kahf about, e.g., the setting place of the sun as well as the hadith cited above are really beautiful and powerful to me and there is no reason to rush to interpret them metaphorically or somehow anything less than a pure, pristine, direct description of the reality given to us by Allah, the Creator and Master of all reality.

May Allah strengthen our iman, illuminate our hearts and minds with His ayat, and fortify us against the whispering of Satan.

 

What do we make of all the verses and ahadith that seem to imply that the earth is flat or that the earth does not…

Posted by Daniel Haqiqatjou on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Salam.
    This is superb. Masha Allah. Few days ago, an agnostic was discussing this verse and this same hadith but I had no answer except ‘these are metaphors’…. Now I will send this article to them.
    Keep doing this work, in sha Allah you will get a tremendous reward in both Worlds.

  2. Salam wu aleykum.

    Other verses in the Quran that make it clear that the earth is flat are as followed below.

    Surah Al-Kahf (18:47):
    And (remember) the Day We shall cause the mountains to pass away (like clouds of dust), and you will see the Earth as a leveled plain, and we shall gather them all together so as to leave not one of them behind.

    Surah Taha (20:53):
    Who has made Earth for you like a bed (spread out); and has opened roads (ways and paths etc.) for you therein; and has sent down water (rain) from the sky. And We have brought forth with it various kinds of vegetation.

    Surah An-Naba (78:6):
    Have We not spread the Earth like a bed,

    Surah An-Naml (27:61):
    Is not He (better than your gods) Who has made the Earth as a fixed abode, and has placed rivers in its midst, and has placed firm mountains therein, and has set a barrier between the two seas (of salt and sweet water). Is there any ilâh (god) with Allah? Nay, but most of them know not.

    • eh, that’s not explicitly stating that the earth is flat. that’s just describing a human’s point of view when hes on land; that is, what he sees is nothing but continuous land, and that’s all a human will ever see. a human can travel the entire world and see nothing but continuous land. in that context, that’s what land is to a human.

      • I have a question because I’m atheist (i think christianity is not so bright to be respectful) and i am considering islam kindly please answer if you think you are qualified. And remember (creativity (intellect) is better than knowledge)

        First of all i im speaking with utter respect to islam and quran but i think that the scriptures in the quran hints (in bias) towards 7th century viewpoints and the system of interpretation ignores this it just provides the supposed best meaning (arguable) and it can change as another muffti(interpreter) would be born.
        Examples include: hinting that we think from and are alive because of our heart (7th century viewpoint), every medical system relies on the brain as an indication for consciousness thus death of consciousness, life is a whole lot of a different system recognized by the signs of life (google “signs of life in biology” ),
        biased hints towards Geocentric views of the solar system (popular 7th century view) and finally the strongest, quran refers to (comets or asteroids) as stars (like the many we see in the night) in the 7th century they thought that the stars that they see shining at night and that instantaneous meteorite they see is the same thing. While important plot-twists in nature is not mentioned, like the spherical shape of earth, the sun is the same as the stars(in arabic there is two different words for star and sun the quran never mentions any *clear* relation between those astronomical bodies)
        or maybe something better than a parasite on a mosquito (same as in a fly and many other insects by the way).
        I argue that we can’t just ignore all of that and say that its true because we don’t yet know but god knows better. Other ambiguous statements worth mentioning is that god tells us how he raised the skies and made it blue and that the sky is a wall (one hint).

        Ok why wouldn’t allah tell us accurate literal views, the verses doesn’t prove that the literal view they mean is wrong, It just validates the point that although the scripture could be meant totally right and written metaphorically, it hints towards 7th century geocentric view and could (very possibly be) written by anonymous human author/authors who are inevitably limited by an archiac language and cultural view. We are evaluating probabilities and we can’t ignore these strong hints when we investigate. In other words why can’t we analyze most verses to get an accurate definition for what it means to see if it is true or not. Why should it be metaphorical it just makes it possible for it to be archaic human creation.

        Considering all the above, the question is
        1. Why would god confuse us of the reality by metaphorical meanings and multiple interpretations, if the answer is “he wants us to know we can’t evaluate his words by our inferior human mind” why would we believe that statement in all confidence shouldn’t we be skeptic as allah should communicate with us clearly and make us understand and possibly make us scientifically advance with the perfect guide but no (another clue to a 7th century limited scripture without real but claimed miracles).

        2. Why would sahih al bukhari interpretations not be all valid isn’t that because of the fact that the true “divine definitions” is not yet completely apprehendable by humans till now!
        Why even sahih al bukhari got it wrong. Is it because we should have faith that god knows better and keep trying to get thing less out of context towards god to get to heaven and avoid hell (that we don’t have any scientific clue of)

        3. I suspect there really is no miracles in the quran because it is just that reality matched the many possible interpretations referred to by the many statements that describe the views limited from the 7th century, wrong ones dubbed “out of context” and right ones dubbed “miracles” am i taking it out of context not sure but the thing I’m sure of is that this is far from perfect, you can try to convince me I’ll only accept logical explanations.

  3. You write:
    ‘First, scientific language is assumed to be the only accurate, literal, acceptable way to describe the world. Second, science assumes it knows what the universe is really like. Both these assumptions we easily reject out of hand’.
    If you should reject our of hand the idea knows what the universe is really like, or at any rate has some idea of universe is really like, why bother with science a tall? Just have Islam.

  4. With typos corrected:
    You write:
    ‘First, scientific language is assumed to be the only accurate, literal, acceptable way to describe the world. Second, science assumes it knows what the universe is really like. Both these assumptions we easily reject out of hand’.
    If you should reject out of hand the idea that science knows what the universe is really like, or at any rate has some idea of what universe is really like, why bother with science at all? If Islam knows better than science, just have Islam.

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