The Prophet ﷺ was granted many miracles to convince the disbelievers of his prophethood. The Qur’an, of course, is the primary miracle. But another important one is the splitting of the moon.
The verses (ayat) talking about it are the following, 54:1-2:
The Hour has drawn near and the moon was split ˹in two˺.
Yet, whenever they see a sign, they turn away, saying, “Same old magic!”
Ibn Kathir in his tafsir says that the splitting of the moon miracle is attested by many authentic narrations. So, it can’t be dismissed as an “allegorical” expression in the Qur’an, as some modernists (e.g., hadith rejecters, now allege.
It occurred during the time of Allah’s Messenger ﷺ, according to the authentic Mutawatir Hadiths. The scholars agree that the moon was cleft asunder during the lifetime of the Prophet, and it was among the clear miracles that Allah gave him.
He then mentions many such ahadith, and there are indeed just too many of them in Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Muslim and in other authoritative collections to list them here.
For example, we read in Sahih al-Bukhari 4864:
Narrated Ibn Masud:
During the lifetime of Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) the moon was split into two parts; one part remained over the mountain, and the other part went beyond the mountain. On that, Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Witness this miracle.”
We can thus see that it was a real miracle.
But like the ayah implies, it enraged the disbelievers, and the moon-splitting is still the cause of rage for them to this today.
What we’ll look at are some common critiques of the miracle, and also how, quite ironically, this miracle itself answers one of the most common Orientalist objections to Islam.
Indian King Witnesses It… And Becomes The First Indian Convert to Islam
Muhammad Hamidullah is a late Indian-Muslim scholar, author of hundreds of books and thousands of articles, who mastered some twenty languages, contributed to Islamic economics and law and discovered manuscripts thought to be long lost. He mentions an intriguing historical anecdote in his Muhammad Rasulullah: A Concise Survey of the Life and Work of the Founder of Islam, p. 107:
There is a very old tradition in Malabar, South-West Coast of India, that Chakrawati Farmas, one of their kings had observed the splitting of the moon, that celebrated miracle of the Prophet ﷺ at Mecca, and learning, on inquiry, that there was a prediction of the coming of a Messenger of God from Arabia, he appointed his son as regent and set out to meet him. He embraced Islam at the hand of the Prophet ﷺ, and when returning home, at the direction of the Prophet ﷺ, he died at the port of Zafar, Yemen, where the tomb of “the Indian king” was piously visited for long centuries. An old MS in the India Office Library, London (No Arabic 2807, fols. 152-173) speaks of it at length.
Otto Loth, a German Orientalist, wrote in his 1877 Catalogue of the Arabic Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, volume 1, p. 299, also mentions the following manuscript:
A fabulous account of the first settlement of the Muhammadans in Malabar, under king Shakrûti of Cranganore, a contemporary of Muhammad, who was converted to Islam by the miracle of the division of the moon.
A skeptic could argue these are Muslim sources, but the local Hindus accept it as well, as George Milne Rae wrote in his 1892 book on the Christians of the region, The Syrian Church in India, p. 169:
The last Emperor of Kerala was Cheraman Perumal. The closing act in the drama of his life is remarkable even after it has been stripped of sundry embellishments and reduced to a form in which it can be accepted both by the Hindus and the Mohammedans of that part of the country. It turned on a strange dream. Cheraman Perumal dreamt that the full moon appeared on the night of new moon at Mecca in Arabia and that when on the meridian it split into two one half remaining in the sky and the other half descending to the foot of a hill called Abikubais where the two halves joined together and then set.
Nathan Katz, in his book Who Are the Jews of India? puts forward an even more decisive argument, writing in p. 21:
Local Hindus share the narrative. The nineteenth-century, quasi-historical Malayalam text, the Keralolpatti, records that the last Cheraman Perumal king went to Makkah, converted to Islam, and became known as Makkattupoya Perumal, “the emperor who went to Makkah.” As ritual recompense for this familial apostasy, the maharajahs of Travancore used to recite, when they received swords of office at their coronation, “I will keep this sword until the uncle who has gone to Mecca [Makkah] returns.” The text and the custom reveal a basic familial structure for interreligious relationships in South India. The apostate king remains the “uncle” of succeeding generations of maharajahs.
If this were “fake news,” why would Hindu, and Hindu princes at that, till today, consider an “apostate” to be their uncle? Certainly no Hindu royalty would want anything to do with an “apostate,” even more so an apostate to Islam, let alone own him for generations?
We detail all of this because some disingenuous Hindus dismiss the story on the basis of confused chronologies. Of course, as the 19th century German philosopher Hegel famously said, while Hindus may be skilled in mathematics, they have no concept of history. So it is not surprising Hindus would propose contradicting chronologies, not due to the non-historicity of the fact, but due to the negligence of the Hindus themselves.
That being said, this king’s conversion definitely led to the Islamization of Kerala, a region in the southwest of India known for its tropical environment appreciated by the tourists. Kerala now hosts a Muslim population of around 25% (the percentage is higher if you take into account the Malayali Muslims outside Kerala, as they’re the bulk of the “Indian immigration” into the Gulf).
This king being the first Indian convert it’s thus no surprise that the first ever mosque, not only in Kerala but in the whole of the Indian subcontinent, built in 629, takes his name: The Cheraman Juma Mosque.
“Why Didn’t Other Civilizations Record It?”
Another usual critique is to ask why other civilizations didn’t record seeing the moon split.
This objection gives too much credit to the astronomical knowledge of the pre-modern world. For instance, one of the most inescapable cosmic events is the supernova, a stellar explosion, which is unmistakable in the night sky. An astronomer, theoretically, couldn’t miss it. Yet the SN 1181 (“SN” stands for Supernova, “1181” for the date), for instance, has been recorded only by Chinese and Japanese astronomers. Should we dismiss Chinese or Japanese astronomy or question astronomical knowledge outside these civilizations? Or perhaps we should say that SN 1181 just “never happened”?
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Deobandi, in his tafsir, Ma’arif-ul-Quran, volume 8, p. 241, brings forth another argument:
A careful analysis shows that the event had occurred in Makkah at night. At that particular moment, in many parts of the world it must have been day time where and when the question of witnessing this event does not even arise. In many other countries, it must have been middle of the night, or last part of the night when the people normally sleep. Furthermore, people who are awake also do not stare at the moon all the time. Splitting of the moon would not make any difference on the moonlight spread on the earth, so that it would attract people’s attention. The event took place suddenly and lasted for a short while. It is a daily experience that in particular countries at different times lunar eclipse takes place. Nowadays a forecast is made about its occurrence well in advance, yet there are hundreds of thousands of people who are absolutely unaware of it. Can this be the proof that the lunar eclipse did not take place? Thus if the event is not recorded in world history books, its occurrence cannot be denied or refuted.
Why Atheists Can’t Accept It… But Can’t Refute It Either
Jews and Christians obviously can’t deny the “credibility” of such a miracle because their Bible is itself full of comparable cosmic phenomena.
We thus read in Joshua 10:12-14:
On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:
“Sun, stand still over Gibeon,
and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still,
and the moon stopped,
till the nation avenged itself on its enemies,
as it is written in the Book of Jashar.
The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
Or in Isaiah 38:7-8:
“‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.
The atheist would, of course, mock such miracles as irrational and improbable.. But Yujin Nagasawa might differ.
Nagasawa is a Japanese-born British academic who specializes in the philosophy of religion, a field in which he’s considered one of top experts. In 2017 he released a short book, Miracles: A Very Short Introduction.
Therein he challenges some preconceived ideas about the notion of “miracle,” including the most famous critique mobilized against it in the West, that of David Hume, the 18th century Scottish philosopher, an influential skeptic from the Enlightenment period.
Without going into the whole developments of Hume’s famous argument, Nagasawa writes as a form of conclusion on this matter, in pp. 82-83:
Hume’s argument is a matter of enduring philosophical dispute. Nevertheless, whether or not the argument ultimately succeeds, the following two points are clear.
First, the argument is not necessarily bad news for believers in miracles because, contrary to common perception, it does not completely exclude the possibility that miracles occur. The argument shows, if it is successful, only that it is always unreasonable to believe that miracles take place. The claim that it is always unreasonable to believe that certain events take place does not entail that these events can never take place. For example, perhaps it is always unreasonable to believe that a volcanic eruption occurs on a planet in a remote galaxy because it is impossible to gather enough evidence for it. This does not, however, entail that there can never be a volcanic eruption on that planet. Similarly, it might well be the case that even though we can never accumulate sufficient evidence for miracles, as violations of the laws of nature, miracles actually do occur. Such a possibility is compatible with Hume’s argument.
Still, Hume’s argument is not necessarily good news for believers in miracles because it shows the enormous difficulty of rationalizing belief in miracles. Thus the second point we can assert is that the argument shows, even if it ultimately fails, that it is incredibly difficult to justify believing that miracles have really taken place.
In other words, the atheist has to concede that the splitting of the moon is not impossible. It is indeed possible according to his very own scientistic worldview, though it may be unreasonable to believe since it has not been confirmed by science. But for a Muslim, or any other person who believes in an All-Powerful Creator, this is not unreasonable at since, since the Creator can suspend the laws of nature temporarily.
The atheist has to be agnostic on the matter of the moon splitting. He can only say that there is no scientific evidence to believe it, but he cannot make the stronger claim that it never happened, ergo Islam is false.
The Muslim, too, should stop trying to “over-rationalize” miracles but, rather, accept them not because they fit with a modernist and scientististic framework, but because they’re attested to in the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Refuting Greek Philosophy
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Deobandi, the inaugural Grand Mufti of Pakistan and prolific author of a hundred books cited earlier, brings another perspective on these ayat which seem to be quite underappreciated.
He writes in volume 8 of his Ma’arif-ul-Quran, pp. 240-241:
The deviant Greek philosophers assume that it is not possible for the heaven and other celestial bodies to split or crack, and rejoin. But this is merely an idea unsubstantiated by any solid or concrete proof. Whatever proof or evidence the philosophers have advanced is flimsy, shaky, inadequate and unsubstantial. The Islamic philosophers [mutakallimin] have broken down their arguments and have shown that they are baseless, false and absurd. They could not prove by any rational argument that ‘moon-splitting’ is impossible. Indeed, illiterate people regard every unusual thing as impossible. Obviously, the very meaning of mu’jizah or a prophetic miracle is that it is an unusual event that is abnormal and out of general habit, which cannot be performed by common people. Any ordinary work which can be performed at any time cannot be called mu’jizah or miracle.
Mufti Shafi thus brings out the following wisdom in that miracle: it has anticipated, so to speak, the infatuation with Greek philosophy.
We all know how Greek pagan thought corrupted Christianity, birthing the Trinity And the Muslim world, too, was negatively impacted by Greek philosophical concepts that led to the deviance of figures like Ibn Sina and others (who were soundly refuted by scholars like Imam Ghazali).
More specifically, these Greek pagans, such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, in their physics and cosmology, separated the universe into two realms: the “sublunary (under-the-moon) sphere,” which is basically our world, characterized by movement, corruption, and change, while the heavenly bodies, including the moon but also other planets such as Saturn, Jupiter, and so on, were unchanging and incorruptible.
The splitting of the moon destroys this belief at the core of Greek pagan “knowledge.” In Greek though, the moon was considered as a sort of judge between the world of humans and the more “superior” cosmos. The moon is vulnerable to destruction and change, contrary to the beliefs of Greek pagans.
In the West itself, the idea of the “immutability” of a supposedly perfect “celestial realm” was challenged by the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe when he observed the 1572 supernova, an explosion of a star obviously indicating that the galaxies are not as “unchanging” as the Greek pagans thought.
Brahe’s assistant, the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, would further bury Greek pagan astronomy by showing that the movements of the planets are elliptic and not circular as they once thought (the circular movement being considered “perfect” in Greek pagan thinking since at least Pythagoreanism), while Italian scientist Galileo, basing himself on their research, would make different discoveries further discrediting the old Greek pagan paradigm. Galileo pointed out the craters on the moon which, again, would indicate that it was definitely “polluted” by “change and movement.”
But Muslims only had to ponder over a single miracle mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah in order to arrive at the same conclusion! Those deviant Muslims in history, such as the Mu’tazilah, only had to ponder on this miracle in order to cure themselves of the blind love of Greek philosophy that led to so much corruption in their aqidah.
While this miracle undermines any erstwhile Muslim fascination with Greeks paganism, it does the same for the Muslim fascination with the modern West, where the moon also stands as a sort of symbol. The first ever sci-fi movie, released in 1902 and directed by Georges Méliès, is titled A Trip to the Moon. The film is about the “space race” between the Cold War rivals, the US and the Soviet Union, which lasted for nearly 20 years. The race was mainly about landing a man on the moon, a competition which ended in the US’ favor with Apollo 11 in 1969, when commander Neil Armstrong became the first man to put a step on the moon (or did he?).
The moon was so potent in the Western imagination that in 1968 French esotericist Jean Sendy wrote La Lune: Clé de la Bible (“The Moon: Key of the Bible”), a book where he says that the moon contains most of the world’s mysteries (of course that would have been debunked just a year later, when commander Armstrong found out that there were no magical creatures or hidden civilizations there).
Scott L. Montgomery wrote about the Western fascination with the moon in his 1998 book The Moon and the Western Imagination, where he studies this infatuation of over three thousands years, and concludes in pp. 224-225:
Though studied and investigated today by people throughout the world, the Moon will always speak of Europe first and of the politics of European science in the mid-seventeenth century (…) will the Earth one day relinquish its hold on the Moon as its model for other planets, as its own alter ego? What uses would such a lunar world have, culturally speaking, were it allowed to die? Beyond nomenclature and simple geography, the Moon has been irretrievably linked to ideas of the distant voyage.
So, the Qur’anic miracle of moon-splitting seems also to be a sort of “cultural commentary” over the West, Greek paganism but also later mutations. In reality, the moon is just a creation, it isn’t “perfect” and travelling to it would not unveil the cosmos’ mysteries. It can also be broken, again, as it is a creation, not the Creator.
The splitting asunder of the Moon also directly answers one of the most common Orientalist claims about Islam, badly regurgitated by intellectually-deficient Christian missionaries today, i.e., that Allah is some Arab “moon god.”