Saturday, 23 September 2017

MYTH: Quran Describing the Expansion of Universe

There is a very popular claim made by Muslims that the Quran describes the universe as "continuously expanding", which I will debunk here. Before that, consider these basic facts:

1) Before Edwin Hubble's research in 1929 which established the expansion of universe in the scientific community, not a single translation of the Quran and tafseer (exegesis of Quran) gave the idea that the Quran describes the expansion of universe.

2) After the above discovery, the translators slowly started reinterpreting the Quran to fit the discovery. Notable ones include the post-1970 translations of TB Irving, Rashad Khalifa, Muhammad Asad and Shabbyr Ahmed.

Here is a vast list of translations of the verse in question - Quran 51:47:

Now, on to the main point - What does the Quran actually say? To know that, let us put together verses 51:47 and 51:48:


51:47 - "Wa al-samaa banaynaahaa bi-aydin wa-innaa lamoosi'Aoona"
51:48 - "Wa al-arda farashnaahaa fa-ni'Ama al-maahidoona"

English (literal, word by word):

51:47 - "And the heaven, we have built it with strength, and indeed we are (surely) expanders"
51:48 - "And the earth, we have made it a resting place, so how excellent are the spreaders"

The apologetic claim is that the verse 51:47 describes the universe as "continuously expanding". They often translate the phrase "wa innaa lamoosi'Aoona" as "and indeed we are expanding it". Such a translation is a distortion of the original Arabic. Apart from that, not a single traditional tafseer writer understood it that way. The phrase "lamoosi'Aoona" is the emphasis "la" (meaning: "surely") added with the collective noun "moosi'Aoona" (meaning: "expanders"). To translate moosi'Aoona as "expanding" is a clear grammatical error, where the verb "expanding" is inserted in place of the collective noun "expanders". "moosi'Aoona" comes from the Arabic word "moosi'Ai" meaning "rich" ( and hence it has been understood as making the heaven more spacious, in context of verse 51:47.

The logic and tone of the verses 51:47 - 51:48 is as stated below:

1) Allah and angels (we) constructed the heaven - one of the later steps in the construction was the raising of its ceiling, ie, the expansion of heaven (part of the creation narrative - Quran 79:28). Hence they are referred to as "expanders" (moosi'Aoona).
2) Allah and angels spread the earth very well (making it a resting-place). Hence, they are referred to as "spreaders" (maahidoona).

The Arabic grammar of 51:47 and 51:48 is symmetrical. Just as "moosi'Aoona" means "expanders", "maahidoona" means "spreaders". This is a poetic way of referring to the ones who did the creation and shaping of the heavens and the earth. Throughout the centuries, the readers of the Quran were well aware that the verse 51:48 was not talking about a "constant" spreading of the earth, rather was just stressing that they spread the earth very well. Likewise, they understood verse 51:47, not as a "constant" expansion of the heaven, rather was just stressing that they expanded the heaven (like narrated in verse 79:28 "allah raised the ceiling of the heaven").

It is a simple matter of being consistent with the grammar. Those Muslims who want to argue that the verse 51:47 is talking about a constant expansion of the universe, by the same token of consistency, they would have to argue that 51:48 is talking about a constant spreading of the earth. Which simply does not happen at all! Do these people want a package with one scientific miracle and one scientific error, or do they want neither? I will let them decide.

Finally, let us look at what Ibn Katheer, one of the most respected commentators of the Quran has to say about this:

Allah reminds us of the creating of the higher and lower worlds,
﴿وَالسَّمَآءَ بَنَيْنَـهَا﴾
(We constructed the heaven.) meaning, `We made it as a high roof, protected from falling,'
(with Hands), meaning, with strength, according to `Abdullah bin `Abbas, Mujahid, Qatadah, Ath-Thawri and several others,
﴿وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ﴾
(Verily, We are able to extend the vastness of space thereof.) means, `We made it vast and We brought its roof higher without pillars to support it, and thus it is hanging independently.'
﴿وَالاٌّرْضَ فَرَشْنَـهَا﴾
(And We have made the earth a Firash), meaning, `We have made it a resting place for the created,'
﴿فَنِعْمَ الْمَـهِدُونَ﴾
(how excellent a spreader (thereof) are We!), meaning, `We spread it for its inhabitants,'
﴿وَمِن كُلِّ شَىْءٍ خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ﴾

This is very similar to how I described these verses. The tone of the passage is like a reminder to the construction and transformation of the heaven and the earth, as told in the creation narrative of the Quran (chapter 79 and 41 for example).

To conclude, there is absolutely no miracle here. One has to distort the Quranic grammar or treat it with some serious inconsistency inorder to present it as a miracle.


  1. Thanks Rahul for this informative article.posted on my Twitteraccount