2

There is a verse in the Qur'an that goes:

The heavens, We have built them with might. And verily, We are expanding it (51:47)

Some Islamic scholars say that this is an indication of the universe constantly expanding, which wasn't known by the science until it was discovered by Edwin Hubble and others in the 1920s:

The expansion of the universe is one of the most important pieces of evidence that the universe was created out of nothing. Although this fact was not discovered by science until the 20th century, God has informed us of this reality in the Qur'an revealed 1,400 years ago:

It is We who have built the universe with (Our creative) power, and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it. (The Qur'an, 51:47)

Yet, astonishingly well before telescopes were even invented and well before Hubble published his Law, Prophet Muhammad used to recite a verse of the Quran to his companions that ultimately stated that the universe is expanding.

Were there any scientific research about 1450 years ago and prior that talk about this?

8
  • 3
    "Were there any scientific research about 1450 years ago and prior that talk about this?" This is begging the question. It presupposes that the Quran is talking about the modern idea of an expanding universe.
    – Schwern
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 5:44
  • @Schwern The universe is constantly expanding, that's what the verse is saying. Not sure what you mean by "modern era", I think I am not able to understand you well.
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 5:57
  • 2
    @Stranger It really doesnt clearly state that the universe is expanding in anything like the scientific sense we mean now. For example, the translation: "It is We who have built the universe with (Our creative) power, and, verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it." Could be referring to many different things. You could use that paragraph to describe the Star Wars Universe. If that's all they really have talking about expansion of the universe, it's too vague to say they mean the same thing as scientists who talk about the expanding universe.
    – JMac
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 14:09
  • 1
    @JMac Scientists talk in detail, Holy books, and religious texts are there to be short and generalized, to cover as much as possible in concise texts, so I am not really "comparing" both.
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 14:15
  • Your question is essentially invalid. Its because you ask about a prediction about a fact that was as well a fact when the "prediction" was made as its a fact today. You should have asked something like "Did quran told that universe is expanding?". In short, prediction is about a future event. Not about a current event or a past event.
    – Atif
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 7:49

2 Answers 2

11

Before we reach for the miraculous, we must first consider the mundane.

What are the odds the Quran is coincidentally right?

Pretty good.

Consider there's only three options here:

  1. Expanding.
  2. Contracting.
  3. Static.

If picked at random the odds are 1-in-3; not bad.

But it isn't random. Consider "The heavens, We have built them with might. And verily, We are making them smaller." It's unlikely a holy text will glorify creation by saying it's contracting.

That leaves us with expanding or static. Expanding is an expression of power and might and awe. Static is an expression of constancy, reliability, and unending power. Either seems likely.

So about 50/50.

This is before considering that we're combing through the text to find verses which match modern scientific understanding while discarding those which do not.

Interpreting holy texts literally.

As always with reading of holy texts literally, there are other interpretations with different implications.

For example, I have a copy of a translation by M. H. Shakir which interprets it as an expression of the Lord's power to create.

And the heaven, We raised it high with power, and most surely We are the makers of things ample.

But I'm no expert. Let's take this interpretation at face value.

What else does the Quran say about the heavens?

If we're going to interpret this one verse of the Quran as God informing us of the reality of the universe, we have to examine the other parts of the Quran that speak of the "the heavens" and see how they match reality. Otherwise we'd be cherry picking.

There are seven heavens and they were made in two days.

So He formed the heaven into seven heavens in two Days, assigning to each its mandate. And We adorned the lowest heaven with ˹stars like˺ lamps ˹for beauty˺ and for protection.

41:12

Then He turned towards the heaven, forming it into seven heavens.

2:29

The heavens have soldiers.

We did not send any soldiers from the heavens against his people after his death, nor did We need to.

36:28

Stars are for decoration and protection from eavesdroppers.

We have adorned the lowest heaven with the stars for decoration and ˹for˺ protection from every rebellious devil. They cannot listen to the highest assembly ˹of angels˺ for they are pelted from every side, ˹fiercely˺ driven away. And they will suffer an everlasting torment.

37:6,9

And indeed, We adorned the lowest heaven with ˹stars like˺ lamps, and made them ˹as missiles˺ for stoning ˹eavesdropping˺ devils

67:5

The seventh heaven has a tree.

at the Lote Tree of the most extreme limit ˹in the seventh heaven˺—

53:14


The Quran refers to the heavens as a physical place which was made in two days and needs protection from eavesdroppers. It has soldiers, seven levels, and a tree. In this context, the verse is referring to expanding that creation.

Whether you believe that place exists is up to you, but it bears little resemblance to our modern astrophysics.

16
  • If we consider the literal Arabic words, the M.H. Shakir translations seems invalid. the verse directly says "we are its expanders" in Arabic, so I am not sure how they got the "maker of things".
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 5:59
  • I think that the Qur'an refers to many metaphysical things in regard to the heavens, those other verses seem to have little to no connection with the verse in question. If you'd want to state that the Qur'an is scientifically invalid, you can bring much seemingly effective verses such as the flat earth ones, but neither that nor the verses mentioned in your answer seem to have a link with the question.
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 6:10
  • 8
    @Stranger If you're asking if people were studying the expansion of the universe 1450 years ago, that's not a skeptics question; try History.SE. The question relevant to Skeptics.SE is whether the Quran predicts the expanding universe. Those verses show their understanding of the "heavens" was quite different than ours, their idea of what expanding the heavens means is about a completely different heavens than our own.
    – Schwern
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 6:18
  • @Schwen Okay, now I get what you mean. That's a good answer overall.
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 6:23
  • @Schwen I'll wait for other answers, so that I don't have to change the accepted answer many times :)
    – user66632
    Commented Nov 25, 2022 at 6:25
3

Quran:

وَٱلسَّمَآءَ بَنَيْنَـٰهَا بِأَيْي۟دٍۢ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ

Quran.com translation:

The heavens, We have built them with might. And verily, We are expanding it

The translation is not quite accurate, especially for the last word "expanding it/expanders" for "مُوسِعُونَ".

Let's see what the top most revered muslim exegetes of all time say:

  • Baghaway (10th century): one who has power/capacity (ذو سعة). rich (أغنياء) ...etc.
  • Qurtubi (12th century): rich and powerful (أغنياء قادرون)
  • Tabari (9th century): one who has power/capacity (ذو سعة) or extended/contained it (أوسعها).
  • Ibn kathir (14th century): we extended/contained its edges without pillars until it stabilized as it is (قد وسعنا أرجاءها ورفعناها بغير عمد ، حتى استقلت كما هي)

Source: https://quran.ksu.edu.sa/tafseer/baghawy/sura51-aya47.html#baghawy

Interestingly and as noted by Baghaway and Tabari (cf source), The Quran itself uses the singular form of "مُوسِعُونَ" in another verse ("مُوسِع"):

عَلَى ٱلْمُوسِعِ قَدَرُهُۥ وَعَلَى ٱلْمُقْتِرِ قَدَرُهُۥ

If we go to the source of your translation (quran.com) and check now the translation of its singular form (2-236):

the rich according to his means and the poor according to his

https://quran.com/al-baqarah/236

In order to have a more faithful translation, let's start with a word-to-word translation (mine):

And_the_sky (وَٱلسَّمَآءَ) we_built_it (بَنَيْنَـٰهَا) with_hands (بِأَيْي۟دٍۢ) and_we_are (وَإِنَّا) powerful (لَمُوسِعُونَ).

I translated the last word مُوسِعُونَ as "powerful", I could have chosen a more elegant word such as "omnipotents", but I'll stick to a literal translation and avoid the shakespearian style translations that target westerners.

If the author meant "expanders" instead of "powerful", he would have chosen another word: "مُوَسِّعُونَ" instead of "مُوسِعُونَ". These two words might look identical to you, but they are not: notice the small " ّ" above "سـ" and the " َ" above "و".

The final translation would give:

And the sky, we built it firmly. Indeed we are powerful.

General advice: if you want to have a good interpretation of the quran without a concordist bias, stick to the old exegesis.

13
  • Tackling the claim by suggesting the translation is poor is a reasonable approach, but your personal translation is off-topic here. I would suggest a reference like this that offers competing translations from recognised experts.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 1:18
  • 2
    @ Stranger, 1. let's restrict ourselves to orthodox islamic sources, those followed by muslims, not those followed by terrorists (Ala Maududi is a modern era terrorist and should not be cited as a source). 2. Ibn kathir citation is already in my answer. 3. I gave the source of all tafsir (exegesis) I used, click on it and you can switch between exegetes (mufassirun).
    – Akli
    Commented Nov 27, 2022 at 2:44
  • 1
    As a native urdu speaker, a language that is derived in part from arabic, its very clear to me and to other 1.5 billion to 2 billion native urdu speakers in world that the word "la mosioon"at end of the quranic verse refer to "wusat" which means expanse. A "wasee" thing is a thing that is big and huge. We say sky is "wasee", ocean is "wasee" means they are expanded, very big. "la mosioon" means "We are expanding it". The tense is continuous, its something that is happening. Thats the point. Its an ongoing thing. Its like someone say "I am driving". (contd.)
    – Atif
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 9:04
  • 1
    ... When "wasee" means rich it means it by extension. A rich man has a type of "wusat", he is expanded, he can live big, he can spend big. Its like in english the word "rich" not exactly means "wealthy", think "rich text font" or "rich experience", just have variety and you are rich, you not have to have a lot of each of the things. In urdu we say "wasee o areez" (its relevant here because "wasee" is an arabic word used in same meaning in urdu) which means huge and wide or expanded and wide. "wasee" is a very common word in urdu and for that matter in arabic also.
    – Atif
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 9:16
  • 1
    ذو سعة means "those that has the capacity / vastness / hugeness". This refer to rich people because they have vastness. أوسعها same root word. How did you translate "لَمُوسِعُونَ" as powerful? Its like translating "I am programming" to "I can think". Ofcourse you can think if you can program but the message is not "I can think". When translating something one should convey the message as accurately as one can. Another problem is لَمُوسِعُونَ dont say anything about who one is, it not show a property, it show an action. The message is about what one is doing.
    – Atif
    Commented Dec 15, 2022 at 9:31

You must log in to answer this question.