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Scientific verses and translation of the Quran

Quran is the word of God There are over seven hundred Ayat in the Quran that deal with scientific facts. In the present time, we understand many of those Ayat. Other Ayat imply different meanings, and we do not have enough information to interpret their meaning correctly. This subject of the scientific miracle of the Quran is becoming increasingly fascinating. The available amount of work is so voluminous, and some of the studies are so scientifically detailed. It is very difficult to cover this huge subject in one book, let alone a chapter in a book. However, an attempt will be presented to introduce some of the recent advances in this subject.

The scientific verses in the Quran represent serious challenge to the atheists as well as the Christians. This challenge in no way represents a negative process, but a positive one that keeps humanity reflecting on the many miraculous signs of God as stated in the Quran. How else can anyone explain that an unlettered Arab in the seventh century stated scientific facts that became known after fourteen centuries? Can there be any reasonable explanation except that the Creator of all realities revealed these facts to him? These verses also serve the purpose of providing Muslims with yet another proof of the Divinity of the Quran.

The history of the scientific miracles of the Quran goes back to the time of the revelation to Muhammad (Pbuh). The Prophet and his companions had interpreted some verses according to human perception at that time. Also, the Hadith of the Prophet include many statements that deal with life sciences. The accuracy of those scientific statements is quite astounding considering the fact that he was unlettered. Dr. Abdel Razik Nofal wrote one on the pioneering books on this subject in Arabic with the title “Allah and Modern Science.” The book was an original attempt to explain the following Ayah:

Surah 54, Ayah 49 “Verily, all things have we created in proportion and measure (perfection).”

The author concentrated on the proportions that relate to life on earth and how they represent a perfect balance provided by Allah. For example, the amount of oxygen in the air is perfect; if it is less, humans will not be able to breathe; if it is more, fires could start everywhere. Also the distance of the earth from the sun is perfect; if it is less, we will burn from the heat of the sun; if it is more, we will freeze. Potentially deadly radiation is kept at bay by the terrestrial atmosphere. Carbon dioxide and water vapor help warm the surface, but there is no runaway effect because both are perfectly recycled in various ways. On earth, complex life forms exist consisting of human, vegetable and animal life, from microscopic bacteria to huge elephants, and from minute viruses to giant trees. Although the earth possesses a dense core surrounded by an outer crust and an atmosphere, it has this unique difference – life. During the twentieth century, it has become clear that life exists on earth only because conditions are perfect. Moreover, the chemical and biochemical environments are in perfect balance, to ensure not only the existence of living things but also their continuity.

During the last decades, the number of books and papers that deal with this subject, from Muslims and non-Muslims alike, increased tremendously. Many Muslims understood the orders from Allah to “read”, “look”, and “think” as a call for a better appreciation of the Power of God. Also, Islamic institutions exist in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt that focus on the scientific miracle in the Quran.

Translation of the Quran

 Translating the whole Quran is a tremendous task. It requires scholars who are fluent in the Arabic language and the language to which the Quran is being translated. It also requires knowledge of the grammar of the two languages. If the translation is intended for those who are blessed with faith or for those who seek the basics of Islam, then the existing translations are a great dose of faith and spiritual guidance. May Allah rewards the translators of the Quran for their efforts in spreading the Words of God. If, on the other hand, the translation is intended to address the scientific miracles, the knowledge and mastering of the Arabic language is crucial as indicated in the case of the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille. He studied the Quran with an open mind for ten years. The purpose of his study was to form an opinion about contradictions in the Quran. He studied the Arabic language. Then after ten years of research, he declared in his books that he did not find one single scientific contradiction in the Quran. Another approach for the scientific translation of the Quran is to have an organization consisting of specialists of all branches of science such as cosmology, medicine, geology, anatomy, and engineering, as well as Islamic studies

Some non-Muslims scholars claim that the “translated” Quran contradicts scientific known facts. There are many reasons for that. First, there may exist a conflict of theological interest. Second, the lack of knowledge of the Arabic language and its grammar can mislead the meaning of some verses. Also, the translation of the Quran to other languages may be, in some verses, difficult, thus not conveying the Arabic meaning of short sentences. Allah is the only Author of the Quran, and there are no contradictions in the Quran. Translations of the Quran are nevertheless the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is well known fact, that a translator, however an expert, is liable to make human mistakes in the translation of a highly specialized scientific Ayah, unless he happens to be a specialist in the discipline in question.

An example of translating scientific verses in the Quran deals with the definition of the building block of all matters. Atoms were assumed to be the smallest unseen part of matter. Neither the atom nor its components can be seen. However, each atom has a weight, and scientists discovered the constituents of the atom. In one such Ayah, Allah addresses the unbelievers with a challenge about the weight and components of atoms:

Surah 34, Ayah 3 “The unbelievers say’ “never for us will come the Hour (Day of Judgment): say, Nay. But most surely, by my Lord, it will come upon you by Him who knows the unseen. From Whom is not hidden the weight of an atom in the heavens or on earth: nor is there anything less than that or greater, but is in the Record Perspicuous.”

The available translation refers to the above Arabic words the weight of an atom asthe least little atom,” and the word “weight” is taken out. This demonstrates the difficulty in translating the Quran. Thank God, anyone can refer to the original Arabic text and get better translation. From the above Ayah, one can state the following:

· The atom is unseen.

· The atom is not the smallest thing in the universe.

· The atom has a weight.

Ancient commentators considered the weight of the atom to be equal to the weight of an ant! They believed this because the ant is the smallest thing that can be seen with the human eye. But this is not correct because the Ayah clearly refers to the unseen not the seen ant. When the fourth Caliph, Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, was asked about the meaning of the atom, he said:

“If we look inside the atom, any atom, we will see a sun in its core.” This statement, showing the spiritual vision of Ali, was never understood until the twentieth century. But it clearly simulates the atomic structure with that of the solar system.

In my attempt to address the subject of the scientific miracles of the Quran, I tried to use the existing English translations. In many places, I found difficulty in using these translations. The following are some examples:

  • Stars are translated as planets, and planets are translated as stars.

  • The basic rules of the conjunctions in the Arabic language are not translated correctly. For example, existing translations do not address the difference between Arabic conjunctions “fa” and “thumma”. The first implies immediate succession, while the second implies succession after a delay in time, and this can make a big difference in some branches of science such as cosmology and embryology.

  • Some translators do not reflect the actual Arabic meaning or are unable to grasp the scientific meaning. For example, God states that He is expanding the universe; this is translated as the universe is “so expanse, to make wider, more spacious, to extend, to expand, we give generously.”

Finally, there are rules for interpreting the Quran. The basic rule is that the Quran interprets itself. This implies that the words are divinely inspired; so any text can be interpreted in the light of other texts where the same word exists. Moreover, the statements of Muhammad interpreted many verses of the Quran. He was the living example of the teaching of the Quran.

By: Dr. Adel Elsaie

The Qur’an: A book you can believe in

al-quranThe Qur’an: unique among Scriptures

The Qur’an is the most often-read book in the world. Revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the 7th century, and revered by Muslims as being God’s final Scripture and Testament, its words have been lovingly recited, memorised, and implemented by Muslims of every nationality ever since. The faithful are inspired, consoled often moved to tears by its eloquence and poetic imagery, especially when recited aloud. And yet, the Qur’an is unique in being the only Scripture that is free of scientific inaccuracies, whose historical authenticity can be verified, and whose text has been so carefully preserved that just one authorised version (in Arabic) exists. Approximately the length of the New Testament, the Qur’an is also the only holy book that can be memorised in its entirety by people of all ages and intellectual abilities – including non-Arabic speakers – which Muslims consider to be one of its miracles. We invite you to take a few minutes to learn something about a book that is the foundation of the world-view and culture of almost one-fourth of the people on this planet.

A scientific Scripture for a scientific age

One of the most remarkable things about the Qur’an is that it contains many verses which accurately describe natural phenomenon in various fields such as embryology, meteorology, astronomy, geology and oceanography. Scientists have found its descriptions to be inexplicably valid for a book dating from the 6th century; in fact, many of the processes and functions mentioned in the Qur’an have been discovered only recently. This fact alone has been the cause of a number of distinguished scientists embracing Islam. It also explains why the conflicts that emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages between faith and reason, religion and science, never arose in Islam; the Qur’an repeatedly encourages people to reflect and use their intelligence, and most Muslim scientists and inventors have also been pious believers.

Some of the Qur’an’s ‘scientific’ verses include an accurate description of embryonic development during the first forty days of life; an explanation that the roots of mountains are like pegs which help to anchor and stabilise the earth’s crust; that a natural barrier exists wherever two seas meet (each maintains its own salinity, temperature and density); that waves occur in layers in the depths of the ocean; that the heavens and earth were first joined together before being split apart; and that the heavens emerged from ‘smoke’, i.e. the gases and dust that characterise nebulas as stars are forming.

The Qur’an was never meant to be a ‘science textbook’; whether highlighting the wonders of nature or the lessons of history, its verses direct us to reflect on the glory of God. However, no other ancient book or Scripture is accurate in this way. Muslims believe that this is one of the Qur’an’s proofs; one of the things that makes it a credible, ‘living revelation’ for a modern age, and allows it to reveal itself afresh with passing time.

The Qur’an and the development of knowledge

The word ‘qur’an’ means ‘recitation’, and the first verse of the Qur’an to be revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad was a command to ‘Read (or recite)! In the name of your Lord…’ This directive to a man who, like most people of the time, could neither read nor write, marked the beginning of a new age in human communication, learning, and development. Whereas earlier Scriptures had been written and passed down by elite circles of priests and scribes – usually long after the death of the religion’s founder – the preservation of the Qur’an was a community effort from the beginning, and it was completed during the Prophet Muhammad’s own lifetime. The Prophet’s early followers eagerly memorised and recorded each new revelation as it was revealed; by the time he passed away, thousands had memorised the entire Qur’an by heart. Within two years after the Prophet’s death, the first caliph Abu Bakr requested the Prophet’s secretary Zayd to collect all existing copies and fragments of the Qur’an in one place, in order to compile a standard edition. This manuscript became the basis for the authorised editions that were distributed to each Muslim province during the rule of ‘Uthman, third caliph; remarkably, a few of those early manuscripts have been preserved and can still be viewed in museums today.

Following the example of the beloved Prophet, who encouraged all Muslims, male and female, to seek beneficial knowledge, mosques became centres of learning as well as prayer. The concept of universal, free basic education originated in Islam; children learned to read, write, memorise the Qur’an and do basic maths at village mosque schools; bright students were sent to cities to pursue higher education. The world’s first universities, hospitals, and postal services were established by Muslims. Early caliphs set up institutions like the ‘House of Wisdom’ in Baghdad, where scholars were paid to translate scientific, literary and religious works from every known language into Arabic. It was this open-mindedness that inspired Jews and Christians under Muslim rule in Spain to translate classical Roman and Greek texts from Arabic into European languages, sparking the European Renaissance.

A book with a message and a purpose

Like all books, the Qur’an is a means to convey a message – in this case, a very special message from the Creator to all humanity. The Qur’an is an ‘owner’s manual for the human being’; whoever wonders about the purpose of life and their own existence will find it to be a guide par excellence. Building on prior revelations, this Final Testament confirms the age-old truths of previous Scriptures, but clarifies points of faith where error or confusion have crept into them over the centuries. Those who have read the Bible will find much that is familiar: descriptions of God’s handiwork; stories of the Prophets, Satan, angels and the Day of Judgement; moral and ethical guidelines; and spiritual practices like prayer and fasting. Yet the Qur’an is not just a re-hashing of old stories; its perspective is unique and fresh, and its worldview eminently suited to people of today.

To give one example, according to the Qur’an, God held Adam and Eve jointly responsible for tasting the forbidden fruit; no special curse was laid on Eve for leading Adam astray, and no ‘original sin’ came into being, to be inherited for all time by innocent children. Adam and Eve simply sought His forgiveness and were forgiven, and Adam (peace be upon him) is respected in Islam as the first Prophet.

There are other important distinctions between the Qur’an and the Bible; the Qur’an asserts that much of the original books of the Bible and other Scriptures have been lost or corrupted over time (whether through warfare, political intrigue, religious schisms or other reasons). One only has to consider the number of different versions of the Bible in use today, the lack of ‘first’ originals, and the late discovery of long-lost Scriptures like the Dead Sea Scrolls to realise that this viewpoint is an objective one. The Qur’an rejects the concept of salvation or special privilege based on ethnicity; God does not discriminate on the basis of race or colour. It also denies the need for the sacrifice of innocent life – animal or human – in order for people to attain salvation. It states that Jesus (peace be upon him) was not crucified as claimed, but that God saved him from his enemies, as one would expect of God’s honoured and beloved Messenger; his life was meant to be an inspiring example. Spiritual salvation is to be achieved solely through humble repentance, coupled by an attempt to make amends for one’s sins, and a sincere intention not to repeat one’s mistakes in the future. There is no official priesthood in Islam, and the Imam is no more than a knowledgeable prayer-leader and brother in faith; one’s sins need only be confessed directly to the Creator.

The Qur’an’s main message is to call people to turn to the Source of all being and the Giver of life, and to serve Him with a pure heart, free of idolatry or superstition. In Islam, ‘One God’ means just that: there is no concept of trinity, or anything else to complicate one’s understanding. Like the single nucleus of a cell or an atom, He Alone is the ‘control centre’ behind it all; anything else would lead to chaos and confusion. God is Unique and without partner; He was not born and did not give birth; He is All-Compassionate and Merciful, Almighty and Just, and the only One we need turn to for guidance and help. Anything that we allow to come between ourselves and our Creator – even our own egos – is an idol. Wealth, fame, physical attraction and all the pleasures of this world will someday fade, and we will not be able to take them with us when we die. Only our faith and good deeds will remain, to light our graves and be a beacon for us on the Day of Judgement.

Although no translation of the Qur’an can faithfully capture its Arabic meaning (and all Muslims are encouraged to learn Arabic), the following excerpt illustrates these points beautifully:

‘Recite to them the story of Abraham,

When he asked his father and his people, ‘What do you worship?’

‘We worship idols,’ they replied, ‘and we are ever devoted to them.’

He said, ‘Do they hear you when you cry?

Or do they benefit or harm you in any way?’

They said, ‘No, but this is what we found our forefathers doing.’

He said, ‘Do you see, then, what you and your forefathers have been worshipping?

Truly, they are all my enemies, except the Lord of the Worlds,

Who created me, and Who guides me,

And Who feeds me and gives me to drink,

And when I am ill, He heals me,

And Who will cause me to die, and give me life again;

And Who, I ardently hope, will forgive me my sins on the Day of Judgement.

O Lord, grant me wisdom, and unite me with the righteous,

And grant that I may be remembered well in future generations,

And make me one of the inheritors of the Garden of Delight;

And forgive my father, for he is one of those who is lost;

And do not disgrace me on the Day when all will be resurrected,

The Day that wealth and children will not avail anyone,

Except one who brings to God a clean heart.’

(The Qur’an, Chapter of ‘The Poets’, 26:69–89)

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