The Qur'an makes the following statement about the sun and the moon: "Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40).
Why did the Qur'an say that the sun and moon move with their own motion? And, if that is true, where did the author of the Qur'an get this information?
The fact is that the sun and moon rotate on their axes and are in part animated by this rotating motion. The phrase "travelling with its own motion" in the verses quoted above is a translation of the Arabic verb 'yasbahoon'. This could also be translated 'they swim.' In that case, the verse would read that the sun and the moon, "Each swim in its own orbit." Those who translate the verse this way explain that the term swim refers to movement with one's own internally generated force. Furthermore the movement of a swimmer is graceful, measured, and smooth. This is a very fitting description for the movement of the stars and planets including the sun and the moon.
After describing the scientific data concerning the rotation of the sun and the moon, Dr. Bucaille says: "These motions of the two celestial bodies are confirmed by the data of modern science, and it is inconceivable that a man living in the seventh century A.D.... could have imagined them" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 163).
It is also amazing that the Qur'an uses a different term for the movement of the clouds and the mountains (see Qur'an 27:88). Obviously, the clouds and mountains are driven by external forces. The cloud is driven by the wind and the mountains move with the rotation of the earth. The sun and moon, however, move with their own motion, and therefore the Qur'an uses a peculiar term "they swim" to refer to their smooth, graceful, self-propelled movement.
How did the author of the Qur'an know enough to make this choice of words that will reflect a modern scientific truth? The Qur'an is no less than a revelation from God.
What Shape is the Earth:
Today we can look at a globe and know that the earth is somewhat like a ball, a sphere. The Qur'an makes certain statements that led Muslim scientists to understand long before their European counterparts that the earth is spherical. When Europe was in the dark ages thinking that the earth was flat, Muslim students were using globes for studying the earth in Islamic universities.
Since it was not the purpose of the Qur'an to teach science, the Qur'an did not need to state explicitly that the earth is spherical in shape (or more precisely, a geoid). But some of what the Qur'an says stimulates you to think of the world as a globe. Take, for example, the following verse: "Have you not seen how God merges the night into the day and merges the day into the night?" (Qur'an 31:29).
Another verse tells us that God coils the day and night around: "He coils the night upon the day and He coils the day upon the night" (Qur'an 39:5).
The word 'coils' in the verse above is a translation of the Arabic verb kawwara which is used in describing the action of coiling a turban around the head. To understand this statement fully, readers of the Qur'an had to think of the earth as a sphere.
To fully appreciate the above two statements in the Qur'an, try this experiment at home: You need a flashlight and a globe. Take these items into a dark room. Using the flashlight to simulate the light of the sun, shine the light upon the globe. Notice that only one half of the globe is lighted up. The other half is in darkness. Half the world is having day, the other half is having night. Now, recall that the earth is continuously rotating on its axis and will go around completely in twenty four hours. Slowly turn the globe around to simulate this rotation. Notice that as the globe turns, the day is going around the globe to light up the other half of the world. The night is also going around the globe to give rest to the other half of the world.
The day and night are perpetually coiling around the earth with some degree of interpenetration. This is exactly how it appears to astronauts during their space flights.
Dr. Bucaille makes the following remark: "This process of perpetual coiling, including the interpenetration of one sector by another, is expressed in the Qur'an just as if the concept of the earth's roundness had already been conceived at the time—which was obviously not the case." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 165).
How do we explain the presence of this knowledge in the Qur'an? This obviously did not reflect the level of learning of the time, but was helpful in stimulating Muslim scientists to conceive of the earth in its real shape.
Six Days of Creation or Six Periods:
Today we know that the creation process can be measured in billions of years.
The priestly editors or the Bible could not have known this. In their eagerness to enjoin Sabbath observance on others they wrote that God rested on the very first Sabbath day after finishing up his work of creating the heavens and the earth.
The six days of creation in the book of Genesis, then, are clearly like six days of any seven-day week. The Priestly editors have made it clear that a day is meant a period from one sunset to another. Six days meant from Sunday to Friday. They believed that the reason the Sabbath day became holy is that God Himself had rested on that day. Thus the editors tell us:
"By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:2).
If that is not far enough, the editors took the idea that God rested farther still when they wrote as follows: "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed" ( Bible, King James Version, Exodus 31: 17).
The idea that God rests like humans and gets refreshed like humans had to be corrected by Jesus, on whom be peace, when, according to John, he declared that God never stops working, even on the Sabbath day (see John 5:16). God clarified the matter in His own words when he declared: "And verily we created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in six days, and naught of weariness touched us" (Quran 50:38 see also v. 15).
The above quranic verses clearly refute the idea that God rested. God, according to the Quran does not get tired. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes him (Quran 2:255).
But how about the period of creation? Was that six days in the Quran too? In the above quotation from the Quran the term translated 'days' could mean, according to Dr. Maurice Bucaille, "not just 'days', but also 'long periods of time', an indefinite period of time (but always long)" (The Bible, the Quran and Science, p. 139).
Dr. Bucaille notes that the Quran also speaks of "a day whereof the measure is a thousand years of your reckoning" (Quran 32:5). The Quran also speaks of a day whereof the measure is 50,000 years" (Quran 70:4).
Dr. Bucaille also points out that long before our modern ideas of the length of time involved in the creation, commentators of the Quran understood that when the Quran speaks of six days of creation, it does not mean six days like ours, but rather six periods. Abu al Su'ud, for example, writing in the sixteenth century, understood it as six events (see The Bible, the Quran and Science, p.l39).
Again, we see that the Quran has avoided repeating an error which was established in a previous book an error that will not be discovered until modern times. In view of this, can anyone insist that the Quran is the work of a man?
What Holds up the Sky:
Today scientists speak of gravitational forces that hold the heavenly bodies apart from each other and prevent them from colliding with each other. How was this to be conveyed to the first readers of the Quran? God tells us in the Quran that He is the One Who raised the sky (Quran 55:7) and that he holds it back from falling on the earth (Quran 22:65). But how exactly does God do this?
If the author of the Quran was a human being, it would have been very easy for the author to copy the answer to this question from the Bible. But today no one will believe that answer.
In the New American Bible, a picture is drawn to show how the authors of the Bible imagined the world to look like. In that picture, the sky "resembles an overturned bowl and is supported by columns" (The New American Bible, St. Joseph's Medium Size Edition, pp. 4-5). The earth in that picture is flat, and is also supported by pillars. After describing the picture at length, the editors of that Bible conclude by calling that idea of the world a "prescientific concept of the universe."
At the time when the Quran was being revealed, anyone could have easily believed this description which was already found in the Bible. It is only in modern times that people would know better. How did the author of the Quran avoid this mistake?
God says in the Quran that He created the heavens "without any pillars that you can see" (Quran 31:10). Again, the Quran says: "God is the One Who raised the heavens without any pillars that you can see" (Quran 13:2). Dr. Maurice Bucaille comments: "These two verses refute the belief that the vault of the heavens was held up by pillars, the only things preventing the former from crushing the earth" (The Bible, the Quran and Science, p. 154).
To be able to avoid that prescientific error, the author of the Quran must have been either a modern scientist, or God Himself.
The Sun & Moon and Their Orbits:
Today we know that the Moon revolves around the earth in approximately 29.5 days. The sun also revolves in its own orbit. To understand the sun's orbit, Dr. Bucaille says that the position of the sun in our galaxy must be considered, and we must therefore call on modern scientific ideas (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
Our galaxy, the milky way galaxy, includes one hundred billion stars situated in such a formation that the galaxy is shaped like a disc. This disc turns around its center like a gramophone record. Now, it is obvious that when a gramophone record turns, any point on the disc would move around and come back to its original position. Similarly, every star in the galaxy moves as the galaxy rotates on its axis. Therefore the stars that are away from the center of the galaxy orbit around the axis. The sun is one of those stars.
Dr. Bucaille explains that modern science has worked out the details of the sun's orbit as follows: "To complete one revolution on its own axis, the galaxy and the sun take roughly 250 million years. The sun travels roughly 150 miles per second in the completion of this" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
After describing this, Dr. Bucaille comments: "The above is the orbital movement of the sun that was already referred to in the Qur'an fourteen centuries ago." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162)
And yet this is a new finding. As Dr. Bucaille says, the knowledge of the sun's orbit is an acquisition of modern astronomy (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 162).
Two verses in the Qur'an refer to the orbits of the sun and moon. After mentioning the sun and the moon, God says: "Each one is travelling in an orbit with its own motion" (Qur'an 21:33; 36:40). How did the author of the Qur'an know of this? Even after the Qur'an was revealed, early commentators could not conceive of the orbits of the sun and moon. The tenth century commentator Tabari could not explain this so he said, "It is our duty to keep silent when we do not know" (XVII, 15 quoted in The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).
Dr. Bucaille comments: "This shows just how incapable men were of understanding this concept of the sun's and moon's orbit." (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161).
From this it is clear that if the Qur'an was here expressing an idea already known to the people, the commentators would have easily understood it. But this, as Dr. Bucaille explains was "a new concept that was not to be explained until centuries later" (The Bible, the Qur'an and Science, p. 161)
This confirms what God said to his prophet, on whom be peace: "This is of the tidings of the Unseen which we inspire in you (Muhammad). Neither you nor your people knew it before this" (Qur'an 11:49).
Organization of the Universe:
What the Quran mentions about the organization of the Universe is important because "these references constitute a new fact of divine Revelation" (The Bible, the Quran and Science, p. 153). The Quran deals with this matter in depth although this is not dealt with in the previous scriptures.
Dr. Maurice Bucaille also points out the important fact that the Quran does not contain "the theories prevalent at the time of the Revelation that deal with the organization of the celestial world" (p. 153). If the Quran was authored by any human being, he or she would have naturally included the ideas prevalent at the time. But many of those ideas were later shown to be inaccurate. How did the author of the Quran know enough to exclude those ideas, unless the author is God himself.
Those who say that Muhammad authored the Quran think that the Arabs were very knowledgeable in the field of Science, and Muhammad was or course one of them. But this explanation is based on the incorrect assumption that the Arabs knew Science before the Quran was revealed. As pointed out by Dr. Bucaille, the fact is that Science in Islamic countries came after the Quran, not before. "In any case", writes Dr. Bucaille, "the scientific knowledge of that great period would not have been sufficient for a human being to write some of the verses to be found in the Quran" (The Bible, the Quran and Science, p. 1 53-1 54)
Modern astronomers are aware that the stars and planets are kept within ranges of precise distances from each other. Had it not been for this fact, collision between them would be inevitable. The author of the Quran was also aware of this. In the Quran we read "the sun and the moon (are subjected) to calculations (Quran 55:5).
Again, we read: "For you (God) subjected the sun and the moon, both diligently pursuing their courses" (Quran 14:33). The phrase 'diligently pursuing their courses' is a translation of the Arabic term daa'ib which here means 'to apply oneself to something with care in a perseverant, invariable manner, in accordance with set habits' (The Bible, the Quran and Science, p.l55). And that indeed is how the sun and moon behave.
Another verse in the Quran says, "the stars are in subjection to His command" (Quran 16:12). Order in the universe is essential for its preservation. God, who subjected them to that order knew about it before any scientist.