Monday, 8 March 2010

Islamic Science Fiction?

” Misinterpretation of the Qur’an”

So many directions of sunrise ... and still waiting for enlightenment to dawn?

Harun Yahya’s section of “scientific miracles ofthe Qur’an” (*) has currently reached the number of 105 alleged miracles.

In principle, each claim of a scientific miracle consists of (1) an interpretation of a Qur’anic verse, (2) the explanation of a scientific fact, and (3) establishing a connection between these two.

Obviously, if there should be a genuine scientific miracle, all three parts need to be correct, or there is no miracle. A misinterpretation of the Qur’an will destroy the alleged miracle, and so will a misrepresentation of scientific facts. In my opinion, most of Yahya’s alleged miracles are false because he twists the meaning of the Qur’an in order to arrive at his miracle claim.

However, there are a number of articles in which Yahya betrays his ignorance of even the simplest facts of science and makes blatantly wrong statements on the scientific side of the miracle claim. One such article is the “miracle” of the different sunrise points. Yahya writes:


No! I swear by the Lord of the Easts and Wests that We have the power. (Qur'an, 70:40)

Lord of the heavens and the earth and everything between them; Lord of the Easts. (Qur'an, 37:5)

The Lord of the two Easts and the Lord of the two Wests. (Qur'an, 55:17)

As can be discerned, the words east and west are used in the plural sense in the above verses. For instance, the word "mashariq," used in the first verse for "east,"and the word "magharib"used for "west," are in plural form, indicating that there are two of each. The words "mashriqayn" and "maghribayn" in the last verse are used for two easts and two wests. "Mashariq" and "magharib" also mean the place where the Sun rises and sets. The above verses are therefore referring to different sites of the dawning and closing of the day. It is also worthy o fnote that the vow is taken by the Lord of "the easts and wests" in the first verse.

The axis around which the earth revolves itself is at an angle of 23°27'. Due to that angle, and the spherical shape of the Earth, the light rays from the Sun do not always strike it at the same angle. This means that since the Sun's rays fall on that area at different angles, someone far away from the equator will observe the Sun rising at different points in the east and setting at different points in the west. The further away from the equator that person is the more different points he will identify for the dawning and closing ofthe day. (Source)

Before we look at Harun Yahya’s final paragraph that contains his crucial statement, wewant to observe that these two paragraphs of commentary already contain severe inaccuracies which betray that Yahya does not really know what he is talking about. (1) The plural forms "mashariq"and "magharib" are definitely not“indicating that there are two of each”, but the plural means that there are more than two,i.e. at least three. The Arabic language has an additional grammatical form, the dual, that is used when one refers to a pair or “two of something”. The dual form of these two words is used in Surah 55:17. When the plural is used, it refers to three or more. (2) In most parts of the world, the number of different rising and setting points of the sun is the same whether one is close to the equator or further away (unless one is so far north or south that the sun does not rise or set at all for parts of the year). These points are merely closer together for a person on the equator and more spread out for someone who is further away from the equator. Anyway, apart from stating the explanation (Footnote: I.e. this phenomenon is caused by the tilt of the earth’s rotation axis away from the perpendicular to the earth’s orbital plane) for this easily observable phenomenon, all of this was well-known already in Muhammad’s day.

Side remark: Although Yahya specifically draws attention to the first verse by stating, “It is also worthy of note that the vow is taken by the Lord of "the easts and wests" in the first verse”, he strangely forgot to tell the reader what it is that is worthy of note in this verse. S. 70:40 states: “No! I swear by the Lord of the Easts and Wests that We have the power.” Who is talking? Observe that there are at least three persons involved in this short statement, referred to by “I” (the speaker of this vow or oath), “the Lord of the Easts and Wests”, and “We”. Who is the speaker? Who is “the Lord”? And who is “We”? There are several possible assignments in this “who is who?” question, but each one is problematic. Is that verse a miracle of eloquence or a miracle of confusion? Does this verse not rather reveal the incompetence of the author to express clearly what he meant to say?

Anyway, let’s get back to the main issue. What could it possibly mean to talk of “Easts” (and Wests) in the dual or plural? Ibn Abbas, a cousin of Muhammad and famous commentator of the Qur’an gives this explanation for S.55:17:

(Lord of the two Easts) the East of winter and the East of summer, (and Lord of the two Wests) the West of winter and the West of summer! There are two Easts and two Wests. The East of winter and the East o fsummer have 180 phases just as the two Wests and the moon have 180 phases. It is also said that the Easts of summer and winter have 177 phases and the Wests of summer and winter as well as the moon have 177 phases. The sun rises throughout the year two days in the same phase and it also sets two days in the same phase. (Tanw r al-Miqbas min Taf r Ibn ‘Abbas; source)

Note that Ibn Abbas does not claim that the Qur’an reveals (for the first time) the existence of two Easts and two Wests. No, he explains the expression by connecting it to something the people know well, i.e. that the sun rises at different points throughout the year. The (perhaps somewhat unclear) formulation in the Qur’an is explained with observations that are common knowledge in his time.

Again, in al-Tabari (839-923 AD) we find this narration:

Then he said: For the sun and the moon, He created easts and wests (positions to rise and set)on the two sides of the earth and the two rims of heaven, 180 springs in the west of black clay - this is (meant by) God's word:"He found it setting in a muddy spring," meaning by "muddy (hami'ah)" black clay - and 180 springs in the east likewise of black clay, bubbling and boiling like a pot when it boild furiously. He continued. Every day and night, the sun has anew place where it rises and a new place where it sets. The interval between them from beginning to end is longest for the day in summer and shortest in winter. This is (meant by) God's word: "The Lord of the two easts and the Lord of the two wests," meaning the last (position) of the sun here and the last there. He omitted the positions in the east and the west (for the rising and setting of the sun) in between them. Then He referred to east and west in the plural, saying; "(By) the Lord of the easts and wests." He mentioned the number of all those springs (as above). (The History of al-Tabari?- General Introduction and from the Creation to the Flood, translated by Franz Rosenthal, State University of New York Press (SUNY), Albany 1989, Volume 1, pp. 234-235)

In Ibn Kathir (*), al-Jalalayn (*) and other classical commentaries one can find similar statements. That is certainly not a new scientific insight or a miraculous scientific revelation in the Qur’an. Thefact of different rising and setting points of the sun was known long before the time of Muhammad.

The question, “What does it mean when the Qur’an talks about Easts and Wests?”, is regularly raised by both Muslims and non-Muslims, not only today but from the very beginning. And there are plenty of Muslim commentators who have explained it in various ways to make sense ofit. The above given (and most common) explanation that this expression refers to the different points of sunrise and sunset is certainly a (more or less) reasonable one.

Thus, from the beginning, this was the (main) interpretation, and there was no mention of any miraculous insight. That was the natural explanation for many of these commentators.

Haruny Yahya, however, is not satisfied to find a merely natural explanation for a strange expression in the Qur’an. Appeal to common knowledge is not appealing enough to him. Harun Yahya has the unsatiable urge to construct a miracle out of every statement in the Qur’an. So, in his last paragraph, he tries to turn the natural explanation into something miraculous by claiming that,

Someone at the equator, however, will always observe that the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west, since the Sun's rays always fall perpendicularly there. Bearing in mind that the Arabian peninsula is not that far from the equator, it would appear impossible for such an observation to be made there. That is because someone in that region would see that the Sun always rises at the same point, and always sets at the same point.

That statement, however, is totally bogus. It is scientific nonsense and exposes that Yahya either doesn’t have a clue of what he is talking about, or he is deliberately lying to his audience in order to provide a cheering Muslim crowd with another “miracle”.


Even Harun Yahya should be able to recognize that there is quite a large angle (more than 45 degrees) between the directions of Winter sunrise and Summer sunrise. That difference is very easy to observe. There is no question that these different directions were common knowledge1at the time, as we have already seen in Ibn Abbas’ commentary quoted above.

Still, never blindly trust a Muslim missionary website. Make sure to always check their claims against independent sources. So, the reader is invited to verify the matter by using various calculation programs provided on scientific websites.

Mecca is located at Latitude 21.43°N, Longitude 39.82°E, and is in the time zone GMT +3 (source). Withthis data, we can use a solar calculator (e.g. this one) to find the sunrise position in Mecca(or anywhere else) at any given day. To understand the result we need to understand the term azimuth, which is also explained on this same website (here) together with a helpful drawing:

Azimuth: The angle measured clockwise (eastward) from true north to the point on the horizon directly below (or above) the object.

This solar calculator gives the following resultsfor Latitude 21.43°N, Longitude 39.82°E, and GMT +3:


21 June 2009

21 December 2009

Sunrise Azimuth



Sunset Azimuth



That means, for both sunrise and sunset, there is an angle of more than 50 degrees between the Summer and the Winter sunrise (sunset) directions in Mecca. HarunYahya is clearly wrong.

But Harun Yahya is not only wrong about Mecca,he is also wrong in his statements about the equator. If we go south along the same degree of longitude until we hit the equator, i.e. Latitude 0°N, Longitude 39.82°E, and GMT +3, we get the following table:


21 June 2009

21 December 2009

Sunrise Azimuth



Sunset Azimuth



The angles are only slightly less on the equator than they are in Mecca, but the difference between“Summer” (June solstice) and “Winter” (December solstice) sunrise (sunset) directions is still more than 45 degrees.

This, again, is HarunYahya’s claim:

Someone at the equator, however, will always observe that the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west, since the Sun's rays always fall perpendicularly there. Bearing in mind that the Arabian peninsula is not that far from the equator, it would appear impossible for such an observation to be made there. That is because someone in that region would see that the Sun always rises atthe same point, and always sets at the same point.

And this claim is proven to be utterly wrong. Every sentence in this paragraph is scientific nonsense.

For good measure, here is a quotation from Wikipedia:

“On the equator the Sun is not overhead everyday, as some people think. In fact that happens only on two days of the year,the equinoxes. The solstices are the dates that the Sun stays farthest away from the zenith, only reaching an altitude of 66.56° either to the north or thesouth. The only thing special about the equator is that all days of the year, solstices included, have roughly the same length of about 12 hours, so that it makes no sense to talk about summer and winter. Instead, tropical areas often have wet and dry seasons.” (Source; as accessed on 18July 2009).

Is Haruny Yahya simply ignorant of science? Or does he deliberately deceive his readership in order to fabricate more and more“miracles of the Qur’an”? In either case, with articles like these Yahya disqualifies himself from being taken seriously.

In fact, unless Harun Yahya wants to claim that Muhammad failed to observe the dawn (fajr) prayer that he enjoined on his followers, then Muhammad could not fail to observe the changing directions of sunrise. See, forexample, this information on the obligatory Islamic prayers (1, 2).



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