(Draft Article) Objection: Verse 51:47 says the universe is vast and not “expanding”

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By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

Statement: Verse 51:47 says the universe is vast and not “expanding”. Dr. Naik is wrong on that.

Answer: 

We believe the objector is referring to the following piece from Dr. Naik’s book:

THE EXPANDING UNIVERSE

In 1925, an American astronomer by the name of Edwin Hubble, provided observational evidence that all galaxies are receding from one another, which implies that the universe is expanding. The expansion of the universe is now an established scientific fact. This is what Al-Qur’aan says regarding the nature of the universe: “With the power and skill Did We construct The Firmament: For it is We Who create The vastness of Space.” [Al-Qur’aan 51:47]

The Arabic word mûsi‘ûn is correctly translated as ‘expanding it’, and it refers to the creation of the expanding vastness of the universe. Stephen Hawking, in his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’, says, “The discovery that the universe is expanding was one of the great intellectual revolutions of the 20th century.”[1]

For this Verse we would say that there are a number of issues, one of them concerning whether what is referred to is “vastness” as a noun, or “expanding” as a verb, but also another issue of whether the Universe itself is the subject of the vastness/ expansion; so both of these issues are seen at play when we consider the original sources. To appreciate this, we see that the Verse in question is:

وَالسَّمَاءَ بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ

In this Verse the key word is “مُوسِعُونَ”. According to a number of recent interpretations, this refers to the ability of Allah in expanding His Creation. This is attested to by the translation made by Mufti Taqi Usmani, who renders the translation as: “And the sky was built by Us with might, and indeed, We are the One who expands.”[2]

Likewise, Shaykh at-Tantawi (Rahimahulla) mentioned that this phrase refers to the power of Allah to expand it (where “it” means the sky or Firmament, or the provisions of the people on Earth).[3] On the other hand, we see that Brill’s “Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage” renders the translation of this Verse as: “and We built the heaven with power and we have made it vast”, identifying the heavens as the subject of the “vastness”[4]. So we see a number of possibilities when we consider a number of interpretations and translations.

Allah knows best, but it may be that the position forwarded by Dr. Zakir Naik could be one of the possibilities that are encompassed in this Verse. Indeed, the fact that the Quran mentions the skies in conjunction with saying that Allah is the One who expands or is able to expand is perhaps a pointer alluding to the “expanding Universe”[5].

From our side, we will not pursue this angle too aggressively since it is only a possible meaning among other probable meanings that can be inferred from this Verse, in addition to the fact that the science surrounding such a theory is not absolute and we as Muslims cannot say that the meaning of a certain Verse of the Qur’an is definitely tied to a scientific theory which could (at least in principle) be overturned, or explained in very different terms years down the line.

So we only say that the Universe itself may not the direct subject of this Verse, and the theory of the “expanding Universe” may or may not be alluded to in this Ayah.


[4] As in page 1026 of the Version available in the Arabic Almanac site. We are including this Dictionary, even though it is not among the classical commentaries of the Qur’an, for the readers to have an idea of the different possibilities that have been considered throughout Islamic history concerning the meaning of this Verse.

[5] These different sayings are not really contradictory but are complementary to one another, as –for example- the fact that Allah expands the bounties of certain people by giving them riches, does not rule out the possibility that such people may also experience an expansion in their bounties through rain, children, etc. It also does not technically rule out that the visible Universe is in a state of constant expansion, or that it was made “vast”. So these sayings should be seen as complementary to each other rather than in opposition to one another.

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