Edited and slightly modified by the MuslimAnswers.net Team
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم
The following is one answer to a question posed by one of our members concerning the interpretation of Verse 35:41 of the Qur’an, and what to make of this Verse when compared with modern scientific knowledge. As per the statement of the Shaykh answering this question, this is more or less a partial answer, and if there is any additional material, we will add it to this answer as appropriate.
Question: I have one question with respect to the issue of the orbit of the sun and the Earth as per the Qur’anic Verses. There is one Verse in Surah Fatir, Verse 41 (‘Lo! Allah graspeth the heavens and the earth that they deviate not, and if they were to deviate there is not one that could grasp them after Him.’). What I read from certain places is that this shows that it is only the sun and the moon that move in the skies, and we cannot at all say that it is the Earth that is moving. I believe that in the Ruh al-Ma’ani Tafsir this is what is mentioned, and even from the discussions I have seen on forums, a good number of the Shuyukh are indeed using this Verse in its literal sense and not trying to give any further interpretations that would conform to the heliocentric model.
I want to know whether the justification for this (in front of the non-Muslims especially) could be made on the basis that there is, as far as science and physics is concerned, no absolute objective frame of reference for the movement of bodies, and thus saying that the Earth is the center of the solar system or of the Universe is not wrong even according to the basis used by modern science? Would this be a proper reply, or is there is some other issues that have to be considered, either from the Islamic texts or from some other considerations?
First let us see what is stated by Allamah Alusi in his Ruhul Ma’ani exegesis. There are quotes by some scholars in Ruhul Ma’ani, however none of them are backed up with other verses or Ahadith. It seems as if these are (only) their viewpoints.
Now, let us look at the Verse under discussion again:
إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُمْسِكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ أَن تَزُولَا ۚ وَلَئِن زَالَتَا إِنْ أَمْسَكَهُمَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ مِّن بَعْدِهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
Indeed, Allah holds the heavens and the earth, lest they cease. And if they should cease, no one could hold them [in place] after Him. Indeed, He is Forbearing and Forgiving.
(What we see is that there are) Two (Tathniya) kinds of creation are stated in here: The Samaawaat (the Heavens) and the Ardh (the Earth)).
Allah is reminding people about how He is the Most Powerful (His Qudrah) and the Most Generous (His Lutf).
There is a narration mentioned in some resources such as Ruhul Ma’ani, Tafsir al-Qurtubi and other places. This narration is coming from Ka’b al-Ahbar (a Taabi’i [from the generation after the Companions] considered as Thiqa [trustworthy] by Ibn Hajar and some other Muhaddithun) through an unknown person who speaks to Ibn Mas’ud (RAA) – a similar narration comes via Ibn Abbas (RAA) as well – in which it is said that the Samaawaat (heavens) rotate/move, and Ibn Mas’ud (RAA) says that no, it does not and he recites this verse. This is not mentioned in majority of the Tafaseer and also is not a Hadith which comes from the Prophet (SAW), so we can see these sorts of narrations in Tafaseer in order for us to have a wider understanding and so forth. There are also other points mentioned about the earth being fixed according to some people (Muslims, philosophers, astronomers, etc.), and not fixed according to some others as the same things are said about the heavens.
We do not take a view of one scholar in Islam as it is right and ignore all the rest. Majority of scholars do not comment on this verse like al-Alusi so I saw the best thing is just to ignore it and take the view of majority. In this case it is even easier to ignore as we are not dealing with a Hadith from the prophet or another verse from the Qur’an. The majority looked at this verse from another point of view. I put the relevant verses which will explain this verse clearly:
أَوَلَمْ يَرَوْا إِلَى الطَّيْرِ فَوْقَهُمْ صَافَّاتٍ وَيَقْبِضْنَ مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلَّا الرَّحْمَنُ إِنَّهُ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ بَصِيرٌ
Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (Allah) Most Gracious: Truly (Allah) Most Gracious: Truly it is He that watches over all things. (Mulk 19)
أَلَمْ يَرَوْاْ إلى الطير مُسَخَّرَاتٍ فِي جَوِّ السمآء مَا يُمْسِكُهُنَّ إِلاَّ الله إِنَّ فِي ذلك لآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
Do they not look at the birds, held poised in the midst of (the air and) the sky? Nothing holds them up but (the power of) Allah. Verily in this are signs for those who believe. (Nahl 79)
إِن نَّشَأْ نَخْسِفْ بِهِمُ الأرض أَوْ نُسْقِطْ عَلَيْهِمْ كِسَفاً مِّنَ السمآء
If We wished, We could cause the earth to swallow them up, or cause a piece of the sky to fall upon them. (Saba 9)
وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا فَوْقَكُمْ سَبْعَ طَرَآئِقَ وَمَا كُنَّا عَنِ الخلق غَافِلِينَ
And We have made, above you, seven tracts; and We are never unmindful of (our) Creation. (Mu’minun 17)
وَيُمْسِكُ السمآء أَن تَقَعَ عَلَى الأرض
He withholds the sky (rain) from failing on the earth (Hajj 65)
وَبَنَيْنَا فَوْقَكُمْ سَبْعاً شِدَاداً
And (have We not) built over you the seven firmaments (Naba 12)
وَجَعَلْنَا السمآء سَقْفاً مَّحْفُوظاً
And We have made the heavens as a canopy well guarded (Anbiya 32)
والسمآء بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ
With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space. (Dhariyat 47)
تَكَادُ السَّمَاوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ
At it the skies are ready to burst (Mariam 90)
وَالشَّمْسُ تَجْرِى لِمُسْتَقَرٍّ لَّهَا
And the sun runs his course for a period determined for him (Yasin 38)
If you read these verses then you will see a pattern which will give you an understanding of the verse 41 of Surah Fatir.
I will give some further thoughts about this matter:
o One of the main problems of this Ummah in this information age is the lack of correct knowledge and ignorance regarding Islam, particularly about the verses of Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet (SAW) (the Ahadith) as well as the sayings of some of the great scholars of the past. This is a sickness which leads many people astray and gives ammunition to the enemies of Islam to attack Qur’an and the Ahadith.
o Let us take the example of Verse 41 of Surah Fatir to illustrate this matter. There are in fact two main ways of approaching this verse:
o Literal method: Just leave the verse as it is, with no interpretation at all. The verse is clear enough for anyone to understand. It does not talk about science, orbits , or the heliocentric model. It says how Great and Merciful Allah is. Everything (even the greatest of things, the Heavens) depends on him. He holds things in place in a dynamic order. We need Him, we depend on Him.
o Commentary method: We want to understand deeply if there are any subtleties, clear or hidden messages which are only understood by coupling this verse with other verses or through the aid of Ahadeeth. So this does not mean to explain this verse by looking at scientific books or thinking about some laws of physics or anything like that. This is because the primary sources for the commentary are the Qur’an itself (other verses) and the Ahadith.
o Note that this particular verse does not talk about the Sun or the orbit of any heavenly bodies. You claim that you read some commentaries saying that “this shows that it is only the sun and the moon that move in the skies, and we cannot at all say that it is the Earth that is moving’’. I have to say that this is quite shocking and I am really astonished by the silliness of this false statement and appalling claim.
o I have no clue how one can come up with this kind of commentary. Is there another verse that I do not know of connected to this Verse, or likewise a particular Hadith that establishes this kind of commentary? The verse does not talk about the Sun and the Moon specifically. Yet your statement claims ‘ONLY the sun.’ Why can we not say the earth is moving if the heavens and the earth are mentioned as together held by Allah? To be frank, I am ignoring this false commentary totally as it does not mean anything but utter ludicrousness.
o I do not want to write a lengthy reply regarding this verse but just to explain what I mean by proper commentary, we can do this by looking at the verses which come before and after verse 41. Then let us look at the whole of Surah Fatir to understand verse 41, and then the verses related to verse 41 such as all the other verses about the heavens and the earth, also look for specific words used in verse 41 like ‘Yumsiku’ ((He) upholds), ’Tazula’ ((they) cease), as well as certain particles like the waw (the conjunction ‘and’) between the heavens and the earth (is that waw for separation or for linkage, Fasl or ‘atf ?), in addition to taking the Prophetic narrations into consideration, and so forth…
o So when I look at Surah Fatir verse 1, 2, and 3, I see that they are directly related to verse 41. It will take a long time to explain it here, but just look at the description of how Allah created the heavens and the earth in Verse 1 (starting with the praise (Alhamdulillah) for the creation, using the word ‘Fatara’ (to create without any previous example of it, an innovative creation. The word ‘Fatara’ also has other meanings like crack open, which is related to some other subtle but direct meanings of this verse compared with other verses).
o Verse 2 explains about how Allah opens his Rahmah (Mercy) for humans and that no one can hold (‘Yumsiku’) it. So the words ‘Yumsiku’ and ‘Rahmah’ are used here which can be linked to the word ‘Yumsiku’ in verse 41 as well as ‘Rahmah’ and his holding up the skies and earth as a ‘Rahmah’ of Allah.
o Verse 3 clearly explains how we should remember the Ni’ma (Favor), as ‘Rahmah’ is also a Ni’ma of Allah. Also the provision from the heavens and the earth is a Ni’ma (Rahmah) from Allah. So if Allah does not hold the heavens and the earth together, we would be deprived of many Favors (Ni’am) of Allah. Note that the word ‘Rahmah’ which is also related to the verse 41, in that this Verse uses the words ‘Halim’ (Most Forbearing) and ‘Ghafur’ (Oft-Forgiving).
o I can carry on and on with the aid of only this Surah Fatir, in order to show what this particular verse 41 means. Imagine if I also put the other verses of the Qur’an and the Ahadith together as well , then it would be amazingly clear what the real message of this verse- and I can tell you it is not related to the heliocentric model.
o I do not understand what you mean by ‘a good number of the Shuyuukh are indeed using this Verse in its literal sense and not trying to give any further interpretations that would conform to the heliocentric model’. This Verse has nothing to do with heliocentric model or any other theory of physical sciences (the Verse clearly states that whatever you see below and above, Allah is holding everything you see/hear/know whether it is in the Heavens or on Earth). There is no really no reason to “justify” anything regarding this verse, everything is really so clear.
o Coming to the issue of the frame of references, we see that frames of references are just labels (like coordinate systems), and not absolute entities. However, as an additional point let me say that the Earth needs the Sun, but the Sun does not need the Earth. If you were to remove the Sun, the Earth would not exist, but if you remove the Earth, the Sun would still be there. So from this viewpoint, we are bound by the sun. You can make a similar analogy with the Ka’bah and a pilgrim, the galactic centre and a particular star, and so on.
o The Earth orbits the Sun from many places other than the Earth’s surface. If you are on the surface of the Earth then from your frame of reference the Moon and the Sun go around the Earth. For many other frames of reference the Earth orbits the Sun, including on the Sun itself. Any frame of reference is as valid as any other. The main advantage of the Copernican system is that the mathematics is easier in the frame of reference in which the Sun is fixed or at rest, so one can not say the Earth is the center.