Creation

Surah 41 (Fussilat/Expounded): 11

Moreover, He set the balance towards the sky which was smoke.
So he said to it and to the earth:
‘Come willingly or unwillingly.’

They both said: ‘We come willingly.’

[‘A Simple Translation of The Holy Quran (with notes on Topics of Science)’, Mir Aneesuddin, 1993 (Indian geologist, and President of Islamic Academy of Sciences, Hydrabad]

 

TQRC Creation

God’s creation of ‘the heavens and the earth’ is referred to throughout the Qur’an, with {7.54-58}, {21.30-33}, {41.11-12}, {45.3-5}, {50.38}, {51.47}, {57.4}, {65.12} and {71.13-17} offering the most detailed accounts.

 

Creation of the heavens and the earth

In {7.54}, {10.3}, {11.7}, {25.59} and {50.38} the Qur’an describes God as having created the heavens and the earth ‘in six days’. This, of course, reflects the well-known account of creation in the Book of Genesis, although unlike in Genesis, none of these verses ascribe particular stages of creation to particular ‘days’, leaving the significance of the division of the period of creation six segments unstated. By contrast, in {41.9-12} three separate periods amounting to a total of eight days are described. According to this scheme, God brought the earth into existence in two days, over the course of the following four days He placed mountains upon it and apportioned ‘means of sustenance’, before, in the final two days through the commands of {41.11} (produced above) and {41.12} He transformed the ‘smoke’ above the earth into ‘seven heavens’. In {21.30}, the heavens and the earth that had been ‘sewn together’ were ‘rent asunder’.

 

God may call any thing into being by uttering the single word ‘Be!’, {2.117}, {6.73} and {40.68} (the same phrase that is used in relation to the creation of Jesus in Mary’s womb in {3.47 & 59} and {19.35}, and in relation to the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day in {16.40} and {36.82}). Instructing something that does not exist to come into existence is a difficult concept to rationalise, but the illogicality is compounded in {41.11} by the sky, which by that stage did not yet exist, and the earth, which had been created in the preceding verse, somehow both verbally replying that they would indeed come into existence as they were bidden. Later God would have a second conversation with his otherwise inanimate creation, this time described as ‘the heavens, and the earth and the mountains’, when he offered them the ‘Trust’ that He later bestowed upon Adam, but which the heavens, earth and mountains declined to accept, {33.72}.

 

In addition to {41.12}, seven heavens are also referred to in {2.29}, {65.12}, {67.3-4} and {71.15}. In {67.4} and {71.15} these heavens are described as tiered ‘one upon the other’, and, in these verses and {41.12}, the lowest heaven is ‘adorned … with lamps and a guard’, see also {37.6} and {67.5}. The sky is depicted as a physical object: a ‘canopy‘ over the earth, {2.22} and {32.32}. In {13.2} and {31.10} it is said to be raised ‘without pillars that you see’ – indicating some think the existence of pillars that cannot be seen – and it is held aloft by God’s will, {22.65}, lest it fall to earth, {34.9} and {52.44}.

 

In {10.5}, {25.61} and {71.15}, God is described as having made the sun and moon as lights or lamps in the sky. Their movement is described as they follow one another across the sky, ‘each running for a term appointed’, {23.2}, {31.29}, and {39.2} (see also {21.33}), and a reason for this is given, namely ‘that you might know the number of years and the reckoning of time’, {10.5}. Whilst this pre-Copernican depiction of the sun and moon’s journeys across the sky might be accepted as the use by God of poetic language, other descriptions of sunset and sunrise:

{36.38} And the sun runs to a dwelling place of its own.

That is the decree of the Mighty, the Knowing,

{36.39} And for the moon We have decreed mansions till it returns like an old palm stalk,

and even more explicitly, the Qur’an’s account of Dhu’l Qarnayn actually visiting the places where the sun rose and set 〈29.〉, must surely test this figurative interpretation to breaking point.

 

The earth (which in {65.12} seems to be described as though it in fact consists of seven different earths) was ‘spread out’, {15.19}, {20.53}, {43.10}, {50.7} and {51.48}, {71.19}, in some translations (eg Yusuf Ali) ‘as a carpet’, and fixed securely in place by ‘casting into the earth’, {31.10}, mountains as ‘stakes’, {78.7}, ‘lest it shake’, {16.15}, {21.31}.

 

The duties of the ‘guard’ appointed to defend the lowest heaven are described in {15.16-18}, {37.6-10} and {72.8-9} (see also {67.5}). In these verses, the Qur’an describes them chasing away with flaming missiles any jinn 〈15.〉 or ‘shaitan 〈17.〉 who dares to approach the heavens for the purpose of eavesdropping on conversations or to the recitation of the Qur’an in heaven.

{15.16} We have set constellations in the sky and we have adorned them for the onlookers.

{15.17} And We have preserved them from every shaitan outcast,

{15.18} Save he who gains a hearing by stealth, and then a manifest flaming star pursues him.

 

Water

There is no reference in the Qur’an to God creating water. He does set a barrier between salty and sweet water, {25.53}, {27.61} and {55.19-20} (see also {35.12}); provides for ‘abundant rainfall’, {25.48-49}, {43.11}, {50.9}; and creates oceans and rivers, {16.15} and {27.61}; but in {11.7} God is said to have created the heavens and the earth ‘whilst His Throne was upon the water’, suggesting that water was already in existence prior to the creation of the heavens and the earth and so in some sense, uncreated.

 

In the understanding that there are waters above the heavens that are the source of rain, whilst the earth floats upon another reservoir, the waters below the earth that are source of the sea and groundwater, the Qur’an shares the cosmology of the Book of Genesis, in which God separates two bodies of water by the sky and the earth (chapter 1, 6-10 ). In its account of the Great Flood 〈20.〉 the same outlook view is evident in its description of the deluge (Genesis chapter 7, verse 11 ):

All the fountains of the great abyss burst forth, and the floodgates of the sky were opened’,

The Qur’an’s image of God’s Throne sitting above water, likely follows the words of Psalm 104 :

1. …O Lord, my God, you are great indeed.

2. You are clothed in majesty and glory, robed in light as if a cloak,
You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth;

3. You have constructed your palace upon the waters.
You make clouds your chariot, You travel on the wings of the wind,

4. You make the winds your messengers, and flaming fire your ministers.

A similar idea is expressed in Psalm 148.4’s ‘Praise him … you water above the heavens . (See also the ‘test of water’ in 〈23.〉)

 

The Biblical cosmology in turn is known to owe much to earlier Sumerian creation myths, especially the Babylonian Enuma Eliš . Derived themes include, in particular, the existence of a watery chaos before the creation of land and the rending asunder of the earth and the heavens, (in the Enuma Elis, achieved by the tearing apart of the goddess Taimat); the fixing of lights in the sky, and the separation of the world’s water into two different types. All of these ideas have then migrated to the Qur’an. In the references to the seven heavens also, the Qur’an partially adopts the cosmology of ancient Mesopotamia, according to which the earth lies below seven celestial domes which the sun, the moon and the five visible planets traverse with the lowest heaven being the setting of the constantly moving array of stars. However, just as the Qur’an gives no significance to the division of the creation process into six days, it makes no connection between the existence of seven heavens and the celestial bodies. On the contrary, other than for flaming missiles hurled at the jinn, the sun and moon are the only heavenly bodies whose movement is mentioned in the Qur’an and these appear to traverse the same paths, below the lowest heaven.

 

God’s Throne

Although, following His completion of creation, God is described as afterwards ‘mounting his Throne’, see 〈11.〉 above, this is no more than the assumption of a posture from which He is to preside over the history that will unfold as a result from His creative act. God’s Throne is an important part of the Quran’s cosmological outlook, as the seat of God’s power and majesty. It is described as being ‘encircled’ by angels ‘hymning the praise of their Lord’, {39.75}, and on the Last Day eight angels shall carry it, {69.17}, in the same manner as in ancient times angels had bourn the ark of the covenant, {2.248} (see 〈23.〉). The imagery of God sat upon on a throne or chariot, borne by angels, replicates visions of God’s Throne recounted by Ezekiel (1.26 ), Isaiah (chapter 6 ) and Daniel (7.9-10 ), as well as Jesus’s anticipation of a day of judgment ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory escorted by all the angels of heaven, (sitting) upon his royal throne’ (Matthew 25.31). In {50.38} the Qur’an makes a special point of denying that God had found the act of creation fatiguing and that He needed to sit down to rest. This insistence was likely to counter the popular reading of Genesis 2.2 that ‘God rested on the seventh day’. This verse is generally associated with the Jewish observation of the sabbath as a day upon which no work is to be performed. Islam has no equivalent to the sabbath – the only one of the Ten Commandments for which the Qur’an contains no equivalent, see 〈84.〉 and 〈90.〉

 

Means of sustenance

Once God had made man and his mate 〈16.〉, he created for them a diverse landscape of ‘neighbouring tracts, vineyards, sown fields and date palms’ in which are fruits – cryptically said to be ‘of two types{13.3-4} and ‘in pairs’, {36.36}. Into this fertile country, he ‘sent down … of cattle eight pairs‘, {39.69}. These ‘eight pairs’ seem to be a reference to the four basic types of livestock known to seventh century Arabia: sheep, goats, camel and oxen, since these four species are also mentioned as ‘eight pairs’ in {6.143-144} (despite the text clearly only listing four pairs). Animals are sometimes anthropomorphised in the Qur’an. Solomon overhears an ant talking to its fellow ants about him, marshals birds in ordered ranks and holds conversations with a hoopoe bird, see 〈23.〉 below; God Himself explains the facts of life to a bee in {16.68}; and in {6.38} it is said: ’there is no creature that crawls upon the earth nor flies upon its wings , but that they are communities like (men)‘.

 

God is said to have ‘sent down’ iron, {57.25}, which is strong and beneficial, ‘so that God may know those who will help him and his messengers unseen’. Also, for man’s benefit He created two means of transportation: paths to allow him to move across the land, {16.15}, {20.53} and {21.31}; and ships, {2.164} and {36.42}, which He makes subservient to man’s will, {14.33}, {17.66}, {31.31} and {42.32}; see also {23.22}, {35.12} and {55.23}. In {16.80-81}, a diverse selection of other things are attributed specifically to God’s creative force: ‘dwellings made from the skins of cattle … from their wool, fur and hair, furnishings…, shade…, places of refuge in the mountains, coats that protect from heat and from man’s own might’ (probably chain mail – see 〈14.〉 and 〈23.〉)