‘Splitting the Moon’

Surah 54 (Al-Qamar/The Moon): 1-2

1. The Hour (of doom) is drawing near, and the moon has split asunder (the people of Makkah requested Muhammad to show a miracle, so he showed them the splitting of the moon).

2. Yet, when they (disbelievers) see a sign, they turn away and say: ‘This is continuous magic.’

[‘Qur’an, The Final Revelation’, Abdul Hye, 2006 (former NASA engineer)]


There are several short hadith purporting to explain the context of this verse, of which the following (from Sahih Bukhari) is typical:

The people of Mecca asked Allah’s Messenger to show them a miracle. So he showed them the moon split in two halves between which they saw the Hira mountain.


A slightly fuller hadith was recounted by the ninth century jurist, Ahmad bin Hanbal,

The moon was split into two pieces during the time of Allah’s Prophet; a part of the moon was over one mountain and another part over another mountain. So they said: ‘Muhammad has tricked us by his magic.’ They then said: `If he was able to trick us by magic, he would not be able to do so with all people.’


However, the supposed miracle of the splitting the moon is not mentioned at all by Ibn Ishaq (writing c.760), nor does it appear in the additional notes made in the Biography of the Prophet of Ibn Hashim (d. 834): compelling evidence that this literalist explanation of {54.1-2} – was not in circulation at the time when Ibn Ishaq compiled everything that he could discover of Muhammad’s life. The account appears, in al-Tabari’s tenth century Annals.


In fact the report of this miracle, which had it occurred would have been visible not just to Muhammad’s audience in Mecca, but across the whole of Europe, Africa and Asia, is not merely implausible (as is the nature of all miracles), but contradicts and undermines the very many verses of the Qur’an that declare that no miracles would be forthcoming from the Qur’an announcer. Demands for such a sign are referred to in many verses, {6.4 & 37}, {7.203}, {10.20}, {11.12} (‘Why has no treasure been sent down upon him or an angel not come with him?’), {13.7 & 27}, {17.90-93} (‘We shall not believe in you until you make a spring gush forth for us from the earth,… or you make the sky fall on us in pieces or till you have a house of gold ornament or you ascend to Heaven. And we will not believe in your ascension until you bring down unto us a book we can read’), {20.133}, {21.5} and {29.50}, but in each case the demand for a miracle in addition to the miracle of the Qur’an itself, is refused. Two reasons are provided for this. First this is because past experience had demonstrated that signs were ineffective: ‘Never did a sign from amongst the signs of their Lord come unto them, but they turned away from it’, {6.4}, similarly {6.109} and {17.59}; see also {2.145}. Secondly, because it is not for people to be persuaded by their own mental efforts: ‘God leads astray whomsoever He will and guides to himself whosoever turns in repentance’, {13.27}. Instead of a miracle worker, Muhammad is stated on a dozen occasions to be ‘only a bearer of good news and a warner’.


Since {54.1} begins ‘The Hour is drawn nigh… ’ it seems reasonable to suppose that the splitting of the moon is a sign of the beginning of the end of days. Perhaps the Qur’an author was attempting to persuade his audience that in some way, this process was beginning. Alternatively, the rent asunder moon may have been a metaphor for the weakness and division of Byzantium, the moon being the symbol of its capital Constantinople.