Verses from Surah Al-Anbiya’ (30-40)

[30] Have not the unbelievers seen that the heavens and the earth were once united,40 then We split them asunder.41 And from water We made every living thing.42 Will they not believe?

Commentary

40. Asad comments, “It is, as a rule futile to make an explanation of the Qur’an dependent on ‘scientific findings’ which appear true today, but may equally well be disproved tomorrow by new findings. Nevertheless, the above unmistakable reference to the unitary origin of the universe – metonymically described in the Qur’an as ‘the heaven and earth’ – strikingly anticipates the view of almost all modern astrophysicists that the universe has originated as one entity from one single element .. which became subsequently consolidated through gravity and then separated into individual nebulae, galaxies and solar systems..”

41. Ibn `Abbas, Qatadah, Suddi, Abu Saleh and others have explained that the heavens and the earth were once united into one body until Allah split them asunder. Mujahid added details by saying that there were no seven earths then, nor seven heavens until Allah broke them apart and created the seven heavens and the seven earths positioning them where they are now. Ibn `Atiyyah added that when the earth and the heavens were one, neither did the heavens rain down water nor did the earth grow anything until Allah created life out of water (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Commentaries of the Salaf came so close to the modern finding that one wonders if theirs words had inspirational origin?

Nevertheless, it might be pointed out that it is scientifically erroneous to use this ayah as evidence to prove that the so-called Big Bang theory is correct, or that the Qur’an confirms it, or that the Qur’an had predicted the scientific theory a millennium and a half ago.

All that the above ayah is saying is that at one point of time the heavens and the earth were one, until Allah split them asunder. But what point of time was it, is not stated. In contrast, what the Big Bang theory claims is that at one point of time (10-43 seconds after the Big Bang event, when the temperature was supposed to be 1032K, and density 1097 kg. m-3). What did the universe then constitute of? The answer is: it was energy. Thus, the Big Ban theory is talking of ‘energy’ at the time of the bang, while the Qur’an is talking of ‘matter’ at the time of the spilt.

Further, according to the Big Bang theory, the earth is a part of the heaven and there has been no splitting between the two. In fact, there has been no splitting of matter at any time in the entire history of the universe to create two entities: heaven and earth. The earth still remains part of the heaven. The situation – according to science – has been just the opposite, that is, matter has been coalescing – i.e. coming together (and not splitting asunder). From the state of energy, matter coalesced to become atoms, to molecules, to galaxies, to stars, to planets, etc. But, according to the Qur’anic ayah, the earth and the heavens are two distinct entities that were once one, which split asunder. Science maintains that the earth was perhaps first in the form of a cloud of gas, which coalesced, and due to cooling and gravitational inward pull, the gas became a ball, which, with further cooling, solidified the earth; although no scientist will place his best bet on the process.

At all events, the Big Bang theory also maintains that at the start, the universe was pure energy, while the Qur’an tells us that at the start of the affair there were the heavens, rolled up like the scrolls which made up books in former times, and that it will be returned to that state: “The Day We shall roll the heaven, like the rolling of scrolls to make books. As We began the first creation, We shall repeat it: a promise upon Us, We shall be surely doing it.”

That is how the affair began. What was there before that? The Qur’an is silent. But the hadith fills us the gap. It says that at the beginning it was water. Some people from the Yemen entered upon him (the Prophet). He said, “Accept the glad tidings, O people of Yemen, for, the Banu Tameem would not accept it.” They answered, “We accept. We have come to you to understand the religion, and to ask you about the beginning of the affair: what was there?” He replied, “There was Allah, and nothing before Him. His `Arsh was on water. Then He created the heavens and the earth.”

Obviously, the above Qur’anic ayah and the hadith do not lay down clearly the process of creation, to afford, what the scientists would call as, ‘a rigorous theory.’ But neither does the statements make it all clear which says that the heavens and the earth were one until they split; especially in view of the astronomical fact that the earth is still within the heaven, or what Islam would say, as the first heaven.

As regards the Big Bang theory itself, it remains, even among the scientists, a theory to this date, because it does not explain itself in the fullest sense. Every fresh modification raises newest unanswerable questions. Time and again we shall be touching upon this topic –Allah willing – as we proceed with this work (Au.).

Ibn Kathir turns our minds around to what is rather more of benefit than theorizing about the heavens and the earth. Ahmad and Ibn Abi Hatim have a report which meets the requirements of the two Sahih works. It says that Abu Hurayrah told the Prophet, “Messenger of Allah! When I see you, I feel good, and my eyes feel cool. Let me know about every thing.” The Prophet told him, “Every thing was created out of water.” I asked, “Messenger of Allah, tell me about a deed which if I did will usher me into Paradise.” He answered, “Spread Salam, feed (the people) with food, help the kindred, and stand in Prayers while the people are asleep, and enter Paradise in peace.”

42. It must not be imagined, says Ibn Jarir, that the term living refers to those alone that have a soul. But rather, everything that enjoys some kind of life could be included. And, apart from the apparent meaning, some of the Salaf have thought that the term “maa’” alludes to “spermatic fluid.”

This latter meaning is also scientifically correct. Even bacterium is noted to copulate and exchange genetic material through the medium of a liquid (Au.).

One question, haven’t the angels and Jinn been created out of Light and Fire? The answer is, firstly, is it not the unbelievers who have been addressed here? Have they known that the angels and Jinn have been created out of other than water? Secondly, every rule has an exception. When rules are stated in general terms, the exception is ignored (Razi, Shanqiti). But the plain answer is, Allah was referring to the kind of life that humans encounter.

Asad adds: “The statement that God ‘made out of water every living thing’ expresses most concisely a truth nowadays universally accepted by science. It has a threefold meaning: (1) Water – and, specifically the sea – was the environment within which the prototype of all living matter originated; (2) among all other innumerable – existing or conceivable – liquids, only water has the peculiar properties necessary for the emergence and development of life; and (3) the protoplasm, which is the physical basis of every living cell – whether in plants or in animals – and represents the only form of matter in which the phenomenon of life are manifested, consists overwhelmingly of water, and is, thus, utterly dependent on it. Read together with the preceding statement, which alludes to the unitary origin of the physical universe, the emergence of life-form, and within an equally unitary element, points to the existence of a unitary plan underlying all creation and, hence, to the existence and oneness of the Creator. This accent on the oneness of God and the unity of His creation is taken up again in verse 92 below.”

It might be pointed out that in the above statement it is only the sea as the first place of origin that has been questioned by some scientists, but not water as the primary constituent of all living beings. In any case, we might at this point add a few scientific facts about water as the matrix of life:

Water

Oxygen and hydrogen are the constituents of water: both are gases. But when the two are mixed in the ratio of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, a miracle happens. That miracle is water. And the bonding is pretty strong. Water will need to be heated to 2,0000 C, to break the bond and separate apart the oxygen and hydrogen atoms. However, when heated beyond 100 deg. C., the mixture evaporates. And it evaporates as water molecules. The oxygen and hydrogen atoms do not separate out. Had the bond broken when heated, we would be in serious trouble not knowing how to combine them together to get back water.

Water has properties that are so unique to it that it deserves to be called a miracle. It is the only element that is present on the earth as solid, liquid, and gas. No other substance appears in these three states within the earth’s normal range of temperature.

That water is liquid has made possible the appearance of life on earth. No other substance is liquid at ordinary temperatures. In fact, the temperatures at which water is a liquid are unusual. Water is a liquid between 0 deg. C, its freezing point, and 100 deg. C, its boiling point.  But other substances with a structure similar to that of water are not liquid in this temperature range. These substances include gases that contain two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of other elements. E.g., tellurium, selenium, or sulfur.  These substances, H2Te, H2Se, or H2S, although so close to water, are not found in liquid form on the earth at normal temperatures. If water behaved like these close relatives, it would be a liquid between about -100 deg. C and -90 deg. C.  In that case, there would be no liquid water on earth because the earth’s temperatures are far higher than –100 deg. C.

One of water’s properties is its ability to climb up a surface against the pull of gravity. This property helps it circulate through soil, and up through the roots and stems of plants. It also helps circulate blood, which is mostly water, throughout our bodies, since blood has to climb up from the feet to the heart and further up to the head.

Another of water’s qualities is that it is a good solvent. It dissolves and carries nutrients in the soil to plants and to the cells within plants.  Water also dissolves the food that people and animals eat, and then carries this food to the cells. If the substances did not dissolve in water, like they do not in honey, then the stomach would have been unable to send the digested food to the cells of the body.

Yet, strangely, when substances dissolve into water, water molecules do not hold them into strong bonds. But rather, in very weak bonds that separate out whenever need arises. E.g., water is the medium through which materials are transported from one compartment of the cell to another. However, once the material reaches the destination, magically, water is separated out from the nutrients and dismissed. Without water as the solvent and carrier, cells would not function. If water did not make weak bonds with the material it dissolves, the dissolved material would have risen with water molecules when they rise up as vapors. For example, sea-water has about 1% of salts dissolved in water. There are other chemicals too. But, when water rises up, it breaks away from the other materials to escape as water molecule alone: without any impurity whatsoever. This property assures supply of pure water.

Yet, water, although such a great solvent and also reactive with many agents, is the least reactive liquid compared to many alkalis and acids, which react very strongly and dissolve anything that gets in touch with them rendering them irrecoverable. Sulfur-dioxide for example, reacts strongly. It will make a hole if a quantity of it is poured on a human palm.

Water stands apart from every other substance in one of its strange qualities. It contracts as it cools until just before freezing point, after which it expands until it becomes ice. This is a unique property of water among all liquids. (And it seems it violates nature’s laws). Most substances contract as they grow colder. Water also contracts when cooled. But that is only up to 40 C. If cooled further, to say less than 40 C, it expands. At 00 when it becomes ice it occupies more space than same amount of liquid water since it has expanded. For this reason it floats over liquid water. This is absolutely essential for all life on earth. If ice contracted, it would sink and settle at the bottom. That means, each winter more and more of ice would accumulate at the bottom and slowly the entire water system would turn solid. What would remain is a thin sheet of water, at the surface, and that also only in summer but the rest of it ice. In winter it will be all ice and water cycle would stop to function. The thin sheet of water would have absorbed the heat preventing the ice at the bottom from becoming liquid. But, because ice expands in volume, it floats at top so as to prevent the cooling of water below the surface. In laboratory experiments, the upper part of a container of water with ice at bottom was heated from above to boiling temperature, but ice did not melt at bottom.

The latent heat of frozen water is again one of the highest of all known liquids. If not for this property, (a) the climate would be subject to far more rapid changes. Small lakes and rivers would vanish and reappear constantly. (b) Warm-blooded animals would have a far harder time ridding their bodies of heat. Actually, as Denton points out, the large heat capacity, high latent heat of evaporation, heat conductivity, and low viscosity (of water) conspire to serve the end of temperature regulation in a large organism like a man.

Water is different from all other substances in one another quality: specific heat. The thermal capacity or specific heat of water, (which is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of water one degree centigrade) is higher than most other liquids. If not for this, the difference between summer and winter would be extreme and weather patterns would be less stable. It takes in lots of heat before boiling. It boils at 100 deg. C. Had it boiled at lower temperatures, the earth, whose temperature is largely controlled by the watery sea, would have had very different weather conditions. We might quote Asimov: “In general, the greater the molecular weight, the higher the boiling point. Water, with a molecular weight of only 18, boils at 100 deg. C., whereas propane, with more than twice this molecular weight (44), boils at much lower temperature of -42 deg. C.” (Asimov’s New Guide to Science, Isaac Asimov, Penguins Pub., 1984, p. 476). This is another quality that is essential for life’s survival.

The thermal conductivity of water, (which is the capacity to conduct heat), is four times greater than any other common liquid. Without this, it would be harder for cells which cannot use convection currents to distribute heat evenly throughout the cell. The thermal conductivities of ice and snow are low. If they were high, the survival of many forms of life in the higher latitudes would be lost. Also, water would cool more rapidly and small lakes would be more likely to freeze completely.

Again, water has a very high surface tension: the higher than any liquid except selenium. This helps draw the water up through the soil within the reach of the roots and assists its rise from the roots to branches in tall trees. If surface tension of water was the same as most other liquids, tall trees would not have received water at the top branches.

The viscosity of tar, olive oil, or sulfuric acid, are 10 billion times, one hundred times and twenty-five times that of water. Water’s viscosity is almost the lowest among the liquids. If it was higher, marine life would have been either extremely difficult, or impossible. Living bodies couldn’t move in water. If viscosity was slightly lower, any movement of material within the cell would be impossible. In fact, the cells themselves wouldn’t have been able to replicate, or move about. Blood circulation through extremely tiny capillaries would have been impossible if the viscosity of water was any higher. And, strangely, if the viscosity was lower, blood circulation would yet be more difficult.

The density of water is one gram per cubic centimeter. This plays an important role in marine life. If water was denser all the living organisms in the sea would have been possible only at the top surface. There would be no life at the bottom of the sea. And if it was a fraction less dense, all marine life would sink to the bottom of the sea, without the possibility of any life at the upper level.

Life, therefore, depends entirely on the strange properties of water. Protoplasm is the basis of all living matter, and the vital power of protoplasm depends on the constant presence of water. Also, replication is the key to the propagation of life. But no replication would be possible without water. Indeed, it is hard to even think of life except in a liquid state. A little consideration tells us that gases cannot be the ingredients of a living body. For, atoms in a gas are volatile, always moving about, jutting into each other, and bouncing away. How can we create a cell with complicated machinery inside it with the help of atoms floating around? Or, consider solids. Each atom in a solid is tightly held and is under compression from all sides. How could we make cells from it and make them replicate?

We might quote Michael J. Denton here, “.. Water gives appearance of being uniquely fit for the type of carbon-based life that exists on earth. Every one of its chemical and physical properties seems maximally fit not only for microscopic life but also for large warm-blooded organisms such as mammals.. If the properties of water were not almost precisely what they are, carbon-based life would in all probability be impossible.. If the thermal properties of water were even slightly different, the maintenance of stable body temperatures in warm-blooded organisms would be problematical. No other liquid comes close to water as the ideal medium for carbon-based life.” (Nature’s Destiny, The Free Press, 1998, p.19).

The statement that all life is from water should come as a surprise to the unbelievers.  For, it is science of the modern times that informs us that not only all life is water, but it is impossible to have life, as we know it, without water. In fact, not only life is impossible without water, but water is the major component of all life: A human is 60-65% water.  An elephant is about 70% water, a potato 80% and tomato 95%. If our body loses 20% of its water, we will die in a short time. That is true of all living bodies. We all live in water as much as fishes do.

The question that an unbeliever in the Qur’an as a revelation of God can ask himself is, how did Prophet Muhammad make this statement, if we assume that he is the author of the Qur’an?

J.Z. Young wrote: “It has been suggested that ammonia might substitute for water in life-like systems elsewhere in the universe. But ammonia is liquid only between -77 deg. C and -33 deg. C. A further serious disadvantage is that solid ammonia is denser than the liquid, whereas ice floats. Furthermore, if ammonia was split by organisms as water is by photosynthesis, it would presumably produce nitrogen, which would never have filled the place that oxygen has in making energy available for life.” (An Introduction to the Study of Man, J.Z. Young, ELBS pub., 1979, p. 25).

In conclusion we could reproduce Denton’s remark again, “There is indeed no other fluid which is remotely competitive with water as the medium for carbon-based life. If water did not exist, it would have to be invented.” (Nature’s Destiny, p. 46).

We might add that not only water seems to be the medium through which messages are sent across from organelle to organelle within the cells, but also that a recent discovery is that water (even outside a living cell) seems to have memory. This is the property that homeopathy seems to use to its advantage. However, what is more stunning is that even though diluted to such degree that it would hold not a single atom of a foreign element that was once in it, water retains the memory of that element, and chemically behaves as if that element is still there.

And, as if mysteries of water are not exhaustible, another newly discovered property of water is that each of its molecule has a magnetic polarity. In the words of John Gribbin (The Reason Why, Allen Lane, England, 2011, p.80, “The second most important property of water for life is that each molecule has a magnetic polarity. In other words, one end of a water molecule behaves like a very weak magnetic north pole, and the other end like a very weak south pole. This is an almost unique property in the world of molecules. This polarity encourages not only water molecules but molecules dissolved in water to line up in certain ways, and this is one factor in determining the shape of the amino acid molecules that are crucial for life” (Au.).

 

[31] And We have placed in the earth pegs lest it should vibrate with them and have placed therein highways to serve as passes so that they may find the way.43

Commentary

43. That is, neither the mountains are there by accident, as the geologists would have us believe, nor is their placement in the manner they are placed, by accident. The whole of the earth has been designed to its minutest detail to support and propagate life (Au.).

 

[32] And We have made the sky as a roof well protected.44 But they remain heedless to its signs.

Commentary

44. That is, well protected from falling off its place (Razi, Qurtubi), which is the meaning most of the Salaf have derived, although minor opinions also prevail (Au.).

 

 [33] He it is who created the night and the day, the sun and the moon. Each one of them swims along 45 in an orbit.46

Commentary

45. Some people have imagined that space must be filled with water for Allah (swt) to use the word swimming”, says Razi, but that is not necessary. Is not the word “sabih” used for (smoothly galloping) horses?

46. The translation reflects the understanding of Qatadah, Ibn Zayd and some others. But of the classical scholars, some, like Mujahid, Dahhak and others have understood the term “falak” not as “orbits” but as “axis” comparing it to the central steel pin of the grinding stone. That is, these celestial objects rotate around their own axis. A third opinion was that of Hasan. He said the whole universe rotated around an axis. One or all of the three, writes Ibn Jarir, could be true and at the same time. Imam Razi conjectures that any one of the three opinions could be correct: (a) space is stationary, celestial bodies move through it, (b) space moves while the celestial bodies are stationary, (c) both space and celestial bodies are moving in different directions.

That the Milky Way galaxy is slowly rotating around its own axis is quite well known, but the idea that the Universe could be rotating around its axis is not a far-fetched idea in modern cosmology (Au.).

 

[34] And We granted not any human eternity before you. If you died, will they live forever?47

Commentary

47. Unable to stop the Prophet’s progress the pagans sometimes said, in the language of the Qur’an (52: 30), “Or, do they say, ‘A poet for whom we await a misfortune of time!’” So, Allah asked them, “If he died, will they live forever?” (Qurtubi).

 

[35] Every soul shall taste death.48 We try you with evil and good for a testing.49 Then to Us you shall be returned. 

Commentary

48. The use of the word “taste” in the statement, “every soul shall taste death” is indicative of the fact that death is a difficult process (of transfer from one world to another) – Shafi`.

49. “We try you with evil and good for a testing”: Thus both the situations, of evil as well as good, are for trying out man. Now, which of the two is easier? The answer is, to bear out with patience when passing through difficulties is easier, in comparison to remaining thankful and obedient in times of affluence. Hence ‘Umar said, “We were tested with difficulties and we showed patience. Then we were tested with ease and comfort, but we did not exhibit patience (Shafi`).

 

[36] When the unbelievers see you, they treat you not but in mockery: ‘Is this the one who mentions your gods (contemptuously)?’ While they are, at the mention of the Most Merciful, unbelievers.50

Commentary

50. That is, they argued in favor of earthen idols, but never would they say anything in favor of their One Lord, the Most Merciful. How foolish?! (Qurtubi). They mock at you O Prophet, adds, Thanwi, but they need to mock at themselves (for not paying respects to the Lord of the universe but paying respects to idols).

 

[37] Man has been created hasty.51 Soon shall I show you My signs, so do not seek Me to hasten (them).52

Commentary

51. Man has been hasty right from his first few minutes of existence. It is reported by Suddi that during the process of creation of Adam in the final hours of the day, when the soul had reached upper half, while the lower lay in clay, he tried to rise and said, “O Allah, hasten the creation before sunset” (Ibn Jarir, Razi, Qurtubi). Ibn Abi Hatim also has a report to this effect (Shawkani).

The Arabic text, as in Ibn Abi Shaybah and others is as follows, but it must be noted that these are the words of, depending on source, the words of Salman al-Farsi, Ibn `Abbas, Mujahid or others, and not a hadith. Shanqiti thinks this is an Israeli report (Au.).

Should man be blamed then for being hasty? Shanqiti asks. The answer is, yes, because he can control his haste, placed in him for testing him.

52. Ibn Kathir attempts to provide the connection with the previous verse. He writes, ‘When some people read about how the Prophet was ridiculed, they conclude in haste that the detractors ought to have been punished. So Allah added, “Man has been created hasty.” Rather, the rule is that every one of the human beings is given enough time to think, consider and adopt the right course. He is forgiven several times. Finally, when all hopes are lost, there comes the punishment, which cannot be averted.’

Mawdudi has more or less the same to say, “The unbelievers derided the very notion of God’s punishment, of the Hereafter, and of Hell. They accepted that the Prophet (peace be on him) had warned them that if they rejected his call, they would be seized by God’s punishment, would be called to account on the Day of Judgment and would suffer the agonies of His Hell-fire. However, they contended that even though they heard the Prophet’s warnings and had rejected his teachings, they nevertheless continued to flourish. God’s punishment, they argued, was not forthcoming nor did it appear as if the Day of Judgment was imminent. This verse then is in response to such statements from the unbelievers.”

(To be continued)

 

[38] They ask, ‘When will this promise come to pass, if you are true?’

[39] If only the unbelievers knew (the time) when they will not be able to ward off the Fire from their faces, nor from their backs, neither shall they be helped.

[40] Rather, it will come to them all of a sudden, leaving them bewildered, so that they shall not be able to avert it nor shall they be given respite.