The Expanding Universe; Quranic Prediction?
Edwin Hubble (d.1958) is credited with discovering that the world is constantly expanding, although he credited the work of many previous astronomers. There is an interesting verse in the Quran which alludes to the expanding nature of the Quran. This verse states:
وَالسَّمَاءَ بَنَيْنَاهَا بِأَيْدٍ وَإِنَّا لَمُوسِعُونَ
We have built the sky with might, and indeed it is we who are its expanders. (Quran, 51:47)
Some opponents to Islam use this verse and English translations to question both the authenticity of the Quran and reject the notion that the Quran revealed certain scientific truths long before they were discovered by mankind. They have two arguments: First, translations before Hubble’s discovery translated the Arabic term referring to the universe as “wide” or “broad” Their second argument is that the Arabic term cannot mean “expanders” because if it did Muslims would have discovered the expanding nature of the universe a long time before Hubble.
Their first argument can be answered by stating that the English translation is completely irrelevant. There are two known translations of the Quran into English before 1929. The first is known as the Alcoran of Mohammed, translated in 1734. The second is Mirza Abul Fazl’s translation of the Quran in 1910. Neither of these translations can be examined online and therefore their translation of the above verse is unknown. But, for argument’s sake, we can assume that the words “wide” or “broad” replaced the word “expanders” in the verse. there would be a problem because the Arabic term “who are its expanders” is a nominal accusative sentence. If the suggested words replace “expanders” it would read: It is we who widen it, or It is we who broaden it. Both of these words are a form of expansion. But, as mentioned, the English translation is irrelevant.
Rather one should refer to the Arabic definition of the word. Intentionally using the Arabic-English Lexicon http://www.tyndalearchive.com/tabs/lane/ written by Edward William Lane, published in 1863, well before Hubble’s discovery, the root of the Arabic word is defined as “he made wide, broad, spacious, roomy, or ample.” Interesting that the two alternative translations were “wide” and “broad” which mean expanding when used in the verse. Lane continues and relating the word to divine provision of subsistence, states that it means “He (God) amplified, enlarged, or made ample or plentiful, his means of subsistence.”
Those who are in opposition to the Quran ask why the early translators did not use the term expand. I would argue that the word to expand is the same as the suggestions provided: the same as to make wide or to broaden. All of these terms are suggesting some form of enlargement. But, it will be conceded that later translators chose the term expand probably because of its connotation being congruent with their interpretation of the verse. This leads me to a small, but very important point: science is not always correct Scientific theories are constantly evolving and adapting to new data that has been collected. The authenticity of the Quran is not based on the present scientific interpretation of some phenomena in the world.
Finally, the last point addressed by the opponents of Islam about why Muslims did not discover the expanding nature of the universe due to this verse. Although Hubble admits he was not the first, this discovery is attributed to him. Muslims before 1920 were unaware that this verse might refer to Hubble’s observation. The verse is basically stating that Allah created the skies (atmospheric layers) and enlarges them. This sentence in combination with what is now understood about the universe makes sense. Before Hubble popularised his theory, it would be difficult to read this verse on its own, without any knowledge about this aspect of the universe, and conclude that this is what Allah is referring to. In hind-sight it would have been nice if Muslims who read this verse and was strong in astronomy did research on this field, although there is no proof that they didn’t.
Few points to take away:
- English translation of the Quran is of little importance, Arabic definitions must be examined.
- The words to widen, to broaden, and to expand are all similar and in the same family.
- The Quran is not authenticated by modern scientific findings, because it is possible that the Quran is referring to something else and the scientific finding is wrong.
- Hind-sight is always 20/20.