Introduction

It seems common these days for people with no understanding of Islam or indeed science, to pontificate about both simultaneously. Nowhere is this better seen than the Islamophobic website “WikiIslam” devoted, it seems, to the most absurd allegations against the Quran, the religion of Islam, and the person of the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace.

A recent one in their arsenal is their allegation that the Quran represents the world as being “flat”. The Quran is a religious text that claims to be word-for-word revealed from the All-Knowing God, so if the Quran did state quite clearly that the world was flat, then that would indeed be a serious problem for Muslims.

That is not the case, however. In fact, as we shall soon see, the very verses used to allege that the Quran presents a flat-earth worldview in reality are extraordinary prophecies, detailing an astounding geological feature of the earth that remained unknown until the 20th century. The failure of this allegation reminds me of the following statement of the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas:

I have seen people who make objections against Islam and I have collected these objections; and I say this truly that the point on which those who are unfamiliar with these matters have raised an objection, is precisely the point where a treasure of wisdom, truth and deep knowledge is buried and the person who objects has nothing but foolishness and blindness. With their objections they prove that they are narrow-minded and possess an unprincipled nature, otherwise they would not have raised objections against what is, in fact, a mine of deep and true knowledge. It is for this reason that I advise you to pursue your search for the truth with gentleness and patience.

Wiki-Islam and Flat Earth Claims

Wiki-Islam claims that the Quran presents the world as flat on account of the following words used in the following verses:

Firash/Farashna

“Who made the earth a bed [firash] for you, and the heaven a roof, and caused water to come down from the clouds and therewith brought forth fruits for your sustenance. Set not up, therefore, equals to Allah, while you know.” [2:23]

“And the earth We have spread out [farashna], and how excellently do We prepare things!” [51:49]

Madadna

“And the earth have We spread out [madadna], and set therein firm mountains and caused everything to grow therein in proper proportion.” [15:20]

“And the earth — We have spread it out [madadna-ha], and placed therein firm mountains; and We have made to grow therein every kind of beautiful species.” [50:8]

Mahd

“He, Who has made the earth for you a cradle [mahd], and has made pathways, for you therein, that you may follow the right way” [43:11]

“It is He Who has made the earth for you a cradle [mahd], and has caused pathways for you to run through it; and Who sends down rain from the sky, and thereby We bring forth various kinds of vegetation.” [20:54]

Bisaat

“And Allah has made the earth for you a wide expanse [bisaat]” [71:20]

Dahaa

“And the earth, along with it, He spread forth [dahaa].” [79:31]

The authors of WikiIslam allege that because the Quran uses such terms as “bed” or “cradle” and such words as “spread out”, the Quran is painting a picture for us of a land-mass in which the earth was rolled out like a carpet or a rug for humans to sleep on, like a bed.

There is, however, another interpretation to these verses which fits perfectly reasonably with the verses too.

Refutation of WikiIslam

Is the Earth Spread-Out?

In 1912 a geophysicist and meteorologist by the name of Alfred Wegener, looking at the shape of the continents and how they fit together, developed the theory of “contintental drift”. This is the idea that all continents were once one land mass, and slowly drifted apart to their present-day positions. His view at the time was dismissed and regarded as outlandish. Sadly, he died in 1930, before the evidence supporting his view came to light.

In 1953, one of the largest structures on the planet was discovered by two geologists – Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen: the mid-Atlantic ridge. The mid-Atlantic is the largest mountain range in the world, running a huge course on the seafloor of the Atlantic ocean. These mountain ranges are volcanic, continually emitting magma. The significance of this was not realised until, in 1962, Admiral Harry Hess published a groundbreaking paper in the History of Ocean Basins in which he demonstrated, through his sonar analysis of the ocean floor, that the further laterally you moved from the mid-ocean volcanoes (such as the mid-Atlantic ridge), the older the land became. Interestingly however, he found that the land closest to the volcanoes, was younger. He surmised from this that new molten magma was bubbling up from the volcanoes, setting on the seafloor surface and pushing the land laterally. This he termed “seafloor spreading”.

GIF: How Seafloor Spreading occurs

The process, he realised, verified the theory of “continental drift”. It was one of the greatest geological discoveries of history. The original landmass from which all the continents broke apart was termed “Pangaea”, Greek for “All Land”.

Is the Quran Referring to Sea-Floor Spreading?

From the above discovery, we now know that the Earth was, quite literally “spread out”. That the Quran uses that term specifically should be cause for anyone with sense to pause, and think. The term “seafloor spreading,” don’t forget, was not coined by Muslims.

But how can we know for sure that the verse is talking particularly about seafloor spreading that occurs at the bottom of the ocean? Isn’t it more likely that the verse is simply describing a “flat-Earth” idea? No – and here’s why.

The mid-ocean ridges are formed at the edges of two tectonic plates. As the plates move away from each other, the molten magma from under the Earth’s crust bubbles up, being given an opportunity to burst out under high pressure. The consequence is the formation of a mountain. This is important to understand; the process itself of plate tectonic movement enables magma upwelling, which in turn forms an underwater mountain range. The mountain range is formed by the very act of seafloor spreading.

To understand the significance of this, let’s look at the words the Quran uses for the term “mountain”. There are two words the Quran uses for the term “mountains” – Jibaal and Rawaasiya. In our article on whether mountains decrease the effects of earthquakes (they do!) we showed through analysis of the roots of each word, that they refer to two different types of mountains: mountains on land (Jibaal) and undersea mountains known as “seamounts” in Geology (Rawaasiya).

How do we know this? As we explained in our previous article, in Arabic, the root of a word determines its context of use and associated meanings. The word Rawaasiya is from the Arabic triliteral root r-s-w. This root gives the following meanings:

  1. Something stationary or fixed like a ship anchored to sea-floor
  2. To make the lowest part of a ship reach the bottom of the water, and therefore make the ship remain stationary
  3. To effect harmony, accommodation or adjustments between things
  4. To mention a part of a tradition or a story
  5. Beads on a string or a bracelet made from tortoise shells
  6. A port for anchoring ships
  7. To swim with someone

These root associations of the word Rawaasiya signify that it refers to such mountains as lie at the bottom of the ocean. This is clear from the Arabic. Moreover, the word jibaal is never conjoined with the Earth spreading out.

It is therefore highly significant that the Quran directly links the process of the Earth “spreading out” to the formation of underwater mountains, in the following verses:

“And the earth have We spread out [madadna], and set therein firm mountains [Rawaasiya] and caused everything to grow therein in proper proportion.” [15:20]

“And the earth — We have spread it out [madadna-ha], and placed therein firm mountains [Rawaasiya]; and We have made to grow therein every kind of beautiful pair.” [50:8]

The Quran therefore is speaking specifically about the spreading of the ocean floor. Clearly, the setting of underwater mountains on the Earth bears no relationship to the spreading of the Earth “like a carpet”, as Wiki-Islam would have us believe. Far from it. In fact, wonder upon wonder is heaped in these verses. As we continue reading, we find the following words: “…and caused everything to grow therein in proper proportion” and “…and We have made to grow therein every kind of beautiful pair”. What relationship does the ocean spreading and the subsequent formation of mountain ridges have to do with the creation of diverse, well proportioned, beautiful pairs, or species?

One explanation has come to light only recently, as more and more scientists believe that the perfect conditions for the origin of life are found in undersea hydrothermal vents, at these very mountain ridges. Thus, the process of seafloor spreading that creates these hydrothermal vents may be essential to the origin of life itself. Significantly, the Quran alludes to this, since it specifically mentions that “therein” i.e.: in the mountains themselves, did every beautiful species come forth, i.e.: the origin of life.

How could a 7th century illiterate Arab merchant have known this?

Subduction and Recycling

The Earth’s crust isn’t just continuously added to from the mid-ocean ridges. If it was, the undersea mountain ranges would become taller and sea-levels around the world would rise until all land would be submerged. The Earth’s crust is also consumed in other places, to produce a continuous “conveyer-belt” effect of production and destruction.

How production and consumption of the Earth’s crust takes place
through “ridge push” and “slab pull”

The process of consumption of the Earth’s crust occurs at ocean ridges. These are deep trenches in the ocean where the lithosphere of one tectonic plate slides or “subducts” under another plate, resulting in the recycling of the Earth’s crust.

It may reasonably be asked that if the Quran genuinely refers to seafloor spreading, then does it refer to the destruction of the Earth’s crust which is an equally important and fundamental part of the story? That would weigh in favour of the interpretation that the “spreading” of the earth refers to the process of seafloor spreading. The answer is yes:

“Do they not see that We are visiting the land, reducing it from its outlying borders? And Allah judges; there is none to reverse His judgement. And He is swift at reckoning.” [13:42]

It is common in the Quran for God to draw the attention of the reader to physical processes and use them as analogies for spiritual truths. In this verse, God describes how He is literally destroying land at its “outlying borders”. This is the meaning of God “visiting the land”; the same phrase of God destroying something by literally visiting it is referred to in 2:211. Further, the implication is that this refers to a literal process, since the reader is literally asked to “see” this process occurring.

In fact, the Quran doesn’t just leave the matter there. It also gives the mechanism by which the Earth’s crust is recycled. This is reflected in the strange choice of words used by the Quran with respect to this spreading process. One of the words used is madad from the Arabic root م د د which literally means “to pull” or “stretch something by pulling”.

As new crust forms at mid-ocean ridges, it produces a force termed “ridge-push” and as the lithosphere of one tectonic plate subducts into the mantle, it produces another force called “slab-pull”. These two forces combined account for the process of seafloor spreading: new crust pushes old crust away, and old crust pulls new crust along. There has been disagreement over as to which of these two forces is most responsible for seafloor spreading. The scientific consensus now is that “slab-pull” is the more powerful force (70-80%) and that “ridge-push” accounts for less (20-30%). Just as the Quran mentions, the “spreading” of the Earth is through a pulling action.

Definitive Evidence of Planetary Model in the Quran

Though the above quite adequately demonstrates a magnificent Quranic prophecy, and at the same time refutes the notion that the “spreading” mentioned in the Quran visualises a flat-earth system, it is does not in itself provide evidence that the Quranic view of Earth is planetary. 

For this, we must turn to a different verse of the Quran. There is no point in reinventing the wheel, and as such, I will simply quote the remarkable and beautiful elucidation of the Fourth Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh, to explain the definitive evidence of a planetary model in the Quran: 

Now we turn to another aspect of the description of the cosmos which relates to the motion of the heavenly bodies. The most striking feature of this description relates to the way the motion of the earth is described without glaringly contradicting the popular view prevailing in that age. All the scholars and sages of that time were unanimous in their belief that the earth is stationary while other heavenly bodies like the sun and the moon are constantly revolving around it. In view of this, the motion of the earth as described by the Quran may not be apparent to the casual reader, but to a careful student the message is loud and clear. If the Quran had described the earth as stationary and the heavenly bodies as revolving around it, then although the people of that time might have been satisfied with this description, the people of the later ages would have treated that statement as a proof of the ignorance of the Quran’s author. Such a statement, they would emphasize, could not have been made by an All-Knowing, Supreme Being.

Rather than literally comparing the motion of the earth to that of other heavenly bodies, the Quran makes the following statement:

وَ تَرَی الۡجِبَالَ تَحۡسَبُہَا جَامِدَۃً وَّ ہِیَ تَمُرُّ مَرَّ السَّحَابِ ؕ صُنۡعَ اللّٰہِ الَّذِیۡۤ اَتۡقَنَ کُلَّ شَیۡءٍ ؕ اِنَّہٗ خَبِیۡرٌۢ بِمَا تَفۡعَلُوۡنَ 

The mountains that you see, you think they are stationary while they are constantly floating like the floating of clouds. Such is the work of Allah Who made everything firm and strong. ” [27:89]

If the mountains are declared to be in constant motion, then the only logical inference to be drawn from this would be that the earth is also rotating along with them. But thanks to the masterly language of the Quran this observation went unnoticed. They had the impression, shared with the rest of mankind, that the earth was stationary and it was this false impression that was not obtrusively challenged. If they had read with care the end of the same verse they would have been left with no room for any misunderstanding. It ends with a lasting tribute to the creative faculty of God, Who has created all things with such firmness that they cannot be dislodged. Anything which cannot be dislodged can never be catapulted out of the earth, to fly alone, leaving the earth behind.

…The Holy Quran exquisitely succeeds in making this revelation in a manner that the prevalent knowledge of that time is not too loudly challenged. It is likely that the people may have believed verse 89 of Surah Al-Naml, referred to a future event associated with Doomsday. But as has been demonstrated, this misinterpretation would be absolutely unacceptable for the following reasons:

The verse clearly speaks in the present tense and not in the future tense. The letter ( وَّ ) vaow used here can literally be translated as ‘while’ instead of ‘and’, so the meaning could be, ‘you think the mountains are stationary, while they are moving’. To refer this part of the statement to the future is impermissible.

If they, the mountains, were to fly in the future then how could man, even if he were perched at a safe distance on another planet, believe them to be stationary despite watching them flying in space? Hence such a translation is out of the question. Also, to translate this verse to indicate that though humans today consider the mountains to be stationary, they are not so because in future they will fly, would be evidently wrong. If the mountains are stationary today the humans would certainly see them to be stationary. It is not a question of their thinking them to be stationary. The Quran would have said ‘You know them to be stationary and so they are but in future they will no longer be so’. This is not what the Quran says at all.

At the end of the same verse, a tribute to the firmness of God’s creation is the last clinching proof that the mountains, despite flying, are firmly entrenched.

It is noteworthy that the early commentaries maintain silence on the true meaning of this verse which suggests that it was too difficult for them to interpret.

This is a remarkable and profound proof of the existence of God. But only for those who would make use of their reason. 

“And no soul can believe except by the permission of Allah. And He makes His wrath descend on those who will not use their reason.” [10:101]

Absurdities Ad-Infinitum

There are other verses, besides those given at the beginning of this article, using which WikiIslam argues that the Quran presents a flat Earth. They are however so absurd that they don’t really require much refutation. Simple common sense will do, so they won’t be dealt with in any significant depth.

The Sun and the Muddy Spring

The first argument is that the Quran describes the journey of Dhul Qarnain (Cyrus the Great) Westwards, stopping at a point where the sun sets into a body of water, muddy in nature. This is the Black Sea, containing muddy springs (hence named “Black”) and sitting at the Western extent of Cyrus’ empire. WikiIslam authors argue that because the Quran describes the sun as setting into the sea, it means the sun literally enters into the water. The point is so absurd it needs no refutation. Oh alright then, here’s one for you:

Fasting in the Polar Regions

The second argument is that because Ramadan is really long at the Polar regions (despite the fact that the Prophet of Islam gave advice on how to manage religious obligations when days are long) the Quran must have envisaged a flat earth. Why this logically follows is beyond me. The existence of lengthy days at the polar regions do not affect more than 1% of the world’s population, and so is irrelevant; fasting in normal daylight times would still be considered a valid practice.

The Ends of the Earth

The third argument is that the Quran describes how a time will come when God will level the “mountains” such that no depression or elevation will be seen in the Earth. From this, the authors have argued that the Quran is speaking of a time when man will be able to see to the end of the Earth. Except that the Quran nowhere states that. It simply states that when the mountains are crushed and scattered, there will be no elevation or depression in the Earth. In reality the prophetic words relate to the great and mighty powers, “mountains” standing figuratively in the Quran for mighty powers or leaders. After all, the verse begins “They ask thee concerning the mountains…”; nobody asked the Prophet of Islam about physical mountains, but about the hurdles faced by the Muslim community, in the form of great nations, such as the Byzantine and the Persian empires, which were indeed, humbled, crushed and scattered by the Muslims.

Easts and Wests

The Quran describes the Earth as having “two Easts and two Wests”. This can in fact be understood as relating to a globe in which East is the West of West, and West is the East of East. Early Muslims however believed this related to the two extreme points on the horizon where the sun rose and set from and to, during the height of Summer and the depth of Winter. Again, this need not necessitate a flat Earth. It just shows a different understanding of the verse.

Sky Above Us

Because the Quran describes the heavens as a canopy with many layers or like a building with many floors, apparently that necessitates a flat Earth. Who knew? Not to burst their bubble, but the atmosphere of Earth actually is composed of multiple layers. Some number the layers as four, others as seven, above the layer in which we exist (the Troposphere), which is precisely what the Quran states:

“And We have created above you seven layered heavens (lying one above the other), and We are never neglectful of the creation.” [23:18]

Extraordinarily, the Quran describes them as being layered, i.e. lying “one above the other” which is exactly the case. God ends the verse by referring to His concern to protect and provide for His creatures. It is an established fact that without the atmospheric layers, the Earth would be inhospitable for life, since it blocks harmful rays from the sun, traps heat, and contains oxygen.

The various layers of the Earth’s atmosphere, precisely in line with the Quranic declaration. Courtesy of “Kids Fun Science

Beliefs of Early Muslims

Finally, Wiki-Islam refers to the beliefs of the early Muslims, some of whom seemed to believe in a flat Earth. This is an irrelevance and carries no weight. The Quran is a book for all times to come. That some Muslims of the past believed in a flat Earth is not an argument that carries any weight.

Conclusion

One question remains, and it is applicable to all verses of the Quran on scientific topics. Why didn’t the Quran just explicitly describe the Earth as a globe rotating around the Earth? Because had it done so, it would run the risk of being rejected by the people of the 7th century on the basis of an irrelevant scientific fact that bears no relation to the purpose for which the Quran was sent – spiritual development. It is a hallmark of its beauty that when it refers to scientific phenomena, it does so in a manner that does not fall foul of incorrect or primitive beliefs on the nature of Earth and the universe, while yet containing essential truths discernible in more scientifically enlightened, future ages. The matter of the spreading of the Earth, cited earlier, is one such example.

How could an illiterate merchant of the 7th century provide mankind with a book containing such essential truths on the major discoveries of various fields of study? The matter of the earth being “spread out” is made so frequently in the Quran that to the undiscerning eye, it seems bizarre. Why so much emphasis on the idea of the Earth being “spread” and what does that even mean? Only in light of seafloor spreading and the fundamental importance that played in the formation of undersea mountains, and indeed, the beginning of life, does the importance of the Earth’s “spreading” come to light.