Does the Quran really say that there are seven Earths? And if Earths are seven, then where are they?
Let us reflect on the verse in question:
God is He who has created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them. Through the midst of them descends from on high, unceasingly, the Command that you might know that God has power over all things and that God encompasses all things in His knowledge. 65:12
Often translated as Earth, the word ‘ard’ in Arabic means both planet Earth and land as well as down or LOW. In the same way as the word ‘samawat’, often translated as Heavens, means both Heavens and HIGHS.
Now, if Heavens/Highs thus implies the upward or outward ends of the macrocosm, and Earths/Lows therefore implies downward or inward ends of the microcosm, then the verse above takes us to and from the farthest galaxies to the innermost depths of an atom.
In our imaginary journey we travel telescopically, towards the infinite vastness of the outer cosmos, towards the seven HIGHS, as well as microscopically, towards the unfathomable depths of the subatomic world, towards the seven LOWS.
In our outward journey we find seven Heavens or seven layers of celestial systems one above another (67:3, 71:15): solar system, galaxy, cluster, supercluster, filament, universe-1 and the multiverse.
And then, on our way back we find that all these seven (a Quranic number that also connotes numerous or innumerable) Highs have their own Lows, and their own Earths (with possible extraterrestrial ‘life forms’ in them? cf. 1:2, 3:83, 5:18, 16:8, 16:49, 17:55, 19:93-94, 27:65, 30:26, 37:11, 42:29, 55:33, 74:31).
Further in our inward journey towards our planet, we find that our atmosphere has, in a relative sense, seven layers: Troposphere, Stratosphere, Ozonosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Ionosphere and Exosphere.
And our Earth itself has, in a relative sense, seven strata or layers1: lithosphere-water, lithosphere-land, asthenosphere, upper mantle, inner mantle, outer core and inner core. …
When we travel even further in, inside the smallest particles of Earthly materials, we see that atoms, the basic building blocks of matter, have a seven-layered structure, with up to seven energy levels or electron orbits, each having up to seven energy sublevels, like the seven Heavens. And we see that matter itself2 exists in seven states.
Nonetheless, this can be viewed from yet another perspective. We note that the verse doesn’t link the word ‘seven’ to the Earth in a straight way, but obliquely through the expression ‘the like of them’ (‘mithlahunna’), making the number ‘seven’ relative, rather than absolute. This is in line with the fact that seven, like seventy, also occurs in the Quran to signify ‘numerous’ or ‘innumerable’, which is a common connotation of ‘seven’ in Arabic (e.g., 31:27; cf. 9:80,15:43-44, 2:161).
The rainbow can be cited here as an example that demonstrates how ‘seven’ can be equivalent to ‘innumerable’. While, to many people like Newton, the rainbow or the visible spectrum of colours appears to contain only seven colours, it is actually a continuum made of an infinite number of gradations with no discernible distinction between neighbours. As we observed elsewhere, The Quran promotes religious pluralism by recurrently referring to the spiritual rainbow of seven colours.
The concept ‘seven Earths/Lows’ is also found in other theological systems3, including Jewish, Jain and Hindu cosmologies, some of which describe them as seven lower worlds (underworlds) or spiritual spheres that represent seven layers of lowly existence.
It is important to note that the expression ‘the like of them’ (‘mithlahunna’) in the phrase ‘created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them’ alludes not only to the similarity of the Earths/Lows to the Heavens/Highs in number but also to their similarity in relation to their origin and evolution, along with their structure and function. Fascinatingly, for instance, not only that the Earth with its strata resembles the cosmic systems, even every single atom itself is a ‘like of the Heavens’ as every atom structurally and functionally mirrors any celestial system like the Solar system.
Often rendered as ‘descends’, the verbal form ‘yatanazzalu’ in the phrase ‘Through the midst of them descends … the Command’ implies ‘descends with recurrence and continuity’, and its combination with the noun ‘al-amr’ (the command, the decree) reflects the concept of God’s unceasing creative activity encompassing from the highest to the lowest, and from the outermost to the inmost, i.e., from the farthest galaxies to the innermost subatomic domains.
Above we have briefly studied the verse 65:12, with special focus on the statement “God is He who has created seven/numerous Heavens/Highs and of the Earth/Low the like of them”.
In our attempt to rationalise this specific mention of seven here, we considered the possibility that the number seven shares a strong relationship with the way our universe is created and structured. Also, we tried to grasp the expression seven Earths/Lows with its potential connotations, such as seven Earth-like celestial bodies, seven layers of the atmosphere, seven strata of the Earth, seven quantum levels inside the atoms, seven states of matter, seven colours of spiritual rainbow, seven underworlds, seven layers of lowly existence, seven something else and so on. Besides, we noted that the number seven, in Quranic idiosyncrasy, may simply connote numerous or innumerable.
The structure of the Earth is divided into three main layers and is subdivided into more layers, which one can roughly/relatively count as seven or so. Related links:
The seven states of matter are Solids, Liquids, Gases, Ionized Plasma, Quark-Gluon Plasma, Bose-Einstein Condensate and Fermionic Condensate.
The concept ‘seven Earths/Lows’ is also found in other theological systems. The Sumerian underworld visited by Inanna was seven-gated. According to the Jewish commentary Midrash, Earths are seven in number. Hindu Puranas describe seven lower worlds (underworlds) along with seven upper worlds (Heavens). In Jain cosmology, there are seven levels of Naraka or abyss, representing seven layers of lowly existence.