Meaning of ‘seven Earths’

Meaning of ‘seven Earths_ 1

 
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.

Summary

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.

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Note 1

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:

https://prezi.com/v2ev8od3hyjy/the-7-layers-of-the-earth/

https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structure_of_the_Earth

Note 2

The seven states of matter are Solids, Liquids, Gases, Ionized Plasma, Quark-Gluon Plasma, Bose-Einstein Condensate and Fermionic Condensate.

Note 3

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.

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Solar system in the Quran

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

‘Seven skies’ are 7 celestial systems, where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on, and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system.

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

‘The lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’) is the lowest of the ‘seven Heavens’ and simply denotes the Solar system.

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

The Quran portrays the Sun as ‘the Lamp’, the centre of illumination, which is circled by a ‘glass cover’ of revolving planets, all shining with their own ‘sunrises’.

Meaning of ‘seven Heavens’

Meaning of 'seven Heavens'


‘SEVEN HEAVENS’ ARE SEVEN CELESTIAL SYSTEMS,

WHERE ‘THE LOWEST HEAVEN’ IS OUR SOLAR SYSTEM

The word ‘samawat’ (Heavens, skies, firmaments) is plural of ‘samaa’ (sky, cosmos). In the Quran it has connotations of either physical or spiritual Heavens, or both, depending on the context and the layer of meaning.

But when indicates physical sky or cosmos, ‘samawat’ simply means celestial systems made of organized astronomical components.

Then what could be the best possible meaning of ‘seven Heavens’? It is difficult to bypass this question, since the Quran persistently asserts that the Universe is made of seven Heavens.

On one hand, we may consider that the Quran sometimes uses the number ‘seven’, like ‘seventy’, to connote ‘numerous’ or ‘innumerable’ (e.g. 31:27; cf. 9:80,15:43-44, 2:161), thereby making the number relative rather than absolute. Thus ‘seven Heavens’ may generally mean numerous or innumerable celestial systems.

On the other hand, we should not ignore the other possibility that ‘seven’ in ‘seven Heavens’ could also mean a definite number. That is, ‘seven’ here literally means seven.

Now, while the Quranic references to ‘the lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’) are quite clear and specific that graphically illustrate our solar system, its references to other Heavens, however, remain comparatively vague to our present level of comprehension.

It may be partly because of the difficulty we face when we try to fit the Quranic description of seven Heavens in the very scattered scenario of our current, and evidently still too infantile, astrophysical knowledge about the Universe.

It is fascinating to observe, however, that the Quran makes a clear distinction between the Universe and the Solar system.

Universe is often expressed with the term ‘seven Heavens’ (‘sabaa samawat’), which appears in the Quran in ‘seven instances’ (2:29, 17:44, 23:86, 41:12, 65:12, 67:3, 71:15).

We are speaking about seven Heavens (seven celestial systems) one above another, like boxes containing boxes (cf. He who has created seven Heavens in harmony one above another. 67:3; cf. 71:15). Like a set of Russian dolls of decreasing size placed one inside another.

Solar system, on the other hand – when directly expressed with a name – is depicted with the term ‘the lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’), which appears three times in the Quran (37:6, 41:12, 67:5) along with the Heavenly bodies (Sun, planets etc) of which it is composed. Thus Solar system is defined as ‘the lowest Heaven’, or the lowest 1 out of the 7 celestial systems.

Now, if ‘seven Heavens’ are comparable to containers containing containers, and if ‘the lowest Heaven’ (innermost container) is understood as the Solar system, then we get a clue:

‘Seven Heavens’ are seven celestial systems, where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on, and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system.

A WORKABLE MODEL OF SEVEN HEAVENS

Based on the above observations, and in line with our current scientific knowledge about the Universe, we may construct a hypothetical model of seven Heavens as follows:

  1. Solar system (family of our star, the Sun)
  2. Galaxy-1 (Milky Way, made of numerous stars)
  3. Cluster (made of numerous galaxies)
  4. Supercluster (made of numerous clusters)
  5. Filament (made of numerous superclusters)
  6. Universe-1 (made of numerous filaments)
  7. Multiverse (made of numerous universes)

For now, this is only a workable HYPOTHESIS, which is possible to be adjusted according to new astrophysical findings or different understandings. E.g. opponents of ‘multiverse’ may wish to replace ‘multiverse’ with ‘universe’ and add ‘galaxy group (made of many galaxies)’ as an additional category, as 3, before cluster.

Here we must keep in mind that, just looking at our own galaxy, the solar system is such a small part of it that if it is classified as the 1st of the 7 skies, then some of the other skies will also need to be perceived as several orders of magnitude larger than their ‘lower’ ones.

SUMMARY

In the Quran the word ‘samawat’ (plural of ‘samaa’, sky, cosmos), when it refers to physical skies, simply means Heavens or celestial systems made of organized astronomical components.

‘Seven Heavens’ are seven celestial systems (2:29, 17:44, 23:86, 41:12, 65:12, 67:3, 71:15), where every ‘lower’ system is contained by its immediate ‘higher’ system and so on (67:3, 71:15), and where the ‘lowest’ system is our Solar system (37:6, 41:12, 67:5).

We may try to rationalise ‘seven Heavens one after another’ as follows: 1. Solar system (family of our star, the Sun); 2. Galaxy-1 (Milky Way, made of stars); 3. Cluster (made of galaxies); 4. Supercluster (made of clusters); 5. Filament (made of superclusters); 6. Universe-1 (made of filaments); 7. Multiverse (made of universes). For now, this is only a hypothesis that can be adjusted according to new findings or different understandings, e.g. those negating the concept of multiverse.

Related article: What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

What is ‘the lowest Heaven’?

What is the lowest Heaven

 
Understood by us as ‘the lowest Heaven’, the expression ‘sama-ud dunya’ appears in the Quran in three instances (37:6, 41:12, 67:5).

Here we use the word ‘Heaven’ to mean a physical Heaven (sky or celestial system) rather than a spiritual one.

Below we will try to grasp the actual meaning of the expression ‘sama-ud dunya’ while reading the related, interactive verses.

We understand ‘sama-ud dunya’ as ‘the lowest Heaven’

The word ‘dunya’ has been traditionally understood as ‘this world’ or ‘the present world’, as a counterpart of ‘the next world’ or ‘the hereafter’.

Though this understanding of ‘dunya’ is fine for most of its uses (e.g. 2:85, 3:14, 6:32, 10:64, 10:98), however, it doesn’t seem correct or appropriate in the expressions like ‘sama-ud dunya’ (‘Heaven of dunya’).

Now, the root of the word ‘dunya’ – the triliteral root dāl nūn wāw – occurs 133 times in the Quran, in several derived forms, e.g.: yud’nīna (to draw; 33:59), danā (drew nearer; 53:8), adnā (lowly; 2:61, 7:169), adnā (nearer, closer; 2:282, 5:108, 53:9, 32:21), adnā (nearest; lowest point; 30:3), adnā (less; 58:7, 73:20), dānin (near; 55:54), dāniyatun (near, hanging near, hanging low; 69:23, 76:14, 6:99) and dun’yā (the nearer end, which is the opposite of quswa or the farther end; 8:42).

When we compare the meanings of all the above forms, it becomes clear that the word ‘dunya’ originally connotes something nearest, lowest, current, existing, present, instant, immediate and so on.

Considering the above meanings of ‘dunya’ – and the observation that ‘sama-ud dunya’ in the Quran potrays the lowest of the seven celestial systems made of organized astronomical components – we feel ‘sama-ud dunya’ can be best translated as ‘the immediate/ lowest/ nearest Heaven’, or, preferably, ‘the lowest Heaven’.

‘The lowest Heaven’ is the Solar system

It is interesting to observe that the expression ‘the lowest Heaven’ – in each of its three appearances in the Quran (37:6, 41:12, 67:5)invariably follows a mention of the whole Universe (‘sabaa samawat’ or ‘seven Heavens’), wherefrom it directly descends to describe the Solar system, i.e. the family of the Sun and its planets (‘kaukab’, NOT ‘najm’ or stars):

So He ordained them seven Heavens in two periods, and inspired in every Heaven its function. And We adorned the lowest Heaven with lights and security: such is the decree of the Mighty, the Knowing. 41:12

He who has created seven Heavens in harmony one above another: no fault will you see in the creation of the Most Gracious. …

And indeed We have adorned the lowest Heaven with lights, and We have made it missiles for the evil ones. 67:3-5

The Sustainer of the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them, and the Sustainer of all the points of sunrise:

We have indeed adorned the lowest Heaven with an ornament, the planets, 

And security from every rebellious evil force. 37:5-7

Remarkably above, the ‘lights’ mentioned in the first two passages (‘adorned the lowest Heaven with lights’) are clarified in 37:5-7 as ‘planets’ (‘adorned the lowest Heaven with an ornament, the planets’).

Here is an example of similar instances, where an elliptic depiction of ‘seven Heavens’ descends to ‘the lowest Heaven’, confirming it again as the SOLAR SYSTEM by pointing to the Sun:

And We have built above you seven Strong Ones,

And have appointed a dazzling Lamp. 78:12-13

These verses are further explained below, where the description of ‘seven Heavens’ once again descends to ‘the lowest Heaven’, confirming it once again as the SOLAR SYSTEM, on this occasion by clearly referring to the Sun and the Moon:

See you not how God has created the seven Heavens, one above another?

And has set up in them the Moon as a light, and set up the Sun a Lamp?  71:15-16

Furthermore, an identical trend is consistently noticeable over and over again throughout the Quran, where a description of the whole Universe (i.e. ‘seven Heavens’) similarly descends to the Solar system (i.e. ‘the lowest Heaven’). Examples: 41:12, 67:3-5, 37:4-7, 78:12-13, 71:15-16; cf. 6:75-78, 10:3-6, 13:2-3, 14:32-33, 15:14-18, 21:30-33, 24:35, 25:59-62, 31:25-29, 36:28-40, 39:5, 57:4-6, 79:27-31.

Thus the expression ‘sama-ud dunya’ – which can be reasonably translated as ‘the lowest Heaven’ as it invariably refers to the lowest of the ‘Sabaa samawat’ (‘seven Heavens’) – in fact SIGNIFIES THE SOLAR SYSTEM in modern scientific sense.

Conclusion

‘The lowest Heaven’ (‘sama-ud dunya’) is the lowest of the ‘seven Heavens’ and simply denotes the Solar system.

It is the Solar family, with the Sun at the centre together with all its planets, their moons and other celestial bodies that revolve around it.

Interestingly, throughout the Quran one can observe a clear distinction between the UNIVERSE (‘Sabaa samawat’ or ‘seven Heavens’, which appears in the Quran in ‘seven instances’; 2:29, 17:44, 23:86, 41:12, 65:12, 67:3, 71:15) and the SOLAR SYSTEM (‘sama-ud dunya’ or ‘lowest Heaven’; 37:6, 41:12, 67:5; cf. 6:75-78, 6:96, 7:54, 10:5-6, 12:4, 13:2-3, 14:33, 16:12, 21:33, 22:18, 24:35, 25:61-62, 31:29, 35:13, 36:38-40, 39:5, 41:37, 78:12-13, 79:29-30, 84:16–18, 91:1-4; cf. 6:74-79, 12:4, 24:35, 37:1-7, 82:2; cf. 2:164, 3:27, 3:190, 7:54, 10:6, 22:61, 23:80, 24:44, 45:5, 25:62, 31:29, 35:13, 36:40, 39:5, 57:6, 91:3-4, 92:1-2). This is another subject that we will discuss elsewhere.

Heliocentric concepts in the Quran

Heliocentric concepts


In the 7th century, when the Quran was revealed, people throughout the world undisputedly considered the Earth as the static centre of the Universe1. The desert-dwelling Arabs were not any exception.

So it is remarkable to observe that the Quran, in its deeper layers, holds in this regard a radically different stance that is fully consistent with the heliocentric concepts of modern science.  Understandably, however, this remained unnoticed by most of the classical commentators as they generally accepted Ptolemy’s geocentric model as the unchallegeable worldview of their time.

Below we will go through a few related verses.

The Light Verse portrays heliocentrism

Please note how The famous Light Verse portrays a heliocentric model:

God is the light of the Heavens and the Earth; the parable of His light is like that of a niche wherein there is a lamp – the lamp is in a glass; the glass is as if it were a shining planet – (the lamp is) kindled from a blessed tree, an olive neither of the East nor of the West, whose oil almost glows forth of itself though no fire touched it: Light upon light. … 24:35

Here we have a self-burning lamp with a glass cover of shining planet. THE LAMP here clearly stands for THE SUN (the Sun in the Quran equals the lamp; 24:35, 25:61, 71:16, 78:12-13), as explained by this parallel depiction:

The Sustainer of the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them, and the Sustainer of all the points of sunrise./ We have indeed adorned the lowest Heaven with an ornament, the planets, 37:5-6

Note that both these passages follow the same persistent trend noticeable throughout the Quran, where a description of the whole Universe (‘the Heavens and the Earth’, i.e. ‘seven Heavens’) similarly descends to the Sun (‘the lamp’), referring to the Solar system, or ‘the lowest Heaven’.

For example: See you not how God has created the seven Heavens, one above another?/ And has set up in them the Moon as a light, and set up the Sun a Lamp? 71:15-16; cf. And We have built above you seven Strong Ones,/ And have appointed a dazzling lamp. 78:12-13). Similar instances: 41:12, 67:3-5, 37:4-7, 78:12-13, 71:15-16; cf. 6:75-78, 10:3-6, 13:2-3, 14:32-33, 15:14-18, 21:30-33, 24:35, 25:59-62, 31:25-29, 36:28-40, 39:5, 57:4-6, 79:27-31.

Furthermore, one may ask: If the lamp here is not an astronomical body, then why is the word planet around it? And if the lamp is an astronomical body, then what is it other than the Sun? And, finally, if this self-burning lamp is the Sun, then, with a glass cover of planet around, what is it, if not the Solar system?

Thus the Light verse graphically outlines a heliocentric model2, where the Sun, the self-burning lamp (star or ‘najm’, 86:3), is the centre of illumination and the planets (kaukab; 6:74-79, 12:4, 24:35, 37:1-7, 82:2), revolving around, are getting illuminated by it as its circling glass cover (rapidly moving bodies create an illusion of glass-like transparency).

An analogous passage expounds heliocentrism

The heliocentric concepts in the Light verse are further expounded, for example, in its analogous passage 37:1-7. Interestingly, the latter preludes a narration about Abraham’s observation of the Universe (37:87-88, where he observes stars; cf. 6:75-79, where he observes the Solar system, including planets; cf. 14:33-35) during his search for the Ultimate behind the harmony of nature:

By those that range themselves in ranks,

And those that repel with repelling,

And those that recite the remembrance, that:

Most surely your god is One,

The Sustainer of the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them, and the Sustainer of all the points of sunrise.

We have indeed adorned the lowest Heaven with an ornament, the planets (note the Sun, the Lamp, at the centre of their illumination, 24:35, ‘the lamp is in a glass; the glass is as if it were a shining planet’),

And security from every rebellious evil force. 37:1-7

Please observe how these verses describe certain astronomical objects – illuminated planets – which are arranged in a graded order (‘range themselves in ranks’), evidently along their orbits around the Sun (thus encircling this Central FIRE, 27:8; cf. 37:5-6, 24:35-37, 20:14, 27:8).

These astronomical objects remain in their courses by balancing the centripetal force of attraction (gravitation) with the centrifugal force of repulsion (inertia; ‘repel with repelling’).

And thereby they ‘announce’ the message of the unity of the opposites, or ‘the unity in diversity’, i.e. the message of God’s oneness, a divine sign scribed throughout the Universe (‘And those that recite the remembrance, that:/ Most surely your god is One’).

That these astronomical objects are actually solar planets becomes obvious when we notice that – after referring to the whole UNIVERSE (‘the Heavens and the Earth’) and then descending to the SUN (‘sunrise’) – the passage goes on outlining ‘the lowest Heaven’ as ornamented by glittering planets, which, like the Earth, are shining with points of sunrise, all illuminated by the Sun, i.e. THE LAMP at the centre of illumination (cf. 24:35, ‘the lamp is in a glass; the glass is as if it were a shining planet’).

Note how the Earth is equated here with the shining planets in their common sharing of the Sun and the sunrises (37:5-6).

Clearly, this is a description of heliocentrism3.

Solar system bears in it the divine message of ‘unity in diversity’. Any adverse force trying to violate this oneness is instantly repelled by the balancing forces of unity (‘And security from every rebellious evil force’).

Here, as in the Light verse, reappears the term kaukab, which the Quran reserves for planets (6:74-79, 12:4, 24:35, 37:1-7, 82:2), i.e., the celestial bodies that move around a sun/star and have only reflected light (24:35). This is in contrast with najm, which the Quran uses for stars, the celestial bodies that produce their own light by self-burning (86:3, 24:35).

Further references to heliocentrism

Further to the above, clearly contrasting with the dominant geocentric worldview of the time of its revelation, the Quran does contain a large number of allusions to the heliocentric model and Earth’s origin secondary to the Solar origin.

For example: 2:164, 3:27, 3:190, 6:74-79, 6:96, 7:54, 10:3-6, 12:4, 13:2-3, 14:33, 16:12, 21:33, 22:18, 22:61, 23:80, 24:35, 24:44, 25:61-62, 27:24, 31:29, 35:13, 36:38-40, 37:1-7, 39:5, 41:12, 41:37, 45:5, 57:6, 67:5, 78:12-13, 79:27-31, 82:2, 84:16–18, 91:1-6, 92:1-2 and so on.

Final thoughts

We cannot avoid the impression that the Quran, through several interrelated verses including 24:35 and 37:1-7, graphically portrays our Solar system, i.e. ‘the lowest Heaven’.

It is where the Sun, the self-burning Lamp, is the centre of illumination, which is encircled by a ‘glass cover’ made of revolving planets4 (24:35), all arranged in orbits in graded order and all shining with their own sunrises, similar to the sunrises of the Earth (37:1-7).

This reference to the Solar system is further reinforced by many other interconnected, interactive messages of the Quran, which we will notice in our related discussions.

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Note 1

Development of heliocentric concepts

Modern heliocentric model places the Sun at the centre of our Solar system, where all its structures including the planets and the Earth rotate around the Sun. Historically, this is opposed to geocentrism, which imagines the Earth at the centre of the Universe.

Some early cosmologies speculated about the motion of the Earth around a stationary Sun. Thus heliocentric ideas can be found in several Vedic texts in ancient India, like the Aitareya Brahmana (9th century BC) and Vishnu Purana (1st century BC). In ancient Greece Pythagoreans believed the Sun orbited the central fire along with everything else. Aristarchus (c. 270 BC) presented an argument for a heliocentric system that was accepted e.g. by a Babylonian astronomer called Seleucus (b.190 BC). But Aristotle dismissed heliocentric ideas and advocated geocentrism. In Roman Carthage, Martianus Capella (5th century) argued that some planets like Venus and Mercury circled the Sun instead of the Earth.

Understandably, most of the earliest Arab astronomers accepted the then dominant Ptolemy’s geocentric model, though there were important exceptions. One of these exceptions is Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (8th century). Jafar was probably one of those few earliest Quranic commentators who were bold enough to refute Ptolemaic geocentric model. He suggested a heliocentric theory that was based on his view that every object in the Universe is in eternal motion, in which Earth’s rotation on its axis causes day and night and its rotation around the Sun explains seasonal variations. The Afghan astronomer al-Balkhi (9th century) developed a planetary model which can be interpreted as a heliocentric model (the Sun at the centre of our planetary system). Later, Alhazen (11th century) raised serious doubts on Ptolemy and proposed the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Then several Arab scholars, al-Hashimi, al-Biruni, Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, Sinjari, Qutb al-Din, and Maragha astronomers like al-Qazwini, Urdi, Ibn al-Shatir and others – partly under the influence of Indian astronomers like Aryabhata – gradually developed a heliocentric idea and a mathematical model.

This was assimilated and further elaborated as the modern heliocentric model by Copernicus in the 16th century, and later by Kepler, Galileo and Newton, becoming the centre of a major dispute among scientific and religious communities.

Note 2

Can we fit the Light verse into a geocentric model? People can easily overlook the Solar system in this verse because, remaining outlined in a deeper layer, it is not visible at first sight. But once we behold it, we find it difficult to reconcile the Quran with a geocentric universe. How do we fit a glass cover of planet around the Sun into an Aristotelian Cosmology, where all astronomical objects and all planets move around the Earth and none orbits the Sun? Even the Ptolemaic attempt to explain the planetary motion with the assumption that the planet moves on an epicycle didn’t put the Sun in the epicycle.

Note 3

Can we reconcile 37:1-7 with a geocentric cosmology? When we look into 37:1-7, we observe that it mentions several stuffs that are too original for a 7th century astronomical description: illuminated planets arranged in a graded order (37:1); force of repulsion (37:2); oneness in diversity (37:3-4); Earth equated with the shining planets in their common sharing of the Sun and the sunrises (37:5-6) etc. Moreover, when we compare 37:1-7 with the Light verse, we get a larger picture, where the Sun is the self-burning lamp and the centre of illumination, which is circled by a ‘glass cover’ of revolving planets, all shining with their own ‘sunrises’, similar to the sunrises of the Earth. All these elements comfortably transcend the then Ptolemaic worldview and thereby better fit into a heliocentric model than a geocentric one. One may choose to discard them, but they are there, together with the numerous other allusions to heliocentricism scattered throughout the Quran. Not to mention those ‘coincidences’, e.g. the number of planets (kaukab) ‘incidentally’ revealed as eleven (12:4), which excels the five planets (‘wandering stars’) of the ancient Greeks.

Note 4

Where does 24:35 say that planets orbit around the Sun/star? And where does the Quran give a definition of planet? If planets, which are moving celestial bodies, make a glittering glass cover around the lamp (24:35), then they must be orbiting the lamp. This circumscribes the path of the shining planets around their source of illumination. And this also roughly gives us a definition of planets: planets are celestial bodies that orbit a self-burning lamp and get illuminated by its light. This is different from the Aristotelian and Ptolemaic definition of planets, where planets are ‘wanderers’ and they do not need to go around the Sun or a star.