Nature Of Heavenly Bodies
The Sun and the Moon
The Sun is a shining glory (diya’) and the Moon a light (nur). This translation would appear to be more correct than those given by others, where the two terms are inverted. In fact there is little difference in meaning since diya’ belongs to a root (dw’) which, according to Kazimirski’s authoritative Arabic/French dictionary, means ‘to be bright, to shine’ (e.g. like a fire). The same author attributes to the substantive in question the meaning of ‘light’.
The difference between Sun and Moon will be made clearer by further quotes from the Qur’an.
–sura 25, verse 61: “Blessed is the One Who placed the constellations in heaven and placed therein a lamp and a moon giving light.”
–sura 71, 15-16: “Did you see how God created seven heavens one above an other and made the moon a light therein and made the sun a lamp?”
–sura 78, verses 12-13: “We have built above you seven strong (heavens) and placed a blazing lamp.”
The blazing lamp is quite obviously the sun. Here the moon is defined as a body that gives light (munir) from the same root as nur (the light applied to the Moon). The Sun however is compared to a torch (siraj) or a blazing (wahhaj) lamp.
A man of Muhammad’s time could easily distinguish between the Sun, a blazing heavenly body well known to the inhabitants of the desert, and the Moon, the body of the cool of the night. The comparisons found in the Qur’an on this subject are therefore quite normal. What is interesting to note here is the sober quality of the comparisons, and the absence in the text of the Qur’an of any elements of comparison that might have prevailed at the time and which in our day would appear as phantasmagorial.
It is known that the Sun is a star that generates intense heat and light by its internal combustions, and that the Moon, which does not give of flight itself, and is an inert body (on its external layers at least) merely reflects the light received from the Sun.
There is nothing in the text of the Qur’an that contradicts what we know today about these two celestial bodies.
As we know, the stars are heavenly bodies like the Sun. They are the scene of various physical phenomena of which the easiest to observe is their generation of light. They are heavenly bodies that produce their own light.
The word ‘star’ appears thirteen times in the Qur’an (najm, plural nujum); it comes from a root meaning to appear, to come into sight. The word designates a visible heavenly body without saying of what kind, i.e. either generator of light or mere reflector of light received. To make it clear that the object so designated is a star, a qualifying phrase is added as in the following sura:
–sura 86, verses 1-3: “By the sky and the Night-Visitor, who will tell thee what the Night-Visitor is, the Star of piercing brightness.” [ Here, the sky and a star are used to bear witness to the importance of what is to come in the text.]
The evening star is qualified in the Qur’an by the word takib meaning ‘that which pierces through something’ (here the night shadows) . The same word is moreover used to designate shooting stars (sura 37, verse 10): the latter are the result of combustion.
It is difficult to say whether these are referred to in the Qur’an with the same exact meaning that is given to the heavenly bodies in the present day.
The planets do not have their own light. They revolve around the Sun, Earth being one of them. While one may presume that others exist elsewhere, the only ones known are those in the solar system.
Five planets other than Earth were known to the ancients: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Three have been discovered in recent times: Uranus, Neptune and Pluto.
The Qur’an would seem to designate these by the word kaukab (plural kawakib) without stating their number. Joseph’s dream (sum 12) refers to eleven of them, but the description is, by definition, an imaginary one.
A good definition of the meaning of the word kaukab in the Qur’an Seems to have been given in a very famous verse. The eminently spiritual nature of its deeper meaning stands forth, and is moreover the subject of much debate among experts in exegesis. It is nevertheless of great interest to offer an account of the comparison it contains on the subject of the word that would seem to designate a ‘planet’.
Here is the text in question: (sura 24, verse 35)
“God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The similitude of His light is as if there were a niche and within it a luminary. The luminary is in a glass. The glass is as if it were a planet glittering like a pearl.”
Here the subject is the projection of light onto a body that reflects it (glass) and gives it the glitter of a pearl, like a planet that is lit by the sun. This is the only explanatory detail referring to this word to be found in the Qur’an.
The word is quoted in other verses. In some of them it is difficult to distinguish which heavenly bodies are meant (sura 6, verse 76; sura 82, verses 1-2).
In one verse however, when seen in the light of modern science, it would seem very much that these can only be the heavenly bodies that we know to be planets. In sura 37, verse 6, we see the following:
“We have indeed adorned the lowest heaven with an ornament, the planets.”
Is it possible that the expression in the Qur’an ‘lowest heaven’ means the ‘solar system’? It is known that among the celestial elements nearest to us, there are no other permanent elements apart from the planets: the Sun is the only star in the system that bears its name. It is difficult to see what other heavenly bodies could be meant if not the planets. The translation given would therefore seem to be correct and the Qur’an to refer to the existence of the planets as defined in modern times.
The Lowest Heaven
The Qur’an mentions the lowest heaven several times along with the heavenly bodies of which it is composed. The first among these would seem to be the planets, as we have just seen. When however the Qur’an associates material notions intelligible to us, enlightened as we are today by modern science, with statements of a purely spiritual nature, their meaning becomes obscure.
Thus the verse quoted could easily be understood, except that the following verse (7) of the same sura 37 speaks of a ‘guard against every rebellious evil spirit’, ‘guard’ again being referred to in sura 21, verse 32 and sura 41, verse 12, so that we are confronted by statements of quite a different kind.
What meaning can one attach moreover to the ‘projectiles for the stoning of demons’ that according to verse 5, sura 67 are situated in the lowest heaven? Do the ‘luminaries’ referred to in the same verse have something to do with the shooting stars mentioned above? [ It is known that when a meteorite arrives at the upper layers of the atmosphere, it may produce the luminous phenomenon of a ‘shooting star’.]
All these observations seem to lie outside the subject of this study. They have been mentioned here for the sake of completeness. At the present stage however, it would seem that scientific data are unable to cast any light on a subject that goes beyond human understanding.