Answering the allegation that the Holy Quran claimed the earth is flat
First: A brief introduction
Some people think that the Holy Quran promoted the idea that earth is flat and refused that it is a sphere which –according to them- represents a contradiction between science and religion.
Nowadays, the spheroid shape of earth is an undisputable scientific fact that is strongly linked to many other phenomena like the fact that sunrise exact time differ from one place to another and similarly the difference in the length of day and night from one location on earth to another…etc.
Our target here is not to prove that earth is a sphere as this is now an undisputable scientific fact, but actually our target is to discuss how the Holy Quran addressed the issue of earth’s shape and whether it is true that the Holy Quran empathized that earth is flat, or this is just a lie and a false accusation?
Before we start, we must explain a very important fact as written by Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud in his book (A Dialogue with my friend the Atheist) where he wrote:
(The Quran did not tackle these subjects in the detailed approach of a specialized scientific text. It was primarily revealed as a book of creed, way of life, and legislation. Had it dealt elaborately and expressly with such topics, it would have shocked the Arabs of its time with things they could not comprehend.
It resorted, therefore, to suggestions, hints, and intimations leaving them to be explained hundreds of years later by the sciences and discoveries of the future and to manifest their real nature one generation after the other as miracles and signs which prove that the Quran is indeed from the True God. Allah says in His Book: ((We will show them Our signs in all the regions of the earth and in their own selves, until they clearly see that this is the truth.)) – Quran Surah Fussilat (41:53)
Second: Reason for the allegation
The reason why some people claim that the Holy Quran denied the spherical shape of earth and ensured that it is flat is either one of two reasons either the misunderstanding of some verses in the Holy Quran –which we will explain thoroughly later – due to the weak understanding of the Arabic language
accompanied by lack of precision and honesty in researching the explanation of the biggest Islamic scholars who specialized in explaining the Holy Quran and only regarding the typical meaning of the words after cutting them out of their original context.
The second possible cause of this claim originates from the bad intensions and the desire to raise suspicions about religion so as to drive people away from it, which is, unfortunately, a target for some people nowadays however Allah says in the Holy Quran:
((They want to extinguish God’s light with their mouths, but God refuses except to complete His light, even though the disbelievers dislike it.)) – Quran Surah Al-Tawba verse (9:32)
From these misunderstood verses are:
- Allah says: ((And at the earth—how it is spread out?)) – Quran Surah AlGhashiya (88:20).
- Allah says: ((And the earth, how We spread it out, and set on it mountains, and grew in it all kinds of delightful pairs?)) – Quran Surah Qaf (50:7)
- Allah says: ((We spread the earth, and placed stabilizers in it, and in it We grew all things in proper measure.)) – Quran Surah Al-Hijr (15:19)
- Allah says: ((And it is He who spread the earth and placed in it mountains and rivers. And He placed in it two kinds of every fruit. He causes the night to overlap the day. In that are signs for people who reflect.)) – Quran Surah Ar-Ra’d (13:3).
- Allah says: ((And the earth after that He spread.)) – Quran Surah An-Nazi’at (79:30).
- Allah says: ((And God made the earth a spread for you.)) – Quran Surah Nouh (71:19).
- Allah says: ((And the earth—We spread it out—How well We prepared it!)) – Surah adh-Dhariyat Quran (51:48)
At the same time, some people exerted so much effort in tireless research to find the strange opinions that are far from the consensus of Islamic scholars and philosophers who claimed that earth is flat.
And they deliberately ignored the consensus of Islamic scholars as well as the different schools of Islamic doctrine that are well-known and accepted by all Muslims who consented that earth is spherical, and we will give a thorough answer to this later.
Third: Answering the allegations
Now to answer these allegations we have firstly to explain the previous verses:
Allah says: ((And at the earth—how it is spread out?)) – Quran Surah Al-Ghashiya (88:20)
Dr. Hameed wrote: (We should not regard the verb ((spread out)) without Allah’s words ((Do they not look)) or we will drift away from the real meaning behind the words and hence we will not be able to conclude the actual explanation of the verse.
” Allah says in the Holy Quran in Surah Al-Ghashiya: ((Do they not look at the camels—how they are created? And at the sky—how it is raised? And at the mountains—how they are installed? And at the earth—how it is spread out? So, remind. You are only a reminder.)) – Surah Al-Ghashiya verses from Quran (88:17-21)
So Allah’s words ((Do they not look)) that the writer means are the ones mentioned at the beginning of the above verses and these words are covering the verses from Quran (88:17 to 20) “((Look at)): means looking at him attentively but ((looking at)) a subject, problem, or situation, you think about it or study it, so that you know all about it (Collins Dictionary)
((Looking at)) is understandable in (the creation of camels), (raising the sky) and (installing the mountains). The idea of (Looking) is important when explaining (earth spreading out) since the vision span is very limited compared to the huge size of earth therefore it’s curvature cannot be noticed by the beholder.
And this (spreading out) is due to Allah’s wisdom to hide this curvature from plain sight and what becomes clearly visible is the earth’s (spreading out) until we reached outer space and managed to see the real shape of earth by our own eyes.
In the explanation of Ibn Kathir for the verse: ((and at the earth—how it is spread out)) means how it was spread out and paved for life, so the verse alerts the simple Bedouin to deduce from what he sees – his camel on which he is riding.
The sky above his head, the mountains around him and the earth underneath him – the tremendous power of the only Allah, the creator of all these blessings, the great Allah who is the only owner and manager of the whole world…the only one worthy of being worshiped.
Allah says: ((And the earth, how We spread it out, and set on it mountains, and grew in it all kinds of delightful pairs?)) – Quran Surah Qaf (50:7)
And says: ((We spread the earth, and placed stabilizers in it, and in it We grew all things in proper measure.)) – Quran Surah Al-Hijr (15:19)
And says: ((And it is He who spread the earth and placed in it mountains and rivers. And He placed in it two kinds of every fruit. He causes the night to overlap the day. In that are signs for people who reflect.)) – Quran Surah Ar-Ra’d (13:3) All these verses used the word ((spread out))
The famous Islamic scholar Sheikh Sharawy said in explanation of these verses:
“The above verse is a good example of how misinterpretation has led skeptics to assume the existence of discrepancy between scientific evidence and the facts of the Quran; they contended that the above verse meant that the earth was flat. This contention reveals their failure to understand its true meaning and its accuracy of expression.
The word ((spread out)) is synonymous with ‘extend’; an expression which we often use in our daily speech to describe our actual perception. If we misunderstood the verse to mean earth had been flattened.
Then we will accuse whoever says earth is spherical of being a disbeliever, but nowadays we used spaceships and artificial satellites to actually SEE the earth and we can clearly SEE that it is giant sphere revolving around itself.
The meaning ((spread out)) actually combines linguistic and scientific miracles as it gives us a hint about the actual shape of earth which was totally unknown at the time the verses were revealed as well as the visual shape of earth at the same time.
When Allah said: ((And the earth, how We spread it out)) He did not specify a particular location on earth, meaning that whether you are in the North pole, America, Europe, Africa, or Asia you will see earth spread out…this can never happen in ANY geometric shape except the sphere.
If it were square, triangular or any other flat shape it would be possible to reach its edge where you will see the outer space –not earth- spread out. The only geometric shape that can be ((spread out)) at any point you go to is a giant sphere.
So, if you stand at one point on earth and start walking in a long journey till you reach the same point once again, throughout your journey you will see earth as ((spread out)).
Thus, in one simple phrase the Quran has revealed to mankind a scientific fact about the earth which was only discovered by scientists many centuries after its initial revelation to the human. Therefore, in this context there is no contradiction between what the Quran portrays and what is visually observable.
Those who understood its right will say that the Holy Quran is the first book in the world to say that earth is a sphere…this fact alone can make people believe in Allah, but unfortunately, they did not.)
Allah says: ((And the earth after that He spread.)) – Quran Surah An-Nazi’at (79:30) In an explanation of the word ((spread)) Ibn Kathir said: the explanation of the word ((spread)) comes in the verse that follows by saying ((And brought forth therefrom its water and its pasture)) …
Same thing was said by Ibn Jarir and Ibn Abbas. The Arabs say: (spread) to mean extend
Ibn Hayan says: ((spread out)) means extend and pave to be suitable for living and settlement and this paving is by bringing out water and pasture and fixing mountains firmly.
In the Jalaleen Quran explanation, may Allah have mercy on them, ((spread out)) means extended and paved it to be suitable for life and by paving it Allah brought out its water (by making springs gush forth) and pasture (what cattle graze, of trees and herbage, and what humans consume of foods and fruits) notice that the use of maraa (pasture) to express this [of the earth] is figurative.
By accurately inspecting the sayings of Islamic scholars we can easily see that they all agree that ((spread out)) means pave it to make life easier on its surface and so Allah mentioned the basic requirements to achieve this is by bringing out water and pasture, fixing mountains firmly which is compatible with the verses:
((Did We not make the earth a cradle? And the mountains pegs?)) – Quran Surah An-naba (78:6 -7).
And the verse: ((It is He who made the earth manageable for you, so travel its regions, and eat of His provisions.
To Him is the Resurgence.)) – Quran Surah AL-mulk (67:15)
All these verses are explaining how the earth was prepared and paved to be suitable for life and has nothing to do with its shape whether flat or spherical.
Allah says: ((And God made the earth a spread for you.)) – Quran Surah Noah (71:19)
In an explanation of the verse Ibn Kathir said: (meaning, He spread it out, leveled it, settled it, and stabilized it with firm and lofty mountains.)
In Tabari explanation of the verse he says: (Allah says narrating the story of Prophet Noah with his people and reminding them of Allah blessings to them saying: ((And Allah made the earth a spread for you.)) meaning to settle in it and pave it and his words ((That you may travel its diverse roads.)) he says: to pave difficult roads.
From this we conclude that spreading out earth does not mean making it flat, but rather to make it paved and ready to be useful and adapted to its function. There is no contradiction between the spherical shape of earth.
And its being spread out as in reality when we consider its vast size it is truly spherical but for any beholders’ eyes it is ((spread out)) and this spreading out is for the benefit of the all creations living on its surface.
(Earth has been hugely spread out and paved to facilitate the existence of creatures on it and to enable people to cultivate, plant it and hence be able to settle on it and pave roads in it.) He also said in explanation of Quran surah AL-Ghashiya (88:20):
(It should be understood that the fact that the earth has been spread out does not contradict the fact that it is round. It is surrounded by stars and heavenly bodies in all directions, as is indicated by the texts, reason, physical faculties and observation, as is well known to most people, especially nowadays, when people have discovered most of it with what Allah has bestowed upon them of means of transportation.
The idea that describing something as spread out means that it cannot be round is only applicable in the case o f a very small body that, if it is spread out, can no longer be round. As for the earth, which is an extremely big body, it may be round and spread out at the same time; the two matters are not mutually exclusive, as is well known to experts.)
Allah says: ((And the earth—We spread it out—How well We prepared it)) – Quran Surah Adh-Dariyat verse (51:48)
In explanation of the above verse Sheikh Sharaawy said: ((And the earth—We spread it out—How well We prepared it)) means that Allah has prepared earth to be the most comfortable to its inhabitants like we prepare the baby’s cradle so that he is completely comfortable.
((How well We prepared it)) the word ((prepared)) is the English translation of the Arabic word ((Mahedoun)) which is derived from the word (Mahd) which means the baby’s cradle which is characterized by being as comfortable as possible.
This cradle is always being changed and cleaned and so is earth always changing. In explanation of the above verse Imam Qurtubi said:
((And the earth—We spread it out)) means Allah has spread out earth like a bed on water ((How well We prepared it)) means Allah prepared the earth very well.
The plural in ((We)) is for glorifying and (spreading out a bed) means prepared and arranged. When we say (preparing a situation) means arranging or fixing.
In explanation of the above verse Tabari said: ((And the earth—We spread it out)) Allah says that He has made earth like a bed for his creations ((How well We prepared it)) means God says that He is the best to prepare it (earth) for them. And in the explanation of Ibn Kathir, he says:
((And the earth—We spread it out)) We have made it a resting place for the created, ((How well We prepared it)) meaning (Allah says) We spread it for its inhabitants.
From all the above explanations it is clear that the verse means to say that earth has been prepared to be valid to live in by all Allah’s creations on it just like the child’s bed is prepared to give him comfort and has nothing to do with the actual shape of earth or with the strange idea that earth is flat…
This is the consensus of all most famous Islamic scholars – contemporary or non-contemporary -who specialized in Quran explanation so how can anyone accuse the Quran of saying that earth Is flat?
When Allah says ((Did We not make the earth a cradle?)) or says: ((And at the earth—how it is spread out?)) and all similar verses does not contradict the fact that earth has a spherical shape as these verses explain not the shape of earth but rather Allah’s blessing to His creation in making it paved and perfectly prepared to perform its function which is to have Allah’s creatures living on it.
From these preparations are to make it spread out to act as a settling place as well as being paved to facilitate cultivating, planting, having buildings build on its surface and hence all creatures can settle on it and be buried in it when they die.
So, all the (spreading out) and (paving) and all similar actions are to make earth perfectly ready to live in by bringing out water and pasture from inside it, running rivers and paving roads…etc.
And hence the noble verses are proofs that Allah has prepared earth to receive His creations and make life as easy as can be for them…This is a blessing from Allah to all His creations and it does not mean –by consensus of the most famous Islamic scholars – that earth is flat.
Honestly, I do not understand from where some people got their strange allegation that the Quran says earth is flat and on what proof they based this silly idea…I can only attribute this to lying and dishonesty, but I also blame those who blindly believed this allegation without the slightest proof of its validity and without the simplest attempt to research what they hear to try to get to the truth.
Fourth: Proof of the spherical shape of earth in the Holy Quran
The Holy Quran hinted at the spherical shape of earth in many ways such as:
Sheikh Sharaawy, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “If you say earth is flat then it must occupy a specific area, so when you reach the edge of this area you will be at the border -after which there is only space- but Allah Almighty says:
((We spread the earth)) which means that wherever you go on earth’s surface you will see earth spread out before you, so if you go to the south pole, you will see it spread out, if you go to the equator, you will see it spread out and so on and this can never happen except if earth has a spherical shape.
Consequently, when Allah says:
((We spread the earth)) this is a proof that earth is spherical in shape, so whoever explains this verse as a proof that earth is flat and considered the flat shape of earth as a fact ensured by the Holy Quran is totally mistaken so when science proves that earth is spherical, he had the illusion that there is a contradiction between science and religion.
In this case the role of ignorance becomes apparent when some people start to attack the Holy Quran, but if they would only dig a little bit deeper, they would definitely realize that the spherical shape of earth and its rotation were already mentioned in the Holy Quran.”
Sheikh Sharaawy, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “let’s consider the verse 5 in surah Az-Zumar where Allah Almighty says: ((He created the heavens and the earth with reason. He wraps the night around the day, and He wraps the day around the night. And He regulates the sun and the moon, each running along a specific course. He is indeed the Almighty, the Forgiver.)) – Quran Surah Az-Zumar verse (39:5) Why did Allah Almighty use the word ((wraps…around))?
We know that Allah’s words have to be perfectly precise so why would Allah use the word ((wraps…around)) and did not say spread out the night and day as long as earth is spread out or for example exchange day and night or any other similar expression?
If you (wrap) something around a sphere you would say that it is wrapped around the sphere which means you made it look like wrapped sphere and if you want a human to make something that looks like a sphere you would tell him to wrap it as a sphere, so he makes it look like a sphere and hence when
Allah Almighty says: ((wraps the night around the day, and He wraps the day around the night)) means to make them surround earth at all times which is considered as a Quranic miracle. Allah Almighty did not say ((wraps the night around the day)) and then ((wraps the day around the night)).
But He says ((wraps the night around the day, and He wraps the day around the night)) which means that both day and night co-exist at the same time around the spherical earth…That’s what the Holy Quran said more than fourteen hundred years ago, a fact only lately known to mankind.
Allah says: ((It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They float each in an orbit.)) – Surah Yassin verses from (36:36-40) The statement ((nor does the night outstrip (precede) the day)) was revealed to rectify a false notion that prevailed among the early Arabs.
It negates something which was not true, although it appeared to be so, and which therefore needed to be rectified. The Arabs used to say that night always preceded day. Their ‘day’ began with sunset and accordingly the month of Ramadan was confirmed after the sunset of the last day of Sha’ban. But if night preceded day, as the Arabs said, then day could never precede night.
Here we are faced with two statements: the first is that night precedes day, and the second is that day can never precede night. Allah did not refer to the latter statement because it was a true fact; but He corrected the former which was indeed a misconception affirming that ((nor does the night outstrip the day)).
With this answer, Allah affirms that day and night are always present, simultaneously, on both hemispheres. At the same time, He has provided the evidence that the earth is a sphere, for the phenomenon of day and night occurring simultaneously could never happen otherwise. Allah used the correction to tell us more about the earth.
If the earth had been created flat the sun would have been facing the upper surface at the moment of creation, and consequently day would have occurred first; but if, on the other hand, the sun had been facing the lower surface, then night would have occurred first.
But Allah states in the above verse that both day and night have been created at the same time. His saying that neither one preceded the other proves that the earth was created as a sphere, because this is the only shape which allows such a phenomenon to occur.
Thus in a few words Allah has revealed to mankind a scientific fact which had remained a mystery for centuries until He deemed it suitable to make it available to science.
Allah says: ((And you see the hills you deem solid flying with the flight of clouds: the doing of Allah Who perfects all things)) – Quran Surah al-NamI (27:88).
Mountains are considered to be a kind of stabilizing mass which eliminates the vibration and swaying of the earth. Their massiveness gives the beholder the impression that the earth is motionless and still.
Allah tells us ((you deem)) to dispel such false notions and illuminate our perception, Allah tells us in the above verse that the mountains which may seem to us to be stationary and immobile are in fact moving in the same manner as the clouds sailing above them.
But how? We all know that the wind is the force behind the movement of the clouds.
But because the mountains are rooted in the earth they can move only if the earth on which they sit is moving. Nor are the mountains moving slowly; they are ((flying with the flight of clouds.))
Thus in a few words Allah provided science with the established fact that the earth is a sphere which rotates in space. The word ((solid)) in the above verse needs some explanation for it unfolds a second scientific fact concerning the sensation of motionlessness which one experiences when there is no other body in relation to which it would be possible to estimate the movement of one body. The verse explains our inability to sense the movement of the earth.
The fact that to the beholder, the mountains and the earth are all rotating together, and the absence of a stable background against which he could contrast their movement, make the sensation of immobility quite real. This sensation is felt most acutely when one is flying in an aeroplane.
If the aeroplane is flying at a very high altitude beyond all atmospheric disturbances, with all windows sealed, and vibration nonexistent, it becomes difficult to sense the movement or speed of the plane. This is the sensation implied in the word ((solid)).
Allah is actually giving us the reasons underlying our inability to sense or detect the movement of the earth and the mountains sitting on it simply by watching them; the fact that we are all rotating together, and the absence of a contrasting background that can be observed with the naked eye, make the mountains seem to be solid and still.
Allah, anticipating that the knowledge imparted in the above verse would be perplexing, asks us – in this verse not to wonder at His accomplishments: ((…the doing of Allah Who perfects all things))
Fifth: Opinion of Islamic Scholars in the Issue of earth’s spherical shape
Abu Muhammad Ibn Hazm said in his book (End quote from al-Fasl fi’l-Milal wa’l-Ahwa’ wa’l-Nihal Quran (2:78):
We are going to discuss some of the arguments against the idea that the earth is round. They said: There is sound evidence that the earth is round, but the common folk say otherwise. Our response – and Allah is the source of strength – is that none of the leading Muslim scholars who deserve to be called imams or leaders in knowledge, may Allah be pleased with them, denied that the earth is round, and there is no narration from them to deny that. Rather the evidence in the Quran and Sunnah stated that it is round.
Allah says: ((He wraps the night around the day, and He wraps the day around the night.)) and this clarifies that night and day are wrapped around one another derived from wrapping around the turban and this shows the spherical shape of earth as well as the rotation of the sun from which the day light shines and the darkness of the night when the sun sets as the Holy Quran says:
((We erased the wonder of the night, and made the wonder of the day revealing)) – Quran Surah Alisraa (17:12)
The famous Imam Fakhr Al-Din Al-Razi, may God rest his soul, in his book (Mafatih Al-Ghaib – keys of the unknown- vol. 19 page1) said:
In the explanation of the verse: ((And it is He who spread the earth and placed in it mountains and rivers. And He placed in it two kinds of every fruit. He causes the night to overlap the day. In that are signs for people who reflect.)) – Quran Surah Al-Raad (13:3)
AL-Razi said: ((spread)) means limitlessly expanded when Allah says:
((And it is He who spread the earth)) indicates that huge size of earth that the normal eyesight cannot reach its end because if earth was smaller in size than its actual size then the benefit from it will not be complete, but if the size is huge then on every location it will appear expanded.
He also said in his book (Mafatih Al-Ghaib – keys of the unknown- vol. 21 page142):
It has been proven that earth is a sphere, and the sky is surrounding it.
Sheikh Assem Al-kariuti said that Sheikh bin Baaz, may God rest his soul, confirmed the spherical shape of earth like the rest of Muslim scholars
Sheikh Ibn Taimeya transmitted the consensus of Islamic scholars on the spherical shape of earth in many books like (Al-Arisha), (Dare Taaroud alnakel wa Alaakl- 6/339) also check his study called (A study of Al-Hilal) and (A collection of Fatwa – 25/195).
Imam Ibn Kathir transmitted the consensus of Islamic scholars on the spherical shape of earth in his books (Al- Bidaya wa Al-Nihaya) and (Aafak Al-Hedaya 1/173)
From the above we can conclude the following:
The Holy Quran confirmed the spherical shape of earth, consequently the verses like: ((And the earth, how We spread it out)) and ((And at the earth—how it is spread out?)) is meant to show how God has blessed his creations by paving earth for them and spreading it out before them to facilitate their life on it.
There are verses in the Holy Quran that insinuate to the spherical shape of earth like ((He wraps the night around the day, and He wraps the day around the night)). This insinuation can be easily understood by the careful, thorough reader not the superficial one who does not exert effort in trying to understand the actual meaning behind the words of the Holy Quran.
If the Holy Quran had openly discussed these issues when it was first revealed to our Noble prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, it would have shocked the Arabs with facts that they do not understand, and hence cannot accept, that is why the Holy Quran used insinuation and hinting and left it to be revealed later by future sciences.
It is the consensus of Islamic scholars that earth has a spherical shape consequently it is not fair – for the sake of justice and neutralism – to quote some anomalous opinions of some scholars, who deviated from the consensus, and consider these anomalous opinions as a proof that Muslim scholars, in general, refuse to confirm the spherical shape of earth.
If we assumed that the Holy Quran refused to confirm the spherical shape of earth this would mean that the Holy Quran is contradicting itself, which will NEVER happen… How can we claim that the Holy Quran refuses the spherical shape of earth when there are other verses in the Holy Quran itself that confirm it?
The Holy Quran is perfectly consistent the problem lies in the incompetent understanding of people as the unanimous explanation of the verses provided by Muslim scholars is crystal clear and proves beyond doubt that the Holy Quran confirms the spherical shape of earth.
Reconciling between the view that the Earth is round and the verse “And Allah has made for you the earth widespread (an expanse)” [Noah 71:19]
Allah knows Best.