The Description of
Knowledge in the Quran and by the Prophet (saas)
There are plenty of
references to knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge
in the Quran. The general feeling they leave the
reader with is that the possessor of knowledge or
wisdom has been given a very powerful gift, and that
the pursuit of knowledge is something which should
be done actively by everyone. Here are a few verses
on the subject:
Read! In the name of your Lord who created -
Created the human from something which clings.
Read! And your Lord is Most Bountiful - He who
taught (the use of) the Pen, Taught the human
that which he knew not.
These five verses make
up the first passage revealed from the Quran to
mankind through the Prophet Muhammad (saas). It is
interesting that of all the things which Allah chose
to begin His revelation with is related to the
actions of reading and writing, especially the
latter. The ability to write and store information
is described by Professor Carl Sagan in his book
COSMOS: "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human
inventions, binding together people, citizens of
distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books
break the shackles of time, proof that humans can
work magic." 
[Allah] grants wisdom to whom He pleases; and he
to whom wisdom is granted indeed receives a
benefit overflowing. But none will grasp the
Message except men of understanding.
High above all is Allah, the King, the Truth. Do
not be in haste with the Quran before its
revelation to you is completed, but say, "O my
Sustainer! Increase my knowledge."
[3:190-191] Verily in the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and the alternation of
night and day - there are indeed signs for men
of understanding; Men who remember Allah,
standing, sitting, and lying down on their
sides, and contemplate the creation of the
heavens and the earth (with the thought) "Our
Lord! Not for nothing have You created (all)
this. Glory to You! Give us salvation from the
suffering of the Fire."
These verses are a
clear demonstration that 'science' and 'religion'
were NOT meant to be fundamentally incompatible with
each other by Allah. In fact, verses [3:190-191]
strongly imply that "contemplating" the world around
us is an integral part of faith.
Say: Travel through the earth and see how Allah
originated creation; so will Allah produce the
second creation (of the Afterlife): for Allah
has power over all things.
There are also
references in the Quran describing the value (in the
sight of Allah) of a knowledgeable person as opposed
to an ignorant person. They are not equal:
...Say: Are those equal, those who know and
those who do not know? It is those who are
endued with understanding that remember (Allah's
...Allah will raise up to (suitable) ranks (and
degrees) those of you who believe and who have
been granted knowledge.
The first source of
Islam is the Quran - and we have seen some verses
above on the subject of knowledge. The second source
is the life of Prophet Muhammad (saas). Here are a
few of the Prophet's sayings on the subject of
"Upon a person
whom Allah desires good, He bestows the
knowledge of faith." - from the hadith
collections of Bukhari and Muslim
"A person who
follows a path for acquiring knowledge, Allah
will make easy the passage to Paradise for him."
- from the collection of Muslim
"A Muslim is
never satiated in his quest for good (knowledge)
till it ends in Paradise." - from the collection
Between the Quran and Modern Science
theory today finds itself quite close to the Quran.
There are at least two reasons behind this
observation. The first is the lack of
inconsistencies between the Quran and observable
natural phenomena. Science has not been able to
produce theories or experiments that fundamentally
contradict the Quran. Had our science done so,
either our understanding of the Quran or of the
world would have been to blame: the Quran itself is
true for all times. The second reason for the
remarkable harmony between the Quran and science is
the presence in the Quran itself of very clear and
positive encouragement to contemplate and
investigate the world around us. As the verses
quoted above indicate, Allah has not forbidden man
to question, and in fact, it seems He wants us to do
Soon will We show them Our Signs in the
(farthest) horizons, and within themselves,
until it becomes manifest to them that it is the
The historical event
which this verse alludes to is the conquest of
Makkah. However, almost every verse in the Quran
carries a historical and a universal meaning, and
therefore one possible interpretation of this verse
is that it refers to the gradual discovery of
greater and greater natural "evidence" of the
Creator's involvement in our world. Two of the most
important and most fascinating goals of modern
science are to peer farther and farther out to the
edge of the universe, and to look deeper and deeper
into the structure of the human body. It is in these
two areas that we find the "signature" of Allah's
creative power at its strongest.
A Selection of Quranic
Verses which Comment on the Natural World
A. - On the ongoing
process of creation
...and He creates other things beyond your
...Allah creates what He wills...
These two verses,
among others, indicate that Allah has not 'finished'
creation; rather, it is an ongoing process. This is
very significant from a scientific point of view
because we are gradually beginning to observe and
understand certain natural phenomena which are still
in a process of formation. One prime example is our
observation of still- emerging galaxies from huge
clouds of nebulae. Another is the evolution of
species, with its associated evidence of strange and
exotic "intermediate" life forms turned into
fossils. These two examples are just the tip of the
iceberg; the following excerpt from the physicist
Paul Davies' book The Cosmic Blueprint underscores
the growing awareness of continuous creation:
number of scientists and writers have come to
realize that the ability of the physical world
to organize itself constitutes a fundamental,
and deeply mysterious, property of the universe.
The fact that nature has creative power, and is
able to produce a progressively richer variety
of complex forms and structures, challenges the
very foundation of contemporary science. 'The
greatest riddle of cosmology,' writes Karl
Popper, the well-known philosopher, 'may well
be...that the universe is, in a sense,
B. - On pollution and
the wasting of natural resources
Rottenness (decay/corruption) has appeared on
land and sea because of what the hands of men
have earned, that (Allah) may give them a taste
of some of their deeds, in order that they may
turn back (from evil).
Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at
every time and place of prayer; eat and drink,
but waste not by excess, for Allah does not love
those who waste.
The importance of
understanding the ecological consequences of our
actions as individuals or as a society was not fully
appreciated until this century. We now understand
that we cannot alter the face of the earth
indiscriminately without paying some penalty, which
may be disastrous. We also understand that caution
ought to be applied globally, not just locally but
truly "on land and sea". Ecological awareness does
not imply asceticism however. According to the
Quran, we are not forbidden to take pleasure in this
life, however we are forbidden from wasting
C. - On the dual
nature of iron
...And We sent down iron in which is mighty
harm, as well as many benefits for mankind...
Iron is one of two
metals found abundantly on the earth (aluminum being
the other). It was known to many ancient
civilizations, and is the most important metal we
use today. The general description of it in the
Quran was accurate in the time of the ancients, and
it is even more so today: iron is the basis for most
weapons of war and most of the everyday tools which
we work with.
D. - On the origin of
life in water
...And We made every living thing from water...
And Allah has created every animal from water...
theory on the origin of life was not firmly
established up until the last two or three
centuries. Prior to that, the predominant theory on
the origin of life was based on a concept called
"spontaneous generation" where living creatures
literally popped out of inanimate matter
spontaneously and continuously. This view was
discredited with the work of many Renaissance
scientists including Harvey and Redi, and in the
1850's, Louis Pasteur's research on bacteriology
sealed the coffin on this theory. Starting with the
work of Huxley up to the present day, an alternative
theory has been proposed where life is understood to
have emerged from a long, increasingly complex chain
of chemical reactions. These reactions are believed
to have begun in the depths of the oceans because
the atmosphere was not sufficiently developed to
protect living organisms from ultraviolet radiation:
"...it is believed
that early forms of life developed in oceans or
pools...It has been suggested that the
colonization of land, about 425,000,000 years
ago, was possible only because enough ozone was
then produced to shield the surface from
ultraviolet light for the first time." 
This idea of life
originating in the oceans is strongly supported by
the two Quranic verses quoted above.
It is important to
note however that the Quran does NOT contain an
exclusive endorsement for evolution. While the
verses quoted above indicate beyond any doubt that
Allah created all living things from water, there
are many other verses that emphasize His Absolute
power over everything.
"...For He (Allah) has power over all things."
"...when He has decreed a matter, He only says
to it, 'Be', and it is."
E. - On the diversity
And among His Signs is the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and the variations in
your languages and your colors; verily in that
are Signs for those who know.
mankind! We created you from a male and female,
and made you into nations and tribes, that you
may know each other. Verily the most honored of
you in the sight of Allah is the one who is most
deeply conscious of Him...
The racial and
linguistic differences between humans are not meant
as reasons to discriminate. Allah simply describes
this diversity as a part of His creative power, and
He does not single out any race as being inherently
superior to the others. The emphasis in [49:13], in
fact, is to learn to communicate with one another.
F. - On the Water
Most of us are
familiar with the water cycle from our classes in
middle school, where we learned how a drop of
seawater evaporates, then becomes a drop of
rainwater, and then finally returns to the sea via
rivers or underground channels. The first person in
modern times to understand this process was Bernard
Palissy who described it correctly in 1580 .
Prior to him, most of the ancient Greek and Roman
scholars had various incomplete or incorrect
theories on the water cycle (Plato, for example,
believed that precipitation eventually descended
into the abyss called Tartarus and from there it fed
into the oceans ).
The Quran does not
give a complete description of the water cycle from
start to end, however there are a few precise
references to specific stages. Perhaps the most
fascinating of these references are the following
two verses on rain clouds:
is Allah Who sends the winds, and then they
raise clouds: then He spreads them in the sky as
He wills and makes them dark, then you see the
drops issue from the midst of them...
Don't you see how Allah drives clouds with
force, then joins them together, then makes them
into a heap? - then you see the drops issue from
the midst of them. And He sends down from the
sky mountains (of clouds) wherein is hail: He
strikes therewith whom He pleases and He turns
it away from whom He pleases. The flash of His
lightning well-nigh snatches away the sight.
The two verses are
describing the stages in the formation of rain
clouds, which is in turn a stage in the water cycle.
A close examination of these two verses suggests
that they make reference to two different phenomena,
one of "spreading" the clouds and the other of
"joining" them together, two different processes by
which rain clouds might be formed.
Modern meteorology has
come to this very conclusion within the last two
There are two types of
clouds which can yield precipitation, and they are
classified by their shape: stratus (layer-type) and
cumulus (heap- type). The precipitative layer clouds
are further subdivided into stratus and nimbostratus
(nimbo meaning rain). The first verse above on rain
clouds ([30:48]) precisely sums up the formation of
layer rain clouds. It is known today that these
types of clouds are started under conditions of
gradual, rising winds:
then they [winds] raise clouds..." [30:48]
Next, the cloud takes
on its distinctive shape, that of a layer:
He spreads them..." [30:48]
If the conditions are
right (i.e. low enough temperature, high enough
humidity, etc.), the cloud droplets further condense
into (larger) rain droplets, and we observe this
effect from the ground as a darkening of the cloud
makes them dark..." [30:48]
Finally, drops of rain
fall from the cloud.
you see the drops issue from the midst of
The second type of
precipitative cloud is the heap type, and it is
subdivided into cumulus, cumulonimbus, and
stratocumulus. These clouds are characterized by
being puffy-shaped and piled upon each other.
Cumulus and cumulonimbus are the true heap clouds -
stratocumulus is a form of degenerated, spread-out
cumulus . The second verse above on rain clouds
([24:43]) describes the formation of heap rain
clouds. These clouds are formed under conditions of
strong updrafts (thermals) and downdrafts of air:
clouds with force..." [24:43]
As the puffs of clouds
form, they may unite into a single giant cloud, all
piled up on top of one another:
joins them together, then makes them into a
At this point, either
a cumulus or a cumulonimbus cloud has formed -
either of which can yield rain. The rest of the
verse is applicable to the case of a cumulonimbus
(which is familiar to all of us as the towering
thunderstorm cloud). If the heap cloud assumes large
vertical proportions, then it can appear to the
observer on the ground as a huge mountain or hill,
but more importantly, by extending high into the
atmosphere, the upper cloud droplets can freeze and
thereby yield hail [17, 18]:
sends down from the sky mountains (of clouds)
wherein is hail..." [24:43]
clouds (i.e. thunderstorms) can have one last vivid
property: lightning [17, 18]:
flash of His lightning well-nigh snatches away
the sight..." [24:43]
Other Quranic verses
deal with more stages in the water cycle.
And We send down water from the sky according to
(due) measure, then We cause it soak into the
soil. And We are most certainly able to withdraw
This is a single verse
stating that rainfall is absorbed into the ground
and that it can eventually be removed (drained).
sends down water from the sky, and the rivers
flow, each according to its measure...
Don't you see that Allah sends down rain from
the sky, and leads it through the springs in the
Two methods by which
absorbed rainfall is moved are described here:
surface and underground rivers.
There are other
references in the Quran to the water cycle (e.g.
[40:13], [23:18], [25:48], [29:63], and others) ,
and all of them have the same property as the verses
quoted above: modern scientific findings are fully
compatible with them .
A few other verses
also deal with water but in a slightly different
context. They are not nearly as numerous as the
verses on the water cycle.
Do you see the water which you drink? Do you
bring it down from the cloud or do We?
question emphasizes our inability to fulfill one of
our oldest dreams: to control the rain. The fact is
we cannot make it rain unless a pre-existing cloud
is in the vicinity - and then only under the proper
conditions, and even then we are not assured of
success. The cloud should have different sized cloud
particles, a high rate of condensation from the
rising air, and good vertical development. If all of
these characteristics are present, then we MAY coax
some more rain out through cloud seeding and various
other techniques. However, modern meteorologists are
unsure of its effectiveness. Regardless, it is the
presence of the necessary preconditions which we
have no control over, and this ultimately stops us
from arbitrarily bringing down the water of any
cloud in the form of rain .
The following verse
describes a property of large rivers.
is He who has caused to mix freely the two great
bodies of water, this one pleasant-tasting and
sweet and this one salty and bitter, and He made
between them a barrier and a forbidding ban.
A description of the
estuaries of large rivers is supplied by the verse
above. These estuaries are relatively unusual
because the outgoing fresh water of the river does
not immediately mix with the salt water of the sea
into which the river empties. Instead, the fresh
water penetrates deep into the salt water body
before any mixing occurs, far from the mouth of the
river. Small rivers do not have this property. 
Finally, one more
reference to clouds.
And were they to see a piece of the sky falling
down, they would (only) say "Heaps of clouds!"
Another reference to
clouds but this time in the context of responding to
a challenge by an earlier peoples who ridiculed a
prophet by asking him to cause a piece of the sky to
fall on them, apparently thinking it to be a solid
cap around the earth. Allah refutes their challenge
here, declaring that they would only find a pile of
clouds, something all of us would understand today.
G. - On Human
Embryological and Fetal Development
The Quran has an
extensive amount of information on the growth of the
human embryo and fetus, especially the former.
Before presenting this information, it may be
helpful to provide a brief outline of human
development in the womb as modern science
understands it. 
egg is produced by the female, and is
subsequently placed in her Fallopian tubes.
The male cohabits
with the female, and a single sperm cell
fertilizes the egg.
The fertilized egg
retreats into the uterus, and attaches itself to
the uterine wall.
growth (roughly 3 months).
Fetal growth (6
We will examine some
of these stages in greater detail as the verses in
the Quran require. First, however, two verses which
give a general overview of human development:
...seeing that it is He (Allah) Who has created
you in stages...
And Allah created you from dust, then from a
The first verse is a
very general, yet accurate description of our
creation as coming in stages (see the six-step
outline above). The second verse puts some
perspective on the whole affair: how man originally
came from dust (Adam), and then from a drop.
There are at least
four specific details regarding human development in
the Quran which modern science has revealed only
within the last few centuries, and in some cases
only in this present century. The first concerns the
emission of semen:
Was he (man) not a drop of semen emitted?
In spite of the large
amount of liquid which can be produced by a man
during human intercourse, this verse emphasizes that
only a small drop of it is important.
The second important
detail in the Quran on human development is the
description of the fertilizing liquid (i.e. semen):
(man) is created from a gushing liquid.
created the human from a drop which is a
Then He (Allah) made his (Adam's) progeny from a
quintessence of a despised liquid.
The second and third
verses relate to the contents of semen. Modern
science has established that semen is in fact a
composition of different secretions which come from
four different glands during ejaculation: the
testicles, the seminal vesicles, the prostate gland,
and the urinary tract glands. The actual sperm cells
come from the testicles; the other three glands
produce no fertilizing agents. The Quran goes
farther than just informing us that semen is a
mixture of liquids. It tells us in [32:8] that only
the "quintessence" of the liquid is used (the
"despised" comes from the fact that semen is emitted
from the same place as urine, and thus may be
despicable in some people's sight). The Arabic word
for "quintessence" in this verse signifies
extracting the absolute best out of something. The
numbers tell the story: a normal ejaculation
involves about 3 ml of fluid containing between
120,000,000 and 150,000,000 sperm cells. Of these
cells, only one fertilizes the egg in the female,
and this is the point which [32:8] alludes to .
A third detail of
human development mentioned in the Quran concerns
the newly fertilized egg:
Was he (man) not a drop of semen emitted? Then
he did become something leech-like which
Recent observations of
the fertilized egg in the womb have revealed that
the egg literally implants itself into the uterine
wall. It "clings" in the strongest sense, and it
remains like so in the early stage of development.
On top of that, the developing organism acts as a
leech on the female host in the sense that it draws
its sustenance directly from its mother's body .
Finally, the Quran
gives a fascinating account of embryological
development (the first three months) in the
following verses (certain words have been
transliterated directly from the Arabic):
...We made the drop into an ALAQAH (leech-like
structure), and then We changed the ALAQAH into
a MUDGHAH (chewed-like substance), then We
changed the MUDGHAH into IDHAAM (bones,
skeleton), then We clothed the IDHAAM with LAHM
(flesh, muscles), then We caused him to grow and
come into being as another creation.
...We created you out of dust, then out of a
drop, then out of a MUDGHAH, partly formed and
Verse [23:14] divides
embryological development into four stages. The
first stage picks up right after fertilization
("drop"), and is characterized by an ALAQAH or
"leech-like structure" which describes how the egg
implants itself into the uterus (see above). The
second stage describes the embryo as evolving into a
MUDGHAH which means something which has been chewed
(especially a piece of meat), or which has the
appearance of having been chewed. This seemingly
crude description is in fact quite accurate: after
the fertilized egg lodges itself in the uterus, it
begins to receive its first nutrients and energy
from its mother. Consequently, it begins to grow
especially rapidly, and after a week or two it looks
like a ragged piece of meat to the naked eye. This
effect is enhanced by the development of small buds
and protrusions which will eventually grow into
complete organs and limbs.
The next two stages
described in verse [23:14] tell of bones being made
from the MUDGHAH, followed by the "clothing" of the
bones with flesh or muscles. If we follow the
progress of the embryo with our own eyes, we find
that after approximately four weeks, a process
called 'differentiation' begins, where groups of
cells within the embryo transform themselves to form
certain large organs. One of the earliest structures
to develop in this stage is the cartilaginous basis
of the human skeleton (in subsequent months, the
cartilage hardens or ossifies). It is followed soon
after by the appearance of a host of other organs
including muscles, ears, eyes, kidneys, heart, and
more. This maintains the order described in the
Quran. Verse [23:14] concludes with the growth of
the organism in the womb (and simple growth is the
primary characteristic of the fetal stage) followed
by its birth.
Verse [22:5] adds one
more interesting note on the embryo. In this verse,
the MUDGHAH is qualified with the phrase
formed and partly unformed."
As alluded to above,
our modern observations of embryological development
have revealed how different structures and organs
develop one after another through differentiation.
This gives rise to unusual situations where the
embryo is unevenly formed (i.e. lungs but no ears
for example). [11,16]
H. - On Cosmology
Of all the references
in the Quran to scientific matters, the most
numerous are on the creation and structure of the
universe and the earth. This area is singled out in
several verses like the one below as an example of
Allah's creative power:
Verily, in the heavens and the earth are signs
for those who believe.
For a much more
detailed exposition of the Quran and cosmology (and
science in general), interested readers should
consider reading M. Bucaille's book 'The Bible, The
Quran, and Science' . Below, a brief summary of
some of the more powerful verses.
First, a verse which
makes a small note regarding the age of mankind with
respect to the universe:
there not been over Man a long period of Time
when he was not yet a thing thought of?
The Arabic word for
"Time" in this verse is "Dahr" and it can mean
either all of eternity or simply a tremendously long
time. Modern science can help us understand this
verse better. The first appearance of humans on this
earth is estimated to have occurred on the order of
one million years ago. The age of the universe, on
the other hand, is estimated at roughly fifteen
billion years. If we normalize the age of the
universe to one day, then man would be less than six
The following verse
deals with the creation of the heavens and the
And We created the heavens and the earth and all
between them in six days, and nothing touched us
Notice the sharp
counterpoint to the Bible at the end of this verse
regarding whether Allah "rested" after the sixth day
from tiredness. However, a more subtle yet perhaps
vastly more important difference is brought out when
we look at the first verse in the Bible, Genesis
[1:1] In the beginning, God created the heavens
and the earth.
There is no mention of
"and all between them", as opposed to the Quran
(which refers to this in several verses, no less).
Modern science has just within this last century
discovered that much of the mass of the universe is
contained in the vast spaces between galaxies and
stars (ignoring for the moment the possibility of
'dark matter' which would only make a stronger
point). In spite of having only a single hydrogen
atom every few cubic meters on average (interstellar
material), the universe is so huge that the "empty"
space may account for more of the total universe's
mass than all the stars combined - at the very
least, it is a significant amount. Thus, it is an
important omission to leave out "all between" the
earth and the other stars and galaxies ("heavens").
As to the debate which
has wracked Christianity and Judaism for centuries
regarding the meaning of "six days", the word "days"
in classical Arabic has a secondary meaning of a
"very long time" or an "era" . The Quran,
however, presents a conclusive answer to this
question via the following three verses scattered
throughout the text:
And yet they ask you to hasten on the
Punishment! But Allah will not fail in His
promise. Verily a Day in the sight of your Lord
is like a thousand years of your reckoning.
(Allah) directs (all) affairs from the heavens
to the earth: in the end will (all affairs) go
up to Him on a Day the space whereof will be
(as) a thousand years of your reckoning.
angels and the Spirit ascend to Him in a Day the
space whereof is (as) fifty thousand years.
It is clear from these
verses that a "day" in the Quran can easily have
different meanings in different contexts, and is
thus not constrained to mean a strict 24-hour
The next two verses
address certain details of creation.
Don't those who reject faith see that the
heavens and the earth were a single entity then
We ripped them apart?...
Moreover, He applied His design to the heavens,
while it was (yet) vapor,and He said to it and
to the earth, "Come (into being), willingly or
unwillingly." They said, "We do come in
foreshadows the modern cosmological theory known as
the Big Bang theory wherein all matter is presumed
to have originated from a violent explosion. Verse
[41:11] refers to a later stage in creation, one in
which a cosmologist would describe the universe as
filled with a nebulous gas undergoing a slow
coalescence into gross structures such as clusters,
galaxies, stars, and so on. The words of these two
verses may seem coarse and simplistic to the modern
eye, but this does not detract from their general
Then there are verses
that speak of the sun and the moon.
Blessed is He Who put in the heavens
constellations, and put in it a lamp and a
This verse emphasizes
the sun as a direct source of light ("lamp"),
whereas the moon is not given this title. Man has
long since established that the moon's light is
simply reflected sunlight.
sun and the moon follow precise courses.
The meaning of this
verse is obvious, and we have known the mathematical
description of these "courses" since Kepler and
Newton formulated them several centuries ago.
is He Who created the night and the day, and the
sun and the moon: all swim along, each in its
This verse supplements
the previous one: here, we learn that the sun and
moon follow "rounded courses." It is significant
that the Arabic word used here - "falak" - does not
mean circular course, just rounded. Kepler was the
first European astronomer to realize that the paths
of the planets and the moon are elliptical. It was
not until later, though, that astronomers also
realized that the sun has an orbit as well - around
the center of the Milky Way.
The Quran contains a
number of verses on the structure and contents of
the universe. There are too many to list here, but
the following three form an interesting sample:
And the heavens We did create with Our Hands,
and We do cause it to expand.
Flatly stating what
Einstein refused to believe at first, this verse
anticipates Hubble's discovery of the expanding
universe by approximately thirteen centuries. This
verse makes a very clear point that the expansion is
continuous (until the Day of Judgement, which is
guaranteed by Allah to come upon us unexpectedly).
And among His signs is the creation of the
heavens and the earth, and the living creatures
that He has scattered through both of them...
And He has subjected to you (man), from Him, all
that is in the heavens and on earth: behold, in
that are signs indeed for those who reflect.
These two verses are
extremely interesting. Not only does the first one
very strongly imply the existence of living
creatures on other planets throughout the universe,
but the second tells us that the heavens are
"subject" to us. With a little imagination, we (or
perhaps our children) can begin dreaming of the
possibility of interstellar travel - and not just
confined to our own solar system!