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Regarding Al-Kahf 18:86 – A Scientific Error?

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Question

My question is regarding the explanation of Ayah 86 of Surah Al Kahf with respect to the scientific point of view. i.e. thu al-Qarnain reaching the west and finding the sun is setting in a “black or muddy water”. Non-Muslims use this Ayah as a claim that there are scientific errors in the Qur’an… how a Muslim should respond to that?

jazak Alah Al-Kair

Answer

The referred verse (Al-Kahf 18:86) reads as:

He found it [i.e. the sun] setting in a murky lake

The verse, as is obvious, is not referring to a scientific reality, but to a person’s vision. In other words, the verse is not saying that the sun, at the referred place, used to set in a murky lake; on the contrary, it is informing us that Dhu al-Qarnain reached a place where it appeared to him as if the sun was setting in a murky lake. This, “non-scientific”, observation has been mentioned in the referred words to imply that at that time Dhu al-Qarnain reached a place from where if one were to look westwards, he would find nothing but the murky waters of the sea/lake and thus, it would appear to him as if the sun was setting in the lake.

The referred phrase of the Qur’an is as “unscientific” as we are used to saying: “I saw the sun setting behind the mountain”. In fact, all the phrases like “… at the rising of the sun” (implying early morning), “… at the setting of the sun” (implying evening), “… when the sun is going down” (implying evening), and “… when the sun is hot” (implying noon) are “unscientific’. Nevertheless, they are still used in most of the human languages (including the Bible as well as the Qur’an). We do not, however, consider these phrases to be scientifically incorrect, because of the mere fact that we do not construe them to refer to any scientific realities at all. All these phrases are used to convey a particular meaning, which is more than clear for all those who hear them.

September 27, 2000

UIUK

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