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Islam’s “Seven Earths”

January 2, 2014

The Qur’an says (source):

It is Allah who has created seven heavens and of the earth, the like of them. [His] command descends among them so you may know that Allah is over all things competent and that Allah has encompassed all things in knowledge.

Some modern Islamic apologists have tried to redefine this to mean that seven continents on this planet, but does that claim hold any water? There are several hadith that mention the “seven earths” but this one is most relevant:

Al-Tirmidhi

Narrated AbuHurayrah

While Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions were sitting clouds came over them and Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him) asked, “Do you know what these are?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger knew best, he said, “These are the clouds (anan), these are the water-carriers of the Earth, which Allah drives to people who do not thank Him or call upon him.” He then asked, “Do you know what is above you?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) knew best, he said, “It is the firmament, a ceiling which is guarded and waves which are kept back.” He then asked, “Do you know what is between you and it?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) knew best, he said, “Between you and it are five hundred years.” He then asked, “Do you knew what is above that?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) best he said, “Two heavens with a distance of five hundred years between them.” He went on speaking like that till he counted seven heavens, the distance between each pair being like between Heaven and Earth. He then asked, “Do you know what is above that?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) knew best, he said, “Above that is the Throne, and the distance between it and the (seventh) heaven is the same as that between each pair of heavens.” He then asked, “Do you know what is below you?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) knew best, he said, “It is the earth.” He then asked, “Do you know what is under that?” On their replying that Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) knew best, he said, “Under it there is another Earth with a journey of five hundred years between them,” and so on till he had counted seven earths with a journey of five hundred years between each pair. He then said, “By Him in Whose hand Muhammad’s soul is, if you were to drop a rope to the lowest earth it would not pass out of Allah’s knowledge.” He then recited, “He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward, and He is omniscient.” (Tirmidhi commented that Allah’s Messenger’s recitation of the verse indicates that it would go down within Allah’s knowledge, power and authority, for Allah’s knowledge, power and authority are everywhere, while He is on the Throne, as He described Himself in His Book.)

Now, we can look at some of the explanations (tafsir) of the early Muslim scholars:

Tafsir Ibn Abbas

(Allah it is Who hath created seven heavens) one above the other like a dome, (and of the earth the like thereof) seven earths BUT THEY ARE FLAT. (The commandment cometh down among them slowly) He says: He sends the angels down from heaven with revelation, Scripture and calamities, (that ye may know) and acknowledge (that Allah is Able to do all things) relating to the dwellers of the heavens and the earths, (and that Allah surroundeth all things in knowledge) and that His knowledge encompasses everything.’ (Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs; online source; bold, underline and capital emphasis ours)

Al-Tabari

According to Muhammad b. Sahl b. ‘Askar-Isma’il b. ‘Abd al-Karim-Wahb, mentioning some of his majesty (as being described as follows): The heavens and the earth and the oceans are in the haykal, and the haykal is in the Footstool. God’s feet are upon the Footstool. He carries the Footstool. It became like a sandal on His feet. When Wahb was asked: What is the haykal? He replied: Something on the heavens’ extremities that surrounds the earth and the oceans like ropes that are used to fasten a tent. And when Wahb was asked how earths are (constituted), he replied: They are seven earths that are FLAT and islands. Between each two earths, there is an ocean. All that is surrounded by the (surrounding) ocean, and the haykal is behind the ocean. (History of Al-Tabari-General Introduction and From the Creation to the Flood, Volume 1, trans. Franz Rosenthal [State University of New York Press, Albany 1989], pp. 207-208)

Ibn Kathir

<and of the earth the like thereof.> means, He created seven earths. In the Two Sahihs, there is a Hadith that states …

In the beginning of my book, Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah, I mentioned the various narrations for this Hadith when I narrated the story of the creation of the earth. All the thanks and praise is due to Allah.

Those who explained this Hadith to mean the seven continents have brought an implausible explanation that contradicts the letter of the Qur’an and the Hadith without having proof. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) Volume 10 (Surat At-Tagabun to the end of the Qur’an), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, London, Lahore; first edition, September 2000], pp. 55-56; bold emphasis ours)

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Kisa’i

There are seven earths. The first is called Ramaka, beneath which is the Barren Wind, which can be bridled by no fewer than seventy thousand angels. With this wind God destroyed the people of Ad. The inhabitants of Ramaka are a nation called Muwashshim, upon whom is everlasting torment and divine retribution. The second earth is called Khalada, wherein are the implements of torture for the inhabitants of Hell. There dwells a nation called Tamis, whose food is their own flesh and whose drink is their own blood. The third earth is called Arqa, wherein dwell mulelike eagles with spearlike tails. On each tail are three hundred and sixty poisonous quills. Were even one quill placed on the face of the earth, the entire universe would pass away. The inhabitants thereof are a nation called Qays, who eat dirt and drink mothers’ milk. The fourth earth is called Haraba, wherein dwell the snakes of Hell, which are as large as mountains. Each snake has fangs like tall palm trees, and if they were to strike the hugest mountain with their fangs it would be leveled to the ground. The inhabitants of this earth are a nation called Jilla, and they have no eyes, hands or feet but have wings like bats and die only of old age. The fifth earth is called Maltham, wherein stones of sulphur hang around the necks of infidels. When the fire is kindled the fuel is placed on their breasts, and the flames leap up onto their faces, as He hath said: The fire whose fuel is men and stones (2:24), and Fire shall cover their faces (14:50). The inhabitants are a nation called Hajla, who are numerous and who eat each other. The sixth earth is called Sijjin. Here are the registers of the people of Hell, and their works are vile, as He hath said: Verily the register of the actions of the wicked is surely Sijjin (83:7). Herein dwells a nation called Qatat, who are shaped like birds and worship God truly. The seventh earth is called Ajiba and is the habitation of Iblis. There dwells a nation called Khasum, who are BLACK and short, with claws like lions. It is they who will be given dominion over Gog and Magog, who will be destroyed by them… (Tales of the Prophets-Qisas al-anbiya, trans. Wheeler M. Thackston Jr. [Great Books of the Islamic World, Inc., Distributed by Kazi Publications; Chicago, IL 1997], pp. 8-9)

Review:

– Muhammad taught that the earth is not only flat (something not unreasonable for him to think given his time and place) but that there were 6 other flat “earths” above us the distance of 500 years each. We know today that this is nonsense.

– Muhammad often simply repeated and affirmed the beliefs and superstitions of 7th century Arabia (e.g. flat earth, jinn, Hajj)

From → The Ridiculous

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