Quran’s Reference to Scientific and Technological Developments
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
Not a thing, fresh or withered, wet or dry, but it is in a Manifest Book. (6:59)
According to one interpretation, the Manifest Book is the Quran. This verse states that everything, wet or dry, is found in it. Is that really so? Yes, everything is found in it, but everyone cannot see that everything therein as the things are found at different levels. The Quran contains all things, either in the form of seeds, or of nuclei, or of summaries, or principles, or signs, and they are found either explicitly or implicitly, or allusively, or vaguely, or suggestively. One or other of these forms is preferred according to occasion, in a way fitting for the purposes of the Quran and in connection with the requirements of the context. For example:
How does the Quran allude to scientific and technological wonders?
As the result of man’s progress in science and industry, some scientific and technological wonders such as planes, electricity, motor vehicles, and means of radio and telecommunication have come into existence and taken the most prominent position in the material life of mankind. As it addresses the whole of mankind [at all times], the wise Quran certainly does not ignore these. Indeed, it has not ignored them and points to them in two ways:
- By way of the miracles of the Prophets.
- In connection with certain historical events.
Down with the makers of the trench of the fuel-fed fire! When they sat by it, and were themselves the witnesses of what they did to the believers. They ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in God, the Mighty, the All-Praised One. (85:4-8)
… in the loaded fleet. And We have created for them the like thereof whereon they ride. (36:41-2)
Verses like these point to trains, while the following verse, besides having many other meanings and connotations, alludes to electricity:
God is the light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His light is as a niche wherein is a lamp, The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as it were a shining star. Kindled from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the East or of the West, whose oil would almost glow forth (of it self) though no fire touched it: Light upon light.1 God guides to His Light whom He wills. (24:35)
Since numerous people have occupied themselves with the second sort of verses, those which allude to modern technological wonders in connection with historical events, and since they require much care and detailed explanation, and are in great number, for the present I shall content myself with these verses that allude to trains and electricity.
God made Prophets also the masters and forerunners of material progress
As God Almighty sent the Prophets to human communities as leaders and vanguards in respect of spiritual and moral progress, so also He endowed them with certain wonders and miracles and made them the masters and forerunners with respect to man’s material progress. He commands men to follow them absolutely.
Thus, just as by speaking of the spiritual and moral perfections of the Prophets, the Quran encourages people to benefit from them, so too in presenting their miracles it intends that people should try to achieve the like of them by scientific means. It may even be said that like spiritual and moral attainments, material attainments and wonders were also first given to mankind as a gift through Prophetic miracles. The Prophet Noah, upon him be peace, was the first to build ships, and Joseph, upon him be peace, the clock. Therefore, the ship and clock were first given to mankind as Prophetic miracles. It is a meaningful indication to this reality that so many craft guilds take a Prophet as the ‘patron’ or originator of their craft. For example, seamen take Noah, watchmakers take Joseph, tailors take Enoch, upon them be peace, and so on.
Since truth-seeking scholars and the science of eloquence have agreed that each of the Quran’s verses contains guidance and instruction, then the verses concerning the miracles of the Prophets, the most brilliant among the Quran’s verses, should not be taken as historical events; rather, they comprise numerous indications of guidance. By mentioning the miracles of the Prophets, the Quran shows the ultimate goal of scientific and technological developments, and specifies their final aims. It urges man forward toward those aims. Just as the past is the field for the seeds of the future and mirror to its potential picture, so too the future is the time to reap the harvest of the past life and mirror to the actual situation. Now, out of many examples, I shall point out only a few:
Examples of verses alluding to scientific progress through miracles of the Prophets
Traveling by air
And to Solomon (We subjugated) the wind: its morning stride was a month’s journey and the evening stride was a month’s journey. (34:12)
which expresses the subjugation of the wind to Solomon as one of his miracles, says: ‘The Prophet Solomon covered the distance of two months walk in two strides by flying through the air.’ By this it suggests that the road is open for mankind to cover the same distance in the air. ‘So, O mankind! Since the road is open to you, attain this level and do so!’
Almighty God also means by this verse:
O man! A servant of mine did not obey his carnal desires, and I mounted him on the air. If you give up laziness and benefit properly from certain of My laws in nature, you too can mount it.
Inventing a device to obtain water
When Moses asked for water for his people, We said: ‘Strike the rock with your staff.’ Then gushed forth there from twelve springs (so that) each tribe knew their drinking place’, (2:60)
indicates that it is quite possible to benefit with simple tools from the treasuries of Mercy under the earth. In places hard as rock even, the water for life may be drawn with so simple a device as a staff. Thus, through this meaning, the verse says to man, ‘You can find the finest blessing of Mercy, the water for life, with a staff-like device. Therefore, come on, work and find it!’
Through this verse, God Almighty suggests:
O man! Since I gave to a servant of Mine who relied on Me such a staff that he draws with it the water for life from wherever he wishes, you too can obtain a device resembling it provided you rely on My laws of Mercy. So, come and do so!
One of the important results of the scientific developments which mankind have achieved is the invention of devices with which water is caused to well up from most of the places where they are applied. The verse points to further goals and limits beyond that, just as the previous one specified further attainments far ahead of today’s planes.
The farthest point in medical developments
I heal him who was born blind, and the leper, and I raise the dead by God’s leave, (2:60)
concerning a miracle of Jesus, upon him be peace, alludes to and encourages the highest level of healing with which the Lord endowed him. It suggests:
It is possible to find cures for even the most chronic ailments. Therefore, O man! O calamity-stricken sons of Adam! Do not despair! Whatever the ailment, its cure is possible. Search for it and you will find it. It is even possible to give a temporary tinge of life to death.
By the verse God Almighty means:
O man! To a servant of Mine who renounced the world for My sake, I gave two gifts, one the remedy for spiritual ailments, the other the cure for physical sicknesses. Dead hearts were quickened through the light of guidance, and ill people who were as though dead found health through his breath and cure. You too may find the cure for all illnesses in My ‘pharmacy’ in nature where I attached to each thing many important purposes. Work and find it! You will certainly find if you seek it!
Thus, this verse marks the final point of medical developments, a point far ahead of the present level, and urges man towards it.
Using iron and copper in industry and extracting minerals
We made the iron supple for him. (34:10),
We gave him wisdom and sound judgment in speech and decision. (38:20)
which are about David, upon him be peace, and,
We caused the fount of copper to gush forth with him. (34:12)
which is about Solomon, upon him be peace, indicate that the softening of iron is one of the greatest bounties of God, through which He shows the virtue of a great Prophet of His. Softening of iron, that is, making it soft like dough, and smelting copper, and extracting minerals is the origin and source, and basis of all material industries. So, the verses state:
Softening iron, making it like dough and fine like a thread, and smelting the copper are a great bounty granted to two great Prophets who ruled in a part of the world according to God’s commandments, and they are the means to most general industries.’ Since God endowed a Prophet who was both a Messenger and a Caliph, that is, one who was both a spiritual and worldly leader, with wise speech and craftsmanship and industry, He urges people to speak wisely and encourages them toward craftsmanship and industry.
By these verses, God Almighty also suggests:
O sons of Adam! I gave such wisdom to the tongue and heart of one of My servants who obeyed My religious commandments that he judged of and distinguished between all things with perfect clarity and discerned the truth. Also, I endowed him with such skill that he could cast iron into whatever mould he wished, and make use of it as an important source of strength for his rule. Since this is possible, and since iron is of great significance for, and you are in much need of it in, your social life, that wisdom and skill will be bestowed on you provided you obey My commands of creation, My laws of nature. In the course of time you will attain it!
By softening iron and smelting copper, man has achieved great progress in industry, and great power in material terms. These verses direct man’s attention towards this truth, and just as much as they warned the people of former times who did not appreciate how important it was, so too they warn those lazy people of the present.
The ultimate point in the transmission of images and sounds
One with whom was knowledge of the Book said: ‘I will bring it to you before your gaze returns to you (in the twinkling of an eye).’ When Solomon saw it set in his presence… (27:40)
describes this wonderful event: In order to procure the transport of the throne of the Queen of Saba, one of Solomon’s ministers who was well versed in the transport of things said: ‘I’ll have the throne here in your presence in the twinkling of an eye.’ The verse suggests that it is possible to transport things over long distances, either bodily or in their images. In fact, God Almighty bestowed this on Solomon, upon him be peace, who was honored with kingship as well as Divine Messengership, as a miracle so that, in order to maintain his infallibility and justice he might personally be informed of all the regions of his extensive realm and see the conditions of his subjects and hear of their troubles. That means, if man relies on Almighty God, and appeals to Him in the tongue of his potentials as Solomon did in the tongue of his infallibility, and if he acts in conformity with His laws in the universe and with what attracts His favor, the world may become like a town for him. While the throne of the queen was in the Yemen, it was seen in Damascus either bodily or in image. For sure, the forms of the men around the throne were also seen and their voices heard. The verse points in a splendid fashion to the transport of forms and transmission of sounds over long distances, and in effect says:
O rulers! If you wish to realize perfect justice, try to see and know your realm in all its details, as Solomon did. For, only by rising to the level of being informed whenever he wishes about every part of his realm, may a just ruler who cherishes his subjects be saved from being held accountable, and may realize perfect justice.
God Almighty means by this verse:
O sons of Adam! I bestowed on a servant of Mine a vast realm, and in order that he might realize perfect justice throughout it, I allowed him to know personally of its state and of everything that was happening there. Since I have created every individual with a capacity to rule according to My commands, I have also given him, as a requirement of My Wisdom, the potential to scan the face of the whole earth and comprehend whatever is in it. If every individual does not succeed in attaining to that point, as a species mankind may realize it. If, however, they do not achieve it physically, they can do it, like the saints, in spiritual terms. Therefore, you may benefit from this great blessing. Come on, let Me see you do it! On condition you do not neglect your duties of worship, strive in such a way that you may turn the face of the earth into a garden every part of which you may see, and the sounds from every corner of which you may hear!
Heed the decree of the Most Merciful in the verse,
He it is Who has made the earth subservient to you, so walk in the paths thereof and eat of His providence. Unto Him is the resurrection (of the dead). (67:15)
Thus, the verse mentioned above about Solomon marks the ultimate point in the transmission of images and sounds, which constitutes one of the latest and most significant developments in science and technology, and encourages men towards that furthest point.
Employing jinn, devils and evil spirits
Others linked together in chains, (38:38) and, Of the evil ones were some who dived for him, and did other work. (21:82)
which state that Solomon, upon him be peace, made the jinn, devils, and evil spirits obedient to him, succeeding in preventing their evil and employing them in beneficial work, say:
The jinn, who are conscious beings and the most important inhabitants of the earth next to men, may serve man. Contact may be made with them. Devils too may be made to give up enmity and to serve willingly or unwillingly. God Almighty made them subservient to a servant of His who was obedient to His commands.
These verses imply:
O man! I made the jinn, and devils, including their most evil ones, obedient to a servant of Mine, who obeyed Me. If you submit yourself to My commands, most of the creatures, including even jinn and devils, may be subjugated to you.
Thus, these verses mark the ultimate point in occult or supernatural sciences dealing with paranormal events like spiritism, the attraction of spirits, and communication with the jinn, which have appeared as a blend of art and science and out of the extraordinary material and spiritual sensitivity of man. These verses urge man not, as happens nowadays, to be subjugated to the jinn, devils, and evil spirits, who sometimes call themselves the spirits of the dead, and to become their plaything, and a laughing-stock, but to subjugate and employ them through the Quran, and be saved from their evil.
Attraction of spirits or communication with the spirits of the dead
These verses, as well as certain others like
Then We sent to her Our spirit and it assumed for her the form of a perfect man. (19:17)
point, besides the attraction of spirits, to the fact that spirit beings may assume visible forms. However, what the Quran alludes to here is not modern necromancy, which some so-called ‘civilized’ people practice by communication by magic with evil spirits who introduce themselves as spirits of the dead. Rather, it is as certain kinds of saints (like Muhy al-Din ibn al-‘Arabi) who, for a serious reason, communicate with good spirits whenever they want, make contact with them and form a relation with them, and by going to their abodes and to a degree drawing near to their atmosphere, benefit from their spirituality.
Invention of cassette-recorders and players and communication with animals
We subdued the hills to hymn the praises (of their Lord) with him at nightfall and after sunrise. (38:18);
O you mountains! Echo His psalms of praise! and you birds! And We made the iron supple for him. (34:10); and, We have been taught the language of birds. (27:16)
which are about David’s miracles, point out that Almighty God gave to the glorifications of David, upon him be peace, such a strength and a tone so resonant and pleasing that they brought the mountains to ecstasy, which, each like a huge gramophone or a man, formed a circle against the horizon around the chief reciter-David-and repeated the glorifications. Is this possible and a reality?
Yes, it is reality. Every mountain with caves can speak to man in human language like a parrot. For if you declare before a mountain, ‘All praise be to God,’ the mountain will echo it back. Since God Almighty has granted this ability to mountains, for sure it can be developed.
Since God endowed the Prophet David, upon him be peace, with both Messengership and Caliphate on the earth in exceptional form, He made this seed of ability flourish as a miracle in due measure with that comprehensive Messengership and magnificent sovereignty such that great mountains followed him, in the manner of soldiers, or students, or disciples, and under his direction and in his tongue, they declared the glorifications of the All-Majestic Creator. Whatever David, upon him be peace, uttered, they repeated. At present, due to the means of communication being multiplied and developed, a great commander can get a large army dispersed through the mountains to repeat his declaration of ‘God is the greatest!’ all together at the same time, and make the mountains speak and ring with the words. Now if an ordinary commander can make the mountains ring with the words of those present in them, for sure, a magnificent commander of Almighty God can get them actually to utter and recite God’s glorifications. Besides this, as I explained earlier in this book, each mountain has a collective personality and corporate identity, and offers glorifications and worship particular to itself. This means that just as every mountain recites glorifications in the tongue of men by way of echoing, so too it glorifies the All-Majestic Creator in its own particular tongue.
We have been taught the tongues of birds, (27:16) and, The birds assembled, (38:19)
point out that Almighty God bestowed on David and Solomon, upon them be peace, knowledge of the languages of the bird species, and of the tongues of their abilities, that is, of what they would be useful for. Since this is a reality, since the face of the earth is a laden table of the Most Merciful One, which He has set up in honor of man, most of the other animals and birds, which benefit from that table, may have been subjugated to man to serve him. God has put to work some of the smallest animals like the honeybee and silkworm, and employs them through the guidance of His special inspiration in a way that greatly benefits man. Also, by enabling man to use pigeons in various tasks and make certain birds like parrots speak, He has added to the beauties of human civilization. Similarly, if the ways of making use of other birds and animals are discovered, among them are many species which may be employed for important tasks just as domestic animals are employed.
For example, if the languages of starlings are known, which destroy locusts without eating them, and their movements can be arranged and regulated, they can be employed against plagues of locusts; what a valuable service they would render free of charge! Thus, the verses mentioned show the ultimate point in subjugating birds and benefiting from them, and in making lifeless beings speak like a telephone or a gramophone, and, by specifying the farthest aim in this field, the verses urge man toward it.
By the same verses, God Almighty indicates:
O men! In order that his infallibility as a Prophet and his justice as a sovereign might not be damaged even to the slightest degree, I subjugated to one of your fellow men, who was totally submitted to Me, the huge creatures in My Kingdom and made them speak, and I put most of My troops and animals in his service. Likewise, since I have entrusted to each of you the Supreme Trust2 from the bearing of which the heavens, earth, and mountains held back, and endowed you with the potential to become My vicegerent-one who will rule on the earth according to My commands-you should yield to the One in Whose hand are the reins of all creatures, so that the creatures in His Kingdom may yield also to you, and you may use them in the Name of the One Who holds their reins, and rise to a position worthy of your potential.
Since this is the reality, then rather than playing on the gramophone or record-players and other musical apparatus, harmful and obscene pieces, playing with pigeons, and being occupied with useless things like wasting time in making parrots speak, try for a most agreeable, elevated and sacred sort of amusement, that the mountains may function as huge gramophones for you as for David, and at the touching of the breeze the tunes of Divine praises and glorifications may reach your ears from the trees and plants, and the mountains may manifest themselves as wonderful creatures that recite Divine glorifications in thousands of tongues, and most birds may turn to be each an intimate friend or an obedient servant, like Solomon’s hoopoe. They may both entertain you and drive you with zeal towards the perfections and attainments of which you are capable, and not cause you to fall from the position required by your humanity, as vain amusements do.
Invention of fridges
In the verse,
We said: ‘O fire! Be coolness and peace for Abraham.’ (21:69)
which is about one of Abraham’s miracles, there are three subtle indications:
Like every element in nature, fire does not act on its own and blindly, rather it performs a duty under a command. It did not burn the Prophet Abraham, upon him be peace, for God commanded it not to burn him.
There is a degree of heat which burns through coldness. That is, it has an effect like burning. Through the word ‘Be peace!’,3 God Almighty commanded the cold: ‘Like heat, do not burn him either!’ That is, through its coldness, fire at that degree produces an effect like burning. It is both fire, and, at the same time, cold. As science accepts it, there is a degree of fire called ‘white heat’, which does not radiate its heat to its surroundings; instead, attracting the heat around it to itself, it causes the surrounding area to become cold enough to freeze liquids like water, and in effect burns them through its cold. (It may be noted here, incidentally, that there must surely be in Hell, which contains all the degrees and sorts of fire, this intense cold.)
Just as there is an immaterial substance like belief, and an armor like Islam, which will remove the effects of Hellfire and protect against it, so too there must be a physical substance which will protect against it, which will prevent the effects of worldly fire. For, as is required by His Name, the All-Wise, and since this world is the abode of wisdom, [the abode where everything takes place for a definite purpose and usually according to cause and effect] God Almighty acts behind the veil of cause and effect. Therefore, the fire did not burn Abraham’s body, nor did it burn his garments, He gave them a state which resisted fire. Thus, the verse suggests:
O nation of Abraham! Be like Abraham, so that your garments may be your guard against the fire, your greatest enemy, both here and there, the other world. Coat your spirit with belief, and it will be your armor against Hellfire. Likewise, there are certain substances which Almighty God has treasured in the earth for you. They will protect you from the evil of fire. Search for them, extract them, and coat yourselves with them!
As an important step in his progress, mankind has discovered a substance, out of which he has made a coat which fire does not burn. However, see how elevated, fine, and beautiful a garment this verse points to, which will be woven on the loom of hanifan Musliman (purity of belief in and submission to God), and which will not be rent for all eternity.
Teaching Adam the Names implies the ultimate points and final goals of human attainment and progress
Also, the verse,
He taught Adam the names, all of them. (2:31)
states that, as his greatest miracle in the cause of supreme vicegerency, Adam, upon him be peace, was taught the names. While the miracles of other Prophets each point to a certain particular wonder in the course of scientific and technological progress, the miracle of Adam, upon him be peace, who was the father of all the Prophets and the Opening of the Office of Prophethood, alludes almost explicitly to the ultimate points and final goals of all human attainment and progress.
By this verse, God Almighty suggests:
O sons of Adam! By way of proof of his superiority over the angels in the issue of vicegerencey, I taught your father all the Names.4 Being his sons and the inheritors of his abilities, you should learn all the Names and show your worthiness of that superiority before all other creatures in the universe, such that vast creatures like the earth are made obedient to you. Come on, step forward, hold on to one of My Names and rise! Nevertheless, your father was deceived by Satan once and for all, and temporarily fell to the earth from an abode like the Garden. Beware! do not follow Satan in your progress and make it the means of falling from the heavens of Divine Wisdom into the misguidance of attributing creativity to nature or real effect to cause and effect in the creation and operation of nature. Raise your head and, studying My Beautiful Names, make the sciences and your progress steps by which to ascend to those heavens. Then you may rise to My Names of Lordship, which are the essences and sources of your sciences and attainments, and through the telescope of those Names, you may look to your Lord with your hearts.
- The sentence, whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself) though no fire touched it: Light upon light, makes the allusion clearer.
- The Supreme Trust is man’s ego or human identity formed of, or endowed and distinguished with, free will, knowledge, intellect and speech.
- An interpreter of the Quran remarks: ‘If He had not said, “Be peace!”, it would have burnt him with its coldness.’
- The Names taught to Adam, upon him be peace, are the names of things or the keys to all human knowledge or the Divine Names, in the manifestation of each of which a branch of science originates. For example, medicine has its source in the Name, the All-Healing, engineering in the Names, the All-Determiner and the Giver of Certain Measure.
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi