The Meaning of the First Command “Read!”

It is interesting that the first revelation of the Qur’an was:

Read, in and with the name of your Lord Who created. He created man of an embryo suspended. Read, and your Lord is the Most Munificent, Who taught by the Pen, taught man what he knew not (96:1-3).

The Qur’an ordered people to read when the local civilization to which it was revealed had almost nothing to read. What does this apparent contradiction tell us? Nothing less than that we are to read, in the sense of studying, the universe as the Book of Creation and its written counterpart, the Qur’an. We are to observe the universe, perceive its meaning and content, and use the resulting knowledge to deepen our appreciation of the beauty and splendor of the Creator’s system and the infinitude of His Might. And so we are obliged to penetrate the universe’s manifold meanings, discover the Divine laws of nature, and establish a world in which science and faith complement each other so that we can be God’s vicegerent and attain true bliss in both worlds.

bookGod Almighty has two kinds of laws. One is the Shari‘a, which comprises His laws issuing from His Attribute of Speech, governs humanity’s religious life, and serves as the basis for reward or punishment, which are usually given in the afterlife. The second is the Divine laws governing creation and life as a whole, which issue from His Attribute of Will and are generally (but mistakenly) called “the laws of nature and life.” The reward or punishment for them is usually given in this world. For example, patience and perseverance are rewarded with success, while indolence brings privation. Industry brings wealth, and steadfastness victory.

The Qur’an insistently draws our attention to natural phenomena, which are the subject matter of science, and urges their study. During the first 5 centuries of Islam, Muslims united science and religion, intellect and heart, material and spiritual. Later on, however, it was the West that pursued scientific knowledge and therefore showed an (unconscious) obedience to the Divine laws of nature. The West dominated the Muslim world because the latter no longer understood or practiced Islam correctly in their daily lives, and because they neglected scientific investigation and the study of nature. All of this amounted to disobeying the Divine laws of nature. (Tr.)

The sun moves (in its course) to a resting-place for it. (36:38)

Before elucidating other meanings and connotations, remember that earlier peoples’ sense-derived information led them to believe that the sun moved around a motionless Earth. Science and observation later showed that the Earth spins on its own axis and orbits the sun, which is relatively motionless. First, since people see the sun moving, the Qur’an mentions it as moving. Second, the Qur’an mentions the sun here to illustrate the magnificent order prevailing throughout the universe as a sign of God’s Might and Knowledge:

A sign for them is the night. We strip it of the day, and behold! they are in darkness. And the sun moves (in its course) to a resting-place for it. That is the measuring and ordaining of the All-Mighty, the All-Knowing. And for the moon We have appointed mansions till it returns like an old shriveled palm-leaf. It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They float, each in an orbit. (36:37-40)

readWe understand from this context that the sun’s function is vital. The word mustaqarr (stability) applies to is course and the place in which stability is secured. So, the statement can mean that the sun has a central position in the universe’s order. Second, the preposition used here, li, has three meanings: for, to, and in. Therefore, the exact meaning of this statement is: The sun moves following a route or course to a fixed place determined for it for the purpose of its (system’s) stability.

Recently, solar astronomers have observed that the sun is not motionless; rather it quivers, shakes, and continually rings like a well-hit gong [M. Bartusiac, “Sounds of the Sun,” American Scientist (January-February 1994): 61-68]. The resulting vibrations reveal vital information about its deep interior and hidden layers, information that affects calculations of the universe’s age. Also, knowing exactly how the sun spins internally is important in testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Like so many other significant findings in astronomy, this one was totally unexpected. Some astronomers have commented that it is as if the sun were a symphony orchestra, with all its instruments being played simultaneously. At times, all the vibrations combine to produce a net oscillation on the solar surface that is thousands of times stronger than any individual vibration.

Commenting on the Qur’anic verse: The sun moves to a resting-place for it, several decades before this totally unexpected discovery, Said Nursi wrote:

As the word “moves” points to a style, the phrase “in its course” demonstrates a reality. The sun, like a vessel built of gold, trav­els and floats in the ocean of the heavens comprising ether and defined as a stretched and tightened wave. Although it quivers and shakes in its course or orbit, since people see it running, the Qur’an uses the word “travel” or “float.” However, since the origin of the force of gravity is movement, the sun moves and quivers in its orbit. Through this vibration, which is the wheel of its figurative movement, its satellites are attracted to it and preserved from falling and scattering. When a tree quivers, its fruits fall. But when the sun quivers and shakes, its fruits—its satellites—do not fall.

Again, wisdom requires that the sun should move and travel on its mobile throne (its course or orbit) accompanied by its soldiers (its satellites). For the Divine Power has made everything moving, and condemns nothing to absolute rest or motionlessness. Divine Mercy allows nothing to be condemned to inertia, which is the cousin of death. So the sun is free; it can travel, provided it obeys the laws of God and does not disturb others’ freedom. So it may actually be travelling, as its travelling may also be figurative. However, what is important according to the Qur’an is the universal order, the wheel of which is the sun and its movement. Through the sun, the system’s stability and orderliness are ensured. (Tr.)

By Ali Unal

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